I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
On the day after Thanksgiving, my sister Liz promised to take me to a soup place in Tacoma that served up something like twelve different varieties every day, including many exotic flavors (she showed me their website, and it made my mouth water). So I was anticipating something new and exciting like roasted jalapeno or watermelon gazpacho or Ethiopian spiced greens... you get the idea. Sadly, when we arrived at our destination we discovered that they had closed for the entire long Thankisgiving weekend-- no soup for me, at least there (by the way, peering in the window, the place did kind of resemble the Soup Nazi's stand from Seinfeld, further adding to my disappointment). So we ended up at a little cafe a little ways away, where the soup options were chicken noodle and clam chowder. I had the former, and it was okay, but virtually identical to every other bowl of chicken noodle I've had over the years (a dead ringer, in fact for the bowl I had in Missoula just a few weeks back). Believe me, when your mouth is getting all droolly at the prospect of some Ecuadorian peanut soup, chicken noodle is just not going to cut it. Luckily, this place also offered pie, and in particular a sour cream lemon pie, that almost made up for the humdrum soup selection. I doubt I would've got pie at the other place, so in the end, I reckon I came out close to even-- and I can still look forward to going to the soup place on my next visit. By then my expectations will likely rise to the level where I have to sample two or three of their specialties. So you can look forward to a really long diary entry after I get back to Tacoma.
I'm not sure if it's all the snow we've had on the nearby mountains (casting a somewhat Alpine air on the Beaverhead Valley) but this week's Top Five List from Dr. John's Record Shelf may make you long for the slopes of southcentral Europe:
Here's the Searchers version of "When You Walk Into the Room" which helped them take their first round contest in the current Battle of the Bands on Dr. John's Record Shelf. The Searchers, as you'll be able to tell from this song, were kind of the British version of the Byrds, what with all the jangly guitar and folk-rock licks. The song, by the way, was written by Jackie DeShannon, whose own version is pretty cool too...
I didn't take as many pictures on my recent trip to the Northwest as I would have hoped, mainly because the weather was pretty bad, which made driving anywhere kind of treacherous. But I did get out for a morning with my sister Liz, and we went down by the Tacoma waterfront, where these first two shots were taken.
This third picture was taken in a small park with a big pond in it. I liked the play of colors-- blue sky, green trees, golden brush. What's weird is that there was no sign of snow, although just a couple days earlier, it was virtually impossible to see anything but white. Hopefully on my next visit, I'll get out and about a bit more for a wider range of pictures.
Round One of The Battle of the Bands to determine the great British rock and roll group of the sixties and early seventies is winding down on my radio show, Dr. John's Record Shelf. Last night we had the penultimate match-ups, from the Pop Bracket, in which Herman's Hermits (seeded no. 4) took down the Shadows (13) by a 7-4 vote, while the Searchers (5) eked out a victory over Status Quo (12) by a score of 6-5.
This week's songs included "When You Walk Into the Room" by the Searchers; "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo; "I'm Into Something Good" by Herman's Hermits; and "Apache" by the Shadows. This means that the Searchers will face Herman's Hermits in Round Two. Next week, we'll wrap up the first round with the last two Pop Bracket pairings, including one involving the presumptive favorites in the whole competition, the Beatles. Check back next Monday to see how the Fab Four makes out.
I like this idea from the great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864); good advice for anyone to follow:
"It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate."
I think a strong argument could be made that Bill Mauldin was the greatest of all American cartoonists. He first came to fame depicting his fellow soldiers in World War II for Stars and Stripes and other military papers, winning the Pulitzer Prize when he was still in the service (and still in his early twenties).
After the war he became an editorial cartoonist, winning another Pulitzer for his work in that area. The guy sure knew how to combine humor, compassion, and beautiful artwork to convey a message that spoke to the common humanity of both his subjects and his audience. He also wrote several really good books about his experiences-- especially The Brass Ring, a memoir of his wartime experiences.
One really gets a sense of what it was like to be stationed in the front lines of the war from his World War II cartoons, and he certainly provides a perspective that isn't always that found in the more traditional histories-- which is incredibly valuable, so I hope he and his work is never forgotten.
I never posted the results of last week's Battle of the Bands matchups, so let's rectify that now. You'll recall that on my radio show, Dr. John's Record Shelf, we're trying to determine the greatest British (or Commonwealth) rock and roll group of the period 1960-1974. Last Sunday, we polished off the Teddy Boy Bracket, with Bachman-Turner Overdrive (seeded 10) upsetting Them (7) by a 9-2 margin, while Cream (2) knocked off Marmalade (15) 8-3.
The songs in competition last week were "You ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by BTO, "Here Comes the Night" by Them, "Strange Brew" by Cream, and Reflections of My Life" by Marmalade. This wraps up Round One in the Teddy Boy Bracket, so Round Two will look like this: Rolling Stones (1) vs. Mott the Hoople (8); Free (12) vs. Manfred Mann (4); Black Sabbath (6) vs. the Animals (3); and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (10) vs. Cream (2). If you like to suggest songs to represent any of these groups in the next round, feel free to do so in the comments (remember, they can't be represented by the songs used in previous rounds). Round One will conclude next Sunday, and after that I'll start making decisions about the tunes that will comprise Round 2.
Apparently some readers use this site to monitor my whereabouts (and not in a sinister way). So this is just a quick note to let you know I'll be on the road again tomorrow (and possible Sunday morning). So the next posts here ought to pop up on Sunday night.
Someone here is making a point, but I've distorted the image by passing it through a couple Photoshop filters. Let's see some guesses-- no, let's see a lot of guesses!-- on who this budding orator is. You can put those guesses in the comments section.
Last week, I asked whose lips were lingering behind Nik's head, and Mom correctly identified them as Natalie's. I kind of had to give you an easy one after stumping the team the previous two weeks. Let's see if anyone can nail this week's question!
I had a great Thanksgiving dinner out at my sister Liz's yesterday. In case you need proof of just how full we all got, here's are "before and after" shots of me, Marenka and Gerik. Note that we ate soooo much that we actually had to change clothes once we were finished with our dinner! Special thanks to Liz and Richard for doing most of the cooking-- I hope I can come back next year too (I think that'll give me enough time to clear some space in my stomach).
If you saw Lizzie's comment on the previous post, you know I made it safely to the great Northwest, despite some inclement weather. It should be an easier return trip-- but I've still got a couple days to relax. I hope everyone has a great holiday and enjoys the turkey (or whatever you may be eating) today!
Posting will be light to non-existent for about a week, as I head off to enjoy the holidays with family. Please come back next Sunday for new stuff; and in the meantime, feel free to go back and throw up some comments on past posts, or to take a shot at the quiz.
You can tell this video hails from the early days of MTV, with its lame attempt at creating a narrative that has little to do with the song (I'm pretty sure the bride is Lowe's then-wife Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter and Carl Smith, and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash). But that song is a good one, and the sound quality is high, so give it a listen:
Here are a few more shots from my trip to Spain. Above is the royal palace in Madrid. Or maybe it's the government building that sits opposite the palace-- I'm afraid I don't remember (and I believe the two buildings look pretty similar).
One of the most memorable spots we visited was the Museum of Torture, located in a basement right across the street from the cathedral in Toledo. I believe this was where many of the "confessions" were elicited during the inquisition and there were plenty of tools on display-- like the suspended cage above-- that no doubt helped prompt the heretics.
I can't remember the name of this street, but it was in the heart of the financial and government district in Madrid. I really liked the winged figure on the top of the building in the center.
I know that Nat King Cole isn't normally associated with rock and roll, but his early trio sides sure have a lot in common with the likes of Louis Jordan and Roy Brown-- so let's give him some credit as one of the grandfathers of rock. You can hear what I mean in this cut:
Here's a nice picture of Nik and his big blue eyes. The question is, who is holding him (the owner of the lips in the upper left corner)? Put your guesses in the comments section.
Last week, I stumped you all again. The question was who the crossed eyes belonged to, and the correct answer was Raechelle (which nobody guessed-- see below). That's two stumpers in a row for me-- let's see if you can't do better this week!
