Friday, September 26, 2008

The Righteous Path

I first saw this on the web site, but it is too good not to share.
Soundtrack to economic anxiety
by JOHN P. AVLON, September 21, 2008

In a fall defined by market chaos, the long road of the campaign has ended up in uncharted economic territory — amid voters’ competing emotions of anxiety, aspiration and anger.

After the spring primaries’ reversals of fortune and the hot summer months' marathon, we’re far enough along to begin viewing the cycle with some perspective — at least a musical perspective.

Because if you're a political junkie, you know that each campaign season has its signature song.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy commissioned a Frank Sinatra version of "High Hopes" that captured the clubby optimism of the early 1960s. In 1988, George H.W. Bush chose "Don't Worry Be Happy" to signify his bid to extend the Reagan years. Bill Clinton's appropriation of "You Make Loving Fun" — sorry, that was "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" — turned 1970s dreck into an enduring baby boomer anthem.

This year, the primary campaigns tried on various shades of country, as just about every campaign had Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America" in heavy rotation. Rudy Giuliani's campaign found its theme song in the orchestral soundtrack to the underdog flick "Rudy." John McCain's campaign tapped into Nashville for John Rich's "Raisin' McCain." Barack Obama's campaign, nodding to Gen X, went with U2's "City of Blinding Lights" during the primaries, before shifting to Bruce Springsteen's post-Sept. 11 anthem "The Rising."

But all that was before market madness defined this election in indelible ways.

And for my money, the song that best captures the economic anxieties and aspirations voters are feeling now — and the song of the 2008 cycle — is "The Righteous Path" by the Drive-By Truckers. Take a look at the pitch-perfect opening lyrics:

I got a brand-new car that drinks a bunch of gas
I got a house in a neighborhood that's fading fast…
I got a beautiful wife and three tow-headed kids
I got a couple of big secrets I'd kill to keep hid
I don't know God but I fear his wrath
I'm trying to keep focused on the righteous path

In just the first two lines, the song seems to anticipate $4 gasoline and the subprime housing crisis, even though it was recorded in 2007 and released on the album Brighter Than Creation's Dark, this January. With accurate artistic forecasting like this, I'd trade these drunken country punks for a boatload of bickering economists.

The economic anxiety of a middle-aged, middle-class man is communicated through a relentless drumbeat and aching guitars that musically mainline a key demographic — the song is an aural glimpse into the psychology of swing voters.

It captures the punch-drunk desperation that kicks in when you feel focused-grouped half to death, or like you’re drowning in the 24-hour spin cycle. It's also got the recklessness that comes from trying to distract yourself from unwelcome facts, and the cold panic of trying to keep your head up while watching your bank balance go down.

I got a couple of opinions that I hold dear
A whole lot of debt and a whole lot of fear…
I got a grill in the backyard and a case of beers
I got a boat that ain't seen the water in years
More bills than money, I can do the math
I'm trying to keep focused on the righteous path.

This is America — walking the line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, wanting to vote for hope but feeling the big fear. The song is the soundtrack to economic anxiety.

When Bubba talked about people who worked hard and who played by the rules but still got kicked to the curb by the system, he was talking to people who were trying to walk the righteous path. That's how he became the first Democratic president reelected since FDR.

McCain's biography is all about trying to walk the righteous path — from the Hanoi Hilton to the halls of Congress.

But will his seven houses and his association with the worn-out country club cowboy in the White House stop him from connecting with the righteous path voters?

Obama's righteous path doesn't seem to cut through the trailer parks of America, even though he's the candidate who grew up lower middle class, the candidate who's just paid off his college loans, the candidate who's come the farthest in the shortest time. Will he be embraced by voters trying to walk the righteous path as one of their own, or be dismissed as an exotic celebrity, more "American Idol" than American dream?

These are key questions for the candidates, since it is these righteous path voters — the folks caught in the middle, beset on all sides and just trying to do their best — who will decide the next president of the United States. The key for Obama and McCain is to empathize with their anxieties, feel their frustration and then elevate their aspirations to a vision of a country that is better for them and heading in the right direction again.

Walking that righteous path for the remaining 45 days just might lead straight into the White House.
The Righteous Path.mp3
Buy: Brighter Than Creations Dark (2008)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

She Left Me For Jesus

I got on late to the Hayes Carll train. He put out his first album in 2002, but I just discovered his work very recently. If you like folk-country-rock, check out his latest album pronto. The below track was recently named "Song of the Year" by the Americana Music Association.

She Left Me For Jesus.mp3
Buy: Trouble in Mind (2008)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mistaken for Strangers

A few tracks from my second favorite album of 2007, Boxer, by The National. Does anyone have a sexier voice than Matt Berninger? I think not.

