Friday, April 21, 2006

Dylan & Cash

I just finished reading Peter Doggett's Are You Ready for the Country, which chronicles the roots of country rock and Americana music. Much of the book is spent on Hank Williams, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, The Band, etc., though Doggett includes contemporaries such as Neil Young, Uncle Tupelo, Beck, and Steve Earle as well. He also includes a recommended list of 100 essential albums, which is cool for a list maker like myself. Related to this, I finally saw Walk the Line recently, and since seeing it I've been listening to more Johnny Cash tunes. I have always been a fan of Cash's music (especially his later stuff with Rick Rubin), but thanks to geting hold of my mom's record collection I am starting to appreciate more of his earlier songwriting. Check out this clip from the short lived The Johnny Cash Show, featuring Bob Dylan and the Man in Black performing Dylan's "Girl of the North Country". They don't make TV like this anymore, if they did I might tune in more.

Listening to: Built to Spill- You in Reverse

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hiding Out

Someone recently asked me what the title of my blog meant. Picking a name for one's blog is serious business, you want it to be unique and clever, though it should mean something to you as well. I came up with the name "The Last Hideout" from two sources; a song and a book.

It is a loose reference to a line in the Uncle Tupelo song, "Sauget Wind":

I don't know what I'm breathing for
'Cause the air around here ain't so good anymore
The weatherman says "fair"
But he looks like a lie
Nothing's free in this country
And there's no place to more

I like the idea of having a place to escape to if need be, to get away from all the crazy shit that is going on in the world, a modern day hideout. Sadly though, those places are getting harder to find, but I still know a few. "The Last Hideout" is the title of chapter in one of my favorite books; The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan. In this chapter Egan writes about the North Cascades of Washington State, a place where I spent much time in my early 20's. Nearly twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, the North Cascades contains Glacier Peak and the Pasayten ("Pay Satan") Wilderness Areas. It's a roadless land of clean air, alpine meadows, and sawtooth mountain skylines. In college I used to escape to the North Cascades whenever I could. Outside of Alaska, I can't think of a better place to get lost.

I also get some shit from people when I tell them the web address to my blog. "What the hell is a nooksack?" is the response I get from most people. The best one I heard was someone thought it was a reference to an Eskimo's scrotum. You are one sick fuck if you think I am going to name my blog after someone's ball sack. No offense to any Inuit readers out there, you've got bigger balls than I will ever have. The name comes from the Nooksack River in Western Washington, another place where I spent much time when I lived out west. It's headwaters are fed by the snow from Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, it is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world and it holds a lot of memories for me, so don't go pissing in it.

That's it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Josh Ritter's "Thin Blue Flame"

I just listened to Josh Ritter's new album 'The Animal Years' online, and when it comes out on Tuesday I for one am planning on picking it up. Brilliant stuff from this Idaho native. Fans of Josh Rouse, Alexi Murdoch, and Richard Buckner will not be disappointed. I've been a fan of Ritter's songwriting since I first heard "Kathleen" on our local Martha's Vineyard station. His lyrics are pure poetry, and in my opinion 'The Animal Years' is his most polished album yet. It's been a long time since a new song has left me speechless, but the tune "Thin Blue Flame" kills me. I've listened to it five times in a row now, and let me tell you, it is nine minutes of near musical perfection. I will need to listen to it five more times to begin to unravel the literary and religious references. The lyrics are some of the saddest I have heard, yet there is hope in his words. Ritter starts off slow, then the building piano, guitar and drums come crashing together into the climax, until they all quietly fall back to earth in a hopeful finale. I haven't heard a song this good in a long time.

I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets are swimming with amputees
It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it's the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They're guilty when killed and they're killed where they're found
If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
Sings kiss thee hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
But you need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find
And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy that's what we expect

That's some shit.

Here is what Ritter's website says about the song:

On "Thin Blue Flame" Ritter steps out of the third person to face his audience directly and articulate his vision of a world in which religious calling becomes a battle cry and everything on earth is sacrificed in the name of heaven. His words combine apocalyptic, gospel-like testifying with dreamy, stream-of-consciousness poetry. As Ritter explains, "The word 'apocalypse' means unveiling, you know, not just the end of the world. In some of the real apocalyptic literature like The Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost, or even Gravity's Rainbow or Slaughterhouse Five, a person goes through a long series of trials and tribulations, seeing things and coming back with new knowledge and maybe new warnings. In the past year, we didn't have to go anywhere to see those kinds of things. We all have TV. We all can see what's going on and there's no one who can say it's a good thing. 'Thin Blue Flame' is a trip through what everybody can see. I was just writing down the images I saw as they came to me. I worked on it for a long time, My notebook was filled with 'Thin Blue Flame' for a year and a half."

Josh Ritter is playing in Providence and Boston April 28 and 29, hopefully I will be able to check him out.