“After the Thrill is Gone”

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  No use being a damn fool about it.” –W.C. Fields

Y’all know that I follow football.  I keep up with news and rumors, gossip and playmaking.  I love my 49ers, and I pay pretty close attention to a few other teams.  The New England Patriots is one of those teams; it’s sort of fascinating how quickly they’ve gone from football royalty to insane train wreck.  Between  serious injury problems, a former player accused of murder, and a defense that just sucks right now, they’ve got a long row to hoe this season.  I suppose there’s still enough quality there to get them to the playoffs, but they’re not going far this year.

Neither is third string quarterback Tim Tebow.  He was picked up by the Patriots this offseason after being cut by the Jets, who got him after he was cut from Denver last year (they made a serious upgrade at QB).  This is the third team to release Tebow in eighteen months.  Tebow has promised to keep pursuing his dream of being a starting NFL quarterback.

I’m not going to get into the mess that has been Tebow’s NFL career too much.  I will say that in spite of his success in college, he has turned out to be a pretty lousy QB; he has what is quite possibly the ugliest throwing motion I’ve ever seen.  He gets a lot more attention for his overt shows of faith, on both sides of the spectrum, than his abilities or lack thereof.  (Many of his more devout fans feel that he’s being persecuted because of his faith, but that’s a giant load of BS.)  The thing is, he keeps on cheerfully trying, in spite of an overabundance of evidence that says maybe he should switch positions or quit.

This Eagles song was written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey for bandmate Randy Meisner, who had decided to leave the band.  (There’s been a whole lot of friction between the Eagles and Meisner since then, but that’s another story.)  It’s such a sweet, melancholy good-bye to a relationship that has clearly run its course.  “Time passes, and you must move on.  Half the distance takes you twice as long.  So you keep on singing for the sake of the song, after the thrill is gone.”  Loosely translated, I think that means you shouldn’t beat a dead horse.  Randy Meisner had gone as far as he could with the Eagles, and his frenemies sent him off with love.  (“Frenemies” is really the only word that should be used to describe the relationships between anybody who’s ever been in the Eagles.)  The song is technically about a romance that’s over, but the sentiment applies to pretty much any relationship out there.

There’s a point at which people realize that whatever was there once is gone, and it’s time to cut their losses.  I think that’s what Tim Tebow needs to do now.  He’s not going to be the next Joe Montana (still my gold standard at QB).  He’s not even going to be a mediocre backup.  It’s hard to admit it’s time to let the dream go, but it’s time to move on.  (And I just now thought of a song that is so much better for this post, but I don’t want to start over again.  Listen here.)  He’s gotten so much farther on his dreams than most people do.  But life isn’t a fairy tale, and dreams don’t always come true.  Sometimes that’s a good thing.  Like the W.C. Fields quote I opened with, maybe he should just quit being a damn fool.

But I know it’s a hard thing to give up on a dream you’ve always wanted.  I remember when I realized I probably wasn’t going to have kids, even before my surgery.  I’ve still got some complicated emotions about that, but I’ve realized it’s pretty much for the best.  Not all dreams come true.  And not all of them should.  What are your wistful pipe dreams?

 

Freaky Friday: “Shoehorn with Teeth”

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Here’s a charming little bit of absurdity from They Might Be Giants, quite possibly the freakiest artists to record anything aimed at children since Shel Silverstein started writing poetry.

Obviously, this is not one of their children’s songs.  It’s from their second album, Lincoln, and it’s so strange it’s utterly irresistable.  At least it is to me.  I like strange things.  Just take a moment and let the lyrics sink in.

Now try to shake them off.  I dare you.

Have a nice day! 🙂

“(Just Like) Starting Over”

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So tomorrow is D-day.  Or M-day.  Or something like that.  Sometime tomorrow, my mother, her cat, and all her belongings will be arriving.  It will be hot and frustrating (the weather forecast has it in the 90s).  Someone will probably snap at someone else; there might even be crying.  No one of the feline persuasion will be very happy for at least a week.  There’s a fair chance something will get broken or otherwise damaged.  All in all, it promises to be a barrel of fun.

The process won’t be any fun, but my mother moving in is a good thing.  We’re pretty good about staying out of each other’s way if we need to.  And since she’ll still be working for a little while at least, she’ll be leaving the house once in a while–something my father didn’t do much even before his health started failing.  That means I’ll get some “alone time” in the house.  And my mother is pretty similar to me temperamentally: She likes her alone time, too.  I’m gonna have to work on the idea she has that she’s some kind of burden who’s imposing on me, but I think we can fix that.  She’s been lonely for a long time, and I hope this will help alleviate that.

Even though “(Just Like) Starting Over” is a love song, it’s sort of appropriate for this new phase.  We are starting over in a sense; my mother and I haven’t shared a home for over 20 years (I’m not counting the couple of months I lived with her when she broke her arm).  With the work done on the house, it is both literally and figuratively a fresh start.  Now I just have to get her to quit smoking.

Dream On

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This is enough of a song for today.

It’s been exactly fifty years since Dr. King made that speech in Washington, D.C.  What makes me sad and angry is that everything he says is still relevant today.  It’s been fifty years, and we are still dreaming of a time when the problems of racism, prejudice, and poverty are gone.  We are still dreaming of equality for everyone, and fair wages for a day’s work.  Things are better, but work still needs to be done.  Don’t think that the dream has been reached just because we have an African-American president.  The dream was always about more than one man climbing the mountaintop.  It’s about making it possible for all men and women to get the same rights and opportunities to succeed.

So dream on, brothers and sisters.

“Dixie Chicken”

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I usually get befuddled looks from people when I mention Little Feat.  I wouldn’t call them Criminally Underrated, but they are definitely underappreciated, especially these days.  FM radio doesn’t have room for bands like Little Feat anymore, which is how I discovered them.  (Or it was from reading Rolling Stone.  My two main methods for discovering who the great acts of previous generations tend to blend together after a while.)  I know I sought them out because I knew Jackson Browne was friends with Little Feat’s founder, lead singer, and guitarist Lowell George.  Since Jackson Browne pretty much walked on water as far as I was concerned, I figured this Lowell George fellow couldn’t be too bad.

Not too bad is something of an understatement.

Little Feat had a loose, funky feeling to them.  You got the feeling they were always just a little buzzed (not an unfair assumption, given the time).  Their music was a little bit of everything–Country, Rock, Funk, Blues, etc.  all thrown in and mixed together like gumbo.  While they had a certain Southern flavor to their style, Little Feat was actually a California band.  George and Bill Payne formed the band after George was booted from Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention (Payne had auditioned for the Mothers, but decided not to join).  They were also one of those bands that was better live than in the studio, which sometimes made selling records a bit of a challenge.  They were critically acclaimed, but commercially challenged.  As their style veered more into Jazz fusion, Lowell George declared that Little Feat was over.  It seems he didn’t like the new style his bandmates were experimenting with.  His only solo album was a collection of covers, even though he was an excellent songwriter.  While touring to support that album, George died from a heart attack at 34.

Little Feat stayed disbanded for a few years, but reunited in the late 80s.  They even had a hit with “Hate to Lose Your Lovin'”.  I really loved that song, but that was mostly because I hadn’t heard the sardonic and slinky “Dixie Chicken” (or “Oh, Atlanta” or “Willin'”, or any other of their best songs).  This song just moves.  It’s also one of the best examples of their sound.  They were dynamic without being demanding.  It was fun and danceable, with disarming lyrics about lost love and good times.  This is the kind of music you listen to at a bar, hanging out with some of your best friends you just met.

I encourage anyone to go out and give Little Feat a try.  If you’re not sure where to start, listen to their live album Waiting for Columbus.  Recorded just before Lowell George quit, it features pretty much all of their best tunes just the way they were meant to be heard.

Linda Ronstadt

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Linda Ronstadt announced over the weekend that she has Parkinson’s Disease, and has lost her singing voice because of it.  I’m heartbroken.  Linda Ronstadt doesn’t get as much attention these days as a lot of the 70s SoCal artists because she didn’t generally writer her own songs, or play any instruments on stage.  She was just a singer, and a pretty one to boot.

Just a singer.

Linda Ronstadt is one of the great vocal stylists of her generation.  She could do rock, country, pop, big band, and just about anything else.  She chose the songs she sang, and made hits out of many songs that might’ve been otherwise forgotten.  She had the best musicians backing her up, and was responsible for launching quite a few careers.  I mean, you’ve heard of the Eagles, right?  They started out as Linda Ronstadt’s backup band.  To hear that she can no longer sing is something of a tragedy.  (It’s almost as awful to me as losing the great Julie Andrews’ voice because of a botched surgery.)

A lot of the attention she got from the press in the 70s and 80s was for who she dated, not her skills as a singer and performer.  (She always did have interesting taste in men, Jerry Brown and George Lucas among the most notable.)  But she continually reinvented herself as an artist.  When she tired of rock and pop, she collaborated with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra for a successful series of standards albums.  She joined friends Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for the country collection Trio.  She even drew on her cultural and ethnic heritage, and sang traditional Mexican songs on Canciones de Mi Padre. Linda Ronstadt was never one to rest on her success.

Calling Linda Ronstadt just a singer does her, and all female vocalists of her caliber, a huge disservice.  Yeah, she was pretty and sexy (without ever being trashy, something a lot of women performers today should take a lesson from).  But her looks weren’t why she made it to the top of the charts so often.  You don’t have a career as long and varied as Linda Ronstadt’s without talent.

“Kayleigh”

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One of the few exceptions to my general anti-Prog Rock stance is the Marillion album Misplaced Childhood.  It’s a loose concept album about fractured romances, sort of a pseudo break-up album, since I don’t know exactly how much of it is based on any actual break-ups.  (I’m sure my friends who happen to be huge Marillion fans will enlighten me.)  I really don’t listen to the complete album all that much, although it is designed to be listened to as a whole (linked songs, repeated images, melodies, and themes . . . the whole nine yards).  It’s good stuff, but almost all of the goodwill I have toward this album is based on the single “Kayleigh.”

I don’t know what drew me to this song.  The story of a relationship gone to pieces was a little lost on me at first (I freely admit I didn’t always understand the lyrics; the British can be such a mumbly bunch).  I didn’t think anyone in the band was particularly cute (I was a teenager when this came out, after all).  Maybe I just dug the title name.  Maybe I responded to the aching regret in singer Fish’s voice (although I never would’ve articulated it that way back then).  I just know it hooked me right from the moment I heard it.  It’s one of the least progressive sounding songs they ever did.  And aside from any images that are exclusive to the concept of the album (the boy in the elaborate uniform that keeps popping up is from the cover, and plays a figurative role in the album themes), it was a very accessible song.

Marillion never really hit it big commercially, although they do have a loyal following.  They’re more of a cult band than anything else, but they always showcased accomplished musicianship and very emotional songwriting, especially during the Fish years.  (Fish was their original frontman, but left the group to pursue a solo career in 1988.  They’ve continued to record without him, but neither act has ever had the same kind of success, creatively or commerically, since the split.)