Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 31 - Shadow of a Man

The last entry in a week of oddities is odd for more reasons than one. The musical palette is very unusual, even though the main instruments are traditional for rock: guitar, bass and drum. Of course, when the drummer is cymbalmaster Stewart Copeland from The Police, the bass player is Les Claypool from Primus, and the guitar player is Trey Anastasio from Phish, all ideas of "normal" have to be tossed out the window right away.

In my early years in the United States, a good part of my summers were spent at Nana's, my ex-mother-in-law's, house in Bay City, Michigan. I would sometimes stay up late at night with Emma, who was just a new-born my first full summer in the US, and after I came home from working as a cashier at Meijer, I would be on night time duty, so I would sit in a very run down chair in Nana's den, watching TV with Emma on my arm. We'd watch Saturday Night Live reruns from the mid to late nineties, and every now and then I would find some music program - or some concert that was on. That was how I discovered Phish - and I was hooked on their song Bouncing Around the Room, which to this day remains my favorite Phish song. It was also where I discovered Oysterhead. While I liked all three bands represented - The Police, Phish, and Primus, I did not know that Oysterhead existed until I saw them in concert on tv, sitting up late at night at nana's house - it must have been around 2001 or 2002, but the chronology might elude me here - it might be a somewhat faulty memory.

However, watching the concert was interesting in itself. Les Claypool wore a hat that looked like it had two flashlights mounted on it, and that was most of the lights with the exception of a blueish backdrop lighting setup, and on Trey Anastasio's guitar he had mounted something that not only looked like reindeer antlers - they were reindeer antlers. I turns out that that particular guitar is named the Matterhorn, and the antlers helped function like an old favorite instrument of mine: the theremin (if you wonder what it sounds like, listen to Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, it is heavily featured there). I was blown away by their performance, but it took a little while to hunt down the CD (this was in the days before I was a heavy Amazon user). I finally found it at Barnes & Noble a couple of years later, and I think I played it half to death.

One of the songs that really stood out for me because it showcased the abilities of all three - and embraced the general weirdness of the album - was a song I believe I also have shared on Facebook: Shadow of a Man.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

January 30 - Please Don't Touch

This next little oddity is a nice little pop song - delivered by Motörhead and Girlschool. I know, I should really wait with this until February 14, because it was originally on the St, Valentine's Day Massacre EP, but I really can't wait until then - plus I am thinking I'll be more traditionally romantic that day.

Girlschool was one of the few female hard rock/heavy metal bands in the early 80s. They were considered part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which also included Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Saxon, to name but a few. There is some discussion about  Motörhead's place in this musical movement, but there is no discussion about their influence on the bands - and especially Girlschool, who was asked to support  Motörhead on their Overkill tour.

Motörhead and I start with Jan Are. I have mentioned him before, as he really helped me explore new music, and  Motörhead was one of the bands he introduced me to. He had the coolest tape ever released - and I actually believe that holds true to today:  Motörhead's No Remorse. Not only were the songs on it top notch - it is a great compilation - but, wait for it... It actually came in a leather sleeve with their Snaggletooth logo on the front. What could be better than that? Both the vinyl and the cassette release of No Remorse came with a leather sleeve - talk about being true metal...!

At the same time, Arve's father had cable tv, which was pretty new in the part of Trondheim I lived in the mid 80s, and on Sky Channel, there was a show that was called Monsters of Rock. We had just got our first VCR, and I asked Arve to tape Monsters of Rock for me on a fairly regular basis, and one of the videos that was on heavy rotation was an original track from No Remorse: Killed by Death, featuring Lemmy with a green spotlight on him as he drives a motorcycle up from his grave. So with influences coming from Jan Are with support from Arve, I started liking  Motörhead quite a bit - and for some reason, the collaboration with Girlschool really stuck with me. It is a cover of a song by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, released in 1959: Please Don't Touch

Friday, January 29, 2016

January 29 - Negativo

This next song fits in with the oddities this week because it is a track on the only album I have heard from this singer, and I came across it more or less by coincidence. In January 1998, I went on my first and only "sydentur," which is Norwegian for a trip on a chartered plane to various tourist resorts in the southern parts of Europe, usually in the Mediterranean, but also to some of the Canary Islands, which are Spanish islands off the northwestern coast of Africa in the Atlantic. I was convinced to go with a female friend, who unfortunately since has passed away. We were not boyfriend/girlfriend, but that was not for my lack of trying - but we were still very good friends, and she convinced me to go on this trip with her to Grand Canaria - and Playa Del Ingles.

Anyway, we had a lot of fun on this trip - although my back got one of the most severe sunburns I've ever had, much due to my insistence on reading on the beach - and sometimes when I read, my eyelids get very heavy. Playa Del Ingles is one of the most touristy spots you can ever imagine to the point that there is no local flair left, everything is made to be like it would be back home in Scandinavia or England, so the place itself really wasn't much for me (and I am not much of a beach person, which is the main attraction there). While I did appreciate the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean on one of the many sandy beaches in walking distance from our hotel, we eventually caught a break. We won a rental car for a few days while there on a scratch off lottery - the only catch was that we had to sit through a presentation on a time-share opportunity (as if that lottery wasn't rigged...) - and that allowed us to explore the island a little bit more. Thanks to a well-hidden local restaurant, I discovered the joy of tapas - and the delicious taste of Ron Miel, a honey rum local to the Canary Islands. Small local markets had good food - cheeses and sausages - and they were all of a sudden accessible to us, which really made the trip great.

And, of course, I had to check out the music in the stores. In the music departments of the bigger department stores, there were big, purpleish posters of a man in metallic paint - or at least it looked like it. The name on them was Bunbury - and that was all I knew. I was intrigued (who says marketing doesn't work?). I ended up deciding on purchasing the CD, which was called Radical Sonora, and once I listened to it, there was one track that stood out, and that song was Negativo. In preparing for writing this, I discovered a couple of other things about the album. For instance, the producer is Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music fame. Also, Nigel Butler was very helpful with the programming - he is a producer/arranger/programmer/multi-instrumentalist who has worked with a variety of artists, including Bananarama, Nina Hagen, and Cher. To me, this is heavily inspired by what U2 was doing around this very same time, and I greatly enjoy the power of this song.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 28 - Raspberry Beret

In rarities week, I continue with strange groupings. This time we can take a lot of alcohol, one of the biggest American alternative rock bands of the 80s and 90s, one of the most iconoclastic American singer-songwriters, and the music of pop-rock-funk royalty. Put all of that in a blender, and out come Hindu Love Gods.

This is another acquaintance I can thank Sigbjørn Nedland and Pandoras Jukeboks for, as I believe he played this song on the show, and it stuck in the back of my mind for a long, long time. Legend has it (and I am not fact checking this) that members of R.E.M. met up with Warren Zevon for a night or two of drunken musical studio shenanigans - and the result was Hindu Love Gods, a record filled with blues and rock standards - and Prince's song Raspberry Beret. Warren Zevon sings using R.E.M. as his backing band - how cool is that? The answer is that it is as cool as the pairing of Neil Young and Pearl Jam should have been.

Supposedly, both Warren Zevon and R.E.M. disowned this album, yet it is out there, in all its glory - and my personal highlight is Raspberry Beret.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 27 - In Dieser Stadt

After a brief intermission from this week's theme due to the untimely death of Jimmy Bain, it's time to get back to my oddities week with a question: What happens if you take a German cabaret song and give it a Norwegian new wave? You get something completely new. The sonic palette is icy and filled with the latest in synthesizers (for 1981), and the vocals, sung by an immigrant from West-Germany, become both haunting and menacing, in stark contrast to the warm and husky original. The band was The Cut and the song still is In Dieser Stadt. 

I am not sure why this song became a staple in my household. I believe it was one of Norway's submissions to the European Broadcasting Union's radio pop music show Europatoppen, where youth from several European countries got to vote on songs, creating a pan-European hit list. I believe my dad taped the song and played it quite a bit. What I do know is that it stuck. I haven't sought out the full album by The Cut yet, but as the song was available for purchase as a digital download at, I decided to at least get that song. I don't know much about what happened to the members of the band either, although I just found out that Volker Zibell, the singer, is a graphic designer and artist working in the comic book industry in Norway. The one I did know more about is the bass player, Torgrim Eggen, who is a very successful - and very good - Norwegian author.

But, I digress again. Taken from smoky clubs upon its initial release by Hildegard Knef in 1965, when the song, aged by whiskey and cigarettes, already sounded at least 20 years old, the city is a much colder place, filled with concrete and smog, when The Cut took us there in 1981.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January 26 - Holy Diver

So Sunday, Jimmy Bain died. He was 68. Now, I am thinking that some of you might never have heard his name before, but he was a very influential bass player, who stood by Ronnie James Dio's side on some of the most significant moments of Dio's career.

When Ritchie Blackmore walked out on Deep Purple in 1975, he initially teamed up with Ronnie James Dio and the majority of Elf, which was the band Dio was fronting. Elf had been produced by Roger Glover and Ian Pace of Deep Purple, and Blackmore had ample time to get to know them as they were a support act for Deep Purple. After recording their first album, Ritchie Blakemore's Rainbow, Blackmore fired everyone except for Dio, and started recruiting new members: Tony Carey on keyboards, Cozy Powell on drums, and our man of the day, Jimmy Bain on bass. This lineup only lasted for one studio album, but what an album it was! Rainbow Rising is one of the best hard rock albums ever released, with long and intricate songs, great musicianship throughout, and Dio's voice soaring. I am even willing to forgive the lyrics because of the greatness of the music.

In 1982, Dio had spent a couple of years in Black Sabbath, but as they were mixing Live Evil, tensions mounted and he decided to leave, taking drummer Vinnie Appice with him. Vivian Campbell took on guitar duties, and when it came to finding a bass player, Jimmy Bain was the one he turned to, and this is also when I started discovering Dio.

I believe it was in 1984 that my school marching band, Strindheim Skoles Musikkorps, went on a band trip to Stavern, a small town in the southern part of Norway. As usual we stayed at a school, which I remember as a having white stucco-like exterior. One of the sax players, Bård Olsen, was also developing into a great guitar player, and he brought his guitar, which I believe was bright green, and a practice amp, and he and another of the older kids in the band (in Norway, the marching bands are often tied to the elementary schools and completely extracurricular and volunteer run) were playing and singing. At one point, Bård was playing this incredibly catchy riff, clearly in a minor key, but more menacing than sad (I wasn't aware of key signatures at that point - that awareness has come later), and the singer belted out lyrics that stuck with me from that very day: "Holy diver, you've been down too long in that midnight sea..."

A little later I picked up the album because that song kept on playing over and over in my mind. Dio's début album was called Holy Diver and had hit the record stores in 1983 - but by the time I had picked it up, it was available in the bargain basement of Playtime for NOK 49.50. I know this price by heart, because a majority of my records were purchased at that price. That's also when I started reading record covers - and thus I found Jimmy Bain.

So today I am saddened by the loss of a great bass player. According to his Wikipedia entry, he co-wrote the title track, Holy Diver, although in the credits, only Ronnie James Dio is listed. Since this is the song that introduced me to both Dio and Jimmy Bain, I leave you with Holy Diver.

Monday, January 25, 2016

January 25 - Grebo Guru

With this next song, I have nothing but fragments floating around my mind, which makes it a great way to start off an oddities week. This week will be all about individual songs that are a little bit "out there" - and either from one off projects or simply individual songs that really connected me for a reason or another.

So, back to today's song... I know that the EP I had is the same EP you see in the YouTube video, which to me is an absolutely awesome way of showcasing this song (this version even has the static, which is great). This EP was published with the music newspaper Sounds, and it appears that it would have been 1987. I would love to be able to see the cover of Sounds to see why I purchased it, but I really don't remember. What I do remember is the EP - which had four artists on it: Crazyhead, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Georgia Satellites, and The Jack Rubies. I have very limited memories of the other songs, but partly because of the title - and partly because it simply is a good song, Grebo Guru stuck. I had friends who insisted on hearing it over and over again, so it became a minor hit among a very small group of friends.

After finding this version as a track on the 25th anniversary edition of Pop Will Eat Itself's album Box Frenzy (originally released in 1987), I am very happy to present you with Grebo Guru. May your day be bright and shiny!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

January 24 - Sunday

I had to double check my memory against the setlist, because it is now just a little more than 12 years ago I had the privilege of seeing David Bowie on his last tour. It was a concert that really lived up to the roughly 20 years I had been building expectations for this momentous occasion. The band was top notch. Sterling Campbell on drums, Mike Garson on keyboards, Earl Slick on guitar, Gerry Leonard on guitar (and his musical director on this tour), Mark Plati on bass and guitar, and Catherine Russell on keyboards, percussion, acoustic guitar, and backing vocals.

I was very familiar with Mike Garson's work with Bowie - I was a huge fan of what he did on Outside, which was an album that may not have been too popular, but that really sat well with me. Earl Slick was another long running and familiar name with Bowie, but the person aside from Bowie I really was excited to see was Gail Ann Dorsey. This female bass player with her shaved head, playing and singing with both skill and grace, had long been on my radar. I even remember her song Wasted Country from the album The Corporate World back in 1988, when it was played on the very interesting music show Pandora's Jukebox, which aired on Norwegian radio every Saturday from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, I believe.

Another musician that really intrigued me in the band was Gerry Leonard, who was a new musical acquaintance for me. His use of effects to create moods and textures was fascinating, and I kept watching him to see how he constantly was turning knobs on a device that appeared to be at about hip height. I have since come to really appreciate his work, and it is very prominent on today's song.

About halfway through the main set, following the freneticism of Hallo Spaceboy, they toned everything down, dimmed the lights a little more, and the eerie, cold sounds of Sunday filled the Palace of Auburn Hills. On a winter day like today, I am thinking that Sunday is a very appropriate song. Please enjoy.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January 23 - Final Solution

All rules are there to be broken - and I am about to break one of my own rules, as the song I am about to share has not been officially released in this particular version - however, it needs to be (Trent Reznor, are you listening?). In 2005, Nine Inch Nails had released With Teeth, and ten years after they went out on tour with David Bowie, for the summer amphitheater part of the tour in 2006, they invited the legendary goth (in my mind, the goths of the 80s are todays emo kids) band Bauhaus with them, along with relative newcomers TV on the Radio. The electronica/performance artist Peaches was the final support act.

However, Trent Reznor must have gotten along splendidly with Peter Murphy, the lead singer of Bauhaus, because throughout the tour, they had several sessions recording and performing songs they had written themselves, as well as cover versions of songs by Iggy Pop (their version of Nightclubbing is outstanding), The Normal and Joy Division - and then there is Final Solution, originally by Cleveland avant-garage (their own description) band Pere Ubu.

When I first heard the song Final Solution, it was sung in the very particular Swedish dialect found in Skåne. Skåne is one out of two places in the world I have been asked if I wanted a Coke with my meal at McDonalds and not been quite able to understand what I was asked - the other place that happened was in Scotland, which should give the English speaking reader some idea of what Skånsk sounds like compared to Swedish. When I heard the song, I was working in Studentradioen in Bergen, and the people I worked with there was completely up in arms over the Swedish band Bob Hund (Bob Dog). I tried my best to like them, but in the end, there were only a few songs of theirs that really clicked with me, and Et Fall Och En Lösning was one of them. There is a good chance that one of the reasons Bob Hund didn't quite work for me was that I never saw them live, as their live shows were things of legend, but nevertheless, they weren't quite my thing.

Fast forward quite a few years, and I decided to look up the song. First I had to remember that Et Fall Och En Lösning was a cover version. Then I figured out it was by Pere Ubu. And then I used YouTube to find the song. I had to sift through WWII documentaries and crappy "melodic death metal" to find Pere Ubu's version - but then I stumbled across Trent Reznor with Peter Murphy and TV on the Radio from their 2006 Radio Sessions. While I still think there is something about Bob Hund's version that really resonates with me, the version below is now probably my final version of the song. Peter Murphy did his own version of the song back in 1986 on his album Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, but this version is, in my opinion superior to it. However, I will let you judge for yourself - here are Peter Murphy, Trent Reznor, and TV on the Radio:

Friday, January 22, 2016

January 22 - Index

We're only about three weeks into the new year, and I am expecting the second really great album of the year. Steven Wilson is releasing 4 1/2 today, a collection of songs recorded over the past 4 1/2 years that didn't quite fit on his albums. Since his quality has been outstanding on all the records released in this timeframe, I am convinced that this will be a great album as well.

The thing that really impresses me about Steven Wilson is that he has a spectacular command of musical history, especially within more progressive rock, yet he continually moves his music forward. He is great with a song structure where there is stark contrasts between chaos and harmony, and he collaborates with spectacular musicians. At first, I was worried when I saw that Gavin Harrison wouldn't play drums with him - but then I discovered Marco Minneman. In short, his band is absolutely spectacular, which is why today's song is an officially released live track.

Index is a song that to me shows that he has taken massive cues from one of the giants of progressive rock. The mood of this song is to me very similar to the mood Peter Gabriel often was able to evoke, and I am in particular thinking about Intruder here. Also, playing the chord structure over and over again while adding and subtracting elements is sometihng Mike Oldfield did on Tubular Bells, but it is here drawing even more from Trent Reznor's work with Nine Inch Nails, such as the ending of Closer - yet here it is all Steven Wilson. The song Index was originally on the stellar Grace For Drowning album - but here it is from the Get All You Deserve dvd, which is well worth owning!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January 21 - Dazed and Confused

Ever since I heard Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast and not much later watched the movie The Omen, the number 666 has been high on my list of interesting numbers. Since I am not a Christian, this interest is more curious, especially in how this number came to symbolize evil (if I were, I doubt I would focus as heavy on Revelations as the current rapture believers (I almost called them a rapture cult)). So, when I drove to Molde with my friend Hanne Kapelrud - I must have been in my early twenties - I simply had to turn down onto state highway 666 when I saw the sign. What I didn't expect was how this little detour would make me feel.

Hanne and I were on our way to visit a gathering of teetotalers in Molde, about 3-4 hours drive from our hometown, Trondheim. It was a strictly social event for us, and our spirits were high on our way there. The weather wasn't the best, but it wasn't horrible either, and we had Led Zeppelin's first album playing on the car stereo. It was getting dark, and Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You had given way to You Shook Me and, finally, Dazed and Confused. That's when we saw it: the white rectangle symbolizing a state highway with the number 666 in it. The decision was immediate. I turned on my turn indicator, and exited on to state highway 666.

We were not going to go far, but the rain had intensified and the darkness was embracing the car, the wet, black night sucking all reflections out of the headlights. Dazed and Confused entered its psychedelic section, and I could not find a place to turn the car around. Right then and there, I felt like we were sucked down this road with no recourse - and the stereo spewed out the doom of Jimmy Page attacking his guitar with a violin bow.

Now it couldn't have lasted very long, but it felt like it did. The feeling stayed with me, and it is revisited every time I listen to Dazed and Confused from Led Zeppelin's eponymous debut album. Please enjoy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 20 - Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

It's time for a change of pace. I can't tell you what possessed me to pick up the Charles Mingus box set Passions of a Man at the Bergen Public Library that cold and rainy fall day in what I think would have been 1997, although it might have been 1998. I do know it was rainy and I was wet, and something drew me to this collection of 6 CDs - his complete recordings for Columbia Records. I am not sure how much I really had heard of him either, but I do know that playing those CDs really was a revolutionary musical experience.

I had been exposed to jazz gradually through the 90s. The backdoor entrance - or gateway drug, if you will - was Clint Eastwood. I watched the movie Bird, featuring the great Forrest Whitaker as Charlie Parker - and I was transfixed by the music. I purchased a cassette with some of his most loved tunes, and I pretty much wore it out in between listening to Manowar and Metallica and the likes. Then, a few years later, I happened to walk in on a concert featuring the music of Miles Davis at Vår Frues Kirke (Church of Our Lady) in Trondheim, which only furthered my love for this very liberating music.

Anyway, when I put the Mingus CDs in my CD player and started listening to it, there were a two things that stood out to me. The first was Mingus' bass. The driving bass lines, the inspiring solos, it was all there on an upright bass. The second was what appeared to me to be the casual playfulness of the band. Having read a little bit about him, this casual sound is in great contrast to him being highly demanding and temperamental, but it is a testament to the music he wrote. The album Blues & Roots, which was part of the Passions of a Man box set, provides several examples of this playfulness, especially the track Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 19 - Dead Flowers

Before I start today's post, I do need to post a caveat: Yesterday's song and quip towards the Eagles was chosen and written before I heard that Glenn Frey had died (which I just found out). The start of this year has been rough - really starting with the death of Lemmy, which ended last year and appears to have set the tone for this year as well. However, I will leave Glenn Frey and The Eagles for a little bit.

One of my favorite trends in music is reissues - especially when they come with bonus content. There is so much to be learned from different studio versions - or even more so when early demos of songs are included. And then there are the reissues that include concerts from the time period, so that we really get to hear what the artists sounded like (and hopefully they are not too heavily overdubbed).

Yesterday, I chose Alice Cooper, who released a box set named The Studio Albums 1969-1983, including all the band and solo albums released on Warner Brothers (who also distributed the albums originally released on Frank Zappa's Straight/Bizarre label). That collection did not have any bonus tracks, but it did house all the album in cardboard sleeves representing the old vinyl covers. Today's track is from another album that was reissued last year with great bonus content: The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers. To me, this is the best Stones album released. It's become very popular to talk about Exile on Main Street, but I really think they peaked with Sticky Fingers.

My relationship with Stones probably did start with my dad, who proudly claimed to have been part of the crowd going to parties chanting "We want Rolling Stones, Beatles go home." I had heard some of their hits, and I liked them, but truthfully, my interest was peaked by my cousin Ingrid, who had Let It Bleed in her record collection. I really liked the cover, and I was curious about what they sounded like outside of their singles, which really were the ones I knew.

However, I was still not necessarily hooked. Not until I saw Sticky Fingers. Not long after I got my first CD player, I found a copy of Sticky Fingers with a replica of the original cover. And that cover REALLY drew me in, because it had the metal zipper the way Andy Warhol had designed it back in 1971. So I purchased it, and I listened to it. I really hadn't heard too many of the songs before, but the mix of country, blues, and rock and roll, all dragged through the dirty backstreets of London, blew me away. This might be why it remains my favorite Stones album - it was the first I loved - but I still think the songs are humongous: Brown Sugar, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, WILD HORSES, Sister Morphine. The songs are stellar all the way through. I could choose just about any song from the album, but today I am in the mood for Dead Flowers. It is a great country song - by a great British band in a creative streak that included Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers before the denouement came with Exile On Main Street, which still is a great record. But to me, it is Sticky Fingers personified with Dead Flowers.

Monday, January 18, 2016

January 18 - Desperado

I think today needs to start with a caveat: This is not about The Eagles. This is about Alice Cooper - and more specifically the band Alice Cooper.

When I was 8, I discovered Kiss. I knew about them before then, but didn't like them because of all of the make-up and blood = it wasn't my thing. But then I found the album Unmasked in my cousin Ingrid's record collection, and for some reason, the opening chords of Is That You? flipped the switch in my brain and I was hooked. Completely hooked.

I wasn't the only one that was hooked. My best childhood friend, Geir, who lived just across the courtyard from the townhome I grew up in, had also discovered them, and we began devouring everything we could read and listen to about and by them. There was a bag of mixed candy, Stjerneposen (the star bag), that included Kiss collector cards, and boy, did we collect those cards. I actually didn't care much for the candy (but my sister did, so it all went to good use), but I wanted those cards to collect. And music magazines had pictures and posters of Kiss - and they all ended up on my wall. But the main thing for me was still the music.

Where Geir's dad worked, there was another guy whose name escapes me, who told Geir that if he liked Kiss, he should check out this other guy, a Mr. Alice Cooper. In order to help him out, he made Geir a mixtape, and that mixtape started a new musical relationship. After finding out that Alice Cooper had done the whole rock and make up and huge stage show before Kiss, we were both awestruck - and the music was awesome. I am trying to remember what was on the tape - I am thinking Billion Dollar Babies, Love It To Death, Killer was definitely there (Under My Wheels and Be My Lover, I remember that for sure), so was From The Inside, and maybe even Welcome To My Nightmare.

What I didn't yet know at this point was that there really was two Alice Cooper entities, Alice Cooper the band and Alice Cooper the solo artist. I have just started reading the book Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!:My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway, who played bass in the band until Alice decided he wanted to go solo with 1975s Welcome To My Nightmare, and I am very excited about this book because I believe that for 2-3 years, from 1971-1973, they were an absolutely fabulous rock band that didn't record a single throwaway song. I wish I could include Muscle of Love in that as well - but to me, that sounds like an album of throwaways, and far from the quality of the middle four albums in their discography: Love it to Death, Killer, School's Out, and Billion Dollar Babies should all be albums in any 70s rock record collection.

So today, let's remember the band Alice Cooper, with Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper) on vocals, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce on guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass, and Neal Smith on drums. I can't think of a better way of remembering them as a unit than the song Desperado from the fantastic Killer album, released in 1971, the year before I was born.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

January 17 - Sunday Morning

And on the 17th day he rested. I think it is time to really just sit back and relax and listen to the song that opened a very classic album from 1967: The Velvet Underground and Nico. The Velvet Underground was a very artsy musical collective. Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker. Lou Reed was a great rock and roll poet (heck, any kind of poet), NYC born and bred; John Cale came from Wales to study classical music and brought a very different musical sentiment to the table; and Sterling Morrison on guitar and Moe Tucker on drums rounded out the classic Velvet lineup. For their first album, they also brought in German Nico to sing, and her voice seems to fit the music perfectly.

I am no VU historian, and I was a late comer to Velvet Underground - I was well into my 30s before I truly appreciated them. Don't get me wrong, I had heard them before, and thought I liked them - but I didn't listen to the full debut album until I was in my 30s. Please listen to the lyrics - I find them slightly unsettling and a great contrast to the serenity of the melody - which in turn makes it the perfect opener to the album. I have a feeling I will revisit this album later this year - but that is still to be determined. But for now, sit back and enjoy this Sunday morning.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

January 16 - Kingdom Come

Yesterday's post really made me travel down memory lane - and I realize that I started listening to Heavyrockmagasinet while I was in sixth grade as well. Taking the time to sit and write some of this out really leads to a very interesting perspective of my life, and I am certainly making new connections myself. And, let's face it, this blog is really written for me. As a matter of fact, writing a blog like this is really the epitome of egocentrism, narcissism, and navel-gazing. The truth is that I could have done this quietly - just writing like this for myself throughout the year - but I fear that I would have quit before I even started (now that almost happened anyway - just look at the time stamp for the January 1 post). But now, by tricking myself into believing I have an audience, I am feeling slightly more compelled to publish something every day than I would be if I was the only audience. But I digress - in a good way though, just to let whomever reads this know that I am not actually conceited enough that I think this has any kind of importance or significance to anyone but me... And that was yet another digression...

So, back to Heavyrockmagasinet. The reason I started listening to it was really to prove my dad wrong. He did not agree that I liked hard rock and heavy metal, but pointed out that I only liked Kiss. If you had seen my bedroom wall at that time, you would know that he was right. The Donald Duck wallpaper (I miss that now) was covered with Kiss posters and pictures. However, there was no way that I'd ever admit to that, so I found Heavyrockmagasinet and started listening to it, not as much to broaden my musical palette, but to prove my dad wrong. The thing is, it really did broaden my musical palette. Gustav Alfheim and Stein Vannebo were the hosts, and their command of hard rock and heavy metal was second to none. Thanks to them I discovered the classic hard rock bands, discovered some newer music (the pre hair-metal bands), and also discovered some of the more obscure early metal bands, such as the wonderful Sir Lord Baltimore. The song that found its way to one of my early mixtapes was Kingdom Come.

Friday, January 15, 2016

January 15 - Paranoid

I really had hoped that I would have a song about a mixtape I could put in here, because that is really what this project is all about. As I stated on January 1, my goal is to bring you one new song every day - and hopefully tell you something more about me with each song. That way I hope this blog really lives up to its tagline: The music of my life - or my life in music. The entries from 2016 should really be the soundtrack to my life. That soundtrack would be something like my ultimate mixtape.

I have set some rules for myself - but not too many, and please don't hold me to them.
  1. The songs need to be meaningful to me
  2. The songs need to be triggering a post - although I will let the posts trigger my songs as well
  3. I need to own the songs myself (they are a part of my personal record collection)
  4. The songs I share are officially released versions
#4 is by far the most difficult to follow for me, as YouTube is filled with audience recordings that often are far more interesting than studio recordings or officially released live recordings, which often include overdubs and are not representative of what the band truly is capable of on stage. Also, I won't always have personal anecdotes to share, so I have to take brief breathers from time to time with respect to how much I put out there.

All that being said, the song that represents my ultimate mixtape today is a song I originally had on one of my less planned and more "accidental" mixtape. Back in 1984, the Cosby Show was on TV at home, but I also had a radio show to listen to. Every Saturday night (or early evening, to be precise), the radio show Heavyrockmagasinet aired. And every Saturday, I made sure I had a tape with at least some blank space in the radio/tape deck. On one of my first mixtapes like this, I distinctly remember having the song Paranoid by Black Sabbath (I am thinking it might still be around somewhere in my parents' basement. This last year, the song Paranoid showed up on a new release - but this time by Kylesa, a sludge metal band from Savannah, Georgia I discovered right around the same time I discovered Baroness. If you wonder what sludge metal is all about, just remember the tempo of Black Sabbath's Paranoid - and then compare that to this:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

January 14 - Gonna Get Close To You (Best Books of 2015)

I am really very excited that I have started reading a lot again. I spent a lot of time over break with my nose in books, and my reading list is long - but I am making dents in it. My taste in books is wide ranging, which may not necessarily be reflected on this list, but that might also be because I have spent time reading books I had missed in earlier years. I really like fiction, so that is the list I really will focus on here - although there is one more book from the year that I need to mention, so I will start with that.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in a with a rough background. She started The House for all Sinners and Saints, which really started as a church for people who didn't belong in Denver, Colorado - and she started sharing a little bit more about her self in her book Pastrix - and then she published Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People in 2015 (she has a third book out as well about watching televangelists for 24 hours straight, but I have not been too interested in that). As a devout non-believer (how is that for an oxymoron), I was very surprised to find how much of Accidental Saints resonated with me. The majority of the book is really about grace, which is a concept I really hadn't understood before - but there is some clarity to it now. But for me, there were some very important life lessons in the book, and it had a very profound impact on me this fall. To me, it was the book that connected my head with my heart.

Other non-fiction books I read from 2015 are mainly rock autobiographies, such as Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band, Elvis Costello's great Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, and Duff McKagan's How to Be a Man. I found Kim Gordon to be too busy with name dropping and laced with bitterness towards Thurston Moore to be truly compelling - and while I was expecting the bitterness, it still was a turn-off for me. Yes, what he did were the actions of a scumbag - but I think a little bit more distance to it before publishing it in book form may have changed the view on the earlier years in the relationship. Elvis Costello jumps around, but still weaves a great web of his many ups and downs, focusing more on music than anything else - and I found it refreshing that he didn't go for juicy details, but rather kept it very gentlemanly. Duff McKagan is a great writer whose autobiography It's So Easy and Other Lies is a great rock biography - one of the best I have read - so that I liked How to Be a Man was no surprise.

On a very different note, I am really liking Humble Before The Void: Western Science Meets Tibetan Buddhism by Chris Impey, although I haven't finished it yet. You can add Sindre Kartvedt's DumDumBoys: En Vill En about the Norwegian rock legends in DumDum Boys and the essay collection Supersonic Scientists about Motorpsycho, which is edited by Marius Lien to the list of books of 2015 that I haven't quite completed yet (and there is more I haven't read yet - curse you and your reviews, NPR)

Now, on to the fiction side of things; here are my favorite books of 2015 (that I have read so far)

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (originally published in 2013, but in the US in 2015)
  2. What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
  3. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  4. Blod På Snø (Blood On Snow) by Jo Nesbø
  5. Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid
Honorable mention:
  • The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian
  • The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
I would like to add, for those wondering, that I did read a book from 2015 that didn't make the list, and that surprised me. I really like Denise Mina, but I did not think that Blood Salt Water was anything special. It was a good enough book not to just put it down before finishing it, but for the first time ever, I really didn't care much about her characters - there wasn't much there. Splinter the Silence was the complete opposite. Val McDermid really shone in her character studies, and the book was a lot more about moving her characters forward than it was about the plot itself. Jo Nesbø was much lighter than he is in his books about Harry Hole, but there was still a darkness and a sadness to the fabulous Blood On Snow.

However, for me, fiction in 2015 was all about women. All top 3 novels were written by women and featured women as leading characters. Anna in Hausfrau is a fish out of water as an American living in Switzerland, although I am not so sure she wouldn't be a fish out of water anywhere. Her life is really a series of events where others make decisions for her - and she just goes along with whatever happens. We hear from conversations with her psychoanalyst - and the questions asked there really help frame the rest of the novel. The one key question she asks her paychoanalyst is, "Not choosing. Is that still a choice?" That to me encapsulates the entire novel, which to me was spellbinding.

Rachel in What She Knew is dealing with the abduction (and possibly murder) of her son. Some of her actions are motivated by what she sees taking charge, but to the surroundings is seen very differently. I see parallels to Gone Girl in some of the more procedural parts of the book, where people are not necessarily acting the way we as the public expect them to, and that creates tension.

And then, finally we have Rachel (again) in The Girl on the Train. She is a mess, which is one of the greatest literary devices I have read. She drinks. A lot. And she is a voyeur in the sense that she finds a couple that she observes on her train ride in to London. And she has a hard time getting over her ex leaving her for another woman (same as with Rachel in What She Knew). And, most importantly, as a reader, you can't trust her (don't worry, these are not spoilers - I wouldn't do that).

Thinking about Rachel in The Girl on the Train, there is only one song that really fits, in my eyes - but I have two versions of it to share. The song is Gonna Get Close To You and it was initially written and recorded by Dalbello from her great album whomanfoursays (1984), but I discovered it when it was covered by Queensrÿche on their Rage for Order (1986). The song changes quite dramatically based on the male or female point of view, so I included both here...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 13 - Star Wars Theme (Best movies of 2015)

The first thing to say is that I have some movies I still want to see that were released in 2015. Ex Machina is one I have high expectations to but have yet to watch - and Creed is another one. That means that this list is very incomplete. Also, I have chosen to include a documentary that was not shown in the movie theaters, but that was shown on HBO - simply because it is that good. I also know there are other documentaries I want to see but have not yet seen, such as Spymasters. With those caveats out of the way, here are my top 10 movies of 2015:
  1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  2. Ant Man
  3. Inside Out
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. The Martian
  6. Going Clear:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  7. Trainwreck
  8. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  9. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  10. Spectre
I fully expect the last two movies to be replaced with movies like Ex Machina, Spotlight, Creed, and The Big Short - but I am ok with this list. I have really enjoyed movies that have been highly influenced by comic books, whether they are direct adaptations (Ant Man, Avengers) or with a very comic book quality (Mad Max, Star Wars). And, to celebrate that Star Wars is back, here is a slightly different version of the Star Wars Theme:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January 12 - Cat People (Putting Out Fire): David Bowie's Dead

Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
Afterimage - Lyrics by Neil Peart
Rush, Grace Under Pressure (1983)

In my lifetime, there have been a few deaths of musicians and stars that really have impacted me. I wasn't old enough to truly appreciate the impact of Elvis, but I distinctly remember hearing about his death in 1977 (we were on summer vacation in a cabin in Ytteråsen). The same can be said about John Lennon's death in 1980. Through the 80s, I also remember the deaths of Phil Lynnott and Cliff Burton, but they were not as impactful on me as Frank Zappa in 1993 or George Harrison in 2001. And now David Bowie's dead. Gone. No more. And I think it's hitting me in a very big way.

If I were to list the 3 most impactful bands/artists for me, the list would be as follows (in no particular order):
The Beatles
David Bowie

I've already shared what little I remember about starting to listen to David Bowie - and that he always has been there with me since I first started listening to him. An example of this is that when I in high school got a chance to borrow a 4-track recorder, one of the songs I played around with recording was his Cat People (Putting Out Fire). No, it wasn't very good - but it was very much fun, and it really says something about his influence on me.

A few years later, I was trying to study music education at Høyskolen i Bergen (Bergen University College), and we had to choose a classroom instrument to learn. Since I already knew how to play the guitar, I picked the piano, and the song I started working on was none other than Space Oddity. In many ways it is a quintessential Bowie song. He plays around with the key signature (C major) by introducing a D major chord in the verse and a E major chord in the chorus. Then he adds a bridge that includes a Bb major chord - and it all really works. I had great fun trying to work it out in very rudimentary piano style (my skills are not really that great), but my teacher did not know the song.

I discovered David Bowie at an interesting point in his career. I still consider Let's Dance a solid album - and I still listen to it - but that is more than I can say about his next two albums, Tonight and Never Let Me Down. After these two albums, he decided to stop his solo work and become just a part of a band. This band, Tin Machine really knocked my socks off. I still remember Svein Ola Sjøvold dropping the needle on Heaven's In Here on their first album in the Radio Ung studio, goading me to identify the singer. I couldn't. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I couldn't identify him, but I was steeped in hard rock and heavy metal at the time, and David Bowie was supposed to be pop, so it didn't connect. I loved the first Tin Machine album. I wasn't as crazy about the second one, appropriately called Tin Machine II, when it first came out - but it has grown on me. The live album Oy Vey Baby was the last album they released, because Bowie was on to new things.

And that is really what I have liked about him throughout his career. I have not liked all of his albums, and Black Tie, White Noise (1993), which was his next album at this point is an album I still struggle with (OK, let's just admit it, I really can't listen to it...). But he was exploring new things again, and he was very daringly creative = and that album was the next step towards two of my favorite Bowie albums, especially of the second half of his career: Outside (Part 1 of the Nathan Adler Diaries - although it remains the only part) from 1995 and Earthling from 1997. Looking back at it, it seems like he mastered the sonic landscapes he was exploring on Black Tie, White Noise and was able to place his very distinctive musical style with them on Outside and Earthling. Brian Eno was back as he had been in Berlin on Outside, and Reeves Gabrels' very innovative guitar is very present on both that and Earthling. And I was so very back loving his music with these two albums.

His next trio of albums, Hours... (1999), Heathen (2002), and Reality (2003), are very solid David Bowie albums, which means that they are better than most other music released - but not necessarily my favorites (although Bring Me The Disco King, the final track on Reality, is a spectacular song - and there are other glimpses of true greatness as well). He then toured until he had a health scare in 2004 (and, as mentioned before, I did get to see him on that final tour), and then nothing. It was all quiet. There were pictures, such as one from the opening of his son Duncan's movie Moon, and there were sightings at art shows and exhibits - including his own work - but no music.

Not until 2013, when The Next Day was released. I really liked The Next Day, and I was incredibly excited when it was released, but not as excited as I was over Blackstar this last Friday. I am very thankful to for their Autorip feature, because I still don't have the physical copy of the album, but I have been listening to it since just after midnight Friday. I loved it from the beginning, and I am very glad I did, because it is so easy to get caught up in the whole "his final album" thing and that it was released just before his death - but it is such a great album. His vocals on the title track is haunting in a way that really is enhanced by the fact that he no longer is with us, and the jazziness throughout seems to me like he had reached yet another artistic peak.

In a world where too many people stay too long doing too much that ends up being crap, it is a huge relief to have a true artist like David Bowie. Like I said, I did not like everything he released, but I respect it all. I respect that he followed his artistic vision, and I have been incredibly lucky to have his artistic vision match my musical tastes on numerous occasions.

And then he really moved me. I still get goosebumps and chills from Life on Mars, all I need is the opening droning e-bow to start bopping my head to "Heroes", the first few chords of Crack City makes my entire body move, and the chanting that opens Blackstar fills me with mystery and wonder. There is so much more that can be said, but I fear that my words at this point are inadequate in conveying how I really feel.

I never met David Bowie. I never spoke a word to him. But still this one hurts. This one I will be grieving. Thank you, David Bowie, for filling my life not only with music, but with little wonders as well. You will be sorely missed.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

January 11 - Nobody To Blame (Best Albums of 2015)

It's taken a while... Although 11 days into the new year isn't really that long, I could have started earlier in 2015, but my #2 selection wasn't released until December 18... As usual, it is really hard to rank them individually, but I tried ranking my top 10. In reality, I am dead set on my favorite album being Chris Stapleton - and I think that #2-5 are better than #6-10, but I could easily change order within those groupings.
  1. Chris Stapleton - Traveller
  2. Baroness - Purple
  3. Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
  4. Gavin Harrison - Cheating The Polygraph
  5. Steven Wilson - Hand Cannot Erase
  6. Motorpsycho - En Konsert for Folk Flest
  7. Faith No More - Sol Invictus
  8. Torche - Restarter
  9. Sunn O))) - Kannon
  10. Kylesa - Exhausting Fire
After the first 10, there are 15 additional recordings that really deserve to be mentioned - they are all albums I really liked over the course of the year. I have listed them alphabetically - but there are no individual preferences here:
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Chris Cornell - Higher Truth
Clutch - Psychic Warfare
Echolyn - I Heard You Listening
Steve Earle & The Dukes - Terraplane
Elder - Lore
Elephant9 - Silver Mountain
Enslaved - In Times
Ghost BC - Meliora
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
Robert Earl Keen - Happy Prisoner The Bluegrass Sessions
Otis Taylor - Hey Joe Opus Red Meat
Richard Thompson - Still
Steve Von Till - A Life Unto Itself
Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

Since Chris Stapleton's Traveller reached the first place on my list, I really feel like I need to let him be represented again - and this is a very country country song, which he plays with in the lyrics. Here is Nobody To Blame.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

January 10 - Fergus Laing

So it should start to be pretty clear that my musical tastes are pretty eclectic, to put it mildly. Some of it mirrors bands I have followed, while others mirror tastes of friends - and my interest in folk music from all around the world has been largely influenced by Thomas Ekrene with assistance from Johan Ludvig Brattås. The backstory for this interest is found under Radio Days: Resurrection - but the part I believe is missing is the fact that when I first moved to Bergen in January of 1995, the very first day in my student apartment I could hear the unmistakable guitar intro to La Grange by ZZ Top. I had no idea who lived next door, but I took La Grange as a good sign.

As I started working in Studentradioen - and more specifically as I started working with Thomas in Plog - I would frequently take one of the last busses home, and it turned out that Thomas was on the same bus. We walked separately - he had a gruff personality, and I had not yet established much of a rapport with him - and sat apart from one another on the bus, each listening to our own music. However, my jaw dropped when I saw that his key fit perfectly in the lock of the student apartment next to mine - the one that had played La Grange when I first moved in.

Eventually we started talking more, and we became friends, first and foremost united by a love for music, and he really started pushing his main drug: Richard Thompson. At first I was lukewarm, but I started warming up, and after I moved back to Trondheim for a while, he sent me a tape (or was it two) with some of his favorite Richard Thompson songs in good old-fashioned mixtape mode. And it worked... In addition to being one of the best guitar players I ever have heard (electric or acoustic), he is also a great songwriter. He has a very typical British dry humor, and his songs often appear depressive - but they are filled with very dark humor that you have to see through the grim depressive material. Add to that that he has written good old fashioned nidviser - very critical and satirical songs about living and real people - Madonna's Wedding about her renting a Scottish Castle to marry Guy Ritchie and Dear Janet Jackson about the infamous exposed nipple.\As one of the bonus tracks of his last album, Still, which came out last year, he wrote another song about an existing person, but since this person is a litigious current frontrunner for the Republican Party, the name was changed to Fergus Laing - but there is little doubt about who it is written...

Saturday, January 09, 2016

January 9 - Demon Box

To me, the most momentous musical happening of 2015 is one that I missed. July 1993, I was listening to NRK Radio's broadcast from Roskilde, and they featured a Norwegian band that I had heard of but not really listened to who, the band that would turn into a musical obsession - and a band whose inspirations really took me far in terms of exploring my own musical tastes. The band was the mighty Motorpsycho, who over the course of their 25 year long career has turned into quite the eclectic outfit - or misfit. As a matter of fact, they are so respected in Norway that there is a temporary exhibit dedicated to them at Rockheim, Norway's national museum for popular music in my hometown, Trondheim (which also is Motorpsycho's headquarters).

By October 2 that year, I had acquired all their CD releases up to that point, and I spent the evening at Studentersamfundet witnessing a tour de force of music that completely blew me away. I watched them take the audience through the poppy sounds of Nothing to Say and Giftland, completely controlling the audice, before they tested our willpower and dedication with a blistering version of Demon Box, the title track from that year's album (double vinyl but only single CD, with songs like Mountain left out). Luckily, the Mountain EP followed soon after the album, and by the time I discovered them, both were out.

I am guaranteeing that I will revisit Motorpsycho several times this year, so more will follow - but the event that I missed was an opportunity to see them play Demon Box in it's entirety. They did it four times: First at the Slottsfjell (Castle Mountain) festival in Tønsberg, Norway, in a concert that almost didn't happen at the top of the small mountain due to extreme wind. The next three times were at Rockheim as the Supersonic Scientists exhibit opened.

However, I have one Demon Box memory that no one can take away from me: The descent down Drivdalen (Driva Valley) from Oppdal toward Sunndalsøra. It was cold, and it was misty, and the song had just turned from the metal injections and the "I need you like I need gangrene" chorus to the spectacular noise mid-section. Descending into the wall of fog with the noise blaring through the speakers, all by myself, gave me chills and goosebumps that only a sensory assault of this magnitude could do. When I emerged on the other side of the fog and the song had turned into the happier territory of Babylon and Junior, I was spent. Thank you, Motorpsycho!

