Saturday, April 21, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 33

It's been a pretty brutal couple weeks for our dear friends and Discography veterans Kathy and Phil Seiler so they're sitting out this week and I suspect the next few.  I often cringe when someone says thoughts and prayers because in today's world it often reeks of insincerity, but in this case I know that we all sincerely pass along our best wishes to them. We're a tight knit crew here and if KS and PS need anything at all we'll be there.

On a lighter note I was thinking about our collective friendship last night when the esteemed Kevin Andrews and I went to the They Might Be Giants show here in Burlington. I made the mistake once of admitting in Kevin's presence (before I knew that TMBG is his favorite band) that I had never warmed to them.  Since that moment when they're in town a ticket with my name on it magically appears; Kevin is not the first person, and hopefully won't be the last, to try and broaden my myopic music sense.  It was a really tight and fun show, and it's hard to not like a band who so clearly still loves playing together.  The show was also one of those where you can't quite figure out the demographics.  There was a core of folks our age (read: dilapidated) but also a big crew of young folks, including one of my nineteen year old students who came bounding over to  say hi. It was a fun night, and made me even more appreciative for a tremendous circle of friends which can not be logically explained by my virtues.


Dave Wallace

Staples Singers - I'll Take You There

I'm going to a Mavis Staples concert tonight, who I've never seen before, and I'm super-excited.  She's a legend, and one of the most important voices in the history of popular music.  The Staples Singers were an incredibly influential gospel and soul group, and Mavis was their lead singer.  Plus, Bob Dylan wanted to marry her; that would have been quite a match!  She's also had a great late-career resurgence; largely thanks to Jeff Tweedy.  In honor of tonight's show, I've selected the Staples Singers' most popular song for the blog.


Kevin Andrews

For me, few things are more Exciting, Engaging and Empowering™ than a They Might Be Giants show. When this is published that will have happened last night. These things only happen about every two years so I try to get to more than one show on the tour. Next week it’s Northampton, MA with the excellent and fellow obsessive fan, Craig Pepin. 

Their latest “album”, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is excellent. It closes with the song Last Wave.  I’m guessing it’s a song that’s difficult to perform live given all of its studio trickery. According to This Might Be A Wiki (TMBW.net) it has never been performed live. In place of a performance, they’re opening their second set with a video of the demo version that is synced to a video with Aerosmith and Run DMC singing Walk This Way.


Last Wave is lyrically dark, nonsensical, and surreal (go figure). TMBW suggests that the song was written while watching the demo. If you've ever seen a literal video you’ll get the idea. Listen for the lyric “buy me some antlers” and it will make sense. Sort of.


Dave Kelley

"Slobberbone", or as Miranda referred to them, "Cock Gobbler"  are now defunct, but they made some great music back in the day.  "Placemat Blues" is one of my favorites and always reminds me of a mixture of Old 97's and Uncle Tupelo.  Turn it up!


Alice Neiley

My post today is no doubt impacted by my complete immersion in Reckless Daughter, a biography of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe, but also by the fact that I recognize Scudder's emotional and physical exhaustion with exact accuracy within myself, and especially given how the Seilers are in the throws of more than anyone should have to handle, this year has felt pretty heavy, to say the least.

It's true, I've written about Joni already on this blog (extensively, some might say), but the only other artist I can think to turn toward at times like these is Patty Griffin, and I'm not reading her biography at the moment, so...
The song for this week, "That Song About the Midway" isn't usually talked about or listened to with the same voracity that other Joni tunes are -- perhaps because it doesn't have a chorus? Perhaps because its melody wanders a bit? Which are a few of the many things that make it special, as it turns out. At first glance/hear, it's about a woman suffering the aftershocks of romance with a mysterious, magical rogue, thus the wandering nature, the feeling lost. The changes in meter actually mirror the shifts from direct narrative to metaphor in the lyrics, but I would argue that the whole thing could be a metaphor for life, as so many of Joni's songs could be, which is why there's no chorus: that's too concrete, not enough grey area to mirror reality. 

First of all, in general, there are so many parts of a day or a year that can leave one in the throws of aftershock, I feel it's too narrow to pin it to the 'rogue', also, Joni always has more than one thing going on in a song. She's a poet. Duh.

Second of all, the fact that the tune is set on the midway, at a fairground, is as much a metaphor for that lost feeling as any, the sudden empty spaces revealed inside us by exhaustion or grief or shock, and how sometimes beauty ("You looked so grand wearing wings / Do you tape them to your shoulders just to sing") can rise from those spaces (memories, for example). 
Third of all, though I've done weekly the commute to Canada from VT for 3 years now, I've noticed geese (white and black) erupting from the fields 5 times as often since my grandmother passed away, and 5 times as many in the sky. They fill my entire field of vision sometimes. This may be because I talk to my grandmother while I'm driving, so perhaps I unintentionally glance upward a bit more. Either way, when I listened to this song on my way out of town today, there were the geese, and this was the lyric at that moment: "Can you fly / I heard you can! Can you fly / Like an eagle doin' your hunting from the sky." 
Make of it what you will, but it's a gorgeous tune you can dive into and emerge from feeling like something has been washed clean. 

Gary Scudder

Miles Davis, Joshua

Here is more proof, as if (to quote the excellent Sanford Zale) we needed more proof, that Miles Davis was the greatest American genius of the 20th century: his version of Joshua off of Seven Steps to Heaven.  Truthfully, Davis produced so many extraordinary albums that I sometimes overlook this one, which is both a pity and foolish because it is an extraordinary record.  As he so often tended to be, Davis was in a moment of transition as so many members of his previous quintet had either officially gone solo or were out on the road on their own.  On Seven Steps to Heaven he was in the process of putting together a new quintet featuring Davis on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams, who was seventeen at the time, on drums. You would never know that they hadn't been playing together for years.  Every song on the album is fantastic, but my favorite, at least today, is Joshua.  Pure joy, and can't we all use more joy?




Saturday, April 14, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 32

For those of you who don't remember (I'm talking to the broader world, and not the esteemed members of our Discography family) it's our latest thematic week.  This one was chosen by the truly excellent Cyndi Brandenburg.  Here are her directions:

"For the next thematic week, each of you will have to revisit the dark
recesses of your early adolescent brains.  As you enter those green
grimy walls hung with cobwebs, try to ignore the possibility that this
is what eternity looks like, and instead  focus on the treasure hunt
task at hand. Here is what you are looking for:

What were among the very first albums that you personally purchased
for yourself, probably in middle school or high school and in the form
of vinyl or CD?  What popular song(s) compelled you to make said
choices? And most importantly, what unknown song did you discover as a
result, as a cut buried deep, that proved to be the kind of hidden gem
that redeems your naive choice in ways that still make you happy?"


We are down to four months left before the end of our second year.  I suspect that we'll take a little break then, although not too long.


Dave Wallace

The Fabulous Poodles - Mirror Star

I'm not sure that this song technically meets the requirements of this week's theme as described by Cyndi.  But it was the first song that occurred to me, and I hadn't even thought about the song in years, so it definitely emerged from "the dark recesses" of my "early adolescent brain."  Rather than being a surprising deep cut from an album, I bought the Fabulous Poodles's album specifically for this song.  I liked some other things from that record (and it definitely was a record), but this was easily the best thing on it.  A minor hit for the Poodles, I love the Kinks-vibe of the song. I send it out to all of you who may have played being a mirror star at some point.


Kevin Andrews

When I was born in 1960 I had three siblings, who were 9, 13, and 14. I think my sister, 13 at the time, was responsible for bringing most of the records into the house for the next ten or fifteen years. Between her and AM radio in 1960’s Philadelphia, there was plenty of music to go around. Consequently, my appreciation started early. I must have started buying 45s around the age of eight or nine: Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto (Seriously?), David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Cat Stevens’s Wild World. The Cat Stevens track must have stuck with me. 

The first album I owned was Cat Stevens’s Teaser and The Firecat.  My favorite track was Peace Train  At the time, it seemed to my 11-year-old self that the adults of the world had fucked things up pretty good and that someday when my generation came of age, things would get fixed. Yeah, so much for that. It reminds me of a time when I could feel hopeful about the future in spite of assignations, Kent State, Cambodia, etc. I’m tempted to be optimistic sometimes and then I read the Islamaphobic comments under this beautiful song and remember some people will go on hating. I can choose not to.


Oh, please train.


Mike Kelly

Drain You -- Nirvana 

Like most self-respecting middle schoolers with an aesthetic that departed from the Color Me Badds of this world, I bought Nirvana's Nevermind. I didn't really understand what I was listening to but I knew it was different from the hair bands I had l heard thus far. It didn't hurt that Kelly Siedel (a hot 9th grader) had the concert t-shirt.  

Put differently, I was the very dude Kurt Cobain wrote about in the chorus of In Bloom.  As April turned to May, I got a little more sophisticated about what I was hearing and read the liner notes for the lyrics and the poignancy of the record became more clear to my 7th grade self.  I finally listened to other songs aside from Lithium (I could understand the words) and Smells Like Teen Spirit (because Dave Grohl goes hard) and found Drain You.  

What makes this deep track such a hidden gem was that up until that point, the songs I heard offered up a wholly sanitized version of romance replete with teddy bears, roses and Boyz II Men songs. It was an ideal of what it meant to like someone else that even then I remember being bored by.  

So when KC screamed about simultaneously making out and eating dinner, a whole slew of possibilities that departed from the anesthetized awkwardness of trying to make everything perfect came into sight.


Dave Kelley

I only have one sibling and she is seven years younger than me.  My parents were into their thirties when I was born and had no interest in rock music at all.  They liked big band music from the 30's and 40's and the classic crooners like Sinatra and Nat King Cole.  Suffice it to say that my introduction to rock music came later than most.

In high school we had an aesthetics class, and the teacher was cool enough to let Dave Wallace and another friend named Scott do a presentation on the music of The Who.  I was instantly hooked.  The first record I bought was Who's Next.  I got it in 1978 on vinyl.  I listened to it non-stop and at amazingly high volume when home alone.  The classic songs on that record: "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Behind Blue Eyes", and "Baba O'Reilly" were the ones that most attracted me initially.  That is understandable because they are fucking awesome and still hold up today.  The Who and Stevie Wonder are the only musicians whose early 1970's synthesizer use still sounds great in 2018.

Perhaps my favorite song now from the record is "Bargain".  I think that is partially because it was not overplayed for decades like some of the others.  It is also just an amazing song that captures many of the best elements of The Who IMHO.  The rhythm section is still unmatched in the history of rock music to me.  Moon at times played lead drums, and the bass is amazing as well.  Daltrey was never the greatest singer, but he had the 70's cock rock style down cold.  Pete played an amazing rhythmic sort of lead guitar and was also one of the great song writers in the history of rock music.  "Bargain" features both he and Daltrey singing lead.

At one time my record collection consisted of every release by The Who, a couple of bootleg live albums, and a couple of their solo releases.  The only other record I owned was "Darkness" which I won in a record store giveaway.  Then I saw Bruce on The River tour, and I had a new obsession.  I am glad I am no longer so fixated on one or two artists, but I still love The Who and am taken back in time whenever I hear them.


Alice Neiley

Well, we're closing in on the end of the semester, which I'm rather happy about this year. It's been a doozy. The only thing I'm pointedly UNHAPPY about is that the blog will be on hiatus for the summer months. What am I supposed to read on Saturdays now?? 

That said, Cyndi's crazy theme week took me for quite a ride. Given that I was sort of...well...a geek in middle and high school. I mention this a lot, only because of how shocked I still am to have found so many other geeks (which makes me feel like less of one ;)). Anyway, I suspect all of us had similar nerd experiences way back when in one way or another, so I'll specify. I sang to myself in the empty auditorium at lunch, read while I walked, looked for four leaf clovers by myself every recess in a patch of grass by the middle school fence, knew nothing (and I mean NOTHING) about sex until I was in college, had no awareness of Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Eminem, or Missy Elliott, and hung out with the band kids even though I wasn't in band. Any questions? I thought not. 

