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Archive for August, 2012

“Dance Across the Centuries”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 21, 2012

So not in the mood tonight.  Doc wants to see me for a follow-up appointment, and I’m freaking even though I have zero concrete evidence I should be freaking.  Keep your fingers crossed that after tomorrow, I’ll feel stupid for freaking.

Music always makes me feel a little better.  And Johnny Clegg and Savuka always cheer me up immensely.  They had a couple of minor hits in the 80s, but got more attention for being South African.  Oh, did I mention they were multi-racial.  And quite a bit of their music was political, in feeling if not intent.  Heck, simply by being an integrated South African band, Johnny Clegg and Savuka made a political statement.  This was the age of Apartheid, after all.  Biko was dead.  Mandela was still in prison.  And Johnny Clegg wanted us to dance.

Sounds good to me.


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Sad Songs

Posted by purplemary54 on August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller’s death today at age 95 got me thinking a little bit about sad songs (please don’t ask exactly how I got from point A to point B; I’m not sure myself).  Diller was an outstanding comedian and pioneer (I always loved the jokes about her husband, Fang), and while her death made me a little sad, it wasn’t like my gramma had died or something.

I love sad songs myself.  My own theory is that I get to experience the emotion without going through the bad thing that caused it (I like to live vicariously, like Andy Warhol).  It’s not just the catharsis found in sad songs, though.  There’s something incredibly intimate about getting inside a songwriter’s head like that, because even if the song isn’t literally true, the emotion usually is.  If it’s not true, then the song is mawkish and sappy and not sad in the least.  There’s a very thin line between sad and sop, and it can be difficult for artists to navigate it.

There are a lot of truly great sad songs.  The more I think about it, the longer the list becomes: “Good Day,” “Monopoly,” Pancho and Lefty,” “Morning Song for Sally,” “Raining in Baltimore,”  and “Storms” are just the first few that come to mind (I’m gonna be mean and make you look up the artists).  Some artists, like Counting Crows and the Cure and the brilliant Townes Van Zandt, have built careers on sad songs.  The Cure recorded what I once regarded as the number one, all-time, so-sad-you-might-want-to-throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-bus song with “Pictures of You.” I could not get past that song on my old cassette of Disintegration.  I think it started side two; I would listen to it, and have to stop the tape and go do something happy (seriously, it was like reading Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which you must think very carefully about before reading, and possibly get a note from a psychiatrist first).

But some of the best sad songs are inexplicably sad.  On the surface, they seem innocuous enough, happy even.  The Faces “Ooh La La” is like that, but it’s kind of a nostalgic sadness, something you almost see coming from the beginning.  The most inexplicably sad song I’ve ever heard is also quite possibly the saddest song I’ve ever heard, period.  It’s by the Beach Boys, of all people.

“Sloop John B” is actually based on an old folk tune, reworked a little bit by Brian Wilson for Pet Sounds.  I’d known the title for many years, knew it was a cover, but I’d never heard it or thought much about it.  It is legendary among rock historians, though as one of the greatest Beach Boys songs ever.  So when I finally got myself a copy of Pet Sounds, I was very much looking forward to this track.  I have to go a little into the background of Pet Sounds for a minute here, because it sets the context a little better.  Pet Sounds is the Beach Boys equivalent to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Released in 1966, it shows the level of studio and songwriting mastery that Brian Wilson had reached.  It is his masterpiece, and the last truly great work of art Brian ever completed.  Two of the tracks, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice? and “God Only Knows,” could easily stand by themselves as great; but listened to within the album, they become even more poignant.  Because the other thing Pet Sounds does is chronicle the way Brian Wilson was beginning to lose his mind.  (In the couple of years after completing the album, Brian went on to have a complete mental breakdown.  He was non-functional for a very long time.)  You can hear it on every single track.  Brian is desperately trying to hold on to his sanity, but with every passing hour sees it slipping away.  This is tremendous stuff, which makes for amazing art but breaks my heart every time I hear it.  That’s the album “Sloop John B” was born into.  Warning: I recommend just listening to this first.  Close your eyes if you have to.  The silliness of the film offsets the sadness of the song to a degree.

I cried the first time I heard this, and I still have no idea why.  It comes more than midway through the album, so maybe it’s the cumulative effect of the whole album.  I know that not everyone is going to have the same experience listening to this I did.  And this kind of thing is so subjective anyway.  Of course, now I feel like I have to ask the inevitable question:

What’s the saddest song you’ve ever heard?  

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“Gold Dust Woman”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 19, 2012

I spent a little time with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors in an earlier post about break-up albums, but I neglected this weird little gem from Stevie Nicks.  “Gold Dust Woman” closes out the album, and leaves you unsettled and haunted.  Listening to the studio version, with the tribal drums and spooky howling at the end, it’s kind of easy to see how people could accuse Nicks of being a witch.  This song, and her performance of it, is spellbinding.

Like the most of the rest of the album, “Gold Dust Woman” is emotionally turbulent–angry and defiant with just a hint of sadness.  But exactly who the anger is directed at is a little unclear.  The first lines, “Rock on gold dust woman, take your silver spoon and dig your grave” is clearly a reference to the dangers of the drugs they were probably all using (Nicks had a notable problem with cocaine that lasted well into the 1980s).  But she also seems to be referencing Lindsey Buckingham and their fractured relationship: “Well is it over now, do you know how to pick up your pieces and go home?”  She also seems to be calling out his possessive and controlling attitude with “Rulers make bad lovers, you better put your kingdom up for sale.”  Nicks seems to jabbing at both Buckingham and herself simultaneously.  It can also be read as a critique of fame and life on the road; the line “Wake up in the morning.  See your sunrise loves to go down” didn’t come out of nowhere, I’m sure.  (Rock stars get all the fame, money,  world travel, drugs, and groupies; they also get to live these weird lives where they have no privacy, sleep all day, work all night, never see anyone they love and never stay in one place more than a few weeks. It’s a trade-off.)  This song simply refuses to be pinned down, a wonderfully mysterious musical experience.

I love this clip from their reunion concert.  Time and experience add weight to Nicks’ performance here, giving the song a little more substance and meaning.  It’s also really fascinating to watch her interact with Buckingham.  They’ve been orbiting around each other for over 40 years now, constantly and consistently drawn to back together, like Pluto and Charon (our former 9th planet and its satellite, which are so locked into their orbits that they don’t rotate, the same sides always facing each other).  The little dance of glances they cast back and forth tells almost as much of a story as the song.  (At another point in the concert, when they play “Landslide” together, just the two of them, it’s almost magical.  Their relationship might not have always been a healthy one but it’s always been special.)

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Uncle Shelby

Posted by purplemary54 on August 18, 2012

I became interested in poetry, both writing and reading, because of Shel Silverstein.  I worked in the school library in 8th grade (and 11th and 12th, for that matter), and there wasn’t always a class visiting.  So when there wasn’t anything else to do, the librarian would pretty much let me run amok through the books, reading whatever I felt like.  My wanderings brought me to A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Now we’d always had Shel Silverstein books in our house when I was a kid.  The Giving Tree was an absolute staple.  And one of my uncles gave my brother a copy of Uncle Shelby’s A-B-Z Book for his birthday one year, but I think I read it more than he did.  (I highly, highly, highly recommend that anyone with children in their lives gives them a copy of this book at some point.  It isn’t really a children’s book, but it is one of the most subversive things I’ve ever read.  I grew up on Uncle Shelby, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street, and H.R. Pufnstuf.  Really ought to explain everything there is to know about me.)  But I’d never seen his enchanting poetry books before.  Alternately heartwarming and surreal, Silverstein’s poetry was not just about things that would interest children but took children seriously as readers and people.

Which is interesting, since it seems like much of Silverstein’s career as a musician was about not taking things too seriously.  He wrote some very good serious songs, but he became famous for his satirical humor with songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “The Cover of Rolling Stone.”  And he was responsible for this classic stoner tune that is notoriously difficult to find copies of.

“The Great Smoke-Off” was one of those cult classics that you had to be both nerdy and cool to know anything about.  It was always on Dr. Demento’s year-end  countdown of silly songs.  It was also a great big middle finger in the face of “decent” society.  There really aren’t that many songs this explicitly about drugs that doesn’t demonize them. (Official Disclaimer: I do not use, nor do I advocate the use of any illegal drugs–or most legal ones, for that matter.  I do believe drugs should be legalized, but also extremely regulated.)  I always felt like I was breaking some kind of law just listening to this song.

I don’t know how much of his music is still in print, frankly.  I know you can get CDs of him reading many of his poems, often with special editions of the books themselves (worth the extra money, IMO).  I also know that the world is a better place for having had Shel Silverstein in it.  He treated children like they were worth listening to and treated adults like they were children.  It would be nice if more people got those priorities straight.

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Pussy Riot

Posted by purplemary54 on August 17, 2012

This is not about the music.  This is about the freedom to make music.  This is about the freedom to protest against government and religion without fear of prosecution or persecution, also known in the U.S. as the First Amendment.

This is Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band.  I don’t understand any of the lyrics, but I know what this song is about.  It’s about being young and angry and passionate, about caring enough about the world you live in to get up and do something about it.  These girls felt powerless, so they decided to get some of the power back by telling everyone else to fuck off.  That’s what punk was, once: one giant fuck you to society, so-called morality, consumerism, and politics.  This is actually really good punk rock–angry and funny at the same time.  Right now, Russia is reverting back to what it was during the Soviet days, and a lot of people there don’t like it.  They don’t like the way Putin seems to be creating a totalitarian state and consolidating his own power.  I don’t like it either.

This is Pussy Riot protesting at a church in Russia, protesting the way the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be getting into bed with Putin.  This is also them getting arrested for it.  Now in the U.S., this might have resulted in some charges like trespassing or disturbing the peace or protesting without proper permits.  It would have been resolved with a slap on the wrist–maybe a fine and some community service or a suspended sentence.  In Russia, it gets you two years in prison.  (There’s a nice little article at Slate that not-so casually mentions the consequences when religious institutions are allowed to influence civil law, and reminds Americans what’s really at stake when churches start sticking their judgmental noses into civil and Constitutional rights.  Like the right not to be religious.)

Be grateful for the First Amendment, boys and girls.  Be grateful that churches do not currently make federal law, and do EVERYTHING in your power to stop that from happening.  The Founding Fathers made it very, very, very clear that the United States of America is not a church state; they knew firsthand the dangers of creating laws based on religious morals.  Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  Civil law is COMPLETELY separate from church law.  Period.  There is no argument otherwise.  And if someone wants to claim otherwise, remind them of what the First Amendment actually says:

“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.”

Then tell them to shut up.

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“That’s Alright Mama”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 16, 2012

Had my tests this morning; everything seemed to go okay.  If I don’t get a phone call in the next couple of days, I should be good to go.  Now that I’ve had all my fun booby squishing and squashing for the day, it’s time to move forward.  Or backward, as the case may be.  Time is just a bunch of timey-wimey. . . stuff, after all.

Today’s the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.  I remember the way the whole world just seemed to stop with the news of his passing.  People were stunned.  There was non-stop coverage on TV.  I was eight, and we’d just moved into a new house.  Star Wars was well on its way to world domination.  And Elvis was gone.  It’s a little difficult for us to imagine today how Earth-shattering that news was.  I can’t imagine a single musician today that would merit the same kind of attention.  Maybe Paul McCartney or Bob Dylan.  But that’s about it.

It’s also a little difficult for us to understand today just how much he changed the world.  John Lennon once said that before Elvis, there was nothing.  That pretty much sums it up.  Oh, sure, Rock & Roll existed, but Elvis was like the big bang of popular music.  Even Bob Dylan, who became famous as a folkie, Woody Guthrie-wannabe, first picked up a guitar because he wanted to be Elvis.  He was one of the most important entertainers and cultural icons of the 20th Century.  To honor him today, I want to go back to the song that launched him with Sun Records.  I can’t think of a better way to remember him.


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“I’m Alright”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 15, 2012

I’m a little stressed out right now because I have to go back for a second mammogram (“spot compression and a possible ultrasound”).  I’ve had to do this before, and I know several women who have also had to do this before.  But I am a hypochondriac, and therefore, I am stressed out.  I managed to snag an appointment for tomorrow, and they’ll let me know right away if there’s anything bad; it could take a week if there’s nothing.  This is all by way of explaining that today’s post is the best you’re gonna get out of me.  Although it’s a nice little mantra right now.

The gopher might have been my favorite part of the movie when I was a kid.

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Ron Palillo

Posted by purplemary54 on August 14, 2012

I loved Welcome Back, Kotter as a kid, and my favorite Sweathog was always Arnold Horshack.  He was sweet and nerdy and people never seemed to pay much attention to him; I think I identified with him to some degree.  It makes me very sad that Ron Palillo has died at 63.  That show was one of those wonderful childhood memories.  Of course, watching the show now, I realize it was pretty dismal for the most part.  The first season was okay.  Gabe Kaplan’s jokes at the beginning and end of each episode were always the high points (which should tell you something, since those jokes were pretty bad).

The other highlight of every episode, even after Kaplan left (the show had already jumped the shark and was rapidly sinking anyway) was the theme song.  John Sebastian wrote and performed this sweet little song that belied the tough setting and revealed the marshmallow heart of Welcome Back, Kotter for all to see.

So this is for all the honorary Sweathogs out there.  So long, Horshack!

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“Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 13, 2012

Today is August 13th, and you all know what that means.  It’s International Left-Handers Day!  Hug a southpaw today!

I’m not just a lefty in politics, you know.  I am the only living left-handed person in my family.  My paternal grandfather was a lefty until they tied his hand behind his back and made him learn how to use his right.  My dad was a lefty until he was six and broke his arm.  My mom’s older sister was left-handed, and I wish I’d gotten her to teach me how to crochet before she died.  She did teach me how to tie a bow, something my parents struggled with for years.  One Christmas (I was eight), I wore a red velvet dress with a lace up bodice.  So Aunty Judy stood behind me, showed me how to do it a couple of times, then walked me through it.  I remember thinking at the time, “This is what they’ve been trying to teach me?  This is easy.”  And it was, but only from one lefty to another.

I’ve had a lot of left-handed friends over the years, too, including my BFF.  (Happy Left-Handers Day!)  I don’t know if it’s because we’re all creative, idealistic types, or if we tend towards those things because we’re lefties.  Lefties are well-known for being more creative and artistic.  I’ve heard this is because the left side of the body is controlled in part by the right side of the brain, and the right half of the brain is the part that controls those qualities.  I’m not sure I believe that, but I’ll take what I can get.  If you’re not a lefty, then you don’t fully understand what it’s like.  Everything is designed for right-handed people.  Desks at school.  Coffee mugs.  Scissors.  Cars.  None of this is anything we can’t adapt to, and certainly none of it affects us that badly.  But it’s awkward sometimes.  I tried getting a left-hander’s spiral bound notebook once and kept opening it from the wrong side; I only use notepads that are bound at the top now.  I hate writing in pencil because my hand drags across the page and I get what I call “graphite fist.”  Calligraphy is simply out of the question.  Being a left-hander hasn’t ruined my life, but is does make it occasionally frustrating.

What does any of this have to do with Tony Orlando & Dawn’s cheesy 70s pop? Absolutely nothing.  I heard “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?” on the radio today for the first time since I was a kid, barely in double digits.  I used to love this song, and I think I still do.  It’s just on the right side of schlocky, with a touch of the risqué.  It’s just a fun little tune, put here today in the hope that it makes someone smile.

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“Imagine” (redux)

Posted by purplemary54 on August 12, 2012

Hope is a pretty powerful thing, almost as powerful as love.  It gives millions of people a reason to get up in the morning, helps them fall asleep at night.  readncook gave me this fabulous little homework assignment, to write about hope (she also wrote a nifty post about one of my favorite poets, Walt Whitman).  It’s a bit of a daunting task, because even though I feel hope pretty regularly, even though I say I hope for things all the time, I don’t really think about what that means to me.  “Hope” is one of those abstractions I always used to warn the students I tutored in writing about.  Abstractions are great because the encapsulate a really big idea or ideal into one or two words.  But they are awful because they lack specificity, a concrete definition.  Oh sure, there’s a definition written next to “hope” in the dictionary, but that just tells you what the linguists have decided it means.  It tells you nothing about what it really means in the world.

I hope for a lot of things.  Right now, I’m hoping like hell all my medical tests come back normal and negative (my mantra of the last few days).  I hope I continue to have good health, and that the people I know and love continue to have good health.  I hope President Obama wins the election because I am not prepared to live in a country run by a used car salesman (even though I spent eight years in one being run by a shrub).  I hope I win the lottery, so that I can give animal shelters and libraries tons of money, and still have enough left over to support my parents and my BFF’s amazing but disabled child.  I really hope someone does something about catastrophic climate change (you gotta put that catastrophic in front, or no one will pay attention).  I hope I get a real job soon.  I hope for a lot, and sometimes it feels a little overwhelming to realize there are so many scary things in the world and so much to hope for.

That’s what John Lennon’s “Imagine” is about.  Hope that people will someday learn to see past all the stupid things they fight over and just get along.  Hope that everyone will learn that skin color and religion and sex/gender and all that other stuff doesn’t matter, that every single person on the planet is the same.  Hope that maybe, just maybe, we might realize that stuff and money are less important that justice and fairness and equality.  Hope that we can make the world a better place.

Yeah, I hope for a lot of things.  And you may say I’m a dreamer, but I know I’m not the only one.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Easy to say, not that hard to do.  Vote.  Volunteer.  Eat less meat, more local produce.  Spend your money on companies you agree with.  Turn off some lights.  Wash your clothes in cold water.  Do something.  Do anything.  Then maybe a better world won’t be a dream anymore.

This post is part of the Blog Relay for Hope started by Melanie Crutchfield.  Amy at readncook passed the baton to me.  I am passing it to Sandee at 1800ukillme .  Please check out these blogs.

Here are the instructions:

Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you (me, in this case) at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.

Melanie Crutchfield will gather up little snippets from people who wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay.



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