Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Laser-Etched History Never Repeats

I remember the scar.

I wake up in the middle of the night. Burning with memory of texture, the feel, the way the years softened the color.

It takes a few minutes to realize I'm here and now, not there and then. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

In the darkness, I remember.

It was just below her knee. She never explained it, never told me the childhood injury that caused it. It was just there. And whenever I'd touch it or kiss it, she'd pull back. So willing in other ways, so shy about the scar.

And if the scar was protected, the cause of the scar was walled-in, completely off-limits. And therefore endlessly fascinating.

She'd been to New Zealand. At a time when people just didn't go to New Zealand. And she loved Split Enz, whom she'd seen in New Zealand.

And she loved her copy of True Colors, the album that had images etched onto the vinyl with lasers. As a result, when light hit the spinning record, laser images of different shapes danced around the room. So we'd listen to the album at night, watch the shapes on the walls, and talk about everything.

Except the scar.

Years later, the CD still sounds good. The perfect pop songs are there. But there's no laser-etched shapes to dance around the room.

And she's gone, too. Took the scar and her secrets and went far away.

But late at night, when the moon reflects off something shiny, I watch colored shapes dance around the room. And I remember the record, remember her.

And, most of all, I remember the scar.

Monday, September 28, 2009


A Quick Reminder:

Brandon Schott's Dandelion album (which I wrote about here) is available tomorrow now from all your favorite online music sources.

Brandon's website has also been redesigned and spiffed up, check it out here.

And here's a video of "Fire Season" from the new album:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Viva Sea-Tac

And also the Swedes.

I was in Seattle, for about 12 hours.

No time to sing the "Space Noodle" song.

No time to get cheese curds at the Public Market.

No time to marvel at the rotating elephant.

Just enough time to sing "Viva Sea-Tac" by Robyn Hitchcock (from Jewels for Sophia:

Viva Seattle-Tacoma
Viva, viva Sea-Tac
Viva viva viva viva viva Sea-Tac
They got the best computers and coffee and smack.

Sliced through 50-degree darkness at 4am to return an SUV considered an economy car.

Cut through the thickest fog I've ever seen at LAX until the runway was visible two seconds before the wheels touched down.

Anyway, since YouTube is not the boss of me, you can still hear the song here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Know What They Said? Well, Some of it Was True

Three Quick Springsteen Stories:

Jackie was from Revere and she had the thickest Boston accent I'd ever heard in my life. She was also a Springsteen fanatic (we listened to three sides of The River together in the fall of 1980) and a Roman Catholic with interesting religious views. She was (theoretically) opposed to pre-marital sex, but felt that things happen and as long as you confess, everything's cool.

The one exception she made was for Springsteen. If she ever had the chance, she told me, she'd do Bruce Springsteen. "And even the Pope would understand" she said. Best of all, she wouldn't have to confess because her love for Bruce was pure. In fact, she told me, Heaven is a place where a bunch of people hang out, partying, and listening to Bruce Springsteen.

Which sounds pretty good to me.


Because Bruce Springsteen tours with the E Street Band (a group with 17 guitarists), it's easy to forget that he's a pretty great guitar player.

When Warren Zevon was dying, he publicly announced that he wanted to record one last album. Springsteen flew to Los Angeles in the middle of a tour, walked into the recording studio, plugged in and played the guitar solo that appears in the song "Disorder in the House" in one take. It blazes. Afterwards, Zevon looked up and said "You really are him." (Link for Gmail subscribers.)


After Joe Strummer died, Bruce Springsteen (along with Steve Van Zandt, Dave Grohl, and Elvis Costello) sang a great version of "London Calling" on the 2003 Grammy Awards show.

This summer, Springsteen performed in London at Hyde Park and again sang "London Calling," his voice is hoarse, but he channels Joe Strummer (and plays a great guitar solo that makes you forget the other 16 guitarists onstage).


And remember, the crowd's not booing, they're yelling "Happy Birthday"!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Songs About Bands Singing Those Songs

Before the Internet, it was harder to figure out what songs meant.

I've always been a sucker for songs with bizarre and complex lyrics.

In the pre-Internet days, I spent way too much time listening to Don McLean's "American Pie" and trying to dissect the various references. These days, all you'd have to do is go online.

