Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chardon, Portishead, and the Loss of Innocence

Yesterday, a third teenager died as a result of the school shooting in Chardon, Ohio. My best friend, and musical guru, John, grew up in Chardon and graduated from CHS. He knows the families of two of the deceased students. He was yelled at when he wore his ratty, red hoodie to work yesterday because it was the only red item he had available to wear in solidarity with his hometown. Growing up on the West Side of Cleveland, I spent many weekends and summer days in Chardon, having sleepovers at John's. I've been to CHS and other schools in the Chardon system; I can remember going to a Fall Festival at the Middle School when I couldn't have been more than 10 years old.

John was the first person to teach me that there was more to music than what was playing on Jammin' 92 or Q104 (you don't even have to be from Cleveland to guess the music coming from those stations in the mid-'90s). Dookie by Green Day and Smash by The Offspring were contraband that I could only hear by borrowing the cassettes from John: music featuring the "F-word" was not allowed in my house, and would clearly have lead me to juvenile delinquency. To me, those tapes might as well have come from another planet; I was scandalized. I probably wore out the tape during the avalanche of swear words that pours out during The Offspring's "Bad Habit," rewinding that part over and over. The Rugburns, Belly, The Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants, and Ween were all introduced to me by John in those early years of musical discovery.

Back then, there was no such thing as Columbine. School shootings in a quiet town didn't happen. When I went to Chardon the only concerns I had were how to meet girls in a rural town with no sidewalks, not getting caught listening to inappropriate music, and not getting beat up as we sat on the side of the road giving the finger to passing cars. When I put on the right music, I'm back there, listening to the big, old cassette player in John's room, twin beds with nets full of stuffed animals hanging overhead, whispering the things 12 year-old boys whisper to their best friends... at least until Aunt Sue got fed up with the noise and had to come in and sleep in our room so we would shut up.

Unfortunately, and incredibly, none of the bands listed above show up in the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (with the exception of Green Day, whose American Idiot somehow trumped Dookie). I do remember being introduced to Portishead, and other "trip-hop" groups, though, by John. 

Artist: Portishead
Album: Dummy
Recording #30ish
Stream the album here

I have a very strong connection with singer Beth Gibbons' voice and John, and vicariously, Chardon. Although Portishead didn't grow on me like most of the other music John opened me up to, I have a strong emotional connection to this album. The sadness in Gibbons' voice and the melancholic way the music slurs along seem to capture the way this tragic event has affected me.

I think of the music of Portishead as fingerpainting, and Gibbons' voice is a paintbrush; not a particularly fine paintbrush, but one that can bring some detail to the hazy atmosphere created by the music. This is definitely a mood album, and in the right circumstances it has a very somber feel to it. I can't go back. I can't be a kid again, naive to the ills of this world. And worse still, now I have a kid that I have to protect from those ills. And it's not just the malicious acts, like kidnappings and school shootings and war: he could be taken away from me by the thoughtless acts of others, or even just by chance. How can we ever fully protect our children? It's an impossible task and one that every parent throws their full effort into. 

Portishead's song "Roads," in particular, with its bleakness, seems to sum it up: "From this moment/How can it feel/This wrong." In fact, I have just hit repeat on the song for the fourth time. I can't even protect my son's childhood. He will go to school where they do "Lockdown" drills, check IDs, maybe even use metal detectors. He will not have the chance at ignorant bliss I enjoyed. Social media will expose him at breakneck speed to the evils of this world, even if we keep the TV turned off at home. We want our kids to be safe, to "Just say no," not to talk to strangers, and at the same time we want them to be kids. To have fun, to play with abandon, to sit on the side of the road and give the finger to the pickup trucks (ok, maybe we don't want them to do that, but we don't want them to worry that someone is gonna pull out a gun because of it. Although, maybe someone will. And there again is the dilemma). Actually, now that I think about it, "Bad Habit" was about a guy with road rage and a gun. Maybe that was the gift my parents gave me when they were screening my music: protecting my simple view of a safe world.

All I can do is try to carry the load of worry so my son won't have to. I have sacrificed my innocence and my ignorance so that I can have the suspicious mind of a full-time bodyguard, a Superman who is hopelessly inept when it comes to the job of protecting those he loves. And when I need a mental break, I can always put on some music from the mid-'90s and be transported to those simpler times, when my own parents carried that mental load and I lived my life without fear. 

My heart goes out to the Chardon community, and especially those who have lost a child. It's unimaginable and my prayers go out to you.

Buy Dummy on Amazon.
Read Moon's entry here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mike's 1000 Entry #3: "What I Got" by Sublime

It's been awhile since I did a "Mike's 1000" entry, but this morning I was singing Sublime's "What I Got," and I was compelled to write about it. I guess I'm not shocked that this song, and the self-titled album it was on, didn't make Moon's list, but at the same time, I think there are arguments for its inclusion. Tracks like "Wrong Way," Santeria," and "What I Got," ubiquitous on alternative radio in the mid-90s, introduced much of a new generation in suburbia to the sound of West Coast ska-punk (and reggae).

"What I Got (Reprise)" was a song in particular that had an impact on me. A combination of the chorus from  "Loving" by Half Pint and the riff from "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles (that second link takes you to a mashup of the two), the resultant song is pure pick me up. Even though the song consists of two chords and a simple solo (the first I ever learned), its back and forth shuffle works perfectly with the workaday blues referred to in the lyrics. The lyrics themselves are the best part; I remember my favorite station growing up, Cleveland's sadly defunct 107.9 The End, used to play this almost every morning, usually right around 7AM when my alarm went off. "Early in the morning/Rising to the streets/Light me up that cigarette and I'll strap shoes on my feet." So what if I didn't smoke and that I had never seen "the streets." Those lyrics got me out of bed everyday.They became a staple of my wake up routine in college (when I actually had to get up by 5 or 530 some days).

A recent revelation I had is that as a leader I need to show up with energy if I want anyone else to be energized, and that to get that feeling of excitement and energy I need to have positive thoughts. My thoughts this morning were dark. I went to bed too late and got up too early, my wife is sick, my son is going through a very dependent phase, and I was not looking forward to the first task of the day at work. I knew if I showed up with this kind of energy, it was going to be a long day for me and everyone I work with.

I have probably sung "What I Got" in the shower more than all other songs combined. This usually happens spontaneously if the mood hits me. Today I forced myself to start singing, and by the end of the song I was feeling pretty good. Good enough that I wanted to sing it again. So I did. Three times before I left the house this morning, and I was positivity embodied. You'd have thought I drank a pot of coffee (or a 5 Hour Energy for those of you who think coffee is too hard to make).

When I was home at Christmas I convinced my buddy to go play an open mic night with me. It was my first time ever doing that, and we did three songs; this was one of them. This song and I have a history, and as I mentioned before, that's important to me. Check it out below.

What I Got Reprise by Sublime on Grooveshark

Buy the song on Amazon

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

COVER: "Thirteen" by Big Star

The guys over at the 1000 Recordings Podcast talked this week about Big Star's 1000 Recordings entry #1 Record/Radio City. Tony and Mitch were discussing that they had heard of the band, but not heard them before they read the book. I was in the same boat, but I had heard at least two covers of their song "Thirteen." Counting Crows, who have professed their love for Big Star multiple times over the years, and are covering "The Ballad of El Goodo" on their upcoming covers album, and sadcore pioneer Elliott Smith (another 1000 Recordings artist) both have excellent covers of this nostalgia-fueled song about being a teen. 
Although I hadn't heard the original until I started reading the book, I already loved the song. 

I am a nostalgia kinda guy; I spend a lot of time looking back and reminiscing. Music is a gateway for me to do that. There used to be an ad for Axe Body Spray that said "smell is the strongest sense tied to memory," but for me music is equally powerful. When I hear a song that is dear to me, I am transported to a time in my life when that song mattered to me; I can feel the emotions, remember the tiny details, really be there. The lyrics of "Thirteen," so bare and heartfelt, do that to me, too. I can remember being overzealous in any number of romantic pursuits as a young teenager, where every event was the most life-changing, positive or negative, thing that had ever happened to a human. 

Listen to the original, Crows' and Smith's versions below, and tell me what song takes you back to those awkward and vulnerable teenage years.

Thirteen by recordingtherecordings on Grooveshark

Stream #1 Record/Radio City here.
Stream XO by Elliott Smith here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

COVER: "Honky Tonk Women" Covered in Five Different Styles

Check out this mother lode of covers of "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones. It's included in 1000 Recordings in the Stones' Singles Collection: The London Years. A cover already shows up in the book by way of Waylon Jennings on Honky Tonk Heroes, which was my first introduction to Waylon. I had to head to Google right afterwards to find out if he had actually written and played it first, because his version sounded so rootsy and I thought he predated the Stones.

Cover Me just posted a "Five Good Covers" series on the song, with five free downloads. I think four are worth your time (Peltz's cover is interesting, for sure, but not one I think I would revisit). Of those four, two of the artists are also 1000 Recordings artists: Earl Scruggs and The Pogues. Go check it out, and hear the book entries of these artists below:

Rolling Stones, Singles Collection: The London Years
Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes
Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Foggy Mountain Jamboree
The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God

Monday, February 13, 2012

NEWS: Paul McCartney Plays the Grammys; America's Youth Wonders Who He Is

This is just too sad. Why do we need a book like the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die? I'm not quite this bad, but I sure need the education, and it looks like the Wikipedia generation does, too.

NEWS: Whitney Houston Dies at Age 48

On Saturday, 1000 Recordings artist Whitney Houston was found dead at a Beverly Hills hotel. No details on the cause yet, which is being investigated.

I heard Houston's music on the radio, and so I went into the 1000 Recordings entry, her self-titled debut, with some preconceived notions. I was not surprised by what I found, aside from the fact that I knew so much of the album, meaning that her debut was full of singles. Her voice was incredible, and I still have a very strong emotional attachment to the cheesy song she put out in the late '90s, "My Love is Your Love" (the remix version, of course); it came out when I fell in love with my wife, which was a year of a lot of cheesy love songs appealing to me. Her talent will definitely be missed.

Hear Whitney Houston here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

REVIEW: Hariprasad Chaurasia - Raga Darbari Kanada

I've gone through many philosophical changes in the last year, and I'm starting to wonder; isn't this the sort of existential crisis people pull in their early twenties, or midlife crisis stuff they go through when they realize they haven't done everything they want to do? Maybe having a son and my upcoming career change are affecting me, but for whatever reason, I've been reevaluating a lot about how I see the world. One of the byproducts of all the life changes I have been making was an introduction to mindfulness.

My wife read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and unfortunately it went back to the library before I had a chance to read it, but I got the Reader's Digest version from her, and there were so many things that were interesting to me about it.

I am not a very in the moment type of person; I'm often multitasking, thinking about the next thing, etc. One story my wife told me from the book was about a guy eating an orange. He would pop an orange slice in his mouth, and then while he was chewing, peel the next bite. Hanh pointed out that he was not eating an orange, because he wasn't devoting his attention to actually tasting the orange. Holy crap, have I ever eaten mindfully? I've tried it a few times since then (tough to do with a toddler at the table), and I have to admit, food actually tastes better.

The other night I was doing dishes while my wife read books to my son upstairs, and I tried to enjoy the task, be in the moment, recognize that what I was doing was something that I might be really missing a year from now due to my work schedule. It really made me happy to be doing dishes and allowed me to be entirely in the task at hand. Maybe I don't get the whole mindfulness thing yet; I should really read the book. But I heard a recording at work the other day that put me in a headspace that seemed perfect for mindfulness.

Artist: Hariprasad Chaurasia
Album: Raga Darbari Kanada
Recording #522

Stream the album here.

Moon put the tagline "Be Centered Now" for this entry, and that description absolutely nails it. Indian flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia's swooping lines take you to another time and place. The calming effect of his perfect tone and pace are bolstered by the tampura (the sitar sounding thing). It makes me want to get a tampura, and just play the hell out of the same notes all day (I should note that I don't think I know what a tampura looks like, and that I like saying tampura). I have become increasingly interested in "drone" types of music ("doom metal" is one of the most interesting I've discovered, through the same program where I first heard about the book, NPR's All Songs Considered), and the first "track" here features that droning tampura for 35 minutes. At an hour, I don't think this album is long enough, honestly. Get yourself a cup of tea, put on some comfy clothes, and get mindful with this one.

Read the book entry here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

NEWS: Bad Brains Documentary to be Shown at SXSW

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die artist, Bad Brains, have been working together for 30 years. Their entry on the list, I Against I, was "once described 'the best punk/hardcore album of all time.'" How much do you know about them? I can honestly say next to nothing before I read the book, so this documentary looks pretty interesting to me. Check out the preview below, and look for it at SXSW in March.

Hear Bad Brains' I Against I here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NEWS: Iggy Pop Named Ambassador of Record Store Day

First of all, that is a badass logo. Second of all, Record Store Day has exploded since its inception in 2007. As a writer for Cover Me, last year I got to see first hand how many freakin' covers are released that day in honor of independent record stores. In keeping with the tradition of hard rocking Record Store Day Ambassadors (Jesse Hughes of The Eagles of Death Metal, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, and Ozzy), 1000 Recordings artist Iggy Pop has been named for 2012. In his own, amazing, words, "I feel like a representative from some exotic jungle full of life and death and sex and anger, called upon to wear a leopard skin and translate joy to the world of the dead." Exactly!

Listen to Iggy Pop's entry in 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Raw Power

NEWS: The Beach Boys to Reunite to Play the Grammys

This coming Sunday, 1000 Recordings artist The Beach Boys, will reunite to play together for the first time in over 20 years. They will unfortunately mar that performance by including Maroon 5... seriously? Foster the People will participate as well (I only know the one song, and I'm okay with it), as the three groups play at the 54th Grammys.

I haven't watched the Grammys in years; I don't care that they gave the Black Keys, who became one of my favorite bands (indie cred/snob alert) when I heard them in 2003, a couple Grammys last year, the whole thing just seems ridiculous and disingenuous. Bon Iver is up for best new artist, even though I first heard him (more snob alert) back at the end of 2007?

Anyway, the fact that the Beach Boys are playing actually does pique my interest; maybe I'll tune in after all. I know my son will be hoping they play "Ba-ba-ba-ba-barbara Ann," as mentioned previously.

Other 1000 Recording artists performing are Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom have played the Grammys before. ?uestlove of the Roots and Ringo Starr are listed as presenters.

Hear the Beach Boys' 1000 Recordings entries, Pet Sounds and "Good Vibrations."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

COVER: Etta James "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man recorded this last summer, but with the recent passing of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die artist Etta James, this song is getting renewed attention. Stream and download below. Via Cover Me

Hear and download the song here.

Stream the Etta James entry, Tell Mama

COVER: fiN Cover Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime"

UK quartet fiN rock out a version of the Talking Heads "Once in a Lifetime"

Download the MP3 and learn more about fiN here.

Via Cover Me

Stream the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die entry, Talking Heads Remain in Light

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NEWS: Flaming Lips and Erykah Badu Sing a Song with... Siri?

Oh those crazy guys in the Flaming Lips. Leave it to them to write a song featuring Apple products' personal assistant, Siri. I have not played around with Siri much except to ask her to call me an ambulance, because I heard she will say "From now on, I'll call you an ambulance, ok?" My friend quickly grabbed his phone back, because evidently he thinks she will literally call 911 for me. Jury is still out on that one.

Siri's automated voice fits so well with the Flaming Lips' far out sound, and as she says lead singer Wayne Coyne's name in a monotone fashion, you slowly drift into that Space Odyssey world. When fellow 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die artist Erykah Badu slowly drifts into the mix, it's almost more disconcerting. When did these two start collaborating, and why wasn't I informed earlier? Anyways, check out "Now I Understand" below.

Hear the Flaming Lips' 1000 Recordings entry here, and Erykah Badu's entry here.

COVER: Steely Dan "Aja" Cover Album by The Darcys

Toronto quartet The Darcys  just released a keyboard-heavy version of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die entry Aja by Steely Dan. Download it free from their website.

Via CoverMe

Hear the original album and 1000 Recordings entry here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

NEWS: 1000 Recordings Podcast #19

If you haven't checked it out yet, these guys do an awesome podcast, five entries per week. I often wonder why a recording is listed, and Tony and Mitch have some great insight as to what to look for in the music. Not only that, but holy crap, I just now looked at the above image at full size: that is incredible!

This weeks recordings can be previewed here:
▪ Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett–Bill Evans Album 
▪ Alban Berg, Wozzeck (Hamburg State Philharmonic) 
▪ Alban Berg, Violin Concerto; Igor Stravinsky, Violin Concerto (Kaplan; Budapest Festival Orchestra) 
▪ Luciano Berio, Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra (London Voices; G√∂teborgs Symfoniker) 
▪ Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique (Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique) 

COVER: Pink Floyd's "Breathe" (plus 2Pac)

L.A. electropop duo Capital Cities cover Pink Floyd's "Breathe," and mix in another 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die artist, 2Pac (although not from a 1000 Recordings entry).

Read about it and download the free cover here.

Via CoverMe

Hear Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon here.
Hear 2Pac's All Eyez on Me here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Louvin Brothers - Satan Is Real

There's a lot of stress in my life right now. I am waiting to hear where I am headed for my next work assignment, and there are a lot of unknowns and fear involved-- no matter what, it's pretty much no good. I love where I am right now, but all good things must end. So I have been trying to do a lot of things lately. One is to just enjoy my life right now, even the parts that seem to suck (spending an hour to put my son to sleep every night, when my friends just place their kids in the crib and walk away) because I try to remind myself that I will never experience this time of my life again. Owen will never fall asleep in my arms as I walk him around singing softly, or yell "Dada!" as he hears the key in the lock when I come home from a (short) day of work.

The other thing I am trying to do is keep my faith that everything happens for a reason. Now I know that I can come up with lots of examples of things that seem to have no reason, and, ok, yeah, there are things that seem to make no sense in this world. But I try to have faith that things are supposed to happen, whether we understand them or not. I just heard The Roots "Dear God 2.0" last night (if you haven't heard it, you need to check it out) and it's all about having faith, and admitting how hard that is. Sometimes it's nice to listen to folks who clearly have some and aren't afraid to share it.

Artist: The Louvin Brothers
Album: Satan is Real
Recording #508

Stream the recording here

I used to think I hated country. Coming of age in the '90s, fully into grunge and alternative, with a dad who was into classic rock, country just sounded like twangy dudes, each playing the same song about their pickups and how their wife just left. Moon's book and the alt-country movement did a lot to remove that stigma (at least for the classic recordings he picked. I can't say I approve of most of what comes out of Nashville these days). I am still not a fan of too much twang, or slide guitars, or fiddles, or Toby Keith, or anyone who sounds too much like Toby Keith, but I no longer say "I don't like country."

The Louvin Brothers are about as country as you can get. Twang? Check. Slide guitar? Check. Simple chord progressions and steady beats? Check. But its got that old-timey style harmony and such wonderful melodies that it draws me in. And if nothing else, this album, from its title to its campy cover to the fervently sung lyrics, projects belief.

If you are an Atheist working your way through the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, at this point you might be a bit sick of all the religiously themed entries, and I'll admit, there are quite a few. I found this one to be a real highlight among all the rest, though. You can hear that these guys are unshakable in their faith, and listening to it really raises my spirits. One of the best is "The Christian Life," made famous by the Byrds (who I assumed wrote it with ironic intentions) but honestly sung better by the Louvins (who wrote it in earnest). I could put that one on repeat, but I'm just as happy to put the whole album on repeat. I just want to listen to Ira and Charlie Louvin sing these songs all day. Think you hate country? Don't turn off your radio, just change the year. The further back I go in music history, the more I enjoy "country" music.

Buy this album here
Read Moon's entry here