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Archive for the ‘Singer-Songwriters’ Category

“The Commander Thinks Aloud”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 28, 2017

One of the podcasts I listen to is 99% Invisible, which is about design and how it affects and influences our lives (it’s way more interesting than the summary makes it sound).  I am still making my way through a LARGE backlog of episodes, so I’m still years behind in my listening.  Every so often, podmaster Roman Mars will include an episode from one of Radiotopia’s other podcasts and it’s always fun to get a sample.  Song Exploder is one of the most frequent add-ons.  I like this one because it panders to the music geek in me.  An 99PI from a couple of years ago included a Song Exploder about a song by an artist called The Long Winters that was already a couple of years old when it originally aired.

Yeah, I could’ve been way more concise with how I worded that.  One of my creative writing teachers called it “shielding your nouns,” a phenomenon that stems from trying to write about something that is profoundly uncomfortable or emotional.  That’s what this song is.

“The Commander Thinks Aloud” is about the Columbia disaster.  It is almost as devastating as the explosion that destroyed the shuttle.  I downloaded the song today, but not after some soul-searching.  I don’t know that I ever want to hear this song again, but I cannot forget it.  It is a stunning piece of work, in the sense that you will feel a little bit like you got hit over the head with a two by four.  It is also a very good piece of art.  Do not listen to it if you are depressed.  Do not listen to it if you have not braced yourself sufficiently.  This is not an experience for the faint of heart.  But it is an experience worth having at least once.

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“Good Man”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 24, 2017

I freely admit that I am currently just the tiniest bit obsessed with Josh Ritter.  Maybe it’s because the music is so damn good.  Maybe it’s because he seems so freakin’ happy when he’s onstage.  Joyful, really, and who couldn’t use a little more joy in their lives?

I was actually having a little trouble finding a Ritter song I hadn’t posted on the jukebox already.  Or reposted a couple of times (search “Snow is Gone”).  I thought about posting one of the more depressing songs (“Lawrence, KS”), but like I said earlier, who doesn’t need a little more joy in their lives?  And without a doubt, this is a joyful song.  “Good Man” is the rare song by Ritter that I love, but didn’t really connect with right away.  It kind of snuck up on me, like an outlaw ambush in a black & white Western where you can tell the good guys from the bad by the color of their hats.  I also happen to prefer the studio version, but that brings me back to the joyful thing again.

The song itself is kind of a low-key joy, full of sidelong glances and sly smiles.  But Ritter’s performance in this clip, like almost every single one of his performances, is overflowing with that emotion.  Besides Yo-Yo Ma, I have never seen anyone smile so much when they’re onstage.  He is practically bubbling.  And it’s infectious.  As I was watching the clip, I kept thinking how much I liked the studio version, yet I kept watching anyway.  And smiling.  Unconsciously, almost unwillingly, smiling.  Full on, crinkle up the eyes smiling.  Because that’s what Josh Ritter inspires in me.  Like he sings in the song, “I’m a good man for you.”

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“Thunderbolt’s Goodnight”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 22, 2017

This.  This is why I love Josh Ritter so much.

“Thunderbolt’s Goodnight” is one of the tracks off his forthcoming album Gathering, so I don’t really have any sort of commentary other than “wow.”  Ritter somehow manages to reach inside me and squeeze my heart until it feels completely wrung of every last emotion.  And he’s done it consistently, album after album.  There is always at least one song that just kills me.  It’s why I’m going to see him twice in the next few months–at Fingerprints in Long Beach in September, and at the Teregram Ballroom in January (I even splurged a little on the VIP package, which entitles me to a swag bag and an exclusive pre-show acoustic set with all the other VIP purchasers).  He’s just so. . . I hate to say authentic, but that’s what he is.  No.  “Authentic” has lost much of its meaning.  A better word would be genuine.  He seems to be singing from a place of genuine emotion.  Whatever his songs mean to him–whether they are drawn from his life or complete fiction, it makes no difference–they come from someplace real within him that he genuinely feels.  And that genuine feeling makes me really happy.  Even when it makes me want to cry just a little.

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“I Am Not Waiting Anymore”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 11, 2017

Yeah.  This.

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“Friend of the Devil”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 30, 2017

I’ve never hidden my dislike of jam bands and their extended, indulgent, often pointless meanderings.  I make an exception for the Grateful Dead, because they’re just so damn good.  But even so, I tend to prefer their studio recordings to the endless iterations of their live shows.  I commend the Dead’s commitment to their fans by having special recording sections at their concerts.  And I admire the fans for their relentless sharing and trading of those recordings.  I just don’t have the patience to listen to fifteen minute versions of songs that should have been done in three and a half.  Or to have nineteen versions of that same song.

What gives the Grateful Dead such an edge over most other jam bands is the quality of their songwriting.  Primarily written by band members and de facto Dead member Robert Hunter, their catalog runs the gamut of emotions–sad, tender, joyful, rebellious, melancholic, easygoing songs that ring true even if you’re not a California hippie.  “Friend of the Devil” is one of my favorites because it’s a little tougher to classify.  It can lift your spirits, quiet your soul, and soothe your wounds.  All at the same time.

It’s also a tight little package that doesn’t need too much extraneous window dressing.  While the Dead might be well-known for their drug-fueled jammy live shows, they were formed musically by the Rock & Roll singles of the 50s and 60s.  (Covers of songs like Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” were staples at their concerts.)  Their musical sensibility was three and a half minutes long.  Mind expanding drugs like LSD led to time expanding music, but the heart of almost all their jams were simple tunes that told a story or conveyed an emotion easily and compactly.  If those songs weren’t the roadmap of the Dead’s musical journeys into the light fantastic, they would’ve become lost in the ether.  Yeah, you can take a song like “Friend of the Devil” and create a sonic mural that goes on seemingly forever.  But the key that makes the Dead so good is that you don’t have to.

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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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“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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“Please Don’t Bury Me”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 19, 2017

I memorialize a lot of musicians and other pop culture figures here.  I do it because I think it’s important to note their passing into the next plane.  I also do it because, like most living people, death scares me.  It’s a natural fear, although one uniquely human.  I’m pretty sure mole rats don’t sit around in their burrows obsessing over the inevitability of their deaths; they’re probably too busy hunting for food or making baby mole rats.  It makes me wonder if our big brains and the commensurate level of self-awareness are really worth it.

What this boils down to is that I take death pretty seriously.  I hurt a little for everyone who is left behind when someone they love passes.  (The person who died is actually okay at that point; whatever fear, pain, or suffering they experienced while alive is gone.)  I grieve along with them.  I also grieve for all those I’ve loved who are no longer here, people and animals alike.  (We lost a beloved kitty just a few days ago, and I can’t tell you how much Mom and I miss her.)  It all adds up to a lot of heartache.  Sometimes it is easier, sometimes it’s better, but it never really leaves you.  But suffering over that pain is a choice.  And while I feel that pain and grief, I don’t wish it gone.  I don’t revel in it, but I try to accept those emotions and feel them.  It’s okay to hurt; just don’t make it the only thing you feel.

Which leads me back to today’s song.  My extended family recently became a little smaller in number and a lot less fun.  My mother’s cousin, Mike Foster, died several weeks ago.  It is still a raw wound, but I know that he’s not really gone from the Universe.  (Mike and his family are Christian, but I don’t think my beliefs conflict too much with their vision of heaven.)  He’s not here physically and that’s what hurts, but his energy is still part of everything else.  Mike was generous and open and loving with everyone.  And, like my much missed Daddy, he never met a corny joke he didn’t tell to everyone within hearing distance.  Mike had a wonderful sense of humor, even if it did make you groan occasionally. For whatever reason, his passing made me think of this wonderful old John Prine song.  (I know I’ve probably posted this one before, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.)  I know Mike wouldn’t want people to be sad about his death.  He’d want them to celebrate his life and have a good laugh in his honor.  And for people like me who take death a little too seriously, this is a great antidote for that.

Have fun in the next plane, Mike.  Love you.

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“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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