Name: Mad Monk of the Midlands

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If you only had two albums

Okay, we’ve all fantasized about being stranded on a desert island. Which two books would you take? Is it cheating to say The Bible? Since that’s a collection of lots of books. Maybe “War and Peace,” since I’ve never read it, and on that island, I’d have the time. I think I could read Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy, over and over and not get tired of it. Maybe Walden would be an appropriate book to have on an island, and certainly Shakespeare’s sonnets.

But I am not trying to mislead. I promised to talk about two albums. Of course, we’d have to premise this on also having a big supply of batteries for our boom box, since it’s assumed there’d be no electricity. I could cop out and say Album One would be Emmylou Harris’s Elite Hotel. Out of all of her brilliant albums, her second might be the best. Or would Angel Band, the gospel album, be more appropriate for a stranded person? I could also cop out and say Album Two should be Alison Krauss’s Lonely Runs Both Ways.

But Milo’s not copping today, and besides, he promised a “surprise.” So are you ready, with pencil and paper, or your Blackberry stylus?

Numero Uno would be the 1974 album I pull out and listen to at least ONCE every November-- I mean, it is not truly November unless I listen to, in its entirety, Norman Blake’s classic, The Fields of November, on Flying Fish records. From the sepia-toned cover of the original LP, to the lyrics and melodies of “Greycoat Soldiers” and “Southern Railroad Blues,” this album captures the universal essence of November, and, I suspect, although I’m less expert about this, of the South. And of course, any acoustic guitarist worth his or her salt really can’t be called a virtuoso until they’ve mastered Blake’s tour de force, The Old Brown Case.

Album numero dos comes from the fecund creative depths of Bruce Springsteen. That’s right; the legendary rocker took a hiatus to produce the stark and stunning, Nebraska, a true folk classic. If you’ve never listened, it’s not for the faint of heart, and be sure to take your Prozac before you listen. But the album is so brilliantly conceived and realized that it’s always breath-taking to put it on again. And it also contains one of the quintessential lines that explains all of human existence. Before I end these thoughts by quoting that line, here’s a refresher on the other QUINTESSENTIAL LINES. If you memorize all four of them, you will know all you need to know about this puzzling quandary that we have come to know as conscious being on Earth:

From Bob Dylan: “You know something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

From Jack Nicholson in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown: (wondering why
Justice is so elusive) “Jake, it’s Chinatown!”

From Dorothy in “Wizard of Oz,”: “Toto, we’re not in Kansas, anymore!”

Okay, now are you ready for the Springsteen line that belongs with these? It comes from the title cut, “Nebraska,” contemplating the persistence of Evil: “I guess there’s just meanness in this world.”

Harsh, yes, but true. But hopefully you and I can try to spread more kindness and compassion. Good sailing to your island of strandedness!


Blogger Sunny Badger said...

Mad Monk:

I like you choice of Fields of November for #1. I'm actually searching the Internet looking for lyrics for Greycoat Soldiers and ran across your blog. Southern Railroad Blues is one of the handful of songs I can play on my mandolin. It's a two-chord song that has great Blake lyrics. Ditto for Greycoat Soldiers. I cheat and go with the double CD with Fields and Now and Then.

Concerning Emmy Lou, I would go with Luxury Liner. Her version of Poncho and Lefty is probably my favorite. But more important, when I first bought that LP back in the mid-1970s, I had never heard of Townes Van Zandt. Hearing that song intriqued me to hear more of TVZ. I suspect TVZ is one of my favorites and I would have to include one or two his in the top.

As far as an LP the lead my and tons of others down the acoustic country and bluegrass road would be The Circle LP by the Dirt Band et. all. It is a treasure. My pickin'pardner bought a bunch of those in CD format on closeout years ago and, whenever I run into somebody who just bumped into bluegrass and acoustic country and really likes it, I buy a CD from him and give these folks a present. They fall in love with it.

I also put Led Zepplin #1 near the top.

Got to run. I'll stop back.

December 24, 2008 3:57 PM  

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