Category Archives: 10000 Maniacs

Today’s Top 5: 1992

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All in all, as I remember it, 1992 was a good year. In the spring, Diane and I flew the friendly skies to Californ-i-a, where we toured Hollywood and Beverly Hills, explored Haight-Asbury and Fisherman’s Wharf, and mined for gold in the hills of Nevada City. (That’s me, in San Francisco, above. I was 26.) And, in the fall, we saw one of my Top 10 Concerts of All Time: 10,000 Maniacs at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-11-03-06-amIn between, and before and after, we saw many good-to-great shows, beginning in January with John Mellencamp at the Philadelphia Spectrum and ending with…well, my memory’s blank. The early ‘90s have blurred together for me, and rather than list an act we may have seen in 1991, ’93 or ’94, I’ll share the certainties: Neil Young at the Tower Theater (from the very last row in the balcony); Bruce Springsteen and the Non-Street Band four times at the Spectrum; Shawn Colvin at the TLA; and Graham Parker with Lucinda Williams at the Trocadero. We also took in Billy Bragg, Nanci Griffith and others at the WXPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend at Penn’s Landing – unlike their mid-summer fetes nowadays, it was free.

Of the uncertainties: the Tin Angel, which is slated to close next month, opened its doors that year; and the Chestnut Cabaret was still open. I’m sure we saw shows at both venues. The Keswick Theater in Glenside was open for business, too, and we definitely saw a show or two there…though who, I can’t say. The Valley Forge Music Fair was another favorite concert stop – provided there was someone we wanted to see, of course. (And we did see Trisha Yearwood there on her Hearts in Armor tour…but that could have been 1993.)

Diane and I, by then, were also in the sandboxed universe of Prodigy.

In the wider world, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in April; riots in L.A. erupted in April after four LAPD officers were acquitted of using excessive force against Rodney King; Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show and Jay Leno was named as his replacement; the siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho helped spark the antigovernment/militia movement that culminated in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing; and Bill Clinton won that fall’s presidential election.

Oh, and there was one other important event this year: Bob Fest!

And, with that, today’s Top 5: My Top Albums of 1992.

1) 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As I mentioned in this Top 5, I pretty much played this, the studio swan song of the 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, nonstop – well, as close to nonstop as possible. It’s everything I love about music: It’s poppy, rocky, bright, light and deep, with melodies that soar and lyrics that, if one listens to them, mean more than most. The juxtaposition of the jangly with the profound is something I adore.

2) R.E.M. – Automatic for the People. Released on October 6th, the same day as Our Time in Eden, this classic offering from R.E.M. is just that – a classic. “Hey, kids, rock ’n’ roll…”

3) Neil Young – Harvest Moon. So, perhaps, my memory is playing tricks with me: Although I remember playing Our Time in Eden nonstop…this low-key classic from Neil Young, released on October 27th, received much attention from me (as did R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, for that matter). Of note, in typical Neil fashion, he toured with the album long before it was released; when we saw him in March, he pretty much played the entire album with just a smattering of past favorites.

4) Lucinda Williams – Sweet Old World. Above, I mentioned having seen Graham Parker and Lucinda in concert this year – one of the more unlikely pairings we’ve witnessed, really. Guitarist Gurf Morlix was with her, and he was just phenomenal; and by the time she and the band left the stage…well, I have no memory of Parker, who was the headliner. Which speaks volumes, given that I remember quite a bit about Lucinda’s set – “Hot Blood,” especially.

5) Suzanne Vega – 99.9F. Up until this point, Suzanne was a somewhat conventional urban folkie. On this album, however, she expanded her straightforward sound to include electronic textures and seductive rhythms. The title song is a masterpiece; and the album is, too.

There were quite a few other solid albums released this year: Juliana Hatfield’s solo debut, Hey Babe; Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch and Lucky Town; Tracy Chapman’s Matters of the Heart; Robert Cray’s I Was Warned; the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On; Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience; Trisha Yearwood’s Hearts in Armor; the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall; Keith Richards’ Main Offender… and another longtime favorite of mine, Neneh Cherry’s jazzy Homebrew. Here’s “Move With Me” from it:

Today’s Top 5: September 1989 (via Spin)

IMG_1132Spin magazine began life in the mid ‘80s basically as a more inclusive Rolling Stone, aiming not for the middle-aged rockers who made up much of RS’s readership, but young ‘uns who could, theoretically at least, be their kids, though they were more apt to be their younger siblings. The focus was college rock (aka, alternative before alternative was thusly named), hip-hop and other newer acts usually ignored by staid Rolling Stone.

In that sense, it was a good magazine. And, yet, I had a love-hate relationship with it, much as I did (and still do) with Rolling Stone. Whereas RS was staid and predictable, Spin sometimes radiated a hipster mentality with all the negative connotations therein. As a result, I usually read it at the newsstand. I brought this issue home, however, because of the cover story (by Jonathan Van Meter) on Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, who’d just released Blind Man’s Zoo. They were, as I’ve written before, one of my favorite groups.

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Van Meter writes: “At 25, Natalie Merchant, in front of her band, 10,000 Maniacs, has become one of the more compelling figures of American pop music. Her big ethnic lips, kicky little hair cut, insinuating alto (which seems to have developed its own not-of-this-hemisphere accent), and whirling dervish-child stage persona have become an obsession for white people everywhere, and caused boy critics, both here and in Britain, to gush. But for all it’s worth, that’s really just icing. What rivets is the band’s music, and even more, the powerful short stories of Natalie’s lyrics.”

IMG_1135In the article, Natalie reflects on her musical heritage: “Because my parents were fans of music,” she says, “there was always music in the house. My grandfather played mandolin, guitar and accordion. He always claimed that back in Italy one of his cousins was a famous opera singer. My other grandmother on my mother’s side claims her grandmother was named Byron and that we’re related to Lord Byron. She’ll swear to it until the day she dies. Byron had an incestuous relationship with his half sister so she always told us we were the bastard children of Byron, and don’t forget it. My grandfather on the other side was Irish and he was a piano tuner and sang in a barbershop quartet. I took piano training for a while, and voice training, but I never really pursued it because it was too intimidating—the teachers and recitals. So I stopped everything, but I kept playing the piano.”

Anyway, onward to today’s 10,000 Maniacs-themed Top 5, with Natalie’s comments on the songs lifted from the article:

IMG_11361) 10,000 Maniacs – “Please Forgive Us.” “I’ve taken upon myself the obligation of making a public plea to Central America for forgiveness for what has been done to their country by all of the money that’s been provided for military aid to rebel groups there. I’m not apologizing to the Sandinistas. I’m apologizing to the people who have been caught in the cross fire, whose lives have been permanently disrupted by the loss of family members. the loss of their homes, the torturing of their children. And all done with our tax dollars. And I just…my heart doesn’t bleed for either side. What I’m concerned about is the people who knew absolutely nothing in that country and just found themselves in the middle of a war zone….”

2) 10,000 Maniacs – “Poison in the Well.” [It] is a very obvious song, especially now, with what’s happening in Alaska. [The Exxon Valdez oil spill.] But It was writing about Hooker Chemical Company in Buffalo and the Southern Love Canal, which everyone looks at as ancient history now. And it’s not ancient history where we live, because it’s still very much in the press. It’s a horrible event. Many people died of cancer. Many women to this day cannot conceive children, cannot stay pregnant.”

3) 10,000 Maniacs – “Eat for Two.” “[It] is about a young woman who doesn’t think being pregnant is her best option right now. But she’s five months along, so I avoid the abortion question, which is something that I really didn’t want to write about in a song. It’s a warning. Because the last verse is ‘Young girls should run and hide instead of risk the game by taking dares with yes.’ She’s saying, ‘Don’t be like me. Look at what a mess I’ve made of my life.’ And now it’s going to be the most public mistake she could ever make. I hope people don’t misinterpret it as a pro-life song.”

4) 10,000 Maniacs – “Hateful Hate.” “[It] is about the situation in [South] Africa and its historical context—what led up to what’s happening there today. There’s this intolerance of the differences between races and cultures that the colonial Europeans express towards—that they were primitive and savage. But this is all tired. Everyone knows what their attitude was.”

5) 10,000 Maniacs – “Trouble Me.” Well, the above four songs are the only ones singled out in the article, but no mention of Blind Man’s Zoo can be complete without this classic song…

 

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Today’s Top 5: Cover Songs

maniacs_stipe_1993There’s something magical when, in concert, an artist covers a song long associated with another act. Some fans hate such moments, I’m sure, wanting instead for another song from the artist’s own catalog; I understand that point. I do. But, for me, such moments offer a glimpse into the artist’s soul in a way their own songs don’t. Maybe they choose the song because they love it; or maybe they choose it because it’s cheesy fun. Either/or is fine by me. Here are five favorites from YouTube, including a few from my own YouTube channel:

1) 10,000 Maniacs with Michael Stipe – “To Sir With Love.” From MTV’s Inaugural Ball in 1993. “To Sir With Love” is just one of those songs for me; it brings back a flood of memories from just about every era of my life. Chief among them: September 17, 1992, when the Maniacs closed their set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night with the Lulu classic; it was sheer magic. This performance with Michael Stipe, on the other hand, is sheer goofy, contagious fun. (This clip also features the song that followed, when Stipe joins in on the Maniacs’ own “Candy Everybody Wants.”)

2) Garland Jeffreys with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards – “Waiting for the Man.” Since Reed’s passing, Garland has paid tribute to his old pal, whom he met in college in the early 1960s, with a cover of this classic Velvet Underground song at just about every show of his I’ve seen. This great performance hails from September 2015 at the Ardmore Music Hall in the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, Pa., where he was part of a round-robin concert with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards.

3) Susanna Hoffs – “When You Walk in the Room.” Susanna’s rhythm section had another commitment, so this November 2012 concert was just her, guitarist Andrew Brassell and a roadie on tambourine/percussion; and, as this song shows, the result was wondrous. She sang a few covers throughout the show, including the Beatles’ “All I Got to Do,” but this spin on the classic Jackie DeShannon song (which was a big hit for the Searchers) was my favorite.

4) Rumer – “American Dove.” This rendition of the Laura Nyro classic hails from Rumer’s first-ever concert in the U.S. in October 2011, at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. We were two of about 50 folks in attendance.

5) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” What’s amazing about this mesmerizing 2010 performance, which hails from French TV show? Everything.

And… one bonus.

Neil Young with Booker T & the MGs – “All Along the Watchtower.” In the early 2000s, Neil hit the road with the legendary Stax group. Their rendition of the Dylan-Hendrix classic is best summarized with three words: Crank it up!