“Baby, I’m Scared of You”: A Halloween Playlist! Plus: Best Records of ’18, 83% of the Way Through This Mess

Please ramp up your Halloween anxiety with this YouTube playlist of my favorite scary records! It’s not meant to be comprehensive–these are the ones we regularly blast out into the street when we await trick-or-treaters in the driveway, a firepot in front of us and libations beside us (tonight: a single barrel Four Roses). It’s heavy on Roky, Dead Moon, The Cramps, and Screamin’ Jay, but it ranges into punk, rap, jazz, and country, too.



Also, what would the end of the month be without an OCD update of my favorite records released this year? It’s been an outstanding one: after thinning the herd in September, I’m back up to 135 records I’d give a B+ or better to if they were my students (some of ’em do grow on you over time!). My list of reissues is up to 25 from 20 for those of you who range across the years or just think music’s been over for awhile. Sad to say, some new records (particularly the new Cloud Nothings) have not made it to my inner ear yet, but I got a sneakyloo listen to the new Pistol Annies and I’m betting heavy on that.

Overeem’s “Best of 2018,” two months from New Year’s

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  3. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  4. JLin: Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)
  5. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  6. The Internet: Hive Mind
  7. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  8. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  9. Noname: Room 25
  10. Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings
  11. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  12. Swamp Dogg: Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune
  13. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  14. Pusha T: Daytona
  15. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  16. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  17. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  18. JD Allen: Love Stone
  19. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  20. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  21. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldiers: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  22. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  23. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  24. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  25. Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours
  26. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  27. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  28. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  29. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  30. The Necks: Body
  31. Michot’s Melody Makers: Blood Moon
  32. Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy
  33. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  34. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  35. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  36. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  37. boygenius: EP
  38. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  39. Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace
  40. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  41. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  42. SOPHIE: The Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides
  43. The Goon Sax: We’re Not Talking
  44. Lyrics Born: Quite a Life
  45. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel
  46. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  47. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  48. Knife Knights: 1 Time Mirage
  49. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  50. Young Mothers: Morose
  51. Kelela: Take Me Apart—The Remixes
  52. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  53. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  54. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  55. Robyn: Honey
  56. Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics
  57. Tyshawn Sorey: Pillars
  58. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  59. La Maison Noir: The Black House
  60. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  61. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  62. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  63. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  64. Full Blast: Live in Rio
  65. Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed
  66. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  67. Bombino: Deran
  68. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  69. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  70. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  71. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  72. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  73. The Thing: Again
  74. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  75. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  76. Chief Keef: The Kozart
  77. Nas: Nasir
  78. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  79. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  80. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  81. Makaya McCraven: Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)
  82. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  83. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  84. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  85. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  86. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  87. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  88. The Beths: The Future Hates Me
  89. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  90. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  91. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  92. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  93. Mudhoney: Digital Garbage
  94. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  95. Kiefer: happysad
  96. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  97. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  98. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  99. Don Flemons: Black Cowboy
  100. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  101. Shopping: The Official Body
  102. Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid
  103. Maria Muldaur: Don’t You Feel My Leg—The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blu Lu Barker
  104. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  105. Shame: Songs of Praise
  106. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  107. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  108. Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018
  109. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  110. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  111. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  112. L.E.S. Douze: The Stoned 1
  113. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  114. Tal National: Tantabara
  115. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  116. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  117. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  118. Tirzah: Devotion
  119. The Chills: Snowbound
  120. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  121. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  122. Old Man Saxon: The Pursuit
  123. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  124. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  125. Lonnie Holley: MITH
  126. Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Plays Bluegrass
  127. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  128. Migos: Culture II
  129. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  130. The Carters: Everything is Love
  131. Sleep: The Sciences
  132. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  133. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  134. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  135. Chad Popper: A Popper People


