Jesse Jarnow

Archive for December, 2011

the brief, undefaced life of the williamsburg bon iver billboard (pazz & jop notes 2011)

loureed boniver

A few months ago, a new ad went up at the corner of Grand Street, down the Bedford Avenue central drag in Williamsburg. As with the wall of Lou Reeds that covered a construction site a while back, near the new Duane Reade, I really wanted to see it covered in graffiti. Eventually, somebody mustered up an “I fucked Vincent Gallo” speech bubble for poor ol’ Lou, who seemed more like a set decoration than anything else. What was it an ad for, though? There was no text. Was it Lou’s leather jacket? Maybe just the Lou brand?

It was late summer, I’m pretty sure, when Bon Iver came to Williamsburg. His painted visage sat there on a guitar amp next to his bandmates [correction: his managers, including his brother], looking like a brah among brahs, in a Jagjaguwar shirt, arms open, doofy vibes, and hawking whiskey. One of us! And, brah, Bushmills! After about a month, somebody pasted some street art parody QR codes ungracefully over Mr. Iver’s junk, as well as similar regions of the other fellows in his band. I meant to take a picture the next time I walked by, but they’d been quickly scraped off. Not made for brick, it seems.

That nobody otherwise abused Justin Vernon’s not-selling-out-buying-in likeness is absolutely a deep personal failure on my part. I really should have done it, if only on general principle. It means that Bon Iver has already won. And I’m just not sure how I feel about that. I’ve got no real beef with the guy personally. But mostly I still hate most corny-ass non-jazz saxophone and Bruce Hornsby and 1980s/1990s Grateful Dead, which is what Bon Iver and Justin Vernon represent to me, the triumph of the crappy part of hippiedom over righteous experimentation and thoughtful chaos. Despite the fact that Vernon’s music seems genetically bred for me–almost as if under some creepy lab conditions with nostalgia-plumping steroids–I’ve never connected with it remotely, never been able to recall a hook or a melody or even a lyric. I’ve tried. He seems like a sweet guy, from all my interactions with him, culturally mediated or otherwise. Still nothing.

But I come not to hate on Bon Iver. Really. I come to hate on The National. Man, they suck. I went through a similar pattern with them for an album or two, trying–because of a then-ladyfriend, because of some pals who dug them–to get into music that ultimately just felt bland and wimpy. What Coldplay are to Radiohead, The National seemed to Wilco. Again, dudes seemed alright. They even seem to like the Dead, too, though I’m utterly terrified about the prospect of them curating a Dead tribute disc, which they seem to be doing. The positive that I’ve taken out of all of this, alongside The Nationalol’s recent 6-night run at the Beacon Theater, and other signs: the hippies–or at least their Bon Iver-loving descendants–still make up an authentic silent majority in popular music fandom.

Phish’s Trey Anastasio announced that he was working with The Nationalolol, appeared with them onstage, and a small chunk of the internet blew up. Falling more on The Nationalololololololol side of the equation, I think Anastasio and the 7 sets of conjoined and unconjoined twins that comprise the New York quatturodectet deserve each other in their gentle wimpiness. I wish far better for Anastasio, who at least has a history making adventurous music, though he’s long rivaled Lou Reed in the perversity of his creative choices. I can only hope the silent majority still has some anarchy thumping around inside them somewhere, a latent hippie impulse in the American pop consciousness ready for the word to start raising the freak flags everywhere. Which is what happened over the last few years, of course, between ye olde Fleete Foxes, Animal Collective, and what have you: a head re-entrenchment after years of bloody rockist/poptimist debates.

What I resent is how much of it–the Bon Iver Bushmills ad, the Trey/National collaboration–seems to transform gaudy tie-dye into another shade of beige. The Deadheads and the hippies at large deserve a more vibrant fate than that, something less compliant with the lame rock culture that’s settled over VIP-happy rock clubs and national media, less easy to put on as mellow background listening. Odds are, too, that Bon Iver will score high in Pazz & Jop this year, which means he’s both a critical and popular success.

