Saturday, June 20, 2020

Open/Close: More Open Eyes

purchase [Steve Hackett's Darktown]

I memorized the lyrics to Selling England and still have them in my head to this day. I loved Genesis in the early 70s. Gabriel, Collins and Hackett foremost. As Collins moved from progressive to pop, I kind of lost interest. But not respect. Or awe. More for some than for others.

As I listen again to Darktown, the 1999 album that includes Dreaming With Eyes Open, I have to say that I prefer the Hackett of Genesis days. Something about the mix of talents combining to make the whole of the Genesis sound. It's good, but I like Genesis better.

One term that gets batted around about Hackett's musical style is "world music". Another is "classical". Both are in evidence on this album (and in this song), but the overall mood comes across to me as a bit dark. It's progressive and the guitar work and song composing are excellent. "Dreaming" is emblematic of the album as a whole.

Then there's this whole  notion of dreaming with eyes open. T.E. Lawrence wrote “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreams of the day are dangerous mean, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” That's from his autobiography <Seven Pillars of Wisdom>. T.E. Lawrence is, of course, better know as Lawrence of Arabia.

Hackett's lyrics include these lines:
You drift away on the night ride
With eyes that dream as much as they see
The wind in the willows winding through the grass
The drawbridge of consciousness is lifted at last
Where are you going?

This isn't daydreaming, and there are dream interpretations of what it all means. Julie R Klein examines Spinoza's critique of Descartes in which she says that dreaming with eyes open is to be deluded ... unable to descriminate true, false and fiction. The line, however, does make for some colorfull lyric  imagery.

Steve himself comments: There are some subjects which I have avoided in songs over the years because some of them were too painful to talk about but I got to the point where I felt ready to confront those demons in song.

Friday, June 19, 2020


Well, clearly I had to sneak this in as the shutters pull down, ashtrays empty and lights go out. Prompted by J.David's last post, his call for last orders initiated that strange pavlovian response of suddenly after all needing one more for the road. So let me pretend once more not to have noticed the subtext for this theme is "songs about opening up". (Oops, but it's true, literally not 'til just now. Well, they'll be open again in the morning. Or, as we call it in the UK, the beginning of July, virus willing.)

Much as I love the Semisonic, and I do, having that album, it isn't the first song provoked by Closing Time. The one I default to is the one above, arguably one of the lesser songs by the Bard of Montreal. From his second sorta comeback album The Future, which followed 1988's I'm Your Man, wherein he reinvented himself as being more up to speed with the change of musical styles and instrumentation than his earlier bedroom acoustic might have suggested. This record was positively reeking of modernity, synthesisers drenching the grooves, give or take some gypsy fiddling. But still that voice, that golden voice, the one he was born with. And it is, true, a pretty slim song, the lyric better than the melody, which nonetheless evokes well the blurry, bleary atmosphere of a basement bar, more promise than preferences, the drink subverting sense and senses.

And that would have been that, were it not for a team of of his earlier advocates picking it up, the concept of closing time a more familiar seeming environment for Fairport Convention than Cohen. (The received wisdom would be that Cohen would have long since departed the bar, an uncorked bottle of vintage red in one hand, a sobbing mistress in the other.....) Back in the dim distant, when Fairport were a youthful band in admiration of earnest singer songwriters and yet to invent folk-rock, with Leonard Cohen one of the authors they admired, along with Joni Mitchell, they covered several of his songs. It was good, therefore, in 1995, to see him back in their hands, the lightweight lyric perfect for their "Grateful Dead on real ale" ambience. They play around with the words, echoing and repeating pertinent words. Plus, as a good idea of where they would place the song in their live set (and did), towards the end of the song the backing vocals remind " up next". That enough endears their version to me, and, simultaneously, raises the game of the original.

Finally, lest the eagle-eared be seeking it, Closing Time by Tom Waits was addressed here, some years ago. Lyle Lovett? A different song altogether, maybe for another day.

Salut! Cheers!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Open/Close: Closing Time

Semisonic: Closing Time

One reason that people love listening to music, particularly older music, is that songs, like smells, can evoke past memories. My wife, for example, regularly talks about how specific songs remind her of camp, or high school, or college, and I’ve written before about this phenomenon. I’ve also written about how certain songs remind me of specific people, often my friend Chris, with whom I explored music in high school and attended many memorable shows. And there are songs that make me think about my kids, which I have also written about. Today’s song, Semisonic’s "Closing Time," is another that reminds me of my son, who introduced me to this song back in 1998, when he was about 8 years old.

Semisonic was a band out of Minneapolis, fronted by Dan Wilson, and featuring John Munson and Jacob Slichter that formed out of the ashes of the band Trip Shakespeare, which included Wilson, Munson and Wilson’s brother Matt, among others. Both Wilsons and Slichter attended Harvard, but despite being a proud Tiger, I won’t hold that against them. I sort of group Semisonic in my mind with bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms, who made melodic, power-poppy albums in the 90s, which were radio friendly (for a slice of radio that still existed back then), although I was a bigger fan of those other two bands. Other reviews compare Semisonic (generally unfavorably) to Ben Folds Five, or even Matthew Sweet.

“Closing Time” is a catchy track that, on its surface, seems to be about the end of the night at a bar, a/k/a last call, and the patrons are being forced to decide whether to go home, and if not, where, and with whom, if anyone. It’s a time of both possibility and disappointment, and the song considers both options. Interestingly, Dan Wilson has said that the song is also about his impending fatherhood. He said:

The guys wanted a new song to close our sets with. I thought 'Closing Time' would be a good title. We had spent seven years of our lives at that point, four nights a week entertaining people. That was our life. Some bouncers yelling things, closing time coming, all that imagery, literally, that's how the song started and then when I was halfway done, I started realizing the whole thing was a pun about being born, so I just made sure that the rest of the thing could ride with that double meaning, but nobody got the joke and I didn't bother to explain. I thought everyone would get it. 

The song reached number one on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, did well internationally, and got a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song, losing to Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited.” It’s been used in TV shows and movies, usually when there’s a scene at bar at closing time. Of course. Although two other singles from the album did OK, the followup album, which wasn’t released until 2001 (and even included a contribution from Carole King), was not successful, and the band went on hiatus, reuniting a few times in recent years for shows in the Twin Cities.

Dan Wilson, who is also apparently an accomplished visual artist, has released a bunch of solo albums, and also has written or co-written songs for others, including the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and “Someone Like You,” with Adele. Munson continues to play with bands in the Minneapolis area and teaches, and Slichter wrote a book about being a rock musician and teaches, including in the MFA writing program at Sarah Lawrence College, where my daughter-in-law got her degree. She said she knew Slichter, but never took a course from him. To bring this piece to a satisfying "close," she’s married to the son I wrote about in the "open."

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Open/Close: A selection of great albums that start as well as they finish

It's been a while since I've posted on SMM. No excuses--just the unpredictable rhythms of life that sometimes stir a current that takes you in strange directions. Riding the waves hasn't gotten me too far, a few thousand words deep into other projects, but not closer to anyplace special. Missing having a place to talk music with like minded obsessives, and with the permission of the venerable KKafa, who answered the door when I knocked, I'm back. 

SMM is a place I always find the kind of unique connection that good writing and great music can make in a life. And I really missed that.

So, hello. Again.

Our theme is “Open/Close.” I looked through my library for songs about openings and closings, and when I came across the 1998 hit, "Closing Time", by Seminsonic, and felt the familiar, shuddery revulsion that ubiquitous, somehow pseudo-anthem always brings up, and used that as impetus to get a little creative on the theme.

I decided to look at great opening and closing tracks from albums. How important is the first introductory burst of sound from the opening of an album, the signal of what is to come? If it's weak, a song you really don't like, the album as a whole might be doomed. It's a great song, an epic introduction, you'll never forget that perfect sensation of hearing it for the first time. Example: REM's "Radio Song", from 1991's Out of Time, was such a grave sonic let down for me that it kind of ruined the band, once my near beatific favorite, for me permanently. Whereas, "Up The Beach", from Jane's Addiction's explosive Nothing's Shocking, was akin to perhaps seeing the Red Sea part under the hand of Moses. Or something similarly miraculous. Oddly, both albums, while wildly different in so many ways it seems silly to compare them, could have been vastly different, even better, had they been tracked differently. Out of Time really should have opened with "Losing My Religion", that strident, minor key pop mediation on anger, played on a very non-top 40 mandolin; Nothing's Shocking would have been even more epic had it opened with "Coming Down the Mountain", an pure avalanche of a song.

The opening, then, is of the utmost importance. As is the ending. And how many albums end as memorably as they started? It's surprisingly few. But, then, that is my opinion and comes from my lament at the seemingly lost art of the full length album, and the collection of songs as a celebration, not just the single. Growing up, the 45, then the cassingle, was always secondary to the whole LP. The best bands put out the single, and the B-side was the 'unreleased' material. Kind of essential to the rest of the album, a completion of the experience as a whole.  But, B sides that are better than the A is another topic entirely. 

I scrolled through my Spotify feed (Sadly, I don't have a single CD, LP, or cassette in my possession right now), and found what I thought might be a good start to, and by no means exhaustive or exclusive, list of a handful of the greatest pairings of opening and closing tracks to feature on an album.

In no specific order, I posit the following opening and closing tracks to be the GOAT

The Rolling Stones, Goat's Head Soup: Side A, track 1: "Dancing With Mr. D"; Side B, Track 5: "Star, Star".  Wicked, naughty, steeped in dark arts,  these two songs provide the caps to my favorite Stone’s album ever. 1973's Goat's Head Soup, is a druggy, boogie down trip. There’s a strangely sinister vibe to the whole collection. "Mr. D" concerns death, and possibly meeting the devil  to discuss matters related to how the narrator might exit this world for another. "Star, Star" is...well, if you haven't heard it, you've heard about it.  It's classic Jagger bravado, and might be the response to Carly Simon's mysterious "You're So Vain."  It doesn't really ever make itself clear on that, but it is a celebration of the activity that culminates in the ‘little death’ draw a connection. If there's a reason people thought rock n roll might be the devil's music, Goat's Head Soup makes for pretty compelling evidence.

AC/DC, Highway to Hell: Side A, track 1: "Highway to Hell:; Side B, Track 5: "Night Prowler" This classic opens with one of rock’s greatest travelogues, an invitation to travel straight to rock n roll hell, set to an instantly iconic guitar riff. The whole album is amazing, but starting with such a striding opening salvo, you are along for the ride, no matter where it takes you--I said it was hell, right? AC/DC proceeds to walk you along the same dark, dirty path as the Stones did, and they distinguish themselves as the only band that makes the Devil seem like a cool guy you want to hang out...The album closes out with the dark, blues dirge  "Night Prowler", a sinister soliloquy of a serial killer, delivered by Bon Scott in his signature howl. The song generated a lot of controversy, so it's best just to dig it as AC/DC's unique take on the blues.  On a strange note, the last words ever recorded by Bon Scott, as the song and the album fade out are "Shazbot nanu nanu", the famous catchphrase of one Mork, from a place called was meant to be funny, but it is perfectly sinister here.

Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain: Side A, Track 1: "Let's Go Crazy" is about as close to church as one can get. The man in the pulpit is calling the faithful to the ceremony, and it's impossible not to heed the call. Side B, track 4, "Purple Rain" is epically beautiful, achingly sad, and elegiac.  And it was somehow transcendent when it was new, a gospel tune over a rock orchestra, and a searing guitar solo to end. The song has never lost that sense of mournful beauty. It's poignant now, more than ever, as Prince's going home hymn. When I get to heaven, I too, hope to hear "Purple Rain" playing me in.  

The Who, Who's Next--not a question so much as dare to step up to a fight. Side A, track 1: "Baba O'Riley" is arguably the greatest, most imitated, most triumphant rock anthem. Ever. If you like rock n roll, have ever been moved by the power of simple chords, pumped at high volumes, chances are, "Baba O'Riley" set you down the road to glorious ruin and riot. The name is still a misnomer, even to people who love the song. The lyrics are strange and a bit more like a medieval pastoral than a stadium sing along. But, when Townshend sets the windmill going, and you're invited to scream the words that so aptly sum up so much of our collective youthful glory ("Teenage wasteland!"), you have to believe in the power of three chords and the truth. Side B, Track 4 is "Won't Get Fooled Again", which contains so much legendary greatness it is hard to call it just a song. It's a call to arms and poetic in its anger. The song gives eloquence voice to rail against  your frustrations and limits, and is a license to break the rules that keep you tied down. It crescendos with the greatest scream ever recorded in modern music. It's the song Whitman might have recorded, had he been born 100 years later. And, in the end it's the greatest 'eff you' ever recorded.

Who's Next, one of rock's great albums, starting and ending with two of the most powerful songs ever recorded , is one the greatest rides you can ever take in the grooves of a vinyl record, and the greatest fulfillment of rock music's transformative promise. And, my obvious vote for greatest opening/closing set in rock history.

Open/Close: Beatles songs with lyrics Open or Close

purchase [ Anthology IAnthology II  ]

I have done a post or two about the Beatles here, here and here before: one of my most felicitous Internet discoveries was the <Beatles Complete on Ukelele> back when their entire archive was free, with new songs appearing more or less weekly over a period of 2 years. And then we lost free download access. The website is still there, but it's not set up for downloading the files for free any longer.

In digging around for this post/searching to see which - if any- Beatles songs had Open/Close in their titles, I ran across another cool Beatles resource that allows you to search their lyrics - in this case necessary if I wanted to continue to persue the Beatles idea, because from among the (officially) 213 songs they recorded, surprisingly not one has either Open or Close in the title.

I was thinking: surely... open heart ... open mind and if not closed heart/mind how about something along the lines of "close to me".

That said, the two words of our current theme show up multiple times in their lyrics. Enough of them that I'll have to pick and choose from among them. lists 4 for "open" and 10 for "close". Across the Universe has open ears. Dear Prudence and Tell Me What You See also include open eyes and Help has open doors.

Looks like the eyes have it. All My  Loving has "close your eyes"; Good Night has "I'll close [my eyes]"; Think For Yourself has "if we close our eyes"; Strawberry Fields of course has "living is easy with eyes closed". Five are about close as in near: Do You Want To Know a Secret has "Closer"; Besame Mucho has "Close to me"; Glass Onion has "close as can be"; Twist and Shout has "twist a little closer" and Words of Love has "hold me close".
Good Morning, Good Morning is an outlier with "everything is closed".

Nothin' about hearts open or closed nor about opening your mind. Nothing particularly romantic/mushy here either.

Pat Lewis & Joe Coghlan/Tell Me What You See:

Beatles out-take: Across the Universe

Alanis Morissette: Dear Prudence (and a story about its inception)

Sunday, June 14, 2020


Tautology, surely? Isn't air always open? Or, put another way, what is closed air? Apart from this being little more than contrived opener to my post, it conjures up a number of possibilities. I think I can accept that the atmosphere is a continuum, at least as far as the capabilities of my limited imagination. Is there air in space, even if there is no atmosphere? And what is the space in atmosphere composed of? And what of air waves? I suppose closed air waves equate to censorship, this blog an example, thus, of open airwaves. But enough metaphysical paradiddling, I seek merely an absolution to introduce the song as being at least in some way connected to the theme. (So, don't, please, get me started on open fire.......)

Open Air (Ian McNabb) 2001

Ian McNabb has had a long career. Starting as a 20 year old with The Icicle Works, this band hit no small amount of acclaim and some success with the blend of polished melodic rock and his soaring vocals, somewhat out of step with the his dourer new-wave and post-punk peers. Hitting the charts running, on both sides of the atlantic, arguably their greatest success was their earliest. In the UK, Love is a Wonderful Colour made it to the top five of the singles chart, with, a year or so later, Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) entering the US charts, and the canadian top twenty. As it became apparent McNabb needed to be in control, the band shed original members, picking up others along the way, largely to augment his vision, projected and played out over five long-players between 1984 and 1990. In expanded versions, spread out, often, over several discs, McNabb was also able to identify his influences, notably Neil Young, of whose songs the band played a slew of covers. Someone unkind (and probably not a fan of Shakey) might say if Young could sing better and had steadier fingers on the guitar, well, he might come out sounding a bit like McNabb. To enable continuity of the theme of this piece, here's an open/close reference. (Ish.)

Blind (Blind) 1988

I first came across McNabb and his band around the time, strapped for disposable cash, I was hoovering up all the content of the local library: you could borrow records, and later CDs, for a fortnight at a time, for a nominal fee. Armed with a pack of C-90s I filled my boots, amongst which was an Icicle Works retrospective. And then I noticed a familiar name on the sleeve of another disc, this being Truth and Beauty, McNabb's first solo album, which places the time about early mid 90s. I loved that record and still do. I was convinced he would become massive. I remember telling everyone so, and he was definitely a huge draw to my first trip to the Glastonbury Festival, in time for his second solo album, Head Like a Rock. And, as I commented upon here, this record was made with the assistance of Crazy Horse. The Crazy Horse, Neil Young's Crazy Horse. Who accompanied him for that live set in the summer of '94, some of the tour tracks emerging as a second disc on the following year's Merseybeast. I can happily say that, at that time of my life, McNabb was my pinnacle, someone who could set no step wrong.

Presence of the One (Truth and Beauty) 1993

Fire Inside My Soul (Head Like a Rock) 1994

Heyday (Merseybeast) 1996

(OK, so it seems I can't keep up any Open/Close dynamic in my song choices. So sue me.)

Sadly, the big break never quite broke. Sure, he went on producing good music, albeit as a self-contained cottage industry. I stopped keeping up quite so assiduously, beyond, it's true, the eponymous album that begat the main track featured for this piece. He cropped up on other folk's radars from time to time: I recall a Mike Scott solo tour towards the end of the century, with McNabb on bass. Music trickled out but often only available at gigs or via his website. The days of recorded music making anyone a living were dying, requiring road play to break even. I am pleased to say it is the road where he retains a strong presence. Still able to sell out a show at the sort of venues that populate, or used to, most towns and cities, 500 bodies or so crammed into lofts and or basements with a music licence and flowing booze. One such is the Hare and Hounds, in Birmingham, in England's Midlands, he appearing there regularly, sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, sometimes half way between, always to a partisan audience, geared up to all the words of all his songs. I have certainly spent a couple of evenings singing myself hoarse. Whether billed as himself or, increasingly frequently, again as the Icicle Works, it's a good night out.

Evangeline at the Hare and Hounds 2019

To bring full circle, he is also the sort of act, hovering on the edge of heritage, who crops up at the sort of music festivals I frequent and hope so, in time, to do again. Open Air in the open air would indeed be wonderful.

Open your ears.