Hello Loyal LL2RNR Reader,

Okay, so here’s the bad news. No new letter this week. Why, you might ask? Well to put it simply it’s because you didn’t write one.

Here’s the good news. You can write a letter. Yes, it’s true. Little old you.

Save your excuses because all of them can be refuted.

Too busy: Unless you’re a neurosurgeon or a stockbroker this “too busy” mumbo jumbo won’t fly. It takes an hour to write a letter, maybe less if your juices are really flowing and/or you’ve already started writing the letter in your head. Then you can allot maybe 30 minutes (max) for reviewing/revising it. That’s 1.5 hours in total (max). That’s also 1.5 hours well spent.

Too scared: If you begin the process of writing a letter you may find that all kinds of feelings come up and then you might start to feel scared. That’s okay. That’s a good thing. Feelings exist for humans. Don’t repress, express!

Too capitalistic: Oh, so you want to be paid for your letter do you? When was the last time you wrote a letter? Try it again and see how good it feels. Letters are fun! Some might even say they are better than PM’s or texts or even the now old-fashioned email. Why? Because it takes time and effort to write them. Let the process of giving yourself time to craft something, and putting forth effort to write about something you care about, be your reward. Money is an illusion, don’t let it enslave you. Don’t just be a consumer, be a contributor!

At a loss for an idea: Do you realize that this blog is the key to a portal of limitless possible topics connected to music? Here are some topics that no one has yet to address (and could/should):

  • A beloved mix tape/CD/Playlist
  • A beloved piece of music equipment
  • A previously (or currently) owned stereo, boom box, record player, Walkman etc. etc.
  • A show/performance that moved you
  • A venue that you love (maybe it is still around, maybe it’s gone, maybe it’s morphed into something else)
  • A sound snippet in a song
  • An article written about music by someone else
  • A music researcher/research study focused on music
  • A jukebox
  • A person who first exposed you to (fill in the blank with something music related)

Are you getting the picture? Music fervor offers limitless possibilities.

You can do this! Seriously! We know you’ve clicked on the Submissions tab because WordPress gives us daily statistics (looking squarely at you people in the UK, US, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Germany, Costa Rica, India, Mexico etc.).

Be brave! Be obsessive! If you’re nervous you can remain anonymous. Write a love letter to Prince’s motorcycle in “Purple Rain.” Write a letter to the animatronic band from Chuck E. Cheese’s or the lesser known Show Biz Pizza Place. Write a letter to Bryan Adams and talk about how that song “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” makes you feel like you are smack dab in the middle of a junior high dance every single time you hear it. The sky’s the limit here people! Transcendence is only a few short key strokes away.

Patiently waiting for your submissions,
LL2RNR

RECOMMENDED INSPIRATION

The Jacks: Why Don’t You Write Me

The Shangri-Las: Train From Kansas City

The Box Tops: The Letter

Dear Sinead,

I want to be totally transparent with you. I would prefer for you to stay alive for selfish reasons. I am defining my reasons as selfish because:

  • I don’t actually know you
  • I am a fan of your music
  • I have no idea what it is like to be you

Here’s what I do know:

I know that you have impacted my life in a positive way for the last 20 years through your music and performance.

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I know that there are many female artists who I would define as personal heroes but that many of them (Ani Difranco, Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, and Kate Bush) do not continue to release albums that resonate with me year after year. To avoid any ambiguity, every album you have released has songs on it that mean a great deal to me. Also, I am not trying to shit talk those ladies. They are all amazing too in their own ways. But, from my humble perspective, your discography has been more consistent.

I know that based off of what I can gather from watching interviews and the like, you are a complex person who has often been pigeonholed and maligned. Why do we as humans like to try to sort people into categories and then mock them if they fall into a category that is unknown, not understood and/or not recognized by society, and consequently react to them as if they are bad or dangerous? Why is being unique and/or fluid often a threat to society or religion or any organized group with rules and expectations?

Here’s what I think:

You are a bad ass, but I think you are also extremely shy and sensitive.

You speak your mind and you do bold things to get your point across. I love you for this.

You are physically and spiritually beautiful.

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You defy convention, maybe sometimes on purpose and maybe sometimes just because you are doing your thing.

Your outfit, haircut, dancing and singing is inspirational on the “The Value of Ignorance.” During that time in your career/life were you able to appreciate your coolness? I hope so. If not, feel free to appreciate it now.

I am so sorry that you have experienced trauma in your life. So many people are victimized as children. So many people are victimized as adults. I would wonder if adding fame to the mix might make things additionally painful or difficult. How do you integrate the pain(s) of the past and keep moving forward into the future? How does trauma affect your outlook on the world? Over the past 20 years that I have listened to your music I can see that you’re trying. You experiment, express, evolve, break down, and keep moving forward. You are brave. You are an example to others. I hope that being called an example doesn’t feel like too much expectation. The same goes for brave.

I appreciate that you have continued to write and perform music throughout the ups and downs. Sometimes it is also okay to take a break. Has anyone directly told you that you could do that if you want to? Sometimes it is also okay to take a different path. Has anyone directly told you this as well? If you need to hear it I will say it to you. If you want to keep on keeping on in the world of music of course I (and a load of other people) will be thrilled. But, I want to tell you that you are of value regardless of where you focus your energies. If you need to focus your energies on resting and regrouping that is a valuable way to spend your time. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

I hope this letter didn’t come across as too preachy or too cheerleaderesque. I don’t know you. I don’t know what it is like to be you and move through each and every day of your life. I can only tell you that I appreciate you. Your music has bettered my life. I’m glad you existed and I hope you will find a way to continue to exist.

Be safe (love you),
April

Thanks for writing and recording the following songs:

Jump In The River

Troy (recorded live in London)

This Is A Rebel Song

Dear John,

How these three albums came out of a man that should have been completely jaded with the record business at this point in his career is something miraculous, and a true testament to perseverance. I’m talking about American Fool, Uh-Huh, and Scarecrow by the man of many monikers, John Mellencamp.

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Listen to “Cheap Shot” from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did and you would never expect his next album to be a commercial breakthrough. (Actually, American Fool was almost totally scrapped by his label.)

Who would question the output of a wise ass such as this:

Labeled as heartland rock and the next Neil Diamond, while this totally mocks a culture and barely anyone got the joke.

That being said, American Fool kicked (and still kicks) some serious ass, in listenability, lyricism, and sales. Fitting for him, the title track was among the songs that were nixed from the initial release. Nose-thumbing and still succeeding in the business—admirable today, much more so then. My tender ears could feel the honesty in all three of these albums, which were a large part of my 80s listening pleasure. In “honesty,” I mean the evidence of his love/hate for what he’s doing. I think there are a bunch of singer-songwriters out there that owe a nod to this dude, but refrain for odd reasons. Maybe they’re waiting until he kicks the bucket, in true industry fashion. Regardless, I love this man. As a child, I wanted to be him, he was the shit. Anyone who listens to “Weakest Moments” and hates it is a person I’d rather not speak with.

In walks Uh-Huh. This one was the kicker for me. I can still remember my parents showing my sister and I how to turn on the receiver, place the record on the turntable and set the needle. This album has a special place in my heart, I can remember jumping around to “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” like it was yesterday. And the delightfully playful “Jackie O,” which was done with John Prine. I used to stare at the album art and wish I was cool, not even fully comprehending the messages in the songs. Now, I like them even more. “Forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar.”

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And then, Scarecrow. Another beast of an album, telling people everything they should already know within an awesome rock and roll album. From the horse’s mouth in 1985: “I wrote a song called ‘Stand For Something,’ but I never did say what you should stand for— except your own truth. That song was supposed to be funny, too, and I hope people got that. But I think that’s the key to the whole LP —suggesting that each person come to grips with their own individual truth—and try to like themselves a little bit more. Find out what you as a person are—and don’t let the world drag you down. People should have respect for and believe in themselves.”

This is the reason his music resonates and transcends generations. I know people decades older and decades younger than me who appreciate his work as much as I do. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Mellencamp, whatever—I love you. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Dan

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Danger List

Crumblin’ Down

Justice and Independence ’85

A love letter to “Pet Sounds”*

When listening to Pet Sounds, it’s hard to think about anything but the total gorgeousness of the music, and all the insanely deep emotions it provokes in me. Which is why I never felt comfortable saying it had any influence on me. It’s an incredible piece of work, musically and emotionally, and that’s that. It’s so advanced that I find it rather embarrassing when the average mostly-amateur indie musician claims to be influenced by Pet Sounds. Really? It’s like the Ramones claiming to be influenced by Bach. I get that you listened to Pet Sounds and loved it, but come on. You’re not operating on anything close to that level.

