George Abdo and His Flames of Araby Orchestra – “The Art of Belly Dancing” (1973)

bellydancingListening to The Art of Belly Dancing, I feel like I should be in some pungent Turkish bar, the kind of place that somehow manages to stay dark even when the sun is at it’s highest, the mingled smells of sweat, strong coffee, and filterless cigarette smoke hanging at about chest height in the completely still air.  Oh man, I think I just gave myself a flashback to 1987 when I was 15 and just at the start of a six-week trip to France.  When it became clear that the chaperones couldn’t care in the slightest if we smoked, a few of us headed to the bar car on the train and nervously asked the young guy working there if he had any smokes for sale.  Mais oui.  Awesome!  Marlboro Reds, please.  Non.  Oh, OK.  Camels then.  Non.  Umm… Gitanes.  Gitanes?  He reached behind him and turned  back around with a blue pack of cigs in what seemed to us an oddly fancy package that was wider and flatter than what we were used to.  I feel like the dancer on the front was embossed in gold.  Can that be right?  Oui, Gitanes.  So Gitanes it was.  And when we opened them it was immediately, “What the…. where are the filters???”  This, friends, is how I was introduced to filterless cigarettes, a habit that lasted only as long as we still that pack of Gitanes and couldn’t find a better cigarette anywhere else (so a few weeks).

ANYWAY… back to that bar.  Damn it’s hot!  How can it be so damn hot wen I’m sitting in the shade?  It shouldn’t be possible.  It’s the kind of place that Bogey, or James Bond, or Dr. Indiana Jones should walk into, causing every to look up from their newspapers (without moving their heads) to case the new guy.  Or maybe Matthew McConaughey’s character in Sahara, who seems like he’d be the most fun to have a drink with.  But what’s that sound faintly off in the distance?  It sounds like… it is… it’s “Raks Musri”, the clicking of the castanets providing a beat above the percussion.  The pace speeds and slows, alternating between ecstasy and simmering desire.  Songs with vocals like “Meenie Yaba” remind me if the Persian-infused beats of Syrian artist Omar Souleman; these are the prototypes, the early models that created the base framework that would come to define passionate popular music.  “Ranks Pharonic” is another classic, feeling more like something that would welcome in spring than leave you feeling lonely while sitting in that Turkish bar in the middle of the day smoking your Gitanes.

But hang on friends.  This isn’t a record intended to titillate or set a romantic mood.  Au contraire, mon frère.  This is educational.  You can see it right there on the front jacket:  “Dance Instructions Enclosed”.  And in fact they are, glossy inner sheet that provides photos and descriptions of eight belly dancing poses (and also a post-paid postcard you can send to Monitor Records to learn more about what they have for sale; remember kids, no internet in 1973…).  So you can’t try to hide this behind the counter at the store – it’s instructional, dammit!

Certainly this falls into the category I often see at record stores and shows known as Exotica.  Take Persian music and combine with the seeming campiness of the idea of a belly dancing tutorial (though I suspect that no camp nor snark was originally intended) and you can takel a record you might not have been able to get a quarter for maybe ten years ago and charge $5 or $`10 for it, probably because someone will buy it as a joke.  But to be clear, this album is completely earnest.  It’s most definitely not a joke.  The performers are legit and so is the sound quality.  So don’t be afraid to pick up a copy and give it a serious listen.

Record Shopping – Copenhagen, Denmark Style

We arrived in Copenhagen after four days in Berlin, which means that by time we got here my record bag was already pretty full.  As a result of that and our limited amount of time in the city I only made it to a few shops.

Beat Bop Pladeforretning
Peder Hvitfeldts Stræde 14, 1173 København

beatbopcopenhagen

Beat Bop is Michael Denner’s record shop, he of guitar virtuoso fame for his work with Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Volbeat.  As such you’d probably expect the shop to be dedicated to punk and metal. and while it has some of both, the biggest section may in fact be the one in the back room devoted to jazz.  I didn’t spend a ton of time here, but was pleased to see a lot of interesting 1980s European releases in the punk/new wave section, things I’ve never seen before in the US.  It’s a confined space, even with there being two rooms, so you probably won’t need a ton of time here.  I was primarily focused on trying to find Danish records, and in the end came away with a copy of Alien Force’s 1986 rocker Pain And Pleasure, which seemed like the perfect thing to take away from Beat Bop.

