Archive for the music Category

Meditation On Music First Thing In The Morning

Posted in music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2013 by cueball

Why do we like the things we like?

What attracts us to certain music, literature, movies, television?

Do we like a certain song by a certain artist more than a similar song from another artist because the first has cooler clothes?  Is it the aesthetic or the talent?

Similarly, why do we like style of music over another or another type of fiction over another or drama over comedy?

Why do I prefer Jason Isbell and The Carolina Chocolate Drops to Daft Punk and Kanye West?  Why would I rather read Light In August instead of Ready Player One?

Are we born who we are or are made into who we are?  I think a lot of it is inherent.  A genetic predisposition to certain chemical responses in the brain created by what we see, hear, and read.

I also think on some level we each decide everyday who we are and what life we want to live.

I started thinking about this as I tried to figure out why I like human beings playing guitars much more then I like electronic music.  Intellectually I can hear the artistry and skill musicians who dwell in the electronic world.  I can appreciate the complex nature of the sounds they are putting together.  However, I can’t hear the humanity.  I almost always feel when listening to electronic music that its beauty is rather antiseptic.  I prefer the messiness of real people.

To my ear and to my mind there is a vibrancy that comes from an imperfect human interacting with an imperfect string instrument.  It creates moments that even if they are recorded are lost to history.  You can record a live concert and listen to it again in the comfort of your home or car, but you cannot recreate that moment between you, the band and the rest of the crowd.

It isn’t that this is impossible with electronic music, but again to my ear, those moments seem prescribed.  I actually like listening to electronic music.  I think a better description then antiseptic of what I often don’t like in it is over-intellectualized.

Often when I hear or read a music critic or fan talk about electronic music they describe it in ways that sound like a computer program.  They talk about the use of rhythms and string effects and modulation and how all this comes together to make a beautiful piece of music.  It is in those moments I start to think, “Yeah, why didn’t they just plug in a Stratocaster, turn it up to 10, hit a big E chord, and see what happens.”

Let’s not get it twisted.  I don’t want some dumb cave man screaming and yelling nonsense over silly chord progressions.  I love singer-songwriters and want to hear intelligent lyrics sung over great musicianship, but we shouldn’t over think it.

Sometimes the more we know the easier it is to lose the humanity.  We must be careful in all aspects of our lives that we keep using the tools we develop and not let them use us.  I think this is especially true in art.  Artists, writers, and musicians must retain control of their tools to use them to augment their expression of humanity instead of letting those tools dictate their expression of humanity.

Or maybe I just don’t understand electronic music.


Who Would Faulkner Be?

Posted in books, life, music, rock with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by cueball

This was the moment I trusted my own taste.

The radio in my mother’s car only got AM radio.  It was the factory install on a 1973 Chevrolet Laguna and it would become my car in high school, with a much better radio.  Anyway, the car only got AM stations so my first musical memories are of John Cougar Mellancamp, Eddie Rabbit, and Juice Newton.  Then, the only FM station we could get at home with any clarity was a top 40 station.  The only other music I really listened to at home was my parent’s 60s and 70s R & B.  That tells you where all the musical likes I have alt. country, 80s pop music, old school R & B developed.  Over the years I added rap and 60s music to my musical loves.

However, that all became OK with those first moments of Vernon Reid’s guitar open to “Cult of Personality” on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Seeing four black guys on stage playing hard rock/heavy metal told me, “OK, you’re not strange.  It makes sense now.”

The bands that made me who am goes like this, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Black Crowes, Jimi Hendrix, Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt/Wilco.  These and the bands that have joined them in the forefront of my musical tastes all have in thing in common:  They are their own thing and moved out on their own limb to do what they wanted, damn the consequences.

The Mount Rushmore of music for my life is Living Colour, Fishbone, Jeff Tweedy/Jay Farrar (I can’t separate them), Jimi Hendrix.

What about the books?  Hmmm.  What books and authors made me fall in love with words?  First, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time.  That is the first book I can truly remember reading and being affected by as a kid.  After that the next thing that really affected me was Red Badge Of Courage and then A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.  It was soon after that I found The Great Gatsby.  Then I read Dubliners and that changed how I saw short stories.

What would my writer’s Mount Rushmore be?  This is where I’ve changed.  The music is still important to me, but the books are more important to me.  I have recently gone a binge of dead white guys.  Particularly of the American kind.  Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner, plus a lot of Shakespeare has been in my reading queue for the last couple of years.  Then there is James Joyce.  Probably my least read of this group, but the one who has affected me most.  For whatever reason, Joyce has become a romantic figure in my estimation of writers.  The guy who toiled endlessly to write how he wanted to write regardless of what the public or the establishment thought.  He toiled endlessly through obscurity and poverty to write one of the greatest pieces of art to come out of the 20th century.

I don’t think of writers in terms of Mount Rushmore.  I think of them more as basketball players.  Who are the basketball comparisons for my favorite writers?  Shakespeare is Bill Russell.  He has all the rings and helped create this world of writers.  Hemingway is Michael Jordan.  Maybe he was not the most naturally talented one, but the one who wanted greatness the most and worked everyone into the ground to get there.  Fitzgerald is someone like David Thompson.  The one who did have all the natural talent, but the drugs and the alcohol just got in the way too often.  Joyce is someone like Connie Hawkins.  Someone whose talent got its most shine outside the popular glare of most of the sports world, but whose legend grows with each passing year.

Who would Faulkner be?  That is a good question.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about a lot of this in the recent weeks as I get ready for Camp NANOWRIMO starting on Monday.  The questions of influence and style ramble around in my head while I’m trying to go to sleep with the countdown looming.  That is partially why this post is so rambling and kind of disjointed.  Not enough sleep. Off to do some more pre-work and to set up my writing schedule for the coming week.

Darius Rucker Has Recorded a Cover of “Wagon Wheel”

Posted in music with tags on January 16, 2013 by cueball

Darius Rucker has released a version of “Wagon Wheel” for his latest single.  I’ve listened to it.  It is a nice song.  It gets all the chord changes, notes, and words right from The Old Crow Medicine Show’s original.  Rucker obviously loves the song (as most of us do) since he has performed it often in concert.

Here is my problem.  Cover songs often miss the passion and the urgency that makes up great music.  When you like a song too much sometimes you concentrate so much on getting all the notes right you don’t always let that passion come through.

One of my favorite covers of all time is “Ooh Las Vegas” originally done by Gram Parsons and covered by The Cowboy Junkies on the Return of the Grievous Angel tribute album.  The reason it is a great cover is The Cowboy Junkies took a great song that they loved, kept the basic structure, but reinterpreted it through their slower darker sound bringing a whole different feeling and perspective to the lyrics.

They imbued the song with a new passion and urgency by making a part of it their own.  Passion and an urgency sometimes bordering on anarchy is the reason I love music.  It is the feeling that this song could fall apart at any minute.  It is the reason I love The Band.

At their best, The Band always sounded like the music was going fly completely off the rails.  As if they were all just a little wasted and playing with complete freedom and abandon, but just enough on this side of sober to still master their instruments and the music.  Blues and its children, rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, and hip hop, has its core a sense of that anarchy and of possibility.

I have no problem with Rucker covering the song.  I have no doubt that Rucker loves this song.  I have no doubt that he wants to do a good version to show respect to The Old Crow Medicine Show.  I also think it is a nice sounding version of the song, and when it sells like we all know it will it will make The Old Crow Medicine Show a lot of money.  It is a well written song sung by a good singer who is also one of the hottest country acts going today.  Yeah, it is going to make a lot of money.

You do not always have to respect the end product or the marketing of that product, but you almost always have to respect the craftsman.  Art and beer are very much the same in that respect.  It is as hard to make bad beer/art as it is good beer or art.  That is why I always respect the craftsman who is trying to make something out of nothing.  I respect the hell out of the brewers at the big beer companies.  They have to not only brew many batches of beer at one brewery that have to taste the same (which is hard enough), they have to make sure all those batches taste the same as the batches brewed throughout the world.  That is a skill that I respect.  I may not drink their boring beer, but I respect the ability to make it consistently.

It is the same with art, music (television and movies also) especially.  It is hard to write a song millions of people want to hear a lot.  Writing pure pop music is a special skill that not many people have.  Like with the beer, I may not enjoy it, but I see the skill behind it and respect it.

I have listened to Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel” and I think it is a good song.  I won’t go out of my way to listen to it again, but if it is on television show I’m watching I won’t turn the channel.  I respect his voice and his attempt at making this song; I just much prefer the original.

Desert Island Songs

Posted in music, Uncategorized with tags , on October 25, 2011 by cueball

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is Sound Opinions with Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot out of WBEZ in Chicago. They talk about music. They have a recurring bit called the “Desert Island Jukebox.” One or both will pick a song that would be one of their few possessions if they were stuck on a desert island.

Here are my picks for my desert island jukebox.  Here is the Spotify playlist.


Moonshiner is an American folk song with murky origins. The version I picked is by one of my favorite bands of all time Uncle Tupelo. Uncle Tupelo was a group of guys from Belleville, IL who were the progenitor of which was a punk-like take on traditional American, folk, and country music. I love the haunting nature of song. The final refrain is my favorite:

let me eat when I’m hungry
let me drink when I’m dry
two dollars when I’m hard up
religion when I die
the whole world is a bottle
and life is but a dram
when the bottle gets empty
Lord, it sure ain’t worth a damn

Highway 61 Revisited

The opening stanza alone makes this one of the great songs.

Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man you must be puttin’ me on”
God says, “No”, Abe say “What?”
God say “You can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”

Well Abe said, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God say, “Out on Highway 61”

Its Dylan, so what else can I say.

3 Dimes Down

Drive-By Truckers are one of the best bands in America and one of my favorite bands of all-time. They have a discography filled with brilliantly written songs about the “other” America. The parts of the country often called “fly-over” country during presidential elections. The small towns and forgotten stretches of highway that have missed the technology revolution. This song is as good as a Raymond Carver short story. It is a snapshot of a road house bar in a small town somewhere in the South. No single lyric does it justice.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

This song reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson. Invoking the good doctor or Raymond Carver are two the highest compliments I can bestow.

Children’s Story

Rick was such a good lyricist. Like 3 Dimes Down, it is a wonderful short story. It is a funny and deadly serious song.

He was only one teen in a madman’s dream
The cops shot the kid, I still here him scream
This ain’t funny, so don’t ya dare laugh
Just another case about the wrong path
Straight and narrow or your soul gets cast

California Stars

A song written by one of the best (Woodie Guthrie) and played by one of the great bands of the early 21st century (Wilco). This is the second of three appearances by Jeff Tweedy. It is a beautiful song in its simple melody and piano lead.

3 A.M.

Everyone has been there. It’s 3 in the morning and you are tired and things aren’t going the way you want to in your life. This sounds like Edwin McCain was sitting at a bar at his kitchen table with a glass and a half empty bottle of Jack beside him “pouring his heart out” on the page. He is talking about the life that has him traveling and playing for people some who could not give a damn about his music and thinking about the woman he left behind.

And I will play just as long as you will listen
Now I’m in no big hurry to get back on the road
Sometimes in this lifestyle
I feel like there’s so much that I’m missing
Well I’m missing you
It’s just that I’m… so far from home
It’s 3 a.m.
I’m awake and my heart is still dreaming
It’s 3 a.m.
Outside I hear the souls still screaming

Paul Revere

When they first started the Beastie Boys were three snotty punks who liked rap music. This is the best song of their pre-Paul’s Boutique era. This is another short story song that takes you to another world. This world is a wonderful and lawless place.

It started way back in history
With Adrock, M.C.A., and me – Mike D.
Been had a little horsy named Paul Revere
Just me and my horsy and a quart of beer
Riding across the land, kicking up sand
Sheriff’s posse on my tail cause I’m in demand


In his third entry on the list Jeff Tweedy. It is a song about being a young hot mess. No prospects and nothing left. Whose fault is? Is it yours? Is it the unfairness of the crappy world? Yes, to all of the above.

You know you’re just a mama’s boy
Positively unemployed
So misunderstood
So misunderstood

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Like any Bob Dylan song, there isn’t much you can say that has not been said. It is a brilliant blues song with brilliant guitar work and it is my favorite Hendrix to listen to over and over.

Cult Of Personality

It was 1989 and I was a kid in Shelby, NC listening to all the music I was supposed to listen to. Then one night, Vernon, Corey, Muzz, and Will showed up on the Arsenio Hall show and everything changed.

What Will You Say

Jeff Buckley is one of the greatest unrealized talents in music history. He never knew his father, singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, but his voice and his writing were eerily similar. He only released on studio album before his death, Grace, that is one of the ten best albums of the 1990s. This song is only available live on Mystery White Boy. It is a brilliant exposition of anger at his dead father. It is wrenching and heartbreaking.

Father do you hear me?
Do you know me?
Do you even care?
What will you say
When they take my place?