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The Mix Tape

I never liked the cassette tape.  I thought it sounded inferior to vinyl, I hated the artwork and tiny liner notes, I hated how the print on the cassette would smear and smudge, I hated how repeated listens would create flat spots in the sound, and I hated the re-winding and fast- forwarding.  However, I loved the ability to make a mix of songs known and unknown for friends.  I can remember spending hours putting together the collection of songs to approximate 45 min. per side and the need to improvise when there was 1 minute and 25 sec. at the end of side one.  (Pigs on the Wing by Pink Floyd was the perfect ending song and ended up on many tapes.)  Receiving a mix tape from someone implied a kind of intimacy, care and concern and is something I cherished.  Seeing the individual’s handwriting or cut and paste artwork each time I listened to the tape reminded me that they had spent time carefully selecting and creating the listening experience just for me.  CD’s eventually replaced cassettes but retained the possibility to create a mix of songs with intent for the listener and thought for the push and pull of songs.

With the rise of the ipod has come the rise of the playlist.  I have begun to adjust to how the ipod shifts my attention to the single.  However, putting together a playlist maintains neither the permanence or the intimacy of the mix tape.  With upwards of 10,000 songs on an ipod I find too often that songs get lost or that I do not listen as carefully as I used to.

Posted in this entry is a 30 minute podcast.  It is a “mix-tape”.  I have chosen a handful of songs to listen to carefully.  My selection process was arbitrary; I liked they way these songs fit together.  I will post other mix tapes in the future and will try to build them around themes and sounds.  They will be short so that you too will be able to listen to them in a single sitting.

Listen:

Download: Education of the Bored

The Dead Weather

Treat Me Like Your Mother

Jack White can do no wrong.  This is his most recent band and it is another barn burner.  It sounds like the ’70’s hard rock that I first heard from KISW in Seattle and KGON in Portland.

The Frogs

I’ve Got Drugs

Took this off an old mix-tape that a friend gave to me to digitize.  They’re weird.

Romantica

The National Side

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon these guys, but this is a beautiful song from an unbelievably strong album.  It is cohesive, mysterious, and works its way deep into your consciousness.

The Hold Steady

Massive Nights

Rock-n-Roll still lives.  A couple of guys, some beer, some sweat, and some attitude combine to create something transcendent.

Paul Westerberg

Bored of Edukation

Speaking of rock and roll transcendence, Paul Westerberg and the Replacements were a group of guys that combined beer and attitude in the ’80’s.  Today Westerberg remains one of America’s best songwriters.  He records his songs in a basement in Minneapolis and releases them from time to time on the internet.

The Hold Steady

Stuck Between Stations (Acoustic Version)

She was a real cool kisser and she wasn’t that strict of a Christian/She was a damn good dancer but she wasn’t that great of a Girlfriend

That is one of my favorite lines from a rock song.  I remember her.

Eric Bachmann

Man ‘O War

I have seen this man perform twice.  He was terrible.  Twice.  However, he played several songs that would not leave my head for several days after the show.  This is one of them.  It might make you cry.

On the Road

A collection of insane ramblings written by a conflicted methamphetamine user?

A brilliant, classic novel of freedom and longing?

I hold both opinions about the Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road.

RoadWhat is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see they’re specks dispersing?-it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

41P87BKVZXL._SS400_The Flaming Lips come from the same planet as Kerouac.  I’m not sure why they are here but am comforted by their presence.

Do You Realize??

What do you do

When you’re ten
Walking in winter’s first snow
With your best friend
Before school?

What do you do?

When Mr. Brown, the principal,
Whose 1 inch thick, 8 inch long, 3 inch wide paddle
Has perfect swiss-cheese holes, hollers out his office window,
“Hey you, get up here.”

When you finally realize
Mr. Brown isn’t talking to your friend
And his long, crooked finger
Is pointed at you,

What do you do?

As you walk up the steps of the school
Gulping as your hands fall asleep
And the grey metal door slams behind you
Swallowing you up

As you stand in front of a sixty year old man
Wearing a melted milk-chocolate brown
Polyester suit, staring you down
Holding a large paddle,

What do you do?

As this man’s inquisition is sprayed
Around the room, in your face
And with a few tiny bubbles remaining on his lips
He growls, “Go out to the hall and wait for me.”

As the paddle slams into your pre-pubescent bottom
and with each strike
A sting reaches the tips
Of your fingers and your toes,

What do you do?

As you stare at the patterns
Of dust on the floor of the hallway
And open your eyes after each strike to see
A crowd of students gathered around you,

As you stand-up and everyone is just staring
Expecting you to cry, and Melissa Freeman
With her curley blonde hair and mouthful of braces
Asks, “What did you do?”

What do you do?

I remained
silent.

“I’ll be around/You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun”

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My strongest memories of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are of hot summer afternoons, drinking iced tea, and playing poker with my sons, my wife, and my nephew.  It is not an upbeat album, but it is fitting that it was the soundtrack for a lazy, domestic summer.

I have little to say about the album itself.  It is beautiful and brilliant.  Too much has been said already about this third and final album that Jay Bennett did with Wilco.  It ends the work started with Being There.  And the compassion that work was centered around sees the narrator through the “dark night of the soul” in Summerteeth.  He emerges here wounded but stronger and wiser.  Capable of loving the other.  You can hear the resolution in the final track as it fades out into a quiet, wistful dirge-like lullaby .  “I have reservations about so many things, but not about you.”  You can also hear it in Jesus etc. My favorite Wilco song.  Here is a live version of that song from a 2004 show at the Fillmore West.

Listen to:  Jesus etc.

Summerteeth

“There’s no love as random as God’s love”

“I’m always in love”

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Deception.  What I thought I was hearing the first time I listened to Summerteeth is not what I was really hearing.  I thought I was hearing a joyful celebration of life and living.  But the deception is in the tension of the songs.  Out of all of Wilco’s albums Summerteeth has the best pop songs.  But these songs are not sentimental or pretty.  Listen carefully and you will hear:

“Something in my veins, bloodier than blood”

‘The ashtray says, you were up all night”

“Dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt alright to me”

Wilco deceives us by dressing up unrelenting imagery of suicide, murder, blood, bruises, skeletons, and assault in pop songs that are pretty, tuneful, and catchy.  However these are not angry songs either.  They are lamentations.  Expressions of grief and loss made all the more poignant because beauty sits elusively on the horizon.  The narrator in these songs knows what he is missing. When he says, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm” he is not speaking of narcotics but rather some kind of metaphysical injection that will bring back a sense of well-being that has mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with a vague sense of anxiety and unease.

And yet there remains tension:  in the center of the album we are given a fleeting and hopeful indication that “all manner of thing shall be well”  That maybe, just maybe love and beauty are real and lasting.  There exists at moments in Tweedy’s voice a desperate wish that the randomness of God’s love is not some ironic quip but rather an expression of how vast, complex, messy and ultimately worthwhile all our lives are.

“I rest my head on a pillowy star
And a cracked-door moon
That says I haven’t gone too far

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Via Chicago”

Listen to: Via Chicago

Being There

“I am so/Out of Tune/With you”

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Compassion.  This is Being There‘s overarching concept.  The album starts out at a fairly immature place…misunderstanding and the attendant feelings of isolation and loneliness.  But building carefully over the next hour is a meditation on our lives of quiet desperation and an examination of their worth.  Jeff Tweedy uses the vehicle of an alienated rock-star.  But the “dreamer in my dreams, swinging from the beam” is that element in each of us that struggles everyday with the tension and contradiction of “being here”.  I wake each day and am quickly reminded of the beauty and the imperfection of this world, this life.  I am reminded the moment I speak to another that our lives together are separate encounters with the unknown and yet we do encounter the unknown together.

Near the end of the album comes the question I try to ask myself honestly day after day:  “Why would you want to live in this world?”  It doesn’t seem to me that it is a weary question or an expression of hopelessness but rather a question at the center of wisdom and compassion.  We are all free to choose our response to circumstance.  We are all afflicted but we are all here together.  We are all separate but none of us are alone.

I can remember this dawning on me driving through Eastern Washington late at night as I listened to “Being There” for the thousandth time.  My family was fast asleep in the seats surrounding me and  I remember being appreciative and thankful for this album.  I still am.

Sunken Treasure

jay_bennett5-thumb-500x394-7842 Jay Bennett died last week.  If you know who he was then you know he was responsible to a large extent for three of the best albums made in the last 15 years.  (Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)  We have lost a talented, original artist who loved making music for all the right reasons.  It is unfortunate that his legacy has become defined by lawsuits, lack of health insurance, and one ugly scene in a documentary.  Gossip.  I believe it says more about us than it does about him.  Over the next three weeks I will look at each of the albums that he made with Wilco.  I invite you to listen closely.