Sunday, July 31, 2005

How to spend a perfect Sunday

Yesterday, a bunch of us drove to Milwaukee to see the Brewers host my beloved Giants. As I sat watching San Francisco take batting practice, I thought about how the team has been a primary thread running through my life, from my Bay Area origins to my current situation in the Upper Midwest. So many things have changed for me, except for my connection with the Giants.
Apart from a love of music and soccer, the Giants have been the one constant in my life. Of course, the Giants lost yesterday. Milwaukee beat San Francisco, 7-1. I think the Giants have lost 94 percent of the games that I have watched them play in person.
So... What to do on the day after a lengthy trip across Wisconsin and back...
1. DRINK CIDER. Cider might be the world's greatest alcoholic drink. Fermented apple juice, basically. More dry than sweet and eminently chuggable. Is "chuggable" a real word? It is now!
2. LISTEN TO THE TECHNIQUES. The most legendary vocal group from Jamaica (they truly put the Wailers to utter shame) are so unknown in the general population it makes me feel like a dumbstrucktogenerian. Is "dumbstrucktogenerian" a real word? It is now!
3. READ ABOUT THE 50 GREATEST FA CUP UPSETS IN HISTORY. The English soccer season is so close I can taste it (or, is that the Cheez-Its I have been inhaling?). I just rummaged through the basement, where one of the many boxes contained FOUR FOUR TWO Magazine's 1998 issue on the greatest FA Cup Upsets of all time. It is absolutely brilliant. You get to read about the high-and-mighty of the footballing world struck down by the smallest, least-likely-to-succeed clubs. Brilliant. We are approaching the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all... the 1976 Final in which Southampton flummoxigated stupid Manchester United, 1-0 (pictured above). Is "flummoxigated" a real word? It is now!
4. MAKE UP FANTASITIGORICAL WORDS BASED ON A DELIGHTFUL CIDER BUZZ. Is "Fantastigorical" a real word? On this perfect Sunday, it most certainly is now.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

And on the eighth day...

This is going to sound crazy (when has that ever stopped me?), but whenever I doubt the existence of God, I remember Booker T. & The MG's.
You might wonder how Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr. relate to the creator of all things.
I trace my spiritual association to impressionable drives along the magnificent Northern California coast, sun streaming through my window, whitecaps dancing in the ocean, and songs such as "Soul Limbo" and "Time is Tight" blaring from my car speakers.
I spent my college summers back home in Sebastopol, Calif., where the magnetic pull of the Sonoma County coast proved too great for me to avoid. I spent many a day touring Highway 1, the road that snakes its way up and down my personal selection of "heaven on Earth." I have never felt closer to God.
My preferred soundtrack for these life-affirming was a soul instrumental cassette tape that featured at least three Booker T. & The MG's selections. I played that tape so often it eventually wore itself out, but the vibes contained within resonate with me to this day.
I am listening to "The Very Best of Booker T. & The MG's" right now. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the salt water and I definitely feel the presence of God.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Diamonds in the rough

Today's FRIDAY QUESTION asked readers to identify some "diamonds in the rough" in their music collection, works that might not be widely known, but are worth getting to know.
Here are some artists to investigate...
Dave B. -- The Gear Daddys. A band from Minneapolis. I believe they are not around any more, but should be. A mixture of the Bodeans and Ryan Adams.
Brian C. -- Jason White, who was part of the Freedom Forum troupe that performed "Freedom Sings" in Dubuque (April 2004), has a CD, "Tonight's Top Story." He's a singer-songwriter who is an intriguing storyteller.
Rick T. -- An all-time great but forgotten song, Floyd Cramer's "Last Date." It's done on the piano and is one of the many songs out of Nashville that are considered classics.
Inger H. -- The Weakerthans. Intelligent, heartfelt lyrics paired with catchy melodies and a bit of punk (in style as well as attitude) make the Weakerthans the best indie band you've probably never heard of. Besides, anyone who can write a song from the point of view of a cat, without making it sound stupid, should be rewarded with gold-selling records and a pimped-out ride. They may not be unknown for long, however: The ending credits for the film "The Wedding Crashers" feature one of their songs.

Erik H. -- Here is the weirdly nerdy (or is that nerdly weird?) story of how I
learned to love the Irish Plantation Orchestra.
A few years ago, I made a deal to swap a mix I made of children's songs (here is where it starts to get weird) for a copy of the StarPhoenix newspaper of Saskatoon, Sask.
I sent my mix to a girl from the Great White North, then I waited. And waited. And waited quite a bit more.
Her package never arrived.
Finally, I figured I had been
duped. Oh well. You live and learn. I was out a blank CD and whatever time it took me (five minutes?) to burn a copy of the mix.
Then, completely out of the blue, a package arrived from Saskatoon!
It turned out, the other person in the trade had become ill and it took her longer than expected to recover. Yeah whatever.
Still, she felt bad enough about the delayed deal that, in addition to the Saskatoon newspaper, she included a CD of the Irish Plantation Orchestra.
Imagine The Specials crossed with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, if all of the band members were drunken students at the University of Saskatchewan.
*THAT* is the Irish Plantation Orchestra!
The CD I received is utterly fabulous -- it presents a raucous live gig that sounds like it was recorded in a vacant church on some Saskatoon street corner. Which I think is exactly what happened.
Songs such as "Charlton Heston" and "Piltdown Girl" sound like lost college radio classics. Only, I don't think these guys appeared much on college radio.
Wanna know the level of obscurity for this band?
If you Google "Irish Plantation Orchestra" you get three hits:
1. A "Not Found" URL that should be a 2000 gig listing on a University of Saskatchewan Web site.
2. and 3. Track listings for Irish Plantation Orchestra songs that I included on two subsequent mixes I posted on the Art of the Mix Web site.
I am so sorry, but
when two of your three Google hits reference Erik Hogstrom, you are oh-so-obscure.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Anyone could do it!

