At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

ep•i•gone n. A second-rate imitator or follower, especially of an artist or a philosopher. (

Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers Genuine Houserocking Music [Alligator, 1982]

The HouseRockers were the Ramones of Chicago blues, cutting three wonderful, virtually indistinguishable albums before Taylor left this self-composed epitaph in 1975: "He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!" His secrets were cheap equipment, a slide fashioned from the leg of a kitchen table, and the most enthusiastic reliance on "Dust My Broom" since Elmore James. It's completely fitting that this all-new album should be almost as fine as the two that came out of the twenty-cuts-a-night 1971 and 1973 sessions from which it's culled, yet somehow reassuring that it doesn't quite match up. Taylor slurs too much, quite a claim in this context, and "What'd I Say" and "Kansas City" are bar-band throwaways, by which I mean that George Thorogood, Taylor's chief epigone, could do them better. B+ (

Friday, May 16, 2003

"Dm" the saddest chord in the history of
music, you must cry yourself to sleep every

What Guitar Chord Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Along those musico-melancholic lines, I figured out the chord progression to the Smiths' "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me." For those who are interested, it's simple: Em Em/F# C Cm Bm7 B7. Repeat ad desperatio.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

callow adj. Lacking adult maturity or experience; immature (
Talking Heads 77 [Sire, 1977]

A debut LP will often seem overrefined to habitues of a band's scene, so it's not surprising that many CBGBites felt betrayed when bits of this came out sounding like Sparks or Yes. Personally, I was even more put off by lyrics that fleshed out the Heads' post-Jonathan Richman, so-hip-we're-straight image; when David Byrne says "don't worry about the government," the irony is that he's not being ironic. But the more I listen the more I believe the Heads set themselves the task of hurdling such limitations, and succeed. Like Sparks, these are spoiled kids, but without the callowness or adolescent misogyny; like Yes, they are wimps, but without vagueness or cheap romanticism. Every tinkling harmony is righted with a screech, every self-help homily contextualized dramatically, so that in the end the record proves not only that the detachment of craft can coexist with a frightening intensity of feeling--something most artists know--but that the most inarticulate rage can be rationalized. Which means they're punks after all. A- (

I'll give it a few more listens, but so far I'm finding Vespertine to be kinda boring except for the two songs I knew already. Some of the tracks sound like Björk might have been shacking up with Arvo Pärt--ethereal chords floating aimlessly in sonic space--although the squiggly little rhythmic doodads and histrionic vocals add some variety.

Someone needs to make an internet personality quiz titled "What chord are you?" Mine would have a fair amount of complexity and dissonance, but in a muted, laid-back way--perhaps something like a major 7th flat 5th.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The trip was fine. I seem to have gotten acclimated to west Texas over the past six months because Alabama and Tennessee struck me as downright tropical in comparison. The graduation ceremony was long and dull, of course, so I spent most of it reading a book on Dewey's moral philosophy for Choice and scoping out some of the southern belles as they crossed the stage. In Murphreesboro and Chattanooga I had good luck at the used CD shops, picking up:

Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland;

Van Morrison, Best of vol. 2 and Too Long in Exile (a lot of filler on these but worth the price for the occasional glints of beauty--and now I know where the sample in Beck's "Jackass" comes from);

Björk, Vespertine (even though Christgau liked this, I bought it on the strength of hearing "Secret Place" and "Pagan Poetry" in a record shop in Bloomington last year);

Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve (a great collection of 60's and 70's Bossa Nova, mostly by artists associated with the famous Getz/Gilberto album);

Patti Smith, Horses;

Best of Bowie;

Led Zeppelin I;

Kraftwerk, Autobahn;

Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin;

and General Public, ...All the Rage.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

mystagogy n. The doctrines, principles, or practice of a mystagogue; interpretation of mysteries. (

Soundgarden Superunknown [A&M, 1994]

Having mocked this group's conceptual pretensions for years, I'd best point out that Chris Cornell still isn't Robert Plant, Kim Thayill still isn't Jimmy Page, and so forth, before cheerfully acknowledging that 1) they're all closer than they used to be and 2) it no longer matters. This is easily the best--the most galvanizing, kinetic, sensational, catchy--Zep rip in history. And though there may be a philosophical or interpersonal dimension, to me the trick sounds like it was done with songwriting, arrangement, and production. At 70 minutes, it's what used to be called a double album, not quite as long as Physical Graffiti but a lot more consistent. And though their apocalyptic pessimism is almost as content-free as Zep's apocalyptic mystagogy, Zep never reached out like Cornell in "My Wave": "Cry, if you want to cry/If it helps you see/If it clears your eyes/Hate, if you want to hate/If it keeps you safe/If it makes you brave." A- (