“Chest Fever”


I’m having a little trouble settling my brain tonight.  This song doesn’t help much.

It’s a confounding tune, all swirling organ and hard-edged guitar.  The lyrics are cryptic: It’s probably about a romantic relationship, but there is no other context to ground you.  “I know she’s a tracker” is not exactly a clear statement about anything.  It’s a song about disappearances and reappearances (which is sort of fitting, since I’m still absorbing last night’s episode of Doctor Who).  It’s a song about nothing and everything.  A mystery.

I like mysteries, even the unsolved ones.  In some ways, an unsolved mystery is better.  I don’t really want to know what actually crashed at Roswell, or who Jack the Ripper really was, or where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.  Part of the fascination with these cases is the lack of a clear answer.  You can project any ending you want on an unsolved mystery.  In my universe, D.B. Cooper got away with the money.  Butch and Sundance made it out of Bolivia and came back to the U.S.  My favorite part of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Trilogy is when it’s explained that 42 is the answer to the question, but that you can’t know both the answer and the question at the same time because then everything will be destroyed and replaced with something completely different, if it hasn’t happened already.  Got that?  Good.

This is what happens inside my head some days.  I’d apologize, but I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not.  It’s hard to settle on anything.

“Black Coffee in Bed”


It’s International Coffee Day!

Okay, so I’m not much of a coffee drinker (but lord, do I love how it smells).  I prefer tea for my hot breakfast beverage.  I also know that drinking coffee is sometimes less about the drink and more about the ritual.  Dad says that he stopped drinking as much coffee when he quit smoking; the two always just went together in his mind.  Coffee shops are gathering places, just like bars, where the drink is a shared communal experience.  And there’s just something soothing about sitting down with a cup of something warm and comforting.

Squeeze managed to parlay all the emotional connotations of coffee quite nicely in the charming “Black Coffee in Bed.”  The guy has been dumped by the girl, and all he has to remember her by is a coffee ring left on his notebook.  But he moves on, going “out with a friend, with lips full of passion and coffee in bed.”

Coffee in bed becomes the metaphor for intimacy.  Or  a lack thereof. . . I’m never quite sure with this song, and I like the ambiguity.  Real relationships are full of that kind of ambiguity all the time.  He misses her, but he doesn’t.  He’s moved on, but he keeps thinking about her all the time.  Love and break-ups are messy, resolution a myth.  There’s always a coffee stain left in a notebook somewhere.

And sometimes the only thing you can do is have another cup of coffee.

“Come a Long Way”


Fifteen or so years ago, L.A. had a radio station I liked.  Well, that’s an understatement.  My radio dial never, ever left 101.9, KSCA.  I’d heard about them when they were new, so I checked it out.  They played John Hiatt.  They played The Band (I heard “Chest Fever” once; I was stunned).  They played Elvis Costello, for crying out loud!  No one plays Elvis Costello (which is completely inexplicable to me).  I felt like I had found a home on the FM dial for the first time since KMET died (RIP).  I tried to listen from 7 to 11 PM, because that’s when Mama Mia was on.  Mia (I can’t remember her last name, sorry) was the DJ that shift, and she was called Mama Mia because she would often bring her baby daughter to the studio with her.  If you listened carefully, you could sometimes hear the baby playing while Mia did her patter.  Dr. Demento moved there for a while.  It was without a doubt the most awesome radio station ever.

And then it went off the air.  Everyone knew it was coming; the format change was announced a few weeks beforehand. (101.9 became, and still is, a Mexican station.)  On their last night on the air, they got as many of the staff and DJs as they could on the air to say thanks to all their loyal listeners.  The GM even compared them to WKRP in Cincinnati, that’s how much like a family they seemed.  Then they played their last song.

Michelle Shocked’s loving tribute to L.A. was the best song they could have chosen.  Nothing else I’ve heard has ever captured the diversity, the beauty, the sheer weirdness of Los Angeles and its surrounding communities.  And that’s the kind of thing KSCA always tried to capture.  They were a radio station in a town that has multiple personalities, and they tried to reflect that sort of cultural schizophrenia.  They played what was (and still is) called “Adult Alternative” music.  I don’t know what that means, I just know a significant portion of the artists and musicians I listen to fall under that format.  KSCA represented what might have been the last gasp of original programming and freedom in commercial broadcast radio.  There’s still a little glimmer occasionally, like 100.3 The Sound right now, but a free radio station that decides what to play without a corporate master list is pretty much a memory in SoCal.

So this song, a song about freedom and joy and a place that really doesn’t exist anywhere else, was the perfect way to say goodbye.*




*After the song ended, there was a really long pause, during which I wiped my tears away, I suddenly heard a very familiar guitar chord.

Now that’s the way to end something.

“The Warrior”


Okay, seriously.  What is it about this song?  It doesn’t make any sense; I can’t even understand half the lyrics (and I’ve never cared enough to look them up).  It sounds like the show-stopping finale on an episode of Fame. (Remember that show?  I loved it when I was in high school.  Yeah, I can totally see Nia Peeples and Jesse Borrego dancing around each other in some sort of psuedo-romantic, jazz hands-heavy number complete with glitter and a fog machine.)  And the video looks like some kind of post-apocalyptic Cats.

Bad costumes and 80s makeup aside, Patty Smyth really had a pretty good set of pipes.  (I haven’t heard her sing in a long time, so I’m not sure how good she still is.  These days, I know her best as Mrs. John McEnroe.)  And for whatever reason, this song is catchy and fun.  Maybe that’s it.  It’s fun.  There’s an innocence to “The Warrior”  that you only hear in music recorded by prepubescents these days (and even then only occasionally).  This is not a song about hooking up or booty calls.  Nor is it about an epic everlasting love.  It’s about. . . . dating.  The weird dance men and women do around each other after they’ve exchanged numbers but before they have sex.  (I’m pretty sure there’s still some time in between those two events.)  This is going out for coffee.  Or to the movies.  This song is all about holding hands and making out (hands above the waistline, please).  Flirting.  Fun.

Huh.  Maybe it does make sense after all.

Andy Williams


I once dated a guy who once sang back-up for Andy Williams on a tour.  That’s about the only time I’ve ever thought of Andy Williams.  He was always a little too smooth for me.  He lacked the swagger of Sinatra, the boozy charm of Dean Martin, the quiet command of Bing Crosby.  He was one of the also-rans in my mind for many years.

But he sang “Moon River” with such a gentle sadness and a touch of a smile.  Even though I sort of prefer the original from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, his version might be the definitive one.  It’s so lovely to hear a good song sung by a good singer.  He seemed like a good man who loved his family and treated his audience with respect.  That’s more than a lot of people can say.

I hope you’re crossing that Moon River in style today, Mr. Williams.

“Classical Gas”


I was over at Dangerous Minds this morning, and I saw this post about Mason Williams’ beautiful instrumental piece “Classical Gas” and how it came to be the soundtrack for a student film by Dan McLaughlin titled “3000 Years of Art.”  This is apparently not the original, but it’s pretty darn fun, nonetheless.

Honestly, this video really hits all my geek buttons: music geek, art history geek, even comedy geek–indirectly, since Williams was a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the time.  The film was shown on the show, helping to propel “Classical Gas” into the Top 10 the summer of 1968.  My dad is a fan of Mason Williams, although whether it’s for his music or his weirdness is up for debate.  (One of my father’s favorite stories about Williams is how he had walls in his house that moved.  This may or may not be true, since my father has a tendency toward tall tales.  He really did have an elephant once, though.)

Watch the video if you haven’t already.  It promises that you’ll be “cultured” after it’s done.  Maybe.  And then again, maybe culture is just for yogurt and petri dishes.  I just like the art and the music.

“One Day at a Time”


TV themes have always held a special place in my heart.  Maybe because besides the radio and whatever my parents listened to, TV theme songs were my first real exposure to music.  They are, sadly, a dying breed.  Most shows have sacrificed a good theme song for more ad space, and they run the opening/closing credits over actual scenes from the show.  I kind of hate that.

I also kind of hate that I just read over at IMDB that Bonnie Franklin, TV mom and early feminist role model extraordinaire, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Now I’m no dummy.  I know that this is one of the toughest cancers to treat, and the survival rate is very low, so I’m not holding out a lot of hope.  I am sending Bonnie and her family my love and prayers.  She was one of the best, most realistic, TV moms.  She didn’t have all the answers, she didn’t wear pearls while doing housework (heck, she didn’t have time to do the housework; she was too busy supporting herself and her daughters), and she refused to be a doormat for any man.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano taught me a lot about what it meant to be a Feminist.  It seems kind of trivial, but every time I introduce myself as Ms. Purplemary, I think about her and her insistence on taking back her own last name after her divorce and that she be referred to as “Ms, M-S, no period.”  These days, all women are Ms. (with the period, thanks to usage) unless they state otherwise, so no one really thinks about how revolutionary that act of naming oneself really was.  I am not a child or a wife.  I am not beholden to anyone else for my existence.  I do not have to justify myself with patriarchal identifiers.  I will decide what to be called, and if you don’t like it, take a hike.

The theme from One Day at a Time has always been one of my favorites.  I used to watch the show in reruns during the mornings and afternoons when I was a young teenager.  I’d sing along and tap my toes against the shelves the TV sat on (I liked to lay on the floor to watch TV back then).  Sometimes, I’d watch the closing credits just to hear it again. It’s a pretty cool song.