Thursday, December 31, 2009

We're As Far As We Can Tell

One last story for 2009.

Wishing you a happy and safe new year...

Boston, the 1980s: I'd gone to a forgettable rock show in a small club with a quirky girl who almost always wore red tights. After, I wound up back at her place with a bunch of her friends. They all knew each other really well and I felt like an outsider. We sat around drinking in her small apartment in an old brick building about a mile from my crappy one bedroom. Heat was included in her rent (because there was only one thermostat for 45 apartments), but the entire building was sweltering. And, like most winter nights, the windows were open.

They traded familiar stories while listening to the radio. They were a tight group who had their own shorthand (which I didn't get) and in-jokes (which I likewise didn't get). Still, I loved what the radio was playing (this was during those few months when it looked like the music I'd adored all my life would become mainstream and take over the world) as the rain from the evening gradually turned to sleet and then to snow. She smiled when she caught me daydreaming, perhaps knowing I was imagining what it would feel like to run my fingers along those red tights.

The night was soft and quiet. Even with the windows open, we couldn't hear much traffic. It was late, it was snowing, and there just weren't any cars around.

And then it happened. But not like the movies. Not like you see on TV.

There was no squealing of brakes and no spectacular smashing of glass. Just a huge thunk. And then screaming.

"We should help," I said and ran to grab my coat.

"No," she said. "It's cold. Someone else will help. We're safe and warm. And we're young and we live in the best city in the world for young people."

The others agreed with her. She handed me another beer. I glanced at the red tights.

And I hesitated. Because I wanted to stay. And be young and carefree. And maybe even fit in with a group and have my own shorthand and in-jokes.

"We should help," I said again. And she smiled, thinking I was looking for an excuse not to.

"Someone else will help. We should dance."

And she started swaying back and forth. From far away, I could hear an ambulance.

"See?" she said, dancing faster. "Help is coming. We don't have to do anything."

I nodded, then put down my beer. "I'll be right back."

Downstairs, there were a dozen people gathered around the new car, which had crashed into a telephone pole. A woman was bleeding from her forehead and sobbing as the crowd tried to help her male companion. A few year later, cars would have airbags and both passengers would have walked away. Back then, an ambulance drove them off into the snowy night, paramedics working frantically on the guy. There was blood on the white snow, but a fresh dusting covered it before the cops determined there wasn't anyone around who'd actually seen the crash.

Years later, I can't remember the crappy band we saw that night. And I can't remember all the people drinking up in the overheated apartment. But I remember the red tights I'd never touch. And I remember looking up at the open windows and thinking of these lines from a Robyn Hitchcock song:

"There's nothing happening to you
That means anything at all..."

So I turned away from the building, took one last look at the wrecked car, and walked home... about a mile through fresh, beautiful snow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Power Pop From Oz

I'm determined not to let the year end...

Without pointing you to Peter's Power Pop blog.

Just in the past week, Peter posted:

The great Beatles Xmas single that never was.

A Beatles cover (run through a Big Star filter).

A Christmas song done in the style of the Beatles.

An insanely genius Christmas song from the Wellingtons.

A seemingly timeless slice of power pop from a band called Thirsty Merc (and the one F-bomb makes me love the song even more).

And a couple of great songs from a band called Illicit Eve, which contains not one but two gorgeous blondes who look like every gorgeous blonde who ever tortured every hormonal teenage boy in high school:

(I'd be having nightmarish flashbacks about these two right now if the music weren't so good.)

I could babble more, but head over there and learn for yourself about Peter's Marshall Crenshaw fixation, his occasional series on "unexpected power poppers," and his devotion to the Beatles and the Wellingtons (even when it's not Christmas).

What more do you want? A freaking history of power pop in Australia? Well, he's got that too...

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Year-End List

Ah yes, that time of the year.

Many of my favorite music blogs are publishing year-end best-of lists. And while I admire the idea that someone could rank their favorite albums of 2009 (or, in some cases of this decade-without-name) and come up with a coherent top 10 (or, in some blogs, top 17, top 20, or even top 100), I couldn't do it.

Partially, that's because I couldn't think of 10 (let alone 17, 20, or 100) new albums from this year that I'm passionate enough about.

But mostly, as even the most casual readers probably realized, this is not that type of blog.

So... instead... here's a list of the top 8 posts I never quite got around to posting this year. In the true spirit of this blog, this list probably makes almost no sense to anyone but me (but I swear I'll get around to these posts someday and then they'll make a little more sense to you):

8. The Shins rescue me from talk radio
7. There's no such thing as heroes/Just a bunch of ones and zeroes
6. The New Pornographers through the rabbit hole
5. Chris Stamey and Glenn Tilbrook write different versions of the same song
4. Jane mourns Keith Moon
3. The singer's gone but the group carries on
2. I take the "dork bullet" for Don Dixon
1. In which I use Graham Parker for evil, not good

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Autotuned Out

I'm Talking to You, 67-Year-Old Rock Stars.

My unsolicited advice to a certain beknighted ex-Beatle?

Here's a list of 10 things you might want to avoid:

10. More plastic surgery. Seriously, dude, your face is looking more and more like Angela Lansbury's every day.

9. The reappearance of your 70s mullet. (C'mon, you're worth a half a billion dollars. Get a haircut that's less than 30 years old.)

8. Sucking up to Simon Cowell on the X-Factor.

7. Mugging for cameras. (Do you even know these days that you're doing it?)

6. Playing the ukulele. Seriously.

5. Rereleasing your albums in "deluxe editions" months after they first appear so your die-hard fans (who waited for Starbucks to open to buy the album in the first place) have to buy it again. Again, you're worth a half a billion dollars -- you don't need to do this.

4. Indulging in endless revisionist history about John Lennon. Yes, yes, you were cool too in the 60s. We get it.

3. Refusing to admit that your vegetarian lobbying stems from being attacked with a ham sandwich thrown by Suzanne Vega's punk boyfriend in the 1970s.

2. Writing and recording a protest song to promote "Meat-Free Monday" in under 5 minutes and then expecting people to take your message seriously.

1. Autotune. As great as it is that the Good Evening New York CD/DVD is the full concert, some of the songs are autotuned half to death. No one expects you to sing perfectly live (especially at age 67)... but it would be nice if you sounded human. (And fuck that "Citi Field" bullshit. It's Shea Stadium.)

Come to think of it, though, I'd rather see a non-autotuned concert for a few hundred people in a record store in Hollywood than an autotuned stadium show shot with 15 High-def cameras.

Paul McCartney Live at Amoeba Music 2007:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Three Christmas videos

Merry Christmas.

It's a low-key Christmas here at Casa Clicks & Pops (as it is in a lot of homes this year). There's no pithy story to go with that -- it is what it is. And things will get better (and that, too, is what it is.)

Meanwhile... it's Christmas Day. And while I'd love to retell A Christmas Carol as a parable of the downfall of the music business, I just don't have the energy right now (although I do like the idea of the "Ghost of MP3s Past").

So... meanwhile...

It's no secret that I don't consider it really to be Christmas without Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

And also these three songs.

The Kinks' "Father Christmas":

XTC's "Thanks for Christmas" (which I wrote about here last year).

And John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" -- embedding is disabled, so click on the link to listen.

So raise a cup (metaphorical or otherwise) to the blessings of the season. And may your new year be happy, healthy, productive, and safe (and may all your vinyl have just enough clicks & pops that you know it was listened to and well-loved).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Xmas Eve Links

Some cool stuff I found on the Internets...

Wim at I ♥ Icelandic Music posted this gorgeous video from Amiina:

Steve over at the Power Pop blog has a somnambulent M. Ward take on a Buddy Holly classic (with cool stop-motion animation in the video):

And finally, The Vinyl District, a fine source for your musical needs, introduced me to Caravan Palace and their amazing video for the song "Suzy." Is it too late to ask Santa to bring me a dancing robot?

Update: Okay, just one more. Pledge Drive's rewrite of "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a plea from a bad boy to Santa on Christmas Eve: "Christmas Rhapsody" -- lyrics & free download here or watch an animated fan video of the song here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Rerun: Sacraments from the Church of Rock 'n' Roll

This post originally appeared exactly one year ago today in a slightly different form.

It's hard to imagine now, but at one time Phil Spector was more than a wild-haired convicted murderer serving 19 years to life in prison (heck, at one point, he wasn't even a less-wild-haired guy allegedly pointing guns at John Lennon or the Ramones).

Back in the early days of Rock 'n' Roll, Phil Spector was hailed as a genius who built a dense "wall of sound" by multitracking dozens of instruments and backing vocalists (and mixing it all down to mono).

In 1963, he released A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector, which included the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the amazing Darlene Love.

If there was a Church of Rock 'n' Roll, one of its sacraments would have to be Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." U2, Bruce Springsteen, Joey Ramone, and Death Cab for Cutie (among others) have recorded great versions of this song, but no one comes close to Darlene Love. Her voice (which combines strength, hope, and pure joy in a way that angels would envy) soars above sleigh bells, dozens of stringed instruments, and a choir that sounds like it could number in the hundreds.

Since 1986, David Letterman has had Darlene Love sing this song every year on his last broadcast before Christmas. Although Love is now in her 60s, her voice is still strong and powerful and still can soar above dozens of string and horn players (and the choir). Letterman has said that it just doesn't feel like Christmas until Darlene Love sings this song. Sadly, Darlene Love couldn't appear last year (the show was not in production due to the writers strike).

Maybe it's sacrilegious to talk about a Church of Rock 'n' Roll, but if you don't get the chills hearing this song, you may be beyond hope.

And if Darlene Love doesn't sing this song, then it's not really Christmas.

Darlene Love on David Letterman:



And, as a special bonus, here's video from a 1981 New Year's Eve concert where Darlene Love sang this song live for the first time since 1963!

This year, Darlene Love will sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday, December 23.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On the Shortest Day of the Year -- 2009


Today is the shortest day of the year.

And, as happened last year, my thoughts turn to Iceland.

In the north Atlantic, on a jagged and beautiful rock, there's not much daylight these days. Midnight sun is just a memory and the amount of daylight has been leaking away as the calendar marches on. It's a strange, magical place filled with history, sagas passed down by word of mouth for generations, and a deep appreciation for the hidden world.

It's easy to feel like the darkness is closing in and can never end. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Ancient people knew about this and knew how important it was to celebrate the turning point. So they'd gather on Winter Solstice to feast and celebrate the return of the light. Sure, things don't get better overnight (tomorrow there will be about 10 seconds more sunlight in Iceland than today), but starting right now there will be more and more sun each day. Slowly the light will push back on the darkness, and the richness of life in all its beauty gradually comes back into view. In glorious technicolor.

So, as tempting as it is to luxuriate in the ambient darkness this time of year, things are turning around. Starting today.

So get in touch with your inner druid. Listen and you'll hear a new song starting, the tempo increasing, and the light returning. And, because this is Winter Solstice, the best way to celebrate may be to get up and dance.

And, yeah -- as amazing as it might seem, both these videos are from the same band.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We Three Punks of Orient Are...


More than 30 years on, Blondie's got nothing to prove.

And I'm sure few people would blame them if they were doing oldies tours at state fairs and Indian casinos.

Certainly no one expects a former punk band fronted by a woman who'll be eligible for Medicare next year to deliver anything cool, powerful and rocking.

So when I read on Vinyl Goldmine that they were offering a free download of "We Three Kings," my expectations couldn't be lower.

But the song is like a dose of power-pop heaven. And the video, shot at the edge of the woods after the leaves turned, is low-budget retro cool (Debbie still looks great in a black leather jacket and drummer Clem Burke's hair has magically gotten darker over the years).

Check it out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

For the Travelers

Several Feet of Snow in DC?

If I were a kid, I'd think this was a raw deal.

A snowstorm on the weekend? No need to wake up early and listen to the radio for school closure information, hoping my school would be on the list. (Do people even do that anymore? Or do they just go on the school's website for that information?)

But with my so-called adult perspective, I'll just send out a wish for all my friends on the East Coast to stay safe and warm -- even with that extra foot or two of snow.

And also (because ultimately everything we know comes from pop songs), I've learned from Camera Obscura's cover of Jim Reeve's "The Blizzard" that if you're planning on traveling today by pony you might want to make other plans:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reclaimed Name

Then I'll be the Indian.

Like far too many events in life, this all started with a visit from Elvis.

Costello, not Presley.

He came to me about a month ago in a dream.

"You need to reclaim your name," he said, playing up his English accent and enunciating like he was in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I asked what he meant and if he saw the irony since he got rid of his own name more than 30 years ago.

And he looked at me and said "I'm sorry. That message wasn't for you. Can you pass it on to her, the one with the cow?" And before I could ask him when he was finally going to get around to recording an album of duets with Joe Jackson, he was gone.

I woke up confused (which is not so unusual) and uncertain about how to relay the message (which is much more unusual). Plus, who the hell was the "one with the cow"? And how would I find her? (Link for Gmail subscribers).

Years and years ago, we had tickets to see Jane Siberry (whom I wrote about here). She was doing two shows and both were sold out. The second show, our show, was supposed to start at 10:30. By 9:45, the sidewalk outside was packed. By ten there was a huge line stretching several blocks. But the early show hadn't gotten out yet. So we waited.

And waited.

People finally trickled out around 11:20.

This seemed like a bad sign. Our show would start more than an hour late. And she'd be tired. She'd want to sleep. She'd be travelling the next day. We'd picked the wrong show -- surely she'd cut the second show short.

I'd seen Jane Siberry years earlier when she had a full band and nearly all her songs were based around synth washes. But this was different. Her, a guitarist, and a piano player.

She came on a little before midnight.

And performed for more than two hours. It was amazing. Magical. Mesmerizing.

Her voice soared, swooped, and bounced around that wonderful back room that had seen so many amazing concerts over the years.

And she was funny. She joked and told stories. She sang an unreleased song that started with her boyfriend leaving, matured into a sobbing list of reasons she couldn't live without him, then morphed into a litany of complaints about him that built to a crescendo of vitriol, culminating in him returning home, saying he'd just gone out for smokes. Like many Jane Siberry songs, it was part music and part performance art -- weird, wonderful, and unique. (The song later appeared on a k.d. lang album, but I've never heard a recording of Jane Siberry singing it.)

The show was one of those rare moments when everything flowed, everything clicked, and everyone left energized and rejuvenated by the power of music.

Years later, I found out they'd recorded that show. There were plans to release it as a live album. But the executives who championed her at her record label left and the new guys weren't interested. Years later, she tried to get them to let her release the live album herself, but they claimed they had the rights to it and wouldn't let her. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

I started thinking more and more about that concert recently. How my expectations were so high (and then much lower when it started late) and how amazing it is when a performer exceeds your high expectations with humor and a quirky grace.

And a few days ago, I got an email from Jane Siberry, known for the past several years as Issa. She was reclaiming her name and going back to performing as Jane Siberry.

Cynical folks will say she probably had trouble getting bookings as Issa and changing her name back was a financial consideration.

Some will wonder what's in a name (enunciating clearly like they're in the Royal Shakespeare Company).

But I know the truth. Elvis must have finally found a way to get through to her after all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let's Live for Today

One, two, three, four...

We all thought we'd live fast and die young.

But we were suburban kids. So that really meant sliding through the occasional stop sign, having a couple of beers, driving slightly above the speed limit, and misquoting Nietzshe (hey, it was a college town).

We thought we were bad-ass. But we were wrong.

Except for Caroline. She was bad-ass. A little too bad-ass.

And she was gorgeous. So gorgeous that every guy I knew wanted her.

Especially me.

Until those two and a half seconds.

At a party. Upstairs, looking for the bathroom.

And I turned a corner and saw Caroline, dressed in only bra and panties. And she saw me and smiled.

And I saw the needle still in her arm. Wiggling as she turned. "You want some?" she asked. "It's really, really great."

Looking from the needle to her glazed eyes, I backed out and downstairs.

Then and there I knew I didn't want to be bad-ass; I just wanted to watch bad-ass movies and listen to bad-ass music.

For years after, I'd get calls every few months that started with "Did you hear about Caroline?" Her exploits became legendary over the years. We lived vicariously through her as we stayed safe and warm.

Then, one day:

"Did you hear about Caroline?"

"What was it this time?"

"They found her."

"Was she..."



"Yeah. She was bad-ass to the end."

After we hung up, I put on the goth-punk remake produced by Todd Rundgren (who also plays the moody synth part), blowing the dust off the vinyl and plunking the needle into the groove.

There were two and a half seconds of clicks and pops before the song started. A glazed-eyed tribute to a bad-ass suburban girl. It was less than she deserved, but all I had to give.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Click and Pops-iversary

This blog is exactly one year old today.

One year ago today, the first post appeared on Clicks and Pops.

In lieu of getting me a cake, here are a couple of things you can do instead:

Over the past 12 months, I've been thrilled to hear from more than a few of the musicians I've written about (both old heroes and new discoveries) whose songs have inspired me. But special thanks go out to all of you -- the regular readers and the ones who show up from odd corners of the world via Google (and stay to check out the blog).

And for everyone, in weren't there a year ago (or didn't look all the way back in the archives), here's a rerun of the very first Clicks and Pops post:
[Originally posted Saturday, December 13, 2008]

I spent too much of my youth in used record stores.

See, I grew up in a small town with three colleges (and two more a few miles away). There were great used record stores there – one in the back of a head shop on Main Street (specializing in selling foreign cut-outs), one next to a stationary store (whose owner was busted for selling pot – I know, in a college town? Shocking!), and another one that sold hundreds of cheap bootlegs whose “covers” were cheap mimeographs of bad band photos.

And I was patient – I’d thumb through the stacks, always looking for something specific, but always open to what I might find – especially if the price was low. And the price was almost always low, because there were always lots of college students selling their records to the used record stores. Plus, I wasn’t a collector.

That’s important. Collectors care about more about the label and the idea of the record than they care about what’s on the record.

This is what collectors do:

For me, it was always about the music.

And while I own a few records that actually are valuable, their real value for me is what’s on them.

To be honest, when I was younger, I was more like Jack Black’s character here:

(I like to think I'm more tolerant now. So if you wanted to listen to "I Just Called To Say I Love You," I wouldn't say anything mean about you -- but I would leave the room.)

And while I own a few records that actually are valuable, their real value for me is what’s on them.

So this blog is mostly about music (and often about vinyl). Because it’s the music that matters.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Singularity of Heartbreak

A new street number on the same address.

In physics, there's a moment called the "singularity" where matter takes on infinite density and zero volume. For all intents and purposes, time (by any normal means of measuring it) stands still. Similarly, a mechanical similarity occurs when there is literally no way of predicting subsequent behavior.

A split second after the singularity, a course is established, time has (a little bit of) meaning, and you can make predictions. But in that moment of singularity, everything and nothing are simultaneously possible.

I think it's the same thing for broken hearts. Time stops. Everything is jammed together. Nothing can be predicted. And nothing takes up any more space.

A split-second later, emotions rush off in a million different directions, fleeing from the heartbreak as fast as the laws of physics will allow (and then maybe just a little bit faster).

We don't have language to describe this process -- and we barely have terms to describe the healing and recovery from a broken heart. The words all shimmer and fade against the page and the cliches of a thousand past heartbreaks dance before our eyes.

Like dysfunctional families, all heartbreaks are alike. But all are totally different.

And maybe that's the real reason humans invented music millions of years ago. If we're the only animals who get our hearts broken, then it makes sense that we'd be the only ones to need songs to swoop in and fill the empty spaces in our hearts.

The song fuses with the heartbreak, merging in our memories until we can't hear it without being reminded of the love, blown apart in that singularity of heartbreak.

No matter how many years go by, it can be hard to hear some songs without reliving that split second when everything blows apart forever. After a while, it's all but impossible to hear those songs objectively. They're forever linked with that singularity.

And, although it makes us all seem like cranky old people, it's hard to imagine songs from today having that same power of association. Like the man said, they don't write 'em like that anymore.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Living in Dreamtime...

It's time to wake up.

I learned her history later. Much later. Far too late.

Her world was oddly compelling, a fantasia of emotional excesses and sensual delights. I saw her after class once slowly running her hand over the bark of a tree, just to feel the texture on her palm.

She told me she liked songs that were blue. "Oh, you like the blues?" No, she said. Songs that were blue. And she told me she saw colors in songs and sometimes tasted them too. I loved this metaphor for music; I didn't realize at the time that she meant it literally.

So when she called me in the middle of the night to go walking in the rain, I went. And I brought an umbrella. She wanted to throw it in the trash, then relented and let me hold onto it as long as I didn't open it. "I didn't know it would be so smooth and triangular," she said as she raised her head up to meet the falling raindrops.

She had a soft beauty that engulfed everyone she met and a sharp temper that pushed away everyone who got close to her. Her eyes twinkled and seemed to change color depending on her mood. She morphed from day to day (and sometimes from hour to hour), seemingly existing less in this dimension than in some other magical dimension I could never quite access.

Her compliments were life-affirming with a depth that was almost unfathomable. A few compliments from her and a doubting man would not only believe, but testify.

But her scorn was equally deep -- and often based on nothing that could be seen from a normal, earthly plane.

Here's what she didn't tell me, what I wish I'd known: she ran.

Starting when she was 6, she would run away. Whenever things got difficult (and that happened more than anyone knew), she'd take off. At first it was to a cave in the woods by her house. Years later it was ping-ponging between her divorced parents. Later, it was going around the world, leaving dust trails in her wake and confused people looking at the tracks she left on her way out.

But no one told me. Least of all her.

And when the closeness got too much for her, she did what she always did. She ran.

And I looked back at the shattered wreck she'd left behind and tried to figure out what the hell had just happened.

