Archive for the 'explanations' Category

15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.

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09
Nov
18

Rolly Gray and Sunfire “Be Somebody”

I had to make a few rules for myself when embarking on the internet-less, extended, “north woods” cabin, vinyl exploration, just because there are so many records to choose from in crates and boxes and more crates: I’m ignoring the 45s, just because I don’t have years here; and I’m ignoring 10 inch records, for much the same reason; and I’m also ignoring “EPs” and 12 inch singles. This record would probably fall under the EP category because there seems to be only four songs on it, but I couldn’t resist it because the cover and back photos are so great, with band members posing on what looks like the porch of a stage set of a white house, the inside of which is illuminated totally in red. On the cover, alone, is who I’ll assume is Rolly Gray, sitting in a wooden rocking chair with an electric guitar. What is striking is the photo is taken at knee-level so you really notice that he’s wearing loafers (or slippers) and baggy dark red socks that match his large-sleeved shirt. The back cover is even better, with who I assume is the band with Rolly—just their pose, kind of leaning on the house, is kind of awesome, but would take too many words to describe it properly. One of the guys is particularly stylishly dressed with a kind of tropical jac-shirt, matching shirt and pants, in a kind of earthy pink.

I don’t even know what kind of music this is, but next to each musician in parentheses it says “Trinidad and Tobago” so I’m going to assume that’s where they are from, wherever that is, I think the Caribbean. The music is good, very driving, upbeat and happy sounding. The most striking thing to me is the bass, which is prominent, like a lead instrument, and really reminds me of some early punk band’s bass, but I can’t place it right now—I’ll try again later. (Yeah, right, there is no “later.”)

23
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”

There is the theory that there have been two Bob Dylan’s, the Robert Zimmerman who made the music up through Blonde on Blonde, and then the one who “became” Bob Dylan after he was killed in the motorcycle accident (likely no motorcycle accident, but a more mundane or sordid death, and the motorcycle accident was an invented story for the time away, to recover, but there was no recovery, just death). The second Dylan is a guy, probably a talented but unsuccessful Nashville musician (who sings a lot like Jim Nabors) who looked like Dylan (a guy who “fit the jacket”—as in the Greg Brady fitting the jacket Brady Bunch episode) and could play, and saw this as a weird gig he’d be able to step away from eventually with some cash—but later realized it was actually the Devil’s Opportunity of the Century, and there was no escape until the escape of death, ultimately.

Which is a long way around of saying this record sounds like nothing that Dylan had done before, while sounding exactly like what he had done before—which is of course, keeping in line with what he (both of him) has always done. (Actually, the multiple Dylans in Todd Haynes’ movie, I’m Not There (2007) is a much better conspiracy theory, kind of like the Shakespeare being-a-collective theory—and I realize that movie is not a theory, it’s an innovative and brilliant approach to Dylan—but often from art arises not just metaphorical but actual truth.) Anyway, I think I heard this way back when I was in high school and I didn’t like it—the Jim Nabors voice freaked me out, and I didn’t like country and western, yet, at that time—but now, this is one of my favorite BD records, and “Lay Lady Lay,” a song I once couldn’t stand, is one of my favorites, as well as “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.”

21
Oct
18

Michael Hurley “Ida Con Snock”

In the Michael Hurley world, the word “snock” means something pretty significant, but since I can’t look it up on the internet I have no idea what—though I’m not even sure if the internet would help on this one (maybe the snock-net would help). (In the perfect “North Woods” world, I’d find, in this cabin, a dusty old volume of Complete Guide to Snock.) I’m going to guess it either means “drunk”—or it’s the name of his cat. So I have no idea why this record is called Ida Con Snock, and then says: Ida, again, as if it’s two records in one, though it’s only one. Anyway, this is a really good record. It’s pretty straightforward, kind of country folk songs, but very much Michael Hurly songs, and sounds like him, but with a full band, or at least drums and other instruments and other singers. The thing that really stands out right off is really good drums. Drums are often the first thing I’ll hear on a record, and this drumming is fine, and credited as Ruth Keating. Who is this Ruth Keating? There is a picture of her among the musicians (and pictures of other musicians, I assume members of Ida?) I almost can’t wait to get back to the city and that big, fast internet so I can do some research about the people playing on this record with Hurley. I’m guessing it’s a collaboration of MH with a band called Ida, of which no individual member is named Ida, which is okay, I guess, there was no Jethro Tull or Lynyrd Skynyrd, either.

Another thing I’m going to do with the internet is put dates on each of these records, since the record companies often seem to think that’s not important, or else maybe avoid it on purpose for some reason. But I’m not going to add notes or research; I figure anyone reading this can do that if they care to. The back cover of this record has photos of a bunch of musicians that look kind of like they’d be in 3-D if you had 3-D glasses. I’m guessing they are fairly young and hipsterish and Ida, though I have no idea where they are from, maybe Portland or Athens or the Twin Cites or Brooklyn or Richmond or whatever is the new place (Joliet? Covelo? Port Clinton?) This is another record I just keep playing over and over but kind of don’t want to dig too deep into any individual song because I feel like it might detract from my overall pleasure; the songs are all great, and the instruments sound live and organic—there’s a real immediacy to it. I even like the fiddle. Another good cover painting by Hurley. Maybe IDA is an acronym? (I’m Drunk Again.)

15
Oct
18

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet “What Is There to Say?”

Somehow I ended up with two of these albums, even though I’m not particularly a rabid Gerry Mulligan fan—which leads me to believe it was a fairly popular jazz record which you could sell a mint copy on the internet for about $2.00. I’m listening to it now, though, and it’s great. I’m going to keep one of these just as pure listening for pleasure record—the other copy is up for grabs. It just occurred to me—what do I have against Gerry Mulligan? Maybe it’s his first name that bothers me—that name, I’m never sure if it’s “Jerry” or “Gary”—I mean, I guess it’s always pronounced like Jerry—okay—sorry to offend the Gerry’s out there, that’s not fair. Maybe it’s his last name, which is some kind of stew, I guess, and also an unfortunate golf term—but it’s also Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel—one of my favorite children’s picture books—so I should come around it it! Also, he’s a blond guy playing jazz—no big deal, or shouldn’t be—but say, the picture of him on the cover of this album—you’ve never seen such long blond eyelashes. Actually, he really reminds me of someone on this cover photo—its either some famous actress or someone I know—I should just try to get that out of my head or I’ll go nuts trying to think of who. And then… he plays—or is most well known for—a weird instrument—the baritone saxophone—which isn’t really that weird actually, and is really pretty cool, and sounds great. So all in all, I should just really come around to Gerry Mulligan!

The liner notes on back are by Gerry Mulligan, and pretty good—a bit of a diatribe against the over-seriousness of jazz criticism—not too angry, good-natured. The quartet is Mulligan, Art Farmer on trumpet, Bill Crown on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums. Eight songs, some standards like “My Funny Valentine” and “Just in Time,” and some originals by Mulligan, including one called “Utter Chaos.” The songs were all recorded right about the time I was being conceived, if not biologically, working up to it with what I hope were romantic good times. My dad might have had this record, actually, though I don’t recall seeing it in his collection—though I might have ignored it, just thinking about how you could land a helicopter on that dude’s eyelashes. It’s the kind of stuff my dad listened to—he liked cool jazz—and maybe my mom, too—I’m not sure, now that I think about it—whose records were whose, for sure—which ones they each brought to the relationship, and then which ones they bought after the marriage. It’s too late to ask them now, too—kind of sad. Anyone reading this whose parents are still alive, make sure you ask them all those questions, important or not, while you have the chance!

21
Sep
18

Stephin Merritt “Obscurities”

My name is Randolph (Randy) Russell, and more often than I can recall it’s been misspelled—I’ve seen Rusell, Russel, Rousel (and more), and Randolf, Randi (etc.)—so I’m thinking, if your name is Stephin Merritt, you’re pretty much resigned to never seeing your name spelled correctly. A sticker on the still- intact shrink-wrap says: “Rare & Unreleased tracks by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, and others”—which I assume are SM’s bands. (I know, pretty well, that Magnetic Fields record, 69 Love Songs—which I was really into until I was, like, overnight, sick of it.) I think when someone has an unusual, highly distinctive, or some might say, annoying, singing voice, it’s possible to very suddenly get sick of them. That’s okay, I still really value those kinds of singing voices. The cover photo is a slightly blurry, almost abstract photo of what looks like an octopus invasion. The back cover is a nice, b&w photo of a guy I assume is Merritt with his head in his hand, looking like he has a migraine. (Is he a migraine sufferer like Jeff Tweedy?) You might get a migraine if you try to read the song credits on back, which are almost the same color as the background. Fortunately, the inner sleeve also has lyrics and credits, as well as a large photo of what looks like a pretty dreamy children’s music room, c. late-nineties. My favorite song on the record, “When You’re Young and In Love,” has a terrific rhyme (carousal and Hell) that ends: “Never even knowing you’re in hell/When you’re young and in love”—which is a great sentiment. It goes on to say, “When you’re not (in love) it almost seems a crime not to go insane.” Which makes no sense, and therefore is, I guess, perfect.

31
Jan
18

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

I was kind of excited to put this one on, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up at a thrift store because of the bludgeoning familiarity of that title song, and the hideous cover—which is actually a pretty great album cover with beautiful dogs, one of whose head is bigger than Toni Tennille’s. And her teeth (TT’s, not the dog) are amazing and not airbrushed looking. The Captain is wearing some horrible sunglasses and an expression that looks like he’s barely able to hold back from punching the photographer. Tennille is actually wearing bib overalls, and a shirt that looks like it was sewn from someone’s kitchen curtains.

I did not realize that Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote the title song, which had to be one of the biggest songs of the year (1975), and it’s a good enough song, I guess, that I get some genuine nostalgia from it. It’s interesting, it seems like their official name is “Captain & Tennille”—though he’s known as “The Captain”—and also, his real name is Daryl Dragon. If your name was Daryl Dragon—if you were that lucky—wouldn’t you go by Daryl Dragon, and not some cheesy stage name like “The Captain?” (Though the captain’s hat is a nice touch, for anyone.)

Tennille and Dragon wrote a few of the songs, together, and separately, and there are also some Beach Boys present (a nice cover of “God Only Knows”), and Bruce Johnston’s “I Write The Songs”—which was a monster hit for Barry Manilow—and so bland that I never really thought about it—but hearing Tennille sing it kind of highlights the lyrics, since it’s obviously written from the point of view of a man, who claims to now be “very old,” and maybe even God—I mean, it’s supposed to be metaphorical, right? He wasn’t really writing a song, as God, I don’t think? It does say, “I am music, and I write the songs”—but if “music” wrote the first song, who wrote music? (If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so heavy that even He Himself cannot lift it?)

Most of the record is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable, and I’ll probably not be compelled to pick up a copy. If you never have to hear the song “Broddy Bounce,” consider yourself lucky—I thought the room had been invaded by animated trolls. And “Disney Girls” isn’t much better. For me, the real standout on the record is “The Way I Want To Touch You,”—written by Toni Tennille—I mean, it’s kind of sexy, even, if kind of dumb, but has that really killer chorus, “you are sunshine, you are shadow” etc. That takes me right back to somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I was maybe drinking grape Kool-Aid, or eating Lucky Charms (saving the marshmallows for last), newly in love, and there was an AM radio playing.




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