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:

 

 

 

Good to My Earhole, May 12-19: “OK Men Now Let’s Get in Formation”

Highlights of my last week’s worth of listening (and I WAS listening), scored on a 10-point scale, with 7-and-(rounded) up qualifying for my huntin’ and peckin’:

Beyonce/LEMONADE (DVD) – 9.7 – Never much a fan–she seemed too bland outside of Destiny’s Child, and that ad she made while writhing in bills (as well as other shilling) kept plenty white capitalists laughing all the way to the bank–I had my ass royally kicked by “Formation” and moved it right into my class’ curriculum. Regardless of academic parsing to the contrary, though, the video’s THE thing. Besides imagery and scenarios and words that should rightly scare the shit out of men of all stripes who grip the methods of the past with white knuckles–and empower the heck out of women of all stripes–there’s more music in the visual version, too, as well as side talk, back talk, and clipped talk, which I should remind you is also music. Her canny spoken and hoarse patches signify, too, and make up for the (very minimal) sappy stuff.  Bonus: a Second Amendment-touting, cherchez l’homme country song with funky baritone blats!

Aretha Franklin/LADY SOUL – 9.5 – I feel moved to comment on this seeming no-brainer, as I imagine many of our passionate youth may be settling for comps and single downloads. The Queen’s first three on Atlantic are boss, and having re-attended to them while reading David Ritz’s scintillating bio RESPECT, this has become my favorite, end-to-end. Of course, there’s Ree’s voice and piano. But check the guitarists, too: Jimmy Johnson, Joe South, Eric Clapton, and a dude named Bobby Womack.

Jace Clayton/THE JULIUS EASTMAN MEMORY DEPOT – 9.0 – Jace may be known to you as djRupture; Julius Eastman may well be unknown to you, but I’d argue he was one of the greats of the Morton Feldman school of classical composition. I’m sure his lack of recognition has nothing to do with his being black and gay, but forget about that and enjoy two of his greatest compositions (“Crazy Nigger” and “Gay Guerilla”), played by virtuoso pianists, fed through Clayton’s computer, and lovingly and intriguingly effed with. Beauty in repetition–in this case, artfully disrupted by digital genius.

Peter Maxwell Davies (composer)/MISS DONNITHORNE’S MAGGOT b/w EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING – 10.0 – I have to admit: I’m obsessed with Julius Eastman. How did I not read/hear about him ’til a quarter-century after he passed? Here, in the role of the deteriorating George III, he delivers a groundbreaking vocal performance that conveys the reality of mental illness while remaining, well, ART. That is not an easy trick. If you’re tired of clearing the room of unwelcome guests with Captain Beefheart or Peter Brotzmann records, check into this, friends. It holds up absorbed in tranquility, as well.

Tacocat/LOST TIME – 8.8 – These wisecrackers from Seattle realize the potential of lost garage rockers The Pleasure Seekers’ “What a Way to Die” (see also Suzi Quatro, Pinky Tuscadero), and, somewhat less impressively, bottle up the last 35 years of Lady Rock, shake it up, and let it fizz! Recommended to Beyonce in about two months: “Men Explain Things to Me.”

Jack DeJohnette/IN MOVEMENT – 8.8 – The auteur convenes the Coltrane Quartet Legacy–Ravi Coltrane on saxes, Matthew Garrison on bass and electronics–and lays down some tracks that tactfully and punctually rip through the gauze of Manfred Eicher’s trademark ECM production. They take on Ravi’s dad’s seemingly sacrosanct “Alabama” and survive by loosening it up. They crick your double-taking neck on Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” where Ravi conjures Dave Liebman (remember him?) and Matthew conjures Michael Henderson (remember him?). They go out on a “Soulful Ballad” that really is.

Various Artists/LETRA & MUSICA–A TRIBUTE TO BOB DYLAN – 6.95 – Tribute albums do usually suck, and this one outta Brazil usually does. The vocalists slavishly follow Dylan’s original melodies and intonations, and whoever told the artists that guitars are only to be acoustically strummed needs to find a new profession. BUT–it’s worth a mention for two songs that belong to the sub-canon of classic Dylan covers, as a result of the interpreters taking risks. Caetano Veloso, who knows from tear gas, water cannons, Molotov cocktails and rocks, turns “Jokerman” into an incantation, almost falling into ritual ululations at several points; Renato Russo switches up the pronouns and turns “If You See H[im], Say Hello” into a landmark of broken gay love.