Category Archives: #features

Seen/Eaten/Heard

One of my favorite spots on this pale blue dot. The Beer Garden in Corolla, North Carolina, a couple of minutes south of the northern endpoint of NC Highway 12. You get your Corolla Pizza slice/cheeseburger, you walk over to the Beer Garden, you hear good music like “Nancy From Now On,” from Father John Misty’s first album, and you feel like a human being again.

Father John Misty — “Nancy From Now On” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

For the first few years of my writing this blog (from 2011 to 2014, to be exact), my 4th of July tradition involved posting a rework of the Night Before Christmas poem that talked about trying to find the perfect music to accompany Independence Day celebration, and why K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” fit the bill so well. Here’s a snippet:

And then in the very last place I would look —
the perfectest verse with perfectest hook!
But this just can’t be — a song for the 4th
that’s sung by K’naan, our friend from the north?!?
That’s right — he’s Canadian! Somalian too,
his formative days spent in Mogadishu.
But being a foreigner shouldn’t detract
from the fact that his song “Wavin’ Flag” is jam packed
with the message we’re coming together to send:
That freedom and justice will win in the end.

The national atmosphere has changed dramatically since 2014, and I’m not sure I’d keep using the word “foreigner” in that context, given how bloated with vitriol the term has become, but I still believe that last bit, and believe it or not, K’Naan is still on my mind on the 4th, just for a different song.

The same friend who hosted the annual party described in that original edition of “‘Twis the Friday before the 4th of July” recently sent me “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done),” a track from The Hamilton Mixtape by K’naan featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product. It’s tone is dour in comparison to that of “Wavin’ Flag,” and it’s video has serious emotional stopping power. While I don’t think we should stop celebrating this country’s birth, it does feel like we could stand to mix in some additional reflection — on how we became a nation and how we treat each other now.

K’Naan — “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Witness”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

Now’s a time for questioning assumptions, biases, and conventional wisdom, and I’m always drawn to songs that make me rethink language that I’ve taken for granted. The beautiful title track to Benjamin Booker’s new album does just that by shining a bright light on that word — witness — from every possible angle.

The electrified gospel tune features Mavis Staples, who repeatedly asks “Am I gonna be a witness?” between verses that describe oppression, injustice, and violence. (“Everybody that’s brown can get the fuck on the ground.”) The repetition of Staples’ question actually reads “Am I/Am I/Gonna be a witness/Gonna be a witness,” which echoes like rumination when you type it out, and it invites you to consider all the ways you can be a witness to something.

A quick list of relevant definitions:

  1. You see something illegal happening that has little or no impact on you.
  2. Something illegal happens, you’re impacted, and you’re able to give an account. (You don’t die.)
  3. You know something illegal is happening but don’t do anything to prevent the situation from continuing.
  4. You’re present during an exceptional time or event and can give an account.
  5. You can validate someone else’s experience.

5 connects beautifully to the gospel tradition the song draws on (“Can I get a witness?”), and I think we can agree we’re all experiencing 4. They all invite and warrant serious rumination. Which have you experienced? Why or why not? Which might you be experiencing without knowing? Now is a time for questioning.

Benjamin Booker — “Witness” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Wild Indifference”

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

This one goes out to anyone in Congress thinking about casting a yes vote today for this selfish dumpster fire of a health care plan:

In your wild indifference
It’s all centered around you
Ain’t it lonely?

Joan Shelley — “Wild Indifference” [Spotify/iTunes]

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American Tunes: “Black History”

resound

[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]

Goosebumps. Waves of them.

The singing here is exceptional — the execution, the creativity, the transitions… it’s all stunning. But what made me want to include “Black History” in this series is the way it tells a comprehensive story. The medley weaves together gospel songs that reflect significant moments from throughout the African-American experience, providing a long view that’s at once confounding and inspiring. (Click here to read more about which songs are included and why.)

Never in my lifetime has there been a bigger gap between the need for Americans to understand history and their willingness to do so. The past’s mistakes are being repeated at a dizzying rate. Too many congressmen take advantage of short memories by shamelessly arguing opposite sides of an issue, depending on which is presently advantageous. Too many people who benefit from systematic discrimination refuse to acknowledge that those systems discriminate.

What we need is more of the long view. More history. More of the kind of deep and broad understanding Resound is voicing here.

Resound — “Black History” [Spotify/YouTube]

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Seen/Eaten/Heard

Alternative Lyrics from Plan 9:

bulls-on-parade

Jimmy Buffett — “Bulls On Parade” [YouTube]

cheeseburger-in-paradise

Rage Against the Machine — “Cheeseburger In Paradise” [YouTube]

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Friday News and Notes

Lots to catch up on since my last news and notes post. To be honest, I’m having trouble posting these days because the world seems so grim, but there is still so much good music worth celebrating, and I’m trying to let the light in. Here are a few things that have been shining particularly bright for me lately:

  • This is almost a month late, but I’d recommend Amanda Petrusich’s thoughts on the Mariah Carey NYE debacle. After reading it, my first thought was that it’s a pleasure to read along as Petrusich makes sense of things. It reminds me of one theory about dreams — that they help you process and file away the things that are happening around you. That’s Petrusich’s writing to me.
  • While I’m tempted to say the outfits are the best part of this hour-plus video of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters performing in Germany in 1974, the groove is too damn good. Cheers to Aquarium Drunkard for posting it.
  • I included Spencer Tweedy’s Geezer Love in my best EPs of 2016 post, and just weeks later, his brother Sammy released his own EP, called Canoe Country, comprised of looping synth sounds and guitar. Really neat. Jeff Tweedy has some talented kids.
  • How’s about a recent Daniel Bachman live set recorded in Richmond? While you’re at it, check out the Liza Kate set from that same show that starts with the following joke:
    “What do you do when you see a fireman?
    “Put it out, man.”
  • This Phantogram cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” is precise and wonderful and I don’t know how you repeatedly and consistently arpeggiate guitar chords like this without your name being Jonnie Greenwood.
  • I didn’t go too crazy for Conor Oberst’s Ruminations album, but hot damn am I psyched for this upcoming Salutations album. (This NPR write-up had me at “Guests on Salutations include Gillian Welch…”) I’ve listened to this updated version of “A Little Uncanny” more than a dozen times and counting. Fuck Ronald Reagan. Seriously.
  • So Ryan Adams is coming to The National here in Richmond, and I’ve managed to snag my ticket for the Sunday (3/5) show. Tickets for that one and the next night’s show are on sale now, unless they aren’t because they’ve already sold out. This might be my favorite pairing of artist and venue since Landlady came to Hardywood last year. (Oh yeah, they’re coming to Richmond — to The Camel — on the second night Adams is in town, so I get to see him and them on consecutive nights. Pretty sure I’m going to happy cry at one or both.)

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