Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My College of Santa Fe Tribute Mixtape

So, some background: I went to college at the College of Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was there from 1993-1997. I have extremely fond memories of my college experience, even though a great many of them are tinged with remnants of regret (I have been on a path for a long time towards learning how not to regret...I would argue that all the missteps in my life more than likely led me to all the good things I have now. And I have some really good things in my life at this point). Why a tribute mixtape to my alma mater at this time? Because my college is in danger of shutting down, completely. CSF is in such financial trouble that if the New Mexcio state legislature doesn't approve a bill to purchase the institution, it will go under. This semester will be the LAST ONE. So I wanted to put something out there that somehow paid respect to the place where I spent four extremely formative years. It's a 4-sided mix, with a side for each year of school. I also only put songs on it that I associate with an experience that occurred on campus; in other words, since I'll always be able to go back and visit Santa Fe itself, no songs that remind me of various locales in the city were allowed in. So here's the track listing:

Side 1 (Freshman Year)


Side 2 (Sophomore Year)


Side 3 (Junior Year)


Side 4 (Senior Year)


Freshman Year:
ONE LONG PAIR OF EYES: I could start a lot of mixtapes with this song. It was a really significant song for me for a number of years. The first week I was in Santa Fe was orientation week for freshmen. No classes, just orientation events and hanging out. I hung out with almost no one that week that I stayed friends with. There was a girl named Jennifer that I spent a lot of time with that week, and subjected her to a number of forced listening of songs in my dorm room. This was one of them.

WHIP IT: Later that week (or the next week maybe) was the first student government-sponsored dance party thing. I went and got funky. The DJ was pretty 80's-focused, and I remember this song being played. I also remember feeling like all the girls in the room that I'd want to date appeared to somehow already be dating people. WTF?

SYNCRHONICITY II: There was a tiny little used record shop around the corner from campus freshman year, so tiny it was just a room in the back of a used book shop. He always had some good stuff, though. I decided I wanted to start buying vinyl again, even though I didn't have a functioning turntable at the time. Syncrhonicity by The Police was one of my first few purchases. I wound up using the turntables in the basement of the library to listen to it.

WALK DON'T RUN: The California Guitar Trio came and did a workshop and concert for the music department that year. They were one of the few performers whose CD and concert were equally good. I remember hearing them play this at the show in the Weckesser Studio Theatre.

REBA: I had a big paper due at the end of first semester in my "Act of Listening" class where I was supposed to analyze 20 minutes or so of music from every angle possible. I chose "Reba" by Phish and "Jig-Saw Puzzle" by the Rolling Stones. I played those songs over and over and over again...drove my roommate crazy.


BESAME MUCHO: My friend Tom was a pretty big Beatles bootleg collector. For Christmas that year, he was kind enough to make me some compilations of some of the most notable material he had accumulated. After I listened to this track with him, we would periodically and randomly say "Cha Cha BOOM!" to each other.

SATELLITE: I was in a long distance relationship with a girl for a good chunk of freshman year (for clarity's sake, I will tell you that the relationship solidified AFTER that first dance I mentioned earlier, so I was not scoping out other women while claiming devotion to my long distance girlfriend). Our relationship ended in February after she sent me a break-up letter. I remember, for some reason, that this song was what I needed to hear after reading that letter. I strapped on my walkman, threw this in, and proceeded to walk across campus to the record store just beyond the edge of campus. It really was just right.

WHERE KNOCK IS OPEN WIDE: My friend Brian Williams introduced me to His Name Is Alive, and Brian also chose to learn this song for his voice lessons that he took second semester. He then asked me if I would accompany him on guitar when he performed it at music forum.

LOSER: This song was everywhere by the time school was starting to end. I remember listening to it in my dorm room, and I remember watching the video on MTV in the lounge.

Sophomore Year:
I CAN'T PUT MY FINGER ON IT: Ween released their Chocolate & Cheese album at the beginning of my sophomore year--it came out the same day as Monster by R.E.M. I played this record, and this song, constantly, and put it on, like, three different mixtapes I made that fall. It simply was an essential song for me at the time.

BLUE DRESS: I put this one on one of those fall of '94 mixtapes, too, and I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room making that very tape, late at night, after my new girlfriend had gone to bed. The tumultuous path of the next 4 years of my life had begun.

SATAN GAVE ME A TACO: My memory of this song isn't of listening to it, but of singing it, LOUDLY, as I came of the stairs of the dorm one day after class. My friend Eric was in his room down the hall, and I could hear him start laughing as I completed the line "opened up a taco stand just to smell the smell".

