Music

Name that status: The rules

If you’re my Facebook friend, you have probably noticed that I don’t use some of the site’s main features in the way that they were intended to be used. And while it’s been a while since I’ve toyed with Facebook’s check-ins, for several years I’ve held pretty steady to my routine of using my status updates as an ongoing game of “Name That Tune.” Barring major life or world events that seem too big to ignore, my status updates are always song lyrics, and an unusually eclectic spread of my friends will chime in with their guesses as to what song I’m quoting. What you probably didn’t know, even if you have been following those status-lyrics closely, is that there are extensive rules to that game. And the time has come, gentle readers, for me to share those rules with you.

To be clear, these are almost entirely rules for me. For folks who are playing along at home, there’s really only one rule: no cheating. If you can identify a lyric on your own, that’s cool. But if you need to start dropping my statuses into search engines to figure things out, that’s verboten. Still, even that rule is only enforced by my friends’ personal senses of honor. Once, I think, I suspected someone was Googling their way to correct guess after correct guess after guess, even across a diverse spread of genres and historical moments. But otherwise, I’ve simply assumed that everyone knows that the game isn’t really any fun (or much of a challenge) if you’re just firing up Google every time I change my status.

From my end, though, things are slightly more complicated.

  • I do my best never to repeat a song. Every so often, I screw this up. But I keep a running file of used songs/lyrics to try and avoid duplication. That same running file also contains long lists of lyrics that are still waiting their turn to be used.
  • The lyrics I quote never contain major words from the actual title. I also try not to be too obvious with the lyrics I actually choose, though what counts as “too obvious” is also a difficult thing to guess in advance. I do my best to pick songs that I expect more than a handful of people would know, but I’m often surprised by how quickly some of my (ostensibly) tricky efforts gets recognized, and by how lyrics that strike me as low-hanging fruit nonetheless flummox people left and right.
  • I try very heard not to use lyrics that appear in multiple songs. This is much easier said than done of course, since there are lots of songs I have never heard, and every so often, someone will swear that I’m quoting (for example) some obscure Gladys Knight tune that I’ve never heard of that just happens to use the same lyrics I’ve quoted. But I don’t aim for deliberate confusion of this sort.
  • This game began back when Facebook statuses were still set up (and mostly used) in such a way that your actual status was the back end of a sentence that began with your name: e.g., “Gil Rodman doesn’t trust you anymore” (which, incidentally, is Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn”). And I’ve stuck by that formulation, even as both Facebook and popular custom has moved away from it. One of the major consequences this has for status-lyrics is that I will sometimes make minor alterations to verbs and pronouns so as to fit this shift to the third-person singular. Otherwise, I leave the lyrics unchanged.
  • Statuses stay “live” until someone correctly identifies the tune in a comment. Typically, people do this with some other lyric of the same song, though I don’t get all Jeopardy-fussy about this sort of thing. If I can tell that you know the song I’m quoting, I’ll tip my hat your way, and move on to the next lyric. If 72 hours have passed and no one has IDed some lyric, I’ll post the answer and move on.
  • The bit you probably didn’t know, unless you’ve been paying exceptionally close attention (only one person I know of has figured this out on their own): lyrics are posted in alphabetical order by song title. My original plan was to do one status for each letter of the alphabet, and then cycle back around again to A every time we got done with Z. Not surprisingly, though, some letters (I, L, S, T) offer a lot more opportunities than others (J, Q, X, Z), and so I started letting some of those letters get multiple turns during any given pass through the alphabet. Right now, a little less than half the alphabet is “on vacation,” and so a typical sequence now may look something like ABBCDGHIIIJLMPRSSTW.

Admittedly, all this inside information will be of limited value if you want to play the game yourself. Knowing that the most recently used (and unguessed) lyric (as I type these words anyway) was from “I Got Rhythm” will tell you that the current tune’s title is probably going to begin with an I or a J . . . but that clue will only get you so far, eh?

Accidental haiku of the day

Mother— “Shut yo’ mouth!”
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft!
“Well, we can dig it.”

Careful what you ask for

A little more than a month ago, I found myself in a conversation with some friends about the practice of making mix CDs. And while I don’t remember just how that conversation took this particular turn (except, of course, that there was beer involved, so anything is possible), somehow I found myself on the end of a challenge (or two). Said friends offered up specific themes, and it was my task to compile suitable mixes to match those themes.

I finished the first of those CDs earlier this month, popped it in the mail, and have just received word that it has finally reached its intended destination.

irene.jpgThough perhaps I should instead say that it made landfall, since the theme in question was “Hurricane” (see track listing below). And while I knew the timing of said CD’s arrival would come pretty close to the anniversary of Katrina coming ashore in NOLA (six years ago this coming Monday, for those of you who’ve forgotten), there was no way for me to know that it would also coincide with the ongoing movement of Irene up the eastern seaboard. (Stay safe and dry, all you peeps from the Carolinas up to New England.)

For the record (for the disc??), I’m open to future requests . . . bearing in mind that there’s already a line here (so I can’t guarantee anyone a rapid response), and that I suspect the uncanny “make it so” magic that happened this time only works by accident (so you probably won’t be able to produce an everlasting global utopia simply by asking for an “everlasting global utopia” mix).

