Saturday, May 18, 2013

Flowers: Dead Flowers

Keith Richards, Willie Nelson: Dead Flowers
[purchase  Sticky Fingers version link]

Anybody else late sending flowers to Mom this year? Hope yours arrived alive.
I was an impressionable 16-year-old (just) in 1971 when Sticky Fingers came out. I went straight out and bought the LP: the d*#&@d thing actually had a real zipper on the cover! Meaning what? Sticky Fingers?  From what? Anyone recall what was under the zipper? My memory tells me this was also the first time we saw the Stones’ iconic tongue logo as well. (Next up from the Stones: Exile on Main Street)
Also included on Sticky Fingers: Brown Sugar. (Way too much for a 16-year-old white boy). Wild Horses? (We were certainly wild enough).Sister Morphine!?
 But then there was “Dead Flowers”: needles and spoons, heroin, death. Pretty extreme. Various folk have postulated that this was a reference to Keith Richards’ addiction. Or flowers that Gram Parsons’s girlfriend sent overseas and that arrived beyond their prime/dead. Yet someone else points out that heroin is made from dead flowers. In any case, the Stones were way out beyond normal.
Very much a country song,  Jagger has said that his singing isn’t “legit”. He says that he faked it (on Sticky Fingers), and insinuates that most of his country music involves an element of faking it (Think: Far Away Eyes/Some Girls). He says that country is more suited to Keith’s style.
So … appropriately, Keith here, rockin' “Dead Flowers” with Willie Neilson, Ryan Adams & Hank Williams III.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


                 Blues Traveler: Canadian Rose

                 Confession time; whilst this post is, nominally, about a flower, I think I would be hard stretched to claim any link with Mothers day, and I'm not even going to try. Hell, it isn't even Mothering Sunday, as we call it, on this side of the pond, that was weeks ago, March 10th. I guess the deadline for using up surplus print and card for Hallmark depends upon which side of the atlantic you reside. Anyway I'm an orphan these days. So flowers was always going to be thinking of a flower and seeing what the i-pod can produce. Lilies, poppies or roses were my starters, with the express aim, as ever, being to see if I could find something slightly off the beaten track. Somebody once told me lilies were associated with death, so I skipped them, and most modern music equates poppies with drugs, that seeming too outre, albeit tempting. God old roses it was, and there are soooooo many available, from George Jones' Good Year for 'em to the New one of the Damned. Too too obvious.

                 I don't understand why Blues Traveler weren't bigger or better known. Going since the mid to late 80s, arising out of New Jersey, astonishingly, given their usual filing alongside southern states Jam bands, they play on to this day, with most recent record coming out last year. The centre point was always going to be the striking central figure of John Popper, harmonica player par excellence, with an astonishingly nimble style that ought to have had him in the top 3 best known players along with  Stevie Wonder, the fella from J. Geils and, um, Bob Dylan. Instead of one of them. Maybe the look was wrong, and having to have a gastric band was never going to be rock and roll. But it matters not a jot. He can play like the clappers, over lively chugalug riffing, good tunes all round.

                This video looks as if it comes from a film, and for all I know, it does, but not, I feel, a film that looks as if it would hold much appeal for me. Standard doomed teens, enacted by twenty-somethings, opposite side of the tracks, coming good at the end. Yeuch. No doubt I have, at a stroke, offended, if nobody else, the mothers of the two lead protagonists. Which, neatly, takes me full circle. So, ladies both, if I have offended you,  have  you both a wonderful mothers day. From me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Flowers: Blue Tulip

Okkervil River: Blue Tulip

When it comes to mothers, I am incredibly lucky. My mother is a wonderful woman—she was a great mother to me and my siblings, immediately considered my wife to be another daughter, and has been a great grandmother to my kids and my nieces and nephews. My wife is amazing—she is my best friend, and has been everything I could have hoped for as a mother for our kids. And my mother-in-law is also a remarkable woman who has welcomed me into her family unconditionally and is also a superb grandmother. So, Mother’s Day, earlier this week, was an opportunity for me to celebrate with these three paragons. It was also my birthday, so I got some attention, too.

My mother-in-law is of Dutch descent, and she and my wife both embrace their heritage. I suspect that is why the tulip is my wife’s favorite flower (also, they are beautiful). And no, I wasn’t smart enough to buy her tulips for Mother’s Day, but I did cook a really nice brunch for everyone. Instead, I decided to write about this song, despite the fact that my wife doesn’t know it, will probably not love it once she hears it, and it isn’t about tulips at all. Because it is, we are always told, the thought that counts.

Okkervil River is one of those bands who I like and respect, for their sound and songwriting, but who I admittedly haven’t spent an enormous amount of time thinking about. My guess is that if they existed when I was in college, I would be totally obsessed with them, but now I’m (just) 52, and don’t do that as much anymore. I do, however, own a good chunk of their music. The band was started by some high school friends from New Hampshire who got together after college in Austin. I was hoping, based on the name, that “Okkervil River,” was in Holland, because that really would have tied this up nicely, but it is actually in Russia. The band took its name from a short story by Tatyana Tolstoya, a Russian author who is a distant relative of both Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev (which I mention because I read both of those authors when I was in college, between shifts at the radio station where I obsessed over various bands that did exist at the time).

In 2007, Okkervil River released The Stage Names, an excellent album about pop culture, fame and death. Originally conceived as a double album, the band instead released a second album in 2008, The Stand Ins, containing the unused material, and continuing the theme. A couple of years ago, my colleague Darius posted a piece about these albums and the way that their cover art is related, here.  This song clearly explores the issues of celebrity and fame, and does so with music that builds to an intense climax before ending in an electronic drone.

Having listened to it a few times in preparation for this piece, I have to say it is a very good song, by a very good band. I can pretty much guarantee that neither my mother nor mother-in-law will like the song, if they listen to it, and I can’t say that my wife will love it, although I suspect that, at least, she won’t hate it. And sometimes in a relationship, that is good enough. Remember, it is the thought that counts.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Flowers: Flower Kings

Flower Kings: The Flower King
Free download from the Internet Archive

(if the direct/mediafire link isnt working, try the "freedownload" link: it's the same file at the original host.)

Our current theme comes to you partly inspired by Mothers' Day and partly guided by input from JDavid (once again). Flowers for your mother, flower-related music from us. Besides ... it's Springtime for most of us.
I was searching the Internet Archive for something legal/free that could start us off on our new theme, doing a search for <flower> in the live music section, when I ran across this piece, the aptly named song "The Flower King" by the Flower Kings.

I will confess previous ignorance of the band, but a little Internet search brought up a plethora of data about the group: enough to make my ignorance appear to be a personal fault. Never heard of them? Neither had I. The official web site for the Swedish group Flower Kings notes that the band is a natural "like" for anyone who listened to Genesis, Yes, Zappa, ELP and others. That's me. Correctly categorizing their music as progrock, this live performance appears to be from a 2003 show in De Kade, the Netherlands. Much about the musical style calls to mind Genesis: the way the song builds to various crescendos, the harmonies... For a live performance, it's pretty good.

Begun in 1994, the group is still active today: see their website to purchase tickets for and see the calendar for their upcoming shows. Once again, many thanks both to the band and to the Internet Archive for making some of their media available for free.