  1. Various Artists: The Savory Collection 1935-1940
  2. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  3. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  4. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  5. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  6. Prince: A Piano and a Microphone
  7. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  8. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  9. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  10. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms
  11. Joe McPhee: Nation Time
  12. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  13. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  14. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  15. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  16. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  17. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  18. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  19. Wussy: Getting Better
  20. Milford Graves: Babi
  21. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  22. Various Artists: The Beginning of the End
  23. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  24. Various Artists: Two Niles to Sing a Melody—The Violins & Synths of Sudan
  25. Feeling Kreyol: Las Pale

Son of Desert Island Books: The Ten Books I’ve Read THIS YEAR That I’d Haul Away with Me (October 29th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Last week, I featured the 10 records from this calendar year that I’d take with me to a deserted island (after a calamitous event, if you can imagine that) if for some strange reason I could only take 10. That was fun, and I look back on that post without utter embarrassment–though I’d make some substitutions today, of course.

This week, as promised–I know you’ve been on tenterhooks out there–I’m featuring 10 books I’ve read this year that I’d haul with me. I’ve had to tweak this experiment some, because I just don’t read new books as regularly as I listen to new records. I walk my reading path very randomly–with books I read about in other books, with books I read about while reading about other books, with books I hear great authors talking about–so I’ve given myself more leeway. Unfortunately, I didn’t read The Count of Monte Cristo or Middlemarch this year, because they’d have been perfect for this cause.

The categories were designed to fit a listening regimen; they don’t fit reading as perfectly, but I enjoy pounding square pegs into round holes. Also, reading is a very esoteric endeavor. Books with seemingly clear intentions conjure vastly different states of being for different readers, depending on their experiences. Thus, some of my choices may not make immediate sense–but I attempt to provide clarity with an additional line of commentary for each. Also, each book image carries a link to additional information about its contents.

To refresh your (and my) memory, here are the aspects of healthy, durable desert island life that guided my choices:

Physical Exercise

Mental Exercise





Appreciation (of the Present)


Lightness (Hope, Laughter, Love)

Darkness (Despair, Rage, Hate)

And here is my reading list for isolation:


One. To keep myself physically fit, encourage me to dance (easier when I’m by myself, anyway), and inspire me to invent my own kind of tai chi:


Fitness, dancing, invention–action!–remain this not-merely-a-survivor’s driving forces, and each step of her life’s been animated by one, the other, or all of the above.


Two. To keep my mind sharp, engaged, challenged, and fed (this would have to be something durably challenging and nutritious, ya dig?):

What Rough Beast

Oddly, this durably thought-provoking book is slim, but the complexity and attractiveness of the philosophical viewpoints it proposes would keep me engaged for years.


Three. To practice mindfulness and master the emptying of my mind and desires:



Again, odd. But, 1) there is something oddly mindful and self-abnegating about Hoke’s way of proceeding through the weird world of Miami crime, and 2) what better to empty the mind of care than laughter at human foibles and strivings?


Four. To elicit and help sustain deep and restful slumber:


Dantzic’s dreamlike photos of Lady Day in twilight are almost narcotic.


Five. Um, OK, I will technically be alone…but my imagination and memories, and the sun, moon, stars, and breeze will be my companions:


Villareal, one of the many amazing young Latinx poets at work today, composes verse that isn’t necessarily erotic, about moments that aren’t necessarily sexual, but her lines are so limber and studded with physical imagery they are arousing nonetheless.


Six. To conjure the best memories of my friends, family, wife, pets, and exploits (a tough one, because recent records connect quicker to recent interactions–the past, but certainly not the deep past):


This isn’t my favorite Erdrich, but its sweeping, unfortunately not-so-futuristic tale of a pregnant woman, her family, her lovers, and her tribe as they struggle to survive a cruel twist in America’s forward motion would evoke many of my relationships so far (plus, my wife and I listened to it in its totality on a blissful cross-country trip only dementia or something like that could steal from me).


Seven. To encourage me to appreciate my circumstances, either by contrast with the agonies of society or by putting the glories of isolation into relief:

My Abandonment

Another slim book that I adore; I’ve already read it twice, and I’m sure I’ll read it again, but, on a deserted island, its picture of a father (?) and daughter’s solitary existence in Portland’s Forest Park–by dint of savvy, hard work, and close hewing to a jaundiced philosophical outlook about modern society–would serve me very well.


Eight. To encourage me to sing freeing, determined, defiant, melancholy songs–luckily, no one will be there to hear.


A stretch to include one of my favorite books of the year, but Anderson’s story of one city’s exploits in dreaming, planning, chance, disaster, absurdity, rapacity, service, and (albeit fleeting–for now, at least) triumph is a reason to sing a song of humanity that contains multitudes.


Nine. To help me hold (and also release) the light.


Cheating again a bit here, as I just wanted to sneak in an anthology featuring work by many of my favorite current authors, and the cover photo doesn’t bode well, but taken together, these essays and stories are testament to a magnetic and repulsive United States–something I’d have to release, for better or worse, as a result of this thought experiment.


Ten. To help me embrace (and also fight) the dark.


I just finished this–a book I should have read when I was 12–and, of course, it caused me to confront the savagery done in this country’s name as well as ponder the question, “With this legacy, how can you live here?”

Son of Desert Island Discs: 10 Records Released This Year That I’d Take with Me if That Were My Only Choice (October 24, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Last week, I posted my Top 10 desert island records (at least the ones I was feeling that day) for no good reason other than to think about great records and put it out there. Thing is, though…well, three things: a) my list was boring, I thought in retrospect; b) confronted with picking ten from 10,000, I felt my brain dull–and I really didn’t think about the albums, I just felt about them; and c) after realizing no Howlin’ Wolf or Thelonious Monk was on the list, I felt like the failure. Felt, felt, felt.

So I was wallowing around in the comment thread on Facebook that issued forth from my sharing of the post, when a decent, worthy, achievable task came to mind: what if I limited my leave-the-country-fast-as-you-can crate to just records that have been released in 2018? Harder in some ways, but easier to think about. For example, I actually thought about 10 categories for records I’d need if I were isolated on such an islet, and they came surprisingly quickly:

Physical Exercise

Mental Exercise





Appreciation (of the Present)


Lightness (Hope, Laughter, Love)

Darkness (Despair, Rage, Hate)

And, see, the thing is, my Top 10 2018-vintage desert island discs, as a result of the above, don’t exactly match my current Top 10 favorite 2018-vintage discs, because utilitarianism has intruded, which, for my purposes, is just fine. Here goes–the records came almost as quickly, and satisfactorily, as the categories! (Note: I’ve linked the artists and/or records with some supplemental material if you know them not.)

One. To keep myself physically fit, encourage me to dance (easier when I’m by myself, anyway), and inspire me to invent my own kind of tai chi:

JLin‘s Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)

Two. To keep my mind sharp, engaged, challenged, and fed (this would have to be something durably challenging and nutritious, ya dig?):

Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldiers: Rifles and Rosary Beads

Three. To practice mindfulness and master the emptying of my mind and desires:

Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub

Four. To elicit and help sustain deep and restful slumber, and regenerate my physical and mental cores:

The Necks: Body

Five. Um, OK, I will technically be alone…but my imagination and memories, and the sun, moon, stars, and breeze will be my companions:

JD Allen: Love Stone

Six. To conjure the best memories of my friends, family, wife, pets, and exploits (a tough one, because recent records connect quicker to recent interactions–the past, but certainly not the deep past) (but–aha!–I found a way to cheat, as usual):

Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed

Seven. To encourage me to appreciate my circumstances, either by contrast with the agonies of society or by putting the glories of isolation into relief:

Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties

Eight. To encourage me to sing freeing, determined, defiant, melancholy songs–luckily, no one will be there to hear. Dedicated to my friend Hardin–I know you were waiting for it.

Tracey Thorn: Record

Nine. To help me hold (and also release) the light.

John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness

Ten. To help me embrace (and also fight) the dark.

Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit


Let’s hope none of us ever have a reason to split for the sands.

Coming soon: my similar answer to my recent 10 Desert Island Books post.


Apropos of Nothing, 10 Books with which I’d Vamoose to a Desert Island (October 22, 2018, Columbia, MO)

By request, here are 10 books I’d take along with me if I had to leave quickly. They are not necessarily music-related; they are books which I’ve read and re-read, and that would give me solace, perspective, and the will to live in isolation. I’m not going to explain my choices other than by what I’ve said already, but I’m embedding a link in each picture that you might be interested in investigating if you’re unfamiliar with the tome. Also, they are in random order. I need to quit typing before I forget one or two:

Peter Guralnick: Sweet Soul Music


Juan Rulfo: The Burning Plain and Other Stories


Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination


Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon


George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo


Ernest J. Gaines: A Lesson Before Dying


Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories


John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces


George MacDonald Fraser: The Flashman Papers


Ed Sanders: America–A History in Verse, Vols. 1-3 + 1968: A History in Verse



Apropos of Nothing, My Desert Island Top 10 (October 21st, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Since I am well-known to care more about the fading concept of albums  than most, I am often asked about my desert island Top 10. Usually, that’s a parlor game; these days, it sounds like an actual option. Just today, I found myself relating to the earliest founders of this democracy: is there anywhere I can move with like-minded folks to found a country girded by ideals, intellect, compassion, and creativity? Where I don’t have to watch a “leader” mocking the oppressed? I clearly chose the wrong presidential term to quit drinking. ANYWAY, here are 10 albums that always come up when the quick-grab-and-take-off query is proffered, not in any preferential order. I have nothing to say about them. If you click on the links, my attraction should be apparent to you.

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume Three–Basin Street Blues

Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta

Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

The Velvet Underground

Eric B. and Rakim: Follow the Leader

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

Hank Williams, Sr.: The Original Singles Collection…Plus

Billie Holiday: Lady Day

Dead Moon: Echoes of the Past

There it is. Those will sustain me. The list might be different tomorrow. I am quite aware of glaring omissions (no Wolf? no Clash? no Aretha? no Satchmo? no…I could go on); also, it’s a crusty semi-old-timer’s list, indeed–I’d just argue time’s still in its chambers ruling on more recent stuff, I suppose.

Now I Got a Reason (October 15th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am not sure when music put a hook in my lip, but I was quite young at the time, and it could have been any one of the following moments:

  1. When I received the Banana Splits theme song 45 (I feel like it came out of a cereal box, but I don’t remember–did you know Al Kooper, Barry White, and Gene Pitney contributed music to the show’s soundtrack?).
  2. When I first heard Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy”–my childhood best friend’s dad owned a jukebox stocking and repair shop, and when we’d visit, he’d always let me have a beat-to-hell record, and this was probably the first. I didn’t care about the forest-fire surface noise, and it was probably the first song I memorized. I don’t think I ever flipped it over….
  3. When my parents gave me my first album: Sgt. Pepper’s, of course (that would have been ’70 or ’71). I could not get enough of that one, then I subjected it to a long, long, long period of avoidance, which ended late last year when, after reading a couple Beatle books, I once again found myself infused with affection for it.
  4. When I first heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”–I think my mom had a crush on Glen, thus we had the albums (I tended to stare at Bobbie Gentry on the cover of one of those), thus we watched his show, and…man, I caught the vibe of this song. I think it was the first time I ever heard loneliness. 40 years later, when I read the story of its recording, I ended up playing it every day for about a month.
  5. When I first heard either The Spinners’ “Mighty Love” or Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” on the Carthage Municipal Pool jukebox: the former sounded like pure, unadulterated joy on wax and probably caused my junior and senior high romantic life to be torture, because that was what I expected having a girlfriend to feel and be like (whatta sap!); the latter seemed like I would need decades of research to fully understand, and with a title like that, I just had to play the “B” side instead of the “A.” (What a 45 that was!)

I mean, I can sort out the chronology, but I’m not sure which moment was the one that really struck me with the fever. Most definitely, one of those was the cause.

I bring all of this up because this morning I found myself recalling the moment that ensured the hook of music remained sunk, as it still is and will likely remain, unless I lose my mind, which these days is very much a possibility.

Most of my high school friends probably remember me as a music nut. I wrote reviews for the Carthage High School student newspaper; the first couple enthused about Boston’s Don’t Look Back and Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I skipped lunch frequently to spend my money at Ken’s Records, which was just a few blocks from the school and right next door to our favorite lunch joint, so friends often saw me “eating” there. My friend Todd Freeman and I regularly arrived to school early just to man the senior lounge stereo, its speakers wired out into the lobby, and philosophize, girl-watch, and heckle underclassmen–we had an East Coast thing going for some reason, so Springsteen and Billy Joel were our eight-tracks du jour. Even then a drooling Dylanophile, I successfully lobbied to make “Forever Young” the theme of a homecoming dance–o former classmates, please forgive that, for I was young and foolish and my dreck-detector was ill-calibrated! I sat patiently next to my home stereo, cassette tape on “REC” and “PAUSE,” waiting for KSYN in Joplin to play my favorite songs that hadn’t made “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40” yet; back then, kiddies, you had to have the bucks and hope the local shop (if your town even featured one) carried the 45 or album if you wanted a chance to hear it over and over and over again. Speaking of Dylan, I heard “Hurricane” on the radio exactly once on KSYN during my entire high school career, and I didn’t have a blank cassette ready. Once. Why didn’t I just go buy Desire at Ken’s?

A) I wasn’t made of money.

B) I wasn’t yet reading reviews every week, and thus I might not have known it was on Desire.

C) Ken’s might not have carried it, or might have been sold out–I didn’t hear “Hurricane” until way after Desire was released, anyway.

Back then, simple listening on demand did not come easy. We did, though, have KSYN’s late-night show that played new albums in their entirety (thank you, programmers, for Live Rust and for 2112, two seemingly vastly different albums that, come to think of it, have much in common).

Well, that was the good stuff. The frustrating stuff was, I was (and still am) a restless seeker after new sounds and knowledge, and I didn’t then know anyone, really, who was also down for the search. I’m pretty independent–I don’t tend to need much validation for my interests–but you have to admit few moments are more fun than discovering new sources of exaltation, amazement, and enlightenment in good company. Try as I might, I had zero luck enlisting anybody for deep dives into Armed Forces, Darkness on the Edge of Town, London Calling, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Night Moves, Never Mind the Bollocks, or The Basement Tapes. I mentioned Live Rust earlier; elsewhere on this blog, I documented the pain and suffering inflicted upon me when I dared to foist its revelatory content on high school friends (and potential more-than-friends). One can see I wasn’t getting a ton of positive reinforcement, and since my seeking also extended to non-musical paths, the possibility that I might have jumped off the musical hook at some point in the near-future was…distinct.

At the time, music and sports ran neck-and-neck for my attention, with sports leading by a nose. I played basketball, football, soccer, and baseball (very, very poorly and mercifully briefly in the last case); I also ran track, and swam competitively. I wrote almost all of the sports copy for the school paper, as well as covered junior varsity (and some varsity) sports for the local paper, and, most tellingly, when it came to a career, I just wanted to watch, record statistics for, and write about the NBA for a living. I headed off to college at the University of Arkansas with that intention, as well as the promise of a gig as the school’s baseball statistician. With me, I hauled about 19 records (why do I remember that number?) and a faux-leather case of 12 eight-tracks (Queen, Head East, Alice Cooper); if that tableau doesn’t indicate the potential for my musical passions becoming fleeting–or at the least stunted–I’m not sure what would (though I had bought a rubber stamp with my name on it and stamped all my records–that’s a tad strange and obsessive).

So, my parents had dropped me off at Reid Hall–I was clearly an early arrival–I’d gotten comfortable in my dorm room on the fourth floor, a nice breeze was blowing through my open window and door out into the hall…and I decided to just blast something annoying to test the waters and find out as soon as possible if I were indeed going to continue to seek new sounds alone (if, alas, at all). I remember feeling pessimistic about that process continuing. The obvious album for the task was The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. Though I didn’t have a fucking clue about most of what Mr. Rotten was raving about, though I had not yet listened to it with anyone, though it had essentially gotten me kicked out of Sunday school forever a couple years before (that’s another blog post), I thought Bollocks would be the perfect album to blast, mark my territory with, and measure the degree of alienation from my peers I was bound to suffer/cause. I didn’t know Whitman yet, but also, underneath all that bullshit, it was, probably, “Noiseless Patient Spider” time for me. I snapped the eight-track into its slot, turned the knob to seven, and sprawled out on my bed to await the results.

No sooner had those four opening seconds of marching boots led into Steve Jones’ first chord than a dude walked right into my room, pointed at my stereo, cocked his head slightly to one side, and asked (note the implied question!), “Ummm…The Sex Pistols?”

I sat up and said, “Yeah?”

The dude enthusiastically proclaimed, “Hello!” This was not a greeting–that five-letter word, as he used it, would have many meanings, depending on the context, over the course of our still-ongoing friendship. In this case, it was an affirmation.

The dude was from Little Rock. Turned out he was ensconced with his cousin Bruce in the dorm room next to mine. He was distinctly not angry with my selection or the stereo volume.

“I’m Kenny. You heard of The Ramones?” he asked.

“Well, some kids I never met spray-painted that name on the baseball stadium wall in my hometown, but no.” (Ken’s did not carry Ramones records as far as I knew, but I also hadn’t yet read about them.)

“We can fix that. Are these your records? Hello, eight-tracks!”


“Ooooooooooh. Elvis Costello!”

Soon, we were over in his room. Kenny introduced me to Bruce, slapped on a record, and I quickly realized The Ramones were a subject for serious further research.

His vaguely dangerous-seeming cousin was into Sabbath, whom I knew well, but also Funkadelic and Jerry Clower (HAW!) and Monty Python, whom I didn’t. And that wasn’t all. Without checking with us, Bruce took Leave Home off the turntable and replaced it with a yellow-covered album he’d snatched so quickly out of a nearby crate I couldn’t make out the other artistic details. Waggling his eyebrows and darting his eyes about manically, he lowered the needle into the record’s groove. Sounds from a deeply weird space slithered out of Kenny’s speakers, and Bruce launched into an almost threatening solo dance, at which point I took a step backwards:


If you haven’t already deduced it, this was the moment I hearkened back to this morning. I honestly think it not only re-set the musical hook in my lip, but also insured that music wouldn’t just be a hobby for me–that I’d ride that line like the shark in Jaws. Before long, I got bored with baseball stats and found myself rifling through the university bookstore’s handy cut-out bin for Kinks and Howlin’ Wolf records. I didn’t end up sitting at an NBA scorer’s table, but I did end up playing in three bands (absolutely unaccountably–I’d never imagined the possibility). My writing was diverted from a sports focus to a near-exclusive attention to records, whether I was knocking out an essay for a course (I became very adept at manipulating my professors’ assignments to allow for that subject), scribbling lyrics on the back of a Taco Bell sack before a gig, writing reviews for college newspapers and Xeroxed fanzines–or designing assignments for the English classes I ended up teaching for 35 years (and counting).

I’ve always been deeply impressed by the power and significance of chance, and one thing that stereo-cranking on the fourth floor of Reid Hall taught me is that you can best take advantage of chance’s bounty by putting yourself (or, rather, your self) out there. Kenny, Bruce: thanks for helping to save me from a fate worse than death–crunching sports numbers.






Tierra Whack / Sophie: Socratic Seminar College Girls Gone Critically Wild (October 11th, 2018, Stephens College, Columbia, MO)

The assignment:


The on-site guidelines (with some context for the reader):

I’ve been leading these discussions and choosing the records, but a student asked if they could pick, and–why the hell not? The moderators in this case are the ones who chose the respective albums. A gender-bending anti-capitalist charter school advocate from St. Louis chose the Sophie album (which, in preparing myself for the activity, I’ve come to really like!) and a rural SW Missouri kid with a hearing disability who’s also the first college student in her family chose Ms. Whack. I will not participate verbally; I’m documenting the discussion, and their scores will be based on participation (they can gain some points simply by being attentive) and preparation (I’ve required annotated notes on their listening, reading, and viewing experience). This is a stepping stone to their writing reviews of their own, which Austin is also going to assist with.

Here’s the assignment:

Tips for Today’s Discussion of Tierra Whack’s Whack World

…and Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides:

Moderators (Emmalee and Emil):
Initiate, guide, and enhance the discussion—in other words, make your participation about inspiring conversation, involving as many folks as possible, and keeping it on track. You should mostly ask questions, not make statements.

General Participants:
• Have your notes out and mentally prepare for how you would like to enter the conversation, and use your notes to support your comments.
• Self-monitor: realize everyone needs to participate, so be specific and concise. Think twice about entering more than once.
• No hand-raising: wait for space and enter it with politeness.
• Do not interrupt speakers—but, again, speakers? Self-monitor.
• You are welcome to ask other speakers to clarify their opinions; moderators are expected to do this, but it is not exclusively their job. By the same token, you may invite students who seem to be struggling to get involved to enter.
This conversation is about exploring how best to review these albums, since that is your next task. Keep your commentary confined to what you’d write about these albums if you were required to.

My notes on the proceedings:

Re: Tierra Whack:

“…she’s pretty brave because she avoids rap stereotypes for women–she’s odd and that’s GOOD…”

“…if were white, this’d be more popular…”

“…the silliness provides a neat contrast, or subtlety, or something for her serious thoughts…”

“…how does the short format impact her hopes for sales…?

“I found the abruptness, or lack of transitions, to be hard to deal with first listen, but the videos smoothed those out…”

“there is a sadness undercurrent she doesn’t need a piano to communicate…”

“She’s so inventive musically and visually–you really need to watch the videos too–but she’s so fast it’s hard to process!”

“She’s a female Chance the Rapper…”

“Do you think she defies genre…?”

Re: Sophie:

The moderator surprised me and went around the room asking each fellow student to offer an adjective to describe Sophie, which she listed on the board as a menu for her Socratic. At first, I was annoyed with her asserting that much authority over the rest of the group (she is a strong personality, and I’d asked her to temper that a bit for this activity), but she then receded back to her seat and the menu worked great!

“Is discomfort in reacting to an art a band thing…?”

“I didn’t know she was trans…! (?)”

“I love this album but it disturbs me… the music doesn’t fit into a genre, but she doesn’t, either…!”

“How do you…or CAN you…evaluate the album separate from the times…”

“I was listening to this in the car by myself, and just had to turn it off and ask myself, ‘Is everything ok?’…”

“I was shook!”

“Now that I know she’s trans I LOVE THIS ALBUM!”

“She’s basically saying ‘Fuck you, I can change myself anyway I want to….”

“…it sounds like, with her music, she’s making the audience feel what it feels like to BE trans in public in this country…shook, yeah, but also beautiful and multi-dimensional.”


My last comment was, “Well, from now on I am just going to assign you material and have you teach each other–I do not appear all that necessary, and Socrates would agree!” Kind of joking—but kind of not.