Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”: An Unofficial Slideshow

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.

 

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I should warn people in advance that this is not a funny slideshow, or even a romantic one, but rather Warren as social critic or–as I like to think of it–prophet. Not that I would argue that he was chosen by God to deliver the Word, but rather that Warren seems to have had such a keen understanding of the human character and its failings (and possibly he specialized in the American character), that he was able to see what was coming long before it had fully manifested itself. Surely “Fistful of Rain” is a song about our long and frutiless struggle to hold onto, even freeze the past in a particular idealized moment. As Jay Gatz tragically discovered (let’s see who picks up on that allusion), you can’t recreate the past, which is colored by emotions and memories, and probably never happened exactly as we now think it did. The yearning for it, nevertheless, is terribly powerful, sometimes to the point of seemingly obliterating any rational thought. .Certainly, that’s one way to explain why we are here now . . . where we are. Because of what Warren saw happening then (and perhaps foresaw happening even more in the future), trying ever so hard to do something ever so impossible, like holding onto to a fistful of rain.

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

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.

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Here’s one I finished at the beginning of the month. I’ve always liked the Transverse City album, in part because of its distinctly experimental vibe. Warren was trying lots of new things, and they worked a lot of the time. Where the title track and “They Moved the Moon” seemed to push musical boundaries, “Nobody’s in Love This Year” pushes lyrical ones in the way it uses financial metaphors to describe love relationships or–more accurately–their collapse. It certainly captures one of the darker and more prevalent aspects of the Reagan years–one that is still with us–but it does so with Warren’s characteristic wit, lyrical grace, and melodic beauty. Hope you like it.

A reader of my “Unofficial: Warren Zevon” fan page suggested I do this song about Warren and the RR Hall of Fame. It seemed like a good idea, and I think the slideshow turned out OK. The web address at the end is to 2017 petition on change.otg to induct Warren. This petition has apparently just been closed, as the nominating ballots for 2017 have just come out, and again Warren isn’t on it. Another indifferent year in heaven, I guess. So it goes.

Seminole Bingo: An Unofficial Warren Zevon Slideshow

Seminole Bingo: An Unofficial Warren Zevon Slideshow

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.

 

Texas Trilogy 3: My Ride Comes Home

Texas Trilogy 3: My Ride Comes Home

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.

They Moved the Moon: The California Genocide; a slideshow set to two Warren Zevon Songs

They Moved the Moon: The California Genocide; a slideshow set to two Warren Zevon Songs

Also posted, in slightly different form, about four days ago on The Daily Kos. This diary and the slideshow which accompanies it, were inspired by Meteor Blades’ diary of June 25th, “On the 141st Anniversary of Custer’s Well-Remembered Last Stand, why is California’s Genocide Forgotten?” As a native Californian, albeit of European ancestry, I was wondering how I could have missed this, although I was certainly aware of the controversy surrounding Father Junipero Serra’s sanctification, as well as more vaguely aware of the lynchings, riots, and institutional racism occasionally (as I then thought) practiced against Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese Americans, and African-Americans. I was not aware of how systematic, murderously successful, and popularly and legally prevalent it was. When Meteor Blades’ title asks how people could have forgotten it, I found myself asking how I could have forgotten it? The answer is, as I am sure is true for most white Californians, is that we never learned about it in the first place, and what scraps we did know were largely the product of a highly selective and—let’s face it—whitewashed popular culture (as I remember, there were a couple of episodes of Bonanza—and I think one of Gunsmoke—that dealt with racism against Chinese immigrants, and every two or three seasons one of the longer running westerns would have an episode that would at least obliquely address unfair treatment of Native Americans).

Not to rehearse Meteor Blades well-researched and far superior diary, he recounts the steady, popularly-supported decimation of California’s indigenous population:

There was one massacre after another after another after another, in each of which more California Indians were killed than were soldiers of Custer’s regiment in Montana. White Californians, the vast majority of them newcomers, had reduced the California Indian population to about 30,000 by 1873.

Even more appalling (although not so surprising, given that I had been living in East Texas for twenty years by this time, so I was perfectly aware not only that such things had happened in the past, but that they were still going on), were the ways in which the legal, judicial, electoral, and economic systems were manipulated so that Native Americans could be rendered powerless, exploited, stolen from, and murdered with impunity, with the public support of both politicians and many local newspapers. According to Benjamin Madley in the Los Angeles Times (quoted at greater and even more horrifying length in Meteor Blades’ diary),

California’s Legislature first convened in 1850, and one of its initial orders of business was banning all Indians from voting, barring those with “one-half of Indian blood” or more from giving evidence for or against whites in criminal cases, and denying Indians the right to serve as jurors. California legislators later banned Indians from serving as attorneys. In combination, these laws largely shut Indians out of participation in and protection by the state legal system. This amounted to a virtual grant of impunity to those who attacked them.

Institutionalized racism and oppression thus go back to the very roots of California statehood, by no means limited to Orange County or South Central, as sometimes seems to be case in media portrayals. Of course, racism, brutality, and forced conversions dated back to the very founding of the Spanish Mission system, but there were qualitative and quantitive differences once the Gold Rush started and California joined the United States as it hurtled towards civil war. As Iberian points out in his comment on Meteor Blades’ diary:

The Spanish system and missions where oppressive, abusive and murderous but they were not genocidal. There wasn’t any intent of eliminating the native population. After the gold rush and statehood the native populations were intentionally exterminated, and the mixed and Spanish/Mexican populations prosecuted, assaulted and dispossessed in many cases, other Hispanics that came also for the gold rush also assaulted and the anti-Chinese hysteria raging in pogroms. All of it not only sanctioned by local and state officials but at the request of the local government and even California Senators in DC. Ethnic cleansing in California has a horrible history the worse for the native populations, but extending to many other ethnic groups.

As I remember, when I studied the local Native American tribes of Kern County back in grammar school, they were presented quite sympathetically: I still remember watching short films showing how the local natives ground acorns and made meal, while men hunted deer and participated in fascinating sweat lodge ceremonies. I realize now, of course, how dangerously easy it is to romanticize a people who essentially no longer exist. Such appropriated but conveniently invisible peoples provide one’s existence with history, continuity, and a kind of Edenic past; while by their absence they make no claims upon you in the present. With this in mind, here is a slideshow set to Warren Zevon’s “They Moved the Moon” and “Join Me in L.A.” I had considered using his brilliant “Carmelita” in the second half, but I must admit I kind of like it this way. Although probably not as well known, “Join Me” has a kind of snarky energy, and permits an ending of hopeful defiance—if not of optimism—about the future (I also learned a bit about the Tongva and other tribes that inhabited the Los Angeles basin, so the song allowed me to focus the slideshow even more locally in its second half). I had already done a slideshow on Holocaust denial, and another on the persecution of marginal groups from the Middle Ages to the present, but I felt maybe it was time to explore something more uncomfortably close to home. Anyway, here it is—while the slideshow doesn’t begin to do justice to the magnitude of the event, it does do something. What that is, remains for you to decide: