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I have been listening to a lot of violin lately. One of my current students is an immensely talented violinist and listening to her has piqued my interest in how this instrument is used in pop music. There are two contemporary bands I can think of whose prominent use of the violin significantly shapes the music’s emotional depth. One is Dave Matthews Band. I hardly think I need to discuss or introduce them. The other is Camper Van Beethoven.

They hailed originally from Northern California and performed in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They play everything. Rock, Country, Punk, Eastern European Folk Revival, and some songs that are all of the above at the same time. They opened for the Dead and R.E.M. Someone once described them as talented party animals with music degrees. The main violinist is Johnathan Segel. Technically he was a multi-instrumentalist and was largely responsible for their playful, eclectic sound. However, on their 1989 release Key Lime Pie, Morgan Fichter took over. She has a much warmer tone and the songs became darker. Key Lime Pie was released after the band had already started to splinter. And while the original band reunited in 2004 for an album and tour, they were never able to capture a huge following.  They continue to perform together occasionally.

The mix is made up of the following albums:

Telephone Free Landslide Victory (their first and truest “classic” album)
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I and II (their second album, folkier and less cohesive than their first)
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Camper Van Beethoven (The tour for this album is when I saw them for the first time. I was a freshman in college. They played at the U of O Ballroom and I can still smell the weed and patchouli)
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Our Bloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (The closest they ever came to a perfect album)
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Key Lime Pie (Their darkest, most serious album)
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LISTEN: 

DOWNLOAD:  Camper’s Best (a single mp3 file)

Serious Songs (kinda)
1. When I Win The Lottery
2. All Her Favorite Fruit
3. Pictures Of Matchstick Men
4. Borderline
5. Sweethearts
These first five songs are from the Key Lime Pie (mmmmm, pie) album. Pictures of Matchstick Men is a remake of a popular song from the 60’s. Around 3:00 min. into All Her Favorite Fruit, Fichter breaks out and you know this is a song about wanting what you can’t have.

6. O Death
An old folk song made hauntingly contemporary. It was performed acapella on the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

7. She Divines Water
8. One Of These Days
These are my two favorite Camper songs and two of my favorite songs of all time. The violin carries both songs creating an ethereal, transcendent sound. These songs and number 6 and 12 come from Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

9. Good Guys & Bad Guys This one always makes me smile.

10. Still Wishing to Course
11. Sad Lovers Waltz

No Singing Songs
No, these are not Romanian Folk songs from 1925. But I do feel like a Gypsy when I listen to them. Except for number 12, they are all off of the first two albums.
12. Waka
13. Vladivostock
14. 9 of Disks
15. Payed Vacation: Greece
16. No Krugerrands for David
17. ZZ Top Goes To Egypt
18. Skinhead Stomp

Silly Songs (All from the first two albums)
19. Wasted
A remake of a 30 sec. punk rock song by Black Flag

20. Take the Skinheads Bowling “I had a dream last night, I forget what it was.”
21. Ambiguity Song
22. Tina
23. I Love Her All the Time
24. Where the Hell Is Bill?
25. Opi Rides Again/Club Med Sucks
(“Club Med sucks, authority sucks, I hate golf, I wanna play lacrosse.”)

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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.

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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??

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“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.

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Misunderstood

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.

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William Faulkner said the following about Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair:  “One of the most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language.”  True and moving words are why I read, write and teach.  From time to time I would like to share such words free from comment and interpretation.

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What I chiefly felt was less hate than fear.  For if God exists, I thought, and if even you-with your lusts and your adulteries and the timid lies you used to tell-can change like this, we could all be saints by leaping as you leapt, by shutting the eyes and leaping once and for all:  if you are a saint, it’s not so difficult to be a saint.  It’s something He can demand of any of us, leap.  But I won’t leap.  I sat on my bed and said to God:  You’ve taken her, but You haven’t got me yet.  I know Your cunning.  It’s You who take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe.  You’re a devil, God, tempting us to leap.  But I don’t want Your peace and I don’t want Your love.  I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away.  With Your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruins a mouse’s nest:  I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.

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Listen to the following song from Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind.  He and Greene drank from the same cup.

Trying to Get to Heaven

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A good place to start would be the past when music mattered to me more than anything else.  I still love music but as I’ve grown older that love has become saturated with too much choice.  There are still moments when a song, an artist, or an album rings true and speaks to me.  It is still a passion of mine.  However, I no longer spend hours of repeated listens to a single work.  Holding an lp cover and staring at the images as the mystery of each song unfolds is a familiar but distant sensation.  I would like to explore from time to time those albums that have held that sense of mystery and wonder.  Albums that have shaped and defined me.  Albums that changed me or that are intimately linked to powerful moments and periods of my life.

The first three albums I will visit are all by REM.

Chronic Town, Murmur & Reckoning are forever a single album in my mind. Until I was 25, the only copy of any of these albums I had was on a single 90 min. TDK that a friend gave me the summer before my senior year of high school.  Until I was 25, Murmur ended with a 40 second version of We Walk.  I didn’t know the titles of any of the songs and I didn’t know who these guys were I just knew that music didn’t get better.  I can remember vividly riding my brand new Peugeot 10 speed around the hills surrounding Silver Falls State Park listening to this on my Toshiba walkman and knowing that there was an enormous world out there waiting for me.  I can remember being terrified and thrilled that life was about to begin.

Over the past few years I have been converting old vinyl of mine.  I hope to focus on these three albums over the next few weeks and I may have more to say and maybe some sounds to share.  We will see.

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