1. "Do You Want To Come With?," Stephen Fretwell. I heard Fretwell's CD Magpie for the first time last month, and I've played it at least once a day since. For songwriter lovers, this is a drop-everything-and-get-it proposition. A mannerism like Donovan's, a soul like Dylan's, a voice all his own. It's hypnotic, sad, and truth-telling. From Manchester, England, his songs remind me why we listen so intently to others: To know something about another, and to discover something about ourselves. When he asks Do you want to come with? to a place where the waves crash on the shore, you say why not? -- so long as he leaves you alone once you get there.
2. "Flags Of Freedom," Neil Young. Kevin Spacey's DOA muse has recently only been able to get it up for a biopic on Bobby Darin (?!), and the mocking of Young's heartfelt��"careless-killer-from-the-gut Living With War on the season finale of Saturday Night Live. I'm pretty sure I've quoted this before, but whenever I see someone go out on a limb the way Neil has this time, and hear some snarky cheap-seater dismiss it, I remember what Greil Marcus wrote about Sinead O'Connor, when she ripped up a picture of the pope on SNL: "Don't knock her until you've done something half as brave."
3. "Talent Show," The Replacements. Safe to say, someone covering this jangly ode to the judge-artist circle-jerk is the only thing that could ever get me to watch American Idol. Knock yourself out, but I swear I'd rather sit in a quiet room listening to "the music of silence," as Thomas Merton put it.
And, just in case you need more proof that this country is totally -off its rocker, consider the fact that, at a time when more good music is being made, recorded, and played than at any other time in history, many very smart people and critics are talking about a TV show and virtually ignoring original music that actually says something about these times (and no, I'm not talking about the Dixie Chicks' boring "boldness" that Keith Harris so eloquently unpacks here).
I mean, just imagine if that sea of column inches and talking heads that were devoted to American Idol had been aimed at Living With War? Think we'd be living in a different world? I do.
I know. I know. I should lighten up. But calling American Idol a much-needed "escape" is the kind of lazy thinking and passive listening that, yes, it can't be said enough, got more people to vote for Taylor or Paris or whoever the fuck than the president, and I don't mind saying that that kind of mass mind-lull frightens me.
4. "I Wish I Was," The Twilight Singers. Have you ever had an out-of-body experience, the kind where you're floating above the city and its bridges and waterscapes and smokestacks and silos and the Northern Lights and back doors and classic dimly-lit kitchens and smoky hammocks and the secrets of the universe discovered in the single blink of a pedal steel guitar, watching yourself and your life, and it is both dark and beautiful, so much so that you never want to come down? Well, now you have. Come down, that is.
5. "Monster Ballads," Josh Ritter. A slippery coming-of-age ballad that's equal parts "Done Got Old" (Heartless Bastards), "Please Don't Ask Me To Smile" (You Am I) and "Heavy Metal Boyz" (Gear Daddies), from an Idaho kid who's more popular in Ireland��"a country that knows a little something about shattered-hearts-and-stop-and-smell-the-ashes than little ol' here.
6. "Donald and Lydia," John Prine. On the bus on the way down to Prine's show at the Orpheum earlier this month, I sat next to a couple of musicheads who couldn't have been more than 16 years olds. The girl was schooling the boy in the genius of Prine, and deemed this "the greatest song about love ever written." I was struck by her passion, and by the fact that she didn't call it the "greatest love song ever written" -- the distinction being between love as a wading pool (known and shallow) and love as a swimming hole (wild and scary-deep).
7. "Since You've Been Around," Rosie Thomas. Her show at the Turf a couple months ago still haunts; I look back at what I wrote��"about her being a shaman��"and about it being a special night and I try to figure out why. Then I hear her singing about the rush of connectedness, Elliot and E.T. connectedness, and I remember.
8. "End Of Love," Clem Snide. The first half of this tune is too clever for it's own good, but when he brings it down and sings, "Maybe you should just release the doves, because no one will survive the end of love," it soars, and the message that endures is the one that tells the heart to stop keeping track, let go, no grudges, no agendas, no distrust of thy neighbor, no calibration, no pragmaticism, just love. Which, rumor has it, the world needs more of.
9. "Man Of God," Neil Diamond. From his new one. The next best thing written of late about faith and flesh and how everyone's voice is the voice of their own god this side of Mason Jennings' "Jesus Are You Real?"
10. "Be Here Now," Mason Jennings. The triumph of this sentiment, which Ram Dass first coined back in the '60s, is how it sticks with the listener long after the music ends. That is, the singalong chorus is a meaningful mantra throughout your day, and a tool for bringing yourself back into the moment -- which is what dude sang in "Living In The Moment," and what all those angels in church are hipping everyone to when they sing, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
11. "Steady As She Goes," The Raconteurs. Great Joe Jackson riff. Sounds good on the radio. Quintessential brown bohemian bikini summer single.
12. "Poncho and Lefty," Townes Van Zandt. Netflixed the Townes documentary Be Here To Love Me the other night, the best part of which was Guy Clark and Willie Nelson talking about the invulnerabilitty of this strange song, and the vulnerability of its maker, who said, "There's heaven, hell, purgatory, and the blues. The blues is the worst. I'd take purgatory over the blues anyday." Yessir, that's my baby.
13. "Personality Crisis," The New York Dolls. I've pretty much had my fill of old punks talking about the glory days, like so many Deadheads gathered 'round Jerry's entrails. So I was pleasantly surprised by New York Doll, the doc on Dolls' bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane, a sweet survivor if ever there was one. Um, even though he didn't survive.
14. "World Spins Madly On," The Weepies. Went to a man's funeral yesterday. He was hard-headed Irish Catholic beer lover. His kids didn't talk to him, or each other, much. They stood around the casket in front of the altar, in a church packed with other hard-headed Irish Catholic beer lovers who don't talk to each other much because of one grudge or another, looking like they'd never met. People were crying, and once again I didn't. It all just sat in me -- all that pain, regret, muted love, and silence -- like a summer cold waiting to get sneezed out here.
15. "Temperature," Sean Paul. Turn that junk off, son. If all the other kids jumped off a bridge, would you? Yes, girls are beautiful. Do we have to have that talk again? No, not all nightclubs are like that. Turn it back to one of my stations. Better yet, find something by the Archies or something. Maybe the Christian music station. Disney. Smooth jazz.
16. "Turn Into," Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Potential is a bitch, be it love, or life, or calling, and this four-minute warning finds the singer praying she can live up to everything fate has mapped out for her. Or... maybe she just likes singing that killer hook.
17. "Chase The Feeling," Kris Kristofferson. A soft scolding, but a scolding nonetheless, from one hungry soul to another. The difference from the rest of us is that he's learned something along the way; how to tame his demons and recognize what's at stake. Reason #20,000 why we listen to our elders.
18. "That Summer Feeling," Jonathan Richman. Mary Lucia perfectly played "Roadrunner" the other day to her windows-down heat-baked city. Then there's this, the perennial of all summer-song perennials, and as I write, the Memorial Day weekend humidity has lifted, leaving only the fecund green of these prairie towns, and the smell-in-the-air promise of an urban orgy.
19. "Pay Me My Money Down," Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band. From my D.C. boy Dave Pasternak, late yesterday:
GO SEE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE SEEGER SESSIONS BAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's expensive but well worth the price - certainly a much more satisfying show than the Devils and Dust Tour.
Saw 'em last night - wow, what a wonderful show. Eighteen to twenty musicians (depending on whether there were four or six horn players, it varied), all acoustic, making a HUGE joyous racket. Everyone onstage got a couple of moments in the spotlight and the band just kicked a**. It rolled more than it rocked - not to say it didn't have punch because it most certainly did but the whole thing had a real New Orleans feel to it. Bruce looked like he was having a ball. They all looked like they were having a ball. When they were ending 'Pay Me My Money Down', the entire band marched off the stage like a New Orleans brass band except the tuba player and drummer, who both kept playing, with the crowd continuing to sing (the audience was great - they sang much of the night, all in appropriate places!) Bruce finally "had to" come out and fetch them - he herded the tuba player off, then came back for the drummer - as Bruce escorted him off, he kept breaking away and coming back to exhort the crowd to keep singing. It was lots of fun.
They did most of the Seeger Sessions (thankfully skipping 'Shenandoah' and 'Froggie Went a Courtin') They were great - pretty much like they are on the album but the energy level was ramped up a notch or two. He also did 'How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" with three new verses that he wrote specifically about New Orleans - it was up on his web site for awhile, don't know if it's still there - great version. 'When The Saints Go Marching In' was not the way I've ever heard it before - rather than the Dixieland stomp you always hear, it was done like a spiritual - slow and mournful and appropriate to the words. 'Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)' is a Seeger song that wasn't on the album - it was certainly appropriate for a show in the Washington D.C. area on Memorial Day Weekend.
And what he did to his own songs - wow! 'Johnny 99' was a rolling, New Orleans backbeat version. 'Cadillac Ranch' was all rhythm with the chorus removed and replaced with the chorus of 'Mystery Train' - it sort of reminded me of the stuff Tom Waits has been doing in recent years. 'If I Should Fall Behind' was done as a country waltz. 'Ramrod' was done as a zydeco stomper. But the absolute highlight of the entire evening as far as I was concerned was the really, really long Texas swing version of 'Open All Night' complete with Patti, Soozie and Lisa doing a sorta Andrews Sisters intro - that was fantastic.
20. "Bad Day," Daniel Powter. The most popular song on the radio at the moment. I love it for its bigness and sadness and keepituppityness. They played it at the Dome the other night, and whenever I hear it from here on out I will think of Mark Zupan, the star of Murderball,
who we ran into (apparently he used to live here; he's a Twins fan) and snapped the picture of below. Girl with Mark is my daughter; dude in back is my boy Erik Lundegaard, the film critic who topped his list of favorite movie moments of 2005 with this:
1. Tap tap... Tap tap...
Mark Zupan gives a fellow quadriplegic a reason to live in “Murderball.”
Mark Zupan is one of the highly competitive quadriplegic rugby players competing in the Paralympic Games, in the documentary "Murderball." Besides filming the characters and stories that grow out of the sport of full-contact wheelchair rugby ��" notably American champ Joe Soares defecting to coach the Canadian team ��" filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro also follow Keith Cavill, recently injured in a daredevil motorcycle accident, as he recovers in a hospital and returns home. In his bedroom and newly modified bathroom, the permanence of his condition sinks in, and he sinks into depression. Until, that is, he meets Mark Zupan, the poster-boy for “Murderball” and one tough little S.O.B. (he’s got something about James Cagney’s energy about him). Between international competitions, Zupan gives a talk to interested quadriplegics and brings along a rugby wheelchair ��" designed for action and contact and mayhem. Cavill gets into it. They only have one such wheelchair so he can’t slam into anyone else, but the desire is there; you can tell he’s itching to do it. Instead he merely bumps into another wheelchair. Tap tap. Tap tap. In that moment, as Zupan watches with pride in the background, you see a life being reborn.