Saturday, October 7, 2017

Discography Year Two - Week 5

We have already reached the fifth week of this year's Discography discussion.  We've had some massive changes this week, mainly because of the sad news of Tom Petty's passing.  Several folks asked to move their posts around this week so that they could include an homage to him.  We've talked before about the emotional power of music, which I think is part and parcel of it's mysterious and evocative nature; it asks us to fill in the uncharted territories, which we do with our own memories and dreams.  We do become part of the narrative.  My theory would be that you see this most clearly when one of our favorite musicians passes.  We are devastated in a way that we aren't when our favorite novelist or film director dies, and I think it is because we have been part of the narrative so we feel it on a visceral level. When Haruki Murakami or David Lynch dies I'll be sad, but when Neil Young passes I'll be going on short term disability.

It is another strong week, and we are graced this week by the arrival of the truly excellent Cheryl Casey for the first of hopefully many appearances.

It's also time to introduce our theme for our first thematic week, which we decided would take place in Week 7.  So, in a tradition as old as time itself, or at least as old as last year when we started this tomfoolery, we need to reveal the theme two weeks early.  Now, to introduce the theme I have to tell a story, but I'll do so briefly, the longer version can be found lurking elsewhere on this blog. In a previous lifetime I visited Croatia and in Zagreb I stumbled across the Museum of Broken Relationships, which I initially entered because I wanted to get the requisite t-shirts to send to my sisters as a classic big brother gift (they, like all Scudders, are divorced; it's the one thing we do well - marriage is clearly not something we do well). However, I discovered one of my favorite museums (and I'm a complete museum whore so that's really saying something).   It contained actual artifacts from broken relationships that were submitted from regular folks around the world.  We all have them - the guy who keeps that picture of an old girlfriend buried inside of an innocently misnamed folder on their laptop - the woman who keeps that old t-shirt to sleep in that a former lover left behind (without ever telling her current lover how it ended up in her dresser). Some of the exhibits at the Museum of Broken Relationships were funny and some were heart-breaking, but it was so memorable that I bought a book there which I still occasionally use in my first year Concepts of the Self class (including yesterday).  Here's an actual example:

The actual commentary: "She was the first woman that I let move in with me.  All my friends thought I need to learn to let people in more.  A few months after she move din, I was offered to travel to the US.  She could not come along.  At the airport we said goodbye in tears, and she was assuring me she could not survive three weeks without me.  I returned after three weeks, and she said: 'I fell in love with someone else.  I have known her for just 4 days, but I know that she can give me everything that you cannot.' I was banal and asked about her plans regards our life together.  The next day she still had no answer, so I kicked her out.  She immediately went on holiday with her new girlfriend while her furniture stayed with me.  Not knowing what to do with my anger, I finally bought this axe at Karstadt to blow off steam and to give her at least a small feeling of loss - which she obviously did not have after our break-up.  In the 14 days of her holiday, every day I axed one piece of her furniture.  I kept the remains there, as an expression of my inner condition.  The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul, the better I felt.  Two weeks after she left, she came back for the furniture.  It was nearly arranged into small heaps and fragments of wood.  She took that trash and left my apartment for good.  The axe was promoted to a therapy instrument."

On a related note, I always ask my students whether they think the story is funny or scary, and it depends upon whether they perceive the storyteller to be a woman or a man.  If it's a man they find it scary, especially the methodical nature of the daily destruction, but if they think it's a woman they find it liberating and heroic (and funny).

Some items are just silly or spiteful, or some wonderful combination of the two:

The commentary: "Description: a stupid Frisbee, bought in a thrift store, was my ex-boyfriend's brilliant idea - as a second anniversary gift.  The moral was obviously that he should be smacked with it right across the face the next time he gets such a fantastic idea.  Since the relationship is now preceded by the word "ex," the Frisbee remains in the Museum as a nice memory and expelled negative energy.  Feel free to borrow it if you like.  PS Darling, should you ever get a ridiculous idea to walk into a cultural institution like a museum for the first time in your life, you will remember me.  At least have a good laugh (the only thing you could do on your own).

But then you'll have ones that are heartbreaking:

And the actual commentary: "You talked to me of love and presented me with small gifts every day; this is just one of them.  The key to the heart.  You turned my head; you just did not want to sleep with me.  I realized just how much you loved me only after you died of AIDS."

So, the theme for Week 7 is to discuss a song that you would donate to the Museum of Broken Relationships.  I'm not simply talking about breakup songs, although that might technically count.  Mainly, I'm thinking of those songs that remind you of an ex-lover, the ones you should probably try to expunge from your memory (or at least your playlist) but we can't seem to do so because, well, to paraphrase the novel, the tree loves the ax. Now, we do have two couples involved in the Discography discussion project so you have papal dispensation to duck that thematic week or answer in a more philosophical fashion (for example, when I ask my first year students to write on it I give them the option to tell me what Othello would give to the museum; not surprisingly, they always suggest the handkerchief).  I suspect that many people give items to the Museum as a cathartic act to cleanse themselves of the pain of the artifact's presence, but, of course, that's not so easy when you're trying to give away a song.

Dave Wallace

All - I know that this is not our usual MO, but I wanted to share with you my blog post for this coming week.  Yesterday was tough, and I'm feeling a little raw right now:

Tom Petty - Even the Losers

I think that, for most of us who fall in love with music, we have those artists that form part of our identity, that contributed to us becoming the person that we are today.  Usually, we find these artists when we're young.  I've read that our musical tastes are pretty much set by the time we're 23, and I suspect that it may be even younger than that.

I was your typical alienated teenage American kid, with an obsession on how tough life was and a dramatic underappreciation for how good I had it and how lucky I was.  I began discovering music around the time that I was 15, and it felt that my world just exploded.  Here were people singing songs for me and about me.  The music excited me, galvanized me, and soothed me.

At that age, my big three were Bruce Springsteen, The Who, and Tom Petty.  They wrote and performed songs that spoke deeply to me and touched my soul; they got me.  And, as I've gotten older, my affection for all of them remains undiminished.

All of this is to say that Tom Petty's death yesterday is hitting me pretty hard.  His ability to craft a great rock song is probably unparalleled - BreakdownAmerican GirlNeed to KnowListen to Her HeartRefugeeA Woman In Love (It's Not Me)Mary Jane's Last DanceFree Fallin' just scratch the surface of the incredible number of fantastic songs that he wrote and performed.  

There was a year, probably 1980, where pretty much all I listened to was Damn the Torpedoes.  I had a crappy cassette player in my car.  I had recorded Torpedoes on one side of a cassette, and I don't even remember what was on the other side.  I would listen to Damn the Torpedoes, rewind the tape, and listened to it again.  Over and over and over again.  I'm sure that he clearly wrote that record for me (☺) and I'll always be grateful for it.  For this post, I could have picked any one of probably 30 Petty songs, but I wound up going with my favorite song from Torpedoes.  Thanks for everything that you did for me, Tom.

Kevin Andrews

Jim White, If Jesus Drove a Motorhome. I met Jim, so to speak, when he opened for Lucinda years ago. He was obviously a character that needed a further look. He was touring in support of his then current recording Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See which features Aimee Mann on the first track Static On The Radio. Apparently, this was intended to be the single. (Is a single even a thing anymore?) At the time, he was recording on David Byrne’s label and seems to have since fallen on harder times according to his website.

This link features Jim telling the story of the song – the Jesus impersonators of Pensacola, Florida, and a live in-store performance. This is the version from the CD.  The CD version is a little easier to understand. I hadn’t heard the story behind the song until a few weeks ago, it’s a gem.

Gary Beatrice

The Faces, Ohh La La

If you hate Rod Stewart music somebody has certainly suggested that you listen to his early music, and I second that suggestion. Even before his brilliant solo albums, Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story, Stewart seemed to be the lead vocalist pick for guitar gods Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. And The Faces are simply one of the great lost rock bands.

But if you hate Rod Stewart because he is a spoiled diva, I can't help you. That's the way he was even in the Faces' days.

"Ooh La La" is beautiful, catchy, and sweet. It took decades but it became the best known Faces' tune. But lead singer Rod Stewart does not sing on it. Apparently he refused to, thinking this simple melody with its basic but endearing lyrics were no match for his vocal talents. Well we are better for it. Band mate Ronnie Lane may be a clearly inferior singer to Rod Stewart, but his fragile voice lends the final touch to "Ooh La La" and helps to make it a song I love dearly.

