And the sadness I suppose, gonna hold me to the ground

This is the best song I’ve heard from The Tallest Man on Earth in a long time. It might even by my favorite song of his yet.

Following the path laid out by The War on Drugs last year, Kristian Matsson is mining the 80s for ideas. And the result is the sort of music that Dylan himself (an obvious influence for Matsson in all his work) was trying to make at the time, but without all the hiccups along the way.

It’s synth-driven and gorgeously constructed and just a lovely song. And it’s got me super excited to hear the rest of the album. Dark Bird Is Home comes out in May, and I will be pre-ordering my copy now.

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50 songs for 50 states: Connecticut

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

So…Connecticut. There sure aren’t many songs about it. But at least it lets us finally answer the classic question: when faced with the choice of an average Ben Folds song and an average Superchunk song, which do you go with?

On second thought, that’s not a question that leaves much room for doubt, is it?

Anyways, this is nowhere near the best song from them, but it’s perfectly serviceable. And perfectly serviceable Superchunk is still pretty darn good.

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John Kerry on DOMA, circa 1996

Came across John Kerry’s comments on the Defense of Marriage Act from back when it was being debated in 1996. While he declares himself to be against gay marriage, his comments are measured and generous and empathetic. It’s Kerry at his best.

Anyways, he was one of only 14 Senators to vote against the bill, and that’s a testament to just how far the needle has moved.

The truth that we know, which today’s exercise ignores, is that marriages fall apart in the United States, not because men and women are under siege by a mass movement of men marrying men or women marrying women. Marriages fall apart because men and women don’t stay married. The real threat comes from the attitudes of many men and women married to each other and from the relationships of people in the opposite sex, not the same sex. Yet, this legislation is directed at something that has not happened and which needs no Federal intervention.

Obviously, the results of this bill will not be to preserve anything, but will serve to attack a group of people out of various motives and rationales, and certainly out of a lack of understanding and a lack of tolerance, and will only serve the purposes of the political season.

If this were truly a defense of marriage act, it would expand the learning experience for would-be husbands and wives. It would provide for counseling for all troubled marriages, not just for those who can afford it. It would provide treatment on demand for those with alcohol and substance abuse, or with the pernicious and endless invasions of their own abuse as children that they never break away from. It would expand the Violence Against Women Act. It would guarantee day care for every family that struggles and needs it. It would expand the curriculum in schools to expose high school students to a greater set of practical life choices. It would guarantee that our children would be able to read when they leave high school. It would expand the opportunity for adoptions. It would expand the protection of abused children. It would help children do things after school other than to go out and perhaps have unwanted teenage pregnancies. It would help augment Boys Clubs and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s and YWCA’s, school-to-work, and other alternatives so young people can grow into healthy, productive adults and have healthy adult relationships. But we all know the truth. The truth is that mistakes will be made and marriages will fail. But these are ways that we could truly defend marriage in America.

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50 songs for 50 states: Colorado

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Rocky Mountain High – John Denver

In the end, there was only ever one song that could win for Colorado.  John Denver may sound corny these days, and just a bit too earnest for the ironic ears of the 21st century, but the man could write a song. And this is one of his very finest. In it you can hear the joy of the natural world, the grandeur of the mountains, and the tranquility they offer.

Other strong contenders were some country classics from giants of the genre: Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl” is everything that’s great about him. And The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Colorado” is one of my favorites from them.

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50 songs for 50 states: California

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Oh, California. My adopted home, the muse of so many musicians over the years. How can I pick just one song for you?

This is almost certainly the most difficult state. You might make an argument for New York, but there the songs are really mostly all about one thing: the city itself. With California, the reach is expansive. California makes us dream.

Is your muse the beautiful city of fog by the Bay? Then you’ll want to make sure to wear flowers in your hair. Or keep an ear out for Otis Redding whistling down on the dock. You might catch the San Francisco Bay Blues, or you might lose your head there waiting for the fog to roll out.

Or go south, to the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica, where the surf is high and palm trees bend in the wind. It’s a particularly powerful vision on such a winter’s day. But watch out for the vampires walkin’ through the valley. The celluloid heroes of Hollywood that drift around you.

And then there are the women. Those California Girls. Fine, fresh, fierce…you wish they all could be like that. Or maybe you hate California girls. Maybe you’re looking for a lucky little lady in the City of Light. Or just another lost angel?

Or maybe for you California is the land of Bad Religion, of The Descendents, of Social Distortion. It’s California Uber Alles.

Or it’s the world of Compton and Watts, of South Central, and you hear the refrain of gunshots and the stomp of police boots.

I could go on forever. But ultimately I still need to pick one song. And for me it came down to three possibilities. One is pure schlock, but such wonderful schlock. The second steps beyond the specificities to tap into something far more eternal. And the third…well, ultimately it had to be the third.

So the first one is Phantom Planet’s “California.” You may remember it as the theme song to The OC, and it (of course) is nowhere near the best song about California. But in some ways it’s absolutely the most appropriate.

The second is “California Stars” by Wilco and Billy Bragg, lyrics written by Woody Guthrie – most likely composed at some point in the midst of the Great Depression. It manages to feel absolutely at home in either era. It’s a timeless classic.

But, in the end, there was no other choice but this one:

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Campaigns are long – get over it

Today’s edition of “Fish, Meet Barrel” is provoked by an incredibly silly article in Slate (shocking, I know).

