rollingstone-7475Lately some friends of mine have played that game of naming records that “changed their lives.” It’s been kicking around in my head. Yesterday, taking shelter from the bitter cold, I decided to fill the CD carousel with my choices.  This carousel only holds 5 CDs, so here are the 5.  I put them on shuffle and listened to the tracks in a randomized order.  All the songs stood toe to toe with each other.  All of these records still resonate with me very, very deeply.  They help make me who I am today. Yes, really.

1. John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band — Lennon’s first post-Beatles record. Stripped down, elemental, brutally real. Powerful, razor-sharp, with great production by Phil Spector.  The wall of sound meets r&r minimalism – bass, drums, guitar, piano and Lennon’s amazing, heartfelt, cutting voice.  Still brings chills.

2. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited— A blast of exuberance. Funny, over the top, genre busting. No one ever recorded songs like these before. Dylan fronts an incredible band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. A shock. A blast. Mind-bending. Dylan never sounded more engaged, more intense, more alive and funny.

3. Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night — Shakey’s “dark night of the soul.” A death-haunted record. A great shaggy band of misfits pushed to the ragged edge. Raw, bleak, darkly funny. Neil opens a vein.  Spooky and cool.  L.A. Dark shades. Bleary nights. The record is filled with flaws, quirks – perfect.

4. The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed — The Stones at their darkest. Decadent blues, desiccated country. Perfectly realized rock and roll.  Jagger and Richards at the peak of their amazing collaboration.  Perfectly recorded. Produced by Jimmy Miller.  The Stones made other great records, but this one is complete. Flawless. Thrilling.

5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows this is Nowhere — Neil emerges into the light with the first, and greatest, Crazy Horse lineup. Danny Whitten on vocals and guitar is the secret weapon.  Long guitar jams. Overpowering sound. Produced by David Briggs & Neil Young. Blistering. Raggedy. Elegiac. When the “Horse” kicks it up, there is nothing better.

— Jammer

elvis-performing-white-jumpsuit neilyoungIf they call you King, or King of Pop, it’s kind of like they kill you off. I mean, it no longer matters what you do, it’s not about the work, or the art you create, it’s only about who you are and what you own… and well, it’s deadening, invalidating and embalming!

So yeah, it’s weird. I’ve been reading Neil Young’s book, and listening to his records, and learning some of his songs.

At the same time, the Lovely Carla and I have been working on Elvis songs for the upcoming Cake and Whiskey Club show. We have been cruising YouTube, watching Elvis performances, (it’s kind of sad and invalidating to watch the Hollywood and Las Vegas versions of “The King”) trying to select songs we can relate to.

I realized I needed to learn some new Neil Young songs as an antidote to working on Elvis songs. It’s The King and the Anti-King. One wears big white suits. The other wears flannel shirts and jeans. One has a big, over-powering voice, the other has a shaky, mournful, fluttery kind of voice. One recorded lots of songs, but all of them are covers, the other pretty much, or almost exclusively, wrote all his own songs, and his music is a record of his mood, his mind and his days.

One represents glitz and in-authenticity, and the other seems homemade, authentic, full of heart and soul. At least this is how it seems to me. I often find the King over-blown and ridiculous, and Neil Young is always compelling and inspiring. One sort of invalidates the whole pop culture/celebrity thing, and the other seems to be working in another realm, deepening the mystery of living and working and getting thru.

Both indulged in lots of mind-altering substances. Legal and illegal. One died fairly young, (43 years old), and one is still doing great work all these many years later. Turns out “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” is a pretty good line for a song, but not a great blue-print for living! I’m repelled by the pomp, circumstance and drug-addled excess of the King, (although I do love those early r&r Sun Sessions) but I gladly, whole-heartedly embrace the soul-searching, drug-addled excesses of the Anti-King! – Jammer

This weekend we played at the first annual Bucktown Tree and Garden Walk. The Garden Oasis Stage was set up right next to Club Lucky. A well-equipped stage: lights, monitors, a full back-line. The band certainly felt at home. The main stage is just the ticket. We played for nearly an hour; a blazing set. It was hot, the sweat was flying, and Jammer nearly spontaneously combusted during “Fallen.”  The band is getting tighter, and we continue to evolve and explore together. It’s becoming a big sound! The event was organized and hosted by Chicago music mogul and good friend, Michael Teach and his own CAUDOG Records. After the show Karen O. asked Jammer, “What’s up with the Neil Young schtick?”  Karen, good or bad, it just comes naturally! – Jammer

photo by karen o’brien

We asked the band for their “go to” albums; music they continually gravitate to for deep inspiration. Carla likes to draw a hot bath, crank the boom-box, and chill to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Chet Baker’s “Let’s Get Lost,” and two early discs from Van Morrison: “Astral Weeks,” and “Veedon Fleece.” Rich’s wide-ranging picks include the Brazilian singer Maria Rita’s first two albums, Clifford Brown & Max Roach’s “In Concert – L.A. 1954”, plus Erik Satie, Jascha Heifetz, Joan Baez, and The Beatles. Tim likes to put on his headphones and jam along with the Jack Bruce-driven, British-blues-based, psychedelia of Cream (“Disreali Gears,” & “Wheels of Fire”), and also “Clapton and Winwood Live.”  James is stuck on those late 60’s, early 70’s, Jimmy Miller-produced, Rolling Stones records, especially, “Exile on Main Street,” and Neil Young’s loose and dark-edged, “Tonight’s the Night.” He also zones out to the “Donnie Darko Soundtrack.”  “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” – Jammer

Rehearsal today.  Planning on working in some cover songs for our upcoming show at the Ultra Lounge.  The list of covers we’re gonna try out tells a story: These Boots Are Made for Walking (Lee Hazelwood), Nothing (Townes Van Zant),  Stupid Girl (Neil Young), Stepping Stone (Boyce and Hart).  60’s sunshine, to Van Zant existentialism.  And Stepping Stone itself is a pop-culture  journey from the Monkees to the Sex Pistols! – Jammer