Sunday morning is when I typically write my reviews, so I wake up, make a pot of coffee, and get after it. This morning, it’s country singer/songwriter Jessi Alexander for Stylus, and a couple of records I’m reviewing for PopMatters: the Joey DeFrancesco/Jimmy Smith collaboration (Hammond B-3 organ jams) and Canadian blues harmonica player Carlos del Junco. Later, as the kids get hungry, I pop on some country music that, surprisingly, the rest of the household doesn’t hate: the new records from Deana Carter and Lee Ann Womack. These records have basically been paired in people’s minds, because they came out within a month of each other, and because both seem to be pulling a “back to the roots” thing off. I try to do a side-by-side analysis, but everyone keeps interrupting, talking about boring stuff like summer schedules, family finances, hopes, dreams, fears, growing up, etc. Don’t these people understand I am the finest music writer of my generation, why are they interrupting the process of genius, etc. So I give up, and spend the afternoon moving a new table we bought from the antique mall to home, while listening on the radio to the Wisconsin Badgers trying to beat Illinois for the third time this year, and failing.

At 10 p.m., with the kids safely in bed, I head out to Woodman’s, our huge cavernous local supermarket. I bring my Discman in its weird vinyl case and my comically large Koss headphones, and make sure to load myself up with a cool CD so that Stylus readers will know how wonderfully eclectic my tastes are, but at the last second I decide to leave it all in the car and I shop to the soft-rockin’ tunes of the 1970s, piped conveniently into the store by a radio station that is trying to kill me with my own childhood. O the strangeness of Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles”! O how “Tiny Dancer” hits home emotionally for some reason! O the beauty of Muzak!

Monday mornings, with two kids in elementary school, is too crazy for music, and the company van doesn’t have a way for me to play CDs, so the only music I get on the way to work (a 27 minute commute) is radio. I hit up WSCR in the morning to try to get the Chicago sports talk station input on the NCAA brackets, but it’s boring and there are too many commercials, so I switch over to our local AM Latino station, “La Movida,” which plays some cool stuff, including Paulina Rubio’s “Perros,” the greatest reggaetón pop hit of 2004 that never was.

Work is a blur, but my giant headphones bring me Steve Porter’s Homegrown and the Ike Reilly Assassination’s Sparkle in the Finish before we have a big crisis and I have to actually listen and interact with people. I write all day at my new job (producing a multimedia current events program for kids), and I share an office with someone who actually prefers silence to musical noise background, so when something comes up, no tunes. Grrr.

On the way home I try once again to listen to the new Over the Rhine album, Drunkard’s Prayer, only to still be kind of “eh” about it. But I’m still a member of Over the Rhine\'s cult of personality, and I appreciate the fact that they have decided to play to that cult instead of swinging for the fences. Hey, Ichiro is just as cool as Barry Bonds. I get packages of CDs from five different promo companies in the mail today, but none of them are all that exciting. Mostly, we all just work on our NCAA brackets: a family tradition in the household. Sammy picks Bucknell over Kansas, Emma picks Vermont over Syracuse, and my wife and I chuckle warmly about that.

This morning nothing will do but Stevie Wonder. I had never really heard about Music of My Mind mentioned as one of his great ones before a couple of years ago, but it truly is: the romantic songs are weird and the weird songs are romantic and it’s all even funkier than anyone remembers Stevie as being. Plus, he says stuff like “You don’t wanna make me act like a nigger,” one of the most WTF moments in American music history.

Work today is all about soul music. John Legend lifts me up, Rachid Taha rocks it up in his kickin’ Arabic style, and I pop on my [current} favorite Sly and the Family Stone album, A Brand New Thing. I remember that I haven’t listened to Matraca Berg in a long time, and I just wrote about her in the Jessi Alexander, so I put on Sunday Morning to Saturday Night, and love it all over again. “Back in the Saddle” is such a great (if improbable) song, and not too many country singles have Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, and Suzy Bogguss on backup vocals. How this didn’t become the biggest seller in country history is beyond me.

When I come home, it’s JACKPOT: tons of new discs. Best of all seems to be the Brooke Valentine album Chain Letter, truly demented R&B; with disco and soul and rock and pop signifiers, all full of campy goodness. But there’s no time to listen to it, we eat a hurried dinner (microwaved veggie burgers and tater tots! yee-hah!) and rush out to an event at the school where my wife is student teaching. All the students are doing this western-themed dancey exercise thing. Is anything better than seeing first graders – white, black, Hispanic, Asian – do a dance routine to “Rawhide”? The answer is, emphatically, NO.

Today is deadline day at work, and the first thing I learn is that my officemate (also staff editrix) is out sick. Which means that I have to do a bunch of extra stuff that I don’t really know how to do, along with finishing up all the stuff I’m still late on. But it also means I can play any damn thing I want with no headphones! I rock a steady diet of pump-up music all day: Brooke Valentine (twice), the new James Blood Ulmer solo album (twice), the Amos Lee album (only once because our graphics department bogarts it for the rest of the day, they’re all AAA music fans, it’s perfect for them). I try to listen to the new Kalimen album, Nueva Era, but something about it isn’t hitting my ears right and I don’t have the patience for it today, gotta finish three articles and write the quiz and look over the proofs, no time for mid-tempo Latin pop that thinks it’s rap and vice versa. (Later listens will convince me that it’s not really that bad after all, interesting and well-constructed and all, just kind of boring.)

Tonight, I make pasta to the ululations of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (whose back catalogue is being reissued by Narada, where I know some people, due to relentlessly sucking up over the last couple of years). This amazing singer from Pakistan became somewhat of a cause celebre in the 1980s, with people like Michael Stipe saying he was the best singer in the world. I might agree; these jams are all like 15 to 30 minutes long, and he doesn’t even really stop singing, even when he gets the spirit and starts shouting praise to Allah. I love this stuff.

Today at work is country/bluegrass day: the new Chatham County Line (respectful, ho-hummish), Dallas Wayne (bizarre excellent honky-tonk), Terri Clark (who really knocks it out of the park on her new Honky Tonk Songs). My officemate is back in, though, so we’re back to the headphone ghetto. I also try to download some stuff to listen to, but I’m working on an IMac with an OS9, so forget it, it’s a joke. Also, it’s the first day of the NCAA Tournament, so I do a little ESPN surfing for scores. Don’t tell my boss.

More packages await me in the mailbox, including a CD from my new friend Marcos Davi, a bossa nova guitarist from Sao Paulo. New music actually makes me dance around the kitchen while I prepare dinner, which tonight is risotto with red chard and black beans. Damn, I’m a good cook. Plus I’m a little drunk on two glasses of wine after not eating anything all day. My man Rawj from Feenom Circle has also sent me the new jam from Balance, the Bay Area Mixtape King, with guest shots from Royce da 5’9”, Chamillionaire, and a whole bunch of underground thugz of whom I’ve never heard. AWESOME, but the kids are not really the ideal audience for tracks like “Palm Trees, OGs and Gangstas” or “Bullet Wounds Skit.” Fortunately, they go to sleep early.

Three inches of snow last night, so it’s a hard drive to a local middle school, where I am giving a couple of talks about being a writer and leading a workshop. The Hacienda Brothers get me there (REAL country soul music, might be one of my favorites of the year) and Enuma Elish gets me back (free jazz with electronica, somehow fails to suck, actually kind of funky). At work, though, I try silence for a change, at least until the office empties out and I can crank Warsaw Village Band (world/folk music with turntablism, kind of punk-rockish).

At night, my brother and I and some people go see our friend Rob Matsushita’s ultraviolent kidnap play, Welcome to the Terrordome. My 50-year-old friend Marci, sitting beside me, really gets into the eponymous song, which echoes loudly in the dance studio/theater as the teenage captors drag in their victim, but I have to tell her who it’s by. Afterwards, my brother and I retire to a local drinking establishment to chat about our lives, and we rock to this one guy playing “Great Balls of Fire” about five times on the jukebox. The snow has kept on falling for hours, and I play slip-n-slide all the way home through it listening to basketball on the radio. When I get home, Sammy is sleeping in our bed with my wife, so I head down to the couch and fall asleep listening to Marta Topferova, a Czech woman who sings Chilean music.

There is about seven hours of snow waiting for me today, so I load my favorite album into the Discman: Happy End of the World by Pizzicato Five. (My top 10 includes about 43 albums, but this one really is #1 of all time ever.) This masterful slab of J-pop, electronica, 1960s rock, and every other form of music in history is perfect shoveling music. I slap on the headphones and head outside, only to be interrupted by a rain of snowballs from my neighbor Rob. Obviously, P5 must wait as I return fire. I get back to the record to finish the sidewalk, but then Sammy comes out to bring the icy pain, so I spend an hour being his snowball target as I scrape the driveway and the front walk and we talk about superheroes and Bionicles. Screw my headphones. Music isn’t that important.

Later, we have playdates and store trips and birthday parties; somewhere in there, the family fantasy baseball league draft takes up 45 minutes of screaming and muttered imprecations about who stole Johnny Damon from whom. It’s not a very musical Saturday, but it’s a fun one and a hectic one. Also, Vermont and Bucknell both win.

Kids finally in bed, my wife and I start cleaning up two different rooms. When I go to check up on her, she’s fallen asleep. I turn off the light and the TV, and grab my big fat headphones once again. Brooke Valentine sings me to sleep.

By: Matt Cibula
Published on: 2005-03-21
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