I got interested in The Mountain Goats from hearing Steven Page’s cover of “Lion’s Teeth” on the A Singer Must Die album. They have a varied catalog, which I’ve only scratched the surface of, but I was quite charmed by their 2015 bBeat the Champ album, singer-songwriter John Darnielle’s tribute to the professional wrestling he was fascinated by as a child and an adolescent, a lifeline to hold on to in his abusive home and school environment. Although I don’t think my childhood was a horrific as Mr. Darnielle’s, I do remember how weirdly important professional wrestling seemed (this was way before I read Roland Barthes), in that it always threatened to make sense of the chaos of reality, although often resolving into more chaos (which had the odd effect of making it seem both more scripted and more authentic). If you have memories of seventies and eighties professional wrestling, you might find this fun; if not, it may be sort of horrifying. In any event, don’t try this at home.
This is essentially a Mother’s Day post, although I must admit that it is also a misinterpretation. I discovered only yesterday (on a Stingray interview) that
“Traveller” (from 2016’s Goodnight City album) is a song Martha wrote in response to the death of Thomas Bartlett’s brother, Ezra, from cancer at the age of forty in 2014 (Thomas co-produced and played piano on Goodnight City). I’ll include the interview as the first comment. It certainly changed the way I looked at the song. I had always thought “Traveller” was about her Mother, Kate Mcgarrigle, who died of cancer in 2009, and certainly many of the lyrics would seem to apply quite well to her tragically early passing. So well, in fact, that I am going to put it up as it is (I made the video-slideshow a couple of weeks ago), while acknowledging that it is in fact built upon a false premise. To me it seems okay to do this simply because the song speaks so eloquently to anyone who has lost someone in an untimely manner, but especially to cancer (which the song mentions). Ultimately, it may not be the most appropriate Mother’s Day post, but it feels right, and seems a fitting tribute to both Ezra Bartlett and Kate..
Today is the fifty-second anniversary of Phil Ochs’ death, and I thought I would repost this, which I have previously posted on the “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong” Facebook Group. This slideshow is more or less a capsule biography of Phil’s life, set to live recording (I think from Montreal) of him singing “Cross My Heart,” a song that encapsulates the contradictions in Phil’s life, contradictions that ultimately led him to take his own life, contradictions that ultimately reflect those that the America still faces. This is in some sense a calling card for a larger project, essentially a two man stage show designed for a small theater, in which one actor (who would need to be a talented high tenor as well as a better than competent guitar player) would play Phil, and the other would the playing various people in his life, starting with his college roommate Jim Glover, a brief appearance as Bob Dylan, Phil’s second manager Arthur Gorson, Phil’s third manager (and brother) Michael Ochs, and Yippee Jerry Rubin. In the second half he would need to be an FBI agent, a prosecutor, Phil’s friend Andy Wickham, and Phil’s protege Sammy Walker. About half would be Phil’s songs, and about half would be dialogue drawn from Phil published and unpublished writers and papers, biographies about him, and his FBI file. I realized from the start that there will be many legal hurdles and permissions to secure, but I have bought theatrical performance rights for a single production run to Marc Eliot’s Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs, which the script draws heavily upon and am currently negotiating for performance rights to about fourteen songs. I hope to be talking to a potential director this week, and at least least get some hints about the audition process as I will need two strong actors, one of whom will also have to be a gifted singer and guitar player, and the other comfortable with quick changes of fairly varied characters. I realize that I will lose money on the project, which I am trying to keep small scale (only about ten performances in a very small theater, probably in North Hollywood or Pasadena). Nevertheless, it feels like something I need to at least try to do, simply because Phil’s songs and story touched me so deeply (I did see him once, but I will save story that for another post).
Anyway, the real reason for this post is the video below, which I compiled last June, when I first conceived of this play project, drawing on internet photographs and a few which I scanned from Eliot’s and Schumacher‘s biographies of him. It seems an appropriate memorial on this aniversary of his passing.
This is really a composite of two different songs (or really, two different versions of the same song). The first is “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” from the Fairy Tale album (1965), while the second is “Diggin the Future” from the Ritual Groove album (2010). Although forty-five years apart, they are sort of the first and second half of the same song. The first song seems to be about turning away from materialism (which would seem to include relatively “hard” psychedelic drugs) towards the world of the spirit and personal connection; the second seems to be about turning away from destructive behaviors toward the earth (carbon emissions, burning the rainforests) and reorienting ourselves towards an attitude of love and stewardship towards the earth, that just might–in turn–both heal itself and love us back. While none of these ideas would seem to be terribly popular these days, perhaps they should be. Anyway, I made this slideshow (with a couple of video clips) in order to get these help get these ideas across, although I think they are also very much part of Donovan’s original songs. I hope you like the slideshow, and perhaps even the ideas. In any case, Donovan’s songs are pretty cool.