A lot of the new music I kept coming back to this year abutted on Bon Iver’s territory, even, music that didn’t seem to be competing for anything. Especially, I loved the unadorned folk of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ The Harrow & The Harvest, and Arborea, another husband-wife folk duo specializing in ancient and fully present haunt. Caitlin Rose, a new singer/songwriter from Nashville, released a wonderful debut of ineffably modern countrypolitan songwriting. Not all of it came too close to Iver, though. Akron/Family (more my kind of post-Dead outfit) put out a pretty good album, but I spent more time with the series of Megaupload/Mediafire-distributed bmbz releases that distorted and stretched their psych into noise with buried and already familiar melodies. Oneida put on a few more 10-hour shows and a series of recordings in their various guises, including the late-night brah-out album I’ve been waiting for, Absolute II. Another album I loved was The Ex’s Catch My Shoe, glorious anti-anthems by a 30-year old Dutch punk band with a new lead singer and a horn section. Not usually a formula for awesomeness, but hey.

I spent plenty of the year righteously wallowing in the throes of old music, too, trying to ignore the aggressively weird central argument of Simon Reynolds’ Retromania, which seemed to claim that there was something somehow wrong with this practice. Just as all music is world music, though, all music–or, at least, all recorded music–is old music. It is the most central tenet of fandom, wanting to lift the needle–virtual or real–back to the beginning of the track to listen again and again and again and again. And the hope of being an active fan is to find more music that makes you want to do the same, that contains some fundamental humanity-carrying spark, piping fresh or recorded decades ago, to make you listen again.

It might appear anywhere, in the space between an acoustic guitar and a room tone, in an intentional lyric or unintentional phrasing, even in a big stupid/brilliant pop song. The latter didn’t happen to me this year but, as a hippie, that’s what I want: life flickering, a personality expressed. Also as a hippie, I recognize that there are plenty who seem to get that out of Bon Iver or American Idol or black metal or other sources of music that I’m equally mystified by. I can get down with a certain amount of objectivity, listening to appreciate what makes a finely constructed track/album/band, doling out the best in drone/pop/folk, but at the end of the year, I really just want music that I’m going to personally keep listening to even after the calendar changes. Pop accolades really don’t bother me, though. At least until Bon Iver starts turning up in ads for booze that I have to look at every day on my way to and from wherever.

So they gave Justin Vernon some heavy cash and he took it. Whatever. I even like Bushmills. What brought it home most for me, though, was when Vernon tweeted about [correction: told a NYT reporter] how he didn’t care about getting nominated for a Grammy, and then some band called him out for the Bushmills ad on Twitter, and then Pitchfork reported on it. They published a brief account of the spat. Just below it was an embedded video, made by Bushmills, featuring (I assume) exclusive footage of the Bushmills/Bon Iver photo shoot. That week, too, Pitchfork was bordered by massive banner ads from the same advertising campaign. I suppose it’s long been the reality, and not even that really bothers me.

What bothers me is the mundanity of it all. As with the beiged tie-dye, it’s just another bit that’s gotten sucked into the great blanding maw of the cultural conversation that has maybe neutered music entirely in the wake of new and weirder ways of meaning, like international debt crises, existential occupations, and phone hacking. WTF could Tom Morello or even Jeff Mangum ever do in such company, anyway? Maybe its best for music to just exit that conversation stage left, right, or even directly through the gift shop. I have no real idea how, or even what that means in concrete terms. Imagine a world without Pitchfork ratings. It’s easy if you try.

One day, I came home, and some guys were painting over the Bon Iver ad. They’d white-washed Vernon & co. (ha!) and were etching some new shapes over them. Specifically, the vague outlines of a Jedi and a Sith Lord, selling some new Star Wars video game. Good and evil mapped themselves over Vernon’s face, and he continued to peer unblinking into the now-fogging afternoon light, and the next day he was gone.

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #8 setlist

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Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
27 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 8)*
The Trypes and Chris Elliott opened.
benefit for Oasis New Jersey.

Mix disc by Georgia

(YLT backed Chris Elliott on Neil Diamond’s “I Am, I Said”)
As The Hour Grows Late (with Rick Rizzo on guitar and John Baumgartner on accordion)
I Threw It All Away (Bob Dylan) (with RR and JB)
Heroin (Velvet Underground) (Roky Erickson version) (with RR)
I Should Have Known Better
Swing For Life
Liz Beth (Eleventh Dream Day) (RR on vocals)
Big Day Coming (acoustic) (with RR)
The Empty Pool (Yung Wu) with Glenn Mercer on guitar)
From A Motel 6 > (with GM)
Flying (The Beatles) > (with The Trypes)
It’s All Too Much (The Beatles) > (with the Trypes)
I Heard You Looking (with GM, JB on keyboards, and Stan Demeski on drums)
Take Care (Alex Chilton)

Blue Line Swinger
My Little Corner of the World (Bob Hilliard, Lee Pockriss) (with Marilyn Kaplan on vocals)

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #7 setlist

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Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
26 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 7)*
Kurt Vile & the Violators and Leo Allen opened.
benefit for Pathfinders International.

Mix discs by Ira

(whole show with Dave Schramm on guitar)
Sudden Organ
Can’t Forget
How To Make A Baby Elephant Float
I Can Hear Music (Ellie Greenwich)
When It’s Dark
Here Comes My Baby (Cat Stevens)
Cone of Silence
Little Eyes
I Feel Like Going Home
Griselda (Antonia) (with Peter Stampfel on fiddle and vocals)
One PM Again (with PS)
The One To Cry (The Escorts (with PS)
Wasn’t Born To Follow (Carole King, Gerry Goffin) (with PS)
Mr. Tough (with PS)
The Summer
Asparagus Song
Center of Gravity

I Can’t Make It On Time (The Ramones
Gates of Steel (Devo)
Prisoners of Rock and Roll (Neil Young)

Thanks to Dom for the setlists.

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #6 setlist

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
25 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 6)*
Dump and Kurt Braunhohler opened.
benefit for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Mix discs by Tim and Eric.

How Many Bells?
Dear Betty Baby (Mayo Thompson)
A Plea For Dump
It’s Not Alright
Another Lonely Christmas (Prince)
Daily Affirmation (with Georgia and Ira)
Superpowerless (with Georgia and Ira)

Santa Claus Goes Modern (Sven Swanson)
Barnaby, Hardly Working (with Tara Key on guitar)
Black Hole (The Urinals) (with TK)
Fog Over Frisco (with TK)
Sometimes I Don’t Get You
Flying Lesson (with TK and Gil Divine on guitars)
haker (with TK and GD)
Something To Do (with TK)
I’m Set Free (with TK)
Satellite (with Rachel Blumberg on drums and TK)
Nowhere Near (with RB and TK)
Outsmartener (with TK)
Moby Octopad (with TK)
Nothing To Hide (with TK)
Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind (with TK)

Take A Giant Step (Carole King, Gerry Goffin) (with TK)
She’s My Best Friend (Velvet Underground)
Dreaming (Sun Ra)

Thanks to Dom for the setlists.

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #5 setlist

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Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
24 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 5)*
The Glands and Jon Glaser opened.
benefit for Tommy Brull Foundation.

Mix disc by Mr. Finewine

Big Day Coming (slow) (with Tara Key on keyboards)
Stockholm Syndrome (with TK on guitar for rest of night)
The Crying of Lot G (with TK)
Demons (with TK)
Upside Down (drone version) (with TK)
Beanbag Chair
If It’s True
I’m On My Way (with TK)
Double Dare (alt. arrangement) (with TK)
Five-Cornered Drone (Crispy Duck) (with TK)
Orange Song (Antietam) (with TK)
Decora (with TK)
Big Day Coming (fast)
Little Honda (with TK)

Rock and Roll Santa (Jan Terri) (with TK)
Night Moves (Bob Seger) (with TK and Jon Glaser as ‘Jon’ on vocals)
Yellow Sarong (The Scene Is Now)

Thanks to Dom & Neil for the setlist.

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #4 setlist

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Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
23 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 4)*
Pussy Galore and Todd Barry opened.
benefit for Letha Rodman-Melchior Fund.

Mix disc by Chris Knox.

(whole show with Dave Rick on guitar.)

Detouring America With Horns (DR on bass)

Nothing To Hide
Avalon or Someone Very Similar
Porpoise Song (Carole King) (DR on vocals)
The River of Water
Ben Wa Baby (Phil Milstein)
Don’t Have To Be So Sad (with Rachel Blumberg on drums)
Saturday (with RB)
Coloured (Chris Knox)
Black Flowers
Today Is The Day (fast)
Some Kinda Fatigue
Tom Courtenay
More Stars Than There Are In Heaven

You Don’t Love Me Yet (Roky Erickson) (with RB)
This Ain’t The Summer of Love (Blue Oyster Cult) (with Todd Barry on drums)
Crush (Chris Knox)

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #3 setlist

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Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
22 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 3)*
Lee Ranaldo Band and Ted Alexandro opened.
benefit for Clean Ocean Action.

Mix disc by Kid Koala.

Sugarcube (alt. arrangement)
Mr. Tough
Season of the Shark
Periodically Double or Triple
Doesn’t Anybody Love the Dark (Run On) (with Alan Licht on guitar and vocals)
The Last Days of Disco (with AL, Lee Ranaldo on guitar, and Steve Shelley on drums)
Fourth Time Around (Bob Dylan) (with AL, LR, SS)
Decora (alt. arrangement) (with AL, LR, SS)
Double Dare (with SS)
Mote (Sonic Youth) > (with LR & SS)
Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind (with LR, AL, & SS)

Andalucia (John Cale)
Mandy (Barry Manilow) (with John Cameron Mitchell on vocals)

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #2 setlist

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
21 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 2)*
Spent and Bobcat Goldthwait opened.
benefit for International Relief Teams.

Mix disc by James.

Green Arrow (with Smokey Hormel on guitar)
We’re An American Band (with SH)
The Weakest Part (with SH)
Here To Fall (alt. arrangement) (with SH)
Let’s Be Natural (The Rutles) (with Neil Innes on guitar/keys/vocals)
Ouch! (The Rutles) (with NI)
Democracy (Neil Innes) (with NI)
Under the Evening Sun (Neil Innes) (with NI)
I Want To Be With You (Bonzo Dog Band) (with NI)
Where Has All the Money Gone (NI solo)
Bottom of the Pile (Neil Innes) (NI solo)
Doubleback Alley / Good Times Roll / Another Day / Cheese & Onions (NI solo until “C&O”)
My Heart’s Reflection (with SH & NI)
One of Those People (Neil Innes) (with SH & NI)
Tears Are In Your Eyes (with SH & NI)
I’m The Urban Spaceman (Bonzo Dog Band) (with SH & NI)
Autumn Sweater (with SH & NI)
The Story of Yo La Tango (alt. arrangement) (with SH & NI)

My Little Red Book (Burt Bacharach & Hal David) (with Gaylord Fields on vocals)
Hanky Panky Nohow (John Cale)

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

yo la tengo, hanukkah 2011, night #1 setlist

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
20 December 2011
*(Hanukkah, night 1)*
The Sea & Cake and Jon Benjamin & Jon Glaser opened.
benefit for Roots & Wings of New Jersey.

Mix disc by Bob Odenkirk.

(entire set with Mac McCaughan on guitar, keyboards, and vocals.)
Night Falls on Hoboken
Eight Days A Week (The Beatles)
Nothing To Hide
Stockholm Syndrome
Tears Are In Your Eyes
Did I Tell You?
Upside Down
Noisy Night (Portastatic) (Mac vocals)
Styles of the Times (with John McEntire on drums)
Don’t Say A Word (with John McEntire on drums)
Drug Test
Tom Courtenay (Georgia vocals)
I Heard You Looking (with Sam Prekop & Archer Prewitt on guitars)
Our Way To Fall (with Sam Prekop & Archer Prewitt on guitars)

Aba Dabba Do Dance (The Tradewinds) (with Todd Abramson on vocals & Archer Prewitt on drums)
Somebody’s In Love (Sun Ra)

N.B.: Penguin/Gotham will publish my book, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, on 6 June 2012. Sweet. See also: Twitter.