Howl, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is a weird hybrid of a movie, which actually seems entirely appropriate to its subject. Unfortunately, it falls a bit short of generating the kind of excitement the presentation seems designed to elicit. I'm inclined to think that the filmmakers wanted to create something truly poetic, to match the accomplishment of Allen Ginsberg with his masterpiece, the poem that gives this movie its title. And much of what's on-screen really does suggest the visceral impact of that poem, through a re-creation of the famed reading by Ginsberg in San Francisco back in 1955, and animated sequences that do a fair job of approximating the dream-like imagery Ginsberg's words call forth. Even the segments of Ginsberg being interviewed, inter-cut with the other material, work to emphasize the personal vision from which the poem was born. But there's a fourth component that, while on its own terms is pretty compelling too, kind of upsets the overall balance. That part, comprised of testimony offered in the obscenity trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Howl's publisher), creates a narrative anchor that doesn't quite gibe with the rest of the film, kind of reeling it in as a concession to literal clarity that operates almost at cross purposes with the rest of the piece. This is hardly a fatal flaw-- I imagine it may have been necessary to secure either funding or distribution-- but it does inhibit what might've been a truly transcendent piece of avant-garde art (if not quite to the level of the poem itself). It's still well worth seeing, for the reasons mentioned plus the fine performance of James Franco as Ginsberg, and the job he does especially in channeling the poet's measured emotion in the reading of Howl. The trial scenes too include a number of excellent acting turns, by Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban and others. I kind of wish this had been split into two movies-- the material is certainly rich enough to justify that.
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) may have been the scientist most in tune with the general public, by which I mean he could communicate complex ideas in a clear and even entertaining way (plus, he was a baseball fan, so he gets extra points from me). Here's an example:
"Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within."
There really was no group that really sounded like the Fugs. Maybe the Holy Modal Rounders came close, but not really. Here's a song off the second Fugs album from 1966 that on the surface isn't very representative of their oeuvre (being considerably less confrontational than most of their songs), except that it is in its own way totally unique, just like everything else they did. Good stuff.
Apparently, sometime earlier today I surpassed the 10,000 visitor mark to this blog (actually pageviews, but I think that kind of amounts to the same thing, right?). In any case, thanks to everyone who checks in-- I hope it was worth your time!
I've been a bit tardy on a couple of the regular features this week, but no way am I forgetting about Toonerville Thursday! Today, the focus is on one of Fontaine Fox's greatest creations: the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang. Enjoy.
Here are four more shots from my trip to Spain back in '88 (recently scanned and digitized). Above is another angle on the cathedral in Toledo, which was a truly awesome structure, both inside and out. Sadly, I don't have any interior shots (I'm trying to remember if the camera I was using even had a flash).
This is the main square in Alcala de Henares, where Catherine and I were staying with my brother Nick. This is Cervantes hometown, and that's a statue of the author in the middle of the square. Every night, virtually the entire community converges on this spot to socialize, shop, eat, and generally hang out. It's a pretty neat custom that I wish were more common in this country.
These last two images are different views of the ancient Roman aqueducts that dominate the center of Segovia. Twenty plus years ago, they looked like they could still handle the job of delivering water to the city, and I bet that's still true today.
I was looking for a clip of the Patti Smith Group's appearance on Saturday Night back in the mid-seventies, when they performed a truly killer version of "Gloria." Alas, I couldn't locate that one, but this is nearly as good-- not as incendiary, but much newer and just as compelling (even without her band). I think I'd put Patti at the top of the list of performers I'd most like to see live and hope I get the opportunity some day.
