LBJs (Special Shuffle Edition)

It's Sunday morning chez Cashwell, and after a yummy breakfast of scrambled eggs and Trader Joe's turkey sausages (one pack with basil, one with apple), it's time to consider the state of the universe. Offering a (hopefully) unifying metaphor: my entire digital music collection, set on "Shuffle."

"Hard to Handle" by Toots Hibbert (from Toots in Memphis)
I first heard this one at Record Bar back in grad school--a delicious mix of two genres that are somewhat under-represented in my collection. Reggae star Hibbert leaves behind the Maytalls and goes off to Memphis to recreate some old Stax and Volt soul classics. This take on Otis Redding blows the Black Crowes' version out of the water, and it's not even as good as the cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness." I should own more reggae, definitely, and my soul collection, while larger, still isn't big enough. And if I imagine the song being sung by my job, it's totally believable.

"Letter Never Sent" by R.E.M. (from Reckoning)

I came home from England in 1984 already a huge R.E.M. fan--I'd seen them once in Manchester and once in London--and this album sealed the deal. This tune is not one of their greatest compositions, but even a middling R.E.M. tune displays a degree of craftsmanship and creativity that most bands never reach. As I get back into working with our part-time faculty band, Poor Judgment, that's a lesson worth remembering.

"Mexican Wine" by Fountains of Wayne (from Welcome Interstate Managers)
A little pop gem, this, and a tune I've performed in a coffee shop. Aside from its thundering guitars, it has a wonderful series of small shifts in its chord progressions; the first verse has only the simplest major chords, moving straight from one to the other; the second verse mixes in some minor chords and puts a transition chord in between each of the big ones; and finally, once we kick into the solo and the final verse, we get an actual key change. Even if you're doing something very straightforward, there's no reason to do it in a boring fashion. As I start preparing for my speech classes this winter--by my calculations the 91st and 92nd times I've taught this particular course--I should perhaps follow FoW's example.

"The In Crowd/Down to London" by Joe Jackson (from Summer in the City: Live in New York)
Here's an album I came across only recently, featuring a live piano trio with Joe on keys and his stalwart companion Graham Maby on bass. They rip through a variety of old covers (everyone from Duke Ellington to the Lovin' Spoonful to Steely Dan) and Jackson classics, obviously having a blast. Joe is by many accounts a rather difficult guy to work with, but he's a musical genius, and his early albums are brilliant. I also give him big points for introducing me to the work of Louis Jordan. It seems a little weird to be listening to a "summery" album at this point, what with the backyard trees obviously in autumnal mode; the Norway maple has already gone totally yellow and the dogwood is a somewhat more subdued red--almost maroon. We had enough frost for me to scrape the windshield on Friday morning, so it may actually be necessary for me to start wearing sweaters soon. Yay!

"This Is How It Goes" by Aimee Mann (from Lost in Space)

Though they never especially bothered me, I wasn't a huge fan of 'Til Tuesday, so it was a bit of a surprise to learn how much I liked Mann's solo work. I first heard it (of all places) an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where a disgusted Mann, following an undead-related disruption to her gig, delivers the immortal line, "I hate playing vampire towns.") Her lyrics always seem to deal with wounded narrators carefully circling the possibility of a relationship, alternately longing and recoiling, and her melodic sense is terrific as well.

"Overture/Going Through the Motions" by Sarah Michelle Gellar (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling)
Synchronicity! Here's Buffy herself, in the legendary musical episode of BtVS from Season Six, still just about the greatest thing ever on television. If you haven't seen it, just be aware that in this episode, the town of Sunnydale is visited by a demon who makes the townsfolk spontaneously burst into song and dance, with alternately touching, revealing, and hilarious results. This is the opening number, the classic "I Want" song (to use Disney's terminology) where Buffy sets up her dilemma: she's stuck in a seemingly never-ending battle against evil, with no possibility of a love life, a younger sister to care for, and well-meaning friends who either just don't understand what she's been through or even do her accidental harm. And all that's packed into less than three minutes of music, all of which is ridiculously catchy. Joss Whedon, I salute you! And yes, when the job gets busy, as it does every fall, it's verrrrry easy to feel as though I'm in Buffy's shoes in a lot of ways. I'll try not to kill anybody or get involved with any vampires, though.

"Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles (from Revolver)
I can only imagine what it was like hearing this song for the first time after spending one's adolescence enjoying "Love Me Do" and "Eight Days a Week." The Beatles' early stuff is not at all simplistic, as anyone who's ever tried to learn the chords to "If I Fell" can attest, but this sonic whirlagig is just not like anything they had done before. Backwards masking, feedback, filtered vocals, organ punches, tacked piano, all anchored by Ringo's pounding drums... conniption fits must have been going on all across teenage America. But for those of us who came to the Fab Four later, it's just a part of the Beatley sound. It's a shame that innovation can't really be appreciated by those who already know about it. I mean, the printing press--what a great idea! But it's one we tend to take for granted. I recently read China Mieville's dark fantasy novel Kraken, and one of the elements it touches on is the importance of ink; it's a tool with which we fix our ideas, whether printed or handwritten, and it comes from creatures we only rarely encounter, some of whom live so far in the depths that they have no use for camouflaging blobs of darkness. Is it possible they created ink FOR us? Well, I don't know, but Mieville certainly has fun imagining what might happen if they did.

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Elvis Costello (from King of America)
A stark, impassioned cover of the Animals hit. I like the marimba, but I haven't got a lot to say about it otherwise.

"All My Love" by Led Zeppelin (from In Through the Out Door)
Zep's final album, and the only one that came out when I was paying any attention to them. I always associate it with the Buck family, which includes my classmate Ken and his sisters Nan and Meg. Nan was a huge LZ fan, and since she was two years older than I, she took it as a duty to offer me musical education. Ken was also a big help in this regard, introducing me to such important figures as Spike Jones, but he was also helpful in showing me the wonders of the printed page, including Asterix the Gaul and the hilarious 1066 and All That, which I suspect was one of the main reasons I ended up turning into an Anglophile. Meg, the youngest, had a bit of a crush on me in her youth, but she was the sort of cool younger sibling that you felt compelled to take seriously, or at least I felt that way, possibly because Nan had treated me in a similar fashion. In any case, when she asked me to take her to the ninth-grade dance at Culbreth Junior High, I accepted, though I was a freshman in college at the time; I thus had the surreal experience of going back to my junior-high gym and seeing all my former teachers while wearing a full beard. It's not an experience everyone can handle, but it's definitely unique.

In unrelated matters, why isn't this titled "All OF My Love"? It's what Plant actually sings, I suspect because it scans better.

"And Dream of Sheep" by Kate Bush (from Hounds of Love)

Purty. And so's the song. Kate is an acquired taste, I admit, but I can't think of many artists who combine her strengths: a gorgeous voice, a singular lyrical sensibility, a theatricality that doesn't depend on sexuality (despite her ravishing appearance), a wonderful sense of melody, and a creativity uninhibited by commercial considerations. I own only a few of her albums, but she's one performer whose back catalogue I'd be willing to purchase without hesitation. And if you're a Tori Amos fan, you should really own everything Kate's ever done, because she did most of the things Tori does first.

"Drive In Drive Out" by the Dave Matthews Band (from Crash)
Living in central Virginia as I do, I've been hearing about Dave for quite some time, and I understand a lot of the criticisms of his work. At the same time, I really, really like his first few records. (They lost me with Before These Crowded Streets, and I haven't gone back to explore any of the albums since then.) I'm also totally a fan of drummer Carter Beauford, who came out to Woodberry to offer a few percussion lessons to our students before settling in to play drums behind Charlottesville jazz fixture John D'Earth for a concert in our chapel. Beauford was a total gentleman and a great guy to work with, and his drumming is simply impeccable. (His concluding solo on the live version of "Halloween" from Recently is just fantastic.) Bassist Stefan Lessard is also a terrific talent, and I love Boyd Tinsley's violin and Dave's growly vocal style. Honestly, from a musical standpoint there's not much I dislike about the band at all; I do, however, have occasional issues with their fans, who can have a rather superior and insular attitude, and who are unfortunately legion in this neck of the woods. I've had issues with other fanbases in the past--Doors fans, Deadheads, Parrotheads, Phishfood, etc.--but in those cases, I've had only limited fondness for the music. With DMB, I have sometimes allowed myself to be pushed away from music I actually like by the opinions and attitudes of others; I should really cut that out.

"You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (from Freak Out!)

A statement I've often had to make. And a song I may very well have played at my funeral.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 24, 2010 11:33 AM.

On Rejection and Other Matters was the previous entry in this blog.

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