Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pernice Brothers (1998)

This is a little off topic, but it's still music related. My iPod died a couple months ago. It was pretty devastating, but I took it pretty well, despite the fact it was just short of its second birthday and I had neglected to purchase the extended warranty, so I was pretty much screwed. I tried at least a dozen times over the course of a couple weeks to resurrect it by resetting, but to no avail. It kept coming back with the frowny face that tends to indicate a hardware problem.

I read the online support information and tried everything they suggested, but I was convinced it was dead. However, just before I threw it on the cart, Sara suggested we go to the Apple store together, as hers had died recently as well. There was something about the strength in numbers that would come from the two of us accompanying each other to the dreaded Genius Bar. Little did we know when we arrived there were no more geniuses available that day, so I logged onto the in-store Mac to schedule an appointment for two days later.

Sara wasn't with me when I returned. While I was waiting in line, I pulled the source of my frustration out and started playing with it (that sounds bad, doesn't it?). I clicked the hold button back and forth a couple times, and saw the shaded Apple logo that usually appears as the thing is re-booting. I watched and waited for the frowny face to come back, but it didn't. In its place was the standard menu. When I clicked on Artists, there it directory of the 55+ GB of music on my iPod, all of it intact.

So, tonight I have it set up on the HomeDock I use to play it through my stereo, and I've been listening to my entire Pernice Brothers collection as I've been writing the following...

I discovered Joe Pernice at the previously discussed Wilco/Scud Mountain Boys Saratoga double bill. Both Len and I purchased their then current album, Massachusetts, at that show. Little did we know it would turn out to be their swan song. We were able to explore their back catalog, but it was limited, as the two-disc The Early Year would compile both of their prior albums, Pine Box and Dance the Night Away.

We were aching for more excellent alt-country at the time, and Massachusetts absolutely fit the bill. The two earlier albums were good, but a little too pure country for us to really embrace. When the somewhat ironically named Pernice Brothers (Joe's brother was only a part-time member of the band and his role has diminished since) rose from the ashes of the Scud Mountain Boys, we were a little disappointed there was very little alt-country twang on their debut, Overcome by Happiness. Even more ironically, a song from that album, "Chicken Wire", was recently named #1 on AOL/'s list of the "25 Most Exquisitely Sad Songs in the Whole World."

Overcome by Happiness would grow on me, though, and would close out my 1998 second only to Richard Buckner's Since. Scott second-guessed my ranking of this album ahead of Varnaline's Sweet Life, and in hindsight I agree. Len would also contend it wasn't as good as Massachusetts, but was an impressive debut. A more appropriate comparison would be to point out it couldn't hold a candle to the two masterpieces that followed.

I've often made the statement I might be the world's biggest Pernice Brothers fan, as few agree with that previous statement, and with my evaluation of 2001's The World Won't End and 2003's Yours, Mine and Ours as the #1 albums of their respective years. I might have some competition from the writer of Gilmore Girls, a show I've never watched for more than five minutes despite numerous Pernice references. Re-thinking my previous discussion about my second favorite artist, it's a sin of omission I left Joe Pernice out of that conversation.

The World Won't End is definitely still my favorite, but I'm sure Sara's is Yours, Mine and Ours, as that is the album that kicked off her obsession...thanks to me, of course. In fact, since Sara practically invented the concept of bludgeoning an album to death, I'm really surprised she never killed any of the Pernices' for me, given all the times she drove me to and from work.

Since Lee has already read me the riot act regarding Gillian Welch, I'm a little nervous about opening up this can of worms, but Joe Pernice is also on a non-music related short list of mine. That is, my favorite Red Sox fans. I can't even explain my criteria for this list, but there's something about these folks that makes me appreciate their love for a team I can't help but despise, thanks to all the idiotic yahoos in this town. And yes, they're more idiotic than Yankee yahoos, which there are plenty of, because they somehow believe in this ridiculous notion they're the most intelligent fans in baseball. I say with a great deal of confidence that the only Red Sox fans who know more about baseball than I do are Peter Gammons and Jerry Remy, and the latter is debatable.

Wow, I thought I was sympathizing with Red Sox fans here. Ok then, the list...there are only four of them. I couldn't even come up with someone to round it out to a top five. These are in no particular order, but obviously Joe Pernice is one. Then there's Sara's mother, she of the classic quote, "I really like Dan...even though he's a Yankees' fan." Apparently, she can't say the first half of that without adding her little qualifier. Third, there's Craig, Lee's college pal, who has to be the least confrontative Red Sox fan I've ever met. I still appreciate the story of how Lee mailed Craig his "1918" t-shirt after the Sox won the World Series...not only a great expression of sportsmanship, but hilarious as well.

Last, but of course, not least, is Gert. I still love to tell the story of the day I met Gert. It was my first day of work at Forsyth in March of 2002. Gert came into my office and introduced herself. I had no idea who she was, for all I knew she was a member of the Board of Trustees. After about a minute of small talk, she says "...enough about that, let's talk about baseball." I feel like from that moment forward, there was an instant connection. It's as if we'd known each other for a year rather than a minute. Gert and I are still close friends, despite the fact I left Forsyth a year ago and am not able to walk down the hall to talk with her about baseball or life (two somewhat interchangeable concepts) every day as I used to.

Though I haven't been as excited about their last two albums, both have been solid and predictably enjoyable efforts. Still, as the only artist to command the top spot on my year-end list on two separate occasions, the Pernice Brothers maintain a reverential status that is second only to Neil Young, and that's saying something.


  1. Enjoyed your blog...found it through Joyce's posting to Facebook this morning.

    Unfortunately, though I had tickets, I missed the Scuds show this Saturday, but I plan to see the Hoboken show next month.

    I discovered the Pernice Brothers only a few years ago, and find their music among my favorite at present. There is something about Joe's voice; it's pure sound yes but also how he takes care to enunciate every single syllable, how he looks as a person so much different than how he sounds (at least to me), and of course the oh-so clever composition and all combines to keeps me listening and I just can't get enough (other artists after five listens you're done...not here).

    Imagine my surprise when I learned as I moved into my girlfriend's house north of Boston that she lives next door to Joe's brother Bob. The original 'monkeysuit' himself! Life's sure odd when you're a fan of your next door neighbor.

    Since I've discovered them I've taken up guitar and have even passed off their lyrical snippets as my own...'does restless sleep still wrap your hair into a rope and does evening light still power on your door?'.

  2. Thanks Richard. I love your description of the way Joe enunciates every syllable. That totally describes him to a T and is one of the things I like about him as well.

    I'm glad you'll be able to make the Hoboken show. It will be well worth the trip.