[ If reposting, kindly credit Frank & Earthy: ]

frow show, FMU-148

(Detailed 10. The Blue Things – “Desert Wind” – The Blue Things Story, v. 2 (Cicadelic)
11. Norma Jean – “What Locks The Door” – Heaven Help the Working Girl (Omni)
12. Caitlin Rose – “Own Side Now” – Own Side Now (ATO)
13. Gillian Welch – “Dark Turn Of Mind” – The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony)
14. Sachiko Kanenobu – “I Wish It Would Snow” – Misora (Chapter)
15. Eleven Twenty-Nine – “Eyes of Jewels, Mirrored Bodies” – Eleven Twenty-Nine (Northern-Spy)
16. Natural Snow Buildings – “The Crystal Bird” – Shadow Kingdom (Blackest Rainbow)
17. Tirath Singh Nirmala – “Slimping Tench Depth (Hmm Green)” – Slimp Tench Depth CD-R
18. Leonard Cohen – “Famous Blue Raincoat” – Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia)

19. Tall Firs – “Angel in the Snow” – Mystra Xmas cassette (Mystra)
20. Michael Yonkers – “Angel of the Snow” – Goodby Sunball (Secret Seven)
21. Rolf Julius – “Music For the Air” – Small Music v. 3: Music For A Garden (Mattress Factory) [with “Caroling on the Carillion” LP (Columbia) + “Story of the Music Box” LP (Caedmon) + Ogden Nash reads “Christmas With Ogden Nash” (Caedmon) + just the breathing from an hour’s worth of All Things Considered] 22. Masaki Batoh – “Kumano Codex 1” – Brain Pulse Music (Drag City)
23. Dylan Thomas – “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” – A Child’s Christmas In Wales (Caedmon)
24. Salyu – “s(o)un(d)beams” – s(o)un(d)beams (Toy Factory)
25. Janet Cardiff – “A Large Slow River” – A Large Slow River
26. Dick Sutphen – “Trance Sex (excerpt)” – Trance Sex (Valley of the Sun)
27. Chica and the Folder – “I’ll Come Running” – This Time the Dream’s on Me: Monica’s 2011 WFMU Premium

28. The Fall – “I’m Going To Spain” – The Infotainment Scam (Matador)
29. Sons of Adam – “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” – Randy Holden: Early Works (Captain Trips)

The Frow Show with Jesse playlists:
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Playlists RSS:
MP3 archives RSS:

Generated by KenzoDB ( ), (C) 2000-2011 Ken Garson

“run rudolph run,” 12/14/71, hill auditorium, ann arbor, MI

Download here. [MP3]

The Dead played “Run Rudolph Run” seven times between December 4th and 15th, 1971. Pigpen sang. The tune was a #69 hit for Chuck Berry in 1958, written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie. Unquestionably the best Dead version is the second-to-last, from December 14th at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. They played it twice in Chuck Berry’s hometown of St. Louis on December 9th and 10th, and it’s too bad not one of those, but the first night in Ann Arbor has the best mix of any of them. Keith Godchaux’s strident Johnnie Johnson-style piano is full and rich, like the familiar warm balance of Europe ’72, Garcia’s lines darting around it. Besides the following night, where he’s too loud, Godchaux is buried in most of the other recordings, Garcia and Weir’s guitars clanging against each other.

It’s a showcase for Pigpen, returning to the band after sitting out the fall tour, the first sign of weakening for the 26-year old alcoholic, who would die less than two years later. At times on the December east coast run, 11 shows from Boston to Ann Arbor, Pig is spotty. In Boston, the band pulled out his show-stopping “Turn On Your Lovelight,” and he faltered, unable to martial the gang into the weirdly psych-funk nooks they were often able to improvise behind semi-improvised patter about “box back knitties and great big noble thighs,” and they only revisited it one other time on the trip.

But by the end of the run, he seems almost back to form, though the big closers wouldn’t return with regularity until the band shuffled off to New York and then Europe the next spring. One lesson of my Dead listening project–revisiting every show close to its 40th anniversary, #deadfreaksunite, etc.–has been a constant reevaluation of the Dead as a working, aggressively evolving band, often marked by the unrelenting, constant expansion of their songbook. Most lately, this involved an appreciation of Pigpen’s still very active role in ’71 and ’72. Even for Deadheads, Pig is sometimes easy to write off in these later years, so often relegated to un-mic’ed sidestage congas.

While he didn’t exactly crank out tunes like Garcia and Weir, he had two new numbers to do for the December run, “Run Rudolph Run” and a new original, “Mr. Charlie,” which would go along fine with “Empty Pages,” introduced earlier in the year, had he not already abandoned that. Early ’72 would see two more Pig tunes go into rotation, “Chinatown Shuffle” (whose pick-up would get jacked for “U.S. Blues”) and the lost masterpiece “The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion).” Even after he left the road following the Europe ’72 tour, he continued to write, producing a set of home demos, which has circulated as Bring Me My Shotgun.

With its “Love & Theft”-like cadences on half-sensical tumbles about some heretofore unknown reindeer named Randolph (?!) and archaic constructions like “girl-child” and “boy-child,” it’s sort of mystifying that avowed Chuck Berry freak Bob Dylan didn’t record “Run Rudolph Run” for his Christmas in the Heart. But it’s a nice little novelty from the Dead’s brief two-keyboard lineup, where Pigpen and Godchaux got a nice Hudson/Manuel-like B3/piano blend on some of the recordings from those tours. Though Pig doesn’t play organ here, Godchaux’s presence gives him the chance to belt over straight-up boogie-woogie piano, a rare pleasure in itself only possible during these few tours.

All of which totally ignores the song’s holidayness, which really has no narrative and is, in an admirably teen-pop way, more about describing the apparent giddiness of the Christmas season in the post-War years. “Shopping is a feeling,” David Byrne said later in True Stories, and there’s maybe some of that in here (infused with holiday spirit, no doubt), with the subtle ’50s consumerism behind lyrics like “all I want for Christmas is a rock & roll electric guitar” and the girl-child’s wish for “a little baby doll that can cry, scream, and wet” (plus perfectly period automotive dreams about Santa speeding down a freeway). Not that Pigpen was signifyin’ or anything. He was–and thanks to the perpetual present tense of the recording is–just singing. The Dead may’ve been hippies, but by late 1971, they were mostly just a rock band.

“Run Rudolph Run”–at least the fifth or sixth Berry tune in rotation–is Pig in his element, and a vibrant little tick in Dead history. But it’s something maybe even more unique than that. In the Dead’s massive unofficial catalogue, it’s one of the very few versions of anything I’d happily call “definitive” with any measure of confidence. And, hey, that’s something to feel good about this holiday season.

frow show, FMU-147

(Detailed playlist, with listening links.)

1. The Four Populaires – “Holiday Greetings, 1960-1961” – Holiday Greetings, 1960-1961 7-inch (no label)
2. Dustin Wong and Matt Papich – “Blue Moon” – Red Cheeks For Green Grass (no label)
3. Woods – “Christmas Time Is Here” (Woodsist)
4. The Band – “All Creation” – Tombstone: The Lost Album (no label)
5. Sunny Ade – “Akure Nile” – The Master Guitarist, v. 4 (African Songs Ltd. )
6. Lijadu Sisters – “Bobby” – Danger (Knitting Factory)
7. The Heptones – “Sweet Talking” – Sweet Talking (Heartbeat)
8. NRBQ – “When it’s Summertime in the Wintertime” – Ludlow Garage 1970 (Sundazed)

9. Group Inerane – “Ikabkaban” – Guitars From Agadez Vol. 4 7″ (Sublime Frequencies)
10. Branko – “Herr Ved” – Onderliv 7″ (Kill Shaman)
11. Eric Copeland – “The Eyeball” – Puerto Rican 7″ (Post Present Medium)
12. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – “We’ll Be Turned On” – So Many Things (Goner)
13. Crystal Stilts – “Still As The Night” – Radiant Door EP (Sacred Bones)
14. Bobby Bare – “How I Got To Memphis” (Mercury)
15. New Riders Of The Purple Sage – “I Don’t Know You” (Columbia)
16. Tim Buckley – “Phantasmagoria In Two” – Goodbye and Hello (Elektra/Asylum)

17. Arborea – “Phantasmagoria In Two” – Red Planet (Strange Attractors)
18. Minamo – “Bound Letters” – Documental (Room 40)
19. Grasshopper – “Soleas” – Good Night Sweet Prince (Baked Tapes)
20. Robert Hall – “selections of clock bells” (New World Productions)
21. Albert Leskowsky – “A pneumatikus gong esete” – Music for the instruments of an exhibition (Origo)
22. Bernard Parmegiani – “Outremer” – Espaces Sonores No.1 (EMI France)
23. David Wojnarowicz & Ben Neill – “In The Shadow Of Forward Motion (Excerpt)” – The Hissing of Chrome Snakes: Dan Bodah’s 2011 WFMU Marathon Premium (V/A) (no label)
24. Paint Your Golden Face – “Torrents Of Water Subsumed Their Villages” – Community – A Compilation Of Hobart Music (no label)
25. The Soft Collapse – “Loveless” – comm, a (no label)

26. Freddy Fender – “I’m To Blame (at 33 1/3)” (Dot)
27. Okko – “Shiva’s Lullaby” – Sitar and Electronics (Okko)
28. Arpa Celtica Vincenzo Zitello – “Nembo Verso Nord” – Italic Environments (ARMADIO OFFICINA)
29. Nate Wooley – “The Almond (excerpt)” – The Almond (Pogus)
30. Ian Breakwell & Ian McQueen – “Breakwell’s Circus” – Audio Arts Magazine, vol. 4, no. 2 (Audio Arts)
31. C. Spencer Yeh – “Three Synthesizers March 2008” – Zelphabet, Vol. C (Zelphabet)
32. Peter, Paul, and Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane (at 33 1/3)” (Warner Bros.)

33. A.M. Gately – “Battle In The City” – Soft Sounds for Gentle People, v. 3 (Pet)
34. Phil Ochs – “The War Is Over” – Tape From California (Collectors Choice)
35. Neil Young – “Albuquerque” – Tonight’s The Night (Reprise)

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“we found love” – rihanna feat. calvin harris

And now back to an old occasional project, where I arbitrarily write about the #1 pop song du jour from the perspective of somebody who has only a passing knowledge of current mega-tunes. It doesn’t sound as strange to my ears as it did when I started doing this in 2003, but it still sounds like it’s from another planet.

“We Found Love” – Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
released by Def Jam

week of 17 December 2011
#1 this week, #1 last week, 11 weeks on chart

To my ears, the most initially attractive bit of this song–at least in that it gives me a little giddy rise–is the swell that happens at :53-1:08 and detonates into a millisecond sugar-rush of generic techno-plink. Later, it repeats the move, possibly with slight variation, and a longer sugar-rush dance resolution. But not really. The chorus comes back almost immediately. And, I suppose, in the case of the modern day global hit, it really is about the chorus, since the rest of the lyrics are a bunch of non-sequiturs strung against the hook, “we found love in a hopeless place.” Narratively speaking, this is very specific: there is a place, and it is hopeless. But while soft-focusing the rest of the words, it’s also the song’s broadest selling point. Something universal if (as made pretty clear by the video) pretty despairing. Hence the techno-swells and sugar-rushes, handy signifiers/call-outs from the international language of untz.

On second listen, the part of the song I actually like is the narrow valley it finds for the bridge, where pretty much everything drops out except a hanging keyboard bounce, whose existence is cheapened when it becomes obvious that its sole purpose is to allow Rihanna and producer Calvin Harris an excuse to get to the second techno-swell. It lasts all of six seconds before a miniature lead-in drops back into yet another iteration of the chorus. It’s funny to me, especially, that Harris gets a “featuring” credit here, given that his only presence on the song seems to be as a producer. Perhaps it is a new custom in this world. I’ve been away for a while.

am i a believer?

