Tell Me Why

Every now and then I get taken back to the past. It’s usually a song or a sight or a smell that does this to me and sometimes it’s not too comfortable an experience. Let’s face it we all have those moments, times, places that we would rather imagine did not happen. The human brain is incredible at editing itself at so we appear more noble than we really are. We can’t make ourselves taller or more attractive but we can certainly make ourselves appear to have made better choices than we really have in reality. This week it was a happy place I went to and all because of a Neil Young concert I remembered.

It began as an attempt to justify spending upwards of $300 to go see Neil Young in Seattle. Now don’t get me wrong I could easily justify this for myself, my wife however has a different view of our personal finances. I saw this as an opportunity to increase our memory bank of incredible memories, she says it as less cash to allow us to actually eat this week. I then went through a deep sadness about this, to get myself out of it I reminded myself that Crazy Horse may be one of the worst bands in history, I’ve seen Neil Young countless times and missing this tour won’t be so bad. The reality was I was crushed, I have just finished the memoir, I am in an obsessive phase about Neil Young and why can’t my wife, life partner understand how important this it to me. Well the truth is she does but practicalities  like feeding our children are more important to her.

To make myself feel better I opened dimeadozen to see how the tour was going and there were two shows from 1999 sitting there. Neil Young live solo at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall in Portland Oregon. I went to one of these for my birthday that March, it was the second show on the 9th. It has from that day forward stood out as the most amazing concert I ever went to. I clicked download and watched little green bars fill up. Then fear set in, would it be as good as I remembered? These things are often greater in our memory than reality. This show has stood in my memory as the standard by which all other shows have been judged. Neil prowling the stage picking up guitars. banjo’s and playing the piano, telling stories laughing, losing the thread and then playing Last Trip To Tulsa. I looked at the track list, yes Last Trip was there as was Old King, Albuquerque and Pocahontas and so many other classics.

Finally it downloaded, time to listen. I waited two days in the end, maybe it was a rotten recording after all.

When i did get up the nerve it was in the jeep during a torrential rain storm driving north on I5. Suddenly I was 13 years younger sitting on the edge of Row G at the Schnitzer holding Michelle’s hand and holding my breath as a musical hero stalked onto the stage, flannels, scruffy hat and battered guitars. I remember crying on the night, and I cried in the car as the rain beat down and suddenly all was well with the world. From the first note of Tell Me Why, the rambling story about Elvis the dog, the pump organ on After the Gold Rush, Old Man and Pocahontas it was all there exactly as I remember it. It is energizing when our memory and reality coincide, it is also good when what we remember was the truth.

People have conflicting thoughts on bootlegs, maybe it is stealing from the artist, maybe it’s the new radio, I know I spend way too much on albums every week and own everything this man has released, the good, the bad and the ugly but I want to thank the taper who took me back to that wonderful show in 1999 and let me relive the past and made it a little more bearable that I will miss the Crazy Horse show, but I do get to buy Psychedelic Pill next week.

I also get to go see Robyn Hitchcock next week so all is good in the world. Robyn may not be as great as Neil Young but he is definitely an original. But more of that later maybe.

The listening this week:

Well Neil Young March 9-1999 and March 8-1999

Talking heads- Remain In Light

Donovan-Sunshine Superman

Flaming Lips-The Soft Bulletin

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Living in a house with 3 teenage boys can be different, well two are teens and one is almost. There is a constant cacophony of musical styles throughout the house. The Wu Tang Clan clash with Rush, Dizzy Gillespie, Mumford and Sons and Marcey’s Playground. There is no defined musical identity in the house, car or yard. It’s really very refreshing and surprising. The boys have taken Spotify to heart and are eager to experiment with whatever they can hear following suggested lists to the next album or artist ever curious on a musical journey.  And that’s the music they are listening to not the music they are playing.

Of course all this is off-set by Michelle insisting on listening to Jimmy Buffett who may quite likely be the anti-christ when it comes to music, his margarita’s and hush puppies can stop any intimation of dancing. “None of you understand” insists Michelle, “We don’t need to. ” Is the reply. Of course it takes all sorts as evidenced by my affection for Neil Diamond, Shirley Bassey and the Monkees.

It’s a loud happy house most of the time, music, laughter and every night around eight Chris will shout “Are we going to watch something?”

It’s also at times a really messy house, socks at the foot of the stairs, shirts on the back of chairs and feet on the furniture and the dog racing around. My wife is a saint, there is no disputing this.

This week I’ve been mining the darker side of my musical leanings, by that I mean prog rock, post punk and the oddness that is art rock. Actually on reflection it was a pretty eclectic week after all. It’s been different sitting down to listen and appreciate and be still with the music.

So it’s time to get pretentious:

The music this week has been a little on the art rock side, or pretentious shall we say.

