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.

Advertisements

Holding Auditions In My Head For A Potential Imaginary Friend*

August 24, 2011

As I often remind Paloma, my childhood was spent in the hinterlands of the Midwest, right past where the flat Earth ends, amidst a lot of corn. Its charm is far more apparent given time and distance.

Paloma has heard me recount tales of my years in the wild. There was no MTV because there was no cable. And new music was not easily attainable. Life was often accentuated by imagination out of necessity and, yet, I never had an imaginary friend.

The last item came to my attention the other night when I happened across my copy of The Essential Calvin And Hobbes. The comic strip, which ran for a decade or so beginning in the mid ‘80s was drawn by Bill Watterson, whose been quite reclusive and rarely (never?) has licensed the use of the characters.

Calvin was a hyperactive and imaginative six-year old tyke; his constant partner-in-crime was a stuffed tiger, Hobbes who was as real to Calvin as anyone else. I can’t do them justice in writing, suffice to say it’s good stuff.

Reacquainting myself with the duo, I wondered if I had missed an important childhood trinket, so I held an audition in my head for such a sidekick.

The name Captain Erving popped into my head. I’m thinking it must be some subconscious homage to the great Dr. J, so I kind of like it. And, for some reason (perhaps some subliminal, nautical influence due to repeated viewings of Jaws), I envision Captain Erving, my potential imaginary friend, as a lobster.

It does seem like a lot of responsibility, though, this imaginary friend business. And, I’d much rather have a dog.

I have nothing in my head right now, so here are four songs about the contents of other people’s heads…

The 6ths (featuring Georgia Hubley) – Movies in My Head
from Wasps’ Nests

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which became the group’s first major single in the States.

The Cars – Got A Lot On My Head
from Candy-O

I think that I could pick random track after random track from the catalog of The Cars and I’d hit something that would make happy most of the time.

There’s a lot of classic stuff there and the rest is, at the very least, usually a lot of fun like Got A Lot On My Head.

Shonen Knife – Tomato Head
from Rock Animals

From the country that gave us Godzilla, the all-female trio Shonen Knife were darlings of the alternative rock world in the ’80s. I heard songs here and there and was charmed by their zany brand of garage band pop, but never enough to own anything

I did snag a promo of 1993’s Rock Animals which featured the blissfully enigmatic (and slightly menacing) Tomato Head.

There was also a nifty little 3D reproduction of the album cover enclosed in some of the CDs like a Crackerjack prize.


Holding Auditions In My Head For My Potential Imaginary Friend

August 9, 2008

As I often remind Paloma, my childhood was spent in the hinterlands of the Midwest, right past where the flat Earth ends, amidst a lot of corn. Its charm is far more apparent given time and distance.

Paloma has heard me recount tales of my years in the wild. There was no MTV because there was no cable. And new music was not easily attainable. Life was often accentuated by imagination out of necessity and, yet, I never had an imaginary friend.

The last item came to my attention the other night when I happened across my copy of The Essential Calvin And Hobbes. The comic strip, which ran for a decade or so beginning in the mid ‘80s was drawn by Bill Watterson, whose been quite reclusive and rarely (never?) has licensed the use of the characters.

Calvin was a hyperactive and imaginative six-year old tyke; his constant partner-in-crime was a stuffed tiger, Hobbes who was as real to Calvin as anyone else. I can’t do them justice in writing, suffice to say it’s good stuff.

Reacquainting myself with the duo, I wondered if I had missed an important childhood trinket, so I held an audition in my head for such a sidekick.

The name Captain Erving popped into my head. I’m thinking it must be some subconscious homage to the great Dr. J, so I kind of like it. And, for some reason (perhaps some subliminal, nautical influence due to repeated viewings of Jaws), I envision Captain Erving, my potential imaginary friend, as a lobster.

It does seem like a lot of responsibility, though, this imaginary friend business. And, I’d much rather have a dog.

However, in honor of Hobbes, here’s some tiger music.

Manic Street Preachers – Send Away The Tigers
The Manics work since the sublime Everything Must Go has been erratic, so their last album was a wonderful surprise. It was lean, wiry rock and the album was the length of a vinyl release. The title track is fantastic.

Pink Floyd – When The Tigers Broke Free
This song was described in some review I read recently as the “holy grail” for Floyd fans. Appearing in the movie The Wall, it wasn’t on the album, and was unavailable commercially. I think my friend Brad – who turned me on to Animals (probably my favorite Floyd album) – had taped a version of the movie for me from the VHS.

Imperial Drag – Breakfast By Tiger (Kiss It All Goodbye)
As great as it is to discover new music on blogs, rediscovering music I loved – but, for whatever reason, I’d forgotten – is another benefit. The criminally underappreciated Jellyfish is one such band that received a lovely tribute over at My Hmphs. When that band came unglued after two spectacular albums, keyboardist Roger Manning formed Imperial Drag

Rosanne Cash – Dance With The Tiger
Speaking of underappreciated, I’d certainly put Rosanne Cash on such a list. Dance With The Tiger comes from her 1990 album Interiors which chronicled the dissolution of her marriage to singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell. The song was written with John Stewart, who recently passed away. In the late ’70s, Stewart had a hit with the song Gold which featured Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and, though I’m certain that it’s not Buckingham on this song, the guitar work is certainly reminiscent of Lindsey.