Another Year (without Our Father)

This picture will make sense.

This picture will make sense.

Last year, during this week, we launched a series of posts to honor the passing of our father. My sister, brother and I each talked about our memories of him and related them (sometimes weakly) to music. While the creation of this blog was planned before our father’s sudden death, that loss was a catalyst for us in different ways.

It made me want even more to decrease the distance between the man I am and the one I want to be; it made my brother get serious about playing music and writing; and, whether or not we want to admit it, it accelerated other plans too: my son was born 10 months after his grandfather’s passing; my niece joined the world 6 months later.

We’re not going to bring out another series of memories this year—last year’s posts wait to be read and re-experienced, if and when the need arises. Yet, we do not want to let another year’s rotation go by unnoticed. Our father’s life and death helped to make us who we are today.

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Radio (on the TV!) Again: 2 Chainz is Different

A few weeks ago I wrote about my (re)discovery of Music Choice, the big media conglomerate that primarily brings music to digital television for whatever narrow profit the banner ads will bring. I have spent more time over the past week or so (as my children and I have been spending chaotic and messy quality time at home) contemplating the various channels that Music Choice gives to the world.

I don’t know exactly how the system works, but there must be some inter-corporate back-scratching going on because the tracks repeat regularly on each station and there are typically underrepresented artists (I have yet to hear They Might Be Giants, the Pixies or Fugazi on any channel). But, since I am too lazy to do any real research on the matter, I will just assume corporate shenanigans informed only partly by actual music knowledge and taste.

The last time I talked about Music Choice I was so breathless with the single “The John Wayne” by Little Green Cars (a passion that has tempered, but only marginally) that I mentioned the artist 2 Chainz only in passing. As to be expected from Music Choice, I have heard this song a couple of times now and I am obsessed (for no good reason) with the double-bind it presents.

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Religious songs for the non Religious

I would not consider myself a religious person. I am certainly not an atheist or agnostic or any kind of Satanist, I just sort of meandered through my Lutheran upbringing. I ambled through years of Sunday school and somehow also got confirmed, much to the happiness of my elderly mid-western Lutheran grandmother, although I always felt like I was just going through the motions. It’s not that I didn’t believe in what I was doing, I just never felt strongly about any of it and my main goal was to appease my grandmother and parents. This is not a good basis for strong faith.

Recently, I was walking my dog on a freezing cold Sunday morning when I heard the Avett Brother ‘s song “Me and God” on a gospel station I had flipped to because I was rocking my old FM radio since my iPod has no juice in it. I was having a rough morning, contemplating my love life, my hangover, and my general grip on existence in this long cold winter.  It was sunny despite the cold and the rays of light picked up the billions of tiny ice crystals on the grass of the field and I just thought “there has gotta be  a God”.

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(Learning to) Learn about New Music

One might think (if one thought quickly) that, with all of the access to information provided by the internet,  it would be easy to learn about new music. This might seem especially true if we compare it to the way we used to learn about artists and songs (from friends, print magazines, fanzines, the radio, MTV). Each one of these categories could be hit-or-miss (a friend might have bad taste, certain artists could dominate the radio just as genres would dominate MTV).

Yet, we (or at least I) developed strategies for coping with these–you know which friends have tastes like your own (and the other friends might actually broaden your horizons); you can change radio stations or listen selectively to MTV (not that this is an issue any more since MTV no longer plays music). But today the situation is just damned overwhelming. I have been burned by algorithmic suggestions from Pandora, perplexed by “people who buy this also buy…” from Amazon, and similar (even less helpful) suggestions from iTunes store and the ironically named “Genius” app.

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Mamadou Diabate: Kora Master

After writing a bit about hip hop music and my brother’s recent post on some blues, it occurred to me that we have barely covered world music. Now granted, I do not listen to a bunch of world music, although this is something I’d like to change. There is just so much out there in the world and I am sure there is a lot of music I would love that I just haven’t heard yet.

I also would like to expose myself to a lot of different music for my own learning because you never know when you will hear something that inspires you or helps you to adds something new to your playing. My dalliances with world music are pretty slim. I had a friend who brought me a bunch of reggaeton from Venezuela that I really liked. The only problem was that he didn’t have any of the names of the artists. Here’s kind of what it sounded like.

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New Album Review: Heritage Blues Orchestra

A few weeks ago I was driving (probably a little too quickly) to pick up pizzas for my son’s birthday party, I was lucky enough to have the radio on for the local jazz station’s weekly blues evening. The DJ was revisiting some of the releases from the past calendar year focusing especially on possible award winners in the upcoming and endless award cycle. When he introduced an album up for the Grammy for Best Blues Album and the Blues Music Awards for Best Blues Album and Best Traditional Blues Album I might have yawned (awards shows don’t always impress me). But from the first note to the last (I was late returning with pizza because I listened to five full tracks) this was the best thing I had heard on the radio in years.

The band? A group of talented and seasoned musicians who form the Heritage Blues Orchestra. The album? Their debut And Still I Rise.

Maybe the best album you'll hear all year

Maybe the best album you’ll hear all year

I don’t often like to get nationalistic or jingoistic, but we, as Americans, should take pride in our musical art forms, though not without first admitting that they were made possible by a particularly vile bit of history. The cultural blending from forced migration (i.e., slavery) and economically or politically motivated immigration created a violent and vibrant mixing pot (more a boiling and roiling stew than a true blend) that gave birth to the most influential musical forms of the last century: jazz, blues, rock, R&B, country, folk and hip-Hop all come from the admixture of our national heritages.