  1. Rolling Stones — “Gimme Shelter”
  2. Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie — “When the Levee Breaks”
  3. Led Zeppelin — “When the Levee Breaks”
  4. Bob Dylan — “The Levee’s Gonna Break”
  5. St. Louis Jimmy — “Florida Hurricane”
  6. Lord Beginner — “Jamaica Hurricane”
  7. Jamie Lidell — “Hurricane”
  8. Marcia Ball — “American Dream”
  9. Liz Phair — “Hurricane Cindy”
  10. Neko Case — “Middle Cyclone”
  11. Hurricane Smith — “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?”
  12. Hurricanes — “Pistol Packin’ Mama”
  13. Hurricane Harry — “Last Meal”
  14. Johnny & the Hurricanes — “Crossfire”
  15. Johnny & the Hurricanes — “Storm Warning”
  16. Bob Dylan — “Hurricane”
  17. Dr. John & the Lower 911 — “Say Whut”
  18. Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant — “The River in Reverse”
  19. Bruce Springsteen — “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”
  20. Marcia Ball — “Louisiana 1927”

January notable nine

For perhaps obvious reasons, this month’s list has been a little harder to write up. And the most important item was also the hardest to find any good words for at all. The pictures will have to do.

  1. Mocha Java, Empress of All North America. I let the old girl go on Jan 21. It was time. She went quietly and peacefully. I still miss her, of course. And I’m sure I will for a long time to come.
    mocha1.jpg     mocha2.jpg
  2. Paris. Right before classes started, I spent seven days in Europe, mostly in my capacity as Acting Chair of the Association for Cultural Studies. The bulk of my time was spent in Paris to help survey the facilities for the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference . . . and I think it’s shaping up to be a fabulous event. Here, though, I simply want to note how weirdly comfortable Paris felt, given how awkward my “command” (much too strong a word in this context) of the French language is. If you believe my undergraduate institution, I’m “proficient” in French and German. Even then, I knew that institutional proclamation overstated my abilities to handle either language with real comfort. Twenty-five years later (and with little real practice in the interim), as I boarded my flight, I felt even less confident. And yet, on this trip, just enough of that ancient training came back to me to make me feel as if I could stumble my way through with only minimal embarrassment. With a little (okay, a lot) of practice, I might even be able to hold brief conversations about something more complex than purchasing train tickets or sandwiches. This sounds like a laudable goal for me to aim for between now and next July.
  3. Ghent. The small chunk of time I didn’t spend in Paris on that European trip was spent in Ghent. Also on ACS business, but this time to do some advance planning for the first ever ACS Summer Institute. Which I’m also very excited about. Not the least because Ghent is a wonderful little city, and will be even more exciting when (a) I have more than 24 hours to experience it and (b) it’s summer. I even found a Belgian beer (Westmalle Dubbel) that made me feel okay about spending so much time in countries where the hop-heavy brews I generally prefer are nowhere to be found.
  4. European trains. The one major blemish on my otherwise thoroughly enjoyable week abroad was a small (but expensive) curse that appeared to settle over my attempts to move around the continent (even in a small way) by train. I booked my train tickets between Paris and Ghent prior to leaving the States, hoping that this would help make things easier for me. Which it totally would have done . . . had I not misread my own timetable and missed my scheduled train to Ghent. Or had I not managed to lose my ticket for the train back to Paris in the short walk from grabbing dinner in Brussels (where I knew my ticket was in my hand) and walking back to the train station (where said ticket was nowhere to be found). The trains themselves were comfortable, pleasant, and quick. But my ability to manage my timing and my tickets was clearly beset by some bad juju.
  5. Car troubles. The flights to and from Paris were absolutely fine — especially the flight back, which was only about a third full, and where everyone got to stretch out quite comfortably indeed — or else I might think that bad juju covered just about any form of transportation I touched in January. The first time I tried to drive my Beetle after I got back into the country, it stalled out on me . . . and wouldn’t start up again. At some point, it seems, I must have hit a rock or a chunk of jagged ice or something that ripped a hole in my oil pan. Which, of course, drained all the oil out of my engine. Which, in turn, caused the engine to lock up. For good. Ouch. On the plus side, my insurance covered this. And my usual mechanic (who I’m delighted to recommend as fast, friendly, and affordable) happened to have a used Jetta they were looking to sell, and that I’m very happy with. But losing my dog and my car in the same week did have me wondering whether I’d stepped into some old-time country song.
  6. Ice dams. For folks who live south of the frozen tundra that is Minnesota, ice dams may be an unknown beast. I certainly knew nothing about them until I moved here. But they’re a plague that can beset snow-covered roofs if just enough heat escapes for some of that snow to melt and then re-freeze . . . so that any subsequent meltage gets blocked by the wall of ice that’s formed on your roof . . . and, with nowhere else to go, said meltage can then trickle underneath your shingles and into your walls and ceilings. And you can only imagine the fun that results from that. Unfortunately, my knowledge of such “fun” was not simply imaginary this year. Fortunately, the internal damage I suffered was very minor — and caught before it grew into something much more serious. Still.
  7. Lauryn Hill. Her First Avenue show could have been fabulous. I certainly wanted it to be. After I’d already dropped money on not-so-cheap tickets, I started hearing tales of other recent shows where she would wait hours to appear on stage and then perform badly . . . but I was still hopeful. But that hope was misplaced. Even at the end of a loooong day on campus, I could probably have weathered the 2.5 hour wait (doors opened at 9, with nothing but a so-so DJ to entertain the actual show started at about 11:30) if Hill had truly rocked the house, or if her band had been tight, or if her grooves had been compelling. But none of those things happened. My friend and I toughed it out till about 1 . . . but then decided that we hadn’t seen her do anything strong enough to make us hopeful that we were going to get anything better in whatever was still left of the show.
  8. Beer Dabbler. Minnesotans love their winter. So much so that they do things the rest of the country (the world?) would think are insane. Like hold outdoor Winter Carnivals in January, even (or especially) when the thermometer is well below freezing. Or hold outdoor beer festivals in the midst of that Winter Carnival. Done well, the Dabbler could have been a truly special event. Even on one of the coldest days of the year. There were lots of good breweries present. There was plenty of room in the park where the event was held. There were certainly lots of people who wanted to be there. Sadly, though, there were not enough volunteers to help ticketholders enter the park when the gates opened . . . and so the line still stretched for a full three blocks half an hour after the event began. And the Dabbler only used about a third of the actual space of the park . . . so all those people were crammed into not enough real estate. And, most amazingly, no one had bothered to actually clear the park’s walkways of snow . . . which, even for a Winter Carnival, seems like a major safety issue when you combine (a) 12-15″ of the frozen white stuff, (b) a few thousand people, (c) minimal post-nightfall lighting, and (d) what is effectively an open bar. Again, we left early. And, again, leaving early was a damned good idea.
  9. The new semester. January was (clearly) a month filled with challenges this year. But it was also the start of a new semester. And new semesters always begin — at least for me — with a certain spirit of hopefulness. Sure, the last few days before that first class meeting tend to be filled with sizable measures of stress and strain, as I try to get all the pieces in place so that Day One can come off smoothly. But there’s also something exciting about meeting a new group of students, watching them start to gel as a group, and seeing them start to wrestle with the course material in productive fashion. And, so far anyway (even more than a third of the way into February), I’m still feeling a large dose of that Day One optimism.

