Father Randy’s Top 20 LPs for 2016: Back to Vinyl

December 27, 2016

Near the end of my tenure at Portland State University, the provost instituted her “challenge,” called reTHINK PSU, designed to encourage the growth of the use of technology to expand the university . She invited a speaker to get the faculty onboard the move to online education. He repeated the Nathan Harden line, that in fifty years half the brick and mortar colleges and universities in the country would be history, replaced by websites (probably run by some kid in India). The message was get on the train or get left at the station. He tried to make the point by claiming that CD technology had replaced vinyl records, so get ready for college professors to go the way of the Foghat album.

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Ironically I was listening to this talk sitting in my office in Cramer Hall as it streamed on the university server. If I had been in the room, I would have jumped up to say that CDs sales were tanking, but vinyl was making a massive comeback, growing even faster than downloads and streaming music. Fortune magazine reported in April that vinyl album sales were at a 28-year high. Turns our kids want their Taylor Swift on wax (and their teachers in the goddamn classroom). Sometimes the old way is the best.

I say this because I really fell off my hipness high horse this year. The arrival of the baby in 2014 got me out of the cavalcade of live shows and endless hours in record stores. In 2016, between a rampaging toddler, the effort to return to work, busting Trump’s tiny balls, and finishing my new novel, The Dream Police, I just abdicated my staples for side-lined music aficionadodom. My favorite podcasts,  All Songs Considered, Sound Opinions, and Alt Latino, went un-downloaded. Our local weeklies, Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury, remained in their boxes on NE Alberta Street. An occasional breeze or hip kid would blow in to let me know what was up, but I missed so much. Did you know that Radiohead put out an awesome album in 2016? Of course you did.

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Where I kept things real was on the vinyl front. A large chunk of the new releases I bought this year were on vinyl (including a bootleg vinyl release of Frank Ocean’s long-awaited follow up to the brilliant 2012 release, Orange). I couldn’t stop buying vinyl, at Amoeba Music in LA and Peaches in New Orleans, and a dozen record stores in Portland. Old, new, kids’ records, 45’s, and even Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass from the 50 cent bin at Everyday Music. Solange just sounded better on vinyl and Bowie had to be experienced deep in the ruts. The ghost is the grooves, not the machine.

Andrea and I took our love of LPs into the sharing economy. Our basement just became an AirBNB called the Alberta Vinyl Den. Each guest lets me know his or her music tastes when they make a booking and I stock the room with a dozen albums from my massive collection. So guests get to feel like they are staying in the record store of their dreams, complete with a turntable and a refrigerator full of beer.

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2016 was a still a great year for music. With the blessing of babysitters we did manage to see some great shows, including some true classics; Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen, and the Electric Light Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl (a double bucket list item). We saw some good world music, like Bomba Estereo and Bombino. We saw a wildly drunken gig by Greasy Alice in New Orleans and caught a show by old friend Chris Robinson that took us down a rabbit hole. I just caught Georgia underground pioneers Pylon at Mississippi Studios. (Last time I saw them was at the Agora Ballroom in 1983.) Earlier in the year we caught a barely attended show there by Sir Paul’s son, James McCartney and got to chat after the gig. Other than the Cuban band we saw every Sunday during our summer on Isla Mujeres, I think my favorite show of 2016 was Father John Misty at Edgefield in the pouring rain surrounded by a thousand other dudes with beards. It was perfectly Portland.

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So here is my Top 20 favorite albums of 2016, recognizing that I’m surely missing a ton I will discover in 2017 or 2027. (Nick Cave’s new one? Someone said it was killer.) I really think we’ll be talking about the Beyoncé and Solange albums 50 years from now.  A serious thanks to the gang at Music Millennium for pointing me in the right direction on some good stuff.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar
  2. Beyoncé – Lemonade
  3. Y La Bamba – Ojos del Sol
  4. Solange – A Seat at the Table
  5. Drive-By-Truckers – American Band
  6. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
  7. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
  8. Frank Ocean – blond
  9. Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
  10. Bombino – Azel
  11. Patti Smith – Horses: Live at Electric Ladyland Studios
  12. The Beatles – Live at Hollywood Bowl
  13. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  14. Carla Morrison – Amor Supremo
  15. The Bangles – Ladies and Gentlemen…
  16. A Tribe Called Quest  – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
  17. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
  18. Chris Robley – The Great Make Believe
  19. Ages and Ages – Something to Ruin
  20. Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello

Here’s to more music on vinyl in 2017. And more professors in classrooms.

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Mr. Trump, kiss my anchor baby.

September 25, 2015

Since the traffic to my blog this week has increased by 8321.6% (true), I feel obligated to lob another brain grenade at America’s favorite gameshow host and his intellectually challenged followers. Hundreds of thousands of folks have been kind enough to read and share the previous Trump essays, “Donald Trump is the new face of white supremacy” and “Trump Part 2 – This is what fascism looks like,” so I thought I’d tackle another issue related to Trump and my family. And I figure I shouldn’t wait because it seems like the Trump bubble is starting to deflate. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking by myself and pathological liar Carly Fiorina.

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I’m not going to go after his great lack any specific policies. All we know is that, whatever the issue, he has people (Can we meet them?) looking into it and that he’s going to hire (Does he mean appoint, subject to Congressional confirmation?) amazing people and that he’s going to fix the problem so fast your head is gonna spin. It reminds me of when I ran for President of Student Council in seventh grade. I had no platform, just the slogan, “Randy B. for presidency! Make Woodridge Elementary great again!”

And this post is not about his pseudo-fascist claim that he is going to round up 11 million undocumented people on his first day in office. He hasn’t explained how he’s going to do this but I have a suspicion he’s been watching Schindler’s List for ideas. Welcome to the Trump police state. Any man, woman and child who looks “illegal” gets tossed over the Texas fence. (Don’t worry illegal Russians, you’re safe.) He also hasn’t said who is going to do all the work those 11 million undocumented folks do, whether it’s working in strawberry fields or in his hotels. (The answer is his plan would destroy the American economy and it just ain’t gonna happen as much as Trumpie racists wish it would.)

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This post is about Trump’s obsession with anchor babies. And not his bizarre belief that he can magically change the Constitution to rewrite the 14th Amendment. (He claims he has “many scholars” that agree with him. Wrong.) It’s about this repeated refrain that people come to America just to have babies and then “we have to spend the next 80 years taking care of them.” It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but his sub-moronic hat-wearing base loves it. (Hey, those hats are only $23.95 and may or may not be made in China or Mexico.)

I’ll start with a story. I was in a Jiffy Lube in Metairie, Louisiana a few years ago, on my way to Atlanta. The Prius needed an oil change and I was stuck in the waiting area with a couple of good ol’ boys (AKA white gentlemen). Since I was white, they started in on the racist crap, complaining about how Obama was letting in all these “illegals.” I pointed out that illegal immigration has actually decreased under Obama and deportations have increased. I got a look like, who is this fact-talking stranger? Then their fallback position was, “Well, they live here and don’t pay no taxes.” To which I said, “You’ve got sales tax in this state, right?” They nodded. “Then every time they buy something, they pay taxes. You’ve got property tax in this state, right?” They nodded. “Then every time they pay rent, they pay taxes.” The good old boys then started talking about the weather. You gotta shut this bullshit down every time.

The truth is that undocumented immigrants pay all sorts of taxes, including income tax. If you are working on a fake Social Security number, you are paying into a fund you will never be able to withdraw from. These funds go to what the Social Security Administration calls the “suspense file,” and you old white Conservatives should thank those “illegals,” because they are helping to keep SSI afloat. A study released this year by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants paid more than $11.8 billion in state and local taxes last year. And that doesn’t even include fees and federal taxes. But the “I’m not a racist but…” crowd that rallies around Trump can’t be bothered with facts and figures. Brown people are ripping them off! Off with their heads!

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What Trump and his rabid flock deny is that every immigrant, undocumented and otherwise, has a personal story to tell. I’ve written about the families that come to America to provide for their children, not traffic drugs. Some, like my wife, walked across the border in the middle of the night. Even more arrived on airplanes with visas and stayed after their visa expired. (Trump’s fantasy wall won’t help there.) The Donald’s racist comments about them have brought these people to the front of the American story. (And if you don’t understand how racist those comments are, you are also racist. But there’s help for you, I promise.) These “killers and rapists” have started to tell their stories. And their children have started to tell their stories. They are not a burden on you “legal” Americans. They are making this country strong and profitable. Most are doing the work you whiners won’t do, for pay and in conditions you never would accept. They are working twice as hard as you and getting less for it. Sometimes nothing at all. (Just Google: Wage theft.) There are millions of stories, like the one 28-year-old Adriana Almanza went on YouTube to tell. Here’s your anchor baby and you and your demographic don’t have to “take care of” her. She will take care of you.

My wife and child are on Trump’s hit list but they are not a drain on your pocketbook. Trump’s corporate welfare friends in the finance industry are, but I promise you my Mexican family is not. My “illegal” wife worked hard to earn a green card and through her I have met many other hard working people who do not yet have papers and live in fear of deportation by Obama’s ICE. Trump would deport them all on “Day 1,” but they are more important to the health of this great country than he is. Our daughter, who Trump might call an “anchor baby,” is an American citizen because she was born here. I am willing to wager that Trump’s children got more unearned handouts than she ever will.

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The reality is that Republicans (including many of my family and Facebook friends) are scared shitless that America is changing in a way that looks less like them and more like my bi-racial daughter. They want to scapegoat an easy target the way that desperate dominant groups have always done when they feel their dominance slipping a tiny bit. The want to “restore” America to an imagined time when straight white males were the unchallenged authority. Sorry, old white guys, you can ride that sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean or join us at the fiesta. The stories of our immigrant friends prove the American dream is alive and well, pero el futuro es cafe.

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And just to be clear, I am not writing this as a PhD in sociology who has studied racism for over 25 years. This is not a policy blog. I am a father and husband who is angry and sad that his family has been devalued and dehumanized by a loud minority of Americans (not a “silent majority”) who are too ignorant and/or fearful to understand that this is a nation of immigrants and that’s what makes us great. We don’t need Donald Trump or his xenophobic mob to drag us into the past.

And if you are a Trump fan, just watch this music video to see the human side that Trump’s ignorant rhetoric covers up. Maybe it will reach your corazon.

Dad’s Favorite Discs of 2014

December 30, 2014

There has always been a lot of music in this house, but I want Cozy to be surrounded by the best there is. I feel lucky that my mom loved jazz and I think I became a Brubeck fan in utero. As you can see from Cozy’s College of Music Knowledge, I’m a fan of the ancient art form known as the “album.” It represents a complete vision from an artist.

This is probably the last year for a while that I will be buying a lot of new albums. Music got us through the pregnancy and now sometimes helps baby sleep. My love of rap music took a back seat this year as a screaming baby and Killer Mike raging against the machine really don’t work well together.  But it was truly a great year of music.

It was also a great year for Latin music, highlighted by our road trip to LA to attend the Supersonico Fest, seeing Café Tacuba, Calle 13, and other great stars. I discovered so much great music listening to NPR’s Alt Latino podcast, I could do another Top 20 list of just Spanish language albums.

So these are the 20 albums I spent the most time with in 2014. Maybe not the best, but the ones I really connected with. The Against Me! album is easily #1. Perfectly crafted punk songs that give voice to the transgender experience. Maybe the most important record of the year.

Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2014

  1. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  2. Beck – Morning Phase
  3. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
  4. St. Vincent – self titled
  5. La Santa Cecelia – Someday New
  6. The GHOASTT – Midnight Sun
  7. Jack White – Lazaretto 
  8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  9. Ages and Ages – Divisionary
  10. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  11. Spoon – They Want My Soul
  12. Ceci Bastida – La Edad de la Violencia
  13. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
  14. Ryan Adams – self-titled
  15. Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
  16. FKA twigs –  LP1
  17. Pacifika – Amor Planeta
  18. Lily Allen – Sheezus
  19. Chrissie Hynde – Stockholm
  20. Lana del Ray – Ultraviolence

Honorable Mention

Various Artists – The Art of McCartney, New Pornographers – Bill Bruisers, Steelism – 615 to Fame, Sinead O’Connor – I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, Beyoncé – self titled, Bob Dylan & the Band – The Basement Tapes Raw, Calle 13 – Entren Los Que Quieran, U2 – Songs of Innocence