Saturday, May 16, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: I Just Killed Kafka

Eric Schwartz: I Just Killed Kafka


Eric Schwartz is a twisted genius, a brilliant degenerate... taking everyday characters and situations (Charlie Brown, elderly women downstairs neighbors, Bill Clinton... to name only a few) and warping them until they're like the printed warnings on passenger side mirrors of cars: closer than they appear - nothing and no one is safe. It's exhiliarating yet frightening to follow his meandering musical paths that are equal parts hysteria and horror, delight and disgust - imagine what it would be like to inhabit his brain for a while?!? (oh, no... can't go there... :-)

This is Eric tackling the age-old problem of what to do with an unwanted night-time pest, weaving good fun and great literature with a pop-rock-meets-Russian-dirge melody... as he personalizes and metaphorizes and eventually euthanizes - SQUOOOOSH!

Creepy Crawlies : Two Bugs and a Roach

Earl Hooker : Two Bugs And A Roach


"If there was a more immaculate slide guitarist residing in Chicago during the 1950s and '60s than Earl Hooker, his name has yet to surface. Boasting a fretboard touch so smooth and clean that every note rang as clear and precise as a bell, Hooker was an endlessly inventive axeman who would likely have been a star had his modest vocal abilities matched his instrumental prowess and had he not been dogged by tuberculosis (it killed him at age 41)."

I have to say i really like AMG bios, especially their introductions, when they are well made. Earl Hooker was a specialist for killer instrumentals. Recorded for Arhoolie in 1968-69, this song features funky beats and a great repartee between Earl and Andrew 'B.B. Jr.' Odom. And of course, that bug which eventually killed him.

Earl Hooker played not only blues, but also country (as you'll see in this video), jazz and rock. He sure was an influence for Henrix, who called him the "master of the wah-wah pedal".

Friday, May 15, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: There's a New Sound

The Muppets: There's a New Sound


The Muppet Show had a great way of taking a classic novelty song and giving it new life for a new generation. We talked about this back in BoyHowdy's post for the song "Mahna Mahna" here, and it holds true again for the classic novelty hit "There's a New Sound" originally by Tony Burrello (which you can hear on YouTube here if you're interested). The original was a staple of the Dr. Demento show but was all but forgotten until it appeared again on The Muppet Show.

On the Muppet Show, stage manager Scooter sings this classic about the sound of these underground creepy crawlies. The original version is creepier and stranger, but when it appears on The Muppets it feels like it was made for them and has a charm children and families will appreciate. And this recording comes complete with a joke by Fozzie Bear at the end.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: Mayfly

Jeffrey Foucault: Mayfly


Jeffrey Foucault's rough and raspy voice and sparse folkblues style ring evocatively of prairiedust and hard roads; his lyrics and tone tend towards the dark and introspective. His tender treatment of other people's songs in this vein has made him a constant presence over at Cover Lay Down, both solo and as a member of folk collaborative Redbird, and it would not be hyperbole to say that he may well be my favorite male singer-songwriter of his generation.

But despite his penchant for Townesian melancholy in his songcraft, in person, Foucault is wry and self-effacing, a shy, grinning, easygoing country boy with a guitar in his hands. Nowhere does this lighter side come out more clearly than on Mayfly, which Foucault wrote by accident while trying to figure out the guitar part to Freight Train. The metaphor of the short-lived mayfly -- a year in waterbound larval state, a day of adulthood before death -- carries plenty of baggage, but Foucault manages to transcend the weight; the upbeat simplicity of the tune and lyrics treat the subject delicately, perfectly capturing the fleeting beauty of life.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: Boll Weevil

Eddie Cochran: Boll Weevil


You don't hear much about Eddie Cochran or the boll weevil anymore, but they were once both a pretty big deal.

Creepy Crawlies: Hey There Little Insect


No creepy crawlies edition would be complete without Jonathan Richman pledging his love to the insect kingdom, provided the little creatures don´t bug him too much of course. Jonathan certainly doesn´t want to risk any insect bites.

"Hey there little insect, please calm down,
then we´ll have fun and fool around..."

As a bonus, here´s a very early (´74) acoustic demo of this gem, from a boot called Living Room Demos, also known as the Solo Acetate. Apart from the praying mantis and the hornet, this one also features the potato bug and... the California watchdog. Say what?

Creepy Crawlies : La Cucaracha

Orquesta Pajaro Azul : La Cucaracha


One of my "bubbling under" songs of the drug week, "La Cucaracha" (the cockroach in Spanish), finally makes its way here. A satiric corrido (Mexican ballad) of obscure origin (see here) it lived through different eras of Mexican history and especially the revolution of 1910-1929.

