Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Beggar's Banquet


Prodigal Son was at one time incorrectly credited to Jagger and Richards when in fact it belongs to Rev. Robert Wilkins

purchase [ Beggar's Banquet]

An article in the WaPo last week discussed the Puritans' three-decade ban on Christmas in the late 1600's. The researchers explained how late December celebrations in England at the time were more or less debauchery and certainly not very Christ-oriented. Beggars banquettting at the lords' manor for 12 days of revelry is exactly what the "12 Days of Christmas" song is about. And how it was only at this time of year that the fall harvest of grapes and barley were fermented for their proper consumption.

The "holiday season" is, of course, more than Christmas. As I noted last time around, this time of year includes myriad celebrations around the world. That got me thinking, because, while around the world we may not all celebrate Christmas (or Kwana or Hanukka), we pretty much all celebrate the new year. For many, the form of celebration is more an extended, good-riddance libation to the outgoing rather than embracing of the incoming.

And it got me thinking that SMM hasn't done a Glimmer Twins post in quite some time (and they *have* been called the carolling stones by some). 

Beggar's Banquet includes <Sympathy for the Devil> - just about an appropriate choice for debauchery at this time of year.

It's also the first publication of <Street Fighting Man>. (Now there's an anthem for 2020.)

But for me, as we look ahead or look back (according to our preferences) at this time of year, my Pandemic End of Year Holiday Song for this week is: No Expectations

So take me to the airport

and put me on a plane

I've got no expectations

to pass through here again


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Judy Garland: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I’ve reached my holiday song limit, having been listening for days to various traditional and nontraditional seasonal music, but this holiday music theme runs for a bit longer, and so here I am. 

There are a bunch of articles that I’ve seen recently arguing that “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is the perfect song for this year’s less-festive-than-usual holiday season. But that’s really only true if you focus on the original version of the song, originally sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, Meet Me in St. Louis, and not what is probably the most famous cover, by Frank Sinatra, who had the lyrics changed in 1957 to make the song more optimistic (although he did sing the original lyrics in a 1948 recording). 

In the movie, Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister. The clip is above. 

Coming out during World War II, the song’s message hit home with soldiers and those on the home front who were missing soldiers, with lyrics about how everything will be better “next year.” The Sinatra version, following Ol’ Blue Eyes’ directive to “jolly it up,” declares that all the troubles are gone “from now on.” Where the original version pined for the time when “Someday soon we all will be together/If the fates allow,” and acknowledged that “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” in Sinatra’s version, we’ve already been together through the years, and rather than muddling through, we are supposed to hang a shining star on the highest bough. 

There are other changes, and you can read more about them here, but the key thing is that Garland’s version recognizes that things are not great, but there’s hope for the future, while Sinatra’s celebrates how good the current situation is. And that’s why the original is a great pandemic song, while the later version might be better for 2021. By the way, the original original lyrics to the song were even bleaker—for example, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past,” which was rejected by Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, and replaced with the less creepy version that appeared in the movie. 

Not surprisingly, the jollied up version has been covered more often than the darker original, although Ella Fitzgerald remained true to the Garland version in her swinging1960 cover, as did Swedish sistes First Aid Kit in their folky recent cover. (I’m sure there are others that hew to the original, but the generally pretty accurate cover website SecondHandSongs lists nearly 1600 versions, and writing for this blog is just a hobby). For what it is worth, Garland sang a hybrid version to her children on a 1963 TV special, so she must not have been too offended by the change.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Why You've Been Gone So Long

purchase [ Silver Meteor ]

This is a year where Christmas is very much what you and you alone make of it.

Yeah, I managed to get the tree and lights up. I even managed a couple of wrapped gifts under it. No mean feat. We are under some serious restrictions over here: No one is allowed out all weekend. It's been this way all December and for New Years, the lockdown runs from Thursday through Monday morning. I'm also in the "over 65" category, which means that even Monday-Friday, I am only allowed out on the streets between 10AM and 1PM. Makes it hard to shop for gifts.

Add to that the fact that Christmas is not much of a thing in this Moslem majority country. So... Christmas music? Not much. Even in the best of years (which this has most certainly not been).

But that's fine. We've called the theme Pandemic Holiday Songs for a reason. And as I said, Christmas is what you make of it. That goes for my music choice here as well: a song that I find myself listening to again and again, kinda like I might have been doing with the Christmas favorites. Maybe I'll get to those on the day itself.

But for now: a pandemic holiday song (instead of the usual). It really has absolutely nothing to do with End of the Year Holiday - except in my current frame of mind (allowed under the "whatever fits this season"):

As you saw last week, I've been on a Clarence White binge. Digging around I found that session at the top that he recorded with Ry Cooder (and you know that Ry's my #1) It appears to have been one of the last recordings Clarence made (Summer, 1973), part of a solo album. It appears to be his brother Roland doing the backup vocals and although I'm sure I hear a pedal steel in addition to Ry's slide (could it be Sneaky Pete?)

And then I came across this "cover" of the song that - to me - equals the vibe of Clarence and Ry's version. They are more or less my neighbors!!

Christmas? Not really - unless you consider the lyrics: a time where we can't go home to our families (gone so long). And of course, there are lots of other versions of this song credited to Mickey Newbury: Tony Rice, Carl Perkins and more if you do a Youtube search for the title.

As I said, not Christmas, but hey ... it brings me some holiday cheer and hopefully to you, too.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: If We Make It Through December

Merle Haggard: If We Make It Through December
[purchase the original]
[purchase Phoebe Bridgers’ cover

Despite having amassed a large number of holiday songs in various formats over the past few years, I was not familiar with this song until I heard Phoebe Bridgers’ recent version of it back in November. I’ve put the Bandcamp link to her version above, so you can buy it, if you’d like, with proceeds going to Los Angeles’ Downtown Women’s Center. 

What I found out, though, is that the song was written by Merle Haggard, and he originally released it in 1973. And before Bridgers covered it, other musicians, mostly from the country music world, released versions. Despite its age, it is, in many ways, a perfect song for this year, and I suspect that’s why Bridgers thought to record it.

On its face, it's a sad song, sung from the standpoint of a working man, recently laid off from his job just before Christmas, who despairs about having to struggle at what should be a happy time of year, and how disappointed his daughter will be when there’s no Christmas cheer. And yet, despite this, the song is optimistic. The goal is just to make it through the cold, dark month, and then everything will be all right. There’s hope of a better future in a warmer place, maybe California, come summer time. 

And here we are, in 2020. The pandemic, and the incompetent response to it by this administration, has caused untold thousands of Americans to find themselves unemployed, suffering from food insecurity, and mourning lost loved ones.  We’ve been admonished not to have family holiday cheer this year to give us some respite, which is why so many of us just want this crap year to be over. 

If we can just make it through December. 

Of course, things aren’t going to magically get better on January 1, 2021, or even on January 20, but between the new (and forthcoming) vaccines, and a competent and empathetic new administration (and, hopefully, Democratic control of the Senate, Georgia voters willing), maybe things will start improving. 

You can listen to Haggard’s original version of the song at the link above, and here’s Bridgers’ contemplative cover:

Saturday, December 19, 2020

leftovers: lessons: Clarence White


purchase  [Clarence White guitar ]

I confess- the text here is half baked. Never quite finished – but this music needs to go out before the theme expires.

I used to be a sci-fi fan when I had the time. Registered user at where the Eric Flint alternate reality series about Europe1600's really caught my attention.

If only I had paid more attention. What was sci-fi back then is now reality. Who would have thought that I would have spent the past year zoom-ing my lessons to legions of students in a form of virtual reality. Nothing new: It was imagined in Sci-Fi.

Not sure which <Leftover> (lost) theme to place this one, but it needs sharing. I’m going to force it into Lessons, because it is a lesson learned for me.

I get up in the morning and boot the computer in time for my 7:50 class. It takes a while for all 20 students to join the Zoom meeting. While we wait .... music.  I need it, I figure they do, too. Lately I waffle back and forth between Bluegrass and Turkish pop that might be more to their liking.

Buegrass. Flat picking. Where to start? There are so many, many masters. Recently, I have been focused on an incredible archive of live concerts made available from Woodsongs. Absolutely amazing 20+ year archive of … well … start here

Prolific beyond belief, Clarence was a mainstay of the Byrds as well as too many other bands to name (an early band composed of his brothers, the Kentucky Colonels, and much, much more). Various online sources name him as the father of flatpicking rock.

He's an early Lowell George before Lowell George.- and for me, that’s major accolades. Vocals very similar?

Thursday, December 10, 2020


A leftover to encapsulate both ‘empty’ and ‘spirit’, as in I am in danger of being drained of all celebratory Christmas spirit. OK, it’s true, my score on the humbuggery meter has always been on the higher side of stripey, but whither my goat? It’s bloody Christmas songs. You’d think, what with tiers and lockdowns, that exposure to seasonal dross would have been reduced, but no, it is as if this plague year has given folk carte blanche to wheel out their own version of any old warmed up fare from years gone by. And even, in those rare instances of when a Christmas hit does other than make you want to hit someone, most of the rebakes are so soggy as to insist you do. Or yourself, or the wall, anything to block out their ceaseless epiphanies. So, for your delight and delectation, here are some of this year’s turkeys.

Fairytale of New York is (was) a pretty good song by any standard, and one, in the original, I still enjoy. But it does not translate, and I don’t even mean the fuss and nonsense about the language used. There have always been dire versions, but this years offering takes the proverbial tin of shortbread. What were you thinking, Jon bloody Bon Jovi? Just because it’s for charity dose not let you off the hook for excreting this pot-pourri of scented manure. It’s supposed to be a duet, FFS, at least try to get that, but the arrangement, the distorted vowels, the all of it, it’s awful. (One tiny weeny positive, in that the replacement lines for the term of foodstuff abuse highlighted above, is a little more inventive than many of the other bowdlerisations out there.)

I should here add my disclaimer, I never was that much keen on Slade, and was always more of a Wizzard man in the day. OK, it was good the first million or so times I heard it, but that still only takes it to about 1975. But, when you might fear it may be its own nadir, along comes bloody Robbie Williams and Jamie Cullum, the Puck and Bottom of Christmas, and, by heck, don’t they look pleased with themselves. Apparently it came out last year, but, being then spared that joy, they are now giving it an extra boost this year, clogging up all the cosy TV magazine shows with interviews and performance. (Apparently they each also have new songs apiece for this year, but I have suffered enough already, so you don’t have to either, if you are wise.) From the gurning and mugging, to the smug complicity of the horn section, aaargh. Simply aaargh.

Call me out of touch, as I understand this one is nearly a decade old, but, forgive me if I haven’t kept up with the Bieby and try to avoid the wretched Busta Rhymes at all cost. And, whilst it could be said the Bing’n’Bowie version, probably the template for odd pairings everywhere, is the best known of this venerable tune, as well as growing on me, year by year, this abomination is one I could cheerfully never hear again. If the odious vocalisaions aren’t enough, the rap, like many, it’s true, plumbs all known depths in search of a sickly slickness that will burn equally, whichever direction it explores your gut.

Had enough? I could go on but I think that is enough for one sitting, and clearly now what is needed is something soothing to bring in the new dawn of a new year. One for Robert Burns, clearly, but, sadly there being no recordings of his own renditions for posterity, instead we must make do with sweet baby James, his voice itself like a hot toddy sipped as the pipes skirl and the clock chimes. What’s that? Too much sugar? Damn right, too much sugar. I’m off to the pub. 

(They’re still closed.)

Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 7, 2020

Leftovers: Crowded Table (Looking Forward)


I guess this is sort of related to my “No Thanks” post about Old 97’s “Lonely Holiday,” but back in June, when I think that we were really coming to grips with the changes that the coronavirus was causing to our lives, our theme was “Looking Forward,” as in, things we were looking forward to in the After Times. I wrote about seeing live music, which I continue to miss terribly. 

But, as you know if you’ve read my “Lonely Holiday” piece, not to mention some of my other writings about family and friend-filled meals, I miss getting together with people to eat. Whether it is a holiday meal, or a backyard BBQ, or even if there’s no specific reason, I love to cook for a group, and I enjoy eating with a group. So, yeah, I miss having a crowded table. 

Now, the song, “Crowded Table,” by The Highwomen, seems to me about more of a big nuclear family, but the message still fits. 

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done 

And, to add to the inclusivity message: 

The door is always open
Your picture's on my wall
Everyone's a little broken
And everyone belongs
Yeah, everyone belongs 

If you don’t already know, The Highwomen are an all-female country/Americana “supergroup” created officially in 2019 by Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, all of whom have varying levels of fame in the business. The idea was to pay homage to The Highwaymen, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. So, they didn’t want to put much pressure on themselves, right? Their first live appearance was at a show celebrating Loretta Lynn’s 87th birthday at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (go big, or go home, I guess). 

The project was designed to include other musicians, so that their first single, “Redesigning Women,” had a video that included, among others, Tanya Tucker and Wynonna Judd, and their self-titled debut album featured a re-write of Jimmy Webb’s “Highwaymen,” other co-writes with, among others Jason Isbell (Shires' husband), Miranda Lambert, and Ray LaMontagne, and appearances by Yola, Sheryl Crow, Isbell, and members of Carlisle’s and Shires’ bands.

“Crowded Table,” was written by Hemby, Carlile and Lori McKenna, and features vocals that weave in and out of unison and harmony. Rolling Stone considered the song to be the Highwomen’s mission statement noting that it is "looking for a world where everyone is given a chance to fit in. This isn’t about leaning in or fighting for the top chair. It’s about making room." 

Which is a good message, both as I look forward to someday sitting at a crowded table for a big meal, but also as we look forward to the post-Trump world.

Saturday, December 5, 2020



purchase  [ Gorilla ]

SMM has done Leftovers at this season every year since its inception back in 2008. That theme, something Christmassy, followed by our In Memoriam theme are our traditions.

With ony two in the house for "turkey day" this year (in Istanbul, Turkey no less), we had no leftovers besides the pumpkin pie and a dab of cranberry. To compensate, I cooked a second batch of stuffing and turkey the next night. Want some more? Yes, please. Gotta have those leftovers.

But ... the music ... No leftovers here. Does Village Voice critic Robert Christgau like James Taylor? His comment about Taylor's version of this song are a pretty clear: "No, thanks". He labelled it "disgraceful". Further remarks he has made about Taylor indicate that it is not just this song. He writes: "I am no more likely to enjoy a James Taylor concert than an Engelbert Humperdink concert, and [...] this prejudice is not primarily musical."

In almost a rebuttal  to Christgau's "no way, thanks", Taylor's version of the lyrics of Marvin Gaye's original, again and again sing "thank you baby" - to Carly SImon. 

I kind of side with Christgau -but not as vociferously - Sweet Baby James was a good album. I'm mildly prejudiced because I had one foot in Chapel Hill, NC in those days, so Taylor was a home-town hero (and the songs were provocative in their own genre for the time). After that ... we discovered the true baby james.

For contrast, there's narry a thanks in Marvin Gaye's lyrics, The song "vibe" itself is thanks enough. Christgau is right.

No, Thanks: "No-no Song", by Ringo Starr

Purchase "No-no Song" by Ringo Starr

2020 brought a lot to bear, not the least being a real challenge to sobriety. When there's nothing to do, getting drunk in the dark of my cave-like home office with something mindless streaming through the Netflix tractor beam was often the highlight of the day. Memes and internet jokes about happy hour being pretty much any hour of the day abound. Still.

Because this shit is far from over. 

Taking a break from the news, from the social media doom scroll, and from the living room couch are all important steps to recovery. So, is laying off the booze and hiding the keys to the liquor cabinet. Seems like the sober-er times of 2020 are the times I'll most want to forget. There really hasn't been anything much in the way of redeeming when it comes to the past year. Save for music, which even in the best of times, is a key to happiness.

I know highballs and new tunes were a balm in this dark year. But, like all good things, in moderation we trust. Because 2020 feels a lot like a hangover that won't fade.

This track from Ringo's 1974 Goodnight Vienna is a fun little reggae-esque romp about getting sober. Given the prodigious amount of chemical experimentation of the Beatles' later years, and lack of lingering damage it caused, in comparison to many of their contemporaries, "No-no Song" comes off as more than just another silly Ringo tune. ("Octopus Gardens," anyone?  "Yellow Submarine?" ) This song has the feel that it was meant to be a lark, but took on a more realistic sense the more it got played. Ringo always struck as the most whacked out of the Beatles, to be honest. But, here in "No-no Song," he seems to be striking a sober chord, if only because he's tired of waking up on the floor. How serious he is depends on how much you want to see the song as ironic. It was written by Hoyt Axton, famous cowboy singer and actor, who had also struggled with sobriety and drug use in his life. And Ringo was far from sober at the time of the recording. In an interview with Time magazine, he claimed that he and Axton recorded the song "...with the biggest spliff and a large bottle of Jack Daniel's." 

I suppose, reading too much into the song is a mistake. It is kind of funny, in it's escalation of peer pressures and continuous inebriation. But, maybe it's just supposed to ironic, like it's ironic when we wake up from a bender and say, "I'm never doing that again..." 

Irony, for sure. But, then this is 2020 and we've got a premium on irony. Filled to very top with it. Looking back, all this was predictable. Preventable. And looking forward, we'll look back on this and just shake our heads in angry, rueful hindsight at what could have been.

In the meantime, we've still got time to listen to good music. The bottle and whether the cap stays on, or comes off, once again, is another question. We can always so "no-no" in the future. Let's get through the next few months first. And hope for better days to come. 

Here's a bit more countrified version of "No-no Song" with the first All-Starr Band, which looks a lot like the E Street Band...

Friday, December 4, 2020

no thanks: machines or back to humans


purchase [ The Works ]

Freddie Mercury? Yes, please.

There's much about him that I don't really approve of, but he was amazing in many ways. Alas, I do not profess to be well-versed about the man or Queen- I think I'm moderately informed (and despite the previous remark - don't consider myself biased. I like what I like. Period.)

So .. a search for songs about <no thanks> turned up a Queen song that I wasn't aware of. Perhaps - if I had purchased their 1984 <The Works> album, I would have been informed. After all, that's the album with "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want to Break Free". Very muchly my bad for this ignorance. But that ignorance is in the past and it is not the fırst tıme I have ignored some great music that I shoud not have. Do it again? No, thanks. But that's easier said than done, isn't it? There are so many factors that bias us before we even give things a chance.

1984 is officially history. Sadly, Freddy Mercury is, too. One apsect of a historical perspective look back at the 1980s is the main stream adoption of digital [synthesized] sound. Sure .. we had "Switched On Bach" at the end of the 60s, but here ... we're moving to rock bands doing "fake" sound  live - it's gone commercial/practical. Beyond  this point, all "sound" is potentially an invention * to the extent that digital is manıpulated. This song is one of those inflection points.

The first part of the song is "machine" dominated. (Remember that the Apple Mac (ad) came out that same year). Make of it what you will in terms of techno-message, it's the music that matters. When the technobabble (yes, homage to  Alan Parsons) dies down a bit, we are left with a song almost as pwerful as the tracks from this album that did make it to the charts.

No place. No soul. No regard. No conception. (But no <no thanks> except for the main message: machines? No, thanks.)

Queen & Adam Lambert 2019

Thursday, December 3, 2020

No Thanks: Doctor My Eyes

Jackson Browne: Doctor My Eyes

One more quick post on this theme. 

Another crappy thing that happened this year, totally unrelated to the COVID pandemic, was that I had eye surgery, and it hasn’t really gotten better yet. 

In November, 2019, I stopped a very hard soccer shot by a very good player from very close range with my left eye. Being the weekend warrior that I am, I shook it off, because, really, I felt fine. That my contact lens was dislodged, and could not be found on the turf field, didn’t faze me, and I finished the game. 

