15 records which changed my life
In what pretends to be chronological order, but probably really isn’t because memory is not to be trusted and I refuse to fact-check. Although I’m not sure how one fact-checks one’s own memory.
1. In deference to David Cantwell, singles: The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” playing on my brother’s transistor radio, its disparate parts pinned down to a sheet of plywood so he could try to figure out how it worked; Herman’s Hermits’ “Henry The Eighth” because my first critical discussion, in the lunchroom at Brookside Elementary School during first grade, featured my strongly held belief that Herman’s Hermits were better than The Beatles; and Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” because it was the first record I bought with my own money, in sixth grade.
2. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free. This is the only Zappa album I know, and I know it because my brother played it when mom and dad were out of the house, and because it was forbidden fruit. And yet, when I came to Sonic Youth and Pere Ubu, it was this album which helped me to understand what they were up to. “Call Any Vegetable,” indeed.
3. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, which I bought on import once I discovered such a thing existed…I despise the cocaine 1970s output which made the band famous, and to which I was obliged to listen to every night in Wayde Rose’s basement for two summers.
4. George Thorogood’s Move It On Over, or whatever his second album was titled. A gateway drug, through which I discovered Elmore James, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.
5. Neil Young’s Live Rust, on eight-track, played in a borrowed Honda driving back and forth to the Methow Valley to research an article on a ski resort that, to my knowledge, never happened (fortunately). It was, I believe, my 21st birthday.
6. Jonathan Edwards & The Seldom Scene, Blue Ridge. Featuring a remake of “Sunshine,” which I always loved, and my friend Mark had Edwards’ debut on cassette, so we listened to it late at night pasting up the Highland Piper at SeaGraphics, back in high school. Later, I went to work for SeaGraphics, and, later still, I played my cassette of the Seldom Scene album while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in my 1967 Dodge Van.
7. Slade Alive!. Which didn’t change my life, but it still rocks. I should get that on CD one of these days. Anyway, I used to wash dishes to this in my first apartment, the one in the University District with the bouncer for the whorehouse across the alley living upstairs.
8. Another single: Mudhoney’s “Touch Me, I’m Sick.” Some guy did grunge trading cards back in the day, and asked local figures for quotations to go with pictures of our favorite stars. I told him I had nothing clever to say, then called back 30 seconds later with this: I wouldn’t have a writing career without Mudhoney. And I wouldn’t. (Gee, maybe if they made another record I could have my writing career back? Nah.) Thanks, Guitar World.
9. Mark Lanegan’s The Winding Sheet. Knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I can listen to this the same way, but…interviewing Mark for what was to be my final cover story for The Rocket, the pieces slid into place and I understood what punk rock and country music and folk art had in common, and so I opened an art gallery. Lost some money, left behind a good looking corpse.
10. Son Volt’s Trace, without which No Depression probably wouldn’t have made any sense, nor found an audience.
11. I realize, abruptly, that the preceding 10 entries reflect the work of male artists. I am trying now to think of female artists who have changed my life. I listened to Carole King’s Tapestry a lot; I gave a very pretty girl who was never, ever going to date me a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark in junior high; I am tempted to cite the Eurythmics or maybe PJ Harvey’s Dry, but…changed my life?
12. Jon Dee Graham’s Full, because it says things I can’t, thinks about things I no longer admit to thinking about, and because I have some small idea of what it cost to make.
13. Billie Joe Shaver’s last album with Eddie, The Earth Rolls On, or the same reasons.
14. The collected works of Ted Hawkins and Bill Withers. If I have to explain, there’s no point in trying.
15. Buddy Miller. Period. Because he is, for me, a constant reminder that art is not simply the province of the young. As does Wallace Stegner, but that’s another list.