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Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

“Echo”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 23, 2018

I’ve got Tom Petty on the brain.  I’ve got my dad on the brain, too; it’ll be five years since he died in a couple weeks.  I’ve been having weird anxiety dreams lately.  I’m writing poems again, although not as much as I’d like to be.  I’m a little worried about one of the cat’s health.  I’ve had a little wine tonight.  A little too much, maybe.  Or not enough.

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little melancholy.

So this is kind of the perfect song for me right now.  It’s all echoes, jumbled feelings of sadness and grief and happiness and peace and anger bouncing around in my head, back and forth, over and over.  “It’s the same sad echo comin’ down.  It’s the same sad echo all around in my ears.  It’s the same as the same sad echo around here.”  I don’t feel bad or depressed, really.  Just kind of unsettled.  Kind of lost, even though I’m not.  Just one of those funks.

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“Wooden Heart”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 16, 2018

I watched the HBO documentary on Elvis Presley The Searcher last night (and I highly recommend it; here’s the trailer to whet your appetite).  I had read beforehand an article about Tom Petty’s contribution–a fine interview made all the more melancholy by Petty’s death last October, so I was even more intrigued than I would’ve been anyway.  Both parts covered Elvis’ career in a way that was both familiar and revelatory.  I already knew most of it, but it was such a joy to watch and listen to the interviews with his contemporaries and others analyzing the work itself instead of the garish personal details of his life.  Elvis the man wasn’t ignored, but his personal life was only covered in respect to how it affected him as an artist.  I came away with an even greater dislike of Tom Parker and the damage he did to Elvis’s career.  (Yeah, yeah.  Without Parker, Elvis might not have become an international superstar so quickly, but those godawful movies in the 60s and all the ways he stifled his recording & touring were just too fucking heinous for words.)  But I was also struck by, as I always am, by what an amazing performer and singer Elvis was.  Watching the old footage of him, even the 70s jumpsuit years, showed why he was so phenomenal.  It was kind of heartbreaking

Of course then the closing credits happened.  Tom Petty’s interview for the documentary came just a few months before his unexpected death last year, and as noted in the article I read, it was incredibly insightful and one of the final ones recorded.  As a fellow Southerner and artist, I think Petty got Elvis in a way others interviewed didn’t; he understood where Elvis came from far more intimately than a lot of scholars and critics ever could no matter how much research they might do.  But that was just kind of melancholy, like I said earlier.  What killed me, made me cry out loud, was the tacit dedication the filmmakers made to Petty over the closing credits.

“Wooden Heart” is from G.I. Blues, the first movie Elvis made after being discharged from the army in 1960.  The soundtrack was like that of most of the music from Elvis movies: mostly forgettable with a gem or two tucked in.  The version of “Wooden Heart” in the movie is pretty wooden, too, except for Presley’s irrepressible charisma.  But this gentle cover by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers is so lovely and quiet; you can genuinely believe the plea for love and compassion he makes.  And I thought I had never heard it before.  When I finished sobbing and pulled myself together, I hit iTunes to see if I could download it.  It was available on the doc’s soundtrack, along with a whole lot of great Elvis and some other fabulous blues & rock used to tell the tale (and considering how many tracks there are, it’s kind of a bargain at $39.99 is you’re looking for a starter Elvis collection).  But looking around the web for more information and something for this post, I found out I already owned Petty’s cover of “Wooden Heart” and had most likely listened to it at some point.

Back in the 90s, Petty & the Heartbreakers released a damn good box set called Playback.  It’s six discs worth of some of the best music from one of the best acts ever in Rock & Roll.  The first three discs are all great tracks from the various albums up to that point; the second three are b-sides, rarities, and demos.  “Wooden Heart” was nestled in near the end of Disc 6 titled “Nobody’s Children” for the fact that these were tracks that were essentially orphaned–recorded but left off of any other albums for whatever reason.  I remember listening to the entire box set when I got it, although I’ve mostly neglected it since.  I don’t why I ignored or dismissed “Wooden Heart”; I guess I just wasn’t in the right head space for back then.  But now, after Petty’s death and watching the sad end of Elvis’ life and career, this song really hits home.  It’s nice to discover (or rediscover) treasure like this.

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“Play in the Rain”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 8, 2018

Lindsey Buckingham has always been my favorite of Fleetwood Mac’s long line of weird and brilliant frontmen.  And as a musician/songwriter/producer, he’s always been the oddest of the oddballs.  He never met a sound effect, vocal distortion, or production trick he didn’t like and frequently employed them on both group and solo albums.  In 1984, he released his oddball masterpiece, the aptly titled Go Insane.  It is arguably the strangest mainstream recording outside of a deliberate novelty album ever.

It also sounds like Buckingham was going a little bit insane when he made it.  Since Go Insane came out almost ten years after the big Mac’s seminal Rumors, I’m not sure any of the obvious turmoil here can be blamed on the emotional upheaval that made Rumors so phenomenally good (and popular).  It also employs to fuller effect some of the musical trickery that he’d begun employing with Tusk.  One of the best tracks on the album is the repetitive (but never boring) “Play in the Rain.”  There’s a rage and a passion to this collection of riffs and noise that is only hinted at in many of his other songs.  Smashing glass, pouring water, instrumental swirls and cacophonies dance around each other while Buckingham croons the limited lyrics over and over.  It’s a little ominous, frankly.  I’m not so sure I’d have said yes to his repeated “Can we play in the rain?”

Now my very first copy of this album was on cassette–vinyl being the other main choice since CDs weren’t yet the preferred format (let’s not even discuss how this might have played out had Go Insane been released digitally in its first incarnations; I’ll just say I’m not so sure it would’ve been better that way).  As you oldsters out there know, cassettes and vinyl have limited space on each playable side, so there was only so much music you could put on each side.  Presumably as a way to tie the opposite album sides together, Buckingham opted to split “Play in the Rain” into two parts.

The last track on the first side fades out with a sitar riff, you get up and flip over your LP/cassette, and pick up right where you left off.

It’s really kind of awesome.  Sure it’s an otherwise unnecessary interruption in the beautiful droning weirdness of the song, but it had the effect of showing the listener that this was not just some random collection of songs; this was a narrative, a story, a chain.  What was the story being told?  It seems to me to be the story of someone obsessed with another person, or another persona.  A story of someone teetering on the edge of madness, a nightmare of love and lust.  It’s fantastic.  This song is the centerpiece of the madness.  These days, you can get the song as one piece, but I don’t think it adds anything to it to be a whole song instead of two parts.  Part of what makes it compelling to me is the way it connects the two halves of the original album.  In these days of easy downloads, it’s harder to get a sense of the wholeness of a work.  I could get into a whole “get off my lawn” type rant about this, but I won’t; it’s just something I miss about the way we used to consume music.  The days when you would just put on an album and listen to it as a thing in and of itself, one track after the next.  Even CDs, which made things like the break between the two parts of “Play in the Rain” kind of useless, gave you a clear sense of an album as a complete work, something conceived as a piece of art and deliberately arranged in a certain way.  “Play in the Rain” (parts I and II) remind you that there was once a time when the structure of an album mattered just as much as the content.

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Dolores O’Riordan and the Shadow of Death

Posted by purplemary54 on January 22, 2018

I need to start this with the statement that I do not believe anyone younger than I am should be dead.  I do not say this to deny the reality that every single day, a multitude of people who have spent less time on this planet than I have–many of them considerably less–die.  Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries, was just 46 when she left this plane on January 15th; I’ll be 49 this coming Saturday.  My belief that people younger than me should not be dead is rooted not only in my own fears about mortality, but also my general belief in fairness.  And it is simply not fair that people die young.

Once again, my desire for fairness is not rooted in some sort of denial about the reality of the world.  There is no philosophy or religion that guarantees fairness in the universe;  if there were, I would’ve signed up for it by now.  But the arbitrariness of it all makes me feel, well, kind of helpless.  Sure, O’Riordan had some health challenges in the last few years, but she was doing okay at the moment and her death was a shock.  It must always be a shock to find a seemingly vital and happy person dead on the floor of their hotel bathroom.  Add to this the news that Tom Petty’s death was due to an accidental Fentanyl overdose and a young person’s death in the family of someone I know.  (My mom has Fentanyl patches for pain relief; obviously I’ll be monitoring her use of them very carefully from now on.)  It’s just kind of disheartening.

Which makes the Cranberries’ “Zombie” the perfect song for this mini-memorial.  It’s a great tune, but it also expresses the shadows that violence and anger and death cast over everyone in their orbits.  It’s about The Troubles in Ireland, about the way politics and religion can be twisted into oppression, about the way we all turn anger into prejudice and prejudice into violence.  It’s about how those with power use that power against everyone without it, everyone who is different in some way that they don’t like.  In terms of the current presidential administration, it’s a nice little reminder.  In terms of a history lesson, it’s a little vague but can be used as a starting off point.  In terms of music and mood, it is a black hole.  It sucks all the light and the hope out of the room.  It is not a denial of reality but an acceptance of it.  Sometimes, you just have to sit with the grief and anger, let it flow over you and simply feel it.

Then you get up and get on with life.  No, it is not fair and people will always leave this plane too soon.  But flowers will still bloom and there will still be joy.  You just learn to carry them with you.

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Pat DiNizio

Posted by purplemary54 on December 13, 2017

No one should be allowed to die this time of year.  It’s just too sad.  Of course, lots of people do die during the holiday season.  Joe Cocker did.  John Lennon was robbed of his life in December.  My grandmother passed early in December some 20-odd years ago, and it will still go down as the most somber Christmas ever, even more so than last year’s muted celebration after Mom’s cancer diagnosis (but she’s doing okay right now).  And let’s not forget all those people who’ve lost everything they had in the SoCal fires this month, with at least one death being directly related to the blazes.  But I really hate just adding to the list of sadness this time of year.  I want people to celebrate and be happy.  To find joy in everything.

So my heart goes out to the friends and family of Smithereens lead singer Pat DiNizio, who passed yesterday at just 62.  It’s gonna be a difficult holiday for them (whatever holiday they celebrate. . . I make no presumptions).  I hope they can still take joy in knowing that he made a lot of people very happy with his special brand of Rock & Roll.

I like the Smithereens.  They were one of the band’s I discovered watching MTV.  Or maybe listening to the radio.  It’s been long enough that I’m not sure either way.  But either way, they were good.  Solid.  I’m not a big enough fan to need more than their greatest hits, but those songs make me pretty darn happy whenever I hear them.  “Behind the Wall of Sleep” has long been my favorite of theirs, an ode to a beautiful bass-playing girl.  The sound is chunky and fuzzy and utterly irresistable.  As a teenager, this kind of music was all I needed to brighten my mood.  Still is.  Thanks, Pat.

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Malcolm Young

Posted by purplemary54 on November 19, 2017

You always saw Angus.  With his schoolboy uniform and flashy solos, it was kind of impossible to miss him.  Or you saw the singer–first Bon, then Brian–all raspy voices, tight jeans, and leering smiles.  It didn’t matter which one it was; they were eerily interchangeable.  If you were a certain type of fan, you’d watch the drummer at the back.  But you almost never saw Malcolm on stage.  He was always there, usually just to the singer’s left, bobbing away to the beat and strumming his guitar.  Your attention would always be on the flashy exterior, never really realizing that the heart of AC/DC was pounding away unnoticed.

Malcolm Young might not have been responsible for the image AC/DC projected to its fans, but he was largely responsible for their sound.  He co-wrote most of the songs you sing along with as they blare from your radio.  When it was announced in 2014 that he was permanently retiring from the band because of dementia, family and fans knew it was just a matter of time.  That time came a couple days ago when Malcolm left this plane at just 64.  He left behind some truly kick ass music.  It won’t change the fact that he was too young to go, but at least it gives everyone something to hold on to.

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Fats Domino

Posted by purplemary54 on October 25, 2017

Antoine “Fats” Domino has left this world at the age of 89.  We were lucky we had him so long.  We almost lost him in New Orleans in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but he survived and kept making music.  We got twelve more years of that wonderful voice and unbelievable smile.  (I need to add him to that mental list I have of musicians who love their work so much they can’t contain themselves.)  Domino was always smiling at the piano, and even when he wasn’t, you could still see the echo of that smile in his eyes.  He was irrepressible.

Domino was also one of the original architects of Rock & Roll.  Without his trademark piano style, drawn from the jazz and blues that filled the air in his native New Orleans, the music I and so many others love so much would not have sounded the same.  The old guard is dwindling now–just a few of the originals are still out there.  But the music is still as vital and alive as it was decades ago.

