Saturday, January 17, 2004

A lone voice

I just noticed that the film My Baby's Daddy, which I reviewed favorably in Isthmus, has a 5% rating on I.e., 95% of national reviewers who saw it, hated it.

This happens to me from time to time, and when it does, I like to remember Pauline Kael's rave review of Club Paradise, another film everyone hated. Not that I'm Pauline Kael--good lord, no. I just like to remember that honest people sometimes disagree. I did enjoy My Baby's Daddy.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Check me out

I'm playing an acoustic set from 9:00 to 11:00 tonight at the Shamrock, 117 W. Main St. in downtown Madison.

So much for my retirement.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Straight Outta Compton

Tonight I was amused to learn, when I checked the status of Ereck's flight, that the web site for Northwest Airlines is

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

South mouth

So five years after I bought it I finally got around to listening attentively to Robbie Fulks' South Mouth, the 1997 Bloodshot release by the Chicago alt-country notable. And damn. Can that guy write a country song.

I think the first couple of times I threw the disc in I was put off by Fulks' voice, even though upon reflection it is perfectly fine, even great at times. But I've always preferred male country singers with gigantic voices, like Dave Dudley and Conway Twitty, and I initially found Fulks' tenor rather thin in that affected, nasally alt-country sort of way (yes, the way I sing on many of the tracks on the Junkers' Hunker Down CD).

But Martin and I are working on this show that's going to include, among other things, the Fulks/Kelly Hogan duet "Parallel Bars," from Fulks' 2000 release The Very Best of Robbie Fulks. So I listened to that song over and over, and finally the realization hit me: this is terrific. For one thing, Fulks knows the power of the snappy opening line, and "Parallel Bars" has a doozie: "She's got a temper like a Texas storm, my will's strong as brick." "Parallel Bars" is a stellar country duet, funny in the way Twitty and Loretta Lynn's "You're the Reason Our Kids are Ugly" is funny, and Fulks and Hogan belt the hell out of it.

So my new fondness for "Parallel Bars" prompted me to spin up South Mouth, and again: damn. I won't bore you with a track-by-track analysis, but I will observe that just as good first lines for songs are important, so are good first lines for albums, and South Mouth has a great one in the opener of "Goodbye Good Lookin'": "It's hard to know what's on angel's mind."

And I'll also affirm that the one track that leapt out at me the last time I played South Mouth, "Forgotten But Not Gone," is one of the saddest sad country songs I've heard, and if you've heard my song "Warning: Country Music," you know there's nothing I like better than a really sad country song.
But what's he wearing?

New year after new year, few things give me more pleasure than Mr. Blackwell's list of fashion disasters. Apparently His Snideness is ailing, but the ranking this year--his 44th--is his best ever and features turns of phrase so abstract they mean nothing, and everything. Some highlights:

Melanie Griffith: "A botox'd cockatoo in a painting by Dali!"

Celine Dion: "Abe Lincoln in drag?"

And my favorite, which falls quintessentially in the category of I-have-no-idea-what-he-means / I-know-exactly-what-he-means:

Diane Keaton: "Could be Queen Victoria on jury duty!"

I think that on the sad day Mr. Blackwell finally passes into the great catty beyond, Ryan Seacrest should take this gig, too.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Live characters weekly

It's the end of an era. Last night #1 Dad played its final Sunday show at the Crystal Corner, and so ended a stint that began--I've just confirmed, in a bit of archival research--March 10, 2002.

The show was a smash, the best birthday gift I could have asked for. A good thing, too: the #1 Dad show has been a bit of a drag for me for some time, and apparently for audiences as well. Attendance was down from the insane peaks of a year or so ago, when throngs packed the bar, drank like fish and danced like pagans. At least that's the way I remember it.

And so it came down to January 11. The old guard of fans was out in force. It was like "This Is Your Life": someone was there to represent every phase of my country-music career, even a healthy contingent of Benders fans from the heady days of 1999. A dedicated group from Chicago drove up that included the other member of the Anderson Brothers, the Windy City duo that was my first country project.

Ed Larson and I played our hearts out. Almost every song we performed was a tribute to someone we love--for Pat we played "Cowboy La Cage Aux Folles"; for Bob, "Stranger in the House"; and for #1 Dad we played "Family Tradition," which, improbably, emerged sometime back as our unofficial theme song. We played my own stuff, some Willie stuff, some Waylon stuff, some Jerry Reed, and my favorite George Jones song (maybe my favorite song, period), "She Thinks I Still Care."

We started with "King of the Road" and signed off with "The Race Is On," and standing ovations called us back for two encores. The first was "I Saw The Light," and the dance floor was packed, just like in the old days.

During the second encore something extraordinary happened, perhaps the most extraordinary thing I've seen in the nine or so years I've played live music. Someone requested "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and so #1 Dad did what we usually do with that song: play it in a medley with "Daddy Sang Bass" and thereby emphatically answer the Carter Family's question: "No, the circle won't be broken."

People were still dancing, singly and in pairs. Then, inexorably, one by one, the dancers put their arms around each others' shoulders and formed a circle that rotated slowly. The circle was small at first, three or four people, and then grew to fifteen or twenty people--many of them strangers to each other--rocking and swaying and spinning. It was magical. It perfectly summed up what all these years of entertainment have taught me: the power of music to bring people together. Like #1 Dad itself, the dance was a little wacky, a little ironic, a little unironic. The circle will, indeed, not be broken.

After we were done playing, person after person came up to shake my hand and hug me and thank me for the music and the memories. It was a gorgeous, moving night for me, and #1 Dad--and, for now, my career playing music on a regular basis--could not have concluded on a better note.

And this morning: my back ached and my head hurt with what I came to accept some time ago as my Monday morning secondhand-smoke hangover. I'm not going to miss the smoke, and although part of me feels foolish and ungrateful to walk away from what every local musican wants--regular work--some part of me knows I'm making the right decision.

Viva #1 Dad!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Winter sports

It's that time again, yes, time for me to step into these and skate around and around Tenney Park lagoon. My skates--new last season--are nicely broken in now, and with any luck there will not be a repeat of the pain and bleeding I experienced when I skated in them last year.

It has been a mild winter, so when perfect skating conditions hit yesterday the lagoon was teeming with people. Many of them were probably, like me, getting in their first Tenney Park skating this winter. The warming hut was bustling; I've never seen it so crowded with youths wielding hockey sticks and tiny children unsteady on tiny skates. I had to hunt to find a place to put my boots.

I strapped on my skates, and I was off! It took a moment or two to get my ice legs, and then I headed west along Johnson Street. After only a moment or two of skating I began to feel mild discomfort in my legs, but today they are, remarkably, not the least bit sore.

I got in a good half hour. It can take fully ten minutes to make the entire circuit of the lagoon, especially if you're skating at a leisurely clip, as I was. On a busy day like yesterday, there also are plenty of pickup hockey games to slow progress (I saw at least four); it's best to skate cautiously around these and, hopefully, thereby avoid a puck to the face. I also paused and watched the hockey action several times because I'm trying to learn some skating tips, and hockey players are great skaters.

Tenney Park usually sees a few Peggy Fleming types as well. I watched one girl execute an arabesque that was flawless, except she was not under her own steam--two friends pulled her across the ice as she locked her leg up in the air behind her. Keep working, Peggy!

My goal this winter is to learn to skate backward.

I've said it before: ice skating on Tenney Park lagoon is one of my favorite three or four things about Madison, Wisconsin.