Grab your $29, fill your jockey full of bourbon, and clap hands while whistling through the graveyard, it’s the NOT-BY-TOM-WAITS SONG-A-DAY CHALLENGE!
As I hinted yesterday, for most Tom Waits fans, the mere mention of Little Anthony and the Imperials elicits thoughts of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” one of the truly saddest and funniest and most beautiful songs ever written. It’s also not the only Minneapolis song I drew directly from for this challenge; “9th and Hennepin,” a standout track from ‘Rain Dogs,’ gave me an excuse to ask everyone for songs about intersections (the topic of one of the first episodes of The Casual Geographer). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out his songwriting (and life) partner Kathleen Brennan, since she co-wrote or inspired many of these alluded classics.
In honor of Mr. Waits’ birthday on the 7th of the final month of a year in which we all felt, at points, like the Earth was dying screaming, I couldn’t resist this. DIG IN:
Per usual, there is only one rule, and it’s self-explanatory. Be careful with this one, though; Tom is all over pop culture in places you may not expect. Download the matrix, have fun, don’t forget to tag it #NotByTomWaits, and keep asking around regarding where Mr. Knickerbocker’s at (even if nobody’s sure).
I try to refrain from using profanity on this site, but as your special treat for this unveiling, enjoy my favorite Tom Waits Letterman interview, which is probably the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.
Thanks again to Courtney for coming up with the vast majority of these! I’m so glad to be able to collaborate with her, even from afar. Since I’m hardly a Broadway expert, I wasn’t at all tempted to break this month’s rule, but it also sent me down a musicological path where I started wondering “what IS a showtune?” Because you could make arguments that certain pop songs that were never technically in stage musicals are still showtunes in the sense that ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie.
Anyway, here is the matrix, for reference, and my list, below:
Spinal Tap – “Gimme Some Money”
Airiel – “In Your Room”
The Coup / Dead Prez – “Get Up”
Leadbelly – “The Bourgeois Blues”
Richard Marx – “Endless Summer Nights”
Carl Douglas – “Dance the Kung Fu” (the little-remembered miiiiilking-it follow-up to his legendary one hit wonder)
American Steel – “Maria” (this song is so good, I’ll go out of my way to link it here)
The Stone Roses – “I Wanna be Adored”
The Field Mice – “Emma’s House”
Rob Zombie – “Dragula”
ABBA – “Mamma Mia”
Scissor Sisters – “Take Your Mama”
The Zombies – “Beechwood Park”
Steve Martin – “Late for School”
The Chicks – “Gaslighter”
The Queers – “Everything’s OK”
Gang of Four – “Guns or Butter”
Red City Radio – “Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads”
The Pietasters – “Girl Take It Easy”
A.C. Newman – “Drink to Me Babe Then”
Groovie Ghoulies – “Hair of Gold (and Skin of Blue)”
The Hextalls – “I’m the Best (in Bed)”
Fountains of Wayne – “Valley Winter Song” (RIP Adam Schlesinger)
Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” (feat. Busman’s Holiday!)
Jaya the Cat – “Shit Jobs for Rock”
The Get Up Kids – “I’m a Loner, Dottie, a Rebel”
Lungfish – “Put Your Hand in my Hand” (I had to go with Moss Icon on Instagram, since Dischord’s catalog isn’t on there)
New Order – “Touched by the Hand of God”
Poison – “Talk Dirty to Me”
Jets to Brazil – “Cat Heaven”
Thanks for playing and your continued support, everybody. The December Song Challenge will go up here tomorrow at 8am ET. Here is a clue to your December theme, below. It’s a bad clue, because almost everybody who loves the featured artist will immediately get it, but a clue nonetheless. NO (public) GUESSES.
“It happens on occasion that, unable to maintain the distance necessary for reflection, journalists end up acting like the fireman who sets the fire. They help create the event by focusing on a story (such as the murder of one young Frenchman by another young man, who is just as French but “of African origin”), and then denounce everyone who adds fuel to the fire that they lit themselves. I am referring, of course, to the National Front which, obviously, exploits or tries to exploit “the emotions aroused by events.” This in the words of the very newspapers and talk shows that startled the whole business by writing the headlines in the first place, and by rehashing events endlessly at the beginning of every evening news program. The media then appear virtuous and humane for denouncing the racist moves of the very figure [Le Pen] they helped create and to whom they continue to offer the most effective instruments of manipulation.”
I’ve gone on the record, more than once, that I’m not a big fan of musicals. I especially dislike those “Oh, but you’ll like THIS musical, Tyler” musicals. The only musical I genuinely love is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Otherwise, there are a handful I will tolerate because people close to me love them, but even then I will still periodically wince when the belting begins. God, I hate when singers belt, especially with those assembly line vocal styles that the Andrew Lloyd Webbers of the world have forced us to agree are “good.”
But, I digress. This is why, among other reasons, that this month is a collaboration! My great friend Courtney, who lives in the DC area with her husband, small son, and slightly smaller dog, happens to be a Broadway fanatic. In fact, the last time we collaborated on anything, it was in the DC theatre scene, notably the 2008 Hexagon show (for which she did plenty of the heavy vocal lifting, and I hid in the chorus with my mic turned down).
Anyway, ye grande lockdown(e) of 2020 gave us an excuse to collaborate once again. Her sister Marissa (also a DC friend, with whom I bonded over Sunny Day Real Estate and the Dismemberment Plan) started a Facebook group in which these song-a-day challenges have assumed a whole new life. It only made sense that Courtney draw from her musical theatre past and create a 30-day-challenge. Also, it was her birthday this past Thursday, so…
Download this, share it with your friends, make sure to hashtag #NotAShowtune, and wish Courtney a Happy Belated Birthday! Her Instagram handle is next to mine under the title.
The only rule is… just as obvious in the past few months. And yes, musicals that became more famous as movies count, too. You theatre nerds should know!
Happy Halloween to everyone, and Happy Birthday to Larry Mullen, Jr.
Here are my Hashtag-Not-By-U2 Song Challenge installments, which varied (per usual) depending on the curious (and often highly unfortunate) omissions from Instagram’s music catalog. Here is the matrix:
The Lawrence Arms – “October Blood”
Kendrick Lamar – “Backseat Freestyle”
The Gregory Brothers feat. Antoine Dodson – “Bed Intruder Song”
Blur – “Sunday Sunday”
Lou Reed – “Perfect Day”
Avail – “Nameless”
Mineral – “Gloria”
Oppenheimer – “Fireworks are Illegal in the State of New Jersey” (Northern Ireland got a ton of love across social media on this one)
Blur – “Look Inside America”
The Dismemberment Plan – “You are Invited”
Rammstein – “Der Meister” (The same six guys for 25 years, which is more impressive than ZZ Top being the same 3 for 50. And I love ZZ Top).
Black Flag – “Spray Paint”
Eric B. and Rakim – “Follow the Leader”
The Lillingtons – “I Don’t Think She Cares”
Clinic – “Walking with Thee”
100 Gecs – “Stupid Horse”
Ella Fitzgerald – “Drop Me off in Harlem”
Camera Obscura – “Happy New Year”
The Dead Milkmen – “Going to Graceland”
Roy Orbison – “Crying”
Jimmy Eat World – “23”
Aphex Twin – “Flim”
The Magnetic Fields – “Strange Powers”
The Replacements – “Kiss Me on the Bus”
Girls Against Boys – “Super-fire”
Yazoo – “Don’t Go”
Rancid – “Up to No Good”
David Lee Roth – “Yankee Rose (Spanish Version)” (never forget there is a whole album of this)
The Dollyrots – “Jackie Chan”
Goo Goo Dolls – “On Your Side” (It’s so easy to forget these guys were so good, they were worthy of the title “poor man’s Replacements”).
If you participated, thanks for participating! If you just stopped by to read this and see what songs I picked while half-asleep each day, thanks for stopping by. Watch a great spooky movie tonight, and come back TOMORROW AT 9AM for your November song-a-day challenge.
Here, I hold a stack of postcards written by my students in GEO 121 (Intro to Globalization), about to go into the post. As of this writing, they’re on their way all over the country.
I created this mini-assignment in equal parts as a tribute to the US Postal Service as well as a simple lesson on a lost art (or, at least a heavily niched one). So many students told me they had never composed or sent a postcard before. Well, now they have, and their friends and relatives are in for a surprise.
In my half-decade of tracing Ben Irving’s path(s) through pre-War America through his postcards, I always look forward for opportunities to visit smaller towns left behind by post-War economic “progress.” Sometimes, that “progress” comes at a profound expense, usually as self-inflicted by local decision-makers as externally imposed by state and federal powers. Belding, a small city of roughly 5,000 in Ionia County, is a crystal-clear case study.
From what I can tell, Irving spent October 1938 in Michigan, bouncing around the lower peninsula while headquartered at the Detroiter Hotel. He spent much of the second week in the Southwestern corner of the Mitten, including stops in Benton Harbor, Muskegon, Ludington, Battle Creek (read about that here), and as one would imagine, the then-thriving metropolises of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. I’m actually well overdue for entries about his postcards from both Muskegon and Kalamazoo, but those will come in time.
Anyway, here is the original 1938 postcard image scan he mailed of downtown Belding (All Rights Reserved):
One of the first things I noticed driving into Belding was how sparse it felt. There were a few cool-looking blocks around the downtown area, and I saw plenty of cute neighborhoods on the periphery, but it just felt unspooled. I ate lunch at a café overlooking the river and went to get coffee and do some work at Third Wave Coffee, a great indie spot built into the street level of the 1913 Belding Brothers building at Main and Bridge. The owner and operator, Pete, told me a story (soon echoed by an equally helpful librarian) about an old woman who was struck and killed by a falling brick on Main St. sometime in the 1960’s. I found an article confirming that this happened in February 1966, as reported in the Petoskey News-Review (via UPI) on February 10th of that year:
The article gave no other identifying information as to who the two women were, but it does confirm that the incident occurred on Wednesday February 9, 1966. The chances were fair that Belding’s powers-that-were had been looking for an excuse to move on some development contract. Stories like these were all too common in post-War, deindustrialized Michigan. As you can tell from the postcard (and if you’ve spent time in any Michigan city that was less aggressive with the wrecking ball), that crowning lip was a common adornment atop commercial buildings. They were too shallow to provide additional shade or shelter from the elements, but they did look nice.
Unfortunately, as these buildings crumbled, the slight jutting adornments became a severe liability. Detroit, for example, seriously cracked down on owners of derelict buildings that were raining bricks on passersby. Some of these owners decided it made more sense to just tear the buildings down than deal with other potential lawsuits and fines, especially since it felt like everyone they knew personally had vanished to the suburbs.
In Belding, the town’s elders decided that the best course of action was to just rip out the entire two blocks of Main Street depicted and turn it into a mall. Gaze upon its majesty.
I would bite my tongue if anybody I spoke to in Belding, given their half-century of hindsight, expressed any kind of enthusiasm for the mall. I’m sure that COVID had an influence on just how dead that whole area felt across the street, but it appeared that the Chemical Bank building on the right (on the site of what was once the Hotel Belding) had been vacant since well before the pandemic.
Keep in mind that my progress from that postcard image to the repeat-photo I took above was hardly a straight line. Pete identified Main Street, but because most of the pre-War buildings had been torn out before either of us were born, we had no visible reference points to confirm exactly where the photo was taken. I walked over to the Belding Library, named for, just like everything else Gilded-Age in that town, silk magnate Alvah Belding, who spent the last 56 years of his life in Connecticut until his death in late 1925.
I’ve written before how much I love librarians and how they’re some of the best public service workers in the world. The ones at the Belding library were case in point. I walked in and showed the postcard to one librarian behind the reference desk, and within two minutes, she reached into a nearby file cabinet and produced the following photograph, which we quickly realized was the reverse vantage point of the postcard image!
As the caption on the sticker reads, “MAIN STREET LOOKING EAST,” and the postcard image was clearly taken around the same time period, and the orientation of the buildings helped me confirm that the picture was taken of the same block, looking West. She also produced what may be an original print of the earliest surviving photo of the Belding Hotel, possibly taken not too long after 1893, when the hotel was rebuilt following a fire.
One detail to note is the Victorian-style house which stood to the right of the hotel on Bridge Street, also completed in 1893. Naturally, it was also flattened. As the chief history librarian (who returned from lunch and joined in our conversation) confirmed, the Belding Hotel once stood on the corner currently occupied by that Chemical Bank building, and nothing else but a grassy expanse and a sliver of the parking lot.
So, to review: If you’re ever in such a position to make the decision, don’t do to your downtown what Belding, MI did, kids. It doesn’t feel like it even paid off for them in the short run.
A quick photographic lagniappe: the original chandelier from the Belding Hotel, now located and working within the foyer at the Belding Library at 302 E. Main Street.
Thanks for reading, everybody. I hope your Octobers are going well so far, and are sufficiently spooky. Stay tuned for a bunch of inevitable “REDUX” posts of old Ben Irving Postcard Project images, now that I can overlay them with the slider.
October. And kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. But you go on and on…
Especially if, convinced that people are still demanding these song-a-day challenges, you keep on going and draw up an admittedly semi-obvious choice for October. But as Bono sang in 1981, “The trees are stripped bare, of all they wear [and] what do I care?”
This month’s challenge goes out to everyone’s favorite member of U2, Larry Mullen Jr, who was born in Dublin on Halloween 1961. Did Bono write “October” as a partial tribute to his bandmate? No, it was actually just a metaphor, if Niall Stokes’ book is to be trusted.
Anyway, download, re-post, like, and share this image, and have a great time. Apologies to any fans of U2’s more recent work, but and I don’t feel bad about the way I feel about “Songs of Innocence,” and they have billions of dollars.
Another month, another set of 30 song challenges, some clearly better thought-out than others. I admit this one was perhaps my most challenging and definitely the easiest to mess up, given what a wide berth of songs (many of which are boiled into our collective pop subconscious) were prohibited. On several occasions, I caught myself being that guy – commenting the year of an 80’s song’s release under someone’s submission – but I don’t feel quite so bad, since I saw people jumping in to sound that buzzer before I even could. To me, that just means that these challenges have been building followings of people who feel an increasing sense of ownership, which is flattering as much as anything. Or, many people still have too much time on their hands. A little from Column A, a little from Column B.
Alright; to the tape!
The Wailers – “Simmer Down” (1963)
The Slackers – “Keep Him Away” (1998)
The Donna’s – “Let’s Go Mano” (1997)
The Steinways – “I Wanna Kiss You on the Lips” (2007)
Blackalicious – “Sky is Falling” (2003)
McLusky – “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” (2002)
Deftones – “Tempest” (2012)
Belle & Sebastian – “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner” (2000)
Chuck Ragan – “Do You Pray?” (2007)
The Bouncing Souls – “Kate is Great” (1998)
The Chats – “Smoko” (2016)
The Afghan Whigs – “What Jail is Like” (1993)
Kacey Musgraves – “Love is a Wild Thing” (2018)
Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube” (1997)
Run Maggie Run – “Lion Tamer” (2015)
The Leftovers – “Dance with Me” (2007)
Supergrass – “Going Out” (1997)
Massive Attack – “Safe from Harm” (1991)
Airbag – “Prefiero la Playa” (2001)
Sly & the Family Stone – “Hot Fun in the Summertime” (1969)
Masked Intruder – “Crime Spree” (2014)
The Kinks – “David Watts” (1967)
Rancid – “Time Bomb” (1995)
Mustard Plug – “Beer (Song)” (1997)
The Buzzcocks – “Orgasm Addict” (1977)
Dropkick Murphy’s – “Going Out in Style” (2010)
Reel Big Fish – “I Want Your Girlfriend to be my Girlfriend” (1998)
Big Star – “Thirteen” (1972)
Roxy Music – “Do the Strand” (1973)
Aesop Rock – “One Brick” (2001)
Thanks to everyone who participated on multiple platforms this month. Tune in tomorrow at 8am ET for your October Song Challenge. That’s right…this train is still chuggin’ along and only stops at zoo station!
On Friday, I tagged along with Dr. Mark Francek and the Central Michigan University Geography and Environmental Club for a hike through Viet’s Woods, a CMU property to the west of Campus. Here are some pictures. If you’d like to learn more about what the CMU GEO/ENV Club, follow them on Twitter and reach out.