Thursday, January 29, 2009

Golden Boots CD release show Friday @ Plush

photo by taylor graham
The new Golden Boots album, Winter Of Our Discoteque, is all of three days old now, as far as the official release date goes.

But, so long as you're in the Ol' Pueblo, the perfect time and place to acquire yourself a copy is down at Plush, tonight.

The alt-alt-country band has been around for years now, and seems just about ready to break through.

I don't have too much more to say, but check out the Tucson Weekly's preview of the show for the definitive scoop.

With Bob Log III headlining, this should be one hell of a show.

Check out the video for "Ghosts":

As far as Bob Log III, well, I've never seen anything else remotely like him.

Golden Boots - Love Is In The Air
Golden Boots - Country Back High II
Bob Log III - Log Bomb
Bob Log III - Ass Computer

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1990

1. Texas Tornados - Laredo Rose - Texas Tornados
Definitely a curveball addition to the League of SuperGroups, this project brought together Doug Sahm, Freddie Fender, Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers for an accordion-heavy brand of Tex-Mex that sounds just about as perfect as it could be. Known mostly for "(Hey Baby) Que Paso?" it's a surprisingly strong album, and in my mind a one-of-a-kind treasure.

2. The Sundays - Can't Be Sure - Reading, Writing And Arithmetic
I had to backtrack on the Sundays, after getting mesmerized by the amazingly sunny Brit-pop of 1997's Static And Silence. And there was certainly a lot more to the band, as this debut album shows. With Harriet Wheeler on vocals, The Sundays come across more as a female-fronted U2 than anything else that was being recorded at the time. The Wikipedia entry simply calls Wheeler's voice "dreamy," and on this single its absolutely true.

3. Pixies - Havalina - Bossanova
The Pixies third album is almost as great as the band's second, which is in itself a remarkable achievement, but the band's strengths show up everywhere. I was never a fan of "Havalina," which closes the album, but hearing it on shuffle, stripped from the rest of the album, it's a fantastic, laid-back tune, once again catchy as hell, with Frank Blank repeating "Havalina" over and over. And hey, it's about Arizona...

4. Public Enemy - Meet The G That Killed Me - Fear Of A Black Planet
I never had any of the Public Enemy records when I was younger, so all I knew were the "hits." Even in 44 seconds, this is a band that sounds unstoppable.

5. Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus - Violator
Everybody I knew liked this album back when it came out. Violator was synthy, but definitely not techno, more like a lighter, pre-industrial sort of sound. It was catchy, just dark enough to seem really cool, and one of those powerhouse records that kept giving off singles, so that you couldn't escape it if you wanted for roughly a year. And "Personal Jesus" stands the test of time, without a doubt.

6. Operation Ivy - Artificial Life - Energy
This Lookout! Records album is a ska-punk breakthrough, and was one of those direct precursors to the type of Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords bands that I grew up knowing as punk. This song - like so many of the genre - goes by in barely two minutes, and it's up to the listener to grab it. Not much of this album really grabbed me, to be honest, but for my money "Big City" is one of the best punk songs ever.

7. The Replacements - Who Knows - All For Nothing/Nothing For All
I have the songs from 1997 compilation tagged by what year they were recorded, so this live version of "Who Knows" pops up in 1990. This is definitely Westerberg nearly all the way transformed into his solo style, with a saxophone-infused ballad. But I like Westerberg's solo stuff, by and large, because he can still turn out great lines all the time: "When the fire in his eyes has turned to ashes" alone makes this song worthwhile.

8. Tom Russell Band - Outbound Plane - Poor Man's Dream
I've never heard anyone talk about Tom Russell in anything less than glowing terms, but there are few people I've ever heard talk about Tom Russell. He may have a relatively small circle of fans, but from what I can gather, Tom Russell is as highly regarded as any songwriter there is. I just got this record, and it has a comfortable cowboy folk sound, with plenty of insightful lyrics. This album, and probably several more of Russell's, deserve a lot more of my attention.

9. They Might Be Giants - Minimum Wage - Flood
The second song on this shuffle to check in at under 50 seconds, I can't say much for this song. BUT, that doesn't mean that I don't love the quirky brilliance of Flood. True uniqueness is tough to find in any music, but They Might Be Giants have always gone their own way, bless 'em.

10. Mazzy Star - Halah - She Hangs Brightly
Like I did with The Sundays, I backtracked through the Mazzy Star albums after discovering them through the somewhat uncharacteristic "big hit." All three albums are filled with great songs, and what a sound. Dreamy is again the first word to use with Mazzy Star, and "Halah" is the perfect example of the band - part psychedelic, part folk, great melody and Hope Sandoval's aching and sexy vocals.

The Sundays - Can't Be Sure (live)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Submarines & The Morning Benders @ Club Congress Sunday

Los Angeles husband-and-wife duo The Submarines and Berkeley quartet The Morning Benders are teaming up on a tour, and have each recorded one of the other band's songs as a promotional tour single.

It's a great idea - and what's more, both songs sound great. I don't know either band, so I haven't yet heard the original versions alongside the covers, but the project is easily enough of a teaser to make me jazzed about the coming show - Sunday at Club Congress.

The Submarines are the poppier of the two bands, with a bit of an electronic edge that recalls the Postal Service. And they're apparently scored the big time by having a tune in Grey's Anatomy.

The Morning Benders stick to more of a classic indie guitar-rock approach, with an obvious love of the Kinks.

The Young Mothers join The Submarines and The Morning Benders for the post-Super Bowl, all-ages show. Maybe the Cards will actually win, and it can be an indie rock celebration in more ways than one...

The Submarines - Waiting For A War (Morning Benders cover)
The Morning Benders - 1940 (Submarines Cover)
The Morning Benders - Your Dark Side

Odds & Ends

I'm back from a short blogging absence there - I was helping the new roommate get moved in and situated. This is a friend I've known since I was 12, and we've pulled jackass stunts from time to time ever since. This should be an interesting ride.

Anyway, back to some music:

There's a new record on the way (Feb. 3) from the Heartless Bastards, a Dayton trio that I caught on their second record, 2006's All This Time.

The band has put out the first single as a free download, and it's hella good. "The Mountain" is pure rock 'n' roll, big power chords riding a stomp-stomp beat, with Erika Wennerstrom's raw, bluesy vocals right in the middle.

I listened to the song about 10 times yesterday, then in the car on the trip to return the U-Haul, I caught it again on KXCI, and had that momentary thrill that comes when a radio station unxpectedly plays one of your favorite songs. So, from that reaction alone, I'm already putting "The Mountain in the top slot for best song I've heard from 2009.

The Heartless Bastards have a tour booked with The Gaslight Anthem for the spring, and if there's no Tucson show, then this looks like one that's actually worth driving to Phoenix to catch. But with no dates listed in between the April 15 San Francisco show and the April 21 at the Clubhouse, I'm holding out some hope that a Tucson show is in the works.

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
Heartless Bastards - All This Time


Magnet has been keeping close tabs on The Wrens, who are back to work on the follow-up to 2003's The Meadowlands. I came to that record a couple years late, but couldn't get "She Sends Kisses" out of my mind for at least that long afterwards. Magnet's Wrens Watch has a new song from the band, probably a demo, but I think it shows a ton of promise for the new record.

The Wrens - New Song


Back in November, Austin's Mother Truckers released a digital-only album, Let's All Go To Bed. I missed it at the time, but I clearly remember the band playing one hell of a show last January at Club Congress, with the Fourkiller Flats. The Mother Truckers get huge props in Tucson, which is no surprise because as the 2007-2008 winners of Best Roots Band in Austin, they fit right in with the country-folk-rock blend of the desert.

This is rowdy, bar-room rock 'n' roll, with white hot guitar leads plucked from Josh Zee's heavy metal past, and honey sweet vocals from Teal Collins, who smiles on stage more than any other performer I've ever seen.

Mother Truckers - When I Get My Wings
Mother Truckers - Dynamite
Mother Truckers - Streets of Atlanta

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Fourkiller Flats tunes

Just in time for their first show in too-damn-long, the Fourkiller Flats have posted two new songs on their MySpace.

The Flats will take the stage, such as it is, at Che's Lounge, about 10 p.m. Saturday. There's no better place to catch the fellers, who like to stretch out their two sets and give the faithful plenty of whiskey-drinking time as they rock out. There's a certain magic that makes up a Flats' show at Che's - the familiarity of the songs and the dudes playing them all kind of builds together into a moment where everything is just right.

Despite being notoriously poor at self-promotion (on MySpace, the band writes that they sound like "Chunka Chunka Chunka Chunka WAAAAAAAAAA - weedle dee weedle deee - WAAAAAAA Chunka Chunka Chunka"), and prone to the occasional hiatus, the Fourkiller Flats are without a doubt one of the best bands in Tucson, now or ever, and among the greatest twang rockers to ever plug in amps or throw on cowboy hats.

Jim Cox sings, in a deep and weary voice that covers several different shades of mournful before breakfast, and then wraps in anguish, defiance and his own brand of audacious, wordly wisdom. Neal Bonser is the perfect foil on lead guitar, practically another singer in his expressive, soulful and almost effortless playing - it's the kind of thing you sit there in the crowd, just waiting for... Never mind the pitch-perfect harmony vocals and the rock-solid-hire-'em-at-any-price rhythm section.

The songs are about heartbreak, drinkin', fightin', and the occasional morning in which one might just happen to find oneself stinkin' of Jim Beam upon waking, for some reason or another, in a Las Cruces jail. In other words, the songs are perfect.

And the bastards have decided to finally get around to recording some more. And - no shit - they promise a new album, on Mudhouse Records, in March ("or thereabouts").

So until March, or thereabouts, when we can expect a proper album release show, tomorrow is prime Flats time. Catch 'em if you can.

Fourkiller Flats - Never For Free (2009)
Fourkiller Flats - Go Get Gone (2001)
And get more new tunes at Fourkiller Flats' MySpace page

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tallest Man in Seattle

The Tallest Man On Earth visited Seattle a couple weeks back to record some songs in the KEXP studio, and the station has just posted a couple clips (check the KEXP blog for more):

"Honey, Won't You Let Me In"

"Where Do My Bluebird Fly"

The Tallest Man On Earth - Walk The Line

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1989

1. LL Cool J - Going Back to Cali - Walking With a Panther
This shit was absolutely as cool as it got.

2. Pixies - Dead - Doolittle
I didn't come to the Pixies until college, a good eight years after this groundbreaking album was released, but it didn't sound the slightest bit dated. In fact, another 12 years later, it's still an incredibly powerful album. "Dead" has all the elements that make the Pixies great: two guitars sounding almost as if they're at odds until they come crashing together, that Frank Black yelp, and the tightest rhythm section of its day.

3. Neil Young - Don't Cry - Freedom
I sadly still haven't heard most of what I call Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World" album. Like a lot of Neil Young songs, this is good-not-great, and becomes more or less forgettable when you stand it up next to his best songs, which, like "Rockin' In The Free World" are some of the best ever written.

4. Tom Petty - Yer So Bad - Full Moon Fever
One hell of a good rocker that easily rates high enough to be on a greatest hits collection, its absence on any such collection delayed my discovery for years. I love the juxtaposition in the lines "Yer so bad / Best thing I ever had" - it's pure Petty and in his hands it's utterly believable.

5. The B-52's - Love Shack - Cosmic Thing
Ubiquitous then and now, this is one of those songs that the universe just needed to exist, one of those songs that would've been written by somebody at some point if the B-52's hadn't gotten there first. It's the "Stayin' Alive" of it's day, and went into the stratosphere without even the benefit of a hit movie.

6. Bob Dylan - Where Teardrops Fall - Oh Mercy
One of Dylan's many Great Comeback Albums, Oh Mercy has the Daniel Lanois touch through and through, and is excellent from start to finish. Otherwise sounding slightly out of place, the saxophone that comes in at the end makes perfect sense in the context of New Orleans, where Dylan wrote and recorded the album. The lyrics are pure Dylan, seemingly biblical at times, deceptively simple throughout, full of dark and light imagery and lonely, longing thoughts.

7. Galaxie 500 - Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste - Peel Sessions
Technically a 2005 release, this Modern Lovers' cover was recorded in 1989, so we'll go with it. I've always been more on the Luna side of Dean Wareham's career, but then a Galaxie 500 song like this comes out of the blue and mesmerizes me completely. Tremendously influential, Galaxie 500 stands with the Pixies as unassailably cool inspirations for any band to cite today.

8. Superchunk - My Noise - Tossing Seeds
An early single, "My Noise" catches Superchunk just a bit before the band arrived at its signature sound. Here the band has more of a minimalist punk sound, a bit rougher and rawer than their later records. Neither a standout or a throwaway song, "My Noise" is great for what it shows: a band out in the world, with a bunch of musicians DIYing themselves into existence.

9. Fugazi - Give Me The Cure - 13 Songs
Fugazi is one of the closing chapters of Our Band Could Be Your Life, a tremendous book on the 1980s indie underground that I was reading as this shuffle project traced the same timeline. So it's fitting that Fugazi shows up here. A re-release of two EPs, 13 Songs closes the 1980s with as much promise and integrity as bands like Black Flag and the Minutemen opened the decade. I've talked a lot with Rolbot about the differences and similarities the indie, underground and DIY bands now have with those in the 1980s, and as technologically enabled as today's bands are, it's still on them to make good music. As for Fugazi and the like, not only are people still listening, but more and more of them are discovering how great the music is, of any era, once you step off the beaten path.

10. The Jayhawks - Dead End Angel - Blue Earth
This was one of those albums I couldn't find for the life of me, then I ended up picking up a used copy at a very inflated price, then ended up reissued like a year later. Lesson: out-of-print CDs will never be "collectibles" and should never command "collectible" pricing. In the end it's a minor album, interesting mostly because it captures the band just before inspiration really hit and they recorded the classic Hollywood Town Hall.

Pixies - Dead (live)
Fugazi - Give Me The Cure (live)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pete, Bruce, Tao and millions

I just came across these, because stupid HBO is doing all it can to pull videos:

And one more song that's fitting today:
Chango Malo - A Change Is Gonna Come (live, Sam Cooke Cover)


I'll always mark today by the feelings of joy and pride, intertwined and delivered in waves from inside myself by some seldom-seen nugget of wholesomeness, and from outside, by a country and its people, who decided, collectively and with enormous commitment and struggle, that the inauguration of a president should be an occasion celebrated by all, not just the robber barons.

I gladly call Barack Obama my president, a simple declaration, but one that feels monumental.

I have little else to say today, other than how tremendous it feels to have this concrete now, to finally have a new president, not a president-elect. And George W. Bush and all his cronies can now fade, silently, into their place in history as the dark stain upon this country that they are.

The responsible and honorable are now in charge, and for that, America is better.

I put together a mix right after the election, and I'm bringing it back for everybody to celebrate the inauguration. Here's the description:
So here are some tunes that are vaguely political, some explicit in their celebration of America, and others that sort of capture the feel of what was at stake this year.

Some are joyous, others are defiant. There's struggle and hope, and some sarcasm and humor, and anger and pride, all tied together in a bunch. The songs of protest are a reminder of what fights have come and gone on this road. The happy songs are a reminder of what's always been at the core of America. The soul and the blues and the folk tunes are the history of this country, a history that wasn't always fit for the newspapers. These are all songs of engagement - and they're all damn good, so give the mix a spin.
Victory 2008 mix

Arlo Guthrie & Bruce Springsteen & Taj Mahal & Emmylou Harris & Bono & Little Richard & John Mellencamp - This Land Is Your Land

And also three takes on a gorgeous song:
Ray Charles - America The Beautiful
Keb Mo - America The Beautiful
Willie Nelson - America The Beautiful

Monday, January 19, 2009

John Clinebell - Stomping Grounds

Photo by Sarah Stanick

When I came across the debut record from Santa Monica songwriter John Clinebell, my mind took a 10-year leap back in time.

While Stomping Grounds, released in 2008 by SP&G Records, is his first solo album, I'd seen Clinebell perform probably a dozen times or more with his college band, Tricky Luz.

I first came across the group at a coffee shop open mic night, when Clinebell and guitarist Josh Watts had hooked up with my friend Aaron on the upright bass.

The Tricky Luz sound was in the vein of Dave Matthews and Paul Simon, but the lyrics grabbed me from the start. Poetic and thoughtful, they weren't the average coffee shop fare, and the band soon built a pretty good following in Tucson.

I'm not sure when the band split up, but they played regularly for at least a couple years, putting out a demo EP and a full-length, self-released album, Honeyblood.

Skip several years ahead and I find Clinebell's solo release, and I couldn't have been more curious about what became of the old Tricky Luz singer (my old dorm pal Aaron Hubbard now plays with Driving East, a quickly rising D.C.-area punk band).

Stomping Grounds easily surpasses the bar I guessed was set by a decade of practice and growth. Clinebell has settled into a Southern California sound, crafting great laid-back rock music around an incredibly melodic core. Think of the space somewhere in between Jack Johnson, Counting Crows , R.E.M. and Jackson Browne.

Stomping Grounds' opener, "Yellow Valentines," is an up-tempo, head-bobbing song, sounding like one of those singles that catches on like wildfire during the summer, invading every radio format there is, netting new listeners every day.

My favorite song is "Hard Love," with its "Could've burned brighter" opening line riding along a bed of fuzzy guitars and a thumping rhythm. It's another single-in-waiting, catchy as all hell, with a chorus both soaring and wistful.

Stomping Grounds spans from rockers to sun-soaked acoustic ballads, like "The End," which sounds like a Southern California version of Damien Rice.

Clinebell has a Feb. 6 show, opening for Dave Matthews collaborator Tim Reynolds, at Brixton South Bay in Redondo Beach.

Check out Clinebell on YouTube, where he's posted a series of both original songs and covers.

John Clinebell - Hard Love
John Clinebell - Yellow Valentines
Tricky Luz - Trace

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Heads up from Yep Roc

Today we've got a couple good tidbits from the folks over at Yep Roc:

First is a new track from Dave Alvin, "Walking with Mr. Lee." It's a tribute to Lee Allen, who taught a couple saxophone lessons to a 15-year-old Dave Alvin, before advising the student to try another instrument. Decades later, Alvin has a long-standing reputation as a rip-roaring guitarist - especially down at the intersection of rockabilly & blues.

Lee had a 1957 saxophone instrumental hit with "Walking with Mr. Lee," and as a tribute, Alvin put together a guitar version with his Guilty Men. It's fantastic. Check out more of Alvin's digital download series at his Web site.

Next up is news of a second album from Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus Three, his super-group backing band of Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey & Bill Rieflin. Hitchcock has this to say about Goodnight Oslo: "The album, in part, celebrates the ghosts of the smoke age, and the various ways they were wrecked but still sailed on. That's the way it is with humans. You could call it the comfort of doom. Goodnight Oslo is a vortex that I am still leaving."

Olé Tarantula, the band's first effort, was stellar, landing at No. 6 of my best of 2006 list. Hitchcock took the veteran combo on the road, tearing up Club Congress for a night. Goodnight Oslo drops on Feb. 17, but check out a preview of "I'm Falling" over at Yep Roc. Yep Roc also has special pre-order offers, including a special three-song bonus disc.

Finally, Yep Roc has word on a tribute album to Chris Gaffney, the country-soul pioneer who died last April. Gaffney led the Hacienda Brothers, but also played with Dave Alvin and in numerous other bands over a nearly 40-year career.

A Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney has contributions from Dave Alvin, John Doe, Joe Ely, Los Lobos, Calexico, Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Russell, James McMurtry, fellow Hacienda Brother Dave Gonzalez, and will be released on March 31.

Dave Alvin - King of California
Calexico - Frank's Tavern (live, Chris Gaffney cover)
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus Three - (A Man's Got To Know His Limitations) Briggs (live)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obamicon Covers

I didn't read through the lengthy Obamicon.Me terms and conditions, but I doubt you're supposed to use it for classic album covers... but c'mon, what else is a music blogger to do?

Here are some favorites:

Any other great Obamicon album covers?

Bob Dylan - Let Me Die In My Footsteps (outtake)
Bruce Springsteen - Rosalita (live 1974)
Nirvana - Lithium (live)
Ween - Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down) (live at Bonnaroo)
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
Warren Zevon - Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner (live)
Willie Nelson - Remember Me (live 1975)
Beck - The Golden Age (YouTube)
Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Nerve
Soul Coughing - Screenwriter's Blues (live)
Roger Clyne - Banditos (acoustic)

2009 Odds & Ends

After a quick, put-your-best-of-list-together respite from new releases, music fans everywhere are getting hit with flow of new 2009 albums, plenty of which are highly anticipated and already raking in top reviews. Here's some of the best preview tracks:

Bon Iver - Blood Bank
Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Nerve
Handsome Furs - I'm Confused
Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
A.C. Newman - Submarines of Stockholm
Elvis Perkins - Shampoo

And NPR is turning into the best source around for new music, giving exclusive sneak peaks of full albums:

Animal Collective - Merryweather Post Pavilion (Jan. 19)
Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream (Jan. 19)
M. Ward - Hold Time
Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1988

1. Lucinda Williams - Passionate Kisses - Lucinda Williams
The Mary Chapin Carpenter cover version won Williams her first Grammy, but the original version is far superior. Still, it's as close to the glossy Nashville pop-country sound as Williams ever really got, and for that it sounds a bit out of place with the rest of her catalog. Just on that same album, the songs before and after "Passionate Kisses" - "Changed the Locks" and "Am I Too Blue" - sound much more "Lucinda" to me.

2. Tom Waits - Yesterday Is Here - Big Time
Originally from Frank's Wild Years, this live version is pure theatrical Waits. Coincidentally, I think this is the only Tom Waits song ever covered by both Cat Power and Scarlett Johansson.

3. Arlo Guthrie - East Texas Red - Folkways: A Vision Shared - A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly
This is a pretty sweet tribute album, with an interesting spin of combining Woody and Leadbelly songs. Aside from Arlo, it has contributions from Dylan, Springsteen, Willie Nelson, U2, Taj Mahal and Little Richard with Fishbone. This was the first time I've ever come across "East Texas Red" and from all I could find, I doubt Woody ever recorded it, since it was apparently written in 1963. And the only other person I've ever found to have recorded it is Tom Russell.

4. Camper Van Beethoven - Tania - Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
Strange gypsy undertones on this tune, which I hadn't heard until shuffle brought it my way. I picked up this album after really liking Telephone Free Landslide Victory, but it's been in the to-listen stack since. The All Music Guide offers up this fascinating tidbit: the song is a sarcastic "love letter" to Patty Hearst, who took the name Tania after her capture.

5. NWA - 8 Ball - Straight Outta Compton
Eazy-E was a legend - all attitude when that was rap's leading currency - and it's clear on this track why. He was the first to perfect the combination of swagger and gangsta legitimacy and turn his street life into rhymes that stopped people dead in their tracks.

6. Dead Milkmen - Punk Rock Girl - Beelzebubba
I can't get enough of this song lately. It's catchy as all hell, funny and manages to marry an accordion into the punk rock family. Hands down the song of the week.

7. Cowboy Junkies - Sweet Jane - The Trinity Session
Slowed-down and spooky, this cover of the Velvet Underground classic got new life on the Natural Born Killers Soundtrack. As mesmerizing as music ever gets.

8. Soul Asylum - Jack of All Trades - Hang Time
Actually a very well regarded band when they were punk, Soul Asylum had become well watered down by the time I heard them, with the MTV hit "Runaway Train." This is much better, but I'm thinking that Soul Asylum is a band you had to catch the first time around. They are neither the first, last, or most notable band to ever be ruined by a major record label, but there's no doubt that even Soul Asylum's early stuff is tainted by that ultimate fate.

9. River Roses - Good Folks Gone Away - Each And All
This long-dead Tucson band took a bit from R.E.M., a bit from the Beatles and a lot from the desert. The songs are way too good for this band to be remembered as little more than a footnote in an out-of-the-way local scene.

10. Sonic Youth - Candle - Daydream Nation
I'm still in the early phase of my Sonic Youth listening, having been alternately attracted and repelled by the alternating melodic and pure noise switches at the core of the band. I can't deny they're legendary for a reason, but neither will I ever stop wondering what a pure guitar pop album from Sonic Youth would sound like. The non-existent wimpy sell-out album, I'm sure, would end up as my favorite Sonic Youth record.

Camper Van Beethoven - Tania
Cowboy Junkies - Sweet Jane
River Roses - Good Folks Gone Away

New Neko Case song

So not only is there a new Neko Case album on the way (March 3) - but there's a new single being offered up for free from Neko and Anti-, which also benefits the Best Friends Animal Society.

Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Nerve

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Carpe Diem and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

Just for the hell of it, I thought I'd post an essay I wrote for a rock 'n' roll history class, back in 2001. I don't think the TA - a graduate student in percussion - had any idea what to do with the paper, short of marking it an A and moving right along. So here goes, all 1,800 words, only altered by chopping it into more paragraphs to make the online reading easier:

The New Jersey shore in the early 1970s was filled with boardwalk towns and a carnival atmosphere, a working class escape where youth flourished and struggled – looking for some mystical enlightenment and all the while playing it cool. Under this umbrella Bruce Springsteen created his own lyrical world, filling his songs with wild, fantastic characters and tied their experiences together with the thematic threads of magic, love and most importantly unbridled youth.

The characters in Springsteen’s 1973 classic album The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle are all recreations and re-emergences of those Jersey shore youths, spun through the songwriter’s own experiences and desires. They form a curious and odd collection, often times charicatures thrown over the top. But their desires run through to the root of human experience – the assertive nature of youth not allowing itself to be kept down and in the search for love especially, demanding of a free spirit.

Springsteen’s lyrics on the album can be seen as a contemporary version of the 17th century English Cavalier poets. The two most accomplished of the group, Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick, built their poetry out of a carpe diem longing. On The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Springsteen’s lyrics are comparable to Marvell and Herrick’s classic “seize the day” poems, extending the themes to the contemporary listener while staying true to the tradition.

First examining simply the title of the album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, is rooted in the idea of carpe diem. The characters are wild and innocent – a seeming contradiction but once examined in terms of eagerness and youth lends itself to a more accurate description.

The spirit of youth infuses each of the lyrical characters and one of the prime components of that spirit is a longing for action and adventure, an eagerness to experience the wonder of life. The E Street Shuffle, named for Springsteen’s band, advances the idea, giving the characters a perfect setting for adventure and permission to dance. But while it encompasses the thematic material for the album, the title is simply an introduction, giving context to the lyrics that follow.

Springsteen’s “New York City Serenade” captures the idea that the present must be embraced fully because once the age of youth has passed it is lost forever. This idea is central to Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” as well. Herrick advises his audience to “use your time / And while ye may, go marry.” This assertion relies heavily on the conception of time as a fleeting definition of youth. Indeed it is, as Springsteen also recognizes.

The “New York City Serenade” protagonist, Billy, is waiting for his Diamond Jackie at midnight in Manhattan and makes his motto “walk tall or baby don’t walk at all.” This assertion of giving one’s all to the pursuit of youthful experience would rightly serve as a motto for Herrick’s poem. Herrick continues his advice by announcing that “having lost but once your prime, / You may forever tarry.”

Springsteen utilizes this idea of man in his prime – and conscious of that fact – remarkably well. Billy says to Diamond Jackie “I’m a young man, I talk it real loud / Yeah babe I walk it real proud for you.” Here Springsteen expands Herrick’s message by giving it a specific listener, one to whom the message is crucial. The intrinsic implications of Herrick’s addressing the poem “To the Virgins” give the message an audience and urgency, while Springsteen builds on that to confine the audience to one character and increase the sense of urgency.

Herrick opens his poem by telling the youth to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old time is still a-flying; / And this same flower that smiles today, / Tomorrow will be dying.” The potential for decay underlies this message and enforces the assertion that the present is the only suitable time for action. But Herrick does not examine the possibility that while the prime is suitable for gathering rosebuds (in other words collecting positive experiences), it is also the crucial moment for breaking away of negative situations.

Springsteen does bring in this sentiment, which is crucial to the contemporary audience. Billy employs Diamond Jackie to “shake away your street life / Shake away your city life / Hook up to the train.” Here Springsteen’s character not only gives the push to take the reins of life, he also points the way to a direct method. Just as Herrick’s 17th century poem implores his audience to embrace the prime of youth and accomplish all that is possible before that window so quickly slams shut, Springsteen brings the same themes into his rock ‘n’ roll, carving his lyrics just as delicately as the classic poet did.

Another of the Cavalier poets, Andrew Marvell, expanded Herrick’s use of the carpe diem theme in “To His Coy Mistress.” He discusses a courtship under the umbrella of “had we but world enough, and time,” as a device to hint at what immortal life could accomplish. But, as he later describes, “Time’s winged chariot (is) hurrying near,” which does not allow for a subtle courtship.

In “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” Springsteen again echoes back to the carpe diem poets as his narrator tries to speed up a courtship. He tells his Sandy that “this pier lights our carnival life forever / Love me tonight for I may never see you again.” Springsteen is equally effective as Marvell in evoking the idea that if a young man had a forever, he would use it in courtship, but since time is fleeting the process should occur quicker.

Again Springsteen has mastered the same sense of urgency that the Cavalier poets relied on. Marvell’s narrator is asking his beloved “let us sport us while we may” and “tear our pleasures with rough strife / Thorough the iron gates of life.” Springsteen returns with another echo of the carpe diem theme, albeit much updated for his Jersey shore characters. The narrator tells his Sandy that “for me this boardwalk life is through / You ought to quit this scene too.” Both passages focus on the moment of initiative – that one second when the characters choose to embrace the possibility of youth and act with all their being to make the fleeting prime all that it may be.

Just as Marvell is asking his beloved for immediate love in exchange for permanent love, Springsteen closes the song with the line “Oh love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever.” Despite the more than 300 years separating Marvell and Springsteen, the contemporary songwriter has recognized the universality of his elder’s themes and created a song both inspired by and using many of the same techniques and implications of language as the classic.

The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’s most well known and enduring track, “Rosalita,” is perhaps the best example of the parallels between the album and the writings of the Cavalier poets. The song focuses most heavily on the insistence that youth must be embraced almost to the point of exploitation. Marvell’s description of the prime of one’s life is in the line “while the youthful hue / Sits on thy skin like morning dew, / and while thy willing soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires.” He brings in the notion of unadulterated enthusiasm and an immediacy of action.

Springsteen sings “Spread out now Rosie, doctor come cut loose here mama’s reins,” giving the opening line of the song an equal sense of enthusiasm and immediacy. The “mama’s reins” still intact speak to the youthful nature of Rosalita, but also to the necessity to break out, as the narrator will urge throughout the rest of the song.

Herrick’s description of youth is “that age is best which is the first, / When youth and blood are warmer.” Springsteen takes that reference to the first age and warmer blood and renders is with much more specificity. He describes his narrator’s existence in that first age in the lines “We’re gonna play some pool, skip some school, act real cool / Stay out all night, it’s gonna feel alright / So Rosie come out tonight.”

The request for Rosie to come out roots itself in the conception of “time,” which Marvell uses particularly well. The most effective and evocative moment in which Springsteen directly uses the idea of time is in the line “By the time we meet the morning light I will hold you in my arms.” Here he is more direct than his carpe diem ancestors, but given the three-century difference, the directness is well understood.

Despite all of the other similarities in theme, use of language and invocation of the classic call to action, there is one image in “Rosalita” which parallels the carpe diem poets better than any. Marvell closes his poem with the line “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.” This statement asserts that even though time cannot stop, the narrator and his love can by their own actions take charge and make the sun (time) operate at their mercy rather than be themselves passively controlled.

Springsteen directly references that line in “Rosalita” when he sings “And together we’re gonna go out tonight and make that highway run.” He substitutes the highway for the sun (which expands the notion to include space as well as time), but the motif remains intact – during the age of youth, one has the power to exert control over time rather than being forced to accept what it may deliver.

The notion that rock ‘n’ roll lyrics can function as literature is indeed correct, but leaving off at that does not offer any further insights. Only by comparing the lyrics to respected literature can the real depth of meaning of rock lyrics emerge. Bruce Springsteen, once hailed as the new Bob Dylan for his command of the language and ability to craft songs that evoke themes central to the human experience, delivered, on The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, a collection of lyrics that can be best understood in relation to the classic carpe diem poetry of the 17th century.

The thematic links are obvious – the undeniable essence of youth to create for itself in light of an understanding that the opportunity is short. However, the techniques Springsteen employs – metaphor, imagery and characterization in particular – also render him as a contemporary equal to Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell. From 17th century England to the Jersey shore, the necessity to “sieze the day” permeates because it is one of the central ideas of humanity. And those rare few who can effectively capture that will forever be considered classics.

Bruce Springsteen - New York City Serenade (live, 1973)
Bruce Springsteen - 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (live, 1974)
Bruce Springsteen - Rosalita (live, 1974)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy Arlo Guthrie Day!

It's the Tenth of January, and I still ain't had no sleep...

Once again, it's Arlo Guthrie Day, celebrating what is perhaps my all-time favorite song, "Darkest Hour," a mysterious, dream-like song, with some of the best poetry this side of "Mr. Tambourine Man."

The song captured me fully about 11 years ago, and made its way onto my Eighth Street Symphony mix, settling in right between Neil Young's Unplugged version of "Long May You Run" and the Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson Storytellers version of "Ghost Riders In The Sky."

"Darkest Hour" is a truly magical song, with an understated foreignness that builds and builds throughout. It's a classic tale of love amidst war, but it leaves the impression more of still photographs - black & white and beautifully lit - than of a movie. Arlo captures the moments in such detail, but leaves the story blank along the way, as the greatest songwriters do, for the listener to work his way into the cracks.

I've seen Arlo twice in the past year, in November at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger, and in April at the Fox Theatre on his Solo Reunion Tour (Together At Last With the Original Band). In concert, Arlo tells how the song came to him in a dream, but when he woke he wasn't sure whether he was singing it or it was someone else. "I wasn't sure whether it was my song, but then I thought, what the hell, it was my dream," he says.

Well, here's to you Arlo, and I hope everybody takes a moment to themselves today, to listen to "Darkest Hour."

Arlo Guthrie - Live 2007-08-04, Freeport, Maine (entire show, zip file, 95 minutes, 177 mb)
Arlo Guthrie - story about Darkest Hour (Live 2007-08-04)
Arlo Guthrie - Darkest Hour (Live 2007-08-04)
Arlo Guthrie - City of New Orleans (Live 2007-08-04)
Arlo Guthrie - Coming Into Los Angeles (Live 2007-08-04)
Arlo Guthrie - My Peace (Live 2007-08-04)

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Inserts

At the Calexico show a couple weeks ago, the band threw a few lines from Bob Dylan's Silvio into the middle of "Victor Jara's Hands," turning the song a little sideways with a borrowed and entirely new vibe.

It's a trick I've always liked - not exactly a cover song, but a bit of an homage. Calexico just borrowed the "Silvio" chorus, weaving it seamlessly with their own song. I've seen other bands break out of a jam to perform the entiretey of another song within two halves of their own tunes, like Counting Crows do with Springsteen's Thunder Road.

But it's also a trick I don't see too often. I only find a handful searching through my iTunes library, and I wonder how much else I might be missing. Below are all of the live performances I have that use part or whole of another band's song. What am I missing? What other bands have done this? Is this cool or a gimmick? Does it spice up a song, or is a band better off just playing a whole cover?

Calexico - Victor Jara's Hands (with Bob Dylan's 'Silvio' insert)
Counting Crows - Rain King (with Bruce Springsteen's 'Thunder Road' insert)
Pearl Jam - Daughter (with Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall' insert)
Pearl Jam - Yellowledbetter (with 'Star Spangled Banner' insert)
Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Girly (with The Who's Baba O'Reilly insert)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Video day

A few videos for everybody today...

First up is my friends in Okkervil River, who performed "Pop Lie" last night on Letterman:

Next up is the new video for M. Ward's "Hold Time," the first single from the album of the same name, which is set for a Feb. 17 release (Mr. Chair could verify, but I'm pretty sure that's the Portland tram featured in the video):

How 'bout The Tallest Man On Earth, with a haunting version of the old folk song "Moonshiner":

And finally, perhaps the coolest musical cross-pollination since Bruce Springsteen himself joined Craig Finn of The Hold Steady on an enthusiastic performance of "Rosalita," I was thrilled to come across this: Jeff Tweedy singing "Fake Plastic Trees," backed by Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway from Radiohead, his Wilco bandmate John Stirratt on bass and guests Liam Finn and the great Johnny Marr on guitar. Amazing:

Okkerivl River - Pop Lie (live, Montreal, 2008-10-11)
Get more live Okkervil River at the outstanding Down The Oubliette
Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees (live, San Francisco Outside Lands Festival, 2008-08-22)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1987

1. Dave Alvin - Fourth of July - Romeo's Escape
This is one of my all-time favorite songs, but my preference is for Alvin's heartache-laced, stripped-down recording from 1994's King of California. On Romeo's Escape it's a straight-ahead rock song, similar to the John Doe sung version on X's See How We Are, also released in 1987. The soaring chorus (Hey Baby, it's the Fourth of July) and the reflective lyrics of a love gone sour capture me every single time... no matter which version.

2. Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt - To Know Him Is To Love Him - Trio
This harmony rich remake of Phil Spector's classic tune topped the country music chart is surprisingly unslick for country in the mid 1980s. It made the collaboration a winner, though I like Emmylou & Linda's even more stripped-down 1999 Western Wall album better, for its less-predictable choice of songs to cover.

3. Tom Waits - I'll Take New York - Frank's Wild Years
Tom Waits possesses the most compelling weirdness in the history of American music, having turned out one curveball record after another for 35 years. This skewed combination of carnival and lounge music isn't even among his weirdest songs, but it effectively stops listeners in their tracks regardless.

4. Fleetwood Mac - Family Man - The Very Best Of (originally on Tango In The Night)
Fleetwood Mac was a band that shouldn't have been recording in the 1980s. A generic drum-machine dance beat, heavy synth presence and horrid new-agey acoustic guitar runs all add up to a horrid song. I have no idea what this is doing on a best-of collection, I've never heard it before, and I hope I don't ever again.

5. New Order - 1963 - Substance
This is one of the new songs on the Manchester dance-rock giants' 1987 compilation record, and like several of New Order's hits, I actually prefer later remixes. The sparser dance arrangements just sound too cold and synthetic to me, while the remixes tend to be more melodic arrangements that add layers of instrumentation that flesh out the sound so much better.

6. Spacemen 3 - Starship - The Perfect Prescription
I'm not sure what to think about this droning, spaced-out sound - it's sort of an ambient punk that fits in with my brother's tastes much moreso than mine. Which is hardly surprising since I got the album from him. Spacemen 3 is nothing I'd turn away from, but it may never be a band I'll embrace.

7. The Cure - Catch - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
From the band's first HUGE album, this is one of my favorite Cure songs, with a delicate, melodoic lead guitar and a sweeping violin light up this song, without making it sound too poppy. Call it a bright, sunny sadness. And it has a fantastic video.

8. Naked Prey - Wichita Lineman - 40 Miles From Nowhere
Van Christian led this Tucson alternative band that fits in somewhere along the punk to cow-punk transition that defined the scene until the "desert rock" tag stuck. Naked Prey turns this Jimmy Webb classic on its head, with a dirge-like beat and heavy distorted guitars

9. The Pixies - Levitate Me - Come On Pilgrim
The Pixies came mostly formed on this debut EP, but there's different sort of rawness than would show up on the band's best records.

10. The Strand - Her Love's In Vain - The Strand
A four-song self-released tape from an early Bruce Connole project (Connole now fronts the honky-tonk Suicide Kings), this should be a power pop classic. A lucky find on the amazing AZLocal blog, The Strand sounds like a sunnier version of the Replacements.

Dave Alvin - Fourth of July (live)
The Strand - Her Love's In Vain

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Repost: Mr. Chair's Best of 2008

Blogger spiked another post. So here it is again, minus the KEXP podcast links...

To spice things up this year, I asked Mr. Chair - one of my dearest friends and a fantastic blogger in his own right - to submit a guest post on his favorite music, films and assorted cultural mish-mash of 2008. Enjoy:

Mr. Chair's Best of 2008!

Catfish asked me to do a guest post of my best of 2008. I should warn though, that my Best Of lists (and most of my blog entries in general) aren't nearly as professional as the usual fare here. They aren't really in order, the list sizes change arbitrarily. And between you and me, a lot of my picks aren't even from 2008. The last one was a topsy-turvy year. Comic books ruled the box office. Indie rock turned earthy. And a lot of art was, well, really fucking dark. As was the year I s'pose. But here are some things that helped us enjoy, and endure, 2008.


I had a lot of fun at the movies this year. I can't say I saw a lot of the critically acclaimed movies that ought to be on such a list. But it was a dream come true for comic book fans.
7. Wanted -- The Russian director of Night Watch has handily taken the helm of flashy, stylized action from the Wachowskis.
6. Iron Man -- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. This is why we go to the movies.
5. Tropic Thunder -- Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian actor as a black man. This is why we go to the movies.
4. Paranoid Park, Gus Van Sant -- The bipolar filmaker (Elephant/Finding Forrester??) is on a roll. His movies seem so real lately.
3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army -- I don't think a lot of people saw this one. But Del Toro's modern fairytales on screen get better and better. It's as much a companion to Pan's Labyrinth as it is to the Hellboy comics.
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- Judd Apatow & Co. can do no wrong. Another perfect balance of irreverence, laughter and world-weary sincerity.
1. The Dark Knight -- No surprise here. Now I know there were some haters. It gave my girlfriend nausea and PTSD. Batman's voice sounded like Bea Arthur. But from start to finish, this movie was nothing short of an ass-kicking. It was dark, smart, weighty, and unforgiving -- clearly everything moviegoers needed last year. It nailed the zeitgeist. Hype aside, Heath Ledger's idealist/anarchist Joker elevated TDK to the best comic book movie ever made.

The music scene is fucking good these days. I credit the shift to digital and streaming. There are so many different, exciting artists. 2007 was great, and 2008 was still full of surprises. I haven't even listened to a ton of stuff yet, but from what I did, there was some pretty sweet shit:
14. Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.
13. Vampire Weekend

12. Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead

11. Stephen Malkmus, Real Emotional Trash. DOWNLOAD: Cold Son
10. Ratatat, LP3 - Fact: listening to Ratatat can transport you temporarily into the future, and increases productivity by 23 percent.
9. Jack's Mannequin, Glass Passenger
-- Yeah, I still listen to emo. F off.
8. Weakerthans, Reunion Tour

7. Calexico, Carried to Dust --
I miss their spookier old stuff, but they keep evolving like a new Wilco.
6. Sigur Ros, jibberish words
-- don't know what they're singing about but I likes the sounds of it.
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig! Lazarus! Dig!
-- at his dark, funny, smarmy best.
4. Blitzen Trapper, Furr -- Portland gives us a new kind of indie rock. One made in the woods by middle-aged men with beards.
3. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive
-- okay, it sounded a lot like the last album, but who cares. The only album of the year that blew my ass out the first time it started to play.
2. TV on the Radio, Dear Science
-- everything you've heard is true. Nothing like them around, and they get keep getting better.
1. Bon Iver, Forever, For Emma -- Guys with beards ruled the year. I definitely listened to this more than any other album from 2008. Can't wait for the follow up. Can't wait to see him live.

Bon Iver, Skinny Love

Blitzen Trapper, Furr

The Hold Steady, Lord, I'm Discouraged

TV on the Radio, The Golden Age

Hopscotch Willie, Stephen Malkmus

Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Weakerthans, Virtue the Cat Explains her Departure

I'm always behind cause I watch everything on Netflix, so almost none of this is actually 2008. But it's when I saw it dammit.
5. Mad Men -- Who would have thought a show on AMC about ad execs could be a pitch-perfect portrayal of the post-war American Dream's sinister underside.
4. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- "Dennis, our bar is south Philly in a scary alley... might as well call it 'Rape Bar.'"
3. Big Love -- Bill Paxton has too many wives.
2. Lost -- If you doubt me, sit down with a season. I dare you.
1. The Wire -- Perfect end to a perfect show.

Honorable Mentions, all categories.
Run Fatboy Run. Nada Surf, Lucky. Okkervil River, The Stand Ins. Fleet Foxes. The Swim, Random Walk. Shearwater, Rook. Randy Newman. Jenny Lewis. Giant Sand. The Office. Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Harold and Kumar. Flight of the Concords. Weeds. Cloverfield. The Orphanage. And of course all of the amazing stuff I've been reading about that I've been missing. Can't wait.

Shit I hated:
-The Signal -- I don't know where I heard this was good, but it wasn't. Could have been made by a bunch of 13-year-olds saying, "You know what would be cool..."
-Journey to the Center of the Earth -- I don't know why I even watched this. Self-loathing I guess. Brendan Fraser is still Encino Man.
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Poopy *fart noise* -- Lucas proves himself a total. fucking. ass.
-Newspapers going under.
-Various bailouts
-MTV reality shows that are unmistakably scripted.
-The Zac Efron haircut

Garboski EP release show Wednesday

The fortunate result of three outstanding musicians all without a band at the same time, Garboski found themselves performing well-attended and well-received shows from the band's inception.

Without even a demo track to toss onto MySpace for most of a year (though there's now three great songs), Garboski quickly developed a reputation, among fellow musicians especially, as one of Tucson's best live bands.

All veterans of numerous Tucson bands (Beau Bowen: Maintenance, Lloyd Dobler; Garth Bryson: Ladies and Gentlemen, Maintenance; Josh Skibar: Is To Feel, Fun With Dirt, The Bled) they fell together naturally, creating an energetic sound that gives each instrument equal footing.

The trio - Bowen on guitar, Bryson on bass and Skibar on drums - plays a bombastic rock music, full of starts and stops, soaring melodies and rapturous, frenzied instrumenal passages. Garboski sometimes recalls the Seattle explosion circa 1991, but leans more post-rock than punk.

Garboski is performing an EP release show Wednesday, Jan. 7 at Club Congress. Also on the stacked bill are local stalwarts Chango Malo, The Provocative Whites and Fort Worth.

The band took the time to answer a few questions:

Catfish Vegas: The three of you guys have all played in a number of Tucson bands over the years. How and when did Garboski form?

Garboski: We originally met all as singers in the Tucson Boys chorus years ago. Garth and Beau later on were playing in like bands for 5 years, moved to Portland to have our hearts shattered, moved back and were eager to reform a project. Josh Skibar was currently ending a project with Is to Feel and pursuing a career in gypsy belly dancing, when we were again re-united through friends of Chango Malo. The magic began.

CV: Is there a particular sound you were looking for from the outset, or did the band's style come together along the way?

Garboski: It was just a blend of our influences. Between Josh not wanted to play metal, and Garth and Beau not wanting play Candy Land.

CV: How does Garboski approach songwriting?

Garboski: We use magic monkey bones and a Ouiji board... and a lot of booze.

CV: How would you describe the new EP? When/where did you record it?

Garboski: Raw sex appeal. Our neighbor Tom Beach recorded us late this summer. It was a pain in the bottom.

CV: You have a stacked lineup for Wednesday's show. What can we expect?

Garboski: Even more raw sex appeal. PS: Beau is single.

Garboski - Roommates and Sitcoms

Monday, January 05, 2009

This Wheel's On Fire

Over the holidays I read through Levon Helm's autobiography, This Wheel's On Fire, which details The Band's long career from the very beginning, when the drummer hooked up with rockabilly barnstormer Ronnie Hawkins, far passed the bitter end of The Last Waltz.

The memoir opens with the heartbreak of finding Richard Manuel dead, the wildness that always shown in his eyes as much as in his unconventional talent having taken control in the singer's final end, suicide by hanging, drunk as always, in a Florida hotel room. He showed no outward clues - other than the entirety of Manuel's always-on-edge life - of his intentions right before his final moments, having relaxed talking with Helm after a show.

In my classic rock soaked teens, The Band had an anonymity (perhaps derived just from their name, perhaps in the more subtle excellence of their songs, which hardly translated well to classic rock radio) that made it far too easy to pass them by. So I didn't dig into anything by The Band until after probably 50 other bands, and even then, it was only the Bob Dylan "Royal Albert Hall" bootleg series album that pushed me in the direction of Big Pink.

It didn't take long before I loved The Band as much as any band - the songs were that good - but it was the Last Waltz film, back in theaters (for about a week) in 2002, that really sealed the deal. I've watched the DVD countless times since, and it's not hard to pick out how much of a whitewash the film is, despite its greatness.

Helm's book really breaks down into two parts: a thrilling recount of the fast life of a traveling band from the late 1950s for nearly two decades, and then that same band tearing itself apart from the inside. That second part culminates with Helm's version of The Last Waltz, and the criticisms are heavy indeed.

For one thing, it was never Robbie Robertson and The Band, it was always The Band. As the creative team behind the film, Robertson and Martin Scorcese seemed to miss that most vital reality. As such, the other four members are relegated to the background, no one moreso than Manuel.

Where I sit on the whole matter comes from a careful effort to separate the greatness of the concert and the film from its fundamental unfairness to some of its subject matter. I don't think Helm's account of the dissolution of The Band and how their final concert was preserved for the ages distracts from my love of the movie at all. Frankly, hearing this other side of the story only makes the whole thing much more interesting to me.

Aside from that obvious score to settle, which makes for a tough read no matter how righteous the teller is in the matter, Helm's book is amazingly entertaining. I'm just sorry to have picked up the first edition, published in 1993, and not have been able to read Helm's thoughts on the death of Rick Danko, who passed away in his sleep in 1999.

Reading of how The Band outgrew Ronnie Hawkins and quickly developed a reputation among musicians as the best live band around was a rush, and having been a Dylan fanatic for as long as I've been a music fan, the insights Helm offers into his career transformation are priceless.

Helm's idyllic presentation of the early days in Woodstock are another gem, as he somehow sets the place itself, in both time and geography, as the greatest muse of his life.

It's no wonder that Helm still lives in the area, still records (remarkably so, after a bout defeating throat cancer) and has established what is to me the most fascinating series of intermittent concerts going: The Midnight Rambles. Maybe that'll be my next trip to New York...

The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (live)
The Band - Stage Fright (live)
The Band - Georgia On My Mind (The Last Waltz, unreleased)