Sonic Geography Ep. 2 (Tennesseein’ is Tennebelievin’)

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Well, I missed Sonic Sunday this weekend, but I’ll make up for it with some quaran-tunes for your enjoyment. This week, I’m taking a voyage across the mercilessly wide state (almost as if it was added to the Union in some type of land-grab) of Tennessee. When I moved there in 2013, I made the argument that the Volunteer State has contributed more to popular music history than any other, and I still tend to agree with that idea.

This DJ mix, though, gave me the opportunity to share some wax tracks released by various friends I made in my six years of living in Knoxville as well as a few stone-cold classics.

  1. Dead Man’s Lifestyle (Morristown) – “Common Lush” (split lathe 7″ with Cop Funeral)
  2. Reigning Sound (Memphis) – “Time Bomb High School” (stone cold classic LP)
  3. Psychic Baos (Knoxville) – “Fluicide” (Two words: Will Fist)
  4. Faux Killas (Memphis) – “Anxious Love” (I saw this band set Shangri-La Records aflame last year when I went to a conference at University of Memphis)
  5. Daddy Don’t (Knoxville) – “Octopussy”  (The only band, to my knowledge, with a full-time bubble blower)
  6. Bark (Knoxville) – “Everything He Built” (7″ with beautiful artwork by Striped Light)
  7. Daddy Issues (Nashville) – “Locked Out” (Possibly my favorite cut from my third favorite LP of the 2010’s)
  8. Lavish Boars (Knoxville) – “They Accepted Me as One of their Own”
  9. Koro (Knoxville) – “The 700 Club” (Off the EP repress, because I’m not a millionaire)
  10. Big Star (Memphis) – “What’s Going Ahn”  (here’s a little heartbreak for you)
  11. Gamenight (Knoxville) – “Take My Time”
  12. Headface and the Congenitals (Knoxville) – “Beast is Better”  (The McBrides are America’s greatest rock n’ roll family)
  13. The Lost Sounds (Memphis) – “Better Than Something”
  14. Booker T. and the MG’s (Memphis) – “A Woman, a Lover, and Friend”
  15. Saint Thomas LeDoux (Nashville by way of Knoxville by way of Memphis) – “Me Time”
  16. Ex-Gold (Knoxville) – “I’m a Man”
  17. Johnny Cash (omnipresent) – “Goodbye, Little Darlin'”

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Knoxville, March 25, 2018. Never forget.

The Case for “Les Chaises Musicales”

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One beautiful day this July in Montreuil, France, I woke up (a bit later than I’d care to admit; I’m a night owl and I’d had a lot of interview notes to write up) and wandered down toward the Metro station. I bought a sandwich from the pastisserie and wandered over to the park next to the Public Library by the mairie (town hall). The park, always abuzz with activity, afforded few benches which I could sit upon without the mid-day sun blinding me. (Fair notice: if you invite me for lunch and insist that we eat outside, I’ll do it because I’m a grateful person, but I won’t exactly love it; the sun scorches, bugs bite, and the wind blows). I wandered past the library’s entrance looking for a good spot to sit and eat when I heard Johnny Cash’s voice emanating from a nearby grotto. It wasn’t Sun-era Johnny Cash, either; this was dying, recording-in-an-armchair, Rick-Rubin-calling-the-shots, Johnny Cash. The song was “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). Anyone familiar with Johnny Cash’s baritone, especially at this point in his life, could imagine how much hearing it changed my sunny disposition (however slightly; I was so excited for what I was about to discover).

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The library management had placed some lawn chairs out in the grotto and set up a pair of high-definition speaker monitors, blasting an eclectic playlist of 19 songs. An equally eclectic crowd sat and listened to the music. It was amazing. They weren’t talking or treating it as background noise. While some read and others napped, they were all just sitting casually and listening. Some of the selections were mainstream (The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”, others weren’t (Calexico’s “Woven Birds”). Some tracks were instrumental (Morton Feldman’s “Variations”), others were vocal (Billie Holiday’s “Summertime”), some hip-hop (RZA’s “My Lovin’ is Digi”), some rock n’ roll (Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon”), some folk (Woody Guthrie’s “You Souls of Boston”), all strangely transcendent to hear flowing out of a public library’s outdoor PA system.

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The moment I sat down, Nirvana’s unplugged rendition of the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau” started playing, as if they sensed an aging guy in an 80’s hardcore t-shirt had wandered over.

I don’t know how often they do this, but I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a lunch break. If I find the time anytime soon, I would like to bring this to the Knoxville Library and see if they’d like to give it a shot on Market Square or somewhere else central. It’s a great way to both present popular music in a sophisticated way and provide an ostensibly free public service for people who want to engage in public life. As much as I imagine Parisians to be more prone to this, that’s all the more reason to give it a test-run on this side of the pond.