Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Missouri loves company

Nestled just a click east of the dead center of our nation, Missouri fulfills it's role as a microcosm of the greatness of America. It shares the Midwestern sensibilities of neighbors like Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, has the bustling metropolis feel in Kansas City and St. Louis reminiscent of neighboring Illinois' Chicago, yet still has roots firmly planted in the southern soil like neighboring Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Seeing the amount of neighborly influence on the culture of Missouri, no wonder it's home to such a diverse and talented music community.

As is customary here in Dancylvania however, we will delay our musical aspirations in favor of more informative pursuits. By informative, I really mean useless and mostly false tales concocted from the modicum of truth found on the pages of Wikipedia.

- Missouri and it's neighbor Tennessee both share borders with eight other states. No state in the union lies adjacent to more. The two are known to get together and mock Kentucky for it's measly SEVEN neighboring states.

- The origin of the name Missouri is mildly complex, and entirely WTF?ly... The state is named for the Missouri river. The river is named for the Siouan tribe of native Americans who's name in the Illinois language of the native Illinois Confederacy was ouemessourita meaning 'those who have dugout canoes'. Correct. The state of Missouri basically means 'those who have dugout canoes'. Word to the wise, Missouri, just tell people your state name has no meaning like Hawai'i does.

- The 'correct' pronunciation of Missouri is somewhat debatable, with some people pronouncing it Mizz-oo-ree, while others pronounce it Mizz-oo-ruh. A thorough study was conducted by dialectologist Donald Max Lance in which he determined that there is no correct way to pronounce Missouri. As a result, from now on Missouri will be pronounced the same way the unpronounceable symbol Prince changed his name to in the 90's was... That is to say, not at all. If you need to make reference to the state, it will now be The State Formerly Known As Missouri. Feel free to pronounce with either the 'ee' ending or the 'uh' ending. I don't care.

- The topography of TSFKA Missouri is as diverse as it's culture, or pronunciation. From plains in the north and west to rolling hills in the middle, all the way to Ozark mountain foothills in the state's southeastern quarter. The southeastern bootheel just to the north of Arkansas is part of the Mississippi embayment, and the lowest, flattest, and wettest part of the state. You cannot define Missouri in simple terms. It is like the wind, and yet, does not blow. Missouri will be putting out it's own perfume in the fall.

- Missouri generally has a humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfa). In other words, it's hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. (OCKerouac climate classification Sameaseverywhereelse)

- Missouri is known as the Show Me State, which just sounds rude. What exactly is it I'm supposed to show you? If I simply TELL you about something is that not good enough? Are you calling me a liar Missouri? I've done nothing but stand up for you all post and now you pull this 'show me' crap? How's about I show you my foot straight up your Cassville?

- Hundreds upon hundreds of famous people were either born in, or once lived in the state of Missouri. Let's just say everyone you have ever heard of at one point or another was a Missourian.

- Marlin Perkins was born in Missouri, and died there too. In between he spent a lot of time at the zoo.

- Long time voice of the Cubs, Harry Caray was born in Cardinal country, St. Louis. I assume this wasn't common knowledge amongst the bleacher bums at Wrigley Field, lest they toss opposing HR balls into the booth rather than back on the field...

- Businessman J. C. Penney was born in Missouri, and has forged a legacy of well priced pants that lasts to this very day.

- Adolphus Busch, known for his beer, was born in Germany but picked Missouri as the home for his brewery. Today Anheuser-Busch is still headquartered in St. Louis, and gets people drunk all over the globe.

- There's more, plenty of them. Like I said, everybody was born, has lived, or will live in Missouri at some point in their lifetime. I have not, but I'm sure my time will come.

- The largest single city in Missouri is Kansas City, located at the western edge of the state, on the Kansas border. The largest metropolitan area in Missouri is the greater St. Louis area located on the state's eastern border. If everyone in Kansas City immediately hopped in their cars and took I70 to St. Louis, the state of Missouri would flip over and crush Illinois. This might sound like a fun practical joke, but once you've flipped over a whole state how do you plan to flip it BACK over so people can get on with their lives? You didn't think that part through did you? Maybe you should remember that your ACTIONS have CONSEQUENCES.

