WWUH Homepage

Public Affairs
Guide Articles
Station News
Benefit Concerts
WWUH Records
Contact WWUH
General Links

The University of Hartford

By Kevin O’Toole

Yeah, I know, it’s not much of a title for a music column, but you probably picked this guide up for free anyway, so quit yer complainin’. Besides, it gives me a reason to start using a ratings system (for all those who, like me, prefer a user friendly precis option in their media reviews):

^^^^^= Five chips- The salsa’s great and the chips are eternally refreshed. Dunk at will and repeatedly. Own this.

^^^^ = Four chips- The chips are a wee tad more stale than you would prefer. Enjoy the salsa, though, ‘cause it’s mighty tasty. You might want to own this.

^^^ = Three chips- Salsa’s less than perfectly fresh and the chips are still stale. It adequately mimics the peach salsa experience, but that very special something is missing. Borrow this at least.

^^ = Two chips- It physically resembles chips and salsa, but it ain’t it. Don’t feel bad if you miss hearing this.

^ = One chip- It seems to resemble a food stuff, but who knows what it is anymore? If you must, crane your neck briefly to take notice of this, as you would a car wreck on the highway.

_ = No chips- Better you eat cow chips than this. Avoid this and warn your friends to avoid this. Please.

All set? Good. Now for this month’s reviews.


But first…


(A mental diary of the early days of the post WTC age)

    So I’m wandering around a strip mall on Wednesday, September 12th, in one of those moments when I wonder if I’ve just been too wrapped up in myself to notice the world going to hell.
    And this because the sporting goods store on this mall closed ten minutes early, and I couldn’t get a new backpack to replace my one with the quickly wearing out zipper.
    I stuff it too full anyway. Right now, it has probably three different notebooks, a sketchbook, two trade paperbacks (you know, those larger ones), an address book, a date book, various other sundries and a newspaper with a headline I’d been seeing all day.
    Yup, too full. So, I obsess briefly on how I can simplify my life. One notebook, maybe? Only one paperback? (I remember the pictures of shell-shocked businessmen, covered in dust, debris and ash, still clutching their briefcases…) Maybe I should leave that newspaper at home.
    Yeah, that’s it. I mean, on a personal level, do I really need this? Do I need to be reminded that the horrific, politicized violence of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Northern Ireland are now only a couple of hours down the road? Nah, leave it home. They’ll be playing these images again. Sure. Ignore that feeling that you should hang onto these pictures, in your bag or your mind. Stop telling yourself that you should never forget them.
    Didn’t I see something like this already in "Independence Day?" That movie was fun. Stupid, but fun. Remember the President in that movie, played by Bill Pullman? He was fun to watch as a dimwit in "Ruthless People" about ten years before. Not like reality’s President at all…
    Bill Pullman keeps on getting confused with Bill Paxton. Bill Paxton was the panicky Marine on a hair-trigger in "Aliens," and a cruel, ignorant older brother in "Weird Science." Oh, and he was in that other big "reality" based disaster movie, too, the one that showed us people leaping from the upended bow of the sinking ship…Yup, leave it home.
    It wasn’t a movie. It seemed like a TV show. It messes with my basic sense of security, and is another reminder of how not-in-control we are. How not-in-control we ever were.
    The people who engineered this destruction believed themselves in control, I’m sure. They weren’t.
    The passengers boarding those flights trusted someone else with control. The people who went to work that day, like everyday, trusted that they, or surely someone like them was in control.
    And all fell to chaos. Or:
    Some very misguided people did some extraordinarily, monstrously, murderous things, all operating under the misconception that it would gain them something.
    No one got anything worth getting, though. When the day ended (if it has yet), we all had even less than when we started, and the whole event merely served to re-purpose and re-motivate a war machine which had never really stopped with the Cold War’s "end."
    Welcome to the twenty-first century.
    Where jumbo jets destroy landmarks and you can’t even get a decent new backpack.


IDYLL’S EPILOGUE (Morning, September 13th)

My brother and his wife have been out in California on business. I had a dream last night that I and a friend were walking past their empty, suburban home, when a jumbo jet crashed into it, nose-first, obliterating much of their neighborhood. I and my friend ran away, ahead of the flames and debris. No time to process it all as two or three blocks of West Hartford were razed free of homes and businesses… mostly homes. We thought about running back in to help people… no time… no time…
    I was only dimly aware on waking up that this was what could be technically called a nightmare. It certainly wasn’t a happy dream. I was still disconnected from the images. It was more like… numbness…
    I turned on the television at 5 am. The weatherman was too choked up to speak.



Well, October 2nd, anyway…

About ten years ago, I used to offer my reviews to this program guide in comics form. It was near the Gulf War’s beginning (Police Action/ War… we don’t seem to need formal declarations anymore), and I remember drawing a strip depicting myself in a dark hole with only a candle for light. I spent some time recommending CD’s and much more time bemoaning another war offering "more blood for oil." By the next issue, I was walking around in a brighter room…
    I guess it would piss some people off for me to say that I don’t know any good reason to kill somebody. Oil? Economic stability? Preserving the Status Quo? Vengeance?
    Are my feelings just cowardice? I could tell you I was raised a Catholic, though at this moment I consider myself a fallen-away agnostic. Does either designation mean anything to you?
    Here’s another sad thing. At times like this, there are people who wish to draw you into a debate about why you don’t think killing is a good idea.
    How about if I tell you I thought those terrorist attacks were the worst ideas, brought about by the most hateful and close-minded of people? What does it take to say I’m an American?
    What does it take to wave a flag? My friend who lives in the midwest with his soon to be growing family, proudly displays the flag as a symbol of solidarity, as do their neighbors, who are Muslims and Bosnians.
    The week of the attack, someone was driving up and down the street in his truck waving the flag and yelling "F—k the Ay-rabs!"
    Now this will sound strange, but bear with me. This goes somewhere.
    One major event of my life was this auto accident I was caught in some years ago. One of my arms was broken, and the other was dislocated at the shoulder. I vividly remember a moment beyond the shock of the immediate accident, when I was lying on the ground, waiting to be moved to the ambulance. The moment they lifted me, they had to move my arms.
    I don’t really remember the pain, but it had to have been there, because I do remember the loudest, highest notes I think I’ve ever screamed being drawn from my throat.
    It was a new event for me (I was in my thirties, and, luckily, hadn’t broken a bone to that point), so I, talker that I am, needed to seek out someone to give me an idea of proportion to my pain.
    NOW… THIS will sound REALLY strange…
    I waited for the right moment to ask a friend a delicate question. She was the only person I had known, for a fact, to have experienced both badly broken bones, and childbirth. Given what I’d read and heard, women likewise come forth with loud uncharacteristic utterances in their pain.
    So, I asked for a comparison. Told you it was strange.
    But, as I suspected, there was more contrast than comparison. Even if you forget the two wholly different emotional spheres surrounding these pains, there is one very big important factor to consider:
Endurance. My fantastic pain lasted only when they moved me. Labor pains go on quite a bit longer, thank you very much.
    Having received that instant perspective, I’ve filed the matter away until such time as I have a mate or another friend giving birth, who may want to share the pain of that "moment," perhaps with the aid of a blunt object. Hopefully, I can duck in time.
    The upshot of the story is, pain can motivate people to sing, to create or to destroy. It’s tough to talk about. And it’s tough to gain any perspective on that time does not lend.
    To say war creates pain is very glib indeed, because war, in turn, is created by pain, usually mental anguish or illness brought on by loss of some kind.
    You could say war is brought on, too, by greed, but isn’t excessive greed a form of mental illness.
    War creates pain, which creates war. It’s a chicken and the egg dilemma, isn’t it?
    Here I pause for a moment to remember a moment from a classic American TV show. Yep. I speak, of course, of Star Trek.
    In "A Taste of Armageddon," Kirk and company beam down to a planet, one of two so committed to their endless war, that they think they’ve found a way to make their war easier to sustain, leaving their cultures and cities standing. They wage their "imaginary" wars on computers, which record real "casualties", dutiful citizens who surrender themselves on command to disintegration chambers. War with all the death, but no destruction is the idea.
    Kirk, easily the most "warlike" of the Trek leads thus far (admittedly a generally peace loving bunch), ironically points out the flaw in their plans, and takes it upon himself to destroy their war computers. The planetary natives immediately react with horror at Kirk’s "barbaric" act, but then Kirk suggests another answer to their warlike ways.
    Simply stop killing each other.
    It’s that simple.
    All it takes to stop war, is to stop killing, to stop destroying, and recognize that the will to do this is as natural as the will to kill.
    Pause to think past anger, past politics and you can stop killing.
    I was heartened (surprisingly) by something I read in the Hartford Courant on Friday, September 21st. While on the front page, our President poured forth fiery rhetoric in one of the most stirring presidential speeches ever (and expectedly so), as he spoke of unmarked graves, of polarizing politics and of the "Office of Homeland Security," further down the page was the story of Judy Keane, a woman widowed by the tragedy, as closely touched as any American could be by it.
    She has begun to mobilize for peace.
    She wrote to President Bush, urging him not to go to war over this, out of concern for the thousands more innocents that could be hurt or killed in an act of vengeance.
    She doesn’t want vengeance. She wants justice.
    And she prays, as I’m sure an increasing number do, as I do, that somehow, someway this President will care that there is a difference between the two.
    I don’t remember where exactly in the Bible it said it (I think it was in one of the Apostle’s letters), but this wisdom holds true in war or peace:
"If you want peace, work for justice."



And now… finally… music!
    In fact, holiday music! So if you don’t want to be hearing this stuff now, wait, and read this in December some time.
    Otherwise, read on…
    Every year on my show ("Call It Thing," the Friday "Gothic Blimp Works" (Midnight to three, following Friday "Accent on Jazz"), I do what I call "Moondog’s Holiday Vortex" a collection of tunes and sounds centered around the great winter holidays that celebrate peace/joy/love/remembrance/chimneys/whatever…
    This year’s show should fall on Friday night, December 21st, and may feature these songs, or may not. At any rate, I present here, for your consideration, some lesser known and/or less traditional holiday tunes.

John Wesley Harding- "Bridegroom Blues" (from The Name Above the Title (Sire/Reprise, out of print))

"Joey’s down in the dope queue

He should have signed on yesterday

Well, if he was a carpenter

And she was his lady

He wouldn’t be able to make it pay, no…"

Harding, in a very ignored tune, recasts the nativity in the very modern day, with Mary considering an abortion, and an unemployed, suspicious Joseph ("he don’t believe in angels/ she’s been seeing another man…") in a tune which is liberally peppered with "Silent Night" imagery, with a driving beat and blaring horns and guitars matching the garishness and daring of the tune. Great.

Vince Guaraldi Trio (& Chorus)- "My Little Drum" (from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy))

Yes, "Linus & Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here" are better known, but don’t skip this little classic, which didn’t make the cut of the original animated special. Guaraldi takes "Little Drummer Boy," and arranges it for a vocalizing chorus and jazz trio, a tasty concoction.

Fishbone- "Slick Nick, You Devil You" (from It’s A Wonderful Life (Gonna Have A Good Time) (EP, Columbia, out of print) classic old Fishbone from a lost EP, circa 1989. It describes a child’s nightmare encounter with a drunken, carousing, thieving Santa, hilariously amped up to its’ melodramatic heights by Angelo Moore’s unforgettable vocal ("You put Mad Dog in my sock/ I wanted candy! I wanted candy! I WANTED CANDY!!!").

The Chieftains and Elvis Costello- "The St. Stephen’s Day Murders" and The Chieftains and Jackson Browne- "The Rebel Jesus" (from The Chieftains-The Bells of Dublin (RCA Victor)) Elvis’s great lyrics amusingly confuses an overworked, stressed out holiday scene with murderous intent ("ah it’s nice for the kids/ as you finally get rid of them"), while Jackson Browne brings home the political importance of Christian ideals as only a self –described "heathen and a pagan" could.

Shelleyan Orphan- "Ice" (from various holiday collections, particularly A Different Kind of Christmas (various artists, Risky Business/ Columbia) or Acoustic Christmas (various artists, Columbia)

Wow. A Haunting, affecting holiday story, as singer Caroline Crawley portrays a ghost agonizingly separated from all concepts of holiday joy by death. Despite the "downer" theme, I still find myself singing along ("I don’t like Christmas anymore/ Since then out here, I just think of before/ Hands ‘round this table, silly lives/ I feel you standing on some other side"). Ripping stuff.

Stan Freberg- "Green Christmas" (from various sources, including Dr. Demento’s first Christmas Collection (various artists, Rhino) and Christmas Comedy Classics (various artists, Priority). As hard a slamming of the commercialization of the holidays as is possible, while still being at all funny. Freberg recasts Scrooge as an unrepentant capitalist, who, instead of being moved by the Christmas spirit, completely twists it to his own purposes, rejoicing in the money to be made while exploiting the idea of peace on Earth.

Skunk Anansie- "Selling Jesus" (from Paranoid and Sunburnt (Epic/ One Little Indian). OK, so the song is more generally about the exploiting of love and religion for political and monetary gains, but when Skin screams "LOOOOOVE!" repeatedly, you’d better be feeling the holidays, or something like them. For that extra seasonal connection, buy it as part of the soundtrack to Strange Days (various artists, Epic Soundtracks). That movie, if you’ll recall, was set at the then future turn of the 20th Century. You know, New Year’s Eve…?

Dianne Reeves- "A Merrier Christmas" (from Christmas Present: Today’s Stars Sing Holiday Classics (various artists, EMI-Capitol). Thelonious Monk writing a Christmas tune… hell, damn near anything… was occasion to sit up and take notice. When interpreted by a wonderful voice like Ms. Reeves, the late master’s take on holiday time sentiment is even more precious a thing of beauty.

Cassandra Wilson- "The Little Drummer Boy" (from Jazz to the World (various artists, Verve)). Cassandra Wilson brings sensual new life to the old Harry Simeone chestnut. With its’ bluesy overtones and simple mbira and drum backing, it is a wonder anew.

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra- Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite (Arranged by Ellington & Billy Strayhorn) (Columbia). From "Arabesque Cookie" to "Sugar Rum Cherry," Tchaikovsky has never swung so hard.

Henry Rollins- "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (from A Lump of Coal (various artists, First Warning/ BMG)) and Luscious Jackson- "Queen of Bliss" (both from O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock for Choice (various artists, Columbia)). Rollins only had to imagine the LAPD in full riot gear to envision this war zone take on Clement Moore’s classic. I wonder what we might think of now?
    Luscious Jackson’s simple conglomeration of beats and choral echoes features a simple lyric attempting to communicate the fear and wonder of a virgin birth ("Don’t know how it happened and I don’t know why, my baby’s lying in a manger/ came to me from on high, came to me from a stranger").

The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl- "Fairytale of New York" (from If I Should Fall from Grace with God (Island)). The late Kirsty MacColl lent her graceful pipes to this duet, also featuring (then) Pogues’ lead vocal Shane MacGowan. It’s all about Christmas love, dysfunctional relationships, romance and magic, with a good trade of insults thrown in to boot.

The Beatles- "Christmas Time Is Here Again" (from Free As A Bird (CD Single, Apple)). The complete 1967 Beatles’ Fan Club Christmas Message remains an elusive prize (at least for me). Until I can get that, I soothe myself with the segments of that message available on this "B-side" from the Beatles’ Anthology single, "Free As A Bird." The tune itself was used, in smaller segments, in the message, and is here capped by John Lennon’s Glaswegian poetic Christmas wish, originally used at the end of the ’67 message.

Jane Siberry- "Are You Burning, Little Candle?" (from Winter Fire and Snow (various artists, WEA/ Atlantic) or Child (Blackbird/ Sheeba)). Finally, an ode to the wonder of the capacity of humanity to synthesize hope from the coldest of seasons:

"Shine your light on me

Little candle

Little star"


A little space left here to review Björk’s latest, the beautifully wintery, Vespertine (^^^^½). With its’ chilly ambiences, children’s chorus and music box melodies, this album, too, is a wonderful match for winter holidays (or anytime you feel like one). Consider Christmas in July, why don’t ya?
    Wow! It’s just plain wacky!
    Björk’s lyrics here speak frequently of love and transcendence, placing them firmly in the territory of romantic poetry, like that of e.e. cummings (whose lyrics she uses for "Sun in My Mouth").
    She continues the musical concepts of her Selmasongs collection, with beats sampled from the ambient clicks, pops, scratches and even snow crunching, of everyday life. Madonna should be this inventive. Alas, no.
    Add to that Björk’s sheer vocal imagination (screams, whispers and other odd phrasings (no, not just because she’s icelandic, OK?)), and you get an intoxicating and just plain beautiful piece of work. And it’s all just par for the course for this lady’s solo work.
    We may hear nothing more beautiful this year.
    Next time, perhaps I’ll cover the year’s best stuff. Or not.
    Be well, and happy holidays.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 2001

 Copyright© 2000 WWUH and the University of Hartford
   E-Mail: wwuh@mail.hartford.edu   Webmaster: manolama@aol.com