That said, there is no question about the first album I purchased for myself: the soundtrack to the Sister Act II movie. It was released in 1993, but I watched the movie for the first time in 1996 then immediately bought the soundtrack. Some of you may know, this is the Sister Act with Lauryn Hill in it, though I only knew her as Rita Louise Watson (her character in the movie), a role she mastered a year or two before joining the Fugees and 5 years prior to the release of her Miseducation Album.  So. I suppose you could say "I knew her when", but it attests to my geekiness that the Miseducation album took 10 more years to show up on my radar because the next albums I bought for myself after the SAII soundtrack obsession were in 1999/2000, and they were Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter and Gershwin, and Stevie Wonder's greatest hits...*pushes up glasses shyly*. 

Anyway, I bought the soundtrack because I wanted so desperately to go to a high school with a choir like that, and listening to the choir tunes gave me that chest-inflating energy we all want out of our education/vocation/etc., and took me out of my actual life and into the one of a badass singer in a badass choir with badass friends.  Specifically, the 'choir's' version of 'Joyful Joyful' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Us9wOGOCLM&index=9&list=PLGPBMkAH50UA6P4KXdtczkZBPsv-ERCb0  and 'Oh Happy Day' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_ni4LEA_nI&index=4&list=PLGPBMkAH50UA6P4KXdtczkZBPsv-ERCb0 were high on my list -- partly because they are 2 out of 3 of the BEST scenes in the movie, but also because the fellow who solos on 'Oh Happy Day' (Ryan Toby) has an insanely fun falsetto, and Lauryn Hill is a goddess on 'Joyful Joyful', not to mention the greatness of bad rap and fun mini-groups with tight harmonies featured throughout. 

The hidden gem concept is complicated because, while I wouldn't consider this hidden exactly, it is understated, and its scene in the movie is incredibly moving. It's a duet between Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blunt -- to this day is the most beautiful rendition of 'His Eye is On the Sparrow' I've ever heard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz0FIKiL4dQ&list=PLGPBMkAH50UA6P4KXdtczkZBPsv-ERCb0&index=6
And back then, when I listened to it, I felt transcendent. Like I could escape what I wanted to escape, like I could follow my voice too. It sounds cheesy. Well, no, it IS cheesy, but that's where I was in life, and that's where this song was in me. 

Aside from that, there are some fun tunes featured on the soundtrack that I don't remember EVER listening to back when I bought it, but that I've grown fond of since, especially to pep me up on a tired day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qyFD8jgSng&index=7&list=PLGPBMkAH50UA6P4KXdtczkZBPsv-ERCb0


Cyndi Brandenburg

It is true...I did sort of Wehmeyer this one, but mainly because it turned out to be so much harder that I thought.  First of all, my pre-pubescent and adolescent taste in music kind of sucked, and second, it turns out that most all of the songs that were any good were pretty well known.  I do know that my sister and I bought every Billy Joel album produced over a 10 year period or so, and while this assignment did sponsor some really fun phone conversations with her about our vinyl collection, we never could determine for sure who purchased what.

In the end, I am going to go with Everybody Has a Dream, which is the last song on Billy Joel's best album, The Stranger


I like it because of it's slight gospel/spiritual feel, and because it morphs into a cool reprise of the album's title track to close out, and because of the lyrics -- especially the last verse.  (This one would have totally worked on the camel ride, Scudder.) I honestly haven't looked yet at the blog or what anyone else has posted, and am pretty excited to do that now knowing one of us, any of us, could win for "worst song."


Gary Scudder

Boz Scaggs, We're All Alone

I suppose it's surprising that the first album I ever owned was not a Neil Young album.  Instead, it's Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs.  The first concert I ever saw (with the esteemed Jack Schultz) was Boz Scaggs, which doubtless helps explain my first album purchase.  The biggest hit from the album was Lowdown, although several songs on the albums received heavy play on the Cincinnati stations. We're All Alone was the last song on the album, and it's the perfect choice to close out an album.  Rita Coolidge had a bit hit with a cover of it a year later, which I had sadly forgotten.  The song itself is just a heartfelt ballad, but nevertheless I've always felt that it was one of the most beautiful love songs.  It's evocative and sad, and more than a bit elegiac, more than it is a happy and sunny love song, the former attributes I would argue are essential for a great love song.  I don't remember much of the concert itself, but I do remember at the very end of the show Boz waited for everyone else to walk off stage, even putting his hand on the shoulder of the last guy to shepherd him off and to insure that he was the last one, and also the last one to wave to the audience.  There was nothing bossy about it, and it wasn't like he was being egomaniaical or anything, but rather it was clear that he never dreamed that he'd ever be so successful that he'd be playing stadium shows and he clearly wanted to soak up every bit of the experience, including being the last one who waved to the crowd to say thank you.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Los Reprobatos

Recently I had my annual springtime revelation that I haven't spent my professional development funds (every year I make an oath that next year I'll remember, but, of course, I don't).  I started looking around for a suitable conference and came across one in Lisbon.  This made me think of the student trip I led to Spain and Portugal over Thanksgiving break in 2016, and in turn I reached out to a couple of the students to tell them that I was talking to the good folks at WLFT Hostel in Lisbon (which, by the way, is a fantastic hostel).  One of the student, Kirsten, sent along a picture of some graffiti (which was encouraged on the ceiling) at the hostel.  The students were Kirsten Potts, Jo Ames, John Amigo and Katie Lawrence. Last Saturday I was up on campus for an admitted student day here at Champlain to talk about the travel courses, and at one time we had a video running from the India/Sri Lanka trip, a running series of pictures from the Jordan trip, and an entire table full of artifacts from the Zanzibar trips.  I found myself wondering why we didn't have anything from the Spain/Portugal trip, which was only re-enforced by Kirsten's note.  I don't know why that trip has faded into relative obscurity, because it was an absolutely fantastic trip.  My student Eli Santos still swears up and down that it was the best week of his life.  The students uniformly had a great time. Part of the problem might be that we went in November and then as soon as we returned it was full scale mad planning for the India/Sri Lanka trip, which had enough of its own chaos.  That said, there may be another reason.  When we were in India one of the student, Mitch, who had also gone with us to Spain/Portugal, asked I had bothered taking kids to Spain and Portugal?  We were sitting in the midst of the general chaos of India and, by comparison, at least to Mitch, the Iberian peninsula just seemed awfully tame.  However, apparently it wasn't simply Mitch who thought it was tame.  Maybe I've convinced myself that you have to go much further afield for the trip to be truly transformative.  However, is that really true?  If the locale is so "exotic" that the students retreat into themselves then maybe it's not as transformative as some place that feels a bit more comfortable.  I certainly asked the students to do a lot more on the Spain/Portugal trip and gave each of them daily chores to lead, which I would never have done in India or Africa or Jordan, which in turn pushed them outside their comfort zone and made them interact to their new locale in a way that they might have in the other locations.  Either way, it's making me want to revisit that trip, so expect some posts as I get caught up.

Oh, and Katie, KT, really?  You would have thought that all those papers I made you write would have inspired your literary talents to come up with a better

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Books@Cafe

I'm still getting caught up on posts from the recent Jordan trip, so expect many more stories and pictures from an amazing trip.  Here's a picture and a quick post about our visit to Books@Cafe in Jordan.  I'd post more, but I ended up taking off for another adventure with one of my students (more on that soon).  In all of my trips to Amman I had never made it to Rainbow Street, which is a very cool and funky corner of the capital.  Books@Cafe is a great little bar and restaurant which is very gay friendly, and on Thursday nights Amman's only gay bar (or at least the only one I know about). It's got a great bookstore and an OK restaurant and a nice bar, and a pretty killer view of downtown Amman.  I almost ended up in Amman on my sabbatical year (and might on my next one) and I suspect that if I did I'd kill a lot of time at Books@Cafe. And across the street . . .

