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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Murph Listens To What?

First, a confession: I have an artsy-craftsy side. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—after all, I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. You can't really grow up somewhere like Portland without some of its cultural, um, "quirkiness" rubbing off on you. If you’ve seen the new IFC series "Portlandia," you know exactly what I’m talking about (it's a must-see for Oregonians and non-Oregonians alike, in my opinion.) One of my favorite episodes, “Put a Bird On It,“ illustrates that quirk factor to perfection. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.

Anyway, it’s true, I love the arts in all forms. Musically, I was raised on the Beatles. My sister Sue and I used to go down to our basement and lip sync to whatever the newest Beatles record was at the time. She usually got to be Paul, and I would have to settle for Ringo. (Come to think of it, why’d I pick Ringo when John was available?) My love for the Beatles stayed strong through my early teenage years, but then came the 70s with bands such as CCR, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, America, as well as the whole southern rock movement (the Allman Brothers Band, etc.). I was crazy about them all. The late 70s and early 80s probably deserve a separate post altogether (a cautionary tale about the dangers of polyester and disco), as this was the period when my musical tastes really began to expand. Through it all, though, no matter what else caught my ear, I always came back to the Beatles. They were my bread and butter.

Over the years since then, my kids have led me to a wide range of musical styles and artists. These days I really like The Decemberists, The Red River, Kurt Vile, The Raconteurs, Midlake, Local Natives, Band of Horses, Pinback and a long list of others, which brings me to the idea behind this post. A few years ago my son Chad told me that I might like this one particular band—one whose name sounded, to me, more like a brand of refrigerator than a music group. “Wilco,” they were called. He said they had all sorts of 70s soft rock and other classic rock influences going on (“Dad Rock,” in other words). I was intrigued—I fit the fatherly profile after all. He bought me a couple of their albums (Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and I gave them a listen. And with Wilco that’s all it takes—one good listen and you're hooked, end of story. I bought Sky Blue Sky soon after and wore that album out, too. I couldn’t get enough.

Then, in February of 2008, Chad called and invited Nanc and I to Chicago, where he, his wife Mindy, and our first grandchild, Finn, were living at the time (Chad was getting his Master’s degree at the University of Chicago). He said we should try to visit the same week Wilco would be playing the Riviera (it was apparently part of a five night stand and they’d be playing their entire catalogue). How could I say no? I mean, seeing Wilco in their hometown, at a Chicago landmark no less? This seemed like a no-brainer, so we did it. It’s tough to put into words the experience of seeing them live. “Fun” doesn’t really cut it—maybe “electrifying” would be better. Yeah, electrifying. Wow! I’ve been to a few concerts in my day, but nothing like this. Man, Jeff Tweedy—that guy is the real deal. He’s just…a dude, you know? I mean that as a compliment. Not many other creative geniuses seem as stable and down-to-earth as Jeff Tweedy. I realize that a band’s creative output is sometimes enhanced by the frontman’s (or frontwoman’s) eccentricities. And, it’s true, sometimes an off-kilter view of the world can lead to unique and memorable art. I get that. But Jeff Tweedy proves it doesn’t always have to be that way. He has an amazing ability to create music that resonates with a huge range of people without being someone that’s impossible for regular folks to relate to.

To me, Wilco isn’t just a throwback to classic rock; they are classic rock, often doing it even better than those who influenced them in the first place. I can’t really explain this in musical or technical terms, so let me illustrate with an example. I had a business meeting a few days ago, and as I walked in I heard some familiar music playing in the background. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s cool, they’re playing some Wilco.” But then, after a few seconds, I realized it was a Beatles song from Abbey Road. It caught me by surprise—I couldn’t believe how much they sounded like each other. And that gave me an idea.

I decided to make a Wilco-Beatles playlist (Beatco, I called it) on my iPhone. With the meeting about to start, I hurriedly picked out songs from Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour (“Strawberry Fields”), Sgt. Pepper (“Getting Better”) and mixed them in with tracks from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Sky Blue Sky, Summerteeth (“She’s a Jar”), and Wilco, the Album ("Wilco"). I got it together just in time for our lunch break, went out to my car and popped in my newly created Beatco album. That afternoon, on the drive home after the meeting, more Beatco. Running errands later that afternoon—more Beatco. Needless to say, it was amazing. Maybe the best playlist of all time.