But I've also always been a sucker for autobiographical songs, especially songs about how bands formed. Probably the best example is "Creeque Alley" by the Mamas and Papas, which namechecks various members of the Lovin' Spoonful, a club in the Virgin Islands, Roger McGuinn, Barry McGuire, and the various crushes between the various Mamas and Papas. (John Phillips, having turned down Cass Elliot's advances, was cruel enough to write a song where the overweight Elliot had to sing the line "no one's getting fat except Mama Cass.") These days, there's no need to learn the history or figure out the references when a quick Google search exposes you to the wisdom of a thousand obsessives who've poured over the song for you. (Embedding is disabled, so click here for the video.)

But my favorite rock song about a band's history is "Rock and Roll Band" by Boston. It tells the story of a scrappy band that toured up and down New England, building an audience one crappy gig at a time before getting signed to a big record company contract by a man smoking a big cigar at one of their shows.

The best part of the song? It's all made up. None of it happened -- at least not to the band Boston.

Instead, Boston was the brainchild of Tom Scholz, who worked as an engineer at Polaroid, built one of the first home studios in his basement (12 tracks of analog wonderousness), then wrote all the songs, recorded them himself (playing nearly all the instruments), and brought in singer Brad Delp to hit all those seemingly impossible high notes. The "band" got a deal with Epic Records based on Scholz's demos without once performing live. Epic added a few small overdubs, but the first Boston album was basically what Scholz and Delp recorded in Scholz's basement -- and arguably Scholz invented Arena Rock with that record (long before the "band" every played an arena).

It was only after the record came out that Scholz put together a band to go out on the road and play the songs. (Scholz would later invent a must-have small electric guitar amp that made him millions, which let him take a long time finishing future Boston albums and gave him the luxury of dragging out his various court battles with record companies for years and years.)

It's still a great song, but the lines "playing all the bars, sleeping in our cars," "playing for a week in Rhode Island," and "dancing in the streets of Hyannis" were all made up -- maybe because they sounded better than "spending months in the evenings in the basement after working at my day job."

And since the history in the song is all made up, who am I to say that the music wasn't really made by stop-action clay figures with guitars and a Lego drum riser?

(Note: Oops... as Kinky Paprika pointed out in the comments, it's Tom Scholz, not Tom Schultz. Clicks and Pops regrets the error.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thursday Night and Friday Will Be on Tuesday Night Instead

The clocks will all run backwards, all the sheep will have 2 heads.

We met on the 4th of July. On the Esplanade in Boston. We'd gone to school together, but didn't know each other; she'd come with a mutual friend.

An entire gang of us spent the afternoon playing Trivial Pursuit, a game I loved (except for Geography) and she hated (including Geography).

Over the course of that summer, I spent more and more time with her, but quickly realized that everything she said was wrong. She was wrong about the time of day, about the number of moons rotating around the Earth, about how many states there are, about what the capitol of South Dakota is, about who sang lead in Paul Revere & the Raiders, about which side Italy fought on in WWII, about whether Max Yasgur ever played bass with the Grateful Dead, about what color her car was, and about too many other things to mention. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

But, while she was almost always wrong, she was never uncertain. And it was exhausting after a while responding to her pronouncements (CDs will never replace vinyl, Alice Cooper was going to replace John Lennon in a reunited version of the Beatles and tickets for the Shea Stadium show went on sale Monday at 4:15am, no baseball players would be crazy enough to take steroids, etc.).

The one thing she was right about was that World Party was a great band. At first I didn't believe her (just because she was so often wrong), but when I listened, I had to agree. Although maybe she was partially wrong, because Karl Wallinger (formerly of the Waterboys during their brief synth period) played almost everything on the first World Party album (and even went so far as to invent aliases so other "musicians" would be credited on the sleeve).

A couple years later, she became convinced that she had a brain tumor. So she spent tens of thousands of dollars on tests, spent weeks visiting dozens of doctors, and never believed anyone who said she was healthy.

