Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Prayer by William S. Burroughs

Here's a special Thanksgiving prayer from one of my many and varied heroes, the late, great William S. Burroughs...

For John Dillinger, in hopes that he is still alive…

Thanksgiving Day; November 28, 1986

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For nigger-killin’ lawmen, feelin’ their notches.
For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind the own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories—all right let’s see your arms!
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

"Smash the control images. Smash the control machine." - William S. Burroughs

Link Wray: When Music Was Dangerous

Rolling Stone Magazine recently (re)released their list of “100 Greatest Guitarists”. As is always the case with this type of list, there’s any number of frustrations; so-and-so is ranked too low (Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Bo Diddley, Dick Dale), so-and-so is ranked too high (George Harrison ahead of Stevie Ray Vaughn…really?), and where is so-and-so (Vernon Reid, Joan Jett).

See the full list here

But the list served as a good reminder for me today of an interesting fact about one of my favorite guitarists, Link Wray; ranked #45 on the list.

I was introduced to Wray, the father of the power chord, when I heard his instrumental “Rumble” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. My reaction was, I suppose, the appropriate one. I’d never heard anything quite like it. So nasty. So ominous. THREATENING.

That was the reminder from Rolling Stone today…I’d forgotten that “Rumble” holds the distinction of being on of the very few instrumental tracks that was, for a time, banned from radio play. The squares and suits at the time (1958) feared that the song might actually incite gang violence.

Remember when music was dangerous?

Link Wray stabbed his guitar amplifier’s speaker cone with a pencil to achieve this distorted, reverb-heavy sound.

Here’s a fun, albeit low-quality, clip from the movie “It Might Get Loud” , featuring guitar god Jimmy Page sharing his love for Link Wray’s “Rumble”.

If you can make an old Jimmy Page giggle like a school boy and play air guitar…you KNOW you done somethin’ right…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What My Daughter is Thankful For

My daughter's Four-Year Old Preschool class held their Thanksgiving program last night. Most of the kids dressed up as food...Kate was a piece of bread. After the show, they gave all the parents a scrapbook page that their kids made, with a transcript of what the kids told their teachers they were thankful for.

Here's my daughter's:

"I am thankful for my dollies and for dancing and for spending the night with my best friend. I am thankful for my dad and when we went to the Daddy-Daughter Dance and when we go on dates at the Bread Company sometimes. I am thankful for my mom and getting to stay up late with her or go to a hotel with her. I am thankful for crafts – my mom lets me use sparkle stuff, like diamonds. I am thankful when my family goes out for Mexican – I love the beans! I am thankful for helping my mom with the flowers and for birthdays. I am thankful for when I get to go to Daddy’s work and for when I start out with him at bedtime. I am thankful for mac’n’cheese and for walks at the park with Gracie [our dog] – even if she be’s crazy! I am thankful for my Princess costume and for music."

And what else is there? Perfect.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - November 17th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at

Doyle Bramhall - That's How Strong My Love Is (RIP)
Bruce Springsteen - My Hometown
The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
The Runaways - Queens of Noise
Treme Brass Band - Just a Closer Walk with Thee
The Barbarians - Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl
Timo Yuro - What's A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting)
Tom Waits - Satisfied
Mike Ness - Wildwood Flower
Flying Burrito Brothers - The Dark End of the Street
Lucinda Williams - Joy
T-Model Ford - Let the Church Roll On
Cab Calloway - Minnie the Moocher
Willie Nelson - Funny How Time Slips Away
Marvin Gaye - Ain't That Peculiar
Gourds - Gin and Juice
Muddy Waters - I Just Want to Make Love to You
Buddy Guy - Baby Please Don't Leave Me
Bo Diddley - Who Do You Love
Louis Jordan - Saturday Night Fish Fry
BR5-49 - Even If Its Wrong
Flatt & Scruggs - Crying My Heart Out Over You
HeadCat - Shakin' All Over
Johnny Thunders - Great Big Kiss
Betty Davis - If I'm Lucky I Might Get Picked Up Tonight
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - Gunpowder
James Leg - Fire and Brimstone
Lou Reed - Perfect Day

Background Music: John Coltrane - Blue Train



"Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune." - Thomas Fuller

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: "Lulu" by Lou Reed & Metallica

I’ve been avoiding writing this review.

It’s too complicated. There are traps. Seems like a no-win situation.

I once saw an old interview that Tom Snyder did on his “Late Show” with the Sex Pistols when they first came on the scene. I remember being awed by the genius of Johnny Rotten. No matter what he said, and no matter what Tom Snyder did…Johnny would win. Johnny was his usual snotty and antagonistic self; sometimes not answering questions, sometimes answering completely absurdly, and occasionally acting aggressive. The beauty in this approach is that no matter how Tom Snyder responded, it would be Tom himself who looked foolish. He could yell back at Johnny Rotten… And look like a cranky old guy. He could refuse to complete the interview…And look like a big wimp, obviously giving in to the immature punk. He could call Rotten on his actions and tell him to man up and act right…And look completely out of touch. No matter how Snyder played the tough situation, Johnny Rotten could make him look like a fool.

I feel like Metallica and Lou Reed – and the mass media, for that matter – have all made this into a situation not unlike the one I just described.

A reviewer basically has two options: Say positive things or say negative things.

If I say negative things, then I’m missing the art of this complicated record. I’m going along with what everyone else said before the album had even been heard by anyone outside of the band.

If I say positive things, then I’m taking the obvious path toward spite; saying the opposite of what almost everyone else is saying…just to be different.

Another quick story to illustrate my feelings about “Lulu”…

Back in 1999 when Stanley Kubrick’s final film, the very controversial “Eyes Wide Shut” came out, I agreed, along with two of the people involved in a morning show I worked with in St. Louis, to see it on our own and come back the next day with our thoughts. As I watched it, I remember thinking the controversy – the likes of which I hadn’t seen attached to a “mainstream” movie up to that point – was all much ado about nothing. It didn’t seem that big a deal to me. I didn’t really “like” the movie, but I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t good or bad…it just was. I could see the art in it; I could recognize Kubrick’s genius as a director. But it didn’t do much else for me outside of that.

Two of my fellow members of the morning show hated the movie and began to tear it to shreds. I and one other guy began to defend the movie. After a very lengthy debate as to the quality of “Eyes Wide Shut”, I began to realize my feelings for the movie were much more positive than I’d thought. While I still didn't "like" the movie, I really didn't like other people laying in to it, based on what I perceived to be their lack of ability to see the art in the film.

Same with “Lulu”.

It’s too easy to tear it apart. It’s too obvious.

I struggled with the decision to plunk down the money to buy the album. When I did, it sat unopened, next to the receipt, on my kitchen table for about 4 days. Later, I learned it was streaming online and I could hear the whole thing for free. I assumed I’d be listening to it once and selling the CD immediately after.

But I wanted to spend the money. I wanted to make that kind of a commitment to the experience. I didn’t want to open the disk until I was ready. I wanted to subject myself to what I knew was going to be a painful experience.

Masochistic, I know.

But it’s masochism in the name of art. Self betterment.

So I began to listen to “Lulu”. I don’t hate it. I recognize what it is that turns most people off about it. But, at the same time, I recognize the art and beauty – completely unconventional though they may be – in the album.

And as wishy-washy as this sounds…it’s just simply TOO EASY to say negative things about the album.

I, more then the next guy, will admit that great artists are capable of releasing really bad albums. And I’m not going to insinuate that Metallica are great artists. But they ARE a good band. And they know what they’re doing. I really don’t think they signed on the dotted line on this project, intending to make a bad album.

If you’re a fan of Metallica you should give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to this record. (As a listener of my Dirty Roots Radio Show said when I was vacillating about whether or not to buy the record, "It's Metallica...It's Lou put on your big girl panties and buy the record.") If you call yourself a fan of any artist; you owe it to them and yourself to show enough support to at least ATTEMPT to experience an experiment as bold as this.

