The Great White North

December 10, 2011

Long ago I noticed that there seemed to be a significant portion of visitors to this outpost of mental noodlings arriving from the upper Midwestern US and parts of Canada.

I’ve also realized that I often frequent the writings of folks from from those same parts of the planet.

Having grown up in the American Midwest, I suppose that there is some common ground – similarities in temperment and mindset – that makes for more likely connections. Scientifically speaking, birds of a feather…

During our most recent trips to my homeland, I have noted to Paloma that the locals, who usually impress her with their considerate manner, are “charmingly bland.”

Before the hate mail arrives, by charmingly bland I mean that there is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense vibe that I find refreshing and endearing. Everyone’s temperature seems to be set a bit lower.

I’ve not been to places like Minnesota or Wisconsin, but based upon the folks I’ve known from these locales, that vibe seems to be even more profound, more deeply engrained and pronounced.

And the Canadians I’ve known through the years have mostly lived up to their nation’s reputation of being affable and good natured to the point of arousing suspicion.

So, if I truly am drawing a disproportionate amount of traffic from those residing north of the 42nd parallel, I’ll take that as keeping good company.

Of course, the image above isn’t an actual representation of the places to which I refer, but a good buddy from college who hails from Brainerd has told me that he and his fellow Minnesotans like to perpetuate the myth of their homestate as an Arctic tundra.

“It helps keep the riff raff out.”

I’ve often sung the praises of music from Canada, so I thought that I’d see what acts hail from Wisconsin and Minnesota. I knew that there were plenty from the latter – even if you limit it to ones from the ’80s – but I was surprised tha there were also a surprising amount from the former.

So, here are a two pair of songs from acts with ties to those states…

First, Wisconsin…

Robin Zander – I’ve Always Got You
from Robin Zander (1993)

After a commercial resurgence in the late ’80s, Cheap Trick’s career was in another lull which is why most folks likely never heard lead singer (and Wisconsin native) Robin Zander’s self-titled, solo debut from 1993.

That’s unfortunate. Though Robin Zander isn’t in the same league as classic Cheap Trick albums from the ’70s, it is Robin Zander, the man my buddy The Drunken Frenchman once dubbed the “second best rock singer” (after Eric Burdon) and I’ve Always Got You is a bit of catchy power pop.

Garbage – Stupid Girl
from Garbage (1995)

In 1991, Butch Vig had made his way from Viroqua, Wisconsin to become the toast of the rock music universe as the producer behind Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish.

Though he continued to be an in-demand producer, he soon put together a new band of his own (following earlier short-lived efforts with Spooner and Fire Town.

I’d adored Blondie in my teens and, a decade later, Garbage filled a void that had been left when Blondie split up, becoming one of the finest alternative rock acts of the ’90s. I quickly embraced Garbage’s debut and loved their first few albums before losing track of them.

And now, two for Minnesota…

The Jayhawks – I’d Run Away
from Tomorrow The Green Grass (1995)

Paloma and I spent innumerable hours listening to Tomorrow The Green Grass, the third record by the alternative country-rock band The Jayhawks. Though the group never really broke beyond having a devoted grass-roots following and a slew of swooning critics, the Minneapolis quartet was beloved at the record store where we worked at the time.

I’d Run Away has always had special meaning to us and had everything we’d come to expect from The Jayhawks – stellar songwriting and musianship delivered in an exuberant mixture of country, folk, and roots rock.

Bob Dylan – Dignity
from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3 (1994)

The parents of one of my best friends in high school had attended the University of Minnesota and claimed to have known Hibbings-native Bob Dylan during his brief stint at the school.

(closer to now, Paloma’s mom gets giddy at the mention of the troubadour)

As for Dignity, supposedly the shuffling song was inspired by the late, great Pete Maravich.

Shirley Manson Has Fish Eyes

March 29, 2008

What the @*#&! is up with that?

Pretty harsh words about the Garbage front woman, huh? Imagine how surprised I was to find that I was the one that made this statement despite the fact that I find her quite fetching indeed. Was I drunk when I said it? Had she just stolen my wallet? Had I tapped into some deep-seeded anti-Scottish prejudice which had been previously unbeknownst to myself?

It was none of those things. Instead, it was someone appropriating something I had written and incorporating their own feelings regarding the ichthyological aspects of Ms. Manson’s orbs. It’s one thing to be plagiarized – to have someone claim your work as their own – but something different to have someone attribute work to you which is not yours.

I found the quote while researching Manson and it caught my eye. When I pulled up the website to see what the deal was, I found an album review of the band Angelfish, which was a band for whom Manson sang lead prior to joining Garbage. it concluded by saying, “Shirley Manson has fish eyes. What the @*#&! is up with that?” which had not been in the review I had written. And there was my name attached to it.

My mind reeled. It was a small world! What if Shirley should come across these disparaging remarks attributed to me? Any fantasies of an evening of carnal bliss with Shirley I might have had – haggis and a hot oil massage – would surely have the same chances of success as that lone Angelfish album. I had to bring the miscreant that had misrepresented me to justice, but the website, aside from my review, was in Polish.

So, I did a search for the offending opinion. I got a match and to my surprise, the quote had been spoken by Shirley Manson. In an interview she had given, she spoke of how her childhood had been filled with cruel taunts about her exotic eyes. She spoke of how children would say, “Shirley Manson has fish eyes. What the @*#&! is up with that?”

It was quite a relief to know the truth. More importantly, it was a relief to know that Shirley, should she read my review, would know the truth. I could know occupy my mind with more pressing matters, secure in the knowledge that if I ever met Shirley, any advances I made could be rebuffed on their own merits and not for something she might mistakenly thought I had written.

Garbage – When I Grow Up
From their second album Version 2.0, this hyper kinetic track always makes me smile due to its nursery-rhyme-on-speed vibe and Manson’s playful delivery. Favorite line…”When I grow up, I’ll be stable.”

Garbage – You Look So Fine
Also from Version 2.0, this one is probably my favorite song in Garbage’s catalog. With its pulsating undercurrent, I’m drawn in from the first notes of this lush, dreamy track which closes the album. The hypnotic, almost indifferent manner in which Manson offers lyrics like, “You look so fine. I want to take you home. We’ll waste some time. You’re the only one for me,” makes her true intentions a mystery.

Angelfish – You Can Love Her
Angelfish only released one album which I suspect is long out of print. For the most part, it’s a fairly ordinary affair, indistinguishable from the numerous guitar-driven alternative bands of the early to mid-90s. In fact, this cover of a Holly Vincent (known for Tell That Girl To Shut Up with her band The Italians) song might be the best offering, particularly Manson’s sultry vocal take. However, it was an Angelfish video on MTV’s 120 Minutes program which got Manson noticed by producer Butch Vig as the missing piece for the band that would become Garbage.

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