The cucaracha, as in English, is a weed joint. Some say the chorus as it is known nowadays "La Cucaracha, la cucaracha ya no puede caminar" (the cockroach, the cockroach cannot go forward), "por que notiene, porque le falta, marijuana que fumar" (because he lacks, because he lacks, marijuana to smoke) was written by Pancho Villa supporters and was referring to President Victoriano Huerta, "a notorious drunk and weed addict who was considered a villain and traitor due to his part in the death of revolutionary President Francisco Madero" (Wikipedia). Huerta was said to wear big dark glasses and a long coat which made him look like the abhorred insect.

Then every faction wrote its own version of the song, "La Cucaracha Carransista", "La Cucaracha Porifirsta", "La Cucaracha Villista" and even a cucaracha which could not go forward because it lacked coca cola (porque le falta coca cola que tomar)!

The catchy melody made it a favourite all around the world and perhaps the most popular Mexican song abroad.

This Tejano version was recorded in San Antonio by Bluebird in 1934. I love its old-fashioned sound, with trumpets and strings.

Read more about the context ofthat recording and "Corridos de la revolucion" here in this great article I found on the Web.

Creepy Crawlies: The Bees

Belly: The Bees


This is my favorite song by Belly (remember "Feed The Tree" from the 90s?). This song appeared on their sophomore (and final) album "King". The song uses bees as metaphor. Within the song we find a girl warning someone not to get too close because of the possibility of getting hurt (or stung) by her. She sings:

The bees behind my eyes sing beware.
I felt this image seemed appropriate as it combines symbols used to warn people of impending doom.

But what I love most about the song is the way it is sung in the tone of bees buzzing. Even the opening guitar riff hints at buzzing. The repeated and elongated vowel sounds make it perfect, especially in the chorus. Even the play on "bee-ware" is well played out. This idea could have been taken too far and been hokey, but instead it's perfect.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: John's Cocoons

Michael McNevin: John's Cocoons


Michael McNevin's musical forte is story songs... about his family, his friends and growing up in the small town of Niles, California... where he still resides - John's Cocoons is a true tale about the hobby/passion of his brother John when they were growing up, as well as a metaphor for one's comfort zone...

It was the first song I heard of Michael's, which caused me to fall in love with his music and be his booking agent for two years - John's Cocoons was featured on Christine Lavin's The Stealth Project: Music Under the Radar in 1999, high praise indeed...

Michael became a bit reclusive over the last three or so years, opening up a shop in his town, used as a gathering place for locals as well as featuring his Etch-A-Sketch Art - he's venturing out a weekend at a time these days, having just appeared in my concert series this past Saturday night and looking forward to the upcoming Kerrville Wine and Music Festival in Texas Labor Day weekend...

Creepy Crawlies : Moustique

Zao: Moustique (Mosquito)


One of the funniest songs I know is about insects, but, eh, it's in French, in this West African colourful French that I love so much.

Casimir Zoba, aka Zao (see bio), a Congolese singer songwriter from Brazzaville, uses humor as a social and political weapon in songs such as "Ancien combattant" (war veteran), "Ivrogne" (drunkard). He's a sort of clownish Fela, although more limited musically than the Nigerian.

Awkward home made translation :

Mosquito, mosquito, You are a bandit
Mosquito, mosquito, You are a bastard
You sting me, you sting me, I can't sleep
You are a bastard

You suck my blood and bring it to the factories where they make red wine
You're so tiny but your name is big, ah, you are a bandit
You come and sing to my ear, without any fear, ah, you are a pain

You sting my wife without paying adultery, ah, you are a crook
You're romantic, tragic oh and you are indecent

You tickle the European girl, and sting the African girl, you are a racist
You slip past the sentry, you sting Mr. President, you're an assassin
You come and sting the king, without protocol, you are a criminal

Mosquito, Mosquito, you're an assassin
You give me malaria, death, and misery
There are many corpses in the neighbourhood, wakes every night
Every town hall in the world fights you, but you're still alive
They use insecticide, acid, but you're invincible

You sting my comrades, the sick, and the salad
You're in ponds, in jars and in bars
I'm gonna suit you in court, before the judge
You give me the fever that cracks my lips so that I can no longer eat the goat
Mosquito, mosquito, You are a bastard
Mosquito, Mosquito, you're an assassin
Mosquito, mosquito, You are a bastard

Creepy Crawlies: I Am The Fly

British artpunks Wire never shied away from unusual points of view. In the remarkably catchy I Am The Fly (´78) they look at the world through the eyes of a rather determined member of the Diptera order.

"I am the fly in the ointment
I shake you down to say please
as you accept the next dose of disease..."

Creepy Crawlies: Boris The Spider

The Who: Boris The Spider


They don't write 'em like this anymore.

Too bad.

While there are many many high points to this tune, my favorite is the matter-of-fact last stanza:

He's come to a sticky end
Don't think he will ever mend
Never more will he crawl 'round
He's embedded in the ground

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: The Bug

Dire Straits: The Bug


The last single released from the last studio album Dire Straits ever recorded. It's no Sultans of Swing, and it's a heck of a lot more straightforward than most of their catalog -- after their huge success with Money For Nothing the band was producing mostly MTV-ready rock by the final stages of their run together; though The Bug charted at #8 on the Hot Mainstream Rock charts in the US, the rest of the world had already lost interest. But the sentiment is universal, and the beat just as catchy and distinctive as ever.

To be fair, this song might not have made the cut this week, but I seem to be in a country mood, and Mary Chapin Carpenter's two-steppin' cover, which peaked at #16 on the Hot Country Singles charts the following year, stands up well to the original.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: The Bug


Creepy Crawlies: Insects

Oingo Boingo: Insects


As I mentioned here once before, Oingo Boingo was a big part of my initiation into the world of choosing my own music without regard to the tastes of my parents. In fact, the first cassette tape I ever purchased was Only A Lad, Oingo Boingo's debut release.

So, naturally I thought of this creeping, crawling, buzzing tune when this week's theme was announced. In fact, if you can find a buggier more jittery song than this one, I'd like to hear it. You'll start scratching, swatting, and possibly dancing, just listening to it.

Creepy Crawlies: Spider & The Fly

Not to be confused with the Stones classic of approximately the same name, this one´s a truly out there, creepy crawly psychedelic psychodrama guaranteed to blow your mind. I guess the Monocles, who drove to their gigs in a souped-up hearse, just took that one acid tab too many. Help me! Help me!

Creepy Crawlies: Praying Mantis

Don Dixon: Praying Mantis


Don Dixon is a producer, best known for his work with REM, The Smithereens, and Guadalcanal Diary. His wife is Marti Jones, whose albums he produces to this day. None of this should be allowed to overshadow Dixon’s talent as a bass player and songwriter. Praying Mantis comes from Dixon’s debut in his own name, in 1985; the song was all over college radio that year.

The praying mantis is one of the most beautiful insects. But the female has the disturbing habit of devouring her mate. A Nature show on this puts the narrator of the song in mind of the woman he is involved with at the time...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Creepy Crawlies: Bees

Laura Cantrell: Bees


From Laura Cantrell's absolutely stunning penultimate effort Humming By The Flowered Vine comes one of the saddest, most poignant piano ballads I know, its performance simultaneously majestic and bittersweet, with a masterful warbling production dynamic that hums like a hive. The song -- which gave the album its title -- never fails to project me towards an imagined life's end, my community and companions gone, the world reduced to a set of lifeless streets.

The multitalented singer-songwriter, cover artist, feminist, and radio DJ Cantrell is nominally a country singer, but like so much of her work, this song is perfect popfolk, storied and universal, wistful and tender, soft and lush with memory. If this is county, I guess I'm a fan after all.

Creepy Crawlies: The Spiderbite Song

The Flaming Lips: The Spiderbite Song


After losing their guitar player, The Flaming Lips were in the most experimental stage of their career. Wayne Coyne famously conducted a symphony of 40 car stereos in a parking lot, and another symphony of people holding boom boxes. They also released Zaireeka, the mammoth set of four-discs designed to be played simultaneously. (Of Zaireeka, Coyne said that they were recording an album that "would be so different and exciting it will either make us millionaires or break us". It did neither.)

About this time, a strange series of events occurred: First, drummer Steven Drozd was apparently bitten by a spider, and his arm was almost needlessly amputated. (There is speculation about the true nature of his injuries, but I've read nothing authoritative). Second, bass player Michael Ivins was in a near fatal, and bizarre, hit and run car accident. Third, Wayne Coyne's father died following a battle with cancer.

Following Zaireeka, The Lips released their critically acclaimed masterpiece, Soft Bulletin, on which we find The Spiderbite Song. The Spiderbite Song beautifully chronicles two of the events that the band faced in the preceding year, and the marriage of Wayne Coyne's brother, Mark.

On a related note: The spider pictured above is a Brown Recluse. I don't recommend it, but if you really want to gross yourself out, do a Google image search for "brown recluse spider bite". Not something you want to have happen to you!

Creepy Crawlies: Dragonfly

Universal Hall Pass: Dragonfly


I'll admit, this theme is bittersweet to me. It's great because I already have a ton of ideas for things to post, but it's not so great in that I abhor bugs and the idea of having to see all the images that will accompany posts this week will make me feel itchy and gross me out (notice I went with a sketch of the insect instead of a photograph for my own sanity). But I think it will definitely be worth it for all the fun this can be.

I love this song and am so glad to have an excuse to post it now. Universal Hall Pass is a solo project of Melissa Kaplan (previously of the Boston-based band Splashdown), a professionally trained vocalist whose vocalizations have been featured in a number of movies and video games. Her specialty is middle-eastern influenced vocalizations. Her lyrics are often tinged with Eastern religious themes but the music itself is rock with an electronic edge. I generally am not a huge fan of electronic, but used sparingly like she does, it's fantastic.