Blog on the Tracks
It's hard not to gloat here - but this week I received what I consider an early Christmas present. It pretty much replaces B.B King's Cook County Jail LP as my favourite gift. Pretty much. Well, it probably doesn't - because that really was special. This was just good timing. But I'm really grateful.
You see, earlier this week I scored a copy of Faith No More's Angel Dust on vinyl. How it came about - well, you can read that link to find out the story. But basically, when I say it was good timing, I'd earlier written about Faithless' Reverence, an album I was still hanging onto for some sentimental reasons outside of the music. A reader replied with a comment, said he'd happily take my Faithless off my hands in exchange for his Faith No More. He didn't care that much for it - he'd tried to give it a go, on a few recommendations and found it wasn't for him. Fair play. Faithless wasn't really for me. Not anymore. So we met up and did the swap.
And we both walked away happy. He got Faithless - a record he liked. I got Faith No More - a record I liked and had wanted to get for some time.
A friend said after that it was a perk - as in a perk of writing. And that's true - I've been plugging away over at my Vinyl Countdown blog for a couple of years now, telling the stories of how the LPs I hang on to have come into my life. And in telling one story (Faithless) I fluked an opportunity to tell another story (Faith No More); a great record to have, one I wanted, and blog-fodder. You've gotta feed the blog. The blog dies if you don't feed it - that's why I'm always at the Facebook page posting about books I'm reading, films I'm seeing and albums I'm listening to/buying. It's no brag. And it is a time-waste, but it's all for the good of feeding the machine - finding something to say.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Faith No More's Angel Dust tour as one of the Best Gigs Ever (my Friday morning series that you can read over at the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page - a new one will be up this morning). That first time seeing Faith No More for me (I saw the band three times all up, all great shows, all worth seeing) was actually my introduction to Angel Dust. I was a fan of the earlier material but I went to the show blind (or is that deaf?) to the new album. I just wanted to see them - it was a fluke of timing. We drove down to Wellington in the school holidays, my mum wanted to visit her sister; me and a mate scored a ride, went to the gig.
Every year, at about this time, I'm asked to blog about the best/worst Christmas songs. Some years I do - sometimes I've skipped it entirely. Recently it's been raised a couple of times as a potential topic when I've cast the, erm, net out to seek suggestions for topics. So this year I can't really avoid it. Besides there's this.
That's right - you have to see Pentatonix' Christmas slaying of Little Drummer Boy. This band is serious man! Check out their faces. They shoulda been called PentUpColonix. And there's a female in the group and people from different races and everything. Some of them even wear hats. And when they sing they make faces to tell you the only thing that keeps the alien probe off their mind - while it's happening - is to sing. Sing! And while they sing they think back to when they tasted that lovely Moonie Kool-Aid. In fact they're tasting it all over again right at that moment. Ah, refreshing! Mountain Top Breeze refreshing. Clearly.
That this video has gone viral - has some ten million hits and has made it onto all the blogs that post silly content under hyperbolic headlines - is further proof we are, on the whole, a species of arseholes.
I no longer hate Christmas music. I loathed it once. In fact more than once. But that's because I did my share of Christmases working in retail. I did my share and yours and Pentatonix'. But I'm out of that game now - so if you can choose the music, and choose when to play it you're okay. If you're not ramming it home, having it rammed right up the old Pentatonix day and night, then it's okay. You can be selective. You pick your moments.
We seem to have created a bit of a (new) tradition in our house now. We have a tree putting-up day. And when the tree's being made up we play a bit of Christmas music - something good. Last year it was the Phil Spector Christmas album - a definite winner. This year it was a Frank Sinatra (and friends) one - maybe not quite as good, but no issue; nice enough.
And that'll be - pretty much - that. Until Christmas Day and possibly (part of) Christmas Eve. I always like to think I'll sit down with Handel's Messiah on Christmas Eve. A nightcap, close family, a bit of reflection. It never happens. Usually we get stuck watching crappy TV and having a political argument around the table. Buy hey. So be it.
From time to time I ask for guest blogs - I never posted this one when it arrived. It seemed (just a little) absurd. But then I realised thinking something is absurd has never stopped me from posting. Credited to CLAUDETTE LUCK, here's a piece about - well - you tell me...Real? Hoax? Embarrassing? Thought provoking? Almost all of the above?
One thing I have learnt over many years as a rock writer is that famous people are just people when it all comes down to it. They have feelings and suffer the same pitfalls in life as everyone else.
I believe it is important for a writer to separate the career from the person. It disgusts me to see writers criticising the person instead of the music they have created.
I believe women music writers do a better job of interviewing musicians because women are naturally more in tune with their emotions. Music is essentially emotion. Male music writers are fantastic at the mechanical side of things: "how many mics did you use to record?" etc but when it comes to the raw guts of what made the music what it was and the passion behind it, women aren't afraid to get straight down to it.
I was once invited to interview a big-name star backstage at a show in Amsterdam. In the world of rock'n'roll it doesn't get much bigger than this guy. His group had just released an album that was number one all over the world.
On Sunday night I was lucky enough to see Iris DeMent and Greg Brown perform in Wellington at the lovely venue, Old St Paul's. Now, I've been to a few shows at Old St Paul's over the years - most recently the Don McGlashan and Dave Dobbyn gig; also a really good show. But I never thought I'd see Iris DeMent. It seems she never planned to come to New Zealand either, she seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the response - that there were people this far away from her home that had heard of her; that were waiting to hear her.
I turned up early on Sunday to nab a pew (as it were). I have my spot at that church - down the back, in the corner, but still with vision. So I was there about an hour before the performance. And so was half the audience. It was full just before start-time and Iris' husband Greg Brown, no slouch - a very fine songwriter, in fact plenty of people were there to see and hear him first and foremost - played a great wee set.
But hearing Iris DeMent sing was something else.
I first got hooked into her music with the 2004 album, Lifeline. That album captivated me - she was Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. She sounded like she might have gone to school, rubbed shoulders at least, with Bessie Smith. She sounded not of this world. She was beaming in songs from another era; these heartfelt performances, real tear-jerkers. Just beautiful.
That was it for me - a fan. I traced the sound back - picked up earlier albums by her and earlier albums I figured might have influenced her. I've kept listening to Iris DeMent across the years but I never expected to see her perform live.
I recently finished reading Linda Ronstadt's book. What a wonderful read - music fans should get this straight away - a great summer read. You don't have to be a Linda Ronstadt fan. I couldn't have told you, ahead of reading the book, that I was the world's biggest Ronstadt fan. But I was certainly aware of her, I liked her voice...
Ronstadt was a huge star in the 1970s and I knew the obvious material - You're No Good, Blue Bayou, When Will I Be Loved, Different Drum - she was a pin-up star. And a serious country-crossover act. She was an adaptable singer too - there was this country hue to her material but she could sing rock. And folk. And show tunes.
She became an iconic duet partner (think of her work with Aaron Neville - he told me "something magical happens" when they sing) and a go-to backing vocalist, working with anyone and everyone.
I remembered her name from the radio when she would pop up on a newer favourite album like Neil Young's Freedom and then there was her duo album with Emmylou Harris; one of my favourite records. The pair recorded a Trios project with Dolly Parton also.
So I'm not at all trying to tell you that I'm not a fan of Linda Ronstadt, I've always been aware of her. But I wasn't expecting to love her book quite so much.
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