7 Things for 7 Days No. 2

Thank you to everyone who read last week’s post. It’s nice to be back after not publishing for far too long. I was so excited last week I posted EIGHT things. Seems that’s the start of a new tradition. Here are a few things that made this last week special.

BRAIN PICKINGS

One of my most treasured newsletters is Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. She excerpts wonderful pieces from modern and classic texts, adding her own context and commentary. In an era that has seemingly forgotten poetry and the wisdom of the past, she is a master curator unearthing words, poems, art and illustrations that still resonate today. Each week I discover at least one book I must read and much more to think about. As an added bonus she has turned me on to some of the best kids books over the last several years.

BERRY PICKING

Fresh-picked from Phillips Farms

A couple of weeks back we embarked on a family journey amidst a torrential downpour only to discover that the rain decimated the strawberry fields. We made a u-turn and navigated toward the farm’s other u-pick area down the road. There were no strawberries, but the place was bursting with raspberries, peaches, cherries, currants and more. Armed with three buckets we headed straight for the blueberries. After a half hour of picking the plump fruit we dumped the tubs together and had a solid five pounds. The next stop was black raspberries which proved both smaller and thornier. Our little helpers soon went on strike. With a good two pounds picked we called it quits to avoid a toddler insurrection. Our week was filled with fresh berries and as supplies dwindled we decided to jump back in the car and return to Phillips Farms to supply our new fresh fruit addiction. Once again we began with blueberries and filled a whole bucket of delicious fruit in no time. Then, we loaded a bucket with peaches in less than two minutes. I spied a fellow picker’s bucket loaded with gargantuan blackberries and followed the signs. Fifteen minutes later I had scratched hands and a few more pounds of fruit. Some day we’ll get our strawberries.

BANDCAMP

After decades of spending my days cratedigging in record stores and dropping a few hundred bucks a month on vinyl, tapes and CDs, I all but stopped buying music in 2013. I jumped onto Spotify and didn’t look back. Yet somehow Bandcamp has dragged me back into the store, albeit online. When i can’t find something streaming I turn to Bandcamp. Now with Bandcamp Fridays and the site waiving fees to benefit the artists I find myself once again stockingpiling great music.

Some recent favorites include Ekoplekz, the many alteregos of Leyland Kirby (The Caretaker, The Stranger), the great archive of Sonic Youth live shows and the Touch: Isolation compilation.

THE QUIETUS’ BAKERS DOZEN

Every week The Quietus has an artist reveal the 13 albums that shaped them and their music. They also share why a particular records meant so much. Often I am surprised by what some musicians love. With every column I find hidden treasures, new music and am frequently compelled to revisit a recording with new ears. It’s very easy to listen to music, but it’s a challenge to unlisten and hear it anew without judgment.

HOBOKEN PUBLIC LIBRARY

As a kid I was enamored with libraries. The stacks of books promised so much. I loved the smell, the quiet, the solitude and the stacks of books. Somehow as an adult I forgot about them. Thank you to my kids I rediscovered the pure joy of so many books at my fingertips. It was a homecoming after 20 years away. So much has changed, yet they are so very much the same. If I request a book I can usually get it delivered from any regional library. The Libby app allows me to check out books and audiobooks wherever and whenever.. As my local library slowly reopens I am excited for their return and their noble efforts to keep programs going during lockdown.

ALL THE BOOKS AT ONCE

I’ve got at least one book going on every device and in every room of my house just in case I need a book right now. Here’s a quick house tour of what I’ve been reading.

Living Room Earth Abides by George Stewart, My son has to read this for summer reading so I am tagging along. This couldn’t be more timely as the world in this book has just been wiped out by a mysterious pandemic.
Bedroom Batman & Robin, Volume 1: Batman Reborn You might as well call it the Batroom as there is always a Batman graphic novel in rotation. Grant Morrison is behind this one.
Kitchen Grunge is Dead by Greg Prato. I’ve been reading this engaging oral hitory of Seattle’s 80s and 90s music scene 4 pages at a time. It’s all so familiar and so long ago.
Office Post Office by Charles Bukowski. I really want to love Bukowski, but this semi-autobiographical novel makes me depressed. Someday I will finish.
Libby App The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is his fiction debut and it tells a magical tale of a slave with super powers who becomes involved with the Underground Railroad.
Kindle Alan Sillitoe’s Travels in Nihilon. This one is a slog. It’s a high concept travelogue through a country that has embraced Nihilism. There are echoes of 1984, Brave New World and other dystopian classics, but for every step forward it takes two absurd steps back. Someday this treip will end.
Audible Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flame Throwers, follows a motorcyle riding female artist from seedy 1970s New York City to the Bonneville Salt Flats and around the world.

Just Finished
Sally Rooney’s Normal People. A deep dive into the complex and evolving relationship between two kids from high school into college. I saw the trailer for the Hulu show and knew the book was all I needed. ★★★★

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. A look at the racial dynamics between a white mom and a black nanny. It’s light, poignant and funny at times and moves quickly. There are a few nice twists at the end, but the characters are poorly developed and the breezy tone serves to undercut the primary themes in the book. ★★★

FRIENDS WHO STILL SHARE MUSIC

Many of my college and post-collegiate friendships were forged through working together in public radio. Over the years I did time at KUGR, KZUU, KCMU and WFMU, We bonded over music, spending our time hunting for records and going to shows. In pre-ditigtal days great music was scarce. Today I can find almost whatever I want whenever I want it, but I love the friends who email a few mp3s or send some links to something special. There will never be a shortage of songs, but those shared by friends are guaranteed my special listening attention. Here’s a great mix from my longtime friend @DJ_DamonCreed.