Dr John, the Night Tripper with Gris Gris. Louisiana mysticism meets jazz, blues and rock. Not only is Dr John one of the great arrangers of rock but he has a voice that drips with experiences the listener can only guess at, and at times be afraid of. This is the voice of a man wrestling with his demons.

Brian Eno, Here Come The Warm Jets, post-punk before punk, weird shambolic pop sculpture, violent beautiful and just plain out there. Brian Eno is one of the geniuses of pop music and Here Come The Warm Jets announced that to the world, no longer was he the strange man in the corner with Roxy Music but a songwriter using keyboards in ways that others could not even imagine. Of course Ennosification became a description of the sound on albums by Genesis and Bowie and all those post-punk bands thought they had created that strange alien sound. Baby’s On Fire has Fripp’s greatest solo, in fact it seems to be a song based on that solo.

Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted was next. Real post-punk with a big dose of the Fall in place. A piece of it’s time, fun but ultimately a period piece. I think I missed this in the 80’s and while I can appreciate it it does not hold me as something to go back to.

John Cale-Paris 1919, it’s Cale it’s accessible, this makes it different.

New band of the week: Galley Beggar with the album Reformation House, this sounds like it could have been performed by Fairport Convention in one of their many Hey Day’s. It’s a wonderful album hearkening back to the 70’s folk-rock so many including myself love, their website is her:

http://www.galleybeggar.com/wordpress/

The week has ended listening to Van the Man’s Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, this is a bit of a disappointment but everyone is allowed a bad one.

We also rocked out in an early 70’s manner to the wonderful Yes Album by Yes. This is their greatest moment when they still had not reached the cape wearing pretensions Rick Wakeman would bring with him. Released the same year as Fragile it is head and shoulders above that album for greatness, of course there is vague science fiction lyrics and the necessary weirdness of Anderson’s strange personal mythology but it just rocks.

I’m writing this listening to Play by Field Music. Their version of Syd Barrett’s Terrapin makes this worth the cost, although Field Music are one of the great new bands out there to be heard.

Slide Through My Fingers

The great musical journey continues along with the reading, sometimes at the same time.

The music today has been Tame Impala, an Australian band that is at times channeling Pink Floyd and T-Rex at the same time. A truly psychedelic experience and nowhere near the list in the 1000 Recordings book but hey this is my journey.

So it’s Tame Impala and the self titled ep, it’s strange to call a CD an ep, as that was originally an extra play single  usually  four songs instead of two, in the 80’s they always seemed to be of the 12 inch variety and have pointlessly meandering remixes or extended versions, these are now what fills up the “deluxe” edition of any CD that gets the “deluxe” treatment.

Tame Impala-Lonerism was next which definitely has expanded on the sonic palette of the ep. Much more of a Flaming Lips feel to this one but definitely worth the listen.

The drive into work was accompanied by Crosby Stills and Nash, which really is a masterpiece, well the drive was only Suite: Judy Blue Eyes but I did hear the rest driving around.

Reading wise the science fiction continues, I have been reading Gavin Smith’s military science fiction novel Veteran. I am only about a third of the way into it but the characters are engaging and I have no idea were the story is going which for military science fiction is a good thing. A strange war in space being fought by modified humans who when they reach the end of usefulness are discarded by the government to live in squalor, and in the case of Jacob the main character knowing they can be brought back into service.

At the same time I continue with the Neil Young biography. Diversions and then information in equal measure.

Should have been a no-brainer, David Byrne and Brian Eno My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, two geniuses playing off each other. It’s universally acclaimed but just left me cold. I get the idea world music and electronica but for me it just does not work, it’s too difficult, too clever, too self conscious. I’m not sure what it is but I love both these artists and am a little saddened I did not get this. I can’t even say it was a brave attempt although there must be something there for so many to rave about it. Or maybe it’s a big joke and we have been convinced by the hype that we should like it.

Another hyped album though with Todd by Todd Rundgren, again it’s taken awhile but I finally took the plunge and it is a collection of quirky and inventive pop songs that are captivating as well as challenging.

More normal has been Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall in 1971, this a great document of the early Neil Young, many songs from the first four albums performed solo. It is amazing that this album took so long to be released and makes you question what else is hiding out in the archives on the ranch. I’ve been avoiding Neil Young since beginning the book, mainly because I can become a little obsessed at times and did not want to be a total freak for a week.

Playing the whole album is difficult it seems. I have become so used to the constant change of sounds that it’s a little hard to stay  in the moment with an album. I hear moments that make me want to skip to another artist as my mind has been triggered, Playing CSN always reminds me of Yes, I think Anderson and co. must have been listening to the harmonies on the first CSN album when they recorded The Yes Album. The urge to search out Yes halfway through Lady of the Islands was almost overwhelming. I have always had the tendency to flit around often not even listening to the whole song. This has apparently got worse over the most recent years. This may be a useful discipline to practice, listening.

To finish the week off in the Jeep was Bongo Fury by Zappa and Beefheart. It’s amusing to me that once you own a Wrangler it’s no longer the car, or truck but the Jeep. Bongo Fury was particularly fun as I pulled into the bank that was having a Justin Bieber promotional event, I have no idea why. The look of confusion on the attendees face was worth going to the bank for, there was a moment of disgust at the strangeness of the rhythms and then Beefhearts voice took it over the edge.

Then there was Green on Reds No Free Lunch, haven’t heard them since the 90’s but some great memories of dancing in the dark at the Bierkeller on Mt. Pleasant in Liverpool. This was a fun place I almost remember seeing Big Audio Dynamite and many a Roy Haper gig here.

Saturday night was finished off with Michael Chapman’s Fully Qualified Survivor. This is a great folk-rock album although some would like to call it psych-folk whatever that means.

I just realized I could get really pretentious doing this, so I’m going to do my best not to. There are so many albums I have never gone near or been afraid of going near, so the library will get a work out for sure. There is also so much new music being produced that it could get confusing.

I finished the Neil Young book this afternoon. It was a great ride, repetitive at times although I cannot Imagine it being edited. A real attempt by Neil to settle some rumors and come to terms with some tough decisions and losses in his life.

Mind Gardens

It’s a world of sound bites, nothing is more apparent as we enter the week of the presidential debates starting. It was even a day when Bill O’Reilly said the word zinger. So as information gets more compressed to almost meaningless moments held separate from context or meaning I have to ask the question:

When was the last time you listened to the whole album?

Of course in the i-tunes world we can choose the playlist or let the genius button do it for us, We don’t have to appreciate the running order or track list, the artistry of compiling a whole  piece an experience if you like. Also there appear to be more greatest hits packages than ever before allowing us to only hear the songs that the compiler considers greatest. With artists that specialized in the long extended album this can get difficult and don’t mention the box set and what that has done to us. Then there is the extended, repackaged album with extras and extras on top of the extras. We have chopped, cut up, compressed compiled and boxed our way so far away from the listening experience it is hard to know if any one knows what the album used to mean.

Don’t get me wrong I love my i-pod with it’s playlists and random play function as much as the next person obsessed with technology. I was excited when technology allowed us to burn our own compilations on CD and the mp3 playlist in the car is a life saver at times. I have to admit though that I have gone away from listening to the album in order, the ebb and flow of the music as it unveils itself the way the artist compiled it, with no extras or outtakes. I don’t miss the crackle of old vinyl though but I do miss the album sleeves with their art work and folds and creases and information.

I miss music being a shared experience now we are all plugged into our ear buds and private worlds. We share playlists on spotify and social networking sites rather than passing around albums or inviting a friend over to hang out and listen. I remember when Blind by the Icicle Works was released gathering in a dingy smoky room to play the record. We played it three times that night trying to make sense of the various stylistic turns the band were making on every cut. We did the same when Dave bought Sheikh Yerbouti by Zappa, laughing at the coarse humor and wondering at the music, there was eight of us in the room talking laughing and arguing about the music. Last week I bought Tempest by Dylan, well I downloaded it, listened on ear buds and then told my son he should put it on his     i-pod. At no point have we played it together or talked about the music or lyrics.

This weekend I was in the library and found 1000 Recording You Should Listen to Before You Die by Tom Moon, he has a blog here:

http://www.1000recordings.com/

Looking at the book I thought about changing my listening habits. For a year I am only going to listen to whole albums. Maybe not the list in the book but albums I find important to me. I am going to rediscover old favorites, listen to new recordings and maybe even invite some friends over to listen along at times. I am going to play albums as I cook, drive and hang out.  I am going to limit the use of ear buds to walks, runs and mowing the lawn, I am going to share the music with the people I love and talk about it again, I may even keep a record at times here if I remember.

This weeks list so far:

John Adams-Harmonium

King Sunny Ade-Best of the classic years

Ryan Adams-Heartbreaker

Frank Zappa-One Size Fits All

Mumford and Sons-Babel

The Byrds-Younger Than Yesterday

Fela Kuti-Confusion-Gentleman

Crosby Stills and Nash-1st Album

Of Monsters and Men-My Head Is an Animal

I played some of these twice it was so much fun.

I also began Neil Young’s autobiography/memoir Waging Heavy Peace which is one of the most unusually written books I have ever read. It really is liking sitting down with Neil and having a conversation. In reality if there was one artist I would love to do this with it would be Neil Young, although I would undoubtedly be so tongue tied I would never ask a question never mind actually remembering any of it.