June 30th marks the end of the fiscal year (job) and the end of the EMACT DASH season (hobby that kinda feels like a job), which means I have spent the better part of the last two weeks – and will spend the majority of the next month – crunching numbers and living inside an Excel spreadsheet, be it at home or the office. My mind totally needs a break, so in response to a frequently asked question (and with apologies to Lynne, who asked for this awhile back), I will now indulge my own self-interests and present a list which you should feel perfectly free to outright ignore.
Those who have performed on stage with me can attest to the fact that once a production hits opening night I indulge in a nasty little habit of becoming completely antisocial for about an hour-and-a-half before the curtain rises. I throw my headphones on, do my best to ignore all other living things (except stage managers – you have my unyielding attention – really), and set about trying to get “ready” to perform, whatever the hell that means. For me it’s usually just a lot of stretching and out-of-shape white-guy yoga. It keeps my body from betraying me on stage and gets my mind sharp for the task ahead. I’ve never had to fight the proverbial “butterflies”, but I do have to fend off the demon known as “loss of focus” and over the years I’ve found this to be the best way to do it. It is while deep in this self-created cocoon that the question invariably comes, “what are you listening to?”.
Back in the days when all I had at my disposal was a CD Discman, the answer to that question was always one particular album that I happened to have latched onto in relation to that show. Sometimes I needed something with high energy, sometimes I needed something moody. Often times my choice had no real relation to the show for anyone outside of me. I used to get ready for “Wait Until Dark” by listening to Tool’s “Lateralus” album and reading Helter Skelter, if that gives you any idea of how completely messed up my head can be. Whatever the choice ended up being, the answer I gave to prying minds was almost always met with a completely underwhelmed, “oh”, before they moved on with their lives.
Then came the iPod. Which begat the concept of the “playlist”. Which means my answer to the question at hand suddenly went from the very specific “I’m listening to the Goo Goo Dolls” to something less so specific like, “just a bunch of random stuff”. Now while this is a perfectly acceptable answer, I’ve come to the realization that humans as a species are inherently nosey and for some reason really want to know the specifics of what I’m listening to, even if they really have no interest in my actual musical tastes. It’s one of those “I want to know because I want to know” kind of things. It’s the same reason people like gossip. It’s not the information we care about, it’s the power of HAVING the information, however irrelevant or useless it may be.
So with that in mind I will now present the playlist from my most recent production of “Almost, Maine”. I don’t imagine this will interest any of you to any great degree, but if you’ve read this far then clearly you’re a big enough idiot that you might as well read a little further. I mean really, you have only yourself to blame.
ALMOST, MAINE – THE PLAYLIST
First, some background. I played multiple roles in this show, most of which were pretty similar to each other and in a lot of ways *very* similar to me. Getting “ready” for this show was not particularly difficult. I also didn’t go on stage until about halfway through the first act, so I didn’t need to have my energy up at the get-go considering I was just gonna sit around for awhile anyway. In prepping the playlist I wanted some stuff that was kind of mellow without being depressing, sort of mid-tempo and relaxed. I ended up falling back on a roots-rock kind of vibe, lots of mid-90’s not-quite-alternative-but-not-really-mainstream stuff. You’ll hear me reference Blues Traveler a bunch of times below even though they don’t actually appear on the list. There’s also a couple of oddballs thrown in there as well, which just goes to show that this was by no means an exact science. But here it is, in case you care.
Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers – “I’m Seventeen”
We open with a mid-paced little wanna-be-blues number written from the perspective of the typical 17-year old who’s seen and knows it all. Tommy Conwell was kind of a cross between the 50’s teen rebel throwbacks of the 80’s (think Social Distortion without the punk snottiness) and a really cleaned up George Thorogood before all the bourbon, scotch and beer. This track actually has Bruce Hornsby playing a tasty little piano on it as well. Considering this came out back when I was 17 going on 18, you can see why it holds a special place in my heart. Enjoy it (and it’s cheesy video) here…
BTW, for those looking for the Thorogood influence, the rest of this album (Guitar Trouble) is a better example. This track is kinda poppy, which is just fine by me.
