Archive for April, 2011

When putting failure on your resume makes for a great song

April 23, 2011

A few years ago my friend Chris and I saw Jim Boggia play in the Iota Club, a tiny venue in Arlington, Va. that gets a lot of acts on the rise. (For example, Nora Jones and Ryan Adams played there way back when.) But for everyone who passes through Iota to go onto big stardom, there are 100 or more who blow the lid off the place, only  to quickly dissolve into the white noise of life. It’s a travesty that the same hopeful energy that so many bring to their music doesn’t transfer into material success. But for some musicians — like Jim — it’s fine. They even embrace it.

Jim has a song called “Show my Face Around” which openly admits disappointment in his music career.

‘Cause I don’t like to show my face around

‘Cause I’m afraid I let some people down

So I just crawl back in my world of sound

Jim’s “world of sound” includes recordings of his family and friends that make it into “Show my Face Around.” You hear his mom singing “Hallejuia I’m a Bum,” you hear his dad saying “Hello everybody, hello,” you hear sound effects and analog tape hiss. It makes me think of my own sonic experimentation, when I discovered a delay pedal could make my guitar sound a thousand feet tall, when I flipped the 4-track tape over to create a backwards solo, when I discovered how two guitars playing the same chords, panned equally to the left and right, sound amazingly beautiful on stereo headphones.

Jim would rather be living in this sonic world rather than dealing with the difficulties of playing music full time. At Iota that night he told a story about an interaction he had with a music exec who told him he should “sound more like Howie Day.” Whatever your thoughts on Howie Day’s music, such a suggestion to someone of Jim Boggia’s caliber is like suggesting to F. Scott Fitzgerald that he should write James Patterson thrillers.

But Jim is doing just fine. He toured the UK and Japan recently, he has played with Jill Sobule and Tracy Bonham, and his most recent album has a perfect 5-star rating on

True to form, his latest album is called “Misadventures in Stereo,” a title that evokes the same spirit of his previous song “Show my Face Around,” which wasn’t afraid to address his musical melancholy.

Think about it: recording and promoting  a song about your limited musical success is analogous to listing your greatest failed project on the top line of your resume.

But that’s the beauty of music: you are not expected to conform, you are expected to express, and when it’s done at the expense of your own ego, well, it’s more authentic. Unlike people who go through life and pretend they do everything right, who can strut their way through any situation, Jim Boggia has total credibility because he admits where he’s been. A guy like Kanye West, on the other hand, is everything I dislike about what music has become, big heads and big declarations, hyperbole and swagger, set on party beats and music-less music.

Jim Boggia is the rare intersection of talent and truth. Check him out.


Cowbell rocks

April 20, 2011

The greatest SNL skit ever featured WillFerrell as a fictional cowbell player on the recording of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t fear the Reaper.” Cowbell works in comedy because it’s goofy, clanky, easy to play…unlike sophisticated and sexy rock band instruments like guitars and drums.  But if you take a listen to songs where cowbell is used…well…cowbell kind of makes them rock.

Listen to “Train in Vain” by the Clash, a great, upbeat groove with Joe Strummer’s plaintive vocals about getting dumped. Just before the song starts to fade, a cowbell kicks in. Joe’s done singing,and as he walks away from the microphone the cowbell hits like nails into his broken heart…genius.

Listen to “Welcome to the Jungle” by GNR. You hear that song in your car and you start playing along with the cowbell on your steering wheel…it holds up the song better than the bass drum. You could almost turn down all the other tracks and listen to the cowbell for 3 minutes and it would still rock.

Casino Queen by Wilco is one of the most fun songs ever by one of the most fun bands you can see today. (I once saw lead singer Jeff Tweedy bring a catering tray out from backstage and start hurling vegetables at the crowd.) The cowbell on what is arguably their biggest hit just makes your leg start to go up and down. This is the response that rock brings, and it reminds us that we are alive and that the white noise of our daily lives is only as loud as we make it.

There also is in fact a cowbell on the original recording of “Don’t fear the Reaper.” You can hear it if you listen closely, added after all the other tracks were done. It doesn’t make as much of a difference in the song as the previous examples, but if you dropped it out, anyone familiar with the song would be missing something.

Gotta have more cowbell baby.