Wilco's "A.M." Turns 20

When considering the moments that served as the catalysts for my lifelong love of music, I can think of three that events that truly lit the fire: 

1) My father's endless spinning of Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run in the late 70's and 80's. From "Meeting Across the River" to "Jungleland," these songs summoned something in me that previously lay dormant. The life within these songs brought out a life in me.

2) The exact moment that I heard the first notes of "New Madrid" by Uncle Tupelo. Sitting across from my college buddy Brian on a Saturday afternoon, we were both blasted into a world of music that would change our lives. Literally.

3) March 28, 1995. On this night, the same Brian mentioned above, and I, would head to Tower Records in Boston at midnight to claim our copies of Wilco's first record A.M. Following our introduction to Uncle Tupelo a little less than a year earlier, we'd spent a good part of the past six months diving head first into this new genre, or sub-genre, called alt.country. We'd discovered The Jayhawks, The Blood Oranges, Richard Buckner and many more. But Wilco, which was comprised of most of what had been Uncle Tupelo, likely represented something different. And on this night, after each picking up the CD, we sat down, cracked what was probably the first of 12 beers each, and played the record over and over. We both quickly concluded that this wasn't as good as Uncle Tupelo. But not many records in our entire collection were. It was pop music layered with country. The songs were good but sorta half baked. But man did they show promise. Jeff Tweedy was just getting comfortable fronting a band. I never, ever could have imagined what this band would become 20 years later. What a ride it's been.


I hate that term. It sounds like an attempt to attract folks to an otherwise stale destination. But given that my contributions went from 700+ posts in 2009, down to 4 in 2014 and now 2 in 2015, if I'm going to re-engage with this blog, I figured I needed a lead in. Here it is.

As you will see, the blog has undergone a pretty drastic re-design. This is a work in progress. In addition to a new look, I plan on fine tuning what I write about, champion, share, etc. I'm sure it'll mostly be about music. The question then is: what else? Do I continue to post personal photos, political stories and the occasional sports story. Honestly, probably not. I may just make it about music with a sprinkle of the other arts. The things that move me. The things that I hope will move you.

More to come very soon. I've now been blogging at this address for close to 10 years. Hopefully 10 more to come.

Still Be Wild -- The Rodeo Bar

Another of my favorite NYC haunts will soon cease having live music. From Brownies and the Lakeside Lounge to Great Lakes and now The Rodeo Bar, a large part of my twenties are quickly vanishing from the New York City streets. The rooms where I celebrated rock n' roll, bought and accepted many a drink and formed the strongest friendships of my life, are quickly disappearing. And with each closing, I realize that my youth is becoming more and more distant. The endless, blurry nights. The rock n' roll bouncing off venue or apartment walls until the sun came up. Many of these memories are now 15 years+ old. Time barrels on.

Star City was the only band I really cared about on the Rodeo Bar calendar. I liked the Hangdogs alright, and seeing Lucinda Williams stumble around the room was fun to witness, but it was Jason Lewis' messy alt.country group of pros that brought me out. I'd eventually "manage" them, which really just meant that I'd collect merch money on occasion and, well, hang out with them. We almost did get that bizarre record deal, but that's not why we were in it. It was the camaraderie, the friendships, the music. We'd talk about the Beatles, Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, girls, the Yankees and it all happened throughout the greatest city in the world. We were idealistic and we were borderline manic. And we just couldn't get enough.

Now we're older. Not necessarily beyond our peak years, but certainly past the raucous and boundless days that were the 90s. Seemed they'd never end. We'd sing and drink forever. Many of us are now married. Only a few remain in New York City. A number of us, myself included, no longer drink. Time marches on. But I sit here in my comfortable Northern California apartment listening to Star City's Inside the Other Days and it's like it was yesterday. The NYC streets may be cleaner and rock n' roll may not have the same impact on the city, but I'll never forget those days. They brought us together and those bonds will never break. Thanks for the music, Jason. Thanks a lot.

Breadcrumb Trail

Whenever I listen to Slint, there's just something.....off. It's like watching The Shining; you appreciate its brilliance but you feel like you should stop watching. Not necessarily out of fear of what's on screen, but for fear of where your mind is careening to. Slint's second and final record, Spiderland, is widely considered a masterpiece of indie/punk/sound/something. But again, it's almost impossible to describe. Four kids out of Louisville, Kentucky spit out something that must've come from the depths. And then they were done. But Spiderland was just finding its way.

Twenty-plus years after their demise arrives the documentary Breadcrumb Trails. I watched tonight and although it's filled with interviews with band members, the mystery remains. It's briefly mentioned that one band member checked himself into a hospital immediately following completion of the record. But no explanation follows. All four members have gone onto different projects, and, at least on the surface, seem to be living fairly normal lives. But all these years later, it's still haunting, jarring but equally perfect. A masterpiece, indeed.


It's been a pretty unreal year. I can't recall reflecting on a year and having such a long list of enriching experiences, some of which I never imagined possible.

Here are a few of the highlights of the year 2013:

Solid Sound Music Festival
Three beautiful days in the quiet and rustic town of North Adams, MA. The selection of artists couldn't have been better: Wilco (x2), Low, Neko Case, Dream Syndicate, White Denim and many more. Wilco opened their "covers" set with a blistering take on Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" followed by Pavement's "Cut Your Hair." Probably the biggest surge of energy I've felt since Clarence joined Bruce onstage many years back in New Jersey. I've been to some great music festivals, but SS is far-and-away the best. From the music to the staff to the food to the pace, this is the perfect music festival.

Friends and Family
Spent a lot of time with friends near and far.

The Replacements
Sure, Bob's gone and Chris didn't join, but this certainly felt like The Replacements. I still can't believe I was able to witness this.

The job I'd spent 15 years hoping I'd land. It's exceeded my expectations. Amazing to be surrounded by such driven and curious minds.

What a charming and beautiful performance.

Meeting Peter Jesperson and Jac Holzman
What a thrill to meet two of my heroes. These men played integral roles in some of the greatest rock n' roll ever produced. They both couldn't have been kinder, and I now consider both to be not only role models, but friends.

Big Sur
I will never tire of you.

2013 in Review : My Ten Favorite Records of the Year

1 Jason Isbell / Northeastern

2 Josh Ritter / The Beast In Its Tracks

3 Low / The Invisible Way

4 Neko Case / The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight...

5 Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis / Cheater's Game

6 Okkervil River / The Silver Gynmasium

7 Arcade Fire / Reflektor

8 Son Volt / Honky Tonk

9 Foxygen / We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

10 Mavis Staples / One True Vine

2013 in Review : Songs for Slim

In early 2012, former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap suffered a massive stroke. This tragic turn resulted in one of the most heartfelt and collective reactions the music industry has seen in some time. Musicians ranging from Jakob Dylan, Steve Earle, Jeff Tweedy, Lucero, Joe Henry, Deer Tick and Patterson Hood, recorded some of  Slim's tracks, while former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson gathered all the material, placed the recordings on 7" singles and put them up for auction. The proceeds helped offset Slim's building medical expenses and may have played a role in Paul and Tommy getting The Replacements back for a few of their first shows in over two decades.

Peter and a host of musicians came to the aid of one of their own. Beautifully done. We all wish Slim the best. 

My 25 Favorite Songs of 2013

Clarence White : Low
San Francisco : Foxygen
Here Comes the Night : Arcade Fire
Down Down the Deep River : Okkervil River
I'm Not Sayin' : The Replacements
Flying Over Water : Jason Isbell
Cheater's Game : Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis
So Sad : Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Dawn McCarthy
Evil Eye : Josh Ritter
Follow You Down : The New Mendicants
One True Vine : Mavis Staples
How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me : Scott Miller
On a Balcony : Okkervil River
Surrounded : Richard Buckner
Cover Me Up : Jason Isbell
Plastic Cup : Low
City Swan : Neko Case
Livin' On : Son Volt
A Certain Light : Josh Ritter
I'll Be Around : Yo La Tengo
Get Lucky : Daft Punk
New South Wales : Jason Isbell
No Destruction : Foxygen
Portrait : Richard Buckner
The Ballad of the Opening Band : Jeff Tweedy


I've never been one for birthdays, or even holidays, for that matter. I've always found both to be a bit silly. Every day should hold its own set of experiences, regardless of some arbitrary label. Okay, birthdays aren't really arbitrary, but hopefully you get the point.

40 seems different. 40. Wow. When I was in my teens I couldn't even fathom 30, let alone 40. And my teens seem like just a few years ago, notwithstanding the Def Leppard phase. I'm now left with one full day in my 30s. I've spent the morning tending to a work matter, but I'm planning on going for a run, listening to some music and then taking Bennett on a hike. And likely doing a little reflecting. Man, 40.

