Music postsMonday June 18, 2012
Dreaming of Paul McCartney, 70
Paul McCartney is now six years older than that impossibly old, “Will you still need me/Will you still feed me” age he envisioned in his 20s. He dyes his hair. He's still a Pollyanna (Paulie-anna?), and thus slightly annoying, and was so even before he began showing up at Yankee Stadium wearing a Yankees cap and unknowingly rooting for the baseball equivalent of the Blue Meanies. He began to seem daft in his 30s, half a lifetime ago, as if all that head-wobbling and pot smoking in his Beatles/Wings days had addled his brain. He's 70 now and you want a bit of John's edge on him. You want to see a little curmudgeon on him. He's entitled. Instead he's titled.
For a time, he was my favorite Beatle. Maybe my favorite person. I could neither sing nor play the guitar (nor bass, nor drums, or drooms, or Jew's harp), but I still wanted to be him. I tried to droop my eyes like his. I wanted his overbite. I bopped my head around during Christmas carols at Mt. Olivet Church. I remember a girl telling me once I looked like him and I fell on the floor in gratitude, ruining any shot I had with her. It was just another day.
I'm sure this informs some part of the dream I had back in 2002. It was right before my friend Joan and I traveled to Europe to bum around and see the sights for a month. It was my first trip to Europe. England wasn't on the schedule:
I'm on the plane to Europe, which is just taking off, when I suddenly realize I don't have anything: no ticket, no passport; it's all back at my apartment. Apparently I left for the airport right from work. All I have is a small bag with me. My seat companion (not Joan) suggests telling the pilot so we can turn the plane around but I don't want to be a bother.
The flight attendants are passing out “Splodes”: lycra-like shirts with numbers on them, sort of like bike racing jerseys. I'm no. 15. Eventually I figure out that splodes are used in case the plane explodes mid-air; it makes it easier to identify our bodies.
I've made it into Europe. I'm doing a Godfather imitation to the amusement of some girl at an outdoor fair, but I'm still worried about the return voyage. Will I be let back into America without a passport? Someone overhears me and tells me it's easy to get back into America — as long as you have money. At this point I become an amalgam of myself and Paul McCartney and I think “It's not a problem then.”
Happy Birthday, Paul. Thanks for the songs. This one was always a favorite:
Prince Something Something
Two days ago I stood in line in that alcove around the corner from the SIFF Uptown theater that serves as both shelter and bathroom for some of the area's homeless, waiting to get into “Under African Skies,” a documentary about Paul Simon's “Graceland” album. (Review up tomorrow.) The two people immediately behind me were young folks, 20s, and had a mess of recently purchased CDs with them. Is buying CDs in the MP3 age the hipster thing to do? I wondered.
One of the CDs was Prince's “Purple Rain,” and the two, male and female (like Prince himself), talked about him in halting fashion. They knew him, knew he was good, but that was about it. I got the feeling they were discovering him.
“You know Prince is his real name?” the boy said. “It's Prince Something Something.”
“Rogers Nelson,” I said, butting in. I thought of the old Bryant Junior High School yearbook photo of Prince on the basketball team. Basketball's loss, music's gain.
The girl had seen “Purple Rain” and talked about having gone to Lake Minnetonka, which, she said, factors in the movie. She tried to explain the scene: How Prince takes this girl on his motorcyle to Lake Minnetonka and she jumps in.
“He tells her she has to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka,” I said, butting in again, “so she strips and jumps in. But as she's jumping in, he says, 'That's not ... (splash) ... Lake Minnetonka.' It's a good bit.” To both: “It's a good movie.”
I know. Pain in the ass. I should have offered spoiler alerts.
Then I began to backdate. “Purple Rain” was nearly 30 years old. “Purple Rain” was as distant to these kids as “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” was to me at their age.
Walking into the theater, the girl complimented me on my Prince knowledge. She thought it amazing to find someone who knew so much about him.
“I was 20 when 'Purple Rain' came out,” I said. “We all knew it.”
Lyrics of the Day
Out above the rooftops
The moon is holding sway
A narrow eye low in the sky
Knowing what I'm knowing
I have left the table now
And this is just to say
Every song I've ever sung
Has been a song for going
--Joe Henry, from the song “Room at Arles,” from the album “Reverie”
Vincent Van Gogh, “Bedroom at Arles,” 1888
The Saddest Dusk I've Ever Seen: R.I.P. R.E.M.
This morning on Facebook I added my two cents to a thread started by Candice Michelle Dyer of Georgia. She asked: “What do you think is the saddest song in the world?” and offered “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones and “Waiting Up with Johnny” by Cabbagetown's Joyce Brookshire before letting us all loose. The thread currently has 103 responses, including Irma Thomas' “It's Raining,” Billie Holiday's “Strange Fruit,” Bob Dylan's “I Threw It All Away,” and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
Somewhere in there is my answer: “Half a World Away” by R.E.M.
It was from their “Out of Time” album, which was released in 1991, just as the relationship that defined my twenties was ending and I was hurting. I was hurting so much I didn't want to be in the same hemisphere with her, so I returned to Taipei, Taiwan, where I'd lived in 1987-88, and taught, wrote, and swallowed more pollution. And listened to that R.E.M. album. Half a world away.
“Half a World Away” is kind of a cheat, isn't it, for saddest song, since it begins by talking about the saddest dusk:
This could be the saddest dusk
I've ever seen
Turn to the miracle of life
My mind is racing
As it always will
My hand is tired, my heart aches
Half a world away
At the same time what makes it truly sad is Michael Stipe's voice. Something about it, in my younger, more sensitive days, would make tears well up in my eyes.
Tears aren't welling up in my eyes this afternoon but I am sad for the news, heard a few hours after posting my answer to Candice's FB page, that R.E.M. is calling it quits after more than 30 years.
Here's the statement Michael Stipe posted to the band's website:
“A wise man once said, ‘The skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it. I hope our fans realize it wasn’t an easy decision, but all things must end.”
But I'm not sad for them—they had a great run, and made great music—nor for me, since I still have what they made and I assume each member will continue to make music in whatever form he desires. I'm just sad that it's been more than 30 years, and that that time is gone, and this is where we are now. That that could end. Something so central. So. central.
R.E.M. helped me get through the period when the other central thing ended, so I could be here, feeling only slightly sad, as the news hit. My mind is racing.
Lyrics of the Day
Hey Little Hypocrite
What you gonna say
When you wind up standin' naked
On the final Judgement Day
How you gonna justify it
Who you gonna call
What if it turns out that
God don't look like you at all
--“Little Emperor” by Steve Earle, from the album “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive”