I’m heading to Texas tomorrow and hope to post a few dispatches from the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The line-up includes Gnarls Barkley, Jakob Dylan, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Iron & Wine, Erykah Badu, Manu Chao and Foo Fighters. It's a good variety but with the local forecast calling for 90-degree high temperatures, I might decide which band to see based on proximity to the misters!
Maybe you've heard about that little kid who sneaked over to his new sibling's cradle. His parents overheard him ask, "What does God feel like? I'm starting to forget."
Some use that story as evidence for an ideology and they might have a case, but then again, the Bible itself tells us to put away childish things. That boy’s experience is interesting without the dogma, though. There are things we lose touch with, things that slip away by degrees. Most of us forget what childhood itself feels like. We hafta go play grown up. A mortgage and a lawn to mow, as Joni Mitchell would say.
Do you remember the portable hole from that Wile E. Coyote cartoon? I think he sent away for it. It was a flexible black disc that suddenly became negative space when placed on the ground, a trap for the Road Runner. But his plan to capture the bird failed. It was Wile E. himself that kept falling in.
Adding words to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme? Not a good idea. Why mess with it? You may as well add a tape loop of explosions and screaming to Guernica.
To use the parlance of a friend, Kurt Elling’s got huevos. He stuck the landing with Coltrane on his 2003 Man in the Air CD. He’s also gone in the other direction and added music to words - Kenneth Rexroth’s Married Blues, for example, and even Whitman’s Song of Myself. For anyone else, reinterpreting the gold standard of jazz ballad records would seem foolish. But I think Kurt is up to it.
I’m solid with soul, swing, folk, funk, country, cajun, bop, bluegrass, reggae, r & b, dixieland, doo-wop and so on. But a while back I figured I could expand my tastes a bit more so I made an effort to try to appreciate classical music – beyond Copland and Philip Glass (if he even counts). Opera seemed like an even bigger leap but Renee Fleming keeps tapping me on the shoulder. Maybe it’s the idea that once you stop looking for something, you find it.
What’s the deal with meteorologists? Why do they always apologize when there’s rain in the forecast? I like sunny days as much as the next guy but I love the rain, too. It doesn’t have to be depressing, but songs, for the most part, reinforce the stereotype: “Stormy Weather,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Raining in My Heart,” “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall,” “Here Comes the Rain Again” and on and on.
There’s a Greg Brown tune that starts off in the same vein, but then he comes to his senses…
"I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American."
"I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it."
"We were waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on."
A chair is still a chair
Even when there's no one sitting there
But a chair is not a house
And a house is not a home
When there's no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss good night
- from “A House is Not a Home” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
When I was first planning out what Mystery Train would sound like, I wanted lots of different genres hooked up together like freight cars. But I didn’t just want to play songs at random, not that that can’t work. I wanted a reason for one tune to follow another. The obvious and unoriginal solution was to put together theme blocks...songs about rain or love or the color blue...and give each set a connector, usually a common composer or musician.
“That’s where it’s at,” Etta James once sang in a tune extolling the virtues of taking the party downstairs. There’s no cover, no one checks your ID and you can dance however you want since there’s “no one under you.”
At WXXI, the “it” factor is different than what Etta had in mind. The basement here is full of metal shelves and dusty cardboard boxes of audio tape. There are rows and rows of reel-to-reels: a whole section of City Sounds, another for old RPO broadcasts, dozens of Fascinatin’ Rhythm programs and who knows what else.
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