Still Circlin’ Back with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Circlin Back 2

Two years now, and the memory of that night still makes me smile.

I’ve had a handful of concert experiences that still leave me breathless remembering them – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band back in 1984, the Brian Wilson band doing “Smile” – but the most exhilarating night of them all was Sept. 14, 2015, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The venue, the band, the performances, the crowd, all came together in the magical way that music can.

And how blessed we are to have a permanent video record – PBS turned it into an hourlong pledge drive feature with an extended DVD. Even though it’s not complete, the TV show captures the celebratory spirit of that night, when the band marked its 50th anniversary with some of the singers and songwriters they met on their journey. Continue reading Still Circlin’ Back with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

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Hey, hey, we’re still listening

pleasant valley sunday

I flicked on the oldies station and there was Micky Dolenz singing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” same as he always did. It occurred to me, as stuff like this often does, that I was listening to what Micky and his colleagues did 50 years ago.

The Monkees were criticized, and often harshly, for not being authentic because they weren’t a “real” band – they were the Pre-Fab Four, a group of young men hired to portray the band in a TV show about a mythical band.

And yet, the music has endured for 50 years. The people who created The Monkees – and that includes the four musicians who were hired to be The Monkees – perceived one important fact: If you’re going to create a fantasy about a popular band, then the band’s music ought to be good enough to be popular. How often does the suspension of disbelief fail because the “popular band” in the story just isn’t that good?

Nope, The Monkees – especially those first four albums or so – made good music. Fifty-years-later-good music. Take that, non-believers.

First-quarter report to the readers

Author and Atomic Duck

A few days after the first of the year, I posted “My 5 goals for 2017.” How’s that going for me, three months into this latest 12-month adventure? Continue reading First-quarter report to the readers

10 albums that left a lasting impact on teen w.p.

There is a thing going around Facebook: List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a teenager but only one per band/artist. Don’t take too long and don’t think too hard.

OK, I can do that, although I almost forgot I was still a teenager the first year and a half of college; otherwise I was drawing a blank. Probably thinking too hard.

In the order they occurred to me, not a ranking:

1. Sgt. Pepper – Beatles
2. Ladies of the Canyon – Joni Mitchell
3. On the Threshold of a Dream – Moody Blues
4. Bayou Country – Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. Lazarus – Lazarus
6. Cellophane Symphony – Tommy James & the Shondells
7. Headquarters – The Monkees
8. Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
9. Judee Sill – Judee Sill
10. Kongos – John Kongos

And of all those albums, the track that started buzzing through my head as I compiled the list was this one. I bought the album based solely on the radio play of “Proud Mary” at that moment in time plus a magazine article I’d read with John Fogerty describing their musical mission. By the end of this first track I was a diehard fan.

I should go through the list and do a post on some of those more obscure titles. Got any favorites from your own teenage years?

78 revolutions per minute: the podcast

78 revolutions per minute

“You say you want a revolution? Well, you know … I’ve got 78 of them – every minute.”

UWA Productions is pleased to announce that production has begun on “Uncle Warren’s 78 Revolutions Per Minute,” a new weekly half-hour podcast that will make its debut later this month.

Everything on the podcast is played at 78 revolutions per minute, originally appeared on 78 rpm records, or happened when 78 was the standard, roughly 1900 to 1960.

Your humble host, “Uncle Warren” Bluhm, produced his first podcast in 2006, a serialization of his novel “The Imaginary Bomb.” Shortly thereafter he launched “Uncle Warren’s Attic,” a whimsical and eclectic journey through pop culture via his extensive aural stash that ran for 80 episodes from Sept. 20, 2006, through Nov. 30, 2012.

He also hosted 150 episodes of Ikthuscast, a 15-minute celebration of independent Christian music, from June 2007 to January 2010.

“Each song in the new podcast comes with a vignette that makes it real – news of the day when it was recorded, a little info about the artist, and why the song means something to me personally,” said Uncle Warren, a little embarrassed to be writing about himself in the third person.

The podcast is sponsored by Warren Bluhm, author of books like The Imaginary Revolution, Refuse to be Afraid and the Myke Phoenix series of superhero stories.

“The books aren’t really about the podcast except that I wrote it all, so if you like the podcast, maybe you’d like the books,” he said.

Uncle Warren’s 78 Revolutions Per Minute is patterned loosely on the 30th episode of Uncle Warren’s Attic, which was downloaded more than any other, so you can access a “pilot episode” of the new podcast at this link. Links to all 80 episodes of Uncle Warren’s Attic can be found by clicking the link above that says “Uncle Warren’s Attic,” or just by clicking this link here.

Watch this space for further announcements about Uncle Warren’s 78 Revolutions Per Minute.

The future in our past

78 revolutions per minute

“Get out of the way!” he shouted. “Coming through!”

He was carrying a box of something that obviously was heavy, but he had managed to build his momentum into a little bit of a run. If he stopped he would have to build that momentum up all over again.

I got out of the way.

I could see in his eyes that the kitchen table in the break room was his ultimate goal. Just – a – few – more – feet, said his heaving breaths and his red face and the heavy way he was walking, carrying, staggering to the table.

