The songs of our lives: A music meme


Mitch did this post about songs, and I thought, oh, hey, Mitch has a good idea once in a while, maybe we'll make that a meme and steal it. Sorry, Mitch. At least I credited you.

That's OK. We don't have much in the way of overlapping answers. But now I need to dig out my "Thriller" album. Thanks for that, Mitch.

Anyway, feel free to keep it going. What are the songs in your life?

1: A song you like with a color in the title

"Man in the Long Black Coat" by Joan Osborne (covering Bob Dylan)

2: A song you like with a number in the title

"Gimme 3 Steps" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

3: A song that reminds you of summertime

"Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve

4: A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about

"Everything About You" by Ugly Kid Joe

5: A song that needs to be played LOUD

"Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Again)" by Sly and the Family Stone

6: A song that makes you want to dance

"El Sopon de Yuya" by Edesio

7: A song to drive to

"Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones

8: A song about drugs or alcohol

"Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop

9: A song that makes you happy

"What I Got" by Sublime

10: A song that makes you sad

"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday

11: A song that you never get tired of

"Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen

12: A song from your preteen years

"Bonin' in the Boneyard" by Fishbone

13: One of your favorite 80ís songs

"Superman" by R.E.M.

14: A song that you would love played at your wedding

"Home" by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (this was our recessional)

15: A song that is a cover by another artist

"Everybody Knows" by Concrete Blonde (original by Leonard Cohen)

16: One of your favorite classical songs

Mozart's 41st Symphony

17: A song that you would sing a duet with on karaoke

"Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul and Wild Pair

18: A song from the year that you were born

"Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry

19: A song that makes you think about life

"Knowledge" by Operation Ivy

20: A song that has many meanings to you

"Goodnight, Irene" by Brie Sullivan, Andrea Coller and Zach Root (original by Leadbelly)

21: A favorite song with a personís name in the title

"Jolene" by Spring Heeled Jack

22: A song that moves you forward

"Sometimes" by Michael Franti & Spearhead

23: A song that you think everybody should listen to

"U.S. Blues" by The Harshed Mellows (original by The Grateful Dead)

24: A song by a band you wish were still together

"King of Spain" by Moxy Fruvous

25: A song by an artist no longer living

"Under Pressure" by Queen with David Bowie

26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

"When I Fall in Love" by Nat King Cole (too obvious?)

27: A song that breaks your heart

"Martha" by Tom Waits

28: A song by an artist with a voice that you love

"Take This Waltz" by Leonard Cohen

29: A song that you remember from your childhood

"Perhaps Love" by John Denver and Placido Domingo

30: A song that reminds you of yourself

"Comfort" by Emily Shore

Some of my favorite musical moments

A little diversion here. Occasionally I post a few favorite songs or some tunes that make me happy or are workout motivation or whatever, but today, I wanted to present some favorite musical moments. Actual moments: notes in songs pinpointed to the second that present a perfect shot of relief.

Here are four of my favorites; I'd love to hear some of yours.

Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"

The first note of the guitar solo that enters here at 2:04-2:05 might be my single favorite note. It's a moment of wide-awake in a song that otherwise stays on the brink of observing from the corner.

Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"

This might be the version of this song that made it popular, and that eventually led the good people at "American Idol" to make sure people never want to hear it again. Word from the production team is that the breath you hear at the beginning is not meant to be a sexy introduction to a sensual version of what is at its heart a tormented song; instead, it's an exasperated exhale — Buckley tormented over it so long to get it right.

My favorite moment comes 45 seconds in. Listen for the transition from minor to major, or, to the non-musical ear, the transition from dark to light. It's quick, but you're not going to miss it.

Paul Simon, "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes"

This becomes an entirely new song at the one-minute mark. You think you've heard an interlude or an album introduction, but it changes from something in an African folk style to a pop song showing Ladysmith Black Mambazo's versatility. And nobody really things of that sound Paul Simon gets out of a guitar when you bring him up, but I really love that transition.

Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"

In the history of rock music, there are only a few songs that transition from a good song to an entirely different good instrumental. Think "Layla" and "Hotel California." And, of course, "Thunder Road." It's a great song anyway, but the transition to the solo at 3:52 is what makes Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons some of the best in history.

OK, your turn!

The day the music died and then sold for a load of cash (what it means, maybe)

Interviews with Don McLean famously used to go like this.

Interviewer: What does your song "American Pie" mean?
Don McLean: It means I don't have to ever work again if I don't want.

There are all kinds of crazy interpretations about what the lyrics mean. There are probably some reasonable interpretations, too. I've never heard one, though I've probably tried to give a couple.

The original lyrics recently sold at auction for $1.2 million.

But the bonus: McLean, in that article, talks a little about the song and what it means.

I didn't live through the time McLean memorialized, but the song definitely shaped my vision of the pre-Internet U.S.

Books: “The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah'” by Alan Light

How many times have you heard a song and said, "I wish I'd written that"? With me it doesn't happen very often; sure, the royalties on "Call Me Maybe" must be off the charts, but I rarely hear a song I think is clever and moving enough to wonder what was in the writer to create it.

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those beautiful songs I want no part of after reading Alan Light's book about it, The Holy or the Broken.

Cohen's been so tortured by the song throughout his career that he had his agent send the author an email giving his blessing to the project, but the artist himself wasn't going to be part of it.

It took Cohen years to write and finally record the song – he put 80 verses together before finally getting it together in the studio in 1984, and when he finally did, his record company said the album he put it on was awful and refused to release it.

So it languished, again.

Cohen is one of the tortured writer set. Every detail has to be perfect. He's spoken in interviews, Light writes, about being drunk in his underwear on a hotel room floor with papers scattered around him. This is not romance; these are demons.

The version many people are familiar with originates with Jeff Buckley, but the song's history takes a stop-off at John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, first.

Listen to Cohen's version (above, top). It's road-weary. It's weathered. It's sarcastic. On the whole, it's more pessimistic than optimistic.

Cale's version (above, lower left) has the same weathered, pessimistic feel. He is a few years younger than Cohen, but still someone who has been around and lived some life. He first did the song for a Cohen tribute record. When he asked Cohen to send over a lyric sheet, he came home to 15 faxed pages on the floor, with all 80 verses. He picked five for the tribute album, and it was that version that Jeff Buckley (above, lower right) first heard.

You can see how his simple accompaniment derives from Cale's, along with his selection of verses. But Buckley is young – eternally; he died while taking a swim on the way to a recording session – and his version is optimistic and romantic. And there's another thing: Buckley was a perfectionist. If you're familiar with the studio recording he did for "Grace," you know it starts with a breathy sigh. You could certainly interpret that as intimacy, given how sexy his version is. But, Light writes, it was a sigh of exhaustion. They'd done so many takes that night, he was beat.

The song, though, probably would have kept languishing if it weren't for two things that both happened in 2001: The September 11 attacks in the U.S. and the animated film 'Shrek.'

John Cale's version made it into 'Shrek' (Rufus Wainwright is on the soundtrack because Dreamworks had the film and Wainwright), and Jeff Buckley's started appearing over photo montages on the music networks.

And all of a sudden, it was everywhere. It became the default overlay for tragedy montages on TV dramas and sitcoms and in films. And everybody decided they had to cover it, and they had to do their best Jeff Buckley. Here are Wainwright, Allison Crowe and John Bon Jovi:

And somewhere along the line this happened, and Bono – who loved the sardonic humor in Cohen's version when he first heard it – nearly destroyed the song forever, on a 1995 Cohen tribute album.

Oh, my, Bono, what have you done?

It's also now appeared on many seasons of "American Idol" and "X Factor," because, well, it takes some concentration and some range to do the Jeff Buckley version, which is really what's done these days.

My take on the song: I love Buckley's guitar intro; it has such an incredible resolve after a minor buildup. But Cohen's closing verse isn't done nearly enough. It goes like this:

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel so I learned to touch
I've told the truth; I didn't come to fool ya
But even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

My take on the book: This is great if you're a real music nerd. Really, it's not for the weak, the casual fan or the "Pop-Up Video" crowd.

One more version – one of my favorite covers, even if it's not iconic, to go out with.

What do you have to offer your heroes?

You can let that video run while you read this; it's primarily audio. To sum up so you don't have to check for the visual cues to figure out what's going on, Usman Riaz is a 21-year-old percussive guitarist. He plays the first song. He learned the art by watching YouTube videos of one of his heroes, percussive guitar master Preston Reed. Reed plays the second song. The third song is both of them playing together (if you know anything about playing music, that'll shock you when you hear it). There's a little chatter, then a 3-minute jam session between the two of them.

That Riaz can stick with Reed and even make it fun for Reed is just fucking awesome.

It's easy for most of us to name some people we might call "heroes" or "inspiration." It's another thing altogether for us to be able to offer them something if we ever have a chance to meet them.

I may not be writing professionally at the moment, but I'm still a writer. But what could I offer Tom Waits, or Chuck Palahniuk, or even someone like Chris Guillebeau? I'm a decent conversationalist. I know my way around town and could certainly hold my drink even with anybody. I doubt I could give them seven solid minutes in co-performance with them. Which means I'm the one who's lacking and need to grow.

That's not a slam on myself there, it's just a recognition that I'm still a work in progress.

What about you? Think about who you count among your heroes, why you do that, and what you're doing to emulate them. What do you have that you could offer them to keep them interested for 10 minutes – alone, or in front of an audience in their chosen field?

Who are your favorite writers? Why?

My favorite writers are songwriters.

This is, in no small part, because I am also a songwriter (and I've dabbled in performance poetry).

When I sit down to write or edit, I either have Mozart in my ears (I have a CD with his 40th and 41st symphonies on it that has irretrievably increased my productivity with frequency), or I have Tom Waits graveling in the headphones, hoping that maybe something will rub off on me. This small bit from "The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)" is what puts me over the edge.

...a solitary sailor who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers paws his inside P-coat pocket for a welcomed 25 cents and the last bent butt from a packet of Kents as he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes and marmalade thighs and scrambled yellow hair.

. Yeah, that.

I'm also a big fan of the late Bill Morrissey, an unassuming, small-framed New Englander who died in his 50s right about this time last year. In addition to recommending to me one of my favorite guitar pickers, Mississippi John Hurt, he wrote a book called Edson, which is one of my favorites because it feels right – like four feet of soft powder on a grey Sunday with a fire in the fireplace and the power out and no chance of getting to the grocery store so you're stuck with the last of the week's wine and Oreos.

Local Twitterer Jason Mintz recommended I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I've only read him in translation (he writes in Spanish), but if ever ink spoke like satin sheets, Zafon has found the recipe.

You'll also see in my current reading list I'm back to Hunter S. Thompson. Most of you know I'm a recovering reporter, and Thompson taught me one really important thing that a lot of reporters still won't admit: if I'm part of a story and I still think it's a story, it is a story. "I" and "we" are even more powerful than "he" and "they" because I can describe how someone else thought something went, or I can describe how I saw it. Guess which description is going to come out more interesting reading? The second, of course.

Who should I be reading? You tell me!


I'm off-grid at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival this weekend. Here are 10 songs with no particular reason other than I like them (just happens I must be in a male songwriter mood, I guess). Also, check out some of Mike Dobbs's favorites.

1. Tom Waits, "Step Right Up" (With tuning!)

2. Michael Franti & Spearhead, "What I Be"

3. Jackopierce, "Vineyard"

4. Spring Heeled Jack, "Jolene"

5. Seth Horan, "Something Pretty" (You won't see that hair at the CNY house concert!)

6. Cheb Tarik, "L'histoire"

7. James O'Brien, "After the Prom"

8. Hank Williams, "Honky Tonkin'"

9. Ellis Paul, "Take All The Sky You Need"

10. Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"

2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest

I got this press release regarding the 2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest, which will raise money for Golisano Children's Hospital and the Westcott Community Center. Last year, the festival kicked off a successful $10,000 campaign to raise money for a nursing station at Golisano Children's Hospital. Hopefully you'll be able to get out and support the event!


The 2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest will take place Friday, June 11th to  Sunday, June 13th, with all raised funds to benefit the Westcott Community Center and Upstate Medical University and Golisano Children's Hospital.

The 2009 Shaun Luu Horror Fest completed a pledge of $10,000 to Upstate Golisano Children's Hosptial in memory of Shaun Luu.  Shaun died in 2005 at 23 after a long battle with brain cancer.   The horror movie/ music festival raised $5,840, which included a $1,775 contribution from the Palace Theatre, a host of the film festival.  The latter gift represents a portion of the proceeds from the theatre's monthly "Brew & View" 35mm themed film series.

This year’s events kick off at 6:30 pm on June 11th with a six-band bill at the Westcott Community Center, followed by horror films at The Palace Theatre from 12 pm, Saturday, June 12th until 5 am Sunday, June 13th.  The horror fest wraps up with an all-day music fest at Monirae’s starting at 12 pm, followed by an afterparty hosted by the Half Penny Pub in Armory Square at 12 am, June 14th.

The following is a detailed schedule of events:


Friday June 11th @ Westcott Community Center - benefit for Community Center
6pm doors open/ all ages/ $7
6:30pm - music


Westcott Community Center
826 Euclid Avenue
Syracuse - (315) 478-8634

DAY 2 -

@ The Palace Theatre
2384 James St. Syracuse, NY

All movies on original 35mm film!
All ages matinee, Noon-3:30pm, $8.00

Adults 16+, 4:30pm, $20.00
DEATH RACE 2000 (Corman version)
STREET TRASH (Q & A and FIRST ever Live Commentary over 35mm print with Writer Roy Frumkes)
TORTURE DUNGEON (1970 Andy Milligan film)

Planning to come to all 10 movies? Get in for just $20!

This is a tentative. Films may run ahead or behind schedule. Use this as a general guide.

2:00-3:30pm : THE GATE
3:30pm - 4:15pm : DINNER BREAK
4:30 - 7:30pm : DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)/ HENRY PORTRAIT OF SERIAL KILLER (1986)
7:30pm - 7:45pm : Break
7:45pm - 10:00pm : STREET TRASH/ TORTURE DUNGEON (1970)
10:00pm - 10:15pm : Break

Sunday June 13th - 100% benefit towards Golisano Childrens Hospital and Upstate Medical Center
688 County Route 10
Pennellville, NY 13132-3314
(315) 668-1248

( 16 BANDS ONLY $10)
Doors open at noon/ all ages w/ re-entry
first band 12:30pm. Show goes down at 11:30pm
Band line up from headliner to opener



Sunday Night MIDNIGHT- 2am Post Party @ The Half Penny Pub - 21 and over FREE SHOW )
Night Owls

The Half Penny Pub
321 West Fayette Street
Syracuse, NY 13202-1201
(315) 478-3091