Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: Crazy Horses

The Osmonds: Crazy Horses


It was one of the strange moments in pop when the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the apartheid-era cheerleaders for racist Puritanism, banned those clean-living Osmonds from its airwaves because they assumed Crazy Horses was about drugs. The song is, in fact, the rockingest environmental anthem of its day – at least among those songs of that kind aimed at the pubescent crowd or younger.

The song is, of course, not about heroin, but about the air pollution caused by automobiles. Written by Alan, Merrill and Wayne (the three older brothers), the Osmonds at other times apparently suggested it might about smoking cigarettes, one of the hundreds of things their Mormonism bans. Why in that case the single cover (and the LP of the same title) would show exhaust fumes emanating from heaps of cars copiously corrupting the air in clouds of poison, heroically breathed in by Donny and his brothers for my benefit and yours, is as unclear as the air of any urban conurbation in rush hour traffic.

Crazy Horses certainly is not your typical Osmonds number. If one didn’t know better, one would imagine the gruff lead singer to sport a beard bigger even than that of the dude in Kansas; the keyboardist not being happy young Donny, but some bespectacled evil genius whose excess consumption of hallucinogenic substances has given him the illusion that his screaming synth riff will literally blow your mind, man (and if you are under the influence of hallucinogens while listening to Crazy Horses, our putative malevolent mastermind might well be right); and the guitarist being the newly-recruited glam rocker who by sheer force of glitter and make-up infuses the old band’s hard rock sound with a pop sensibility.

Instead, as we know, the performers are not drugged dropout hippie veterans who in 1972 still coming to terms with the cold ’70s, but a gang of clones created by a mad orthodontist and his flamboyant hairdresser brother.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day: (Nothing But) Flowers

Talking Heads: (Nothing But) Flowers


One day some time ago, I was in New York City, and I overheard a remarkable conversation. Two young ladies, both vegan, were talking about an awful experience one of them had had recently. She had decided that she ought to get closer to nature by getting a pet. She chose a snake. She wanted to find vegan food for it, but she learned to her horror that it only ate live animals. Almost sobbing, she told her friend that she was forced to get rid of it. Now, these two young ladies might have gained from this a greater appreciation of the balance of nature and its delicacy. But no. They both agreed that snakes were immoral creatures because they ate meat.

This story gets to the heart of what makes the lyrics to so many potential songs for this week’s theme so “hippy-dippy”, as FiL put it so well. And (Nothing But) Flowers starts off this way. But then comes the line, “If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower.” From there, the song becomes a lament for bygone suburban sprawl and technology. I don’t think that David Byrne meant the song to be a celebration of certain parts of New Jersey, however. Rather, Byrne is using irony to say that, yes, we as humans need to change our relationship with our planet, but this does not mean renouncing every footprint of human habitation from the planet. We must find a balance. Earth belongs to whales and dolphins, but also to human beings, and none of us would know how to live without our technology. Try not using any electricity in your house for 24 hours, and you will see what I mean. I think this is also what David Byrne is saying.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day: Don't Kill the Whale

Yes: Don't Kill the Whale


1978's Tormato is generally considered one of Yes' worst albums, and I won't argue with that. Most of it is a mess. ("Arriving UFO", anyone?) However I always thought that this song rocked. But with it's proggy keyboards and hippy-dippy lyrics, it was probably Exhibit #1 in the case for punk rock.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earth Day: Grazing in the Grass

grazing in the grass

The Friends of Distinction: Grazing in the Grass


Grazing in the Grass was a #1 Billboard hit in 1968 for the South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela. In that incarnation, it was originally an instrumental song, but in 1969 the pop group The Friends of Distinction set lyrics to it and made the top ten with it once again. And what cheerful, nature-loving lyrics they are:

The sun beaming down between the leaves,
And the birds dartin' in and out of the trees,
Everything here is so clear, you can see it,
And everything here is so near, you can feel it…

Can you dig it?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fiddle and Violins => Earth Day: Gentle Arms of Eden

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: Gentle Arms of Eden


Dave Carter gives us a lyric that offers the history of life on earth as a prayer of thanks for all that She gives us, and he manages the neat trick of not sounding at all preachy. So Gentle Arms of Eden seemed to me to be the perfect overture for our week-long celebration of Earth Day. Tracy Grammer’s fiddle enters on the second verse, and she takes a solo after the second chorus. Grammer is not a flashy fiddler, which may be why we got through all of last week without hearing her playing. But flash is not what this song needs. Her part here is the perfect complement to the mood of the song.