Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIP, Davy Jones: It's All About the Music

The news of Davy Jones’s passing has had more of an impact on me than I would have expected. I mean, it’s not something I ever gave any thought to. But, if you would have asked me, “How would you feel if Davy Jones suddenly died”, I would probably give a detached answer like, "Oh, that'd be sad".

But I’m more than mildly sad.

I was born after The Monkees' heyday, but I remember watching reruns of their TV programs every single day every summer on Nickelodeon. Even as a kid I recognized the silliness of their comedy, but I loved their music.

As I got older, I heard all the hullabaloo about them not being a “real band” since they were assembled by guys in suits specifically for the purpose of creating a successful TV show. But I thought they were a great pop band. And I still loved their music.

He was the first person I ever remember my mom saying she had a crush on when she was younger. I learned he was a big heartthrob, saw him in a guest slot on a Brady Bunch rerun that exploited the crush factor. That crush factor is often fuel for haters, and probably was part of the reason for some of the negative fuss about The Monkees. But that stuff doesn't have anything to do with the music.

I remember hearing about the “mismatched” tour where Jimi Hendrix had been invited to open for them. Every reference to the event talked about what a train wreck of an idea it was to pair the two. My musical tastes are certainly not what you’d call “mainstream”, but I don’t think it would have been that bad of a mismatch. The two musical styles are definitely different, and you might have to tweak the order and presentation a bit. But I think it could have worked. But, of course, I love both of their music.

As my love of music deepened and my tastes developed, I didn’t listen to The Monkees much. I’d enjoy when I heard them on the radio and still remembered all of their songs, but I didn’t own anything or seek it out. Still, I loved what music of theirs I did hear.

A few years back, I was at a Social Distortion concert, my all-time favorite band. They had added an extra member to the band who played accordion and piano/organ. As Social D came back out for an encore the piano player started a lengthy intro to a song. It sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognize it instantly. Then I caught on. I was certain it was Daydream Believer by The Monkees. Social Distortion always incorporates a lot of cover songs into their repertoire, but this seemed a stretch. They usually got for old country covers by the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams or punk classics by The Clash. Even thought it was a stretch…it fit. It worked. With Social D, I love their music, you see…so they can make an awful lot work.

But, alas, it wasn’t Daydream Believer. It was their own classic song Prison Bound, with a new, lengthier intro. I’m no musician, but it must have been in the same key or had the same chord progression or something.

I told my wife, who was there with me, after the show that I thought it was Daydream Believer and she immediately said, “That would have been a GREAT cover for them!”

I’ve interviewed Mike Ness, leader of Social Distortion, a few times, but not since that night. Next time I talk to him, I’m gonna try to work up the nerve to suggest that as a cover for them. Hopefully he’ll see it, too.

This article is a remembrance of Davy Jones, not an essay on Social Distortion. But that event has always stuck out to me for one reason: It reminded me that I loved the music of The Monkees.

So I started listening again. Not just to the hits I was familiar with, but their full albums. Songs like “Salesman” and “You Just Might Be the One” stood out, and still do. I share those deeper album cuts on my Dirty Roots Radio Show once in a while. Because I still love their music.

And that’s what Davy Jones leaves behind. He passed too young, at 66. And while there will always be the controversy of whether or not they were a “real band”, there is the music. The great music that we love.

Thanks for the music, Davy Jones.


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Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. 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 www.wgrn.net.

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A Four Year Old's Take On the Justice System

This morning, when I picked my four year old daughter up from preschool, I had to cut the steering wheel really fast to avoid hitting a truck parked in front of me. Not bad driving on my part, just a precarious parking situation in general.

When she saw/felt the car swerve, she immediately said…

KATE: Wow, it’s a good thing you didn’t hit that truck. You’d have to go to jail.

ME: No, they don’t put you in jail for having an accident like that.

KATE: They don’t?!?!

ME: Nope. I’ve been in car accidents before.

KATE: Did you go to jail?

ME: No.

KATE: They probably let you out because they knew you had a kid coming.

ME: No…this was way before I knew I was having you.

KATE: Huh…You don’t want to go to jail. They have HARD beds in jail.

So, the morals of the story are:
1) Don’t do anything even as minor as hit another car or you might go to jail.
2) If you do go to jail and you have a kid on the way, they might let you out.
3) The reason you don’t want to go to jail is that the beds are uncomfortable.

Friday, February 24, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - February 23rd 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 www.wgrn.net.

Social Distortion - Far Side of Nowhere
Nina Simone - To Love Somebody
Buddy Guy - Pretty Baby
Joe Johnson - The Gila Monster
Bottle Rockets - Slo Toms
Leonard Cohen - Darkness
CeDell Davis - I Don't Know Why
Dave Clark Five - Glad All Over
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - Bits & Pieces
Dick Dale - Shake n' Stomp
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Jason & the Scorchers - Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners
Rolling Stones - All Down the Line
Steve Earle w/the V-Roys - Johnny Too Bad
Steve Earle w/the Supersuckers - Breed
Motorhead - Damage Case
Pastor T.L. Barrett & the Youth For Christ Choir - Like A Ship
Dwight Yoakam - Baby Why Not
Johnny Cash - One More Ride
Bo Diddley - Hey! Bo Diddley
The Supersuckers w/Willie Nelson - Bloody Mary Morning
Little Milton - Boom, Boom Out Go the Lights
Bill Withers - Grandma's Hands
Gil Scott-Heron - Me and the Devil
Chuck Berry - Our Little Rendezvous
Social Distortion - When the Angels Sing
Joe Weaver - Sugarlove Baby
Waylon Jennings - Honky Tonk Heroes
Ike & Tina Turner - I Idolize You
Otis Redding - I'm Depending On You
Dex Romweber Duo - Is That You In the Blue?
Tom Waits - Little Man
First Edition - Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Pacific Gas & Electric - Staggolee
R.L. Burnside - See What My Buddy Done
Solomon Burke - Cry To Me
The Cramps - Jungle Hop
Scott H. Biram - Only Jesus
Merle Haggard - Mama Tried
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Bummed Out City
Backbeat Band - Money (That's What I Want)
Backbeat Band - Roadrunner
T-Model Ford - Ask Her For Water
Warren Zevon - Lawyers, Guns and Money
The Clash - Police On My Back
Billy Bragg & Wilco - My Flying Saucer
The Music Explosion - (Hey) La, La
Ivan Neville - Why Can't I Fall In Love
Uncle Tupelo - I Wanna Be Your Dog
George Jones & Keith Richards - Say It's Not You
Smith - Baby, It's You
Ramones - California Sun
Townes Van Zandt - Waitin' Around to Die
Kris Kristofferson - Pilgrim's Progress

Background Music: Budos Band III

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"I don't care much about music. What I like is sounds." - Dizzie Gillespie

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - February 16th 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 www.wgrn.net.

R.L. Burnside & Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Shake 'Em On Down
New York Dolls - Pills
Billy Preston - Slaughter
George Jones & Keith Richards - Burn Your Playhouse Down
Link Wray - Raw-Hide
Stud Cole - Always & Always
Handsome Dick Manitoba - Juju Hand
Joe Simon - The Chokin' Kind
Buck Owens - Waitin' In Your Welfare Line
Neil Diamond - Thank the Lord for the Night Life
Blind Boys of Alabama - Higher Ground
The J.B.'s - Pass the Peas
Merle Haggard - Mama Tried
HeadCat - Bad Boy
Cordell Jackson - The Split
Stonewall Jackson - Mary Don't You Weep
Izzy Stradlin & the JuJu Hounds - Shuffle It All
Run DMC - Mary, Mary
Leadbelly - Black Betty
Joe Tex - I Gotcha
Captain Beefheart - Sure Nuff 'N' Yes I Do
Bob Log - Settin' the Woods on Fire
Social Distortion - Alone and Forsaken
Tom Waits - Clap Hands
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Get Down Moses
Junior Kimbrough & Charlie Feathers - Release Me
Flatt & Scruggs - I Still Miss Someone
Slim Harpo - I've Got Love If You Want It
The Treniers - Rockin' Is Our Bizness
The Treniers - (We Want A) Rock and Roll President
Hasil Adkins - Get Out of My Car
Esquerita - Gettin' Plenty of Lovin'
Jerry Lee Lewis - Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone
Rolling Stones - Salt of the Earth
Johnny Cash - Nobody
Jason & the Scorchers - Harvest Moon

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"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." - Aldous Huxley

INTERVIEW: Oliver Benjamin, Founder of Dudeism & Author of "The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski"

I lived most of my life as a practicing Christian. In recent years I've run into crises and conflicts with my faith. Also in recent years, I've noticed that the world we live in has completely lost its collective mind. Just look at the political landscape. I look around and see people killing each other over faiths and religions they don't even practice. I know someone who continually tortures herself needlessly over her faith. Everyone knows the world is all messed up, but no one knows what to do about it. For a time, I tried to do something about it - I even started a non-profit organization to "do something".

But, despite my best efforts and the best efforts of people everywhere, everything is still crazy. The world still can't get along. People still treat each other badly. Religions still argue and none of them will ever be able to prove anything, which is just part of it, I guess.

As I've come to these realizations, I've often found solace in my all-time favorite movie, "The Big Lebowski". The flick has become a cult classic in recent years with much fanfare about the philosophy of The Dude; just take it easy, man. An annual festival to celebrate all things "Dude" and a legitimate religion have been created based on the character and film.

When you watch "The Big Lebowski", at first you just think The Dude (played by the great Jeff Bridges) is just a funny slacker pothead. But the more you watch him, the more you realize something else is really going on here.

The Dude treats his friends right. The Dude has what we all know is the proper attitude towards money; just get enough to live and get by, doing what makes you happy. The Dude doesn't stress. The Dude doesn't worry about things he can't do anything about.

He just...abides. He is.

When my realizations about the world around me - about politics, religion, etc...you know, the things that DIVIDE AND STRESS us - reached the breaking point for me, I started to think more deeply about The Dude and his approach to life. And I began to see not only the beauty, but also the profound wisdom in it.

I became an officially ordained Dudeist priest through the Church of the Latter Day Dude.

And then came "The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski", by Oliver Benjamin and Dwayne Eutsey - the founders of Dudeism. I figured it would be a fun book to read. It was, of course. But there was more to it than that. More depth. A great deal of wisdom. And I realized that this was the only way to approach life. This was the only way to approach faith.

Let me provide a disclaimer that while I am working through issues with my personal faith, I am not asserting that you need to adjust or abandon your faith as you learn about, investigate, and perhaps ultimately subscribe to Dudeism. Dudeism doesn't exclude Christianity, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, or anything else. You can be a Dudeist and any - or none - of those things.

Dudeism is an approach to those things. An approach to life itself. It's how you look at it. How you handle it. How you be. How you...ABIDE.

It was my great pleasure to interview Oliver Benjamin in July, just before the publication of "The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski". He was a guest on my Dirty Roots Radio Show to promote the release of the book.

I intended immediately to transcribe the interview and share it here, but life happened. So, here, seven months later, is the interview. I figure better late than never. Seems like a Dudely approach, no?

Enjoy.

---

I don’t know that I’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to someone who actually established a religion.

Yeah, there aren’t too many of us around these days

Do you actually call it a “religion”?

Yes, it’s absolutely a religion. We’re accustomed to defining religion narrowly in the west, but all over the world, there are several different approaches to religion. Some are theistic; that is they have a god, or don’t have a god. Some are philosophical. For instance, a lot of people call Buddhism a philosophy rather than a religion, but if you asked a Buddhist that they’d probably disagree.

Yeah, Dudeism is a real religion. We’re non-theistic. We don’t make any claims about who’s in control in the great beyond; we don’t talk about afterlife-type things. We’re concerned with the here and now and making life a more easy thing to lead.

We use the example of Jeff Lebowski, a character from “The Big Lebowski”…”The Dude”…as the icon that we follow; our main teacher.

For anyone that’s not familiar with all of this, let’s take it back to square one and fill them in on “The Big Lebowski” and why it’s such a beloved, important thing.

