Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Sisterhood of Stevie

Like David Attenborough stalking the lyrebird through a dense rain forest this video of Stevie Nicks swaying at the center of an impromptu, backstage Wild Heart feels so rare, raw. Stevie is at the height of her powers here, still at the start of a solo career, surrounded by a sisterhood, singing. Her magic is made material. The Three Graces in early eighties sun dresses: a make-up artist, a back up singer and Stevie.

My friend, Ace Black, who brought this gem to my attention, watched it again and again upon finding it. She says, "It was not unlike riding my rocking horse as a girl, physically mesmerized by the rhythm and full of a strange excitement." Indeed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where You've Been

     My dear Wife gave me an ipod Nano for my birthday.  As many of you may know, it's a curious thing to select songs for said device.  I've discovered that ones I thought for sure I'd want on there, well, it turns out I really don't, and I don't know it until I'm out running, and the ABBA tune "Take A Chance On Me" comes on, fr'instance.  Not to slight the preternaturally blonde Scandinavian popsters--love 'em, been meaning to write about 'em--but do I really want that song on the ol' digital listening contraption?  No, I do not.  What I realized I do want more of is Dinosaur Jr, for some reason.  I first really, really got into J Mascis and pals back when I was attending (briefly) Hampshire College, up in Amherst, MA, which is J's hometown.  (I was talking to my therapist at the time about how much I liked the band--how does such a topic come up in therapy?  I don't know--and she said, "Oh, my sons were friends of his in high school."  How cool was that, at the time?  She was a lovely lady).  I saw them play a couple of times in Amherst.  At one of the shows, Murph broke a drumstick and the battered shard flew out into the crowd and landed in my hands somehow.  I still have it somewhere, I think.  I  saw J do an acoustic show at CBGB's later on when I was living in NYC and going to art school.  I remember looking over at one point and spying Matt Dillon in the crowd.  I always liked that guy.  I can't remember if it was around the same time or not, but I was once up in midtown--I don't know what I was doing exactly, maybe I had gone to a gallery or the Museum of Modern Art or something--and much to my surprise I spied J amid the bustling crowd.  Needless to say, he looked a little out of place.  He was wearing those big goofy glasses and a NASA baseball cap.  Perfect.  I didn't approach him, I just sort of slyly observed him for a few minutes, and he seemed to be taking in all the frenetic activity at his own pace, unperturbed.  I think he ended up going into the FAO Schwartz toy store, or maybe I just pictured him doing that as a private joke, I really can't recall.
     Dinosaur Jr was perfect music to go along with that college/art school period of my life.  Hell, I was miserable a lot of the time, and J's creaky voice, mopey lyrics and thunderous, nay, majestic guitar-playing provided solace of a sort.  I'm not one of those fans who say the early albums are the best (I remember hearing this idiot say that they weren't as good after they had to add the "Jr" for legal reasons!).  Green Mind is the one that really got me, and I also like Bug a whole lot.   I'll admit that I haven't listened to anything since Where You Been--and I'm guessing that not many people have listened to it either, so I figured I'd include a coupla tracks from it.  Cue up some sandblasting sonic power.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Morning Wood

We have a special place in our hearts for all things wood here. Driftwood. Roy Wood. Ron Wood. Into the Woods. Wooden riffs. Wooden beats. Wooden Wand. Wooden Indians. Wooden ships on the water. And so, the Wood Brothers.

If I’m honest with myself, opening up to the Wood Brothers took some mental house-cleaning to overcome the vestigial quick-draw judgmental baggage, the instinctive, ingrained, dismissive reflex triggered by the Medeski, Martin and Wood connection, the Norah Jones effect, the artfully distressed textures, fear of the Epcot Center jukejoint exhibit factor (complete with fake outsider art paintings of old blues men, washboards and BBQ kitsch as decor), the redolent spiced-tea jam-band emanations, the made-for-Bonnaroo suspicions. But once I purified myself of bad thoughts, I was able to see the beauty of the Wood Brothers, and the ugliness in me (never difficult).

This is for Dewey Dell and Lefty. The title track from the Wood Brothers record always conjures the best old Bonnie Raitt and early Little Feat for me. And, just because all things seem connected, here’s a link to a great story about hunting wild hogs in Texas. And, speaking of wild hogs, here’s a link to A.O. Scott’s review of the Tim Allen/John Travolta movie Wild Hogs, from last year. One of the greatest take-down reviews I’ve ever read.

“Loaded” - The Wood Brothers

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I’m Down, Indeed, Comrade, I’m Being Bombed

I give you “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle,” the first song on the first Thin Lizzy album. Here’s a challenge to all intercontinental drifters who pass here. Is there a better bean analogy in all of rock? All of music? Is there a better mock-hipster-heroic spoken-word intro? (Listen at 00:27 for what sounds like an Elmer Fuddism “the friendly wanger waits”). Also listen for the physically tricky image: “To walk down the street with my arms around your hips, side by side.” Listen for the pointillistic funk bass and pitter-patter drumming. But more than anything, listen for the earth-shaking made-for-the-drift-atron staggered QUADRUPLE-tracked guitar solo at the end!!

“The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle” - Thin Lizzy

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sign Language: Shred Heads

As Frankie Lee said, today is our birthday. (Cue Beatles song). I guess this is probably true of people of all zodiacal persuasions, but I tend to know and be close to a lot of fellow geminis. Nutbags mostly. Here's to them, my former Scottish/Canadian boss (the ghost at the banquet), Assegai (fathering children, teaching English, studying Tai Chi, laying some Mande beats on the villagers in rural China), my niece (OCD'ing her way through college), baby Rosa (no signs of gemini characteristics as of yet) -- shredders all. Long may we shred.

"The Shredder Sequel" - Little Wings

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Title Of This Post Says It All

     As James Stockdale (H. Ross Perot's running mate) once asked during a debate, "Who am I?  Why am I here?"  Well, here's my answer.
     And, since tomorrow is both Mr. Poncho's and mine's birthday,  I thought I'd share these tracks from the Gino Vanelli album The Gist of the Gemini.  Listening to them makes me feel like an alien visiting from another planet.  It's utterly baffling that this music was written, recorded, released, etc.  with straight faces all around.  I love the fact that he had the nerve to call a song "Carnal Question" and use the term "A post-war eunuch".  How does this happen, I ask you?  (The second side of the record has a bunch of songs grouped together under the title "The War Suite", of which "Carnal Question" is one.  Heavy stuff).  Vanelli was born in Montreal--I think the Canadian hypothesis is beginning to unravel.  A bona-fide head-shaker.

Cache in the Attic

While Lefty struggles with being the Chardonnay-swilling target demo for the Restoration Hardware masterminds, I'm still coming to terms with being an uprooted 20th century post-urban American mongrel (by Monsanto), a fig-plucker by blood, but one who likes to dabble in the simple feel-good pleasures of lachrymal pedal steel, corn-fed fog-horn white-man vocal melisma and anything that conjures work requiring knowledge of a grease gun. The truth is: we have no idea who we are anymore, if we ever did. It's not as if we don't like it this way.
I could live inside a teepee. I could die in Penthouse 35. Etc.

As promised, here are some more tracks from the John Anderson archives.

"Stop in the Road" - John Anderson

"San Antonio Rose" - John Anderson

"Don't Think Twice It's All Right"- John Anderson

White Wine Manifesto

A friend and I were joking on the subway platform the other morning that the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss album was probably market-tested and produced with a group of NPR yuppies having a dinner party in the studio to determine just the right mix. It's just that kind of album, a tastefully antiqued Crate & Barrel-quality production for the living room environment, featuring two tried-and-true legends of the upwardly mobile demographic. (I imagined producer T-Bone Burnett having one of those "smooth" knobs on the mixing board, like in episode #9 of Yacht Rock.) Fittingly, the best song on the album, "Killing the Blues," was used in a Target commercial, which I first heard during the Super Bowl. And yet, as difficult as it is to give myself over to the publicity and marketing cycle of a popular phenomenon aimed directly at me, I can't help myself: I am the target and the Plant-Krauss arrow has struck dead center. I love everything about the record, especially the Target tune. The slow, languid atmospherics and porcelain harmonies, the Al Gore earth tones Whole Foods production quality, the way it turns my living room into a soft, cottony, candle-lit hideaway far from the madness of workaday life. It's a really good album.

This might not seem like a big revelation, but for one whose musical world view was built on the defunct late-20th-Century indie-DIY-hippie-punk model of anti-capitalist "authenticity" and "integrity," it's been hard to accept my slow-but-sure devolution into the Dad Rock category. It's like waking up one day and realizing you've qualified for Medicare. I suppose the tipping point -- and I even hate that phrase, coming as it does from the Crate & Barrel intellectual of our time, Malcolm Gladwell -- was my acceptance of the simulacrum rock of Fleet Foxes and all the other Millennial-generation folk-rock precision re-creators. But whatever. You can't stop the future. So here I am, Professional NPR Yuppie Dad Rocker rocking my Plant-Krauss download from iTunes and just flowing into the 21st Century like a streaming video. I'm letting go. I celebrate myself. Hear my white wine glass clink!

"Killing the Blues" - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

(Editor's Note: I found the above photo by Googling "intimate dinner party")

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I, Claudius (I) : Reduce, Re-use (Roots)

Claudius Linton was a blind spot for me. Sometimes it seems like it’s all blind spots, really. I got a copy of this comp called Roots Master, and the man has clearly got the power. With a majestic name like Claudius Linton, it’s no surprise. Part Burning Spear, part Linton Kwesi Johnson, CL has got the soulful roots all wrapped up, the dub testifying, too. The band performs that expert sonic rollercoaster, with muskrat-like keyboard parts poking a head up here, a big underground bass line diving down and blowing your hair back, some exuberant morse-code hand-percussion sending messages of i-ree into the cosmos.
I have no idea what “Backra Massa” is about, but it’s definitely some DNA-level joy – soul sun pleasure. At our Driftwood Singers communal family barbecue this past weekend, I came armed with music to go one-for-one in an anticipated cosmic drift-atron late-night music duel with Lefty, but the fatigue set in, the bone tiredness won out. So I didn’t get to unload the amo. My powder stayed dry. But speaking of arms, the thing I love about “Reduce the Arms Race” – aside from the “you ain’t goin’ nowhere" commitment of the stoned-anemic groove – is the aim-low implication of the verb “reduce” in the refrain; from that word alone, I feel like James Wood would be able to unpack all kinds of biblical portents and historical, imperial, cultural nuggets.
I’m not unpacking no portents.

“Backra Mass”- Claudius Linton

“Reduce the Arms Race”- Claudius Linton

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quasi-Errand Into the Quasi-Wilderness

Armed with child-friendly insect-repellent wipes, ample fizzy water, manageable stacks of moldy vinyl, a portable turntable, an impressive array of grilled meats, and small-batch bourbon, a quorum of the northeast chapter of the Driftwood Singers family met in bucolic Pound Ridge, New York, for what has now become our semi-annual errand into the semi-wilderness, a quasi-utopian shindig involving naked toddlers caked in mud, the strumming of acoustic guitars, DNA replication, and wild-eyed speculation about ill-informed land buys in the Northeast Kingdom. Needless to say, we pondered the genius of artists like Robert Palmer, J.Geils, Freddy Fender, Fleetwood Mac, Karl Blau and Thin Lizzy.

I had promised to share a few tracks from a cache of John Anderson records that I’d purchased back in the winter in a lucky strike at a Goodwill in Middletown. Here’s one. Early in his career, Anderson had a baby face, but his voice was oak-aged, double-smoked and love-damaged. All American.

There’s always more.

“Arms of a Fool” - John Anderson

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Our Song

     I discovered this tune by accident tonight.  Written by Glen Campbell collaborator Jimmy Webb ("Wichita Lineman", "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", etc.)--perfect, right?  I think it's got the requisite combination of dissonance, misplaced fanfare, shaky-voiced singing, and questionable lyric choices to make it a good theme song. 
     Wild and free
     Like you and I
     Like driftwood blown back to the sea