October 21, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In How to Be Inappropriate, Daniel Nester collects many of his clever essays in one of the year's funniest books. If you have been reading Nester's pieces at The Daily Beast, you know how funny he can be, especially when casting his discerning eye towards pop culture.
Nester is reading tonight at Brooklyn independent bookstore BookCourt, and giving away a free Whoopee cushion with every book sold. If you are not in NYC, send him your book (and a coupon from his website), and he will personally e-mail you a Whoopee cushion.
Full disclosure: I received a Whoopee cushion with my review copy of this book, and gave it to my four-year old neighbor who immediately (and inappropriately) became the heart of every neighborhood party.
Music and writing for me go way back.
As a teenager in the late 80s, I'd pilgrimage over the Ben Franklin Bridge from South Jersey to Philly, and divide my time between Third Street Jazz and the second-hand bookstores in Center City. This routine plays out every place I've lived or visit. My dream job then was to be a rock critic just like all the writers in the issues of Record, Creem, Hit Parader, Spin, The Bob, Tower Records' Pulse, and The Aquarian Weekly I'd snap up. Mine was a post-Lester Bangs era and, until the posthumous Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung was released, it felt like there was a missing link between the Ginsbergs and Kerouacs and Bukowskis and the rock records I unwrapped lying on my bedroom floor.
Anyway, fast-forward 20-odd years, and this new book comes out of mine, and it's sort of a mixed tape itself: it's a collection of essays and memoir pieces I've written that combine—at least when I'm at my own pretentious, which is often—my literary and the rock sensibilities. Here's a real mix tape for you.
Track 1. "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner (Foreigner)
If you grew up in the early 80s, this rocker simply existed; it blasted from 8-tracks; Jonny Fever slapped the needle on this one on WKRP in Cincinnati and shook his denim vest. My only copy of this growing up was on Circuit Breaker, a K-Tel compilation.
I never thought twice about "Hot Blooded." Then two things happened. The first: Tone Loc sampled it for "Funky Cold Medina." Since I hated classic rock by the 90s rolled around, I had to re-envision Lou Gramm and Co. thanks to Mr. Loc. And two: I started playing guitar. I wanted to learn how to play all the songs the older dudes could play. "Hot Blooded" was one of them. When I joined a band in my early thirties, this was one of the covers I wanted to learn.
Track 2. "Pete Drake's Talking Steel Guitar" by Pete Drake (Through Many Years)
This track comes from a popular bootleg compilation of George Harrison songs from the early 70s. Recording parts for Harrison's triple long player All Things Must Pass, session lap steel player Pete Drake shows off his "talking steel guitar," a precursor to the talk box effect. Drake share top billing with it for a string of hits in the mid-60s, and went on to work as an in-demand session sideman for everyone from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez and Charlie Rich to Tammy Wynette.
I fell in love with Pete Drake's playing when I was writing "The Talk Box Reveries," a piece in the book and first appeared in the journal Pank. I have played guitar, very badly, for the past 25 years, you see, and to make up for my lack of skill I have bought just about every pedal and effect there was: phasers, distortions, tremolo, echo, delay, a freaking eBow. All except for the mighty talk box, a ridiculous effect that involves sticking a tube on your mouth from which your guitar sounds comes and then giving shape to, or talking, your notes. Listening to such Drake's talking guitar on songs such as "I'm Just a Guitar (An Everybody Picks On Me)," there is the novelty of it, the strangeness; there's also the feeling and dreariness.
In the essay, I made a leap of faith that Drake met another guitarist sitting in on the Harrison sessions: the Comes Alive man himself, Peter Frampton. I assume no more. This picture gives me proof that the two were in the same room with Drake's Talking Steel Guitar.
Track 3. "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey (Escape)
This is another classic rock tune I never gave a second thought until I started writing about unsung video game champ Todd Rogers, who claims high scores on over 2,000 games in existence. I was going to write about how Journey had a video game: 1982's Escape, and how odd that seems today. The Atari 2600 version plays an 8-bit loop of the song's opening chords that is a kind of torture. But then I came across stories of how Rogers played the Escape game for 85-plus hour straight, setting a human endurance record. I turned away from Journey and more to Rogers. The story of how this champion gamer won, lost, then won again is ripe for a movie, should any producers be reading this.
Track 4. "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap (Speak for Yourself)
My wife and I went through several attempts at in vitro fertilization to conceive our first child, and when she went away for her treatments, she listened to this song to calm her down. We put this on a mix CD when our daughter was born, and it reminds me of all the shit we had to go through to have our kid. I write about in the book, but mostly from my own sperm-joke point of view. It occurs to me that there's some correlation with this vocoder-accompanied song and the talk box fascination, but I don't want to take it too far. And for the record: I didn't know this song was on the TV bathos-fest The OC.
Track 5. "While You Wait For The Others" by Grizzly Bear featuring Michael McDonald (digital single)
I listened to this every day when I was finishing up the book. I like Grizzly Bear a lot, sure. But there is something spooky about hearing the voice of the most commercial Doobie Brother, Michael McDonald, whose words were indiscernible to me in every other song I'd heard by him, backed up by the most current of Beach Boys-influenced indie rock. It just doesn't make sense and it does at the same time.
I was trying to explain all this to a friend the other night, without just admitting I like novelty songs. "It's as if Paul Carrack recorded a track with Belle and Sebastian," I said to this friend, "or if Johnny Halliday collaborated with Air, or … never mind."
Track 6. "Shaking That Bear Bum Cleavage Between" by Jonny Trunk (Dirty Fan Male)
I love prank calls, bloopers, novelties of all sorts. Dirty Fan Male album collects of dramatic readings of fan letters sent to British adult entertainers. Some of the voices seem to be of James Mason and Cary Grant. The man behind the project is a guy named Jonny Trunk. "Bare Bum Cleavage," the album's closer, is set to a boogie-woogie piano, and although the lyric is not x-rated, the stops and starts make it so.
Track 7. "Learn Some Deuteronomy" by ApologetiX (New and Used: The Best of Apologetix)
I have always been fascinated with parody, which led me writing about ApologetiX, the leading Christian parody rock band in the country. This deft parody of the Def Leppard original replaces the rather obvious double-entendre lyric, which centers around the extended metaphor of pouring sugar as a stand-in for the sexual act, with a more Christian-friendly theme.
For the Biblically challenged, Deuteronomy is name of the fifth book of the Torah, or Old Testament, one which lays down the mitzvot, the 613 laws referred here in the second verse; please note that the word "four" here is pronounced "fo'":
Read the Bible, yeah we're liable, Jesus died though
Grace is livin' Romans 7:1 and 4
There have been 613 written Bible laws
We ain't exaggeratin' the Jews said so
I think J. Jackson, the lead singer and lyricist of the band, is a genius parodist, on par with or better than "Weird" Al Yankovic or Dr. Demento. That felt good to say.
Daniel Nester and How to Be Inappropriate links:
also at Largehearted Boy: