The first concert I ever went to was the Alarm, at the Beacon Theater in New York. Three of us drove into the city in a tiny little convertible that may or may not have been made out of fiberglass.
I actually don’t remember anything about the show, except that I enjoyed it. Actually, my dominant memory of that evening is my two friends doing impersonations of DJ Scott Muni.
This was a time when U2 was The Big Deal, and any band that even kind of sounded like them had a good shot at having a hit. The Alarm were angry in a good way, and had awesome hair and cool fringe-y suede jackets, just like Bono.
And they were actually a good band. They played well, they had some good songs, and they had the right music at the right time.
My second concert was at the Pier, again in NYC. I was a lot more into the bands that played that night; it was the Cure, with 10,000 Maniacs opening.
That was a really fun night – I was with a bunch of friends, and we drove into the city in nice, safe sedans and station wagons.
Photo of the Alarm by Helge Øverås.
“Alarm kalvoya 01071984 10 500” by Helge Øverås – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons
I’m in a seventies mood today …
I don’t usually listen to Franz Liszt (liszten?), but the other day I went ahead and decided what the heck.
There’s just something about piano music of this era, around the mid-nineteenth century. People like Liszt and Chopin were taking piano to entirely new realms. Tonalities began to blur, Debussy would soon be exploring Asian musical scales, and a young Schoenberg was a few decades away from introducing the radical new concept of serialism (or as some call it, Ruining It for Everyone).
Here’s another one. It’s like listening to diamonds.
Apparently, he was a big hit with the ladies, during his day job as a concert pianist. Here’s an entirely correct historical re-enactment of one of his many triumphant concerts.
Chopin was less the rock star, but in my opinion the more interesting composer.He can do those big sweeping runs Liszt does, but adds rhythmic and melodic interest. They both do fantastic things with harmonic structure.
I used to play this one in high school.
Playing it always put me in a beautiful, elegant, peaceful space. Maybe time to get the music out again?
No matter how much you love your job, Monday mornings can feel like a slow-motion trudge into the deepest bowels of hell … again.
Just in case your morning feels like wading through a waist-deep sea of oatmeal, I’m starting a weekly “Monday Funday Dance Party.” For the days when coffee just isn’t enough.
I found this picture of an instrument I’ve never seen before; the “Autophone Organette.”
I figured I’d see if I could find one in action:
And the punch card thingy made me think of the composer Conlon Nancarrow.
Nancarrow wrote a lot of music that was so technically complex, he couldn’t find anyone who could play it.
So if he ever wanted to hear what his music sounded like, he had to come up with a better solution. Today we’d just multitrack it. But back in the late 30’s, the answer was player piano. Nancarrow punched out his music onto rolls of paper, one note at a time (and that’s a LOT of notes), just so he could hear it back.
Eventually, musicians came on the scene who had the technical chops to play his stuff, and his music is now performed live.
I really like his work, and I think folks who aren’t that familiar with this kind of music might also get into it. Even though it can sound like jazz in a blender, there’s enough relatable content there to keep you involved.
Conlon Nancarrow Fun Fact: I had lunch with Nancarrow and his wife many years ago. They were very nice people.
My ears get tired if I listen to challenging music for too long, so here’s something that should ground us.
It’s the absolute stillness of living in the now.
Just bought the original studio recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” My parents had this on vinyl (and still do), and I listened to it all the time as a kid. They remastered it in 2012 (not my parents, some other people), and I’m loving it.
I’ve seen the first movie version of this, as well as Rik Mayall’s great performance of “King Herod’s Song” in the 2000 version:
But I’m all about the album. I’ve listened it so many times, it feels like the only “correct” version. Also, it’s a really good record. Lots of great performances, especially Murray Head as Judas and Ian Gillan as Jesus, on hiatus from his day job as lead singer of Deep Purple. Word on the street is that Gillan recorded all his vocals in three hours.
Here’s Ian singing lead on “Smoke on the Water.” I don’t know about you crazy kids today, but back in the day this was a super popular riff to learn. I got the whole viola and cello sections in my high school orchestra to learn this. Yeah, I’m a nerd.
Mornings are tough, no matter what.
I only work part-time, and I don’t have to be there until 10:00 AM. But I still have to get up at 7:15 so I have enough time to painfully peel my eyes open with coffee and scandalous news stories.
For almost seven years, I had a job that required me to get up at 4:15. AM. Oh my god, it was awful. I loved the job, but that morning alarm was a dreadful thing.
I had three alarms set: my cell phone, a regular old radio/alarm clock, and a travel alarm that ran on batteries, in case there was a blackout (which there was, in 2003).
Along with the coffee and the cold showers, music’s a big help for me in the early early mornings, no matter what time that turns out to be.
Fugazi: “Five Corporations”
I love Fugazi. They have stayed consistently interesting throughout so many albums. Listening to them is always time well spent.
Staple Singers: “We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Together”
This song is just so inspiring, whatever time of day it is. So is the Fugazi track. These are both pretty idealistic songs, and the idea that I’m doing this daily routine for a larger purpose can often motivate me to brush those teeth and get out the door.
And for those mornings when only the smell of napalm will do:
Richard Wagner: “Flight of the Valkyries”
This was playing in the drugstore today.
Back when I was learning to play guitar, “House at Pooh Corner” was one of the first songs I learned.
This is Loggins and Messina, but the song was originally done by the Nitty Gritty Dirt band back in 1970. It was okay to be earnest and sincere back then.
Speaking of acoustic guitar music, sincere or not, I love it. One of my favorites is Leo Kottke:
This is from the album “6-And 12-String Guitar.” I used to have it on cassette.
Eliot Fisk isn’t so bad either:
This music was actually originally written for violin, but Fisk’s guitar version is just amazing. Damn, I wish I could play like that.
This just popped into my head, displacing “Thank You For Being a Friend,” the theme song to “The Golden Girls.” Thank you, Tony. Thank you, Dawn.
There was a point in the early to mid-seventies where pop songs became so hook-laden that they were almost annoyingly catchy. You hear it for the first time in 10 years and think “That’s a great song! I should listen to it more.” But then after two or three listens, you just can’t take it any more. It’s like skipping the cake and just eating the icing.
Three Dog Night can be like that. Some of their songs are great, and some are just not great songs. And no matter how amazing the hook is, it’s that musical skeleton underneath that makes it work.
Now this is a good song, with a great hook:
I just love that middle part, where they’re all singing in harmony.
I recently bought Three Dog Night’s greatest hits album. I’d had the chorus to “Shangri-La” going through my head for a couple of days before I figured out who the band was*, and they were all over my iPod for about two months. Then I just had to delete them. Too much icing.
But that’s the challenge of writing great pop songs – you have to take risks. And every once in a while you’ll fly too close to the sun, and your magic wings will dissolve into an icky pool of melted sugar.
On a totally different note**, here’s a great non-pop, non-sugary piece by Art Blakey & the Afro Drum Ensemble: