Archive for April, 2008

Danny Federici 1950-2008

Posted in music on Friday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Most of the headlines will read “Long-time Springsteen keyboardist dies.” His name was Danny Federici, and even most music fans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. He wasn’t an onstage sidekick like saxophonist Clarence Clemons…. He didn’t clown around and share Bruce’s microphone or have a side job on the Sopranos like Steve Van Zandt. But Bruce fans know that, simply put, Danny was The Man.

My friend Mike from the Fearless Romantics blog put it this way: “Oh, this is just so sad. Danny will always be the man. every time I listen to one of those great tracks where he just defined that E Street sound, gave it that extra zing, a bit of mystery, and, like I’ve said before, made sure Bruce never became Meat Loaf. He always seemed to be in the background at the shows, in terms of personality – he just let his music do the talking. But you knew that he’d been there all the way, was a superb musician, and without him the whole Springsteen sound would have been so different.”

He’d left the band late in 2007 to battle cancer… a fight he lost April 17, 2008 when he passed away. Sad news for sure, as he’d recently joined the band for a guest appearance in Indianapolis just a few weeks prior.

I guess most of us hoped he was recovering and would be back with the band soon. Reports from a recent show in Anaheim noted that, during the intro to “Magic,” Bruce paused and seemed to stammer his way through the words “Danny needs your prayers…”

It’s strange to feel sad about the death of someone you didn’t know and never met. But I’m glad that the last time I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, we sat behind the stage but pretty close and behind Danny’s side of the stage.

During band introductions, Bruce used to refer to him as Phantom Dan. Now you see him, now you don’t. RIP Danny, you’ll be missed.

See him take one of his solos from his final show with the band by clicking here.

From BruceSpringsteen.net:

“Danny and I worked together for 40 years – he was the most wonderfully fluid keyboard player and a pure natural musician. I loved him very much…we grew up together.”
—Bruce Springsteen

The Federici family and the E Street family request that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund. A web site for the Fund has been established: http://www.thedannyfedericimelanomafund.com/news.html

Record Store Day: 4.19.08

Posted in music, top 10 lists on Monday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

April 19, 2008 has been declared Record Store Day by the folks who declare such things. There was a RecordStoreDay.com website about it with quotes from artists and a way to search for your nearest store, but it seems to be down. See how bad they must be hurting?
Go out this Saturday and support your local independent record store! I read something recently that the two largest music retailers in the U.S. are Walmart and iTunes. That’s kinda sad. Stop buying CD’s from Best Buy and Target and start supporting these local indie places before they’re all gone.

Aahh… but what to buy? Here’s the Top 10 New, Old, and Recent Albums Recommended With Confidence:

1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!! (2008) Strange storytelling, distinctive voice, rockin tunes, and solid production. In other words “the new Nick Cave album is good.”
2. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero (2007) Most famous for the way Trent Reznor hyped this before its release, but the album itself is actually great. Too bad the marketing got more media coverage than the music. I’ve never been a big Nine Inch Nails fan, but this is an excellent record. Very “listenable” songs for the average non-NIN fan, but still packed with the all the noise-meets-instruments genius of Reznor’s production.
3. Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch (2007) Former Drive-By Trucker’s first solo album is full of solid tunes. Highly recommended.
4. The Word – The Word (2001) Pedal-steel guitar phenom Robert Randolph teams up with keyboardist John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars for jammin instrumentals that aren’t too wanky or boring.
5. Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely (2008) Brendan Benson and Jack White get the band back together, resulting in a deeper, more varied, and flat-out rockin second album.
6. Old 97’s – Too Far to Care (1997) Underrated classic alt-country gem here. Trademark witty lyrics and heartbroken melodies… The peak example of the Old 97’s train wreck of rock and country.
7. Wu Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams (2007) Legendary hip-hop group led by The RZA return to peak form with an instant classic. That’s not just lazy review-speak, the album is really that good.
8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Howl (2005) Alt-rockers tone it down a bit for more of an Americana feel and it yields the highlight album of their career.
9. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) Crosby’s first solo record is an overlooked piece of rock history. Nice little album features great guitar work by Jerry Garcia. Appearances by Mickey Hart, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, Bill Kreutzman, Phil Lesh, Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young don’t hurt either. But Crosby’s voice and songs like “Music Is Love,” “Laughing,” and “Cowboy Movie” are the real stars here.
10. Black Keys – Attack & Release (2008) New one from bluesy guitar-drums duo gets better with every listen.

I like the Counting Crows new album. That’s right, I said it!

Posted in music on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I know… it’s not cool to like the Counting Crows. They’re a pop/rock band that originated in the 90’s and had a big hit with “Mr. Jones.” Their lead singer Adam Duritz looks like Robert Downey, Jr., with fake dreads.

They make decent records. Their first one, August and Everything After, was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. They have this sort of modern-folky/classic rock sound behind Duritz’s more-than-capable vocals (often referred to as “whiney”). And while he often sounds whiney (told ya), he is a good singer and decent lyricist.

But this is the blogosphere. I’m kinda new to this blog thing, and while I might not have invented the Internet, I’ve clicked around enough to know that serious music freaks and bloggers are not supposed to like the Counting Crows. Like, at all. Duritz and the Counting Crows are the people and bands we’re supposed to make fun of while extolling the virtues of some hot trendy band of hacks like the Killers or Snow Patrol. Sorry, but I’m not playing along.

Rolling Stone magazine, that former authority on all things rock music and former pillar of music journalism, just had a good feature on Duritz. Talked about how he has a life-long mental illness that’s been diagnosed as a dissociative disorder. Now, I’m usually the first person to not feel sorry for rich celebrities who “just cant cope” with their fame and riches. But maybe this guy is a real human being who happens to have some real issues that have nothing to do with being a celebrity (other than living under a microscope of criticism and needing to take meds that make him gain weight). Maybe he’s not just whining about how hard it is to be the rich and famous Mr. Jones Guy. The article was titled Why Can’t Adam Duritz Get Any Respect? How the Counting Crows leader battled depression and his critics — and made his best album in a decade.

Then, elsewhere in the same issue, the actual album review is filled with snarky comments like “We know, dude: Life in L.A. is tough.” And yet it also admits that some songs are “little masterpieces of pop craft.” So it’s like they can’t deny that the actual album is good (despite the unenthusiastic 3-star review), but they’re just too cool to not take cheap shots at Adam Duritz.

Funny, looking at my notes from when I first heard the album, I wrote: “it’s okay. after a few listens I’m not all gung-ho to keep listening more….. I liked the first album a lot (back then) but I wouldn’t classify myself as a big Counting Crows fan so I kinda don’t care either way.”

A few listens later I wrote: “Listened to this again yesterday, starting on track 8 and just listening to 8-14. Pretty enjoyable. I reckon it would be better with a few less tunes (taking out tracks 1, 13, and 14 wouldn’t hurt).”

By today, several more listens later, I found myself writing “man I’m really loving this record a lot more than I ever thought I would!”

Hmm. So there it is: I love the new Counting Crows record and I’m not gonna be ashamed to admit it. Just don’t send this link to any of your really cool music buddies.

Democrats Hate America??

Posted in misc.blurbs, politics on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

So this morning on my drive in… i see this asshole in a truck and on the back in HUGE (huge!) letters it says DEMOCRATS HATE AMERICA, and the C in democrats is actually the soviet hammer/sickle.

Okay, first of all, I’m not a democrat, but you can guess that their alleged platform is more in line with my thinking than the republicans. But that doesn’t matter. How ridiculous and flat-out stupid and wrong is that statement?
So I’m considering just giving him the finger for being such a dick, though I probably would just do the stare-down headshake. But as I pull along side I see he’s in uniform that says “county sheriff’s office.” so this is the kinda whackjob that works in a sheriff’s office? Does he have a gun??

Now…. I know…. free speech and all…. but does he REALLY believe that? Aren’t there other more accurate statements he could make that might be thoughtful/intelligent reasons to not vote Democrat?

What the fuck is wrong with this country that people need to put DEMOCRATS HATE AMERICA in huge letters on their truck??

You do NOT look cool with that Bluetooth thing in your ear!

Posted in misc.blurbs on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Sorry if that’s you, but you’re an asshole.

Seriously. There’s other hands-free options. And most of the time when I see people wearing them, they’re not even on a call. Just walking around with this fuckin thing in their head so everyone can see they have one. Like “Ooh! I might get a call! I’m ready!” Bunch of tossers. Again, sorry if you have one. They just look idiotic.

ugh….. there’s more and more of them every day! Multiplying like cyborgs or something. And I saw this freakin really old guy with white hair, sitting in a restaurant with his wife, not on a call, wearing one of these things.
Saw another dude the other day, driving a pistachio/light-blue Mercedes….. had a Bluetooth thing in his right ear while he was talkin on a phone he was holding to his left ear!
This is what we’ve come to? We’re so “busy” in our “fast-paced, hi-tech” world that we can’t even go like this [raises arm so hand meets ear]??

Freedom Fries and Trucknuts

Posted in misc.blurbs, politics on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Okay, so the other day I saw one of those BOYCOTT FRANCE stickers that were popular a couple years ago. And how funny that places started changing their menus to “Freedom Fries” cuz “we dont serve FRENCH fries,” all because they were smart enough to not join in our stupid war in Iraq. Yea, freedom fries. That’ll show ‘em!!

Then yesterday i saw a sticker that said “F*CK TERRORISM.”
YEA!!!! we’re winning!!!

Also… y’all seen these big fake scrotums that rednecks hang from the bottom of the back of their big-ass trucks?? Do they think this is remotely cool or tough? really? a freakin fake sack of nuts hanging from their truck? it’s silly and gross.


I guess they’re saying “my truck has balls” in some fashion, but just go ahead and drive a big-ass truck, that’s enough to let us know you’re some big bad cool dude.

Unwritten, part 2

Posted in books, essays on Wednesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I read a lot. Mostly novels, contemporary stuff. Some quasi-hippie neo-classic shit like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Strange rambling epic stories like all of Tom Robbins books. Loved John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, but also A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.

I’ve always found excuses to wander into a bookstore and just sniff the spines. For different reasons, I have the same love for danky oddly-organized dimly lit underground used book stores that I have for the bright huge chain stores that offer best sellers, a warehouse-sized store full of every book under the sun, and a mini pseudo coffee shop in the corner.

While you can’t beat the mystique and value of a mom’n’pop used book shop, I also love the smooth new books. You can just pull them off the shelf with that ffft sound and gently imitate it by wooshing your palm across the cover. Ffft.

Sometimes I’ll visit books I’ve loved… just to touch them again. Remind me of the feeling I had when I was with them. And to make sure certain title are there. Are they in the right place? On the proper shelf, waiting to be chosen so they can give those same feelings to someone new.

I love to pick up nice crisp new books, even if they’re old titles new in paperback, the actual book itself is new. Pages unruffled, spines unbent. Like a little gift waiting to be unwrapped; to share its story and dreams and imagined worlds.

If I haven’t read it, it’s new to me.

Even books I know nothing about by people I’ve never heard of attract me. I like to turn these books over and read the glowing quoted snippets promising “a journey like no other,” and “a mesmerizing tale” or “a world of infinite possibilities playing out in a small town.”

“Redemption.”

“A tour-de force.”

My favorites were the quotes about the author. “As compelling a first novel as has ever been written.” “A strong new voice.” “Perhaps the first great voice of his generation.”
That’s what I wanted to be.

But I was a sham. All my unused pens, still full of ink, and stacks of empty pages were proof that I was nothing. I wasn’t a writer. I was the first great waste of my generation’s voice. But slowly I was forcing myself to speak.

PHOTO: The Bean in Chicago

Posted in photos on Wednesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

This was taken underneath “The Bean” in downtown Chicago, fall 2006.

FOLKIN ACROSS THE POND: How a Brit Fell in Love With American Music

Posted in music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

23/7 trades emails with London’s Mike Short from the Fearless Romantics blog.

23/7: So Mike, growing up in England, how did you gain a profound interest in, and appreciation of, such purely American music? Not that other people all over the world haven’t always liked Bob Dylan and other American artists, but some of your absolute favorite music (Ryan Adams, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Bruce Springsteen, Dylan) are just so rooted in American folk. How did you develop this taste?

It seems that all through the rock era, the biggest and best bands have been from your side of the pond (Beatles, Stones, Black Sabbath, the Clash, U2, Radiohead). While I’m sure you may be a fan of some or all of them, it’s the American folk that seems to have really struck a chord with you. Also, how do you feel about some of the UK-based singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello and Robyn Hitchcock?

Fearless Romantics: I think originally it stemmed from the group I hung around with when I was at university -which was when I started to stockpile CDs like anything (there was a superb CD fair over the road from my college, first Saturday of each month). At that time, everyone was into Oasis, Radiohead, Pulp…all that stuff. They fetishised these bands and it really turned me off – and what’s more they were very exclusive, disliking everything which was alien to them. When I went to college, it was all about the Beatles and Bob Dylan as far as I was concerned, and I got stick for it! Amazing to think of it, from a bunch of 18 year olds. So anyway, when it came to making decisions about which direction to take my musical interests, I really took what I saw to be the natural routes outwards from Dylan – the Byrds, the Band, later on Ryan Adams, the Jayhawks – rather than those from the Beatles – the 90s Britpop bands, glam, punk, and so on.

On top of this, I have always been fascinated by American culture – most of my favourite authors are from the States, and I think the three trips I made there left a lasting impression on me. Just the vastness of it and the miles of open country – it was the aspects of Britain that I liked, but magnified. I had a late rebellion and instead of reacting against my parents when I was 14, I reacted against the classic British intellectual snobbish anti-American standpoint when I was 18.

In fact the US cultural factor is probably a better explanation than the 18 year old nobody-understands-me explanation. The music I really like represents a culture which, although I’m not a part of, holds a real interest to me. The fact that I’m not part of that culture probably helps – I can over-romanticise at my leisure.

Singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello – I respect them but their excessive and self-conscious Britishness drives me mad.

How about you – how do you view the classic British bands and songwriters that you mentioned? Do you relate them to any view you have of British culture?

23/7: Interesting stuff.
Well, to sound like a typical American, I have very little knowledge of British culture. I have this ignorant, stereotypical view of stuffy queens eating tea and crumpets, much like some people around the world view us as fat, McDonald’s-eating, Bush-voting idiots watching reality TV.

Musically, I’m always reminded of the British Invasion. Like the Beatles, Stones, the Who and others had to come here and show us how to really rock. But there’s always this air of “We’re better than you with our fancy accents.” Maybe that’s the “self-conscious Britishness” you mentioned.

While I really dig Radiohead, it’s more form a pure musical and studio prowess standpoint. Just an enjoyment and appreciation of their albums, as well as their live show. I don’t personally relate to them as much as I do more purely American experiences like Bruce and even hip-hop. I don’t get into Oasis, “brit-pop” and other more contemporary British music. I’m pretty turned off by most of what I’ve heard.

There is this feeling of, if an American artist is “huge in England” than he/she is poised for stardom. Like you guys “get it” and eventually we will to. I think Jimi Hendrix sort of had to go conquer England before coming home to success in America.

FR: One of the things you say which I find really fascinating is your view of British culture – which you say is stereotypical and ignorant – as being stuffy; because I really think you’re right! It is not that we’re all upper-class tea drinkers. But I do think that British culture is very proud. Whatever class or group Brits are from, they seem to be very proud of it, to the extent that they sometimes find it difficult to respect other cultures. My university friends were typical lefty, PC, worldly students, but I think US culture threatened their proud superiority – it’s harder to patronise such a powerful country as the US.

Anyway, musically, I think the UK is a test ground for a lot of acts because it is smaller than the US – start with small goals and so on. Sure, the Who and the Beatles and the Stones taught white America how to rock, or at any rate they helped with that process, but their music came from America to begin with. And ok, much of that music evolved from forms that can be traced back to Africa, so the US can’t claim sole responsibility. But I think those UK bands got big because they were the first white bands to make that kind of music.

23/7: I just heard a quote from Elton John. Excuse me, SIR Elton John. He was performing with Ryan Adams on Country Music TV a few years ago and they asked about how country music influenced them and their music and Elton said he thought of country music as “the white man’s soul music. The only white music that came out of America that was sort of equivalent to black soul music and gospel music.”

I thought that was an interesting point. And it’s funny, modern country music in America has become a pop fashion show. Where good-looking men and woman wear cowboy hats and sing twangy, watered-down love songs that they didn’t write. It’s such a far cry from REAL country music. But I guess that’s happened in almost every genre, where the pursuit of money catches up and surpasses the quality and authenticity. Trying to compare or equate Toby Keith or Tim McGraw to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson is a bit like putting crap like the Black-Eyed Peas in the same category as Public Enemy.

