Here is a driving game: Start with an original song that has been covered, (as an example at the post’s end you’ll find David Bowie covering The Velvet Underground,) then name two or three songs in succession by moving the cover artist to the position of original artist.

There is something exciting and even elucidating about bands choosing to cover songs. The songs that artists select to cover can tell you some things about them that you may not already know. And how they play the cover songs might confirm things you knew about them.

Late on a Friday afternoon in October 2011 at Lincoln, Nebraska’s Zoo Bar, a really fine band, The Amalgamators, (now, sadly, defunct,) took on the challenge of covering a whole album. They picked the highly influential country-rock classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds, and they performed it just once. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly glorious. You were either there to hear it or you weren’t and The Amalgamators provided me with one of my favorite live music experiences of my life.



The selection is savvy and very fun because Sweetheart of the Rodeo is itself largely made up of songs written by artists from outside of The Byrds, (such songwriters as Merle Haggard, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and William Bell.) The album’s 11 songs took less than 35 minutes to play, and The Amalgamators did just what one would hope: they wrung every bit of joy and respect that they could out of each note and chord. For the band, I can only believe that the experience was a fantastic exercise in stretching as musicians, and the performance was certainly very much more than only an exercise for the audience at the Zoo Bar – it was a bit like watching a high-wire routine.



I wish more bands would try this. There is something really special about an isolated performance. “Hey, we are just going to do this once!” The stakes are high for the performers to get it right, and that urgency is projected to the audience. The risk wins over the audience. It makes them more forgiving and even more likely to enjoy the show.

For a long while during the 1980s, 90s, and early-2000s there was a shortage of covers. It seemed like covering songs was considered uncool – or cool only if bands covered songs ironically. Gratefully, that self-conscious phase seems to have faded away, and now it is not uncommon to hear bands covering new songs by their contemporaries and classics by their heroes.

Sometimes songs beg to be covered and I often match particular bands to specific songs. Lincoln’s For Against, flying above the clouds and often stealthily out of radar’s range, has been peerless among local acts, but covers haven’t been a big part of the band’s trajectory.

Here is one of the band’s beautiful original songs by Jeffrey Runnings. This is brilliant and was ahead of its time:

I Wish by For Against, from Aperture (1993 Independent Project Records).



I always wished that For Against would have covered the song linked below during the vintage of Paul Engelhard on drums and Steven Hinrichs on guitar with Jeffrey Runnings, the band’s constant leader, singing and playing bass.

*Abuse Me by Silverchair, from Freak Show (1997 Epic).

*Pedigree note: Nicolas Launay produced this song as well as albums by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, P.I.L., The Birthday Party, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire, and many others.

Some bands make covers so fine that they rival or surpass the great original versions:

The Headmaster Ritual by The Smiths, performed live in 2007 by Radiohead.

There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths, performed by Dum Dum Girls.

Here is an example of the driving game:

White Light White Heat by The Velvet Underground, performed live in 1973 by David Bowie

The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie, performed live in 1993 by Nirvana.

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle by Nirvana, covered by Jay Reatard.

19 Sept 2014

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September Lurks

Summer is special among seasons because time is drawn out and freedoms are exaggerated by the long and blessed shining of the sun.

Do you love the brightness, too? Daylight equals freedom, and summer delivers. Then, like a ghost you thought you saw, “poof!” summer is gone. September lurks, daylight becomes noticeably shorter, and though it still gets hot, autumn begins to just peek coolly around the corner.



Late summer brings me a special kind of longing – a complicated mixture of blurry nostalgia and focused anticipation. What is it? Is it because there will be longer nights to get through? Is it because of the swirling necessity of change?

Maybe the explanation can be found in deeply entrenched habits built from seventeen years of public school, college, and graduate school. That is a long time ago, but both then and now, autumn seems to bring new challenges, new things to learn, and new people to meet.

Make that new challenge be rewarding. Make that new person you meet a part of your future. Enjoy the season for what it is. And remember, come November: Don’t let autumn raise winter’s whip and wonder, “where will the lash descend?”

Gird yourself with songs.




Here are several that I associate with the end of summer and they give me a wonderful lift. These songs help me remember times and places I was happiest. Maybe you have your own selections to help make something luxurious last of youthful summers. (Underlined, italicized song titles are links.)

the THE.

the THE.

–From the prodigious Matt Johnson – I could listen to this song a million times.

Uncertain Smile by The The, from Soul Mining (1983 Some Bizarre/Epic).

–Real Estate is among half a dozen American bands that I really admire. This song captures perfectly the sincere surprise of discovering that reciprocated love is possible.

Horizon by Real Estate, from Atlas (2014 Domino Records).

–Poor Devil – for Nick, it was permanently winter.

At the Chime of a City Clock by Nick Drake, from Bryter Layter (1970 Island).

–Not only is the night over, the summer is over, too, and you are going to have a headache tomorrow, mate.

End of the Party by The English Beat, from Special Beat Service (1982 I.R.S. Records).

–Still favorites, the early songs (like this one) are jewels of unapologetic and unchecked emotion. The music, the vibe, the lyric; all move together as naturally as the flow of changing seasons.

Ease Your Feet in the Sea by Belle and Sebastian, from The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998 Jeepster/Matador).

–Listening to this album always feels to me like the beginning of something.

Brakhage by Stereolab, from Dots and Loops (1997 Elektra/Duophonic).

–I promise that you are not going to like this one. Nobody likes this one.

Cooking by Green Gartside (Scritti Pollitti), from White Bread, Black Beer (2006 Rough Trade/Nonesuch).




–From Nashville – I was surprised. I figured they were from London. It was no surprise to learn they worked with Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins). Ambient rock beauty.

Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo by Hammock, from Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo (2006 Hammock Music).




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All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

Summers occupy more than their share of one quarter of my memories. When I think of formative years (early- and mid-80s) and especially of the friends that surrounded me then, the faces are often suntanned and brightly smiling. Behind their young eyes I still see the desire to pulse out into the wide world, to grow and explore beyond our confines.

We flew through our summers, sleeping little, gorging experiences. Ravenous, we wanted everything. Day and night, we ran wild, and whatever Grand Island, Hastings, and Lincoln would become to us later in our lives, they were, for the time being, places to be dominated – places to be transcended.

We would all be moving on, but not before we memorized the nearby countryside, bolting down Nebraska’s gridded county roads, walls of corn or beans on either side, spouting wakes of dust into the hot atmosphere. Stopping on train bridges and looking up, stars dotted or clustered in the otherwise blaring darkness of the sky and night in the country is its own music.

We spent floating hours sharing hopes and thoughts with one another in the Platte River whose channels, banks, and depths evolved and shifted each day. The Platte also shaped us – presenting us always a slightly different and new river, as we presented it daily with slightly adjusted and adapted young selves. The river is its own music.

h one another in the Platte River whose channels, banks, and depths evolved and shifted each day. The Platte also shaped us – presenting us always a slightly different and new river, as we presented it daily with slightly adjusted and adapted young selves. The river is its own music.

THE PLATTE. We spent hours in the river. Its currents washed and shaped us as surely as it shaped its banks, depths, and islands.

THE PLATTE. We spent hours in the river. Its currents washed and shaped us as surely as it shaped its banks, depths, and islands.

We whooped through our cities by night – walking steady along train tracks that transected our towns, or going subterranean to howl away in railroad underpasses. Like felines we scaled buildings or grain elevators after midnight to survey the city’s streets, alleys, and the pathways we took during the day. Cities are their own hypnotic music.

In our natural courses we moved on. Some said goodbye to those formative days and our places with haste and pleasure, some said goodbye wistfully; some said no goodbye at all. Of course, there was music playing all the time and there are songs that can take me right back. A representative sample:

— This song is an explosion of joy and youth – weird and wonderful – like a double shot of something – 80 proof – swallowed through a mouthful of sugary candy. I’ve got to tell you all about it, I’ve got to scream and shout it.

Uncontrollable Urge by Devo, this version is from Urgh! A Music War (Soundtrack, 1981 A&M Records).

— Discovering The Police before they “hit” felt like knowing a conspiratorial code for what is cool. This dark and masterful song still makes me close my eyes and shake my head.

Bring On The Night by The Police, from Regatta de Blanc (1979 A&M Records).

— They were a revelation and among the most influential bands in American music. I loved them for years. R.E.M. = college memories.

Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars) by R.E.M., from the EP Chronic Town (1982 IRS).

— My first experience with a band that would become a favorite forever, this song still transports me to hot summer nights in 1984. Astonishing.

Sugar Hiccup by Cocteau Twins, from Sunburst and Snowblind (1983 4AD).



— This represents the kind of DIY ethos that jarred my friends and me – a pretty song from a fun and pretty record.

Choukoutien by Oh OK, from Furthermore What (1983 DB Records).

— On the opposite end of the scale, here is a summery tune from a gargantuan and inescapable hit album.

Save a Prayer by Duran Duran, from Rio (1982 EMI/Capitol).



— A double dose of Daniel Ash’s genius.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything byBauhaus, from The Sky’s Gone Out (1982 Beggar’s Banquet).

You, The Night, and The Music by Tones on Tail, from Burning Skies (1983 Situation Two).

— After saying, “Goodbye,” can you go back?

Goodbye to the Village by Killing Joke, from Brighter Than a Thousand Suns (1986 EG Records).



28 july 2014


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The Harvey Boys – Summer Wind

Snapped in 1948, in Ogallala, Nebraska, this is a photograph of my uncles doing what they loved to do. Music was in the Harvey boys’ blood.




At age 16, in young, sweet profile, is my uncle Kenny handling his trumpet. He’s proud and happy to be mixing it up with his older brothers. In the center of the pack, sly uncle Paul is leading the number and keeping everyone honest on his trombone. He’s intoxicated by the song and the proximity of his wife, my dear aunt Marjorie who is on the flute. (Also pictured is Marj’s lifelong friend, Cherry, on the clarinet.)

And then there is the essence of the picture: my elegant uncle Bob with a cigar and a saxophone. His handsome and cool smile conveys the prototypical, unaffected look of the Harvey boys. Whether together or alone, they wore pure expressions and postures that said, “Wherever I am, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Bob is smiling directly at my father, Philip, who took the photo. Phil was undoubtedly smiling right back, just a half a second removed from giving a movie star’s wink to his slightly older brother. It is easy for me to imagine the scene from uncle Bob’s vantage. My dad is standing still and tall as possible, and he has just said to his younger brother, “That’s the boy, Ken! Play it – go get ‘em, boy!” Although the day is warm, Phil is still in his suit jacket, his tie knotted crisply at his throat. The camera’s held firm in his steady right hand and my father’s relaxed left hand likely kept a delicate but decisive grip on a tumbler of scotch and a lit Chesterfield cigarette.

They were surely playing either Swing or Dixieland jazz – two forms that my dad and all of my uncles loved. I can imagine that this “photo session” took considerable time to actually evolve. All their lives the boys were a deliberate foursome – unrushed and unrushable – sophisticated practitioners of the delicate art of delayed gratification. Anything worth doing was worth putting off a few more minutes to squeeze out a bit more exquisite anticipation. Their excellent company was enough — “Before we do, pour us another cup of coffee,” or, “let’s have just one more cigarette, then let’s…”

Impromptu – imschmomptu.

My dad would have been 21 years old when he shot the photo, and pretty fresh out of the U.S. Army.

Phil Harvey, U.S. Army, 1945.

Phil Harvey, U.S. Army, 1945.

He played a little bit of piano and the piccolo, and could dabble around with other instruments, but instruments weren’t really his focus. If he had a gift it was his unselfconscious tenor voice. He owned a leader’s voice, terrific for anchoring a choir section, for adding unexpected and smiling harmonies to hymns in churches, and occasionally, for bravely taking the high parts in quartets. After he finished his master’s degree, he even taught Music (along with English and Speech) in a small town in Nebraska, then stayed active in civic choirs through much of his life.

Age 22 in the photo, Uncle Bob, eventually became Dr. Robert B. Harvey, faculty Chair of the Music Department at Merced College in north-central California. He could conduct, and he could really play. It is easy for me picture Bob in his forties, switching roles from professor to player, driving a 1970 Thunderbird toward the Bay Area for a night ‘sitting in’ with Vince Guaraldi in a smoky Menlo Park nightclub, or with Dave Brubeck up in San Francisco.

Uncle Paul, age 24 in the photo, became a college teacher, too, and was a lifelong collector of music. He had an omnivore’s appetite and a specialist’s precision. His main man was the jazz composer, pianist, and cornet master from the 1920s, Bix Beiderbecke. Paul stayed on his chops playing in civic musical projects in his (and Bix’s) hometown of Davenport, Iowa. He was part of a memorial society of fellow Bix enthusiasts.

My mom would always say of dad’s younger brother, Ken, and his wife, my auntie Elaine, “Ken and Elaine were just game! They were up for anything and just fun.” All newly married in the early 1950s, my folks and Ken and Elaine first settled in a tiny, dusty, windy town in Wyoming, keeping each other company and having adventures. Soon, Ken and Elaine would depart for the greater opportunities of 1950s and 60s Denver, and I imagine my uncle, then in his twenties and early-thirties, occasionally stalking the rough and jazzy Denver streets that Kerouac wrote about, sporting all the while an open, eager smile on his face, wishing his brothers were around to take it all in with him.

So, you can see I had my own form of pedigree. Okay, so I was not born to Felix Mendelssohn – not to Liszt – not Dvorak. But I had my opportunities to become a player. I was given lessons on the piano, lots of encouragement, and I always had access to music from diverse genres and avenues. Still, I stunk.

Upon assessment, it is easy to determine that I lacked some simple components to succeed: talent, discipline, and desire. To practice and master and enjoy music – you need a generous combination of all these – and unlike the Harvey boys, I had not a sliver of even one.

So, I could never play, and never even really read music well. I performed as a choir singer, a chorus member and even as a soloist in musicals. I loved being involved in theatre, but I was terrible. If I had a solo, I’d kind of stylize a half singing/half talking improvisation through the number. Gratefully, in large part because of my dad and my uncles, I came to enjoy all kinds of music.

Here’s a song for all four of them, plus one for each of them. These would get the stamp of approval of all the Harvey boys – a swell bunch.

–The Harvey boys could be true blue cool breezes, and they also, “knew from hot air!” What a way to welcome the summer – this is brilliant in every way.



Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra, from Strangers in the Night, (arranged for orchestra and conducted by Nelson Riddle, 1966 Reprise).

–This is a treat and a treasure. All the Harvey boys are gone, but they wouldn’t want anyone to be blue about it.



After You’ve Gone by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (1929).

–Gone too soon, the Harvey boys were not all long lived. Perhaps matters of quality over quantity? Groundbreaking artistically and socially, Bix was likewise a light that burned very bright, but not long. Here is his piano masterpiece:



In A Mist composed and performed by Bix Beiderbecke, solo piano (1928).

–Fun, dignified, graceful, stylish: Duke Ellington.



It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, (composed by Ellington 1931 – performed 1943).

–Hurry up and wait. This one has a hip patience and timelessness.




Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, from Time Out (1959 Columbia Records).

20 june 2014

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Judy writes about Still Alice

Still Alice

Jude on Still Alice:

When I was returning the Kingsolver stinker to the library last  Sunday, I grabbed the book Still Alice, by the same author as Left Neglected. I didn’t purposefully look for this book. That’s the beauty of the South Street library. It’s tiny. A good place to check out the NYTimes book review, or sneak a peek at stars without their makeup in People. It’s not good if you’re looking for a specific book though, they’re almost sure not to have it there if you need it. But you can take a chance on a book. I’ve had great some successes with the book potluck there. So while lurking up and down the aisle, I spied this one and remembered it has been recommended to me. I really expected just to skim until I found my next good read. But it was really good. I think of it as a modern day horror story…50 year old Harvard linguistics professor is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  gah! The book is written from her perspective. It’s so insightful about what it must be like to lose your memory and ability to function and to have your personality and identity slowly slip away. It was a really fast read. I think it was a pretty solid, well written story. Thought provoking… and so on. Worth checking out next time you’ve got a hole in your reading list.
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