Saturday, February 24, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 25

Today in Vermont many of the members of this Discography discussion will be participating in the annual Richard M. Nixon Winter Four Sport Triathlon (not to be confused with the annual Richard M. Nixon Summer Four Sport Triathlon).  It is a combination of miniature golf, bowling, dart and pool.  It is, according to our beloved Sanford Zale, a celebration of America, but, more importantly, a celebration of friendship.  Consequently, I'll be publishing the blog early today (because I still need to get to the gym before the competition).  As always, just send along any songs/commentaries and I'll slide them into the blog tonight.

It's shaping up as a great week.  Dave Wallace went eclectic (as is his wont), Kevin Andrews went Old School, Kathy Seiler went spiritual (not unusual for a person whose hobby is Buddhism), Phillip Seiler went gangsta, Dave Kelley went missing, and I went down a rabbit hole.

Oh, and a quick reminder: the esteemed (even if she is suddenly bereft of songs) Cyndi Brandenburg are heading off to Jordan on 8 March (it will be an epic trip, including an eight hour camel ride through the Wadi Rum; the students are already whining about it).  This will impact Weeks 27 and 28.  Week 26 will not be sullied by our travel as we'll still be in this #YankeeHellhole.  So, if you don't mind, by 6 March could you send me a couple songs/commentaries early so that I can instruct the nano-overlords to release the posts on time.

Dave Wallace

Ty Segall - And, Goodnight

Returning to Ty Segall's new album, Freedom's Goblin, for another song this week, I've selected album closer, And, Goodnight.  An extended jam, the song strikes me as one of the closest things that I've ever heard to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Danny Whitten-era.  

Kathy Seiler

Everything Comes From You, Big Blue Ball (multiple artists) 

This is sort of an odd post for someone who no longer believes in God, but I’ve always liked this song on the Peter Gabriel Big Blue Ball album (which I’ve mentioned before), where Gabriel brought music and artists together from all over the world. I highly recommend the album if you like world music.

The melody of this song is simple and repetitive, and it builds in intensity as prayers often do from those who are suffering. This week we had white supremacist flyers found on our campus and has left many people feeling very raw and unsafe. Trump wants to arm educators when an armed security guard ran away from a school shooting. Young girls in Syria documented the terror of their world on social media. Yemen continues to suffer and be ignored. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This song has that same sort of raw character to it that many are feeling as a result of so many horrors in our world lately. It begins with counting and integrates the counting again… Something that has a strangely calming effect for the hidden OCD in me.  The simple ask, “I appeal to you, Lord, to stop war. Stop terror.” The lyrics are delivered by Sinead O’Connor, whose vocal quality is so perfect for the pleading. She simply but perfectly showcases how it feels to be powerless and desperate to feel better. How many times have we pleaded to our God, appealed to humanity, or asked the universe to stop the horrors of our own species?

Phillip Seiler

Living Colour

One of the best things about Twitter is the ability to interact with people whom you wouldn't normally in life. I have had brief back and forth with national journalists, cartoonists, authors, and musicians. Vernon Reid, the guitarist and leader of Living Colour, is a great follow on Twitter as he is willing to engage and converse about all kinds of topics. I think I started following him after he had a back and forth with another about Todd Rundgren's music. Truth be told, I have slept on the music of Living Colour since their hit Cult of Personality (still an amazing tune) back in the 80s and it was only through his tweets that I learned they were still going and making new music. I really regret not paying more attention to the band as they are willing to explore musical styles and pull from various traditions.

Who Shot Ya is from their 2017 release, Shade, and is a cover of a Notorious B.I.G. track. I prefer the cover version. Biggie's track is widely believed to be a diss track aimed squarely at 2Pac although there is some disagreement because of the timing. Regardless, it did inspire 2Pac to release "Hit 'Em Up" in response further enflaming the East Coast / West Coast feud of the 90s. 

Ironically, Living Colour turns the song into a metal anthem and the use of more aggressive music behind the lyrics helps change the meaning of the song from a straightforward diss track to a wider statement on our society and its violence. I especially love how after the words have faded, the music goes on. 

Kevin Andrews

Jeff Beck has always been one of my favorite guitarists. In 1975 he released an album of instrumental tracks, Blow by Blow, which included the song Cause We've Ended as Lovers which was written by Stevie Wonder for his then wife, and apparently soon to be ex-wife, Syreeta Wright. Stevie also plays on the track uncredited.

The track is a master class in the Stratocaster. JB pulls an amazing range of tones out of it. The opening few notes are played on a single fret with the pitch changing from a combination of bending the string and tremolo (wammy) bar. He uses this technique throughout along with changing combinations of the three pickups and tone and gets an emotional, vocal quality from the instrument. It plays slow and fast, clean and distorted. It’s the closest I’ve heard a guitar come to singing. He’s a master.

Gary Scudder

Neil Young, Only Love Can Break Your Heart

OK, this is only partially about this Neil Young song off of After the Gold Rush (and album which, as all right-thinking individuals know, features the best album cover of all time).  It's a song I've always liked a hell of a lot, although I don't know if I've ever loved it.  I was having a discussion with the truly excellent (and impartial) Alice Neiley the other day and we both agreed that we actually like the Kathleen Edwards cover better than the original; for me it's because it's simply a more stripped down version and I just like the pacing better.  Anyway, I was thinking about the Edwards cover today and whether or not I should use it this week as my selection, when I started wondering about other covers, and this led me, as these things so often do, down the YouTube rabbit hole.  In this case I had just finished working out at the gym when I had this thought, and, instead of just going home and doing research, I immediately had to check it out.  I have many, uh, idiosyncrasies, and one of my least annoying, and even occasionally useful, one is my fixation on a particular task.  My current SO describes me as, uh, "task oriented," which I don't think is meant as an insult, and Dave Kelley has spoken, gently, of my, uh, "methodical," nature (it's somewhat like my other charming habits such as whenever I bump one leg I have to immediately turn around and bump the other leg in the same place - or if there are three clean glasses in the cabinet and I put in a fourth one I have to move one of the three up so that the new clean one isn't left alone - which is sort of like the time when I almost threw a brick thew a shop window in downtown Omaha, Nebraska to free an old suitcase which was left alone and I just felt sorry that it had ended its life's adventures by itself in a dilapidated shop in Omaha and that just seemed sad; these, as we know, are just normal human habits, unlike one being, uh, "methodical)).  Naturally, an hour later I was still sitting in the locker room in my underwear listening to various covers of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. As it turns out there are over forty covers of that song (and that's not counting the live versions).  Some are from artists that you might suspect, such as Nils Lofgren on his album The Loner, which is nothing but covers of NY songs.  Of course, this is completely cool because Lofgren did play on the seminal album Tonight's the Night (". . . alright, Nils, alright . . .). In much the same way, Stephen Stills covered the song.    Not surprisingly Rickie Lee Jones contributes an ethereal version on her album The Devil You KnowThe Corrs have an OK version which was featured in the eminently forgettable Amy Adams movie Leap Year.  Obviously, I'm  not going to walk us through all forty of them.  Some of surprisingly good, and others are, if not necessarily terrible, are more challenging fits.  Florence + the Machine recorded an almost painfully faithful, although lovely, version.  Jackie DeShannon of all people recorded a version which has a more country feel, but also goes off the rails a bit half-way through.  Even more unexpectedly, Natalie Imbruglia produced a pretty solid version.  Psychic TV produced an oddly nice cover on one of The Bridge albums; it's like you ran NY through a 90s English band blender. Interested in a late disco cover?  Well, me neither, but check out Elkie Brooks.  A techno version?  Unclubbed 2. Yes, it just goes on and on. There are a ton of live covers, including this one featuring NY and Paul McCartney. Finally, circling back to where we started, the Kathleen Edwards cover.  Now, the interesting question is why of all NY songs is this the one which is covered so much (I suppose I should do some more research on the popularity of other NY songs, but that's a rabbit hole for another day)? 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 24

Inexplicably, we're almost half-way through year two of the Discography.  It's a light week this week as all of us are buried or sick or have disappeared into the Canadian wilderness.  In three weeks the esteemed Cyndi Brandenburg and I will have disappeared into the Jordanian desert, so next week I'll make that annoying official request for folks to send along songs a couple of weeks early (I'm apologizing in advance).  I like the songs this week (it's one of my favorite weeks), and we've definitely headed off in unique directions.

Dave Wallace

Ty Segall - 5 Ft. Tall

Ty Segall is an insanely prolific garage rocker; he's released 11 albums in 10 years, plus he's been involved in numerous side projects during that time.  I've enjoyed much of the music that he's released but, not surprisingly when you consider the sheer quantity of material, it tends to be a bit spotty.  Great stuff tends to be surrounded by some things that probably would have been better left on the shelf.  His newest album, Freedom's Goblin, follows this pattern, but it's noticeably more hit, than miss.  Even at 74 minutes long with 19 songs, the album only contains a handful of throwaways and I find it more consistent than most of his previous work.  For the next two weeks, I'm going to highlight two of my favorite songs from the album.  First is 5 Ft. Tall, which reminds me of a power-pop version of the Who.

Dave Kelley

"Turn off the tv
Turn off the news
Nothing to see here
They're serving the blues"

"Call to Arms"  Sturgill Simpson

GB was always a bigger Sturgill Simpson fan than I, although I have always respected his music.  On his last record, Simpson added the horn section from the amazing Dap Kings and went away from his more country roots.  (The DAP Kings played with Sharon Jones and also served as the backing band on Amy Winehouse's "Back in Black" record.)  The result was a fantastic release that I would encourage anyone to pick up and enjoy.  I would concur with Simpson's suggestion in the liner notes to play it LOUD!

This is an anti-war anthem that is obviously so timely right now.  The real attractions here though are the horn section, Simpson's passionate delivery of the vocals, and just a kick ass performance from the entire band.  The attached video is a must watch in my humble opinion.  This live performance from his appearance on SNL is nothing short of fucking amazing in my book.

Plus, Sturgill is a native Kentuckian, so there's that.

Kevin Andrews

This week several of us were treated to a reading of a novel in progress by our friend and associate Erik Esckilsen. As he talked about how he treated the characters and place I was reminded of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology and the song inspired by it, Spoon River.

Masters tells the story of a small town in poems, one for each of the dead in its cemetery. 212 of them. The book was quite popular in its time but not in the actual town that the book was based on, Lewistown, Illinois. They were not pleased as ELM left many names recognizable if not unchanged and their stories were not flattering. Just like real life.

I first heard this performed by the aforementioned Steve Goodman around 1976. This version was recorded by Claudia Schmidt in 1979 and is my favorite. It’s one of those records that I bought on vinyl when it first came out and later on CD after I put my turntable away.

Phillip Seiler


 I am taking a break from posting black artists for Black History Month and will steal a week in March as repayment. But circumstances as they are, this is the song I have been thinking about this week. The latest preventable gun tragedy hit me harder than most (and the others have hit me very hard.) As I was getting ready to leave for work on Thursday, I watched the beginning of the CBS News, which for a morning show on a major network is better than most. They had identified the first teenage victim and the picture they showed of her was in front of a street art mural in Miami. It just so happens that this piece of art was created by an old friend and high school classmate, Maya Hayuk. There is even a publicity shot of Maya standing in the same exact spot as the student. As a species, I think we underestimate the importance of art in its ability to forge connections within ourselves whether it be emotions or memory or even logic. Why does an abstract mural suddenly make the senseless deaths of children all the more real to me? No idea. But it did. And I am going to do whatever I can to help those that can prevent the next massacre from happening.

I haven't listened to the older catalogue of XTC music in a very long time. But I hear this song in my head every time another mass murder via gun happens in this country. And this bit is just too real:
I'm speaking to the Justice League of America
The US of A
Hey you
Yes you in particular
When it comes to the judgement day, and you're standing at the gates in your weaponry
You dead go down on one knee, clasp your hands in prayer and start quoting me
'Cause we say
'Cause we say
Our father we've managed to contain the epidemic in one place, now
Let's hope they shoot themselves instead of others, help civilize the race now
we've trapped the cause of the plague in the land of the free and the home of the brave
And If we listen quietly you can hear them shooting from grave to grave

This was from 1982. 35 years later and it's just getting worse. The song closes with the rat-a-tat-tat of rimshots fading into nothingness. When will we stop it? 

Gary Scudder

Lanterns on the Lake, I Love You, Sleepyhead

Here's another odd choice for me.  I guess you guys are rubbing off on me (or I watch too many episodes of the British series Skins).  Lanterns on the Lake is an indie British band who have three or four albums out, but I'm just starting to sort them out.  I like this song because it's very stripped down, but also because I'm not quite certain what's happening in it.  It's either a love song or a break-up song, or that moment in every relationship where you're pretty certain that you're going to break-up and then you change your mind.  I've traditionally always had that moment in the morning (as you know, I'm a notorious early riser). You convince yourself that it's time to walk, but then she climbs out of bed wearing one of your old shirt, and you decide that maybe things aren't actually that great by yourself anyway.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Egg Hoppers

It's a great truism, but it's amazing what a great breakfast can do to turn around an ugly mood.  Granted, few people love food more than me, and this is especially true in regards to breakfast.  I suppose it helps when you never seem to sleep later than 5:30 a.m., so you're uniquely qualified to take advantage of breakfast. What led to this strange digression?  Now that Proust, or at least this round of Proust, is finished, I figured that it was time to get back to the original purpose of this blog: travel stories and pictures.  As we enter the mad rush to get everything ironed out for the upcoming Jordan trip, it's difficult to remember that it was only a year ago that we were doing the same thing to get ready to head out to India and Sri Lanka.  Sadly, I don't think I appreciated Sri Lanka, at least at the beginning, as much as I could have.  While we were in India we suddenly realized that we had a potential visa problem; essentially, we had a single entry India visa but because of the peculiarity of our ticket situation we actually needed a multiple entry visa.  Happily, eventually the esteemed Inder and Rohit from Tiger Paws Adventures solved the problem, but it was all that we thought of for several days as we fretted over the situation. At one point in Sri Lanka I even called Senator Leahy's office back here in Vermont to ask them for guidance/help/leverage in attaining another round of Indian visas (which the excellent Elin from OIE managed to pull off in the middle of a blizzard).  It's bizarre to think about the fact that at one point in the chaos we almost cancelled out on the Sri Lankan part of the trip, mainly because we were afraid we'd get in Sri Lanka and wouldn't be able to leave.  In the end we ended up going because we didn't really have a choice; all the money had already been spent on Sri Lankan hotels and tours, so there was no money to hang out in India anyway (although we devoted time to pursuing that option).  Anyway, the whole point of this was that I, and I suspect Cyndi and I, showed up in Sri Lanka exhausted and apprehensive and fretting over a bunch of seemingly intractable problems, and not, at least initially, prepared to enjoy Sri Lanka.  We had flown out of Mumbai in the middle of the night, adding to the blur.  We landed in Colombo early in the morning and it was already broiling hot, although pretty soon we climbed into higher terrains and it grew comfortably cool.  After climbing onto a lovely, comfortable and glorious air-conditioned bus we drove for an hour or so and then stopped for breakfast.  What I didn't know about Sri Lanka is that they make a killer breakfast, which immediately endeared them to me.  My great discovery were egg hoppers, a magic construction that sort of looks like an inverted Islamic taqiyah, but with a fried egg in it.  Despite my offer of $5 none of the students would plop the egg hopper on their heads.  I guess the point of this whole thing is that I wasn't prepared to enjoy the Sri Lanka part of the trip, which was a pity because I quickly grew to love it there, but a quick egg hopper (OK, three egg hoppers) shook me out of my funk.

Seriously, who knew that Sri Lankans cooked such great breakfasts?

OK, so I might have a problem, as egg hoppers #2 and #3 might tell you.  I desperately need to figure out how to make these things, because I doubt if I'll find a restaurant to make me one here in Vermont. #YankeeHellhole

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Quiet Moments

I have a theory - actually, I have many theories, almost every one of them universally fatuous.  However, I do have a theory which I believe in quite strongly, and which every right thinking individual knows to be true: travel is designed about imagined epic adventures, but defined by wonderful, unexpected quiet moments.  On the recent trip to Zanzibar there were a number of extraordinary events, some good and some bad, but there were also a boatload of unplanned, transformative moments, but sweet and bittersweet.  One night out on Pemba we were coming home when the bus broke down outside a village, which left us with time to kill.  Because the bus had to be jacked up we had to stand outside, and all of this occurred in the gloaming. This crew was now always the most naturally adventurous or adaptive, but they treated the bus break as an adventure, and their general tomfoolery on the side of the road is one of my favorite memories of the trip.

Jackie Noborikawa and Anna Matich look on as Caitlin Blanchette and Claire Yeash revert to middle school and slap the hell out of each other.  Truthfully, it was pretty charming.

Clare Mangan, who made friends with every living entity in Zanzibar, teaches local kids how to patty cake.  Steven Baumann looks on in amusement.


There are times when your moral worth as a dependable, functioning member of society are tested, and you either pass said test or fail.  One such test is your willingness to wear the Sweater of Shame, which is your award for "winning" the Wixon Bowl and finishing last in the Twin Peaks Fantasy Football League.  We have a fourteen team league, and while the top four teams advance to the actual playoffs to play for the title, everyone else gets relegated to the pity playoffs (think of every pity shag you've ever given/received, and know that this is much worse). The 13th and 14th place teams play off in the Wixon Bowl, named after the esteemed Bill Wixon who, truthfully, was not really that bad of a team owner, despite his proclivity to not always fill the spots on his roster, but he left us to go live in Ireland so it's truly his own damn fault.  The winner of the Wixon Bowl, that is the loser of the game, has to wear the Sweater of Shame in a public place, preferably their workplace, and have pictures taken.  Truthfully, that's a pretty mild league rebuke, since in some leagues the worst team's owner has to get a tattoo or at least perform some sort of horrible task, usually naked, in a public forum.  If nothing else, having to wear the pink my little pony sweater in public is usually enough to make you pay more attention to your team.  The esteemed Bob Mayer somehow won the Wixon the first three years of the league, which is actually almost mathematically impossible, and ponied up (no pun intended) and wore the dreaded SOS at a Core division meeting.  Somehow the truly excellent Jack Schultz managed to avoid it last year, which means as the league's acting commissioner (Heidi is actually the commissioner) I need to rectify that issue this year.

To her credit, Lindsey wore the sweater for hours on end at a crowded mall on a weekend, and also provided the requisite photographic proof.  Sadly, no one stopped to ask her about it; such is the curse of youth and beauty.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Back to Jordan

Yes, as hard to believe as it is, we're heading back to Jordan.  A month from today my esteemed friend, colleague and titular little sister Cyndi and I will have dragged sixteen students through our first full day in Jordan, a tour of the ancient heart of Amman.  I really actively don't like it when people say that they can't wait to do something, but in this case I actually am having trouble waiting to get back to Jordan.  It remains my favorite country.  Doubtless I'll be including lots of pictures and stories but in the meantime I'll do something I've never done before: include the itinerary for a trip.

Jordan Itinerary
COR 270-01 TVL
March 2018

Thursday 8 March

8:30 a.m. departure from in front of Aiken Hall.
1:30 p.m. check-in for Lufthansa flight at Logan Airport
4:30 p.m. Lufthansa 0423 to Frankfurt

Conveyed to Boston by Youness Jamil from Star Cab.

Friday 9 March

5:35 a.m. arrival in Frankfurt (local time)
1:40 p.m. Lufthansa 0692 to Amman
6:50 p.m. arrival in Amman (local time)

Picked up by representatives from Petra Moon Tourism at airport, who will take care of our Jordanian visas and convey us to the American Center of Oriental Research.
All travel while in Jordan provided by Petra Moon Tourism.

Overnight at ACOR.

Petra Moon Tourism Services:

American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR)
8 Rashad Al Abadle Tla’a Ali
Amman 11181 Jordan

Saturday 10 March

Tour of historic Amman.

Visits to King Abdullah Mosque, Citadel, Roman Amphitheater

Overnight at ACOR.

Sunday 11 March

Tour of Jerash, site of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world.

Overnight at ACOR.

Monday 12 March

Free day in Amman.

Overnight at ACOR.

Tuesday 13 March

Travel to southern Jordan.

Stops along the way at Madaba, to see the world famous mosaics, and Mt. Nebo, where it is believed Moses died.

Overnight at Rainbow Camp in the Wadi Rum Desert.

Wednesday 14 March

Full day exploring the Wadi Rum, including a camel ride.

Campfire reading of stories from The Arabian Nights.

Overnight at Rainbow Camp in the Wadi Rum Desert.

Thursday 15 March

Travel from the Wadi Rum to Petra.

Afternoon exploring Shobak Castle, a crusader castle.

Petra by Night, a candle-lit walk through the world famous siq.

Overnight at Petra.
Hyatt Zamaan Hotel (formerly the Taybet Zaman Hotel).

Friday 16 March

All day exploration of Petra, one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Overnight at Petra.
Hyatt Zaman Hotel (formerly the Taybet Zaman Hotel).

Saturday 17 March

Additional exploration of Petra.

Return trip to Amman.

Stop along the way for swimming in the Dead Sea.

Return to Amman for final shopping and dinner.

10:00 p.m. Conveyed to Amman Airport by Petra Moon Tourism (local time)

Sunday 18 March

2:15 a.m. Lufthansa 0693 to Frankfurt (local time)
6:05 a.m. arrival in Frankfurt (local time)

10:55 a.m. Lufthansa 0422 to Boston (local time)
2:05 p.m. arrival in Boston (local time)

Conveyed back to Burlington by Youness Jamil from Star Cab.

7:00 p.m. arrival in Burlington

Discography Year Two - Week 23

My blog is now, inexplicably, ten years old.  It's taken many forms over the years, and sometimes it's busy and sometimes it's not.  A few years ago I managed to produce a grand total of thirteen posts, while last year I had over five hundred.  I suspect I'm getting ready to head into a reasonably quiet stretch, especially now that my witless Proust reading/commentary is at an end (and Proust lovers everywhere feel a tremendous sense of relief).  I'm thinking of a couple different potential themes for the next "My Year With ________" but I don't have the time or energy for it now.  As everyone knows, but no one believes, my last student international trip will be the fall of 2019, so I'll certainly have more time for big blog projects then, but doubtless I'll embark on something before then.  This is all by way of saying that I appreciate you guys showing up every week to promote songs and write commentaries - and also to the folks who show up every week to read; you're the ones keeping the lights on here at On the Way Home.

We've now reached Week 23 of our second year, and it's another theme week.  Alice proposed that we suggest songs used in movies or television that are so perfect that any other song would have been made the experience worse (I'm paraphrasing, wildly). Last year we had a week dedicated to best use of a piece of music in a movie or television, but I think this is a more subtle and profound theme.

A quick housekeeping note: in a month the esteemed Cyndi Brandenburg and I are, inshallah, going to be back in Jordan for a week, so I'll be sending around one of my annoying requests for early song submissions soon.

Dave Wallace

Aimee Mann - Wise Up

There were a lot of different songs that I could have chosen for this theme week, but I wound up choosing something that is literally part of a movie scene.  Paul Thomas Anderson was inspired to write the screenplay for Magnolia after hearing a batch of unreleased songs by Aimee Mann.  Many of these songs provide the soundtrack for the movie.  All of the different storylines in the movie wind up intersecting with a scene that shifts between different characters singing along to Mann's Wise Up.  It's the perfect culmination of what all of the characters have been going through to that point.  

Kathy Seiler

Richard Strauss – Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30

This week’s theme was difficult. As I’ve recently been discussing with my excellent sisters Alice and Cyndi, I suck at movies. I mostly watch British TV shows, primarily mysteries and dramas. I confess to not only being deficient in the medium of film and TV, but even when I do watch, I often don’t notice so much about the music unless it’s really striking. You will perhaps not be surprised at my selection this week – Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey film. I watched the film with my father on VHS, quite a bit after it was originally released (since I wasn’t yet born when it premiered) and I loved it – both the movie and the music. I remember being very surprised when he told me that the opening music was from a classical piece of music and that he had the album.

The music used in the opening of the movie is the beginning of the classical piece, and less than 2 minutes long, but I have included a link to the whole piece.  The bold but quiet beginning, which represents creation/sunrise in both the Nietzsche novel upon which it is based and in 2001, then quickly rising to the drumbeat, and continuing to crescendo…I literally get chills EVERY TIME I hear it. The music, the meaning, and the movie couldn’t be any more perfect for one another.

Phillip Seiler

Public Enemy
in Do The Right Thing

If only I had known. I feel badly writing about this song again after having so recently done it but given the theme, I couldn't let it pass. Public Enemy's Fight the Power is the perfect song in this perfect scene from Do The Right Thing (which was inexplicably not nominated for an Oscar.) In the heat of summer, in the heat of the corner pizzeria, in the heat of injustice and oppression and anger, it all can explode so quickly. And behind it all is Chuck D rapping his creed "Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me." Undeniable truth and yet the irony of it all is that the power that is keeping these people down, all of these people down, is just miles away supping on filet mignon and champagne leaving the rest to fight over pictures on a pizzeria wall. But that fight is still real and What so many of us face daily. The quest for dignity and representation continues almost 30 years later with not nearly enough progress being made. Most of Chuck's heroes still haven't appeared on a stamp.

Dave Kelley

"Pick Yourself Up"   Nat King Cole

 In quite possibly the most brutal scene in Breaking Bad, 10 inmates are brutally murdered in prison.  Walt paid a gang of Nazis to murder them because he is afraid they will testify against.

Having a beautiful classic performed by Nat King Cole play over the scene is an odd but inspired choice.  Beautiful juxtaposition.  Walt is so evil by this point that he envisions this carnage as beautiful. 

Kevin Andrews

Television, because of its fleeting week to week existence, doesn’t have the opportunity to use a piece of music as a character in a story the way movies can. Music is still very effective on TV though, I think of Scrubs, The Simpsons – which employed a full orchestra, The Sopranos, or shows like Nashville that wrap their plot around music. In one of my favorite Scrubs episodes Colin Hey from Men at Work follows the story ghost-like, singing Overkill solo on acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, the narrative continues under the song in typical Scrubs fashion. It’s a very creative narrative technique but it’s not my selection.

Film with its longer format can turn a song into a character in a story. If I were to say As Time Goes By or The Entertainer you would know the film they’re from. If you’re familiar with The English Beat’s Rotating Heads you would recognize it from the third act of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Often in film music is used to evoke a time or place and it’s hard to find a better example of this than in one of my favorite all time movies Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? The main musical character, Man of Constant Sorrow  appears on the soundtrack four times. It’s performed twice by The Soggy Bottom Boys (Union Station, sung by Dan Tyminski from Rutland, VT) and twice by John Hartford. The Hartford versions are used as background and keep the melody behind the story while the SBB versions appear in the pivotal scenes. The song works so well because it describes the dirt-poor existence of our desperate heroes. Sometimes the song is jubilant and sometimes forelorn in the capable hands of music director T. Bone Burnett and directors Joel and Ethen Coen. 

Alice Neiley

Well, I suppose the ability to change one's mind is a good thing, though I only seem to be able to do it without anxiety on this blog, when I've ABSOLUTELY made a choice about what song to post, then, just like that...a memory bubbles up from within and...

On the other hand, what does it say, existentially, that I haven't REALLY changed my mind at all because A. the new song/scene is equally if not more rooted in nostalgia than my original choice, and B. I'm going to post both--I can't choose. 

The original: The Wonder Years: Season 1, Episode 23: How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation (last scene) in which the Simon&Garfunkel song "Scarborough Fair" plays. Below is a link to the transcript for that episode (no judgement, please ;)) -- for the scene I'm talking about (very last), just scroll all the way down and start reading at EXT. NIGHT COOPERS' FRONT YARD until the end. Below THAT is the link for the song so you can imagine the whole shebang accurately. 

The reason I'm convinced there is no other song on earth that would be as powerful for this scene is two-fold: 
1. I've seen it on Netflix WITHOUT this song, and it's absurd and horrible. 
2. More importantly, the tune is melancholy in the deepest, most gentle of ways, and, like the future of Winnie and Kevin, and the future of Winnie's family, and the future of the country and all those boys fighting the Vietnam war at the time, the tune is full of haunting questions, and wandering, rich imagery. Also, the 'remember me to one who lives there...' brings in the loss and distance between Winnie's reality and her childhood. Sigh. 

The second choice: The Sandlot  (movie): 4th of July scene, during which Ray Charles's version of America the Beautiful plays. Below is the actual scene, including the song! 
Though nostalgia is The Wonder Years' primary feature, my personal nostalgia is more connected to The Sandlot, and therefore my feelings about the song playing during the 4th of July scene might be more biased than objectively definitive.  America the Beautiful is an obvious choice for a 4th of July night baseball game scene, but Ray Charles sings an especially powerful rendition. It works best for this particular movie because...well...Ray Charles represents a soulfulness and history, which in this context fits perfectly with the close friendship of all the sandlot boys. Also, the sound of his voice, the natural flow of his interpretation harkens back to that ungraspable "simpler time", in baseball and in life. 

Side note: Even though I'm markedly more like the Smalls character in this movie, I always wanted to be Benny Rodriguez as a kid. I set up backyard baseball games every weekend and proceeded to dress exactly like him through most of high school (and if I'm honest, I still do every so often...) Sigh #2.

Bob Craigmile

Any Mad Men fans out there?  No doubt one of the greatest shows ever made.  It seems more anachronistic than ever now given the rampant sexism and racism of the sixties, but it gets it right.

Perhaps one of the best scenes in MM is Don arriving at LAX to help out his "niece" who is a flower child and hopelessly pregnant.   The clip
shows Don shaving in the plane bathroom (like the badass he is), and then we see him going stoicly along a moving walkway, Trilby# in position to meet his young wife Megan, who picks him up in a Austin Healey 3000* .  Megan is wearing some (now vintage) baby blue dress that makes men swoon.  The scene gets a few seconds of slow motion to emphasize just how completely cool these people are.  Their lives are the best, a bicoastal couple in the 60's, who are heading for disaster(s).  He's got money, and she's got some fame from a soap opera.  The perfect fuel for an explosion.  They ARE perfect looking and both completely lost.
The music is from Spencer Davis Group, with Steve Winwood singing at the height of his formidable powers.

I suspect they built the scene with this song in mind.  As Bruce would later say, "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive".  This song makes the truth of that clear.

Gary Scudder

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, I Love You Baby
in The Deer Hunter

Truthfully, I almost went with how Woody Allen used George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in Manhattan. It beautifully bookends the film.  In the end, however, I went with I Love You Baby from The Deer Hunter, which may be the greatest American film of all time (and no one loves Casablanca more than me).  I'm not even a Frankie Valli fan, but Michael Cimino's use of the song was perfect.  The film is so alternately grim and nightmarish (but also so true), and the song provides a lovely quiet moment.  It's also a celebration of friendship and the bond of the main actors, which sets up the rest of the film.  On a somewhat related note, for several years students have been pestering me to run a film series here at Champlain, with their suggested titles being either "Scudder's Essentials" or "Scudder's 'I Don't Care What You Want to Watch' Film Series."  If I ever give in to their pleas I would probably start with The Deer Hunter.