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.
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
December is the time for Christmas songs, but what do you listen to when Christmas is over? That thought led me to organize my music collection into twelve playlists, one for each month. I also try to rank the songs over the span of a year to find the best ones, the ones I’m not going to mind listening to several times on a sixty song or so playlist. The idea is that each month I listen to my favorites songs that follow a theme of that month, and then the next month I listen to another set of songs. I get the pleasure of knowing the words better and getting the nuances that come from repeated listenings, but I don’t get too sick of the songs before the month is out.
For this year (2020) I’ve decided to write a blog about my monthly playlists for anybody looking for songs to add to their own sets. There are probably fifteen apps that do that for you automatically. Still, Pandora, I Heart Radio, and some others I’ve tried don’t seem to be eclectic enough. They all operate under the idea that you’re going to like songs that are similar to other songs you like. This works to some degree, but just because I like Pearl Jam, doesn’t mean I only want to hear 90s grunge for the rest of my life. So I’m stuck actually creating my own playlists, which is a time-consuming, but entertaining endeavor. It also gives me an excuse to clean out some duplicate mp3 files, delete some songs that are just stinkers, and revisit ones I’ve forgotten about. And often, oddly, I find out new things about artists I like that actually lead me to new music.
I also kind of wanted to write more blogs and this gives me something to write about. So here’s my list for January 2020 I’ve written a bit about the first three, songs but the rest I’m just leaving as exercises for the reader.
January is a cold month. It’s a month about beginning, and time, and making resolutions. In a vaguer sense, it’s about figuring out what’s important, and having the courage to leave behind what’s not…
Nothing Else Matters- Metallica
“So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trust in who we are
And nothing else matters”
A classic Metallica song. One of the reasons why Metallica’s music exists outside the bounds of the heavy metal genre is songs like this one. This song is in some ways a call to arms, in some ways a love song. It’s all about being true to something and moving on, which is why I think it fits into January. This is a song about resolve and January is a month about resolutions.
Nocturne/ Bohemian Rhapsody-Lucia Micarelli
Back when Netflix sent out DVDs in the mail there was a little more drama in the process. You would select what DVDs you wanted to see, but usually you’d forget what you had selected by the time they arrived in the mail. Also Netflix’s recommendations seemed like a bigger deal (they still are a big deal, but they aren’t as obvious as they were back then), they’d suggest things to watch based on what you’d liked previously and they’d be right maybe half the time. So you’d get the red envelope in the mail, and you’d open it and read the description on the disc sleeve, remembering all the reasons why you thought the movie might be good and wondering if your bet would pay off, or if it would be a dud. A lot of times even the duds had something worthwhile in them though. Such was the case with this one disc I got, which was a live recording of a Josh Groban concert.
Now Mr. Groban was something of a sensation back in the early Aughts. There were fan message boards (like reddit only less convenient) dedicated to Josh Groban, which, in their off time raised millions of dollars for a charity. Clay Shirkey ended up writing about it in his book Cognitive Surplus, which was about how people on the internet can get amazing things accomplished in the time they’re spending not doing traditional work. But this Netflix disc arrived a couple years before I read Shirkey’s book. Netflix had been trying to push it on me for a while. “No, really,” Netflix was saying “This will be right up your alley!”
For the most part, however, it wasn’t. Groban’s genre is basically good, pretty-sounding music. I liked a rendition he did on Vincent, a song praising Vincent Van Gogh, but nothing else really jumped out at me, and even that was a little too…nice.
You can see her performance in the YouTube video, but for the full effect, imagine you’ve listened to an hour or so of elevator music. Elevator music that’s expertly, and lovingly performed, mind you, but elevator music nonetheless. And now here’s this lady walking on stage barefoot, looking like some kind of forest spirit. She starts playing this mournful, heartrending piece of music. It’s quite pretty and you can see the passion she has for the music in her playing, and then…wait a minute…Holy shit! That’s Bohemian Rhapsody! Drums join in, along with other instruments. Everything rises in intensity until it hits a breaking point and finally returns the original mournful music. Just awesome.
This was the first time I heard about Lucia Micarelli. Later though she showed up as an actress in a series created by David Simon (who created the shows Homicide and The Wire) called Treme. I didn’t care for the Treme much. There were too many characters and not enough focus on any one storyline. Furthermore, the tone was dismal and it got a bit too political. Still, one of the bright spots was the music in general, and Lucia Micarelli in particular. Her character, Annie, had her faults, but she was always looking for ways to improve herself and the situation around her. While everyone else in the show was pursuing political gain, investigating murders, and committing suicide, she was playing music. Of course that was a fictional character, but still, it was a role Micarelli chose to play and she played it well.
So I think of all that when I hear the song, but of course the original Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a classic. The new movie starring Rami Malek was pretty good, and it also reminds me of the scene in Wayne’s World where they are all head banging in the car. The lyrics in the original are also about resolve (“Time to leave you all behind and face the truth…”) . It fits January for that reason, but the Nocturne bit at the beginning and end make me think of a cold, January morning, when it’s still too early to see by the sun, and everything’s trying to remember a good reason to wake up.
Fire Escape – Fastball
“I’ll be the rain falling on your fire escape
And I may not be the man you want me to
I can be myself, how ’bout you?”
This song is 90% about saying “Screw you! I’ll do what I want!”… but then there’s that odd poetry of the chorus and some of the lines that mellows it somewhat and makes it more than it would be otherwise. Rain falling on a fire escape. I suppose that’s a dangerous thing, something that makes things less safe. The feeling I get from the song though is more that the rain is kind of nice, just providing atmosphere, existing outside and informing what goes on inside, but not really being a part of things.
It reminds me of James Joyce’s book Ulysses, which follows a character Leopold Bloom as he makes his way home on a day’s journey. The places he goes mimic the places the character Ulysses goes to in the original epic by Homer. In the chapter that relates to Ulysses’ encounter with Circe. Leopold and his friend Stephen Daedalus find themselves in a brothel. Things start to get a bit strange later on, but there’s one part where there is a commotion outside the window and someone wonders what it is. Someone else replies that it is God. God is the commotion outside the window.
God, then, could also be the rain falling on the fire escape. So sure this is actually most likely a song about a guy setting boundaries in a relationship , but halfway in my head I also kind of see it as a god (or more secularly the Universe) explaining itself to its creations. I may not be what you want me to be, but I can be myself, what about you? Like, maybe, stop asking me for crap and do some work yourself, huh?