Like Spring Rain (May 1st, 2018, Columbia, MO)

The nice thing about having the memory of so many songs in your head is that, so often, a pebble of a thought–a word or a phrase–rolls to the fore, settles defiantly, and won’t budge until you seek out a related line of a song you just have to hear. For me, on this day, a weather app on my phone set the process in motion: it’s just recently become spring-like in Missouri, blossoms are busting out all over, and I was checking just to make sure we weren’t going to get boomeranged by a cold front (again). The mid-evening forecast. Rain. Spring rain. Is change actually coming? Coming down like sheets? Wait–what’s that itch?

I tried to suppress it, but fragments of those phrases kept buzzing my brain. When I returned home from work, I headed for the living room stacks (there’s one in almost every room of our house) and just randomly (I thought) chose three CDs for the changer: Glasvegas’ eponymous 2008 debut, The Go-Betweens’ so-stellar-it’s-almost-toxic 1978-1990, and Rhiannon Giddens’ Freedom Highway. You will, I hope, notice that the alphabetical progress of those titles does indeed support my theory of (attempted?) random choice.

I loaded ’em up, flopped onto the couch with the Sister Rosetta Tharpe bio I am trudging through, and promptly read two pages, dozed, read three pages, dozed–then was brought bolt-upright by a chorus that came hurtling from the speakers:

Dressed in a white shirt with my hair combed straight
Here in my black shoes and me without a date
Me without hindsight, me without
When will change come, Just like Spring Rain
Falling down like sheets
(falling down like sheets)
Coming down like love
(coming down like love)
Falling at my feet
(falling just like)
Spring Rain

The itch that will be scratched. The thought-pebble grown to a boulder that will roll away at the proper command:

Of course, I repeat-played the song! A wonderful guitar jangle of an opener, Robert Forster’s aching, utterly convincing lead vocal (haven’t we been there? yes, we have), and Lindy Morrison’s military snaps leading into and out of those words that were born today out of a weather forecast. (Don’t get me started on this compilation’s other treasures; better to get yourself started if you’ve yet to, and it’ll be a friend for life).

Quick observations about my other “random” choices: I really need to listen to Glasvegas’ other music, but I’ve been hooked on the Scots’ fledging effort since I first played it a decade ago. It’s not my usual cuppa–the attack is unabashedly romantic and straightforwardly pop–but there is something about the bits and pieces of rock and roll history from which  James Allen and his band construct songs, and about Allen and Rich Costey’s Phil Spector-cum-Steve Lillywhite production, that makes my knees weak. The tunes are memorable wall-to-wall, and Allen’s yearning tenor crying out from inside the grand sound-chamber is consistently affecting. As for Giddens, her past work has struck me as a bit too prim, pure, and proper–a mite flu-la-lute, as my old friend Cassandra would say–to sell her material and concept (whether solo or with the Carolina Chocolate Drops). However, I bought her 2017 record because, in that moment (January, I think), I felt like I was going to support anything defiant, and a glance at the song titles suggested that maybe, just maybe, Rhiannon would be angry enough to cut through her…I’m not sure it’s composure, but something like that. And she does, though I kept being bugged by how much it reminded me of a ’60s folk album (ultra-righteous in tone, very correct in selections) and figured I would return to rationality and dismiss it. HOWEVER, that’s yet to happen. I’ve played this sucker at least 15 times and it keeps getting stronger; the songs aren’t just correctly chosen, they’re audaciously chosen, and Giddens doesn’t trip on them). Believe me, I wasn’t sure anyone needed to be, for example, covering The Staples’ “Freedom Highway”–no point, you will not improve that any which way, young lady. But I’ve come to even admire that, on which she’s ably aided by another young, righteous, and talented artist, Bhi Bhiman. The damn thing’s won me over, and that’s that.

Short-shrift Division:

I am on a 33 1/3rd Series reading kick, and guess what book I’m picking up next?

Progress Report (March 26th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)p

This was a slow music day–music isn’t the end-all be-all (he sez to himself)–but in honor of the piquant writer Luc Sante’s great essay on the subject for Pitchfork, I thought a lot about Something Else by The Kinks. That album was the centerpiece for a mini-unit series that was a regular part of my practice as a teacher of British literature at Hickman High School. As a way to ease reluctant students into the process of literary analysis, I would guide them through a quick study of the work of notable songwriters from or associated with the British Isles. I’d give them some brief background and guiding questions, provide them a packet with selected lyrics, play each song, then solicit their observations, gradually pulling my own back. The Kinks’ Ray Davies couldn’t have been a more perfect writer for such a lesson: his command of voice, tone, characterization, ambiguity, irony, and droll humor ensured students would walk out knowing more than they did coming in, and that many would leave big fans–especially after “Waterloo Sunset,” which closed the class. That’s a classic example of a song that means far more than its author and most critics have claimed for it–or so my students would annually prove to me.

Please sample the album, linked above, and check out Mr. Sante’s reconsideration of its quality import.

As far as the post title’s concerned, since things are slow, it’s a good time to reflect on how this blog, which I resolved to rejuvenate on New Year’s Day, is faring.

A) I was largely trying to break out of writer’s lethargy, and I’ve posted 86 straight days. Check.

B) My concept was to simply keep a diary of my listening, which I mostly have unless I’ve repeat-played something over several days, which I occasionally do. This was a way to triumph over a fear of having nothing of worth to say, which is largely true, but I’ve surprised myself at least four times, mostly because the unpredictability of daily circumstances has interceded. Still, though, most of the entries are just gussied-up shares of links. Check-minus.

C) It’s become clear to me that embarking upon this undertaking is a way to replace something that’s been missing in my life. I am honestly pissed and sad that the evolution of technology has rendered my making mixtapes pretty superfluous. For probably 25 years, I was often the only person many folks knew who had access to a ton, and a wide range, of music. From party-people pals to students, enough humans sought me out for musical grab bags and commissioned projects that I started taking great pride in fulfilling their needs. I invested many hours and much cogitation, crate-diggin’, taping and erasing, and creative labeling during that quarter-century–then poof! All gone. Should have seen it coming! I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t occasionally find a way to spend a couple hours in my old favorite way–like, recently, providing filmgoers a specially selected Rahsaan Roland Kirk CD to accompany their viewing of the great Adam Kahan Kirk doc The Case of the Three-Sided Dream–but even then, hell, they could’ve Spotified it for themselves. And now I only have 15-25 students a year, as opposed to 125, to whom to preach the gospel. SO–writing these posts at the very least creates the delusion that I’m still playing that old role, which I deeply savored. Check-minus?

D) It’s nothing profound, but as I approach 60, I think about being gone more frequently than I ever have, and, well…these posts proved I walked the turf, and a cornucopia of sounds lightened my step. Check-plus.

E) I was in New Orleans at the beginning of the year, and thus was frequently annoyed at having to knock the early entries out on my smartphone. Would it be easier on my ol’ desktop! Surprise surprise, but I’ve gotten so used to single-finger tapping, I prefer writing them on my phone, though my editing isn’t as careful. Check? Hmmm…

F) I did hope a few friends and other humans might read it. And I am thankful they have. Big check.

G) I have enjoyed this. At least five times, I almost decided to take a day off, usually for a seeming lack of real subject matter; each time, an idea formed that I had to seize upon. Whether it’s teaching, being married, sitting in solitude, or writing into a yawning digital chasm, I have always been driven to embue my activities with…FUN. For me, at the very least. So, a final check.

See you tomorrow, and thanks to Scott Woods, Rex Harris, Kevin Bozelka, Alfred Soto, and Hardin Smith, Expert Witnesses who each gave me a spark to get this going, and to my wife Nicole, who has been living with me and listening for 28 years. It’s not like I won a damned award, but it feels like it, just writing every day.