“The Big Lebowski” came out in 1998 and it was completely ignored by audiences and slaughtered, more or less, by critics. Everyone was amazed that the Coen Brothers, who before that had made Fargo and won an Academy Award and been the darlings of indie cinema, had made such a mess of a film.

But, as with all really complex and fascinating and far-out things, it took a while for people to figure out what it was all about. They’re still figuring it out. The thing about “The Big Lebowski” is it’s such a deep film, it covers so many aspects of the human condition, that even people who have seen it a hundred times are still sort of ferreting – or marmot-ing, as it were – the details and things of the film.

It’s an endless source of enjoyment and inspiration in the same way that the Bible is for many people, or the Torah, or the Koran, or the Upanishads if you’re Hindu. I mean, it’s basically an incredibly deep and broad piece of art and philosophy. Most people just think it’s a stoner comedy, but it’s so much more than that.

There’s been a lot happening around “The Big Lebowski” in the last few years. We have the Lebowski Fest and there have been a few books written about the philosophy/theology of “The Big Lebowski”. But now you, and Dwayne Eutsey, your co-founder of The Church of the Latter Day Dude, have this new book, “The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski”.

You’ve probably noticed in the last ten to twenty years that the self-help aisles of bookstores have gotten swollen with answers to the life, the universe, and everything. As an indication of how effective they are, people keep buying more and more of them. So, obviously, none of them really has the answers, because people read them and toss them away and get a new one. A lot of people contend that the whole self-help industry is just one big carrot on a stick to keep making you buy new inspirational books and tapes and videos and DVDs.

But what we contend is that basically you can get all of your spiritual self-help from watching “The Big Lebowski” and we show through our book how “The Big Lebowski” talks about ethics, politics, interpersonal relationships, meditation, and the proper attitudes towards money, towards anxiety, towards how we should look at life every day.

And we break it down: Dudeist Yoga, Dudeist Martial Arts, Great Dudes in History, the Dude Testament – which basically takes apart the movie, scene by scene, and explains all the different lessons of each scene and what you can learn from every scenario that The Dude is in. It’s an all-encompassing book. It’s like a religious book, in a way, that you can look at and get all of your spiritual needs from, we believe.

“The Big Lebowski “ is more than a comedy, but it definitely is a hilarious movie. And when people see these books and hear that a guy like me is an ordained priest as part of it, I wonder if people who aren’t really into it, at first glance think it’s a tongue-in-cheek funny thing.

Oh, of course they do. How many religions or things of this depth have been created around a movie? You have the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fans. But people say, “Hey, that’s crazy man. Why do you make a religion about a movie?” But other religions are based on stories or based on books. They didn’t have movies in the time of Jesus Christ, so they made a book about it. If Jesus Christ came out today, they’d probably make a movie about him and have merchandise and develop books and self-help kind of stuff around that.

So, while there is an element of fun to all this, it is definitely more than that.

Well, the thing is, it’s both. Obviously a lot of people who get ordained at the Church of the Latter Day Dude just do it for laughs. They see it online, they think it’s really cool, they like the movie, and it’s a neat thing to be able to consider yourself a reverend. Maybe 80-90% of the people are like that.

But a good solid 10-15% is really, for lack of a better word, religious about it. They take it really seriously. We get a lot of people contributing to our website and writing articles for The Dudespaper, our official publication. Our book features contributions from some other Dudeist priests that we admire and that have really taken the lessons from the movie to heart.


Let’s get a little more specific into the book. Who are some examples of what you call “Great Dudes of History”?

We contend that Dudeism has existed since the dawn of civilization. Probably one of the first Great Dudes in History was Lao Tzu, who is the founder of Taoism, which is practiced mostly in China. The [Taoist] book, “The Tao Te Ching”, is basically very Dudeist. It basically tells you how to live life naturally, to go with the flow, and not take things to seriously and live in a natural, harmonious way with your surroundings and with others.

We also think that before the church got hold of it and turned it into a big business, the message of Jesus Christ was a very Dudeist, very pure, very easy going thing. The whole Sermon on the Mount speech; don’t worry about things, the lilies of the field don’t worry so much, why should we?

Aside from that, there are also lots of contemporary people like Bill Hicks and Jerry Garcia. There’s a whole bunch you can see on our website, as well. AS a joke we even include some fictitious characters like Snoopy.

A lot of religions have laws or practices, like the Ten Commandments in Christianity. Tell me some of the tenets of Dudeism.

Well, the thing is, Dudeism is not fascist, man. We’re not all about having a long list of rules and things you have to do to be a Dude. Dudeism is an attitude. It’s an attitude that we try to inculcate in our daily lives. It’s basically all about being as “Dude” as possible. What that means is, in the same way as Buddhism, Taoism, a lot of these Eastern philosophies, it’s all about mindfulness and not being egotistical and not being grasping and materialistic; all of these things that we know to be “un-Dude”, but that we do anyway because society sort of taunts us, that we don’t have enough or don’t buy enough or aren’t cool enough or good looking enough or our hair isn’t cut the right way.

There’s so much pressure to be “un-Dude” and what we’re trying to do is invert the hierarchy and say, “Hey, it’s really better for everybody if we all just take it easy, man, and don’t try so much. Don’t worry so much.” We consider it kind of a communicable ease, instead of disease.

We’re trying to bring back being kind and cool. But cool in the sense of being calm, not in the sense of being hip or better than somebody else. We want to encourage a lot of the aggression in society to be seen as anathema, to be seen as something bad, instead of what the media would have us believe; that it’s really great and that cool guys or tough guys finish first.

Tell me about the formation of all this, the religion and the book. How did you get from seeing the movie for the first time to the point of starting a religion and talking to people about this new book you’ve written?

Very soon after graduating university in 1990, I worked for a few years as a graphic designer and I fairly quickly realized that there’s much more to life than just sitting behind a computer all day and just making logos. So I saved up some cash and discovered the beauty and fascination of backpacking travel; really low-end, cheap travel. It’s something that Americans hadn’t done much until more recently, but it was much more popular among the British.

There are all the expat communities and people studying fascinating philosophical things all over the world. I spent many, many years reading as many books as I could, trying to make sense of what life was all about. I studied yoga, meditation, the Himalayas, martial arts, different kinds of mysticism. Finally I came to the point where none of it was really all that right. The lessons were from thousands of years ago. And they were all couched in lots of hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo and stuff that I didn’t really think was very applicable.

I sort of gave up for a while and maybe a few years after giving up, I was watching the film in Thailand. I was in a small town, sitting with a lot of other people, and there was a sense of community and laughter that was washing over the crowd, maybe facilitated by the beers we were drinking in the middle of the day. But, never the less, it was really an amazing feeling to watch this movie with all of these people from all over the world and to have this sense that everybody in the world has these same issues, these same worries, these same anxieties. These things that bedevil us.

The Dude didn’t have that. That’s what was so remarkable. Here’s a heroic character who is the opposite of what we think of as a hero. He doesn’t even try to do anything. And I saw that it was really heroic and spiritual to be like that. To basically get off of the rat race and not try so much; just enjoy the pleasures of just existing and living from day to day. As I investigated more, I found that more people felt that way. Not only that, but there’s been a long history of that. It’s been the solid core of every religious movement, until it gets co-opted by the businesses and stuff.

How can folks find out more about Dudeism, the book, etc.?

The website is www.Dudeism.com. You can get ordained as a Dudeist priest and learn more about Dudeism and the history and philosophy of it. If you want to get more into the philosophy, we have an official publication, The Dudespaper ( www.Dudespaper.com). Anyone is welcome to contribute material, they’re deepest thoughts to share with the world and make the world a better place.

We’re going to be opening up Abide University soon. It’s going to really be an institution of higher learning. We’re also working on a documentary called “The Way of the Dude”, which is being done by an Italian documentary company.

We’re looking to expand Dudeism. Lots of Dudely things in the works.

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Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. 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 www.wgrn.net.

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Life Is Hard

I just walked past a fairly young man who once held an influential position of great authority. He was falsely accused of a heinous crime and by the time he was proven innocent, he had given up on his life. He’s dressed in rags, depends on his mother to get him around, and lives the life of a pauper with a criminal record he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I greeted him, in a feeble attempt to boost his spirits through acknowledgment.

He was standing next to a man whose wife is so depressed, she’s become completely physically disabled. Their sons have rebelled against them and act out in inappropriate ways, because of something that’s none of their fault.

In this place I often used to see a man whose mental disabilities made him an easy target and prey for his deceiving family, who took total advantage of him. He was kept in depravity and squalor until someone intervened and lifted him up; helped him out. Shortly thereafter he was injured in a horrific automobile accident and will spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state.

And as I left, I looked at the hateful lady behind the counter who just looked like she needed a good rest and a hug.

All of these people in one place at one time.

If these are the stories and circumstances gathered in one snapshot in time and space, how many others are there, just like them?

I think of everyone else I know.

The man whose job was taken away due to global company mismanagement at the top.

The girl who abuses herself emotionally because of her faith.

The man who completely lost his faith.

The woman whose young husband died of a brain tumor.

The boy who took his own life because he was gay and no one accepted him.

I think about the little girl I saw in a shopping cart the other day. Maybe two years old. Dirty and dressed in shabby clothes. Matted hair and sad eyes. She was tired and defeated. At two years old. She already knew what she had to look forward to.

There are so many more. How many do you know?

Many of these things, beyond anyone’s control. The things that were within someone’s control were handled so poorly; at the expense of another human being. How can people do that to another person?

And I just keep thinking to myself, “Why does life have to be so hard?”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Daughter, The Four Year Old Feminist

Today while trying to get to work in good time, I mentioned “the boss”. My daughter said, “I thought your boss wasn’t there anymore”. He’s not. I explained to her that there’s ALWAYS a boss. And while they look for a replacement for my former boss, my former boss’s boss is now filling in as the temporary boss.

She thought for a few minutes and said, “I hope I never get fired. I hope YOU never get fired.”

Yeah, me, too.

She said, “If you do, you’ll have to go work at CVS!” My wife works part time in the pharmacy at our local CVS.

Kate laughed when she said I would have to work there. I asked her why.

“Cause you’ll be there with all those ladies!” Except for one PRN pharmacist, all staff members in that location happen to be women.

I asked if she thought it was a job just for ladies. No.

Would it be OK for me to work in a place with all ladies? Yes.

I told her I’d worked in two different banks a long time ago. Both times I was the only guy.

I asked if she thought there were jobs for boys and jobs for girls. “No…just jobs for everybody.”

So, should I work at CVS?

No.

But not because I’m a boy?

“No. ‘Cause Mommy works there. And husbands and wives can’t work together. ‘Cause they’ll be kissing and kissing and hugging and hugging and never get any work done.”

I love her interpretation of marriage. And I love her interpretation of equality in doing any job she wants.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - February 9th 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 www.wgrn.net.

Lavern Baker – Jim Dandy
James Leg – Nobody’s Fault
The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
Scott H. Biram – Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue
The Monks – Monk Time
Joe Johnson – Gila Monster
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – Want More
Jason & the Scorchers – Mona Lee
Iggy Pop – Success
Maxine Brown – All in My Mind
RL Burnside – Miss Maybelle
The Mississippi Marvel – Bior Road Blues
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – This Land Is Your Land
Leonard Cohen – Darkness
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Go-Go Godzilla
Neil Young – Cinnamon Girl
Johnny Cash – Down There by the Train
Johnny Thunders – Ask Me No Questions
The Solitaires – Big Mary’s House
Steve Earle – All My Life
Ronnie Hawkins – Need Your Lovin’ (Oh So Bad)
Ike & Tina Turner – Don’t Believe Nothing
Merle Haggard – I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Kris Kristofferson – To Beat the Devil
Duane Eddy – Rebel Rouser
The Jaynetts – Sally Go Round the Roses
Social Distortion – Prison Bound
Tom Waits – Train Song
Chuck Berry – Our Little Rendezvous
Reverend Charlie Jackson – God’s Got It
Ramones – Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
Jason & the Scorchers – Shop It Around
Bare Jr. – You Never Knew (I Lied)
Spade Cooley & the Western Swing Dance Gang – Shame On You
James Brown – King Heroin
Credence Clearwater Revival – Up Around the Bend
Charles Bradley – Stay Away
Flying Burrito Brothers – Dark End of the Street
T-Model Ford – Hi-Heel Sneakers
Muddy Waters – I Can’t Be Satisfied
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
Leonard Cohen – Come Healing