Our students were very happy - and surprised - with Books@Cafe.  I asked them, "Was it gay or bar that surprised you most?"  They said either separately, but especially the combination of the two.  I reminded them to not assume that they understand the Middle East from American media or popular culture.


Discography Year Two - Week 31

We're closing in on the last third of the second year of our Discography music discussion (stupid math).  Kevin and I are just back from a great trip to the Natti where we were able to spend time with the truly excellent Dave, Jack, Miranda and Nate - and commit caloric crimes that will still be told in wonder around the post-apocalyptic bonfires.  Allegedly, this means that I don't have another trip planned until late December.  Except that after conversations with the most excellent JS it's clear I need to head to Miami this summer.  Oh, and I just found a conference in Lisbon, Portugal scheduled for late May (hmmmmm).  I'm a different - and better - person when I'm travelling; similarly, I'm a different - and far better - person when you folks are in my life.

Oh, and here's a reminder that next week is our latest theme week.  Here, once again, are the directions as laid out by the esteemed Cyndi B:

"For the next thematic week, each of you will have to revisit the dark
recesses of your early adolescent brains.  As you enter those green
grimy walls hung with cobwebs, try to ignore the possibility that this
is what eternity looks like, and instead  focus on the treasure hunt
task at hand. Here is what you are looking for:

What were among the very first albums that you personally purchased
for yourself, probably in middle school or high school and in the form
of vinyl or CD?  What popular song(s) compelled you to make said
choices? And most importantly, what unknown song did you discover as a
result, as a cut buried deep, that proved to be the kind of hidden gem
that redeems your naive choice in ways that still make you happy?"


I already have my song chosen chosen.  Do you?


Dave Wallace

Iggy and the Stooges - Search and Destroy

 I recently watched Jim Jarmusch's very good documentary on the Stooges, Gimme Danger, which I would recommend for any fan of this seminal group.  Some have argued that the Stooges are the greatest rock band of all-time, and it's a pretty good argument.  With their songs, their sound, and their attitude, they epitomize rock music at its purest and most rebellious.  There are a bunch of great Stooges song and, for today's blog, I chose the lead song off their third, and last, album.



Kevin Andrews


One of my all-time favorite YouTube clips is from The Steve Allen Show in 1963 featuring a 22-year-old Frank Zappa purportedly playing a bicycle. The clip sets the table for his career as an Avant Garde composer. Frank’s music was often angry and topical, usually poking at America to pay attention. One of his songs, More Trouble Every Day, about the 1965 Watts riots became relevant again in 1992 after the Rodney King incident. This recording from 1973 also includes Son of Orange County, his “tribute” to our 37th president.

And in your dreams
You can see yourself
As a prophet
Saving the world
The words from you lips
(I am not a crook)
I just can't believe you are such
A fool

I just can't believe
You are such a fool

Both tunes show off his composing, arranging and his instrumental skills.


While I’m here, thank you to all of our Northern Kentucky, Southern Ohio comrades for an excellent time last weekend. Go see They Might Be Giants at the Madison Theater. It’s good for what ails you, assuming something ails you. I'll be making Goetta today thinking of you.


Phillip Seiler

Darlingside

Kathy and I were fortunate enough to see Darlingside this past Sunday at a sold out show in the Yankee Hellhole. Our lives are a massive pile of chaotic nonsense at the moment and it being a school night, there was some doubt if we could last through a whole concert on a Sunday. The opening act did little to alleviate that feeling.

But then Darlingside hit the stage and from the opening notes there was no doubt that we were in for the full show. These guys are the real deal with expert musicianship, stunning harmonies, and great stage presence. Each member takes a turn at the mic between songs and they all have distinct personalities that lend an intimate and amusing feel to the show. Who knew a story about lime-coconut-fish sauce sorbet and a bath towel could be so amusing?

