Ode to a redneck squirrel not long for this world

So I’m sitting here on my front porch, contemplating our fragile world in the rocking chair where I often sip bourbon, because dammit, if I can’t write like Faulkner I’m at least gonna cosplay as him.

And as the sun sets, as all around me is the bounteous harmony of nature, the crickets chirping and the birds trilling, there’s only one false note: the incessant crackle of acorn husks hitting the driveway.  Again and again and again.

I’ve got squirrels everywhere around me. I’ve captured a few trying to break into my house, and I deport them across a five-lane highway or a river where they have to deal with other, possibly racist squirrels.

But the ones that I can’t catch … oh, those little bastards hang out high in the trees over my driveway, throwing off their acorn husks like so empty beer cans. These idiots are just a GO JUNIOR away from full-on redneckery.

Speaking of which: when I was younger, I was playing at a neighbor’s house when his brother blasted a squirrel out of a tree with the cold, dead eye of a damn World War II sniper. The brother grabbed the dead squirrel by the tail. When I asked what he was going to do with it, the answer was simple: “I’m’a cook him up.”

We laughed and went back to doing whatever it is eight-year-olds do in backyards. We thought it was a joke … at least until we saw the headless, pawless, tailless squirrel bobbing merrily in a pot of boiling water on the stove an hour later. (The South, everybody!)

So, yeah, screw you, redneck squirrels. You don’t even get the goodwill bump that raccoons got thanks to “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Get down here and clean this mess up. I’ve still got my old neighbors’ phone number.

Robert Plant’s solo albums say plenty, though I can’t understand what

Here’s A.M. Shuffle, where I get the writing engine going with a few words on whatever pops up next on my phone. Today: Robert Plant’s “Burning Down One Side.”

Growing up as a middle-class white kid in suburbia, I idolized rock god Robert Plant because, obviously, we had so much in common. Each Zeppelin album was a freaking revelation,  and even though they were all available by the time I was old enough to comprehend what was going on, I’d take weeks or months to get through each one, wringing every cassette tape/CD dry to dive deep into the bass line on “No Quarter” or the yelps on “Trampled Underfoot” or the existential weirdness of “Four Sticks.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.39.39 AMAs for his solo albums? Let’s just say I was a VERY generous listener. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t digging on the avant-garde absurdity of Plant’s solo work (which reached its apex/nadir/whatever with “Little By Little,” an album which, by Plant’s own admission, has not one chorus whatsoever). Granted, Plant was in an uncomfortable position, as you can see from that photo — a classic rock icon who wanted to make NEW music in a post-punk era — so he pursued the strategy Dave Chappelle would use three decades later: do whatever the hell you want and purge those not willing to follow along.

“Burning Down One Side” is a perfect example of Plant’s post-Zep arc. This was off Plant’s first solo album, “Pictures At Eleven,” and while it certainly SEEMS like classic rock, it fits in that niche like a car parallel-parked the wrong way. Sure, it sounds like a distant cousin of a Zeppelin tune, but that’s mainly due to Plant’s voice; the dude could sing “Jingle Bells” and make it sound like a “Houses of the Holy” B-side.

This is more a product of ’80s rock, with synth drums and barely intelligible vocals and strummed chords thrown out like raw meat to hold off the charging we-want-Zep-back hordes (a crew which, it must be noted, has only increased in number in the ensuing 30 years).

Listening to this now, without the benefit of a cheap high school car stereo and a curfew to mitigate it, what I’m struck by is the lack of meanness to this. Much like when Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl made their own solo joints, Plant lost a crucial sinister element when he cut loose from Jimmy Page. Sure, he’ll still romance your mom, but he’s not going to scare you while he’s wooing her.

Plant’s still cranking out albums, of course; dude won a Grammy for his duets with Alison Krauss. And he turned down enough money to buy Mordor itself by refusing to tour with a re-formed Led Zeppelin. Even after all these years, I still have so much in common with him it’s scary.

Smashing Pumpkins and smashing pyramids

pyramidWelcome to A.M. Shuffle, where I begin the day writing about whatever music pops up on shuffle, and whatever pops into my head as a result. Today: Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero.”

During the post-grunge/proto-emo bang of the 1990s, I was living in Memphis. This is a supremely weird city, a place where the kind of absurdity that would send most other Americans screaming back to the sanity of the suburbs is accepted with a shrug and a tip o’ the dry-rubbed rib rack.

Case in point: the Pyramid. Look at it. That’s a gigantic freaking pyramid in the center (well, just north) of a major (-ish) American city. It was an arena that nobody quite knew how to manage or run properly; the first night it opened in 1991, it nearly flooded, and pretty much every major plan hatched for the Pyramid in successive years (observation deck, casino, aquarium, external elevator) has failed. Now? Now it’s supposed to be the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops outlet. Of course. (It was also the centerpiece for the climactic scene of my most recent novel, which you should totally buy.)

Where were we going with this? Oh, right, Smashing Pumpkins. Anyway, I saw quite a few concerts and games in the Pyramid, some amazing (Memphis playing then-No. 1 Arkansas), some absurd (a Memphis Pharaohs arena football league game with actual camels wandering the field). When the Smashing Pumpkins came to town, well, I was there, brother.

Here’s one strange architectural element of a pyramid: while inside, sound travels upward to the point. That’s fascinating from an acoustic perspective, and nightmarish from a performative one. Sound from the arena would hit those walls and rocket straight upward, so that even full-volume concerts wouldn’t sound all that loud to the people and performers at ground level. Huge sound baffles hung from the inner walls did little to alter that.

You can see where this is going. Billy Corgan and the Pumpkins started playing, and Corgan is not the most, shall we say, forgiving of performers. He was clearly frustrated from what he perceived as the audience’s lack of response, and kept imploring the crowd to “make some noise. This is rock n’ roll.” Thing is, we were making noise; this was the 90s, and we were all about the atmospheric spacey mood-rock.

Corgan couldn’t hear it, and after a routine set stormed off the stage. And that was how he left us Memphibians, cheering our fool heads off for someone who couldn’t hear us. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Anyway, here. Listen and enjoy. Clap and maybe Billy will hear  YOU.

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