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Archive for the ‘Singer-Songwriters’ Category

“Tougher Than the Rest”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 13, 2017

My adoration for Shawn Colvin knows no bounds.  As a songwriter, she pens intensely, deeply, personal songs that are somehow universal. As a performer, she can take other artists’ songs and turn them into her own intensely, deeply, personal experiences.  It’s a gift that as a music fan I do not take lightly.

In 1994, Colvin released Cover Girl, a collection of songs she loved by artists she loved; it is to this day one of my favorite albums.  In 2015, Colvin decided it was time to collect a few more covers and released Uncovered.  I finally got a copy for myself and although I don’t think it’s quite as passionately felt as Cover Girl, I think it shows her gift of turning covers into her own quite nicely.

Take “Tougher Than the Rest” for example.  This song by Bruce Springsteen originally appeared on his Tunnel of Love from 1987, an album that is full of some of his most intensely, deeply, personal songs (it’s his divorce album, presciently written and released before his divorce from Julianne Phillips).  Colvin switches a few pronouns, and presto, it’s her song not Springsteen’s.

If you know anything about Colvin’s history, you know how utterly heartbreakingly poignant this version is.  She imprints herself all over the romantic yearning for a real relationship.  She’s had a rocky romantic life, due in part to her struggle with mental illness.  When she sings the title refrain, “honey I’m tougher than the rest”, you know it’s true.  The last verse really gets to me.  She delivers it so quietly, so matter-of-factly: “Well it ain’t no secret, I’ve been around a time or two.  I don’t know baby, maybe you’ve been around, too.  But there’s one more dance.  All you gotta do is say yes.  If you’re lookin’ for love, honey I’m tougher than the rest.”  Her eyes show all the hope and fear those words encompass.  Just one dance, just one chance to prove she’s the one for him.  I like to think she did, but of course, that’s where the song ends.  There’s room for both love and heartbreak.  How the story turns out is up to the listener.

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Who Am I?

Posted by purplemary54 on January 20, 2017

There are always a few different lists going around Facebook at any given moment designed to tell people who you are, what kind of person you are based on a handful of questions.  Sometimes these things are thematic–like using only one word, or basing each answer on a consecutive letter of the alphabet, etc.  I never take part in these things.  It’s not that I’m all that closed off, although I can be.  It’s not even that the questions are mostly irrelevant, although they often are.  I just don’t think these things would really tell you who I am.

I think of myself as a private person, but given that I blog and am on FB, I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.  I also like to think I have a pretty tight rein on my emotions, but if I’m being honest that is probably the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself.  I have about as much self-control over my emotions as your average three-year-old.  But I hate losing control of my feelings in public, so I guess that’s something.  I do have trouble letting people in; intimacy and I are not exactly on speaking terms.  I’m opinionated and I like to blast my opinions and thoughts (educated or otherwise) out there for the world to see.  It’s actually something of a defense mechanism, though.  I know that distracting people with my opinions on politics, etc. will get them to think they know who I am and stop asking about me.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I will occasionally be posting songs I really relate to, that I can see myself in.  There’s the me I project, and the me I see in my mind’s eye.  The latter is the person these songs will let you all see, too.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I guess all that stuff really is in the eye of the beholder.  My eye beholds this.

You ever get the sense that you’re waiting for something to happen?  The feeling that there is something else in this world that is meant for you, but you have no idea what it is or how to articulate it?  Not greatness or a great romance, necessarily.  Just something. . . different.  That’s me.  That’s this song for me.  I know there’s something out there but I haven’t found it yet.  Maybe I never will.  I’ve tried to define it in so many different ways but I can’t quite.  It’s a search for peace and contentment, something that will finally allow me shut my brain off and let the anxiety and worry disappear.  I also know by now that I’m probably never going to find whatever it is outside of myself.  It won’t stop me from looking.  But in the meantime, I have Jackson Browne to help me at least put a name to it.  I’m a Hold Out.

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“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

Posted by purplemary54 on December 18, 2016

I seem to only check in these days to commemorate the passing of a celebrity or other luminary.  2016’s been a really hard year.  Beyond the cataclysmic political changes, my personal life has kind of gone to hell in a handbasket.  With Mom’s illness (illnesses, if you count the last couple of weeks), I’ve just been barely keeping my head above water.  A hard rain is indeed falling on me.  It’s falling on a lot of people, but I’m having a tough time getting out of my own way enough to care.

