Way back in the 80s when I had no confidence in the ability to write, I took a pile of spiral notebooks and, in a similar way, did what Lucy Dacus confesses in “Trust.” Rather than setting aflame and relegating an innate yearning to write for the dustbin, prose has become an enduring light. And it is artists such as Dacus that remind us of the boundless purview possible from simple yet sharp writing.
Dacus is a former film school student who stepped up to a mic with a guitar slung across her chest and heaved upon us a way of looking at the world that can make old bones ache. Her delivery is subtle and quaint yet all rock ‘n roll with its youthful idealism and cathartic realizations. The music reaches deep with direct and astute lyrics and, if she can hold fame at bay, Dacus will surely join a lineage of prolific American songwriters that will further propagate the art of poetry and music and inspire the generation after her.
“I’ll plant a garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain.” – Lucy Dacus
On occasion, I like to listen to music at work while I type out the latest corporate email or
blog. I love my job because finding the right voice for someone you are trying to represent has its own challenges. Sometimes, you hit the mark and, other times, you get crickets responding to your content. Red lines – although no longer is such a thing (“Track Changes”) – is the stuff I live by.
Meanwhile, music accompanies me along those literary travails and it’s fuel.
I had never heard of the Revivalists until a week ago and, now, I am caught up in this aural elixir of music, youth, and romanticism. The first time I heard their latest single, “Wish I Knew You,” I recall my early years in Austin. It has that kind of magic and surrealism to it that makes you yearn to be 25 again when “carefree” meant: yeah, let’s enjoy our company, let the spirits rise and welcome the world whenever tomorrow comes. And it’s the kind of music that, obviously, inspires one to write, to embrace and relish the toil of adding mythology to the music.
Man, it is Texas HOT! And nothing hits the spot like the waters of Deep Eddy Pool or a house margarita with a Fruision shot (fruit flavored top shelf tequila) from Z’Tejas. With those good vibes on, you get this euphoric feeling that life is sweet and what you need in that perfect moment is a great jam song that encapsulates all this sweet living. So, with that in mind, blogs, critics and amateurs, like myself, kick up the chatter by debating what the best summer song might be.
Would you agree with Andy Langer that Walk the Moon deserves the recognition? Admittedly, my favorite part of this video is the Britney Spears dance-spoof that happens for no reason at all about halfway into the video.
Walk the Moon
Then, there is the sprightly sound of Foster the People. You would never guess it from such a groovy tune that the song is actually about a young guy who takes drastic measures when he finally gives up on trying to fit in. Oh, did I mention they are playing at ACL Music Fest 2011? Check it –
Foster the People
Finally, there’s this band. We were having drinks at the bar in Stubb’s BBQ when I kicked up a conversation with a couple 20-somethings and one of them mentioned his cousin was playing the next day at Antone’s here in Austin. Blogs, late night TV shows and even NPR are being caught up in the band buzz. Check ’em out! Givers (nothing else, just Givers) and this is an infectious one, too –
So, let’s tally up the opinions because I know you’ve got one. Which is your 2011 summer song contender? Or illuminate the blogosphere with your own recommendation. Stay cool and pour yourself a margarita!
I think it was SXSW 1995 when I first caught the Dandy Warhols live in concert. The Electric Lounge, long since replaced by a pathetic downtown condominium for yuppies in downtown Austin, was the setting and what a fucking blast it was!
The Dandys are the epitome of what rebellious rock ‘n roll is all about – excess, unapologetic cockiness and posturing, hard drinking, and the raging urges of 20-somethings. If you can imagine all that in a dark and musky club in anytown, USA, then you have a classic Dandy Warhols show. So in short order, here is my list of the ultimate mix covering the Dandys’ discography –
1. We Used To Be Friends – their closest attempt to go mainstream; poor fools can’t even get “selling out” right but this song makes for an explosion of sound!
2. Boys Better
3. Godless (Massive Attack remix)
4. Horse Pills
5. Get Off
6. Smoke It
7. Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth
8. Plan A
9. Bohemian Like You.
10. All the Money Or the Simple Life Honey
Going on 15 years now, I still am puzzled why the Dandys’ music hasn’t thrown a rock ‘n roll coup upon the alternative music scene. But if that revolution never happens, then just crank up your stereo, roll up your house windows and annoy the shit out of your neighbors with this outrageous alternative rock!
About a month ago, I was perusing the pages of wordpress.com when I came upon a blog entry about a new band, Mumford and Sons, from England. I was so awestruck by the first song I heard from them, Little Lion Man, that a few short days later, I decided I just had to have this little aural gem.
