Daddy Music, Volume 2 – Stephen Clair, “Following Orders”

Welcome to the second installment of Daddy Music, in which The Boy and I listen to a random track from my music collection and discuss it.

Today’s track is from New York singer-songwriter Stephen Clair, appearing courtesy of the BitTorrent download of the South by Southwest Showcasing Artists collection for 2006.

Dad: So what did you think of that song?

Boy: I liked the music, but the words were interesting to me.

D: Interesting how? What was it that you found interesting about the lyrics?

[We listen to the track again.]

B: I don’t really understand the words.

D: So this song is telling the story of a guy who’s working on building a ship. He’s saying they don’t have enough money to do it right, but the boss is telling him to get the ship built no matter what.

Well, we’re building this ship at any price

That’s what the foreman told me without blinkin’ an eye

Well I tried to warn him we’re low on cash

And if we keep buildin’ our money won’t last

But he insists we’ll stay on schedule, no matter what

We’ll work ’round the clock until it gets done

So you get that, right? OK, and then the refrain is:

I’m just followin’ orders,

Do the best that I can

I’ll work with what you give me,

Followin’ orders as they come down from the Man.

B: What’s the Man?

D: The guy in charge. So knowing the story, what do you find most interesting about the lyrics?

B: Nothing any more. I didn’t understand the story before, now I do.

D: Did ytou enjoy the song?

B: Yes. It’s definitely something to hear again.

D: What did you like about it?

B: I heard a lot of guitar, and I like guitar because I play it. Or used to. It seemed country music, and I like country music – that’s one of my top favorites.

D: OK, what do you like about country music?

B: The way the music is: acoustic and there are a lot of basic instruments, like piano, guitar, vocals.

D: How do you recognize country music?

B: Sometimes by what the singers are wearing – I usually see it on music videos.

D: How did you recognize this song as country?

B: The pitches, the progression of the music.

D: What does it for me is the twangy guitar. And the rhythm.

B: Yeah, that’s it. I didn’t know the word to describe it.

D: I think that rhythm is usually associated with “honky-tonk” – which is a kind of country/folk music.

B: Like “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”?

D: Yeah, sort of.

B: I liked last week’s song better than this one. For some reason, I have a thing for songs with no lyrics.

D: Did this song remind you of anything else you’ve heard? I know Mom listens to country music.

B: Yeah, but I don’t really listen to it with her any more. This didn’t really remind me of anything else. Everything has a first.

D: Anything else you want to say about this song or this musician?

B: I might want to try out some of his other songs.

D: What about his voice?

B: It’s OK. I don’t really have anything special to say about it. It’s a singer’s voice. I hear a lot of singer’s voices. I think he’s a good singer.

D: Any last words for your readers today?

B: Well, I can’t say “See you next time, folks,” because I already did that. So… 

D: You’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be.

B: [giggling] Bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye!


All right. My notes now. This is not a song I would choose if I were picking something to listen to. It’s not bad, but there’s nothing particularly inspired or inspiring about it.

Lyrically, it seems like it could have been a funny story about rushing to build a ship, or it could have been a bluesy lament about having to work so hard… but it turns out not to be either. In the end, I’m just left feeling like, yeah, yeah, the guy’s working hard, following orders, doing a crappy job because he’s not getting paid, and so what? It’s not written in a way that makes me particularly identify with the protagonist, which leaves me pretty flat.

Musically, it’s pretty vanilla honky-tonk/folk/country. There’s nothing really innovative or exciting or even interesting about it. The guy’s a decent guitarist, I guess, but nothing about the music grabs me and says, “Listen to this!” Often, this kind of music is better in person, but based on this track I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy tickets to see this guy play. (I have one other track of his, from the SXSW 2005 collection – he sounds a little more Dylanesque on that one, but it’s not really grabby either.)

My rating on this is “blah.” I think The Boy’s rating was a little better. I think for next time, I’ll come up with an actual rating scale for both os uf to use.

Daddy Music, Volume 1 – French Frith Kaiser Thompson, “Disposable Thoughts”

If you’re going to do something, you have to commit and do it all the way. The Boy and I decided that the way to pick the music for this series was to hit “shuffle” on my iTunes collection and go with whatever came up. (I still retain a veto if I think a track is unsuitable or unlistenable.)

But this is how we got to French Frith Kaiser, Thompson. And as odd as it seems, I’m going to discuss 1980’s experimental rock music with an 8-year-old. Here’s the track:

A little background: French Frith Kaiser Thompson were John French, Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, and Richard Thompson. All were accomplished musicians with a lot of avant-garde cred – John “Drumbo” French had played drums with Captain Beefheart, notably on the classic Trout Mask ReplicaFred Frith was an experimental guitarist/bassist/just-about-everything-ist who co-founded experimental rock band Henry Cow, collaborated with a wide range of musicians and released several solo albums; Henry Kaiser was a guitarist and one of the earliest free improvisers; and Richard Thompson was a guitarist/singer/songrwiter who had been part of the pioneering English folk rock band Fairport Convention (who are apparently back touring now, though without Thompson). The four of them got together for two albums: 1987’s Live, Love, Larf, & Loaf, whence this track comes; and 1990’s Invisible Means. I own both (though I have yet to rip Invisible Means. Note to self….)

I have always enjoyed FFKT’s music, even if I haven’t always understood it. It is by turns, funky, quirky, and often mesmerizing. (This track manages to hit all three.) Some of their stuff is pretty funny – a twisted cover of “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” for instance – and some of it is deeply weird. I haven’t listened to much of it lately, so I’m glad this came up, because it’s a reminder that I should go back and revisit these guys.

So, without further ado, here is the first entry in Daddy Music. I decided to go with a Q&A format to start. The Boy is a little tentative, but I think once we get used to doing this, he’ll loosen up.

Daddy: So, what is your first impression of the music?

The Boy: The music seemed off-rhythm. It just didn’t seem to come together right away. It seemed like it was made entirely on computer equipment.

D: What if I told you that there were no computers or synthesizers involved?

B: Then I would just be completely amazed.

D: Well, they were all talented musicians. They used guitars, drums, bass. (No vocals in this one, but they did also sing on other songs.) What did the music make you think of?

B: It made me think of some commercial I saw once. I can’t think of where.

D: Does it put you in any particular mood?

B: [Listening again] Energetic. I feel all hyper. … Now calm. And relaxed. … Funky!

D: I almost wish we had this on video so people could see you bopping in your chair.  Now, just tell me anything you want to say about this piece of music.

B: Well, I really did like it. I liked the way it seems off at first, like I said earlier, and then comes together. I like how I can feel different emotions at different times during that song.

D: How does it compare to other music you’ve listened to? Does it sound like anything else you’ve heard?

B: Some yes, some no. I can’t really put my finger on it.

D: What do you think the title means – “Disposable Thoughts”? Or what does it make you think of?

B: Kind of futuristic and… It kind of does remind me of Harry Potter and the Pensieve.

D: Anything else you want to say about it?

B: I don’t know why, but I wish it were a little bit longer.

D: Do you think you’d like to listen to other French Frith Kaiser Thompson music?

B: Definitely. Definitely.

D: One last question: Do you like doing this feature this way – listening to a track and then doing a little interview?

B: Yeah, I think it’s fun. And I like it because I get to learn new music that I might like.

D: OK, so we’ll do it again. Thanks!

B: See you next time, folks! [Cackles maniacally]

A Thing I’m Doing (Daddy Music, Volume 0)

So I’ve been casting around for a project to do this year – like you do – and I have hit on an idea that I think could be kind of cool. I’m going to try to post a blog entry every week or two in which my 8-year-old son and I listen to song from my collection and then discuss it here alongside the track. Ideally, this will help me both to vaccinate him against the pop crap he’s exposed to among his peer group (“Put down the Hot Chelle Ray and step away slowly….”); and to reconsider and refine my own musical sensibilities.

My big question at the moment is format. The two options I am considering are (1) allow him to drive the keyboard and give his reviews/impressions, and then write my own, or (2) interview him about the song and write it up in a Q-and-A format. I’d be open to alternatives, so let me know in comments if you have any other suggestions.

Watch for Daddy Music, Vol. 1 sometime in the next week or so.