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“Back on the Chain Gang”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 3, 2015

It turns out getting back into the swing of posting regularly is harder than I thought.  I feel like I don’t really have much to say, even though I know there’s a bunch of stuff bubbling under the surface.  So I’m just gonna buckle down and post something.

It helps that this happens to be one of my favorite Pretenders’ songs.  (My dad always got a kick out of the line “got in the house like a pigeon from hell.”)  Chrissie Hynde wrote this sad tune about life going on after the death of James Honeyman-Scott.  Because no matter how hard it is, no matter how much you just want to crawl back into bed and pretend the world doesn’t exist, sometimes you just have to get up and get back to work.

I learned that after Dad died.  I guess I always knew it.  Whenever there was a major earthquake here in SoCal, I always marveled at the way everyone who was mostly unaffected continued on with their lives as if the ground beneath their feet had not just moved.  After 9/11, it was stunning to see traffic and people eating in restaurants (I was one of those people eating a restaurant).  I would settle down after a day or two myself, and move on with things.  After Daddy died, I found myself forced to do stuff.  I wanted to just curl up and sob myself into oblivion.  But arrangements needed to be made, the house taken care of, the proper authorities and creditors called.  My mother was terribly ill at the time, too, so I also needed to take care of her.  There was just this overwhelming amount of stuff to do.  And I coped by doing more stuff– cleaning out closets and drawers at midnight, desperate to keep busy.

I wanted the world to stop turning every time I felt thrown, but that’s not how the world works.  I’m just a tiny part of the universe, not the center of it.  I’m okay with that now.  This latest crisis has thrown me for quite a loop, but it isn’t even the end of my own world; it’s just a temporary detour.  Stuff still needs doing.  You just pick yourself up and do it.

There’s a Buddhist saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”  That’s kind of what this song means to me.  You always carry the memories of whatever you lost; in that way, it’s never really lost.  But you still need wood and water.  There’s another quote I picked up from Welcome to Night Vale recently that I think says something similar: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.”

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Posted by purplemary54 on July 28, 2015

Fair Warning: This post isn’t exactly safe for work.  Or viewing with you grandma in the room.  Unless you have one of those really cool grandmas.

Nobody writes songs about sex like Macy Gray.  She makes it sound so happy and fun, I almost want to go out and do it again (but not really, ’cause I’m totally over that business).  Of course, this song isn’t exactly about sex.  Or, at least not sex with a person.

This is the most charming ode to vibrators I’ve ever seen.  Sure it’s the only ode to vibrators I’ve ever seen, but let’s not split hairs.  The video fits the sweet tone of the song perfectly with its Nick Jr.-style animation.  Don’t be confused by the childlike joy here, though; this is definitely a grown-up song about a grown-up subject.  But Gray is deliberately refusing to play into the typical tropes about sex.  This isn’t sexy in any of the stereotypical ways, and that’s what makes it so much fun.  She’s reclaiming pleasure for everyone be reminding us that it doesn’t depend on anything outside of us.  We can feel good, feel joy, feel sexual fulfillment, by loving ourselves.  Be unashamed and unafraid of someone judging you because you might be a little unconventional.  If you prefer to get your freak on without human companionship, that’s cool.  After all, your vibrator will never do anything to hurt you.  Unless the batteries are dead.

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Dylan Plugs It In

Posted by purplemary54 on July 25, 2015

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival.  Many of his fans felt betrayed that he would become just another Rock & Roll star.  But Dylan himself has said that before Woody Guthrie, he wanted to be like Elvis.  Going electric wasn’t a betrayal of some folkie ideal; Dylan didn’t owe anything to anyone or any movement.  The only person he had to be loyal to artistically was himself.  Plugging in an electric guitar was a declaration of his freedom and independence as an artist, and he’s never really looked back since then.  Bob Dylan is many things to many people, but the one thing he will always be is himself.  There’s no escaping that.

Sometime in 1966, Dylan was touring England.  Half these shows each night were acoustic, and the other half was electric with Dylan backed up by some group called The Hawks (they’d later change that name to something a little less specific).  After they’d finished the scathing “Ballad of a Thin Man,” a disgruntled fan called out “Judas!”  The moment was electric, even without the Marshall amps.  There was genuine violence in the air in that moment.  Not to make light of any actual terror and violence, but it was like a gun had been fired.  Dylan’s response is to tear into “Like a Rolling Stone” with a vengeance, and it is brilliant.

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The Best Cartoon You’re Probably Not Watching

Posted by purplemary54 on July 16, 2015

Mom’s doing somewhat better.  She had a small stroke a couple of weeks ago, and we’re dealing with the recovery from that.  Physical therapy, new ways of doing things, and general worry have been keeping us both busy.  It’s been easier to lose myself in TV or games than to think, but I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things.

Appropriately enough, I want to share one of the television shows I’ve been using to avoid thinking lately.  Steven Universe was created by Rebecca Sugar, a former writer for the wonderfully surreal Adventure Time.  The show is about the adventures of the sweetly naive and optimistic title boy as he navigates the world and tries to figure out how to use his powers as a crystal gem.  The other crystal gems are aliens who came to earth thousands of years before, and decided to stay and protect the planet from others of their kind.  I thought it looked kind of silly from the commercials, but then I saw a couple episodes and got hooked.

For a cartoon, this is pretty sophisticated and adult stuff.  There’s romance and conflict and struggles with difficult emotions like guilt and obsession.  It’s even kind of sexy.  The gems can fuse together to create new gems; one of the main characters, Garnet, is actually a fusion of two other gems who are, quite clearly, in love (you’ll see it in the clip).  Fusion becomes a metaphor for relationships, both good and bad, as well as sex between the characters.

What’s any of this got to do with music?  Plenty, because Steven Universe is full of pretty catchy tunes.  Steven’s mother, a crystal gem named Rose Quartz, fell in love with his father, a wannabe rock star named Greg Universe.  But all the characters sing on occasion; music is usually used as a way to quickly express some of the more complicated emotions the characters experience, or sum up plot points or action.  This clip is one of my favorite musical moments as Garnet comes back together after Steven and the rest of the gems were captured by evil invading gems.

It really is a fun show.  Longtime followers know I’m a big fan of cartoons, but this one definitely isn’t just for kids.


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The Supreme Court Finally Gets One Right

Posted by purplemary54 on June 26, 2015

Well, they actually got a couple right when you include yesterday’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.  I’m kind of taking some time off to deal with some Mom health issues (more on that in the future), but I’ve been waiting for today for a long time.  I’ve thought long and hard about what song I would use if the ruling was in favor of marriage equality.  This was my favorite choice.  Play it REALLY LOUD and hug someone you love.

Joy to the World!!!!!!!

Posted in Music, Pop, Rock | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

James Horner

Posted by purplemary54 on June 23, 2015

Longtime film composer James Horner was killed yesterday in Ventura county when his small plane crashed.  Horner composed music for dozens of films and television programs, but he is most famous for his Oscar-winning work on Titanic.

I’m not a fan of “My Heart Will Go On,” but I was pleased to discover that Horner scored one of my favorite movies, Searching for Bobby Fischer.  If you’ve never seen it, do so soon; it’s charming and sweet with a great cast.  The music isn’t the most wonderful I’ve ever heard, but it was so appropriate for this lovely family drama.

I think that was Horner’s greatest talent: fitting the music to the film.  It didn’t stand out because it wasn’t supposed to; the score of a film should work seamlessly with the story, action, and performances.  For that alone, Horner will be greatly missed.

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Freaky Repost: “I Talk to My Haircut”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 19, 2015

I don’t quite feel like counting down favorite bands tonight, so I’ll continue the theme week, well, next week.  Maybe I’ll even expand it.  I’m crazy that way.  Because I spent much of the afternoon running errands, and since one of those errands was getting my hair cut (thanks, Frank!), this seemed like an appropriate repost.

So Dangerous Minds has once again turned me on to a little bit of insanity I’d never heard of. The two albums released by Reverend Fred Lane appear to be completely bananas. Which makes them pretty damn awesome in my book.

I freely admit that I choose this song because I dug the title, but it turned out to be a pretty fun listen. Although I was pretty entertained by the other clips I heard, too, so you should just search him on YouTube. It’s all pretty strange. What I hear most in Reverend Fred Lane’s music is the roots of another absurdist musical favorite, They Might Be Giants. I have no idea if John and John ever listened to this guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Of course, Reverend Lane isn’t a real guy. Or, he is real, but he’s not a reverend. Or named Fred. It’s a persona created by an artist named T.R. Reed. The music encompasses pretty much every genre of American music, while the lyrics are Dada-esque in nature (read: they make no sense whatsoever). This isn’t novelty music, per se, but more like performance art. What stands out most is the freewheeling abandon of these tracks. Reed clearly decided at some point to not limit himself in any discernible way. This is what the phrase “anything goes” was invented for. He just tossed everything in, including the kitchen sink.

This stuff is wonderfully weird, but it’s not mainstream in any way. The Reverend Fred Lane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Which of course means that these recordings are currently out of print. I hope someone realizes there’s a market for this stuff and re-release it. Soon.

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Emanuel AME Church

Posted by purplemary54 on June 18, 2015

I’ve been considering how to tackle this news all day.  I hate what has happened.  I hate that there are people out there who would deliberately mischaracterize this act of racist terrorism to further other political ends (I’m looking at you, Fox News).  I hate that the government of South Carolina continues to foster the racism that led to this horrific act by allowing the Confederate flag to fly in front of the state house in Charleston.  I hate that this lunatic was given a gun for his birthday just a few weeks ago—by someone who maybe should’ve noticed that he was kind of unhinged.  (It may or may not have been the gun used in the shooting, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that a crazy racist was allowed to have easy access to weapons.)  I hate that there are nine people who are dead for no good goddamn reason.