MILES RUNS THE VOODOO DOWN: I was not quite able to put these songs in the exact sequential order of the memories I associate them with...I remember listening to this song in the basement of the library, taking a break from attempting to flirt with one of the students who worked there (this was all before I started dating the girl mentioned in the "Blue Dress" entry). I figured if I listened to something lengthy, I would be able to occupy myself long enough for my nerves to calm down a bit.

LET'S MAKE THE WATER TURN BLACK: This song and the album it came from (We're Only In It For the Money) signified the beginning of my Zappa obsession. I played this album in my dorm room so many times.

NO ONE KNOWS MY PLAN: I started to assemble a much better stereo system around the middle of my sophomore year, and brought some components back to school with me after Christmas break. I told my friend Phil to come by my room and listen, and this is the song I used to demonstrate the stereo.

ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN: Another library song. I remember listening to it as I walked out of the library after having checked email (that was the first year that we had email, 1994-1995).

SIGN O' THE TIMES: I could make a college soundtrack mixtape that consists of mostly Frank Zappa and Prince songs. That being said, I put the intro to this one on my answering machine for part of sophomore year. I remember my teacher Kevin calling and leaving a message that said something like, "It's good to hear that groove this early in the morning."

LIFE AND HOW TO LIVE IT: Again the sequencing gets screwy, but I put this on a mixtape for my friend Renee's roommate at the beginning of the year (we traded). I can't remember her name, but I remember Brian (who was dating Renee) heard the tape in their room and commented on what a great song this was.

Junior Year:
PROFESSOR NUTBUTTER'S HOUSE OF TREATS: I listened to this album a couple of times the day that I moved into the dorm junior year. Things were awkward with the aforementioned girlfriend after having been apart for the summer. The tumultuous path was about to get really tumultuous.

BELL BOTTOM BLUES: Said girlfriend hadn't actually broken up with me, but it felt like she had. I put this on a mixtape with some other songs of misery and listened to them constantly for weeks. I remember being in one of the larger music classrooms waiting for class to start with this in my headphones.

FREEDOM ROCK: I had kept my summer job at Mervyn's as first semester started. I had to be there at 6:30 am on Fridays. I recall driving along the row of dorms on campus in my car listening to this, about to exit on to the street and go to work.

BEGINNING OF THE HEARTBREAK/DON'T DON'T: This was written and recorded by one of my professors, almost 20 years before he came to teach at CSF. He played this recording of it in forum class as a quasi-introduction to his musical past. I latched on to this one...It is well worth checking out if you like late 70's/early 80's quasi club dance stuff. The title pretty much summed up the entire year romantically for me as well.

THE INFERNAL DANCE OF KING KASCHEI: This is from The Firebird Suite, which I did a paper on that year. I also used the melody from this for a 3/4 time conducting exercise in conducting class.

DESERT SEARCH FOR TECHNO ALLAH: No record better exemplifies the scrambled, twisted state of my emotions in the spring of 1996 better than Disco Volante by Mr. Bungle. I brought this track into my Music & Computers class because I was intrigued by the mix of electronic and organic elements.

WATERMELON IN EASTER HAY: By the time junior year ended, I was spent emotionally. I bought the Joe's Garage album about a week before school ended, and spent the better part of two days putting it on in my free moments until I got all the way through. I was about to go to the music department awards party, and I heard this for the first time in my room, windows open, lovely Santa Fe spring air pouring in. Up until then, I had never been so torn up emotionally and yet been so thrilled with the weather (pssh). This song can be emotionally devastating, but it can also be incredibly uplifting. It would prove to be both for me over time.

Senior Year:
RE-GYPTIAN STRUT: This is Phil and me, in my room again. I had just bought this CD, and he was there with me for the maiden voyage. He seemed almost as blown away as me.

UNSUPERVISED, I HIT MY HEAD: This is Eric and me, also in my room (it should be noted that I lived in the same dorm room for all four years of college, so when I say "my room", I really mean "MY room". They should have named it after me). It was one of the last times that we shared music with each other before my dumb ass chose my now on-again girlfriend over his friendship. Granted, it shouldn't have come to that, but this is one of the things that I am trying to learn how to NOT regret. The "Now I'm left handed" line was Eric's favorite.

DINOSAUR: I listened to King Crimson's Thrak a LOT first semester, in various locales around campus; the music building, out and about walking, my car in the parking lot, etc.

