A Season of Songs, day 12: Box of Rain

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Ok, I think this should take care of all of the Dead bands on my iPod at this point.  We’ve had Dead Kennedys and Dead Milkmen – today we get The Grateful Dead with the song “Box of Rain” from the 1970 album “American Beauty”.

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

Like many late-80’s/early 90’s high school students, I had a brief run-in with a resurging hippie culture.  I wouldn’t say that I ever went full-in, but I had some tie-dyes, some beads, and a few Grateful Dead cassettes.  Once I got my first car, I put some Grateful Dead stickers in the windows.  My friend Todd and I would go up to the weird record store (can’t remember its name) up past the Richland Mall on 309 where we would check out the tapes (and eventually CD’s), get more Grateful Dead stickers for our cars and I seem to recall buying some crystal necklace thing there too.  It was all groovy and I’m kinda surprised that I’m admitting to all of this on the internet.

As a Grateful Dead fan, I was  mostly a poser.  I think I only actually owned two of their albums – “Skull and Roses” and “Skeletons from the Closer” – a damn “best of” compilation.  Pitiful.

Eventually I would head off to college and get into punk rock and largely disown the Dead for a number of years.  In recent years I’ve given them another chance.  I think this is largely influenced by my hippie in-laws, but I think it also just is me being more open about re-visiting musicians and records I had long written off.

But my father-in-law is definitely the reason that “American Beauty” ended up on the ipod.  He is one of those guys who just likes to pick up the guitar and play a little whenever we are gathered around (and most certainly even when we are not gathered around).  With the advent of the internet in his life, he has been able to learn more and more songs since the tabs are so readily available.  A couple years back he learned “Ripple” off this album, a track I had previously had been unfamiliar with.  He played it for me and I enjoyed it, so I went ahead and downloaded the album to my collection.

I don’t really care much for “Box of Rain”.  Not a bad song, but certainly seems not the best option to open the album.  This album has those other few classics (meaning they show up on the Greatest Hits that I had) — Sugar Magnolia, Truckin’, and Friend of the Devil.  If you’re looking to give the Dead another shot and want some of their simple folky tunes (without getting into their weirder shit), “American Beauty” seems like a fine place to start.


A Season of Songs, day 11: The Sifl and Olly Theme Song

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

I didn’t set out many rules when beginning this project, but have been adding a couple as i’ve come along.  Rule #1 – if you’ve already done a song by a band, you can skip it and go on to the next one on the shuffle. This happened when I got a 2nd Minutemen track on day three.

This morning I hit the ol’ shuffle and a track came up from the Arcing 12″(members of Tiny Hawks and Whore Paint).  It was one of the short, unnamed ambient noise clips that exist between the “real” songs.  So Rule #2 become – if the song isn’t really a song, feel free to skip over it.  But then when I skipped ahead to the next song, I was greeted with “The Silf & Olly Theme Song” from The Sifly and Olly show.  One could argue that this isn’t too much of a song either, but having already invoked the new rule once, I felt I had to accept track #2 for the day.

I wasn’t familiar with the Sifl and Olly Show as it occurred 1997-1999 after my college years but before Youtube – a time when I was blissfully unaware of what MTV was up to.  It wasn’t until shortly after I met Emma in 2001 that she put the song “United States of Whatever” from the show on a mixtape for me, which is just a brilliant piece, both musically and comically.  After merging our mp3 collections, I became the proud owner of 25-tracks of songs and comedy bits from the show.  For those not in the know, this was a show about a couple sock puppets who had their own show.  From what I can gather it was a variety show of sorts with interviews, songs, and bits of “talent” (such as blacklisted nursery rhymes).

The theme song is not a masterpiece by any stretch.  It’s essentially 23 seconds of them singing “Sifl and Olly…the Sifl and Olly Show” over and over.  But overall there are some pretty great bits of ridiculousness in clips from this show.  I can’t imagine sitting around watching a whole show of this, but there is plenty on Youtube that’ll give you an idea of some of the brilliance of the show – such as the United States of Whatever, Dude’s House or directions on to GET TO LLAMA SCHOOL!

A Season of Songs, day ten: St. Claire

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today we get a bit more obscure with our song – couldn’t find today’s song on the internet anywhere.  The song is “St. Claire” by The Skorts, a project featuring Rich Diem (from Twelve Hour Turn/Tubers) and a woman named Andy Blum.  I believe this was a pretty short lived project after Twelve Hour Turn broke up.  The only recorded output that I’m aware of is this 7-song demo CD-R that they self released in 2003.

We watched as the time went by
I hadn’t a reason to reply
Until I found out yours was short lived
Could’t afford the victory of flight a second time.

Twelve Hour Turn were always one of my favorite Gainesville bands.  Their records, especially their “Bend.Break.Spill” EP, continue to get regular rotation in my house.  My introduction to Twelve Hour Turn was a show at Joe Hammer Square that my old band Sparrow played.  The tour was Seein’Red and Palatka, and Twelve Hour Turn was tagging along on a handful of shows.  Their name refers back to the 12 hour shifts common in the mills and factories back in the day, prior to the 40-hour work week, unions, etc; so they were excited to be in Pittsburgh and to learn more about the labor history of the area.  They would be a band that I would keep an eye on over the years and would get to see them a couple more times.

After I had heard that Twelve Hour Turn were done, I got contacted by The Skorts about doing a show for them.  Despite Twelve Hour turn having a decent following, I wasn’t sure what type of turnout we would get for one of their member’s acoustic side project.  The show was probably also on like a Tuesday night.  So rather than do it at Roboto or some other “real” venue, we just did a nice house show at Big Dyce, the house I lived in from 2001-2004.  I don’t think we ended up having any opening act – just a nice potluck and a set by The Skorts.  I remember we had a pretty decent turnout, good food and The Skorts played a really beautiful set.

The Skorts music is a really bare bones folk.  Two voices and a guitar.  The guitar work is really light and just does enough work to carry the songs along. The real energy is in the intertwining of Rich and Andy’s vocals.  There is something about the way their two voices work together that is really powerful.  The lyrics are similar to Twelve Hour Turn’s in that they are personal but just obtuse enough to make them interesting.  This song actually even refers back to Twelve Hour Turn with the lyric about “the victory of flight”, which was the name of their first full-length album.

This 7-song demo is definitely a great listen.  I’d be glad to send the tracks to anyone who is interested in hearing them.

A Season of Songs, day 9: The Guitar Song

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

We turn from Dead Kennedys to Dead Milkmen.  Today’s song is “The Guitar Song” from their 1988 album “Beelzebubba”.

Hey, what’s that sound
Coming out of the hole in the wood?
It’s the guitar

I was first exposed to the Dead Milkmen in 7th grade.  My good friend Micah Stewart had become familiar with “Bitchin’ Camaro” and had taken to quoting the intro with some frequency – “Uh, what’s the Sandbar?”, “The impportant thing here is that we get to the part where you ask me how I’m gonna get down to the shore.”, etc, etc.  We needed to get ahold of the full record.  Enter Wendy Ambron, who lived around the corner from me, who rode the same bus as me and who was a year ahead of me in school and sported a Dead Milkmen shirt on occasion. At some point I worked up the courage to ask her if I could borrow some Dead Milkmen and she obliged, lending me “Big Lizard in my Backyard” which I immediately dubbed a copy of.  Strangely you might think this would’ve led to a friendship with the cooler, older punk rock chick and me getting into lots of other cool music through her.  This did not happen.  I don’t really remember much in the way of interactions beyond this.

I would become familiar with “Punk Rock Girl” later and and I think was exposed to the entirety of “Beelzebubba” a couple times over the years, but it wouldn’t be until college that I would really sink myself into the album.  Obvious highlights for me include “Punk Rock Girl” (despite its overexposure, it’s still a great song), “Sri Lanka Sex Hotel”, “Stuart”, and “Bad Party”.  But there are also a lot of slow burners on this record too and I think “The Guitar Song” is definitely one of them.  It’s a silly little song without much to the lyrics.  They’re not really over the top like you expect with most Dead Milkmen lyrics. The song itself doesn’t really go anywhere…it just gently builds,but when it comes along, it’s hard not to belt out the words along with it.

And once again, here’s a band that despite absolutely loving these two albums – “Big Lizard in my Backyard” and “Beelzebubba”, I have completely ignored the rest of their catalog.  Honestly, don’t ask me a thing about any of their other albums cuz I have no idea.  Feel free to put me in my place and say “Sit your ass down with ‘Bucky Fellini’ right now, you goddamn dumbass” if you feel it is appropriate.

A Season of Songs, day 8: Life Sentence

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song is “Life Sentence” by The Dead Kennedys which appears on the “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” collection and originally appeared as the B-Side to the “Bleed For Me” 7″.

I’d rather stay a child
And keep my self-respect
If being an adult
Means being like you

I was exposed to the Dead Kennedy’s fairly early in my punk rock life (tho’ I didn’t get involved in punk ’til college, which is perhaps later than most).  I never really dug deep into their catalog and “Give Me Convenience…” is probably the only record that i’m intimately familiar with.  This might get me pegged as a poser by some, but who really takes someone seriously who actually uses the term “poser”?

This was always one of my favorite songs on that album.  Musically it’s a fun song — fast, short, Jello’s vocals all over the place — but I think the lyrics always spoke to me.  I tend towards being an overly logical, responsible adult.  I plan a lot.  Many might consider me boring because of these things.  But on the other hand, I am undoubtedly young at heart.  It might not always be evident to most of the world, but stupid, childish humor, the making up of stupid songs, dancing around the house — these are things I do.  Finding that balance between Mr. Logical and Mr. Fuck Off and Have Fun was an interesting part of my college experience.  I was a business management major but was also spending most of my time playing in punk bands, listening to punk bands, making zines, watching The Simpsons, etc.  The line “Now you’re an adult…you’re BORING” ran through my head with some frequency.  Ok, you can be an adult, but no need to be boring.  Have a fuckin’ sense of humor.

And I think I’ve been fairly successful at that.  And while I think I often do the same thing every day, I’m mostly doing what I want.  If I do have a life sentence right now, it’s a pretty decent one that I don’t mind.

Ok, fuckers, time to put the headphones on…it’s bebop time.

A Season of Songs, day 7: The Ever Growing Coalition of the Willing

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

I hadn’t prepared for this possibility with the project, but here I am today, having to write about a song from one of my own bands.  Today’s song is “The Ever Growing Coalition of the Willing“, taken from the “Genealogies and Collaborations” LP that my old band He Taught Me Lies put out with our friend Rick Gribenas.  That record was released by Hardtravelin’ (my record label) and Hope Records in April 2004. It wasn’t a split LP in the classic sense – some songs were strictly HTML songs, some were HTML songs that Rick added some sounds to, and still others were collaborative soundscapes created by the band and Rick together.

When is enough enough?
When we’re all hung up on Gallup’s Poll
When we’re all strung up on the Gallow’s Pole.

Originally this record was intended to be a split LP with our friends Movement Three from Kentucky but they ended up having some personnel shifts and we decided that maybe that wasn’t the best idea for the time being.  Instead we asked our good friend Rick Gribenas who did a variety of sound-based performance art (as well as other types of art) to join us on the record.  The HTML only tracks were recorded by Jason Kirker at H-Hour (in the top floor of the old Brass Factory building in the Strip) while the collaborative tracks were recording in the original Roboto space one afternoon.

This record is very special to me for a number of reasons.  I think it stands as the best representation of HTML’s music.  I regret that we never took the opportunity to give a proper recording to our last batch of songs.  I see the vast improvement that we achieved from our first CD to this record.  We knew more about how we wanted things to sound and how we wanted the parts to come together and I imagine what we might have done had we tried to put out one more record during out time together.  Jim moved away in 2006 (I believe) and we continued to do occasional shows throughout the next few years before playing our last show together in February 2010 as part of the last weekend of shows at the original Roboto space.  The time period marked by the writing, recording and “supporting” of this record was a good period of my life and this LP acts as a snapshot of that time.

Another reason this record holds such a special place in my heart is that it was one of the last big projects I got to do with Rick. Rick helped me with a number of my projects over the years (record labels, screenprinting, etc) and I helped him with some projects.  He was also my boss for a time when he handled exhibition installations at CMU’s Miller Gallery and I had decided to quit my steady job working in human resources.  Rick was a great friend and an inspiration.  I learned a lot from him – about art, music, art installation, project management, being a good person, old school hiphop and so much more.  He brought a lot of joy to my life.  He would go to live in Chicago for some years before returning to Pittsburgh but we wouldn’t necessarily ever connect like we did around the time we worked on this LP.  He would pass away in 2009 from cancer.

I remember once when talking with Rick about our first CD.  I was comparing the recording and our playing on it to another local band’s release.  I just wanted things to be “better”.  He responded with something to the effect that our CD was “sonically more interesting.”  Rick didn’t bullshit you.  He didn’t try telling me that we wrote better songs or that we were equivalent musicians, but he was sincere in that he felt we were doing something interesting.  I always appreciated that honesty.

“The Every Growing Coalition of the Willing” was just another anti-war song written as the US made its way back into Iraq and Afghanistan.  Jim wrote a droning/rumbling bass riff, I stole some drum beat from a Lungfish song, Eric riffed over it and Jim screamed his head off (one of the few times that Jim took on lead vocal duties).  I was about to say this was probably the only time that we wrote a song over 5 minutes long, but it looks like we had another one (Confessions of an Amateur Vexhillologist) on the same record.  I think this is one of our songs that actually became, if I made use the phrase, “crowd favorite” (crowds were rare at HTML shows).

I still get to play music with Eric in our current band Preppers, but I miss getting to make music with Jim who still lives across the state.  Occasionally we throw around the idea of another HTML “reunion” show.  Not sure if there is any interest out there for seeing it happen, but I’d do it in a minute.  When is enough enough?  Apparently never for me.

A Season of Songs, day 6: Happening Song

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song comes from local Pittsburgh band The Johnsons.  The song is called “Happening Song” and is included in a 10 track collection of songs recorded in 1997 at +/- Studios when it was at Millvale Industrial Theater.  The Johnsons came out of the Rickety Records scene that was really thriving here in Pittsburgh in the late 90’s when I first moved to the city.  At the time I didn’t take advantage of checking out a lot of the bands associated with Rickety and didn’t attend any of the various events they held at that time.  I think that was mainly cuz I was trying to be Captain DIY and many of their events were happening at 21+ bars (a good reminder to sometimes break out of your comfort spaces and go check out other shit in places that aren’t normally your thing).  But the Rickety scene and many of the bands persisted and I’ve had the chance to check out many bands associated with Rickety over the years including Dirty Faces and the Working Poor.

I think I only got the chance to see the Johnsons once.  It was at the Lascaux Gallery in the South Side.  If I remember correctly, they were opening for The Make Up.  Over the years The Johnsons would take on different forms, sometimes performing as a smaller unit and sometimes as The Johnsons Big Band.  I believe the performance I saw was as the Big Band. The stuff I’ve heard from them over the years ranges from simple folky rock to more artsy indie rock.  This track gives me a sorta Velvet Underground feel.

To check out The Johnsons and lots of other Rickety bands, go here.  To read a 2003 article about Rickety, go here.