Thursday, August 17, 2006


Now, where was I?

Oh, yeah… a week ago, the Unseen Blogger tagged me with a book meme, and I committed to completing it.

Along the way I noticed that MCF had done the meme, but he'd changed it to an 80's animation theme instead of books since he vaguely remembered having done the book variation in the past. Then Otis got in on the action, doing the cartoon version as well.

Then I remembered that MCF definitely had done a version of this meme before, and that he'd tagged me with it, too. So, since I'd already done this kind of thing once before, I decided to change it up myself. Instead of books and instead of cartoons, my version is about albums:

1. One book album that changed your life:

I'm going with Tony Rice's amazing Cold on the Shoulder. Before I heard this album, I was just like every other uppity dipstick when it came to bluegrass music. I thought I knew what it was all about, I thought it was all about these kinds of people, and I looked down my nose at bluegrass in general. Then I heard Rice. There was no getting around the fact that the guy was a remarkable musician. I don't think I appreciated his absolute mastery of song, though, until I heard Cold on the Shoulder. There were moments (the best example is the track "Wayfaring Stranger") when I sat in wide-eyed disbelief at the inexpressible beauty of what I was hearing. I've been an unabashed and enthusiastic bluegrass fan ever since. And, here's the thing about bluegrass fans: Often when two of us are together and hear someone else mocking bluegrass, you might notice a sly exchange of glances. It's an exchange that says "Remember when we were ignorant a-holes, too?"

2. One book album that you have read more than once listened to a zillion times:

My favorite album, Pearl Jam's Ten. I absolutely love this album. I can't be objective about it. It's just my album. It was the perfect album, released at the perfect time, with each perfect song written and recorded perfectly. I have so many associations and memories with this album. I can remember specific times in my life when it was the background music… specific instances when one song or another from this album was on the radio. I can play each solo on the album in perfect, synchronous air-guitar. I know and can sing along with each of Vedder's grunts, moans and fricatives. And this is an album, not a collection of songs. In case you had any doubt, the band opened and closed it with a brief instrumental bookend piece. It is meant to be heard as a whole, and I hear it as a whole quite frequently, even all these years later. Oh, if only Pearl Jam had ever done even one other album that was half this good. If only they'd concentrated on the music and less on the politically ostentatious posturing. If only, if only….

3. One book album you'd want on a desert island:

Yes, Ten is my favorite album… by my favorite band is and will likely always be Metallica. Yes, I'm aware that Metallica sold out, Metallica sucks, Metallica are a bunch of irrelevant old men, Metallica are yadda, yadda, yadda. Just shut your yappin' pie hole, OK? I don't want to hear it and I don't care. Metallica is my favorite band. The thing is, It's like I'm Metallica's battered wife. I keep taking them back because they used to be so good to me. They still love me… I just know they do, and they'll show it again one day! So in spite of pointless sets of cover songs and blatant instances of hubris and otherwise wonderfully written and played albums that were ruined by an incompetent producers, I keep going back. If I had to pick a single Metallica album to take on a desert island… a place where time stands still, where no one leaves and no one will…it would have to be Master of Puppets. I'll just never get tired of it. It's their high-water mark, they're standard by which I judge every subsequent effort, and an album I could listen to any day of the week. The band created that album by following their instincts, not a trend… and it will go against the grain until the end.

And if you can name the two songs from the album that I quoted in that paragraph (WITHOUT Googling the lyrics), you get ten bonus SouthCon points.

4. One book album that made you laugh:

When The Darkness released their album Failure To Launch, I got what they were doing. I didn't enjoy it, but I got it. They were trying to be heavy and be funny at the same time. Some music critics thought it was impossible and that the band could only be seen as a joke, but I knew better. I knew better because of SOD's outstanding, hilarious Speak English Or Die. This 30 minute blast of thrash metal from 1985 was simultaneously heavy-as-anything and also extremely funny. Even in 1985, SOD recognized the political correcting of rock and roll that was taking place (Rock Against Drugs, anyone?) and they were having no part of it. Speak English Or Die is a thrash metal classic with enough riffs and monster leads to satisfy any metal fan… but with lyrics that literally caused my buddy John and I to have to pull over to the side of the road the first time we listened to the album because we were laughing so hard. Songs like The Ballad Of Jimi Hendrix and Chromatic Death and the blistering title track were so much fun. In much the same way as This Is Spinal Tap from the year before, Speak English Or Die both mocked and celebrated everything that is big and dumb and loud and stupid and wonderful about heavy metal. It remains a cherished favorite of mine to this day.

5. One book album that made you cry:

When Layne Staley of Alice In Chains died, my immediate reaction was cynical disgust. I'd been a fan of the band for years, but I'd also heard all the stories about Layne's frequent overdoses and rehab stints. I wasn't surprised to hear that he'd finally OD's and died. "Stupid junkie," I thought. "If he couldn’t clean up and quit taking the drug that he knew was killing him, why should I give a damn? Just one more dead junkie, right? If somebody is bound and determined to kill themselves with drugs or drink or alcohol, then so be it. Screw 'em. Let 'em die."