I have included their newest single as performed live in a radio studio so you can see just how tight they are. But I will also link to the official music video because it is freaking adorable: https://youtu.be/cI6Le6Rs5gA The whole new album is a beautiful collection of songs with some dark themes. 


If these guys come to your town, make sure you make time to see them. I am still stunned tickets were only $14. We bought all the merch to show our love.


Dave Kelley

Given that Jason Isbell is currently my favorite artist both live and on record, it is odd that I have not used one of his songs on the blog.  I now make amends by using two that I find to be very complimentary of one another.


This the 1st love song he wrote about his wife the musician Amanda Shires.  It is very much about the beginning of their relationship.  He kicked booze and other substances to be with her.  Live, it is always so powerful when he sings, "but I sobered up, I swore off that stuff, forever this time."


In this amazing song, Isbell contemplates he and Amanda's mortality and the fact that the inevitability of death puts an expiration date on their love.  Some day one of them will have to walk alone.  


What really puts this song to the next level for me is the idea that life is made more beautiful by the fact that it ends. This is probably my favorite song of the last 5 years.


Gary Scudder

Lanterns on the Lake, If I've Been Unkind

Lanterns on the Lake is a British indie band that I promoted a few weeks back.  They're like some mashup of the Cure, the Smiths and Neko Case - or if Neil Young's Don't Let It Bring You Down existed as a separate universe.  They only have three full-length albums, and a couple EPs, and I recently downloaded their first album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, which also features I Love You, Sleepyhead. I don't know if I love them, but I'm starting to like them quite a bit (although this may just be the eternal mopey and self-absorbed teenage girl in me).  I was talking to someone recently about Islam and pointed out that small kindnesses are a huge part of the faith (which is why the former Cat Stevens calls his charity Small Kindnesses).  Essentially, on a day to day basis all the faith is is a series of opportunities to provide small kindnesses to others.  Or, as I opined the other day, life seems to me to be a sort of complicated and expansive Venn diagram where you share time and space with others.  That shared time and space might be geographically expansive and last for thirty years or it might constitute four square feet in a queue and a minute and a half.  Now, what are you going to do with that shared space and time?  And how are you going to make the other person's life better, even if only in the most fleeting of fashions?  As Muslims we may discuss an eye for an eye because of the connection to Judaism, but it's not actually something we believe in.  Rather, we are told repeatedly to return the worse with the better, and this is why small kindnesses are stressed.  That said, and at least to me, then the worst thing might be small unkindnesses.  I'm not a person with many regrets, actually, mainly because there haven't been many times when I actually said no to life. However, what tortures me are the memories of time when I have been unkind, even if only unintentionally.  I could have made that person's life better, even momentarily, and I didn't; I failed at one of the few things actually within my power.  Most of all I regret the times that I was unkind to my ex-wife and my son, two wonderful people who deserved something better than having me in their lives. I don't know if I was ever intentionally cruel, but in the process of becoming a very different person I know there were many times when I hurt them, and pain rendered rendered intentionally or unintentionally is still pain.  This all consistently leads me on an almost Proustian journey through my own past to reflect upon the times I've been unkind and ways that I could make up for it.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Recruiting for the Class of 2039

My student Hannah Warren sent along this picture she had snapped of me.  It was the first full day of our recent trip to Jordan and we were exploring downtown Amman.  This has become our traditional first day: start at the King Abdullah Masjid, then move on to the Citadel and the Roman theater, and then just lose ourselves in the old city.  As I've mentioned before, one of the things that our guide and friend Mahmoud did so well was reach out to folks to talk to us.  We were chatting with a woman inside the Roman theater when she handed me her baby.  She may have just been hoping that some of the inexplicable American luck would rub off on her baby, or it might have just been representative of the extraordinary Jordanian friendliness (she probably thought I missed my grandchildren).  The students seemed oddly surprised that I would happily hold a baby - or maybe they were just concerned I would eat it.