Years later, I still don't know. And if there's a happy-ending machine in this story, I clearly didn't know how to operate it.

But last night it rained. And I went out for a walk with no umbrella, feeling the raindrops, trying to understand if they were smooth and triangular. And I came home and listened to some of her favorite songs just to see if I could tell which ones were blue. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Like a Bad Dream

Any song with a kazoo solo is okay by me.

To paraphrase Craig Ferguson, this is not a great day for America.

Even 29 years later, we can still dream, right? (Embedding's disabled, so you gotta click.)

Just ask Mike Scott from the Waterboys. Even if the harmonies were slightly off.

RIP John.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Overnight Muppet Sensation

Just to review...

In the last two weeks, more than 10 million people have gone to YouTube to watch the uber-genius spectacle that is the Muppets performing "Bohemian Rhapsody."

In that same time, my small hill of dirty laundry has grown to a mighty mountain (but luckily not big enough to require recruiting sherpas).

So this weekend I decided to finally tame laundry mountain (by strategy).

And yet...

Apparently, the time and energy I have available for doing laundry is limited.

Especially when I'm busy remixing Muppet video to tell the story of Rolf's showbiz dreams (complete with new power-pop soundtrack and cameos from Big Bird and the Yip-Yip Martians):

I like to think the laundry will understand.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hear the Angels, Join the Choir

File this under Guilty Pleasures.

I'm not a huge heavy metal fan. And when you get past David Bowie and Mott the Hoople, I'm not big on glam.

So how do I explain this:

was a heavy metal glam band from Washington DC led by Punky Meadows and the late Mickey Jones. The band was discovered by Gene Simmons from Kiss and eventually signed to Kiss's label Casablanca Records. They had absurdly long hair and their gimmick was that they always wore white. And they appeared in the 1980 movie Foxes (starring Jodie Foster, Laura Dern, Randy Quaid, Cherie Currie, and Scott Baio) essentially playing themselves.

To my mind, almost all their songs sounded the same -- and although it was interesting to hear a glam version of the Young Rascals' "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" once, it didn't seem like it was something I'd need to hear again and again (it stalled out at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100, so I guess I'm not the only one who felt that way).

And then, in the late 70s, one of their songs snuck onto the radio around Christmas. It didn't really sound like any of their other material. And I couldn't get enough of it. Back then, DJs used to identify the records they played, so at least I knew the name of the band (Angel) and the name of the song ("The Winter Song").

But these were the pre-internet days, so I didn't have any idea what album the song was on (or what the cover looked like). And I didn't have any friends who liked the band, so I couldn't borrow the album from anyone. So I did what I always did -- I spent months searching through the various used-record stores in town until I found it. One scuffed-up copy with a big scratch at the end of Side One. But otherwise, the album was in good shape.

So, ignoring the hideous cover, I plunked down my 85 cents and bought the record.

I listened to the entire record once. But I've listened to "The Winter Song" (last track on Side Two) dozens of times.

God help me -- I love the sleigh bells, the cheesey 70s synths, the "little drummer boy" rhythm, the choir, the call-and-response in the later choruses, the layered sound that slowly fades off to infinity, and the way the song always makes me think of a fresh snowfall.

I'm pretty sure this confession should cost me every last shred of street cred I've ever imagined I had (or might have in the future). But it's the holiday season -- and everyone has a few guilty pleasures.

I told you one of mine; tell me one of yours.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Piano on the Lake

Maybe the fish can play it now.

All through her childhood, the piano was there.

It dominated the living room and drew everyone who walked into the house towards it.

Her father, a famous jazz musician, got the piano as a gift from Miles Davis after filling in at the last minute on a European tour.

Growing up, I remember the sounds of the piano. The entire house exuded music. Every day there'd be glissandos and counter-melodies drifting through open windows out into the street. If I'd walk by in the evenings, I could see her in the living room, practicing. I sensed her feet pressing on the pedals as the music increased in volume.

During High School she'd complain that she'd rather go out skating on a frozen pond but her father made her stay inside at the piano. When she'd look out the window at people walking by carrying ice skates, it was almost too much for her to take.

A few years after she finished college, her father died and her mom sold the house. She took the piano. Dragged it with her to 14 apartments and 3 houses in 6 states. The piano lasted longer than both her marriages.

She said as long as she had the piano a part of her father would always be alive.

Then, last winter, she was moving again. With the piano and all her stuff packed in a U-Haul Truck. On a mountain pass, another car skidded into her lane and she swerved. The other car righted itself and was soon gone in the night. But she fishtailed and spun around, striking a guardrail.

The back of the truck opened and the piano came crashing out, down a ravine, losing its legs. Eventually, it came to rest on top of a frozen lake.

She stood by the edge of the road, marveling at the weird moonlit sight of the grand piano on the lake, a gift from Miles Davis long ago. And she heard a slow crack that grew in volume. But her feet were nowhere near the pedals.

And she watched, mesmerized, as the piano slowly sunk below the ice until it was swallowed up by the lake.

The next week I ran into her on a street in our hometown. I hadn't seen her in over 15 years and was pleased to see she looked lighter and happier than she'd ever been. She told me the story of the piano and the lake. She had no sadness about it, just a general sense of relief.

We said our goodbyes and I knew she'd been wrong about needing the piano to keep a part of her father alive. As long as she had music, part of him will always be alive.

I turned to go back to my car and she continued down the street, carrying her new ice skates, walking out in the crisp winter air to the frozen pond down the block from where we grew up. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Bah (and More Extra Humbug)

So many anti-Xmas songs, so little time

Swedesplease has a great post up with lots of cool Swedish Christmas songs, but the one that sticks out for me is "iPod Xmas" by Hello Saferide. A great holiday heartbreak song. Jump over there and give it a listen.

Quote from the lyrics:
"And for present, you fuck, I got an iPod Nano
With your name written on it..."

And of course what would the holiday season be without "Father Christmas" by the Kinks?

Or "Silent Night" by the Dickies?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bah (Now with Extra Humbug)

Bah and/or humbug.

Ah, the holidays.

The wall calendar mocks me with its scenes from November and my reluctance to flip it over to the last month of the year. While the news is filled with stories of Goldman Sachs executives spending their multi-million-dollar bonuses on tropical vacations (and guns), most people I know are broke. And it was 80 degrees yesterday.

Plus, people drive like idiots and you don't want to be anywhere near a mall for the next three and a half weeks.

None of which makes me feel very Christmas-y, despite the fact that Christmas music is everywhere (on streets, on the radio, in stores, and in nearly every music blog in the universe).

There's only two things to say to that.

Bah. (With the Sex Pistols)

And humbug. (With the greedies, featuring Paul Cook and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols plus with Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Going to Dubai

I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do...

Gina went into the Peace Corps. It was more than 20 years after it stopped being fashionable to go into the Peace Corps. But she went. Right after High School.

She was a dreamer, a hippie chick in the time of Reagan. She told people she was born at Woodstock, but that was a lie. Still, she loved the protest music of the late 60s and wouldn't listen to anything else. She wore sandals and clothing made of hemp. proudly telling everyone who'd listen that she would never wear a bra.

And while it was admirable for her to join the Peace Corps, her smug, self-congratulatory fervor was hard to take. (Plus, attacking everyone else in our class for going off to "college and the bourgeoisie" didn't win her any friends either.)

For several years, she sent one letter back per year. One letter about building water systems in Africa or working at children's health clinics in India. She sent the letter to one of her friends, with instructions to pass it around to everyone else she knew. In each letter, several pages were devoted to rants about how her so-called friends were horrible because we weren't doing more to save the world.

In 19th century Russian literature, it's common for one character to say that another character had "gone to America."

This didn't mean they'd actually gone to America. It was a polite way of saying "committed suicide," perhaps because the journey from Russia to America was so perilous back then that only the insane would attempt it (and only a few who attempted it would survive).

Looking at the gilded insanity in the past 10 years, I started using a phrase inspired by Russian literature. Whenever someone I knew fell prey to irrational greed and the desire for wild, expensive things that made no sense, I'd say they were "going to Dubai."

This didn't mean they literally went to Dubai (although many of them did), but referred to their new type of thinking -- the same type of thinking that believed building gigantic hotels that look like sailing ships, indoor ski slopes in the desert, and artificial palm-shaped islands that maximized beach-front property and can be seen from space were good ideas. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Gina dropped out of sight the same time most of her High School classmates finished college. As we went off to our first jobs (or to grad school, or even in some cases to the Peace Corps), we wondered what had happened to her.

But we all got caught up in our lives, so the mystery of Gina went from a frequent topic of conversation to an infrequent guessing game to "which one was she again?"

Until a few months ago.

This time, it wasn't one hastily-scrawled handwritten letter meant to be passed around. This time, it was a crisp, carefully thought-out email blasted out to several hundred of her old friends. With photos. And captions.

The letter alluded to making millions in investment banking and partying backstage during one of the American Idol tour stops. The lie about being born at Woodstock was nowhere to be found.

Judging from the photos, she traded the sandals and hemp clothes for designer shoes and businesswoman chic. And it's pretty clear that she now wears bras.

In one photo, she was smiling at the groundbreaking of a building on one of those artificial palm-shaped islands you can see from space. She was wearing a hardhat and holding a shovel. A shovel made of gold.

The email glossed over details, but one thing was clear: Gina, the hippie chick who believed that owning anything was a sin against nature, had come back from the Peace Corps, and gone off to Dubai.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Coma Thoughts

From Turkey Bowling to Bowling For Soup

Five years ago, I told everyone I talked to that Bowling For Soup was "your new favorite band." I meant it, but no one believed me.

"Think Fountains of Wayne with more punk, more booze, and more sloppy sophomoric jokes," I'd say. "But in a good way." Yeah, it didn't work for them either.

Anyway. Let's talk Thanksgiving.

I didn't overeat.

On a holiday entirely geared towards excess, I managed not to stuff myself.

Yet, everywhere everyone seems stuck in a food coma. Or shuffling zombie-like off to go shopping.

This might have been more attractive to me years ago. Which makes me feel older than I already felt after none of my friends adopted Bowling for Soup as their new favorite band.

And there was a second Thanksgiving meal last night. But I also didn't overeat there.

Almost. But not quite.

Five years on, I still love Bowling for Soup (especially the earlier stuff). But they're no longer my new favorite band. And probably not yours either (and this attempt to bring them to your attention is half-assed, even for a holiday weekend).

Still, in the food-coma long weekend doldrums, that'll have to be okay.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Punks, Slackers & Ne'er-do-wells

Did someone say Turkey Bowling?

A lot of people talk about Turkey Bowling.

But few people actually do anything about it.

So happy Thanksgiving punks, slackers & ne'er-do-wells!

Monday, November 23, 2009

TNT -- We Know Marketing

Mix Tape for the MP3 Era (On TV)

Mix tapes are so 1980s and mix CDs just aren't as cool.

But if you could make an MP3 mix that looked like a cassette tape, that would be cool, right?

