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Archive for April, 2013

Happy Birthday, Willie!!!!

Posted by purplemary54 on April 30, 2013

One of my favorite people in the Universe turns 80 today.  I know it’s impractical, but I kind of think we should all just stop whatever we’re doing and pay tribute to the natural wonder, the force of nature that is Willie Nelson.

Even if you don’t think much of his music, you’ve got to respect the man.  Willie refuses to be contained.  He still tours the country in buses that run on biodiesel fuel.  He still plays at the annual Farm Aid benefit for family farmers.  He still challenges himself musically and artistically, even though he could just coast on his musical laurels.  And he still gets pulled over and charged with possession.  I don’t use anything stronger than a glass of wine once in a while, but I respect a guy who sticks to his guns about marijuana the way Willie has.  (Paul McCartney already wussed out and admitted he doesn’t toke up anymore, so Willie and Tom Petty are among the few mainstream rebels I can think of that still stand by pot.  And I’m not so sure about TP these days.  Politically, I’m all for legalizing pot; there are proven and suspected medicinal benefits, and the tax revenue would be really helpful.)  There has never been anyone like Willie Nelson, and there are very few musicians with such broad appeal.  When he was forced to auction off his property and memorabilia to pay the IRS, his fans came to the auction to buy his stuff, just so they could give it back to him.  Just about everyone likes something about the man and his work.

My own personal favorite is his collaboration with Wynton Marsalis from a few years ago.  They got on stage at Lincoln Center with a full jazz orchestra, and played a concert of standards.  It is one of those amazing, essential albums.  I heard it, and knew that my life would not be complete unless I owned it.  Not my music collection.  My life.  This is music that feeds the soul.  I love it.  And I’d like to thank trumpet00617 for posting this concert to YouTube.  I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I do.

Pay special attention to the battered guitar that Willie plays.  He said in an interview once that he would retire when it finally became unplayable.  So light a candle, burn some incense, and pray to whatever gods you think might be listening that that old guitar holds it together forever.


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“I’m Coming Out”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 29, 2013

I’ve mentioned my casual sports fandom on a few occasions. (Niners!!!! . . . Sorry.  Sometimes that just slips out.)  So when it was announced today that NBA player Jason Collins had officially come out of the closet, I cheered a little.  There’s been a number of retired athletes coming out over the years, but Collins represents the first active player in one of the major team sports to openly acknowledge his sexuality.  (My response is a little tempered because I’ve never heard of the guy before, but then again, I’m not a basketball fan.)  Professional sports has long been one of the last bastions of the homophobes.  To have the walls torn down, just a little bit, is a wonderful thing.

Of course, it’ll be really nice when something like this isn’t headline news anymore.  When openly LGBTQ athletes are common.  When nobody’s sexuality is something that gets commented on.  I say, the more the merrier.  The more public figures who come out, the more acceptable it becomes.  I know there are people who say that the “gay lifestyle” should never be acceptable, but tolerance of the wonderful diversity found in the human race is something to strive for.  (I’m also waiting for someone to explain what the “gay lifestyle” is.  It implies sexual orientation is a choice, and everyone should know by now that it damn well isn’t.  Yeah, there’s gay culture, but there’s also Christian culture and goth culture and Mexican culture, and so on.  What’s the problem with culture?  I like culture.)

Diana Ross didn’t really sing this song as an anthem for folks who come out of the closet, but it’s become one.  And it’s such an empowering song, too.  “I want the world to know, got to let it show.”  Last week, recent WNBA draftee Brittney Griner also came out, and although her announcement made the news, it was more for the lack of hoopla surrounding it.  It’s a bigger deal that she can dunk as well as many male basketball players.  (I’m not going to get into what it says that female athletes of her stature and skill are expected to be lesbians, while manly male athletes are supposed to be virile and straight, or the nasty undercurrent of misogyny there.)  In an interview with Sports Illustrated, she said, “Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”

That’s the one message I hope everyone hears.

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Repost: “Elvis Presley Blues”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 28, 2013

Reposted only because I think this song needs to be heard.  I don’t really love this post.  I was striving for something unnameable in this song, a sense of history and ghosts.  I don’t think I quite got there, but I still don’t know how to articulate what I hear.

Gillian Welch is remarkable.  She writes songs that sound a hundred years old and sings songs that are a hundred years old like they’re brand new.  It’s like she exists in some kind of chronological vacuum, some kind of endless now.  It’s more than just the Buddhist concept of living in the now.  It seems as if time has stopped where she is, but keeps going forward.  With her regular collaborator, David Rawlings, Welch mines a deep musical history for the bits of gold left behind and melds them into music that feels timeless.