Mistaken For Strangers.mp3
Green Gloves.mp3
Buy: Boxer (2007)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

I have been sick as all get-out the last few days, and I couldn't pull it together enough to make it to the Supersuckers show last night. I've been told to see the Supersuckers only if I want my face melted off and that they are one of the best live acts going. I ONLY go to concerts where my face will be melted off. I am sad that I missed this one. Damn you germs!

For me:
Huey "Piano" Smith - Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.mp3

For you:
Supersuckers - Born With A Tail.mp3
Buy: The Sacrilicious Sounds of the Supersuckers (1995)

Buy other records, download MP3s, hear Eddie Spaghetti's solo work, and listen to more of their material on the Supersuckers web site.

If you want your face melted:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

He Was a Friend of Mine

About two years ago my brother got to dog sit for a friend while his friend took a six month job in Australia. We never had dogs or any pets (except fish) growing up, but we have always been animals lovers. I met Rocco, an American Eskimo, for the first time over Thanksgiving in 2006, and I was immediately in love with him. He was faithful, and friendly, and goofy - everything you would want in a pet. I was ready to adopt an Eskie when I returned home. I saw him again over Easter weekend, and then in April when his owners brought him to brunch after my brother's wedding. I found out today that over the weekend Rocco went to the big dog house in the sky at the ripe old age of 14. RIP Rocco! I hope doggy heaven is full of lots of things to lick!

Bob Dylan - He Was A Friend Of Mine.mp3
Buy: The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (1991)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Epic Crap Monday

If there is one thing we can all agree on, its that Mondays suck.

A few months ago I was road-tripping north of Toronto, listening to Rock 95 out of Barrie, Ontario. Some listener called in and requested this song. After a few minutes of listening to this song, my friend commented, "Wow! This is epic crap! What music producer decided that this was a good idea?" A song that is so bad, it is good.

Prism - Spaceship Superstar.m4a
Buy: The Best of Prism (1996)

Prism was formed in 1976 in Vancouver. "Spaceship Superstar" was a minor hit in Canada in 1977. Check out the wicked keyboard solo at the end. Kraftwerk influence? Oy.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

(Ticket stud image from the website

Today is the final day of the
Toronto International Film Festival. I was out of town for the first half of the festival so I did not get to see as many of the films that I wanted to see. However, today I caught the documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, which had its world premiere in Toronto on September 5. The film recounts the 1968 Yale at Harvard football game, when both teams were undefeated and Yale was ranked #16 in the country. Director Kevin Rafferty interviews many players from both teams, including actor Tommy Lee Jones who played guard for Harvard, and uses the original archival footage from the game as a storyboard for the player’s memories of that day (some of whom have better memories than others).

The players also discuss what was going on in the world at the time, specifically the Vietnam War. One of the Harvard players was a 24-year-old ex-Marine who had done a tour of Vietnam before re-enrolling at Harvard and playing football. Yale, which was a men’s-only school at the time, was largely conservative, while Harvard was very liberal to the point where Boston police had to be summoned to Harvard Yard to quell student protests.

Lots of other interesting pop culture events occur in the context of this game. Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau was a Yale sophomore at the time and based the character BD on Yale quarterback senior Brian Dowling. Dowling had not lost a football game since seventh grade, and other players on the team literally considered him a god. One of the Yale players was dating Vassar student Meryl Streep. Former Vice President Al Gore was Jones’s roommate at the time (though Gore was apparently not into football as Gore is only brought up in the movie once). Current US President George Bush was a cheerleader during the game, and one of the Yale players was his roommate. I nearly killed myself laughing when the Yale cheerleaders botch up the halftime cheers.

But even given all of these sub contexts, this movie is about a football game, and Rafferty rightly keeps the focus on the sport. The players were from all different backgrounds: some Midwesterners who had never been to the East Coast, some working class New Englanders with thick Boston accents, and some who were the third or fourth generation of their family to attend an Ivy League school. The former players turn out of be regular Joe’s with regular lives, except of course for Jones, who I thought came off as very aloof in this film to the point where people in the audience were giggling every time he came on screen. Most of the interviewees are very forthright and charming, though one Yale defensive player (who’s name is escaping me) comes off as a real ass when he tells how he purposely tried to injure the Harvard quarterback with a face mask grab, which subsequently gives Yale a 15 yard penalty and sets up a Harvard touchdown.

