Music postsTuesday February 12, 2013
My State of the Union
Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the ageís most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, itís all right, itís all right
Itís all right, itís all right
You canít be forever blessed
Still, tomorrowís going to be another working day
And Iím trying to get some rest
Thatís all Iím trying to get some rest
-- Paul Simon, “American Tune,” 1973
I was dicking around YouTube last night and came across this clip of Paul Simon singing “American Tune” on the old “Dick Cavett Show” in September 1974--a month after Richard Nixon resigned, which was a few months after my parents separated. It's a melancholy song but I was feeling particularly melancholy last night so it really sunk in. Particularly that last stanza. Since the State of the Union is tonight, I thought I'd share.
A Song for Today: Our Song
The news is bad from Newtown, Conn., as we all know. I don't have words. But here's a song: “Our Song” by Joe Henry. This is the chorus, written near the end of the George W. Bush years:
This was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there
Though it started badly and it's ending wrong
This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it's my right if the worst of it might still
Somehow make me a better man
A lot of commentary about the tragedy in the usual places. Good. There should be commentary. There should be anger. There should be yelling. One of the better things I read came from a reader on Andrew Sullivan's site, who wrote:
Guns don't kill people - people do. By the same token, planes don't kill people - people flying them into buildings do. And yet, I recall that we immediately and decisively worked to keep deranged people from gaining possession of planes when a handful of those people used them as tools of mass murder; indeed, we made it much more difficult for the overwhelming majority of peaceful, law-abiding citizens to board a plane.
Maybe I'm missing something, but this strikes me as a good metaphor to get both sides talking. We're not interested in outlawing guns any more than we are in outlawing planes. We just have to make sure they don't keep winding up in the hands of nutjobs. Are you with us or against us?
Gun control advocates (including me) may be past that point, though. There's a lot of anger out there now. This feels like it may be a turning point in the debate: a moment so awful that the need to fucking do something already overwhelmed the general desire to shrug and move on and let the NRA have its way.
Let's hope. Let's hope this stops being our song.
Other Delights Besides Whipped Cream: Dolores Erickson & Soul Asylum
Remember the girl on the cover of the Herb Alpert album 'Whipped Cream & Other Delights'? The other delights? Of course you do.
Her name is Dolores Erickson, and she's 76 now, and lives in Longview, Wash., and she recently traveled to Seattle to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Golden Oldies record shop in Wallingford. The Seattle Times had the story a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, they cadge their best lines from The New Yorker, as many of us do. Worse, they: 1) don't mention the original author (Nick Paumgarten), 2) mess up the year it appeared (it's 2006, not 1996), and 3) don't provide a link to the original. Here's the Paumgarten quote in full:
It was a variation on a sentiment that decades ago fogged the minds of many young men, as they gazed at the album cover and attempted to ascribe personalized come-hitherhood to the woman staring back. In the picture, she sits holding the stem of a rose in her left hand, above which the inner portion of a bare breast protrudes from the foam. She is licking cream from the index finger of her right hand, and a dollop of the stuff rests atop her forehead, like a tiara. (This is the only real whipped cream in the shot. The rest is shaving cream.) The image still seems a little raunchy, in a home-movie kind of way, but in the virtually pornless atmosphere of the suburban mid-sixties it wasóand weíre relying on the testimony of our elders hereóthe pinnacle of allure. The Whipped Cream Girl, as she came to be known, helped make Alpert and his Tijuana Brass even more famous than his loungy arrangements, smooth trumpet work, and suave song production destined them to be. The album shot to No. 1 and stayed on the charts for more than three years. Alpert would say, when performing live, ďSorry, but I canít play the cover for you.Ē
Here's what all the fuss was about:
There have been many parodies of this album cover since, but the one I remember is the one Soul Asylum did in 1988, on their final EP for Twin-Tone Records, “Clam Dip & Other Delights,” before going national with A&M (Alpert's label). The cover featured bassist Karl Mueller similarly ensconsed in clam dip. Was Alpert not pleased? Did he sabotage their career as a result? I seem to remember hearing that. Not sure if it's true.
“Clam Dip,” I should add, includes one of my favorite Soul Asylum songs, “P-9,” an homage to the 1985 strike at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minn. I used to listen to it while schlepping at the University Book Store warehouse in the 1990s. Among its lines:
- “You gave me nothing/ Now you're taking it away”
- “If we could see eye to eye/ We could see just exactly who is small.”
- “Is it just a job I'm working for?”
Shit doesn't get old.
Here's the video, which is a little old:
Song of the Day: 'Civil War' by Joe Henry
Some fighters came and pitched a tent
And everyone around here went,
The fix was in but we bet and we swore
From both sides of a civil war
We build this up and we knock this down
We call our little mob a town
We nail a sign up above the door
“God bless our little civil war”
“God bless our little civil war”
--Joe Henry, “Civil War,” from the album “Civilians.”
And, no, it doesn't remind me much of my country at the present moment. Of course not. Not at all.
Song of the Day: 'You Can't Fail Me Now' by Joe Henry
It's amazing how many times you can hear a song without hearing it.
I'm a fan of Joe Henry's “You Can't Fail Me Now,” from his album “Civilians.” I think it's beautiful and haunting. According to my iTunes application, I've listened to it 68 times. But it wasn't until the other night, Wednesday night, in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, that this lyric finally sunk in:
We're taught to love the worst in us
And mercy more than life, but trust me:
Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow
Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow. Holy crap is that good. I don't know how true it is, but it makes me pause and consider and count up. To whom have I been merciful? Have I been in a position to be? And if so, how was I merciful? And what about after?
To be honest, I don't think I've been in a position to be merciful. That doesn't change my joy in the line.
The title and chorus can be interpretted different ways, of course: With hope or without. You can't fail me now because I'll love you no matter what; you can't fail me now because you always fail me, and I know it, so there's nothing to fail anymore. I tend to go with the latter interpretation. The song opens with a sense of stagnation and suffocation (“I know that fan is moving air”). Then there's the mercy line, which is basically saying: Let's not kid ourselves about ourselves. Or more directly: Mercy, my ass.
The video below is Joe singing the song a few years back in Amsterdam. I like the quiet rimshots during the intro.
Joe Henry is the Bob Dylan of his/my generation. Only a handful of people seem to know it.