Show me your roots…
It’s been a while. Too long. I’ve had to take a bit of a hiatus on the blog here in order to get my dissertation project situated and underway. I’m pleased to say that it is all but approved. I’ll be writing — big surprise — about rhetoric, music, the 1930s and Alan Lomax’s archive. So big projects loom large in my future, but I’m committing now to more frequent posts here at Prairie Hymnal — for sanity’s sake. We are working on booking more artists for our video sessions and will have some exciting news on that front here soon.
In the meantime we’ve got summer. Indeed, it’s summer and I’m trying to soak it up as best I can.
I work in an office where the oldies radio station plays all day and some of those tunes are so sweet I don’t care that I hear them over and over. Songs like Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby“, Sonny Robinson and the Miracles “Tears of a Clown” and the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” — great tunes that somehow never get old. Oh, and Lighter Shade of Pale! Amazing summer tune. It reminds me of fireworks and the Wonder Years.
It got me thinking about this old post that I put together for Ryan over at Muzzle of Bees a few years ago. It seemed like a good time to revisit it. We carry around our musical roots as personal histories and sometimes, as is the case with the songs I’ve listed above, we carry around the musical genealogies of our culture. I’m intrigued by this still.
Here’s the piece, edited slightly for Prairie Hymnal. If you have a moment, post a comment about your own root system…
In 1991, Boyz II Men and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince put out the unforgettable singles Motownphilly and Summertime. If you were 11 or 12 like I was when those tunes came out, those were THE songs, right? You know you loved them. That summer, though, with high school on the horizon, I abandoned them—openly disdained them even. I hid my cassette singles and in their place new, shiny CDs appeared with pale, British faces on them: from Boyz II Men to Boyz Don’t Cry faster than you can say goodbye to yesterday.
This ebb and flow of our musical interests is common, I think, and though it may not happen as frequently (or dramatically) as it did when we were kids, I think it’s fun to think about how what we listen to changes over the years. My musical tastes certainly have changed and expanded over the last decade. I suspect yours have too. And thank goodness, really.
I think the watershed moments of our musical pasts are important to reflect on. What we listen to seems to be indicative of other shifts in our often tenuous world-views and brought about by other life changes, subtle or serious. No wonder songs and bands become both touchstones and course markers along the way.
A standout moment for me in the last ten years was when M. Ward and Jim James took the stage with Bright Eyes—Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis—during a 2005, pre-Monsters of Folk Austin City Limits performance. I was in the midst of a shift that year and was looking to shows like ACL and podcasts like NPR’s All Songs Considered for nudges in new sonic directions. Bright Eyes is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. Oberst was (then even more) strange and catlike and I remember being intrigued (if in a pseudo-literary sense) by his poem-song “Waste of Paint.” He also did a lovely waltz with Mogis on mandolin called “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” from the critically acclaimed album I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. But it was when M. Ward and Jim James came out and played songs from their respective main projects that ears perked. Ward played “O’Brien” — a great song from his now classic, break-through record End of Amnesia (2001). Next, Jim James played the My Morning Jacket tune “Golden” (from It Still Moves, 2003) with Mogis on pedal steel. Something clicked. That Gibson, those chords, that melody, and the lyrics:
Watchin’ a stretch of road, miles of light explode.
Driftin’ off a thing I’d never done before…
Watchin’ a crowd roll in. Out go the lights, it begins.
A feelin’ in my bones I never felt before…
I watched and listened again and again. In the process, I discovered—from the first half of that episode—a little band called Wilco (tragically late, I know). And while I can’t trace back all of my current musical interests to that moment, it was very significant.
Tell us a little about your musical histories: What were the moments, songs, albums, artists, blogs, podcasts, tv shows etc. that brought on some kind paradigm shift in your musical world over the last five or ten years? How dramatic were your shifts? And, if you please, what brought on those shifts?