This phrase still pops into my mind uninvited all the time.
It’s not that you were a better person. It’s not that you’re a bad person now that you’re comfortable-to-well-off. It’s not that the person you were then didn’t show a hint of the person you became, would fatalistically make the same series of choices that ended up turning you into the person that you became.
I saw this clip— I’m not sure what it’s from; maybe the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975?— when I was 13 or 14 and there was some “20 years of Rolling Stone” special on ABC, and something about it burrowed into my consciousness. I think what got me most then was the weirdly applied white makeup, to be honest. My parents hadn’t been into Dylan in the day, and so I guess I had this vague idea he was some kind of earnest folk singer. But the white makeup and the funny hat: so stagey, so… fake.
That’s what got me at 14. What gets me about this song now is the last verse:
So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue
A confluence of events allowed me to listen to long pop songs today.
I had few meetings scheduled. I had a lot of work that required focus. Everybody else in the office was in a chatty mood.
I put on the headphones, cranked up iTunes, set up a smart list that included only songs longer than 10 minutes.
Sister Ray — Velvet Underground
Pass the Hatchet, I’m Goodkind — Yo La Tengo
Stone Free (Live, Albert Hall) — Jimi Hendrix
Jenny Ondioline — Stereolab
A Very Cellular Song — The Incredible String Band
Cosmia — Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band
Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord — Pharoah Sanders
I Dream A Highway — Gillian Welch
Desolation Row — Bob Dylan
… and many others showed up that I didn’t actualy listen to.
We drove to the Petsmart in Everett to get some wet food and some litter. The radio we heard there and back could have been taken from my casette collection in 8th grade. On the way we heard the end of “Aqualung” and then we switched stations to some kind of jazz thing on 91.5, which I think is Tufts University radio, but weren’t really paying attention. In Petsmart the woman with the purple fingernails so incredibly long they curve into themselves — I don’t know she bags heavy containers of pet food all day– made small talk with Terri about when her due date was and if we know if it’s a boy or a girl. When we got back to the car, Tufts University radio is no longer playing jazz, they’re playing “Thick as a Brick”. It’s not every day you hear the Jethro Tull on two different radio stations within 15 minutes of each other, and you pretty much never hear them on college radio– maybe all the music snobs have gone home for the summer? Anyway, we headed back toward home, and they cut off “Thick as a Brick” abruptly partway through and kick into “Nights in White Satin”. Now, the clouds were kind of thick and grey, but as we came over the crest of a hill on Route 16, the Moody Blues coming to a crashing, overblown symphonic crescendo, a huge break in the heavens opens up and beams of sunset light are shining down on us, and we both just started laughing because the moment could not have been more perfectly synchronized if we were in a car commercial. We decided to grab dinner at Cambridge Common, so we got to hear “Tuesday Afternoon” and the beginning of “Locomotive Breath”.
After dinner, back in the car, I’m the DJ because I had beer and so Terri is driving. Fresh Air with Terri Gross is on NPR, and she’s interviewing some guy who is talking some crap about relationships and the new song on his album and the guy is all “don’” this and “singin’” that (I admit that I tunred to Terri and said “sounds like this guy forgot to bring his G’s to the interview”) and talking about how insensitivity creeps into relationships and I assume it’s some folksy pretentious faux man of the people NPR darling like Steve Earle or some such, so I flip stations, but nothing else is on, so I flip back, and I swear to god, the words out Terri Gross’s mouth are “ok, so, Iggy Pop, now we’re going to listen to your cover of Jobim’s “How Insensitive” from your new album”.
And, during the clip, I’m thinking, while I’m not rushing out to buy this, it’s also not as bad as Rod Stewart’s standards album or the Billy Idol christmas album. At the end she asks him if he’s going to be doing cabaret anytime soon, and he says that he admits that pretentions of the Cafe Carlyle or the Rainbow Room are creeping in. She asks if the Cafe Carlyle called tonight would he do it, he says “you know, I might be tempted but I’ve done stuff like that before and I just hate singin’ with my shirt on”.
Since John asked. Stuff that didn’t change my life but that I can turn on and instantly get immersed in a certain place or time.
69 Love Songs — The Magnetic Fields. (speaking of trying way, way too hard, but occasionally pulling it off in spite of yourself)
Greatest Hits — Biz Markie
anything — The Carter Family (ok, this is in my “change my life” list too, but it’s OK. If you ever need a vacation from the modern world, nothing can snap you into a world of pre-media-saturation faster than a trip to the Appalachians with AP, Sara, and Maybelle.)
Turn on the Bright Lights — Interpol (yes, sometimes I listen to this even when Terri isn’t around)
Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy — Brian Eno
Another Green World — Brian Eno
The Sunset Tree — The Mountain Goats
A Radical Recital — Rasputina
Thanks for the Ether — Rasputina
Eye — Robyn Hitchcock
Moss Elixer — Robyn Hitchcock
Luxor — Robyn Hitchcock
Funeral — Arcade Fire
Satanic Panic in the Attic — Of Montreal
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society — The Kinks
The Sunlandic Twins — Of Montreal
Muswell Hilbillies — The Kinks
The Singles (1960-1975) — Ike & Tina Turner
Speaking in Tongues — The Talking Heads
Red Roses for Me — The Pogues
If I Should Fall From Grace With God — The Pogues
Rum Sodomy and the Lash — The Pogues
Hell’s Ditch — The Pogues
Trans Europe Express — Kraftwerk
Highway 61 Revisited — Bob Dylan
Bone Machine — Tom Waits
Rain Dogs — Tom Waits
Discography — The Pet Shop Boys
Germ Free Adolescents — X Ray Spex
Nixon — Lambchop
The Modern Lovers — The Modern Lovers
various, ranging from the sublime to the painful — Jonathan Richman
The Pleasure Principle — Gary Numan
IV — Faust
Switched On, vols 1-2 — Sterolab
I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One — Yo La Tengo
Snap! — The Jam
Blacknuss — Rashaan Roland Kirk
The Inflated Tear — Rashaan Roland Kirk
Weather Systems — Andrew Bird
Thrills — Andrew Bird
Tender Buttons — Broadcast
Let’s Get Out Of This Country — Camera Obscura
The Dresden Dolls — The Dresden Dolls
In The Reins — Iron and Wine / Calexico
Hot Rail — Calexico
Vauxhall and I — Morrissey
Louder than Bombs — The Smiths
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea — Neutral Milk Hotel
So I recently did the whole “15 albums that changed your life” meme on Facebook, but there are a lot of things I listen to again and again — Terri would say compulsively, no, she doesn’t say that, she asks “are you going to ruin this one for me, too?”. Anyway, there are a whole slew of albums that didn’t and won’t change my life, but that I return to again and again like a favorite sweater or a musical blanket.
“Strange Geometry” by the Clientele is like that. It’s not going to stretch your horizons. It didn’t change the shape of music. It’s derivitave, and like all Clientele records, it borders on being a precious affected 60’s period piece. But like all the Clientele’s best stuff, there’s a kind of surreal and dark and almost mystical undercurrent.
You can listen to this record and dismiss it, thinking “this is a little pretentious, and they’re trying too hard”. And it’s kind of true. While really great albums just do it and don’t sound so strained, this album manages to both try too hard and pull it off. A good example is “Losing Haringey“: it’s a spoken word thingy where the narrator finds himself in a photograph, and right when I’m thinking “oh, please”, a little turn of phrase will just twist the right way (”as if none of the intervening disasters and wrong turns had happened yet” always gets me), and it just works.
And “Since K Got Over Me” and “My Own Face In The Trees” are just great pop songs.
One of my favorite (and highly underappreciated) early 80’s post-punk bands. Someday I’ll rip the couple of Rip, Rig + Panic albums I’ve managed to find on vinyl (as far as I know, none of them are available on CD or mp3 yet!). A couple of videos have turned up on YouTube, though. Yes, that is a young Nenah Cherry (yes, that Nenah Cherry) fronting. Her dad, Don Cherry (yes, that Don Cherry) appears on several tracks on the first album.
And then, naturally, there’s the appearance on the Young Ones which was the first time that I encountered them:
I was doing a little work tonight and had a movie on TCM in the background called Brighton Rock. As I was watching the credits roll by at the end, it occurred to me where I knew the characters’ names from:
We went to the parade today, and while my video from that is uploading, I have some amendements to make from my prior post.
I was sort of sour on the whole politics angle of the HONK! bands. I think what I said was true, that basically, if the goal is to convert the unconverted, spectacles like this aren’t going to be the forum where that happens. My experience is that the only time peoples’ minds are changed is when there is some personal connection between two people that transcends politics, and then they have to reconcile their feelings to their viewpoints. Anyway, so, maybe people are not going to hear the Leftist Marching Band’s song about Wal-Mart and are suddenly going to see the light and say, yeah, they treat their workers like crap, I’m not going to shop there.
But I think there is something to the politics of the music itself that I basically buy into. First off, it’s just a total non-product. Very few of the bands there were even selling CDs. None of these people are making their living from their music, they are just out there for the joy of the thing. (I’m guessing here, to be fair: but I suspect that only a relative handful of people are making a living from music these days, and the folks in the HONK bands have not given up their day jobs). But the format of this kind of music is just not salable; it can barely even be recorded well. I mean, it technically can be recorded, and it can even sound pretty good. But unless you have a really crazy sound system at home, it’s just not going to sound like 10 horns and 5 percussionists (or more) standing 3 or 4 feet away from you, there’s not going to be a crowd dancing all smelly after a day of dancing.
I also feel like it opens a viable door for popular music. I guess it’s not popular in the sense that a lot of people like it. But it is pop music in the sense that you don’t need any kind of specialized cultural context or background to have an immediate visceral human reaction to people blowing horns and banging drums in front of you. It’s a popular music that you can participate in just by listening to it and ditching the snobbery and admitting that you like it– you don’t have to buy a T-Shirt, you don’t have to participate in some kind of record store nerd snottery, you don’t have to claim your turf as part of a subculture (there were townies, trustafarians, old crusty Cambridge folkies, new somerville yuppies with their kids in their maclaren strollers, and Click and Clack the Tappett Brothers for god’s sake). You can just listen and shake your butt and be happy to be in the middle of something great on a couple of gorgeous New England autumn days.
And I love that it just harkens to a time when if you wanted music, you just made it. You didn’t go shopping.
Here’s Providence RI’s What Cheer? Brigade, who knocked my socks off last year (strongly recommend watching this full screen since it’s rather dark).
A shorter clip:
And another, where it’s actually light and you can sort of see them. The gorilla guy wore a scarier but probably significantly less hot mask this year.
Due to a program misprint (which said they were going on in statue park at 8:00, not 6:00), I almost missed What Cheer?. Happily, I did not, though I did miss the first few minutes of their set while I was distracted by these folks playing in front of the T station, whose name I did not catch.
Also a notable group from earlier on were the Loyd Family Players who were sort of a Brazilian-style drum group from California (yes, many bands trek very far to make the fest). (Photo by Terri)
There were lots of other bands as well who were also notable, but it’s almost impossible to see them all, what with 4 simultaneous stages going on all around Davis Square. Anyhow, I love the HONK! fest, and the general outpouring of energy and creativity and feel like I’m in a good place when such awesome stuff happens within walking distance of my house.
Still, I’m not a political guy, and while I wish them luck in their project, I’m mainly there for the spectacle and the talented musicians and the spirit of the thing. My impression of the effectiveness of most acts of political street theater is the same as Tom Lehrer’s eventual opinion of political satire:
I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted. I think the people who say we need satire often mean, “We need satire of them, not of us.” I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin cabarets of the ’30s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War. You think, “Oh, wow! This is great! We need a song like this, and that will really convert people. Then they’ll say, ‘Oh, I thought war was good, but now I realize war is bad.’” No, it’s not going to change much.