Listen to the music: 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer

18 03 2014

Clearly, this woman is more energetic than I am. Or more obsessive.

When I decided to listen to all of my cds in alphabetical order, I never considered reviewing each and every one.

Okay, maybe I did, but only for a second. It wasn’t meant as a writing assignment for myself, but as a listening assignment. Why did I have these cds, this music? What was I missing? What held me? What no longer did?

Jayzeus christy, why did I buy this?

After I thought the thought, I had another: Hey I should blog about this. Sometimes I run a little dry in the blog department, so blogging about these chunks of listening space would keep the posts flowing. (Bad image, but you know what I mean.) And writing about it publicly would help to keep me listening, even if I got bored with the whole thing. It turned a lark into a project, a way to track my commitment to the music itself.

It’s worked pretty well. Sometimes I listen because I want to listen; sometimes I listen because I haven’t listened in a while; sometimes I listen because there’s something in this set of cds that I want to talk about.

The mixed motives keep me moving.

Anyway, while I very briefly considered mini-reviews of each cd, I turned against the thought almost immediately: blegh. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to offer my response to each cd—as Megan Seling notes, this woman is setting herself up for a book deal (and sure, I did I get a nice bump in readership when a Listen to the Music post was Freshly Pressed: imagine if I were really committed!)—but I wanted to follow where the music took me, not mark every step along the way. If somewhere amidst 10 or 20 cds I came across an overlook or a canyon or a hidden river, I wanted to stretch out in these spots, to linger, to find out if there was still anything there, anything more.

I may be listening my way along the trail, but I’m after something more.





The whole third floor of the hotel gutted by the blast

11 01 2014

I had a Nick Cave phase because: of course I had a Nick Cave phase!

I mean, can you listen to Nick Cave and—key caveat: providing you didn’t leap out of your chair to turn off that sound from the roiling deep—not keep listening to Nick Cave?

It was his track on the Until the End of the World soundtrack that got me, that bass drawl going on about blind pencil-sellers and dogs leaping under wheels and it was horrifying and amazing and who the fuck was the guy and why didn’t anyone tell me about him before?!

(I had that same reaction to finally listening to Patti Smith: Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me about her before? Kiddies, life before cable and the internet was a vast radio wasteland for those of us out of reach of college stations.)

My first cd of his was Henry’s Dream, which contained the terrifying Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry. Oh, the narrator may be “reassuring” his son that amidst all sorts of mayhem (shots in necks, arterial blood spraying, etc.) that “Papa won’t leave you, boy”, but ain’t nothin’ reassuring about any of it:

Run Henry! Run!

I did learn about his previous life as singer in Birthday Party, but beyond that BATS! BATS! song, I didn’t really know much about them: my intensity for Cave burned out before I could trawl his backstory.

As an aside: Nick Cave seemed to be one of those working that masculine brutal/tender trope for which I am an endless sucker. I don’t really know if there’s any feminine equivalent: Patti Smith was never brutal. Chrissy Hynde, maybe? Tho’ she was more contemptuous than anything. Maybe some of the stuff coming out of the Riot Grrls scene, but even if that comes close, I don’t know that it’s the same.

In any case, it’s damned difficult to maintain: it seems you either move beyond it—Nick Cave, Elvis Costello—or you just age into weirdness (if you’re talented enough) or staleness (if you’re not. I don’t know that it’s always-only a young man’s game, but at some point it rends itself apart.

Anyway, what brought all of this on? A trippy Belle Waring thread at Crooked Timber, in which Saul posted this vid of a young Nick Cave, heroin-thin, prancing around in a loincloth fronting Birthday Party:

Holy mother of Jesus.

Yes, for those of you who might see this as pretentious or boring or melodramatic or repellent: I get it, I really do. There are all kinds of things which others’ find fascinatin’ that I think, Huh.

This ain’t one of them.

Repellent, I’ll give you. But mesmerizing, well goddamn, mesmerizing I’m taking for my own.





I just died in your arms tonight

11 01 2014

What song do you most want—or not want—to hear as you shuffle off to Buffalo?

Megan Seling, formerly of the Slog, wrote in to her old paper to note her horror at almost meeting her maker to the sounds of Coldplay.

Coldplay! Yeesh.

(Okay, yes, I have that one Coldplay cd, A rush of blood to the head, or whatever, and I even listen to it sometimes. But it’s pretty fucking insipid music and I’d be pissed too if that were the last thing I ever heard.)

Commenters noted their feared last notes, with the Eagles’s “Hotel California” getting a couple of votes, as did Toto generally. Oh, and DOUG linked to a great Ellen Forney comic on the horror of going down to bad tunes.

I don’t know that there’s any song that I would absolutely hate hate hate to have playing when I die—I mean, there are so many crappy songs out there it would be tough to choose—and, frankly, it would it makes own absurdist non-sense if I died to something ridiculous.

I have thought about what I’d want played at my funeral. Poi Dog Pondering’s Bury Me Deep gets a nod, and at one point I considered (for reasons which aren’t really clear to me, except for the Emmylou part) Emmylou Harris’s cover of Ballad of a Runaway Horse, but I’ve since dropped that. Prayer in Open D is also nice, albeit much more spiritual than I am.

There’s also Talking Heads’s Heaven, which is a bit of a downer, actually (and I want people to have fun at my final going-away party!); Eurythmics’s Heaven, if only because it has that nice Eighties beat; but I’d prefer Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins, because, really, that’s the kind of choice every corpse should get to make.

Then there’s Happy Trails, but since the Van Halen version was my high school graduating class’s unofficial song (the school wouldn’t let us play it at graduation), I don’t know that I’d want to double-dip.

I might go with something grand and sentimental—the Waterboys’s This is the Sea is a song that demands teary drunken tributes—but maybe I’d like a bit of a twist in that Irish whiskey.

So Kate Bush’s Jig of Life it is. Big drums and compellingly obscure lyrics and oh, a jig to send me on:

“We are of the going water and the gone.
We are of water in the holy land of water
And all that’s to come runs in
With the thrust on the strand.”

Just so.





Just sing

7 01 2014

The great Gotham Rock Choir experiment: how’d it go?

I had fun. There are some truly terrific singers in the Choir—some are folks who came to New York to do theatre, got sidetracked (by the need for rent money) into straight jobs, but who still want to perform, others who happened to discover that they could really sing—and by the time of our performance, in mid-December, we sounded pretty damned good. And, quite apart from the singing, the people (altos, represent!) are pretty damned great.

I’m glad I did it, but I won’t be doing it again. I’m just not that good.

This isn’t a professional choir, and it’s not as if I’m tone-deaf, but I was rarely comfortable with my voice. It got better over the course of the cycle—my range was stretched in both directions—but I couldn’t count on my voice locking into the groove. If I sat near stronger singers, I could glide in alongside them, but my voice on its own couldn’t be trusted.

Which really sucks. I could hear the way it should sound in my head, but what came out of my mouth was just. . . eh.

And that bummed me out. I want to be good, and I’m not.

So no more GRC for me, at least as a participant. I did say that maybe I’d try to rejoin again in the summer, but that’s a long shot. I don’t think my voice will get strong enough for me to say, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’

Of course, I did do this, and I’m glad I did. I hope to stay in touch with folks from the Choir, and I’ll happily sit in their audience.

But onstage again? I don’t think so.





Listen to the music: the sound of silence

2 01 2014

The weekend after the burgarly, still trying to get over the fact I’d been burglarized, I heard Chet Baker on CBC Radio.

My Funny Valentine—that slow narcotic tenor, simple, soft. A November day in Montréal  and I was bereft.

I don’t think I cried about what was taken—I was too pissed—but I was very sad about the Chet Baker.

Of course, the cd could be replaced, and was. I got to know the Plateau and Mont Royal neighborhoods very well in hitting all of the cd shops, and became friendly with one proprietor on St Denis—got some great stuff on his recommendation.

In that sense, the burglary wasn’t all bad: it got me prowling about some near-east side neighborhoods, made me comfortable with the Métro, and I ended up picking up a fair number of Canadian artists. I’d still rather never have been burgled, but there were pleasures in the recovery.

I do miss some cds which, it turned out, were irreplaceable. Some were local discs I’d picked up in Minneapolis, but one loss in particular pains me: Chris Lowe.

No, not that Chris Lowe, which is the problem.

My Chris Lowe was (is?) a singer/songwriter from New York who played and sang at my friend M.’s wedding. He gave out copies of his cd at the wedding (the artwork for which won some kind of marketing award), and I listened to the shit l out of that cd.

It was a bit uneven—it sounded as if the songlist stretched back a ways—but he had a nice way with a lyric, and I’m a sucker for sandpaper voice. It was lovely and lilting and sad.

I did make a tape of it, and I do still have a boombox that plays tapes, but I want that damned cd—which I can’t find, because my Chris Lowe shares a name with another musical Chris Lowe,  super-famous Chris Lowe.

Well, maybe some night I’ll sit down with a bottle of something and dig my way through the cyberverse until I bump into that eponymous cd and take it home with me, where it belongs.

~~~

Again, this list is a bit out of sorts since I started it before the great cd mash-up, but as I’d only posted once previously on lost cds, it’s only a little disordered.

7. Afro Blue Band, Impressions
8. Chet Baker, in a soulful mood
9. Tony Bennett, Perfectly Frank
10. Bettie Serveet, Palomine
11. Andy Bey, Ballads Blues & Bey
12. Mary J. Blige, Mary
13. Blue Up? Cake and Eat It
14. BoDeans, home
15. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. . .
16. Billy Bragg, Back to Basics
17. billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue
18. T Bone Burnett, The Criminal Under My Own Hat
19. Cannonball Adderly Sextet, In New York
20. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Good Son
21. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
22. Exene Cervenka, Running Sacred
23. Bill Charlap, All through the night
24. Barbara Cohen & Little Lizard, Black Lake
25. Leonard Cohen, The Future
26. John Coltrane, The Art of John Coltrane
27. John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard
28. Elvis Costello, Brutal Youth
29. Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters
30. Mary Coughlan, Live in Galway
31. Cranberries, No Need to Argue
32. Celia Cruz, Queen of the Rumba
33. D’Angelo, Brown Sugar
34. Miles Davis, Birth of Cool
35. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
36. Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth
37. digable planets, reachin’ (a new refutation of time and space)
38. Dire Straits, Making Movies
39. John Doe, Meet John Doe





Listen to the music: Oo, sha sha

9 12 2013

Back in the day, when you had to flip your disk over to hear all of the music, I was a big fan of making compilation tapes.

I’d have the tape set, my finger on pause, as I set the needle on the album, then let go of pause and let the music move.

I was pretty good at this, too, getting the timing just right: You don’t want the songs on top of one another, but neither do you want so much space that you think “dead air.”

CDs made things easier, although sometimes the fade-outs were instead cut-off (esp. with early cds), and once everything went bit, all I had to do was line up the song list on CakePro and let ‘er rip.

(Of course, I first had to transfer my music on to my hard drive, which was a huge pain in the ass and which I am nowhere close to being finished doing—because, of course, I can’t do it the easy let-’er-rip way. That’s a story too boring to tell.)

Anyway, I identified with that guy from High Infidelity (and I only saw the movie, didn’t read the book) on the care required to craft a decent compilation tape. You had to mix up the mood, let the speeds and sounds rise and fall, and the first and last tracks had to be perfect.

It’s no surprise, then, that I looked kindly upon compilation cds. Okay, yes, it seemed like cheating to buy a disk loaded up by someone else, but at their best they could introduce me to sounds and musicians I didn’t know.

Or, in a soundtrack like Crooklyn, they play like a best-of music candy dish: almost every song a Snickers or Butterfinger or BabyRuth, with the worst mere candy corn.

Soundtracks can be hit or miss. While I think Crooklyn (at least the vol. 1 that I have) is deliciously chewy, others can be merely thrown together, too slick, or compiled with an eye toward sales rather than an ear toward the movie.

Sometimes that’s good: a lousy movie might still produce a decent soundtrack. I never saw or wanted to see Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, but I picked up the cd somewhere along the way, and while it ain’t great, it’s not as bad as I’d guess the movie is.

Wim Wenders’s Until the End of the World soundtrack is great—and it introduced me to Nick Cave!—but I’d heard the movie was only so-so. Wings of Desire is a beautiful, beautiful movie, but I wasn’t impressed with the soundtrack when I first listened to it, twenty or so years ago.

In any case, the grandaddy soundtrack for me is The Big Chill. I no longer have a copy (probably got rid of it in a fit of “uncool” purification of my collection), but in college my dorm-mates and I bonded over Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and Smokey Robinson.

Buncha white kids groovin’ to the sounds of Motown. A cliché, I know, but ya gotta start somewhere.

~~~

141. John Coltrane, Blue Train
142. John Coltrane, Soul Trane
143. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
144. Crooklyn
145. Cuba Eterno
146. Sheryl Crow, (eponymous)
147. D’Angelo, Voodoo
148. Terence Trent D’Arby, Introducing the Hardline According to
149. The Damned, Best of
150. Bobby Darin, The Ultimate Bobby Darin
151. Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain
152. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
153. Miles Davis, In A Silent Way
154. Dead Can Dance, Toward the Within
155. Dead Can Dance, spiritchaser
156. Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
157. Dead Man Walking
158. Death in Vegas, dead elvis
159. Des’ree, I Ain’t Movin’
160. Ani DiFranco, Not a Pretty Girl
161. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood
162. Dixie Chicks, Home
163. DJ Micro, Out Through the Input
164. DJ Spooky, Optometry
165. DJ Spooky, Songs of a Dead Dreamer
166. DJ Spooky vs Twilight Circus, riddim clash





And as we wind on down the road

31 10 2013

There are certain pleasures to becoming an old fart.

When I was younger, for example, it was important to be sniffy about music: to hate country music, for example, or to repudiate all hard rock once I became enamored of punk.

I wasn’t wrong, back in the day. Getting all wrought-up about music and books and poetry and politics was crucial to the development of my tastes, and helped me to figure out what and why I liked what I liked, and what these songs and poems and stories meant to me.

I’m a dialectical kinda gal, learning through contrast and movement, so it makes sense both that I embraced a THIS-NOT-THAT sensibility toward music (love rock, hate rock), and then a yeah-it’s-all-right reconsideration.

No, I ain’t running out to pick up any Foreigner records, but I no longer feel the need to reject all that my teenaged self loved.

And so, this:

My sister had Dreamboat Annie, which I thought was the bee’s knees, and Zeppelin, well hell, Zeppelin. Then I Developed Taste, and even if I couldn’t sneer quite as completely at Zeppelin as I did at Heart, well, I couldn’t really listen to them.

Now, though, those taste buds are tired of rejecting tasty bits just because it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Fuck what I’m supposed to do. This is a damned fine rendition of a classic—if you’re going to use a chorus in a rock song, this is how you use a chorus in a rock song—and I happily popped this up to full screen to watch and listen.

And you, if you’re sneering? You wish you could sing like (D’oh!) Nancy Ann Wilson.

~~~

h/t Bluegal aka Fran at Crooks & Liars





Listen to the music: It’s as easy to learn as your ABC

9 09 2013

Oy, what a mess.

I have arranged and re-arranged and re-arranged yet again (and again and again. . .) how I organize my cds. When they were still all in their jewel cases they were kept on a homemade cd rack; to find a cd meant scanning the shelves.

I’d always kept the pop and classical & opera cds apart, but went back and forth on where to put the blues and jazz cds, as well as the soundtracks. Sometimes I’d mix them all together, sometimes I’d keep the blues and jazz separate, sometimes the blues stayed with the pop while the jazz occupied its own space.

This was a manageable problem when I had a couple of hundred cds, but as that doubled (and then trebled), I kept messing with the order. I’d create categories (pop-blues-jazz-world music-soundtracks-electronica-compilations) then wonder what to do with a jazz soundtrack (e.g., Kansas City) or electronic world music (Finnish Ambient Techno Chant). At one point I separated out all of the women—which did not work. At all.

Once I got rid of the jewel cases and moved the cds into boxes—I never wanted to do the sleeves thing, both because I wanted to keep the cd “covers” & inserts and because I didn’t want to keep shifting everything every time I added a cd or decided to reorganize—I kept at the rearranging and sorting and segregating, even though it made less sense to do so once I realized it was easier to print out a list of all of my cds than flip through them looking for a particular artist or band.

Still, I kept to a basic schema of pop/blues-soundtracks-jazz and classical (which, of course, did not jibe with the organization of the printouts). The problem with this organization, however, was that I almost never listened to anything that wasn’t pop-blues: it was the bulk of my collection, I knew it best, so when I’d flip through the cds, I’d start with the pop and never go beyond that.

Thus the mess: This past summer I simplified the non-classical side, tossing everything all together. This has been great, actually, as I make my way more-or-less alphabetically through my collection—I hear more in the mix-up—but has temporarily wrecked my record-keeping of this “listen-to-the-music” venture.

It should be (mostly) smoothed out in the next round, but this one? Oy.

100. Patsy Cline, The Patsy Cline Story
101. Eddie Cochran, The Original Eddie Cochrane
102. Bruce Cockburn, Stealing Fire
103. Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
104. Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
105. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate
106. Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room
107. Leonard Cohen, Ten New Songs
108. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
109. Holly Cole, Temptation
110. Holly Cole Trio, Don’t Smoke in Bed
111. Colleen, the golden morning breaks
112. Shawn Colvin, Steady On
113. Shawn Colvin, a few small repairs
114. Paulo Conte, Best of Paulo Conte
115. Continental Drifters, Vermillion
116. The Coral, The invisible invasion
117. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, My Aim Is True
118. Elvis Costello, All This Useless Beauty
119. Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
120. Susie Arioli Swing Band, It’s Wonderful
121. Susie Arioli Swing Band, Pennies From Heaven
122. Louis Armstrong, Pure Louis
123. Chet Baker, my funny valentine
124. Big Chill
125. Big Easy
126. Blue Note Festival, Touring Artist Sampler
127. A Chorus Line
128. Mary Coughlan, After the Fall
129. Mary Coughlan, love me or leave me
130. Mary Coughlan, Uncertain Pleasures
131. Cranberries, Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?
132. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle
133. Baku Beyond, The Meeting Pool
134. Stephen Barry, Original
135. Jane Birkin, Arabesque
136. Ketil Bjornstad and David Darling, The River
137. Ray Bonneville, Gust of Wind
138. Jeanie Bryson, Some Cats Know
139. Bill Charlap, Stardust
140. John Coltrane, Impressions





So dry your tears and baby walk outside

4 07 2013

It’s the fourth of July!

I know some folks disdain later X as too poppy, but when your pop is as rough and jangly and heartfelt and angry and sad and what-the-hell as this, it should be sung to, not sneered at.

And, y’know, given Exene’s flexible relationship to pitch, it’s the kind of song everyone can sing to and get it right.





I am thinking of your voice

3 06 2013

I’m not much for happiness (as you may have noticed), but oh, it makes me happy to hear Suzanne Vega on the radio.

Well, it was a segment on Soundcheck about the Suzanne Vega/DNA mashup of “Tom’s Diner”, but still, that counts, right?

(And I have to write “Suzanne Vega”, not “Suzanne” or “Vega”. Suzanne Vega.)

I may have written about this before, but what the hell: I was introduced to Suzanne Vega the summer before I went off to college. It was a presidential election year, and I was doing screamingly boring scut work (something about checking election or registration rolls against the phone book ) for the local Democratic Party. I set up a card table in my parents’ living room in front of the t.v. and switched between CNN (I still have affection for Jeannie Moos) and MTV.

Remember, I am old, so this is still when CNN was new and Turner-owned, and MTV played music.

Anyway, this video came on of this wispy woman with wispy hair with a cool, cool voice singing this song about. . . I don’t know what. Huh, I thought. Not the usual MTV fare.

Then the next day or later that week, the vid played again, and I thought, I gotta write this down, and probably got her name (since I did track down the album) but mis-wrote the song title as “Marianne on the Wall.”

It was, of course, “Marlene on the Wall”, and I never again saw that vid on MTV.

Well. I loved loved loved that album, and loved her cool, cool voice. It’s by no means a spectacular voice—I had no trouble singing along to all of the songs and while I can carry a tune I can’t toss it in the air—but there was a knowingness to it, and a kind of intense detachment. She’s paying attention, she might even get sucked in, but she can still see, she can still sing.

None of my friends were into her music, but that was all right: they hadn’t been particularly into Supertramp or the Jam or the Violent Femmes and yet we still somehow all managed to get along. I saw her by myself at the Union in Madison and then later (I think with a friend) at First Ave in Minneapolis.

She lives in New York and gigs about town, but I haven’t gone to any of her shows. It’s less that my ardor for her music has cooled than that my ardor has cooled, generally.

But I still remember when the mere mention of a favorite artist could lift me out of my shoes.








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