I was on vacation. But the Playlist never really takes a vacation. Vacations just provide more time to delve into new books, discover new music or finally get out to the movies. Vacation took us to Philadelphia, New York and Princeton (with a short business trip to DC). Weirdly, those were the three locations hit by a certain happening in M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller (see last item on the playlist).
Coincidence? Or something else at play here? Anyway, here's this week's Playlist
This week's Playlist ... This week's Playlist ...
LP Cover Lovers. If you're like me, you long for the days when vinyl records ruled the musical world. A visit to the local used record store resulted in a new listening experience. And an art experience, too.
My joy of discovering music was often tied directly into the art work. As I dropped the needle on the vinyl, I'd first go to the inside sleeve, hoping that there would be lyrics and a listing of the musicians for each track. Then I'd study the actual album cover. What joy if it was a gatefold. Sticky Fingers. News of the World. Physical Graffiti.Presence. Any Pink Floyd album. Jazz albums put out by Blue Note.
This was art.
And sometimes art is bad.
Or just funny.
The two vinyl collectors who run the LP Cover Lovers Web site "love finding old records with crazy, beautiful, sexy, funny, shocking, provacative, absurd, tacky covers." It's like visiting a flea market or a musty old record store every day.
The bin Ladens. Steven Coll. This is a heavily researched and meticulous, perhaps a bit too meticulous, look at the large bin Laden family. And what a story it is. Father Muhammed bin Laden, poor, illiterate and with only one eye, left a small village in what is now Yemen and arrived in Saudi Arabia in the 1920s. He earned a reputation as an honest and religious man. He cultivated relationships with the royal Saudi family, which made his company their preferred choice for all types of jobs.
But that's just the beginning of the story. Coll details the lives of many of Muhammed's 55 children, including the infamous Osama. (Muhammed had 22 wives). The most interesting chapters focus on oldest son Salem, who took over the company when Muhammed died in a plane crash in 1967, the first of several plane-related tragedies and dramas involving the family. Coll details Osama's religious turn early in life and how, at least initially, it helped the company. But Salem was no religious fanatic. He studied and made friends in the West, including the future husband of Emmylou Harris. He played guitar (poorly) and wanted to be a rocker. He loved fast cars, pranks, planes and fart jokes. And he dreamed of creating a "United Nations" of wives. Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights (33 1/3). Hayden Childs. I dare you to name anyone, other than, perhaps, Neil Young, who has shown the combined guitar prowess, songwriting skills and longevity of Richard Thompson. The guitar hero's dark masterpiece Shoot Out the Lights, which he recorded with then-wife Linda, is one of the greatest rock albums of all-time, let alone the 80s, as Rolling Stone declared.
Childs tackles Shoot out the Lights for the latest installment of the wonderful 33 1/3 series. He provides deft analysis of the album track by track, through the nonfiction eyes of a musician whose life bears an eerie resemblance to Thompson, but without the success. Oh, and he throws in references to Dante's Inferno for good measure (see this week's Wikipedia link). I was skeptical of this approach at first, but it really works well.
Childs covers the original recording of what ended up being Shoot Out the Lights. Produced by soft rocker Gerry Rafferty, the bootleg album is widely known as Rafferty's Folly. I knew I'd love this book immediately after reading Childs' description of Mr. Baker Street.
Rafferty had been half of Stealer's Wheel, the "Stuck in the Middle With You" guys, but by the end of the 70s, he'd produced a couple of wildly popular solo albums, City to City and Night Owl. Listen to those solo albums now, and they sound like a leisure suit skidding into a cocaine-fueled car wreck, but back then, they sounded like folding money.
-- And learn more about the 33 1/3 series at its blog.
-- And please, please pick up Shoot Out the Lightsif you don't already have it. If you thought Fleetwood Mac's Rumours was the greatest in-band breakup album of all time, you're in for a treat.
Fighting Trees. The Swimmers. A couple years ago, I fell in love with the big, world-weary sound of Philadelphia alt-country band One Star Hotel. I've waited since then for the follow-up to their wonderful 2004 release Good Morning, West Gordon. I would've been waiting a long time. That band broke up. But the good news: Lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Steven Yutzy-Burkey, a Lancaster native, formed the new band The Swimmers and recently released Fighting Trees. Unfortunately, this self-produced CD lacks some of the jangly sound of One Star Hotel. But that's OK. The big dramatic swoops, the pounding pianos and the harmonies (Beatles' circa White Album) remain. It's smart, melodic and one of the best releases I've heard so far this year. The Happening. Fans and critics are out in full force panning M. Night Shyamalan's latest movie, yet it still grossed over $30 million its first week. I don't get the vitrol. This is not Sixth Sense or even Signs. But it's a solid suspenseful movie with one of the most tense opening 10-15 minutes I've seen. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are not great, but certainly play their roles well enough. And Betty Buckley was amazing. I don't want to go into the plot at all as not to spoil it. This flick is definitely worth the $9-$10 you'd pay to see it in the theaters.