“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”

Glory be  to all music fans today!  We have reached the promised land!  I read in my new issue of Rolling Stone today that Bob Dylan will be releasing the complete recordings from his sessions with the Band in Woodstock in the late 60s.  Known as the Basement Tapes, they have long been one of the most sought after Dylan/Band bootlegs.  These sessions were the crucible that helped form the musical identity of the Band, and are believed to contain some of the greatest, loosest, most freewheeling music ever.

After I finished keening incoherently*, I ran to the computer and pre-ordered my copy at Amazon.  For anyone so inclined and with the bucks, the set is called The Basement Tapes Complete: Bootleg Series, Volume 11.  It’s part of a long running series of Dylan recordings that have previously only been available as bootlegs.  He’s basically been raiding the vaults in between making new music that sounds as vital as anything else he’s ever done.  (Except for that damn Christmas album he released a few years ago.  What the hell was he thinking?)

Back in 1975, a handful of the songs from those sessions was released as The Basement Tapes, compiled and produced by Robbie Robertson.  If you’ve ever heard any of those songs you know what treasures there must be in this new release.  “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” was one of the songs on the ’75 release, and it’s one I’ve always enjoyed.  I’m seriously looking forward to hearing the complete thing, fully restored and remastered.  Really, I never thought this day would ever come.  Now I just have to hold on until November 4th.

 

 

*Seriously.  It came out like a high-pitched moan.  I may also have rocked back and forth like a traumatized Bart Simpson and trembled a little.

“Love is a Rose”

It was recently announced that Neil and Pegi Young are divorcing after 36 years.  More accurately, Neil filed for a divorce at the end of July.  I don’t know what Pegi’s official stance is, but I’ll bet she’s on board with the idea.

I’ve always been under the impression that Neil is kind of an ass.  Maybe it’s the way he comes off in interviews.  My feelings are pretty unsubstantiated; I’ve heard some apocryphal stories about him being distant and neglectful to the people he supposedly loves, including his disabled children (two from two different mothers, plus another non-disabled child with Pegi).  I can’t remember any of the stories well enough to recount them, or refer you to any sources.  All I know is I don’t like him that much as a human being.

As an artist and musician, Neil Young is above reproach.  His work is stunning in its diversity and creativity.  He can croon the tenderest love songs, and spew the most vitriolic rage.  I love Neil’s music.

Which complicates my feelings about him as a person.  I guess I believe the stories I’ve heard because he is so brilliantly talented.  Brilliantly talented people tend to have other glaring flaws.  They can be difficult to deal with because their devotion to their art is so uncompromising.  There probably is some truth to the stories, but that truth must be incomplete.  After all, the marriage lasted for 36 years.  Maybe he’s a really lovable sweetheart in private, and they just decided to call it quits because they’d grown apart.  I don’t know.

And, ultimately, I don’t care.  What’s important to me is the music.  His life, their lives, are something that has no effect on me whatsoever.  Although I bet this means there’ll be an awesome break-up album in the foreseeable future.

“Feel a Whole Lot Better”

I feel like myself again.  I put on something besides pajamas today, even. :)  I’m so proud of myself.  I’m still gonna do nothing but sit around for a day or two, just to be safe.  I hate feeling that cruddy (just like everyone else, I presume).  My brain still feels a little offline, but that’s okay.  I don’t have to be mentally together until next week when I start tutoring for the new semester.

So here’s a little treat from the Byrds.  It’s not really a get well song, but the jangly optimism fits my mood at the moment.  Although the Hullabaloo dancers are just a tiny bit distracting.  And enthusiastic.  Don’t forget enthusiastic.

 

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.

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