Friday, September 24, 2010

this is the week that was

And oh what a week it was.

Has the album of the day been 'disappeared'?

These rumors are baseless. What's happened is I've completely lost track of the Album of the Day feature. I'm at the start of the Fs now, and the big highlights of this week are lost in a haze of meetings, class sessions, and grading, and grating.

And the semester, how goes it?

I've hit the perpetual-motion chunk of the semester, and from here until just about the very end there's no respite from the constant shifting tides of student work. So if anyone sees me on campus, or walking around Turlock, wearing bright yellow ducky water wings, it's because I'm trying to float.

You do realize those are not meant to be life-saving floatation devices for adults, right?


Yeah, it's more of a novelty item for little kids spashing about in backyard pools.

Now you tell me.

Any new revelations or epiphanies to report? You were up to two or three a week during the high point of the summer.


All my epiphantic powers are now focused on the problem of How To Work With Bunches And Bunches Of Assholes - which would be a guaranteed best-selling title - rather than the more pleasurable discoveries of the philosophic life. Plus, I keep playing this same riff, over and over again, that is clearly desperate to turn into a song. I got nothin'.

Still, sanity remains intact, right?

Let's see. This week I've told my students to spend a week not consuming anything made in Asia; suggested it would be a good idea to jam their bodies into the ceiling of elevators whenever they ride them; insisted to them that 10 years ago I was also still male, causing grievous confusion on the part of some, and gender paranoia on the part of others; and I told one class I resented being there because it was Lauren's birthday, then retracted that and said I was just upset because I was longing for the strawberry tart I'd made. In a class discussion of the professional obligation to maintain client confidentiality, I urged a student to tell us the juicy gossip she'd heard about a faculty member.

So, yeah.

What's the outlook for next week?

30% chance of pain!
Grading this afternoon, tapering off in the late afternoon. Pizza this evening, followed by fizzy liquids. Saturday and Sunday, expected in the foothills, followed by the return of grading Sunday evening or Monday morning.
70% chance of thunder-grading Monday night.
For the rest of the week, intermittent grading between classes. For Tuesday's Academic Senate game, expect dense fog, low visibility, and darkness.

Apparently, there's also a 0.00010374% chance of Apocalypse by Wednesday. Be sure to bring your hat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 6 of ??

1. The Death Of The Clayton Peacock - John Fahey. Eerie tune played with a slide.

2. Diamonds And Rust - Paper Cats/Joan Baez. This is from our latest CD, which is called Do Paper Cats Dream Of Origami Birds?, in case I hadn't mentioned. It sounds really good - way better than I thought it would turn out, on the nth take, the final, successful one, the one after which I said, "Well, I don't care if I never play that song again the rest of my life."

3. Different Drum - Michael Nesmith. Nesmith wrote a handful of terrific songs, and I think I like his version of it better than Linda Ronstadt's.

4. Digging For Fire - The Pixies.

5. Digital Handshake - Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog. Noise. Felt great today.

6. Dirty Back Road - The B52s. Just reaching the corner of Monte Vista and Dels Lane. So if you saw me there at around 9:50 this morning, wondering what I was listening to and thinking about as you passed by, now you know. You'll be more circumspect about asking, next time, too, I bet.

7. Djobi Djoba - The Gipsy Kings. Always brings back strangely fond memories of a time long ago with people I never speak to any more, in a place I hope never to revisit.

8. Do I Do - Stevie Wonder. Friggin' Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo!

9. Do Re Mi - Woody Guthrie. My favorite Dust Bowl Ballad.

10. The Dolphins - Fred Neil.

11. The Dolphins - Richie Havens.

12. The Dolphins - Tim Buckley.

Now that was a trip. Hearing multiple versions of the same song played by different people is one reason I decided to play all the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order. These are all good, but in this order, Buckley's comes off as the most contrived piece of doggerel ever written.

13. Don't Fear The Reaper - Blue Öyster Cult. Hear that, dolphins?

14. Don't Get Me Wrong - The Pretenders. Oh, Chrissy Hynde, is there any malady you can't salve? Of course there is.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

exciting new ideas for your (political) party!

Among the mysteries surrounding the so-called Tea Party movement is what exactly these self-styled zealots stand for. Usually, zealots are zealots because they believe in something with the core of their being - in the holiness of a, the abomination of b, the - uh - zestiness of c, etc. But as far as I can tell, GOP candidates who have associated themselves with this movement, especially successful ones, have no identifiable political beliefs, let alone a considered, coherent ideology. They're sort of wandering in a vast, vacant desert of politics, and apparently, they hate it.

So, as a service to anyone among them, or just anyone who shares their livid, if not altogether conscientious or self-reflective, anger at their existential bereftitude, I'm offering some new positions, expressed in convenient, poster-board-n-magic-marker-ready slogan format.


This marvel of economic and fiscal policy has its roots in Marxism, specifically in Animal Crackers (1930). Groucho expounds the prudence of the 7¢ nickel: you could buy a 2-cent newspaper, and get the same nickel back again as change. As Mr. Marx put it, a single nickel, carefully spent, could last a family for years. Obviously, prices have changed since the last Depression, so perhaps what we need here is a $7 $5 bill. But you get the idea. The slogan is symbolic.


Foreign policy is often so complex as to defy forecasting, let alone policy-making. Ending conflict with Canada is an easy policy goal to understand, and a campaign promise any aspiring candidate could defend.


The depths of rumor-mongering about President Obama have yet to be plumbed. The great thing about insinuating or directly claiming Obama is secretly Amish is that, if you restrict yourself to screaming about it in the media, the Amish will never come forward with proof. Plus, you could demand that Obama prove he was never at a barn-raising, point out that the Amish don't have cameras, and that therefore he can't possibly prove it. QED.


Since most Americans already seem to agree that the primary legitimating purpose of government is to assure their access to an endless supply of fries, this is sure to win popular support.


Poor Maryland!


Campaign proven! Especially useful if your name is Harrison, for some reason.


Let folks know where you stand. Someone's got to be bold enough to tell the truth about this issue. All these career politicians try to bend words and line their pockets! But the truth needs to be told! (This is also a terrific slogan to include in any candidates' debate, or city council meeting, or any other occasion when more than one person occupies a defined space: the train, an elevator, waiting for the crosswalk light, intimate moments...)


In this day and age, it's just unfounded prejudice that keeps us from making Pat legal. If the government would legalize, regulate, and tax Pat, a large portion of our deficit could be fixed. Everybody knows this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 5 of ??

1. A Common Disaster - Cowboy Junkies. Cowboy Junkies are one of those bands I feel I should like better than I do. They take more patience than I'm sometimes willing to give to a band.

2. The Con - Tegan & Sara. Unlike Tegan & Sara, who demand more patience than I'm usually willing to give to a band.

3. Conceived - Beth Orton. And unlike Beth Orton, whom I adore without qualification.

4. Countenance - Beth Orton. She named these songs on purpose so they'd turn up in alphabetical order on some jerk's iPod, I bet. Wait, what?

5. Creep - Radiohead. 17 years and multiple parodies later, I submit this still stands up.

6. Crosstown Traffic - Jimi Hendrix. A bajillion years and, I suspect, zero parodies later, still one of the best buzzbox guitar solos ever recorded.

7. Cruelty Humor: Object Permanence - Paper Cats. Lauren's lyric contemplating mortality, our precarious existence, and our dependence on the universe not suddenly becoming offended by that existence.

8. The Crunge - Led Zeppelin. Erg. Whiplash.

9. Crush With Eyeliner - R.E.M. A note to follow The Crunge.

10. Cypress Avenue - Van Morrison. Thankfully, this was after class, on the way home.

11. D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin. More whiplash.

12. Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Louis XIV Of Spain - John Fahey. This version, from The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, interpolates some other themes that, Fahey announces, don't have titles.

13. Dancing Days - Led Zeppelin. So there's your Houses of the Holy segment, Al.

14. Dead On The Dancefloor - Earlimart. Yes, they are named after the town about halfway to LA of the same name. They used to pass through a lot on the way to gigs, they say. Sorta indie-post-punk band. For a while, we used to play their album Treble and Tremble whenever we drove through Earlimart, on the Crankster Freeway. The joke lost momentum. Note the "dance" theme dominating.