We broke up because she was too wrong, too crazy (and maybe always had been. A few days before World Party played in Boston, she had a friend of hers call and give me a supposed new phone number for her in California. She called back herself the next day and apologized for her friend, but wanted to make sure I had the number in California. By then, World Party was a real band and her crazy wrongness was no longer as attractive as it seemed with several hundred thousand people, alcohol, Trivial Pursuit, fireworks, and the Boston Pops. So I threw away the California phone number (which, probably was wrong anyway), and went to see World Party with my new girlfriend.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flea Market of Memories

Flee, Market of Memories!

A reader emailed me a few days ago and asked what the first record was that I ever bought.

And I had to think long and hard about it. The first record I bought -- not the first record I asked my parents to buy me or the first record I remember playing. The first one I actually bought.

And of course, the temptation to make up some lie about the hippest, most underground, most amazing record I could think of is very strong. But here's the truth.

When I was around 7, there was a big flea market in the center of our little town. (There might also have been a carnival there at the same time, I'm not positive.) And I had 40 or 50 cents saved up in allowance.

The market had the usual artsy crap (poorly made leather wallets, crocheted bags with lame designs, etc.), but I made a beeline for a covered tent area with stacks and stacks of books and a small crate of records. I decided that I needed to buy a record. With my own money. It seemed like the most grownup thing in the world.

I immediately went for the 45s (thinking I could get more bang for not-even-a-buck) and hunted through them. Now, I was only 7, so I didn't know what to buy and didn't recognize any of the names on the labels.

I guess I could've asked someone, but I didn't want people to think I wasn't cool (even though, at age 7, I can guarantee I was the polar opposite of cool), so I bought something at random: "Kind of a Drag" by the Buckinghams. (I may even have thought that they sounded English and everything English was cool). The woman took pity on me and threw in a pseudo-hip hat that fell apart almost immediately.

But the 45... that was made to last. Now, it was already in bad shape -- major clicks and pops throughout the song, surface noise that made the record sound even muddier than the garage rock (with horns) the band was aiming for. This was clearly a record that had been well loved and well-played by the first owner (and maybe also by a second or third owner) before it got to me.

I had a crappy record player for kids (one step up from a Close & Play) and a few records from my parents (including "Peter and the Wolf," part of a failed attempt to steer me away from rock & roll), but this was the first record I'd selected and the first 45 I'd ever seen. I played it over and over, examining the label for clues (like a pre-teen Kremlinologist). I even played the flip side (and would wonder every time why the A-side was so much better). And although I loved the music, the ultra-hip detachment of the lyrics bothered me... even at age 7. If someone doesn't love you, isn't that a bigger deal than just an offhanded "kind of a drag"? If that's what it meant to be a grown-up, maybe it wasn't something I wanted after all.

I know now that "Kind of a Drag" was the first single the Buckinghams released, that it went to #1 in 1967 (beating out records by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones), and that they weren't English, but were from Chicago.

Sadly, I lost that 45 over the years, but thanks to the magic of YouTube, here is the first record I ever bought (free pseudo-hip hat that falls apart not included):

By the way, this is video features an extraordinarily bad fake performance: no microphones, guitars plugged in, and no horn players. But my favorite thing is the drummer, who seems to be pounding on a footstool standing in front of a bass drum, then playing snare and cymbal rides and on cymbals and snare drums that aren't there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

UK Blast From the Past

92 is the new 64.

How retro is the music industry in the U.K.?

The Queen of the British charts is Dame Vera Lynn, known for her patriotic songs from World War II. The 92-year-old known as England's "forces sweetheart" has the #1 album in the U.K.

I know she's a huge deal in England, but I'm not English, so they first time I'd heard of Vera Lynn was in this Robyn Hitchcock song:

And how about this: 4 Beatle albums in the top 10. 16 Beatle albums in the top 60. Both stereo and mono remastered box sets make the charts (stereo at #24 and mono at #57). Not bad for a band that hasn't existed for the last 39 years.

Maybe they'll be as big as Vera Lynn in 2035.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Diane and Diane

Diane and Diane were roommates. And complete opposites.

I was thinking about Iceland today. And looking at the amazing portfolio of my favorite Icelandic professional photographers (online here). It's a place of amazing and unexpected beauty that can sneak up on you unexpectedly. And, yeah, it really does look like this.

