The 17

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In my effort to complete my coast-to-coast mix CD box set exchange of the ages, having found out that my buddy-in-tunes made so many mixes that I'd have to buy a local Office Max to match her, I figured I'd add to my smaller collection by putting together a mix of my favorite songs. Now, I know this is impossible, and such an exercise is almost silly; however, these songs are so damn f'n great. I basically just went from memory and listens and crap like that. And I'm sure I've skipped many-a-favorite. All that said, I present:

*Thunder Road : Bruce Springsteen
4am : Richard Buckner
Colorado Girl : Townes Van Zandt
Front Porch : Slobberbone
Jesus Christ (demo) : Big Star
Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft : Marah
Gun : Uncle Tupelo
Bring It On Home To Me : Sam Cooke
Random Rules : Silver Jews
Clay Pigeons : Blaze Foley
Catch You Alive : Damnations TX
Hundred Dollar Pocket : Chappaquiddick Skyline
Question : Son Volt
One of These Things First : Nick Drake
Range Life : Pavement
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall : Bob Dylan
Casino Lights : Richmond Fontaine

*This is the greatest song ever. There simply is no argument.

Cell Phones in Public Places

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Is there any way that we can take a societal step back and forget that this became acceptable? It seemed like a slow progression but it's now gone way too far. I'm now having trouble spending time in my beloved local coffee shop because there are 3-4 schlongs who show up every day and babble endlessly and loudly. I do not like this much at all. The guy to the left of me right now is making me want to Miyagi him.

Bill Maher

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"Democrats in America were put on earth to do one thing: drag the ignorant hillbilly half of this country into the next century, which in their case is the 19th -- and by passing health care, the Democrats saved their brand. A few months ago, Sarah Palin mockingly asked them, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" Great, actually. Thanks for asking. And how's that whole Hooked on Phonics thing working out for you?"

Bill Maher

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"Democrats in America were put on earth to do one thing: drag the ignorant hillbilly half of this country into the next century, which in their case is the 19th -- and by passing health care, the Democrats saved their brand. A few months ago, Sarah Palin mockingly asked them, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" Great, actually. Thanks for asking. And how's that whole Hooked on Phonics thing working out for you?"
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The River of Spirituality

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Yup, another one of those moments. Well, not one of the big ones, but smaller scale.

This afternoon I was driving around San Francisco on a stunning day listening to Springsteen's The River. When the song "The Price You Pay" came on, I was pulling into Safeway to pick up a parm and had one of those experiences. The wind was perfect, the sun was strong and the music filled me with spirit. As I was sitting in my car singing along, I peered across the way and directly in front of me was a beautiful church. Meaning? Who knows. But there was certainly meaning in my clunker.

Sad Iron Music

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I think I met Jason Lewis just being around town in New York. That thing called alt.country was exploding in the late 90s (for us) and many, many of the same people landed at the same shows. I met one of my best friends at a bar before seeing Whiskeytown at Tramps. A conversation started over The Replacements' "Here Comes a Regular," which I played on the jukebox, and now 12+ years later, we talk regularly. Another one of my closest friends and I met at the Fleadh Festival on Randall's Island. I think it was during Billy Bragg's set. Similar faces almost weekly. The Mercury Lounge, Irving Plaza, The Bowery Ballroom, The Lakeside Lounge, North Six, The Rodeo Bar, and the list goes on forever. Turns out Jason was in a band called Star City, named after a town in West Virginia, where he grew up. I then checked out his band, and thus it began. Suddenly, my friends and I were going to every Star City show. And we'd hang around the bars with Jason and some band members until last call. And before I knew it, I was managing them.

I served in this role for their second, and last record, 2001's Inside the Other Days, a record that still gets regular spins almost a decade out. Aside from the endless nights out talking music, two events stand out for me. First was the record-release party at The Mercury Lounge. The joint was packed to the gills, and I served as merch man. I think we sold about $1000 in t-shirts and CDs that night. Over a cold beer late that night, Jason tossed me a big hug. And then there was the post-9/11 benefit at the Lakeside Lounge. Like many New Yorkers, I witnessed it all as it happened, and wanted to do my tiny part. And the band, of course, was more than willing. With nothing more than a baseball cap to pass around, we collected $1200 that night.

(There was also the near record-deal with some obscure UK company. We made the right call.)



A lot has changed. Neither Jason nor I live in New York anymore. I'm out west and he's in Iowa, having secured a MFA from the exceptional University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. Due to time and distance, we haven't been in touch all that much over the years. But we've recently reconnected. He let me know that he'd been working on a new record under the name Sad Iron Music. It'd been nine years, so who the hell knew what he'd sound like. I could barely even remember what he looked like.


Jason Lewis with Star City, Lakeside Lounge, NYC


I've now had the record for about a week. This is Jason's best record. He still grabs the pretty Americana that made up Star City's sound, but is far more, I don't know, risky, both lyrically and pacing-wise. Pretty ballads come easy to Lewis, but with Sad Iron Music he takes numerous steps off the comfortable path and explores. "Red Light" sounds straight off of Springsteen's Nebraska with the firm yet haunting guitar that works in tandem lyrically with a middle America that we on the coasts may sympathize with but rarely feel. "Ships on the Sea" is signature Lewis: no frills, pretty, moving. As I sit in a cafe looking out at rainy San Francisco, this song is perfect. "Tom Waits For No One" is so good that if I'm not listening to this, I'll probably spend the rest of the day listening to Waits. The overall highlight is "Sleep," perhaps the best song Lewis has ever recorded. Every time I toss on the record, as much as I want to listen top-to-bottom, I can't help but play this song over and over. Lewis' vocals on this track are yes, perfect. And strangely, despite the title, the song makes me want to sing. And maybe dance. As does most of the record.

The wait's been worth it, Jason. Welcome Sad Iron Music.



You can buy a physical copy for $9.99 or a digital copy for $5 here. Now that's a bargain.

Twenty Year Tunes

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I've recently re-connected with someone from high school via, where else, Facebook. And unlike most of those tedious re-connections where it turns out that we still have nothing in common, this new pal and I bond over, what else, tunes! (Can someone please edit that sentence for me?) Turns out we know a lot of the same folks, love a lot of the same bands and hang at the same places (well, the places I hung out at when I lived in New York). And we've now decided to make each other some mixes. Physical mixes. Like the kind you have to mail.

SK: Here are yours:

1
"Salvese quien pueda" Juana Molina
"Spinnin on the Rock" Ramsay Midwood
"Reaction" The Figgs
"Broke My Heart" Tim Easton
"Lucky Shoe" September 67
"Magic In Here" The Go-Betweens
"Powderfinger" Neil Young
"Safe and Sorry" Nathan Moore
"You Try Sober" Absentee
"Trigger and Trash Heaps" Centro-matic
"Orangeworker" For Squirrels
"Winter Time" Drug Rug
"Testament To Youth In Verse" The New Pornographers
"My Heart's Not In It Anymore" The Steinways
"Started" Chip Robinson
"Methamphetamine" Son Volt
"Sometimes Always" Brakes

2
"3 Rounds and a Sound" Blind Pilot
"Bells of Harlem" Dave Rawlings Machine
"That's How I Got To Memphis" Solomon Burke
"Underwater/Overland" The Havenots
"Walt Whitman's Bridge" Marah
"Last Dance" Mekons
"Mansions of Los Feliz" Eels
"Guess I Know I'm Right" V-Roys
"Tougher Than the Rest" Camera Obscura
"Until the Led" Vic Chesnutt
"Smile Away" Paul McCartney
"Heather, Remind Me How This Ends" Dolorean
"Mississippi" Bob Dylan
"Here We Go Again" Holiday
"If It Rains" Robert Forster
"I Can Hear the Laughs" Freedy Johnston
"It's Up To You" The Jayhawks

3
"Turn Me Loose" Nathan Moore
"Metro Pictures" The Mendoza Line
"Make a Book" The Drams
"All I Know" The Pernice Brothers
"A.M. Slow Golden Hit" Hotel Lights
"Ask Her To Dance" Coconut Records
"When You're Not Mine" Blue Mountain
"Sympathy Wreath" Barbara Manning
"Broken Bottle" Alejandro Escovedo
"Monkberry Moon Delight" Paul McCartney
"The Golden State" John Doe
"Station To Station" Jay Farrar
"The Giant of Illinois" The Handsome Family
"Sky'd Out" Varnaline
"Get Some Lonesome" Tim Easton
"Summer of Drugs" Soul Asylum
"Freight of Fire" Scud Mountain Boys

4
"Waiting For Love To Fail" Milton Mapes
"Shaking Hands (Solider's Joy)" Michelle Shocked
"City of Dreams" Marah
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" Ramblin' Jack Elliott
"Standing In Yon Flower Garden" Alasdair Roberts
"Attitude" The Replacements
"Itchycoo Park" Ben Lee
"Red River Shore" Bob Dylan
"Sometimes Friends" Head of Femur
"Hard Times" Gob Iron
"Forever Came Today" The Backsliders
"Emma Blowgun's Last Stand" Beulah
"Versatile Heart" Linda Thompson
"Go With God (Topless Shoeshine)" Joe Henry
"They Were Wrong" Matthew Ryan
"Just For You" Sam Cooke

It's Law

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Brian Wilson "Love and Mercy"

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Health Care Reform Passage

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I was so exhausted by the republican reps. yesterday that they almost deflated the glory of the day. I finally just stopped watching and awaited texts from friends. Of all the policy issues that matter to me, health care may sit atop the list. Today is enormous. I am extremely proud of President Obama and Representative Pelosi. Without Pelosi's experience, leadership and negotiation skills, I don't think we'd be here today.

My hope is that this bill only grows stronger. But this is a fantastic start. The United States government has actually enacted legislation that will help its own immensely. Thank you.

Dear Boehner, McConnell, McCain, Rove, Bush, Cheney, Cantor, etc.

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#1 Record / Radio City / 3rd

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Now that I've listened to almost nothing other than three Big Star releases for the past few days, plus the box set, I can honestly say that Big Star's three releases are all five-star records (I don't count 2005's In Space). Until recently, I spent most of my time on the first two records, but 3rd could very well be the best of the trio. However, since they're all damn perfect, there's really no way to say.

I mean this sincerely: If you don't own all three of these records, you are an asshole.





Taking a Step Towards a More Perfect Union

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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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The Hurt Locker

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When Crash won Best Picture honors in 2005, the Oscars took a slow step towards the Grammys. There are few movies I've seen in my lifetime as bad as Crash. Given that it was up against some very solid films, including Good Night, and Good Luck, Brokeback Mountain and Capote, only made it that much more hilarious. Million Dollar Baby in 2004 was another head-scratcher, but the competition was almost as weak as the winner, and Million Dollar Baby looks like Citizen Kane next to the clunkjob that is Crash.

All that said, the Oscars are still much more on the mark than the Grammys. I mean, to win a top category Grammy is actually like winning a Razzie; it essentially means that your record is terrible. Forget essentially; it does mean that your record is terrible. A few recent winners include Taylor Swift, U2, Herbie Hancock, Santana and Steely Dan. I'll concede that the Plant/Krauss record is quite good, but still not record of the year material.

I still trust the Academy a bit, but prior to 2005, I used to try and see every nominee before awards night. That stopped following the after-school special victor of '05. Of this year's 900 Best Picture nominees, until last night, I had only seen A Single Man (excellent) and Up in the Air (pretty good). Something told me that the winner, The Hurt Locker, would be Crash-esque.

Well, I was dead wrong. The best movies, to me, are the ones that have you reflecting on the film, or aspects of it, in the days or months following your viewing. I haven't been able to get The Hurt Locker out of my head all day. Do I think it should be listed among the greatest war movies ever? Well, probably not. My favorites, namely The Bridge on the River Kwai, Apocalypse Now and Platoon have very little company. They were that good. But I found The Hurt Locker to be better than Three Kings (a movie I loved), Hotel Rwanda (god awful) and The Pianist (pretty terrible). And although it's not a favorite, it's not Schindler's List.

Comparison's aside, The Hurt Locker is a very good, if not great film. Kathryn Bigelow's direction is phenomenal, and the three main characters, led by Jeremy Renner are sensational, Renner especially. The Hurt Locker doesn't jam a message down your throat, but in a very subtle way, is incredibly thought-provoking. There are scenes that stick with you and are delivered with the utmost honesty, looking at the good, bad and all areas in between that go with war. There's humanity, the mental toll, rage, sadness, confusion. And the cinematography is wonderful. This morning, I popped the film in the mailbox and just a few minutes later wished I hadn't. I could see it again. As in tonight.

This is the Weekend

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I'm So Grateful For All the Things You Helped Me Do

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I was awash in insomnia last night. I won't claim that it was due to Chilton's passing, although I'm sure that had something to do with it. Rather, I had a pretty crappy dream about a girl that I liked years ago (who didn't reciprocate), which had me out of bed by 4am. But maybe that's exactly what I was thinking about: Alex Chilton. Because Chilton's music always helped me to relate to relationships, spirituality, pop bliss and life.

My love for Big Star was a fairly slow progression. Sometimes those are the best. I remember finding separate copies of #1 Record and Radio City at a record store in central Jersey in 1995 or so. I was with my brother and he looked mildly jealous at my finds. No, they weren't original pressings, but I never really cared about that. They were Big Star records and they were headed for the turntable. I was always floored by "Feel," the first song on any Big Star record.

Girlfriend, what what are you doing?
You're driving me to ruin
The love that you've been stealing
Has given me the feeling
I feel like I'm dying
I'm never gonna live again
You just ain't been trying
It's getting very near the end


What a way to open up a damn record and a career. Horns, piano, lush harmonies. Man, so this is power pop! Follow that with the gorgeous "The Ballad of El Goodo" and only two songs in, this is a masterpiece. And the record just takes off from there. And who names a first record #1 Record? Big Star does. Chilton was apparently disgusted with the music business following his work with the Box Tops and this was a slap in the face to the biz. Following the Box Tops, which included a #1 hit with "The Letter," he went to Memphis and met Chris Bell. It was like Keith meeting Mick, Paul and John, Brad and Angelina. Wait, I really didn't sleep much.

Chris Bell left the band after the first record, dejected that it didn't reach a wider audience, or that's what I've read. The label had some distribution problems and a perfect, yes, perfect record, was barely heard. Chilton, Hummel and Stephens charged on and released the almost equally fantastic Radio City. Alright, it's pretty much just as good. Hummel then departed, and in 1992, Ryko finally released the phenomenal Third/Sister Lovers. I mean 15 or so years to release this jaw-dropper? What is wrong with this world? But maybe it's best. At least for the listeners. Because despite the name, Big Star never got big. Oh, their followers were devout and would spend hours on end praising them to anyone who would listen. "There wouldn't be Wilco or Teenage Fanclub or Barack Obama without Big Star!" you'd hear at bars. I mean, they/we were that committed to the band.

Of all the bands I love and never, ever shut up about, I don't think I can think of one that touches me on a spiritual level in the way that Big Star does. A self-labeled agnostic, Big Star may be one of the main reasons why I'm agnostic and not atheist. "Blue Moon," "Jesus Christ," "Thank You Friends," "I'm in Love with a Girl," "Watch the Sunrise" and the list goes on. These songs have such a transcendent beauty that it's almost impossible to not believe. In something.

I remember arriving at my first South By Southwest in 1999 and meeting my new buddy Jason at the airport. He was (and remains) a Big Star fanatic. One night while at the now-defunct Liberty Lunch, Jason was wearing a Big Star t-shirt. Just the cover of #1 Record. God I wanted that t-shirt. I spoke to him last night and 11 years later (and the shirt was fairly worn back then), he's still got it.

My hope is that somewhere out there Alex Chilton, Chris Bell and Jim Dickinson are looking down on the mark they left and sharing a smile.

Alex Chilton, 1950 - 2010

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My god. I've always wondered how I'd react when one of my real heroes were to pass away. I can't even begin to think about those closest to me in real life. This one breaks my heart. It truly, truly breaks my heart. I can't possibly express how much the music of Big Star has meant to me. It's had an enormous impact on my life. I think about his former co-writer and bandmate Chris Bell often. Bell left us far too early. And now Chilton. As I said to a friend recently, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton are my Lennon and McCartney. The words and music of Big Star have helped pull me through some of the roughest spots while also adding immense joy to some of the best times. They are, were and will always be, one of the greatest bands to ever make music. I am at a loss. Rest in peace, Alex.

A San Francisco Transformation

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Before getting all introspective and misty-eyed, let's get the bad out of the way first. There are still things that drive me insane about this city. Here are a few:

  • The Road: The drivers here may be worse than those in Boston. I mean, do you really not pull out into the center when turning left at a light? Seriously? You're just gonna sit still and hold up everyone else? Yes, oh yes, you are. And there are far too many BMWs in this city, and 83% of the occupants of said cars are shitheads. (I have a number of friends who drive BMWs...you guys are in the 17%.)
  • Lack of Diversity: For all its "liberalism" and such, San Francisco is very clique-y. Neighborhoods are almost sectioned off for a particular subset of people. This does not rule. Where I live is one of the very few parts of the city where it feels like a mixed bag. And no, I won't create a separate bullet-point for hipsters. You already know the tight-jean wearing, big sunglass suckbags drive me insane. I try and turn a blind eye (Is that the expression?).
  • Bikers: Seriously, I think it's great that you're biking and not driving a car. It's better for your health, the environment and you get to show off your fat hipster ass (dammit, I said it. Wait, not a bullet point), but get over yourselves. The streets were not paved for your single-gear piece-of-crap Huffy.
Honestly, that about wraps it. There are smaller things, but I've come to realize that this city was not constructed for my sorry ass.

All that said, I have fallen for San Francisco. I have now lived here a little over five years, and about a year ago a shift started to occur. Maybe it's why I didn't leave earlier, despite all of my complaints. Perhaps I was just waiting for something to sink in. And boy has it.

I spend entire days walking around this city, often through the same paths and neighborhoods that I've walked through hundreds of times. But there's always something new. On almost every corner of this stunning city, you can be struck by something. And on many of those corners, you'll witness a view that can almost drop you to your knees. The hills, peaks, parks, trees, and vast green of this city make it absolutely spectacular. It's like a city buried in a garden. To my senses, Golden Gate Park and Central Park are no comparison. Not even close. The wildlife, colors, hills and ponds that make up Golden Gate should be reserved for poetry or something. And almost everywhere you turn in this city there's a park. And dogs! Everywhere! A few hours in Duboce Park can clean a man's soul. Oh goodness that sounded awful, but seriously, it kinda can.

Man have the people grown on me. I feel more at home in Alamo Square than I did in Park Slope and I thought Park Slope would be my home forever. There's a more genuine kindness around here, without having to part with the toughness of a city. I know my neighbors. A lot of them! And we hang out! When I leave my apartment around 630am every morning, by 645am I've already talked to 4-5 people I know. And we're not talking just a "hello." I'm talking makeout. Alright, I'm getting hyperbolic, but we do have meaningful chats, in addition to just greetings. People smile a lot more here. Maybe it's the weather. Or maybe they see the beauty of this city and it just settles one. Probably a bit of both and more.

I could really go on and on about my newly recognized love of San Francisco. And everything outside of San Francisco, from Pescadero and Mendocino to Pacifica and Yosemite. I'm not sure there's a better place to live in the world. Or at least in the U.S. I guess I'll always be an "East Coaster," but, in all likelihood, my time living on the right coast is over. I suppose that could change, but right now this coast feels right. Maybe I won't be in San Francisco forever; perhaps I'll hop on up to Portland or Seattle, but San Francisco up through the Pacific Northwest is where I want to be. Maybe forever.

New LCD Soundsystem Could Be Their Last

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At least according to James Murphy's interview with the BBC. I would argue that 2007's Sound of Silver is even better than their debut, and one of the best records of the 2000s, hands down.

From the BBC:

Zane Lowe: Can we clear something up James, There’s been all this talk of late that this might be the last LCD Soundsystem album, what’s the story about this?

James Murphy: I think it is, and l I feel good about it and really positive about it, it’s not like a negative thing. I think that its nice to feel like it’s the last one and we’ll tour really hard and then go do something else.

ZL: Did you have that in mind when you were making this record? Did it make the process more bittersweet of did it change your attitude towards recording knowing you might not follow it up?

JM: Yeah very much so but only in the second half, in LA I wasn’t really thinking about that at all. I was just like you know – make a record – kind of like ‘trying to make a record mode’. And then when I get back to New York it was getting to the end of it and all the other things started happening the typical ‘you gotta get your artwork in’ and all this other stuff. And I just decided it’s been a while since I wanted to worry about any of that stuff. So, as much as I love making the record and going on tour and everything like that , I was like ‘man If I have to worry about this stuff anymore’ …. You know . So it just seemed like perfect we’ll (the band) make this the last record and we’ll do exactly what we want and go out happy.

Potrero Hill, San Francisco

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Four Books

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The Adderral Diaries by Stephen Elliott, Memoir, 2009 : 7.2

Three Upcoming Releases That Have Me Pretty Excited, To Say the Least

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March 23
Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Cairo Gang
The Wonder Show of the World




April 17 (in independent record stores, May 4 if you're too lazy)
Josh Ritter
So Runs the World Away




May 25
Damien Jurado
Saint Bartlett

These Things

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Yesterday was one of those days when numerous simple things add up to a truly memorable day.

In almost daily fashion, I was in my local coffee shop by around 7am. Just a few minutes later, in walked my new pal Chuck and his dog Bella. Bella's eyes usually light up when she sees me. Or at least that's how I see it. Chuck's probably 75-years-old or so and we've become good pals as we've gotten to know each other. One of his daughters went to the same college as me.

By 10am I was on the local basketball court shooting jumpers. Any SF resident knows that yesterday was a spectacular day weather-wise. Unlike even the nicest days, there was very little wind; just sun and a near-perfect temperature. It's felt great getting back into playing basketball. And much to my surprise, I can still drain threes pretty consistently. (Yes, I just said that.) When I was a kid, basketball was my escape. Almost every single day, after school, I'd head across the street to the corner of the park and shoot alone. I'd pretend to be Michael Ray Richardson, Byron Scott, John Starks and Mark Jackson. I would stay until I could no longer see the rim. Yesterday reminded me of that. And what a stunning day. The sun had me soaking in sweat and full of reflection but still awash in the moments.

I then returned to the coffee shop for lunch. It was 11am. I talked with Mohammed and Greta for a while. Turns out Greta was playing a mix that included T. Rex, Holsapple and Stamey and other great stuff. For a 21-year-old, that's some mighty impressive taste. The sandwich was quite tasty. Some days I feel as though I could sit in this coffee shop for an entire day, and some days I guess I do. It really does feel like home: we laugh, play music, talk about whatever comes to mind. It's one of the main reasons that Alamo Square has become my favorite area of San Francisco. There's some grit in this neighborhood. We're kind of stuck in between The Western Addition, Hayes Valley and the Lower Haight. It's perfect. For me.

At around 230 I was heading to a doctors appointment. Windows open, sunroof open and Sam Cooke blasting at a volume that would've annoyed the crap out of me if it was another driver. But the spirit had hit me. And then one of those moments happened. I slowly edged up to a light, when two African-American fellas, one who had a striking resemblance to former Georgetown/Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, were singing along to the music in my car. After a few lines, Alonzo lookalike turned to me, shot a huge smile and gave a thumbs up. A chill ran down my back. Thanks, Sam.

Following my doctor's appt., I stopped by Yamo, my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. $5.25 for glorious Burmese food. After finishing dinner, I took a short napper, and then awoke to a surge of energy and worked out some more. I mean, I worked out twice in one day. Yes, me. I felt amazing. I was listening to a new record by Jason Lewis under the name Sad Iron Music, followed by a mix I made for my pal Armando. Not an hour later, Armando sent me a text saying that his wife loved my mix. These simple things.

At around 10pm, after finally finishing the book I've been reading for what seems like years, I went downstairs to take the garbage out. Instead of heading right back up, I walked to the building's backyard. What a spectacular night. Stars everywhere. The air was a bit crisp, but not cold. The plants and flowers were overflowing in our little backyard. Even in the darkness, I could see the red heads of a few of the plants. I stood outside, stretched and just looked around and listened. Some small noises from inside apartments. Trees, worn down fences and a sky that makes you believe.

Sundance's "The Staircase"

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This eight-part docudrama is one of the better documentaries I've seen in years. I watched the final four episodes (half of the series) last night. I wanted to watch one or two and then finish it off today. I couldn't do it. I was so gripped by the story that I had to finish. Highly, highly recommended.

From the New York Times, April 4, 2005:

Intellectual contortions -- namely the way lawyers, while devising a criminal defense, sidestep the subject of a client's actual guilt or innocence -- supply the drama in the astonishing documentary that begins tonight on the Sundance Channel with the first two of eight parts.

It may seem ludicrous to say that a movie running more than six hours is well edited, but ''The Staircase,'' by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, is. And not only is the editing prize-worthy, but the whole film is also so brilliantly conceived, reported, filmed and paced that you may come to wish it were twice as long.

That would be a perverse wish, but it's a perverse film, thick with shocks and subtle revelations, and it's hard to quit watching.

The documentary, which recently appeared in Britain on the BBC, chronicles the defense strategy of Michael Peterson, the novelist who in 2001 was accused of murdering his wife, who he said had fallen down a flight of stairs at their grand house in Durham, N.C.

Mr. de Lestrade was allowed to film what seems like every move of Mr. Peterson's lawyers, and they appear here scheming, brooding, dissembling, collecting evidence, hypothesizing and hazing the defendant. The leader is David Rudolf, a bearded, moderately distinguished, intermittently charming criminal-defense lawyer given to indignation, best-defense blather and hair-trigger grandstanding.

Like so many lawyers and prominent clients, Mr. Rudolf and Mr. Peterson develop an ominous interdependence, with the lawyer relying on the defendant for his career, and the defendant relying on the lawyer for his life. The differences in class and style between the two men regularly surface, but for the trial they must act like brothers.

Clearly, Mr. Rudolf is agitated, but also charged up, by the revelations about Mr. Peterson's past and private life that emerge and complicate the case. And Mr. Peterson -- as if he weren't complicit in the half-truths advanced in his own defense -- occasionally expresses high-minded concern about Mr. Rudolf: ''All he wants to do is win,'' Mr. Peterson says. ''Truth is lost in all of this now.''

What the men have in common is a manifest thrill at having Mr. de Lestrade's venerable cameras around; according to BBC press materials, both men were impressed by the résumé of the filmmaker, who won an Academy Award for his last courtroom documentary, ''Murder on a Sunday Morning.'' Mr. Rudolf likes to showboat and probably figures media attention will enhance his reputation. And Mr. Peterson has his own penchant for histrionics. He even composes a purple-prose treatment about the case, as if making notes for a novel.

Tonight, Mr. Peterson walks the camera through his version of events, emphasizing enviable details about the couple's bourgeois lifestyle. He could be giving a tour for a Town & Country photo shoot.

''The Staircase'' is most compelling if you have forgotten, or never knew, the facts of the North Carolina case or the outcome of the trial. The specific details are fascinating. But as a study of the evolution of a criminal defense, ''The Staircase'' is a masterpiece. The scenes of Mr. Peterson's lawyers circling warily around him, striving to anticipate and forestall the prosecution without ever once asking, ''Did you kill her?'' demonstrate exactly what's discomforting about American criminal justice: that sphere of courtroom theater and reasonable doubts, where truth, as Michael Peterson put it, is often lost.

Zeek

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Saturday Mix

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For a few new friends:

Be Here To Love Me / Townes Van Zandt
Spirit / The Go-Betweens
In an Operetta / The Magnetic Fields
Fifteen Keys / Uncle Tupelo
Hoquiam / Damien Jurado
Ballad of the Broken Seas / Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Bells of Harlem / Dave Rawlings Machine
The Ruling Class / Loose Fur
Hi How Are You / Brakes
John Allyn Smith Sails / Okkervil River
Tiger Lily / Luna
Oklahoma, USA / The Kinks
A Postcard To Nina / Jens Lekman
Little Sparrows / The Handsome Family
4am / Richard Buckner
Random Rules / Silver Jews
New Partner / Palace

The Archives : Beck "Mellow Gold" (1994)

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1994 is probably the year that music kinda became my life. It was the spring of '94 when I first heard Uncle Tupelo in a dumpy apartment on South Street in Boston. It was only a few days later or maybe earlier, that I arrived home from class for our almost daily smoking and drinking sessions, and learned that Kurt Cobain had died. I was never a big fan of Nirvana, but it was still pretty crappy news. In the summer of '94, I bought all four Uncle Tupelo records and subsequently dove into The Jayhawks, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, The Replacments, Husker Du and any band or artist that was even mentioned in an article about Uncle Tupelo.



All that said, the record I listened to most in 1994 had to be Beck's Mellow Gold. Yeah, "Loser" was the big hit, and I liked that track, but it was the rest of the record that served as a soundtrack to my first of three years living in Boston. "Nitemare Hippy Girl" was my favorite track. I couldn't count the number of times I tossed out a 330am shout to the person near the stereo demanding this song. I can vividly recall sitting shotgun in my buddy's truck, driving down Boylston shouting the lyrics, "She's a magical sparklin' tease. She's a rainbow chokin' the breeze. She's bustin' out onto the scene. With nightmare bogus poetry. She's a melted avocado on the shelf. She's a science of herself. She's spazzing out on a cosmic level. And she's meditating with the devil." "Beercan," of course had the silly college-boy title, but it was the song that I loved. I was quickly departing my love of early hip hop, but Beck reignited that, as he was the best hip hop artist I'd heard in years. He was as good as Big Daddy Kane or Eric B. & Rakim, but had a huge touch of Bob Dylan. "I quit my job blowing leaves. Telephone bills up my sleeves. Choking like a one-man dustbowl. Freedom rock slimeball, talking in code. We went down." Man.

It was years before I'd tire of this record. Every time I went back, I found more. "Fuckin' With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)" sounded like, ummmm, I really don't know. I heard influences all over the map on this record. But it was so damn original and so full of life and fire. "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)" served as the perfect follow-up to the hit. It's almost unimaginable to me that May will mark 16 years since this record was released. Most point to 1996's Odelay or 2002's Sea Change as Beck's best works, but to my ears, Mellow Gold is his best. It was and remains a record that grabbed not only all of Beck's influences, but all the sounds that moved me, from rock and folk to hip hop and soul, and the result was a damn masterpiece.

Health Care Reform In Our Sights - Do YOUR Part

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Today is the closest this country has ever been to major health care reform. Are there flaws in the House, and especially Senate, bills? Yes. Major ones. At times, I have trouble supporting either bill, especially the Senate bill, which lacks a public option. But ya know what, as hard as this is to type, we have to start somewhere.

And here's where those behind health care reform, which should include every American outside of those making money off the backs of the sick, need to step up. Two pretty simple things you can do today, which should only take a few minutes.

First off, call your local representative. The following is the congressional switchboard number. Call this number, tell them your rep., wait to be transferred, and then leave a message voicing your support for health care reform, (and the public option, if you support it): 202.559.4225.

Secondly, we now stand at approximately 41 senators who support the public option. Those who have yet to commit are in bold below. CALL THEM!

I hate to say that this is the fight of our lives, but someday, that could literally be true.

Sen. Daniel Akaka HI Statement
Sen. Max Baucus MT Unknown
Sen. Evan Bayh IN Unknown
Sen. Mark Begich AK Unknown

Sen. Michael Bennet CO Letter
Sen. Jeff Bingaman NM Statement
Sen. Barbara Boxer CA Letter
Sen. Sherrod Brown OH Letter
Sen. Roland Burris IL Letter
Sen. Robert Byrd WV Unknown
Sen. Maria Cantwell WA Statement
Sen. Benjamin Cardin MD Statement
Sen. Thomas Carper DE Unknown
Sen. Robert Casey PA Statement
Sen. Kent Conrad ND Unknown
Sen. Christopher Dodd CT Statement
Sen. Byron Dorgan ND Statement
Sen. Richard Durbin IL Statement
Sen. Russell Feingold WI Statement
Sen. Dianne Feinstein CA Letter
Sen. Al Franken MN Letter
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand NY Letter
Sen. Kay Hagan NC Unknown
Sen. Tom Harkin IA Unknown

Sen. Daniel Inouye HI Letter
Sen. Tim Johnson SD Letter
Sen. Ted Kaufman DE Statement
Sen. John Kerry MA Letter
Sen. Amy Klobuchar MN Statement
Sen. Herb Kohl WI Unknown
Sen. Mary Landrieu LA Unknown

Sen. Frank Lautenberg NJ Letter
Sen. Patrick Leahy VT Letter
Sen. Carl Levin MI Letter
Sen. Blanche Lincoln AR Unknown
Sen. Claire McCaskill MO Unknown

Sen. Robert Menendez NJ Letter
Sen. Jeff Merkley OR Letter
Sen. Barbara Mikulski MD Letter
Sen. Patty Murray WA Statement
Sen. Bill Nelson FL Statement
Sen. Ben Nelson NE Unknown
Sen. Mark Pryor AR Unknown

Sen. Jack Reed RI Letter
Sen. Harry Reid NV Statement
Sen. John RockefellerWV Unknown
Sen. Bernie Sanders VT Letter
Sen. Charles Schumer NY Letter
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen NH Letter
Sen. Arlen Specter PA Letter
Sen. Debbie Stabenow MI Letter
Sen. Jon Tester MT Statement
Sen. Mark Udall CO Statement
Sen. Tom Udall NM Letter
Sen. Mark Warner VA Unknown
Sen. Jim Webb VA Unknown

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse RI Letter
Sen. Ron Wyden OR Statement

Roky Erickson & Will Sheff Chat in My Grandmother's Living Room

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Miles Kurosky's "The Desert of Shallow Effects"

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Yesterday marked the release of former-Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky's first solo record The Desert of Shallow Effects. It's been seven years since the last and final Beulah record, so this is a huge welcome. I still maintain that The Coast Is Never Clear (2001) is one of the best records the Beach Boys never recorded. (And I actually like Beulah more than the Beach Boys.) 1999's When Your Heartstrings Break isn't far behind. I also have quite a fondness for the Beulah documentary A Good Band Is Easy To Kill.

Kurosky's led a very interesting path, having been an indie-rock darling of sorts, while also working in the digital-music world. I have friends who used to work with him at one (or maybe two?) digital start-ups here in San Francisco. I believe he's now relocated to Portland. It was last year that I discovered that The Coast Is Never Clear had a limited vinyl release. Where did I send a check? Right to Miles.

I'm only on song three right now, but this really sounds like a continuation of Beulah, and in a good way. It sounds fresh, but still awash in that sprawling, pop beauty.

It's good to have Miles back.

Tim Easton @ SXSW

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Easton


If you are going to SXSW, you should see Tim Easton/Freeland Barons.

Here's their schedule:

Thursday 3.18 12noon Jovita's
Thursday 3.18 6pm St. Vincent Thrift Store
Thursday 3.18 10pm St. Davids Bethell Hall (solo acoustic)
Friday 3.19 5pm Hole In The Wall
Saturday 3.20 1:30 Yard Dog Gallery Saturday 3:20 6pm Hole In The Wall

If Zeno's heading to Austin, I expect a multitude of texts, followed by random band posters arriving in the mail.


Zeno, who has no connection to Easton or his band, at least not that I'm aware of

The Archives : Bobby Bare Jr. "Young Criminals Starvation League" (2002)

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You just keep going back. Those are the records that prove to be the greatest pieces of art, as pretentious as that sounds. I can't count the number of records I raved about at the outset, but just didn't stand the test of time (Flaming Lips? The National?). Bobby Bare Jr.'s brilliant Young Criminals Starvation League may not have made my year-end best-of in 2002, but it's a record that I listen to regularly, and it's slowly becoming one of my favorite records of the past decade.

More than any record I can think of right now, it's unbelievably unique. The stories can be touching at one moment, hilarious the next, and maybe even bizarre. But it works. In "Flat Chested Girl From Maynardville," the girl laments, "No one pays attention to me, so no one knows nothing about me" and later "Does anyone wanna get high with me? Cause no one is watching so no one is worrying about me." It's a sad song, but delivered with some sort of abundance that makes you sing along.



Bare then sings the quite touching "Bullet Through My Teeth," which, seriously, is touching. There's of course "The Monk at the Disco" and "Dig Down," which begins, "This letter is addressed to Mr. Pete Townshend. Hey brother, I write you to say thanks for nothing. Your generation used up all the feelings, and if we rock, it looks like we're ripping you off." There's Bare's homage to Texas, that woman who's "Painting Her fingernails waiting for something to happen" while dreaming of Paul Newman's smile and, of course, the gorgeous opening track, "I'll Be Around."

There are so many emotions throughout this record, and so many moments of sympathy and perhaps empathy, that I'm sure most can relate to something. I mean, he even tells me that "San Francisco rocks and sways. And one day she'll fall into the Bay" before returning to his love for Texas. As much as I love the record Bobby, I'm going to take the risk.

The Hungry and the Hunted

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"I have these abilities. I don't know what they are. But I know that they're there. And I don't know where they're going to lead me. But wherever that is, I have to go. Even if it's down a bunch of blind alleys, til I find the one that I do want to go down."
-Bruce Springsteen, "Wings for Wheels" DVD

This morning, I hopped out of bed and worked on completing a project I've been working on for some time. I was then about to turn to writing when I suddenly felt inspired to put on the Springsteen Born To Run making-of DVD Wings for Wheels. While watching Bruce, the band, Landau, Appel and Iovine reflect on the making of this masterpiece, I was caught by the above quote by Springsteen, who was reflecting on what led to the recording and ultimate completion of this rock masterpiece.

It's how I feel, I thought. In some sense. Ever since my dream job came to a close in the spring of 2008 I've sort of been on a search; one that was, and is, in many ways out of my control. When that job wrapped up, there was really no immediate role that could compare. Everything paled. It was like being with the woman of your dreams and then perusing Yahoo personals. That analogy REALLY blows, but you probably get my attempt at an analogy. Basically, I was deflated. A truly inspirational job and company, notwithstanding its faults, was over and, in a circuitous way, I walked away with it. I accepted a few subsequent roles, and as hard as I tried, none could provide the energy and drive that the almost three years at said company provided.

And then, after 13 years in a an industry that, in many ways, hits my core, following a short stint at another post-dream-job company, I decided to put on the brakes. But now I was going to take the time. This time allowed me to finally "recover" from that dream job, and while doing so, a new spirit started to rise in me. It was one of those things that I, or we, just can't control. It comes and it almost knocks you over. It's a risk. It's major change. The results are incredibly unknown. And there may never even be any results. And, this morning, that quote above nailed exactly how I've felt for closing in on two years. "Whatever it is, I have to go, even if it's down a bunch of blind alleys." Bruce follows that with an ultimate road of choice, but maybe it's never even found. Maybe you just need to take the ride. And maybe it leads you where you think you were headed, or maybe it's a completely different path, or maybe it's nowhere. But at least you took that trip. Nothing can replace that. And nothing will.

Rest In Peace, Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous

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, originally uploaded by ccsbandwagon.

Joe Henry @ Great American Music Hall, SF, 3.5.10

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Last time I saw Joe Henry was June of 1999 at Maxwell's in Hoboken. I remember the night almost perfectly. I drove from my mom's home to the show, stayed for a fantastic set, spoke to Henry briefly, had him sign a napkin and I was off. One of the those very few nights back then when there were no endless pints of beer and booze. Just music.

Henry's music has taken numerous shifts over the years. Originally teaming up with The Jayhawks and other singer-songwriter Americana types, Henry has moved pretty swiftly towards jazz. Where 1992's Short Man's Room is a straightforward songwriter record, 2001's Scar and last year's Blood From Stars sound absolutely nothing like the artist of the early to mid-90s. Literally unrecognizable, except the vocals. In addition to his own records, he's proven to be one of the world's best producers, working with such legends as Solomon Burke, Betty Lavette, John Doe and Allen Toussaint.



Last night was about Blood From Stars,, which meant stand-up bass, sax, drums and keys. His band was absolutely wonderful, especially his drummer who snapped furiously at times, but swept beautifully at others. The Stars songs took on a new life live. After about ten songs, I couldn't contain myself and yelled for "Our Song," one of most touching songs in Henry's deep catalog. He recognized my request with, "I'm not sure I have the posture for that" or something of the sort. But one song later came the words, "I saw Willie Mays...." and that tingle ran down my back. Henry introduced the song by saying that his best songs are written quickly; however, "Our Song" took about six months. Man, was it worth it. Next came a gorgeous take on 1996's "Trampoline" that closed with a full band snap and stop that had the 200 or so in the room roaring. And yes, we got "Civil War."

Joe Henry is one of the major talents of the past 20 years, both on the recording front and the production front. It took me 11 years to land back in a room with him. Hopefully our next visit won't take so long.

Magnetic Fields "I Die" in Milwaukee

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Cello = chills.

Last 20 eMusic Downloads

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I'm always in search of good stuff to download via eMusic. This coming November will mark my five-year anniversary on the site. I have come oh-so-close to canceling on a number of occasions, but something keeps me around.

Here are my last 20 downloads:

The Standard August
The Magnetic Fields Holiday
The Magnetic Fields Lost
Sam Phillips Fan Dance
Jackie Wilson The Ultimate Jackie Wilson
Solomon Burke Live at the House of Blues
Hurray for the Riff Raff Young Blood Blues
Fela Kuti Best of the Black President
Kronos Quartet Released 1985-1995 - Unreleased
Freedy Johnston Rain on the City
Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians
The Sir Douglas Band Texas Tornado
John Coltrane Heavyweight Champion The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Richard Stoltzman Messian Quartet for the End of Time
Vic Chesnutt West of Rome
Califone All My Friends are Funeral Singers
Dolly Parton Ultimate Dolly Parton
David Dondero The Transient
Marah Angels of Destruction
Reigning Sound Love & Curses

Yesterday I found Damien Jurado's On My Way To Absence in the front bin at Amoeba. It was $5.99 and I was hugging the big square for many minutes.

Dixie Peach Promenade

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More Skip Spence featuring Beck, Jeff & Spencer Tweedy, Lidell and others.

Record Club: Skip Spence "Dixie Peach Promenade" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

My Top Ten Records of All-Time (Today)

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Every so often I post my favorite records ever. I think it was two years ago or so that I listed my Top 50 of All Time on this blog. If memory serves, Highway 61 Revisited took the top slot. Well, it's now 2010 and it's a Wednesday, which means that I have a new list. I wouldn't say that my top list changes every day; however, it certainly jumps around from month to month or year to year. Today, for some odd reason, I felt compelled to list out a new Best of. As I'm typing this right now, I still have no clue what will land on that list. Yes, it's that kind of day.

Neil Young Tonight's the Night (1975)
Until recently, this record wasn't even among my top five Neil Young albums. Repeat listens over the past year or so have revealed the absolute brilliance of this record. Lacking any inkling of over-production or tinkering, this is a fucking rock n' roll record to the core. If you listen to this record top-to-bottom, and don't feel something, you have the soul of John Boehner.

Richard Buckner Devotion and Doubt (1997)
When I'm moments from dying, I will probably finally proclaim, "After 5,532 lists, Devotion and Doubt is my favorite record ever! Later!" When considering the combination of lyrics and, I don't know, some sort of spiritual beauty, nothing I've ever heard tops this. I mean: "Wasted and well spent. Taken and once wrecked. Oh, you’re better than this and that. I thought I was cured of any last chance. Unfastened and floored. And now all I want is just a little nothing more."

Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend, 1951-1964 (2003)
What does the soul of man sound like? Sam Cooke.

Bruce Springsteen Born To Run (1975)
I usually go with Darkness on the Edge of Town, which, deep down, is likely my favorite Springsteen record. I could also easily run with The Wild, The Innocent, The E Street Shuffle, but when it comes to the freedom that music can drill into the depths of one's gut, Born To Run is the epitome. "Well, the night's busting open. These two lanes will take us anywhere. We got one last chance to make it real. To trade in these wings on some wheels. Climb in back, heaven's waiting on down the tracks." My god.

Wilco Being There (1996)
I spun all four sides on the turntable today and was reminded of the first time I listened to this record. I was working my first "music industry" gig out of college in Manhattan and booked over to Hoboken one afternoon to grab an advance. After the messy and furious opening, Tweedy's joined by Bennett on piano and sings, "When you're back in your old neighborhood, the cigarettes taste so good. But you're so misunderstood, so misunderstood. There's something there that you can't find." Yes, I thought. Yes, I thought again. And to this day, now 14 years later, despite coming to understand part of what I already knew, that song and this record nails me.

Marah Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight (1998)
This afternoon I was driving around the city blasting the Stones' Exile on Main Street. Whenever I listen to this record, I think of Marah's debut. Maybe it was because this record hit exactly when I needed it. Maybe it's because I became friends with the guys from the band. Maybe it's because I drove from New York City to Philly almost every weekend to see these guys play the most full-on rock and roll that I've ever witnessed in a small club. Just like the Neil and Wilco records mentioned above, this is everything: rock, country, punk, soul, sex, heaven and hell all in one.

Big Star #1 Record/Radio City (1972)
"Girlfriend, what are you doing? You're driving me to ruin. The love that you've been stealing. Has given me a feeling." Chris Bell and Alex Chilton are my Lennon and McCartney.

Uncle Tupelo Still Feel Gone (1991)
Are new fans of Wilco aware that Jeff Tweedy was in a band prior to Wilco? And that they were incredible? And that Jay Farrar was also in that band? And that I once drove from New Jersey to Belleville, Illinois to look at their yearbook pictures and visit sketchy bars and ask about Jay and Jeff in high school? (Seriously.) The rage, inner turmoil and desire to escape that comes with growing up in a town with little to no opportunity explodes on Uncle Tupelo's second record. They were both "Looking for a Way Out," and shit if they didn't find it.

I was going to do ten, but I want to listen to these records so badly right now that I must run.

I Simply Love This Song

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and this song:

Moment/Song : Blind Pilot's "3 Rounds and a Sound"

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There are songs that always remind you of that place, person, event, headlock, etc. This is a new series that may consist of one post or many.

This tune came on my iPod a few weeks ago while standing at a little pond in Golden Gate Park. I was kinda just hanging around, watching the ducks and it started to drizzle. The trees were absolutely beautiful and a little less than half the sky remained blue. A few of the ducks were just floating and looking up at me. It was peace. I then walked to Amoeba and bought about 90 records.

The Archives : Camp Black Dog "Rock and Roll Summer Camp '98"

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In the mid-to-late 90s, two of the best bands in the world were Philadelphia's Marah and Oxford, Mississippi's Blue Mountain. Toss in a member of Wilco and born was Camp Black Dog. At the time, I'd argue that Marah were the best band in the world, having just released one of the finest debut records ever with Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight. I can count on less than one finger the number of bands 2000-present who are as good as Marah were in the late 90s. Seeing them live was like seeing the Rolling Stones during their heyday or Springsteen at Main Point.

I believe the idea for Rock and Roll Summer Camp '98 was brought to life by Blue Mountain's Cary Hudson and his brother Chris. A bunch of bands would head down to Oxford, Mississippi for a few days, bring a ton of booze and instruments and just play whatever the hell came to mind. It was a mess. But a damn good mess. There were about 40 people, possibly as many dogs and certainly about 8x as many cases of beer. And these bands were at the height of their talents and passions.

In short order, the record was done and out. The record aptly opens with Marah's Dave Bielanko uttering, "It's important not to think when we're doing this. I just choked...thinking about bluebirds and shit" and in comes in a roar of guitars, banjos, drums, screams, maybe a flute? Brother Serge joins, "And I was a cocaine addict. Livin' on the road. Never going home" as the country and Irish influences blast throughout. I spent many a drunken night with the boys from Marah in the 90s, and well, this kinda spirit sounds pretty fitting. Wilco's John Stirratt takes the lead on the beautiful "Not So Far Away," but the highlight is the full band bombast of "The River" with Dave once again on lead.

I remember talking to Dave or Serge following Camp Black Dog and asking if a second summer camp may ever take place. They both assured me that it would and that I would be on the list of invites. The mere thought of being on hand for such an event had me grinning for months. Well, just like the days of Americana glory that took up the latter part of the 90s, it was short lived. Wilco got big. Marah released one more fantastic record before losing its way for a while and Blue Mountain suffered through a divorce and a long hiatus. Thus is the world of music, and life, I suppose. But Camp Black Dog reminds me of my favorite years of music. Bands such as 6 String Drag, The Backsliders, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, The V-Roys, 16 Horsepower and countless, countless others shaped everything about me. And Camp Black Dog brought many of them together.

Strange Powers : Stephin Merrit and the Magnetic Fields

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In between Noise Pop gigs in Oakland and San Francisco, Stephin Merrit and Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, joined co-directors of the documentary Strange Powers, for the film's world debut, followed by a Q&A.

I should preface everything that follows by stating that I am biased when it comes to documentaries on bands that I love. More often than not, I'm giddy throughout. There are few exceptions, namely the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which never sat well due to its portrayal of Jay Bennett. That said, documentaries on bands ranging from Beulah and Luna to Daniel Johnston and Townes Van Zandt, are very, very dear to me. And I really don't care how corny that sounds. God, Townes rules.

Strange Powers is no exception. Along with a packed house at Mezzanine, I grabbed first row, front and center. When concert footage would conclude, I'd forget that I was at a movie and not a show. On two occasions, I lifted my chicken-bone arms and nearly began to applaud before realizing this. When songs such as "Come Back From San Francisco" and "All My Little Words" came through the speakers, I almost couldn't contain myself. My head was bobbing, knees bouncing. "God, I love this band," I thought.

Music aside, Strange Powers takes the viewer inside the life of the almost unknown "genius" behind the band, Stephin Merrit. From his days sitting on the "wall" in Cambridge, MA to his years writing albums in various gay bars throughout New York City, up to his recent move to Los Angeles, Merrit is an incredibly interesting person to watch develop and well, think. In addition to the stunning music and look inside the life of the band, there are some very touching moments, including a shot of Merrit sitting on his studio floor reading journals and lyrics the years over. And despite the exhausted perception of him as a grump (by critics), which he kind of fulfills, the movie is quite hilarious at times. Add in superb commentary from cello player Sam Doval, and Strange Powers proves to be an excellent film, one that I will certainly pick up on DVD the day it becomes available.