Friday Jam: Band of Heathens – L.A. County Blues

When it’s in my head, I hum the chorus constantly, and always find the song so soulful, refreshing and energetic. For some reason today I’m thinking of springtime and baseball, and, while the line “mint juleps in the outfield grass / the old south tastes so sweet” is really about horse racing and the Kentucky Derby, I’ll take whatever happy vibes I can get here in the wintry mess of January. Really nice bluesy solos too.

Band of Heathens – L.A. County Blues (for Hunter S. Thompson)

I was never one for compromise
I couldn’t fit at school
Gonzo by the seventh grade
I played them all the fool
I couldn’t find shoes my size, had to walk ten miles
Blisters on the backs of my soul and an illegal smile

They’re burning down Las Vegas Town, had to sleep by noon
Drank my money on a red roulette – that’s’ a ride you can’t refuse
Five hours down with a sunrise frown, lightning in your shoes
It’s one foot in the ether with the LA County blues

They got me on accessory
Thirty days in jail
One headlight in a Louisville night
Without a chance at bail
But I’ll be home by derby time
So please save me a seat
Mint Juleps on the outfield grass
The old south tastes so sweet

They’re burning down Las Vegas Town, had to sleep by noon
Drank my money on a red roulette – that’s’ a ride you can’t refuse
Five hours down with a sunrise frown, lightning in your shoes
It’s one foot in the ether with the LA County blues

Well you can call me Mr. Raoul Duke
I’ll know what you mean
Blinded by a quart of rum
And a dose of mescaline
The Mint 400 didn’t slow me down
I kinda like the speed
The failure of our generation
For a couple bags of weed.

They’re burning down Las Vegas Town, had to sleep by noon
Drank my money on a red roulette – that’s’ a ride you can’t refuse
Five hours down with a sunrise frown, lightning in your shoes
It’s one foot in the ether with the LA County blues

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Pete Seeger on the Johnny Cash Show

I probably won’t post again about Pete Seeger, but this video is too good not to share. He plays a 100-year old fretless banjo, sings a song about high britches and high water, a beautiful dirge-like tune from the 1830s about Chief Osceola, and then the two duet on “It Takes A Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song” as the crowd claps along. Truly amazing to see two legends interacting so casually and memorably.

Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

Pete Seeger has died. It is amazing to me that he lived 94 years. This would make him old enough to have been my great-grandfather.  I wish I had been able to meet him, shake his hand, have a conversation with him. Maybe we still will.

This piece from October 2012 is the latest thing about Pete Seeger that really left me awestruck. Even in his nineties he would regularly be found splitting wood behind his house, writing songs about it, putting on free concerts and showing up at elementary schools to teach children about music and tell stories. A poet friend of mine who lived  during the 60s emailed me to tell me Pete died – in the email he said that, to him, Pete always seemed indestructible. I get that. It did seem like, after all he experienced in his life and the incredible music and visionary inspiration he brought to millions, he might simply never die.

But as all things must pass, all things must also come to an end. His body lies in repose, but his music lives on, not just in his dozens of recordings, but in the spirit of the folk revival we’re seeing today, in Bruce Springsteen’s later-career turn to folk and historic American ballads, in the anti-war community (albeit dwindling), and in the desire to be simple, to be free, and, like his famous “machine,” to surround hate and force it to surrender.

Rest in Peace, Pete.

“I would really rather put a song on people’s lips than in their ears.” – Pete Seeger

Everything about the band Cake is great. They developed the most original sound of the mid 90s and have stayed the course for over 20 years. I like a lot of other bands better and have listened to them more, but Cake definitely stands out as an absolutely original and authentic sound from my teen years right up today. Here’s why.

Originality.

Now that I’ve used the word twice in my opening paragraph, let’s roll with this concept. What other bands sounded like Cake before they came on the scene? None. Who has copied them to try to get a slice of the pie? No one. Because no one can. Beck and the Presidents of the United States were the only mainstream acts at the time that were even remotely similar. And they were still not at all the same, because why? Cake will be what Cake will be and we need only reck-a-nize.

10 years ago I was into emo and suffered through the My Chemical Romance/Fall Out Boy/Panic! at the Disco indistinguishable pablom. Even now if you Google the lyrics “I swear haven’t you people ever heard of closing the goddamn door” the first result tells you it is a Fall Out Boy song, when it is a Panic! song. For serious.  This is not a problem with Cake. No one has lyrics that good, or a sound that distinct. And really, trumpets and vibraslap. Vibraslap!! Ain’t no body else even trying to go there.

(As an aside, regarding Panic! at the Disco – what is it about bands from Las Vegas that are kind of weird and macho, blow up culturally everywhere but have a sound I just can’t stand? They and Imagine Dragons would be two other examples of bands from Vegas that I wish would just go away forever. I wish the same for Avicii and Bastille but that’s for a different post about the condition of current Europop. Also, the Killers, though they are from Las Vegas, do not count because The Killers. Enough said.)

Being an indie band before it was a thing, but getting massive radio play.

None of this new self-righteous “oh, we’re awesome BECAUSE we don’t get radio airplay. We’re true to ourselves.” Well, Cake was true to themselves, still is, and still punched up successful single after successful single. What they didn’t do was try to squeeze out more records or singles just because of their name and in-the-moment popularity. When bands do that, they will always fail. For Cake it was always about making an incredible song, and when they didn’t have an incredible song, you didn’t hear them on the radio. Simple as that. Name one Cake song that flopped. Can’t be done.  Weezer also succeeded at this, until they released “Beverly Hills” which is a pox on all things good and true.

Achieving cultural staying power without succumbing to the death-by-repetition rule.

