This is the last ride. The pop singer addresses the audience. He lies about unrequited love. We all scream for truth, but he denies us. Please don’t put your life into the hands of a rock n roll band. Reach out for me. Hold me tight. Hold that memory. Feelings getting stronger with every embrace. Give me the bones of what you believe. I could show you incredible things. Magic? Madness? Heaven? Sin? It’s a bad religion. The father, son, and holy ghost? They all turned away love when they needed it most. I’ve been riding with the ghost and this is the last ride.
There are a few television shows that really satisfied my thirst for music over the years. Of course, there are the shows that purely focused on music – Austin City Limits (still to this day) and Sessions at W. 54th on PBS. MTV brought me 120 Minutes. Then, there were the talk and variety shows. It was always a source of anticipation to see who would be on Saturday Night Live. Hell, even the reruns on Comedy Central were responsible for me truly discovering Graceland, and giving me a true appreciation for folks like Randy Newman.
But, as far talk shows, none was more fulfilling than David Letterman. I didn’t become an avid Letterman viewer until he took on the Late Show at CBS. But, it was clear who was truly with it when it came to music. The guy with the bad jokes and gargantuan chin had Bette Midler, Mariah Carey, and Richard Marx. David Letterman had the bands that I listened to. The Tonight Show came through every once in awhile, but The Late Show was always on point.
The most important factor was that you could tell that Letterman was a fan of music. He might not be into all the acts that were booked each night, but if he was into it, he let you know. He most certainly had a thing for drums.
I rarely discovered anyone on Letterman’s stage, but I most certainly did my best to know at certain times over the years who would be performing on it that night.
Below are many of my favorite performances over the years, or at the very least, the ones I can remember off hand.
“We’re on Letterman, who cares.”
There’s accordion in that?
Dude… Burt Bacharach is cool.
British Invasion of other sorts
His favorite bands performing his favorite songs
Beginning new incarnations
They came and destroyed
They came in tuxedoes and then destroyed
Sometimes an artist would make their mark
Sometimes they came “all the way from Brooklyn”
Sometimes it would be the King of New York
Paul would make the drinks
He’ll take all of that you got
Sometimes they would abandon him
Sometimes they would surprise him
Sometimes they would surprise me
Sometimes they would prompt a road trip
They would play my favorite songs
It would be my favorite band
They would stop by to say their own goodbyes
They would become his favorites and perform fitting tributes
This is for you Dave…
This Pop Thing is Starting to Make Sense
So, it finally happened.
I actually discovered that I like a Taylor Swift song.
One day while Taylor and I were on a road trip, I fell asleep in the car. I woke up, and heard this song on the radio… I asked, “What is this?!”
Taylor started laughing… “Really?!”
“Yes! Really! Who is this? I really like it.”
“It’s Taylor Swift!”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve heard other Taylor Swift songs. None of them have ever impressed me or even grabbed me. However… “Blank Space” is absolutely incredible. I’ve been obsessed with the song ever since.
Anyway… They say it happens to folks all the time… I, however, did not suffer an episode of vertigo.
This Pop Thing Is Getting Really Really Really Really Out of Control
I’m a regular reader of Pitchfork. Recently a friend of mine sent me this write-up on the latest “gem” by Carly Rae Jepsen.
The amount of time and depth of discussion about this song is simply laughable. The fact that these folks get paid to pontificate about Carly Rae Jepsen is really really really hilarious. CRJ (as the kids refer to her) doesn’t represent any change in feminism. CRJ doesn’t represent any populist movement in today’s music landscape. CRJ does not represent anything on a larger cultural scale. If you even think about arguing with me, please do not utter the words “gender roles,” or I will probably hurt you.
This is a formulaic pop song. That’s it.
And this song really, really, really, really, really lacks substance. It sounds like it was written by a female contestant on The Bachelor.
Give me Haim.
Give me Chvrches.
Give me Twin Shadow trying to recreate Foreigner’s greatest moment.
Give me “Blank Space.”
I have a feeling that two years from now, I’ll hear this song in a shopping mall somewhere and ask aloud, “Is that the new Carly Rae Jepsen song?” And my wife will say, “Ummm… No. That’s the one she put out two years ago.” And then we’ll argue about it for ten minutes because that’s how really, really, really, really, really forgettable this track is to me.
This Pop Thing Is a Science
No. Apparently, it really is science…
Listen to this feature from Studio 360 (it begins at the 22 minute mark)…
This Pop Thing Is Art
Father John Misty.
I’ve really been enjoying his new album – I Love You, Honeybear. It’s definitely one of the finest releases so far this year.
Watch this brilliant performance from last year… It’s equal parts Don McLean and Andy Kaufman.
So, as the year ends, I have decided to write about twenty years ago…
This was a pivotal year in music for folks my age. “Alternative” music had peaked, and not only that, but it was sharing equal time on MTV with hip-hop stars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2-Pac, and Biggie. All the while, the Beastie Boys straddled both genres with yet another masterpiece of their own. “Grunge” was officially dead. Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell were declaring the death of a genre they never liked being categorized under, and bands like Pavement and Weezer were calling for you to “cut your hair” and wear glasses “like Buddy Holly.” Rock and roll hasn’t been the same since. I argue that 1994 was it’s last banner year. Where in 1991, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana broke through to the mainstream, “jam bands” like Dave Matthews Band and R.E.M.-influenced Hootie and Blowfish created a world where frat-boys all across America could get in touch with their sensitive side. Twenty years into his career, one of rock and roll’s greats released his second solo album, and The Man in Black found a new creative spark. Finally, 1994 was a year of second comings. A second British Invasion, a second Woodstock, and for the second time, punk became a “new” religion to America’s youth.
Just look at some of the albums that were released in 1994…
When I think back on the music of 1994, I think about my younger brother. That year, we actually had really similar taste in music. The main reason being that in 1994, they actually played the music that I liked on the radio. You see, there was an actual “alternative music” radio station then. Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. – all played in regular rotation on a radio station in Greenville, South Carolina. I listened to that station, so naturally – my brother did as well. We heard the same songs, and bought the same music at the record store. We didn’t exactly own the copies of all the same albums. There were bands that I bought into, and bands that he bought into. I was mostly reacting to what I saw on 120 Minutes on MTV. He was reacting to what he heard on the radio. We both bought some outright shit back then. But, when I think back on some of the albums that he selected that I didn’t? He did a pretty damn good job for a 12-13 year-old kid. As I graduated high school, and he ventured through it, our taste in music saw some divergence. Our Osmond duet would say he was “a little more Goodie Mob, and I was a little more Alternative Country (whatever that is).” Our musical paths have crossed more recently over the last 10 years. I was thinking the other day how interesting it would be if we gathered up our 1994 CD collection together. It would be pretty amazing.
I feel that I should mention how important soundtracks were in 1994. They were a huge tool for the music industry and generating an audience for the film. Soundtracks were also a source of discovering new bands. There were some classic soundtracks in 1994. The Crow. Pulp Fiction. Natural Born Killers. Reality Bites. Forrest Gump taught the kids about the classics. Above the Rim brought us “Regulate.” And, of course… Who could forget this?
Some people ask me… “Jon, how did you amass such a large music collection?” The truth is, it has multiplied as my income has multiplied. So, you do the math. However, from 1992-1995… I was apart of this exclusive music club. You might have heard of it. Columbia House? Yeah. So, here’s the trick to amassing a large CD collection at a young age with no source of personal income – it’s a step-by-step process. Cut out a Columbia House subscription card out of a magazine, or fill out a Columbia House subscription card that comes in the mail. My parents may have called it junk mail, but I promise you, it was pure gold. Select 12 CD’s that you want, and mail it in. It only cost 1 penny! (Again, this might not be how my parents recall it.) Anyway, sign up two, maybe eight different times (under different aliases), and you are off to a wonderland of musical delight. Just stay on top of those monthly selections, folks! Nobody wants to get stuck with a copy of Bigger, Better, Faster, More! that they didn’t ask for.
Today we live in an age of immediate access to just about any source of media you could want. If you’re a music geek like myself, it’s very easy to just get stuck in the now. “It’s 2014, I don’t have time to listen to anything from 2013. No, I’ve moved on.” Luckily, I’m not like that, but I see that in a lot of today’s youth. In 1994, we still had songs from 1991 or 1992 in heavy rotation. It existed that way on MTV, as well as on the radio. Even though Siamese Dream came out in 1993, that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening to it all the time in 1995. It was because of the limited access that we had as consumers. This was pre-Napster – pre-BitTorrent. You got the most out of the CDs that you owned. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I find it hard to keep up with my own listening habits in today’s music-consuming culture. The early-90s had many of their own classics, but, the albums that were released in 1994 had greater staying-power. Hell, I remember introducing folks in college or even after college that to Jeff Buckley for the first time – as much as 10 years after Grace had been released. They didn’t even remember “Last Goodbye” being a Buzz Clip on MTV. There are so many memories that I have attached to these albums. I remember friends and I gathering together in a circle to listen to our friend Emily sing “Dreaming My Dreams” long after that album had been released. I remember late-night drunken sing-alongs to Weezer’s “Blue Album” on my friend Jon’s porch. I was at least a freshman in college then. Sure. I got rid of my copy of The Offspring’s Smash long ago, but Ill Communication? No. A constant fixture in the background of house parties all through college. I talked earlier about my younger brother… He might not even realize it, but his first dance at his wedding was to a song from 1994.
I’m including a 1994 mix with this post. It’s 3 discs worth. You can download here. I’ll have a streaming version available later. The following albums and songs will not be featured, but at some point in 1994 played a prominent role in my life.
Under the Table and Dreaming – Dave Matthews Band
Hitchhike to Rome – Old 97’s
Sixteen Stone – Bush
Throwing Copper – Live
Pisces Iscariot – Smashing Pumpkins
Welcome to the Cruel World – Ben Harper
Smash – The Offspring
Purple – Stone Temple Pilots
Under the Pink – Tori Amos
Jar of Flies – Alice in Chains
Live Through This – Hole
Four – Blues Traveler
Day for Night – The Tragically Hip
American Thighs – Veruca Salt
Stranger Than Fiction – Bad Religion
Betty – Helmet
“Little Bastard” by The Ass Ponys
“Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow
“Secret” by Madonna
“Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories
“Regulate” by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg
The early 1990s was a time for serious people. The excess of the 1980s had turned into a long apathetic hangover. “What now?” so many asked. It was an even more interesting time be a teenager. The music of 1994 was a soundtrack to all those mixed-emotions. The longing. A longing to belong. A longing to be a part of something more. A longing to be loved. There was a lot of longing back then. I don’t long for much of anything anymore, except maybe a nap. So, here I sit. New Year’s Eve 2014. Yet, I’m writing about twenty years ago. It’s not that I’m avoiding 2014. It was a great year. A great year in music. There were a couple of classics released this year that I will probably share with my grandchildren. I’m not avoiding 2014 for personal reasons, either. This year has been one of my favorites, personally. My first wedding anniversary. My first home (mortgage). It’s been a busy year with some great surprises. Maybe that’s why I am so inspired by this eve by my past. Maybe because I can’t believe where I find myself now. Maybe it’s because at 36 years-old I’m actually happier now than I ever could have been at 16. That’s probably why the music sounds even better now.
Annually, I make a mix of songs from my favorite albums released that year. I usually make it for just a few friends who really like them. I used to make full-fledged CD’s with actual packaged artwork. The last couple of years, I’ve scaled back to digital releases only. This year, I’m only posting via Spotify. I will, however, make it available for download via special request only.
I purchased either digital or physical copies of about 50 albums this year. Below are cuts from my favorite ten albums of the year. Following that you’ll find my Best of 2014 Spotify playlist.
Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
Spoon – They Want My Soul
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
Real Estate – Atlas
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
The War on Drugs – Lost In the Dream
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
The Best of 2014
It’s like that time that Merle Haggard started a band with Stiff Little Fingers. What a supergroup. They topped the charts with Beach Boys covers and sold out the Grand Ole Opry with odes to traditional Appalachian music. It’s no wonder that Fiddlin’ Pete Williams’ great granddaughter is a Jawbreaker fan. Now that one is a true story. What made Jay, Jeff and Mike so special was not they covered the Carter Family, but that they probably put them on the same mixtape as The Minutemen. Attitude. Grit. Style. Hell, even how they embraced fashion. They have a lot in common, Punk and Country. Grandma Blues was always in the know on their doin’s and such, though. It always made for a fun family get-together over the holidays. Then that idiot nephew, Punkabilly, busted in the damn doors. Tattoos and jet black hair – red roses on the suit lapels. Who knows what his deal was? Hell, he didn’t even know who he was. Just another damn identity crisis trying to process his parents’ hand-me-down issues. All I did was ask, “Would you mind passing me the mashed potatoes?” He blankly stared at me, and mumbled, “I had a killer job in a backup band playin’ guitar in Branson. Two shows a night brought the money to chase down sin. Now it’s another weekend and I’m lonely at home – late night TV evangelist drone. I’m healthy now but I really don’t know if I’ll ever be free.”
That’s when Grandpa Sahm stood up at the table and screamed, “Hell boy! They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain, but if you want it, you can have the crown!”
The whole room erupted in laughter. Cousin Strummer almost choked on his turkey leg.
I hear Punkabilly is dating Taylor Swift now.
You can follow their Instagram here or click on the image below…
Or stream 33 Vol. 4 in its entirety below (some songs aren’t exactly the same based on availability on Spotify).
After a fun trip to Chapel Hill to see Tune-Yards, it was on to Spartanburg, South Carolina to see Jason Isbell & John Prine. An amazing bill. I’ve never seen John Prine live in person. I had seen several performances on TV. I was familiar with his reputation as a performer. Chatty and charming. As much of a storyteller with his stage banter between songs as he is through song – I was expecting to see a legend. Mr. Prine did not disappoint.
The surprise came from the opening act who I was seeing for the 11th or 12th time since 2009 (I’ve lost track). Sitting three rows from the stage (front row – orchestra right), I was expecting to see Jason Isbell open the show solo with this acoustic guitar. Much to my surprise, he was accompanied by his full band – The 400 Unit. Yet, the set Isbell & Co. delivered was far different from the usual guitar-slinging rock and roll show I’ve come to expect. Instead it was a masterfully restrained set that showcased his strength as a songwriter. Mostly consisting of songs from Southeastern, other highlights from past albums included “Streetlights,” “Alabama Pines,” and of course the DBT-classic, “Outfit.” The showstopper of Isbell’s set was his performance of “Cover Me Up.” It was met with a standing ovation from the sold-out auditorium. As an opening act, Isbell delivered a performance that was easily one of my three favorite experiences seeing him live.
John Prine and his band took the stage with an unassuming presence, as if they were saying, “Hey guys, don’t mind us. We’re just gonna play some songs. You can listen if you want, it would be greatly appreciated.” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen John Prine perform on television several times (most recently here). However, John has been through some major procedures due to cancer (one surgery within the last year), and so I wasn’t sure about his most recent condition. By the first word of “Spanish Pipedream,” my concerns were put to rest. John has taken criticism in recent years for continuing to tour and play the same old set of songs. After now seeing him perform live in person, I can forcefully say – who gives a shit?! I wouldn’t care if a man had only written 10 songs. If they were as good as anything John Prine has written, that man could tour for 40 years and play those same 10 songs till he died on stage. It wouldn’t bother me one bit. So, sure, along with his routine opener, he played 43 year-old songs from his debut – “Sam Stone,” “Six O’Clock News,” “Angel from Montgomery,” and encore closer “Paradise.” However, I didn’t expect to hear “Donald and Lydia” and it was his performance of “Hello In There” that was the highlight of the entire evening.
After performing “Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” John talked about all of the time he spent around his grandfather in his carpentry shop (as the song says). So much time with him, in fact, that as he grew older (though still a young man) he would always gravitate towards older folks at social gatherings. He just felt more comfortable around them. “But, now, I’m one of them,” he said, and that’s when he poetically segued into “Hello In There.” On his first album, alone, John Prine takes on the voices of many characters – even an old woman. As a young man, he would perform this song as a character, but now, to the uninitiated, the song could be mistaken for autobiography. It takes on such a different meaning, and a different feel now that he performs at the age of 68. That wasn’t lost on a single soul in that auditorium. It’s been years, maybe never, since I’ve been in a room so entranced by what was happening in that moment. If Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” was an emotional kick to the gut, Prine had just ripped my heart out of my chest.
That night I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my good friend Scott and two members of a band he plays in – Center and Kenny. Their band is the Kenny George Band – Kenny of course being the principle songwriter/front-man and Center plays lap and pedal steel. All three guys worship at the very same altar as Prine and Isbell, so it was my pleasure to experience that show with them. Scott is responsible for introducing me to Jason Isbell. Before I saw him, I only had one Drive-by Truckers album, and it was after he left the band. Scott and I shared a common fandom for Ryan Adams that goes back several years. Back when I was squatting at his residence right after college, we’d make late night trips to the bar with Ryan Adams soundtracking our evening. One time, in particular, I can remember six dudes piled into an old Jeep or SUV, windows down, belting out “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” at the top of their lungs for all of Rock Hill to hear.
Scott has had a number of musical ventures over the years. A short-lived pop rock band that was formed at Winthrop, many musical duos, and many more solo performances at “Irish pubs” all over South Carolina. He wasn’t alone back in the late 90s, staying up late playing Dave Matthews tunes. There were many others back then. There still are today. However, I always enjoyed when my friends would just pull out the guitar at a party or in someone’s living room or at the events we used to attend as Episcopalian youth. One night in particular back in the late 90s, I remember Scott asking me if I’d heard of John Prine. That was the first time he’d ever mentioned anyone that we had in common who wasn’t on modern-day radio. Then, he played “Angel from Montgomery” because it was one of the many tunes he picked up from his Uncle Leo. Then we would return to conversations on Dave Matthews. Over the years, random mentions of The Replacements would take place. Then came Ryan Adams… and I have to admit it was when Scott fell for Ryan Adams, that he and I really made a true musical connection.
That’s why it’s been great seeing Scott play with the Kenny George Band. I’ve seen them play twice as a full band now (most recently this past Saturday). You can really tell that Scott is having a blast. Scott has an incredible knack for singing harmonies. He and Kenny sound excellent together. They are a talented group of guys. Kenny is a very promising young songwriter. Don’t get me wrong, his existing output is already quality stuff, but the newer songs get better and better. There’s a natural artistic progression happening there. I’ve written about my college days, and how I was obsessed with Americana/Alt-Country-Whatever-That-Is music. In recent years, it’s slowly made a comeback and almost dominates my music listening time. That’s why the timing of Scott playing in this band couldn’t be more perfect.
I’ve said before (and it won’t be the last time), that this blog is about sharing. I’ve created several playlists that anybody is welcome to download, and a couple of folks have. Today, I’m going to ask you to purchase the first EP by this band. It’s called Gunshy, and it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. If you write the band, maybe they will mail you a physical copy (featuring album art by yours truly). The Kenny George Band is a band that I truly believe in. I don’t blow smoke up anybody’s ass when it comes to music, and I can truly say I’m a fan of this band – no matter who plays in it. When I saw them open for American Aquarium in Augusta, I was standing in the crowd beside one of Scott’s old friends – Brian. Brian is a solid music fan, and has pretty damn good taste in music. At one point, he turned to me and said, “I’ve seen every band that Scott has played in. This is by far the best one.” You said it, Brian. You said it.