Blowing your mind so you don’t have to blow it yourself

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We’re very excited to welcome Tuscon, Arizona folk singer Karima Walker to the shop for a performance on Wednesday night. She will be joined by Sterling Roots and Crow Call, one of our favorite local traditional groups. Today’s post is for them. Details about the show can be found on our events page here, and on Facebook here.

Crows lent their latin name to the constellation Corvus, a quadrilateral pattern seen in the southern hemisphere near Virgo and Hyrda. Its largest star is Algorab, which is the Arabic word for crow. Writing in The Fixed Stars and Constellations in 1923, Vivian Robson characterizes the star by its “destructiveness, malevolence, fiendishness, repulsiveness and lying.”

Crows have been with us since the dawn of history — Ovid claimed it was Apollo’s ire which made their feathers black, and aboriginals in Australia believed the birds performed the promethean task of the theft of fire itself. Crows are, in some ways, second to dogs as our first friends — although they remain distant relatives. Recent studies have proven crows can recognize and recall individual human faces. Its possible they can report to others the worst of us — crows may be one of the very few non-human animals capable of displacement, meaning they can communicate about things that are happening in a different spatial or temporal place than their current location. Crows can tell stories.

Creatures in the corvus genus has one of the highest measurements of relative brain size in the world (this is called the encephalization quotient, in case you’re wondering). In fact, we’re finding crows to be a smarter and smarter the more we study them, even capable of understanding causality, as demonstrated in this experiment.

While it was once believed crows lived for centuries, their actual lifespan is about twenty years — a captive crow named Tata was believed to be fifty-nine when he died in 2006, as reported in the Washington Post. Most crows are monogamous, and offspring remain with a breeding pair for several years to help protect the nest from raccoons, snakes and cats. Their communal roosts, commonly called a murder, can include as many as tens of thousands of birds. The poor residents of Danville, Illinois are believed to be outnumbered 4-to-1 by crows.

Crows are naturally curious and playful, clear signs of their intelligence. They will often toy with inedible objects such as litter, but they do not steal and collect shiny objects as is sometimes said. They would best be described as scattered hoarders, since they don’t keep their treasures in a single location such as a nest.

Inventor Joshua Klein presented a vending machine for crows at a technology conference in 2008. The crows would learn to pick up garbage and receive a treat in exchange. The indigenous crows on the island of New Calendonia create their own tools for extracting insects. Hooded crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs as fishing bait. Farmers have crafted a variety of traps to test the intelligence of crows for centuries, creating the anecdote of the counting crow. No account suggests any corvus could count as high as seven, however, as in the last song on the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After.

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“A Murder of One”

The band likely takes its name not from crows who count, but from a once-familiar nursery rhyme. One could count crows to receive a premonition of the future. Here is one variation, which you’ll recognize reflected in the song.

One for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a wedding, four for a birth,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret not to be told.
Eight for heaven, nine for hell,
And ten for the devil’s own self.

Given the crow’s role in human mythology and superstition, it’s not surprising they appear frequently in our music. For instance, one of the strangest songs on the early Dylan albums is “Black Crow Blues,” notably for being the first on which he accompanied himself on the piano.

another side of bob dylan

 

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“Black Crow Blues” by Bob Dylan

Its surprising how the song presages Dylan’s sound from the late sixties and early seventies, where his jaunty and idiosyncratic piano style steps to the fore. That an alternate version more in the style of the other songs on Another Side of Bob Dylan was left on the cutting room floor suggests he was already interested in expanding the range of folk music as early as his second album.

crowFans of local music surely remember Crow, the bluesy rock band from the late 60s whose early hit “Evil Woman” was covered by Black Sabbath. Crow has broken up and reunited several times over the years. The cover of their second LP, Crow by Crow, depicts a gigantic crow as a member of the band.

A “black bird” plays a lead role in the second song on Brian Laidlaw’s extraordinary concept album about Bonnie and Clyde, Amoratorium. A crow is seen on the cover of the album.

amoratorium

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“Know my Rider” by Brian Laidlaw

The crows in Walt Disney’s Dumbo were endowed with wit and insight, and while it has been suggested by some that their appearance is representative of endemic racism in classic Disney cartoons, it should be noted they are the only characters besides Timothy the Mouse who treat Dumbo with kindness. The tragic singer Cliff Edwards performed the lead on their song, “When I See an Elephant Fly.”

This last song is from Crow Call, who inspired this little expedition into the spooky awesomeness of our black feathered friends.

10407062_566209380146176_5038564613021826923_nThey’ve described this song from their self-titled debut disc as being “about crows as messengers, being aware of their presence as harbingers in our lives and listening to what they have to tell us.” We chose Crow Call as one of our favorite local albums of 2014, but our previous posts about the disc have hardly hit on its eerie darkness. “They Know” is a fine example of how their music feels like Black Sabbath if filtered through Charlie Parr.

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“They Know” by Crow Call

Wednesday night’s show here at Hymie’s starts at 7pm and features The Sterling Roots, Crow Call, and Karima Walker from Tuscon AZ. While shows at Hymie’s are usually free, we are asking for a $5 donation since there is a touring artist on the bill.

The Osmonds have sold more than 100 million records, but these days they’re not of much interest to young collectors. What we find interesting is that the Osmonds are in a way the original vinyl purists: none of their 60s and 70s albums has ever been officially released on CD. Any you may have seen were European bootlegs.

That mainstream rock fans hardly held fast to the family group of nine siblings (two born deaf, didja know that?) is inextricable from their espoused faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Conservatives responded cooly to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism in 2012 — imagine how rock fans responded to the Osmond’s 1973 proselytizing rock opera, The Plan. It was uncomfortable and more off-putting than Pete Townshend’s love for Meher Baba.

When MGM granted the group its own imprint a year earlier, they named it for Kalob, the celestial body still undiscovered and alternately described by Mormon theologians as a planet and a star. It is the body nearest the Throne of God, where the Earth was created before being moved to its present location. This isn’t as weird as the Mormon plan for salvation, which requires a flow chart, but not exactly the kind of stuff music fans are dying to discuss.

The Osmonds’ first release on MGM/Kalob was Crazy Horses, a stark departure from the bubblegum pop sound which had made them best-sellers. They wrote their own songs and played their own instruments (Merril on vocals and bass, Wayne on lead guitar, Donny on the keys and Jay on the drums — in case you’re wondering). The result is a hodgepodge of sixties psychedelia and seventies rock which is surprisingly fun.

crazy_horses_front“Crazy Horses” is a response to the pollution caused by automobiles. Maybe it’s one of the first songs about global warming (we’ll let record store blogs of the future make that call) — either way the cut is a hard rock gem, although its hard to imagine rockers bringing a copy of the LP to the counter. Crazy Horses borrows from Willie Dixon on the title track and from Led Zeppelin (who borrowed from Chess Records blues regularly) on “Hold me Tight.” There’s also some Bread/Eagles light rock which fits the feel of the times. The psychedelia aspirations interspersed through the album fall flat, or at least feel phony — what are the odds these boys ever even smelled weed, let alone smoked it?! — but there’s some striking moments of solid rock and roll. And they hardly let Donny sing.

If the rest of the album had rocked like “Crazy Horses,” we’d probably all have this in our collections next to Sabbath or Rainbow or some other sludgy 70s jams. As it is the album is a weird relic, a surreal amalgam of the strange forces at work in those heady days of the early 70s. The kind of thing only a record collector could understand.

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“Crazy Horses”

flying saucers

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Did you know NASA currently has two rovers and a science laboratory on the surface of Mars, as well as several satellites in its orbit? The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) satellite is expected to reach the red planet later this summer, providing new insight into its atmosphere and climate history. It is currently traveling at about 65,000 miles per hour. All of this could contribute one day to a manned mission to Mars, a journey that could take anywhere from 228 days as it did Mariner 4 in 1965 to a speedy 131 days, which is how long it took Mariner 7 just four years later.

2014-february-19-text1-spica-mars-arcturus-big-dipper-night-sky-chart1Mars is currently about 225 million miles from our record shop here in Minneapolis. In 2003 it was closer than any time in the previous 50,000 years, at a distance of 56 million miles. During last month’s eclipse Mars was very close to the Moon in the night sky. If you’re looking for it tonight, just find the Big Dipper and follow its handle down to the stars Arcturus and Spica.

aniaraThis obscure two-act opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl chronicles a failed mission to Mars, launched in 2038 but derailed during the mid-summer celebrations. The Aniara‘s computer expresses itself through Mimaroben, who is heard in this performance by basso cantante Erik Saaden. He describes the failings of mankind to the crew as the Earth is destroyed. A new course to the constellation Lyra is plotted, although it was decades after this recording that evidence from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii suggested its largest star, Vega, may be host to terrestrial planets.

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Scenes I and II from the first Act of Aniara.

marscapeThe mission was a success on Marscape, a 1976 record by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley, essentially a follow-up to the debut album by jazz fusion band Brand X. Marscape follows the mission from it’s opening “Take-Off” through the long journey. We enter into Mars’ atmosphere with a pretty piano piece by Lumley, “Arrival.” Afterwards, the moons Phobos and Demos are introduced, and then the enormous volcano Olympus Mons.

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“Arrival”

Side two of Marscape includes a reflection on Earth (“Homelight”), which must be a tiny blue dot in the Martian sky, as well as an exciting romp on the Martian surface in a “Hopper,” a machine for negotiating the rough terrain. The Hopper is presumably like the two Rovers NASA currently has exploring the surface of Mars.

In “Blowholes (the Pipes of Mars)” we hear the winds blowing through the naturally-sculpted rock formations. It sounds similar to the beginning of Herbie Hancock’s fun re-make of “Watermelon Man” on Headhunters.

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When Gustav Holst composed “Mars, the Bringer of War” for his orchestra suite The Planets in 1914, the world was on the edge of unprecedented war which would cost nearly forty million human lives. It is often noted how the quiet English composer captured the sense of impending

Holst enlisted but was found unfit for service. His brother Emil and his friend, and fellow composer, Vaughn Williams were sent to active duty in France. Holst volunteered for a time driving an ambulance. Towards the end of the war he spent a year in Greece, working with troops awaiting demobilization and performing. “It was great fun,” he later wrote, “But I fear I was not much help.”

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“Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets by Gustav Holst

war of the worldsWar on an even greater scale appeared imminent to some radio listeners on October 30, 1938. Tuning away from NBC’s Chase and Sanborn Hour during the musical guest, listeners all over America happened upon a startling report from Grovers Mill, New Jersey where Martian crafts were emerging from a smouldering crater.

What they were hearing was not the news, but Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, an 1897 serialized story by H.G. Wells which details an invasion from the red planet. Those who didn’t hear the opening disclaimer took the realistic dramatization for the news — the following morning, Halloween, newspapers around the country reported on panicked citizens abandoning their homes, flooding highways, and demanding protection from local authorities.

The extent of the panic following Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast has since been questioned. Newspapers, smarting from the advertising revenue lost to radio, were eager to find fault, damning the drama as deceptive. One certainty is that its impact was not lost on Adolf Hitler, who cited the panic as proof of the decadence of democracy. Of course, the Fuhrer was no stranger to the power of the airwaves to manipulate.

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An excerpt from the October 30, 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds

Wells’ novel tapped into a common fear at the time of its original publication, although it took a different approach to the “invasion narrative.” An assault on Great Britain from overseas was a popular plot in adventure writing, although the invaders in the best-sellers were more often than not German. Listeners to the 1938 broadcast were filled with the very same fears, many believing that Germans and not Martians were laying siege to New Jersey. Only a month earlier the airwaves had been filled with news of the Munich Pact, in which Europe shamefully allowed Germany annexation of Czechoslovakia. In a biography of Orson Welles, Frank Brady describes the atmosphere of terror over the airwaves:

For the first time in history, the public could tune into their radios every night and hear, boot by boot, accusation by accusation, threat by threat, the rumblings that seemed inevitably leading to a world war.

Contrary to our nearest neighbor’s enduring presence in our nightmares, Mars is most unlikely to launch any such invasion. The red planet is hot, dry and barren — the search for life in our solar system has been extended to the mysterious moons of the Jovian system. “Nothing ever happens on Mars,” as lamented by a Martian himself, visiting the small town of Blaine, Missouri in this musical number from the 1997 film Waiting for Guffman.

 

Thanks to everyone who came out to the last Hymie’s Record Roadshow at the Turf Club last night — Over the past couple years we’ve had a ton o’ fun spinnin’ & slingin’ records there with an awesome variety of guest DJs. Last night John Henry — from the awesome metal trio Nightosaur — absolutely killed it. What a fun DJ! John also taught us that if you play your 45 of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” at the wrong speed it becomes a heavy dubstep jam.

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We’re going to put the crates to rest for a little while this winter, but the Roadshow won’t be retired. Maybe we’ll go back to combining it with some awesome live music, like we did at the Cedar in ’10 and the Triple Rock in ’11.

And we’ll always love the Turf Club — headed back there tonight, in fact, for the Cactus Blossoms’ live album release!

There is a recording of Johannes Brahms playing the piano. Nobody’s sure Whether the spoken introduction is Brahms himself or Theo Wagenmann, who worked for Thomas Edison and made the recording. It was made in 1889, making it probably the earliest recording of a great composer.

steve-allen2

Steve Allen facts:

    • He was the original host of the Tonight Show. Many television talk show mainstays were originated by Allen, such as the “man in the street” interview and an early “answer man” bit that presaged Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent.
    • He had one of the funniest on-air “crack up”s (for you serious folks, a “crack up” is when you can’t stop laughing). It happened on the Steve Allen Show on March 16, 1958. He is supposed to be playing sportscaster Bill Allen, and he later said it was the sight of his hair in the monitor that started the now legendary laughing fit.

  • He played the title role in the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story.

  • He wrote the music and lyrics for Sophie, an unsuccessful Broadway musical based on the life of Sophie Tucker. We have looked and looked, but it appears this went entirely un-recorded. It closed after eight performances.
  • He wrote more than 50 books. He poked fun at himself in a 1995 appearance on the Simpsons, hawking several books including The Joy of Cooking Steve Allen. Many of his books were very serious, touching on subjects of family and theology as often as comedy. In About a Son Allen writes about his own son, Brian, joining a religious cult called (we’re not making this up) The Love Family, and he efforts to reconcile this with his own beliefs. Brian remains an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon in Seattle, one of about 300 members. His name is Logic Israel. Steve Allen’s book is out of print, but you can buy it pretty cheap on Amazon.
  • He booked Elvis Presley before Ed Sullivan, averting any controversy from the singer’s suggestive performance by having him sing “Hound Dog” to a hound dog.

steve-allen-pog-simpsons

    • He wrote more than 8,500 songs, according to his official website. His compositions were recorded by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Louis Armstrong to Count Basie. He used one song, “This Could be the Start of Something Big,” as the opening to the Tonight Show. It became a theme song that followed him for the rest of his life.

    • He was married to actress Jayne Meadows for nearly a half century. She recorded one of our favorite 45s of all time.

hunger

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  • And here’s what we love about him best: Steve Allen himself made a ton of records. Some of them are pretty weird and fun.

socrates

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romantic rendezvous

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electrified favorites

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4860879222

Shoot. Somebody bought this album right away, so we didn’t record a track for you. The people who bought it looked like this.

DSC04949

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And we saved the best for last. We’ve also recorded the entire album for you…

how to think

 

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