Excuses, Excuses

As far as excuses go, this one’s pretty good.  I’ve been sick since Tuesday.  Throwing up, aches, etc.  I’m just beginning to feel like myself again, but I’m still not up for much.  Stay tuned for more music in the near-ish future.

“Can’t Get There from Here”

I’m not really trying to get anywhere right now.  I just like this song.

One of the most interesting (and occasionally annoying) things about R.E.M. is their crypticism.  (Is that even a word?  No?  Well, it should be.)  I’ve always felt their lack of clarity was an intentional artistic choice (something that’s more or less confirmed on the Wikipedia page about them, but feel free to argue with me).  Michael Stipe’s lyrics were always very stream-of-consciousness, with a lack of specificity or linear narrative.  This works for the most part.  It can be a bit of a problem if they’re trying to get a specific political or social message across, but I find Stipe’s approach very poetic in a way.

R.E.M was always about tone, mood, and feeling.  The emotional, visceral response to their songs always seemed more important than any intelligent or critical  interpretation.  “Can’t Get There from Here” is urgent, dynamic, kind of twitchy.  I always get an image in my head of someone running down a hall whenever I hear this song.  There’s nothing in it about hallways; that’s just what I see.  Of course, whoever directed the video had a good time matching random images up to the random lyrics.  It feels like a spoof of a standard-issue music video, but it’s hard to tell.  It is fun to watch the band members overact at the imaginary drive-in.

Actually, this video kind of makes me miss drive-in theaters a little bit.  They’re pretty much extinct now, which is really too bad.  All this bluetooth and wireless technology would really make for a fun experience.  Hmm. . . . If I had a million dollars . . . .

“Lonely Ol’ Night”

John Mellencamp gets dismissed as a poor man’s Springsteen a lot, but that’s not exactly fair.  To be sure, there are more than a few similarities between the two artists.  But using the fame and brilliance of one as a way to diminish any talents the other might have is the wrong way to look at it.  If you don’t like Mellencamp, just say so.  Don’t use Bruce Springsteen to do your dirty work (something the Boss most definitely would not approve of).

They got lumped together in the 80s, when Springsteen ruled the world with his blockbuster Born in the U.S.A.  Mellencamp had a monster hit of his own around the same time, 1985’s Scarecrow.  Both albums took on the causes and lives of ordinary Americans, and used roots based Rock & Roll to do it.  But there’s something more real about Mellencamp.  I don’t know how else to say it.  For all his charm and charisma, Springsteen is less approachable than Mellencamp.  There’s a sense that Springsteen constructed himself–through his music, his persona.  (That’s not a bad thing, just an observation.)  John Mellencamp just seems to show up and be himself.  Now, who he is isn’t always going to be nice or pleasant.  But he won’t hide any part of himself to please anyone.  Personally, I think Mellencamp is kind of an ass.  But I sure do like his music.

I like the melancholy of this song.  It feels lonely.  And the video, for all the carnival lights and bustle, feels lonely, too.  There’s a line near the end that kind of sums it up: “She calls me ‘baby.’  She calls everybody ‘baby.'”  Maybe people come and go so often, she just can’t be bothered to use their names.  Maybe she forgets his name because she’s been drinking a little too much.  Maybe she just wants the connection, giving people nicknames to feel closer to them.  But they’re all just ‘baby.’  Who was the first one she called that?  What happened to him.  Why doesn’t she just let go?  The story of this nameless woman and the guy in the song isn’t elaborated, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s as old as time.  “It’s a lonely old night.  Can I put my arms around you?  It’s a lonely old night, custom-made for two lonely people like me and you.”

“Key Largo”

The passing of the wonderful Lauren Bacall at age 89 yesterday gives me the opportunity to indulge in a little cheese from the early 80s.  Not that Bacall was associated with this song in any way, or that the memory of her life and work deserves to be linked to what is, quite frankly, an awful song and a worse video.

I had never seen the video for Bertie Higgins’ “Key Largo” before, and I’m kind of sorry that I did.  It’s even more cheesy than the song, which is no mean feat.  (I know this was made in 1982, and no one really quite knew what to do with music videos yet, but that’s no excuse for this dreck.)  Higgins just comes off as creepy.  And it’s a good thing the girl didn’t have any lines, because she can’t even act with facial expressions and body language.  (Unlike Bacall, who could convey a dozen different things with one little flick of an eyelash.  She was that good.)

The video almost ruins the song for me.  Almost.  But I have a pretty high tolerance (and great love for) 70s/80s cheese.  And, really, there’s just not that much to ruin here.  “Key Largo” is just a step below “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” in quality–that at least had some narrative coherence.  But I find it fun to listen to anyway.  As long as I don’t have to look at Bertie Higgins attempt to gaze soulfully at a girl half his age.  (Seriously, Bacall might have been half of Bogie’s age, but at 19 she was at least legal.  I’m not so sure about the chick in the video.)

“You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me”

Watching this morning’s news conference about the suicide of Robin Williams was just sad.  I agree with his wife that I hope we will remember his life and work more than his death.  Except for one thing.

Depression is an illness.  It can be difficult to treat, pernicious in its ability to distort reality and destroy the soul.  If you or anyone you love has the symptoms, get help immediately.  If you’ve been successfully treated for depression in the past, but the symptoms return, get help immediately.  There are hotlines in most major metropolitan areas, numbers you can call if you don’t know where to go–including suicide hotlines.  People with a mental illness like depression can feel isolated and alone, but there is always someone out there willing to help.

It seems so sad that Williams, someone who was no stranger to asking for help, didn’t feel like he had that option this time.  His brilliance was fueled by a deep despair, and I’m sure celebrity and fame just added to his emotional burdens.  I cannot imagine what he was thinking or feeling, but I hope that others out there who might be feeling the same way don’t ever forget that they have friends.  Even if those friends are perfect strangers.

Robin Williams

I had just finished my earlier post, and I went in to watch the headlines at 4:30pm.  I figured it would be some crime, or an update of the UCLA flood.  I never thought I’d see today’s news.

I will never laugh as hard and long as I did with Robin Williams again.  I have no words to express my shock and sadness.  My thoughts go out to all who loved him.

This is probably my favorite of his performances, maybe because it’s the first stand up show of his I ever saw.

The great concert of the afterlife just got a lot funnier. Nanu-nanu, Robin.

“Save It for Later”

I wonder what the story behind this song is.  There’s got to be more to “Save It for Later” than a catchy chorus and infectious beat.

If you’re looking for some kind of meaning in this song, the lyrics are pretty cryptic.  Did the lover “run away and let me down,” or was that plea preemptive?  Just what was the decision the singer had to come to?  Keep the wayward lover?  Let him/her go?  Pull the plug on grandma?  There’s a crisis of some sort happening in the lead character’s life, but it’s never really made clear.  What mistakes have been made?  Why are there “Two dozen other stupid reasons why we should suffer for this”?

Part of me has always felt like this was from a female perspective, and she was debating whether or not to get an abortion.  I don’t have any evidence other than the song to back this up.  The explanation Dave Wakeling gives here (fifth paragraph) is plausible, but this feels more substantial than a generic “coming of age” thing.  The feeling of crisis is what gives this song its urgency, what propels it even more than the ska rhythm.  It’s a dark tune, moodier than the cheerful music would let you believe.

Of course, I’m free to read anything into it I want.  That’s the nature of art.  When you put something out there, it doesn’t just belong to you anymore; it belongs to everyone who loves it.  Or hates it.  Or experiences it in some way.  Most artists are pretty comfortable with that.  Even when it’s something intensely personal, it takes on new and different meanings when an audience consumes it.  So whatever Dave Wakeling and the rest of the English Beat meant when they wrote and recorded “Save It for Later” is one thing.  What listeners hear is another . . . a multitude of others, really.

Pete Townshend adds a whole other dimension to the song with his version (and I love that he seems just as confused about the meaning as I am).  His performance gives it some bite, as well as some additional sadness.  The emotions range more wildly in Townshend’s version, but I like it just as much as the original.

Ultimately, I think the ambiguity is what makes this song great.  There has to be room for the listeners in good music, room for their lives and loves, room for a whole world of meaning.  The story doesn’t have to be clear, it just has to make you pay attention.

Gone to the Movies: “Bye Bye Life”

I just watched the end of All that Jazz on some channel or another (I think it’s one of the offshoots of a local broadcast channel, but I’m not sure).  I probably shouldn’t have.  Not because I don’t like it; All That Jazz is a terrific movie.  It’s based loosely (or not so loosely) on the life of Bob Fosse, who directed the film.  Bob Fosse was one of the greats of theater/film, and he was a favorite of my father’s.  The film centers on Joe Gideon, who is slowly working/smoking/drinking/fucking/pill-popping himself to death.  It’s his heart, of course, which is highly susceptible to hard living.  My father lived pretty damn hard in his time, and his heart is finally what gave out on him.

Maybe it’s the couple of glasses of wine I’ve had tonight.  Maybe it’s seeing the movie.  Maybe it’s because Dad’s birthday is just a few days away.  But it got to me.  I’ve recovered enough that I’m not currently in a fetal position; maybe I’ll do that later.  I don’t know.  I know I’ll never really put his death to rest, I’ll never quite get over it.  I’ll always feel like I could have, should have done something more–even though I’m pretty damn sure there isn’t anything else I could have done.  Even though I know it isn’t true, I’m always going to feel responsible somehow.  There’s always going to be a shadow of a doubt, a small recrimination that I should’ve taken better care of him.

And I’m always going to wish I had another chance.

“Burning Down the House”

I haven’t quite gone so far as setting any fires, but I have been on a bit of a reorganizing spree in my house lately.

I can’t pinpoint where it started, but it’s been a couple of weeks now.  Cleaning out a cupboard here, moving a couple of boxes there.  I even went through the rag box and tossed the rags that weren’t even fit for dusting anymore–and I turned the box into a bag.  I bought some new bins to put stuff away in, although now I’m seeing how many more I’m probably going to need.  (I’m especially fond of the wheeled thing I got to keep birdseed in; it came with a scoop, and it’s made my life so much easier.  Of course so would not feeding the birds, but I’m a little afraid of the mini Alfred Hitchcock movie I’ve got going on in my backyard.)  There’s always just one more thing.  And as soon as you move one thing, you find ten more that need places to be.  The upside is that I’m weeding through and getting rid of some more stuff I don’t need (today it was some expired pantry items).  The downside is I’m not sure I can stop.

“Watch out.  You might get what you’re after.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  Unless it’s Murphy’s Law.  I spent nearly $250 getting the oven repaired last week when it wouldn’t get hot (the “ignition module” had fritzed out).  My list of stuff to do just keeps getting longer.  I don’t always finish a list, but the unfinished items do go directly onto the next list.  “Wash windows” has been on there for quite a while now.  I did get a small whiteboard that I might keep a running To Do list on, instead of constantly writing and rewriting new ones.  And some corkboard tiles.  I’m going to put them up on my new laundry room cabinet door, but I need to decide if it’s going to be whiteboard and cork, or just all cork (which would look awesome, but might not be as practical).  I’ve even gotten one of those dispensers you put plastic shopping bags into to make storing and reusing them easier; I hate those bags, but they’re great for cleaning out the litter boxes.

So as I move and rearrange the minutiae of my life, I find myself feeling both accomplished and frustrated.  I like getting something done, crossing an item off the list.  But there’s always more that needs doing.  Sometimes, the endless cycle makes burning down the house sound pretty reasonable.


“Under Pressure”

While this is a great song, it’s not quite what I intended for today.

I was checking out Dangerous Minds (as usual), and I came across a post today about technology that can make music visible.  I’m not even going to pretend I understand any of the technical stuff, but I watched the video they embedded in the post, and it looked pretty impressive.  It of course made me think of one of my favorite itunes features: the visualizer.

Visualizer is a setting in itunes that essentially plays a screensaver-like show of colors, shapes, and lights in time to whatever song happens to be playing.  (Click here for an example of what it looks like. I recommend going full screen.)  Of course, the visualizer harkens back to the old days, when venues like the Fillmore East would project a light show on the screen behind the performers that looked a bit like a lava lamp (an effect created with mineral oil, coloring of some sort, and alcohol moving under the heat of a lamp).  It was cool stuff, one of the few aspects of Psychedelia I actually appreciate.  But the patterns created in the liquid light show were pretty random.  I can’t imagine anyone operating the projector and slides would be able to exert that much control or rhythm over a bunch of floating colors.

How this led to “Under Pressure” isn’t really clear, except that I think this song lends itself very nicely to viewing on the visualizer.  The opening notes pulse with energy, and the whole song just soars.  Whoever directed the video for this song did a nice job of creating images that support the combination of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and music.  But I bet the Fillmore light show would’ve made it seem even more special.


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