***Bonus Thing***

HOBOKEN THEN & NOW



My running buddy @petermarney tipped me to this Instagram account curated by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Two pictures. One then. One now. Hoboken is an old town with a storied past and seeing history side-by-side with today is eye opening. All too often the past looks a whole lot better than the present.

See you next week with whatever gets me through the next seven days.

No Use Crying Over Spilled Goldfish

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My three year old experienced a significant personal setback earlier today. His special treat after a swimming lesson was a baggie of rainbow goldfish, perhaps his favorite food of all time. As we braved the frozen hellscape the weather forecasters referred to as a wintry mix, he was engaged in what amounts to gleeful multitasking for young boys. While munching his brightly hued salty snacks he was pelting dad with ice rocks and splashing through each and every puddle in his path.

As he became fully engrossed in demolishing a rather deep pop-up pond on the sidewalk, he neglected to notice the precarious position of his goldfish and they escaped the confines of the baggie and returned to the sea. A great horrified howl arose behind me and I saw the smiling little piscine shapes bloating in the cold dirty water. He cried bitter tears of great suffering and loss as if there were no consolation for his disintegrating snacks.

It was a bittersweet moment and it is easy to laugh a little at his plight. We’ve all lost an ice cream cone in the dirt or seen our freshly jellied toast land delicious side down on the floor. Yet, his pain was intense and very real. For a few moments he grieved with such profound sadness. There was no future. Everything was gone.

Despite his disbelief, there was another serving of goldfish waiting at home. Once we ditched our boots and warmed our hands he had a small bowlful to feast upon. With renewed joy he shoveled them into his gullet moments after we returned.

His predicament provokes comparison to my own horror when faced with setbacks and challenges. There are times when my suffering is very real and I shed tears and see no light in the darkness. This is the end. This failure is the ultimate failure. All possibility has been crushed. This loss ends everything.

But wait.

I’ve learned the only answer is to stand up, dust myself off and move on. There is an ample supply of goldfish waiting in the cupboard. I can’t save those who drowned in the puddle, but I can accept their loss, grieve for the snack that could have been and make my way back home.

 

Celebrating the Cassingle

Music formats come and go. 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, cassettes, CDs, MP3s. Some come back again and others disappear. On one hand vinyl is stronger than it has been in almost three decades while the lowly cassingle (or cassette single) has been banished to the crap can of history. Even the much-maligned 8-track has made an ironic comeback, the cassingle will likely never make a revisionist return. It was designed to be cheap and disposable.

cassingles, cassette singles

Music you will deny ever buying

The cassingle emerged in the 80s as an inexpensive, portable replacement for the dying 7″ market. From 1987-1995 sales boomed. In 1990 there were more than 90 million sold. By 1996 sales had dropped off a cliff and by 1999 it was all over. Wrapped in a simple cardboard sleeve, shrinkwrapped and sold for a couple of bucks, they were the YouTube clips of their day. Some had the single and a b-side, but many just gave you the single on both sides of the tape. Kids could buy the hits and slap them in the Walkman, boombox or car stereo. Instant gratification in the analog world!

Cassingles

Enter the Goldmine

Little did I know that in my very own basement there lurked a treasure trove of these three minute nightmares. While moving things around so I could paint the walls and floor I made the discovery. Tucked away in a box, more than a hundred of them waited for me to come along and unleash their big-haired, shoulder-padded power. There must be at least one nugget buried in this goldmine. I dumped out the box and began digging. George Michael, Janet Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Paula Abdul and countless other misdemeanors against music. Shuddering as I dug further, I uncovered three true atrocities, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, Gerardo and Billy Ray Cyrus.

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Crimes against music

I almost gave up. And then I found it buried underneath everything. Pure gold. A song that will live forever. Yes, it was BIZ MARKIE! Now I just need a cassette player and I am in business.

Biz Markie Cassingle

Nobody beats the Biz

If you want to know more there is a website, Cassette Single World,  dedicated to fans and the digital collection of “every Cassette Single ever released.” Enjoy!

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My home office this week!

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Most of my town is without power, phones or wifi. The amazing people along the few blocks that do have power provided free coffee, powerstrips and wifi. People are pretty amazing and I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many neighbors. A lot of wreckage, but a lot of positive action. Go Hoboken!

Why Junglerock?

Several people have asked me (or made fun of me) why I use the twitter handle @Junglerock. I wish there was a dark and terrifying secret, some impenetrable mystery. However. the real reason is simple and boring. I needed a gmail address. All iterations of my name were taken. I needed one that wasn’t jetboy1999 or rocky123. So I started plugging in obscure band names, album and song titles and odd cultural references. After countless strikeouts Junglerock worked. It has pretty much become my user name for just about everything. So what is Junglerock? It’s just a killer old rockabilly song originally released in 1958 by Hank Mizell.

Hank might have disappeared completely, but the 70’s pub and punk rock scenes reintroduced people to rockabilly and several bands covered the song. I first heard it as a Replacements b-side buried on a 1987 German double 12′ single. The band changed the lyrics to “Bundle Up,” but it still shines through as rough and raucous.

The inimitable Mark E Smith and The Fall did a bizarro techno-rockabilly version on their 1997 album Levitate.

Possibly my favorite version is LA punk originals The Weirdos and their 1979 Bomp! Records version

Plenty of other folks have covered it, but I have wasted far too much time on explaining the story of Junglerock. Hank Mizell, The Replacements, The Fall and The Weirdos are far more interesting. Time for me to stop yapping and time for you to check out a version of Mr. Mizell’s classic.