What the Andrews Sisters won’t tell you is just how bad the War rattled his cage; he was at Guadalcanal, he was at Buna. He got malaria and thought he would die. He was afraid every single day. He saw things that he could never forget. And when he got back to the states he had a hollowed-out look in his eyes and he was using the skull of a 12-year old Japanese girl as his trumpet mute.
As an infant, Dolly Parton was struck by a mysterious wasting disease known locally only as “mountain sickness”. There was no cure, and after every attempt at alleviating the malady was made, the townsfolk took her to the center of town—Pigeon Forge, Tennessee—and laid her upon an anvil, whereupon it was presumed she would shortly expire. But it was not to be so, for upon returning the next day, the townsfolk found the infant being nursed back to health by a female bighorn sheep. The young girl was soon back on her feet, and all traces of the disease fled from her body.
I hear this thing on the radio every now and again and the singer’s wounded, quavery voice never fails to make my blood boil. Have you ever heard someone sound so wormy and desperate for pussy? Listen to how sad he is, ladies! How can you hear this guy’s heartbroken croon and not want to poon-tang him to death?
Well, it finally happened: Ol Glenn, my neighbor across the hall, has moved out, headed back to Alabama. He will be missed. This is not exactly something I would have said back when Glenn first showed up. I was never super-close with the guy, but I liked him well enough. He had a dog, which should have been annoying, but it was quiet, and so I didn’t have that to bitch about. I would say hello to him whenever I’d see him, but I’m really bad at smalltalk, and so I’d do my best to scurry upstairs without running into him.
He knocked on my door a couple of days before he flew the coop and gave me a bunch of records and some DVDs. With the exception of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, the DVDs were all awful, and the records he gave me were so incredibly on-point Old Man Records (a bunch of Atlanta Rhythm Section albums; a Grand Funk Railroad record; Works, Volume 1 by Emerson Lake & Palmer; Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss on cassette) that it almost made my head spin.
It was also really sweet of him, a small gesture of kindness that I found myself strangely very moved by. And so godspeed, Glenn. You will be missed. Unless my next neighbor is a 22-year-old lingerie model who needs someone to help take photos, I’m not going to do any better than you.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Nothing Can Hurt Me, the documentary about Big Star, and at almost the same time I was re-reading parts of Robert Gordon’s It Came From Memphis. These, along with Holly George-Warren’s article “The Muse of Memphis” in the most recent issue of The Oxford American, have pushed me into a major Big Star mode, which is funny, because apart from their last album, which is really just them in name only, I don’t really even like Big Star all that much.
I knew of them, of course, for a long time before I ever actually heard any of their music, because that was sort of their thing: you could go a long time listening to music that paid a huge debt to them before you heard the real thing. So I knew “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements, and I knew Son Volt’s cover of “Holocaust”, and I knew Cheap Trick’s reworking of “In The Street” for That 70s Show. But Big Star themselves eluded me.
I don’t remember if I heard Third first, or if I got the first two albums, which came packed together on one CD, but for the purposes of this story we’ll say that I got the #1 Record/Radio City compilation first. And I didn’t like it much. I think, because of everything I’d heard about how the band were the godfathers of power-pop, I was expecting something more bombastic and in-your-face. Something louder, more powerful sounding. I was probably expecting something that sounded more like Cheap Trick, or, more honestly, more like Weezer, as hilarious as that may or may not be.
So at some point or other I got my hands on a copy of Third, which famously was never truly completed, and which never had a definitive track listing, though the version I have is the 1992 Rykodisc reissue, which features producer Jim Dickinson’s involvement and, presumably, represents the band’s original intentions for the album. And I don’t remember being blown away by it. At first. But it creeps up on you, mostly in a slow and unexpected way. I’d owned the album for years before, one night, during a period when I was living in an unfinished and unheated attic, I caught the lines “get me out of here/get me out of here/I hate it here/get me out of here,” and it went right through me, and the hooks were in. That Robert Gordon tells the exact same story about the exact same song in It Came From Memphis is indicative of how universal Third can seem at times.
It’s a beautiful album, and it probably means more to me now than it ever did. The crackle of feedback that begins “Kangaroo” is maybe my favorite moment of distortion ever recorded; the wobbly menace in Alex Chilton’s voice when he seethes “play it for me, guitarist” in “Dream Lover”; the extended “it ain’t gonna lassst” in “Big Black Car”; the way the whole thing sounds so exhausted and wasted and emotionally drained and falling apart.
Which is also the album’s biggest problem: Third is, fundamentally, a record about wallowing, about giving in to whatever dreary impulse you can latch onto (from It Came From Memphis: “back then it was loose. We were buying sealed bottles, thirty to a bottle, of Ambar twos, Desoxyn, up, downs, whatever you wanted.”) to distract you, because your feelings got hurt, or because your band didn’t become as famous as you thought it should have, or for whatever stupid reasons people pursue numbness. That some great art was wrenched away from the oblivion it was flirting with is what redeems the album.
I’m from Texas, and I went to junior high and high school in a very small town in Louisiana, and I remember when I was twelve and thirteen years old that this is how eighty percent of the guys looked in their senior photos, creepy little mustaches and everything. It’s a style choice that manages to somehow make you look sixteen and forty-five at the same time, and it’s not something I recommend to anyone.
Looking at Tim McGraw in those pictures, though, it does make me sort of miss those days when country music was still largely a niche market and even the people in charge of the talent were still almost completely clueless about how to make the jump to a more mainstream audience. There was a weird sort of dopey innocence to it that’s largely been erased, though any nostalgia I have for it is more likely me pining for my own uncultured childhood, when I would probably have looked at the guy on the cover of Not A Moment Too Soon and thought man, what a cool dude.
Which, now that I think about that, maybe I don’t miss those days so much after all.
I had never in my life heard a One Direction song, so I guess I figured they were just like whatever the musical equivalent of N Sync is in 2013, but I caught this performance on Saturday Night Live and was genuinely perplexed. This seems more like something for a bunch of nerdy middle-aged ladies than teenage girls—it reminds me of something you’d see during one of those lame PBS fund drives—Il Divo or Celtic Woman or whatever—that interrupts your viewing when all you want to do is watch Father Brown or Lark Rise To Candleford or Call The Midwife.
It’s too bad Marty Robbins didn’t live long enough to do a Johnny Cash-style Old Musician Mortality-Haunted Comeback Album produced by some relatively young, relatively cool younger artist, featuring weird or unexpected covers, because ever since I thought about it the other night at work, I can’t quit imagining his version of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita.”
Digging through one of the vast piles of CDs that I will no doubt be crushed beneath one day, I was struck by how visually similar these two covers are. But looking at them now in the clear light of day, I don’t know how convincingly I could make the comparison. But there’s no backing out now, is there?
When I was a kid I was in the Columbia House music club (and the BMG music club, but they tried to screw me out of some money, and I dropped those bastards), and eventually so was my mother—she also joined their movie club, which explains why we had so many godawful movies laying around the house. I think she might have joined exclusively because I was a music nut, and she could buy cheap CDs for me for birthdays and Christmas.
A great thing about Columbia House was that during the holidays they had some pretty sick deals on things like box sets, which is why one year I wound up with my very own copy of Peel Slowly And See, the set that includes the first four Velvet Underground albums. It was, naturally—obviously—a revelation. There is something intensely satisfying when you’re a young person and you find those secret cool things that you know are special, and that set you apart, and that I think is the eternal appeal of Reed and The Velvet Underground.
I wouldn’t even call myself much of a fan, honestly; I think the first two VU albums are great (mainly because of John Cale, who I like a lot more than Lou Reed) but I don’t like the third one or Loaded much at all, and I only have a passing familiarity with Reed’s solo stuff, which I’m not very warm on at all. I don’t ever listen to any of his stuff anymore, not even the Velvet Underground albums. But that’s not the issue. The guy was hugely important, and like a lot of figures that are on his level, it takes their absence to reinforce what they meant to you.