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But as I’ve spent more and more time with Pet Sounds, I’ve started to notice the elements that make it powerful and important to me other than its sheer musical beauty. One is the way it uses the idiom of sixties pop music to aim at the kind of grandeur and high-art beauty formerly reserved for classical music, opera, etc. Sure, Phil Spector and his many imitators had done pop grandeur before, but it always seemed to me to have a crassly commercial bent, a cynicism and tongue-in-cheek element that diluted its power. And of course, it never had Brian Wilson’s musical inventiveness and dexterity. The Beach Boys, in Pet Sounds, found a deeper sincerity in their music at the same time as they scaled dazzling new heights compositionally.

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Brian Wilson’s coinage of the phrase “teenage symphony to God” around this period shows where his head was at. That phrase and the whole cluster of associations it evokes—artistic ambition, spiritual sincerity, bubblegum music trying to become something grand—is the big way that Pet Sounds had an effect on me as a songwriter/musician, aside from its devastating effect on my heart and mind as a listener.

Ezra

* A portion of this essay previously appeared here

SLIGHT VARIATIONS ON SONGS YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW

Hang On To Your Ego

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

God Only Knows

To the magnificent “Rip It Up,”

My first encounter with you was in 2010 at Lit Lounge in Manhattan. Despite being filthy, sticky and way past its prime, the place was packed and brimming with the unmistakable loud of drunk people screaming to be heard over music. I was drinking a nightcap with friends, attempting to stay enthused despite my preference to drink nightcaps in an actual bed.

The sweet sound of your synthesized bassline broke through the din and constant stream of indie dance pop which permeated the city’s bars back then: Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem, Chromeo, The Juan MacLean, et al. Fine enough artists on their own but taken en masse it’s easy to overdose.

I expressed my intrigue to the gang and all I got was “You’ve never heard this song before?” and “Something about it reminds me of ‘Genius of Love,'” neither of which was much help. My ears were on high alert, not unlike a dog hearing it’s owners voice. I struggled to make out your lyrics so I could Google them in the morning and answer some burning questions: Who wrote you and when? Is that crooning I hear over your quirky disco sounds? Are you trendy throwback or a genuine original? If you’re an original, where have you been all my life?

Despite being a few drinks deep and up hours past my bedtime, I managed to get home and eventually wake with “I hope to God you’re not as…” swimming around in my brain. I couldn’t complete the lyric but, brimming with excitement, took to Google with high hopes.

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Thankfully other people had found themselves in a similar situation which allowed me to piggyback on their quest and get some answers.

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Who wrote you and when?
Orange Juice in 1982. Orange Juice was a Scottish post-punk band fronted by your writer, Edwyn Collins, who would later go on to record the ubiquitous 90s hit “A Girl Like You” (fittingly included on the Empire Records soundtrack; slightly less so on Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle). For the general public, that song’s success far eclipsed his previous work. Edwyn seemed like a one-hit wonder to most people, despite having a treasure trove of distinctive music under his belt.

Is that crooning I hear over your quirky disco sounds?
Indeed it is. What would Sinatra have thought if he’d come across you back then (assuming that as a 67-year-old he did not trifle with edgy young Scots)?

Are you trendy throwback or a genuine original?
You, my friend, are fortunate enough to be a genuine original. Edwyn must have known you were an oddball, coming from a band who was previously known for their jangly guitar-driven sound. Still, he went with his gut and recorded you, making you the only Orange Juice song to hit the UK charts.

Where have you been all my life?
Hidden in plain sight. I recall a conversation from 2005 where a friend asked “Have you listened to Orange Juice? They were a big influence on Belle & Sebastian.” The answer was no, so the same friend kindly introduced me to “Falling and Laughing” and “Simply Thrilled Honey.” Both songs are enjoyable, but do they take me to that special place you do? Not exactly.

So thanks to you, I dug deeper into the Orange Juice catalog and eventually learned about Edwyn’s remarkable recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage. I want to give him and all his songs a great big bear hug. It’s impossible to count how many times they accompanied me on the way to work or the number of times your melody and lyrics have happily stuck in my head.

Crooning and disco. Who woulda thought…? Your sound isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for me.

xo,
Christine

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Rip It Up

Dear Jeff Mangum,

It was Seattle 1999. Many days of rain and clouds led me back to the video store down the street from my house (they still existed then!). My love for film led me to bump into a fellow film and music obsessive who at first I called “video store boy.” As video store boy and I also both frequented a place called Cranium—a coffee house, another Seattle survival tool—we discussed films and then started to swap mixed tapes (yes these still existed then too!).

Geeking out over lattes and comic books and old-school toys at Cranium, I was handed the first mixed tape, and heard your song with Neutral Milk Hotel, “Oh Comely” off your album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. When you sing, “Thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums / The music and medicine you needed for comforting” it speaks to me of the time I saw you play live.

Fast forward to 2013—where my family and I lived and still live in Oakland, CA—when after a long hiatus (I thought I would never get to see you play) you announced the tour and your reunion with Neutral Milk Hotel and I saw you sing your heart out at the Fox Theatre. The words of “Oh Comely” literally came alive for me as the theatre was transformed into a psychedelic-indie-folk-punk church with everyone singing, crying and laughing in utter joy.

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It is so cliché, yet it was one of the most musically spiritual moments of my life. I felt I somehow knew everyone in the audience and I knew you too. To hear your raw, shaky, soulful, authentic voice filled with melancholy, hope and wisdom in real-time instead of on our record player at home or in the dark, damp basements of Seattle was a dream come true and a checked off box on my bucket list. Thank you Jeff for following your creative darkness as well as your creative bliss to flourish back in Ruston, Louisiana.

Backtrack again to the late 90’s in Seattle, as I struggled to get through school and find my place 3,000 miles away from my family in the never ending grey skies, your music was a golden thread to validation for being outside the box, for being able to see the deep, dark beauty of the world and for it to be okay.

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After playing your music on long road trips with my husband, he also became a convert. When I had the flu and gave his best friend my ticket to see you in Neutral Milk Hotel instead of solo, I knew he would represent my devoted love at your concert. My husband and his friend still talk about the amazing synergy of the horns (bagpipes too), the vocals, the audience love, the “thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums” to this day. They were so grateful for the introduction to your music.

I still am holding out to see you in Neutral Milk Hotel as part two of my bucket list. Please, please come back to the Fox Theatre in Oakland. I feel you may have gone back into your bear cave which I understand of course. How else could your brilliant lyrics be written? As in “Someone Is Waiting” on the album On Avery Island; “Someone is waiting to swallow all the halos out of you / As your face blows / Through my windows / Sending pieces flying all around the moon / And I love you / And I want to / Shoot all the superheroes from your skies / Watch them bleeding / From your ceiling / As their empty anger falls out from their eyes / All alone….” I know you need to continue to create yet I beg you don’t stay in your cave too long. Please don’t sequester your magic alone anymore, share it with the world and know you are loved.

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You’ve even touched the heart of my five year old son Kirin. He heard “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” come on today and he jumped up, left his Legos (what!?) and began to dance. After twirling and spinning and making up cool dance moves, we had a beautiful mother-son dance inspired by you. My nine month old Saoirse claps and smiles with her two teeth which is her way of saying “Keep on keepin’ on.” And as they say out here in Oaklandia, “You are my spirit animal Jeff Mangum!”

Your obsessed fan and admirer forever,
Heather

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Someone Is Waiting

Tip 1) Listen to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea from start to finish as it is a reflection on the Diary of Anne Frank. The album tells a haunting and creative story that is illuminated listening from the beginning to end.

Tip 2) Neutral Milk Hotel Pandora station is really enjoyable as you will deliciously swim in the sounds of Elliott Smith, Jose Gonzales, The Shins, Violent Femmes and so forth…

 

Record Store Lovers of the World Unite!

Have you ever really loved a music store? I mean really really loved it? Am I lucky to have grown up during a time where even in a small rural town in eastern Pennsylvania there was a (very cool) local record store? Am I thrilled every time I return home and I visit said record store and it smells EXACTLY the same as it did when I first began frequenting it in middle school? I will do my best to answer all of these questions (and more!) in this letter.

The store I love is Record Connection in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. You’ve never heard of Ephrata you say? Well put visiting it on your “to-do” list and make sure to visit on a Friday so you can also hit up the Green Dragon farmer’s market which is conveniently located across the street AND which also happens to have a huge fiberglass green dragon as part of its sign!!!!

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Legend has it that you if go into Record Connection and tell the clerk “El Dorado” they will give you some of what is spelled in yellow on the sign.
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The back room in all it’s glory

The first time I ever went into Record Connection was in 6th grade. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, had been going there for a few years and buying used copies of albums such as “Houses of the Holy” and “90125” on compact disc. He had also been occasionally taking CDs from the family collection and trading them in without telling anyone, but that’s another story for another time. On my first visit I bought a John Lennon t-shirt and my first used album “The John Lennon Collection” on compact disc (do you see a theme here?). I wore that John Lennon shirt religiously. I was a girl, in the 6th grade, in a small rural town, who wore an oversized John Lennon shirt at least once a week. Let me be clear, everyone else was wearing shirts featuring Guns n Roses (if you were male) and Janet Jackson OR Paula Abdul (if you were female). I did not fit in.

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My beloved oversized John Lennon shirt

In 9th grade, my fervor for Record Connection really gained momentum when I became friends with someone who was also female AND who was likewise obsessed with music. Millennials, you have no idea how easy you had it/have it. These days it is completely socially acceptable to be female and be a music fan (even in small towns? You tell me. Because…I’d love it to hear about it). In the 1990s in little ol’ Denver Pennsylvania I assure you this was not the case. My friend and I were most certainly the minority. Thankfully, our love of music triumphed over our desire to be socially accepted. Wow! This letter is really about to take a crotchety old-timeresque turn when I tell you that on the day “In Utero” was released we walked 2 miles from her house to RC so we could purchase the highly anticipated album. I bought it on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman while I walked to school; she bought it on compact disc. We walked the 2 miles back to her house and listened to it in her room with a passion for Kurt Cobain pumping through our veins (there was probably some incense burning going on as well).

There was a period of time where she and I regularly traded in albums in order to buy new items. This process began in 9th grade and continued through our four years in high school. I have two very clear memories of specific trades/deals that were cut during this time. The first one involved me trading in “Pleased to Meet Me” on cassette so that I could buy “We’re Not Gonna Take it” on 45 (by this time I had a record player and was interested in vinyl). Needless to say, I was mocked. I remember the guy who worked there at the time who my friend and I privately referred to as “the young guy” (there was also an “old guy”) loudly commenting “She traded in a Replacements album so she could buy a Twisted Sister record!” A-hem! For the record (pun intended) I still stand by this trade today. I love the Replacements to death, but in my opinion the production on “Pleased to Meet Me” is turd city. Need proof? Listen to a demo or live version of “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Guitars trump horns Jim Dickson!

My other standout high school trading memory involves me repeatedly taking the Therapy? album Troublegum to the store and sneaking it into my trade piles until one day the “young guy” said, to no one in particular, “She just keeps bringing this in. Fine! I’ll just take it!” I think that maybe he gave me $2 in store credit that day. I can’t remember if/how I spent it.

Record Connection has been, for me, a lot like the tree in that Shel Silverstein book. As I have aged, it has continued to meet my needs. Whenever I return home to visit my parents I try to squeeze in a visit. These days I typically leave with a stack of $1 albums and/or some $1 bootleg CDs. God how I love this store! When you use the bathroom you are sitting the same room with the vinyl soundtracks which allows you to look for Beat Street immediately after you finish taking a leak.

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Just in case you’re wondering what the discs look like inside, they are all CDRs with the album name hand written on them

How can I fit it all in? The way that the “old guy” starting referring to me as Cyndi somewhere in the middle of 9th grade because I would always buy Cyndi Lauper albums/memorabilia. How I probably spent a significant amount of money throughout my high school years on the new old stock 80s pins they kept in a plastic bin on the front counter. (Yes, I do have a Goonies pin featuring Cyndi Lauper and yes I am bragging.) And how recently I was in the store and someone asked “the metal guy” who (still!) works there how he was doing and he replied with, “Eh. VG minus.”

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The “metal guy”

Record Connection, I love you. Please, never ever change. Keep on being great! You’ll always be a VG+ in my book!

Love,
April