May 2011

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Last week I listened to Warehouse: Songs and Stories by Hüsker Dü while we had a copy in the shop. The worst thing about your favorite band breaking up is that their last album sucks because all of the songs are about your favorite band breaking up.  Of course, nobody really breaks up anymore because mainstream music is so defunct of ideas as to insult us year after year with new projects by the dead (Jimi Hendrix), the ironically undead (Dio) and the immortal (The Rolling Stones). At least Led Zeppelin could abandon Coda as an unwanted orphan if they chose to – Lots of bands make a last album like CCR’s Mardi Gras or a weird one with no original members like Squeeze, the bizarre last Velvet Underground album.

The last Hüsker Dü is regardless pretty good.  Its title implies a shift in direction. Warehouse: Songs and Stories is said to refer to the band’s new practice space, because they were no longer trying out new material in front of an audience.  Maybe there’s also something to the idea that we all have a warehouse full of songs and stories and part of our closest relationships is allowing the people we love to explore.  The sad thing about the competition between Hart and Mould is that Hüsker Dü’s most devoted fans were likely to accept the two on their own individual terms, happily enjoying albums that shift between the two singers track to track.  Of course, here’s a band that once said “Everything is so fucked up / I guess we like it that way.”

“Never Talking to You Again” (From a much earlier album) is heard here from a live recording during their last tour.

never talking to you live

You don’t have to watch The Last Waltz for very long to figure out that somebody has decided that he’s in charge.  Robbie Robertson’s Hollywood ambitions ultimately torpedoed a great group in the Band, and we’re all a little poorer for it.

If you’ve never seen this peculiar record before, here’s the short version:  These guys decided to break up their group and made a big hootin’ deal of their last performance together by hosting a Thanksgiving Day concert at Winterland.  The whole thing was made into a movie by Martin Scorcese, heavily into cocaine at the time but ironically producing the only movie he ever made where the drug use is hidden (Not to mention his only movie where nobody gets beaten with a blunt object).  His pal in the group is the center of attention throughout the movie, and the other four guys feel slighted.

In the beginning the Band thrived on its collective spirit, as the soul of Music From Big Pink, the group’s legendary debut, is the interplay between clearly disparate personalities.  Fame took its toll on the quintet – A subject explored with depth and sensitivity on their third album, Stage Fright.  Its hard to reconcile the pomp and circumstance surrounding The Last Waltz and the rootsy anonymity that defined the group’s early work.

What really works on this triple LP is the guest appearances (Well, some of the guest appearances).  I have always thought Joni Mitchell’s world-weary cautionary tale “Coyote” was the highlight, but many people prefer the heartfelt rendition of Neil Young’s “Helpless”.  Maybe the most interesting choice by a guest on The Last Waltz is by Bob Dylan, who sings the break up song “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”.  Its not an unreasonable choice, given that the Band nee the Hawks backed him through the same number over the din of a hecklers at Dylan’s notorious Royal Albert Hall performance in 1966.

i don’t believe you

Is Dylan’s appearance on The Last Waltz that good?  Not as good as the side of Dylan on The Concert for Bangladesh – That’s right, the secret side of Dylan you could have for free right now just by looking through somebody’s basement.  It is a more lively performance than the double album Dylan / Band concert Before the Flood.

roy rogers mother’s day

That’s the cowboy’s cowboy, Roy Rogers, reminding us that today is Mother’s Day.  His rambling, cynical commentary is missing the history of our annual observation of maternity, even if its elsewise right on the mark:

Well we’ll just give her a day and it will be all right with Mama, and then in return she’ll give you the other 364.

You may have already heard a story on the radio or read something in Reader’s Digest about the history of Mother’s Day.  The American Mother’s Day begins with an 1870 essay by Julia Ward Howe, inspired in part by the savage violence of the Civil War.  It is both a pacifist document and a feminist document.  I heard Julia Ward Howe also called for the government to require the use of compact florescent lightbulbs and low-flow toilets.  Woodrow Wilson was the first President to recognize the day, and as his long form birth certificate remains hidden from the public, it seems only reasonable that we examine the ancestry of his mother.  Jessie Janet Woodrow was, in fact, not an American mother at all but one of English descent – That’s right, the United Kingdom, where some still have the audacity to recognize “Mothering Sunday”, and place the Holy Virgin Mary above your mother.  Your mother.

love your mother

This second track you’re hearing is “Love Your Mother” by Johnny Prophet with the Tommy Oliver Orchestra.  I’ve been saving this single on Bee Records for ages just so it could be included in this post.  I’ve also been saving this promotional album called M is for Mother’s Day, but when I finally played it this afternoon I found that most of the songs are instrumentals.

