Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Girl: Jane of the Waking Universe

I’m still thinking about my previous post, so I bring this burning question to the fore: Why are there so many songs about girls named Jane?

I mentioned Jane’s Addiction, and their eponymous femme subject who has become perhaps the most popular Jane in rock and rock, though The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane might want to argue that she holds top honors. And I’ve thought of a whole lot of other Janes, and I wonder: why is the name Jane so popular in the arts?

There are seriously a lot of songs about Janes. I searched a few lists of Jane-related songs, and f I could still add a few Janes I knew that weren’t included.

It’s an omnipresent moniker Tarzan had his Jane; Dylan had his Queen Jane, approximately; we all wonder still what happened to Baby Jane…I’ve know exactly one Jane my entire life, which seems an odd ratio: for someone who’s name appears in so many songs, you’d think I’d have known more.

OK, so, enough of my brain working through these odd trenches it gets lost in.

One of my favorite Jane songs is Guided By Voice’s Jane of the Waking Universe. Off 1997’s Mag Earwhig! Not their greatest album, but it did mark their transition into a more sonically sound and well-recorded band. Do the Collapse would follow, which was produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars, which is like, all BV albums, brilliant in its own way, in its own special, sonic universe. Jane rounds end the end bit of a typically 20-plus track suitcase of pop rock oddities and anthemic hallelujahs to the god’s of indie rock joy. The lyrics mine the typical mystical beer can visions of Robert Pollard, who, whether he’s writing about kicking elves, having bulldog skin or being a tree, is a prolific madman genius who has given me some of my greatest and most beautiful musical moments. Jane of the Waking Universe is but one. And, on a new listen (It’s been a while since I dug Mag Earwhig! out for a listen, I’m going to say this: it’s freaking great. I may never meet many Janes, but goddamn if I’m not happy about being able to go back to old friends like GBV…Any Janes out that want to comment on why you’re so damn popular as an appellation, motif and theme…? 

 By the way...I can hope that when I'm Mitch Mitchell's age, I can still kick as much ass...

Girl: Beatles Girl

When the "Girl" theme first popped up, it seemed a natural to go with a post featuring the Beatles - "Girl" from Rubber Soul. The more I delved into the Beatles/Girl idea, the more I was amazed at the number of Beatles songs that reference "girl".

Enough so that it prompted me to dig deeper into the word itself: just what is "girl"? My research indicates that first and foremost, a girl is younger than a woman, So, I wonder how cognizant of this the Beatles were as they penned their lyrics - there is an element that might be flagged inappropriate today: a little on the young side. A "girl" is certainly un-married (and the term girl-friend only dates back to the 1890s apparently). The OED guesses that the word comes from "gyrle" , that meant a child - either male or female, but possibly around the 14th Century, it became mostly female. That said, there isnt much doubt that today it means an unmarried female, likely younger than 20 (that number is mine).

The term also seems to embody a certain amount of protective ownership. That is, if "she" is your girl, your have taken responsibility - for care, upkeep and maintenance. (And that could possibly continue beyond her marriage)

But, back to the Beatles and their girls. The band has girls all over the place - not just in the obvious song title alluded to above: I count 4 beatles songs with "girl" in the title, but more songs than you would beleive have the word in the lyrics! I'll start you off with a few, but suggest you head over to the quiz below to quench your thirst for more.

"Moscow girls make me sing and shout" - Back in the USSR; "She's not a girl who misses much" - Happiness is a Warm Gun; "She was a girl in a million my friend"- I'm a Loser; "You know you twist little girl..."- Twist and Shout. Here's the quiz:

If pressed, I might call Rubber Soul my favorite Beatles album (after the White Album, which is so eclecticly perfect).

Herewith, a collection of "girls":

Ukelele version

Monday, May 23, 2016

Girl: Slade's Gudbuy T’Jane

Purchase Slade, Gudbuy T'Jane

It might make things easier to start this post off by asking, “What song isn’t about a girl?” I’ve certainly never written one that isn’t about a girl.  When I was young, spinning the AM dial endlessly looking for music, I was struck by the fact that almost every song was about love. Most of them about being in love with girls.

