Archive | January 2014

Ritland Daily Ramble #23

Quote of the day
At some point, Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture.
– Bruce Springsteen

seeger4

The man.

 

Visions of Pete Seeger
In this, my final of four Pete Seeger appreciation pieces, I highlight some songs, videos, and websites that illuminate his life. I also include some loving tributes.

Pete Seeger on Appleseed
Seeger spent his twilight years on Appleseed records. On this lovely site learn about his work with them, get information about the movie about him, and check out other cool links.

Pete Seeger: The Power of a Song
Speaking of the Seeger movie, here you can watch it in its entirety. It follows Seeger through his life and highlights how powerful music was in his life.

“We Shall Overcome” – Bruce Springsteen live, 1/28/14
In 2006 Bruce Springsteen released one of his best albums, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which was all covers of songs Seeger popularized. Hear him play his friend’s most popular song in tribute the night after he died.

The Pete Seeger Appreciation Page Jim Capaldi, drummer for Traffic among others, started this Seeger tribute page years ago and it’s still the best on the web. Includes a bio, discography, songs, articles, reviews, and so much more.

“Playboys and Playgirls” – Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan
Although Dylan’s “going electric” caused a rupture in their friendship Seeger was one of his biggest inspirations. Here’s a track featuring them together from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

The Last Word
“Forever Young” – Pete Seeger
Everybody is going crazy about this video for good reason. Elder statesman Seeger sings Dylan’s “Forever Young” and the results are lovely. A great tribute to a great man.

The legacy of Pete Seeger will undoubtedly live on forever in American folk lore. That isn’t a highfaluting  statement; it’s a simple truth. The work he put in to collecting and spreading the word about America’s folk music is unmatched, his willingness to defend himself even during unfair circumstances, and the songs he wrote and sang will live on forever. He is truly an American hero.

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Picture of the day

seeger guthrie

One more for the road. Thanks, Pete.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Ritland Daily Ramble #22

Quote of the day
Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.
– Woody Guthrie

seeger guthrie 2

Leadbelly, Seeger, Guthrie, Sonny Terry.

Rambles
Finally, the long-awaited reunion of the Almanac Singers
Pete Seeger was a great man. To say anything less is a lie.

It’s particularly sad that he’s gone because he was one of the last living links to the legacy of Woody Guthrie, the most highly revered songwriter of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Seeger and Guthrie, together with an impressive group of friends that included Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, and so many others, created the most enduring American music of all-time. Although firmly left-leaning in their political views their music is so broad, creative, funny, and just plain cool that it appeals to those on all sides.

Woody Guthrie, of course, was one of Bob Dylan’s biggest influences. In the early ‘60s he traveled to New York solely to visit an ailing but still living Guthrie, which he eventually did. Seeger, for his part, became one of Dylan’s biggest mentors and earliest supporters.

Guthrie was a more talented writer but Seeger was more serious and knowledgeable. Guthrie was more himself, was more creative, was less linear. Seeger was more rigid and less flexible, but this was only because he knew clearly and exactly what he believed and why.

Dylan loved them so much, and was so influenced by them, because their music speaks across boundaries. It speaks deeply to human experience. You don’t find this sort of depth and uniqueness anymore, and that is why it’s such a tragedy that Seeger is gone. The world will miss such a strong, independent thinker.

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Picture of the day

almanac-singers

Seeger and Guthrie’s Almanac Singers.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Ritland Daily Ramble #21

Quote of the day
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin or situation in life.
– Pete Seeger

Rambles
Love each other
seeger3Honestly, I’ve never had an unequivocal love of Pete Seeger. He does represent, to some degree, the sort of one-dimensional political singer that the folk scene desired Dylan to never grow out of. Even on his last album of new material, Pete Seeger at 89, he preached about endangered whales and zero waste resolutions.

But that’s only part of his story.

Seeger sang and collected a diverse selection of American folk music: slow, minor key murder ballads, negro spirituals, funny and upbeat story songs, instrumentals of all sorts on many different instruments, blues, country, and so much more. Though he never strayed from folk music his repertoire had an endlessly entertaining amount of variety.

The contemporary left can learn from Seeger’s willingness to reach out to people regardless of their political, religious, or philosophical beliefs and affiliations. In addition to the inspiring quote above Seeger also said “It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.” Being open to the ideas of others, and reaching out to them, is infinitely more useful than surrounding yourself only with people you agree with and shutting yourself off to the other side.

That Seeger was willing to reach out to those he disagreed with was one of his greatest attributes. Even though his left-leaning views were sometimes radical he had a patient, charitable attitude towards those who disagreed with him. His example will always be inspiring.

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Picture of the day

Pete Seeger (left) and Woodie Guthrie

Seeger with Woody Guthrie looking absolutely badass.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Ritland Daily Ramble #20

Quote of the day
I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung, and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.
– Pete Seeger

Rambles
Pete Seeger: True American Hero
Pete Seeger
Legendary singer, songwriter, banjo player, music scholar, song collector, and all-around good guy Pete Seeger died Monday. Coincidentally all day I was reading the early chapters of Sean Wilentz’s wonderful book Bob Dylan in America which mentions Seeger a lot. I was thinking all day about how great it is that Seeger, one of the last living links to Woody Guthrie, was still around. I found out about his death from a post by one of the Band’s only living members, keyboard guru Garth Hudson, who is also mentioned in Bob Dylan in America.

How well Seeger presented himself, and how strongly he stood by and defended his beliefs, was admirable regardless of whether or not you agree with his sometimes radical leftism. During the McCarthy blacklist he repeatedly stood by his First Amendment right to believe whatever he wanted, even though it cost him his livelihood. He lost his popular TV show Hootenanny! and couldn’t get work at any musical venues that paid any money. He was forced to play for small paychecks at college campuses to survive.

Seeger was a quiet, well-stated man. If you watch any interviews with him you wonder how he was ever considered a threat. He expressed his views, sure, but he wasn’t an anarchist that wanted to overthrow the government or anything. He was simply a perceptive man who, like a true patriot, tried to influence the country he loved in what he thought was the best way. Anybody who finds freedom important, and respects people who are strong in their beliefs at any cost, have no choice but to see Seeger for what he is: a true American hero.

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Picture of the day

PBS#01248

Seeger and Dylan in the early ’60s.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #19

Quote of the day
There’s a kind of rush that I can’t explain
Tearing off the cellophane
Reading off the card, cueing up side A
Starting up the car and hitting play
– Johnathan Rundman

Rambles
Cassette tape magic
I have sentimental attachment to cassette tapes. Along with thrift store LPs they were the only format I could afford to buy music on growing up, due in equal part to not having a lot of expendable income and CDs being stupidly expensive.

I always dreamed of making a cassette tape. When my friend Nate Houge sold me his TASCAM cassette recorder I went crazy. I began writing and recording songs for the first time in my life. I was like 15 and obsessed with David Bowie and Uriah Heep. I wrote really bad socially conscious folk songs, meandering love songs, and bad punk rip-offs.

When I was in high school I got as far as making artwork for a tape of my recordings called Lower than Lo-Fi, Cheaper than Cheap. The only problem was I had no way to transfer my music from my four track onto other tapes. I think I still have the artwork for it somewhere. Song titles included “Society’s Song,” “Giving In,” and the title track. Many of them I re-recorded for the first demo that I made once again with Nate Houge.

Evidently 2013 saw a resurgence in cassettes. Honestly, I have no idea why. LPs sound better, MP3s are easier to manage, and CDs are, well, nearly as useless only they have better sound.

In an article for Rolling Stone cassette obsessive Rob Sheffield makes a good case in favor of cassettes, though:

Why are cassettes back? It’s easy. They’re cheap and they make noise. They’re quick. They’re intimate. They have personality, not just another digital file. And they sound great, if you like the ambient hum of cassette sound. (I do.)..Tapes are the ultimate DIY format – bands can crank out their homemade goodies fast, design a groovy cover, stack them on the merch table for $5 a pop. It’s a way to indulge weird experiments or the drummer’s side project.

I can get behind this sort of romanticism. A lot of my favorite ideas are side projects that never came to fruition. If I could spend all my time making music I’d come out with a bunch of cassettes. I’d write songs forever and work with all my friends on a ton of different stuff. The romance of a person, or band, creating songs and releasing them will never lose its mystery.

Speaking of mystery, Shefflied continues:

They also have a bit of old-school mystery. You can’t just click on a cassette and get the back story. You have to let the tape roll in real time, asking yourself questions like “Where did this come from?” or “How long does this stupid thing go on?” or “Why the hell did anyone spend an hour of their life making this?” You have to forget what you know and surrender to what you hear. It’s a format that rewards the curious of ear and stout of heart.

I often bemoan that in our fast food, digital world people don’t take the time to immerse themselves in music anymore. Albums (not vinyl, but a collection of songs) are dying as a format. That you can’t skip over a song you don’t like right away forces you to listen to it and maybe find something you didn’t expect. Instead of “surrendering to what you hear” each song surrenders to the whim of the individual listening to it.

I had no idea that anybody made cassettes anymore. It’s a trend I can certainly get behind, though. After all, who doesn’t like a little tape hiss?

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Picture of the day

tape

Ah, those were the days.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #18

Quote of the day
Sometimes you say things in songs even if there’s a small chance of them being true. And sometimes you say things that have nothing to do with the truth of what you want to say and sometimes you say things that everyone knows to be true. Then again, at the same time, you’re thinking that the only truth on earth is that there is no truth on it. Whatever you are saying, you’re saying in a ricky-tick way. There’s never time to reflect. You stitched and pressed and packed and drove, is what you did.
– Bob Dylan

Rambles
Songwriting is ridiculous
Songwriting doesn’t really make a lot of sense. There are so many factors involved, from knowing your craft to being able to feel the spirit (intuition, of course, proving the existence of the spirit).

In the article you can read here I ramble a little bit about how strange and difficult it is to write a song. It’s sort of a “sky piece.” I wrote it quickly and didn’t edit it too much. I was in the spirit, you could say.

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Song of the day
“Illegal Smile” by John Prine (click to listen)
Somehow I discovered John Prine only a few months ago. I had heard a few covers of his “Paradise,” which is my third favorite song of all-time, but I never went out of his way to listen to him.

I have a strange habit of buying CDs whenever I see them for sale. I do this because I know that there’ll be a time in the future when I can’t. So I bought a few CDs at Barnes and Noble this fall and Prine’s self-titled debut was among them.

“Illegal Smile” is the leadoff track from what is by far my favorite album discovery in years. It’s a song glorifying smoking weed, essentially, but in such a way that you hardly notice. Instead of beating you over the head with the message Prine instead he winks and nudges, something he’s as good at doing as Warren Zevon:

When I woke up this morning things were looking bad
It seemed like total silence was the only friend I had
Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down – and won
It was 12 o’clock ‘fore I realized I was having no fun

Ah, but fortunately
I have the key to escape reality

And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
No, I’m just trying to have me some fun

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Picture of the day

Alex2.2

Immortal lyrics from “Illegal Smile.” It wouldn’t kill anyone if you shaved your pits either, lady.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #17

Quote of the day
Civilization had too many rules for me, so I did my best to rewrite them.
– Bill Cosby

Rambles
Return of one of the good guys

bill-cosby

The man.

NBC announced that Bill Cosby is returning to prime time this fall. Fittingly, he’s playing the patriarch of a multi-generational family.

Cosby’s contribution to television and comedy is undervalued. He proves that it’s possible to be very funny without resorting to profanity and cheap, easy sexual jokes. His ‘80s sitcom combined entertainment and meaning in a way very few, if any, other TV shows ever have.

I’m excited at the idea of Cosby making a comeback but I’m also afraid that the network will somehow mess it up. There are no good sitcoms on network television right now. This is largely because networks assume all Americans are idiots and dumb down their programming accordingly. There may be a lot of idiots out there but they must not be that dumb because viewership of network sitcoms is at an all-time low.

If Cosby is given creative control of his show it has a chance to succeed, although perhaps his brand of subtle, intelligent humor will have trouble resonating with contemporary America. One thing is for sure, though: he’ll wear some kick-ass sweaters.

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Picture of the day

a97678_g240_15-strange

I hope I can find this somewhere in Minnesota…

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #16

Quote of the day
There is a certain logic to events that pushes you along a certain path. You go along the path that feels the most true, and most according to the principles that are guiding you, and that’s the way the decisions are made.
– Michael Nesmith

Rambles
Emphasis, Solidarity, and Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Dialog
Both sides of the abortion debate are, to varying degrees, very bad at getting their point across. In this article I suggest ways pro-life and pro-choice people can better dialog with each other. I also argue, via Cathleen Kaveny and Frederica Mathewes-Green, that the pro-life movement needs to shift their emphasis from attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade to solidarity with all people, especially the weakest among us.

I wrote this article yesterday not realizing that today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Prophecy is one of my many talents.

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The last word on Richard Sherman
Seth Stevenson, in his brilliant article for Slate, gets to the bottom of the Richard Sherman controversy even better than I did:

  1. When, after winning the game, Sherman made the choke sign in his losing opponent’s face, then called another losing opponent “sorry” and “mediocre,” he was being a dick.
  2. Even though Sherman grew up underprivileged and beat the odds and now gives back with worthy charitable endeavors, he was still being a dick.
  3. The fact that Sherman is very smart and attended Stanford and approaches his job in a scholarly manner doesn’t mean he wasn’t being a dick.
  4. Whether or not Sherman’s behavior was calculated and self-aware and media-savvy and akin to the monologue of a pro wrestling heel, it was still dickish.
  5. Many athletes play violent, hard-fought, emotional games and still manage to refrain from taunting their vanquished foes and giving dickish interviews.
  6. It is possible to be an entertaining, eccentric, and even boastful interviewee without being a dick.
  7. It turns out that Sherman and Crabtree have history—Sherman’s brother alleges that Crabtree tried to fight the Seahawks player at a charity event. Most of Sherman’s defenders haven’t bothered to mention the existing personal feud. But to be clear: While the prior beef adds some context, those two wrongs don’t make what Sherman did right—or, more precisely, not dickish.
  8. Talking smack in the lead-up to a contest, or in the middle of it, is permissible. It falls into the hallowed tradition of gamesmanship. Dancing on graves after the battle has been won is dickish.
  9. And this is the most delicate of these notions but needs to be addressed: Whatever archetypes may be conjured by the specter of white people tsk-tsking a black man who loudly brags alongside a blond woman, those uncomfortable overtones don’t change the fact that, in this case, in that moment, the man was being a dick.

Well, that pretty much ends that argument.

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Picture of the day

train

Winter is beautiful.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #15

Quote of the day
Jesus is my American idol.
– Andrew Broder

Rambles
The Cloak Ox
Fog was one of my favorite local bands of the ‘00s. Their music mixed a dizzying array of sounds. One song would be a mixture of heavy guitars and a thick hip-hop beat, the next a tender acoustic guitar ballad, the next a jazzy, meandering instrumental. Their live shows were as unpredictable. As a showman Broder is lovingly endearing.

Last year Broder’s new band The Cloak Ox released their debut LP Shoot the Dog. It’s been deservedly highly regarded in indie rock circles, especially locally. Curious North, the blog I write for, published my review of it yesterday and you can read it here.

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Now playing
Lately I’ve been enjoying sitting in my living room and reading. Today I listened to The Beatles’ Hard Days Night and Past Masters Volume One, The Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut album, album two of Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves from Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964-1979, and, currently, Jethro Tull’s Benefit.

I’ve been reading The Beatles Anthology. It’s quite inspiring reading about how John and Paul wrote songs, who the band was influenced by, and how they lived in their early years. Each member has a unique perspective that is fun to hear. Reading early sections about right before they hit big in America influenced me to listen to a couple of their albums and the first Rolling Stones album. Which is more straightforward blues than the Beatles, obviously, but is no less endearing, or well-done.

I plan on writing a review of Twin Cities Funk and Soul but I’ll just say that it’s worth every penny, if not for the music than for the liner notes, which are an entire magazine about the artists on the compilation and the Twin Cities soul scene in general.

When I was a kid I bought all sorts of awful classic rock because I could buy it cheap used on LP: Seger, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, so many others. A band of that sort that I still enjoy very much is Jethro Tull. They had a unique sound and feel. Their songs are big and the band behind Ian Anderson is tight and funky. They get written off too often but they’re certainly better than many overdone classic rock bands that have better reputations. AC/DC and Van Halen come to mind.

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Picture of the day

Jethro_Tull_(agriculturist)

The original Jethro Tull, English writer and agronomist who invented a horse-drawn drill around 1701.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Ritland Daily Ramble #14

Quote of the day
The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Rambles
Don’t be an Asshole: The Ballad of Richard Sherman
After the NFC Championship game Seattle Seahawk’s cornerback Richard Sherman went on a hilarious rant about how great he is. Some called it disgraceful, others simply an athlete overcome by his emotions in the heat of the moment. In my take, which you can read here, I explain how both sides miss the point.

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John & George on an attic in HamburgPicture of the day
Today I listened to the Meet the Beatles! album, not knowing that it’s the 50th anniversary of its release. It is the copy my Dad originally bought back in 1964. Needless to say it skipped more than once.

The raw power of the Beatles’ early material is unprecedented. Too often people write it off as simply “oldies” but there’s nothing, especially that was coming out around that time, that sounded anything like it.

This picture, from a couple years before the albums release, finds George and John looking particularly badass.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.