An Anniversary Top 10: Recordings That Got Our Love Train Rollin’! (March 21st, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Today’s my wife’s and my 26th anniversary. Music was one of the first things that bonded us, and it continues to; I think we both used it as a litmus test on each other as well. It’s only fitting that we now bend our ears to 10 early signpost platters (and other miscellany) that set us on our increasingly great adventure.

Number One: The first album I taped for Nicole–before we even knew what was in store!

Number Two: A segment tape-recorded directly from a film that was one of many highlights on the first mixtape Nicole made me. I knew after this I’d met a live one!

Number Three: The first album we totally agreed upon (before we really knew we were falling in love), which I then gave to her, which we later framed, and which is now hanging by the front door:

Number Four: The cassette I bought for Nicole on my way to meeting her for a Coctails show at Murphy’s in Springfield, Missouri, that wasn’t a date but during which we decided to go steady, baby!

Number Five (Three-in-One): Three albums I think we played every single day immediately after we started dating.

Number Six: The first album I bought for Nicole that she (and I) didn’t like but then chastised ourselves about years later when its greatness finally penetrated our thick skulls and ears (the movie’s great, too). Note: Nicole is adept at spotting albums with great covers and buying them for that reason alone, which was my method in buying this for her, which backfired. I still remember us sitting on her bed, shaking our heads, and saying, “This is legendary?” A temporary chink in the ol’ armor.

Number Seven: The song (and album) Nicole listened to on the way back from an All concert that I couldn’t go to with her, which she said made her think for me, which kept her awake, which is still one of the nicest things she’s ever said to me.

*Number Eight: A highlight from a cassette (Uncommon Quotes) we played continually until we basically had it memorized. I still like it better than any of his books. The old sod could read aloud–his utterances were like music to us! He was a rather disturbing, but indeed effective, spiritual advisor to us as we sallied forth into love:

*Number Nine: Thank God a video store carried this in Springfield back then. We consider John Waters our cultural uncle (we actually invited him to our wedding), we remain ardent fans, and we watched this film in the early days as much for the awesome soundtrack as for its cinematic thrills and spills!

Number Ten: A track from the first great album and band we discovered together, though Nicole actually discovered them first at their concert in New Orleans during which I was incapacitated in the back seat of our friend Kenny’s car, to my eternal regret:

BONUS TRACK!: The bride’s dance at our wedding reception.

*Beginners, take note: Gay geniuses are a fantastic influence on straight couples! That’s a fact.






I Miss Bowie–Lester, That Is (March 19th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Today’s jazz does have a reputation, to a great extent deserved, for being a bit too serious too much of the time. Yesterday, I was reminded of how wonderfully playful the great St. Louis and AACM trumpeter Lester Bowie could be–and he regularly was. Often donning a lab coat on stage, Bowie was not only a scientist investigating the roots and structure of jazz, but also a surgeon who delighted in taking a mischievous scalpel to the genre’s corpus. The genre could currently use someone who extends Bowie’s acumen for aural amusement of the anarchic variety.

On 1974’s Fast Last (listen to the whole delightful album above), several greatly varied warhorses find themselves operated on–sometimes resulting in what one might call anatomical rearrangement. Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” sounds not all that unhappy about that state of being. “Hello, Dolly!” would seem to be a great risk–how much more jubilant and radiant could one play it compared to Louis Armstrong, one of Bowie’s idols? Turns out if you slap a warhorse on the right flank it might have more get-up-and-go than any listener would have a right to expect. “F-Troop Rides Again”? Well, maybe not–if you think about the subject matter of the associated television series, you can hear Bowie and drummer Bobo Shaw roll the patient out of the hospital and onto a minefield. Besides Shaw, Bowie is abetted on this recording by Lincoln University products (that’s complicated, kind of) Julius Hemphill on alto and John Hicks on piano, as well as his brother and Black Artist Group stalwart (with Shaw) Joseph on trombone. Do not try to read or iron or something like that while this record’s on–it demands, and deserves, your full attention, and you will laugh as you’re surprised by its sounds.

Another great album that will remind the listener how much a sense of humor can add to her enjoyment of a jazz performance is Bowie’s 1975 Rope-a-Dope, with brother Joe and Shaw back on the scene along with Lester’s fellow Art Ensemble of Chicago mates Malachi Favors (bass) and Don Moye (percussion). Their group’s assault / embrace of “St. Louis Blues” is worth the price of admission. By the way, both of these albums are officially out of print but can be picked up as a twofer used as American Gumbo. enjoyed my listening experience so much I picked up the only available copy on Discogs in between my last surge of keyboard pecks.

Classroom Clatter, Part 1 (March 20th, 2018, Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri)

The students of my freshman comp / pop music class formally opened up their final unit with informal presentations on their research subjects. Not that this will thrill any readers, but here’s the research project they’re undertaking:

English 107 Pop Music Research Project: Specification


  1. Form a clear and specific argument about a performer’s or group’s musical work after sampling it broadly and deeply.
  2. Support the argument with both specific evidence (lyrics, descriptions of musical passages, etc.) and expert commentary gathered through research.
  3. Reflect on the connections you made with the performer’s or group’s work, referring specifically to your past thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  4. Execute a cleanly-formatted MLA research paper that elaborates your argument, presents your evidence in organized fashion, and shares your reflections.
  5. For your final exam, present (through audio only) two of your performer’s songs that demonstrate your research and reflections, setting up each song with guided questions for the class, commenting knowledgeably after each song, and taking two questions (15 minutes minimum).


  1. The performer must identify / have identified as a woman; if a group is chosen, it must be led (or artistically dominated) by a performer who identifies (or performers who identify) as a woman. The performer needs not be currently living, nor does the group need to be active.
  2. The bulk of the performer’s or group’s work must have been produced prior to January 2001.
  3. All genres of work are allowed, as well as any nationality from which the performer or group might have sprung. It is suggested that you select a performer or group from a genre of which you have some working knowledge.
  4. Your argument must be about the work, not about the performer or group as human beings.
  5. You are required to use your preferred streaming/listening methods to listen to at least three non-compilation albums, and at least one compilation. Each album must contribute a work that is MLA-cited in the text of your paper; each album should be listed among your paper’s Works Cited.
  6. Sources must qualify as expert commentary. You will have to research the writers who provide it to determine that. Also, this project requires that you look into at least one book—and you may need to look into more than one.

Suggestions for Arguments

  1. Arguments may focus on themes or preoccupations that are explored by the artist or group in their songs.
  2. Arguments may focus on the artist’s or performer’s style, as it is represented through writing, singing, playing, or arranging. Be conscious of the fact that writing about singing, playing, or arranging may well require specific musical vocabulary and a heightened attempt at description.
  3. Arguments may focus on artists’ or performers’ achievements in the context of their field. Be conscious of the fact that, to make such an argument, one must know the context.
  4. Arguments may focus on constructed personae that artists or groups create through their work.
  5. Arguments may focus on the artistic growth of an artist or group over time.
  6. Arguments may focus on a combination of any of the above, though it is essential that there be a common thread that runs through the entirety of the combination.
  7. No argument may focus on anything not represented by Numbers 1-6.

Additional Specifications for Essays and Final Exam Presentations

  1. Minimum 1,700 words / maximum 2,500 words.
  2. Suggested structure: intro + argument –> background (only essentials) –> presentation of evidence (multiple paragraphs) –> personal reflection –> conclusion (reiteration of argument + statement of performer’s / group’s importance) –> works cited.
  3. Sources: four articles (via databases, trustworthy Internet sources, and periodicals), one book, three regular-issue albums, one compilation album (MINIMUM). Each source should be cited in the text and listed appropriately among the works cited.
  4. Point distribution for essays (detailed scoring guide to follow): grammar and mechanics (10 points); structure (10); argument and evidence (25); personal reflection (20); formatting (10) = 75 total points.
  5. Point distribution for final exam presentation (must be accompanied by a PowerPoint or visual aide): clarity (argument, pre-song guided questions, post-song debrief, evidence) (25 points); speaking attributes (volume, modulation, diction) (12 points); Q & A (3 points).

Scored Components for Entire Project:

  1. Proposal (subject + working thesis)                                                   10
  2. Introductory presentation                                                                    25
  3. Sentence-form outline                                                                            15
  4. Essay rough draft (must be submitted through Canvas)             20
  5. Essay final draft (must be submitted through Canvas)                75
  6. Presentation (final exam)                                                                      40

Total                                                                                                                      185

NOTE: The instructor reserves the right to refuse any request to explore certain performers or groups, but will provide a reason for such refusals. The instructor will also happily provide suggestions regarding performers or groups, or simply assign one to a student upon request (the advantage of the latter option is that you will be assigned a subject that provides a bounty of writing and thinking opportunities).

Now even you hate me, right? Seriously, though, I have been striving to find the right research project to both fit my course design and more easefully transition them into higher-level research demands they’re sure to encounter during their remaining years at Stephens. If I can admit to being excited about a research project, I have high hopes for the reflective aspect of the essay. My aim is that the integration of a section composed of personal insights and a slightly less formal voice with cause the construction and grading of the projects to be less grueling. We shall see. I need to, but don’t want to, write a model.

So: to the presentations. The purposes of these were to introduce the class to the range of subjects under review and give me an idea of not only how much preliminary research students had already done but also how committed and enthusiastic they were about the work. In ten minutes or less, students were required to introduce us to their artists through three important facts and their own initial responses to the artists’ work, focus us with a guiding question about, then play an official video (if available) of, one of the artist’s best works, then lead us in a quick discussion of possible answers to the guiding questions. As usual, I started with a model presentation on Yugen Blackrok (big surprise if you’ve been keeping score) that fell a bit flat (“She doesn’t have beats!”), but at least I snuck in some learning on apartheid and Afro-Futurism. Half the class then presented, as follows:

Guiding Question: “Can you figure out the metaphors used in this song?”

Answer: “That verse isn’t really about deep-sea diving, is it?”

Guiding Question (not a good one): “So, what’s good about the song and what’s not?”

Answer: “Ewwwwwwwwwww. I can’t stand the way she sings. I had to plug my ears.” Another student rushing to the rescue: “I LOVE HER SINGING! She’s so exciting and rebellious!” (Yay.)

Guiding Question (a stellar one): Does Ms. Blige sing with a chest voice or a head voice?

Answer: A little of both–mostly chest, but her head’s in there, too.

Guiding Question (again, good!): Pay close attention to the childhood images in the video, contrasted with Dolly’s adult self, and be ready to talk about that.

Answer: None given to that question, but several new questions posed (“Is she dead?”)

Guiding Question: How would you describe her singing style?

Answer: “Her voice sounds messed up!” Teacher counters with: I hear a core of yearning and loneliness to her singing that fits nicely with the video content.”

We’ll see how Thursday goes, but I must admit, their choice of research topics should make for interesting research and enjoyable reading. Should

Anyone know when Yugen Blakrok was born?


We Interrupt This Music Diary for a Promotional Announcement (March 19th. 2018, Columbia, Missouri–Memphis in spirit!)


If you don’t know who Robert Gordon is, he’s a fine documentary director (check out The Best of Enemies) and stellar chronicler of southern music: his Muddy Waters biography is currently the definitive one. It’s when he’s writing about his hometown, however, that Gordon is most smashing. I have read his It Came from Memphis at least three times and manically thumbed through it about 15 times more: it convincingly argues for that city as the hub of American cultural change through much more subterranean and esoteric means than just Elvis’ pelvis, and, in terms of spirit and tone, it rocks and rolls. It’s also the only book I know that has threeseparatecompanion CDs, all of them magic.

Gordon’s newest book, available preferably from Burke’s Book Store in Memphis but also from Fat Possum (still trying to do their best by offering a companion LP I’d recommend), gathers numerous fascinating shorter pieces and interviews from Gordon’s exciting career observing Bluff City weirdness. I’m not finished reading it yet, but on the basis of the Jim Dickinson and Tav Falco interviews and the appendix alone, it’s worth your ducats. One of my favorite of Gordon’s discoveries so far is the existence of a “Levitt Shell Archive” YouTube channel. The Levitt Shell (formerly the Overton Park Shell) in Memphis’ Overton Park was the location of Presley’s first paid appearance (opening for Slim Whitman), and has not only survived several attempts to raze or repurpose it but is currently a thriving rock and roll/blues/country venue. At its best, Memphis music always contains a dollop of all three of those flavors!

You can spend hours watching clips from this channel. Here are a few that I listened to and loved today:

The great Memphis blues pianist Mose Vinson:

Calvin Newborn, the guitar-playing member of the famous Newborn family:

Alvin Youngblood Hart covering Neil Young:

Also–and, now, you gotta promise to buy it if you like it!–here’s a handy YouTube playlist of the Memphis Rent Party companion.

“I Think I’m Just Going to Listen to This Album First” (March 17th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Distracted by a cat emergency (cats are cooler than humans) and March Madness (I am a species hated in Missouri–a Rock-Chalk-Jay-fuckin’-Hawk), I didn’t get much music in. What I did spin may have been too obviously St. Pat’s-y: Shane MacGowan’s The Snake (see yesterday’s post), The Pogues’ piquantly (and accurately!) titled Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, and Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now (Volumes II-IV). The former two are indisputably A+ records; the latter piggy-backs on a vintage A+ record but staggers in a B+ / A-.

It’s not like I have a story for every single one of the over 10,000 records I own, or have heard–I’ve not thought deeply about it, and maybe I should. But concerning the original It’s Too Late to Stop Now, I do have one that I bet a few readers can relate to. It reveals something about me that I’m mildly proud of, and mildly embarrassed by. It goes a little somethin’ like this:

I was a senior at what was then Southwest Missouri University. Now it’s rather desperately called Missouri State University. I’d been buttonholed for a double-date opportunity by two old hometown friends who’d been dating forever (they’ve been married pretty much since), and the set-up was another hometown friend I’d always had a crush on but…well…timing is a pain, and when I was hot for her, she was otherwise occupied, and when I was hot for her–she was always otherwise occupied. But at this point–I assumed–she was free.

I have never been smooth. For every hetero male I’ve ever known, sexual intimacy appeared a matter of getting from Point A to Point C. For me? Point A to Point Z–with a videogame-like intricacy of obstacles in between, so complicated seeming that, I will freely admit, I just became determined not to give a shit. If the prelude to sex was a Rubic’s Cube–fuck fucking. Don’t get me wrong: this did not make me happy. But it all seemed the law of diminishing returns. Easier to bow to God Onan, you know.

So, back to the double-date. We went out to eat at some quasi-swank place in Springfield (there were no other kinds of high-end places). I recall a relatively pleasurable time, though my mind was literally racing with ideas about records, films, and books, and that mind-spray was just not gonna be tapped at this soiree. Was I thinking about getting laid? Yeah. I was 21. But it was like imagining you were going to survive The Walking Dead; that’s how it felt to me.

We retired to my friends’ apartment. In our dinner small talk, I’d discerned that my date was still seeing her old boyfriend, another hometown friend whom I’d attended every level of elementary with, whom I’d played many years of football with, and who–other then almost breaking my finger for kicks when I was a 10th grader–had always maintained ace-boon relations with me. The lights were dimmed, the wine was poured. The pre-existing couple faded almost imperceptibly into their bedroom, leaving me and my date. She whispered, “I’m going into the guest bedroom, just to relax some. Grab a beer or something and we’ll talk.”

So what does all this have to do with It’s Too Late to Stop Now? As I sat on the precipice of satiating long-tendered lust, my eyes drifted to my friends’ LP stack. If you’re reading this, I know you do it, too. I do it with books, I do it with music–though I can’t see into a hard drive. In the middle of their modest collection was Van’s double-live record. In the good ol’ “red” Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh had “meh”-ed it with three (out of five stars). Because I was a dipshit, and was unwisely smitten with Marsh’s bad attitude, I’d taken that as deific judgment. Still, though–I fucking LOVED Astral Weeks and Moondance, and was in deep like with His Band and The Street Choir and St. Dominic’s Preview. How bad could a live Van performance from that period be? Seriously? I heard my date kind of rustling around in the guest bedroom, so I figured I had enough time to put the first disc of It’s Too Late to Stop Now on the turntable–and buy myself some time to figure out whether I’d be cheating on my childhood buddy (oblivious, some 50 miles away), even though his woman was broadcasting serious overtures right to my thick forehead.

Well, if you know the record, Van’s band is fuckin’ crack, the recording quality is superb, Morrison is dialed in (as he tells an enthusiastic audience member, he’s “turned on already!)”, and the damn thing has dynamics out the wazoo. As Van moved from totally committed Bobby Bland and Sam Cooke covers through very idiosyncratic takes on his own quirky originals, I found myself mesmerized. “Three stars? Motherfucker, this is a FIVE!”

Suddenly, I snapped back to reality. There was a woman, who’d been rustling around, and she was in a bedroom ten feet away. She had seemed to be beckoning me hither–what was that, 10 minutes ago? 20? I got up from my position right next to a speaker, tipped into the bedroom–and she was out cold. I paused on the verge of regret–then tipped back out to listen, happily, to the rest of the record. I sat amazed as Van sang through the songs, and put hooks in the audience’s lips–also, that damn Jack Schroer was a devastating secret weapon on sax.

Better than sex? I’d made the call on that. And looking back across 25 years, I not only hold to that assessment but, corny as it may seem in this era when all bets are off, feel assured that my old first-grade buddy didn’t get betrayed. I have no religion–no God compelled me not to breach a relationship that, technically, was sinful in itself. But–talk about a higher calling in the moment? My moral compass was unerring, at least in that case.

Tattoos (March 16th and St. Patrick’s Day 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I never wanted a tattoo. Not before they began to seem obligatory; not after “tattoo removal” became a thing. When I was young, they were still seen as a mark of likely dark experience, something I was fascinated with but a desire I didn’t necessarily want to advertise. Joni Mitchell sang it best, writing about (her) songs but nailing tats in an expert simile: “You know I’ve been to sea before.” Also, I was (and still am) so little inclined to aggressive engagement I didn’t think I could back up a tattoo. You know?

Later, in the midst of the tattoo boom–there was one of those, right?–two things stayed the ink. The first was (and is) my allergy to bandwagons. When everyone’s doing it, I tend to not wanna, even when the crowd is right, as they sometimes are. But, second and most important, though what tattoos represented seemed to have changed (heck, choirboys and cheerleaders were getting them–even teachers!), I could not imagine any word, phrase or image I’d want to be permanently marked with. I knew if I chose to take the plunge, I would suffer an unbearable dignity to have it removed, so I wouldn’t. I also knew that whatever spoke from my shoulder, or ankle, or forearm (my chest? hilarious!), it would have to really be purely me. And “I” is just not pure.

HOWEVER, one night speculating with my wife, I hit upon the answer. I wasn’t then nor am I now any closer to revealing how far out to sea I’ve been, but, were I forced, here’s what I’d do. First, I’d write these lyrics down on a piece of paper:

Last night as I lay dreaming

My way across the sea

James Mangan brought me comfort

With laudnum and poitin

He flew me back to Dublin

In 1819

To a public execution

Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform

Held his head up and he did sing

Then he whispered hard into my ear

As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured

This snake cannot be tied

This snake cannot be tortured, or

Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages

It belongs to you and me

So pass it on and pass it on

‘Till all mankind is free

If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me.

Next, I’d shop around for the smartest best tattoo artist in town, slap down those lines on her counter, talk her through my justifications and specifications, and say, simply: “I want an image of that specific snake right on the ol’ atrophied bicep here. Feel free to succinctly augment it with a symbolic image or two. Take a couple of weeks to let it marinate, then call me when you’re ready to operate.”

I’m not Irish. But that image, representing those words (not that the uninformed would instantly associate them with the image–Nicole’s the only one I’d need to know), reminding me of that voice and that impulse–well, I’d be happy to see it distorted across saggy skin, if I am lucky enough to be old enough to have it. I think at this point I could even back that tattoo up.

Oh, by the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you don’t know Mr. Shane MacGowan’s classic tune that’ll never die, raise a glass, and click:

Short-shrift Division (what I actually listened to yesterday, since Shane’s for today):

Some of that new funk!

Mysterious (Young Fathers’ brand-new Cocoa Sugar):

Not-So-Mysterious (Chopteeth Afro-Funk Big Band’s Bone Reader–I’m a sucker for anything with a Basquiat “tattoo”):

Reminiscin’ ‘bout LONDON CALLING (The Ides of March ‘18, Columbia, Missouri)

Popped an old favorite into the truck CD player yesterday. Had to oust a great Horace Tapscott disc, but that’s the way it goes. Ensconced in The Lab, I meditated upon the third consecutive great album of The Clash’s short life, and some amusing memories flowed to the fore…

London Calling was the first Clash album I bought, or even knew about. Small-town corner of southwest Missouri, no wonder. As I’m sure many did, I bought it because of the cover, without hesitation. Also, a two-record set for $7.99???

I often skipped lunch to hoard money to spend at Ken’s Records, two blocks down from the old high school in Carthage. Ken looked like Bela Lugosi cast as a mortuary director, but he always smiled when I came in, plus…he stocked some punk rock. Or maybe that was his young sidekick, John Norris. Ken watched the store like a hawk–I believe there was a bell on the door–and he made me very nervous, though I’d never have dreamed of shoplifting. One time I came in and he beckoned me into the mysterious back room of the store, where he handed me a small leather case. “This was stolen,” he said, “and the police have not been able to locate the owner. They brought it to me, and I’d like you to have it.” I opened it to discover 10 eight-track tapes, among them a couple of Queens (Jazz was one of them) and that big Head East album. I was bowled over by his kindness and listened to them constantly until I bought London Calling.

My copy did not have lyrics. This was a significant fact, as Joe seemed to my ear not to be ranting in English (and sometimes he wasn’t–plus, his and Mick’s were the first Spanish words to reach my ears). I strained, I leaned forward, I turned it up, but–other than the easy ones–I couldn’t understand the words, and they damn sure seemed to matter. “Satta Massagana / For Jimmy Dread”? And what was that about fucking nuns? But being sung like they mattered hooked me. It’s why I’ll always be loyal to Joe, one of the greatest non-singers in rock and roll history.

Later, in college, I discovered that my friend Mark’s copy had lyrics printed on the inner sleeves. In Joe’s cool handwriting! Talk about poring over a text–that was probably when I learned to close-read. “L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed / Across the knuckles on his hands / The hands that knocked his kids around / ‘Cos they don’t understand how / ‘Death or Glory!’ / Becomes / Just another story!” DAMN. That was on par with Dylan, and I was a raving Dylanophile. Some 15 years later, I would shoplift for the first and only time. I had just been screwed over in trade value by a clerk at a local used record store, and I got mine back by sneaking out the lyric booklet from their copy of the stupid The Story of The Clash box . That booklet was worth a ten-spot by itself.

In the winter of ’79-’80, when I (first) bought London Calling, I’d taken my first real job, loading and unloading trucks in the evening for a business called Interstate Free Delivery. I worked side by side with a classmate, John Babb, upon whom I forced the album at high volume when it was my turn to give him a ride home. As I am sure you know, great albums sometimes require a few repetitions to make their mark, and soon, John was a fan as well, though he couldn’t suss the lyrics any better than I. “These guys are weird, but they rock,” I remember him enthusing one night out of the blue. And Zep and Rush were his meat ‘n’ taters. Until I went to college, he was the only other person I knew who liked them. John was also the first person I knew in my graduating class who passed, and when he did, London Calling and his open mind was what I thought of.

The Clash were the essential glue that bonded me to my two best friends in college, and best friends we remain. We entered an air guitar contest at White Dog Records in Fayetteville, Arkansas–as The Clash. I got to be Joe–still one of the pleasures of my life. This was before I’d ever seen him in action or heard him speak, but I Method-acted from the evidence of London Calling: he was furious, funny, mad, intense but loose–and I figured he had to always slick up his hair. After preparing for the “performance” by road-tripping to Pine Bluff to see Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Paycheck (we never took no shit from no one–we weren’t fools) and staying up all night “practicing” (with nickels for picks and tennis rackets for guits), we lurched into the store, glowering out of a morning beer buzz. Inside, I was nervous but jubilant, determined to vindicate the band for the masses; outside, I was pissed off to the highest degree of pissed-tivity. We “played” “I Fought the Law,” the Bobby Fuller cover from their debut, but my energy came from London Calling‘s album cover, and its mood. Drained afterwards, we were disappointed to have finished behind The Beach Boys and AC/DC, but hey–the finish was true to the song. With my consolation $10 gift certificate, I bought Fenton Robinson’s Somebody Loan Me a Dime.

My first real critical argument about an album was over London Calling. I was checking out at a Springfield, Missouri, record store called, rather inaccurately, Liberty Sound, and was chatting with the clerk, a guy I knew from the Joplin clubs. We were talking about Slash Records (which took the store eons to stock), and I mentioned how much I loved The Blasters’ first album (then, however, much less than I do at present!). Dude equated them with The Stray Cats (SMFH!!!), then connected The Blasters’ “fake rockabilly” (motherfucker, that’s r & b! and it ain’t fake) to The Clash’s “sell-out” via London Calling and “Brand New Cadillac.” I just lost it. “Man, they’re learning to play, and they’re learning to play more, because they’re learning more about music! And, and, AND? No band’s learned that much THAT fast!” Period. See. You. Later. To this day, when I notice a band growing, I think of that conversation. Sometimes I have to check myself when I find myself wishing a favorite band would stay in its lane. Think of the styles represented, and done justice (and not just musically) on London Calling: rockabilly, reggae, ska, NOLA r & b, straight (and great) rock and roll, punk (of course), skiffle-y pop, Diddley-bop (twice) (in a row), soaring “I Can See for Miles”-styled anthemic hard rock. And I’m leaving things out. Sell-outs? As Ginsberg, I think, said about Dylan, they sold out to (a kind of) God. How else to explain the bittersweet melody of “Spanish Bombs,” lashed to lines like “Spanish bombs / Shatter the hotels / My senorita’s rose was nipped in the bud!”? (Now that line I understood when I was eighteen.)

Speaking of all that, all that led me to even more of that. London Calling made me feel I better get to know Stagger Lee and Billy, Montgomery Clift, The Harder They Come, The Night of the Hunter, Vince Taylor, The Assyrians, and–dammit, son!–why don’t you own a Bo Diddley record yet? I just this moment realized it, but they taught me omnivorousness (secret o’ life, right there).

One way I measure my love for an album is how many times I’ve bought it. London Calling? Five. Twice on LP (the second time, for the lyrics), once on eight-track (for the old Dodge Dart!), twice on CD (the second time for a really sharp remastering). I’ll probably buy it again.

As should you. Especially if you haven’t yet done it once.

A final offering from London Calling: “The fury of the hour / Anger can be power / You know that you can use it! / In these days of evil presidenté / Lately one or two / Have fully paid their dues….”