One of my more half-surprising favorite reissues this year was the Neil Diamond collection, The Bang Years, comprising his first two solo albums, when he was a Brill Building songwriter. It features his original version of “I’m A Believer,” among others. I’ve always abhorred most of Diamond’s later hits that I was familiar with, give or take a soft spot for “Beautiful Noise,” because it appeared in a favorite Mets highlights video when I was a kid.

In fact, there’s one specific section of “I’m A Believer” that belongs to a peculiar sub-set of my memory, a slight turn in the melody in the phrase “the more I gave the less I got” that immediately connects me, via some direct and thorough current, to a familiar emotional tinge from my childhood. As far as I can tell, the tinge is unattached to any one point in the past. More, it’s that it is precisely the same primal response–in the present tense–that I had when I was 6. There’s a particular acoustic guitar strum on “We Can Work It Out” (1:09) that does the same thing. In the case of “I’m A Believer,” it is actually a product of the songwriting–something present both in The Monkees’ hit that I first heard and Diamond version from The Bang Years–and not merely a production flourish, as it frequently turns out to be with other songs in this category. And, in a peripheral way, the whole collection carries that same personal time-track residue in its songwriting. Whatever it is, Diamond’s thumbprints in the melody and changes, it seems entirely intended. Which makes sense. He was a professional songwriter.

We have a friend’s pretty great LP collection on semi-permanent loan, since she’s moved into a smaller apartment, and I recently dug out Velvet Gloves and Spit, the first after those represented on The Bang Years, and holy sweet merciful motherfuck is it square. That’s pretty much obvious from the Bang material, too, but it’s aspirations towards teen-pop carry the day. Velvet Gloves, though, is from 1968, and it’s easy to tell which side of the castle gates Diamond is positioning himself on, musically and otherwise. The music is all dense chintziness, the aural equivalent of candelabras. No idea if Mr. D. ever used stuff like that in his stage sets, but that’s what I see. The folksinger/Elvis get-up he sports on the cover the live album Hot August Night probably informs this. Also, Velvet Gloves’ “The Pot Song,” which would be a pretty good slab of stoner folk if not for the interspersed monologues of recovering drug addicts talking about the gateway aspects of herbal jazz cigarettes.

And on top of that, an inscription in the liner notes: The American Popular goes on and on…. Just like that. In italics. In curling fancypants heavily seriffed script, centered, about two-thirds down on an ever-so-stately Dodge Dart brown sleeve. It’s an odd divide in time, historically and in popular music, and it’s a little discombobulating to actually hear the divide as clearly and cleanly as Neil lays it out. The textures aren’t even that far off from The Bang Years stuff, bouncing organs and hand-claps, but the forward motion of the Brill Building is gone. It’s powered by something else, moves off in a different direction into a sophistication without rebellion. So that’s going back on the shelf for a while, unless somebody presents some compelling evidence otherwise. There’s some typical nostalgia at play, of course, in listening to these recordings from the mid-60s. But mostly it’s just listening to transparently great songs. Um, thumbs up.

Here’s The Monkees, Neil Diamond, and (of course) Robert Wyatt’s versions of “I’m A Believer,” in which his man-child yip-croon seems to blow up each one of those memory-rubbing melodic details.

Robert Wyatt with Nick Mason- I’m A Believer… by doleho

baseball & the origins of jazz

The first two recorded uses of the word “jazz” were in reference to baseball, via Elijah Wald’s excellent How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music:

The Los Angeles Times of April 12, 1912, quoted a pitcher for the Portland Beavers as calling his special curve “the Jazz ball” because “it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it.” The next sighting was similarly in a baseball context, in a column about the San Francisco Seals, who returned from their Boyes Springs training camp in 1983 “full of the old ‘jazz’.” This time the reporter appended a definition: “What is the ‘jazz’? Why, it’s a little of that ‘old life,’ the ‘gin-i-ker,’ the ‘pep,’ otherwise known as the enthusiasalum. A grain of ‘jazz’ and you feel like going out and eating your way through Twin Peaks.”

Mmm, Twin Peaks.