Catfish Jenkins – “Wishing Time”
Trying to find this puppy online was a bitch and for good reason. This band was a no-hit wonder, which is a shame because this track is bloody brilliant. Kind of a cross between R.E.M. and Blues Traveler, I stumbled upon it thanks to one of those el-cheapo “In-store play” demo CD’s (the version on my iPod even has the post-song voiceover explaining what the hell you just heard). Oddly enough, I didn’t give the song a second thought back when I first got the disc, which means I never bothered to track down a copy of the full length CD (Normaltown). That’s a pity because I’m pretty sure I would have got into it. I could probably pick up a used copy now thanks to the interwebs, but where’s the fun in that. Anyway, once I started downloading every rare and obscure song I owned to my iPod, this one floated to the top. You can hear a small snippet of it here (track 2)…
Vince Gill – “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away”
Yeah, I went through I country phase once upon a time (no shame in that) and while I barely listen to it anymore, there’s still quite a few artists and albums that I revisit with regularity. Vince Gill and his girly-falsetto is one of those artists, which kinda makes no sense because I usually hate vocals like that. Whatever the reason, I really dig this tune and it’s effortless little shuffle. Soak in Vince and his cowboy mullet here…
Diesel – “Tip Of My Tongue”
Mark Lizotte, aka Johnny Diesel, aka just Diesel, was kind of a big deal down in Australia in the mid-90’s (he was actually born in Fall River, MA – go figure) and this song was one of his bigger Aussie hits, reaching #4 on the pop charts there in early ’92. To me it’s pure pop perfection, with just enough guitar to make it palatable to my ears and a catchiness you just can’t fake. One of those songs that always seems to put a smile on my face. His voice kills me too, smooth with just enough worldly rasp to give it credibility. Love the guitar solo too.
And hey look! Another cheesy video…
Poco – “Crazy Love”
We roll back into the late 70’s for this Top 20 hit from the baby Eagles, one of many laidback California country-rock bands that followed in the wake of the Henley/Fry express. I mean really, there’s no denying they were aping that Eagles sound (singer Timothy B. Schmidt actually did time with both bands), although I don’t suppose there’s any need *to* deny it. Good songs are good songs. The harmonies on this song are just gorgeous and it’s no wonder it hit the charts.
The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies – “Hello From Venus”
I actually thought this band would be huge in 1996. They had that country-rock sound that Blues Traveler was having success with down cold. I remember one review I read of their debut which actually said, “this must be what it felt like to hear the Allman Brothers for the first time”, which while perhaps a bit over-stated, is a damn fine compliment. This track actually comes from their second album (Magnolia) and is another in a long line of mid-tempo rockers that I really dig. Nothing important to say and in no big hurry to say it, but with a groove and a passion that is undeniable. Two versions for you, the first a “demo” which sounds pretty much like the album version (if a bit scratchy) and then a live version which again sounds damn close to the studio one.
Jude Cole – “A Place In The Line”
Jude Cole had a couple of minor radio hits in the early 90’s (“Baby, It’s Tonight” hit #5) and was poised for a solid career on the adult contemporary bandwagon when he kind of up and disappeared. To me he bridged the gap between the pop sheen of Richard Marx and the more earthy-crunchy John Mellencamp stuff. Another guy with a great voice that has just enough scratch to it to appeal to me. This track is off his second album (Start The Car) and is one of the few on this playlist that was inspired by the show itself. There was a line in “Almost, Maine” where one character tells another “I hope you find it… you’re place in this world”, and the sentiment was exactly what this song was reaching for. Sadly, the only full version I could find was this ridiculous linedance instructional piece. Try and block out the crazy British lady and enjoy the tune for its brilliance…
John Farnham – “You’re The Voice”
This is one of the this-song-doesn’t-quite-fit-the-theme tracks on my playlist. I wanted something in the middle to pick up the energy a bit and this is one of those admittedly cheesy 80’s numbers that makes me want to run through a brick wall whenever I hear it (or at the very least run for a really long distance). It’s often called the Unofficial National Anthem of Australia (that’s TWO Aussie hits on here!) and it’s such an iconic track down under that Farnham has basically built a career out of it while visiting bands (*cough*Coldplay*cough*) will often play it as a way to suck up to the crowd when they’re touring in Aussieland.