Background Music: Booker T - Potato Hole

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"With radio, the listener absorbs everything." - Bob Edwards

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Leonard Cohen - "Old Ideas"

Let’s get this out of the way right up front:

Leonard Cohen could sing the text from a Dairy Queen menu and it would sound like something written by a prophet who spends his life trudging up a mountain, battling who knows what along the way, then spends innumerable years waiting on God who eventually reveals himself and has a face to face dialog with the sage who then descends the mountain, much wiser and wearier to try and relate his experience to all of us commoners, living in oblivion by keeping ourselves busy with completely mundane and unimportant things.


I saw Leonard Cohen live in 2009. I’ve said many times that I can only describe the experience as, “Biblical”. It truly was like I was sitting at the foot of that wise old sage. My wife was with me, but had never heard of Cohen or any of his music before that night. She first asked if he was lip-syncing. Within a few minutes, when you could tell that she realized that she was in fact hearing Cohen’s voice – one of the most unique and divisive in all of recorded music – she said, “He’s kind of dramatic. A little goofy.” She wasn’t sure about his melodramatic gestures, his falling to one knee repeatedly, and his “if anybody else said this stuff, it would sound unbearably over the top” stage banter. Another song or two later, “Is he gay?” No, my dear, he most assuredly is not. Another song, “Wow…he’s kinda sexy. His vibe is kinda hot. Even for an old guy.” Once we had addressed all of those concerns, she settled in for the rest of the three-hour show and by the end, just like me and everyone else in the room, her jaw hung wide open in the realization that we had witnessed something very special.

And, let’s be honest…Isn’t that pretty close to a summation of all of our experiences with Leonard Cohen? He sings about love and God, life and struggles. His songs are dark, lovely, spiritual, sexy, and often very funny. His music is different. It takes a while to warm up to it. Then, just when you get used to the early, folky stuff, he introduces an electric keyboard and makes an album that kind of sounds like the soundtrack to the night-time scenes on Miami Vice.

He’s got that Tom Waits quality; you love him or you hate him. Even those who hate him, though, can easily recognize the genius of his songs. We’ve all heard some young or old, experienced or inexperienced artist or band try to take on Cohen’s classic “Halleluha” – the butchering of that modern-day standard is practically a rite of passage for anyone who claims to be a singer of any stripe.

Largely, his recordings have failed to properly capture his magic. They’ve been under-produced, over-produced, or just plain poorly produced. He’s relied too heavily on his Casio keyboard. And there’s that voice. That voice. Lower than low. Gruffer than Tom Waits and Cookie Monster at times. Harder to listen to than Dylan at his best or Kristofferson at his worst.

But, these limitations are in some sense what makes Cohen’s music so special. He once told Judy Collins, who had a hit with her cover of Cohen’s classic, “Suzanne”, as he pitched her the song, “I can’t sing and I can’t play guitar and I don’t know if this is a song.” She assured him there was a song there and she recorded it the next day. (Notice there was no arguing with his claims over singing or playing the guitar…wink-wink).

New listeners don’t typically just listen to Leonard Cohen once and fall in love. It takes work. He has to grow on you. He has to work his magic. You have to kind of figure him out.

That was before, though.

Before his “people” embezzled all of his money and he declared bankruptcy. Before he embarked on a massive multi-year world tour to generate enough of a nest egg that he could live on again. Before all of this somehow turned him into a jovial old man who enjoyed the spotlight again.

We used to have to go a long time without hearing anything from Leonard Cohen. He seemed to like it that way. He’d go ten years between albums. It was almost like he spent as much time as he could accumulating pain and worldly experience before finally expelling them in one document of a few songs and retreating again.

He used to retreat to remote places in the Mediterranean between albums and tours. Sometimes he retreated to Buddhist monasteries.

Leonard Cohen is not like artists you know. When I think of Cohen, I always think of one picture I saw of him. He’s in a wide open room in a structure made almost entirely of stone with open windows. The only furniture in the room is a bed, a wooden chair, and a small table/desk. The location appears to be somewhere like Italy or Greece. There’s a vintage European-looking guitar leaned against the unmade bed, which is dressed in perfectly white linens. Cohen, dressed in white pants and a thin, mostly-open linen shirt, is unshaven, tired looking, and barefoot, sitting at the desk, typing. At the far end of the room a beautiful dark-haired woman sits, completely naked, on the chair, staring intently at Cohen as he labors; inspiring him. She is obviously his muse. At least for that phase of his life. For that album. That song.

Other artists fabricate scenes that look like that. When you watch movies that try to be “artsy”, this is the kind of scene you see. Except, this scene is real. This is how Leonard Cohen lives. Or did for a long time, anyway.

Now he lives in a house in L.A. He recorded his new album, “Old Ideas” above the garage of that house. Much less romantic, no?

But it works. All of the recent activity – the constant touring, the live albums (two in three years), the reissuing of live performances from the 60’s – have energized Cohen. He’s said that the activity led to a creative burst of writing on the tour, which led quickly to the recording of the new album. He’s even talking about touring again, to support “Old Ideas”.

And while the results couldn’t be called “joyful”, there is some level of joy in this record; more apparent than in anything else he’s done. A friend of mine who never could quite get into the music of Leonard Cohen recently listened to “Old Ideas” and told me this might be the one Cohen album he could actually appreciate.

It’s easier to listen to.

It’s still Cohen. It’s raw and honest. It’s sad and funny.

It reminds me of Tom Waits’ latest album, “Bad As Me”; it takes what the artist does best, refines it a little, tightens it up and presents it in an almost flawless, concise package.

On the opening song, “Going Home”, Leonard takes the voice of God, requesting an audience with Leonard Cohen, whom he refers to as “a lazy bastard living in a suit”.

The next track, “Amen”, sounds to me like a latter-day follow-up to “Hallelujah”. It’s more playful than somber; more confident than worshipful. It’s a love note from a more confident, playful older man as compared to one from his overly-earnest younger self.

One of my favorite songs on the album, the first single, “Show Me the Place”, sounds to me like a sequel to Cohen’s classic ,”If It Be Your Will”. Cohen wrote “If It Be Your Will” as a prayer during a time when he couldn’t find his voice. On “Show Me the Place”, Cohen sounds, again, like a more confident and secure older man. Where “If It Be Your Will” was a heartfelt and blind pledge in an unknowing time, “Show Me the Place”, is a continuation of that pledge. But this time the artist knows more. He’s stayed the course and is confident in his muse and himself. He knows God – or whomever he’s speaking to – will ultimately take care of him. He’s secure in his choice and commitment. He’s not scared, but he knows the race isn’t completely run. He’s resigned himself to complete the task, whatever it takes.



“Come Healing” is unexpectedly uplifting and a very strong contender for the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.

I could go on and on, but I’m not a fan of track-by-track commentaries. Suffice it to say that Cohen’s “Old Ideas” sound familiar and yet completely new. He’s reinvigorated. The instrumentation is minimal – and, maybe for the first time, not over or under-produced. There is some blues here, even some country. The Casio is still here, too.

Cohen’s longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson lends her beautiful voice to great effect. When Cohen was on tour recently, he introduced his newest collaborators every evening as “the sublime Webb Sisters”. They’re present on this record and they are just that; sublime.

Leonard Cohen isn’t like people you know. He’s not like artists you know of. He’s unique. He’s special. He’s on a different plane than you and me. Yet he sings of things universal and instantly identifiable.

This is a fine work from a true “Tower of Song”.

Here’s hoping the newly reinvigorated master still has a few more “Old Ideas” left in him.

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Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. 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 www.wgrn.net.

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