This is my third “High Wide and Handsome: The Chairlie Poole Project slideshow. This is actually a traditional song that Charlie Poole recorded. It apparently exists in many different versions, my impression is that Loudon took verses from different versions, with the first three of so coming from Charlie’s version. Thus Loudon’s version (written with producer Dick Connette) is kind of a composite of a long ago American classic of traditional music (aka “old-timey” music). It is a sort of a variation on a tall tale, unstuck in time and space, travelling widely through world history although always returning to America. It’s supposed to be humorous, and I’ve tried to highlight the humor in my slideshow (I’m actually kind of proud of the way the film overlays turned out). By the way “rushing the can,” means to go get liquor in a bucket or can–I looked it up. I would hesitate to speculate on the “meaning” of this song, but it sure is a lot of fun. I hope you think so too.
I don’t really tend to identify Warren with upbeat, optimistic, feel-good songs. Nevertheless, “Mohammed’s Radio” feels like it belongs in this category. The optimism is largely in the infectious chorus, with the verses detailing the quiet desperation of most people’s lives. The chorus however, seems to celebrate the capacity of music to reach across borders and differances in race, culture, and religion, and into the heart and mind of the listener. It can be transformative, although it does seem to be less so these days than it used to be (and yes, I realize how old that makes me sound). At least in Warren’s song, Mohammed’s Radio would seem to be a rock and roll station rather than a religious one which seems appropriate, simply because it seems like music has a much better shot at bringing people together than formal religious doctrines. Not that I would say that it is an anti-religious song, but simply that its focus falls upon the power of music to create community, even a temporary one, which is perhaps the most we can ask for these days.
“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us. While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. I’m visiting Antartica (as well as Argentina and Chile), and all the evidence I’ve seen so far (both here and in many other parts of the world) suggests that global warming is real, not that any of my non-scientific observations are likely convince anyone, especially when the observations made by real scientists continue to fall on deaf ears. I made the slideshow before I left, and the polar bear pictures are from the North Pole, not Antarctica, obviously. Anyway, I hope you like the song and its accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, if not to you.
While this is an odd way to begin a year, it feels appropriate for what could be described as a beginning. More a look back at the failures of the past than the successes of the future, “Empty Handed Heart” is a song from Warren Zwvon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School album. A marvelously self-aware love song about those bad choices a lot of people make (sometimes even us). It seems to at least hold out the possibility of a second chance, even a happy ending, while acknowledging that those are pretty rare. As a few people will notice, I sort of made it with Warren’s and Crystal’s story in the back of my mind, which sort of allowed me to emphasize the happy ending aspect, albeit a somewhat qualified one. I still find it a remarkably moving song, partly because I suspect it’s right. I believe that is Linda Rondstadt singing second descant in the last part, sounding near the peak of her powers. Hope you like it.
This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.
As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of this band, although they aren’t especially well known in the U.S. I believe I first became aware of them when they appeared on an episode of Live from Abbey Road. I was impressed enough to buy their new album at the time, The Seldom Seen Kid, and was even more impressed by their i-tusnes concert. After Build a Rocket Boys, I was a fan, and after seeing them in oncert at The Wiltern on The Takeoff and Landing of Everything tour, I became a devoted follower of this Manchester band. Guy Garvey’s voice–rather like Rufus Wainwright’s although their voices aren’t that similar–just connects with me on some deep level. Their arrangements are intriguing, varied, and not really like anbody else, while their lyrics are deeply evocative of memories and emotions I had thought were private. I’ll be seeing them twice this week–once tonight in Santa Ana at The Observatory, and then on Thursday at The Wiltern. Their fans seem like genuinely nice and friendly people, an attitude the band seems to consciously foster by, for example, encouraging fans to post band-related material to their Facebook group.. This slideshow consciously recalls some of my other Elbow slideshows, including “Lost Worker Bee,” “Kindling (Fickle Flame),” “Scattered Black and Whites” (which frankly I consider my best slideshow to date), and “The Night Will Always Win.” The audio for Newborn is an extended version of the song from a Kendall Calling performance in 2015 (the song originally appeared on Asleep in the Back ).