"If the beat gets to the audience, and the message touches them, you've got a hit." Casey Kasem

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spring 2011 Happy Spring CD Discs

The Happy Summer CD is a concept that I have embraced for quite some time. In the beginning, it would be the kind of thing that would come about because of a lot of songs that were played over and over and that would make me happy while listening to them (1995). Not all of those songs were necessarily happy. They represented a time that I would refer to as the best and worst of times even while living through it. In hindsight, there are great memorable images and memories from my time in England, but leaving the UK was the event that made all things in my current life and the present life of the British gal that I was with possible. To this end, we're now happily married - just not to each other, and our lives have become many things for what we experienced together. I'm too American to ever go back to England and be expatriated again, but for what I had over there, it's made me the American that I am today.
Other times, the Happy Summer CD would be a mellow mix of songs that represented all of that vibe of the summer of love (or how a year that existed before I was born or came of age) sounded as a reincarnated memory of a time that never really was (1996). This year's mix was a lot of the same bands over and over, but it's still very listenable - even if it violates a lot of the rules of a traditional mix CD (such as no more than 2 songs by one artist - and they're on different sides of the mix - unless they run into one another).
And still other times, the summer mixes were a representative sample of music that would allow for road trips to function in sheer driving joy. (1998). The opening salvo of Hendrix > Phish > Moe > Weezer > Bare Naked Ladies is still an awesome memory of a 22-hour drive to Biloxi looking at the sides of the road and embracing a beautiful America in a most perfect expression that Walt Whitman himself would have felt honored by. It's also images from a coast to coast journey that was remembered and retried at other times, and for that, the music on the disc bring back a lot of memories - even if they're sung by Big Punisher (who needed to be weighed on a truck scale when he died - though by his own admission he had a lot of sex).
Not all Happy Summer collections turn out well. In 2002, there was the first happy summer CD, but it pretty much sucked, and I can't remember too much that's on there at all, and so I won't even mention anything that's on it. I still have it tucked away somewhere, but frankly, it's not like I'm longing to listen to it again.
Most of the music from that summer was a depressing haze of acoustic whine with a lot of alternative country and grunge stuff thrown in. I can't think that celebrated summer very much, so... Rather, it represented a stupid relationship that I carried on way too long (the first few weeks should have been enough, but as some relationships go, this went on about a year too long). Isn't hindsight and songs that brought giddy memories of the few good times and excessive memories of the mopey times things to learn from and then forget how you came to them forever?
To sum it up, Son Volt, Wilco, The Drive By Truckers, and Silver Jews were the best things that I was listening to in that summer of blah. When I finally went on my cross country trip, I had tons of acoustic / indie sadness on mp3, and there actually came a point where I wanted to throw everything out of the window and start fresh - instead of constantly carrying around the ghosts of a failed relationship, some doomed friendships, and a first year of teaching that wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. I was looking to heal from all of this via the road, the national parks of America, and a lot of music. There were a few brief minutes of something with images like the Milky Way over Mesa Verde, but the ghosts of America's archaeological park make the ghosts of life that much really. In the end, nothing worked until I finally got home and  heard Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" as the final song of the trip when I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex.
If you haven't heard it, it's a beautiful song.
The next year, there seemed to be more ground rules of what would be on the disc and less regurgitations of past happy summer stuff. For that same reason, there was happy summer driving music in 1999, but all things considered, there is no official tape until the next year's road trip. That's the good thing about CD mixes (over tapes); it's easier to record them in a quicker amount of time. You can get rid of what doesn't work and stick with what does. Thus, the later CDs have embraced multiple generations of the same disc or they have gotten longer to compensate for this rule. A tape took forever to make, and sometimes, there just wasn't enough hours in a day to redo a tape the way that it should be. It became a painting that didn't turn out, and it filled a tape case in hopes that it could be rediscovered years later and made into some nostalgic piece of something better.
Now, when I make mixes they're more diverse. Prior to meeting my wife, I listened to very little pop music. Sure, some of what I listened to got popular, but it usually came to me via someone else or it came to be because things that I listened to finally arrived as something that the world as a whole could digest. Over time, things have changed. In 1995, I embraced mainstream grunge (Pearl Jam) and classic rock while making peace with the Grateful Dead. In 1996, I embraced a whole host of sixties stuff, which led into coming back to America and doing Phish concerts until 1999/2000. Somewhere around the time I came back, I morphed into a lot of alternative country and went back for a lot of indie rock stuff around 2001. Now, my tastes are geared towards all those things, but as I travel with my wife, I do listen to pop and hip hop. As my life is consumed by teaching, I also tend to listen to a fair bit of mellow fifties, sixties, and seventies stuff to keep me upbeat and positive. This is in as much a part of listening to AM radio in England (coming across the channel - Radio Dingol or whatever it was - that's what it sounded like) as remembering a childhood that I have pieced together from memories (I'm obviously too old to remember many things from that far ago - just generalizations of what happened).
This year, there are 4 discs, and it's not a summer thing. It's a spring thing. I've been doing this since 2009. I couldn't wait for the happy summer CD (still just 1 disc long), and well...
The first disc is the seventies classic rock disc. The second disc is the fun CDs brought together and made better with new songs and the extraction of the Jackson 5. That's a good thing. The third disc is the mellow disc that doesn't necessarily work for driving since it takes things down about 30 notches from the energy of disc 2 (even with the show tunes ending). The 4th disc is the one I listen to the most because it features a lot of stuff that my wife likes (she just doesn't get James Brown, which is sad because I do and I would play him a lot more if she could handle songs that go that long).  Usually, we don't make it into the newer indie rock. It's the pop and the new wave that works for her. She loves her eighties music, and I can enjoy some of it, too. I tried to put some of that on here on an earlier version, and it just didn't work (Hall and Oates "Kiss Is on My List," Prince "Delirious," and Madonna "True Blue"), so they were removed for things that did work.
On my own, I listen to a lot of disc 2. The Spencer Davis Group does perhaps the best song of the late sixties ("Gimme Some Lovin") although Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" could be equally good on a lot of days (as could the Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine." I'm sure that if I ever heard Olivia Newton John covering "Gimme Some Lovin," I'd feel as betrayed as the Glee cast doing Jay Z's Empire State of Mind (and let it be known that I'm not that much of a musical snob - I do watch Glee and enjoy some of their versions).
The feeling that permeates much of this disc... points like the Bar Kays doing "Soul Finger" and Midnight Train to Georgia" (what is a "soul finger" or a "pip" for that matter)... it's a place in America that we all look forward to going back to. It's parties, picnics, sun, and fun. It's driving down the highway with everyone singing along... and everyone is looking to "get on the good foot."
That's the point of the spring CDs. Sure, there will be a true summer CD later. For now, let's let spring carry into summer as the longest day of the year goes and I await going home to some Yuengling and a seat in the Siesta Zone.

Disc 1
1. Neil Young - Love and Only Love
2. Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced
3. Cream - Sunshine of Your Love
4. Faces - Stay with Me
5. Electric Light Orchestra - Evil Woman
6. Billy Joel - Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
7. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Call Me the Breeze
8. Charlie Daniels - Uneasy Rider
9. Bruce Springsteen - I'm Going Down
10. Dave Matthews Band - Crash into Me
11. Queen - You're My Best Friend
12. James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
13. Fleetwood Mac - Never Going Back
14. Cat Stevens - Another Saturday Night
15. Simon and Garfunkel - Mrs. Robinson
16. Beatles - Help
17. John Cougar Mellencamp - Pink Houses
18. Kansas - Dust in the Wind
Disc 2
1. Sam and Dave - Hold on I'm Coming
2. Spencer Davis Group - Gimme Some Lovin'
3. The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart of Mine
4. Chicago - Saturday in the Park
5. Jimmy Buffett - Margaritaville (live)
6. Paul Simon and Willie Nelson - Graceland (live)
7. Steve Miller Band - The Joker
8. Sly and the Family Stone - Everyday People
9. Eddie Floyd - Knock on Wood
10. The Staple Sisters - I'll Take You There
11. Jean Wilson - Mr. Big Stuff
12. Otis Redding - Respect
13. The Bar Kays - Soul Finger
14. James Brown - The Good Foot
15. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3
16. 3 Dog Night - Joy to the World
17. Nancy Sinatra - These Boots are Made for Walking
18. Gladys Knight and the Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia
19. The Rat Pack - When You're Smiling / The Lady is a Tramp (live)
20. Little Mermaid - Under the Sea
21. Zooey Deschanel - Fabric of Our Lives
22. Tony Bennett and KD Lang - Dream a Little Dream of Me
23. Les Miz Cast - Master of the House

Disc 3
1. Grateful Dead - Uncle John's Band
2. Richie Havens - Here Comes the Sun
3. Randy Newman - You've Got a Friend in Me
4. 5 Stairsteps - Ooh Child
5. Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me
6. Jack Johnson - Bubble Toes
7. Rolling Stones - Emotional Rescue
8. The Who - Magic Bus
9. The Doors - Love Her Madly
10. Crosby, Stills, and Nash - Marakesh Express
11. Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
12. Plain White Ts - Rhythm of Love
13. Michael Frenti - Say Hey I Love You
14. Madness - It Must Be Love
15. Dixie Chicks - Landslide
16. Pink Floyd - Summer of 68
17. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
18. Golden Smog - Cure for This
19. Replacements - Can't Hardly Wait
20.  Drive By Truckers - Everybody Needs Love
21. Otis Redding - Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Disc 4
1. Bruno Mars - The Lazy Song
2. Jessie J - Price Tag
3. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
4. Black Eyed Peas - Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night
5. Prince - 1999
6. The Trammps - Disco Inferno
7. MGMT - Flash Delirium
8. Elvis Costello - Pump It Up
9. Mighty Mighty Bosstones - The Impression That I Get
10. New Order - Run
11. Electronic - Getting Away with It
12. Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Heart in Your Heartbreak
13. Vampire Weekend - Horchata
14. Monsters of Folk - Gotta Lot of Losing
15. Police - Can't Stand Losing You
16. Girl Talk - Smash Your Head
17. Surfer Blood - Catholic Pagans
18. The Walkmen - Angela Surf City
19. The Baseball Project - Don't Call Them Twinkies
20. Camper Van Beethoven - Eye of Fatima 1+2
21. Best Coast - When I'm With You
22. Phish - Lengthwise

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Younger Yesterday

There are memories in music that we all hold dear and drift off into. I sit currently listening to Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely" (off of Kid A, an album I have only recently been able to get all the way through and still enjoy), and I think about all of the moments and feelings in life. There is something in music that takes us to these places, to the people, and to these events.

I'm not here
This isn't happening
I'm not here, I'm not here
In a little while
I'll be gone
The moment's already passed
Yeah, it's gone

Sitting, waiting, wondering... what brings us to these memories. With Radiohead, it's all about alienation and loneliness, but with the Polyphonic Spree, it's all of the opposite things - even in the darker songs ("It's the Sun"). When I think of the happiness, I think of one of the first songs I ever gave to my wife. And even if she didn't appreciate the long flowing robes and the choruses and Tim Delaughter's voice, there is something beautiful in the lines of "Younger Yesterday," which makes me feel good about life, and that's what I'm focusing on as I write this now (even if I'm listening to words that are so far from it):
Cause together we can make it great
Now we know, were beautiful we've always wondered
No we know, together were alright
Now we know, were beautiful we've always wondered
Now, we know, with everyday, everyday is a fight
You will make it right
You were misunderstood
The world wants
You to make it right
We were misunderstood
The world wants love

This concert review  included after this was originally written in 2007 after the Polyphonic Spree Show at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia.

Before the finale of Happy Birthday to some lucky gal getting serenaded and somewhere during the eternally beautiful encore, Tim Delaughter said it best - We needed this. It was a sentiment that he repeated over and over during the night, and somehow, he and his 20+ bandmates also realized that something special was going on here.
In the wait for the show to go on, I moved back towards the soundboard just to be out of the crowd. The show moved slowly through a song I didn't recognize and then went into John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" with words flashed on a red sheet that blocked the instruments from being seen by the audience.
When the song finished, a long artsy solo came on as Delaughter cut through the curtain to reveal the band. I was standing in the back wondering what the hell was going on, vaguely aware that the Polyphonic Spree has an incredible live reputation, but at the same time, I've been jaded by standard fare concerts and live music from bands that do it all the same way in a manner that has been done before.
Hell, it's been 40 years of rocking the house if VH1's Monterey Music Festival video is to be believed.
But then they finished the solo and the lights went on to reveal the band, and WOW!!!
They burst into The Fragile Army's energetic turn and then did both parts of "Hangin' Around the Day." By the time "Hangin' Around the Day" was in motion, I was up front jumping and singing along. In that, I apologize to those people that had to hear my out of tune voice, but alas, it's been a long time since I've had this incredible feeling inside me from seeing a concert. Something like that feeling when you're falling in love or watching a certain home run in 1998 or being in the presence of natural beauty, the movements of Delaughter and the 7 beautiful women behind him belting out harmonies and dancing and moving as the 2 drummers, guitarists, bassists, harp player, brass section, flute player, pianists and string players move in time and feel the vibe of summer's joy served up eternally for all to see forever, and it is (in the words of a former English teacher of mine) won-der-ful!!
At many shows, the fans are left to lose classics in favor of the new album of sub-standard fare, but here, the only song missing was "Soldier Girl." However, for at least a 20 minute version of "When the Fool Becomes a King" segueing into "Together We're Heavy" (off the disc of the same name) complete with solos AND a 5 minute freeze where the band held still and Delaughter went around trying to spook them or make them play their instruments as if he was the puppet master was intense.
Of the new album, the best tracks were "Running Away" and "Younger Yesterday," which is truly the happy track of the summer, which featured the lyrics "Now you know, you're beautful, you always were!!" as it fills up your ears and heart with its joyous melody.
The whole new album features shorter songs that are way more upbeat, but still hold true to the Polyphonic Spree's style of deviating and moving all over the place. Some songs are more female fronted, but no matter what they do, it just comes out amazingly.
And just as Delaughter said that they needed this, so did I. Not just to get over the hump of a frustrating week or a drought of great live shows (I've seen very good - but since 1992, I haven't seen one this good). The signing on the new CD at the end was sweet, but it was more about the vibe of the show.
Sometimes, we all just need that happiness.
And so, for the hundreds of shows I've seen in the last 25 years, the new top 5 is this:
1. Fugazi at the Norwich Waterfront 1992: the show rocks, I sit on the stage, and we meet the band afterwards, but my friend's camera screws up and no pictures exist.
2. Nine Inch Nails at the London Marquee 1991: Incredible Pretty Hate Machine gig that ends with the destruction of the set.
3. Ramones at the Silo 1989: last show before the Air Force. All my friends are there and everyone is blown away by the sound between the 1,2,3,4's!!!!
4. Lemonheads at the Norwich Waterfront: Made better for 2 reason A) Evan Dando became a stoner loser that screws up all of his shows and B) because I went to see them on Lovey, but had to catch a train back before the band hit the stage. But then again, let's not forget, this is where I met Evan and got my picture with his goofy ass.
and replacing Ben Folds Five at the Electric Factory in Philly 1997 (with its "kick ass" jam and so many great songs from those 2 amazing albums that started off Ben Folds Five's career), Polyphonic Spree at the Theater of Living Arts in Philly June 2007.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Waiting Room

When I was in 12th grade, I discovered Minor Threat. There's pretty much a shelf-life on hardcore bands that ends at about the same time that the pre-frontal cortex is fully formed (21-25) or when one starts paying his / her own bills and doesn't live at home with his parents. This rule can be completely neglected if one is 53 years old today (happy birthday, Jello!) and is pretty much angry at everything... spurning making good money on it to keep their punk rock cool by not allowing his bandmates to sell "Holiday in Cambodia" to Levi's.
That said, if a sound financial plan and vacations are in the cards, uh... the above rule is enforced thoroughly.
I grew up with a mix of heavy metal in junior high school and pop / new wave prior to that. I don't want to turn this into songs that changed me because a few of them (David Bowie's "Changes" and The Smiths "There Is a Light That Will Never Go Out") deserve entries all their own, but there were songs that changed me, and somewhere in 10th grade, there was a kid named Nate who turned me on to punk rock. My friend and next door neighbor Tom knew him, and he was willing to record his vinyl and tapes if we got him tapes, so I did, and I got a bunch of Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and other bands I can't quite remember (forgettable crap like the Surf Punks) as well as a list of "cool" bands before he moved to a different state.
Over time, I would buy to experience (it's not like going on Youtube or Myspace to hear something now), and there was some good stuff, and there was some not so good stuff. For example, my cousin Michelle had a tape by the Exploited (Punk's Not Dead), and she lent it to me. It was OK. Frankly, it was better if you
hadn't heard much punk music. And I'm not talking about good punk stuff like The Ramones. I'm talking about loud and annoying British mohawk sporting 1970s leftover bands still trying to perform in the 1980s while doing too much bad needle drugs and taking too much dole money. Well, unfortunately, I got stuck buying that tape because somehow Tom lost the case, and I ended up having to buy a new tape of it (not exactly easy to do at Mall stores), which left me stuck with the original tape and short of $10 (and you wonder why Napster was so revolutionary for those of us who felt that the music industry owed us thousands of dollars for all of the crap that we bought just to try it since it wasn't on commercial radio at the time - thank God for used CD shops at the time that were at least willing to trade our crap for better crap).
And there were some good bands then. Minor Threat was one of them. A lot of the DC bands on Dischord were really good, and they seemed to stand the test of time better than some of the other stuff (especially the New York stuff that seemed to want to be metal or skinheads). Alternative Tentacles offered some great non-Dead Kennedys choices as well (Alice Donut and Nomeansno), but it's hard to listen to them the same way as I did when I wasn't a quarter of a century old (though I will say, I can still listen to them more than a lot of other stuff that was SOOO... cool back then).
There was some good stuff on SST as well; however, it's not like anyone over the age of 25 can listen to Black Flag or Bad Brains for longer than a couple of songs either (if that long). Nevertheless, at 16, I was captivated by the guy at the mall who looked so cool with his Black Flag jacket. He wore Misfits shirts, so I discovered them, too, and let me tell you (in another column at length), they're still awesome (at almost age 40).
Some bands moved on and became mature than straight up noise and angst-filled short "fuck the world" songs. Husker Du, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr were some of the best, and I can elaborate on them in other columns, too (and I will).
But Minor Threat and their 1-2 minute songs were anthematic... at least at the time.
And they did it with a lot of stuff that related to why high school life sucked so much (instead of real world politics that I thought I understood better than I did).
Now... not so much. The same is true with other good Dischord hardcore stuff like Dag Nasty. Even some of the Ian Mackaye side projects (Egg Hunt and Pailhead) have lasted, but other stuff (Embrace) is simply nostlagic pre-emo / straight edge history of a time long since forgotten in the course of daily life (though thinking about them here makes them come alive again).
But Fugazi... and that first 7 Songs vinyl release... and we all had the 2nd one for Margin Walker, too. They were liberating forces of life in 1989. Blueprint was equally fantastic in 1990, and by the time Steady Diet of Nothing came out prior to that tour in 1992 where my friends and I met them and took a million pictures (none of which came out - damn you digital age for not being here soon enough and damn you Tony for not loading or removing the film correctly!), they were the greatest. However, by 1993, In on the Killtaker was good, but it wasn't the same as the live versions of the songs or the older discs. The later albums like Red Medicine and The Argument didn't match the intensity of a full on band's assault and timing with lyrical and musical masterpieces like the ones that comprised those first 13 songs. Those 13... they were and still are the greatest example of what the days of hardcore music could mean. Twenty two years later, they're still awesome as I listen to the digital versions from my computer's speakers.
And "Waiting Room" can be mixed with Destiny's Child and Rihanna and still be great, but when it's by itself, it's still one of the best of all time, which is a lot more than I can say for anything that the Butthole Surfers ever did, but you didn't need me to tell you that.
Or did you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paris and Rome

The Cranes always had that little girl lost in the woods voice from their British waif / Goth wannabe singer Alison Shaw, and it really worked from the get go (her brother was in the band, too, but who cares - he was a dude, and nobody pays to see the guys in a female fronted band). Had she walked into the orange walled Listening Booth that I worked in post high school, she would have surely been a "dead girl," and despite the descriptions listed above, at 19/20, she was the hopeful dream woman. At 39/40, she would just try my patience way too much. But at the time, she was my Kim Gordon, my Bjork, my Kat from Babes in Toyland, or any other indie princess that could be thrust out there.
As for the Cranes, sure, the early stuff (Self non Self) was very poorly produced, and while some bands can sound over-produced, let's be honest: If you're going to record an album, it has to sound like it wasn't done in a wind tunnel or a closet (no matter how much John Peel thought you were the bomb). Sound needs room to breathe and come alive. However, for their first REAL single, a term I use as in the line of demarcation for where I picked up with the Cranes, I have to say that "Tomorrow's Tears" off of Wings of Joy was fantastic. The review in the NME / Melody Maker said kill for a copy, so I went out and got the disc, and yeah... I was hooked, so hooked that I made a pair of friends go to see them in London. It was a great show, but unfortunately, that was the same night that Nirvana played in London, and I was never forgiven. I'm sure that I deserved not to be forgiven, but I had seen Nirvana (and it was good), and my friends didn't (nyah nyah nyah!!!). For the life of me, even looking back on hearing that one song I really liked, it wasn't live music or at least music to spend time with in a live paying venue. It was mopey bedroom music or alterna boy love music or whatever it was, but it wasn't a live show to be reckoned with (the same can be said of Dead Can Dance when I saw them a few years later).
The disc itself didn't have much shelf life. I still have songs from it, but it's not something that I listen to all the time. Recently, I've been listening to their next proper disc Forever, which is really good, and it's a nice touch when I'm working on stuff for school on my computer and trying to drift into solace. I can't say that I'll be loading it into my mp3 player for the car since that DEFINITELY won't happen, but yeah... it's been getting some rotation, which has been making me want to go back and get the entire disc of Loved.
In looking at the aforementioned Forever, there was "Everywhere," "Cloudless," "Jewel," and "Adrift," and  they were big and beautiful and dark and eerie and driven and sweeping with that aforementioned sense of little girl lost in the world at its ultimate perfection and the simple piano of "Tomorrow's Tears" sounded so simple and unrealized into what the band could be if they ever got out of Southampton (if it's the last thing they ever do), and thisdisc, Forever, was the moment of all things great and possible, and there was nowhere else for them to go.
But then there was "Paris and Rome."
And the sound was so hauntingly wonderful and sweeping into indie rock's "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" as she sang into a kicked in purpose with its totality."Shining Road" was good too, but it wasn't as good, and frankly, it's been so long since I listened to the rest of the disc and thought anything more of it other than the fact that the cover is actually a Degas painting (at 23, who knew?).
Does it matter what she was singing? Like Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, there was a sense that she could be making up sounds and still making beautiful music. Sure, there were the points where it was clear and real what was being said by Liz (I suddenly have a hankering for This Mortal Coil's version of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" at this very instance: Did I dream you dreamed about me...), but did it really matter? Who cares what a "sugar hiccup" is? It was just a moment in time to drift back and remember and feel so 1980s / 1990s - even if one looks at her now in that video for "Song to the Siren" and thinks... that's a bad haircut - even for that time.
Does it matter that "Paris and Rome" is lyrically far less than the great American male poet Ezra Pound's "River Merchant's Wife," which is one of the most incredible poems ever?
For in Pound, there is a sense of that realization of love and forever that comes with the lines:
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.

But for the Cranes, there is simply a sense of hopeful yearning... a remembering of all things that were good. Both lovers are separated from their loved ones. Both have a desire for the destination and a hope that they will get to it.
And there is hope... if nothing else there is a sense of purpose and promise.
So we go back to Annie, and we sense the feelings of Alison Shaw as we hear:
Just thinkin' about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!
When I'm stuck a day
That's gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And Grin,
And Say,
The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow

Is it really so different for mid 1990s quasi goth / alternative bliss / dream pop other than the lyrics, which know that there is nobody coming back? Couldn't Pound have planted a sense of doom for his narrator with a twist that her lover was never going to come back to her (killed in battle, abducted by aliens, tempted by a woman on the other side of the river)? Sure, Annie was going to end up with a home and Daddy Warbucks (this is Broadway), but might that have not happened at all? Isn't there a plot twist that could make it NOT SO?
And what will happen to me, to you, to any of us when this day ends?
Do we keep our hopes up high? Do we subscribe to the painful reality of all things that could happen and confront the brutal truths of the Stockdale Paradox and just say to ourselves that nothing good is ever guaranteed to happen, so why not assume the worst and it can only get better while we remain optimistic to our own powers of immediate control. But does that mean that we should accept our lonely, miserible existential void and live as if nothing is to happen, for who knows? That may be the truth... or maybe not.
So how do we find a new meaning beyond the lyrics and hope for a better tomorrow in spite of all things? If we can't count on the lyrics of our songs to do it for us, can we just ascribe them hope and drift into the things that we want to hear?
In Paris and in Rome
And in places far from home
From the mountains to the sea
To wherever the road may lead
I wonder where you'll go
Will the sun shine as you go?
There's all the World, you know
Just beyond the things we know
Don't be lonely now
If you can try to be brave
Maybe the sun will come back
To wash your tears away

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tomorrow Never Knows

If the Beatles are the most important act in musical history, and one could argue that Bob Dylan has equal importance for offending the sense of the Puritanical folkies by "plugging in" and for "turning the Beatles on" to all things recreational and many things literary / music, then what better place to begin than with them?
For it was that in 1996, I heard the song "Tomorrow Never Knows" for the first time. I was turned on to the CD Revolver by Andrew, a British guy that I was friends with when I was stationed in the United Kingdom during the Air Force and for the time that I had lived in the country after I got out of the military. In a sense, it feels like a million years ago, but in fact, it was only 15 calendar cycles ago. Prior to Andrew, I had never read Catch 22 (he bought me a copy), Slaughterhouse 5, and The Plague (he had me borrow copies of both of them, but I never read them until I returned to America). All 3 of those literary choices were dynamite in my life when I opened them and absorbed them, and they surely did much to make me want to become an English teacher (in the same way that the poetry of e.e. cummings, an experience introduced to me by a gal from my past, did). But alas... that's another entry.
Andrew and I would go back and forth on a lot of different musical choices, both of us being students of Melody Maker and the NME, and we would (and we still do) send each other music to listen to. Other than his interest in Blur's "This is a Low," I don't know if I can say that I still have a lasting appreciation for anything he introduced me to other than the Beatles' Revolver. My interest in music was so intense that I had heard of most of what he did, or we listened to all new forms of it at the same places - either an upstairs attic room at a Bury St. Edmunds pub called the Grapes with a DJ and the same 10-15 people every week or Viennas, the original club that the DJ at the Grapes started out at before he lacked "fan support." At the time, Andrew listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mudhoney, as well as much of the Britpop and Sub Pop stuff that was popular at the time. We all did. That was 1994-1996. It was a great time to be alive and into music - even if much of what was popular was the derivatives of the Grunge scene of 1992 (Oh, how great it was to know that I saw Nirvana before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a single). Now, he listens to early 1970s stuff like the Stooges or more modern stuff like The White Stripes mixed with Brit Pop that I'm too far away from geographically in much the same way he is lifetimes away from the Grateful Dead, who I tried to introduce him to in 1996 (I can still remember him asking me if my parents listened to the music; thus, I would have a disclaimer for listening to such mellow "crap").
But when I think of the Beatles, and I listen to that disc (Revolver), I think of where it is in the Beatles canon. There is Rubber Soul, and there are some great things on that disc. "Taxman," the ultimate guide to libertarian politics delivered via musical beat kicks off the show, and then we go straight into "Eleanor Rigby," which is one of the monumental moments in pop music. The introspective darkness that mixes with pop music in such a way (later echoed in "She Said, She Said") shows what the Beatles could do and would do as an extension of where they had already been ("Nowhere Man").
And Rubber Soul had some really great and lasting moments ("In My Life" being the soundtrack to every memory show before Green Day released "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." "If I Needed Someone" + "Drive My Car" were the other standouts - at least for me). But Revolver was moving miles away from where they had been. There was no longer an option to play some of the music live because their sound was more advanced than the live technology. The lovable Muppets that had released "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" were long since gone. Of course, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was still on the other side of the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," and the psychedelic 1960s were ready just about ready to kick in in full swing with Pet Sounds leading the charge.
To think that this was long before the effects of the Beatles' greatness were considered to be so everyday with how modern bands plagiarize them left and right, though it still sounds awesome in bands like Oasis.
To think as well that everyone had a Beatle that expressed them (mine was George) except for the Elvis people (I never really got him though I could appreciate some of his songs).
There was the feud with the Rolling Stones fans, but really, the Stones were great in their own right... though not as great as the Beatles. They were a skilled cover band that found originality in heroin at just the right time (not that I'm encouraging drug use because I'm not, but it sure seems to do wonders for artistic ability), and then, they knocked out some really awesome songs like "Dead Flowers," "Sway," "Gimme Shelter," "Monkey Man," "Sympathy for the Devil," and pretty much every single Martin Scorcese soundtrack that has been made since then.
And it's not that Revolver is perfect or better than every other disc ever. It's not. It's not even the Beatles best disc (but I couldn't tell you what is since they're all so unique and I don't want to say the best is a greatest hits album, but the Blue CD is the one I would choose over all others - either that, or an 80 minute burned CD). Then again, Let It Bleed isn't the best album ever - though it's my favorite Rolling Stones disc. Both of them suffered from that song that is played so damn much that it's not worth listening to more than once a year or so (if at all). The Beatles had "Yellow Submarine." The Stones had "You Can't Always Get What You Want." For the Stones, this isn't the fault of their creativity since the aforementioned tune was great until it was overplayed, and for the Beatles, the drugs just took over and got too out there for its own good in some stupid kid's song for adults kind of way.Well, that and how stupid writing a song about drugs to make adults seem like idiot kids (when they wink knowingly at the references that the "squares don't catch") can be.
But in the end, most of what the Beatles did is far better than what anyone else does. However, for the fact that only one of their songs is on the top 100 of all time, it's more about the ground rules that I have set up than the quality of the music. For this, it becomes important to note
1. A band can only have one contribution.
2. A singer can perform with multiple bands or solo and with a band.
3. A song must be from a time before this calendar year to make sure that it has a lasting effect on music as a whole.
4. A song can be from any genre or gender. In fact, the Top 100 is pretty diverse to all forms of music except jazz, opera, and classical. Oh, there are no prison work songs either.
5. This list is alphabetized - it was hard enough to get it down to 100 without putting them in order.
6. Songs that take on a meaning from my life are placed in The Soundtrack to My Life section. If I can't divide the song being in my wedding from rocking out to it on the CD player... it's not in the top 100. 
7. Other great songs by the same artist will be placed in the other great songs section. That is an ongoing project (as is the Soundtrack of My Life).
8. I have tried to include original versions of all songs on the list. You can listen to 99 of the songs on the chart at You Tube and 1 at Last FM. I should probably find a way to get the last 1 in musical form, but alas.
For The Beatles, the choice for the top 100 was "Dead Prudence." Is this because it was better than "Hey Bulldog" or "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "All You Need Is Love?" Probably not. In all honesty, it's more because the "Abbey Road Medley" (Because to Her Majesty) is actually 10 snippets long - even if it plays as a song, and if you asked me honestly, that's my favorite Beatles contribution of all time (unfortunately, it was the last contribution they made to music except as solo performers).
So why begin with "Tomorrow Never Knows" instead of "Dead Prudence?"
Something about the precipice that I sit on as my life changes and moves into new places. For that, I'll sweat out a new post every few days for the faithful. It won't be every day like my baseball blog, but it will be, and it will be a good time all of the time.
I hope you enjoy it. I've been meaning to start this for a while, so here it is a homage to my 4 favorite music books - Nick Hornby's Songbook and High Fidelity and Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City and Killing Yourself to Live.
Like "Bon Scott singing: Let there be rock."