Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It’s probably because it’s the only holiday hosted at my house, which means there’s no travel involved, and there’s always somewhere to escape to when the conversation turns uncomfortably to politics (I’m not gonna lie: I can’t wait for that discussion this year). Best of all, it means that I get to enjoy the absurd amount of leftovers in our fridge for as long as I’m home—including my father’s turkey salad, my grandmother’s stuffing, and my mother’s latest experiment (I’m hoping for something quinoa-related). And cranberry sauce! I love cranberry sauce. Not the homemade kind with whole berries—I’m talking about the jellied mass that arrives on your plate with can indentations still in its sides. So good.
But as much as I love Thanksgiving, I usually drop the ball when it comes to the “important” part of the holiday: actually giving thanks. In the years when my mother has decided that we should go around the table and express our gratitude for something, I usually end up stuttering something bland like “being home with my family”. Not to say that isn’t true, but come on. That leaves a whole lot left unsaid. And so, knowing full well that I’ll probably miss my opportunity to lay it all on the line again this year, I’m going to put down in writing the things I’ve been most grateful for this year. And since you don’t care about stuff like my wonderful girlfriend and the Boston Celtics taking home the NBA championship, I’ll just include the music-related items. Without further ado, I’m thankful for…
Wu-Tang. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan, but this has been a banner year for the crew in my eyes, and I’m not even talking about Eight Diagrams. From RZA’s Digi Snacks (which I continue to love even if no one else seems to) to Method Man crowd-walking at Rock the Bells, these guys really upped their game in ‘08. Plus, without Wu-Tang, we wouldn’t have this.
Nas. Speaking of Rock the Bells, this guy who really stole that show. His masterful five-song performance at Rock the Bells not only made my nine-hour day worthwhile, but it also made me re-examine the MC’s entire catalog. This was a very good thing.
People Under the Stairs. Even if the duo’s latest album, Fun DMC, has yet to really grow on me, I have to give it up to Double K and Thes One for sticking to the game plan, which, as far as I can tell, is simple: Have fun and don’t care what anyone else thinks. It may not make them incredibly wealthy or famous, but it will make all my BBQs much, much funkier.
Numero Group. Without this shoebox-digging Chicago label, I would never have experienced such rarities as Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal, the previously unreleased Brotherman soundtrack, and the many-layered greatness of Mr. Syl Johnson. I can only imagine what new treasures are in store for next year. (And thanks to my friend Dave, not only for introducing me to the label, but for lacking the willpower to stop buying all its releases—and subsequently giving them to me.)
Late Night Tales. I know, most of these nocturnal mixes from artists like Fatboy Slim and Air came out well before ‘08, but I really just got into them this past year. I especially love the one by Norway’s Lindstrom, which has made my recent return to the gym a whole lot easier. Anyone who can make me enjoy Carly Simon and Dusty Springfield deserves a shout-out.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. You may be thinking, what does the funniest show on TV have to do with music? If you are, that means you somehow haven’t witnessed the gang’s a capella versions of Extreme’s “More Than Words” or Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. And, of course, there’s the infamous “Nightman”.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I won’t say this enormous metallic spider/spaceship, part of Chicago’s Millennium Park, is the best outdoor venue in the country (it’s tough to be when the stage is sunk so low as to be invisible to most of the audience), but I had yet another memorable summer of concerts here, including Orchestra Baobab and Death Cab for Cutie.
Wilco’s sewing skills. I may not love the direction that Chicago’s favorite group has headed over the past couple of albums, but they’ve never let me down live. Especially when they’re clad in rhinestone suits at Lollapalooza. I didn’t think anything could follow Sharon Jones’ energetic performance at the adjacent stage, but this came close.
Nick Cave and Jonathan Richman. For refusing to act their ages, in very different ways.
Greed, pride, boredom...whatever inspired X to get the original lineup back together and tour again. I didn’t think I’d ever get to hear classics like “Los Angeles” and “The Unheard Music” live.
Mixtape Mixtape. Who needs Pandora or podcasts when there’s this awesome site full of uploaded mixes from around the world? Whenever my iPod’s getting stale, I inject some new life with a few clicks. Currently, I’m on a soul-funk kick, gobbling up mixes like “Back at the Chicken Shack” and “Walking to Work”.
And finally…anyone who’s given me a mix or burned me a CD in the past year, or just made me listen to the radio once in awhile. You’ve helped me get out of my self-created musical ruts, and in the process enabled me to discover/rediscover many songs that would’ve otherwise passed me by, like Remy Ma’s “Conceited”, Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands”, and Lil’ Wayne’s “Mrs. Officer”, whose siren-mimicking chorus was—for a week at least—as appealing to me as the sound of cranberry sauce sliding out of a can. I can’t ask for much more than that.
// Notes from the Road
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