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.)

Good to My Earhole: Listening Top 10, March 30 – April 4, 2014

Not that I expect this to become a regular feature–I hope it does, though¬†my small band of followers must have noticed I am casting about a bit–but here are some brisk takes on the ten things that spun most euphoniously around my eardrums this week. Consider them strong recommendations for application to your own soul-ills, whatever they may be.

1) Tin Men: Avocodo Woo Woo (CD Baby).¬†I was skeptical about this NOLA trio (featuring Washboard Chaz, the astonishingly ubiquitous songwriter and guitarist Alex McMurray, and sousaphonist–only in the Crescent City!–Matt Perrine) possibly being a dad-rock cum Parrothead act until I read a notably scrupulous and discerning NYC critic’s glowing notice of this, their new album. It is perfectly frothy and spirited fun, with interestingly dark (“Blood in My Eyes”) and dirty (the title song) turns. And, frankly, I love the sound they get from their three pieces.

2)¬†Como Now: Voices of Panola County (Daptone). I am not sure how this brainstorm by “The Label Sharon Jones Built” came about, but in ’06 their agents found themselves in Como, Mississippi (home/former whereabouts) of Fred McDowell, Otha Turner, and Napolion Strickland), soliciting a capella gospel songs from black Christian locals and recording them in a local church. A moving listening experience, especially Irene Stephenson’s harrowing “If It Had Not Been for Jesus.” I am an atheist, and it transfixed me.

3) The Staples Singers: Freedom Train (Epic). Not to be confused with the relatively recent Columbia best-of of the same title, this live album was cut in a church in the group’s then-hometown of Chicago, and the location and the clarity of engineering make it one of the most powerful gospel records of the ’60s, methinks. It’s out of print; I thought I’d pulled a fast one and snagged a $4 copy on eBay, but it was pretty banged up–not so much so that I did not THOROUGHLY enjoy the almost otherworldly dynamics of the performance, particularly Pops’ always-venomous guitar and Mavis’ almost atavistic pleadings.

4) Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good (Shout Factory). Just a bit north of Como (also north of Winona, where Pops Staples was raised up–can you tell I’ve been to Mississippi recently?) is Senatobia, and the space between is one of the locations where North Mississippi Hill Country blues was born. It’s a different animal than Delta blues: structurally and lyrically, it’s more repetitive, but that’s not necessarily a deficit when it’s played with intensity. That’s when it becomes hypnotic–in some ways, it’s an extreme version of the John Lee Hooker sound. Hemphill was raised in this (and the related fife-and-drum) tradition; she’s not as loud nor does she project as well as R. L. Burnside or Junior Kimbrough, but her feminine perspective and toughness often make up for that. Try this:

5) Fu-Schnickens: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya” (from Nervous Breakdown, Jive Records). As Chicago rapper Serengeti’s Tha Grimm Teachaz project suggests, there’s one thing very special about the best rap rekkids of 1990-1995: they don’t date as badly as the prime cuts of other eras. Also, that period seemed stylistically wilder, with seemingly unforgettable (but now pretty much forgotten) MC Chip Fu providing a mind-boggling thrill every other song for this unique group. Other MCs may have been faster, but not more inventive at the same time. By the way, how many current rap GROUPS can you count?

6) D’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Cafe, London, 1996 (Virgin/Universal). This was a Japan-only release back in the day it was recorded, but, as I understand it, even then it wasn’t as expansive as this new reissue, which features ACE covers of The Ohio Players, Mandrill (“Fencewalk”!), Smokey Robinson, and Al Green along with classics from Brown Sugar–principally, a phenomenal performance of the tital track. Weirdly, the artiste often seems to recede into the performances, so he’s no more emphasized than the band or the backup ladies (led by Angie Stone),¬†almost…a Billie Holiday thing. At first I was disappointed he didn’t project more, then I began to suspect it was part of the conception. The link below may be the whole dang thing. Keep your ladies inside the fence….

7) Duke Ellington Orchestra: “Snibor” (from the American Hustle soundtrack or, better advised, And His Mother Called Him Bill on RCA). I finally had a chance to see American Hustle this week, and Nicole and I were surprised and thrilled to hear Johnny Hodges’ alto oozing from this film-opening soundtrack cut. Also, having courted to rekkids ourselves, we were surprised and thrilled to see the protagonists (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams) do the same thing, to Duke and Jeep’s “Jeep’s Blues.” If you are not familiar with Hodges’ sound, it is the definition of sensuous AND sensual; if you are not familiar with Billy Strayhorn’s compositions for Duke, they are usually designed to highlight that sound. Weirdly, I can’t find a YouTube clip for this tune, but here’s an equally seductive one from the same, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED album (a tribute to the recently-passed Strayhorn):

8) The criminally underrated music of Tyler Keith. As a long-time teacher, I am closely acquainted with the dangers of certainty; in fact, I make it a point to seldom if ever come at students from that angle. Music, as esoteric as our perceptions are, is even more problematic in that regard. But I am certain of this: in a world where the rock and roll impulse is dimming, quite seriously (I think that’s a result of¬†the natural evolution of cultural history, of young musicians, for example, casting off the influence of the blues–although donning the robes of a hipster version of James Taylor, in my view, is a misstep–and not feeling the pressures and releases of a society obsessed with sin and salvation, which I think our society still is but youth circa 2014 may not necessarily be), Tyler Keith of Oxford, Mississippi, may well be the ¬†last live-wire link to both the near-insane energy and rhythm of rockabilly and the bugged-eyed gaze into the void of Richard Hell’s strain of punk,¬†which might really have never been fully exploited for its potential. Whew. That was a long one. But goddam I believe it, and the proof is in the best of Tyler’s work with the Neckbones, and three of his rapidly disappearing four “solo” albums (with the current Apostles and the former Preachers’ Kids), in chronologically descending order, Black Highway,¬†Wild Emotions¬†(a fantastic rekkid that MIGHT AS WELL NOT EXIST ON THE INTERWEB!!!), and the perfectly-titled Romeo Hood. Keith’s vocals leap out of his larynx as if propelled by a blood-surge, the music is deeply embued with tough-ass-Stones,¬†sprung-Chuck Berry¬†flavor and Johnny Thunders-styled explosions that are quite unpredictable (!) but perfectly timed in nature, and lyrics that are as obsessed with sin and salvation as The Killer’s favorites, though one suspects with Tyler those are purely existential notions. He can even nail a ballad, even one called “Angora,” about a certain sweater. I have never seen him live, but the intensity of his best recordings cause me to suspect that if I do and he is on, it will be hard to stay in the same room with him. The thing is, I felt this strongly when there was a decent herd he was travelling in; now, he is the burning antithesis not only of the swarms of bearded strummers that play, in critic and musician Allen Lowe’s perfect phrase, as if they have napkins folded in their laps, but also of the depleted strain of rockers who, honestly, usually protest their rockitude too much. With Keith, one feels he’s communicating his wild emotions without artistic calculation, and that’s special. I’ve gone on too long, and I can’t do him¬†justice, but I AM RIGHT: here’s a video of one of the best tunes on his recent rekkid, the BEST rock and roll album of 2013.

Chuck

9)¬†Public Enemy:¬†“Can’t Truss It” (live on Yo! MTV Raps). Nicole and I were fortunate enough to see the great rap orator Chuck D speak at Columbia’s Missouri Theater Tuesday night, for FREE (not nearly enough folks there, though). He is a hero of both of ours–I’ve even read his books–and we came with high expectations. He delivered grandly, though he talked mostly about critical thinking in the age of extreme technology and devolution of United States¬†popular culture (remember when that two-word phrase was a joy? a reason to live?). I prepped for his appearance by watching this great raw video of one of PE’s greatest songs, one I used to teach in American lit, though I didn’t show it to kids this week (I was thinking about using it to promote the appearance) because I didn’t want to be met with slot mouths.

10) Tommy Boy All-Stars: “Malcolm X: No Sell Out” (Tommy Boy 12″). This, too, was part of my prep for seeing Chuck D, a man who, really, hasn’t sold out, either. I’ve read both the Haley/X “autobiography” and Manning Marable’s corrective bio, and I absolutely love the threading of perfectly chosen soundbites from Malcolm’s speeches (“I was in a house tonight that was bombed…my own. It’s not something the makes me lose confidence in what I’m doing.”) through an ace Keith LeBlanc track. In a perfect world, it woulda been a hit. Still inspiring: “I’m not the kind of person who would come here and say what you like.”