Jun 23

Raise your hands high

Guess who we’ll be spontaneously seeing soon? I’ll give you a hint.

That’s from the last Indigo Girls show I saw, in Indianapolis in 2017. This will be my seventh show. Reportedly, they’re on the road with a full band right now. I’ve never seen them play with a full band. This is quite exciting. And it moves us, quite neatly, into …

The latest installment of the Re-Listening project, the thing where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which they acquired. And this installment is the Indigo Girls’ “Come On Now Social,” their seventh studio album, released in 1999. I guess this was my third Indigo Girls album, after “1200 Curfews” and “Shaming of the Sun.” I caught up on the rest of the back catalog later, and this album’s consistency was what made me commit. You wear out a double live album and then find two studio albums in a row that you lean into, hard? Caught the live act two or three times by then, too? You found yourself a band.

This is one of those things I wish I could go back in time and put this on again, turn up the sound and hear it for the first time. I’d love to have this first impression again.

I won’t do this through the whole post, but since we’ll see them in concert again soon, here’s a live version.

I want to hear that again for the first time, almost every time, because even now, decades later, I’m still finding new things to be awed by in that track.

Also, I suppose that’s the second protest song (of my generation) I ever picked up on as being a protest song (non-Buffy Sainte-Marie division.) Anyway, I’m trying, right now to read the Meridel Le Sueur essay that’s spoken into that song. But Amy Ray just buries herself and she’s beautifully, wonderfully distracting.

Always with the Re-Listening project I am trying to find some memory that matches a track, a mood that meets the album. Sometimes these things stand out. But, always, when Emily Saliers is painting a picture, it’s just an attitude. It’s a credit to her storytelling ability. Her imagery crowds out my memories. But to think of whatever this inspires in you isn’t such a bad thing, even if it is an imagination rather than a memory.

The difficulty here will be in not playing the entire album. But it’s my site, and I’ll play a half dozen tracks from it if I want to. Anyway, if you’ll overlook the VHS and NTSC analog quality that YouTube compressed here, this is a gem. For fun, I always sing the chorus as “There ain’t no way I’m gonna let this heart win,” and it changes the song substantially. That’s neither here nor there.

When the banjo and the mandolin come out … God bless the Indigo Girls.

Speaking of imagery. The other day, when this next track came on, I was at a red light. It was a bright morning. Lots of sun. But the mood here is anything but. I was initially drawn into the band for the harmonies, but then found the … let’s call it the visceral, emotional core of truth … but the thing that’s not at all subtle, not at all to be disregarded, is the quality of storytelling Ray and Saliers can put around all of that.

But then they have to pep it up a little. Here’s a little drum fill, a few horns, and an under-appreciated song from Saliers. This is the one song that charted off the album, small HAC hit that marked the end of the Indigo Girls’ crossover success. (Because the music industry is powered by corporations and so often has no real relation to what we hear, what we like or what artists play. But I repeat myself.)

Feels like a cookout song to me. Who needs a cookout?

This song references a real person, it was quite high profile in the late 1990s. Do you remember?

The hidden tracks are in that YouTube video, if you are interested. Just scrub to about the seven minute mark.

And, when we see the Indigo Girls next weekend, we’ll be having a blast.

May 23

Can I interest you in some perfectly-priced accessories?

The day passed slowly, but quickly. Warm, but mild. Bright, but indoors. Quietly but … no, it was actually quiet. Quite quiet.

Yesterday we bumped into our neighbors and they invited us to spend the evening on their lovely patio, which we did tonight. We talked work and kids and vacations and accidents. They are delightful and humorous.

Somehow we got on the subject of wardrobes. He is a retail professor and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And so we found ourselves chatting about french cuffs and cufflinks. She brought out some links of her grandfathers. And of course I had to say I’ve just been making my own.

He was interested in this, and then I tried to describe the process. Finally, I just went over and brought some out to show off, including this batch I made in June 2021.

He likes them. Loves them. Wants to make them and mass produce them. We’re talking unit price and creation time and source materials and I find all of this amusing. He also came up with a price point. It’s mildly funny hearing someone plan out a business from something you do with idle hands. The best part was that she went inside to fetch this or that, and when she came back out he was still going on about it. As she came back outside I said, “He’s still talking about those cufflinks.”

Because she knows her husband, without pause or reservation or even condemnation, she said “I know. And he will all night.”

And, basically, he did.

I fully expect he’ll have the business model all nailed down this time next week.

At least I hope so. And, like all of my wildest ideas, may it make a mint. Or at least a cut of the profits my neighbor makes.

OK people, when we wrap up this post we’ll be officially, and momentarily, caught up in the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m playing all the old CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired the disc. It has been a big week, because I was once again well behind in this content-padding trip down memory lane. Yesterday’s installment was from Guster, and today’s feature is from … Guster!

This was September or October of 1999. “Lost and Gone Forever.” I know that because their third studio album came out that September, and we saw them in October. I had the clever idea to put the ticket with the liner notes in my CD book, and it is still there today. Brian Rosenworcel broke his kit in Nashville the night before. I know this because he wrote about it.

This song isn’t from that performance, being from 2016 and in Boston, but in 1999, at Five Points South Music Hall in Birmingham, this was the first song we heard.

For a decade, between 1994 and 2003, that was a terrific venue. I saw a lot of good shows there, including my first live Guster performance. Two college friends and I went. One of them is still a social media friend. I wonder if she remembers this show. It was a long time ago.

Again, different performance, but this was the second song in that show, and track 5 on “Lost and Gone Forever.”

This was the fourth tune from our concert, wonderful then as it is beautiful now.

I don’t recall the songs from the show, which took place on a Wednesday night, but I did discover a site that, somehow and for some reason, publishes setlists. They even estimate the length of the show, which has to be wrong, but they don’t list the other acts. I think The Push Stars opened for them.

Anyway, the record finished 1999 at 169 on the Billboard Top 200. They played eight of the 11 tracks that evening, including the single “Fa Fa,” which, for my money, is perhaps the weakest song in the band’s entire catalog. It peaked at 26 on the Top 40.

If I recall correctly, the guy that produced this record was on the early part of the tour, playing bass. If you read into the show notes link above — and you did, didn’t you? — you find out the guy hadn’t played a bass in years. Spare a thought for someone who is in a rhythm section with the Thunder God.

On this listen, as is so often the case on this fantastic record, “I Spy” really stands out.

Guster is a great band (and a great show each time I’ve seen them, catch ’em if you can), and “Lost and Gone Forever” is a a terrific record. Having two of their discs back-to-back is a wonderful treat. And, somehow, the Re-Listening project is just getting better and better.

May 23

This (Re-Listening) band is for lovers

There were two highlights to my day. First, and this came late in the day, so you can tell how quite things were otherwise, we took a nice long walk after I got in from the office. The temperature was mild-trending toward warm and the views were just right for the back half of May.

That’s on the path behind our house, which winds through the neighborhood and connects to other paths and sidewalks that will take you most anywhere in town, if you are willing to walk or run there. The path system, let’s call it, continues to grow, and all of that access is one of the more wonderful features of Bloomington, even if we tend to haunt one particular section of them.

The path closest to our house does stop on one end. If you walk behind some of the new developments you can pick up another part of the paved route, but first you must walk over grass. The horrors!

City or county, and I’m not sure which, because this spot is right at the line, takes good care of this area. There’s always a walkable, mowed stretch through here. They do take pretty good care of their multiuse corridors here.

The other highlight was that, when we came back in from our walk, we ran into our neighbor. It looks like we’ll be sitting out and chatting with them tomorrow evening. They’re funny, witty, have just the right sort of enthusiasm and are polite enough to laugh at all of the better-ish jokes. So, good neighbors.

We’re making good progress, of late, catching up on the Re-Listening project. Writing one of these every day has helped. And, believe it or not, we’re only two discs behind right now. The point here, of course, is a quick breeze through of all of my old CDs. I am listening to them in the car, in the order that I first came to own them. This is fun for memories and singalongs and good filler for the site. They’re not reviews, but whimsy, as most pop music should be.

So it is 1998 or 1999, though this is another 1997 disc. I remember specific things around this record, firstly that I came to find the band through streaming an alt station out of Atlanta. And this really gets down to two groups of people. OK, musicians and two other groups of people. Record label A&R types and the music programmers that put up with them.

In the 1990s there were maybe six or eight real programmers of what was left of alt rock. There were other stations, but they were following the leaders. One of those guys was in my hometown, but another was just a short car ride away, the late Sean Demery, who was the music director at WNNX, 99X Atlanta. Here’s a guy who was doing the morning drive, realized there was a guy already in their building who would be a better morning jock, and stepped away from that to take on the afternoon shift. This is all but unheard of. But Demery was also the guy who, a few years earlier, turned that station on its head, and made it the mad hatter of musical taste that it was. As his AJC obit says, “Demery helped turn 99X into a hugely successful station in the 1990s, a ground-breaking blend of Gen-X insouciance, goofiness, sophistication and musical diversity which cemented loyalty among its listeners.”

That’s where I found him, doing wild stuff in the afternoons. I had a small town morning show that was punching above its weight because I was inspired by guys like Demery, who like a few other pros’ pros were willing to spend a few moments listening or offering advice. The people that taught me broadcasting said, on the first day, that “dead air was the work of the devil.” Demery walked away from his microphone mid-sentence for a punchline, or to make a point. He’d play the same song over and over when he had a hit, and in those days he was never, ever wrong.

He was a pirate working for corporate media. A confounder, the tail end of a now-dead art, a visceral force of taste, the match that made the spark. The sounds that maintreamed into modern rock, the strains that influenced the generation that came after, his colleagues sold it for revenue, but in the 1990s Sean Demery was one of the few people in the country putting it before us. (Demery wrote, “99X never referred to itself as an Alternative station until after 2000 which is funny because by the time some consultant decided we should call it Alternative it had become a music and cultural norm.”)

And so it was with Guster. Here’s three guys from Massachusetts, with an incessant rhythm section of … bongos?

“Airport Song” was the debut single from their second studio album. People like Demery helped push it to 35 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. “Goldfly” was an independent release, but this was the album that got them picked up by Sire Records and Warner. It was all edgy, a bit ragged and spotty in places, and everything on it fits the moment.

I think, for about three years, this was what I listened to when I exercised or mowed the lawn, all of which comprised most of my music listening.

Now, I bought this late, because their third album was coming out. But this one will always be a favorite.

And I got to see them live for the first time not too long after that. They’re a band best seen live.

That explains why I’ve seen them three or five times. In fact, a Guster show was on our calendar for the day that everything shut down in March of 2020. I found out at the box office of the local venue. And so it was happy and sad, in May of 2021, to see them live in a documentary format. It was a hint and a reminder and just a great, great band. I’ve watched them their whole career, through the alt and the boop boop beep boop, the Beatles pastiche and everything else.

Probably I would have found them somewhere else, but I found them because of Sean Demery and the legendary 99X.

Go see them this year, because I can’t.

May 23

We play the song “Crazy Life” at the end of this post

I took this photo the other day, and I keep forgetting to publish it. That’s too bad, because it’s a great nod to the apparent lack of thoughtfulness of others. This is outside our building on campus, and these are handicapped parking spots, as you can see from the blue lines and the sign.

All of which makes this installment of Hoosier Hospitality amazing.

You can’t really move scooters unless you rent them, of course. The wheels are effectively seized to prevent free rides. So you have to muscle them around, which is what I had to do. But, on the off chance that anyone needed the space, at least someone was thinking about you.

I can say this about Hoosier Hospitality: it’s alliterative.

We haven’t run the tab feature in a few weeks, and my browser is groaning under the pressure. This is the place where I am memorializing pages that I might want to refer to again, but might not earn a bookmark.

The 25 best documentaries of all time, ranked:

The documentary genre is a more varied one than many people give it credit for. As a type of film, documentaries do usually aim to inform or educate about some kind of non-fiction story or topic, but that’s not their sole purpose. Some aim to evoke certain feelings or experiences more than anything else, others aim to present an argument or point of view in a persuasive manner, and others are mostly concerned with simply entertaining audiences the way a work of fiction might.

Furthermore, some documentaries aim to do a combination of the above, or maybe even none of the above, instead opting to do something else entirely. Exploring the world of documentary filmmaking can be a truly eye-opening thing to do, and reveal worlds or unique perspectives that aren’t as easy to explore through other genres.

James Brown’s historic concert, staged 24 hours after Martin Luther King’s assassination, is now restored and free to watch online. This show helped calm down Boston somewhat. It’s a legendary performance.

6 do’s and don’ts when buying used scuba gear:

Ok, so you’ve decided to buy your own scuba diving equipment. Whether you are newly certified or a seasoned diver, used scuba gear may seem like a great opportunity to save some money. Buying secondhand diving equipment can either be the greatest deal of your life or the biggest mistake, the difference is knowing what to look for.

We like to look out for you guys, so here are 6 tips to buy used scuba gear:

How solar farms took over the California desert: ‘An oasis has become a dead sea’:

Deep in the Mojave desert, about halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, a sparkling blue sea shimmers on the horizon. Visible from the I-10 highway, amid the parched plains and sun-baked mountains, it is an improbable sight: a deep blue slick stretching for miles across the Chuckwalla Valley, forming an endless glistening mirror.

But something’s not quite right. Closer up, the water’s edge appears blocky and pixelated, with the look of a low-res computer rendering, while its surface is sculpted in orderly geometric ridges, like frozen waves.

“We had a guy pull in the other day towing a big boat,” says Don Sneddon, a local resident. “He asked us how to get to the launch ramp to the lake. I don’t think he realised he was looking at a lake of solar panels.”

We return to 1998 in the Re-Listening project. For the blissfully uninitiated, I am going through all of my CDs in the order in which I acquired them. It’s a stroll down a musical memory lane. It’s fun. And I’m writing and sharing some of it here. These are not reviews, because the web definitely doesn’t need another quarter-century-too-late alt band review. But they are a good excuse to post videos, pad out some content and have a little fun, which is kinda the point of most music.

This record is from 1997, but from what surrounds it in my old CD books I know I picked this up the next year. I imagine I got it from one of the two independent music stores that were in town at the time, but I don’t remember that part, here. This is one of the alt bands that personified the 1990s, and you can hear that immediately in the first track.

Toad the Wet Sprocket saw this record, their last for more than a dozen years, climb to number 16 on the Billboard 200, both on the strength of what had become a dedicated fan base, but also the single “Come Down,” which settled nicely in the top 40 in the U.S. and in the top 10 in Canada.

That song was so ubiquitous I was certain Toad was putting it on every record, and every musical coordinator had it in shows, movies, and commercials, but apparently not. I can only blame myself, and the A&R people at Columbia Records who had this on the air somewhere within ear shot every 17 minutes of my early 20s.

And here’s Glen Phillips doing “Throw It All Away” solo. I can never decide if this, or the full band, is the better version.

The answer, of course, is which ever you hear live.

The whole record is a fine continuation of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s work. The production is great, it’s hard to argue with the instrumentation. Glenn Phillips and Todd Nichols are in full throat. Everything works and there’s a little something for every mood. But I am always listening to Coil to get to track 11.

This is what I wrote when I finally, finally saw Toad the Wet Sprocket live last year.

I don’t know if “Crazy Life” was my first protest song or the first for my slice of my generation, but I’m pretty sure it was the first one I really noticed. The first one I read about. And I read a lot about Peltier. I’ve never really settled on how I felt about it, not really, but this is Wounded Knee.

The Eighth Circuit thought a jury would have acquitted him had information improperly withheld from the defense been available, yet the court denied a new trial. And if you really dive into the story it’s easy to question how the system was used. But I don’t know, not really. None less than Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama have campaigned for him, though, and that means something.

The point is, this song made me look it up, and think, and ask questions of things in general and specifically. And I probably shouldn’t like a pop song this much, but anything that scrapes your brain for a quarter of a century is worth noting.

And I love Todd Nichols’ sound.

Toad have released two records in the years since, 2013’s “New Constellation,” which was a crowd-funded album, and the Starting Now (2021). Some of their other work, and re-work, will show up later in the Re-Listening project. And like Chris Spencer says at the end of that 1997 video, you can catch them on tour this year, too. We did, twice, last summer, and I’m a little bummed I won’t get to see them this time out. But you can!

May 23

Oh, the laughs we had today

I’ve been working on cleaning up the ol’ email. I use my inboxes as To Do lists, so the email count there never gets too high. Right now there are 20 emails in my inbox and that, to me, is too high.

The other side of the coin is that there are folders aplenty. And sometimes those need to be cleaned out, too. Anyway, today I was able to wipe out the last of the old communiques from a no-longer important folder. This was the graphic Google rewarded me with.

I’ve deleted the label name to protect the innocent, but seeing that … that was a good feeling.

And it was worth a giggle. But not the biggest giggle of the day. But you’d need several anecdotes worth of backstory and 71 words to be able to properly appreciate that one.

After all of that email fun, and other paperwork fun, I got out for a nice little bike ride this evening. It was an easy hour, just 17 miles and change before the dark clouds threatened.

More urgent was the absence of any legs. This, I told myself, was just one more ride to try to feel better in the hardest gears. It was the regular roads, but the third ride in the last six days, after a week or so being off the bike. Just — huff– getting — wheeze — my legs back.

It was an almost perfect ride, though. There are presently four criteria in this category of bike rides. First, it has to either feel super easy or incredibly hard. Second, no matter which of the first, I have to be able to exit the bike at the end with grace and ease. Third, my shoes stay in the clips for the entire ride, meaning I never have to put my foot on the ground. And, fourth, no close passes.

The first did not happen, because the sensations were mediocre throughout. I almost got the second one — but since the first criteria wasn’t satisfied, it doesn’t count, not really. The third one did happen. My feet stayed in the pedals the entire ride. And the fourth criteria was almost met, but for a truck just near the end of the route. Thanks, black pickup truck.

So, really, about one-and-a-half of the criteria were met.

We were trying to recruit, via text message, a colleague and friend to a particular cause this evening. It’s a poli sci, comm theory guy, but he might be professionally miscast. He’s an outdoors man, a keen student of nature. And now he is very much interested in, among other ecological things, the health of the insect world.

Like most serendipitously random conversations that can tolerate puns, I drove the initial joke of insect biodiversity in the media straight into the ground.

My lovely bride? She knows who she married.

We’re still trying to make up ground on the Re-Listening project. I’m listening to all of my old CDs in order, of course. That’s not the part where I’m behind. I’m behind in needlessly writing about it here for content filler — and embedded videos. So let’s get to it.

We’re in early 1999, contextually, listening to Duncan Sheik’s second record, the 1998 release, “Humming.” He’d gotten accidentally famous on his debut record, which “Barely Breathing” helped drive to gold record status, earned a Grammy nomination and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a year. I vaguely recall an interview once where he talked about playing small clubs this week, and then giant theaters the next. I’ve always thought, on the basis of nothing more than that interview, I’ve always thought that this release was a deliberate choice to go the other way. Less obvious pop, more introspective art.

That’s the first track. The album title, I’m pretty sure comes out of these lyrics after the bridge. You’re also listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which makes several appearances throughout the record.

Atlantic Records released this one as a single.

Didn’t really register on the charts, but it got him a guest slot on Beverly Hills, 90210.

This was the second single, and part of why I think choices were made on this record. Also, why couldn’t they get John Cusack in for this video?

Probably I’ve mentioned this before, but two lifetimes ago when I was a reporter and on the air everyday, I decided to replace vocal exercises with a few musicians. Duncan Sheik was one of those. And, for a time, this record was one of those things I played in my car a lot at 3:30 a.m. on my way to work.

I just rubbed my face, hard, at that memory. Evening typing “3:30 a.m.” made me tired. The point, though, memories of being ultra-sleep deprived aside, the vocal work Duncan Sheik does always impresses me. The man’s still got it, too. I ran across this cover a year or two ago.

These days, he’s not working as a touring musician, but he’s produced a lot of others’ work. There’s a lot of theater credits under his name — he won a Tony in 2007 — and you can find his music is all over movies and TV, as well. He won a Grammy the very next year.

He’ll appear in the Re-Listening project once or twice more, too. And he’s got about five more albums I don’t own, besides. And so I’ll add those to the list, too.

Up next on the list, musically speaking, another staple of the 1990s alt rock scene. But, first, the weekend!