Music postsThursday July 13, 2017
Trump Protest Songs: Elvis Costello's 'Sunday's Best' (1979)
It's from 1979 but ain't exactly dated. It begins this way:
Times are tough for English babies
Send the army and the navy
Beat up strangers who talk funny
Take their greasy foreign money
And it ends this way:
Put them all in boots and khaki
Blame it all upon the darkies
Dear 'Dear Evan Hansen'
I first heard about the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” from my hairdresser Todd, who returned from a trip to NYC a few months ago raving about it above all other Broadway musicals he'd seen there—including, believe it or not, “Hamilton.” Then he began posting videos from the show on social media. Then “Dear Evan” won the Tony for best musical and for Ben Platt, its young lead.
Here's Platt singing “Waving Through a Window” on “Late Night”:
This is how it begins:
I've learned to slam on the brakes
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistakes
Before I lead with the worst of me
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say
I totally identify. It feels like an update of Thoreau's “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It reminds me of this line from a “Mad Men” episode a few years back that hit home:
“I have been watching my life. It's right there. I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it.”
It's a lesson most of us have to keep relearning, apparently.
Quote of the Day
“I come from a time when you spent time with records like they were books. So it was very much a journey with the music-maker. It remains that today. Trying to represent for that story as well as how it resonates with you, that's the unexplainable, because it's mysterious. A single musical note presents a lot of mystery.
”When you're left with words to try and get at that, it is kind of unexplainable, but you try. That's the fun of it. That's the inspiring part of it. I'm trying to explain, as much as I can, why this matters to me.
“That's with every piece, though, whether it's about music or not. You start out a column and you're trying to tell the reader, ”This matters to me, and I'm going to tell you why.“ That's just very basic. But with music you're diving into something that's pretty bottomless. It's explainable, but it could be a whole other explanation the next day.”
-- Jim Walsh, “Explaining the Unexplainable: With two new books out, Jim Walsh reflects on his career in journalism,” a Q&A with Dylan Thomas, in Southwest Journal. Check out Jim's memories of interviewing Prince in the 1990s.
A Cold and Broken Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen and the 2016 Election
Having one of the great songwriters of our time die within two days of the election of Donald J. Trump was like the rancid cherry on top of the shit sundae that is this awful, awful year. So SNL's decision last night to “cold open” with Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” was inspired. Particularly when she sang this verse:
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
I really love that third line as it relates to the election. I love the implication in it—that someone did come to fool us. And got away with it. And is still getting away with it.
A lot of Cohen had been bandied about on social media in the wake of his death and the aftermath of the 2016 election. How could it not? “Cohen's songs are death-haunted,” David Remnick wrote in his great profile of Cohen in The New Yorker last month, and this week, even before Cohen's death, many of us felt death-haunted.
On Thursday, my friend Jamie (and later, separately, my friend Jim) posted these lyrics, nothing else, no other commentary, from Cohen's “Everybody Knows”:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
To Jamie I wrote, “I see your 'Everybody Knows' and raise you 'The Future'”—another great Cohen song that feels less resigned, more apocalyptic, which is how I'm feeling at that moment:
There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms, there'll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing
You'll see your woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets coming 'round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson
Yeah, and the white man dancing
At last, we know who the white man dancing is.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
It's must've been 1997. I was living in the upper Fremont neighborhood of Seattle with a girl named Brenda, working in the bookstore warehouse at University Book Store, and trying to make a living writing.
One night, I don't know why, maybe because she was an art history major, we rented the 1996 film “Basquiat,” starring Jeffrey Wright, and directed by Julian Schnabel, both of whom would soon become favorites. The movie? Meh. Great soundtrack, though—Schnabel's soundtracks are always great—and over the closing credits they played a song that began:
I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this: The fourth, the fifthThe minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing HallelujahHallelujah
By this point, Brenda had gone down the hallway, done with the movie, but I stayed and listened to that song. I was kind of stunned by how good it was. The movie was on VHS, so I rewound the tape and listened to it again. And again. And again. I think I listened to it 10 times. I checked the credits for who sang it. The next day at work I was excitedly telling everyone about it.
“It's this song called 'Hallelujah' by John Cale,” I said.
The beauty of working at a book store, or any similar place, is that you're surrounded by people who care about art, literature, music. They were would-bes like myself. And there was a guy there, Jeff V., a would-be musician, who shook his head at me.
“Cale has a version, yeah, but that's Leonard Cohen.”
Later that day we walked down to the music section at University Book Store and he showed me some of Cohen's music. He recommended some CDs. (This is how it used to work, kids.) I bought “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” and “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” and I was off and running. He was my constant companion. I remember cleaning the apartment one day while listening to “Various Positions,” and “Night Comes On” came on, and something about the turn in the melody, and the images of the lyrics, stopped me, stunned me, and tears began to well up in my eyes. This part:
But my son and my daughter
Climbed out of the water
Crying, Papa, you promised to play
That simple but that complex. I kept going back to “Joan of Arc” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” from “Songs of Love and Hate.” They sounded like the resigned sadness of the world; they sounded more mature, more wise, than I would ever be. Most of his songs did. Cohen was with me whenever I received a rejection notice from a magazine or newspaper or journal, which was often, because I always thought this:
And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty
Your vision is right, my vision is wrong
I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song
I recall going to the Edina Theater in Minneapolis 10 years later to watch the documentary/concert film “Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man,” and hearing all of these great interpretations of his songs by Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, Anthony. By this point, I knew most of his work, but one song was new to me—sung by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. They actually bugged me a little, to be honest. Too tremulous; they overwhelmed the song with their own emotion. But then they got to the chorus and I heard these words for the first time:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
I sat upright in that nearly empty theater, thunderstruck. I looked around. Did anyone else hear that? Shouldn't we all be shouting for joy? That a human being could write that? That sentiment?
If you haven't read David Remnick's profile of Cohen, “Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker,” which was in the Oct. 17 issue of The New Yorker, just a month ago, do so now. It's one of the best profiles I've ever read.
He's gone now, in this most horrible week of this most horrible year, but what a gift he left us. What gifts. So long, Leonard.
Sincerely, E. Lundegaard