“Rock & Roll Nigger”

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I thought about editing the offensive word out of the title, a word I can’t even say, but that would be disingenuous.  It would also be contrary to what Patti Smith was trying to do with this song.  If Frank Zappa is the Godfather of the Freaks, then Patti Smith is our Queen.

“Outside of society.”  This was a song about what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.  It’s a furious rant at the corporate and conventional forces that keep so many people outside.  It’s a celebration of being on the outside.  Because freaks know that outside is where you really want to be.

See, we freaks, we know that we can pretend and look the part for short periods of time.  We can fake it and fool people into believing we’re “normal” for a little while.  But then one day we’ll slip up.  “Oh, I’m a ________________.”  Fill in the blank with whatever you want; it doesn’t really matter.  Because whatever you put in that blank is going to label you a freak to someone.  They’ll mutter it under their breath like it’s some kind of insult.  But it isn’t.

So listen to this song and remember the power you have.  Yeah, I’m a freak.  I’m a weirdo, a nut job, a looney tune.  I’m a liberal, a pacifist, a feminist, a GLBTQ ally, and I vote.  I like animals better than most people.  I name inanimate objects.  I read fanfiction.  I still watch Scooby Doo.  And I might be a freak, but so is everyone else.  Everyone does something freaky.  Freaks are the only normal people out there.  Thank goodness for that.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!

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I hope everyone has a happy day, without too much stress.  Remember to be grateful every day, not just today.

I’m thankful for having all the basics, for food and shelter and clothing.  I’m grateful for my health.  That I have the luxury of fancy electronics and cable television. I’m grateful that I still have both my parents, even if they do make with the crazy-making on a regular basis.  I’m grateful for all the wonderful people in both my real life and my virtual life.  I’m grateful for the right to vote and free speech.  So, thanks to whatever higher power exists, and thanks to everyone here (including me) that helps make all these things possible.  And a special thanks to that poor turkey that gave up its life for my holiday meal.

Right now, I really grateful that I can listen to this wonderful song, the only Thanksgiving-themed song that is any good.  And I hope you’ll be grateful that Arlo Guthrie spent nearly 20 minutes singing/talking about “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Enjoy, and have a great time eating yourselves stupid.

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant (excepting Alice).”

Gone to the Movies: Fame

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Everybody knows the title song.  For a little while in the early 80s, it was inescapable.  The song and the movie made Irene Cara a star, “Baby, remember my name.”  The movie was pretty successful, even winning two Oscars (Best Song and Best Original Score, of course).  But that was 32 years ago, and no one seems to remember much else about it.

That’s too bad.  Admittedly, for all it’s supposed grit and realism, Fame was at its heart a musical, complete with all the stock musical clichés.  But, man, was that music great.  The performances by the actors were mostly terrific.  It was tamed and toned down for television in 1982; although many of the actors reprised their roles, the characters were changed to be more palatable for middle America and a prime time slot.  (It got goofier and more clichéd as the years dragged on for the show, but I loved it anyway.)  The plot, such as it was, followed the struggles and successes of a group of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, from auditions to graduation.  It’s one of the few musicals I really love, largely because these people at least had an excuse to be bursting into song and dance every few minutes.

This is probably my favorite song from the soundtrack, sung by Paul McCrane, who played Montgomery.  It’s the yearning for a life well-lived, not someone else’s definition of happiness.  It fits so well with the dreams and desires of the characters, the unformed and insubstantial desire for fame.  By the end of the movie, they all understand the kinds of compromises and sacrifices that fame demands.  They’re a little older, a little wiser.  The final scene is the senior show, the school’s graduating class performing all together, celebrating both making it through school and the road they’re about to embark on.

The lines of a Walt Whitman poem set to music, this song didn’t really resonate with me until I got older.  But the joy of life and living, the radiance of this song means so much more now.  “I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars.  And in time, we will all be stars.”  This is the real point of the movie, from the solo singers and dancers to everyone in the chorus: Everyone is a star in their own right.  You, me, and the whole damn universe.

“Out of the Shadows/I Will Not Forget You

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As I was reminded by my dear Kira, today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I’m a little late to the party, but I’m here.  Today is designated in the memory of the transgendered men and women, boys and girls, who have been killed over the past year because of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry.  I do not know how many were added to the list today.  I hope the number was vanishingly small.  I hope that next year, this day is meaningless.  I do not know these people, who only sought to live the lives they were meant to live, but I remember them.

Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” is more well known, but I think the earlier “I Will Not Forget You” is a more emotional song.  The passion and grief are palpable.  Paired here with a song from her first album, it forms a fitting tribute to the memory of these lives, and the lives of all transgendered people.  Here’s hoping that soon we will live in a world were everyone feels safe enough to come out of the shadows and be counted.

“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock”

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When I think about Rock & Roll (capital letters, signifying the music, the genre, the cultural phenomenon), I think about this song.  It’s not the first rock song ever, some would argue it’s not even the best, but in my mind, it is the song that defines the genre.

Bill Haley and the Comets weren’t really a rock band, initially, but the combination of rhythm and blues and country appealed to Haley, so they began recording in the rock & roll style.  “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” was recorded in 1954, but didn’t become a hit until 1955, when it was used in the movie Blackboard Jungle.  The response to the song was instant and visceral.  There are stories of young people dancing in the aisles of movie theaters when the song played.  It propelled the movie as much as the movie propelled the song.  Even though rock music had been around a few years by this point, this was the birth of Rock & Roll.

It is a dynamic wonder, all movement and percussion and guitar.  The stand-up bass and hi-hat drums create a rhythm that’s impossible to resist.  Try it, I dare you.  You might not dance, but you’ll be tapping your toes or nodding your head to the beat before it’s over.  And find me a better guitar.  I can name a lot of guitar parts that were just as good, but not many of them do so much so economically.  This song is only a little over two minutes long.  That’s all it took to change the world.  Not bad.

“I’ve Got a Rock ‘N Roll Heart”

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I was having some trouble choosing a song tonight, so I paused the computer, skipped about 25 songs, and hit play.  Seems like I hit the perfect choice.

I really do have a rock & roll heart.  I don’t really care one way or the other about ’57 Chevys, but play me some electric guitar, and I will probably follow you anywhere.  It’s the first place I found where I could ever really be myself, the first thing I could ever call mine.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very musical in terms of talent (but I wield a pretty mean pen/computer keyboard).  But music has always felt like home for me.  Some of my earliest memories revolve around listening to music.  One of my favorite toys when I was tiny was this Fisher Price record player.

       My first music collection–image from Alivias Toys

The little plastic records played classic children’s songs.  I seem to remember “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” getting a lot of play.  Music has always been present in my life.

When I discovered rock & roll, I was hooked.  The Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry. . . . you name it, I’ve probably at least tried to listen to it.  I tend to shy away from the pompous and self-important.  I’m not usually a big fan of whatever’s hot at the moment.  And very often, I slip away from rocking and rolling to listen to some sweetly introspective acoustic.  But I always come back.

Eric Clapton gets criticized a lot (sometimes rightly) for his pop tendencies, but he really hit all the right notes with this song, literally and figuratively.  I don’t need a new theme song, but this is one of those songs that describes me to a T.  “Here’s what you’re gettin’, and I don’t want to change.  I get off on ’57 Chevys.  I get off on screaming guitars.  Like the way it gets me every time it hits me, I’ve got a rock ‘n roll, I’ve got a rock ‘n roll heart.”

 

“Wonderwall”

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This is simply a great song.  The original Oasis version was released in 1995, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the only song Noel Gallagher wrote that was worth anything.  It is a soaring, searing tempest-in-a-teapot of a song.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel hope or despair, if this is song about salvation or destruction.  There’s an edge in Liam Gallagher’s voice, a longing in the acoustic guitar and strings.  It’s the phone call you just missed, the connection cut just as you said hello.  Nothing feels resolved.  “And all the roads we have to walk are winding.  And all the lights that lead the way are blinding.  There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how.  Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me.  And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”

Usually, the original is the best version, although occasionally the cover supersedes it for some reason.  Rarely does it become a different song altogether.  But that’s what happens here.  In 2003, Ryan Adams released a cover of “Wonderwall” that rivals the original.  Adams strips it down, layers it with echoey, ghostly strings/synths that fill his version with dread and desperation.  (Okay, the dread and desperation are in the original, too, but Adams takes out the anger and pushes these feeling to the forefront.)  The best word I can think of to describe Adams’ version is spooky.  This is the long walk through the dark woods of the soul.  Lying in the dark at 3:00 AM, the only light in the room from a half-moon and the cigarette you’re smoking.  Thinking about all the things you fear and regret.  “And all the roads we have to walk are winding.  And all the lights that lead the way are blinding.  There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how.  And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”