So, it was particularly hard to choose a song for this post, but for some reason I got on a Slade kick and few weeks back, and thought: why not Gudbuy T’Jane?

Why was I on a Slade kick? Why not? Slade was a glam rock outfit from England, who, while never really going over the top in terms of acclaim, did notch 17 consecutive top 20 hits in the early 70s. Not a bad run. Brits know them better than Americans, but those of us who went a little nuts for Quiet Riot’s Cum on Feel the Noize owe Slade a certain debt of gratitude. I don’t recall how I got down the Slade rabbit hole recently, but I did. And I’m glad of it.

Slade is an interesting band. A little glam, very British looking, but they always sounded to me like a bottom-heavy southern rock band. Perhaps it the vocal delivery, twangy and snarly, or maybe it’s just the very American riffs that power most of their tunes. Try not to pay attention to the ridiculous Viking cum Highlander cum Martian explorer get ups: these guys looked goofy, but they capture and very specific, 70s riff rock vibe that sinks in, like only the best pop songs can.

“Gudbuy T'Jane" is about a girl, of course named Jane. A little research says it was written for a particularly spaced out San Francisco radio DJ who allegedly assaulted one of the band members. Supposedly she kicked him, hard, with heels. But then again, there’s also the claim it was written about witnessing a very specific sex act on some obscure San Francisco game show. Again, by a girl named Jane. The song was originally titled Hello T’ Jane. Details are murky. What is clear is that the song was written as the single follow up to one of those top 20 tracks, Mama Weer All Crazee Now. Hello again, Quite Riot?  (That’s a connection of explore sometime, perhaps: bands that do multiple covers of the same band.) What’s also pretty clear is the fun riffed-out groove of this peon to our mysterious girl, Jane. Rock like this put Jane in good company with the likes of Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls, Rod Stewarts Hot Legs and maybe even the girl with American Things, in AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long. I would count her in the same company as Jane’s Addiction’s Jane, but, then again, you never know. We never to know our Jane’ as well as we’d like, do we? 

Friday, May 20, 2016

GIRL : New York Girls

I suppose I may be the exception to the rest of the blogging parade here in that I don't know any New York girls. Girls from York, sure, one or two, yet how is it that this most english of songs relates to the women across the pond? To answer this question I consulted all my usual sources of education and edification, aka Google, and the fabulously entitled Shantypedia was the best I could find. (As a swift digression, don't you just love how any manual of information nowadays is a hyphen-pedia, and every crisis a hyphengate-gate? If there were a massive fallout between Jimmy Wales and his team, would it be pedia-gate? Actually, probably Wiki-gate, but anyway.......) So, moving on, we establish it is a sea-shanty, a song sung by jolly jack tars as they avasted landlubbers ahoy, or, more likely, suffered in the  bowels of an unforgiving galleon, gnawing on rancid ship's biscuit. In another twist of fate, such songs of self-encouragement to lighten the curse of a sailor's life are now sung by choirs of earnest townsfolk in striped pullovers, a glee club for the vocally seasick. But, again trying to stick to the point, has this song ever been sung in an american tradition or do the US maritime corps sing of Old York girls? In the absence of me providing you with an answer, can any of my reader supply the answer?

Let's have a version:

I hope you stuck with that, if only to read the lyrics, as it saves me cutting and pasting elsewhere, itself no mean challenge, as, similar to most songs in any folk tradition, there are as many versions as, um, versions. I accept it hasn't aged well, as in from 1975 to the present, rather than the 200 odd years of the song being known, but, back then, this toothsome band were almost quite the big thing in one of the regular sightings of a predicted folk music revival, vying with the better known Fairport Convention to be at the forefront. (And, actually, still are, as seems compulsory for all bands of that decade. 'Commoner's Crown', the LP from which it came was their big budget breaker, or would be breaker, reaching 21 in the album chart.) The song is actually far from typical of their style, perhaps trying a introduce a levity into their otherwise very serious and strait-laced fusion of traditional folk with electric rock instrumentation, and features no less than Peter Sellers on ukelele and vocal asides. Again, hard to believe now, but he was the only uke player anyone could think of at the time. No such shortage now, eh, and more's the pity.

Fast forward to 1989 and it is (the) Oysterband, featured here by august sometime colleague Boyhowdy in 2008, who are having jolly japes with the tune. I like to think it has a little more muscle than Steeleye, but it is still a fairly overt bid for crossover commercialism. Failed, of course, but still, to this day, a staple of their live show, they too still plugging away valiantly.

As a bit of a diversion, even if not answering the question of my first paragraph, with Finbar Furey being irish through and through, but, for the purpose of its place in Martin Scorsese's 2003 film, 'The Gangs of New York', this is defined as close an imagining of how the native New Yorkers of 1863 caroused. (Come to think of it, most native New Yorkers of 1863 were probably irish through and through too.) I guess you had to be there?

My final offering is from only just recently defunct folk big band Bellowhead, darlings of the last predicted folk revival. Somehow this grabs bits from all the 3 earlier examples, filtering them through a venn diagram of weird versus trad, with a side order of shake vigorously.

So, me Santys, New York girls or Tarrytown men, can YOU dance the polka?

SteeleyeBellowhead I can point you to, but for Oysterband get this, even if the song isn't included, and for Finbar, get the film.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Girl: Girl of My Dreams

Bram Tchaikovsky: Girl of My Dreams
[purchase, if you have lots of money to burn, or a turntable]

One of the true joys of being a music fan is hearing something wonderful and totally unexpected for the first time. Back in the 1970s, particularly in the heyday of WNEW-FM and WLIR/WDRE, the DJs, who had access to new music before any of us listeners, would spin something new, maybe by a brand new band, or even by a known artist, and you would get that feeling in your gut, or the hair would stand up on the back of your neck.

I was lucky to be in that situation myself for the 3 and a half years that I worked at WPRB while in college. As a DJ, and then, even better, as assistant program director and program director, I often got to hear records immediately after they were taken out of the boxes they were shipped in. And before the Internet, it was much rarer to hear music before it was released.

I can’t remember exactly the first time I heard Bram Tchaikovsky’s album Strange Man, Changed Man, but it grabbed me immediately, and became something that I played on the air regularly. It was a record that came directly out of left field. Tchaikovsky (It took a little while to determine that, in fact, Bram wasn’t related to Pyotr Ilyich, although it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that his real name is Peter Bramall) was a member of The Motors, an English band that I was aware of, but he, personally, had not made any impression on me.  The incredible power pop of SM,CM was a revelation, even overlooking the fact that Bram’s voice wasn’t great, or that the sound on the album was kind of muddy. It is one of those albums that I will always love, even if I rarely play it anymore.

Although SM, CM is strong from start to finish, the standout track, which was a minor hit, was “Girl of My Dreams,” a pretty love song to an inflatable sex doll. It is one of the great songs of that oft-maligned genre, right up there with, if not quite equal to, The Records “Starry Eyes.”

Bram and his band, with a revolving door of members, put out two more good records, but never quite hit the heights of the debut. By all reports, he retired from the music business in 1981, possibly opening up a recording studio. Lately, though, it appears that he may be gigging in England again.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mom >> Child: Dweezil Zappa

Buy Zappa's Motherly Love from Amazon

I'm going to conjecture that I am not the only one who feels that I didnt "do [enough] right" by my mother for Mother's Day. Flowers dont quite cut it, eh? It's a debt you can never really re-pay. And I would like to think that the debt we feel (ought to feel) goes well beyond a commericial prompt from

Next theme question: if your mom a girl? had an interesting take on this thought this past week...

All the same... me thinks it is part of human nature to rebel - to rebel against our mothers (and fathers)... to rebel against the powers that be: be it your recording company , be it the headmaster of your school, be it the law makers who define the conditions under which we co-exist. And in this, Frank Zappa excelled: with or without "The Mothers of Invention" - he pushed the limits of the acceptable. Lewd at times? maybe - depends on your interpretation of his lyrics. Irreverant to his mother? No that I know of. Pro-active regarding our legislative rights - most certainly!

Sad to read that Frank Zappa's son (who has taken on some mantle of his father's legacy) is embroiled in legal issues regarding the "Mothers" appelation. Granted: the name/rights likely never belonged to the Zappa family, but I can't imagine many who dont see "the Mothers of Invention" associated with the Zappa name. What [social] value in litigating? None. Monetary ... perhpas some.

So... Sons of mothers and fathers. Children... Someone ought to take on the Frank Zappa brand, and who better than his progeny? Dweezil has been working at it for some time now. I would give him a vote of confidence - but maybe not because of his "chops".

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mom: Mom (Lucero)

Lucero: Mom

This theme came at a very difficult time for me. There has been something going on in my family that I haven’t written about, and lately, thinking about it and dealing with it has taken up most of my otherwise unoccupied time. I write for three music related blogs, and I know that my readership isn’t exactly huge. While I hope that those of you who do read my writings find them worthwhile, in reality, I mostly do it for myself. I enjoy having an excuse to write, even if it is mostly ignored, because it is the writing itself that is the most rewarding to me. Although I do like it when I find out people are actually reading it, and even better, when they think it is good.

I’ve held off writing about the fact that my father is dying because it is hard. He’s been fighting metastasized lung cancer for a few years now, going through surgery and cycles of chemo and radiation therapy. Gradually he has wasted away from a man who, in his seventies, would play tennis as a warmup to 18 holes of golf, to where he is as I write this, unable to get out of bed. From a smart, funny, strongly opinionated man to someone who rarely speaks and often seems confused.

The fact that I’m dealing with a dying parent is not anything particularly unique, especially among my contemporaries. In fact, my wife and I consider ourselves lucky that this is the first of our parents for whom this has become an issue. So not writing about it (although I have not been hesitant to discuss it with friends) has been partially an attempt not to make it seem like I think my situation is anything special. But since writing to me is therapeutic, and because Star Maker Machine wants me to write about Moms, and I can’t write about my Mom now without writing about how my father’s condition has affected her, I decided to start typing. Dad’s decline and impending death has had a profound effect on my mother, to say the least. And I am so proud of her for the way that she is handling everything.

My parents have been a couple since high school. They stayed together through college and married shortly after graduation. I was born not too long after that, while my father was in law school. They were kids then and they have been married, happily, I believe, for nearly 57 years. My parents were best friends, did virtually everything together, and I cannot ever remember hearing either of them say anything negative about the other. It was, by all accounts, a true partnership and a true love affair.

As was the norm then, and is still common today, my parents worked as a team, but with different domains. Dad went to work, dealt with the finances, and was involved in big family decisions. Mom ran the house and dealt with most of the kid-related and family issues. Her quiet strength was the hub around which our family revolved, even as we married and had our own children, even as in many ways, she revolved around Dad.

But my father’s retirement, then illness, began to shift the paradigm. Although they continued to do most things together, Mom started to do things to get herself personal time. She continued to play golf and tennis. She lunched and shopped with friends. She took up bridge and signed up for adult education courses (sometimes with Dad). All the while, she took care of Dad, gradually having to do more and more as he was able to do less and less.

It finally got to the point where Dad couldn’t easily walk up and down the stairs, and for that, and other, reasons, my parents prepared to sell their house and buy a smaller one on a single level, expecting that it would be easier for both of them. Mom, and to the extent possible, Dad, started to pack up their stuff and begin purging years of accumulated possessions. Mom began to assume the job of dealing with their bills, for the first time, and I spent time with her working through how to pay things online, so that she didn’t need to save piles of papers or write and mail checks. My wife and I helped to organize their files, arranged for shredding of boxes of documents, and the whole family pitched in to help get rid of unneeded items. It took a while to arrange both the buy and the sell, and closings were planned, tentatively, for late April or early May.

I was so impressed by how my mother just did what needed to be done. She took an increasingly large role in dealing with Dad’s doctors, and with the real estate agents, movers, bankers, mortgage brokers, contractors and lawyers involved in the sale of her old house and the purchase and renovation of her new house. I have tried to help as much as I could, but she was in charge, doing many things she had never done before.

Earlier this month, Dad took a turn for the worse, and over the past few weeks, his decline has snowballed to the point that we aren’t even sure if he will survive to the move date, next week, my 55th birthday. Two days ago, I sat with Mom at the closing, signing my father’s name to the sheaves of papers, under a power of attorney, and she stoically and repeatedly signed her name. Afterwards, we went back to the house that she no longer owns, so I could see my Dad, who was, with his aide, watching the Mets rout the Braves in a day game. He was awake, acknowledged me with a smile, but I have no idea whether or not he really knew who I was, understood that we had come from the closing, or appreciated the power display our favorite team had unleashed. Meanwhile, Mom simply took care of what needed to be done.

These days, when I cry, it isn’t because I’m sad that my father is dying, although I am, because at this point, I think that death is preferable to the life he has. I cry for my Mom, who will be without her best friend, living in a new house alone, and forced to take on unexpected responsibilities. But I know that she can, because she is such a strong person, and even in her late seventies has untapped personal resources to draw upon.

Lucero is a band that is mostly known for exuberant rocking songs about various forms of debauchery, misbehavior and lost love, often tinged with regret. But they also write slower, gut wrenching personal songs. “Mom,” which closes their great album 1372 Overton Park, is one of those—a song that both apologizes to a mom for the singer’s misdeeds, but also thanks her for what she has done for him. It isn’t the most appropriate song for this piece, but it is a good one, by a band that should be better known.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Being a mother may not be the first thought about Sinead O'Connor. Indeed, many may go further and say maybe more a mother-something than a mother, such is her ability to annoy and antagonise so many groups in society, whether the catholic church or the estate of one Prince Rogers Nelson. But she strikes me a someone who deserves some recognition of this aspect of her life, most of her 4 children having songs in overt dedication to them in her discography. Let's also not forget her own turbulent childhood, with her mother taking most of the blame for myriad accusations made of abuse toward her, and possibly thus, I wonder, the catalyst to her maverick talent. Motherhood seems to hold very mixed emotion for her, struggling to avoid her experience of her own mother colouring the experience her children have of her, through all of this gaining some sort of skewed acceptance of what seems to have been a fractured childhood. This piece is not to stare goggle-mouthed at her sideshow, but to accept and to celebrate her songs about this no small part of her life and her muse.

Universal mother was her 4th album, it's title playing on a matriarchal deity and her own motherhood, several of the songs being near lullabys to her eldest child, John, including this one, below, 'John, I Love You,'

and 'My Darling Child.' (Here let me advocate breaking a rule of mine and actually reading the Youtube comments made under the clips, being nearly all words of praise and amazement for these simple hymns, with seldom a troll in sight.)

In 1997, 3 years after 'Universal Mother' came the EP, 'Gospel Oak', from which the title song of this piece comes. Here the lyric is more ambiguous, uncertain whether addressed to a child or a lover. Or even to her own  mother, killed in a car crash some 10 years earlier? It sounds a song of a bitter forgiveness to me.

Flash forward several years, to 2012, and there comes this further confessional, 'I Had a Baby', the lyric marveling the outcome of the relationship that led to that child, now appreciating a greater insight as to how the child has to deal with the manner of their procreation, and creators. I can't think of any other artist laying open their life so honestly in song.

I have no way of knowing how "good" a mother is Sinead, or even, frankly, quite what that means. It isn't my concern, either. What I do know, however, is that, as a parent, most of us muddle through and do our best, and I am sure she is no different. But, should her 4 ever doubt their mothers love, these songs surely give a greater power and demonstration than many of us get to ever keep. Keep well, Sinead, keep strong.

Buy I Want to Mother You, noting, with irony, that the hard copy starts at a cent and runs to near $90. So how do you define the worth of motherhood?