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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.

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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.

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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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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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“Rothko Chapel”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 22, 2016

Considering that I used to go visit my dad in Houston pretty regularly when he lived there, I am saddened that we never went to the Rothko Chapel.  In my own defense, I had not yet discovered the brilliance that was Mark R0thko and his use of color block paintings to convey transcendental emotions.  In this sacred space are the final paintings Mark Rothko completed before his suicide, a series of black tones on huge canvases.  You would think they would be sorrowful and empty, but everything I’ve seen of the chapel conveys something else.

Rothko’s work brings a peace to my mind that nothing else has ever done.  It is the closest I’ve ever come to true silence in my head–no mean feat given the hamster wheel consistency of my brain.  These paintings are to me the Zen concept of nothing mind in color.  And the light, oh my stars, the light!  I will never know how he did it, but Rothko captured light in a way that I cannot describe as anything but pure.  Even his darkest paintings–and those in the chapel qualify–convey a sense of the depth and gradation of light.  The dim brightness of the sunrise, the gentle wash of the sunset.  It’s all there, and it is a miracle.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I found out there was music composed to accompany the Rothko Chapel paintings.  The chapel opened not long after Rothko’s death, and they commissioned his friend Morton Feldman to compose a piece.  It is perfect.  I don’t mean perfect as a piece of music, although I think it is very, very good.  I mean that is matches these paintings perfectly, complimenting their monochromatic atonality and diversity, creating a space for meditation and quiet while simultaneously honoring their spirituality.

I’ll get back to Houston one day and see the chapel in person.  Until then, I can listen to it.


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“New York, New York”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 11, 2016

It’s that time of year again.  Fifteen years later, and I still cannot wrap my head around what happened.  I’ll never be able to.  I’ll never understand why anyone would hate so much that they would kill themselves just to try to destroy the thing they hate.  I’ve been angry; I’ve even hated some people and ideals.  But I will never comprehend that level of pure, unadulterated hate.

I do not believe politics and religion should have anything to do with each other (and neither did America’s Founding Fathers), but this op-ed from the Los Angeles Times today tries to clarify why many Muslims do.  There is no separation between civic law and religious law for them.  That’s cool.  That’s why Muslim countries are what they are.  But it doesn’t explain why some zealots decided to impose their version of Islam on everyone else, why the destruction of everything they did not agree with became their sole cause.  Blaming every other Muslim for these lunatics is not the way to end terrorism.  That is just more hatred I do not understand.

On this day fifteen years ago, the United States was ushered into a world that most other nations had been living in for decades.  It is a world of fear and worry and, yes, hatred.  It is poisonous, and you only have to look at the current election cycle to see what it has done to us.  I am ashamed of all the people who think the Republican candidate is right.  They are giving in to their anger and hatred.  They are letting their fear win over any possibility of hope or peace.  They are the most un-American Americans I have ever seen.

It’s hard to remember the world before 9/11.  It’s hard to remember a time when a football player’s peaceful protest became headline news (seriously, there are WAY more important things going on).   It’s difficult to visualize a world where we weren’t looking for bombs in every forgotten bag and backpack.  It’s hard to picture the New York skyline without that huge scar of blank space on it.  (Yes, they’ve built a new tower, but it just isn’t the same; it never will be again.)  That’s partly why I chose Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York” as my song this year.  It was filmed right before the attacks, and you can see the World Trade Center towers standing tall and proud.

But there’s another, more important reason I chose this particular song.  It’s one of two that thoroughly embodies my emotions surrounding 9/11–the other is Bruce Springsteen’s elegiac “My City of Ruins”.  A huge part of my love for this song is tied up in its connection to this life-changing event.  But unlike the Springsteen song, it is not filled with sadness, it is not mourning what is gone.  It is full of optimism and joy and life.  Adams wrote the song long before 9/11; it has absolutely no thematic connection with what happened.  The video was filmed before the attacks; the only reason a disclaimer had to be added was because it was obviously released after everything was irrevocably damaged.  “New York, New York” is a love song–although whether it is for a person or the place is both unclear and irrelevant.  Yes, the singer had his heart broken, but he isn’t going to let that stop him.  He isn’t wallowing in his grief and pain.  He declares “hell, I still love you New York.”

“Love won’t play any games with you any more if you don’t want ’em to.”  Love does not lie.  It can be a little misguided, and it can hurt sometimes.  But it is the only truth any person will ever need in this, or any other, lifetime.  Love builds space inside your heart for the whole universe.  Love lets you see the world from all other perspectives.  You might get angry sometimes.  You are definitely going to be sad and scared.  But love will always shine a light that leads you out of the darkness.

So I wish for the same thing I wish for every year on this day: that we all just love each other.  Don’t give in to hate and fear.  Don’t build any walls.  Don’t stop people from coming to this country.  Don’t ban ideas.  Stop bombing people.  Stop shooting people.  Just stop.  Listen to what the other side says.  Learn about their culture and religion, and teach them about yours.  Prove that you are not trying to destroy them.  Prove that you really believe in the Enlightenment ideals this country was founded on.  If we handed out food and books and medicine more often, maybe the kind of hatred that flourishes in some places would just die out.  Because nothing kills hatred like love.

I’ll always love you New York.  I’ll always love the whole world, no exceptions.


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“I Am a Patriot”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 30, 2016

I’m not quite sure why the Colin Kaepernick story has become such a big deal, except maybe that sports tends to draw a more conservative crowd both in participants and fans.  And more conservative folks tend to be more concerned with visual displays of patriotism, such as saluting the American flag and wearing cute little flag pins and tying yellow ribbons on every single thing they’ll fit around.  These folks also tend to be critical of anyone who does not display what they believe is an appropriate amount of public patriotism.  They also tend to be very critical of anyone who criticizes any aspect of the government that they themselves think is good.

A good example, perhaps, might be anyone who disagreed with the military actions in the Middle East after 9/11.  You were a liberal, commie, Muslim peacenik who clearly supported jihad and should probably be jailed just because you didn’t think we should be invading and bombing other countries without direct provocation.  These were the same types of people who got upset with anyone for criticizing any other war we’ve been involved with, oh, since the inception of the country.  None of this is new, or terribly surprising.

These more conservative folks also tend to get upset if you support something they disagree with–say, same-sex marriage.  Then, you’re suppressing their First Amendment rights.  Anytime someone they are opposed to tries to do anything these über patriotic types don’t like, they scream that the opposition is trampling on their rights and that they pay too much in taxes and that they’re under attack by liberals who are going to hell because they don’t believe in the exact same brand of Christianity these über patriots claim to believe in.  Name calling is very popular with this type of person.  Please note that name calling is not just a conservative trait; there are plenty of liberal name callers, too.  I am often guilty of it myself.  Name calling is juvenile and kind of silly, but it’s also an expected part of these kinds of public spats between ideologies.

What I think these outward-seeming patriots don’t quite get is what the American flag actually stands for, or what the Bill of Rights actually means.  They have been listening to the Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the world for so long, they forgot what these things stand for.  The American flag is not a symbol meant specifically to honor the military or war, although it is used in those applications.  The Flag is a representation of the unity of the country.  It is a symbol that represents us, ALL of us, in all our glorious diversity and weirdness.  And the Bill of Rights was designed to protect us from government excesses, not from opinions we don’t like.  The First Amendment is one they especially don’t seem to get, so I quote it here in its entirety:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

This means that the government cannot stop you from praying any way you want, nor can it demand you follow any set of religious beliefs.  It cannot stop the press from printing any news, specifically any news that may be critical of the government.  It cannot stop anyone from peacefully protesting for or against something they believe in, and it cannot stop citizens from going directly to the government to complain.  It’s the peacefully protesting one that applies to Colin Kaepernick’s (you thought I forgot about him, didn’t you) decision not to stand during the National Anthem because he believes that the United States has a problem with racism and racial oppression.

What Kaepernick is doing is not illegal.  It is not even against any NFL or team regulations.  There is no requirement anywhere that people stand up and salute the Flag during the playing of the National Anthem at any time under any circumstances.  To do so would kind of go against the freedom to protest.  More importantly, Kaepernick is not being obnoxious about it.  He’s not demanding his teammates do the same thing, or even agree with him.  He’s not booing or hissing or otherwise disrupting the National Anthem.  He’s not throwing things at anyone.  He is, and please notice the wording here, peacefully protesting.  He is exercising his First Amendment rights.

Now anyone who disagrees with him has the equal right to say so; many have done just that.  And almost all his superiors and peers have said they might disagree with his method of protest, but they respect his right to do it.  But anyone who says Kaepernick is un-American or that he ought to leave the country is kind of missing the point.  He is being about as patriotic as you can be.  He just isn’t wrapping himself in the American flag to do it.  And that’s what’s got all these über patriotic conservative types in such a tizzy.  He refuses to salute the flag.  You can’t be patriotic if you don’t worship a piece of cloth in their minds.  You can’t support American values and rights if you don’t do it in the red, white, and blue.  Except for the part where you can.

I’ve said many times that true patriotism has nothing to do with how many flags you fly or how often you claim to love your country.  It has nothing to do with waving at veterans during a parade, or paying for their hamburgers at a McDonald’s (although that’s a cool thing to do for anyone).  True patriotism is educating yourself on the issues and voting your conscience.  Patriotism is paying your taxes so that the police departments and fire departments and public schools and libraries and utilities can all keep functioning.  Patriotism is going to jury duty when you get called.  Patriotism is protesting (peacefully) when you think something is wrong.  Patriotism is writing to your elected representatives when you think they need to do something.  You wanna be a patriot?  Then fold up your flag, roll up your sleeves, and get your ass out there.  And shut up about anyone else who stands up for something they believe in.  Or in this case, sits down.

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Gene Wilder

Posted by purplemary54 on August 29, 2016

I step away from music for a moment to remember Gene Wilder.  He was one of those actors I’ve always loved because he was a presence in my childhood.  Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (my favorite) were staples in my family from the moment they were released.  I didn’t see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory until I was an adult.  (And the fact that the adult comedies were staples of my childhood while I had to seek out the kids’ movie as a grown-up should tell you a great deal about why I’m such a twisted little weirdo.  Although that is one twisted kids’ movie.)  Wilder was also a favorite of mine for his devotion to his wife, the brilliant Gilda Radner, during her illness and ultimate death from cancer.  He was a very funny and very good man.

News of his death today from complications of Alzheimer’s makes me terribly sad for all of us on this plane of existence.  But for everyone he loved who have already transitioned to the other plane–people like Gilda and frequent co-star Richard Pryor–there is much rejoicing.  Now they can all be brilliantly funny together again.

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