“Stare at the Sun” — Eleanor Friedberger

“Blueberry Boat” — The Fiery Furnaces (Live)

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part VIII

36. Bob Mould

A long long time ago, waaaaay back before all the cool kids had the internet, with its fancy bloggers and mp3s and hipster sites to tell them what bands were cool this week, we had to find out about indie music–which, at the time, simply meant music on independent labels, not some particular “sound”–in all sorts of arduous ways: from mixtapes handed down from someone’s older cousin, via thankyous and shoutouts in CD and tape liner notes, 120 Minutes (which meant being really drowsy on Monday), magazines like SPIN and Option, and, believe it or not, paper catalogs from labels like SST.

I had one of these paper catalogs from SST: they put them in the CDs and tapes that they sold. I think mine came from Sonic Youth’s Sister. That’s how I learned about Hüsker Dü and Bob Mould. I found New Day Rising on tape. This is easily one of the best “hardcore” records ever made–whatever that label means, I don’t know what it means, but some people call Hüsker Dü “hardcore” music–I don’t know. Sugar, Bob Mould’s other band, did some awesome stuff too.

Hang on, what was the point of all that stuff about the internet and record catalogs? I forget. Oh, yeah. Kids today have it too easy. Grrr. Arrgh.

Hüsker Dü covers The Byrd’s “Eight Miles High”:

37. J. Mascis

Speaking of SST guitar heroes…

I saw Dinosaur play a couple of years ago, the reunited version with Murph and Lou Barlow. They played at the House of Blues in Orlando, which is in this weird Disney-mall thing. I don’t know quite how to explain it. It was a Disneyfied downtown (although that also describes Orlando’s real downtown). I was pretty drunk and I couldn’t really get into. I really wanted them to play “In a Jar,” and they played it for like their third song, and that was kind of it for me. And then, when I went to the bathroom, there was a uniformed bathroom attendant, which was kind of depressing for me also. I mean, I just don’t think that’s very rock’n’roll. It didn’t bother me that J. Mascis looked like a really fat Edgar Winter.

38. Tim Gane

Most people don’t think of Stereolab as a guitar band. Actually, most people don’t think of Stereolab at all, probably. I really like Stereolab though. Tim Gane’s got this completely understated style, this mid-tone perfect rhythm that propels and leads the band. No solos.

39. Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr also has an understated style, and I really like that. His guitar lines for The Smiths were somehow melodic and rhythmic at the same time, and he always made room for Morrissey’s gorgeous voice and the killer rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. And he was always careful to not rock too much.

40. Matt Friedberger

My love for Fiery Furnaces is well-documented on this site, so I won’t rant about their awesome albums and clever lyrics and seemingly unstoppable prolificness. I won’t! Matt’s guitar-playing has this squawky, nervous energy that resolves into moments of brief, assuaging beauty before going into more perfect awkwardness. Live, the man is a beast. He plays like Michael Jordan; id est, with his tongue hanging out.

Stuff You Can Buy/Stuff That Is Free

Fiery Furnaces latest, Widow City drops today. I love it. It’s really good rocknroll. It’s great. You should buy it. You’ll love it. Or maybe you hate music? You don’t hate music, do you? Then prove it, sucker.

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Also, read today’s Village Voice interview with chief-Furnace Matt Friedberger. Prove you’re cultured, damn it!

Also out today: the Vintage paperback edition of Dave Egger’s sorta fictionalized memoir What Is the What? I haven’t read this yet, but my copy should be showing up by next week via Amazon. So I can’t say if you should buy it or not. A lot of folks tend to hate on Eggers without having read his work (I’ve seen people on the net identify his writing as extremely ironic: all one has to do is read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (an overrated, completely self-indulgent, but still enjoyable read) to see that this guy is completely earnest. But: many who have read Eggers hate on him as well. So. Granted: McSweeney’s tends to be pretty hipster-smartassed-ironic at times. Still. Earnest, people, earnest). I think it’ll be pretty good though. Will let you know.

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If you’re ordering all this stuff online, you might as well pre-order the paperback printing of Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital: it drops later this month. I read it and loved it, despite the fact that my edition was hardback (I find hardback books, particularly those of epic length, awfully difficult to read). You can read all about my love for The Children’s Hospital here.

And while I’m completely shilling for McSweeney’s, and championing capitalism in general, I should point out that the October issue of The Believer has a pretty cool interview with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear (or maybe he’s just Panda Bear’s Panda Bear, after the shining genius of Person Pitch) as well as a great essay weighing psychoanalysis against neuroscience. But this is really just a segue to an attempt to redeem my rapacious shilling for the industrial-military complex that is propped up on book and CD and magazine sales. Said segue:

You can read the aforementioned essay without shelling out eight bucks by simply going here, to The Believer‘s website. The current issue’s interview with Optic Nerve writer-artist Adrian Tomine is also up.

But “So what?” you say, “there are plenty of interviews and essays out there. Who cares? Give me something substantial!”

Something substantially funny: Clarke and Michael, the not-so-real-life (but-maybe-sort-of-real-life?) adventures of Clarke and Michael as they shop their screenplay around LA. I love this show.

Also, great archive of free e-books here, if you’re into permanent eye damage.

Finally, you probably don’t know about this yet: Biblioklept has a major scoop: British band Radio Heads plans to release their new album, In Rainbows, tomorrow, for free (technically, you can pay what you want to for it. Which, if you are like me, is probably nothing).

That’s right, folks: you can get music on the internet for free. More italics to emphasize this point. You can get that Radio Heads album here starting tomorrow October 10th.

Twelve Songs as Good as Any Short Story (In No Particular Order)

1. Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ World War III Blues”

First off–yes, the entire list could be comprised of Dylan songs. I choose this one simply because it’s one of my favorites, and also from the first Dylan album I ever bought. Dylan visits a psychiatrist and tells him about the awful dreams he’s been having. Dylan is “down in the sewer with some little lover” when the bomb goes off; upon surfacing he discovers a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors aren’t to friendly–in fact, he’s even accused of being a Commie at one point. Even the abandoned Cadillac he finds–a “good car to drive after a war”–brings him no pleasure, and in his loneliness, he takes to calling the automated time update service, but it’s no longer being updated. The doctor cuts him off, saying that he’s been having similar dreams, only he was the only one left alive in his dreams. Dylan ends the song by declaring “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,” the subtlest anti-war slogan I’ve ever heard.

2. Stephen Malkmus, “Jenny and the Ess-Dog”

The tragic story of Jennifer, an 18 year “rich girl,” and her 31 year old boyfriend, “the Ess-dog, or Sean if you wish.” The Ess-Dog plays in a 60s cover band, drives a Volvo, and loves to play frisbee with their dog Trey (um, shades of Malkmus himself?) They love to make out to Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and do cocaine (Trey observes their “baby talk voices and post Class-A nasal drip”). Of course, such a romance can’t last: Jenny heads up to college in Boulder and pledges Kappa; the poor Ess-Dog starts waiting tables and even “sells his guitar.” Sad, sad, sad.

3. Roy Orbison, “Running Scared”

In just three verses and under two and a half minutes, Orbison captures all of the paranoia, fear, and triumph of teenage romance. The narrator is always “running scared, feeling low,” afraid that his girl’s ex might show up and try to get her back. Sure enough, his shaky confidence is put to the test: the ex shows up, “so sure of himself, his head up in the air.” The poor narrator’s heart is breaking, but in the final glorious moments, his girl chooses to stay with him. Classic.

4. Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”

So you’ve always wanted to read Emily Brontë’s Gothic romance Wuthering Heights but you just don’t have the time? And you don’t even have time to read the Sparknotes version? Or even the Wikipedia entry? Well, never fear–singer-songwriter/space alien Kate Bush recorded a chilling version of the story (okay a tiny little fragment of the story), told from the perspective of poor dead Cathy, pining for Heathcliff–the adoptive brother she spurned (ooh! Incest! uh…sorta). Even if it’s just a take on one part of the novel, it’s still a good story, a great song, and a truly ethereal vocal.

5. Fiery Furnaces, “Chief Inspector Blancheflower”

Pretty much every song by my favorite band Fiery Furnaces is some kind of zany adventure narrative, full of places and names and numbers. Blueberry Boat in particular has any number of good narratives–the title track, “Chris Michaels,” “Quay Cur”–but my personal favorite is the rivalry between two brothers at the end of “Chief Inspector Blancheflower.” “Blancheflower,” like many Furnaces’ songs, is a suite; the final segment of the suite is cleverly framed within the rest of the narrative as part of a story told over a “Woodpecker cider with a local fratricider” to the previous narrator. Despite “Mom’s oxycontin and the Amstel light,” the narrator finds that he’s doing all of the talking during a visit to his “younger brother Michael,” prompting him to get “both remotes and turn off the DVD” and confront his brother. It turns out that little Michael is now dating the narrator’s ex, Jenny. “My Jenny?” he asks, dumbfounded, to which little brother replies: “You know damn well she ain’t your Jenny no more.” He confronts Jenny the next day outside her “dad’s bakery,” accusing her of messing with Michael’s head as “some kind of revenge” against him. In the end though, it’s futile. He winds up at a bar, telling the story to the previous narrator.

6. De La Soul, “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Claus”

Dillon, the seemingly benevolent social worker who mentors the fellas in De La Soul, is actually a monster who molests his teenage daughter Millie. She takes her revenge at the local mall, coldly executing her pop who is volunteering as Santa Claus: “Millie bucked him with the quickness/ It was over.” Classic track, classic album.

Unfortunately, no vid for “Millie,” but you can still enjoy “A Rollerskating Jam Named “Saturdays”” (with a sweet Chicago sample, to boot):

7. Public Enemy, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”

“I got a letter from the government the other day/ I opened and read it/ It said they were suckers/ They wanted me for their army or whatever/ Picture me givin’ a damn–I said never.” This is possibly the best opening in the history of rap, but Chuck D only keeps upping the ante: the narrator soon realizes that “the suckers had authority,” and before you can blink, he’s “sittin’ in the state pen,” planning his escape. He attacks a “C-O,” steals his gun, and goes on a prison rampage, “52 brothers” behind him. The faithful S1Ws arrive (with bazookas!) to escort the escapees to northern freedom. Great stuff.

Tricky’s version is pretty good too:

8. Leonard Cohen, “The Partisan”

Cohen adapted “The Partisan” from an old WWII French Resistance song, “La Complainte du Partisan” by Emmanuel D’Astier de la Vigerie and Anna Marly. The historical significance only adds to the song’s haunting melody and diffident spirit. “The Partisan” recounts the sad story of a freedom fighter who has lost his wife and children, but keeps on fighting. “There were three of us this morning,” he says, ominously adding, “I’m the only one this evening.” Grim stuff.

9. Johnny Cash, “Cocaine Blues”

“Cocaine Blues” begins with narrator Willy Lee telling us: “I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down” for messing around on him. He sleeps on the murder, then wakes up the next morning and “takes a shot of cocaine” before taking off. Unfortunately, the cops catch up with him down in Juarez, Mexico. He’s sent to trial, and the “little judge” hands him his sentence “in about five minutes”–“99 years in the Folsom pen.” He laments that he can’t forget the day he “shot that bad bitch down,” warning the listener to “lay off that whiskey, and let that cocaine be.”

I couldn’t find footage of Cash doing the song, but this isn’t so bad:

And if you insist on seeing Cash sing a narrative song:

10. Tom Waits, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”

The saddest Christmas song ever begins with a junkie whore’s plaintive salutation to her ex-lover: “Hey Charlie I’m pregnant.” She goes on to explain that life now isn’t so bad: her old man, who “works out at the track” knows that the kid isn’t his but promises to “raise him up like he would his own son”; he even gives her a ring that was “worn by his mother” and takes her out dancing “every Saturday night.” Still though, things aren’t great. The hapless narrator delivers one of the saddest lines in any song I’ve ever heard: “I still have that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials/ But someone stole my record player/ How do you like that?” Things get even sadder when the narrator laments: “I wish I had all the money we used to spend on dope.” By the end of the song she comes clean, admitting that she doesn’t have a husband, and that she’s writing because she needs to borrow money. It turns out she’s in prison, and she’ll be “eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.”

11. New Order, “Love Vigilantes”

“Love Vigilantes” is now over twenty years old and just as relevant as it ever was. This is a love song, a protest song, and a ghost story all in one. The biggest irony isn’t the O. Henry-by-way-of-Poe twist ending, it’s the discrepancy between the ebullient rhythm and pop melody of the music clashing against the mournful lyrics.

12. Belle and Sebastian, “Jonathan David”

On the surface, “Jonathan David” appears to be a song about two guys who like the same girl: “I know you like her/ Well I like her too/ I know she likes you.” However, pick up the Biblical allusion to find the subtext. The narrator says, “I was Jonathan to your David/ You’re still king.” In the Old Testament Book of Samuel, Jonathan takes an extreme liking to future-king David, pledging his undying service to the handsome young hero. For centuries, whether the relationship was platonic, romantic, or sexual has been under debate. Read more here. In the light of the Book of Samuel, Belle and Sebastian’s “Jonathan David” is still about a friendship split by a girl, only it becomes clear now that the narrator is really in love with his friend. In typical B&S fashion, the narrator wavers between hope and despair, declaring at one point that “It’s not like we’ll be parted/ It’s not like we’ll never know love,” before ending on a melancholy note: “You and her in the local newspaper/ You will be married and you’ll be gone.” In the end, his adolescent homosexual infatuation has to give way to public expectation (“local newspaper”), and the simple fact that his friend digs girls.

2006 Superlatives

 Best Book I Read in 2006:

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

Best Book Published in 2006 that I Read in 2006:

I read plenty of fantastic books this year, but I don’t think any of them were published this year (although I’m sure that plenty of great books came out this year. I’m always playing catch-up). The closest I think I can come is a paperback of Dave Egger’s collection of short fiction, How We Are Hungry, which came out in October of 2005, actually (to plenty of mixed reviews–but I liked it a lot!). I will also read Egger’s What Is the What as soon as possible. Maybe this Christmas break (feel free to send me a copy). Here’s The New York Times Book Review Top 10 of 2006, and courtesy of the American Library Association, the TTT (the Teen’s Top Ten, popularly known as “the titties”).

Least Enjoyable Book I Read in 2006:

God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island, Georgia by Cornelia Walker Bailey (with Christena Bledsoe). I’m sure lots of people would really enjoy this book, in fact, I recommended it to a few of my students. Not for me though.

Most Likely to Succeed:

Ricotta Park will storm the nation (if Nicky Longlunch ever decides to start posting again). 

Most Likely to be President:

Barack Obama?

Best Dressed:

Saddam Hussein always was a sharp dresser–

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–but after some {ahem} troubles–

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–he had a fabulous makeover! Saddam looking dapper and energetic, yet casual and academic (oh, and seriously pissed)–

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Best Movie I Saw in the Movie Theater in 2006:

I’m pretty sure it was Litle Miss Sunshine, although I also enjoyed the movie where Will Ferrell was a race car driver.

Best Movie I Saw in 2006:

The New World (dir. Terrence Malick). This film is beautiful. You must watch it (twice).

Best Album of 2006:

Lots of contenders–M. Ward’s Post-War, Joanna Newsom’s Ys,  Destroyer’s Rubies, OOIOO’s Taiga, Girl Talk’s Night Ripper –all were great (and I know that I’m forgetting dozens)–but The Fiery Furnaces’ Bitter Tea didn’t leave my CD player for months…in fact I’m sure it’s still in there.

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Best Song of 2006:

“Star Witness” by Neko Case. Crafted from images that at first seem vague, “Star Witness” relates the haunting tale of a tragic accident. And the worst part of the accident is how mundane the whole scene is to everyone besides the speaker: “This is nothing new/No television crew/They don’t even put on the siren.”

Most Overrated Album of 2006:

The Crane Wife by The Decemberists. The Decemberists are so boring.

Best Live Performance of a Musical Group:

The Fiery Furnaces at Common Grounds (Gainesville, FL). One of the best concerts I have ever attended. The kids danced as The Fiery Furnaces deconstructed their songs, rearranging them into new suites, punching in and out of different albums. The true rocknroll.

Most Disappointing Live Performance of a Musical Group:

Wilco at The Florida Theater (Jacksonville, FL). Wilco didn’t seem to know that they were playing in a theater. Jeff Tweedy seemed completely annoyed at the crowd for not boogeying to the jams. Wilco’s performance came off like a simulation of a band that was really “into” the vibe–like they had watched films of themselves to improve, like a football team or something.

Best New Product:

Okay, boxed wine is nothing new, but in 2006 I started gleaming the cube. Boxed wines stay fresher longer than wine from a bottle, and are generally much less expensive. This summer I found my habit–which a prejudiced few might think declasse–validated by the cultural elite. I attended a pre-wedding party in a cave in the south of France this summer; Damien, the winemaker (it was his cave) served us box after box of delicious wine, trumpeting the superiority of the box as a vessel. So see.

Worst People of 2006:

Check out my previous post for some superlative hatin’. 

Man of the Year:

I wasn’t on the committee this year. I understand that they might have met in Orlando this year. This guy John Griffis heads the whole thing up. I’m sure he has a MySpace account. I really don’t know who won. I think this guy Andy won.

Woman of the Year:

The woman of the year is my darling wife Christy, of course.