Saturday, September 23, 2017

Discography Year Two - Week 3

I get up every morning around 5:00, partially because I'm an old man and old men get up early, but also because it's a quiet time at the Bleak House Orphanage for Sullen Teenagers.  I putter around the house, see to my morning ablutions and rituals, sort out my dog Loki (who greets me with a thump of his dinosaur tail; maybe the best moment of every day), rage against the president on Twitter, try to get some writing done, struggle with Proust, organize any Discography entries, and listen to music (quietly).  The other morning all of this came together in a disjointed but lovely fashion.  I was working on the latest entry in my never-ending, and never-interesting, ruminations on Remembrance of Things Past, and I came across this passage from Proust, a passionate lover of music:

This reaction from the disappointment which great works of art cause at first may in fact be attributed to a weakening of the initial impression or to the effort necessary to lay bare the truth - two hypotheses which recur in all important questions, questions about the truth of Art, of Reality, of the Immortality of the Soul; we must choose between them; and, in the case of Vinteuil's music, this choice was constantly presenting itself under a variety of forms.  For instance, this music seemed to me something truer than all known books.  At moments I thought that this was due to the fact that, what we feel about life not being felt in the form of ideas, its literary, that is to say intellectual expression describes it, explains it, analyses it, but does not recompose it as does music, in which the sounds seem to follow the very movement of our being. . .

Beyond the inspiration for a thematic week based on songs we used to hate but now love, I appreciate Proust's proposal that "music seemed to me something truer than all known books."  To me Proust is getting at the beautiful but tortured relationship between the head and the heart, and it's not that literature cannot evoke intense emotion, but that music is in and of itself emotion. I think it was Goethe (Dave Mills will doubtless correct me) who declared that architecture is frozen music.  Maybe music is slightly more tangible emotion, which means that we can, imperfectly, capture it.  We're in the middle of a very sad time in our nation's history and I can't tell you what this Discography discussion has meant to me, not solely because of the time that I get to spend with you great souls (even if only virtual) but also because of the music we share.

Oh, and I think we can proclaim Dave Mills the winner this week by acclamation for providing us with unrequited joy in the midst of this Trumpian dystopian nightmare.

Gary Beatrice

Jayhawks, Martin’s Song

The first two major label Jayhawks albums were full of great sounding songs featuring catchy guitar driven hooks and dynamic vocals and harmonies. For my money, this was the catchiest of them all. Sadly not much of their music has grabbed me since Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass.

That's it. That's the whole commentary. I have no idea what Martin's Song is about but it's catchy as hell. Give it a whirl and see if you agree. And stop by next week for my next insightful commentary.

Dave Wallace

Soundtrack of Our Lives - Heading fora Breakdown

One of the best bands of the late '90s/early '00s garage rock mini-boom was the presumptuously-named Soundtrack of Our Lives from Sweden.  They put out a few excellent albums, and "Heading for a Breakdown" is one of my favorites by them.

Kevin Andrews

You know that feeling when you hear a song for the first time and it grabs you and makes you listen to it over and over? These two songs found me in rather serendipitous ways. One I received at a radio promotion, the kind where they hang out at a store and broadcast every hour or so. The other woke me up in the middle of the night when I forgot to turn off a radio stream. They both struck me as quintessential pop songs that should have raced up the charts. Hope you like them.

The first is Catch the Sun by Doves  I happened to need a new cell phone when this was given to me. I had no expectations. The hook comes from the repeating guitar line which repeats throughout though it lacks a traditional guitar solo in the break. 

The rest of the disc is quite nice, very atmospheric. It almost plays like a concept album. The entire album is on Youtube if you’re interested. There’s a cover version of this out there that lacks the edge this has, I heard it once in a supermarket. Ignore the video, I think it was made by our first year film students.

The second song is Almost by Sarah Harmer  I was in the habit of listening to at night and fell asleep without turning it off. I grew up listening to XPN over the air when it was even more awesome than today. It’s the home of World Café and World Café Live – their club venue. Overnight they repeat the 4-hour WC show and this song came on and grabbed me by the throat. She’s has a great voice that jumps an octave at will. Here the hook is in the guitar part, which to me has this little sort of The Cure thing going on but also the killer chorus, “And if I am the sailor…”.

This is really atypical of her work, most of it leans toward the Folk section. Doesn’t the world already have enough awesome Canadian women singer-songwriters. Is there something in the water?

Kathy Seiler

Tedeschi Trucks Band, These Walls 

I’ve posted Tedeschi Trucks Band before, and this song is one of my favorites on their Revelator album. I love the melody and the India-themed instrumentals (the instrument being played is a Sarod) that blend so seamlessly with the bluesy guitar. Although I don’t know why, I’m always amazed how well music from different cultures blend, which will likely lead me to post some songs from Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball album or Ofra Haza at some point. I suppose it just goes to show how universal music really is across the globe. While songs might seem very different, the universality of music cannot be denied. The stories that music tell are universal as well.

The lyrics of this song are most definitely blues; it’s about a woman who finds herself on her own after her man has left her, struggling to get by, hoping she will be able to keep her house standing, but all the while unable to forget him.

She prays, “O Lord, don’t let these walls fall down”
Cause it’s been so damn hard since her man left town

Says I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking
‘bout you baby
Oh such a long, long time

And she can’t help but wonder
On those rainy Saturdays
Where he is and where he’s been
Is another trapped in his haze?

While I consider myself a feminist with some traditional leanings, I can’t deny that this isn’t a real story commonly experienced by countless women (and probably men). Both the music and the story cross both cultures and time.

Dave Mills

And now for something completely different...

This week marks a departure for me in terms of genre, but is consistent with my overall approach to this year's discography. Since I almost exclusively stream music, I can't scroll through a catalog of tracks on iTunes, a "greatest hits" soundtrack of my life, so to speak, to jog my thinking about what I might contribute to the discography on any given week. Thus I've decided to let my discography contributions this year be in the moment, sharing tracks that jump out from my weekly listening for whatever reason. I'm hoping this approach will lead to more contributions from me this year. Time will tell. But this, week, this strategy spawned this:

Earlier this week, a colleague referred to an Assistant Dean in another division on campus as a "half a dean." Upon hearing this, my mind went immediately to the Monty Python song,Eric the Half-A-Bee. I looked up the song on youtube so I could send it to my colleague in response to the half-a-dean comment. This, in turn, sent me down a rabbit hole (as youtube is wont to do) of old Monty Python material. Perusing this catalog, I realized how central Monty Python's music is to what I remember and love most about their comedy. While their sketches and movies are brilliant and hysterical, and have spawned many a quote and bout of speaking with a faux British accent ("Tis only a flesh wound!", "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!", and so on), the songs exemplify their genius in concise form. 

In Eric the Half-A-Bee, you can find all the elements that make a great Monty Python song. The rock-band count off at the beginning of the song is immediately disrupted by a piano glissando, which ends in a quirky playful twist. Then John Cleese speaks over the piano in a dinner theatre music revue style, which then gives way to a rowdy bar song chorus. This all then comes to an abrupt end at about 1:45, when Cleese announces "The End." But that's not really the end, as the song then continues with choir, whistling, etc. for another 30 seconds or so. Lyrically, the song starts off intellectually with a metaphysical discussion of being, complete with Latin. But as the musical style shifts, so too the lyrics shift, from ontology to a farcical anthem about a specific injured bee named Eric. And then, as most Monty Python material manages to do, it falls abruptly from the highbrow to the lowbrow and Cleese declares, at about 1:35, that he loves Eric the half-a-bee "carnally" (which is then adjusted to "semi-carnally," in light of Eric's half-a-bee status). But the roller coaster ride doesn't end there, because after this confession, just before "The End," someone mistakes the "semi-carnally" lyric for the name "Cyril Connolly," a prominent British literary critic. So we're flung immediately back into the highbrow intellectual space where the song began. This sort of whiplash is just rollicking fun and is quintessential to their comedy, where fart jokes, philosophical theories, insults against the French or Australians, astute political commentary, and slapstick coexist lovingly within musical compositions pastiched from vaudeville, pop and folk music, classical composers, sacred hymns, political anthems, and, and, and... So this week, following the path blazed by Gary B's Disco Top Ten, here's my own homage to the 70's -- a Top Ten list of Monty Python songs, which I present in no real particular order and in thoroughly incomplete form:

