It's nearly impossible to live in the Mankato area and not know Joe Tougas. Or at least know who he is. The man is a legend. At the Free Press, we seriously still get calls from people who think (or perhaps wish) he still was employed by us.
But alas, he is not. Joe left the Free Press years ago, but he never left our hearts.
One of the things that never ceased to amaze me about Joe was his encyclopedic knowledge of music. Even when we were having heated debates about whether the Beatles were any good or not, Joe was always the guy who could always tell you exactly why he loved the music he loved. I think this may have been why, ultimately, we became friends. That and the the fact that I was always willing to lend him a smoke. (Seriously, the guy NEVER had his own smokes!)
Anyway, when I started this playlist thing up, I always knew Joe would be a part of it. And when he finally turned in his song list (past deadline, typical former journo) it was everything I'd hoped it would be. I gave Joe a visual theme: the iconic photo of Johnny Cash expressing himself in a vulgar but, as we all know, oh-so-satisfying manner. I knew that the first record Joe ever bought was a Cash record. So I wanted to see what Joe came up with.
Have a gander and a listen. I know you'll love it as much as I did.
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Just as tension makes for good drama, defiance usually makes for good art.
At the risk of offending the anarchist community, defiance for defiance’s sake actually takes us back to square one by being not only boring but more than a little annoying. I once asked a young anarchist why she and her anarchist friends were hanging out in the Snyder drug store parking lot. “To f**k s**t up!” she shouted rather loudly for a Wednesday. It nicely illustrated the difference between defiance that scoots us along as a species and defiance that’s just st**id.
So finding songs that reflect true, smart and evolutionary-friendly defiance is no problem, but for the form of defiance specifically illustrated by the two words Johnny Cash is indicating with one finger, these are a few that do the job particularly well.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
This is in-your-face, president-naming specific rage that transcends protest song genre. It was Neil Young’s reaction to the shooting of students at Kent State in 1970, and recorded by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. In a mid-90s interview with David Crosby, I asked him to name the achievement of which he was most proud. He said it was recording that song.
Who Needs the Peace Corps
Frank Zappa’s fan base in the 60s was largely hippies who get blasted in this song for being anything but defiant. Instead of freaking out on the government and authority, Zappa turned his sites on what he saw as shallowness disguised as freedom. Frank’s every move along his career was defiant, from lambasting hippies to creating some of the most challenging and beautiful music that offended many an ear to sitting before Congress and addressing record-labeling proposals as “whipped up like an instant pudding by the wives of big brother.” I miss the guy so much.
Masters of War
Never mind the elected officials who brought us into wars, this song – I think Bob Dylan’s most vivid and literal protest song -- takes on the corporate sponsors. Dylan can go surreal and abstract with the best of them – hell, he is the best of them – but there’s no trouble understanding where he’s coming from in lines such as “I hope that you die.”
Questioning or denying the existence of god will always be taking place in lecture hall debates, family dinners and bachelor parties gone horribly wrong. And while songs that do so will often pick on or make fun of religion, this tune by XTC takes its beef right to the source with bone-chilling rage and, for extra effect, a child doing the intro and outro. For believer or non-believer, it’s a stunning, shocking song. One thing you can believe is Andy Partridge’s blistering anger and clear heartbreak.
Metal Machine Music
The legend is that Lou Reed struck back at an oppressive record company demanding a new album by putting out Metal Machine Music, two discs of completely utterly unlistenable electronic noise. It’s long considered to be his extended finger to the record company. Listen closely, though, for as long as you can, and you’ll realize it’s an extended finger to absolutely everybody.
This Note’s for You
A funny little late-1980s ditty that was temporarily banned from MTV, this is Young’s declaration of independence from corporate sponsorship. Name-dropping Pepsi, Coke, Bud and other products that were luring more and more musicians into being spokes-singers, Young also sets up the song as a love letter to his listeners. The music video is a blast, set up at first to look like the beer ads Eric Clapton was doing at the time. It was taken and kept off MTV for presumably upsetting advertisers. Regardless, it won best video at the 1989 MTV awards.
How Do You Sleep?
For Beatles fans, this is like hearing your parents fight. Or, rather, hearing one of them go off on the other after the divorce. John Lennon’s acidic attack on Paul McCartney is tough listening if you love them both. That said, it is brutally clever, spinning titles of McCartney’s songs into mocking phrases such as “the only thing you did was Yesterday/and since you’ve gone you’re just another day.”
Straight to Hell – the whole album.
The grandson of Hank Williams and song of Hank Williams Jr., Hank III is of the opinion that country music has gotten dull, safe and slick. Except the words he uses are the kind that got Lenny Bruce thrown in jail. The album “Straight to Hell” is not for grandmothers or children. It is a blissfully crude, politically incorrect bomb aimed squarely at the heart of “new country.” With ace flatpickers, fiddlers and others burning up the studio, Hank III goes for full outlaw on this disc, singing the praises of a life headed for hell which, he’ll have you know, is still preferable than an afternoon with country radio.