Friday, December 30, 2011

From The Archives: 80s Songs Of Nuclear Holocaust

What many readers don't know about this blog is that it has actually been resurected after a three year layoff. Below is an entry from it's earlier form.

Whenever I taught about the Cold War era to my junior high social studies classes, it was very hard to convey The Fear. If you grew up during the Cold War (or as in my case, at the end of the Cold War), you know exactly what I'm talking about: this creeping, low-level, background phobia that anything or anyone you love, anything of meaning you have achieved in your life could be negated by a lethal combination of macho posturing and nuclear weapons. I became very cognizant of it during the Reagan years. In 1983, when the Soviets shot down a Korean jetliner, I was glued to the TV wondering if this was the first in a chain of events that would lead to the destruction of the world. I think the buddy I had over for the night was pretty miffed I didn't want to shoot bumper pool instead.

If the rhetoric got out of hand, there wasn't a damn thing I could do. This feeling of helplessness was very tangible for me. Granted, I was an overly serious kid; but I suspect I wasn't alone at all. Pop culture - especially music - visited nuclear doomsday themes quite often. Below are some selections for a compilation you can make to relive this time, which for me felt perpetually overcast. Hey - that's pretty catchy. Let's call this compilation "Perpetually Overcast: 80s Songs of Nuclear Holocaust".

"It's A Mistake" - Men at Work. Someone gave me this single for my birthday. As much as the song itself, the dust cover for the single (see picture that accompanies this article) vividly conveys The Fear I felt as an adolescent.

"99 Red Balloons" - Nena. Perhaps the most popular of the nuke songs.

"Russians" - Sting. Hey, I'm not claiming to like all the songs on this list.

"Ask" - The Smiths.

"Living Through Another Cuba" - XTC.

"Red Skies At Night" - The Fixx.

"World Destruction" - Zone Time. Features Africa Bambaata and Johnny Rotten (sorry, Lydon) if memory serves me correctly.

"The Final Countdown" - Europe. See #3. Bet that craptastic synth riff is now in your head though.

"Enola Gay" - OMD. I think released when they were still Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. Their name got KFC'd somewhere along the way.

"1999" - Prince.

"Der Komissar" - After The Fire. Not Falco, but Falco was indeed in this group.

"London Calling" - The Clash. A fine tune now used to sell cars.

As we now know, the jubilation we felt when the Soviet Union broke up and the Berlin Wall came down is long gone. The posturing, the militarism, the rhetoric - it's all back. The bomb isn't the omnipresent threat it once was, but give it time: it seems like we're heading that way again.

What songs would you add to this list?  Upon further reflection, "Ask" really doesn't have anything to do with nuclear holocaust.  I'm not sure "Enola Gay" does either.  But Imma leave them there anyway.

Fat Friday Feature DOUBLE SHOT: Bill Clements And Francis Rocco Prestia

Friday is the day I draw attention to great bass players and great bass lines.  I was too busy getting my Christmas on to post last Friday, so please enjoy this double shot.

In a tiny, sweltering A-frame all ages club in Chesterfield, Indiana circa 1989, my head was blown apart by Bill Clements.  He was touring at the time with a band called Catharsis - a pretty forgettable band save Bill's performance.  His playing was very busy; but the lines bubbled and peculated, relentlessly pushing the band forward.  Bill had a familiarity with the fingerboard that I had seldom seen.  He worked the whole neck, not just the lower third (like I do) and it never seemed ejaculatory.

Oh - and Bill Clements doesn't have a right hand.  That night, he wore a shiny metal hook on his forearm, almost as an in-your-face-reminder of this fact.*  The one song that I specifically remember - not only because of Bill's stellar performance, but because it was an unlikely song selection for an all ages punk rock venue - was Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy".  Watching Bill's hand span the fingerboard on that Washburn Status bass made me incredibly self conscious about not only my small hands, but my crappy practice ethic.  I left the Flipside club vowing to work harder.

Anyway, it is good to see Bill Clements is still out and about making a go of it.  Check out the clip below from the NAMM 2011 show.  Note the cloth wrapped around the nut, which is used to dampen the strings to prevent unnecessary ringing and string talk.  (When I saw him, he was using an old bandanna for this purpose.)

* - I had read somewhere that Bill really, really doesn't like to draw attention to the fact that he is a  bass player with one arm, wanting to be known instead as just a great bass player.  I'd say well done - he's great no matter what.

Bill's playing reminds me a lot of Rocco Prestia's.  I love the song below - timely lyrics though the song was released in 1975.  The jury's still out on that woman's singing, but the playing is parless.  If you're interested, here's Rocco breaking the bass line down for you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Your Holiday Playlist: A Parental Advisory Christmas

Notably absent:  Killdozer's excellent Christmas song.  What would you add to this list?  Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Leslie Donovan Singing "Silent Night"

Here's another track from a Christmas project I did for my wife last year.  Those who've already seen Indianapolis-based singer Leslie Donovan perform know that this is the equivalent of her "indoor voice".  Which is to say she can belt out tunes when necessary. I think my favorite thing about listening to Leslie perform is she has power and control.  It seems like most folks get seduced by the power of a particular singer, but not so much the control.  No matter how much Leslie socks it to you, she's always in control.  She's not yelling at you; always singing to you.

And as this track proves, she's not a one trick pony.  I love the intimacy of this track so much.  I'm so glad she contributed to the project.  I really hope that if you're reading this, you'll do your best to track her down and see her live.  Say hello to her and you'll also notice she's no diva - she's as down to earth and modest as you can get.  So go see her.  You really, really will not be disappointed.  Learn more about her and her band here and here.

Silent Night - Leslie Donovan by mattzink

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fat Friday Feature: Chris Squire Of Yes On "I've Seen All Good People"

As regular readers of the blog know, every Friday I feature a bass player or bass part that is exemplary.  Which is to say the part and the player kick ass.  Today, it's Yes's Chris Squire.

I love Chris Squire's tone almost as much as I love his aggressive, in the pocket playing.  Of course, I'm a huge fan of the Rickenbacker bass, the bass that Squire played a large part in popularizing.  Few showcase the strengths of that bass as well as Chris Squire.  His lines are loud and serpentine, wrapping around the music, binding it together.  The sound is meaty and in front - just the way I like it for electric bass.  There's a couple of great live takes of this tune on You Tube; I selected this one because it is less "proggy" and more "garagey" - this is probably about as "raw" as Yes gets.  Still, it'll get your feet tapping.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Around The Internet

Lots of interesting and important stuff flooding into the old feed reader of late:

  • If you enjoy a relatively free Internet, full of hilarious fair use videos and songs, do something to stop SOPA.  You have to do it today!  What is SOPA and why is it bad?  Here's some reading for you.  Just be assured a world in which SOPA has passed will be truly sad, because that means the bad guys (the recording industry) have won.
  • More activism:  Notes Toward Everything has hipped us to some action that will allow you to indulge your creative side to support punks in Indonesia, who're being rounded up and "reprogrammed".  This is troubling indeed - isn't this what the Khmer Rouge did?  Or maybe Scientologists?  (Sorry - couldn't resist that one.)  At any rate, punks have a reputation of being a close knit, supportive clan.  Time to live up to that rep if you still have the means to make mix tapes.
  • We bass players love drummers - here's one way to show your favorite drummer some love this holiday; and here's a slightly more expensive way to do the same thing.
  • And finally, check out the embedded clip below for at least two great reasons:  1.)  it's a fascinating story about one of the most iconic single chords in music history, and 2.)  It's hosted by Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive fame.  It's so charming to hear his delight in telling this story.
See you guys tomorrow for Fat Friday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I've censored the following, in protest of a bill that gives any corporation and the US government the power to censor the Internet--a bill that could pass THIS WEEK. To see the uncensored text, and to stop Internet censorship, visit:
█████'s ████ ██████ ███████ █████ the █████████ and ████████ ███████████████ ████ ████. ██████ it and get up on the █████. ████ ████ the ███████ █████. ████ is ████████ to the █████ ██████. ████ to ████ a █████.
Uncensor This

Seriously people - we need your help here. Don't take my word for it - do your homework and learn about SOPA. If you agree with my view, then do something NOW.

Song Writing 101: Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" [UPDATED]

Welcome to yet another semi-regular feature here at History Lesson Pt. 2!  From time to time, I'll be showcasing what I regard as parless song writing with "Song Writing 101" entries.  Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" is the perfect place to start.

At some point, I will give in to my urge to embed a holiday music play list at this blog.  You'll notice that the selections betray a few important things about my tastes in holiday music:

  • At Christmastime, even more than usual, jazz is king with big band music not far behind.
  • With only a few exceptions, the old standards you sang at midnight mass (and possibly on the way to midnight mass) are really all you need.
  • I don't go in for a lot of new music.  I know that at the end of each year, a ton of Christmas music floods the market.  I never actively seek it out.  As a result, I'm more or less listening to the same Christmas music stylings I listened to as a young lad pining for the latest Fischer-Price Adventure People set.
Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" is one of the exceptions.  I was hipped to it about four years ago, and it is now one of my favorites.  It's the perfect balance of humor and sentimentality.  I love the "Christmas card from the wrong side of the tracks" feel to it.  It captures some of the oddness of family gatherings but it never portrays it's subjects with disrespect.  Listen to the original here (this live version is even better than the studio version), and enjoy the Creekdogs cover below.
Here are the lyrics:

Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party
We were drinking champagne punch and homemade eggnog
Little sister brought her new boyfriend
He was a Mexican
We didn't know what to think of him until he sang
Felice Navidad, Felice Navidad

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife Mary Nell
Of course he brought his new wife Kay
Who talks all about AA
Chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel
The First Noel

Carve the Turkey
Turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the eggnog's gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension chord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons, Marlboro Lights
Hallelujah everybody say Cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

Fred and Rita drove from Harlingen
I can't remember how I'm kin to them
But when they tried to plug their motor home in
They blew our Christmas lights
Cousin David knew just what went wrong
So we all waited out on our front lawn
He threw a breaker and the lights came on
And we sang Silent Night, Oh Silent Night, Oh Holy Night

Carve the turkey turn the ball game on
Make Bloody Mary's
Cause we all want one!
Send somebody to the Stop 'N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons, some Salem Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the Family
Felice Navidad

A note about the Creekdogs version:  I did this last year.  I was responsible for the recording and post production.  That's why it sounds kinda sucky - I'm still learning.  Still, I'm quite proud of it and I love hearing it.  I think it's a testament to the musical prowess of my band mates and Robert Earl Keen's songwriting skillz.
(Kevin pointed out to me that the version I uploaded earlier today was not, in fact, the final version of the tune.  The lap steel track was slightly out of sync.  This is the most up-to-date, in sync track.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sofia Violins: A History Lesson Pt. 2 Field Trip

I met John Welch in late October at a wedding reception.  He was chatting up my wife, who in turn was holding our daughter Marina near the water fountains just outside the bathrooms near the banquet room.  They had talked for sometime; and after a brief introduction from my wife (who was also meeting him for the first time), I went back into the din of the wedding reception to make sure my crazy dancing son was keeping it safe.  My wife told me later that he was incredibly charming, and he was totally smitten with 2 of the 3 most important women in my life.  I was totally stoked to learn he was the CEO of Sofia Violins in Indianapolis, and he was more than happy to let us come for a visit - his only requirement was that I bring along my wife and daughter so he can say hello.

The date for the visit was Dec. 9th - this past Friday.  I wasn't sure what I'd get, but I couldn't help but be excited.

Sofia Violins is located in downtown Indianapolis in the historic Stutz Building.  After climbing 3 flights of stairs, we found John's office amongst the various photography and art studios.  (The windows and ceilings are high on each floor, but the rooms themselves small and affordable - perfect lighting/perfect price for photographers and painters.)  John greeted us and after a brief exchange of pleasantries, we were escorted to the shop next door.  I didn't know what I was going to get, but I had assumed two things:  1, that the family would have to stay out of the workshop, and 2. that the workshop would have people hustling around, attending to loud, compact car-sized machinery that was more or less guided by computers.  I was wrong, so wrong.  And that was when the place began to charm me.

I said goodbye to the family; John surprised me by saying they were most welcome to come in as well - yet another pleasant surprise.  I knew they'd like it too. We opened the door into a one room shop with a large closet for spraying finishes onto the instruments.  There were only two men in there, both hunched over their benches working on a single violin.  It was quiet except for a small radio playing the news, and the only large machinery in there was a drill press and a band saw.

They both stopped what they were doing and answered all of our questions, showing us around the shop.  They were very focused on us, taking their time and giving the visit a very pleasant, friendly vibe. I asked some general questions about the shop, and what I've gathered is this:

  • Sofia Violins are made from parts shipped from the Czech Republic.
  • One of the luthiers (Todd Matus) also builds his own violins there - from scratch.  As he was working on several instruments, we got to see pretty much every stage of construction, from planing the top from the tone wood to finishing and varnishing the instrument.
  • 48% of the instruments made in that workshop are purchased overseas, mostly in Europe.
  • All manner of players play Sofia Violins, from pros using it as their main instrument to students still learning their way.
The beginnings of the back of a viola.  This part is done completely by hand to achieve just the right thickness.
Auggie was totally enthralled too - he was tugging at my shirt, dying to play one of the violins.  I was a little wary of this, but the guys in the shop insisted.  Perhaps this is a musical possibility for Auggie?  Anyway, Auggie was just as fascinated with the construction as I was.  At Auggie's request, Todd graciously bagged up some wood shavings for Auggie to take home.
Luthier Todd Matus shows Auggie how to plane a neck in preparation for gluing on the fingerboard.
I think the smells were about half of what entranced me with that place as well - the varnish has a very particular, pleasant (if a tad strong) smell that reminded me of when I went up the the Englehardt factory to get my upright bass.  My bass maintained that lovely, earthy smell for years.
Works in progress.
As I have always fantasized about building upright basses, Todd has offered to help me with any advice he can.  I'm going to think on it, but I feel like I'll be ready to take him up on his amazing offer once the holidays are over.  

I was also delighted to find out that Todd Matus is a professional photographer who had taught for years at the Herron School of Art.  Those who know me know that photography is something that is near and dear to my heart as well, so it's yet another thing to geek on with him.
A ukulele that Todd's wife started that he is finishing.  Here's some footage of a Matus uke in action.  Perhaps my next uke will be a Matus uke?
We stayed for probably about an hour - aside from a squirmy one year old, it was a very leisurely visit.  I hope to go back very soon.  I'll post more photos later on this week.
From left to right:  Duder, Sofia Violins CEO and all around great guy John Welch, me,  and Auggie.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fat Friday Feature: Some Random Dude Demoing The Staggs Electric Upright Bass

I've really been shopping around for electric upright basses, none of which I can afford.  The Staggs bass is about the cheapest I've found, and it comes highly regarded - from what I can tell, the bass seems pretty legit.  In the process of trying to learn more about them, I ran  across this dude.  I like his tone, I like his playing.  He's pretty nimble/accurate on that fingerboard.  I gotta admit he makes it look easy, which in turn makes me a bit jealous.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Questions For You

Listen to the playlist below and tell me:  why isn't Chrome huge?  Why aren't they at least name dropped by pretentious music critics?  I mean, I these cuts (actually, the whole album) rule because their so weird/shred so hard.  I listened to some tracks from some of their later albums - they're not terrible, but the fact that their sound has been cleaned up considerably is kind of a deal breaker for me.  But I need to get a copy of "Half Machine Lips Moves/Alien Soundtracks" and fast.

Okay - I promise to stop embedding playlists and get back to actual blogging soon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Your Mostly Upbeat, All Over The Place Playlist For December 7th

If you don't like the song you're listening to, skip to another.  There's bound to be something you like.  Listen to it while you can.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ladies And Gentlemen: Killdozer

I was trying to track down Killdozer's excellent Christmas tune, but was side tracked by this great live clip.  I had to share.  The bad sound almost enhances the power of this performance.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Voice Of An Indian

I spend the better part of a day fantasizing about motorcycles. I subscribe to several motorcycle blogs; I dream up the routes I'd take to get to the west coast, routes that would emphasize geographical beauty and personal debauchery. I imagine in detail the bike I'd ride (currently a Triumph Bonneville) in as much detail as a non-rider like myself can. Until I get serious about getting a license, these will only be the thoughts that keep me warm through the winter.

Because of their reputation for performance and their lean, modern looks, I've grown to really like British bikes. But I always have and always will love Indians. Yeah, Harleys are fine and everything, but where I used to live unfairly soured me on the bikes and what passes as "Harley culture".  Brown county is an understandable riding destination because it is nothing but winding, hilly back roads.  The views are amazing and there's no better place to test your riding skillz.  But all too often, it is flooded with dipshits with exceptionally loud Harleys - all stock except for whatever they need to do to it to make it as loud as a 747.  They ride into town, park their bikes in front of the court house (where they affect their "rebel" posture for all to see), eat the shitty food Brown county has to offer, and ride home to get rested up for work at the office on Monday.  The riders themselves never seem to have the leathered, grizzled appearance you'd expect from someone who lives up to the tired ass bumper sticker credo of "living to ride/riding to live".  Their bikes appear to spend the better part of their days in a garage, and they usually lack the accessories that betray a rider who spends any significant time touring.  Based on my experiences in Brown county, I'm inclined to believe the old joke that Indian owners share:  that the difference between Indian owners and Harley owners is that Indian owners actually ride their bikes.

Of course, I'm making generalizations for the sake of the argument.  One of the coolest dudes I know is an avid Harley rider, not some Harley rider cliche.  And I can agree with him and all other Harley riders that one of the coolest things in the world to hear is the sound of a stock Harley idling.  That is, it was one of the coolest things to hear until I saw the video below.  There is some amazing intangible quality to the voice of this Indian - I guess because it sounds like it's got balls without punching out your ear drums when it revs (granted, he's not revving it that hard).  But there is a spirit to this sound that I can't quite place.  All I know is that is sounds real good.  I can't imagine how kick ass it sounds when you're actually riding it.

So for today, I'm back in my dreams, this time riding a pre-WWII Indian en route to the southwest, with the final destination being the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ladies And Gentlemen, Possibly The Most Condescending Lyrics Of All Time

And isn't it worse that it was redone?  But why do I still like this song? 

Paul Young
It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

Boy George
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

(Phil Collins on the drums)

George Micheal
But say a prayer - pray for the other ones
At Christmas time

Simon Le Bon
it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window

Sting and Simon Le Bon
And it's a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life

Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Here's to you
Raise your glass for everyone
Here's to them
Underneath that burning sun

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fat Friday Feature: Mark Rubin Of The Bad Livers On "Lust For Life"

You kinda have to listen closely to hear it.  I'm guessing this one is ripped from vinyl based on the sound.  I have Mark's DVD of "Slap Bass:  The Ungentle Art" - it's really amazing.  Consider this a place holder until I can get some clips of that online.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's December - Is Christmas Music Fair Game Now?

Being raised by strict Catholics meant that we honored the liturgical seasons to the letter.  Catholics are in the season of Advent right now.  Advent.  Did you hear me? Advent, not Christmas.  In our family, that meant there was no Christmas music or Christmas decorations until the week of Christmas.

I understand why I was raised that way.  It somehow made me savor the season a lot more.  I'm no longer practicing that faith, so I'm cool with starting things a little earlier.  Admittedly, I haven't started playing any Christmas music at home just yet.  I still feel more "post-Thanksgiving" than anything else.  But I'm sure that will change after I listen to the greatest Christmas album of all time.

However, if you're already in the Christmas spirit, enjoy some ukulele and lap steel!

The Cosby Sweaters in this instance are:
Matt - ukulele, bass
Kevin - lap steel

Blue Christmas by The Cosby Sweaters by mattzink