The last time I remember using this song was back when the Sandy Hook massacre took place.  I will now repeat what I said then, and what I’ve said every single time a mass shooting has taken place since: Ban all guns now.  Ban them.  No more automatic weapons.  No more fucking assault rifles.  No handguns.  Nothing.  Anywhere.  Ever again.  Repeal the Second Amendment.  Formally outlaw the NRA as a terrorist organization.  I’m done.

I know there are people out there who will disagree with me.  And I grant you, wanting to repeal one part of the Bill of Rights is pretty radical.  But I am pretty radical, and it’s clear that this particular amendment has outlived any usefulness it might have once had.  Remember, back when the Second Amendment was passed, a majority of people still had to hunt for their food.  There was no standing federal army.  There were no regular police forces.  If something needed protecting, a militia was called up.  That’s what the phrase “well-regulated militia” stands for.  Well, now we have regular forces charged with protecting the citizenry; there is no need for any well-regulated militias among civilians.  Considering the way they’ve been acting lately, I don’t think 90% of police officers should be allowed to carry guns.  So let’s ban weapons for them, too.  Great Britain’s cops don’t carry weapons for the most part, and their homicide rate is a lot lower than ours.  Guns no longer have a purpose in our society, so it’s time to get rid of them.

Give peace a chance.  Please.

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My Top Five Bands: Number 3

Posted by purplemary54 on June 17, 2015

I don’t actually care what anyone else says.  They can enshrine Nirvana and Kurt Cobain as the Gen X spokesmen all they want.  They’re wrong.  It’s the Replacements, led by the incomparable Paul Westerberg.  And this is our theme.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not knocking Nirvana or Cobain, or their relevance to my generation.  But the simple fact is that the Mats were there first, and they captured the mixed emotions of growing up in this world far more poignantly, in my opinion.  Westerberg’s lyrics are sad, angry, sarcastic, ambivalent, tender, and often confused.  The music was great, if a little shambolic.  Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars, and Bob Stinson (later replaced by Slim Dunlap) just barely cohered most of the time, but it struck all the right emotional chords.

Of course, the Replacements were always their own worst enemies.  They were terrific and talented, and Westerberg had major Pop aspirations.  But they were also immature, unreliable, and inconsistent, mostly due to excessive drinking.  A live Mats show could either be transcendent or trash.  Their lack of commercial success has consigned them to the background, but I think they deserve to be pushed into the spotlight.  If Kurt Cobain were still here, I’m sure he’d be happy to share.

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My Top Five Bands: Number 2

Posted by purplemary54 on June 16, 2015

I need to start this post with a minor clarification.  Yes, I am posting my five favorite bands this week, but after the Beatles at number one, the number ranking is kind of irrelevant.  I love all these groups, but their relative positions on any list will shift and change with my moods.  Which means stuff moves around a lot on this list.

Of course, the Band hold a place in my heart that’s almost as dear as the one the Beatles hold.  For a few years, from around 1967 to around 1975, they were magical.  It was like they could do no wrong.  (Of course they did do some wrong; Cahoots was released in 71, and it’s virtually unlistenable.)  Because of all the years they’d spent backing up first Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan, they were probably the finest live act ever to grace a stage.  They were sharp and tight and practically telepathic with each other.  Between Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz, they are responsible for some of the most electric and iconic live recordings this side of The Allman Brothers.

“Rag Mama Rag” sounds kind of ragged and chaotic, but if you listen carefully you can hear the perfect syncopation between the piano and drums and fiddle; the addition of the horns by the Tower of Power just makes it that much looser and more of a party (which makes sense, since this performance was recorded on New Year’s Eve).  The Band excelled in making music that seemed simple and unstudied, but really they were masters at making it all look sloppy.

Unfortunately, like all magic, the Band couldn’t last.  Robbie Robertson got too big for his britches (as undeniably talented as he is, he really could’ve been a better human being).  The rest of the guys were either too passive or too wasted.  Bad blood, addiction, and exhaustion took their toll and the Band fell apart.  I’m leaving a lot out, obviously, but that’s the gist of it.  Even when the majority of them played together in later years (after the official break-up in 1976), the feeling was never the same.  There was just that one shining moment, and then poof . . . it was all gone.

There are more obvious songs I could’ve chosen for this post, but I picked “Rag Mama Rag” and “Look Out Cleveland” partly because they’re favorites and partly because they’re not the songs the Band is best known for.  Dylan helped make the Band famous, but they stand just fine on their own merits.

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