An unexpected benefit of running a business is that you’ll never be bored again. You won’t while away an afternoon watching the clock because there will always be something to do.
In just a couple days on jury duty (not selected yet!) I’ve been given a reminder of my pre-Hymie’s professional career. Lord, I was bored! At least during the years I was a dishwasher there was work to do.
A friend and former Hymie’s employee had an early band called the Waiting Place, which borrowed its name from one of our kids’ favorite Dr. Seuss books, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I looked for it this morning but I couldn’t find the myspace page again (you can’t blame artists for packing away early works like that if it’s their choice). Either way, it was a great choice for a name.
THE WAITING PLACE
by Dr. Seuss (from Oh, the Places You’ll Go)
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Dave has jury duty this week, and they’re unlikely to excuse him because he needs more time to find and record goofy records for the Hymie’s blog. Since he doesn’t watch much TV, and the only movies he enjoys take place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” he has no idea what to expect from the experience of performing his civic duty. Anything he knows about being inside a courtroom comes from records.
Maybe he’ll be assigned to this case. It seems like a lot of fun.
When I run in the morning I usually go from our neighborhood over to the Mississippi River and then, if my knees are cooperating, along it for a while. This morning I could hear the crowds gathering and the inspirational music — the Twin Cities Marathon runners will pass up the far side of the river (which is a beautiful stretch of trail for a run), coming their closest to our neighborhood between miles 17 and 18.
I don’t really like wearing headphones, but sometimes I do carry an Ipod when I run. My playlist for these mornings is mostly old punk rock records: Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Flipper, and so forth. Probably not what most people would call inspirational. It’s certainly not “Eye of the Tiger.”
We’re pretty happy to hear the City of St. Paul has negotiated with the planned protest to protect the runners. We know that folks are not allowed to question the appropriateness of these protests anymore, but the issues raised seem to have very little to do with the marathon. And while the shoes are shockingly expensive, we really can’t think of an activity more inspiring and inclusive than long distance running. I for one am truly impressed by every single one of today’s runners.
“Long Distance Runner” by Fugazi
This song probably wouldn’t make the cut for the running playlist on my Ipod (it’s too slow) but it does close out one of my favorite albums. Red Medicine is the record where Fugazi shifted towards a more experimental formula which, sadly, came to an end when the band decided to “take a hiatus” which has now lasted thirteen years.
Country music is pretty popular here at Hymie’s, but our first choice is rarely Johnny Cash. Our opinion really took a turn after reading his autobiography, in which we felt the country music legend came off as a boorish, self-serving boob. We’d say its all about the California condors, but if anyone here were judged on a single incident of stupidity we’d all be in real trouble.
And, as with so much other music, we’ve found approaching his albums from a new angle has improved our impression. It’s always interesting to re-visit records you didn’t enjoy in the past — your new reaction may surprise you.
More and more we’ve come to enjoy Johnny Cash’s records not for their rebellious themes, but for his consistently clever and dark sense of humor. “A Backstage Pass,” from his forgotten run at Mercury Records, is a great example. And of course, many of his early hits offer a humorous approach to hard luck through storytelling.
Recently, a friend loaned us copies of several of his 90s American Recordings albums, which we have enjoyed. At the time we’d thought the label’s model was gimmicky — taking a star whose career had long been floundering and having them cover pop songs still strikes us as tawdry — but the records undeniably resonated with a large audience. Too bad the same didn’t happen for Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, which is a great album, too.
One can see how they re-framed Cash, (who was hardly a genuine outlaw in the sense that, say, Merle Haggard was) for generation X. And for whatever reason, we weren’t as tired of hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as our parents were. Fortunately, the sextenarian’s songwriting acumen was still sharp, and the original songs from his American Recordings run are ripe with his delightfully dark sense of humor.
Our favorite song from the period was not one of the Rick Rubin productions, but a song from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack (a favorite disc which we have recently posted here). With its humorous approach to metaphysics, “In Your Mind” presages Cash’s appearance on The Simpsons as a coyote who serves as Homer’s spirit guide during a peyote trip. Ry Cooder produced the song, lending it his own irreverent approach.
When we found “In Your Mind” to post it this morning, we realized it recalled an older tune that’s likely far less known but a favorite of ours. “Let It Ride” is a single by country music songwriter Dick Feller from 1975. Feller had written a hit for Johnny Cash which made country music’s top ten three years earlier (“Any Old Wind that Blows”) and also a #1 hit for Jerry Reed (“Lord Mr. Ford”). His songs have a similar sense of humor, and his success led to his debut as a singer shortly after the release of “Lord Mr. Ford.” His first album, like those of many Nashville songwriters, played off his previous role and had him covering the tunes he’d written for others.
Never as famous as other country storytellers like Cash and poor, unlucky Tom T. Hall, Feller wrote some of the funniest songs of the seventies. Our favorite is “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer.” Like Roger Miller, he lamented that nobody took him seriously when he wrote serious songs, such as “Some Days Are Diamonds,” which was a gigantic success for John Denver in 1981. If you ever come across a Dick Feller record give it a listen — you’ll probably laugh and maybe feel a little misty, too.
“Let It Ride” is a great gamblers’ tune, which captures the misplaced hopes of placing another bet. And “In Your Mind” sounds a lot like it. We’re not suggesting Cash and Cooder stole anything from Feller, just that they’re similar approaches to the mysteries of the unknown.
Our next release from Hymie’s Records will be the debut album by Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band. Lonesome, Stoned and Drunk has been years in the making, and we could not be more proud of this project.
Jeff and his band are not only exceptionally talented, but also good friends. We have loved having them here over the years. Jeff’s songs are both poignant and hilarious, and on the album the band sounds like a classic “Bakersfield sound” honky tonk act.
The album will feature liner notes from local promoter Craig Drehmel and country music legend Sherwin Linton. We are currently working on scheduling some shows for November and December to celebrate its release. The album will be available here in the record shop, and at those shows, the week of Thanksgiving.
Bill Evans’ “Lucky to be Me” is one of our favorite jazz piano performances on record. It first appeared on his second album, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, which had a cover featuring accolades from top-selling jazz musicians, but it is ironically one of the loneliest songs in our collection.
The lyrics were written by Betty Comden and Adolf Green, and the music by Leonard Bernstein, for the 1944 Broadway show On the Town, which follows the adventures of three sailors on shore leave in New York City.
Here’s a video of Tony-nominated Tony Yazbeck, who is stars as Gabby in the recent revival of On the Town, performing the song “on location.” The musical, which is best known for “New York, New York” (“it’s a helluva town”), has already been through a couple unsuccessful revivals, neither of which lasted even eighty performances. The third production, in which Yazbeck plays an romantic, optimistic sailor on leave, closed earlier this month but released a cast album on CD last year.
“Lucky to be Me” is not even the finest solo piece found on this essential jazz album. Evans’ original “Peace Piece” is an achingly beautiful little masterpiece. Evans lent its simple left hand refrain to Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” at the Kind of Blue sessions the following spring. He invented “Peace Piece” as an extended introduction to another number from On the Town, “Some Other Time.” In this tune, Gabey’s shipmates lament their leave is coming to an end. Evans’ interpretation of the song was included on CD reissues of Everybody Digs Bill Evans, but unfortunately not on the Milestone Records “two-fer” reissue of the album in the seventies.
Bill Evans was twenty-nine when he recorded this album and very much in a place between his roots in bop piano and the lyrical, melodic approach based on block chords which would define his contribution to Davis’ modal jazz sextet on Kind of Blue. There is a duality to Everybody Digs Bill Evans which slowly fades from his records as he embraces the more introspective style heard on the solo performances. By the time he begins recording for Verve Records in the early sixties (where he became a top seller) there was very little bop to be heard on his albums, even though he told an interviewer around this time the greatest influence on his playing was Bud Powell.
Besides those big block chords, the other thing that characterizes Evans’ playing on this album is his unique use of the pedals. His intuitive employment of the sustain is essential to the effect of “Lucky to be Me,” adding to the introspective feel of what had been, in On the Town, an extroverted expression. A few years later he took his individual approach to a surreal extreme on Conversations with Myself, an album which finds the pianist accompanying himself by way of overdubs.
Its hard to say whether or not Evans actually felt lucky to be himself when he recorded this album in New York on December 15, 1958. Peter Pettinger’s biography, How my Heart Sings, offers a portrait of the pianist pressured by internal conflicts far more substantial than the musical influences of Bud Powell or, on the other hand, jazz theorist George Russell. Despite his success at the time — including winning “best pianist” in Down Beat‘s international critic’s poll, and his key role on acclaimed albums by both Davis and Art Farmer — Evans was seeing a psychiatrist and considering leaving jazz altogether. He left the Miles Davis group, where as the only white member he had been controversial from the beginning, and stayed with his brother Harry for a while, and cared for his father, whose drinking took its toll at a tragically young age. Harry was a music teacher at conservatory in Louisiana, and Evans was both close to his older brother and competitive, even though he went on to become the famous musician.
Everybody Digs Bill Evans was recorded the same winter the pianist began using hard drugs, but some speculate Evans, the melancholy son of an alcoholic, was doomed to addiction. When he died in 1980, a friend described it as “the longest suicide in history.” His recordings offer an almost overwhelming sadness from the earliest to the last: the title track on his last album, We Will Meet Again, was written for Harry, whose suicide all but ensured Evans’ self-destruction. In between there are so many moments of self-doubt and uncertainty, especially in the solo performances. Milestone’s Solo Sessions collection, issued on CD in the late 80s, unearthed a particularly lonely version of “Everything Happens to Me,” a light-hearted tune introduced by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra during Sinatra’s tenure, which previously one would not have thought of as tragic lament in spite of its title.
Another remarkable discovery in Pettinger’s biography is that Evans was an avid reader with a deep empathy for the English novelist Thomas Hardy. Evans’ identification with Hardy’s tragic characters, in particular the faithful, mistreated Gabriel Oak or ill-fated Jude the Obscure, offers some insight into his uncertainty. Sometimes we connect with characters in books, just as sometimes we connect with our favorite records in a very personal way. These can be times of sadness as readily as times of joy (here’s one jazz record we’ve been known to favor on those happy days). The records you really connect to are the ones with such nuanced depth that even after a hundred or more listens, there’s something to be found each time you play it again. We suppose Everybody Digs Bill Evans would be one of our desert island discs, if only for these three and a half minutes where he explores not only his own uncertainty, but the shame caused by one’s contemplation of their own worth.