Thursday, August 28, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Accuradio is introducing several new radio stations to the Internet mix, including an All French Pop station. This means Francoise Hardy (pictured at left during the swingin' sixties) and Serge Gainsbourg, round la pendule. Hopefully no Maurice Chevalier.

This is exciting to me, and perhaps to as many as seven others, worldwide. Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Genesis 1970 - 1975

You have no idea how happy this makes me. Dungeons and Dragons in the basement. Peter Gabriel in geometric headgear. It doesn't get much better than that.

We now have a box set for the boxhead years, the final installment in the Genesis catalogue reissues. This is the one I've been waiting for for years. Here are the details.



Rhino Concludes an Upgrade to the Group's Catalog With the Third and Final Box Set of the Series That Will Cover the Critically Acclaimed Peter Gabriel Era

Contains 5 Studio Albums (1970-1975) Expanded with Bonus Audio and Video, Plus an Exclusive Disc of Rarities

7-CD/6-DVD Boxed Set will be Available November 11 From Rhino

LOS ANGELES ‹ Since launching an upgrade of the entire Genesis catalog lastyear, the comprehensive series has followed Genesis' transformation fromprog-rock pioneers to stadium-filling power trio. With the finalinstallment, Rhino ends at the beginning with a set covering the band'searly years with lead singer, Peter Gabriel. GENESIS: 1970-1975 will beavailable November 11 from regular retail outlets and at fora suggested list price of $139.98.

Produced by Banks, Collins, and Rutherford, GENESIS: 1970-1975 presents five of the band's studio albums as CD/DVD sets featuring new stereo mixesof the original albums on CD, along with a DVD that includes the original album in 5.1 DTS (96/24) and Dolby Digital Surround Sound, plus bonus videos and new interviews with band members filmed exclusively for these reissues. The set contains hours of previously unreleased video as well as photo galleries featuring rare pictures and tour memorabilia.

One of the top-selling recording artists of all time, Genesis has sold more than 150 million albums so far. This 7-CD/6-DVD set collects some of the band's most adventurous and ground-breaking albums, covering Peter Gabriel's tenure with the group.

GENESIS: 1970-1975 spotlights five albums: ­ TRESPASS, NURSERY CRYME, FOXTROT, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND and THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY, plus EXTRAS 1970-1975, a newly assembled compilation only available withthis collection.

Featuring favorites like "The Knife" and "White Mountain," Genesis' second album, TRESPASS (1970), marked the beginning of a five-year journey that saw the band create ever-more daring albums of progressive rock. The album includes guitarist Anthony Phillips and drummer John Mayhew, who were replaced on the following album by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins respectively.

NURSERY CRYME (1971) opens with "The Musical Box," a beautiful 10-minute sprawl that captures the essence of the band's sophisticated musicality tweaked with freewheeling theatrics. Genesis' new lineup starts to define its unique voice on songs like "The Return Of The Giant Hogweed" and "The Fountain Of Salmacis."

The band returned the following year with FOXTROT (1972), a breakthrough album hailed by critics and embraced by fans, especially in England where it reached #12. Two tracks in particular, ­ "Watcher Of The Skies" and"Supper's Ready," ­ became live staples for years to come. Nearly filling the album's second half, "Supper's Ready" stands as an avant-garde showcase for each member's individual talents. DVD extras include: over 30 minutes of live video from 1972 of the band performing on Belgian television's Rock of the 70s and on stage at the Piper Club in Italy.

Genesis' popularity continued to grow with its fifth studio album, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973). These eight songs find the band's inventive storytelling and imaginative arrangements coming into sharper focus with "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" ­ Genesis' first hit single in the U.K. The album also introduced audiences to "The Cinema Show" and "Firth Of Fifth," songs that would become popular concert staples. DVD extras include: video from 1973 recorded during a performance on Italian television and on stage in Bataclan, France, over one and a half hours of live performance.

The band wasn't at a loss for inspiration for THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (1974), a double album about a Puerto Rican hood searching for his brother. It was to be Gabriel's final release with Genesis. The band toured for the album, performing the entire 90-minute album along with an ambitious stage show complete with costume changes, theatrical lighting and pyrotechnics. The title track, "Carpet Crawlers" and "In The Cage" remain popular parts of the band's live show. The album will be presented with the Surround Sound mix. Additional bonus features will be included on a DVD, including a performance on the French television show Melody.

GENESIS concludes with EXTRAS 1970-1975, a disc of rarities offered exclusively as part of this boxed set. The compilation contains 10 tracks,including the 7" single "Happy The Man," a demo of "Going Out To Get You," and the b-side "Twilight Alehouse." A trio of songs ­ "Shepherd," "Pacidy" and "Let Us Now Make Love" ­ are taken from the BBC program Nightride. The disc also includes a VH1 Boxed Set Special on Genesis 1967-1975 and a performance from the Midnight Special.

The final four songs on EXTRA TRACKS 1970-1975 ­ "Provocation,""Frustration," "Manipulation," and "Resignation" ­ are the legendary"Genesis Plays Jackson" tapes. The band recorded these songs in 1970 for a documentary about painter Mick Jackson. The documentary never happened and the songs were lost until now. Fans will notice how sections of this music evolved into other songs. "Frustration" is an early version of "Anyway" from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, while "Manipulation" features themes heard later in "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme.

Music Writing and the Death of Blogs

My buddy Erik just wrote an article about the Death of Blogs. I capitalize that because it appears to be a phenomenon that has captured the attention of the media, who, as a general rule, try to Make Things More Portentous Than They Really Are. Anybody remember Y2K? Like Davey Crockett coonskin caps, like Pet Rocks, blogs are said to be a passing fad, one that captured the public imagination and attention for a few years, and that now appears to have (mostly) run its course.

I'm not entirely convinced. Or convinced at all, for that matter, although I know many people who have abandoned their blogs. This is because people will continue to discover the joy of writing, and because blogs provide the perfect Vanity Press. The people who don't particularly care about writing will stop writing. And the people who do care will continue to write, and many of them will continue to write in their blogs, where they are assured an audience of at least one, which is as good as it ever gets with Dear Diary.

Aside from one's personal edification, though, blogs offer a bounty of information. I love music. And there are several blogs I check every day because they consistently yield new and interesting musical information: Stereogum, My Old Kentucky Blog, Largehearted Boy, Aquarium Drunkard, and Brooklyn Vegan. There are many others I check with slightly less frequency.

And here's some more news. The best music writing today is found on blogs, not in print magazines, which are often forced to truncate or otherwise mangle the writing because of word length restrictions and editorial constraints. Here are three great examples. These folks are not famous. They don't earn their living by writing about music. But they offer insight, and something more; beauty in the way they string the nouns and verbs together, life in the way they understand that things like power chords and backbeats can transform a mundane day into a glorious day.

Here is Michael Atchison at Teenage Kicks on why Bruce Springsteen still matters.

Here is Kelly Foster, English teacher, on the ineffable power of rock 'n roll.

Here is Josh Hurst, seminarian, on music as storytelling, and a storyteller named Loudon Wainwright III.

Blogs are doing just fine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hats Off to Roy Harper

Roy Harper, semi-legendary folkie in an alternate universe, and sometime resident of various mental institutions, is about to have his moment in the sun. Virtually his entire early catalogue, consisting of 9 albums recorded from the late '60s through the mid-'80s, is about to be re-issued (and issued for the first time in the U.S.) on Koch Entertainment. Here he is looking pensive, and much younger than he now looks.

Why should you care? Well, for several reasons. First, he's very good. Fans of the doomed romantic strain of folk music, a la Nick Drake, will find much to love. Second, he hung out with the greats, and you probably already know Roy Harper even if you think you don't. "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper," from Led Zeppelin III is about him, and that's Roy on lead vocals on Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar," from Wish You Were Here. Third, Jimmy Page (billed as S. Flavius Mercurius) plays all over these albums, including some riffs that would later come to roost on the official Led Zeppelin releases. If you only buy one, buy Stormcock, from 1971. But buy it. It's a brilliant album, full of ten-minute winding, idiosyncratic folkie suites with strings and horns, and some astounding riffing between Harper and Page.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Baby's Not in Black, and I'm Feelin' Blue

Today my wife wore a skirt the color of cantaloupe. She headed out the door on her way to work, looking like the sensible professional woman she is, and looking like a paragon of fashion, because she is that, too. Nobody would know that her mom died two weeks ago, and that she's mourning her, that she finds herself crying in strange and awkward places. It happens while driving a car, while taking a shower, while preparing a meal.

At one time everybody would have known she was mourning because she would have been forced to walk around for an extended period of time in a black dress. For six months, a year, she would have shuffled around solemnly, and that black dress would have been as good as a flashing neon light: Sorrow Here. Tread Carefully. But women don't wear mourning clothes any more, at least in our culture. They take their three bereavement days from the workplace, which is magically supposed to take care of the great, yawning void in human hearts, and then they get back to the daily grind. Some of them wear skirts the color of cantaloupes. Nobody knows.

Yesterday we went to church. "Hey, haven't seen you in a while" various people said to us. Right. That's because we've been living in hospitals and funeral homes. "What's up?," they asked. "Well," I replied, "Kate's mom died, and my dad is dying." "Oh," they said, "that sucks. My life sucks too. Can I tell you about it?" And they did.

I'm not exactly sure what I expect, but I think I expect something other than this. Kate's mom's death and funeral came and went, and we got lots of flowers and cards and sympathetic phone calls. From work. From non-Christian friends. From Christian friends outside our church. And our local church? A couple people called and sent nice e-mail messages. That's something, I suppose, and I'm grateful for it. But it wasn't nearly enough. In the old game of Church vs. Everybody Else, Everybody Else won in a landslide. It might have been different if we had had a baby. We probably would have been showered with meals and feted and given cloth diapers. But we're at the other end of life, and people are dying, not being born, and nobody knows what to say, so they say nothing at all. We were virtually invisible in the local manifestation of the body of Christ.

This produces profound disappointment. I wish it didn't. I wish I could shrug it off. Nobody's intentionally ignoring us. They just have their lives, almost exclusively with people their own age, and they make the social rounds and discuss how to be better stewards of the environment and how to serve people halfway across the globe. They are good people to whom we are invisible.

Our old Presbyterian Church had the Funeral Ministry down to a science. Some old geezer would croak, and the women would kick it into gear, ordering flowers, coordinating meals for the grieving family, cooking up a whopper of a potluck for the post-funeral bash, complete with jello salad and green bean casserole. Those old women didn't know what to say either. So they cooked. It was something. It was a lot. They were simply there, and their presence was meaningful as they ladled more green bean casserole on your plate.

We don't have a Funeral Ministry at our church. It's not a very trendy kind of ministry, and probably nobody would have interest in heading it up. All I know is that a funeral came and went, and nobody was there. Either nobody knew, or nobody cared. Neither prospect is good news. In the meantime, my wife heads off to work in her cantaloupe-colored skirt, acting for all the world as if all is normal. But all is not normal. She walks around with a hole in her heart. Nobody sees it. Nobody knows.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Guilty Pleasures -- The Frontier Brothers, Matt Mays and El Torpedo, Valencia

There's nothing profound here, and the best lyric out of the bunch might be "Tess, you're a sexy robotron." But these all sound great, for different reasons that all seem to coalesce around memorable melodies and singalong choruses.

The Frontier Brothers -- Space Punk Starlet

Now here's a novelty: a band from Austin, Texas paying homage to David Bowie and The Cure. The PR releases want to bill them as interplanetary rock stars, which is fine, but Bowie did that a long time ago. So I'll just say that they do Bowie with laryngitis very well, and that the synth hooks will warm the heart of any early '80s New Waver.

Matt Mays and El Torpedo -- Terminal Romance

Solid, meat 'n potatoes classic rock modeled on Tom Petty and Neil Young in Crazy Horse mode. Terminal Romance doesn't rival the classic albums it emulates. But it's better than anything Petty or Young have done in the past ten years.

Valencia -- We All Need a Reason to Believe

Sensitive pop punker loses girlfriend in tragic accident: it's a recipe for a musical catastrophe of epic proportions. But that's what we have here, with singer Shane Henderson overemoting for all he's worth, and the band throwing down the power chords and chiming in with anthemic early U2 "Whoah-oh-oh" backing vocals. Normally I would be fairly cynical about the basic building blocks. But Shane sounds so honestly conflicted and hurting, and the band bashes out those power chords so energetically, that I can't help wishing the poor, heartbroken kids well. This is an emo album about hope in the midst of pain: crazy kids. God bless 'em.
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Friday, August 22, 2008

Musicians with Wings

This is Shara Worden, AKA My Brightest Diamond. I like her music. I hate the costume.

Here Shara tries for the butterfly look. Or perhaps she is a moth or a dragonfly. Look at her soar! I blame it all on Sufjan Stevens, Shara's former employer, and his damned Swan outfit. That's probably where she got the idea. Perhaps she thought that a wing is a wing is a wing. But it's a bad idea. Insects, in particular, don't inspire a positive musical reaction. I want to swat them and spray poison on them, not listen to them sing.

The only animal costume that has ever really worked for a musician was that worn by Captain Beefheart, and he was a trout. Bjork wore that dead goose around her neck and her career went into a tail(feather)spin. Paul McCartney dressed up as a walrus for Magical Mystery Tour and then promptly sucked for the next forty years.

These are bad ideas. Wings are bad ideas (again, just ask the fans of Paul McCartney). Shara, we like you just the way you are. You are the monarch of indie pop. You don't need to be a monarch butterfly to prove it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bela Karolyi

I know, I know. We've had the Michael Phelps onslaught, the dominance of the Chinese in diving, Usain Bolt running faster than the speed of light, etc. But my favorite Olympic Moments(TM) have come from commentator (and former Romanian and U.S. gymnastics coach) Bela Karolyi, who is Oliver Hardy to Bob Costas' Stan Laurel.

Here he is giving a bearhug to an unknown 3' 4" gymnast. Bela likes to hug people. He also likes to yell, wave his arms, and utter indignant epithets such as "Dot was a total reep off."

I love the man. I would watch him for several hours per night if I could. In fact, my guess is that NBC's already gaudy ratings would go up even more if we had more Bela and less, say, softball. I would watch Bela buy fried scorpions from the food vendors. I would watch him dogpaddle in the Water Cube. Bela himself is an Olympic event, and part of the fun is betting on whether he will better his own on-air time to his first tirade of the evening.

Now that gymnastics is over, I miss him. It's a quieter, more professional world. And Bob Costas looks lonely without him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

USB Turntables

I'm about to invest in a USB turntable. I think. Several people I know and trust have recommended this one. But I'd like to get some feedback before I do so.

The one shown here is called the Gem Sound DJ-USB Belt-Drive USB Turntable with Bias Soundsoap SE and Audacity Software, which is pretty scary, when you think about it, and sounds far more complicated than I'd like my life to be. I'd like my life to be simple. Pain-free. Full of joie de vivre and esprit de corps and Boeuf Bourgignon. And I worry about a turntable with a name like that.

Here's what I want to do: I want to magically turn my old, scratchy vinyl albums into MP3 files. I'd like the musical babysitting to be as minimal as possible during this process. I have several thousand vinyl albums. And although I won't be transferring them all to MP3, the prospect of doing this is daunting enough that I have serious reservations about the time commitment.

So, here are my questions.
  1. If I'm transferring, say, a 40-minute Beatles album to MP3, do I have to play the entire 40-minute album as part of the MP3 conversion process? (For what it's worth, I can't imagine that the answer to this question is anything but "Yes," but I hope I'm wrong.)
  2. How does one chop up a vinyl album into MP3 files (one file per song)? Again, I'm assuming that this would require intense babysitting involving some sort of computer work at the end of each song, but again I hope I'm wrong.
  3. How effective is the scrubbing/soundsoap software at removing all those clicks and pops? How easy is the software to use?

Anyone have experience with this? I may be talking myself right out of the prospect, but I'd love to hear your views.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breakfast Wars: Pink Floyd vs. Nico Muhly

For almost four decades Pink Floyd's 1970 album Atom Heart Mother has reigned as the undisputed champion of breakfast sound effects. The thirteen-minute opus that concludes the album, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast," raised the bar so high in terms of the sounds of sizzling bacon, butter knives scraping on bread, and cereal crackling under freshly poured milk that it seemed pointless for other aspiring breakfast afficionados and musical freaks to even attempt to match its magnificence.
But I realized, after reading Pitchfork's review of NYC avant-garde composer Nico Muhly's new album Mothertongue, that someone had at long last launched a serious challenge to the Floyd breakfast hegemony. Reviewer Jayson Greene writes:
You know you're in trouble when the audio sample of a burbling coffee machine or the sound of a knife scraping butter on toast exerts as great a hold on the listener's interest as everything that preceded it.
The four-movement piece lights briefly on some promising notions in its twenty minutes-- found-sound samples of mundane morning routines (the crunch of breakfast cereal, muttering during the shower), for example-- but flits away distractedly before anything interesting is allowed to materialize.
There it was. Nico had thrown down the gauntlet, taking direct aim at the heart of Atom Heart Mother. Nico, you may recall, also employs the sound of raw whale blubber slopping around in a bowl on this album, which is pretty cool in and of itself. Just not for breakfast. And so I limited myself to apples-to-apples and bananas-to-bananas comparisons. Would the brash newcomer unseat Rogers Waters and company from the breakfast stool? Would the Floydians slip from the top Breakfast Sound Effects rung? Or would the grizzled veterans hold off the inspired challenge? It was time for a head-to-head comparison:
Coffee Brew -- Winner: Nico Muhly. It's the satisfying hiss of steam that does it. I'd like to think that a French press was involved here, perhaps a burr mill grinder, although the recording itself leaves the mystery unexplained. In comparison, Pink Floyd's Psychedelic Alan sounds like he's making tea.
Bacon Sizzle -- Winner: Pink Floyd. To his credit, Nico doesn't even attempt to match the sublime grease spatter that can be heard throughout the middle movement of "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast." You can't improve upon perfection.
Cereal Crunch/Crackle -- Winner: Pink Floyd. Nico comes on strong here, closely mic-ing the sound of chewing jaws. You can almost hear the saliva at work. But Pink Floyd gets the nod by focusing on the satisfying crackle and pop of freshly poured milk on particularly effervescent cereal, perhaps Kellogg's Rice Krispies.
Butter Scrape -- Winner: Nico Muhly. Nico's butter scrape has a rhythmic, almost percussive effect that nicely augments the music. Pink Floyd's Alan goes for more of a freeform, improvisational scrape that never quite connects.
Breakfast Mutter -- Winner: Pink Floyd. Again, Nico knew better than to mess with a breakfast epiphany. Two-thirds of the way through his revelatory breakfast, Alan mutters, "Marmalade. I like marmalade." Nico has the good sense to shut up and say nothing at all.
Overall Winner: Pink Floyd. But nice try, Nico. It was about time somebody challenged the complacent Brits. In non-breakfast-related musical news, the rest of Nico's album is weird as hell, and pretty great, just like Atom Heart Mother.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Top Albums of 2008?