Two years ago, the Mixa came out -- $40 bucks for a USB flash drive that looked like a cassette tape. (Plus, it can hold as much music as 50 or 60 mix tapes and won't sound crappy if you leave it in your car for a few months -- yeah, Stop Making Sense, I'm talking about you.)

Flash forward to today: I get a cardboard package designed to look like an oversized cassette box, marked with the TNT logo and the reminder that they know drama. I love the packaging (and love the fact that I somehow landed on this particular swag list) and love the fact that the show is being marketed by its music. How cool is that?

Inside is a 2GB flash drive that looks like this (that shiny thing above it is a quarter to give you an idea of its size). This is a very cool (and heavy) device that contains about half of the first episode of Men of a Certain Age, a new hour-long drama with Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher. The drive also has three songs on it (one by CCR, one by Whitesnake, and one by Styx).

Now, I'm not sure I know anyone who loves CCR, Whitesnake, and Styx, but perhaps such creatures exist. And maybe there's a market for a show about three college friends in their 40s who complain about marriage, careers, and failing eyesight (in which music is part of the background but not as important as I might want it to be). And maybe Ray Romano's image is so squeaky clean that it is necessary to see him back up to run over a wounded possum twice. And maybe there's a reason why they didn't put the entire show on the drive (even though there's 1.85GB free out of 2GB). And maybe since TNT sent me this cool swag, I'll mention that the show premieres on December 7th.

So... (you might be wondering) how's the show itself? And does TNT really know drama as well as they know marketing?

Um... did I mention how cool the USB drive is?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fooling with the Logarithms, Going Berserk

It crackles, it clicks, it pops, it starts...

We could hardly have been more different.

I was nerdy and obsessed with music, looking for escape and lost in my imagination. She was tough and sexy and careless.

I don't know how it started or why. She called me one night and told me she was getting high and blowing the smoke out her window. (To this day, I'm not sure why she told me that.)

I told her I was listening to the radio and reading Dostoyevsky. (I told her that because it was true.)

The outlines are blurred now, but some details are clearer than ever. During the first snowfall of the year, in front of the candy store whose owner would soon be arrested for selling drugs, she told me she wanted to run her own hair and nail salon and change her name to Jewelie. I wanted to keep from laughing when she mentioned that.

Before the internet, before MTV, before MP3s, people used to listen to the radio.

And briefly, in the late 70s, a band called The Sports sneaked onto the radio in the U.S. They sounded like a smoother version of Joe Jackson or Graham Parker. I didn't know at the time they were from Australia -- they sounded like dozens of other bands being packaged as "new wave."

But they'd figured out a sure-fire way to get radio play. They wrote a song about radio. It was one of the oldest gimmicks in music (but also one of the more effective ones). Then they took the gimmick up a notch and recorded dozens of customized versions of their radio-centric song, replacing the second "the radio" from the chorus with call letters of radio stations in the top media markets. The stations who were name-checked couldn't wait to play the song (and sometimes edited the call-letter shout-out to use in station-identification spots.

Ironically, I'd heard the "normal" version of this song on the cool radio station near where I lived. Months later, the more top-40 oriented station (which wasn't nearly as cool) started playing the "special" version of the song and I wondered if the band knew how uncool that other station was. (Probably not -- they were in Australia.)

My relationship with "Jewelie" didn't last long. We had little in common and she was always picking fights with me.

She drove an ancient beige Buick covered with rust spots and filled with fast-food wrappers. The tires were bald and the brakes squealed and she always drove too fast. The radio in the car was broken and she'd never bothered to get it fixed. The rust and tires and brakes I could understand, but not fixing the radio was a complete mystery to me.

A few weeks after that first snowfall, a heatwave settled into New England, turning the white ground cover slushy and gray until it disappeared altogether. It got cold again, but didn't snow for a while. And sometime in those cold days of waiting for more snow, "Jewelie" called me because she was mad that I didn't have any friends in prison. She yelled at me and dumped me over the phone, then complained that I had the radio on in the background. The station was playing the Sports at the very moment when she asked me "who listens to the radio anyway?"

Me. And everyone I knew.

But not her.

Our other problems would have been difficult to solve... but that one was impossible.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spam-A-Little, Spam-A-Lot

Finally, this little corner of the Internets has arrived.

For a while, I've been wondering why I bother to moderate comments. Most of you are extremely polite, funny, informative, and well-behaved. And up until yesterday, I'd never had any reason to reject a comment.

But I got my first spam comment yesterday (complete vague praise for the blog and a link to a UK semi-porn site).

Finally, Clicks and Pops has arrived!

And, although I'm still in denial about how quickly this year has gone by, I'm already starting to see "best of" lists and online "year in review" posts. It's way too early for that... on the other hand, here's a Clicks and Pops-eye view of 2009:

created at

(Oddly enough, the phrase "financial shit storm" or its Icelandic twin "kreppa" appear nowhere in this cloud, despite how often it showed up this year!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Surrender, But Don't Give Yourself Away

Got my Kiss records out.

On paper, I should have loved Cheap Trick. They had catchy songs, solid harmonies, enough power chords to keep things interesting, an offbeat sense of humor, and they had to go to Japan to become stars. Plus they worshipped the Beatles.

But in reality, I never quite cared for them. They always seemed to be one tattoo away from heavy metal (and I wasn't a huge fan of heavy metal). And thousands of screaming fans in Japan weren't going to change that.

Then there was the bizarre way they looked: Bun E. Carlos seemed more like your Dad's accountant than a drummer, Rick Nielson seemed like he was constantly pissed that his picture wasn't in the dictionary under "irony," Robin Zander seemed like couldn't wait for the 80s to invent hair metal, and Tom Petersson always seemed confused that he hadn't wound up in a band like Wings. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

On paper, Sheila and I should have been a couple. We were in several classes together and we always had fun hanging out. But we had no chemistry. (Plus, we had almost no common ground musically and therefore had little chance in my eyes.) Still, I was young and didn't really know much about these things.

In Junior High and High School, these negotiations mostly involved third-parties. So one day, a mutual friend took me aside and asked me how I felt about Sheila. And I had to think. I liked her, but I didn't like-her like her. But maybe I could grow to like-her like her. I don't remember what I told the third-party negotiator, but it was wishy-washy. I don't remember if it was because I really didn't know or because I just didn't want to hurt Sheila's feelings. Or maybe the idea of a girl having a crush on me was such an ego boost that I didn't mind trying to force my own feelings into a box they didn't fit into.

And then the next morning, Sheila asked me if I'd been listening to the radio the night before. I hadn't. I'd been trying to finish my homework and listening to late-night talk radio from Canada. She said she'd dedicated a song to me -- this song (embedding disabled, so you'll have to click here).

She wanted me to want her. And I wanted that too. But what works on paper doesn't always work in real life -- whether or not you walk in on your parents (or whether or not they're listening to your Kiss records -- ironically or otherwise).

And while I was young and didn't really know much, at least I knew that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kinks Month and the Beatles Ukebox

This is why Al Gore invented the Internets!

All month long, a group of dedicated followers of fashion have been listening to one Kinks album a day (in chronological order). Two of my favorite blogs, Pleasant Valley Sunday and The Song in My Head Today have been doing daily posts on all those Kinks albums. Compare and contrast (or at least go there and scroll back).

And red-hot atomic thanks to Never Get out of the Boat! for alerting me to a blindingly brilliant project: Brooklyn-based musicians Roger and Dave have decided to arrange, perform (on ukulele), record, and post cover versions of all 185 songs written and released by the Beatles (with 185 guest artists). They've been posting one of these a week since January and will keep posting one per week until they're done. And they also have been posting essays about the songs, musicians, etc.

In most cases, these are covers with full instrumentation (and often feature arrangements that depart quite a ways from the originals). Peruse the whole shebang here. I'd recommend checking out "I am the Walrus" (song 038) "Because" (song 017), and "Come Together" (song 007) then work your way up to "Revolution #9" (song 034).

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Skid and the Mouse

A brief pause to appreciate the modern miracle of anti-lock brakes.

I was in Alaska for most of the past week.

When I got there, it was chilly, but they were still waiting for the first snow.

When I left, there was 3-6 inches of snow on the ground.

I drove nearly 600 miles in that week, often through near-blizzard conditions (and sometimes in virtual white-outs). I was driving a small Toyota Yaris (which looks a lot like a mouse and handles like one in the snow), so I slowed down when the road conditions were bad. Sometimes I slowed way down.

One night, I was going about 40 on a highway with a speed limit of 65 (through I stretch I'd cruised down days before when the road was clear) and two four-wheel drive trucks winged by me going around 75. Twenty miles later, I saw one of the trucks in a gully by the side of the road with four police cars and a tow truck trying to get him back on the road. I puttered by in the Mouse, going up to 50 when the road was clear and back down to about 40 on the bad stretches.

And I remembered being a passenger in a car decades ago. Going into the mountains, skiing. Driving down a highway slick with snow and ice at about 60. And the car hit something and went into a skid. Suddenly, we'd spun 90 degrees around and were facing the guardrail, but still moving down the road. And then the brakes and steering kicked in and we spun 180 degrees around until we faced the opposite guard rail (again still moving down the road at a high rate of speed). Time just slowed down and the car almost righted itself. Then almost stopped itself. Then slid into a soft wall of snow on the side of the road.

A small change in pressure or steering and the car would have gone into the guardrail and been wrecked. Or another car might have crashed into us. And forget about the car for a minute. This was before air bags, so we easily could have been injured or killed.

I thought about that driving slowly through near-blizzard conditions in Alaska. I probably could have pushed my speed up by another 5-10mph. And the car had anti-lock brakes and airbags, so I probably would have been safe even if it crashed. But I slowed down. And didn't care if it took an extra 10 or 20 minutes to get where I was going.

And the highways were better than the streets in town, which sometimes weren't plowed and often would melt from sunlight and traffic, then freeze again overnight. A couple of times, I had to press hard on the brake and feel the anti-lock mechanism clamping down, shifting between the four wheels hundreds of time per second to bring the Mouse to a safe stop.

I returned the car at night in a light snowfall as the temperatures slid down to around 20 degrees. About a quarter-mile from the airport is a stop light. As I approached, there were two cars waiting in front of me. I hit the brake and the Mouse started to slide forward. The anti-lock braking system kicked in, but the car was still sliding. It was clear that I didn't have enough room to stop and would likely slide into the car in front of me.

Time slowed again. And while the Mouse was trying to stop itself, I noticed there were two lanes in my direction on that road. In my lane, steady traffic had warn down the snow (which had probably just refrozen) to the pavement. The other lane had three inches of snow on the road, but no vehicles. So while the brakes were making that ABS crunching sound, I steered into the other lane, into the deep snow, and easily pulled to a stop at the light. Five minutes later, the car was back in the warm embrace of Avis, unharmed and undamaged. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

When I got home, I told this story to a friend of mine, who listened intently, paused, then said "are you still talking about cars?"