Ever since British New Wavers Ian Dury and the Blockheads scored with their 1979 single Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3) -- which celebrated people like Elvis and the Marx Brothers and pleasures like Ploughman's sandwiches (cheddar cheese and a pickle) and "coming out of chokey" (solitary confinement) -- inquiring minds have wondered about parts one and two. Since Dury died much too young (in March 2000, at 57), we'll likely never know what he might have had in mind. (As for the surviving Blockheads, they're, uh, blockheads.)
So, in the absence of finding that holy grail, herewith the first of two offerings of some current inspirations for cheer. If you've been laid off, Madeoff-ed or you just plain need a lift during a tough holiday season, check these out. (Disclosure: some of these talented folks are my friends.)
1. TheBluegrassSpecial.com. Author and music journalist David McGee -- whose elegant prose is matched by impeccable taste -- launched this online magazine on a wing and a prayer a year and a half ago, and it has already become a first-rate source for wonderful, important material about bluegrass, country and other roots music. McGee gives equal weight to honoring the achievements of icons like Ralph Stanley and exposing the delights of new artists like the Punch Brothers. And he goes beyond music coverage -- this month's Special Report on the grassroots uprising opposing mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, including pieces by The Nation's Jeff Biggers and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., might be the most comprehensive expose of this crisis yet published.
2. Mateo. This thirty-something blond white guy from New Hampshire -- nee Matthew Stoneman -- sings hundreds of classic mariachis and scores of his own tunes with the voice of an angel. His guitar playing is trance-like, and if there's a piano around he might play his trumpet with his right hand and the keyboard with his left. You can find him doing his troubadour thing all over L.A.'s East Side or hear him on his CD 12 Canciones, which has sold more than 40,000 copies on the web and in the streets and restaurants of L.A. and Havana, where Mateo records and plays with members of the Buena Vista Social Club and other stalwarts.
3. Geller's Greatest Hits. Legendary A&R man and vault guy extraordinaire Gregg Geller has raised the process of producing compilation discs and boxed sets to a high art. Fluent in all genres, he meticulously explores an artist's oeuvre to select tracks in just the right sequence, compiles the finest liner notes, photos and other accompanying information to create a compelling, comprehensive story and supervises remastering so the songs frequently sound better than the originals. Among his masterpieces: Quiet Please...The New Best Of Nick Lowe (one of the many great artists Geller signed over the years), Guilty: 30 Years Of Randy Newman, Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story, Johnny Cash--Personal File, Can't You Hear Me Callin'--Bluegrass: 80 Years Of American Music, The Music Of Frank Sinatra,The Best Of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975 and -- no joke -- As Time Goes By: The Best Of Jimmy Durante.
4. Metaljazz.com. Not up to speed on your speed metal? Want to get more jazzed about jazz? Fear not: Greg Burk may be the only writer in the country who can take you from Slayer to Freddie Hubbard and back without missing a syncopation. And he's hilarious. (His 1995 LA Weekly cover story To Hell With Baseball belongs in any anthology of the best of alternative journalism.). The site also features other writers, including the great Richard Meltzer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u2E-z-Kh-M
5. Wendy Block's too-infrequent pieces on laprogressive.com and on this site. A fanciful voice, an open heart and a backbone of steel make this progressive activist a must-read on California progressive politics and the way what might seem like abstract issues impact our everyday lives. Read this stuff and you'll see the connection between homelessness and campaign finance reform.
6. Humphrey Yogart's sweet vanilla frozen yogurt with cookie dough and malt. Why let Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold lead you to an abandoned tenement in Monterey Park for pig uterus gelato when this Nirvanic concoction is available in the heart of Sherman Oaks? The vanilla mixes with the cookie dough like Burns with Allen and the malt supplies the primordial frisson to permit direct ascent to heaven. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my grandfather, Ragtime "Big" Jack Berkowitz -- who played the piano in the silent movies and peaked at 4'11" before old age shrunk him down to the mid-4s -- used to take my brothers and me for malts every Sunday.) 4574 Van Nuys Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 9140.
If none of this helps and you've still got the blues, pour a Scotch, turn off the lights and savor this.
Follow Michael Sigman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/majorsongs