Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: A Few of My Favorite Things: Nerds and Novelty Songs


This is Jonathan Coulton performing at the High Line this past April. He is the uncrowned king of the nerdy novelty song. My iTunes informs me that his genre is “Unclassifiable” which I think is an unusual misspelling of “Awesome.” My personal favorites are Code Monkey, a love song for J. Alfred Programmer; Skullcrusher Mountain, in which a lovelorn mad scientist asks isn’t it enough that I ruined a pony, making a gift for you?; and Shop Vac, a tale of suburban disaffection and despair with a catchy sing-along chorus. I’m also really very fond of his cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Baby Got Back. Those last two might not be all that nerdy but they are a whole lot of fun.

The next song on my list of favorites, MMO RPG by Alex Greenwald (Mark Ronson and the Business Intl., Phantom Planet) – truly a piece of digital ephemera, as it is, for now, only available on YouTube – explores some of the philosophical complexities of on-line gaming:


I will confess I’m not actually all that … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Clarksdale

Jennifer’s ready to drop some thoughts on our visit to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the city widely felt to be the home of delta blues music.

To Jennifer’s eternal credit, she passed the visit without outward complaint.

April has already shared her memories from our trip to Clarksdale. Here are some of mine:

Kitchen window, Ground Zero Blues Club

Readers, I must tell you: this place creeped me out. I’m from New York, and Ground Zero – problematic and inaccurate though the label may be – only means one place. The blues club opened in May 2001, and so technically came first, but still, despite the delicious fried cheesecake (!), it ranks high on my list of disquieting dining experiences.

I was excited to get out of there and go to the Delta Blues Museum. That lasted for about an hour and three cycles of the video playing in the Muddy Waters cabin. (Keith Richards, what did you do your head??) At that point I had seen everything I wanted to see and thoroughly investigated the gift shop (why does Mississippi not believe in keychain … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Postcards from Disparate Voyage

The theme for my concert-going this summer seemed to be “voyages” and in particular water voyages, both to the water, or at least a couple of different beaches, and also on the water, specifically, the East River. As the temperature cools and the fall rainy season drifts in, I bring you some postcards from my last couple of trips:


Willie Nelson, Circus Maximus Theater, Ceaser’s Atlantic City: The show was a little bit more subdued than I was expecting, perhaps a concession to the venue, the age of the audience (there were people in the front row celebrating their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary), or a reflection of Willie Nelson also getting up there (77 and still touring!), or some combination of those things. But it was still a great show. It was, in many ways, something of a relief to be able to just sit down and listen to someone sing familiar songs, undistracted by festival crowds or complicated stage business. He did, among others, Good Hearted Woman, All the Girls I’ve Loved Before and City of New Orleans, and I left refreshed, as if I … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Graceland

On our Great Southern Roadtrip, we trekked over to Graceland, home to Elvis Presley and his family from 1957 until sometime after Elvis’ death in 1977, after we visited Sun Studio. Personally, I was underwhelmed and a little weirded out by the experience. To my mind, it was a sad comment on the deadening excess that too often accompanies the success of music that is born out of raw passion.

Jennifer has a different take on it, so in honor of Elvis week, we give you Graceland…


The first time I went to Graceland I was 17. It was during a particularly packed (and fraught) college visiting trip with my mother, an hour or two taken out to do something that probably wouldn’t result in mutual seething. At the time it seemed enormous and glittery and truly awe-inspiring, and I loved it. I got a small metal pink cadillac key-chain as a souvenir, which I have referred to as the “pink cadillac of freedom” ever since. It represented everything I thought college would be: my chance to get out of the house, to be glamorous, to … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Newport Folk Festival, Part II

And here’s part two of Jennifer’s Newport odyssey.

Day 2

I had kind of had my fill of the festival crowd the day before, so on Sunday I was a terrible musical correspondent and spent the morning wandering around Newport looking at historic homes. The Mansions, as they are called, are the former vacation “cottages” of various 19th century robber barons. This is the back yard of the one called The Elms, and Louis XIV would feel right at home, not least because they have some of his wifes’ pillows in a case in their upstairs hallway:


In the afternoon I hopped a water taxi (can I tell you how much I LOVE water taxis? A lot!!) and went back out to the Festival for the Felice Brothers:


James Felice, Ian Felice, and Christmas

They played an oddly dirge-heavy set, though they did do funky music-hall versions of both Greatest Show on Earth and Frankie’s Gun. When they were finished it was time for me to leave and wind my … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Newport Folk Festival, Part I

Jennifer took a trip out to the legendary Newport Folk Festival and brought us back this two-part report.

Day 1

The first night of the festival, one of the topics of dinner conversation was Why are you here? Not in a mean way, but rather: what inspired you to make this journey? The best answer I could come up with was: Well, I got a wild hair . . . which was met with bemused humming and ended in a tangent on regional usage of the phrase. It’s essentially true, however: I went to Rhode Island for about 24 hours largely because back in February I squinted at the calendar and decided I could and it was there and why not?, and oh yes, there are some bands playing that I kind of like! And possibly also because the Internet has permanently changed my idea of what qualifies as a “local show.” Rhode Island! I can get there on the train! (And the bus . . . ) That totally qualifies as “nearby”!

My voyage to the Newport Folk Festival began before dawn on Saturday and included a brief (and accidental) detour to New London, CT. … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: The Lemonheads, and a vast amount of feelings

Jennifer has promised a forthcoming post on the Newport Folk Festival, but first she has some feelings about the dreaded “nostalgia act” vibe to work out.

Internet, in the last two weeks I have, among other things, seen the Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum and The Lemonheads, and I have a lot of feelings on the subject that I’d like to discuss, but first I’d like you to meet two fantastic newer bands: The Shining Twins and The Candles.

These are The Shining Twins:


Alex Weiss (bass), Marisa Kreiss (drums), Xanax Aird (guitar, lurking in the background)
They were the first band at the Lemonheads show. I knew a little bit about them before I got there, enough that I had them in my mental “you should maybe check them out” file, and so I was excited to see them on the bill. I wasn’t too sure how I was going to feel about the music, because the two songs I had heard – I Hate You and Stix + Stonez – were towards the whinier end of the punk spectrum. I am pleased … Continue reading

Roadtrippin’: Clarksdale, Part II

After our visit to the Delta Blues Museum, we stopped at the beautifully restored Greyhound station in Clarksdale, which now serves as its visitor information center, and one of the friendly gentlemen on duty gave me a helpful map locating blues-relevant sites around town. Using it, we headed up 4th Street so I could photograph the historic marker for Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. (not to be confused with his Mississippi Blues Trail marker, which is in Tunica).

Nothing on the marker indicates that its placement is particularly relevant to House’s history, but standing on that street for a few minutes gave a little insight into at least two of the “classes” that populate Clarksdale. Son House’s marker is implanted in the sidewalk in front of a folk art gallery where no one pays you much mind unless you look like you have money to spend, while just down the street, a seemingly schizophrenic man was shouting about something very important to him. These moneyed, white-owned establishments feel heartbreakingly out-of-place in Clarksdale. Though I am clearly operating from an outsider’s … Continue reading

Roadtrippin’: An annotated travel playlist with visual accompaniment

This week, Jennifer treats us to some highlights from her roadtrip playlist along with various photos from our trip to Oxford, Mississippi. Bob Dylan seemed to be an underlying theme of our trip, beginning with some giddy, punchy conversation over dinner on the first night of our drive wherein Jennifer and I told Cam how Dylan had recently been picked up in a neighborhood in New Jersey where the apprehending officers did not recognize him.

I would also like to note that I was not party to the Lady Gaga song.

Selections from the roadtrip playlist, with annotations, and some photographs from the road:

1. Battle Stations, Brine and Bastards – I bought two roadtrip necessities in a truckstop somewhere in Ohio: a satin Peterbilt pillow, for napping in the back seat, and a radio converter for my iPod. This is the first song I cued up once we had everything set up. Brine and Bastards specialize in punk songs on topics of interest to pirates; this particular tune is one I use to get myself moving in the mornings.

2. What Are You Waiting For, Phantom Planet – This one … Continue reading

Roadtrippin’: Sun Studio

Some people wouldn’t understand. This is not conceit on my part but an observation based on the fact that people were all around, but I was the only one standing at the glass wall, gazing in glaze-eyed wonder. I may or may not have pressed my face to the glass. I was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and behind the glass was a mixing board from Sun Studio. I was imagining the hands that had turned those knobs and the music that had been monitored through that console. I was transfixed.

About ten years later, driving down Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, I grew giddy with excitement when I spied the huge (and impressively accurate) Gibson guitar sign that now marks the original home of that piece of unassuming equipment I had swooned over at the Rockhall. Walking up to the old storefront studio is a little like stepping into a time vortex for … Continue reading