May 23

Photos from the drive back

The long weekend was long and fun and now it has come to an end. I know this because we got in the car and drove in the reverse direction we enjoyed last Friday. Through the hills and onto the interstate, meeting a friend for a quick lunch in Nashville, and then back to the big roads to go all the way to Indiana.

Here are some of the views. These are, I believe, from somewhere in western Kentucky.

And this one too, out of the passenger window.

Near the Kentucky-Indiana border there’s a weird turn we always miss. We even make mental notes of it, and sometimes say it aloud: don’t miss the weird turn. We missed the weird turn.

So we went eight miles up the road, took the next exit and a scenic detour.

Everything looks great to start the summer.

Seasonal changes happen at their own pace, and our perceptions of them take their own time, too. In a few days we’ll grow accustomed to all of that green again.

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

They can’t all be momentous

Have you ever had a day where nothing happens, and you still wonder where the day went? You might think that weird, I just think of it as Wednesday.

The building is all but empty. I don’t think I even said anything aloud to anyone today. And, yet, where did the day go? I did reply to an important email this morning, but that was trumped by my peanut butter sandwich, which might have been the highlight of the day.

There will be more to my Thursday, I am sure of it.

Can’t be much less, really.

The highlight of the day was the weather, which was just about perfect. Sunny and mild, it was 74 at the warmest point of the day, but was a warm mid-60s experience on my way out of the office. It was perfect for a bike ride.

The Yankee is fighting off a sinus infection, and so she contented herself sitting on the deck reading, while I set out to turn the pedals by myself. It was just me and my shadow.

The other day I rode down one of my favorite roads in the area. It’s an uppity country road, pretending to be an overly ambitious private drive. Except there are a lot of driveways on that road, but there’s a great downhill and one incredible stand of woods you ride through. I recorded the woodsy part, because everything was so green and perfect.

Today, I rode down another of my favorite roads. It’s a dead-end street off one of our regular routes. I’ve ridden it twice, both times in the fall, and on some of the most spectacular autumn days. This 2019 shot, you may note, sometimes appears as a header on the blog.

I’ve made videos of the ride back out from the bottom of the road. This one was from last fall.

Same road, but from my first trip on it, in October of 2019 — and, yes, YouTube did a terrible job on the compression here. Trust me when I say the video looks much better in its raw form. So much so that I kept it on my phone. Give me a shout, I’ll show it to you sometime …

But, I thought, I should try this road in the springtime. Today was the day.

I overcooked it on the first curve today, so I had to abort the video. (Oh no! I’ll have to go back!) But here’s a photo from approximately the same view as the photo above.

It’s almost as pretty in green as it is in the yellows and reds and oranges of October.

We’re playing catch-up on the Re-Listening project, and today is all about the late 1990s blues. And for late 1990s mainstream blues, we’re talking about Johnny Lang. We’re going to address two albums at once, since they show up back-to-back in my CD books. I think I’m in a mini-stretch of CDs that were part of a bulk purchase. (Did I have to complete a Columbia House contract or something?)

Anyway, these are are out-of-order in my book. “Wander This World” is Lang’s third studio album. It came out in late 1998. He was an unbelievable 17 years old.

Is there a live acoustic version of the title track? There is a live acoustic version of the title track.

Really, if you think about it, Johnny Lang might be the key to the ultimate demise of AOL’s social cachet. What else could they do after that?

There’s a lot of great stuff on this 17-year-old’s record. (I drove listening to this and I still shake my head at that.) This might be one of my favorite tracks, and classic twelve-bar blues.

A blues musician named Luther Allison wrote that song. People called him the Jimi Hendrix of blues, and that’s as good a reason as you need to play the original.

Allison died a year earlier, in August of 1997. In January of that year Lang released “Lie to Me,” his second studio album. This thing hit shelves and, the next day, he turned 16. The title track is the first track.

There’s a fair amount of covers, blues standards I guess we should say by now, on this record. Here’s Lang’s live performance of an Albert Collins classic.

“Good Morning, School Girl” is definitely a standard. You can’t have blues as a genre without it. John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson first recorded it in 1937. Here’s another live performance from Lang.

I included the live performances because, under every video there’s a comment raving about his live shows. Never had the chance to see him live. And, sadly, he doesn’t tour any more. He put out five more albums after this pair, three of them going right to the top of one chart or another. He’s been dealing with some sort of vocal cord problem since the very beginning of 2020. Perhaps the last thing he was able to do is play in the house band for this concert.

It seems he’s gone silent online since then. (Maybe he’s got the whole thing figured out.) Hopefully he’s cashing steep royalty checks.

These are great records, for ears both fresh or experienced, and some of these tracks are probably going to take on some importance in a historical sense. I picked them up for atmosphere — some things just seem like the soundtrack for a party or some other event, but never figured out what that event might be. That has more to do with my imagination than the work, because these two discs are still powerfully strong.

May 23

Wednesday, May 10th

May 23

After a long time, it got here quickly

My mind wanders better when I ride my bike on the road, as opposed to when my bike is mounted on the trainer indoors. I don’t know why that is. It seems like the opposite should be true. Indoors, I am in a small 8 x 10 light-blue room. There are a few windows showing the backyard, which is quite nice, but it remains a static condition. Lately 90 minutes is the extent of time I want to stay in that unchanging way, but the only thing my wanders to then is, “How much longer?” Where does my mind go the first 75 or 80 minutes?

It is an honest mystery, one that hasn’t occurred to me until after today’s hard-easy bike ride on roads and under sunny skies. Today, I spent about an hour pondering the nature of suddenness. It was 61 degrees and the world felt big with possibilities. This is finals week. Young people are graduating. Graduating? Already? Can that really be the case? So suddenly? People are saying so long, or see you next fall.

How did we get here so suddenly? This feels rapid.

Coming to realize that this is May — that the term is ending, that summer will soon begin, that my schedule can simplify itself, that the weather is maybe finally growing consistently nice, that these are things to be enjoyed and savored, and they are here before me, now — is a small elation. Remember the feeling, as a kid, you had when you thought you were getting away with something? It feels like that kind of giddy.

And how can that be the case? Why, just the other day was spring break, and that felt exactly the same way. Where did this semester, this year, the last three of them, go?

You almost don’t even notice the little voice saying, “Finally … :

I thought on this for most of my ride, but came up with no real answers. You’d think, riding on open roads, you’d spend time concentrating on other things. The wind, your lungs, the sound of your tires on asphalt, how that black Audi deliberately executed a dangerous close pass. But, no, it was the nature of the notion of time. Except for the places where I was riding through curves and turns, and passed that one farm that was a little light on the fragrance of nature, today. Does the livestock know what time of year it is?

Anyway, shadow selfie.

And, later in the evening, having realized how my conscious wandering mind acts on the road versus on the trainer, I have to wonder why. I asked the shadow. He was characteristically zen about the whole thing. Maybe that’s by design, too.

Time to dive back into the music for the Re-Listening project. It’s all of my old CDs, in their order of acquisition. And this is one I listened to twice before I started writing about it here, because there are no rules or expectations here, and I like this record. We journey back to the early fall of 1998 and the third major label release by Better Than Ezra, “How Does Your Garden Grow?” They got dropped by their label right after this record, where they parked two songs in the top 40, again proving the ridiculousness of the music industry.

“At the Stars” made it to 17 on the Modern Rock chart. If you had time for another 1,500 words on this, I’d argue it’s a part of a long-running trilogy-plus arc throughout the band’s catalog. Or you could just imagine all the rom-coms this could have featured in, or the dates it played a part of in 1998 and 1999.

Tom Drummond was experimenting, a lot, with his bass guitars, and the sounds were peppy and eclectic throughout.

Kevin Griffin, in addition to fronting this band for three-plus decades now, has a prolific second career as a songwriter for other acts. I like to think this was the song where he figured out he’d do that.

There’s a line in there, after the bridge, that I told a girl when she broke up with me the next year. It was a direct ripoff, sure, but it also applied. She caught the reference, but not its meaning.

If you had time for a further 2,000-3,000 words on this, I could make a convincing argument that if the producer got really selective, they could re-release the greatest concept EP of all time from just a few of the tracks on this record.

They re-released this record a few years ago in 5.1 stereo. YouTube’s compressions aren’t an improvement on the original mix by any means. But I wonder …

Griffin said:

It’s our most sonically adventurous album. At that time there was some great music happening — not just alternative rock, but an explosion of electronic music like Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow and the experimental Björk albums, like Post, and Radiohead’s OK Computer. So we made this grand sweeping album with a lot of electronic flourishes and a big orchestral string section. We really went for it and the original recordings had a great sonic character, but got a very compressed, late ’90s mix. So a lot of the textures and nuances were lost in the original stereo release. Richard LaBonté [of Music Valet, the 5.1 remix specialty label that spearheaded the project] was the catalyst for the remix. When he approached us, we were thrilled. The album was initially unappreciated. It probably got us dropped from Elektra Records, because we’d made two very commercial albums before that, and then went down the rabbit hole creatively. But it’s our fans’ favorite album.

Should I start buying things in Dolby 5.1 now? Would I notice the difference?

Anyway, the last time I saw BTE was in 2018. They were celebrating the 25th anniversary of their major label debut that year, on the road with Barenaked Ladies who were, themselves, celebrating a 30th anniversary that same year. These are the acts I like now, I guess. It was inevitable as it was obvious, I suppose. Better Than Ezra is apparently close to releasing a new album — possibly this year. And they’re doing limited dates this summer, though none of those shows are close by where I’ll be. If they were, though, I would be there.

The next album in the Re-Listening project is “Appetite for Destruction.” I bought it as part of a bulk deal. I never had it in another format, and picking this up was really just feeling a need to acknowledge something that was important to rock ‘n’ roll from 1987-1989. The singles, except “Nightrain” all hold up. The rest is just kinda … there, but that’s likely just because I have no strong association with the CD. Plus, after 30 million units sold, it’s challenging to write anything new here. And, these days, it is impossible to listen to this and not picture Slash in a Capital One commercial. The first single is about heroin addiction, and now there’s banking spots. We’re mere days away from reverse mortgage promos and Muzak at this point. I guess i just don’t have … an appetite for it.