Alec MacGillis is full of sad:

It’s a quadrennial complaint, but I’m going to make it anyway, and make it earlier than it’s been made before, because the problem has somehow managed to get even worse: It is simply insane how much we’ve pushed up our presidential campaigns.

Okay, first of all, you’re way behind the curve here, friend. People have already been complaining about the early start to the campaign for years.  Getting in on the game now is like writing a bold post in 2015 on the subject: “it’s finally time for someone to say it: people sure are into kale these days!”

The 2016 campaign started in the spring of 2008, when Obama locked up the Democratic nomination and Hillary had to start thinking about her next shot. And it’s been going on since then.  It was going on in 2012, as various Republicans watched the Romney campaign and started making adjustments in their own policies and personas. It was certainly going on all last year. And now, in 2015, it’s been going on long enough that candidates have already had time to run, fail, and drop out.

Because look, campaigns are much more than handshaking in Iowa and New Hampshire, or debates. They’re a race for institutional support, party allegiance, and money.  If you want to be president, you’d have to be insane to think that your campaign begins the day you announce.

And here’s the other thing: that’s good. Being president is really, really important. It’s probably the single most important job in the world. Given that, it’s completely reasonable that campaigns are long and grueling affairs.  If you don’t want to read about it, you are more than free to ignore horse-race stories on the subject. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is obliged to follow suit.

And if you want to wax nostalgic for the old days when campaigns were short, you ought to at least acknowledge that it was only possible because there was very little democratic influence over the process before 1968. And even then, it’s not that the campaigns were shorter, it’s just that the invisible parts were longer. Campaigns have always been icebergs, with most of the important stuff happening below the surface. It’s just that now we have better techniques for interpreting what’s going on in the deep water.

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50 songs for 50 states: Arkansas

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Going Back To Arkansas – Big Bill Broonzy

One of the all-time greats from the early years of the blues, Big Bill Broonzy grew up in Arkansas, worked as a sharecropper and eventually went into the Army to go and fight in World War I. As the story goes: he returned home in 1919, dressed in his army uniform, only to be reminded forcefully of the depths of Jim Crow.  Rather than sticking around, he moved north to find a place for himself.

I recently finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s incredible study of the Great Migration, so I’ve been thinking a lot about experiences like these. About hard it must have been to simply pull up roots and abandon a place that has always been home. About how terrible the conditions must have been to inspire such mass exodus. About how the joys of your old home would still linger with you, simultaneous with your memories of the slights and the fear and the poverty.

I hear all of that here. It’s a song about the joys of his old home. About collard greens and the hamhock boiling, chickens crowing, a world of family and close ties, so different from the impersonal loneliness of the big cities of the North. The bayous and the rolling hills. The rich soil and farms.   It’s easy to understand why people left, why they had to leave. But it doesn’t make the good parts any less real.

Honorable mentions: “Arkansas” by another excellent old bluesman, Henry Thomas. “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” by Johnny Cash. And “The Lord God Bird” by Sufjan Stevens.

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50 songs for 50 states: Arizona

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

I thought about going with Wilco’s “Hotel Arizona” but ultimately couldn’t end up anywhere but here. I’m sure Arizona has plenty of nice features. And I have a number of great friends from Arizona. But honestly the state is defined for me by its crazy racist politics. And this song digs deep into it.  It’s a cut below the very best from Public Enemy, but is very much in the next tier. Just a great song, which really exemplifies Chuck D’s brilliant mix of utopianism and cynicism.

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50 songs for 50 states: Alaska

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Anchorage – Michelle Shocked

Epistolary songs are tough to pull off, but Michelle Shocked does a fantastic job with this one. It’s bittersweet, capturing the incredible distance of Alaska, its detachment from the rest of American life. You get hints of a deep sadness, but it’s never fully engaged. Is her friend lonely? Is she dismayed to have woken up and discovered herself to be a housewife in Anchorage? Does she regret subsuming her identity into that of her husband? It’s hard to see it otherwise, and yet…perhaps it’s simply a burst of pleasant nostalgia. After all, Anchorage is a beautiful place. She loves her children. Perhaps being ‘anchored down in Anchorage’ carries a certain freedom. The freedom to live a specific life and live it fully, rather than to be constantly restless. It’s a beautiful song that admits many possibilities.

Honorable mentions: my instinct was to go with “Stephanie Says” which might well be my favorite Velvet Underground song, but I decided that ‘the people all call her Alaska’ doesn’t quite meet the standard of a song being about Alaska. “Phantasies” by Stephen Malkmus was another strong contender, but didn’t quite make the cut.

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Beatles tidbits

A couple fun things about the Beatles I found on youtube today.

“Everyone Had a Hard Year” is a fragment of a song that would later show up in “I’ve Got A Feeling.” He wrote it in ’68 and you can really hear how much it sounds like some of the other stuff from that time. The guitar in particular is eerily reminiscent of “Julia.” Just a lovely song.

And this is a deconstruction of “Sgt. Pepper” which shows what they did with each of the four tracks. It is interesting simply to see and hear the individual parts. As always, the isolated vocal track calls attention to just how well these guys could sing. And we also get a chance to hear the always-underappreciated Ringo laying down a solid beat. But the really astonishing thing is the simple fact that they managed to make all of these songs with just four tracks.  I mean, the lead guitar and the horns are stuck on the same track!

George Martin was a genius.

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