Archive for music

Postcards from Inside My Head

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2008 by tigereye

I’ve got a few things I want to write about, but frankly, the past two weeks have mainly consisted of two things: migraines and work. Work has been OK; in order to avoid whining I won’t go into the migraines, except to say I’m really, really tired of this.

So, without any theme for the day, here are a few things I’ve read and heard and watched and done recently, in the hopes that someone else will find them interesting and read/listen to/watch one of them, and maybe your life will be changed for the better. Or maybe you’ll just be entertained for a few hours. Better keep those expectations low.

 Danielia Cotton.  I discovered her thanks to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, which has exposed me to so much terrible music over the past few weeks, I was going to sleep through it again, but then this amazing voice woke me up and made me write down the artist’s name. Danielia Cotton is a rock singer who reminds me of Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin singing over the Black Crowes’ music. The album NPR featured was Rare Child, which was phenomenal — not a bad track on it, which never happens anymore. Her first album, Small White Town, is almost as good. Not only does her voice knock me out and her music speaks to my raised-on-classic-rock soul, she’s a heartfelt lyricist too: I don’t think anyone’s talked to my heart like she does since I first discovered Gigi Dover or the Indigo Girls. I like her so much that when I Googled her and came across a snarky review, I wanted to crawl through my monitor to celebritycafe.com or wherever the hell it was posted and personally hit the “writer” in the mouth. Check her out. She rules. At this point, she’s far ahead of everybody else as being my Best Musical Find of the Year.

Duffy. OK, she’s no Danielia Cotton, but she’s pretty damn good. This is evidently going to be the Year of the Female Singer, which is fine by me. Duffy is a tiny little Brit chick with a voice the size of Aretha’s (hi again, Aretha — I promise this will be the last time I drag you into anything today) and a really cool Motown-ish sound to her music. Her album, Rockferry, isn’t as strong as either of Cotton’s, but then I doubt anything else is going to be, and anyway Rockferry isn’t at all bad, just a little first-album-ish in places.

Jill Tracy. She’s not new, even to me — I should explain. One of my major fixations is NPR’s Music from the Hearts of Space, which produces a one-hour show every week of ambient/post-new age music, and a few years back their Halloween show featured this haunting singer, accompanied mostly by solo piano. She had an otherworldly voice that sounded like she was channeling Marlene Dietrich’s cabaret act. Well, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Little Fluffy Cat sent me a YouTube video accompanied by… that same singer. I took it as a sign and hied myself right off to iTunes. Jill Tracy isn’t as accessible as the two women mentioned above, but she’s absolutely lovely to put on at night, when you’re reading a good book, the cat’s dozing in your lap, and maybe there’s a glass of good white wine beside you and a storm brewing outside… If any of this sounds appealing, give her a try. (For anyone who hasn’t seen me pimp Hearts of Space yet, by the way, its site is www.hos.com and I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who loves trance-y, floating ambient music.)

 Iron Man. I only went to this because I was bored and I’d done nothing but work for three days straight and needed a break, and I’ve always been a Robert Downey Jr. fan. This movie blew me away. In fact, it approached my personal Gold Standard of superhero flicks, the first two Superman movies, which nothing has equaled in almost 30 years. It was hilarious in places, it had an amazing supporting cast (Terrence Howard, I am so in love with you… and I didn’t even mutter “Oh for God’s sake” when annoying Gwyneth Paltrow showed up), it was action-packed and the special effects were appropriately awesome without being distracting. I should also point out, I always read DC comics instead of Marvel, so all I knew about Iron Man was, well, nothing. I’m probably going to see this again right after I find out what Indiana Jones has been up to lately. I should also add that I’d like Iron Man to show up and bitch-slap the entire cast of Sex and the City.

Born Free, by Joy Adamson. I’ve always loved the story of Elsa the lioness, raised by humans and returned to the wild, and recently I came across my copy of the book and realized I’d never read it. It’s terrific: most naturalists, especially before the ’90s or so, bogged down their interesting stories in dry prose, but Joy Adamson tells the story of raising the lioness with the same matter-of-factness that I’d use when explaining how my cat lost his leg, and it’s very friendly and accessible. There are two sequels that deal with Elsa after she went back to the wild; I just found both of them, used and beaten to hell, on Amazon, and if they’re as good as the first book I’ll let y’all know.

Indian Killer, by Sherman Alexie. I read this about eight years ago and can’t put it down now, even though I know how it ends. Like Hearts of Space, I really can’t possibly praise Alexie enough — he’s Spokane Indian and writes beautifully and movingly and furiously at times about Indians, although in interviews he’s one of the jolliest people I’ve ever heard. This is a novel about an Indian raised by a white couple, mentally ill and conflicted about his heritage; a white writer who desperately tries to convince himself he’s an Indian; and a serial killer, identity unknown, who begins stalking white people. The end of this book will give you the same delicious chill you get from the very best Stephen King. (I’d also recommend two story collections by Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World.)

And finally, The Closer. It’s not back on TNT yet — it starts in July — but come on, network people, I’m ready for it NOW. Lost is over, Good Eats is in perpetual reruns, and there’s only so much Countdown with Keith Olbermann I can watch without having a stroke.

So that’s it — lots of good music, a fantastic movie, and two books. If any of you test-drive any of these recs, let me know how you liked ’em, and I’ll be back shortly with more to say, because as you know, I always have more to say.

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Me, As a Goth?…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 26, 2008 by tigereye

This came up the other night while some friends and I were emailing each other and appreciating Jill Tracy’s music. I don’t remember what the actual segue was, but my boyfriend and I started talking about how I’d just missed the whole Goth thing — it was just starting at my school when I was released from it, having paid my debt to society.

I suppose in a lot of ways I would have fit right in. I’m the palest person you’ll ever meet (step aside, Nicole Kidman, and nice try), and one of the most overtly hostile, although most of the Goths I’ve met since then — you get a lot of ’em in bookstore work — were much more passive than pissy. I have a chip on my shoulder roughly the size of Pike’s Peak, and after years of other people trying to squish me into the role of Doormat, I rebelled mightily and haven’t really been pushed around since.

I wear a lot of black, too. Sue me. Red hair and pale skin = lots of black clothes, although it’s a pain in the ass to keep them up when you take in a mostly-white cat. I even have the obligatory almost-black lipsticks, reds and purples so deep you’d expect only Mina or Lucy to wear them. I used to work in cosmetics; I got a sweet discount. I trot these out every now and then, too — I wore the dark-blood shade of red to a Velvet Revolver concert and fit right in, despite being older than most of the crowd.

I would have hated the music, though. All that Ministry and other unlistenable crap? I even get tired of NiN sometimes, although I could easily listen to “Head Like a Hole” forty times when I cue it up. I would have been the only Goth in the crowd listening to the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt… All my soundtracks might or might not have fit the mold. I could have snuck “The Shawshank Redemption” past the music police, but I don’t think “An Inconvenient Truth” would have gone over so well.

Other stuff would’ve got me kicked out of the club too. I’m a huge college football fan (there’s an orange lipstick, the exact shade of my team’s color, right next to the dark purple one); I run; I watch “American Idol,” for God’s sake.

And the kicker: I refuse to smoke.

Still, it’s nice to see what might have been.

The Brits Are Here and They’re Kicking Our Asses

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , on March 3, 2008 by tigereye

And I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s like the sixties, with eyeliner and profanity.

I thought at first it was going to be all sunshine and happy love songs, and hard as it may be to believe, I can get into that sometimes. First I heard Corinne Bailey Rae, little skinny girl with a lovely voice, and I thought she sounded enough like Norah Jones for me to buy her CD. It’s pretty good, by the way.

Then it was Amy Winehouse, who I love because she’s so into her fucked-up weird self. She celebrates her crazy in a way I wish I had the nerve to try. What if I’d woken up one day in my early 20s, looked in the mirror at a horrible hair day, and decided to embrace my ugly side with 40 full-color tattoos and a pierced face? I might not be gorgeous, motherfucker, but you’ll remember me. And then she’s got that amazing voice, which, strangely, goes with the rest of the screwy package. It makes you think about how the most talented people you knew in college were all train wrecks.

And now, in a fit of unsuspected novelty, VH1 presented me the other day with Kate Nash, singing this weird wonderful  edgy song about a relationship coming apart, “Foundations.” Who the hell worth knowing hasn’t felt this way? I mentioned it to a friend the evening after we’d both had a bad day (although hers was worse) and she bought the CD. Two days later she returned the favor and sent me a terrific song, with the same spare, bare-bones arrangement around the vocals as “Foundations,” except this song began, “Why you bein’ a dickhead for… Stop bein’ a dickhead….”

Holy shit. It was like my brain had somehow clawed free of my skull and then gone and got itself a recording contract.

I bought that CD too.

Where are all the pissed-off American women? Even the ones I love are awfully fucking mellow lately. I adore Norah Jones, but “My Dear Country” is about as angry as she gets, and it’s more bitter than hostile. Alanis Morrisette grew up and went away, and I really can’t argue with that. There was Shirley Manson of Garbage — she always seemed too tough to be crossed, but now that I think about it she might be British, in which case I should’ve Googled her before I brought her up. And while Queen Latifah still rules, she’s mellowed more than I would’ve ever expected.

“Thirty-five people couldn’t count on two hands the amount of times you’ve made me stop and think why you bein’ a dickhead for…”

What’s the matter with us, America? Why couldn’t someone over here write that? This woman’s going to be looked at in 20 years like Joni Mitchell. She’s a prophet. It’s not like we’ve got nothing to be pissed off about — we watch the news, right? That’s not just me, is it?

Seriously. The voice of reason just released a great angry album with a bunch of songs that are like brilliant little time-release photos of a couple falling apart. Or maybe the voice of reason is a screwed-up crackhead who might not be good enough to attend the Grammys but was awesome enough to win one. And sometimes it’s a romantic, jazz-obsessed teenager.

I can be all three of these and more at times. But I can’t sing. Who’s gonna step up to the plate?

My Life in Soundtracks

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2007 by tigereye

I’ve listened to what I have to call new age music since high school, when I was switching channels on the stereo and chanced upon a station from the next state playing pieces from George Winston’s “December” and Pat Metheny’s “Still Life (Talking).” I was astonished. I had thought all instrumental music was classical — that’s what the local NPR station had taught me — and suddenly there were these beautiful, creative instrumental pieces on piano and guitar, with the occasional vocal but no lyrics… I was hooked. The next year and a half sent me on a Windham Hill spree in which I discovered Shadowfax and Nightnoise and Michael Hedges… If I hadn’t already been an outcast in my school, I’m pretty sure this would’ve finished me off.

But it wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered something else life-changing: there were instrumental movie soundtracks out there, too. I was poking through the local Tracks Music, looking for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on cassette, when I happened across “A River Runs Through It,” the soundtrack by the film-music champion of the ’80s, Mark Isham. I’d just seen the movie with my boyfriend and remembered the lush music accompanying several scenes, making what might’ve been a mildly dull fly-fishing expedition worthy of appreciation of its light and tones and scenery…The movie would’ve meant very little, I thought, if it had had less appropriate music.

Well, that was it. I was hooked.

Since then I’ve probably amassed as many soundtrack CDs as I have by any of my Windham Hill gang of favorites. I’ve grown to love John Williams all over again, from the majesty of “Superman” to the poignant watersounds of “Memoirs of a Geisha” to the angst and heartbreak of “Munich.” I’ve discovered that while James Newton Howard, star of the ’90s soundtracks, can be over the top at times, he’s perfectly in tone with the film at others, like “Grand Canyon” and a terrific movie from earlier this year, “The Lookout.” I’ve enjoyed Randy Newman’s “Avalon” for years without ever having seen the movie, and found that the best part of the mind-and-butt-numbing “The Fountain” was the haunting music by Harry Gregson-Williams. I’ve been known to drop James Horner’s “Lord of the Rings” CDs into the 3-disc player and spend most of the afternoon dithering away, reading or writing while Middle-Earth plays out its grand saga in the background. And I think Thomas Newman is the greatest of them all. He first drew me in with “The Shawshank Redemption,” then “Meet Joe Black” (another one where the music trumps the actual film), and then the weepy beautiful granddaddy of all perfect soundtracks, “The Green Mile.”

Does this mean I’m some kind of dopey wannabe-hippie new age freak with a house full of crystals? Nah. In the car I listen to Nine Inch Nails followed by the Eagles followed by Springsteen. I’m aggressive when I drive or run, and most of the music I listen to just proves this true. But for downtime, I have to turn into someone else. If I stay the person who drives fast and swears creatively when I’m at home, I’ll never get any sleep. So Thomas Newman and James Horner are what I have instead of alcohol, turning off the noise in my head bit by bit, like going through the house switching off all the unnecessary lights until I’m down to a lamp and a candle or two.

Me and My Shadow: the iTunes Meme

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream), Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2007 by tigereye

Before I start, what exactly is a meme? I asked a good friend who didn’t know either, so I figured it was time to display my ignorance to the entire community. (I knew I’d get around to doing that sooner or later.) Well, whatever it is, I’m doing this one, because it’s really cool. I saw it on bibliomom’s page yesterday and was thinking about doing it anyway, and then she asked me. Clairvoyance over the ‘net? Well, why not? Evidently my Dick Cheney voodoo doll works just fine, so anything is possible.

Anyway, here’s the iTunes meme.

How many total songs?

4,707, or 13.9 days. When you give a person with mild OCD an iPod, this is what happens. I put everything I have that’s out of print on it, plus lots of other goodies, episodes of This American Life, stuff like that. I have key speeches from the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Sort by song title – first and last…
Dear God. Abacab by Genesis and 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. I’m not gonna have a friend left who thinks I’m cool, am I?

Sort by time – shortest and longest…
4 seconds of dialogue from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (“It’s been emotional,” says the big dude at the end) and This American Life’s Back From the Dead post-Katrina show, at 59 minutes 31 seconds.

Sort by Album – first and last…
The A-Sides by Soundgarden and ’80s New Wave Disc 2, from which I burned Duran Duran’s Election Day, among other goodies from my lousy teens.

Sort by Artist – first and last…
A&J Music Productions (WTF?), who did the score to Rize, and 50 Cent, with Candy Shop and Disco Inferno.

Top five played songs…
1. Break It On Down (Battlezone) by Flii Stylz. (I can’t recommend the Rize soundtrack enough.)

2. Don’t Let It Bring You Down by Annie Lennox

3. Real Gone by Sheryl Crow.

4. Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers.

5. Backlash Blues (2005 remix) by Nina Simone.

I play songs over and over and over, a lot of the time. Break It On Down has been played 24 times, mostly on my iPod while I’m running. It’s hands down the best workout song in the world, especially when you’ve seen the movie — watching people krump makes me want to do it myself, in a spastic white-chick kind of way. Real Gone isn’t bad, either, when you’re running. Annie and Bill are in-the-mood music. I’m just in love with Nina Simone’s voice.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?

Sex: 7, Death: 9, Love: 208 (holy shit!), You: 359 (again!), Home: 49, Boy: 27, Girl:41

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle…
Tennessee Plates by Charlie Sexton, Milkshake by Kelis, The River Runs Low by Bruce Hornsby, Bensusan by Michael Hedges, and Hold My Hand by Hootie & the Blowfish. I would not play any of these songs at a party. Well, maybe Milkshake.

I’m not sure what these say about me. I spend a lot of time fooling with iTunes, making mix CDs like the mix tapes I made in my teens — I invented that, you know, it’s just that word got out somewhere and now everybody does it. I’ve got mixes of screaming-angry songs, of crime and prison songs, of place-named songs, of songs to play before, during, or after sex… I live in my iPod. What can I say? Like contact lenses, it’s an invention that’s changed my life in a big way. Without it I’d never exercise, I’d certainly be bored, and I’d have killed someone in an airport by now because they expected me to talk to them. Let’s see that on one of those cute how-I-use-my-i(Phone) commercials. Actually, I bet it would increase sales.

Whoever wants to do this next, let me know! I’m not tagging anyone. But it was a lot of fun. 

Pursued Down Memory Lane by VH1 Classics

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2007 by tigereye

Everything’s better at the beach, including cable.

John and I recently took a terrific vacation, in which we established a routine early on: get up around 7 or 8, stagger into our bathing suits, spray on enough sunscreen (not quite enough in my case) to make us slick as sharkskin, and hit the beach. Come back around noon, eat something, sleep, shower, and go into town in search of seafood. Then come back and either return to the beach to walk in the surf or plant our asses on the couch and find something good on TV, which was surprisingly easy. John doesn’t have cable and therefore loves everything cable-related; I have lousy cable provided by a company I loathe and therefore fell in love at once with the company that’s hooked up at the beach, mostly on the strength of MTV2 and VH1 Classics.

I have regular VH1 at home and it blows goats. VH1 used to be kind of fun, the anti-MTV, playing artists past their 30th birthdays and hitting clear out of the park with a couple of shows, “Pop-Up Video” (from which Billy Joel may never recover) and “Songwriters” or whatever it was that had icons like Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor and Melissa Etheridge playing acoustic versions of their songs. Then it started rolling down, since we’re talking music here, the highway to hell. It’s now almost entirely reality-show based — if that’s not hell, all it’s missing is George W. Bush. There’s Hulk Hogan, no more interesting than I ever suspected he was, and some lameass in a velvet top hat who claims to teach the biggest losers on cable how to pick up women. If you’re Steven Tyler or Tom Petty, you could wear shit like that and still hit on women, but my guess is this guy’s going bald in his mid-twenties and hiding it with eyeliner, a wardrobe manager of questionable ability, and discreet hookers. There was also some hideously deformed hellspawn of a sitcom called “I Hate My 30s,” possibly the only show on television that I could come to hate as much as Dr. Phil. I hope whoever developed it gets a painful rash, preferably on his or her face.

I haven’t watched VH1 in months, since they quit playing Corinne Bailey Rae and replaced her with this year’s crop of college dropout talent, and didn’t have any intention of watching it at the beach, so when I heard Duran Duran in the next room I figured John had found an ad for K-Tel Records’ Songs of the Eighties! and said, “What’re you watching?” When he answered “VH1,” I thought, I know guys will lie about everything but this is going a little too far. Then I walked in and saw that he was right, and by the way, I also saw that while I still like Duran Duran, the video for “Rio” has not held up well over time.

We sat transfixed, both remembering what it used to be like to turn on a music channel and actually watch videos, the way God intended music channels to be. We were held in place by the assault of early video technology, which has also failed to dodge the cringe reflex many of us feel when we think about the more toxic trappings of the eighties: spiral perms, Ronald Reagan, and Alf. Lots of bands tried to be artsy, like Duran Duran, and while it’s no longer artsy you can at least remember why you liked the video — cute bass player, in their case. Or they’re performance videos, which rarely go over well with subsequent generations. Styx did entirely too much jumping around; it may have been the humiliating concert video for “Too Much Time On My Hands” (which has disappeared, to nobody’s regret, from almost all memory), in which the two guitarists pogoed down the stage together, that did them in. I can’t imagine filming that and sobering up to remember filming that. (To be fair, most bands married to their decade of success won’t look good performing in the following decade. Pearl Jam, for instance, is already having the same problem.) John had never actually laid eyes on REO Speedwagon before and was shocked at their beer-bellied slob of a guitarist and their hook-nosed marionette of a singer. I saw REO in concert as a teenager (I was one mixed-up kid) and assured him that this video was the best any of those guys ever looked.

A few bands, and videos, held up surprisingly well, though. I was one of the thousands that bought ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” on 45-rpm, and when the video came on, sandwiched between the Scorpions and Heart, I was relieved that not only was the song still not quite like anything else you’d hear on the radio, the video was neither incoherent nor overblown. Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” wasn’t nearly as awful as you’d expect, except for the clothes. (Did we really wear this shit? Was it the drugs? Was it something Reagan put in the water? What the hell was wrong that made us all dress like that?)

Metal took the hardest hit, as it should have. In the case of metal, not only were the videos creaky and laughable, the clothes were worse than the shoulder-padded, fedora-and-tie-on-women, parachute-panted pop fashion. Fringe! Glitter! Enough eyeliner to outfit a whole stable of hookers! Mullets, dear God, mullets on guys who were never going to look good anyway but put on the fake leather and epaulets as if they were about to impersonate female impersonators. Motley Crue, you should never, ever watch VH1 Classics — you’d all kill yourselves. (On second thought, Motley Crue, have you ever watched VH1 Classics?) And Bon Jovi — dear lord, who ever told that guy he could sing or even pass as cute, let alone sexy? He never really had the grace to go away, either. The Scorpions — there’s a band that tragically missed the seventies, when no one could see that your receding hairline was actually your best feature. I’d also forgotten that several eighties hair-metal bands were rumored to actually all be the same band. That rumor still looked true.

Then one night we hit solid gold, switching on the set to find a five-hour marathon show featuring “The 100 All-Time Greatest One-Hit Wonders!” (Exclamation point included free of charge.) William Shatner was the host, adding to the unreality of it all, although after we were bombarded with roughly six thousand commercials featuring Hulk Hogan and Velvet Hat Wussyboy, Shatner started coming across with the gravitas of Colin Powell. To our mutual surprise we sat there as if transfixed and watched all five hours of the show, interrupted only by a pizza delivery and my insistence that John change the channel when one of the one-hit wonders was “I’ve Never Been to Me,” the absolute worst song ever recorded by anyone on any planet. Hey, even though I grew up in the ’80s, there are limits to what I can listen to.

That show was a lot of fun, mostly because it had five decades of one-hit wonders to play with, everybody from ? and the Mysterians to Sir Mix-a-Lot (God, I miss him) to Des’ree. There were a lot of “I had that record!” interjections, a few “it’s about what?!”s to drug/masturbation/whatever songs, and after a while, bets on what songs would show up as the top 20 approached, discussion of songs that should’ve made it but didn’t. How the hell did “96 Tears” rate so high but Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” never appeared? Why was “Spirit in the Sky” back in the sixties somewhere but Minnie Riperton’s caterwauling “Lovin’ You” (as featured on South Park) in the thirties? Who the hell decided “Baby Got Back” wasn’t worthy of the top 10? (For anyone curious, “Macarena” was number one.)

In other words, VH1 Classics got us right where it wanted us. Butts on the sofa, eyes on the TV, the same place MTV found us 20 years ago, and the original VH1, may it rest in peace, 10 years ago. It was like having our own little time warp in the middle of vacation, where the music yanked us back to our teens and the Rolling Stones back to their forties (in the “Mixed Emotions” video, from 1989, they look amazingly young — go figure). Just as the beach was several steps up from staying at home, that time-warp of a cable channel was a little vacation in itself, the likes of which my sad-assed cable provider will never offer. I’ll probably never get my own ocean, either.