This became a very popular picture on Facebook and Twitter.  There was some talk about the identity of the baby, but my brother Eric was more interested in the identity of the old man on the right.  My answer was, of course, Santa Clause.  This explain why mothers always hand me children: it expedites the delivery of wish lists.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 30

What?!?! It's Week 30 already?  That means that there are only twenty-two weeks left before the second year of our eminently excellent Discography music discussion draws to a close.  Some people - could be anyone - but in this case Cyndi Brandenburg (a woman of immense intellectual gifts but little faith) has proposed that the Discography has played itself out and no one cares any more.  That said, I (a man of decidedly limited intellectual gifts but a marginally impressive amount of faith) disagree. While we should probably burn Cyndi at the stake for her lack of faith (or at least attach a carrot to her nose) I've decided upon a different approach.  In the last week I've been asked to serve on the Constitution Committee at my local masjid - and have been called to jury duty - both events, happening simultaneously, speak to my Solomon-esque wisdom and sense of justice.  Consequently, Cyndi is responsible for choosing the theme for our next Theme Week, which is Week 32.

And, huzzah, here is said theme from the truly excellent CB:

"For the next thematic week, each of you will have to revisit the dark
recesses of your early adolescent brains.  As you enter those green
grimy walls hung with cobwebs, try to ignore the possibility that this
is what eternity looks like, and instead  focus on the treasure hunt
task at hand. Here is what you are looking for:

What were among the very first albums that you personally purchased
for yourself, probably in middle school or high school and in the form
of vinyl or CD?  What popular song(s) compelled you to make said
choices? And most importantly, what unknown song did you discover as a
result, as a cut buried deep, that proved to be the kind of hidden gem
that redeems your naive choice in ways that still make you happy?"


Kevin Andrews

I came across this great quote about Joe Pass from New York Magazine in 1997, "Joe Pass looks like somebody's uncle and plays guitar like nobody's business. He's called 'the world's greatest' and often compared to Paganini for his virtuosity. There is a certain purity to his sound that makes him stand out easily from other first-rate jazz guitarists." (I found it in Wikipedia for those of you into citations.) There are only a handful of jazz guitarist of this caliber; Wes Montgomery, maybe George Benson. He makes this look so effortless. 


The list of people he’s played with is as good as it gets. Here he is with Ella Fitzgerald and on Oscar Peterson’s BBC show  The YouTube has some vids of Oscar and Joe together too.


Dave Kelley

Amy Winehouse. "Someone to Watch Over Me"

One of the best tunes in the American songbook covered by the greatest female voice of her generation.  What makes this so tragic is that she is dead partially because she lacked someone to watch over her.

Bonus track

What a loss.


Gary Scudder

Sturgill Simpson, Turtles All The Way Down

One of these days I should really compile a list of all the new music that you folks have introduced me to on the Discography, some of which has become favorites.  A great example would be Sturgill Simpson, who I knew nothing about.  I recently downloaded his second album, Metramodern Sounds in Country Music and I'm hooked.  I think you're the very definition of alt-country when your songs borrow passages from Stephen Hawking.  In his A Brief History of Time Hawking recounts this story:

"A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy.  He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.  At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: 'What you have told us is rubbish.  The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.' The scientist gave superior smile before replying, 'What is the tortoise standing on?' 'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. 'But it's turtles all the way down!'"

When talking about the song Simpson said:

"I just reached a point where the thought of writing and singing any more songs about heartache and drinking made me feel incredibly bored with music.  It's just not a headspace I occupy much these days.  Nighttime reading about theology, cosmolology, and breakthroughs in modern physics and their relationship to a few personal experiences I've had led to most of the songs on the album . . . I expected to be labeled the 'acid country guy,' but it's not something I dwell on.  I would urge anyone that gets hung up on the song being about drugs to give another lesson . . . To me 'Turtles' is about giving your heart to love and treating everyone with compassion and respect no matter what you do or don't believe."

Clearly Sturgill Simpson has to become the favorite singer/songwriter for Cyndi B and Kathy S immediately.  I expected a large crowd when Simpson comes to Burlington this summer.  Kevin and I are already investigating tickets.