Alice Neiley

I'm late. I know...junior faculty. 

P.S. The song links for "Bill" and "Mister Snow" are attached as Mp3 files from my computer -- couldn't find Audra McDonald's versions on youtube! 

[editor's note: I haven't figured out how to load Mp3 players into the blog yet, so that may take a while, but I wanted to get Alice's most excellent comments up.]


This week’s choices were inspired by a devastating conversation with two of our esteemed colleagues (you know who you are), who apparently don’t like The Sound of Music. Or Mary Poppins. Or Singin’ in the Rain. Which is completely crazy. Yes, I know I’m supposed to respect different tastes, but sometimes…I don’t. Those. Musicals. Are. Awesome. Musicals in general are awesome. People who love musicals need no reminder of why, because it’s in the bones, in the heart. For others, here’s my explanation: musicals are awesome because of the (often) unique (sometimes totally cheesy) ways they tug at the wild nature of emotions we often try to control: giddiness, joy, power-ballad-level-sorrow…etc. But this post isn’t designed to convince, it’s designed to celebrate. The following is my top-five list of show tunes that inspire joy and giddiness, with a short explanation of the choice of song and version.

5. Maria – West Side Story (Bernstein/Sondheim) 

Song itself: Those first three notes. Pure yearning. And joy. The vocal dynamics and tempo increase toward the end don’t hurt either.
Version: Jim Bryant (played Tony in the movie) and his falsetto.

4. Bill – Showboat (Hammerstein/Kern) -- song attached in mp3 file to this email

Song itself: in the context of the actual musical, this song is depressing – Julie has been banished from the Cotton Blossom and is now drunk and singing sad sap ballads (like this one) in bars.
Version: Audra McDonald re-invented it into what it should be, a song about the mysteriousness of love, the comfort and joy in finding someone who understands you. Also, Audra is my favorite theatrical singer of all time.

3. I Have Confidence – The Sound of Music (Rogers/Hammerstein) 

Song itself: Duh. But more specifically, the lyrics. All of them.
Version: Julie Andrews is just magical. The wildly scrappy choreography helps, but the rising energy in her voice is unmistakable. It feels genuine. I’ve played this song before hundreds of things I’m nervous about, and it always washes my anxiety out with joy.

2. Mister Snow – Carousel (Rogers/Hammerstein) -- song attached as mp3 file

Song itself: This is the sweetest, most purely happy love song in the universe. It’s young, it’s plucky, it’s about the ecstatic fiancée of a fisherman who “can’t seem to lose the smell of fish.” Listen until the chorus at least, because I’m 99% sure the melody there will fill your heart.
Version: AUDRA. Oh, how I love her. But in this tune, her voice makes all the difference. AND there’s a great moment in the bridge where her investment in the song changes the meaning of the lyrics, for the better.

1. Anyone Can Whistle – Anyone Can Whistle (Sondheim) 

Song itself: Sondheim. That’s the reason. Sondheim.
Version: Barbara Cook is, without a doubt, the Queen of bringing the exact perfect meaning out of a Sondheim tune. Bernadette Peters is a close second, but still second.

Dave Kelley

Writing this on the morning after the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, it is hard to look at the nation and the world with much positivity whatsoever.  Instead of picking a song that matches my mood and blathering on about it as is my want, I decided to go the other way.  With some small bit of irony my selection this week is:

"Stay Positive"  The Hold Steady

"Their sing along songs will become our scripture."

Lineup changes have adversely impacted The Hold Steady both in terms of recorded music and live shows.  Dave Wallace and I both have fond memories of seeing them in a small venue in Bloomington when they were at their peak.  A great band with terrific songs and just as happy as a fat kid eating cookies to be playing for your enjoyment.

"Stay Positive" is a short simple burst of energy with killer hooks, strong vocals, and some kick ass guitar.  Listening to it just makes you feel better, especially if you have had a few drinks and lost your middle aged inhibitions against playing air guitar.  Better yet is seeing it performed live and losing yourself along with everyone else in the sheer power and joy of it.  Bruce has said that one of the best parts of a great pop song is the brief and sadly false sense of "the eternal now."  That is one of the gifts this song gives to me.  

Mike Kelly

The Waiting -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 
SquareOne -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 

Tom Petty was the Tony Gwynn of American songwriting.  For the non-baseball people on this list, Gwynn was probably the most consistent hitter in baseball history. He wasn't flashy, didn't hit for much power, but had the versatility to hit any pitch in any part of the strike zone.  Playing for so long in San Diego, nothing he ever did was jaw-droppingly amazing- he just simply came out day after day for 17 seasons and did good things and made the people around him better. 

For me, Tom Petty was the same way. Between the time I was 10 and the time I was 25, there are very few periods in my life I can remember that don't include a Tom Petty song as part of that season's soundtrack.  From being mesmerized by the weird-ass Alice in Wonderland acid trip in the Don't Come Around Here No More video when I was 7 to driving across the country in an unair-conditioned Honda with American Girl playing with the windows down, these songs have made the experiences of my life richer. There was never a time when I said to someone, "Holy shit- that new Petty song just blew me away,"  but he is one of only three artists who three generations of Kellys can listen to together and all like it.  This is saying something. 

I chose The Waiting and Square One because together they represent the different kinds of authentic hopefulness that threads through most of these songs.  Sure, The Waiting is about longing and impatience and Square One is about reconciling the bad parts of the past with the present, but at the bottom of everything, they are both songs about the hopefulness of being alive without resorting to boring Pinterest platitudes.  

I'm grateful for what he contributed to this American boy.  

Cheryl Casey

Finally, the persistent Dr. Scudder has guilted and shamed me out of my somewhat timid role of lurker, and here is my inaugural contribution to this most fascinating blog.

Any of you 90s pop music aficionados may be familiar with the band Toad the Wet Sprocket, admittedly my favorite band of all time. This week I choose their tune from their breakthrough album, Fear, “Nightengale Song.” It’s a short one, but powerful for me for a number of different reasons. First, it’s one of the first I learned to play on the guitar (now long forgotten, but that one boyfriend was good for something for awhile, at least). Second, I have always been struck by the symbolism, where the nightingale stands for a kind of purgatory or sleeplessness from which we cannot escape. Sometimes that feels like the story of my life. Trite? Cliche? Maybe. Probably. But these days? One look at the news media cycle and it all starts to feel frighteningly relevant. (The perils of being a media & communication scholar....)

In the midst of all that has happened this past week, Toad tweeted a video of a school chorus singing “Nightengale Song,” and somehow it made me feel both happy and somewhat despairing. Both the students’ version and a Toad performance of the song are included here. 

Kathy Seiler

Hozier – Take Me to Church 

Disclaimer: For those in this group who are religious, I apologize. Okay, if I’m honest, #sorrynotsorry

The phrase “thoughts and prayers,” has been thrown about in good faith and under the bus by Twitter this past week in relation to the immense number of tragedies that have befallen our world as of late. This past week was overwhelming in that regard.

Thoughts are meaningless without subsequent action.

Prayers are just thoughts, wishes, requests, and confessions in an ordered and scripted form. There is no action in prayer other than physical rituals you perform.

Thoughts and prayers make us feel better when we feel helpless, and sometimes that’s all we have for comfort, and that’s okay. But we pretend that thoughts and prayers have some magical powers. They don’t.

Love is, in my opinion, the only thing even close to magic in this world. Love can make you forget all that plagues you. Love can provide pain relief unlike any drug. Love can lift you up when you’ve hit rock bottom. It goes by many names – caring, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, bravery, altruism. And I’m pretty sure the prophets of most religions preached love. Not “thoughts and prayers.”

Love gets shit done. You love your work? You do your work. You love children? You participate in vaccination campaigns or volunteer at the school. You love music? You play it and share it (hello, Discography). You love another person? You show them how you feel, maybe physically, maybe in words, maybe in simply caring for them even in the most seemingly inconsequential of ways.

“Thoughts and prayers” are often associated with religion.  This brought the song “Take Me to Church” to mind this week. The lyrics fly in the face of all that is considered sacred and mocks it, and convey the message that love is really all there is (here’s the link to the actual video of the song, which is nothing short of tragic and hard to watch). And, as was said recently on an episode of Endeavor, “There is no fault in love.”

So, the next time I find myself thinking (I no longer pray) about something that really needs action, I think I shall love as my next act.

Phillip Seiler

The Decemberists

Sometimes you know from the first note that you are going to love a song. I was already a fan of the Decemberists. Their anti-war anthem "16 Military Wives" was my introduction to them and seemed like the perfect antidote to America's grand military adventurism that seemed to grip so many in the last few decades. I liked them then but they are one of those bands that seems to stretch and grow with each new release. "Make You Better" is from their 2014 release, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World and I knew I would love this piece immediately. Everything about this song, from those opening chords to the gradual build of voices and instruments, to the subtle arpeggio that proceeds the chorus, to the ever increasing harmonies is perfect to me. The entire album is a joy but this song is everything I want or need in music. It makes me better.

Which brings me to the song's message, which I also love. So many times we fall in love and look to another to make us better. We think we can take a shimmer from another's shine to improve us. But it is really through the process of examining and reflecting on our choices that we grow.  "Let it all I break you to the day you met her / But it'd make you better". The subtle shift in pronouns in the song drives this home I think. Whenever the singer is using "Me or I" his selfishness and failings are eveident. But when he switches to "you" I believe he is still singing of himself, but this time from an examining position. Did it make you better? 

Finally, if you ever get a chance to see them in concert, run don't walk. We saw them two years ago on the lawn at Shelburne Museum and it was the best concert I have ever attended. They leave everything out on that stage and their musicianship is on point.

Dave Mills

Artist: Melissa Etheridge

A few weeks back, Rebecca and I were in Montreal, checking out the mural paintings, smoked meats, and poutine on Rue Saint Laurent. We popped into a friperie (the French have the best word for thrift stores, and I'm trying to picture the French version of Macklemore's hit...). This particular store had a killer stereo setup, pumping a lot of watts through some big heavy old floor speakers, and this song came on shortly after we walked in. I was immediately taken back to high school, where I found this CD on the rack in our public library during the summer of my senior year. I had forgotten how much I loved Etheridge's early music -- so much passion and power, and a crazy good bass line. Pure and simple rock and roll.

Gary Scudder

Neil Young, Throw Your Hatred Down

Even by my standards this has been frantic week with four different songs having waited here.  In the end I ended up bringing back a song that had waited here previously, as well as weeks two, three and four.  Somehow I guess it was meant to be here because the depressing events of this week seemed to demand it.

Throw Your Hatred Down is off Mirror Ball, an album that I often, for some reason, overlook.  If nothing else it's a testament to what Young meant to an entire generation of bands that Pearl Jam would essentially agree to play the house band on the album.  Of course, they are much more than that, and I think they make the album because they really push him.  Young loved playing with them, and he especially loved Jack Irons, Pearl Jam's drummer, who he thought was amazing.  The album came out in 1995, but in some ways this song feels like it should be the theme song for The Resistance today.  However, if you're going to call for Trump and his alt-right racist thugs to throw their hatred down, then you need to do it yourself.  It's something I've really been grappling with because I'm insanely involved in Twitter and find myself interacting with the Trumpians more and more, and it's a challenge to try and interface with them and not just call them stupid fuckers (which, to be fair, I've been called and I've avoided the temptation, so far anyway, to respond in kind); and while that's amusing and refreshing in its own right, does that really accomplish anything when what we need is dialogue?  I can't remember a time in my entire life when America was so torn asunder by virulent, ignorant hate.  There are so many reasons for it, which there's probably no need to get into once again; in the end all I can do is look at my own behavior.  In my faith we're taught to always meet the worse with the better, and doubtless there have been a million times when I've done just the opposite.  However, we're also taught that we have to fight against injustice and look after the defenseless.  How one gracefully balances out those two dictates takes a mind much more subtle and sophisticated than my own (happily, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone smarter than me).  Maybe the key, as the Canadian philosopher reminds us, is throw your hatred down. As I will often opine, if we did nothing more than replace ignorant hatred with learned dislike most of our problems would be over.

In light of the Las Vegas shooting I was going to choose Patty Griffin's Not Alone or Ryan Adams's Please Do Not Let Me Go, but I just felt that Tom Petty would want us to blow it out a bit.

No comments: