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Archive for June, 2013

“Bone of Song”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 30, 2013

Today was not so unbearably hot in my neighborhood, thanks to an influx of clouds early this afternoon accompanied by a fine breeze.  Which means I might be able to wear long pants tonight, and avoid adding to my new bug bite collection on my legs (eleven, at last count).

So instead of obsessing over the temperature all day, I watched two or three episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS (yes, I am that much of a geek; I also watch Antiques Roadshow sometimes . . . sue me).  I was an English major, and I studied a lot of Shakespeare, so this was a great way for me to spend an afternoon.  Anyway, one of the episodes was on Hamlet, with David Tennant doing the hosting duties (you can watch it here).  Hamlet is a favorite of mine, and Tennant was my favorite Doctor, so it was win-win all around for me.  But there was one scene which just stood out to me.

The program explores Shakespeare from a variety of angles–historical, biographical, literary, etc.  At one point, Tennant goes to the British Museum to view original copies of the three different existing versions of Hamlet.  The librarian tells him that the so-called “bad quarto” is one of only two existing copies, and Tennant gets this delighted, gleeful look on his face.  He seems genuinely overjoyed that he gets to lay hands on something so incredibly rare (I was vaguely horrified that they let him touch it without gloves, but that’s another story).  I found his reaction deeply affecting; I know I would’ve reacted much the same way.  To touch history like that, to be connected to one of the greatest writers of the English language, seems so glorious and overwhelming.  It made me think of all the ways there are to be a part of the world, of history, of culture.  Of the dreams I have of being remembered for my words.

Which led me to this quirky little song by Josh Ritter.  “Bone of Song” is a meditation on creativity and inspiration.  The character, let’s call him Josh, finds the bone of song, “a jawbone old and bruised, and worn out in the service of the muse.  And along its sides and teeth were written words.”  The bone tells Josh to share his song, and it will be recorded along with all the other music inscribed there.  It’s a magical object, meant to give the holder a place in the world of music, but no control or ownership over the muse:  “It said leave me here, I care not for wealth or fame.  I’ll remember your song, but I’ll forget your name.”

This is the experience of the artist.  It is the search for your spot in the larger world you enter, to find a way to honor your predecessors while carving out a niche where you can be remembered, too.  One of the themes that kept coming up in Tennant’s discussion of Hamlet was how an actor can find something new in a role and play that has become utterly ubiquitous.  How do you make a role like that your own?  How do you write words that stand up to those of Shakespeare or Joyce (or anyone, for that matter)?  How do you paint a picture or take a photo that shows the world anew?  There’s really no way to tell.  You just do your best, and hope someone cares after you’re gone.  That’s why the best artists and performers don’t create for an audience; they create for themselves.  What they see and hear and know to be true.  And they hope that one day, they will stumble on the great inspiration that will transform not only their own experience, but the world’s.

“Lucky are you, who finds me in the wilderness.  I am the only unquiet ghost who does not seek rest.”

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Posted in Music, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Repost: “Summer in the City”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 29, 2013

I hate to do another repost so soon, but it’s the most appropriate song  I can think of right now.  I just checked the weather on the computer, and it’s still 90 degrees in my area–at not quite 6:30 PM.  Cripes, I can’t wait for the sun to go down.

One of the nice things about living in SoCal is that no matter how hot it is during the day, it gets a little more pleasant as soon as the sun goes down.  Now the sun has just disappeared behind the houses around me and nice sea breeze is coming up.  Of course, I still feel all hot and icky (cleaning litter boxes is more strenuous than it ought to be when one of the cats insists on digging all the way to the bottom).  It was hot here today; the local weather had the Long Beach area in the 90s.  I know we’re a lot better off than other people, but I get unhappy if the thermometer goes above 78 degrees.  (Hey, anyone know how to make the little circle indicating temperature?)

Hence, I’ve got The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” stuck in my head.  Sure, I could’ve gone with Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” but that’s a love song disguised as a complaint about the weather.  “Summer in the City” really is about the weather.  I don’t know much about the history, but I can just imagine John Sebastian sitting in his sweltering little walk-up in NYC, praying that an ice truck would fall through the ceiling, fanning himself with yesterday’s newspaper, when the inspiration for this hit.  Or maybe he was sitting on the fire escape planning what he was going to play at that night’s gig.  However it happened, it’s such a concise depiction of what a hot summer in a crowded place is like.  One thing for sure, that Hammond B-3 is seriously hot.

Just a little sidebar, John Sebastian is one of the few people who looks exactly the way he sounds.  He used to have a syndicated radio show I listened to in the late 80s–played blues, folk, and other assorted cool stuff–and his voice put the image of a guy with mousy brown hair and glasses into my head.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

“Hot, Hot, Hot”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 28, 2013

I’m not quite living in hell; I think that’s being reserved for people in the desert.  But I live next door.

I’ve never really liked this song, but I admire David Johansen for being such a chameleon.  I can’t imagine anyone else going from the New York Dolls to Buster Poindexter and back again, with stops pretty much everywhere in between.

That’s all I’ve got; my brain is a little melted tonight (I made the mistake of walking home after some afternoon errands).  Expect the heat to be a theme this weekend.

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Repost: “Music, Sex, and Cookies”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 27, 2013

I went to Trader Joe’s today, and picked myself up a box of their vanilla Joe Joe’s (like Oreos, only way better), which got me thinking about cookies and music.  Which led me straight back to this song.

 

Everybody has a theme song or two.  It’s part of being a human being in the age of (television/cinema/information/digital downloads/choose your poison).  Depending on your mood, it could be soaring and inspirational or the saddest emo ever known to humankind.  Or it could be amazingly silly, with just a hint of truth.

There really are a lot of songs that resonate with me on a very deep level.  I can “hear” myself in a lot of music; it’s part of what makes music such an important part of my life.  There’s even a few that I keep coming back to, over and over, as being representative of the person I am and the person I want to be.  But I find myself so oddly connected to this little ditty, that I’ve always considered it my theme.  I heard it on the Dr. Demento show many, many years ago.  (I think Dr. Demento must represent some sort of adolescent rite of passage.  Just about everyone I know started listening to him somewhere around puberty and quit right about the same time they started/ended college.)  I had no idea who performed it or when it was recorded.  For all I knew, it was a listener sending the good Doctor his homemade demo tape, a la Weird Al Yankovic.  I’ve got a little more information now, but this will always be the song I heard late one Sunday night and said, “My god, that’s me!” (except for the fact that I’ve never heard anything by the Pousette Dart Band).  As life philosophies go, it’s not bad.  A little hedonistic, but harmless.  The main purpose I think “Music, Sex, and Cookies” serves, and the one thing I think we all need to keep in mind, is that it reminds us not to take things too seriously.  Enjoy life.  Stop and have a cookie once in a while.  I’m partial to chocolate chip myself.

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“Everybody’s Talkin'”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 26, 2013

Today has been a bit of a busy news day for me.  As a tennis and football fan, I was quite interested in the action at Wimbledon and the news concerning the arrest of Aaron Hernandez  I also know sports isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I’ll say no more about either.

Of course, the real action came from the Supreme Court rulings–one striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (ha! . . . defense, my ass), the other refusing to rule on California’s Proposition 8,  which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry after it was allowed by the state Courts.  These are both good rulings.  You can’t tell people they’re legally married, and then deny them the same Federal benefits other married couples enjoy; you also can’t tell people they have the right to get married, and then take it away.  There’s absolutely no question of morality; denying someone a legal right is just wrong.  That’s like saying black people can’t go to the same public schools as white people (which the Supreme Court ruled illegal in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education . . . effectively setting legal, Constitutional precedent for equal marriage rights).  But I can’t help feeling a little let down by the rulings, a little disappointed.  I’m hearing all these talking heads on the news talking about how huge both rulings are, but they seem kind of small to me.

Maybe I just had my hopes up a little too high.  I had daydreams about a sweeping ruling declaring all bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and nullifying all the legalized bigotry across the country.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen–well, my head knew that, anyway; my heart had other ideas.  And what with the Trayvon Martin case going to trial, and Texas about to pass a hideous anti-choice law, I know there’s so much work to still do to fight against the forces of ignorance and hate.  Everybody is indeed talking, but it’s not enough.  We’ve still got a long, long way to go.

Posted in Music, Rock, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Season of the Witch”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 25, 2013

Okay, I’ll be honest.  The choice of song today doesn’t really matter; it just had to creepy.  I could’ve gone with the classic Mike Oldfield tune “Tubular Bells”, which was used as the theme for The Exorcist (and still gives me the chills every time I hear it).  I also thought about using “Haunted House Blues” by Bessie Smith.  But those didn’t have quite the same resonance as Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.”  This one builds up nicely to a sufficient level of uneasy paranoia.  It never used to freak me out, until it was used over the end cards and credits of Zodiac (a great film about the journalistic search for one of the most deeply unsettling serial killer cases ever).  Now I can barely listen to it.

But like I said, today’s song isn’t as important as the reason I wanted a creepy tune.  I want to pimp out a podcast to y’all.  If you have itunes (and, really, who doesn’t these days?), then you have easy access to hundreds of podcasts, which are fantastic free entertainment.  You don’t have to pay a penny to subscribe to most podcasts, and you can find something on virtually any subject you’re interested in.  While trying to catch up on Pop Culture Happy Hour* episodes (I’ve fallen behind again since Daddy died), Glen Weldon recommended a podcast that was making him happy a few weeks ago.  I’m glad I checked it out, because it’s making me very, very happy indeed.

Welcome to Night Vale is a weird little show that has bimonthly episodes that run between 20 and 30 minutes, on average.  Night Vale is a decidedly disturbing little place that makes Twin Peaks look like downtown Normal-ville.  There are hooded figures, creatures of indefinite shape and size, and glowing lights in the sky.  You hear all about Night Vale from the soothing voice of the local radio announcer.  (The conceit of each episode is that it’s a broadcast delivered on the local radio station; they seem to be losing a disturbing number of interns.)  It is by turns funny and creepy, and just perfect for a little late night listening.  The podcast seems to be based in part on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, picking up on themes and imagery that frequented his work.  I admit that I’ve only listened to about 5 of the 25 episodes available, but I am giving it an unequivocal thumbs up.  You can find Welcome to Night Vale through itunes, or visit the Commonplace Books site (where they also have t-shirts for sale).  I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Or maybe you will.  Goodnight, dear listeners.  Goodnight.

 

*Another fine podcast that everyone should be listening to.

 

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Bobby “Blue” Bland

Posted by purplemary54 on June 24, 2013

We’ve lost one of the great voices in music.  Bobby “Blue” Bland died Sunday at 83.

I’m really not sure anything I can say will add all that much to what other writers have been saying; here’s a link to a good New York Times article about the man and his music.  Bland was one of the iconic voices in music.  He could break your heart with just a few well-sung lines.  There’s a reason so many Blues/R&B/Soul singers sound like him.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Sunny Afternoon”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 23, 2013

Sure, it’s a bit past afternoon here in SoCal (about a quarter to 9 PM, actually).  It was pretty socked in with clouds until the afternoon today, and I was pretty lazy for most of it.  But I got it together and went out and bought cat supplies (food, litter, etc.), and watered the front and back yards.  But the long nap I took probably ensured that I’m going to have trouble sleeping later.

I’m not quite sure why this melancholy little song popped into my head today.  There are other Kinks songs I like lots more, but it just seemed like this was today’s theme.  It’s an odd, worried little song.  You listen to the litany of things that’ve gone wrong for this guy, and it’s really no wonder why he’s “sitting here, sipping at my ice cold beer, lazing on a sunny afternoon.”  It’s the only escape he has left, really.  I love Ray Davies delivery in this, too.  He’s so deadpan that it actually takes a minute to realize how contradictory his situation really is from a “life of luxury.”

I suppose it sort of reflects my frame of mind these days, too.  I’m still dealing with everything surrounding Dad’s death, although I’ve got a better handle on things, and some stuff has been taken care of.  One of my cats has been a little punky the last couple of days, too.  She’s not eating her usual gargantuan amounts of food, and let’s just say things have not been a-okay in the litter box and leave it at that.  If it keeps up much longer, I’m taking her to the vet.  And I’m trying to figure out things like flooring and painting (and a million other little things that need to be repaired or replaced) to get Mom moved in.  *sigh*

Really long afternoon naps aren’t on my agenda for the next few weeks.

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“Sweet Home Alabama”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 22, 2013

Special thanks to Sandee for making me think about this song again.

I love “Sweet Home Alabama.”  There.  I said it.  I love this song.  It’s a slow burn of sweet tea, barbecue, and beer that just makes me smile.  The song is humid and languid, much like the place that inspired it.   But it’s also a song that I think has a lot more depth than it’s surface implies.

Right from the opening, when Ronnie Van Zant calls out “Turn it up,” this song takes you someplace different.  I always feel compelled to turn up the volume whenever he says that, like if you listen to it hard enough–and loud enough–something will be revealed.  It’s like an invitation to a secret club, an opening to a place that only lives in dreams.  The “Sweet Home Alabama” that Van Zant sings about isn’t Alabama so much as it is home.  It’s the place where your best memories were made, where you feel comfortable and free.

Many people, both pro and con, associate this song with the worst impulses of the South–with racism and sexism and general stupid redneck-ism.  It didn’t help that Lynyrd Skynyrd would fly the stars & bars at their concerts, or that the song itself was supposedly written as an angry response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, a song calling racist rednecks on their bullshit.  Skynyrd played up their working class redneck roots partly to sell records, partly because it was what they knew.  I’m sure it was a big part of who they were.  These guys grew up in a world where everybody had gun racks on the back of their trucks and Confederate flags hanging in their houses.  They lived in world where it was the War of Northern Aggression, Robert E. Lee was considered a saint, and the South would rise again, by god.  Whether they were racists themselves, or believed any of the claptrap idiot local politicians spouted, is up for debate.  But people have used “Sweet Home Alabama” as an example of a song that champions bigotry and arrogance.

I’ve never felt that way, even after I learned about all the troubled history of the South.  The romantic myths so many attribute to the South is nothing more than violence and evil.  Slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK–and that doesn’t even take what happened to the Native Americans into account.  But “Sweet Home Alabama” is about an Alabama that only exists in the minds of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  It’s about that mythical place we all have in our hearts and minds: the place where we grew up.  We whitewash (pun intended) the faults of the real place, if we were even aware of them in the first place.  Kids are smart, but they’re not always that observant.  They tend to focus on the things that involve them, and ignore anything that doesn’t.  Our childhood memories take on a soft focus that discounts any reality.  Hell, when it comes down to it, Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of Skynyrd weren’t even from Alabama; they grew up in Jacksonville, Florida.  If they were singing about “Sweet Home Alabama,” then they really were singing about a home that didn’t exist.

Which brings me back to why I love this song.  It isn’t about a place filled with racism and hate.  It’s about being with your family and friends in the place you call home, wherever that happens to be.  Alabama, Florida, New York, California.  It’s all the same in the end.  It’s the place you love, filled with people you love.   Take off your coat and stay a while.  Put your feet up and have a cold drink.  It might not be perfect, but it’s home and it’s yours.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

“Good Vibrations”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 21, 2013

Programming Note: For anyone who might be wondering, regular Freaky Friday posts will resume in a week or two–when I’m feeling a little bit more freaky.  As for the other regular feature(s), they will be irregular instead of on a particular day.  

 

Yesterday was Brian Wilson’s birthday, something I neglected.  But it seems more appropriate today anyway, the first official day of Summer (the days will only get shorter from here).  It almost seems intentional, like the universe planned it or something: A guy who manages to write the best songs about surfing and beaches and all things sunny is born right at the beginning of Summer.  In Southern California, no less, the land of the endless summer.

Written during the Pet Sounds sessions, “Good Vibrations” is considered by many to be Brian Wilson’s masterpiece.  It is an amazing piece of music, drawing on influences as diverse as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, choral and orchestral music, and bad sci-fi soundtracks (seriously, where do you think Brian got the inspiration to use a theremin?).  It’s both psychedelic and hard rocking.  The Beach Boys perform it exquisitely.

But without Brian.  He had already begun to sink into mental illness, and was retreating from public life.  His ambitions could not be reconciled with his deterioration.  The great Pet Sounds  follow-up never quite materialized.  “Good Vibrations” was recorded as a single and stood very well on its own, but it was ultimately meant to be a part of that album, Smile.  (Brian completed that album a few years ago, after reworking some of the original material, but I’m not so sure it ever lived up to his vision.)  This song was perfectly realized, but it was also the last great thing Brian ever created.

While he has continued to write and perform as he’s regained his health, Brian Wilson to me will always be a Beach Boy, interrupted.  There’s something both heroic and tragic about the journey Brian has taken, a sense of great achievement and potential unfulfilled.  How much greater could he have been if he’d been well?  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  The music that’s here is more than enough.

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