My takes on the top five songs on Billboard (on July 17 2023)
Billboard Hot 100 screen cap (From https://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/)
#1 Vampire- Olivia Rodrigo
My goodness the bars on this one! Great rhymes. Outstanding voice. That rise in pitch and crescendo in the chorus-excellent. Feels raw, but sounds sleek.
I was a bit confused by the music video. She’s singing at an awards show, one of the lighting rigs breaks and hits her, then for some reason security comes up on the stage. Then she runs away from them on to the street until at some point she seems to be flying…huh? Is she a vampire now? Why was she running away? Why did security try to corral her in the first place? Maybe this is making reference to some real life drama I don’t know about or something. There are just a lot of open threads with the depicted narrative. I would like to see some kind of fan video where some dweeby looking vampire sells parts of her to a Dr. Frankenstein who puts her together and brings her to life, only for her to kill Frankenstein and put a stake in the heart of the vampire dweeb. But that’s just me.
#2 Last Night- Morgan Wallen
Not a fan of this one. Wallen’s voice is a bit nasally for me and the lyrics are repetitive. I do like some of the rhymes though.
This is a cover of Tracy Chapman’s song. I liked the Chapman version better, but this was a neat take on it. I was thinking maybe Combs would change the lyrics the first time I listened to it, but then he said he could get a job as a “check out girl,” which was a bit disconcerting. Combs’ voice is pleasant. Reminds me of a good whiskey.
#4 Calm Down- Rema & Selena Gomez
This one has been on the charts for awhile. It’s a good one. Even in the supermarket it makes me want to sway to the beat. Rema’s dialect and/or stylistic patois gives new life to the English of the lyrics allowing for some surprising rhymes reminiscent of reggae. As for Selena Gomez, I like the show she’s in with Steve Martin and Martin Short “Only Murders in the Building,” but I don’t really like her character in it. I haven’t seen any real reason to dislike SG, but I’m still not sure if she’s a raisin cookie or chocolate chip. At any rate, “Calm Down” is a great song. Singing it is probably not an effective means of ending an argument though.
#5 Flowers- Miley Cyrus
I have a new respect for Miley Cyrus since I saw her episode of Black Mirror. She did a great job in that show. This song is…okay. My main problem with it is the feeling of existential dread that creeps up on me as I listen to it. Because the premise of the song, that “I can buy myself flowers” while played as empowering also seems a little… petulant maybe? Not sure if that’s the best word. Unconvincing? And maybe a little scary? Sure you can by yourself flowers. Sure you might not need someone to do things for you. But I think it’s nice when they do. Isn’t it? Please don’t delete everybody, just because your boyfriend was awful, Miley.
Watching MC in her music video dancing and exercising all by herself, I first think holy crap she’s beautiful! And then I think. Oh, that seems lonely. And then I wonder what type of apocalypse took everybody. I’m a big fan of a different song about flowers and taking pleasure in solitude, “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” by the Statler Brothers. That song isn’t so much about not needing a specific person as it is just not needing to go out and party with people though. Perhaps “Counting Flowers on the Wall” is a celebration of introversion, while “Flowers” is more a depiction of introversion as a coping mechanism. Anyway, I’m happy for Miley Cyrus’s success, and I hope she’s doing okay.
Thought I’d do a blog on the movies and shows I saw in 2022 and what I thought of them. Too many to cover thoroughly, but I’ll make a few general remarks. Ratings are out of 10, but it is fairly impossible to get a 10. It’s basically what I think the IMDB rating should be.
On the movie side of things I think the best movie of the year was Top Gun:Maverick. In order to get to 8 a movie has to wring some kind of emotion from me. Maverick managed that in two ways, with the intensity and thrill of the action and with the pathos of the scene with Val Kilmer. Was it great? Yes. Was it a favorite of all time for me? No. Not quite. As good as it was, and it was very good, it didn’t exactly break any new ground and it was mostly just a fun experience with some touching bits of nostalgia that hit the right notes without bumping into the furniture.
Everything Everywhere All at Once was a fun movie, and touching too. It actually had a point to make and it made it well. Michelle Yeoh is great. Best movie about taxes I’ve ever seen.
See How They Run has Sam Rockwell in it, and any movie with Sam Rockwell in it is going to be at least interesting. What starts out as a silly mystery starts becoming more complex though and the movie does a good job of rewarding you for being clever. A lot like Knives Out but with less cynicism.
The Banshees of Inisherin isn’t for everybody. It’s one of those movies that I didn’t exactly like as I was watching it, but couldn’t get out of my head afterward. It’s a bit metaphorical. Like a parable or fable. It’s completely ridiculous, terrible, and yet at the same time reflective of a harsh truth of humanity. Colin Ferrell is great in it. You say “Hey it’s Colin Ferrell!” at first, but then pretty quickly, even though his accent isn’t that different or anything, he stops being Colin and just becomes Padraec, this somewhat dim Irish everyman who you’re kind of rooting for, at least at first. At the same time you can sort of see why someone might want to throw their fingers at him. Along with the main plot, which is strange and tragic enough, there’s also a chilling sub plot concerning a side character that I didn’t fully get until after a few nights laying in bed thinking about the movie. I missed it mainly because the focus is on Padraec and his perspective, and the guy misses things. That said the people who are ostensibly the intelligent ones in the movie miss things too. I’ve been a fan of Brendan Gleeson since seeing him in the show Mr. Mercedes, and he does an excellent job as Colm, a violinist and composer struggling to break free of his dull life. Kerry Condon plays Siobhan, Padraec’s sister who feels many of the same pressures to leave the small island town of the movie that Colm feels. And you want her to go do things and be successful. But…wow…that subplot bites into you when you catch its implications. Anyway, probably enough people have said things about the movie already. Colm throwing his fingers at Padraec’s door should be a meme though if it isn’t already.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a Nicolas Cage movie. If you like Nicolas Cage, you’ll like the movie. There is a lot of Nicolas Cage in it. There’s also a good bit of Pedro Pascal of Mandalorian fame as well. But mostly Nick Cage. Even the parts he’s not in have his essence vibrating through the frames. I happen to like Nicholas Cage quite a lot so I liked the movie, but it was almost too much for me, so if you dislike Cage, you might want to steer clear. Just be aware…Nicolas Cage is in it. You know that scene in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich goes inside John Malkovich’s head and ends up in a bizarre world where everyone is John Malkovich and all they say is Malkovich all the time? Nicolas Cage isn’t in that movie, but he is in this one.
The Woman in the House Accross the Street From the Girl in the Window
Our Flag Means Death
Pretty much anything above 6.5 is watchable. Dr. Pimple Popper sounds like it would be a horrible show, but it is legitimately interesting. And the score here refers only to the season that aired in 2022. Westworld had a great first season but this one was a slog. Same story with Killing Eve. And I wanted to like Better Call Saul more than I did, but for me the magic left the show when the story arc with the brother ended. If it’s marked less than 5, it means I couldn’t finish the season, which for me is a pretty good indication of it sucking, but there is a chance I just got distracted or missed the terrific thing that happened one episode after the one I watched. I barely got through She-Hulk, but I did. Hoping they do better next season. There was a good part or two in the show, but it isn’t what you thiiink.
Evil is a great show, currently in its 3rd season. A bit like early X-files but with demons instead of aliens. Also a touch of Scooby-Do. Mostly serious, but the characters are all likable, even the bad guys. And there are lovely touches of humor at times that range from Twilight Zone like irony to down right absurdity. Even so, the show stays grounded. By the current season, the show has given up on trying to keep it ambiguous whether or not supernatural stuff is going on. There absolutely is something strange in the neighborhood. Still, it’s all very subtle. And the crazy thing that seems to be going on often gets disproven only for it to end up being a deeper, more insidious and…evil thing that has erupted to the surface. It also deals with some serious philosophical questions that are rarely covered in most shows. The main characters of the show are comprised of an atheist raised as a Muslim, an agnostic psychologist, and a Catholic priest, and everyone’s beliefs and identities get challenged on a regular basis. At one point the atheist gets into a relationship with a woman who turns out to be a cult leader. And there’s a succubus who tries to eat the Catholic priest’s soul. Arguably the main character is the agnostic psychologist, Kristen Bouchard. She’s perhaps the most well adjusted…except she ends up murdering somebody. Katja Herbers who plays Kristen is superb at picking up all the conflicting nuances of the character. Mike Colter (who played Luke Cage if you’ve seen that) is great as the seemingly unflappable priest, and Aasif Mandvi as the atheist is a delightful voice of reason amid all the woo. Michael Emerson, who was excellent as Finch in Person of Interest, plays the main villain, although part of the joy of his character is that he is far from the most powerful person in the show. It’s a bit difficult to recommend to some people, because it is inherently blasphemous, but as Eddie Murphy once pointed out in A Vampire in Brooklyn: “Evil is good!”
I watched all of Wednesday in about a week. A delightful, bingeworthy show. Jenna Ortega is great as Wednesday. Emma Myers is great as Enid the werewolf with lycanthropal dysfunction. The plot they stole from the musical Wicked is great. There were some problems, though. There was a point or two where Wednesday antisocial tendencies got a bit hard to take, but the show rescued itself by assuring us that yes, these are actual problems that Wednesday is dealing with, because as gifted as she is, she is still a child who has things to learn. I don’t like Luis Guzman as Gomez. Gomez should be fit. Antonio Banderas would have been perfect. I might just be thinking of him because Catherine Zeta-Jones is Morticia, but I don’t think I’m wrong. John Leguizamo. He would have worked too. Maybe those people weren’t available and they still wanted some sort of name…Manuel Lin-Miranda!. Sorry. Guzman does well enough as the dad from Encanto…I mean Gomez. Aside from the flashback episode, where we’re supposed to believe he can use a sword effectively, it doesn’t matter much in the overall show. The set design, side characters, the plots, that dance scene, and Thing, who wins the MVP award…all of it was great. I want more of it please.
Rick and Morty went off the rails, such as they were, a season or two back and it’s still off the rails, but I’m still enjoying where it’s going in season 6. Mostly. The claymation episode was really really bad. I don’t understand how someone can spend so much time incrementally adjusting pieces of plasticine one frame at a time to tell a story so horribly pointless. But I don’t consider the claymation episode to be in any way canon so I’m not counting that in my analysis. My favorite episode so far is probably “Night Family,” where Rick uses a device to get his body to do exercises and chores for him while he’s sleeping The rest of the family starts using the device too, only of course things go wrong and the night versions of themselves end up trying to take over their lives. Good stuff.
So there’s this show, a comedy, about a young couple. The woman has a relative she knew nothing about that dies, leaving her this mansion, and rather than sell it off, she and her husband decide to turn it into a bed and breakfast. Things go fairly well at first but then she has an accident. She hits her head and is knocked unconscious. She wakes up in the hospital and she finds that for some reason, now she sees dead people. Ghosts. And they aren’t the silent type. They aren’t something she can ignore. She goes to the mansion she and her husband now live in and discovers that, of course, the old mansion has a multitude of ghosts. They each have their own personalities, some of them have abilities that cause things to happen in the living world, and because she and her husband went all in on the mansion, there is no way for her to escape to some remote place where there aren’t as many ghosts. She, her husband and the ghosts have to learn to exist together, dealing with all the quirks and hijinks that ensue. Sound interesting?
Great. Now you have to decide. Do you want the story set in the US? Or the UK?
My answer to the question is… yes.
Thankfully the show I just described exists and there is both a UK and a US version. I’ve watched them and I like them both, though if pressed, I’d say the UK version is better.
UK version of Ghosts
US version of Ghosts
Both versions have wonderful characters from different walks of life and time periods that learn and change throughout the series. It’s always fun to see a caveman bickering with a boy scout in the UK version. Or a Viking trying to impress a hippy chick in the US. And there’s always the humor of Allison/Samantha seeing things and knowing things that others can’t and trying to make it seem normal. Another thing that both shows have is the feeling of the husband and wife really being there for each other. The set up isn’t that one of them is the “good” one and the other is the bad one. There isn’t a smart one and a dumb one either. They both have their faults and their quibbles, but they care about and admire each other, and that’s always nice to see. The other ghosts have a similar vibe with each other, even though that often gets strained because of their many disputes
The differences of the two versions are intriguing to explore. One of the first differences you notice is that in the UK version there are six episodes to a season and sometimes a special holiday episode, a format familiar to fans of other BBC shows like Dr. Who. I suppose six episode seasons work well enough. The actors don’t have to be on set for as long. The writers don’t have to rush to get ideas out on time. You can have a good arc that starts and ends in six episodes if you plan for it. But for me, it always seems too short. Just when I get settled into the show it seems, it’s over. So point for the US there. But the UK version has a better grasp of the tone of the show I think.
For example, both shows have a ghost character who was a scout leader in life, but who died when a child shot an arrow through his neck. Both versions also portray how this event occurred. In the US version you can feel the writers and directors and everyone straining to squeeze humor out of what, for a child, would have to be a traumatizing and horrendous event. In the UK version though, they just sit right in and go, stretching the death scene out into a marvelous example of physical comedy. The Brits know how to mix tragedy and comedy right, I guess. Must be all that Shakespeare
UK version of the Scout leader Ghost: Pat Butcher, played by Jim Howick Credit: BBC/Monumental/Guido Mandozzi
US version of Scout Leader: Pete Martino, played by Richie Moriarty Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS
If you’ve watched the UK version already, though, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the US version. It does start off a bit shaky, and where it does the same things as the UK, the UK does them better. Still, the US version quickly grows away from the UK version, and for all its flaws, the performances are a bit brighter in tone and the story lines are unique enough that you can appreciate it as its own thing. I’m a big fan of Rose McIver from iZombie and she is great in this show, giving Samantha a brightness and optimism that’s charming even if I sometimes miss the more sardonic tone of Allison. And Utkarsh Ambudkar, the actor who plays Samantha’s husband Jay is a treat too. The episode that sold me on the US version was the one where Jay is attempting to fix an exposed wire in the house and gets electrocuted while one of the ghosts passes through him, causing the ghost to possess him. The way he adopted the mannerisms of an uptight colonial woman was an unexpected delight.
So sure, it’s a little ridiculous that there are two versions of the show. You wouldn’t know from the accent she uses, but Rose McIver is from New Zealand, so she’s not even a real USian. There are even people speaking with English accents still, because several of the ghosts are colonists. The UK version of Ghosts was great and there really was no logical reason why they needed to make a US version. But all the same, I’m glad they did.
I’m writing this in December, which generally means Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, New Years Eve and probably a bunch of other holidays I’m ignorant of… are about to take place. It’s the end of the year and the preparation for a new one. In the west, most people are either pulling out their favorite Christmas tunes, or putting on their earmuffs so they can avoid having to listen to them. For me though, in my neverending quest to establish a soundtrack for my life, I’ve decided that Christmas songs should not only be strictly for December, they should be relegated to only the second half of the month. Mind you, I’m not against hearing the occasional Christmas song earlier, but I’m not quite prepared to take an aural bath in the holiday season until it gets a bit closer.
So what then should be the theme for the first half of December? I would say there are two main themes of this time of year. One is questions, as in “what the heck was that year we just had all about?” and the other, somewhat related, is wonder, as in “wow! That year was a trip wasn’t it?” and “Holy crap it’s cold” and “Snow! Yay!” or “Snow! What a pain!” So with those admittedly general themes in mind, I put songs together into a early December playlist (called “Questions” you can find it on YouTube). This year, the song at the top of my list is “When you Sleep” by the band Cake.
AI generated image from DreamStudio
“When You Sleep” is a delightful song. It starts off with a bunch of plucky stringed instruments frolicking around a simple base melody that rises and falls in pitch in a steady ebb and flow. The only percussion is an infrequent sibilant brushing. This all evokes the breathing of a soundly sleeping person.
The first line of the song is “When you sleep, where do your fingers go?” And that’s just not something you generally think about, but it’s an intriguing question. Fingers are about grasping things, working with things, and also feeling…in a tactile sense of course, but more metaphorically in a visceral sense. If you can grasp something, you can understand it. You are able, to a degree, to take some ownership of it. But where does this ability go when you are asleep? What can you do? What can you accomplish? What do you feel? And what can you understand when you’re sleeping? The answer isn’t “nothing.” We dream, even if we don’t always remember the dreams we have. Whatever we may strive for in life, there is something under the surface that we all reach for. What is that?
As the song explores some of these questions more instruments join in, notably the trumpet (played by Vince DiFiore) which plays above the established melody like some winged creature taking flight over the water.
The lyrics continue:
Do they tremble on the edge of the bed
Or do you fold them neatly by your head?
Do they clench like claws against your own skin
When you’re living your day all over again?
What kind of person are you? What are you going through?
The chorus repeats and now there’s a call and response thing going on with the other band members yelling out “When you sleep!” after the lead singer says the other parts. We are fully in the realm of dreams now, what was hidden is now in full view.
Do they play guitar in a Latin bar? Are they strangers or lovers? Do they drive your car?
There are a lot of Cake songs about driving and cars. Cake is a great band to listen to on a commute for precisely that reason. Probably their most popular song is “The Distance” which expands on the metaphor of a race car driver (among other forms of conveyance) that keeps going after the race is over. There is also “Satan is my Motor,” “Carbon Monoxide,” and “Long Line of Cars.” Even the song “Dime” has a stanza that describes a dime sparkling among roadside trash under an overpass with afternoon commuters. This fixation on cars probably has something to do with Cake being based in California, which is notorious for its car traffic. Their home base is Sacramento, but of course anyone in entertainment ends up in LA a lot and that’s a city where there’s a lot of driving. Of course people drive in other cities too. I haven’t done any statistical research on it or anything, but there was an Oscar-winning movie (Crash) about how the only way to meet people in LA is to get into a car accident with them. So presumably it’s a thing.
I would say for McCrea, cars are representations of the ego, although a complicated version of the concept. In the song “Satan is My Motor” he talks about how he has “seats that selflessly hold my friends and a trunk that can carry the heaviest of loads,” but that “under my hood is internal combustion power.” So there’s a little id in the idea too maybe. Or at least there is an acknowledgment of multiple facets of being. A car for McCrea, and probably for most people to an extent, is a representation of one’s identity. So are you yourself when you dream? Or are you someone else?
Are they swimming submissively
Sex acts of life
Or just cutting through jello with a very sharp knife?
An interesting dichotomy presented here. Another Cake song “Italian Leather Sofa,” which is mostly a fun romp about a rich couple’s lack of F’s to give, has the lines “she’s got a serrated edge that she moves back and forth/ it’s such a simple machine, she doesn’t have to use force/ When she gets what she wants, she puts the rest on a tray in ziploc bag in the freezer.” Using a knife is being neat and controlling. Everything in its place and organized. Contrast that with swimming submissively, being immersed in emotions or troubles.