Which reminded me of Diane and Diane.

In my first job after college, I worked at a company with a guy named Dan, who came from an Irish Catholic family and had eight siblings -- and all their names started with D. (He thought there was nothing unusual about this, which struck me as unbelievably bizarre.)

One day, Dan invited me to a party his sister Diane was throwing; he begged me to come because Diane was afraid none of her friends would show up and everyone would be there for her roommate (who, Dan told me, was also named Diane).

Dan said it would be too confusing to keep specifying which Diane people meant, so everyone called the roommates PD and Up-D. PD was Pretty Diane -- 5'11", 110 pounds, long golden hair, high cheekbones, could've been a model. Dan's sister was Up-D (and he reluctantly told me that stood for "Un-Pretty Diane"), and she was shorter, with dark hair, glasses, and a fashion sense that was almost cool and chic (but always fell just a little short). The irony was that Up-D would have been considered gorgeous in almost any circumstance -- except when she was compared to PD.

Up-D was in med school, studying a million hours a week, working in a clinic, and subsisting mostly on whatever she could buy from vending machines.

PD, on the other hand, had come from money. She worked for a fashion magazine, always looked like she'd just stepped off the runway, and was dating a guy everyone called "the Duke." The Duke wasn't really a Duke, he was a minor Count from a disgraced family from a minor European country. When oil was found under his family's land, they went from very poor to very rich in a heartbeat. And the Duke loved to spend money -- he once flew PD on a private jet to Paris for dinner (Up-D was invited, but she had a test in the morning).

Needless to say, I became fast friends with Up-D and we'd hang out whenever she was free (about every other month). I'd drag her to see bands at a club down the block from her place that had a $3 cover charge (but she the bouncer was dating her sister Donna, so she never had to pay) and she'd drag me to the greasiest all-night diner in town for the $1.99 special (which was only good between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m).

PD and Up-D were rarely in the apartment at the same time and sometimes would go weeks without seeing each other. Up-D had little patience for PD's jet-set lifestyle and didn't like most of PD's friends. One night, Up-D slipped and referred to her roommate as PD and when I tried to deny that I knew what it meant, she laughed about how she knew people called her Up-D, but she didn't care.

Up-D was often annoyed about PD's attitude towards money. PD came from money and thought nothing of spending hundreds on fancy meals and clothing. To make matters worse, on the 12th of every month, an expensive gift would arrive for PD from the Duke (because they met on December 12th). And, every month, PD would exchange that expensive gift for cash on the 13th (while Up-D's student loan debt spiraled out of control).

I hadn't seen Up-D in several months, when she called me out of the blue and told me Diane was dead. She was crossing the street when a guy in a van ran the red light and hit her. Up-D told me all the clinical details (she was in med school, so she knew all about how life seeps out of the body); I don't remember any of them. All I remember is looking out the window and seeing the shadows move across a parking lot. And thinking I'd never known anyone my age who'd died before.

Dan and Diane (who never again would be Up-D to any of her friends) and I went to the funeral. I dragged my black suit out mothballs. And even wore a tie. Diane said she wanted a few friendly faces because she knew the funeral would be filled with PD's rich, glitz friends. And a few of the rich, glitzy friends came, but most sent flowers instead. Gorgeous, amazing flowers.

And then a weird thing happened. A few minutes before the service began, a group of men in ratty clothes walked into the church. They'd tried to clean themselves up, but still looked like hell.

Diane spoke, telling a few funny stories about PD and the Duke -- not knowing they'd broken up nearly five months earlier. After the funeral, the men in ratty clothes surrounded Diane. Each of them had been served by a soup kitchen downtown where PD worked three days a month. And, they all said, on the 13th of every month, PD would bring in a large cash donation (which often kept the soup kitchen open).

I hadn't thought of Diane and Diane in years, but this wonderful video by Hafdis Huld reminded me of both of them.

After the funeral, Dan, Diane, and I wound up at a bar, drinking toast after toast to PD. Diane had no idea her roommate had ever done anything selfless and felt guilty for resenting PD (and wished they'd been closer). We told the soup-kitchen story to four strangers and then to the bartender (just before last call). The bartender shrugged, poured us one last drink, and said "everyone is complicated. Especially the ones you think are the simplest."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Deceptively Big Country

But it looks gigantic on maps.

We were eight and we decided that we'd get married someday. Donna, the coolest girl in second grade, spun the globe, grinned maniacally, and closed her eyes. "Wherever I point to, that's where we go on our honeymoon." And she stabbed her finger out at the globe, hitting Greenland.

"Greenland," she said. "Green Land. That's where we're going."

And I nodded, happy to be going someplace like that with her. And the country was gigantic on the globe (and on all the maps I'd ever seen), so it had to be important.

A week later, Donna found me and glumly announced that Greenland was full of ice. She blamed me for this -- even though she's the one who picked Greenland on the spinning globe. "It's false advertising," she groaned. (And, in a way, it was, Vikings gave the country a deceptive name to encourage people to move there -- think Mad Men with horn helmets.)

I started reading about Greenland (but couldn't find much in a town with a small library in the days before the internet) and got excited about a country that's more than 80% ice. A country of about 55,000 people whose economy largely revolves around fishing and whose towns (mostly on fjords) are not connected to each other by roads.

After another week, I found Donna and wanted to tell her everything I'd learned abuot this amazing place we were going (at some undefined point in the future). Before I could say more than "fish," she told me that she'd written to the Pope to get her promise to go to Greenland with me on our honeymoon annulled. When I told her that's not what annulment meant, she told me I'd never understand.

That was the last time she spoke to me.

And for many years, I didn't think about Greenland. Until I finally went to Iceland (which, ironically, is quite green), saw how beautiful it was, and started dreaming of the amazing vistas of Greenland and the bizarre calculations of Mercator projection, that make it look bigger than all of Africa.

When I was in Iceland, I heard about Angu, the biggest rock star in Greenland, where he's often described as Greenland's U2. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Angu's first album sold 5,000 copies just in Greenland. Which is the equivalent of selling 33 million copies in the U.S. Add in airplay on MTV (in countries where MTV still plays music) and before long Greenland had its first genuine rock star.

(Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Last I heard, Donna was living in Arizona, on her second marriage (or maybe her third). I hear she likes "mallwalking." A mutual friend told me she clearly peaked in second grade (or maybe third). And I'm pretty sure she never heard Angu... or went to Greenland.

Her loss.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

They Might be Back at School

Ladies and gentlemen, the sun!

Ask Americans between 30 and 50 to recite the Preamble of the Constitution and they won't be able to do it without this Schoolhouse Rock song running through their heads (especially the chorus, which starts about 45 seconds in).

So, to celebrate the fact kids are starting school again (and the more important fact that we remember things better when dull facts are spruced up with catchy tunes), here's a new slice of book learning from They Might Be Giants (from their new album Here Comes Science) and Boing Boing.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a blast from the past, I wrote about They Might Be Giants here and here. And here's an older video of theirs that can enlighten you about the sun:

Or if you want to mellow out, try this:

Monday, September 7, 2009

End of Summer IV -- Nostalgic End-of-Summer Car Songs

Without one hand of the clock, what good is the other?

Growing up, I assumed two things: that NRBQ were huge stars and that they were from somewhere in Western Massachusetts.

When I was a kid in Western Massachusetts, NRBQ were on the radio all the time. Their new albums were talked up and celebrated and their older out of print albums were mined for strange and wonderful songs like "Howard Johnson's Got His Ho-Jo Working," "RC Cola and a Moon Pie," and "Get that Gasoline."

Much later, I saw them live a couple of times (and was blown away each time). Once, while opening for Squeeze at an outdoor show (moved indoors based on a forecast of storms that never appeared) NRBQ played an amazing set that inexplicably ended with a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." As they slogged through verse after verse (and if it's been a while since you've heard the song, it goes on for about a year and a half), the receptive and happy crowd got restless, then annoyed, and finally openly hostile. By the end, people were booing and throwing beer at the band. But a few hearty fans cheered and NRBQ returned for an encore... and started playing "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" again. It was wild, zany performance art... that 90% of the audience hated and the other 10% loved beyond measure.

And then there was this:

Surely that song was a big hit. Everyone knew it, right? I mean it was on the radio constantly. That's what I thought then.

