It has just been too long, I have been too busy, the world spins too quickly, and I spin with it, but I always have a playlist while I work regardless, so it's absurd that I haven't just typed it up here. Other projects have me absurdly busy (one, a book about Lewis Carroll that I've been slaving over lately, not to mention another that I just finished). More, I'm trying to prepare a syllabus for spring semester (graduate level book editing, so this is no small feat this time).
Overbooked, dizzying amounts of work, but doing the list is actually a pleasure and not a chore, and I must thank Steve for the kick in the pants to get me back to it.
So thanks for that!
Enough said – the list of the moment.
Thanks for listening, as ever.
"La Cienega Just Smiled" by Ryan Adams: Of all the songs on Gold, I think this is the best cut. "Answering Bell" is also a great cut, but this one strikes me as the more profound. The lyrics seem more real here… “I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now…” This much rings true. God knows I’ve been there. There are times when it is scary to admit how just how much one cares because those intense feelings can be absolutely terrifying, especially if uninvited or inconvenient or unexpected. To guess, I think that’s what Adams means here – how we feel about another can, under the wrong circumstances, be scary as hell, especially if we know we ought not feel that way, or if it is inconvenient in some way (bad timing, other relationships, the impossibility of it all, and so on… or perhaps the feelings are unreturned or the relationship is unworkable for some reason).
Whatever the matter is in this case, Adams keeps coming back to the refrain, “I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now…” and this, I think, almost all of us can relate to. Perhaps if not in the present, then in the past, and if you haven’t yet been there, trust me, you will, and it will hurt like hell. If any song captures the feeling and the wistfulness of such relationships, it's this one by Ryan Adams, who seems to be particularly good at capturing relationships (“Come Pick Me Up” is another classic, but that has more to do with being in the relationship or just ending it and a fucked up relationship at that — about getting fucked, and then getting fucked, if you follow).
If you’re not yet familiar with Adams, he’s worth the time to get to know. While this particular cut is on Gold, overall Heartbreaker is a better album in this reviewer’s opinion. The best option may be to download this song, and if you are to buy one of Adams’ albums then make it Heartbreaker, which is more folky and reminds me in some ways of Nick Drake, not in voice, but in tone and subject matter. No, Adams is no Nick Drake (I’m partial to Drake, I admit), but there are some similarities and I’d be surprised if Adams had not been somewhat influenced by Drake.
"Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville or The Neville Brothers: If you don’t know this one, then you probably should. Or perhaps you should if you have been toyed with, as most of us have, in any relationship (see lyrics below). None of us want to be toyed with, but nobody puts it as well as Aaron Neville does here. The live version, which you can find on the Big Easy soundtrack, is a better version, though honestly, any version of this song by Neville is excellent. It’s the sort of thing you want to burn and put on a disc as a message perhaps. Here, a taste of the song:
- If you want something to play with
Go and find yourself a toy
Baby my time is too expensive
And Im not a little boy
If you are serious
Don’t play with my heart
It makes me furious
But if you want me to love you
Then baby I will, girl you know that I will
"3:00 A.M" by Tabitha’s Secret: I hadn’t listened to this in ages when it made my playlist the other day, this and “Imonlyhappywhenitrains” by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which seem like natural back-to-back songs. “3:00 A.M.” sounds to me as though it's about a girl who sounds sweet, but perhaps is down as hell: “It’s 3:00 a.m. I must be lonely… but I can’t help be scared of it all sometimes…” I haven’t heard this song in ages, but this grows on you.
The first line, “She says it’s cold outside and she hands me a raincoat…” rings true; as in creating a work of fiction, the lyricist here sets a scene and helps create a sympathetic character, which many songwriters do not do well or even take the time to do. He succeeds well, because the character becomes someone we care about and so we follow the song and the lyrics to hear about this girl who is “scared of it all sometimes…” Worth a shot. The rest of the album I can’t say I care for, and maybe they are a one-hit wonder since I didn’t really care for much else, but this song – this one hits the note. A short story in a song.
- she say it’s cold outside and she hands me my raincoat
she’s always worried about things like that
she says it’s all gonna end and it might as well be my fault
and she only sleeps when it’s raining
and she screams and her voice is straining
she says baby
it’s 3 am I must be lonely
when she says baby
well I can’t help but be scared of it all sometimes
says the rain’s gonna wash away I believe it
she’s got a little bit of something, God it’s better than nothing
and in her color portrait world she believes that she’s got it all
she swears the moon don’t hang quite as high as it used to
and she only sleeps when it’s raining
and she screams and her voice is straining
she believes that life is made up of all that you’re used to
and the clock on the wall has been stuck at three for days, and days
she thinks that happiness is a mat that sits on her doorway
but outside it’s stopped raining
"The Sign" by The Ace of Base: I really should hate this song, since it doesn’t jibe with the rest of my musical taste so much and is almost too poppy for me, but it’s a ‘sticky’ song. I know too many people who hate it – likely because it was over-played (which I cannot disagree with), but we all like the message inherent in the same way that many of us liked Alanis Morrisette and her song “You Oughta Know” (or almost any other cut on Bitter Little Pill) in that we could relate, either at that moment or at some point in the past.
"The Sign" is just one of those songs that tapped into the collective experience of being screwed over so no matter that it was set to this upbeat, poppy tune, we all understood the lyrics well-enough and sang along happily about being screwed over. This won’t stay on the Playlist long because I can only stand it in small doses, but it’s fun for a while.
"I Will Survive" covered by Cake: Sure, Gloria Gaynor did a great version of this and it was fun at the time, but it really needed to be brought forward to the Now for it to really have any staying power. Cake did an excellent job of covering this song, which could not have been an easy cover. Here, it’s the pacing that is everything and a few extra words thrown in here and there. Note that the song here is not so much sung as it is spoken in a sarcastic, somewhat angry (but more pissy) tone of voice and one that says, as does Gaynor’s “I ain’t takin’ no more shit” which is great… but this line “I should’ve changed my fuckin’ lock, I should’ve made you leave your key…”
I know, the language should not make a difference and maybe we are supposed to like the clean version but I have to tell you, that the addition of the word “fuckin’” actually does make a difference and makes the song more believable. Here, as in Gaynor’s, the song is sung proudly, this guy (in this rendition) will not be knocked down and he will no longer be tolerating any crap as he obviously was before. Again, the best things in this version are the timing, pacing, and a few words peppered here and there that make all the difference. You really need to hear him sing/say “Oh no go walk out the door…” It’s one of the most sarcastic and successful covers I have ever heard. While you’re at it, listen to “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” on the same album.
"Baby, I Love Your Way" by Peter Frampton: Still holds up after all this time. I think the live version is best. (Or is it that I’ve only heard this one? Now I can’t recall; in any event, this is the version I have on my playlist.) It’s the song everyone wants to hear from their lover, with lyrics that seem to count, the sort of thing you hope that your new boyfriend or girlfriend puts on a CD for you if they make one at all. Peter Frampton I’ve always liked anyway, but this song in particular is one that resonates. Perhaps an obvious choice, but it’s what is on my playlist. I cannot tell a lie. To note, it would be remiss to mention Frampton without noting that I also have on my current playlist “I’m in You,” which is running parallel to “Baby, I Love Your Way.” The song for The List could have been either one, so feel free: “Baby, I Love Your Way” or “I’m in You.”
"Rich Girl" by Hall and Oates: Hard to believe I haven’t had this on my playlist up until recently. Rather a classic, and I rather think everyone knows this song, though I’m probably wrong about this. Hall and Oates had a sound that was uniquely of the time (the seventies and early eighties). This and “Sara Smile” were the two that stuck most in my head.
What I always found funny about “Rich Girl” is how many rich girls that I knew who used to sing this song as if it were some sort of tribute or good thing. I wondered what part of the lyrics they had missed. It doesn’t sound particularly complimentary to me, but then, maybe they just liked the idea of being a rich bitch. Not being a rich bitch myself (maybe the bitch part, but not the rich), I never felt the song was about me. Sure, I could point to any number of people that it could be about, but I was always puzzled as to why they would a) like the song as it would apply to them and b) how they could not recognize that the song is perhaps not so complimentary at the end of the day.
The true test of a song’s success is how well it holds up through time. Like a book, the question we ask of any song (as I asked of any book as a publisher) is will it be as relevant twenty years from now as it is today? "Rich Girl" does hold up. It may have a sound of the time, but it holds up regardless. “Sara Smile,” while a sweet song, and another song I wouldn’t mind hearing on a compilation CD made for me, sounds more of its time. “Rich Girl” less so in that it is more timeless, and therein lies the song’s success.
- You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far
cause you know it don’t matter anyway
You can rely on the old mans money
You can rely on the old mans money
It's a bitch girl but its gone too far
cause you know it don’t matter anyway
Say money but it wont get you too far,
Get you too far
And don’t you know, don’t you know
That its wrong to take what is given you
So far gone, on your own
You can get along if you try to be strong
But you’ll never be strong
Is this complimentary? What am I missing here? Well, if it makes you happy to sing along as you cruise in your Mercedes well hey, who am I to say not to?
More, what’s wrong with being rich? Not a thing, baby, but I’m not sure I’d want to be the subject of this song, being saved by my daddy’s money and hurting others because I can’t feel any pain and am utterly lacking in empathy. Frankly, she does sound like a rich bitch and a soul dead one at that. Again, why you’d want this to apply to you at all still puzzles me. Sort of like why anybody would want to be the subject of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” Why, oh why would you want that song to be written about you? Even if she did take the time to do it – which I suppose you could say, “Well, she thought about me enough to do that,” it still makes the subject out to be a pretty ugly person. Most say it’s Warren Beatty – I have no idea. All I know is that I don’t want to meet this guy, or I have met guys like this guy and said ciao, baby, have a great life, go to hell and this time stay there, as soon as I could.
"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order: Ages since I really broke out the New Order and I’m so glad that I did. "Bizarre Love Triangle" still has some of the lyrics that I like best of any New Order song (well, this and “Blue Monday” which I think is among their best). As a poet, a critic, and general non-fiction writer, I think that "Bizarre Love Triangle" could easily hold up as a poem, not only for the general theme but for the lyrics and the vivid imagery in the lyrics. The refrain is especially good: “Every time I see you falling…” and “… You say the words that I can’t say…” Yes, how easily we get lost in our aphasias when it comes to matters of the heart.
But it’s more than simple aphasia – our loss of language that leaves us tongue-tied – it’s that perhaps we know that we ought not to be feeling what we are feeling, so then we wait for the other person to say it first. If they say it first, then we’re sort of off the hook. If you’re shy (and I am) then this is a very relatable song – you may have felt “shot right through with a bolt of blue” when thinking of ____ (fill in name here), but no matter all of your own feelings, maybe the situation, as it does here, leaves you confused (“everyday my confusion grows.”) If you haven’t broken out the New Order in a while, it may well be time. I was also listening to Joy Division (and thinking of Ian Curtis the other day, as I prepare to interview D.A. Pennebaker, who shot some footage of Curtis while he performed), bu I digress. Back to “Bizarre Love Triangle:” I do see a poem here – much more so than most songs. It’s vivid and it says, somewhat ironically, all the “words that I can’t say.”
- Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
Its no problem of mine
But its a problem I find
Living a life that I cant leave behind
But there’s no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool wont set you free
But that’s the way that it goes
And its what nobody knows
Well every day my confusion grows
Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You say the words that I cant say
"Centerfold" by the J. Geils Band: This I had not heard in yonks, so it was about time to go back to this (this and Duran Duran sort of go hand-in-hand for some reason on my playlist, along with Echo and the Bunnymen, which is also there right now, but we’ll get to that next time). Nothing profound going on here, but a helluva lot of fun. “My blood runs cold…” The song belongs back in junior high school and in the realm of all things teenage boy-like but that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally take a trip back in time and have fun. It’s sort of like listening to The Tubes every once in a while. You just need to do it to remind yourself that once you were a goofy teenager. This, along with other songs (like songs by The Tubes for example and Duran Duran) used to be blasted at rides at the end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland where I used to go with my brother. What I remember most is going on these really fast rides that went in circles (sort of wavy circles with these bench-like seats into which you were strapped). The ride would just spin really, really fast over the wavy circumference first forward, until the guy in the booth (in the middle, the same guy who was spinning the music, like “Centerfold”) would say, usually in a sort of Maryland semi-Southern accent, “Do you wanna gewwww fasssterrrrr…..” I remember how he pronounced the “go;” not “go” but “gewwww.” Does anybody else have this experience or is this unique to my world? Surely I can’t be the only one to experience such boardwalk rides and music, no?
"It’s All Over Now Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan: The best version I have ever heard of this is the live version from 1966 from The Royal Albert Hall. It’s by far the most sincere version I have ever heard and it cuts right to the bone.
Of course, "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue" is by no means an “easy” song. I was surprised when a close friend, a real Dylanologist like me, said that he didn’t like the song. It was, he said, “too heavy.” Sure, but do we only like the ‘light’ Dylan? Should we just also forget about “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”)? Or what about “Shelter from the Storm?”
If all you want is Dylan lite, then I think you’re missing the best of Dylan. That’s my opinion. “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” is one of the best songs Dylan ever wrote, in my view. Less obvious than “Like a Rolling Stone” (another song that if you dig deeper than the surface interpretation, is also at least in part self-referential), “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” is, yes, about the end of a relationship (likely his relationship with Joan Baez at that time), but more than this, Dylan is talking mostly to himself (“the vagabond who’s rapping at your door, is standing in the clothes that you once wore…”).
As for Baez and Dylan’s relationship with her, it’s easy to see how she could easily be considered by him as one of those “stepping stones” he speaks of here (though no doubt, not the only stepping stone by any stretch. Dylan did whatever he had to do to get to that point, and I’m not judging him for that. It’s just a simple fact.) Dylan knew damn well what he was doing by hooking up with Baez, which is not to say that he didn’t like her – because I’m sure he genuinely did, but she also played a very instrumental role in making him famous by taking him under her wing and letting him share her stage and in doing so, her fan base, who immediately took to Dylan as another “folk singer.”
But what was Dylan mourning the end of in “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue?” Yes, as I said, on the surface, no doubt this relationship, but in a much more profound sense, his leaving behind a large chunk of his musical career thus far and his (still young) life as he segued from the ‘folk’ singer he had been (a role he gladly played, so long as it helped him move up) and was now moving or had moved into his harder and leaner electric era with the backing of The Band – the fact of which many of his more folkie fans didn’t like. It was the '66 tour, after all, that saw Dylan make the biggest change of all. (See the film Eat the Document for more on this because it’s interesting to see the reaction of even the biggest Dylan fans at the time).
Watch Don’t Look Back and Eat the Document (the two excellent Dylan documentaries) back-to-back and you’ll see what a difference a year makes. It was the ’66 tour that for the first half of the set, Dylan played his usual and expected acoustic self, and in the second half, came back onstage with The Band and was suddenly plugged in. He was, as one fan let him know, “Judas!” – a traitor to the folk movement – but Dylan had never claimed to be a part of it. Had he used it as a “stepping stone?” No doubt – but Dylan never did like labels and besides this, just when you think you have him pegged, he changes and morphs. He did then and he still does.
As for my friend who doesn’t care for this song – or many others that are perhaps “too heavy” I believe was what he said – I’m still rather speechless. Yes, sure, I think “One More Weekend” is a great song. I think “Oh, Sister” is a great song, but do I think any of them pack the emotional wallop of this? Not in a million years.
- You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.
The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered from coincidence.
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.
*Note, anything you feel you need a quick listen to, this as ever can be arranged. Simply note so in the comments and I'll redirect you to Tant Mieux where you can take a listen, though of most of these are on Amazon.
Thanks for listening.