Tag Archives: Wilco

From The Vault Friday: (I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass

I love the sound of breaking glass
Deep into the night
I love the sound of its condition
Flyin’ all around

The words and melodies of English songwriter Nick Lowe first came to me in the same sweet period as Patti Smith Group, Elvis Costello and The Ramones. Not an unusual story I guess, since all those artists were roughly grouped together in one way or another in the late seventies. Except of course that I wasn’t yet born, so the possibility of being on trend was something of an impossibility. Let’s fast forward. It was about 1989 or 1990, which would have made me eight or nine years old, small framed and freckle-skinned and relieved to have finally grown out the bowl-cut hair disaster of 1987. My favourite item of clothing was a pair of acid wash jeans with floral patches.

I was showing the first signs of some kind of obsessive compulsive music disorder, which was mostly evidenced by the number of times I’d recorded The B-52’s Love Shack on a 120 minute VHS cassette just so I could play it back to back, again and again, in some sort of vague hope that if I watched Kate Pierson enough I’d eventually become her. I must have been driving my parents insane.

Although I’m not too reliable on the memory front – most of my high school years, my senior year excluded, have become a forgettable blur and all of my time at university is a jumble of interchangeable semesters – the period I discovered Nick Lowe is a sunset polaroid: white-framed and golden and permanent. I remember lying awake at night, all night, listening to the radio. I remember my sister’s constant frustration from the bunk above that I wouldn’t turn it off. I remember our lilac painted bedroom, red navigation lights flashing on a not too distant sea outside the window.

We lived in a three bedroom brick veneer home that must have been built in about 1975. It had all the suburban ugliness that that decade would allow. Brown faux wood laminate bench tops, copper coloured door handles, orange carpet… in the kitchen. And living in that space, it seems perfect now to recall that wedded though I was to the chart hits of the day, I was also in the first flush of a love affair with our parent’s haphazard, late seventies skewed record collection and quietly raiding it whenever I got the chance.

Some kids had parents who were precious about things like LPs, but fortunately for me, Ma and Pa’s many drunken parties had meant that almost all the albums (especially the good ones) were scratched beyond belief and I could explore without fear of discipline. Hell, they were hippies. I did everything without fear of discipline. And so away I went, thumbing through vinyl and marveling at the soft hum of the record player and getting musical crushes that would last longer than I could ever have imagined.

Cue: That Summer! The soundtrack to a 1979 film I’ve never seen but whose songs have stayed with me for more than twenty years. The album featured Elvis Costello ‘Watching The Detectives’ and ‘(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’, Patti Smith Group ‘Because The Night’, Wreckless Eric ‘Whole Wide World’, The Ramones ‘Rockaway Beach’ and Nick Lowe’s brilliant ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.

I (loved) (loved) (loved) ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.

It goes like this:

The thrill of the piano trill against the driving bass and the beguiling, detached delivery of an almost pleading lyric:

I love the sound of breaking glass
Especially when I’m lonely
I need the noises of destruction
When there’s nothing new

I’m in New York at the moment and Nick Lowe is everywhere, enjoying a kind of popular resurgence off the back of a new album, an aptly titled return to form called ‘The Old Magic’ and about to play a much publicized North American tour with Wilco. Along with all the many things I look forward to getting around to in this city (thrifting, drinking, getting a tan) I can’t wait to hear the sound of breaking glass.

If you are stateside, you can check out the Nick Lowe/ Wilco tour dates here.

If you would like to download the That Summer! soundtrack, it is available here.

And if you would like to hear more vintage Nick Lowe…

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Mid-week Mixtape: Walker Takes Five

Some Fun Facts About Sydney musician/writer/party boy Jason Walker

*His album Ceiling Sun Letters is excellent
*He’s the walking wiki of all things country music
*If you are at a party with him and there’s a guitar around, you can request almost any song and there’s a 99.9% chance he knows how to play it
*If you risk going for a beer with him at the Townie until closing time, there’s a 99.9% chance he will drink you under the table
*He was a recurring extra in the popular Australian soap E Street
*He put together this week’s Mid-week Mixtape
*And (here’s the plug) he’s joining Perry Keyes, Bek-Jean Stewart and a whole bunch of other talented musicians from the Laughing Outlaw Records roster on stage tomorrow night at Notes for a festive extravaganza

Judee Sill – Jesus Was A Crossmaker

It’s possible to write reams about the Californian music scene of the early 1970s – a time when songwriters openly experimented with spirituality, psychedelic drugs and blending a number of musical ideas. In Judee’s case, she embraced Christian mysticism, folk and country, a healthy dose of romantic longing and a passion for the music of Bach. This song is an ode to the dashing troubadour JD Souther, who stole then trampled Sill’s heart. A beautiful and haunting ballad for a heartbreaker.

Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris and the Fallen Angels – Return Of The Grievous Angel

Sort of an obvious choice, this. It’s been described as an icon of ‘new’ country music or alt.country or whatever you want to call it. Not because it was written for any one audience, I would imagine. It’s better to imagine that it unifies the intricacy of the personal singer/songwriter ethos with a traditional country melodic structure. It’s a pretty stunning song lyrically too, though the lyrics were written by a Boston poet named Tom Brown. Gram wrote the tune and with the help of Emmylou Harris (and Elvis Presley’s band), he navigates the ironic depths the lyrics suggest without being too heavy on the melancholy. Ultimately, it’s just a cool country song.



The Jayhawks – Waitin’ For the Sun

I first stumbled across this Minneapolis group in 1989 while leafing through the reviews in Rolling Stone. They said The Jayhawks were the band for anyone who loved Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I nipped out and bought it and loved it. By the time the album that this song came out on (Hollywood Town Hall, 1991) was released, the Jayhawks had become my favourite band. Fun fact: the guy who made this video later directed a video for a band that I used to be in, Golden Rough. I thoroughly recommend their later albums, Tomorrow The Green Grass, Rainy Day Music and Sound of Lies.



Wilco – Impossible Germany

This group has, despite criticism from die-hard fans who think they should have stuck to the style of their first two albums, musically transcended any notion of shitty genre restrictions. They rock. And no, they’re not the “American Radiohead” either.



The Band – King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

King Harvest is essential North American music – rural, funky and soulful. I can’t think of many bands from this era or the current crop who have three amazing lead singers with such knowledge of blues, country, rock and pop styles. Their songs are genius and the musicality of Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson is astonishing.

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Night thoughts on Wilco / For Adrian, Whoever You Are

Sometimes you can burn the candle at both ends. Other times you can’t be bothered with the ends and take a blowtorch to the whole damn thing. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done to the candle, but I do know that tonight, in the safe and secluded, completely unprotected and unprivate realm of radio, I became the melted candle. Am I tired? Am I distracted? Am I too caught up in Australian politics to focus on the minor chords and harmonicas at hand? I don’t know. What I do know is that although I had a program to put to air, I could barely string a sentence together and operated the panel like a toddler having a first time encounter with a Fisher Price xylophone. To make it more embarrassing, the old adage “the show must go on” seemed to evade me in favour of the Sylvia Plath confessional mode of broadcasting, also known as “Don’t just make mistakes, draw attention to them, and then recall them later in the show for anyone who missed out”. Fun times, y’all!

Now anyone who has ever hosted a radio show will know, sometimes it’s really hard to let the mistakes go. As in life, you tend to dwell on the things it would be better to forget about. Ordinarily, this would have led to a sleepless night and/or an unwholesome and unnecessary evening on the tiles. But, as in life, just as friends are sweet and kind and help you forget about your troubles, radio listeners are sweet and kind and can also help you forget about events that might otherwise keep you up in the wee small hours. This is where the Adrian of this post comes in to the picture.

FBi Radio has a text line that allows listeners to get in touch with broadcasters. Sometimes listeners request songs, other times they ask you to “get this honky-tonk shit off the air” and more times than I ever thought possible they tell you (based on no evidence other than the way you talk into a microphone) you are “the one”. Adrian, bless his heart, did none of these things. But he did sms the studio, in the peak of my meltdown, with this little bit of encouragement:

“I think u and ur show r pretty swell. Would love to know wat ur fav Wilco track is. Wawawooo!”

Wilco! Wawawooo! The perfect distraction. Enough deconstructing the show. Enough. What the hell is my favourite Wilco track? This could take hours. Adrian, how did you know?

Of course, because I love excess and shades of grey, it is impossible for me to have a single favourite track. But here are some night thoughts on the Wilco songs that I always return to.

Reservations

Is it the perfect angst lovers lament? The repeated outro “it’s not about you, it’s not about you, it’s not about you”, says yes. The gentle chimes in this live video, the near silence of the crowd, the slow, sweet rain, the almost spoken “I’ve always been distant/ and I’ve always told lies for love”. It’s the best and worst song to listen to if you’re in a relationship, and also the best and worst song to listen to if you’re no longer in one. Does that make it the top contender for the best Wilco song? Probably.