Patti Smith’s performance of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” is something of an antidote to my personal storm, in spite of this song’s melancholy and ominous sense of doom.  She is so breathtakingly human, so perfectly imperfect.  Smith is that rare artist who means what she says.  She is not putting on characters in the sense that she is masking herself from her audience; the personas she adopts for her music and poetry are all authentic reflections of the person she is.  When she bothers to adopt a persona that is.  Mostly, when Patti Smith says “I” she means herself.  That kind of honesty and bravery is really beautiful and terrifying.  And her fumbling of these lyrics–from a song she probably knew inside and out long before heading to Stockholm, a song by one of her greatest influences–is beautiful in its own way.  She admits to her own fear and nervousness, something most artists would never do on any stage.  But Smith remains as open about that as she is about pretty much everything.  I don’t think most people know how to deal with that.

It’s one of the reasons I tend to retreat when I have problems of my own.  I have a tendency to not want to bother people (something I know I got from my mother; the last couple of months have shown me that many of the qualities I find most upsetting in myself seem to have been inherited from her, either through nurture or nature).  But my retreat is more than that.  It’s also more than my feeling that my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world (quick. . . name that movie!).  I know, deep down, that people really don’t know what to do with honest emotion and I am crap at hiding my emotions.  I know I don’t know what to do with other people’s feelings.  I always want to do something to help, to make them feel better, but I also know how fucking annoying I find it when people do the same thing to me.  I don’t always want comfort; sometimes, I just want to feel.  It’s hard to do that around other people without making them really uncomfortable.

So I’m gonna try to come out of my self-imposed exile.  Music helps heal me, and I’ve been neglecting even listening to it lately.  I don’t need advice or comfort, although I won’t stop anyone from offering it.  Distraction is nice; waving shiny objects in front of me almost always helps me feel better, but it’s not obligatory.  I just want to break out of my own tangled web of emotions.  I’m still gonna feel them, I’m just gonna try not to hide it so much.  I might melt down on y’all.  I know I’m gonna say stupid stuff.  And like Patti, I’m gonna fumble the lyrics occasionally.  But I’m gonna own that, just like she did.  If Patti Smith can be that open and generous and honest, then I can try it too.

Crap.  I think I just made a New Year’s resolution.

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Leon Russell

Posted by purplemary54 on November 13, 2016

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Unfortunately, it seems to be raining Manolo Blahnik’s lately.  What may go down as the crappiest year in history just got a hell of a lot crappier for me.

Leon Russell has left this world.

That might not mean much to a lot of you, but it breaks my already beat up heart into a million tiny little pieces.  I love Leon Russell.  He’s one of the oddest of the odd ducks in music, a musician’s musician, an influence and a mentor to so many others.  He had a brief moment in the sun in the 70s, but he mostly toiled in semi-obscurity.  He toured with Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour.  He helped organize the concert for Bangladesh.  He wrote hits for so many others, and it’s a crying shame that not more people know who he is.

I’m crying, anyway.

 

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Leonard Cohen

Posted by purplemary54 on November 10, 2016

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do.  In the middle of all the personal and political difficulty comes the news that Canadian poet, songwriter, and singer Leonard Cohen has left this plane at the age of 82.

He’s one of those cult figures, an acquired taste if you will.  Cohen made the kind of music that other musicians listened to.  He is best known in the United States for his very nearly perfect song “Hallelujah,” which was covered to perfection by the late great Jeff Buckley.  (It’s also been covered by a lot of other people, so many that there’s a book about all the iterations of this one song.  I’m also especially fond of k.d. lang’s version.)

He was a cynical romantic.  He wanted to believe in all the fairy tales but experience taught him to know better.  He was dark, but the way a smoke-filled bar is dark: there was always a neon light in the window selling beer and sputtering candles on the tables to light your way, after all.  It seems weirdly appropriate that his voice is suddenly gone at a time when it was suddenly the truest voice in the room.  We’ll just have to find our own way out of this crappy dive bar we’re suddenly living in.

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“The Times They are A-Changin'”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 13, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot today.  That’s usually not a good thing, since a tendency to get lost in the woods of my thoughts often produces anxiety for me.  And to be honest, there’s been a fair amount of anxiety in my thoughts today; to be fair to myself, there’s a lot of anxiety floating around in the air these days and most of it isn’t mine.  But I’m not feeling anxious.  Just. . . thinky.

I’ve been thinking about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how that’s produced some Very Strong Opinions from a lot of people.  I’ve been thinking about how I can see both sides of that particular argument, and therefore refuse to take sides.  Been thinking about how the award comes largely from the Baby Boomers’ love of Dylan and his life-transforming music and lyrics.  Been thinking about how awarding a musician–a popular and already heavily lauded and awarded one, at that–an award for literature kind of shuts some very deserving author of the credit and exposure they so desperately need.  But Dylan’s writing is so influential, so undeniably great, that I can’t argue that he isn’t deserving of it as well.  I’ve also been thinking about how some of the backlash about Dylan’s award is probably rooted in a the false notion that Rock & Roll is not a high art form, that it is not Art at all.  That this music holds no complexity or answers, or even any questions, about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  That it is something to be enjoyed when you are young but discarded as soon as you turn forty.  (And anyone who actually does believe Rock is that shallow and only for youth should first of all LISTEN to some goddamn Dylan, who is about as complex and chimeric as anything else in Rock.  Then they need to read some Greil Marcus to understand just what this music says about America, among a few other things.)

I’ve been thinking about my volunteering at the historical society, and some strife that’s going on there at the moment; it’ll pass soon enough, but it makes things a little tense right now.  I’ve been thinking about the assignment that’s due this week that I haven’t done yet; it’ll get done, but I’m having my usual minor stress about how and when it’ll get done.  I’ve been thinking about a job I’m in the running for, and the kind of minor blow it’ll be to my self-esteem if/when I don’t get it.  I’ve been thinking about who I am and who I want to be.  Things I think about a lot, but don’t generally mention to anyone.

I’ve been thinking about my cousin, whose mother died today.  (If you want to get technical, she’s my mom’s cousin, which makes her my first cousin once-removed.  And yes, I did look that up once.)  Her dad, my mom’s uncle, is also in failing health.  I want her to know I understand how weird her life is right now.  How sad and numb she’s feeling.  How confusing it is to lose a parent, to have such a huge momentous thing happen, to feel your world come to a complete and utter stop. and to wonder why the hell the rest of the world hasn’t stopped right along with yours.

I’ve been thinking about how in just a little less than a month, we’re going to elect the first woman president in this country.  And how that woman is going to be president in four years, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.  And how simultaneously exhilarating and depressing it is that I will be here to witness that anniversary.  Exhilarating because I make sure I exercise my right to vote; I just got my ballot in the mail and I’m looking forward to filling it out.  Exhilarating because it gives me such joy to know that women before fought for this right and that I, as well as every other woman who votes, is the living embodiment of this victory.  Depressing because we should have had the vote from the moment this country was founded.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  And right now, I’m thinking this song is more relevant now than ever.  You might notice that the version I chose is slightly different from the one most people are used to.  It’s from one of Dylan’s Bootleg series, a demo probably, with a piano standing in for an acoustic guitar.  I like the difference.  It suits the times.  Because they are indeed changing.  And you better start swimming, or you will sink like a stone.

 

Change to me has always represented disruption, and to me disruption is bad.  That’s not true.  Yes, these days, change seems to come mostly out of negatives: crime, bombings, anger.  There’s so much whirling around these days it’s kind of hard to get a grip on anything.  But not all change is bad, something I’ve been trying to learn for a long time now.  Change is inevitable, and the only good or bad is how you react to it.  That’s what this song is saying.  “The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast.  The slowest now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fading.  And first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changing.”

Let’s see where things are going.  Who knows?  It might be fun.

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“Memphis”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 29, 2016

Weeks ago, before Mom got so sick, I was drinking a little wine and listening to a little Willie Nelson, feeling a little melancholy and thinking about my Daddy and Grammy.  (Man, that sounds like way more activity than it actually was.  All those gerunds!)  This naturally led to me listening to the saddest Willie songs I could find, and I turned to this duet with Janis Ian that BFF turned me onto on a mix CD of songs about Memphis.*

While this easily qualifies as one of the Saddest Song I Have Ever Heard, it evokes the place so beautifully it just makes me want to go there even more.  It is one of the holy pilgrimages for Rock fans.  This song paints such a sweetly sorrowful portrait of a place that time and economics may have passed by, but which holds such magic.  I’m sure if I ever get there, it’ll be a lot like many other cities, with tourist traps and Starbucks on every other corner; with parts that are so run down they’re almost ruins; with suburbs and parks and schools and churches.  But this is where Sam Phillips and Sun Records made their mark on the world, where so many greats were launched.  And it’s home to a lot of people, something this song reminds us.  “If you could see Memphis the way that I do, she would look different to you.  The Queen of the Delta, tip your tiara, to Memphis the Belle of the Blues.”

*We used to talk about making a list of all the great songs about Memphis and playing it on a road trip there.  BFF finally gathered a bunch of them, many that I’d never heard before, and gave me the CD for Christmas one year, I think.

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“Trudy and Dave”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 23, 2016

This song just makes me feel good.  Hell, the whole damn album makes me feel good.

The video is a tiny bit odd for the song, but it doesn’t do it any harm.

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“New York, New York”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 11, 2016

It’s that time of year again.  Fifteen years later, and I still cannot wrap my head around what happened.  I’ll never be able to.  I’ll never understand why anyone would hate so much that they would kill themselves just to try to destroy the thing they hate.  I’ve been angry; I’ve even hated some people and ideals.  But I will never comprehend that level of pure, unadulterated hate.

I do not believe politics and religion should have anything to do with each other (and neither did America’s Founding Fathers), but this op-ed from the Los Angeles Times today tries to clarify why many Muslims do.  There is no separation between civic law and religious law for them.  That’s cool.  That’s why Muslim countries are what they are.  But it doesn’t explain why some zealots decided to impose their version of Islam on everyone else, why the destruction of everything they did not agree with became their sole cause.  Blaming every other Muslim for these lunatics is not the way to end terrorism.  That is just more hatred I do not understand.

On this day fifteen years ago, the United States was ushered into a world that most other nations had been living in for decades.  It is a world of fear and worry and, yes, hatred.  It is poisonous, and you only have to look at the current election cycle to see what it has done to us.  I am ashamed of all the people who think the Republican candidate is right.  They are giving in to their anger and hatred.  They are letting their fear win over any possibility of hope or peace.  They are the most un-American Americans I have ever seen.

It’s hard to remember the world before 9/11.  It’s hard to remember a time when a football player’s peaceful protest became headline news (seriously, there are WAY more important things going on).   It’s difficult to visualize a world where we weren’t looking for bombs in every forgotten bag and backpack.  It’s hard to picture the New York skyline without that huge scar of blank space on it.  (Yes, they’ve built a new tower, but it just isn’t the same; it never will be again.)  That’s partly why I chose Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York” as my song this year.  It was filmed right before the attacks, and you can see the World Trade Center towers standing tall and proud.

But there’s another, more important reason I chose this particular song.  It’s one of two that thoroughly embodies my emotions surrounding 9/11–the other is Bruce Springsteen’s elegiac “My City of Ruins”.  A huge part of my love for this song is tied up in its connection to this life-changing event.  But unlike the Springsteen song, it is not filled with sadness, it is not mourning what is gone.  It is full of optimism and joy and life.  Adams wrote the song long before 9/11; it has absolutely no thematic connection with what happened.  The video was filmed before the attacks; the only reason a disclaimer had to be added was because it was obviously released after everything was irrevocably damaged.  “New York, New York” is a love song–although whether it is for a person or the place is both unclear and irrelevant.  Yes, the singer had his heart broken, but he isn’t going to let that stop him.  He isn’t wallowing in his grief and pain.  He declares “hell, I still love you New York.”

“Love won’t play any games with you any more if you don’t want ’em to.”  Love does not lie.  It can be a little misguided, and it can hurt sometimes.  But it is the only truth any person will ever need in this, or any other, lifetime.  Love builds space inside your heart for the whole universe.  Love lets you see the world from all other perspectives.  You might get angry sometimes.  You are definitely going to be sad and scared.  But love will always shine a light that leads you out of the darkness.

So I wish for the same thing I wish for every year on this day: that we all just love each other.  Don’t give in to hate and fear.  Don’t build any walls.  Don’t stop people from coming to this country.  Don’t ban ideas.  Stop bombing people.  Stop shooting people.  Just stop.  Listen to what the other side says.  Learn about their culture and religion, and teach them about yours.  Prove that you are not trying to destroy them.  Prove that you really believe in the Enlightenment ideals this country was founded on.  If we handed out food and books and medicine more often, maybe the kind of hatred that flourishes in some places would just die out.  Because nothing kills hatred like love.

I’ll always love you New York.  I’ll always love the whole world, no exceptions.

 

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“I Am a Patriot”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 30, 2016

I’m not quite sure why the Colin Kaepernick story has become such a big deal, except maybe that sports tends to draw a more conservative crowd both in participants and fans.  And more conservative folks tend to be more concerned with visual displays of patriotism, such as saluting the American flag and wearing cute little flag pins and tying yellow ribbons on every single thing they’ll fit around.  These folks also tend to be critical of anyone who does not display what they believe is an appropriate amount of public patriotism.  They also tend to be very critical of anyone who criticizes any aspect of the government that they themselves think is good.

A good example, perhaps, might be anyone who disagreed with the military actions in the Middle East after 9/11.  You were a liberal, commie, Muslim peacenik who clearly supported jihad and should probably be jailed just because you didn’t think we should be invading and bombing other countries without direct provocation.  These were the same types of people who got upset with anyone for criticizing any other war we’ve been involved with, oh, since the inception of the country.  None of this is new, or terribly surprising.

These more conservative folks also tend to get upset if you support something they disagree with–say, same-sex marriage.  Then, you’re suppressing their First Amendment rights.  Anytime someone they are opposed to tries to do anything these über patriotic types don’t like, they scream that the opposition is trampling on their rights and that they pay too much in taxes and that they’re under attack by liberals who are going to hell because they don’t believe in the exact same brand of Christianity these über patriots claim to believe in.  Name calling is very popular with this type of person.  Please note that name calling is not just a conservative trait; there are plenty of liberal name callers, too.  I am often guilty of it myself.  Name calling is juvenile and kind of silly, but it’s also an expected part of these kinds of public spats between ideologies.

What I think these outward-seeming patriots don’t quite get is what the American flag actually stands for, or what the Bill of Rights actually means.  They have been listening to the Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the world for so long, they forgot what these things stand for.  The American flag is not a symbol meant specifically to honor the military or war, although it is used in those applications.  The Flag is a representation of the unity of the country.  It is a symbol that represents us, ALL of us, in all our glorious diversity and weirdness.  And the Bill of Rights was designed to protect us from government excesses, not from opinions we don’t like.  The First Amendment is one they especially don’t seem to get, so I quote it here in its entirety:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

This means that the government cannot stop you from praying any way you want, nor can it demand you follow any set of religious beliefs.  It cannot stop the press from printing any news, specifically any news that may be critical of the government.  It cannot stop anyone from peacefully protesting for or against something they believe in, and it cannot stop citizens from going directly to the government to complain.  It’s the peacefully protesting one that applies to Colin Kaepernick’s (you thought I forgot about him, didn’t you) decision not to stand during the National Anthem because he believes that the United States has a problem with racism and racial oppression.

What Kaepernick is doing is not illegal.  It is not even against any NFL or team regulations.  There is no requirement anywhere that people stand up and salute the Flag during the playing of the National Anthem at any time under any circumstances.  To do so would kind of go against the freedom to protest.  More importantly, Kaepernick is not being obnoxious about it.  He’s not demanding his teammates do the same thing, or even agree with him.  He’s not booing or hissing or otherwise disrupting the National Anthem.  He’s not throwing things at anyone.  He is, and please notice the wording here, peacefully protesting.  He is exercising his First Amendment rights.

Now anyone who disagrees with him has the equal right to say so; many have done just that.  And almost all his superiors and peers have said they might disagree with his method of protest, but they respect his right to do it.  But anyone who says Kaepernick is un-American or that he ought to leave the country is kind of missing the point.  He is being about as patriotic as you can be.  He just isn’t wrapping himself in the American flag to do it.  And that’s what’s got all these über patriotic conservative types in such a tizzy.  He refuses to salute the flag.  You can’t be patriotic if you don’t worship a piece of cloth in their minds.  You can’t support American values and rights if you don’t do it in the red, white, and blue.  Except for the part where you can.

I’ve said many times that true patriotism has nothing to do with how many flags you fly or how often you claim to love your country.  It has nothing to do with waving at veterans during a parade, or paying for their hamburgers at a McDonald’s (although that’s a cool thing to do for anyone).  True patriotism is educating yourself on the issues and voting your conscience.  Patriotism is paying your taxes so that the police departments and fire departments and public schools and libraries and utilities can all keep functioning.  Patriotism is going to jury duty when you get called.  Patriotism is protesting (peacefully) when you think something is wrong.  Patriotism is writing to your elected representatives when you think they need to do something.  You wanna be a patriot?  Then fold up your flag, roll up your sleeves, and get your ass out there.  And shut up about anyone else who stands up for something they believe in.  Or in this case, sits down.

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