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Skeleton Frolic

Oh man, with all that I’ve been busy with I hadn’t realized that it was Halloween time again. Hooray! So if you missed them last year, here’s a few mixes from last year while I work on something new. Also, here’s a great Ub Iwerks (who has one of the greatest names ever) cartoon called “Skeleton Frolic”:


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Halloween: Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra

“The Raven”–Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra

Buddy Morrow’s a trombone player and band leader (currently leading the Tommy Dorsey Band), used to play on the Tonight Show, and had his own orchestra for RCA Victor in the 50s and 60s.  In 1960, the band did the album Poe for Moderns, which is where the above gem comes from.  The album is a mix of Lamberts, Hendricks, and Ross-type vocal play, hep cat poetry, and swing jazz.  I bought this album from a guy who just had boxes of records and junk sitting in a storage unit in Manhattan, KS–that’s the little apple, folks–it was really hard to figure out what days he was going to be there.

“The Raven” is one of my fave songs of the season and, in my humble opinion, even better than L, H, and R’s own entry into the holiday’s music, but it could be just that the source material is better.  Plus, Morrow does an amazing job of creating the tension of the original poem, even with the laid-back groove the singers (the Skip-Jacks) bring.

As a special bonus, here’s a complete rip of the album.  It’s a little rough in spots, but I’ve cleaned it up as much as possible.

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Halloween: Teen Spirit pt. 1

I love Halloween.  It’s for various reasons: evil, autumn, killing things to sacrifice to Satan, watching horror movies without people thinking it’s a little weird, those sorts of things.  So to celebrate, I’m putting some songs up in anticipation of the holiday.  There’ll be several songs per post and maybe at the end I’ll offer a mix of some of my faves for download (still haven’t decided on that yet).  Anyhoo, the first part are some songs from the early era of rock.  There will be other groups: soundtracks, metal, hippy dippy witches, murdering rednecks, but we’re starting with the teen tragedy.

The teen tragedy song is always good for a scary night, and there seem to be a ton of them.  Think “Leader of the Pack” and “Teen Angel” (although it seems that both of these could be in the “crash” subgenre, huh).  The ones below (minus The Shaggs, who are on here because THEY’RE THE SHAGGS) are just a few from our collection:

“It’s Halloween”–The Shaggs

How else should you start a halloween party?  Why even Dracula will be there!

“Strychnine”–The Sonics

An obvious one, but what a rocker.  Dying by poison never sounded more tempting… unless this is an aural representation of the pain that you feel… no, it still sounds tempting.

“No More Hot Dogs”–Hasil Adkins

There’s tons of Hasil songs you could pick, but this one’s kinda the creepiest for me.  Hasil’s myth was that he was a psycho hillbilly, although I’m guessing he was just a dude from the hills who could play drums and guitar at the same time.

“Endless Sleep”–Jody Reynolds

Jody Reynolds grew up in Shady Grove, Oklahoma, not too far from where I grew up.  I first heard this song at 15.  My friend Matt had borrowed a golden oldies tape of his parents and this song was about the only one that wasn’t “Wooly Bully” or “It’s My Party” overplayed hullaballoo.  I remembered that the girl died, but I guess he saves her.  I think it might have just been a twisted teenage imagination that let the girl die in the song for some reason.  Turns out, though, that’s how Reynolds wrote it, but the record label made him change it.  Figures.  BONUS: There’s been a lot of versions of this song, but here’s a pre-mountain fall Hank Williams, Jr., doing one.

“Down in the Willow Garden”–The Everly Brothers

The Everlys get a lot of play around our house.  It was actually a toss up between this and their airplane disaster tune “Ebony Eyes,” but this one fits better with a forthcoming genre, the murder ballad, so I’m sticking with it.  There aren’t too many people who can harmonize like the Everly Brothers.  Like angels with poison wine.

Next up, Teen Spirit pt. 2!


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“Part III”–Bad Religion

My Dad was known to holler up the stairwell at my brothers and I (to wake us up in the morning [at least three times], for phone calls we may have had, or if we just needed to be told to “take your head out of your ass”, etc.).

This particular day, circa 1990, I was blaring my Bad Religion, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? cassette.  The song, “Part III”.  As I absorbed the sound waves of this song, I heard my Dad yell up the stairwell to me, “JOOEELL!!!”  I slammed the STOP/EJECT button as fast as I could and yelled a “YEAAH” back.  When I looked over the railing of the stairwell, my Dad wasn’t there.  One of the few who could snap me out of my rebellion wasn’t there.  After further investigation, it wasn’t my Dad, but the screaming guitar of “Part III” (1:42 mark).

Now my Dad really isn’t “there,” but I will forever be able to hear him yell my name – which will forever make me smile.

–Joel Bates

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(This is a belated post.  This first appeared last year after we heard of David Foster Wallace’s suicide and appeared on sing us your favorite tune, but I wanted it here as well because DFW was a writer that had an effect on Melissa and myself and we both miss him–even if we didn’t know him.  He died September 12, 2008.)

“Hurricane”–Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

This song comes into my head whenever I look at the ocean.  It’s OK, because I’ve loved the song since the first time I heard it years ago and having grown up in Kansas my times of looking at the ocean since hearing it have been fewer than, say, the times I’ve smoked a cigarette (although more times than, say, I’ve read books by William Faulkner, which is quite a few, and some of those I’ve read more than twice).  In fact, one of the beauties of this song is that it will pass before you know it; the waves of  it all lumbering into the shore and rolling into your feet, the spray hitting your torso, the sun on your arms and face.  Sometimes the waves are rough and sometimes they barely make it, instantaneously swallowed by another wave with more force or lazily left to roll back into the nothingness of the ocean.  Sometimes the waves swirl in holes dug with a child’s foot to get sand to build an asymmetrical castle.  And then, before you know it, another six minutes has passed.

When I was at the ocean a few weeks ago with my father-in-law and wife at a really nice little town on the Oregon coast that has, we were told by our hosts, the most expensive real estate value of anywhere in the northwest (or maybe it was the west coast? Who knows, really–they were nice and warm and wonderful people and prompted us for an impromptu concert when they saw there was an acoustic guitar on the wall) and for that reason the town is very quiet and quaint, I could hear the refrains again of the quietest passage of “Hurricane”—single notes struck like bells into the middle of a storm while Jay Paget tap-tap-tap-tap-taptiti-taptaps on the high-hat, right before the lines, “I don’t want to come up now/I just want to stay submerged/Reeling water, sinking down/I just want to let it all drift away” came into my mind as the water rolled in and out on the cold beach*.  We later sat at the only restaurant in town, which doubled as the only bar, and had some pretty great oyster burgers as everyone huddled together at a booth instead of a table because the place was packed** and we talked about politics, the weather, our lives… whatever it is strangers talk about, but more often than not stared at the big screen TV as Ike was coming inland upon Texas and CNN had someone braving the rain with an umbrella and rain jacket.  That’s a sight that never fails to crack me up, even if I know the impending doom.

At the end of the weekend, we slowly headed up the coast to show our visitor the beauty of it.  We lazed around in Astoria awhile, stopping to look at the sea lions that like to hang out on the boat docks near the edge of town.  I made it home in time to go to what was officially a business dinner with a new boss and a few coworkers, but what was really just five people having a few beers and some food and getting to know one another.  It was a good ending to a tiring, although very enjoyable weekend.  When I came home it was 9:26.

My wife told me that David Foster Wallace had hung himself that Friday.  She told me that his father said in the New York Times that he had been on anti-depressants most of his life (like so many… too many people I know, including me for portions of my own life) and nothing was working anymore before he did it, not even shock treatment.  And as the barbaric treatment sank into my own mind, I didn’t know what to say.  She was visibly distraught and had been crying.  It was horrible and I was crushed.  He was one of our favorite writers… we’d even made light of the fact that we thought he needed an editor and one less name in a band bio I’d written years earlier.  But if he couldn’t make it….  I immediately felt bad for even thinking it; for even putting that into the world.  Later that night she reminded me of this passage from the essay “Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise,” from Harper’s, which later became the titular story of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again:

There’s something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes yet simple in its effect: on board the Nadir (especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety ceased) I felt despair. The word “despair” is overused and banalized now, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and weak and selfish and going, without doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard….

In school I ended up writing three different papers on “The Castaway” section of Moby-Dick, the chapter in which a cabin boy falls overboard and is driven mad by the empty immensity of what he finds himself floating in. And when I teach school now I always teach Stephen Crane’s horrific “The Open Boat,” and I get bent out of shape when the kids think the story’s dull or just a jaunty adventure: I want them to suffer the same marrow-level dread of the oceanic I’ve always felt, the intuition of the sea as primordial nada, bottomless depths inhabited by toothstudded things rising angelically toward you. (http://harpers.org/media/pdf/dfw/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf)

Our guest—my father-in-law—had talked about being set adrift, earlier that afternoon, during a hurricane on the ocean when he was a young marine and how the vomit falling into the cabin below the deck where everyone was supposed to sleep caused everyone to stay up all night play poker.  He also talked about the feeling of nothingness he got when he rode in the watch tower (and wondering how many succumbed to the ocean waves then as he told us of the wonder of nothing in his own way) on a carrier bound for some coast (redacted).  And I wondered that as well, in my mind, when he talked about the disorientation of the ride in the lookout tower because as much as I love the ocean and never, ever pass up a chance to go, the ocean scares me to immobility occasionally, sometimes literally  I have to force myself to walk back to the shore or some building past it in order to hold onto something while my wife runs to the shore and puts her toes in the water and sings and dances.  I have to work my way up to facing the ocean.  It’s the noise and vastness and the feeling that I am nothing; and the fact that I can’t see what’s coming at me because you don’t know what is in all that water***, even if you’re onshore; and the overwhelming urge to walk into the water at times while never looking back is almost surely too romantic; and the guilt for even thinking that way; and having to even think about the money it would take just to own a house near the ocean and the victims of hurricanes/tsunamis of recent past and looking at the tsunami sirens on the Oregon coast**** and, finally, knowing that David Foster Wallace had already summed my phobias up in a couple of paragraphs.

Tonight while writing this I got up to see why our cat The Big Delicious was crying (she’s always crying for no apparent reason, usually late at night, but she’s happy to see you when you look for her); and I looked at our other cat Mushi Mushi, Gila Monster, who had had his leg amputated a few months ago after he somehow broke it almost at the joint  (he’s an insane inside cat) and the hospital had to wait to amputate because his heart was enlarged and we’re still not sure how to get him help or even if we need to—and how will we pay for it if he does after paying some crazy amount for the amputation?; and I looked at my wife sleeping because she’s had a horrible summer filled with the death of a very close loved one and sometimes she just can’t find sleep so I let her go; and I think about David Foster Wallace’s wife having to find him; and I think about the people of Louisiana and Texas and other Gulf Coast states and cities who may or may not have electrical power at the time I’m writing this and may or may not have loved ones who have died while I who have a computer that mostly works, and a special full spectrum lamp my parents bought us as a gift because the NW kinda sucks in the winter; and I go to the fridge and open a beer and I know that this song isn’t about hurricanes or the ocean.  As I finish my beer and walk the four blocks to the little convenience store in our neighborhood (that people would ask us, “You know, that’s the ghetto?” about our ‘hood when we got to our new hometown and we’d want to reply, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding?  Have you ever seen a ghetto?  Cause that ain’t it,” but instead we’d just say, “uhh, yeah, we’ve heard something like that,” and laugh) and some kid asks me for a dollar and I know that he doesn’t want it for food, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t have any cash anyway and he gives me a “tsk” when I tell him.  (This makes me a little angry, but also makes me laugh a little as I head for the crosswalk.)  No, this song is a conversation between two people: one who doesn’t want to live anymore and one who (in thought; notice the weirdly disjointed lines of the verse) is so consumed by the other person and can’t do anything but be effected by the other person’s depression that they have nothing to talk about except depression… and that’s when I can’t do anything but know what I’ve always known: that’s what the song is about and hope that anyone listening to it who may be feeling despair tonight or any night will find some small piece of happiness/peace of mind soon.

Even if it’s just in a song*****.

* If you don’t know, Oregon beaches are hardly ever warm and the water is freezing, even in the summer.  It’s always slightly amusing watching men with no shirts and teenage girls in bikinis tough it out as if this is what beaches were made for and, dammit, I’m going to be half naked!

** And the guy in the booth behind us knocked a photo off the wall when he gestured wildly, right into the plate and glass of wine of our hosts.  Immediately, my wife said, “What happened?” and he came back, “It just fell.”  I couldn’t call him on it because I was so amazed at the fact that those words left his mouth with thinking, even though I saw him hit it, which we explained later after the occupants of the table had left.

*** I got to actually take my parents to see the ocean for the first time in their lives and I watched my mom take it all in as my dad did nothing but snap pictures and walk towards it simultaneously.  She wasn’t really moving.  I asked her if she was OK because she’s had ankle injuries and has trouble walking sometimes.  She said yes, but that it was overwhelming and scary.  “You just don’t know what’s underneath all of that, you know?”  And I knew exactly what she was saying.  It’s those toothstudded things rising angelically toward you that you’d only see once if you ventured out too far and I know that my mom has never read DFW and probably never will.  It’s strange to come from the midwest where you can see things coming toward you for miles and miles to watch miles and miles of something that you can’t really see.

**** My mother asked, “What happens if a tsunami reaches Portland?” to which I answered, “If a tsunami reaches Portland over the mountains, there’ll be a whole lotta people that are fucked, so I’m not too worried about it.”

*****The antidote song for this post is “What A Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstong, but it’s the antidote for pretty much everything, really.  I can’t explain why now, or maybe ever.


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uremu lani ludu

Alicia Adorada—Alejo Durán

Many musicians I know despise classifications and categories. But inevitably we all end up creating genres for reference, even if they only work for us.  Years ago I was listening to a vallenato compilation when, without any warning, one of the songs started saying, in Spanish:

I remember that, whenever Jaime Molina got drunk, he used to dictate:
That if I died first he would paint my portrait,
And if he died first, I would write his song;
Today, how I wish that he would paint my portrait
And not having to write this song.

It was mesmerizing. The lyrics, at the same time, were unequivocally blunt and avoided being unnecessarily corny. That day, without realizing, I created a new subgenre for myself, and from then on I’ve been adding songs to it. I picked up the name for it years later in a compilation of Garifuna music. I call them uremu lani ludu, which means “mourning songs,” although that name is not entirely truthful to the spirit of these songs. These are songs that are written for a deceased relative or friend, but they are rarely mourning. These songs are more about celebrating the person than lamenting their departure.

The second one I found is the recording that to this day I consider the most beautiful recording I’ve heard, and for that reason alone, I will save it for last.  The third one I found was another vallenato: “Alicia Adorada” (“Cherished Alicia”), written by Juancho Polo Valencia. The legend has it that Juancho Polo Valencia used to travel all the time, going from one town to another to play his songs, leaving his cherished Alicia behind at their hometown, Flores de María. One day she got ill, really bad, and someone went looking for him.  When they found him and he finally made it back to Flores de María, she had been dead for three days. He went to the cemetery and people started hearing the sound of his accordion coming from there. That was the first time this song was played, improvised at her grave, which later went to become a standard in Colombian music.

Fast forward a few years. I was living in South America and I became friends with the members of a band from the US. We started exchanging each other’s music and one day I was listening to one of their albums, listening to the music without paying attention to the lyrics, when it happened again: the lyrics in one of the songs were so striking, that I had to rewind the song, and I ended up listening to it for three days straight:

You looked better than you had in years.
I was lost among some memories of falling down the stairs:
Stitches in my head, cooling wax on my hand,
turtle-shaped pancakes and cactus needles in my legs
but you’re dead, my dear, you’re dead
you’re dead, my dear, you’re dead.

When I asked, I was told it was written for a grandmother. The scenes that the songs describes were from her funeral. Even though it sounded like no music his grandmother listened to (which I don’t know for sure, of course, but it’s a safe bet), I’m sure she would be delighted with the homage. The band was The Harvey Girls. The song is called “Real Fun”.  [Editor’s note: We totally didn’t pay him to say this. No, really.]

It was after this song that I actually created the playlist called uremu lani ludu and started listening back to the songs I had to see if I could find more examples. Then I found Fernando Delgadillo’s “Bajo Tu Pisada” (“Beneath Your Footsteps” – warning, the link goes to a random youtube video someone put together using the song). This one was written by a man, for another man, and he says:

Lately I’ve found myself with an immense urge to talk about you.
Could it be that I feel the weight of this that I have to tell, and now that you are not
around to harass me with your pranks, I find myself recalling when you were around…
…but the world didn’t change with your death,
I would say it is just the same.
with no other intention than carrying our shoulders
to walk around.

It’s a beautiful song, written as an everyday talk between two friends.

Then, around that time, I was reading an interview with the vocalist of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and he said that one of their songs had been written for one of his sisters, who had died of an overdose. I had listened to that song dozens of times and I never realized it, but after the interview everything in the song made sense. The song is called “Basta de Llamarme Así” (“Stop Calling On Like That”):

Stop it, stop calling on like that
I will go, I will go up there, when my turn comes.
Meanwhile, I’ll sing this song.
In your voice, for you, or in the voice
of those sleeping there.
And I swear, that I will stand up to anyone
who dares to mention your name, here and there.

I have several versions of that song, but it was then that I realized that one of them is a demo, where the voice is almost whispering, and it breaks at some point. This demo is perhaps the one recording where the memory of the deceased person was freshest.

There are many more, of course. There are even songs within this genre written by famous people we don’t like (Lenny Kravitz wrote a beautiful, beautiful song for his mother, called “Thinking of You”). But this is getting long enough, so I’ll get to the one I said that I consider to be the most beautiful recording I’ve heard.

That song is called “Naguya Nei” (“I Am Moving On”) and it’s the second song in the album featured on that link. It was written by a Garifuna man called Paul Nabor, whose sister told him on her deathbed something that would become the chorus of the song, “When I die, I want a band in my funeral.” (“Lauba la banda habunana“) that perfectly captures the spirit of the whole genre. When I die, I want a band in my funeral.

–Alantl Molina is a creative genius type and currently lives in the southern part of the Americas.

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“You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River”–Van Morrison

Naked, she moves at the foot of the mattress, Veedon Fleece still on repeat from the night before. She thinks I’ve slept in but I’ve never been able to do that in her bed. Flashes of red–her hair, her nipples, her lips–tempt me as she turns. I’m a bull beneath these blankets and Beth is my torero practicing veronicas in front of the mirror. I throw the covers. She turns to meet my charge. My end is certain. Olé!

–VS Dobbs lives in Toronto and writes at the site wrestle the future to the fucking ground.

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