It was one of those New York days when all you want in the world is for something, anything to come down fromBetwitched or Zeus' cloud or the time space portal to Northern New Mexico and transport you like smoke to somewhere far, far away. It was also one of those days when John Atkinson and I were torturing each other with visions of our old home in Santa Fe and the steaming bowls of green chile stew we each now crave like dogs. "Hurry up, Tie off the vein, get the sopapillas ready for after…"
There it was again. Goosebumps. Even a grainy old out–of–synch YouTube video of a 1986 sound check at Maxwell's in Hoboken still evoked a shiver. At the risk of living in the rock 'n' roll past, The Replacements were one of the best bands, bar or otherwise, that I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Over the years I saw Westerberg, Mars and the Stinson Bros many, many times. I saw them when they were riotously drunk, careening from one tune to the next, never finishing any of them. I saw them once at an unbilled gig do not a note of their own music, preferring instead to rip through TV themes: Batman followed by Bewitched followed by The Flintstones... I saw them jacked up on God knows what, painting their shoes and whipping bologna from a deli tray all over their dressing room. Through it all, with the possible exception of when Bob Stinson was kicked out for getting a little too addictive, they had a ball. When it got serious near the end, around the time of Don’t Tell a Soul, it was for all intensive purposes, over. They were the best thing to come out of the once vaunted Minnesota scene—okay, after Prince—and whether they liked it or not, one of the originators of the whole "alt" rock thang.
John Hammond has always been a strange case. Son of the legendary record producer and scout John Hammond Sr. who worked with Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, young John who sang and played guitar staked out a difficult piece of musical turf when he decided to make playing acoustic Deltastyled blues on the National Steel guitar his signature move.
What a weirdassed juxtaposition it was. Freezing as hell outside, like 20 degrees with a stiff breeze, and a Zydeco band inside generating a sweaty mess. On top of that, a mysterious fever swept the place. The kind of fever, brought on by alcohol, that you have to sort of call Jazzfest fever. Anyone who’s ever been to the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans and gotten into the spirit of the thing can instantly reconnect with those feelings, once they have a few beers and hear some NOLA music, be it Cajun, Zydeco, funk or whatever. Hey, you have to hand it to Jazzfest, they’ve created a mojo that goes way beyond the music and creates wildly loyal fans, every festival should be so lucky.
These days I often have to stop myself and remember again that I need to write about music and not just the incredibly weird situation in which today's music business is both dying and rising from the ashes simultaneously.
As soon as we pulled up, I knew that this was gonna be the highlight of my trip to New Orleans. When the door to Snake and Jakes Christmas Club Lounge swung open, I got tears in my eyes as I beheld the kind of unclean, unsafe booze shack that I've wasted many an hour in.
There are many nights when being a music writer comes down to the whining about the stark question: why am I dragging my ass out on the town again? What reason do I really have to see this act? Or to see this act one more time?
It may be time to begin appending the words “The Great,” in front of the name of Wilco. At least that’s my unvarnished reaction to their headlining performance at the inaugural edition of their own Solid Sound Festival, held last weekend in North Adams Massachusetts. Where in the hell is North Adams you may ask, why across the Mohawk Trail is the answer. I once had a friend, upper crust Brahmin Bostonian he was, and his mother used to rhapsodize about “motoring along the Mohawk Trail. She must have been speaking about the end of the trail (otherwise known as Mass Highway 2), nearer to Boston because getting to N. Adams from Interstate 91 is an exercise in going up one side of a mountain (granted in Massachusetts mountains top out at like 900 feet above sea level so we’re not talking friggin’ K2 here), and down the other. It’s not a road for older ladies for whom cucumber sandwiches with the crusts left on is a big step.
No matter how you feel about the whole New Orleans fiasco—my two cents: Ray "chocolate city" Nagin’s lack of chops are now going to be exposed posthaste—there are parts of that town that cannot be allowed to go away, first and foremost the musicians, many of whom still teeter on the brink or have fallen head first into the abyss of financial ruin.
There's almost no gray area when it comes to Christmas music. You either love it and feel it's charming, or it's a holiday plague that you endure, cringing instinctively every time a bell jingles and someone wants a "figgy" pudding.