On the Stereo: Building the Baby’s Room

Posted by: on Jul 30, 2009 | Comments (0)

I’ve been working a nonstop string of 12-hour days doing construction on my house lately—building a bedroom for my first baby-to-be—and while nailing, sanding, wiring, sheetrocking, and plumbing, I’ve had lots of music-listening time. Construction work is traditionally affiliated with heavy doses of AC/DC, but because I would rather be placed in a vat full of rancid hamburger juice than listen to AC/DC for any extended period of time past, say, two and a half minutes, I’ve had to make do with less-macho tunes.


Okay, okay, I did listen to Thin Lizzy, but hey, it was their first album, which is meandering, sort of psychedelic, and totally cool. No one would mistake it for AC/DC. Its first song is “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle,” for cryin’ out loud, which is an anagram for “Defer Thinly a Fragrance Transect Toll.” Bon Scott would never come up with something like that.


Jack DeJohnette, who is the most bendable drummer I have ever seen, released a record earlier this year with Danilo Perez and John Pattitucci, both currently with Wayne Shorter’s group. It’s called Music We Are, and if you would like to hear jazz musicians who predate the Bad Plus by many years sound like the Bad Plus, it is the recording for you. Heavy left-hand pumping on the upbeat, drumming that sounds like egg beaters. Pattitucci, as always, is the Entwistle of jazz—anchored and regal.


It Still Moves is the album that sold me on My Morning Jacket, but Okonokos drained my proverbial bank account—I listened to the entire double live album every day for a complete month, if I recall. It’s always weird going back to the studio recording when you’re accustomed to the live versions, and part of me had been thinking about getting rid of all the My Morning Jacket albums besides Okonokos. Yesterday, while screwing drywall, I realized that would be a foolish maneuver.


Smokey Robinson plays a rather expensive concert this weekend at Robert Mondavi Winery, but I want you to consider how your life would be changed if Smokey Robinson had never been born. Think: No Motown as you know it. No “Ooo Baby Baby” or “Who’s Loving You,” or “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” or “I Second That Emotion,” or . . . ah, I could go on and on. And speaking of live versions that rival studio recordings, check out this footage of “Tracks of My Tears,” proving Smokey Robinson is still in top form. Wait for the bridge, and man, brother, that’s from 2008! Now dry your eyes, and let’s move on.


It is the fate of even the greatest DJ mix CDs to be listened to for a week, absorbed, loved, and discarded. For some reason, I’ve kept Andy Smith’s The Document around for years now, probably because of the presence of both Peggy Lee and the Jeru the Damaja on one mix. Paul Nice’s Soul on the Grill has stayed with me for years, too. Others, like Cut Chemist & DJ Shadow’s Brainfreeze or Z-Trip and Radar’s Future Primitive Soundsession, belong in a mixtape hall of fame of sorts; admired from behind glass, remembered for their achievements, and rarely listened to ever again.


Litany for the Whale has put out Dolores, an album I cannot help but compare to Converge’s Jane Doe. It begins with a couple terrifying minutes of noise courtesy of the Velvet Teen’s Judah Nagler—I think of it as a more ferocious, cracked-out stepsister of “Sartre Ringo,” from Elysium, and makes stronger the case for noise as composition. The rest of the album is like morphine for people raised on hardcore, which is not to say it’s wimpy. Just soothing.


Some nights are Lennon Sisters nights. Others, the Boswell Sisters. Lately I’ve been resting my bones to the McGuire Sisters and their collection Just For Old Times’ Sake. I can do without the honkey education of “The Birth of the Blues,” but give me signature songs by Jimmy Durante, Johnny Mathis, the Platters, April Stevens and Duke Ellington sung by some effervescent gals on a diet of Jesus and yellow corn, and I’m there.


I know nothing about Woods, except that they are unfortunately from Brooklyn. Making the discovery that a good band is from Brooklyn is a lot like discovering a good baseball player is on steroids. Therefore, I wish Woods were from Lexington, especially since they sound far more Kentuckian than Park Slopian. They also bear the distinction of being the first band in some months whose record I bought after hearing them on the radio. It’s messy, untied, and perpetual.


Speaking of the radio, 95.9 KRSH has been getting lots of construction airplay on the job site. I am always thrilled when the KRSH plays things like Spoon or M. Ward, which happens every so often, but even more glad when hear “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” as sung by Hayes Carll. Something about “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” always seemed corny to me, especially when the Ramones covered it. Hayes Carll turns the same words and chords into a completely believable treatise on eternal adolescence. It’s like the song was written just for him. Bill Bowker yesterday also dropped the needle on Jeff Buckley’s version of “I Know It’s Over,” which reminds me of two things: 1) Jeff Buckley is one of the fortunate few who could actually present a necessary Smiths cover, and 2) Bill Bowker has now been on the radio for 40 years. Way to go, Bill!


Also on the ghetto blaster, competing with the nailgun: the Majesticons’ Beauty Party, the Blasters’ Hard Time, The Queen is in the Closet, Los Lobos’ Good Morning Aztlan, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and quite a few spins of Drum Dance to the Motherland by the Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble.

I’m gonna be a dad here in the next few days, and then I’ll see you again soon.

The Boys are Back in Town

Posted by: on Aug 9, 2008 | Comments (0)

Riding with our good Irish correspondent Fionnan Sheridan around the city of Dublin—where, as you can imagine, U2 are revered—my brain settled on a perfectly reasonable question. “Do any members of U2,” I asked, “still actually live in Dublin?”

I say “perfectly reasonable” because in 2006, U2 notoriously moved their enormous assets out of Ireland and into a Dutch tax shelter once the famous Irish tax exemption for artists was capped. I’d say that constitutes a pretty big “up yours” to Ireland, especially when just months before, Bono had loudly appealed to Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern to increase Ireland’s overseas aid. Following the money, wouldn’t the band’s members leave Ireland behind and move to France, New York, or—in Bono’s apparent wishes—a mansion in Heaven next door to Jesus?

“Some of them still live here,” said Fionnan. “Right up here a ways is Larry Mullen’s house, actually.” And in minutes, we were driving down a narrow street of large houses with big front yards, stone fences, and locked gates. Fionnan continued: “Phil Lynott’s mother lives somewhere on this road, as well.”

My heart skipped. Really? “Oh, sure,” he replied, like he was talking about the shopkeeper down the way, or the guy who sells newspapers on the corner. He then pointed out the church in Howth that was the site of Lynott’s funeral, and quickly thereafter we were driving by Saint Fintan’s Cemetery, where the great Thin Lizzy frontman is buried.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t pass up a celebrity grave—and certainly not the one of Phil Lynott. So we hoofed it across the long, flat cemetery with flashlights, trying in the dark to locate where he’s buried. Like most celebrity graves, it was easy to spot from far away: flowers, guitar parts, leather necklaces, steel bracelets, and handwritten and photocopied tributes piled all around.

I reflexively sang the riff to “The Boys are Back in Town,” which is naturally the first Thin Lizzy song I ever heard. But then I remembered the vast catalog of great Thin Lizzy songs I’d discovered about five years ago, thanks largely to my friend Josh, and so I hummed one of my favorites: “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Sort of apt, actually, under the dwindling Dublin skies.

I talked with Fionnan’s brother a little bit about Phil Lynott, and what it was like growing up in the same neighborhood. “When I was little,” he told me, “you’d see ‘em walking on the beach here together, Phil and his mom. And you’d just think, ‘wow.'”

“He’s got a pretty unmistakable profile,” I offered.

“Oh, yeah. An’ in that time especially, seeing a black person in Dublin was unheard of. It’s still rare now, but back then you really noticed it.”

On this graveyard expedition with us was my 15-year-old niece Qiana, who had never heard of Thin Lizzy at all. So I tried to explain that they were this total kickass rockin’ band that was known for these crazy rockin’ songs, and I air-guitared the solo to “I’m a Rocker” to demonstrate, but that they also had this really tender side, too, with tortured pleas like “I’m Still in Love With You,” and come to think of it, their first album was pretty weird and psychedelic and had this great song called “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle.”

Qiana just laughed at me. I guess I can’t blame her. She’s into Zac Efron and Kanye West.

When we got back to the house and to a computer, I showed Qiana some Thin Lizzy videos, but I’m pretty sure it only cemented my looniness—especially when I showed her the video for “Sarah,” a.k.a. the most amazingly dorkiest video ever made. Seriously. Watch it, and try to imagine any 15-year-old in the world today thinking that it’s at all cool.