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Archive for July, 2013

“Creeque Alley”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 31, 2013

One of my favorite Mamas and Papas songs, “Creeque Alley” is also a wonderful little historical artifact.  As Cass Elliot explains in the intro, the song is about how they became the Mamas and Papas.

It’s the Reader’s Digest version, of course.  It leaves out all the romances and affairs, drug use, and other gossip tidbits.  To sum up, John and Michelle were married, Cass was in love with Denny, but Denny and Michelle carried on an extramarital affair.  Everyone was high at one point or another, but John was the hardcore user.  He was also a megalomaniac control freak who wrote a song about a guy involved in an illicit affair just for Denny to sing (“I Saw Her Again Last Night”).  They spent some time in the Virgin Islands, living off of credit cards, writing and rehearsing much of the material that would make them famous.

“Creeque Alley” is also cool because it references some of their contemporaries and friends, including John Sebastian and Roger McGuinn.  Sebastian formed the Lovin’ Spoonful with Zal Yanovsky, who was at one point in a group called the Mugwumps with Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty.  Roger McGuinn was around as a sideman and Brill Building songwriter before forming the Byrds.  What becomes apparent listening to this song is how small and tight the music world really was back then, almost incestuous.  Musicians would move from band to band, studio to studio, playing on each other’s albums and appearing live together.  This is something that carries through the history of Pop and Rock music: London and Southern California in the 60s & 70s are other musical communities that come to mind.

It’s a feeling that seems lost to music today.  Performers these days collaborate not because they all live in the same place, but because they know it will sell them another million downloads.  They know each other from TV appearances and VIP parties, but they don’t seem to be actual friends.  “Creeque Alley” is a snapshot of a lost time.  It might or might not have been a better time, artistically speaking, but it was definitely warmer and closer.  There are many good things about the times we live in now, but even as distances are virtually disappearing thanks to technology, real relationships seem to be growing further and further apart.

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“Hunger Strike”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 30, 2013

A significant number of inmates in California prisons have recently begun hunger strikes to protest being kept in solitary confinement.  From what I understand, this is not just a few guys who’ve proven that they are Hannibal Lecter-level psychopaths locked up for the safety of staff and other inmates.  Solitary confinement is being used by many prisons as a way to “control” gang violence among the inmates.  I will admit to being a little ambivalent about this issue.  I’m of the opinion that if you do something really bad, you deserve your punishment (I’ve got very strong, but somewhat complicated views on punishment and incarceration, but it would take too long to fully explain).  And I think a judicious use of solitary confinement as a way to curb immediate threats is acceptable; it’s not ideal, but short periods of isolation might be the lesser of evils here.  But if there are hundreds of men claiming that they’re being indefinitely confined to solitary units without just cause, then I think there might be a bit of a problem.

Being in prison doesn’t mean you aren’t a person.  Yeah, maybe you did something stupid or bad, or even evil.  But you still have the right to humane treatment.  The inmates and the activists supporting them believe that this situation amounts to torture, and I’m not so sure they’re wrong.  I’m not so sure they’re right, either.  I still need to learn more about what’s happening.  It’s an emotional issue that plays into a lot of irrational fears and prejudices.  I’d like a clear point of view.

This song isn’t about a prisoner’s hunger strike.  It’s about the grief Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and the other members of Mother Love Bone felt when their lead singer and friend Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose.  They got together, along with a then-unknown Eddie Vedder, and recorded an album as Temple of the Dog.  It was a tribute that became something more, as the band evolved into Pearl Jam.  “Hunger Strike” is a visceral experience, a gaping, open wound of a song.  Cornell’s primal scream, “I’m going hungry,” says more about his pain than anything else.  It’s impossible to hear this and not be moved.

And that’s where I’ll leave it.  There’s no easy way to connect the issue with the song, no simple declaration of right or wrong.  I know I’ve already sided with the prisoners.  I can’t stand cruelty.  There might be some valid reasons for solitary confinement.  And some of these guys probably deserve to be isolated.  But I think our system of so-called rehabilitation in this country is profoundly flawed.  It’s time to make some changes.

 

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“A Boy Named Sue”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 29, 2013

I’ve decided there needs to be a moratorium on giving potentially dangerous storms cute names.  Currently, there’s a tropical storm headed for Hawaii that’s named Flossie.  Seriously.  It sounds like the Hawaiian Islands are about to be inundated with adorable animated cows wearing skirts and hair bows.  Naming a storm Flossie is on par with naming it Buttons or Mr. Whiskers–it’s just wrong.  This storm could be dangerous for people and property.  How are people supposed to take the threat seriously when it just sounds so darn sweet?

Which leads me to the best song ever about being, well, misnamed.

“A Boy Named Sue” was penned by Shel Silverstein and made famous by Johnny Cash.  The song’s premise is kind of ridiculous when you think about it: An angry guy named Sue spends his life fighting everyone who makes fun of his name, and eventually hunts down his dirtbag father to get revenge for “that awful name,”  only to have a tearful reunion with the old man at the end.  I mean, why didn’t he just introduce himself to everyone as Joe or Steve, or “Bill or George, any damn thing but Sue”?  Even if you’re too poor or uneducated to know you can go to court to change your name, once you’re an adult, you can call yourself anything you want.

But then again, if logic applied to naming things, then I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have storms named Flossie.

Posted in Country, Music | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

“Neptune’s Jewels”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 28, 2013

One of the best things about Welcome to Night Vale, the creepy and creepily funny podcast I touted here a couple of weeks ago, is that the weather segment of each episode is actually a song, generally by artists I’ve never heard of before.  That’s how I discovered Mystic.

While I’m not a huge Rap/Hip-Hop fan, I am always interested in finding out about quality artists.  Mystic is fierce and smart, with a soulful, genre-hopping style.  I don’t know if she’s still active as a recording artist; her one album, Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom, apparently came out in 2001–even though the music sounds brand new.  (Of course, it might seem brand new to me because I’ve never heard it before.  I am not up on current trends in Hip-Hop.)  I bought this one on itunes, and I hope that some of you jukebox listeners will be intrigued enough to shell out a few cents for her (or bucks; the whole album is pretty darn good).  I think a voice this good needs all the support she can get.

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

J.J. Cale

Posted by purplemary54 on July 27, 2013

I freely admit that I”m most familiar with J.J. Cale through other artists’ covers of his songs.  But his funky, bluesy, laid back style makes him one of the best songwriters to cover.  It’s easy to perform a J.J. Cale song.  That’s not to say the songs are simplistic fodder, or radio-ready pabulum.  There’s a rich, earthy darkness running through Cale’s work.  “Cocaine” is a perfect example of that–an addict’s love song that reveals both the seductiveness of the drug and its dangers:  “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, cocaine.”

Of course, being best known as someone who’s biggest hits were for other people means you’re often underrated, and even forgotten.  Cale didn’t seem to mind his less than superstar status, which is just one more thing that made him great.  He didn’t play for glory, or probably even money (although I’m sure those royalty checks didn’t hurt).  He played because he loved the music.  J.J. Cale was one of the great, Criminally Underrated musicians of all time.  The world will be a little bit quieter without him.

I’ve posted this long clip (posted on YouTube by austinpickers) because I think he deserves to be seen for the fine performer he was.  And besides, it doesn’t get much cooler than J.J. Cale and Leon Russell together (not to mention the awesome backers playing with them).

Posted in Music, Obituaries, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Freaky Friday: “Lovelines”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 26, 2013

This song isn’t freaky so much for its musical structure or fascinating artistic experimentalism.  No, “Lovelines” freakiness comes from its lyrical inspiration.  One day, while recording the album Hootenanny, the Replacements (who were probably drunk) decided it would be funny to put the personals column in a local paper to music.  Turns out, they were right.

While Paul Westerberg’s laughter might be somewhat mocking, there’s a genuine warmth to this goofy little goof, a studio throwaway that showed a lighter side to the Mats.  They were always better known for both their ramshackle, drunken live performance and their razor-sharp angst; Westerberg’s usual themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and alienation really didn’t leave much room for fun.  (FYI, Hootenanny also contains arguably their most painfully heartbreaking song ever, the masterful “Within Your Reach”.)  So “Lovelines” gives them a rare chance to be young and silly on record.  I’m not quite sure how the song made it onto the final track list, but I’m really glad it did.

As Paul Westerberg became a more proficient songwriter, his sense of humor showed through in more subtle wordplay that was both clever and emotional. But this little silly slice also shows that he could draw inspiration from virtually anywhere.  To me, that’s a hallmark of true talent and creativity.

Posted in Freaky Friday, Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Our House”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 25, 2013

I’m baaack . . .

And in a freshly painted and re-floored house.  It feels brand new, and I’m very happy with how everything looks.  I’ve hung some of my Rock & Roll “art” in my bedroom, so it feels like my room again.  (I probably shouldn’t put art in scare quotes like that, since among my framed pictures is a lithograph of a John Lennon sketch my mom bought me years ago.  I also have a picture of Captain Jack & Ianto kissing signed by the actors, but that’s not really Rock & Roll, is it?  Hot, though.)  I’m glad I spent the money doing this (I’ll be paying off the floor for quite some time, but I’m still glad).  There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is enough for right now.

This song seems like a fitting celebration, right down to the two cats (although mine a strictly indoor).  It’s such a lovely song, gently content.  Graham Nash has a real knack for writing sweet love songs like this.  It’s just me and the cats right now, but soon Mom will be here, too.  I suppose Dad will always be here, too.  I’ll probably dig out his knickknacks and tchotchkes later, and hang some of his Egyptian themed pictures.  It’ll warm the place up a little bit more (although with red walls in a couple of rooms, it’s probably warm enough).

Posted in Music, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

“The KKK Took My Baby Away”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 21, 2013

I’m not sure if the computer will be hooked up on Tuesday, so I’m celebrating now.  See, Tuesday is the BFF’s birthday, and I wanted to post a song that was special to her.  Something with meaning and sentiment.  Sure, I could’ve gone with the Kinks, the Clash, or David Bowie.  Maybe some Bob Dylan or Beatles,  or even a little Edith Piaf (she has a taste for French singers and pop music, a taste Mr. BFF and I do not share).  But then I remembered one of our goofy telephone conversations about music.  When we were younger, we’d spend hours on the phone debating the merits of various musicians and songs.  One of our favorite running jokes involved imitating Joey Ramone telling the rest of the band that the record company wanted them to “do more songs about issues.”  Why else would he be writing about the KKK kidnapping his girlfriend?

Of course, the reality of this song is a lot more poignant.  Joey Ramone did indeed write this song in response to losing a girl, but it was to one of his bandmates.  Linda, the girl in question, broke up with Joey, who still felt pretty strongly for her.  Johnny Ramone began dating Linda right away, although they did apparently try to keep the romance under wraps at first.  When Joey found out, he was devastated, and his already rocky relationship with Johnny disintegrated.  Probably made being in a band together kind of difficult.

BFF and I have never been in a band together, and although we’ve gone months without speaking sometimes, we’ve never been really angry with each other for more than a day or two.  We’ve been friends for damn near thirty years now.  She’s still the first person I want to talk to when something goes wrong, or right.  Nobody knows me better than her.  This one’s for you, Ducky.  Happy birthday, a few days early.

Posted in Music, Punk, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Repost: “(I Am) Superman”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 20, 2013

There’s not a lot of songs about superheroes, it turns out.  The closest I can come is this wonderful, originally uncredited extra track from R.E.M’s Life’s Rich Pagent.  It appears on the back cover as a plus sign and a long line.  It is one of my all time favorites by them–just a great, fun tune–and I learned two things about it tonight that I did not know before.  The first is that it’s sung by Mike Mills, one of my all time favorite bass players (as reported at allmusic.com ).  I can only remember hearing him sing backing vocals.  It makes me wonder how many more R.E.M songs I like are sung by Mills.  He doesn’t have the greatest voice; it’s a little thin and reedy (and apparently easily mistaken for Michael Stipe’s voice), but it is serviceable.  The second thing I learned came from allmusic, too, but I confirmed it on Wikipedia (great for facts, not so great for much else): It’s a cover.  “Superman” (as is the official title; I’ve always seen it with the “I Am” added, though) was originally recorded in 1969 by a Texas band called The Clique.  There’s not much on them, but you can read some here .  I never would’ve known either of those things if I hadn’t decided to be a little more thorough tonight, so yay me.

I can’t really tell you what makes this song so great.  The lyrics are repetitive.  The structure is simplistic.  But R.E.M takes it and turns into a little masterpiece.  From the opening guitar riff to the last notes fading out, they just inhabit the song.  It’s got a very layered feel to it, especially the vocals (listening, I can hear the difference between Mills and Stipe’s voices now).  It almost seems as if they were going for their own wall of sound (Phil Spector might be a murderous lunatic, but he was good for something).  There’s also a feeling of flying.  R.E.M was brilliant at creating atmosphere in their songs.  This one just takes off.  “I am Superman, and I know what’s happening.”  Of course, it’s not really about Superman.  It’s about a guy chasing after a girl, “if you go a million miles away, I’ll track you down girl.  Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart.”  (It is amazing to me how many love songs sound like they’re about obsessive stalkers.)

Ultimately, I don’t really care why the song is great.  I’m just glad R.E.M decided to hide it on their album, a little surprise gift for the listener, a gem of a song.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Freaky Friday Repost: The GTOs

Posted by purplemary54 on July 19, 2013

I’ve been concentrating on the painters, and hoping the job gets done by next Tuesday–when the flooring guys come in.  So I’m not feeling very freaky, just freaked out.  But let’s go back in time a little to the first Freaky Friday post.

 

I’m so happy to be using these fine ladies as my first official Freaky Friday post.  Ladies and gents, I proudly present the sweet, funny, wonderful, and eminently freaky. . . .

Girls Together Outrageously!

Also known as the GTOs, they were a group of girls who were friends in LA/Hollywood in the late 60s and early 70s.  With the endorsement and guidance of the Godfather of Freak, Frank Zappa, the girls made an album called Permanent Damage.  They also appeared in Zappa’s film 200 Motels.  They weren’t musicians or singers.  Miss Christine and Miss Pamela both worked as nannies for the Zappa family, and all the girls had various odd jobs and bit parts on the fringes of the entertainment biz.  You might know them better under their somewhat derogatory title of groupies.

Groupies get a bad rap.  Sure, there are some out there that are just in it for whatever fame/notoriety/money/drugs they can get by leaching off of other people’s talent and fame.  I don’t think of those people as groupies.  Real groupies, like the GTOs or the Plaster Casters aren’t in it for the sex or the drugs.  They love the music, and they want to be around the men who make it.  (OMG, Cynthia Plaster Caster has an official website!  That is so cool!)  I make the generalization about male musicians and female groupies, mostly because that’s what the story generally is.  I’m sure the women of Rock & Roll have their fair share of boy groupies, and more power to all of them.  But the girl groupies are the famous ones, often famous in their own right.  See the movie Almost Famous.  Read the books by Bebe Buell and Pamela Des Barres (aka Miss Pamela).  Hell, I think Cynthia Plaster Caster had a gallery show of her work.  They might get criticized for following musicians around and living “immoral” lives.  But they still get to go to all the good shows.

Pamela Des Barres is one of my heroes.  Her autobiography, I’m With the Band, was released in 1987.  As a teenager obsessed with music and musicians, I had to read her book since I knew she’d been a girlfriend of Jimmy Page’s, who was my then-current rock star crush.  (I’m sure he was kind of an asshole, but all Hammer of the Gods did was make him seem sexy and mysterious to me.)  But when I read the book, I found myself falling in love with Miss Pamela instead.  She was so spunky and fearless.  I wanted to be her.  Not just for the groupie thing, but for her incredibly positive attitude and free spirit.  She’s been through a lot of hurt and heartache, but she has lived the life she wanted to live.  I wonder how many people can actually say that.

These days, Pamela still hangs out with musicians, but she’s interviewing them.  She holds writing workshops and various other events that capitalize on her past as a groupie.  When I was doing some research for this post, I was sad to read that most of the GTOs have died.  Only Miss Pamela and Miss Mercy are accounted for on their Wikipedia page.

What’s the legacy of the Girls Together Outrageously?  Be joyful and fearless.  Take some chances.  Love outrageously.  And never, ever be ashamed of who you are.  Now, that’s a freaky concept.

Posted in Experimental, Freaky Friday, Music | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »