Escape from LA : Day 4 : Roadtrip Playlist

I’ve been sharing my hand-picked selections for each leg of the greatest roadtrip of my life, together forming a massive thirteen-hour playlist in four parts. Here’s links to parts one, two, and three if you missed them.

The fourth and final day is predominantly the sounds of sunny Southern California – punk, surf, ska, and just a little old school gangsta rap. Many of the artists featured are Californians themselves. Suggested pairing: A view of Saddleback Mountain

Escape from LA : Day 3 : Roadtrip Playlist

I’ve been sharing my hand-picked selections for each leg of the greatest roadtrip of my life, together forming a massive thirteen-hour playlist in four parts. Here’s links to part one and part two if you missed them.

Set in New Mexico and Arizona, day three includes various flavors of rock including classic, alternative, and punk with an overnight stay in a motel whose radio only gets an 80’s pop/new wave station. Beware dinosaurs and low flying saucers. Suggested pairing: An abiding appreciation for the majestic saguaro.

Escape from LA : Day 2 : Roadtrip Playlist

I’ve been sharing my hand-picked selections for each leg of the greatest roadtrip of my life, together forming a massive thirteen-hour playlist in four parts. Here’s a link to part one in case you missed it.

Day two is a collection of punk, psychobilly, and roots rock with detours for classic metal and a little Latin flair. No, you’re not out of Texas yet. Suggested pairing: That part of I-10W around Fort Hancock where Mexico is just to your left.

Escape from LA : Day 1 : Roadtrip Playlist

The roadtrip playlist is a time-honored tradition, dating back to the days of mix tapes, and it would’ve been a damn shame to let the greatest roadtrip of my life go by without suitable mood music. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my hand-picked selections for each leg of my journey, together forming a massive thirteen-hour playlist in four parts.

Day one is a broad selection of rockabilly, punk, and alternative, occasionally taking exits marked pop, hip-hop, and metal – there’s something for everyone to complain about. Are we there yet? Suggested pairing: That stretch of I-20W between Marshall and Longview.

Keep Saturn in Saturnalia

I have sort of a universalist view on Christmas. I was raised in a household with stockings hung by the chimney with care, but these days I spend the holidays more with the family I chose than the one I was born into, and my friends’ holiday traditions run the gamut. So I have warm memories of evergreen trees and candy canes, but the season, for me, isn’t really about any particular religious associations anymore. I love that so many different cultures choose this time of year to reflect and celebrate. I love that so many of our traditions – like feasting and gift-giving and wassailing (that’s your word of the day) – keep outliving the belief systems they get associated with. The “War on Christmas” crowd should breathe a sigh of relief – history would suggest that Christmas will go on long after even Christianity ends (although that may be exactly what they’re afraid of). If humanity makes it another ten thousand years, precedent says that regardless of what (if any) spiritual philosophies are en vogue, we’ll still be getting together with loved ones to eat, drink, and be merry sometime around the homeworld’s winter solstice. And that’s what I celebrate now – time with the people I love, another trip around the sun on this weird little rock with the rest of the earthlings. Remembering to be grateful for those I’ve lost and looking forward to another year with those who remain. It’s the season I find it easiest to embrace my shared humanity with everyone, everywhere; differences seem so much smaller during this time of intercultural revelry. Peace on earth and goodwill towards men, indeed. At least as long as I don’t have to go to the mall.

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Remember the Sabbath

Every cool riff has already been written. By Black Sabbath. Anything anyone else does is just basically ripping it off. You’re either playing it slightly different, or backwards, or faster, or slower, but they did everything already.

Rob Zombie, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, 2004

I don’t know that I’d call myself a ‘metalhead’ – I feel like as a genre it kind of lost its way in the 80s, and despite some bright spots here and there, overall it’s never really found its way back. But it would be hard to overstate the influence Black Sabbath’s first six albums had on me, both as a music enthusiast and as a musician. Seeing the original lineup live in 2004 rivaled any spiritual experience I’ve ever had.

As a teenager learning guitar, I once told an instructor my goal was to be able to put on Paranoid and play the whole album start-to-finish. That’s been at least 20 years ago, now, and if I’m being very honest, I still don’t know that I’ve reached it. I still discover inexplicably delicious bits in Tony Iommi’s guitar work, I may well spend the rest of my life unraveling it all – but I do play a mean War Pigs.

The thing about Black Sabbath is at this point it’s not even dad-rock anymore – it’s pushing grandpa territory. The eponymous LP (Black Sabbath, the album) turns fifty next year. Black Sabbath, the band, has put out nearly 20 studio albums over that span of time, and just as many live albums and compilations. While a lot of it was incredible, in my opinion, not all of it has aged well. Black Sabbath, the song, is kind of camp now – from this side of the satanic panic of the 80’s, it’s hard to remember devil-worship used to actually be scary. Volume 4 is part of the Sacred Six, but it’s definitely got some questionable choices – although admittedly I’ve never listened to it in a hot tub while doing lines of cocaine off naked women with Farrah Fawcett hair, which was apparently the artists’ intended listening environment. Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die show evidence of a band starting to lose their way, they’re not nearly as cohesive as the albums that came before. And I don’t see how the Dio era is even listenable to anyone that didn’t live through hair metal – there, I said it.

Despite all that, Black Sabbath (the band) doesn’t need me to defend them. Boomer-era nostalgia tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth these days, but even your most uber-hipster postmodernist post-punk would have a hard time dismissing the influence they’ve had – entire genres trace roots to Black Sabbath. Like Robert Johnson, so many musicians that came after credit them as an influence, it’s hard to imagine what music in the English-speaking world would’ve even been without them. Rob Zombie’s statement that every cool guitar riff was already written by Black Sabbath may not be too far off the mark; the blend of rootsy blues rock with classical and jazz influences as well as then-emerging hard rock and metal styles means their work covered a lot of ground. The endless box sets and best-ofs still go platinum and gold, and their work still gets introduced to new listeners every day, sometimes through unlikely avenues.

All that to say, there’s still a lot of people that LISTEN TO BLACK SABBATH. Their legacy is secure, and they don’t need me to curate it. But for me, personally, I wanted to take some time to think about what tracks I would point to in order to justify my esteem. I find it kind of interesting that whenever you’ve got bands with storied pasts and varied catalogues, fans frequently end up with highly personal perceptions of ‘definitive’. When I say “LISTEN TO BLACK SABBATH”, what tracks, specifically, do I mean? If someone told me they’d never heard a single Sabbath song, which ones would I be the most excited for them to hear for the first time?

It’s tempting, of course, in response, to just throw those first six albums in a playlist in their entirety. To avoid that, I decided to pick ten songs. What are the ten Black Sabbath songs everyone should hear before they die?

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Demon Seed

In 1996, I started seventh grade. I’d spent the last year at a private Christian school, and in my mind I was delving back into the secular cesspit of public education – just another face in the unwashed masses of cigarette-smoking swear-word-using pornography-addicted heathens.

As you can imagine, even in the ‘religulous’ deep South, this was not a world view that made me particularly popular. What most ostracized me was my taste in music. In addition to radio-friendly hits of the fifties and sixties as selected by the local “Oldies” station, I listened to a bunch of Christian punk bands that no one outside of a Baptist book store had ever heard of. But even I knew what that “NIN” (with the backwards ‘N’) scratched in white-out on everyone else’s Jansport backpack meant.

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Fear and Loathing in Harrison County

One of my favorite underrated writers, David Searcy, wrote in the 2002 horror novel Last Things:

.. right at the vague, obscure convergence of three states just as they seem to lose distinctive state-like qualities; individual picture-postcard characteristics fall away toward something pleasant enough – the trees, the numerous artificial lakes – but slack somehow, without conviction. They even name it. Arklatex. Or The Arklatex. The local TV reporters like to use the term a lot – the news from nowhere in particular live at five and there it is sure enough it might be anywhere with pine trees, red dirt, artificial lakes.

David Searcy, Last Things

He talks about the Arklatex as apprehensive, uneasy – uncertain of its place in the world. I think about that passage a lot when I drive past the pine trees and red dirt. If you get on US Route 80 in Shreveport, Louisiana and drive west, you’ll soon find yourself in Harrison County. It’s the next-door neighbor to Upshur County and Gilmer, Texas, the setting of Mr. Searcy’s critically-panned novel. Like him, I find these stretches of mundane, featureless highway ominous somehow. In the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (what’s the spoiler statute of limitations? We’re talking about a movie that’s old enough to collect Social Security) the protagonist stumbles upon a duplicate that’s not fully developed yet. The face is vague, and the body doesn’t have fingerprints – all the features, but no details; no character, no lines – like the first impression that’s stamped on a coin. Those swaths of nowhere in particular, I think, are unsettling for the same reasons – they might be anywhere with pine trees, red dirt, and artificial lakes – a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Exploring those back roads with their country graveyards and barbed-wire fences is kind of a hobby of ours. Driving past rural churches and gas stations with sun-bleached, hand-lettered signs; looking for deer and cattle; imagining what life is like behind porch screen doors and under rusted metal roofs. And listening to music – hours of music.

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