In , like, I don’t know, all of their songs. They stay in your head. Everyone knows them, but they don’t become known FOR BEING overplayed (as opposed to Eiffel 65 or The Baha Men). Short Skirt Long Jacket? Yep, stuck in my head forever, and I still love the song. The Distance? Yeah, I WANT that in my head as often as possible, please.

Doing cool things outside of their claimed genre (whatever it is) just because (i.e. Mountain Stage).

Back in 2010-2011 we used to listen to Mountain Stage a lot, like every weekend, sometimes twice in a weekend. We lived overseas and Voice of America would air the show from the previous week, and it was one of the only lifelines by which we could feel connected back to home. We listened mainly for the bluegrass and Americana newcomers, and the awesome country pioneers like members of the Carter Family or Doc Watson before he died.

And then one day, the last guest, with the longest set, was none other than Cake. To my estimation this defied all logic for the traditional programming of Mountain Stage and it made me laugh just hearing that they were on the bill. But their set was funny, peppy, quirky, interactive, and the crowd seemed to love it even though it was in no way similar to what usually is featured on the program. (That show also included Old 97s and Hayes Carll, two of our absolute favorites, and the original reason we were listening).

Cake on Mountain Stage

Touring with a huge diversity of supporting artists, or not with any supporting artists.

I would accept a tour with Cake and Calexico, or Cake and Beck, or all three. But that doesn’t mean they have to tour together. Last year Cake did the Sasquatch Festival that had Mumford and Sons and Macklemore headlining. They really weren’t top of the bill at all, but does that matter? Nope.

They also played the Doug Fir for two nights, with no opening acts. Just them. Because they can hold that down and not just because they’re on a “golden years” tour or something.

So there you go. Listen to more Cake. You’ll thank yourself.

5 Reasons Why Cake’s Music is Awesome.

Two Happy Songs I Can’t Get Out of My Head

Dr Dog’s “Broken Heart” and William Onyeabor’s “Atomic Bomb.”

Dr Dog is doing an Edward Sharpe-y  infectious upbeat unconventional roots-pop thing and William Onyeabor is a Nigerian disco-funk master from the 1970s who just released the only official collection of his works to come out in the 21st century.

If “Broken Heart” really is about a break-up it’s the peppiest, happiest breakup song there ever was.

And I could play “Atomic Bomb” endlessly. It has a mix of reggae/ethereal holy roller soul vocals overlaid on this incredibly trippy psychedelic dancehall beat. Pretty much the perfect backdrop for anything you might be doing this fine January Tuesday.

Enjoy. 

 

St Vincent Is Awesome

Hurray for talented artists from Dallas!

I wrote last year about local artists from my old stomping ground that I still enjoy. That list is short, and pretty much all of them have not gained nationwide appeal. Dallas just isn’t a place that inspires a lot of legitimate music.

So when I started hearing about St. Vincent’s new album I was definitely digging the sound, though not totally sold until I heard that she (Annie Clark) is from not too far from where I was born.

I think she’s got one of the more unique sounds of the computer-music age. It’s kind of quirky, squashy, crunchy (not in a granola way), the minimoog bass and horns/horn samples/horn-like-sounds are like of one of those contraptions from the Grinch) and then her guitar brings a grittiness that works. In her own words, you have “The feel of a human but the sound of a machine.”

Check out “Digital Witness,” the first single, here. St. Vincent comes out on February 25th.

 

Musical Solidarity and Compassion for the Continuing War on Poverty

Today is the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s famous inaugural address in which he declared a War on Poverty, which culminated in Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and an expansion of Social Security from the New Deal. While we have made progress in a lot of areas, compared to what would have happened without those programs (explained here with a nice graphic), we still have over 40 million Americans fighting through the grittiness, blight, and despair of poverty every day. People don’t have enough food. Their kids’ clothes are too small. Two jobs just isn’t paying rent every month. Medical debt becomes insurmountable. It’s real. I myself am not that far from it, with many members of my extended family on public assistance for as long as I can remember, and having myself left food stamps behind only about six months ago.

So the need for solidarity, strategic policy and expanded assistance remains. I think music can build that solidarity and help compassion grow. “We Shall Overcome” is only one example of a song that helped launch an entire movement that changed the country for the better. If a person’s or group’s story can come to life for us, we begin to care. And when we begin to care, we begin to notice and act. Here’s a few selections that highlight the stories, strength, and resolve of America’s poor through the last half century or so.

Brother Can You Spare a Dime? – Bing Crosby

With lyrics from the historic poem by Jay Gorney, here is one crooner’s  take on a poor man’s pleading from the Great Depression. (Better than Crooner Christmas, I promise) 

They used to tell me I was building a dream
And so I followed the mob
When there was earth to plow or guns to bear
I was always there, right on the job

They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen

I was first introduced to this one via Rage Against the Machine’s cover. At that time I thought Bruce was basically mainstream 80s radio power pop (all because of Born in the USA). I now know much better. Grapes of Wrath, if you can get through it, is one of the most stark, painful, and exquisite representations of poverty in America.

“Got a one-way ticket to the promised land 
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand 
Sleepin’ on a pillow of solid rock 
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct”

Fanfare for the Common Man – Aaron Copland

This one’s instrumental, a stirring tribute to the people and causes Copland championed. His organizing work eventually found him blacklisted by the likes of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn.

This Land is Your Land – The Nightwatchman with Anti-Flag

I didn’t know about the additional lyrics to this until I saw The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello) in 2007. Very enlightening to Woody Guthrie’s visionary writing.

As I went walking I saw a sign there 
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.” 
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, 
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, 
By the relief office I seen my people; 
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me?

h/t Huffington Post