Monday, August 27, 2007

Supplemental: Music Top 10

I couldn't go too long without a top 10 list, now could I? I was thinking how three of my favorite newer bands - John Butler Trio, The Cat Empire, and Augie March - are all from Australia. So I started compiling a list of Australian bands (not individual artists, which would include folks like Ozzy Osborne, Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton-John). There were quite a few excellent and influential bands over the years from Down Under. Here are ten of the best, in alphabetical order:

The Bee Gees
The Church
Crowded House
The Go-Betweens
Men at Work
Midnight Oil
Split Enz
The Vines

Also worth mentioning: Air Supply, Architecture in Helsinki, Divinyls, The Easybeats, Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters and Collectors, Jet, Little River Band, Mental as Anything, The Seekers, Silverchair, The Wiggles(!), Wolfmother, and the three bands I cited above. Quite a diversity, mate!

I almost lumped Split Enz and Crowded House together because they were both founded by the Finn brothers (who I know are from New Zealand), but both bands have strong Australian connections, and they were, after all, two distinct bands from distinct musical periods, each influential in their own right.

Have I left anyone out? Let me know! Comments, people, give me comments!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fighting the Dog Days

I'm back from our vacation in Williamsburg, VA, one of our favorite holiday spots - we go at least every other year, and we own a timeshare down there. We usually spend most of our time at Colonial Williamsburg, being the suckers for history that we are. And the place was jumping, as much as a "living history" place could jump, that is. It's the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement (even the Queen visited this spring), so everything's been spruced up and "kicked up a notch". We did both Jamestown and Yorktown on separate days, and each location has two separate sites to visit, one run by the National Park Service and the other by a proprietary organization. We kept busy at Williamsburg though, planning our week to see a pirate trial; a colonial-style comedy show; a wonderful program by re-enactors of African-American music on a replica of a plantation; an "apprentice tour" where my 11-year-old got to work with a blacksmith, a wheelwright and a tailor; a behind-the-scenes tour of the stables where we got to meet some horses and see them hitched up to the carriages; an audience with Thomas Jefferson; and a lot more. But the most interesting new feature is the "Revolutionary City", a series of interactive dramatizations at different locations in town, where the re-enactors really get the visitors involved in the simulated events leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Music: Also while on vacation, Mrs. N. and I got to see the film Once, and we both highly recommend it. In case you're not aware, it's an independent Irish film about a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames) who meets a young Czech emigree (Markéta Irglová). They start to collaborate performing and writing songs, while forming a close friendship and trying to achieve success with their music. It's a feel-good movie with a bittersweet end, and the soundtrack is terrific - much of the movie, in fact, plays like a musical, with the songs integrated directly into the action of the film. See it if you can.

Recent CD acquisitions:
1. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir: My first "freebie" from the Amazon Vine club (see August 7th blog) - it's a strong album by this Aussie band - a bit hard to pigeonhole, but imagine a cross between Crowded House and Elbow. You can see my full review here.

2. New Pornographers - Challengers: Still deciding how this stacks up to their previous three albums - the last one, Twin Cinema, was one of the best albums of 2005. For those unfamiliar, they are a Canadian-based "supergroup" whose members include alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, and they do power pop better than anyone since Lindsay Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac. This time out their sound has mellowed a bit, but a lot of their trademark style is still there. Chances are it will end up on my final best-of-the-year list, as will Augie March.

No Top Ten list this time out - the XPN bulletin boards, my source for these lists, has been down for several days.

Poetry: Still trying to weather a creative drought - dashed off a couple of short pieces last night, but nothing to brag about. No new publication news, either. So I'll pull another old favorite out of my hat. This one appeared a few years ago in Edison Literary Review:

Clouds in the Jaguar Window

Natural selection on the highway –
the Jaguar cuts in front of me at the light,
buffed and detailed, a sleek animal
the color of a Colt revolver,
its occupant, suited, cellphone to skull,
speaking to someone, no doubt,
more important than me.

But before the light changes,
before he gets another five-second jump on life,
cumulus clouds from the windy blue sky
reflect on his rear window.
They roll across like screen credits,
chiaroscuro on smoky glass,
steaming majestically to their next country.

And when we ply the road again,
I want to pull my unworthy minivan
abreast of him, and mouth these words
to his air-conditioned window:
Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me
that the clouds still travel untethered
even over you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Music: Tracks and Trivia

Lots of musical topics on my mind this week: First and foremost, I just got Bruce Springsteen’s 4-disc box set Tracks last week, at Tunes, a local record store chain. It was a used copy in excellent condition for only $15.99. I couldn’t pass it up. Now, I’m not a rabid Boss-ophile like some folks I know, but I do like most of his songs. That said, I have to admit that this set is probably the best collection of unreleased rock songs I’ve ever heard. Most of these could easily have been included, as is, in any of Bruce’s albums. Just a thoroughly enjoyable collection of tunes, especially, of course, the ones that feature the E Street Band.

This coming week marks the 38th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, which I didn’t attend. But I did attend a festival in 1969 that was very nearly as good. Here’s my description as written for XPN’s Most Memorable Music Moments:

“The Woodstock Arts and Music Festival in August 1969 was such a generation- and culture-defining event that it completely overshadowed the festival that occurred just two weeks before: The Atlantic City Pop Festival at the Atlantic City Racetrack on August 1, 2, and 3, 1969. Call it a dress rehearsal for Woodstock, but without the mud. The lineup was every bit as impressive as the more famous festival’s was: Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Santana, Chicago, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, The Mothers of Invention, Procol Harum, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, B.B. King, Dr. John, Little Richard, Sir Douglas Quintet, Canned Heat, Mother Earth, Iron Butterfly(!), Buddy Miles, Three Dog Night, The Chambers Brothers, and many others. . Since it was less than an hour from my home, it was a no-brainer for my friends and me to camp out nearby and groove to three days of fun and music. (And we were in the foreground of a crowd shot on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin!) The weather was perfect, and an estimated 110,000 people attended. Let others brag about being at Woodstock, but I have no regrets going to Atlantic City Pop instead!”

This past week also marks the 50th anniversary of the national debut of American Bandstand. Below you’ll find a poem I wrote about that phenomenon a few years ago, after reading an article about former teen dancers from the show. Trivia questions:

1. Who was the original host of Bandstand, before Dick Clark?

2. On what Philadelphia TV station was the original program broadcast?

3. What is the name of the American Bandstand theme song, and who performed it?
(answers below)

Top Ten Music List of the Week: Ten Songs that Created Controversy

1. Society’s Child – Janis Ian (her original song from the 60’s about interracial romance)

2. Cop Killer – Body Count (‘nuff said…)

3. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (he was sued – and lost – in a plagiarism case – unfairly, I still maintain)

4. Big Muddy – Pete Seeger (he sang this song, a thinly-veiled criticism of the Vietnam War, on the Ed Sullivan Show and was banned from future appearances)

5. Let’s Spend the Night Together – The Rollings Stones (another Ed Sullivan moment: they were forced to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together")

6. Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan (with this song, he was the first artist to “go electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, and was virtually booed off the stage)

7. Short People – Randy Newman (hard to believe this silly satirical ditty from the 70’s raised such a ruckus, but groups representing short-statured folks complained about it so much that it was banned from some radio stations)

8. Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen (rumors floated around for years about the unintelligible lyrics, which some claimed were “dirty” –they weren’t)

9. Girl You Know It’s True – Milli Vanilli (the kings of musical fraud – they were top 40 darlings till it came out that someone else was dubbing their vocals)

10. Not Ready to Make Nice – The Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines’ answer to all the middle Americans who blackballed the girls for their anti-Bush comments)

Poem of the Week: as promised…


Kinescopes smudged gray and white
burn the screen like old dreams.
These are days for those who remember Dick Clark, standing avuncular behind the podium,
announcing the current hit, or the next big one,
as kids began to prowl the floor
in poodle skirts, bobby socks,
skinny ties and plaid jackets,
bouffants and pompadours bouncing in time.

In the camera, movement is the color –
the Stroll, the Cha-cha, the Bristol Stomp,
couples with names like Carmine and Angela,
some regulars, some fresh-faced newcomers
picked from the gaggle of hopefuls
outside the West Philly studio.
The Catholic girls wear sweaters over their uniforms,
so the nuns won’t scold them in school tomorrow.
Inadvertently, they start a fashion trend –
girls all over the country look for the cool dickie collars the kids on Bandstand wear,
unaware that they’re uniform shirts.

