Holiday (September 11-17, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am on a Billie Holiday tear. John Szwed’s revelatory book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth is the culprit. Szwed’s intent–to strip away calcified notions about the great singer, examine the concrete artifacts (musical, literary, historical), close-listen to her art and rebuild a fuller, more complex and authentic picture of her–is pretty largely realized (though Szwed admits to mysteries that are unlikely to be successfully parsed), and the book’s clearly and passionately written as well. Among the many surprises is Szwed’s “rehabilitation” of Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday’s memoir written with (some say by) William Dufty; of course, I’m about to crack it today after years of turning my nose up at it due to its professed disconnection from truth. Also, I loaded the CD changer with multiple Holiday disks, primarily my favorites from Columbia’s Essential series and the argument-starter Lady in Satin.

Listening to Holiday for hours on end Friday, I thought back to an experience I once had in the classroom. We were reading a text that featured a lynching, and I thought my students might be stimulated to interesting thoughts and feelings by Holiday’s studio version of “Strange Fruit.” These were 10th graders who had not previously succeeded in English, and they’d self-segregated themselves when choosing seats on the first day; the class was roughly 50% white kids and kids of color. For my part, I was utterly convinced the Holiday was not only the greatest jazz singer of all-time, but impossible to dislike; I was equally convinced the subject matter would be powerful to both “halves” of the population.

I played the track on a clunky portable CD player I’d checked out from the media center, but the sound was pretty good. “Strange Fruit,” in the unlikely case you haven’t heard it, does not exactly produce exuberant moods in the listener. It creeps out of the speakers and its horror unfolds funereally—Holiday doesn’t enter until relatively late, and this delay had the students looking quizzically at each other: “Did dude play the right track?” Also, pre-WWII jazz was not and is not high schoolers’ music of choice; I sensed a stiffening in the ranks. But then Billie took over, and the students’ turned their eyes to the song’s lyrics, which I’d copied for them. I was hypnotized by the precision of her delivery as it was applied to the subject matter–and of course, since I was still a green idiot, I assumed they were, too.

I paused a couple of beats after the song ended, then launched a very broad query: “So, what did you think of her singing?”

“SHE’S THE WORST SINGER I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!!!”

The answer, yelled angrily by one of my quietest students, a young lady named Toni, froze me in my pedagogical tracks. I am sure my eyes bugged, and that my jaw slackened. I had been punched in the face, and I’d been leaning into the punch to begin with. Sadly, I was also expecting that, since she was a woman of color, she had to like Holiday’s singing. (I’ve evolved.)

I was so stunned that I have little recollection of my response. I ‘d become reasonably reliable in dignifying students’ responses (that now sounds to me like a condescending enterprise), so I’m sure I tried to figure out, or have her help me figure out, what she meant, but she was adamant, much snickering abounded, and the next thing I clearly remember is getting (desperately) to the actual lesson. But later, at home, I sniffed to Nicole, “The kid thought Billie Holiday was the worst singer she’d ever heard–can you believe that?”

So what’s the point? Well, Szwed’s sharp analysis of Holiday’s hard-to-pinpoint style makes clear that Holiday was not always easy on the ear: her delivery was frequently sharp, raspy, crying. Her timing was consistently eye- and ear-popping, but that’s a subtler thing to hear unless perhaps you’re a musician yourself. It occurred to me that, actually, young Toni was in fact listening intelligently and had no need of her response being dignified. From a reasonable perspective, her assessment had an anchor in fact–well, not that she was a horrible singer, but that, in the context of what Toni had listened to, the worst she’d heard. 28 years later is not a satisfactory response time for recognizing a teaching mistake–but better extremely late than never. Sorry, Toni! (We’re Facebook friends.)

Tony's

Friday nights, Nicole and I often head out to Tony’s Pizza Palace, a family-owned pizza joint we’ve been patronizing for most of our nearly 30 years together. We always sit in the booth that abuts the window with a bullet or pellet hole in it (look closely at the above photo and you can spot it). We always order a cold pitcher of Bud, two small Greek salads, and a Tony’s Special (green pepper and sausage). We always get a little caught up with the server, and check in with the head honcho, a charming young man named Daniel whom I taught the same year as Toni, featured above. Then we grab an additional libation, go back home, sprawl out on the couch, and meditate upon three of four specially selected tracks. It’s relaxing, stimulating, fun, and the perfect transition into the weekend. True to form, we followed our ritual last Friday, and selected the following three tracks, the first two of which we’ve worn out in the past, the third indicating I still couldn’t get Szwed and Lady Day off my mind.

To evoke our beloved NOLA, and to electrify our ears, minds and bodies:

To revisit a romantic favorite from our days of penury:

To engage with pure desolation–but also with an alert artistic mind at the end of its rope:

 

During the weekend, I chose to explore the work of a young Chicago MC one of my current students had begged me to check out. Perhaps still feeling guilty from my earlier revelation, my conscience was the driver, but this young lady, from Oklahoma City by way of Salt Lake City, was, like Toni, right (only less problematically). I loved her recommendation so much I bought some of the artist’s work. She goes by the handle of Noname, and she’s something–smart, mischievous, funny, and skilled. I’ll go out an a limb and say she’s gonna be a star. Thanks for the tip, Juniper!

The new one (soon to appear way up on my annual list):

The previous one:

 

Coming attractions: I’ve assigned my comp class the following listening, reading and viewing for our next semi-Socratic (you’ll recall my reportage on our Mitski’s Be the Cowboy lesson last post). Feel free to engage if you need some homework!

How Dev Hynes Became a Miracle Worker for R.&B., Pop, and Everything Else You Can Imagine (Lizzy Goodman, New York Times Magazine)

Premature Evaluation: Blood Orange, ‘Negro Swan’  (Briana Younger, Stereogum)

Blood Orange builds a refuge for black stories on the exquisite Negro Swan (Judnick Mayard, The Onion AV Club)

 

 

 

In the Classroom, With The Dogg, and Between the Pages (September 3-10, 2018, Columbia, Mo)

I am constantly tweaking my teaching strategies for my freshman comp/pop music class at Stephens College. Thinking about data-based questions, I stumbled upon what I thought would be a stimulating lesson plan:

1) zero them in on an artist with fresh work out, and ask them to sample the entire album;

2) ask the kids to read some new and quality reviews and/or features on the artist;

3) funnel them to some good and recent performance and video clips of the artist;

4) ask them to annotate as they explore, listen, think, and reflect;

5) convene for a kind of Socratic seminar, with the above serving as the data.

Actually, the lesson was pretty successful. Since we’re a women’s college, I thought Mitski and her new album Be the Cowboy would be an ideal subject. The young woman’s an intense singer, a talented writer and musician, and loves to mine her (justifiably, I feel) turbulent emotional life for material. Myself, I like her and her new album very much, but, honestly, that had nothing to do with my choice: I simply thought it would be reliably stimulating for my class of 18.

It was. But. A few students responded very positively and strongly to her work; a few (not necessarily the same few) skillfully used evidence and analysis to back up their opinions; most, however, found her a little much. What did that mean? All over the place musically (I was thinking that range was more a tour de force, if not more simply the artist matching setting with material, as were a couple kids; most wanted a groove). Providing too much information (for example, there is a masturbation line) and relying too much on lyrics. Not being chill enough. And–this was probably the most interesting thread of the conversation–cannily packaging herself as having a foot in pop and a foot in avant garde in order to be easily commodified, for the convenience of consumers, with Urban Outfitters. As you might be suspecting, we have a passionate anti-capitalist in the house, which I am enjoying immensely, but, while she accused the writers of the three articles I’d assigned them of “fellating” Mitski with no real supporting arguments (unfair in some ways, though none of the writers did supply any caveats or constructive criticism about her work), the student herself had a little trouble supplying specific support for her own attack. Since one of my ulterior motives was getting them to effectively substantiate their contentions–or at least start practicing same–perhaps the ensuing provided an obvious model of what to avoid. I don’t know, but I’m always surprised to find in this course that, often, women hold female artists to a very (too?) high standard. I’ll have to continue letting that phenomenon marinate.

I was very encouraged by a very quiet student’s lone contribution, though, which followed the above barrage: “You know, she’s a very young artist. Shouldn’t the fact that she’s still developing earn her some room to be messy?” (Yes.)

 

HOT TAKE: Swamp Dogg’s superbly titled Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune is one of the best–and the strangest–r&b records of the year. Only The Dogg could take Auto-Tune and make something deep out of it–except that it really appears to have been Justin Vernon’s idea (why, Lord, why?), so that hurts, but I have to admit it works, and Swamp’s the show. His songs, lyrically speaking, aren’t as eccentric as usual (“Sex with Your Ex” the exception)–in fact, the covers are among the brightest highlights–but the shot of loneliness and alienation with which the much-maligned effect injects them is…a word I never thought I’d use in connection with Bon Iver…POWERFUL. Great cover art and liner notes, as one would expect.

 

Otherwise this week, I indulged in some very, very good music-related reading. Sam Anderson’s wild and wonderful Boom Town focuses on Mr. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips as one exemplar of the spirit of his subject, Oklahoma City. I’m not a huge fan of Coyne or his group (though seeing them when they were just kids was a trip), but Anderson makes a convincing case that to understand the city and its travails and aspirations, you have to consider them. Elsewhere, a star weatherman, the OKC Thunder, and several “city visionaries” flesh out his analysis. This is one of the very best books I’ve read this year, and it’s as much about us as it is about Oklahoma City, looked at a certain way.

Playing Changes

More exclusively about music is Nate Chinen’s Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century. A test any music book must pass with me is, “Does it hurt my wallet by sending me to stuff I never knew about or unfairly dismissed?” Well, technically, with Apple Music, I don’t have to fork over any green, though that’s a sad fact I’ve addressed elsewhere and don’t feel like going into here. Chinen’s book easily passes the test; as I read, I constructed a playlist from the chapters’ subjects and his extensive discography that will take me until the middle of the next decade to fully absorb. The main thing it did for me is pry me out of my stubbornly resistant attitude toward jazz that’s flavored by new-millennium r&b and hip hop. Examples: Robert Glasper, Snarky Puppy (shitty band names can hurt a group!), and Lalah Hathaway, all of whom Chinen induced me to like). He’s also great in chapters on jazz education and international influence, innovation and practice, but I pouted when I realized he would not be including Scandinavia or Portugal in the latter discussion. I am biased, but how he could skip over Joe McPhee in looking at the role of “the new mentors” in the transfer of methods and ideas to the new generation leaves me nonplussed.

 

An article about Jelly Roll Morton showed up in my feed, courtesy of (hmmm) The Wall Street Journal: “Plotting His Way Into Jazz History.” John Edward Hasse, a writer previously unknown to me, presents Morton as “jazz’s first theorist,” which I’d heard argued before, but he hooked me with this paragraph–I don’t play an instrument, so I can’t initially hear this stuff when I listen to jazz:

“…Morton took on several problems. In just over three minutes, how do you create interest and drama? In a musical style taking shape, how do you prove the full potential of jazz to integrate the planned with the spontaneous, the notated with the improvised?”

Even better is how Hasse succinctly explains Morton’s solutions (exemplified in the classic “Black Bottom Stomp”)…but read the article yourself for that. Suffice it to say that I went straight from reading the article to JSP’s great Morton box set and Wynton Marsalis’ Morton tribute, Mr. Jelly Lord, my favorite record by my favorite musical tight-ass. Why? Well, the band is effin’ cream: Don Vappie on banjo and guitar, Dr. Michael White on clarinet, Herlin Riley on drum kit, Wycliffe Gordon on ‘bone, tuba, and trumpet, and Marsalis himself as loose and playful (and masterful) as you’re gonna hear him. Did you ever wonder if Harry Connick, Jr., ever really applied on record anything he learned from James Booker? He does here, and does justice to his mentor. The selections are perfect and often surprising (“Big Lip Blues,” for example), and the arrangements, execution, and production do not embalm them. And you get lagniappe in the true NOLA fashion, with Wynton and pianist Eric Reed nailing “Tomcat Blues” via wax cylinder from the Edison Museum:

 

I swear, right now books are like heroin to me (yes, I listened to the Gun Club this week). I should count myself lucky. I also picked up John Szwed’s Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth, which sets out to vaunt the former and puncture the latter. It’s note-perfect in doing so thus far, and has convinced me that I do too need to to read Lady Sings the Blues. I didn’t know Billie made it to film at 19, singing an Ellington song with Duke backing her and already exhibiting the mastery that would make her legendary. She begins singing at about the 4:40 mark:

Szwed also wrote the best book yet on Sun Ra. Check him out.

Short-shrift Division:

David Virelles: Mboko (WOW!!!!!!)

The Gun Club: The Fire of Love

Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (expanded edition)

George Coleman: Live at Yoshi’s

Robert Glasper: Black Radio

Lalah Hathaway (feat. Snarky Puppy), “Something” (ZOINKS!!!)

 

 

My Favorite Records from 2018, Two-Thirds the Way Outta Here (plus a middling report on and issuance from my sluggish writing mojo) (September 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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My goal for blogging every day about my listening adventures has been blown to smithereens. We went on a long trip this summer, I was (happily, at least) jolted out of my daily rhythm, when we returned I began assaulting myself with the same old aggravating questions (why are you doing this? for whom? does the world need another music blog? you do realize you ain’t got beans to say, right)–and lo and behold, we’re in September and I haven’t posted for over a week–just three-four times in the last month.

 

It’s not like I haven’t been listening to music:

I indulged myself and bought some physical music from the great Chicago-by-way-of-Gary electronic visionary JLin, in anticipation of her new album, Autobiography, due near the end of this month. I am normally not a big fan of so-called EDM but lordy, her sounds just hypnotize me. She’s a young master of tone, rhythmic disruption, and ugly beauty. And you can dance to her. Far as the physical media goes? I just wanted to give her more money to make music with…

Hardee

As a longtime devoted fan of the multi-reed magic of James Carter, I’ve long wondered about the Texas tenor John Hardee, whose composition “Lunatic” Carter covered back when he was a wunderkind. I managed to snag the above comp, which I’d never seen before, after trying to track down a source for Fresh Sounds releases; if you still buy CDs for some reason, I recommend it to you, as it specializes in reissues that might not even be streaming, if you can imagine that. Unsurprisingly, when you lay an ear to Hardee’s playing, you can hear what attracted Carter to it: it’s confidently lubricious, cool, controlled and randy all at the same time.

McPhee

Speaking of saxophone, I love unabashedly such jazz records that explore black spiritual music (David Murray’s Spirituals and Archie Shepp’s Goin’ Home spring immediately to mind). I am an atheist, but I freely admit I get power, hope, and motivation from the best of these works. I’ve perhaps overdocumented on this blog that I think very highly of the free (but sometimes deceptively not) Poughkeepsie hornman and sensei Joe McPhee, a man whose catalog is impossible to touch the bottom of without a couple of oxygen tanks. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that McPhee released his own gospel record, nor was I surprised that it is ravishingly soulful without any compromising of the man’s improvisational principles. Whether he’s on reeds or brass–he speaks very clearly. Guess what? No YouTube. Also, I had to resort to SoulSeek. Just sayin’.

 

Welp, that’s it for recent listening I’m currently compelled to showcase. At least I’ve been keeping track of the albums from this calendar year that I am enjoying. We’re 67% of the way through this year, and I am going to need these releases to support me up to, through, and past the midterm elections–what records are you leaning on right now? Below are 130 LPs (we can still call them that, because they still play long) the teacher in me’d give a B+ or better. The Top 40, in bold, I’ve played over and over and tend to just get better to my earhole and soul, though a couple of recent releases (like The Necks, Mitski. and Blood Orange) I’m really just wagering that I’ll play over and over. In fact, I’m teaching (in a manner of speaking) Mitski tomorrow in my pop music/freshman comp class.

Note: I may be behind on reissues; I don’t rightly know.

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  5. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  6. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  7. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  8. JD Allen: Love Stone
  9. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  10. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  11. The Internet: Hive Mind
  12. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  13. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  14. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  15. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  16. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  17. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  18. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  19. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  20. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  21. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  22. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  23. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  24. The Necks: Body
  25. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  26. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  27. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  28. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  29. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  30. Pusha T: Daytona
  31. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  32. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  33. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  34. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  35. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  36. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  37. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  38. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  39. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  40. Ivo Perlman and Matthew Shipp: Oneness
  41. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  42. The Thing: Again
  43. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  44. Bombino: Deran
  45. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  46. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  47. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  48. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  49. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  50. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  51. Nas: Nasir
  52. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  53. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  54. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  55. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  56. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  57. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  58. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  59. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  60. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  61. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  62. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  63. Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
  64. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
  65. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  66. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  67. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  68. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  69. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  70. Kiefer: happysad
  71. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  72. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  73. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  74. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  75. Shopping: The Official Body
  76. Young Mothers: Morose
  77. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  78. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  79. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  80. Shame: Songs of Praise
  81. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 2
  82. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  83. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  84. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  85. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  86. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  87. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  88. Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
  89. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  90. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  91. Deaf Wish: Lithium Zion
  92. Jay Rock: Redemption
  93. MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
  94. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  95. Tal National: Tantabara
  96. Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
  97. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  98. Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
  99. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  100. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  101. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  102. Tirzah: Devotion
  103. Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
  104. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  105. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  106. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  107. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  108. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  109. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  110. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  111. Hermit and the Recluse: Orpheus vs. The Sirens
  112. Migos: Culture II
  113. 03 Greedo: God Level
  114. Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
  115. Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  116. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  117. The Carters: Everything is Love
  118. The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  119. Superorganism: Superorganism
  120. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  121. Sleep: The Sciences
  122. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  123. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
  124. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  125. Ammar 808: Maghreb United
  126. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  127. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  128. Nicki Minaj: Queen
  129. Chad Popper: A Popper People
  130. Fantastic Negrito: Please Don’t Be Dead

OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  6. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  7. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  8. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  9. Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
  10. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  11. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  12. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  13. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  14. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  15. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau

Catch as Catch Can (August 20-26, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Hot ‘lanta

This show, besides being engrossing, entertaining, enlightening, and (sorry, no “e” word) challenging, can’t be beat for music. I know you likely know this already, but at least I have finally arrived at the club. It was exerting its influence a week ago, then this week sent this supposed aficionado diving deeper into Florida man Little Beaver’s repertoire, heading to the outskirts of Curtis Mayfield’s just-post-accident work, and seeking to explain Death Grips to my spouse (and convert us both, as I still sit on the fence).

Driven! Driven Driven Driven! To School!

I began teaching last week, and even though it’s a mere five miles round-trip to campus and back, across a week I close-listen to a considerable amount of music. I have referred to the old ’93 Ford Splash as “The Lab” on this blog before; it’s where I really, really study a piece of music, because when I’m in the house I’m extremely likely to be buried in a book or grading or planning or doing a bit of house-husbandry. This week’s “Lab” highlights were as follows:

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook–Look, there’s never been a jazz violinist as dynamic as the late Billy Bang. Parker’s the leader, Hamid Drake’s the drummer, and they are farrrrrr from slouches. But, particularly with the very, very present recording on this Thirsty Ear release, Bang illustrates why the world misses him sorely by ranging across country hoe-down, deep blues, Middle Eastern conjure, mischievous dissonance, and uncategorizable invention. Check it:

John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings–I’ll be honest. I’d only ever programmed around the song selection here to get to the iconic stuff before I just let it play mid-week, and was taught by the master not to do that kind of shit no more. I’d always assumed “Down Child” was just a Hookerian knock-off of the great Sonny Boy Williamson track, which I adore. Um, wrong.

Elvis Costello: Get Happy!–I don’t listen to EC much these days, but I hear he’s ill, and I like to keep such artists in my heart, at least for awhile. He was very important to me at 17: I liked words a lot, he liked words a lot, and could sling them; my heart was underfoot more than occasionally, and he’d identified this thing called “emotional facism.” In short, I was not alone. Critically, this album usually gets ranked pretty low compared to its three predecessors, but you know the deal with critics. I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas when it came out, and it spoke to me like (rather, unlike) a college advisor. This one was mysterious to me then, though, and thus I loved it; now it is plain as day to me, and thus I love it (plus somewhere in the distance he hears The Possum, a mental malady we share):

Oh, yeah, school: here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs my students shared, our first day in class, as songs everyone should listen to.

Death

A couple of friends have stepped on a rainbow of late, and at the end of the week a truly magnificent former student, still much in the bloom of youth, was snatched suddenly by an aneurysm (my sources say).  I know it’s irrational, but the fact that he doesn’t get to be here doing good things and treating humans well while others get to be publicly (and apparently unstoppably) egregious on an hourly basis just twists my fucking knickers. Then things got a bit dark. Then I reached for something–a couple things–old, strong, and loud to hold off the gloom.

Hint to those of you mourning: it works. For awhile. But that might be all the time your mind and heart need.

Hot ‘Lanta Stays Hot

By week’s end, I was still being sent on excavational errands by the got-dang show. I’d worked my way through Little Beaver’s catalog, then my eMusic download subscription came up (sorry, that site sucks and I’m about done with it) and, as usual lately, I was having trouble finding something to buy. Then this–very much carrying on the work of Little Richard and Pat Todd–appeared under the “You might also like…” banner:

I did like. Buoyant.

The Pool

The pool was the first place where music became a regularly active force in my life. I’d shared an essay draft Thursday with my new Stephens students (who, by the way, are awesome and full of music love and ideas for learning) about how my town pool jukebox revolutionized my mind while it was babysitting me:

Phillip Overeem

English 107

Personal Essay (Draft)

August 22, 2018

The Pool

            The city pool was my babysitter when I was a pre-teen. I learned to swim early, I loved the sun, I loved those high boards that the 21st century deems unsafe, and, I admit, I loved chasing girls around. More than anything, though, I loved the jukebox. At that time—the early 1970s—I didn’t own a turntable, and hadn’t become aware of the radio, so a trip to the pool meant a dive into the American Top 40 as well as the deep end. I could neither sing nor dance, but I had ears, and, living in a small town, I heard something spinning off the juke’s 45 RPM records that sounded more alive than anything in my house, neighborhood, or school. Something more alive, and very different.

The only trouble was, the liveliness and difference wasn’t present in every song—not by a long shot. One had to wait for it, or rather, keep one’s ears pricked for it, since one was usually screaming, doing back flips, illegally running, or trying to set personal breath-holding records, especially when one was 12. Generally, what one would tend to hear was something like this (the reader will have to imagine instrumentation and rhythm as “vivid” as these lyrics, likely scribbled in three minutes by Bread’s David Gates):

Baby I’m-a want you
Baby I’m-a need you
You’re the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without
your lovin’ and affection
Givin’ me direction. 

Or might one prefer this gem of deep thought by the band Lobo?

Baby, I’d love you to want me
The way that I want you
The way that it should be
Baby, you’d love me to want you
The way that I want to
If you’d only let it be.

Well, one might. In fact, at my city pool, many did, so many that, in my sleep, I was hearing those grade-school-love-notes-set-to-sappy-music on a loop. However, I could endure 10 straight plays of either of those songs if the 11th song went a little something like this, fromDonald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan (reader, try to put a sing-song melody under these words):

We hear you’re leaving, that’s okay
I thought our little wild time had just begun
I guess you kind of scared yourself, you turn and run
But if you have a change of heart
Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home.

Wait a minute? What’s this “little wild time”? How do you “scare yourself”? Why the heck is it so important that Rikki not lose that dang number? And why does the singer sing it in sinister fashion? I could think for hours about that and not get bored—or get to the bottom of the song. The vocabulary wasn’t Shakespearean, but the situation was a bit complex, especially for a sixth grader. The song was interesting. It was one of several on the box that taught me that life is interesting, and that curiosity about it was fun. I wasn’t exactly getting that in school.

            Don’t get me wrong, though. The attraction wasn’t just about the lyrics. Sometimes my ears could easily wade through 20 songs’ worth of Velveeta cheese to catch just a snippet of a record with pretty ho-hum lyrics that were simply sung like the performer had just won the lottery. Take one of my favorites, “Then Came You,” by the Spinners, featuring an amazing guest appearance by Dionne Warwick: a bouncing piano intro leads into Ms. Warwick jubilantly singing the praises of her beloved, going so far as to admit that “every time I’m near ya / I get that urge to feel ya”—yes, I did find those lyrics interesting. But when she hits the chorus, aided and abetted by the Spinners’ great lead singer Philippe Wynne, her voice, and the song, take off like a 747: “I never knew love before / Then came you”—nothin’ fancy, but delivered in a way that I could feel in my fingers and my toes. I could play it endlessly, or at least until I ran out of dimes, and I had to stop what I was doing, because at the end of the song Warwick and Wynne transform themselves from 747s into twin rockets of rhythmic improvisation. This went beyond interest; this was difference. Nothing—not music, not anything—had gotten to my fingers and toes before. I’d never heard singers just take off and invent, instead of just singing the same chorus lines the same way until the needle lifted. And the texture, the flexibility, the depth, the grit, the yearning in these voices? I’d never heard it anywhere.

            I’d never heard it anywhere, in any form, because I attended an all-white elementary and swam at the city municipal pool, on the west side of town. I didn’t know it yet, but the difference only existed because I had been separated from some particular fellow human beings.

NOTE: I am not finished with my draft—I deliberately left it incomplete for discussion purposes. I’m quite interested in your input, plus I wanted to help stimulate some ideas of your own.

Lo and behold if I didn’t find myself at the local public pool today, slumming, reading Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe, and…well, goddam it, they don’t have jukeboxes anymore, and the satellite fare was uninspiring, so I put the earbuds in and got knocked out by a current next big thing–actually, I don’t think she’s next, and think she’s here. Anyway, now I have a conclusion for my essay!

Here’s what I shared on a FB music group. I’m just gonna plagiarize myself, and we’ll see if the hot take stands up to time’s slot-mouth and squint:

I warmed up to Mitski last year via a KEXP show. I am really liking the new ‘un. I’m picking up a Joni throb-n-trill in her singing, but also her erotics in some of the singing. Also, along with the shifting personae, the musical dynamics are subtle and make a big difference to my concentration. I’m assigning a listening session for my students.

Last ‘Lanta

Did you know there’s an official Spotify playlist for all the stuff that’s been featured on Atlanta‘s soundtrack so far? You probably did, I did not, I passed it on to Nicole, and she’s listened to it at school all week. In case you are slow on the zeitgeist uptake like me, here’s the link, podnahs:

 

 

Scattergories (August 13-18, Columbia, MO)

I continue to struggle to report more frequently, but maybe it’s better if I let things build up. Some areas of my life into which great music wormed its way this week:

Spousal Relations

Nicole and I are two peas in a pod (metaphor not simile), and living with me, she stays pretty up to date on things. Sometimes it might not be her choice. However, she made a discovery this week that made me very happy.  She’s voluntarily given me charge of keeping her vehicle’s iPod full of goodies. Massive folders of New Orleans joys, Memphis grit, and Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows wailings I’ve already built I am not to touch again, but that leaves me about 2.5G. I’d constructed her a rap playlist, vowing to stick to irresistible stuff so she could get her mojo going more easily on her drive out to school. We were riding together when this shuffled out:

Turns out she wasn’t familiar with the Dirt Dog, Big Baby Jesus, the late lamented O…D…to the motherfuckin’ B! Her expression registered both shock and delight at his unchained style (how well I remember the same feeling!). I explained that he reliably stole every track he ever guested on, that he’d stepped on a rainbow–I saw a wave of sadness sweep over her face–and that…well…there’s more where that come from. This very morning we repeat played “Ghetto Superstar” for his bars, and coming soon will be his levitation of “Woo Hah! Got You All in Check!” on the remix tip.

We also followed our informal Friday night ritual of a pizza, a pitcher, and some platters. We get comfy in the living room and stack a few CDs in the changer, then shut up and listen. Nicole’s better at being quiet than I am–sometimes both my enthusiasm and my teacher tendencies–“OK, now who do you think that is on sax? Yes, you do too know who that is?”–can interfere. Aretha’s passing has hit us hard like it has most music nuts, and we chose to concentrate on her Atlantic debut I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You and the later Lady Soul. I’d put ’em up against any great album you can name for the overwhelming amount of fine, sublime details. If I get started on them, I’ll never stop, but here were our two highlights:

School

I am about to step back in front of my freshman comp / pop music class for another semester, and I never like doing things the same way twice. I’ve been brainstorming, but haven’t gotten far–there’s so much I can do, it’s hard to focus, and if I have a demon, it’s that. All I’ve decided so far is to spend some time on Day 1 off-syllabus to find out how they listen to and write about music with something responsive, probably to (duh) a carefully selected Aretha piece. Maybe they will have had too much Re by Tuesday, when class begins; maybe I’ll employ Mitski, The Internet, JLin, or Lori McKenna; maybe I’ll use the never-has-failed clip of Anita O’Day at Newport ’58. Just something to draw them out and force them to furrow their brows. Probably not anyone named Minaj–that might seem desperate. It’s a women’s college, so I like to keep women in the forefront, but hearing this masterpiece over the closing credits of an Atlanta episode (we’ve just begun watching it, slow, sorry) has me currently tempted to lead with it–it’s about a great woman, after all:

Friends

We met our friends Brock, Annell, and George to take in the current big screen preparation of Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special at one of the local theaters. I’d been on tenterhooks waiting to see it for the umpteenth time, this time with brighter colors (surely it would be restored!) and even more vibrant and powerful sound (surely the soundtrack would be remastered!). No, and no. Should have known better, considering the last, oh, forty years of Presley puke-up (sorry, it hasn’t been that bad, but nor has it quite approached mediocrity). In addition to the lazy preparation, the special was preceded by an awkward co-interview between producer Steve Binder and a very Madame Tussaud-looking Priscilla Presley that revealed little not already known, and followed by a gag reel in which 80% of the content was in the actual show. Somebody needs to look up the definition of gag reel; it was like a cinematic Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. They’d have been wise not to fuck with the actual special, but of course that was where they expended extra effort. I didn’t say smart effort. We did get to see some never-officially-viewed footage, but more frequently the additions didn’t make sense–and one subtraction was downright blockheaded: whose idea was it to CUT the opening to the black-leather-concert “One Night with You,” where Elvis experiences a flash of inspiration and says, “I think I’ll put a strap on this and stand up!”? It’s a great moment in rock and roll television: the strap fails, Elvis has to think quickly–and transitions into the “dirty” original version of Smiley Lewis’ song, then titled “One Night of Sin.” Instead, the new edit begins right after all that has happened. I’d include the full version here, but guess what? It’s not even on YouTube! Anyway, we did still enjoy it (probably everyone else more than I, since I was, I guess, laying for it, just waiting for the honchos to fuck it up)–because it’s hard to kill The King:

Also, my New Orleans pals Clifford and Robert sent me some gems via Dropbox. They are among my wisest and most broad-minded friends when it comes to music, and they’re overflowing with stories, too. From the former I received a mesmerizing tango album from 2007, Daniel Telingo’s Maldito Tango, that I’ve already played twice in the last 36 hours:

From the latter, who has been extraordinarily generous lately by also hipping me to numerous Brazilian musicians I was shame-facedly unfamiliar with, I received an infusion of rare tracks by the great Southern soul man and songwriter Dan Penn, whom we both admire:

Reading

I’ve been digging into the short fiction and non-fiction of Tennessee writer William Gay, and I just finished his neat reminiscence of Bob Dylan’s entry into his life, and the resulting social fallout he encountered. From my previous readings (the haunting Southern noir Twilight and a passel of short stories), I wouldn’t even have imagined Gay had been a Dylan fan. His fictional presence is McCarthian; I had assumed he might have set his musical bar sky-high, not that that’s a barrier to the man from Hibbing, but still. Anyway, “The Man in the Attic” is very charming–not a typical Gay quality–and very true. It can be found in the collection Time Done Been Won’t Be No More, which if you do Kindle Unlimited is at your fingertips, and which features some additional excellent music writing. Recommended to any Dylan fan, and it will prompt you into the stacks.

Purchases

If you’ve been reading me, you know I’ve been struggling to cut down on buying physical media–at least CDs, but I am fond of them, too. This week I bought two early Moe Bandy CDs from Amazon that I thought must be reissues, but I must have been distracted from reading carefully when I did the clickin’–they are those nefarious “ripped from vinyl” items that the website actually offers. Album art: check. Song list: check. Nothing else. No notes, no record label, no source info. At least I didn’t already have one of them (It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman Until I Started Looking for Mine); I’d already ripped my vinyl copy of I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today to digital myself! Dumkopf!

(The guy had a way with album covers.)

I also bought–oh, about 40 years too late (the story of my life, perhaps even my birth)–Murder by Guitar, a compilation of singles by the San Francisco punk band Crime. I knew about them from Sonic Youth’s cover of their “Hot Wire My Heart,” then got very belatedly reminded I needed to check into their work early this week after finishing Alice Bag’s terrific memoir Violence Girl–by the way, her 2018 album Blueprint is seriously underrated. So, I hit Discogs, ordered said comp, it arrived in a flash, and damn, folks, if you need a dose of serrated-edge punk rock and you didn’t know much about ’em either, act now. They sound to me like obvious precursors of what’s come to be called garage punk (nicely documented by New Bomb Turk Eric Davidson in his book on the genre, We Never Learn). Very, very exciting:

 

 

 

Think Of What You’ve Done (August 7-12, Columbia, Missouri)

Dang! When I said several days ago that, from now on, I was gonna write only when I felt like it and had something pressing to say, I didn’t expect myself to actually heed my own proclamation! I never do in other areas of my life! Honestly, I am preparing for the school year. I did start a mini-project to catch up on some films I’d neglected (The Witch, Anti-Christ, The Holy Mountain, Spring Breakers, My Darling Clementine–which of those things is not like the others?). I was striving to keep up my reading pace (16 books ahead of my Goodreads Challenge–what is it with me and goals?). I do have a darlin’ wife and some good pals. So I need to get off my own goddam back!

However, some music did burst through those teeming waves of other things to really get my attention. Prime among them was Dust-to-Digital‘s truly amazing Goodbye, Babylon (from 2003), a six-disc compendium of approximately 50 years of intense American religious music and sacred disquisition. Rather than describe how it’s packaged, lemme just show you:

LEDBETTER

The raw cotton’s inside the box, and that baby at the upper right is a 200-page book that’s worth considerable just by itself. Five discs of tunes, one of sermons that can make a confirmed atheist cut his eyes at his speakers. Here’s the box’s Bandcamp link, through which you can investigate the contents more closely; along with some very famous names are others that wouldn’t be if not for this, the performances are not only well-selected but also surprising, and do they sound great for their vintage!

Anyway, I’d broken it out way more often than the average box (box consumers, you know it’s true), and loved it, but the power, commitment, and yearning in the performers’ voices and instruments just hypnotized me for the entirety of the three discs I loaded–so much so I actually felt the need to break the spell and fix that downstairs doorknob that had been waiting for attention since 1999. Bit of a story behind how I acquired the fruitful thing, by the way.

For the last 10 years of my public school career (2003-2013), I had studiously applied for and procured annual grants to create an American music library in Hickman High School‘s media center. With the dedicated help of the center’s staff (especially my fond friend James Kome), I was able to do a pretty decent job. You be the judge. Over the years, the collection consistently enjoyed the highest usage rate of anything else in the center–even after the downloading boom–and I (and a few passionate students) even wrote descriptions for each of the many, many items.

When I saw Goodbye, Babylon advertised, I thought to myself:

a) perfect for the collection in terms of its content;

b) ideal for visionary, creative English, social studies, and music instructors;

c) deliciously tempting for a quiet, idiosyncratic student to explode his brain with; and, of course

d) convenient for me, since at that time I could not afford it.

I included it among that year’s grant purchases, and after greedily unpacking it, James and I marveled at its design, and the serious TLC put into it by the label’s astounding husband-and-wife founders, Lance and April Ledbetter (no mere hipsters, they).

Of course, we were very interested in whether or not it would be checked out. Whenever our grant goodies came in, I would always send out an all-school email highlighting the new selections, and I bent over backwards to make sure everyone saw we offered Goodbye, Babylon. I am sure James may have monitored its usage; I chose not to check because I didn’t want to see corrected my possible delusion that it was being fully exploited for ultimate edumacational gain.

I retired in 2013, but continued teaching at Hickman part-time until the spring of 2015, when the need for old-fart hangers-on apparently evaporated. I’d packed up nearly everything that evidenced my 20 years of existence at the school, when a not entirely selfless idea occurred to me: you best go check if anyone ever checked out that box. It’s called accountability, folks.

I swung by the media center to have James do a records search. Turns out the set didn’t exactly fly out from behind the counter. We made a deal: we would share custody of the child, with me taking possession of the actual artifact with the understanding that, should a student or teacher request it–it’s still linked in the database and bar-coded–I would promptly fork it back over. Since my other retirement gift from the school system, back in 2013, was an analog clock that looked exactly like a tombstone–very thoughtful for a retiring teacher who spent much of his work life keeping one eye on a clock on the back wall, don’t you think?–I considered Goodbye, Babylon the real token of the district’s esteem for my 25 years of sweat. I know: you want to see the clock, right?

clock

It really needed to be engraved, “It tolls for thee.”

Short-shrift Division:

I just can’t shake the reflex of needing to buy a CD. One reason is the rush of those glory days when you could pull off the highway into an outlet mall and find some last-legs record store that was overflowing with cut-outs–like these:

Stanleys

$5 each, sealed, not even a slice outta them–maybe they weren’t even really cut-outs. Most important, though, is: have you heard the Stanley Brothers’ Starday recordings? Your ears may be better than mine, but explosion of bluegrass classics that there issued forth (“Rank Strangers,” “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” “Shackles and Chains,” “My Main Trial is Yet to Come,” “The Darkest Hour is Just Before dawn,” “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown”–that ain’t nearly all), plus the clarity and simplicity of the performances and production are stunning, silencing, and sublime. I listened to ’em lined up Saturday and was a changed man after. These four discs are probably running pretty cheap on Discogs right now, and they don’t even comprise the group’s complete Starday recordings. If you’ve heard George Jones’ Stardays, these easily rival those. And that, my friends, is no paltry statement, especially coming from me.

S’posed to be “short shrift,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Bloodshot’s brand-spanking-new duet album by Robbie Fulks and the great yet still unsung Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee’s wildcat sis who though a septuagenarian still has plenty in her tank. The album isn’t quite as wild as the cover advertises, and a few ol’ country tropes aren’t twisted quite imaginatively enough for my liking, but Fulks delivers (as usual) some sharp ones, especially the very Fulksian “Till Death,” and Linda Gail really digs into two old-timers, her brother’s gospel fave “On the Jericho Road” and the timeless “Your Red Wagon.” Musically, it’s damned sharp, with the great Redd Volkeart on guitar and Alex Hall on crisp drums and twiddling knobs. Plus: didja know Ms. Lewis can roll those 88s? She had a good teacher. Further evidence of that is found in her raw and ribald memoir, Me, The Devil, and Jerry Lee. She was too much a Southern Christian to have sex before marriage, but she was too horny to wait to get married…and that’s just within the first 10-15 pages. Style: “Jerry Lee is not a candy-ass” is a typical sentence. Avoid candy-assness yourself and take a flyer on a very entertaining tome.

Let’s Not Be L7! (Fri-Sun, August 3-5, Columbia and Springfield, MO)

We’re living it up a bit before “summer” ends, so I’ve been quiet here. In sum:

I.

Drove around Columbia Friday morning running errands and hanging out, and repeat-played this song that we both love as much as a song can be loved.

I have a story about it. I bought it as a cassingle prior to the album coming out, right at the point where I’d gotten dumped by a woman my relationship with whom I more or less willed into being, who I knew liked me but didn’t like me, who more or less humiliated me one evening over a wine error (I don’t even really like the shit), and who clearly wasn’t my type to begin with. BUT I was impatient with my relationship success as my thirties were approaching, and I was a touch desperate. She lowered the boom on me at a fuckin’ laundromat, then showed up the same night at the one party at which I was fairly sure she wouldn’t possibly appear on the arm of her boss (Gross! Dating your boss is for losers!). I drank myself into a stupor, then existed within a dark cloud of doom for a week or so. Even though I really knew she was no great loss.

OK, so for every one of those days, I kept the cassingle on repeat-play in my car. Every day, to and from work, the record store, and the bar (Holy Trinity at that point), this song was blasting. The music? RADICAL. Frightening, in its way–note how that main riff just won’t resolve. Surprising, too (was that a one-note sample from Stevie Ray Vaughan playing on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”? Flav merging Tattoo into Scarface?). ENERGIZING, for certain–it creates an aural scenario that seems to propel one into acting on some life-or-death imperative. And…the rapping? Chuck D climbed into my Top 5 MCs pantheon on the strength of this performance, and I already loved him. “I got so much trouble on my mind! / Refuse to lose!” he proclaims, and that by itself was a mantra that got me through many of those days and into a positive perspective in front of my classrooms (I was teaching five classes of ninth graders!). Not just any MC could ride those rhythms and disruptions! Yessireebob, he made some eye-raising statements in that song that I wasn’t comfortable with, but, hey, it’s a free country, he didn’t exempt much of anyone from responsibility for our (still intact) Terrordome, and his critics tended to overlook his moments of tenderness (yes) and compassion (yes). “….[N]othing worse / Than a mother’s pain for a son / Slain in Bensonhurst!”? “God bless your soul and keep livin’!“? Add on to all of that the thick, exciting scratches of Terminator X and the dense mix of samples that could not be recreated for sale today by Jeff Bezos, and, well, it’s no wonder I could (and still can) listen to it on a loop.

Funny thing is, the woman I was cruising around with listening to it repeatedly Friday morning was the one whose arms I ended up rebounding into–she loves the song almost as much as I do. Thanks to Chuck–still fightin’–and PE, and thanks to Nicole, my life-long soul mate.

II.

Saturday we were stompin’ on our old grounds (the original “Terrordome” for me, now that I mention it) in Springfield, Missouri, on hand to meet up with fond ol’ friends and celebrate our great pal Jill’s birthday. She likes party buses, we like party buses, so we party-bused around The Queen City. We visited Tropical Liqueurs for some frozen dranks, we paused at her future gravesite (she and we are fans of perspective–it helps you get the most out of life), we put our heads together at a hidden lakeside, we sprawled out en masse at the Rail Haven Route 66 Motel, where Jill’d rented a room for her stay and where the young Elvis actually once slept (pause for a pic)–

Elvis 'Otel

–and we landed at The Dugout (formerly The Twilight), our favorite Springfield dive (where I used to meet a favorite English prof and my classmates for pitchers, lit discussion and wisdom dissemination when I was a mere undergrad).

But. But. One of my favorite moments of the whole evening was, well, breaking a rule. It was clearly posted up by the front of the bus: “No swinging on the poles.” Another rule that I didn’t make but which has often seemed to swirl around my brain since I became middle-aged is “Thou shalt not dance anymore.” Well, Jill–are you starting to see how heroic she is? I hope so–is an excellent DJ. She plugged her phone into the bus sound system and just You-Tubed up some tracks, which built us up to such a frenzy that, fueled by Budweiser and a Sex on The Beach snuck in there, I had to jump up, grip the pole two-handed and begin boogieing to her inspired choices. And yelling the lyrics (I’m sorry, Jill!)! Is it untoward for a 56-year-old man to be acting thus? It probably was, but it must be admitted I was joined on the pole by at least two other partygoers! If you find yourself turning away from this tableau, please first reckon with the trio of tracks that moved us off our duffs:

And the blower-off-the-topper…

You play those three in a row sober and see if you can stay put! I bet you’re UP right now if you played them! And wasn’t that last little tune prophetic? I can’t help celebrating it every time I hear it.

III.

A somewhat bleary state of being met us as we arose Sunday morning. Even when we find ourselves up pushing the dawn, we usually awaken right on the other side of it. Nicole arose temporarily; I am seldom ever able to go back to sleep once I awaken. I sat down under a lamp in the corner of the room, cracked a book (Issac J. Bailey’s sad and revelatory My Brother Moochie, if you’re curious), and put in some headphones to listen to a new purchase. Simply put, it’s the best free jazz record I’ve heard this year, and there have been some gooduns (including one by the main man here). It’s out of Portugal, which has an amazing scene, and you should give it a whirl. It’s mos def not a dialogue of the deaf; this band listens and responds in sensitive and creative and sometimes visionary fashion. The driving force, that main man, is Rodrigo Amado–remember the name. He’s been around, but in another way, he’s just getting started:

IV.

What goes up must come down, but the comedown was euphonious–that should always be a Sunday goal, shouldn’t it? When we returned to Columbia, we had to scramble to an event we’d bought tickets for somewhat optimistically, but also under the influence of our wise and cosmopolitan friend Jackie. Columbia’s “We Always Swing” Jazz Series is a near quarter-century-old blessing on our town that, through the hard work of Jon Poses and his staff, brings some of the finest musicians to us to hear. Sunday night was the 2018-2019 kickoff event, a three-set performance by local heroes the Columbia Jazz Orchestra. Sounds very neat for a final night of the week, eh?

Well, a clear sky, a 101-degree early evening, and a bit-too-posh-for-us rooftop venue initially discouraged me. I muttered, “We could call it a donation.” However, Nicole rallied me and I’m glad she did. We got to hang out with Jackie, her mischievously-witted and historic husband John, our old friend Brent, and his wife, the drinks were nice, and the band played rowdily but splendidly, with selections from Thundercat (“Them Changes”) to Ellington (“Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” and they ain’t).

Columbia Jazz Orchestra

I’ve reached a conclusion. On New Year’s Day, I vowed to post an entry here every day. Not so difficult, because I listen to music every day. But, folks, when you’re really living it’s sometimes hard to squeeze in some huntin’ and peckin’–and, admittedly, some days I’ve somewhat forced these entries. So…if you’re keeping score at all…I’m going to post when I can. I will strive to every day. It’s not like millions are hanging on my every word, but I enjoy it, it’s good for me, I’m goal-oriented–and maybe a couple of you do look for me to chime in daily. But I’m gonna live first!

(Note: realize that final sentence is written as an urging to myself, not as a command to you. I’m sure you all are doing fine.)