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Hit it, Run

The saddest thing to me about the death of Jam Master Jay is that Run DMC was always a group which preached peace, and not bloodshed; which talked about the ghetto without celebrating a thug life; which emphasized harmony in their image just as they emphasized rhymes in their songs. I don't think it's a coincidence that their first huge hit was their inventive and irresistable revision of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" (though my favorite track was always "Son of Byford"), a song which didn't just singlehandedly bring Aerosmith back from the dead (or the remainder bin), but which also showed to everyone that rap and rock didn't have to be on the opposite sides of the record store, and that in popular music you could bring diverse parts together to make a new whole. Is it a stretch to say that without that track, or several others, we wouldn't have had some of the hip-hop-folk-rock fusion of the last decade or two, whether you're talking about Beck or talking about Kid Rock?

My favorite Run-DMC song was their Christmas song, available still on the first volume of A Very Special Christmas. "Christmas in Hollis," it was, and blended a sample of the horn riff from a Clarence Carter X-mas song with often devilishly funny lyrics about St. Nick coming to eastern Queens. It was a cheerful, ebullient song. Run-DMC was never about violence, and neither was Jam Master Jay.

For more on Jam Master Jay, here's a good rememberance from, of all places, Slate.

posted by Anon. 11:51 AM


Basement apartment

In my late teens, there was a period where I kept falling in "love" -- those irony quotes are required, boys, 'cause I didn't even know what love was -- with girls named Molly. It wasn't planned that way. It just happened.

I was thinking yesterday about Molly from North Carolina. I was 18 -- two months from turning 19 and starting my sophomore year of college, and working as an intern in the corporate communications department of some big company. She was a Southerner -- my first -- and she ended up being my first of a lot of things. She was in DC, working in government for the summer before returning to Yale, where she was majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics. ("And never the twain shall meet...")

We didn't kiss until the end of the summer, mostly because she was involved with some creep who didn't treat her too well. But we hung out a lot, talked about music. She was the one who first turned me on to Bob Mould's Workbook, and later on, when she went back to Yale and went back to the creep and broke my heart, as much as hearts get broken at 18, I listened a lot to that record. Years later, we reconnected, for a time, and when I was living in Seattle, and was in Berkeley for work, I had an awkward time seeing her when she was a graduate student there. She was dating a perfectly nice guy. I felt like a fool for showing up to interrupt her life. So I left. I don't know where she is now.

That summer in DC, though, she lived with three friends in this small, studio basement apartment across the street from the Duke Ellington High School for the Performing Arts in the Georgetown area. So when the mix that Phil gave me kicked off with Sarah Harmer's "Basement Apartment," I just nodded in complete recognition, and then I just fell into the drum loop, as Harmer sang about barely breathing in that musty space.

How many basement apartments have been the sites and stages for young love and bruises? Twenty year olds subletting a place for the summer, and also subleasing a chance to play as real grown-ups and adults. We were old enough to fight in the army, too young to drink, and far too young to realize that a girl going back to the bad boyfriend in New Haven wasn't the worst or first thing in the world. Before friends got cancer and horrible things growing inside of them. Before you buried parents or grandparents. Before you really knew what love was. Or what losing it could cost you.

posted by Anon. 5:37 PM
Phil delivers

Monday night, had dinner with Phil over at Doughboys -- which now serves dinner. Amen and hallelujah.

Well, they're open for dinner, and serving the same delicious comfort food I've loved for breakfast and lunch. Phil and I both dove into the Doughboys version of a Shepherd's Pie, which brings braised beef and mushrooms together with not mashed potatoes, as is the usual preparation, but delicious macaroni and cheese. A cardiologist's nightmare, but much needed comfort food, eaten on the heated patio as autumn started making its appearance there on 3rd Street.

Good conversation -- and the drinking of Dos Eqqus at El Carmen next door -- followed, and Phil handed me a mix CD that's been giving me much needed pleasure this week.

The disc is chock full of songs about young love and older heartbreak, songs with laid-back vocals, acoustic guitars, and drum machine loops. There were only two songs on the album that I already owned -- "I Am a Cinematographer" by Will Oldham's Palace outfit, and "Joed Out," by Barbara Manning from the No Alternative benefit disc of about seven or eight years back. And there were only one or two other songs I recognized -- including the wonderful "Summertime" by the Sundays.

Much of the mix has the feel of "Summertime," a sunshower of high melodies and young voices. A lot of warmth as we head into the time of year that even gets nippy enough here in the City of Angels that you need to pull a sweater out of the closet, or a jacket.

At El Carmen, we discussed albums that we loved from top to bottom. Phil mentioned Bob Mould's Workbook -- a record I love, though I think it falters on the last few songs. But "See a Little Light," "Wishing Well," and especially "Heartbreak a Stranger."

But I keep thinking of a lyric from "Compositions for the Young and Old" from that record. "Someone's pulling on your mama's apron strings, better run and see who it is."

posted by Anon. 5:09 PM
Grab my wings, I've come to take you home

Does Peter Gabriel make bad records?

I don't think so. His early records featured great singer-songwriter songs ("Solsbury Hill") alongside interesting experiments in rhythm and world music fusion. What's more, his "experiments" usually worked as "songs." So was that rare thing: a huge hit of an album with a huge hit song that was a cohesive whole -- with such songs as "Hear That Voice Again" and "Don't Give Up" and "Red Rain" living alongside the singles "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time." And in recording "In Your Eyes," Gabriel did the unbelievable: he created a song that has actually challenged Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" for the award of "most frequently placed on mix tapes given by teenage boys to teenage girls."

His lovely score to the Last Temptation of Christ, released as the album Passion, was beautiful. But his last record, Us, was wonderful, a concept album where the concept itself was love and relationships. On songs like "Come Talk to Me," "Blood of Eden," and "Love to Be Loved," PG dug deep into some fertile, but rocky, soil. And he showed that he could still concoct a great dance track, too, on the irresistable "Kiss That Frog."

It's been almost a decade, but PG has finally released his follow-up to Us. Keeping with his current tradition of two-letter album titles, it's entitled Up. It's not necessarily an up record. But it's beautiful, and interesting, and absorbing. I just received it yesterday, in the mail from Amazon, and I'll write more when I have more to say. But right now, it's a welcome presence on my turntable. And it's good to see PG continuing to experiment and push the envelope on sounds, while writing lyrics that dare to go far into what he's holding in his heart.

posted by Anon. 4:12 PM

Forgive the delay in posts this week. I kinda got caught up in life. Hope to be posting more in the days, and weeks, ahead.

posted by Anon. 4:06 PM