LORD ONLY KNOWS: The first week I was back at school, there was a barbecue on the quad and I played an acoustic set. Odelay had just come out a few months before. Ben Callan, who was running sound, asked if there was any particular song I wanted played over the P.A. right before my set, and I chose this one.

BEST IMITATION OF MYSELF: I had a dream where I was in a band performing this song at forum class, and that my friend Christina was singing it. I then attempted to learn how to play it on the piano (the crappy little upright in the student union building) so we could all perform it together, but to no avail.

MOST OF THE TIME: occurs to me now that this was a sophomore year song that somehow wound up in the senior year pile. That's okay. I remember hearing it in my teacher Kevin's studio, while he was giving me composition lessons. He was using it as a good songwriting example. Boy was he right.

IT'S TRICKY: My friend Jared aka Lord Chain and I rocked this in forum class with a few other guys from the music department backing us up. It was the first time I rapped publicly...I think we all know it wasn't the last.

ELLA GURU: My Music & Aesthetics class I took my senior year was one of my favorite courses throughout all of college. One of the lectures covered people like Zappa and Beefheart...I distinctly remember listening to the first four tracks from Trout Mask Replica in class and feeling so much cooler than everyone else because I already OWNED that record.

BORN SLIPPY: The last two tracks on this mixtape, to me, are very much bookends to my senior year of college. This one is another flashback to the beginning of the year, when I felt so optimistic and excited about whatever was to come, whether it be musically, socially, romantically, etc. If you've seen "Trainspotting" (that soundtrack was how I acquired this song), you know that this song plays over the last scene, after the heroin deal goes through and Renton makes off with all the money, presumably to start his life over and do all the things he's always wanted to do. The feeling I had during that sequence of the film was how the entire first month of senior year felt...There were a lot of moments during that month that I just couldn't wait to get back to my room and listen to songs like this.

FAKE PLASTIC TREES: By the end, though, I felt kind of lost. My senior concert had been a success, and it did lead to getting my first job (in the music industry no less), but I grew to hate that job, and felt completely trapped in the relationship I was in. The kind of hopeless melancholy that this song conveys so effectively slowly became my entire world. At the same time, I don't think I ever completely lost hope, the same way that I feel like this song doesn't.

I didn't really mean to end that on a downer...I feel like that is truly where college ended, though. Like I said before, I wouldn't trade my CSF experience for anything. The thought that the school simply won't be there anymore greatly saddens me. Let this mixtape be a testament to the fact that CSF changed and shaped lives, namely mine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Frank Zappa-Lumpy Money (Review)

So, I received in the mail today my copy of Lumpy Money, the latest archival Frank Zappa release. The Zappa family has been busy the last few years pumping out all sorts of goodness from the Zappa vault...In case you don't know, the man produced an obscene amount of music in his lifetime, and only a portion of it got released. That said, the released portion filled up somewhere between 50 and 60 albums. Yeah, I know. I used to own ALL OF THEM, until I finally arrived at the point where I felt okay about selling off a few of the ones I didn't listen to much.

Lumpy Money is #2 in what the Zappa Family Trust (which will be referred to as the ZFT from now on) is calling the "project/object" series. "Project/object" was/is Zappa's short description of the idea that all his work should be seen not only as individual albums, but as one quasi-organic whole. Each album or whatever is a "project", but it is also a part of the larger "object". This was related to his idea of "conceptual continuity", the idea that there were themes in his body of work that, no matter how odd or random, united it. Lumpy Money is a 3-disc set of material related to the Lumpy Gravy and We're Only In It For the Money albums from 1968 (the first volume of the "project/object" series focused exclusively on the Freak Out! album). These two albums are two of the most highly revered in Zappa's catalogue, and are favorites of those who think his 1960s work with the original Mothers of Invention band was his only "good" stuff. They were recorded in rapid succession in 1967, and share some of the same musical and thematic material.

That being said, these records are hardly easy listening, and quite possibly much more difficult to digest than, say, certain 1970s albums like Apostrophe' or Over-nite Sensation. There's rock music here, yes, but there's also extremely difficult orchestral music, large portions of surreal dialogue spoken by people sitting inside a grand piano (no, I'm not kidding), and musique concrete (music created by manipulating previously recorded sounds on magnetic tape). Also, all of the material within this release differs from that contained on the currently available CD versions of both albums.

I became obsessed with these records somewhere around my sophomore year of college. I was starting another membership with the Columbia House CD club, I think, and was looking for additional titles to fill out my initial 12 selections, or something. At that point, the two albums were available on a single CD (they're both quite short, each coming in around the 35 minute mark). My college-level musical education was just starting to blow some doors open, and these two records really appealed to my growing ears. Suffice to say, these records have a special place in my heart. I was really quite thrilled to discover that they were going to be the subject of a "project/object" release.

Disc 1 contains a really nice mono mix of the original version of Money, previously unavailable on CD at all. It also contains Lumpy Gravy (Primordial), a previously unreleased 22-minute suite of most of the orchestral music recorded for the Lumpy Gravy album. Evidently, at one point, the music was intended to exist in that form...what eventually wound up being released is remarkably different. Disc 2 is where things get a little tricky; it contains the version of Money originally released on CD in 1986 (the one that the disc I bought in 1994 contained). What's important to note about this version is that Zappa, before initially releasing this material on CD, re-recorded all the rhythm tracks (drums, bass, and a number of the keyboard parts, I think). He brought in the players from his band at the time (Chad Wackerman, drums, and Scott Thunes, bass; perhaps the most stiff-yet-accurate rhythm section of all time) and re-tracked every single drum and bass part on the whole record. I'm sure it was a pain-staking process...listening to the original version, it's clear that not all the tempos were 100% steady, etc. Another detail worthy of note about this version is that it contains an extra portion of the song "Mother People" that had originally been censored by MGM, Zappa's record label at the time. The version of Money with the re-recorded rhythm tracks is the only place you can hear that portion in context. Unbeknownst to me until now, he gave Gravy the SAME TREATMENT at the time, but never released it. That version of Gravy is here also on disc 2, with Wackerman playing drums behind dialogue that was unaccompanied on the original, and Ike Willis and Bobby Martin singing a heretofore unheard vocal chorus during the first few minutes of the album. It's a little bewildering why he chose to do such a thing at all (can you imagine Paul McCartney deciding to go back and re-record all the bass and drum tracks on Rubber Soul or something like that?). Many Zappa fans were shocked and offended at the time that he would tamper with records previously recognized as masterpieces. However, since THAT version of Money was the first one I ever heard, there are some tracks on it that I prefer to the originals. The bizarre part to me is that this controversial element is not mentioned ONCE in the liner notes...Wackerman, Thunes, etc. are not credited anywhere in the package (of course, neither are any of the original Mothers). It's an odd thing to overlook. Maybe the ZFT decided it would rather ignore the issue.

There is an aspect to the whole "project/object" idea that poses a bit of a dilemma for me. Part of the "project/object" concept for Zappa was the idea that you could take any of his records and kind of chop them up into pieces, mix them all up in a different order, and it would still sound like part of the same whole. His music almost rewards such behavior...My Zappa playlist in my iPod kicks my ass even more on shuffle. At the same time, his album construction was many times quite meticulous...these two records are especially assembled in quite a delicate fashion. Still, he was guilty several times of taking music that had already been formatted into a particular album or albums, and reformatting it into a different record altogether. The Lather album is a great example of the "project/object", "conceptual continuity" ethos. It was originally intended to be a 4-LP set, and contained music spanning a 6-7 year period. Warner Brothers refused to release it, and Zappa reluctantly reformatted most of the material into four separate albums that he released later (it was finally released in its original intended format on CD in 1996). The liner notes state that it is a great opportunity to watch "the conceptual continuity get down with its bad self", in that much of the music (and the themes contained within it) resonate differently in the context of Lather than it did in its eventual destination. This happens when I throw my Zappa playlist on shuffle, too...I hear the songs differently, experience things deeper, whatever. The irony about the Lumpy Money 3-CD set is that I think that sitting down and listening to it all the way through has a bit of the opposite effect. It's such a navel-gazing, narrowly focused exercise, what with hearing certain songs and themes up to 4-5 times over the course of the record, that it kind of makes it feel like the potential resonance and experience are reduced, worn down from overexposure...

That said, it's a great release. No one can complain anymore about only having a particular version of either album available; there are now three different versions of Money in print on CD (the currently available CD issue, plus the two versions included on this release). In his lifetime, Zappa never expressed any regret about the decision to re-record the rhythm tracks, and up until his death, that was the only version available on CD. It seems justifiable to make sure that version survives...he evidently wanted it to. Plus, the third disc of ephemera related to the album is a revelation. Instrumental mixes of a number of the Money tracks are heard here for the first time, and many of them are glorious in their intricacy and performance (these are the originals, re-recorded tracks here). There is also a 25-minute+ edit of some of the Gravy material entitled "How Did That Get In Here?", prepared by Zappa himself in 1967. Really enjoyable for any fan. Highly recommended.