Colin James – “Saviour”
Colin James has had kind of an odd career, starting in the late 80’s as a prettyboy pop guy (think Corey Hart), morphing in a blues guy (the album Bad Habits, from whence this song comes), before later hopping on the big band/swing bandwagon (ala Brian Setzer). All that jumping around probably explains why he never made much of a dent in America, but it hasn’t stopped him from putting out some quality stuff. Bad Habits is a great album, and this song has so much filthy swagger that it’s just crying out to be used in a Quentin Tarantino movie somewhere. If it sounds vaguely familiar, it got used in a car commercial about 5 years ago. It deserves a better fate.
Barbara Kessler – “The Date (Making Mountain Out Of Molehills)”
Another slight departure, as this song is pure singer/songwriter/folk music. Just a woman, her guitar, and her breathtaking voice. Oh yeah, and one of the finest lyrics ever written. It’s a song about a woman who is re-entering the dating scene and what that entails and it’s just so beautifully written that it renders me speechless when I hear it. I first stumbled upon it as a live version on a folk compilation and I ended up picking up her debut album (Stranger To This Land) as a result of loving it so much. I couldn’t find a full version anywhere online, but if you want to sneak an audio peak, go here…
…then do yourself a favor and pick up the Big Times In A Small Town compilation album. Some tremendous other stuff on there.
Big Head Todd & The Monsters – “Bittersweet”
Colorado’s Big Head Todd scored some *very* minor success thanks to this tune, which got some decent airplay around 1993, back when bluesy jam bands like the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler were expanding the boundaries of what was considered “alternative”. This song grabbed me the first time I heard it and I became obsessed with finding out who did it for months. I loved it so much that I almost proposed marriage to a complete stranger who came into Tower Records one night desperate to find a copy of the album (it didn’t hurt that she was cute). Like a lot of the stuff on this list, it’s got a simple pace that kind of lulls people when they first hear it, but the passion of the vocalist really gets me in the latter stages. Man, I *really* love this song.
ThirdEyeBlind – “God Of Wine”
I love songs like this start mellow and then just add intensity as they go along. They’re perfect for lists like this because they get my blood pumping without making me so amped that I need to run around and start hitting people. Lyrically it’s a pretty tragic tale, but that never seems to enter my mind when I listen to it (thankfully). As the list was coming to a close I wanted something to get me a little fueled and for some reason this song came to mind even though it doesn’t quite fit the musical motif that came before it. Whatever. It’s awesome. Dig it.
The Sundays – “Here’s Where The Story End”
While I always had an appreciation for those ethereal-voiced female-led bands of the early 90’s (The Cranberries, Mazzy Star), The Sundays were the one that I just totally fell in love with. Whenever I’m putting together one of these playlists The Sundays invariably wind up with a track on it. This song is probably as close as they came to having a bonafide “hit”, but I could have gone with any number of songs from their three albums. In the end I just thought this made a nice (almost) closer given the lyric and the poppy bounce to the song. It put me in the right mood to go do a show.
Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers – “I’m Seventeen (Part II)”
We close where we opened – sort of. “Part II” is, as you would imagine, a bit of a reprise, with a stripped back arrangement and slightly different lyrics. Other than that it’s basically the same song and I liked the symmetry of beginning and ending the playlist this way. No link because I couldn’t find one, but you already know what it sounds like anyway.
And there you have it. My warm-up playlist from “Almost, Maine”. If you took the time to click through the links, here’s hoping you stumbled upon something you might like. If you bothered to read what I had to say and really listen to the tunes, then I guess you can say you have a little insight into what goes through my mind when I’m prepping to go on stage. I’m not sure what use that will be to you, but that’s for you to decide.
For those of you who have ever asked me what I was listening to, there’s your answer. Now I think I’ll go listen to some Megadeth.