You know what is going to happen at the end of the game from the title of the film, which was taken from the following day’s headline of the Harvard Crimson. But with 42 seconds left in the game, and Yale up 29-13, I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation. Yale was a much better and stronger team, and a blowout was expected, but poor clock management, penalties, and turnovers literally make the tie game a loss for Yale and a win for Harvard. If you enjoy sports movies, you will love this documentary.

Incidentally, director Kevin Rafferty is a first cousin of George W. Bush (his mother is Barbara Bush’s older sister) and a Harvard alum, although these facts do not come out in the film. Rafferty was also a camera man and lead cinematographer on Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me, and taught Moore about filmmaking. Needless to say, Rafferty does not share his cousin’s politics.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jay Farrar Friday

This is the first in a series of posts where I will start to explore and celebrate the musical career of Jay Farrar. For the last two decades Farrar has been at the forefront of the Americana/Alt Country musical genre. Starting with his seminal band Uncle Tupleo in the early 1990s, which essentially launched the modern alt country musical movement, to the more traditional folk/country band Son Volt, to his solo recordings, and his many side projects. Let's start with some basics.

From Uncle Tupelo's first record, the title coming from the Carter family classic. This album combines rock, punk, and country, and describes the desperateness of growing up broke, bored, and disillusioned in the rural Midwest. This landmark album launched a new chapter in Americana music.

A long way from happiness, in a three-hour-away town.
Whiskey bottle over Jesus, not forever, just for now.

Uncle Tupelo - Whiskey Bottle.mp3
Buy: No Depression (1990, reissued in 2003)

Son Volt's first album was released shortly after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo. It was a minor commercial success, and the track "Drown" got some radio air time on modern rock and college stations (I remember hearing it on St. Louis radio). It was praised by many critics as one of the best releases of 1995, and many consider it a classic Americana record.

Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana.
It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven.

Son Volt - Windfall.mp3
Buy: Trace (1995)

This track is from Farrar's latest version of Son Volt (2.0 if you will), where none of the other original members who recorded Trace are still in the band. However, this record is more in the style of the 1995 recordings than anything he has done since. In my opinion, the below track is song of the year for 2007.

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.

Son Volt - Methamphetamine.mp3
Buy: The Search (2007)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't Fight the Feelin'

I heard this song a few days ago and laughed my ass off. It made me think back to 1997-2000 when I would drive around The 'Lou with the She-Dawg listening to "Bitches In Heat" tunz.

Too $hort - Don't Fight The Feelin'.mp3
Buy: Life Is...Too Short (1988)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Stand Ins

My favorite album of 2007 was The Stage Name by Okkervil River. Today is the release of their follow-up album, The Stand Ins. The Stand Ins was recorded at the same time as The Stage Names, similar to what the band did with their 2005 release Black Sheep Boy and subsequent Black Sheep Boy Appendix. Although I have not given The Stand Ins a thorough listen, it is very thematically similar to The Stage Names, but more down tempo. Okkervil River is one of my favorite bands, and I can't wait to spend much more time with this release.

The album art was done by William Schaff (not to be confused with Okkveril River's lead singer and songwriter, Will Sheff). Schaff is a multi-medium artist based out of Providence, Rhode Island. He has also done album artwork for Songs: Ohia, Kid Dakota, and others. These two pieces/album covers were hand embroidered (yes, that same material that your mother uses to makes Christmas decorations). I love the way The Stand Ins skeleton is reaching up through The Stage Names lake.

Leading up to the release of The Stand Ins, Okkveril River asked their rockstar friends to do covers of the tracks off of this album, and release them on YouTube. None of these covers have really knocked me out, but you can judge for yourself at the Okkervil River YouTube page.

The first single I have seen buzzing around the internets is "Lost Coastline," a duet between Sheff and former Okkervil River member Jonathan Meiburg, who since this recording has left Okkervil to focus full time on his band Shearwater. When I saw Okkervil River open for the New Pornographers last fall, bassist Patrick Pestorius performed backup vocals and quite frankly, he was terrible. I really missed Meiburg's vocals and rock piano. I wonder who will fill in when they do this track live?

Lost Coastlines.mp3
Buy: The Stand Ins (2008)

One of my favorite tracks off of The Stage Names, Will Sheff takes the old West Indies folk song made famous by the Beach Boys with "Sloop John B" and turns it into poet John Berryman's suicide note. Brilliant.

John Allyn Smith Sails.mp3
Buy: The Stage Names (2007)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Goddam Bad

I damaged several million brain and liver cells this weekend, but its nothing that 24 hours of sleep and a full change of blood won't fix.