A few thoughts hit me during “Heavy Metal Drummer.” They were confirmed after listening again to the “Impossible Germany”-“Polythene Pam”- “You Are My Face”-“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”-“Sky Blue Sky”-“Golden Slumbers”-“Hate It Here”-“Carry That Weight”-“On And On” portion of the playlist. Here’s what I realized, plain as day:

1. Beatco was the album that Abbey Road wishes it was.

2. Jeff Tweedy has the voice Sir Paul wishes he had.

3. Nels Cline is the session guitarist the Beatles should have had. I mean, c’mon, have you heard those solos on Sky Blue Sky? Put him on some Beatles albums and we’d be talking about Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, BB King, Duane Allman, and Nels Cline. And not necessarily in that order.

So there you have it. That’s my Wilco story. “Dad Rock”? Maybe. “More Classic than Most Classic Rock”? Definitely.

28 comments:

  1. Murph, if you like YHFT, buy the making of the album 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.' Started off as a simple documentary, but turned into an awesome story of the band's heart, dedication to their project and the sometimes unfortunate business part of music. JJ

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  2. OK. Murph. Just want to know one thing. Have you seen Episode 4 of Portlandia? And if so, did you see me? Highlight of my career -- a paying acting job in a scene with Kyle McLachlin. Forget about all those Wilson baseball games I covered -- Portlandia was the BEST!
    Great blog... am going to link to your Rose piece on my blog real soon.

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  3. Agreed that Wilco is a great band. Check NPR all songs considered and see the Sasquatch(Washington state) music festival sets. It is from memorial weekend and has a great Wilco set, local natives, head and the heart to name a few. All songs is an awesome music resource in general. Ill try your Beatco playlist.

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  4. First, I love your blog.

    Second, if you like Wilco, check out Rogue Wave. You'll probably like them too.

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  5. Mr. Murphy, you've got some impeccable tastes in music! I listen to pretty much every band you listed above, and Wilco is in my top 5 favorite bands of all time. I've always respected your belief in family, your positive attitude, and of course your baseball career. There is a reason I have been number 3 in all sports. To this day, playing in a 30 and older league here in Denver, I still wear the sacred #3.

    Andrew Merriam (son of Bill)

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  6. Oh, and the main point, that I forgot to write in the previous post, is now I really respect your taste in music as well.

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  7. My favorite baseball player of all time likes the same music as me! WOW! Wilco is a great band, kind of like a gateway drug into all sorts of alt-country. You should really check out the Avett Brothers. Really.

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  8. Could you post the full playlist?

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  9. Great story! Believe it or not, I did the exact same thing with The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Velvet Underground. I called the compilation, "Velvet Jesus."

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  10. With your love of Wilco, you just surpassed Claudell Washington as my favorite Brave of all-time. (that was a joke, Washington couldn't carry your batbag).

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  11. Wow Murph, you went from my childhood idol to my childhood/adulthood idol. It's really depressing how the more that you find out about most of your fav atheletes, the less appealing they become (they mostly just seem like shallow meatheads). Murph is precisely the opposite of that. This just made my day. Check out The National and The Walkmen, Murph.

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  12. Dale, you and Glenn Hubbard were my favorite Braves in the 80's but you just inched ahead with this post. Nicely written!

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  13. Murph, you are still the man. Grew up in the ATL in the 80s. You and Nique were it, period. Didn't care to follow any other athletes. That time you took Gooden deep with a sliced open finger? Amazing. This post? Music to my ears.

    P.S. Thanks for signing a card and sending it to me in the mail all those years ago. Still have it tucked away.

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  14. Stanley Ferris (Atlanta, GA)July 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Murph,

    Excellent post. For my money, Wilco is very simply the best band working in the US right now. Furthermore, you're absolutely right -- as good as their recorded work is, the only way to truly appreciate them is to see them live. And Nels Cline is, indeed, an absolute genius.

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  15. hey Murph - I had the great pleasure of meeting you and the rest of the Braves one day in 1987 when i was about 10. you autographed my glove and one of your baseball cards. i loved sports growing up, and still do, but my true passion came in the form of music a few years later. i'm glad via Wilco to be clued into your blog. it's a bit mind-blowing and yet very humbling that we have a common affection for Kurt Vile, Portlandia, etc. these days i'm a photographer, in addition to still making music, and shooting concerts is something i do on a weekly basis. if only we could get Wilco to have you sing on a song sometime I'd love to capture that! thanks for sharing your thoughts on your blog and hope all is well - my hat is off to you!

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  16. Dale,

    First off, I grew up in the 80's and absolutely worshipped you as a player. Still have your cards from when I was six. Secondly, I couldn't agree more on your opinion of Wilco. I also wanted to put the word out on the Avett Brothers being a huge fan of both bands. Emotionalism may be the best album of the past 5 years in my opinion, but anything by them is well worth the listen. Take care.

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  17. As a diehard Braves and Dale Murphy fan (my son wears #3, not for Ruth but for Murphy), didn't think I could like my childhood idol even more. but then I read that you dig Wilco? There are just the greatest band to come out of the past 15 years or so. Great taste Mr. Murphy.

    p.s. You might want to check out Golden Smog. They have a few albums out. Jeff Tweedy is a member of that band.

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  18. No way Dale. Is this really the same 'Dale' that has a signature inside of my baseball glove? I am looking at that glove right now. This is too amazing. I guess the only way to make my glove more awesome is to put a bird on it. If you have not gotten your hands on some solo Tweedy live shows, do that asap.

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  19. If you like that Beatles/Classic rock sound, you should check out Dr. Dog. Here's one that should appeal to a Wilco fan:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LdSYLh5g_o&feature=BFa&list=AVGxdCwVVULXdKvaeDO6fIO0zKSLaPQR2U&index=41

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  20. Murph! A former colleague from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent me the link. (Remember all those wild sports fronts we did at the Journal for that magical 13-0 start in '82? lol) Wonderful, isn't it, how music connects us all. Have you gone backward from Wilco to Uncle Tupelo? We recommend March 16-20, 1992 which was recorded in Athens and produced by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck. Love to have you post for us as a guest sometime at:
    www.sixstringsanctuary.blogspot.com

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  21. I'd love to see the complete BeatCo tracklisting... how bout it?

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  22. Yes, please post the entire playlist!

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  23. Hey everyone, this is Chad (Dale's son). Beatco playlist has been posted in its entirety! Check the most recent blog post. He's going to try to personally respond to some of your comments shortly.

    Also, if you're interested, at the bottom of the Beatco post you can find some links to the music I've been working on lately (the name of the project is Markarians). Here they are again:

    For a free download of the latest album:

    http://markarians.bandcamp.com/album/ten-means-heaven

    Music video for "Rip Through Sunsets":

    http://vimeo.com/26542032

    Music video for "Strangers II" (complete with Dale Murphy cameo!):

    http://vimeo.com/25932177

    Markarians page on Facebook:

    http://www.facebook.com/markarianstheband

    Thanks folks. Keep the comments coming!

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  24. Wow...love the comments! Thanks everyone!

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  25. Dale wrote, "Nels Cline is the session guitarist the Beatles should have had."

    THRILLED to see some Nels Cline love being spread! I first got into Nels via Mike Watt's brilliant "Contemplating The Engine Room" album and he still blows me away.

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  26. Great blog and great post. I was a big fan back in the 80's as kid growing up in Atlanta. Gotta second the comment about you coming off the bench to pince hit and taking Gooden deep--I was there that night with my little brother.

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  27. No way. I never would have thought you were into music, let alone Wilco, my favourite band since AM came out. I remember you as tall, clean cut, dependable and that you could take the ball out of the park. Can't recall if I ever saw you play in Montreal when we had the Expos. I'm in my mid 50's now and it was the opposite for me where I introduced my daughter to Wilco and we've been going to shows together ever since untill this year when she moved to Toronto to go to school. We have a similar taste in music. Like you, I'm a big Wilco and Decemberists fan and never miss a show. Also enjoy Ryan Adams, Okervill River (not the last album as much), Deerhunter, Jayhawks and lately enjoying the Dawes, Cass Mccombs, Woods, Washed Out, Neon Indian, Yuck, Wild Nothings, Evelyn Friedberger and Canada's Ron Sexsmith, A.C. Newman, New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene and Blue Rodeo. It's funny how I stumbled on your blog today from a link in Wilco's forum. If I'm ever in Portland (it's on my list) and am at a Wilco show, I'll look for you. As long as I'm not sitting behind you as I won't be able to see the stage.

    Howard Oksenberg

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  28. You continue to amaze....I love when my sports and music worlds collide!

    Thank You for Sharing

    John Harrison

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