For some reason, a huge number of Americans buy into the canard that Democrats are spendthrifts, even though the evidence shows that to be largely untrue. In fact, just the opposite, Republican administrations pretty much always outspend their Democratic counterparts. The information in this article from The Atlantic, has been in circulation for years, but somehow it never seems to circulate more widely than among those likely to read magazines like The Atlantic (and that doesn't mean that The Atlantic only appeals to those of a particular political persuasion, but that it is aimed at an audience with better than fifth-grade reading capabilities). Some might say this is misleading because Congress authorizes spending, not the president, but that's only true with respect to process-- the chief executive is responsible for formulating and submitting a budget, and while its true Congress can add to it, the odds of creating a deficit increase considerably based on the president-approved starting point-- which tends to be top heavy with military allocations regardless of the administration. It sounds like some of the new arrivals in Washington are actually promising to look at that component of the federal budget, and I hope they follow through. But to be honest, I fully expect them to cave in to the same same bogus arguments that have worked to scuttle serious economic oversight of the Pentagon for generations (and in that regard, party affiliation seems irrelevant). Maybe if they all go back and read Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address, that might shake them up a bit.
I don't really buy the notion that all politicians are evil or crooks, but there's definitely truth in this statement from the great Irish novelist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745):
"...whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together."
I usually feature a song from among the winners each week from our Battle of the Bands, but I thought it would be more fun to watch a little bit of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band (who were crushed by Led Zeppelin in the competition). These guys were good musicians, but seemed more interested in having a laugh, and even had connections with the guys in Monty Python. In fact, Neil Innes, the lead singer on this cut, would later form the Rutles with Eric Idle. The Rutles were the best ever Beatles parody band, but that's not the only Fab Four connection-- "Urban Spaceman" was produced by none other than Paul McCartney. Enjoy:
I'm a day late getting this posted, but here are this week's results in the Battle of the Bands playing out on my radio show, Dr. John's Record Shelf. Our goal, which we ought to reach sometime next May, is to find out the greatest British (or Commonwealth) rock and roll band of the period 1960 to 1974.
We finished up the Empire Bracket this week, with four pairings that led to the following decisions: Led Zeppelin (no. 1 seed) clobbered the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band (16) by a 9-1 score; The Zombies (8) squeaked by Derek & the Dominoes (9) 5-4; the Small Faces (5) held off Emerson, Lake & Palmer (12); and the Dave Clark Five (4) took care of Gerry & the Pacemakers (13) by a 7-2 margin.
The Dave Clark Five
The songs in competition this week were as follows: "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin; "Urban Spaceman" by the Bonzos; "Time of the Season" by the Zombies; and Layla" by the Dominoes. Also, we heard: "Talk to You" by the Small Faces; "Lucky Man" by ELP; "Glad All Over" by the DC5; and "How Do You Do It" by the Pacemakers.
As mentioned above, this completes Round 1 in the Empire Bracket, so here are the Round 2 matchups (which will play out after Christmas): Led Zeppelin vs. the Zombies; the Small Faces vs. the Dave Clark Five; Jethro Tull vs. the Bee Gees; and Badfinger vs. the Kinks. Needless to say, we'll keep you posted on the results right here.
Arthur Hays Sulzburger (1891-1968) was the publisher of the New York Times back in the mid twentieth century, so you might say he has a vested interest in the validity of this statement. That doesn't make it any less true:
"Obviously, a man's judgment cannot be better than the information on which he has based it. Give him the truth and he may still go wrong when he has the chance to be right, but give him no news or present him only with distorted and incomplete data, with ignorant, sloppy or biased reporting, with propaganda and deliberate falsehoods, and you destroy his whole reasoning processes, and make him something less than a man."
I think the Undertones are the best band to ever come out of Ireland (and that includes U2). I just wish they'd been a bit more prolific in their day, or not broken up so soon (though I think I read that they've recently regrouped). Here's one of their late seventies classics:
Here are three more recent photos than those in the previous post. These were taken this past weekend while I was up in Helena. Above is a shot looking out over the northwest part of the city from Mt. Helena Park. The prominent buildings in the foreground comprise the campus of Carroll College.
This picture was actually taken about fifteen miles east of Helena, on the banks of the Missouri River at a spot called Clark's Ferry Landing.
Last is a shot of the moon behind the spires of the Cathedral of St. Helena. I caught sight of this view as I was heading out of the city, and pulled over to take this picture. I'm glad I did, as I think it turned out pretty good.