10 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, October 25, 1995
Son Volt rises on the rock horizon
y Jennifer Buckley
Daily Weekend Editor
The Mississippi River begins in Min-
nesota and runs clean into the Twin
Cities. It pulses like an artery through
the heartland, past a hundred scorch
and drown Middle America towns. It
deepens, widens, muddies into opacity,
inally spilling, spent, into the Delta.
Jay Farrar spent the summer of 1994
Iriving up and down that river after the
breakup of Uncle Tupelo, the
groundbreaking country-rock band he
founded with Jeff Tweedy in Belleville,
A . Farrar made several stops along the
350-mile trips, picking up the mem-
ers of his new band Son Volt - and
the inspiration for their debut record
"Interstate 55 runs up and down the
giver," Farrar said before Son Volt's
show at the Blind Pig Saturday. "(The
:Mississippi's) presence is always felt
pn that drive from New Orleans to Min-
It's a presence that dominates "Trace"
-a lyrical undercurrent that carries the
listener from the limpid, lucid folk of
"Windfall," down the highway of
"Route" and "Drown" and through the
fiver towns of "Tear Stained Eye" and
'Ten Second News."
While "Trace" draws on Farrar's long
trips along the Mississippi, it also re-
flects his recent move from Tupelo's
home base in Belleville to New Or-
leans. Farrar left Uncle Tupelo just as
the band seemed poised for major-label
success with their fourth album "Ano-
dyne," mystifying fans and bandmates
"It seems like an odd time from the
outsider's view," said Son Volt drum-
mer Mike Heidorn, also Tupelo's
original drummer. "I wasn't real
shocked, but I was kind of taken
6back" by Farrar's decision to leave
longtime friend and songwriting part-
The two songwriters formed Uncle
!Tupelo in the mid-l980s. In 1990, the
-group released "No Depression," an
-angry, astonishing blast of punk and
country detailing life in Belleville, a
&mall-town industrial wasteland just
aoutside of St. Louis. Farrar's deep,
,,Weary voice - resonant as a
...preacher's and parched as a hungover
,_drunk's - perfectly complemented
,Tweedy's rasping rebel yell, and the
two seemed to form a productive cre-
But Farrar said that the songwriting
team actually split "either during the
first album or sometime thereafter. We
pretty much wrote separately. We wrote
one song together (on their third record
'March 16-20'), 'Sandusky."'
By the "Anodyne" tour, the relation-
ship between Farrar and Tweedy was
obviously deteriorating. That album
revealed the widening musical gap be-
tween them, as Tweedy leaned toward
good-natured country-pop and Farrar
toward a deep, somber, more traditional
blend of country and rock. Farrar de-
clined to explain his reasons for leav-
ing, but Heidorn said, "We all have our
little theories ... I don't know if any one
thing happened. It was a lot like a mar-
riage ... sometimes it just don't work."
Tweedy and the remaining members
of Uncle Tupelo continued as Wilco.
They released their excellent debut
"A.M." this spring.
Farrar, meanwhile, packed up and
moved to New Orleans. "Change of
scenery," the painfully shy singer ex-
plained with a rare smile. "I had never
lived anywhere else than St. Louis."
Heidorn, who had left Tupelo after
the "March" recording sessions, ob-
served the breakup from Belleville. "I
had heard that every show (Tupelo)
were playing was their last show, so I
knew they were busting up. I really
didn't know what Jay was going to do
... Wilco's band came about real quick,
so I knew what was going on there, but
I didn't know about Jay," he said.
Heidorn learned of Farrar's drives up
Interstate 55 to rehearse with bassist
Jim Boquist and his brother, stringman
Dave Boquist, and knew that Farrar had
booked studio time to record new origi-
nals. The drummer phoned his old
bandmate and the quartet went into the
They emerged with "Trace," a subtly
brilliant, thoughtful account of Farrar's
physical and emotional journeys over
the past year and a half. Farrar begins
"Windfall" with the benediction, "May
the wind take your troubles away ...
both feet on the floor/two hands on the
wheel." He hits the road on "Live Free,"
backed by a thunderstorm of guitars,
vowing to "live free or die."
That creed, repeated in the album's
first single "Drown" ("When in doubt,
move on"), gives "Trace" a restless
spirit as powerful and propulsive on
river town streets as it is on the high-
way. In "Tear Stained Eye," Farrar de-
scribes "walkin' down Main Street/
gettin' to know the concrete ... hittin'
the pavement/still askin' for more."
Throughout the record, the Missis-
sippi River serves as guideline and
bloodline, a force that both gives life
and destroys it. It spiltIs over its banks in
"Tear Stained Eye" and "Ten Second
News," leveling towns where "news
travels slower than a 10-second buzz."
Farrar knows that the journey fin-
ishes somewhere, that the "here for
now/ transient tomorrow" life he de-
scribes in "Route" will end. As he sings
in the solemn "Out of the Picture,"
"Somewhere along the way/the clock
runs out ... it all stands still." But he
also knows that "when we're all passed
over/the rhythm of the river will re-
main," as he sings on "Live Free." The
Mississippi both marks time's passage
and defies it. Even as the river's waters
sweep away the town of St. Genevieve
in "Tear Stained Eye," he asks, "Can
you deny there's nothing greater?"
Son Volt continues the Tupelo tradi-
tion of combining traditional country
instrumentation with ferocious electric
guitar work informed by both classic
and punk rock. But Dave Boquist's
banjo, dobro, pedal steel and fiddle tie
the band not to tear-in-my-beer honky-
tonkin' but to the country itself, to the
dust and the water of the American
Uncle Tupelo located its anger and
frustration specifically in its home town,
right down to the road sign reading,
"Belleville, next three exits" on the
back cover of 1991's "Still Feel Gone."
But Son Volt, like its singer, draws its
weary resignation and its focus.from
the road and river. Farrar said of the
band's members, "We're from ...
Belleville-St. Louis and, right now, New
Orleans. Jim and Dave are from Minne-
apolis. The river's the only real con-
Jay Farrar and his new band "Son Volt" sure like Ale, eh?
Both Heidorn and Farrar acknowl-
edged the significant shift in content
and intent from Tupelo to Son Volt, but
both were hard-pressed to explain.
"Aside from Mike and I, it's just differ-
ent people. It's kind of hard to draw
comparisons ... If anything, it's just a
lot more relaxed in this band," Farrar
And both agree that Farrar and
Tweedy are better off in their new,
separate projects. "I think Jeff's doing a
really good thing. He's got a really
good thing going, the whole band does,
probably in ways that the last band
couldn't be," Heidorn said. "I would
think they're both better off. I'm sure
there's feelings that run deep between
them that aren't settled. They'll prob-
ably never be settled ... but I think
they're both doing what they should be
Farrar said he has heard "A.M." and
likes it. "It sounds good," he said with
another small smile.
And Farrar hasn't completely aban-
doned his roots in his need to move on.
Son Volt does play Farrar's Tupelo
songs live. The sold-out crowd at the
Blind Pig Saturday night cheered loudly
as the band performed old favorites like
"Still Be Around," "Slate,"
"Chickamauga" and the title track off
"Anodyne." Farrar's words in "Look-
ing for a Way Out" rang with a new
irony as he sang, "Torn between the
unknown and the place that you call
home ... you spent your whole life in
this county/never been out of the state/
so you're going to make it out before
it's too late." He's taken his own ad-
So Son Volt continues down the road,
tracing the topography of Middle
America, hinting at its hidden depths,
inviting you to hitch along on the ride to
everywhere and nowhere. This is what
it sounds like from the passenger side:
Switchin' over to AM
searchin'for a truer sound
can't recall the call letters
steel guitar and settle down.
Catchin' an all-night station
somewhere in Louisiana
Sounds like 1963
but for now it sounds like heaven.
';Lsa Loeb & Nine
_ When an unsigned Lisa Loeb hit num-
ber one with her"Reality Bites" hit"Stay,"
qt was obvious she was in for big things.
With the release ofher first album,"Tails,"
;Loeb and her Nine Stories prove that the
singer's success with hersweet eyeglasses
;appeal was more than just a fluke, and it
:was more than just her friendship with
Ethan Hawke that got her song on the hit
"Tails" is a surprising gem of little
,poppy melodies from Loeb and Co. with
its sweet and usually charming songs.
The soft acoustic music and the innocent
sounding vocals are all similar to "Stay,"
with a few songs rocking a little harder.
"Snow Day" and "When All the Stars
Were Falling" are both typical of
w"Tails," with Loeb's warm and relax-
'Schoolgirls' reveals teens' conflicts
By Elizabeth Lucas
Daily Arts Writer
"All is not well in girl-ville, and this
is a place to start talking about what's
going on and how to change it."
This warning is the message journal-
ist Peggy Orenstein hopes to convey
with her book, "Schoolgirls." The book,
published this year in softcover, com-
pares the real lives of teenaged girls to
statistics about them, and finds that the
statistics alarmingly reflect the truth.
"There was a lot of research coming
out about how girls suffer a self-esteem
drop in junior high," Orenstein said,
explaining how she began to write the
book. "I had already written a lot about
adult women, but looking at the re-
search, the piece that I felt was missing
was the girls."
Orenstein spent a year observing
classes and talking to students in two
California schools. The resulting narra-
tive amply documents the reality of
girls' self-esteem crisis.
"A surprising thing I found was how
articulate these girls were, and how
intimate they were willing to be,"
Orenstein said. "The less wonderful
surprise was how much earlier they
were dealing with the conflicts of being
female. I didn't expect to be writing
about, for example, body image and
eating disorders with girls who were
13. But when I began, I didn't really
know what I was going to be writing
about. I just let the girls go and they
Lisa Loeb: endearing kook or scheming vixen? You decide ...
ing vocals shining through the bright
acoustic guitars and light drums. All 13
tracks (including "Stay") of the album
:are pretty much like that too, and the
;album's main weakness is the similar-
ity between all the tracks.
Nevertheless, "Tails" is a surpris-
ingly good debut from Lisa Loeb and
Nine Stories. The album gives a better
look into Loeb besides her standing
around in a white room wearing her
i OF ROMANCE.
dorky glasses. Her sweetness and sin-
cerity shine through on the album to
create a rather delightful record.
- Brian A. Gnatt
See RECORDS, page 11
W4NT TO iNTi |
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dictated the book to me."
"Schoolgirls" contrasts two different
worlds. The first half deals with Weston
Middle School, an affluent public school
in a white, middle-class neighborhood.
Audubon Middle School, an ethnically
diverse urban public school, is the fo-
cus of the second half.
Orenstein found that this created two
different problem areas, as well. "The
girls in Weston were dealing with inter-
nal problems. They were very privi-
leged, they had it all, but they had a
whole host of psychological problems.
In Audubon I didn't see that, because
there was so much goingon externally."
"Schoolgirls" shows that girls of any
race or economic class can suffer sex-
ism, which makes it more difficult to
find answers to the problem.
"There's a lot of research that shows
that single-sex schooling, for example,
is very effective," Orenstein said. "But
it doesn't help the underlying problem.
It doesn't change the boys. Then girls
get messages at home, which are rein-
forced in school, and then in the media.
And the messages are so mixed."
One example Orenstein cited was the
recent series of Nike commercials.
"They feature young girls saying, 'If
you let me play sports...' and then
some true, positive benefit of sports,
such as'I will be less likely to get breast
cancer.' I saw this and on one hand I
thought, gosh, isn't this great. But on
the other hand I thought, if you 'let' me
play sports? What is this? Would you
see a 12-year-old boy saying that?"
The subjects of "Schoolgirls" - the
commercial's real-life counterparts -
sometimes had a more feminist atti-
tude, Orenstein said. "To the girls in the
book, feminism meant someday being
economically independent of men. For
the time being, it meant knowing that
boys aren't all they're cracked up to
Orenstein also got to know some boys
while researching the book, although
the girls are its main focus. "I liked
them a lot. And I could see that, for
example, some of the boys who:were
hostile and aggressive toward girls had
fathers who were hostile and aggres-
sive toward the boys' mothers. So it's
learned behavior. But there's still the
problem that most boys see gender
equality as a loss for them."
Orenstein described classes in which
teachers realized that they tended to
call on boys more, and began system-
atically calling on everyone equally.
"After a few days of this, the boys just
rebelled. They said that it was totally
unfair to them. And some of the girls
were concerned that the boys would get
left out, if girls were called on more."
Orenstein concluded, "I think -boys
have their own problems, and I'd love
to see someone write a book about the
conflicts of growing up male. But I
think there's still a real conflict be-
tween the new woman, who's indepen-
dent and has a career, and the old expec-
tations. Forgirls, that's areally difficult
conflict to negotiate."
Orenstein describes-herselfas a-femi-
nist as well as a journalist, and this
stance comes through in "Schoolgirls."
"I hate the term 'post-feminist,' " she
said. "I think the battle has to be fought
every generation. Feminism may not
save you entirely, but it gives you a
context and some tools to fight with,
and something to fight for. It gives you
the sense that this is not something
isolated happening to you, and that's
what girls need, as well as adult women."
Orenstein believes that "Schoolgirls"
applies to both groups. "It's a place to
start thinking about yourself. I hope
that women who read it would take
away the desire to become good models
for girls, to get involved. I know that
ever since I wrote it, it's like I've had
this invisible Greek chorus of girls
watching me, and I want to act as a good
model for them. That's the kind of
woman I want to be."
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