Monday, March 30, 2009

Top Ten- Albums

For my first top ten list I've decided to do my favorite albums. This is not a list of my favorite musicians or my favorite songs but my favorite albums as they are recorded. I think it is a great thing when all the elements of an album come together and make a whole greater than the some of the parts. This is something that, with the rise of digital music and online music purchasing, is dying out. So this is the list and I recommend that if you do listen to this music, listen to the entire album from start to finish with no interruptions; it is well worth the time.

1.     Heartbreaker- Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams’ debut album shows us what American music can be. The music is, at once, sweet and brash. Adams’ uses his Alternative Country roots to show us that Rock and Roll can be a real thing of beauty. His impressive songwriting makes the album both epic and personal. This album is, in short, a masterpiece. Best Song- Oh My Sweet Carolina

2.     Highway 61 Revisited- Bob Dylan, I would argue that Rock and Roll music had the best day of its life when Dylan put down his acoustic, plugged in, and gave the finger to everyone who didn’t like it. It was difficult to choose between this album and Blonde on Blond but Highway 61 has that raw electric sound that perfectly embodies the sense of newness and rebellion that came with the album. Best Song- Tombstone Blues

3.     American IV- Johnny Cash, This is an album of contradictions. It is terribly personal but contains only three songs written by Cash. It summed up the long celebrated career of Cash and at the same time led a new generation to fall in love with the Man in Black. It was a departure from Cash’s early recordings but captured his musical essence better than the original Sun recordings. Best Song- Hurt

4.     Jacksonville City Nights- Ryan Adams, The second album Ryan Adams recorded with his band, The Cardinals. The album is reminiscent of Adams’ early career and his days with Whiskeytown but also stands up on its own. The album really shows how well the Cardinals complement Adams’ songwriting. Best Song- My Heart is Broken

5.     Flood- They Might Be Giants, Probably the first album I ever fell in love with.  It is the soundtrack of my childhood and is perfect for that task but the music also stands the test of time and maturity. Best Song- Birdhouse in Your Soul

6.     Closing Time- Tom Waits, A vast departure from the music that most people associate Tom Waits with. In this debut album Tom Waits sounds much more like a singer songwriter than the jazz musician and experimental pioneer that he would later become. The songs are sweet, playful and sometimes devastatingly sad. Best Song- Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)

7.     The Village Green Preservation Society- The Kinks, This is The Kinks at their very best particularly in Ray Davies’ songwriting. All of the songs fit together and feed off of each other with wonderful results. Best Song- All of My Friends Were There

8.     Volume I- She & Him, The first collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Zooey’s voice is unmatched and is showcased perfectly in the material. Best Song- Sweet Darlin’

9.     Ash Wednesday- Elvis Perkins, Ash Wednesday is Elvis Perkins’ debut album. The album starts with a lighthearted and often playful tone but makes a fairly sharp turn at the sixth track. The last five songs were written after Perkins’ mother died on 9/11 and deal primarily with that loss. Best Song- May Day!

10. The Trinity Sessions- Cowboy Junkies, This album was recorded in a church with one microphone. This method gives the album a very intimate and haunting tone. The actual song material, however, keeps it innocent and accessible with covers like Sweet Jane and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Best Song- Sweet Jane


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Poem of the day- Seamus Heaney

by Seamus Heaney

When I lie on the ground 
I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
In fights I arrange a fall on the ring 
To rub myself with sand.

That is operative
As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
Down here in my cave

Girded with root and rock
I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
And nurtured in every artery
Like a small hillock.

Let each new hero come
Seeking the golden apples and Atlas:
He must wrestle with me before he pass
Into that realm of fame

AMong sky-born and royal.
He may well throw me and renew my birth
But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
My elevation, my fall.

I took a course on Heaney in college. He is one of the most interesting poets I've studied. He has a brilliant command of language but is very down-to-earth. He is both very accesible and very inaccessable at the same time. Antaeus is one of my favorites because it shows the paradox of Heaney's writing so well. At fist glance we see a poem about the mythical Antaeus who was defeated by Hurculles. However, when you read this poem in the context of the rest of Heaney's poetry at the time you can see it as a comentary on his own writing. Just as Antaeus gains his strength from the earth, Heaney's poetry had a strong relationship with landscape and the natural world. It is as Heaney is writing Antaeus that the poet begins to come into conflict with his naturalist style. Just as Hurcules lifts up Antaeus into the sky Heaney's poetry is taken in a new direction. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Poem of the Day- Vachel Lindsay (Audio)

This is a link to a site where you can download the recording of Vachel Lindsay reading his poem The Congo. Ever since my father told me that this recording existed, I've been looking for it online and I only found it today. Its one of the best sounding poems I've ever read and Lindsay really puts on a show; hollering, chanting, and singing. The quality is not great but Its a very old recording. It is one of the best examples of why poetry needs to be read aloud.

Ampersand sells out allready!

Please forgive the new ads but I gotsta get paid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poem of the Day; Muldoon and Zevon

My Ride's Here

by Warren Zevon and Paul Muldoon

I was staying at the Marriott

With Jesus and John Wayne

I was waiting for a chariot

They were waiting for a train

The sky was full of carrion

"I'll take the mazuma"

Said Jesus to Marion

"That's the 3:10 to Yuma

My ride's here..."

The Houston sky was changeless

We galloped through bluebonnets

I was wrestling with an angel

You were working on a sonnet

You said, "I believe the seraphim

Will gather up my pinto

And carry us away, Jim

Across the San Jacinto

My ride's here..."

Shelley and Keats were out in the street

And even Lord Byron was leaving for Greece

While back at the Hilton, last but not least

Milton was holding his sides

Saying, "You bravos had better be

ready to fight

Or we'll never get out of East Texas tonight

The trail is long and the river is wide

And my ride's here"

I was staying at the Westin

I was playing to a draw

When in walked Charlton Heston

With the Tablets of the Law

He said, "It's still the Greatest Story"

I said, "Man, I'd like to stay

But I'm bound for glory

I'm on my way

My ride's here..."

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

by Warren Zevon and Paul Muldoon

She stood beside my narrow bed

to check my E.K.G.

She shook her pretty little head

At what's become of me

I thought I glimpsed a path that led

Through rhododendron days

And fuchsia nights to the boatshed

In which we two once lay

But she gazed only at my chart

The valleys and the peaks

Brought back the time she broke my heart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

But she gazed only at my chart

The valleys and the peaks

Brought back the time she broke my heart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

I saw her on Killarney's shore

One morning in July

When I still thought I was a thorn

Trying to find a side

I met her in the little launch

That runs to Innisfallen

Hunched together, haunch to haunch

Trying to keep my balance

But she upset my applecart

She kissed me on the cheek

And I was struck by Cupid's dart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

I was struck by Cupid's dart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

She was a systems analyst

For a dot com company

She said, "You think because we've kissed

I'll be yours eternally

I'll sign another pre-nup

And we'll merge our P.L.C.s

That's why most girls go belly-up

In this economy

But when it comes to a jump start

Your forecast's pretty bleak

The NASDAQ goes by dips and starts

Like MacGillycuddy's Reeks

The NASDAQ goes by dips and starts

Like MacGillycuddy's Reeks

She looked only at my chart

The valleys and the peaks

Brought back the time she broke my heart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

That was the time she broke my heart

In MacGillycuddy's Reeks

I was going to post a poem by Paul Muldoon that mentions Warren Zevon but I couldn’t find its name. It was from Muldoon’s 1994 collection, Prince of the Quotidian. I recently got a copy of this poem from my sister but she didn’t have the title either. In the process of trying to find this elusive poem I found that Muldoon had co written two songs with Zevon, one of his (and my) favorite artists. The songs first appeared on Zevon’s 2002 album, My Ride’s Here. So, even though it’s ‘the poem of the day’ I’ve decided to include two pieces by two authors.

The keynote of both songs is humor, found readily in the rest of both Muldoon’s poems and Zevon’s songwriting. Muldoon is originally from Ireland and Zevon was, of course, American. Landscape figures very much into both of their national identities and into both songs. MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are an Irish mountain range in County Kerry. The song interrupts its ‘old-country’ backdrop by comparing the Reek’s peeks and troughs to an E.K.G. or the N.A.S.D.A.Q. In the same way, My Ride’s Here features the landscape of the American West in places like San Jacinto and Houston but, again, Muldoon and Zevon disrupt the setting. They introduce to the song characters like Shelly, Keats, and Byron who don’t really belong in a Hilton in East Texas. Both songs have a duplicitous nature most likely due to the fact that they have two authors but neither song ever suffers from the fact.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Features to come

-Poem of the Day
A featured poem with a brief commentary
Top ten lists featuring literature, music, and more
-News of the Week
Pretty self explanatory 
-Off the Menu
Cooking stuff

Why we write

When it was first suggested to me that I publish a blog, the inevitable question that came to mind was why. Why, with the thousands of Internet publications, should I pollute cyberspace with my own ramblings? Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is it ‘art for art’s sake’? Do we write simply for the virtue of writing? Is there a more materialistic reason? Do we write to supply the demand for reading material or do we write out of a basic human need to write? The answer is an extremely vague, yes.

            The term ‘ars gratia artis’ is not one that I like to use. I’m far too utilitarian. I would rather consider ‘ars gratia sanctimonia’ or ‘art for the sake of virtue’; writing because it is good for the writer to write. We can’t write for the sake of writing because writing can’t benefit ‘writing’ writing can, however, benefit the writer. It behooves the writer to write just as it behooves the shoemaker to make shoes. If the shoemaker doesn’t make shoes then he ceases to be a shoemaker and if the writer doesn’t write he’s not a writer. There is a natural virtue in writing. It serves as a mental exercise, a verbalization and organization of thought. Take, for example, the poems of Emily Dickenson. In her lifetime few of her poems were published. If her relatives had never found and published her poems she would not be any less brilliant. The worst writer is the one who doesn’t write.

            In our non-utopian world writers must hawk their wares like anyone else in order to eat. This doesn’t necessarily debase writing as an art form. Who can say that writing that panders to the masses is any worse than writing that panders to some elite circle of critics? (Certainly not the masses). This is not to say that there is no bad writing. A well-written sleazy detective novel (to borrow a phrase) can be just as good, if not better than, 400 pages of eloquent, post-modernist drivel. I would argue that there is something wrong with that literature which feeds off of the baser human emotions to make a quick buck but there is also something wrong with literature that feeds off of those same emotions in order to be controversial and please the modern ‘art-world’.

            At the root of the desire to write (whether it be to please the writer or the reader) lies the urge to create. Man has it in his capacity to form his thoughts into words, to imagine strange and beautiful people and places, and to communicate that beauty through the beauty of language. To write is to love because to create is to love and to communicate is to love. The fiction writer loves his characters, no matter how flawed and ugly, because the mere act of bringing those characters into existence is an act of love. The non-fiction writer communicates with humanity and, in doing so, loves humanity.

            At that, before I wax too philosophical, I will begin this blog. I do so because a writer has to write, a writer has to eat, and a writer loves to write. Cheesy, I know, but the good news is that the predominant reason for this blog is practice.