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


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, "There is No Bottom, There is Only the Abyss: A Hubert Selby Jr Primer" researching this post. The Selby quote from Last Exit to Brooklyn was quoted in his article.