Happy Monday, folks. I spent last week visiting family in Oklahoma; specifically, I went to see my grandparents. They’re all getting up there in years (all of them are now well into their 90s), and their health is in decline. They take it with the same sort of Okie stoicism I’ve come to know from them over the past 40-odd years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see these remarkably strong people become increasingly weaker and less able to do things they used to do with such ease.
Of particular concern is my maternal grandmother. She, like her husband before her, has started to suffer from dementia. We finally got her into an assisted living center last month, but that was a trial and a half and thank God it’s over. While she seemed resistant to it at first, she seems to have settled in and is doing quite nicely. She likes all of the staff and she’s made friends and is participating in activities. Everyone keeps talking about how sweet she is, to which I replied, “Really? My grandmother? The sour-faced lady?” But she does seem to be genuinely happy for the first time in . . . years, I’d say. Since before my grandfather got poorly, at least.
Anyway, all of that had me thinking about memory and the things we carry with us and the things that we try to carry with us but, ultimately, can’t, and this playlist popped out.
- Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”: Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimer’s, and toward the end of his life couldn’t really do much as that disease robbed him of everything that made him, him. But he gave us one last song, and damn if it isn’t a doozy. Contemplating life, death, and loss, he reflects on the fact that while the Alzheimer’s might be destroying him, it’s really those around him who will suffer from it.
- The Pixies, “I Can’t Forget”: The Pixies cover a Leonard Cohen song. About trying to remember but being unable to do so.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”: A long, sinuous jam of a song, the sort I’m usually not that in to. But this one is pretty good, as those things go.
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Remember The Mountain Bed”: Woody Guthrie’s words are so evocative here, so painfully, painstakingly clear, that I can picture the mountain bed of the title in my mind. I can picture the girl, and the leaves, and the boy lying beside her, whispering things to one another that are just on the edge of hearing. And it feels a little bittersweet. This is clearly a moment from the distant past, a stolen piece of time between two people who are no longer in each other’s lives. And it’s beautiful and ephemeral and it’s one of my favorite songs ever.
- Jars of Clay, “Unforgetful You”: Now, just for a minute, forget that the song is a Jesus song. I know, it’s hard to take it out of that context, but work with me here. It’s still a fun song about someone who absolutely refuses to forget about you, and we all kinda need someone like that in our lives.
- The Mountain Goats, “You Or Your Memory”: Once more proving the adage that there’s not a playlist yet that can’t be improved with a Mountain Goats song, we’ve got this one. As per usual, Darnielle cuts through the noise and rips out your heart, and he does it all in under 2 and a half minutes. That’s just efficient.
- Neko Case, “Don’t Forget Me”: It’s an old cover. It’s beautifully sung, because it’s Neko Case. I don’t know what else you need to hear.
- Peter Gabriel, “I Don’t Remember”: This song and the Glen Campbell song were the two that sparked this whole playlist. The Gabriel song is edgy and nervous, anxious about the loss of memory, while the Campbell song is resigned to it and leaning in.
- Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, “If I Am A Stranger”: There were quite a few Ryan Adams songs I could have put on this list (and more than one from the album Cold Roses), but I settled on this one because I remember my grandfather going from knowing everyone who was around him to being surrounded by strangers. I think it scared him sometimes, not recognizing our faces.
- George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: The song I always come back to for comfort. George understood the world and our place in it better than just about any other musician, and he understood that death comes for everyone eventually. And he accepted that with grace and dignity. It’s just wild to me, and helps me come to terms with things myself.
I was this close to just making it all songs about sex. But aren’t all songs about sex, when you get right down to it? Anyway, give me a follow on Patreon and support your local author/songwriter. Anyway, here’s the first playlist of the new school year!
- The Mountain Goats, “Training Montage”: “I’m doing this for revenge!” John Darnielle cries out at the start of the chorus, and damn if that isn’t just the best line in a song I’ve heard this year.
- Iggy Pop, “The Passenger”: Is it the most relentless chord progression you’ve ever heard? Maybe. Are Iggy and David Bowie’s yelped “la”s in the chorus earwormy? Definitely.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Ain’t Good Enough For You”: I’ve featured this song on a playlist before. It still slaps.
- Calexico, “Cumbia De Donde”: Did you know cumbia is a type of Latin American dance music that originated in Colombia? Because the guys in Calexico sure do, and they want you to know they do.
- Spoon, “Don’t Make Me A Target”: I don’t know what it is about the way this band breaks down a song and then rebuilds it using the same basic instruments as every single rock and roll band that has ever existed that kicks me in the ass every time, but it kicks me in the ass every time.
- ZZ Top, “La Grange”: Back when I worked at a private school, I taught one of my students how to play this on the bass (it’s only three notes that even I could figure out). It’s fun.
- Pearl Jam, “World Wide Suicide”: Even late into their career, Pearl Jam can still pull out all the stops and offer a rocker that rips the doors off.
- John Mellencamp, “Right Behind Me”: Meanwhile, John Mellencamp has resorted to recording in hotel rooms with equipment from the 1950s to get that sound just right.
- Jay Farrar, “Feel Free”: Jay Farrar’s songs have gotten more esoteric and inscrutable as time passes, but this one is still early enough in his solo career that the lyrics make some sense. And it references “non-profit radio,” which is what I thought NPR stood for for far longer than I’d care to admit.
- Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “Be Afraid”: “Be afraid, be very afraid/But do it anyway,” is just some of the best damn advice you can hear right now, I think.
Happy Fourth of July, folks! I survived my trip to Utah with my mother (it was beautiful and I’m glad I went, even if she did try to kill me a couple of times). As per usual, you can support my making music over on Patreon. Anyway, let’s get on with this week’s playlist:
- Joe Baxter and the Lost Cause, “Mt. Nebo Blues”: My uncle’s old bandmate mostly does folky, acoustic-based stuff nowadays, though back in the day they could tear it up.
- Brad Paisley, “All I Wanted Was A Car”: My mom really likes Brad Paisley, as it turns out, and he is a pretty damn fine guitar player. Who apparently only wanted a car when he was young.
- Kings & Queens, “I’m Looking”: Who doesn’t love a doo-wop-inspired love song? Commies, that’s who.
- Lapdog, “I Don’t Mind”: Half of Toad the Wet Sprocket formed this band back after Toad split around the year 2000 and put out a couple of solid albums before Toad reunited and started working on new material again. This song is pretty great and features some good guitar licks.
- Hank Williams, “Why Don’t You Love Me”: I love me some Hank Williams, Sr., and this is one of my favorites to play on the guitar.
- The Hotdamns, “Yankee By Birth (Southern At Heart)”: Friend Danielle was in this band back in the day, and they do some fun country-ish stuff.
- Jackson Browne, “In The Shape Of A Heart (Live)”: I sorta love the live acoustic setting for a lot of Jackson Browne songs, where his craft and songwriting skills really shine through. This one is no exception.
- James McMurtry, “Just Us Kids”: Growing up kinda sucks, and is definitely hard, but you gotta face it with some humor.
- Jars Of Clay, “Trouble Is”: “Yeah, the trouble is/We don’t know who we are instead.” Same, guys.
- Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, “What’ve I Done To Help”: A song that examines the ways we do and don’t help our fellow man, and what it means to be a compassionate and caring person in this day and age.
Happy Monday, folks. I’m back at work after a lovely and relaxing Spring Break. Over the break, I worked on the next song for Patreon, which you should join if you haven’t already. Anyway, here’s this week’s playlist:
- Pink Floyd, “Hey, Hey, Rise Up (featuring Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Boombox)”: A song recorded in conjunction with Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk, who cut short his American tour with his band Boombox to go back and fight against the Russians. The lyrics are from an old anti-war song from 1914 called, “Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow.”
- Whiskeytown, “Jacksonville Skyline”: The more I listen to Ryan Adams’ lyrics, the more I realize the dude doesn’t really write coherent stories. What the hell is a “hopeless streetlight,” anyway?
- Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “Alabama Pines”: The loneliness and isolation this song’s narrator goes through is palpable, and the little details – like the only liquor store on the north side of town – add the perfect amount of realism and sincerity to the song.
- Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes”: A David Bowie song in all but name. He produced their album and wrote this particular song.
- Neko Case, “Hold On, Hold On”: “In the end I was the mean girl/Or somebody’s in-between girl.”
- Norah Jones, “Creepin’ In”: Did you know Norah Jones recorded a song where she dueted with Dolly Parton? She did. It’s this song. It’s fun.
- Paul Revere & the Raiders, “Kicks”: I originally heard this song when it was covered by the Monkees, of all bands, on an old greatest hits tape my mom had. It’s a damn fine song.
- Tonic, “If You Could Only See”: The ’90s called, and it said you can have this song. They overplayed it already, thanks.
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Straight Into Darkness”: Yeah, the album Straight Into Darkness isn’t the most essential Tom Petty release. Most of the songs are inconsequential and nowhere near the heights of Damn the Torpedoes or even Hard Promises. But even mediocre Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers can still kick the crap outta most other bands on their best days.
- Soul Coughing, “16 Horses”: I would love to write a song like this someday. I’d love to be able to play a song like this someday.
Happy Monday, folks. Have a list of songs.
- Jay Farrar, “Feel Free”: For years, I thought NPR stood for “Non-Profit Radio.” It made sense, right? That is not what it stands for, by the by.
- The Gaslight Anthem, “Mama’s Boys”: The most Rolling Stones-iest song they ever recorded. It’s fun to sing along at the top of your lungs as you drive way too fast down the road.
- Ra Ra Riot, “Ghost Under Rocks”: I don’t even remember how it is I came to know about this band, but I’ve always liked the promise of this song (even if I haven’t cared as much for the rest of their output).
- Lil Nas X, “THATS WHAT I WANT”: First off, can we discuss the lack of an apostrophe in the title? That always annoys me. Grammar aside, the song slaps.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Featuring John Paul White), “Driver 8”: Did you know the REM song “Driver 8” had discernable lyrics hidden within it? And that they’re about a train driver? True story.
- ABBA, “Waterloo”: I’m a sucker for songs about historical subjects, and this is the second-best song about the Napoleonic Wars ever (the best is the 1812 Overture).
- The Mountain Goats, “Get Famous”: The continued prominence of the Mountain Goats gives me hope that even someone with a voice like mine could someday make it.
- George Harrison, “Cheer Down”: Not enough has been written about the wordplay and wry humor of George Harrison’s songwriting. This song is a great example of all that, and the guitar work is killer.
- Rhett Miller, “The El”: The way I found out about the Old 97s was by hearing this album by Rhett Miller first. Then I found Too Far To Care and it was all downhill from there for me.
- Gillian Welch, “Revelator”: So damn downbeat and depressing, melancholy and bittersweet and beautiful. So beautiful.