About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

Punk 101

When rock and roll began to coalesce in the 1950s, it was a dangerous music, unsuitable for respectable persons. Over time, the sharp edge of menace grew dull and was replaced by a thin gruel of antiseptic multi-tracking and endless guitar/keyboard/drum solos.

Or something like that.

The point being, popular music was ripe for revolution. Enter punk rock.


There are as many shades of punk as there are of (wait for the semi-literary reference) grey. My first exposure to the music was in the late 70s/early 80s, which is right about when punk was transforming from one thing to another. Early punk, which traces its roots back to the late 60s in the music of The Stooges and MC5, was a clear outgrowth of early rock and roll: three chords, simple songs, repetitive. Perhaps most importantly, it embodied a do-it-yourself revolution. Anyone could pick up an instrument (although drum sets should be left on the floor) and create music. This was a far cry from progressive rock which required instrumental virtuosity. Punk was soon to move to hardcore which was faster, louder, often angry, and to me remote from the roots of rock and roll.


Here’s an interesting fact about me. Well, a fact at any rate. For the past 35 years I’ve been certain that I don’t like punk rock. Oh sure, I’ve seen the Dead Kennedys twice, X, Iggy Pop, and The Clash; I own every Ramones album; Buzzcocks are one of my favorite groups; I played in a punk band… Why Mr. Burger, the answer is evident: Our author is a punk! The truth is, I don’t think of the groups I love as punk. Early 80s hardcore groups like Minor Threat, extremely aggressive and, at least in my mind, unquenchably angry, defined the one and only brand of punk. Anything similar that I liked I thought of as new wave or some other safe label.

But guess what? Punk comes in many flavors.


Any of these bands are a good start for your introduction to punk, but today we’ll look at the amazing debut album of the Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. This San Francisco band remains unique in the world of American punk, featuring musicians who are equally at home playing vicious vitriolic anthems, riffing on jazzy chord progressions or tying Elvis Presley songs to the rooftop rack of a nitro burning dragster. Led by the indescribable Jello Biafra, these four lads exploded on the punk scene in a napalm-encased conflagration of politics, disturbing imagery, humor and top-notch musicianship. Biafra’s voice is immediately recognizable and his performances are steeped in a teapot of dramatics.

Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of the band is the combination of serious political lyrics and disturbing imagery with happy-go-lucky music. Take this excerpt from Let’s Lynch the Landlord, backed by some of the happiest music you’ll ever hear:

I tell him, “Turn on the water!”
I tell ‘im, “Turn on the heat!”
Tells me, “All you ever do is complain, yeah.”
Then they search the place when I’m not here
But we can, you know we can
Let’s lynch the landlord man

Guitarist East Bay Ray, a clear influence on my own playing, remains one of my favorites. His lines fit the DK’s songs perfectly while taking unexpected wanderings into deep, dark cobweb-obscured corners, corners revealed only by Ray’s brain-tingling, ice-pick-toting guitar licks. Not typical punk guitaristing.

So there you have it, Punk 101. Take a chance and check out one of the library’s offerings. And look for more punk albums to join the collection in the future. If the punks are united, they will never be divided.

Best Music of 2015 Part Deux

So little good new music, so much time to listen…. Strike that, reverse it.

album montage deuxI am genuinely surprised at the amount of enjoyable albums coming out in 2015, many by groups that I’ve never heard before. Last month we discovered 6 newly-released ear-tapping recordings and now, to make an even baker’s dozen, we present 6 more in what I like to call: Best Music of 2015 Part Deux.

Hollywood Vampires by Hollywood Vampires
This album features fabulous hard rocking versions of covers, including My Generation, Jeepster and Whole Lotta Love. The band is led by Alice Cooper (yes, that Alice Cooper), Joe Perry (yes…) and Johnny Depp (aye). Individual songs employ many other big name musicians such as Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. I did not expect this release to be my bottle of pilsner, but these creative versions of beloved songs make my brain tingle in all the right places. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Still by Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson, although not a household name, is certainly one of the greatest guitarists alive. He also writes stunning songs and has a memorable and perfect voice. Rocking for over forty-five years, he puts out another great album with Still. Thompson’s music includes Gaelic influences and a bit of folkishness, but he rocks away as needed. Discover him and then check out his extensive back catalog. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Tomorrow is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon is the female member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-timey hokum string band. She sports an amazing voice and with this solo album expands genres to include hip-hop, blues, and more. If you like a strong female voice, check this one out. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Policy by William Butler
Butler sings/sang/sung for Arcade Fire, who hit their pinnacle a few albums back with Neon Bible. And since I haven’t enjoyed their new stuff so much, I had no expectations for Butler’s solo outing. Quelle surprise! Featuring music that is surprisingly different from Arcade Fire, Butler delivers an enjoyable album that is strong from start to finish. Styles range from good old-fashioned rock and roll to quirky 80s rock, and beyond. Nicely done, Mr. Butler. This is an excellent effort that breaks away from the shadow of an established band and creates a personal voice. 3 stars. Out of 3.

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists
A bit more delicate than my typical listening fare, The Decemberists deliver dreamy, subtle indie/folk/rock. This Portland group has averaged one album every 2 years since 2002, so their catalog is already deep and impressive. If you’re looking for a quiet, feel-good experience, you could do worse than What a Terrible World. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Glean by They Might Be Giants
Hard to believe these lads have been around since the early 80s. Although their music inhabits a wide variety of styles, TMBG have a distinct sound, largely defined by the lead singer’s unique voice. As usual, songs contain weird weird lyrics, are often strangely child-like and boldly go where one does not expect. If you like past albums, you’ll probably groove to this one as well. 2 stars. Out of 3.

There you have it, a veritable potpourri of aural pleasurefulness. So get ready to drop the needle on that platter and crank the attenuator to twelve and beyond.

Best Music of 2015 … So Far

album montageWhile it might seem to some, myself included, that I’ve embarked upon my dotage, I do try to remain current in the music realm. Thus I eagerly await the Beatles reunion tour and wonder what Beethoven’s got cooking. But I jest. So here we are at the ¾ mark for the year and I’ve discovered a bucket full of outstanding albums put out this year. So many, in fact, that this will have to be a two-parter (Will Buck survive Ming’s deathray and carnivorous weasels?) … Well, maybe not a cliffhanger per se.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite albums of 2015 thus far!

Down on Deptford Broadway by Skinny Lister
Skinny Lister’s music features ethereal Celtic folk melodies melding gracefully with rollicking rock and roll. As a reference point think of Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their best, and then think a bit better. These lads and lass, based out of London, have had a fair amount of success since their inception in 2009, and one listen to this album will show you why. 3 stars. Out of 3.

This is The Sonics by The Sonics
This album I’ve already blogged about extensively, so simply buy it, memorize my earlier post and pick your jaw up off the floor. Best album of the year. 3 stars. Out of 3.

No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney
Filed under Local Music, these riot grrrls are still putting out an aural assault worthy of a jumbo jet liftoff. Oh, and they write great songs too. Question: What happens when a local punk/indie/riot grrrl band plays together for nearly 20 years? Answer: This album. If you like it edgy and fast, then giddy up and go. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Perhaps my most surprising find of the year, this demon in the rough features a bluesy old-timey group that delivers fun and frivolity and furniture. Without the furniture. Imagine a pig caller shouting the blues while his band of hobgoblins lays down swamp boogaloo pulled from the very depths of hell. If you can imagine this you might want to seek therapy as soon as possible. But Reverend Peyton does bring music from the land of smoky kudzu-infested nights filled with passion, disappointment and whiskey. Check it out and expect to be mesmerized. 3 stars. Out of 3.

It’s Too Late Darling… by Guantanamo Baywatch
It’s very seldom that I find music I’ve never even heard of and get blown away. Enter Guantanamo Baywatch. Granted, my attraction to this album was the band’s name (hey, I’m a superficial guy), but without knowing the genre or anything about the lads and lasses, I discovered a new favorite. And this is one of the beauties of the library, looking into unknown works at no cost to yourself. Expect surf mixed with 50s/60s fun pop/rock. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Sundown Over Ghost Town by Eilen Jewell
One of the greatest voices currently putting out music,her gorgeous country music takes you to wide open spaces where the sun sets over hot-baked dirt, followed by crazy nights in crowded honky tonks. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Tune in for more 2015 albums in the near future. And keep your dune buggy off of my lawn, young whippersnapper!

Music For A Lifetime

django-reinhardtThe year: Nineteen-eighty-something. The place: Bellingham. Our protagonist is a handsome young man finishing his studies in music whilst working in the college library. A mile or more from his modest roach-infested home sits the Bellingham Public Library, a bastion of free knowledge. Much to the delight of our hero, the building sports an eclectic vinyl record collection (an ancient form of music media, similar to 8-track tapes) ranging from field recordings of chain gangs to sea chanties of the Hebrides. It is here that he first discovers the music of Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills. And here’s the twist: I was that young man!

It’s true.

Bob WillsSome 30 years later, I still listen to Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills on a semi-daily basis. It’s amazing what an impact these library holdings made on my existence. Throw in Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus and Haitian Fight Song and we’ve captured significant musical influences to my later life.

At that time in library collection management, I would wager that audio selection was made to provide people with access to music they’d never find anywhere else (this was before everything imaginable was issued on CD) rather than to provide popular music for listening pleasure. And for me, this was perfect! I loved the Folkways releases of underwater Christmas carols and chants of the Irkutskian mud men. Although I might be misremembering those titles.

When I moved to Everett in 1987, the audio holdings were very similar to those in Bellingham. Perfect! And within a couple of years, a few CDs even joined the collection! It was around this time that music selection processes changed to some extent. Perhaps influenced by the initial lack of offerings on CD, perhaps reflecting a change in library philosophy, popular music entered the library in a big way.

But where I’m going with this ramble is: Bellingham Public Library has influenced my life for over 30 years! I’m so grateful that I was exposed to music that I otherwise did not have access to (no internet, no Pandora, no iTunes, etc). And here at Everett Public Library we try to provide a diverse collection of music that will keep you grateful for the next 30 years.

Wild and woolyOur latest venture is the Local Music collection which currently consists of over 70 titles from a variety of time periods. A good place to start exploring this new collection is the CD Wild and Wooly, a compilation of northwest music stretching from the 50s to the present. Many of its performers might not be familiar names, but they’ve all been essential to the growth of local music. And one of the most important bands found on this album is The Wailers, teenagers (well, they were in the 50s) hailing from Tacoma.

In 1959 The Wailers released the instrumental single Tall Cool One which went on to chart at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other local bands such as the Dave Lewis Trio, The Frantics, The Ventures and The Viceroys (all featured on Wild and Wooly) also focused on instrumentals, joining in The Wailers’ success with hit recordings and sold-out performances. The Wailers’ momentum led to recording an album (The Fabulous Wailers), appearing on American Bandstand and touring the east coast. But there’s no place like home and after returning to the northwest the band started its own record label, Etiquette (which later helped launch The Sonics), and made a ground-breaking recording of Louie, Louie.

And this is just scratching the surface (vinyl humor!) of the amazing Wild and Wooly. Check this one out! Perhaps you’ll find a band or two to put into your life’s playlist for the next 30 years. And stay tuned for more posts on Northwest music.

Bang Your Head With The Sonics

Album collage

“The Seattle of the 1980s, in which Nirvana came to life, was a rainy city of lakes, rusty bridges, and more than a few disaffected . . . teenagers. . . . Jimi Hendrix had grown up in the city in the 1950s but had to go to London to get noticed, and not much happened of note musically in Seattle until Nirvana formed in 1987. . . .”

~ Encyclopoedia Britannica


Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Recently at EPL we introduced a Local Music CD collection, and in the months to come I’ll be blogging about music in the Northwest from the 50s to the present (as well as cleaning up my cats’ litter box with pages from the Encyclopoedia Britannica). Suffice to say, music has been a happening thing in Seattle and its environs for many decades, from the days of back-alley jazz clubs to the current national success of groups such as The Presidents of the United States of America and Modest Mouse.

The birth of NW rock and roll was greatly influenced by touring R&B acts like James Brown and his Fabulous Flames. The NW circuit became a popular destination for such acts, and the teens who went on to form bands frequented these shows. This R&B influence combined with raw, energetic, and loose musicianship formed that early Seattle sound. Garage rock at its best.

The Sonics, a group of Tacoma teenagers, best exemplified the sound with screaming lyrics and drum fills approaching the speed of sound. Many of their songs were covers, but delivered with a shiny new reckless abandon. And their originals: The Witch (1964), Psycho (1965), and Strychnine (1965) among others, sound as fresh today as they did 50 years ago. Seriously. Word from the bird.

The group released Here Are the Sonics in 1965, Boom in 1966 and (strangely titled for a third album) Introducing the Sonics also in 1966. And that was pretty much it.  Band members drifted their separate ways, occasionally getting together for reunions. And the band’s name, without any of the original members, kept going into the 80s.

So people lived their lives, sold insurance, raised kids, painted houses, what have you, and FIFTY YEARS LATER!!! (2015) the band released another album, This Is The Sonics. So we got musicians in their late 60s and 70s playing in a band known for its hard-driving, aggressive sound. And it’s their best album yet! No one can rock harder than The Sonics do on This Is The Sonics. Check it out. Spin it. Spin it again. Be amazed that vocalist Jerry Roslie, age 71, sings the best hard rocking garage vocals you will ever in your life hear. Stare into the distance in wonder at the slammin’ guitar riffs, up-in-your-business bass lines, and Einstein-defying drumming.

That’s it, babies. Listen! Glory in the heritage of Northwest music, which is also contemporary Northwest music, which is really way confusing…  Just listen.

Crazy Man, Crazy!

As an avid follower of my blog posts you are undoubtedly aware that my 2015 has featured a lamentable dearth of palatable fiction. Yet even now things begin to look upperly. Finally I have achieved literary contentment, finding a tale about which to crow to the heavens: By the gods, read this book!

Bedlam detective

The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher is everything a book should be. Set in 1912 England, our main character Sebastian Becker, a former police office and Pinkerton agent, works for the British government’s Masters of Lunacy observing men of property (i.e. peers) whose sanity is in question. It’s a low-paying job with no prestige and Becker’s fortunes have fallen rather far.

This decline is due largely to the situation of his son Robert who is autistic but high-functioning. Sebastian and his wife are told that the boy is dull-witted, not suitable for a respectable job. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. The boy is brilliant (as he will demonstrate to his father!) but hindered by social limitations. Whilst living in America they hear of a school in England that makes the effort to work with children like Robert, so they quickly return to their homeland. However, the best job Sebastian is able to obtain is that of the “Bedlam detective.”


Our tale opens with Becker looking into the case of a highly-respected peer, Sir Owain Lancaster, who, upon returning from a disastrous South American expedition, has seemingly lost some of the crayons in his box so to speak. During Becker’s investigation, two girls are abused and murdered on the peer’s property, mirroring a similar incident from 15 years previous when two girls survived a comparable attack. One girl (now woman) has no memory of the tragedy and the other will not speak of it. While investigating Sir Owain’s sanity Sebastian also becomes involved in the murder inquiry as he believes Lancaster to be a likely suspect.

Sir Owain, on the other hand, believes that huge, invisible beasts were responsible for the attacks; the same beasts that followed him home from the Amazon jungle; the same beasts that killed hundreds in his entourage. In fact, the only survivors of the expedition were Lancaster and his botanist, a man who is now locked away in a mental institution after attacking his sister. Hmmm. Huge invisible beasts. Alive while everyone else is dead. It begins to seem that Sir Owain’s sanity isn’t really in question, it’s non-existent. But does this mean that he killed the expedition party and/or abused and killed children?

So to summarize: sordid mystery, down-on-luck protagonist, lunacy and a cursed expedition worthy of Lovecraft’s or Conan Doyle’s pen. Add to that a traveling freak show, glimpses into the nascent film industry and a seemingly sane asylum inmate. The mix is stunning. And of course it wouldn’t work were not the writing exquisite. So if you’re ready for a tumble into the world 100 years past and the horrors that it concealed, by the gods, read this book!

Stranger Than, er… , Non-fiction!

As I search for non-fiction books to read, I come across many titles that, while not of interest to me, are unusual, surprising or outlandish. Welcome to the world of: Stranger than, er…, non-fiction!

HairSome titles are certain to raise an eyebrow, pique the interest, even if the topic is not compelling enough to warrant reading the book. Such is the case for Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig. Firstly, it never occurred to me that there is a history of hair removal! Reviews tell of clamshell razors (that would mean an actual clamshell, not something shaped like a clamshell) and lye depilatories, leaving me to speculate what other horrific devices and potions have been applied to bodies in pursuitity of less hirsuitity. Also examined are the changes in American culture, moving from the perception of hair removal as savagery, to the perception of female body hair as signs of political extremism, sexual deviance or even mental illness. Heck, I just might be interested enough to pluck this book off the shelf.

WhittlingThe Art of Whittling: Classic Woodworking Projects for Beginners and Hobbyists by Walter L. Faurot
One thing we simply don’t hear enough about these days is whittling. This book, originally published in 1930, contains projects (and here I might note that I never would have conceived that there are whittling projects) such as continuous wooden chains and ships inside bottles. Hey, there are also instructions for making working wooden scissors and entwined hearts! Beards are back, maybe whittling could become the next hipster hobby!

BeanieThe Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonette
I must confess, I never could understand the soaring values of Beanie Babies. The creator of these plush animals became a billionaire, not so much through anything he did as through the feeding frenzy of collectors who saw the toys as their ticket to Easy Street. Stories of people buying tens of thousands of Beanie Babies, and even killing for them, fill this tale of what’s been called the “strangest speculative mania of all time.”

VietNamEating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday
When I lived in Malaysia, hawker stalls (food carts sitting along the roadside) became my favorite places to eat. Most foreigners avoided such places, fearing disease or bad food, but I discovered a world of cheap tasty delicacies that define many of my Malaysian memories. In Eating Viet Nam I find a kindred spirit in Graham Holliday, a Brit who moved to Vietnam to teach English but ended up searching for the best street food. The writing is humorous, and I was sold by the line, “As the pig’s uterus landed on the blue plastic table in front of me, I knew I’d made a mistake.”

CowedCowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment by Dennis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes
This book takes the interesting concept of examining whether cows, which are an extremely important currency in the U.S., actually make sense economically. We get cow history, usage, treatment and sustainability. I was hoping for a discussion of methane, but apparently this will have to wait.

In retrospect, I might enjoy reading some or all of these books. I ran across them by perusing the on-order non-fiction titles on the library’s website, and I must say I was amazed at the variety of topics people find worthy of book status. If you’re not a non-fiction reader, challenge yourself to find one title that looks interesting. Oh, and read it. Perhaps you’ll soon find yourself whittling a tool for hair removal that will sell by the billions until you’re rich and can travel to Viet Nam. With your cow. Stranger things have happened.