December notable nine

  1. Mocha. Damned if the old girl isn’t a trooper and a half. The tumor has taken over an awful lot of her face. And she’s clearly not excited about the never-ending snowfall. But the Empress of All North America continues to have noticeable pep in her step more days than not. And so she continues to be the lead item here.
  2. Devious friends. Mocha also makes it into the second item this month, courtesy of two dear friends of mine: one who housesat for me while I was in San Antonio for the ASA meetings last November, while the other served as her partner in crime (and brought along her boyfriend and his photography skills). A few weeks later, they presented me with a series of holiday photos taken chez moi that involved ugly Christmas sweaters, cheesy Christmas decorations, . . . and festively costumed fuzzies.
    xmascard_006.jpg     xmascard_005.jpg
  3. Snow, snow, and more snow. The same storm that broke the roof of the Metrodome was severe enough that both the state and Hennepin County pulled snow plows off the streets for safety reasons. When Minnesotans think it’s too snowy for plows to operate, we’re talking about a lot of snow. And it kept coming after that. In smaller doses to be sure, but every few days since then, another inch (or six, in some cases) has piled up.
  4. Saji Ya. I’ve long thought that the best sushi in the Twin Cities is at Origami in downtown Minneapolis, with Fuji Ya in Uptown coming in as a very strong second. And while neither of those establishments has slipped, I now think that Saji Ya — which I experienced for the first time last month — has to be a part of any serious conversation about the finest raw-fish-and-rice in the area. For now, though, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the best sushi in St. Paul. And if there’s better sushi in St. Paul (or Minneapolis, for that matter), I definitely wanna know about it.
  5. Marwencol. I saw better movies (though not many) in December, but most of those were old favorites (Double Indemnity, Fight Club) or movies you already know you should see (the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit). But you probably don’t know about Marwencol. And you should. If it’s playing near you, catch it before it leaves. If it’s not playing near you, find it on Netflix or at your local video shop as soon as it appears. I won’t try to describe it for you, since I don’t think I can do it justice. Just trust me. If only this once.
  6. Chinook of the North. A few months back, I’d mentioned that I grew my own hops in 2010, and that I was looking forward to using them in a forthcoming batch of homebrew. Well, in December, I finally bottled that first (partially) homegrown batch: a Chinook IPA I’d previously made (and enjoyed immensely) using nothing but store bought ingredients. The version using hops I harvested myself was ready for its first proper tasting right before New Year’s Eve. And it sucked. Badly. Not sure if it was a problem with the hops or if I botched something in the brewing process or what. But it was bad enough that I wound up dumping it all. Which I’d only done once before in nearly two dozen batchs since I started homebrewing again a few years back. You win some, you lose some. We’ll hafta see how the 2011 crop comes in later this fall.
  7. Beg, Scream, & Shout!: The Big ‘Ol Box of ’60s Soul. I’d known about this boxed set for a while. I’ve got at least one friend who has had a copy for years. And somehow I managed to have (most of) a digital copy of it sitting on my external hard drive. But I had mostly forgotten about it . . . until I was trying to locate a suitable Christmas gift for a friend (not coincidentally, one of the perpetrators of the photos directly above), and I had a sudden epiphany that this set would be the perfect present for someone (like her) with a penchant for the likes of Otis Redding and Sharon Jones. The trick, as it turned out, would be finding a copy that didn’t require me to take out a second mortgage — or even finding a copy at all, since the set has been out of print for almost a decade now. But the fates were kind to me. Twice, actually. Since my neighborhood Cheapo turned out to have one . . . and then I found another (for myself) on eBay. Why I never picked this set up before is beyond me. Six CDs, and not a bad track on any of them. Truly funky packaging: each disc comes in an oversized sleeve that looks like an old 45, and the box itself is modeled on an old 45 carrying case. And the set comes with a box of trading cards: one for each song.
  8. All Day. Evidently, the new Girl Talk album dropped on November 15. But I didn’t learn about it till December. Not surprisingly, it’s a damned fine bit of mash-up work. What did surprise me, however, is how I learned about it: I heard a track from it on the radio. And while it still amazes me (even if it also pleases me) that Girl Talk hasn’t been hit with cease-and-desist nastygrams from the RIAA and all their cousins, it amazes me (and, again, pleases me) even more that GT would actually get played on an over-the-regular-airwaves radio station.
  9. The Muppets vs. Nine Inch Nails. Speaking of mash-ups . . . well, why speak at all? Just watch. And enjoy.