FR: Yeah, I’ve heard that quote and I agree: there’s a lot to it. I subconsciously relate country to soul and folk to blues. The analogy isn’t great, as I guess folk is a much more general term describing music from all different places (old English folk songs, Irish ditties, bluesy slave tunes), but I guess if you narrow folk down to “American folk,” then it kind of works. So the Basement Tapes are to Robert Johnson as Ryan Adams is to Otis Redding. What do you think?

23/7: Hmm…. I think we might lose each other if we keep up all these analogies. But that’s a pretty good one there.

Music Time Capsule: 2004

Posted in music, time capsules on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later.

PJ HARVEY: Uh-Huh Her
Grinding, grungy, urgent, immediate, personal, raw, catchy, folky, punky, mature, frivolous, yearning, cathartic, confrontational, sensual, and empowering. Find all of this and PJ playing the majority of the instruments herself and singing, howling, whispering, shrieking, and grunting her way through a disc-full of great, great songs.

WILCO: A Ghost is Born
Sounds like Jeff Tweedy riding Neil Young’s Crazy Horse down Abbey Road. One of America’s best singer/songwriters hits his stride alongside a fine band that might change members, but continues to peak. The hypnotic bounce of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Tweedy’s voice on “Hummingbird,” the way he sings “A cheap sunset on a television set can upset her,” and the chord changes underneath are just so sweet. The pure heartache of “The type of sound that floats around and then back down… Like a feather.” Probably my favorite album of 2004.

BJORK: Medulla
Once again Bjork gets weird on us, but would we want it any other way? This time out, she fills a CD with songs that are mostly a capella. Now, in this case that doesn’t mean there’s no music, just means that she created almost all of the music tracks, bass lines, and beats with voices. (There is some instrumentation, but most of the sounds are created by voices.) Medulla makes for an innovative and interesting listen, but certainly not her finest album. Funny, if she wanted to make a quick cool million, there’s no doubt she could have a major dance club hit. On almost every album she manages at least one really great one, and often buries it like a gem lost beneath all her other artistic endeavors. Still, she proves she’s got the musical intuition and creative flair of some genius/child she seems to have trapped inside of her.

GREEN DAY: American Idiot
I gotta admit, I never really liked Green Day and I don’t care for the generation of limited imitators who walk like them, dress like them, but not quite them. That said, American Idiot is a really solid record. Good political lyrics without whining or preaching. Crisp, punchy production without sounding too slick or overproduced. Riffs that rock, tracks that beg to be cranked, and some really great drumming.

KANYE WEST: The College Dropout
As much as I love hip-hop, I haven’t heard much in the last couple of years that got me too excited. But Kanye’s CD is a blast from the not-so-distant past, when a hip-hop CD could blend bangin’ beats, clever rhymes, and a few good skits (but not too many!) into an hour of fun. There was a lot of hype on Kanye in 2004. There’s good reason for it.

SONIC YOUTH: Sonic Nurse
Kim Gordon and the boys make house calls, not far from Murray Street. Another perfect mix of experimental noise rock and pop melodies.

ELVIS COSTELLO: The Delivery Man
Well, it was easy to find plenty of reviews where hip and aging rock critics turned an easy phrase and simply declared that Costello delivered again. And I guess in some fashion he did. The Delivery Man is pretty decent, but it’s getting a bit tiring that every time E.C. stops messing with show tunes and other tin pan alley rubbish he’s delved into recently, we get to read a “return to form” review. While his last rock album (When I Was Cruel) certainly lived up to that billing, The Delivery Man just proves that Costello still has enough talent to knock out a punchy rock record in his sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes it sounds as if he’s done exactly that.

LORETTA LYNN: Van Lear Rose
Okay, I’m a sucker. I never would have heard this album if I hadn’t read about the White Stripes’ Jack White producing and playing guitar on it. Call me a trendy hipster, blindly following the alt-rock critics darling Jack down a country road all the way to a Loretta Lynn album. Either way, this is a truly great album that finds Lynn’s voice as strong as ever, and the unlikely pairing of White and Lynn spawned a gritty country album that rocks.

U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
I just had to put this into the 2004 Time Capsule. According to most mainstream media, THIS was THE album of the year. Yea, the hype machine was cranked up to 11 for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big U2 fan, and I don’t usually subscribe to the all-too-easy “U2 sucks, I liked the old stuff when they were good!” approach, but this time around the promotion was better than the actual album. It sounds like a shell of an imitation of 2001′s All That You Cant Leave Behind, except without all the great melodies and decent lyrics. “Vertigo” is a pretty good tune the first 50 times you hear it, and “Love and Peace or Else” is a standout track. Once again, Edge and the band are in fine form, but too many of the songs seem a bit forced, contrived, and over-the-top with syrupy Bono-ness. Imitation isn’t flattering when you imitate yourself. Seems like maybe this is the album that should have had the phrase “Can’t Leave Behind” in the title.

What does your band sound like?

Posted in misc.blurbs, music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

In case you need a catchy blurb to describe your totally cool (and Indie!) new band… you can use this:

We sound like a cross between Bob Seger, Bob Saget, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley. Kinda like early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club meets Cleveland the Black Dude on Family Guy. It’s sorta like a sober Replacements doing a film score for a Wes Anderson movie.

You’re welcome.

Brush With Fame: Joan Baez

Posted in misc.blurbs on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I once got Joan Baez’s autograph. She was doing a book signing but I couldn’t be bothered (well, didn’t have the money OR the interest) to buy her $30 book. I only went cuz i was on lunch break from the record store where I worked when I was 16 and she was in the same mall at the book store and i reckon she knew Bob Dylan so I should go….

So I get up there to the front of the line and hand her a paper to sign and she looks up, looks me right in the eye and says, “What, you didn’t buy the book?”

Classy.

Bob Mould – Workbook (1989)

Posted in music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

The collision of acoustic guitars layered over crashing drums….. the dynamics of loud moments and quiet ones living on either side of a wall but under the same roof of a song. The haunted whine of his vocals and harmonies; the crispy but not-too-slick production. This album has it all.

This album has texture. It has moods. And the cool album cover, with the blue title lettering that I’ve always thought matches the music perfectly. Oh yea, and great songwriting. The songs are strong, without which the rest of what I described wouldn’t mean a damn thing.

Workbook has a 2-minute instrumental “intro” track (“Sunspots”) that leads nicely into the first actual song (track 2 “Wishing Well”) and it really sounds like a perfectly placed first song, if that makes sense. The occasional string arrangements are always haunting, never cheesy. And you really cant go wrong with such great song titles as “Sinners and Their Repentances” and “Compositions for the Young and Old.” Sure, the last track is a bit of a throwaway for me; it’s D-tuned distortion and screaming seem a bit out of place… but it’s a sonic blast to remind us that despite all the acoustic guitars laying around in his living room, Bob Mould still rocked like Nirvana before Nirvana existed.

I’ve never really been into Husker Du or Sugar (Mould’s two bands that sandwich his early solo stuff), but I’ve loved this Workbook album since I was working in a record store when it was released and was lucky enough to be introduced to it.
So I made a point to meet up with it again and it seems we still get along quite well.

Mock Bill Simmons column I sent to him in 2006

Posted in essays, sports on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Note: This is my take on the writing of columnist Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy on ESPN.com. They say immitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I wrote this in his style in 2006 and sent it in hopes he might use part of it. He did not.

Like most of your fans, I’ve always wanted to write you a funny email and see it published on the Worldwide Leader Dot Com. I’ve thought of some good stuff, none of which I can remember now of course, but like Bruno Kirby’s character in “Good Morning Vietnam,” I KNOW IN MY HEART THAT I’M FUNNY.

I’m also jealous. See, I’m a writer and a sports fan, and let’s face it: you’ve got a great job. Meanwhile, I drive 65 miles each way to work as a Technical Writer. In fact, not only is the material boring, I don’t actually write anything. I’m an editor. A glorified proofreader. But that’s cool. I’ve been unemployed, so I’m okay with this gig. But I’m thinking you probably pull down some decent coin to basically do what most of us do with our buddies in emails and bars. Which in turn means you can afford NBA League Pass, NFL Ticket, AND TiVo.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say your job was easy. But it’s gotta be relatively fun and extremely profitable. That said, I started wondering what I needed to do get a similar gig. I need a big break. Every now and again I’ve noticed espn.com giving some college kid a column or something. I always get all jealous about that kinda stuff. Of course, when I was in college at WVU I was too busy seeing if you could stick 4 large rolling papers together and successfully roll a smokeable monster joint to ever bother sending my clips to national sports media. (You can.)

But it’s never too late. Sure, I’ll turn 36 this summer, but I’m not a running back. It’s never too late. (By the way, I had one of those horrible “god I’m old” realizations last year when I realized that I’m actually older than Jerome Bettis.)

Did you hear about that college kid who’s just a writer looking to get his big break, so he declared for the NBA Draft as a PR stunt? Pretty funny stuff, and he landed himself a column on SI.com! Turns out this guy is my friend’s cousin! Damn, I’m SO close!

So, instead of sending you 3 emails every week in hopes that you someday publish one little paragraph of mine… I figured, in the spirit of you imitating Paul McGuire or Hubie Brown in print, I’d do my Bill Simmons impression and write some long-ass rambling column to prove to your bosses that I’ve still got Tremendous Upside Potential as a columnist. After all, while most of your readers seem pretty damn funny, they all just bite your style and make up some new Face or reference some crappy reality TV show that I couldn’t care less about… they’re really no different than internet versions of The Clones.

Let’s see…. What would be a good Simmonsian theme for my column? I know! I’ll keep a running diary while I watch an NBA playoff game.

8:18pm. okay, so I’m watching game 5 of the Cavs/Pistons series. No, ‘scuse me, I’m being a WITNESS, and I realize that Dick Stockton and Reggie Miller are referring to Sideshow Bob as VED-a-jao. Okay… I was already pissed that other announcers seemed to be calling him vuh-RAY-jhad (or jhan) when it seems the last syllable should rhyme with Yao. But I’m not Brazilian or whatever he is, so I figure they must know what’s up. But now Stockton’s breaking out VED-a-jao. I’m glad the end rhymes with Yao, but now they’ve changed where the emphasis goes.

8:22pm. Poor Reggie Miller is starting to say VET-a-jhan and bastardizing both versions. Can’t we institute a Yao/Ichiro rule on this guy and just call him Anderson?

8:26pm. Dude, I’m not trying to be mean, I actually like Cheryl Miller and think she does a decent job. But does her hair ever NOT look hideous? And I’m not just talking about the braids or the bob or a particular cut or style…. I mean any and all of them. Every time I see her I think, “god, her hair looks horrible!” then the word horrible reminds me of Bill Walton saying “HORRIBLE pass.” Let’s just move on.

8:31pm. So I’m watching, listening, and thinking about how I’m gonna ask you about this Verajao pronunciation stuff… and thinking about what you said about the double-secret Moving-Picks-Are-Okay rule… and just then, they call a moving pick! On VEDajhad! That’s when I knew it was my destiny to write this email/column to you.

Alright, screw this fake running diary thing. By the time I finish this, Game 5 will be history. I need something a bit more timeless, yet keeping within the imitation/flattery theme…. But with an original twist. Hmm… I’ve got it: I’ll keep a running diary of a typical boring day at a desk job so you can see how the rest of us live. See, we’re not able to stay up late watching Western Conference playoff games, and we cant go to Clippers games or fly to Boston and go to Red Sox games with your dad. We’re working stiffs. We sit here reading your column while trying to tune out the mindless banter of office hags and look like we’re doing actual work. (Right now I have The Costanza Face going, you know, the one where George works for the Yankees and since he doesn’t know what his job is, he perfects the art of looking confused or mad so people think he’s working.)

Actually, I’ll tweak this idea and make it more of a running diary of my typical work day AND a running diary of me reading one of your columns. (I think I’ve used the phrase “running diary” so much that it’s subliminally reminding me of “diarrhea.”)

Friday 2:16pm. Sweet! A new mailbag column was just posted. Thank god, I’ve nothing else to do this afternoon.

2:23. I know only the really funny questions get printed, but I do have questions I’d like to ask you…. I haven’t bothered to search your archives for this, but where do you really stand on the whole NBA Conspiracy Theory stuff? Do you think “They” make sure certain series go 7 games, or certain teams move on? I’m torn, on the one hand, it’s stupid to think they do. But then I saw that Lakers/Kings series a few years ago….. What say you?

2:26. I hope you’re right that LeBron goes crazy and eliminates the Pistons tonight. Oh, and I love a Springsteen reference.

2:27. Vice President of Common Sense. Great idea. I have nothing to add here, so let me ask you, where do the Wizards’ narrow losses to Cleveland in the first round rank on your Stomach Punch scale or whatever that’s called? I know, nobody cares about the Wizards, but I’m a life-long Bullets fan. Don’t laugh, they’ve won a title more recently than the Knicks! Anyway, LeBron absolutely walked on that one game winner. Reminded me of one of your reader’s emails that said that series would come down to officiating and Wizards fans would end up sick about all the calls going LeBron’s way. Actually, he got called for a few charges, but in one game he ran over Jared Jeffries like he was Bo plowing thru Boz and after whistling Bron-Bron for the charge, they had a conference and realized it was #23 and switched the call to a block on Jeffries. (And what’s up with Jeffries’ head? He’s weird looking.)
But I can’t complain. The Wizlets let LeBron go baseline for that other game winner, and Gilbert Arenas missed those freethrows. Oh well. Sadly enough, it’s a victory for a team like Washington to get all that TV exposure by playing in LeBron’s first playoff series. This is the same team that got rid of Chris Webber in his prime, a young Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace… ugh, even Juwan Howard looked solid once he left town. I’m cringing at the thought of Kwame Brown turning into Jermaine O’Neal sometime soon.

2:31. I’m over-hearing these office hags talk about American Idol and something about Nick and Jessica hiring Jennifer Anniston’s lawyer or whatever. Please kill me.

2:36. Okay, that email from the guy from the “University of Riker’s Island” is just wrong.

2:39. Good point about annoying fake Boston accents. But what’s really annoying about Chris Berman (and for the most part I like him) is his obsession with saying “the frozen tundra,” “New York football Giants,” and “GEEEE-men” every single time he has the opportunity. I mean the frozen tundra in the Jon Facenda voice was funny the first 29832 times. But now it’s like he can’t not do it. Give it a rest, Boom.

2:41. I’m about to skip the next paragraph, cuz at first it looks like one of those Reality TV paragraphs, but then I realize you live near Ganz! I do a pretty good Nick Nolte impression, and after “listen convict, I don’t like you and you don’t like me,” the next best line to say is “We gotta get GANZ.”

2:44. There’s this one lady at my office who talks all the time. Never shuts up. This week she brought in a fundraiser for her kid. You know, one of those “pizza-making kit” fundraisers. Forget that. I looked at the stuff, it’s like $17 for one pizza and I gotta make it myself? If I’m gonna spend $17, I’ll get 2 good pizzas fresh and hot that someone makes for me and brings to my house thanks.

I’d pay $34 if she’d just shut the f*#$ up for a few hours a day.

2:46. Well it wouldn’t be a Bill Simmons column without silly typos like “there are actual emails from actual readers,” instead of “these.” And “we’re at the point now where are save these emails…” instead of “we are saving” or “we save.” You said Kobe was lingering beyond the arc “giving the ball up every time it swing around to him.” I have been meaning to write to you and your bosses about this stuff, but I never documented the various offenses… but now you’ve handed all these to me IN ONE COLUMN. Even one of your readers chipped in with “…understand we we MUST boo Johnny Damon.” We we? Freakin spell check can pick that up! Inexcusable. I’m sitting here at my desk job chronicling this stuff while The Worldwide Leader doesn’t have a proofreader? Really?

Dammit! I had no intention of making this segment so long, but the Damon email also included “the guys we used to love plays for…” instead of guys play or guy plays. I was gonna let that one go, but then the next email has “guy with [a] silly hair cut… ask me the score” instead of asks. (oh, and “when your bombed” instead of “when you’re bombed.”) I mean, the a in brackets proves that someone is allegedly cleaning up the reader emails, so don’t hide behind the fact that a few of these errors are in readers emails. Another reader email gets cleaned up by putting [Jr.] after Mel Kiper, as if we would have thought they were referring to his dad. Yet, no one noticed that the Bug looked happier than a third base coach ready to congratulate someone who just HOT, not hit, a walkoff homer. Weak.

3:03. Great. You just beat me to the Stockton/Verajao jokes….

The Following Wednesday: I knew it would take me a week to write and send this. More typos on ESPN.com today. If the Worldwide Leader can’t be bothered to proofread their articles, then I’m not gonna bother to list them for you.

Watched Game 1 of the Pistons/Heat series last night. Is it me or does Flip Saunders look like a deaf guy with a facial tick?

Okay, you’re Bill Simmons, you’ve got a good sense of humor and you’re number 1 in the lig in making fun of Doc Rivers. You’re excellent in transition and you know you can get your Hubie Brown imitation off anytime you want. But you’ve got to work how he says “lig” for “league” into your game plan.

Yup, these are your readers…

Some albums released the year I was born: 1970

Posted in misc.blurbs, music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath, and Paranoid
Bob Dylan – New Morning, and Self Portrait
Carole King – Writer
Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
CCR – Cosmo’s Factory, and Pendulum
CSNY – DeJa Vu
Derek and the Dominoes – Layla
Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection
Frank Zappa – Burnt Weenie Sandwhich, Chunga’s Revenge, and Weasels Ripped My Flesh
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
Grateful Dead – American Beauty, and Workingman’s Dead
James Taylor – Sweet Baby James
Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys
John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band
Led Zeppelin – III
Loretta Lynn – Coal Miners Daughter
Marvin Gaye – That’s the Way Love Is
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother
Santana – Abraxas
Simon & whutshisname – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Stevie Wonder – Signed Sealed Delivered
the Beatles – Let It Be
the Doors – Morrison Hotel
the Faces – First Step
the Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out
Velvet Underground – Loaded
Van Morrison – Moondance

The grocery store cashier is afraid of Obama

Posted in politics on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

So this older dude, most likely in his 60′s, was my cashier at the Giant when I went for groceries the other day. There were some boy scouts there collecting canned food for hungry locals. So the guy says something about what a shame that so many peeps are hungry and going without……

him:”President Bush’s time will be up soon and the next person will have a job to do.”
me: “uh, yea…..”
him: “but I don’t think Obama is the answer……”
me: surprisingly silent and polite… before offering, “I’m willing
to take a chance on him.”
him: “I don’t know…. I mean, Jesse Jackson’s hanging out not really
say anything, but you know soon as Obama is elected Jesse Jackson will be the first one calling….”
me: “uh. well….. just cuz he might come calling doesn’t mean he
actually has any power.”
him: “I don’t know, they’re saying it’s gonna be a Black Agenda. I’m
not sure about that.”
me: “uh, I really don’t think it will be.”
him: “and I cant really see Hillary Clinton making a declaration of
war….”

cant remember how it ended…. but good thing I was polite and kept to myself cuz this guy was a bit idiotic. you can be a republican or a McCain supporter and you don’t have to be an Obama supporter…. but worrying about Obama and Jesse Jackson instituting a Black Agenda?? Where do they get this shit? And then being concerned that Hillary won’t make war? Why, cuz she’s a GIRL??? And…. why do you WANT more war?? fuck…. I guess there’s around 50% of Americans like this and a lot them vote!

and to those of you who think I am naïve about the reality of Life and Race in America:

I am far from living in a lily-white middleclass utopia. I’m not the one scared of the alleged Black Agenda and the supposedly upcoming race riots that will apparently be the result of an Obama win OR loss.I’m also not going to give you my resume of Black Experience or trade lists with you on how many blacks you’ve had in your house (the cable guy doesn’t count, but if you’re counting there’s a problem). Obama is NOT my hip black imaginary friend. He is not my release from white racist guilt. I don’t need it. I’ve been a progressive anti-racist for as long as I can remember. I would vote for Obama if he was green or purple or even a white man. I’m sure some of you come in contact with many “under-privileged black people” in your daily life. How are those folks helping to enlighten your world view and ease your paranoia about the impending race wars? Sounds like it’s not going too well. I’m sorry that those mean poor blacks you see in urban areas fucking hate you cuz you’re white and they assume you hate them. I’m really sorry to hear that. Welcome to an America where the rest of us fully evolved non-racists are standing up to say we are embracing a new POSITIVIE way of doing things. and if the messenger happens to be black, so what. We’re not gonna give up on that “hope” and “change” and go the “safe” route with the Clintons or McCain. Some of you fear this will truly divide the country and I hope it will truly unite the country.
Good times.

Unwritten

Posted in essays on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I am the writer who doesn’t write.

Imagine that. All this time…. “oh he’s a writer.” What have I written? Nothing. If a sound in the woods is never made, will there be anything to hear? Probably not. All this time of not writing has convinced me that I’m a writer with writer’s block. But it’s not like I’m some successful author who one day sits at the computer and freezes up. Sure I wrote lots of articles in high school and college, but I’ve never written a book.

I don’t even keep a journal. So how can I have writer’s block? Do illiterates or others who have no desire/skill to write walk around saying “I have writer’s block”?? I doubt it. But supposedly I’m a “writer” and others think of me as one, so since I’m not writing I must have writer’s block. That’s it.
Such a talented non-writing writer like myself. I can hide behind that sly smirky smile of writer’s block while acting like I’m hiding The Great American Novel behind these teeth. Like anytime I finally want to I could unleash a “work” that would hush my own inner critic and announce to the world: See I Really I Am A Writer! Well, you thought I was the whole time, but I never knew I was. All that time, this is what I wasn’t working on.

Hiding the implied great book-yet-written is almost like having a best seller. The unwritten book doesn’t get any bad reviews. The unwritten book might be the Next Great American Novel. As romantic as a song not yet written. Places we’ve never been. Made up people we’d never meet. Even if they were real. The unwritten book is mysterious. More secretive and unpredictable than the thrillers that were written. This one has no beginning, no end. No plot.

An unwritten masterpiece has as much, if not more, allure and appeal than an actual masterpiece. Endless possibilities. Any way to fulfill it’s destiny to being a great book.

The unwritten book is akin to its cousin the unwritten rule. The unwritten rule just reeks of honor. It’s a code. There are lots of unwritten rules for many situations. I’d give examples but wouldn’t want to get mixed up in the oxymoronic world of trying to explain, and thus write down and in a sense kill, an unwritten rule. This one is so powerful and important that it didn’t need to be written.

So, you could see that with such daunting perceptions and such overwhelming expectations, it was very hard to get started on my unwritten book. Every time I tried to dare or dared to try to put pen to paper, I’d be crushed under the weight of phrases like “Is this how The Great American Novel starts?”

I know, you can always go back later and write the beginning. Don’t worry about that. Just start writing. Of course, I’ve read all those tips in my endless supply of “writer’s block” books.

But I figured if I can always go back later and write the beginning, then I could always go back later to do the middle and end, too. So I wouldn’t write anything and the more this happened the less I found myself pen-in-hand even trying to start something.

I was always coming up with half-baked (or in some cases fully-baked) book ideas that seemed cool at first but then later felt incomplete. Not worthy for a whole book. Not worthy of even starting, I told myself.

Beth Orton – Comfort of Strangers

Posted in music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank


British singer/songwriter Beth Orton is already 10 years removed from her acclaimed debut Trailer Park, a record that somehow successfully blended folk with shades of electronica. Her CD Comfort of Strangers might not be as raw or experimental as that debut, but it is strong evidence that she’s hitting her stride as a songwriter and recording artist.

And then there’s that voice. She doesn’t have knock-your-socks-off power like Janis Joplin or Joss Stone, but she’s got a great and distinctive voice. It’s smooth yet smokey, and seems capable of sounding both warm and cool, not unlike a thermos.

The album kicks off with “Worms,” a sort of Tori Amos-meets-Fiona Apple vibe, as she admits “And now I’m your apple-eating heathen, any old rib-stealing Eve.” From there, the album flows effortlessly as Orton’s quality songwriting meshes with expert production from Jim O’Rourke, best known for his work with Sonic Youth, Wilco, and Stereolab.

While “Rectify” bounces along like a classic Paul Simon tune, “Heartland Truckstop” opens with an intro riff reminiscent of Moondance-era Van Morrison. The song ends with the line “Confidentially speaking all is as it seems.” Her phrasing, and her choice to repeat that final line, is reminiscent of Dylan. “Feral Children” finds her singing “There’s no words for the infinity of ghosts.” Like many of Dylan’s finest moments, I have no idea what it means, but it sounds like a great line.

Comfort of Strangers is a somewhat mellow affair at times, but it’s far from boring or sleepy. It has plenty of catchy, upbeat songs and Orton and O’Rourke aren’t afraid to add crashing drum beats to liven up her tunes, as evidenced by “Shopping Trolley.”

On “Shadow of a Doubt” she sings “It’s true that I have got a head full of voices saying the first thing that’s in their heart.” Luckily for us, most of it was caught on tape.

PHOTO: Newport Beach, CA

Posted in photos on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I took this on the boardwalk at Newport Beach. Seems like it would be cool inside a CD booklet or something. Do they still print CD booklets?

David Gray is an asshole

Posted in misc.blurbs, music on Monday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

No ‘Babylon’ for Gray fans in coming world tour

Fans of David Gray who want to hear his biggest hit “Babylon” performed live as he tours to promote his latest album may be disappointed because the singer-songwriter is sick of playing it.
At early shows on a North American tour promoting his September release “Life in Slow Motion,” Gray played almost exclusively new songs, despite audience calls for old hits.

Fans at New York’s Webster Hall on Tuesday grumbled at the noticeable absence of “Babylon” — the song which made him an international star.

“I only want to sing things that I can feel and if I don’t have a feeling for a song … then I’ll pass it over,” Gray said in an interview on Wednesday. “Babylon is not very alive for me at the moment.
“It killed me. I try to resuscitate from time to time, but how many times did I have to play that thing — 10 times a day, 300 days a year in all kinds of garish situations.”
But Gray, 37, isn’t saying never: “It’s not my song any more. It’s very much the audience’s song, so if I’m feeling generous I’ll wheel it out one night.

WAAAAAAAAAA. you fuckin asshole. i’m sure you’re sick of it, but try being the Stones…. or Bruce playing “Born to Run.” get over it. oooooh, you had to play it in garish situations! like what? TV shows, concerts, and in-store appearances? WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. good work if you can get it!

Now Gray is on a tour that could last for 18 months — something he said was almost a “betrayal” of his wife.

“Being separated from my family is the worst part. If my wife had her way, I wouldn’t be going on a world tour,” he said. “This is where it gets a little bit uncomfortable, because I know I am leaving her in the lurch. She’s basically being left with two young kids.”

so stay home and get a job at Blockbuster you fuckin hack.

Saying his recent fame has left him with little time for anything but his family and his work, Gray described himself as “a frustrated political person” who does not know what to do to make a difference in the world.

But one thing he certainly did not approve of was July’s Live 8 concerts, organized by Bob Geldof to pressure world leaders to reduce debts of the world’s poor.

“It’s a garish sight to me to have people who don’t know what they are talking about, patronizing their audience about changing the world. I don’t believe in sound-bite politics.”

Instead, Gray would rather people take concrete action — such as paying more in taxes to alleviate poverty.

“Otherwise where does this money come from? World leaders? Do they go to the special ‘world leader’ pot and get the money? It’s just … ridiculous,” he said.

what? you’re a frustrated political person who doesn’t know what to do to make a difference? yet you don’t want to help raise money and awareness thru stuff like Live 8?? and the one thing you CAN do, use your fame and microphone to express what’s on your frustrated political mind… well, that’s “patronizing.” let’s pay more taxes so the politicians can still not use the money for just causes. good plan a-hole.

oh, speaking of patronizing, how bout not playing the one fuckin good song you have, the one that gave you this great life.. and if/when you play it, it’s cuz you’re being generous. fuck you.

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