One of the eternal attractions of indie music (it is Route1's "Indie Week," of course) is the vague sense that virtually anyone could grab a guitar and start a band.
Today's case in point is the (now late and lamented) Guided by Voices.
Now don't get me wrong: GBV's leader, singer-songwriter Robert Pollard, is almost assuredly a musical genius. Songs such as "Chasing Heather Crazy," "Game of Pricks" and "My Valuable Hunting Knife" are more effortlessly and insistently catchy than what 100 other bands produce in their entire careers.
Apart from Pollard's genius, however, there is something resolutely ordinary about Guided by Voices. Their sound has always been determinedly lo-fi (an indie term basically signifying the opposite of high-tech) and Pollard's bandmates appear to be nothing more than a collection of regular guys. Before their late 2004 demise, GBV seemed to be a band comprised of ONE GENIUS and FOUR BOWLING BUDDIES.
To me, one of the greatest aspects of GBV had been the sense that if the bassist were to quit, Pollard could call me up and say: "Come play bass!"
I don't know how to play bass, but the beauty of indie is that my lack of ability might not matter. Even with me, GBV would have ruled.
(Check the time of this post: 6:42 a.m. Yep, that's right. Neighboring trains coupling and decoupling their boxcars last night were so loud, it sounded like the trains were wrestling. No one got any sleep. If you can't sleep, you might as well BLOG.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Joy of the Secret Band

Day Four of Indie Week...
Of course, one of the best reasons for exploring indie music is to discover a band that you would not otherwise hear.
The indie music world is populated by worthy artists who struggle -- and mostly fail -- to achieve airplay on the radio. Their task has been made all the more difficult by conservative radio programming that worries more about maintaining market share numbers than about musical numbers.
A couple years ago, I stumbled upon the Santa Rosa, Calif. band the Velvet Teen. If I still lived in the north Bay Area, finding the Velvet Teen would be easy: They routinely gig in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and even San Francisco. I don't live there anymore, so uncovering this band required a bit more work.
Singer/guitarist/pianist Judah Nagler and drummer/cartoonist (oh yes!) Logan Whitehurst first formed the Velvet Teen in 1999.
They wanted to hide their activities from their current (and uninterested) current bandmates, so they first titled their efforts "The Secret Band." The pair eventually drafted in bassist Josh Staples, cut a couple of EPs and then their debut full-length, "Out of the Fierce Parade."
I first heard Velvet Teen via the Internet and I was blown away.
Nagler sounds like Jeff Buckley, and the band can completely rock out or slowly burn like Radiohead at will.
After collecting as many mp3s as I could, I finally got my hands on some CDs on Aug. 6, 2003. During a trip to visit my sister in San Francisco, we stopped at the MASSIVE Amoeba Records (the type of place music geeks like me routinely dream about) and I purchased two EPs on one disc -- "The Great Beast February" and "Comasynthesis" -- and the debut full-length. They are a fantastic band... one I had to struggle to hear, but the struggle was so well worth it.
Whitehurst subsequently suffered some health problems and left the band to focus on his cartooning career. You can check him out at this Web site here.
The Velvet Teen keep producing fine music that relatively few people have heard. You can learn more about them at this Web site here.
I would encourage you all to search for your own "secret band." Finding one is one of the true joys of indie music.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Where INDIE is King

Route1's Indie Week continues with a look across the pond.
Indie bands fare much differently (and almost assuredly better) in the United Kingdom than in the United States.
Britain is a smaller country that boasts a frenetic music scene. Those two elements mean an indie band such as The Smiths (pictured above in all of their glory) can build a fanatically loyal following that stretches far beyond their home confines (in their case, Manchester). Oh yeah... having the once-in-a-lifetime partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr helps, too.
By contrast, an indie band in San Francisco would require days upon days of driving just to gig around half of the country. The Internet and mp3s are opening more nationwide doors for local American indie bands, but Yanks still face obstacles unknown to their Brit counterparts.
Today is a cloudy/rainy/gloomy type day in Dubuque... perfect for listening to The Smiths!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Day Two of Indie Week!

"Indie Week" only really means that I decided to listen to some indie bands this week.
Today I am going to listen to Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted" album on the iPod as I drive around.
Pavement recorded for Matador records and had a sound -- heavy on the discordant guitar -- that placed them squarely outside the mainstream. So, they fit either of two "indie" definitions.
"S&E", released in April 1992, is arguably the most famous American indie record.
It routinely shows up on various "best of" and influenced a generation of underground bands. You can see some of these bands (if you have digital cable) on the Fuse TV network pretending to be original.
Pavement were influenced by The Fall (my top band!) and sound a bit like Mark E. Smith and co., with the notable exception that Stephen Malkmus of Pavement can actually sing.
I highly recommend "Slanted and Enchanted" for the uninitiated rock fans out there. "Trigger Cut," "Summer Babe" and "Here," in particular, sound like bonafide rock classics. If there is such a thing as "Classic Rock Radio" 25 years from now, these songs should surely make the rotation.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

You Can Play These Songs Without Indie Cred

Welcome to Route1's Indie Week!
This week, we will delve into the world of indie. Whatever that means.
Part of the problem with proclaiming yourself a fan of "indie" music is defining the word "indie."
In the strictest sense of the word, indie means independent. An indie band, by this definition, is a band that records for an independent record label.
Muddying the picture is the fact that many supposedly indie record labels operate under complicated marketing and distribution deals with larger, decidedly non-indie labels. It makes it more difficult to identify a "true" indie band.
A broader definition of "indie" suggests an underground band or a musical style somehow outside the mainstream.
Under this definition, a music fan could gauge the "indieness" of a band by examining their mass popularity -- no matter if their style of music had evolved or not.
Which brings us to today's (pictured) case in point -- Death Cab for Cutie.
Ben Gibbard and co. have not altered their musical style much since their late-90's origins in Bellingham, Wash. The band produce a melodic pop sound and Gibbard pens intelligent lyrics.
However, since their 1998 debut "Something About Airplanes," Death Cab's indie credibility has plummeted inversely with their growing mainstream popularity.
First the band's songs, then the band itself, appeared on the television series "The O.C." It is difficult to remain underground or outside the mainstream when you appear on a television series.
Mounting evidence of Death Cab's sinking indie cred comes in the form of record reviews on the notoriously cranky Pitchfork Web site -- self-styled arbiters of hip and too-cool-to-be-trendy.
Here are Death Cab's album reviews (out of 10) on Pitchfork...
1. "Something About Airplanes," Elsinor record label, 1998 -- 8.6
2. "We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes," Barsuk record label, 2000 -- 7.5
3. "The Photo Album," Barsuk, 2001 -- 7.1
4. "You Can Play These Songs With Chords," Barsuk, 2002 -- 6.4
5. "Transatlanticism," Barsuk, 2003 -- 6.1
The irony of the ratings is that Death Cab's sound has not changed greatly since "Something About Airplanes," yet the critical backlash would suggest fears of a sell-out. Indeed, "You Can Play These Songs With Chords" was a compilation of earlier material.
Within the past year, Death Cab cast off all indie pretensions, it would seem, by signing with Atlantic Records, one of the biggest record labels in the world.
Gibbard and the gang will probably play the same sort of music that buoyed them during their "indie" label years, but don't expect an end to the backlash from the hipsters. The next rating from Pitchfork might be miniscule.
The Death Cab for Cutie case study suggests defining "indie" might be the toughest current challenge in music.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

This explains a lot

Last week I was delighted to find a Pete Frame Rock Family Tree book at Borders. I have been immersed in it since I purchased the book.
Frame is a British rock journalist with an eye for visual design. During the 1970s, he perfected a method of outlining rock history by representing rock band changes in the style of a family tree. Along with the family trees, Frame filled his pages with arcane facts about the bands. His work became staples of such publications as the NME, Mojo, The Times and Zigzag (where his rock genealogies first appeared).
Frame's work influenced me immensely as a kid. I had a volume of Frame's trees, featuring bands from both sides of the Atlantic from the 1950s through to the late 1970s. I probably learned more rock history from those family trees than any other method. I also tried to emulate his carefully rendered style (with oh-so-small lettering). From about the age of 11 or 12, I spent hours developing hundreds of my own rock family trees, for bands real and imagined. So, as you can see, I was a music geek way back in the day!
Sadly, I read my childhood volume of Frame's work so often the pages literally crumbled. That childhood volume is no more, but my love of Frame's work has endured.
At Borders, I found "The Beatles and Some Other Guys," Frame's rock family trees of the Liverpool scene of the early 1960s. I have been reading about The Merseybeats, the Swinging Blue Jeans and other bands of the era, while happily recalling how the Rock Family trees left such an imprint on me.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Is the "Mashed Potato" appropriate?

A pair of regular Route1 readers (there's what... 12 of you now?) are getting hitched soon but they haven't settled on one important decision -- the FIRST DANCE song for the wedding reception.
That's where this week's FRIDAY QUESTION comes in to lend its help. Q: What would make a good FIRST DANCE song at a wedding reception and why?
Jill H. -- "Time After Time" by Chet Baker. It says it all!
Roseanne H. -- "At Last" by Lou Rawls. That was our first dance on 4/29/90.
Ann M. -- "Good Morning Beautiful" is a good first dance song.
Inger H. -- "Such Great Heights" by the Postal Service. The song that has the lyric about the freckles in our eyes are perfectly aligned.
Scout S. -- "Chinese Rock" by the Ramones. Because f*ck your parents, man.
Rick T. -- "If Tomorrow Never Comes" by Garth Brooks. This song says it all!
Dave B. -- "Walk Forever By My Side" by The Alarm. Because it was my wedding song.
Mike D. -- Devo's version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." If those two can dance that one together and still look lovingly into each other's eyes, their union can withstand anything. And for the parent's dance, perhaps something off of "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."
Steve M. -- "Go All the Way" by the Raspberries. 'Cause it is a great song that kicks ass. Gets the juices flowing.
Diane H. -- "To Make You Feel My Love" by Bob Dylan. It's got such beautiful lyrics.
Ken B. -- "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash.
Kerstin H. and Annika H. -- "After All (Love Theme from Chances Are)" by Cher.
Matt K. -- How about Billy Idol's "White Wedding?"
Angie A. -- "Love of a Lifetime"
REO Speedwagon. I just saw them in concert on July 21 and they were great. Any of their songs would be appropriate for the first dance.
Erik H. --
I kidded the groom-to-be one day that he should have Slade provide the first dance song. Then I thought about it. Why shouldn't Slade provide the first dance song? I choose "Everyday," the band's UK No. 3 hit ballad from 1974. It fits all the first-dance criteria: It is a slow song with lyrics about the endless capabilities of love sung by a vocalist (thanks Noddy!) who obviously cares about what he is singing. Perfect!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Swim lessons on a stormy day

Is there anything more melancholic than swim lessons on a stormy day?
Well, yeah. Duh. Death comes to mind.
However, swim lessons on a stormy day are rather melancholic in their own way.
I know, because the girls and I just returned from swim lessons at Dubuque's Sutton Pool.
Rain pelted the pool, but the students were inside the shower/bathrooms. The lifeguard/swim instructors gathered the kids in the bathrooms to discuss water safety.
I sat in the car, listening to Wilco's "Being There" album on the iPod and wondering what could be sadder than swim lessons in a municipal pool bathroom.
I am an unabashed worshipper at the altar of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy's late and oh-so-lamented collaboration with Jay Farrar. As such, I am afraid I have never really warmed to Tweedy's Wilco or Farrar's Son Volt.
That said, "Being There" is spectacular. It is easily one of the best American albums of all time. "Being There" also provides more than a hint of melancholy, particularly in album openers "Misunderstood" and "Far, Far Away."
Those two songs, in particular, seemed perfect soundtracks for the day thunderstorms put their damper on learning to swim.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Farewell, Boss Skinhead

Laurel Aitkin, who helped popularize Jamaican music in the UK and beyond, died age 78 in Leicester, England this past weekend.
Cuban-born Aitken began his recording career in 1957 in his father's homeland Jamaica and continued to produce hit ska singles throughout the 1960s. His double-A-side "Little Sheila" / "Boogie in my Bones" was the first single released on Chris Blackwell's Island Records.
Aitken eventually emigrated to Britain, where his hits helped foster musical unity among the Jamaican expatriate community.
Aitken's hits, and records he produced, also found a sizable audience among the white skinheads, earning him the nickname "Boss Skinhead."
Later, Aitken became one of the primary influences among the 2-Tone movement of the late 1970s. Bands such as the Specials, Madness and Bad Manners routinely name-checked Aitken, who gained yet another nickname -- "the Godfather of Ska."
Aitken, along with Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan and Dandy Livingstone, stood on the frontline of artists promoting Jamaican music in Britain (a development which helped ensure the popularity of reggae throughout the world).
Boss Skinhead will be missed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

New Orthophonic High Fidelity

I have had a difficult time taking my nose out of a highly entertaining book that examines the best-selling American LPs of the 1950s.
Charlotte Greig's "100 Best-Selling Albums of the 50s" has provided some revelatory insights, smashing some myths I had believed about music.
Perhaps like many late-era Baby Boomers or Generation Xers, I have always associated "1950s popular music" with images of leather-jacketed teenagers with towering pompadours and Gretsch electric guitars.
Record sales statistics do not lie, however, and in truth rock and roll occupied a decidedly non-mainstream place among America's music fans.
With the notable (and historic) exception of Elvis Presley, rock and roll was an "underground" musical style which could not crack the Top 100 of best-selling albums. It is a misconception of the present-day that rock and roll ruled the album record racks of the 1950s. Teenagers may have purchased singles by Fats Domino, Bill Haley and others, but the price of a long-playing album must have been beyond their means.
Rock's influence on popular music would eventually prove pervasive, but not until a large number of money-spending teenagers arrived in the early 1960s and began purchasing Beatles' records.
Instead, most of the album buyers of the 1950s sought soothing sounds.
Among the other revelations of Greig's book:
* Apart from Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," what we think of as "true jazz" did not sell very well (and even Kind of Blue has sold most of its copies after 1960). Instead, soft-jazz concoctions associated with Jackie Gleason and "exotica" albums of mood music shipped hundreds of thousands of copies.
* Everybody bought broadway and movie soundtrack albums. Everybody bought
"sing-along-with Mitch" records, too.
* Frank Sinatra truly ruled. He produced 10 of the top 100 best-selling albums of the 1950s. Others who sold crate-loads of records in the 50s included Harry Belafonte, Mantovani, The Kingston Trio, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Johnny Mathis.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005 weekend

Hot, humid and twangy. That's how I will remember this weekend for years to come.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for a high near 97 today. Wow.
I can't wait to take a dip in the municipal pool this afternoon (yeah... me and about 5,000 other swimmers).
So that's the hot-n-humid part of the weekend.
Here's the twangy part of the weekend...
Friday we drove three hours from Dubuque to Des Moines, Iowa to watch the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, an band from the San Diego area.
They were great -- despite a sound problem that limited the effectiveness of the mics. Lead singer Mark Stuart (pictured on the left in the photo) formed the Bastard Sons about a decade ago, after serving time in a punk band. Stuart says on the band's Web site that the name came to him in a dream. Cash himself gave his seal of approval and the band have forged an indie career out of truck-driving and drinking songs that would find a place in any smoky, beery honky tonks.
Suitably inspired by seeing the Bastard Sons, I have been listening to on the iPod the remainder of the weekend. For example, I am currently listening to Uncle Tupelo's "Black Eye," sung by future Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy. Yesterday I listened to Whiskeytown and the Old 97's.
Their southern-inflected tunes seemed to suit the inhumanly scorching weather just fine. Y'all.
Check out the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. They can really rock, in a hip hick sort of way.
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Friday, July 15, 2005

How to defuse an anger bomb

They say music soothes the savage beast.
Route1 readers tackle music's ability to alleviate anger by answering this week's FRIDAY QUESTION: What song would you want to hear to help cool your hot temper?
Bob H. -- Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade." No explanation needed. The lyrics say it all.
Rick T. -- Hank Jr.'s song "If You Don't Like Hank Williams You Can Kiss Our A--!" It helps me let people know: If you don't like me... well, you get the idea!
Roseanne H. -- Soft jazz does it for me. I've had to listen to it a lot lately!
Jim S. -- "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" by the Eagles. Even when I'm not ticked off, it soothes me.
Inger H. -- Pretty much anything by Sleater-Kinney. After a few minutes listening to them, I realize that I'm not nearly as angry as they are.
Clint A. -- "Wish" by Nine Inch Nails. Good, fast, industrial song filled with rage, kind of like an emotional purge of sorts, I guess.
Mike D. -- "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats, because it is such a stupid song. Thinking of the goofball video would certainly put a grin back on my face.
Erik H. -- A famous story from the annals of punk rock tell of Johnny Rotten soothing himself with Dr. Alimantado's roots reggae classic "Born for a Purpose/Reason for Living" after being beaten for looking "too weird."
This week, after my temper boiled over, I tried the same tactic. The song really works at curbing anger!
'Tado, born James Winston Thompson, penned the stridently defiant (yet surprisingly bouncy and catchy) song after a 1976 incident in which a bus driver struck him on Kingston's Orange Street. The bus driver apparently took offence at 'Tado's insistence on wearing his hair in the dreadlocked style of the Rastafarians (who remain very much a minority in Jamaica, despite public perceptions.)
'Tado boldly stands up against his bus-driving attacker throughout the song:
"If you feel that you have no reason for living, don't determine my life!"
It should come as no surprise that Britain's punks claimed the song as one of their personal anthems. It is as defiantly positive as anything they produced.
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

"Things got bad, and things got worse..."

"... I guess you know the tune, Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again."
A friend lent me a Creedence Clearwater Revival "greatest hits" CD
yesterday. I loaded it onto my iPod as soon as I got home.
Way before somebody thought to throw "alternative" onto "country" to form "," CCR were putting the "roots" back into "roots rock."
I know, because Creedence Clearwater Revival were one of the few rock bands to gain favor from my late, jazz-addicted father. I had heard "Lodi" and "Down on the Corner" so young in life, it almost feels as if the songs had been stripped into my genetic coding.
Listening to CCR again, after many years, I am struck by how southern they sound. "Born on the Bayou?" I can believe it. They sometimes sound like they were born IN the bayou.
Which brings up the wildly ironic, true geographic birthplace of the band -- El Cerrito, Calif.
I have been to El Cerrito and I can tell you: The only thing "south" about the place is that it is south of San Pablo. Heck, it's not even in the South Bay! El Cerrito is an East Bay Area town located north of Berkeley.
Later, some of the band members relocated to Marin County.
That northern enclave of BMWs is even FARTHER REMOVED from the gator-baitin'
ideal found in CCR's songs.
Yet, John Fogerty and co. somehow tapped into the essence of Americana despite their lack of redneck cred. Like The Band (a collection of Canadians who at least had Arkansas native Levon Helm in their ranks), CCR proved that "good ol' American music" is as much a state of mind as a state of place.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What is this man doing on my iPod?

I was walking last night after work, scrolling through the "ARTISTS" list on my iPod when I came upon a name that stopped me in my tracks.
"Fess Parker."
Fess Parker? Wasn't he an old actor? What song do I have by him?
"The Ballad of Davey Crockett?"
-- CLICK! --
"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee..."
Why did I put THIS on here?
"Greenest state in the land of the free..."
Was I feeling ironic the day I loaded this one?
"Raised in the woods so he knew every tree..."
I'm starting to feel a little woozy because of this song.
"Killed him a 'bar' when he was only three..."
Did he just sing what I thought he sang? "Bar" instead of "bear?" Uhhh...
"Davey, Davey Crockett, king of the wild frontier!"
I returned home from my walk and plugged the iPod into the computer, searching for a reason why a 1955 TV theme song would inhabit my otherwise ultrahip digital music player.
Turns out, "The Ballad of Davey Crockett sits toward the end of a "honky tonkin" playlist I created. The playlist is designed to replicate the musical choices on a mythical honky tonk jukebox, and I must have reasoned that after a night of hardcore drinking, the crowd would naturally plug a coin in the jukebox and dial up Davey Crockett. Perhaps by mistake. I am going to leave the song on the iPod for now. You never know when you might want to hear this:
"He went off to Congress and served a spell, Fixin' up the government and laws as well, He took over Washington so I hear tell And patched up the crack in the Liberty bell."

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

They say it's your birthday

Kerstin, who turned 10 today, explains what it means to receive her first ROCK-N-ROLL T-shirt as a gift...
"Cooooool. I will wear it to school, out to eat, seeing the family and hanging out. I like Queen because they have very catchy songs."
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Monday, July 11, 2005

Surfin' bird

Think "surf music" means the Beach Boys crooning a sunny pop song? Think again. Dubuque's sun-drenched weather this morning prompted me to dial up a "Killer Surf Music" mix on the iPod this morning. Soon, Dick Dale's "Misirlou" triumphantly blared from the car stereo speakers, followed by the Chantays' tremelo-laden "Pipeline." This mix is killer, alright. I received this mix a few years back as part of a CD swap with another person from the Art of the Mix Web site. The mix was concocted by someone who works in the engineering department at the University of Southern California -- close enough to Ground Zero of the surf music craze.
Although many people probably think of "surf music" as the work of California-based pop groups such as Jan & Dean or the Beach Boys, the term actually refers to a collection of guitar-led instrumentals that appeared in the early 1960s. The songs prominently feature a staccato lead guitar riff, often accompanied by the tribal beat of the drums.
In a few cases, the band
members actually surfed, too. Bands such as the Ventures, The Bel-Airs, the Marketts and the Centurions briefly flourished during the surf music craze (not surprisingly eclipsed by Beatlemania).
The bands' sound, and that of "surf music godfather" Dick Dale, influenced
countless, subsequent musical acts. Among the most notable surf music followers were the Pixies.
For me, bonafide surf music provided the perfect soundtrack for a blazingly sunny drive to work this morning. Pass the Coppertone!

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Soon, the whole world will know my name

That weird bloke with the iPod, smiling oddly to himself as he walked down Rhomberg Avenue at 1 p.m. on Sunday?
Yeah, that was me.
I couldn't help smiling. I had just created an 80s playlist for the iPod and I was "test driving" it while on my daily walk.
As I hit Rhomberg Avenue, Sigue Sigue Sputnik's brilliant "Love Missile F1-11" came on the iPod. Cue: Smiling.
Led by former Generation X founder Tony James, Sigue Sigue Sputnik were never built to last. In fact, old punk James probably meant for the band's very existence to serve as an "up yours," two-fingered gesture to the increasingly stagnating music business of the mid-80s.
James plied "Love Missile" with wildly inventive samples (one of the first real instances of this approach to music making) and it roared to No. 3 on the UK charts in 1986.
You might remember "Love Missile" from the "Ferris Bueller" soundtrack. I remember it as a cherished memento of the punk-informed spirit that all of the dross of the 80s couldn't quite extinguish.
So, that's why I was smiling.
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Australia won once, drew once -- music fans lost

On Nov. 22, 1997, Australia beat Scotland, 37-8, in a rugby union match and in Central Asia, Harry Kewell scored as visiting Australia drew, 1-1, with Iran in Tehran in a soccer World Cup Qualifying play-off.
However, there would be no celebrations on Nov. 22, 1997.
That was the day INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney hotel room.
Last night, Vh-1 Classic broadcast a collection of INXS live appearances. Seeing Hutchence take command of the stage again, I was reminded of INXS' greatness. Catchy, funky songs... multi-instrumentalists filling out their sound... and of course Hutchence. He gave Bono a run for his money, I believe, as the pre-eminent frontman of the 80s and early 90s. What presence he had! You couldn't take your eyes off him!
Last night's broadcast also reminded me of the exact moment in time when I heard of Hutchence's death.
It was 34 degrees and partly cloudy in Peosta, Iowa, where Jill, Kerstin and I were living at the time, after having moved from Oregon. Jill's parents were preparing to host a card party that night, but all I could think about was INXS and how they couldn't possibly carry on.
Fast-forward to 2005, and another hideous reality television show seeks a lead singer for INXS, or rather, the aging Australians who once played with Hutchence.
But Nov. 22, 1997 extinguished the brightest spark in Australian rock.
I was correct in 1997: Without Michael Hutchence, there could never be another INXS.
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Friday, July 08, 2005

Close your eyes and let the music move you... to Spain

The kids were wound up and wouldn't go to sleep. My nerves were frayed and I felt myself sinking into a black morass of grumpiness.
I desperately needed to relax, so this is the CD I automatically pulled from the shelf.
When Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" debuted in 1959, jazz purists did not know what to make of it.
Pieces such as "Concierto de Aranjuez" and "Saeta" aren't really jazz, are they?
Who cares?
As Miles himself remarked: "It's good music. And I like it."
"Sketches of Spain," with Gil Evans' luxurious orchestration, could serve as background mood music.
I relax to it best, however, when I concentrate on it.
I close my eyes and I "see" sun-drenched Andalusian hills and Spanish peasants returning to the fields to share bottles of wine. What's more relaxing than that?
A.B. Spellman of the National Endowment for the Arts once described the album as: "listening music that is pensive and penetrating" that also "has the kind of depth to it that is transporting."
"Sketches of Spain" has always transported me to a calm, restful place.
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The aural equivalent of a deep sigh

This week, the FRIDAY QUESTION asks you to crawl up into a hammock, lemonade in hand, and ponder the following:
What CD do you play to relax and why?
Dave B. -- "After the Snow" by Modern English. I always seem to gravitate to that CD to help me relax. I think it is because when I was in college "studying" I would put that CD in.
Rick T. -- Anything from the 50s and 60s of country music. That's when country music was REAL country.
Scout S. -- "Ferment" by Catherine Wheel. It's a perfect record to sink into and let the rest of the world just hold on for a while.
Diane H. -- "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Iron and Wine. It's beautiful and reflective. Plus, I love the lyric "there are things that drift away/like our endless numbered days."
Mike D. -- I know the falsettos might make some people's skin crawl, but I'm going to have to go back to my homemade, pre-disco Bee Gees compilation to mellow out.
Jim S. -- I'd probably put something in by Enya or the Cranberries. Enya has an obvious spiritual touch that fills the soul while the Cranberries do likewise, in a more subtle way (at least for me).
Jill H. -- Anything by Chet Baker. Need I say more?
Shannon H. -- "Grace" by Jeff Buckley. Listen to it. It's just beautiful.
Mary N-P. -- I never put on music to relax. Quite the opposite. When I listen to music, I'm really listening or dancing, so either way, it doesn't relax me.
Brian C. -- "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Recorded 45 years ago, but timeless.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I'll Save You All My Kisses

Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kisses!
Remember the song "I'll Save You All My Kisses" by Dead or Alive?
I sure do.
Jill and I have been married 15 years as of today (Jill is pictured above, with Kerstin during the recent Independence Day festivities).
When I first really got to know her, during a break from our small, eastern Iowa college, she had an elderly, decrepit car whose limited number of actual working parts included a cassette tape player.
More often than note, the cassette playing as Jill drove around was Dead or Alive's "Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know."
Nowadays, if people remember Dead or Alive at all, they will remember "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." That dancefloor fave was from "Youthquake," the Liverpool band's album that preceded "Mad, Bad..."
"I'll Save You All My Kisses" comes second on "Mad, Bad...," just after the memorable opener "Brand New Lover."
"I'll Save You All My Kisses" is a headlong-rush of a song, perfect for falling in love with a girl with a battered old car.
After 15 years, I am still so grateful I fell under Jill's -- and that song's -- romantic spell.
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How do you explain the unexplainable?

Kerstin, age 9, and I were just watching news coverage of the London terror attacks of this morning.
In a scene reminiscent of 9-11, I found myself trying to explain the unexplainable to an inquisitive child.
If anyone has any ideas, please advise.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

An ode to Lloyd of the Skatalites.

Just bouncing along... reading about London's Olympic victory.
Listening to the Skatalites on the iPod.
Actually, the ageless ska tune I am listening to right now is "One More Time," credited to long-serving bass player Lloyd Brevett.
The Skatalites have rightly claimed their fame as Jamaica's greatest instrumentalists and backing band, and much of the credit surely belongs to Brevett.
His bass playing and Lloyd Knibbs' drumming propelled the ageless, bouncy tunes of the Skatalites. Saxophonists Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso took center stage, along with the troubled but brilliant trombone genius Don Drummond. Fair enough.
But the unmistakable sound of the Skatalites really belongs to Brevett. The horns ride the rhythm -- the rhythm provided by Brevett.
No one ever really credits the bass players, though. That's why, as I read about all of the glad-handing and back-slapping in Trafalgar Square, I spare a thought for Lloyd.
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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mahlathini in the Morning

It all started when I read a story about Zimbabwe's political problems this morning on the Guardian newspaper's Web site.
I immediately located Harare, Zimbabwe on Google Earth.
Then I began to meander a bit on the satellite-image mapping service. I worked my way over to Johannesburg, South Africa... I checked out some farms in the Free State... then I began tracing the Orange River through Griqualand to its exit to the sea at Alexander Bay, near the border with Namibia. I studied the numerous irrigated farms and the harsh canyons surrounding the Orange.
Suitably inspired, I uploaded "The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa" CD on my iPod.
En route to work, I found myself singing along -- as best I could, since I don't understand the language -- to "Nyamphemphe," an impossibly catchy song by Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens.
Simon "Mahlathini" Nkabinde is one of the finest practitioners of "mbaqanga," a classic South African vocal style matching a bellowing, ultra-bass lead vocalist with softer, all-female harmonizing.
Once I arrived at work, I felt as if I had traveled halfway round the world, instead of just a couple of miles from north Dubuque to downtown.
Isn't that one of the greatest things about music?
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Monday, July 04, 2005

Is this a sign of a sick mind?

Probably. This photo is probably the sign of a very sick mind, but I don't care.
I needed to edit my iPod soul music playlist this morning. What is wrong with that?
A playlist -- like any mix of songs -- simply has to flow correctly. For example, you can't have a slow, mournful song immediately after a horn-laden fast song -- the effect would jar a listener, perhaps irreparably.
No, a playlist is not a thing to take lightly.
That's why I drank half a pot of coffee (OK... three-fourths of a pot... sorry), printed a tracklisting and began reorganizing tunes with a bright pink pen. I had to get this mix just right.
I think all that hard work has paid off, too, in the form of a classic mix of REAL SOUL GEMS.
Trust me... Check out the first 11 tracks:
1. Sam & Dave - "I Thank You," 2. Rufus Thomas - "Walking the Dog," 3. Wilson Pickett - "In the Midnight Hour," 4. The Contours - "Just a Little Misunderstanding," 5. The Phil Upchurch Combo - "You Can't Sit Down," 6. Rodger Collins - "Foxy Girls in Oakland," 7. Sam Cooke - "Shake," 8. Otis Redding - "Respect," 9. Aretha Franklin - "Respect," 10. Ike & Tina Turner - "I Can't Believe What You Say," 11. Eddie Floyd - "Knock on Wood."
This thing SMOKES! It COOKS!
It does all these other clich├ęd, soul-type things.
All because of early-morning editing.
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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?

There aren't too many things in life that I am absolutely sure about.
However, I am 99.9 percent certain that Hank Williams Sr. never cleaned his bathroom while listening to Waylon Jennings on his iPod, which is what I just finished doing.
In fact, I read two Hank Williams biographies last summer and in neither volume did the authors mention anything about Hank cleaning his bathroom -- with or without a fully loaded iPod.
Heck, I don't even think Audrey cleaned the bathroom! She was probably too busy nagging Hank into his early grave.
I am now going to clean the bathroom floor while listening to Dusty Springfield on my iPod.
I'm pretty sure Hank never done it that way, either.
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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Light all the Fires...

...It's the King of the Rumbling Spires.
I listened to a Tyrannosaurus Rex mix as I walked this morning. Before Marc Bolan strapped on an electric guitar and sang about fast cars and fairies to crowds of screaming teenage girls with T.Rex, he sat cross-legged with an acoustic guitar and sang about fast cars and fairies to small gatherings of hippies with Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Tyrannosaurus Rex songs such as "King of the Rumbling Spires," "Once Upon the Seas of Abyssinia" and "Chariots of Silk" either mean everything or mean nothing. I can't quite figure out which. Still, Bolan never fails to captivate me. That old spell-casting wizard!
I cover an Independence Day pops concert by the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra for the newspaper tonight. So I had better listen to as much cult British rock as I can before then, eh?
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Friday, July 01, 2005

Fri - OOHMPH - Day Quest - HUMPHH - tion

Nothing gets you up and moving quite like a good song.
Today, Route1 readers answer this important fitness FRIDAY QUESTION: What would be the first song you would put on a "workout" tape and why?
Jim S. -- "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John. It's an upbeat, workout classic. Got the 80s off and kicking. And yes, I used to think she was hot.
Jill H. -- "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. That song is catchy and when you are working out it is good to pretend you are walking on sunshine. It makes the workout go faster!
Scout S. -- "Maniac" by Michael Sembello. Because my workout consists of running as fast as I can in one place while sensually rubbing my thighs, each throbbing beat of the music bringing me closer to my dream of being a professional dancer. Also, the music makes me feel sexy, even though I usually work out while wearing a ratty old grey sweatshirt, hanging insouciantly off one shoulder. I mean, when I'm not at my day job being a spot welder, I want to feel comfortable, you know?
Emily S. -- "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West. Actually, I am listening to his whole CD when I run daily. It's awesome.
Laura C. -- "Back in Black" by AC/DC. It's the best song to lift weights to, hands down.
Dave B. -- "Lose Yourself" by Eminem, off of the 8 Mile soundtrack. The song has a good tempo, not too fast, not too slow. A good five minutes-to-get-the-blood-flowing song and then I move right into "Betty" by Helmet.
Diane H. -- "TNT" by AC/DC. It makes me want to run faster on the treadmill.
Mike D. -- "Kick Start My Heart" by Motley Crue. The title seems appropriate and the fast-paced tempo will get your adrenaline pumping. However, pop music fans better do some stretching first, or this could put you into cardiac arrest.
Rick T. -- "YMCA" by the Village People. When you hear "YMCA," you just gotta groove!
Ann M. -- I would put Will Smith's new song first because it makes me want to get up and move.
Erik H. -- "Paid in Full (Coldcut remix)" by Eric B. & Rakim. The song that kicks off my ridiculously long "9_hour_mega_mix" has the right length (a little more than seven minutes), the right tempo (medium, which allows for a suitable warm-up period) and the right amount of inventive samples ("By George, even London grooves!") to engage your mind while you begin to put your body through its paces.

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