One piece of advice – Beat Bop only takes cash, though Michael was open to currency other than Danish Krone, including Euro.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dorma 21
Oehlenschlægersgade 70, 1663 København

dorma21copenhagen

After Beat Bop we took a bit of a walk down to the meat packing district to visit Dorma 21, a tiny space that specializes 100% in various electronica subgenres.  Small but well stocked, every single record features a hand-written sticker tag on it with basic info, and 12″ releases generally ran the equivalent of $15-17 US.  The guy working there was very helpful and when I asked for some local stuff pointed me towards two house records by Desos, which I spun on one of the two listening stations and fell for immediately.  In a completely opposite scenario than Beat Bop, Dorma 21 actually prefers you pay in plastic, and it was all I could do not to fill up my entire bag with records here – if it wasn’t for the lack of space in my record bag I’d have easily dropped a few hundred dollars here.  A can’t miss for the electronica enthusiast.

Route 66
Fælledvej 3, 2200 København

route66copenhagen

Route 66 focuses on new vinyl – I don’t think I saw anything used packed into its bins and wall displays.  The focus is primarily on rock, and as our trip was winding down I didn’t have any expectations about picking up anything here.  Then I remembered – hey, there are Europe-only Record Store Day releases, and Route 66 had about six bins of RSD titles.  And what did I find?  Prügelknaben:  Prygl På Vinyl, DK Punk 1979-86, a limited edition release of 500 copies.  Any opportunity to get some early punk from a country we’re visiting is a win, even if it’s a re-release

 

Copenhagen actually has quite a few shops, so don’t take this to be any kind of thorough review of the vinyl scene there.  We even walked by a few that didn’t show up on any of the research I’d done prior to the trip, so I suspect more and more are popping up all the time.

My Personal 5-10-15-20 Journey

Pitchfork has a cool feature that seems to be alternately called “Music of His/Her Life” and “5-10-15-20”.  The basic premise is the subject talks about what music they were listening to and influenced by as their life progressed, using five year age intervals.  This got me thinking about my own personal 5-10-15-20, so I figured what the hell, I’ll put it out on the blog.  While I focus primarily on albums on Life in the Vinyl Lane, it’s as much about my relationship with music as it is about music itself, so why not.

5 (1976) – The Amazing Spider-Man

spiderman

I don’t have any memories of music being played in our Philadelphia townhouse.  That’s not to say there wasn’t any – I just don’t remember it.  We had one of those record player/cassette/8-track combos and the record player allowed you to stack multiple records on it at once.  It would play the side of the first one and when it hit the runout the arm would automatically pick up and move back to its resting position, then the next record hovering over it would drop on top of the first one, and the arm would move back over atodrop on the first track.  During the holidays mom would stack up Christmas records on that spindle, playing all the A sides, then flipping the entire stack over and playing all the B sides.  That was our holiday soundtrack for years and years.

As for me, I do remember having a few of these comic book / 7″ record combos that I’d play on a little portable record player in my room.  I think this Spider-Man was one that I had – it came out in 1974 so the time is right.  If I had any music, I don’t remember it.

10 (1981) – Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

IMG_0168

I was tempted to fudge a bit here and push this out to 1983, because that’s when I started actually choosing the music I wanted to listen to.  But I wasn’t there yet in 1981.  My dad was a big Neil Diamond fan though – and I mean big.  By 1981 he was just coming through a rough patch and Diamond’s music spoke to him.  We even saw Neil in concert in Columbia, South Carolina right around this time – I’m pretty sure it would have been 1981 or 1982, and it was the first concert I ever went to.  His connection with Diamond was something I didn’t get, and it wasn’t until I became much older and went through my own mid-life struggles that I came to understand the powerful way Diamond speaks to that experience.  I never got into him per se, but when I went back to vinyl I eventually picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer, and now I get it.

15 (1986) – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

ledzepii

By the mid-1980s my tastes were firmly entrenched in rock and hair metal, but it wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that band that would become and remain my all-time favorite – Led Zeppelin.  I still recall the situation.  I was down in the “Sophomore Pit”, a section of the basement of my high school where all sophomores had their lockers.  I was talking to some friends about music, and I believe I was talking crap about some of their current favorites like U2 and Dire Straits.  At some point someone mentioned Zeppelin and I said I didn’t know them.  It was one of those needle scratching off the record moments and derailed the whole conversation.  Because these were my friends they cut me a little slack, but made it clear that I needed to rectify this situation immediately.

Our school at that time was located across the street from the big Bellevue Square Mall, so as soon as the day ended I headed over to Musicland and found a copy of Led Zeppelin I in one of those huge bins of discounted cassettes that used to be in the front of the store.  I liked it, didn’t love it, but I went back a few days later and picked up Led Zeppelin II from the same bin.  And my life changed forever.  That tape, and later a CD replacement, became the soundtrack of the next few years.  I ravenously consumed their entire catalog, and that led me deeper into the world of classic rock that came to define more and more of my musical life.

20 (1991) – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

badmotorfinger

I’d been into Soundgarden since 1987s Screaming Life EP.  Being that I lived in the Seattle area I was lucky enough to be exposed to a ton of what later became the great grunge bands.  There was a lot of talk in the late 1980s that the Seattle scene was going to break nationally and among my friends there were three bands we figured to be the likely candidates – Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Tad.  Honestly Nirvana was barely on my radar at that point, though I did have the “Sliver” 7″.  My personal favorite was Soundgarden.

When Badmotorfinger came out in 1991 I was blown away at how fantastic it was, and I’m not talking about “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, but instead songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Room A Thousand Years Wide”.  I even had a Soundgarden t-shirt that I practically wore out.  But.  It was also clear to me that this was the end of grunge, despite the fact that Nevermind came out the same year and finally brought the genre to the mainstream.  Badmotorfinger is many things, but grunge is not one of them.  But this style of darker rock held a strong appeal to me and shaped my appreciation for bands like Alice In Chains, White Zombie, and Godsmack.

25 (1996) – Sammy Davis Jr. – I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise

sammydavisreprise

I wasn’t buying much music in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I told my dad I’d like some CDs for Christmas, specifically some of the old crooners that he was fond of.  One of those CDs he bought me was the newly released I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise.  I played the hell out of that in my car as I drove around the Eastside doing sales calls. The first four tracks are pure magic – “Lush Life”, “A Stranger In Town”, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, and “Once In a Lifetime” – and I can probably still sing all four of them word-for-word.  I tried getting deeper into Sammy’s catalog, but I always found myself coming back to this CD.  I still play those first songs in the car sometimes and still get goose bumps at the smoothness of Sammy’s voice.

30 (2001) – Sugar Ray – Sugar Ray

sugarraysugarrayI’m still amazed at how much people will say they hate Sugar Ray.  They were like Nickelback before it was popular to hate Nickelback.  I got turned onto Floored (1997) and Holly and I both fell for the band, so much so that we’ve now seen them live a half dozen times in three different states.  In fact they are the first band that we traveled out of state specifically for the purpose of seeing them play, heading down to Lake Tahoe to catch both shows they did on back-to-back nights.  I was a big enough fan that I actually burned my own personal Best Of Sugar Ray CD for my car (remember kids, this was before iPods were a thing and smartphones were still something out of a sci-fi movie).  And you know what?  I still like them.  If they did a reunion show with the original band I’d strongly consider going to see them.  This was probably the start of me realizing that I didn’t need to care what people thought of the music I liked – I could like what I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone.  That may sound obvious, but it was seriously liberating to someone like me who had come to define themselves by the kind of music I listened to and, just as importantly, didn’t listen to (even if I secretly liked it).

35 (2006) –  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far

csnysofar

Much as my dad hit his tough patch and leaned on The Jazz Singer, I hit mine in my mid-30s and gravitated towards So Far.  It’s the one period in my life that when I look back on it I feel like I simply don’t even know the person that I was at the time.  Somehow I made it through without making any truly terrible decisions and with my relationships and career still intact. Frankly it could have gone either way.

There was something in the harmonizing of CSNY that drew me back to this album, one I’d probably owned since high school.  The songs are beautiful and heartfelt, and I suppose there’s an undercurrent of sadness that appealed to me at that time in my life as well.  I actually find it hard to listen to these songs now – as much as they helped me then, they’re too stark a reminder of a period I’d just assume not dwell on.

40 (2011) – Agent Fresco – A Long Time Listening

longtimelistening

I first experienced Agent Fresco at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 and was immediately a super-fan.  Their debut LP A Long Time Listening came out the same year an I played the hell out of it for the next couple of years. This was the start of my love affair with Icelandic music, and Agent Fresco were ground zero.

I’ve pointed a lot of people to this album over the years, and most of them took to it.  It’s a record of tremendous beauty, but also significant personal pain.  Sometimes it’s almost too hard to listen to, but it really depends on your frame of mind at the time.

45 (2016) – The Kills – Ash & Ice

thekillsashice

2016 was the year of the female artist.  Four of my top five albums were by women or female bands – The Kills, Dream Wife, Iiris, and Kælan Mikla.  It ushered in an era of appreciation for women in music that I’m still in today.

Alison Mosshart is a fantastic front-woman and I pretty much love every project she’s involved with – Discount, The Kills, The Dead Weather.  She owns the stage, and also has the capacity to show both unwavering confidence and vulnerability depending on the need of the song.  And as for Jamie Hince, there may not be a better guitarist out there today.

 

So there it is, a sort of musical life story.  It seems weird to think about it in this way, but it was also an interesting trip down memory lane, looking back to specific periods, both the good and the not-so-good.  What would your list look like?