Months later, as the coronavirus became a thing, I started seeing flashes in my eye, which I ignored. Because sometimes, I can be an idiot, and the world was going crazy. Then, one day, at the end of April, the vision in my left eye was partially obscured. I quickly went to my eye doctor, who, after a brief examination, hustled me off to a retinal specialist, who diagnosed a retinal detachment and started treatment by putting a bubble of gas in my eye. That was followed by lasers to tack down the retina. Unfortunately, I then developed a macular hole, which required surgery, followed by a period where I had to stay face down as much as possible, facilitated by what looked like a massage chair, and a similar headpiece for bed to allow me to "sleep" face down. It sucked. That’s me, right after the surgery. You don’t want to see what’s under the bandage.  So, "No Thanks," eye surgery.

My vision remains imperfect. Not only is it slightly distorted (although it appears to be healing, but verrrrrry slowly), the surgery has caused or accelerated the development of a cataract in the eye, making my vision blurry. Despite some souped up glasses, things are not back to normal, although I can do pretty much everything except read really small print on the TV screen. I’m even playing soccer again, with goggles, and a “no heading” policy. I’m back to the retinal doctor on Friday for another report, and some guidance as to when I might be able to arrange to have the cataract removed, to bring me closer to my pre-damage vision. 

I know that Kkafa wrote about this song in February, 2019, but it seemed like the right one. It’s a good song—probably the first Jackson Browne song I heard (I think back in my sleep away camp radio days), and still probably my favorite. It isn’t about eye surgery, but instead about a man who has suffered, but comes to accept his fate. So, maybe it works for my situation, anyway. It also features David Crosby and Graham Nash on harmony. 

One positive thing was that because of COVID, most doctors and hospitals only took emergency cases, and I qualified, so I probably got treated a little faster than I might have had there been no pandemic. And I got a COVID test—which was negative, not that that means anything now.

Monday, November 30, 2020

No Thanks-Lonely Holiday

Old 97’s
: Lonely Holiday


For a long time after I started writing for this blog back in 2011, I tried not to repeat artists, but eventually I stopped worrying about that, because sometimes a song by an artist I had already written about called to me. And it shouldn’t be surprising that I’d want to write about bands that I like. So, I hope that you overlook the fact that not only is this the fifth time that I’ve written about the Old 97’s here, but this is actually the third song off of their great Fight Songs album that I’ve highlighted. You can read the last time I wrote about the band and album here, and it links to the three other times I’ve featured them. 

It goes without saying that we just finished the strangest Thanksgiving in a long time—maybe ever. If you want to read more about the history of the holiday—which, like so much else in our country is tied to the Civil War—read this post by the great Heather Cox Richardson. 

I’ve also written about my family Thanksgiving traditions, which were mostly blown up this year by COVID-19. Instead of a big family dinner at our house, my wife and I cooked almost as much food as we usually would, but sat down to dinner on Thursday as a couple. On Friday, we brought a bunch of leftovers to my mother-in-law for a socially distanced lunch, met my mother, brother and a nephew at a restaurant for dinner under a tent on the way back, and on Saturday, my son and daughter-in-law visited for another socially distanced meal of leftovers. Between the three meals, and the care packages distributed to our family members, we actually don’t have an enormous amount of food left over. 

So, while in some sense, it was a lonely holiday, we made the best of it. But “No Thanks,” to this sort of serial celebration, and I can’t wait until we can gather together as a family to celebrate. I’m pretty sure that Christmas will also be a lonely holiday. 

At this point, I really don’t have much more to say about the album. The song is a very typical Old 97’s song, in which a peppy melody is used to deliver some dark lyrics--this time about about loneliness, suicide and love. 

I’m going to switch things up here, and keep it short, and not get into politics.

Friday, November 27, 2020


If no, thanks is the answer, what, I wonder, was the question? For that's the thought that always enters my mind when this song crops up. The lyric casts some broad, if vague, hints. Is this something for consenting adults, for behind closed doors? Or is it something far worse? I'm thinking that both Daryl Hall and John Oates must be fairly broad minded individuals, men of the world even. Yet?

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)

But let's stack up the evidence, it wasn't the first time they had been caught on the hop and out of their depth. All talk and no trousers is the english phrase for it. Right back at the beginning of their career they were already pushing the envelope further than the price of the stamp, with the evidence here. Did the experience leave some wound, some scar on their collective conscience?

I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)

So, Daryl, what's the story? Anything to say, John?

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Oho, the old 5th amendment trick, eh? You don't have to say, but we'll find out. O, yes, and if not the truth, something better. Live with that?

I Don't Think So

Hmm, well, you would say that anyway. With all your fancy vids and prancing about, what do you think you are? Popstars?

(You Know) It Doesn't Matter Any More

That old one! Always the same, string us along, keep us all none the wiser and then, pffsh, nothing, nada, the brush-off.

I Ain't Gonna Take It This Time

Calm down, calm down, keep your shirts on, just a bit of fun. 

I really love Hall and Oates, but, y'know, don't you ever wonder who the F was making their wardrobe and coiffure decisions.

Hope y'all had a good Thanksgiving.

And at least I didn't cite....

Bad Habits and Infections

The right to choose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


 As in, yes, if you are asking me whether I won't, no thanks, I will survive. I will, rather than rejecting the alternative option, but this song offers so much that is apt to this theme that I will disregard any earlier appearance, a decade ago. (Even if it uses up my favourite version ever.) But this is where we all, the survivors, or most of us, stand on 2020, defiant and steadfast against the tide of badness, with light beginning to seep through the cracks. Covid 19? The vaccine beckons. Donald aka Agent Orange? The back door is open and waiting. The economy? Hmm, well, we'll have to see on that one. Boris and his chumocracy of cronies? That too.

It's true, the song was originally a sturdy polemic against a returning suitor, or as wiki puts it so neatly: "the narrator's discovery of personal strength following an initially devastating breakup". The assertive lyric, carried by and coupled with an uplifting and anthemic tune, guarantees for a sea of raised hands on the dance floor, and not just by righteous rejectees. I love it.

Gloria Gaynor introduced us all to the song, an astonishing 42 years ago. I was not, it's fair to say, a fan of disco in 1978, but I could see this was one terrific song. Indeed, even the stuffy old Library of Congress put it up, in 2016, for the National Recording Registry, alongside such essentials of every collection as Alan Sherman's Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah and Swanee, by Al Jolson. (I jest: they have a cracking selection!) VH1 gave it the accolade of the Greatest Ever Dance Song in 2000, Rolling Stone only managing it a number two in their 2012 Best Disco Tracks of All Time.

Over the years many have tried to bring their bit of something to the song, many, most, in truth, poor and lucklustre facsimiles, but some have been really rather interesting. A rule I have is that, if it includes the rolling piano intro, I will listen to no more. Here's a few that don't:

Dig a little beneath the initial hit of gruyere, and this, by the Puppini Sisters, is actually a delight. I don't go a whole bundle of the recalibration of songs into a faux-forties Andrews/Beverley Sisters style, but this  transcends my prejudice, by playing rather more with the arrangement, some glorious walking bass and aan unexpected choral middle eight and coda.Who the Puppini Sisters? A clue; they ain't, but one actually is Puppini by name and they were doing this sort of thing way ahead of Scott Bradleee, if from downtown London rather than New York. (Has Bradlee tackled the song? Of course he has.......)

Much as I adore R.E.M., I confess to finding their throwaway b side live/impromptu covers a slightly less than intrinsic need, but, against that odd, this one conveys just enough charm to make it, Stipe's stumbling through the lyrics a little haphazardly falls just the right side of endearing.

SMM used to have a gentleman's agreement not to include anything too new, mainly then a naive hope that it would keep the RIAA off our case, from the days we put up mp3s. This is barely a couple of months old, but in the spirit of survival, or its flip, given we may not be here next year, mankind, not the site, I feel I have to place it. A terrific version, a slow chant of faith. Lykke Li is a Swede, one of a bevy of Nordic artists firmly finding their feet in the world of electronica and ambient. 

And so finally to Anohni, or, as she still was at the time of this recording, Antony, a song so suited on so many levels, not least the comments on youtube, made to proclaim the ownership of this wracked performance. Some say she overeggs near all she touches. I say bring it on.

So, my new year resolution: survive!

(OK, you want the Cake one too? We all need Cake in these dark days, the darkness potentially deeper ahead the dawn.)

You choose: Gloria, Puppini, R.E.M., Lykke Li, Anohni or Cake. Or all of 'em?

Monday, November 23, 2020

No Thanks: Sound of Lies

The Jayhawks: Sound of Lies

There are so many things not to be thankful for in 2020, which will go down in history as a particularly bad year. Maybe not as bad as during the Civil War, or the Great Depression, or other periods of strife and struggle, but I think that the sheer number of different bad things that have happened during the year is unprecedented. I know that I’ve written a few political pieces on this music blog recently, so I hope that this one is the last for a while, but as I put figurative pen to paper, our political system is being bent to the point that there is real concern about it breaking. I’m confident that it will not snap, but like most things that are stressed to the breaking point, it will be weakened, maybe permanently. 

So, why, “Sound of Lies?” Because one of the things that I will not miss from 2020 is worrying that every time I turn on the radio, or TV, or check social media, I will be barraged by a steady stream of lies from the president and his henchpersons, sycophants and enablers. I mean, we all knew that most politicians shaded the truth when expedient, and that some lied, outright. But the sheer volume of dissembling and BS from this crowd has been astonishing and exhausting. I fully expect that, shortly after January 20, 2021, there will be stretches of days where I don’t even think about the President, and don’t have to get angry about his lies, which I expect to improve my mental health. 

“Sound of Lies,” the song, is the title track of the Jayhawks’ 1997 album, which followed the departure of co-leader Mark Olson, and the resulting primacy of Gary Louris as singer and songwriter. And the album also marked a shift in the band’s Americana-based sound to include more pop influences, although the twang wasn’t completely eradicated. It’s an album that received mixed reviews at the time—in fact, they were “mixed” not in the sense that reviewers thought the album was mediocre, but in the sense that some reviewers loved it and others hated it. I suspect that many of the “haters” were the folks who object to bands that change and grow over time. And, in fact, many writers, often in pieces discussing the album’s reissue in 2014, noted that it had held up well over the years.  In an interview from 2014 about the album, Louris said:

It’s probably our favorite album as well. It is the 'fuck you' record. It really is the fuck everybody record, I really remember Olsen had left, he had quit, I was going through a divorce, I was a mess, I was drinking too much, I was unhappy… I really felt this was the last Jayhawks record, and why not go out with a bang, so fuck it? 

The song, though, is not a glossy pop song, but is, instead, a quiet, heartbreaking ballad, which is consistent with the dark place he was in. And while the lyrics to the song don’t really relate to the current political situation, these lines do resonate: 

The sound of lies rings funny
Against the truth 

Despite Louris’ belief, it was far from the Jayhawks’ last album (it wasn’t even their last album with Olsen), and despite the despair and exasperation, they’ve gone on to continued creative success. 

Hopefully, next year, at this time, we can all put aside our current despair and exasperation, and move on to be thankful about the truth.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

No Thanks: Dead or Alive


purchase [ Woody's version  ]

<No, thanks> or <no thanks>. There is a difference. Syntax/punctuation matters.

Actually, I think this SMM theme is more about <no Thanksgiving> and other joys denied us in 2020. Yes, the holiday will come and go, but we are being told not to invite the whole family. I'm usually the host, but if I were invited, I would say "No, thanks. Not this year."

"No, thanks" leads me to think of all sorts of issues that have poppped up in 2020: Another 4 years? Classes in a room with 20 X 14 year olds? Sharing my office with a colleague who has had COVID? Riding a service bus to work with 20 others? No, thanks no thanks to our incompetent "leadership".

Then consider the other version: I have recieved no thanks for my actions related to many of the above. At this point I am expected to be thankful for still being alive?

That aside, let's focus on the music that drills down into the theme. Above Woody, then here his son Arlo: <Dead or Alive>. How appropriate!

   the sherrif wants me dead or alive ... no thanks

Arlo sounds a lot better than his old man, but that may be related to recording technologies as much as the way things evolve over time.

I think it's fair to say that Woody Guthrie was re-working a "traditional African-American work song", a tune called <Poor Lazarus>, but the chronology is a bit muddy as far as I could discover.

James Carter is credited as the author of Poor Lazarus, but the Alan Lomax recording from the state pen is dated 1959. lists the first Woody Guthrie performance of <Dead or Alive> recording as dated 1949. 

Poor Lazarus and Dead or Alive are pretty much the same story and I would be inclined to leave the provenance as traditional. The Guthrie legacy is managed by grandchild anna canoni and there is an informative dialog here.

The Alan Lomax/James Carter story includes this information.

Other versions based on the original: 

There's a version by Lonnie Donegan (a Brit I've never heard about, but Wikipedia calls the "King of Skiffle")

Bob Dylan made his reverence for Woody Guthrie clear: his song called <Song to Woody> and his version of <Dead or Alive>:

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Joe: various Joes

 The Social Security website shows that naming your child Joe is in decline.  Over the last 20 years, it has moved from 315th most popular to 705th. Liam, Noah and Oliver are in the first 3 for 2019. That said, there are a number of musicians named Joe - some by birth, some taken later.

Because ... the theme is Joe, these gentlemen qualify. (I don't know of any girls named Joe, but there are a few named Jo.) And ... Billie Jo Spears and  Jo Stafford kinda fit the theme-related bill.

A couple of random Joes here ... no sequence, no relation except that they are all Joe. And there's many more  Joes I didn't list, but ...hey ... my list.

Joe Satriani:  

Joe Walsh

Country Joe

Joe Cocker

Joe Strummer 

Joe Perry

Joe Elliott 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Joe: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat


purchase [Joseph and the Multi-Colored ...]

Well, at this point half way through the theme, we haven't recieved any flames about our not so subtle topic. Your SMM bloggers each bring their own baggage (Mr LaRaygun: his metal...) and mine: more heavily embued with folk. My father was a choir/orchestra conductor and I sang tenor (for him) in Handel's Messiah and similar

I had a back of the mind recollection that Hair, the musical, had a reference to Joseph. But, not so ... it must have been Jesus Christ Superstar. Both of the same ilk: early Rock Operas. However, further digging on my part (and a revivial of some dead brain cells- synapse links) revealed that my memory was of another Rock opera named >Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors<. There we go: Joe. Finally.

There is in fact a fair amount of similarity - at least in my mind: more or less same time and same style. At least I can see why I had them confused: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

The biblical story of Joseph is familiar to most: "killed" on account of his brothers' jealousy, Joseph comes back to life in Egypt, this time in control of the situation. The musical rock opera covers this narrative.

The musical is a product of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a budding composer at this time (my confusiuons explained, since he was complicit in Jesus Christ Superstar). And Tim Rice goes beyond Llloyd Webber: collborated with Elton John, Rita Coolidge, Rick Wakeman and Freddie Mercury (and more).

The whole prospect behind rock operas seems to be that [in the modern era] the concept of the classical opera is dated and something "modern/pop/rock" might elicit interest and ticket sales. <Hair> and <Jesus Christ> made limited inroads. So did <Cats> (another Webber piece). Jospeh did not.

That has not killed the rock opera notion. A variation of the idea lives on in animated films (Lion King, which spawned a couple of charting songs, for one) and of course the Who's <Tommy>, Pink Floyd's <The Wall> and more.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Joe: Joey

Concrete Blonde: Joey

One of the things that made Joe Biden a compelling candidate (other than the fact that most people look good by comparison to the lame-duck president) is the way he appears to relate to his family. Clearly, so much of Biden’s life was shaped by the tragic loss of his wife and child, and his attempts to continue to be there for them as a single father trying to make his way in the Senate. And we’ve heard about his second marriage, his support of one son through addiction and other personal issues, and having to watch another child die. . His sister is his closest political advisor, who ran all of his campaigns until this last one. Not to mention his relationship with his grandchildren, who he claims to call or text every day. There’s a genuineness to all of this, which again contrasts with the man he beat handily, whose children seem to be more like junior business associates, and whose third wife regularly slaps his hand away. 

Much of this can be explained, I think, by the relationship that the men had with their fathers. Mary Trump has described her grandfather (and the two-time popular vote loser’s father) in very cruel terms, and as a man who forced his children to fight for his affection and money. (He also was charged more than once with racist practices in his business and was arrested outside a Klan rally. We report. You decide). 

Biden, on the other hand, had a close, friendly relationship with his namesake father, who appeared to instill in his son respect for others, personal humility, and a resilient personality, but most of all, a belief that family is paramount. Hearing Biden speak over the past few months, it is clear that he’s no communicator in the way that President Obama was, but he does display an “everyman” charm, and an empathy that has been lacking in our president since the current impeached resident of the White House was sworn in before a small crowd. Biden often refers to his father, and wisdom that Joe, Sr. imparted to him, and he often starts these anecdotes by quoting his father calling him “Joey.” (You knew we’d get there eventually, right?) Which makes sense, in a family with two Joes. In fact, last summer, Jill Biden released a children’s book about her husband’s childhood, called Joey

The featured song, “Joey” is, for most of us, the only song by Concrete Blonde that we know, and it was released in 1990 on the band’s third album, Bloodletting. Written by singer Johnette Napolitano, it was the group's biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart for four weeks and hitting number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is about being in love with an alcoholic, who Napolitano eventually revealed to be Marc Moreland of Wall of Voodoo. 

Formed in 1982 as Dream 6, and renamed at the suggestion of Michael Stipe after signing to IRS Records, the band failed to achieve much success after “Joey,” broke up in 1993, and has had occasional reunions over the years. Napolitano has released albums as a solo act and with other artists, and was even part of the Heads, a project with the members of Talking Heads, without David Byrne, which fizzled out after the requisite litigation. 

Joe Biden ran for president in 1998, with little success, dropping out after a series of plagiarism allegations, briefly tried again in 2008, but was overshadowed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and was asked to join Obama’s ticket in 2008, becoming Vice-President. He chose not to run in 2016, in part because of the death of his son Beau, and in part, I think, because there was a feeling that it was time for a woman to be president (which it was, and should have been). Biden has admitted regretting that decision. I have to admit that I thought that Biden’s dream of becoming President was over, and that someone younger would end up running in 2020. So, I was wrong. As it turned out, Biden’s message of empathy, competence, calmness and bipartisanship struck a nerve, and he won with an enormous margin in the popular vote, and a significant margin in the stupid Electoral College (winning a few states, though, by a slim margin). 

So, maybe Concrete Blonde has another comeback in them. Just ask Joey.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


Another short post, having me rue on the fact that most "Joe" songs, as alluded to in my last, involve heading down Mexico way, gun in hand, old lady no longer shenanigans. And that will never do, guns seeming more in truck with the current incumbent. (Mind you, "Donald" songs are an even harder nut to track, so, hey, no bright ideas, Boss!)

But, thinking on, let's play on the soubriquet offered him courtesy the wit and wisdom of DRT, given the outcome.

I guess I could have used the Herman's Hermit's Sleepy Joe, as, likely, the better known song. But I then listened to it, possibly for the first time in nigh on half a century. Astonishingly, I could remember it in a Proustian rush, drying in front of the fire after a thursday evening bath and watching Top of the Pops. I liked Herman's Hermits, but I always found it alarming the way Peter Noone mugged directly into the camera, always worried he could see thus the seven year old me, naked in front of the old black and white TV. That would be more than enough to not want to use the song. Plus it is shit. So it is to the glorious playing of Norman Blake. Just his hands and fingers on a single guitar, making a change from the dobro he became better known for. 'Sleepy Eyed Joe' is the first of two tunes. The second is 'Indian Creek', as in Native American rather than Indian Indian, but let's overlook that and assume a timely link to his deputy.

But he ain't so sleepy is he, boys and girls, and the words of Agent Orange hang in the air like the scent of a cheap hairspray. 'Not So Sleepy' is a terrific tune from 1957, from one Oscar Pettiford. Appropriately enough it came out on a record entitled Winner's Circle, and included only contributions from artists coming first or second in the Down Beat critics poll of the year's best. Thus Pettiford, a double bassist of some renown,  3/4 Native American and 1/4 African American, found himself alongside the likes of Joh Coltrane and Donald Byrd, names that have largely outlived his. I think it a great romp, and exudes celebration. Clearly, a Winner's Circle with relation to POTUS can only include outright winners, something as yet to sink into the mindset of the defeated, but we live in hope.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Joe: Smokey Joe's Cafe


purchase [ Smiley Smile  ] - I had totally forgotten they did this and I even once had a copy of the LP

Wikipedia tells us that Smokey Joe refers to a number of people & places. I note that there is an eatery using the name in Istanbul that is not included in their list of links. That makes it an international phenom.

The song itself comes from the extensive Leiber and Stoller music collection from the 1950s. That's Leiber and Stoller - of previous posts by myself, Seuras Og, Any Major Dude and others here at SMM. At least as legendary as Smokey Joe.

Leiber and Stoller shuffled bands and musicians the way you and I shuffle cards. One of the definitive versions of Smokey Joe's Cafe comes from a doo wop group known as the Coasters (so named because they moved from the West to the East Coast), but in LA, were originally named the Robins (one of a number of 50s "bird" groups).

As for Joe, the story goes that back in the days when you could find oil in downtown LA, there was a beans eatery named Smokey Joe's incongruously located in the middle of the derricks. The song is also noted to be one of the signature style that Leiber and Stoller perfected where the "hit" combined a certain humour with the music (see Yakety Yak as another example).

Check out the flippant lyrics for this Leiber piece:

I'd rather eat my chili beans

At Jack's or John's or Jim's or Jean's

Than taking my chances eating down at Smokey Joe's Café

the Robins/Coasters (YouTube videos appearing under both names appear to be identical)

Among the various extant versions of the song is one that is said to be a Buddy Holly home recording that was originally just of him and his guitar and that was later enhanced in studio after his death.

As befits an oldie but goldie, the song has been brought to the modern age by others, for example 

Loudon Wainwright III:

Sunday, November 8, 2020

JOE: WHO'S JOE? (New Order)


No, not, really not a snarky, snidey post at all, but a comment that might not have been out of place even as little as a year ago. And, had the forces of Agent Orange had their way, would be as true in another year. But, for sure, everybody now knows who Joe is. So what if the lyrics, clearly a companion song to Hey, Joe, don't fit the circumstances, never let that get in the way of a great song saluting a greater moment. And, if we disregard the main thrust of the words, and cherry pick the odd phrase, and disregard the new order New Order allegedly might have been celebrating with their name, yeah, it's an OK comment. Who listens to words anyway? And I can't really buy into conspiracy theories about Manchester pop groups. 

"There's a storm in the sky passing over"

Well done, America. Now how do we get rid of our own World Leader Pretend over here in the UK?

Friday, November 6, 2020

Hidden Places: Dancing in the Street


purchase [ Martha and the Vandellas ]

Where do you dance?

Myself> at a wedding party, perhaps a similar party venue, like a year-end celebration. How about in the streets? Chicago, New Orleans, New York City. Philladelphia, PA, Baltimore, Motor City and D.C.

Aside from their country of location, what relevance to our theme? Well ..  they're places and they're not mentioned in the title.That makes them fodder for this <Hidden Places> theme. 

These cities, of course, have streets and they were chosen. Chosen to represent a kind of revolution that took hold starting back in 1964. A revolution of abandon? No, that was dancing in the streets when WWII ended. That was the jitterbug craze. But the evil that rock and roll represented was a kind of abandon where the youth danced ... wild. Arms and hands and hips all over the place. Often side by side nearly on top of eachother (definitely no social distancing here). Disgraceful.

Marvin Gaye's song - made famous by Martha and the Vandellas - has been covered by the Kinks, the Dead and Van Halen among others.

Now, 1964 is a bit early for the 'Nam revolts ... More a reaction to LBJ's Civil Rights Act? But it seems to be part of a spark that lead to a more sustained expression: we'll dance in the streets to voice our opinions and our understanding of what it means to be social. And - it doesn't even matter what you wear.

Seems quaint. These days, we'll bring our guns or drive our trucks <to the streets>

Wednesday, November 4, 2020


So who has listened to the original of this recently? Or seen the film? Decades ago would be my answer, it, West Side Story, being a staple on the sunday afternoon film rota, bought in by my school to entertain the confined pre-teens. Yup, the great old UK tradition of sending kids away to boarding school, at the personal expense of the parents and the psychological expense of their children. Explains how I react so well to the rigours of lockdown. Or would to prison, I gather. Anyway, even in the late 60s,  I recall it all seemed desperately dated and I never quite bought the idea of teen hoodlums bursting into either song or dance, let alone both. Especially when so well groomed and clearly in their 30s. But, as it turned out, not such a bad song, and notorious pants-splitter, P.J. Proby took it high in the UK charts. I remember finding his kitschy take astonishingly awful as a boy. Now it just has me howling.

And the theme? Another kinda sorta one, I'm afraid, as I know only too well the sort of "place for us" Tony might have had in mind, very much doubting Maria would find much lasting joy there, her mind thinking more of a whole different setting, of more lasting promise. But I detract from the incisive commentary around the plight of young love in the urban jungle. Maybe. And, yes, I get it that she dies, so rendering my remarks cheap and ignorant, but given the where isn't ever discerned, that makes it, ergo, hidden. Possibly backstage, in a poky dressing room, between scenes.

Being an erudite lot, you'll know the melody isn't an original, nicking parts from both Beethoven and Tschaikovsky, who, together, had designed the New York Subway signature screech. Covered innumerable times, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate some of the less well known versions, a gig I tend more to occupy in another guise, over at Cover Me. Of course there are also innumerable stinkers, every two-a-penny talent show competitor dredging up a version for "show night". Or even their judges....

I'm going to skim over this one, it's the one I'm "expected" to post, Tom Waits being a poster boy for the serious music nerd. To be honest, I find his voice just toooooo much, although, as I get older, I find I can dip my ears in his earlier stuff. Later stuff still defeats me, but the whole grand guignol of this demolition appeals to my sense of the absurd enough to allow it. And the trumpet is really rather good.

Talking of kitsch, as we were earlier, PSB are never afraid to embrace their inner divas, and this is a song ripe for their everything and the kit(s)chen sink OTT overkill, and this is ticking most of their boxes. Sumptiously overproduced, this only lacks the chorus of the Red Army guard. As here

I hadn't known Aretha had done a version, this stemming from 1978, where she deconstructs most of the additional arrangements, here in background reminder only, as she swoops and soars around the melody, possible accompanying herself on piano, instilling a blast of gospel hued R&B, even as it then morphs into a jazzier vibe altogether, with a glorious walking bass line and some classy sax noodles, before returning, to finish, in the chapel.

Another welcome deconstruction, Hem transferring the song off Broadway to the Catskills, all tinkling mandolin, dreamy steel and the soothing benevolence of a pipe organ and clarinet combo. Touching on tweeness in the middle eight, the vocal charm of Sally Ellyson is sufficient to swiftly dismiss that thought.

Finally, and not without some internal dialogue, an "interesting" duet version between Marianne Faithfull and Jarvis Cocker. As with the commentator who originally put the song up on youtube, I am uncertain if it deeply awful or just plain disturbing. The arrangement is quite something, a sophisticated supper club shuffle. But the singing? Neither orthodox vocalists, rather than playing to their strengths, as, arguably, did Waits, here they seem to be playing their weaknesses. But I still felt drawn to post it. Put me under undecided.

Sorry, no time for Dee Snider, Phil Collins or the Bee Gees, for which you should thank me. Really. In the meantime and in anticipation of your plaudits, I'm off to my somewhere. To hide.........

Relive the past in olde Manhattan.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Hidden Places: Don’t Worry About The Government

Talking Heads: Don’t Worry About The Government

I am sooooooo worried about the government. 

Four years ago, relying on pretty much every polling expert and pundit, and the clearly misguided belief that there was no chance in hell that my beloved country would elect a racist, sexist, selfish, pathological liar with no empathy, no interest in, or knowledge of, how the government works, and who would spend his time in office doing everything possible to enrich himself and his family, attempt to destroy any sense that the government was fair and cared about its citizens while fanning every sort of division and harping on imagined grievances, I was feeling pretty good as Election Day approached. Sure, I was surprised at the popularity that Trump seemed to be garnering, but I felt secure that we’d be electing a smart, caring woman who had devoted her life to public service. And I was comfortable that under Hillary Clinton, our country would continue bending the arc, if slowly due to the obstructionism of people like Mitch McConnell, toward a more fair and just future. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

And that’s why today, I sit in front of my computer, days before Election Day, facing the real prospect that Trump will be re-elected, whether fairly, or, more likely, due to the distortion of the Electoral College, or through fraud, and interference by sycophantic judges. Or some combination of them both. I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1980, and never before have I had to consider that one candidate has refused to admit that he will leave the White House if he loses, or that one candidate has spent months trying to sow confusion by lying about the voting process, or that one candidate’s supporters actually have surrounded a campaign bus to prevent an appearance, or that one party has discussed ways to appoint electors contrary to the popular vote, or that there might be actual violence after the election, and on and on. 

I’m worried that even if Trump loses, he and his power hungry minions have created a playbook for future authoritarians to follow, because he’s exposed all of the ways that the Constitution and laws can be ignored, perverted or interpreted to lead to strong-man rule, when some or all of Congress and the Supreme Court is willing to roll over and not protect their prerogatives or perform oversight. And I’m worried that if he wins, with no concern about re-election, and with a compliant court system, that the march toward authoritarianism and kleptocracy and racism will continue unabated. 

I’m worried that the damage that Trump has already done will take years, even generations, to fix, and that a second term might be an existential threat to our democracy. 

And I’m worried about what I’m going to do in my spare time instead of deleting the hundreds of emails that I’ve been getting daily from Jaime Harrison. 

Like many of us, I think, to distract from this, compounded, of course, by the raging pandemic that this administration has failed to seriously try to combat, I’ve turned to television, even more than in the past, and last Friday, my wife and I watched David Byrne’s American Utopia on HBO. It’s a filmed version of the Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee, and it was great. I won’t get into the obvious comparisons between American Utopia and Stop Making Sense, considered by many to be one of the greatest music films of all time (which my then-future wife and I saw in an actual theater, on 57th Street in New York when it came out in 1984), or between it and the filmed version of Hamilton that recently ran on Disney+. If you’re interested in such comparisons, you have the same Google that I have…. (OK, here's one.)

American Utopia is a collection of songs, some from Talking Heads, some from Byrne’s solo and collaborative works, and a couple of covers, all performed by a talented group of musicians, singers and dancers, on a bare stage, all wearing essentially identical gray suits (of normal size) and no shoes, with some personal and political commentary by Byrne. For the most part, the songs are great (the Talking Heads songs tend to get the best reaction from the audience), the performances tight, and the choreography interesting and mesmerizing. And there’s a joy about the performances that is infectious. 

One of the older Talking Heads songs in the show is “Don’t Worry About The Government,” from the band’s first album, which is written from the point of view of a person (who some people believe is a government official) discussing his simple, comfortable, happy life. And it fits our “Hidden Places” theme when Byrne sings: 

I see the states across this big nation
I see the laws made in Washington, D.C
I think of the ones I consider my favorites
I think of the people that are working for me

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong
I'm a lucky guy to live in my building
They own the buildings to help them along 

Almost every article that I read before writing this piece referred to the lyrics of this song as “ironic” or “sarcastic.” But here’s what Byrne himself said about the song, in an interview from 2019, before American Utopia opened on Broadway: 

It’s funny. When Talking Heads originally did that song, it was a song about living in a nice condo with modern conveniences and good plumbing and no cockroaches. It became the opposite of what everybody was doing in the folk scene at that moment. Everybody was snarling and angry, and this was a young guy who just wanted to live in a nice apartment! Everybody thought I was being ironic with the song because of the lyrics and the context. But I think people will see a certain truth to it now. It’s not a great virtue living in an apartment filled with cockroaches. You don’t have to have a penthouse, but people want to have a decent life. Everyone can accept that in some way. It’ll be seen and understood in another way with the passage of time. 

I’m hoping that, in a short time, I can stop worrying about the government every day, and that we can get back to the days when civil servants do their work, and people in government work for us.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Hidden Places: End of the Innocence


purchase [ Henley;s album of the same name]

Sometimes what is not stated is as clear as what is. Sometimes a place not mentioned is as obvious as one clearly labelled.

There are songs that list all sorts of cities that are not in the title: my first thought was "Yeah. >Willin'< - the classic Lowell George/Little Feat piece' ". The song IDs cities all over the US West, not a single one of them in the title.  And the song has been covered by any number of musicians. But ... it has also been covered here (tho our 2009  post from "Susan" did not include Gregg Allman's 360 studio session video that is fun to check out: good music and the panoramic presentation is kind of cool.)

But.. that song has been covered here. So ... something that appears not to have been brought up here before. That said, Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby have appeared @ SMM previously, but not for  this one.

<End of the Innocence> references an un-named "small town" with tall grass untouched by man beneath a deep blue spacious sky. Clearly in the USA (O' beautiful for spacious skies), not in a city, but rather somewhere in the heart of America. It is also a cry for a time lost.

Various music critics note Henley's disallusionment with the state of affairs at the end of the 1980s - the end of the 1960s/70s movements to fight for a better world having fizzled. The song revolves around these sentiments: plowshares into swords ... repeated references to lawyers ... tired old kings ... armchair warriors. A pretty bleak picture.

But - there's a place we can go. It's hidden. It must remain hidden to keep it free of cares, untouched by man and not poisoned by fairy tales.

The clip below has a whole bunch of my guitar heroes, BTW, and tears come to my eyes every time I listen.