A Peek Inside My Brain

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I sometimes feel as though my entire brain is an iPod on shuffle.  Random songs pop into my head at odd times.  It’s been like this for years, even before I got an iPod, although it has been a bit more. . . pronounced, shall we say, since I bought that first one many years ago.

There’s two perennial staples on my mental playlist, songs that generally come up when I’m doing some kind of mundane task.  The first is what I call my Filing Song.

While I enjoy Frank Sinatra, this particular song has never actually been a favorite.  But when I spend more than five minutes filing (like I used to have to do at the community college I used to work at), “Strangers in the Night” just appears like the proverbial bad penny.  I don’t sing the lyrics; I don’t even know most of the lyrics.  I just hum, and occasionally “do be do be do” to the tune.  It’s a satisfying enough way to occupy my brain, although I’d prefer to alphabetize to “All of Me.” (If I’ve been filing too long, I get a little lost in the middle, and have to sing the ABC song to remind myself if K comes before or after M, but that’s a different story altogether.)

The other song that randomly, and rather aggressively, injects itself into my consciousness is a Disney classic.

I don’t think I’ve seen this version of the Three Little Pigs since I was in single digits, but “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” has been on rotation ever since.  Just as I mysteriously associate “Strangers in the Night” with filing, this song is mostly a kitchen tune.  Cooking brings it to the forefront of my brain and I find myself singing the chorus (the only words I remember) over and over in a high-pitched, kiddie-style voice.  Why?  How the hell should I know?

What these two songs seem to best illustrate to me is that some melodies are so ubiquitous either to the culture or our personal experience that they become woven into the fabric of our lives.  Also, that I have virtually zero control over what pops into my head for which reason.  The human brain is a weird and wonderful place, but I wouldn’t want to get lost in mine.

Merle Haggard

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We couldn’t really afford to lose Merle Haggard.  There just aren’t that many like him left.  Country music has become an assembly line production of empty, shallow, factory-produced pretty faces.  There’s no style or originality.  There’s no personality.  There’s no danger.  And there’s no emotion left.  Merle Haggard had all of those things in spades.  He lived his music.  That’s what made him so damn special.

I think it’s kind of fitting that Haggard died today, his birthday.  He left this world the same day he entered it.  Maybe that means his work was finished.  I don’t know.  I do know I hope he stops by the great bar of the afterlife and has a drink with my dad.  I think they’d enjoy talking shit with each other.

 

Oscar Music Predictions

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It’s that time of year again, kiddies!  I have to admit that I couldn’t find any music I really liked this year.  None of the nominated songs really connected with me on a musical level, and I didn’t spend much time listening to the scores because I knew which one I was rooting for.

I haven’t seen The Hateful Eight.  I have no desire to see it.  But, come on.  It’s Ennio Morricone.  You try to talk me out of supporting one of the best film composers ever.  (Yeah, I’ve probably rooted against him in the past, but I’m not going to this year.)

As for the nominated songs, I just decided to go with the front-runner, Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You.”

I’ve got no vested interest in anything Lady Gaga does; generally speaking, her music leaves me feeling, well, nothing.  Not good, not bad.  Just meh.  (That’s kind of a damning statement, since a lack of any emotional response means an extreme lack of quality, IMO.)  But she does have vocal talent and passion for her work.  And I totally respect her career choices and the way she is making an effort to stretch herself artistically and stylistically.  It might not be my brand of music, but good on her for busting out of the industry box she’d been put into.

And while I don’t care for this song as a song, I can really get behind the cause.  “Til It Happens to You” is from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which looks critically at the state of sexual assault and violence on college campuses across the country and the (lack of) response from some of our finest institutions of higher learning.  And some of the proceeds are being donated to help victims of sexual assault, so go to iTunes or wherever and buy a copy.  Given the personal stories of Lady Gaga and co-writer Diane Warren and the distressing result of Kesha’s attempt to break away from her abuser, this couldn’t be a more timely piece of work.  Pay attention, folks, because this is an issue that affects every single solitary one of us.  We need to end rape and violence, and an Oscar-winning song can only help make that happen.

Maurice White

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To say that this is all beginning to sound like a broken record is much too apt a comparison.  The music industry has once again been robbed of one of its visionary talents.  Earth, Wind, & Fire co-founder Maurice White has died at 74 as a result of his long fight with Parkinson’s.  It’s like the whole world has just become one long broken record.

If I feel like dancing, Earth, Wind, & Fire is always on the playlist.  They were one of the best and most successful R & B groups ever, and Maurice White was a large part of that success.  He was their leader in every sense of the word, from songwriting to performing to producing.  When his illness prevented him from performing with the group any longer, he continued to guide EWF from the sidelines, making sure that his group never strayed from his vision.  He also produced a number of other artists and had some solo performing success.

What really gets me, besides the loss of another artist I enjoyed and admired, besides the grief of another family that I understand only too well, is the fact that this won’t nearly be the end of our losses as fans and listeners.  All these great and influential artists from the 60s and 70s are getting older, and as Michael Wilbon of ESPN notes, Father Time is undefeated.  We’ll always have the music these people have made.  My beliefs tell me that no one is ever really gone; their existence is simply moved to another plane.  But that doesn’t make any of this feel any better on this plane of existence.  It still hurts.  In this case, the only way to deal with the pain is to keep on dancing.

I think Maurice would like that.

 

“Smuggler’s Blues”

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I had to go to Vimeo instead of YouTube to find the video for this song, which is one of the better examples of a story video.  Miami Vice even used this song as the inspiration for an episode with the same title.  Glenn Frey played a smuggler pilot; I think his character ended up as badly as his character in the video.

https://vimeo.com/58719183

Frey did a lot of work for movie and TV soundtracks in the 80s; I think it’s one of the reasons a lot of his solo work doesn’t hold up as well as, say, Don Henley’s does.  But as I’ve stated many times before, being middle of the road and mainstream doesn’t mean your work takes less talent and skill.  “Smuggler’s Blues” might be terribly dated now (or not, if you listen to some of the news coming out of Mexico these days), but it’s a pretty tight Rock-Pop tune.  And I love the video.

Jason Isbell

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I discovered Jason Isbell a couple of weeks ago while I was up late watching an episode of Austin City Limits.  I tuned in just as he was beginning the song “Live Oak,” and I had pretty much the same reaction I had when I heard Kathleen Edwards for the first time: No one that young should be that sad.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure Isbell isn’t nearly as young as Kathleen Edwards was when I first heard her.  He was something of a music business veteran by the time the album “Live Oak” is from came out in 2013.  He played with the Drive-By Truckers for a number of years, and has been working steadily since he set out on his own in 2007.  Isabel paints vivid musical portraits of people at the ends of their proverbial ropes, and while the music is kind of bleak, it’s also good.  Really good.  I don’t know much else about him yet, but I plan on finding out more.

Most of the songs he played on ACL were quieter, acoustic numbers, introspective and heartfelt (track down the episode and watch it; Patty Griffin Neko Case is the performer in the second half).  But his last song rocks out nicely.  It isn’t any more cheerful than his other tunes; if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find it’s just as bleak as many of the other songs.  But it is raucous, and that’s kind of fun in its own right.  I imagine this is what passes for partying hearty for Jason Isbell.

I’m Just Gonna Keep Posting These Songs Until This Shit Stops Happening

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There was a scene in Twin Peaks, when Dale had a vision of the giant come to him at the local bar.  All the giant kept saying was, “It is happening again.”  It’s terrifying and disruptive; the whole place feels it, even though they didn’t see what Dale saw.  That’s how I feel right now.

I’ve got two songs here: one I’ve posted a couple of times in response to horrific violence; the other is the one true thing I know, which everyone needs to remember now and always.  Here’s hoping I don’t have to post either one again any time soon.