Friday, April 19, 2019

I Like Comments!

If you're reading my blog and you like or don't like, or are vehemently in disagreement with anything I write, leave me a comment!

Blogger tells me I have a decent number of followers, many of whom are bots, granted; but I enjoy hearing from real people.

Please don't be shy. And if you have a favorite artist you'd like me to feature, I'm on board.

In conclusion, here's a song I kind of like:

Solitary Music

My musical tastes are, to an extent, eclectic. I appreciate genres that would have many of my generation shaking their heads (and wagging their finger at me, no doubt). From my perspective, a person who only likes, say, classic rock, is inflexible and missing out on some of life's musical joys. How many times can you listen to "Walk This Way"? Even if you happen to like it?

I've also come to like things I used to hate. When I was a kid, I thought Sinatra was putrid. Really putrid. Actually, however, he's not bad!

I always loved big band music. Give me a Glenn Miller tune any day.

I like roots rock 'n roll (a lot). And don't even get me started on '80's MTV-era tunes!

I grew up during arguably the best era for music ~ the sixties. Those hundreds (or thousands) of tracks will always claim a ventricle of my heart.

But, all in all, I'm a country girl. Country has always been the ugly stepchild in the eyes of the masses. I grew quite used to that when I was a teenager in love with country music. I actually hid the fact that I loved country ~ I was uncool enough already; I didn't need any extra help in that arena. Outside my immediate family, it wasn't until the nineties that I found simpatico people ~ suddenly I was surrounded by folks who only liked country music. Maybe it was a measure of the musical times. Country was pretty good back then. Every single person I worked with (save two or three), and I worked with a lot of people, listened to country exclusively. It was nice to have people to talk to about songs and friends who frequented concert venues with me. Granted, they didn't know country music history, but how many people did? My high school best friend (who'd reintroduced me to country) had moved on with her life, and we no longer spoke. That's why I rather consider country solitary music. I don't have anyone to which I can say, "Ooh, remember that one?" Because nobody would.

I was thinking about that as I read the autobiography of a former pop star who began a second musical career in Nashville. I'm skeptical that this guy would have recognized George Strait's name in the eighties, much less someone like Tracy Lawrence or Clay Walker or Mark Chesnutt (I bet he knew Kenny Rogers, though ~ which proves my point). I'm not calling this person an interloper...just naive. I sort of like that he suddenly realized country music is good, and he's definitely not someone who claims a verse in this song:

I also thought about how singular and solitary country music is when I read that Earl Thomas Conley had passed away. I don't understand why there isn't a music video, or at least a performance video of this song ~ it's one of my all-time favorites. Is it just me? I can't believe that. In the mid-to-late eighties this was the ultimate slow-dance song in honky tonks:

Throughout his career, Earl Thomas Conley charted more than thirty songs. How many artists can claim that? And yet, few people even know who he was. I miss my friends from the nineties ~ at least they'd know who I was talking about. 

Too, I was sad to learn that Hal Ketchum has retired from performing because he's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. When buying CD's was a thing, I bought "Past The Point of Rescue", which featured this song that people wouldn't know was rather cynical unless they listened closely:

How many people recognize Hal Ketchum's name? Alzheimer's hits too damn close to home for me ~ Hal doesn't even know that he was once a country star. But I (we?) know. 

It scares me that we're going to lose more people and hardly anyone will notice.

That's kind of why I do this blog ~ so someone, at least, remembers. And acknowledges. 

Even if no one but me cares, these are artists who touched me.That counts for something in my musical world.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Music Biographies

I get most of my Kindle books from the library, because I don't want to spend good money on something I won't like, plus it's easy, and I'm on a budget. My preferred genres are music biographies and true crime.

Procuring books from the library does limit my options. If the book is brand-new, the library won't have it. For example, I'm salivating over Randy Travis's memoir, which won't be released until May, which means my library will have sometime in late autumn (I may have to break down and purchase that one.) So I grab whatever's available and looks semi-interesting.

I find that biographies are much more interesting than autobiographies. It's hard to write about one's own life ~ it's a fine line ~ the experiences that mean so much to the writer will be pages that are swiped by the reader. There are exceptions, of course. Two autobiographies I recommend are:

Some memoirs I've read have infuriated me ~ the ones that sink into political grievances, for instance. If one's life is summed up by politics, that's kind of sad. Others have completely bored me (sorry, John Fogerty ~ a ghost writer might have been a judicious choice). 

I've read a ton of memoirs by former rock and country stars, and common themes in all of them are:

  • Sports hobbies, from tennis to race car driving to skiing, consume far too many tedious pages. The reason anyone is reading your book is because we like your music. Talk more about that.
  • After four or five failed marriages, the artist has finally found sublime happiness with a girl thirty years his junior. Here's a tip ~ that's kind of creepy.
  •  Illicit drug consumption is something to regret; not celebrate. Even Keith Richards gets that. It just makes you look pitiful.

Musicians who have journalism degrees think their writing is great. Apparently they missed the class on the prudent use of adjectives. Another annoying literary device is time-skipping. "This reminds me of the time twenty years ago, when I..." You're writing about your life ~ was your life rife with time travel? I sometimes wonder if it's a stream-of-consciousness writing style that no discerning editor dared question.

Some memoirs scream, "I'm an auteur!" Springsteen's book might have been okay, but after about three chapters all I focused on was how hard he was trying to be literary, and I gave up.

I enjoyed Patti Smith's memoir and I barely even know who she is. Because the writing was engaging.

Writing is a muscle that requires constant flexing. I despise lazy writing because I understand how hard writing is. Granted, I'm not paying actual money for most of these books, so maybe I deserve what I get. Everyone isn't good at everything. Being a musical virtuoso doesn't guarantee a mastery of every other artistic endeavor.

My advice to would-be memoirists ~ find a co-writer.

I, however, still love their music:

Saturday, April 6, 2019

On The Cutting Edge ~ Country Music 1975

I don't know if I was obstinate or if I just liked what I liked.

In 1975, everybody was fixated on Rhinestone Cowboy and stupid-ass CB radios that no one actually owned except long-haul truckers. Sure, I bought some of the singles seizing the charts (I bought lots and lots of '45's, because they were one of the few things I could afford), but my tastes ran to more obscure, and by "obscure" I mean stone-country tracks.

I was newly married and non-pregnant, although I did possess a preternaturally pampered dog (my first baby). I was loose and carefree, so when my mom and dad proposed a car trip to Texas to visit my sister, I said, why not?

Long car trips sound romantic in novels and memoirs, but they're just basically....long. Kansas wheat fields shed their fascination after approximately five minutes. The most exciting part of a thousand-mile trip is the "Truck Stop - Two Miles Ahead" road sign. Ahh, bathrooms and a short stack of pancakes! One has to play it carefully, however ~ don't drink too much coffee or Dad'll be grouchy when you beg him to pull off at a rest stop just ten miles down the road.

Dad loved driving his jaundice-tinted Lincoln. Ever since he acquired actual money in his late forties, he treated himself to a new car every year when the leaves began to mutate and crumple. The Lincoln was a butt-ugly conveyance, but roomy! Four people (and one dog) could ride comfortably with room for about four more. In the front seat, Mom and Dad rarely conversed except when, after scouring the map, she'd yell, "Turn here!" and he turned the wrong direction, and she'd scold, "I said here! Here!" I mostly ignored the clamor ~ it was business as usual between them. We did a bit of backtracking on the Texas quest, but no real harm was done, except to Mom's blood pressure reading.


Unlike the tin can I drove, the Lincoln at least had radio speakers in the rear window deck. Although FM radio was a "thing", Dad always tuned the car radio to the closest AM station in proximity. Listening to music through radio static is a lost art. One has to listen really closely.

This is a song I liked. Forgive the "elderly" David Allen Coe performance, but the only other live set I could find was even sweatier and substance-fueled:

Asleep At The Wheel was a big act in Texas, but in North Dakota, it was "Asleep at the what??" As we meandered further and further south, this song buzzed through the speakers a lot:

Dad always turned the volume knob on the radio as high as he could for this song, and I like it because I like my dad:

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Ray Stevens released a wondrous album in 1975 ~ Dad even had an eight-track cartridge of it, and Dad only owned four eight-tracks. I think I actually bought a few eight-tracks myself, but the technology was asinine. A song would abruptly stop right in the middle and one would have to eject the plastic behemoth and flip it over to hear the second half of the song. And by then, the mood was totally lost.

Here is a track from that album ~ no live performance to be found ~ but still...

The quality of this video is extremely poor, but Tanya Tucker was hot, hot in '75, and I liked this one:

BJ Thomas's voice is like honey; there is no denying. This definitely wasn't stone-country, but who could resist?

There were three brand-new voices in '75, and here is one:

Here is two (no live video performance to be found):

We made it to Fort Worth, Texas fully intact. My sister Carole made up the sofa bed in her den and took Mom on a shopping excursion to Kroger's. She pulled her coffeemaker off a high shelf and brewed up some Folger's for Dad each morning. My dog wasn't happy with Carole's dog and just wanted to get the hell out and go home (my dog was a bit of a snob). We sauntered over to a nearby lake and ordered catfish from a roadside stand (the absolute worst, most vomit-inducing excuse for "fish" I've ever had the displeasure of biting into. The hush puppies were good, though.)

As for country music, I mentioned there were three new voices in '75. Here is the best:

As unassumingly goofy as my dad was, I sure miss him. I'd travel down the road with him anytime.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Death "Where Nothing Ever Happens"

Indulge me, if you will ~ no music post tonight.

I've heard it for almost my entire life ~ "North Dakota? Nothing ever happens there." When I was eleven years old and I learned that my parents were giving up farming and had purchased a business in North Dakota, I was excited until my best friend's brother said, "Isn't North Dakota another word for 'disaster area'?" (Minnesotans are condescending like that; even the kids.)

I admit, I didn't like North Dakota at first; but that was mostly because I was sorely homesick. It took me at least a year to embrace my new home. It was so different from the rich black soil that I'd sunk my toes into in the Red River Valley of Minnesota. North Dakota was tough; hard-bitten. A spindly tree, if one was spotted, was a benediction.

In the sixties there were still old women there who preferred to converse in German. Kids my age were like first-generation Americans. The slang was odd; foreign. "Come here once." "I have to stop and fill gas." After a couple of years, I spoke the same phrases and thought nothing of it.

The thing about living in western North Dakota was, it formed calluses. I shudder to think what a simpering wimp I would be today had I not spent my formative years in North Dakota.

Nothing happens in North Dakota? Like what, exactly? Do people in other states have riotous backyard parties every day? I'm not sure what the opposite of "nothing" is. I live in a large metropolitan area today and I come home from work and flip on the TV. I could pretty much accomplish that in a North Dakota small town. Sure, there are concert opportunities, but I had those in North Dakota. In fact, I could leave my car tucked inside my garage and walk to the concert hall if I chose. It took me ten minutes to drive to work on a slow day. None of my workplaces had such a thing as security...

This past Monday morning as I took my regular instant oatmeal ten-minute breakfast break, I scanned the latest news. I saw, "Four People Murdered In North Dakota", and naturally it peaked my interest. Somewhere in the oil fields, I thought; or maybe Fargo. When I clicked on the story and saw "Mandan", my spine prickled. Reading on, it said, "near The Strip". I grew up on The Strip! My mom and dad's motel was on The Strip.

"The Strip" is the swipe of highway between the capital city of Bismarck and its tiny sister, Mandan. Mandan was actually my designated hometown because we were in the Mandan school district and that's where I attended my last year of elementary school through Central Junior High and ultimately Mandan Senior High School. Mandan is where I made friends. It's true that nothing ever happened in Mandan, and that was a good thing. I tramped its streets and cracked sidewalks for about a thousand miles ~ from the bus stop to the school; from my brother and sister-in-law's pint-sized apartment to the downtown business district with the Ben Franklin store to Dahmer's Music. My best friend Alice and I giggled through Sunday matinees at the Mandan Theatre. I took devotions at St. Joseph Catholic Church during my short-lived religious period.

I've been gone from North Dakota for twenty years now, but it's never abandoned my heart. Mandan's population was about 15,000 when I left. It's 22,000 now; and things have changed. My parents' motel was callously demolished a few years back, According to Google Street View, it's apparently been replaced by a strip mall. The only businesses still alive on The Strip are the livestock barn and Midway Lanes, where I spent many a languid Saturday in rented shoes, rolling a nine-pound ball down a slippery varnished lane.

There was no such thing as RJR Management when Mandan was still my home, but through the years I worked in small offices throughout Bismarck and Mandan. During my employment at Farm Credit Services I was the direct target for any stranger who strolled through the front door. But murder was not even an imaginary illusion. Even if we didn't know each other, everyone was simpatico.

I spent eight years at the largest medical center in western North Dakota and the facility employed zero security.

Today I'm tucked safely behind security doors that require a key card to unlatch. Even the receptionist's alcove requires a licensed swipe to broach the inner office sanctum. (I've been a receptionist, and that's not exactly a comforting notion). Even at my most vulnerable, no one ever even raised their voice to me, much less tried to kill me.

Somewhere out on The Strip at seven o'clock in the morning, four people showed up for work like they did every day, and a psychotic fiend with a simmering grudge burst inside and butchered them.

Nothing ever happens in North Dakota? Well, one thing that never happened (until now) was mass murder.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Music Has Turned Bad ~ And Why Should I Care?

So Reba's coming back, and this time she really means it ~ she's doing a country album. She's also bemoaning the turn that country music has taken. Oh, okay, Reba. I really do appreciate that she is speaking out about how she'd like country to get back to its roots, but let's be real. In 1991, when Pam Tillis was admonishing, Don't Tell Me What To Do, and Diamond Rio was meetin' in the middle and Brooks and Dunn were down to their next broken heart, Reba was remaking an old Bobbie Gentry song:

I remember someone (I think it was my hairdresser) raving to me about Reba McEntire's live show ~ she changes outfits on stage! She's got backup dancers! Uh, that's okay; I'll skip it, thanks. I hear Alan Jackson's coming to town, so...

In 1980 I talked my mom into attending a rodeo with me (yes), because this new singer I really liked was going to be performing. Mom had never heard of her, but she was game. I'd heard a couple of the gal's singles on the radio and really liked her voice ~ it was different, in a good way. So, between the barrel racing and the bronc riding, this redhead got up on a makeshift stage in the corner of the arena and sang:

Once again, I was right. 

In the eighties Reba had a few nice singles, like this one:

And she showed a flare for acting:

Then something happened. I'm not sure what. Reba claims that some of her career moves weren't her decision, but nevertheless, she definitely milked it. 

And that's when I lost respect for her as an artist. She sold out.

Some (like my hairdresser) enjoyed the spectacle. I liked my concerts flat-out country. Yea, George Strait stood in front of the mic and strummed a guitar off and on, but it was the voice, stupid. Alan Jackson would never claim to be the world's most exhilarating performer ~ he didn't need to be. Merle didn't dance around the stage. The only exhibition that floored me was Garth Brooks, but he also brought the goods.

In '98 Reba had the last single of hers that I had actually liked since the eighties:

So now she wants to come back. I'm good with that. It's funny how once an artist is past her prime, she starts remembering what she liked about the music she started out with. If this new album is truly country, I'll buy it (and I don't buy albums anymore). I would love to be taken back to the Reba that was, when I introduced my mom to her at the beginning of the ninth decade.

Reba is right about a few things. Here's my take:

Today's Country™ is made by artists who don't like country music.

The only radio I listen to nowadays consists of political talk. Tuning the dial to an actual music station would be proof positive that dementia had settled in. I love music almost as much as I always have. It's just that I have options. Sirius is a revelation. I can tune in to whatever I choose. I also have about a thousand tunes on my computer, but I rarely listen to any of them, because I like to be surprised and Sirius provides that unexpected jolt. I've forgotten more music than a human brain can hope to retain.

Ten years from now will the now thirty-five-year-old catch a 2019 song on "oldies" radio and rhapsodize about how classic it is? Which song exactly? It's not as if creativity has died. It never dies. But it's gonna take an eighties-style renaissance to shake out the drudgery that music has become. Country music in the seventies turned putrid. We had Crystal Gayle and Sylvia and Dave and Sugar, and Charley Pride doing remakes of pop songs. The seventies drove me away from country. When I came back, I found that I'd missed everything good. I'd missed George Strait and Dwight and Clint Black and Randy Travis.

My philosophy used to be that the tide turns every ten years. I stuck by that until I was proven wrong. I stopped listening to country around the year 2000, when Faith Hill released "Breathe". Faith was the final straw. It's not necessarily her fault ~ maybe she was just the conduit. I hung on for the Dixie Chicks, and Dwight was still releasing decent tracks. But around the Breathe year, country became interminable. I tried; I really did. I found a Texas radio station that played roots music and that sustained me for a while. But imperceptibly, as time wore on, I gave up.

Maybe there should be separate genres ~ you know, how they've relegated Dwight and Rodney Crowell to "Americana", which translates to "Not Selling Records". But call it something cooler. I bet there are young would-be artists out there listening to their dad's (or grandpa's) old records and experiencing an epiphany. "Where did that come from??"

I don't necessarily care. I have old songs I can listen to. If I didn't happen to stumble on the Saving Country Music website, I wouldn't even have thought about it. But it seems there are still people out there who love (and remember) the same country music I do.

And maybe the wardrobe-mutating, vaudeville exhibitionist can bring it back. Stranger things have happened (as Ronnie Milsap says). 

In the meantime, I won't be blue.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Music Biopics ~ La Bamba

I'm a sucker for musical biopics. I've probably seen all of them, even the bad ones like "Great Balls of Fire" (Dennis Quaid is more convincing in his Esurance commercials.) I liked "The Buddy Holly Story", which starred a pre-crazy Gary Busey. Coal Miner's Daughter is a classic and instituted my long-standing crush on Tommy Lee Jones. Needless to say, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is fabulous. "Walk The Line" is sort of not exactly true.

Today, there was absolutely nothing on TV nor in my DVR queue I wanted to watch, so I checked out the On Demand movies and found La Bamba. There was a time in the eighties when I subscribed to HBO, which liked to play the same movies over and over and over; and thus, I can pretty much recite the lines from La Bamba. That doesn't negate the fact that this is a really good movie. Even trusted source Rolling Stone (I say ironically) rates the movie as the fifth best music biopic of all time.

Like the other artists who inspired the "Day The Music Died" meme, Ritchie Valens was before my time. Over the years I'd heard La Bamba and Come On, Let's Go many times, but I'd never given a second thought to the artist who created the songs. Valens died at the young age of seventeen, which makes me sad, even all these years later. There've been far too many entertainers who've perished in plane crashes, and all of them hurt my heart ~ Jim Croce, Rick Nelson, Patsy Cline, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Otis Redding, John Denver, Buddy Holly, of course.

The movie La Bamba ensured that Ritchie Valens would not be forgotten.

It didn't hurt that Lou Diamond Phillips was cute (he hasn't aged badly, if you've ever caught an episode of Longmire). But his portrayal of Valens was captivating in its innocence mixed with swagger. The musical performances, actually voiced by Los Lobos, are pristine (credit the film's music editor).

Esai Morales, as Ritchie's brother Bob, cringingly overacted his role (Easi is now a much respected producer), which added a touch of okaaay to the viewing experience. Overall, the casting was excellent, from Ritchie's mom (Rosanna DeSoto) to Elizabeth Peña to Danielle von Zerneck  as Donna.

Like everything that's dramatized, the actual music of the era wasn't as good as its recreation. But let's not quibble:

Here's the real Ritchie Valens:

I don't necessarily believe that one split-second decision alters the course of musical history, but if not for a coin flip, we would never have had Waylon Jennings. On the other hand, Buddy Holly would today be a musical elder, whose pronouncements on music we'd gobble up. I guess everything is of its time. 

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