By now we all know the concept: “Lulu” was a pet project of Lou Reed’s. He wanted to create the music for a theater group to use along with their adaptation of a series of old plays about an abused dancer who crosses paths with Jack the Ripper. After he did a one-off performance with Metallica at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event, he decided to just make it with them.

The lyrics are weird. Lou Reed – who is also weird…and old…and really cranky – delivers said lyrics in a really...well...weird, half-spoken, half-sung kind of way. And not like Willie Nelson half-speaks and half-sings his lyrics these days. Lou’s phrasing is all off. The music and the lyrics don’t match up; a pocket doesn’t exist for either Lou or Metallica to settle in to.

The experience is abusive.

And it’s painful.

But it’s unique.

And it hurts so good.

At one point in the publicity leading up to the release of “Lulu”, Lou Reed made a comment that this was some of the best music ever recorded. I won’t go that far. I will definitely say that this is NOT everyone’s cup of tea. But I want to point out, that this IS art.

And yes, to a certain degree, it’s art because it’s simply too easy to say this is a vanity project that just sucks this bad. It just can’t be that simple.

Most folks won’t – and have already claimed that they DON’T – like “Lulu”. But it’s an important work.

What makes it “important”? Boldness.

No one is bold anymore. Everyone’s worried about making a buck. Worried about their legacy.

I’m not really a Metallica fan anymore, but I’ll give them credit for never being afraid to say “F You” to people. When I was growing up in this small conservative town, guys who wore Metallica shirts were usually from the “wrong side of the tracks”. Then, Metallica came out with “the black album” and pissed off a lot of their core fans. It was their most mainstream and slickly-produced album; but it gave guys like me the chance to appreciate Metallica. I wouldn’t have heard them if they hadn’t released an album that got on the radio. Then, I dove back into their older stuff. I loved “Load” and “Re-Load”, when they pissed off more of their fan base by cutting their hair, singing with Marianne Faithful, and putting “high art” images of blood and semen on their album covers (though the “Unforgiven” sequel was a bit much). I liked a few tracks on the “Garage, Inc.” album, but they completely lost me with the “S&M” record they made with a symphony behind them. The “St. Anger” boat passed me by and I didn’t get into their “Death Magnetic” record. These guys have made their career out of thumbing their noses at any naysayers, be they fans, critics, or whatever. And I kinda like that.

One more thought: Lou Reed asked Metallica to make an album. Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed, who made “Transformer”. LOU REED! What would you do? And don’t give me any of this artistic integrity crap.

Dana Carvey once talked about smoking weed with Paul McCartney. He said he didn’t condone use of marijuana, but when a Beatle offers you pot….YOU TOKE! (I’m pretty sure I could "just say no" to Sir Paul, but I definitely wouldn't have the strength should the situation ever rise with Willie Nelson…)

When Lou Reed asks you to make an album with him, YOU MAKE IT! For the experience. Who cares if you don’t sell records? Who cares if people don’t get it?

For better or worse, Metallica and Lou Reed obviously believe in this album. And I don’t think they made it, realized it was a dud, and figured they’d better pretend to be excited about it. All parties involved are too good for that (and again, I fully acknowledge that anyone’s capable of making a bad record). But, it’s just too easy for that to be the case.

“Lulu” ain’t easy. And, again, it ain’t for everyone.

But it’s special.

Kudos to Lou Reed and Metallica for having the vision and courage to see this thing through.

And whether they like it or hate it, kudos to fans and listeners who commit to the experience.

Monday, November 14, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS - What's In a Name?

For over six years now I've hosted the Dirty Roots Radio Show, where I "explore the twisted roots of American music". For a couple of years in the midst of that same time period, I also led a non-profit organization called the Dirty Roots Revolution. The charity's mission was "To empower individuals with the knowledge that one person can make a difference and to provide our communities with opportunities to be involved in making that difference."

Many people have asked where the name "Dirty Roots" originated...

