Friday, June 27, 2008


My little black machine! Occasionally I remember how insane it is that I can sit by while a piece of technology sifts through every song I've ever purchased and chooses them at random. If I were in high school I'd be holding a clunky Walkman and lugging around 20 cassette tapes that I'd meticulously created IN REAL TIME. Put tape in, press record, play album, listen to song, press pause when song is over, lift needle, take album off turntable, put away, pull out next album, put on turntable, unpress pause to continue recording, place needle on selected track, etc.


And this little machine does that all on its own.

1. 'The Return of Sathington Willoughby' by Primus from 'Brown Album'

Here's what I picture in my head...Les Claypool has been reading '1984' or watching 'Brazil' or reading the news. He is also stoned. He starts noodling on his bass and improvises a Big Brother type speech that accompanies the music. He presses record and does it again. He brings in the other members of Primus and they blow the song out to its logical conclusion. When the music is done, he lays down his vocal track, approximating the improvs he's been doing all along.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for any political statement that rails against fascist rhetoric, program, society, etc. But there is something lazy about it, as if you were hedging your bet a bit. How can you DISLIKE a song that denounces evil? I don't dislike the song, but I am a bit bored by it. The reason '1984' is still around isn't because of the politics it contains but because of the art of its execution.

2. 'Cater 2 U' by Destiny's Child from 'Destiny Fulfilled'

Ah, the crazy iPod! From a tuneless bluster about totalitarian regime propaganda to Beyonce asking me if she can give me a manicure. By the end of this song, she's put on my doo-rag, fed me, promised to keep rockin' the sexy outfits, and reassured me that she wants to serve.

Funny, but this is high art.

3. 'Roll All Day' by Ice Cube from 'War & Peace, Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc)'

Poor Ice. All he wants to do is get busy in the back of his switch laden pimp mobile. She seems good to go until they clash and she steals his car. He needs a Beyonce to reconfirm his faith in womankind.

4. 'Complicated Shadows' by Elvis Costello and the Attractions from 'All This Useless Beauty'

This song is famous now because of The Sopranos. This is one of my favorite Costello albums, partly because it seems tossed off, spontaneous.

5. 'And In Every Home' by Elvis Costello and the Attractions from 'Imperial Bedroom'

Really? 2 in a row? When something like this happens I remember why I stopped listening to Elvis on a regular basis. 2 songs in a row seems like an ETERNITY.

6. 'Pacific Theme' by Broken Social Scene from 'You Forgot It In People'

This instrumental track had been rolling along for about 3 minutes before I pulled the iPod out of my pocket to see who it was. I had thought it was a Bossa Nova Rolling Stones number but when no singing kicked in I had to check. I'm not overly familiar with Broken Social buddy Jon configured the iPod for me and gave this album to me. It's quite good.

7. 'Damage, Inc.' by Metallica from 'Master of Puppets'

Ha! These guys are out of their minds. This song is so fast, so precise, so brutal. As a musician I truly don't know how they do it. The funny thing is that they are SO serious...I'm listening and I know I'm supposed to be all swept away by the darkenss but the music is so outrageous that it makes me laugh.

8. 'Better Version of Me' by Fiona Apple from 'Extraordinary Machine'

She really knocked it out of the park on this album. On her previous efforts, if you stripped her voice away you would be bored silly. Here? The music stands on its own. That's the mark of a true artist.

9. 'Start' by The Jam from 'Greatest Hits'


10. 'This Song Has No Title' by Elton John from 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'

You can't get away with shit like this anymore. This song was buried on side one or two and they hoped he'd be done recording his next hit by the time it had to be played on the radio. No title? No purpose is more like it. Never heard it before, don't know why it's on the iPod, don't need to ever hear it again.

11. 'Stay Free' by The Clash from 'Story of the Clash, Vol. 1, Disc 2'

Ah, that's better. All is forgiven lil' iPod. If I have to even expend one ounce of breath telling you why The Clash were so great, you haven't done enough homework on your own.

12. 'Within Your Reach' by The Replacements from 'Hootenanny'

How did The Replacements NOT become mega stars? Seriously. 'Say Anything' came out in 1989 and this song is on the soundtrack. Huh? How does that happen? Or how does that not happen?

Never seen no mountain
Never swam no sea
City got me drowning
I guess it's up to me
I could live without so much
Die without a dream
Live without your touch
Die within your reach

I can't believe this song in that movie didn't catapult them to mega fame. I'll never understand that.

13. 'Are We The Waiting' by Green Day from 'American Idiot'

This is the weakest song on this album. By far. And it is still great. I'm still flummoxed by this album, by the creative leap this band made almost 20 years into its existence. That kind of thing just doesn't really happen. I thought they'd start to fade away. And then they come out with an album that renders all of their previous releases irrelevent. Amazing.

14. 'Conrad' by Jets to Brazil from 'Orange Rhyming Dictionary'

These guys are a treasure but I can't quite say why. There is something mathematical about their sound, something so measured that it loses all restraint, something so dry and unmannered that only the purest emotional resonance remains. This is not the best song on this album, the only album I have of theirs...the one that will forever slay me is 'Sweet Avenue' which is one of the greatest yearning love songs in all of rock history.

And that my friends is that. Another edition of iPod mania. I'll be going on hiatus for the next couple of public transit so no iPod shuffle. But we'll have some more fun after the 14th!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No iPod

Today I was accompanied on the bus by the Cashman. So I didn't need the iPod to occupy my mind. We each read our respective books, an Iron Man treatise and 1984.

Beats a random selection of 7,000 songs any day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sound Track Mind

Day 2 of the iPod chronicles with today's playlist accompanied by a few pages of George Orwell's '1984'. Nothing like a little totalitarian nightmare to get you ready for a day at work.

Another fascinating collection of songs...

1. 'Criminal' by Eminem from 'The Marshall Mathers LP'

The first time I heard of Eminem I was living in Brooklyn with my cousin Timothy, aka Pimp Fu. I hadn't heard the music but I'd read of his supposed anti-gay lyrics. The homophobia bothered me and I vowed to write some sort of a come-on song, you know, 'Eminem can melt in my mouth' that sort of baloney. I'm glad I never did this. I came to view his charged lyrics as the ultimate pressure valve. I sense a great moral compass in his work, which might seem like a contradiction but don't forget the guy who recommended we take care of poverty by eating the poor. Mr. Swift and Eminem would get along famously.

2. 'Milk' by Kings of Leon from 'Aha Shake Heartbreak'

These dirtbag revivalist heathens get the dirtiest groove you've ever heard rolling on this album and don't seem interested in backing off from it, seeming to demand conversion and sin simultaneously.

3. 'Avenue C'd' by Siobhan O'Malley from 'Alibi Bye'

I don't know how many of you have a wildly talented sibling who writes songs. I do. So I have to describe this song in two a brother and as a listener. I know the story behind this epic croon of lament and desperation so I am affected. I almost think, however, that an unrelated ear would be almost unable to withstand the insight creeping along the city streets of this song. Finely wrought, each carved word she utters disintegrates in the wake of the story she tells. This song is a killer.

4. 'Sha La La' by Al Green from 'Greatest Hits'

The iPod must have known that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because here comes Al Green laughing and singing nonsense songs and trying to get into some pants.

5. 'Sticks & Stones' by The Divine Comedy from 'Absent Friends'

Another sister turned me on to The Divine Comedy. This guy has the balls to appropriate DANTE??? Not reference it, use it as inspiration, quote it, no. HE IS THE DIVINE COMEDY. If the first line of this song doesn't stab your heart at its weakest point then you've never been in love.

'You and I/Go together/Like the molar/And the drill'

His velvet tone smooths over the insistent violin behind him, as if he's ignoring the very song he's written.

6. 'Mass Hysteria' by The Mahoneys from 'Live From the 20th Century'

Ah, another track from my band The Mahoneys! This one has our secret weapon Danilo Torres on it. Yesterday was 'Hollow Moon', a recording session he couldn't get to. Neal we called him, a Fillipino Buddha of a man, and one of the best guitar players you've never heard of. I wrote the following lyrics in 1989...

'Tylenol with Cyanide/What a lovely treat/Ralph Nader sweeping cigarettes into my hot dog meat/Mass hysteria'.

7. 'Waiting Song (Unlisted)' by Pat McCurdy from 'Showtunes'

This instrumental track ends one of the strangest most compelling albums I've ever heard. I don't think Pat McCurdy can be described in any appropriate way. Not even gonna try. Just do a little digging and listen.

8. 'Going to Graceland' by The Dead Milkmen from 'Bucky Fellini'

When I was 15 The Dead Milkmen were hilarious. I am now 38.

9. 'You and Me Song' by The Wannadies from 'Romeo & Juliet'

I am writing this at 9:53. I heard this song at about 8:30. I can't remember it.

10. 'In a Little While' by U2 from 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'

I can't pinpoint the moment when I stopped being a fan of U2. So even though Bono's singing on this song is extraordinary, even though the texture that the band creates is dense and powerful, even though each part is perfect in its own way, the sum total leaves me cold. Maybe I would care if Bono ever took those fucking sunglasses off. So over the sunglasses. And if he doesn't look out, he's going to wake up one day and Robin Williams is going to be playing him in a movie.

11. 'The Lamb's Book of Life' by Sinead O'Connor from 'Faith and Courage'

Another Irish propagandist who now bores me silly. I'm a nun. I'm a rasta. I'm a lesbian. I love cock. I love my babies. I hate my mother. I have big eyes. I am Britney Spears for the intelligentsia. I am a sleeping pill!

12. 'Complete Control' by The Clash from 'Live: From Here to Eternity'

The Clash live. Their sound is larger, more difficult to contain than their recorded work. The melody AND bombast both are amplified. They also did cool things like having Screamin' Jay Hawkins open up for them, or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. They weren't interested in giving their audience an easy ride. Rap music at a punk concert in the late '70's??? Everyone gives Aerosmith/Run DMC credit for that connection but these guys were way ahead of that curve. Ahead of every curve.

13. 'Banditos' by The Refreshments from 'Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy'

This whole album is perfect. PERFECT. PERFECT. a guitar player it's like having ice cream at the beach. As a lyricist it's the scrape of the pen lifting off of the last word. As a singer it's the trill coming back off the tile through the pulse of the shower. BUY THIS ALBUM.

14. 'A Season' by Emmet Swimming from 'Wake'

Emmet Swimming are the reason I met Melody Garren. So even though they sound a bit like a fat kid imitating The Cure via REM I love them.

15. 'L'Ame Slave' by Jacques Higelin from 'Boris Vian et Ses Interpretes'

There is something inherently ridiculous about French music. The language itself is so musical and florid that putting it to music is redundant and vulgar. I know that is a giant generalization but it is truly how I feel. I lived in France and have explored the music as much as I can take which isn't much. Even Edith Piaf sounds like an 8th grade production of 'Fatal Attraction'.

But Boris Vian cuts through my prejudice. Google the guy. He died at 39 years old but had the output of someone twice that age. He wrote novels, plays, screenplays, articles, essays, poems, reviews and songs. He was an actor. He was a director. He invented things. He translated American and English novels into French. He was incredibly prolific. His most famous song was 'Le Deserteur' which tells of a soldier refusing to fight in a letter to the President.

I bought this album while living in France. A 2 CD set, the first disc is Vian's versions of his own songs and the second his 'interpreters'. I prefer the first because it is raw and unpolished, his singing stinks, and the recordings are scratchy and compromised. When big stars get their hands on his stuff they flatten it out into the heinous dreck that passes for popular French music.

I am as anti-xenophobic as they come except when it comes to French music. It is awful.

16. 'You Can't Take It With You' by Paul Kelly & the Messengers from 'So Much Water So Close To Home'

The title of this album comes from a Raymond Carver short story which Robert Altman filmed in 'Short Cuts'. A trio of friends go fishing way up in the mountains and discover the body of a dead girl. Instead of cancelling their trip and immediately reporting her death, they fish for three days before coming back down out of the mountains and letting the authorities know. They've agreed to make it seem as if they found her on the last day but the wife knows her husband is lying. All connection with her man is lost. The title track takes the story and shoves it into a four minute country lament. 'You Can't Take It With You' is a catchy reminder that life is short and material things don't matter. But it is the title song that sticks and hurts.

The sun is shining and Los Angeles rushes around me. My iPod reminds me where I come from, what I've been through, and ultimately that I can't take it with me. Also that I have it right now.

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 '

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 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.