Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Whelp, here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore, ringing in the yuletide and gettin' our dradle on, Kwanzaa stizz. Longtime readers of THE DRIFTWOOD SINGERS PRESENT know what that means: the return of the best compilation of vinyl rips this side of the Euphrates, SNAP, CRACKLE & POP. Believe it or not, we're up to VOLUME SIX, and this one's a doozy, chock full of moldy old pop gems of yesteryear, each lovingly transmogrified to zeros and ones from the original diamond-tipped stylus entering an inscribed modulated spiral groove on a specially-lathed disc of polyvinyl chloride (sounds dirty, doesn't it?). All said, you can't go wrong at the price of free.

To download the official CD cover, specially designed by professional designer Dewey Dell, you can can click

>> HERE <<

THEN! You can download all 24 songs in a ZIP file by clicking

>> HERE <<

Your humble (and generally humiliated) editors Mr. Poncho & Lefty spent months and years coming up with this stuff in consultation with Dewey Dell, JP Mystery, Frankie Lee and a secret star chamber of trogs chained to a radiator in a sub-basement in Minnesota. I, Lefty, was the final arbiter, mainly because nobody else would do it and Mr. Poncho is too deeply ensconced in the R&D lab, developing the next generation of DRIFTWOOD SINGERS and lovingly naming each one after a late 60s rock icon (welcome to the club, Keith!). Soon there will be more of us than there is vinyl to collect, listen to and ponder ponderously. Until then, here is what you'll find inside the latest edition of SNAP, CRACKLE & POP:

Good Times - The Persuasions (Street Corner Symphony, 1972)
Get Out of Denver - Bob Seger (Seven, 1974)
Don't Think Twice It's All Right - John Anderson (I Just Came Home to Count the Memories, 1982)
Fool Me - Joe South (Joe South, 1971)
Why Keep Breaking My Heart - Nina Simone (Wild Is the Wind, 1966)
Geno - Dexys Midnight Runners (Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980)
Out of the Question - Gilbert O'Sullivan (Back to Front, 1972)
In Terms of Two - Chicago (Chicago VI, 1973)
The Good Love - Percy Sledge (I'll Be Your Everything, 1974)
When I Write the Book - Rockpile (Seconds of Pleasure, 1980)
Satin Sheets – Jeanne Pruett (Satin Sheets, 1973)
Rapid Fire - The Commodores (Motown Instrumentals, 1978)
Let's Go Get Stoned - Ray Charles (Crying Time, 1966)
Come Again? Toucan – Grace Slick (Manhole, 1974)
I Need You So - Freddy Fender (Rock'n'Country, 1976)
Back in My Arms - Robert Palmer (Pressure Drop, 1975)
Joe - Dusty Springfield (A Brand New Me, 1970)
This Flight Tonight - Nazareth (Loud'n'Proud, 1974)
Come On Over - Bee Gees (Main Course, 1975)
Running Back - Thin Lizzy (Jailbreak, 1976)
Robot - The Mighty Sparrow (Pussy Cat Party, 1979)
White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes, 2008)
Mole in the Ground - Pete Seeger (Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Bigger Fishes, 1955)
American Trilogy - Elvis Presley (Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, 1973)


Monday, December 22, 2008

Lefty's TOP TEN ALBUMS in the Year of Our Lord 2008

1. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes

2. Ponytail, Ice Cream Spiritual!

3. Benji Hughes, A Love Extreme

4. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

5. Karl Blau, AM

6. Jamie Lidell, Jim

7. Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit, The Very Best

8. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War

9. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

10. Pinataland, Songs for the Forgotten Future, Vol. 2

Given the annoying constraint of choosing only music made or released this calendar year -- an increasingly irrelevant category, the whole "present day" thing -- here they are, all ten. I'd like to have thrown in Bobby Charles, BORIS, Panda Bear, early Bob Seger, the 2007 Blitzen Trapper album and Robert Palmer's 1976 album Pressure Drop. But alas ...

Fleet Foxes
is #1 simply because I kept putting it on the turntable and enjoying it immensely every time, especially "White Winter Hymnal," over and over again (easily the best song of the year).

Listen to it >> HERE << .

Ponytail, who I'm currently in love with, is the distilled essence of everything I love about rock and roll, Captain Beefheart as an exploding cigar that explodes into psychedelic confetti and punk estrogen and Walt Whitman run through a RAT distortion pedal with amps on 11.

LISTEN to "Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came from an Angel)".

Girl Talk
is the best thing you can hear in a moving vehicle, period end of story don't argue. Also, he makes me realize I can love dirty rap music if it has Rick Springfield on it.

LISTEN: "Here's the Thing".

Benji Hughes
is L-O-V-E and he's not afraid to let it show and also he's from Charlotte, NC, and he's not afraid to let that show either (maybe they're connected?).

LISTEN to "All You've Got to Do is Fall in Love with Me."

Karl Blau
makes music so organic and introverted and gauzy and wobbly that you feel stoned even when you're not stoned, which is very pleasurable to hear, especially when you're baked.

LISTEN to "Stream."

I know not everyone can sign on for white man soul stylings, but if you can listen to "Another Day" by Jamie Lidell and not get an instant mood lift, then I must ask: what's wrong with you, pops?

I'll admit, Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit is the cheap way out: everything that's cool in the indie blog coolplex, but remixed as African music, featuring European production team Radioclit and Malawian-born, London-based singer Esau Mwamwaya.

Download the entire album for FREE right >> HERE << .

Erykah Badu
channels the spirit of Rev. Jeremiah Wright with stoned-out-of-her-gourd, nutbag freak funk. Timely! The Roy Ayers sample on groove #1, "Amerykahn Promise," is just about as mack as you can get. You can hear the original 1977 sample, "American Promise," by Roy Ayers >> HERE <<.

LISTEN to "Amerykahn Promise."

This is the year I came around to the Hold Steady in a big way, even though everyone else decided Stay Positive wasn't as good as the last one and I was late to the party (still, you can't argue with these lyrics: "it was back in the day back when things were way different/when the Youth of Today and the early Seven Seconds/taught me some of life's most valuable lessons").

LISTEN AND WATCH this fan-made montage to "Stay Positive" right >> HERE << .

aren't just any band -- they're friends of mine! Ironically, that makes my judgment on them even clearer, not cloudier. Their 2008 album wasn't given nearly enough publicity or appreciation or, for that matter, exultation and hosannas, so I herewith rectify that error by telling you that they're marvelous. And sui generis. And just plain old generous. Also: melodic, brainy, old-timey and new-timey at the same timey.

You can LISTEN >> HERE << .

[Editor's note: Previously, TV on the Radio's Dear Science was posted as No. 10. I liked the album, but I didn't love it. Though it certainly has pioneering soundz and arrangements, the record lacked emotional resonance for me. They're Tin Men compared to Benji Hughes. Still, I'm giving them the bonus track, No. 11, as a consolation prize for being so popular.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Honor System

Rock and roll likes to wear its debased status proudly. Fantasies of class imbalance play out in sartorial themes. The Stones are always singing about their torn and frayed coats, how tattered they are. Derelict characters flaunt their thread-bare scenarios. Stained overcoats, ripped jeans. The apotheosis of scuzz. I don’t have the feminist/Freudian firepower to totally excavate this idea, but there’s some kind of connection between thwarted worship of a pure feminine archetype and self-immolating male dissipation exemplified by shoddy duds. The pale white idol is put on a pedestal. The “drunken vagabond” croons after her. Chivalric wet dreams. I read that the Guardian stopped using honorifics last year in their official style guide. It’s something we miss out on here in the states – bogus titles, land-based systems of respect and unjustified privilege. Lords and ladies.(Pictured, "The Lady and the Monkey").

“Lady Geneveve” – The Kinks

“Lady Eleanor” - Lindisfarne

“Lady Jane” – Rolling Stones

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Three Is the Luckiest Number That You've Ever Heard

1. My pal Hector and I were discussing how both our wives indoctrinated us in 1970s light rock, starting with Olivia Newton-John and ELO. As lifelong music snobs, we'd shunned this music for years, but our Achilles Heel, it turned out, was a childhood attachment to Grease, which secretly inculcated us in ONJ and served as the gateway drug to Xanadu and ELO. As we learned about l-o-v-e, of course, we gravitated to music made for adults, stuff with a certain romantic and progressive/feminine emotionality, i.e. willowy women and bearded men in satin and denim who sang about feelings, nothing more than feelings. I've covered some of this in previous posts, how certain childhood touchstones direct our personal tastes and how certain 70s artists (Bee Gees) erased sexual and racial barriers in ways that probably made Barack Obama inevitable. (Yeah, you read me right: I just said that the Bee Gees made Barack Obama possible.)

And so: Robert Palmer, a member in good standing of the late 70s soft rock industrial complex. After his two-dimensional 80s outings, he's probably nobody's idea of a visionary or even an interesting person. And yet his 70s blue-eyed R&B period is full of unexpected pleasures and subterranean connections, the godfather to modern blue-eyed belters Jamie Lidell and Robin Thicke. On his second LP, Pressure Drop from 1976, he's got members of Little Feat and The Meters laying down some of the tightest funk grooves ever put on tape, with Palmer as the suave band leader cum sex symbol. This is music that speaks more to the body than the mind, but that's not a fault, it's the point. The result, in this household, is presently napping in her crib.

You can download the entire A side of the LP HERE, wherein you'll hear:

Give Me an Inch
Work to Make It Work
Back In My Arms (<-- fantastic)
River Boat
Pressure Drop

[Duly noted: Robert Christgau, who detests Palmer, was compelled to improve his grade of Addictions, Vol. 1 because his wife really likes him -- kind of says it all, no?]

2. Until now, I never really liked The Bad Plus. For me, their jazz-nerd deconstruction of "Iron Man" is really interesting and clever, but a tad studious and inside-jokey, like two protractors and an abacus making fun of a moss-covered stone. "Ha!" What they've lacked, for me, is emotional resonance and a certain lyricism. But on their latest record, For All I Care, they've brought in a relatively unknown singer named Wendy Lewis and injected something lyrical and, importantly, feminine. It's still a very "cool" sounding album and there's plenty of pomo jazz-boy quantum mechanics going on, but the excellent cover choices (Bee Gees, Roger Miller) and the need to stifle it and let the singer sing have penned in the Bad Plus's more obtuse impulses. And Lewis's singing style never gets too mawkish, although she's not afraid to let a note croon when it needs to. For my money, this Yes cover is one of the best things to happen this year:

Long Distance Runaround - The Bad Plus

3. The crooked path between cabaret and rock is a treacherous one because the chances of falling into the adult contemporary ditch are very high. You may be surprised to hear this, but a master of threading the needle is k.d. lang, who I've only discovered in the last year. Her vocal presence is unbelievably warm and potent. Like The Bad Plus, she has a smart ear for good songs and, crucially, exquisite taste in arrangements and production quality. Her 1988 countripolitan album Shadowland is one of the best sounding albums produced in the last 20 years. And I discovered this cover, below, over the summer while trolling the CD collection of the hippie parents of a friend of mine. It's from 1997's Drag.

The Air That I Breathe - k.d. lang

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Sad-Eyed Lady of the Shoe Store

As a writer of magazine profiles, one thing you're constantly asking is: What is the motivation of the protagonist? We know what he or she did, but why did he or she do it? But the same question also applies when you're writing about yourself. As in:

But why am I writing about Boz Scaggs?

Story: During summers in my college years I worked in a shoe store in Maine and one time I ended up holding the foot of Dan Quayle's wife Marilyn in my hand while two secret service agents hovered nearby. This was while her husband was still VP under Bush Sr. and I was putting different sized pumps on her. "How's that feel?" I'd ask, squeezing her toe. I also put a shoe on Julius Irving once. Size 14 boat shoes or something. Anyway, the assistant manager of this shoe store was a middle-aged blond who smoked those skinny Silk cigarettes for women and appeared, with her tired eyes, bad skin and heavy makeup, to have spent her twenties partying too much with the boys and now found herself 40-something and single. I was this college dork who after reading Dostoevsky thought he'd just invented existentialism, so we were world's apart. But she had a certain sad soulfulness to her and she loved music, so we always smoked cigarettes by the dumpster out back and talked about what we heard on WBLM, 102.9. It was vaguely flirty. So one day, as I was gassing on about the Grateful Dead or some "acid rock" shit I was listening to (as a result of my then-fascination with "drugs"), she said her favorite music was Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs. And I'll never forget my response: "Ack! Kerplewy! Ugh! Boz SCAGGS? Ew. No way. Blech." (Raitt's "Something to Talk About" was a huge hit that summer, so that was just a non-starter.)

But here's the truth: I couldn't have picked a Boz Scaggs song out of a lineup. Not even the hit, "Lowdown." I was just being a blowhard and she was speaking her heart. In retrospect I feel really awful about it and wish I could take it back, tell her I'm sorry and I really hope she found love and happiness in her life. Because I really LIKE Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs now.

I tell this story to set up the premise for why I like Boz Scaggs: low expectations. Ever since I asserted my ill-informed opinion that summer (based on my absolute certainty that I could not like the same music as this sad-eyed lady of the shoe store), I basically wrote off Boz Scaggs and just knew that if and when I finally heard him I'd absolutely hate his guts. But around the same time that I was discovering Philly soul from the 70s, I tripped upon Silk Degrees in a junk shop near my house and decided to give it a spin. See, by the time you're my age, 37, you've been wrong about so many things you just figure, 'What the hell, maybe I was wrong about this, too.' And it turned out I was wrong. At least relative to this falsely established opinion, which I'd used as a wedge issue in some early music nerd throw-down with a shoe store assistant manager.

So now for the ex post facto justification of Boz Scaggs: For the same reason I love late '7os Bee Gees, the way they blew up their pop hooks with Harold Melvin/Teddy Pendergrast/Billy Paul-style R&B grooves, I kind of loved Boz Scaggs' smoove groove, the sleek and slinky polish. And his lyrics really are better than average, sort of worldly wise -- like he'd partied a lot in his twenties, messed around with the wrong women and was looking for the love that would finally end the lonely years. See, it was adult and romantic and sexy and truly existential in a way that only people who had lived a little could truly get. It's a feel you don't necessarily understand when you're 22 and frying your cerebellum on acid rock. With Scaggs, the romance is right there in the title of his 1976 album, Slow Dancer, which came out right before he broke big with Silk Degrees and the hit "Lowdown." There's some poetry on the back of the LP and when I read it, I just can't help thinking of the secret dreams of a middle-aged blond smoking Silks out by the dumpster behind the shoe store:

i committed today.
bought some shoes
what a luxury also to
comment on my work 3
years ago slow dancer
is an image i grew up
with johnny helped me
learn to sing this is an
attitude like walking
doing the old left right
a few secrets hear some
romance a nod to some
old idols some idle lovers
some idle lovers

november 1976

And then the other day I was reading that before the producers of Saturday Night Fever hired the Bee Gees to pen the soundtrack, they were using Boz Scaggs numbers as the fill-in music. Makes sense. Listen, I'm not saying these are the greatest songs ever made. They're not. But if you're feeling lonely tonight, if you've seen a few things, a little too much, they might just surprise you.

You Make It So Hard (To Say No)
- Boz Scaggs (from Slow Dancer)

There is Someone Else - Boz Scaggs (from Slow Dancer)

Georgia - Boz Scaggs (from Silk Degrees)

And why not, it's fucking great:

"Lowdown" - Boz Scaggs

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Enigma of Joe South

I just read Joan Didion and Daryl Pinckney’s meditations about the meaning of the Obama victory in the New York Review of Books.

Joan Didion’s comments about the worrying implications of the “irony-free zone” surrounding Obama are worth stewing over for a bit. Didion has chronicled a lot of complex cultural and political change in America, never flinching from the troubling truth.

Speaking of troubling truths and zones of irony, I’m still not sure what zone Joe South is operating in for me. Probably trans-ironic, definitely post-, possibly bi-ironic. Not just plain old, that’s for sure. I’m definitely projecting some unreasonable hopes and expectations onto Joe South. I keep wanting him to be more than he is, and I keep being incapable of gauging whatever it is that he has been. From his record covers he looks out like a cross between Jeff Bridges and Brian Wilson, blessed-out, possibly cantankerous, maybe wasted.

Joe South’s records are almost worth buying for the merits of their liner notes alone. Lefty already expounded on this earlier. Here are a few lines from the back of “So the Seeds Are Growing”:

"Joe South is the sort of person who personifies his times and makes them beautiful.
Joe South is the sort of person who has seen the pain, the rage, the possibilities.
Joe South is the sort of person who has captured the passing moments of a world that’s changing every instant."

And, so, on the one hand, you come to this music looking for so much. What you get, on the surface, is somewhere in the Engelbert Humperdink/B.J. Thomas/Mac Davis zone. But, then you keep listening and looking, and you find something. Maybe it’s there. Maybe not. Check out the dobro slide, which is something like an overdriven kazoo, at the start of “Revolution of Love.” And the feverish string and horn arrangement ups the anticipation. There’s also a kinship to Lee Hazelwood and Bobby Gentry, a little Elvis, if the King was an acid casualty. Raspy soul singing. Reverb-heavy hand-claps. Hyper bass lines try to approximate grooviness with sheer pep. Funky cymbal pattern, heavy on the bell of the ride. It’s swampy. Not without cornmeal chunks. As he says, “The past is gone.”

“Revolution of Love” – Joe South

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life is Just Mythical

Lefty asked for this one special. I posted a slightly crappier version of this here nearly three years ago, along with some whisper singing from Burundi and an unusual bit of early sampling from Joni Mitchell off of Hissing of Summer Lawns. Links are all dead now.

Oddly enough, just the other week I interviewed John Kelly, the performance artist who channels Joni Mitchell in his show Paved Paradise. He’s bringing his show to Hartford in January.

In going to search for this track, I was struck with the almost scary realization that I have four Nazareth records on vinyl. I’m pretty sure this all stems from a mixed tape that Frankie Lee made for me years and years ago which opened up on one side with “Razmanaz.” And I’m also pretty sure that it was Frankie Lee’s sis who mentioned the Nazareth version of “This Flight Tonight” in one night of epic drinking. So it all comes together, family style.

After re-listening to this a few times, alls I can say is fuck Chinese Democracy. The Scots had it down. Dig the senseless reprise of the battering-ram rhythm and riff. Immigrant Song. Baracuda. Whatever. You can picture the guys in the front line – singer holding a mic stand, bassist and guitarist, all standing in a row, rocking sideways on the balls of their feet, in time, choreographed you might say, as the crowd loses it. Gaelic aerobics. Did you know that the Youngs – Angus and Malcolm, of AC/CD – were originally from Glasgow before the family relocated to Australia? Explains a lot.

“This Flight Tonight” – Nazareth

Back To Ohio

When they called the Buckeye State on election night, that was when we all knew it was over. Anyway you stacked it after that, the math was for Obama. So, be thankful for Ohio – Guided By Voices, Taft, Play-Doh, Bill Fox – it’s given us a lot. Add Blue Ash to the list. This one's for Lefty.

Power-pop fanatics already hold their debut, No More, No Less, one in high regard – naming it along with classics by Big Star, the Raspberries and Cheap Trick. There’s a little of whatever it was that made Mott the Hoople, Kiss and Motley Crue whatever it was they were. Maybe a kind of ingrown testosterone-thwarted glam androgyny, but with denim and bell bottoms instead of kabuki. Shades of steroidal power-playing evoke Blue Cheer and the Who. But Blue Ash – from Youngstown – released No More, No Less in 1973, a time when wankery and skin-tight buffoonery dominated rock music. Sticking to your guns about the glories of the three-minute song, tight harmonies, verse-chorus-werse, was kind of like preaching against free-market fundamentalism just a few years back. The record title -- No More, No Less -- is kind of a mission statement masquerading as a pithy chorus.

“Wasting My Time” – Blue Ash

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The G Gnome Project

I’ve been cranking this new-ish Love As Laughter all weekend. It gets my vote for rock song of the year. These guys traffic in the semiotics of slackness, but then they pull a sucker-punch on you, turning around to give you massive, monolithic arena rock moments, artfully mussed up with just enough noise and mutter to make you think they can’t really mean it. This tune has one of those Rock and Roll take-offs that gets me playing the air drums every time. The way the drums come in would get my vote for the Drunk McArthur Grant. The two-beat kick serves as a rhythmic hook for the song, very Zeppelin III. But the southern-fried 4 a.m., sonic Robert Frank-isms are very much from the Sticky Fingers/Exile family of classic rock products. I get twinges of Moonlight Mile. The DNA map gets even more complicated when I start to hear connections to Third-Eye Blind, just in the shameless fist-pumping-ness of it all. They confuse the scent with I-don’t-give-a-fuck Pavement riffs, thrown in to lead the dogs down the wrong trail. There are lyrics about In-A-Godda-Da-Vida and chariots, and stars and melting snow, and sending for people to tend to you.

“Konny and Jim” – Love As Laughter

Saturday, November 01, 2008

And Then There Had Been Three

Today marks the third anniversary of the Driftwood Singers Present. And I’m filled with feelings--shame, guilt, pride, awe, shock, anger, intestinal distress. There have been a lot of lessons learned, primarily regarding Lindisfarne, the Bee Gees, Stealers Wheel, Karl Blau, Robin Thicke, Bob Welch. Continued pioneering of the taste-transgressing frontier. Stimulated aural receptors. Ever-receding horizons. Burn-out artists. Pop culture credit-default swaps.

This is from the new one by the Viking Moses, with the void-probingly evocative title of The Parts That Showed. This music gives me all the feelings. Aches. Moved to tears. Consult-your-doctor kind of stuff. Pluperfection.

“Life Empty Eyes” – the Viking Moses

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sub-Prime Scenario

With the fundamentals of the soft-rock economy all cratered out, seeping thick plumes of sulfuric smoke, and with consumer confidence in the coke-pop sector showing signs of kamikaze-esque nose-diving, the northern branch of the Driftwood Singers Presents convened an emergency summit here at the Pioneer Valley retreat this past weekend. With one big cosmic credit-default looming, we clutched to moldy scraps of vinyl and malfunctioning strings of digital music in hopes of squeezing a drop of solace out of the justifiably forgotten jams of yesteryear. When that didn’t work, we turned to the sure-fire comforts of controlled spoilage – cheese, wine, and self-immolation (not quite controlled, but definitely spoiled). As our soul-financing team huddled in a borrowed minivan, exhaling a mix of hand-roll tobacco smoke, fumes of Belgian ale, essence of Rioja and ganja smoke, (cue Songs of Excess) the answer came to me in the form of a No Country For Old Men-style pressure-gun blast to the forehead. And then it was gone. I’ve been holding a smoldering vigil for that pearl of wisdom ever since. Going into the crisis, I’d intended so share a few soothing tidbits. It may have been only the beginning of the Big Big Bailout.

“Live For Today” has, for my money, the best “1, 2, 3, 4” in all of rock and roll – and it doesn’t even come at the start! Add to that the righteous “sha-la-la-lala” and the devastating retarded triplet business at the end, not to mention the whole reckless premise of the song, and you’ve got a mammoth achievement.

“Live For Today” – Grass Roots

Hey Dummy!

Ever since some researchers discovered that the Internet has crushed our attention spans and fostered a new kind of "reading" that causes users to "'power browse' horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins," I've decided to stop writing so many "words" and just make our readers "winners." Also, I've changed the font size for E-Z ree-ding.

1. Last weekend
The Driftwood Singers viewed "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the 1978 movie musical. No plot to speak of, but lots of satin pants and soft rock, including these two gems:

Got to Get You Into My Life - Earth, Wind & Fire

Oh! Darling - Robin Gibb

2. If like some people I know you were drunk and baked in a minivan on Saturday night while the rain poured down and the stereo blasted at top volume and someone attempted to smoke tobacco from a modified soda can, you may or may not have enjoyed these songs by the estimable New Orleans drifter par excellence,
Bobby Charles.

Street People - Bobby Charles

I must Be in a Good Place Now - Bobby Charles

3. Since you probably rejected our other posts for having more than two sentences per paragraph, you likely missed these previous entries. Too bad, because these songs are FUCKING AWESOME!*

In Terms of Two - Chicago

The Good Love - Percy Sledge

The Look of Love - Burt Bacharach

* I suspect Internet users prefer ALL CAPS F-BOMBS, so let's just watch the site meter jump, shall we?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Songs of Excess

Last night I watched the new Holy Modal Rounders documentary, Bound to Lose. Talk about cautionary tales. Acid, booze and ass, for sure, and speed and heroin thrown in to the mix as well. Beat folkie proto-punk wiseguys thumbing their nose at the Sing Out crowd, transmuting the songs of the people into prurient nut-job lullabies and sing-alongs. It’s as much Beefheart, Ween and the Butthole Surfers as it is Bob Dylan and The New Lost City Ramblers, though it’s that too. The fact that Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber are, more or less, still alive is some kind of testament to the transformative powers of substance abuse; the fact that they can still sort of rehearse and get up on stage together is a triumph of dumb flesh over self-destructive energies, time, gravity and fate. Oddly, since he’s likely the more erratic and ultimately impenetrable of the two, the film tends to delve more into the life of Weber, leaving the genius of Stampfel largely unexplained. Christgau makes a funny appearance and delivers a juicy one in championing the Rounders as the next greatest folk geniuses after Dylan: “Joan Baez …. P.U.,” he says. Another choice moment comes when the surviving members of the band get back together for a reunion tour on the West Coast. The bass player, who appears to basically be living in a bus in the foothills surrounding Portland, Oregon, stands outside of a crappy club, after a crappy soundcheck. “After the utter humiliation of it all, there are some fun times to be had,” he deadpans. Other than the tune on the Easy Rider soundtrack, the Rounders had always existed as more of a legend than actual music. I had a friend who spoke about “The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders” as the sacred text of the music we listened to. The foundational document of freak music. But I had never heard it. I guess I heard them playing along with the Fugs on one of those classic records, but I never knew it was them. It’s nice to know that they were as much of a mystery to themselves as they were to everyone else. Stampfel doesn’t quite know why they never got any cash from the royalties. Footage of the band playing on Laugh In – with Ruth Bussy goofing around, getting up in the band’s faces – is hard to believe, too. In fact, drummer Sam Shepard (yes, that Sam Shepard) doesn’t even remember the appearance.

The film announces interviews with Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo, Loudon Wainwright III, Wavy Gravy and others, but the last two only show up at shows, and listen with smiles on their faces while the lunatic Weber entertains/scares them. Weber and Stampfel engage in some Dinosaur Jr. style onstage bickering, none of which is much fun to witness. But the music is so compellingly bonkers.

“Half a Mind” conveys the general spirit of the Rounders pretty well. I wanted to save it for the next Drift-a-tron battle royal, but I couldn’t hold off.

“Half a Mind” – the Holy Modal Rounders

Big Baby

     My, but this is some funky stuff.  It's got sublime horns, dirty guitar, screams (as James Brown once inquired, "Can I scream, brother?"), and it was produced by Curtis Mayfield-- 'nuff said.  Check out the picture--the muu-muu, the Picture Cook Book.  So awesome.   I love the references in "Mighty Mighty"--red beans & rice, oxtail, Thunderbird, etc.
     James Thomas Ramey, aka Baby Huey, hailed from Richmond, Indiana (see, it isn't just the land of Larry Bird and John Mellencamp). Unfortunately, he was a rock 'n roll casualty, in 1970, at the tender age of 26.  "I'm big Baby Huey, and I'm 400 pounds of soul.  I'm like fried chicken, girls, I'm finger-lickin' good."  Mmm-hmm.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chicago Contra Chicago

I don't approve of Chicago. WAY too many horns. The whole band sounds like a warring group of hirsute session nerds who can't decide what they actually want to sound like and so end up sounding like a committee formed to preserve the idea that white folks are funky too. That said, like a lot of groups that have, like, 45 members and at least three who think they're the "genius," you get such a hodge-podge of experiments -- "let's throw this against the wall and see if it sticks" -- you're occasionally going to get something interesting. In the case of Chicago, the ones that work are typically by Peter Cetera. If you just compiled Cetera's stuff you'd probably come away with an entirely different band. So on side two of Chicago VI, from 1973, you find "In Terms of Two," which is a truly strange piece of work, an experiment in left-turn chord changes and the welding together of disparate styles, some kind of Celtic folk-rock a la Fairport Convention soldered on to some kind of mongrel country-folk pop experiment by Cetera. My friend Doug thought this sounded a lot like solo Frank Black stuff, how Black Francis likes to throw a counterintuitive chord into the mix and achieve an angular, bent quality that still sounds pop-ful. All in all, I think it's a great Chicago song, despite the presence of Chicago.

"In Terms of Two" - Chicago

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Optimist

That's what Percy Sledge is. An optimist. And I think that's why he kind of topped off and faded away: You can't stay satisfied for long and still be a "soul" man. He was courting over-happiness from the start: You'll remember that his biggest hit was basically a peon to just plain old loving a woman. I'll Be Your Everything is from 1974 and it really seems Percy Sledge's soul-man narrative arc has reached a crossroads, where he can continue the manic depressive life of the traditional soul belter -- suffering lost love in the depths of misery and then soaring high again on new love -- or he can embrace emotional health. In the traditional style, it's Jesus who is about to kill his career. He's got religion and royalties and he needs to sing it in that direction now, celebrate that. And since he's got to be true to himself, to his soul, there's something slow and attentive here, a savoring of every little guitar filigree and rim shot, like he knows this is the last declaration, some parting advice to the listener. Though it's the fourth cut on the first side, it sounds like his last song. And as it builds, the tall glassy symphonic orchestra rising, choral angels with matching golden vocal pipes like a single miraculous golden church organ, Percy Sledge is right where he's always wanted to be, right at home, the gates of heaven wide open. And where can he really go from there? The message is basically the denial of suffering through higher power. This is my theory on why you never really hear from Percy Sledge again. Sure, he could have pretended and powered through on fumes as a "suffering" soul man, become a collection of well-practiced feints and mimes that telegraph "soul." But the last message of love on the last good album by Percy Sledge may be the deepest and closest to home because he doesn't.

The Good Love - Percy Sledge

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Age of Nostalgia

“The age of recording is necessarily an age of nostalgia,” wrote Geoffrey O'Brien in his music memoir Sonata for Jukebox. It's such an obvious observation -- if it's recorded, it already happened -- and yet not something you immediately think of when you're wailing on your air guitar to Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak," is it? But in the last couple of years I've really come to embrace the idea that musical taste is basically memoir, a subtle social and personal pyramid scheme. As Stephen Metcalf, a great critic, wrote while reviewing the O'Brien book: "When anything can be made to last forever, the process is inherently deflationary -- too few lives chasing too many memories. For respite we cleave to monuments: Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles." Right, and the monuments are therefore a social handshake so that whatever bond that music created in us doesn't break apart and leave us wandering all alone with our Iron Butterfly albums (heaven forbid). The end result is you'll never run out of bands who replicate Neil Young and the Beatles. It's a canon of comfort and it's called being a conserve-a-tive.

This is all a long way of saying there's something about Burt Bacharach that I've only just begun to put my finger on lately, but it's deep. O'Brien wrote a whole essay about Bacharach and how he informed a kind of urbane, commercial lifestyle in the 60s that was embedded in advertising and TV. It seems so obvious, but I wasn't around in the 60s, so as I listen to Reach Out, an album Bacharach conducted and arranged in 1967, I realize how so much of this style -- the symphonic horn lines and cleanly executed exotica rhythms -- crept into my brain almost subliminally in the 70s and 80s. Mainly through TV theme songs and incidental "clean up in aisle five" K-Mart muzak. If I think of my music experience linearly, his sound was probably the first track laid down in a 64,000-track recording that culminates in a mix I call my "taste" -- the pop Rosetta Stone.

It took me some time to find my way to this realization, but if you listen to these songs, which I love against all good judgment, you may begin to see/hear what I'm talking about. It came to me through appreciation of 60s-era Duke Ellington, the post-rock of Air and Tortoise, the Bachrachian jazz of Ben Allison, some Dusty Springfield cuts, some early 70s Bee Gees -- but really, a whole helluva lot of things that seemed to ultimately converge at Bacharach. And I've concluded that's because Bacharach is not just the sum of his parts, but a kind of one-man pop gestalt, a cultural uber-shape that informed everything. When I hear his arrangement of "The Look of Love," I can feel the shape of my living room while watching "Barney Miller" at my father's feet, the shape of the brightly-lit aisles at Sears with my mother in the late 70s, almost touch the long lines of the boat-sized Buicks and Oldsmobiles in the parking lots outside that Sears. It's like the part of my brain that was molded in the 20th Century starts to glow in the dark, illuminating the architecture of memory -- as if it IS the architecture of memory, and the therefore subconscious cue for why I like Duke Ellington, Air, Elvis Costello and all manner of melodic pop set to lush accompaniment. Realistically, I know it's just because the Bacharach sound came to represent a polished professionalism that absorbed all styles, the pop template of all that was completely acceptable to anyone anywhere at any time. He bridged the Greatest Generation's big-band to the Boomer's groovy swing and therefore single-handedly poured the concrete on which mainstream American pop could be housed. But that's where I grew up: Inside an aural JC Penney, wandering the wide, illuminated aisles of pluralism and style and hope, the unified field of commerce set to flugel horn and cha-cha-cha.

So as the world breaks apart (like, MAJOR cleanup in aisle five) and something unrecognizable takes its place, for better or worse, it's come to this moment where I'm sitting here listening to "Bond Street" -- which is, as far as I can tell, that ridiculous song they play when Benny Hill is chasing girls about the lawn -- and I'm hearing how, wait, hold up, there are parts of this that are really great and somehow ... pure. Like, what's with that strange bent horn note at the end that races off into infinity? And how great are those leisure-wear horns on "The Look of Love"? Why do I get subtly emotional when those backup singers start up on "Reach Out to Me"? Why is it so comforting to me when that little trumpet squiggle pops up at the end? Why is that little Mary Tyler Moore piano tinkle in "Are You There (With Another Girl)" so downright tragic? Honestly, it's nostalgia. But all recordings being equal, what isn't at this point?

The Look of Love - Burt Bacharach

Reach Out to Me - Burt Bacharach

Bond Street - Burt Bacharach

Are You There (With Another Girl) - Burt Bacharach

In the course of posting this, I tripped upon this amazing blog called Malls of America, featuring vintage photos of malls, exteriors and interiors, over the last 50 years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Affirmative Action

In the spirit of echoing Liza’s and Lefty’s Nietzschean yeasaying, I thought it would be good and fitting, in this election season, to dust off one of the golden chestnuts from the American Song-Poem Anthology. The questions, set to a syrupy disco groove, remain: Can our government be decent and honest? Jimmy Carter said yes.

“Jimmy Carter Says Yes” – Gene Marshall

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Say Yes: The Driftwood Singers Inaugeral Podcast

I don’t wanna know ‘bout wrong or right
I don’t want to know
- I’m anywhere tonight

-- Captain Beefheart

It was only a matter of time until TDSP dragged its sorry ass into the future. Truth is, it's a miracle we're even on the Internet. But now we've gone and done it: created a podcast. Actually, I did this alone without Mr. Poncho's knowledge or seal of approval, so it's a bit of a half-breed, an off-the-reservation vision quest that may or may not lead my people to the Happy Hunting Grounds. Consider it test marketing. This was created about four months ago but I let it sit in the wine cellar for a bit to see if it turned to vinegar over time. Turns out I didn't yammer on too much. In fact, I stopped talking altogether after about the fourth song and mostly just let the playlist run on and on in an imitation of free-form FM radio (a la WFMU). Eventually we'll just start recording our interplanetary space travels in the Drift-o-tron (a stationary car and select driftwood on the hi-fi), which will take you deep into the Driftwood braintrust where no one other than us should really be. And maybe not even us (grown men, supposedly). Until then, give this a test drive.


(NOTE: If you wonder what the songs are, just email us and we'll send you the playlist.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

With the Quickness

In the words of Suzanne Somers, “I wore my green sweater today, and smiled.”
The chill is on, here in western Mass. I’ve been living in New England now for 10 years, and today I went apple picking for the first time since I’ve been up here. When I was a kid growing up in Duchess County, NY, we used to live across from acres and acres of apple orchards. We’d pick as many apples as we wanted, practically in the back yard, so the thought of making a quaint family outing of wandering around an orchard always seemed kind of weird. Next to the orchards we’d go and play in these sand and gravel holes– we called the whole place The Pits. My brother would set traps for raccoons and ground hogs, and he’d go out in the ice and snow and mud to club the poor fuckers who were left alive in the traps. Then he’d clean the pelts and get a few bucks from somebody. We were all headed for such a life of great northern redneck realities. I remember – you’ll like this – getting a BB gun for Easter one year (pretty awesome, weapons for Easter), and my brother took me out to The Pits in the snow, we set up some spent cans of spray paint at a distance and started shooting at them. I remember one of the cans, punctured by my little shiny bb, spinning, and flipping and hissing as it painted the snow red.

Lately I’ve been thinking of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos For the New Millenium. In it Calvino champions sets of opposed polar qualities – I remember he writes about the virtues of quickness and the beauty of lightness. Embedded in his argument is the equal praise for the opposite quality; quickness gains its charm in part because of the balanced appeal of slowness, likewise fizzy weightlessness and gravity. I thought of Calvino again when listening to some free MP3s I got from Light in the Attic Records. They’ve got some high life and afrobeat samplers coming out and they’re giving away a few typically long songs. The three-minute pop song has so many devout believers, but the epic jam seems like a more suspect and often-maligned endeavor. This tune by Rex Lawson isn’t quite a marathon, but boy do the slide-rule effect of piled-on coiled guitars, disorientingly relentless syncopation, and stately horns upset the temporal flow.

“Oko” – Rex Lawson and his Rivers Men

Friday, September 26, 2008

D.A.C., O.G.

     I can't help thinking that David Allan Coe has more in common with some hip-hop artists than he does with, say, Keith Urban.  It's that hard-core attitude with the bordering-on-ridiculous insistence on one's authenticity.  I mean, yeah, he spent some time in prison, etc., etc., but the more he makes his claim the less believable it seems.  But that don't mean the music ain't any good.  I love the way he opens "Longhaired Redneck" with the line "Country d.j.s knows that I'm an outlaw".  That's some bold grammatical territory--sounds like an outlaw to me!  The song is pretty damn funny... and "Revenge" is about as bleak as you can get.  "Laid Back and Wasted" is somewhere(s) in between.  (Great title, by the way).  It's a shame that he didn't refrain from utilizing the cornball harmonica and '70s phase-shifter guitar on these songs.  It'd be nice to be able to listen to them without cringing so much.  
     D.A.C. has definitely got the Merle Haggard/Ernest Tubb sound down pat, but does he really need to do so much name-checking?

Longhaired Redneck--David Allan Coe
  (from the album Longhaired Redneck)
  (from David Allan Coe Rides Again)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shriveled and Bundled

There’s a saying in Japanese – “atama ga piiman” – which translates roughly to “my head is like a pepper.” It used to be slang for something like “I’m baked.” I always loved the explanation for the saying, which related to the hollow dried-out insides of a pepper, with the little seeds kind of shriveled and bundled in the center, clinging to themselves by that pale stringy flesh; it evokes an image of a puckered and used-up brain.

My head has been like a pepper for a while. Not in the baked sense, but in the desiccated way. My whole scene is parched. Been taking Nyquil. It’s the end-of-summer start-of-fall thing. The frost hasn’t come here yet, but they’ve been talking about it on the radio, for the hill towns at least. The leaves of the walnut trees are taking the hint. Dropping in the wind. Going green to yellow, with dark black spots. Like a banana peel.

I’m in the final stages of getting my vinyl-conversion system back up and running, after a hard-drive fry out. And since September is also the season of loads of new music releases – Okkervil River, TV on the Radio and lots more. Here are a few more of the free new and recent releases that I’ve gotten hooked on lately.

“Places Visions the Sea” – High Places

“From Stardust” – High Places

“Hologram Buffalo” – Brightblack Morning Light

“Trust to Lose” – South San Gabriel

“Here With Me” – Jennifer O’Connor

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, RIP*

It was shocking and terrible to read the three-paragraph AP report when it popped online Saturday night near 11 PM. Dead at 46. When I read Michiko Kakutani's moving elegy to David Foster Wallace today, it reminded me of that huge, 20,000-foot view of American life that so few brass-ring-grabbing savant literary egotists even attempt any longer, the one that once seemed possible and today less so. It must have been so overwhelming and solitary to attempt to capture it in the 1990s, at the end of the 20th Century -- to capture, as Kakutani writes, "in the words of the musician Robert Plant, the myriad 'deep and meaningless' facets of contemporary life."

You could see it in Foster Wallace's face and manner, the way he wore the ten-ton weight on his shoulders so delicately, how shy and funny and precise his personality when he was interviewed, how he seemed like a POW who'd spent a decade imprisoned in a library. Here he is talking about his failures at understanding Italian while at an overseas conference:

Like so many of my generation, I didn't quite finish "Infinite Jest," but just hefting it around on subways in the 1990s was a rite of passage, not to mention a bicep-builder. But DFW's literary spike in the ground announced the arrival of our 1970s-baked consciousness to the national conversation, all screwy and tortured and long-winded and air-quoted in triplicate, and everybody had to listen. That was a huge moment. He opened the door and added footnotes with other tinier doors. We needed them all to get through and be understood. Could there have been a Dave Eggers without DFW? I once quoted him quoting someone else in a floridly overwrought newspaper article I wrote about Stephen Malkmus, the shadow of DFW's arguments hovering over my review.

But as David Foster Wallace, quoting the writer Lewis Hyde, wrote: ''Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.'' That Stephen Malkmus still traffics in winky references like Underdog signifies that he has grown comfortable with his sound and with his coterie of critic-fans who reflexively buy and praise his music.

His nonfiction, it turned out, was his true and righteous talent, maybe because his infinite smarts were harnessed by magazine length limits. His tennis profile in Esquire, 'String Theory', was the first one I read and still stays with me, how four dimensional and meta-magazine profile it was. Tennis was beside the point, even though he really did love tennis. His brainy explorations were as deep and map-like as an ant farm. In some ways it's not terribly surprising that he couldn't live with his own mind and all its dark sub-basements. But I'm just so upset that he killed himself. I wish he could have rallied and tied all those kinky strings together and unified our story, finally, especially now as our cultural fissures threaten to widen and bleak Palin-esque clouds darken our horizons. But that's too much to ask of anyone. Still, that he couldn't bear living any longer is itself hard to bear, especially considering what he knew about our collective souls in America.

In response to a question about what being an American was like for him at the end of the 20th century, he told the online magazine Salon in 1996 that there was something sad about it, but not as a reaction to the news or current events. “It’s more like a stomach-level sadness,” he said. “I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness.”

* February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Room #8

A few days ago, Dewey Dell, Rosa and I stayed in room #8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973 of a drug overdose. The establishment is now dubbed the "Cosmic American Hotel" by its proprietor, a reed-thin and sun-baked young man with faded green tattoos, dusty cowboy boots and a weather-beaten straw hat. It's located in the arid and alien desert near Joshua Tree National Park, where if per chance a brontosaurus were to come ambling out from behind the boulders you wouldn't really be surprised given how amazing and magical everything is, the lizards darting in the shadows under the heavy, penetrating silence that saturates the sky. Coz. Mick. The room where Parsons died (#8) has been lovingly un-refurbished, looking just as it did in the early 1970s, complete with the smell of grandma's house and vaguely Navajo bed sheets that have probably been washed 4 million times (or maybe only four times?). In a courtyard outside the room is a shrine of booze bottles and various tokens and tchotchkes arranged in worshipful order a few feet from a turquoise swimming pool lined with cracked tiles and shimmering in the middle of Joshua trees and cactus. A distant church has a giant "Jesus" sign in the sky.

On the bed stand is a guest book signed by visitors from all over the world (see top photo above) espousing all manner of broken-heartfelt, world-weary and vision-quested sentiments. You probably already have the song "Love Hurts" in your collection, but not this particular and exact mp3: it's ripped from the homemade CD compilation on the same bed stand in the room where Parsons died, hand-labeled by the proprietor "Room #8." (The third picture in the above set is the view of the courtyard from inside the room.)

Love Hurts - Gram Parsons (with Emmy Lou Harris)

Over in nearby Pioneertown, a 1950s Hollywood set built for shooting Westerns, there's Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, an old road house as dusty and drunken as it sounds, its walls lined with pictures of all the famous musical guests who've passed through, from Lucinda Williams and Robert Plant to the Solace Bros. (on the night we were in town) and Camper Van Beethoven. Tales of boozy nights under the sweep of stars and peyote-chewing jaw sessions around crackling fires are legend. While in town, we met a mellow stoner fella named Dave who took us into his glass-blowing workshop in his timber-frame Old West house where he makes glass beads and marbles with psychedelic swirls inside them. Cosmic? You bet.

Wheels - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

But that was only the start. We spent an afternoon visiting the "Integratron," a giant domed building that looks like a cross between a community playhouse and a planetarium. It was built by George Van Tassel, who claimed to have been visited by a UFO from Venus in the 1950s. He downloaded from a Venusian fellow named "Solgando" all the interplanetary knowledge afforded space peoples (Solgando was photographed and looks strikingly like a dapper human man in a three-piece suit) . Based in part on the scientific ideas of cult inventor Nikola Tesla, the edifice was operated as a UFO buff's palace of wonder and many years after Van Tassel's death in the late 70s people still come from far and wide to enjoy a "sound bath" in the domed room inside, where if you stand in the center you hear your own voice in triplicate vibrating inside your skull. When people lay under the dome in this acoustically perfect tabernacle and energy machine" and listen to Mozart or New Age music they apparently connect just so with all kinds of mystical cosmic vibrations (apparently the circumference of the Integratron is exactly that of a single person's magnetic field -- 55 feet -- but Von Tassel didn't know that when he built it). You can't help but believe.

Hot Burrito #1 - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

That's not all we did. We also ate heaps of cheese-covered and lard-based Mexican food in Palm Springs (not far from Gene Autry Trail), roamed about the desert snapping photos of rock formations and gigantic wind farms with lazily turned against massive mountain ranges and eyed temperature gages that read 100 degrees and higher. We radiated in the sun and breathed the pure, dry air and gazed over vast, Mars-like horizons and moonscapes seemingly untouched by humans. On the flight home, it was hard not to notice that the world was winking at us a little more than it had before. Things were changing. Or so it seemed. Perhaps they hadn't changed at all.

100 Years from Now - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

Call of the Wild

This new Blitzen Trapper record is splendid.
Love the feral vulpine Jack London theme.
They’ve shaved off some of the more prickly Beefheartisms from their last record.
I can’t get Stealers Wheel out of my mind when I listen to this one.
The classic folk-rock surface married to the dubbed-out echo-chamber studio wig-wammery makes Furr go nicely with the Rodriguez from a little while back. It’s like Teenage Fanclub with root magic instead of booze. Makes you want to put on the buckskin coat and polish the rifle, go round up the dog team. Sell some eggs to the miners.

“Furr” – Blitzen Trapper

Monday, September 01, 2008


Well, somebody was bound to do it. With every other mossy stone of 70s rock turned over and dug out under, it’s just a surprise that it took this long for some band of counter-intuitive hipsters to arrive at the shocking truth: the Doobie Brothers, Joe Cocker, Blood Sweat and Tears. We’re not ready, but it’s the place we need to go to.

“Set in Stone” – Catfish Haven

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Oh my god, this is good. I'd just read about this one the other day in Mojo, and here it is, seemingly the signature track given away by the wonderful, wonderful people at Light in the Attic Records. It's an amazing story -- surprise success in South Africa (read more). You've got to listen to this one. Donovan meets Gil Scot-Heron. Alien transmissions, Zombies vocal timbres. Is that an oboe!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dolphins and Donkeys

Mid-August is working its peculiar barometric razzle dazzle everywhere, as Frankie Lee says. Pollen. Pods. Mud. Storms. Runny noses. Flashes of doom. So much impending. Gearing up for the metabolic blow-out of September, the time of back-to-it. Pulling out the pea coats from the closets – preparatory nostalgia, whatever that would be. Getting ready to look back. I’ve been stewing a little on the forthcoming disc by this band, the Donkeys. Beasts of burden, they’re carrying the tradition of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty steadily on their solid shoulders. No stooping. One other commendation for these fellas: they have a song with a lovely and hard-to-understand chorus that goes “I might end up in a dolphin center,” which strikes me as new territory for the cosmic American song.

“Walk Through A Cloud” – The Donkeys

Friday, August 15, 2008

@ Loose Ends

     It's a funny time of year.   Another epic journey to VT has come and gone.  (Lots of rain, some canoeing & kayaking, softball, croquet & badminton, walking in the woods, grilling of grass-fed beef, swilling of Long Trail IPA, etc).  The girls are back in school (way too early, if  you ask me).  Our okra plants keep churning out the pods, and we have to be vigilant about harvesting 'em or they become woody and inedible.  The Reds are languishing in the basement of the National League Central, having gotten rid of two of their stars (Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn).  (Luckily, preseason football has started, so I can start shifting my attention to the Titans, who made the playoffs last year). 
        Today I finally got rid of my '87 Pontiac Grand Am.  I bought it soon after moving to N-ville, and it served me well--until around March of last year, when I finally gave up on it.  It had been sitting in the driveway accumulating tree detritus and staring gloomily at the street.  The time had come, we decided.  On my way home from work one day I noticed a small sign attached to a telephone pole: "Cash For Junk Cars" w/ a telephone number.  I punched it into my cell phone memory, and today I finally called.  "We'll give you $150 for it," the guy said after I told him what I had.  I was surprised and pleased.  Eventually a guy named Bobby showed up, and he successfully wrangled the Pontiac onto his trailer.  "Who's the Bettie Page fan?" he asked, after noting one of the stickers on the dash.  I told him I used to be, before I got married.  (What a lame response, I thought to myself.  Is this what it's come to?)  Anyway, the guy was nice enough, and after peeling a bunch of bills from his cash wad and handing them to me, I bid farewell to the ol' Grand Am and he drove off down the street.

Friday, August 01, 2008


I'll admit it, I usually don't read the real estate section of The New York Observer - not that I'm better than that: I'm worse than that. I get made sick by what I can't have, which is a lot. Anyway, I saw this item with Phil Lesh's name and a big price tag and something caught my eye. I made an exception. I don't know Max Abelson, perhaps Lefty can pass along props, because this opening graph about a sort of mundane condo sale deserves recognition:

"Years of appreciating the Grateful Dead’s music leaves one with the impression that the band’s surviving members all maintain a certain kind of house. Surely, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir lives in a moss-covered mansion where little pixie servants tend to his benevolent whims, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann resides below the oceanic photic zone with kindly umbrella mouth gulper eels, or, at the very least, bassist Phil Lesh makes his home with dancing bears in a rainbow-colored cave."

That bit about residing "below the photic zone with kindly umbrella mouth gulper eels" is just massive. I'm tapping my rolled-up paper program on my knee, now clapping, now standing to my feet and cheering, nodding in approval and looking with a knowing grin at my neighbors.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Vacation Foundering

It’s that most sad of days – the Sunday at the end of vacation. Back to work tomorrow. There’s despair, moaning, gnashing of teeth, all kinds of pain in different muted runny colors. We had a brief taste of sun-kissed, whiskey-soaked joy, the bliss provided by the steady hum of the internal combustion engine. There was even a Driftwood Singers powow in the mountains of western NC (thanks DD and L). This is where we walked. This is where we swam, hunted danced and sang. And now it’s back to angst-ville. Even nature’s chipping in with a little pathetic fallaciousness, sending in the dark clouds, crazy winds and rumbling thunder. Ominous. Ominous.

The gentlemen from Fearns Brass Foundry have already covered all this. They’ve got the groaning taken care of. I got this comp: Hide & Seek: A Collection of British Blue-Eyed Soul 1964-1969 a while back, and I just didn’t pay enough attention. The first thing that comes to mind is Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” with its mundane details and atmospheric sadness. Then it makes me think of Dylan’s response to that hit, “Clothesline Saga.” And then it gets me thinking of our man Joe South, my one degree of separation from everything. The singer is like the male Dusty Springfield, employing all manner of artful sighs and tuneful exhalations. I’m dying to know more about Fearns Brass Foundry – the name is a tip off that the band has workmanlike, high temperature powers of expressive transformation.

“Now I Taste the Tears” - Fearns Brass Foundry