You surprise me. I expected to spend eight to ten hours convincing myself into selecting Mannheim Steamroller, of whom founder Chip Davis was born. I expected to plumb the depths of musical obscurity to find a once famous one-hit-wonder like Zager and Evans who from straight out of Lincoln brought us the hit In The Year 2525. I expected to apologize for taking Swoosie Kurtz of Omaha or Marg Helgenberger of Fremont who don't sing, but at least you've heard of them. You surprise me, Nebraska, because I didn't have to fudge my way through your great musical history.
More to come on that later. For now, Nebraska deserves the full treatment, which includes assorted tidbits of useless if not hilarious misinformation. From Wikipedia and my own addled brain.
- Nebraska's name derives from it's position in the great plains of the US midwest, and the Platte River which flows through it. It was derived from the Otoe words Ñí Brásge, meaning 'Flat Water'. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.
- In the 1860's, the population of Nebraska boomed due to the federal government offering free land grants to settlers. Makes sense... I can't think of any OTHER reason to flock to Nebraska...
- Arbor Day began in Nebraska, and the National Arbor Day Foundation is still headquartered there, in Nebraska City.
- Yes, there is a National Arbor Day Foundation, and they have a website...
- Nebraska has ninety three counties for less than two million residents. All told, each county in Nebraska on average contains less than twenty thousand people. Nebraska might want to consider some consolidation... We're in a recession after all...
- The Republican River traverses the southern portion of the state of Nebraska. It is known to trample on the rights of citizens, deny the existence of science, refuses to accept or uphold the separation between church and state, and is constantly babbling about how those that do not agree with it are 'Un-American' and 'hate our country'.
- See... it's the REPUBLICAN river... so it does what REPUBLICANS do...
- Nebraska is a triply land locked state, meaning that it does not border an ocean, none of the states it borders border an ocean, and moreover, none of the states THEY border, border an ocean.
- What I'm saying is, Nebraska don't surf...
- Kool-Aid was created in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in the city of Hastings, Nebraska. OH YEAH!
- Nebraska native William Petersen bestowed upon a weary world the Vise-Grip. Before it's 1924 introduction, the mob squeezed info out of stoolies and rats via the much less effective 'salad tongs' technique. Sadly, they would be forced to wait three more years before quenching their post-head-crushing thirst with some ice cold Kool-Aid.
- CliffsNotes, used by thousands of students in lieu of actually reading a book, were invented in Nebraska, although were actually taken from a previously existing Canadian product known as Coles Notes. So the next time somebody gives you crap for using CliffsNotes instead of actually READING some crappy 400 page Dickens time waster, wow them with the knowledge that even Cliff himself took the short cut upon inventing his company. Then gladly accept your F and move on.
SPEAKING of moving on... Time for some musical selections most grand!
Solo Artist: Matthew Sweet
With catchy pop-rock hooks, studio wise lyrics that you can't help but sing in the shower, and a duet performance with venerable West Coast rock icon Lindsay Buckingham, everything about Matthew Sweet screams LA music industry creation. What makes him so much more than the highly entertaining sum of his parts is that the whole thing is 100% natural, and 100% fun.
Sweet is not a product of the LA scene, he's a kid from Lincoln, Nebraska who after bombing around local garage bands moved to Athens Georgia to hit it big in the Athens scene. He collaborated on a recording with REM front man Michael Stipe under the moniker Community Trolls, and worked with Stipe's sister in the band Oh-OK. His connections garnered him an early deal with Columbia records, but couldn't bestow on him any album sales, despite positive reviews from the critics.
Matthew was bounced from Columbia, and landed at A&M, a label that would be bought by Polygram and become hugely influential in the 1990's music scene. Sweet's first album with A&M fared about the same as his Columbia release again appealing more to critics than to the mainstream rock audience.
Poet Robert Frost once said that writing prose poetry was like playing tennis with the net down. Similarly, Matthew Sweet was working the pop-rock industry from an 'innovation first, music second' direction that similar to revolutionary prose poetry of the 50's was like playing pop music 'with the net down'. His 1991 album Girlfriend changed all of that.
Sweet recorded with a new back up band, penning and singing songs that were straight out of the 'this is how you play rock' catalog of the fifties with the lyrical and emotional bent that would become the standard of alt-rock in the 90's. Sweet grabbed his tennis racket, put up the net, and began winning matches. However, Sweet's fear of swimming in the mainstream would keep him on the shores of rock super-stardom. His 1993 followup album Altered Beast again impressed rock critics of notable regard but did not have the pop power of Girlfriend. It seemed as though Sweet wanted to stay on the sidelines, but still wanted to make a living doing what he loved.
My personal opinion is that he struck a chord in 1995 with 100% Fun, combining the darker more personal lyrics of songs like Sick of Myself and Not When I Needed It with undeniably catchy choruses and classic rock riffs. Fun sold well, much like the Girlfriend album earlier in the decade, but true to form Sweet returned to a less-mainstream, more personal sound on 1997's Blue Sky on Mars from which he has not returned.
More recently Sweet has collaborated with Bangles rhythm guitarist-vocalist Susanna Hoffs on a collection of 1960's rock tunes called Under The Covers Vol. I, and continues to release solo albums, most recently 2008's Sunshine Lies.
Here's the Sweet tune that reminded Gen X'ers that it's OK to dance, 1991's Girlfriend.
If this is your first visit to The Dance, welcome, and it's lovely to see you. If it is not, you likely already know that I'm perhaps unhealthily obsessed with the music of the 1990's. I make no apologies for this. It is the decade in which I came of age, and therefore officially 'my music.' Anything recorded between 1988 and 1999 I feel I can officially lay claim to regardless how dated or marginalized it may be today. As such, I respectfully submit 311 as the bandest with the mostest from the great state of Nebraska with no irony or mock intended.
Despite their more recent teeny-bopper following, 311 was at one time on the outside of pop music looking in. A mix of pop-rock, hip-hop, and reggae beats the band's early initial success with 1993's Do You Right was short lived when none of the tracks from their followup album Grassroots managed to chart. Not discouraged by this sophomore slump, their 1995 self-titled album scored three successful singles Don't Stay Home, All Mixed Up, and Down. Since then, the band's next five studio releases have all reached into the top fifteen on the Billboard album charts.
Admittedly I've cooled on 311 since the early days, but I think the change is more in me than it is in them. Still, when I'm looking for a fun time and a little more dance inspired beat, 311, along with So Cal's Sublime always fits the bill. Oddly, like Matthew Sweet, the music of 311 sounds much more LA than it does NE. Just another surprise from the center of the nation.
Here's the 311 song that led me to give them a listen in the first place. I received the cassette in the mail from a local indie radio station operating out of the LA area at the time. The long since defunct Album Alternative FM 101.9. The station only lasted two and a half years, and remains one of the brightest spots in the history of LA area radio. It was, of course, re-formatted to a Spanish language station, and now features the unstoppable radio force that is Piolin...
I digress... Here's 311...
Honorable Mention: Paul Williams
Cursed with a common name, and uncommon looks, Paul Williams isn't exactly a household name, but I'm betting by looking at the picture you're currently thinking to yourself, or saying out loud 'OH... THAT guy...' If you are saying it out loud, and in an otherwise public place, I suggest you immediately start vocalizing ALL your thoughts as loudly as possible until everyone around you is SO uncomfortable they stop staring and make a concentrated effort to ignore you. If someone asks you what's wrong, simply speak LOUDER.
Anyhow... Back to Paul 'Phantom of the Paradise' Williams. Aside from his long acting career including a turn as Swan in Brian De Palma's filmic interpretation of everything groovy about 1974, PW is an acclaimed songwriter, singer, and humanitarian. He is best known by the works of others. Others who perhaps had nicer voices, or prettier faces, but the talent was ALL Paul, much like the plot of his cult classic P of the P.
Paul wrote Three Dog Night's 'Old Fashioned Love Song', penned mega-hits 'Rain Days & Mondays' and 'We've Only Just Begun' for the Carpenters, and was even outshone by a frog-puppet, having been responsible for the Kermit classic 'Rainbow Connection'. Paul Williams has never been bitter though. In fact, he has led what I consider to be the perfect life of fame. He is known enough by true fans to be respected, and well compensated for his work, but remains far enough out of the spot light to still enjoy his anonymity. That is, unless he dons a cowboy hat. Then he's OBVIOUSLY the guy who played Little Enos Burdett in Smokey & The Bandit.
Here's one of Paul's works, and a favorite of The Dance...
Next time we're in a state, the bright light city's gonna set our soul, gonna set our soul on fire... That's right, get all geared up for Nevada... Home of Las Vegas, and Winnemucca!
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