Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Do the iPod Shuffle

I've not written in a little while because I didn't know what I wanted to write about any longer. I'd covered the concert memories and a few specific extra tales from my past but I am not a compulsive diarist so I was a bit stumped.

As I rode the bus to work this morning and listened to my iPod on shuffle, I thought to myself, "Wow, the iPod is on fire today! What a great mix!"

Now, a few words about my iPod. I have the U2 Special Autographed Edition, black with a red keypad. It was a gift from my cousin Mike on the occasion of a production we opened of his play 'Diverting Devotion'. He gave each cast and crew member this iPod. We gave him a Matchbox car. I'm still slightly ashamed of that but what're you gonna do?

I have about 7,000 songs on the iPod. So sometimes the shuffle option can be a challenge. There are times when I don't want to hear Lee Perry and the Upsetters sing 'Beans and Cornbread', times when Bebel Gilberto is just too damn mellow, times when Minor Threat is too fast and loud for a morning commute. But it is an exercise for me, a random sampling of my past brought to instant life.

The mix today made me know what I could possibly write about every day here.

I catch the bus at Wilshire and Western and take it all the way to Santa Monica. It takes roughly an hour door to door. I tend to hit play the second after I lock my apartment door and take the earphones out as I walk into the office. Today it played 15 songs. The length of an album. An album that takes me to work.

Here is what I heard this morning...

1. 'Cheeze Surprize' by Pimp Fu from the album 'Shocker'

Pimp Fu is the alias of my cousin Timothy O'Malley. The opening refrain is repeated throughout the song - 'Pass me the bottle/Yeah pass me that too/You think I'm-a change/Well the joke's on you/I cannot explain but you're stuck with the Fu, bitch/Outta my way'. Pimp Fu is one of my favorite artists, funny, disturbing, sad, absurd, all put to crazy beats that sound like the inside of a madman's head, which they are.

2. 'Hollow Moon' by The Mahoneys from the album 'Live From The 20th Century'

What are the odds? The Mahoneys were the band I had when I lived in Providence in the early 1990's. 7,000 songs and the iPod picks two in a row written by O'Malley family members. We recorded this song, a song I still play today, in Steve Clary's basement in a haze of marijuana. And when I say haze I am not speaking metaphorically. He had soundproofed his basement so nothing escaped. You could see the smoke floating throughout the entire rehearsal. It took me a long time to be able to perform music without leaning on weed.

3. 'I Wonder U' by Prince from the album 'Parade'

This album has 'Kiss' on it so it might be absurd to say it is under appreciated but it is. Sonically it is on a par with 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' in terms of complexity and tonal quality. There are layers so carefully constructed that they seem ancient but so funky that they are instant and modern at the same time. Imagine you are in a rocket ship with a holograph deck that has taken you to the Moulin Rouge. That is the music from 'Under the Cherry Moon'. The movie is as bad as the music is good.

4. 'I'll Be Gone' by Dwight Yoakam from 'dwightyoakamacoustic.net

I know a lot of people who discount country music completely. The mere word 'country' music has such negative connotations that they literally cannot hear the music. Same goes for rap. I'd say it was a racial/cultural thing, but I think it has more to do with commerce than anything else. Deep thinkers hate commerce and both these genres embrace the commercial unabashedly. Now, don't get me wrong, both genres have their purveyors who aim at the lowest common denominator (Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Ja Rule, DMX, etc). Then there are the mavericks, the real deals. Yoakam is the real deal.

5. 'Sleep to Dream' by Fiona Apple from 'Tidal'

Sometimes I don't want to hear Fiona Apple at all. I especially don't want to hear anything from her first album because I think she's made incalculable leaps as a writer/singer. She strikes me as a good actress on a bad show in this first album. By the end of her run people won't even remember the first album.

6. 'Pride and Joy' by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble from 'Greatest Hits'

Wow. I play guitar. I've played guitar for 20 years. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan makes me want to smash my guitar and give up. He makes me feel like I just figured out that you aren't supposed to play the guitar with your elbows.

7. 'Career Opportunities' by The Clash from 'Story of the Clash Vol. 1 Disc 2'

This sounds like a pop song now but to the ears of the English public in 1977 it sounded like a cannon aimed at Buckingham Palace. I don't mean to overstate the impact popular culture has on a political system but the English gutter punks basically dropped the guillotine on the past, snarling that they didn't like cake, they couldn't afford cake, they wouldn't eat cake if they could afford it.

8. 'The Pressman' by Primus from 'Pork Soda'

No idea what this song is about and don't care anymore. Primus shifted from quirky and absurd to indecipherable for me. I lost interest after this album.

9. 'My Little Problem' by The Replacements from 'All Shook Down'

I could write about The Replacements all day every day. This is from their swan song and it is a duet with Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde who scares me. By all accounts she scared Paul too, coming in and singing the song and leaving, having barely said anything besides the lyrics he'd written for her. It was and is jarring to hear another voice on a Replacements track. On its own the song works like an evil charm, telling the story of that couple everyone knows who can't stand each other but can't stop running off and screwing.

10. 'Dice Behind Your Shades' by Paul Westerberg from '14 Songs'

I'm telling you, this iPod is unbelievable. From the last Replacements album to Westerbergs first solo? My favorite moment from this song is when Paul sings, 'The avant guard/Unlocks your cage' while a cello mimics the creak of a door finally being forced open. It's about as arty as Westerberg gets and I bet he's embarrassed by the conceit even at the same time he's proud as hell.

11. 'Lockdown' by Fugazi from '13 Songs'

From Westerberg's '14 Songs' to Fugazi's '13 Songs' could not be a further stylistic leap. I still remember hearing this album for the first time, having been a huge Minor Threat fan, and wondering if Ian MacKaye was just another teen who needed to get his ya-ya's out before disappearing into real life. But no, he was in it for life and this album is one long Declaration of Independence. If you don't know Fugazi shame on you.

12. 'Family Portrait' by Pink from 'Missundaztood'

No idea how this got on here but it isn't bad.

13. 'She Loves You' by The Beatles from '1'

So these 4 guys from Liverpool...how is it that I am not tired of this song by now? It's like a piece of bubblegum that I've been chewing for 38 years and it tastes like I just popped it into my mouth.

14. 'No' by They Might Be Giants from 'No! Pre Release Demo CD-rom'

John Linnell himself handed this to me. He had rented out the basement under my ex-wife's condo as a recording studio in Brooklyn. If you don't have kids and haven't heard 'No!' because it is 'for kids', get over it. It might be their best album.

15. 'Hunting For Witches' by Bloc Party from 'A weekend in the...'

I know I should care about this band but I don't. Great band name, good sound, smart music, and I just fell asleep typing that sentence.

Tune in tomorrow for what my iPod shows me next.

No comments: