Category Archives: cowboys

Santa’s Big Olde Bag, opened

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

Prologue: This is Christmas music! The first voice you hear is that of De’voreaux White as Argyle, the poontang-loving young limo driver who spent a memorable late-80s Christmas Eve locked in the parking garage beneath “Nakatomi Plaza” (actually the 20th Century Fox building) in Los Angeles. They made a movie about it, and that film is universally hailed as the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It’s called Under Siege. No, wait, it was Passenger 57. Um, Sudden Death? No, no, only kidding, merry-makers. It’s Die Hard, the once and future king of action pics.Once can only hope that IMDB is not an accurate reflection of De’voreaux’s recent career: His last screen credit is from eight years ago, in Shadow Hours. In the role of “Second Tranvestite.” Hey, remember when Ray Charles shot at a very young De’voreaux when he tried to pinch a guitar from Ray’s music shop in The Blues Brothers? That was awesome.

Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag. (The Bellrays, 2005) – Yep, Lisa Kekaula, that mic is on.

Ding! Dong! Death! (May Be Your Santa Claus!) (Sufjan Stevens, 2003; preacher recording found by Andy Cirzan, origin unknown) – A mash-up, albeit a very primitive one, of my own design. I started out with like, half-a-dozen pieces culled from Sufjan’s remarkable set of five Christmas EPs recorded each December from 2001 through 2005, and in June 2006. The latter is the one that includes “Christmas in July,” as well as “Jupiter Winter,” “Sister Winter,” and “The Winter Solstice,” most of each stand out as notably depressing even among this, whose five volumes comprise one of the most muted Christmas albums ever. Thanks for bringing us all down, Sufjan.

Save the Overtime (For Me). (Dees, Gallo, Knight, Knight, Schwarzenegger, 1983) – Surely the best of the Governator’s collaborations with Gladys Knight and the Pips. Squats are an excellent exercise.

I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You. (Margo Guryan, date unknown) – She’s a creepy broad, ain’t she? But tuneful.

Brian Wilson Reveals All. Behold the startingly revelatory, probingly incisive, revealingly probing, piercingly insightful secrets of Wilson’s creative process explicated here. Josh du Lac got some good stuff out of Wilson a few weeks back, like the fact that Phil Spector is “Zany!”

Melekalikimaka. (Al Jardine, Mike Love, 1974) – “’Melekalikimaka’ is ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaii talk-a.’” This kind of thing, really, is what this compilation is all about. A powerful argument that Jardine and Love were the real brain trust behind the Beach Boys.

Pearl Harbor Didn’t Work Out, So . . . (Steven E. DeSouza & Jeb Stuart, 1987) – I had a film studies textbook in college that claimed Die Hard was subtly, or perhaps unsubtly, racist, sexist, xenophobic and every other damn thing, just because it’s about a heroic white Reagan-voter who takes down a crew of slumming Royal Shakespeare Company types, including ballerina Alexander Gudanov and some American guy who looks eerily like Huey Lewis. The film supposedly espouses contempt for invading Japanese conglomerates, professional women who eschew their spouses’ last names (lots of stuff about that Rolex on Holly McClane/Gennaro’s wrist that Hans Gruber is hanging on at the end of the movie) and relegates not one but two black actors to sidekick roles. What an awesome movie.

Daddy Won’t Be Home Again for Christmas. (Merle Haggard, 1973) – This just in: Hag’s a shitty father. No clue here what’s keeping him away. Not prison, since he can write that “little check” that he’s hoping, puzzlingly, “will fit.” Is “forget” a really hard word to rhyme?

Sleazy Con Men in Red Suits. (Randy Kornfield) – Jingle All the Way is remembered as an epic, cautionary failure, but which I submit to you is not even among the five worst films released in 1996. Freed from its distracting visuals, the film’s audio, tastefully excerpted here, reveals a surprising profundity and even grace. Well played, Randy Kornfield, well played.

Christmas Present Blues. (Jimmy Webb, ?) – My prose is not worthy.

Snokenstein. (?) – The first of many, many treasures here that I appropriated from Andy Cirzan’s bizarro Christmas compilations as featured each year on Sound Opinions. Andy is on the show again this weekend, and I fully expect him to bring plenty of obscure wonders and oddities that you can bet will show up on my compilation next year.

A Great Big Sled. (Brandon Flowers, 2006) – Nobody will ever accuse Flowers of being a great lyricist, but I would have been delighted to have penned the line “little boys have action toys for brains” myself. I’m living proof it can last a long time. Way better than anything on Sam’s Town, the lyrically-impaired Killers album released a couple months prior to this.

The Ultimate Stretch. (Journey feat. Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger) – I just love hearing The Terminator talk over that opening vamp of “Don’t Stop Believing.” I guess we’ll never know whether Tony Soprano finished all 30 of the pushups.

Reindeer Roll Call. (Kornfield) – Listen to how Arnold is just mercilessly taunting Sinbad as he outruns him. “I’m having a good time now,’bye!” If you’ve seen Pumping Iron, then you know that workaholic salesman Howard Langston is probably the role truest to Arnold’s real-life personality, especially once his competitive juices get flowing. Jingle All the Way really does require repeat viewings to fully absorb its many insights into the Gubernatorial mind.

. . . and many, many more!

Catch as Catch-All Can

2007_1001_jonlangford.jpgJon Langford is a much more jovial and approachable cat than he appears in this photo.

Well, once again I’ve done a bang-up job of keeping you, my adoring public, up-to-date on the latest additions to my ever-swelling bibliography.

It’s already been a week since I reviewed that good-but-not-quite great Rilo Kiley show for DCist. I heard night two was better. Jenny Lewis, I am sad to report, while plenty toothsome, is not quite as fetching in real life as she appears in this photo. She sounded great, though

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My interview with original mekon, Waco Brother, Pine Valley Cosmonaut and Waco Brother Jon Langford appeared on Monday. It got cut down a bit from its original, arguably more self-aggrandizing incarnation, so I may post the unabridged version here. The mekons show at Jammin’ Java that night was just swell; 11o or so minutes of mostly-acoustic mekes, including a big batch from the new Natural LP as well as reworked classics like “Hard to Be Human Again,” “The Curse,” a Sally Timms-sung version of “The Letter,” and “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem.” Langford signed my copy of Nashville Radio for me afterwards.

p-j-harvey.jpgMy so-so review of P.J. Harvey’s White Chalk ran Tuesday in the Paper of Record. I seem to be breaking with the critical cognoscenti on this one; nearly everyone else loves it. I think it’s, you know, good for when you’re a certain type of mood. Solitary. Despondent. Sylvia Plath. I try not to spend a lot of my life in that mood.

That afternoon, I got some nice props from a reader (and from J. Freedom du Lac his own bad, bald self) during the Freedom Rock web-chat — about my Elvis Costello review from four-plus months ago! It reads like I planted it myself; check it out. (For the record, I didn’t join the chat until later, to make the case for Tunnel of Love being as strong a Bruce Springsteen album as Born to Run or Nebraska.)
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And my Bat Boy review is up today.

Tomorrow I’m talking to Josh Ritter. Watch this space for out-of-date announcements!

But Do They Smoke Marijuana in Greensburg?

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I’ll admit I was pretty pleased with this. I got to take my old man to the Willie, Merle & Ray Price (first-name notoriety eldudes him, I guess) show; got to rub elbows there with the Man Called Freedom; and I thought the review came out really well. (The Man Called Freedom agreed.) Plus, it got decent play when it ran in last Saturday’s Paper of Record.

On Tuesday, a Post editor forwarded me an e-mail that had come in from a reader in Greensburg, PA who challenged my account of the origin of “Okie from Muskogee” from the review. It was literally just one clause in one sentence of the piece:

“Mama Tried” was a predictable triumph, but even better was a brilliantly timed walk-on by Nelson during “Okie From Muskogee” — Haggard’s immortal reflection of his dad’s anti-hippie stance, and rather at odds with Nelson’s own biodiesel-powered, IRS-taunting lifestyle.

So it’s not I like was accusing Merle of having ripped off the bassline of “Under Pressure” or anything. Still, it was enough to get this know-it-all to write in with a contradictory, and completely unsourced, account of how Merle came to write “Okie” with Strangers drummer Eddie Burris, who shares Haggard’s songwriting credit:

“Okie’s” origins are well-documented. Haggard’s tour bus was
cruising through Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1969 when Eddie Burris, drummer for Haggard’s band the Strangers, remarked offhandedly, “I bet they don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Overhearing Burris’s remark, Haggard turned it into a song he viewed as no more than a tongue-in-cheek novelty (both men share composer credit). “Okie” nonetheless became a huge country hit, viewed by 1969’s equivalent of red-state America as a repudiation of the whole hippie counterculture though longtime, long-haired Haggard fans Jerry Garcia and Gram Parsons, seeing it as Haggard did, shrugged it off. Today, it’s a period piece.

The story must be “well-documented” indeed, since the letter’s author doesn’t bother to source it, which is pretty remarkable considering he intended this letter for publication. It gets better: It turns out the author of the letter is himself a journalist and historian who boasts (in a follow-up letter, after my editor had replied to his) that he’s been writing about music for a living since the seventies. In other words, somebody who really ought to know to cite his sources, especially when accusing another writer of not having done his research. (Admittedly, I didn’t cite a source for my account of “Okie” ‘s origin in the review, but that was due to the fact that I had a strict 15″ limit on my piece, which was, after all, a concert review, not an exploration of the influences on Hag’s songcraft.)

The guy ends his letter like this:

Concert reviewers needn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the acts they evaluate, but it helps to have done some homework first. Klimek, unfortunately, did not.

Not much ambiguity there, huh? He doesn’t say, “The way I always heard the story is . . .” He doesn’t phrase his objection in a way that allows for the possibility that there could be more than one version of the story. He just goes straight for the jugular, stating matter-of-factly that I didn’t do my homework.

Anyway, two days after the letter came in, my editor at the Post asked me if I could back up my account of how “Okie” came to be. Since the great Drive-by Truckers song “The Three Great Alabama Icons” probably doesn’t count as a primary source, I sent my editor this Haggard profile by Brock Ruggles, published in 2002 in New Times Phoenix, wherein the Branded Man himself reveals all:

Most people did not realize (and some still don’t) that “Okie From Muskogee” was a social commentary that did not necessarily reflect Haggard’s personal worldview. “Ya know, I’m like an actor, and whatever role you see an actor in shouldn’t have anything to do with his own personality, but it does, of course,” he says. “That song typecasted me for a long time.

“‘Okie From Muskogee’ was written about my father, and it was my intention to try to see things from his viewpoint. Had he been alive at that time, I think he woulda said, ‘We’re happy with the way things are here in the middle of Oklahoma, and we’re really not wantin’ to get out in the street and bitch like the people in Frisco.’ The song was a contrast to what was going on, and there was nobody speaking up for [people like my dad], and I thought I’d jump out there and write a song for him.”

Bada-bing! Well, not entirely. It turns out Hag himself has told a lot of differerent stories about how and why he wrote “Okie from Muskogee” over the years, as mentioned in this 2004 L.A. Times profile by the great Bob Hilburn.

After my editor replied to the letter-writer (“It turns out Chris was correct”), the guy responded with a lot of bluster about how he knows Bob Hilburn, and how he’s interviewed many legends of country music in his three-decades-plus of writing on the topic, and actually says he’s glad he never got to interview Hag because the conflicting accounts of why he wrote probably his most famous song would drive the letter-writer crazy.

But he never apologized for having accused me of not doing my research.

Thanks for clarifying. With 32 years under my belt, I’m always learning
something new.

Maybe after 33 years, he’ll have learned that a false accusation warrants an apology. You think?

Never Young

Took my old man for a free consultation with the venerable firm of Nelson, Haggard, & Price Thursday night, courtesy of the Paper of Record. My review is here. Willie didn’t play “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond (Of Each Other),” but otherwise I couldn’t really have asked for more. Hag’s set was better, though.

What do the Cranberries and Dick Cheney’s judgment have in common?

They were both a lot better back in 1994 than they have been since 2003.

Gosh guys, I though you said John Kerry was the big flip-flopper!

I love Willie Nelson.

So, I submitted my September review requests today, with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price’s Sept. 6 Merriweather appearance at the top of the list. I’ll take my dad if I get that one. I wonder if Willie will play the tune I found from him on iTunes today: “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other).”

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It’s a pretty great song, actually. Maybe not as great as the cover image, which of course is included when you buy it from iTunes. Somehow I don’t think this one would go over so well with the crowd of jack-holes who were, apropos of nothing, chanting “USA, USA” when I saw Willie play Wolf Trap in, I think, 2003. But you never know.

The release date was Valentine’s Day last year. Nice.

Oh, I got some play in Freedom Rock again today. Just some talk about carbohydrates.