Saturday, December 31, 2011

Look Up at the Mountain.

Now, I'd thought my father had a copy of Tea for the Tillerman. I poked through his records last week, hurriedly, when I should have been getting ready to go to the next relative's house to sit on a sofa and eat more and different cheesy dips, but instead I remembered at the computer or mirror that I needed to find that record and then pack it in my suitcase for my not-yet-bought but oh-so-anticipated turntable.


He has Teaser and the Firecat. I misremembered--for years. For, like, thirty years. I haven't done a record-shelf dig in his collection in a few years, and before I was amused, enthralled and then somewhat addicted to the series Extras, I didn't really need either album.

I like "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train" pff of Teaser and the Firecat, but the album doesn't--and how do I say this--ask the right questions that its predecessor does.

This means that I get the pleasure of searching for and finding an excellent copy of Tea for the Tillerman for my own collection. I cherish my handed-down records, but this excursion will...I'll make a nice excursion of it, no quick dashes up and down aisles, scanning A-B, F-G, trying, trying to remember what those two things I wanted to look for in a record shop the next time I was in a record shop. Maybe it will be at the Milwaukee Antique Center the next time I visit. Or maybe I'll walk a few blocks in my neighborhood, or a neighborhood that I like, in another part of the city. Get some tea.

I like making plans when time feels like it's starting, not ending. The Gregorian calendar is obviously arbitrary, but we, all of us, like it or not, hide and try to plug your ears but hear the fireworks and the drunken yells anyway, or the exhale of wind in a tree outside, are hours away from another line to cross, and beyond it--another mountain to climb.

Friday, December 30, 2011

On Repeat: You're Too Strong Not to Keep On Keepin' On

I discovered this during my recent (and likely to rouse itself again soon) obsession with Soul Train line dances.

It's been stuck in my head for about the last month, with plans to pay January rent.

Two observations to tap out with its syncopation and grit. Okay, three. First: I love how it builds. Masterful.

First-point-five: this particular line dance pulls the ain't-nowhere-to-go-but-up joy out of the song and makes its butt shake. In bellbottoms.

I've been trying to figure out a way to recreate it on a stage with just myself. I need the technology behind those commercials in which Fred Astaire is lifted from Royal Wedding and dances with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. I suppose more recent technology would serve me better--whatever made Tom Cruise "climb" the Burj Dubai in that new Mission Impossible movie I saw last week.

Second, I haven't really been familiar with Gladys Knight beyond "Midnight Train to Georgia" (which, by the way, was originally "Midnight Plane to Houston." I always thought LA to Georgia was a long way to go on a train.) and other slow burners that I probably heard on the radio with my wee ears while in the back seat of the car. I was never that attracted to Gladys, or, rather, Gladys through those tracks, because the mournful my-man-done-me-wrong, the party's over isn't much my cup of tea. But at the risk of making a no-shit parallel, I'd say Sharon Jones owes as much to Gladys (or at least this performance) in her recordings as she does to James Brown and Tina Turner for her live show. She just doesn't have some Pips; she has Dap-Kings that don't sing. To wit: "If You Call." Gladys eventually lost that grit you hear in "Imagination;" she moved onto 80s drum-machine soul, the kind of stuff that you'd skate to at the roller rink in the middle of that decade, and dropped the Pips. She even made a James Bond theme, a forgettable Timothy Dalton one at that.

And third--what was third? Oh yes. I wish that whenever I sing (which is not often enough any more), I could have three guys smoothly backing me, subtly hyping me, and reminding me that I'm too strong not to--you know.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I Do the Best That I Can Do

Every week, even if--especially if--it isn't a holiday week, should start with JB. Anything to get one to pause and grin and twirl in your high-water pants.

Thanks to Questlove for the clip tips.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's Alright

220 minutes of sun in the last ten days - less than four hours.

Ready to welcome it back--although there hasn't been any ice to melt yet, really. What a strange not-December it has been.

And Sleeps in the Capsule

Christmas came early. And covered in thirty-nine year-old glitter!

We've all taped over something when in a pinch, but come on, BBC! I, for one, am thankful for prescient cameramen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Repeat: If You Got Time to Give, I Got Time to Think

This will play as I celebrate a very merry un-Christmas.

Collect all nine tracks!

Too Much Information Running through My Head

NOTE: File under Look What I Found Sitting in DRAFTS.

"The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see."

The author of this post that I read in, uh, April (!) posits that the world's books, music, films, television, and art do not have to be navigated like a collective black hole, but rather as a gorgeous but terrifyingly tall mountain range. (This is my metaphor. But you should read her essay anyway).

You have a choice. Cull it. Or surrender.

Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It's the sorting of what's worth your time and what's not worth your time. It's saying, "I deem Keeping Up With The Kardashians a poor use of my time, and therefore, I choose not to watch it."

Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn't have to threaten your sense that you are well-read.

And I agree with her: it's a sad and beautiful fact that you can't do it all. Sad and Beautiful, even--like a film or book or song title. Or like this, which I just found because I wanted to know if a film or book or song actually was titled "Sad and Beautiful."

But, really, I don't have time for Sparklehorse. I know ought to. But locating, downloading, and digesting this album from 2006 also means I'll have to find the old old stuff, and the recent new stuff. Or does it?

I like to claim that I surrender. I know it's the only way to true peace. It's the mindful way. It's the way you want to be when you are in line and the grocery is packed like ants swarming a dropped potato chip or when you are replaying a conversation from 7.5 months ago for the 415.5th time in your head.

But I know that what I do most of the time is cull. Because that's the easy way, while surrendering is not the easy way. Here, I'll do it now. I don't pay attention to
  • Any video games that aren't in a console built before 1982
  • Vampire stuff
  • Contemporary country music
  • Candy
  • That "Friday" girl
  • Steampunk
  • Bukowski
  • Cake (the band)
  • Kardashians, Housewives, and Jens (Aniston, Garner, -lo, etc.)
  • Philip Glass
  • Plays by Sarah Ruhl 
  • DIY crafting 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Shoes with heels over 3" high
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Charles Dickens
  • Comic books
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Superhero movies made from comic books
  • Reality television competitions
  • Cooking shows
  • Cooking
Do I patently dislike any of the above? Probably only the country music and Belle and Sebastian (I've been forced to give both a listen in years past and, uck). Am I just being shoo, fly dismissive of the rest? Yep. I am. Do I really secretly want to read Charles Dickens' oeuvre? Yes. That's where I surrender, I guess.

But then...I remember when I discovered Ghost in the Machine. Was it one of those Saturday afternoon trips to Madison from Milwaukee in order to be someplace else for at least a few hours when you are too in your twenties to afford a real vacation? Skulk around State Street, go to Urban Outfitters and feel poor, go to the Plaza and drink a couple of beers and feel rich? I think it was. My friend popped in Ghost in the Machine on the way. "Spirits in the Material World," duh, "Everything She Does is Magic," yes, okay. Then..."Demolition Man"..."J'Aurais Toujour Faim de Toi"..."Too Much Information..." what the WHAT? Why didn't I have this music coursing through my cells before now?

Well, then I did. And it was good.

I think the world puts in front of your eyes/brain/ face what it is you need to see. And, often, when you need to see it--whether engineered by friends, a DJ, Facebook, or the karma of 'pod Shuffle.

But there's a third action here, consume. When you're not surrendering, or culling, you're consuming. Chomp chomp chomp. I could greedily eat up music, theatre, more music, and good television and movies all day long, but I think eventually I'd feel the mileage. I'd want to look at tree, or see something in a cloud and maybe write a sentence about that. OH! Maybe I'd see a woman in the cloud, and I'd make a character from the woman, and some dialogue from the character, and a sketch from the dialogue...

How can I hear anything amid the noise and haste, like that Desiderata poem says, of others' creative factory output? I need to put something out on my own pallet on my own loading dock.

It's all choice, a choice to leave something in, turn away, or do. Seriously, every moment is about what you choose--or, more often, what you choose to be surrender to, whether it's Requiem for a Dream, cooking bœuf bourguignon, Ghost in the Machine, opening a fresh document to allow your thoughts to repose. Choosing, actually, your thoughts themselves.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Aware of This Now

I guess I should thank the ubiquitous Carrie Brownstein for this next discovery. I've pirated Carrie's playlist in the last hour as much as I enviously ogled her really cute shirts the two times I saw Wild Flag this year. (and where in the name of Levon can I get a Last Waltz t-shirt?!).

Playlists are good. In the spirit of the season, I guess, perhaps this little enterprise does the same for the bots and 1.2 humans that probably read this blog.

Bettye Swann's story is that of the artist who has the singular magic to create but not the masochistic drive to endure the ignominy of the road, the lack of control over the output, the glad-handing and worse in order to succeed in the business. On the surface, another singer relegated to one-hit obscurity--but, with the benefit of hindsight, a seemingly minor character who played a pivotal role in the evolution of soul music in the South, where it rubbed all up over country music, especially around the Chitlin' Circuit that Swann relentlessly toured in the late 60s. Now, Swann lives in Las Vegas and is a devout Jehovah's Witness. One wonders if, since she's faded into the desert West, she is even still alive.

Bonus discovery! This may be the best version of this song I've heard. Aaron Neville starts to sound a bit strained after you listen to Bettye. And, while I'd kill to have been there/seen this, it certainly surpasses my girls.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just Don't Give Up On Me

The Interrupters is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Perhaps because I live in the city where the story of a group of violence interrupters--members of the Ceasefire organization that intervene in conflicts in bullet-riddled, anguished neighborhoods--takes place, the film really punched me in the gut. All of this is going on less than ten miles away. I could drive down Damen and see the memorials: the posters, bedraggled stuffed animals, empty Hennessy bottles. Ostensibly, I could.

A couple of summers ago, I returned to the north side from a hip-hop/multicultural festival in Marquette Park on the 63 bus, which bisects Englewood--taking it precisely because it crosses the heart of Englewood. What did I see? More wheelchairs than I ever have seen on a city bus. People offering seats, helping the wheelchair-bound locate a space. People on phones, listening to music, looking out the window, chatting. Boarded up buildings, fast food restaurants, laundromats, hair salons.We were the only white people on the bus, and no seemed to give the first shit about that.

It was four or five in the afternoon on hot, lazy Saturday. People were just living life and I, from this self-fashioned Disney World tram creeping through GhettoLand (complete with "Pastime Paradise" playing in my head, had anticipated seeing--what? A shooting? Police vans rolling up on sidewalks, deals done? Deals gone bad?

No, people were just living life.

But tonight, I'm thinking about how there aren't words, even guttural syllables, to describe how I can never, never understand what life is like nine-and-a-half miles down Damen. Most certainly not because I have a story for a party about how "oh, yeah, I rode the bus through Englewood." Or the insignificance of my helplessness while watching the film as compared to the anguish endured by those living with the epidemic of violence on the streets that radiate from 63rd, east and west of Ashland, and in Little Village, Auburn-Gresham, Austin, and just blocks away from here, in Humboldt Park. Living life where, daily, you half-expect to die. Or lose someone close to you.

I felt helpless nonetheless, because--what can I do? What can you do? What can we do when the system (the "System") can't do anything? When what works is one-on-one, empathetic intervention that's, godammitall, funded by a chronically corrupt and more-than-broke state government?

In an impromptu Q-and-A after the film, Interrupter Cobe Williams answered this question simply. "Be there...listen...mentor a child. Give a child the support he or she cannot get at home."

In the next two weeks, a lot of people will set intentions and craft self-improvement proposals for 2012. Still, we know--and deep down, we know--that during the year we will lose. We will grieve...something. But what can we give?

Empathy and understanding is a start. It's the start. Peering into the radically, embarrassingly different world that abuts yours, through a movie screen, or through the bus window, acknowledging that that world is there--that's a start.

This song closed the film. I might have let an Oprah "ugly cry" cross my face.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm Takin' Over

You know what? I can die happy having seen somma this shit live.

Pure joy -- and direction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Down By the San Francisco Bay

We didn't get to hear this in Wrigley, for obvious reasons.

The next time I am on the Embarcadero or in the Presidio, this will be in my head, just like when I'm in LA and there is a continuous broadcast of Missing Persons in my brain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: I'm Only Off To Wander Across a Moonlit Mile

Even though it takes extra effort to not hear this as peppy aural wallpaper for the trailer of a Kate Hudson urban romantic comedy, I've always liked this little overplayed gem.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Coloring in the Sky

A song for sunset.

Addendum: five minutes after publishing this post, this happened:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Maybe We Should All Be Praying for Time

Gone, Gone, Gone

I continue my untouchable record of discovering a band literally the day after they play nearby.

No matter. Experiencing this as afternoon-night falls behind me is beautiful, just as it is.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Only Thing To Live For Is Today

I must have bought The Bone Machine around the time it came out. Aside from Sixteen Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six playing just about every time I set foot in the Y-Not II, was the first Tom Waits I'd really dug or dug into.

"Well I fell in love/With your sailor's mouth/And your wounded eyes," chords from seemingly crumbling upright pianos, pipe clanks and sideshow melodies -- these were splendid juxtapositions to my ears. This music made me feel like I did when I watched the kind of theatre or read the kind of plays that were making an impression on me at that time -- Theatre X, Mac Wellman, Len Jenkin, and the kinds of things I heard were going on in the basement at Cafe Voltiare in Chicago but could never scoot down 94 to see.

Worlds were opening. I'd been exposed to weird stuff already, but mostly in the realm of ear-bleedingly-loud guitars and, in theatre, the crisp absurdity of Pinter or the louche grime of Shepard. This stuff--it was now. New-now. It was happening now.

Man, there was something powerful about that. I can still conjure that feeling, a little bit.

This song, though -- this petulant playground rhyme merges past and present. It sticks out on the album, decidedly less...sophisticated sophistication.

I thought of it today because I sat in a business meeting where adults behaved like children, predictably, and I wanted to fly out of the window, over the grey lake to its thin, persistent line, where there might be some sunshine both on my cheeks and in people's hearts, to someplace where new things are happening now.

Turn Up the Future/Turn Off the Past

I have to investigate this lady. As usual, I discovered this the very day after she played in my town.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly

The inimitable synchronicity of Shuffle.

Morning commute, December 1, 2011:

George Harrison - Behind that Locked Door

Matthew Sweet - Looking at the Sun 

Michael Jackson - Girlfriend 

Thievery Corporation - Amerimacka

Sloan - G Turns to D

Vicki Sue Robinson - Turn the Beat Around

E.L.O. - Hold On Tight

Neil Young - Expecting to Fly

Neil Young: Expecting To Fly from Annemieke Knowles on Vimeo.

David Bowie - Moonage Daydream

Beatles - Blackbird