Thursday, December 18, 2003

Trouble Down South is at Trophy's tonight with The Soft Set and Summer Wardrobe. Although it's a late show, it should be mucho fun. Come on out, even if it means blowing off work tomorrow! Isn't it about time that you destroyed your safe and happy life before it is too late?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Air We Breathe - 2003 year-end mix

1. Alone Again Or - Calexico
2. The Fitted Shirt - Spoon
3. Blanket and Crib - Okkervil River
4. Why Not Your Baby - Gene Clark
5. I Sent You Up - Knife in the Water
6. Los Angeles, I'm Yours - Decemberists
7. You Look Like a Lady - Lee Hazlewood
8. Man With a Harmonica - Ennio Morricone
9. Fuga No. II - Os Mutantes
10. Kotton Krown - Elf Power
11. Naomi - Neutral Milk Hotel
12. Leave My Kitten Alone - Little Willie John
13. I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms - Feelies
14. Already in Black - Moles
15. From Genesis to Judgment Day - Secret Intentions
16. Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
17. One Foot In the Grave - Pernice Brothers
18. Pete Rose Affinity - Summer Hymns
19. Rhymes of Goodbye - Scott Walker
20. Red Dust - Iron & Wine
21. Air We Breathe - Dexateens
22. All of Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today - Che Arthur
23. Today Is The Day - Yo La Tengo
24. Apology Accepted - Go-Betweens

My preliminary Best of 2003 list:

* The Decemberists - Her Majesty the Decemberists
Fun, funny, and literate. It's like listening to Stephin Merritt and James Thurber share a joint and finish each other's sentences.

* Go-Betweens - Bright Yellow Bright Orange
Boasting their legendary ability to turn phrases and a more focused and folky feel, Robert Forster and Grant McLennon cast the mold for aging gracefully in rock music.

* Knife in the Water - Cut the Cord
Atmospheric as the previous KITW albums, but actually reaching a sense of RAWK at times. Although some of the lyrics wouldn't be out of place on a Yes album, the male/female harmonies and spacey redneck pop bring them home.

* Pernice Brothers - Yours, Mine, or Ours
Like Big Star, Joe Pernice is obsessed with building a better pop song. He reaches perfection on several of these, and the relaxed-but-rockin' feel of the overall album sits together very well.

* Calexico - Feast of Wire
It's like a mix tape of all the best Calexico on the previous albums, but it's all new, too.

* Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak
Someone has to pick up the mantle of pub rock. Smart lyrics and booty-shaking indie-rock.

* Summer Hymns - Clemency
Gorgeous chamber-pop/alt-country that calls to mind the guaziest, cliched summer memories and makes them live.

* Okkervil River - Down the River of Golden Dreams
Brimming with Fender Rhodes and bucolic instrumentation, this album sounds like Will Oldham built a time machine to recruit the top session players from 1972 and 1927.

* The American Song-Poem Anthology
Rock's bizarre coupling of inept folk art and slick studio hackdom. Incredibly fun to listen to the session guys decide that these lyrics -- unlike the hundreds of dry tunes they'd been churning out -- these lyrics really had that special something. They were worth pulling out all the stops and going for it.

* New Pornographers - Electric Version
Insanely infectious Nuggety postpunk-pop. And the bells go, "No no no No no no No no no No no no No no no no no."

Honorable mentions:
* Yo La Tengo - Today Is the Day EP
All is ephemeral. Quiet songs become explosive. What was a blow to the head shall be as gentle as butterfly kisses. The journey is short, but the terrain covers the map.

* Consonant - Love and Affliction
Moody rockers straight from the heart of the 80s underground scene.

* Iron & Wine - The Sea & the Rhythm EP
Bitterness can be murmured, too.

* Elf Power - Nothing�s Going To Happen
Goofy lo-fi covers album with impeccable taste and inspired wit.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Rocket from the Tombs, Emo's, December 13, 2003

This'll be obnoxious, but I have to start this review by pointing out what a shithole Emo's is. Every self-obsessed fashion-plate junkie-wannabe "I'm-punk-because-I'm-wearing-a-leather-jacket" pseudo-nihilistic prick in town packs that place to play out their own violent version of high school hierarchies with themselves recast as jocks and Heathers. To start with, as soon as I arrived, the bartender ignored me for ten minutes despite no one else being at the bar (to be fair, the guy was probably wrestling the fashion implications of whether he should pierce his dick or his tongue next), then plopped my change down in the only puddle on the bar, mere inches from my outstretched hand (no tip for you, smart guy). Then, when RFTT started, this tall guy physically pushed me back from my sweet spot mere inches from Richard Lloyd and tried to form his very own mosh pit right there. More on mosh pits in a second. I need to point out, though, that this guy, along with a few other people who also used their size to push people at the front around, were employees of the club. Yes, that's right, the people who work at Emo's pushed the people who paid to be there around and helped to set off some of the violence that they then had to control. Again: real smart, guys. Then people kept throwing beer at the band, spraying most of the audience while they were at it. More on this coming up, too. Then the club waited far too long to start the asshole removal process. Some of the assholes who had to be removed were buddy-buddy with the bouncers, by the way. The girl who broke a bottle at my feet and kicked my legs with her steel-toed Doc Martins ("Daddy, I'm a punk now, can I buy some $150 boots?") had been hugging and hugged by almost all of the bouncers and club employees thoughout the evening. Most of all, those fashion-obsessed fuckheads couldn't tell that the punkest guy in the club - the punkest guy who'd ever been in that club - was the 400+ lb guy onstage wearing a belt & suspenders under a pink sport coat, looking to all the world like a retired Polish steelworker.

OK, music instead of ranting. I missed the first band. Second band was the strangely popular Riverboat Gamblers, who have an excellent stageshow but unfortunately can't quite hide that while they look like the New York Dolls, they sound like a third-rate hardcore band from 1985 who haven't changed the 9 volts in their Boss distortion pedals for the last year. Seriously, I thought at first that my earplugs were the problem - surely the two guitars on stage were doing something other than making a hissy sound - but removing the earplugs confirmed that the hissy sound was the point. No hook, no choruses, and the catchiest part of any song was a shouted "Hey Hey Hey Hey!" The front guy was incredibly energetic, though, leaping into poles, hanging upside-down from the ceiling, throwing himself into the audience. If these guys locked themselves in a room with the Dolls' first two albums for two weeks, they might learn how to structure a song, which would make them formidable.

After they quit, my friends and I moved up to the front for RFTT with the rest of the old people and record collectors. We positioned ourselves one person back from the Vox AC-30 amp, which was obviously the Richard Lloyd side of the stage. Uh, for anyone NOT in the know, Richard Lloyd is one of the two brilliant guitarists from the seminal punk/guitar-god band Television. Lloyd's role in the reformed Rocket From the Tombs is to fill in for the deceased Peter Laughner, which is somewhat appropriate, given that Laughner briefly filled in for Lloyd in the mid 70s when Lloyd quit Television for a month or two. The rest of the reformed Rocket from the Tombs consists of David Thomas (the aforementioned steelworker-looking weirdo who formed the world-shattering Pere Ubu with Laughner upon RFTT�s split), Cheetah Chrome (who formed the Dead Boys with drummer Johnny Blitz after RFTT), Craig Bell (who also played Mirrors, another Cleveland protopunk band), and Steve Mehlman (currently of Pere Ubu) filling in for RFTT�s original drummer Johnny Blitz (whereabouts unknown).

RFTT opened with "Frustration," which is now mostly an instrumental (Thomas occasionally shouts "frustration," but all the lyrics of the 70s version are gone). Thomas was in heavy glaring mode, to say the least. I've never seen someone electrify an audience and demand attention with only a baleful glare before, but goddamn was it intense. The band then launched in "So Cold," but was interrupted by some asshole throwing a glassful of beer onto David Thomas. The band stopped, and Thomas, obviously pissed, left the stage. Richard Lloyd stepped up to the mike and threatened to quit playing if it happened again. Thomas came back out, and the band started "What Love Is," only to be interrupted by another glassful of beer thrown at Cheetah. This time, security waded in and pulled a leather-jacketed, moussed-hair "punk" out. Lloyd said something along the lines of "OK, we got the asshole, so let's keep playing." Cheetah Chrome started singing "Ain't It Fun." Then some guy back in the middle of the crowd threw several cupfuls of beer at the band, soaking Thomas, Lloyd, and everyone in the front, including me and my wife. Lloyd shouted, "Fuck you! We're gone!" and the band left the stage completely. Several guys around the beer-throwing dickhead ("Hey! He has a Mohawk! How transgressive!") apparently beat the shit out of the guy before security moved in and removed him.

We stood there, wet and cold (Did I mention that this was outside? Yeah, it was about 40 degrees), chanting for the band for about ten minutes. Finally, they came back on, and David Thomas said, "We're turning back the clocks fifteen minutes on the count of five." The man counted down, and the band launched into "Frustration" again, faster and with the intensity of a band with a fixed setlist and only an hour before the sound ordinance would close the club down.

They played their whole set, start to finish, exactly the same as it appears on the Rocket Redux tour-only CD. The set:

* Frustration
* So Cold
* What Love Is
* Ain't It Fun (Cheetah on vocals)
* Muckraker (Craig Bell on vocals)
* 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (good lord was this amazing)
* Sonic Reducer (Cheetah on vocals, Lloyd broke a string and finished the song on Cheetah's backup Gibson SG)
* I Wanna Be Your Dog (while Lloyd changed his string - David, Cheetah, and Craig each taking a verse, and David grabbing Cheetah's guitar for a verseful of skronk)
* Never Gonna Kill Myself Again
* Amphetamine (Cheetah on vocals, Lloyd on solo guitar through much of it)
* Down In Flames
* Final Solution (holy shit! I mean HOLY SHIT!)

* A Richard Lloyd song, I don't know what it's called
* Life Stinks

Lloyd was on fire all night. He's the careful guitarist in Television, playing very precise, technically-accomplished leads, orderly yin to Tom Verlaine's anything-goes yang style. In RFTT, he's a goddamn chaos generator, channeling Laughner's H-bomb free-jazz noise style. Wow. Double wow. Mehlman, too, was absolutely amazing, playing lightning-fast busy drums all night. I've never seen a drummer come close to keeping up that level of concentration and speed over the course of an hour, and I saw Metallica on the ...And Justice For All tour.

My wife was elbowed by an older guy who pushed in front and started pogoing during "Life Stinks." After the show, she called him on pushing women around, and he apologized. I was buying a CD and shaking David Thomas's hand when he wandered up to Thomas and told him that he'd sent Thomas a letter in 1976 and that he now plays in Brave Combo, have you heard of them, David?

A quick note on mosh pits: fuck you, you selfish dumbasses. It's all well and good until some ex-Marine prick starts punching longhaired guys and groping girls (as happened that night - it took five guys to carry him out of the crowd) or until you start pushing aging fans over (there was a 50ish woman behind my wife who was being pushed around the entire show - I finally moved over to prevent the mosh pit from knocking her down (which is what I think lead to Doc Martin girl kicking me)). Ian MacKaye ain't right about much, but he's absolutely right about mosh pits being nothing but inconsiderate jerks expressing themselves through violence.

So, I did get to shake David Thomas's hand and bought the tour-only CD, which features classic songs by the current lineup and was produced by Richard Lloyd. The best parts of the show were watching these punk icons express their pleasure at being onstage together. Thomas hugged Cheetah about fifteen times and shared lots of whispered comment and laughs with Lloyd. Bell didn't know the turnaround in "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and made jokes at his own expense while fumbling around for the notes of the best-known punk anthem ever.

Anyway, the verdict is RFTT: stunningly good show and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these guys onstage together. Emo's: punk-wannabe suckfest.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Mmmm... appetizing.

Thanks, Paulie!

Thanks to Julie for putting this on her blog!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

New music for today:

* The Go-Betweens, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
* The Decemberists, Her Majesty

The G-Bs album is smart and rather taut, stretched between the relative austerity of the previous album, Spring Hill Fair, and the lushness of the next two, the disappointing Tallulah and the brilliant 16 Lovers Lane. Lyrically, it's as sharp as ever. I'm going to have to let it sink in before going further in this analysis, though.

I picked up the Decemberists album because of the incessant comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel. The comparison is somewhat accurate, but the Decemberists are more oriented to pop songs (and have a Kinks influence) than NMH. The lyrics, although quite literate, can't manage the giddy freeform pleasures of NMH, and the music is almost painfully formal at times. NMH cast a long shadow, though. If my major influence were an artist as iconoclast as Jeff Mangum, I'd probably hide under the bed instead of releasing music, so the Decemberists deserve credit for courage. It will take a while to hear them for their own merits, though.

Monday, December 01, 2003

There will be a repeat of the Trouble Down South/Phenomenal Cats gig at the Carousel on Friday, Dec. 5. This time, TDS will play first.


Music at the office today:
* The Fall comp by Bill Ham
* The Fall, This Nation's Saving Grace
* The Who Sell Out
* The Stooges, Funhouse
* The Meat Puppets, Up on the Sun
* The Bottle Rockets, s/t

Friday, November 21, 2003

Big gig tonight. First, the Phenomenal Cats will play the entirety of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, the classic 1968 album, at 9 pm. Trouble Down South plays afterward.


Music at the office today:
* Gene Clark, White Light
* The Kinks, Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
* Knife in the Water, Red River
* Spoon, Girls Can Tell
* Television, Live At The Old Waldorf

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I'm a lousy blogger. Learning to accept that has brought me peace within.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Played the historic Hole in the Wall here in Austin last Wednesday. Our good friend Dutcher bootlegged the show, and we have a few songs up on the web.

Tulsa Nightlife

Little Johnny Jewel

Brand New Cadillac

I wrote "Tulsa Nightlife" and sing the lead vocal on it and "Little Johnny Jewel." I play the second lead on LJJ and the recurring riff on "Brand New Cadillac." Julie Beth Wood sings lead on BNC and backing vocals on TNL and plays bass on all of 'em. Matt Baab has backing vocals on TNL and plays lead guitar on all, and Scott Wiedman drums on all. Almost like you were there now, isn't it?

Friday, October 31, 2003

Halloween! I didn't bring any spooky music in, but the CD choices in my cube today have been:

* The New Pornographers, Electric Version;
* Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle;
* Flaming Lips, The Shambolic Birth and Early Life sampler;
* Macha, See It Another Way; and
* Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

In other news, I've completely avoided finishing my law school application statement in time for the early decision deadline tomorrow. Huzzah! I did get our SXSW application in on time and added some Algonquin Kids' Table pages to the High Hat, so I haven't been completely unproductive. Just mostly.

My wife is dressed as Death from the Sandman comics, so I've taped a bunch of 1040s to a shirt, rented an Uncle Sam hat, and yes, I am going as Taxes.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Very tired today. Played a benefit for Rob Hall last night with the excellent bands Choking Ahogo, Fivehead, Mandible, and Blued. Everything ran late. I stayed only for 3 or 4 songs from Blued, but it was still quite a bit after 1am when Matt & I finally left. That's rough on a work night. I think we made some good money for Rob Hall's medical bills, though, which is great.

There's pictures from the show on the Trouble Down South website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

High Hat #2 is up! Lots of interlecktshal goodness!

The High Hat

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

TDS at the Red Eyed Fly for Tuesday Happy Hour 7-8

(Enter Two Gentlemen of Waterloo, TX, wasting their leisure time in
the Redde River District.)

Peter: Fo' diggity, Simon. Your vintage tee
emblazoned with Alabama's logo
doth reek of sweet irony. Would that my
white-boy 'fro were as fly. O Woe! O Woe!

Simon: Aye, this ringer is bitchin'. But thy head,
hirsute as it be, rains inspiration
upon the chicks to join thee in thy dorm.
Truly, ours is the best generation.

Peter: Ho! What's this? Are my eyes deceived? Can this
sign rightly say that Trouble Down South plays
the Redde Ey'd Fly Happy Hour on Tuesday?
How happy the hours! How wond'rous the day!

Simon: Fie upon thee, sarcastic man. Who knows?
They may be good, even short a sincere
Chronicle recommendation. Doesn't
"Indie Rock" mean taking risks without fear?

Peter: To you, perhaps. I share not your passion.
For me, it is less music than fashion.

(Exit both Gentlemen strolling stage right towards Emo's. From the
wings appears Roky.)

Roky: As I am a gentle Roky, heed thee
these kind words: Live not by this travesty!
Punk is neither pose nor sense of fashion!
Lord, what fools these indie rocker kids be.

Friday, September 12, 2003

RIP, Johnny Cash. As great and important as your music is, your legacy is greater than that. You were the man who brought Appalachian darkness to rock music, and gave us the literary rock song. You were the Man in Black, the visible symbol of conscience in country. You were a funny, conflicted man, but you lived your life on your terms. You were the spiritual grandfather of anyone who passionately loves their music served up with a heaping dose of bitterness and aching regret. I'm wearing black for you today.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The High Hat is up!

Check it out. The writing is outstanding, the illustrations top-notch, and there is no superlative broad enough to capture the beauty of the design.

Friday, July 25, 2003

My band has been fortunate to have a notable celebrity help us out with our new biography (

At first, I was shocked when TDS asked me to be their official biographer. How could I capture the brilliance? How could I capture all of that rich history? How could I ever pretend to describe the cathartic experience of seeing them on a good night? Like when Matt goes flying around the room on one of his extended tap-on guitar solos? Or when Scott leaps over the drum set to get to the mic for his signature tune, “Lick My Chaps”? Ah, good times, good times.

Well, down to brass tacks. TDS was formed in 1977 in Leeds, England by the mysterious Jimmie Lee Slade. Legend has it that the extraordinary Leeds band the Mekons named one of their early songs after Slade’s band, but the reality, according to those in the know, is that the Mekons never even heard of Jimmie Lee Slade, given that he performed exclusively in his bedroom for his beloved pet rock, Jive Jake. If Slade were still alive today, he would certainly explain that the whole “Trouble Down South” situation between himself and the Mekons is just a coincidence. Unfortunately, however, Slade accidentally electrocuted himself during an inept attempt at auto-erotic asphyxiation in the bathroom of a Journey concert in 1980. Some conspiracy mongers have attempted to prove that Slade intentionally did himself in during the third encore of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” but all empirical evidence refutes the notion.

Three hours before he died, TDS released its first single, “(Do The) Emu,” a collaboration between Slade, Doug Ewe, and a handful of very angry 8-year-olds. A group of bands playing emu-core music briefly sprang up in the wake of the single, but, sadly, all of them were backing Elton John within the year. Ewe and the former 8-year-olds (by this point 13) kept the TDS name alive with the 1985 album Squeegee, but due to the dubious ontological claims of the indie label which released it, the album currently only exists in the minds of rock journalists.

Ewe met his own tragic end in 1988 when he attempted to push the World’s Largest Hairdresser into a swimming pool after an overdose of heroin, barbiturates, nutmeg, and banana peels during a recording session with Phil Spector.

The remaining members of the band (now in their mid to late teens) met and decided to continue as a band with the venerable TDS name, but as a hardcore punk band, figuring that their three-letter acronym would give them the edge over any hardcore bands with only two letters in their acronym. Then tragedy struck again in the form of college.

It took the young TDSers well into their late 20s and early 30s to shake off the existential ennui that had taken hold of their souls and forced them to waste their youths in a boozy, overeducated haze. They decided that the way to rock & roll stardom would be to get day jobs, spouses (except for one notable holdout), mortgages, and debt.

And these are TDSers I admire so much today. They have taken public personas carefully conceived to drive their fans into buying frenzies whenever they get around to releasing bobbing-head dolls. They have constantly challenged themselves with greatness while playing happy hour slots during which the bartender and the patrons shush them. They have written their names across the sky, but erased them again quickly so as to avoid a citation from the local police. Trouble Down South is:

Matt Baab, the Violent One. As the other members of the band learned, Matt is quick to whip out his blade and cut the other musicians whenever they make mistakes.

Hayden Childs, the Mildly Retarded One. We’re all proud of Hayden for learning to change his own adult diapers and for being able to grasp foreign policy a bit better than the current President.

Scott Wiedeman, the Gassy One. Ah, many times have I delighted at one of Scott’s onstage bon mots, all punctuated by a well-timed gust of wind.

Julie Wood, the Acerbic One. Who hasn’t received a tongue-lashing from this one? You had just better watch your step around her!

All I can say is that I am proud to be associated with such a wonderful group of people.

-Gore Vidal

Thursday, July 10, 2003

I haven't forgotten this blog. Just been busy.

I'm working with a few friends on launching an online magazine, The High Hat:, which should be up in the next two weeks. Be sure to keep checking back.

I'm trying to finish the album reviews promised back in March.

Also, the band is going to master our tracks we recorded last December at the end of the month.

In other words, lots of news, but not that much.

My friend Martin was here last week, too, and we took a kayak/fishing trip down the Guadalupe River. These kayaks were far more stable than the ones from the last story, and we had no problem with them. Also, the take-out point was clearly marked, which was excellent. The guy who rented us those kayaks said that he'd missed an unmarked take-out point before, and had been quite pissed-off about it, too.

Anyway, Martin, who'd never fly-fished before, caught the biggest fish of the trip, a nice 1.5-2 lb Guadalupe bass. Huzzah!

Monday, June 02, 2003

Partially because my boss held me at work a bit after I needed to leave, the 3/5 of us who were riding together didn't get out of town until 2. We got to the South Llano River State Park at about 5:30 or 6 (I forget). They informed us that they were out of drive-in sites and that we've been downgraded to a walk-in site. OK, fine. Then, when they hear that we have 5 people in our party, they freaked out. Apparently, only four people are allowed in each walk-in site. They're going to have to put us into the last drive-in site. OK, fine. We set up camp & head down to the river for some fishing. I took about 2 itty-bitty largemouth bass, 2 Guadalupe River bass, and a few sunfish. The other guys (who are much better casters than I) took around 12 fish each in the same time-period. We headed back to camp around dark, and were joined by one of the other guys.

Here's a shot of the lovely Llano (rhymes with "Lando") River.

The other guy arrived late, around 10 pm. We'd just gotten back from a trip to town for chow. The Assistant Park Ranger, a good ol' boy with a bit of a Barney Fife over-anxious attitude (due to his boss being in the hospital, presumably) arrived to bitch about us parking the cars side-by-side instead of nose-to-nose, then to bitch about us drinking beer, despite the fact that they were all in coozies. After our assurance that we meant no harm, Good Ol' Boy Fife went his way.

The next morning, we headed out to look for the place from where we'd be renting our kayaks. We knew that we'd gone too far when we crossed the river, which wasn't supposed to happen. We pulled over and just then, a truck towing a bunch of canoes and kayaks came up after us, it was our kayak guy, who I've since affectionately renamed "Mildly Retarded Drunk Obnoxious Asswipe" (or Mr. DOA, if you wish [changed "Inbred" to "Obnoxious" for the acronym]). He had us follow him down to watch him set a couple of fathers & sons up with canoes, then follow him back to his place (which had a sign that appeared to be camoflauged to assure that no one could find it from the road) to drop the truck and pick up lifejackets, then back down to the second river crossing, which is so close to the headwater springs that it was the first place on the river that anyone could set in.

Here's another shot of the Llano River.

While riding us down to the river, Mr. DOA was polishing off his third Miller Lite since we'd run into him. It was 8:30 in the morning. This was not a good sign. Our plan was to set in at the second crossing and fish while heading down to his place. He assured us that we recognize his place when we got to it, then dropped off after telling us to expect to flip over a few times.

A word about the kayaks. Unlike most ride-on-top kayaks, these were narrow and short (usually these types of kayaks are one or the other, but never both) and seemed to be built with instability in mind. Every single one of us flipped within seconds of setting off. We hit the first deep pool just afterwards. This water was deep, swampy green, unlike what one would expect of a body of water this close to its headwater springs. Anyway, the fish were biting like crazy for everyone but me. I tried four different flies and got nary a nibble. The river had enough current to prevent one from remaining in the same place for longer than a single cast. We hit a couple of short rapids, which were mostly shallow (which was good, because you didn't want to fall out and crack your head in deep water) but which typically pushed our boats into trees or a high bank before dumping us into a deep (at least chin-deep or more) pool.

Me, enjoying a fairly warm refreshment. The grey boat was my craft. I have a soaked towel and water in the backpack, which is strapped on tight. Note that my flyrod has a holder, but that it is in no way secure.

For your entertainment, here's the shot of me crashing in the rapids.

This picture is from moments after the last one, as I'm surveying the rapids that just dumped me into a tiny pool that was way over my head.

We ate lunch when we stopped to drag our kayaks over a road crossing. It was about 105 degrees then. I had taken to putting on more sunscreen every 20 minutes. The heat was intense and the river offered little cover. I had yet to have a single nibble by lunch, while some of the other guys had taken as many as 20 fish (we were all practicing catch-and-release, btw).

After lunch, my luck changed, and I started to bring in some fish, largemouth bass and sunfish (perch and bream), some of the latter of which were nicely sized. We were still taking our time, although we were unsure how far we'd gone and how far down Mr. DOA's place was. There was one section of river that was wonderfully shaded and so rewarding that I rowed back up to the top of it and floated down again. All my luck in the early afternoon was on a subsurface woolly bugger that was brass tipped and orange with gold streamers.

Here's a shot of me in ACTION!

Another ACTION! shot. Note the professional way in which we choke down the warm beer in the shade.

Later in the afternoon, I started using a spider surface popper. The fish couldn't get enough of that thing. I caught the largest bass of the trip by some 6": a 24" 2-lb largemouth that was the largest fish I've ever caught on a flyrod. He fought a bit, but I was wilier. We didn't have time for a picture, because I'd snagged him at the base of his throat and he was bleeding quite a bit. I was worried that getting a shot of him might prolong things too long and kill him, so I let him get a swallow of water, then grabbed his lip and popped the spider fly out, held him up to measure on my flyrod for the other guys to witness, and let him go. Total time: about 45 seconds. We all fished that pool for a while. It was getting into late afternoon, so we figured that we couldn't be too far off from MR. DOA's spot. Then a couple of guys whose kayaks had been taking on water decided to go ahead down to his place.

Here's a shot of the spot that reminded me of the NC Piedmont.

About 20 minutes later, the third guy headed off after them. The last guy & I started about about 10 minutes behind him. I was actually 5-10 minutes ahead of the last guy, who stopped to untangle his leader before going. We rowed aways, and fought the urge to stop and fish some more out of some concern that we hadn't seen the other guys yet. We hit some long, rough rapids (I was riding like a champ by this point) that ended up shooting us under a low iron bridge. The light was starting to get into late evening. A few houses started to pop up on the banks. We passed an elderly couple fishing on their dock who told us that the other guys were only 10 minutes ahead of us, and that we were about 45 minutes off from MR. DOA's place. If we rowed hard, we'd make it before dark.

So we rowed hard. We had to drag our kayaks over a dammed ranch road, and we passed one place where a cement bridge had collapsed into the water. There were a bunch of large javelina or feral pigs crossing there, including one fucking giant buck. Several deer watched us pass, too. We also saw a couple of foxes running through the bushes.

We knew the name of the place: Fox Hollow, but saw no signs for it. We went through another area of houses and docks, including one that we were convinced had to be the place, because there were numerous kayaks and canoes on the lawn, although it didn't have a sign. We stopped there and shouted for anyone, but the house looked wrong (e.g. it was very nice) and no one came out, so we figured that we were wrong. After that place, we crossed a set of rapids where I got turned around and Will's kayak came at me so fast that it nearly ripped my right foot off.

Another long pool. Light was fading fast. Another set of rapids. I turned around and shouted for Will to watch out for the trees at the base of that set. He couldn't hear me. I floated downriver a bit and shouted back to see if Will was ok. Nothing. I turned about, and realized that full dark was upon us, and that the night was moonless. I couldn't see anything back on the river. I paddled back up, calling for Will. He finally shouted back that he'd been tumped and had lost everything. I intercepted his cooler, a shoe, and his paddle. His flyrod was gone, though. He finally caught up, and we decided that we were too far downriver to get back to the last houses. We figured that we'd keep going for a little while.

Another set of rapids. Another long pool. I pulled to the side and climbed up a ridge to see if I could see lights. Nothing. In any direction. We were in the middle of nowhere on an unpredictable river in the middle of the darkest night of the month. Fuck.

Another set of rapids. This one threw me right into the trees and took my flyrod. I spun around to get it, got turned sideways, and then flipped into chin-high water. This time, my glasses were gone, and the bag holding my lighter had gotten ripped. I also took a good thump on the head from the kayak.

Up until that point, I had figured that I could get us out of this situation. I knew that I had the wilderness survival training to deal with whatever. Without my glasses, though, I couldn't see three feet in front of my face, and felt truly fucked. I felt helpless fear that I haven't felt since I was a child. This was the sort of situation where people make bad choices and die. Will seemed almost delirious.

Another set of rapids. Another long pool. Although we couldn't see it, this pool culminated in a dead-end, and some rapids headed off to the left. We pulled up at the end of the pool to talk. Will said that he wasn't doing another set of rapids for anything. I could see a light over the bluff and told him that we should dump the kayaks and head out on foot. We decided that the light could be a house and started shouting for help. Nothing. We sat there for a few minutes, then shouted for help again.

This time, we heard someone shout our names. I can't tell you what that feels like. Maybe after I get some distance.

We hauled our kayaks over the bluff and found that the river made an S shape and that the other guys were with some people just downriver. By dragging our kayaks over the hill, we avoided the rapids and could set in on the other side and float over to where they were.

The people turned out to be MR. DOA and his wife, Li'l Drunk Idiot Bitch. Let's call her Li'l Dibbie. They made fun of us for missing their place. Was there a sign? No, but it had green chairs. Green chairs? Yep, that was the place. No, really, green chairs were what we were supposed to be looking for? Yep, y'all are really dumb, now don't mess up the grass.

MR. DOA and Li'l Dibbie were shitfaced. They told us that we were lucky that they'd headed down to their friends' place. I realized that if I heard their voices again, I was going to break MR. DOA's nose. And possibly Li'l Dibbie's, too. The other guys had been there long enough to go get the truck, so we loaded up and left. We hit the campsite for dry clothes (and spare glasses), and went to town, exhausted, waterlogged, and pissed as hell. It was 11 pm. We found a diner that agreed to feed us, even though they were closing. A little milk of human kindness was decent nourishment right then.

Although we'd been on the river until 10:30 at night, we decided to go talk to MR. DOA in the morning. The idea was that Will and I should be able to take some kayaks downriver to find our lost gear. MR. DOA was a bit upset that we'd awakened him (at 10:30 in the morning), but agreed that we should be able to take the kayaks to look for the gear.

We had to go pick them up from where we'd left them the night before and bring them back to his place to set in. This gave us the opportunity to see which place was his.

It indeed had green chairs. No sign. You couldn't see the lodge from there. Nothing to distinguish it from any other place. Will and I set in and started downriver. We passed the place with the kayaks on the lawn about .25 of a mile later. We passed the place where Will had nearly taken my foot off, and both of us were tumped there.

A couple of long pools and rapids later, we found the rapids where Will had lost his flyrod. It didn't float, so we didn't really have that much hope for finding it. Will went through first and jumped off immediately at the bottom of the rapids. He dived into the water and came up with his flyrod. Apparently, he'd seen the tip gleaming, despite the rushing water. A bit later we found his missing shoes and towel. Pretty impressive.

A couple more long pools and sets of rapids. I headed into the rapids that had knocked me over the night before, and saw my flyrod stuck in the branches of the trees. Score! I pulled my kayak over, and jumped off to look for my glasses, knowing that it was stupid. We spent about a half hour diving into the fast-moving water and the pools on either side. Will finally said he couldn't do it anymore. We headed through another set of rapids and into the long pool where we'd given up the night before. The other guys were waiting for us at the other end. They told us that they'd originally been met by MR. DOA and Li'l Dibbie right up where I'd taken my spill. I was pissed, because if they'd stayed there, I'd never have lost my glasses. I left them there to fish and headed back upstream to look some more.

When I got back up to the place, I let myself float in the current from where I'd spilled. It took me to a spot over on the bank a bit around a corner. I realized that I could half-submerge my backup glasses and use the submerged side to see as clearly as if I had goggles. Doing this, I found my glasses. At the bottom of the Llano River. In fast-moving waters. Yes, you may be amazed now.

I also found a couple of long-lost spinning rods, which I took up to the Ranger Station for karmic balance.

Anyway, upshot is: a good scare, drunken rednecks, things lost and found, and the biggest damn bass I've ever caught on a flyrod.

Another ACTION! shot.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Update on our Memphis & Nashville trip.

First news: my wife did great on her triathlon. It was an Olympic size triathlon: swim a mile, bike 25 miles, run a 10K (6.2 miles). She did all of this in 3 hrs & 24 minutes. I'm married to a cool, bad-ass jock-girl!

Museum news: I had a lot of time to kill. My buddy Andy came over from Nashville, and we took in some of the sights in Memphis.

* The National Civil Rights Museum. There was a woman out front protesting the annex on the grounds that it cost $10 million, and added nothing, while neighborhoods in Memphis suffered in Third World conditions. She's right, but I'll get to that in a minute. The first part of the museum was built around and into the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot. The information was prodigious. I did a ton of reading on the various stages of the Civil Rights Movement while working on my master's degree, and every little detail I could think of showed up in various forms: the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the NAACP in Birmingham and Montgomery, the Nashville Movement and the birth of SNCC, the Rev. James Lawson, the disorganization in Greensboro, the influx of white students from the North, the relative disregard for the role of women in the movement. Andy and I were there for 3 hours, and we rushed through the last part. Anyway, the first part of the museum culminates at the balcony where MLK was shot. There are hotel bedrooms (in disarray, as they would have been on that morning) behind glass on either side and a window looking out at the balcony, with a huge wreath marking the spot. The final statue exhibit shows the Memphis Sanitation Workers on strike, with signs that simply say "I AM A MAN" as they face down the police. A plaque mentions that the mayor of Memphis capitulated to their demands after the death of MLK, in an attempt to quell the riots across town. It doesn't mention that the Sanitation Workers were biracial, and or say much at all about the Poor People's Campaign that King launched right before he died. There is nothing about the Movement after King's death. It is as if the museum is saying that the sacrifice of King ended any racial issues in America. There is an exhibit about Gandhi, and then you may walk across the street to the protested annex. In this part, the room from which James Earl Ray allegedly shot King is preserved. There is a large exhibit afterwards mentioning that many people do not believe that Ray acted alone, and mentioning some other potential co-conspirators, including the Army, the FBI, and the Klan. The exhibit does not mention that King's family has endorsed this position. It is amazing and heartening that a taxpayer-sponsored museum in the South would mention the potential culpability of the military and the police in the death of this country's most prominent civil rights leader, however. I don't know if that's worth $10 million, but it might be, especially considering the unlikelihood that any of that money would have gone for social services or neighborhood-building.

* The Stax Museum of American Soul Music. We went directly to Stax from the National Civil Rights Museum. I recommend this approach to anyone visiting Memphis. The Stax Museum is in a poor black neighborhood in South Memphis. Right across the side street from the beautiful sign to the parking lot, for instance, is a two-story house looking as if it was only days from collapse. A couple of guys sat on the porch, watching the tourists and drinking beer. It was later in the day when we went into the museum, and they were trying to close by the time that we finished. Open for about a week when we went, the Stax Museum is a rebuilt replica of the original Stax studio & record store, which was located in a former movie theater. Pictures in the lobby show the theater falling apart and finally disappearing throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The most striking was a historical marker before an empty field saying that the legendary Stax studio had been located there. And yet there we stood, inside the building.

The first thing you do in the museum is watch a movie stressing the multi-racial Stax approach. Most of the people involved were still alive when the movie was shot (and, indeed, are still alive today), so we could hear firsthand from Steve Cropper and Rufus Thomas (since deceased) about the studio and what it meant to Memphians and to soul music fans at large. The museum next emphasizes the role of the church to soul singing, before going on to the numerous exhibits. Many are interactive, demonstrating how the Stax approach to soul was different from Detroit's or even Muscle Shoals's. There are some eye-popping examples of excess, such as Isaac Hayes's gold-plated, white-fur-lined Cadillac. There is the original studio space, a large room with a sloping floor reminding one that you are standing in a theater. After seeing that room, I don't know how the Stax sound was so crisp. It seems like a cavernous space with weird corners and all the musicians playing at once would lead to a murky sound. Instead, the house band (Booker T & the MGs, if you don't know) managed to get a sound so crisp that I can tell how many strings Steve Cropper hits on a typical upstroke. It was just amazing to see and read about the racial unity involved in the Stax sound, especially after being pummelled by the evils of crackers at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Andy and I went from Stax to find Hi Records (which gave Al Green his start, among many others), a few blocks away. We again had to journey through some sketchy areas, but found it. There are no plaques or anything there, just a sign that there is a recording studio inside this building.

We headed down to Graceland next, but it was closed. I'd been before. My wife went to a party there the next day, but I wasn't feeling so good and skipped it. We also found Sun Studios, which was also closed. I'd been there before, too. It wasn't far from the hotel, so my wife & I stopped in for a t-shirt on the way out of town two days later.

In Nash Vegas, Andy & his fiance Jean took us to:

* The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. Again, wow. They had some incredible relics there, like guitars and boots and outfits from Jimmie Rodgers, Mother Maybelle Carter, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and I could go on for days. They had Gram Parsons's pot leaf Nudie suit, Elvis Presley's gold-plated Cadillac (which wasn't near as flashy as Isaac Hayes's), and Webb Pierce's Nudie-designed "Silver Dollar" Cadillac, which featured pistols for the car handle, rifles as hood and trunk ornaments, a silver-dollar-encrusted saddle between the front seats, and fuzzy-cowhide and silver dollars just about everywhere. Very impressive, although the second floor, with its focus on country-rock and new country, was far less impressive.

Afterwards, Andy and I trekked up the street to the Ryman, but it was closed for a private recording session, and the too-cool-for-school Nash Vegas country guys wouldn't let us in to see it.

It was, all in all, a fantastic trip and a fantastic way to spend my birthday (which was the day we were in Nashville).

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Richard Thompson, The Old Kit Bag full review:

Within the context of his career, I'm giving it an A-/B+. There's only one standout song that I can see him playing in ten years ("Outside of the Inside"), but the overall songwriting is as solid as he usually musters. The sound is phenomenal, though: as dry and straightforward as Mock Tudor, with some of the most breathtaking guitar as has ever appeared on his studio efforts.

As always, the songcraft is at the heart of the album, but the remarkable effortless layers of guitar and stunning leads take a song like "Gethsemane" (which is basically a re-write of "Hand of Kindness" with more bitter, apocalyptic lyrics) into the realm of the Truly Inspired. There's a few Thompson-copywright miserable love songs, like "Jealous Words", which is most distinguishable by the Lindalike harmony vocals of Judith Owen, and "Word Unspoken, Sight Unseen", featuring Danny Thompson's bowed upright bass. The radio songs will be the poppy "I'll Tag Along" and "She Said It Was Destiny", both featuring very satisfying sudden major-to-minor chord changes. The true standout is "Outside of the Inside", which Thompson introduced in concert as a Taliban's-eye view of the Western world. This song has the feel of Thompson's legendary wrestling with his Muslim faith, and, while it's not "A Heart Needs A Home", it is a classic Thompson first-person narrative that steps away from bitter love to talk about the wide, bitter world.

Thematically, I don't know why Thompson's subtitled the album "Unguents, Fig Leaves, and Tourniquets for the Soul", nor split the album into two chapters, "The Haunted Keepsake" or "The Pilgim Fancy". Sure, the names sound like they mean something, but why this album? Why these songs? Obviously, this aspect is going to require more thought.

Anyway, this is not the best Richard Thompson album, nor is it even in the top five. It is, however, a new Richard Thompson album, and deserving of all the accompanying praise. I like the way that it sounds, and I like a number of these songs. I'm sure that the tour will be incredible, and that the rest of these songs will eventually catch in my ear. Why wait? Go get it, if you're so inclined.

Arbitrary ranking of the Richard Thompson albums, by my taste:

1. Shoot Out the Lights
2. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
3. Rumor and Sigh
4. Pour Down Like Silver
5. Mock Tudor (hey, I'm surprised it's this high, too)
6. Starring As Henry the Human Fly
7. Amnesia
8. Hokey Pokey
9. The Old Kit Bag (made the top ten!)
10. Across a Crowded Room
11. Hand of Kindness
12. Strict Tempo!
13. First Light
14. Daring Adventures
15. You? Me? Us?
16. Sunnyvista
17. Mirror Blue

That list could be more complicated with odd albums like Industry or Sweet Talker, or bootlegs, official and otherwise. But I left 'em off, for ease of ranking.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Picked up the new Richard Thompson (The Old Kit Bag) at lunch. Thus far (I'm on track 6), it's not as good as the last one, Mock Tudor, but better than the two previous, You? Me? Us? and Mirror Blue. I haven't yet heard any songs that he'll still be playing in ten years. The guitar playing is breathtaking, though, some of the best I've heard on any of his studio albums.

Just checked out the resume of the producer, John Chelew, who manages to get a refreshingly direct sound (like the one from the last album). He's mostly produced the likes of John Hiatt, Los Lobos, and Britfolkers like Bert Jansch & John Renbourn, but I love that there's a Saccharine Trust production credit on there.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

It's been half a month, and yet somehow I have nothing too intelligent to say.

Ah, the magic of the Internet.

Anyway, I hope to have more soon. In the meanwhile, be sure check out some of the blog links to find out what the other smart kids are saying.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Got the nod to do reviews of a few albums for an upcoming book on obscure or lost classics.

1) Jandek, Blue Corpse. Awww yeah! This will be the shiniest and happiest of reviews!

2) The Feelies, The Good Earth

3) The Mekons, The Quality of Mercy is not Strnen and OOOH!

4) The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane

5) Richard Buckner, The Hill, which I'll compare & contrast with Devotion and Doubt

I'm excited about this. I turned out about 4/5 of a poem the other night (which was junk, but it felt cleansing to write it), and it just does my soul good to be putting words on paper. I'm going to have to toast to self-indulgence the next time I drink like a fish and regale people with my oh-so-witty banter. Then, again...

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Weekend roundup:

Lowery 66/Knife in the Water, the Carousel, April 11, 2003

Caveat #1: The lead singer of Lowery 66 is a good friend.

Caveat #2: The Carousel is not a big place, but bands generally manage to play there without making my ears bleed.

Lowery 66 was earbleedingly loud, which is somewhat understandable given that the band is a six-piece that takes the occasional noisy skronk breaks. However, they really needed to cut the volume a bit last Friday. Both guitars and the keyboards were just way too loud. The violinist was all but inaudible (and sometimes the drummer!). The pain was worth it for the songs, though, which are beautiful, beautifully crafted, and quite catchy, like the best work of Yo La Tengo and Wilco. Their set was short, but the material was very strong (I'd say "uniformly strong" but the re-arrangement on the final song was far too Trail of Dead-headed for me), which, given the volume, made for an excellent show.

Knife in the Water were their usual languid selves. The volume was much more controllable and the intimacy of the club suited the band more than some of the other settings where I've seen them. Their songs are less arty than Lowery 66's, but the two bands fit together with this odd grab-bag of influences that seems popular these days. (What is this genre called? It mixes 80's indie-rock with Hazelwood-style chamber-country-pop, alternates between third-album Velvet-y minimalism and lush symphonic-style songcraft, and goes from whisper-quiet to a skronky thrash on a dime. Besides KitW and L66, there's Champale, Richard Davies, the Kingsbury Manx, Lullaby for the Working Class, and, more removed, Yo La Tengo's 2000 album, Bedhead, the Pernice Brothers, maybe Lambchop, definitely others. I'm going to call this style "lush cowpop" until someone comes up with a better name.) Half of the Austin scene turned up for KitW's show, included the aforementioned Trail of Dead guys, and the place was packed. Some young self-involved cool kids even stood between the band and the tables, ensuring that no one but themselves could possibly see the band play. Anyway, KitW wasn't doing much besides playing, so it didn't really matter. The music was excellent, and the beer was cold, so it was quite a decent way to spend a Friday night.

Ladyfest Benefit, Beerland, April 12, 2003

The lineup was the Swamp Girls, the Nice Dynamics, the Meat Purveyors, and All Night Lincoln. The organizers seemed to be looking for a lineup that was at least 50% female.

The Swamp Girls were an all-female trio with acoustic guitar, electric bass, and a harmony singer. Although they were clearly in the Lesbian Music mold, they were far more Freakwater (yes, I know that the Freakwater women are not lesbians, thank you) than Indigo Girls, to my immediate but lasting relief. However, they needed a lead instrument, if only for color, and how.

The Nice Dynamics were very enthusiastic, although I'd be surprised if they'd been playing their instruments for very long. The band consisted of a female drummer, a male acoustic guitarist, and a female accordionist/violinist. Yes, no bassist. Yes, it mattered. Starting in the back, the drummer's expression alternated between a heartmeltingly cute smile and a steely look of determination. Her rig was the oddest I've seen - a high-hat, some crash & splash cymbals, a tom where most drummers have their snare, and a bass drum that I suspect was a floor tom turned sideways. The guitarist guy was playing fairly cheap equipment, which, unlike, say, the cheap-but-effective equipment I use, produced an ungodly trebly and thin sound. The way that he was jumping around the stage left me wondering what band he thought that he was in, because it sure wasn't this one. The accordionist/fiddler was the truly talented member of the band, and she carried most of the weight by also being the primary singer. She obviously had years of violin in her background, but she didn't play the violin much. On her other instrument, she had a good grasp the button side of the accordion, but barely touched the key side. Anyway, like I said, they were very enthusiastic, and fun to watch in a garage way.

The Meat Purveyors were fantastic. They bitched a bit about playing the benefit, but not being invited to play the actual Ladyfest, which was funny. They played bluegrass with punk style (and even covered a few punk tunes, some of which out-rock-geeked me), and generally rocked the place. I sat & thus couldn't see them for most of their set, because the audience was mostly female and mostly short, and I felt like the Great Wall of China every time I stood up.

I heard-but-didn't-listen-to the last band because I was talking with the Meat Purveyors' guitarist, who's a cool guy, and who I envy. The guy, like me, works for the State, which, unlike me, allows him to do things like touring America and Canada with his band and/or Neko Case, recording with Jon Langford, and being a Bloodshot Man. Goddamn, that's the life. Nice guy, too. He used to play in the Horsies, who put out an album called Trouble Down South in the early 90s. I joked that my band (Trouble Down South) should rename our EP "Horsies" to keep the confusion factor high. Anyway, he's going to try to catch one of our next couple of shows. If he's not playing. Or on tour with Neko Case (the bastid!).

Monday, March 31, 2003

Thinking about why I like Western movies.

I still feel like a dabbler. Never read a McMurtry novel, f'rinstance, although I liked McCarthy's Blood Meridian enough to name a song for it. I tend to like the visual iconography of Western movies better than novels (and that cinematic feel in Blood Meridian was the reason I liked it & haven't much cared for any other McCarthy books). I've never seen a lot of the early Westerns, but it is interesting to me that the quintessential Western situation (man vs. man vs. nature) can be used to create works that are politically deliberate in both liberal and conservative veins (or maybe Lockean and Hobbesian might be a better split, casting the honor-among-men motif of The Wild Bunch as the former, and the strength-through-distrust motif of The Man With No Name trilogy in the latter) or as politically ambiguous as McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Jesus Christ, I'm sorry for the convolution of that last sentence. Anyway, when they're good, Westerns ask the hard questions and undermine their own answers, with plots easily cast as "men conflicted in difficult situations over their philosophical differences". I dig that kind of primordial storytelling.

So, I've seen Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Mag 7, The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, Deadly Companions, The Man With No Name Trilogy, Unforgiven, the other (less good) Eastwood westerns, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and probably some others besides.

I'd put Dead Man into my top tier. It does what Westerns should do by subsuming the action into a sprawling meditation on the meaning of life. I also quite enjoyed the hallucinatory picaresque allegory of the "plot," and the conceit of Gary Farmer's character has always rang true to me as a mostly unexplored Western archetype (I mean, he's basically the Noble Savage, but instead of being naive like so many NSs, he's a sharp guy with nothing left looking for meaning).

I've read about a half-dozen Cormac McCarthy books, but only loved Blood Meridian. McCarthy has a tendency to wax poetic in what reads to me like an attempt to honor both Faulkner and Burroughs at once, but, like with Dead Man, I like the hallucinatory approach to the West. It brings home the madness that characters would feel from the hardships of living & surviving in the desert with nothing much in the way of possessions, not to mention the unreality that would creep into people's heads when living with the constant threat of violence. In short: heat, dehydration, solitude, and murder make people crazy. Good Westerns, to me, consider what those conditions do to people's souls.

Also, for the record, I dig Morricone & Calexico.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Quick note: I spent Sunday to Thursday of this week in Big Bend National Park. This is an incredible experience, akin to suddenly finding yourself touring The American West writ large. Though I looked ridiculous hiking in my cowboy hat with shorts, a goofy Euro backpack filled with water, & hiking boots, I felt like Bill Holden in the The Wild Bunch. "When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal. You're finished."

So, I just watched McCabe & Mrs. Miller for the first time. Some of y'all (I realize that the group of people who read this log includes myself and no one else) know about the love in my heart for Peckinpah films, which are far more iconographic than Altman's. I've grappled with Altman in the past, to various results, but this one blew me away. I love how fully-rounded the people were, from the title characters to all of the supporting cast, and how Altman caught the human impulse to ignore tragedy (as in the phenomenal fight at the end & the shooting of the Carradine kid) and to miss significance of actions (as in the way that the town popped up while the church for which the town was named went unfinished). The color was just stunning, too, as was the use of Cohen's music (usually, I have no use for him). Anyway, sorry to rant on like this, but as I think about this movie, it colors my opinion of every Western I've ever seen. That's about as high a praise as I can assess, and similar to how I felt when I first saw The Wild Bunch and Ride the High Country. My movie hound friends steered me right on this.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

A few more album review pitches.

Camper Van Beethoven, s/t
When listening to this, possibly the most psychedelic album of all time, I feel high, although it may be just motion-sickness. Camper jerks the listener all over the music map, one genre-busting song after another, climaxing in a raucous 12-minute cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive". Dude. Seriously.

Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane
This is pop for grown-ups. Bitter, worn lyrics. Lush, symphonic song arrangement. Listening to this album is like taking a drag on the first cigarette you've had for years, while thinking about how your ex-wife hated smoking so damn much.

Rank & File, Sundown
Say what you will about the Kinman brothers, but they managed to turn out exactly one decent country-punk album, and this is it.

Richard Buckner, Devotion + Doubt
Buckner's love letters from hell sound like the muffled screams of a man drowning in his own emotion. His pain is unrelenting, but also beautiful and true. Some people think that country music is about the sound and attitude. Buckner knows that regret is the bitter heart of country songcraft.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I'm working on some album review proposals for an editor friend. Here's what I have thus far.

Tonebenders, s/t
Like Pavement covering Booker T. & the MG’s, the Tonebenders slung a fistful of indie cool at the classic R&B palette and, unlike, say, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, managed to avoid embarrassing themselves.

Sparklehorse, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot
Let me whisper creepy little non-sequitors into your ear, little girl, for I have a guitar and a Casio. Listen to my howls in the heart of the hurricane. Fuck Greil Marcus. I’m twice as weird and scary as anything that Dylan could dream up in his kaleidoscope nightmares.

The Silos, s/t
With introspective roots-rock that could have come out of any town with a half a music scene (and where only posers and pussies wear shades after dark), the Silos distinguish themselves by their monk-like adherence to simple arrangement and simple belief in the redemptive and delicate craft of songwriting.

Jandek, Blue Corpse
By the third song, Jandek has made it clear that he’s in no mood for women, sunlight, or a second chord. Some cite Blood on the Tracks as the most harrowing break-up album, but even a happy Jandek could redefine the word “harrowing”. This, my friends, is not the work of a happy Jandek.

fIREHOSE, Live Totem Pole EP
Goddammit, but those boys tear up “The Red and the Black”! About twice as good as the best fIREHOSE album, this documents Watt & company at their most exultant and care-free.

Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
I don’t speak a word of French. OK, I know “merde”, which appears at least once on this album. My point is that one doesn’t need to be fluent in French to know that this is the most decadent, smutty, perverted sex-funk album ever released (think about that: it pre-dates the recording career of Isaac Hayes). In fact, like when old horror movies would cut away the second before the violence, it probably helps that I speak no French.

The Feelies, The Good Earth
God, I love this album. I think that a lot of critics tend to downplay the Feelies' later albums in favor of their jittery first, Crazy Rhythms, but this one in particular is a masterpiece. The songs are all simple three-chord folk songs centered around multilayered acoustic guitars with third-album VU-inspired lead guitar. The vocals are low to the point of occasional inaudibility, which is fine because the lyrics are never too intelligent. But what kills me is the sound: carefully arranged without being fussy, complex without losing that off-the-cuff relaxed folky feel, simultaneously urban and earthy. With the structure of a jam band (two drummers!), some reviews have called the Feelies the Grateful Dead of 80's indie pop. These reviewers are missing the focus of each song, as only two break the five-minute mark, and only one of those is stretched out by a guitar solo. "Guitar solo" isn't really the right word for the fifteen-odd lead guitar tracks that overtake that song, "Slipping (into something)", pushing it from a dark pastorale into a maelstrom of noise. None of the other tracks work up such a head of steam, but nevertheless manage to bounce and push, as well. "The Last Roundup" is underpinned by a snare-heavy drum track that never drops into backbeat, sounding like both drummers are simply flailing away at the beat, but the song strangely remains the most country-influenced track on the album. "On the Roof", "Let's Go", and "The Good Earth" have the indie-pop feel of a less futzy Let's Active, whereas "The High Road" and "When Company Comes" are pure folk-punk goofiness. It's a delicate line that the Feelies walk, but they never waver. Would that more artists were capable of their craft.

I went a bit overboard with the last one, but I'm not kidding about loving the hell out of this album.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

This started out as an explanation of the context for some songs on a Mekons mix, but it became an album-by-album critique of the Mekons, so here it is.

"Dan Dare" is from The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen, 1979. You should look up the album on to see the cover.

"Never Been in a Riot" is a single from the Fast Product label. I think it came out in 1978, but the compiled collection is mostly from 1979.

There is nothing from Devils, Rats, and Piggies, which I find to be mostly unlistenable crap.

"The Building" and "He Beat Up His Boyfriend" are from It Falleth Like a Gentle Rain From Heaven: The Mekons Story, another collection of singles from 1979-1982.

"Trouble Down South", "Hard to Be Human Again", and "Last Dance" are from Fear and Whiskey, 1985. This is when the Mekons suddenly decided to quit playing semi-competant dance-punk and went for an arty version of American country music. I'm sure that Misha might have recommended different songs from this album, but, y'know, what are you going to do when every single song is a keeper?

"Hello Cruel World", "Shanty", and "Big Zombie" are from Edge of the World, 1986. The country-punk continues. This is the first album with Sally Timms, but, sadly, I left off the song "Oblivion", which, by all rights, should have been here. Something to look for, if you choose to continue buying Mekons albums.

No songs from the live New York album, which is an interesting document of where the Mekons were at that time, but not as interesting as the studio material itself.

"The Prince of Darkness" and "Sympathy for the Mekons" are from Honky Tonkin', 1987. The former song is about the lead singer of the Sisters of Mercy and features Michelle Shocked singing back-up vocals. The second song is sheer goofiness.

"Ghosts of American Astronauts" and "(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian" are from So Good It Hurts, 1988. Shimmery, shimmery reggae-influenced pop. This album was a weird left turn in a career of weird left turns.

"Memphis, Egypt", "Club Mekon", and "Heaven and Back" are from Mekons Rock & Roll, 1989. Good god, y'all, if you've ever found smarter and more-rocking songs than these, I'll eat someone's hat. Every time I hear this album, I pick up something new. The lyrics manage to be commentary on the music industry, the commodification of music as an experience, the state of capitalism in the late 80s, and the indifference of the West to the plight of the Third World without sounding forced or strident. In fact, many of the metaphors are cleverly couched in throwaway phrases and misdirection. It works as a kick-ass rock album, a master's thesis, or the rock-opera version of The Baffler.

"The Curse", "Blue Arse", and "Wild and Blue" are from The Curse of the Mekons, 1991. Having languished in major-label hell for two years following Rock & Roll, the Mekons put out their most produced album yet and manage to lose none of the punk-rock kick. The lyrics are more direct and despairing than on Rock & Roll, but just as cutting. The cover of "Wild and Blue" may be Sally's most beautiful vocal, as well.

"I (heart) Apple" is from I (heart) Mekons, 1993, one of my least-favorite of their listenable albums. Some of the songs are first-rate material and really shine at live shows, but I find the production absolutely turgid. This track and "Millionaire" generally make it onto my Mekons comps, but I don't think I've ever put anything else onto a mix. This was the first Mekons albums I bought, and it took me years to buy another.

Nothing from Retreat from Memphis, 1994, another unlistenable affair. There's only one song on this album that I could stand to hear again.

I don't have Mekons United, 1995, but the song "Orpheus" is also on the first Hen's Teeth collection, and is the first song on both compilations and truly one of the finest songs the Mekons have ever recorded. This is the story of Orpheus told from the first-person perspective with the Mekons serving as the Dionysian women and the Fates. It's also a metaphor (with ongoing significance) for insanity and loss. Bonechilling, fist-pounding stuff. I understand that the rest of the album is mostly unlistenable, though, which is why I haven't made the effort to get it yet.

Nothing from Pussy, King of the Pirates, 1996, a disappointingly synth-oriented collaboration with Kathy Acker.

Nothing from ME, 1998, which has some stellar songs on it, but is basically an also-ran. The Mekons shouldn't get credit for C work, even if they mostly turned out D- work throughout the mid 90s.

"Powers & Horror" and "Neglect" are from Journey to the End of the Night, 2000. Now THIS is what we want from the Mekons. The album is a sadcore-reggae-folk-pop lament, sounding as angry as ever, but also sad and resigned. The Mekons are loose and having fun, though, and it makes all the difference in the world.

"Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" and "Bob Hope & Charity" are from OOOH! (Out of Our Heads), 2002. Journey to the End was a warm-up for this, the finest Mekons album since Rock & Roll, and their third finest overall. The music is near-impossible to categorize at this point: elements of punk, country, folk, reggae, pop, and choral singing run through every tune. Lyrically, this is THE answer album to September 11th, although the event is never mentioned, as the theme of losing one's head (from Orpheus onward) takes on the extra significance in the mass hysteria and loss prevalent in the US these days. The songs range from a discussion of E.P. Thompson's History of the English Working Class to nuclear winter to renouncing one's faith to regicide to the beautiful dirge "Hate Is The New Love". Not that the dire subject matter keeps the music from rocking harder than the now-middle-age Mekons have rocked in ages. It topped many a critic's Best Of 2002 list, and with good cause.

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