music


27
Jan 23

There’s a lot here for a Friday

Here’s a question — and it is a real and earnest question. I, being from somewhere sensible, don’t have a lot of experience with this. But if it snows on Wednesday, and your car still looks like this on Friday morning, would it be inappropriate if I got out at the red light and scrapped all that stuff off your car?

Here’s another question — again, asked in all earnestness. If the car in front of you, and the car behind you, has the same idiotic problem, which car should I prioritize?

“Two days, y’all,” he said drawing out the y’all, so that you might understand that it is a word of his people, not just something he has appropriated from others, so you realize, This guy is from the South, and he has found your snow care … wanting.

I spent much of my morning working on my calendar. It’s riveting stuff, I tell you, but February is now planned to a fairly granular level. No one ask me for anything, please, lest we upset the applecart.

In the middle of the day I realized that not everyone knows the expressions “song and dance” and “dog and pony show.” I’m not sure if that’s a generational issue, or perhaps I was misheard. Either way, it will surely make me self-conscious. I sometimes tell people to break a leg, in the show business sense, but there’s going to be a day when someone doesn’t know the phrase, and I’ll sound like a callous, violent person.

“He was very helpful. He asked me twice if I had any questions before he left. And then he told me to break bones. But the weirdest part of all was, he said it in a kind of cheery voice.”

I’ve got to work that out of my lexicon.

Late in the day I had the chance to watch people use a state-of-the-art studio and control room as props again. This never fails to amuse. I also met a folklore major, who taught me a bit about folklore. I now feel as if I can enroll in a folklore 101 class, sneak in late on the second day and be ready to learn.

Folklore is fascinating, as an area of study. I was in their building in October, and admired some of the class offerings on the walls. Some looked worth trying, not that I’d be a folklorist, whatever that actually is outside of the academy.

Looking at classes years and years later, when the pressure is off and it doesn’t matter so much, is an interesting exercise. And, you find, your horizons broaden when you’re not contemplating tuition.

I left the office promptly at 5 p.m. today. First time since Monday. Saw the daylight and some sunshine on the drive back to the house. First time since … I’m not sure when. Maybe Monday, but nothing is jumping out at me. Could it be last Friday?

Anyway, the days are slowly getting longer, which is encouraging. The view in the backyard this evening was even more so. What’s that blue stuff back there?

It is the first sign of spring, if you’re desperate. It’s the first time you’re going to be tricked by the prospect of spring, if you are foolish. There are three stages to this trickery. This is the first stage.

I’ll be foolish. I’ll take it. It isn’t spring, not even close. But that doesn’t matter so much when you see the sun and sky actually, finally, beating up the clouds, even if it is just for the small part of one day.

The next CD in the Re-Listening project is another media update. I had “Throwing Copper’ as a cassette, even though it was released in 1994. (Remember, late adopter.) So in late 1996 or early 1997, I had to get a CD copy because I still wanted to play it a lot, because it was the 90s, and I was young, and Ed Kowalczyk screamed a lot. And the rhythm section on that record is pretty decent.

“Throwing Copper” was the mainstream breakthrough, after two smaller records and an EP. And it was a huge success. Two of the five singles went to number one, and “Lightning Crashes” sat atop the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for ten straight weeks. After it had been on the Billboard 200 album chart for a full year, the record hit number one. It sold eight million copies in the US alone.

It is amusing to me that these guys were all about 24 when this record was released. Picked up straight out of high school, dictionary in hand and angst to share.

Since it was that broadly popular, and since this was a tape-to-CD upgrade for me, and because it is getting late into the evening, here’s just two quick tracks from later in the album. I always enjoyed this bass line, even as the song goes well against the general feel of the rest of the record.

And then Kowalczyk goes full Kowalczyk three-and-a-half minutes in.

This was the hidden track, and the slide guitar is so atypical, and works so well. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this was on as I drove away from campus today, and it still works.

I saw Live three times in concert in the next few years. They put on some great shows. Then the music got more exotic, and then the tensions within the band got weird. I’m trying to make sense of it on Wikipedia now. The singer left, or was uninvited or something. The band continued without him, which seemed weird. He sued them. Then the original band got back together for a time, then fired one member. There was another lawsuit, and now Kowalczyk is the last original member still playing under the name. That’s the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I guess.

Since I premise the Re-Listening project as a quick stroll through the memories that got pinned to some of this music … I remember, and I am being as vague as possible here, a job I had in high school. I worked with a guy who was a college frat boy. He was funny, goofy, nice, and guaranteed to fall into some sort of trouble. You know the sort. There was a young woman who worked there, too. She was nice, attractive and guaranteed to be trouble. You know the sort. They got pregnant. “Lightning Crashes” was their song, which, I mean … really.

But that was 1994. To be young just then brought a certain set of choices, just as any other period. I wonder how long those two lasted.

I got in a quick ride before dinner tonight, tapping out 33 miles on Zwift, racing to finish before the batteries on all the necessary devices died. (The speaker didn’t survive the ride. My phone and iPad just barely did.) Tonight I got in two routes in France. I set three Strava segment PRs, somehow.

This lighthouse spins as you’re riding through the digital countryside of northern France.

I’m in an interesting place for the month. Earlier this week I compiled my highest volume months of bike riding, in terms of miles. It’s still a humble number, but this month was in 9th place overall. After tonight, this month is now my third best month. Tomorrow, it’ll be second. Maybe I can make it my most prolific month before it’s over.

May as well get something out of January.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 48 routes down, 72 to go.


26
Jan 23

The color fits, see

I had a meeting this morning, and there were doughnuts. The doughnuts were from a craft bakery, which means they put non-traditional toppings on them so they can charge you 36 bucks for a dozen. Also, they seem to be croissants covered in non-traditional toppings. Tasty, sticks with you throughout the day. Makes you think of doughnuts all day. They also ensure you don’t need to eat anything else all day.

The rest of the day was the rest of the day. A few meetings here and there. A lot of emailing and some phone calls. The usual stuff. And then into the studio in the evening. The late night host was interviewing an expert on M&Ms. As a part of the bit, she was doing so in an awkward British accent. The expert was not actually an expert. But she new many things about the hard-shelled candy, despite not being old enough to have spent 33 years researching them. Also, some of the information might not have been perfectly accurate. Wikipedia might need some updating.

Very usual stuff.

Here’s a photo from Wednesday I forgot to share. I like this one. A monochromatic skylight seems just right for the moment, somehow.

Three long days in a row. Just a regular 8-hour day tomorrow. It’ll feel like a half-day, I’m sure.

That recent weather has meant slower driving. My commute — a normally mysterious 20-minute, 4.5 mile adventure — has been longer. I guess that’s why I’m working through discs in the Re-Listening project so quickly in the last few days. So we return once more to revisit old music. I’m playing all the old discs, in the order that I picked them up.

Did you know I have some photographs in the Museum of Alabama. I used to, anyway. It’s been a long time. I’m sure they’ve been archived and warehoused or destroyed by now.

In the summer of 1997 I was commissioned to drive around much of Alabama and photograph the old covered bridges. I think they were doing a series of these in different seasons, and also some paintings. But traipsing through woods and creeks in the heat of an Alabama summer seemed like the perfect job for a college student, and someone knew me and that’s how I got the job.

I drove over a third or more of the state listening to Tigerlily. It came out in 1995, went platinum five times in the United States and peaked at 13 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Somewhere in late 1996 or early 1997 I bought it. Probably as a bulk deal, but when I got around to listening to it, I listened to it a lot.

The record starts like this.

There’s a lot of interesting texture in this record. There’s a moment in this song, a lament of losing a lifelong spouse, where Merchant’s voice breaks. It’s a syllable, and it is so impactful I remember it years on. I know it is coming. It gets me every time.

She didn’t sing it that way live. On a subsequent re-release (with new instrumentation) it isn’t there, and the song, a powerful ballad, is lesser for it.

Or, if you prefer a different kind of mood.

Music is a funny thing, and if I look at the five or 10 CDs on either side of this one in my collection, it is pretty obvious I wasn’t ready for Natalie Merchant in 1997. But I should say that about a lot of things and 1997 me. Driving on country roads on dirty, sweaty days, listening to this CD spin was a good thing, and a lot of fun. Ready or not.

Wikipedia tells me Natalie Merchant is teaching arts and crafts to kids these days. She has a new record due out in April. Maybe I’ll be ready.

And that’s enough for today. Don’t worry, there will be more tomorrow including, incredibly, another CD in the Re-Listening project.


25
Jan 23

These aren’t snowtunes

It snowed overnight, and most of the morning. This is the first substantial snow we’ve received since last February. We got about four or five inches. On the drive into the office there were two nervous moments. I got into a bit of a fishtail at a roundabout. And then, at a red light, I wasn’t sure how and when the car would stop.

But at least this guy got to sleep in.

And two of his buddies were driving around, with their snow plows up off the ground.

That might be unfair for one of a few reasons, but, then again, the roads were a mess.

Somewhere approaching 11 a.m., well after the morning rush, they got around to clearing the roads, as you will see. And they didn’t even wait until the snow had stopped falling. Just before it ended, the great big flakes, one last bit of winter defiance, came down. Here’s the tail end of that.

But those first few hours after, it was quite lovely.

It is the wrong kind of snow, however, in that it didn’t melt right away. It won’t melt until the weekend, if the weather forecasts are accurate and it won’t look that lovely in a day or so. But that’s for Thursday or Friday. For now, we listen to music.

It is time, once again, to dive back into musical memories, with the Re-Listening project. I’m going through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition and listening to them in the car. It’s about memories, rather than music reviews. No one is asking for another review of quarter-century-old songs, after all.

In the fall of 1996, a buddy of mine told me to look for a particular band. They’ll be big, he said. You’ll like them, he said. At the same time, there was always a stack of CDs on the giveaway table at my station. And one day, there they were.

This is one of the two things I remember about the Matchbox 20 debut. It sold something like 12 million copies in the United States, and 15 million worldwide. People liked it. It got a lot of airplay. This is the other thing I remember. The wrong single got all the attention.

This was the debut single, and the best bit of the record, by far.

The rest of it is a bit aggravating to me. Maybe it got overplayed. Maybe it wasn’t something we played in crowds. It definitely sounds whiny today. And, oddly, I have no other recollections associated with the album.

Similarly, I don’t have a lot of memory attached to “To the Faithful Departed.” Seems odd, but I don’t recall picking this up, either. I knew I had it, but I am slightly dismayed that I don’t recall what came behind it. And, yes, I think I should remember how and where and why I bought a circular piece of plastic in 1996. I probably barely listened to it, which is a shame. It seems, at times, conceptually and lyrically repetitive. At the same time, the instrumentation is there, and Dolores O’Riordan’s talent is fully on display.

This song struck me tonight, and I was surprised to learn, or re-learn, that this was one of the singles. (This is how closely I was paying attention to The Cranberries, I guess.) It also figured prominently in O’Riordan’s funeral in 2018. Beautiful song.

Two other singles were released. A fourth was canceled when the tour ended and the Irish rockers went home after O’Riordan had some health problems. In retrospect, that the fourth single wasn’t released might have been a good idea. It is hard to listen to that song in the context of the album and airplay at the time and think it would be as successful as the songs that came before it.

Why they didn’t release this as a single though is an enduring mystery. It’s U2, The Cure and Depeche Mode all in one. It would have been a big alt hit.

There was a well-packaged ballad just waiting to be called upon, too. And there’s an all too obvious Doc Martens reference in there, just waiting for sponsorship.

The contemporary reviews suggest this wasn’t The Cranberries’ best album, but “To the Faithful Departed” didn’t top charts in four countries and climb to number four in the United States by mistake. Maybe it was my mistake to overlook it.

A wise man said you should never end a post by admitting a mistake, so … a joke.

What is a snow man’s favorite song?

“Freeze A Jolly Good Fellow.”


23
Jan 23

‘It’s a radiation vibe’

I benefit from a traditional that The Yankee has kept for, I dunno, most of her life. It goes like this. When it snows overnight, you have chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.

It snowed last night.

And it was the best kind of snow. The sort that arrived in the evening of a night I didn’t have to be anywhere, accumulated to an amount that was in no way an imposition to travel. And, most critically, it was gone by mid-afternoon.

We took a walk at about 2 p.m. to admire what was left in the woods.

The kitties stayed inside, because they are inside cats, and it is cold outside. And they have their creature comforts. For instance, here’s Phoebe sitting on a two-cushioned chair.

On Saturday she was napping on a pillow. The pillow was on top of the mattress. The mattress is also covered by many blankets. She knows what she’s after.

Poseidon, he’s more accustomed to roughing it. You can see him here, just on the one cushion, taking advantage of the arm rest as a pillow.

These are the most comfortable cats in the known kittyverse.

I took a midnight ride on Saturday-Sunday, tapping out 28 miles. Felt slow and, at times, it was! But then at one point the game awarded me a green jersey. It just digitally appeared.

And it means that I was the fastest person on a sprint segment. This is a platform with global appeal, but the result has to be the time of the evening. (I am not a sprinter.)

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 42 routes down, 78 to go.

It is time, once again, to dip our toe into the soothing waters of musical nostalgia, with the Re-Listening project. I’m going through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition and listening to them in the car. It’s one part memory, three parts fun and, the occasional skip-to-the-next track. This is my second round of the Re-Listening project. I did it a few years ago but, this time, decided to write about it. Easy blog filler! But these aren’t reviews, no no, they’re memories. They are fun, they are whimsy, as most music should be. And today the waters of musical nostalgia are provided to us by Fountains of Wayne.

Their self-titled debut album was released in late 1996. I am guessing I picked it up in early 1997. “Radiation Vibe” was on the radio, and peaking at 14 on the US Billboard Alternative Songs chart that January. Probably somewhere around there I got this. It was a giveaway from one of the radio stations I was working at, rather than something I purchased. I liked the single.

And I hated the rest of the album. This record did not enter the US Billboard 200, but peaked at number 20 on the US Heatseekers Albums Chart. Not that I knew that at the time, or that it mattered. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize they were behind “That Thing You Do” in 1996. You assume, through the distance of time, that the movie song was a huge hit. But it was only moderately successful. It is also not on this album, which is what we’re talking about today. (This is the second single.)

As I said. Didn’t care for it in 1997. Liked the one single, but that’s it. Probably didn’t listen to it for more than two decades, until the last Re-Listening project. And let me tell you something fascinating that happened. I realized, decades on, that everything that happened in indie and pop music since 1996 is on this record.

True story. Every nuance, every string, every open note, every bit of air, every emo chorus inspiration, every bit of millennial adolescent spark are all found on this album. It’s incredible. This is the point of the Re-Listening project.

This is a lot to accept, I know, especially if you’re invested in the period. But you can’t escape the evidence.

Others did some of this earlier, and bigger acts completed the form with great success later. But the synthesis of what came before it — The Zombies, The Hollies, maybe some BOC and others — is all right here, the output of what was to come later is all found in the power pop ingredients in this record.

The band broke up in 2013, an 18-year run, but Fountains of Wayne released five studio records. They found themselves in commercials and soundtracks and with Grammy nominations. Their biggest hit was in 2003, a song that reached 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 12 on the Hot Rock and Alternative Songs chart. It was another song I didn’t like, so what do I know?

What I know is we’ll be moving swiftly through the next installment of the Re-Listening project. It’s another whiny record. (I need to make better skip rules for this game.)

Until tomorrow, then, have a great start to your week!


22
Jan 23

‘Sigh’

I’ve never had a clever idea for a personalized license plate. And, wouldn’t you know it, the best idea only occurred to me when I found it, already in use.

(You might note that, in the reflection, I am wearing gloves. Today was the day that broke me. But my fingers stayed warm.)

There are only two problems with that plate. First, it’s on the children’s hospital tag. Hard to discern what we’re saying here. Second, I suppose the state wouldn’t sell you an ellipse. A few dots on the end would have made the thing.

“Sigh … ”

I guess you could always put that on a mug or a thermos or something. Still get much of your point across, but not in traffic. But then, there are vinyl clings for that. One for the front bumper, and one for the back.

I’d actually like two light kits for the car. One that says “Sigh” and another that says “Hey thanks.” Light those up, front and back, at the appropriate times, and you could convey a lot of messages. I’d be better with that than the horn. There are certain places where the horn is a complex form of communication, but where I’m from the car horn was a solo angry note. Or, if you ever watched poorly scripted dramas, it could also indicate “My brakes are out! Get out of the way!”

Come to think of that, you don’t see that as a TV trope that much anymore. Maybe automobile manufacturers have figured something out about brake technology since the 1970s. Or maybe all of that is on Amazon Prime, or Apple TV. We don’t have those, so the tropes could be in full force over there.

I had a nice long meeting about documentaries today. This is probably the third of these meetings I’ve had, and this meeting was the conclusion of the second or third email chain about them. We’re going to be watching a lot of documentaries at work over the next couple of months, which is exciting.

I also had a short stint in the television studio this afternoon. Someone needed to shoot a quick promotional video, so the studio became a set. I enjoyed watching people moving around chairs and using state-of-the-art cameras as props.

Also, I have begun a surely losing battle with YouTube. This would be difficult to describe, even if you cared, which you don’t. Everyone has their own struggles with YouTube, or they don’t. And, sure, I’d Google the problem if I knew how to describe it, alas.

Our dystopian, but not because of this, future: when you can’t figure out the right search terms to find the answer for how to solve a YouTube issue.

This is a strong contender for my First World Problem of the Year.

Sigh.

We return to the Re-Listening project, where I am playing all of my CDs in their order of acquisition. It passes the time, gives me something to sing to in the car, and something to fill a bit of space with here. These aren’t reviews, but a bit of memory, and a bit of whimsy, as music should be.

We are, I think, getting close to the music getting quite good again, but I digress.

The year was 1996. My on-again and off-again girlfriend suggested a movie. If memory serves we had to erase some lame movie experience from our collective memory. I wish I could remember what that one was (and I’ve tried) but I remember this specifically: when the credits rolled, we stood up to leave and she said, “This movie needed more explosions.”

So the next one was Twister. I think we blew off something that seemed important, but was anything but. That was the sort of thing that appealed to her sensibilities — low key rebel that she was. And so it was that we found ourselves in one of those old theaters that instantly feels a little dirty and dusty and spent the afternoon with Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes and all the rest.

Sometime soon after I picked up the soundtrack.

Incidentally, the first two tracks on that soundtrack also appeared on records that we’ve recently visited here. The third song is an inscrutable Tori Amos track. (I wasn’t ready for Amos yet. But a different girlfriend, a few years later, helped remedy that, and even took me to a live show.)

I don’t know why this is, but I love every Alison Krauss song I’ve ever heard, and I own none of her music, except for two or three soundtrack appearances.

Hard to believe this is Mark Knopfler’s first solo single.

In addition to those, and the Van Halen and Rusted Roof indirectly referenced above, there’s a who’s who of forgettable tracks from big pop names here. There’s Soul Asylum, k.d. lang, Lisa Loeb, the Red Hot Chili Peppers for some reason, and the Goo Goo Dolls.

At the end is this song and … I think this might be my favorite Stevie Nicks song?

I’m too young for Fleetwood — and it’s an ever-shrinking list of things I’m too young for these days — and I never really got the Stevie Nicks appeal. But I like this. Probably it’s the Lindsey Buckingham medley.

The next album was the second effort from Bush. We recently ran through the 1994 debut in this space. They had a huge success there, but most of the record doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Their next release, this release, from 1996, even less so. But i remember being disappointed by it then, too. It’s a stinker. But what do I know? It topped the Billboard 200, though I’ve always found everything aside from the first single to be easily forgettable. I don’t care about this record at all. It’s an endless run through empty metaphors from the emo thesaurus, with hasty licks that are, I guess, fills.

Where their first record seemed like a polished parody of the grunge style, this one swung too far in the opposite direction. Wikipedia would like to convince me that this is generally held up as “the last ‘grunge’ sounding album of the 1990s.” Let’s think on that without thinking on in too hard. Did anyone release a record with overdriven guitars and out-of-tune vocals after November, 1996 …

First of all, this is a silly exercise. It’s a loosely labeled genre. No one in it liked the term, none of them. Soundgarden’s last album came out a few months before and they broke up in 1997. Alice in Chains was in that weird hiatus with Layne Staley — and Boggy Depot doesn’t seem to apply. Kurt Cobain was dead. Pearl Jam was still working, of course, but trying to be anything but grunge by then. So maybe Chuck Klosterman was right. Maybe Bush is the Warrant of grunge. Funny that it would be the British band to be there, simply because of timing.

Everything that came after was mislabeled as post-grunge or broadly, and hilariously, mislabeled as “alternative.” Much of it was the return of “corporate-formulated music to regain the footing it lost when swept out by the success of ‘Nevermind.'” Grunge used to be defined as a rebellious counter to all of that. More cynically, it was viewed as cheaper and quicker to produce, and there was a time and place for it. The time was the late-stage Gen X crowd and the 1990s. The place, I suppose, was their ethos. But we all went to work, too, and time marched on. And then the Spice Girls marched in.

Thankfully, the Spice Girls are not the next record on the Re-Listening project, nor will they ever be, but that’s for next week.

I had another quick bike ride before dinner. Just 21 miles, because the next segment was going to be 14 more and I didn’t know how I’d feel about that, plus there was dinner to consider and it was getting on 7:30 and, I couldn’t even use the “time got away from me” excuse, because, look! The moon!

The little things in Zwift delight me so much. The stars twinkle. This stage had a few drones flying overhead for some reason. (You can select an overhead camera view, and maybe that’s why they are they. That’s what I’m telling myself.) And the moon moves back behind that mountain. It is setting, and this happens to fast, because you are riding through simulated days and nights, but it also makes sense given the terrain and the path of your road and how that changes your perspective.

But, I think, when you see the moon in Zwift it is always a full moon. This seems like poor, or overly romanticized, programming. An always full moon would be a problem. It is, or isn’t, full from our planetary view because of the relative positions of the earth, moon and sun. So if the moon always looked full then the earth is out of the way, or, to be more accurate, the moon isn’t in our orbit. Big tidal consequences. Let’s assume it drifts away with some appreciable-to-human-eyes speed. The angle of the earth may shift widely. Our days would get longer, and some time after that things would get really bad here. Seasons would probably change a fair amount. Who knows what would happen at the then-wobbly poles. And I guess it depends on when, in our solar transit, that the moon decided to let go as to where it would wind up, but that could create a whole series of issues in the solar system, too. Zwift might want to fix that, just in case.

In case of what? The moon is watching a bike riding video game and getting ideas?

Sigh.

2023 Zwift route tracker: 38 routes down, 82 to go.

Happy weekend!