When I look back on my life, I'm almost baffled by the amazing experiences I've had. I've seen Bruce Springsteen well north of 50 times. Same goes for Wilco. I've seen more incredible rock n' roll, country, soul, singer/songwriter, hip hop, etc. music that I never dreamt I'd see in a lifetime. I've met absolutely wonderful people: friends, family, girlfriends, colleagues and passer-bys. I still feel as though I've barely traveled, but I've stood in awe at places such as Crater Lake, Big Sur, the Berkshires, Cannes, Minnesota, Maine, Austin, Amsterdam, St. Augustine, Joshua Tree, Brooklyn, Italy and Nashville.

I recently said to a friend, "If it all ended now, I couldn't have asked for more." He seemed to think the comment was morose. I didn't. Still don't.

Greatest American Bands of All-Time

With the possible demise of The Gourds, this got me thinking: Who are the greatest American bands of all-time? With little thought, here's a short list (sort of in order):

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Byrds
The Beach Boys
The Velvet Underground
The Replacements
The Ramones
Big Star
The Doors
Uncle Tupelo
Guns n' Roses
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Grateful Dead
Public Enemy
Buffalo Springfield
Cheap Trick

The Gourds

It's funny how I mark my age not by my children (which granted, I don't have) or family members aging, but by the longevity or demise of some of my favorite bands. To hear that The Gourds have been together for 19 years is mind boggling. I remember RIGHT when they started, listening to "Dems Good Beeble" over and over and over. I saw an interview with Joe Pernice recently where he said that music literally kept him alive in his teens and 20s. I know it sounds over-the-top but I feel, well, the same way. I have no idea what I would've latched onto if not for discovering Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Jayhawks, Gourds, Blue Mountain, The Pernice Brothers, etc. Whenever one of these bands calls it quits, a little part of me seems to close up.

I have so, so many great memories of The Gourds. From listening to their records, seeing them live and even hanging out with them, they've been a part of my life consistently for 20 years. Gourds co-frontman Kevin Russell played a role in me deciding to move to California over Austin. As I was mulling the move, he said, "Yes, it's different than the rest of Texas, but it's still Texas." That sealed my decision. Thanks, Kev. And then there was the night in Philly. I had helped book The Gourds along with Philly's darlings at the time, Marah. And man, what a night. It was sometime around 4am that Jimmy found some Thin Lizzy in my friend Brendan's apartment and the night/morning was off. I recall buying two cases for all of us and it was gone fast. Real fast. We all got up around noon and watched the Cowboys game. Kev talked about Texas football. It was just like hanging out with a bunch of good friends. Early afternoon they loaded up the van and pointed the wheel towards Pittsburgh. It was a night I'll never forget.

Their live shows stand right alongside those of Springsteen, Slobberbone and Wilco as some of the greatest I've ever seen. And on record, they're just as fantastic. "Stadium Blitzer" is a five-star record and I can only cite maybe 15 of those in my collection. "Dems Good Beeble" is a masterful first record. And then came, "Bolsa..., " "Ghosts....," "Cow Fish Fowl..," "Haymaker!" and so many more. Call 'em what you will, but they're a rock n' roll band and one of the best of our time. Add to that the gentlemanly humor and charm, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been around to witness this band from start-to-(maybe)finish. This band helped to enrich my life; more than they'll ever know.

Wilco @ MASS MoCA, 6/21/13

Perhaps the greatest show I've ever seen.

Friday, June 21, 2012
Solid Sound Festival
MASS MoCA – Jone’s Field
North Adams, MA

  1. The Boys are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
  2. Cut Your Hair (Pavement)
  3. In The Street (Big Star)
  4. New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo)
  5. Dead Flowers (The Rolling Stones)
  6. Simple Twist of Fate (Bob Dylan)
  7. Ripple (The Grateful Dead)
  8. Who Loves the Sun (The Velvet Underground)
  9. And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles)
  10. Psychotic Reaction (Count Five)
  11. Tom Courtenay (Yo La Tengo) w/ Yo La Tengo
  12. James Alley Blues (Richard Rabbit Brown)
  13. Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks) w/ Lucius
  14. Waterloo (ABBA) Sung by Lucius
  15. Peace Love and Understanding (Nick Lowe)
  16. Marquee Moon (Television)
  17. (Don’t Fear) the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)
  18. Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
  19. Get Lucky (Daft Punk)
  20. Surrender (Cheap Trick)
  21. Color Me Impressed (The Replacements) w/ Tommy Stinson on bass
  22. Kingpin (Wilco)
  23. Thank You Friends (Big Star)
  1. The Weight (The Band) Dedicated to Levon Helm
  2. Roadrunner (The Modern Lovers) w/ Yo La Tengo