Today is the birthday of the brilliant, inimitable, utterly wonderful Patti Smith. After all the deaths this week, and today’s surprising pop culture news, I thought it would be nice to celebrate something happy.
Aside from her incredible talent and skill as a writer and performer, I love Patti Smith because she is herself. She doesn’t hide or lie or pretend to be anything else. Her refusal to be what anyone else thinks she should be, to fit into any easy stereotypes, has probably cost her fame and money. But those are such fleeting things, and there’s so much more value in living the life you want to live. Smith has lived her life–all the joy and pain and anger and sorrow of it. And the art that has come out of that life has made the world a much better place.
Now it might seem odd that I chose a song from Gone Again, the mourning album she recorded after the death of her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. But “Farewell Reel” is one of my favorites, and I think it represents the kind of artist and person Patti Smith is beautifully. It’s open and honest, sad and joyful, both a eulogy for what she lost and a promise to keep living. That’s what I love about it.
Today is Joni Mitchell’s 72nd birthday, and considering there was a pretty good chance she wouldn’t make it this far just a few months ago, I think that’s a pretty fine reason to celebrate.
Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in late March, and was in poor condition for some weeks. But she’s been fighting and working hard at rehabilitation, and recent reports have her walking, talking, and even painting. I’m very happy to hear good news about her, because while I don’t always love her music, I think she is one of the true icons of popular music. She has such a powerful presence as a woman who creates art on her own terms and refuses to define herself by the narrow standards celebrity culture dictates. She is beautiful and intelligent and independent, everything that everyone, man or woman, should strive to be.
I mentioned I don’t always love her music, and I don’t. But that only really applies to what she’s done from the 1980s on. The classic albums she produced in the 70s–Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark–are among some of the best music ever. It always felt to me like she got away from the things she did best as a songwriter, and her music became too nebulous and distant. I can understand why she’d move away from what I think is her greatest strength, because the one thing Joni Mitchell does better than virtually anyone else is intimacy.
Whether her songs are autobiographical or not doesn’t really matter, although many of her songs are very much about her and her relationships with others. She creates this bubble around herself as performer and the audience so that you feel like she’s singing only to you. Like she’s not even singing. There’s a feeling to her best songs that you have met her in a quiet corner in a coffee house, and she’s sharing these intimate secrets with you. That kind of closeness must be difficult to maintain as an artist. It requires so much from the performer, so much energy and courage, to bare your emotions so publicly. As a really intensely private person myself, I can understand why you’d want to leave that behind. It’s one of the reasons I admire Mitchell as much as I do; she really hits some deep emotional chords in her audience because she’s willing to take those emotional risks herself.
I hope her health continues to improve. I hope she keeps living as freely as she has always done. And I kind of hope we get just one more glimpse into her heart and soul the way we used to.
It was the birthday of a dear friend of mine just a couple of days ago—let’s call him Kilgore Trout since he’s a huge Vonnegut fan. I usually forget his birthday because it falls in June, and I’ve functioned on the school calendar for much of my adult life. We worked together for a number of years, and while he was a year-long employee, I only worked the school year. Even though we don’t work together anymore, we still get together occasionally. It’s not as much as I’d like (and hopefully not as much as he and his lovely wife, also my friend, would like either).
Anywho, I ran into Kilgore unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago, and since we both said we should be in touch more, I thought a nice way to do this would be to send him some belated birthday wishes. Since I’m pretty sure I can’t do this telepathically, I’ll do it with a slightly more conventional blog post and a song from a mutual favorite of ours: the late great Warren Zevon. I thought this clip was pretty awesome, even though the end of the song is bleeped (hey, it was network television).
Happy birthday, Kilgore. You know who to call if you need any lawyers, guns, or money.
Anyone besides me. 🙂
Today, God is 70. You might think that God was just a tiny bit older than that, or that maybe He/She/It was in fact ageless. But you’d be wrong. He was born this day in 1945 in Ripley, England.
I’ve posted before about why Eric Clapton deserves to be called God. His prowess with the guitar is unquestionable and unassailable. It’s not the most flashy style, technically speaking (his other nickname is Slowhand, for goodness sakes), but the sheer emotion behind his playing makes up for his lack of fancy licks and riffs. (It should also be noted here that the riff Clapton is most famous for, the opening of “Layla” was actually created by the late, supernaturally great, Duane Allman. As a throwaway. That’s the story I heard, anyway.) He is just solid.
I love Clapton in all his forms and genres–Rock, Pop, Blues, whatever. Not only can he play it all, he plays it all better than all but a select few. Allman & Hendrix were probably better; Page, Beck, and a few others are very nearly his equals. Everyone else is just an also-ran. I probably could’ve picked one of his more iconic songs to post for his birthday today, but I decided to go with one of the one’s I love the most. “She’s Waiting” is from Behind the Sun, what was in effect his divorce album even though I think his official split from Patti Boyd came a few years later. It’s one of the best all-around albums from his entire career, and this is one of the best tunes from it. Enjoy!
Today is my lovely mother’s birthday. I’ve got nothing to say about it but “Yay!” So here’s one of her favorite songs. She used to play the soundtrack to Songwriter in the car constantly, and this song was on a loop for her. (Of course, back then, you had to rewind the cassette to go back to the beginning of a song.) But I defy anyone not to love it.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to fool around with Kris Kristofferson?
This year’s birthday was uneventful. Just dinner with the family, but it was definitely better than last year’s. A little more melancholy, but still better.
My mom gave me some money, some cupcakes, and a plant that I have to figure out how to keep away from my plant-biting cat. (I really have to break her of that; I want to have plants in the house.) I got some scratcher lottery tickets, and won $2. But things were pretty low-key.
I generally like birthdays. Having them means you’re still alive. So here’s to being alive, and another year older. Happy (belated) birthday to me.
Now I’m going to have some of my leftover birthday cake (red velvet, yum).
One of my favorite people in the Universe turns 80 today. I know it’s impractical, but I kind of think we should all just stop whatever we’re doing and pay tribute to the natural wonder, the force of nature that is Willie Nelson.
Even if you don’t think much of his music, you’ve got to respect the man. Willie refuses to be contained. He still tours the country in buses that run on biodiesel fuel. He still plays at the annual Farm Aid benefit for family farmers. He still challenges himself musically and artistically, even though he could just coast on his musical laurels. And he still gets pulled over and charged with possession. I don’t use anything stronger than a glass of wine once in a while, but I respect a guy who sticks to his guns about marijuana the way Willie has. (Paul McCartney already wussed out and admitted he doesn’t toke up anymore, so Willie and Tom Petty are among the few mainstream rebels I can think of that still stand by pot. And I’m not so sure about TP these days. Politically, I’m all for legalizing pot; there are proven and suspected medicinal benefits, and the tax revenue would be really helpful.) There has never been anyone like Willie Nelson, and there are very few musicians with such broad appeal. When he was forced to auction off his property and memorabilia to pay the IRS, his fans came to the auction to buy his stuff, just so they could give it back to him. Just about everyone likes something about the man and his work.
My own personal favorite is his collaboration with Wynton Marsalis from a few years ago. They got on stage at Lincoln Center with a full jazz orchestra, and played a concert of standards. It is one of those amazing, essential albums. I heard it, and knew that my life would not be complete unless I owned it. Not my music collection. My life. This is music that feeds the soul. I love it. And I’d like to thank trumpet00617 for posting this concert to YouTube. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I do.
Pay special attention to the battered guitar that Willie plays. He said in an interview once that he would retire when it finally became unplayable. So light a candle, burn some incense, and pray to whatever gods you think might be listening that that old guitar holds it together forever.