Saturday, October 31, 2020

Favorite 45s, Part 2

Over at Facebook I've been posting some my favorite 45s from my collection over a ten day period. Here are days six through ten:

Day Six

From the The Jam's astonishing run of singles from '78 to '80, this is about as perfect and as powerful as a story-song gets. Weller's details are evocative, chilling, and sorrowful. I'm always amazed to realize that the song's only four minutes long: it feels twice that length in its cinematic sweep.

Day Seven

1966 was an astonishing year for music, each week bringing new tunes more mind-bending or hip-moving than last week's, but this is a high-water mark among high-water marks. The ferocious playing on it never fails to amaze me. #PlayLoud in a controlled environment.

Day Eight

This insane fuzztacular stomp needs little commentary. Turn it up and blow your mind. #InTheRed

Day Nine

My favorite Hollies song, and among my favorite songs of the era, period. Glorious, curious, in love with the world, and like so many songs now, resonant in strange ways in these strange times.

Day Ten

There were a lot of contenders for this last day. I won't bore you with the over-stuffed contenders list, but Lennon's "Instant Karma" was in the running because like so many I'm here for that right about now. But I decided to go with this supremely cool '69 dance floor burner because we all need to let loose and have fun these days, too.

Friday, October 30, 2020


Several years back my Mom turned 80. The family celebrated with a picnic at Wheaton Regional, the park a mile or so from my parents' house. A couple of hours in, after the cake and the celebrating and the food, people started wandering off. The August day was pretty, and nieces and nephews and siblings explored the park, looking at the rides, the petting zoo, the miniature train that still moves charmingly through the grounds, a mainstay from our childhood. At one point, two of my older brothers, John and Jim, left to check out Pine Lake where we used to hang as kids. I left a bit later to join them, and I was halfway down the path when I spotted them on the way back. An ordinary moment in an ordinary day, yet the way my bothers were silhouetted on that path, their heads down, talking quietly to each other—at once transported me to the past. John and Jim are older than me by eight and seven years, respectively, and when we were younger that gap felt enormous, a chasm across which I'd strain to hear echoes of forbidden conversations, or on the far side caught fleeting glimpses on their faces describing emotions I'd heard about but hadn't experienced, a kind of foreign language their countenances spoke. Now, of course, the differences in our ages is a non-issue, yet I was startled at how quickly I devolved back into the yearning younger brother, the familiar chill or tingle in my chest reminding me of how I'd felt as if I'd never catch up with them and their tall friends and their adult behavior and bell bottom jeans. I don't know what brought on this: something in the way they held their bodies on that path, the way they walked, the animation between them as if they were sharing a secret. I was back in my bedroom, trying to eavesdrop on their conversations—of course lurid in my imaginations—that they muttered to each other on the opposite side of the wall. Older siblings are always standing in a room before you are, having sussed out the surprises there and now playing it cool as you catch up, breathless and embarrassed, the perpetual motion machine of feeling that you've missed something. I guess that that dynamic never truly dissipates. Anyway as soon as it arrived, the moment left, and we were middle-aged men again, standing in the woods waiting to be spooked by the past in surprising and unnerving but not unpleasing ways.

Image: Woods Path by Julie Tremblay

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Favorite 45s, Part 1

Over at Facebook I've been posting some my favorite 45s from my collection over a ten day period. Here are days one through five:

Day One

This one's a no-brainer, one of my cherished singles and among my favorite songs of all-time. I crank it when I need the reminder, which is more and more often in these strange, dark days

Day Two

Another all-timer for me, from the all-too-brief "Nashville A Go-Go" tradition. This one's got one of my favorite couplets:

"Daddy preached Fire and Brimstone
And Mama did The Monkey all night long"

A conflict as old as the bible, that.

Day Three

Call this rockin' Gentry & Cordell-produced Bo tune a novelty, or an attempt at riding the late-60s "roots rock" revival. Either way it's got cool attitude to spare. #BoKnows

Day Four

Sam and Dave reached the heights many, many times in their extraordinary career, but to my ears they never topped this, quite simply one of the greatest and most sublime love songs ever waxed. I always say if you want to know whether the one you're with is "the one," play this song—your response to it will tell you everything you need to know.

Day Five

Because some days call for a cheery, mindless garage stomp in the face of toxic everything. Hell, most days call for that. I learned this 30+ years ago via The Fleshtones' brilliant "Kingsmen-like Medley." The band had expressed their love of the a-side, "Hide and Seek," to songwriter/producer extraordinaire Richard Gottehrer, who responded, "You guys like this stuff? I got a whole bunch of this junk lying around."

Monday, October 26, 2020

On Bruce

I was honored to be invited to talk about two of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs, "Tunnel of Love" and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" for Springsteen: Writers' Favorites, a three-hour special produced by Paul Ingles for the PRX media company in advance of Springsteen's new album Letter To You. I'm in absurdly good company: Anthony DeCurtis, Ashley Kahn, Holly Gleason, Jim Fusilli, and Holly George-Warren also discuss their favorite Bruce tracks.

You can listen to the full show here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

How it Feels [re-post]

Re-posting this piece I wrote on the occasion of Tom Petty's untimely death three years ago. He would've turned 70 today. 


"Mourning a musician you've never met is inevitable and complicated. I can't say that I'll miss Tom Petty, the man; I never knew him. His family, friends, band mates, and musicians who've played with down the years—one in the same, at the end of the day—will miss him, and I feel awful for their grieving that begins today, and will never really end."

What I and millions more are grieving is the end of a generous and supremely gifted musical career, a career that gave deep pleasures to so many in so many different ways  during so many eras. Petty will never write or sing another song. That hits keenly today. I didn't pay close attention to his career from the late 1990s onward, but his songs will stay very close to me. It's always been my impression that Tom Petty was the Great Leveler. Put a handful of music fans of different stripes in a room—a Rockabilly obsessive; a garage rock hound; a Punk/New Waver; an MTV kid; an Indie Rock stalwart; a millennial streaming Classic Rock into Hip Hop back to 60s AM hits; college kids raiding their parents' music collections; drunks, stoners—and I'm pretty sure they'd agree on Tom Petty. His greatest songs were formalist gems that were so true and clear-eyed about what it meant to be alive that they cut across bias, taste, and generations, as all great popular art does. I hope that he knew this. I hope he knew how it feels.

The timing of one's fandom is crucial. I was a teenager by a few months when Damn The Torpedoes came out in the fall of 1979, and his songs—the hits, especially—scored that year and the next in graphic, indelible ways. The backing vocal on "Refugee" sounded exactly like a friend's voice, the same timbre and tone; Petty and his band were familiar already. And when I'd listen to the mumbling verses in "Here Comes My Girl"—so masculine in their bitter, shrugging defenses and talky inarticulation, on guard against powerful sentiment and emotional surprise—and then the lyrical melody bloom in the chorus, Petty, moved, singing at the top of his register, the room and the song lighting up with her and her presence, I had everything laid out before me, a lot of which I'd experienced but hadn't named: crushes; love; lust, the power of intimacy; looming adulthood; surrendering; all in one song. Thanks, Tom Petty, for this song and so many others.

My buddy Marty owns a cabin in West Virginia overlooking the Cacapon River. We'd fantasize about inviting Petty to hang with us for a weekend—jamming to tunes; drinking beer and smoking weed; laughing; busting on politicians and talking rock and roll; just hanging out. So many fans have adolescent fantasies like this, but with Petty we could actually picture it, see him in front of us hanging onto the deck, peering into the trees below, a half grin on his face, making some crack, the way we couldn't imagine Keef or Prince, or even Bruce. We knew, somehow, that we'd all get along, that he'd put his fame and fortune beside him and just chill. Ridiculous, I know. But his songs and low-key demeanor made the fantasy tantalizing, asked that we keep him close to us. We'll miss you, Tom. Rest in Peace.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Our foster kitten has been Googling while we're not looking. I don't know if I should be worried. Can anyone help me break the code?