When Elvis Was Hot
Unto Us a King Is Born
In honor of Elvis's birthday, I offer this, from the archives.
Like the Sun Going Down on Me
There are a lot of reasons why I’ve never watched American Idol, my dangerously low tolerance for execrable pop ballads being the main one. Watching this clip from the season finale made me simultaneously wish that I could watch the show and confirmed my assumption that I simply cannot. On the one hand, it’s an unparalleled opportunity for rubbernecking. On the other hand, this so filled me with plaatsvervangende schaamte that I was not just cringing, but actually squirming.
Now, Paris Hilton humiliating herself: That I can watch all day.
[VIDEO LINKS VIA DEFAMER.]
Neko Case at the Temple Club
I do not, generally, care much about musical talent or musicianship. I understand that Mariah Carey is able to hit superhuman high notes and to do incredible things with melisma; I just don’t like listening to her doing these things. And I’d just about rather eat my own foot than subject myself to a guitar virtuoso.
It’s not that I’m entirely indifferent to skill or talent or art; it’s just that these things are not that important to me. The bands I like make music because they have to—because they are compelled to—and I consider it a bonus if they also happen to be good at it.
Neko Case is an excellent example of the happy marriage of musical compulsion and musical gifts. No one who doesn’t feel a deep need to make music would spend so much of herself doing it, and no one with her voice could be forgiven for not using it. Watching Ms. Case sing is always an uncanny experience—it’s just so hard to believe that that sound could actually emerge, unaided, from a human throat—but the near-miraculous quality of her voice was particularly evident Saturday night at the Temple Club in Lansing. I am neither an expert on nor a connoisseur of mixing, but even I could tell that the sound was shit. It was kind of like Ms. Case was singing from the bottom of a well, but, even when she’s singing from the bottom of a well, she’s amazing.
She did a lot of songs from her new album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which was all right with me because I really like her new album (and I luv the freaky cover art by Julie Morstad). She also sang “Buckets of Rain” and “Wayfaring Stranger,” which pleased Ted, and she did “Furnace Room Lullaby,” my second favorite song of hers (the first is “Make Your Bed”), so I was happy.
This is the third time I’ve seen Neko Case, and the venues keep getting bigger. I can’t imagine she’ll ever be playing stadiums, but she’s getting hot—NPR hot!—so, if you want to see her somewhere even a little bit intimate, you should see her now.
CDs Recently Purchased at Amoeba Music (Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles stores)
Top 100 Meme
Here they are: all the songs I didn’t dance to at my senior prom. And, no, it wasn’t because I didn’t have a date—it was because these songs suck so much. 1989 was not a great year for music.
This, by the way, is via Amanda at Pandagon, and it’s a meme. Here’s how it works: Use the “Music Resources” page at Music Outfitters to find the top 100 songs from the year you graduated from high school, bold the ones you loved, strike-out the ones you hated, and leave untouched the songs you neither loved nor hated or simply don’t remember. Your favorite song on the list should be underlined. If memory serves, my affection for Madonna was almost ironic at this point. I liked The B-52s and I had luved Duran Duran, but the latter band was well past its prime in 1989, and “Love Shack” drove me nuts. Finally, while I did think “Stand” was a catchy little tune, I generally considered REM played-out at this point—I only saw the Green tour because Rita Baranwal and our little sisters really wanted to go.
1. Look Away, Chicago
2. My Prerogative, Bobby Brown
3. Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Poison
4. Straight Up, Paula Abdul
5. Miss You Much, Janet Jackson
6. Cold Hearted, Paula Abdul
7. Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler
8. Girl You Know Its True, Milli Vanilli
9. Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird, Will To Power
10. Giving You The Best That I Got, Anita Baker
11. Right Here Waiting, Richard Marx
12. Waiting For A Star To Fall, Boy Meets Girl
13. Lost In Your Eyes, Debbie Gibson
14. Don’t Wanna Lose You, Gloria Estefan
15. Heaven, Warrant
16. Girl I’m Gonna Miss You, Milli Vanilli
17. The Look, Roxette
18. She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals
19. On Our Own, Bobby Brown
20. Two Hearts, Phil Collins
21. Blame It On The Rain, Milli Vanilli
22. Listen To Your Heart, Roxette
23. I’ll Be There For You, Bon Jovi
24. If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Simply Red
25. Like A Prayer, Madonna
26. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever), New Kids On The Block
27. How Can I Fall?, Breathe
28. Baby Don’t Forget My Number, Milli Vanilli
29. Toy Solider, Martika
30. Forever Your Girl, Paula Abdul
31. The Living Years, Mike and the Mechanics
32. Eternal Flame, The Bangles
33. Wild Thing, Tone Loc
34. When I See You Smile, Bad English
35. If I Could Turn Back Time, Cher
36. Buffalo Stance, Neneh Cherry
37. When I’m With You, Sheriff
38. Don’t Rush Me, Taylor Dayne
39. Born To Be My Baby, Bon Jovi
40. Good Thing, Fine Young Cannibals
41. The Lover In Me, Sheena Easton
42. Bust A Move, Young M.C.
43. Once Bitten, Twice Shy, Great White
44. Batdance, Prince
45. Rock On, Michael Damian
46. Real Love, Jody Watley
47. Love Shack, B-52’s
48. Every Little Step, Bobby Brown
49. Hangin’ Tough, New Kids On The Block
50. My Heart Can’t Tell You No, Rod Stewart
51. So Alive, Love and Rockets
52. You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids On The Block
53. Armageddon It, Def Leppard
54. Satisfied, Richard Marx
55. Express Yourself, Madonna
56. I Like It, Dino
57. Soldier Of Love, Donny Osmond
58. Sowing The Seeds Of Love, Tears For Fears
59. Cherish, Madonna
60. When The Children Cry, White Lion
61. 18 And Life, Skid Row
62. I Don’t Want Your Love, Duran Duran
63. Second Chances, .38 Special
64. The Way You Love Me, Karyn White
65. Funky Cold Medina, Tone Loc
66. In Your Room, Bangles
67. Miss You Like Crazy, Natalie Cole
68. Love Song, Cure
69. Secret Rendesvous, Karyn White
70. Angel Eyes, Jeff Healey Band
71. Patience, Guns N’ Roses
72. Walk On Water, Eddie Money
73. Cover Girl, New Kids On The Block
74. Welcome To The Jungle, Guns N’ Roses
75. Shower Me With Your Love, Surface
76. Stand, R.E.M.
77. Close My Eyes Forever, Lita Ford
78. All This Time, Tiffany
79. After All, Cher and Peter Cetera
80. Roni, Bobby Brown
81. Love In An Elevator, Aerosmith
82. Lay Your Hands On Me, Bon Jovi
83. This Promise, When In Rome
84. What I Am, Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians
85. I Remember Holding You, Boys Club
86. Paradise City, Guns N’ Roses
87. I Wanna Have Some Fun, Samantha Fox
88. She Wants To Dance With Me, Rick Astley
89. Dreamin’, Vanessa Williams
90. It’s No Crime, Babyface
91. Poison, Alice Cooper
92. This Time I Know It’s For Real, Donna Summer
93. Smooth Criminal, Michael Jackson
94. Heaven Help Me, Deon Estus
95. Rock Wit’cha, Bobby Brown
96. Thinking Of You, Sa-fire
97. What You Don’t Know, Expose
98. Surrender To Me, Ann Wilson and Robin Zander
99. The End Of The Innocence, Don Henley
100. Keep On Movin’, Soul II Soul
CDs I Listened to While Driving to and from My Parents’ House in Ohio Last Week
Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys
Moon Pix by Cat Power
This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
Springtime by Freakwater
Sky Motel by Kristen Hersh
All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail by The Meat Purveyors
Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse
The Moon & Antarctica by Modest Mouse
Electric Version by The New Pornographers
Massachusetts by Scud Mountain Boys
Ex Hex by Mary Timony
The King Is Dead. Long Live the King
This is the best dream I’ve ever had.
I’m cruising in my first car, a 1979 Impala, back in my hometown. I don’t know where I’m going—maybe I’m not going anywhere—it just feels good to be back in my big old Chevy, driving.
It’s a gorgeous day—early summer, just getting hot, the sun mellow and beneficent. Eventually, I am so bewitched by the day that I have to get out into it. I pull over to the side of the road. After giving the Impala a loving farewell caress, I get my bike out the trunk and continue my lazy, aimless journey.
I ride. Overwhelmed for a moment by the luxury of sun and breeze on my skin, I close my eyes. I open them to I discover that I have a companion. A skinny old man—impeccably neat in creased slacks, short sleeve dress shirt, canvas golf cap and horn-rimmed glasses—is pedaling along beside me. I acknowledge him with a nod; he nods back. After a few minutes of weird silence, he points to my right. Past the road, past the sidewalk, I see a paved bike path running through a field. I look back at the old man, but he just continues to point. I turn my bike and start down the path.
It’s nice to be off the road, biking through gentle, Ohio hills of fragrant grass. Eventually, the open fields give way to trees, and the pavement ends. I continue to ride through the forest, following a dirt trail that narrows as the trees grow thicker. Finally, the path lets out onto a small clearing and ends altogether.
This enclosed meadow is lovely—overgrown grass and wildflowers, all aglimmer in the dappled light. I lay down my bike and continue on foot. After a time of wandering through the daisies and Queen Anne’s lace, I notice a small house in the distance, camouflaged beneath the branches of an ancient willow. Strangely compelled, I walk toward it.
A figure moves from behind the little house. I cannot yet make out the face—just a pompadour, shiny and black as a crow’s wing, and a gleaming white satin shirt. The air around me glows; pollen sparkles and dances in the green, golden sun. I know something wonderful is happening.
A little closer, and I recognize the man standing before me. It’s Elvis.
He’s beautiful—healthy and happy and gracefully old. He smiles at me. Something inside me—an anxiety that I didn’t even know I had—is washed away in a wave of brilliant joy. I am overwhelmed by profound relief, so happy to know that Elvis is alive and glorious.
In an instant, I understand everything—how Elvis had to disappear to save himself, how he had to return to the simplicity to which he was born to cleanse himself. I understand that he did this for me, for all of us.
“So, this is where you’ve been hiding,” I say. Elvis just laughs and opens his arms. Enraptured, I walk toward him, dazzled by the glow of his white satin shirt. I press my head to his chest, and his arms surround me. My head fills with light as I dissolve into the vast, radiant, loving heart of the King.
Neko Case at the Majestic
Ted took me to see Neko Case on our first date. I had never heard her before, and I’ve got to say that the price of his stock rose considerably as soon as the show started. It’s not impossible that we might never have gotten married if not for Neko Case.
That girl sings like an angel. Her voice is pure but distinctive and heartbreakingly expressive and I am so grateful that she chooses to uses it to sing old-time murder ballads, sultry country classics, and original songs written with pedal steel guitar in mind. Also, she’s just lovely to look at—a little bit tough and a little bit frail, like all the finest honky-tonk beauties.
With our first anniversary approaching, Ted and I decided to treat ourselves to a trip to Detroit for the Neko Case show at the Majestic last night. It was another great set. Honestly, Ms. Case’s voice is so magnificent that seeing her perform live is surreal. It’s just so difficult to believe that such a perfect sound could arise—unaided and unaltered—from a human throat. Neko and the band did a couple of my favorite songs, both from Furnace Room Lullaby—the title track and “Guided by Wire.” They also did Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” which was nice since Ted was in the men’s room when Ms. Case sang it at the Blind Pig.
I should also take a moment to say a few words about opening act Johnny Dowd. He plays guitar—feverishly—and the rest of his band consists of an organ and drums. This alone would make him distinctive, but, oh, there is so much more. Dowd seems like someone driven to play by the volume and energy of influences he has absorbed. He covered Donna Summer, quoted Black Sabbath, and during his performance I heard echoes of The Spencer Davis Group, Tom Waits, Jay Hawkins, the Talking Heads, Anthrax, various Delta Blues artists, and ? and the Mysterians—not to mention the kooky je ne sais quois that must belong to Mr. Dowd his own self. I think Ted put it best when he said, “Clearly, Johnny Dowd follows his own muse.”
[PHOTO BY RYAN DOMBAL, 2004, SWIPED WITH GRATITUDE FROM THE MACK.]
The Wedding Mix CD: A Defense
Yesterday’s SundayStyles contained a rather opinionated little piece on the now-ubiquitous wedding-reception favor, the mix CD. I realize that, when one receives such a favor, the critique of the happy couple’s musical taste is more or less inevitable, but it’s also kind of bitchy, and to turn such an exercise in hipster snark into a full-length article seems like a bit of a stretch.
Of course I am feeling defensive because my husband and I made CDs for our own nuptial festivities, but I also feel that, as wedding-related offenses go, giving one’s guests a mix CD—even if it’s pure crap—is fairly benign. And, as this article points out in one of its few positive statements, music tends to be more interesting to most grooms than, say, outfits, flowers, or fingerfoods. Certainly, this was the case for my betrothed and me. Not only did Ted comb through his own vast record collection looking for songs, but he spent weeks searching the web for previously undiscovered gems.
I am not going to explain why our CD is awesome, because such a judgment is, obviously, entirely subjective and, anyway, I am biased by sentimentality. However, I will say this: I believe that every American home should have a recording of Elvis singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and our guests now do, and if our mix inspires anyone to seek out more Big Star or dust off her old Madness records, then our CD is a success.
A closing observation: The author of the piece notes that the mix CD has replaced Jordan almonds as the must-have wedding treat. If even a single guest appreciates the CD, that will surely exceed the number of guests who would have enjoyed the Jordan almonds.