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Posts Tagged ‘songs’

“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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“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.

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

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.

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