July 1, 2014

In the fall of 1929, a young cowboy crooner named Gene Autry strolled into New York City and recorded a couple of songs in a German . One of them was called “My Alabama Home,” which sounds an awful lot like what “Sweet Home Alabama” might’ve sounded like had it been written thirty-five years earlier. 

I’m longing for the old plantation, where they sing “Sweet Adeline,”

The best place in all creation, that Alabama home of mine,

It seems I can wait no longer, for the sun to shine,

'Till I get back to my mammy, and that Alabama home of mine.

Written by his songwriting partner Jimmy Long, Autry’s “My Alabama Home” is an infectious blend of country pop and minstrel balladry. In Autry’s tune you can hear the high-lonesome dusty yodel of Jimmy Rodgers, the sophisticated song-craft of Stephen Foster, and the anxious showmanship of Al Jolson. I discovered the song six months ago and haven’t been able to forget about it since.

I was able to buy the song a few months ago, but for some reason it now seems to be unavailable for purchase, digitally or physically, anywhere in the United States, so this stream’ll have to do.

I talk more about “My Alabama Home,” and many more songs about fraught “Alabama homes” in Sweet Home Everywhere. (Kindle version)

June 24, 2014
Sweet Home Everywhere

Here’s the link to the pretty-looking multimedia version of my latest story on “Sweet Home Alabama.”  

June 24, 2014
Hey folks,
I can’t tell you all how excited I am to share with you a piece I’ve been working on for the better part of the last year. It’s called Sweet Home Everywhere, and it’s an alternative history of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” the perplexing, irresistible, annoying, resilient song that was released as a single exactly 40 years ago, to this day.
My story on the song, which runs at just under 13,000 words, was published by a really cool new project called The New New South. Every few months, they release top-notch, stand-alone stories about the modern American south that are all well worth checking out.
Sweet Home Everywhere is available now as a Kindle Single.
There’s also a nifty multimedia version of the story on the way with audio, photo, video, etc…, but I’ll share that with you all in due time!

Hey folks,

I can’t tell you all how excited I am to share with you a piece I’ve been working on for the better part of the last year. It’s called Sweet Home Everywhere, and it’s an alternative history of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” the perplexing, irresistible, annoying, resilient song that was released as a single exactly 40 years ago, to this day.

My story on the song, which runs at just under 13,000 words, was published by a really cool new project called The New New South. Every few months, they release top-notch, stand-alone stories about the modern American south that are all well worth checking out.

Sweet Home Everywhere is available now as a Kindle Single.

There’s also a nifty multimedia version of the story on the way with audio, photo, video, etc…, but I’ll share that with you all in due time!

April 11, 2014

"Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding means sweetheart, Sham-A-Ling-Dang-Dong does too"

That line gets me every time, but today it just kills me. RIP Jesse Winchester.

March 28, 2014

I just got an email from Tumblr telling me I’ve been running this ramshackle little page for five years, to this day. I guess that means I’ve been writing about music, in one small way or another, for about five years now, and that feels alright.

Thanks to all you followers for liking and listening and putting up with lots of John Prine.  Hell, let’s say another prayer for the pretender.

March 19, 2014
"

When I meet other people my age and tell them what I do for a living (only after unsuccessfully avoiding it), after the usual what kind of music, name of the band questions, etc., things turn to my thoughts on the merits or lack of in today’s pop music. Sometimes I think they want me to reassure them that they are not just turning into old assholes. Saying the same things old assholes said about them and their music. In order to determine if you’re turning into an old asshole, you have to accept the fact that the rate at which a society progresses can be measured by the rate at which it’s old assholes die or accept their irrelevance. Since we can’t change your life expectancy let’s focus on relevance.

Why was your music all that anyway? If you’re thinking “because they played their own instruments” you may be becoming an old asshole.

Why?

Ted Nugent plays an instrument. What is he? You guessed it. I was even young enough once to think he had something meaningful to offer the world.

Basically every generation deserves a chance to get it wrong! And if you think the one coming up is going to get it any more wrong than yours did; congratulations!

You’re an old asshole.

Don’t be an old asshole.

"

— Mike Cooley, poptimist

March 1, 2014
John Prine’s early draft of “Donald and Lydia,” one of my favorite finds at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The first two lines got scrapped, but they’re fun to sing along to the melody:
"In a town located in the upper Midwest
With a population of three hundred-fifty or less”

John Prine’s early draft of “Donald and Lydia,” one of my favorite finds at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The first two lines got scrapped, but they’re fun to sing along to the melody:

"In a town located in the upper Midwest

With a population of three hundred-fifty or less”

February 14, 2014

"Life is a blessing, it’s a delicatessen"

February 11, 2014

"I was at a show and I heard someone play a murder ballad that they wrote, and it was about the age-old thing of shooting your woman down. I had already been thinking a lot about it, because a lot of kids that play music on the street in New Orleans sing a lot of old blues songs and there’s a lot of beating your woman, “ain’t it a shame to beat your wife on Sunday” kind of thing. I was just thinking about it and I was like wow, we’ve dissociated from what this means. It feels like it’s just this joke, and when you’re a feminist songwriter, you have this very different lens that you’re seeing everything through. When I hear those songs, I don’t have a filter that makes me think that’s not real. Why would you do that to this woman? As opposed to having a filter and being like “oh he doesn’t really mean it, it’s just a joke song.”

-Alynyda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff, explaining to me why murder ballads could, uh, probably use some updating in 2014.

December 11, 2013
"

Melissa Block: So you wish that last verse weren’t there?


Guy Clark: Yeah, because it’s too much. It’s not necessary, it clutters up the listener’s imagination. You’re trying to tell them too much, what you want them to do is imagine.

"

— Songwriting genius Guy Clark, explaining why his new song “Rain In Durango” was one verse too long. You can hear co-writer Shawn Camp’s take on the song here.

December 8, 2013
"The movie takes the form of a folk song: there’s a first verse, then a series of verses—in each of which something awful happens—and finally the first verse comes around again, seeming changed."

— John Jeremiah Sullivan, with the best summary of the new Coen Brothers movie yet. Sullivan’s short, promotional essay about Inside Llewyn Davis is well worth reading. Bonus: its called “Daft Folk.”

December 3, 2013

Here’s a find. Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires singing “Mutineer” by Warren Zevon. 

December 3, 2013

I interviewed Mike Cooley about the new Drive By Truckers record for Rolling Stone. My favorite part of the interview got cut, so I wanted to share it here. Cooley compares one of his new songs on the record (you can hear a live solo take above) to Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”

Cooley, on “First Air of Autumn”:

It’s kind of along the same lines as “Glory Days” and all those songs, and I’m not going to make as much money on this as the Boss did on “Glory Days,” I’ll tell you that right now. I always hated that song, I hated that song. But the experience I had made me realize how real it was. Bruce has that ability to take something real sad and make it sound like a party song, and that takes a lot more talent than actually making the song sound sad like I did. 

It’s about people who peak too early, and who leave that time of their lives when everything makes perfect sense and everything else is a bitter disappointment. And a little bit about the best looking guy and the best looking girl getting married, and when nobody gives a damn anymore, they realize they can’t stand each other, and it’s no longer…it’s no longer special when they’re not the king and queen.

 

November 20, 2013

If you’re feeling stressed today, play this as many as times as you need to learn all or most of the lyrics. Then walk around some busy city streets, slowly, singing this to yourself, and to everyone else.

 

October 17, 2013

Hey everyone, I went long on one of my favorite obscure little Bruce tracks for my second, and final, contribution to the two week Springsteen One Week One Band Marathon.

oneweekoneband:

"County Fair" (recorded March 24, 1983 at "Thrill Hill West" [Springsteen’s home studio], Los Angeles, CA; available on The Essential Bruce Springsteen)

by Jon Bernstein

Come on, mister, tell me what’s waiting out there

In 1983, Bruce Springsteen was recording rampantly, amassing a lifetime’s worth of material as he continued to write songs for the record that would soon become, after its many early iterations, Born In The U.S.A. “County Fair” sounds and feels unlike anything else recorded during that prolific, career-defining year of song.

“County Fair” may be the most straightforward song Springsteen’s ever recorded, the simplest story he’s told. In some ways, the song is a throwback to the types of stories Bruce was telling a decade earlier, when his songs took place in the hazy, hot nights of Springsteen’s adolescence, when juvenile men and women trampled around Jersey boardwalks and Manhattan streets looking for trouble and thrills, too drunk on youth and music to be worrying yet about finding a way out of their own towns full of losers. Like so much of his earliest work, Springsteen sets “County Fair” in that mythical summer past, only this time, we’re in Small Town U.S.A., at a local carnival so commonplace, so specific in its uniformity, that you can feel the cotton candy sticking to your hands as Springsteen takes through a night at the county fair.

His narrator here is young and hungry, a teenager innocent enough to still take deep comfort in his small, safe surroundings, but old enough to know those very surroundings just might be transitory. His local county fair is a yearly tradition, and so it is also a marker of time and age, a way to realize, as you ride the Ferris Wheel year after year after endless year, both how little and how much you’ve changed.

The first half of the song focuses on the former, on the annual childlike joy our hero takes in a county fair he’s perhaps outgrown. “Every year when summer comes around/ they stretch a banner ‘cross the main street in town/ you can feel something happening in the air” he sings like a kid on Christmas Eve, waiting with open eyes for the annual reminder of his own youth. In the second verse, he’s on the roller coaster with his 9th grade sweetheart. The night’s full of sex and promise, and yet he can’t stop thinking about the fair itself, about its lights and smells, its yearly gift of eternal childhood. “Well baby you know I just love the sound,” he sings at the top of Ferris wheel, in a line that’s sure to un-impress his date for the night “Of that pipe organ at the merry go round.” He’s infantilizing the moment, encouraging his girl to “win your daddy one of them stuffed bears.”

But as “County Fair” progresses into the eternal carnival night, time slowly starts to evaporate. The pivotal moment comes in the third verse, when the teenage couple goes to the edge of the fair to catch some local music. “It’s James Young and the Immortal Ones,”two guitars baby bass and drums,” Springsteen sings, in a moment that blurs the distance between narrator and author. It’s hard not to hear Springsteen in that line, pining for the burning, basic rock and roll that got him to where he was in 1983: feverishly writing, trying desperately to find the precise sound to re-introduce him to the masses after four years out of the spotlight. In ‘83, Bruce, staring ahead at equal parts uncertainty and stardom, is, like his narrator, scared of what the future holds, and he relishes that fleeting moment in that third verse, “just rockin’ down at the County Fair.”

“County Fair”, which opens and closes with the sounds of crickets, feels like a demo, its sound muted and murky. As one Springsteen fan once remarked on Backstreets, the definitive Springsteen fan forum, the record sounds like Bruce is singing underwater. There’s a precise monotony to “County Fair,” with Springsteen mumbling and stumbling through the verses, and as a result, the song feels much longer than its five minute length, as endless as the youthful summer it first promises. The crickets chirp on as the teenagers glide through the fair in an indefinite fog of adolescent restless bliss, realizing, or just remembering, at some point that the local fair is like everything else at age sixteen: a bit boring.

Suddenly, though, the song gets quiet. The drums all but drop out in the fourth verse, and suddenly, the night’s over. Our singer has come a long way, growing up, gradually, with every verse, and by the end of the song he’s now painfully aware of what’s at stake. “I pull Carol close to my heart/ And I lean back and stare up at the stars/ Oh I wish I’d never have to let this moment go.” The music then dissolves into a mix of murky synths and crickets, with Springsteen robbing his listener of one more chorus, a final go on the Ferris wheel. The song that once preached an endless innocence is now abruptly sinister. There’s no more time to be young and eager, spending your summers on rusty roller coasters and creaky tilt-a-whirls. Instead, the singer only has time to realize he’s been taking his night, his town fair, his precious youth, for granted, but by the time he realizes that it’s all gone.