“Weep for yourself, my man, you’ll never be what is in your heart. Weep little lion man, you’re not as brave as you were at the start.” Then, a few short lines later, they set the aural space ablaze with a hard strummed set of guitars, banjos, and stand up bass: “I really fucked it up this time. Didn’t I, my dear?” Wow, I’m not one who is much fixated on the idea of getting older but there was something sober and melancholic about that line – I haven’t been able to shake it since.
A sprightly and hopeful “The Winter Winds” opens with trumpets blazing and though, like most of their themes, the song may seem contemplative, perhaps a bit lonely from worn-out hearthache, the band’s true colors come across in the joyful musings of their instruments.
Perhaps because of the current research I’m conducting on the western hemisphere’s catastrophe called Haiti, “The Cave” would seem a fitting ode to its people, and those who are truly intent on righting centuries of wrongdoing upon this poorest of nations. “And I’ll find strength in pain/And I will change my ways/I’ll know my name as it’s called again!”
Theirs is music of earnest young men writing about the compromised fate they know awaits them in old age, yet they remain cognizant to the thought that only hope can keep them and their music vibrant and fresh. It’s about rolling away that stone, like some Jesus turned hippie-musician, and finding a whole new way to discover and express oneself.
It was my first day in Professor Bob Jensen’s Journalism class and without a welcoming word he dimmed the lights and punched play to a music video by Michael Franti & Spearhead.
Within the first minute of the video, I was hooked to these wild and revolutionary-charged grooves. I mean HOOKED!!! I hadn’t felt this good about music since Rage Against the Machine reigned during the ‘90s. The music conjured up images of hitting the streets, punching the air with my fist and chanting slogans about the sacred tenets of a modern democracy! But this is much more than just about the social and political issues of our 21st century. No, this is, like all great art, about the universal themes about who we are and how we survive, themes like hope, heartache, love, and power but Franti and company make these themes groove with Reggae, Hip-Hop and grungy Rock ‘n Roll all swirling together like our great American melting pot!
He kicks off his latest album, All Rebel Rockers, to drive home that very last point to an infectious Reggae-tinged groove, The Rude Boys Back in Town: “When I walked through the party it was ready to go/There were punk rockers reggae rockers all in a row/Windin and a grindin through the dj show.”
With Hey World (Remote Control Version), Franti goes right to the jugular to make sure if you’ve been napping to the social and political injustices of our insane world, then you’ve just experienced a rude awakening: “I didn’t come here to chill. I came here to rock, to smash the empire with my boom-box. You got to let go of remote control!” Oh, this is the kind of hip-hop that could create a whole revolution of enlightened youth!
And just when things seem to be getting just a little too heavy and weighing down the listener with second guesses about having bought this disc, Franti funks up the beat with a most refreshing attempt of a love song with Say Hey (I Love You) : “My momma told me don’t lose you ‘cause the best luck I had was you.”
Then there is his song of celebration, I Got Love for You, and you can feel it, as if he meant every single word for every single one of us: “It’s been a long time that I shoulda said what I tell now/That I got faith in ya/And I got hope for ya/So I’ll be waiting right here.” Here’s another song that makes you want to hit the streets but this time with a boundless feeling of hope and good vibes, like when we’re young reaching out for those wide open dreams.
Franti brings it back to one of the defining themes that have made him a unique artist committed to his message with another rendition of Hey World, this one called Don’t Give Up Version. Strangely, this song frightens and inspires all at the same time. If the urgency to remedy what we are doing to each other and our Earth isn’t central in our thoughts, then this song will give us pause to reconsider our dormant selves: “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to know all you’ve shown me/Don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on you/Just believe in me, like I believe in you.”
As for that video that initially sent me down the path of discovery, well, here you go. Pass it on!
“A system is democratic to the degree that ordinary people have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the formation of public policy.” Thank you, Professor Jensen.
Feeding the soul of a poet means you have to be out there taking it all in, like a giant satellite receiver open to a barrage of ever-changing frequencies of ideas but the themes nearly always remain constant. Poets and musicians are inevitably pulled by the mystical muse that lives amongst us – in Nature, in the darkest heartache, and in a baby girl’s smile – and they listen keenly for its whisperings, which I say fall from the lips of God (or Creation or whatever you choose to call it). Poets and musicians are always pushing new ways to express the same old universal sentiments. The joys, grievances and poignancy of this brief and complex life are best realized and expressed with the push of a pen or the strum of a guitar caught up in a 4am fever of clarity.
Yesterday afternoon, I laid back on the lawn of Zilker Park at the ACL music fest and with the sun beaming on my face (and God lighting another new room in my mind), I took in with complete and joyous abandon, the prolific music of the Avett Brothers. Laying on that lawn, I closed my eyes to filter all the visual distractions and honed in mentally on the music, and it’s moments like those that make you feel fortunate to be a part of something that connects you to the human experience. I turned to my wife and said, “The ghost of Woody Guthrie is here with us today,” then I shut my eyes again as the boys sang:
“Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.”
