There’s a new piece by me up in the New York Times today. It’s about an early and informal mentor I had as a teenage – a British theater teacher named Simon Harrold.
Over at the Okkervil River online store, you can order a hand-made letterpress version of the above image, which is my interpretation of William Schaff’s cover art for Black Sheep Boy. Also on the online store we have a downloadable album entitled Black Sheep Boy: Early Drafts on the Road, 2004. This is what it sounds like – the very earliest recorded versions of Black Sheep Boy songs, done in green rooms and guest bedrooms and on people’s front lawns, and interspersed with audio diaries where I discuss the songs and discuss what was happening on tour at the time.
Over at the Secretly Distribution website you can now pre-order the Black Sheep Boy Anniversary Editon, a three-LP set that combines Okkervil River’s 2005 album Black Sheep Boy and its companion release Black Sheep Boy Appendix with a full album of traditional (and modern) covers that we recorded around the same time, entitled There Swims a Swan.
If you head over here, you can now pre-order “Down Down the Deep River,” the film I wrote, directed and scored, with all kinds of bonus features bells and whistles including a “making of”doc, deleted scenes, a commentary track, and behind the scenes pictures. You can also get for free download a brand-new musical track that’s a re-write and re-imagining of the song “Down Down the Deep River,” drawing …
Freedy Johnston’s This Perfect World was released twenty years ago last week, i.e. June 28, 1994. It’s nice to be able to track dates like this down on the internet because then I’m able to take a quick leap back through time and stick a time-stamp on a certain memory that previously had been jangling around in my pocket like loose change. The memory isn’t anything dramatic, it’s just one of those things you weirdly remember for an unclear reason, and it’s of sitting in my family kitchen reading my parents’ copy of Newsweek and coming across a Freedy Johnston review.
I’ve been thinking recently about the French singer Françoise Hardy, and specifically thinking about the first Hardy song I ever heard, which did nothing for me. The song was “All Over the World,” one of Hardy’s songs in English. I remember feeling that there was something vaguely silly about it, that it felt kind of lightweight. The melody and backing track were pretty enough, but they also felt kind of clunky and conventional, with Hardy’s accent awkwardly distracting from the emotional pull of a lyric that felt generic to begin with. I kind of discounted the song, and even, at first, the singer. Then, about six months later, I was listening to another Hardy record and was struck by a beautiful, stately ballad; Hardy’s voice was gorgeous and whisper-quiet over an almost funereally solemn classically-derived piano arpeggio, and the lyrics, in French, seemed profoundly meaningful even though I didn’t know what they were about. I realized, when I looked at the title of the song, that it was “All Over the World” – the exact same recording, in fact, but with Hardy singing in French instead of English.
Here’s the deal, guys: somewhere around Birmingham my computer went down. I switched it on and there was this weird squiggly low-res pattern happening on there and then nothing, just a grey screen that popped up and wouldn’t go away. I tried “zapping the P-RAM,” which they tell you to do. I tried mashing the various combinations of keys they tell you to while you boot up – nothing worked.
If you’re a fan of ours, you probably know William Schaff’s work. He’s the artist responsible for almost all of the artwork on our records and he’s one of my oldest artistic associates and friends and one of the most talented people I know. (He’s also frequently confused with me because we have similar names, which is why at one point we made a couple of videos to clear things …
Okay so do you remember the part in Ghostbusters where Harold Ramis is down in the basement of the fire station with a spazzed-out and spirit-possessed Rick Moranis and suddenly Annie Potts comes down the stairs with that pissed off EPA guy pushing in front of her (William Atherton) and she says, “Egon, I tried to stop him! He says they have a warrant,” and then Egon says, “Excuse me, this is private property,” and the EPA guy says “Shut this off. Shut these all off” in this teeth-gritted, intense, red-faced way, pointing around the Ghostbusters’ HQ basement, at all the gadgets and gizmos and containment units we’ve been enjoying for 45 minutes or so by now, determined to ruin everything, to definitively end all the fun? And can you, like me, lipsyc basically the entire scene that follows because you have seen this movie so many times it might as well be tattooed on the inside of your eyelids?
I often make the outrageous drunken claim that the Rock*A*Teens were the single best rock and roll band of the 1990s. It’s sort of ridiculous to say, but as I write this sentence stone sober and drinking a glass of juice, I still kind of believe it. I keep waiting to not believe it, as I very frequently don’t believe all kinds of outrageous claims that I make, but I just cross-referenced with all the other 1990s rock and roll bands in my iTunes and I’m pretty much ready to double down; this disastrously scrappy Atlanta band with their not-very-good-sounding recordings and their name half-swiped from a 50’s rock outfit were…okay, let’s not say the “best,” because I don’t really believe there’s any objective truth when it comes to evaluating music – let’s say they were my favorite.