Jan 19, 2010


Location Canada. Toronto to be exact. Staying with one of my very best friends. Next week I'll be in Western New York staying with other equally good friends.

Most of my dearests aren't my nearests. And that is down to something called Postcard. Or to use its formal name Postcard From Hell. People who use Postcard are called Postcarders and as I'm going to staying with a few more Postcarders in the next couple of months I thought I'd better explain a little about them.

Postcard is a mailing list for fans of the now defunct Alt-Country band Uncle Tupelo. Now there's a sentence that requires some explanation.

1) Alt-Country is, or was, a genre of music that never really made much impact in the UK. Music nerds will argue (try and stop them) about what Alt-Country is. Does it differ from Country Rock or Americana (the label most often used nowadays to describe Country-tinged music of limited appeal) or even the dumbly named Cow-Punk? You probably don't care but questions like that can drive certain 40 somethings I know to bicker like the Peoples' Front of Judea.

2) The place where many of these socially awkward 40 somethings get to bicker is, of course, the internet. Now back in the day before bands had their own websites with forums where the future stalkers of America could argue with each other, fans were self reliant and created mailing lists. Basically, you subscribe to a mailing list and then any email sent to the list appears in your inbox. Lots of bands or artists have had mailing lists dedicated to them, but today most of these lists are dead or dying. Doubters is the name of the list for a guy called Richard Buckner and I get maybe 30 emails a year from that list. The Tom Waits list which is called Raindogs is a little busier, with maybe 5 or 6 messages a day. But Postcard is something else. I get about 200 emails a day from Postcard... a list that was set up for fans of a band that split up 16 years ago.

Postcard is unusual. We don't talk about the band it's dedicated to that much. Some people on there don't even like the band. And yet every day, about 100 people engage in chat and debate and banter. It probably won't surprise you when I say it's mostly men. It's probably even less surprising when I say it can be pretty juvenile and debates often descend into flame wars, or as we call them on Postcard... Douche-Offs (as in who can behave like the biggest douche-bag). Sometimes people even get so het up that they make threats of physical violence. But don't worry, it never comes to that, mostly the threats come from people who look like star wars kid.

3) In the mid 90s someone I used to know bought a CD at a car boot sale and left it at my house. (For the benefit of American readers, a car boot is a trunk, and a car boot sale is when 100s of people, fill their trunks with junk, and drive to a field and hold a giant yard sale.)

The CD was by a band I'd never heard of called Uncle Tupelo. (And note the presence of an American city in that name.) But when I put the CD in the player and pressed play I liked what I heard. Then after 29 second I loved what I heard.

Country music was still something very few people in the UK would admit to liking. In fact very few people did like it. But I was one and I took comfort in the fact that my two favourite radio DJs, John Peel and Andy Kershaw, also knew that there was such a thing as good country music. I remember Kershaw once said, before playing something by Willie Nelson or George Jones, "Never trust a man who doesn't like Country music". (This was of course before Kershaw lost it and became untrustworthy himself.) But fewer people listened to Peel than they claimed, and fewer still listened to Kershaw. And this was before Johnny Cash released his American recordings and made it hip to like (some) Country so there really was little hope of sharing a love of Patsy Cline or Emmy Lou Harris with my contemporaries. But Uncle Tupelo sounded like they were doing for Country what the Pogues had done for Irish music. They sounded to me like Nirvana covering The Allman Brothers. They sounded totally new, but also, I suspected, like something I wasn't going to find in record shops in Manchester. I had to turn to the internet for information.

I was gutted when I found out that Uncle Tupelo had already split up. But at least I found out they had other records and they played a style of music called Alt-Country. And so did lots of other bands like Whiskeytown and The Scud Mountain Boys and Marah. I was excited about a whole new field of music which had passed me and most of Britian by, but now lay in front of me waiting to be consumed. I was a hungry kid in a sweet shop. And thanks to this mailing list called Postcard I was able to find other kids who had already stuffed themselves with this stuff and were only too happy to tell me more about it.

I know I wouldn't be here in this kitchen in Toronto, Ontario today if it weren't for Uncle Tupelo and Postcard. Especially Postcard. Because it has always been about so much more than Uncle Tupelo or the genre of Alt-Country. Through Postcard I learned about bands like Guided By Voices and The Minutemen - truly great indie pioneers of music. Because of Postcard I attended SXSW when that festival was not really on the radar of the British music media. Because of Postcard I read the book Our Band Could Be Your Life and learned that contrary to what I'd been taught, America was way more punk rock than the UK. Because of Postcard I made friends with people who live thousands of miles away from me. Because of Postcard I'm here and so are you.

Jan 11, 2010


View STTIS Master in a larger map

View as a larger map to be able to access the second page of potential destinatons.

Jan 10, 2010

Lyrics Quiz 2

Ding, ding. Seconds out, seconds out, round two, round two.

Now then, mostly easy, though number 6 might be trickier than the others.

1. Till I found myself in Mobile, Alabama

2. Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto,

3. With so much drama in the L-B-C
(L-B-C = Long Beach California)

4. Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

5. Catching an all-night station, somewhere in Louisiana

6. They went on for ever and they... when I... we lived in Arizona

Answers will be published in April at the end of the trip. Winners will be notified much later.

56 Days

When we decided to do this thing we figured we'd have upto 3 months to do it in, 90 days being the term of a visitors visa to America. Back in August we booked a flight (a one way flight!) to Toronto (I know it's in Canada) and started planning. A week with friends in Toronto and a week with friends in Buffalo meant the trip could start on the 1st of February. Or, if you're an American, February 1st. It seemed like a nice date to start. The end would come sometime in mid April as Carol is due to start teachig English at an unspecified Japanese University at the end of that month. So all in all, we were looking at being on the road for up to 75 days. Or maybe 70, as 10 weeks seemed such a nice round number

Now being a romantic fool I really liked the idea of buying a car and selling it at the end of the trip. But after doing the math/s it was obvious that the practical realities of hiring a new car that came with breakdown cover and insurance was simply too good a deal and so the foolishly romantic notion of buying a somewhat older car with a little character was left on the shelf. The attraction of a new car is especially strong as we plan to head west from Buffalo through the midwest and then northwest up towards Seattle. Friends who've done America in a cheap old beat up mini-bus didn't head north in the winter months. And they still had plenty of repair bills.

So after sighing and moving on from that minor dissapointment I looked into hiring a car for 10 weeks and hit another problem. Here's a fact to bore people with down the pub tonight... hire cars get serviced every 56 days. I don't know if this is a world wide rule or just an American one, but in the USA after 56 days on the road you have to return the car to the hire office. Of course you could just hire another one, but the problem is you have to take the car back to the hire office you picked it up from or face a one way charge (which could easily have been $1000.) So if we had to be back in Buffalo 56 days after pick-up then that seemed like it would be the end of the trip. And though 8 weeks isn't as nice and as round a number as 10 weeks, it's still fairly nice. It's two months after all. If both those months is February, and it isn't a leap year.

So we're limited to 56 days. Which means we'll visit less places. Then again, we'll spend less on motels. It also means we can spend a little longer in Toronto and Buffalo before we embark and that means we can watch the Superbowl with friends before heading out on Monday 8th February. Or February 8th if you prefer.

Stop one will be this place

Jan 2, 2010

All American Songs (...a start.)

So you don't think America is self obsessed?

America - Simon & Garfunkel
America - Neil Diamond
America - Tracy Chapman
America - Jewel
America - Prince & the Revolution
America - Nas
America - Spinal Tap
America Drinks And Goes Home - Frank Zappa
America Snoring - Grant Lee Buffalo
America's Sweethearts - Fall Out Boys
American Baby - Dave Matthews Band
American Bad Ass - Kid Rock
American Fool - John Mellencamp
American Gangster - Jay-Z
American Girl - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
American Girls - Counting Crows
American Idiot - Green Day
American Life - Madonna
American Man - Velvet Revolver
American Nights - The Runaways
American Pie - Don McLean
American Psycho - D12
American Ride - Toby Keith
American Saturday Night - Brad Paisley
American Soldier - Toby Keith
American Superstar - Flo Rida
American's Abroad - Against Me
American X - BRMC
America's Greatest National Pastime - The Byrds
America's Most Blunted - Mad Villain & Quasimoto
America's Next Freak - FM Static
America's Suitehearts - Fall Out Boy
2 Of America's Most Wanted - Snoop Doggy Dog
An American Dream - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
An American Tune - Paul Simon
Ashes Of American Flags - Wilco
Bleed American - Jimmy Eat World
Coming To America - Neil Diamond
French Kissing In The USA - Debbie Harry
I'm Proud To Be An American - The Tubes
In America - Charlie Daniel's Band
Jesus Children Of America - Stevie Wonder
Last Great American Whale - Lou Reed
Last Of The American Girls - Green Day
Little America - R.E.M.
Living In America - James Brown
Miss America - Styx
North American Scum - LCD Sound System
R.O.C.K. In The USA - John Mellencamp
Spirit Of America - Beachboys
The American Ruse - MC5
The Americans - John Mellencamp
The New American Way - Dropkick Murphys
We're An American Band - Grand Funk Railroad
White America - Eminem

...and not forgetting...

America, Fuck Yeah - Team America World Police

Now that list doesn't include tracks by Canadians such as The Guess Who who sang about an American Woman, or Brits like the Clash who claimed I'm So Bored With the U.S.A. (I think they were lying) but even leaving out the foreigners I'm sure there are many, many more songs than this. However the point stands... America is obsessed with itself. (And I with it.)