A year or so after Layne died, I happened to be listening to an old favorite of mine, the Alice In Chains EP Jar Of Flies. It may be that for the first time I actually paid attention to the lyrics on that particular day… or it may just be that I was just a little more sensitive and a little less cynical than usual for some reason. Anyway, the hopelessness and utter sadness of the lyrics hit me for the first time. Songs I'd always liked, such as Don't Follow and I Stay Away… and, most especially, No Excuses… hit me like a ton of bricks. The honesty, the desperation and the pitiable pleas in those songs overcame me. I found myself actually choked up and wiping away a few tears for Layne and for everyone who was ever swallowed whole by an addiction. There but for the grace of God go I.

6. One book album you wish would have been written recorded:

A live album by The Sleestacks would have been awesome.

7. One book album you wish had never been written recorded:

There is one artist… one and only one, about whom I can say the following: I absolutely can not stand a single song she's ever recorded. I hate, loathe, and despise every one of her songs… at least every one of her songs that I've heard. I make a great effort to hear as few of her songs as possible. And so I can say, for certain and without qualification, that I wish every single album and/or song ever recorded by Shania Twain had never been recorded.

8. One book album you are currently reading rediscovering:

I don't suppose I'll ever get tired of Johnny Cash at San Quentin, maybe my favorite live album of all time. Everyone knows and refers to the Folsom album.. and, granted, Folsom really is a masterpiece… but I can't help but prefer San Quentin. This is one album that has so many layers and so much rich texture that I don't think I'll ever hear all of it, appreciate it entirely, or really fully get it's significance. The music itself, of course, is outstanding. Everyone knows A Boy Named Sue, of course… and, yes, it is indicative of the rest of the album. However, it's only a scratch of the surface. There is so much on the San Quentin album. There's an energy… an urgency… about this recording. It might come from the prison crowd, obviously thrilled about the rare occasion of a night designed to entertain them. It might come from Cash himself, only a year or two into his own sobriety and his marriage to the great love of his life, June Carter. It's probably a combination of the two. Songs like "I Don't Know Where I'm Bound" and "Starkville City Jail" make the rapport between Johnny and his audience palpable. The centerpiece of the show, two back to back performances of the protest song San Quentin, literally make my spine tingle… and the closing gospel set of songs wraps it up with an honestly hopeful finale. God bless the record execs at Sony who decided to finally make the entire recording available in 2000. This is a once-in-a-lifetime set, and I get something more out of it each time I hear it.

9. One book album you have been meaning to read listen to:

At Christmas in 2003 I gave Wendy Brand New's album Deja Entendu, and, shockingly, we both enjoyed it very much. It's rare that we both enjoy an album. I can only think of five or six examples. Anyway, both of us liked Deja Entendu and, somewhere along the line, one or the other of us acquired Brand New's previous album Your Favorite Weapon. I remember listening to it once or twice and thinking that it was really good, really solid, and that I'd probably end up enjoying it quite a bit if I'd just keep listening to it. You know how it goes, though. Sometimes an album just falls through the cracks. Now and then I remember that Your Favorite Weapon is among our music collection and I'll feel guilty about not listening to it more than I have. I'm sure that I'll really enjoy that darn CD… if I only give it the chance to win me over!

10. Tag some others:

My usual standby: If you read this and you're inspired to write something similar, consider yourself tagged.

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Don't forget Junkhead from Dirt. "Yeah, what's my drug of choice? Well what have you got? I don't go broke. And I do it a lot." The signs were all there. Most of all when we lose Layne or Kurt or any lead singer to addiction it destroys the credibility of the music industry and lends credence to my parent's generational view that "all those rock and roll guys are on drugs".

Amen, on Ten brother. I liked subsequent albums, especially Yield and Vitology, but in the ensuing years they came out with a lot of good SINGLES as opposed to ALBUMS. Ten is the perfect example of how to put songs together that tell a story, flow smoothly into one another, and have symmetry with little riffs at the beginning and end. The whole thing is a journey. It's a perfect, well, Ten. :)
And without Google™ing, I know you quoted Welcome Home(Sanitarium), a place where time stands still, where no one leaves and no one will. Sadly, the other one was more obscure and I had to comb the paragraph several times with no recognition before I simply looked for another rhyme. Somewhat obscure, but I should have gotten it. I'll leave that for someone else to incorporated into their reply since I cheated by looking it up and the damage is done.
Patti Smith - Horses - Changed my life...
Looks like I will get to see Alice in Chains live this November. A photo of the reunited band appears here:

As you can see from the photo, singer Layne Staley looks much younger and blacker than he did the first time he was alive. I'm really hoping that he can sing as good as he looks. I also am a big fan of Jar of Flies, and of "Dirt" which is on my top 10 list from the '90's.

I'm also suprised to see you say that St Anger's producer took away from that album. That has been a complaint of many diehard fans on other metal sites I've viewed. Now that it looks like they're working with Rick Rubin, maybe the next one will be a classic.

The Governor
Alice in Chains photo


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