Here's what I know now:

NRBQ (originally the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet, later Quartet) was formed in Miami of all places. They later lived in and around New York (including in Park Slope, Brooklyn) and were legends for performing live shows without set lists, taking random requests, playing songs they didn't know, and somehow combining the best of avant-garde jazz, pure pop, '50s-style rockabilly, and blues and turning into something coherent and wonderful.

The band was a bit spottier on record, but made a series of strong albums in the '70s and '80s and were signed to major labels on several occasions (and usually got dropped after one or two albums failed to sell). The longest-running lineup of the band lasted from 1974 to 1994 and featured Joey Spampinato, Terry Adams, Big Al Anderson, and Tom Ardolino (and were frequently backed by the Whole Wheat Horns: Keith Spring and Terry's brother Donn Adams.

They were hared to pigeonhole stylistically (and were equally at home backing Carl Perkins, Skeeter Davis, Captain Lou Albano, or Spongebob Squarepants) and even appeared on The Simpsons. And although it always seemed that NRBQ would be around forever, they went on a long hiatus 5 years ago (but regrouped in 2007 for a 38th anniversary show in Northampton, Mass.).

As for "Ridin' in My Car"? I wasn't entirely wrong. It was an enormous regional hit (back in the day when there were regional hits) -- mostly in Western Massachusetts and Northern Connecticut.

It's also a perfect end-of-summer nostalgia song and I can't hear it without picturing the green rolling hills of the Pioneer Valley.

But, because pop culture does tend to eat its own tail, here's another perfect end-of-summer nostalgia song for that nostalgia. Jim Boggia wrote and recorded this song for his fantastic 2008 album Misadventures in Stereo:

On the studio recording, Boggia talks about taking his girlfriend to an NRBQ concert in Detroit and sings about what happened when Big Al took a solo -- which is followed by a terrific NRBQ-esque solo played by none other than Big Al Anderson.

And on that note, Happy Labor Day (and happy end of summer for those outside the U.S.).

(Note for the geeks reading this: "Ridin' in My Car" first appeared on All Hopped Up, on NRBQ's own Red Rooster Records. The band was then signed to Mercury, which released NRBQ at Yankee Stadium -- not a live album, but featuring the band sitting behind the dugout in an otherwise empty house -- and Mercury licensed "Ridin' in My Car" for the vinyl release and the first CD release. Mercury dropped NRBQ for not selling enough records and declined to renew their license for "Ridin' in My Car," which is why it doesn't appear on the current CD of NRBQ at Yankee Stadium. Which is okay because I've still got the vinyl!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

End of Summer III: Three-State Strategy

In which I pander. Shamelessly.

This blog has gotten visitors from 60 countries and 47 of 50 U.S. states.

But I get no love from South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

So, I've got three choices: I can take a Labor-Day weekend road trip to these three states and access this blog myself. (But, as touring musicians might say, the routing doesn't really work well.)

Or I can beg you all to forward this blog to your friends in South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. (You do have music-loving friends in South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, don't you?)

Or I can pander.


So at the risk of opening Panderer's Box, let me tell you how much I love South Dakota's Wall Drug, which features the unspeakable awesomeness of this and this?

And did I mention how I stopped once in Elk City, Oklahoma and signed a petition to make the birthplace of native son Jimmy Webb into a museum? It's true! Plus, before Jimmy Webb went all SoCal with cakes left out in the rain, he sang songs of the working man, the kind of salt-of-the-Earth guy you'd shake hands with and instantly know he was from Oklahoma.

And finally, um... for now reason, I'd like to point out that Jimmy Buffett is not from Florida. He's from Mississippi... so suck on that Florida coast. Plus, he was much cooler (and even had a big hit) before he became the Mayor of Margaritaville. (PS: Hey Jimmy, I think I found your that shaker of salt from 1977. Do you still need it?) (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

So c'mon, South Dakota (my all-time favorite Dakota), Oklahoma (still OK after all these years), and Mississippi (M-I-double S-I-Double S-I-Double P-I)! What more do you need?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

End of Summer II: Top Five "Summer" Songs

It must be summer, cause the days are long...

It's too hot to be completely coherent... so here we go...

I've seen quite a few blog posts this past week about the best songs from the summer of 2009. Out of dozens of different songs posted, I think I've heard one or two. This depresses me (and not just because it's yet another sign that I'm not as hip as I was -- or at least as I thought I was).

Back when people listened to the radio all the time, you couldn't get away from certain summer songs -- they were everywhere and they served as an unconscious soundtrack to the time. (This isn't a post about that, but if you want one, Charley Sommers at Throck Manash posted his a few months ago.)

Rather than dwelling on songs from this summer (or the best summer sons of all time), I decided to make a list of my favorite songs that have the word "Summer" in their titles.

5. The Lovin' Spoonful -- "Summer in the City"
An edgier sound (well, edgy's a relative term with the Lovin' Spoonful) that brings me back to growing up on the east coast with 90% humidity that makes you sweat through every last stitch of clothing.

My first apartment after college had no air conditioning and I remember one night coming home after work and finding the temperature inside was over 100 degrees. So naturally I sat in the tub for a long time listening to an oldies radio station (which played this song twice in the same hour).

4. B-52s -- "Summer of Love"
It might be hard to imagine now, but for a few shining moments, the B-52s were rock stars.

Or maybe they weren't rock stars, they were rock lobsters.

3. The Ataris -- "Boys of Summer"
The Ataris kick Don Henley's song up a notch, from the great So Long Astoria album.

Some would argue that changing the lyric "Deadhead sticker" to "Black Flag sticker" destroys the irony of the song, but I'd argue that just having that argument is (in itself) ironic.

2. Ben Folds Five -- "Where's Summer B"
(Sound is a bit tinny on this video) From the first Ben Folds Five album, a perfect amazing slice of power pop that emerged so fully formed and so completely out of touch with what was popular at the time.

A friend from work gave me a cassette tape of this when it first came out; she said she thought I'd really like it. Knowing her musical taste, I assumed it would suck and didn't listen to it for several months. When I finally listened, I didn't stop listening to it for several months after that. It's just that good. (And still sounds great today.)

1. Fountains of Wayne -- "It Must Be Summer"
(Again, sound's not great on the video, but you get the idea). From the great album Welcome Interstate Managers, a great example of the I'm-chasing-this-girl-and-she's-oblivious sub-genre of power pop.

Although, come to think of it, if you get rid of the I'm-chasing-this-girl-and-she's-oblivious sub-genre, half of rock 'n' roll would vanish into the ether.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

End of Summer I: Three Songs

Summers always end on a bittersweet note.

I just realized that I never had a typical "summer romance." But despite avoiding the awkward end-of-vacation goodbyes, I still felt the bittersweetness of the end of summer.

The feelings of freedom slipping away haunt me every August even though it's been years since I had to buy pens, notebooks, or lined paper in early September.

This year feels strange -- not just because seemingly all of Southern California is on fire (although that's disconcerting) and not just because Labor Day is unnaturally late (which made everyone I know feel like this week was just borrowed time), and not just because radio is dying (although... ).

If I had musical synaesthesia (and many of my friends will tell you I do), this feeling would owe a hat tip to the excellent I ♥ Icelandic Music blog and look a lot like the mesmerizing video for "Ljósið" by Ólafur Arnalds (whom I last mentioned here). As the colors rally, burst, and trail behind the cool of the evening, there's a slight echo of promises unkept and tasks unfinished. And the slow decay reminds me that the sunlight is vanishing, a few minutes a day, moving us closer to darkness even as we rush to find a way to keep that light glowing for just a few days more.

Ólafur Arnalds - Ljósið (Official Music Video) from Erased Tapes.

And fall waits around the corner, like an overeager actor poised to jump onstage. The air crackles at night with newness chances, new opportunities, new beginnings. Dancers crowded around the edge of the dance floor, storing up their energy, waiting for the cowbell to bring them out, and hoping to hear something new with more than a little echo of the old, like Philly's Free Energy. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Bonus: Iceland's Gus Gus weighs in on healthcare reform. Or at least paints a synth-pop masterpiece with "Add This Song," which undoubtedly would have burned up the airwaves back in the early 80s. (No embed code, so click here.)