November notable nine

Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.

  1. Mocha. She’s still with us. Believe it or not. She’s had a couple of spells where she stopped eating for a few days, and I thought she was ready to go . . . but then she’s suddenly rediscovered the joy of kibble.
  2. In like a lamb, out like a frozen four-pack of lamb chops. Our slow arriving fall treated us mellow and fine deep into the second week of the month, when we had highs in the 60s . . . and then we got walloped with 6-10 inches of snow. By month’s end, the city had already declared its second snow emergency of the season, and we’d all forgotten what outside temperatures above freezing felt like.
  3. The American Studies Association conference. I got to escape some of those early sub-freezing days by flying off to San Antonio for the annual ASA meetings. And, as scholarly gatherings go, the ASA is routinely much more interesting and enjoyable than the annual ICA and NCA confabs. It didn’t hurt that I got to wear sandals for four days in mid-November without putting myself at risk of frostbite. I did struggle to find anything that resembles good beer in San Antonio . . . but the margaritas made up for that.
  4. Town Hall Tap. My fave brewpub in town anywhere opened up a new location at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. And, not surprisingly, it appears to already be a huge success. The official opening happened at 3 pm on a Friday. By 4, the place was standing room only. By the time I left that night, the wait list for tables was about 45 minutes long. The opening was even sweeter for me, thanks to the unexpected pleasure of not one, but two different former undergrads — neither of whom I’d seen in years — spotting me and making a point of saying how much they’d enjoyed the classes they’d taken from me.
  5. The collapse of the Cowboys. It was not a good month to be a fan of Washington’s professional football team. An embarrassing loss to a bad team (the Vikings). A humiliating loss to a good team (the Eagles). A squeaker victory over a mediocre team (the Titans). On the other hand, it was delicious to watch the Cowboys self-destruct so thoroughly. Even more delicious to have The Onion capture the joy I felt so perfectly.
  6. Apple pie. Thanksgiving found me baking my very first ever pie. From scratch, no less. The filling, if I do say so myself, came out quite nicely. At least in terms of its taste. A little more cornstarch would probably have helped it firm up a bit. The crust, on the other hand, needed some serious help. Again, it tasted fine. At least insofar as it stayed intact, since the bottom crust basically disappeared during the baking process. Perhaps it melted into the filling. But there was little to no there there when it came time for dessert.
  7. A kind mention. Proud as I still am of Elvis After Elvis, I also don’t figure it gets much attention these days. It’s nearly fifteen years old (as a book, anyway), and so it’s well past the usual “freshness” date of an awful lot of scholarly volumes. So I was quite surprised to stumble across the brief shout-out for it in this interview.
  8. Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Wow. Just wow. Worth it for the opening track alone (a stunning cover of an otherwise little-played Beatles track called “The Word”), but the rest of the album is awfully sharp too.
  9. Mavis Staples. Also wow. Only this time for a live performance at The Cedar. If the opportunity presents itself to see her in concert, run (do not walk). You will not be disappointed. Promise.

October notable nine

As before, these are in no particular order . . . except for #1.

