Living too close to town

Edward Abbey died 20 years ago today.  The American Spectator has a nice essay that sums up my love-hate admiration for the Conservative Anarchist of the Desert Southwest:

Cactus Ed was a prickly sort; a conservative anarchist, if you will, who on one hand could support eco-terrorism (a favorite motto was: “Keep America Beautiful — Burn a Billboard!”), and on the other supported the National Rifle Association (NRA), and restrictions on immigration.

Much commentary on old Ed Abbey focuses on his essays, in particular the visionary  Desert Solitaire .  I’d heard the name before a friend of mine gave me a paperback when I was living in Bozeman, MT.  Still, Desert Solitaire hit me hard at that particular time and place.  I’ve been a Conservative all my life, yet I also have a deep, abiding love of the land, in particular that large landscapes of the American West.  Snow-capped mountains of Colorado.  Trout streams gracing the Big Sky of Montana.  Haunted kivas of New Mexico.

In Edward Abbey, I saw both the evil of environmental relativism and the promise of reconciliation—with those of us who value individual freedom and respect above mindless groupthink and junk science.

I don’t know the collective feeling at Patagonia regarding junk science, but their blog highlighted a special event this week for Abbey fans.  The host of The Risky Biscuit Hayseed Hoot radio show does an annual special memorial show, an “incomparable blend of tasty instrumentals, blues, folk, outlaw country, and a generous helping of Mr. Abbey…”

Starting Saturday morning, it will be available for a full week via podcast at the Hoot website. You can also listen live Saturday morning, 8 – 10 a.m. Pacific, by going to and clicking on the “Listen Live” button (on the right).

Kill your television and crank up the podcast.  If you don’t make it before the week is up, go find Tom Russell‘s song “The Ballad of Edward Abbey” on the album Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs; it’s a good take on a complicated legend.

T for Texas

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was one of the first “stars” of country music.  Often known as the Singing Brakeman, Rodgers set the standard for future generations:

Jimmie Rodgers’s first Blue Yodel, which became known as “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas) ”, was recorded on 30 November 1927 in the Trinity Baptist Church at Camden, New Jersey. When the song was released in February 1928 it became “a national phenomenon and generated an excitement and record-buying frenzy that no-one could have predicted”.

I first heard Lynyrd Skynyrd do ‘T for Texas’ back in school days.  I didn’t think much about the song or the lyrics, but over the years it’s dawned on me how radical this stuff is.

i’m gonna buy me a pistol
just as long as I am tall
i’m gonna shoot poor Thelma
just to see Her jump And fall.

Kids today, in my day even, think of Country music as old stuffy stuff, with the hoots and the haws and the howdy y’all.  Go back to the roots and you’ll find some pretty basic matters of life, love and all the complications thereof.

(cross-posted at

A Scholar’s Work

Minnesota Farm

Martin Krieger is Professor of Planning at the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development.  He blogs tips for doctoral students.  I once thought of being a doctoral student—then I got over it, they work too hard.  Prof. Krieger has a PhD in Physics, so that could make him a rocket scientist as well as a real doctor, I’m not that familiar with his work.  Just before Christmas he wrote:

Most very strong scholars live through their work. They are very productive, and their work reflects their strengths in a deep way. There are of course scholars who work very hard, but are not so strong even if they are productive. But these very strong scholars are in a different league.

I’ve been thinking alot about work-life balance for… oh, most of my life.  We know the Company Man is dead.  Nobody my age will work for IBM for 40 years.  We settled that 20 years ago, yet the 1980s are as far away for my kids as the 1950s were for me.

What is it going to mean to “live through your work” in 2010?  Does it mean the gosh-awful 80 hour work-weeks of doctoral students (and professors)?  Or the undergrad working two jobs just to scrape by?  Can it mean more?

Let’s go back back to the future. Look at 2010 thru the lens of 1910, when the majority of US population (54%) was still rural. Before the industrial revolution, the norm was life on a farm or in a small shop. You lived with your work—you got up, did the chores, had lunch with the family, rested on Sunday, got stuff done.  The farm was (and is) hard work, but it’s a life worth living.

It’s easy to work your life away; easy to live for your work.  To live through your work, though, that seems to me something more—to find expression for your life in what you do for a living.  To be strong in your chosen vocation is going to mean going the extra mile, but we can adapt schedules and communication tools to recreate the seamless farmyard where sometimes we’re balancing “real work” on Saturdays so we can picnic with the family Thursday afternoon.

Sounds like hard work, but work worth living.