Johnny Cash – “At Folsom Prison” (1968 / 2010)

Johnny Cash is one of those truly rare musicians who not only have come to define a genre but to also have massive cross-over appeal and popularity even with people who claim to hate that genre.  While I realize it’s overly simplistic to refer to Cash as a country artist, arguably that’s the style he’s best known for, and whether you’re a metal-head, a fan of classical, or anything in between, everyone can seem to agree on Cash’s stature and merit.  If you only have one country album, it’s probably by Johnny Cash.  The other musician who can make the same claim is Bob Marley, who defined reggae for multiple generations of music fans.  It seems like everyone has owned a copy of Legend at some point in their lives, or at the very least heard it.  The only other person I can think of along these lines is Pavarotti, who is the one opera singer that most people can at least name.  But my guess is most people have never owned or heard an Pavarotti album and likely couldn’t tell the difference between his version of “La Donna È Mobile” from Placido Domingo’s “Nessun Dorma”, so I’m not sure he counts.  Pretty much everyone knows at least one Johnny Cash song.

One of the things Cash was famous for was his prison concerts.  He had an empathy for men who found themselves behind bars.  While there’s a myth that Cash too spent time in prison, the truth is more that he had a number of run-ins with the law and spent a few overnights in jail, but that’s it.  Regardless, he connected with the cons and his “Folsom Prison Blues” is one of his most popular and well-known songs.  I’m stuck in Folsom Prison / And time keeps draggin’ on…

atfolsomprison

I snagged this 2010 re-release of At Folsom Prison the other day, figuring it was about time that I listened to some of Johnny’s live material.  It opens with his trademark, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, then immediately launches into “Folsom Prison Blues”.  You can hear the prisoners cheer when he laments I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, and a again when he calls out the guards with a pig call of Sooie!  It’s clear they love him.  The songs at this show were picked to resonate with the inmates, like “25 Minutes To Go” chronicling the last 25 minutes of a condemned man’s life and “Cocaine Blues” with its tales of drugs and arrests.  He has an easy rapport with the audience, all the more so due to his baiting of the guards and prison administrators.

At Folsom Prison sounds great.  I like that they left in some of Cash’s talking as well as some of the stage announcements by the prison staff, letting individuals in the crowd know that they needed to report here or there on various prison business.  It’s a great collection of lesser known songs played simply, with the emphasis on Cash’s voice.

Record Store Bags

No, “Record Store Bags” is not a hot new underground shoegaze band from Prague.  Though if someone wants to use that name, I’ll let you have it (it’s not half bad….).  I’m actually talking about the plastic, and sometimes if you’re lucky, canvas bags that your vinyl purchases are packaged in before they’re handed back across the counter to you.

Am I the only person who quasi-collects record store bags?  I’m sure the answer is no, and I found a few Pinterest pages devoted to them, so clearly I’m not entirely alone in this. And to be clear, I don’t actively seek and purchase vintage record store bags.  That would be ridiculous and compulsive. (♠)  I simply save them when I get them.  Why?  It’s sort of like taking a picture… a way to remember a trip or a cool shop.  In fact I’m in Chicago on business this week and I’ve already managed to pick up one from Reckless Records.  I also usually pack a few with me when I travel in case I end up buying some vinyl and need a way to keep the records dry and at least somewhat contained.  While packing for this trip on Sunday I uncovered my stack of bags… and was surprised at how many there are!

In breaking them down geographically, for plastic bags I have:

  • Japan – 11 (nice bags are part of ALL retail shopping in Japan)
  • US – 8
  • Sweden – 5
  • Canada – 2
  • France – 2
  • Ireland – 2
  • Iceland – 2
  • Hong Kong – 1
  • South Korea – 1

Damn, that’s 34 different plastic bags.  And let’s not forget canvas totes – best guess is I have another 6-7 of those (turns out I have 8).  The nicest bag I ever got for free as part of a purchase is a messenger-style canvas bag Trash Palace on our first trip to Stockholm.  The downside is that I got about half a block down the street when one of the two plastic clips attaching the strap to the bag broke (fortunately I caught it before my records hit the sidewalk).  The upside is Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is very good at sewing and she did some super heavy-duty stitching that fixed it right up.  In fact we’ve sewn some patches on it over the years and it now serves as a sort of “day bag” sometimes when we travel.

bags1

Will I ever do anything with these bags?  Maybe the totes… Holly has a few that she uses from time to time.  But they’re really more just for the memories, something to put a smile on my face when I think about a trip.  I’m sure they’ll end up in a recycling bin at some point.  But not for a while….

bags2

bags3

bags4

And below are the assorted canvas totes… not shown is one from Amoeba.

bags5

(♠) And something I could totally see my self doing.