May 10, 2012

As we speak, some thirty-five thousand plus songs reside on the iPod.

Some of those songs were culled from the twelve-hundred vinyl albums and six hundred or so compact discs covering the wall. There once was five times the number of CDs, but that was before the purge of ’03.

In the ’90s, while the head buyer for a large record store, there must have been ten-thousand CDs that I received from distributors, labels, managers, and publicists. For a few years I was receiving new music in such a flurry that it was impossible to give much of it more than a casual listen before being discarded.

There wasn’t space.

There wasn’t time.

(even keeping slacker hours)

Friends would pick up a CD from one of a dozen three-foot high, jenga-like towers around the apartment and ask who it was, if it was good.

“It’s some jangly guitar band with a chick lead singer and an Asian chick on bass. It’s not bad, but I’ve gotten five CDs in the past week from bands that have jangly guitars, chick lead singers, and an Asian chick on bass, so…”

I’d shrug.

Bands and artists got lost in the shuffle, but I tried my best to hold onto the CDs that – maybe in one, brief listen – made me curious enough to file for a more in-depth and focused audition in the near to not-so near future.

Few were granted such an audition and yet some have managed to remain part of the musical menagerie, even getting converted to mp3s and, some, even ending up among those thirty-five thousand or so songs on the iPod.

So, it’s not uncommon for a song to come up on shuffle and, though I might recognize the name of the artist, I know little or nothing about them.

(or, if I had such knowledge, it has long been forgotten)

Here are four random songs from acts that made me go hmmmm…

The Cucumbers – I’m Waiting
from Where We Sleep Tonight (1994)

For some reason, I thought that The Cucumbers were from Rhode Island, but it turns out that the group – essentially the duo of Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried – hailed from the decidedly less exotic locale of New Jersey.

That geographic confusion aside, I’m Waiting is a spectacularly hooky track that has a sprightly, almost New Wave feel to it that was probably to perky to make waves in the grunge era.

Velvet Crush – Why Not Your Baby
from Teenage Symphonies To God (1994)

The aptly named Velvet Crush did come from Rhode Island and the titular nod to Brian Wilson is a fitting mission statement.

Much of Teenage Symphonies To God is übersonic power pop produced by the legendary Mitch Easter who helped give bands like R.E.M. and The dBs their jangle in the ’80s.

The lovely Why Not Your Baby is a cover of a Gene Clark song and it has an appropriately melancholic twang to it.

Zuzu’s Petals – White Trash Love
from When No One’s Looking (1992)

I think that I actualy grabbed a used copy of Zuzu’s Petals for a quarter based simply on the name. It turns out that Laurie Lindeen – one third of the Minneapolis all-girl trio – is married to musician Paul Westerberg.

According to Wikipedia, Zuzu’s Petals were “foxcore,” a term “coined as a joke by Thurston Moore during the early 1990s to describe a wave of loud and aggressive female fronted bands that was occurring at the time.”

I dig White Trash Love. It has a cool detached vibe that reminds me of the underappreciated The Waitresses from a decade earlier.

Jonny Polonsky – Love Lovely Love
from Hi My Name Is Jonny (1996)

I remember Jonny Polonsky’s debut My Name Is Jonny arriving in early ’96. I seem to recall some buzz – though short-lived – about it.

I also remember being underwhelmed by the cover – a tight photo of the singer/songwriter staring at the buyer.

(it struck me as an insincere effort to be endearingly geeky)

But there must have been something that compelled me to hold onto a copy.

The All Music Guide bio is that the Illinois native got a cassette to musical hero Frank Black and the Pixie frontman got the budding Polonsky a manager. The noisy rocker Love Lovely Love isn’t a bad approximation by Polonsky of his mentor and coming in at a brisk two minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Rhode Island

May 2, 2009

If there is one state about which I know practically nothing about, it is Rhode Island.

I can’t even really picture Rhode Island in my head. I think it might be kind of square-shaped.

(and would it have killed us to have made one of the fifty states a rhombus or a trapezoid?)

I’ve never really even thought about Rhode Island. There’s only one person I think I’ve ever even known from the state. In college, my friend Chris dated a girl from Rhode Island.

All I really remember about her is that she had a friend with hair like a fringed lampshade.

But as Rhode Island is the setting for The Family Guy and the show airs for thirty-six hours a day, I’ve learned a lot about the state…

…the actor James Woods is from Rhode Island.

…it is populated by animated ne’er-do-wells.

…the forward-thinking citizens have elected Adam West to office.

The latter two items are things I can enthusiastically embrace.

(James Woods seems a bit intense – although he’s apparently easily distracted by candy)

And, as for music, here are a few acts with Rhode Island connections….

Velvet Crush – Why Not Your Baby
from Teenage Symphonies To God

Originally from the Midwest, the aptly named Velvet Crush stated their musical intent with an album whose title is a nod to Beach Boy Brian Wilson as most of the songs focus on girls and summer.

Why Not Your Baby is actually a cover of a Gene Clark song and it has an appropriately melancholic twang to it.

Belly – Feed The Tree
from Star

Throwing Muses were one of the darlings of the burgeoning modern rock scene of the late ’80s. Personally, I didn’t pay much attention to them.

By the time MTV was making alternative rock mainstream in the early ’90s, Tonya Donnelly, who had been a member of Throwing Muses with half-sister Kristin Hersh, formed Belly. Like Throwing Muses, I mostly ignored Belly, but Feed The Tree was inescapable in 1993 and with good reason.

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown – On The Dark Side
from Eddie And The Cruisers

The flick Eddie And The Cruisers, about a fictitious band, flopped when it was released to theaters in 1983 (I don’t recall it playing in our small, Indiana town). Then, it became a hit a year later via repeated showings on cable (which hadn’t made it to our world, yet).

However, On The Dark Side was on the radio given momentum by the movie’s cable revival and the fact that, with Born In The USA a commercial juggernaut, the song (and the band’s image) bore more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

Talking Heads – I Zimbra
from Fear Of Music

Talking Heads, who had formed while the members were in school in Rhode Island, had come to the attention of more conservative music fans in 1983 with the album Speaking In Tongues and the smash Burning Down The House. And their follow-up, the surprisingly playful Little Creatures, was ridiculously popular with my high school classmates.

The Heads (pictured above) were not a new discovery for me, though, as my friend Chris was a huge fan of the band. It was through him that I gained an appreciation for them and, especially, the album Fear Of Music and its tribal, rhythmic textures.