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Curatorial beats with a Western connection

by Johanna Blume | Apr 18, 2013

picture of guitars in Eiteljorg exhibit

Throughout the run of Guitars!: Roundups to Rockers, we’ll highlight the top five guitar picks from an Eiteljorg employee and find out whether there’s a Western connection! This week’s playlist comes from Johanna Blume, Assistant Curator of Western Art, History and Culture.

Assistant Curator Johanna Blume

My music taste has often been described as “eclectic,” so you may not see a lot of rhyme or reason in my picks. Instead, think of them as five songs that I think feature particularly beautiful or interesting guitar playing:

  1. “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M., Out Of Time, 1991
  2. “Down By The Water,” The Decemberists, The King Is Dead, 2011
  3.  “Land,”Patti Smith, Horses, 1975
  4. “Modern Girl,” Sleater-Kinney, The Woods, 2005
  5. “Rainbow Connection,” Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection, 2001

You can hear the influence of the band R.E.M. on The Decemberists’ most recent album, The King Is Dead. In fact, Peter Buck, R.E.M.’s lead guitar player, contributed guitar to several tracks, including “Down By The Water.” When you listen to “Down By The Water” and “Losing My Religion” together, keep an ear out for the guitar and mandolin parts in particular.

Patti Smith is one of the most influential acts in rock. Her 1975 album Horses was at the very forefront of the punk movement in the United States. In “Land”, Lenny Kaye created mesmerizing and surprising sounds with his guitar.

On a more personal note, growing up in Western South Dakota, my friends and I didn’t have access to a lot of non-Top 40 music on the radio or through live performances. Thankfully, my best friend had friends in the Pacific Northwest who shared the amazing music happening in their neck of the woods with him, and he in turn shared it with me. Sleater-Kinney was one of my first introductions to punk and riot grrrl music.

 

I can’t help but think of high school and my once turquoise and purple hair whenever I listen to them.

On another personal note, one of my all time favorite songs is “Rainbow Connection,” first sung by none other than Kermit the Frog, and played on his little frog banjo. This version, performed by Willie Nelson, features some beautiful guitar playing, instead.

So what do these songs have to do with the American West? In the case of The Decemberists, Sleater-Kinney, and Willie Nelson, the immediate connection is that they’ve all called the West home (Oregon, Washington, and Texas, respectively). But the connections run deeper than just where these artists have lived. Sleater-Kinney grew out of the vibrant riot grrrl and punk scenes that developed in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s and 1990s. The Decemberists have been an integral part of the indie-folk-rock boom happening in the Pacific Northwest today. And, well, Willie Nelson is one of the defining acts in “outlaw country.” Even Patti Smith and R.E.M, while not from the West, are connected to our story. Both have influenced generations of Western musicians including The Decemberists, Nirvana, and a host of others.

funk and brownstein guitars

If you haven’t had a chance to see Guitars! Roundups to Rockers yet, or if you’re thinking of visiting again, be sure to keep your eye out for the guitars played by Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, and Chris Funk of The Decemberists.

Johanna Blume
Assistant Curator of Western Art, History and Culture

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