Friday, September 1, 2017

Shadows: Shadows In The Rain

Sting: Shadows In The Rain (studio version)

For those who remember 2012, I mentioned in a post that one of the first dates I went on with my now wife was to see the movie Bring On The Night, which was the Michael Apted-directed documentary about the creation of Sting’s first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles and the subsequent tour. We loved the movie, and I still have fond memories of seeing it, both because of the film and my date.

I enjoy learning about how music is created, probably because my love of music is not coupled with any real ability to make it. I’m jealous of those who can, so this movie was right up my alley. I was also a big Police fan and had heard, and liked, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. I know that Sting has gotten a reputation for arrogance and pretension over the years, but as someone who likes the often pretentious prog rock, it didn’t bother me that for his first solo album, Sting tried to move beyond the reggae flavors of the Police and try to push the boundaries a bit. As a brief aside, I had the chance to briefly interview Sting the summer before my senior year in college, backstage at an outdoor concert at Liberty Bell Race Track in Philadelphia. He was extremely genial and answered all my probably dumb questions, and readily recorded a station ID that we ran regularly — Stewart Copeland, on the other hand, had to be shamed into even doing a station ID for us. But he did two. You can hear them here.

In addition to wanting to expand his musical palette (which the Police had begun to do as time went on), Sting decided that his band wouldn’t be The Police Mark II (or III, for those few Henry Padovani fans out there), and instead chose young, hotshot jazz musicians. This isn’t as strange as it sounds — Sting’s earliest gigs were playing jazz and fusion music in Newcastle during his free time during college and while working as a teacher. Here's a jazzy tune from Sting's last pre-Police band, Last Exit—the melody of which was used in Blue Turtles' "We Work the Black Seam."

The people that he chose were all extraordinary musicians. Keyboard master Kenny Kirkland had played with Wynton Marsalis, bass player Daryl Jones had been in Miles Davis’ band, and Branford Marsalis, on sax, had been in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and played with his brother Wynton, Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie. Drummer Omar Hakim, who was in Weather Report (with Mino Cinélu), was the only member with significant rock credits, having backed Carly Simon, David Bowie and Dire Straits. In addition, Sting brought on veteran backup singers Janice Pendarvis (who was in another of my favorite documentaries, 20 Feet From Stardom) and Dolette McDonald (who worked with the Talking Heads, but was not in another of my favorite music films, Stop Making Sense, or on my favorite Talking Heads album).

The film shows how this mostly non-rock band fused with Sting to create a sound that was still identifiably rock, but had some elements of jazz. Maybe the easiest way to see what Sting was after is to compare the original Police version of “Shadows In The Rain,” a somewhat meandering, spooky dub track, with the studio version from Blue Turtles, which was reportedly based on the original demo that Sting wrote. Amusingly beginning with Marsalis asking frantically what key the song is in over a funky Hakim groove, a harsh voiced Sting enters, and the song turns into an exuberant, upbeat soulful and jazzy tune with solos from Kirkland and Marsalis.

Part of the tension in Bring On The Night, beyond the question of whether the whole concept would work, is that the band was scheduled to play some live shows on little rehearsal. As you can see from the video above, they had no problem with the performance, and the exuberance of the album track is even more apparent.

Another part of the tension in the movie is that it shows, in pretty graphic detail, the birth of Sting and wife Trudy Styler’s son Jake, who is now this guy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Shadows: Have You Seen Your Mother Baby ...

purchase [Got Live If You Want It ]

Various online sources note the horn section on the Stones' <Have You Seen Your Mother Baby>, arranged by Mike Leander and produced by Glyn Johns. But the use of the horns wasn't the only thing the Stones were experimenting with in 66. It could have been the guitar effects, it could have been their lifestyle, it could have been their public personas.

Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone? The group was well into establishing their "bad boy" image, and one of the PR photos that goes with this has them dressed in drag. And that is kind of what this song is about - Various things in the shadows. 

The song is a continuation of their (not just) lyrical provocations:, but think also: I Can't Get No Satisfaction, Let's Spend the Night Together, Get Off of My Cloud, Nervous Breakdown... you continue the list.

Snipets of the lyrics suggest to me that they are asking the girl for more than sympathy, even as they sing

I'm all alone, won't you give all your sympathy to mine?
We live in... glimpse through... hate in ...tear at ... the shadows.
There's a lot in the lyrics that isn't particularly clear and that's probably the intention. Do with it what you will. What you do in the shadows of your mind is your business.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

SHADOWS: The Circulation of Shadows/Lisa Gerrard & Pieter Bourke

Sometimes the opportunity of a theme is as maybe more around promoting an artist, as much, if not more, as is the song used to fit the purpose. This is one such. Lisa Gerrard the artist, if Pieter Bourke will forgive his no doubt integral part within the featured song. And it isn't, I guess, traditionally the usual fare of SMM, with echoes perhaps of medieval plainsong rather than the sprawl of rock and roll. But it is.
Lisa Gerrard was half of uber-goths, Dead Can Dance, who began life in Melbourne, Australia in the early 80s as a conventional if somewhat arty and, even, pretentious amalgam of, as their label described them: "drum-driven, ambient guitar music with chanting, singing and howling." Gerrard and her partner in vocals, Brendan Perry differed from the routine and ritual howlers of their day, in that each possessed vast and idiosyncratic ranges of tone, grand-guignol operettas with the shamanic underflow of the backing instrumentation. Each album became ever less conventional from the tropes of goth, a label they themselves espoused. Witness this, The Trial, from their debut, to the track below it, Emmeleia, from their 6th album, "Into the Labyrinth".

They broke up in 1998, each pursuing separate careers, with Gerrard further immersing herself in the capacious limits of her voice, alongside Pieter Bourke, producing the phenomenal LP, "Duality", that contained the titular piece for this scribble. But before this, with Dead Can Dance still a concern, she had produced, for me, her most astonishing work, 1995's "The Mirror Pool", with standout track, Sanvean being a reprise of an earlier DCD track. Witness a live version below. I challenge you not to weep.

DCD reformed for in 2005 and have performed intermittently in the years since, with a run of increasingly overwrought, in a good way, productions, whilst Gerrard has increasingly pursued a role as a collaborator within soundtrack music, largely independent cinema, but also in bigger blockbuster fare such as "The Insider" and "Gladiator." Solo records have also appeared, all of which I commend. I live in hope of her touring.

Start here, don't stop!

Shadows: Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid)

Purchase: Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid), by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Writing this, I have to say, I feel a bit like a shadow myself. Of myself? I don't know...

I haven't posted all summer: making a permanent household move between three countries (out of Turkey, back to the US, and then on to parts further), I haven't done much writing. Or listening. Or reading, or anything else for that matter. What precipitated this shadowy existence, this strange, disconnected half-life?

I gave up my computer and phone.

I know. I know. Don't ask--I'm not sure how I survived. You can find a lot of data on the benefits of giving up electronic devices, and yes, physically, mentally, et al, it does feel pretty good to go e-free. But, alas, the world turns at a new pace, sometimes speeding up by the day, and it's not really feasible to go entirely free of the web. It's kind of impossible, to be honest. But, then, if you have a smart phone, and try to do anything productive at all you already know that.

And, while I can acknowledge the benefits of unplugging, even though it felt as if someone pulled the plug on me (I'm talking that proverbial big 'plug') it feels good to be back..And honestly, I never want to leave the grid again.

On to our song topic: shadows. When I read Kafka's email to the writers announcing our theme, it is usually a fun, low-stakes game of free association. Often, I would never write about, nor publicly admit to, the first song that comes to mind. We all have guilty pleasure songs, and we all know phrases and snippets of tunes we would be mortified to share and worse, probably hate. Sound patterns, beats, phrases have a way of digging grooves into our subconscious and rising, specter-like, when we least want. Thus, the  often agonizing phenomenon of waking up with a song stuck in your head. Is it ever a good song? One that you are happy to hear?  (While writing this, I admit, the refrain of Taylor Dane's "Tell it to My Heart" is running on repeat in my head...). I'm not writing about Taylor Dane today, so just cool it...But, when I saw we were doing shadows as a theme, the jukebox in my head switched on and Tom Petty's "Shadow of a Doubt" immediately started playing. Writing about my first choice is a rarity. This is a happy one.

From The Heartbreaker's 1979 classic Damn the Torpedoes, "Shadow of a Doubt" has the true designation as a forgotten gem.  But, that's a forgivable sin, because of the brilliance of this album. If Petty had never recorded again after Torpedoes, he'd still be popular. Torpedoes includes the mega-hits "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Even The Losers" and of course the crowning jewel, "Here Comes My Girl". With that many great songs, of course there will be a few overlooked tracks, even with something that was released in the heyday of the 'album' age, whatever that means...(editor's note: it means, music used to be celebrated by artists releasing a thing called an album, which was a collection of songs that more or less fit on two sides of a disc (vinyl, cassette or CD) and if you wanted to buy a single song, you had to go to something called a record store, and depending on the year, pick up a 45 rpm piece of vinyl (or cassingle or again, CD), though you usually picked up both the full the LP and the 45. It was a strange time, when human beings had to leave their house to purchase music and took great enjoyment in perusing stacks, or rows, of music in one of the above-mentioned forms. Alas.) So, "Shadow of a Doubt" was as twangy bit of radio pop, with an earnest intro, and chuggy verse and a soaring course. With an almost new-wave (ish) polish and vox, "Shadow" is a  set piece in an incredibly strong selection of Petty's most polished and expertly produced (thank you Jimmy Iovine) and genre-spanning music yet at that point in the Heartbreakers then short career. Torpedoes was their third, and by far, best album to date, a critical success and a full-on radio hit smash. It was kept from the # 1 spot on Billboard only by Pink Floyd's The Wall, which really, who could beat that album, on any level?

I discovered Petty in retrograde fashion: Around 1984, I was in 6th grade, and just starting to realize how important good music was. I was steeped in "classic" rock and developing a fine pedigree, in no small part due to what will always be to me great radio: DC 101, one of the longest running FM signals in the DC Metro area, was a rock n roll powerhouse and in no small measure responsible for much of my musical education. By the time Springsteen's Born in the USA, a truly seminal moment in my lifehit the airwaves, I considered myself a convert, eager to learn as much as I could. Luckily, without an allowance or a nearby record store, I had the radio to rely on. In the 1980s, the classification "classic rock" was a relatively new format designation, seeing as much of what I was listening to--Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Stones--had barely hit the 20 year mark. Add the Dylan tapes I'd inherited from an ex-hippie neighbor into that mix, already the grandfather of rock, and Tom Petty was sure to follow. Discovering music back then was both a joyful experience as well as one of simply connecting the dots. I loved listening to rock radio back when I was a kid--it was more of an experience, a passage, than it is now. Radio was more uniform, : classic rock was classic rock; there wasn't a need for cross-over to draw more audience. At least that's the way it seemed. But age and nostalgia bring on a brighter sense of things, a fonder, more pure memory than the reality. I know for me that listening to the radio was kind of like going to school, only I liked the learning, and no one made me sit in my seat and be quiet.

Speaking of nostalgia, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are on tour this summer, celebrating 40 years. I've heard the shows are fantastic. I haven't been able to catch one, as I believe the ticket prices are commensurate with the band's age and experience. And what I mean by that is: holy crap! tickets are expensive! I've never stopped listening to Tom Petty and his brilliant Heartbreakers. They are a radio staple and if you have XM/Sirius, you know that TP has his own channel, so a good tune is never far away. But, if you haven't done a deep dive into the back catalogue, check out "Shadow of a Doubt", and the rest of Damn The Torpedoes and revisit some of that once in a lifetime radio rock 'n roll. The kind that doesn't get made anymore...