Songs of the Year—1997

Go ahead you can laugh all you want
I got my philosophy
Keeps my feet on the ground
And I trust it like the ground
That’s why my philosophy
Keeps me walking when I’m falling down
–Ben Folds Five

Songs of the Year: “Super Bon Bon,” Soul Coughing; “Bury Me,” Guster

Runners-up: “Philosophy”, Ben Folds Five; “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” Cake

Honorable Mentions: “Firestarter,” The Prodigy; “Tubthumper”, Chumbawumba; “Hypnotize,” Notorious B. I. G.

In 1997, I went to college. I had the grandest of opportunities to re-invent myself. In life, rare are the occasions when you can literally trade in your old mask for a new one. So, I changed my clothes (a little); I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit and I went off to conquer the world.

Or something like that.

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On the Radio (Flashback): Sixpence None the Richer

I was strolling around the mall in one of those department stores that is designed intentionally to make you get lost and distracted in the maze of perfume, jewelry and bright mirrors. I was trying to block out the usually bland and anesthetizing sound of whatever pop music was being pumped in through the distant ceiling speakers when the saccharine, drooling tones of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” came on.

I don’t really like department stores and I usually hate Mall music, so this moment was no exception to either rule. Yet, because I was waiting for my wife and pushing around a hefty double stroller I had no choice but to hear the lyrics and contemplate their sweet, simple vapidity. Just read them and enjoy (“?) the amateurish alliteration and repetition. I know that this song partly became a hit because of its nice, sliding bass-line and the gossamer quality of the vocals, but I was offended yet again–Ignatius C. Reilly style–by its emptiness, its stupidity.

Kiss me out of the bearded barley
Nightly, beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling
So kiss me

Kiss me down by the broken tree house
Swing me upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We’ll take the trail marked on your father’s map

Yet, such unfounded feelings of superiority lasted a few moments only before I was pulled back into a reverie, to the moments I most attach to this song. And, to tell this story, I have to tell somebody else’s story. This time, my brother’s

Still Killing?

Still Killing?

See, when my brother was between grade school and high school, he had a best friend from whom he was virtually inseparable. The two of them did pretty much everything together; they were peas in a pod, Laurel and Hardy, the two guys on CHIPs. So much were they the closest of friends that we all just imagined them being college roommates, future poker buddies or any of the things that men do when they get older.

Except, one day, after years of being together almost every weekend, this best friend just stopped coming over. My brother just stopped calling him. And, no matter how much we pried, my brother never explained what happened. I surmise from context clues that some decisions were made about our family not presenting the right environment for this young man (and that may have been a sensible decision at the time). I fear some days that I was part of this.

When my brother was too young, he used to come to visit me in my dingy college apartment. We all drank and smoked and, inevitably, so did my brother and his friend (even if in the beginning they were sneaking it, by the end my roommates and I were complicit). At the time, we all thought it was hysterical. As a parent now and many years removed, I shudder to think of the example I offered and the possible damage I caused.

What does this have to do with Sixpence None the Richer? During one of their visits, my brother and his friend would simultaneously break into mocking renditions of this song. This was only natural–they hung around with us playing video games, going to band rehearsal and hitting on college girls. (They even made a cameo during one of my band’s performances, dressed in masks and rocking out to “Psycho Killer”). The times were fun, certainly. But they also weren’t right for thirteen year-olds.

So, when I hear “Kiss Me”, my hackles are raised by the song itself. But i am also disappointed when I hear it because it reminds me of a younger, less considerate version of myself. It reminds me that the brother I wanted to be was rarely the brother I was.

Mike Doughty’s Soul is Coughing.

This is probably the only song that will sound like this on this post and not even a Doughty original, but nevertheless an important song for me by him. My freshmen year roommate and I  listened to this song so many times at like three in the morning in college, often yelling the lyrics. The band Drink Me wrote it and I’ve never heard of them or anything else they did.

After over a decade, Mike Doughty is re-embracing his Soul Coughing roots and doing a whole tour of covers by the band that made him big. SC is a band that I’ve liked as long as the Pixies or Zeppelin or any other band I’ve mentioned that I’ve listened too since elementary school. Their three albums are good from beginning to end and this alone is enough to make them a favorite band.  They had a jazzy,alternative, and hip-hoppy vibe that no one came even close to in the 90’s. Like Primus and as my brother mentioned, it might have been their uniqueness that kept them from the mainstream and big financial success.

This was their first huge hit, one of the two songs most people will recognize and one my brother runs to on a regular basis. It’s way different from anything by the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam and makes you want to move. Even though obscure, this video from an old Playstation game is the only one I could find without ads.

Although very unique and off the beaten path of commercialism, Doughty and SC had what I’d consider to be a pretty standard rock and roll trajectory. Doughty was a struggling artist/poet with some drug problems (a la Jim Morrison) who ended up collaborating with some heavily talented jazz musicians to form the band. Doughty met the whole band through working the door at the famous Knitting Factory in NYC and turned an off night jam session into an almost decade-long career with the band. After some minor airplay with “Super Bon Bon”, they released a third album which had their most popular hit, the catchy and relatable “Circles”. This was their epoch, even if things were disintegrating internally due to songwriting credit disputes and Doughty’s increasing heroin dependency.

This song was in inescapable during 1998, seemingly on the local alternative station every other song. Doughty even makes light of this in his big solo live release “Smofe and Smang” , where he plays the song with snatches of other hit songs like “Brimful of Asha”, ” Closing Time” and the refrain “I don’t need to walk around with Urkel”.  Doughty is a funny dude, on the junk or not, and his humor has always been a draw for me.

From my observation and a little research, it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did.  Doughty’s drug use was rampant and from his book entitled The Book of Drugsthe acrimonious relationship among the band members was enough to break the band up many times over. Doughty paints such a negative picture that it’s a wonder he stayed in the band so long, a criticism some reviewers of the book have made. It’s unclear specifically who or what was the final linchpin for the break up, but Doughty quit the heroin and spent a few years drinking heavily and crossing the country multiple times on solo tours afterwards.

This was a mainstay in Doughty’s drunk repertoire and remains to this day as he’s been sober for something like ten years. “Smofe + Smang” was also a mainstay in my listening for basically my entire college career, even superseding the SC albums temporarily. The song is constructed around samples of a voicemail an ex-girlfriend left for Doughty, sample usage being another example of why SC was different from any other band of their era.

Doughty sobered up, got signed to ATO records in 2004 after meeting up with Dave Matthews at Bonaroo and has maintained a career ever since. Because of the SC negative memories, he largely did not play their songs for the last several years and it was crazy to read that he was re-recording a bunch of SC songs for a new album. He referred to the “dark marriage of Soul Coughing being annulled” on NPR and apparently this fan-funded album is doing better than any of his other solo releases. Here we come to what is my main point of this post: did Mike Doughty do this album because he has genuinely  come to terms with his SC past or because he’s broke?

I will not include any of the new songs on this blog post. I’m sure they are solid and I will listen to them someday, but the SC originals are what I grew up with and love, so it is what I will stick with. To meet him halfway, I’ve chosen many songs that are on the remix album so at least you hear some semblance of the new album if you have never before listened to Soul Coughing.

I don’t think I can say for sure what the man’s intentions were because I am not him. I did meet him one time briefly and he did seem pretty smug; however, I was newly 21 and suffering from a severe case of consuming cold beer too fast. I am sure it is annoying to have a solo career and constantly have people yell out your former band’s songs, which happened each time I saw him live. Adding to this are his feelings of anger at the band and the relation to his substance abuse problems of the past, I can see why the songs would drum up some weird feelings for the dude. Apparently, not weird enough not to play the songs ever again and to make an album of remixed songs which is selling fast.

I love the jazz bass line. The stand up rig really sounds great in every song and is yet another thing that sets this band apart. I wish more bands would have the cahones/inspiration to come up with music like this that is unapologetically original.

I’ve been the biggest cheerleader of Soul Coughing  since “Super Bon Bon”. Its one of those bands that I’ve liked since I was aware of them in the early 90’s and I’ve kept an ear out for Doughty solo stuff since the beginning as well. My heart is with SC, but I don’t begrudge Mike for trying to forge his own path or even for trying to make a little extra dough with songs he knows so many people already love. I can’t say for sure if this is his motive because he could have just finally come to terms with his animosity and this was the best way to exorcise the demons of the past. Regardless, he helped to write these songs and he should be able to do whatever he wants with them. Listen to  Soul Coughing if you haven’t, keep listening to them if you haven’t, and go see Mike Doughty if he travels to a city near you. You won’t regret it.

