New Heathens

Why I Love The Music I Do

Doing the moving thing so I made three big piles of CDs I didn't want anymore and traded them in over at Permanent Records in Greenpoint. One of the new CDs I picked up was a record by Will Hoge called "The Wreckage." I put it on in my car and, zango! He had The Sound. The only thing I could think is, "I love this guy!"

That got me thinking about the kind of music I love. For much of my life I've taken plenty of well-deserved criticism from friends, girlfriends, would-be-girlfriends and wouldn't-be-girlfriends for what, to many, seems a pretty myopic taste in music.

Here's what I like: rock 'n' roll, the recipe for which I would argue was perfected by 1972. The ingredients are American-made electric guitars fed through tube amps, big, resonant solid-body acoustic guitars, locked up bass & drums, cool vocals and raggedy-but-right harmonies. The instructions were rock, blues, country, gospel & soul. Mix up the ingredients, follow the instructions and you've got The Sound. Think the Stones' "Exile on Main Street," released, appropriately, in 1972.

Here's the catch, though. While I dig I dig the sound of '72, I don't want a singer bleating cliched lyrics straight outta' '72. I want somebody singing to me about what's happening now, preferably something I hadn't thought of in quite that way before. For my money there's nothing better than a clever, unique, interesting, non-cliched lyric that tells a story, gives great descriptions, has a focused point of view or is above all FUNNY. (God I love it when a song makes me laugh.)

I wear my favorite bands & musicians on my sleeve (probably too much) but all of 'em kinda' have the 1972 music thing going on coupled with fresh, compelling lyrics. Lyrics that make you want to hear what the next verse is going to be. Funny, but smart, self-aware funny; not self-parody or worse, un-self aware funny.

But I can go down the list of my favorites and rattle off the criteria they meet. A few examples, off the top of my head:

Bottle Rockets? Descriptive, clever, funny. "A $1,000 car ain't even gonna' roll/Until you put at least another $1,000 in the hole/Sink your money in it and there you are/The owner of a $2,000, $1,000 car." From "$1,000 Car".

Drive By Truckers? Great stories, great descriptions. "Church blows up in Birmingham/Four little black girls killed/For no goddamn good reason." From "Ronnie and Neil."

The Yayhoos? Funny. "Gettin' drunk! Gettin' nekkid! Gettin' laaaaaaiiiiid and gettin' out!" from "Gettin' Drunk." (Terry Anderson, who wrote that particular song, is a master at this.)

Spanking Charlene? (kinda' punkier music, but I dig it) clever & funny. "I hate girls and folk guitars/I hate girls in martini bars/I hate girls!" from "I Hate Girls."

Todd Snider? Funny. "You can fuck getting any kind of job you want/Unless you really want to work in a fast food restaurant/And who wants to do that?/Do you want to do that?" From "The Devil You Know."

Lucinda Williams? Interesting, great descriptions. "Mama lives in Mandeville/I can hardly wait until I can hear my Zydeco/And Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez/And take rides in open cars/ My brother knows where the best bars are/Let's see how these blues'll do in the town where the good times stay." From "Crescent City."

Chip Robinson? Descriptive, interesting, non-cliched. "It must be more than the wind and the rain that's got me shaking harder than a Memphis train." From "Fence." (Disclaimer: OK, astute readers will note that I'm friends with Chip, Charlene and a couple Yayhoos. Well I was fans of 'em first. And I'm friends with Mark McKay.)

My man Warren Zevon? All of the above. "Well I went to the doctor/I said, "I'm feelin' kinda' rough,"/"Let me break it to you son, your shit's fucked up,"/I said, "My shit's fucked up? Well I don't see how."/He said, "The shit that used to work, don't work now." From "My Shit's Fucked Up."

Anybody I like who actually made music in 1972 is kinda' grandfathered in for me (Stones, Aerosmith, Bob Marley, Howlin' Wolf, Neil Young, Dylan, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Rod Stewart, Zep, etc.) They set the standards and though I'll dig a band that emulates them musically, I tend to be turned off by bands that try to emulate them lyrically.

Rolling Stones vs. Black Crowes is a perfect example. Mick Jagger barks lyrics in some of the coolest Stones songs that, when looked at objectively, don't make much sense. Take Rocks Off, track one off Exile, for example. Jagger sings, "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me/Chasin' shadows moonlight mystery." Does it make sense? Not really! Is it awesome? Hell yeah! (A rock 'n' roll chick I met long ago told me it was actually Keith who penned those lines, a legend I love to believe.)

Then take Crowes singer Chris Robinson in the barn-burner Go Faster, as straight up a 1972 sounding song as was ever written. He sings, "Somethin' I came to see, I don't wanna' see no more/I don't think it's diseased, but it sure is sore." Does it make sense? Not really! Is it awesome? It's gross!

(Lest I be pegged a Black Crowes hater, I'd stand before Warren Zevon and tell him that the Crowes "Kickin' My Heart Around" is as concise, kick-ass and perfect a rock 'n' roll song as has ever been written.)

That's why I'm real choosy when it comes to the music I dig. I ask it to hit that split shot of having classic sounds and fresh lyrics. Not a lot of people can do it. (God knows I struggle with it every time I sit down with a guitar and a blank piece of paper.)

Even Will Hoge. Not all his words were zingers. Precious few, in fact. But I still loved the hell outta' that CD. So maybe there is hope for someone like me.

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  1. Definitely think there is lots of hope for you, Nate! Great article!

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