15. Dear Old Stockholm - Miles Davis. One of my favorite mid-50s recordings of Miles. His version of this old folk tune with his first band with John Coltrane, on his first Columbia album, 'Round About Midnight. This was Miles' first great band, with Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and Paul Chambers on bass. Chambers would return for another round with Miles and Coltrane in the late 50s.

Whiplash, dancing, Led Zeppelin. That's been the day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 4 of ??

1. Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin. I've had outstanding luck with opening songs this week. I shall risk offense and say that I believe this is better than Aretha's version of Respect. And to quote Steely Dan - "Hey nineteen, that's 'retha Franklin."

2. Chelsea Hotel No. 2 - Leonard Cohen. My favorite line in this most excellent song is "Clenching your fist for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty." Leonard Cohen is allowed in the house, but only if he brings his own booze.

3. Chocolate Jesus - Tom Waits. This completely twisted my entire outlook for the day and established a goofy mood I didn't escape until the walk home. I told my students I became a philosopher when I was 10 in order to impress an older girl I was in love with who was a family friend. It's a true story, but it's still goofy as hell. But how else could I respond to this?

When the weather gets rough
And it's whiskey in the shade
It's best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane
He flows like the big muddy
But that's ok
Pour him over ice cream
For a nice parfait

4. Christ for President - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. Or maybe it was this that set my mood.

5. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk - Rufus Wainwright. Or maybe it was this.

6. Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young. Definitely not this.

7. Clap Hands - Tom Waits.

8. Clocks - Coldplay. I suppose I should be deeply suspicious of Coldplay. Oh well.

9. Clubland - Elvis Costello. This was the first song on the walk home.

10. Coal to Cola - Grogshow. Nasty good line: "... the rest of me thinking of all your charms, / and how few there are and how far I go for them."

11. Cocoon - The Decemberists. Pretty and fairly inscrutable song, and not at all goofy, and a great transition from Grogshow to.

12. Coda In Search Of A Song - Paper Cats. An old tune without lyrics, just a 12-string basic track and lead played on an acoustic-electric classical (my trusty Cordoba) with some distortion and echo.

13. Cold Turkey - John Lennon. John Lennon quitting drugs.

14. Come Together - Beatles. John Lennon still on drugs. Time going backwards.

15. Comfort of Strangers - Beth Orton. No evidence of drugs involved.

16. Comfortably Numb - Dar Williams & Ani Difranco. ... and right back on the drugs. Want some cognitive dissonance? Listen to this cover of Pink Floyd.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 3 of ??

I'm skipping a chunk of Bs. They played on Monday, and I neglected to post about them. Sue me.

1. Brown-eyed Girl - Van Morrison. There might be better ways to start your morning walk to work, but I have my doubts.

2. Burn Your Life Down - Tegan & Sara.

3. C'Mere - Interpol. I just started looking into Interpol. But I've always claimed to be a big fan of the Interpol warnings on videos. I cheer them when they come on the screen.

4. California - Semisonic. Found trolling for songs mentioning California. Dan Wilson sings it as "Cal-i-for-ni-a," which is always fun to hear.

4. California Stars - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. This was interrupted by a student walking to school. She asked how long I've lived here (12 years), and I mentioned that, although I've lived here longer than almost anywhere else, I somehow still don't feel like it's home. I think the precarious nature of my employment may have something to do with that. Anyway, home, for me, is where I live with Lauren - and which somehow manages not to be in California.

5. A Call To Apathy (Tentative Title) - The Shins. I typoed the band as "The Shings" twice.

6. Can't Get There From Here - R.E.M. From Fables of the Reconstruction, my album of choice for stomping around the campus at UNC-Charlotte. It still calls up that particular mood of my youth.

7. Candy Everybody Wants - 10,000 Maniacs. Back when this came out, Natalie Merchant had some kind of weird solvent power over me. I melted on contact with her voice. Somewhat less so these days.

8. Caramel - Suzanne Vega. From Nine Objects Of Desire, which was featured very prominently in the late 90s on Harry Shearer's public radio satire program, Harry Shearer's Le Show. For a while, Vega was one of my favorite songwriters. Now she strikes me as a little too neat and tidy.

9. Caribou - The Pixies. Now, talk about untidy songwriting. Like most Pixies songs, this is basically stupid. I love it.

10. Caring Is Creepy - The Shins. Or the Shings.

11. Carolina In My Mind - James Taylor. Confession time: James Taylor creeps me the heck out.

12. Carry On/Questions - CSN. One of the songs that made me want to play the guitar. That gigantic crashing hard strumming opening - woof! The perfect solo that forms the bridge between the Carry On section and the Questions part - I assume by Stills - cazart!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

what's philosophy for?

So there I was, preparing for tomorrow's Contemporary Moral Issues class, re-reading the class assignment, an essay by Margaret Urban Walker about Carol Gilligan's work on the "feminine" moral voice. Walker's language is, to me, fluid, clear, and at times evocative, even profound (I adore her line calling respect an "astringent" form of beneficence); but I realize how opaque or abstruse it's going to seem to a roomful of 19-year-olds on Monday morning. My attention has been focused on the problems of articulating the meaning of Walker's essay, the meaning of her language, the connection between the two, the relationship between all that and Nel Noddings' ethics of care, and the relationship between all that mess and Carol Gilligan. Suddenly, Walker says, concerning her own development of an ethics of care from Gilligan's work:

One would not expect a view “systematic” in the philosopher’s sense to spring full-blown from any survey of opinion. It must be admitted, finally, that perhaps these reconstructions are too energetic.

The genius of this statement is its expression of the fundamental problem of the philosopher's prejudice. What I've taken to calling the philosopher's prejudice is the presumption that seems built into philosophical writing and thinking, that everyone thinks like a philosopher about life: that is, rationally, systematically, and maintaining a sense-giving narrative at all times. Philosophers are often better at interpreting life than living it, and so mistake their interpretations for actual lives, in other words.

Walker's lines helped put into focus for me the problem of being a philosophy instructor and making her words make sense for the minds and lives of my students. I don't mean by this that I have to translate philosophical ethics into the vernacular, and I certainly don't mean I have to dumb it down. I have to triangulate between the everyday lives of actual flesh-and-blood people, the abstractions of philosophical theory, and this third thing that philosophers seem very keen to promote, which for now I'll hastily name a self-reflective life.

My students' sense of Walker's articulation of the ethics of care won't be like an academic philosopher's. I believe it shouldn't be, either. The value of the abstract, academic, philosophical articulation is not in-itself, unless your last name is Kant. Nosirree, the point is not to interpret life, the point is to live it. What, then, should be my goal in helping my students understand Walker's essay about the ethics of care?

How about: to help them to reconstruct, for themselves, the meaning of caring as an ethical standpoint. Not in order to be able accurately to recount this position in correct academic philosophical jargon, but in order to consider their own caring. If the ethics of care is worth something, what I should hope to do is help my students graft an intelligent and reflective caring into their own moral lives, wherever it fits best, and however it fits best.

Friday, September 10, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 2 of ??

Today on my way to and from campus, I entered the Bs.

"At the Zoo" - Simon and Garfunkel. You knew about the hamsters, didn't you? At least suspected?

"Auctioneer" - R.E.M. From Fables of the Reconstruction, and consequently almost entirely inscrutable. Good riff, though.

"Australia" - The Shins. Time to put ze earphones on!

"Ba-De-Ba" - Fred Neil. Fred Neil is one of 3 or 4 singers I hear in my lumbar vertebrae.

"Back In Your Head" - Tegan and Sara. Another Bridge School Benefit concert performer I've been listening to ever since (2008 edition of the show, I believe), but I still haven't decided whether I like them.

"Back to Ohio" - The Pretenders. I bought Learning to Crawl when I was 16, I think. I had read a story in Time about Chrissy Hynde, about the tumult in the band when she fired Pete Farndon (whom she had a kid with) and James Honeyman-Scott died from a weird reaction to cocaine.

"Balloon Man" - Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians. Robyn Hitchcock is not allowed in the house.

"Bambaleo" - Gipsy Kings.

"Bateau" - Marc Ribot. I decided this afternoon that, since he's from Jersey, I shall assume that he poses as French and affects an accent in conversation, so I will pronounce his last name henceforth like the sound a frog makes.

"Because the Night" - Patti Smith. You may not like Patti Smith. You'd be a fool not to like this song.

"Begin the Begin" - R.E.M. First tune on Life's Rich Pageant. I can't itemize or think clearly either, Michael.

"Better than Ice Cream" - Sarah McLachlan. Lovely lovely song, by a lovely lovely chick. Geez, I'd like to bang her.

"Beyond Belief" - Elvis Costello. Well, that certainly ruined that mood. I really like Elvis Costello in his more cynical mood, which is good because he's almost always in it.

"Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell. Is it just me, or does the cutesy ending of this song just about wreck it?

"Bike" - Pink Floyd. This came on after "Big Yellow Taxi," and my brain nearly seized. I exclaimed aloud, walking near Donnelly Park, "Fblaugh!" I can't think of a song on my iPod more unlike "Big Yellow Taxi" than Syd Barrett's crazed rumination on whatever the hell was going on in his lunatic head.

"Birds and Ships" - Billy Bragg & Natalie Merchant, written by Woody Guthrie. Then I exclaimed, "Gwuff!" when this came on after "Bike," but I'm not sure anything else would have been much better.

"Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair" - Nina Simone. Also not a good fit, but what a thrilling song. This is a live version, first verses with piano accompaniment, then, when Nina switches gender after the bridge, with a sort of blues/flamenco guitar. And she really does switch gender. And she sings bass.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod
Part 1 of ???

(Caveat emptor: There is no Money Mark on my iPod.)

I struck on this idea Friday: playing everything on my iPod, in alphabetical order by song title. I actually started then, but the album of the day was already Biff Nerfurpleberger's Greatest Hits. Today's list, with a few annotations:

"Ain't You A Mess" (Mose Allison).

"Airbag" (Radiohead). Brought to mind the concert we went to a few years ago, opened by Christopher O'Riley, whose claim to fame is that he has transcribed a bunch of Radiohead songs for solo piano. He was followed by the Bad Plus, who rocked.

"All Along The Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix' version of Bob Dylan's song). This followed perfectly from Airbag, surprisingly enough.

"All Apologies" (Nirvana). The MTV Unplugged version, which I like better than the studio version.

"All My Friends" (Land Of Talk). I'm pleased as heck this came up, because I've wanted an excuse to enthuse about Land Of Talk in this space. I listened to them obsessively desperately this past Spring and early summer, and am still acutely susceptible to lead singer Elizabeth Powell's punky, raspy vocals, especially when she's singing about naughty stuff. If more men of a certain age listened to Land Of Talk, I believe Pfizer would be a less profitable operation.

"All The Quirky Singer-Songwriters You Can Eat" (Paper Cats). This remains one of our best written and best produced songs. It has a fun lyric, a nice jazzy tune, I like my lead guitar work for once, and of course, Lauren sings sweetly and innocently about cannibalizing people like Regina Spektor and Rufus Wainwright.

"All You Need Is Love" (Beatles). Believe it or not, that seemed to flow pretty well. Often, as for instance today, when I hear this song, I get the video in my head from the international TV broadcast when the Beatles debuted this song: the room full of celebs, the hippie outfits, etc., but mainly, John chewing gum while singing. That has always bugged me. I've seen the footage dozens of times, and I always expect him to swallow his gum.

"Another Man's Done Gone" (Wilco/Woody Guthrie). From the Mermaid Avenue album.

"Anywhere I Lay My Head" (Tom Waits). We learn that anywhere Tom Waits lays his head he considers home.

"Arena Rok" (Grogwhow). Of course, I just wrote about Grogshow.

"Ashes To Ashes" (David Bowie). Not a good fit sandwiched between the two Grogshow numbers. Poor Major Tom.

"asiwwog" (Grogshow).

"Ask" (The Smiths). I couldn't for the life of me think of a Smiths song starting with A when this came on. (Morrissey is right, you know. But that's probably meaningless.)

"Astral Weeks" (Van Morrison).

"At My Window Sad And Lonely" (Wilco/Woody Guthrie). Okay, this was starting to get weird. I don't think we can safely conclude anything about anything - not the inner workings of the universe, not my musical tastes, not anything about music in general, by the coincidental repetition of Wilco doing Woody Guthrie songs and Grogshow songs in this set. Especially not considering this was followed by...

"At Seventeen" (Janis Ian). Quit yer whinin'!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

album of the day: Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger

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Like lots of kids, I spent time with a tape recorder making up fake media programming. Unlike lots of kids, I kept doing it through college, and continued to write fake media (in various forms) through grad school, and, well, my whole life. Which means I'm either incredibly immature, or continue to have an active imaginatio. These are not mutually exclusive.

Biff Nerfurpleberger is a character I invented in order to write a spoof of TV advertisements for music compilations by various oldy moldies. It was only meant to be an ad for Biff's compilation, variously identified in the ad as his Greatest Hits, Big Hits, and Golden Greats (in fact, even his name changed at the end of the ad). The album was, according to the ad copy, available in a tremendous array of formats, including LP, cassette, 8-track, or, surreally, hairstyle.

I recorded the ad with my friend Doug one autumn afternoon at my parents' house in Matthews, NC. We'd made up a list of song titles allegedly on the album: "I Didn't Know She Could Do That With Her Nose," "My Dog Is Covered In Lichen," "They Just Pulled My Mailbox Out Of The Ground And Put In A New One" (based on a true story: while we wrote the list, a crew did exactly that, to replace my father's installed mailbox, which failed to meet specifications of the absurdly fascistic home-owners association), "Grease The Cat, Charlie, I'm Coming Home" (one of Doug's, and subsequently also a catch-phrase of our gang of pals at UNC-Charlotte), and "My Ears Are So Flexible." This list excludes many other titles too ridiculous or obscene to be named here.

The main point was to come up with the least likely song titles ever to be hits, by an artist with the least likely name of someone ever to have had any hits, and the least likely music - we played a backing track in the ad of ourselves banging away on guitar and piano. We later played the backing track to a girl who was trying - ultimately successfully - to get into Doug's pants, and convinced her that it was our actual band.

(We also played the ad to a friend of ours in my dorm room, mainly in order to agitate my roommate - the ad was included in our lengthy, thoroughly obscene, completely blasphemous parody of Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker's PTL Club "religious" program, which we called "Praise The Money." It worked. He was so enraged, in fact, that the residence adviser on our floor intervened, and eventually pulled strings to get me and Doug both moved out of our present situations and into a room together, where we'd presumably cause less trouble. It was shortly after that that we put the "God is Dead" sign in our 3rd story window and began receiving hatemail.)

(I had a marvelous and frequently illegal time in college. But back to our story.)

I have no idea why this, of all things, should have remained indelible in my memory. And I really haven't a clue why I took up Biff Nerfurpleberger as an alter ego and started writing and recording his "songs" last summer. The first one I wrote for our friend Christina. We planned a trip out to Berkeley to celebrate, and she somehow received two large ice cream cakes. These were the central themes in Biff's first "song," "Xina's Birfday," and to the plaintively bellowed refrain, "Too much cake!" In what's become a Biff tradition, I conceived, wrote and recorded the song, including several lead tracks, in an afternoon. "Xina's Birfday" includes a very bad electric piano solo.

Biff followed with "End Of The Year," written for New Year's and based roughly, not to say crudely, on the changes to "Auld Lang Syne," which is quoted at the beginning and end. Lauren played harmonica and provided slap percussion, but in the album she isn't credited for this performance.

Then there's "New Place!" written to commemorate Christina and Guerin moving. Then, I think, "Sad," which advises listeners, "Don't be sad. It'll make you feel bad. That would be sad. Which would make you feel bad."

Somewhere in there, I wrote "Monkey" for Guerin. The lyric is "Monkey." The entire song is played in only one chord, E major, because a bottle of wine we bought for Guerin had a cork on which was printed "Let the monkey out! EEE EEE EEE". Lauren sings the "EEE" parts, and adds a couple extra "monkey"s as well, and is listed in the song credits as "Typhoid Lulu."

More recently, I've done the endless, worthless, experimental "My Ears Are So Flexible," the only song of Biff's to have a title based on the original ad copy. It's terrible. The last one I've done is actually very clever. It's a parody of "I Am The Walrus" that I wrote last Saturday when I suddenly realized that Biff believes he used to be in the Beatles.

For me, the most fun about all this is that Biff's "songs" have a logic to them, as well as recurring themes and musical elements. He almost always botches a rhyme in a "song," the joke here being that he's obviously written the thing, but still seems unable to come up with the simplest and most obvious rhymes, and is sometimes surprised when he can find a rhyme. The solos usually include very surprising instrumentation, and do not work. They are often in the wrong key. He can be relied upon to scream a lyric. The lyrics, when they make any sense at all, inevitably somewhere fail. I think the "songs" actually stand up to some scrutiny as bits of amusement, and some of them even stand up to some scrutiny as music - though not much scrutiny.

There's one more song to record, and then I plan to offer free copies of The Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger to my Facebook friends. Several of my friends will receive copies whether they want them or not. You know who you are.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

album of the day: Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks is, I believe, the 3rd Dylan album I ever bought. When I was in high school, among my peers, anything approaching respect or appreciation for Bob Dylan was derided. He had released Infidels and Empire Burlesque, and while the latter was critically acclaimed and both were reasonably successful, practically anyone I heard say anything at all about music thought of Dylan as a washed-up, ridiculous anachronism. Of course, that drove me further into Dylan's catalog. (I had bought both Infidels and Empire Burlesque, and actually did like them, but haven't bothered to repurchase them on CD.)

So while any mention of anything vaguely 60s-related prompted very bad parodies of Dylan singing "Blowing in the Wind," I was secretly playing the Greatest Hits compilation over and over again, fairly amazed at how good the songs were. I never did, and still don't, observe any of the rites of the Bob Dylan cult, and I don't believe in his holiness or omnipotence, but I think anyone who fails to admit that Dylan's best work is enduring, timeless, genuinely poetic, and excellently composed (if musically derivative in the best folk tradition), is not taking the issue seriously.

And if a debate should arise regarding whether Dylan is really great, and I had to point to any single album as Exhibit A, it would be, without question, Blood on the Tracks. It can't be beat for range, good tunes, strong musicianship, and above all, emotional pitch. For instance, I love "Idiot Wind," which is just about exactly what you might need to hear thinking about a bad breakup, some years past. Dylan relentlessly attacks the memory of whatever lover it was, how awful she was, how wretched he felt then, and refuses to feel now. It's caustic and nasty and extremely satisfying. But the clincher, to me, is the twist at the end:

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

... because it takes two to fuck up so spectacularly.

The song I think most people think is the best is "Tangled Up in Blue," a story song in a way, about another memory of a former lover, this time sweetly but sadly reminisced upon (I don't know for sure, but I've always thought that the bit with the girl in the topless bar that brings Bob home and gives him poetry to read is just a girl who reminds him of the former lover. I have also always thought that, in the song, they don't do it). The refrain that people love is the title, sung over a totally predictable and ordinary chord progression that is just absolutely perfect.

This album has had a big influence on lots of musicians. Us, for instance.

Lauren and I have covered the long ballad/story song "Shelter from the Storm." She adores singing it because of the strain she can get in her voice. It's a lot different from Dylan's version. (It also inspired my own long story song "What I Lost in the Flood," which uses a true story - a flood that filled the basement of a place I lived in Pittsburgh destroyed about 12 years of my writing, including several plays and over 1000 poems - as an allegory for how I battled through a long, ultimately very bad relationship.)

Lauren wants to cover "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," which is something like 7 months long and has 68,293 verses, and seems to be about events in a sorta Wild West town that cycle around each other. It's rather cinematic, and one wonders if Dylan was either recycling something from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid project, or hoping for another Hollywood gig. We're still in negotiations.

And I made an early crude recording of a bunch of solo guitar things that I made like 4 copies of for people, and named it "Buckets of Cheese," as a play on the closing track, "Buckets of Rain," which has always charmed me. It's a bit silly, but the silliness evokes how stupid being in love makes you. Dylan sings in what, for him, has to count as a sweet voice:

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
I got all the love, honey baby
You can stand

I been meek
And hard like an oak
I seen pretty people disappear like smoke
Friends will arrive, friends will disappear
If you want me, honey baby
I’ll be here

Like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me

So, uh, yeah, I kinda go around singing "Buckets of rain, buckets of cheese. Got all them buckets coming out of my knees." Oh well.