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.
“Wine with Dinner,” as the title implies, is a drinking song. Back when I first heard it about 1976, it strucks me as a pro-drinking song, a defiant love letter to grain alcohol in the face physical, social, and psychological bad consequences. I suspect I saw it that way, because that is the way I wanted to see it, I wanted to believe drinking-to-excess was simply a heroically masculine way of thumbing your nose at death, while counting on that old saw about God loving drunks and fools to keep me safe (I’m sure I figured I was a Daily Double). How you interpreted the song really depended on whether you focused on the verses (which catalogue the negative consequences of alcohol abuse) or on the chorus (which focuses on how drunks are often quite lucky). While the alcoholic speaker is fairly obviously kidding himself, his arguments are pretty convincing if you’re kidding yourself too. Although it isn’t included as part of this slideshow, Loudon’s T-Shirt album, where the song first appeared, also includes a reprise of the song at the album’s conclusion that includes an additional verse that rejects other forms of pharmacological abuse in favor John Barleycorn and his relatives, so the let’s-just-keep-on-partying message does get a bit more emphasis in the original context (it was the seventies, after all). I now see the song as more darkly satirical than celebratory, and that darkness is by and large refected in this slideshow (I don’t claim my interpretation is any way definitive, please make your own, if you so desire).
I had the idea for this one while flying back from Minneapolis. I had always liked the song “Natasha”; it just had a lovely simplicity, and the implied theme, about the difficulty of opening yourself up to intimacy, of making yourself vulnerable to another person, was certainly one to which I could relate. In some ways, it also seems to be about beauty, which is underscored by the haunting melody. Although ballet is never referred to in the song, it just seemed to fit both the song’s almost awestruck appreciation of beauty, while at the same time constituting a kind of beautiful gift for the song’s subject (and recipient). In some ways, this is similar to the slideshow/video I did for “Hallelujah” in that it combines live performance (from Live at the Fillmore), with slides and film clips. I also used several overlays, and I think they worked very well this time, almost magically falling into place. In any event, It is as if Rufus has given us a gift, and I’ve taken it and dressed it up, trying to highlight some of its beauties, even to in a small way visualize them. I hope you like it.
I always loved the piano on Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites.” As Guy Garvey says somewhere (I think it is in the i-tunes interview), the song has a fairly simple melody and a rather monotonic vocal line that the keyboards sort of dip and weave around to remarkable effect. I had originally conceived of this slideshow as being almost entirely about abstract art, but as I listened to and looked up the lyrics, I realized that it was basically a memory song, with the speaker going into a reverie caused by smelling his sister’s perfume. The “scattered black and whites” are actually old photographs, and the song is to some extent about the claims the past (as embodied in old photographs, but also childhood memories) makes on us, calling out to us that they once existed, and that we need to visit and revisit them once in awhile. It’s like a seven minute version of Proust, and kind of breathtaking in how successful it is. I chose this version from Manchester Cathedral simply because the song seems rooted in Manchester, where several of the band members grew up. It was a really interesting exercise for me (kind of like Kathleen), in that I tried to keep to a very limited palette, except for the modern performance pictures of the band. I’m actually quite proud of it, possibly even more than for “Kindling (Fickle Flame).”. Hope you like it.
Here are the lyrics, by the way, which aren’t always that easy to make out:
My hands are black, the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She’s listening to the dream I weaved today
Crosswords through the bathroom door
While someone sings the theme-tune to the news
And my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air
And that’s what triggered this
I shelter here some days
A thousand yards and whistles
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
That flit between short trousers
And a full dress uniform
And he talks of people ten years gone
like I’ve known them all my life
Like scattered black ‘n’ whites. (Elbow)
Previously posted on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III FB page.
‘ve liked the “Man Who Couldn’t Cry” since I first heard it on Loudon”s Attempted Mustache album. I still have a fairly clear memory of him performing it at the Roxy in Los Angeles on the T-Shirt album tour. At one time, I knew how to play it on guitar and could even sing all the verses, which was an exceptional achievement for me at the time (I could play or sing, but not both at once). This is actually the version from Loudon’s 2008 Recovery album, which I recently purchased. I must say, I usually prefer Loudon’s live versions of songs, but I was deeply impressed by this, which really gains something from the drums and orchestration. I’m still not wholly sure what the song is about, exactly, but it seems to have something to do with karmic justice. I did go for a few cheap jokes, but by and large I think it remains true to spirit of the song, except perhaps the end where I find what may well be an unjustified optimism (perhaps playing with the idea of “Recovery”). It was just to bleak to leave humanity and its home in the song’s last line.
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.
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.