  1. Mocha. Given the unhappy prognosis for her long-term health back in March, she stays at the top of this list for every month she remains on this side of the topsoil. The past week or so, she’s actually seemed a bit perkier. And the slow, perpetual nose bleeds that had made my living room floor look like it had been decorated by Jackson Pollock with a one-dimension palette have slowed down as well. If she’s still with us this time next month, I’ll have had to go back to the vet twice to re-renew the prescription for her meds. And, given how she seems to be faring right now, I’m not gonna be surprised if I have to do that.
  2. A long delayed fall. We knew it couldn’t last. And it didn’t. We saw our first snow flurries of the season here in Minneapolis last week. But earlier in the month, we were still rocking temps in the 80s. Not just fleetingly, but for several days at a stretch. Patio dining was still feasible — and comfortable — more than halfway into the month. And when those sorts of days aren’t likely to roll around again until April, every little extension of the summer is a glorious thing.
  3. Lake Wine and Cheese. Newly opened, and a short four-block walk from my house . . . and with a marvelous selection of craft beers and microbrews. If I didn’t have a fridge full of beer I brewed myself, this place would tempt me to part with a bit more of my take-home pay than would be wise.
  4. Town Hall Brewery‘s Fresh Hop. Speaking of places where I spend money on beer, it’s tough to top the stuff THB brews and pours on a regular basis. But it’s extra tough to top their Fresh Hop: a once-a-year, get-it-while-supplies-last batch of hopped-up ale made, just as the name implies, with hops picked fresh off the vine . . . or at least as fresh as possible, given that the vines in question are still 1000 miles or so to the west.
  5. Washington, 17, Philadelphia 12; Washington 16, Green Bay 13; Washington 17, Chicago 14. On a day when my lifelong football allegiance were sorely tested (i.e., the day when, for the second year in a row, my team lost to the otherwise woeful Lions), I need to remind myself that we had a winning record for October, that two of our three wins came against teams that made the playoffs last season, and that the season is still far from over.
  6. Teaching via IM. Once every year or two, I’ll have a moment when I think I know what I’m going to do in the classroom that day . . . and then, at the last second, some wild idea pops into my head for something totally weird that I should do instead. I can’t predict or control those flashes of inspiration, but I’ve learned to trust them. ‘Cause they often wind up working much, much better than whatever I’d originally had planned. This time around, the course was “New Telecommunication Media” and one of the two readings on tap was from Shayla Thiel-Stern‘s book on adolescent girls and instant messaging. And I’d been prepared to lead the group in our usual conversation about the issues raised by the readings for the day — until I realized that it would be far more productive, at least with respect to one of the topics at hand, to hold our discussion using IM. Or at least a primitive, pre-digital version of IM, where our entire conversation took place using the whiteboard at the front of the room. It took my students a little while to warm up to the idea . . . but, eventually, we had 3-4 separate threads running on the board at once, and we were able to have a much smarter, much more embodied discussion of the material at hand than we ever would have if I’d stuck with my original lesson plan.
  7. So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities. Yes, it’s one of those videos that has already been around the world about 40 times, thanks to Facebook and listservs and such. But that doesn’t make it any less funny. Or sad. Or true.
  8. Chastity Brown @ the Kitty Cat Klub. This show was already down as a “must-list” for this month’s Notable Nine, and I figured I’d be able to find some suitably representative performance already online to give folks who’ve never had the pleasure a sense of what went down at the KCK on Oct 16. But, o frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I found a clip from that very show. Enjoy.
  9. Paul Beatty reads Slumberland. A last-second addition to this month’s list. But that’s because I only became aware of this video in the last hour or so. If you haven’t read Slumberland yourself, run (do not walk) to your nearest independent bookstore, buy a copy, and stay up all night to finish it. While you’re at it, do the same with his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle. But if your nearest independent bookstore is closed at the time you’re actually reading these words, you can whet your appetite by watching the video below.

September notable nine

Lots of people do Top Ten lists of one sort or another. But do we really need to fetishize the number 10 simply ’cause that’s how many fingers most of us are born with? And do such lists really need to revolve around hierarchical rankings? I don’t think so.

So here’s my “notable nine” for September 2010. These aren’t necessarily the best — or the worst — things that happened to me this past month. And they’re not presented in any clearcut order. They’re simply nine slices of my life from the past 30 days that deserve some sort of recognition.

