Saturday, February 21, 2009

25 Records That Changed My Life

This is in response to Dominic and Tony Pattis’ FaceBook request for 25 of my most life changing records. Susie Nicholson said it best, “Making the list = 6 hours of therapy. Dominic started the list at 15 but Tony realized it would take at least 25. For me this doesn’t even scratch the surface. Records change my life every day. This is going to take a whole blog entry as it is my very personal history. In some cases a record represents several. For instance: The Beatles, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Eno, Roxy, etc.

  • Kid Ory’s Creole Trombone

The second recording of it by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. I remember realizing my dad’s old scratchy 78s were actually fun. I was 3 or 4 and we were still a happy family. No signs of dysfunction.

  • Johnny Johnson

This was Kurt Weill’s first American production. It opened in 1936. Not only is the music spectacular but it turned me onto the idea of pacifism. The protagonist throws laughing gas into a room full of generals. Their stern authority is reduced to the silliness that it is. The title was taken from the most common name on the WWI casualty list.

  • Holberg Suite

This is my favorite piece by Grieg. I’ve always had post classical taste in orchestral music. Dominic’s fave was Rite of Spring but for my money it was Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. I remember my mother playing The Holberg Suite at our place in the country. It filled the whole countryside. She did the same thing with Sgt. Pepper. Just like Eleanor Rigby, I didn’t notice for years the music was all strings.

  • Stormy Weather/Twist and Shout

I have to put these 2 songs together. I was six listening to my favorite song on KXOK. It was Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather. It was followed by the first Beatles song I ever heard – Twist and Shout. The whole world changed!

  • Sgt. Pepper

We did it the way you’re supposed to. We bought the Strawberry Fields single first. Two weeks later we got Pepper. I’ll never forget my mother pointing out how weird the music got at the end of Strawberry Fields. I actually don’t think it aged as well as Revolver but at the time it was a mind blower!

  • Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits vol. 1

This was a door into the rest of his early stuff. I took a coat hanger and wrapped it around my mother’s chromatic harmonica. Then I wrapped that around my neck, picked up my mom’s acoustic guitar and fantasized as I watched my shadow. It also turned me on to adult poetry. I remember thinking adult relationships were going to be more than I bargained for.

  • Abbey Road

The jam crescendo at the end summed up their whole career for me. Here Comes the Sun got me through hard times standing on a cold corner trying to sell newspapers in the winter when I was 11.

  • Bookends

This Simon and Garfunkel classic got me through my first painful breakup. It gave me a sense of optimism.

  • A Wizard A True Star

This is still my favorite Todd Rundgren record. It proved to me that music does go on after The Beatles. Just as psychedelic!

  • Quadrophenia

The day it came out Dominic and I walked up to a record store on Grand that was next to a pre renovated Fox Theater. We skipped out of a class at Logos, our alternative high school. Dom and I had trench coats with a male symbol painted on the back.

  • Benefit

It will always break my heart that such a great band with so many incredible records will only be remembered for Aqualung.

  • Dreams and All That Stuff

This is my favorite Leo Kotke record. I would sit for hours practicing and recording acoustic guitar because of it.

  • Birds Of Fire

The Mahavishnu Orchestra probably did more to inspire technical virtuosity and pretentiousness than any other band. Man they were fun!

  • McDonald and Giles

Two guys who left King Crimson. They had all of the virtuosity and none of the pretentiousness. Kind of skiffle, kind of Beatles psychedelia. It broke my heart to read later that Ian McDonald was embarrassed by it.

  • Larks Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson’s masterpiece. I don’t think any recording has ever gone farther intellectually. It probably influenced my band more than any other single record.

  • Trout Mask Replica

Captain Beefheart will probably be remembered more for his paintings. A total original! This album always seems to offend listeners at first, then it creeps into their psyches. To quote the Captain, “Bold opaque melodies that would bug most people!”

  • It Might Be Rose

Bob Reuter’s band The Dinosaurs made the first indie record of St. Louis’ late 70s early 80s music scene. What a great time in St. Louis! We made the second.

  • Crime of the Century

Art rock was beginning to lose favor by then but this will always be one of the most spiritual/personal albums ever made to me. Definitely part of who I am. I wish they had never made Breakfast in America. Although it is one of the best album covers ever.

  • You

Gong isn’t one of the most famous bands and it’s too bad. They used tape loops before Fripp and Eno, they were as technically proficient as Mahavishnu, and they had the sense of humor of the Bonzos. Nobody can play lead guitar like Steve Hillage and Bloomdido Glad de Brass made Rock ‘N’ Roll sax real for me again. It helped that I was into Herman Hesse at the time.

  • Stranded

Roxy Music-pure art!!!! Song for Europe and Sunset still give me chills. This was the first record without Eno. It was his favorite too.

  • Electric Shocks

Much as I love The Bonzo Dog Band, they could never hold a candle to Roger Ruskin Spear’s solo stuff. I showed up at my friend George’s house tripping when I was a teenager. He put that on and I’ve never been the same. I remember giving a long winded speech that God was somewhere lurking in humor. George was amused.

  • Fear Of Music

The first of 3 favorite Talking Heads records. Eno’s contributions are obvious. I used to come home late from work at the bar and blast Memories Can’t Wait in the headphones.

  • Another Green World

Eno fans always talk about the 4 great Eno pop albums. Really I think it’s only AGW and Before and After Science. The closest I’ve ever felt music came to painting.

  • Hounds of Love

Kate Bush is a total inspiration. She mixes Gregorian chant, Celtic, and psychedelic seamlessly. This is one of the great LSD albums. I wish I could squeeze Peter Gabriel in here somewhere.

  • 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees

There isn’t a bad Suzanne Vega record but this is my favorite. If you get a chance check out In Liverpool.

  • OK Computer

I heard Terry Gross ask Thom Yorke what he thought of critics calling Radiohead the best band in the world. He laughed at the absurdity. This album proved to me that it hasn’t all been done. My buddy Stephen Martin threw it at me when it came out. He said he thought it was something I would like. He did this with the novels Geek Love and House of the Spirits too. Everything he casually turns me onto changes my life.

That’s 25 but it doesn’t stop there obviously. What about Son Volt, Funkadelic, Peter Gabriel, Nina Simone, Cat Stevens, The Stones, U2, Roland Kirk, Miles, Prokofiev, Lead Belly, Sly, Bob Marley, Buddy Holly, Dire Straits, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, XTC, Donovan, Elbow, Doves- and I could go on forever.

The picture is my autographed copy of the Dinosaurs single

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Laclede Town

My friend Dominic invited me into a FaceBook group centered on Laclede Town. Laclede Town was a mixed income, federally funded housing experiment that opened in 1964. My family was one of the first to move in.

It attracted counter culture artists and social activists. I remember the whole town getting together at a place that was called either The Coffee House or The Book Store (depending on why you were there) to watch a CBS news special about hippies. Everyone had a great laugh.

Friday nights they would screen old serials and silent movies. My favorites were The Sheik and Son of The Sheik starring Rudolf Valetino.

Across the street from The Coffee House was The Coach and Four Pub. My parents were both bartenders there. Across the street from that was our house, the first one as you entered The Circle.

The Circle was the main gathering place of the community. We had Shakespeare, live music, and art fairs there. In the winter plows pushed snow into it. This created a mountain that Santa used for his throne.

The guy that ran Laclede Town was a guy named Jerry Berger. He was kind of our mayor. I found out later that he was also our Santa.

Our first public swimming pool was a square box of a building that was the Vashon Gym at the corner of Compton and Market. I’ll never forget wading around in the shallow end and feeling a small yellow turd squishing between my toes. The lifeguards laughed. A few years ago I was swimming at the St. Peters Rec Plex and some kid pooped in the water. They closed and drained the whole pool.

In the Laclede Town FaceBook one of the kids I grew up with published a photo of the last piece of the Arch being added. He mentioned a Waring School assembly getting to see it. I was part of that assembly.

When we moved to Laclede Town Waring School wasn’t opened yet. We went to school at Harris Teacher’s College. They put Kindergarten through 4th grade in one room and 5th through 8th in another.

I don’t think they were equipped to deal with us. All we did was copy definitions directly from a dictionary. We used to win bags of candy if we were fast.

I was in 1st grade. My buddy Jeff Jones sat next to me in the 2nd grade row. We were pretty much left alone and he taught me cursive handwriting.

By 1967 or 1968 my folks were divorced and we moved. My dad stayed in another part across Laclede called Laclede Park. This gave us access to the Peanut Pool where all the cool people hung out. My band mates Dom and Ben would be lifeguards there. Years later the band would play a political benefit for Eugene McCarthy there. We I turned 18 he was the first presidential candidate I voted for. This was 1976 and I was still too naive and idealistic to vote the lesser of two evils.

We moved back to Laclede Town when I was in 8th grade but the seeds of decay and racism were beginning to grow. I met Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren at Harris Teacher’s College with my 8th grade class.

People always seem to compare Laclede Town with “The Village” in the old Prisoner TV series. Strange little houses grouped together in an idealist’s dream of community.

Laclede Town has been totally absorbed by Harris and St. Louis University.

This news paper article from 1966 shows me leaning over a book at Waring School. My buddy Kyle Woods is next to me. It was our bird watching club and we were trying to identify the birds outside the classroom window. We were each given a bird name. I was Meadowlark. I think that’s what endeared me to Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters years later. Oh, by the way, my daughter Chloe turned 13 today (Valentine’s Day). My children are both teenagers now and I’m looking forward to them taking care of me in my dotage.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I’ve been putting hundreds of miles on my new 1990 Corolla. The oppressive heaviness of impending roadside helplessness is beginning to lift. Here comes spring. Now if I could just get back in the studio.

My daughter Chloe becomes a teenager next Saturday on Valentine’s Day. Her boyfriend is a 16 year old hormonal sex freak named Charlie.

Needless to say my studio time on the weekends has been abandoned for my new role as 24 hour a day chaperone.

My cantata is gathering dust. I can hear myself growing older.

I think it’s time for the pill.

The very mention of birth control elicits rage from my ex, “You’ll just be giving her permission to have sex!”

Sexual activity, if it hasn’t already started, will happen before we know about it. I’m a nervous wreck and have no life of my own. I’m appealing to anyone with adolescents. Help!!!!! I breathe a deep sigh of relief every time her period starts.

Other than that signs of life are returning.  (Uh oh, was that Freudian?)

There was talk of a band reunion in March but I haven’t heard anything lately. I think it’s about time to get a band together again.

My buddy Vince and I were climbing a mountain in the Rockies a couple of years ago. I asked if he’d lay a few bass tracks down for me in the studio. He said he’d love to. I told him I’d like to get a band together. He got really excited but suddenly lost his enthusiasm. “You’d be telling me what to play.” He said. I told him I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t and the dream died right there. A band is very much like a marriage and it requires compromise. He did end up doing a lot of work for me in the studio.

When we threw the surprise party for Valerie in November Vince and another friend of mine Roger met for the first time. They had both worked on the same songs.

It’s not that I’m a control freak but I need people who share some of my perspective. What seems obvious and natural to me is completely alien to others.

I know this post seems disjointed but really it’s all about rebirth. That’s what spring is. 

Photo of Dylan strangling Chloe courtesy of Valerie.


Sunday, February 1, 2009


Both of my kids were born 5 weeks early. My son Dylan spent his first week in an incubator with special lights to treat jaundice. They also gave him antibiotics.

Months later the hospital had us bring him back to test for hearing loss that the antibiotic sometimes caused. They told me there wasn’t really much reason for him to have taken them but they were given as a precaution.

I was furious. Hearing has always been the most cherished sense in my family. Life without music would be a totally different experience. 

For deaf people to understand my perception I can only offer this. I had a dream once that I’d lost my hearing. It was like not being able to breath. I fell to the ground gasping for sound.

My ex gets angry with my lack of respect for doctors. “They know a lot more than you do,” she's always telling me. I actually have a great respect for doctors and their knowledge. I also know they’re human and are sometimes wrong.

A lot of doctors cave to patients that insist on antibiotics for viral conditions. These doctors know full well they only work for bacterial problems and can weaken the patients’ immune system. We had a winter several years ago where old people were dying and a link was drawn to weakened immune systems caused by antibiotics.

Last night an old friend of my girlfriend Valerie came to visit. His name is Don. After an hour or so I noticed a plastic device on the end of his glasses. Don was totally deaf and I hadn’t noticed until he looked at me and said, “I just got a new cochlear implant and I haven’t gotten used to it yet, could you repeat that?”

He said he perceived sounds differently than we did. It sounded robotic. He said he hadn’t heard music in 15 years. He also related a conversation he’d had with 2 friends who also had implants.

It was a sunny day and Don said to the others, “Man it sure is windy.” “Wednesday, I thought it was Thursday.” said another. The third replied, “Me too let’s go for a drink.” I had the feeling this was an old classic joke between deaf people.

The deaf community is only now coming around to the idea of implants. The position has been deafness isn’t unhealthy.

Harlan Lane, a psychologist and linguist at Northeastern University, puts it this way. “If you believe, as I do, that a healthy, deaf child is a healthy child like a healthy, short child, it’s just plain wrong to operate on that child.”

I would put this in my political blog but no one reads it. This is from personal experience so here it is.