Thursday, September 7, 2017

Incomptetent/Can't: Mayor of Simpleton

XTC: Mayor of Simpleton

In response to Darius' question about the theme, as the guy who suggested it back in February, it was originally "Incompetence," in "honor" of our then-new President. Who knew how bad it would get. Our current moderator, known in these pages as KKafa, although that’s not what his parents named him, felt that was too difficult, and added the related concept of “Can’t.” And so far, that’s where the posts in this theme have gone.

So, I’m going to try to steer it back to my original concept, although, as so often happens with XTC’s music, the lyrics are somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Unlike our current President of Simpleton (or Dementia, or Narcissism, or Egoism, or Delusion, or whatever), who seems blissfully unaware of his shortcomings, the titular Mayor lists all of the things that he lacks competence in:
  • Learning
  • Weighing the Sun
  • Mathematics
  • Reading profound books
  • Writing a big hit song
  • Solving crossword puzzles
  • Unraveling riddles, problems and puns
  • Operating a home computer (note—this song came out in 1989, so having one was not common)
  • Converting pounds to tons
  • Winning Nobel Prizes (If this was an impediment to love, there’d be a lot of single people)
On the other side of the ledger, though:
  •  He loves her 
One would like to think that love should win out over mere brains (a concept which Cheers mined regularly, particularly in its early years), and I think that we are all rooting for the Mayor in this song, because of his self-awareness and clever and heartfelt professions of love. And, so, is he really incompetent?

Unfortunately, XTC never recorded a sequel, so we don’t know whether this plea led to “Sorry, Mayor of Simpleton, I’m Not Interested,” or “I Love You Too, Dummy.”

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


That much is true, and I have tried, Lord, I have tried. Indeed there have been times when I tried so hard, I thought I could, the joy and sweat both unbridled as the floor emptied about me. In fact, my dancing years can be contained within 3 succinct eras. But first the song:

This song, originally by Tom T. Hall, nails many of my feelings, even rationalisations, on the subject, and is written from the position of the lovelorn and forlorn dancehall wallflower, forever watching from the periphery, unable to get his girl on account his "affliction." Tom T. makes it matter of fact in his country boogie shuffle, but Gram imbues an extra poignancy and urgency into his cover, which, incidentally, is pegged up a pace or two, into a somewhat clumsy rhythm that is actually well nigh impossible to dance to. Even if you could.

So how did I deal with this, in phase 1, my youth? Luckily, it being the late 60s and early 70s, with the birth of the underground scene and prog, I could pin my flag to those genres. Sitting cross-legged, head bowed forward, shaking in, or slightly out of, time with the stop-start rhythms of Yes, King Crimson and E.L.P. warranted no knowledge of dancing. Dancing music: soul, r'n'b and disco, was for fools, whether they got the girl, and they usually did, or not.

Stage 2 was an awkward amalgam of conflicting pulls on my position. Punk arrived, and the demolition of all before it, including any orthodox styles of dance. And, yes, I could pogo, I discovered. And, with new wave, that slo-mo running beloved of, predominantly, Sting, came within my canon. But there was also the increased importance of Folk-Rock to me during these years, as I, simultaneously to the Clash and Costello, immersed myself deeper in all things trad.arr. I joined a Morris Dance side. There I had to discipline myself into the rigidity of 4/4 rhythmic movement. Like this:

It was hard, it was difficult, but I nailed it, albeit barely competently. It was bliss. Our side would convene once weekly for practice, and meet at weekends to give displays at school fairs and village fetes. Possibly as a result of this confidence, or probably the women I was taken with, I suddenly "got" the dance floor, hoovering up Motown and Stax into my record collection. I had the confidence of a dyspraxic Travolta and hurtled around equivalently. And for all the toes I trampled and ribs I barged, I apologise. Unreservedly.

For now, phase 3, I know I really can't dance. It is a pity, as my wife loves to and is an avid aficionado of electronica/dance. I love it too, but confine myself to listening in the car. As I drive. Occasionally thumping the windscreen repeatedly with my fist if particularly carried away. Just in case, at the age of 60 I have again joined a morris side, but I know I probably fool myself. And the moves are so much harder than they ever were.

A final reflection comes from proggers turned poppers, Genesis, originally just the sort of anti-dancing music I delighted in,  all those phase 1 years ago, latterly topping all sorts of charts with dance worthy tunes. Although I tell myself I shouldn't, I quite like this change in their style and fortunes, this song demonstrating that they too are not entirely unaware of the irony. So, like this song, maybe this dancing lark is my guilty pleasure.

But don't buy them, buy this

Monday, September 4, 2017

Incompetent/Can't: I Can't Stand Up

purchase [Get Happy]

There was a time - about 20 years back - when Elvis Costello and Talking Heads were what I mostly listened to. Both kind of quirky (as opposed to mainstream pop), but both very much in favor with the college-type crowd (which I had long since graduated from - but maybe couldn't leave behind?).

I'm pretty sure that among the things that attracted me to both were (a) the slightly-off the standard I-IV-V chord structures of their songs and (b) the near-poetic lyrics - enough that the words frequently caused me to take a minute or more to ponder their relevance to my current frame of mind. Oh, yes, and neither appeared terribly normal in the MTV videos I saw.

Now, at about the time that <Get Happy> (the album containing Can't) was released, Costello was in hot water on account of his multiple uses of "the n word". He had drunkenly referred to Ray Charles as such, and his "Lover's Army" includes lyrics to the effect "one less white ..n.".
As a result, there are those who believe that his choice of "I Can't.." is a form of either apology or appeasement - because the song comes from the legendary Sam and Dave, who recorded it in a rather slower, more soulful tenor back in the mid 60s.

As for Costello, this song stands in contrast to his earlier dark, angry, vengeful style: granted, the pace - as compared to Same and Dave's slower soul - still rubs a bit the wrong way (also see his dis-jointed dancing on the vid), but you can almost sense that Costello is onto something new, and in fact, from here, it lead to a breakthrough in his career (and puts his racial slur gaffe more or less behind him)

We've got the "Can't" covered pretty well just in the title itself. But how about the "Incompetence"? Well, there's no requirement in SMM's current theme that any single post cover both terms - and in fact they do appear to be linked - if you're incompetent, you can't ... something. But, is there something about Costello or the song that encompasses <Incompetent> as well?
Judging from where Costello went from after this output, I would say: no sign of incompetence on his part.
Your thoughts?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Incompetent/ Can’t: Can’t Find My Way Home

Blind Faith: Can’t Find My Way Home


I have not been the moderator here for quite some time now. Usually, that doesn’t make much difference, but it does with regards to our new theme. I have some ideas about how to treat the “Incompetent” part, and I will be presenting at least one of those as we move on. But I am not sure what was intended. Perhaps it is better not to know, but rather to put forward one’s own interpretation, which should make this a fascinating theme. But the “Can’t” part is easy enough. Can’t Find My Way Home immediately came to mind, and no wonder. The song is almost fifty years old now, and it continues to be covered in new and interesting ways. That is a fine definition of a classic.

You could say that the song deserves to be obscure. The lyric is barely there, consisting of only one verse and a chorus. The words express a sense of helplessness, and there is no resolution to this, no solace offered. But that is, in a way, the point. For all the idealism of the hippies who embraced the song and made it a hit, there was always a sense that they were fighting something they could not stop, something that was just too big for them. Of course, it did not hurt that the song was by a new supergroup. Blind Faith featured Steve Winwood from Traffic and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream, and both of those groups had just broken up. Only bass player Rick Grech, then with the group Family, was relatively unknown. But Blind Faith was not popular just because of their lineup, nor was it simply the fact that they were one of the first supergroups. The talent that came together for this project delivered the goods, and it is ultimately the performance of Can’t Find My Way Home that makes it work, and has made the song an inspiration to musicians ever since. The song has brought together unlikely groupings of musicians for some great performances, so I wanted to include some of those.

Bonnie Raitt with Lowell George: Can’t Find My Way Home


In 1972, Bonnie Raitt was making wonderful blues-based music, but she was far from well known. Lowell George and his band Little Feet were just getting started themselves. Raitt would record her own solo version of Can’t Find My Way Home, although I couldn’t find it on any of her albums. But this version comes from a radio broadcast in New York City. Either Raitt or George could be playing the acoustic guitar or the slide guitar on this one, and there is also an acoustic bass part played by Freebo. This spare treatment really brings out the emotion of the piece.

Allison Krauss and Union Station: Can’t Find My Way Home


Allison Krauss and Union Station are known as a bluegrass group, but that label does not fully describe their artistry. This version of Can’t Find My Way Home honors the song’s roots in blues rock, while also updating the sound in brilliant ways. The recording was done for the TV show Crossing Jordan.

Sheryl Crow with Warren Haynes and Trombone Shorty: Can’t Find My Way Home

[Not Available for Purchase]

As seen here, Sheryl Crow and her band are a part of the jam band scene. She invites Warren Haynes and Trombone Shorty to join them on stage for this one, and Crow’s band supports them ably, with very satisfying results. Crow and her band do not show the elasticity that allowed the Grateful Dead to, for example, segue from Scarlet Begonias to Fire on the Montain, but this is still a strong performance. It makes me wonder why Sheryl Crow has not so far put Can’t Find My Way Home on any of her albums.