And finally he was there and he released the box, as gingerly as he could, onto the table. Which is to say he dropped it that last two or three inches with a clatter.

“What you got there?” I asked.

He turned and looked at me with an expression of triumph unlike any expression his face had ever worn.

“It’s our future,” he said, “in our past.”

I pondered this as I watched him peel back the flaps of the cardboard books and look inside.

Books. No wonder he had been struggling. The box was filled with – no, not just books, because the second thing he pulled out was a record album – an old-fashioned record album made of envelopes bound together, each of them holding one, heavy, fragile 78 rpm slab.

And no, not just books and records, because now he hauled out a reel-to-reel tape machine, a chunky, bulky, electronic marvel that threaded sounds from long ago into the air with flaps and hums and creaks.

“What’s all this old stuff?” I asked, a little skeptically but entranced by the faded colors and the quiet dusty aromas of long gone ventures.

“It’s our future in our past,” he repeated.

He picked up the first book, an ominously thick tome with a dust jacket that bled Nazi red. “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

“Here is the politics of next week, explaining how people who think they know what the country needs will con and coerce other people who don’t know and don’t care what a bunch of power grabbers want to do, as long as they’re left mostly alone and have enough food to last the week and the trains run on time and the roads are paved.”

He handed me the record album.

“Here are songs from 80 years ago,” he said in awe. “People got up one morning – or eight mornings, maybe they recorded these on different days – but they got up and looked out at a sunny day or a rainy day, maybe they got passed by a fire engine on its way to a house fire or maybe nothing special happened that morning, but they walked into a room and performed a song, and if I put this slab on a turntable and lay a stylus on it and turn up the volume, they’re still performing the song, still swinging or crooning or bouncing or whatever it was they were doing that day, that moment, those immortal three minutes that were captured on wax, even though the bones of everyone in that room that day are resting their eternal rest.”

He hauled out the reel-to-reel recorder and clapped it on the table, then pulled out a square box, which he opened to display a round plastic disk – two disks 7 millimeters apart, actually, with recording tape tightly wound between them.

“Here is how those sounds were preserved,” he said, and then, dropping his voice to a dramatic stage whisper, added, “It still works.”

It dawned on me.

“This is our future, in our past,” I said.

“Yes. We can record whatever we want.”

Anxiety and fear and excitement and a joy beyond thinking mixed with something that was almost terror.

“What could we record?”

“Anything.”

“How do we choose?”

“We don’t have to choose. There’s plenty of recording tape where this came from, and plenty of paper and ink, and if those ever run out – well, I don’t think they’ll ever run out.”

“Wait.”

“Why?”

“I don’t – I just don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?” He patted the box. “It’s all here.”

“I want to listen to the records. I want to read the books.”

“OK. Listen to the records and read the books. That’s why I brought them here in the first place.”

“Do we have time to do that?”

“You’re breathing, ain’t ya? Got any place to go?”

“Not for a few minutes.”

“Well then, you have time to do that.”

“I don’t know. I –”

“Listen,” he said, reaching into the box and pulling something out. “You can stand there telling me you don’t have time to do something, or you can pick something and do it. You have the time. You’re just stuck in a rabbit hole not making up your mind. Make up your mind – no, you know what? Don’t even make up your mind, get out of the way and START DOING SOMETHING. In a hundred years no one will care which one it was, they’ll just know that you picked one and wrote this one down or recorded that song or whatever it was that you do today, and they pull it out of a box and take a look and say, ‘Wow, you know what this is? This is our future in our past.’”

I picked up another book. “Dandelion Wine,” by Ray Bradbury.

“He died not long ago, didn’t he?”

“No. He didn’t,” he said. “Look inside.”

I started reading and it was the summer of 1928 and a small town full of people was alive and well and tut-tutting about little boys running about and driving an amazing car and finding time machines disguised as feisty old men.

“He’s alive,” I whispered, and then repeated in a shout, “He’s alive!” marveling, shocked but not shocked, revelating.

“The future in our past,” he said emphatically. “Preserved in amber – no, not in amber, because amber holds its captive in place forever. The words reverberate in your head all over again, in a different way than they reverberate in mine, and the music in those records will hit your brain and your emotions differently than they hit mine, but they’ll still be there, the boy running across a 1928 field and the jazz musicians playing their hearts out. It’s all there preserved in time, still speaking, still making music, still warning us about what went wrong with Germany, still sharing the excitement of being a kid, still joyful, mournful, pleading, whatever the music was being that day that will live forever in its fleeting everyday uniqueness – nothing special about that day except the three minutes that will live forever because someone decided to keep it safe.”

I looked into the box of old stuff and saw eternity. I saw dusty old stuff faded with age and in my mind I saw it new, the black plastic shining in the sun, the album pages crisp and sturdy, the pages white, the record labels bright and colorful, and I saw the future. I wanted to share what he had found and given to me.

It was time to do something. I reach in, picked one up, and ran with it.

“Get out of my way,” I whispered, running with all my might.

(written June 6, 2016, on the 10th anniversary of my mother’s passing.)