If anyone has a deeper connection, feel free to share your thoughts on Pete Seeger, who died today at 94. I’ve never been a folkie, but I thought he was cool—for a folkie and way beyond. Reading about him this morning I was reminded of a third song my dad loved: “If I Had a Hammer.” Carpentry was my dad’s passion. It was his force for good. He’d play me that song and prompt me to sing along. It was nice. There’s another nice member I can carry with me from that man. Thanks, Pete.
I had an unfortunate experience on Monday morning. I’m sure it was exacerbated by driving to work in heavy traffic, and thanks to Daylight Savings, right into the sun. I was tired, I was cranky. And I made the mistake of listening to The Lumineers. A colleague lent it to me, and stupid me, trying to be open-minded about new music these days, decided to give it a listen.
I made it through about two thirds of the album before switching it off. I had to put on the Mamas and the Papas to get the bad sound out of my ears (tangent: “Shooting Star” is such a goofy and weird track that it always puts me in a good mood).
But back to The Lumineers. This band is the epitome of many things I am hating about a current trend in popular music. What is that plinky-plonky sound? Oh, it’s the arrangement of multiple acoustic instruments. What is that echo? Perhaps it’s to make us think that that wash tub bass is being played and recorded in a barn. What is that horrible whining sound? Yessirree folks, it’s the nasally, earnest voice of the lead singer.
And then I looked at a video:
You don’t want to hear their cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).”
Monday evening, Mr. Royale listened to my rant and came up with an interesting analogy: The Lumineers are like Haircut One Hundred. Instead of artfully-draped sweaters, we have suspenders. No more classic haircuts; we’ve moved on to facial scruff. Created for style; substance is of limited value. The recipe has been changed up, but the intent is the same.
But my question to you is How did we get here? Why is faux folk played on acoustic instruments by bands most likely from an urban hub so popular now? Is this Retro Retromania? Don’t tell me that Fleet Foxes started it. Say what you like about their beards, but those bad boys can sing. Was the start of this evil trend Arcade Fire, the band that tried to temper their bombast by telling everyone that at least the recording was made in an old church? I really liked that first album of theirs, but I’m guessing that if I listened to it now, I might feel differently. Help me, and please explain what happened.
And you can not tell me the answer is menopause.
Well, our latest Mystery Date sure did have a deep voice, didn’t he, like he was singing from beneath the sea? The song was “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry,” performed by Fred Neil, who is thought of by pipe-tamping music lovers as a “Bleeker Street folkie” and who most of us young rock nerds learned after the fact was actually the author of lauded songwriter Harry Nilsson‘s biggest hit record, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the theme to Midnight Cowboy. This number is from a collection of sides he cut from 1957-1961.
I didn’t learn until today that he was a Brill Building songwriter at this point, having written Roy Orbison‘s “Candy Man” among other songs for Orbison and Buddy Holly. Funny the stuff we learn along the way.
In my mid-20s, after learning a little bit about who Neil was, I would also forever associate him with one of the only Tim Buckley song I’ve been known to identify and enjoy, “Dolphins.” That’s one of those songs I believe a lof of Serious, Young, Genre-Spanning Artists have tackled. Here’s Buckley performing it on English TV, which I can only hope will inspire our recently dormant friend Happiness Stan to chime in with a story relating this song to one of his old girlfriends. I’m also hopeful that the likes of the Hall’s Deep Thinkers and Relative Folk-Bluesologists—dr john, mwall, dbuskirk, and even The Great 48 via his ’60s folk-scene bred wife—step forth with some insights into this artist and suggestions for songs to investigate that are as interesting as the 2 I know.
Neil was serious about these dolphins. Sometime in the early ’70s, the already reclusive Cleveland-born, St. Petersburg, FL-raised songwriter would turn his attention to preserving dolphins. The mind reels at what kind of music they made together?