Monthly Archives: March 2011

Coast Narcs: A Philadelphian’s guide to finding Portland’s venue with no joke perfect sound (not to mention the Lower 48 and Future Historians)

Between 2/26 and March 7, two Narcs were out vacationing working on a piece on Portland’s and San Francisco’s music scene. This first of three parts finds our young adventurers wandering the bearded streets of Portland in search of a venue with spellbinding sound.

There are many thing that a Philadelphian will find familiar about Portland. The beer scene. The unpretentious vibe. The bikes. The universal signposts of hipster culture, the universal denial of said hipster culture. That choosing a spot for jazz on a Saturday night based solely based on the beer (Rogue Brewery) is an idea that will meet its end four minutes after the 30 minute wait is announced. But what befuddle a Philadelphian as unfamiliar? The looming presence of Mount Hood? The quiet but extroverted PacNW friendliness? All those Philadelphians you used to know who have checked out of the Illadelph and are now even MORE bearded? Sure. But what about an indie rock venue with perfect sound? That, my fine Philadelphian friend, is a Portland site for sore ears.

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To my Wisconsin brethren, via the Mountain Goats

Power In A Union from JD on Vimeo.

The Mountain Goats, “Power in a Union”

And while you’re listening, make sure to withdraw all your money from good ol’ M&I.

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Jean Dinning (1924-2011) and the Teen Coffin Song Genre

Death has a very special place in American culture. America grew as a frontier nation in the constant shadow of death. Americans love dead heroes, from George Washington to Elvis Presley. Music and movie stars like Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline have made much more money since their deaths than during their lives. Even to make it onto an American postage stamp you have to be dead for at least ten years. Every October 31st, on Halloween, normal American children dress up as ghosts, mummies, ghouls and vampires and make a party out of death.
from Life in the USA, a “complete guide to American life for immigrants and Americans.”

Jason Priestley as the deceased "Buzz Gunderson" in a promo shot for the 1989 television series, "Teen Angel." It lasted one season.

Jean Dinning, who died last month, penned the 1959 rock and roll hit, “Teen Angel,” with her husband, and her brother recorded it.  It’s sung from the perspective of a young man whose car breaks down across train tracks.  The man and his girlfriend escape, but she’s forgotten the high school ring he gave her in the car and in the midst of retrieving it is hit by the oncoming train and killed.  The morbid subject of the song led many US radio stations to ban it, but it strongly resonated with the death-obsessed youth of America, reaching #1 on the US charts and inaugurating the Teen Coffin Song or “Splatter Platter” genre.

Mark Dinning, “Teen Angel” (1959) [Download from Amazon]

The roots of the genre likely stem from the country/western death ballad, an influence that can be heard in such specimens as Jody Reynolds’ rockabilly “Endless Sleep” (an ultimately non-tragic precursor) and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.”  Another common characteristic is the theme of star-crossed lovers, as evidenced in Johnny Preston’s mildly offensive “Running Bear.”

Jody Reynolds, “Endless Sleep” (1959) [Download from Amazon]

Marty Robbins, “El Paso” (1959) [Download from Amazon]

Johnny Preston, “Running Bear” (1959) [Buy from Amazon]

Roy Orbison, “Leah” (1962) [Buy from Amazon]

And many of the coffin songs tap into the rebellious image cut by such American teen icons as James Dean, who crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder in 1955.  Regarding this feature of the genre, R. Serge Denisoff argued in a 1983 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture that the cultural significance of these novelty songs inheres in that association between rebellion and death: “in the early 1960s seemingly the only viable form of rebellion for many adolescents was withdrawal in running away or in death.”  A questionable thesis, I’d say, that hardly pertains to “Teen Angel,” but it’s interesting to consider tracks like “Leader of the Pack,” “Dead Man’s Curve” or the Beach Boys’ “A Young Man is Gone” in that thematic context.

The Beach Boys, “A Young Man Is Gone” (1963) [Download Little Deuce Coupe from Amazon]

Jan & Dean, “Dead Man’s Curve” (1964) [Download from Amazon]

The Shangri-Las, “Leader Of The Pack” (1964) [Download from Amazon]

J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers, “Last Kiss” (1964) [Buy from Amazon]

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TalkNarc: Interview with A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s Jeremy Barnes

Last week, Jeremy Barnes of A Hawk and a Hacksaw (and previously of Neutral Milk Hotel) was kind enough to sit down with Noise Narcs for a lengthy interview. Multi-instrumentalist Barnes and violinist Heather Trost just released their sixth studio album, Cervantine on their new record label, L.M. Dupli-cation. They are currently on a West Coast tour, ending in Albuquerque on 3/12. Barnes reflects on fixing cement with river sand, his introduction to Eastern European music, whether a Neutral Milk Hotel reunion would be possible, Trish Keenan’s death, and the new album.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw, “Espanola Kolo” by NoiseNarcs [Buy]

You’re living in New Mexico now, where you were born. But you’ve lived a lot of different places…
Jeremy Barnes: Yeah… Chicago and Athens, GA. I lived in Denver. France. Then England. And then Hungary.

How do you like living in New Mexico. Was that a homecoming of sorts?
Yeah. After living in Europe, it’s the only place I feel like I could live in the US. I guess it’s home. We grew up here. I just love it. But I had to leave it to understand. When I graduated from high school, I immediately got out of town, and I never wanted to look back, you know? Completely fed up with New Mexico. When I was gone, I realized how great it is.

I read a piece you wrote for Quietus in 2009 about how you had been struggling to make a house out of cob. I was curious, what ever happened with that?

As far as what’s going to happen in the future [with Neutral Milk Hotel], that’s not really my… Well, you know, you’d have to talk to “The Boss.” I’m happy that he’s playing again, I’m really excited for him, and I think he needs to see some of the enthusiasm and excitement he’s created for the people who love his music.

Actually one of the reasons we moved back was to figure out some kind of housing situation, like a real home. When I wrote that piece I was kind of conflicted with the excitement of building my own house for cheaper than a stick frame structure with the apprehension of building codes. The more I looked into it the more I realized that it was a scary situation in a lot of ways. It’s still my dream, and I want to do it. But I realized I wouldn’t have the right funds, and it would take a lot more time than I had. We actually decided to buy an old house near the Rio Grande river, and we’ve been kind of fixing it up. We have an acre of land with apple trees and fig trees and pear trees and grape vines. So instead of going the route of building a house, I decided to buy a house and fix it up. That’s actually what I’m doing right now, I just went out to the river to harvest some sand because I’m sealing a crack in the concrete that’s so deep that I’m going to fill it with sand first and then fill it with some concrete-filler stuff.

Do you have a lot of building experience or is it something you’re just picking up?
No. Not really. I have done some work on straw bale houses and cob. I don’t have traditional building experience, carpentry and stuff like that. I’ve just been feeling my way through. For the most part doing minor stuff.

So what’s your songwriting process? At first, you were in the band by yourself. But you’ve been working with Heather Trost for many years now. How do you do it collaboratively?
Well, it depends. We don’t have a specific process for every song we’re working on. Sometimes Heather will come up with a melody. Or I will. There’s just different way that that happens. We try not to have one specific process. We do a lot of learning older songs and then coming up with notes from that, working with a scale or a rhythm, and then coming up with songs within those parameters. And sometimes we just play together and something just comes out collaboratively. Sometimes one of us will hear a melody–I’ll just be driving around Albuquerque and a melody will get into my head and I’ll present it to Heather and we’ll figure out chord changes or figure out a way to make it to work. Initially I was a drummer, so sometimes I will start with drums. When we’ve got a song going, sometimes the way the drums are put down affects the arrangement. Stevie Wonder records that way sometimes, I guess. Because he was also a drummer. Of course, he was one of those guys who played everything.

You played drums in tour, briefly, with Broadcast. Trish Keenan’s death this year was such a shock to me.
It was a shock to me, too. I played with them for about six months. I didn’t do any recording, but it was while I was living in England. And we toured Europe and the US. They’re an amazing band. It was very interesting, and I really enjoyed seeing the way they work, and talking to them about music and everything. And I was really… sad and shocked to hear about her death. It seems like there’s so much more; she could have continued into old age. She was one of those very creative people. I felt like there was so much more in her. It’s really unfortunate.
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We’re back… and so are Wild Beasts

So you know that posting from the road thing that was supposed to happen? Well, it didn’t. I’d apologize, but really: blame California and their beautiful weather. But anyway, we’re back. Expect lots of West Coast-related posts in the super-near future.

Also back? Wild Beasts, whose Two Dancer was my favorite album of 2009. They’ll be releasing Smother on May 11th via Domino. And they’ve dropped the first single, “Albatross.” How dope is that “Umbrella”-esque stutter moment at 2:20? A very exciting development, and about the 10th announcement this year that makes our list of our most anticipated albums of 2011 completely worthless.

Wild Beasts – Albatross by DominoRecordCo

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