McCrea has conflicting feelings about knife wielders, I think. As much as he seems to mock them in “Italian Leather Sofa,” and perhaps “You Part the Waters,” his description of his ideal girl in “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” includes that she “Uses a machete to cut through red tape.” A knife seems to be analogous to control. Are you out of control and passionate in your dreams? Or do you dream of things being easily manipulated?
As if to answer this question, the song then launches into the bridge:
Now Zeus was a womanizer
Always on the make
But Hera usually punished her that Zeus was one to take
At this point I just want to step back a bit and say that there just aren’t that many songs out there that incorporate Ancient Greek mythology into their lyrics. There’s this one and “I’m Your Venus” and that’s about all I can think of. I’m sure there are some out there, but I don’t think any of them are that popular. Thinking of things like Pandora’s box, Icarus and whatnot it seems like an untapped resource.
But anyway, what are we to make of this? How does this answer the question or explore it further? There are a couple ways to interpret this. For one Zeus and Hera could be thought of as two aspects of the same person. That there’s a passionate, boundless aspect and a more controlling, restraining aspect. Similar in a way to the idea covered by Nietzche and other philosophers about the duality of the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects. Apollo represents the light and righteousness, but also rules and order, while Dionysus is darkness and subversion, but also freedom and passion. It also fits an Eastern idea of yin and yang, or the Native American idea of the two wolves in the soul.
Another way to look at it though would be that the singer (which is to say, the “speaker” of the poem of the lyrics and not necessarily McCrea himself) is like Zeus, having his way with women, while the particular woman of the song ( the “you” here) is plagued by some emotional backlash, the “punishment” unleashed by Hera for Zeus’s misdeeds.
Or it could be that the “you” in the poem is like Hera herself, planning revenge against the singer’s exploits.
There’s a prolonged harmony of the question at this point and a musical interlude with more wordless vocalizations. Also, there are some bells in the background, which are a little jingly? Almost Christmas-y. Which is another reason why I think this song fits December. Finally the lyrics continue:
Are they pulling out weeds from the dusty soil
But then never rewarded with the fruits of their toil
Are they scratching their nails on the chalkboards of death
Only seeking attention when everyone in the room has left
I love the instrumentation here with some distorted piano(?) sounds plinking in as if to represent the weeds getting plucked, and then later descending in pitch to incorporate the darker thematic tone of the end of the stanza.
AI generated image from DreamStudio
Frustration seems to be the common thread here. I find the “chalkboards of death” line particularly poignant, though. When I first hear it, I think of a Grim Reaper teaching a class or or something, but it’s not Death with a capital D. It’s regular old death. The chalkboards don’t belong to Death, rather they are representations of death itself. A black, blank void. And your fingers, representation of your struggles to feel and understand, are scratching against it. Fighting it desperately. But scratching nails on a chalkboard is something immensely irritating and it’s something you do to get attention. Only there isn’t anyone around when you’re sleeping. You are screaming against the void and no one can hear you, but more than that, you don’t really want anyone to hear you.
In another nuance, it’s not really “you” who’s doing this, but your fingers. So if there’s no one in the room, who are your fingers seeking attention from? That would be…you. Your desire to feel and understand is struggling against the void of death and begging you to pay attention.
Or is it? Maybe you’re just having a good time, flying or being naked or whatever.
The song goes back to the first question, of whether the sleeper keeps their hands folded or if they tremble on the edge of the bed. It’s as if we’re coming back to reality from the world of dream.
Just a great song.
Anyway, these are just my current thoughts. I could be way off base on some things. I hope your December questions lead to beautiful and wondrous answers.
So occasionally I run into words I don’t know, and I put them in a list to look up later. Today I looked into the word “elestial” (not a typo (at least not anymore)) It’s used to describe crystals that are naturally etched and are made up of faceted columns that come to points at the top.
“Elestial” amethyst. From “https://www.geologyin.com/2014/10/elestial-smokyamethyst.html”.
But most people who use the word are more concerned with their ability to connect people spiritually to the Akashic record of the universe…or something like that.
From my google searches, you can apparently start a small fight among gem lovers by using the word in a sentence, with all the serious gemologists poo poo-ing the crazy new agers who use “elestial” when…”horizontally striated hexagonal prisms terminated by a combination of positive and negative rhombohedrons forming six sided pyramids” would do. Normally I’d be on the side of the scientists, but elestial just sounds way better and I can see using it to describe other things. Like Superman’s fortress of solitude for instance.
But I’d kind of like to know where it came from, just in case there’s some extra nasty connotation I’m not aware of. Or maybe a cool connection to someone who was otherwise lost to history. I got two leads from Reddit. One person said that it was named after the “Lost City of Elestia.” I tried looking that up and came up with nothing but My Little Pony fanfictions. (By the way, if you’re bored sometime, look up Friendship is Optimal. It’s a trip.) The other lead, which is probably more likely, is that someone just dropped the c off of celestial and started describing crystals that way.
But when did they start doing that? I used Google trends to see if there was any time when the term picked up steam or something. It’s been pretty flat for along time, but there was a peak in January of 2004. Or maybe that’s just when Google trends started monitoring things so maybe everything has a peak there.
I have this idea that some shaman or mystic out in Arizona or Colorado started selling pamphlets about elestial crystals at some point and the term caught on. I just wanted to look up an easy definition before going to bed because I was too tired to do any real work, but not ready to sleep yet. Only now I can’t sleep because I want to know who the name of the guy or gal who started calling crystals elestial was. Just so I can relax a little I’m going to pretend it was a guy named Herman Bellfeather. Was he crazy? Was he a genius? Maybe a little of both. He’s mostly a recluse now, but you can still find him walking around San Francisco occasionally, muttering to the seagulls.
My themes for June are dance songs, telling people what to do (because that’s what a lot of dance songs end up being), observations about the universe (because telling people what to do is basically advice and advice usually involves making observations about things) and the moon (because it rhymes with June). June is a month about attempting to explain the world through dance. So bees. Bees fit into June as well. And the wind. Because the wind teaches things to dance.
