The Galaxy – Remembering a Beastie

The Beastie Boys at the 1987 Grammy Awards

The Beastie Boys at the 1987 Grammy Awards

Growing up in Cairo, Illinois, I grew up observing the birth and growth of hip hop.  Run-DMC was wildly popular in my high school, and there were a number of rap songs that seem to me to have been constantly audible in the background (even if such things were situationally impossible – you know how these fuzzy memory things work).  By the time I graduated from high school in 1986 and joined the Army, rap and hip-hop had become firmly entrenched in popular culture.

Right around that time frame, we started hearing about the Beastie Boys.  I remember my first impression of them in regards to their having been touring as the opening act for Madonna.  What I heard was that they were crude, lewd, and vulgar – but the mention was really only in passing – after all, they were some unknown act, a bunch of kids opening for Ms. Blonde Ambition herself.  I didn’t think much about it, and I never had a chance to see that Madonna tour anyway (the Virgin Tour, although I did see some video clips from it at one point).

Cover of "Licensed to Ill"

Cover of Licensed to Ill

Then, at some point in ’86, we get Licensed to Ill, the debut album.  On the surface, there was nothing to change that first impression, given the phallic overtones present in their cover art, and the first single, Fight for the Right to Party.  They certainly worked to solidify that impression, with female dancers dancing in cages and giant inflatable penises.  Rolling Stone magazine headlined the review of the album “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece”.  This sort of personality depiction is captured in a clip from the Joan Rivers Show:

But, while you weren’t looking, something happened.

Really, it started within the Licensed to Ill album.  Buried within the broadly drawn characters was hidden lyrical depth.  Culture references being tossed at the listener right and left.  The music and the beats may have been simplistic (I remember there being a big fuss about their use of the riff from Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks), but there was something there.  Maybe it was the introduction to The New Style (“LET ME CLEAR MY THROAT!”).  Maybe it was the storytelling that was Paul Revere (and I know at least a few people besides me that had the thing memorized).  Maybe it was the silliness of some of the songs (for heavens sake, they sampled the theme from Green Acres!!!!).  But they definitely had something.

Paul's Boutique

Paul’s Boutique (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then we get Paul’s Boutique in 1989.  The beats were still good, but the rhymes were more intense, more aggressive, the rhythms were more challenging, the culture references more frequent.  It was somewhat underestimated when it came out, but it is now generally considered to be a classic.  It just kept going from there, a series of albums (Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty, To the Five Boroughs, the recent Hot Sauce Committee Part 2) with infectious songs that makes one want to just jump around, while at the same time chuckling at their pop culture references (“I’ve got more rhymes than Phyllis Diller”; but watch out for Yossi with the fresh muffins…).  They eventually started doing songs with live instruments, and those also proved to be quite good.  Sometimes the instruments were recorded straight, and sometimes they sampled their own instruments.

Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch

The end result of all this, at least in my eyes, is that the world feels just a little bit duller with this weekend’s passing of Adam Yauch.  I’m glad that he was able to enjoy his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if he was too ill to attend.  It certainly feels appropriate for me to memorialize his impact with a nice set:

  • The New Style
  • Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun
  • Rhyme the Rhyme Well
  • Paul Revere
  • Egg Man
  • Ch-Check It Out
  • Slow and Low
  • High Plains Drifter
  • Flute Loop
  • Right Right Now Now
  • The Sounds of Science
  • 3 The Hard Way
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Johannes Brahms, c. 1866

Johannes Brahms, c. 1866

We gave the second half of the show to a piece by Johannes Brahms, his Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45.  A large-scale work for baritone and soprano soloists with choir and orchestra, Brahms composed the work between 1865 and 1868.  It is made up of 7 movements, and usually runs between 65 and 80 minutes, making it Brahms’ longest composition.

The work is notable in that it is sacred but non-liturgical, and unlike most requiems is written in German as opposed to Latin.  Brahms assembled the text himself, desiring to write something that would focus on the act of comforting the living, as opposed to simply mourning the dead.  He purposefully omitted specifically Christian references from the text, and he deviated from the standard Catholic practice of opening the Requiem with prayers for the dead, instead beginning with a blessing for the living, a quote from the Beatitudes (“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”).  He also used a Lutheran Bible as the basis for his text, as opposed to a Catholic Bible.  Critics at the time were puzzled by the lack of Christian dogma in the work, but Brahms pointedly wanted the work to be humanist in direction, even telling one director that he wanted the work to be “Ein menschliches Requiem”, or “a human requiem”.

It is difficult to say what exactly inspired Brahms to write the piece.  His mother died in 1865, so it would certainly seem that this played a part.  But Brahms was also greatly impacted by the 1856 death of his friend Robert Schumann.  Brahms’ letters do not say much about this.  What we do know is that he had six movements written by 1866, utilizing some material that had been written in 1854, before Schumann became ill.  The work received its first performance of what was then a six movement work on Good Friday, 1868, a performance that was considered such a success that it is considered a turning point in Brahms’ career.  In May of that year, he wrote a fifth movement, and the completed work was premiered in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 1869.

Tonight’s recording is an excellent rendition from 1993, with Angela Maria Blasi, Byrn Terfl, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Sir Colin Davis.

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The Galaxy – Etta James; Burns Night

At Last!

Album cover from At Last, Etta James' first album (Image via Wikipedia)

We started off tonight’s show with a remembrance of the great r&b vocalist Etta James, who passed away Friday at the age of 73.  Millions of listeners will remember her for her great ’60 classic At Last.  But her catalog goes far beyond that, with samplings of classic r&b, soul, and early ’60s pop.  Although she recorded right up to the point where Alzheimer’s wouldn’t let her go anymore, we focused tonight on a nice sampling from her prime period, between ’60 and ’68.  We heard At Last, All I Could Do is Cry, If I Can’t Have You, A Sunday Kind of Love, My Dearest Darling, Security, and I’d Rather Go Blind.

Cover of "Brilliant Corners"

Cover of Brilliant Corners

Then we heard two songs from the great jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk, from his great ’56 album Brilliant CornersSonny Rollins was hired for the date as a sideman, right as his own breakthrough album, Saxophone Colossus, was about to be released.  Monk was a bit of a challenge to work with, so to have a great saxophonist like Sonny Rollins leads to some absolutely tremendous music, which is certainly the case here, as is demonstrated by these recordings of Brilliant Corners and Pannonica.

Being of Scottish descent, it seems only appropriate that I find a way to celebrate Burns Night musically.  Of course, when doing this, one must take care to actually play Scottish music, as opposed to Irish music (nothing against Irish bands, of which there are a great many fine examples that I have enjoyed playing on the show).  But this is, after all, a SCOTTISH holiday, celebrating the life and work of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns (you may know his song Auld Lang Syne, or his poem A Red, Red Rose).

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

Robert Burns (Image via Wikipedia)

When listening to Celtic music, it is good to note the practice of blending songs and melodies together to form new combinations that make up the larger song.  This is a long-standing practice in Celtic music, and one will find this in both traditional folk settings and in recordings and performances of bagpipe bands.  This is actually one of the interesting facets of Celtic music, given the strong tradition of folk music among Celtic peoples.  This allows the numerous traditional melodies and songs (many of which were collected and transcribed by Robert Burns) to take on new life and new contexts.

It is also interesting to note the numerous, intertwining connections between Celtic music and other forms of music.  Like with other forms of music, Celtic music does not live in a vacuum.  For many years Celtic music has influenced, and in turn has taken influence from, numerous other musical roots and forms, ranging from English folk music to pop and rock music.  Also, as Scottish families have emigrated to various locations around the world (i.e. the US, Canada, Australia, etc.), they brought their music with them.  I personally would categorize at least some of the roots of bluegrass music as having come from various forms of Celtic music, as there were many settlers of Scottish and Irish descent who settled in the Appalachians.  So, the act of examining the roots of Celtic music also has the potential to bring one to a better understanding of  some of the roots present in American music.

Members of Silly Wizard perform at Celtic Conn...

Members of Silly Wizard perform at Celtic Connexions with Phil Cunningham and Friends - February 2007 (Image via Wikipedia)

So we started this set with a few from The Boys of the Lough (especially appropriate coming from me, as their fiddler, Aly Bain, hails from the Shetland Islands, the same region that my own family lived in for 125 years) : Da Cold Nights o’ Winter/Da Blue Yow/Da Spirit o’ Whiskey, Da Fields o’ Foula/Garster’s Dream/Da Brig (Foula is one of the islans in the Shetland Islands chain, located halfway between Shetland and Norway and owned by Scotland), Da Day Dawn/The Papa Stour Sword Dance/The Cross Reel (Papa Stour is another island in the Shetland Islands chain), and The Greenland Man’s Tune/Da Forfit o’ Da Ship/Green Grow da Radishes (all from their album Midwinter’s Night Dream).  Then we heard a few from the fine Scottish band from the ’80s, Silly Wizard: A Scarce O’ Tatties/Lyndhurst, Donald McGillavry/O’Neill’s Cavalry March, The Valley of Strathmore (all from their album So Many Partings), and A.B. Corsi (The Lad from Orkney)/Ril Bheara/Richard Dwyer’s Reels (from their album Wild and Beautiful).  Then we heard from Nomos – Wing Commander Donald MacKensie’s/Andy Renwick’s Ferret/Diaran Tourish’s Reel and All The Ways You Wander, from their album I Won’t Be Afraid Anymore.  Quite a toe-tapping set!

Next, for a change of pace, we heard from a gospel group that toured various local churches during the mid-70s, The Family.  Comprised of a group of missionaries who met while at Youth With A Mission’s evangelism school in Switzerland, they made an album, Fresh Fruit, which has some great songs with some exquisite vocal harmonies.  While I don’t remember the event, I’m certain that I have to have been present at one of their performances, with my parents, at which point my mother bought one of their LPs (on the MannaFest Music label, out of San Diego).  It is a shame that such lovely music like this might be forgotten in this modern digital age.  Happily, modern technology allows us to capture and archive such past glories.  Tonight, we heard Teach Us Dear Lord, Temple Song and Two Roads.

We closed the show with a few songs from Keith Green, an early member of the “Contemporary Christian” trend in the ’70s.  Interestingly enough, there is a hidden connection between Keith Green and the previous set from The Family – Steve Greisen, member of The Family (now a film executive), eventually married Nelly Ward, member of another Contemporary Christian act, 2nd Chapter of Acts.  Nelly’s sister, Annie Ward (later Annie Herring), co-wrote The Easter Song, one of Green’s best-known songs.  From Keith Green, we heard Trials Turned to Gold, Asleep in the Light, and My Eyes are Dry.

“It’s Too Damn Early,” 4/23/11 w/Tom Hamilton!

Composer and improviser Tom Hamilton will be joining “It’s Too Damn Early” this morning for a phone-in performance and interview! If you dig it, be sure to catch him in St. Louis on April 30th at the Kranzberg Arts Center with Peter Zummo, Rich O’Donnell, and Bill Schulenburg to hear his latest work “Combination Tones.”

Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson – Horpma I (from “Horpma,” on Carrier)
Mystified, The Ghost Between The Strings — Glacial March (from “Ghostbone,” on Dark Meadow Recordings)
Mystified, The Ghost Between The Strings — Fear Is A Force
Brian Eno — M386 (from “Music for Films“)
Tom Hamilton, Bruce Eisenbeil — Walleye Spawn (from “Shadow Machine,” on Pogus)
Tom Hamilton, Bruce Eisenbeil — The Salt Eaters
Anla Courtis — Respire un Cordero (from “Tape Works,” on Pogus)
Anla Courtis — Reducido a Hemorragia de Merluzas
Anla Courtis — Studio for Wire Plugs
Anla Courtis — Invisible Clown Sonata
Frank Rothkamm — Outdoor Heritage of New Jersey (from “FB02,” on Flux Records)
Frank Rothkamm — Astronaut of Inner Space
Jesse Paul Miller — Lani Hua Moana (Sky Egg Ocean) (from “Huelo, Tail of a Beast,” self-release)
Tom Hamilton — Modhera (from “Pieces for Kohn/Formal & Informal Music,” on Kvist)
Vapaa — Tuhannet Vuodet (from “Hum Hum Hum,” on Last Visible Dog)

Fun in the archives: Pete Martin, LIVE set for WDBX

I thought it might be fun to dig through my archives, and haul out some live sets from past episodes of “It’s Too Damn Early.” Today, I’m presenting you with a live phone-in set featuring Pete Martin (from Eddie the Rat) recorded back on January 23rd, 2010.

Phone-in sets are a recurring feature on “It’s Too Damn Early,” they’re a great way to hear live material from artists who haven’t had a chance to make it out to Southern Illinois. But they come with a price– huge variations in recording quality. Quite often, performers find themselves playing into a cell phone. In this case, Martin’s set was not only compounded with the usual difficulties (hearing each other, working with a cell phone) but he was also performing in a closet, attempting to keep the volume down in his apartment building while suffering from a cold!

After two live pieces, we have a short interview about Martin’s usual live performance setup and plans for future albums. You’ll also hear his own introduction to “Food For the Moon Too Soon pt. 1,” from the phenomenal Edgetone Records release of the same name. I see that Edgetone is currently having a nice deal if you pick it up with “Out Behind the Eight-Ball,” which I once described as “something like a post-trepanation Les Baxter album.” There’s a reason why I always get calls when I play these albums!

Download the live set here. Enjoy!