Sunday, October 11, 2009

Decade: 2003

Not Facing the Here and Now:

While the country was deciding to go to war again, I was too confused and overwhelmed to know what to think. Maybe everything I thought was wrong.

So I retreated into my first vice. But pop music wasn’t going to cut it, so I tried a different time and place - jazz and world music.

Although I usually need a few listens to get a grip on a new jazz record, I liked “The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume One” right away. Bud played piano during the advent of bebop, but rather than feel challenged by his music, I felt welcomed. So my first reaction was enjoyment, then wonder at how the hell he did it. I prefer this order of events to what usually happens with virtuosos – you appreciate them first and forget to get around to liking them. I’m usually cautious about recommending jazz, but this one if great, even for a non-enthusiast.
----------------Now playing: Bud Powell - Bouncing with Bud via FoxyTunes

On the same trip to the store, I picked up “Specialists in All Styles” by Orchestra Baobab. I know even less about world music than I do about world history, so when I heard the term Afro-Cuban music, I can only imagine an island in the middle of the Atlantic where these guys meet to play. These guys were stars in Senegal, broke up for twenty odd years, and then picked right up where they left off. The sharp guitar playing helps me get past the words I don’t understand. And again, it didn’t require any time to “get”.
----------------Now playing: Orchestra Baobab - Bul Ma Miinvia FoxyTunes

Now deluded into thinking I’d mastered these two genres, I overreached into classical. The Musical Heritage Society - having forgotten what a lousy customer I was in the eighties - wanted me back. The offer was so good I didn’t make them beg. I grabbed the buy-six-for-a-buck-a-piece offer and ran.

The first two discs were Elvis Costello-recommended requiems by Brahms and Mozart. Not party music, they’re both perfect for early mornings when it’s miserable out and your conscience is bothering you. Listening to them is like being locked in a church where the choir has taken over. And not the rollicking African American gospel type choir either. The solemn life sucks type, which was right up my alley. I still can’t tell one from the other, but I kind of like it that way. If they could wait hundreds of years for me to listen, I can give them a few spins.

Two more discs were comprised of Yo Yo Ma doing “Six Suites For Unaccompanied Cello by J.S. Bach” (link), or for you MASH fans, Ahhh Bach. Morning music. Solitude music. Sanctuary music. It’s functionally similar to the requiems, except that you’ve done nothing wrong. I rarely play it all the way through, but for whatever length of time you have it on, it’s like unplugging from this all too plugged-in world. I’m still trying to decide whether to file it under Y, M or B.

And finally, the last two were the Complete Rags of Scott Joplin. There is a – joy is too strong a word - serenity to this music that makes it irresistible. It functions in a similar way to the Bach Cello music. The former can bring you peace and the latter can point you to happiness.
----------------Now playing: Scott Joplin - Maple Leaf rag via FoxyTunes


One of the downsides of family life is that one of those family members is bound to ask for a CD for Mother’s Day that you’d rather not have to listen to. Such was Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head”. In other words, not my idea. But my wife asked for it, and so she’s going to get it, right? Even if I think it’s going to pollute the record collection. (Hey, my records are carefully researched choices.) So I didn’t want to like it. But, you know, it wore me down. It was just different enough to entice me. The chord changes were less than obvious, and the textures varied enough to keep my interest. The vocals, not too wimpy (unlike too many of their later songs), and the words, ignorable. Even I’ve bought worse records.
----------------Now playing: Coldplay - God Put a Smile on Your Face via FoxyTunes

Another would-be present was Shakira’sDonde Estan los Ladrones?” which I thought was Spanish for “Laundry Service”, which is the other CD my wife asked for. Niente. This one came out before Shakira became a major crossover artist. Although it’s too commercial and generic, I admire how she drops in a rock and roll guitar here and there.

Ultimate Yardbirds was a Father’s Day present, and it was going to be my attempt at resolving my Eric Clapton/Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck issues, and finally get into a band that I just kept missing. And there’s no doubt that the band’s got it going on. Check out the live blues covers, like Smokestack Lightnin’, but the singer’s just not there. Your assignment: Compare and contrast:
----------------Now playing: The Yardbirds - Smokestack Lightnin' via FoxyTunes

----------------Now playing: Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightnin' via FoxyTunes

Getting Back to Normal For The Moment:

It’s hard to believe it now, but while the world was going to hell, my immediate surroundings were becoming more pleasant. There’s nothing like a terrorist attack to make you appreciate the little things.

My memories of that summer are bittersweet, and The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” represents it perfectly. (link). Instead of just being pretty, it’s also haunting and eerie. Wayne Coyne’s eerie voice singing "Everyone you know someday must die" seemed like a forewarning. And it was.
----------------Now playing: The Flaming Lips - Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell via FoxyTunes

The Drive-By Truckers are the first “southern rock” band I’ve had the slightest interest in for over thirty years. They emphasize songwriting over guitar histrionics. “Decoration Day” mixes Rolling Stones type guitar-crunch rock and roll with hard-edged country music. The songs are about disreputable people, and you get to hear their side of it. “My Sweet Annette”, about an elopement and a betrayal, is brilliant
---------------- Now playing: Drive-By Truckers - My Sweet Annette via FoxyTunes

Miles Smiles because he’s making a fool of me – this time by pushing his music in places I may never be. Check in with me in ten years, which is when I may have caught up with him. Sure.

Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” had won many Best Album awards the year before. I really liked their collaboration with Billy Brag on “Mermaid Avenue”, so I decided to try my first Wilco album. I found it weird, vague and pretensciouss - exactly what I normally like, but this time I wasn’t buying it. They were going for Big Star’s “Third” album vibe, but without enough hooks. And I prefer Alex Chilton’s voice to Jeff Tweedy’s. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a great lead-off track, but it takes half the album before they reach that level again. So I put it aside for a while. A year later, during a very dark period, it was virtually the only thing I could listen to.
---------------- Now playing: Wilco - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart via FoxyTunes


By my next trip to the record store I still hadn’t learned my lesson about balancing experimentation with enjoyment.

Arthur Blythe’s “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is probably the best of the bunch.

This jazz record has a nice balance of accessibility and experimentation. The cuts are long and easy to get right away. The solos are sharp and never commonplace.

The Moldy Peaches take precociousness to new depths. You alternately want to hum along and then smack them. They’re very, very raw, talented and not interested in letting it go down easy. They force you into their little world, so it’s not for every occasion. Definitely pre-9/11 music, so I just don’t have the patience for it now.

James Carter’s “Conversin’ with the Elders” has a young saxophonist interpreting tunes from the masters. Not that I’m all that familiar with the originals, mind you. Although I have no reason to do so, I’m always surprised and disappointed when a jazz album doesn’t hit me right away. But here I was doing it again. But after several years, I think I can finally hear it.

For those of you who think Iggy Pop makes the end of western civilization official, I must admit that I agreed with you at one time. Having finally sampled his best-of “Nude and Rude” about ten years ago, and enjoyed it, I’ve since taken two dives into the deep end. The first, a few years back with “Fun House”, his second record with the Stooges, and this time with his third, “Raw Power”, which was produced by David Bowie. My version is remixed by Mr. Pop himself. The opener, “Search and Destroy”, is one of the most ferocious rock songs ever, and I can’t say anything else comes close to it. The primitive lead guitar playing seems detached from the context (ie, whatever tune is being played at the moment). This irritates some people. And let’s face it - we still wouldn’t introduce Iggy to our wives or daughters. But if you can get past all that, there’s a real primal joy to be had here. Followed, perhaps, by some hot monkey-love.
---------------- Now playing: Iggy & the Stooges - Search and Destroy via FoxyTunes

One of the big disappointments of the trip was Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos”. Chris was the co-founder of Big Star, who died a few years after he left the band. This posthumously released solo album was getting good press, so it seemed a natural. The main problem is Chris’s high voice, and the strain shows more than once. To be fair, there are some gems, like “Speed of Sound” and “You and Your Sister”, with Alex Chilton singing harmony. Talk about your warm Hollywood-type reunion-before-tragic–accident-moment.
---------------- Now playing: Chris Bell - You and Your Sister via FoxyTunes

Bad Moon Rising:

My wife further eroded the record collection with Enya’s “A Day without Rain”. One of the deeper mysteries of marriage is how I somehow conveyed to her to not play this CD around me. Yes, I am aware that many humans find this music to be good, and I accept that. But just look at that cover! She’s got a tail, for God’s sake! It merely proves what I’ve always suspected: she’s actually Ursula from the Little Mermaid. And her music is just the anesthetizing poison she sprays you with BEFORE SHE EATS YOU!!..........I’ve been told to stop it. Okay, I will, but no, I will NOT apologize to a fish. Or ever go near water again. I admit that some of this is pretty, but I refuse to be coerced into liking it. It works well in those Lord of the Rings-type movies, though.

She also got Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”. There are at most four songs here that do anything for me at all. Bruce has his heart in the right place, but the subject is just too big for him, and the music is dated.

Some nice person got me “Johnny Cash: The Heart of a Legend”, one of those knock off best-ofs you find in your local big box store. It’s a shame that I already had almost every song on it. I’d give it away if it weren’t so damned good.


And then - nothing. It all goes black. Sometimes things happen that even music can’t fix, even if you wanted to hear some. Besides, why poison the memory of the music with what was going on around it?

And that kind of busted up the year for me. I loved nothing unconditionally.

Almost Loved:

Flaming Lips


Bud Powell

Orchestra Baobab


Scott Joplin

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