1.  Every Sperm is Sacred, from The Meaning of Life
2.  Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, from The Life of Brian
3.  Philosophers Drinking Song, from Flying Circus
4.  The Lumberjack Song, from Flying Circus
5.  Sit on my Face, from Flying Circus
6.  There is no item number 6. (In honor of "The Bruce's" Philosophy Department)
7.  The Galaxy Song, from The Meaning of Life
8.  The Song that Goes Like This, from Spamalot
9.  The Spam Song, from Flying Circus
10. Christmas in Heaven, from The Meaning of Life

If there are, by chance, other Monty Python fans lurking amongst this blog's readership, which songs did I miss?

Alice Neiley

Yo-Yo Ma, First Impressions

Often I’m able to remember how songs arrive in my life, especially ones that affect me strongly. I remember being introduced to the original cast soundtrack of Showboat, for example (my dad sometimes played it Sunday mornings when we made pancakes), and I’ve been obsessed ever since. I remember the moment when my first girlfriend found an unopened David Gray CD in my car, popped it into the player, and we made out for at least four songs in a row – the girlfriend and I didn’t last, but David Gray and I are forever. I’ve racked my brain for days, though, and have absolutely no memory of where I heard this Yo-Yo Ma/Edgar Meyer/Mark O’Connor tune.  Meyer wrote it, and it’s from a bluegrass-folk-classical fusion album, called Appalachia Waltz, on which the three musicians collaborated. But I didn’t know that until today when I looked it up. I don’t have that album. Nor have I heard any of the other songs those three play together. I’ve heard this song, though – 221 times, according to my iTunes account. 
You know when you’re finally so relaxed you feel like crying? How wonderful that moment is and how it bubbles up to your throat from somewhere completely mysterious? That’s this song for me. Within the first few notes, I usually breathe such an enormous breath with such a long exhale that, if my headphones are in, Karen asks, “so, what’s going on there?” It’s not necessarily my favorite song, or even my favorite classical one, but it embodies a groundedness I can’t seem to access very easily in regular life, and an easy, full bodied movement that often remains elusive as well. All I can really say is that this song, without a doubt, the one song I would choose to live inside, if one day I was granted such a gorgeous choice.  

Dave Kelley

"Memory is a terrible thing, if you use it right."  Kathleen Edwards "I've Been Afraid"

"Memory allows us to return to a time and a place where we knew we were loved."  Don Draper   "Mad Men".

"In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound."  Don Draper

My week three selection is "Galveston" written by Jimmy Webb and performed by the late great Glenn Campbell.

Like I am sure the rest of you, I know many people who have suffered or are suffering from dementia.  Within the last few months, a dear friend has lost her mother and a close friend from my time in the Prosecutor's Office lost her own life to complications from this foul disease.  Other close friends have parents who still draw breath but are no longer even a shadow of themselves due to dementia.  As the above quotes are meant to illustrate, memory can be a blessing and a curse.  I would argue that they are both a blessing and a curse to anyone who has ever lived on this earth for any length of time.  I believe that an advantage that animals have over us is that they spend no time worrying about the past or the future.  Thank God for our opposable thumbs, indoor plumbing, and comfy couches.  

This song has been a favorite of mine since childhood.  A time and a place where I knew I was loved.  It has absolutely nothing to do with dementia of course.  It is one of many great songs that were written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Glenn Campbell.  The singer is apparently a soldier in Vietnam thinking about the girl he left behind in Galveston, so it is to a degree about memory.  The lyrics really do not matter to me so much.  It is the melody, the instrumentation, and the vocal performance.  Many songs I loved when I was 5 are now cringe inducing.  This ain't one of them.

As you all know, Campbell suffered for years from dementia and ultimately died of it.  There is an excellent CNN documentary about his final tour which took place well after the dementia was pretty advanced.  He needed a teleprompter to help with the lyrics and was also very dependent on his band members (which included two of his children) to remember what song was next.  The truly amazing part to me was that he remembered the melodies precisely and was also able to play guitar very effectively.  Clearly his disease had impacted his non-verbal memory much less than his verbal memory.  We all obviously love music, and it seems clear to me that music is very fundamental to the human race.  Music has existed ever since civilizations did.  I suspect there was music even before there was language.

For whatever reason, I have been even more nostalgic lately than usual, and I am typically a very nostalgic mother fucker to begin with!!  At 55 I am trying to get a better grip on how to use memory wisely and not negatively.  That is definitely still a work in progress.  I am just thankful I still have my memories and would probably get a one way ticket to Oregon if I ever got this diagnosis.  Well I don't remember where I put my keys, wallet, or cell phone, but you know what I mean.  I hope this song evokes some good memories for you.  It is so nice to have the blog rolling again.  

Gary Scudder

Gordon Lightfoot, Beautiful

This is an awfully strange choice for me.  Truthfully, it wasn't my first choice, or even my second, for the week, and both have been pushed further back for later weeks.  I went back to last year's strategy of just writing about what I was listening to or thinking about that particular week.  The other night I rewatched the Vincent Gallo film The Brown Bunny. Yes, that film, for all you Chloe Sevigny fans, which includes me; I will be the first one in line at the grand opening of the Chloe Sevigny "Wait, you just bet me that I won't do what in a movie?" Hall of Fame (the first two entries will her roles in The Brown Bunny and as the pre-op transsexual hitman/woman in the Irish series Hit or Miss.  I can remember watching The Brown Bunny a decade ago and absolutely loathing it, but recently I read an interesting article defending the film (sort of), mainly because the critic was talking about destroying it in a review when it previewed at Cannes for, among other things, it being bloated and endless, but how Gallo had actually listened to the critics and cut out fifty minutes and thus it actually ended up being a pretty interesting film.  Well, I can testify that I did like it better ten years further down the road, although it may take another decade or two before I think it's a good movie.  It may just be that this time I stayed awake all the way through to the penultimate infamous scene, and then, more importantly, the final scene which is the big reveal.  There are endless scenes shot through the front window of a drive west (although fifty minutes less than the early version) and for about fifteen minutes I thought I was watching outtakes from Manos, Hands of Fate (shout out to the esteemed Phillip Seiler).  Oddly, right in the middle of a lengthy sequence of some highway scene the Gordon Lightfoot song Beautiful began to play.  Now, I have no idea how in the hell Gallo got permission to play that song in the movie because all the other music was canned dross.  It suddenly occurred to me that I had not heard that song in years, if not decades, and that it was, for lack of a better word, beautiful.  At the same time it struck me that one of the reasons why I really liked the song at that moment, beyond a general nostalgia which seems to be impacting all of us recently, was that it stood in such jarring contrast to the ugly tedium of the film.  Like everything else, it's all about perception.  Years ago I remember seeing A Beautiful Mind and thinking that it was a terribly overrated film, but that it was possibly because leading up to it a dozen people had informed me that it was incredible and would change my life for the better (blah blah blah).  At the same time, if I had stumbled into the theater to kill time one afternoon and watched the film with no advance notice I would have probably really liked it.   In the case of the unexpected appearance of Beautiful in the midst of The Brown Bunny I was completely caught off guard, and found myself enjoying a lovely little moment.  The Buddhists talk about satori, or sudden enlightenment, and I don't think it reached that profound level, but it was as if I were walking across the barren Deccan plateau in India and suddenly came across a brilliantly colored rose; its beauty would be magnified by its surroundings.  Anyway, the point is that something profound was going on, and I once again cursed my limited Hoosier education - and the fact that my mother clearly didn't take vitamins when she was carrying me - and thus my inability to understand its deeper meaning.  Luckily, I'm in a music discussion group for far wiser souls.

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