The name Dirty Roots first started with my radio show. I came up with the name because I played all sorts of what is called American ‘roots’ music – like old blues, country, gospel, etc. I also played newer music that was influenced by the old styles of roots music. For example, a punk band whose sound was influenced by old country music. It’s hard to describe or characterize the music I play; it’s pretty far left of center and off the beaten path. I wanted to use the name to paint a picture of the roots of American music (where it came from, what influenced what we listen to today, etc.), and I imagined a whole twisted, intertwined system of channels that crisscrossed all over the place. The slogan for the show is “exploring the twisted roots of American music”.

I’m not sure why I went with “dirty” instead of “twisted”, really. Mainly, I just preferred the way “dirty” sounded. But I also liked the fact that it kind of pointed out that the music I play was really different and sometimes kind of hard to listen to and rough sounding.

One of the posters we made for the show has the following text at the top of it:

Dirty: Not clean or pure; containing impurities; not clear and bright; characterized by a husky, rasping, or raw tonal quality.

Roots: Something that is an origin (as of a condition or quality); the part by which an object is attached to something else.

The first spark of the non-profit part of Dirty Roots came on my show one night when I went on a big rant about how we could change the world if we really wanted to. People responded to it and me and some friends decided we should put wheels under the conversations we'd been having. I decided to keep the name “Dirty Roots” and slap “Revolution” on it, instead of “Radio”.

After I decided to use the name, I realized philosophy of “Dirty Roots” when it comes to music was similar to the philosophy of the non-profit. Many involved in the Dirty Roots Revolution were people of faith. From that perspective, the organization could be seen as call to put feet on your faith and go out and get your hands dirty; a new way of doing things, influenced by the old (Acts 2) way. From a non-faith perspective, it was getting back to the early American way of doing things; discussing important issues, making the changes we wanted to see and doing it ourselves, etc.

Plus, it’s kind of a catchy name and when I came up with it back in 2005, it just stuck. Nothing else sounded right. And since it’s so weird, it sticks in peoples’ mind, too.

“Dirty Roots” has kind of continued to be an evolving thing and has become a title for my own personal philosophy and worldview.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at



***Logo and poster design by Bill Oberg

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dirty Roots Radio Listener Review: Lou Reed & Metallica's LULU

Dirty Roots Radio listener Brett Bickley, of New Jersey, shares his thoughts on the new Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration, "Lulu"...

I'll start by clarifying a few things right off the bat. I love Lou Reed. I love Metallica. I was in Madison Square Garden the night they played together for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Anniversary Concerts. It was badass. Say what you will but Lou Reed is was and always will be the epitome of rock & roll cool. And, Metallica are no slouches at their game, either. The heavy metal band from the Bay Area has shown talent, growth, endurance and literal blood and tears.

So, guess what? I think LULU is fantastic. It is Lou Reed being the best damned Lou Reed you have heard in a very long time. I mean there is no one else who can "sing" the words, "The smell of your armpits, the taste of your vulva" as Lou does. The subject material in LULU makes the songs on BERLIN sound like a Justin Bieber album. Metallica provides the dissonant clash and clang that Lou's voice and the songs need to make you feel the angst and building madness. Kudos to James Hetfield for taking a backseat and providing such stellar back-up to Lou's vocals.

My new dream combination? Tom Waits with Tool.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at



Thursday, November 10, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - November 10th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at

X - Wild Thing
Black Keys - Lonely Boy
Tom Waits - Satisfied
13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
R.L. Burnside & Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Snake Drive
"Brother" Jack McDuff - The Vibrator
Fats Domino - I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday
Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device
James Leg - Fire and Brimstone
Black Keys - Lonely Boy (oops! twice...a happy accident!)
James Leg - Have to Get It On
Ramones - California Son
Black Flag - TV Party
Tom Waits - Hell Broke Luce
Bottle Rockets - Slo Tom's
The Premiers - Farmer John
The Standells - Dirty Water
John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen'
Sugar Pie Desanto - Slip In Mules
Steve Earle - John Walker's Blues
Steve Earle - What's a Simple Man to Do
Buddy Miller - Cattle Call
Muddy Waters - Rollin' & Tumblin', Pt. 1
Misfits - 20 Eyes
Orgone - Sandstorm
Orgone - Give It Up
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Hear You Knockin'
Iggy & the Stooges - Gimme Danger
New York Dolls - Personality Crisis
Johnny Cash - Sea of Heartbreak
Reverend Charlie Jackson - Fix It Jesus
"Brother" Jack McDuff - Theme from Electric Surfboard
The Barbarians - Moulty
Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine
Rolling Stones - Dear Doctor
Social Distortion - Another State of Mind
Marty Stuart - Old Man's Vision
Blondie - Rip Her to Shreds
Ike & Tina Turner - Don't Believe Nothing



"Music is well said to be the speech of angels." - Thomas Carlyle

Monday, November 7, 2011

You Got (fat) Jokes??

A few minutes ago, I was walking out of work when an elderly gentleman I always dread crossing paths with crossed my path. I dread it because for the last year or so, he’s remarked on my weight every single time he sees me.

Without fail.

I thought maybe he was done with it, because the last time he did it, at the end of his commentary, he said, “Wow, that must make you feel good, when you run into me and I say that, huh?” I thought he’d realized what he was doing.


Today, he stopped me, didn’t acknowledge me as a person at all, grabbed my name badge, feigned a confused look and said, “Huh…I used to know a Ryan Mifflin that was thin.”

Which isn’t true at all. Since he’s known me, I’ve put on weight, but I’ve always been heavy. In fact, around the time I met this gentleman, is when other hateful old people started commenting about my weight. Two or three do/did it on a regular basis.

That’s why this one really bugs me. Most of those other ones who comment are the picture of grumpy old people. They’re very old, wealthy, completely out of touch, set in their ways, cranky, etc.

This guy I met today is a jovial old fellow.

And because he’s so well-respected and loved within our community and because I believe I should respect my elders – and most of all because I’ve never known how to stand up for myself and am completely non-confrontational, I made a joke that played right into his insult and didn’t say anything else back to him.

I could have acted totally surprised as though it was news to me that I was struggling with my weight.

I could have gotten up in his face and told him that he needed to back off because I genuinely, with all of my heart and soul, loved being forced to shop in special sections of the clothing store and being physically affected with a condition generally considered to be grotesque and offensive in our society.

I could have – and following our little interactions, continually wish I would have – just told him that he’s rude and should shut the hell up.

Or, I could have told him the truth, which is that I am aware of my problem, am not happy about it, and that it hurts my feelings when he pokes fun at it.

Leave people alone. Don’t point out their defects just for the sake of pointing them out. We all have them. No one’s happy about them. We’re all aware of our own.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have lunch. And to make myself feel better, I’ll probably eat something that I’ll feel ashamed about later, and the cycle will continue…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - November 3rd Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at

Tom Waits – Chicago
Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device
The Untamed Youth – Monkey See Monkey Do
Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics – Nighmare of a Woman
Southern Culture On the Skids – Wolverton Mountain
Johnny Cash – I Am a Pilgrim
Elvis Presley – Crawfish
Muddy Waters – I Feel Like Going Home
Janis Joplin – Mercedez Benz
Dex Romweber Duo – The Death of Me
Willie Nelson w/Ray Price – Faded Love
New York Dolls – Pills
Joe Tex – I Gotcha
Run DMC – It’s Tricky
Sir Douglas Quintet – She’s About a Mover
Juan Gaytan & Felix Solis – Francisco Martinez
Mavericks – All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down
Reverend John Wikins – Let the Redeemed Say So
Steve Earle – City of Immigrants
Social Distortion – So Far Away
The Clash – White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)
Tom Waits – Come On Up To the House
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Joe Stummer – Omotepe
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Techno D-Day
Johnny Dilks & His Visitacion Valley Boys – Comin’ On Thru
Julie London – Cry Me a River
The Readymen – Shortnin’ Bread
Woody Guthrie –Ranger’s Command
The Ramones – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
Rancid – Time Bomb
The 101ers – Keys to Your Heart
Tom Waits – Kiss Me

Background Music: Link Wray - Rumble: The Best of Link Wray



“The powerful chords that emanated from the radio heated me from the inside out, like a microwave.” - Sandy Ward Bell (In Zoey's Head: A Novel)