Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I was too busy processing the end to the pencil and paper RPG I’ve been playing with some friends over Discord for the past year or so.
It’s not that any of us don’t want to play anymore. We’re all going to turn around and jump straight into a new game with new characters here in a week or two. But the game had reached a certain point. We’d done what the game master, my dear friend Ev, had wanted the game to do. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the characters or the setting. No, far from it, we all loved where we were and who we were in this game. But that was part of the problem: to run the game, Ev had to be at least a little detached from the characters we were playing in case one of them accidentally died. And that distance didn’t exist anymore. And the reasoning behind the game – Ev, as a social scientist, always has so many layers to what he wants to do and why he wants to do something – well, we’d kinda accomplished what he wanted to with it. We all agreed we’d reached a natural stopping point for the game.
It’s not that we couldn’t or wouldn’t have gladly run those characters until we died. We would’ve. My character – a young woodsman named Hogarth who’d become a shaman and an avatar of a dragon god, who’d fashioned himself into a magical living weapon who could do more damage with a punch than he ever could with his bow and arrow – was a chance for me to have entirely too much fun doing ill-advised things and just hoping the healer would have enough pieces of me leftover afterwards to put me back together (he usually did). I kinda love Hogarth, that goofy sunnuvabitch. But we’d helped Ev reach his goal – which I’m being purposely coy about, because it’s his business and not yours – and so we stopped.
And that was hard. We hated to end it. I hate knowing that Hogarth will go on more adventures that I won’t get to be a part of. That we may never return to this setting, these characters, ever again. It’s a lot to process. I didn’t get as invested in the characters as my fellow players did – just not in my personality to do so, I guess – but I admit to being a little sad that we’re done with that game, while I’m also looking forward to what we do next.
The school year is settling in (except for my freshmen, maybe), so here’s some tunes to cruise into mid-September to.
- Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”: I love the drums on this one. The high school marching band that joins in halfway through is also pretty neat.
- Frank Turner, “Get Better”: “I’m trying to get better ’cause I haven’t been my best,” Turner sings, and damn if I don’t feel that most days.
- U2, “Hawkmoon 269”: Just what the heck is a hawkmoon, anyway? My Google-Fu is useless, at least since Destiny 2 released an exotic gun of the same name.
- Tom Waits, “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night”: I’m a sucker for any song title that starts with parentheses. And this song is just sad and sweet and gets me every time.
- Sublime, “What I Got”: I dare you not to sing along. You can’t not sing along.
- Walk the Moon, “Shut Up And Dance”: My niece likes this song. I think it’s pretty catchy, to the point that I find myself occasionally listening to it even when she’s not around (and sometimes putting it on a playlist, like this one).
- Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “Pump It Up”: It’s got a very insistent bassline and drumbeat that just gets into your brain and won’t let go.
- The Horrible Crowes, “Behold The Hurricane”: Brian Fallon just writes such catchy songs.
- Iron & Wine, “Claim Your Ghost”: Speaking of songs that are sad and sweet…
- The Jayhawks, “I’d Run Away”: The harmonies these guys got up to just send shivers down my spine.
Week three of the school year rattles on. Here’s some tunes to carry you through.
- Gin Blossoms, “Just South of Nowhere”: The Gin Blossoms have become one of my favorite bands from the 90s, and this is one of my favorites by them. Pre-New Miserable Experience.
- Electric Light Orchestra, “Daybreaker”: An instrumental from the Jeff Lynne-led band. It’s off of On the Third Day, where ELO really became ELO.
- Rhiannon Giddens, “Better Get It Right the First Time”: This woman can write a damn song, lemme tell you. She also plays a mean banjo, though that’s not present on this track. This is more of an old-school R&B number, with a rap break that actually really works well.
- Robert Earl Keen, “The Road Goes On Forever (Live)”: “The road goes on forever/and the party never ends,” he sings, and I’m still not sure if that’s a statement of undeniable fact or a plea to never let go.
- The Who, “The Seeker”: Any song that references the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary in the same verse is some kinda wonderful.
- Patti Smith, “Because The Night”: When Bruce Springsteen gives you an unfinished song, you take it and you rock it out. Patti Smith definitely did.
- Paul McCartney, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”: Shortly after his first wife, Linda, passed away, Paul got into the studio with a bunch of buddies (including guitarist David Gilmore) to record a bunch of old 50s rockers and a few new tracks written in the same vein. They slap. They all slap. This one especially.
- Dawes, “That Western Skyline”: The first song off their first album is filled with so much promise. So much. Those Laurel Canyon harmonies are just perfect. The rest of the album – and honestly, everything they’ve put out since – feels like a failure of that promise.
- fun., “Some Nights”: Another band that falls flat right after their first song or two. Maybe what I expected from this song and what the band actually want to do are two very different things.
- Elliott Smith, “Either/Or”: It strikes me to this day that Elliott Smith died far too young. If I can be half – hell, even a quarter – of the guitar player or musician or songwriter that he was, I’d be perfectly happy with that.
It’s playlist time! Here it is on Spotify.
- David Bowie, “Starman”: We can all agree that Ziggy Stardust is, like, one of the best albums of the last fifty years, right? Right. It’s obvious.
- Bruce Springsteen, “My City Of Ruins”: the Boss’s paean to New York City following the September 11th attacks. I know he’s never really been known for his subtlety, and this song definitely ain’t subtle, but it’s uplifting and beautiful and I kinda love it.
- Pure Prairie League, “Aime”: While I was in Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago, we (meaning my father, my uncle, their cousin, and me) tried singing this song and recording it for posterity. Sadly, the backing vocals were “lost” (according to my uncle) and no one will ever hear it ever. Ever.
- Pearl Jam, “Hail, Hail”: When you just wanna crank up the volume on the car stereo, roll the windows down, and jam the hell out, it’s hard to top Pearl Jam.
- Owen Danoff, “Never Been Kissed”: I found this dude through a tweet from Nathan Fillion. That man has never led me wrong.
- Old 97s, “Champaign, Illinois”: If you’re going to rewrite Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and turn it into a raucous rave-up, this is what it would indeed sound like. Exactly this, since that’s exactly what they did.
- The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man”: With the “Ooh, sha-la-la”s this is like a punky version of a girl-group song, yelped by Brian Fallon instead of the Ronnettes.
- George Harrison, “Isn’t It A Pity”: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is the best post-Beatles Beatle album and I will fight you over this.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Sad But True”: I don’t really listen to much Metallica, but if more of it sounded like this I probably would.
- The White Stripes, “Offend In Every Way”: Sometimes you just need a good stompin’ blues-like song.
It’s back to school for good ol’ me! Here’s a list of ten songs to get you back into the learning mood. Here’s the playlist on Spotify, for those so inclined (I’ve added all of the playlists there so far, so feel free to go back and listen to ’em).
- The Call, “Let The Day Begin”: Back when I was in high school, we listened to 107.7 FM, KRXO, out of Oklahoma City. And the morning show always played this song. Every morning. It was a ritual. A call to action. And so it is now.
- Genesis, “Just A Job To Do”: Sure, this song isn’t about teaching. It’s about a hitman hunting down his next target. But isn’t that what teaching is, really? (No, it isn’t)
- The Good, The Bad, and the Queen, “History Song”: Look, there aren’t nearly as many songs about teaching and the subject of history out there as you’d think there are, but this one has history in the title, so…
- Pink Floyd, “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2”: Yeah, I was gonna do a playlist about returning to school and not include this song. “We don’t need no education!”
- Sting, “History Will Teach Us Nothing”: The old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind here.
- The Hollies, “Teach Your Children”: The Hollies covering the CS&N classic. I’m starting to think the Hollies were just a really well-liked cover band, for the most part.
- Paul Simon, “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”: Has absolutely nothing to do with school other than the title. But I think Julio is up to no good and you should probably avoid him, Paul.
- John Legend, “History Has Its Eyes On You”: John Legend takes the Hamilton tune and turns it into a glorious Gospel number. I dig it.
- Chuck Berry, “School Days”: “Hail, hail, rock and roll!”
- The Mountain Goats, “Fall Of The Star High School Running Back”: If you were thinking, “Gee, I wonder if this Mountain Goats song will be about a star high school football player who suffers a career-ending injury and turns to selling drugs and then gets caught,” well, have I got news for you. And the news is you are 100% correct and it’s as awesome as you think.
Did you think I’d forgotten? That I had decided to stop posting weekly playlists? No! I’ve just been visiting family in Oklahoma, and not everyone has reliable wi-fi. Anyway, here’s last week’s and this week’s lists. *EDIT* Now with links to the playlists on Spotify!
- Jelly Roll Morton, “Black Bottom Stomp”: There are legends (likely started by Jelly Roll himself) that he created jazz and that this is the first recorded jazz song. I’m not real sure on all that, but it is a good song.
- The Hotdamns, “Gina Lynn”: Our friend Danielle was in this band back in the day, and they’re really good. Y’all should check out their two releases available on iTunes.
- The High Kings, “Galway Girl”: I think I have this song because an after-school jam group I was playing with was doing it. It’s Irish and fun, as those things tend to be.
- Healthy White Baby, “Strong Reactor”: Great band, terrible name. Part of my web of Wilco-related groups (the bassist, Laurie Stirratt, is sibling to Wilco’s bassist John Stirratt). Ask me and I’ll gladly tell you. of how almost a dozen bands are all connected via the band Wilco.
- Faces, “Three Button Hand Me Down”: A fun story song about the suit that the orphan kid got when he left the orphanage and how it’s served him well all these years.
- Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, “Good Light”: A rootsy tune by a dude with an amazing beard.
- Dire Straits, “The Man’s Too Strong”: Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the Dire Straits album cuts are a little weak sometimes. For every “Sultans of Swing,” there’s a “Les Boys.” But this one slaps, folks.
- Spoon, “Do You”: I could just listen to the album this song is off of, They Want My Soul, over and over again, and frequently have.
- Monsters of Folk, “Say Please”: A collaboration between the likes of Connor Oberst, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M. Ward, and Mike Mogis should be pretty damn good, but the album this song is off of falls pretty short of the God-tier supergroups like the Traveling WIlburys. This song is alright, though
- The Offspring, “Self Esteem”: A couple weeks back, I was playing guitar at my dad’s house, and my step-brother’s son, Bryson, apparently really like this song by the Offspring. It’s just three chords, so it was easy to learn. Hard to sing, though.
- Van Morrison, “The Great Deception”: I’ve been borrowing my father’s Mustang Mach 1 while I’ve been visiting (a very fun car to drive, let me tell you), and Van’s Hard Nose the Highway was one of the few CDs I borrowed from him to listen to in the car. I’ve heard “The Great Deception” about a dozen times in the past two weeks, and I’m still not tired of it.
- Lizzo & Cardi B, “Rumors”: It slaps. Lizzo drops what the young folks might refer to as knowledge on ya, and it’s just a really well-done pop/rap song.
- Shania Twain, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”: Is it possible to not sing along with this song when it comes on? I posit that it is, in fact, impossible not to sing along.
- Neil Young, “Harvest”: My brother played the dance remix version of this song for me last night. I now question everything I ever thought I understood about music.
- Placebo, “You Don’t Care About Us”: The ’90s were a wild time, weren’t they? Yes, yes they were.
- Uncle Tupelo, “Whiskey Bottle”: “Whiskey bottle over Jesus/Not forever, but just for now.” Chills, man.
- Zoe Keating, “Optimist”: I don’t usually listen to strictly instrumental music. I make an exception for Zoe Keating, a cellist who can make that thing sit up and beg if you want her to.
- The Killers, “Somebody Told Me”: Clyde maintains this is the best band (and their best album) of the 21st century. He might be right.
- Linda Ronstadt, “When Will I Be Loved?” I heard my uncle play this particular song so many times back in college and graduate school when he was playing in a country cover band. It is not recommended that you try to two-step to this one.
- Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”: The bane of open mics across the southwest, but still a fun and easy song to rock out to.
This week is my father’s birthday! For the playlist, I chose songs from bands we’ve seen play live. Going to concerts was how my father and I bonded (rather than sports, or cars, or reading interests, or stuff like that. I don’t think he was particularly ready to have an indoor son), and we’ve seen some great shows over the years.
- The Doobie Brothers, “Black Water”: The first concert I went to was in the 5th grade, and it was to see these guys. In hindsight, I think this show was more for my dad than for me; I mean, I liked “China Grove,” but I wasn’t really familiar with much of the rest of their stuff. It was still a good time, though.
- Genesis, “I Can’t Dance”: We saw Genesis on the tour for the We Can’t Dance album down in Dallas, TX. I remember us trying to walk to the stadium where the show was held, then deciding it would work better to drive ’cause it was just too damn far.
- Eric Clapton, “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues”: We caught Clapton on the tour for Me and Mr. Johnson, where he did a bunch of old Robert Johnson tunes. Billy Preston played keyboards on the album and the tour. It was pretty fantastic.
- John Mellencamp, “Rain On The Scarecrow”: Mellencamp was touring for his greatest hits album when we caught him. He did a little acoustic set in the middle of the show, and this was one of the songs they played during that part.
- The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women”: Caught them in Norman when I was in high school. Nearly got crushed trying to get to our seats by the press of drunk Boomers. Good times.
- ZZ Top, “Sharp Dressed Man”: Dusty Hills, the bass player, just passed away last week. These guys put on a damn good show.
- Crosby, Stills, & Nash, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”: Caught them at the Civic Center Auditorium in Oklahoma City back in high school. These guys can harmonize, and Stephen Stills may be one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen, hands down.
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Do Me Like That”: Tom Petty was one of my favorite artists growing up. I only had a couple of his albums when he went on the Into the Great Wide Open tour, but we managed to get front row center tickets to the show. I sang along at the top of my lungs to every song, and Tom Petty gave me his guitar pick at the end of the show. Just awesome.
- Chicago, “I’m A Man”: Now, I haven’t ever seen Chicago in concert. Not sure I wanna see a Terry Kath-less Chicago anyway. But I know they’re one of my dad’s favorite bands, and I know he saw them back in the ’70s, so i really couldn’t resist putting at least one Chicago song on the list.
- The Beatles, “Norwegian Wood”: Again, I’ve obviously never seen the Beatles in concert. They were done a good decade before I came along. But we grew up listening to them. Dad and I used to go see a Beatles cover band called Tribute 1964 every time they rolled into Norman (which, when I was in high school, was an annual occurrence). I would have been remiss in not putting a Beatles song on this list, and I know dad likes to play this one on the guitar.
I’m traveling to Oklahoma this week, so all of this week’s songs are by Oklahoma artists or bands related to Oklahoma in some way, shape, or form. It’s also longer than most of our lists, ’cause I couldn’t leave any of these songs off.
- John Fullbright, “Jericho (Live)”: Sort of Oklahoma’s favorite musical son. He’s a damn good singer, and this is my favorite song by him. I also sang on the same tribute album as him once, so we’re, like, connected and stuff.
- Parker Millsap, “Truck Stop Gospel”: He’s a good ol’ country boy just pickin’ and grinnin’.
- Samantha Crain, “Santa Fe”: A Shawnee girl (my hometown), she apparently went to high school with my brother?
- The Regular Joes, “Restless”: My uncle’s old rock and roll band. He’s the lead guitarist.
- The Flaming Lips, “Waitin’ For A Superman”: Yeah, this is two Flaming Lips songs in a row, but it’s my playlist and I’ll put the Lips on as many playlists as I wanna.
- Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”: Patron Saint of Okies, unionist, and antifa before being antifa was cool.
- Tulsa, “Shaker”: They called their band Tulsa. Like I wasn’t gonna include one of their songs on this list.
- Turnpike Troubadours, “Every Girl”: Country hoedown! Bop along and sing along if you know the words.
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, “In Oklahoma”: The late-90s Oklahoma musical success story that still kicks out new stuff even now.
- Billy Bragg & WIlco, “Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key”: “I come from a place called Okfuskee,” this song begins. That’s where the town of Okemah, where my grandparents lived for so long (and where Woody Guthrie is from), is located.
- Leon Russell, “Tight Rope”: He’s an Okie from Lawton. Dude was the session musician back in the ’60s and ’70s, and he continued to kick ass until his death in 2016.
- Bruce Springsteen, “My Oklahoma Home”: Hey, remember the Dust Bowl and how it tried to kill the Great Plains? This song is about that, though it has a sense of humor about things.
- JD McPherson, “Signs and Signifiers”: This guy does ’50s-style rave-up electric blues like it never went out of style. This song is slower than most of the rest of the album it’s from, but it’s still pretty awesome.
- James McMurtry, “Choctaw Bingo”: Let’s have a family reunion in Okahoma, why not?
- Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”: Look, if I didn’t include this song on this list, they’d take away my Okie License, and then I wouldn’t be able to go snipe hunting anymore, and I still haven’t caught a damn snipe yet.
It’s the Wife’s birthday this weekend, so this week’s playlist is all songs she likes!
- The Pixies, “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)”: Preferred version of this song. Dunno why. But it feels suitably surf-y and UK-y.
- Arcade Fire, “Intervention”: I think it’s the organ that does it in this one. I do know that this is probably off her (and my) favorite Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible.
- AC Newman, “Take On Me”: A beautiful, slowed down cover of the a-ha classic, complete with the really high “in a day or twoooooooooooo”s.
- Elliott Smith, “Baby Britain”: I think the Wife was the one who introduced me to Elliott Smith. This song is great, if for no other reason than the fact that he references both Revolver and the song “Crimson and Clover.”
- The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”: I did not care much for the ’80s when I was a wee lad. The music felt overproduced, all artifice and no substance. I’ve since learned that I was not even close to 100% correct on that second point (the jury is still out on the first point). This song is really good, either way.
- Annie Lennox, “Walking On Broken Glass”: For a song about the torture of a love affair gone bad, this song is very upbeat and fun.
- The Flaming Lips, “Free Radicals”: “You think you’re radical/But you’re not so radical/In fact, you’re fanatical/Fanatical (Fuck!)” may be the best chorus of the twenty-first century.
- The National, “Slow Show”: Okay, no, it’s “I wanna hurry home to you/Put on a slow, dumb show for you and crack you up.”
- REM, “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”: Why do I love songs where the first part of the title is in parentheses and why have I not written one yet? Oh, right, because it will never be anywhere near as good as this song.
- The Magnetic Fields, “Epitaph For My Heart”: I’m reasonably certain this is her favorite Magnetic Fields song. It’s the one she plays every time we listen to that band.
Happy Tuesday, folks! Here’s the latest playlist:
- Amanda Shires, “Pale Fire”: I love how simple and evocative this song is. I also love that name drops Oklahoma. Someday, I will put together a playlist entirely of songs that do that.
- The Autumn Defense, “Estate Remains”: I always dig the mellow sound these two Wilco sidemen make on this side project. The cello is my favorite part of this particular song.
- Big Red Machine, “Gratitude”: “Well, I better not fuck this up,” the refrain says. A lot. And I can empathize with that.
- 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days”: When 9,999 maniacs just aren’t enough.
- J.J. Cale, “Call Me The Breeze”: Breezy indeed, J.J. Cale is an Oklahoma tradition and a national treasure.
- Jack Johnson, “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”: I’ve always liked the thumpy fingerpicked style Jack Johnson uses. This song has it in spades.
- Jeremy Messersmith, “Tourniquet”: Saw this guy in concert at Jammin’ Java several years ago at the behest of my good friend Jamie. I have not regretted that decision.
- Joe Walsh, “Rocky Mountain Way”: Joe Walsh songs are just fun to play on the guitar, even if you’re like me and can’t play the lead stuff.
- The Minus 5, “I’m Not Bitter”: “I walk around the block to avoid you/And that’s when I’m in a social mood.” That…while it’s a damn good couplet, it’s probably also a sign you should go to therapy.
- Peter Gabriel, “Secret World”: The closer to Us, where Peter Gabriel shows us what is up and how to end a record.