Alison and Robert Sand the Grammys

Last year I was Grumpy about the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. I can’t be grumpy this year. My gal Alison Krauss cleaned up. Producer T-Bone Burnett worked his magic on her duet album with Robert Plant, Raising Sand [ Rounder].

  • Record of the Year
  • Album of the Year
  • Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
  • Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
  • Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album

Alison Krauss is simply the best thing out there right now.

And I’m conflicted about that.

I don’t “get” Raising Sand. I don’t dislike the CD. I’m a long-time fan of Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin days. I just don’t “get it”. The plethora of gold record players gives me an idea why and it’s as obvious as the beard on my face.

I like to keep my music close to the roots. Songwriter. Guitar. Maybe a stand-up bass. Tell me a story, maybe one I can do a two-step to. I like my Alison closer to her roots—her high lonesome done-me-wrong songs. But she’s been there and done that. It’s only appropriate that she wants to grow as an artist, to challenge herself and try new things.

There’s nothing like finding a new artist that you connect with . It’s very much like making a new friend. In today’s flattened world of internet radio and social media, it often is making a new friend, or at least adding them as a friend on FaceSpace. However, we also all grow up. There are a few of my childhood friends that I’ve kept up with, more now with the latency of FaceSpace. There are many more whom we have gone our separate ways. Maybe I’m just jealous of all her new friends. I don’t know.

I am concerned. It’s not appropriate to sully your hard-earned reputation fawning over a “Pop Collaboration With Vocals”. I’m not sure if it’s a sorrier statement on the ill health of popular music, country music, or Americana. I could celebrate that Krauss, Plant & Burnett were able to put together a production that successfully bridged the chasms. That would be the pragmatic thing to do. I’m not a pragmatist. I’m a strong believer in the quality of music and the musicians craft.

Here’s hoping Alison comes back around to visit her old friends soon.

Other Kudos from the 51st Annual Grammy Awards

  • Best Pop Instrumental Album: Jingle All The Way, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones [Rounder]
  • Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Letter To Me, Brad Paisley. Track from: 5th Gear [Arista Nashville]
  • Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Stay, Sugarland. Track from: Enjoy The Ride [Mercury Records] (Was there ever any question?)
  • Best Country Song: Stay, Jennifer Nettles, songwriter (Sugarland) Track from: Enjoy The Ride [Mercury Records; Publisher: Jennifer Nettles Publishing]
  • Best Country Album: Troubadour, George Strait [MCA Nashville] (I can’t keep up with George)
  • Best Bluegrass Album: Honoring The Fathers Of Bluegrass: Tribute To 1946 And 1947, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder [Skaggs Family Records]
  • Best Traditional Blues Album: One Kind Favor, B.B. King [Geffen Records]
  • Best Long Form Music Video: Runnin’ Down A Dream, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; Peter Bogdanovich, video director; Skot Bright, video producer [Warner Bros.]

Of the others, I would have liked to see Kathy Mattea recognized for her concept album, Coal, even if I haven’t actually heard it.

p.s. After I initially posted this on, I got a Tweet contemplating a good question about release dates for Raising Sand. gives ’em a release date of October 23, 2007.  Now I’m wondering: Plant & Krauss won a Grammy LAST year for Pop Collaboration. How can they repeat? My guess is it’s single release vs. album release. Anyway, artists, not all release dates are created equal.  Remember that.


(updated & cross posted from )

The Day The Music Died

Today is the 50th anniversary of The Day The Music Died.  On 3 February 1959, in a field outside Clear Lake, Iowa, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, crashed and killed everyone on board, including pilot Richard Peterson.  As we all know, Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated plane and lived to sing his own songs another day.

Bye bye Miss American Pie,
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singing “This’ll be the day that I die,
This’ll be the day that I die.”
Don McLean, PlayAmerican Pie

Minneapolis Star-Tribune Columnist & Twitterer James @Lileks doesn’t think the music died that day.  He thinks the music is doing just fine, blaming McLean’s American Pie for getting it all wrong.  Take a look at an annotated explanation of the cryptic lyrics here.

I’m more inclined to agree with AcktheHack that the music did die a little that day—I wonder how enthralled I would have been with this new-fangled Rock & Roll if I had been a generation earlier.  To wit The American Spectator: “Who, in the early sixties at least, cared to patronize the recordings of sex perverts whose 45s probably received radio spins through bribery?”  I liked La Bamba yet I’m thinking if I was contemporary to the events depicted, probably not so much.  Really more a Hank Williams fan.

The STrib re-visits Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom and the crash site, video here.  Also on the playbill last night: Bobby Vee, Graham Nash, Los Lobos, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely and Wanda Jackson.

I could have made the drive, it’s only 182 miles out my front door. Still, I try to stick closer to home come winter time.  Never know when your vehicle might freeze up & get stuck…


(cross-posted & slightly edited from )

At the Root of the Music

Uncle Tupelo is the fulcrum of my ROOTS music universe. All things good, bad and ugly; happy, melancholy and sad, flow thru the music and the people and the places of the boys from Southern Illinois.

The melancholy is mine–youth is wasted on the young they say. While I was navel-gazing up at Urbana, potential contemporaries Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were finding their way with a guitar just a stone’s throw across Midwestern cornfields. If I would have got off my lazy, hair-metal-addled, butt and explored something off mainstream country/rock radio I coulda found these guys when they coulda saved my wasted youth. I took a move to Denver and a long drawn-out journey thru Rocky Mountain Bluegrass for me to find my musical Roots.

It just kinda hit me this week, listening to the Compadre Records podcast. They were bought out by an L.A. R&B outfit. The deal looks good on paper, I thought, more cashflow & distribution for Billy Joe Shaver & company. Then the podcast turns to sh*t this week. It’s all Beyonce, whose daddy pays the bills. It’s their choice to push that, but I don’t want no part of it. Don’t say you’re still ROOTS then pull that stuff.

Then again, who am I to say what “ROOTS” music is…. Where for me, I seem to throw a fairly wide lasso around the term. It’s likely ROOTS to me if it’s somehow connected, back or forth, through UNCLE TUPELO.

Most obvious example: Carter Family‘s No Depression (in Heaven) was the inspiration for a favorite genre tag, magazine, etc. UT brought the Carter Family music to a new generation, both faithful to the original and making it their own. Similar ex. can be found for Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. UT’s music is modern, grounded in the roots of original folk and country.

Less obvious example: Take the flip side, I’ve been arguing lately with teenage stepdaughter why Shania Twain & such are more a POP star than a TRUE COUNTRY (ie. ROOTS Country) star. I can argue song structure, songwriting, instrumentation, marketing, till I’m blue in the face, ain’t going to change her mind. There’s no context there. It’s not that I don’t like her Shania (much preferable to the above Beyonce ilk). She walked a hard road, but she’s a master of bubble gum and empty anthems, not the meat & potatoes and heartfelt gospel of the boys in Uncle Tupelo. They’re both masters of their craft, they just do different thangs.


Repost from, November 2007.  As far as I know, the last year was just more of the same.  Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression just scrobbled #80k on my

All Alone In This Together

We Are All Alone In This Together

Graham Lindsey

Spacebar Recordings (2008 )


What is it in a simple progression of notes that can bring a person close to tears?  Even before adding in a well-crafted lyric.  How a few notes strung together in a very specific manner evoke a primal reaction, a blood lust of the ear.


Graham Lindsey does this to me with “The Bird That Lived In  A Burning Tree”, on his new Spacebar recording, We Are All Alone In This Together in general circulation this week.  I’m a long-time fan of Graham, once compared him to Bob Dylan channeling Hank Williams.  Twangville compares and contrasts him with Old Crow Medicine Show or The Avett Brothers.  Yes.  And no.  Graham Lindsey simply brings together an honest appreciation of folk traditions with a hard-driving post-punk honky tonk spirit.  Graham is the man.


The album opens with a plaintive line on “Tomorrow is Another Night” and moves through a dozen strong tracks of love, life and stuff on the shovel.  “Old Roger” caught my attention right away.  Graham uses a variety of session players to enhance his typical solo show, adding dobro, pedal steel, percussion, fiddle, upright bass, organs, horns, even piano and Henry’s bark.  I’m sure more than a couple of those instruments saw the inside of Music Villa in Bozeman.


Yet it is Track 4, “The Bird…” that grew on me with each play.  A simple one-two progression builds, adds lyrics without overpowering the instrumentation, builds acoustic instrumentation without overpowering the guitar, then fades away into the night.  I’m sure that somebody who stayed awake in music appreciation class could swiftly identify the artistic device.  The technical terminology.  The proper analytic context.  How the melody and instrumentation build a memorable wave.


I just know there are a very few times in this life when a melody hits me upside the head like a shovel.  The 2nd part of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.  And now Graham Lindsey.


Check him out on Myspace at


Cold wind blows

make you weep and moan

why has this found my home?

because that’s the one we chose

everybody’s got to choose

everybody’s got to choose


(Cross-posted from

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