I’m Fine

Image result for griot bluesA common bit of dialogue in the English-speaking world:

Hey, Joe, how are you?

I’m fine, thanks,  What about you?

I’m fine too.

Now that the two have gotten the preliminaries out of the way, they can proceed to having a good talk.

I’ve lately been trying to find another way to answer the question “How are you?”; some version of which is heard in just about every meeting of two people.  If I took the time to answer the question truthfully it would take twenty minutes and be boring and depressing.  Does anyone actually want to know the truth?  My niece says she does.

My most recent ploy is to use phrases borrowed from song lyrics.  Here are the two phrases I’ve tried thus far.

The first is from Drunk As a Skunk ¹ off the album Griot Blues by Mighty Mo Rogers and Baba Sissoko.  The song starts with a one-sided conversation between Baba and Mo, then poses an eternal question, “I’m in love and what can I do?”  Another good line spoken by Mo just before the end of the song:  “She’s breakin’ my heart, but it’s a good break.”  The line I’ve tried to use when asked how I am is:

If it gets any worse, I’ll be in a hearse.

This hasn’t worked so well.  It just invites more questions, and I quickly have to admit that I’m not serious, and that I just wanted to use the lyric in a conversation.

The second line is from Ghost Woman Blues ² from the album Smart Flesh by The Low Anthem.

I ain’t no lamp, but my wick is burning low.

This also doesn’t work so well.  It just causes worry on the part of the other person and a desire to know more about why I’m so down; not to mention tons of advice on what I should do to fight off my black dogs of depression and insomnia.

I think I need to look for some lyrics that are more upbeat.  Maybe something from The Sound Of Music.  Someone asks me how I am and I reply

The hills are alive with the sound of music.

I can try it but somehow I don’t think it will work.



¹ Listen to the song here:  Drunk As a Skunk

² Listen to the song here:  Ghost Woman Blues




The Mighty Pen

Keep Me Singing
Keep Me Singing

From Van Morrison’s The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword:

You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the law
Every man is me, every man is you
I can’t tell you what you have to do
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword

westFrom Lucinda Williams’ Word:

Screaming and throwing your weight around
My words choose knowledge over politics
You can’t kill my words… they know no bounds
My words are strong and they don’t make me sick.

They still remain my only companion
Boiling truth to the very end
They’ll never ever completely abandon
Ever give up the paper and the pen

Can’t Go Back

The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA.  Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea.  It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer.  I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week.  That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent.  Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

field songsAnyway, the music is great.  It makes up for the absence of beer.  William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago.  He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa.  I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011.  Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo.  The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument.  I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to.  I especially like the banjo songs.

I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015.  On this album, he plays with a band.  This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.

Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away

He has some stuff on YouTube.



Let’s Enjoy the Day


If you’re not enjoying the day, check out Amanda Martinez’s song Let’s Dance.  It can make your day.  Let’s Dance is on her album Mañana.  The album is chock full of good songs.  Another wonderful song to perk up your day is Que Bonita Es Esta Vida.  Also Va Y Vienne.

Here are a few words from Let’s Dance:

Don’t wait
Take time today and celebrate
Until another moment
This one’s ours to claim
Until another sunset, let’s enjoy the day

Chávez Ravine

You may know about Chávez Ravine if you are a baseball fan, or if you are old enough to have been following baseball in the early 1960’s, or if you were a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, or if you or your family once lived in Chávez Ravine, or if you’re a hardcore Ry Cooder fan.  My family never came close to Chávez Ravine.  We’re blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians who rarely strayed from the Mid-West much less into big cities like Los Angeles.  I do fit all the other criteria for knowing about Chávez Ravine.

Years ago I borrowed Ry Cooder’s album Chávez Ravine from the library.  I was recently reminded of the album when I stumbled upon one of its songs while browsing in iTunes.  The album is a concept album that tells about the city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers destroying a Mexican-American community in order to build a baseball stadium.

The first song on Cooder’s album is Poor Man’s Shangri-la.  I don’t know if it was a Shangri-la but in the 1940’s

the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles.

The city designated the area as blighted and moved forward with plans to redevelop the area.  The plans included a public-housing project, and the city began buying land from individual home owners.  The buy-out efforts were not completely successful.  Holdouts who did not wish to sell were part of the

Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.

The housing project died, and L.A. transferred the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a land swap.

With Chavez Ravine slated to become the site of the new Dodger Stadium, the tiny number of remaining members of the Chavez Ravine community were physically forced to relocate, although they were compensated for their properties at fair market valuations. While some had initially left the neighborhood, voluntarily or involuntarily through either the use of eminent domain or condemnation, a number (quite a small number after about 1954) stayed until the end. Eventually the sheriff’s department went in with bulldozers and armed men. A few property holders in the area had actually managed to avoid eminent domain proceedings and they were finally bought out by O’Malley [the owner of the Dodgers]. The final holdout eventually accepted the city’s offer of $10,500 for his former home. The homes and streets were razed, the larger community having been destroyed years before in the public housing effort.

Ry Cooder’s album tells the story of Chávez Ravine through songs in English and Spanish.

Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. Chávez Ravine was nominated for “Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album” in 2006.

Check out the album if you like Mexican music and Ry Cooder and want to get a taste of what the  Mexican-American music of that era sounded like.  The above quotes are all from the Wikipedia entry on Chávez Ravine.  It has a lot more information, citations, and links.

chavez wall

Something similar happened in St. Paul when the African-American, Rondo Street community was gutted to make way for the I-94 freeway.  Here’s is a page from a newsletter published by my former employee taken during the construction of the freeway.




funtatsicI’m working on a slide show for Out Of Focus, the camera club in which I’m a member.  This month’s theme is Color.  Here are a few of the photos that will be part of the slide show.  I’m trying to decide what music to use.  The two possibilities I have in mind are quite different.  One is hip-hop (Shining Through (True Colors) by Fredo Starr).  The other uses children’s’ songs (Funtastic Songs by Marie Waters-Gerbrandt).  Any suggestions would be appreciated and would make my choice easier.  I’ll probably use both songs and save two slide shows.

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Angélique Kidjo Sings

KidjoI’m listening to my latest iTunes purchase:  Angélique Kidjo & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.  The name of the album is Sings.  Each time I’ve listened to it I’ve appreciated it more.  Two songs stand out:  Malaika and Otishe.  Malaika is a slow, melodic beauty that shows off Angélique’s wonderous voice.  (By the way, isn’t Angélique Kidjo a gorgeous name?)  The Digital Booklet doesn’t have a word about the songs, but I think Malaika, written by Fadhili William, is an African song.   Otishe is a traditional song adapted by Kidjo.  She adapted well.  Otishe is a bit more uptempo than Malaika.  The orchestra sounds great on both songs and on all the other songs.  It’s a perfect complement to Kidjo, never overpowering, never too syrupy, just right.  This album is fast becoming one of my favorites.

I think that most of the songs are African.  There is one French song, Petite Fleur, a Sidney Bechet song. There is one Spanish song, Samba Para Ti, the Carlos Santana song.  Kidjo slows down Samba Para Ti.  It turns out so relaxing that it makes you start to sway and hum along.  (By the way again.  I’ve been learning Spanish and can actually understand a bit of Samba Para TiSamba For You.

Three Singer/Songwriters

Whenever I poke around in the iTunes store I check out new releases in the singer/songwriter category.  The category is broad with many different styles.  Take for example Robert Earl Keen, Amy Speace, and The Wood Brothers.  They were all listed in the Singer/Songwriter category, but their music is very different.

Robert Earl Keen has been a traditional singer/songwriter (whatever that means) centered in traditional American music.  Wikipedia says that

although both his albums and live performances span many different styles, from folk, country, and bluegrass to rock, he is most commonly affiliated with the Americana movements. In fact, he was the first “Americana” artist to appear on the cover of Gavin magazine when the style was officially recognized as its own genre in 1998.

Keen just released a bluegrass album, Happy Prisoner:  The Bluegrass Sessions.  Good bluegrass, good songs, good music.  A number of the songs are bluegrass and country standards such as T For Texas that he does with Lyle Lovett.  Besides Lovett, Keen works with other great artists on this album.  Natalie Maines, once of the Dixie Chicks, joins him on the traditional Wayfaring Stranger.

I was especially pleased to hear Peter Rowan, he of the unmistakable, high-lonesome voice.  I first learned about Peter Rowan in the 1970s.  He was a singer and guitarist for the group Seatrain that also included the fiddler Richard Green.  Wikipedia calls Seatrain an American roots fusion band.  Back in the 70s we would have called it country rock or maybe folk rock.  Rowan started his career as a bluegrass player with Bill Monroe, so his musical pedigree is impeccable.  He is still plugging away writing, playing, and singing good roots and bluegrass music.

speaceUntil two days ago I had never heard of Amy Speace, another find in iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter category.  I am glad I now have heard her lovely voice and fine songs.  Many of the songs are country songs but not the oh-how-I-love-small-towns-and-trucks-and-beer schlock purveyed by the industry in Nashville.  Her songs, her voice, this album are good.  (Trust me.)

The third album of my latest, impulsive purchase on iTunes (of which there have been many) is The Muse, the latest from the Wood Brothers.  I like best about this album some of their lyrics, particularly from the song Sing About It.  Here are the first couple verses:



wood brothersIf you get too worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you get worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you get too worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you sing about your trouble it just might pass


If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

sing about your trouble it just might pass

sing about your trouble it just might pass

Wonderful.  Better than a shelf-full of books on how to be happy.

There are more from the brothers about feeling good, but I don’t think these words would make it into a self-help book.  I take them to heart (I am sitting at the bar at LOLO in downtown Stillwater drinking beer as I write. Isn’t retirement great!).

Last night,
I got loaded
On a bottle of wine
On a bottle of wine

Last night,
I got loaded
On a bottle of wine
On a bottle of wine

But I feel alright
I feel alright
I feel alright
I feel alright

alrightWell, OK.  I’m much too old to get loaded.  But I feel alright!



Carlos Vives and Cachao

Clasicos de la ProvinciaI’ve been listening to Carlos Vives’s Clasicos De La Provincia, a new discovery for me.  I ran across a music critic – Carlos Quintana – who had contributed a video on Yabla Espanol.  I followed his trail to the web site where he writes about Latin music.  I read his article on the best-ever latin albums and ended up buying two.  One by Carlos Vives who specializes in Vallenato.

Colombia’s vallenato started as a type of romantic cowboy music that provided a commentary on the lives of ranchers and campesinos cut off from the urban centers. It was played primarily in the countryside until it received radio commercialization in the 1940’s.  Since both vallenato and cumbia [another type of Columbian music] use similar instruments, the easiest way to distinguish vallenato is by the use of the accordion. . . .  Vallenato has recently seen an explosion in its popularity with the music of one-time soap opera star, Carlos Vives. Vives assembled a group of older folkloric players with some of the best coastal musicians around his home town of Bogota, creating a rock/vallenato style that has made the form popular with younger Colombians as well as bringing this music into Latin music’s mainstream.

Quintana also recommended Cachao’s Master Sessions, Volume 1.  This is Cuban jazz with touches of many types of Cuban music such as Son, Danzon, Mamba, Rumba.  I couldn’t help but like this album considering that Cuban Son in one of my favorite types of Music.  [I’ve turned up the volume twice since I started writing.]

A few years ago I started to learn more about Latin music and to listen more.  Since then I’ve been rewarded with some wonderful listening.  The variety and depth of Latin music I find endlessly rewarding.  At the start of my exploration of Latin music I read Caribbean Currents.  As the book describes, the roots of Latin music differ from island to island or country to country.  They differ according to what country colonized the area (England, Spain, France) and to what extent the area had a plantation economy or more of a European-settler economy.  Areas with plantation economies used African slaves extensively, and the plantations were often owned by absentee landlords with hired managers, thus there was relatively little European musical influence.  Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to ReggaeHaiti is an example of an area where African influences are strong, European influences weak.  Cuba was more of a settler economy so European influences are stronger.  Haitian music is French.  There are other French-speaking areas in the Caribbean that with Haiti produce the music called zouk.   Cuban is Spanish and has many different types of music some with stong European influences; others with stronger African influences.  Jamaica was last controlled by the British Empire and thus the language is an English patois and the music is ska, reggae, rock steady, etc.

Low Highway

Earlier this week I drove to The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis.  The Electric Fetus is a great, fun store; not least because it is now the only store I’m aware of in the entire Twin Cities metro that still has a good selection of music CDs.  I end up making a trip to the Electric Fetus a few times a year even though it’s about a one hour drive if I can avoid rush-hour traffic.  I bought a copy of The Low Highway by Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses).  When I finally got home after a long afternoon, I put The Low Highway on the player with the thought of lying down and drifting off for my afternoon nap.  I was tired, but the music wouldn’t let me nap – it was too good.  I liked the sound, the lyrics, the instrumentation was great.  The music has elements of country (it’s filed in the Country section), folk, rock, mountain music . . .  My only gripe is that one or two of the songs were a little too much hard-rock – but this gripe is no more than personal preference.  I’m sure if you like hard rock you’ll like these songs.

If there is a theme to the songs, I think it is being between despair and hope.  In the title song Low Highway, the lyrics are about

the ghost of America watchin’ me
Through the broken windows of the factories
Naked bones of a better day
As I rolled on down the low highway

Later in the CD, the son 21st Century Blues says that

We stand now on the verge of history
The world can be anything that we want it to be
Where there’s a will there’s a way where there’s a fire there’s a spark
Out in the streets downtown in the park
Maybe the future’s just waitin on you and me
In the 21st century

Another song, Burnin’ It Down, is very bleak, hopeless until the last line of the song:  “‘Cause the door’s always open and it’s never too late.”  Another song, Love’s Gonna Blow My Way, is similar.  The singer is “. . . stranded.  Standin’ in the pourin’ rain.  Really comin’ down but someday Love’s gonna blow my way.  Repeatedly, the singer describes how miserable his current condition is then says “Love’s gonna blow my way.”  I don’t think that there is a conclusion on the CD.  What will win the day?  Despair and misery or hope and love?

Strange Music

Last night I listened to one of Tom Waits’s early CDs recorded in 1973.  The first song is Ole ’55, one of my all time favorite songs.  This CD is “normal” singer-songwriter music; melodic, lyrical, sentimental, somewhat melancholy – enjoyable.  As Waits became older his music became increasingly weirder.  He seems to be a strange man.

I have a CD from thirty years later, Alice, recorded in 2002.  The artwork on the cover of Alice makes me think of an old-fashion carnival side-show with odd, misshapen creatures.  Tom is still Tom – the music from 2002 retains qualities of the music from 1973.  Especially the distinctive, gravelly voice that has gotten more gravelly with age.  There is less of a singer-songwriter feel and more of a rock feel, maybe a genre called weird-rock with Waits as it’s main if not only member.  To give a flavor of Waits’s lyrics I’ll quote the lyrics from No One Know I’m Gone [the lack of punctuation is Tom’s]:

 Hell above and heaven below  All the trees are gone  The rain makes such a lovely sound  To those who are six feet under ground The leaves will bury every year and no one knows I’m gone  Live me golden tell me dark  Hide from Graveyard John But the moon is full here every night  And I can bathe here in his light  The leaves will bury every year  And no one knows I’m gone.

Here is another song, Poor Edward:

Did you hear the news about Edward?  On the back of his head He had another Face  Was it a women’s face  Or a young girl  They said to remove it would kill him So poor Edward was doomed  The face could laugh and cry  It was his Devil twin And at night she spoke to him Of things heard only in Hell  They were impossible to separate  Chained together for life Finally the bell tolled his doom  He took a suite of rooms  And hung himself and her  From the balcony irons  Some still believe he was freed from her  But I knew her too well  I say she drove him to suicide  And took Poor Edward to Hell.

I don’t quite know what to make of such lyrics.  The seem to paint such a bleak and dreary picture.  A picture of a hopeless world.

But no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave  As one rose dies another blooms  It’s always been that way  I remember the showers  But no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave

I hadn’t intended to write so much about Tom Waits.  I put on his CD and started writing about him.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music from 1973 as I write.  I’ve not decided if I get any pleasure at all from the 2002 recording.