Asskickers - Goddamn Bad.mp3
The Other Side of Town (2001) available on iTunes and eMusic.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rock You Like a Hurricane

I'm in Durham, North Carolina, with friends for a college reunion/beer fest. Lucky for us, Hurricane Hanna is supposed to hit the Carolina coast late this afternoon. While we are far enough inland that we won't directly feel the full force of the hurricane, we will get really friggin' wet. Hurricanes are new to this northern chick. I'm excited!

This post is not to minimize the destructive power, damage, and human heartbreak that a hurricane can cause, but it is to point out the hilarity that ensues when a natural disasters and bad heavy metal mix.

Scorpions - Rock You Like A Hurricane.wma

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Killing in the Name

True story: Last year I was flying from Chicago to Toronto, and while I was in the customs line at Pearson International Airport, I noticed Tom Morello eight or nine people in front of me in line. When he turned the corner in the line so that he was facing me, I looked him right in the eye and said, "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me." He replied, "Who the fuck are you? Shut the fuck up."

In honor of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis this week...

Rage Against the Machine - Killing in the Name.wma
Buy: Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This aggression will not stand, man

Over the weekend it was brought to my attention that 2008 marks the 10th Anniversary of the release of The Big Lewobski. Some trivia from IMDB and the article "The Decade of the Dude" from the September 4, 2008, issue of Rolling Stone:

- Joel and Ethan Coen originally tried to cast Mel Gibson in the role of the Dude. Gibson wouldn't take the pitch seriously.
- A lot of the Dude's clothes in the movie were Jeff Bridge's own clothes. He still has the brown cardigan sweater and the Jellies sandals.
- John Goodman still has Walter's army jacket and vest.
- There was a professional bowling instructor on set.
- Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, who both live in New York, practiced bowling together at the Melody Lanes in Brooklyn.
- Tara Reid beat out Charlize Theron for the role of Bunny Lebowski.
- One of the most memorable characters is the purple jumpsuit-clad bowler/registered sex offender The Jesus, played by John Turturro. He is only on screen for three minutes.
- The purple jumpsuit was given to a thrift shop after completion of the film.
- The word "dude" is used 161 times in the movie.
- The F-word or a variation of the F-word is used 281 times. See The Effin' Short Lebowski (warning - NOT SAFE FOR WORK!)
- The Dude says "man" 147 times in the movie, nearly 1.5 times a minute.
- The only time Donny doesn't get a strike is before they fight the Nihilists at the end of the movie.
- The Dude drinks nine White Russians during the course of the movie. Jeff Bridges prefers Black Russians.
- The Dude's car is a 4-door 1973 Ford Torino. Two vehicles were used in filming: one was destroyed during the filming, the other was destroyed in Season 8 of "The X-Files" in an episode called "Salvage".
- The Dude tells Maude Lebowski he was a roadie for Metallica on their (fictional) Speed of Sound Tour and refers to the band members as a "bunch of assholes." Metallica loved this reference.
- In the scene in a cab the Dude yells at the driver, "I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!" Glenn Frey was not amused.
- The film bombed at the box office. The late Gene Siskel gave it a "thumbs down." Domestically, it only gross $17 million, just over its $15 million budget.
- To date DVD sales have grossed over $40 million.

A Tenth Anniversary Limited Edition DVD set in a special bowling ball case will be available on September 9.

"Wouldn't hold out much hope for the tape deck though."
"Or the Creedence."

A movie like this obviously has a killer soundtrack. One of the only criticisms I have of the soundtrack is the lack of Creedence Clearwater Revival tracks. Here are two of the more well known songs from the soundtrack, plus some Creedence tracks that were in the movie, but didn't make the soundtrack.

Bob Dylan - The Man in Me.mp3
Kenny Rogers & the First Edition - Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).mp3
Buy: The Big Lebowski Soundtrack (1998)

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Run Through the Jungle.mp3
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Lookin' Out My Backdoor.mp3
Buy: Chronicle, Vol. 1: The 20 Greatest Hits (1990, originally released in 1976)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Workin' Man Blues

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States since the 1880s. The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday—a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families.

A friggin' "street parade" woke me at 9a.m. today. I don't understand why Toronto has its Labor (Labour) Day parade down Queen Street West. Its all chain retail stores where the products are mostly made outside of North America. The stores are going to be open today, so some suckers have to work. And most of the people who live in the area are single, young people, probably hungover, who don't appreciate being woken up to the sound of a bad marching band playing Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World." I'm going to go into work so I can get some sleep.

Merle Haggard - Workin' Man Blues.mp3
Buy: The Fightin' Side of Me: 15 #1 Hits (2003)

Bob Dylan - Workingman's Blues #2.mp3
Buy: Modern Times (2006)