Saturday, July 20, 2013

Musical Homonyms: Crazy

Patsy Cline: Crazy

The wedding was memorable, and not only because it was one of the last “friend” weddings that we attended. One of my wife’s college friends got married way out on the north shore of Long Island and it was refreshingly laid back. The bride and groom arrived at the reception from the church in a small plane while the rest of us gathered on the shore and greeted them. I have a memory of shooting baskets with my kids during the reception.

But this is about the night before, when there was a very relaxed party at a house on Shelter Island. It was a dark night, and the liquor was flowing. There was a karaoke machine, and people were using it. As I may have previously mentioned, as much as I love music, I cannot create music (unless you count some bad drumming). My singing is, let us say, problematic (or “off-key” as some have said). On the other hand, my wife and kids can sing quite well and even play instruments. The musical talent gene clearly flows from my wife’s side of the family. In fact, until very recently, and only after more than a few glasses of liquid courage, I would not sing karaoke in public. At this party, though, both my wife and young daughter took up the microphone eagerly. My daughter tossed off a great version of “That’ll Be The Day,” by Buddy Holly, and my wife sang “Crazy.”

Her performance blew everyone away. She has an incredible voice, pure, sweet and with a range that is astonishing. But once she finished college, she pretty much stopped performing, which is a shame. She recently started to perform with a local choir, singing classical music, and I’m pushing her to do more with folk and rock, and we will see how that goes.

Frankly, every time we have been invited to a karaoke party, she waits until the appropriate moment, steps to the stage and demolishes everyone else with a smoldering version of Patsy Cline’s classic. It also happens to be a great song, written by Willie Nelson, who was finding it difficult early in his career to make it—his songs were considered too complex and too jazzy for the country music world of the time. But once Patsy Cline released her version of “Crazy,” it opened doors for Nelson, and led to his ultimate success and recognition as both a singer and songwriter, not to mention political and marijuana legalization activist.

As long as there are singers, I suspect that people will be singing that song, and probably ripping off Patsy Cline. More recently, another song with the same title became ubiquitous. The Gnarls Barkley song simply swept aside everything in its path, becoming a huge hit. Based on music from spaghetti westerns, it is catchy and irresistible, even to those of us who aren’t generally fans of the style. It couldn’t be less like the Patsy Cline tune, but it is equally great. Which is crazy.


Friday, July 19, 2013


Hot RodLincoln

Purchase (yup,the whole record!!)

Well, this couldn't get more serendipitous, especially given my earlier admitted woes around submitting to this theme. Bill who, you say? Who TF is that, he looks like a bank manager? Actually, of course, I underestimate you, dear Reader(s), of course you know who Bill is. Bill Kirchen was the lead guitarist, frequent singer and occasional trombonist, and a good one, in Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, frequently writing much of the material. This unruly bunch of misfits drifted to California in the late 60s, playing a pure mix of truckstop country, rockabilly and western swing, making the Grateful Dead look like a bunch of frat boys, albeit in full Nashville gear. My childhood was as far from S.F. as you can get, yet I loved these guys, once I got over the shock just how diversively hardcore their brand of country was. I even saw them, as they toured Europe in 76, with the outcome producing an LP with perhaps the worst cover ever. But perhaps one of my favourite live LPs, a small grouping along with Van Morrison's "Too Late to Stop Now" and the Burritos' "Last of the Red Hots." Here's the cover

Well, our Bill is still going, one of the finest exponents of twang out there. And he has just put out a sort of "greatest hits revisited", the songs that he ends up playing and being expected to play when he gets out on the road. And it includes the song in the vid. Please make an exception and watch this one, as it is an astonishing expose of his skill, effortlessly pulling off the styles of myriad guitar heroes, and some others maybe just mentioned in dispatches. With one guitar, and precious few pedals. seriously clever stuff. Uncertain if this counts as "banter" or whether it is just part of his show, but I am uncertain of the join. I'm looking forward to the new release, and am commending its investigation, as my purchase link. I will be buying it, as I am intrigued to see that this includes a version of this song, but with added keyboard cameos from the styles of the famous. Can't wait! (I ought to get a freebie for this unashamed infomercial, but hey, SMM is strictly for loss and not for profit.)

Just realised, I haven't mentioned the song, it's "Hot Rod Lincoln", an elderly standard from Midwest truckstop jukeboxes, that the Lost Planet Airmen made their own. Bill has now wrested it away from his forebears and makes it even more his and his only. Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stage Banter: The Decemberists

[purchase the original, banter-free version]

I have previously written about seeing The Decemberists with my family in 2007 in Amsterdam at the Paradiso, and how the band reenacted the 1667 Battle of Chatham, a successful Dutch attack on the British Navy. Such flights of fancy are common with this band, which seems on a mission to use every odd word in the thesaurus, whose songs often read like the most horrid parts of Dickens, and which has a keen appreciation of history and mythology.

There is also no question that they enjoy putting on a show, and they often interrupt the music for stories, historical reenactments and general hijinks. Which, when added to the great music, makes them an incredible band to see live. Although the band is currently in self-described “collective stasis” and its members are working on other projects, there is hope that they will ultimately reunite and tour again.

The video above is one that I recently discovered, and it is of the very Battle of Chatham reenactment at the Paradiso that we attended. A shaky, audience video taken with archaic 2007 technology, it gives the viewer a very good sense of what it was like that night, as Colin Meloy led the band and audience through the thrilling sea battle, during its performance of “A Cautionary Song,” a sweet ditty which warns a child to appreciate his mother’s hard work in whoring herself out to a boatload of sailors in order to get money for food.

During the video, my bald head, reflecting the lights, can clearly be seen—in the center of the frame, behind the other bald guy wearing what looks like a blue shirt—and at times my slightly taller son’s full head of hair makes an appearance. So, not only did this video record one of my favorite examples of stage banter, it has allowed me to relive a fun experience from more than six years ago.