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Posts Tagged ‘songs’

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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“Walk of Life”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 14, 2017

We got good news from Mom’s doctor today, which sort of overshadows all the crap going on in the world for me right now.  Her tumor is gone!  As we Ubered home, the driver had a classic rock station playing.  The first song I heard was Billy Joel’s “Still Rock & Roll to Me,” which I will probably always associate with good things from now on.  But the next song was even more appropriate.

There’s a sunniness to this song that’s kind of hard to deny.  Yeah, it’s about a hardworking busker, probably in the London Underground since Dire Straits are an English band, “down in the tunnels trying to make it pay” and probably not succeeding all that well.  Let’s face it, if Johnny were a real dude, he’d probably be one step from homeless and living on Top Ramen, even if “he got the action, he got the motion, yeah, the boy can play.”  But there he is, day after day, playing awesome oldies for bored commuters and students.  Getting run off by the cops every so often because there’s probably no way this guy could pay for any kind of permits to play on the streets.  (I have no idea if that’s even a necessity; I know virtually nothing about being a street musician.)  He plays because he loves the music, because he wants music to be his life no matter what.  He might not be winning yet, but you know someday he’s gonna get his shot.

The video has always been kind of perfect, too.  Now, I’m almost positive that no one in Dire Straits actually gives a flip about American sports.  The choice to intersperse clips of athletes failing pretty spectacularly at their jobs in between clips of the band playing was probably made by some nameless exec in some anonymous record company office.  But it works.  It’s a song about trying to succeed and I for one enjoy watching a good blooper reel.  Especially at the end when they show the good plays, the home runs and touchdowns and dunks.  It might be a rough life, but eventually you’re gonna get it right.

That’s why this song made me smile today.  It’s been a hard few months; Mom’s treatment was pretty brutal.  And we’re not entirely out of the woods yet; we still have more scans and a lot more waiting for the final verdict.  But I think maybe there’s a light at the end of this particular tunnel, and that makes me feel good.  (I’ll bet it makes Mom feel a million times better.)  And even if things get bad again, this song is a good reminder that maybe, just maybe things will get better again.  “And after all the violence and double talk, there’s just a song in all the trouble and the strife.  You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life.”

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“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 1, 2017

A recent post describes my relatively reasonable fear of death (“reasonable” being the key word here; I have lots of other far less reasonable fears).  What I didn’t really get into was my obsession with it.  For the last year and half, from the second I saw news of David Bowie’s death to hearing of Gregg Allman’s passing just a few days ago, I have been compulsively worried that musicians I like are going to suddenly drop dead.  (I really should’ve known 2016 was going to suck in terms of pop culture passings when New Year’s Day that year brought the news that Natalie Cole had died the night before.  That’s never a good way to start off a year.)  I check the news multiple times a day, just in case.  I imagine how I might feel if [insert name of iconic musician here] passed.  I wonder idly about which songs I should use for my obituary post, and how many posts commemorating that person there ought to be; depending on their fame, influence, and place in my heart it could be a lot.  Right now, I’m just a tiny bit worried that my even musing about this topic will bring some kind of karmic retribution down on whichever poor bastard happens to be next on the Universe’s hit list.

I am aware that this is not entirely healthy.

I wish I could be as sanguine about death as this song.  I wish I could be accepting of it as the Buddha says.  It’s natural and inevitable; we are transitory beings, blah, blah, blah.  “Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain.  We can be like they are.”  Blah, blah, blah.  It might be a natural transition, but it’s still a pretty fucking scary one.  The final great unknown.  I hate not knowing things.  I also hate not having control over things, and death is one of the many, many things entirely outside my control.

Of course, I have a lot of recent personal experience with death.  It’s been four years since Daddy shuffled off the mortal coil.  Mom’s illness has once again raised the specter in my house.  My cousin the roadie recently got just a little bit too close to death when the Manchester Arena was bombed right after the Ariana Grande concert (he was on the crew, who were all safe).  Other family members have passed recently.  Cats have passed recently.  I know I’m getting older and so is everyone I love; I just wish I wasn’t so anxious about it all.  My worried little hamster wheel of a brain has been working overtime on this one.

One death that hit me unexpectedly hard was the recent passing of Robert M. Pirsig.  Who the hell was that, you ask?  Just the man who wrote the Book That Changed My Life, aka Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Sure, I hadn’t known he was even still alive, which is one of the things that made his death so unexpected.  But as I read the obituary in the paper, I felt gutted.  For a few minutes, I felt like I did when my dad passed.  It was that painful.  I celebrated his life by rereading Zen again, which made me feel a little better.

I think maybe I’d feel even a little bit better if I knew that there was some sort of personification of death who came to collect you when it was time.  Not Robert Redford in that episode of The Twilight Zone (“Nothing in the Dark”; you can find it on YouTube).  I’d much prefer the Death from Terry Pratchett’s books.  He’s very matter of fact, but still quite compassionate.  Plus, he has a sense of humor and rides a horse named Binky.  What’s not to love?

There’s really nothing I can do but live with it, no pun intended.  When Pirsig passed, I told myself I had to sit with that grief for a few minutes and I did. I know when the next person or pet I love moves on, I’ll cry and sit with that grief, too.  I have to.  As John Donne said, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Nobody said the bell couldn’t be a cowbell.

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Who Am I?–Replacements Edition

Posted by purplemary54 on May 28, 2017

Some time ago, I posted the first in an irregular series of songs I think describe me, or at least the me I think I am anyway.  Here’s another one.  I’ve made my adoration of the Replacements well known; I’ve stated that I think Paul Westerberg is the true voice of my generation.  So it makes perfect sense that I would see myself in his songs.

I consider myself a creative, artistic person.  I also know I don’t fit into the box labeled “middle class female” very well.  I’m an oddball.  I like being alone, and I abhor most of the things the majority of people claim to enjoy (physical activity, cilantro, and the smell of vanilla candles are just a few examples).  I didn’t get married or have children.  I went to college for an education, not a degree.  I don’t drive.  If I was rich I’d be allowed to be eccentric, but since I’m not rich I’m just a weirdo.  A misfit.

Which makes the Replacements’ “Achin’ to Be” an ideal song for me.  Of course, it’s also the ideal song for every creative, artistic misfit girl out there.  And while I do see myself in that song, if I’m totally honest, I think I live more in the world of “Merry Go Round.”

It’s not just that the title features a homophone of my name, although I freely admit to being drawn to songs with my name in them.  There’s just more of me in the feeling and tone of this song.  It’s the chorus that really gets me:  “Merry go round in dreams.  Writes them down, it seems that when she sleeps she’s free.  Merry go round in dreams.”  I do feel free in my dreams; I imagine most people do.  And I write down dreams, just like I write down random thoughts and song lyrics and ideas.  I try to turn all of it into poems and stories–not always successfully but I try.  There’s also an edge to this song that “Achin’ to Be” doesn’t have.  That song is more melancholy.  “Merry Go Round” is kind of pissed off.  Kind of like me.  I’m angry.  A lot.  And you can hear that in this song.  You can also here an isolation, like the characters of the song aren’t just lonely, they are genuinely left out.  I’ve felt left out most of my life.  I’m not just a misfit; I’m an outsider.  People forget about me.  People don’t tell me things on a regular basis.  I’m not physically invisible, but I might as well be.  Some of that is my own doing, some of it isn’t.  And I can feel the pain of being excluded in this song.  But I also feel the empowerment of defiance here.  Sure, these characters are left out.  But they decided that if the rest of the world can’t be bothered to see them, then the rest of the world can go jump in a lake.  “But the trouble doll hears your heart pound, and your feet they say goodbye to the ground.”  There is something to be said for marching to the beat of your own accordion.  While I sometimes get frustrated and feel lonely, I don’t feel dishonest.  That’s important to me.  And it’s one of the reasons why I love this song so much.

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“Mr. Blue Sky”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 22, 2017

I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 last Tuesday, and it was awesome.  Unfortunately, I’ve also had this song stuck in my head since last Tuesday.  So now y’all are gonna suffer along with me.

I couldn’t find a good clip of the opening credits in which Baby Groot is dancing to this song.  But I think seeing Jeff Lynne without his trademark dark glasses is a pretty decent trade off.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Chris Cornell

Posted by purplemary54 on May 18, 2017

Fuck.

