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Leon Russell

Posted by purplemary54 on November 13, 2016

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Unfortunately, it seems to be raining Manolo Blahnik’s lately.  What may go down as the crappiest year in history just got a hell of a lot crappier for me.

Leon Russell has left this world.

That might not mean much to a lot of you, but it breaks my already beat up heart into a million tiny little pieces.  I love Leon Russell.  He’s one of the oddest of the odd ducks in music, a musician’s musician, an influence and a mentor to so many others.  He had a brief moment in the sun in the 70s, but he mostly toiled in semi-obscurity.  He toured with Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour.  He helped organize the concert for Bangladesh.  He wrote hits for so many others, and it’s a crying shame that not more people know who he is.

I’m crying, anyway.

 

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Leonard Cohen

Posted by purplemary54 on November 10, 2016

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do.  In the middle of all the personal and political difficulty comes the news that Canadian poet, songwriter, and singer Leonard Cohen has left this plane at the age of 82.

He’s one of those cult figures, an acquired taste if you will.  Cohen made the kind of music that other musicians listened to.  He is best known in the United States for his very nearly perfect song “Hallelujah,” which was covered to perfection by the late great Jeff Buckley.  (It’s also been covered by a lot of other people, so many that there’s a book about all the iterations of this one song.  I’m also especially fond of k.d. lang’s version.)

He was a cynical romantic.  He wanted to believe in all the fairy tales but experience taught him to know better.  He was dark, but the way a smoke-filled bar is dark: there was always a neon light in the window selling beer and sputtering candles on the tables to light your way, after all.  It seems weirdly appropriate that his voice is suddenly gone at a time when it was suddenly the truest voice in the room.  We’ll just have to find our own way out of this crappy dive bar we’re suddenly living in.

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“Someday We’ll Go All the Way”

Posted by purplemary54 on November 4, 2016

I did not know this song existed until a few minutes ago when they played it on Sportscenter over footage of the Cubbies victory parade and rally.  It is the only song that could celebrate this moment in history.  This video is a few years old, although it was updated recently.  I can’t wait for another update with this year’s Cubs team in it.

Being a Chicago Cubs fan has always been a special kind of agony.  I say this as an outsider, for I do not generally enjoy baseball.  But I have been on the Cubs’ bandwagon for several years now, rooting for their win because no one deserves to lose for as long as they have.  And win they did in what was even to me a gloriously exciting game seven of the World Series.  I’ve seen replays of the final out several times, and the emotion on third baseman Kris Bryant’s face as he threw that ball to first baseman Anthony Rizzo gets me every time.  He knew what that moment meant.  We all did.  Miracles don’t happen all that often.  It’s pretty great to actually watch one as it happens.

 

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R.I.P.

Posted by purplemary54 on October 24, 2016

I’ve spent an awful lot of time this year memorializing people in popular culture.  I am really sick of it.  There’s still a couple of months left in the year, and I’m kind of still waiting for the other shoe to drop; I’ve had this terrible feeling that as bad as it’s been for music and other arts, it’s just gonna get worse somehow.  I really, really, really hope I’m wrong.

Sadly, I’m not wrong today.  The news has come out that music has lost two very different sorts of Pop singers.

First up is Bobby Vee, who passed as a result of Alzheimer’s complications.  Vee was a teen idol in the early 60s, when the music industry had, temporarily at least, managed to sanitize and contain Rock & Roll into safe, marketable, bland Pop stars.  It didn’t take, thank goodness, but during this more gentle time in music history, Bobby Vee and his clean-cut ilk ruled the airwaves.  His music isn’t to my taste, but that doesn’t mean it’s less entertaining than anything else.  His music has a nice doc-wop quality that makes it quite listenable.

The other Pop singer we lost today is, visually and stylistically at least, on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Dead or Alive had a big hit in the 80s with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” and singer Pete Burns made the most of it.  His flamboyant style was perfect for the big hair, big money, big gloss decade of my adolescence.  This song happens to be a favorite of mine.  Bouncy and dancey with just enough sex and menace to make people nervous.

Neither one of these performers was currently on the cultural radar, but then again, not much else is right now besides the election.  But for their brief times on top, they both shone like stars.

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“The Times They are A-Changin'”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 13, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot today.  That’s usually not a good thing, since a tendency to get lost in the woods of my thoughts often produces anxiety for me.  And to be honest, there’s been a fair amount of anxiety in my thoughts today; to be fair to myself, there’s a lot of anxiety floating around in the air these days and most of it isn’t mine.  But I’m not feeling anxious.  Just. . . thinky.

I’ve been thinking about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how that’s produced some Very Strong Opinions from a lot of people.  I’ve been thinking about how I can see both sides of that particular argument, and therefore refuse to take sides.  Been thinking about how the award comes largely from the Baby Boomers’ love of Dylan and his life-transforming music and lyrics.  Been thinking about how awarding a musician–a popular and already heavily lauded and awarded one, at that–an award for literature kind of shuts some very deserving author of the credit and exposure they so desperately need.  But Dylan’s writing is so influential, so undeniably great, that I can’t argue that he isn’t deserving of it as well.  I’ve also been thinking about how some of the backlash about Dylan’s award is probably rooted in a the false notion that Rock & Roll is not a high art form, that it is not Art at all.  That this music holds no complexity or answers, or even any questions, about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  That it is something to be enjoyed when you are young but discarded as soon as you turn forty.  (And anyone who actually does believe Rock is that shallow and only for youth should first of all LISTEN to some goddamn Dylan, who is about as complex and chimeric as anything else in Rock.  Then they need to read some Greil Marcus to understand just what this music says about America, among a few other things.)

I’ve been thinking about my volunteering at the historical society, and some strife that’s going on there at the moment; it’ll pass soon enough, but it makes things a little tense right now.  I’ve been thinking about the assignment that’s due this week that I haven’t done yet; it’ll get done, but I’m having my usual minor stress about how and when it’ll get done.  I’ve been thinking about a job I’m in the running for, and the kind of minor blow it’ll be to my self-esteem if/when I don’t get it.  I’ve been thinking about who I am and who I want to be.  Things I think about a lot, but don’t generally mention to anyone.

I’ve been thinking about my cousin, whose mother died today.  (If you want to get technical, she’s my mom’s cousin, which makes her my first cousin once-removed.  And yes, I did look that up once.)  Her dad, my mom’s uncle, is also in failing health.  I want her to know I understand how weird her life is right now.  How sad and numb she’s feeling.  How confusing it is to lose a parent, to have such a huge momentous thing happen, to feel your world come to a complete and utter stop. and to wonder why the hell the rest of the world hasn’t stopped right along with yours.

I’ve been thinking about how in just a little less than a month, we’re going to elect the first woman president in this country.  And how that woman is going to be president in four years, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.  And how simultaneously exhilarating and depressing it is that I will be here to witness that anniversary.  Exhilarating because I make sure I exercise my right to vote; I just got my ballot in the mail and I’m looking forward to filling it out.  Exhilarating because it gives me such joy to know that women before fought for this right and that I, as well as every other woman who votes, is the living embodiment of this victory.  Depressing because we should have had the vote from the moment this country was founded.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  And right now, I’m thinking this song is more relevant now than ever.  You might notice that the version I chose is slightly different from the one most people are used to.  It’s from one of Dylan’s Bootleg series, a demo probably, with a piano standing in for an acoustic guitar.  I like the difference.  It suits the times.  Because they are indeed changing.  And you better start swimming, or you will sink like a stone.

 

Change to me has always represented disruption, and to me disruption is bad.  That’s not true.  Yes, these days, change seems to come mostly out of negatives: crime, bombings, anger.  There’s so much whirling around these days it’s kind of hard to get a grip on anything.  But not all change is bad, something I’ve been trying to learn for a long time now.  Change is inevitable, and the only good or bad is how you react to it.  That’s what this song is saying.  “The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast.  The slowest now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fading.  And first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changing.”

Let’s see where things are going.  Who knows?  It might be fun.

Posted in Music, Rock, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Happy John Lennon’s Birthday!!!

Posted by purplemary54 on October 9, 2016

I’m still waiting for this day to become an international holiday like it should be.  But until that happens, here’s a Lennon classic that I’d like to dedicate to a certain Republican presidential nominee.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Peek Inside My Brain

Posted by purplemary54 on October 5, 2016

I sometimes feel as though my entire brain is an iPod on shuffle.  Random songs pop into my head at odd times.  It’s been like this for years, even before I got an iPod, although it has been a bit more. . . pronounced, shall we say, since I bought that first one many years ago.

There’s two perennial staples on my mental playlist, songs that generally come up when I’m doing some kind of mundane task.  The first is what I call my Filing Song.

While I enjoy Frank Sinatra, this particular song has never actually been a favorite.  But when I spend more than five minutes filing (like I used to have to do at the community college I used to work at), “Strangers in the Night” just appears like the proverbial bad penny.  I don’t sing the lyrics; I don’t even know most of the lyrics.  I just hum, and occasionally “do be do be do” to the tune.  It’s a satisfying enough way to occupy my brain, although I’d prefer to alphabetize to “All of Me.” (If I’ve been filing too long, I get a little lost in the middle, and have to sing the ABC song to remind myself if K comes before or after M, but that’s a different story altogether.)

The other song that randomly, and rather aggressively, injects itself into my consciousness is a Disney classic.

I don’t think I’ve seen this version of the Three Little Pigs since I was in single digits, but “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” has been on rotation ever since.  Just as I mysteriously associate “Strangers in the Night” with filing, this song is mostly a kitchen tune.  Cooking brings it to the forefront of my brain and I find myself singing the chorus (the only words I remember) over and over in a high-pitched, kiddie-style voice.  Why?  How the hell should I know?

What these two songs seem to best illustrate to me is that some melodies are so ubiquitous either to the culture or our personal experience that they become woven into the fabric of our lives.  Also, that I have virtually zero control over what pops into my head for which reason.  The human brain is a weird and wonderful place, but I wouldn’t want to get lost in mine.

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“Memphis”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 29, 2016

Weeks ago, before Mom got so sick, I was drinking a little wine and listening to a little Willie Nelson, feeling a little melancholy and thinking about my Daddy and Grammy.  (Man, that sounds like way more activity than it actually was.  All those gerunds!)  This naturally led to me listening to the saddest Willie songs I could find, and I turned to this duet with Janis Ian that BFF turned me onto on a mix CD of songs about Memphis.*

While this easily qualifies as one of the Saddest Song I Have Ever Heard, it evokes the place so beautifully it just makes me want to go there even more.  It is one of the holy pilgrimages for Rock fans.  This song paints such a sweetly sorrowful portrait of a place that time and economics may have passed by, but which holds such magic.  I’m sure if I ever get there, it’ll be a lot like many other cities, with tourist traps and Starbucks on every other corner; with parts that are so run down they’re almost ruins; with suburbs and parks and schools and churches.  But this is where Sam Phillips and Sun Records made their mark on the world, where so many greats were launched.  And it’s home to a lot of people, something this song reminds us.  “If you could see Memphis the way that I do, she would look different to you.  The Queen of the Delta, tip your tiara, to Memphis the Belle of the Blues.”

*We used to talk about making a list of all the great songs about Memphis and playing it on a road trip there.  BFF finally gathered a bunch of them, many that I’d never heard before, and gave me the CD for Christmas one year, I think.

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The Georgia Satellites

Posted by purplemary54 on September 28, 2016

It is entirely possible that I’ve posted this album before, but I’m feeling a little too lazy to search through my old posts to see.  It’s the kind of thing I would do, though.  I’ve been evangelizing about this band for years.  To be fair, they only made two really great albums and one really crappy one (with the exception of the song “Sheila”).  Their debut was just pure, perfect Rock & Roll.  Barroom style.  You know, the kind of place where the band plays behind chicken wire to keep the crowd from throwing things at them.  Where the band is happily drinking right along with the rest of the patrons.  You know.  The really, really good kind.

 

By all rights, the Georgia Satellites really should’ve just been a forgotten cover band playing–behind chicken wire, of course–in some humid bar somewhere on the outskirts of Atlanta.  But they had a fluke hit with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” in 1986, which led to a decent career and some pretty heavy airplay on MTV.  They were too loose to hang together for very long.  Lead singer and songwriter Dan Baird left after their third album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin in 1989; although the rest of the band reunited in the 90s, they were never the same.  Whatever magic there had been was lost.

But we still have these terrific songs.  Skip “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” if you’ve just heard it too many times (or think it’s really stupid).  Give “The Myth of Love,” “Red Light,” or the stunning combo “Nights of Mystery/Every Picture Tells a Story” a shot.  (The last recommendation is based on the fact that on the original album, those two tracks are bled together seamlessly; it’s just goddamn perfect.)  If you really enjoy their first eponymous LP, track down In the Land of Salvation and Sin.  It is arguably their best album and shows some signs of artistic growth in their hard rocking style.  No matter what else you might think of the Satellites, you cannot every accuse them of dishonesty.  They wear the barroom like a badge of honor.

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“Trudy and Dave”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 23, 2016

This song just makes me feel good.  Hell, the whole damn album makes me feel good.

The video is a tiny bit odd for the song, but it doesn’t do it any harm.

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