Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Updating the ol' blog

From October of '06 until late '07, I wrote a series of columns for Playgrounds Magazine gathered under the umbrella "Rattlesnake Confusion." It was intended to be more personal explorations than simply writing CD or performance reviews. I think for the most part, it succeeded, although I had a couple of hiccups along the way.

I just uploaded to this site all the Rattlesnakes that hadn't been posted already.

With any luck, in '08 I'll try to continue confusing those rattlesnakes.

(and I'm thinking about uploading my Y2KT10 columns from waybackwhen...my premise was that at the stroke of midnight 2001, all the world's music would cease to exist. Then I asked for input as to what ten CDs you would save. I had a blast doing it, and hope to post that soon. Yeah, it's derivitive of Desert Island Discs, but what the hell. It was fun.

Rattlesnake Confusion - Dec 2006

I had another dream about the old home place last night. It was one of those typically disjointed sequences where familiar scenes are intercut with impossibly surreal situations. That’s what happens when the subconscious wrestles with Morpheus for the director’s chair. I’d like to say that Frank Capra, John Ford or Orson Welles wins, but inevitably my dreams are directed by either David Lynch or Tex Avery.

In this dream and in all my other dreams, the road that runs in front of the house is still dirt and the woods across the street have not yet been replaced with projects, losing lottery tickets and discarded fast-food wrappers didn’t swirl on the wind and then collect in the corner of the yard, and the kids on bikes weren’t runners for the crack dealer down the lane.

In these dreams, I am grown, yet the world around me is still that of my childhood. Albert Einstein believed that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion” and nowhere is this more evident than in dreams, where we slice open the past, insert the present and stir it with a spoon our subconscious picked randomly from the day’s events.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana said it and everyone quotes it, but hardly anyone practices it. Those who willingly wallow in the past by constantly reliving it are just as wrong as those who think that in order to live for the future they need to deny their past. Where we come from is part of what we are, but it is not all we are.

So the next time I dream of the old home place, and I feel the rich black dirt between my toes and I grab a handful of muscadines growing in the woods and I smell the salt marsh two blocks away, I’ll enjoy it. I’ll revel in it. I’ll savor it. I’ll remember it.

But I won’t remain in it.

The past: a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

For Yesterday is but a Dream, And Tomorrow is only a Vision; But Today well lived makes Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness, And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.Look well therefore to this Day!Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Rattlesnake Confusion - November 2006

I was 14 and we were in Macon to visit my mother’s sisters, Aunt Frank and Aunt Cooter. Their real names were Francis and Aileen, but no one called them that, it was always Frank and Cooter and my momma Wynokie. In those days, the trip from Savannah took awhile. I-16 hadn’t been completed all the way between the two cities, so you had to exit and take the two-lane till you could get back on the fancy new interstate. I don’t remember listening to any specific music on that long drive, but I’d be willing to bet it was country.

At home, there were few records. There was a Luke the Drifter record, with “Be Careful of Stones that You Throw,” a compilation that included Buck Owens singing “The Race is On” and an Elvis gospel album next to a Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack that the neighbors gave me, because they were too religious for it. So what little musical background I had did little to prepare me for a joy ride with one of my older cousins. I don’t remember where we went, what kind of car we were in, or any other detail except the music coming out of this 8-track player.

Friends, I’m talking about Heavy Metal: Superstars of the 70’s: Volume 2, a Warner Brothers product that not only introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Yes and the Doors, but also the Allman Brothers Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Dr. John, Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead. If there was a Rosetta stone, a ground zero, an A. afarensis, a gateway drug, this was it.

Spinning off from one record, I found the heavy metal sludge of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” the slamming proto-punk garage rock of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” the fabled power chords of “Smoke on the Water,” the funk of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong,” “Give it to Me” (J. Geils Band), the swampy night-tripping music of Dr. John and Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.” Not only were there the big stars of the day, but I was also introduced to bands like Blues Image, War and Delaney & Bonnie. In a time before MTV and even widespread FM radio in Georgia, this was like shining a flashlight in a possum’s eyes; the reflection was luminous. This treasure map led me down so many paths, but each one was worth it. I was now condemned to a life of collecting records, reading liner notes to see who wrote a song, attending concerts, filling my brain with musical minutiae, haunting record stores and methodically searching through their bins for that one record I didn’t know I needed till I found it.

So, here’s what I want to know: any chance I can sue Warner Brothers for not putting a warning label on Heavy Metal: Superstars of the 70’s: Volume 2? I mean, it’s been 32 years and I still can’t give it up.

Rattlesnake Confusion - Oct 2006 Riverfest – MIA (Missing In April)

She was dressed in her finest when she courted admirers numbering six figures. She was the hottest thing going and everyone wanted her phone number. Sure she’s 37, and people got used to her, but how can a festival that one year makes hundreds of thousands of dollars as a fundraiser for the Historic Columbus Foundation find herself without a date in 2007?

Dusty Nix, in a September 27 editorial in the Ledger-Enquirer, asked the question “Is Riverfest worth saving?” I agree with Mr. Nix that it is – and that changes need to be made. As Will Rogers said “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

In the festival biz, you’re playing a game of chance. You roll the dice on weather, location, music, food and the local political climate. Riverfest has been dealt some crappy hands, and still persevered. Till now.

I’m not sure what the HCF board is going to do, but I do know that outdoor street festivals are integral to a city’s health, and if they decide not to continue, then someone else should step up and keep this celebration going. And I don’t know about fundraising, the political wranglings, or any back-room, behind the scenes stuff. But I’ve been to one or two festivals, and I know what I like and don’t like, and what works and what doesn’t.

Food: Not another corndog stand, please. And step away from the cotton candy machines. We have an annual fair if you have to have fair food. Stick to the BBQ competition, encourage local restaurants to vend, and have a variety of portion sizes and prices. Offer regional beer choices instead of plastic cups of warm Budweiser. I wouldn’t mind sipping a cold Red Jacket Ale from the Cannon Brewpub while watching the Chattahoochee roll by on a spring afternoon.

Music: Rather than present the same tired acts that use festivals as a convenient overnight stop and painless paycheck between casino gigs, offer local and regional bands with a following and some press behind them. If you have the cash, bring in a bigger name one night, but not a ringer band whose one remaining original member secured the rights to the name in nasty court skirmish. Build a reputation of bringing in artists that go on to have number one records (all together now: Dixie Chicks). A lot of people are going to come anyway, regardless of the lineup, so why not give them some quality, and they can say “we saw them when.”

The same buzz works for bands, the more respected your lineup, the easier it will be to attract better bands. Athens is full of talented bands that would love the chance to play on a large outdoor stage. Work with someone who has the contacts to bring in these bands and partner with the clubs and coffee shops downtown to book musicians as part of the celebration.

Children: Festivals should be for all ages, so make it exciting and unique for the kids. Forget the inflatable slides and castles. Interactive activities like painting, pottery, making music, and storytelling can be fun and educational. Focus on things they can’t get at the Greater Columbus Fair.

Location, Location, Location: True enough. Between the fine Phenix City Amphitheatre, both Riverwalks and downtown Columbus streets, there’s plenty of room to stretch out. Work with the city governments on both sides of the river to ensure consistency.

Explore alternatives. Are there private-public partnerships that haven’t been taken advantage of? What can Columbus State bring to the table? What makes Riverfest unique, what can differentiate it from other festivals in the state?

It’s a fallacy that you can be all things to all people. That’s an impossible compromise, where you agree to have, as Lyle Lovett says, “an acceptable level of ecstasy.” This is somewhat unavoidable in a street festival because you can’t narrowly focus on one group, but what you can do is present everyone with quality choices on every level.

I hope Riverfest resurfaces and reinvents itself as an event that will not only excite locals but draw in people from the surrounding region. She may be unavailable next year, but I hope she and I can hook up in ’08.

With luck, Rattlesnake Confusion will be a monthly column about various aspects of music, the people who make it and those of us lucky enough to listen. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear ‘em. - C

Last Call - Rattlesnake Confusion - September 2007

Last Call

The band had played its last waltz and the dancers were finishing up their drinks, laughing and hugging their partners. She admired the way a Cajun band summoned up the music that held people in its sway, as if they were marionettes and the rhythm tugged the strings and spun them around. She was watching the last two dancers silently working out a two-step move when her view was suddenly obscured by a broad expanse of human sporting closely-cropped red hair and a LSU football jersey.

“Hey honey, I’m Taurus…like the bull…you know, in the Zodiac?” He looked at her blankly, wanting to make sure that she knew what the Zodiac was, and also that she wasn’t confusing him with a mid-size Ford.

Taurus took her silence as acquiescence and leaned over the bar to instruct a 22-year old chemistry major to bring him a bourbon and coke. “And when I say bourbon, I mean good bourbon; don’t be tryin’ no tricks back there, darlin’!” He settled his bulk against the bar and turned to her again. “You gotta watch ‘em, they’ll charge you for the top shelf and then pull the ol’ switcheroo on ya!”

She resolutely studied the beads of condensation sliding down her martini glass, quickly glancing sideways at the man next to her: mid-thirties, only slightly out of shape, he played some high school football but didn’t have the grades to stay in college, she’d seen his type before. Tonight, however, his playing field was Rooster’s Cajun Cabin and she knew he was thinking of her as the goal line.

His phone chirped. He studied the display for a moment, answered and barked “hold on” as he drained his glass. He gestured to the chemistry major and walked off toward the bathrooms as the bartender came up, winked at her and poured Taurus a well brand.

It wasn’t long before Taurus walked back up to her, leaning in even closer. In the glow of the video poker machine, he stared into his drink and swirled the glass, what he told himself was a thoughtful, refined gesture. He had palmed the pills while in the bathroom and now only had to distract her and slip them into her drink. He was actually getting good at this. He looked into her eyes and…

“Hey, where’d the big guy go?” the bartender asked, as she scooped up the bills under his half-empty glass.

“He asked me out.”

“And I turned him down,” she paused as she ran a manicured fingernail around the edge of a flattened Red Bull can, “you know how guys like that are, their ego gets crushed SO easily.”

Rattlesnake Confusion - July 2007

If I ever die of a heart attack, I hope it will be from playing my stereo too loud. ~Anonymous

Now there’s a quotation I whole-heartedly agree with! And in the interest of working toward that goal, I got myself a birthday present: The Logitech Wireless Music System for PC (http://www.logitech.com/), acquired through Amazon for forty-five bucks, is considerably less costly than any of the competing systems.

So what’s this thing do? Well, it wirelessly streams music from your PC or laptop to your home stereo system. This is important to me for two reasons: One, I download tons of music (all legal, thank you very much) and in order to listen to it in my living room, I have to burn a CD and cart it to the other side of the house just to blast it from decent speakers at the afore-mentioned heart attack inducing volume. And two, there are great radio stations out there that I listen to online, but I wanted the freedom to hear them throughout the house and in the backyard.

The gadget showed up on my doorstep one Friday afternoon and installation was so quick and simple even a Georgia boy could do it. There's a small transmitter that goes into a USB port and a receiver that plugs into the stereo. I used the tape input jacks. It fired right up and started working even without the included software. Using Winamp, I first cranked up some live Drive-By Truckers, and then I logged onto WWOZ from their website (http://www.wwoz.org/). It really sounded great, although there was some distortion at louder volumes. And when I say loud, I mean palpitation levels, although that could be due to several things, not necessarily my new toy.

Next, I installed the software, which is meant to offer an added degree of control. Specifically, this equipment hijacks your computer speakers and runs everything through to the stereo, including the Windows sounds, and the software lets you decide what goes to the speakers and what stays at the PC. However, after installing the software, it quit working! So after playing around with the controls a little, I uninstalled it and it worked fine. At some point, I may reinstall the software, but for now it does what I want it to do. I’ve had no problems with the sound dropping out and it doesn’t seem to interfere with the speed of my PC or my internet connection. There’s a kinda cheap looking remote control, and I’ve only had spotty success getting it to work. I’ve used Winamp and Windows Media Player to play several types of music files, including wav, flac, shn and MP3. Some people have complained about interference from cordless phones and microwaves as well as wireless internet, but I’ve had no issues at all.

Next step: getting my wireless outdoor speakers to work with it. They didn’t immediately talk to each other, so I played around with it and found that by moving the speakers’ transmitter from the tape out jacks to the VCR out jacks I was able to get them to play flawlessly and I'm here to tell you right now, brethren and cistern, I'm typing this on my laptop while listening to WWOZ in my very own backyard!

Anonymous, you got the right idea, my friend.

2/5/08 - update: the microwave and my wireless internet connection on my laptop both have effects on the signal.

Rattlesnake Confusion - June 2007

“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”
”Karn Evil 9” ~ Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Feels a bit pretentious to be using that as this month’s title, but as I’ve never been much for self-reflection and soul searching, I’m wondering why I’m starting now. Originally, it was going to be one of those “the more things change, the more they stay the same” rants about the death of Jerry Falwell, presidential candidates’ debates, and the Iraq War. I never made it there. The truth is that this didn’t start out to be about my birthday, but I’m writing part of it on that day, so I guess you’ll forgive me if I self-indulge. On this birthday that I share with Bob Dylan, I always listen to his music. I doubt he’s returning the favor by reading my stuff, but hey, he’s a busy guy.

Modern Times isn’t my favorite Dylan record by any means, but it was the only Dylan CD in my 200-CD changer. Nashville Skyline was sitting on my turntable, but I’ve already spun that one a few times because a friend recently sent me a pristine half-speed mastered vinyl copy (Thanks, Donelle!) so I sat in the backyard in the growing darkness and listened to Dylan’s newest record. The Dylan on Modern Times is a far, far cry from the young, angry poet-folkie who spat out his lyrics like he believed in the power of a fascist-killing machine, but you gotta admire someone who avoids burning out while figuring out new ways to sneak around the fading away part.

In his younger days, Dylan wrote that “he not busy being born is busy dying.” It’s not that you need to completely reinvent yourself, but why deny yourself the rush of pleasure that comes with a new experience? Aristotle said “wonder implies the desire to learn,” so use a sense of wonder to help keep a fresh viewpoint and an open mind while staying true to your roots. I have a few constants: family, Hank Williams, Levi’s and my library card, but a lot of the rest is negotiable. We should always strive to learn something new, from old farts like Aristotle or Dylan, or even me…and my lesson for you is:

Just because rust never sleeps doesn’t mean I can’t take a power nap, dammit!

Rattlesnake-recommended June events:
June 1 – Sean Costello & Precious Bryant – Uptown Concert Series, Columbus GA
June 2 – Paul Thorn, the Loft, Columbus GA
June 8 & 9 – Alex City Jazzfest, Alexander City AL
June 22-24 – Athfest, Athens GA

Rattlesnake Confusion January 2007

Originally printed in Playgrounds Magazine - January 2007

Rattlesnake Confusion – 2007

By Curtis Lynch

Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix may be used to feedback, but I ain’t. To all y’all who said nice things about these first couple of Rattlesnakes, thank you. I wanted to try something a bit more personal and a bit more opinionated and I hope to keep that up in 2007.

This one, unfortunately, is going to be a quick regurgitation of what I liked this past year:

Best CDs 2006:

They’re sorta in order, but after the first three or four, it gets fuzzy for me.

Will Kimbrough – Americanitis – Easily my favorite record of the year. Kimbrough mixes humor and biting social commentary with a sensitivity for humanity that is too often lacking in today’s world.

Darrell Scott – The Invisible Man – This Nashville songwriter has recorded an amazing album of roots-rock that you really just need to hear to believe.

Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing And A Curse - America’s best live rock band trades sprawling Southern narrative for conciseness and maintains their integrity in the process.

T-Bone Burnette – The True False Identity – Burnette’s first record since 1992. Knife sharp lyrics over immaculate production.

The Mammals - Departure – Completely irresistible and infectious, the Mammals mix traditional instrumentation with forward-thinking songwriting to forge a sound somewhere between bluegrass and high-energy contemporary folk music.

The Drams – Jubilee Drive – A band comprised of 75% of Slobberbone has more balls and heart than 75% of all the other bands combined. The slight pop sheen does nothing to diminish the power of Brent Best’s music.

The Duhks – Migrations – Like the Mammals, the Duhks acoustically combine a world of influences and somehow garnered a Grammy nomination for “Best Country Performance by a Group or Duo” for a track from this one.

Todd Snider – The Devil You Know – Todd’s songwriting continues to get better. Three or four of these songs are among his best, but the whole album is a great listen.

Whigs – Give ‘Em All a Big Fat Lip – This Athens band’s combination of rock and pop with a slice of punk won’t insult your intelligence and will keep you intrigued.

Papa Grows Funk – Live At The Leaf – Sweaty funk recorded over three nights at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans. Pass it!

Best Festivals 2006:

Mucklewain, Harriman TN – A festival that focused on Southern roots-rock didn’t try to overachieve their first year, but they did anyway. It’ll be hard to top a one-day lineup that was as strong top-to-bottom as any festival (Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Jason Ringenberg, Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough, Lucero, Caddle and Southern Bitch), but I’m going to be there next year to see if they can do it.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, New Orleans LA – Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band brought a much-needed catharsis through music to the crowds. The crowds brought a much-needed influx of money and tourism back to the town that Katrina and FEMA couldn’t kill.

Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, Thomson GA – Seems like we enjoyed the smaller festivals the best this year. This one had everything except overflowing crowds, overpriced beer, plastic food and anemic music.

Best Club Shows 2006:

Drive-By Truckers, 40 Watt Club, Athens GA – Two nights in Athens in January with this band is a tradition that’s probably taking a break in ’07. The sold-out, sweaty, appreciative hometown crowds won’t know what to do with themselves.

Caddle, SoHo, Columbus GA - These guys have country-rock swagger confidently nailed. Best band that makes regular stops in town.

I’m looking forward to 2007. Just like America, I’ll be another year older and deeper in debt.

What would I like to see around here next year? A radio station, either community or college based, that programs a wide variety of artists and local interests, a music festival that combines local and regional talent and makes people excited about coming back, a grass roots support for live music that goes beyond cover bands and open mic nights (there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either, by the way) and Sweetwater 420 on tap.

Oh, and that whole peace on earth thing.