Unexpected News

I’m breaking from my Christmas music to celebrate today’s surprise announcement from President Obama that the United States has begun the process of normalizing relations with Cuba.  The first step was taken with a prisoner exchange of three Cuban intelligence officers for an American intelligence agent and a civilian contractor.

I’ve long believed that it was time to end the embargo and reconnect with this island nation.  Although the Castro regime is still pretty awful, there have been recent steps made to open up more economic and religious freedom in Cuba.  There’s still a long way to go toward freedom for Cuban citizens, but I think things are going in the right direction.  Besides, we’ve been at this for decades and nothing has really changed.  We’ve long since normalized relations with Vietnam, and China basically owns the U.S. now, so we can’t really justify treating Cuba and its citizens like pariahs.

In spite of what morons politicians like Marco Rubio are saying, this is the right thing to do.  In honor of Obama’s welcome announcement, here’s a track from the Buena Vista Social Club, a group of Cuban Musicians that Ry Cooder helped bring together and recorded with in the 1990s.

“Rudolph the Manic Reindeer”

This isn’t quite as manic as the title implies.  More like “Rudolph the East L.A. Homie.”  But maybe the guys in Los Lobos didn’t want to play into any stereotypes as they revamped this classic to fit their style.  Who really cares what it’s called; just enjoy it.

 

“Please Come Home for Christmas”

I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of contractual clause that requires artists to, at some point in their careers, record at least one Christmas song.  Some of them seem to get by with recording a song for one of the Very Special Christmas charity compilations.  Some go all in and make an entire album (but I still don’t know what Bob Dylan was thinking).  The Eagles just did one single, but it was a pretty good one.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” was cowritten by and originally recorded by bluesman Charlie Brown in the 60s.  It quickly became a holiday staple.  The Eagles version was recorded in 1978, and was their first to feature bassist Timothy B. Schmidt, the one member of the band no one else in the band hates.

I find it kind of interesting how sad so many Christmas songs are.  It’s not really surprising, considering how the holidays can be quite depressing for some people.  Many people are missing loved ones, missing home, or just alone, and so many songs that play on the themes of loneliness and melancholy are popular.  It’s really kind of a dark time of year.  But if you’re gonna be sad, you might as well have some sad music to listen to.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is one of those Christmas standards that I don’t think everyone thinks about too much anymore.  To most of us, it’s just a sweet, kind of sad song about longing for home during the holidays.  And it is.  But let’s put it in context.

Released in 1943, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is written from the point of view of a soldier serving in WWII.  (If you don’t already know about that subject, then maybe you should start taking some History classes.  Quickly.)  The war was raging, and so many men (and women) were very far from everyone and everything they loved.  The ache in this song is so palpable that I can’t listen to it without crying, and it hits home for me even harder now that Daddy’s gone.

This is, of course, Bing Crosby’s song, and I thought it was best to use his version for the post.  It was the original, after all.  But I am personally partial to Leon Redbone’s version, so here’s the link in case you want to hear it, too.  It’s not really that different, but the sadness is softened a bit.  Have some Kleenex handy either way.

Twelve Days of Christmas

I just realized that there’s twelve days before the big day, and I haven’t once inflicted any Christmas music on you nice followers.  Depending on your perspective, this may be a good thing.  (I know precisely how limited my own tolerance of Christmas music is, so I can understand why people might want to avoid it.)  But here goes.  I’m gonna try to post a Christmas song of some sort for every day leading up to the holiday.  And no, it won’t be twelve different versions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”: that’s just where I happened to start out.

I first heard this on Dr. Demento’s radio show, and I thought it would be appropriate since it was announced earlier this year that Twin Peaks would be returning soon-ish with nine new episodes (I’m still kind of giddy about that).  This song was never officially released, at least not that I could find.  I only heard it a couple of times, and recorded it directly off the radio one of those times (I’ve still got that cassette, too).  It’s totally silly, and more than a little stupid.  I can’t tell if all the bits were recorded by actors from the show, but you can tell some of them are the genuine article.  If you love Twin Peaks, and don’t mind hearing a Christmas classic skewered, this song is for you.

“Songs About Rain”

It rained a couple of weeks ago here in SoCal, and it’s getting ready to rain again tonight.  (This particular storm has already wreaked havoc in NoCal, but I don’t think it’s going to be as strong here.)  And since I don’t have much of import to say today, I’ll just post one of my favorite Country songs about rain.

Rain doesn’t depress me, and neither do sad songs.  And boy, is this song sad!  It’s an almost stereotypical Country tune about a brokenhearted guy who’s lost his girl (presumably he still has his dog and his pickup truck . . . sorry, part of an old joke).  I like the meta, self-referential aspect of this song, where Gary Allen name checks some classic Country songs about rain.  It sort of reinforces the blue mood, and makes it that much sadder.  Of course, there’s one song about rain I like that he doesn’t mention.  Maybe because it’s a bit happier.  If I remember, that’ll be tomorrow’s post.

“Lost on the River #20″

So as gleeful and grateful as I am about the release of The Basement Tapes Complete, there’s been even more fabulous music from this time released.

Someone (I don’t remember the story exactly, but I think it gets recounted in the documentary) discovered a box of incomplete songs Bob Dylan wrote during the 1967-68 period when the Basement Tapes were being recorded.  Dylan granted permission for them to be completed and recorded by other artists, and the great T-Bone Burnett got an eclectic group of musicians together to do just that.

I watched the documentary about the making of Lost on the River by The New Basement Tapes on Showtime a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been enchanted ever since.  Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) plowed through these lyrics and fragments to create something truly special.  The big discovery for me was the supernatural voice of Giddens.  That woman blew my mind.

The whole album is great.  I think there’s one or two tracks that probably could’ve been left off, but most of the songs knock it out of the park.  I spent money I knew I didn’t have on this CD (hard copy, not just a download) because it’s that freakin’ awesome.  Stream it, buy it, download it, whatever–just get your hands on a copy of it as soon as you can.

December 8th

Yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Today is the 34th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon.  It would be nice to report a sudden outbreak of peace, that we as a human race have realized that it’s ridiculous to keep fighting each other when it would be so much better if we just worked together.  That the memory of the senselessness of war and the stupidity of murder have made us realize that we need to stop killing each other.  But so many people seem to think violence is the answer.

There are protests erupting all over the country over the deaths of so many unarmed black men (and boys) at the hands of police.  Two hostages were executed during a failed rescue attempt over the weekend.  Wars and skirmishes continue to break out around the world: Russians against Ukrainians, terrorists against governments, police and protesters against each other, etc., etc., etc.  A plane crashed into a Maryland home today, killing three on the plane and three in the home.  An apartment building under construction went up in flames early this morning in Los Angeles.  No one was killed or injured, thank goodness, but the destruction is jaw-dropping–and the fire is suspicious.  All we need now is a horrific school shooting and massive natural disaster to complete the cycle of misery.

I didn’t plan on sounding quite so gloomy today, but sometimes the ability of humans to be cruel and stupid stuns me.  It’s all just so pointless.

I’ve posted this song a number of times before, but it’s still the most appropriate one I can think of for today.  Imagine the world is a better place.  Imagine that you are a better person.  Make peace happen, one human being at a time.

Ian McLagan

Boy, this has been kind of a shitty week for famous sidemen.  The latest is Ian McLagan, who died yesterday from complications of a stroke earlier this week.

To be fair, Ian McLagan was a full-fledged member of the Faces (or the Small Faces, depending on the lineup).  But after the Faces disbanded, McLagan become one of the more popular guests with other acts.  I got to see him onstage once, when he came out to join the Georgia Satellites for a couple of songs during a concert (it might’ve been a different concert, but that’s how I remember it).  It was pretty damn cool.

Like the other members of the Faces (Ron Wood and Rod Steward most notably), McLagan projected a feeling of easy, loose camaraderie.  He seemed like one of the guys you could go down to the pub with and have a few pints.  It seemed like he smiled all the time, like everything was just one big crazy party.  But that image belied his musicianship.  This guy probably could’ve played any song with anybody.  He was one of the greats, and I know he will be missed.

 

Bobby Keys

You know his work even if you don’t know his name.  Bobby Keys was a saxophonist best known for recording and touring with the Rolling Stones.  He passed away today at age 70 from cirrhosis.

There are an unknown number of what’s called working musicians out there; Bobby Keys was one of them, albeit one of the more fortunate ones to come up with a great, relatively steady gig.  These guys are the session players and the backing bands to the stars we all know.  They lend their talents and skills to multitudes of performances.  A lot of them probably make union scale wages.  A few, like Keys, manage to hook up with an act like the Stones; most don’t.  They work hard (and probably play hard, too).  They help create the sounds we love so much.  But most of us don’t know who they are.

So here’s to the memory of Bobby Keys, one of the lucky working musicians who made a name for himself in the business.  And here’s to the many more whose names we’ll probably never know, but who make music better for all that they do.

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