We have completed yet another trip around the sun. While there were certainly some patches of optimism (remember how great the early summer felt, pre-Delta?), 2021, like 2020 before it, was a tough one. Thankfully, the music helped get us across the finish line. There seemed to be a ton of new releases this past year, likely a byproduct of artists being home-bound for so much of 2020. We asked our DJs to recommend some of their favorites. The list below not only provides an excellent time-capsule for year, but also illustrates the wide variety of musical styles and genres played on WXNA.
It used to be that the end of a year was a time to look back, to reminisce, to think fondly of days gone. But not this year! So long 2020! You were the worst. Please don’t come back. But with that said, time is amorphous and doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed. Just because those 365 days felt like an endless hangover (and not the good kind!), doesn’t mean that there were no sources of joy. In fact, it was a good year for music — which makes sense, because music is how many of us weather tough times. Below is a list of the best music as picked by the WXNA DJs. This is music they played, listened to and got them through a truly rough year. Luckily we can look ahead to 2021. I’m sorry, what’s that? Oh, 2021 is also a total mess? Ah, so it is. Well, we still have the music.
The year is nearing its end. At WXNA we commemorate this occassion by asking our volunteer DJ army a simple question: what is your favorite record of the year? Then they answer that question, and we present the results here. Just as the prophecy foretold!
So have a look and check out some of these amazing recommendations. It’s an excellent way to kick-start the new year (after all, music is forever).
Presented for you in no particular order…
|Fontaines D.C., Dogrel
DJ Ed, Eighties Schmeighties
|Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Take Heart, Take Care
Chad, Dustbin Days
|Bill Callahan, Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
DJ Trev, Our Golden Tones
|North Mississippi Allstars, Up and Rolling
Hound Dog Hoover, Goin’ Down South
|Stray Cats, 40
Jammin’ James Riley, Rockabilly ‘n’ Blues Radio Hour
|Orville Peck, Pony
Erin Mock, Wishful Thinking
|Jenny Lewis, On the Line
Dave Brown, The Black Ark
|The New Pornographers, In The Morse Code of Brake Lights
DJ Hot Car, Hot Fudge Tuesdays
|Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy
Grigsby, Set Records To Stun
|Gauche, A People’s History of Gauche
Anna Lundy, Untune the Sky
|Ruth Garbus, Kleinmeister
DJ LT, Shout, Sister, Shout!
|Young Guv, GUV I & II|
Alexis, Free Association
|The Highwomen, The Highwomen
Laurel Creech, All About Nashville
|Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
Brady Brock, Fidelity High
|Ioanna Gika, Thalassa
DJ Travis T, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
|Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
popGeezer, The English Breakfast
|Guided By Voices, Zeppelin Over China
Mello-D (aka Doyle Davis), Groovy Potential
|The Chemical Brothers, No Geography
DJ Rodge, Delicious Elixir
|Brittany Howard, Jaime
|Jazz Funk Soul, Life and Times
Chris Nochowicz, The Future of Jazz
|The Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger
DJ Cajun Mitch, Sounds of the Bayou
|Blood Incantation, Hidden History Of The Human Race
DJAK, No Remorse
|Frank LoCrasto, Lost Dispatch
DJ rhatfink, Bedazzled Paradigm Jukebox
|Elkhorn, Sun Cycle
Mike Mannix, Psych Out!
|Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
Mike Hester, Flying Lesson
|Amyl and the Sniffers, Amyl and the Sniffers
Laura Powers, Needles+Pins
|Aldous Harding, Designer
DJ Charlotte Rollerskates, The Maiden Voyager
|Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
DJ Juan, International Echo
|Nicholas Payton, Relaxin’ with Nick
DJ Big Chief Chaz, Gilded Splinters
|Quelle Chris, Guns
|Anderson .Paak, Ventura
|Carl Perkins, Discovering Carl Perkins – Eastview, Tennessee 1952-53
Randy, Hipbilly Jamboree Pick
|The Muffs, No Holiday
Randy, Randy’s Record Shop
|Brittany Howard, Jaime
R Reid, Holistic Revolution
|Lingua Ignota, Caligula
|Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
Michael Roark, Slings & Arrows
|Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana
Blackcircle, The Root
|Temporary High, Nick Piunti
Tommy Womack’s Happiness Hour
|Icejjfish, The Gospel
DJ Jonni Downer, The Unlistenable Hour
|The Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger
Heather Lose, Aging Hipster
|Dry Cleaning, Boundary Road Snacks And Drinks / Sweet Princess
Jay Millar, Plural of Vinyl
|Sunn O))), Life Metal/Pyroclasts
Josh Mock, Sad Songs for Happy People
|Green Ribbons, Green Ribbons
DJ Lauren, Different Every Time
|Darrin Bradbury, Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs|
Double-Shot with Joe & Sue
|Jenny Lewis, On The Line
DJ Nexus, Musical Mysticism
|Juleah, Desert Skies
Michael, The Scatter Shot
|Gene Clark, No Other
Ashley, Set Records to Stun
DJ TJ, Static Wall
|Steve Gunn, The Unseen In Between
DJ Susan, The Inconsiderate Mixtape
|Kali Malone, The Sacrificial Code
popcorn brain, Dreambeat
|Robyn Hitchcock/Andy Partridge, Planet England
Anne McCue, Songs On The Wire
Here at WXNA we would be remiss if we let the season pass by without suggesting a few seasonal tunes to play while baking cookies or wrapping packages or
fretting about the future of democracy decorating the tree. But let’s be honest, there is no shortage of holiday playlists to be found around this-here internet. That’s why this year, we’re focusing on a holiday EP. Leave them wanting more, that’s what we always say. Also, life is chaotic. Who has time to compile the top 15,000 holiday songs of all time? Not us!
You can listen to this playlist on Spotify by clicking on these words.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
DJ Sue of Double Shot with Joe and Sue
This 1947 Frank Loesser-penned song was a favorite of my parents, when Mom was pregnant with me for New Year’s Eve that year. She played it every year for the holidays, and now, so do I. My parents loved music and would have been thrilled to know that I am part of WXNA.
“I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake
DJ Joe of Double Shot with Joe and Sue
When that came on MTV for the first time every year, I knew it was Christmas.
“River” by Joni Mitchell
DJ LT of Shout, Sister, Shout!
Not a real crate-diggin’ choice, but I can’t imagine a holiday season without this song in it, providing a respite from the expectations of joyfulness and jingling.
“Christmas At the Airport” by Nick Lowe
Rick Pecoraro, WXNA Contributor
A relatively new entry to the Christmas canon (2013), and one of the few songs that really get to the nut of holiday travel: that it can all fall into chaos at a moments notice. When I hear this song I’m usually reminded of Christmas 2005 when my flight from Newark to Omaha was cancelled. I ended up flying to Chicago and then in a hail mary attempt at forward progression rented the last available car and drove the remaining 8 hours to Nebraska. I hadn’t slept the night before, was exhausted and falling asleep behind the wheel. When I hit the Quad Cities I pulled off, and went into a Best Buy in an attempt to stay awake. I bought a copy of Pavement’s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” and Gwen Steffani’s first solo record. Anyway, this Nick Lowe song takes me back to that Christmas. To its credit I look back fondly.
“I Wish I Had More” by Andrew Bryant
DJ Chad Pelton, Dustbin Days
Andrew Bryant (formerly of the band Water Liars, and now a solo artist) has released singles around the holidays for the past few years (my count is at 5 on Bandcamp). This one should appeal to those that love the sadder side of things around the holidays, or maybe I shouldn’t say sad, but honest. It’s a reminder of those folks dealing with tough relationships, which the holidays have a way of amplifying, and although it’s a fairly brutal tale of a family amidst breakup, I find it uplifting, sincere, and quite heartfelt.
“Patti Smith for Xmas” by Kyle Hamlett Uno
“Merry Christmas From The Family” by Robert Earl Keen
DJ Houndog Hoover of Goin’ Down South
Funny, and gets all the details right!
It’s Halloween, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only WXNA DJ with The Shaggs’ 1969 Philosophy of the World album as their seasonal soundtrack. The band of sisters from Fremont, NH may not have looked as witchy as Stevie Nicks or sounded as ghoulish as Sunn O)))– but Helen, Betty, Dot, and (sometimes) Rachel Wiggin possessed something much deeper beneath the surface. And isn’t that, after all, the spookiest place imaginable?
The Wiggin sisters were managed by their father, Austin Wiggin, who organized their concerts in Fremont and depleted his savings on their studio sessions. It can be said that perhaps their cult following began with him, who may have bordered on obsessive in his attempt to make his daughters rock stars. Since Philosophy of the World was released in 1969, record collectors and music heads across the world have fulfilled his dream by becoming similarly obsessed with and possessed by this record and this band. The Shaggs’ sound demands a response in this way– you can’t listen to their angular, artless rock n’roll without feeling something. There’s a declarative kind of joy that emanates from their sing-song melodies. The obtuse jangle of it all is beautiful, like the broad strokes of a de stijl painting.
It’s time for games
It’s time for fun
Not for just one
But for everyone
The jack-o-lanterns are all lit up
All the dummies are made and stuffed
By just looking you will see
It’s this time of year again
I’m not sure who made these dummies and what they’re stuffed with, but they sure sound terrifying! Even more terrifying to some might be the evidence of a recurring Shaggs theme– that something might be for everyone. In the title track of Philosophy of the World, they outline their worldview with a disarming simplicity:
Oh, the rich people want what the poor people’s got
And the poor people want what the rich people’s got
And the skinny people want what the fat people’s got
And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got
You can never please anybody in this world
It doesn’t matter what you do
It doesn’t matter what you say
There will always be
One who wants things the opposite way
In form and content, The Shaggs were champions of the everyday person– they didn’t have expensive equipment, glitzy outfits, or beautiful harmonies. They were sisters that sang about the universal struggle of obeying your parents, losing your cat, heartbreak, and God— but did so with an unnerving singularity. Sometimes they’d sing the melody, all at once, but each with different phrasing. What could be more witchy than that? These weren’t seances, perhaps, but spellbinding all the same in their dissonant, wide-eyed wonder.
- New Yorker article about The Shaggs
- Light in the Attic Podcast about The Shaggs
- Pitchfork write-up of a Shaggs concert
Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sundays 1-2 pm
Hi, I’m Josh Halper! I’m a guitarist born and raised here in Music City. I’m one of two hosts of WXNA’s “Hot Fudge Tuesdays” which airs every Saturday, from 2 to 4 p.m. We are the self-proclaimed “Randy Boys” on the WXNA lineup, so as a statement of my love for Mr. Newman, I’ve decided to make a list of my favorite Randy albums.
4. “Darkmatter” – Randy’s 2017 album serves as a Cliff’s Notes for the types of work you might find when digging through the songwriter’s expansive career. Songs such as “The Great Debate”, “Putin”, and “It’s a Jungle Out There (V2)” represent the scathing critiques of both governmental and societal hypocrisy that we, as Randy fanatics, have come to anticipate with a nervous reluctance. These songs ride the line of hilarious and cringeworthy, satisfying the listener’s appetite by the third or fourth listen. The rest of the album contains delicious historical vignettes (“Brothers” & “Sonny Boy”), heart-wrenching narrative, and seemingly autobiographical poetry (“Lost Without You, “She Chose Me”, “On the Beach”, and “Wandering Boy”). This is with a solid collection of songs that any Randy lover can be beyond pleased with.
3. “Little Criminals” – In terms of production, this album is a launching point for Randy Newman’s middle era, when he sometimes used distorted electric guitars and synthesizers instead of strings. Bringing in the Eagles as his backing band bridged the gap between crooner Randy and rocker Randy, giving his discography a nice dip into rock’s evil depths. The songwriting is just as whimsical as before, but something about the way the pieces are tracked makes them feel less silly and fun, even though the subject matter is relatively consistent with the rest of his work. His high energy songs see these changes, but the ballads remain pure and simple, creating a wonderful balance.
2. “Sail Away” – I consider this album to be the sister to “Good Old Boys”, which is a crowd favorite. A solid chunk of the cuts (“Sail Away”, “He Gives Us All His Love”, “Old Man”, “Dayton Ohio”, and “Burn On”) feel like they would fit right in with the following release. The string motion is in the same style, the instrumentation is almost identical, and the subject matter is just as romantic and somber. Thematically, the lyrics are geographically broader, outlining both critique and praise of the U.S. and the world, rather than focusing just on the South. Though this makes for an interesting trip around the globe, “Good Old Boys” reigns supreme in my ears. Something about a concept album…
1. “Randy Newman/Live” – This is my favorite Randy Newman Record (yes, over “Good Old Boys”). The record, which was originally released as a treat for Reprise’s fan club, feels like the most intimate and spontaneous thing ever put on tape. The image of Mr. Newman performing in a tiny club by himself, taking requests from and joking with the audience, makes it the most charming album of all. Songs like “Tickle Me”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, and “Lover’s Prayer” that are totally absurd (and almost creepy) become as cute as a shaved lamb in the solo setting. The solo performances of some of his heavier songs (“I’ll Be Home”, “So Long Dad”, and ”Living Without You”) are undeniably brutal. You can hear the audience’s awestruck silence as Newman spills his guts in song after song. This romance is immediately tossed aside when he jumps gracefully from “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” into “Lover’s Prayer” proving that he is an incomparable writer and performer who both recognizes the weight of his work and does not take himself too seriously. This is a combination that I have yet to see elsewhere.
Josh Halper(DJ Sweetbaby)
Hot Fudge Tuesdays
Sundays 2-4 pm
School has started and we’ve got the ideal soundtrack for you!
Whether it’s you, your children, or your nostalgia looking forward to sharpening those #2 pencils, we’ve curated a playlist just for the occasion!
Thirteen by Big Star
It perfectly captures and brings me back to that time and age and all the conflicting emotions and hormones.
Joe Wolfe-Mazeres, Double Shot with Joe and Sue
Sacré Charlemagne by France Gall’s
DJ Natasha, The French Connection
Punk Rock Girl AND Bitchin’ Camaro by The Dead Milkmen
For me, this is SO high school!
DJ Sirena, Music for Grownups
Sister, Do You Know My Name? by The White Stripes
Everyone knows The White Stripes’ “We Are Going to Be Friends” (which I believe can now be found in childrens’ book form): a sweet, schoolish song. But “Sister, Do You Know My Name?” is my pick from their catalog, and not just because of the word sister. It can be found simmering in the middle of the tracklisting on their second album, De Stijl (2000), which was a huge back-to-school album for me circa junior year of high school. It was one of the first vinyl records I bought and then recorded with a vinyl-recording software that came with my record player (all very early-2000s). I remember listening to the crackly, too-quiet mp3 of “Sister” on repeat while biking around my neighborhood in autumn, crunching dry leaves under my tires. Yes, it’s a bit silly, but so is going back-to-school when you’d rather be listening to records. 16-year-old DJ LT was all about this dreamy, autumnal blues and its simultaneous indebtedness/reverence to Blind Willie McTell, whom the record was dedicated to.
Meg White’s drumming is usually simple yet relentless, but here we find it almost sleepy, behind itself, like a lounging cat batting at the rug on the verge of slumber. The slide guitar fills in the blanks and overflows, coloring outside the lines and warming up the atmosphere perfectly for some sweet, boyish lyrics about longing:
I didn’t see you at summer school
But I saw you at the corner store
And I don’t want to break the rules
Cause I’ve broken them all before
But every time I see you
I wonder why
I don’t break a couple rules
So that you’ll notice me
DJ LT, Shout, Sister, Shout!
Schoolhouse Rock by Billy Harlan
Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, rockabilly!
Fuck School by The Replacements
A classic from the Great American Songbook!
Drugstore Rock & Roll by Janis Martin
And one from the Female Elvis her ownself!
Randy Fox, Randy’s Record Shop and Hipbilly Jamboree
I Need a Teacher by Hiss Golden Messenger
This is more generally pro-education (countering the Replacements? ha) and brand new from NC’s Hiss Golden Messenger, which is coming to Basement East in November. Big ups to all our educators gracing classrooms AND the airwaves each week!
DJ Celia, What Moves You
Late for School by Ponytail
This one is mostly included here for the title, as the song itself doesn’t have lyrics — unless you count the odd whoops, hollers and general sonic craziness. So, y’know, just like being late for school.
Rick Pecoraro, contributor
A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy
DJ Alexis, Free Association
Waitin in School by Ricky Nelson
DJ Blackcircle, The Root
(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) by the Beastie Boys
High school would not have been bearable without the parties . . . believe it or not we listened to the Beasties on our way to the Science Bowl at TTU with our super school science teacher!
