The Musical Treasure Trove

So, I have been thinking a bit about re-reruns (prompted, I must admit by a This American Life episode about re-runs). This thinking has dove-tailed with some of my thoughts about the repeatability of the cover song and the tension between one ‘performance’ and another. Part of this thinking is a tortured attempt to try to justify what I am about to do today: repeat one of our posts. What happens when you repeat a repetition?

Like my brother, I have found that the busyness of normal life (whatever that means) has gotten to be a bit overwhelming. The end of the semester has brought me a pile of grading, a CV-length of promised articles, and two children who are growing faster than I can imagine. This has kept me (guiltily) from having the time to write a quality post while also making me wonder whether or not this blog is doing what it should.

See, it has been suggested that the posts are too long and too discursive–and, as readership has ebbed and flowed, I have wondered what the worth is. This contemplation lasts a few minutes because, when it comes down to it, I enjoy writing this blog even if the act is entirely masturbatory.

Continue reading

Luck of the Irish…Music?


I realize I’m several days past St Patrick’s day but I really wasn’t inspired to write this post until this past weekend. On Friday evening, my husband and I bought a pizza for our daughter and her babysitter, drove 45 minutes to our state capital and attended a concert given by the Irish Rovers.

Earlier this month I heard on our local NPR station that they’d be stopping in our small New England state during the “farewell to rovin” tour. I decided I would buy tickets for us to attend the show as my husband grew up listening to their music and he has been singing the same songs to our little one since she joined us in this world nearly 2 years ago. Prior to the concert, to fully embrace our first date night in months, we went to a bar that I hadn’t been to since my days in law school. We had a couple beers, smoked some cigarettes (gasp!) and met several people who were also attending the show. (Most of whom were decades older than us.).It was fun to talk to other folks as excited about the show as we were.

The concert was wonderful, the group played for about 2 hours. The band formed in the early 1960s and has changed over the years and replaced members who have moved on to greener pastures or to the great pub in the sky, but the current accordion player is one of the original rovers. They played new songs and old songs, well known hits and less known drogues. People of all ages enjoyed the show, multiple generations were in attendance.

When it was all over, the band sat in the lobby to do a meet and greet. We were lucky to speak to all of the members of the group and we bought a compilation of their greatest hits and they all signed the CD cover. (What’s worth noting here is that neither my husband nor myself could remember the last time we bought an actual CD!!!!) My husband told the lead singer how much it meant to him that he saw them play, as their music had come full circle in his life with his father singing their songs to him and he now sings them to our child. The lead singer seemed very flattered and moved by this comment and took a few minutes to chat with us which really was nice.
It was great to hear some live Irish music again. I have had the opportunity to travel to been to Ireland a couple of times as a good friend of mine from college pursued her PhD in Dublin so I had a free place to stay and an insider to show me the city. On each of my trips we frequented many pubs and I got to hear a lot of real authentic Irish music which was a real treat. So anyway, on our drive home from the Irish Rovers show that evening (around 11pm–the latest we’d been out in years!!!) I got to thinking about bands from Ireland and wanted to write a post about them. Groups like U2 and the Cranberries came to mind (those are the obvious ones), but I did a little bit of research as to other Irish bands. I’ll use the most well known songs of the Irish groups I chose just to make the list more familiar and thus maybe more enjoyable. Let’s get started.

U2: “Where the Streets Have no Name”

So clearly we can’t discuss bands from Ireland without mentioning the powerhouse of U2. The Joshua Tree is in my top 3 favorite albums ever and would be one of the CDs I bring to the desert island should I ever become stranded! This is one of U2’s most famous songs and is the first track on The Joshua Tree. The song was released in 1987 and has been used frequently in sports, including on a commercial for the 2010 World Cup and as the entrance song for the Baltimore Ravens football team and the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. I have never been lucky enough to see U2 in concert, but apparently the band still plays this song during nearly every performance.
Snow Patrol: “Chasing Cars”

This song was very popular during my first year of law school. It is on Snow Patrol’s 4th album and to be honest, I never even heard of Snow Patrol until I heard this song. I actually purchased the album, “Eyes Open” but wasn’t too impressed with the rest of the tracks. Other popular songs by Snow Patrol include “Signal Fire” (featured on the Spider-man 3 sound track) and “Run” (from their 3rd album).

The Cranberries: “Linger”

The Cranberries have also been around forever and are one of the better known groups from Ireland. I remember them most well from the early 90s, when their album Everyone Else is Doing It so Why Not me? was released. They reigned the alternative music world for several years and in 2003 decided to separate and pursue individual careers. The band reunited in 2009. I picked “Linger” as the song to feature here because it was one of the first songs released in the United States and it’s the one I like best.
VAN Morrison: “Brown-eyed Girl”

Here’s a really well-known song by an Irishman! Van Morrison wrote this song in 1967 but he started his career in the late 1950s. This song has been covered by countless groups, including the elderJ’s high school band, whose version of course is my all-time favorite. Great fact about Van Morrison: He’s known as “the Belfast Cowboy.”
The Irish Rovers: “Drunken Sailor”

This is an old favorite of mine. My parents also used to sing it often. This song has been performed by several artists in addition to the Irish Rovers, including Pete Seeger. The Rovers play this song as their encore song in their shows and it calls for some pretty fun audience participation. We heard this song at the show last Friday, participated when they asked and sang along with the group. It was a lot of fun and the audience was lively and excited!
Seeing the Irish Rovers was a great experience and I am happy that I felt inspired to write this after thinking about Irish music and artists on our drive home that evening. Brothers, friends and random readers, feel free to add your thoughts or songs to this list!

The Reggae Road to Damascus: A Conversion Story

Everybody was crying, crying
Sighing, sighing
Dying to see the light
And when they see it, they see it’s not bright
Can this be right?
–Toots and the Maytals, “Pomp and Pride”

The Younger J has recently defended reggae as a genre (although perhaps not as much as about his love for pedal steel)—he will defend it against detractors and argue that it demands respect. I won’t debate this with him (because he’s right), instead I want to tell you another story. It is not a real story in that occurred in real time; it is the fabricated narrative of the mind—the tale of how I stopped worrying and learned to love reggae.

This is a story because it has a beginning middle and end; it is Aristotelian even in that the main character—me—undergoes a reversal and recognition. (There’s even a prophet in it, if we can call my brother that.) See, I used to hate reggae. I used to loathe it. It gave me psychic hives. Now I like reggae, I even love some of it. That’s the reversal. The trip to the recognition takes a bit longer.

Continue reading

Bluegrass Covers of Non-Bluegrass Songs

I actually disliked this song at first because I thought it was Phish and I actively hated anything Phish-related when I first heard this over a decade ago.  I’ve softened my stance somewhat since, but I digress. This was my first exposure to the bluegrass cover of a non- bluegrass song and to this day, I pay the extra quarter at my dive bar to play this song on the juke box. Snoop ain’t no Biggy, but he can compose some feel good rhymes.

As a result of our biggest show of the year last week with the amazing Something With Strings, I’ve been on a bluegrass kick of epic proportions. I’ve alienated co-workers, scared my dog, and thoroughly driven my roommate crazy and it feels great. At one point in my life, probably right after my Dead kick in college, I listened to the music hard as Old Crow Medicine Show and other bands of their ilk became more prevalent. This is long before Mumford, the Lumineers, and what I generally think of as the “Bluegrass Lite” era we now are at the tail-end of living. My first favorite bluegrass group was obviously Old and in the Way which featured Jerry “Dawg” Garcia on banjo and specifically, their cover of “Wild Horses” which brings it all back together for the topic of this post.

Continue reading

Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers” is 20!

Something we missed over the weekend, the seminal album Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers was released on November 9th, 1993. This not only means that this album has been influencing artists and fans for more than half my life, but it also means that I am getting old, fast. I wasn’t listening to the Wu Tang Clan in 1993, but I should have been. My brother might have been ( but we all know he’s the cooler one).

Here’s a clip from where Method Man talks about it:

(Here’s a link where the Grantland staff talks about their favorite Wu Tang members. Who does one root for? RZA is a genius; Method Man is so very telegenic; Ghostface Killah is hysterical. Personally, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard always cracked me up.)

My brother and I both got wicked stirred up about Wu Tang earlier this year. He wrote a great review of the first album and its influence on his life and I tried to match him by talking about my late conversion to hip-hop and love of this album. Yeah, it may be a bit of a stereotype, but today I’ll be the one with two toddlers in the back of a blue Toyota Prius letting the bass rumble when I listen to this song:

Rock Free Agency: A New Game

Note: Below is an email exchange with a new game, call it “Fantasy Rock Band”. Rather than write an essay about it, here’s the actual email exchange so you can see how shit gets done. (Or Not)

From: [Redacted]
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 7:40 AM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Rock free agency

Dear [Redacted],

I will probably start working on some Pearl Jam stuff tonight, but I heard an Audio Slave song on the radio and it got me thinking. In recent years, though it has been a few years now, we have seen this trend of bands breaking up, only to unite with other front men or artists and create these different entities. The two I liked the most were Audio Slave and Velvet Revolver, but during that time there were a bunch of others. I wonder, if you were a rock general manager, who would you like to see together? And what do you think of this trend?


On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 1:24 PM [Redacted] wrote:

Dear [Redacted],

This is a great idea and I am warning you from the get-go that I am going to turn this into a blog post with all of the emails appearing as we typed them with names and emails redacted!

email-iconLet’s start out by saying that when I saw your subject line I was driving to teach and I didn’t read the email right away (you know, for safety’s sake). The first thing I thought was that you were riffing off my Baseball Lineups and Album list post and thinking about  how true musical free agency (really, the death of the old labels) has altered the landscape of music in the way that Baseball free agency did for the sport (both good and bad). I immediately thought of (1) Prince’s “Slave” on his cheek in protest against his label; (2) REM’s ridiculous contract with Warner Bros that made no sense to anyone at the time; and (3) the way that contracts to developing and young artists allowed the music industry to reap tremendous products for the ‘cost’ of developing and nurturing talent. There is a real analogy here to have with baseball.

See, baseball teams sign players young to team friendly contracts with the basic explanation that many players don’t realize their potential and the low deals allow them to develop multiple talents while the club remains profitable. Before free agency, of course, this translated into players essentially living lives as slaves to their teams. After? Teams from larger markets could acquire star players without allowing the developing team to reap the full benefits of their risks.

For music, the eroded power of the labels in the digital era doesn’t seem to have a clear parallel in baseball. There isn’t an accumulation of successful groups in one area; rather, we have a disintegration of power and authority (with the exception of mass media outlets like Clear Channel, even MTV/VH1 have given up on creating hits).

But, of course, that’s not what you asked about. Instead, you’re playing a kind of Fantasy Bandmate game where we get to mix and match musicians. I have to start by saying that I am not quite sure how this could work. Too many bands are built on having competent support for one clear talent. You can mix and match sometimes (as when Dave Navarro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers or when Van Halen switched lead singers), but too often the basic chemistry of a band depends upon relationships and personalities that cannot be anticipated from the outside.

Who would have guessed from watching that Dave Grohl was the best musician in Nirvana (and the least inspired)? Sometimes the combos work briefly: Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” is a great lesson in combining big voices and big personalities. And, yet, I think the bands you mention (Audioslave and Velvet Revolver) show how this can fail. Other examples I know (Breeders; The Rentals) show that members of famous bands (The Pixies and Weezer respectively) can have second acts when they deferred to someone else.  But novel combinations can yield revelations: who would have thought that Death Cab for Cutie’s front-man Ben Gibbard  would create one of the most unique albums of the 1990s when combined with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello? (The Postal Service’s Give Up).

Nevertheless, I will play your game. Let’s start with my rules: I want to create bands that have what I like (a combination of male and female vocals with interesting song structure). So, if I could take Jose Gonzalez and force him to play guitar with the keyboard/drum combo in Mates of State, I think we might have something special. But that’s not really a fair example because that’s adding someone to a band. So, if I wanted to draft an entire band, how would I start? First, you have to decide what you want the sound to be—bass-driven progressive alt-rock like Primus? Conventional rock like Pearl Jam? Synth-pop? This changes your line-up. If I could, I’d want some Pixies-esque, pseudo-prog. So, give me the vocalist from Tune-Yards, Matt Sharp on Bass (from the Rentals and Weezer), the percussionist from Imagine Dragon, and a guitarist who knows how to make a little bit of a riff (let’s risk it, give me Jose Gonzalez, the best main-stream guitarist out there).

I fear that this group would be like the 2011 Eagles. A high-paid disaster.

What would you do?


From: [Redacted]
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 4:28 PM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Re: Rock free agency

Dear [Redacted],

Yes I am absolutely stealing this from your baseball lineup idea–which by the way I would like to see you add something for the pitching rotation because that was my favorite part of that team. Pedro and Schilling need a song!

Okay, so I am obviously out of my league talking music with the J’s, but here is what I need in my fantasy band. I need a powerful lead guitarist. I need Slash. I need guitar solo intros. I need “Sweet Child of Mine” intros.

I also need a front man who gives a shit about what he is singing. I need passion. I need to feel like every song is the most important song he of his life. So, while I like Jacob Dylan for his sound,  I need Vedder for his heart!

Slash and Vedder! A good start?


On Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM, [Redacted] wrote:

Dear [Redacted],

See, the guitarist and vocalist combo is inspired by of all things Led Zeppelin. Everyone knows the vocalist and guitarist. But bands need bass and drums!

I like the combo, but you have to finish it up…


From: [Redacted]
Sent: Friday, October 18, 2013 10:08 AM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Re: Rock free agency


It would seem that I have a little Zeppelin in me, despite my age. I guess this could be because of their influence on bands I love or maybe Pops had a bigger music influence than I thought (he theme song is “Sweet Home Alabama” by the way.)

I was in fact considering Bonham, I mean he does have feature called “Moby-Dick” after all. He would make Queequeg proud! In terms of bass, I really like the stuff Muse is doing and so I think Wolstenholme would make the band a little bit more eclectic. He would the band a little bit more modern sound but would not over power the others.

So what do you think?


Shit. That’s a good start. Next time we’ll do this on Twitter.

What do you think, my brother? What ‘Dream team’ would you put together

Zombie Songs: Appetites for Destruction and The Walking Dead

MaulCoverAt the end of Robert Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”, the protagonist, who has managed through gender re-assignment and time travel to be his own mother and father, seems trapped in his own narcissistic circle of causality. After he has completed his cycle of movement and ‘movements’, he speaks to an unnamed other of his loneliness, only to ask of the rest of the world “I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?”

His zombies, it seems, are the agentless walking-living, that teeming mass of people who aren’t causes of their own existence, who look outward for will, meaning, and mission. Zombies, thus, are easy metaphors for the automatic behavior of human beings—the way we mindlessly consume ourselves and the world around us from the moment we’re born until we die. Not being a zombie is, on one hand, a losing battle against appetite and attrition. Not thinking about zombies? Something different altogether.

Continue reading

Ten to 2013: Rethinking Pearl Jam

Is something wrong, she said
Well of course there is
You’re still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be
Is that the question

Pearl Jam, “Alive”

Recently a friend of ours, the marvelous and magnificent Moe, wrote a review of Pearl Jam’s latest release Lightning Bolt. The review isn’t tepid—it praises the album but concedes it is not the band’s greatest work—but it does inspire tepid feelings in me. And this is not because of the review; it is because of the band. A band that even my brother just took the time to consider more carefully.

I can’t think of many other bands that have been so successful for so long without impressing me (well, the Eagles, R.E.M.).

I cannot tell a lie: I owned this t-shirt

I cannot tell a lie: I owned this t-shirt

I can think of some pretty terrible bands that people seem to like regardless of all taste and reason (Maroon 5, Foo Fighters) but it is hard for me really to figure out the place that Pearl Jam should occupy. The band was huge in the early 1990s. It consciously and intentionally bowed out of MTV and its world but continued to release albums. I never listened to them. Was I wrong?

I am not completely alone in being confused about the attraction: LA Weekly lists Pearl Jam as one of the worst bands of all time describing the sound as “Boring, tepid, rehashed classic rock with a thin veneer of alt” . Now, while this declaration is in part meant just to raise some hackles and eyebrows, I have to add that it is rare that my brother and I completely agree in ignoring something. Generally, what I don’t care for, he will defend. And, generally, if we both ignore something, well…

But the litmus test for a band that transcends general mediocrity and confounds even those who would like to hate it is whether or not a majority of people who know of the band can identify a song they actually like by it despite whatever reservations or misgivings they have. I can think of at least five songs (maybe more) that I really do like (“Even Flow”, “Daughter”, “Better Man”, “Nothingman”, and Yellow Ledbetter”). So, I guess I need to revisit this.

Continue reading

Yes. And why you should say the same to Prog rock.

I don’t believe this song has anything to do with that crappy science fiction movie which is a good thing. I think the outro riff, those three chords, is one of the coolest yet simple licks in rock and roll. Its been used countless amount of times in as many songs, but perhaps it is most useful here. Steve Howe’s guitar licks continually amaze me and I’ve been a hardcore Yes fan for years at this point.

I’ve talked of my love for progressive rock numerous times and have kept making the threat of writing a whole post on it. Here it is. I got into hard rock as a young man when Led Zeppelin was my first real love in the genre. The Mighty Zep was a blues rock cover band at its onset and always had that tinge to their music. Many bands did, from Cream to Ten Years After to The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Therein is the big difference between what I’d call standard English Rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s and Progressive rock. Prog rock comes from Europe and owes more to the classical music tradition of that continent than that of the blues from the Mississippi delta.

Continue reading

Music, Marijuana and Misery: A Case for Casualization?

Ok. I may be blowing up the blog with this one. But here it goes.

Wiz Khalifa featuring Snoop Dogg, “Young, and Wild and Free”

A few weeks back, my brother wrote a great post about dealing with his students’ attitudes about life and, in passing, things like substance abuse. He talked about their difficult lives and the way that music influences their views about the world. He self-mockingly provides a PSA when he writes:

I love the vibe of this song  and dislike much of the content. My one major problem with Wiz is the constant reference to and glorification of marijuana. I personally don’t care what he does on his own time. However, he definitely influences young folks all around to think that smoking pot is not only ok, but actually a good thing that will make you have fun all the time

Continue reading