Jesus, Etc

The aching strings, the bittersweet optimism, “Tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs to two chords/ Strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around”. Do I dare disturb the universe and write anymore? If I was going to cover a Wilco song, Jesus, Etc. would be the likely song of choice. Except of course, that bloody Norah Jones has already beaten me to it. I’m not even a Norah a fan but the strength of the song stands. And she’s so damn cute.

Another Man’s Done Gone

I love all the songs Wilco took the lead on for their Billy Bragg collaborative tribute to Woody Guthrie, Mermaid Avenue. Committed as I am to the Church of Billy Bragg, there is a tenderness in Tweedy’s voice that Billy can’t match. I don’t know if it’s the pain killers or whatever other mythologised self-destructive path young Jeff happened to be stumbling down at the time of recording, the way he sings Another Man’s Done Gone, is just so felt and so sad. In this video, poised in front of the American flag, with the talented and sadly ‘done gone’ Jay Bennett beside him, I’m reminded that sometimes the best songs have the simplest arrangements.

And now it’s 1.33AM. And I am reminded that I should go to bed. What are you favourite Wilco songs? What is your favourite Wilco record? Do your favourites stay the same or evolve as you go through different life experiences? Adrian?

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Country music confessional

Flannel shirts, failed romance, heartache, heartbreak and sad, sad songs. All the reasons I’m a sucker for country.

I know it isn’t fashionable. Country is just about the daggiest style of music an otherwise self-respecting young woman could have chosen to embrace. It’s tragic – like being a 27 year-old collector of Tupperware or VIP customer at Copperart. It’s the soundtrack of choice for dingy American diners and dimly lit highway truck stops. It doesn’t have the brazen rebelliousness of punk, or the art school precociousness of indie rock or the forthright sexuality of pop. The genre is defined by the nasal twang of the singer and slow walking swagger of the band. It’s country music – it’s about loneliness, loss, and line dancing. And I like it.

My music tastes have not always been this way. I have not always been a fan. I used to be one of those cynical cool kids who thought that country music, littered with hideously sequined Tammy Wynette clones and silver bearded Kenny Rogers types, was not for me. Sure I liked the bedazzlar, stone-wash denim and spiral perms as much as any child of the eighties, but I was never going to listen to Dolly Parton. No amount of Billy Ray Cyrus mulletude could make me trade ballet for boot skooting. For me, country music was always considered tacky and trashy. Even my parents – whose tastes included a passion for Australiana decor and home-made Jenny Kee knitwear – had the good sense to be fans of other musical genres.

As a kid, I spent most my childhood living in small rural areas, so most people make the assumption that it must have been the seventeen years I spent in towns without traffic lights that secured a love for country music. This is not the case. In my formative years I was a full-fledged pop fan with the Kylie Minogue cassingles and the ra-ra skirt to prove it. Growing up, the only hints of the country enthusiast within was a fairly well rehearsed cover version of the Alannah Myles song “Black Velvet” and a one-time yodeling gig in my primary school eisteddfod where, armed with a hot head of freshly crimped hair and some seriously disturbing white patent leather cowboy boots, my attention seeking soul got the better of my good taste. Now, these are the embarrassing details of decidedly naff childhood, but they could belong to any performative ten year old growing up in the early nineties.

No, this love for country music is something relatively new – something that didn’t hit me until my early twenties, when I started listening to the moderately successful new generation of artists now widely referred to under the sub-genre of “alternative country”. In the alt-country world performers like Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy and Lucinda Williams wooed their audiences with harrowing harmonicas and harmonies and tales of eternal heartbreak. They labeled themselves “country” but were a dark contrast to the more popular country stars like Shania Twain or Keith Urban. Archetypal alt-country bands like Wilco and Whiskeytown represented a seedier side to country – less spray tanned, less gaudy, more Neil Young than Nashville factory line.

And so I became a fan. And the more I listened to alt-country, the more I grew to accept other types of country. And the more I came to accept country music as a whole genre, the more I realised I had crossed a neon lit, barn dancing, gin swilling point of no return, signified by a proposed road trip to the Tamworth music festival and the needless ownership of three pairs of cowboy boots.

Perhaps it is because I now live in the city and the music is a nostalgic reminder of home – a place of open landscapes and dusty paddocks and tumbleweeds. Perhaps it is because I am steadfastly heading towards my late-twenties and my taste has been blurred by the onset of premature wrinkles and a career crisis. Perhaps. I know on some level I could try and justify my love, try to defend the genre from accusations of hillbillyness, try to make it worthy, trendy, ironically cool. But I know in my heart, I cannot and do not want to. It’s country music – it’s music that by very definition is quintessentially uncool. And even though I am often embarrassed to admit it – I have to write it down… I like it.

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