Too early, you say? Not for Paste Magazine, which is already preparing its January, 2009 issue. And so, 7.5 months in, here's my ballot for the Top 10 albums of 2008:

1. Son Lux – At War with Walls and Mazes
2. Ezra Furman and the Harpoons – Inside the Human Body
3. Jamey Johnson – That Lonesome Song
4. Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
5. Sun Kil Moon – April
6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
7. Jolie Holland – The Living and the Dead
8. Johnny Flynn – A Larum
9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
10. Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson – Rattlin’ Bones

Paste also requested a list of the Top 10 Singles. I passed on that. What's a radio?

The Ones That Got Away

As a general rule, outtakes are outtakes for a good reason. They're not as good as the tracks that make it to the officially released albums. But let's make an exception for the greatest songwriter of the past 50 years, shall we? As an obsessive collector of "rare" Dylan for more than 30 years now, I can assure you that Dylan has discarded more than his share of masterpieces in the studio, and that some (but far from all; the man is nothing if not maddeningly inconsistent) of his live performances are truly legendary. I have dozens and dozens of cassette tapes that were reverently compiled and assiduously traded among the faithful, and if some of this was overkill (do we really need to hear a 45-second intro to "Like a Rolling Stone" that was interrupted by Dylan's coughing?), some of the ones that got away are mind-bogglingly great.

Columbia started to redress this criminal negligence in the early '90s with the release of the Bootleg Series Vols. 1 - 3, mining the vaults to produce a 3-disc box set that compiled more than 50 outtakes and previously unreleased gems from throughout Dylan's career. Subsequent installments of the Bootleg Series have seen (finally, at long last) the release of the legendary Manchester/Royal Albert Hall concerts from 1966, great live tracks from the mid-'70s Rolling Thunder Revue, an intact concert from NYC on Halloween, 1964, which saw Dylan bidding a not-so-fond farewell to the folkie/social protest years, and a mishmash of assorted effluvium to accompany Martin Scorsese's great documentary No Direction Home.

Vol. 8 of the Bootleg Series, entitled Tell Tale Signs, will be released on Columbia on October 6th. It's a 2-disc series of outtakes, demos and live tracks from the latest phase of Dylan's career, encompassing the studio albums Oh, Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times. For those of you who only know Dylan from his mid-'60s surrealistic peak, you may want to check out those albums (and the outtakes from those albums). They're a master class in how to age, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not, and how to integrate virtually every strand of American music into something utterly original, utterly Dylan.

Here's the tracklist:


1. Mississippi 6:04 (Unreleased, Time Out of Mind)
2. Most of the Time 3:46 (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
3. Dignity 2:09 (Piano demo, Oh Mercy)
4. Someday Baby 5:56 (Alternate version, Modern Times)
5. Red River Shore 7:36 (Unreleased, Time Out of Mind)
6. Tell Ol' Bill 5:31 (Alternate version, North Country soundtrack)
7. Born in Time 4:10 (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
8. Can't Wait 5:45 (Alternate version, Time Out of Mind)
9. Everything is Broken 3:27 (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
10. Dreamin' of You 6:23 (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
11. Huck's Tune 4:09 (From Lucky You soundtrack)
12. Marchin' to the City 6:36 (Unreleased, Time Out of Mind)
13. High Water (For Charley Patton) 6:40(Live, August 23, 2003,Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada)


1. Mississippi 6:24 (Unreleased version #2, Time Out of Mind)
2. 32-20 Blues 4:22 (Unreleased, World Gone Wrong)
3. Series of Dreams 6:27 (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
4. God Knows 3:12 (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
5. Can't Escape from You 5:22 (Unreleased, December 2005)
6. Dignity 5:25 (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
7. Ring Them Bells 4:59 (Live at The Supper Club, November 17, 1993,New York, NY
8. Cocaine Blues 5:30 (Live, August 24, 1997, Vienna, VA)
9. Ain't Talkin' 6:13 (Alternate version, Modern Times)
10. The Girl on the Greenbriar Shore 2:51 (Live, June 30, 1992,Dunkerque, France)
11. Lonesome Day Blues 7:37 (Live, February 1, 2002, Sunrise, FL)
12. Miss the Mississippi 3:20 (Unreleased, 1992)
13. The Lonesome River 3:04 (With Ralph Stanley, from the album ClinchMountain Country)
14. 'Cross the Green Mountain 8:15 (From Gods and Generals Soundtrack)

A deluxe set will include a third bonus disc featuring:

1. Duncan & Brady 3:47 (Unreleased, 1992)
2. Cold Irons Bound 5:57 (Live at Bonnaroo, 2004)
3. Mississippi 6:24 (Unreleased version #3, Time Out of Mind)
4. Most of the Time 5:10 (Alternate version #2, Oh Mercy)
5. Ring Them Bells 3:18 (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
6. Things Have Changed 5:32 (Live, June 15, 2000, Portland, OR)
7. Red River Shore 7:08 (Unreleased version #2, Time Out of Mind)
8. Born in Time 4:19 (Unreleased version #2, Oh Mercy)
9. Tryin' to Get to Heaven 5:10 (Live, October 5, 2000, London,England)
10. Marchin' to the City 3:39 (Unreleased version #2, Time Out of Mind)
11. Can't Wait 7:24 (Alternate version #2, Time Out of Mind)
12. Mary and the Soldier 4:23 (Unreleased, World Gone Wrong)

Friday, August 15, 2008


Can someone please explain to me the appeal of Facebook?
It's an honest question. The members of my church, most of them twenty- and thirty-somethings, seem to have left the blog world en masse and have absconded to the world of Facebook. And I'm trying to figure out why.
I will confess that I don’t really get Facebook. My college-age daughters have their Facebook pages, and as best I can tell (I really don’t spy on them, but sometimes they leave the screen up when they walk away from the computer :-)) their pages consist of thousands of comments like “Dude, that had me LMAO!!” and “No kidding, I was ROFL!!!” It reminds me of the Internet of the mid-1990s, when it went from the exclusive domain of techie nerds and shadowy government types to heated exchanges between and, arguing over whether DC Talk ROOOLZ. This is progress?
I think I must have a Facebook page as well, because I periodically get requests to be Facebook friends with someone. I always click the link that says “Sure, you can be my friend, and I’ll be your friend.” But that’s about the end of it. I’m fairly certain that my face does not appear on my Facebook page. That’s more time and energy than I'd like to invest. Otherwise, when I visit others' Facebook pages, they appear to be obscenely cluttered with STOOOOOPID comments and invitations to join online communities that no sane person would want to join. So I'm probably missing something. What is it that draws people to Facebook?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rock 'n Roll Fashion Tips

This is a photo of Atlanta indie rockers Of Montreal. What happened? Who told them that Pocohontas was chic? And that guy on the right looks like he's ready to join William Wallace and the Scots army before he heads back to the library to work on his doctoral dissertation. This is a truly unfortunate look. Real freedom fighters don't wear glasses. Also, the guy on the left appears to be wearing a Saran Wrap wig/toga combo, with an Aztec placemat for a loincloth. Never mix 20th century consumerist culture innovations with ancient placemats. They clash badly.

Johnny Flynn -- A Larum

Time to bump up the Johnny Flynn album A Larum again. I know nobody's heard it, but it's absolutely one of the best albums I've heard this year.

And he may be coming to a city near you:

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit
2008 U.S. Tour Dates w/ Laura Marling

Date City, State Venue

9/13/08 Allston, MA ICC Church
9/15/08 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
9/17/08 Philadelphia, PA Side Chapel at First Unitarian Church
9/18/08 Alexandria, VA Birchmere
9/20/08 Chicago, IL The Bottom Lounge
9/23/08 Englewood, CO The Falcon
9/26/08 Los Angeles, CA The Hotel Café
9/28/08 San Francisco, CA Café Du Nord
9/30/08 Portland, OR Lola’s
10/1/08 Seattle, WA Tractor Tavern

Nothing between the east coast and Chicago. Do people actually live there?

Nevertheless, Johnny's debut is the best raw folkie album I've heard this year, and anybody who knows me knows that "raw folkie" is pretty close to heaven in my musical universe. It's loose, energetic, melodic, and that reference to "Sussex Wit" is no mistake. Johnny's lyrics are consistently sharp and biting. Witness what he does with a bunch of East End London down and outers, complete with obscure Bob Dylan reference. It's got that Jolly Olde England folk swagger, a la Martin Carthy, with a bit of Pogues Celtic punk mayhem mixed in, and it's a beautiful song:

Shore to shore, got some land between
Island life is living from a cup of broken queens
Hit the jackpot rolling through a pipe dream in a knot
And I'm missing what was pissing up the wall that I forgot
I forgot, I forgot

I am the masked rider, give me some grace
You've never seen me and you don't know my face
She was no Hattie Carroll, it was cold, it was blue
And it only happened despite me or you
Me or you, me or you

Smoking paper to the crimson flashing bars
Drinking cocktail wine or cottage cream and passing strangers' cars
Live in one-room housing, with a roof to meet the sky
Spelling Jesus won't you please us 'cos you seem a damn nice guy
Damn nice guy, damn nice guy

We listened to passengers stamping old songs
And we lose, what's to lose, when you haven't done wrong
Drums too slow for a funeral beat
No strumming of strings and no stamping of feet
Of feet, of feet

It's awfully considerate of you to think of me
And it's not so hard to see you smoking fags and drinking tea
It's the crummy lost at seasick with a floating on the waves
To join the other flotsam with the ripped up queens and knaves
Queens and knaves, queens and knaves

