It was not one of my goals, during the current Global Time Out, to set a new personal record for number of books being read at one time. But I seem to have ended up there. Just as it is easier to buy books than to read them, they are generally easier to start than to finish. And it is not unusual for me to have several going at once, but things may have gotten a little out of hand.
By way of motivational self-shaming, here is a brief breakdown of literary works currently In Progress, along with my excuses for not having finished them:
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
No shame in this one, as I am reading in conjunction with the Blind Assassin Meander, which still has three weeks to go. I am liking it but find myself constantly wrongfooted by its peculiar combination of humor, time-and reality-shifting, and an undercurrent of persistent dread.
J.G. Ballard, Hello America
Written in 1981, Ballard’s delirious vision of post-apocalyptic America feels weirdly resonant today — there’s even a 45th president who, despite being obviously crazy and named Manson, seems vastly preferable to the actual one. This is one of those books that would be easy to rip through in a day — Ballard’s stripped-down prose is built for speed — but it’s more fun if you take it slow.
This seems like a good time to update the list, since there have been no shows recently and aren’t likely to be any anytime soon. I finally got an “I” thanks to Iron & Wine, but sadly still no Q’s.
Until further notice, my last concert will have been the Wood Brothers at the Arkley Center in Eureka on March 8, 2020. It was a heck of a show, so no complaints here.
Ade, King Sunny
Amadou & Mariam (x2)
Black, Frank (x-many)
Blind Boys of Alabama
Bowie, David (x3)
Brian Jonestown Massacre
Built to Spill
Butthole Surfers (x3?)
Camper Van Beethoven (x?)
Cave, Nick & the Bad Seeds
Chao, Manu & the Radio Bemba Sound System
Clinton, George & the P-Funk All Stars (x2)
Colvin & Earle
Del the Funkyhomosapien
Doe, John (x2)
Dr. John (x3)
Elliott, Ramblin’ Jack
Farka Toure, Vieux
Ford, Sallie (x2)
Funky Meters (x?)
Gift of Gab (x3)
Hooker, John Lee
Iron & Wine
Jazz Butcher (x3)
Jesus & Mary Chain (x4)
Kool Keith (x2)
Lords of the New Church
Los Lobos (x4)
Love and Rockets (x4)
Low Pop Suicide
Monks of Doom
Murphy, Peter (x2)
Naked, Buck & the Bare Bottom Boys
Overwhelming Colorfast (x?)
Pere Ubu (x2)
Pimps of Joytime
Presidents of the USA
Rebirth Brass Band
Rev. Horton Heat
Richman, Jonathan (x?)
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Ruffins, Kermit (x2)
Run the Jewels
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars
Sippy Cups (x3)
Sisters of Mercy
Sly & Robbie/Taxi Gang
Soweto Gospel Choir
Spencer, Jon Blues Explosion (x2)
They Might Be Giants
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
Thin White Rope
Throwing Muses (x2)
Toure, Vieux Farka
Trombone Shorty (x3)
Uncalled Four (x?)
Van Etten, Sharon
Voice Farm (x?)
Watt, Mike & the Missingmen
Wood Brothers (x2)
Young Fresh Fellows
We lost the great Bill Withers this week, and it’s not easy to pick a song to represent his oeuvre. The man wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” just for starters… but for the nonce let’s go with something a little less known, a love song of heartbreaking simplicity.
And, hell, while we’re at it, here’s one more, kind of the flip side — this is a love song too, of sorts, but dark and driving:
We’ll miss you, Bill, but you shan’t be forgotten, that’s for sure.
In New Orleans last week we walked into a random club on Frenchmen St. just as the band was finishing a song. As the applause died away I heard the guitarist noodling through his wah-wah pedal with a familiar-sounding riff and my ears perked up. “Are they about to do ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley?’” I asked.
Indeed they were.
“Sally” was written by Allen Toussaint and originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1970:
But probably the most famous version, and the one the bar band was clearly drawing its arrangement from, was the one Robert Palmer did — with the Meters as his backing band — in 1974:
Confusingly enough, “Sally” was also recorded by New Orleans musician Robert Parker:
Apologies in advance if that last one is preceded — as it was for me — by a Mike Bloomberg ad. Fucking Bloomberg.
I can say now in all honesty that in my time I have seen Courtney Barnett perform in a barn. Said barn is on the grounds of the Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma, and is equipped with a stage and a sound system; but still.
The whole thing was really rather strange. It was the coldest day I’d ever experienced in Sonoma County, with an icy wind whipping through the vineyards; fortunately the barn was walled in on three sides, at least. After an opening set by a charming little German who calls herself Hachiku, Courtney turned up with her electric guitar looking fresh-faced and chipper. She did some old songs, some new songs, some covers — including “I’m So Lonesome Could Cry” and a set-closing version of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” which she said was “one of the best songs ever written.” I can’t disagree.
Amazingly enough this song, which I learned about when it was used in Killing Eve, was written by the same guy who wrote “Seasons in the Sun.” That would be Canadian Terry Jacks, who at this time (1971) was playing with a unit called the Poppy Family with his future wife, Susan. Darkness seems to be his métier — this is just a fucking great, chills-down-the-spine banger.
Old friend Sam turned me onto this song, from Donovan’s Open Road album, this week:
Normally my standing New Year’s resolution is that, to the extent humanly possible, everything I do is going to be funky from now on. But the ideas expressed here are not incompatible with that. So let’s get on with it.
I recently finished Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. I feel like I understood most of it. With Nabokov there’s always a vague sense of embarrassment, even annoyance, that his writing in English — which is not even his native language, mind you — seems to be pitched at people with a level of literacy above my own. Forget about feeling in any way competitive with him as a writer; I’m talking about the struggle for basic comprehension on a survival level.
And then you come across a paragraph like this one, and what can you do but shake your head and bow in reverence?
Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then – not in dreams – but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.
As we count down to Halloween and impeachment, this song from CCR’s 1969 album Green River seems appropriate to the moment, both chronologically and politically. With its dark subject matter and top-quality riffage, it’s every bit the equal of “Bad Moon Rising,” only a lot less overexposed.
It’s also fun to imagine that it’s actually called “Sinister Porpoise,” and go with the mental pictures prompted thereby. Try it, you’ll like it.
Word came across the transom today of the departure from this realm of Ginger Baker, drummer extraordinaire. Although most of the obits led with Cream, a great band to be sure, that was only about three years of his 50-year-plus career. He also played with everyone from Brit jazzbos the Graham Bond Organization and Afrobeat godhead Fela Kuti, to Hawkwind and his own Ginger Baker’s Air Force, to post-punk bands like Masters of Reality and Johnny Lydon’s Public Image, Ltd.
Here he is adding a relentless, pile-driving rhythm to PiL’s “FFF,” circa 1986. Say what you will about Ginger — subject of the aptly named 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker — he was a force.