Music posts

Saturday December 09, 2017

'Man Shot, 1 West 72'

I should've posted this yesterday, on the ... which was it ... 37th anniversary. Almost as many years as he spent on Earth.

NY Daily News on the day John Lennon was killedWhat an inspired way to write the column, telling of the lives of the cops who picked up the body and brought it Roosevelt Hospital in New York. Part of it is brutal reading: another body, but not another body, in the violent country he desperately wanted to live in, on the cusp of our most violent year. He didn't even get an ambulance? Just cops picking him up and carrying him into the backseat of their patrol car? And still alive. And still aware. “Are you John Lennon?” A nod and a groan. The intersection of these cops' lives with the man they brought in. And that brilliant last line that feels more relevant than ever:

And Jim Moran and Tony Palma, older now, cops in a world with no fun, stood in the emergency room as John Lennon, whose music they knew, whose music was known everywhere on earth, became another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.

Rest in peace, John. Rest in peace, Jimmy Breslin, 52 when he wrote this, 88 when he died earlier this year. 

Posted at 09:13 AM on Saturday December 09, 2017 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Thursday 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

Add it to the list. Crazy what you could‘ve had. Crazy what you could’ve had.

Posted at 11:11 AM on Thursday July 13, 2017 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Tuesday June 27, 2017

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.

You can hear Platt singing “Waving Through a Window” here.

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.

Posted at 07:03 AM on Tuesday June 27, 2017 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Tuesday March 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

Jim Walsh

“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.

Posted at 05:50 PM on Tuesday March 21, 2017 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 13, 2016

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

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
Everybody knows

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. 

Posted at 09:24 AM on Sunday November 13, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Friday November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Leonard Cohen

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 fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
 
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

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

Posted at 07:31 AM on Friday November 11, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

 Bob Dylan

Well, that was unexpected. 

It was the final story of NPR's top-of-the-hour news report as I shaved and showered this morning, but it would've been my lede. Because, c'mon. Has any songwriter ever won this? American songwriter? Minnesota songwriter?

And deserved. Wholly deserved.

About a decade ago, I was in an online discussion with a group of friends, some very smart people, including screenwriters and songwriters, and we were parsing the good and bad of a song when one guy, probably the smartest in the group, wrote something like, “Dylan would never do anything like that.” I wrote back, “No Dylan comparisons. Unfair. It's another plane.”

I mentioned that story in another post in which I listed off some favorite Dylan lyrics but I hardly scratched the surface of those songs. Listening to him this morning in celebration, the early '60s song “With God On Our Side,” about the wars we conduct in God's name, came on; and I got to this verse, which stunned me all over again:

Through many a dark hour
I've been thinking about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
Now I can't think for ya
You'll have to decide
Whether Judias Iscariot
Had God on his side

But it's almost any Dylan song, really. If you listen to it, you'll find it: brilliance. 

In Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, “No Direction Home,” you get a real sense of what a conduit to genius he became at such a young age; how it flowed out of him; how he tapped into something bigger than himself. Scorsese's doc is one of the best arguments for the collective unconscious I've come across.

It's also one of the best arguments for a true artistic life. Dylan kept ramblin', and folks who celebrated ramblin' in folk songs didn't want it in their heroes; they wanted him to stay put. He betrayed folkies with rock 'n' roll, then betrayed rockers with country, then betrayed youth with breakup and middle age. He had the nerve to find religion. And at every stage he kept producing great music. His loyalty was to that. 

Posted at 06:36 AM on Thursday October 13, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 12, 2016

My Name is Erik and I'm a Hamilariac

The goal of a young Woody Allen, I remember reading 30 years ago, was to make his audience laugh so hard that they would beg the projectionist to stop the film so they could catch a breath.

I wonder if Lin-Manuel Miranda's “Hamilton” hasn't done something similar with the dramatic musical. It's so good, so addictive, it takes over lives. 

My name is Erik and it's been 8 hours and 49 minutes since I last listened to “My Shot”...

Tonys tonight. I'll be singing along. 

Posted at 01:51 PM on Sunday June 12, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Friday June 03, 2016

Paul Simon's ‘Cool Papa Bell’

Paul Simon is singing about baseball players again.

I‘ve been listening to this song since early May. How could I not? It’s one of my guys singing about one of my guys:

The chorus gets in your head (“Well well well/And Cool Papa Bell”), but I particularly like the lyrics in the middle verse, where Simon does a little dive into the word “Motherfucker,” which he calls an ugly word, then adds:

Ugly got a case to make
It's not like every rodent gets a birthday cake
No, it's “You‘re a chipmunk, how cute is that?
But you, you motherfucker, are a filthy rat.”

I’ve made that argument to Patricia before. It's all in the tail. And I guess the Plague. 

The rest of the album is mixed but not bad for 75. Here's a little more on the title character

Posted at 08:33 AM on Friday June 03, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Tuesday April 26, 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016)

Prince Rogers Nelson: 1958-2016

The extent to which Prince and I grew up in the same city (Minneapolis), but didn’t (north/south, black/white), is reflected in how I first came across him: on the cover of a national music magazine touting “The Minneapolis Sound” while visiting family and friends on the east coast in, I believe, the summer of 1981. I was vaguely insulted by the headline. I was dismissive. “I’m from Minneapolis. How do I not know the Minneapolis sound?” But I didn’t. Or I didn’t know that Minneapolis sound. It’s this kind of dichotomy—north/side, black/white—that Prince spent his life bridging.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, another fellow Minnesotan, once wrote the following:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Prince held two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retained the ability to funk. He was black/white, male/female, gay/straight, lustful/spiritual. He sang of dichotomies: “Girls & Boys,” “Elephants & Flowers.” He played with the opposites. He named a bouncy ditty “Jack U Off,” and a pair of beautiful love ballads “Do Me, Baby” and “Damn U.” He kept imagining places where we could be whole. Just take Alphabet St. across Graffiti Bridge and wind up at Paisley Park.

First Avenue is the downtown Minneapolis venue where much of “Purple Rain” was filmed, and in the movie Prince imagined it a lot more integrated, and a lot more stylish, than it actually was. I know because I used to go there all the time. Flash? Glam? Sexy? I didn’t even have a raspberry beret.

To be honest, I thought he was a weirdo. That pullout poster from “Controversy”? Showering, with the water dripping off his thong? What was he doing? The inside art for “1999” in his small neon bedroom, playing with watercolors, with the sheet pulled back enough to reveal his naked ass? But he became a soundtrack of my life. I wore out the first disc to “1999” and only ventured to the second when a friend told me she’d dealt with the suicide of her friend by listening to “Free” over and over again. I was at a pool party when one of our sexiest friends came up to me in the shallow end, flirting, and lip-syncing to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” I actually picked up a girl—or she picked up me—after we danced to “Erotic City” on the First Avenue dance floor.

In truth I needed more of what he was preaching. I was too uptight, too worried about what other people thought. I played the safe, dishonest middle. He went long on honesty, sexuality, spirituality. He loved God, wished u heaven, but girl you got an ass like he’d never seen. The opening of “D.M.S.R.” should be tattooed on all of us:

Everybody
Get on the floor
What the hell’d you come here for?

In the winter of ’83/’84, I remember standing on the second level at First Ave, watching people on the first level dance, and someone walked up next to me and did the same. I looked over and froze. Prince. Six months later, with “Purple Rain,” he was everywhere.

