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Archive for the ‘Woody Guthrie’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Wilco set; stream it while it’s still active.

I have been really enjoying Wilco’s most recent albums, but it’s their live shows that are exceptional.

Opening with “Random Name Generator” they segue into a very string-heavy “Via Chicago” (a one-two punch of greatness that would leave me flabbergasted).  The recording of this song is particularly great because you can really hear the craziness that Nels Cline adds to the noisy sections.  And the strings also loom large, which I find interesting.  It sounds like a full string section, but maybe its’ just synths?

Wilco have so many albums and so many songs.  Most of their live shows run over two and a half hours.  So this barely-over-an-hour set means excising.  And yet they don’t just play a hits set.  There’s quite a few songs from their latest album, Schmilco and a deep cut from Wilco (The Album).  That particular song “Bull Black Nova” has a cool guitar solo back-and-forth between Cline and whoever else was on guitar at the time.

A mellow “Reservations” leads to a lengthy “Impossible Germany” with an extended guitar solo from Cline.  “Misunderstood” gets a big round of applause (and a suitably chaotic middle section–a mini freakout).

Earlier, Jeff Tweedy said “I don’t feel like talking” but before “Heavy Metal Drummer he says, “I guess I feel like talking a little bit…  Nah.”  Then “Hope we didn’t ruin your lovely day, we didn’t mean to if we did.”

They play a fairly shambolic “I’m the Man Who Loves You” which means not that they play it sloppily but that they play it noisily–from time to time one instrument or another has a little noisy fun while everyone else keeps playing like normal.

As the set starts winding down and Tweedy starts to chat with the crowd, someone shouts something and he says

Happy birthday?  Don’t bring that up.  It’s nowhere near my birthday.  [pause] I might never have another one. [groans from the audience] I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention back to our mortality.  I thought we were having too much fun… it sucks. [pause]  You guys have been heartwarming and reassuring.  Every time I think that everything in the world completely sucks we get to play in front of an audience and share something with people that I know is real and I know it exists and will always exist…  And there will always be more of this than whatever the fuck that is.

They play a lovely “Hummingbird” and a crowd pleasing “The Late Greats.”  Tweedy tells us that “my dad says ‘life is happy and sad and it hurts,’ I wrote about 1,000 songs to say that.”

Tweedy can’t help impart some more advice for our troubled times:

Just show up.  Just show up for everybody and things will be all right.

Before the final two songs, he says, “A lot of people have been yelling for this song, which is understandable.”  It’s from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs and it’s called “Christ for President.”  It’s more true now than ever.

For the final song, Billy Bragg himself comes out (that’s what so cool about Newport Folk Festival) and they play a rousing rendition of “California Stars.”

Festivals are never quite as good as regular concerts if you really want to see one band. The sets are always shorter than you want.  But this is pretty fine.  And the recording quality is superb.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Countess’s Private Secretary”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Jennifer Egan was indeed the private secretary to a Countess.  The Countess was a woman of some authority.  One time Egan was on her way to work for her.  There was some kind of fire emergency in the building and pedestrian traffic was halted.  The Countess shouted out the window to the emergency crews insisting that Egan be let through.  And she was.

Egan said that being the private secretary often meant “becoming” her–starting at 1PM their lives were more or less the same. It helped that Egan herself was tall and slender, Catholic and full of nervous energy.  She was also short-tempered, just like the Countess.  Indeed, even their handwriting matched pretty well.  Although the Countess told Egan that she liked and her, Egan always knew she was just a servant.  The Countess was not above telling her that garlic oozed from her pores for days after she ate it.  Plus her cowboy boots were coarse, her spelling was atrocious and so on.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Tiny Desk Concert #281 (June 17, 2013).

I really like Billy Bragg.  Not necessarily all of his music, but I like a lot of it and I certainly love what he stands for.  If you like his instantly recognizable voice (which I do), then just about anything he does sounds good.  But no doubt some songs are catchier than others.

Bragg played a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016 with someone else as part of a duo.  I’d listened to that one first, but I liked this one more.

For this one he is accompanied on the first two songs by dobro player C.J. Hillman.

Bragg talks a lot–he has many lengthy stories between songs–and he’s pretty much always funny or thoughtful.  He introduces the first song by saying that moving into a new building always has troubles–you’ll always need someone to fix things up.  With that, his first song is called “Handyman Blues.”

It’s a great story song.  I especially like this line:

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed / but I can write a song about how much I love you instead.

It’s amusing that in the next song workers actually interrupt his song.  They were “met with lot of hammering on our rooftop by some real handymen as they put the finishing touches on NPR’s new home.”

For the second song they

channeled the spirit of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie, with whom Bragg collaborated — albeit posthumously, in Guthrie’s case — when he took Guthrie’s unsung words and set them to song with the help of Wilco. Here, he takes a song Guthrie himself co-opted and altered: a gospel tune (“This World Is Not My Home”) he’d turned into an anthem against inaction.

Bragg introduces this song as saying he took it over when the U.S. was having the debate about universal health care.  He says that people still face all the same problems that this classic song talks about–people losing homes to banks or families struggling to make ends meet.  But the middle verse is about a wife who dies on the floor for want of proper health care.  Bragg says that that doesn’t happen in his country anymore and it’s hard for people in his country to imagine that a generous country like the US still hasn’t resolved that issue (and five years later things are even worse with Trumpcare–#ITMFA #RESIST).

Guthrie called the song “I Ain’t Got No Home (In This World Anymore”).  After he sings a verse, the hammering starts and they pause the song to wait for the work to finish before he re-starts the song.  In the meantime they talk about what his band should do in Washington.  Someone says the National Archives and he jokes the Nashville Archive?  He says that they really enjoyed Nashville.  Then he mentions the National Archive to CJ and says

We can find out how the Americans started the war of 1812.  (chuckles).  I just played Annapolis, they’re still sore about it over there.  Never mind who won the war but who started it.

It’s another nice story song.  The dobro works perfectly with it.

“Sexuality” is the only song on this set that I knew.  It’s an old favorite that is serious and funny as well (and very progressive for when it was written).  It sounds terrific and is super catchy.  Although he comments that the acoustics aren’t that great in this new building–there’s not much bounce back off the walls “for those of us who technically aren’t great singers.  But for those of us who are buskers like myself, it’s not bad.”

Introducing the final song, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” he says he read an article on the BBC about a kid who proved that economics professors were wrong and the article commented that “the trouble with economics is that no one knows nothing anymore.”  He says that had just written a song with that same name, so he’s with the zeitgeist.

He also interjects that there will be pedants–“and there are one or two who listen to NPR, I’m sure” who will write in to say it should be ‘no one knows anything any more.’  But the first thing they teach you at songwriting school is that alliteration trumps grammar.

And then he starts strumming “Sexuality “and says “Oh, I’ve just played that.”

“No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a nice folkie, very-Billy Bragg song–good melody and really good lyrics.

At the end, as the camera fades to black he says “Chris, pass the hat around.”

I’m so happy that Billy Bragg is still making music.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis

This graphic novel is legendary, and I’m embarrassed it has taken me 13 years to read it.

Persepolis is a memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  I appreciated the contextualizing introduction in which she explains the history of the country.

The introduction lays out a basic outline of the history of Iran and the Middle East (that goes all the way back to B.C years).  She explains that Iran has always been a rich nation and has constantly been under attack.  When oil was discovered, the West came calling.  Great Britain wielded a powerful influence over Iranian economy.  During WWII, Iran remained neutral but then was invaded by the west.

The Prime Minister of Iran (not the Shah) nationalized the oil industry in 1951 which led to an embargo and a coup organized by the CIA.  The leader, Reza Shah was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah–known simply as the Shah of Iran.  The Shah stayed in power until 1979 when he fled to escape the Islamic Revolution.

She says that since the Islamic revolution Iran has been associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism, but she knows that this is far from the truth.  And that’s what inspired her to writ this book.

(more…)

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lio1 SOUNDTRACK: JOE HENRY-Tiny Desk Concert #176 (November 21, 2011).

joe henryI had never heard of Joe Henry, so imagine my surprise to find out that he was releasing his 12th album in 2011.  For this Tiny Desk, it’s just him at a stool playing his guitar.  He has a very easy vibe, telling stories between songs and playing them with very little fuss.

He opens the show by saying this is, “not exactly like Woody Guthrie playing for the union members but you are working people.”

He plays four songs, “Sticks and Stones,” After the War,” “Odetta” and “Piano Furnace.”

Between the first two songs, he says he first became aware of Tiny Desk Concerts when his friend Vic Chesnutt was on the show (amusingly, he was the second person on the show).  He says he has a song on his new record about Chesnutt (Chesnutt had recently died).  He doesn’t play it though.  At first it seems like he might not be allowed to play it, but then it seems like maybe he just doesn’t get to it.

Rather he plays “After the War” where his guitar sounds like it has an incredible echo on it.  That echo is also present on the third song.  After which Bob asks him about his guitar.

Joe says he’s had the guitar for 6 years.  But the guitar dates back to 1932.  He says that he heard things differently with this guitar.  It’s got a smaller body and was actually sold as a budget guitar by Gibson (for $19 in 1932).  He also jokes that it’s black and looks a bit like a World Wrestling Federation belt.

Then someone asks him about Sam Phillips.  Joe says he sold her husband a guitar about 20 years ago.  She and her husband have split and Sam got the guitar and has been playing only that guitar for the last 20 years.  He says that he loves that she doesn’t plug in her guitar.  She plays into a microphone where you can hear the whole guitar and which makes the other players lean in to hear her.

I love the chords he plays in the final song, “Piano Furnace,” even if I don’t know what the song is about.  Henry’s voice is familiar.  I think he sounds a bit like a number of different singers.  And overall, nothing really stands out in his performance, except that everything sounds great and hiss songwriting is really solid.  That’s not a bad thing.

[READ: December 20, 2015] Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod

Mark Tatulli is the author of the Desmond books.  I liked the stories, but I didn’t love the drawing style so much.  Imagine my surprise to find out that Tatulli has been drawing comics featuring this little boy Liō since 2006 (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

And even more surprising is that I like the drawing style in the comic quite a bit–it is slightly refined over the Desmond books and is all the better for it.

I am also really surprised to find out that this strip appeared in newspapers across the country.  I’ve certainly never heard of it (but then I don’t read newspapers anymore, either).

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos. (more…)

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tibSOUNDTRACK: INDIGO GIRLS-Holly Happy Days (2010).

hollyhappyI know I bought this for Sarah for Christmas a few years ago (I like that it looks like a present).  Sarah and I have both been fans of the Indigo Girls (and we’ve both seen them, but at different events).  This seemed like an obvious fun record for the holidays.  But we both felt a little let down by it.

I’m not exactly sure what’s not quite right, but after listening  again, I think the record is just too much of a downer for Christmas.  I mean even the Indigo Girls’ more serious songs counterbalance with lively singing, but much of this album feels very dirge-like to me.

The main unexpected thing for me is that the record is largely bluegrass-inflected–not something I expect from the Indigo Girls–or Christmas music.

But that’s just how it opens–banjos and fiddle and whooping on “I Feel the Christmas Spirit” a song I didn’t know before.  It’s fun, just unexpected.  “It Really is (a Wonderful Life)” reminds of Barenaked Ladies for some reason (not their voices obviously). It’s folky and is another a song I didn’t know.  I like it–it’s fun having new Christmas songs.
“O Holy Night” has a very weird quality to it.  I usually love this song, but I don’t really care for the way they did this one–it feels flat or something.  Or maybe it’s the violins and folk trappings?  Actually, the middle part (with their great harmonies) sounds really good–I guess it’s just the opening I don’t like.

“Your Holiday Song” sounds more like  a”real” Indigo Girls song–great harmonies, cool chord progressions.  (This one was written by Emily Saliers, so that makes sense).  It’s the first song I really like on the disc.

