One of the most interesting run-ins with a drunk I ever had was in San Francisco. My fiancee's father insisted that, while vacationing there a few years ago, we stop into a bar called The Saloon. Built during the Civil War, The Saloon is a North Beach landmark that sits just a block up the hill from Lawrence Ferlingettis's City Lights bookstore and has the dubious distinction of being one of the only establishments to survive the 1906 earthquake. It's also a phenomenal place to catch a live blues show. That summer day, we popped in to The Saloon and happened upon an impromptu wake for a man named Chet Helms. Helms was the founder of Big Brother and the Holding Company and actually recruited Janis Joplin as singer for that outfit. Around the bar there were old hippies ready and eager to regale us with stories of the Summer of Love and all things Helms. We picked the drunkest, least coherent, and probably least honest soul in the joint – or maybe he picked us – and sat at the bar buying him drinks in exchange for the history lesson. And this is where I first learned about Quicksilver Messenger Service. Our drunk history professor was appalled to learn I thought QMS was just a film about bike messengers starring Kevin Bacon and told a long and rambling story about how, if not for the late Chet Helms, QSM would never have been introduced to the loving hippie hordes of the San Francisco scene, and how in fact it was Chet Helms who bought them their first organ when they had no money. Whether or not any of it was true, I don't know and couldn't care less. We got wasted, and raised our glasses over and over again to the legacy of a man who I'd never heard of before but whose honor was a great excuse that day for feeling good about daytime drinking. By the way, this song I haven't written about is really good.
"Beware of Darkness" George Harrison
George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. As those famous Liverpuddlians were descending into heroin-and-Yoko-induced bickering, Harrison was quietly biding his time and writing some of the best material any Beatle ever produced. When the Beatles finally called it quits, it was only a matter of months before Harrison came out with the four-disc epic All Things Must Pass. Every song is a work of art, every chord proof of the man's songwriting ability and guitar mastery. “Beware of Darkness,” is a powerful bit of melancholic strumming that gets me in the gut every time I hear it. If you don't own All Things Must Pass, please run out and get it today.
"Oh Sweet Nuthin'" Yo La Tengo
Every year Yo La Tengo does a benefit live show on New York's WFMU where listeners who call in and pledge can request a live rendition of a rock standard from the quintessential shoegaze outfit. They've released some comps of these sessions under the title Yo La Tengo Murders the Classics, and a lot of the tunes do well deserve the name. But this version of "Oh Sweet Nuthin'" -- despite the fact that they could obviously only remember one verse and so the whole track tops out at one minute, 39 seconds – is a perfect fit, and they nail it. The minimal fretwork under the whispered lyrics gives me goosebumps.
"Celestial Crown" The Sword
So you like your rock and roll thick and sludgy with obvious Sabbath influences? The Sword is your band. I also recommend you check out the Sub Pop group Kinski. That is all.
"Fall of Another Year" CAN
Upon dropping off reissues of every album CAN ever made, a co-worker advised me to get ready to get my prog on. These German masters of prog rock are hit and miss for me. Occasionally I'll be at the apartment of someone way more hip than me and I'll hear a track that is about as perfect as rock and roll can get. “Who iiiissssss this?” I'll ask, swaying just as much to the infectious tune as the red wine I should never drink. “CAN,” my hip friend will admonish, incredulous of my knowledge. But when I've tracked down whole albums before, the whole gestalt effect can't live up to that one pre-drunken, post-sobrietal moment of revelation. This track, however, comes pretty damn close. And I haven't even had anything to drink today.