- I'm ashamed of you. Now go to your room.

- The U.S. Census of 2000 found that the population center of the United States is in Phelps County, Missouri. If you just clicked to read the US Census definition of population center, then you're probably thinking about flipping over the whole country. I urge you to remember our talk. You may think it's funny, until you're face down in the Atlantic Ocean...

Enough of this foolishness! I've got things to do and musicians to pick! I don't have time to monkey around with this cockamamie bull-puckey any longer!

The Selections:

Solo Artist- Chuck Berry

Charles Edward Anderson Berry came into this world in 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. He spent the first twenty nine years of his life trying to hold down odd jobs while staying out of trouble with the law. He began dabbling in the guitar as a teen, but needed to make a living, and blues guitarists weren't exactly swimming in riches in the 1940's and early 50's. In 1955 Berry was urged by Muddy Waters to contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Chess tapped Berry to be the face of the new movement away from rhythm & blues and toward rock & roll. In may of 1955 Berry recorded Maybellene, a cover of an old country and western recording by Bob Wills, entitled Ida Red. Chess' impression of Berry's cross over success was spot on. Maybellene sold over a million copies and rocketed Berry onto a career path that continues to this day.

Chuck's stardom didn't help keep him out of trouble. By the end of the 50's Berry had established a string of hits including School Days, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Johnny B. Goode that made him a bonafide superstar. He had also established his own St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry's Club Bandstand. In December 1959, Berry invited a 14-year-old Apache waitress whom he met in Mexico to work as a hat check girl at his club. After being fired from the club, the girl was arrested on a prostitution charge and Berry was arrested under the Mann Act. Berry spent five years in prison convicted more because of the color of his skin than for any actual wrong doing. The Mann act was used to prosecute a number of celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright, sociologist William I. Thomas mostly for inappropriate sexual contact with under aged girls (Though Wright's was for transporting his then wife's daughter across state lines without the knowledge of the girl's father). However; of all the famous faces facing Mann Act charges in the early days of the law, only Rex Ingram , Jack Johnson and Chuck Berry's convictions led to jail time. It was no coincidence that all three were African American.

Despite this racial injustice, Berry returned to recording after his release from prison, and within two years had six more hits on the Billboard top 100 chart including No Particular Place To Go (#10), You Never Can Tell (#14), and Nadine (#23). In the late 60's Berry's selling power diminished, and he became a touring act more than a hit maker. However, a 1972 live issue of Berry's novelty track My Ding-a-Ling became his one and only #1 hit.

In 1979, Chuck found himself in trouble again. This time he plead guilty to tax evasion and spent 4 months in jail. He was later invited the same year to play at the White House at the request of President Jimmy Carter. 1979 also marked the release of Berry's last studio album to date. He continued to tour though, and to this day still played monthly at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis.

Here he is, performing a track that in turn will save Marty McFly's life...

Band- Uncle Tupelo/Wilco

There is a relatively under appreciated sub-genre of alternative rock music who's roots are firmly planted in the St. Louis soil. Beginning in the early part of the 1980's a garage band named The Primitives were trying to make a name for themselves on the St. Louis club circuit. Originally a punk rock outfit, the club goers in early 80's St. Louis didn't want to hear punk acts, so to get gigs they combined their punk rock pacing with a more traditional blues chord progression. Lo and behold, The Primitives, who later changed their name to Uncle Tupelo due to a British band of the same name, along with the discerning audiences in the St. Louis club scene, created Alternative country. Uncle Tupelo's 1990 album No Depression is considered the penultimate example and opening salvo of the alt-country revolution.

Unfortunately, like many pioneering artists, Uncle Tupelo never developed much more than a cult following, and eventually split up after just 4 years of major label activity. Our story does not end here however. UT was a dual-lead group made up of vocals from both Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Farrar went on to form Son Volt, a band most closely resembling the alt-country legacy of the original Tupelo. Tweedy, in a move much more fitting with the alt-genre nature of UT formed Wilco, a band that has changed styles as often as it has members.

Wilco's first post-UT release A.M., remained true to the country rock roots of Tupelo, but from there, Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, and their revolving cohorts have branched out to alt-rock, folk-rock, and experimental music. Part REM, part Sonic Youth and all college-radio Gods, Wilco has cut a swatch across the alternative music landscape with seven albums of this-is-what-you-should-be-listening-to tracks that make the listener feel like part of a movement rather than a passive observer. Upon first hearing their double album Being There I admit I was not a fan. It wasn't until I started getting tired of pretty much everything else coming off of pop-alt radio that I went back and full appreciated what these guys were doing. Wilco is not for the casual listener, it's for the listener who has already heard everything that there is to hear and still wants something more. In that way, Wilco makes you appreciate all other music more, because it's the palate cleanser between a steady diet of similarity.

Here's a track from their 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album rejected by Wilco's first label Reprise and later picked up by Nonesuch Records. YHF has become Wilco's best selling album to date. The even more ironic twist? Reprise and Nonesuch are both subsidiaries of Warner Brothers, who ultimately paid to produce the album under one label, and then paid to purchase it under another. This track is called Heavy Metal Drummer.

Honorable Mention- Burt Bacharach

Have you ever found yourself tapping your toes to a familiar tune you just couldn't place? Drifting away on a smooth melody who's name escaped you? Identifying with an expertly crafted rhyme scheme lyric that makes your heart swoon and ache with the same longing as the singer, even though you're not sure the name of the track? Have you ever found yourself wondering who wrote this exquisite and elusive contemporary classic? It was Burt Bacharach.

Between his early days as a pianist, arranger and bandleader for Marlene Dietrich and his more recent work as a guest vocal coach on the bane of my existence, American Idol, Bacharach crafted seventy top 40 hits in the US, and fifty two in the UK.

Consider for a moment the meaning of those numbers.

One of the most influential recording groups in history, The Velvet Underground, released a total of five studio albums containing forty eight individual songs. Bacharach was responsible for twenty two MORE TOP 40 HITS than The Velvet Underground had SONGS.

At an average of three minutes per song, it would take three and a half HOURS of listening to ingest all of Bacharach's charting singles.

I would post the full list here, but it will make for an awfully long post. You can view all of the tracks on the Wikipedia link, but some of my personal favorites include: Baby It's You, Any Day Now, Wishin' and Hopin', Walk on By, I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself, "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me, What's New Pussycat?, I'll Never Fall in Love Again, and Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head

Thirty years passed between Bacharach and lyracist Hal David's first US hit The Story of My Life recorded by Marty Robbins in 1957 and his most recent chart topper 1987's Love Power by Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne. That doesn't mean Bacharach has stopped by any stretch of the imagination. His most recent work includes collaberations with Ronald Isley, Rufus Wainwright, Dr. Dre, and my personal favorite Elvis Costello releasing the 1998 Painted From Memory album.

Bacharach's life has not been without pain. His daughter Nikki, born to Bacharach's second wife Angie Dickinson and the inspiration for one of Bacharach's more notable instrumental peices, Nikki, was diagnosed with severe Asperger Syndrome, and spend nine years of her young life in a medical treatment center. In January of 2007, Nikki Bacharach could no longer take the fear and confusion brought on by the brain disease and committed suicide to end her suffering. Bacharach has three other children including an adopted son Christopher, from his marriage with Carole Bayer Sager and a son and daughter Oliver and Raleigh from his current marriage to Jane Strauss Hanson.

Here's Burt and Elvis, with This House is Empty Now

Alphabetically, Missouri is the 25th state, and by adding in Washington DC (Under District of Columbia) I am now officially over halfway done with the 50 state strategy. The good news is I didn't think I'd ever actually make it this far. The bad news is now I have to figure out who the hell came from Montana...

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