Monday, March 31, 2008

TOTR 24: The Fool Eclectic

The everybodyfields – The Red Rose

(2004) Halfway There: Electricity and the South

Ramblin Jack Elliott – Don’t Think Twice, Its All Right

Doug Burr - Always Travel Light

(2007) On Promenade

Whiskeytown - Sit & Listen To The Rain

(2001) Pneumonia

Levon Helm – Calvary

(2007) Dirt Farmer

The Middle Class – Bills

(2008) Deep in Debt

The Black Crowes - Locust Street

(2008) Warpaint

The Raconteurs - Old Enough

The Raconteurs - The Switch And The Spur

The Raconteurs - Pull This Blanket Off

The Raconteurs - These Stones Will Shout

The Raconteurs - Carolina Drama

(2008)Consolers of the Lonely

The Raveonettes - Dead Sound

The Raveonettes – Blitzed

The Raveonettes - My Heartbeats Dying

(2008) Lust, Lust, Lust

Thurston Moore - The Shape Is In A Trance

(2007) Trees Outside The Academy

Bob Mould - Again and Again

Bob Mould - Old Highs, New Lows

(2008) District Line

Vampire Weekend – Campus

Vampire Weekend - One (Blakes Got A New Face)

Vampire Weekend - I Stand Corrected

Vampire Weekend - The Kids Dont Stand A Chance

(2008) Vampire Weekend

The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again

(1971) Who’s Next

The Rolling Stones - Fool To Cry

(1976) Black and Blue

Dave Matthews Band - Fool To Think

(2001) Everyday

The Impressions - Fool For You


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Out on the Highway (pictures)

My Pang for Twang

My Pang for Twang: Reflections & Ruminations on America’s Beautiful Contradictions from an Alt-country Fan

By Andrew William Smith

prepared for a talk at “Out on the Highway: An Evening of Americana”

Backdoor Playouse, Tennessee Tech, Cookeville, TN

27 March 2008

The theme of tonight’s event “Out on the Highway” is taken from the everybodyfields song that closes the absolutely amazing Nothing is Okay; the lyrics to this song, printed on the back of your program, could easily stand in for this music critic’s chatter as poetic definition of Americana.

(I am wearing many hats tonight—fan, scholar, writer, speaker. But a warning and disclaimer about us music critics—beware. Be forever suspicious of the music critic because we are pencial and typewriter and word-processing prose people, penning essays about something we love but do not practice.)

My appreciation for Americana is less about American myth in the baseball and apple pie sense and more about an American mythopoetics, a conscious construction of new stories to shed new light on old topics. (The term mythopoetics has its etymology grounded in Tolkien, who coined the term in his poem “mythopoeia,” which he wrote to CS Lewis—then an atheist—in 1931).

“Out on the Highway,” then, fits our definition of American mythopoetics and touches on a larger metaphor of mystery and magic: the American road. As Sam sings, “the smell of liquor and gasoline.” Think about the stories of Jack Kerouac o r the songs of Ramblin’ Jack Eliot. Conjure images from movies like Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, or Into the Wild. Imagine truck drivers watching the sunrise from the roadside to members of the RV set setting out for Florida or a national forest. Or even consider the unwashed masses, from hitchhiking hobos to hippies on summer tour. Whatever picture we paint to accompany this sound, roots music is often rooted in the rootless seduction of the road.

More than 100 years ago, poet Walt Whitman wrote

O highway I travel, do you say to me, Do not leave me?

Do you say, Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?

Do you say, I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,

You express me better than I can express myself,

You shall be more to me than my poem. (112)

While I wish to speak about the musical genre on which this evening’s festivities are focused, I cannot do that in any traditionally textbook sense. Rather, I approach Americana inspired by the great American rock writer and cultural historian Greil Marcus and his approach to rock and roll in Mystery Train and punk rock in Lipstick Traces. This work, as Marcus suggests in Mystery Train, is to “broaden the context in which music is heard” (4).

In this sense, we face genre as an impossible and necessary beast—building boundaries around that which cannot be bound.

The hosts of an Americana radio program on the Rice University station in Houston, Texas grapple with this thorny dilemma directly and eloquently. They write, “To define Americana music as a genre is to take a very narrow view.” This evasive but impressive stance guards against the nitpicking, hairsplitting, and internet turf wars that serious music fans too often get trapped in.

The webzine Americana Homeplace recognizes that “there is really no consistent use of the term,” but writers there take an admirable stab at carving out a definition of the musical genre.

This interpretation of “What is Americana” offers the following helpful markers (and these are quotes):

· traditional American music styles such as traditional folk music and bluegrass

· bluegrass, folk music, blues, zydeco, country rock, and alternative country

· Another common characteristic of Americana is its rural roots. Most Americana styles originated or developed in rural America. Whether it was the Appalachian home of bluegrass, the Mississippi home of the delta blues, or the Louisiana bayou home of cajun and zydeco, all of these styles share a common rural ancestry.

· First, all of these styles exist to some extent outside of the commercial mainstream of popular music. In fact, to many fans, Americana is synonymous with "non-commercial."

Scott Greenberg, host of the “Debts No Honest Man Can Pay” program on WGWG in North Carolina takes some exception to the non-commercial position, claiming, “Americana is a marketing term that kinda bugs me...I prefer to refer to it as roots music.”

Apparently, there may be some basis to this assertion if we were to look at the website of the “professional trade organization” known as the Americana Music Association. In the video presentation “how to deliver new dollars and demos,” we see the marketing mix in its most stripped down and shameless form; according to the sales-pitch, Americana fans are predominately white, male, upper-middle-class, college-educated, and more affluent as a group than any other mainstream music fan base. “Whatever,” I thought, as I heard that.

Like the deejays at the Texas radio station, I am more sympathetic to umbrella definitions of “American cultural music” and “American popular culture”—as imprecise as these may be.

Within the “alt-country” camp of this cultural music, Americana emerged as a reaction against mainstream country—or as a friend recently described it to me, it is country music “if country music were what it meant to be.”

Americana is like America. America boasts beautiful and scary contradictions. Is alternative country perhaps more inclined than mainstream country to embrace the contradictions rather than erase the contradictions?

In The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Marcus expounds: “America is a place and a story, made up of exuberance and suspicion, crime and liberation, lynch mobs and escapes; its greatest testaments are made of portents and warnings, biblical allusions that lose all certainty in the American air.”

In Mystery Train, Marcus describes popular music as a “democratic art” and continued to break it down this way: “[O]ur democracy is nothing if not a contradiction: the creed of every man and woman for themselves, and thus the loneliness of separation, and thus the yearning for harmony, and for community.”

Speaking of contradictions, my arrival to Americana and alt-country fandom is an awkward tale at best—because, “Mr. Andy, yer not from around here are you?” A Yankabilly with urban, rust-belt roots, I’ve resided in the hills of Tennessee for more than a decade. Just as some locals had their own stereotypical impressions of a book-smart, lacking-in-horse-sense, fast-talking Midwesterner like me, I had to reassure my friends back home that I had not moved to a foreign country called Redneckistan.

No, I felt about my new neighbors in the backwoods the way writer Henry Miller did when he visited Tennessee in the 1940s and wrote this of the people working the land in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare: “I saw the shacks they live in and wondered if it were possible to put together anything more primitive. But I can’t say that I felt sorry for them. No, they are not the sort of people to inspire pity. On the contrary, one has to admire them. If they represent the ‘backward’ people of America then we need more backward people” (34).

The early years of transition were hard, and falling in love with our regional musical traditions eased the bumpier parts of the ride.

Hearing the echoes of the past in this present, perhaps “old really is the new new.” I know that I have always loved music that predates not only the iPod but the phonograph, and this is music that will outlast all flavors of potential and predicted catastrophe. As much as I appreciate experimental electronic dance music composed on a laptop, it frankly lacks the elegance and endurance of banjo, fiddle, and guitar.

For me, getting this music is like getting religion, getting the holy spirit with some occasional help from the home-made spirits, like the moonshine mentioned in the lyric to “Out on the Highway.” However we name it, this music makes meaningful modern myths about our home (and has made me feel more at home in my adopted home).

Our pang for twang is in our bodies as it is in our spirits as it is in the ground, in the sleepy hollows and Dixie dirt. This is a different kind of American pride, described by the late great maverick nature writer Edward Abbey as “immense and inordinate with a profound and swelling love of the physical land, of the towns and farms, of the many folks I know” (11). The groups playing tonight offer a vast emotional vocabulary of a similar swelling and intoxicating immensity. And I know you really came to hear Jill, Sam, Josh, and Tom, so I will leave the stage for them.

Works Consulted

Abbey, Edward. Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward

Abbey, 1951-1989. Boston: Back Bay, 1994.

Greenburg, Scott. Facebook message. 23 March 1998.

Marcus, Greil. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. 1975. 4th rev.

ed. New York: Plume, 1997.

——. The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice. New York,

Picador, 2006.

Miller, Henry. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. New York: New Directions, 1945.

“What is ‘Americana’ music?” KTRU Americana Show. 2006. 26 March 2008.

“What Is Americana Music?” Americana Homeplace. 2008. 26 March 2008.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. The Deathbed Edition. 1892. New York: Book of the

Month Club, 1992.

Monday, March 24, 2008

TOTR 23: Out on the highway!

Robert Johnson - Walkin Blues

Robert Johnson - Me And The Devil Blues

Robert Johnson - Hell Hound On My Trail

The Band - Key To The Highway

Neil Young - Far from Home

Son Volt - Highways And Cigarettes

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression

Uncle Tupelo - Graveyard Shift

Otis Gibbs - daughter of a truck drivin man

Old Crow Medicine Show - Fall On My Knees

The Avett Brothers – Shame

Nickel Creek - Out Of The Woods

Nickel Creek - Jealous Of The Moon

the everybodyfields – Aeroplane

the everybodyfields - - Lonely Anywhere

the everybodyfields - Dont Tern Around

the everybodyfields - Out On The Highway

Ryan Adams - Magnolia Mountain

Jeff Tweedy - - The Ruling Class

Steve Earle - Days Arent Long Enough (with Allison Moorer)

Lone Justice - This World Is Not My Home

Jason & the Scorchers - Take Me Home, Country Roads

Guadalcanal Diary - Kum Ba Yah

Monday, March 17, 2008

TOTR 22: Guest Host Jim Clark (and more!)

Teacher on the Radio guest hosting of "The Band Next Door" for St. Patrick's Day (7-8)

Clannad - Theme From Harry's Game

Eoin Dillon - The Moon On Me Back

Lorcan Mac Mathuna - An RĂ³gaire Dubh

The Chieftains - Lots Of Drops Of Brandy

The Dubliners - Whiskey In The Jar

The Dubliners - The Pub With No Beer

The Dubliners - Seven Drunken Nights

The Pogues - The Irish Rover

The Pogues - Dirty Old Town

Dropkick Murphys - Wild Rover

Flogging Molly - Man With No Country

Luka Bloom – Change

Luka Bloom - Star of Doolin

Black 47- James Connolly

With Special Guest Host and Performer Jim Clark 8-10

Bruce Springsteen - Eyes on the Prize

Doc Watson - Down In The Valley To Pray

The Carter Family - Will You Miss Me When Im Gone

John Jacob Niles - Go Way From My Window

Hank Williams – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

The Stanley Brothers - Ramshackle Shack On The Hill

The Stanley Brothers - Wild Reckless Hobo

Jim Clark - Sweet Sunny South

Jim Clark LIVE in the studio

Emmylou Harris - Satans Jewel Crown

Gram Parsons - In My Hour of Darkness

Jean Ritchie - Barbary Allen

John Hartford - Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry

Townes Van Zandt - Tecumseh Valley

Bob Dylan - The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest

The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The Grateful Dead - Tennessee Jed

Jesse Winchester - Brand New Tennessee Waltz

Jim Clark - In Tennessee

Jim Clark - Lady Magdalene

Monday, March 10, 2008

Teacher on the Radio Field Trip: Black Mountain at the Grey Eagle

We were there! See the story at

TOTR 21: "Folk that!"

Ani DiFranco - This Land Is Your Land

Utah Phillips - The Boss

Utah Phillips - We Have Fed You All a Thousand Years

Utah Phillips & Ani DiFranco - Bum on the Rod

Woody Guthrie - Jesus Christ

Woody Guthrie - Do-Re-Mi

Natalie Merchant - Which Side Are You On

Nick Drake - Cello Song

The Incredible String Band - Swift As The Wind

Pentangle - Springtime Promises

Steeleye Span - Hard Times Of Old England

The Fugs - You Cant Go Into The Same River Twice

The Holy Modal Rounders - Blues In The Bottle

The Holy Modal Rounders – Euphoria

The Holy Modal Rounders - Mr. Spaceman

Violent Femmes - Jesus Walking on the Water

Joanna Newsome - Sawdust & Diamonds

Devendra Banhart - Long Haired Child

Espers - Dead King

Elvis Perkins - The Night & The Liquor

Birch Book - New Song

Casey Neill – Riffraff

David Rovics - Here at the End of the World

Joan Baez - The Ballad Of Sacco Vanzetti

Joan Baez - Joe Hill

Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair-Canticle

Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt - Kisses Sweeter Than Wine