Thursday, September 18, 2008

John Wendland and I were right here with the thoughts

I like to drive with a CD in the deck, but then check KDHX (FM 88.1 in St. Louis) in between songs to let the producer on air compete with my CD of choice. Sometimes, KDHX steals me away and my CD languishes unheard; sometimes, I get through my disc.

Thursday morning, I didn't let KDHX compete, at first. I knew John Wendland was on the air, and I love me some Memphis to Manchester, but I had an R.E.M. jones. I had driven home from The Stable Wednesday night rocking out to Fables of the Reconstruction, and I woke up wanting to hear my favorite songs off that record again.

That list of favorite songs includes and ends with the record's last song, "Wendell Gee," which ends with those haunting call-and-response vocals of Michael Stipe ("whistle as the wind blows") and Mike Mills ("Go easy, boy"), backed by Peter Buck plucking away on a banjo with a simplicity that befits the simple-minded subject of the song.

End of record. Time to give John Wendland a shot.

He was talking about a local solo gig by Murray Hammond, of The Old 97's. I contemplated going back to my R.E.M. and starting over from the top. My band Eleanor Roosevelt had played with these guys at a Bloodshot Records showcase many years ago. I liked but didn't love them and handn't kept track of their music over the years.

I gave John and Murray a chance. John spun The Old 97's, "In the Satellite Rides a Star." I had never heard if before. It's a sublime country ballad. It also plays perfectly after "Wendell Gee"; John Wendland and I were right there with the thoughts, man.

By now I was parked outside work, but Memphis to Manchester had a hold of me. I'm ready for the next cut. It's a ridiculously gorgeous Bob Dylan cover with a female vocal. I know the song from Blonde on Blonde, but misremember the title as "Obviously Five Believers." It's actually the other number song on that record, "Fourth Time Around" (with the unforgettable line "I never asked for your crutch, now don't ask for mine") and the band covering it is ...

Yo La Tengo? Wow. (I just found it posted on a music blog.)

Now, the day job was going to have to wait for a minute. I was going on a journey with John Wendland. Next, we went on the road with Bob Dylan from 1964, "Motorpsycho Nitemare," a dizzying talking blues, Woody Guthrie on uppers.

John lost me, for a minute, with his namesake John Doe, but my mind was elsewhere anyway(scratching out the idea for the beginning of a novel about a guy who decides, one day, to believe in God; it was quite a drive to work!). Then I was stabbed in the heart and utterly destroyed by a forgotten Warren Zevon ballad, forgotten (that is) by everybody but John Wendland and me, who broke up with my high school sweetheart to this song: "Accidentally Like a Martyr." (Here is a lame version of Dylan himself covering it live in Boston in 2002.)

"We made mad love, sad love, random love and abandoned love."

I remember Monkey calling me one day long after it was all over and saying she still listened to that song on one of our old mixtapes and thought that particular line summed up perfectly what it had been like for us.

My high school sweetheart really was known as Monkey, but that's another story.

"We made mad love, sad love, random love and abandoned love."

Sometimes, it's dangerous to listen to the radio ...


Photo of John from somebody's Twangfest blogpost. His Sept. 18 show will be streaming online for a couple of weeks.

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