June 15, 2006

God bless Dave Eggers

Thanks to Eric over at Marathonpacks for this link to Dave Eggers‘ (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) reflections on the World Cup over on Slate:

“It was, by most accounts, 1986 when the residents of the United States became aware of the thing called the World Cup. Isolated reports came from foreign correspondents, and we were frightened by these reports, worried about domino effects, and wondered aloud if the trend was something we could stop by placing a certain number of military advisers in Cologne or Marseilles. Then, in 1990, we realized that the World Cup might happen every four years, with or without us.”

Read the whole thing here.

Plus, Eggers assigns one fictional character in his essay the name of Fakey McChumpland, which alone is reason enough to read it. This piece comes from The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, an anthology edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey and published this month. It also includes a piece from Nick Hornby, so you know it’s good.

I LOVE Dave Eggers; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was one of the best books I read last year (and it has gone missing from me, I think I’d best just buy a replacement). I welcome any links that you wish to send me from other Dave Eggers articles on the web that you find funny. The man is comic genius.

By the way, I am still rocking the suburbs on the World Cup bloggers pool, which is surprising even to me. Don’t worry guys, I am sure to lose soon! (but in the meantime, call me Prognosticator of Prognosticators)

March 17, 2006

All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood

I am an admittedly late convert to anything having to do with Springsteen, and I am still far from a hardcore fan, but I do deeply appreciate a well-written lyric and this man practically drowns in well-written lyrics that just make me ache. I had kind of dismissed him from a dim memory growing up from the Dancing in the Dark video (you know, that one with Courteney Cox) and just left it at that.

UNTIL I really listened to this amazing, amazing live version of Born to Run that I accidentally downloaded on iTunes when I meant to get something else. It’s stripped down with a haunting harmonica and words sung like he feels every ounce of the sadness and the madness. Man alive, I understood what my friend meant when he said it was a song with funeral playability. Something about the lyrics and the way they capture the passion and the hot-bloodedness of being young and feeling the fire & desperation in your veins.

Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
(off Chimes of Freedom)
If you’ve written Springsteen off in the past, please listen to this. Eyes closed is best. And the lyrics? Ridiculously evocative, especially the way he sings them here.

“Wendy let me in I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs ’round these velvet rims
strap your hands across my engines.”


“The amusement park rises bold and stark
Kids are huddled on the beach in the mist
I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight
In an everlasting kiss.”

or how ’bout,

“Together we could live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

Nick Hornby says exactly what I want to say when I listen to certain gorgeous Springsteen songs that just focus on the incredible imagery and songwriting and the sense of a shot at redemption. From Hornby’s excellent Songbook (required reading):

“…Sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or images, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that. . . . Some time in the early to mid-eighties, I came across another version of [Thunder Road], a bootleg studio recording of Springsteen alone with an acoustic guitar (it’s on War And Roses, the Born To Run outtakes bootleg); he reimagines ‘Thunder Road’ as a haunting, exhausted hymn to the past, to lost love and missed opportunities and self-delusion and bad luck and failure . . . In fact, when I try to hear that last line of the song in my head, it’s the acoustic version that comes first. It’s slow, and mournful, and utterly convincing: an artist who can persuade you of the truth of what he is singing with either version is an artist who is capable of an awful lot.

. . . One of the great things about the song as it appears on Born To Run is that those first few bars, on wheezy harmonica and achingly pretty piano, actually sound like they refer to something that has already happened before the beginning of the record, something momentous and sad but not destructive of all hope; as ‘Thunder Road’ is the first track on side one of Born To Run, the album begins, in effect, with its own closing credits. In performance at the end of the seventies, during the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, Springsteen maximized this effect by segueing into ‘Thunder Road’ out of one of his bleakest, most desperate songs, ‘Racing In The Street’, and the harmonica that marks the transformation of one song into the other feels like a sudden and glorious hint of spring after a long, withering winter. On the bootlegs of those seventies shows, ‘Thunder Road’ can finally provide the salvation that its position on Born To Run denied it.

Maybe the reason ‘Thunder Road’ has sustained for me is that, despite its energy and volume and fast cars and hair, it somehow manages to sound elegiac, and the older I get the more I can hear that. When it comes down to it, I suppose that I too believe that life is momentous and sad but not destructive of all hope, and maybe that makes me a self-dramatizing depressive, or maybe it makes me a happy idiot, but either way ‘Thunder Road’ knows how I feel and who I am, and that, in the end, is one of the consolations of art.”

Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
(acoustic, off War and Roses)

Anyway, so the impetus for this long and rambling post came from a reader from the lovely campus of Stanford University (the less well-known ugly stepsister to the illustrious Santa Clara University just down the road) who asked me if I had any other good Springsteen covers to post (following the Stars one and the Pete Yorn one).

Why yes, yes I do.

You’re Missing – Cowboy Junkies
From their really good 2005 album Early 21st Century Blues out on Zoe Records. This is a collection of reinvented covers from original artists like John Lennon, U2, Springsteen, and George Harrison. I very much like their reinterpretations, with the evocative strings and lazy vocals, which still pack a sadness-drenched punch.

Mansion On A Hill – David Gray
Live from 4/14/2001. Enough said about David Gray – except I love him. But you knew that.

Thunder Road – Matt Nathanson
Live at the Fillmore 11/7/02. The always fabulous-in-concert Mr. Nathanson has a live album coming out April 4th: Live at The Point. But this song isn’t on it.

No Surrender – Pearl Jam
Live at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City 9/30/05
Okay, one of my favorite covers EVER. It is incrediby pure and urgent and wavering — fantastic. Listen to the crowd start in with the “Bruuuuuuuuce” as soon as Vedder says he wants to play something “appropriate for our location this evening.”

Atlantic City – Pearl Jam
Live at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City 10/1/05

The Promised Land – Pearl Jam with Sleater-Kinney
Live in Philly 10/3/05

Thunder Road – Tortoise and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
From the 2006 album The Brave and The Bold. I don’t understand the naming of the musicians here, but I liked this cover a lot more than I thought I would. The intro is a bit jarring, but the meat of it is grooving and bluesy.

In closing, if there is a nicer mental image than these lyrics (that open Thunder Road), I am not sure what it is:

“The screen door slams - Mary’s dress waves - Like a vision she dances across the porch - As the radio plays - Roy Orbison singing for the lonely - Hey that’s me and I want you only . . .”

January 28, 2006

Why is the whole world not listening to Marah?

Hey there, Marah. Where’ve you been all my life? This is a really, really great folk-punk/roots/garage-rock band making some quality tunes, a largely undiscovered gem in the lexicon of rock music today.

Formed in 1993 by brothers Dave (singer-songwriter-banjoist-guitarist) and Serge (harmonica-guitarist-vocalist) Bielanko, this Philly-based band has been compared with early Replacements and a younger and urgent Springsteen, and depending on the song I definitely hear both influences. They’ve jammed with Springsteen in concert and in the studio, and have shared the bill with the likes of Ryan Adams, Ted Leo, and Jesse Malin live.

Marah writes solid, multi-layered songs and their most recent album If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry harnesses an immediate and melodic beauty. Since many songs on this album were recorded in no more than three takes in a Brooklyn kitchen, there is a raw and unpolished edge to them.

They are playing tonight in San Francisco at the cozy Cafe du Nord, for all you cats from my homeland. Then they are on the road pretty much through March, including SXSW, so you might want to check them out live. Their shows are rumored to be “sweaty, feel-good rock’n'roll with an urgency that makes you feel alive.”

And one interesting thing I noticed from their website was that the March 25th date in Oxford, MS will feature Nick Hornby (the author). I am not sure in what capacity Hornby will be appearing with Marah, but he wrote a really lovely op-ed piece in the New York Times mentioning Marah and is a confessed fan. Hornby, always poetic in his love for good music, says the following about Marah:

“Indeed, in the shows you can often hear their love for the rock canon uninflected – they play covers of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” or the Jam’s “In the City,” and they usually end with a riffed-up version of the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” They play an original called “TheCatfisherman” with a great big Bo Diddley beat, and they quote the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the Who’s “Magic Bus.” And they do this not because they’re a bar band and people expect cover versions, but because they are unafraid of showing where their music comes from, and unafraid of the comparisons that will ensue. . .”

From If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (2005):

  • Walt Whitman Bridge – Listen to the harmonica in this one, and the story in the lyrics.
  • City of Dreams – a little Dylan-esque, rolling folk with a hint of the Beatles.

From Let’s Cut the Crap & Hook up Later on Tonight (1998):
great album title. come on

  • Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft – Folksy with a simple guitar and honest, slightly cracking vocals and a winsome harmonica bridge.

Bonus Live Tracks from 8/12/00 show in Tempe, AZ:

  • Can’t Hardly Wait- Replacements cover, homage to one of their sonic predecessors
  • Reservation Girl with a superb opener of one of my favorite guitar instrumentals ever, Sleepwalk

I think what I like the best about listening to Marah is that each song is really different from the next. But it’s all good – and it might just restore your faith in the pure and heartfelt honesty of rock’n'roll.

I’m glad I ran into them.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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