There lies a lady, she's gone and she's gone
She'll be a fine lady before too long
But I hit her head and she finished her walking
She shouldn't be dead, she was too busy talking
Busy talking, busy talking

They can fill a cup or two and still disturb the peace
It's never made it all the way from shore to shore, from west to east
I read that independence was a lightness in your step
You walked away, I felt so heavy at the start of every day
Every day, every day

I've been waiting an hour and the bus hasn't come
I've been cursing my god for the lack of the sun
I've been ruined by destiny, lowered by fate
And the upshot of this is I'm going to be late
To be late, to be late
-- Johnny Flynn, "Shore to Shore"

Go see him if he comes within a couple hundred miles of your home. Chicago's about 300 miles away for me. I'll miss him this time around, this time around, this time around.

Top 10, Washington D.C. Edition

Forget the economy and Iraq. Here are John McCain's Top 10 All-Time Favorite Songs:

1. Dancing Queen -- ABBA
2. Blue Bayou -- Roy Orbison
3. Take a Chance On Me -- ABBA
4. If We Make It Through December -- Merle Haggard
5. As Time Goes By -- Dooley Wilson
6. Good Vibrations -- The Beach Boys
7. What A Wonderful World -- Louis Armstrong
8. I've Got You Under My Skin -- Frank Sinatra
9. Sweet Caroline -- Neil Diamond
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes -- The Platters

Mama mia! Abba and Neil Diamond in the same Top 10 list! John apparently turned off the radio in 1975, but you can rectify this grievous oversight. You know who to vote for. Yes, the Anti-christ and bimbo.

Music Vacations

Paste just ran a story about a guy who planned his vacation around visiting the country's best record stores. He visited record stores in Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Okay, that doesn't really qualify as "the country," but it still sounds like a cool vacation to me. I hear there may be some other interesting sites in some of these cities as well.

Throw in some blues stops as we head through the Mississippi Delta, skip Atlanta (nothing against Atlanta, but I've already been there too many times), and you've got the dream vacation that I've actually pondered for many years now. The trick is convincing at least one other person that this is a dream vacation. At this point, nobody's buying. For some reason, spending six to eight hours per day in a record store doesn't appeal to anyone else in my family. Want to come?

I do have my qualms, by the way. By this point the whole cradle of American music has become so polished and commodified and tourist-accessible that it's probably like visiting the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas instead of Venice itself. You think they're playing slide guitar with a broken beer bottle at B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale St. in Memphis? Still, I'd be willing to take a gamble on locating that unknown roadhouse outside of West Helena, Arkansas. Who wants to follow the blues highway?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ezra Furman and the Harpoons -- Inside the Human Body

My favorite album of 2007 was a raw, beautiful and alarming little gem called Banging Down the Doors, by Boston band Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. So, perhaps not surprisingly, my most anticipated album this year is Ezra's followup, entitled Inside the Human Body, which will be released on Minty Fresh Records on October 7th.

I'll be writing a detailed review for Paste's October issue. In the meantime, you can catch a preview right here.

Here's what Ezra has to say:

The last record had a song called “My Soul Has Escaped From My Body.” I feel that every song on this record could have that title. The album is about your soul busting outta your chest--how our humanity cannot be suppressed, and how that which is inside cannot be kept inside. That's how I've always felt about being human.

We present to you, then, our new record about being a human being, even when the world tries to turn you into a monster. I really hope you like these songs about the secret things that wait inside us to be released, and about the triumph of the human spirit. We gave it all we've got.

And he does. I need to spend much, much more time with this music, but after one listen, I can tell you that this is why I stay up far too late listening to music. It's the only time I can fit it in my day. But I can't imagine how dreary life would be if I didn't make the time to fit it in. You go, kid.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Apolitical Blues

Telephone is ringin', they told me it was Chairman Mao
Telephone is ringin', they told me it was Chairman Mao
Well, I don't care who it is
I just don't want to talk to him now
-- Little Feat, "A Apolitical Blues"

Over the weekend, while I was at my mother-in-law's funeral, I saw that the McCain campaign had launched an ad comparing Barack Obama to the Antichrist. We have reached a whole new level of surreal absurdity. I hear Barack has "333" tattooed on the backs of both wrists. Put 'em together, and what have you got?

I hate politics. How in God's name did we ever reach a point where these kinds of ads could be launched, and where people might actually take them seriously? What next? Barack with devil's horns? I hear you can do amazing things with Photoshop. Not that I was particularly tempted, but remind me not to vote for John McCain. Just out of general principle.

I think I'll watch the Olympics instead.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Trouble with Humans

The trouble with humans is that they’re only human
The trouble with trouble is that it’s always at hand
-- Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, “The Trouble with Humans”

I’m in a misanthropic mood. This is because people suck. Not all of them, but enough of them to poison the general bonhomie and joie de vivre and other French terms that normally characterize my lobotomized, chuckleheaded life.

Look at that oaf. He could be me. He is fat, bald, and oblivious to fashion. He appears to be wearing a pheasant on his head. I wish I could be like him. But I'm not.

Instead, I harbor grudges. I plot witty putdowns of e-assholes I've never met, and whose words I encounter in various Internet discussion lists. Yeah, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama are a lot alike. Let's see, one of them is a spoiled, rich heiress best known for a porn video and her non-stop party lifestyle, and the other one is a poor kid from a broken home who graduated from Harvard Law School, was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, a law professor at the ripe old age of 30, a state legislator at 36, and a U.S. senator at 43. Hard to tell 'em apart. Assholes. I also wonder if I should talk to my doctor about anti-depressants. This is because I suck, too.

All I know is that I've survived on three or four hours of sleep for too many nights in a row, that I wake up dispirited, and that the day tends to go downhill from there. I know that right now I can't stand being a parent, or a corporate American, or a Christian. I love Jesus. I just can't stand the people who claim to follow Him. They're all immensely disappointing. These are all areas where people could be helpful. And they're all areas of stress. The people in those areas either drain me of the little emotional reserves I have, or they're non-existent. "I'm Not There" isn't just the title of a recent movie about Bob Dylan.

Part of me wishes that the rest of the world would leave me alone, and part of me wishes that the rest of the world would notice how alone I am.

“Don’t say nothin’.” That’s the way Chip and Carrie conclude their song. And they’re probably right. But my mouth has gotten me into trouble all my life, and my e-mouth might as well join in the hilarity. I'll probably be better after a good night's sleep, whatever month that might happen. In the meantime, people suck. And trouble does seem to be at hand.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Irene Krupp, 1916 - 2008

1916. World War I was underway. The automobile was still a newfangled invention, and most people didn't own one.

She lived a long life, and a good life. She's still gone too soon. It is always this way. She died earlier this afternoon. I'd appreciate your prayers, particularly for my wife and her family, over the next few days.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Fine Art of Dying

Nobody knows what waits ahead
Beyond the earth and sky
Lie-d Lie-d Lie
I'm not afraid to die

Yesterday, at 5:00 in the morning, we were awakened by a phone call informing us that Kate’s mom was in her final hours. Within the course of a few days the phrase “six months to live” had become two weeks to live had become a few hours to live. We hoped that we would make it to Akron in time.

We did. It turned out to be a false alarm, at least if “false alarm” can be interpreted to mean that we were off by a day or two. My mother-in-law, always a frail little bird, is now down to 80 pounds. She is wasting away. Her legs and arms look like twigs. She can no longer talk, but she can hear, and she can still acknowledge our presence by nodding. And she’s not quite ready to die, although I don’t begrudge our frantic five hours behind the wheel on a few hours sleep, or a single second we were able to spend with her yesterday.

And there the work of my own hand
Be broken by and by
Lie-d Lie-d Lie
I'm not afraid to die

Kate’s mom more or less raised six girls. After the birth of #6, my wife, my father-in-law quite sensibly retreated to his woodshop, and spent a lot of time at work. That left the tough task of parenting mostly up to my mother-in-law, who focused on things like etiquette lessons, trips to the symphony and the art museum, and the fine art of becoming good Catholic women.

And that was a mixed bag, as it usually is. All of those women, now in their fifties and sixties, care deeply about art and culture. Only one of the six has remained Catholic, although four of the six have only partly apostasized by becoming members of various Protestant churches. That’s been a source of some sorrow for my mother-in-law.

It doesn’t matter, at least to the loosey-goosey Protestants. We pray the rosary with her and for her, relying on childhood memory to provide the proper words to the Hail Mary. We pray for her using our own non-standard, non-official prayers that we believe God hears anyway. We pray a blessing for her. We pray for a peaceful passing. We express our thanks, because a functional family is a rare thing these days, and we are thankful for her and her role in making that happen.

We are thankful for her life. She’s a good woman, and a sweet woman. I thought it would be hard being around someone who is dying. And it is. But it’s something else as well. It’s a privilege.

Forget my sins upon the wind
My hobo soul will rise
Lie-d Lie-d Lie
I'm not afraid to die[1]

When she was still lucid, a week ago, my mother-in-law told her daughters that she’s not afraid to die. She knows where she’s going, and she’s ready. Her daughters were scattered all over the world. One returned from the middle of a vacation in Utah. Another returned from the middle of a vacation in Maine. Another was on her way to China, where she will spend a year teaching English as a second language. They all made it back to Akron in time. They’ve all been able to say the words to my mother-in-law that needed to be said. Me too, and I’m grateful. Death is such a traumatic experience for many people. Not for my mother-in-law. She’s showing us how it’s done. We are so sad. But we are so honored to witness this.

[1] Gillian Welch, “I’m Not Afraid to Die”