We’re heading out to ACL Fest 2009, Day 2. I’ll see you out there on that plain where musicians and poets meet to enjoy and sort through it all.
Give me Lou Reed
and the bus station poets
headed for NYC!
Sing me verses
about scattered Indians
and lizard kings
chasing their distant phantoms.
Give me life as pure
and immediate and glorious
as the siren stories
of Miles’ trumpet.
Yes, give me the Perverted Old Man,
and the warm nectar of innocence,
with its half shades of bare skin
and its boozy aura
of unchartered hunger.
Give me tales
from Ledbelly’s dusty guitar
about bright hung moons
and the cotton crops of Louisiana.
Give me the pattering footsteps
along the banks of the Alameda,
creating sweet myth
about the starry skies of California.
Give me the scriptures
of Walden Pond,
And the unbridled dreams
born from the womb of defiance.
Copyright, 2003; TheOctavioTree
There are moments that come along in your life and you know when it’s arrived that nothing will ever be the same for you. Everything has changed and you can feel it in your mind, your Soul, your bones. There’s that first time undressing together and the way your sensory faculties took it all with perfect clarity, despite the boozy aura of romance that makes your brain feel like it’s swirling about in your cranium. There’s the realization that crushed hope when the second plane hit another tower and, instantly, it was clear that terror would reign the skies that day (and for the next 100 years). There’s that moment when a second child, a girl, brings joyful and uncontrollable tears to a father as she takes those first breaths of life.
I had arrived in San Francisco to conduct a weeklong meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Being a huge fan of live music, I asked the video production guys where I could go to hear some great rock-n-roll before flying out the next day. Twelve hours later, I found myself standing in front of a stage at the Great American Music Hall, and a pasty-faced Jeff Tweedy from Wilco walked on stage and the roar of his ardent fans shook the walls of this turn-of-the-century vaudeville theater turned concert hall. There was no band, only an array of 6 or 8 acoustic guitars to his back and a harmonica hanging about his neck. There was the energy in that room, the earnest lyrics coupled with a sometimes shy and uncomfortable voice, the simple and sweet sound of that guitar filling our minds, and a yearning that the music never end. We, the audience, all felt so lucky and hip because we were getting a sneak listen to new Wilco material that was unpublished as the band searched for a new record company to distribute the album that would become Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That show, that night, that Moment changed everything for me and my writing style, and here are some of the reasons why – (my top 10 Wilco songs):
- Jolly Banker – a remake of a Woody Guthrie song which he wrote amidst the Great Depression. Wilco thought it appropriate to revamp it in this recession to remind people what capitalism looks like when it’s allowed to run amok with people’s livelihood. Wilco’s approach was like, Hey, man, if you can’t afford to pay for the song right now, download it for free anyhow, and when you’re wallet is a little fuller, then come back and drop some $$$ in the virtual tip jar.
- Reservations – it was an amazing and haunting performance.Tweedy played this song @ the Hall, and silly as it was at the time to think this way because she was far away with a life in Mexico, Edith filled my mind.
- A Shot In the Arm – Wow, I’ve written a lot of poems with this song playing in the background.
- I’m Always In Love – ditto. Great imagery, infectious melody and a genuinely feel good song about the mysterious pull of the human heart, molded by God.
- via Chicago – heartache, like joy, is vital in learning how to love fully and selflessly the next time one is afforded another opportunity at it.
- Far, Far Away – this one, my Edith & I have to waltz to one day; I was so enamored by her when Manuel and I were still only friends. And I dig this Wilco era when they really enjoyed swinging their country.alt vibes around!!!
- Outtasite (Outta Mind) – what a fantastic rocker of a song! Again, you gotta dig this early country.alt Wilco having a good time in their roots rock skin.
- I Must Be High – man, I remember seeing this album on the shelf @ Waterloo Records way back in 1995. I took a listen but, ironically, I was not impressed so I put it back and moved on. Funny!!!
- Theologians – “Theologians, they don’t know nothing about my Soul. I’m an ocean. I am all emotion. I am a cherry ghost.”
- California Stars – Woody Guthrie left a trove of unrecorded songs, so Wilco and Englishman troubadour Billy Bragg created music for them and called the album Mermaid Avenue. This song, too, really, really changed and secured my writing voice as one to be rooted in the tradition of the Romantics but infused with the strength of the awakened Orwellian proletariat. Plus, it always reminds me of my trip to Yosemite with my bro, Julian.
That’s the list and some of the reasons why I consider Tweedy, along with Neil Young and Steve Earle, as one of the most important songwriters in my time. There was a moment in the show @ the Great American Music Hall in which the music and the night transformed into a transcendental experience. And I’ve never felt the same since.