Earticklers, Me’shell Ndegéocello and Morning Becomes Eclectic
Yeah, I know. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. Frankly, I’ve been too busy working and listening to music to take time to commit any thoughts to the screen for the delectation of my small cadre of readers. I do have a small cadre somewhere, don’t I?
There are a few catalysts for this post. The first is the fact that the number of CDs that cover one side of my living room (what my friend Stefanie has, with a knowing nod to Phil Spector, dubbed the “wall of sound”) has increased by something on the order of 100 items since I added Apostle of Hustle’s Folkloric Feel in March. For the record, that number is heavily padded by the 20 Jandek CDs I got in the mail a couple of weeks after returning from Toronto. While there just isn’t enough space to examine every gem in detail, here are some of the highlights: The Decemberists, Her Majesty; M. Ward, Transistor Radio; Tanya Donelly, Whiskey Tango Ghosts; Trembling Blue Stars, The Seven Autumn Flowers; Spoon, Gimme Fiction; Lizz Wright, Dreaming Wide Awake; Don Byron, Ivey-Divey; A.R.Kane, Sixty-Nine; The Russian Futurists, Method of Modern Love and Let’s Get Ready to Crumble; Stars, Heart; Anja Garbarek, Balloon Mood and Smiling and Waving; Tears for Fears, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending and Blonde Redhead, Misery Is a Butterfly. If you were to check the release dates on many of those CDs you would learn that they came from last year or before. As my tastes grow wider and become more accidentally obscure, I just keep connecting dots and discovering other things. So that perpetual game of catch-up I started playing as a teen keeps getting harder….
The second catalyst is the release of something I alluded to in the very first post on this page (from 20 February of last year): Me’shell Ndegéocello’s Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel (while the title is surely a knowing reference to Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels,” I’m not sure why the final “s” was dropped). Having listened to the whole thing only once, I can’t yet say whether I think it’s a winner, but it does have some great moments—among them, the track “Aquarium,” which features Ron Blake on saxophone and Sabina (of Brazilian Girls) on vocals. And, predictably, I love the two tracks where Kenny Garrett appears and reminds me how much I love his special brand of improvisational magic. If the release makes my year-end, best-of list, I guess it will be clear that I came to love more of it.
The third and final catalyst was something I read in the 26 June 2005 New York Times Magazine: a feature on Nic Harcourt, the current host of KCRW’s celebrated radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” While Jaime Wolf, the writer, spends most of the article making a case for how cool Harcourt is, how he functions as a tastemaker for a certain, post-40, largely male audience as well as many people in Hollywood, I got the feeling that she (or perhaps her editors) overdid it, making an exaggerated case that reads well in a magazine but ignores or glosses over crucial issues. She does mention in passing that the show has had two previous hosts, Tom Schnabel and Chris Douridas, but fails to really credit them with having established the program that Harcourt took over after Douridas’s departure for greener (and I mean more lucrative) pastures in 1998. Maybe my grousing here is purely a matter of aging, but I simply don’t dig the show as much as I did in the mid-1990s, when hearing it was much more difficult. (And no, the difficulty of hearing it was not part of the appeal.) While I never knew about the show while Schnabel was the host, Douridas, for one, was surely doing something right—the kind of something that led to his being tapped to be the first host of one of those amazing, one-off shows on PBS: Sessions at West 54th Street (another was the even briefer Alive from Off Center, hosted in the version I saw by Laurie Anderson). That was the kind of show an adult pop/rock/jazz/world listener could love. Or at least this one did. In its first season, the only one that Douridas hosted, I relearned how much I loved Los Lobos and Neil Finn. And it was also where I first heard Beth Orton and Ron Sexsmith. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anointing Douridas, nor am I saying that Harcourt doesn’t produce interesting and varied programming. I am saying that in a world where radio broadcasts are much less localized because of webcasting, it seems a little disingenuous to credit Harcourt alone with igniting interest in a number of new and interesting artists. There are hip DJs and tastemakers in a number of radio “markets.” Enough that no single person—not Harcourt, not Douridas, not even my personal fave Liz Copeland—could be said to be calling the shots. Indeed, if Harcourt was such the man, why did he only hit his stride after he was hired to work at KCRW? Does all the good taste in the world matter when no one has a reason to care about it? Whatever Harcourt’s achievements, it seems clear to me that he is not so singular, that the station and the work of his predecessors have played an important role in getting him to where he is today. Of course, he might have said as much in the different interviews conducted for the article, but those words didn’t make it into print…