DJ Leanne, X-Posure and Double X-Posure
Another School Day by Hollywood Brats
DJ Michael, The Scattershot
Sunday Morning by No Doubt
What Did You Learn In School Today? by Tom Paxton
Tom Paxton’s “What Did You Learn In School Today?” is not the cheeriest of back-to-school bangers, but it’s a banger nonetheless. Its call-and-response folk form displays a conversation between a little boy in school and his parents, who ask in each verse: “What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?” The boy responds with all kinds of plaintive answers, delivered with a touch of self-awareness to make it clear that Tom has an opinion on the matters at hand. Here’s an example:
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes
And that’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school
DJ LT, Shout, Sister, Shout!
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Smokin’ in the Boys Room by Brownsville Station
Because it’s so punk!
DJ Houndog Hoover, Goin’ Down South
School’s Out for the Summer by Alice Cooper
Because I’d already be looking forward for this shit to be over.
DJ Ed, Eighties Schmeighties
Let’s be clear: I’m not here to discuss Father John Misty. However, I owe it to him to begin this piece by mentioning a playlist he began curating via Spotify a couple years back (in true Father John Misty form, it’s titled Father John Misty’s Father John Misty Playlist). I remember cueing it up with my boyfriend on a road trip one weekend in college, skipping the tracks we already knew and loved from folks like Harry Nilsson or John Fahey, hungry for new sounds to sink into. At some point in the shuffling, Dory Previn’s “Atlantis” began to play:
I lie in bed
and I know him
I’ve learned his body’s
line and length
and memorized his grin
at the edges
of his eyes
I know his soul’s
She unfurls these lyrics by way of a sensuous melody, yet her voice remains a bit withheld and guarded; there is no glimmer of a “come hither” sexiness. There’s a show tune-ish-ness to the melody, but no “All That Jazz” cuteness. She sounds kind of in awe, a little bit afraid, maybe wounded. She sounds wild, too.
Hearing “Atlantis” was all I needed. I immediately researched all that I could on Dory Previn née Dorothy Lanagan and learned that she’d passed away on Valentine’s Day in 2012. I found that her life was as complex and winding as her songwriting. She’d been both a writing partner and a life partner to the famous Hollywood composer André Previn before he had an affair and child with actress Mia Farrow in 1969. Dory’s already fragile mental state reached a breaking point when the couple divorced. And when André Previn married Farrow, Dory was hospitalized for her psychosis. Eventually, she began writing her own singer-songwriter tunes as a part of her healing process. One of the first was a song outlining her ex-husband’s affair called “Beware of Young Girls”:
Beware of young girls
Who come to the door
Wistful and pale of twenty and four
Delivering daisies with delicate hands
This track, among others exploring other vulnerable themes such as her childhood trauma (“With My Daddy in the Attic”), fear (“Scared To Be Alone”), and psychosis (“Mister Whisper”) appeared on her debut solo album On My Way To Where (1970). She went on to record five more solo albums in the ‘70s, and one live album at Carnegie Hall.
On her 1974 self-titled album on the Warner Bros label, her voice seems to have reached a new peak of gumption and ease. Tracks such as “Coldwater Canyon” and “Brando” present as a direct commentary on Previn’s zeitgeist in ’70s L.A., both lyrically and musically. Her observations and descriptions are as sharp (and often funny) as ever, but shadowed with a sinuous, poignant longing and self-awareness. Folky instrumentation like steel guitar and Latin-style drums are punctuated with a show-tune-ish urgency that Previn reappropriated from her past to support sophisticated and catchy melodies that effortlessly wield an emotional narrative.
These songs are at once self-deprecating, profound, feminist, dark, funny, sweeping, strange, unique to their time, and ahead of their time. One of my personal favorites is the last track on Dory Previn, “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?”:
Did she long to be the saviour
And in private to her mirror
Did she whisper:
Save your breath!
The background vocals are searing on this track and the chord changes sound intuitive but are quite complex. There is a less groovy but equally probing song called “Woman Soul” off of 1976’s We Are Children Of Coincidence that brings wonderful nuances to the love song form. I think it speaks to what we might today call “toxic masculinity” with great empathy:
I love him ‘cause he questions all the roles he’s forced to play
‘Grown men don’t cry’: he sees the lie, and cannot change his way
Oh, but he does the best he can; that’s why I love that man
But I also love the woman in his soul
In addition to her records, Dory Previn also published a trio of autobiographies in her lifetime: “On My Way to Where”, “Midnight Baby”, and “Bogtrotter”. They feel like extended liner notes, her lyrics interwoven with stream-of-consciousness narratives and an occasional poem. Her books overlap non-linearly and further explore her troubled childhood and her rise to songwriting in L.A. after several odd jobs including salesgirl, secretary, and chorus girl. She details her inner world and psychosis with a disarming vulnerability. One of my favorite poems included in any of her books is titled “Listen”. I was thrilled when I came across a clip of her on Irish television reading this poem in her inimitably playful yet serene tone:
The feeling in my blood-flow
Is a simple thing you see
I am it
I am it
We are everything and nothing
But that’s how to play the game
In these weatherbeaten bodies
With these godforsaken brains
We can listen
Listen to the universe resounding
In the pulsing and the pounding
Of our infant ancient veins
Listen and it all begins to fit
You are it
Dory’s records have become an anchor for me when I yearn for music to be a space for making meaning beyond sounds and words alone. I find myself enchanted by her snarky honesty, her wistfulness, her admissions of uncertainty and her occasional turns toward nurturing. I am simultaneously shocked and comforted by her voice. And when I’m feeling weatherbeaten I will watch that funny little video, sometimes on repeat. Listen, and it all begins to fit. You are it.
Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sundays 1-2 pm
In observance of the upcoming July 4 holiday, this week’s WXNA blog post features a list of some of our DJs’ favorite songs about the U.S. of A.
Read as you listen with our Spotify playlist!
Fridays from 10 to Noon
“Little America”- REM
Songs that hit the sweet spot of celebrating America without dipping into cheap sentimentality, jingoism, or out and out nationalism are hard to come by IMHO. Little America hits it both in its particulars of recounting the band traveling around the south on tour—”Another Greenville, another Magic Mart”—and in general showing the pure pleasure of the road trip free and easy. I saw REM many times and for me this was their best live song. An exhilarating celebration of freedom.
DJ Cranky Pants (Ashley)
Set Records to Stun
Fridays from 6-8 a.m.
“America”- Simon & Garfunkel
Ever since Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross plopped down on the back seat of that bus at the end of The Graduate (1967), disaffected middle-classers have questioned the American Dream. In “America” (1968), Paul Simon seems convinced that while the search may be eternal, the promised land remains an illusion.
The English Breakfast
Saturday, Noon to 2 PM
“American Tune” (1973) by Paul Simon, from the album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”
Paul Simon wrote this song, using the music of Renaissance era composer Hans Leo Hassler, after Richard Nixon’s re-election.
My emotional attachment to it is two-fold.
It’s the first Simon album I ever bought. Even though I wasn’t old enough to “get” any of it then, I really loved it. Now, over the passing decades, I return to the album, and this song, again and again.
“America Tune” is succinct, emotional, and very direct. And these lyrics especially stir a hard-won, but not cynical, patriotism in me:
“Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune”
Different Every Time
“This is Not America” is a song by David Bowie, Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny used in a soundtrack to the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman. But the reggae-fueled, Carla Bley arranged instrumental that I am thinking of is from Charlie Haden’s “Not in Our Name”, the Liberation Orchestra’s 2005 response to the Iraq War on Verve . In this context, surrounded by an ironic, dissonant Battle Hymn of the Republic and a stately version of Lift Every Voice, the tune takes on a new meaning. Haden believed that you could capture people with beauty and that the politics would follow. “This is Not America” reminds me that even with its set-backs, the journey to democracy is one worth taking, that politicians don’t always speak for me, and that dissent is patriotic.
The Black Ark
Thursdays 11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
“American Music”- Violent Femmes
You were born too late
I was born too soon
But every time I look at that ugly moon
It reminds me of you
Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m.
“America the Myth”- Christ on Parade
The corporatization of our political system is destroying our country. No amount of empty rhetoric, fireworks, or flag waving is going to stop that. We are flying too close to the sun on wings of soft wax.
Hound Dog Hoover
Goin’ Down South
Monday 1-3 pm
“America”- Willie King
Sweet plea for togetherness from a late bluesman and community organizer from rural Alabama. Great soul blues groove and call-and-response vocals.
Shout, Sister, Shout!
“Fireworks” by Irreversible Entanglements
Last thing we saw was fireworks symbolizing somethin’
Can’t tell the difference between America and the unknown
The forever-expanding and reshaping the landscape
Poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother) uses her words as an instrument in free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements. I can’t think of a better song to listen to on this day! It explores the symbol of fireworks, yes, but also Black trauma and liberation– all rendered by the lively collaboration of improvisation. In both form and content, this song is a true embodiment of American values such as democracy and freedom.
Sundays at Midnight
These are on my setlist every year:
“America Rules” by Murphys Law
“American Heavy Metal Weekend” by Circle Jerks
“Rock N America” by Catholic Girls
Wednesdays from 11pm-1am
“4th Of July” by Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin’s “4th of July”, particularly the version on King of California, expertly captures the desperation of a relationship quietly breaking apart, while simultaneously describing the sound of every small town backyard 4th of July celebration, ending with kids shooting off bags of fireworks into the night air. America in 6 stanzas.
Being a gay man and deejay on WXNA (Slings & Arrows, Tuesdays noon to 2), and it being the month of June, I was asked by the station manager if I would consider writing a blog for Pride. My first thought was, Why not? I like to think I might have something to say on the matter. But then my mind went blank. So, it was suggested I might want to discuss music that affected me as a closeted youth and the powerful pull music can have to open hearts and minds, to be a solace or a catalyst.
Well, after wracking my brain, I couldn’t think of any music that spoke to me as a youth on that level. Of course, music enters the soul in ways unknowing, and surely the inner self hiding within was listening to the music that passed my ears in a way differently from the outer self. Dancing queens like ABBA and Donna Summer, or the witchy swirl of Stevie Nicks, were scratching an inner itch, and music my brothers brought into the house—The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Pretenders—scratching an outer.
I remember my 12-year-old self hearing Pretenders I for the first time in my brother’s room. He brought it home, excited to listen, as a friend of his had suggested he get it. When that first song came on with its driving drums and thrashing guitars, I was hooked. But it was Chrissie Hynde’s vocal attitude that sealed the deal. Her incisive intensity scared the bejesus out of me, and I loved it.
When she sang, “but not me baby, I’m too precious, fuck off,” I was (1) blown away by the fact that such language could be said on a record, and (2) excited that it was a woman who would say it. It was my first “fuck” in music. The lacey frills of Stevie Nicks twirled away. I wanted the staunch leather of this badass woman to reach into places I didn’t yet know existed. On that album I discovered the essence of the preciousness within (a resource not to be wasted) and the rowdy and lawless swagger without. Selves coalesced.
Of course, time moves on, and Tom Petty’s drawl prevails over Hynde’s as I get older. One can’t change the vicissitudes of time. Just like one can’t change the crucial way music makes you feel when you’re young and alone and scared and hiding within yourself. When you feel that the world rejects you.
The music on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn must have had that kind of powerful effect. It was stacked with the songs of its time, 1969, a year of revolution. (In 1969 it was illegal for gay people to congregate and drink—let alone dance—together. The Stonewall Inn was a place where they could do all three.) Witnesses claim that shortly before that historical raid, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was played. It has also been noted that one of the favorite songs to dance and sing along with on the Stonewall Inn jukebox was “Aquarius (Let The Sunshine In)’ by The 5th Dimension. Clearly, it is a song about transcendence:
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
The word “liberation” must have struck a chord and reverberated in the hearts of the young queer men and women and transgender individuals who frequented there. Along with “This Is My Life (La Vita)” by Shirley Bassey, with its refrain of “let me live, let me live,” and others, these songs must have forged feelings of rebellion, independence, and hope.
So, when the cops came (with little backup at first, it must be noted) in the post-midnight hours on that hot New York City night, something burst. Liberation enflamed the dark. Love steered the stars. And here we are, a people on a road to vindication. Pride.
Slings and Arrows