Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Jethro Tull in the Barrio

By Douglas McDaniel

Mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore, I opened my second-floor window, placing my right speaker on the ledge, to blast Jethro Tull into the barrio. In the early morning light, as this mainly Latino neighborhood was also opening its windows and doors to blast rappers and sweet norteno ballads, I too decided to broadcast in my own way, knowing full well that a Celtic bard is a rough translation in Mexican America.

But hey, what the hell, it made me feel better.

Now, the Tull is on tour again. It is heartening to think that such a wise old muse can muster the strength after all of these years of predicting the apocalypse. Heartening more to think: Hey, there`s still time to change the course we are on. And that the Tull is once again throwing it`s pan lute into the fray, stirring the soul with Bardic prose, ancien` rhyme and all the rest in classic rock, 4/4 time.

Someday I hope to speak to him again. Once, while at Access Internet Magazine, I had a long chat with him over the phone. Ideas flowed through that line like water, and his ideas still resonate in me, just as I refused for several days to take my cassette tape of 20 Years of Jethro Tull out of my car`s player as the oracle insinuated itself into my skin.

And still, despite the dark times, they flow. Ian Anderson is a gift that keeps on giving.

So here`s to you, O Bard, O Prophet of Doom. May your words sing wisdom into the night, as we now sing together (as Bono stole from Bruce Cockburn, and I steal it now) to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

And now, for this week`s reviews, all blasted this am to the barrio:

Around the Sun
Been having mixed feelings about this one, by far one of the most somber REM releases ever, and that`s pretty somber. After listening to it more than 20 times, falling in love with it over and over again, I sold it back to the music store from which it came, not so much because it sucked (unless you are one of those pathetic I-Like-the-Old-REM-That-Rocked hardliners), but because the emotional content of Stipe`s almost Swedenborgian zeitgeist cut too close to what I was going through before, during and after the presidential election. This lush, down-pace, bittersweet to love and its many levels was simply more than I could bear. But after I got a few bucks for it as a resale, I made up with my paramore, and then bought it back from the record store (so far, I am down about $23 during the history of this series of transactions), and then handed it over to her, knowing full well her love was a safer place to keep it. Anyway, you are not a real REM fan if you don`t appreciate the luminosity of this release. Stipe`s voice and message considers to blossom until the fullness of that sun, his brand of love, which has never dimmed. If the guitar parts that quaked have well, diminished, blame Peter Buck for just phoning it in. Maybe the whole world`s earthquake has been just too heavy for him lately? Who can blame him for taking a pass? I can`t. Of those songs I would like to hear over the radio: Wanderlust is my fave. The song that should also be played endlessly to render the global listeners into piles of heartbroken muck: Leaving New York.

Social Distortion
Sex, Love and Rock`n`Roll
(Time Bomb/BMG)
This is your new Johnny Cash; this is your new Johnny Cash being fried in a skillet called Social Distortion. I have discerned that lead singer Mike Ness is the male answer to a man-hating, deep dark man-worshipper like PJ Harvey, who I also love, despite all of her darkness and gloom and anger. Like PJ, Ness pushes his eviscerated soul through the meatgrinder of the heart, and while both artists find similar forms of victory in their release, to listen closely can be a terrible thing to bear. Especially if you don`t have a sweetie around to cling to in the storm. To no surprise, the band maintains it`s pure, straightforward integrity of drums, bass and scorching guitars. There is no compromise in the sound. However, notice: Ness is more loving, and life affirming, despite the wreckage, than I can remember. The big surprise here: Optimism unleashed, no longer gathering force.

The Tragically Hip
In Between Evolution
(Zoe Records)
Yet another spotty record by this Canadian wondercrew (the previous, In Violet Light, seems to be a mere retreat into the woods after 9/11) only kicks off by the third song, Gus the Polar Bear from Central Park, and then really starts to cook with the next REM-like (the old REM-like) rocker, Vaccination Scar. At its best, that Byronesque tragic hero, Gordon Downie, continues to shout about things totally self-referential from the top of the rafters, and so, upon the first listening, the rest of the band is doing most of the work. At least here, for the most of the record, cohorts Ron Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair have reaffirmed their collaborative muscle. Polar Bear`s tragic riffs seer Downie`s heroic poesy home while the drum and bassline push the music up above those Blame Canada trees. Still, it has been a long time since Fully, Completely, which will always remain as one of the best rock documents of the 1990s. But at least here their are still remembrances of the source of their original buckskinned moose call conceits.

Trampled By Turtles
Songs From a Ghost Town
(Banjodad Records)
This topical bluegrass band out of Duluth, Minnesota also has some sort of connection to Decorah, Iowa, and hearing it makes me long to go there, bad, and meet all of them folks living off living off the grid and picking away at their instruments on their porches as the soon goes down on Amerika the wounded. I love the title because I love ghost towns. I love the sound because it reminds me of my own heart-home, Telluride, Colorado (or the San Juan mountain range, anyway). The vocals are sonorous and clear, the band backs lightly and sprightly and fast with inspired mandolin and grooving riffs that would challenge a lot of guitar players. In fact, there is nothing complicated about any of this. In its delivery of vanquished pain, dancing out of heartbreak as the mandolins and banjos tinkle away, I find peace. My favorite tune: My Brother Works for the CIA. He should quit his day job, que no? There ain`t no easy answers when the circus is in town, they sing. Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree.

And now for a bit of open sorcery, as in, free lyrics to whoever can figure out how to make this mistake a plus, instead, to throw barbs right back at the beast:

Social Darwinist
By Douglas McDaniel
To the sound of silent cyberpunk (or Wilco-style bluegrass, your choice) we go:

Spent seventy two hours as a social Darwinist
Gotta get ahead of you (Seventy two hours)
Seventy two hours as a Social Darwinist
Gotta get an edge over the loss,
vengeance is hip you know
Gotta get a handle on the guilt I miss
gotta get a multiple set a girlies to kiss

Spent seventy two hours as a social Darwinist
Gotta get over you (seventy two, seventy two, seventy two hours)
Seventy two fucking shitty hours as a Social Darwinist
As you tried to convince me of your Know Nothing bliss,
I let my eyes look away, if for just a minute (Seventy two, seventy two seventy two)
Being anti-social ain`t darlin little Darwin
You won`t like the feeling, your empty hand will be shaking (seventy two, seventy two)
Won`t like the smell as the whole world is quaking (seventy two, seventy two seventy seventy seventy two)

On the third day I flew across the sky
rebuilt the temple of love, I did pray
Sure, I fell, makin` a hell of her heaven,
and man O man let the bunker busters fly.

I ran for cover, O sweet Sweet Twenty Three Skidoo (Twenty three, twenty three twenty three skidoo)
By the sixty-ninth hour as a social Darwinist
I ran for cover, looking for the way you look at me,
hoping and I`m praying to look up to you.

(Jaggedy Guitar riffs here)

Three more hours as a social Darwinist,
for just three days I forgot about you (seventy two, O, seventy two, yeah)
Seventy two hours of living from your hand to my fist
Seperate but equal, sure, gotta get a step on you.
Treated every living thing like my private little toy
Dreamin of the cosmos now, when I was just a boy (Darwinist)
Wore your love like a glove but there was no joy (Darwinist)
Gotta get around these blank walls, gotta get over you (Darwinist)

Douglas McDaniel is publisher of and his blogger site,, as well as about 10 books (although at times he loses count, since he always intends to make more). A Phoenix-based freelance writer, he can be e-mailed at for as long as the empire supplies electricity.

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