Tag Archives: music

“Tom Scarlett”

I played a lot of 18th-century music throughout the writing of BELL WEATHER. Today’s selection is a traditional song called “Tom Scarlett”.


english country dances

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Learn more about BELL WEATHER: A Novel (Henry Holt & Co., 2015)


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New Vinyl: “Vs”

vsIf a fortyish man ever asks you, “Were you a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan?”, you’re talking to a Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam fans never ask this question. Much was made of this early grunge rivalry, which was almost entirely manufactured by posers who pretended they had more cred than other posers. Cobain briefly expressed disdain for Eddie and Co.’s anthemic style, then retracted that disdain, had a nice talk with Eddie on the phone, and said he liked him. What remained was a lot of Nirvana fans who swallowed a media-conjured debate and pretended their favorite Top 40, MTV-darling, Rolling Stone-cover band was, you know, like, realer. But they’re both seminal bands with lots of great tunes, and it’s worth remembering that Pearl Jam (a) jumped off the MTV-video machine with their second album, and (b) gleefully released a genuinely weird and subcultural third LP that cost them legions of casual fans.

Is In Utero better than Vs.? Was Nirvana’s Unplugged more electrifying than Pearl Jam’s Unplugged? I’ll leave those debates to guys who are still trying to prove their Pixies/Westerberg/Sex Pistols taste is cooler than other guys’ Neil Young/Kiss/arena-rock taste.

Vs. is a gangbuster album. There’s so much tension and propulsion in “Go”, “Animal”, and “Rearviewmirror,” and so much heartfelt, oddball pop-hookery in “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, it’s hard to believe the album came from a band who was, at the time, badly dazed by the music world’s ludicrously high expectationsVs. holds up.

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New Vinyl: “As the Stars”

woodsThis was the year I got back into metal. I don’t mean the hair metal I listened to in high school (although I admit to still enjoying the fun idiocy of that genre; rock could use a little more fun idiocy these days). The metal I discovered and rediscovered this year is the quality stuff, beginning with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest — two bands I grossly underappreciated in the past — and continuing on to current bands such as Mastodon. When people talk of metal being a good-riddance flash in the pan, they’re generally talking about the L.A. glam scene of the 80s (Ratt, Posion, Warrant, & co.), but metal is astonishingly vital and current, and has existed as a large, active subculture since the 70s.

Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is a superb primer, and VH1’s documentary series, Metal Evolution, is worth watching start to finish for its exploration of metal as an important artistic genre. You might not like metal music, but both the book and the documentary prove that the genre can’t be dismissed as stupid noise. In the last year, I listened to loads of albums, old and new, and found myself becoming a genuine fan, not from any nostalgic teenage connection with loud guitars, but from a real connection to the music. One great discovery was Woods of Desolation, headed by a musician known simply as D, and his 2014 LP “As the Stars”. It sounds cacophonous at first but quickly unfolds, and blooms, and reveals its layers and melodies. What a thing to hear such a mess of sound and realize it’s actually lovely inside. I bought the vinyl for myself and it just arrived from Germany. Sounds amazing loud.

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New Vinyl: “Trouble Will Find Me”

PrintI have an electric vinyl cleaner, so yes, of course I love The National. But really what I hear in The National isn’t hipster rock but midlife white guy rock. I’m a midlife white guy, so they speak to me. They’re sad and weary, but also cheeky and loose and actually kind of gleeful. It’s tempting to imagine lead singer Matt Berninger as a rumple-suited, quiet depressive writing songs with bourbon at the twilit end of the bar, but God he’s funny in interviews, and he’s married with a kid and seems perfectly happy about that. A Leonard Cohen flavor permeates The National’s music and lyrics, and Leonard Cohen is another guy who can write melancholy bruisers without appearing broken in life. It’s good to have silvering whiskers and think of yourself as an undergrad, or have a decade-plus marriage and still get buzzed from a look at your wife’s bare legs. Somebody said that in the first half of life, we’re figuring out how to live, and in the second half of life, we’re figuring out how to die. The National live in the middle.

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New Vinyl: “Disintegration”

CureDisintegrationIn junior year of high school, a couple of friends and I exchanged copies of The Cure’s “Mixed Up” for Christmas, which was strange because the three of us were metalheads and rarely listened to anything alt or arty. Maybe we instinctually connected with Robert Smith’s theatrical appearance. The dude looked genuinely weird in the most charming, comical way: like Edward Scissorhands singing goth tunes about Wynona Ryder. Plus the singles from the “Disintegration” era were especially good and had memorable videos in heavy rotation. Whatever the explanation, “Mixed Up” was an odd, remixed intro to The Cure’s catalog, and soon I bought a few of the real LPs and got properly hooked.

I received a heavy-vinyl reissue of “Disintegration” for Christmas. It’s split over two records, and that’s good: I’ve been told the original ’89 pressings were iffy because the album is too long for a single disc and the grooves were packed too tight. Here’s my favorite song:

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New Vinyl: “The Meadowlands”

the-meadowlandsFirst up is The Wrens’ “The Meadowlands”. How many times did I play this on CD or MP3 over the last eleven years? Many. We played this album for our now eleven-year-old, electric-guitar-playing son in utero, and I cranked “Everyone Choose Sides” on the car stereo driving home from the hospital several hours after he was born. The Wrens are great guys. My wife and I saw them play a small gig in CT, and then they agreed to play (for free) at a benefit for one of my wife’s friends, who was battling cancer. Both times the band members were personable and low-key, and both shows were terrific. The Wrens are set to release their followup album, at very long last, in 2015. For now, here’s one of my favorite songs off “The Meadowlands”:

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Muffat’s Passacaglia on Vinyl

Writing: Taking a bird’s eye view of my new plot yesterday was a good idea. I see the major holes now and know where to focus.

Nature: Bones found some extremely interesting scent trail in the leaf-strewn yard today. It was more than mere squirrels, though I know not what.

Personal: Taking our son to see WWE tonight. We’re real excited.

muffatYesterday I received a pristine vinyl copy of Georg Muffat’s Sonata No. 5, performed by the London Baroque. The “Passacaglia” movement is one of my favorite classical recordings ever. I played my MP3 version hundreds of times as a mental-centering piece in the years I was writing BELL WEATHER. I consider it the official theme of the novel’s main character, Molly Bell.

Scoring a vinyl copy is a real treat. Most classical labels abandoned vinyl once CDs gained traction in the marketplace, and although vinyl has been making a comeback in rock, pop, electronica, and hip hop, the format is prohibitively expensive for most classical labels, who simply don’t shift enough copies of anything. Because of this, it’s hard finding the classical vinyl I want, especially since I’m finicky. Performances vary hugely, so I might find a copy of another favorite composition, such as Corelli’s Opus 6 Concertos, and reject it because it’s dull, or slow, or played as a Romantic-era piece instead of with the crisper, bouncier spirit of real Baroque.

My point being: I tracked down a vinyl copy of my favorite recording of Muffat’s Sonata No. 5 and I’m super happy. The record sounds superb. (P.S. You can buy the MP3 version of the entire London Baroque album for $5.99 on iTunes.)

I can’t find my preferred version on YouTube, but here’s a pretty good alternative:

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Singing Album Covers

Famous album covers begin to sing in this amazing video, which has a sad ending for people who like vinyl.

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The first of my IRON MAIDEN black vinyl reissues arrived today. Amazon screwed the pooch on my order, sadly, with one part unexplainably shipping late and another part, the “Killers” LP, arriving melted. It looks like someone left it on a hot plate. I suppose it might have been hell fire. A prompt replacement has been requested.

“The Number of the Beast” LP made it safely, thank God.


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