For some reason, when I first heard “When Doves Cry,” I thought it was older Prince. The same with “Kiss” two years later. Both seemed familiar and a jolt at the same time. “Purple Rain,” the movie, astonished me by ousting “Ghostbusters’ for the No. 1 slot at the box office; it wound up grossing the equivalent of $174 million today. It was the 11th biggest hit of the year and it made Roger Ebert’s top 10 movies of 1984, but it’s got its faults. The glaring one is the notion that the Kid is too selfish, that “the only one who digs your music is yourself,” and that he’s only able to become successful when he collaborates with Wendy and Lisa on “Purple Rain.” Pardon me, but what song does he open with? Right, “Let’s Go Crazy.” That’s the music no one digs but himself? One of the greatest, balls out, rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written? Not to mention a beautiful opening sermon. In the ‘90s, I got a rejection notice from a small journal about some crap story I’d written so I sent it to someone bigger, I believe The New Yorker, and in the cover letter quoted Prince:

If the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy
Punch a higher floor

Another sentiment to tattoo on all of us.

If I was surprised by the success of “Purple Rain” I was more surprised by the relative quiet that greeted “Around the World in a Day.” I remember hearing “Raspberry Beret” blaring from a convertible in Dinkytown on a warm spring ’85 day, and I thought, “This will be huge.” It wasn’t, quite. He kept disappearing. Didn’t he announce he was retiring or something to look for the ladder? Instead, he directed and starred in “Under the Cherry Moon.” Oops. I loved “Sign O’ the Times” and “LoveSexy” (“Alphabet St.” is another song that hit me immediately), ignored the “Batman” stuff, stayed with him through “Graffiti Bridge,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and the “Love Symbol” album. I kept expecting another resurgence, a popular breakthrough. Instead, the glyph jokes, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince jokes. But whenever the discussion came up, I laid down my three musical geniuses in the rock era: Beatles, Dylan, Prince.

I first saw Prince in concert during the “Purple Rain” tour in '84 and the last during “Musicology” in '04. I went with Patricia and about half a dozen of her co-workers—all women, of course. This is a bit late, guys, but a Prince concert was the best pick-up joint in the world. The ratio was something like 12-1, and the 12 were going crazy. It was Erotic City.

Last week, when I heard the news, I was on vacation in Utah, of all places, and was surprised by how much it hurt, and was surprised again by how much it hurt everyone. The world turned purple in mourning and celebration. It cried and partied like it was 1999. I so wanted to be in Minneapolis that day, and the days that followed, but social media helped me for once. My friend Adam in particular kept posting and posting and posting. All of us shared stories, memories, links, and songs. We tried to talk ourselves through it. We tried to put the right letters together and make a better day.

Rest in peace, you sexy motherfucker. 

Prince star at First Avenue, Minneapolis

Posted at 11:24 AM on Tuesday April 26, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Sunday March 13, 2016

Hamilton: 'A Gateway to Obsession'

Hamilton oops

Mea kinda culpa.

Today's New York Times Magazine has a piece on “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going,” which, yeah, sounds a little pretentious, maybe a little desperate, and it doesn't help that they begin with Justin Bieber. The Times telling you where music is going is like your dad telling you. But I‘ll probably check out some of the songs since I’m nearly granddad's age these days. 

But I do know No. 2 on the list, “Say No to This,” from the Hamilton cast album, since I‘ve been listening to that regularly since January 20. Patricia, in fact, laughed out loud when I read her the following this morning since it’s so exactly me:

Back on Earth, there's the cast album: a 46-number souvenir for an experience most of us won't be experiencing. At less than $20 on iTunes, however, where it has been in and out of the Top 10 for months, this is a more-than-adequate substitute for the budget-conscious. It's a gateway to obsession. To know someone who has this album is to know someone who needs a restraining order.

I spread my arms wide. “I am legion,” I told her. 

The writer for No. 2, Wesley Morris, adds that the album has so many great songs, never great song, but he chose this one because it's the one he's listening to now. “Not only is this song funny,” he writes, “it's also kind of hot.” Yeah, I would lose that “kind of.” It's actually swirling-down sexy. The first time I listened to it I had to fan myself. It's a song that lets you know why Alexander Hamilton succumbs, and it does that. At the same time, I don't listen to it much, since, you know, it presages Alexander's political downfall. So I keep saying no to it. 

I probably would‘ve gone with the first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” or the showstopper, “The Room Where It Happens” (already a metaphor for the disenfranchised, which is most of us), or the one Lin-Manuel Miranda worked a year on, “My Shot,” which melds Hamilton and the colonies: “I’m just like my country/ I'm young scrappy and hungry/ And I'm not throwing away my shot.” It's tough to go wrong, really. The album is the best deal in town.

“You laugh! But it's true.” The beginning of “Hamilton,” back in 2009.

Posted at 10:13 AM on Sunday March 13, 2016 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 08, 2015

I Belieeeeeeeve! That One Day I‘ll See ’The Book of Mormon'

I'm obviously late to this party but I finally saw Andrew Rannells doing “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” on the Tony Awards in 2011. And wow:

Favorite parts/lines:

  • The lookaway he gives at “What's so scary bout that?”
  • The little nudge he gives the warlord on “...Jesus has his own planet as well.”
  • The testify dance at the end, where he's the only one testifying.
  • “And I belieeeve ... that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”
  • “And I belieeeve ... that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri!”

I also like that the clunkier beliefs are embedded in clunkier lines. And how joyous it still is. 

P and I have tried to see “Mormon” a bunch of times but it's always sold out. But I believe that someday we'll have our own planet. Um, tickets.

Posted at 05:25 AM on Thursday October 08, 2015 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 27, 2015

15 Songs for the Super Blood Moon

In honor of tonight's super blood moon (three, three, three lunar events in one), a sampling of moon songs from my iTunes roster. 

YEAR SONG ARTIST
1962 Moon River Audrey Hepburn
1970 Moondance Van Morrison
1971 Moonshadow Cat Stevens
1972 Pink Moon Nick Drake
1973 Grapefruit Moon Tom Waits
1988 Hawkmoon 269 U2
1989 Full Moon Full of Love k.d. lang
1991 Blue Moon Waltz Jimmie Day Gilmore
1992 Man on the Moon R.E.M.
1993 Crescent Moon Cowboy Junkies
1993 Why Look at the Moon The Waterboys
1995 Smog Moon Matthew Sweet
2000 Goodnight Moon Shivaree
2002 I Wish I Was the Moon Neko Case
2012 Dead Moon Calexico

It's not a bad list but I thought there would be, I don't know, more songs, I guess. It is the moon, after all. It's the ultimate romantic heavenly body. In China, they even have a holiday for it. 

The Shivaree song is really about wishing for the morning and fearing the night, but it's such a good song I had to include it.

Posted at 03:07 PM on Sunday September 27, 2015 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Friday September 04, 2015

Will I Wait a Lonely Lifetime? Um...

On the way home from a hike today (Snow Lake/Cascades), Patricia and I were listening to shuffle on the iPhone, and for some reason it was giving us a Beatles-heavy rotation, particularly The White Album, and including, eventually, Paul McCartney's lovely song “I Will”:

But these words stuck out for me in a way they hadn't before:

Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will

That's a bit much, isn't it? Or mooch? A lonely lifetime? Why would anyone want anyone who wants them to wait a lonely lifetime? Or even half a lonely lifetime? Or a couple of crappy months? That's like agreeing to wait for a sadist. 

It's lines like these that make the opening of the Rutles' “With a Girl Like You” so perfect:

Shoot me down in flames if I should tell a lie
Cross my heart I promise that it's true...

Paul had a tendency to overdo it. 

Posted at 05:20 PM on Friday September 04, 2015 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Saturday June 20, 2015

Only a Pawn in Their Game: Reprise

It's amazing how relevant it all still is. It shouldn't be. We‘ve had massive progress on many fronts, yet Bob Dylan’s words about the assassination of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., on June 12, 1963, still ring true for the racially motivated church killings in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015:

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don't complain.
You‘re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game

Reprise:

 One of the best first lines of any song, btw. 

Posted at 10:13 AM on Saturday June 20, 2015 in category Music   |   Permalink  
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