My 5-year-old and I are coming up with some avant-garde compositions that push all boundaries, and are going to leave critics absolutely speechless. Sort of a blend of John Cage and The Fall meets Glass Houses-era Billy Joel. Wrap your head around it if you can.
What else would I be listening to on this unholiest of days? (I bought this original German Vertigo pressing a decade ago for 10 bucks, for you nerds). Released in the UK on February 13, 1970–Friday the 13th, of course–Black Sabbath’s debut invented an entire genre–guess which one? Fifty years ago. There were a lot of hard rock bands at the time (Sir Lord Baltimore, Coven, Blue Cheer), but no one conjured the bleakness or evil that these four blokes from Birmingham had. Or the riffs. Or that voice. Tony Iommi rightfully gets credit for creating some of the most menacing riffs ever put on tape, but Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals were from another dimension. Add to that a rhythm section of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward, and you have a band that would release six straight untouchable records that can still crush anything that has come since. Heavy metal as we know it started right here. Let us pray. And let us listen to my favorite cut from this slab o’ doom.
I was in the mood for something extra gnarly, and Vastum always delivers the gnarlies with some extra gnar. But even more to the point–this Bay Area four-piece has been the best death metal band going for years. The riffs are righteous, the tempos ooze, and the subject matter is the stuff typically discussed from a therapist’s couch. Patricidal Lust is Vastum’s second album, and it’s one of their best…but who am I kidding, they haven’t put out a bad record (2015’s Hole Below is also a classick). Vastum is coming to Portland March 21, and I shall not miss it.
Let’s move onto something more positive and enlightening to get us through the weekend…like, the antithesis of Rush Limbaugh. I want to talk about Fred Rogers–more specifically the music he helped create for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, because it’s all I’ve been thinking about lately.
I recently discovered classic episodes were streaming (it’s still on Amazon Prime, FYI), and I thought, “HELLYES,” as one does when discovering Mister Rogers is streaming on Amazon Prime. “I’m going to introduce my kid to Mister Rogers.” But in the back of my mind I thought there was no way a child in the year 2020 would want to hear a dorky middle-aged man talk to them about dealing with emotions and accepting other people through cornball (yet lovely) songs and puppetry (come on…Lady Elaine Fairchilde still freaks me out). Shows how much I know–my 5-year-old loves Mister Rogers. It’s a testament to Rogers, whose genuineness, compassion and kindness are truly something to behold–especially in our current state of affairs (which is the reason I was in tears for probably 90 percent of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?).
I love watching the show with my kid. He gets lessons about treating others, and himself, with respect (and I get some good reminders). Plus there’s a bonus: I’ve become absolutely obsessed with the music on the show. Not so much the songs we’ve all heard a million times (although I find myself humming them all. day. long.), but the music in between.
Rogers was a fan of jazz, and a fine pianist himself (he also studied music composition in college). And he was always keen to talk to musicians about their craft, including Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and, of course, my favorite, electronic music weirdo Bruce Haack. But it was Rogers’ musical director of nearly 30 years, pianist Johnny Costa, who delivered the goods day after day. Costa’s fluid playing wasn’t simplified for children’s ears (a condition he gave Rogers, who immediately accepted); it’s emotive and sounds like no one else. As Rogers himself put it, Costa’s playing was “a character of its own.”
It never occurred to me until I revisited the show that the twinkly piano lines that run almost constantly throughout the show were all performed live on set by Costa. And improvised in many instances (even show staples “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” were altered slightly each episode). Which is why I can’t get enough of Costa and his group–rounded out by bassist Carl McVicker Jr. and percussionist Bobby Rawsthorne (who’s also responsible for the vibraphone heard throughout). Much like the show itself, there’s an element of unpredictability that’s exhilarating. Plus there’s some really avant-garde passages that could only come from an improvised setting. Costa is literally playing to every movement of the show–when Rogers heads out to meet people, when the Trolley comes and goes, or even when there’s a knock at the door. It’s fantastic stuff.
When the jazz greats are discussed, you’ll rarely–if ever–hear Costa’s name, partially due to the fact his music is heard almost exclusively by children. Or because it’s become the ubiquitous background noise to Rogers’ soothing voice. Although Costa may not have pushed the genre the same way players like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler did, he’s brilliant in his own right, and his playing is absolutely worthy of discussion.
I’m not one to wish ill on anyone–I’m probably empathetic to a fault. But yesterday when I heard that the racist who for decades has made fun of women, gays, people with chronic diseases, or anyone who doesn’t share his “values,” all the while profiting off baseless fear-mongering that has corroded the brains of thinking Americans, and contributed to the modern age of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” as well as the election of a racist president who routinely attacks legitimate news outlets and who just awarded this same poisonous human the nation’s highest civilian honor, was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, my immediate thought was, “Fuck him.”
This gem has been in steady rotation for a long time around these parts. I got to thinking about it again since Los Dug Dug’s(well, guitarist/vocalist Armando Nava and a new crew) played a show in San Francisco last night–lots of friends went, and I’m extremely jealous.
The Durango, Mexico band’s 1971 debut is heavily influenced by a little group called The Beatles…but with more flutes. Opener “Lost In My World” remains a psychedelic classick, and sounds–much like the rest of the band’s output–as otherworldly today as it did five decades ago. Their records got more unhinged as they went (album number two, Smog, contains more overdriven guitars and extended drum solos), but this record is a wonderful bit of psychedelic pop.
I’ve decided to do a once- or twice-weekly feature where I write about some of the records I listen to throughout the week at TDoL HQ–the upstairs hideaway where I retreat (and occasionally sip whiskey and smoke banana peels) after everyone goes to bed. I’m calling it, you guessed it, Getting The Spins. I figured this would be a nice, easy way to write about music without feeling the need to overanalyze or get too verbose (don’t worry, there will be plenty of that sort of nonsense in other features). I figured I’d start with this record, which I picked up a few weeks ago, and has been getting steady play ever since.
Lately I’ve been buying more jazz records than anything else. So when this one was recommended by a fellow music writer on one of those nerdy (and sometimes insufferable) FB groups where people post what they’re currently listening to, I went immediately to the record shop up the road from me and bought it (I was shocked to have found it so quickly, but Crossroads in Portland is an absolute goldmine). Anyway, Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings absolutely smokes. It’s completely out-there avant-funk that lives up to Coleman’s free jazz past, and pushes his playing and compositional skill even further. And with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma in the mix–who absolutely steals the show–you’ve got yourself one hell of a skull-splitter.
One of the great journalists from a bygone era died today at the age of 85. Jim Lehrer covered many major events over his career, including the JFK assassination and the Watergate hearings. He had a list of nine tenets he followed that I wish every journalist followed. This one especially, which, sadly, is more relevant in 2020 than ever: “I’m not in the entertainment business.”
It’s a pretty awful time for journalism–constantly under attack, most astonishingly by the commander-in-chief, yet the institution doesn’t do itself any favors, especially in the broadcast realm. Lehrer should be revered. Here are his nine rules…read ’em and weep for humanity.
Do nothing I cannot defend.
Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.
Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be allowed to attack another anonymously.
It’s been a while. Like a really long time. Like 15-20 years or something. Actually, it’s been approximately five years since I last posted something here on The Days of Lore. And it’s not because I’m lazy, goddamnit. On the contrary, I’ve been very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very busy…which is to say, I now have two small children.
Needless to say I don’t have as much time for writing these days, aside from the occasional freelance gig. And when the old server that housed TDoL dumped years of work in 2015, the decision to stop doing this was that much easier (with help I’ve recovered most of it, and some might make occasional appearances in an installment I like to call: The Days of Lore…of Yore). So what made me decide to fire up this website again? Simply put, I just needed somewhere to dump my opinions on meaningless shit, as well as a place for me to process the day-to-day stuff that clogs my brain and makes me think and overthink and stress out. Plus I’ll use it as a place to link to my professional writing. And I’d much rather do this in my own space than on the grotesque Zuck Machine that probably brought you here. Yeesh.
Anyway, I figured a reintroduction was in order. Some of you reading, perhaps, have been here since the earliest days of Lore. Some of you are new. This is a place that will most-likely include a lot of music-related content. I’m almost 47, and music is still the thing I love most…well, besides my family…and baseball…and maybe Taco Tuesday. You’ll probably also catch me prattling on about, well, tacos and baseball, as well as movies (I’m good for about one or two a year–usually Star Wars-related), whiskey, books, journalism, food, fatherhood (ewwwww!), politics (double-ewwwww!), and my trip to Trader Joe’s.
If you’re not riveted by the potential here then you’re probably the owner of a successful business, two homes and a boat. Jokes aside, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I think I’m pretty good at it. To be honest, I need The Days of Lore more than you do–but it’s always a better experience with more people involved. Let’s have some fun.
This clip essentially sums up everything I mentioned above, so let this be your guide for future posts: Always skip to the video.