Friday, August 7, 2020

GREAT: THE GREATNESS AND PERFECTION OF LOVE/JULIAN COPE

So much of what is deemed is great just grates. At least to my ears. I have always had a taste eccentric to the vox populi, preferring and tending to seek out the less well served by collective opinion. I guess as in the same way my favourite dog breed is under. Luckily, courtesy this mouthpiece, my clarion call to the masses, this allows me free rein to inveigle my audience, that's me and my sockpuppets btw, into submission.

The Greatness and Perfection of Love

I bloody loved this album when it came out, World Shut Your Mouth, the first record by Julian Cope after the demise of The Teardrop Explodes. Always prone to overtly english vocals: Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, Ray Davies, Cope was another who rejected the standard transatlantic twang most UK singers have always tended to adopt, knowing, I guess, the bigger market. Mind you, I had always been pretty keen on the Teardrops, especially the standout single, below.

Reward

Cope was never going to be conventional. Coming from Tamworth, a desultory town slightly north of Birmingham, it was never going to be his provider, that taking a move to Merseyside where his accent would always have been a sore thumb amongst those around him. And perhaps why and how a young Courtney Love took such a shine to him? When the record came out, in 1984, I really thought he would be a big star. Hell, he was even on Top of the Pops with the title track, confusingly not included on the album, it coming out two years later, sporting his own design microphone stand.

World Shut Your Mouth

In the years since he has built a name for eccentricity, inconsistency and a weird sort of reliability to avoid entirely any kind of pigeon holing, with this not the place to celebrate his increasingly bizarre stylistic ricochets. Well, not entirely and not now. But, should his musical meanderings not prove easy enough on your ear, consider the fact that he is a celebrated author on subjects as unrelated as (am I still allowed to call it, even if he does?) krautrock and ancient monuments.

Elegant Chaos

Lunatic and Fire Pistol

Back to the o.p. and why it is so great. One reason is always within the lyrics; is he really singing "the greatness and perfection of love"? Sounds mighty like the "greatest imperfection" to me, so much so I am not going to check, preferring the incongruity. But it isn't by any stretch the only good track on the album, I being drawn also to the oboe led majesties of Elegant Chaos and Lunatic and Fire Pistol, peculiar whimsies of uncertain provenance. This pair stand out, along with Head Hang Low, at full arms length from the poppier, Teardroppier other songs, betraying his then state of mind.


Head Hang Low

Fast forward and Cope is still around, with somewhere around 20 albums under his own name, more if you include ones his many and varied labels have suppressed or rejected, often sneaking out years later under some arcane imprint. Some are good, very very good, some frankly unlistenable, but always interesting and seldom classifiable alongside his peers. Somehow I think I need to return to his muse another day.

World!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Great: "Someone Great", By LCD Soundsystem


Purchase LCD Soundsystem's "Someone Great" from the 2007 full-length Sound of Silver

In life--in our understanding of truths, or our philosophizing a way to a discovery--simple doesn't necessarily mean simple--the most profound truths are the most relatable and easiest to understand. The same goes for songs: sometimes the simplest melody can be the most addictive. “Three chords and the truth” ( I think Bono said that, though the phrase itself has a long history—perhaps in another post?). Think of some of the great rock songs: the power is in the simple structure, repeated over and over again ("Wild Thing", "Baba O'Riley", "Bad Moon Rising"). Things need not be overly complex to be enjoyable. The groove gets cut into your mind, and the song has a nurturing sense. There’s a science to why pop music is so addictive, and so pleasing to listen to--it feeds into pleasure sensors in the mind, which produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the same chemical reaction one gets from good food, alcohol, illicit drugs--it creates a physical pleasure, and in the car of music, joyfulness. Music is a language that speaks on multiple levels, and while music can be complex, there is no denying that a simple melody, or a fun, jumpy pop song, is addictive. And the understanding of what a guilty pleasure is comes in to play--it's usually the silly, cheesy--simple--songs that get the most play, get stuck in our heads. The songs we keep rewinding when no one else is in the car. I fully admit to having put some serious strain on the speakers to a few Ke$ha songs, and the Black Eye'd Pea's "I Gotta Feeling." Music's power to uplift and raise the spirit is a certainty of our human nature, as real as breathing, engrained right into our DNA. 

LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy's now cult-status musical collective, is an endlessly fascinating band with a wildly interesting catalog of music. LCD Soundsystem are a modern, definition-and genre-defying musical experience. Are they rock, are they electronica? Post-punk, art-rock, indie, or dance? Dance rock? The soundscapes are large, looming, immersive. At their best, LCD Soundsystem are hypnotic and the idea of simple  as applied to their music comes not from a lack of technicality or multi-layered compositional complexity, but from an aural ethos and creative pattern that exists across their catalog. This is sound, built on a singular foundation, that is allowed to grow, and an LCD Soundsystem song is an organic experience that grows in a way that few songs do.

While not simple at all, the music often stems from the simplicity of construction: Electronic keyboards, sounds and beats mix with traditional instrumentation and tones, organic guitars, spoken mantras delivered prayer-like, noises and pulses, not so much mixed, but stacked upon one another to achieve a great big sound from what was simple to start.  How to best describe LCD Soundsystem, as filtered through my own listening experience: One instrument, one beat, repeated over and over, built upon, layered and rising into a complex, multi-faceted composition. LCD Soundsystem's songs are meant to be felt, and the layers of aural texture, while analog and seemingly made of brick and mortar rather than digital and electronic signal, are tangible and blocky, like an old video game blipping and bleeping on a small screen. But, that is to deny the complexity, and the often beautiful and addictive songscapes the band makes. The sound is rudimentary and unvarnished, old school console tech, beamed in from a spaceship from a 1960s sci-fi movie, blinking and pulsing, but still real and perceptible by touch. I know the music is not low-fi; it's probably more high tech than I could conceivably understand. But LCD's sound maintains the beautiful simplicity and masterly complexity of a basement Mozart sending new world symphonies into far outer space via a Radio Shack satellite dish. 

Of their extensive catalog--the songs are long, the albums true long players--"Someone Great" from 2007's Sound of Silver, resonates with me. The song is classic LCD--a simple build, that winds itself up into a full blown celebration of sound that lies somewhere within the realm of New Order at their brightest,  Joy Division risen from the dead, Kerouac talking though an old time radio, and a trip to someplace stellar and aglow, that requires a open-windowed roaring drive on the open, empty highway, and the kind of freeing abandon that comes from dancing in a sea of flashing neon and star light. The thing that makes LCD's music hard to describe is the evocations of sensation their soundscape creates. There is a reckless, yet tightly crafted abandon in their music, and it can feel like flying. No song has this kind of effect more so than "Someone Great" which is a deceptively sad song and a meditation on the process of grief. The sentiment might get lost in the throbbing grooves and ever-building beat if you’re only dancing to it. But that’s the beauty of LCD Soundsystem—you gotta listen to everything. It’s a demand, and Murphy’s music isn’t made for a mindless twirling listen. The kind of rockers who disdain dance music, or techno, want to get on the dance floor and move, but they can't miss the melancholy elegy of the song. The entirety of Sound of Silver is enigmatic in its refusal to fit into one mode, or to be classified as any one type of music. Like Murphy's poetic imagery and his pulsing rhythms and otherworld melodies, there are layers here which grow expansive with every listen. Rolling Stone said of Sound of Silver, "It was an album as raw and honest in emotion as it was clever and slick in execution, and the results appealed to fans from all over the musical map."* The lyrics of "Someone Great" are the most striking part of this brilliant composition, as they capture a concept familiar yet all together baffling: how the world can keep moving and continue on, even when we are wasted and laid prone by our grief. There is a moment in the song that resonates where the speaker marvels at the weather: it's beautiful outside, shouldn't the weather meet me in my pain? Murphy sings, :The worst is all the lovely weather/ I'm stunned, it's not raining."  And indeed the rise and emotional crest of the song itself resembles the strange ride through the ebb and flow of grief--lows and the bright highs that come as we grapple with acceptance and learn to navigate a new landscape. But even in that navigation, there is the endless sense that this sadness will never end. The most powerful moment in the song comes when Murphy repeats, over and over, "And it keeps coming", ending the refrain with a simple answer to his unasked question, "Till the day it stops."

A sad song set to a joyful, upbeat and danceable melody sometimes hits the hardest--but why shouldn't life's worst moments be set to something beautiful? Isn't life meant to be a celebration, most so at the end, as we go home?  A mediation on grief that doesn't shy away from the pain it is trying to convey, but still has the nerve to approach it through joyful, prayerful celebratory sound--that's an act of healing in itself. 

"Someone Great" strikes me as a particularly important song right now, in the strange, terrifying, awful year we are experiencing. I know that despite the terrible lows that keep coming at us--division, anger, fear, loss, separation and isolation--music has been a constant. A comfort and meaning maker when I have trouble making sense of much of what I hear and see, and worse, what I feel in my interior. And being isolated in the way we have been since March, the interior is more important than ever, as we seem compelled to spend a lot more time in our heads, with our anxieties and repetitive thoughts than seems fair. When I am at a loss with what to do with the turmoil this pandemic, social unrest and separation from family and the connections that make life meaningful has allowed, when the world ceases to work they way we've known it to work for so long, music helps me make sense. A beat, a lyric, a rising crescendo and an orchestral explosion of noise and melody is a healing force. Music makes sense when nothing else does. 

Space Voyage Rock 'n Roll 


* Harris, Sophie. “LCD Soundsystem's 'Sound of Silver': 10 Things You Didn't Know.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 22 Sept. 2019, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/lcd-soundsystems-sound-of-silver-10-things-you-didnt-know-110495/.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Great: The Great Pretender



purchase [ Platters version]
purchase [The Band version ]
purchase [ Freddy Mercury version ]

There are many notable version of The Great Pretender and it is no surprise that it was voted one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine back in 2004 (Yeah, OK, in @ #360, but still...) But the song also carries on our previous mask theme, where the protagonist puts on a public face/performance that just aint true. And it would appear that this is something you just about have to do when you get up on a stage, be you Dolly Parton, Elvis, Freddy Mercury, Roy Orbison or Sam Cooke.

Way  back in  the year I was born, the story goes, a music producer named Buck Ram wrote this song in 20 minutes in a Vegas hotel washroom. At the time, he was the manager for the Platters, who recorded the song as a follow up to their first hit, Only You. When Mercury records signed them in a two-fer deal on the coat-tails of The Penguins (who, unlike the mostly unknown Platters, had a charting hit called Earth Angel), it wasn't at all clear that The Platters would go down in history. But they did- for a number of reasons - and the Penguins mostly did not. They went on to have many hits (something like 40 of them in about a 10 year span), they were like the first cross-overs from doo wop R&B to rock, they included a female in the line-up, and then they rapidly fell out of favor after they were busted.

Sam Cooke did a  version on his 1960 album Hits of the 50's


Dolly Parton covered it in 1984. Now there's someone who was well aware of the need for pretense as part of her show/pesona. Says Michelle Lindsey [link], "‘The Great Pretender’ is what she set out to be as a poor kid playing dress up, writing songs and hoping to become a star. ...  [Parton] admitted, ‘I do it because I’m a show person.’ To drop the pretence, the persona and age like a normal human being is not an option. You see this now in almost every famous person, trickling right down even to the average person in the street."



The most familiar to me is the version from the Band. I guess by that time I was consuming most of the music that was being produced and The Band, as J David recently noted was [link] hot. J David references the Stage Fright album. How appropriate! The best way to get over your stage fright? Pretend.



The version by Freddy Mercury in 1987 has a certain poignance to it in that it immediately predates his HIV public announcement, and most research indicates that he must have been aware of his health issues well before the song came out. That said, there isnt much debate about his sexual orientation at that time, and that, too, could certainly entail an element of pretense. These factors may be part of the strength of his commanding performance of the song. About Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddy's lover, Jim Hutton said "Freddie was never going to admit it publicly, because he had to carry on the charade about being straight, for his family. But we discussed it many times."



Old and In the Way also cover the song in a wonderful country style, this recording without Garcia unfortunately.



None of the above will be confused with the Foo Fighters' song similarly named The Pretender, which is a great song but doesn't pass our theme test for "great" unless you force a match like this :


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Great: Not Great Men


Gang of Four: Not Great Men
[purchase]

There’s an old theory of history called the “Great Man” theory, which, not surprisingly, looks at the historical record by focusing on a series of “Great Men,” like kings, generals and presidents. I suspect that this is still the way that many children are taught history in school, despite the fact that most modern historians believe that so many other factors shape history, including people who aren’t men, or aren’t “great.” And as a former history major, I’m happy to see that broader inquiry into the lives of all people, no matter what gender, or what level of “greatness,” has in many ways changed the shape of the historical narrative. I do believe that while there’s still a reliance on teaching history through focusing on prominent individuals, many schools are widening their curricula to take into account the lives and influence of “ordinary” people. Although as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday, there are big problems about how American History is taught.  History teachers, feel free to comment. 

For example, one recent, high profile example of this was The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which investigated the profound influence that slavery had on the founding and development of the United States, from 1619 to the present. And although one of my favorite college professors, among others, have raised questions about some of the premises of the “1619 Project,” the disagreement didn’t dispute the essential conclusion that slavery was an enormous factor in our nation’s development. (And some of the disputed language has been revised.)

But, as I often have to remind myself when I go off on a tangent, this is a music blog, even though my musing was inspired by our featured song, Gang of Four’s “Not Great Men,” from their remarkable and influential debut album, Entertainment!.  Andy Gill, one of the band’s founders and its guitarist (who died in February, possibly as an early casualty of COVID-19) once said about the album,

I remember saying to Rob Warr, who was our friend and managing us at the time, and the others: ‘Do you realize how important this is? Do you realize that this is going to change the musical landscape? Do you realize that they’re going to teach this in schools?’ And they’re like, ‘You’re mad, you’re fucking mad,’ and just basically laughed at me.” As it turned out, “I kind of was right, but everybody else thought I was being stupid and crazy. 

Although I don’t remember the first time that I heard that album at WPRB, I do know that it became a regular part of my shows, and most of my fellow DJs loved it (and based on a quick look at some playlists, they still love it, decades later). The album was unlike anything I had ever heard before, with pounding beats, metallic guitars and political, Marxist influenced lyrics. From 1979’s Entertainment! through the Yellow EP, 1981’s Solid Gold and 1982’s slightly more accessible Songs of the Free, the Gang of Four was incredible. After that, I sort of lost interest, as they went through personnel and stylistic changes and a series of breakups and reformations. I interviewed drummer Hugo Burnham on the air at WPRB, and always assumed that it was in connection with a gig at City Gardens, but my research indicates they only played there at times that I wouldn’t have been on campus. So, maybe it was when they played in another club in the area. I remember being impressed by Burnham’s intelligence, and after leaving the band, he ultimately became a college professor. I think that I eventually did see them the summer after graduation at The Pier in NYC.

“Not Great Men” takes direct issue with the “Great Men” theory of history:

No weak men in the books at home
The strong men who have made the world
History lives on the books at home
The books at home

It's not made by great men [Repeat: x4]

The past lives on in your front room
The poor still weak the rich still rule
History lives in the books at home
The books at home

Political criticism that you can dance to.

Bonus cover: I came across this cover of “Not Great Men” by what appears to be an all-female Javanese gamelan ensemble, Sekar-Melati, which is both utterly unexpected and completely charming.


And, remarkably, there’s another gamelan cover of that gamelan cover, this time with vocals:


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Masks: This Masquerade




purchase [ Carney ]

Masquerade is directly/clearly implicated in the the <mask> theme:
a false show or appearance

Two weeks back, I was  going to write up Please Mr Postman as part of our Wait/Don't Wait theme, and toyed with at least mentioning the Carpenters' version. Which curiously came out with their version of This Masquerade as the B-side of the record. Funny how things come around.


You know the story line: it's a couple that is going through a masquerade, pretending they are still in love, when actually they are just too far away from being close together.

Despite the fact that George Benson made the best charting of the known versions, the song really belongs to Leon Russell: his voice is just right for it. It's the only song on Benson's Breezin' album that has vocals.



Russell's Carney was perhaps his best. I would choose Me and Baby Jane as my favorite - something like it's about Janis? But - the album cover, the pesona that Leon was projecting at that time - they seem to fit both the Carney and the Masquerade image.


No, that's not Baby Jane. This is:



Friday, July 31, 2020

MASKS: MASQUE/MANFRED MANN'S EARTHBAND

O, shame the poor wag who suggested the name of the album was a suggestion to the band. Cripes, they aren't that ugly, are they? Hardly Slipknot territory, or the Straitjackets, both those bands clearly victims to the horror of looks only their mothers could love.


(OK, I accept the above may not even be the same line-up as for Masque, and who would? But it is an awkward cantilever to my introduction of an anecdote. Back when my brother was at Uni in the late 60s, and Manfred Mann, as in the then incarnation of his eponymous band, was always riding high in the charts, he too employed on of those natty beard without 'tache numbers. And specs. One day, at Glasgow's Central station, he was shouted at by two girls: "ooo, look it's Manfred." And then they ran off. That's it.)


Manfred Mann, the band, had a pretty damn fine career, littering the charts with singles and getting a rare accolade from Bob Dylan, who had suggested they did the best versions of his songs. (To be fair, have you heard the original of Mighty Quinn?) Having exhausted initial vocalist Paul Jones, who moved onto worlds bluer, and then Mike D'Abo to songs poppier, Mann ditched the band, bar drummer Mike Hutt, for the singularly unsuccessful Manfred Mann Chapter Three. The rest of the band had meanwhile largely found a home in the brief burst of joy of McGuinness Flint. You would think that would be that for the South African piano player.


However, against the odds, Mann bounced back. Always more a jazz noodler than teen delight, prog rock was just the vista his vision required, and the Earthband plunged, fully formed, into the charts with a cover, this time of a 'new' Dylan, one Bruce Springsteen. The song? Blinded by the Light, that perhaps the only part of the lyric discernible to young boys intent on singing along.


Masque was astonishingly their thirteenth (!!) album, and the last ahead of a temporary hiatus, between 1987 and 1996. Unsurprisingly, as is the way of all all warhorses, he pulls a version of the band around to this day. But Masque was the first to really catch my ear. Having been a huge fan of the Nice and ELP, where Keith Emerson would fuse classical pomp with rock, Mann too liked to weld these opposites, his ambition having always been to put out a rock version of Gustav Holst's The Planets Suite. Annoyingly the executors of Holst's estate continued to put a block on this, as they had when the idea was first aired to them years earlier. So only one track, the opener and single, Joybringer, gets the direct lift and a composing credit for Gustav, with other tracks merely alluding to occasional planets, and hints of their musical inspiration. (In fact, Jupiter/Joybringer had had a first lick of paint back in 1973, when Mann first came up with the idea, released as a non album single.) Planets Schmanets, on side two, probably sums up Mann's opinion of the executors. Confusingly, interspersed there are songs with credits to sources as disparate as Horace Silver, Paul Weller and Michael Murphey. It makes for quite a milky way of influences, all in all. If you can keep up the canter between styles, it is well worth the ride, perhaps also explaining the title, each "masque" being applied as the band skip from the classics to 1940s big band jazz to synth pop to singer-songwriter staples. Phew!


Here are the two versions of Joybringer, 1973, above, and 1985, below, for comparison.


So now you know who the Masqued Mann really was!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Masks: Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets

[purchase The Quality Holiday Revue (Live)]
[purchase What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Los Straitjackets]
[purchase other Lowe/Los Straitjackets music]

A few years back, we did an “Unusual Collaborations” theme, and had Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets been working together back then, it would have seemed to fit right in. But what is more surprising is that their collaboration actually has worked so well and so seamlessly.

Lowe, of course, has proven to be an incredible musical chameleon. He’s done pub rock, punk, new wave, power pop, country, roots music, standards, holiday music and more. He’s a songwriter, a producer, a singer, a leader, a sideman, and instrumentalist. Los Straitjackets, since their formation in the late 1980s, have been an instrumental band playing rockabilly influenced surf-rock. But beyond the quality of their music, what most people know about Los Straitjackets, if they know anything about Lost Straitjackets, is that they perform in Mexican wrestling masks. Why, you ask? Apparently, they wore them at their first gig, and the crowd loved it, so they just kept doing it.

A few years back, Lowe was performing shows focusing on his more country crooner songs, but after the death of drummer Bobby Irwin in 2015, he broke up that band. When Lowe wanted to tour behind his holiday album, his record company suggested label mates Los Straitjackets as a touring band. Eventually, Lowe insisted that the band play his songs as if they were their own, and he’d just fit in. This collaboration allowed Lowe to pull out some of his old rockers again for subsequent tours, and they have released a bunch of songs together. And in 2017, Los Straitjackets released an instrumental album of Lowe covers, entitled, What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Los Straitjackets.

I got to see them perform together last year at the great Tarrytown Music Hall, and it was a great show. The video above, of the whole show was taken by someone in the audience (not me), and you can see how it was structured—A set with Lowe leading the masked Los Straitjackets, a set with just the band, ending with a Lowe cover, and another set together. For the encore, the band returned first, playing tribute to their fellow masked man, Batman, before Lowe rejoined, and then a final encore of a solo Lowe covering his friend Elvis Costello.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Masks: Girl Behind The Mask


Purchase, Screaming Trees, Girl Behind the Mask

So, apparently Gloria Estefan (I'm not sure if she brought the Miami Sound Machine with her on this) has re-recorded "Get on Your Feet" as "Put On Your Mask."

That's good to hear. Even if it's a silly pop song and wedding reception staple, if it gets people to stop politicizing a virus and actually act as if they care about others, I applaud the effort.

I'm not a fan of the MSS (those in the know, know...), but I'm grateful to anyone with a platform who is willing to advocate for good practice, common sense, and most of all, admonishing others to show concern and care for others. And to take responsibility and do their part. There will be a time in our future where we look back on these days, and we will be asked what we did to help, what our role was. And for those who can't answer that question without concrete evidence of contributing to the cause of the cure, or worse, can show nothing more than a few social media posts that help them brag about their strident political hobbyism, I do hope you can get it together and start being part of the solution. If nothing else, listen to Ms. Estefan, and Put on your Mask!

Perhaps the real problem is selfishness and our fetisization of individual freedoms, which is really just giving into our narcissism and indulging our worst instincts of self-satisfaction. Or self-satisfaction. We're a civilization of self-pleasers bent on achieving our individual mandates, regardless of the presence, needs/desires, or hopes of others. Don't believe me: drive a little too slowly in the fast lane.

I know not everyone is awful, but the world sure does seem to be full of assholes who equate happiness to achieving their individual happiness at the expense of others. Or those who believe in conspiracy theories because the bullshit is more interesting, or rather more easy to understand, than the reasoned out and rational truth.

I know I'm generalizing, and most of us are good people, all suffering from the same anxieties and pursuing the same satisfaction of the same basic needs, namely to be happy, safe, loved, and that our default mode is not really selfishness. But, it's really hard to believe in the best of us when I see so much of the worst of us in almost everything we do.

Freedom shouldn't be about making yourself happy or indulging in your own needs without regard for the rest; it's about coexisting with others and doing right by others so they do right by you. That's the golden rule, in so many words. It's a simple concept--do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. I've been hearing it since I was a kid, and it's the one lesson I'm thankful for having been subjected to an awful 10+plus years of Catholic school. I wish I knew how to teach it to everyone...

OK, moralizing--DONE.

Music?
Masks?
Cool.
Gives me a reason to write about Seattle's original grunge pioneers, the progenitors of the scene and the sound, far better than Mudhoney and some of the other noise/scratch rock outfits that get bigger billing.

Screaming Trees--a blues outfit that knew how to channel the metal gods that smiled down upon Seattle in those glorious days of the late 80's into the early 90's and gave us the blessed new anvil pounding symphony from Vulcan's blacksmithery, otherwise known as Grunge. I argue they were the inventors of what became most indicative of what the grunge sound is: metal and classic rock, with a healthy dose of the blues. These sounds are most evident on anything by Screaming Trees, and they are at their best when the sound it somehow comfortable  slipping into multiple timelines.

Screaming Trees hit a major radio blast with their single "Nearly Lost You" and their biggest commercial success, Sweet Oblivion. But Screaming Trees are a band that were a small blip on a big screen that deserve a much deeper listen. Led by Mark Lanegan, who in other times might have been a sage meant to be rediscovered and worshiped long after he was done, Screaming Trees were, to me, quintessential grunge: heavy, heavy rock, played in homage to the giants of blues and doom that came before them, channeling a vibe that spoke of darkness, but resounded with downtuned guitars and what might have been the real and true heavy metal thunder. But, they had pop sensibilities, too, and the sweetness filtered through heavy doses of drugs and getting lost in the woods gave them a sound that was unique. Screaming Trees had potential to grow into something a lot more interesting, had they given themselves the room and time to explore and hadn't been sidetracked by extra-curricular activities. Like so many of the Seattle bands, they were potential cut down well before their prime, ruined and dissipated and finished long before they had reached their potential. There is a good catalog here, full of promise and a lot of sonic what-might-have-been. Screaming Trees deserve a serious and enthusiastic listen. Too bad it didn't get past the excess.
Say no to drugs.
Be kind to your neighbor.
Wear your mask.

Oh, yeah: the song..."Girl Behind the Mask" is from 1987's Even If And Especially When, on the venerable SST label. It's a silly bit of pseudo-psychedelic rock. A love song about a mysterious girl.

I wonder how we might end up thinking about masks, given the metaphorical weight they've carried for so long, compared to essential importance we now give to donning one. Masks used to be something to hide behind on nights and times given over to wanton fun and celebrations. Or when robbing a bank. Or doing some downhill skiing. Now, it's all about saving a life, yours or your neighbors.

The girl behind the mask? The world behind the mask. I hope. Until we get through this. Look out for your neighbor; be responsible; take care of your fellow human being. Let's get through this. We are all responsible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

MASKS: DOMINO

By now you know the score, I type the theme into search on my i-tunes and snarf up anything applicable. Mask wasn't so great, masque slightly better, but nothing that grabbed me or enough. Maybe if I do a second post. So it was to synonyms I sauntered, learning a bit along the way.


No, me neither, I had no idea the sort of mask as above is actually called a domino. Sure, no use against the virus, and pretty damn poor as a disguise, but it is what is is. Very popular in the Venetian Carnival, it seems, whereby folk could get up to all sorts of malarkey, being entirely unrecognisable to one and all, as they spread, no doubt, a good deal more than aerosol droplets.


Damn right, it's Sir George (Ivan) Morrison at the front, with Domino,  his exuberant paean to inscrutability, the meaning, as ever, as clear as murk. If you don't believe me, go check out the lyrics. They are unlikely to be about the board game beloved of the old and simple, so who's to say there isn't some mystical reference to masking up. Cos' Van is always mystical, or was 1980 to about 2000. Now he's just plain grouchy. But, back then, this track from 1970's His Band and the Street Choir, he was on fire, the musicianship and sassy play exemplary. (I read the song was actually a tribute to New Orleans legend, Fats Domino, exquisitely proving my point about it being nothing to do with dominoes. How could you possibly line up 1000 Fats Dominoes and see them tumble as anything wholesome to watch.)


Those nice boys from Squeeze provide our next tribute to limited disguise. In their later days, as glory began to dissipate, this is a fairly typical construction of their very well put together magpie pilfering of styles, built to carry the vocal and lyrical chicanery of Tillbrook and Difford. The title track from 1998 album, Domino. Here there is a mention of tumbling pieces, presumably in reference to the amount of drinking going on, itself another staple of their storybook songs. They play on to this day, I'm pleased to say, perhaps more heritage now than cutting edge, but all power to that.


The Big O, then, and a cat called Domino. Another reference to the big fella from N'Awlins, actually and really called (Antoine Dominique) Domino? I think not, the feline being the factor here, as many a cat has markings evoking a domino. None of this hipster slang, man, as those cats in the Cramps can confirm. From when Orbison was just amongst a cluster of rockabilly rebels trying to catch the crown of the King (Creole), perhaps that is why it seems so reminiscent.


I don't actually think much of this song, a slimmer effort, Domino Dancing,  by the sometimes wonderful Pet Shop Boys. Picking up on the Squeeze song, this again has the masked revellers all falling down as the absinthe hits. (Probably beer in the Squeeze world, but I can't quite ever see the PSB with anything quite so common.)

All in all I feel I have made a sound and sturdy case for my thesis. No more will you think of the Lone Ranger without remembering his mask and its name.

 Quickly before signing off, time again to return to the Belfast Gypsy and his imagery. Sticking to his theme, here is another in the same vein. And this his time truly about Kemosabe.


Go, Domino!

Masks: Steve Miller - the Joker




purchase [The Joker, album]

I think it's safe to say that the visual image most people conjure of the joker is some variation of the classic Batman archenemy - pretty much what the cover of the Steve Miller Band's 1973 album of the same name depicts.

You've got to drill down to the fifth page of a google search for the term <joker> before you can get out links to the movies and reach the Mirriam-Webster definition of the generic term, which is what I was looking for. Looking for because I suspicion that the popular association with the Batman character is relatively recent. The first entry at M-W.com is "a person given to joking". The second is what I was looking for: "a playing card ..". And that is what I suspect would have been the popular visual association up until a few decades ago. Granted, the associated image from a deck of cards is what most of us would term a "jester".

Jester or Joker, Batman or Steve Miller, all "mask up" (Miller's covering and the KISS images that you are familiar with are pretty muchly contemporaneous) You can dig deeper here: there is a Wikipedia category labelled <Masked Musicians> with 114 entries as I write.

We are also aware of the "classical" Greek theater masks, and that's about as far back as written records of their use go. No small number of articles in publications such as Psychology Today look at the masks we all wear, knowingly or not, without actually "putting" them on. When Oscar Wilde said "Be yourself; everyone else is taken.", he was referencing this use of masks - pretending to be something/someone you are not in the face of society.


But this isn't a blog about states of mind - unless you want to consider that music is in fact a state of mind. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to enjoy and consider Steve Miller's Joker. I had been listening to a fair amount of Steve Miller before The Joker. Songs like

Space Cowboy, from Brave New World


and Song for Our Ancestors, from Sailor


I seem to recollect that Joker was a breakout piece for the Steve Miller Band, a trend that continued for a few years after with the similarly well-received Fly Like an Eagle and Abracadabra. The lyrics of The Joker get at the stuff of Oscar Wilde and Pychology Today: a life of many facets. Maurice, the space cowboy, grinner, lover, sinner, joker, smoker, midnight toker. The lyrics also include a "nonce word" [a coined word]: pompatus, as in
'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.
And there is a Wikipedia article about how that all probably came about.

The list of on-time members of the band include Boz Scaggs, Nicky Hopkins, Les Dudek among another 20 or so that I confess don't mean as much to me. And that is undoubtedly my loss, but one that I can correct somewhere down the road.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Masks: I Advance Masked


Andy Summers/Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked
[purchase through Discogs because Amazon’s prices are not reasonable ]

You’re probably sick of reading how I learned something interesting in researching my post, but this time, I learned four interesting things. And what better way to spend the continued COVID-19 life slowdown than learning three interesting things about music, right?

First, if you asked me who was older, Andy Summers, former guitarist for The Police, or Robert Fripp, King Crimson guitarist, I probably would have said Fripp. Mostly because he’s been pretty famous since the late 1960s, is generally categorized as being a prog-rocker and usually wears suits these days, while Summers became famous as the guitarist in a punk band in the late 70s-early 80s. But that’s wrong. Summers is 77 (!), while Fripp is 74. I think I knew that Summers played in Soft Machine, and with other bands before The Police, but I guess his time in that band made me think he was younger than he is (Sting is 68 and Stewart Copeland is 67. Henry Padovani, The Police’s original guitarist (!), is also 67.)

The second thing that I learned is that Summers and Fripp first met in the early 1960s, when Summers’ band, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, was the regular entertainment at the Bournemouth Majestic Hotel when Fripp was attending Bournemouth College. And when Zoot Money moved to London, Fripp’s band, the Majestic Dance Orchestra, replaced them at the hotel. The Majestic was a Jewish hotel, and the Majestic Dance Orchestra occasionally played weddings and bar mitzvahs. (Interesting thing number three!) Apparently, the two incredible, but different, guitar players remained friends.

We’ll get to the fourth interesting thing soon.

In 1981 and 1982, when both men had time between their Police and Crimson obligations, they met to jam together, and those sessions ultimately resulted in an album of 13 instrumentals entitled, I Advance Masked. To my ears, much of the album, and particularly the title track, displays some similarity to the interlocking guitar work that Fripp was doing with Adrian Belew in the recently reformed King Crimson, except that Summers and Belew’s styles are very different, so it didn’t sound exactly like Crimson. Not being a guitarist, or really a musician of any sort, I’ll let Summers describe how his and Fripp’s styles were different:

We’re still pretty much polar opposites in our playing. Robert over the years has gone down one line, the polyrhythmic single-line approach, and he’s brought it to a degree of perfection where he can improvise on it and play it like no other guitarist in the world. His strengths are playing the sort of fuzz solo, very quirky and very rhythmic. I’m classically-trained, came up playing pop and blues (Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Soft Machine, Animals, etc.), a regular rock soloist in many ways. It’s hard, but it clicks. Robert gives the music a spine, he’s the masculine element, and I probably represent the feminine side of the duo, but out of it a whole new personality emerges. It’s a beautiful form of alchemy. 

The song, remarkably, also spawned a very bad video:



So, what’s the fourth thing? The title of the song and album was derived from something that none other than René Descartes once wrote in a diary, and which supposedly became the second most famous thing he ever said (although I admit to never having heard it before): “larvatus prodeo,” which sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but means, “masked, I advance.” Apparently, it relates to how Descartes had to disguise his true self to succeed.

OK—there’s a fifth thing I learned, although it isn’t as interesting as the other stuff. On the DGM Live website, the official site for Fripp/Crimson and related projects (and projekcts), Fripp often publishes a daily diary, and since March, he occasionally titles them “I Advance Masked,” and includes a picture of him in a mask. Here’s one recent example.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Wait/Don't Wait: Bob Dylan - Can't Wait



purchase [ Can't Wait ]

Dylan's <Can't Wait> went through various gestations before appearing on Time Out of Mind. There was a gospel version, a "Pink Floyd" version, and a country version. From SongFacts: Engineer Mark Howard recalled to Mojo Magazine July 2010: "Dan wanted to get back to the gospel version of 'Can't Wait' we cut in Oxnard. We cut three or four different versions and named every take. The 'Pink Floyd' version's quite psychedelic and the 'Rag Doll' version is country rock. Bob's like, 'I don't wanna hear this song any more, we got a version down.' Dan was trying to get to the original. " The Tell Tale Signs album includes 2 unreleased versions of the song.

Myself ... Nashville Skyline was the best of his albums. Maybe Blonde on Blonde rates next. I really liked Slow Train Coming, too. Time Out of Mind? Welp ... I guess I had kind of tired of Dylan by then. Lots to say, but lots of the same. *yawn* . Rolling Stone labels this period starting around the 1980s as Dylan "casting about for a purpose". More recently, he has more purpose: "world-weary ... hard boiled ... talk[ing] about truths in unambiguous terms".

<Can't Wait> is from back before the millenium. Like much about Dylan, the lyrics and more have been dissected both for the greater meaning and for insight into the "bard's" frame of mind. Examined line for line, word for word, because ... he speaks for us all. As he has done since the 60's.
But <Can't Wait> on Time Out of Mind is world-weary. It's blues in a minor key - somewhat uncommon - and the effect enhances the sense of gray desperation that Dylan vocals bring to life:
I left my life with you somewhere back there along the line
I thought somehow that I would be spared this fate
But I don’t know how much longer I can wait
(The version at the top appears to be pretty faithful to the Time Out of Mind version)

<Can't Wait> on Tell Tale Signs carries a different feel. (The version below appears to be rendered in this style)



And if you haven't yet listened to this, you might enjoy the hard boiled commentary of Murder Most Foul this past spring. Lengthy, but filled with references that - to a 60+ person of American heritage - were filled with emotions (not facts?) I could relate to.


Monday, July 13, 2020

WAIT/DON'T WAIT: TIRED OF WAITING, the KINKS

Sooooo tired, tired of waiting...... Yes, my macbook has relapsed and I now spend, again, most of my days watching the spinning beachball of death. Something must be done, but, whilst I await funds, something has to give. And what better than a bit of Raymond Douglas. I have had a strange old life with the Kinks and with Ray Davies. (Raymond Douglas Davies, yep?) So brilliant and innovative in the 60s into 70s, yet now so, well, c'mon. And all you return to form critics can just stop wasting my money.

Tired of Waiting For You (1964)

So, since when was rock'n'roll a life long career? Wasn't it always a "when are you going to get a proper job", with, now, all these old age pensioners still trying to prove their parents wrong. Yet still I want them to succeed to produce some latter day lodestone of brilliance. Overlook my insouciance, tho', it a product, also, of the beast that begat the issue. I mean, FFS, what am I doing, at damn near 64, still listening to pop music? And searching for truth in doing so?

Days (1968)

It isn't as if I'm not grateful. Most of my memories are coated in a soundtrack of their time. It is easier to evoke those days through song than substance, a short cut to having to wrack the braincells into any accurate reportage. The sepia tints of nostalgia can then cut through the realities best discarded.

The Village Green Preservation Society (1969)

OK, that probably takes it too far, but, thinking a little longer, maybe not: I can remember this list of archaic and rose-tinted list of disappearing/disappeared onetime every day norms. With wry smiles aplenty. Is it asking too much of a songwriter to do other than reflect of their own experience? And maybe why Ray had to look elsewhere, the constrictions of an olde england, resolutely still in black and white, a barrier to progress. Shock, horror, this song, below, defiantly in the style of his classics, came out in 2017, a paean to his new home. (Sure, the Kinks are long gone, any long promised/hinted/awaited as tenuous as ever.)

Americana (2017)

I feel I have shot myself in the foot, the old bugger still has it after all, against all the odds. Looks like I need to hang on here after all. Cut to predictable end piece.

Waterloo Sunset (1967)

A Ray of light?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Wait/Don't Wait: I'm Waiting for the Man, by The Velvet Underground


Purchase "I'm Waiting for the Man," by The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground have always been a challenging band for me. They seem to be able to run the full spectrum: some songs are amazing, fully realized compositions reflective of musical roots and innovative of a new sound; other efforts sound like a band that is a strange, post-pop, kitchen sink style experiment in style and mode, more aligned to kitsch than actual art. 


There's no separation for me from the Andy Warhol psuedo-stylistc, anything-can-be-art approach. 

I'm sure there's more to the VU than sound, and that's probably the point I'm missing. But, experimentation and boundary pushing should still sound consistent. And sometimes it sounds good; at other times, it is experimental, at best. And a bit of a put on. The pretension of it can be baffling. Like people who rhapsodize over Warhol's soup cans or Marilyn Monroe portraits. Not my thing, but then, art is pure subjectivity. 

That Warhol vibe that colors VU's work runs two ways. It can be bad, just really artless and hard to take. But, it can be sleazy, tainted with something a little baffling and a little leary-making. And that's when it's most enjoyable, and reflective of the actual vibe that grew up around Warhol's New York scene, that of misfits, genderbent oddballs, hustlers and street creatures. It was that dark bohemia that rarely saw the light of day that VU touched on in their sketchy, dirty sound, same as a certain cadre of writers who used theme and subject matter to make a notable  shift in post-modern literature. Works like Kerouac's On The Road, Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, or on a visual planeRobert Frank's The Americans, shifted artistic expression toward a more focused look at the underbelly of society--that which had always existed but was never really given the spotlight in serious work. The down and out loser was celebrated, and the vivid portrayal of the dark, dirty taboo created a new, dark modernism. The tableau in the works are made from the junkies, trans and cross-dressing street angels, hustlers, thieves, the kind of folks that didn't really exist for most, at least not in the real world. And certainly, none of these types had ever taken on the role of protagonist, or been in a position to earn the reader or viewer's empathy. Transgressive work, very much including the VU's music, was an examination of the darker life, about the edge of experience, the evil things that happened out there, but never touched, nor sullied, most people's lives. The kind of stuff that took place only in godless Gomorrah's like New York City. Listening to it, say in the confines of the neat, clean and safe American suburbs, was akin to sneaking a look at porn: titaliting, dirty and done under cover with the fear of being caught. These are the kind of works that invoke Puritanical reactions in our society, where worry over the perverse leads to outrage. But there is beauty in the brutality and a strange dignity that is earned by the lowlife when the listener and the reader get an insight into their strange and singular humanity. 


A good summation comes from Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn. The book is the literary equivalent of a walk through hell, and the appeal of transgressive art can best summed up as thus: "Sometimes we have the absolute certainty there's something inside us that's so hideous and monstrous that if we ever search it out we won't be able to stand looking at it. But it's when we're willing to come face to face with that demon that we face the angel." 


While the genius of Kerouac's On the Road was the fact that it was one of the earliest attempts at elevating the lowest kind of folks to exalted position of literary hero, the Velvet Underground is probably among the first pop/rock outfits to celebrate similar deviants in art made for mass consumption. And I'm sure their music was a little shocking, the same way Kerouac and his Beat kin scandalized polite sensibilities with tales of drugs and debauchery.  Lou Reed made an entire career out bringing people face to face with the strange demons of the dark side and never more poetically than in "Walk on the Wild Side,"from 1972's Transformer.  He also celebrates that bohemian life in another track on the album, "I'm so Free", a gleeful declaration of allegiance to a life lived outside the careful margins. 


And while "Walk of the Wild Side" and "I'm so Free" are poetic and free-floating, VU's 1967 "Waiting for the Man" is far darker, much more forward and in your face in its theme and subject. Decidedly loose and funky,  documentarian rather than metaphorical, the song is the quintessential transgressive poetic experience. The song moves along at a propulsive clip largely due to the barreling piano roll. It's a bit of a barhouse singalong, with the dithering, jangly guitar and simple pound-down drums. An upbeat and oddly celebratory tune, it's certainly not the VU's only song explicitly about drugs, but it's certainly their happiest one. It's got a White Stripes sense of drive and almost anti-rhythm, which speaks to how influential this strange song would go on to become. And more for it's eccentricity than technical value, Rolling Stone ranked it as number 159 out of their 500 greatest rock songs of all times. It's probably helped by the fact that Nico doesn't chomp her vocals over top of it, like she did to ruinous effect on "Femme Fatale" and others...But, that's just an opinion. 


I'm going to avoid editorializing about the content. It seems a little more fun to look at the trivia of the song. David Bowie loved the song and according to my research, he and his band covered it it before it was even released. The story of the song takes place in Harlem, New York City. And like the Ramones' "53 & 3rd", "I'm Waiting for the Man" has a specific geographical context: Lexington Avenue and 125th Street. You can visit! 


There's plenty of history to the track; it holds an esteemed place in rock history, as does the band itself. Puzzling out the good from bad, in a lot of ways, makes the song, and the VU themselves, more interesting. The song itself, like any good piece of art, contextualizes experience for the audience, places them close in the experience by delivering the instinct and the visceral sense without the actual danger. It makes sense without having to be real. That's good art, I suppose. Maybe it's a warning when Reed sings that he feels, "Feel sick and dirty/more dead than alive/I'm waiting for my man." He had his share of struggles and came out on the better side. I don't suppose he meant to glorify anything here--just to elevate the experience into something that made sense of it. Good song, regardless. 


Note: I referenced Keith Rawson's 2013 article for litreactor.com, "There is No Bottom, There is Only the Abyss: A Hubert Selby Jr Primer" researching this post. https://litreactor.com/columns/there-is-no-bottom-there-is-only-the-abyss-a-hubert-selby-jr-primer. The Selby quote from Last Exit to Brooklyn was quoted in his article.

Friday, July 10, 2020

WAIT/DON'T WAIT: WHILE YOU WERE WAITING/RON SEXSMITH


Ron's sweet voice and vulnerable innocent persona has most observers having him better not waiting for anything. Or at least not for anything better, his songs always redolent of disappointment and deprecation. And that's the cheerful ones. So is this lyric a sense of realisation or an acceptance of the inevitable let-down? A bit of both, that sinking realisation that love has gone sour, perhaps just as you were thinking about something else for a moment. As in, take your eye off the ball for a second and, pfff, it's gone, his hope being that, if you wait long enough, somehow it will come back into view. Hmmm, we know that outcome, don't we?


I'm a big fan of ol' Ron, always have been, through the thin and thin of his career. No, that's a tad harsh, but he's never seemed able to get that great big breakthrough, despite the acclaim of many of his peers, on the arrival of theirs. Elvis Costello has always been his biggest yay-sayer, but others have been not slow to sing his praises. Fellow Canadian k.d. lang included him on her tribute to canadian songwriters, Hymns of the 37th Parallel, and how many others ever got to sing with Leonard Cohen? Critics often tumble praise his way but the public have never followed to make him much more than a niche favourite. With his big hangdog face, like a lovelorn potato, his looks may never have catapulted him into stardom, but Elvis C is hardly any oil painting either. He has made no secret of his struggles maintaining a career and the effects on his mood, life and relationships: in the  wonderful documentary, Love Shines, made in 2010, this aspect is certainly not brushed away.


His songs have a delightful charm. Deceptively simple, they carry largely on guitar or piano, and often little more, with his yearning voice always shimmering above, sometimes redolent of Roy Orbison, tragedy closer to triumph in minor chord lamentations of love's labours lost. You sense, whatever else, he just has to sing, to keep on singing. If his near twenty recordings aren't enough and, like me, are a covers lover, you could do a whole lot worse than check out his youtube channel. Did I say Roy Orbison?


I first caught him, last century, in a special showcase at Ronnie Scott's Club in Birmingham, UK, now long gone. Part of a tour to promote his first full release, the eponymous Ron Sexsmith, it was a double header with the similarly "new" Dar Williams, taking turns as to who would play first. It was marvellous, each nailing a place in my tastes and on my shelves, each lasting to this day. Like Costello, I would rave about him to friends and family, but to little shared enthusiasm. I think I bought his first few releases until a change of producer skewed his style, to my ears any way. Thereafter I kept an ear out, spotting him mingling with the stars: Chris Martin, Ray Davies, if never quite joining their leagues. Round about the aforementioned doco, made during the making of Long Player Late Bloomer, a then mooted last ditch for world domination, helmed by big money producer Bob Rock, I formally rejoined team Ron. And it was/is a superlative record, if surprisingly using added autotune: surely the point of Ron's famously wobbly voice is that it is famously wobbly? It didn't go platinum, but it did sell a fair few, enabling him to keep going, with another album dropping every other year or so, right up until this years Hermitage. I had been due to revisit my acquaintance with his live show back in April, but, yep, like everything else, C-19 killed that until November. All willing.

So, I'm Still Waiting.


All the Rons.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wait/Don’t Wait: Desperados Waiting For A Train



Nanci Griffith: Desperados Waiting For A Train
[purchase]

No personal story, no long history lesson, no political discussion today. Just a short discussion about a fine song, Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train.” (I mentioned this song a few years ago in a piece on Clark’s “Homegrown Tomatoes," but it’s worth its own post.)

As someone who backed into “country” music through alt-country/Americana/roots/folk music, I first became aware of the great songwriter Guy Clark from covers, particularly this version on Nanci Griffith’s 1998 release, Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful). On that album, Griffith performed the song with Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Eric Taylor. In fact, before Clark released a version, on 1975’s Old No.1, it had already been covered by Walker, Rita Coolidge, David Allan Coe and Tom Rush. And before Griffith’s version was released, it had been covered by Slim Pickens and probably most famously, The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, some pretty fine songwriters in their own right). And there have been many other covers released and performed, including by Earle, on his recent tribute to Clark, and Jason Isbell, who performed the song at Guy Clark's induction into the 2015 Austin City Limits hall of fame ceremony. Which is just to say that many, many great musicians and songwriters have felt the song worthy of recognition.

Clark had the ability that some great writers, and not only songwriters, have of being able to economically create an entire world, and entire characters, with no wasted words. (On the same album, Griffith also covered Richard Thompson and Woody Guthrie, who have that same talent.) I’m jealous as hell. In less than five minutes, the song tells the story of the relationship between a boy and an old man, and you can feel the love they felt for each other, and the respect that the boy had for the man, an old school oil worker, who seemed to the boy like he was from an old western. And one day, the boy realizes that the man is old, and dying, and the metaphorical train comes to take him away. Two lives in about four and a half minutes of brilliance. I don’t know if the song is studied in songwriting classes, but it should be.

It’s a true story. Clark wrote it about his grandmother’s boyfriend, who stayed at the hotel that she ran in a small Texas town. You can read more about it here.

In 1998, when Griffith released her album, she appeared with all of the guys (including Guy) who sang with her on David Letterman’s show. And since readers of my work here know I’m a huge Letterman fan, and a huge fan of the song, here’s a video:

Monday, July 6, 2020

Wait/Don't Wait: Waiting for the Sun



purchase [ Waiting for the Sun - the album]

It seems fitting that I follow up <Follow the Sun> with <Waiting for the Sun>. Enough of the Beatles for now, and this isn't really about the song of that name, but rather the album. There's so much on the Doors' third album to cover that I'm going for a full album this time around. The song appeared on a later album.

I grew up on the Doors's albums - they were heavy rotation at the pre-teen parties I attended (that would be 7th and 8th grade). Strange Days was a little too strange. More than one critic has noted that Strange Days leaves the impression that it is populated with the leftovers of Morrision's lyrics writings that weren't used on the first album. True. Critics also note that is has more continuity that the first album. Not sure I agree.

But 1968's Waiting for the Sun, much like the first Doors album seems to me to have a lot of organizational continuity to it: for me and my friends, it was easy and natural to let the album play one track after the next without having to pick up the needle and move the arm over an inch or so. (Needle? Arm? Track?  We're talking about 33 1/3 RPMs on a turntable at a Junior High dance - not the stuff that did Morrison in at age 27 although the parallels bear some interest.)

You may not take the approach that Morrison's father is said to have done, advising his son to drop aspirations of making a living as a[n untalented] musician. By this third album, the Doors had become mostly all about their lead *singer, although there are several pieces/places where it's more recitation than singing (My Wild Love is knee slapping and Morrison-style poetry chant; Five to One is only slightly more "musical" and The Unknown Soldier starts off with similar style)


Hello, I Love You was the main chart topper, and Spanish Caravan showcases the guitar talents of Robbie Krieger. Being, as I said, an album that I tended to listen to without lifting the tone arm, the rest of the songs are tight displays of the Doors at their studio finest (although it couldn't have been easy work with Morrison in whatever condition he had devolved to). My picks for a song typical of this work:



*yeah, it's not the real thing, but it's pretty good (doors alive)