If you’ve got some time to kill and want to be truly entertained, watch the episode of American Masters devoted to Domino.  You will not be sorry to have spent an hour in the presence of this lovely, talented human.

 

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“The Best of Everything”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 8, 2017

I had to take a couple of days off before I could write this one.  It’s just a little too hard emotionally.  I mean, the song is a killer.  A guy reflects on a long-lost love and hopes her life is good and happy.  And while it’s a tad overproduced, the sadness of the lyrics and the melancholy with which Tom delivers them just makes my heart ache.

Of course, this song is a little bit of a double whammy for me.  The overproduction on “The Best of Everything” comes courtesy of Robbie Robertson.  During the lengthy recording of Southern Accents (they had to leave the studio for roughly a year after Tom broke his hand and basically had to relearn playing guitar; many songs from the original sessions ended up being scrapped or totally revamped), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were at the studio the same time as Robertson.  Tom asked him to produce one of the songs, which became the basic track for “The Best of Everything.”  Robertson took it away for post-production overdubs, and was very secretive about precisely what he was doing to the song.  Tom would regularly ask him how it was going, and Robbie would  tell him everything was fine and that it would be done soon.  When the track was finally finished, there was a beautiful horn section and a backing vocal from Richard Manuel.  (BTW, if you don’t know who Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel are 1) Google them, and 2) go away; I don’t think we can be friends anymore.)  That backing vocal ended up being one of the last things Richard Manuel ever recorded before his suicide in 1986.

So it’s safe to say I get a little weepy over this song on good days.

Last Monday, October 2nd, was not a good day.  Tom was gone.  Yes, his physical body was still lingering in this plane, but his energy, his spirit, had already moved on.  I could feel that little bit of emptiness left behind in the Universe.  And I sat on my couch with my iPod on.  As I scrolled and saw this title, I hesitated before I hit play.  I knew it would shatter the last pieces of my heart that were still being held together with spit and baling wire.  I knew it would physically hurt to listen to that song.  But I had to, because this was my good-bye to that voice.

Tom Petty gave me, all of us, so much joy, and there really is no way to adequately thank him for it.  Funny how he wrote the only thank you I could think to give over thirty years ago.

“So listen honey, wherever you are tonight, I wish you the best of everything in the world.  And honey, I hope you found whatever you were looking for.”

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“Swingin'”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 5, 2017

The one bad part about an artist as successful as Tom Petty, with or without the Heartbreakers, is that a lot of really great music gets overlooked or forgotten.  Such is the fate of the album Echo, which is to my mind one of TP & the Heartbreakers’ best.  It’s his divorce album, written and recorded after the end of his first marriage.  But unlike many great break-up albums, Petty gave himself a little time to absorb the loss before he committed his feelings to his music.  (He also gave himself enough time to almost drink himself into a deep, deep hole, which might have been a contributing factor to his divorce.)  It’s not as angry and bitter as these magnum opuses of lost love can be, nor is it morose and depressing.  It’s more elegiac and mournful, almost gentle.  More circumspect.  There isn’t any recrimination or blame, just damn good music.

“Swingin'” has always been one of the best tracks.  The defiance and swagger here are trademark Petty, but more muted.  He knows this isn’t a happy story and adjusts his typical attitude accordingly.  But it is a proud tale of a woman who wasn’t going to give in to whatever is beating her down.  She fights back even though she knows she’s probably going to lose.  Because in losing this way, she really wins.  And she might just take down her adversary, too.  I’ve always felt like it was about Jane; I don’t know what happened to their marriage, but I’ll bet that once she’d decided she wasn’t going to put up with Tom’s bullshit anymore, she made sure he knew it.  You can feel the blows landing in this song, but it’s okay because it was probably at least a fair fight.

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“Learning to Fly”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 4, 2017

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

“The thing about the Heartbreakers is, it’s still holy to me . . . There’s a holiness there.  If that were to go away, I don’t think I would be interested in it, and I don’t think they would.  We’re a real rock ‘n’ roll band–always have been.  And to us, in the era we came up in, it was a religion in a way.  It was about more than commerce, it wasn’t about that.  It was about something much greater.  It was about moving people and changing the world, and I really believed in rock ‘n’ roll–I still do.”

 

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