  • Mocha. The old girl is still with us. She is now fourteen and a half. She was diagnosed with a tumor in her snout in March, and there isn’t anything to do about it that will make it go away. The tumor has grown large enough that it’s reshaped her face a bit. She’s got a perpetually slow-dribbling bloody nose. She’s stopped eating cheese and seems indifferent to treats. And yet, she still gets a pep in her step when it’s time for a walk, and she’s still a pretty perky pooch overall. Not sure how much longer she’ll hold on, but she’s here now. And that’s good.
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  • Tank. People have asked if I intend to bring a new dog into my life once Mocha decides it’s time to retire to the Land of Fat Squirrels With Broken Knees (aka, Doggie Heaven). And I don’t know for sure. Mocha will be a very tough friend to replace, after all. But for the next 8-10 months or so, the question is moot, as I have temporary custody of “my” former cat (back when that “my” would have been an “our”). And she’s as adorable as Mocha, though she fancies herself to be a cruel and vicious killer.
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  • Mom. I shared a brief Mom anecdote in this space a couple of weeks ago. There’s no fresh update since then (which is good . . . or as good as it gets, anyway), but my trip to DC back then lingers for me still.
    family16.jpg
  • Billy Bragg. He played live at The Cedar on the 8th. And was amazing, of course. Even if he didn’t play the tune below.
  • Hops. When I moved into the new house a little more than a year ago, I decided that I needed to expand my homebrewing adventures a bit by growing my own hops. So back in March, I planted a couple of hop rhizomes (calm down, you crazed Deleuzeans) on the south side of the front porch . . . and they appear to be almost ready to harvest.
  • Theme Time Radio Hour box sets. A few years ago, Bob Dylan started hosting a weekly satellite radio show. I’ve never heard it live, and have only heard one episode in full. But I know enough about it to know that his playlists — which revolve around a different theme every week — are a glorious potpourri of old country, folk, blues, r&b, soul, gospel, and then some. And, thanks (I think) to the quirks of how UK copyright law treats compilations of recordings of a certain age, there are three separate labels (Ace, Chrome Dreams, and Mischief Music/Music Melon) that have each released a series of multi-disc sets drawn from Dylan’s radio show. There are a handful of duplications across the collections, but nowhere near enough to make any of them redundant. And, between them, that’s 22 discs (so far?) chock full of musical delights.
  • Washington 13, Dallas 7. I was born and (mostly) raised in DC. And while I was never even remotely close to being an athletic child, I was still a straight boy. So it was almost inevitable that I would become a fan of the team with the most heinous nickname in all of US sports. And I’m a very loyal sports fan. So that allegiance still holds. Even without the nickname problem, this has not exactly been an easy cross to bear for the past decade or so. ‘Cause the team has disappointed on the field far more often than it’s provided moments of glory. So it was awfully fine to see them open the season with a primetime beatdown of the Cowboys. The two games they’ve played since have not ended so happily. But it’s always good to watch the Cowboys lose. Always.
  • USBank. Over the past several years, I’ve toyed with pulling my money out of USBank and finding somewhere else to put it. A different bank. A credit union. A shoebox hidden in the freezer. Anywhere. That interest-bearing, mile-earning, no-fee checking account I opened when I first came to Minneapolis has gradually morphed into a no-interest, points-for-gifts-I-don’t-want, $20-per-year checking account. And they closed the branch on campus right across the street from my office. Grrr.
    But then I went and did something stupid. And, much to my surprise, USBank made it right.
    Several months ago, I realized that my favorite brewpub has dartboards. Real ones, that is. Not the cheesy electronic ones. And so I started carrying my darts in my computer bag, for those occasions (and it’s happened more than once) when I was at Town Hall and had someone to beat at darts with me. Being prepared like that was smart. Forgetting I had my darts in my bag when I tried to fly to DC to visit Mom, however, was not so smart.
    Fortunately, I had arrived at the airport with time to spare. And the TSA agent who took me aside was very nice. He said that I could go back to the “dangerous” (my word, not his) side of the security checkpoint and get the customer service office to mail my darts home for me. The “customer service office,” however, turned out to be the airport branch of USBank. Who not only mailed me my darts, but they did so for free. And, evidently, they do that for everyone, not just USBank customers. My darts were waiting for me when I got home.
    Even more impressive? Two days later, there was a handwritten note in the mail from the teller I’d dealt with: “I hope your package arrived safely, & I’m glad we were able to help.”
    None of which guarantees that I won’t still move my money at some point. But even big, greedy, penny-pinching corporations can still do nice things sometimes. And it’s good to acknowledge it when they do.
  • Reclaiming the University. In response to this dispiriting-looking event, the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (of which I’m a proud member) and the Education Action Coalition MN organized a much better conversation. Our event rocked, and was very well attended. Their event pretty much lived down to my already low expectations.

60 ’65 45s

spindle

A fella only turns 45 once (time travel and reincarnation notwithstanding). And, being the pop music geek that I am, I decided to honor the occasion by making a couple of suitably themed mix CDs to give away as door prizes (first 45 celebrants only!) at today’s birthday bashes. And, just to make folks who can’t be here today jealous — or to make the locals who were still deciding whether to show up for the festivities — the playlists and liner notes look like this.


I’m turning 45, which certainly seems like an important number, but I’ll be damned if I know what it’s really supposed to mean.

Growing up, though, “45” meant only one thing: a 7” inch circle of magical, musical vinyl. I can still recall the first pop single I ever got as a gift (Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”) and the first single I ever bought for myself (the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”). I once spent the better part of two straight days in an Austin record store flipping through their massive (and completely unsorted) collection of used 45s for hidden gems. And while it’s been ages since I’ve played any of them, I have several hundred 45s tucked away in my living room. Even hidden and silent, they’re still magical.

Despite growing up in the era of the concept album, I’ve long believed that the single is vastly underrated. Rock’n’roll didn’t really take to the album as a major aesthetic form until 1965. Even then, it took a few more years before the LP truly replaced the 45 as the center of the rock universe. Take away Rubber Soul, Highway 61 Revisited, and Bringing It All Back Home, and all the great “albums” of 1965 are merely collections of singles padded out with a few filler tracks.

So one of the obvious (to me anyway) things to do for my 45th birthday was to create a mega-mix of 45 of my favorite 45s from 45 years ago. But when I sat down to tackle this project, two big problems quickly presented themselves.

First, there was the length problem. I can usually fit 22 or 23 tracks on an 80-minute CD, so a 2-disc set should have worked fine . . . but my mixes typically don’t draw from a pool of songs that mostly run less than three minutes. So either I needed to trim the project down to one 30-song disc, or I needed to scale it up to 60 songs.

Second, there was the “favorite child” problem. My initial list of viable candidates was about 150 songs long. Some of these were easy to eliminate: Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” has its schmaltzy charms, but there were clearly at least 60 better songs on that list. Nonetheless, even after I made those easy calls, there was still a lot of great music to consider. Chopping things down to 30 songs was out of the question. Even getting down to 60 felt too brutal.