Now, years later, when they all get together
(most with grandchildren and Social Security)
they summon up good times and bad:
the fan clubs, teen articles, and the threats
received while slammed against their lockers
by kids that didn’t think them “cool.”
Their sighs waft to that time and back again,
as someone resurrects a jukebox –
Frankie Lymon, Bobby Darin, the Shirelles.
They partner up in the old combinations,
gliding across the diner’s checkered floor,
all the way back to seventeen.

(Answers to trivia questions: 1. Bob Horn. 2. WFIL (now WPVI), Channel 6. 3. “Bandstand Boogie” (various versions were used over the years, including Barry Manilow’s vocal version, but the original, most well-known theme on the national program was by Les Elgart. The tune was composed by Charles Albertine.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Amazon, New Poet Laureate, Pirates, and Other Stuff.

I got an interesting e-mail today from They invited me to join "Amazon Vine", an exclusive "club" for their most popular and helpful reviewers. I have 137 reviews posted on Amazon, mostly music reviews, and some DVD and book reviews as well. As a "Vine" member, I'll be getting free promotional releases and pre-releases (which I get to choose), with only the requirement that I write reviews for some of them. How cool is that?

My latest favorite CD is The Cat Empire's Two Shoes. It's almost as energetic and fun as the band was in person at the XPoNential Music Festival a couple of weeks ago. It will definitely be on my best-of-the-year list.

My youngest is in the midst of his two-week Boy Scout camp in Bucks County, and from all accounts he is having a swell time. In light of that, and as a public service, I am about to introduce a new feature: the Weekly Top 10. This is culled from the XPN website - I started a bulletin board thread a few months ago that's still going strong, where members suggest ten songs with a common theme. We've had some rather ho-hum themes, and some pretty creative ones too. So this week's Top 10 is:

Songs About Camping, Scouting, Hiking, or Similar Outdoorsy Activities

1. Honeymoon with "B" Troop - 10cc
2. Tent - Bonzo Dog Band
3. A Campfire Song - 10,000 Maniacs
4. Be Prepared - Tom Lehrer
5. Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (Camp Grenada) - Allen Sherman
6. Fishin' Blues - Taj Mahal (my son's going for his fishing merit badge this week)
7. Battle of Kookamonga - Homer and Jethro (a spoof of "Battle of New Orleans" set at a kid's summer camp)
8. Poison Ivy - The Coasters
9. Under the Milky Way - The Church (sleeping under the stars)
10. Kumbaya - Pete Seeger (the ultimate campfire song!)

Thanks to my XPN boardie buds, jtd7, skatenlayton, cromag, and obi y kenobi for some of the suggestions.

Poetry: Charles Simic has just been appointed the new Poet Laureate of the U.S. Interesting choice - I like his work; it's whimsical and sometimes a bit surreal, but I never found a real emotional connection with it. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the post - he does - but I was really hoping it would go to my favorite American poet who hasn't held the title yet: Yusef Komunyakaa.

Still not doing much these days poetry-wise - I've written hardly anything worthwhile in about a month, and I'm getting pretty disgusted about it. Still waiting on some submissions, the most noteworthy being Poetry magazine. Their non-response so far could be because (a) they're backlogged with a mountain of submissions, since they invited poets not previously published by them to submit, and haven't been able to respond as quickly as they promised; or (b) my poetry is so unworthy they won't even dignify it with a response; or (c) I did something horribly wrong, like inadvertently insult the editors in my cover letter, or forget to enclose a SASE; or (d) my poetry is so wonderful that they're holding it for possible publication. I think "a" is the most likely scenario, followed by "c" and "b".

Poem of the Week: I'll go with this one, which was published in The Fairfield Review (Winter 2003) and was also selected by them as an Editor's Choice:

Heart’s Pirate

There’s the story they tell on the Outer Banks
about Blackbeard, and the other privateers –
how they would hang lanterns on mules
and run them up and down the sandy beach.

This confused incoming ships
especially in the fog of night –
they thought they sighted a lighthouse
and sailed into the sound,

scraping the shoals, running aground,
helpless to the plunderers
who awaited ashore
and waded across to breach the gunwales.

That’s how it feels
to talk to you.