This weekend we had a pleasant visit from my high-school chum John Strohm, currently deep in law school at a small Alabama college. He and I visited the Experience Music Project, and I must say the museum is improved as a result of visiting in the company of one other person with a deep, life-long interest in American popular music. I’ve been a couple times in the past, and I just kind of find myself lecturing people, instead of swapping stories or exclaiming over the original mechanicals for the first Husker Du album, as happened on this visit.
John also told me that both Jake and Dale, of Hoosier label No Nostalgia, will be presenting papers at a conference at the EMP, April 10-13, according to the website. Hope I get a chance to catch up with them whilst they are here.
After the EMP we strolled through Pike Place, as we’re statutorily obligated to when friends, family, and acquaintances visit us here in the Damp City, and picked up some Columbia River salmon and a bag of clams (or “rocks,” as our fishmonger called them). We then ate hearty and chatted deep into the night.
I’ve always enjoyed John’s intellect, and appreciate that we’re able to track each other through our lives. We jawed up a storm on intellectual property issues, the copyright wars ongoing, and the like – it’s very interesting to discuss this stuff with a seasoned touring and recording musician.
His touring and recording background gives him a familiarity with basic practices and assumptions of the music industry as my experience in technology does for computing, development, and software, so a certain component of the conversation consists of comparing notes. It’s a very interesting time to look at law, I have to admit, and John’s certainly encouraged me to consider it as a possible school route.
We had a good time swapping gossip about pals. One person that came up was Paul Mahern, recording engineer on John Mellencamp’s last record, possibly on the new one that comes out shortly, and the leader of 80’s proto-hardcore rockers the Zero Boys. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Coug’s website and what the heck?
Mellencamp.com is hosting an anti-war song, “To Washington,” based on a really old folk song, the White House Blues (it’s the song on the Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music that opens with “McKinley’s in the White House a-doin’ his best” and refrains on the line “From Baltimore to Washington”). Apparently Mellencamp recorded the song over the past year as a part of the sessions for his upcoming all-folk and traditional record, Trouble No More, due out in May.
Now, let me be totally clear: my favorite Bob Dylan record of all time is a spare recording he made of traditionals called Good As I Been To You, so I have no beef with Mellencamp looking in that direction. In fact, I kind of expect that it’ll be pretty good – his style of music has always had a strong traditional element.
Mellencamp’s career started in Bloomington, and after he broke around 1980, he chose to keep working from his home near Seymour, very close to my hometown. His music, while aesthetically preferable to much of what was on the radio in the 1980’s , was adopted as a sort of standard by the tobacco-chewing segment of my high school populace, some of whom quite literally could not restrain themselves from beating the crap out of me every time they saw me (one troubled young man was actually banned from the school’s property, under threat of arrest and charges, yet his desire to beat the shit out of me – to kill me – was so great that he did indeed return to pound my ass into the dirt).
So, you know, it’s a bit unsettling to hunker down behind my barricades of piled up seventy-eights, muttering imprecations, and glancing to my side see the songwriter whose little ditties were adopted by my fisticuff-oriented classmates lofting his “No Iraq War” sign. Mind you, I’m glad to see him.
I haven’t listened to it yet, but will do so tomorrow – I can say that the original tune he borrows from is among the catchiest of the songs on the Anthology. And I still don’t know if Mahern worked on it or not.