I made things a little easier by imposing several rules on myself.

Any eligible song had to have appeared on a single. It didn’t have to be the A-side. It didn’t have to have hit the charts. But if it were strictly an album track (e.g., Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”), or if I wasn’t sure it had been released as a single, it was out.

The song had to have been released in 1965. A few tunes here may have first entered the world in late 1964, but the historical record is also fuzzy enough that I gave a few tunes the benefit of the doubt.

No artist was allowed more than one slot in the finished mix — which made things easier and harder. I didn’t have to decide whether, for example, Edwin Starr’s “Agent Double-O-Soul” deserved a spot ahead of two James Brown classics . . . but I did have to choose between “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Other obligatory disclaimers and explanations:

These aren’t absolutely, positively, unmistakably the 60 best singles of 1965. My goal, after all, was to make a really good mix: not to define some sort of canon. And the sequencing is more about creating a mix that flows well than about trying to rank these tunes top to bottom.

Still, quality matters. I paid some attention to chart success, but I also didn’t let the vagaries of Billboard’s rankings rule the day. You don’t really want to hear Freddie & the Dreamers’ treacle-filled “I’m Telling You Now” (which was a #1 Pop hit) instead of the Apollas’ totally divine “Absolutely Right” (which never charted at all), do you? And you’d stop being my friend if I’d included any of the seven Top Ten Pop singles (including two #1s) that Herman’s Hermits released in 1965 — especially if I’d left low-charting gems by the Who or Them out of the final mix. If you really want “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” or “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” you can find them yourself. But I don’t have to be party to such insanity.

I sometimes chose tunes that you most likely know from some later version. Gloria Jones, for instance, did the original “Tainted Love” more than a decade before Soft Cell. You may already know “Thanks a Lot” because of Neko Case (if you don’t, you should; it’s on The Virginian), but she clearly owes a lot to Brenda Lee (even more than she does to Ernest Tubb, who did it first). The J. Geils Band would later cover the tracks by the Contours and the Marvelows. “Respect,” of course, was a hit for Otis Redding before Aretha Franklin made it her own. And many of you may not realize that one of Britney Spears’ biggest hits was first recorded by a band out of England called the Rolling Stones. No, really, it’s true. I wouldn’t lie about that.

A few tunes wound up on the cutting room floor because they pushed too hard against the feel of the rest of the mix. The Wonder Who (a pseudonym that the Four Seasons used for a handful of singles in 1965 and 1966) went to #12 on the Pop charts with a so-bad-it’s-great version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” The We Five (a semi-folky two-hit wonder) had a #3 hit with “You Were on My Mind” that I’ve always loved. Elvis had a few forgettable movie-related hits (“Do the Clam,” “Tickle Me,” and “Puppet on a String”) that I wouldn’t inflict on you, but he also reached #3 with the genuinely worthy “Crying in the Chapel.” And yet these tracks would have muddled the vibe of all the great garage band and soul that simply had to be included.

The final mix also held a few surprises for me. While he was a true maestro of the pop single, there’s nothing here from Phil Spector’s stable of artists, largely because the great girl groups he worked with didn’t do much of note in 1965 — but also because I’m not fond enough of the Righteous Brothers to include either (yawn) “Unchained Melody” or (mega-yawn) “Ebb Tide.” I expected the Stones would provide me with tough choices to make . . . but none of their other 1965 hits (“Heart of Stone,” “The Last Time,” “Play With Fire,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “As Tears Go By”) come anywhere near “Satisfaction.” On the other hand, I didn’t expect quite so many great singles from the Animals and the Yardbirds: “It’s My Life,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “For Your Love,” and “I’m a Man” all missed the final cut (though none did so by much). And I hadn’t thought of Nina Simone as a singles artist — or even as an artist who reluctantly played that game to keep her record label happy — so I was thrilled to find that her deliciously smoky version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” made it onto a 45, so that I could share it with you here.

Disc One:
1. Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs — Wooly Bully (#2 Pop, #31 R&B)
2. Animals — Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (#15 Pop)
3. Contours — First I Look at the Purse (#57 Pop, #12 R&B)
4. Marvelows — I Do (#37 Pop, #7 R&B)
5. Shirley Ellis — Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap) (#8 Pop, #16 R&B)
6. Strangeloves — I Want Candy (#11 Pop)
7. Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders — The Game of Love (#1 Pop)
8. Gentrys — Keep On Dancing (#4 Pop)
9. Dixie Cups — Iko Iko (#20 Pop, #20 R&B)
10. Cannibal & the Headhunters — Land of 1000 Dances (#30 Pop)
11. McCoys — Hang On Sloopy (#1 Pop)
12. Sir Douglas Quintet — She’s About a Mover (#13 Pop)
13. Brenda Lee — Thanks a Lot (#45 Pop)
14. Beach Boys — Help Me Rhonda (#1 Pop)
15. Beatles — Day Tripper (#5 Pop)
16. Knickerbockers — Lies (#20 Pop)
17. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas — You’ve Been in Love Too Long (#36 Pop, #25 R&B)
18. Marvin Gaye — I’ll Be Doggone (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
19. Jr. Walker & the All-Stars — Shotgun (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)
20. Stevie Wonder — Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (#3 Pop, #1 R&B)
21. Apollas — You’re Absolutely Right (didn’t chart)
22. Ad Libs — Boy From New York City (#8 Pop, #6 R&B)
23. Len Barry — 1-2-3 (#2 Pop, #11 R&B)
24. Lou Christie — Lightnin’ Strikes (#1 Pop)
25. Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons — Let’s Hang On! (#3 Pop)
26. Gloria Jones — Tainted Love (didn’t chart)
27. Edwin Starr — Agent Double-O-Soul (#21 Pop, #8 R&B)
28. Little Milton — We’re Gonna Make It (#25 Pop, #1 R&B)
29. James Brown — Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Fontella Bass — Rescue Me (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)

Disc Two:
1. Sam Cooke — Shake (#7 Pop, #4 R&B)
2. Otis Redding — Respect (#35 Pop, #4 R&B)
3. Betty LaVette — Let Me Down Easy (#20 R&B)
4. Ray Charles — Crying Time (#6 Pop, #5 R&B)
5. Nina Simone — I Put a Spell on You (#23 R&B)
6. Zombies — Tell Her No (#6 Pop)
7. Shirley Bassey — Goldfinger (#8 Pop)
8. Moody Blues — Go Now! (#10 Pop)
9. Who — I Can’t Explain (#93 Pop)
10. Them — Gloria (#71 Pop)
11. Marvelettes — Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead (#61 Pop, #11 R&B)
12. Velvelettes — He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (#64 Pop, #21 R&B)
13. Mary Wells — Use Your Head (#34 Pop, #13 R&B)
14. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles — Going to a Go-Go (#11 Pop, #2 R&B)
15. Four Tops — I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
16. Temptations — My Girl (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
17. Barbara Lewis — Baby I’m Yours (#11 Pop, #5 R&B)
18. Don Covay — See Saw (#44 Pop, #5 R&B)
19. Lee Dorsey — Ride Your Pony (#28 Pop, #7 R&B)
20. Major Lance — Come See (#40, Pop, #20 R&B)
21. Kim Weston — Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me) (#50 Pop, #4 R&B)
22. Diana Ross & the Supremes — Back in My Arms Again (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
23. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels — Jenny Take a Ride! (#10 Pop)
24. Dave Clark Five — I Like It Like That (#7 Pop)
25. Paul Revere & the Raiders — Just Like Me (#11 Pop)
26. Yardbirds — Heart Full of Soul (#9 Pop)
27. Rolling Stones — (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (#1 Pop, #19 R&B)
28. Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues (#39 Pop)
29. Wilson Pickett — In the Midnight Hour (#21 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Solomon Burke — Got to Get You Off My Mind (#22 Pop, #1 R&B)

Monday musical mayhem

  1. Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dreams (Of You).” We start it off this week very sad and very weepy. If you can’t feel the heartbreak spilling out of the speakers when this tune comes on, you may simply not have a heart to begin with.
  2. Strangeloves, “I Want Candy.” And now for something completely different. No heartbreak here. A big, bouncy Bo-Diddley beat and a heady dose of young lust.
  3. Tom Lehrer, “A Christmas Carol.” Way out of season, of course. But such is the randomness of shuffle play. And, as Lehrer notes in his lead-in, to get a Christmas song on the radio in a timely fashion, one has to start early. Very early. And given the expanding Christmas creep phenomenon, there may already be Christmas displays going up in shopping malls near you even as we speak.
  4. Solomon Burke, “‘Til I Get It Right.” From Nashville, Burke’s 2006 followup to his surprising (and wonderful) 2002 “comeback” album, Don’t Give Up On Me. They’re both strong, though I like the latter more than the former.
  5. Bonnie Raitt, “(Goin’) Wild for You.” Why did it take so long for Raitt to have a big hit anyway? It’s not like she suddenly got good with “Thing Called Love,” after all, or as if she adopted a new style that worked where the old one hadn’t . . . or even as if her “hit” style was simply something that the rest of the world finally caught up with late. Except in her case. Ah well.
  6. Dominoes, “Sixty Minute Man.” My first MMM repeat track, I believe. And it’s certainly a fine one to revisit. All night long . . .
  7. P.J. Harvey, “Highway 61 Revisited.” On my iPod courtesy of a “Girlfriend Is Better” mix of mine: songs originally sung by men, covered by women . . . who do them better. Or, at the very least (since some of the originals are pretty damned good), the covers still add something wondrous and different to the original. I think P.J.’s take on Dylan’s tune may fall into the latter category. I love them both. But, on any given day, I’d probably reach to play hers before his.
  8. Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Another track from the aforementioned “First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record” discs. And a much better candidate for the honor than the Arthur Shibley track. (And, yes, for musical historians keeping score at home, “Sixty Minute Man” is on that list too.)
  9. Tampa Red, “What’s That Taste Like Gravy?” Ahem. Very old, very saucy blues. In multiple senses of the word. And a rare dirty blues — at least among those sung by men — celebrating the glories of cunnilingus.
  10. Gary “US” Bonds, “Quarter to Three.” Probably one of the muddiest mixes to ever hit the Top 40. But some damned fine early ’60s dance party music. And a major inspiration for the E Street Band’s sound a decade and a half later.

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