It’s the middle of the disc that really loses any steam it had.  “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is certainly a sad kind of song, but their version is practically suicidal.  Oh it’s such a downer with that slow violin solo.  Who would want to listen to this version of this song?
“Mistletoe” is an Amy Ray original.  Coming right after the downer of “I’ll be Home” this one is also slow and a downer.  I find that Ray’s voice also sounds really different on this song–I would never have guessed this was her.
“Peace Child” is the third downer in a row, and you just want to give up on your festive mood after this one.

But it picks up with a rollicking bluegrass “The Wonder Song” (written by Amy Ray).  It’s the most fun song on the disc and while it doesn’t scream Christmas, it is a holiday song.

Obviously no one is making “In the Bleak Midwinter” into an upbeat poppy song.  Their version is quite pretty, and their harmonies are wonderful.

Perhaps the strangest song is their cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah.”  It feels very Guthrie, which means it should be done in a folk style (which it is).  The surprise is the full bluegrass rendition of a Hanukkah song (how many Hanukkah songs have whooping in them?  It’s fun, though.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” sounds great with their harmonies.  Although the mandolin solo kind of brings the song down to earth in a weird way.

The disc ends as it middled, with a slow, mournful song,”There’s Still My Joy.”  While I know that not everyone is happy at Christmastime, this record goes a bit too far into the darkness for my liking.

[READ: December 2, 2014] Tib and Tum Tum

Here is another translated comic.  It is done with great flair by Carol Klio Burrel who also did Nola’s World.  This story is aimed more at kids though (but is not existential at all–see yesterday’;s post about translated stories).  The biggest surprise for me with this is that it is actually a series of one page strips rather than a long graphic novel (I think).  Well, there is a long story arc, but every page seems to have a “punchline” as if the story was sequential rather than continuous.

It’s a very simple premise. The book is set in caveman days.  Tib is a small boy with a giant birthmark on his face.  The other kids make fun of him for this.  His mother is overprotective (the joke about him always being safe is very funny) and his father is an oblivious storyteller (whoppers of tales, I must say).  In that first strip, Tib runs into Tum Tum, a baby dinosaur.  He is adorable (and a little scary too, of course).  And Tib decides that this red guy is pretty cool.  Tum Tum spends most of his time chasing (an eating) butterflies.

When Tib tells the elders about the dinosaur they tell him of course that dinosaurs are extinct.  (I love that the story is set in caveman times but that they talk in a more or less contemporary way (no grunting) and are knowledgeable (there’s a sewing joke which is very funny).  When he tries to show Tum Tum to them, the dinosaur hides so no one can see him.  Eventually his mom thinks he has an imaginary friend. (more…)

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Pete Seeger [1919-2014]

seegerPete Seeger died last night at the age of 94.  I love his anti-war quote: “Sometimes I think [about] that old saying,’The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Well, my one hope is the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb.”

When I was a kid, I knew a few of his songs (and didn’t really like them) because of an organ songbook we had (did everyone have an organ in the 70s?).  I can remember pounding on the wheezing organ and making up silly lyrics to “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  It’s amazing to think that these songs, which were written in the sixties, are often seen as eternal classics.  It’s also amazing to think that Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which I never associated with him.  Indeed, like Woody Guthrie, much of American folk music can be traced to Pete Seeger (even if he adapted much of it himself).

I really started getting into Seeger when I had kids, as I found his music was fun to teach the kids to sing along to–it was designed for singing along to.  In fact, he wrote a ton of children’s music as well. (He released FIFTY-TWO studio albums, along with 22 live albums and 23 compilations).  His first solo album was a collection of traditional folk songs for children (he didn’t write them, which may be why it’s confusing to know which songs were actually his).  And I don’t even know anything about his first band The Weavers, who had hits with “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know You)” and “Wimoweh.”

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WOODY GUTHRIE-“The Car Song” (1944).

Several years ago when I was first buying music for our kids, I found a number of Woody Guthrie discs.  I always liked Woody Guthrie in theory (this guitar kills fascists and all that).  But I was unfamiliar with his children’s music.

I was surprised by his stuff for one major reason (Besides the fact that he looks like Sean Penn).  This was later confirmed by his son Arlo when Arlo tried to work with his father’s masters: Woody didn’t really believe in rhythm or conventional timing or anything like that.  And that’s fine, but when it’s combined with the primitive recording equipment that Guthrie had access to, these songs sound, shall we say, rough.

Of course, Woody is mostly known for his excellent lyrics (This Land is Your Land).  So it’s especially funny to hear “Car Song” in which the first verse (according to Woody’s official site) is:

Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brm, brrrm b’ brrrm,
Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brrrm b’ brrrm,
Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brrrm b’ brrrm.
Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brrrm.

Arlo has said that Woody wasn’t exactly a good dad, but it’s clear that Woody expressed his love for his kids in song.  And this song is a fun and silly one that any kid can enjoy (as long as they don’t mind the really raw recording quality).

[READ: December 4, 2011] Babymouse Burns Rubber

This is the last Babymouse book that I had to read before getting caught up with all of the books (except for 2011’s Christmas book, which is the most recent release!).  It’s number 12, and it continues the later book’s excellent streak.  I was a bit concerned about the book when it opened because it begins with a NASCAR fantasy and I don’t watch NASCAR.  But as with most of the opening fantasies, it doesn’t bear on the actual plot of the book.

This book features a lot of screen time for Babymouse’s friend Wilson (it’s always good to see him and nice to see him get so much attention).  We quickly learn that Wilson is the go-to man when something breaks.  More to the point, he’s the go-to man (or ferret, I guess) that Babymouse goes to whenever she needs something (homework help, fixing a bicycle, whatever).  And Wilson is happy to help (what are friends for?).

When Wilson fixes Babymouse’s bicycle (again–Babymouse is a terrible driver) Wilson shows off his new car!  This car is one for the downhill derby–he’s wanted to race for years and he’s finally old enough to participate.  When Babymouse hears that there’s a race which she could actually enter she gets very excited and wonders what she’ll wear.  Wilson points out that she actually has to build her car first.

Of course, Babymouse can’t build anything, so she asks Wilson for “help.”  And more help and more help.  But now Wilson’s car needs work of its own.  Oh, and let’s not forget that in this year’s race is three-time derby winner Chuck E. Cheetah (nice) who is likely going to win again this year.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PETE SEEGER-Greatest Hits (2002).

Like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger has been singing for the common man since forever.  Unlike Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger is alive and well and still kicking up a fuss.

This collection of his songs is fascinating in that it shows a certain aspect of Pete’s music: his songs are designed for “folks.”  His songs almost demand audience participation.  And so, he has albums for kids (that are weird but wonderful) and other, grown up songs that kids also know, which people have been singing for generations.

And so this disc features more than “studio tracks.”  It opens with “Little Boxes” a wonderful song which features some awesome lyrics including this verse:

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

But in addition, you get some classic tracks that define rebellious folk: “Which Side Are You On?” “We Shall Overcome” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”   It also has songs like “Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)” and “Abiyoyo.”

And of course, it features, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Turn Turn Turn” songs which I’ve known since I was a little kid, but whose lyrics never meant anything to me until I became an adult.  There’s even “If I Had a Hammer” with the final verse:

It’s the hammer of justice;
It’s the bell of freedom;
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters;
All over this land

For a really comprehensive collection of his “studio work” the ideal disc is If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle (where he sets the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to a song called “Solidarity Forever” (Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, For the union makes us strong.)

Pete Seeger is indeed a national treasure, and a man who fights in his own way for each of us.

[READ: August 23, 2010] Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm

After reading Letters of Insurgents, I felt the need for a palate cleanser.  Melissa suggested this title.  And it really did wonders for me.

All along while I was reading Insurgents, I felt like everyone in the book was misguided about their role in society and, frankly about their ability to undermine the world.  I never understood the idea that people were “making” them work.  They didn’t have to work.  They could have lived off the grid somewhere and eaten berries.  What else is the point of a strike than to improve working conditions, not to abolish work altogether (that whole apart about the plants’ foreign offices plugging along despite their big lockdown was particularly hilariously naive).

In many ways I felt like their opinions were on par with what I thought anarchism was, and yet their opinions were nothing I wanted to be a part of.  Bookchin argues that their attitudes are examples of Lifestyle Anarchism (this article does not address the book at all, but you can see the characters in what he’s describing.) (more…)

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