Of these genres, blues is probably the least well-represented in mainstream culture even though it may be the oldest, most pure and the granddaddy of them all. Blues musicians of the greatest talent labor in relative obscurity because the genre doesn’t have the catchy colloquialism of its rock, pop and hip-hop descendants or the Caucasian-approved art-house elevation of jazz. The repetitive and seemingly ‘un-original’ nature of its composition, moreover, makes blues seem less exciting to modern audiences

Unless, of course, you spend some time watching blues musicians and realize how talented they are (or learn to play a little yourself). When I was learning to play the guitar, my teacher—who could play an impressive range of genres with equal talent—spent time teaching me the basic picking patterns of piedmont and delta blues both as a way to give depth to my musical knowledge and to strengthen my hands for folk and classical pursuits. While I never became the guitarist he hoped (it was the nineties, power chords were all I needed!), I have never forgotten the feel for it or the basic twelve-bar blues.

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2001-Songs of the Year

Song of the Year: “Ima Thug” -Trick Daddy

Runners Up:  “Ms. Jackson” -Outkast,   “Last Nite” The Strokes,  “Chop Suey!” System of a Down

Best Dance Video ever: “Weapon of Choice” -Fatboy Slim

2001 was a crazy year. My brother wrote about it in pretty heavy fashion a few weeks ago and, besides the fact that I have not written a “songs of the year” post in some time, I felt I could add some things since I experienced the year much differently as a sophomore in high school. I distinctly remember hearing about the plane hitting the first building and thinking that I hoped my brother was ok. I knew from my frequent trips to the city that his NYU offices were not in close proximity to the towers, but who knows?

I was in Honors Algebra 2 listening to my teacher drone on about polynomials when someone with a laptop got the first headlines. I called my mom who tried calling my brother and she eventually got the message that he was alive/well and actually saw the second plane hit the other tower. That is extremely heavy and I commend him for writing about the experience. This was a dark period in the history of our country and the shadow looms today and probably forever after.

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(Songs for) Debt Servitude

My brother recently wrote about one of the influences on the pervasive depression–the seasonal affective disorder–in our hometown and similar regions. I think there is more to be said about it. But I want to warn you before you start reading: this post is one of those times when I am going to start ranting. I will definitely get political and personal.

Yeah, I am getting up on it

Yeah, I am getting up on it

I will talk about music, but I will mostly talk about something that should concern all of us: the widening gap in prosperity in our country, the broken promises of the American dream and a system that really can bear no better name than debt servitude.

(Ok, ok. I originally wrote “debt slavery” but the younger j thought that this was historically insensitive. In my mind, I countered that this is a big deal too, but words mean a lot. I’ll save the histrionics for the end.)

What does this have to with music? A relatively small amount, if you think about the issue directly—yet, it has to do with the hopes and fears that fuel our music and give it its themes (both high and low), the twisted values that dominate the commercial end of music in this country, and the real-life effects that send many of us rushing to our headphones for escape or with the fragile hope that someone else may communicate what we’re feeling in a better way.

Here’s the dramatic pitch. There is something really, really wrong about our system. We all buy into a series of values and promises that turn out to be worse than empty–they are filled with negative space.

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Tullycraft Returns

So, a band called Tullycraft, which some of the savvier readers (if I have either readers or readers with savvy) might know about has just released their first single in years. And people are getting excited. Well, I am, and some other people who have much more knowledgeable blogs, too.

(I got a message on twitter from a good friend about it. He found out from a blog. So this is a tertiary reporting at best.)Tullycraft

I’m not going to spend time telling you about the band because I don’t really know that much about them as people, I only know the music. (Anything I told you would be stolen from Wikipedia.) I don’t even know how I heard about the album Beat Surf Fun, but it was a staple in my CD Walkman in the year before I got an iPod. I loved their debut Old Traditions, New Standards (even though I acquired it seven years after its release).

Yet, I haven’t persuaded someone else to listen to the band. My wife thinks the sound is ‘weird’ (and it is stripped down and different from most of what you’ll hear on any radio station). But something about the songs just make me happy. Oh, and confused.

“Pop songs your new boyfriend’s too stupid to know about”

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

My brother wrote a few weeks ago about dealing with winters in the north and their effect on your psyche. He also stated that this issue basically disappeared when he moved to a southern climate; but I think this has a lot more to do with the fact that the man has no time to be morose with two young kids, a full time job as a professor and so on and so forth.

One of the many things that add to Seasonal Affective Disorder is that when it is extremely cold and/or snowy, you can’t do much outside unless you thrive on a winter sport like skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling or whatever. Snow removal generally sucks as well (which we will discuss a little further along). The bad weather coupled with the come-down from the holidays and the crappy economy of the last few years has really made me feel this S.A.D. thing. I also tend to miss my father more around this time for the obvious reason that the anniversary of his death comes at the end of this month and the holidays really emphasize his absence.

So I had a long talk with my brother on the phone on this subject and one of the many ways we talked of dealing with these generally shitty feelings is to write about it in our blog. He has already sort of covered it and I will add my own experience right now. I’m lucky to have a brother that not only listens  about why I feel like shit but also helps me look at various ways I can combat this yearly phenomena.  Exercise, limiting of alcohol consumption and a renewed focus on finding a real job were key points. So here it is.

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