Saturday, January 22, 2022

Done: All My Life


purchase [ One by One ]

For someone who for many years had one foot in Seattle, I know relatively little about the local music scene. My excuse being that I have only ever been a transitory visitor even though my legal US residence is still WA state. That said, among the handful of live concerts I have attended in the US is Blind Faith and again Eric Clapton about 50 years later - both in Seattle.

But Nirvana? Pearl Jam? Alice in Chains? Sound Garden? Green River? All Seattle bands. The best I can say in my favor on this count is that I have listened to a little of them. And I keep saying it's time I did some more. In the late 60s and early 70s I listened to a fair amount of what then passed for "heavy", such as Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple  .. And for all that, following a little search at SMM archives, I see that I have actually  touched on the Foo Fighters more than once. And still don't know much of their music. 

This post would be one that our sometime itinerant/irregular writer Andy La Raygun might have chosen, he being much more knowledgable about this sound and style. And considering that they were just inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year (which see), there are a lot of other folk who like their music. 

I could become a convert if I listened to more. Maybe. Dave Grohl is a name I am somewhat familiar with, but I know squat about the rest of the band, and that would be yet another trail to follow and improve myself.

Grohl says the song is a little dirty. You can search that one yourself. He also notes that it really isn't that heavy, for his taste. Mmmm. Heavy enough for me but harmonic enough that I can enjoy it more than I do with most of its ilk. No really. I'm not a  grunge listener and in spite of my off and on resolutions to widen my horizons, I probably never will be.

But I do appreciate the <drive> incorporated in this piece. Oh, and "done"? It's the lyrics: 

Done, done. I'm on to the next one (again and again)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Done: Nothing Can Be Done


purchase [ Night Ride Home]

A tip of the hat to our own Seuras Og, who undoubtedly would have given you a different take on this one, but left it for me while probably wondering by this time if I would ever get around to the task.

A lot of the music I like to listen to comes from the Laurel Canyon crew. Never having delved too deeply into the historic records of that scene, I find myself scrolling through photos taken by Henry Diltz and amazed at the shallowness of my knowledge of that bit of history. There's so much more to learn but the photos provide a lot of fodder for a wandering mind.

I had ended up at that page following a trail about Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell - and trying to come to grips with my ambivalence about Joni Mitchell. Due to my age and cultural exposures, I certainly heard Joni Mitchell, but always felt her music was a little too Blue for my taste. I certainly have had respect for her unique style - even play my own interpretation of Both Sides Now, just one of her many excellent songs. But, well ... too often melancholy. Even the seemingly ever-present pout carries that same sensibillity to me.

This digging has also lead me to question my lack of interest in female musicians of the type. Yes, Joni is unique, but in my mind she has been associated with Joan Baez for some reason. And much of the above pertains to her as well: gifted but not my bag, whereas Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Billie Elish (just to name a few) - I can listen to again and again. So it's not gender related dis-interest.

So ... "done" and Joni Mitchell: When I first heard "Nothing Can Be Done" - yes, just the other day - my ambivalence shriveled a bit. This isn't the Joni Mitchell I thought I knew. Well ... the lyrics fall into the category of stories she might tell. But the music doesn't. At all. But then my aversion means that I haven't listened to all that many Mitchell works.

While the lyrics are Mitchell's, the music is credited to Larry Klein. And again, writing here at SMM takes me to places I should but don't know about as I learn that Klein and Mitchell were married for some time and continued collaborating afterwards. And that Klein also has had a rather eclectic musical background.

It's a song of sadness, growth, skeletons and wisdom gained. It's not "I'm done", but rather, since nothing can be done about the smoking gun of my heart, it's time to learn a lesson and move on wisened by the experience.

Thursday, January 20, 2022


Nothing like a bleak and misty January morn to instil a sense of hopelessness. No, scratch that, not hopelessness, more inevitability. Hopeless is a a state of feeling, an ur-idealism, whereas inevitability carries at least a tint of realism, an acceptance possibly,  rather than the blanket sense of fear. Which may have you thinking to skip this one, for fear of contagion. But don’t go, I’m OK and this gets lighter. Well, not the song. Clearly.

Rust (What's Done Is Done/Therapy?

A confession. I originally planned this post around a different song altogether, that being the Joni Mitchell deep cut, Nothing Can Be Done. But I discovered my compadre, KKhafa of this parish, was planning on doing the same song, getting his dibs in first. That needed some swift recalibration, and another song to convey a similar mood. Digging around in various lyrics search engines I eventually came across this, by Therapy?, the metalheads from N'orn, a band I have never knowingly heard or investigated. But their name, ahead of listening to the track, gave a semblance of also being able to address the full mental health of my current. Plus, for all I knew, maybe listening to them would prove good medicine. (Intriguingly, a scan through their song titles gave me no small joy, as they contain some evident wit and a fair amount of apparent self-deprecation. Jude the Obscene certainly grabs the eye, as a title, as does Stark Raving Sane and Perversonality, each title suggesting some experience on one side or other of a white coat or padded cell.)

Stories (cello version)/Therapy?

So, I listen, bemused. Not really heavy metal as I know or ever knew it, smacking more of punk in the pace and the attitude. Do I like it? Not sure I'd go that far, but it has a certain angular graceless charm. It comes from the band's 7th album, High Anxiety, in 2003, with wiki telling me the sound, my bad, is actually melodic punk, rather than metal, heavy or otherwise. Sometimes a four piece, as on this record, more often they have been a trio, my interest piqued by the fact that cello featured amongst their available instrumentation. Sure, it isn't really evident in Rust, but the other track, above this paragraph, displays this better. Clearly a wormhole needing exploring!

Peek-a-boo/Siouxsie & the Banshees

Martin McCarrick is the cellist, and was a member of Therapy? between 1996 and 2004, doubling also on guitar. I confess to being unfamiliar with his name, so decided to do a bit of a search, discovering him to be quite the journeyman, with time spent in, or attached to, a number of bands, with quite an illustrious career. Possibly better known as a Banshee, he featured on several of their records, between 1984 and 1995. Starting off as their string arranger, for the Thorn EP, he was later contributing keyboards, as well as playing cello. This includes the accordion in Peek-a-boo, above. But even ahead of that he was a Mamba, Marc Almond's backing band of the early 80s, and with whom he has maintained a lasting link. At possibly the same time he joined Therapy?, he was also integral to any number of looser knit collectives, including This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance. He would also add the strings to records by Kristin Hersh and, later, Skunk Anansie. Diversity clearly his middle name, it seems almost strange he spent so much time in the less than rarified atmosphere of the Belfast rockers. Unless it is just me? Unsurprisingly, he has since become a well known soundtrack composer, as well as working with his wife, Kimberlee, as/in the McCarricks, she playing violin to his cello.

Letter From Nagoya/The McCarricks

My final clip shows him, back with Marc Almond, back on accordion and playing live, in 2020, ahead the pandemic. Let's truly hope he isn't done.

Hymn of Love/Marc Almond

(And I no longer feel hopeless, btw.)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Done: The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done

Woody Gurthrie: The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done

I’m staying in the political song area again, but this time something more overt, Woody Guthrie’s “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done.” The song takes the form of recollections of an “historical bum,” present at great moments in human history (real or imagined), sort of like a folk song version of Zelig

It turns out that Guthrie borrowed the idea from earlier songwriters—the template (and even some of the lyrics) come from an 1894 song called “I’m A Highly Educated Man,” a version called “When Abraham And Isaac Rushed The Can,” was recorded in 1924 by “Fiddlin’ John Carson,” Grand Old Opry stars Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole and Vernon Dalhart each did a version called “I’m The Man Who Ride The Mule Around The World,” (as has Loudon Wainwright III), and it has been recorded by many others, including Elvis Presley (in 1970), as “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago.” (And if you look hard, you might be able to find a version of the song by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter from 1961, before the Grateful Dead was formed). 

Guthrie took the bones of the song and grafted on to it the populist, pro-labor, probably small-c communist politics that he espoused (and yes, I know that the evidence shows that Guthrie was probably a member of the Communist Party at some points, but also that he really wasn’t a “Party” kind of guy.) So, he’s present at the creation, worked in the Garden of Eden (as a member of the apple pickers union), worked on the Pyramids and the Tower of Babel, fought in battles, beat Romans, Turks, and other great powers, helped win the American Revolution and the Civil War before moving on to the issue that was directly on Guthrie’s mind in 1944, when the song was recorded: World War II. 

There was a man across the ocean, I guess you knew him well,
His name was Adolf Hitler, goddam his soul to hell;
We kicked him in the panzers and put him on the run,
And that was about the biggest thing that man has ever done. 

There's warehouse guys and teamsters and guys that skin the cats
Guys that run my steel mill, my furnace and my blast
We'll stop the Axis rattlesnakes and thieves of old Nippon
And that will be the biggest thing that man has ever done.

I know that the card that I used as an image indicates that it was recorded in 1942, and it may well have been—the record is vague—but the version above was probably from 1944, which makes sense, because by then, Hitler was more “on the run” than he would have been in 1942. But it is clear that Guthrie is also giving credit for winning the war to the workers, as well as the soldiers. 

Guthrie ends this version of the song (and if you’re interested, here’s a set of lyrics that has many more, and different verses, but I haven’t been able to find a recording of this version): 

Well I better quit my talking 'cause I told you all I know
But please remember pardner wherever you may go
The world is digging Hitler's grave and when the job is done
This'll be the biggest thing that man has ever done. 

And, in 1944, that probably was right (and it still might be right, today.) 

I’ll confess that the first time I heard this song, it was being sung by Dan Bern, and I didn’t know that it was a Woody Guthrie song until I did a little poking around. Bern, a family favorite who I’ve written about a few times, and seen even more times, is a folksinger in the Guthrie tradition, mixing politics with nonpolitical songs (and, like Guthrie, writing children’s songs and Hanukkah music). Bern released his version in 2004, and it included a few of the verses from the longer version linked to above (modified a bit). But he also updated it a little, adding a verse about the moon landing, and then the verse that probably was the impetus for the release: 

There's one big thing we must do when shove comes to push
Defeat the so-called President by the name of Bush
Vote early and vote often, November 2 not 1
And that will be the biggest thing Man has ever done
That'll be the biggest thing Man has ever done 

Now, that didn’t work, sadly, but it is nice to know that the Guthrie tradition of political songwriting carries on (and yes, Bern has written anti-Trump songs).  

Dan Bern: The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done