Although I didn’t realize it until I was actually putting it together day before yesterday, “Seminole Bingo” is kind of a natural counterpart to my “They Moved the Moon” slideshow. If the first is about the dispossession of Native Americans, the second could well be said to be about taking some of their own back from those who dispossessed them in the first place. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the first in that I realized I was quite probably radically recontextualizing the song in making it about the California genocide of Native Americans. The song could well describe any disorienting and dislocating experience, and may well have been highly personal, even autobiographical for Warren when he wrote it. What I did with it (which was not meant to be in any way prescriptive), was simply an attempt to use the song as a way of exploring my own feelings about what happened in California, and my surprise and horror at discovering it. “Seminole Bingo” is much more obviously a story song about a character who is not Warren, although the two may share some traits in common. I realize, of course, that the song is not about Michael Milliken (who did not gamble his fortune away in Florida) but–as the widely-acknowledged “junk bond king”–his image was the logical one to use. I do find myself if wondering if there is a something deeper going in the song, as the title character in essence made his fortune by selling essentially worthless bonds at vastly inflated prices. So much of modern culture seems to be predicated upon building up little or nothing into a “something,” a commodity that can be sold at vastly inflated prices based on a vastly inflated (mis)perceptions of its value. Of course, the same thing could be said about these slideshows, although the only cost to you is time, and–of course–there are many things of value in the world (Warren’s songs, for instance), you just have to learn to look for them. Anyway, here it is, and I hope you think it is worth your time.
This has been a rather humbling few days, although in sort of a good way. One of the benefits of making a fan page like my Unofficial: Loudon Wainwright III on Facebook is that you find out stuff you would not have otherwise known about through people’s comments. Thus, about three days ago I discovered Loudon had a book out (Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things). I bought it and downloaded it on my Kindle app. The first chapter (all I have read) is very engaging, almost brutally honest, and rather funny (that’s kind of how Loudon works). Then event sounds like a conversation/book signing with maybe a couple of songs (I hope) at the Largo on Cahuenga. The admission comes with a copy of the book, so it looks like I’ll have a hard copy too, which presumably I can get signed. If I’m really lucky (I’m planning to bring a camera), I can get my photograph taken with Loudon, which will promptly replace the one I currently have with Rufus on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III facebook page (it will stay up, of course, on my Rufus page). While I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to go, he is also performing what I assume will be a largely musical set at McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica on Saturday night (it’s sold out, so if anyone has a ticket they are willing to sell, message me). Sheesh, talk about an embarrassment of riches.
All of that has nothing really to do with the following slideshow, although if I stretch I suppose I could say it is another live version of one of Loudon’s songs, and I’ll be seeing him live so that’s a connection, I guess. I must admit, I’m rather partial to his live albums, partly because he is such an engaging performer, and I think partly because the “So Damn Happy” live album is when I got back into Loudon’s music after not really having listened to him for about two decades. Well, this is another song from “So Damn Happy” (so were “Much Better Bets” and “Men”), with the slightly off-putting title, “The S*** Song.” The whole song is really just a metaphor, of course, and I hope that the slideshow succeeds in highlighting those metaphoric implications without being too disgusting. Despite the title, it’s a very wise song and–while there is one moment he might seem to be mocking the disabled (and yes, I laugh every time I hear it), as with so many of Loudon’s songs, I think there is something much more subtle and even profound going on. WARNING: Includes profanity (if you haven’t figured that out).
It was apparently humorist Robert Benchley who said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.” Certainly, Mr. Benchley was poking fun at the very human tendancy to divide things into often opposing dualities: men and women, parents and children, insiders and outsiders. It’s not exactly that the dualities are untrue, but they oversimplify a more complex and nuanced reality. Thus, “there are two types of vessels on the sea, submarines and targets,” ignores the fact that sometimes submarines are targets and that–if only because there are no submarines in the vicinity that day–the targets are just ships, still subject to the whims of the weather, their captains, and the quality of their last overhaul–but not targets in any real sense. Opposites in fact often imply and even include those things they are defined in opposition to. Thus “near” and “far” would be meaningless without the other term, as would be “normal” (that which is not abnormal) and “abnormal” (that which is not normal), or even darkness and light. You could define the first as either an abundance or light or a lack of darkness, and do the same (but in reverse) for its complementary term.
The Divine Comedy is a British pop band comprised of of Neil Hannon and–more or less–whoever he happens to be working with at the time. The band has thus has thus had a remarkably fluid lineup over the years, with songwriter, frontman, lead singer, and multi-instrumeltalist Hannon providing the group with a nucleus while expeimenting with a dizzying variety of tones and influences. As the band’s name implies they are an unusually literate band. In “Gin soaked boy” a song added to their “A Secret History . . . Best of the Divine Comedy” cd (actually how I became aware of them) attests; it is sort of pop song as modernist novel, comprehending the universe through a series of apparent polarities that aren’t really polarities as at all, but continuties, and suggesting that if we see them as such we can more truly be of the universe instead of merely in it. I’ve been wanting to create a visual accompaniment to this song for awhile, and with Final Cut Pro I felt I finally had the tools to at least begin to do it justice. I hope you think so to, but you can also appreciatel the following slideshow as just a rather surreal, somewhat trippy journey (or, to put it more in the “Gin Soaked Boy”‘s idiom, the meaninglessness in the meaning). Hope you like it, or at least don’t dislike it too much.
I have a somewhat hazy yet clear memory of learning about Janis Joplin’s death over the evening news. I would have been thirteen at the time, and I feel sure I must have seen her perform on some television show or other. We watched This is Tom Jones fairly regurally (my Mom was a fan), so it is quite possible I heard her sing “Little Girl Blue,” although I can’t say I remember it. Still, it was only after her death that I became familar with a broader range of her work. I was (and am) very impressed. I also remember reading Buried Alive, a postuhumous biography of Joplin by her publicist Myra Friedman, which successfully conveyed Joplin’s inner anguish. When I started collecting records a few years later, I got all of her albums.
I was also aware of Melanie Safka (she performed as Melanie at the time), although mostly from her hit single “Brand New Key.” A few years later, when I was buying records, I got her Leftover Wine; Live at Carnegie Hall cd and was particularly impressed by the title songs. As with Joplin’s song, it seemed to convey a deep sadness along with a powerful emotional wallop. In the back of my mind, I found myself wondering if Melanie had written the song about Joplin after her death. This is not the case, as her Candles in the Rainalbum (which included the song) came out a about six months before Joplin’s death on October 4th, 1970. It is far more likely that Melanie wrote the song about her own struggles with fame and self-acceptance. Still, it strikes me as a very appropriate and powerful soundtrack to the slideshow I compiled about Joplin’s life.
I have included two video clips of Joplin performing. The first is an excerpt from her performance of “Summertime” in Frankfurt in 1969. I like it because it show a gracious spirit in action, making sure that the camera focuses on the guitarist while he is playing his lead. I also think the look on her face during the instrumental break is a thing of utter beauty, expressive of a kind of artistic transcendance that she unfortunately couldn’t maintain away from the stage. The second clip is, of course, her performance of “Little Girl Blue” from This is Tom Jones. It has become fairly widely available, but it just seemed to be the perfect way to follow up and conclude the slideshow. I do not own the rights to any of these, and all monies generated by YouTube ads go to the copyright holders. This is fine with me, as this is intended to be a fan-tribute video, not a commercial one. Hope you enjoy it (you can always close your eyes and just listen, both artists are pretty amazing).
This slideshow i s actually set to two very different songs that both have Texas settings. The first, by Denton band Deep Blue Something (best known for their 1995 hit “Breakfast at Tiffanys”), is a deeply affectionate portrait of Denton and East Texas generally. If anything, the slideshow is even more expressive of this sense of place than the song is, although I also personalize it by including photos of several people I actually do miss from Texas (I have gotten their permission to use their photos). The second song, by Warren Zevon, is from his penulitimate album, My Ride’s Here. Although he spent much of his adult life in California, he places this song in a rather surreal East Texas. This seems fitting, because (at least to me) Texas could be a rather surreal place. As it is also a song about death (Warren died of cancer a little more than a year after the album was released), it seems an appropriate place to end this trilogy of slideshows.
The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper” was a song I liked virtually from the first time I heard it, although it always had a distinctly personal feel, naming people and places that the band was presumably directly acquainted with. The chorus always seemed to have statewide and perhaps even universal application in the way it called into question all of our flattering self-conceptions, because–as the song says–“you never know just how you’ll look through other people’s eyes.” Last month I realized that you could take the song’s verses and appy them to more statewide problems, from health, to deregulation and public safety, to gun deaths, to the environment, to oil, and to the Texas Railroad Commission (which “regulates” the oil industry with considerable help from heavily [in]vested interests). l’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived in Texas for several years will really “get” this slideshow, and even among those who have I have a feeling many will be offended by it, not because anything in the slideshow is false, but because one doesn’t talk about such things in Texas, at least not in public. If I was a “true” Texan I’m sure I would know this and act appropriately, but I’m not anymore and probably never was, at least not really. So consider it a highly idiosyncratic take on the state from a highly eccentric Californian (and therefore to be dismissed). I don’t really expect to get a large number of views, but you never know and–after all–everything’s bigger in Texas.
This is a slightly re-edited and expanded version of a slideshow I did about five months ago, probably the second one I compiled this year (I did two in all of last year). I originally called it “Random Memories of East Texas,” in part because I wanted a deliberately flat title to balance the rather sensational subject matter, but also beacause I realized it was an attempt–however flawed–to come to terms with living in East Texas for twenty years. It wasn’t a very good or even very accurate title, as most of the events it focused on didn’t even take place in East Texas, but in Dallas and Austin. Also, although they were someone’s Texas memories, they weren’t really my memories, since I didn’t start living in Texas until 1991, well after the tragic events depicted in the first two movements of the slideshow. Also, I felt that James Bryd Jr.’s killing, which I was at least in Texas for (although over fifty miles away from Jasper), really didn’t get adequate treatment, in part because the song ended too soon for my purposes. In the re-edited, expanded, and re-titled version, I have extended the audio track with some sound effects, thus allowing me to insert another six or seven slides in the final section.
I’m not sure it has a message in the conventional sense, beyond the obvious point that Texas can be a dangerous place, in part because of its culture, and in part because it’s simply so big that some more or less random bad stuff is bound to happen. I always liked Don Maclean’s song “Dreidel,” and I have a fairly clear memory of him performing it on some daytime talk show about the time this album (his third) was released. I’m fairly sure it was a song (like the “The Pride Parade”) that he wrote to explore his own mental situation in the wake of the massive success of his American Pie album that had come out the year before. Nevertheless, I think most people have a tendancy to personalize the songs they like and listen to a lot, and I’m sure I tended to think of both songs as in some sense reflections on my own feelings on entering high school in Southern California in the early seventies. I don’t think that sense of identification ever fully left me, even when I stopped listening to Don Maclean (probably a mistake on my part, and doubtless one of many). The immediate stimulus for this slideshow was probably watching “The Tower” on Netflix, a brilliant documentary looking at the Austin clocktower murders of 1966, an incident I really don’t remember (I would have been nine), although I remember my mother talking about it. Similarly, I was even younger when President Kennedy was assasinated, and I’m fairly sure I did not see it live (it seems unlikely it was even carried live on most national television stations, although it may well have been in the Dallas area). I do remember my mother hearing about it on the radio and talking with our next door neighbor, Mrs. Leddy, over the wall separating out two backyards from one another. I think they were crying, but I may be embellishing the memory (I would have just turned six a couple weeks before).
James Bryd Jr.s death was widely reported in Smith County where I was living at the time, and I am pretty sure many local people were aware that it made the national news, which tended to make the people I knew uncomfortable. I even remember the joke making the rounds at the time (“What red and black and two miles long”–I think you can guess the answer, even if you haven’t heard it before). Humor is of course one way human beings tend to express and deal with discomfort, although it is also a way of expressing and reinforcing power relationships, often making sure that marginal groups stay marginalized. I suspect both were at work here, although I am sure some would disagree, especially as meanings of things like jokes tend to change according to time and context, so that one particular performance may well convey different meanings, and even different listeners may take different meanings away, some perhaps quite different than the teller consciously intended. Anyway, here is the first of three slideshows about Texas (the other two are both quite different, and were made several months after the first version of this one).