Re-Listening


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.”


17
Jan 23

Is this January? Today did not feel like January …

Wow, what a day. This wasn’t January, but it was. The high reached 54 and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The highlight of the day, then, was the day. I even went outside for four minutes to walk around two buildings and take this photo. Things like this need documentation.

The Library of Congress and the Internet Archive will surely be along shortly to document the moment. And they should. Sunny and 54 degrees! In January!

I finished this book this evening. (I skimmed about the second half of it.)

Remarkable Journeys of the Second World War isn’t that good. The author interviews people who took part in the war. They’re all British subjects, and their lives and roles varied. Here’s a POW, there’s a nurse, a merchant seaman, member of the Home Guard, and so on. Their stories are theirs, and some of them are riveting, as you might expect. But the author, she gets in the way of those stories with her own narrative. It gets redundant.

There comes a point when you pass through respect to enamored that feels disingenuous.

I bought it for $1.99, so it’s fine. That I skimmed a book is the thing here. Couldn’t tell you the last time I did that.

The last chapter were short stories written by her grandfather, who was a POW from the Royal Air Force, they were all worth reading. The author discovered, and published, his memoir. That I’d read much more closely.

Next up on the Re-Listening Project, where we’re just making recollections through the old CDs played, in order, in the car, is the first Van Halen greatest hits. “Best Of – Volume I” has most of the songs you’d expect for a greatest hits, was rumored to be the reason that Sammy Hagar left the band, brought David Lee Roth, briefly, back into the fold and, ultimately set the stage for Gary Cherone’s brief time fronting the band. And, honestly, somewhere in all of that was when I got worn out by Van Halen.

I remember this well. It was the fall of 1996. School was busy in more ways than one. This was spinning a lot on the drive in to campus from Gentilly. Sunny days, warm skies, a hilariously mediocre football team but, otherwise, everything was ascendant. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on the way to building the second three-peat. I was helping quiz my roommate, who would, the next month, rise to brilliant national prominence. I believe I was doing music shifts at the radio station, and I managed to be a lot of other places, too. Ahh, the energy and vitality of youth. And, also, David Lee Roth.

I am older now than he was then, so there’s that. (And he was born in Bloomington, apparently? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that.)

Anyway, the first Van Halen cassette I bought was “OU812” so I missed the Roth years. To me, the band was Van Haggar. Further, I am of the not-at-all-consequential-and-yet-controversial opinion that Alex van Halen is a terrific drummer, but Michael Anthony was the secret ingredient to the whole thing. A greatest hits disc got me most of the songs I’d need from the early days, which was perfect. I’m in no way a Van Halen completist.

It seems weird to write a great deal in this space about a now decades old greatest hits compilation. Instead, let’s briefly touch on one of the news from this …. now decades old release. This one, the last ever recorded with the original lineup, is quite good.

No video was ever made, creative differences apparently, but this was a radio hit. They topped the US Rock Chart for six weeks, the third time Van Halen did that with Roth; it was the band’s 14th number one, overall.

This greatest hits came, for me, with an inescapable realization, way back then, and I can’t not think of it today. For an act featuring one of the greatest commercial guitar players of all time, the late, great Eddie Van Halen put a lot of synth in his music.

The one that came to mind this morning, listening to this song: charismatic as he is, and before you could wave it away as his being a rock star, what was Roth like as a teenager?

Next up is Counting Crows’ second studio album, which was released two weeks prior to the Van Halen greatest hits. But this is the order I bought them in, and I shuffled through them at about an equal pace this time through. I have most of the Counting Crows catalog, but I just grew out of it, as all of us should. Time and place and all. (But I’m committed to this gimmick and the records get a lot better. Soon, I think.)

For some reason I always think of driving in Opelika when this song comes on. There must have been some restaurant or store or something that was involved. Maybe it’s a memory from juco classes the next summer. There’s an overpass, and too many decibels, and that’s the memory.

This one always seemed relatable, somehow. Who can say why? That’s what you get when you listen to emo pop rock in the free time of your teens or early 20s.

I always wondered how much of what Adam Duritz wrote and performed was real or in the character. It seems a dangerous thing to put yourself forward to profit from whatever happens next in your personal life. But I like to think this one is more real than not. There’s some wry humor here. Also, I think it is, in pretty much every way, the most lasting track on the record for me.

