Songs About Cities By People Who Lived There

It’s Thanksgiving, so that means travel. And travel means cities, and, if you’re flying, probably getting stuck in some city or another while the weather clears. So here’s a playlist of excellent artists who wrote songs about their hometown. It could be an interesting study in cultural anthropology, or maybe just something to take your mind off the long wintry waits. The journey makes a big circle starting in Chicago, moving clockwise and ending in Seattle.

Chicago – Common – “Chi City”

Detroit – MC5 – “Motor City is Burning”

Philly – Jakk Frost – “Philly Love”

Boston – Dresden Dolls – “Boston”

New York – Lou Reed – “Talk A Walk on the Wild Side”

Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City”

Baltimore – Frank Zappa – “What’s New in Baltimore?”

DC – Bad Brains – “Banned in DC”

Atlanta – Allman Bros – Hot ‘Lanta (Yeah they were from Macon, but definitely stomped some ground in Atlanta).

Houston – ZZ Top – “Heaven, Hell, or Houston”

Austin – Guy Clark – “Dublin Blues”

Dallas – Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Dallas After Midnight”

Memphis – Elvis – “Memphis Tennessee” (Didn’t write it, but lived it.)

St Louis – Chuck Berry – “St Louis Blues”

Denver – Yonder Mountain String Band – “40 Miles from Denver”

Vegas – Brandon Flowers – “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” (The Killers frontman is from Vegas)

LA – NWA – “Straight Outta Compton”

San Francisco – Foxygen – “San Francisco”

Portland – The Decemberists – “Rise to Me” (Around the time this song came out, there was a huge Blazers billboard over the train tracks at the Rose Quarter that said “Rise With Us”)

Seattle – Neko Case – “The Needle Has Landed” (Poor Spanaway – Case spent the second leg of her early days in Seattle).


Musical Watershed Moments (Long, but worth it)

It’s been fun and exciting to notice my musical tastes changing lately. It has happened without my asking, but I will take credit/responsibility for the direction I’m going.

I think it started with Lou Reed’s death last month. It affected me a lot and I realized what I’d been missing in his energetic and unconventional sounds.


Or maybe it started in college in 2004 when I heard “Black Dog” in my friend Aaron’s dorm room and just could not believe my ears. That led to all of Zeppelin, the Stones, Floyd, Hendrix, Doors, Allmans, the works.




 Or it could have been the time in high school in 1999 while we were researching in debate class and my friend Amarie played NOFX – on really cheap portable speakers – but it just sounded so exciting and edgy and original. This got me into Anti-Flag, MXPX, Bad Religion, Bouncing Souls, RX Bandits, Pennywise, and Rancid. Her debate partner Brian also had a Rage Against the Machine sticker and an upside down American flag on his main filing tub of debate cases. Maybe that was it.



 Or maybe it was when I was 8 or 9 and my Dad played Tusk on his awesome old speakers in our mobile home and it literally shook the floor.



 I’m not sure when my love for a forward-posture, hard-charging, edgy, energetic, intelligent music REALLY began. But for whatever reason, I’m 29 now and am rediscovering all of these musical roots I have. And I’m ready to open myself up to the newest development in my musical journey and see what new direction unfolds.


 But wait!


Haven’t I been something of an Americana aficionado (my wife’s words, not mine) in the last five years or so? Isn’t this blog pretty much all about that?


Well…. yeah. That too.


That all started when I saw Hayes Carll open for the Old 97s in summer 2008 and, again, could not believe my ears. He was hilarious, wry, unkempt, irreverent, AWESOME. Having been raised on Garth Brooks and Shania Twain I didn’t know country music could be like that. That led me to The Highwaymen and Townes Van Zandt and Cash, Cash, Cash and the Crazy Heart Soundtrack.


Then while we were living in Rwanda  my friend Jacob brought back the Low Anthem, Joe Pug, and the Avett Bros from one of his trips home. And I thought “hey, that sounds kind of like all this old country, but it’s like, fresh! Those harmonies, wow.”





Then there was the time that my boss/bandmate/friend was moving back to America and gave me Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years and my wife listened to it and said it was something special. It was, and it got me through 5 weeks living alone in Rwanda while she lived back in the states, pregnant.



 So there was born my love for sad folk and harmony-filled Americana. It made me feel at home, or replaced a feeling that was missing in the present. After Josh Ritter came  Andrew Bird, the Head and the Heart, Dave Rawlings Machine, the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack, Tanya Tucker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Willie Nelson, John Prine, and what you’ve been seeing lately – Lucius, Deer Tick, Gregory Alan Isakov, Wild Feathers, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Spirit Family Reunion, etc.


But then Lou Reed died. And while I always enjoyed/respected his stuff, I didn’t really become borderline-obsessed with it until he died and all the features and tributes came pouring in. (You never know what you’ve got til it’s gone, said every folk song ever).


I became obsessed with his pioneering sound, his honesty, his total disregard for convention. And it made me realize how much he had influenced music and how much he represents rock n roll.


And then I realized – wait – Lou Reed isn’t a folk musician. Not even close. He despised California and the Laurel Canyon and Haight Street.


And then I realized that I don’t have to FEEL FEEL FEEL and be SAD SAD SAD in order to absolutely love a certain piece of music. Joel Freimark of The Daily Guru totally affirms that as well. I love his vlog, the fast-paced intelligent music analysis, and the energy that just doesn’t stop. And his theme song by Wirepony is freakin’ great.


So I’ve learned that best music isn’t necessarily what reminds me of all the romanticized parts of home and what makes me feel like my “old self.” Apparently I also enjoy music that pushes me forward as a person, that makes a little uncomfortable, makes me stretch a little.  I can get back to enjoying music with a more healthy mental and emotional integration that reaches out instead of always trying to reach back for that perfect nostalgic feeling.


Even though a big-feelings nostalgic song is awesome, other less nostalgic songs can be awesome too. Sometimes even more so. And the less folky nostalgic stuff helps me live eyes-open in the present more, which is exciting.


So here we are. Turning leaves. Growing – with new local Portland artists like the Woolen Men, Brooklyn train-station buskers like Moon Hooch and basically-new-to-me legends like Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop.


And, for my Dad, Kansas.


Carry on!

Top Ten Tracks for the Week (100th Post!)

Going in a bit of a different direction these days. Quite fitting for the hundredth post! We must evolve.

Less Americana and folk lately, more gritty, buzzy instrumentation and energetic vocals. Closer to my punk roots. It’s somewhat genre-defying, but very very appealing.

1. TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me

I absolutely love the energy in this performance.


2. The Woolen Men – Hold It Up


3. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built


4. Moon Hooch – Number 9


5. Allah-Las – Busman’s Holiday


6. The Black Keys feat. RZA – The Baddest Man Alive


7. Nick Waterhouse – Some Place


8. The Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting for the Man


9. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life


10. Jack White – I’m Shakin’

Dear Humming House

Hey, Humming House, you guys just earned yourself a feature!

You have made your presence known, I have listened to your music, and I like it! I downloaded your live session via Noisetrade and thought it was awesome.

You’ve got a bright fiddle, tight harmonies and vocals ranging from Andrew Bird to Brittany Howard. Your cover of Ain’t No Sunshine is thrilling, and I haven’t heard an Americana-infused cover of that one, so good on you.

Looking forward to seeing more – maybe you can mosey on over to the PNW.

Baby take my hand…


Jason Isbell, wow. His voice just knocks the breath out of me. My new obsession. I have been reading all year about how Southeastern has gotten rave reviews, but nothing ever really grabbed me. But then I got an intimate Daytrotter session with him today, and that was it. I actually heard his lyrics, felt the power in his voice. Incredible performer, incredible album.