“The Cool, Cool River”

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The last lines of this song are some of the finest, most profound words any popular songwriter has ever written.  They’re what make the song matter to me.  They shape the sadness, resignation, and anger in the rest of the words into pure hope.  They take  the weird, syncopated rhythm and turn it into a beating heart.

And these streets, quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to Heaven.

To Heaven.
For the mother’s restless son.
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run.

Who says, “Hard times? I’m used to them.
The speeding planet burns, I’m used to that
My life’s so common it disappears.
And sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”

Read more: Paul Simon – The Cool, Cool River Lyrics | MetroLyrics (with my added punctuation for grammatical correctness)

As Seen on TV: “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”

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Tonight’s post is a quickie, because in just about 15 minutes, Santa Claus is Coming to Town is on.  Yeah, I’m recording it on the DVR, but I love these old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials.  I haven’t seen this one in many, many years.  But I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday.

It’s pretty good advice when you think about.  Put one foot in front of the other.  Get up, get moving.  You’re only stuck if you let yourself be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a few steps backward and relive my childhood for about an hour.

 

Dec. 8th

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Today’s the anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination.  As we remember his vision of a world at peace, we also continue to mourn the death of a leader who did everything he could to bring that vision into reality.

The holiday season is filled with both great love and generosity, and great consumerism and waste.  If you’re buying gifts, try to buy things people will use.  Things that might not be necessary, but that will be loved.  If you have a little extra, give some of it to someone who doesn’t.  Be kind not just to everyone else, but to yourself.  If you’re alone, maybe you can give the gift of life to a shelter animal (and the gift of companionship to yourself).  Do something that makes someone smile.  And be sure to put some change in the red buckets of the Salvation Army.  The good you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold.

Imagine a world that is a better than it was yesterday.

“Asimbonanga”

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Johnny Clegg & Savuka are a longtime favorite of mine.  With Savuka, and his earlier band Juluka, Clegg was at the forefront of the artistic struggle of South African artists and performers against Apartheid.  The simple fact that they were multiracial was somewhat revolutionary at the time, and their music reflected their political activism.

“Asimbonanga” translates to “We haven’t seen him.”

 

“Wentomb’unecala”

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The world is a much poorer place today.

I could prattle on about my feelings, but really, I’m just sad.  I’m probably not going to do much musical musing for the next couple of days, but a man that great should be honored somehow.  So here’s a performance by the incomparable South African ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The song doesn’t have anything to do with Mandela, but it is music from his home, sung with the same grace and power he had.

 

Nelson Mandela

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No song today.

Just a few months ago, I was posting about Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday.  Now he is dead.  It’s not as devastating as losing my father was, but it’s pretty damn close.

I admired Mandela more than just about anybody.  I admired the dignity and grace and graciousness in the way he lived his life, especially after his release from prison.  He was a hero to millions, including me, and a symbol of peace and freedom.

I believe in the freedom he fought so hard for.  And I can only hope that someday, everyone will have that freedom.

 

“Papa Gene’s Blues”

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Note:  I know I said this last year, at about this same time, but I’m planning some changes for the blog.  Hopefully, things won’t go to hell in a handbasket this time.  Stay tuned for updates.

I love the Monkees, and Mike Nesmith is my personal favorite Monkee.  I’m only thinking about him because of this post from Dangerous Minds (which has me rethinking my future music purchases, btw).  He was their best songwriter and probably their most accomplished musician, but because of the manufactured nature of the Monkees, he was never really allowed to blossom as an artist with the group.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t make some awesome music with them.

This song just makes me happy, although I’ve got no idea why it’s called “Papa Gene’s Blues.”  Maybe it’s some kind of off-kilter reference to the Mamas & the Papas.  Maybe it’s based on some guy named Gene.  Maybe Mike just thought it sounded cool.  Who cares?  It’s a sunny, cheerful little love song that helped set the stage for the Country Rock revolution of the late 60s (it’s one of the earliest examples, after all).

“Play, magic fingers!”

Songza

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For all my love of the shuffle setting on itunes and radio in its various forms, I don’t particularly like streaming music services.  I guess they just seem kind of superfluous to me.

Pandora is the only one I’ve had very much experience with up to this point, and I’ve always found it to be too much work. Back when it was still new (read: totally free), I tried it out.  I wanted to hear Jackson Browne at that particular moment, so I entered his name.  Except that’s not how Pandora works.  You enter an artist, and they give you something similar.  Of course, similar can mean a lot of different things to these guys.  Similar in style.  Similar in theme.  Similar in rhythm.  That last one is especially specious, since you can get a song with the same rhythm as, say, “The Pretender” that has absolutely nothing else in common with that song.  It’s kind of disappointing if all you wanted was a Jackson Browne song.

So when I read about Songza a few weeks ago, I was a bit skeptical.  But the Slate article said Songza was different, because the music was chosen by people, not computers.  “Curated” is the term Songza uses.  You go to the site, and choose a playlist based on your mood or the time of day or what you’re doing.  It seemed intriguing enough, but I didn’t do anything with that information until now.

I’ve been listening to “Today’s Indie Folk and Americana” for the last little while, and it’s not half bad.  I haven’t heard anything I really love, yet—but I haven’t heard anything I hated enough to skip, either.  The point is that they’re creating playlists so you don’t have to.  I’ve been enjoying 100.3, but it’s just Classic Rock.  Songza might be a good place to hear some new music.  I’ve found that relying on Rolling Stone reviews and podcasts is less than efficient, so I need a new system.  This just might work.

Repost: “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”

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I’m just not feeling it today, so here’s something from the early days.  I would like to add a link to the acoustic half “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” because I believe this song is meant to be heard as a pair.

Feeling much better today.  I was cleaning out some old papers and stuff for the recycling when I stumbled upon this.  I feel weird quoting myself, although I have changed the punctuation slightly:

“The fury of this song overwhelms everything around it.  The singer, the band, the joy of the audience at hearing a song they love.  It all gets reduced to a swirling vortex, a maelstrom, a tempest, an abyss.  A storm of fuzzed out electric guitar, a tidal wave of feedback.  It is a declaration of intent to tear down everything in its path–everything that came before and everything that will attempt to come after.  The musical equivalent of Sherman’s march to the sea.  War is indeed hell.  Burn it all, and let God sort out the mess.”

I sometimes have a tendency toward purple prose.

But I think it’s a pretty fair assessment of the song.  “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is one of the angriest songs ever by one of rock music’s angriest artists.  And it is overwhelming.  It does wash over you a like some kind of sonic wave.  I’ve never seen Neil Young and Crazy Horse live, but I imagine this one brings the house down whenever they play it.  It came out in 1979, a time when music was changing rapidly.  Punk was still not mainstreamed (read: tamed).  Neil Young seems to be responding to both the vitality of the sound and the vitriol of the message.  His message is one I’ve always taken to heart: “Rock and Roll can never die.  There’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.”  I usually take it literally, because I like a good pledge to musical integrity, and because I’ve always believed that rock music says far more about American culture than almost anyone gives it credit for (Greil Marcus being the most notable exception).  But, of course, there’s other messages.  More to the picture of society.  More to the picture of fame.  More to the picture of politics.  Young is smart and words things in such a way that every listener can come away with something different.

This is a punk song at heart, with a punk sound and a gloriously punk attitude.  “The King is gone but he’s not forgotten.  This is the story of Johnny Rotten” is simultaneously sarcastic and earnest.  Young is symbolically passing the torch from the progenitors of rock to the generation that would’ve been perfectly happy to burn it all down.  And he’s warning them that they won’t be able to. “There’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.”

“Stacy’s Mom”

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There’s a Cadillac commercial using this song, which I’d pretty much forgotten about.  Strange, since once you get the chorus stuck in your head, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of it.

Fountains of Wayne bassist/songwriter Adam Schlesinger says “Stacy’s Mom” is actually a tribute to the Cars, although the song reminds me more of Cheap Trick-style Power Pop.  (It’s no mistake that Schlesinger was a member of Tinted Windows; come to think of it, the only member of that supergroup that doesn’t make complete sense to me is James Iha.  How does a member of Alternative godfathers Smashing Pumpkins end up playing awesome ear candy?)  Of course, the Cars thing makes the video make a lot more sense.  The whole song seems very 80s, which the video obviously plays on.  It’s fun and goofy, and kind of sad.  Twelve-year-olds have absolutely no concept of, well, anything.  You have to feel for the boy character of the song.  We’ve all been there, after all.  An impossible crush on someone’s mom.  Or a teacher.  Or your dad’s best friend.  Or whatever.  Someone who seems so good-looking and so cool, and all you want is to be seen as something other than a kid.  So you try whatever you can to look as cool and grown-up as you can.  And it never, ever works.

I’m sure there were plenty of people disturbed by the replay of a pretty famous scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High involving the kid actors of the video.  Whatever.  I’d be more disturbed if they didn’t make it totally clear that all the attention Stacy’s mom is paying to this kid is all in his imagination.  After all, Stacy’s mom would be doing 15 years in prison if it were anything but a twelve-year-old’s very active imagination.