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Repost: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 16, 2017

This one is from way, way back on the jukebox’s playlist.  At a recent First Friday event, one of the musicians rekindled my childhood-nostalgia fueled love affair with Jim Croce’s music by playing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” which naturally led back to this classic.  (Her name is Mary Bee, btw, and you can find her on Facebook.)  I left in all the stuff about satellite radio even though we don’t have Sirius in the car anymore.  

I don’t really know how well Jim Croce is remembered; my barometer for his level of fame is sort of broken.  Croce is one of those artists that has always been a favorite in my family, so I grew up knowing who he was and listening to his music.  The second single I ever owned was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  Croce had a music hall sensibility.  His songs often told stories, sometimes sounding like something from the 1940s.  But then he could turn around and pen the template for the quintessential 70s love song (“Time In a Bottle”).  He wore a lot of musical hats for someone who died at 30.

“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is one of his story songs, full of the same kind of unsavory characters that made “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” such a success about a year later.  The plot is that a “pool shootin’ son of a gun”  named Big Jim Walker has cheated an Alabama man named Willie McCoy, “Last week he took all my money, and it may sound funny, but I come to get my money back.”  Everyone warns him that Big Jim is not someone to tangle with.  “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind.  You don’t pull the mask of that old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.”  When Jim arrives, he is beaten, stabbed, and shot by Willie, who importantly goes by Slim.  Because at the end of the song, “you don’t mess around with Slim.”

These days, a tune with this subject matter and level of violence would be a rap song (and probably be more graphic and explicit).  It would probably raise the ire of some conservative parents group who would claim that children would be psychologically damaged if they heard this song.  The album would surely be labelled with a warning sticker.  It certainly wouldn’t get played on the radio.  In 1972, this made the Top Ten of the mainstream singles chart.  Times have indeed changed.

Looking back, there’s a lot of songs I knew all the words to when I was still in single digits that media watchdogs would be shocked about.  I mean, I remember sitting in the back of my aunt’s 1969 Duster (on top of the lowered back seat, no child safety restraints of any sort) singing “The Gambler” at the top of my lungs.  I had “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” memorized when I was four.  Of course, I had precious little comprehension of any of these lyrics.  “Afternoon Delight”?  That was just a fun song about fireworks as far as I was concerned.  I thought the razor kept in Leroy’s shoe was like the plastic kind my daddy shaved with.  I’m sure I asked the occasional uncomfortable question about the things I heard, but for the most part I was kind of oblivious.

I think most kids are kind of oblivious to things like that.  If they don’t understand it, they ask questions or they automatically translate it into something they understand.  Which makes me even more annoyed at the level of censorship I hear on broadcast radio these days.  A few years ago, around the time of the famous Wardrobe Malfunction, everyone became deathly afraid of the FCC and groups like Focus on the Family.  Radio especially began self-censoring to avoid even the slightest hint of something that might be offensive.  Suddenly, songs began getting cuss words stripped out.  Other songs, such as “Walk on the Wild Side,” which used to be relegated to the early morning hours got banned altogether.  (Funny story: Long before any of this, I heard “Walk on the Wild Side” on K-Earth 101, and to keep their wholesome image intact, they edited out the verse about Candy.  Never mind the transvestite, the overdosing junkie, or the male prostitute.  Just get rid of the girl performing oral sex.)  It’s one of the reasons I’m really starting to like satellite radio.  I can hear Roger Daltry ask “Who the fuck are you?”  I can hear about all the degeneracy of Lou Reed’s New York nightlife.  And I can hear about how Big Jim Walker got murdered by some guy named Slim.  And I don’t have to worry about anyone imposing their morality on me.

And once again, a song has taken me somewhere I didn’t expect to go.  And that’s just another reason why I love music so much.

 

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“Walk of Life”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 14, 2017

We got good news from Mom’s doctor today, which sort of overshadows all the crap going on in the world for me right now.  Her tumor is gone!  As we Ubered home, the driver had a classic rock station playing.  The first song I heard was Billy Joel’s “Still Rock & Roll to Me,” which I will probably always associate with good things from now on.  But the next song was even more appropriate.

There’s a sunniness to this song that’s kind of hard to deny.  Yeah, it’s about a hardworking busker, probably in the London Underground since Dire Straits are an English band, “down in the tunnels trying to make it pay” and probably not succeeding all that well.  Let’s face it, if Johnny were a real dude, he’d probably be one step from homeless and living on Top Ramen, even if “he got the action, he got the motion, yeah, the boy can play.”  But there he is, day after day, playing awesome oldies for bored commuters and students.  Getting run off by the cops every so often because there’s probably no way this guy could pay for any kind of permits to play on the streets.  (I have no idea if that’s even a necessity; I know virtually nothing about being a street musician.)  He plays because he loves the music, because he wants music to be his life no matter what.  He might not be winning yet, but you know someday he’s gonna get his shot.

The video has always been kind of perfect, too.  Now, I’m almost positive that no one in Dire Straits actually gives a flip about American sports.  The choice to intersperse clips of athletes failing pretty spectacularly at their jobs in between clips of the band playing was probably made by some nameless exec in some anonymous record company office.  But it works.  It’s a song about trying to succeed and I for one enjoy watching a good blooper reel.  Especially at the end when they show the good plays, the home runs and touchdowns and dunks.  It might be a rough life, but eventually you’re gonna get it right.

That’s why this song made me smile today.  It’s been a hard few months; Mom’s treatment was pretty brutal.  And we’re not entirely out of the woods yet; we still have more scans and a lot more waiting for the final verdict.  But I think maybe there’s a light at the end of this particular tunnel, and that makes me feel good.  (I’ll bet it makes Mom feel a million times better.)  And even if things get bad again, this song is a good reminder that maybe, just maybe things will get better again.  “And after all the violence and double talk, there’s just a song in all the trouble and the strife.  You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life.”

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Adam West

Posted by purplemary54 on June 10, 2017

When I saw the news that TV’s favorite Batman Adam West had passed today, I was sadder than I thought I would be.  The 1960s television version of Batman is often ridiculed for its cartoonish action, ham-handed moralizing, and general silliness.  People of my generation grew up on this version, but we were indoctrinated into the Dark Knight school of Batman characterization in the 80s and 90s; our then-teenaged psyches found more to love in the troubled, vengeful version that is so ubiquitous today than we did in the brightly-colored uprightness of our childhoods.  But Adam West’s portrayal of Batman as a decent man who fought crime because it was the right thing to do became a pop culture touchstone, and made West an icon.

Adam West did a lot of other acting besides Batman, but that character is what he will be most remembered for.  One of the things I loved is how he embraced it and how he in turn used it as a base for much of his recent work.  West did voice acting for a number of cartoons, and he used the same cadences and phrasings he did as Batman.  It made him easily recognizable and, I think, brought a lot of warm feelings to those who remembered that voice from Saturdays in front of the TV.

So I bid a fond farewell to West with the Batman theme, a tune almost as iconic as his portrayal of the Caped Crusader.  Composed by jazzman Neal Hefti, the catchy “na na na na na na na na” riff runs throughout and is really what makes it such an effective ear worm.  (Seriously.  Try to get it out of your head.  I dare you.)  Because this version of Batman relied so heavily on the comic book version of the character that was popular at the time, this is exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear if a comic book could play music when you opened it.  With its jazzy and surf undertones, it was perfect.

So long, Mr. West.  Thank you for bringing so much happiness to so many people.

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“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 1, 2017

A recent post describes my relatively reasonable fear of death (“reasonable” being the key word here; I have lots of other far less reasonable fears).  What I didn’t really get into was my obsession with it.  For the last year and half, from the second I saw news of David Bowie’s death to hearing of Gregg Allman’s passing just a few days ago, I have been compulsively worried that musicians I like are going to suddenly drop dead.  (I really should’ve known 2016 was going to suck in terms of pop culture passings when New Year’s Day that year brought the news that Natalie Cole had died the night before.  That’s never a good way to start off a year.)  I check the news multiple times a day, just in case.  I imagine how I might feel if [insert name of iconic musician here] passed.  I wonder idly about which songs I should use for my obituary post, and how many posts commemorating that person there ought to be; depending on their fame, influence, and place in my heart it could be a lot.  Right now, I’m just a tiny bit worried that my even musing about this topic will bring some kind of karmic retribution down on whichever poor bastard happens to be next on the Universe’s hit list.

I am aware that this is not entirely healthy.