The moment of “Elvis Presley Blues” is the moment where one man changes the world.  But the acknowledgement here is that is wasn’t just the moment when Elvis walked onstage and “shook it like a chorus girl,”  but all the moments when everything stood still, and the world shifted to accommodate a new reality.  The moment Elvis appeared, the moment he died.  The moment when John Henry beat the steam drill (a legend, sure, but one that says a lot about America).  At the end of the verses, when Welch and Rawlings’ voices blend and build, there is desperation.  There is something big at stake here, but it’s hard to say what.  Elvis’ unique musical combination of white and black–rock and roll–becomes not just a style, but a matter of life and death: “He shook it like a holy roller, baby, with his soul at stake.”

Greil Marcus believes that there is more to rock music than just music.  He believes that Rock & Roll matters, that it carries with it the weight of American culture and history.  So do I.  And so does Welch, if “Elvis Presley Blues” is anything to go by.  Elvis himself is an example of this.  He was a white man influenced by the black musicians he lived around and was friends with; radio stations wouldn’t play him at the beginning because he sounded black.  He changed the face of American culture with a blending of race that was ahead of its time.  There are many African-Americans, some scholars, that believe Elvis stole black music and exploited it for his gain.  But I have trouble seeing how he stole something he lived with every day.  The music industry and Colonel Tom Parker did exploit the sound (and the man) for their own gain, but Elvis believed.  This song carries the weight of American race relations within a fable about the single biggest rock star, ever.  The America that comes into view when you hear “Elvis Presley Blues” is the Invisible Republic that Marcus wrote about so masterfully, an America that exists just beneath the surface of strip malls and mega churches.  An America that is filled with wonder and mystery and myth.  An American where time has stopped and Elvis is forever entering the building.

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What’s Your Favorite Song?

Posted by purplemary54 on April 27, 2013

I’ve always hated questions like that.  “What’s your favorite song/album/book/movie/TV show/food?”  I don’t have just one favorite anything.  Although if I had to make some choices, I’d probably eat cheeseburgers and Mexican food most of the time, and watch the original Star Wars trilogy and M*A*S*H over most other entertainments.  Solitaire would be the game of choice; Trivial Pursuit if it’s a party.  Coke, not Pepsi; red wine, not white.  And if I had my druthers, I’d wear blue jeans and T-shirts and Converse high tops all the time.

Books and music have always been subject to moods, though.  I read whatever strikes my fancy, and if I find someone I like, I’ll read everything I can get my hands on by that person (thank goodness Terry Pratchett has been pretty prolific).  Same has always gone for music.  I’ve got definite preferences (you’ve probably noticed that by now), but I listen to whatever I’m in the mood for.  I find little things I like about many different songs–the turn of a phrase, the guitar riff, the way the drummer plays, whatever.  There’s always a few songs that I stop what I’m doing to really hear, the songs that make me turn up the volume and sing along.  But I’ve never been able to limit myself to one song.  Or one album.  Or one artist.  If I’m being totally honest, I feel a bit constrained by Top Ten lists.  I usually need at least twenty items before I feel comfortable playing favorites.

I suppose this is my roundabout way of saying I’m having a little trouble picking a song for today’s post.  So I’d like to hear what you all like to listen to best.  What’s your favorite song . . . right now?  Or what’s that one little musical moment that you’ll stop pushing the grocery cart for, or tell people to hush just so you can hear it for the umpteenth time?  What makes you hit replay/repeat on your electronic device of choice?  I’m curious.  Maybe you’ll turn me on to something new.


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George Jones

Posted by purplemary54 on April 26, 2013

I was unable to attend the services for my uncle today, but I send my love and thoughts out to the whole family.  I was there in spirit.

Country music legend George Jones passed away today at 81.  He was one of the last of the old-time country stars, an emotional and emotive singer of amazing talent.  He knew how to milk every single tear out of every single note.  They just don’t make singers like him anymore, not even in Nashville.

That’s the kind of song most people think of when they think about country music.  It’s heartbreak and sentimentality wrapped up in a rich baritone and slide guitar.  Today’s country is just pop music with a little twang; it’s all about crossover success.  George Jones never cared if he made the Billboard Top Forty, although he made the charts on a regular basis.  He made music that spoke to his life and his experience.  Jones was a hard living man, complete with lots of booze and lots of wives.  He was famously–and tumultuously–married to fellow country legend Tammy Wynette (who chose not to stand by Jones anymore in 1975).  He eventually sobered up, but continued making music, even reuniting musically with Wynette in 1992.

Fittingly, Jones’ autobiography was titled I Lived to Tell it All.  And you can hear all the living he did in his music. (Read more about his work and life here.)

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“In Thee”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 25, 2013

This is pretty much the last song you’d expect from Blue Oyster “More Cowbell!” Cult.  At least if you judge them by their biggest hit, “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”  They always seemed to tend toward a fantasy filled, albeit morbid, hard rock.  Although on the other hand, they look like the least rockin’ rockers of all time.  I look at lead singer Eric Bloom, and I half expect him to try to sell me insurance.  Or explain the life cycle of the earthworm (he could easily pass for the high school science teacher all the girls had crushes on).  He’s just a guy.  The whole band are just guys.  Guys who happen to make their living as musicians–which generally means spending most of your working time on the road.

Looking at it that way, it makes perfect sense that they made one of the most wistful, down to earth, road songs ever.  The road song is a staple of rock music.  Journey, Motley Crue, Kiss.  They all have excellent road songs.  Bon Jovi created one of the most famous road songs ever, turning being a touring rock band into an analogy of the Wild West.  Jackson Browne’s classic road song manages to convey all the joy and boredom and exhaustion a tour must bring.It has to be hard for these guys to be away from their homes and families so much.  Weird hours, worse food.  Drugs and groupies everywhere (indulgence in either is a choice, but the hardest thing to resist is temptation).  “In Thee” isn’t as famous as those other road songs, but it’s also not as loaded with overwrought imagery or cliché.  “Maybe I’ll see you again, baby, and maybe I won’t.  Maybe you bought your ticket, goin’ back to Detroit.”  Life on the road is treated matter-of-factly.  It’s their job.  They might not always like it, but they keep on moving from town to town.

It’s a weary, lonely life.  “So I’ll wrap myself in cities I travel.  I’ll wrap myself in dreams.  I’ll wrap myself in solitude, but I wish I could wrap myself in thee.” The use of the old word “thee” lends an air of romance and fantasy to the otherwise realistic song, a nod to Blue Oyster Cult’s other image.  But when they put away the electric guitars, the tales of doom and destruction, they’ll go back to their hotel rooms, or the tour bus.  They’ll clean up and change into a comfortable pair of sweatpants.  And they’ll call whoever is waiting for them.  They’re just guys, missing home.


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Gone to the Movies . . . Hopefully

Posted by purplemary54 on April 24, 2013

Y’all who’ve been here for any length of time already know about my love of the weird, the humorous, and the just plain silly.  The Muppets and Looney Tunes probably laid the groundwork when I was a child.  Early exposure to Shel Silverstein certainly didn’t hurt.  I watch Monty Python with unabashed joy.  And Dr. Demento was one of the staples of my adolescence.

Well, I saw over at Dangerous Minds that there’s a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for a Dr. Demento documentary made.  Here’s the trailer.

The good Doctor is someone I’d like to learn more about.  So much so that I’m actually considering dropping a few bucks on this one (for $30, I can get a DVD copy of the movie once it’s released).  For anyone unfamiliar, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding site through which creative types can get otherwise anonymous bystanders to give them money to get their work published/filmed/recorded/distributed.  Donors often receive premiums for their money (like the coffee mugs PBS gives away for pledges).  Google “Veronica Mars movie” for evidence of the power of Kickstarter.  I think it’s kind of an amazingly cool idea that just might make it easier for smaller, independent artists of all sorts get their work produced for public consumption.  The Internet is awesome.

Also awesome is this Dr. Demento classic by Bryan Bowers.  Have fun listening.  If you want to know more about Under the Smogberry Trees (or if you want to donate), here’s the direct link at Kickstarter.

You know, they really don’t wear anything beneath their kilts.  No wonder Craig Ferguson smiles so much.

Posted in Gone to the Movies, Music | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Repost: “If I Had a $1000000”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 23, 2013

Brain dead tonight.  Too much tutoring.  So hopefully this song will make you giggle the way it always does for me.

The Barenaked Ladies are well-known for their somewhat silly songs.  What makes them interesting is that these are silly songs with some depth, a purpose other than just pure silliness (which is a legitimate purpose).  With BNL, there is usually an underlying sadness.  The characters they sing about use humor to defuse the loneliness of their lives.  “If I Had $1000000” is one of the silliest and one of the saddest.

The guy in the song muses about all the things he would buy for a girl if he had a million dollars.  (I’ve always found it interesting that they wrote it the way they did in the title, but I have no idea why they did it that way.)  It starts normally enough, with him buying her things like a house and furniture, “a nice Chesterfield or an ottoman.”  But this doesn’t seem to be his girlfriend he’s daydreaming about, because he states in the chorus he’d “buy your love” (cue the sadness and loneliness).  He begins thinking of really outrageous things to buy, like John Merrick’s remains, “ooh, all them crazy elephant bones”  (the debacle of Michael Jackson and The Elephant Man’s remains was still pretty fresh in the public consciousness at that point).  He’d buy her some art, “a Picasso or a Garfunkel.”  A fur coat, “but not a real fur coat, that’s cruel.”  A green dress, “but not a real green dress, that’s cruel.”

There’s a childlike quality to the ever more expensive list of things he’d buy for this girl, which contributes to the poignancy of it.  There’s the wish “to build a tree fort in our yard.  You could help, it wouldn’t be that hard.”  As if that’s the one thing that would win her over.  I keep imagining a twelve-year old with a crush on the girl who sits in front of him in math class, thinking up new ways to impress her with his fortune.  But there’s a sophistication here that a twelve-year old wouldn’t possess, even today.  He’s just a lonely guy who want to win over some girl he knows, but is just awkward enough not to know how.  He knows logically a million dollars wouldn’t buy all these things, but he knows it would change his life somehow.  Just like having her love him would change his life.

We are all always daydreaming about how our lives could be different, sometimes realistically, sometimes not.  But that’s what daydreaming is for.  These days, a million dollars wouldn’t go too far.  It would probably get you a house and some furniture, a new car and clothes.  It wouldn’t buy love.  And the guy in the song knows that.  He knows that the only thing that would happen if he had a million dollars would be “I’d be rich.”

Buy a Mega Millions (or Powerball) ticket, if you live where they’re sold, and you can daydream about all the things you’d buy if you were rich.

Posted in Music, Pop, Rock | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Richie Havens

Posted by purplemary54 on April 22, 2013

You know, for a music fan, I had no knowledge of how Richie Havens’ classic performance at Woodstock came about.  I suppose it’s because I was never much of a Havens fan.  He’s one of those musicians I know is talented and charismatic, but who just doesn’t connect with me for some reason.  He’s also one of those performers who comes off better live than in the studio.  He seemed to need an audience’s energy to feed off of.  And at Woodstock, he had a lot of energy to fuel him.

“Freedom” became a hit and a staple of Havens’ live shows after Woodstock.  Which is pretty amazing since it didn’t exist until that day.  See, Woodstock was already a hot, chaotic mess even on the opening day.  The originally scheduled opening act wasn’t there.  In fact, a lot of other acts weren’t there.  I think at the scheduled opening time, Richie Havens was the only performer who had made it.  So the organizers asked Havens, scheduled as the fifth act on opening day, if he would go on early.  Havens and  two back up players were helicoptered to the stage (that’s how the artists had to get there, because the crowd was so huge).  Havens ended up playing a three-hour acoustic set to half a million hippies.  He and the guys playing with him actually ran out of songs to play.  So Havens improvised “Freedom,” which he based on the old spiritual “Motherless  Child.”

The song became one of the iconic songs of that historical concert.  Havens also had a hit with his cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”  His playing and performing was zen-like, almost mystical.  Havens was like a a man possessed on stage.  He might not have been to my taste, but he was compelling and wonderful.  It seems oddly appropriate that he left this world on Earth Day.  Havens was 72.


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Chrissy Amphlett

Posted by purplemary54 on April 22, 2013

The lead singer of Australian group the Divinyls passed away on Sunday after long battles with both breast cancer and MS.  She was only 53.  Entertainers of all sorts die young; it’s one of the biggest hazards of being in show business.  Long hours, extensive travel, poor eating and sleeping habits, and the ever-present specter of substance abuse all contribute to the early endings of so many musicians/singers, actors, and other artists.  It used to be overdoses and plane crashes; now it’s disease that takes so many.

The Divinyls were a one-hit wonder in the States.  “I Touch Myself” was a silly, sexy song that I’m not sure was taken all that seriously.  It seems to be trying for shocking, but mostly comes off as goofy.  What I think made it a successful song is how truly sweet it really was.  This wasn’t a song about hooking up or being promiscuous.  This was a love song: “I don’t want anybody else.  When I think about you, I touch myself.”  Masturbation as romance.  The nature of the romance is left deliberately unclear; there’s no way to tell if it’s a real relationship, or if the girl in the song just has a huge crush on some celebrity.  That’s not the point, anyway.  She has genuine feelings for the guy (?) she’s singing to, and she wants him to know about it.  He turns her on, and she’s determined to enjoy the feeling.  The first line is rather telling, “I love myself, I want you to love me.”  This woman is secure in herself and her sexuality.  It might be a somewhat silly song, but it’s also a little revolutionary.  There just aren’t that many songs that feature women singing about their bodies in an honest, realistic way.  She’s not trashy or trampy (or any other slur used against women who express themselves sexually).  She’s certainly not ashamed of her desires.  And in a patriarchal world, that’s a pretty big deal.

Amphlett vamps it up admirably in the video, obviously having fun with the image.  And once again, it comes of as fun and sweet.  I don’t know much about what Chrissy Amphlett was like in reality, or even in other performances.  But she takes something that could be demeaning and makes it empowering.  Not bad for a one-hit wonder.

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