Friday, January 08, 2016

January 8 - Blackstar

I hereby declare today David Bowie day! Not only is he 69 years old today, but he is also releasing his new album, Blackstar. It is like Christmas all over again.

I was introduced to David Bowie by my cousin Britt Jorunn, who had the tape of Let's Dance, which I played over and over again. As a matter of fact, listening to Let's Dance still takes me back to my grandmother's house at Geitastrand, right outside of Trondheim. Then Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) aired the Serious Moonlight Tour show that later was released on DVD (it might have been released on video as well) sometime while I was in 6th grade (once again - a most important year), and I was right there with my mono tape deck plugged into the tv through a DIN cable. The tv was mono as well, so that wasn't a problem. I played that concert tape over and over again for a long, long time, but I didn't have all the titles right at all - and didn't know many songs yet.

Later, I started picking up more of his music. I remember buying Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) on tape because I liked the title. It took a long time for me to fully appreciate that album, but now I can clearly hear the impact Robert Fripp had on it. Jon Inge had a tape called Bowie Rare, which had the German version of Heroes (Helden), an Italian version of Space Oddity, (Ragazzo Solo Ragazzo Sola), and some other rarities. After finding bits and pieces of him, I picked up Changesbowie shortly after its release in 1990, and I finally had a good cross section of his work - even though that still wasn't enough. My friend Are had the box Sound+Vision, and it had a live version of the song Station to Station on it, and that really triggered something in me. I traveled quite a bit through the 90s, and one thing I started doing was trying to time the intro to Station to Station to the take off of airplanes I was on. This wasn't all that easy considering different taxi times and the fact that all electronic equipment was supposed to be turned off, but I managed to time it just right on a couple of occasions, and the feeling was very surreal.

Through my more adult life, I have had David Bowie as a constant. He is always around - even if it takes a while between every time I listen. I spent a little time collecting all his music, and while I don't know that I have everything he has released (actually, probably far from it), I do have all his major albums. And, on January 9, 2004, I got to see him live at the Palace of Auburn Hills. I didn't know it at the time, but it looks like the Reality tour will be his final tour. In the summer of 2004 he was playing at the Norwegian Wood festival in Oslo, Norway, when an idiot in the audience tossed a lollipop stick which hit him in the eye. A week later (and hopefully unrelated), he had chest pain during a concert in Germany, leading to the need for angioplasty, which in turn made him cancel the last of his tour - and the last of his touring life by the looks of it.

I had given up all hope on hearing more music from him as well, as Reality (2003) looked like it would be his final album until he sprung The Next Day on us as a surprise in March 2013. The first single, Where Are We Now, was released 3 years ago today - and now it is time for Blackstar, which promises to be a jazzy and experimental album, based on the tracks we already have had the opportunity to hear. Please enjoy the title track!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

January 7 - Empire of the Clouds

Iron Maiden. I have to admit, I thought they were done when they released the not so good No Prayer for the Dying. I didn't really think it had much to do with Adrian Smith leaving - at least not in my eyes - it was just... Boring... More of the same - or maybe not the same. Then Bruce Dickinson stopped singing for them and left, and I really lost track of Iron Maiden.

But before losing track of them, I found them. Back in 1984-85, I was in elementary school  - 6th grade at Strindheim Barneskole. If memory serves me right, it has to have been one of the most important years of my life, as so much of who I was really was formed that school year and following summer. Looking at ripple effects again, this was the year everything really started changing. Three key friendships formed that year, and it all started with a fight.

When I started elementary school back in 1979, I was put in a class with about 30 kids - and they were mainly from my neighborhood with some from adjacent areas. One of the boys in my class, Arve, was one of my more peripheral friends until he moved away in third grade, I believe, following his parents' divorce. He only moved to the other side of town, but since he at that point probably was more of an acquaintance than a friend, he might has well have moved to the other side of the world. At that time, it was very much out of sight, out of mind. However, he came back to start sixth grade with us. I am still not sure exactly why we fought - I think he wanted to show how tough he was by taking on the biggest guy in class, maybe not realizing he also was taking on the biggest wuss - or at least one of them. This happened during the long midday recess, and it happened in the schoolyard, so it caught the attention of the teacher on outside patrol duty. The fight hadn't been vicious, it was much more of a brawl where I think he was trying to lift me off the ground, so no punches were thrown, and nobody was hurt, so the teacher was ingenious in her approach to conflict resolution: Why didn't the two of us go inside and talk it out. I cannot thank her enough for that. I don't remember what we talked about, but Arve and I really haven't stopped talking since. It's not that we talk often anymore - being on different continents kinda stops that - but when we talk, we still pick up where we left off, so it is a really good friendship to have carried along for now more than 30 years.

The second friendship formed was with Jan Are. This was a friendship that was formed over a shared love for music - or what passed as heavy metal back in the mid 80s (which is quite different than what people now consider heavy metal). The way I remember it, he came up to me asking me if I liked "heavy" - and when I confirmed this, he said that he did too, and we started talking. Very early on, he borrowed Deep Purple's Made in Europe from me, and I was introduced to Iron Maiden when I borrowed Powerslave from him. Throughout our teenage years, which were about to begin at this point, Jan Are introduced me to a slew of great music - without him and his brother, I would not have listened to Rush or Marillion, so I am not sure where I would have been when it comes to the progressive music that I love without them. Jan Are also introduced me to alternative and more extreme metal (for then) - such as Voi Vod, Slayer, Venom, and Celtic Frost. He was also the one who had lent me the two Whitesnake tapes (Love Hunter and Ready an' Willing, I believe) I had in my pocket when I made the third important friendship that year, at the end of the summer break before starting 7th grade at Rosenborg Ungdomsskole.

Looking back, it is really amazing how all of these events are connected. It was a chance encounter that led me to meet Jon Inge - an encounter that is better chronicled under Radio Days vol. 1 and Radio Days vol. 2. But what didn't strike me until I started writing it this time was that all of these friendships started within the span of one year, and in many ways, that year is the year that really shaped who I was to become, because the events of that year still reverberate.

Anyway, I did indeed find Iron Maiden through Jan Are that year, and I soon had taped copies (tape to tape copying has a lot of loss, but at least I did have the music to listen to) of most of their albums - and with Xeroxed cassette covers including lyrics as well (to all members of EMI and the Iron Maiden family: I have since purchased all of the albums on CD - and I had some of them on vinyl and some on tapes I also purchased as well - and I think this is well past the statute of limitations for these transgressions). And while I lost interest in new music from them for a while, I started finding my way back when they released the outstanding DVD, The History of Iron Maiden – Part 1: The Early Days in 2004. I had seen the album Dance of Death in the stores, but I wasn't really feeling the new releases yet. That started changing with both A Matter of Life and Death (2006) and The Final Frontier (2010), but as I was listening to The Book of Souls (2015), I found my jaw dropping more and more. I had planned on playing it in the background while doing some grading, but I found that the grading was pushed to the back burner and the music took center stage. I did not expect an Iron Maiden album to be found on my list of best releases of 2015, but it is definitely there, and the crowning achievement is the 18 minute epic, Empire of the Clouds. I have always liked Iron Maiden's long songs - such as To Tame a Land from Piece of Mind (2983) and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner from Powerslave (1984), and Empire of the Clouds, which is about R101, the British airship that was the worlds biggest aircraft in 1929 and crashed in France during its maiden voyage in 1930. Please enjoy!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

January 6 - Minions

In my search for new music, which is a constant driving factor in my life, one of the key places in the last 10 years or so has been Vertigo Music, an independent music store on Division in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Herm, the owner, is extremely friendly and never one to shy away from offering suggestions based on what music you have identified that you like - or suggesting a chat with one of his staff members who might be more in tune with your specific interests than he might be. It was through Vertigo Music I discovered Isis, which in turn led to discovering Hydra Head records.

Actually, one of the things I really started discovering at Vertigo Music was that some independent labels have very distinctive artistic visions. This starts with the music, but often bleeds over into the style of the artwork as well. Relapse records is one of them, and Southern Lord is another. As a result, I started exploring labels a little bit more - and that brings me back to Hydra Head records. Hydra Head is run by Aaron Turner, who was one of the main figures in Isis - and if you look at their Wikipedia entry, you will see that they specialize in heavy metal, which really is far too broad for what they are looking at. I would add the term experimental to it - and really even that wouldn't do Hydra Head justice. The label shut down in 2012, but their roster ended up including quite  a few bands that I really like, such as Isis, Cave In, Pelican, Botch, Neurosis, Sunn O))), and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Once again, I start with one stone dropped in the ocean (Isis), and end up taken in very different directions.

One of the bands I found through Hydra Head is Torche. They are really heavy, usually pretty slow, but with a great sense of melody. They are often labeled a stoner or sludge metal band, but they don't necessarily agree with that themselves. Their sense of humor is also visible in some of their album titles, where I still think Meanderthal is my favorite (although Harmonicraft is good as well). Their album Restarter from 2015 was released on Relapse records (one of the labels mentioned above), and it was one of my early highlights of the year's releases. To get a good sense of what they sound like, I decided to share the one track I probably have listened the most to out of any songs released in 2015: Minions.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

January 5 - Hatesong/Halo

When I was born, I have a feeling that my parents dropped a giant rock in the ocean. This rock was my musical starting point. It had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Abba, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and Chris de Burgh. That was music both of them liked - although my mom was more Beatles and my dad was more Rolling Stones. Then my dad brought in some songs that were more out of left field, and the one that really sticks with me was Norwegian new wave band The Cut and their version of In Dieser Stadt (I'll have to include that later). That was on the fringe of the rock, but it was definitely part of it. There was probably more to the rock as well, but the pieces that entered the ocean were definitely the ones I remember best.

What happens when you drop a rock in the ocean - or water in general? Waves... Waves form like rings way, way out. And that is what my musical life has been all about - chasing those wavy rings... I found a rock of my own to toss in and create some disturbances in the pattern when I discovered Kiss in 1980, my music teachers tossed in a rock of some classical music, especially Die Moldau by Smetana, which still stays with me, and then Arve started tossing in country music. These disruptions in the patterns didn't stop me, they made me look farther and farther - always seeking the new and the different. The fascinating thing is when you discover rings from rocks that had been tossed in earlier - such as my middle school music teacher Reidar Fiske's love for 10CC - or when they merge unexpectedly, creating new starting points for yet other rings to explore.

The reason I went to such great lengths to describe how I found Opeth, and then in turn Steven Wilson, is that this is once more a set of rings that both separate and unite. From Porcupine Tree I discovered the extraordinary drummer Gavin Harrison, who in turn has been playing for King Crimson, whose records have been remastered and mixed for 5.1 surround sound by Steven Wilson again - and who use Tony Levin as a bass player, whom I first encountered when listening to Peter Gabriel. And, as I previously mentioned, Steven Wilson worked with Fish - and I decided to see what those two albums were all about and found that I had given up on him too soon. I keep chasing those rings in the water, and by following them once more, I found Gavin Harrison's release from 2015, Cheating the Polygraph. It turned out that he had taken some of Porcupine Tree's compositions and arranged them for big band. Now, my experiences with big band music have been limited, but watching the movie Whiplash really made me appreciate some of it a little bit more - and I have had a taste for the work of Mingus and his big band for some time - so this sounded interesting to me. And then I listened, and my mind was blown away. This is challenging music, but man, is it good... Please, give mr. Gavin Harrison a chance and listen to Hatesong/Halo...

Monday, January 04, 2016

January 4 - Routine

Steven Wilson. I was introduced to this English genius through Opeth, who I most certainly will be addressing later this year - and in all likelihood I will do so more than once as well. But let's talk about Steven Wilson. He started the band Porcupine Tree, which he initially created as a fictional band with a long backstory and album titles before starting to record as the band. The first album, On the Sunday of Life, was a compilation of the best songs he had released on several cassettes in the late 80s, and for the second album, Up on the Downstair, was also largely a solo project, but featured guest appearances by Richard Barbieri (keys) and Colin Edwin (bass), who later joined the band full force. He did expand the band further, first with Chris Maitland on drums, who was replaced by Gavin Harrison, and finally adding John Wesley as a touring member on vocals and guitar.

Porcupine Tree started gaining notoriety in progressive rock circles, and Steven Wilson's visions led him to recognition both within traditional progressive rock and in progressive metal. He produced Fish (of Marillion fame from the 80's) on both his Sunsets on Empire and Raingods with Zippos albums in 1997 and 1999, lent some of his talents to help produce Marillion's album in 1999 (they have had Steve Hogarth as their lead singer since they got rid of Fish in 1988), and even worked with Norwegian singer Anja Garbarek, producing her 2001 album Waving and Smiling.

However, I did not know any of this at the time. I had given up on both Fish and Marillion (very prematurely, as it turns out), and Anja Garbarek was of no interest to me (I had heard some of her early work, and while it was ok, it wasn't my bag). Neither had I heard of Opeth yet, although Steven Wilson in 2001 produced one of their masterpieces, Blackwater Park. I actually stumbled across Opeth through sheer dumb luck, about 5 years later.

Fall 2006 through the summer of 2007 was a pretty grueling year for me. I was working full time at Alma College, and I was finishing up my Master of Arts degree in counseling at Spring Arbor University. On the face of it, it doesn't seem so bad, but finishing my counseling degree meant completing a practicum and internship, which was on top of the full time job. So my weekly schedule consisted of leaving home around 7 am and not coming home again until 9 pm or so Monday through Wednesday, then being home at "normal" time so I could be with the girls on Thursday evenings while my then wife worked, and "normal" time on Fridays - but with additional internship hours on Saturday mornings, which let me to miss several of Emma's soccer games. I know there are many people out there who have schedules that are harder than mine was, but for me, this year was still tough, and the only reason I could do it was that I knew that there was a light at the end of the tunnel - and I was hoping it wasn't a train.

So while I was doing this internship, I also walked the aisles of Meijer from time to time, and I always looked in their CD section (this was when they actually still took in CDs outside of the best sellers). While looking, I found this very interesting looking CD called Ghost Reveries by a band called Opeth. I had no clue what it was, so I put it back. However, I kept coming back to it, looking at it, thinking that this looks like something I will like. I eventually got to the point that I remembered the name after leaving the store, and during one of my no-shows sitting in one of the back rooms in the computer lab at MCCs Greenville M-Tec building (that was the name at the time - and yes, it had several study rooms in the computer lab back then), I searched YouTube for their music, and I found the song The Grand Conjuration from Ghost Reveries - and love affair was born. As usual, I filled in the back catalogue, album by album, and that's how I started seeing the name Steven Wilson pop up. He was the producer for the three albums leading up to Ghost Reveries: Blackwater Park (2001), Deliverance (2002), and Damnation (2003). The chain effect had begun...

So now we are at the beginning of 2016, looking back at 2015, and Steven Wilson released Hand. Cannot. Erase. It is his fourth proper solo album, and while it is not as good as Grace for Drowning (2011), it is still easily in my top 5 for 2015 - and yes, the list will eventually be published... To get you all started, I have selected what for me is the emotional centerpiece of Hand. Cannot. Erase., a song about loss and grief (this is starting to look like a theme here) called Routine.