Dad’s Top Discs of 2019

December 30, 2019

In 2014, the provost of Portland State University brought in some expert to tell us the university as we know it, would “cease to exist in 50 years,” so we better get onboard with higher education moving online. He compared it to CDs replacing vinyl albums. I remember thinking that sometimes the old way is better and CD sales were fading fast. 2019 saw vinyl albums outsell compact discs for the fist time since the late 1980s. Vinyl has roared back into the marketplace. I wonder where that shithead “expert” is now.

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I certainly bought plenty of vinyl in 2019, including plenty of new releases. Nothing like spinning a black platter on a grey rainy Portland day. Here’s my annual list of my favorite albums of the year. In the top spot are some old friends of mine, drivin n cryin, from Atlanta. I picked up their new album, Live The Love Beautiful, in a record store in Austin, Texas and immediately fell in love with it. It represents everything I love about the conflicting themes of life in the South, the beauty and the stark desperation. 

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There are plenty of great 2019 releases that I haven’t discovered yet. I just bought the new Lana Del Ray album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, today. I’m dying to hear the new records from Beck and Nick Cave. There were other great albums that just missed my Top 20, like The Highwomen, Vampire Weekend, Little Sue, and The Dandy Warhols. These are just the 20 that I spent the most time with. 2019 was a year when listeners rediscovered the Paisley Underground and the Laurel Canyon sound. I didn’t have much time for auto-tuned hip hop but all the time in the world for Lizzo and her brilliant debut album.

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We also saw plenty of shows this year as we’ve been rebuilding our normal routine. Some great gigs from old friends passing thorough town, including Amy Ray, the Long Ryders, and the Waterboys. Great jazz in local Portland haunts and one show I was completely conflicted over, Morrissey at the Moda Center. He was a prat but was he a fascist prat? (Regardless, openers Interpol were brilliant.)

2020 is gonna be a rough year. There will be more unraveling before we come together. Hopefully the tension will produce some brilliant music. But here’s my 20 pixel snapshot of the end of the decade.

My 20 Favorite LPs of 2019

  1. drivin n cryin – Live the Love Beautiful 
  2. Lizzo – Cause I Love You
  3. The Beatles – Abbey Road Reissue Box
  4. The Waterboys – Where the Action Is
  5. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  6. The Who – Who
  7. Amy Ray – Holler
  8. Miranda Lambert – Wildcard
  9. The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, and The Three O’Clock – 3 X 4
  10. Jeff Lynne’s ELO – From Out of NowhereUnknown-1
  11. Jenny Lewis – On the Line
  12. Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters
  13. Mavis Staples – We Get By
  14. Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold
  15. Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood
  16. John Coltrane – Blue World
  17. Solange – When I Get Home
  18. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  19. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
  20. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel

Dad’s Top 20 Favorite New Spins of 2017

December 21, 2017

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This has been a weird year for music for me. The budget tightened as Cozy got bigger and the sabbatical cushion got smaller. Weekly trips to Music Millennium were replaced by lots of speaking engagements and news interviews about the rise of fascism in Trump’s America. I buried my ears in old John Coltrane albums as I read Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest by Eric Nisenson. I spent a lot more listening time in 1964 than 2017, perhaps as an escape from the endless bad news of America going into the ditch. Just turn on KMHD radio and forget about the train wrecks (both literal and not) for a moment.

In my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, I posit a theory about the music of the seventh year of each decade. There is one pop album and one underground album that truly defines the decade. 1967: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1977: Saturday Night Fever and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks, 1987: U2’s The Joshua Tree and Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1997: The Spice Girl’s debut and Radiohead’s OK, Computer. The theory sort of falls apart with the death of the album in the 2000s. (You could make the case that 2007 fell to Kanye West and the White Stripes). But what will it be for 2017? It wasn’t exactly the Summer of Love 2.0. It may take years to figure out how we survived a year without a new Beyoncé album.

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We did make it to a few great shows this year. Paul Weller in Seattle was probably my favorite and Solange in Portland was pretty epic. Beck and Spoon on the Portland Waterfront were mass entertaining. Runaway Lita Ford rocked Dante’s and getting to sing with Drivin’ N’ Cryin in Marietta, Georgia was a hoot. (Kevn Kinney introduced me as “Randy Blazak from U2!”)  Herb Albert gave a master class in pop history at the Aladdin and Sting and Michael Kiwanuka brought some neo-soul to town. Bomba Estereo and Y La Bamba covered our Latin fixes. We had a great night with Shannon & the Clams and Portland garage kings The Shivas. However, I missed a ton of great gigs, choosing stay home and sing Frozen songs with Cozy.

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I missed a lot of great music this year. I hear both the War on Drugs and Roger Waters have brilliant new albums out.. I know everyone has Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN at the top of their year-end polls. I loved his last one but I’m just tired of rap albums where every other word is “bitch.” It shows a lack of imagination, no matter how brilliant your commentary might be. The anti-Trump music is finally coming out. Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World” is a chilling take on election day and I must have played “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG a hundred times on the binks jukebox. Maybe 2018 will be our 1968. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know. Is it streaming?

So this isn’t the best new albums of the year, just the ones I enjoyed the most, while Andrea painted and Cozy built increasingly impressive towers of blocks. I’ve already written about my complete submission to the joyous Harry Styles album, so it should be of no surprise that it tops my heart’s charts. We lost some greats, like Chuck Berry and Sharon Jones, and some old friends returned to remind us that, despite our foray into the Upside Down, great music will always sustain us.

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  1. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
  2. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
  3. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
  4. U2 – Songs of Experience
  5. SZA – Cntrl
  6. Sleater-Kinney – Live in Paris
  7. Tim Darcy – Saturday Night
  8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  9. Dhani Harrison – In///Parallel
  10. Ringo Starr – Give More Love
  11. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
  12. Algiers – The Underside of Power
  13. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  14. Drivin N Cryin – Mystery Road Expanded Edition
  15. Portugal, The Man – Woodstock
  16. Chuck Berry – Chuck
  17. Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright 
  18. Waterboys – Out of this Blue
  19. Big Thief – Capacity 
  20. Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?

And Special Portland Topper:  Jared Mees –  Life is Long Besides being a perfect album, it gave me the theme song for my podcast, Recovering Asshole.

Feminist Herstory Part 6 – Revolution Grrrl Style Now!

September 22, 2015 (Happy birthday, Joan Jett!)

We’re back for the occasional history of feminist theory. Earlier posts are here:

Feminist Herstory Pt. 1 – It is discovered that Women are PEOPLE!!!

Feminist Herstory Pt. 2 – Here comes the FIRST WAVE

Feminist Herstory Pt. 3 – Let’s Judge Ourselves as People

Feminist Herstory Pt. 4 – The Swingin’ Second Wave arrives

Feminist Herstory Pt. 5 – Hey, Soul Sister

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In the early 1990s, it was clear there was something going on with feminism. As the second wave became an established voice in academia and the media, things begin to change. There was a wave of books finding a new audience of young women and men, like Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1991), Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991), and Camile Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990). No one could figure out if Paglia, for example, was a feminist or an anti-feminist. She wrote about patriarchy and sexuality in a way that pissed-off established feminists, like Germaine Greer (but got her on a lot of talk shows). Was this a new kind of feminist voice?

At the time I was teaching my signature class at Emory University called The Sociology of Youth Subcultures (which I continued to teach at Portland State). I had a young graduate student named Lauraine LeBlanc in the class. Lauraine was a Canadian with a Mohawk and deeply involved in the punk subculture. A big part of the class was the exploration of link between music and youth and I made the students several compilation tapes, mixing everything from Minor Threat to the Sugarhill Gang (and violating countless copyright laws). Lauraine told me about a new scene coming out of Olympia, Washington called Riot Grrrl.

Born at Evergreen State College, the Riot Grrrrl movement built on the failed promise of punk rock. In the 1970s, punk emerged as an androgynous subculture that rejected the beauty myth and the macho bullshit of mainstream hard rock (with Alice Cooper hacking up female mannequins and all). In 70s punk, females had a place on the stage or in front of it. But by the 1980s, punk had devolved into “hard core” and females bands faded out and females being groped in the pit at Corrosion of Conformity shows faded in.

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So the radical kids at Evergreeen and in other scenes across the country began to create pro-women punk rock. There was an explosion of bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Bratmobile. What the bands lacked in musical chops, they made up in passion. Most bands had only female members and the songs were about things like rape victimization and menstruation, stuff you were not going to hear Ozzy Osbourne singing about (although allied male groups, like Nirvana did take up the banner).  They drew on influences like Patti Smith, Joan Jett and Yoko Ono and even the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. It was so exciting that something new was happening in music and it was coming from young women who were sick of being told that if they wanted to be in band, they had to be the sexy lead singer.

I got a first hand lesson in Riot Grrrl ethics when I went to see the band 7 Year Bitch in Portland in May 1996. I will always be the guy who wants to get as close to the band as possible. I was a huge fan of 7 Year Bitch. The four women from Seattle rocked full on, so I pushed my way to the front of the stage at EJ’s, the tiny punk club on Sandy Boulevard. Within seconds a young woman said, “Hey man, you guys always have the space in front of the stage. How about tonight letting us have it?” I got it. I’m a tall view-blocking guy and guys who look like me often want to get rough in the mosh pit. Female fans usually get pushed farther and farther away from the action. I got how much that must suck for a young woman who just wants to rock. I smiled and watched the show from bar. Man, those riot grrrls were in heaven.

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Lauraine brought me tapes, CDs, and lists of bands I needed to seek out. She also supplied me with zines, homemade magazines, made by young, pre-internet, women who didn’t want to be told by Cosmopolitan or Glamour how to do gender. They re-appropriated the dismissive term, “girl,” as the angry “grrrl” and wrote it across their chests. Boys who didn’t get it could fuck off. I learned a lot from Lauraine LeBlanc that semester, including how to think about gay and lesbian subcultures. Lauraine ended up turning her interest in the voices of young women in punk into her doctoral dissertation and one of the best books ever written about gender and youth culture, Pretty in Punk: Girl’s Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture (1999). It is required reading in my Subcultures class.

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The Riot Grrrl scene was part of a larger trend that became known as Third Wave Feminism. The Third Wave took a cue from black feminists, like bell hooks, and rejected the monolithic voice of mainstream feminism. There wasn’t one feminist position, there were millions. And the voice was local. Like postmodernists, who love to deconstruct all things social, third wavers deconstructed what it meant to be a feminist. Supposedly, wearing lipstick and a short skirt made you a sex object and potential rape victim. Third wavers asked why can’t you be a feminist AND dress how you like? Can’t you be for the eradication of sexism and enjoy silly pop culture?

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So it’s not surprising that by the late 1990s, “grrrl power” had morphed into the girl power tag associated the Spice Girls (more on them next chapter). Any female in music was being called a riot grrrl, including Madonna and Gwen Stefani. But any girl power is a good thing, right? But the ethics of the subculture survived its diffusion into the mainstream, with institutions like the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, based here in Portland, Slut Walks, and the continuation of much-revered band, Sleater-Kinney. Sara Marcus’ 2010 book, Girls to the Front The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, is now required music history reading. The 2013 film, Punk Singer, about Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna has brought the message to a whole new generation of girls who weren’t even alive in the 1990s.

We’ll discuss next about how Third Wave Feminism is about a lot more than a punk rock position statement, but the call of the wild attracted a lot of kids (and a few older sociologists) with the battle cry, “Revolution, grrrl-style now!”

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I got to see one of the first Sleater-Kinney shows in 1995 and Andrea recently went to their reunion show here in Portland and got a T-shirt for our daughter Cozy. Cozy will grow up with this music in her house and be her own rebel girl. I’m glad I live in a time with people like Kathleen Hanna and Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney (and Portlandia) and all the other strong young women who rocking out on their own terms. Sisters are doing it for themselves, and it sounds damn good.

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The following books mentioned in this post are available at Powell’s by clicking on the covers below.