Neon Nashville Night

IMG_3634I knew Nashville held itself out as the Music City, and the home of country music.  I had no idea, however, that it was a place where middle America came to get tanked.

On Broadway, about 8 blocks from our hotel, is a riotous collection of bars, music venues, karaoke joints, t-shirt salons, and cowboy boot emporiums, all lit up like a Christmas tree against the Nashville night sky.  Throng of red-faced, boot-wearing folks crowd the sidewalks and jam into the bars, swilling beer and listening to an unknown group — some very good, some not so — do covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Buffett, and Eric Clapton tunes.  On our walk tonight we saw bachelorette parties, rednecks ready to brawl, and families with kids, all ready to take in that Nashville ambiance.

With all the neon and motorcycles and crowds out on the streets, it reminded me somewhat of American Graffiti.  To complete the image, we saw a sign warning that there was to be “no cruising” from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Morning Music, Morning Mood

When I was in law school, I got into the habit of listening to Call Me The Breeze by Lynyrd Skynyrd the morning before every exam.  The high-octane music, mixed in with some clumsy air guitar, got the blood pumping and charged me up for the challenge looming immediately ahead.

Thirty years later, music still sets my mood.  I’ll thumb the iPod menu down to the Shuffle Songs setting for my morning walk, and the randomly selected songs I hear will stick in my head for hours, playing in a continuous loop during mental down time moments until a new song pushes them aside.  And I can help that process by selecting songs to match my appointments for the day.  If I’m going to be doing some careful analytical thinking, nothing can prime that high-end mental pump like the intricate melodies of J.S. Bach and his baroque music buddies.  If I’ve got a deposition that might be contentious, I’ll try to soothe things in advance with some Coltrane.  If I will be writing, I’ll look for something upbeat and flowing.  And if I ever needed to storm the barricades, I’d play Rage Against The Machine’s The Battle Of Los Angeles.

Lately I’ve been playing waltzes and similar music from my Vienna Evening iPod playlist in the morning.  As Stanley Kubrick recognized in 2001, waltz music goes well with motion and sunrises.  The swirling sounds mesh perfectly with a whirl around the Yantis Loop and then some crack-of-dawn watering of the flower beds, as I move the fine spray of water back and forth to the rhythm.

The Best American Band: Poll Results

It’s time to declare winners in our “best American rock ‘n’ roll band” poll, and it ends in a three-way tie between Aerosmith, the Beach Boys, and the Doors.  Other bands receiving votes were the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Eagles, Steely Dan, and Van Halen.

In terms of hits on the blog, the most popular best American band posts have been, in descending order, Steely Dan, Pearl Jam, the Eagles, the Beach Boys, the Allman Brothers, the Doors, Rage Against the Machine, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the White Stripes, and R.E.M.

Thanks to everyone for voting on this crucial cultural question!

The Best American Band: Time To Vote!

We’ve published a number of posts with our thoughts on the Best American Band, and we’ve given everyone time to think about that extraordinarily weighty issue. Now, it’s time for you to vote. We’ll check back in a week and declare a winner. Please, vote for just one of the candidates.

The Best American Band: Lynyrd Skynyrd Consydyrd

As I gave some thought to the question of identifying the best American rock ‘n’ roll band, I decided to consult an unimpeachable source of information — my Ipod. Upon doing so, I realized that it includes a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. Cognito, ergo sum: I have many Lynyrd Skynyrd songs on my Ipod, therefore they must be a great rock ‘n’ roll band.

In fairness, some of those songs are on my Ipod because that are particularly evocative of a time and place. In this instance, the time and place are a crappy two-bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a two-story stuccoed building at 101 West Eighth Avenue, about four blocks from the Ohio State campus, in the late 1970s. Although I had heard Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird in high school, I wasn’t really introduced to Skynyrd until college, where my roommate was a Skynyrd freak. We constantly played the first album (called, simply, “Pronounced” at 101 W. 8th) and Second Helping and, when it came out later, Street Survivors. Basically, then, any Skynyrd song gives me a strong sense of the college years. Later, when I was in law school, I adopted Call Me The Breeze as a kind of theme song and played to get me fired up before every first-year law school exam. I question whether any better air guitar (or, for that matter, air piano) song has ever been recorded.

So, I’m biased. Nevertheless, I think Skynyrd can objectively be considered one of the best American rock ‘n’ roll bands even though their career was tragically cut short in 1977 by a plane crash that killed several band members. They had a strong Southern flavor, a striking multiple-guitar sound, wonderful keyboards, and excellent lead vocals — but their songs also reflected an interesting perspective and, in some cases, strong political views. Things Goin’ On, for example, is an excellent protest song, and Sweet Home Alabama, of course, featured a notable reference to the Watergate scandal. And, their music easily passes the car radio test — the volume inevitably got cranked when Gimme Three Steps and I Know A Little were played on the local rock station. When Ronnie Van Zant said “turn it up” at the beginning of Sweet Home Alabama, people listened and obeyed.

The Ipod doesn’t lie, and it includes 19 Skynyrd songs. Some are there because they remind me of specific college moments (like The Ballad of Curtis Loew, a name that was strikingly similar to the name of an older man who was a classmate in the Journalism 202 class my roommate and I took), but most are there because they are just great tunes: songs like Sweet Home Alabama, I Ain’t The One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, I Know A Little, Swamp Music, Things Goin’ On, and Free Bird. Skynyrd did not invent Southern rock, but it sure did a lot to advance the genre. I think Skynyrd clearly deserves careful consideration on any “best American band” list.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Political Songs

Recently I’ve been listening to my “political songs” playlist on my Ipod. The only criterion for inclusion on the list is that the song has to have some kind of overt “political” message, as opposed to being about love, or cars, or some other song topic. I like the playlist because it has really good diversity of genres, artists, and even political viewpoints. The first 20 songs are as follows:

The Times They Are A-Changin’ — Bob Dylan
New Millenium Homes — Rage Against The Machine
What’s Going On — Marvin Gaye
Ohio — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Good People — Jack Johnson
Revolution — The Beatles
Capital G — Nine Inch Nails
Tom Dooley — Kingston Trio
Authority Song — John Mellencamp
It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) — R.E.M.
Pride (In The Name Of Love) — U2
Working Class Hero — John Lennon
Born In The U.S.A. — Bruce Springsteen
Why Don’t You Get A Job — The Offspring
Redemption Day — Sheryl Crow
Uneasy Rider — The Charlie Daniels Band
Zombie — The Cranberries
American Anthem — Norah Jones
Things Goin’ On (Acoustic) — Lynyrd Skynyrd
For What It’s Worth — Buffalo Springfield

If you’ve never heard it, Uneasy Rider is an absolute classic: