Music postsMonday June 25, 2012
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.
Where the Hell is Matt? (2012)
I can't believe it's been four years. Matt's been busy. (Check out the last shot in particular.)
It's still a joy to see all the people from around the world dancing together. The one sour note is in Syria, where those dancing with Matt have their faces blurred out. A reminder that for all the dancing we can do together, there are those who prefer we not. I'm reminded of Emma Goldman's line that if she can't dance she doesn't want to be part of your revolution. I'm reminded of Terrence Malick's “Tree of Life” lines about Grace and Nature: “Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”
This is a video of love smiling through all things.
Favorites of the 2012 version? I like the silliness of Lesedi, the wow of Saudi Arabia, the moves busted in Hungary and Toulon, the valiant attempt to keep up in Port-au-Prince. The Indonesia movements are just exquisite. The whole thing is joyous.
It's the same message as in 2008 but always worth repeating. Travel. Dance. Be silly. Because love is smiling through all things.
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.”