Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Many Dreamers

What's Not to Love About This?

From the upcoming album Move Like This by the Cars (not to be confused with the New Cars):


Is it just me or is it seeming a lot like 1985 in here? (In a good way...)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For the Weekend or the Winter...

I Think I Lived a Year Today

In the brochures, back when you took the time to read the brochures, they talked about the different climates, different zones you pass through.

A hundred years ago, it would take months to travel through those zones. Every yard hard-earned, not with money, but with sweat and blood, animals and death.

Today, it's quicker. Today, it's literally a day.

You think this when you leave Oklahoma. And again when the sun goes down, 300 miles away.

Driving all night, not wanting to talk, not wanting to wake her.

Through the forests. Climbing into the mountains. Into the snow.

Past where the other cars go, on a winding road up to a mesa. You glance over to her, wondering if she remembers the brochure about the mesa.

But you don't want to ask, don't risk waking her.

So you drive. Until the muscles of your leg cramp. Until you need to stretch your arms after a dozen hours at 10 and 2.

The only lights are the lights from the stars. And the only sounds are the wheels on the snow.

And as the snow falls harder and harder, you can hear it in its silence as it lands on your windshield.

The snow is only knowable in its absence. Just like your car is only notable by the absence of other cars. And maybe the two of you are only knowable by not quite being there.

And when you pass into the high desert and the sun peaks over the horizon behind you, you know you're not in Oklahoma anymore. Maybe you'll never be in Oklahoma again.

You hear her yawn and you turn to her. And she stretches and smiles for you.

"In another life," she says.

And you stop the car. And you both watch the sun come up as several deer cross in front of you.

And you know exactly what she means. But have no idea how to get there.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

You Can Dance with the Queen of Corona

Dance, Dance, Dance All Right!

It's hard to know what to love more - Paul Simon corrupting the youth of America with his casual tale of lawbreaking and imprisonment (for sexual escapades or student protests?) or the young girl who's oblivious to Simon's version of the song and just wants to make up her own words.

Special Saturday Bonus: Whenever I throw away a used piano, I give it to a Grouch...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We Are All Our Own Messengers

They arose, like a cold northern wind, chilling and overpowering.

Clearly, they were of the land - that isolated rock near the Arctic Circle -- but kept warm by the prevailing winds and waters.

A land dragged out of the agrarian age one short generation ago.

A place the size of England. But where England is home to nearly 50 million people, this place is home to about 300,000. And most of them live in the capital city... so when you venture outside, the country is nearly empty.

While... not quite empty. There's unspeakable beauty there. Beliefs as old as the ancient Gods. A place where you an literally go to the spot where America and Europe are pulling apart.

A place that looks like this:

A country that still reveres poets. And still eats hakarl (a dish of shark's head that's buried in sand for six months until it ferments and putrefies). And still believes in elves (even if they claim they only play that up for the tourists).

A country that puts on a massive music festival every October that culminates in a hangover party at the Blue Lagoon.

Four years ago, I discovered an Icelandic band called Soundspell. They were young (17 and 18) and had just won an Icelandic songwriting contest. It was clear that they'd listened to a lot of Sigur Ros and wore that influence on their sleeves.

They were so clearly Icelandic -- you could hear the strange wonders of the country in their songs and feel it in their performances.

But they were more rock-oriented than Sigur Ros... and sang in English.

So I made it my mission to talk them up to everyone I met for the better part of a year.

Soundspell made an album called An Ode to the Umbrella. It wasn't available in the U.S. and I couldn't find anywhere to buy it on the internet. On a whim, I found the email address of the (American) producer and wrote to him. Amazingly, he wrote back almost immediately.

I'd heard most of the songs on their MySpace page (yeah, I know, it was a long time ago). If Sigur Ros could break through, surely Soundspell would be the next big thing.

I wanted the album, but I couldn't find it anywhere. When I went back to Iceland the next year, I thought I could be it there.

The band said on their website that the CD was available at a chain record shop on the main shopping street. It wasn't in the racks, so I asked. And a typically gorgeous Icelandic woman went into the back and dug one out. The dollar was not doing well at the time and I mentally calculated how much I could afford to spend... then added 20%. But the actual price was 50% more than that.

So... reluctantly, I did not buy it.

It was cold in Iceland that Spring. There was snow. And wind.

And a car that was stuck in the snow for hours until someone came along and helped us push it to safety.

Over the next couple of years, the guys in Soundspell played a bunch of shows. The album never came out in the U.S. A few new songs snuck onto their MySpace page. Then their website disappeared. And they stopped updating their MySpace.

I wish I knew what happened. Maybe they're working on new material. Maybe they're in the studio. Or they broke up. Or they've just been busy studying, surviving, trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I mean, they wouldn't have gone silent just because I didn't buy their album when I was in Iceland.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Thunder Struck a Chord Up in the Sky

A brief, fleeting glimpse...

It flashes before you. An instant.

In which everything seems to freeze and the cascading mirror images of eternity all line up.

Your stomach does flips as you remember everything you've seen. Everywhere you've been. Everyone you've known.

Time slides to a stop.

Everything collapses in on itself.

A singularity. A moment -- perfectly wonderful and perfectly horrible.

As the universe pauses, you cock your head to the side. This is what eternity feels like.

This is everything. Everything that's ever been and everything that ever will be.

This is the perfect coalition of everything it means to be alive.

But we're not built for eternity. So the shadows creep in from your peripheral vision. And the building blocks of atomic nuclei collapse in on each other.

The flip side of everything rears its ugly head. And you see nothing. Nowhere.

This is what it means to be dead. The imperfect absence of everything you treasure, everything that hurt you, everything you thought you'd forgotten.

And desperately want to remember.

And then the moment passes. Time speeds up.

And you look around at the world, with no explanation but a knowledge that everything's changed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's the End, the End of the 70s

It's the End, the End of the Century

"You can't take yourself so seriously," she said.

And I stared at her, thought of her rituals. The way she tapped the end of the cigarette. The way she flipped open the Zippo. The way the smoke curled around her like a wispy castanet.

I wanted to say something about the musical lines of her neck and the perfect tonic chord of her breasts. But instead I started ranting about media consolidation. And how radio had died but we didn't want to realize it, so it kept marching like a zombie, desperate for brains and unwilling to recognize it was no longer among the living.

And she smiled, took a long drag on the cigarette, then turned and exhaled it out the window. Where it floated upwards, past other tiny apartments like the one we were in.

"I don't remember radio," she said.

And I realized my memories of radio were third-hand. Not the Alan Freeds, not the Wolfmen Jack, but the ones influenced by them. The ones who'd slowly sell off their vinyl collection and get jobs in finance while the radio stations they once called home were swallowed up by conglomerates, programmed by consultants who'd never set foot in the market, and prerecorded to eliminate the need for even the most underpaid of disk jockeys.

I thought of listing the fourteen songs I knew with her name in the title. Or the 10 bands I'd seen that came from her home state. Or the 8 singer/songwriters her toes reminded me of (leaving out the fact that big toes never remind me of anyone).

But instead, I told her this: "I had a dream that John Lennon wasn't killed. And he wrote a song for the Ramones after they bonded about all having been held at gunpoint by Phil Spector. Lennon's song finally gave the Ramones the hit single they'd been dreaming of for all their lives. A real smash pop song."

And she stubbed out the cigarette, unzipped the knee-hi brown leather boots she'd been wearing and said "You think too much. Even in your dreams you think too much."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dogs and Everything

Portions originally posted a year ago.

The Iditarod starts today. Or Tomorrow. Depending on how you look at it.

The race has a ceremonial start in Anchorage today. Mushers and "Iditariders" go 11 miles through downtown Anchorage and out into the woods on ski and bike trails.

About 15,000 people come out to watch the mushers live. It's packed shoulder to shoulder downtown, but if you move 10 blocks away the crowds are much more spread out. And if you go into the woods where the bike trails are and the locals hand out cookies, hot dogs, and pastries, you can go a few hundred yards in between clumps of fans.

There's a lot you might not be to know watching the event on TV. The first thing is the total will and concentration of the dogs -- their controlled bursts of energy and the quiet intensity of their breathing.

The second is the complete and total joy of the mushers. (As much as this comes through on TV, it's a million times more intense to see it live.)

The third thing is how happy the crowds are. Yes, this is a weird event with its own customs and rituals, but it's also an event that fans can feel is theirs. Mushers mingle with fans freely in a way that's unimaginable for the top competitors in any of the larger professional sports.

Today is just for fun.

No one keeps track of today's times because they don't really count.

The real race begins tomorrow in Willow (about 70 miles away) and the winner will likely arrive in Nome 9 or 10 days later.

It's hard and it's cold and it's long. And the people and dogs who run this race are amazing and disciplined and tough.

And inspiring.

Which reminds me of this.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Left and Leaving

Wish I had a socket set to dismantle this morning

In a lot of the best songs by the Weakerthans, melancholy and hopefulness engage in a battle of wills.

The longing drips from the songs, enhanced by clever wordplay and a point of view that combines the best of world-weariness and childlike creativity.

Who among us hasn't sometime wanted to go to construction sites and tape notes to heavy machinery saying "We hope you get to be happy some time."


We've got a lot of time
Or maybe we don't
But I'd like to think so
So let me pretend

So this morning, as the fog lingers on the mountains surrounding Anchorage, and the sunlight reflects white and blue off the cold peaks, I heard this song, melted into the music of the saw... and had to share it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Denny Laine, the Barber Shaves Another Customer

In Glorious Black and White

Steve Simels over at the great PowerPop blog posted this lovely piece by the "pre-cosmic" Moody Blues.

Hard to argue with that. As a bonus, it's as much fun to watch as it is to listen to.

(Note to self: don't use up all your cleverness on the post title; save some for the post itself...)