Look what I found at the library the other day: Mermaid Avenue Volume II by Billy Bragg and Wilco. I’ve been listening to it a lot.
A few years ago, Billy Bragg was approached by Woody Guthrie’s daughter. Her father had left behind a lot of lyrics when he died of Huntington’s disease and she was looking for someone who would honour his vision by putting those lyrics to music.
So together with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Bragg set about to put these words to music and the result was Mermaid Avenue Volumes I and II. It’s pretty astonishing. Not all of the songs are perfect, but there are many that are. Airline to Heaven, My Flying Saucer, Stetson Kennedy, Remember the Mountain Bed, All You Fascists, and Some Day Some Morning Sometime all pay homage to the legacy of Woody Guthrie by maintaining the power of the words the Guthrie penned, while making them more poignant with great music. This is music that transcends the decades; these lyrics were all written between 1939 and 1955, and yet they remain so vital and relevant today, even the political songs. Not all that much has really changed, after all.
I remember hearing Bill Bragg being interviewed on CBC radio shortly after he and Jeff Tweedy finished recording this. I’m so glad this has now come to my attention on a random trip to the library. I’m definitely looking for Volume I.
The other cd I picked up at the library was Odditorium or Warlords of Mars by the Dandy Warhols. It’s not a terrific cd, actually. It lacks focus, with some of the tracks being pretty cool, while others seem to be a strange hybrid of country and... I don’t know… space ship music.
But it did remind me of the wild feud between Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols and Anton Newsome of the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Now, I’m a sucker for a good feud, and the music industry seems to be particularly fertile fodder in which to foment antagonism. Who can forget these legendary inter-band hostilities:
- Graham Coxon vs Damon Albarn – Blur
- Morrissey vs Johnny Marr – the Smiths
- Matt Good vs Dave Genn – the Matthew Good Band
- Lou Reed vs John Cale – the Velvet Underground
- The Pixies vs the Pixies
- David Gilmour vs Roger Waters - Pink Floyd
- Billy Corgan vs James Iha vs D’Arcy – the Smashing Pumpkins
And what about those unforgettable feuds between bands:
- Blur vs Oasis
- Bloc Party vs Art Brut
- Pete Doherty (Babyshambles) vs Johnny Borrell (Razorlight)
- the Bravery vs the Killers
- Courtney Love vs the world
The feud between the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre is documented in an enlightening Sundance-winning film called DIG! Oddly enough, it is narrated by Courtney Taylor. It chronicles the initial fast friendship between the bands, the mentoring of the Dandy Warhols by the Brain Jonestown Massacre, and the inevitable rapid downward spiral into increasingly vicious fights, and ultimately death threats, fuelled by Anton Newsome’s schizophrenia.
The Dandy Warhols went on to enjoy considerable commercial success in Europe, while the BJM, although heralded as one of the most distinctive and influential bands of its time, all but self-destructed as Newsome’s messianic delusions led to him attack band mates and audience members with microphone stands and his boots.
All in all, DIG! is a fascinating film about music industry feuds and egos gone ballistic.
See? Your local branch of the public library is a treasure trove of information. Go now, go often.