THE BORDER 003
curated by TODD BERRYMAN
Back in the day, during my work on “the other show” many of you have heard…
…I used to get asked the question, “how long does it take for you to put one of these together?” The short answer was that I started at 11am, the minute the show I’d just finished was over. It was a glib answer, admittedly; it was also incredibly truthful. The long answer was whatever age I was at the time. Now, I would answer “almost 44 years.”
The process for me is a CONSTANT. I cast a wide net, leaving no stone unturned. When watching television or a movie, I’ve been known to lunge for the phone to turn on Shazam, on the off-chance it’ll pick up what song I’m hearing. Before the advent of smartphones, it wasn’t unknown for me to pester a waitperson at a restaurant to check their satellite box, to see what was playing on the overhead speakers.
Most of the music I’ve been exposed tends to drift by me, because it’s either driven into the ground by constant repetition, or working in forms I’m so well-versed in, or unimpressed by (quite often both) that I give less than a shit. However, much of it STAYS as well. To me, the beloved songs and pieces and fragments I hear are pieces of a puzzle that I’m constantly putting together, and the stacks of music you see assembled in any given version of THE BORDER are like those corners and edges, or those sections in the middle that grow, bit by bit. Eventually, it’ll all come together in some wondrous way, in a shape I’m only beginning to see…oh, look! It’s Central Park in Fall! 🙂
My first fumbling attempts at mixtapes in my teens caught glimpses of that reality, but could never quite nail it together. Riding in the car with me was…how shall I put it?…quite an experience in aural whiplash for the uninitiated, Scottish music followed by a deep soul single, followed by avant-jazz and every other stop on the highway, but with no link to connect the songs AT ALL. (And admittedly, listening now, those tapes can be WILDLY uneven, not because of the above descriptor, but for all those occasions where I’d be exposed to some unknown band, hearing one good song or two on an album and taking it as a sign of life when it wasn’t. Needless to say, those pieces haven’t dated terribly well. The fast-forward on the tape deck gets a workout on those early cassettes.)
I probably started to really hit my groove on those mixtapes at age 22 – 1992 was the year, for those of you scoring at home – and within a couple of years, had the chance to play in a more esoteric radio playground for a while, which strengthened those skills even more, but without the safety net of being able to go back and rerecord things, because I was doing it live over-the-air instead. By the time I hit age 27, I felt like I was finally in “the zone” and could do some decent AND wide-ranging mixes on cassette, and then graduated to MiniDisc and bigger spaces a few years later. Shortly after that, I began hosting the show with which many of you got acquainted with me, and did the equivalent of a four-hour live mixtape, Sunday after Sunday, well over 500 times by the time I walked away from it in 2012. Some of those shows fell together wonderfully, some less so, but all of them were committed to the premise of finding the musical equivalent of a Unified Field Theory…even if the bosses never quite figured that out.
(That’s not something you can really present as an idea to program directors in radio, because they tend to look a little glazed, and then try to gently but insistently rush you out the door. Better to just do it and hope they eventually figure it out. Or, as Garrison Keillor put it, “it’s better to apologize than to ask permission.”)
Well, enough history and philosophizing. On to this week’s show.
Today’s architectural space for our listening room comes back somewhat to the architect mentioned last week. Philip Johnson constructed his Glass House in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, but the idea was spawned by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, located in Plano, Illinois, designed earlier but built later, in 1951. A documentary about this incredible structure, not all that far up the road from us (relatively speaking, anyway):
Part 2 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-JHaP9bdBY
Part 3 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYcg_h0bOkQ
Now to cast about for a nice record changer we can pile these songs on. One of my mom’s friends used to have one of these in the early 1970s, and then decided by 1977 that this wasn’t hip enough and upgraded to one of those all-in-one sets with the cassette/8-track/radio, etc. And, of course, the 45s never sounded as good after that supposed “upgrade”…
We’ve got our hearty gear, now for the hearty tunes to accompany it! A quick note here: these stacks of songs will include one or two that you probably WILL NOT LIKE, and that’s fine. I include them to act as the glue to help make some of the segues make sense that might not otherwise. (For example, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the Captain Beefheart song below won’t appeal to everyone, including some people I’ve known quite well – 🙂 – for years.) I understand that you may need very little or no audio from some of the pieces below to get the point, and if you need to skip those pieces, no worries. I get it.
STACK ONE: BREATHING, AIR AND BUTTERFLIES
This first stack kicks off with a track called “If I Had a Hammer” by American Music Club. This is not to be confused with the old folk standard. The “air” in this track is not a title or lyric reference, but the air running through the bellows of an accordion…which, yes, CAN be a rock instrument, believe it or not. It comes in at the 1:06 mark, in the chorus of the song.
Now to more literal air, in “Ventilator Blues” by the Rolling Stones. This is one of many standout songs from the legendary EXILE ON MAIN ST. album, and the lyric makes reference to the heat and stuffiness of the basement recording venue of Villa Nellcote in 1971.
A performance from Sting now, a cover of “Little Wing” recorded live in Tokyo in the late 1980s. The sound quality isn’t QUITE as good as I’d like, but the performance itself is a wonder. Sting did a studio version of this Jimi Hendrix song on his album …NOTHING LIKE THE SUN.
Coming back to a performer from last week in this one, as Chöying Droma is assisted by guitarist Steve Tibbetts and drummer Marc Anderson in “Chö Part 7: Kyema Mimin” – this is one of those performances that I understand can be a little tricky for the uninitiated. A couple of helpful hints: headphones help a lot. Also, notice how carefully Tibbetts sculpts his guitar lines behind the vocals…and he’s also doing some amazing on-the-fly sampling DURING this live take that bears special attention:
STACK TWO: MORNINGS, BREAKFAST AND BIG BANDS
We’ll give pride of place and launch this stack with something from the late Lou Reed, who we lost to the ages on October 27th, last Sunday.
We’ll follow that with a performance from Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The song “Wearing Only Flowers” is here with a breakfast reference, with the relevant line here at 3:17:
One of my former radio show listeners, who went by “Bob from the Woods,“ was a big Poi Dog Pondering fan like myself. “Postcard from a Dream (Toast and Jelly)” features its breakfast reference in the last couple of minutes of the track – the parenthetical “Toast and Jelly” of the title.
Cab Calloway’s “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House” is the liminal state between the “breakfast” and “big bands” of this stack:
My friend Anna mentioned that she hoped I’d find a way to work Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band into one of these episodes of THE BORDER. At this point seems like a good fit. This was recorded for the old TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN TV show in the mid-1970s.
Probably my earliest exposure to the big band era. This is “Sing Sing Sing” from the legendary 1938 concert done at Carnegie Hall by the Benny Goodman Orchestra and assorted guests. It was another volley in the effort to make jazz “respectable” to a highbrow audience, and some have even suggested that this performance might have been the ground zero of rock and roll…
This next piece might not necessarily be the ground zero of rock and roll, but it could be the launching pad for rock and roll riots. Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” was done at Newport in the late 1950s, and the performance did actually lead to a rather frenzied crowd reaction, thanks to Paul Gonsalves’ incredible 27-chorus solo on sax. The interesting thing about the show was that, contrary to smart recording practice, the Voice of America radio service and Columbia Records BOTH set up different sets of microphones to record the show. The result? The VOA got one side of the stereo image, Columbia got the other, which means some soloists showed up clearly over the air, some clearly on the record, but generally not on both. To make a usable album, Ellington and the orchestra had to go in and record new material on tape.
40 years later, combing through the VOA archives, somebody turned up a previously unknown tape copy of the show AS IT APPEARED OVER THE AIR. Thanks to some clever engineering, the VOA tape and the Columbia tape were synced up, restoring the concert as-it-happened (mostly) to rights. This audio is from the corrected reissue, in true stereo.
And more backstory on this concert/album here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellington_at_Newport#The_Gonsalves_solo
STACK THREE: THE VERITIES OF THE BLUES
This is a stack that collects different angles on “the blues”…it isn’t always the 12-bar, rote progression that comes well-practiced to the point of lifelessness, which, when someone says they don’t care for the blues, seems to be what they’re objecting to. (And I get that: it it’s done well, it’s wonderful, but if it feels “stock” it can be sleep-provoking.)
This song is from the third album credited to G. Love and Special Sauce, YEAH, IT’S THAT EASY. “Slipped Away” is a blues take on an unfortunately all-too-true crime story, one that had a devastating effect on the music community in his hometown, because the perpetrators of the crime were musicians.
(Sidebar: the backstory of that song is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady_B)
It’s something about the upright bass and drumkit combo that I’ve always liked about that song, the way the groove is subtly pushing forward, which helps it dovetail nicely into this one. Soul Coughing has never exactly been sold as blues heavyweights, but the sound of the rhythm section in this song comes nicely out of the G. Love one above.
Props to my friend Ryan for getting me into these guys back in the nineties. This is one of the more accessible tracks from the 1997 album NOW I GOT WORRY.
Now, a quick round of CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE! You’ve got one of two ways you can go here, the “you can listen to this in front of the kids” option or the “I’m a big boy/girl and can handle some language” option. This is bluesman R.L. Burnside, accompanied by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, from the album A ASS POCKET OF WHISKEY. The first choice here is “Goin’ Down South” – the more user-friendly pick.
This is the song I ORIGINALLY slated to go in this slot, “The Criminal Inside Me” from the same album. I admit, it gives me a giggle from the beginning to the end, but it isn’t a terribly NICE or “polite” song. It hooked me in from Burnside’s opening line, a slightly whiny “Mooooooom. Moooooom. I want some MIIIIIILK.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX4RQJ_Y_z4
And Mark Sandman playing elemental bass and singing, the engine of this hard-driving song by Morphine (which, incidentally, is a good one to drive to).
This is Treat Her Right, a band that served as a forerunner to Mark Sandman’s work and methodology for Morphine. This song is from their second album, TIED TO THE TRACKS. “Hit a Man” is actually a Captain Beefheart cover.
A live shot here from Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, one of the more accessible songs in his catalog. The audio is, again, not so good, but the band is WONDERFUL on this.
And we’ll close with a vocal influence on Captain Beefheart that becomes a lot more obvious when you set ’em down side by side like this, “Howlin’ for My Baby” by Howling Wolf.
That’s this edition…as always, the usual blessing: enjoy, explore, and keep your earspace open! -tb.