Cigarette and Coffee Duel, and a Resulting Hypothetical (June 11th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Every morning for the past damn-near-decade, I’ve awakened and posted two songs on my Facebook wall. Sometimes they address current events; sometimes they are morning earworms; sometimes they are predictive of what I’ll be listening to later. I awakened this morning having listened to Lefty Frizzell for over two hours yesterday, and sure enough, Frizzell’s “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues” was humming in my ‘drums:

What to pair it with? I do tend to awake almost immediately into full consciousness, and in a flash, Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” came to mind:

Talk about two very different songs, as much as their titular subject matter is almost identical. Frizzell’s is a bouncy blues about separation and loneliness; Redding, with the genius assistance of the Stax/Volt house band (especially drummer Al Jackson and guitarist Steve Cropper), creates a dramatic, just-before-dawn solemnity in which is embedded a moment of great joy: a marriage proposal.

Usually, these song posts just end with the posting. Sometimes folks will comment, sometimes I pursue the artists’ music further. In this case, though, Redding came back later, on Facebook, but in a different thread. Last night, several friends and I were playing a game of “Make Me Choose Between Two Bands” on my wall and having a blast. B52s or Go-Gos? Skynyrd or Allmans? Cecil or Thelonious? Dolls or Stooges? Sonics or MC5? You can see how music nerds would go hog-wild with such questions.

In last night’s case, I had been in the position of doing the choosing (with some justification required), but as I prepared to retire for the night, I decided to pose a choice of my own: Pickett or Redding? An unspoken rule of the game is that, if you pose the question, you let the other player/s choose. Myself, well–I’m fortunate I don’t really have to choose, but I am more an Otis guy as far as taste and my own personal makeup are concerned. Otis was deeper, and, as my buddy Ken wrote, warmer. And a sharply skilled writer, too.

Be all that as it may, a question came up, or was suggested, in the thread: had Otis lived, what would have been his path? Maybe I run in the wrong circles, but I hear that question asked about every other tragically snuffed-out music icon, but not about Otis. And it’s a very fascinating question. One participant stated pretty straightforwardly that his star would have continued to rise, but–not that I would have it this way, it’s just that the circumstances he would have faced would have been complicated–I found myself disagreeing. I’m going to blatantly plagiarize my Facebook commentary/suggestion to said individual, if you don’t mind:

Take a close look at the soul masters of the Sixties with a) a rural background, even a Southern base; and b) no particular innovative acumen. Then trace their progress in the Seventies. Also, I’d take a look at the book Sweet Soul Music, by Peter Guralnick, and the chapters that deal with the impact of King’s assassination and the collapse of the Civil Rights Movement on, in particular, Memphis-based soul, and the financial disaster at Stax. I LOVE Otis, and I’m not saying my theory is fool-proof (you could argue Al Green is an exception, but I have a counterargument for that), but he had a very specific thing — within that thing a little variation — that I see him having some difficulty adapting out of. “Dock of the Bay” was different, maybe a sign of a shift, but I’m not sure. Disco Otis? Doubtful. Silk – suit slick – session Otis? Unlikely. Indelibly Southern, naturally gutbucket and unpretentious Otis? Probably. And there you’re heading into Latimore/ZZ Hill/Bobby Bland territory. The Staples adjusted, so maybe Otis could have. But Pops already had a quarter-century of biz-navigation under his belt. A fascinating question, but you’ll have difficulty convincing me he could have sustained his success much further than the early Seventies.

Here’s the dealio: if you’re reading this, and you have a dog in the hunt, would you mind giving your take? Again, the question is fascinating, and infrequently asked.


Elsewhere in the day, I was striving to finish Lamont “U-God” Hawkins’ Raw, his look back at his Staten Island Youth and time with the Wu-Tang Clan, which he helped found. It’s pretty good, if in need of some editing (might have been more powerful at 200 as opposed to 290 pages), and it pushed me to listen to two amazing rap rekkids I hadn’t unshelfed in forever.

While listening to The 36 Chambers, I practiced identifying each of the MCs. That’s easy, I think, with Meth, Ghost, and Rae, but the others not so much. Ever more impressed with production, the lyrical skills, the personas, and the concept, but they sure as hell never topped it:

I am embarrassed, somewhat, to say it, but I had not listened to Ready to Die since the mid-’90s. That’s right. Initially, I guess, the insistent sex rapping backed me off from it. I’m funny that way. BUT THIS TIME? Jeez Louise, those beats broke my damn jaw, and Biggie’s command of accents and dark sense of humor? Audacious.

I guess I’ve grown up a bit since I turned 31….





Flying Daggers Style (January 25th, Columbia, Missouri)

Today was one of those rare days where I didn’t have the room for much music. I did teach a very successful class to my freshman comp/pop music students at Stephens: I’d assigned them to read their choice of four (out of nine) professional “personal” essays about music, identify the writers’ arguments and stylistic traits, then establish their own positions. In addition, they had to select an album they enjoyed from The Village Voice‘s year-end music poll and briefly defend it. They spent the hour reporting their thoughts, and it went splendidly. I heard from them on essays about Loretta Lynn (“It doesn’t matter that she’s a Trump supporter), Chris Brown v. Rihanna (“Some women can kick a man’s ass!” v. “Domestic violence shouldn’t be normalized!”), Lana Del Rey v. Radiohead (“She put enough of her brand on it that the similarities are irrelevant!”), and one on Lady Gaga that they thought was most notable due to writer Mary Gaitskill’s esoteric approach. The makers of the albums from 2017 that they loved? Kendrick (no surprise), Harry Styles (no surprise), SZA (not really a surprise), Lee Ann Womack (cool!), Jason Isbell (hey!). Next class they have to listen to and post commentary on a record from the poll they’ve never heard before. That should be pretty exciting. I’ve assigned myself The War on Drugs–just kidding.

Otherwise, I had essays to grade, an injured dog to attend to (corneal ulcer, freshly removed cyst), and a spouse to nurse (bad stomach and headache) and chill watching Broadchurch with. Plus, I had to change out the straw in our outdoor cats’ huts. Worked up a sweat!

Aside from continuing to mourn Mark E. Smith (heavy dose of The Fall before work, no pints later as I am practicing “Dry January”–I can hear Mark laughing from beyond the grave), I was able to revisit Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx II. A worthy sequel? Yeah. I mean, there are multiple producers (including Dr. Dre and J Dilla) but it still sounds Wu-ish; the subject matter certainly conforms, including one very heinous oral sex scenario that I cannot unhear; and, though Raekwon is in fine form, Ghost and Meth pretty much steal the show. The one track the sticks with me is a Dilla-produced tribute to ODB, “Ason Jones,” which is genuinely moving. So, maybe no, if only one track is still sticking this morning. I am a sucker for Wu atmospherics, Ghost’s “crying” delivery, and the flying daggers of flow, accent, and vocab that result from a Clan collab.