M79- Vampire Weekend
This is a nice bright happy sounding song. And I like a good use of strings. It’s a new addition to my June playlist, so I haven’t spent much time analyzing it.
Here are the lyrics:
“No excuse to be so callous Dress yourself in bleeding madras Charm your way across the Khyber Pass Stay awake to break the habit Sing in praise of Jackson Crowter Watch your step along the arch of glass”
The lyrics aren’t entirely positive, but overall, the song seems to be about embracing multiculturalism, which is something I agree with. It reminds me a little of Cake’s Mr. Mastodon Farm which advises to “take swatches out of all material.”
Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest
(recording of song with picture)
Interview with the song writer Sherm Kelley where he explains how he came up with the song. He and his girlfriend basically had a terrible experience getting attacked on a beach and he wanted to imagine a world where that sort of thing didn’t happen. Interesting interview, but it might mess up the song for some people.
This fits two aspects of the monthly theme: the moon, and dancing. It’s also just a wonderful happy song, even with its tragic back story.
We like our fun and we never fight You can’t dance and stay uptight It’s a supernatural delight Everybody was dancin’ in the moonlight
Video for Toploader cover of the song. This has more of a November feel to it.
Lizard #3 – Go! Go! 7188
This is a live version of the song. I prefer the singing in the recorded version, but the live version is great for the guitar solo and and for the feeling of general awesomeness. The name of the song is Tokage Sango, which literally translates to lizard number 3. And on the surface, the song appears to be about a lizard. But In a bizarre, very Japanese fashion, the song also seems to be about coming to terms with one’s limitations and one’s place in the universe.
KIRAKIRA to hikaru ano buttai wa nanda ? Kinou arukidashita kono jimen ni wa shiranai nomo ga Takusan aru sa
Ore to kage kuro to kage tsuite kuruna ore tokage
Lizard #3 Lizard # 3 With the bright blue belly Lizard #3 Lizard #3 With the cut off tail
What is this sparkling and shining thing? Yesterday I didn’t know what it was that I saw< It’s a lot isn’t it?
Me and my black shadow and my lizard self that I cannot control.
The Wind – PJ Harvey
She dreamt of children’s voices And torture on the wheel Patron Saint of nothing A woman of the hills She once was a lady Of pleasure and high born A lady of the city But now she sits and moans And listens to the wind blow Listen to the wind blow
This is a great song. Spooky and innovative and yet with a groovy beat. The lyrics are also intriguing. Before I saw the video the imagery I got was of a craggy hill in Scotland or maybe New Zealand where some lonely church stands weathered by time and neglect while some hermit woman sit contemplating dark things. The video is neat its own right, placing Catherine the protagonist of the song in the cityscape of New York and emphasizing the contrast between the bustle on the surface and the serenity of the high places.
This is the kind of song you want to hear again right after you hear it the first time. It’s a novel compressed into the poetry of song and you can’t figure out exactly what it’s about, only that there is something that pulls you in.
The themes for May are Dreams, wishes, and graduation as well as Hispanic songs (for cinco de mayo reasons)
Artist: Julieta Venegas
Why it’s a May Song: Cinco de Mayo, dreams and memories
This is a fairly simple song really, but that’s part of its beauty. “Andar conmigo” literally means “go with me,” and more colloquially it means “date me.” But this song uses both senses of the phrase. It seems to be not only an invitation to start a relationship, but an expression of a deeper philosophy. The singer is inviting the listener to experience all that life has to offer with her, rather than merely offering herself. It seems very Daoist to me. Aside from the Spanish language aspect (IE Cinco de Mayo), I think it also fits the theme of dreams and memories. She speaks of telling the story that’s inside her, a story that still continues.
Here are the lyrics with translation:
Hay tanto que quiero contarte
Hay tanto que quiero saber de ti
Ya podemos empezar poco a poco
Cuéntame, qué te trae por aquí
There is so much that I want to tell you
There’s so much I want to know about you too
We can start right now little by little
Tell me what brings you here
No te asustes de decirme la verdad
Eso nunca puede estar así tan mal
Yo también tengo secretos para darte
Y que sepas que ya no me sirven más
Don’t be afraid of telling me the truth
That never can be as bad as you think
I also have secrets to give you
And you should know they don’t serve me any more
Hay tantos caminos por andar
Dime si tu quisieras andar conmigo
There are so many ways to go.
Tell me if you would like to go with me x4
Estoy ansiosa por soltarlo todo
Desde el principio hasta llegar al día de hoy
Una historia tengo en mi para entregarte
Una historia todavía sin final
I’m anxious to release everything
From the beginning to today
A story I have inside me to give you
A story that still has no end
Podríamos decirnos cualquier cosa
Incluso darnos para siempre un siempre no
Pero ahora frente a frente, aquí sentados
Festejemos que la vida nos cruzó
We could tell each other anything
Including to give ourselves for forever a forever no
But now, face to face, here are feelings
We can enjoy what Life has put before us
Martha -Tom Waits
“Those were days of roses,
Poetry and prose and Martha
All I had was you and all you had was me”
One of the themes of May for me is graduation,which goes beyond pomp and circumstance to any song about momentous life changing events and looking back to how things were back when you were a different sort of person. Along those lines, there is no greater song in my opinion than Martha. This song is the story of an old man catching up with a woman that was a girlfriend of his from 40 years ago. This song really covers all the wistful, beautiful sadness that the passage of time creates.
Oddly, this is a song that Tom Waits wrote as a young man in the early seventies. Tom Waits worked as door man and piano player at a bar and you can hear a little of the Billy Joel piano man in his style here. Later on Tom Waits became a move character actor and moved into a different style of music where he sounds like some demented carnival barker, which is fun, but I always prefer his more melodic tunes like this one.
Almost all of Waits’ songs have an arresting narrative quality. This one in particular has this intriguing character of an old man regretting letting the love of his life go some forty years ago. You think of all the time and experience that have occurred and yet…And yet…
He might have generated the story of Tom Frost and Martha from one of those conversations. I have an alternate theory though. Think of it as a lie that might accidentally be true. Perhaps Tom’s mother Alma was the Martha of the song. Perhaps Alma named Tom after her Tom Frost. Alma raised her children after separating from Waits’ father when Waits was 10 years old. Did Alma tell her children stories of an old flame she had when she was younger? Did Tom Waits simply put to words and music a fantasy of his mother’s of her old lover catching up with her?
Probably not, but I like it as a conspiracy theory.
While Strolling through the Park one Day (the Fountain in the Park- Hit Co. Masters)
I was strolling through the park one day
In the merry merry month of May
This video is from a guy who sings all the parts of a barbershop quartet by himself. It’s a nice version but it’s not the one I listen to on playlists. The version done by the Hit Co. Masters is a little longer and has some instrumentation.
This is, of course, that song sung by various characters in Looney Tunes cartoons. “I was strolling through the park one day, in the very merry month of May.” One cannot create a thorough list of May songs without including it.
Almost Like Praying
Artist: Lin-Manual Miranda and MANY others
Why it’s a May song: (Puerto Rico so it’s vaguely related to Cinco de Mayo, but it’s also about a prayer for the people of Puerto Rico so it’s like a wish or a dream)
I first heard about this song on an episode of the podcast Song Exploder . Miranda talked about wanting to do something for the place he grew up after it was devastated by hurricane Maria. Wired magazine had a good article on this and how badly it was handled and what people did to solve the problems that arose because of it. Miranda, being a song writer, did what he could do, which was write a song and get everyone he knew to help with it, and then give all the money he made from it to the relief effort.
Miranda is best known for his work on the musical Hamilton, which is extremely popular, but doesn’t really seem like something I’d be into. I’m not a fan of rap music generally, although there are exceptions. More specifically any attempt to combine education with rap has always struck me as being particularly dumb. But I haven’t seen Hamilton; so I might find I like it after all. Almost like Praying has a section or two of rap, but it is mostly a melodic work consisting almost entirely of the names of the cities of Puerto Rico. As an amateur poet I find the skill with which Miranda managed to group all the cities into rhyming patterns impressive. He also uses several styles of music from musical, to rock, to rap, to reggaeton. Even without the humanitarian aspect, the song is simply interesting and fun to listen to. I only know one or two of the many artists involved, but that too is intriguing. Finally I’m a fan of Steven Sondheim, mostly from Sunday in the Park with George, but West Side Story is a neat one too and the repeated use of the line from the song Maria was an elegant and well-implemented device.
Here’s the full Youtube playlist followed by links to individual songs:
A marvelous song that’s been in a lot of things and has had many things said about it. I first heard this on the soundtrack to Jerry Maguire, but It was originally on Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks which came out in 1975.
This is an epic song full of symbolism told with delightfully surprising rhymes and references.
But what is it about?
To me this song is about love, and in particular how it sustains us through hardship even when all we have is the memory of it.
There’s a good chance the woman in the song might be Sara Dylan, to whom Bob Dylan was married when he wrote the song. The marriage was falling apart, and he could have been mourning the loss of how things used to be. Sara Dylan was born Shirley Marlin Noznisky to Jewish immigrants from Poland, but according to Bob Dylan biographer Robert Shelton (sourced originally in wikipedia) she “had a Romany spirit, seeming to be wise beyond her years, knowledgeable about magic, folklore and traditional wisdom.”
It’s reasonable to suppose that Sara might be the woman born at the same time God was, but it also could be about Dylan’s mother. The song seems to describe a birth into a nurturing environment after living several harsh lives. Sara was a mother already when Dylan met her so it could be that both things are true. To put it crassly, Dylan may have had mommy issues. Or it could be the song isn’t autobiographical at all and it’s about a fictional man recalling a fictional woman. For the sake of discussion I’ll call the lady referred to in the song as “the Goddess.”
The verses are not sung in chronological order, but the singer seems to be telling the story of his life after being asked by someone “Is it helpless and forlorn?”
He talks about other lifetimes, times when he suffered in numerous ways before he found this Goddess who might have been a lover, but who was also something of a mother figure.
Then there was a time of blissful childhood or something like it where he was always safe and warm.
Then people tried to tell him who to be ( they gambled for his clothes) and he didn’t like that so he decided to leave, and the Goddess let him (he bargained for salvation and she gave him a lethal dose).
Growing into adulthood, life was hard and he encountered adversity ( he offered up his innocence and got repaid with scorn).
He currently lives in ” a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm.” Where, regardless of whether one hopes to learn philosophy (becoming a preacher riding a mountain) or learn street smarts (become like a deputized horse walking on hard nails) in the end all that matters is that time is short and you’re going to die eventually (it’s doom alone that counts). But even in this dire situation, to answer the man’s question, the singer repeats “Come in, she said, I’ll give ya, shelter from the storm” There was one time he found love and acceptance, and that alone is enough to make up for whatever hardship he has to endure.
The one-eyed undertaker hasn’t gotten the singer yet. He still walks in this country that seems foreign to him, but someday he will cross the line and succumb to the razor’s edge that beauty walks along. And if he lives in this world again he vows to always do his best for his goddess.
I’m almost entirely sure I got that wrong, but that’s what I’ve come up with for what the song is about. What do you think?
Fire, Water, Earth, and Air – Julie Felix
This song is vast in scope, encompassing the elements of Earth, and weather, and states of human existence. I would like it for that alone, but then you factor in the surprising internal rhymes of the lyrics, the thrumming native american sound of the music, and Julie Felix’s clear, confident vocals, and it’s just a marvelous, wonderful song.
There is, of course, a hippy undercurrent to the song. One expects there will soon be some one along to say that we should protect the squirrels or eat nothing but rutabagas grown in reclaimed sewage. But I prefer to take the song at face value, as a celebration and appreciation of nature and life. I don’t disagree with people who say we should preserve the environment, but I think where such people can go astray is when they see themselves as separate from it. We are part of the environment, part of nature. It is foolish to destroy nature to preserve ourselves, but it is equally foolish to destroy ourselves to preserve nature. A body needs both a brain and a stomach to function.
I’m a Dog – Crash Test Dummies
Like many Crash Test Dummies songs, this one offers a unique perspective on a seldom explored aspect of life. In this case the song is from the perspective of a dog wondering why humans venerate people who don’t seem to live good lives. The dog, being a dog, is essentially a hedonist, appreciating the physical pleasures of life like brushing up against a cow’s leg and having breakfast with the master in the morning. He marvels at humans who try to control their instincts and be civilized, when all it seems to do for people is make them miserable
There is an added layer of irony here in that Brad Roberts, the lead singer and lyric writer, is, himself, an example of the poets the dog is criticizing.
Other April Songs
I’ve made a YouTube playlist, which you can see here:
It has the songs I described above plus the following:
So today is 3/14/2020. Pi day. This is was already a fun holiday for me because it gave me an excuse to eat pie. Last year I had quiche for breakfast, pizza for supper, and for dessert, of course, pie. I think I went with apple. This year, however, I wanted to expand the parameters a bit.
Pi day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. I’m a fan of Albert Einstein, but celebrating his birthday is a little difficult. I could try dressing up like him, but that sort of thing’s a bit outside my wheelhouse. I could make some cookies with an atom symbol or something on them. I might do that next year. I did do some semi-scientific research in his honor, but then I do that almost everyday. So as much as I’d like to honor Einstein, it’s difficult to find ways to really celebrate.
Now the connection might not be entirely clear, but a month or so ago I was watching Hunters, which is an over-the-top Tarantino-esque TV series about a group of people who hunt down former Nazis living in the US in the 70s. The series is something of a mixed bag. The side characters are great, Al Pacino does some of the best work I’ve seen him do, and there are some heart rending dramatic scenes. On the other hand, the main character is a bit annoying, the series tries to be funny at not quite appropriate times, and the ending was a twist that seemed unsatisfying and didn’t even really make sense to me. Anyway, there’s a necklace that features prominently in the series. It’s gold necklace with a pendant of the Hebrew word “chai,” (pronounced like “hi” but with more throat action on the H) which means “living.” It looks a lot like the greek letter pi with an apostrophe in front of it.
So I thought…Chai Day! And of course once you write it out in English you can’t help but think of chai tea. So I could drink come chai while I ate some pie. But that doesn’t make a bit of sense with out the connection to the Hebrew symbol. It seemed I had a…Jewish problem.
Well, I could be like Hitler and try to eradicate all the Jewishness from the holiday, or, I thought, I could lean into it. I’m not Mexican, but I like to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I’m not Christian, but I celebrate Christmas. I have perhaps a little more claim to St.Patrick’s day, but I’m only a quarter Irish, and that’s from the protestant part of Ireland at that, so technically I’m doing that wrong too. Besides, I’m half Polish and the Nazis didn’t like them either, and my Dad gave me some Bar Mitzvah money when I was thirteen because he liked that tradition. So I think I’m completely in the right here. It is my right as an ignorant American to culturally appropriate whenever I deem it… appropriate.
So what sorts of things could I do to celebrate Jewish culture? Well there’s Purim, which I know about mostly from the film For Your Consideration. That coincidentally happens in March…You know what? I should have totally looked into that more. Maybe next year. But I wanted something I could make that was culturally Jewish, but not tied directly to the Jewish religion. So I settled on Shakshuka. It’s basically chili, only with red peppers and eggs instead of meat and beans. So maybe not like chili at all. I made it last week to try it out. I made it for supper, but it’s really more of a breakfast food. It’s a very bright and spicy dish. If you eat your scrambled eggs with salsa, it’s a lot like that, except the emphasis is on the tomatoes and peppers rather than the egg.
Shakshuka is really more a dish of Israel, the middle east and surroundings, than a specifically Jewish dish. Really Einstein probably ate German food anyway. But it was still fun to try something new. I linked to a recipe but it’s not that complicated really. You sautee onion and red pepper together in olive oil, add a can of chopped tomato and spices, then add eggs and cover till they’re cooked.
I also wanted to find a mixed drink to celebrate the day, and after doing a search for Jewish cocktails, crossreferenced with spring, I found the Cel -Ray Spring tonic. It’s kosher or something, I guess. You take some cucumber wheels and some celery and muddle it with a wedge of lime and then add vodka, lime juice and ginger ale. Not bad, but I probably didn’t muddle it enough or strain it enough, because I had bits of vegetable still in it, which isn’t something I like. Pulp free OJ for me, thanks.
So if you like Pi day, but maybe you aren’t a fan of Quiche or you want to try something different, maybe try some Jewish dishes. At the very least there’s bagels, which are circle-shaped. And maybe have some chai with your pie for dessert.
As far as music goes, the main holiday of March, at least for me, is St. Patrick’s day, which normally means Irish songs, of which there are quite a few. However expanding that out a bit, Irish songs tend to be about bragging or confessing things. They are all about identity. Most of the time it’s along the lines of “this is who I am, screw you!” but it can also be “this is who I am, forgive me” or “This is who I am, how the heck did I get this way?” So sure, traditional Irish songs belong in this month, but also, oddly a lot of rap and hip hop songs, and a good deal of the punk rock genre.
Parallel Universe – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Christ, I’m a sidewinder I'm a California King I swear it's everywhere It's everything."
This seems like an odd choice at first, but this song, despite having scientific and metaphysical allusions, is primarily about the singer defining themselves. Also the video is of a live recording of the song in Ireland. So there’s that.
There’s a lot of neat things in this song. It, like many things I enjoy, contains numerous juxtapositions of the numinous and the quotidian. Basically it’s very dreamlike.
I don’t know for sure what the band was feeling when they wrote this. I found this video discussing their style where the commentor says that the “nonsense” of Red Hot Chili Peppers’s lyrics is the result of them being students of funk and rap schools of music. Still, I enjoy interpreting dreams and poetry, and I think this dreamlike song might have some meaning behind it after all; so I’m going to give this a go.
Like I said earlier, this is a song about the singer defining themselves, but the way they define themselves is through a comparison between themselves and and the listener, and between themselves and the universe, AKA California.
As an aside, I’m using “singer” and “listener” here in the poetic sense. The “singer” isn’t necessarily Anthony Kiedis but rather the character he portrays in the song, and the “listener” is not necessarily you or me, but rather the character that the “singer” is singing to, which in this case is probably a girlfriend or someone in a similar role.
This song appeared in the 2001 album Californication, and anyone familiar with the songs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers knows that they have a love-hate relationship with the state. The crux of the title song of the album is that the culture of California, that is, the worship of fame, glamour, pleasure, and art, is something prevalent throughout the world and in all areas of society. One of my favorite lines from the song “Californication” is a reference to the planet that the Death Star blows up in Star Wars. “Alderaan’s not far away, it’s Californication.”
So California, for the band, is not just a state in the US, but a state of mind. Nietzche would call this a Dionysian state, as opposed to a cold, calculating, but moral Apollonian state.
The chorus has the singer saying that he’s a sidewinder. A dangerous, poisonous, cold blooded creature that slithers on his belly. He’s also, however, a “California king”. He is simultaneously confessing that he lacks Apollonian morality, and bragging that he is a master in his Dionysian domain, and this domain is everywhere, it’s everything.
The other aspect of this song, which seems to be between the singer and a girlfriend, is that of metaphysical one-ness. The song starts “Deep in a parallel universe it’s getting harder to tell which came first.” The parallel universe is, I think, the universe that exists for the girl, her “California.” The singer seems to realize that the girl’s universe is just as beautiful, just as intricate and cosmically awesome as his own, and strangely, by seeing this he becomes more aware of the beauty of his own universe.
The complexity doesn’t end there though. Because by the end of the song the singer talks of how his song affects the girlfriend, bringing her to tears. This isn’t entirely a good thing. As much as her universe is just as splendid as the singer’s, it also has many of the same flaws. The very fact that something he can sing can move her means that, on some level, there is some psychic wound that they share. There is glory in that, but also a measure of tragedy. How do you ease the horrible feelings you have of loss and regret, if they are everywhere, in everything, including the parallel universe that exists for the one you love?
Well I don’t know, but I guess whiskey probably helps.
Bad Reputation-Joan Jett
“I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation Never been afraid of any deviation And I don't really care if you think I'm strange I ain't gonna change”
This song is a rebellious, take me as I am song that is almost a call to arms. Joan Jett’s voice is marvelously rough and brassy. She could sing just about any punk rock song and it would be outstanding. But, while some of her songs can be a bit repetitive and shallow, this song has some actual lyrics, it has a message, and it’s great.
Maybe it’s a little odd that this would make the top of my list. While I suppose I too have qualms about the stifling expectations of the patriarchy, it’s arguably not really something I have to deal with that often as a male living 40 years after this song was first recorded. I grew up nerdy in the South, though so I’ve been called strange and weird with the contemptuous sneer of the “in” crowd. It’s probably something everyone has to deal with to some degree, even people in the in crowd. So while the song doesn’t perfectly pertain to my problems, and has even less to do with my issues in my current life (nowadays rebellion for me is deciding to take a day off work) I still appreciate the commitment to being true to who you are in the face of peer pressure and the pressure of authority.
You know what? I don’t give a damn if you think it’s odd. I’m going to keep it at the top of my list anyway 🙂
“But I'll spend my days in endless roaming, Soft is the grass, my bed is free. Ah, to be back now in Carrickfergus, On that long road down to the sea.”
A sad Irish tune. But it belongs in March not just because of that, but because even here the singer is placing themselves in the universe.
Carrickfergus is a town in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland is where my grandfather on my father’s side is from. About twenty years ago now I took a trip with my father and some relatives over to Ireland. We took a tour around the whole island. The first beer I ever had was a Guinness at the pub where they filmed The Quiet Man. Just about everything in Ireland looked beautiful. I remember us visiting some thatch roof homes on a warm sunny day. I think we were looking at my grandfather’s childhood home or perhaps just an example of what it might have been like. We were walking through high grass for some reason and there was a swarm of insects near the corner of one of the houses. Normally not a pleasant thing to behold, but even sweating slightly in the heat and not entirely sure where we were going, I couldn’t quite get the idea of fairies out of my head.
We visited Carrickfergus as part of the tour. I wasn’t that impressed with the actual place. Ireland is riddled with castles and once you’ve seen one the others aren’t as exciting. We got souvenirs and did the usual tourist things. While we were in Northern Ireland though, we met with some of our relatives who were still in the area. They were very gracious hosts and made potato soup for us and talked about various things. Potato soup was something that was always on hand in Ireland, and it was always excellent. Nearly every restaurant would serve the soup along with a piece of thick sliced bread and that was, oddly, enough. I’ve never had a soup like it in America. Irish potato soup is thick, hearty, and tasty. American potato soup is usually thin and bland.
We visited Belfast in Northern Ireland, which was pleasant, even with the not so distant threat of the IRA (the “troubles” ended about three years earlier). There was a string quartet that played Pachelbel’s Cannon at one of the street corners, which has always been one of my favorite classical pieces, simple yet increasingly complicated as layers of instrumentation are added. I have to stop and listen whenever I hear it done well, even thought it’s perhaps a bit over played at weddings and the like. the thing I enjoyed the most about Belfast, though, was going to an arthouse cinema. They had a small book store in the front end where they sold…well they were these thin paperback summaries of novels but made by fans and with literary criticism. I got one about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Then my dad and I saw a German movie starring Franka Potente.
There were many more wonderful moments on that trip. So while the actual castle of Carrickfergus wasn’t my favorite part of the journey, I still feel the wistful desire to return to Ireland and see all those sites, including that one, again.
There are many different versions of this song sung by different people. Celtic Woman does a nice job, but the reason why they are ones in my playlist and not the Dubliners or some other band is that my mother liked them a lot. My mom had very particular tastes in music. For her the singer had to be able to sing, which when you consider how often singers get by on attitude and character nowadays, was something of a tall order. She would hear something raucous and strident, and say “Daddy must have had some money.” She enjoyed older music from the fifties and sixties, and some country music, particularly the songs that had a sad narrative to them.
At any rate, she and her friends went to a concert by Celtic Woman, and she really enjoyed their take on the old Irish songs. When they sing, each syllable is understandable and each note is clear. She got an album for one of her birthdays, and I copied it to MP3 for her, so they ended up on my harddrive. Me and Dad and my brother would sometimes make fun of how breathily feminine and borderline pretentious they were. She would laugh and maybe make fun of how noisy our music was.
It’s been almost five years since my mother died, and these Celtic Woman songs are still on my harddrive, and I can’t help but find them beautiful.
Ah to be back now…
mull of king tire-Paul McCartney
Last Man on Earth-Cory Branan
(the audio is crappy in the beginning on purpose for effect)
Kirsten Bell stars in this video! Weird yet touching.
Silent Melody-Working for a Nuclear Free City
Mo Ghile Mear – The Cheiftains
Citizen of The Planet – Alanis Morrisette
I’ve Been Drinkin’ -Jeff Beck featuring Rod Stewart