M is for Mother’s Day did contribute this next track to our playlist, which I guess justifies all the months it spent tucked behind the counter at the record shop.  This is the Banjo Barons performing “My Mother’s Eyes / M-O-T-H-E-R”:

banjo barons

Everybody knows that country music is all about lovin’ yer mama.  From Hank Williams’ “I Dreamed About Mama Last Night” (Recorded as Luke the Drifter) to Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised”, every great country songwriter had something to say about his mama.  We’re including a recording of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” for all of our lonely readers in prison – Heard here as performed by the Grateful Dead on the self-titled live album (In my own system of naming untitled records by what’s on the cover this one is Skeleton and Roses).

mama tried

Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” is one of the best country songs ever written about anybody’s mama.  Folksy, yet epic in its biblical illusions, this simple song written on Porter Wagoner’s tour bus ends with a moral only Dolly could deliver without irony:

One is only poor / Only if they choose to be

You can, incidentally, see the coat itself, along with the dry cleaning receipt on which it was written, if you go to Dollywood.  Maybe that’s where you’ll take Mama next year.

coat of many colors

When I was a kid my mother let me have any record from her collection I wanted (I didn’t want very many of them at twelve years old).  Even now I still have copies of Alice’s Restaurant and Teaser and the Firecat with her familiar handwriting on them.

I am pleased to present a song from this album, There Will be a Light, by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama, because its a favorite of mine.  This 2004 disc was included in the recent vinyl reissue of Ben Harper’s catalog, but the LPs have become hard to find over the past couple years.  If you bought an LP reissue of There Will be a Light (I could only afford one and chose Welcome to the Cruel World) you’re always welcome to come into Hymie’s and play it.

“If I Could Hear my Mother Pray” was written by John Whitfield Vaughn based on a piece by an English settler named James Rowe.  A 1934 recording by Thomas Dorsey established it as a standard in gospel music.  Pretty much everything Dorsey touched was gospel gold, and he is fairly regarded as the father of American gospel music.  Meanwhile, although There Will be a Light is a very traditional gospel album, this is the only standard included.  Most of the remaining songs are originals written by Ben Harper.

09 mother pray

The next song on our Mother’s Day playlist is by Bill Withers, one of Ben Harper’s key influences.  His heartfelt song is not about his mother, but his grandmother.  Grandmothers are, of course, mothers too.  Here is his live recording of “Grandma’s Hands”:

grandma’s hands

Bill Withers Live is one of the best live albums you’re ever going to find.

Grandmothers are mothers, too.  There are a lot of other people who have to take on the roll of mother and hopefully there’s a special gift of homemade card greeting them this morning too.  This last song by Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (Originally by Sinead O’Connor) expresses not only the love of a surrogate mother but of any mother.

11 this is to mother you

This whole playlist is dedicated to my mother, who probably isn’t interested in most of these weird songs.  I think she would rather hear one of the Cat Stevens records she let me have when I was a kid.

01 the wind

Laura took the kids to the Science Museum to see the dinosaurs yesterday, and they saw the other Hymie’s

So here’s the thing about St. Paul, over there they spell it Heimie’s.  And over there they sell hats.  The funny thing is that people from St. Paul still wonder why its so hard to get us over there.

 

disguises

Today’s post gathers together a few favorite cases of mistaken identity.  That first track was “Disguises” by the Who.

This recording by 60s folk revivalists the New Lost City Ramblers revisits an old time classic.  In “Bill Morgan and his Gal” he is mistaken for financier J.P. Morgan by his girl Liza, and the two have rocky time of it.

02 bill morgan and his gal

I guess now that Hollywood is going to rehash all of John Wayne’s movies next we can expect a bullshit remake of The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance by and by.  Too bad they can’t leave well enough alone because you can’t improve perfection.  The 1962 John Ford western offered a coy criticism of wild west heroism by way of a case of mistaken identity.

The unused theme song of the same title, recorded by Gene Pitney, was an early collaboration by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  You are probably familiar with more than a few of the songs these two wrote together after they formed a partnership.

Say, what’s that really like?  Have you ever wondered?  I’ve always pictured them around an old piano in a big living room, testing out ideas and melodies while drinking scotch and sodas.  Maybe “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” originally started on the east coast (It was “By the Time I Get to Philadelphia”).  Or maybe, just maybe, it was going to be “On a Tandem Bicycle”.  Anyway, I’m fascinated by songwriting partnerships because its not something you see anymore, and these guys were the best, from their first hit (“The Story of my Life” recorded by the great Marty Robbins) nearly to the end (We can’t count Lost Horizon).  I would probably watch a movie about Bacharach and David.  Especially if Jeff Daniels was in it.  And since I don’t know what Hal David looks like, we could have him be played by Roberto Benigni, my favorite actor after Jeff Daniels.

Here, anyway, is the early Bacharach/David collaboration, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance”.

man who shot

Here’s a song I have been wanting to ad to a playlist for a while – This is George Jones and Elvis Costello singing “Stranger in my House”:

stranger in my house

Cyrano de Bergerac essentially perfected the “Cinderella story” format using mistaken identity, although many stories in classical literature contain similar elements (Like how Odysseus is disguised as a beggar when he returns to his court in Ithaca, so he can assess who has remained faithful to him in his absence).  Shakespeare used a variety of familiar mistaken identity plots, most notably in Twelfth Night.  My favorite movie with a mistaken identity story is The Monster, co-written by, directed by and starring one of my favorite actors, Roberto Benigni.  I rarely recommend movies on this site but I do recommend this one!

it ain’t me babe

I’m kind of running out of good ideas here.  This was a lot better as an idea than it has turned out to be as a post.  I guess there’s nothing to do but share the best mistaken identity song I could come up with – Here it is:

lola

“Lola” is the queen of mistaken identity songs.  Or the king.  You figure it out.

You may remember a past post about the plethora of Daves around here.  Its one of my all-time favorite Hymie’s website features.  And the Daves and Davids keep turning up around here – One helped move the shop last year, another I once overheard tell someone we’re his favorite record shop.  Another David lives up the street from Laura and I and has been slowly selling an unusual, always fun collection to us.  On David has invented his own record cleaning solution, soon to be introduced as Hymie’s Record Juice (I am not making this up).  David Witt, of course, is the excellent artists who designed our Record Store Day posters (And we have a few other Dwitt delights lined up to adorn the shelves in the new expansion space).

Dave’s Records in Chicago was included in the Rolling Stone list of the country’s 25 best record shops (Ranking ahead of us at #23 – And, incidentally, have you noticed that this list has quietly grown to 30?).  Dave’s, like Hymie’s, is proudly vinyl-only, and my own opinion is that its a lot more fun to visit than the other famous Chicago shop on that list.

And last week I noticed an old Dave’s Records price tag on an album.

You have probably noticed I like to post price tags from favorite record stores (I think I posted an Amoeba tag just last weekend).  You are probably wondering if there are any I’d like to come across and the answer is yes – Most of all I’d like a price tag from Stereo Jack’s in Cambridge, MA, a great record shop at which I found a whole crate of favorites.  In fact, it was mostly because of Stereo Jack’s that Craig and I had to go to a thrift store and buy extra luggage before flying home, just to accommodate all the sweet blues and jazz albums we bought from Mass Ave’s best record store.

Ironically, I do pull all the price tags off my records when I get home.  There are occasional exceptions (I have a Taj Mahal album with a written not by Earl Root – “As Is, sweet record”) and a whole lot of Cheapo tags (Fuckers just don’t come off, do they?).  Most people pull the price tags off, don’t they?  That’s why Hymie’s does its best to get the “peelable” kind, and to keep the tags off really awesome records or ones with sensitive cover material.

Yesterday’s post was kind of morbid, which I guess any Hymie’s regular would say is a little out of character.  The truth is everything at the record store is okay.  Record Store Day was an enormous success, and our expansion plans are moving forward pretty well.  You can look in the back of the building and see the new space any time you’re in the shop (The light switch is just to the left).  Some of the new browsers are already built and the entire space is painted.  Its only about a week before we start re-arranging the entire record shop.  The thing is that its all a lot of work.  In the past month I have moved records and shelves and nearly anything else you can imaging, built browsers, painted walls and shelves, and run the shop all the while.  I’m feeling a little exhausted a lot of the time, maybe a little like this…

run that body down

“Run That Body Down” is from the first Paul Simon album.  I don’t know about you, but I have titles for a lot of records in my head that describe them because I forget the actual name or its self-titled and easily confused.  Paul McCartney’s first album is Bowl of Cherries so far as I’m concerned.  Dave Mason’s first album is Swirly Record and Paul Simon’s first album is Fuzzy Hood.

Fuzzy Hood is a great record – That’s why its so hard to find.  The only complaint I’ve ever had is that I think Columbia made a mistake issuing the single – “Mother and Child Reunion” – with “Paranoia Blues” as its B-side.  Its a fun track, kind of classic Simon in its wittiness, but “Run That Body Down” would have been a great B-side to pick on a jukebox from time to time.  Its essentially the blueprint for entire Paul Simon albums to follow (Especially Still Crazy After All These Years).

You’re a Hymie’s customer so I think its safe to assume you can’t afford to see him play at First Avenue tonight.  Or its not your thing.  Ironically, a lot of the people enthusiastic to find one Paul Simon record or another around here are younger than me (And its usually Graceland and Rhythm of the Saint*).  I don’t know if I would feel comfortable at the show tonight were somebody to give me a ticket.  One of our favorite young regulars told me about his night at the Dakota when John Hammond played, and his story sounded about as alienating as I usually find a night at the Dakota to be.  Here he’s spent over a half a day’s wages to be there, just to get in the door, and he’s drinking his glasses of water, yet still having a great evening because John Hammond is just that good and he’s been looking forward to the show.  The only problem?  Fancy folks eating big meals are talking over Hammond like he’s the house band at the Schooner**.  Maybe his story is a fair case of pearls before swine and maybe you can accuse me of unreasonable working class angst – Neither would be a first.  I guess I feel like that’s what it would be like if I had the fifty bucks to see Paul Simon play tonight.

Do I wish I could be there?  Yes.  But its okay because next time around he’s going to play an in-store appearance here at Hymie’s.  He’s going to bring Garfunkel with him.  He’s going to bring Edie Brickell with him and I think we’ll have Martin Devaney open.

*Yes, its true this is one of my favorite records of all time.  Yes, its also true we nearly never have it in stock.

**I don’t know who that is.  It just seems like a shitty job.

Another great Tom T. Hall song is called “I Like Beer” – Guess what its about!

You’re listening country troubadour Tom T. Hall singing one of the best songs anybody ever wrote, “I Hope it Rains at my Funeral”.  You can find it on the album 100 Children, but you’re probably going to spend a long time looking for that one.  There is a CD that combines it with another super-rare early Hall album (I Witness Life)  that’s put out by Bear Family Records, offering 22 tracks all worth the price of admission.

Tom T. Hall records are one of those things us country music lovers haven’t been telling you about, just so we can be the ones to find them first.  There’s a captivating realism to the stories in his songs, all the more compelling because he seems so sincere.  We’ve always pictured him standing in front of a cracked mirror, shaving and getting ready to face another day of hard work, with a note on the mirror that says

Tough times don’t last but tough people do

We’ve already visited the subject of funerals, although that lighthearted post suggests we were probably having a better week.

If you don’t tell people what you’d like them to do you’re as likely be buried absurdly, with an episode of The Simpsons, say, as to be remembered with dignity.  We chose to listen to music at funerals as we do with weddings, when you think about it.  We guess there’s probably a funeral equivalent to “Wonderful Tonight” but I’m not sure what it is (“Amazing Grace” maybe?  “Precious Lord”?  Maybe Clapton’s own “Tears in Heaven”?)  You know, at Hymie’s funeral everybody listened to one of his mix tapes.

We’d bet people who work in hospice care could tell you that there are people who absolutely, must have that CD playing.  People probably plan it out, and we suppose that would make the ultimate desert island mix tape.  Speaking of which, we quoted from Nick Hornsby’s novel High Fidelity earlier this spring and we might as well try to get away with it once again.  Here’s what Hornsby’s record-obsessed Rob Flemming has to say about the music he wants played at his funeral:

And I’ve always had this fantasy that someone beautiful and tearful will insist on “You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me” by Gladys Knight but I can’t imagine who that beautiful, tearful person will be.

High Fidelity became a lot more interesting to me after we, too, ran a record store, but there are a lot of insightful moments buried in its endless stream of pop culture critique.  We had no interest in reading that book three years ago, and now we’ve twice quoted it in this space.  Isn’t it funny how you’re interest is trained by what’s of interest to you?

And while for a while we harbored sick Tom Sawyer fantasies about hearing the things they’d say after we’ve gone, having lived through what happens to life after loss all we want to know now is that the people we love are going to be okay.  Living well is the best revenge, they say, and leaving well is logically next.

Oh, and my top five list, a la Hornsby, of funeral songs? We’ve always wanted everyone to listen to “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” by Washington Phillips:

The only known photograph of Washington Phillips, discovered in the 1980s by Lynn Abbott in the Tulane University archives.

We don’t really know a whole lot about the enigmatic Washington Phillips, who recorded a total of 18 songs in the late 20s.  Two of those recordings are entirely lost, unless someone out there unearths a copy (This is the kind of thing that keeps otherwise relatively sane people digging through crate after crate of moldy records).  So little is known about Washington Phillips, in fact, that there’s not any general agreement as to what it is he playing accompanying his voice – Possibly a homemade instrument, an altered zither, or a dolceola (Sort of a zither with a keyboard).  Each of his songs forms a short sermon, and although the subjects vary there are recurring themes.  In particular, his songs encourage faith in times of adversity, such as in this one and another of my favorites, “Paul and Silas in Jail”.  Also the well-known “Take Your Burdens to the Lord”.  Actually, all sixteen are favorites of ours.

Yazoo made a great disc collecting all sixteen surviving recordings in 1995, but they have yet to issue it on LP Perhaps soon, considering they have recently reissued their collection of Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 recordings and their Charley Patton album.

What do we really want at our funerals?  Whatever will make everyone happy.  They can borrow a record from the store, if they’d like.

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