Morning Mixtape: ‘Mother Russia’ By Renaissance

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More than 10 years ago, during my final days in Omaha, a friend and I had a great conversation about the greatest opening hooks in music. Classics such as “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix or “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple were discussed. (Not all the bands involved the color purple, I promise.) One song we did not discuss was “Mother Russia” by Renaissance. The opening strings with the building crescendo of piano chords is a beautiful grabber for the 1974 song about the U.S.S.R.’s banishment of writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I really like this song. I hope you do, too.

Morning Mixtape: ‘Amarillo Highway’ By Terry Allen

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It looks like it’s going to be a country music week on Morning Mixtape. I’m a big fan of community radio. In Des Moines, my hometown and current residence, we have KFMG, a low-power station which broadcasts out of the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the southern edge of downtown Des Moines. I heard “Amarillo Highway” by Terry Allen tonight on KFMG when I was going out to get some dinner. This video comes from KDHX, the terrific community radio station in St. Louis, where I once lived. So from one community station to another, enjoy this song.

Moments: On smoothies and small victories


“I’m having a bad day,” I complained to my friend Memphis Paul, the co-founder of this blog.

I had him on speakerphone as I went through a drive-through window. I ordered a strawberry-banana smoothie. It’s one of those beverages that sounds healthier than it really is. I ordered it anyway.

My brain is in knots, I explained to Paul. Sunday night, I became obsessed with something and my brain wouldn’t let it go until almost 8 a.m. I ended up taking a sick day.

The obsession was a paperback book. I wanted to read a few chapters before I nodded off. I couldn’t find it. I tore up the apartment. I looked in all the usual spots. I finally found it wedged between my mattress and the wall. By the time I found it, my heart was racing and I was so angry I could have chewed nails.

I was in the midst of a panic attack. I didn’t recognize it. I was slow to take my medicine to abate the symptoms. And thus I ended up tossing and turning and staring at the ceiling until it was almost time for work.

The causes are varied and complex. The bottom line is sometimes my brain doesn’t work the way it should and the emotions I’m feeling don’t match with the reality I’m living.

I tried to regroup during the day. Then a malingering depression settled in like a thunderstorm. All the usual thoughts — how worthless I am, how stupid I am, how poor a human being I am — rattled my brain.

Finally, at about 8:30 p.m., I managed to rise from bed and go out for some food, including the aforementioned smoothie.

Paul, my good friend, listened as he usually does.

He replied in his mild Tennessee drawl. He recalled an incident a week or so ago when I had him on speakerphone in the car. I had spilled my smoothie on the passenger-side mat. I cursed as I beat the mat against a tree to get the milk and ice off the rubber surface.

Paul then asked me, “Did you manage to get inside your apartment with your strawberry-banana drink?”

In fact I did, I replied.

“Well,” he said, “that is progress.”

I love my friends.

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Morning Mixtape: ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’ By Don Williams

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The AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire” is less moody, atmospheric drama and more meaningless spectacle, but one thing it gets right is good period music for each of its characters. A lesser production would have simply used the top pop hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s for the background, but “HCF” has created smart playlists that fit the mindset and mood of the characters. In fact, AMC published those playlists on Spotify. I recommend you check them out. I discovered a lot of ’80s college rock and alternative sounds through those playlists. And for once character, a native Texan, there is a high quality country playlist that includes this gem from Don Williams, “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” Williams took this straight-shooting song to No. 1 in 1977. I enjoy this song. I hope you do, too.