18 August 2008

Making memories in Nashville

As many of you may know, I was thrilled to find out that upon moving to Nashville that I would have the opportunity to see tons of music. Not only I have been inundated with music in various bars and restaurants, but I have also had the opportunity to spend money to see bands that I enjoy in the privacy of my home. There were three shows in the second week that we moved to this fair city.

Show #1: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band at Mercy Lounge

(note: the pictures in this blog are not from the actual show, but rather from various google images).

I was looking forward to seeing Conor Oberst's new project since last year when I caught word that he was doing a solo-esque album. Hearing the new album was being recorded in Mexico only contributed to the mystery. How would an Oberst album sound without the abilities of Mike Mogis? I was intrigued. Luckily, we came across a live version of many of the new songs online...so I was able to hear the music before the show. I heard many of these new songs while still living at the beach, so they had significance. Songs about leaving, moving on, and embracing the new all resonated for me during this stage of my life.

Seeing Oberst perform is also a chance to see an old friend. Or at least it is a hopeful to see an old friend. When you happen to know someone who has managed to achieve a certain amount of success- it can be difficult to get in touch with them. Once "celebrity" takes hold, there are often a network of people that now separate you from the person you use to know. That being said, we decided to try to see Oberst both at the in-store performance at Grimey's and at the formal show at Mercy Lounge.

Arriving at Grimey's, we were met with an already full store. So, we stood on the back porch waiting for the band to arrive for their performance. Apparently, they were coming directly from the airport. Now, waiting...I'm not a fan of waiting. When the band did arrive, they climbed the stairs at the back of Grimey's. What I found interesting was that the crowd was completely silent for their entire trip up the stairs. They all stood staring, silently. Again, when they came back the stairs, silence. As Conor came down the stairs, I was lucky enough to be recognized. He stopped to give me a hug. I thought this might be a good sign about getting the chance to catch up later at the show. I would be wrong. This would be the only interaction I would get to have with my old friend. Those damn networks.

As the porch filled up with people, Tim and I made our way back down to the parking lot. The band sounded great, but assuming we'd have an opportunity to see them later, we decided to grab some much needed food and drinks at Robert's Western World.

The show at Mercy was also pretty packed. I listened to a couple of songs by The Evangelicals, though I was less impressed than I had hoped. I decided instead to imbibe and wait for the Mystic Valley folks. The performance was great. There was little banter between the songs. I think in ways that Oberst is hoping to recreate the rock n' roll band that he misses. Bright Eyes is a huge production with various instrumentation, video, lights, and a whole crew of folks. Maybe Oberst wanted to go out on the road with some dudes, record, and tour...without all the bells and whistles. Not to mention, the new songs have the sound of just that- getting back to the basics.

I've had this conversation with several people and read a few articles about it- but I find the idea of an artist maturing very intriguing. So, what is the process that someone like Oberst (a youngster when he earned his claim to fame) must go through to write music that reflects his maturity? Can a 28 year old Oberst continue to write songs about popping pills and ending up in the hospital? I think if musicians don't change their style and what they write about, we all end up thinking it is a little sad. If Oberst's late 20s and early 30s are anything like mine, it'll be an awkward period of coming to terms with maturing, while still managing not to give in and give up.

#2 Bon Iver and AA Bondy at The Exit/In

Unfortunately we missed AA Bondy, but arrived at The Exit/In right as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver took stage. I can't quite remember if the show was sold out or not, but I am assuming it was because of the lack of movement that this packed club allowed. I honestly was surprised to see this many folks out to see Bon Iver. I had no idea people loved them as much as I did. Vernon has an incredible voice and sense of putting his vocals to music. It was quiet, but moving. Even heartbreaking at times. I haven't had the opportunity yet to listen to the album again, but this is the type of show that I know will make the album sound even better.

#3- The Silver Beats with Prabir and the Substitutes at Mercy Lounge

Awwww, Prabir and the Substitutes. I've known Prabir for almost 10 years now. I've watched his different projects unfold and change. When I lived in Charlotte, I'd help him set up shows to bring him to town. When I lived at the beach, we were lucky enough to bring him to the beach right before I moved. Luckily, when I realized I was moving to Nashville, I discovered that Prabir already played Nashville pretty regular.

Prabir informed me that his show in Nashville would be opening for a band called The Silver Beats, which are a Beatles cover band from Tokyo. I must admit the idea of a Japanese Beatles cover band seemed kitschy and fun, not to mention I'd get the chance to see my old friend, Prabir.

Prabir and the Substitutes were terrific. I just hate there weren't more folks there to see them. One of the things that I think is the most commendable about the band is that regardless of whether there is one person in the crowd (me) or 150...the band puts forth the same energy. They are there to perform. Also, I have seen many incarnations of Prabir and band mates- and I say this without reservation- but, this current group of folks seem to have just the perfect chemistry. Not to mention, they are all incredibly nice and welcoming people. Even if I don't always remember that (sorry, Tyler!)

When The Silver Beats came to stage, I was curious about how much they would sound like and look like The Beatles. I already heard that the Japanese John Lennon looked suspiciously like John Lennon. I also knew that some of the members spoke very limited English- so how would this take place? One song in and I was hooked. Not only is the band spot on in their performance, but they also curiously bring the songs to life, much like I imagine the original Beatles did. As I looked around the crowd, people were signing along, smiling, and just having a great time.

After the show and experiencing for the first time (from a live show) what has been called Beatle-mania, we were lucky enough to meet the members of The Silver Beats. Prabir was nice enough to introduce, as well as we were able to take pictures with them (which hopefully I'll have copies of before too long). Shortly after the show, one of the Substitutes informed me that Michelle Branch was in attendance. I'll be honest, I didn't know that much about her music, but a quick glance around the club and I recognized her. She was standing around with The Silver Beats.

I had a difficult time deciding whether or not to write about what follows. In that, I'm never sure how to talk about famous folks without sounding like I'm bragging or even somehow violating their anonymity. So, what happened with the rest of the evening? For one, I knew if there was one thing that I would like to happen with the rest of the evening it was that I wanted the entire crew (Prabir, The Substitutes, and The Silver Beats) all to make their way down to Lower Broadway in Nashville. This area is known as the Honky Tonk area, where Robert's Western World is located. I think it is pretty obvious I have a soft place for Robert's and I thought it would be great to have the everyone drinking and dancing in a honky tonk bar. Luckily, I was convincing.

Upon arriving to Robert's, we walked up only to run into Branch and her friends. Surprisingly, she recognized us from the show and said hello. One of the things that I found refreshing about Branch is that she was just having a good time. It wasn't like she was out with some entourage. She wasn't expecting folks to treat her differently. She was just out with friends and meeting new friends. Once the bands arrived, the next couple of hours was filled with conversation and beverages. We met some lovely new folks from Nashville, as well as got a few chances to talk with the bands.

At the end of the evening, we all walked outside. Half the folks were heading home or to a hotel (Branch, The Silver Beats), while the other half (Prabir and the Substitutes) were headed to a dance party in East Nashville. Before we all parted ways, we stopped on the sidewalk. One of the fellas from The Silver Beats (from what I remember, it was the Japanese Paul) borrowed a guitar from a guy that was playing on the street. About 15 or so of us gathered around while The Silver Beats performed the song "Michelle." After this, they led us in a sing-a-long version of "In My Life." It was absolutely incredible. And with no doubt, one of my fondest musical memories. We stood on a street in Nashville, belted out the song, all together, as people walked by. I do love a sing-a-long.

If the past week is any indication of the days and weeks to follow, I'm going to feel tired and worn out, but incredibly inspired.

16 August 2008

My First 33 1/3

One of the great things about living in a larger city is having access to record stores. In Myrtle Beach, there was one old dusty record store. It wasn't an all bad record store, but I couldn't go in there to find anything I was currently wanting to buy- it was more one of those places that you search through the old albums and would happen upon a great old jazz or rock album. I've spent more money on music since I've moved to Nashville, essentially because I have access now. Not only do record stores put you in contact with a great selection, but often you can also find books or magazines you'd forgotten about.

I heard about the 33 1/3 series a year or so ago, but because I didn't have access to looking at these awesome books I never bought one. I was joyfully surprised to find the entire collection (thus far) for sale at Grimey's. Given the fact that I am working on a book about music and the impact of songs and albums, I was ecstatic to look through all the titles, select one, take it home ,and immediately read it cover to cover. I knew when I read title from title that there was only one that would be perfect for my first read- it would be the one on Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

And I did just that.

From what I understand, each book is written by a different author with varying methods. Kim Cooper, who wrote the one on NMH, chose to focus on the history of this enigmatic band, by supplementing the story with interviews and stories. She also spent some time going through each track on the album, as well as discussing the artwork on the album. There are some bands that I fell in love without knowing their mythology. Neutral Milk Hotel was one of those bands. I have listened to this album hundreds of times, but I really knew very little about the band- or the story and mystery that follows them even today.

When I finished the book, I thought it was only appropriate to sit down on my new living room floor, put on my headphones, put the record on, and listen.

And I did just that.

When I started working on my book about memories, I thought about the songs that would figure prominently in my own "musical motif" and undoubtedly, this album, and in particular, the song "King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1," was at the top of the list. I have countless memories attached to this song and all the songs. I can remember hearing it for the first time on a road trip to Austin, Texas for SXSW with my brand new friends, Parker and Greg. I remember during that trip sitting in the back of a car listening to the album from start to finish, unable to stop halfway through, even though it was 3:00 in the morning. I remember a sing-a-long that took place multiple times at a bar in Charlotte during an open-mic night. We all tried to remember the exact order of the lyrics. We failed. Started over. Failed. Started over. We must have started the song over at least 5 times that night. I also remember listening to this album when my best friend left for Finland. I remember listening to it when a close friend of mine died. I remember, well, I specifically remember listening to the song "Two-Headed Boy" as loudly as possible- when blue lights appeared in my rear-view mirror. My mother remembers listening to it the next morning when she picked up my truck from where I was forced to leave it.

In Cooper's book, she speaks to what felt (and continues to feel) so magical to people about this album. Was it the fuzz and instrumentation? Was it the collaboration of individuals and bands that were Elephant 6? Was it the imagery of tomatoes and radio wires? Was it the pushing of his voice until it broke?

For me, it is quite possibly all these things. Reading the book made me think about how we as fans analyze music. Often when we admire a musician, we read through their lyrics as if they are a cryptic message about their own lives (and at times, our own lives). We decode and analyze, hoping to understand the individual or band better. One of the things that I did know about Mangum was that much of the album was influenced by Anne Frank's diary. Apparently, Mangum was interested in Frank and it seemed from my reading that this may have been the only book he read. I commiserate, not in that I've only read one book, but instead that I remember reading this diary and feeling my life was ultimately changed. It resonates. It doesn't feel surprising to me that Mangum would write an album that takes these facts and stories, then distorts and twists them. This is what feels so magical to me.

I am also reminded of when a friend of mine decided to compile a top 100 albums list. He encouraged everyone to participate and submit their lists. He even encouraged us to collect lists from other folks. Everyone was to submit their top 10 albums of all time. I still have the paper in an old journal, but I know situated this album at number one of all time for me. And though some of the memories have faded, I'm pretty sure that this album found a way in the top 10 out of all the people who contributed to the list.

My absolute favorite line from the entire album is in the song "Two-Headed Boy," where Mangum screams out, "with the needle that sings in your heart, catching signals that sound in the dark, catching signals that sound in the dark." Yes. Every time I play any album on my record player, I think of this lyric. The needle that sings in my heart.

14 August 2008

Sounds of the City

When I started looking for a new place to live in Nashville, I was very concerned with the visual scene when I look outside my front door. This has always been of importance to me. I want to look out my front window and find something of interest. I suppose it feels like what you see when you walk outside your front door is somehow of precursor to the rest of your day. Once I looked at buying a house out in the country near Myrtle Beach. Upon looking at the place, I noticed that right across the street from the house was a robin's egg-blue trailer. It was broken down, busted up...and there was a cage of horses located right next door. There were 3 horses in a tiny space. I immediately decided I didn't want to buy this house- mostly because seeing these sad little horses next to this sad trailer- just didn't feel right.

Another thing that I always am interested in discovering are the sounds of a new home. What sounds do you hear throughout the day and night? Moving to the beach from Charlotte was interesting. My first few weeks in the apartment revolved around my absolute fear of the sound of fireworks. I think I hit the floor the first time I heard these sounds- as this sound is generally reserved for the 4th of July in Charlotte, at the beach, this sound is not reserved, at all.

Since I've been living in this new apartment in Nashville, I've taken stock of the sounds I hear. They are the sounds of living in a city. Apparently, there is a train track nearby. Every so often, throughout the day, I hear the sound of a train passing by. I've always loved the sound of a train passing (a la Paul Simon). This past weekend, I noticed the nearby churches ring their bells around noon. I can also hear the sound of ambulances in the distance and the traffic of a nearby street.

As my body and mind acclimate to a new climate and city, I find these sounds begin to come part of my daily soundtrack.

Music for the Road...

For most of my life, I've been essentially obsessed with travel. The road. I don't know if it has to do with the trips my mother and I took when I was a child. I can still hear these songs and they elicit the emotions of running away or taking off somewhere new and unknown. I still can't listen to Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again" without conjuring the thoughts of my mother and I tearing down the highway. Not to mention, I always kick myself for not starting my own band where I could tour around and make music with my friends.

When I got to high school, I remember hearing acquaintances at school discuss their upcoming spring break plans. Most of these plans involved keg beer and beach houses. This didn't interest me in high school, but I rather took annual spring break trips to places in the midwest and northeast. For most of these years, I took a trip to Chicago to visit my sister, while also stopping along the way. During college, we expanded- often taking a road trip all the way up to Montreal, while spending a couple of days here and there (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine). Each trip seemed to grow in length and stops. The road always held a special place in my heart- and the further I went, the less and less I wanted to return home.

Of course, the proper music for the trip is of utmost importance. Beyond the road trip mix, there are also "road" songs that seem to inspire the feeling of being on the road and travel. As mentioned above, Willie Nelson...but there are many others.

When Tim and I left for Nashville to put a down payment on our new apartment, we left Myrtle Beach around 5:00am. It was still dark outside. Before we pulled out of the drive, he searched around for a cd. Before I knew it, Tom Petty started playing. It was the Wildflowers cd. I haven't heard this album for years, but in the first few measures, I knew how perfect it was for the beginning of this journey. It not only provided memories of another time in my life of change, but it became the accidental soundtrack to this new phase of life. And I love that, with our memories that we attach to songs- at times, it happens so accidentally. You don't create the perfect mix tape for the trip, but rather it randomly finds you.

From "Wildflowers," "...sail away, kill off the hours, you belong somewhere you feel free...go somewhere all bright and new" to "You Don't Know How It Feels," "...turn the radio loud...you don't know how it feels to be me...people come and people go, some grow young, some grow cold, i woke up between a memory and a dream..." to "Time to Move On," "...its time to move on, its time to get going...under my feet, grass is growing...broken skylines...which way to something better, which way to forgiveness, which way do i go?"

I'll always remember these songs as associated with this latest move though still connected to earlier memories. Last night, I watched a movie called Wanderlust, which is a documentary about road movies and their impact on American culture. The documentary was interesting as it traversed through road movies starting roughly with John Ford movies to recent ones like Smoke Signals. Throughout the documentary, you come very clearly to the conclusion that the destination is never what is of concern, but rather the journey.

Of particular interest to me in the documentary and the more I think about the idea of "the road" was the idea that as American people, our culture provides us with the impulse of the nomad. And it reminds me of a new Conor Oberst song entitled, "Moab" where he sings, "There is nothing that the road cannot heal, washed under the blacktop, gone beneath my wheels, there is nothing that the road cannot heal."

04 August 2008

Top Five Songs of July...

1. You Don't Know- Jawbreaker

As I started to reflect this month on my moving to Nashville from Myrtle Beach, this song popped into my head. "You don't know what you've got (till its gone)." I think most people feel this way about things they leave behind. I remember when I was in high school, I plotted and planned how I could escape Charlotte. When I finally did escape Charlotte after graduation, I realized I missed it. The last two years (well, actually the desire to leave kicked in about 6 months ago), I thought about how to leave the beach. I wanted to be elsewhere. Anywhere. I sought a place that had more culture, more movie theatres, more rock shows...in an essence, more- anything. Another version of this song was brought to my attention by my new colleague in the program at Vanderbilt, Colin...see the video in this link.

2. The Garden You Planted- Sea Wolf

I think it is painfully obvious just how much I love Sea Wolf. This song made the list for this month (as most did) due to moving. In my last two apartments, I have cultivated a garden in the front yard. When I moved from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach, I attempted to up-root most of the garden to take with me. Needless to say, there were casualties. This time, I left the garden behind. If there is one song that elicits watery eyes about my moving, this is it. "Well the weather out here is just the same, but the garden that you planted remains."

3. That's It, I Quit, I'm Movin' On- Sam Cooke

If the song above makes me sad about leaving the beach, this song reminds me of the way I felt before deciding to leave. I recently put together a mix about the move. It dawned on me how "breaking up" with a city feels very similar to breaking up with a significant other. It feels bittersweet. I remember the good times, forget the bad times...but this song reminds me of how much I wanted to leave. There was just something about the beach that always seemed to disappoint me- much like Cooke's lover in this song.

4. A Long Way From Home- The Kinks

Obvious, isn't it? Literal translation here with the name of the song, but less so with the lyrics. Less than one week into my time at my new home and it feels that way- a long way from home.

5. Tennessee- Silver Jews

Again, I'm not sure I need to explain this song too much. A couple of nights before packing up all of my belongings to move to Nashville, I did a typical Itunes search for any songs about Tennessee or Nashville. I already knew that David Berman of Silver Jews lives in Nashville, but imagine my surprise that he wrote a song about moving and living in Nashville. It only seemed appropriate that this should be the last song of the five for July. A new start. A new place. A new sound.