memories


15
Nov 22

‘It’s all pop music,’ is a thing I said today

Tonight there was a band in the studio. Hank Ruff is a recent IU grad, and he’s making it as a performer. Beats grad school classes! He’s been on one of our shows before, just before Covid, he said. He would have been a sophomore then and I had no memory of that … until I looked it up just now.

Look how young everyone was! February, 2020:

Since then, a pandemic happened. Charlee went home to Green Bay and became a reporter there. Kendall is reporting in Milwaukee today. Hank topped the iTunes all genre chart for a day, knocking Encanto out of the top spot, which he rightly, casually, mentions.

I’d mention that every day.

Anyway, they have new single coming out in January, Hank Ruff and his band played for us this evening. I don’t know how many country acts have a saxophone player these days, but the guy in the far background has figured out how to make his spot work in this group.

I was going to make a “Is that country music?” joke, but about that time they played a song that Hank said his dad wrote decades ago. The song was “I’m Not Crazy (But I’m Out of Her Mind)” and that’s about as country a song title as you can imagine.

Safe to say they’re on their way, too. He said he and The Hellbenders played 15 shows in September. Good for them. They played three songs, ran their own audio and did a thoroughly professional load out.

I wonder where local band members go after they’re done for the evening.

“Evening.” Their mini-set was wrapped by 7:15 p.m.

After the shows I pointed the car to the house, checked the freezer for turkey room, set up some sanding for later this week, heated leftover chili for dinner, petted the cats and straightened up my home office. It needs more than a straightening, but it was in such a state that a straightening itself was a transformation.

Now I’m just waiting for the Artemis rocket to launch. Maybe everything will work right for their window, anyway. (Sometimes being a fan of science and amazing thing leads to long hours.)

Let’s spend some of that time on the Re-Listening Project. I’ve just working my way through all of my old CDs, in the order I acquired them. It’s fun, it’s nostalgic, it’s an excuse to post videos.

First up today, a soundtrack for a movie that was bad then and hasn’t improved with age. The movie gets terms like “cult hit” and “zeitgeist,” and the dreaded “mixed reviews,” but sometimes words get used without the writer knowing what they really mean. It made good box office money, and most importantly the music was good! Good enough, I suppose. The soundtrack was a platinum hit in Australia and Canada, and twice certified as platinum in the United States. Presumably that was on the strength of Lisa Loeb’s breakthrough single.

I’m sure I bought this because it had three or four songs that I wouldn’t buy on their own. I can tell you how important this was. I never listen to the thing. Almost never have.

There’s a good Juliana Hatfield Three song in there, and it’s always good to have The Posies to point too. Dinosaur Jr. makes you seem well-rounded, and there’s Loeb’s smash hit, not that I bought this for the Loeb song. “Stay” was good, still is, but “Stay” was already everywhere. And then there’s a Me Phi Me classic. It’s aged far, far better than this movie.

Maybe I should look up Me Phi Me’s full catalog.

Up next, the followup to Radiohead’s surprising smash hit, “Creep.” That song took over the airwaves off their debut album, and so the pressure was on when it came to producing and releasing “The Bends.” The record broke the top 10 in Belgium, Scotland, and on the UK Albus chart. Certified as a gold record in at least four countries and platinum in the U.S. and New Zealand and it’s a multi-platinum record in Canada and the UK. They rolled out seven singles, half the record, between September of 1994 and July of 1996. The angular guitars and the emotional falsetto helped draw a line in British rock of the period.

This was great car music for me. Probably a lot of late nights in the car. I drove a lot during this part of college, and so there was me, and, often, Thom Yorke.

“Blackstar” wasn’t a single, but was definitely a late night, car-clinging-to-asphalt track. That chorus is really something.

“Sulk” was a political song, addressing a 1987 mass shooting in England. Pay attention to what Ed O’Brien is doing with the effects on his guitar here.

Title track? Title track.

The Beatles, The Smiths, a David Bowie pastiche, and as critically divisive as a pop song can be, I guess.

After this brief toe dip in Brit rock, we’ll return to Americana pop … probably on Thursday, only on the Re-Listening Project.


11
Nov 22

Whurrwhurrwhurr

After work I rushed right back to the house — because where else am I going to go? — and hustled right inside. I wanted to put my bike on the trainer. Well, wanted to isn’t exactly the right word. I wanted to ride my bike, but it was cold and almost dark, so the trainer it is. Or, rather, it was, since this already happened.

I rode in the desert, with snowcapped mountains ahead of me. Whurrwhurrwhurr is the sound the back wheel my bike makes on the roller.

At the conclusion of my ride people that don’t exist threw confetti, which … also … doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean this isn’t still a nice little feeling, though, after 23 quick little miles.

And now I’m that much closer — 23 miles closer, to be precise — to making this my third biggest year ever. I should do that this weekend, make 2022 my third best year. The second spot is an easy possibility after that. Not sure if I can set a personal best.

But if I don’t, there’s only myself to blame, and none of this matters anyway. So far, though, the 2020s are giving me a workout, and that’s what matters.

It is time, once again, to catch up on the Re-Listening Project. I’m going through all of my old CDs, in order, and enjoying the nostalgia and the music and trying to write a little something about it. It pads out the site and burdens you with music I like — or at least music that I liked once upon a time. These aren’t reviews, they’re whimsy, as so much of music should be.

I still like a lot of “Happy Nowhere,” it turns out. This was Dog’s Eye View’s debut. This was Peter Stuart’s band. He got a break by opening for Tori Amos and Cracker. He warmed up crowds for Counting Crows and then signed a record deal. With that in hand he formed this band. One single got a lot of airplay, which is how I found them. He apparently wrote the hit in 15 minutes, while nursing a hangover.

So, as hangovers go, that worked out fairly well, I guess?

I don’t remember all of these details from the narrative part of the video. In fact, the biggest memory of that video I have is how he’s smiling singing this song that, on the face of it, should be pretty sad.

Also, the instrumentation. It’s infectious.

This came out in 1996 and there was a music store in town that let you listen to things before you bought them. This was a great idea for customers, but I’m sure it had drawbacks for managers and employees. I don’t know if that’s why I have this record, or I picked it up just on the strength of that single, but here I am, an embarrassing amount of decades later and I still sing along with almost every track on the thing.

This guitar, Stuart’s voice, it all just works.

I sang this one, with attitude, well into my 30s.

I consider this a perfect mid-90s rock ‘n’ roll song.

This always felt like a beach ballad, and I’ve never listened to it on a beach, so there you go. I always wonder if this is a character song or biographical. I wonder who he’s singing to. Sometimes I wonder who other people sing this to.

I never sang this ballad with a particular person in mind. Weird.

The good tunes continue. Car, headphones, shower, whenever.

I never understood how this record, and the subsequent work, didn’t get more label support. That was a real problem on the second album. It’s just a business choice — most of which are obvious in retrospect, I guess, but back then? Again, mid-90s … a bit of honesty, a bit of heartfelt rawness … this fits the mold without complaint.

I loved this record. Always enjoyed DEV, and Peter Stuart. He released three more records — two of them will show up here eventually — before disappearing. Recently I learned he’s a clinical psychologist in Texas. I read an interview with him and he came off as so content and focused. It was one of the better Where Are They Now? stories.

Anyway, more from him later. We must also consider here, today, the remastered version of Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert. I’m not a proactive Clapton fan, let’s say. I appreciate the work, but it’s just not something I’ve sought out.

I have no recollection of why I have this. I have no real recollection of spending a lot of time with it, either. (Like you can recall all of the reasons why you did, or didn’t listen to the second song of an album you purchased 26 years ago … )

But I listened to it this week and … it needs to be re-remastered. Which, hey, makes since. The original came out in 1973, Pete Townshend got Clapton on stage and helped re-start his career. And, given Clapton’s heroin-addled reclusiveness, his star power and the different music ecosystem of the time, this was probably a tantalizing thing for his pre-existing fans. (The original vinyl held six tracks. I have 14 here.) In that light, there’s a lot to appreciate. Also, this disc was released in 1995, and I heard all of this for the first time in 1996 or 1997, let’s say. We’re farther, today, from the remastering than the remastering was from the original. (Sentences like that come far too rapidly to me these days, and that’s middle age to me.)

As much as anything, that the stage also held Townshend, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and Jim Capaldi was probably part of my initial appeal — and that pays off. This record highlights Winwood as much as anything. Here he is now.

The blue-eyed soul and blues between them works pretty well. It sounds and feels a bit raw. It’s all hasty and seems largely unrehearsed. That’s part of the charm. AllMusic wrote a retrospective review, which seems appropriate. The author concludes, “Today, the album is an adequate live document, though one can find better performances of the songs on other records.”

As for other records, the next time the Re-Listening Project comes around we’ll gloss over a soundtrack and, probably, something a little more contemporary to the point of purchase.


9
Nov 22

A last word on election coverage; more words about riding bikes

They started planning their election night livestream in September. I was pleased to see my friends at IUSTV trying something new and so ambitious. They held several fax out practices. They prepped for days, huge binders, names, contests, context. I was happy to see all of that prep, and I was excited to see them collaborating with Indiana Daily Student and WIUX.

The different outlets work together on a few projects here and there, something The Media School has been hoping to see. I’ve always advocated for that to happen organically. Building natural momentum and enthusiasm from seeing the impact and the benefit of their ideas, will create lasting success.

It was an entirely student-conceived, produced and delivered project. They got great support from my colleagues in bringing together a few technical achievements, but everything else was theirs and, last night, they covered a lot of ground, all of those reporters. It was a great experience for them, a fine service to their community.

Ella Rhoades and Ashton Hackman were on the desk at the top of the first hour. They rotated out over the course of the evening with some great reports from Carly Rasmussen, Anna Black, Haley Ryan and a lot of others. They did drop-ins with their colleagues at WIUX. They ran packages, had scheduled panels with IDS reporters, they even did their own big map segments. Olivia Oliver and Emma Watson were just a few of the star producers of the evening, which ran for almost four hours. Andrew Briggs was his usual indispensable self, producing this, directing that, making it all come together.

Not everything went perfectly, live productions don’t go perfectly, but there are plenty of lessons in that, and they handled the rough spots with grace and good humor. It was an impressive lift. They’re in the middle of their school semester, after all. Some of them left one studio and one show to come directly into another studio to run this stream late into the evening.

So, while I was pleased they had the idea, and happy to see their substantial preparation, and excited for the collaboration with their peers, the best part was watching them work, off camera, on deadline.

That’s where the real magic happens. A lot of people showed us last night that they’re figuring that out. Could’t be prouder.

And their attitude was infectious!

This morning, on one of the last beautiful days before winter arrives and sets in between now and April, I got out for a little bike ride. It was sunny and in the 50s, so it seemed important to get out for a few minutes.

It doesn’t matter to anyone but me, but I keep a record of my annual mileage. I am sneaking up on some of my best years now, and so I wanted to get just a few more in before I have to put my bike on the trainer. If I threaten my record, it will most likely be in a muggy bike room, wondering why there’s an actual puddle of sweat below me.

But today, I’m merely moving up the ranks of my annual chart. After today’s little spin 2022 is now fourth place, all time.

The year 2013 was a very good year. It was a comeback year, and that’s a big part of why it is third all-time. The second and top spots are 2021 and 2020, respectively. No surprise there. Couldn’t really do much except ride my bike during the hardest part of the pandemic.

Between now and the end of the year, I have plenty of time to move 2022 into second place. Hitting that 2020 mark … that’s going to be a real challenge.

Now that I’ve written about it here, it is, of course, a big thing. I’ll keep you updated. And hopefully a few of those updates include some version of “and I got to ride outside today!”

Those are good days, just as this one was.

Hope yours was a dandy, too!


10
Oct 22

Mostly the music

I was just wondering … have you ever felt like a tree?

I’ve sat under trees and slept under trees and measured trees. I’ve watched trees and identified trees and cut parts of trees away. I’ve climbed them and used them for lean-tos and projects and umbrellas. I’ve planted them and dug them up and helped haul them away and, once, I portrayed a tree in an acting exercise. (Some of these things I’ve done poorly.) But every so often, I look at this tree behind our house and I wonder if I have felt like this tree.

Not yet. But in a few days, this tree hits a particular moment in its annual cycle and I can relate. It isn’t a one-with-the-earth moment, but recognition of the versimilitude of another living thing. And there’s a good, real moment, where I feel like I have a basic sense of what it must be thinking.

He said, determined to start the week off with some proper anthropomorphism.

Anyway, after a late evening on campus I went to the deck to supervise the starting of the grill and looked up and there was the tree, sending the maple tree signal in a beautiful warm day’s gloaming hour, and I thought, “I know. I understand.”

Exactly what, I can’t say. But it seemed important to feel empathetic at the moment.

I need to catch up on notes to the Re-Listening Project, before it all gets out of hand.

Get it? Out of hand? You got it.

Man, not even the tree laughs at that joke.

Anyway, I’m just listening to all of the old CDs in the car. Second time through them all as a chronological study of my music acquisition in this specific medium. These aren’t reviews, but sometimes they are the memories that mark time. All of these discs (eventually) cross a few genres and periods. They’ll do so in a haphazard way; there’s no larger theme. It is, a whimsy as music should be. And at this particular point in the CD book I’m both buying new music and replacing things from cassettes.

Hey, it was the ’90s.

Here’s some 1995 alt rock from Dishwalla, the pop-version of industrial music. Who cares. The lead singer, J.R. Richards, had a great voice, and they put on a fun live show in April of 1996 when I saw them in support of their debut album, “Pet Your Friends.”

Richards split his pants on stage. He was quite embarrassed by that, but was eventually able to laugh it off. Rock ‘n’ roll jokes were, no doubt, made. They were opening for Gin Blossoms, who were the musical King Kong of the moment. For half a second, maybe, it seemed like Dishwalla would join them up there. “Counting Blue Cars” hit number one on the alternative charts. The record went gold and sat atop the Heatseekers chart. They were musically adventurous.

Here’s the second track off the record.

If this song doesn’t make you want to rush, rush, to a mall and buy 1990s clothes I don’t know what else I can say.

I always thought — and apparently modern me agrees with young me — that the first half of this record was the best part. There are six really nice tracks on here, but there’s a fall off. And the back half of the record has a different mood.

Then, in September of 2015, this happened.

Richards liked that tweet. I like to imagine he was just sitting around in-between production sessions (Dishwalla is still a band and Richards is still making music, though he has left the group) doing random word searches.

I say it was random because the next month, in a different grocery store, I heard Dishwalla again, but he didn’t like that one. Maybe he was on vacation.

After Dishwalla comes Joshua Tree. And my memory is a little fuzzy here, but I’m fairly sure this was one of those that I bought to replace the cassette version. Worth it in every respect, though, right?

I remember this clear: At my college radio station everyone was tasked with listening to new music. What songs were good? What were radio friendly? What had profanity and where? They’d always done this. I assume they still do. It was a rite of passage. Anyway, when U2 released Joshua Tree the label sent the station an actual vinyl album. And on the bottom right corner of the album jacket was a little sticker. The practice at that time was to list three or four songs and put some stars by it. (This was U2’s fifth album, and the one that would set the standard for the rest of their career, but whoever reviewed this had no way of knowing that, of course.) That person also wrote on the sticker “And on the eighth day God handed down this record …”

Some other DJ had come along later and slapped another sticker next to that one. “We get it. You like this album.”

Some 25 million copies later, having sat atop the charts in nine countries, run up the flag pole for a 20th and a 30th anniversary re-release … safe to say that reviewer wasn’t the only one.

I wonder how that second person felt every time they heard one of the five singles on the radio, because that happened to that poor cynical soul a lot.

The only problem with this record is that it demands long, wide open roads, and woe unto you if you have to run the gauntlet of red lights when Larry Mullen Jr. is setting up the rest of the band.

The last disc was a greatest hits collection of Prince’s work. Some of it, I felt then as now, you should have a copy of close at hand. Some of the tracks here are aging poorly. Some still stand as seminal classics of a pop music genius.

Also, “I Would Die 4 U” is due a renaissance. (Odd that Stranger Things hasn’t licensed that.)

Prince’s falsetto, while impressive, gets too much attention. The genius is everywhere else. I’ve always wanted to know who said “What happens if you record a blues song as Iggy Pop?”

And why does that work? It works, I’m pretty sure, because it is Prince.

And that should be enough music for today. Not to worry. I still have a few more records to catch up on. Come back tomorrow for more tunes!


4
Oct 22

I’m catching up on sleep, thanks

This, the Twitter thread below, is an extremely true story. I took a nap this evening and have basically gotten back to the point of feeling like normal again. Can’t imagine how she feels, but she’s got the medication! And she can take naps if she feels like it.

I’d say she’s lucky, but I’ve seen the X-rays. I know exactly how lucky she is.

Spent most of yesterday at the office telling people about it, I think. Word gets around. Maybe in a day or two I’ll be back up to full speed, and feeling like it, too!

Let’s wrap up the Poplars Building talk. You’ll remember it was a hotel, and then dorms, and finally some administrative space. The whole building is gone now. They torn down the first half during late August and September. They took the other half last week. But the remnants are still there.

Eventually this will become a green space. I take that to mean they don’t know, yet, what they want to go in that space, but some plan will come along one day.

We should catch up on the Re-Listening Project. If that sounds official, it isn’t. I am working through all of my old CDs in the car. Easy content and, sometimes, good music. These aren’t reviews, mostly just the memories that mark the time.

This is strictly chronological, which is to say the order in which I bought all of these things. My discs cross genres and periods in a haphazard way and there’s no large theme. It is, a whimsy as music should be.

“Deluxe” was Better Than Ezra’s major label debut, and I bought this first as a cassette. “Good,” which they still do on stage as “The one you remember” was released in February of 1995, and I bought it sometime around there. Obviously I thought enough about it to purchase it a second time, as a CD.

I remember playing the tape version almost continuously on a three-hour solo road trip to see a friend.

First of all, no one remembers that Salma Hayek was in the video for the third single off this record.

Her career, in American media anyway, was just about to take off. This was sublimely timed casting that wouldn’t have been possible even a few months later.

Secondly, I have this weird flash of a memory of listening to this record in an Arby’s drive thru. Maybe that was the beginning of that road trip.

It’s a deep cut, but Summerhouse still holds up.

This, along with Rosealia, was one of my favorite songs of the record.

A few years later I was shooting pool in a restaurant — that no longer exists — when a friend came out of the closet to me and the guy playing his guitar in the corner was covering that song. I was the first person she told, she said. She figured I was from the big city, and that I’d understand. But I knew already. And whole, larger story, is an incredibly sharp memory.

Seven-ball-with-a-weird-pant-scuff-in-the-right-side-pocket sharp.

This was the song for part of that fall, and parts of many subsequent autumns.

Better Than Ezra has seven more studio albums. At least the next five get better and better. They’ll all appear in this list, eventually.