I wish I could be as sanguine about death as this song.  I wish I could be accepting of it as the Buddha says.  It’s natural and inevitable; we are transitory beings, blah, blah, blah.  “Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain.  We can be like they are.”  Blah, blah, blah.  It might be a natural transition, but it’s still a pretty fucking scary one.  The final great unknown.  I hate not knowing things.  I also hate not having control over things, and death is one of the many, many things entirely outside my control.

Of course, I have a lot of recent personal experience with death.  It’s been four years since Daddy shuffled off the mortal coil.  Mom’s illness has once again raised the specter in my house.  My cousin the roadie recently got just a little bit too close to death when the Manchester Arena was bombed right after the Ariana Grande concert (he was on the crew, who were all safe).  Other family members have passed recently.  Cats have passed recently.  I know I’m getting older and so is everyone I love; I just wish I wasn’t so anxious about it all.  My worried little hamster wheel of a brain has been working overtime on this one.

One death that hit me unexpectedly hard was the recent passing of Robert M. Pirsig.  Who the hell was that, you ask?  Just the man who wrote the Book That Changed My Life, aka Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Sure, I hadn’t known he was even still alive, which is one of the things that made his death so unexpected.  But as I read the obituary in the paper, I felt gutted.  For a few minutes, I felt like I did when my dad passed.  It was that painful.  I celebrated his life by rereading Zen again, which made me feel a little better.

I think maybe I’d feel even a little bit better if I knew that there was some sort of personification of death who came to collect you when it was time.  Not Robert Redford in that episode of The Twilight Zone (“Nothing in the Dark”; you can find it on YouTube).  I’d much prefer the Death from Terry Pratchett’s books.  He’s very matter of fact, but still quite compassionate.  Plus, he has a sense of humor and rides a horse named Binky.  What’s not to love?

There’s really nothing I can do but live with it, no pun intended.  When Pirsig passed, I told myself I had to sit with that grief for a few minutes and I did. I know when the next person or pet I love moves on, I’ll cry and sit with that grief, too.  I have to.  As John Donne said, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Nobody said the bell couldn’t be a cowbell.

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Who Am I?–Replacements Edition

Posted by purplemary54 on May 28, 2017

Some time ago, I posted the first in an irregular series of songs I think describe me, or at least the me I think I am anyway.  Here’s another one.  I’ve made my adoration of the Replacements well known; I’ve stated that I think Paul Westerberg is the true voice of my generation.  So it makes perfect sense that I would see myself in his songs.

I consider myself a creative, artistic person.  I also know I don’t fit into the box labeled “middle class female” very well.  I’m an oddball.  I like being alone, and I abhor most of the things the majority of people claim to enjoy (physical activity, cilantro, and the smell of vanilla candles are just a few examples).  I didn’t get married or have children.  I went to college for an education, not a degree.  I don’t drive.  If I was rich I’d be allowed to be eccentric, but since I’m not rich I’m just a weirdo.  A misfit.

Which makes the Replacements’ “Achin’ to Be” an ideal song for me.  Of course, it’s also the ideal song for every creative, artistic misfit girl out there.  And while I do see myself in that song, if I’m totally honest, I think I live more in the world of “Merry Go Round.”

It’s not just that the title features a homophone of my name, although I freely admit to being drawn to songs with my name in them.  There’s just more of me in the feeling and tone of this song.  It’s the chorus that really gets me:  “Merry go round in dreams.  Writes them down, it seems that when she sleeps she’s free.  Merry go round in dreams.”  I do feel free in my dreams; I imagine most people do.  And I write down dreams, just like I write down random thoughts and song lyrics and ideas.  I try to turn all of it into poems and stories–not always successfully but I try.  There’s also an edge to this song that “Achin’ to Be” doesn’t have.  That song is more melancholy.  “Merry Go Round” is kind of pissed off.  Kind of like me.  I’m angry.  A lot.  And you can hear that in this song.  You can also here an isolation, like the characters of the song aren’t just lonely, they are genuinely left out.  I’ve felt left out most of my life.  I’m not just a misfit; I’m an outsider.  People forget about me.  People don’t tell me things on a regular basis.  I’m not physically invisible, but I might as well be.  Some of that is my own doing, some of it isn’t.  And I can feel the pain of being excluded in this song.  But I also feel the empowerment of defiance here.  Sure, these characters are left out.  But they decided that if the rest of the world can’t be bothered to see them, then the rest of the world can go jump in a lake.  “But the trouble doll hears your heart pound, and your feet they say goodbye to the ground.”  There is something to be said for marching to the beat of your own accordion.  While I sometimes get frustrated and feel lonely, I don’t feel dishonest.  That’s important to me.  And it’s one of the reasons why I love this song so much.

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Gregg Allman

Posted by purplemary54 on May 27, 2017

In yet another blow to Rock & Roll, Gregg Allman has passed from this plane at 69.  He had a long career but he was at his best as the singer and organist for the Allman Brothers Band.  They were blues and rock and psychedelia rolled into one rollicking package.  While it can be argued that Duane Allman’s mythic guitar had a more lasting impact on music, you can’t say that Gregg didn’t help shape the Allman Brothers’ sound in equally crucial ways.

You also can’t say that Gregg Allman didn’t live the Rock Star persona to the hilt.  He was as hard-living as the characters he sang about, and he paid that price in more ways than one.  Losing Duane and ABB bassist Berry Oakley in eerily similar motorcycle accidents within a year of each other were not only a huge personal losses but ones that changed the sound of the Allman Brothers Band.  His tumultuous marriage to Cher and years of substance abuse made Gregg tabloid fodder.  And those years of drugs and alcohol led directly to the health problems that plagued him in his final years.  He spent much of the last few years playing as often as his body would allow him to.  His voice had grown ragged, but I’m sure the music gave him some measure of peace.

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“Mr. Blue Sky”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 22, 2017

I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 last Tuesday, and it was awesome.  Unfortunately, I’ve also had this song stuck in my head since last Tuesday.  So now y’all are gonna suffer along with me.

I couldn’t find a good clip of the opening credits in which Baby Groot is dancing to this song.  But I think seeing Jeff Lynne without his trademark dark glasses is a pretty decent trade off.

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It’s Finally Here!

Posted by purplemary54 on May 21, 2017

Twin Peaks finally premieres tonight.  I’m so excited I could plotz! (Quick, name the TV show that line comes from.)

I know it won’t be as stunning as the original premiere was; there’s no way to recreate the experience again.  And with so many of the original cast members having moved on from this plane–and so many new characters–it’s bound to be different.  Not to mention the fact that Lynch isn’t going to be constrained by broadcast network standards; he gets to play in the big boy premium cable sandbox.  But I’m hopeful this will be as good as anything else David Lynch has done.  I’m hoping he stays with the psychological mind games bordering that made so many of his films and the original series so intriguing and wonderfully baffling.  But mostly, I’m hoping I get to spend time in that wonderful, weird, eerie town again.  I’ve missed it so.

 

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Chris Cornell

Posted by purplemary54 on May 18, 2017

Fuck.

This is not what I expected to be doing this morning.

I’m going in for my annual mammogram this afternoon.  I’ve got to run a couple errands today.  Maybe a load of laundry.  I checked the news on my phone to see if there were any interesting developments in the Russia investigation.  I did not expect to see that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had passed into the next plane last night in what Rolling Stone’s website is reporting as a “possible suicide.”  Fuck.

Cornell’s voice was a force of nature, which was exactly what a band like Soundgarden needed to become a Rock powerhouse.  He could wail and groan like a hurricane, then drift down to a whisper of a breeze.  He was as relentless and undeniable as the wind.  And I cannot believe he is silenced.  He was only four years older than me.

I was never a Soundgarden superfan, although I always enjoyed listening to them.  My favorite Cornell song is actually “Hunger Strike” from the Temple of the Dog one-off, which was itself a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.  Cornell teamed with the surviving members of that band and some new kid named Eddie to play and sing for a life cut short.  Cornell’s voice meshes perfectly with Eddie Vedder’s.  And the chorus seems like an aptly fitting description of the musical landscape the last couple of years: “I’m going hungry.”

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“America”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 16, 2017

I’ve been so disheartened by what’s happened in this country.  Not the “divisiveness” that everyone on the interwebs is bitching about; we’ve been divided socially, politically, economically, and any other -ally you can think of pretty much since Europeans moved their sanctimonious asses into this country.  Yes, the Native Americans had their wars and disagreements; it wasn’t all some egalitarian paradise.  But there wasn’t a wholesale genocide or systematic demonization of anyone determined by the group in power to be “other” before white folks showed up.  Fucking own it, people.  I like political divisiveness.  I like protest.  I like resistance.  I think they are part of what it means to be a patriotic American.  Remember, boys and girls, the First Amendment also protects the right of the People to criticize their government–or anyone else–without fear of prosecution or persecution.

No, I’ve been disheartened by what the Cheeto has been attempting to do to this country, with varying levels of success.  There are people who say he’s a dictator.  Or a tyrant.  Or that what he really wants is to be emperor.  No.  He thinks the government is just another business and he’s the CEO.  In Trump’s worldview, the president has the right to do pretty much whatever the fuck he wants because it’s his company to run into the dirt.  He’s wrong, of course.  Government is one of the things that should never, ever be run like a business (schools, hospitals, and courtrooms are the others in case you were wondering).  The point is not to turn a profit or run a lean, mean machine.  The point of government is to serve the People, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a LOT of fucking people in this country and very few of them are identical in every way.  We need a large government because we have a large country with a lot of very diverse needs.  Anyone in favor of a small government should go right ahead and give up public schools, public libraries, fire departments, labor protections, police departments, and any of the other multitude of services the various levels of government provide.  And before someone says, but the cities and states provide most of those things, I wish to point out that especially in rural areas or states without silly things like income taxes, the Federal government is who steps up to fund all the stuff you think is your right to have (which it is, btw).

Have y’all noticed that I’m just the tiniest bit pissed off?  Have I not used a form of “fuck” often enough for that to sink in?  I am angry.  I expected to be basking in the glow of the first woman president at this point.  (For the record, I don’t particularly like Hillary all that much either, but at least she knows how to do the fucking job.)  I was not expecting a cheeto who lacks a brain-to-mouth filter and who thinks dismantling the federal government is a good idea.  What the fuck did he plan on doing?  Outsource all governmental functions to Russia?

Which brings me to the actual reason for tonight’s rant.  Russia.  And all the obvious entanglements it so obviously has with Trump and virtually all his back-biting, slimy, little toadies.  I live in the fucking United States of America, and while I do not subscribe to outdated Cold War prejudices, I do not believe that a foreign government has any fucking say whatsoever in any aspect of the running of MY fucking government.  (Is that enough fucks for y’all, yet?)  It’s all beginning to come to light, just like I knew it would.  I wasn’t certain it would be Russia that brought the Cheeto down, but I knew he’d do something before the end of this year to finally get those spineless dickfaces in Congress to rev up those old Articles of Impeachment.  Hell, they impeached Bubba because he couldn’t keep it zipped–something everyone on both sides of the political divide always knew.  The fact that he liked having sex with women not his wife was the only thing they could nail him for is why he was ultimately acquitted.  It’s not like he was, oh I don’t know, REVEALING STATE INTELLIGENCE TO THE RUSSIANS, or anything like that.  Or firing the FBI director because said director was conducting an investigation into his ties with Russia via his bloodsucking cronies.  Or trying to completely dismantle the fucking federal government.

Yeah, I’m pissed but I’m also feeling kind of optimistic.  Because all the stupid shit that Trump and his minions have been doing is starting to come to light.  I predicted to some friends a month or so ago that by the end of this calendar year the impeachment will either have happened or be in progress.  That doesn’t mean those of us in favor of progressive goals should be smug and sit back.  We need to keep resisting and fighting and shouting our displeasure from the fucking rooftops.  We need to vote with our pocketbooks, email and social media accounts, and especially out ballots.  Don’t whine or complain that nothing you do makes a difference, because when you do nothing then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Democracy is a participation sport, kids.  Capitalism, evil fucking system that it is, works for you when you play by their rules and use money as power.  No political system was EVER changed from the outside.

So why did I choose this particular song from Simon and Garfunkel to punctuate my ravings?  “America” is such a quiet tune, beautiful and sad.  Disaffected.  Disenfranchised.  The characters in this song are disconnected from each other, from their society, from themselves.  From their country.  Do not be these people.  This is your fucking country.  Take it back from the bastards.  Declare at the top of your lungs, “I’ve come to look for America.”  And you sons of bitches better not have sold it to Russia.

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