This is not what I expected to be doing this morning.

I’m going in for my annual mammogram this afternoon.  I’ve got to run a couple errands today.  Maybe a load of laundry.  I checked the news on my phone to see if there were any interesting developments in the Russia investigation.  I did not expect to see that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had passed into the next plane last night in what Rolling Stone’s website is reporting as a “possible suicide.”  Fuck.

Cornell’s voice was a force of nature, which was exactly what a band like Soundgarden needed to become a Rock powerhouse.  He could wail and groan like a hurricane, then drift down to a whisper of a breeze.  He was as relentless and undeniable as the wind.  And I cannot believe he is silenced.  He was only four years older than me.

I was never a Soundgarden superfan, although I always enjoyed listening to them.  My favorite Cornell song is actually “Hunger Strike” from the Temple of the Dog one-off, which was itself a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.  Cornell teamed with the surviving members of that band and some new kid named Eddie to play and sing for a life cut short.  Cornell’s voice meshes perfectly with Eddie Vedder’s.  And the chorus seems like an aptly fitting description of the musical landscape the last couple of years: “I’m going hungry.”

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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.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

“A Real Indication”

Posted by purplemary54 on March 2, 2017

I just watched David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the 1992 prequel to his brilliant television show.  The film’s ostensible story is the telling of what happened in the days just before Laura Palmer’s death.  It’s real story is a human soul and mind in disintegration, of the hidden dangers lurking just beneath the seemingly normal exterior of the human psyche.  One of the things I enjoy most about Lynch’s work is their deliberate interiority, the way the line between what is real and imagined is blurred into non-existence.  It’s difficult to tell the difference between things that happen in the physical world, the so-called “real” world, and the things that happen in the minds of his characters.  It’s a very real possibility that there is no “real” world in Lynch’s films, just an extended dream sequence meant to represent the darkest thoughts, desires, and nightmares of human beings.  In short, this is one weird movie.

This song from the soundtrack of Fire Walk With Me is definitely cut from the same cloth as the film.  David Lynch wrote the lyrics, Angelo Badalamenti the music.  And like everything else Lynch has his hands on, there is a sense of unreality to this song.  It’s unmoored from context or genre.  Jazzy but not quite Jazz.  Spoken, not quite sung.  It reminds of Pere Ubu or the Residents.  Or Was Not Was’ great “Dad, I’m in Jail.”  I googled the name of the band listed as the performer, but there doesn’t seem to be any information on Thought Gang; most of the hits related to a novel of the same name by Tibor Fischer.  That seems appropriate.

It’s also totally appropriate that this clip simply uses the empty red room from Special Agent Dale Cooper’s dreams.  And Laura Palmer’s dreams.  And the Black Lodge.  You won’t know what any of this means unless you’ve seen Twin Peaks.  I’m not sure you’ll understand this post at all unless you’ve seen Twin Peaks.  I highly recommend both the TV show and the movie, and pretty much every other movie David Lynch has made.  He’s one of my favorite filmmakers, although I admit to not having seen several of his films; I think he’d like that.  I am positively vibrating in anticipation of the new Twin Peaks episodes premiering in May.  I’ve been watching whatever they air on Showtime in preparation for the return to one of my favorite imaginary places.  But then again, isn’t every place in Lynch’s world imaginary?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden craving for cherry pie.

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“FDT”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 22, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, resistance fighters of all ages, I give you our new anthem!

Okay, so the song is about a year old, released during the presidential primaries last year; it is, unfortunately, still quite relevant.  It lacks mainstream publicity, largely because of certain words it uses repeatedly that the FCC takes issue with.  I only heard about thanks to an article on Slate.  Rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle (who deserves some kind of prize just for his awesome stage name) recorded this as an angry response to the hideously racist rhetoric of the maniac living in the White House.  Now this is not the best Rap song I’ve ever heard.  It lacks eloquence and style, relying instead on profanity and swagger.  Public Enemy this is not.  But the raw emotion behind it propels the song and gives voice to the inarticulate anger and fear that so many people of color are feeling (not to mention all the anger and fear emanating from every other group of people threatened by this maniac).  “Fuck Donald Trump” becomes not just an epithet but a rallying cry.  I recommend playing this one REALLY loud.

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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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