This is top five favorite songs by SC for me and a fitting conclusion. Like soft serve, everyone should like this band and Mike Doughty.

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.

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Guster all Squared: Four Shows, Four Albums and….

It is funny how if something happened before google it almost doesn't exist

It is funny how if something happened before google it almost doesn’t exist

My sister recently wrote about the possible resuscitation of her faded love for the band Guster. I really identify with the phenomenon of hearing old music anew through the experience of her child because I have watched my daughter and son learn to love music bit by bit and have had my sense of wonder and mystery reborn through them.

But I also identify with my sister’s confession of perplexity, that something she once loved so much is now so distant and strange. I think that  the nostalgic fit of self-doubt that comes in such moments is in part a function of our own sense of aging and mortality. But there is something undeniably true about the band: their music has changed. But, then again, so have we.

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School’s Out

Summer vacation is nearly upon us so this is an obvious choice from an obviously awesome movie. Alice Cooper must have gotten as much a second wind with the young folks from this as he did with Wayne’s World.  I can only imagine the brawls that would ensure if any high schools tried to do this to my students. This is easily one of my favorite movies ever. If you haven’t seen this gem, it’d be a lot cooler if you did.

Since my brother and I are both educators, his time of teaching is done and mine is right at the doorstep. It has been an incredibly stressful few months with the new job keeping me on point all of the time and gigs for the band racking up for the summer. My hard work will hopefully pay off with a full time time job for next year as I wait for call backs on interviews and budgets to be passed. I look forward to finally being able to slow down and enjoy the beauty of my home state in the late spring.  I will have a long three day weekend before I hop back into landscaping which will probably be a welcome change after spending so much time in a small classroom with a bunch of overstimulated 14 year olds. I’ll be outside cruising the old beat and crossing my fingers for quality radio. Do you remember the last days of school?

This perfectly describes the level of  activity my brother and I have been experiencing the last weeks. It does in fact feel like I’m going faster than a roller coaster but I am becoming strangely calm about it. I need to write more for this blog and I’m still waiting for that love to come my way, however,  everything else is becoming easier to handle. This is a cool track and it sounds like someone is clapping to keep time. Buddy couldn’t read music and didn’t know chords  yet still came up with some of the cooler pop songs of the century. What a cool dude.

I really wish I could feel some of the euphoria of a looming summer vacation that you felt as a teenager and maybe even in the early years of college when you didn’t have to get a serious job for the summer. I can almost grasp it in my nearly 28 year-old self-conscious, from seeing and talking to different middle school kids on a daily basis, that feeling that you have a seemingly endless amount of time to do whatever you want until the cruel fall when you are herded back to the dreaded temples of public education.

A very small minority of the students plan to get jobs while most intend to ride their bikes, go swimming, dub around wherever they are tolerated and even not leave their air conditioned rooms at all summer to overdose on video games or Netflix. The complete absence of responsibility and an enforced schedule with periodic sunshine. A whole summer to be lazy.

Im still listening to a lot of progressive rock, especially this band who I never really got into until the last two years. They seriously rock. Jon Lord’s non-traditional Hammond B-3 work coupled with Ritchie Blackmore’s ridiculous guitar picking just straight up melt my face. Teamed with one of the top rhythm sections in the rock world in the form of Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice in the second incantation of this band, they dominated the live shows of the early 7o’s when giants like Led Zeppelin were also roaming the earth. I have the Made in Japan vinyl and I often play it so loud that it spooks my golden retriever Remy into running upstairs to retreat the aural onslaught.

But I cannot fully imagine the feeling of planning to do nothing at all for three months. I know I have a predilection for procrastination and I definitely wasted a lot of time in my adolescence playing Nintendo 64 and watching hours of stupid horror movies, but as an older man with numerous hobbies and responsibilities, I truly can’t fathom the notion. As much as I enjoy being productive at this point, I’m kind of jealous. I had one student tell me that he was just going to ride his scooter around the trailer park he lived in and “be a gangsta”.  He’s a student from another classroom that has some special  needs and is generally a very nice young man. I’m not sure what this exactly means in reference to what he will actually be doing but I instantly thought of this song.

The best use of this jam was clearly in Office Space and I wish it wasn’t such a profanity laden song with such angry lyrics because the kid would love the beats. He and I have occasionally had little dance offs to school when my students play rap and he always gets a big kick out of seeing me dance like a fool. 

I do remember one summer, probably after junior year when I was a houseman at a hotel 30 minutes from my house, when I had just gotten the Zep record In Through the Outdoor. This album was the one where the bassist John Paul Johns really took the reins because Jimmy Page was pretty bad into heroin and not contributing much. Thus, it sounds far different from any other Zeppelin album and after listening to the first six albums an infinite amount of times, I went through a brief period where I thought this album rocked. It’s not my favorite now but I always associate it with this girl I thought I was in love with who drove Subaru Justy with a cd player and the end of the school year. Specifically, this song.

They don’t make Justys anymore and for good reason. It was like an oversized clown car with go-kart tires and a completely floppy frame that would surely crunch into a square if it ever got into an accident. I do love Subarus though and drive a multi-colored 1999 Impreza currently. Oh yeah, “In the Evening” is still a great jam.

Things never worked out with the Justy chick and I think this was the last summer I really got the feeling I described above of just having this huge block of time where nothing was expected of you. I do really like playing bass with the band, growing my own vegetables, and writing this blog. I need to be constantly busy to keep my  mind occupied. Maybe it’s the fact that I am now within two years of being thirty that makes wistful for the irrevocable feeling of c0mplete freedom to do whatever for two and half months. I don’t want to go back to those days but I’d like to experience that emotion even just for a moment.

This was the end of the sophomore year of college exit song, one we listened to endlessly. This was the semester I hooked up with the girl I’d end up living with for two years and dating for the rest of college and all of grad school. Again, I don’t want to go back to these days and the song brings a positive memory of a wide future open before me. I still have that now, it’s just a different view than it was then. I just found this version and it has my favorite guitar player Derek Trucks tearing it up along the legit Warren Haynes. This song almost gives me the freedom feeling….for six minutes and five seconds.

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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I’m a lame Elliott Smith Fan

Most people, at least those not fans of the late great Elliott Smith, would recognize this song from the smash indie hit Good Will Hunting. He is not at his best here in front of a million viewers and he doesn’t even perform the whole song, but is the number one biggest exposure he ever had. He was one of the best song writers of the past twenty years and in my mind that is not even an arguable point.

The thing is, he is so morose. So much that I can barely listen to his music that much anymore because I’m a generally happy man and it can be a super downer to listen to some of this fallen man’s music. This is why I am in fact a lame Elliott Smith fan.

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American Beauty: Best Studio Dead Album

The underrated but awesome show Freaks and Geeks is what really introduced my brother to the Grateful Dead, even if he was lucky enough to see Jerry Dawg himself with our dad  back in the early 1990’s. I have talked before about my love for the band and why they represent some of my happier years in life, those hazy days of college. But my brother has long maligned it as “stupid stoner music” if I remember his words correctly. He has maintained this position in our years-running argument on the band with almost no give. This is not true brother and I hope I can open your eyes as to why or at least explain why I so love the band.

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Songs of the Year—1997

Go ahead you can laugh all you want
I got my philosophy
Keeps my feet on the ground
And I trust it like the ground
That’s why my philosophy
Keeps me walking when I’m falling down
–Ben Folds Five

Songs of the Year: “Super Bon Bon,” Soul Coughing; “Bury Me,” Guster

Runners-up: “Philosophy”, Ben Folds Five; “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” Cake

Honorable Mentions: “Firestarter,” The Prodigy; “Tubthumper”, Chumbawumba; “Hypnotize,” Notorious B. I. G.

In 1997, I went to college. I had the grandest of opportunities to re-invent myself. In life, rare are the occasions when you can literally trade in your old mask for a new one. So, I changed my clothes (a little); I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit and I went off to conquer the world.

Or something like that.

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