Also, it is, I think, just about the earliest possible namecheck for Ben Folds. I own no Ben Folds, but I did see him the next year.

Next time we check in on the Re-Listening project, we’ll have a soundtrack. It’ll be a … breezy one.


11
Jan 23

We almost nailed the timing

On the subject of time, what part of day is this, even? I ask because it basically looked like this, a proper Bloomington winter day, all day. Just the faintest variations of this.

In the morning there was a fog advisory, which gave way to a gloomy bank of fog in the midday. In the afternoon the fog was relieved by a grim rain, which, in turn, yielded to a foggy devil-may-care mood. In the early evening it was an attitude of You’re still looking for a change?

And that was the day. It didn’t last forever, but it held a different sort of stasis. If you were romantic about it, you could say it had a certain mysteriousness. I wouldn’t say that. We’re entering mid-January, when a boy’s thoughts turn to mid-February, when he knows, in his heart, this should be ending and spring beginning. But, then, this is a proper Bloomington winter day. There’s 95 more days of this.

Back to the Re-Listening project, where we’re just moving through all of my old CDs in the car, because why not. Some of these come with memories and stories. These aren’t reviews, but whimsy, as most music should be.

I think this was another cassette-to-CD replacement, given where this lands in my CD books, when it was released and all of that. I have a vague memory of the cassette version, anyway. Anyway, Bush’s debut was 1994, this is about 1996 for me, and I didn’t come to it late.

But what I found on this listen is that post-grunge arrived at just the right time for me to find it interesting. Sometimes music is entirely about timing, is what the Re-Listening project teaches us. And this is a good example of that. This record saw three singles go into the charts, and it went platinum six times, but this week I’ve just been “Meh.” It feels a bit more hollow this time around.

Still like Alien, though. That’s a neat little sound.

We saw them one February when I was in college. I think I might still have the tour shirt. No Doubt, Goo Goo Dolls and Bush. No Doubt had just begun to enjoy that mainstream moment of introducing most of us to ska music and selling a lot of records. Goo Goo Dolls, having not yet discovered the secret to making money doing pop ballads, were still experimenting with their punk-grunge crossover and were pretty bad, actually. Then Gavin and Bush came out and played a lot of distortion and did rock ‘n’ roll things. It isn’t on that record, but they closed the show with their cover of “The One I Love.”

And, uhhhh, that’s not what that song is about.

More Bush later, maybe future records will appeal to me differently.

Which brings us to a single I don’t remember having ever owned. And I’m trying to make sense of this. It was August. I was alone at school, waiting on my roommate to come back. I’d probably just finished classes. (Made dean’s list that term as I recall.) I wasn’t dating anyone at the moment, which would be an easy way to explain this, but, I can’t explain it.

The video is well-lit, isn’t it? Bryan Adams took this 1980s pastiche to 24 on the Hot 100 and Mainstream Top 40. It peaked at sixth on the AC chart. Other than it is a two-song single, I don’t know why I would have picked this up. I guess we’ll have to invent a story.

Let’s invent a bad story. It was a late night at Wal-Mart and I was buying snacks and this was an impulse by to justify buying anything. And, also, they didn’t have the thing I actually wanted, but this song was OK, so why not. And maybe someone will like it — because when you’re that age that can sometimes matter.

That story probably has some truth to it.

This story is certain. I bought this single because the lyrics made a heavy reference to Birmingham, and that’s what one does some time. Also, the director of the video went the extra mile to make it seem real.

Did you see the Auburn bumper sticker? Did you catch Fob James on the front page of The Birmingham News? That’s Amanda Marshall’s most successful Canadian single. While it went to number three on the RPM chart there, it peaked at 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. (Canadians like us! And songs about moving on, second chances, and leaving guys like Virgil, who are just real gems, we’re all sure.)

I looked for that paper. There doesn’t seem to be an image capture of the front page. (Imagine the three paragraph aside I wrote about digitized newspaper archives and the search I undertook.)

I did find the two above-the-fold stories. The one on the left is headlined “Insurers’ legal luck may rise dramatically under lawsuit reform.”

Insurance companies that have been losers in the state’s courtrooms could reverse their misfortunes if lawmakers approve business-backed proposals aimed at overhauling Alabama’s civil justice system, legal scholars said.

The proposals, advanced by the Business Council of Alabama and passed last week by the state House of Representatives, would establish laws at least as harsh as the sweeping changes adopted in Illinois and Texas last year, legal experts in those states said.

While most debate in Alabama has focused on limiting punitive damage awards, the businessbacked proposals contain subtle wordings that would give companies _ especially insurers – a strong shield in the courtroom.

“These insurance ‘reforms’ are little more than a subsidy for the industry,” said Michael Rustad, a professor at Boston’s Suffolk University who has studied court verdicts from Alabama since 1985.

Jerry Underwood wrote that story. He stayed with The Birmingham news until 2012 or so. Then the business editor, he went into public relations, and is now writing in the blurry lines in between, best I can tell.

The lead story in that newspaper was about the governor. Fob James was wrapping up the first year of his second term.

With the nation’s capital in the clutches of political hard-liners, Alabama’s Gov. Fob James is, by contrast, generating less emotional heat.

The Republican governor, who on Tuesday completes the first year of his second term in the state’s highest office, is accessible – he’ll talk to almost anyone on his weekly call-in radio show.

And he’s seemingly mellowed since he last occupied the governor’s chair from 1979 to 1983. In December, for instance, he agreed with a caller to his show and overturned a ban on visits to members of prison chain gangs on Christmas.

Yep. Chain gangs. And that the prisoners that were one part chained work crews and, no kidding, one part tourist attraction, could now receive visitors on Christmas day was a sign of the governor going “mellow,” wrote Robin DeMonia, who is now doing strategic communication.

James also resisted federal funds for grade schools and gutted a lot of higher education. But he mellowed, see, because he dropped a costly and long running lawsuit.

Alabama has ended its fight against a college-desegregation lawsuit after spending 15 years and $25-million on it.

Gov. Fob James, Jr., last month withdrew his appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that required Alabama to enhance its two historically black public universities with new academic programs and bigger endowments.

The Governor, who called the ruling “out of sync with reality,” questioned whether Alabama A&M and Alabama State Universities were worth the extra money. But after critics blasted him for prolonging the suit, the Governor dropped the appeal.

The 1990s were a heck of a time in Alabama, basically.

I’m not sure what party James is in these days. He started out, as most people of his time and place, as a Democrat. He became a Republican and then a “born-again Democrat” when he ran for, and won, the governor’s office in 1978. Ever the opportunist, in 1994, he became a Republican once more and won the governor’s office again. These days he’s retired in Florida. A few years ago he sued one of his sons for fraud. But we’ve gotten way, waaay, off track here.

A guy named Jeth Weinrich directed that video, and I would like to compliment his choice, decades ago, of authenticity. The woman drives that car north, crosses into Tennessee and then, apparently, abandons the car in Seattle. I put this in a map, that’s one of the two ways you’d go on that 38-hour drive. But most of all, the Auburn bumper sticker was a nice touch. Good eye by the Canadians.

As for the rest of the record, there are other songs like “Let It Rain” and “Last Exit to Eden” which are overstrung power ballads. There are a couple, like “Fall From Grace” which always seemed destined for a rom-com.

And there’s this song that was surprisingly good, and still holds up well.

“Sitting On Top of the World” just missed its calling as a montage in that rom-com. I imagine something comical about painting or gardening and … maybe water skiing.

And when the too-cute couple finally get to smooching, this would be the song underneath.

I can only assume that this didn’t happen because no directors or music supervisors bought this record. And we are all the less for it.

Have you noticed the boots she’s wearing in that photoshoot yet? The 1990s were a heck of a time everywhere.

Amanda Marshall released two more studio albums after that, in 1999 and 2001. Each of them had hits in her native Canada. And then, somehow, she released three greatest hits records. There were some legal difficulties with her label, which might explain both the lack of output and mess of greatest hits. She’s been fairly private and quiet since.

But one final note. That newspaper that got us all distracted? It was published on Jan. 14, 1996. Twenty-seven years ago, Saturday. We almost nailed the timing.