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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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Hail to the King

Posted by purplemary54 on August 16, 2017

It’s been forty years since Elvis Presley shuffled off this mortal coil.  While he’d slipped into pop culture irrelevancy in the last few years of his career, the musical landscape was just as shaken by his death as it had been by the earthquake of his arrival in the 1950s.

But Elvis holds an odd relevancy today.  See, when he started out, Elvis explicitly tried to blend two different musical worlds: Black R&B and white Country & Western.  I know there have been a lot of critics who say he “stole” that music from the blacks, but considering that he was always friends with and surrounded by a vital African-American community in Memphis, then I think it might be a little harsh to say he willfully took from black artists for his own profit.  He used the music he loved and that influenced him to develop his own unique sound.  If people want to lay blame for the magnificent, brilliant black musicians that didn’t get the credit or reap the financial rewards of fame, then blame the music industry; they’re the ones who exploited people.  Elvis just made the sound he heard in his head and heart manifest.

Some people reacted badly to Elvis.  Besides being kind of lewd in some people’s eyes, he was also committing the worst sin any white man from the South could commit: He liked black culture and black people.  He freely associated with them.  He sounded like them.  To these people, Elvis was some kind of traitor.  The people who thought this were what I like to call racists.  This was the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, and Jim Crow was still the rule of law throughout the South (and the rule of custom in so many other places).  Things were changing, and racists didn’t like it.  They didn’t like the idea that their pure white children might go to school with those nasty black folks.  They didn’t think they should have to serve or sell products to people they had decided were subhuman simply because the color of their skin was different.  The racists still held on to the notion that the South would “rise again,” a phrase I’m pretty sure is code for “reinstate slavery and destroy all those dirty n*****s once and for all.”  They were afraid that their “way of life” would be taken from them and they would be forced to treat black people equally.

So they fought back by beating sit-in participants.  By turning fire hoses and police dogs on Civil Rights marchers.  By lynching and shooting both black and white activists who committed sins like registering black citizens to vote.  They didn’t call themselves racist.  They didn’t even call themselves white supremacists for the most part.  They called themselves good, honest, hardworking, Christian Americans.  They really truly believed God was on their side.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It should.  Because it’s still going on today, some sixty-odd years after the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest and Elvis Aron Presley burst onto the scene.  What happened a few days ago in Virginia, before, during, and after a so-called “Unite the Right” rally was pretty much the same thing.  These neo-Nazis, these white pride adherents, these alt-right followers–whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves–were as sickening as the racists back then were.  They carried torches, for crying out loud!*  All they needed was a couple of white hoods and a giant cross to burn, and we would’ve gone back in time a few decades.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  And because of the Cheeto masquerading as president, these imbeciles think it’s okay to come back out of the woodwork and show their pathetic faces.  They think it’s okay to intimidate and beat counter protesters.  They think it’s okay (and it actually is okay in a lot of places) to carry assault weapons to a supposedly peaceful protest.  With all the racist, xenophobic rhetoric coming from the Cheeto, these racists think they can do whatever they want to anyone they think is an inferior because the idiot they voted for says it is.  He refuses to call them out largely because he agrees with them.  They are essentially his unpaid army of thugs.

Now I support the right to free speech.  That means I also support the right of these racist fucks to say what they want.  It’s a hard, bitter pill, but I will swallow it because they do have the right to speak their minds and express their opinions.  I hate what they have to say, but I will defend to the death their right to say it.  But they surrender any Constitutional right to free speech the second they start carrying weapons and torches.  They give up any and all First Amendment protections when they assault anyone who dares to disagree with them.  They deserve to be arrested and prosecuted when they do things like drive their cars into a crowd of pedestrians and counter protesters.  These so-called people, these useless piles of flesh and bones, are the living breathing definition of terrorism.  They always were, going back generations upon generations, and they should be treated as such.

Like the racists who resisted both Civil Rights and Elvis, these terrorist neo-Nazis are scared because they think they’re losing something when other groups, primarily the groups that they hate, gain something.  They see society changing and progressing, and they see it as an assault on their power.  It is.  And it isn’t going to stop.  As more and more marginalized people gain greater and greater rights, the social order these terrorists want to see will continue to die out.

I’ve gotten a bit farther away from Elvis than I thought I would, but I think that’s kind of a testament to his power.  He brought musical styles together and created something magical.  Today, no one even really thinks about how revolutionary his sound was.  Imagine what would happen if we could finally, FINALLY, stop dividing ourselves by the colors of our skins and unify.  Think of what we could accomplish if we actually stopped treating each other differently because we look or speak or pray or vote differently.  Then the real revolution would finally begin.

 

*Okay, they were tiki torches, but that would’ve only leant the scent of citronella to the cross burning.

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Glen Campbell

Posted by purplemary54 on August 8, 2017

He did better songs.  Some of them were truly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes.  But to me, Glen Campbell will always be the Rhinestone Cowboy.

While he will always be best remembered (and rightly so) for his own, numerous hits, I think it’s important to note here that Glen Campbell was also once in the Wrecking Crew.  L.A.’s answer to the Swampers at Muscle Shoals, the Wrecking Crew were a set of crack studio sidemen that played on just about every hit recorded out here in the 1960s.  He was a consummate, versatile musician and singer.  Upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, Campbell embarked on a touring and recording spree to get as much of his extensive musical memory and talent down before he was robbed of it forever.  Alzheimer’s robbed Campbell of himself, and it finally claimed his life today at 81.

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“Blue Letter”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 29, 2017

One of the side effects of taking melatonin is an increased vividness to REM sleep.  And I have to say that in the few years I’ve been taking this supplement on a semi-regular basis that my dreams have become markedly more odd and much more vivid.

The vividness comes from an increase in senses other than sight and sound, although those senses have heightened in my dream world as well.  I can feel, smell, and taste things in my dreams now.  It’s disconcerting but also kind of fun.  I feel like my emotions and lucidity when I dream are also increased.  That doesn’t mean I’m lucid dreaming in the sense that I’m controlling what’s going on, but that I know I’m dreaming more often than I used to.  I suppose if I were prone to nightmares this would be less pleasant than it is, but for the most part my dreams are weird but not disturbing or frightening.  I find myself replaying recent actions and activities with dream logic, or symbolically dealing with my various anxieties.  One frequent trope of my dreams is that I am either watching or appearing in a movie or TV show–sometimes both simultaneously.  One part of me in the dream knows what I’m seeing/doing is merely fiction while another part is participating in the story being told.  Like I said, weird but not unpleasant.

Last night’s melatonin-induced oddity included the Fleetwood Mac song “Blue Letter.”  It was being played for some reason, though I can’t remember why.  I heard the opening verse quite clearly.  This wasn’t a case of the song being played just before I woke up and seeping into my sleep cycle; I didn’t have the radio on and the TV was tuned to the NFL network.  It’s more like the music shuffle phenomenon I’ve had ever since I got an iPod, although that usually happens when I’m awake.  The song basically just popped into my head.  As a result, I haven’t been able to shake the song all day.  So now y’all can sing along with me.

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“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 24, 2017

I recently got the chance to see the Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense at a movie theater and I jumped at it, largely because I had never actually seen it from beginning to end.  Ten minutes here, five minutes there, I’d watched it in fits and starts and MTV clips for the last thirty odd years; it was high time I corrected this, as it turns out, grievous gap in my music & movie viewing.

Stop Making Sense was directed by the late Jonathan Demme and presents a show from the Heads’ tour to support their 1983 classic Speaking in Tongues.  What the film drove home to me more than anything else was how percussive and textural their music is.  I mean, yeah, you know that if you’ve ever heard a single Heads song, but I don’t think it ever really sunk in until I watched the concert in its entirety.  The Talking Heads managed this weird part Punk, part performance art, part tribal chant sound thanks to electronic keyboards and the crack rhythm team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz.  I don’t know how much their music comes from their marriage or how much of their marriage comes from their music, and I don’t care.  I just want to listen to them match themselves to each other’s heartbeats and David Byrne’s artistic vision.  Repeatedly.

The closest analogy I can come to in describing the Talking Heads’ sound is a Jackson Pollock painting.  Pollock’s drips and splashes and splatters build up, swirling around and on top of each other until it’s impossible to distinguish any one thread or color from the whole.  Looking at Pollock, I sometimes feel as if I could thrust my hand into the center of the painting, and come out with a tangled mass of color strings wrapped around it.  The Talking Heads weave sound the exact same way.  No one instrument is dominant over another, although each sound is distinct in and of itself.

The touring band they put together to help flesh out the studio sound was unbelievable.  These were crack musicians and singers who were far more than just hired guns; they were part of the group.  Which was vital to making the sound work.  They had to work together as seamlessly as the splatters in a Pollock.  And in the film, there is no preference of the “official” band members over the touring musicians.  They aren’t treated with less respect or as if their contributions were secondary to the success of the shows.  They’re just the other members of the band.

So you’d think for my song I’d choose the version of “This Must Be the Place” from the film.  And yeah, it is great, but when I was searching for the song on YouTube, I found the previously unknown to me music video for the album cut.   This video features the Talking Heads as configured for the Stop Making Sense tour.  They are together watching home movies of themselves, although they seem less like home movies and more like fantasy visions.  Or, if I can throw my own interpretation in, like some kind of ideal of who each person maybe feels they are.  The place where they feel most at home.

I chose this video because, like all the best songs and visual arts, it took me someplace I didn’t expect to go.  The video shows them all at home, together, the way a family would be (it even includes Weymouth and Franz’s toddler).  And the clip not only reminded me of a value I hold very dear, it also added a dimension to the song I hadn’t fully considered before.  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is a love song, pure and simple.  But it’s not just a romantic love song (although it obviously can be, especially if you listen to Shawn Colvin’s stellar version); it’s a love song about family–chosen family.  Because your romantic partner is nothing if not chosen family.  And so are your friends, and the people you work and create art with.  Love in all its glorious and myriad forms.  And all those glorious keyboards and percussion instruments and voices help demonstrate the beauty and complexity of love, the way it thrums and builds and grows until you can’t tell one from another.  Until you can’t imagine being anyplace else with anyone else doing anything else.  And it doesn’t matter what it looks like or who you share it with.  It’s perfect just as it is.

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Chester Bennington

Posted by purplemary54 on July 20, 2017

Richard Manuel.  Michael Hutchence.  Chris Cornell.  Robin Williams.  And now, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington.  They all have one horrible thing in common: They committed suicide by hanging themselves.

I have to start here by saying I don’t really understand suicide.  I have never been in the depths of a depression so deep and dark that the only way out was to die.  I have never struggled with mental illness so powerful and damaging that I finally listened to the disease.  I have never fought addiction.  But knowing what I know about how you die when you hang yourself, I do know that a person has to be truly desperate to harm themselves in that way.  It is an awful way to die.  I’m glad that it is not still an option for the death penalty (which ought to be abolished completely anyway, but that’s a different rant).  All of these men battled their various illnesses and addictions; all of them lost.  It makes me despair a little at the waste of beautiful life.

Not being a fan of Linkin Park, I don’t really have anything to say about their music.  But I know so many people do love this band.  And Chester Bennington’s family and friends loved him.  And I ache for all of these people.  Knowing his pain is over doesn’t end the pain for everyone else.  Most of all, I hate that he felt like he had to die to end his pain.  I don’t want anyone to feel like that, but I know I can’t stop it.  So here’s a link that might be able to help at least one person out there choose something different.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

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“The Hustle”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 16, 2017

From Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro

“At first blush, ‘The Hustle’ is hardly the kind of record that you normally associate with a dance craze.  After its great, almost mysterious intro, it devolves into the strangely rhythmless, inane, singing, prim and prissy instrumental equivalent of Starland Vocal Band’s ‘Afternoon Delight’–not exactly the fire and blood or latent, unrepentant hucksterism that marks a great dance craze disc.  But thanks to that infernal flute line boring into your skill with the savage ferocity that only elevator music can muster, ‘The Hustle’ was inescapable and inevitable, the kind of record that crawls under your skin, subliminally taking root to the point where you find yourself whistling it while masturbating.”

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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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