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JANUARY 1, 2018 Glenn Gould

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I’m going to steal and pay homage to my good friend Christopher Watkins, AKA Preacher Boy, and write about an album or song every day for a year. Check out Preach’s list on FB if you can. I’ll be going through my musical memories and picking out both music I think is important and special to me. My tastes are pretty eclectic. This is as much for my own musical education as it is for throwing my musical opinions on social media. I hope some of you will like and/or criticize my choices. There won’t be a lot of brand new music here, not just because I’m old, but because I’m exploring my musical DNA and pointing out music that has been peer-reviewed, so to say.

It’s always good to start with Bach. Here’s Glenn Gould with the first recording of The Goldberg Variations. He recorded this version in 1955 and another in 1981, but this is the recording I grew up with. I mean, if you hate Bach, there’s probably something wrong with you. I’ll be saying that a lot about a bunch of artists. Happy New Year!

 

Music of the Day, January 2 Hank Williams

I’m a day late in saying this, but Hank Williams died for your sins on New Year’s Day 1953. It took me years to get used to the voices of country music, as they always sounded like the folks who thought the South won the Civil War and who kept white sheets in the trunks of their cars. But once I understood Hank, I understood music a lot better. There are few people like The Hillbilly Shakespeare who hit you in so many ways- joy, devotion, and most of all, pain. Hank changed country music the way Babe Ruth changed baseball, and his singing and songwriting came from a very acute knowledge of pain, both emotionally and physically. I put him up with the greatest songwriters of all time, and he only made it to twenty-nine. Here’s a playlist that gives you a good sense of the man. My current favorite is “They’ll Never Take Her Love Away from Me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb3jdgMtLE0

JANUARY 4 Radiohead-Kid A

Back in the day before the kids said a new release would “drop”, we had to call or go to record stores to get a new record or CD. David Berger played this for Sara Cameron, Tim Luntzel, and myself as we came back from a gig in Albany in 2000. It was entrancing, even though it often went over my head.  Radiohead is one of the best bands to emerge in the past fifty years, and even when I have no idea what Thom Yorke is singing about, the music is so sonically wondrous that he could be talking about dental hygiene and I’d still be drawn in.  “Everything in Its Right Place” kicks off the record, and the mood is set for the musical collage that follows. Only Yorke could sing (from “Optimistic”) “You try the best you can/the best you can is good enough” and have it sound like a dirge for an android. The bassline on “The National Anthem” is one of the greatest riffs of the last quarter century. The whole album needs to be experienced over and over. I hate Spotify because of the pitiful rates they pay musicians, but this is where you can listen to this album straight down online. https://open.spotify.com/album/6J6nlVu4JMveJz0YM9zDgL

 

 

Album of the Day-January 3 –Herbie Nichols Trio

Herbie Nichols is one of those underrated and overlooked pianists from the 1940s-1960s. Compositionally, he’s quirkier than Thelonious Monk, whom he is most often compared to. But Nichols has his own thing going on. He didn’t record enough, but his tunes still sound fresh today. He’s not quite from another planet, but more like a side street you always walked by but never checked out.

 

Album of the Day- January 5- FISHBONE

One of the best bands ever. Their debut EP fueled my adolescence, and its brilliance hasn’t dimmed. They fused ska, rock, and funk and referenced nuclear Armageddon and the movie “Kentucky Fried Movie”, all with stellar musicianship and a sense of humor. It’s a party record with a conscience. Try not to dance and laugh to “Ugly” or “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”- the latter is one of the best fuck-you songs ever written. They even survived what I call the Wang Chung Effect, wherein a band that cites its own name in a song is doomed to a short shelf-life.  (Case in point- “Fishbone is here to stay”, from “Party at Ground Zero”). Fishbone IS here to stay.

 

Album of the Day- January 6- Alexander ScriabinThe Poem of Ecstasy, conducted by Pierre Boulez.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWINpXNd5KE&t=122s

When I recommend a classical music piece, I don’t always cite a particular recording, because I listen more to the music than the interpretation. So I picked Pierre Boulez’s version of Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy because… it’s Boulez.

Scriabin (1872-1915) was a mystic Russian composer, although that’s not saying enough. This piece is exactly what the title says- it’s a quivering quarter hour of sensuality and eroticism in instrumental form. Scriabin had a form of synesthesia, where he saw and associated certain colors with different musical keys. I’ve always been fascinated by his harmonic sense, and I’ve tried to use it in my own compositions. Let this piece flow over you, and you will possibly feel some pinpricks.

 

Album of the Day, January 7: David BowieHunky Dory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm7DCVURAbw

Mister Jones died nearly two years ago, and I really think his death ripped some fabric in the universe, because the world really went further into the shit we’re in. I was always a Bowie fan, but I didn’t know his whole catalog very well. When Donny McCaslin and his band recorded Blackstar with him (see January 9), I started digging deeper into the Bowie well. Hunky Dory has a lot to offer: reinvention (“Changes”), sexual ambiguity (“Oh, You Pretty Things”) a minor masterpiece (“Life on Mars?”), and what I think is the best song about raising a kid- “Kooks”. Not like I’ll ever deal with early parenting, but if I did, I’d play this song every day. “Will you stay in our lovers’ story/If you stay you won’t be sorry/’Cause we believe in you/Soon you’ll grow, so take a chance/With a couple of Kooks/Hung up on romancing/… A book of rules/On what to say to people when they pick on you/
‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty kookie too….”

I can’t think of a better way to explain to an artistic and sensitive kid what it’s going to be like in a world of muggles. Thank you to Ken Webb for turning me on to the song for the Bowie tribute at the Living Room in 2009, and I’m sorry for forgetting my chart backstage and screwing up the chords. I know it now.

 

 

Music of the Day- January 8- Elvis PresleyHound Dog

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eHJ12Vhpyc

When I was eight years old, the kids across the street (technically, their dad) took me in their truck to a feed store, or something along that line. My parents only listened to the news on the radio, so it was a new thing for me when the dad left the music station on for us when he went inside to get whatever he needed. This is when I heard the name Elvis Presley and the song Hound Dog for the first time. I was amazed. It made me feel something new. I knew my classical composers pretty well, but this was a revelation. I came home and told my mom that this guy named Elvis died and I needed to get his music. She had just found out her mother died, and was saddened even more that her son was more affected by a musician’s death than by his own grandmother’s death. So it goes.

So, I became devoted to Elvis’ music, dressed as him for Halloween, and got a bunch of his records, but this song will always hit me and bring me back to August 16th, 1977. Yes, Elvis ripped off a lot of great R&B artists; yes, the song was originally done by Big Mama Thornton; yes, it was written by two Jewish songwriters named Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but there’s an energy in this recording that transcends everything. Scotty Moore’s guitar, the slapback echo on Elvis’ voice, the Jordanaires backing harmonies, the simple calypso/ bayou groove- they all combine to form one of the best two minutes and fifteen seconds in rock and roll history.

 

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WHAT THE SOUTH SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE NORTH

THINGS THE SOUTH SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE NORTH

 

We really don’t see the point of NASCAR.

 

We don’t understand how you manage to elect inept and uninformed politicians. (Not like our are much better)

 

In general, we are better educated, have a higher standard of living, have fewer children out of wedlock, and have fewer citizens on welfare. 

 

We don’t want your guns, as we have our own. But we aren’t always happy about what you shoot at. 

 

Ohio and Florida are practically the same state. 

 

Not like we’re perfect, but you could treat your women and minorities better.

 

Jesus preached love, kindness, and tolerance. For Yankees too. 

 

And Jesus was a Jew. 

 

Those white sheets make YOU look inferior. 

 

General Sherman was an underachiever. 

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You guys broke away from us in the Civil War. We wanted to keep us together. By the way, that was one hundred fifty years ago. 

 

Lincoln was a great president. John Wilkes Booth was a demented assassin. 

 

Some of the Old Testament seems fairly ludicrous in the day and age.  Can you take Leviticus seriously?

 

We have country people too. 

 

We will usually favor Willie over whatever twang with a hat Nashville is throwing at us.

 

And we tend to like the old country music. 

 

Not all people are equal, but everyone should be treated equally. 

 

Everyone’s a little bit redneck.

 

We love your cuisine, but not the bulging waistlines and clogged arteries we get from it. 

 

Incest is not a family right or privilege. It’s just plain wrong. 

 

Some of your accents make you sound dignified and refined. Other accents make you sound like an undeveloped troglodyte. 

 

Yes, we love football too.

 

You have produced some of the greater people, ideas, and things in the history of the world. Please don’t let your negative history overshadow them. 

 

We trust government a little more than you do, but not by much.

 

It is impolite to beat your wives, children , and animals. 

 

We secretly adore your drive-thru liquor stores. Your drive-thru gun shops; not so much. 

 

Larry the Cable isn’t very funny.

 

And why is the Duck Dynasty family and Honey Boo Boo even on the air?

 

Mexicans are our friends, and they probably work harder than you do. 

 

Homophobia is a choice. Homosexuality is not. Do you think gays really want to be bullied and chastised?

 

Bacon has no equal.

 

The Confederate flag may be a source of pride for you, but to us it is a symbol of racism, ignorance, and intolerance. 

 

The people in the Northeast can be rude because it gets pretty darn cold and hot there.

 

That said, your summers can be brutal.

 

Not all of us like really sweet tea.

 

The apprentice class that came to the South four hundred years ago is exactly in the same socio-economic standing today. No other immigrant group in America can claim such a lack of upward mobility. 

 

Why wear a cowboy hat if you don’t have any cattle?

 

Republicans don’t always stand up for the little guy. Not like Democrats are much better. 

 

No one loves the welfare state, but not every citizen has the same abilities and advantages in life. And you have more of those people. 

 

Jews are not inherently evil. And they don’t have horns and eat Christian babies. 

 

Canada may be America’s hat, but Mexico is not America’s colon. 

 

We won the war, and we’ll win again if you want to have another go at it.

 

The Northeast and the Midwest have produced more serial killers than the South. o you’ve got that going for you.

 

California really is nice, thus, the people are nice. Even if all that sun and weed tweaks their brains. 

 

Thomas Jefferson freed his slaves before he died. And slavery is still illegal in America.

 

Meth is bad. We’ve got it here too, but we don’t call it hillbilly heroin. 

 

Being a patriot makes you a good citizen . Being a violent xenophobe while cloaked in the flag doesn’t make you a good citizen. 

 

One man’s grits is another man’s polenta. 

 

God loves everybody. At least that’s what she tells us. 

 

The Washington Senators

Hey Chip!

Chip!

You ever see the Washington Senators?

No, me either.

They died before we were born

only to be resurrected

and become two other teams

and then they came back as their mediocre self

only to crumble into another franchise.

Big Train pitched for them, Chip.

I wished we coulda seen him.

He pitched for years

before he ever made it to the World Serious

i mean Series

Seriously,

Walter Johnson probably broke a lot of barn doors

with that fastball.

I dunno, Chip

I dunno, Chip,

The beauty of it all

Baseball, I mean.

I just watched a shortstop make an unreal play

Like a ballerina

Without the make-up.

I wish they played it

Three-hundred-sixty games a year

I guess I could go to Santo Domingo

To watch winter ball

They play their asses off down there

But maybe the magic would dissipate

And I would have to become a sports writer

To be able to see baseball on boxing day.

 

this is a baseball

Chip,

 this is a baseball.

the baseball game is one of the best things ever given to mankind

prometheus ascended a mountain to grab fire

only to be over wrought with eternal pain

he should have found a baseball

and a sandlot

with 17 friends,

or 15, if you want to cut off right field.

you should have played with us

in the beauty of Prospect Park

a bigger ball, sure,

but it don’t come at you so quickly

as a Walter Johnson heater

Chip

pay attention to the game

and woe to you when it’s gone

like hornsby said

he just waits for spring

to play baseball again

everything else is bunk.

Sandy Koufax

What about Sandy Koufax, Chip?

Like Jesus, he is Jewish

Wouldn’t pitch game one  of the World Series

Because of the high holy days

Hank Greenberg did the same thing

And Durocher yelled at him.

But Sandy Braun, that was he real last name

He grew up in Brooklyn

You know how I like Brooklyn, Chip.

Then he gets to play with the Dodgers

Only he stinks up the joint

Bonus baby and all

And walks as many as he strikes out.

No control, but blazing fastball

Nineteen-sixty-three, he starts to dominate

Striking out almost as many people

As there are  days in the year.

That mensch struck out

Two thousand three hundred ninety-six batters

And he retired when he was thirty.

 

The Long Relief Pitcher

The long relief pitcher, Chip.

Is there any other athletic position less glorified?

Maybe a football nose tackle

Or someone running with a strange stick

On a lacrosse field.

But the long-innings guy,

You gotta feel for him.

He was probably a star in his high-school team

And had grandiose hopes

Of becoming a star in the bigs

You gotta think big, Chip.

Aim for the asteroid belt

And if you hit a cumulus cloud

You’ve done better than most of us.

 

The long man on the staff

He is in a strange position

His coaches don’t think he has the starter stuff

And can’t blow past the other team

In the ninth inning.

He waits in limbo

Silently hoping a starter goes down

So he can go out every fifth day

But that opportunity rarely comes.

He settles to toil in innings

Where his team is well ahead

Or hopelessly behind.

The molasses games of August

When your team is down

Thirteen to one

In the sixth

That’s when he heavy heat strikes down

To describe your position as a pitcher.

They don’t get the glory

But at least it’s baseball.