tender age baby jails

We are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging. And we have heard people in high position in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us. May God save our souls.

-- Bruce Springsteen

I was born on this date in 1953, and in my 65 years I've lived through a lot that I found shocking and enraging and disgracefully inhumane. Over the years, I have heard many people in high positions in our government assault people, children and adults, with their self-proclaiming morality. There is no God to save us ... if salvation comes, it will come from us, not a higher power.

I am no longer able to say that the kind of behavior we are now experiencing is what Bruce calls "un-American". For there comes a time when we have to admit that it is all too American. We are not the good guys. Hunter Thompson once wrote, "This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." Thompson wrote this in 1972.

In 1630, John Winthrop famously wrote of what would eventually become America, "We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting Winthrop, and it is fairly common nowadays for politicians to reference Winthrop's city. Winthrop was warning his people of the dangers of living an improper life. "So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake." But today, that city is used not as a warning, but as a reminder of American exceptionalism, a braggart's boast.

And, as Thompson noted, we no longer give a fuck what the eyes of all people think of our actions.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.

-- Abraham Lincoln


music friday: 1986

The Smiths, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out". Two weeks ago, I congratulated myself on knowing a Smiths song. I don't know this one, and listening to it, I don't care that I don't know it. I appear to have zero interest in The Smiths.

Run-D.M.C., "Walk This Way". Aerosmith owes Run-D.M.C. big time.

Madonna, "Papa Don't Preach". Sometimes when I vote, I look to see who supports an issue or candidate, or who is against it, to get a sense of where the matter lies. Tipper Gore liked this song.

The The, "Infected". This list contains a lot of music I don't care about. It also includes a lot of artists I've never seen live. This may say something about my music tastes in 1986, when I turned 33 years old.

Robert Cray, "Smoking Gun". Christgau gave this album an A+, and I like Cray enough ... nice that someone was still playing blues in 1986. But Last.fm tells me that listening to this track for this blog post was the first time in ten years I'd listened to a Robert Cray song.

The Bangles, "Walk Like an Egyptian". Guaranteed to put you back in 1986, if you happened to be alive then.

Elvis Costello and The Attractions, "I Want You". Should be played by depressives on Valentine's Day.

Eric B. & Rakim, "Eric B. Is President". The first single from these Hip Hop icons.

Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done for Me Lately". Still a few years away from making better albums than her brother.

Bruce Springsteen, "Because the Night". The video is a cheat, taken not from 1986 but from a 1978 concert when Bruce used to play yet-to-be-released songs. Patti Smith's version was the hit in 1978, and it was a great track. But we loved hearing this in concert, and it turned up on Bruce's 1986 live box set, so it belongs here, right? That version came from 1980. We saw Bruce three times on the Darkness Tour in '78, probably marking the moment when he became our favorite for good. It remains the best tour I've ever seen.

Here's one more song, since I feel like I had too many on this week's list that didn't speak to me.


music friday: 1984

Prince and the Revolution, "When Doves Cry". The video starts out looking like it was directed by John Woo, then Prince appears and you can't get Dave Chappelle out of your mind.

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?". Honestly, I wasn't sure I even knew any Smiths songs, which I know is pathetic. But I actually do know this one ... it must have been a huge hit.

Madonna, "Like a Virgin". Her first song to hit #1 on the Hot 100 charts. Before this she was a rising star; after this, she was a star.

Tina Turner, "What's Love Got to Do with It". Tina was a star before Private Dancer, but it had been a long time since she'd seen the Top Ten. This one put her at #1, making her at the time the oldest female solo artist to make it to the top.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Two Tribes". We went to England in 1984, and it felt like every other person had on a "Frankie Says Relax" t-shirt. The band was new to me, and they didn't last much past their debut. I thought they were a one-hit wonder, but this song shows I was off by one hit. Both of their hits were far better than their cover of "Born to Run".

Metallica, "For Whom the Bells Tolls". I once had a student who made me a mixtape of Metallica music. He thought I needed it.

Malcolm McLaren, "Madame Butterfly (Un bel di vedremo)". I actually saw him in concert in 1984, sandwiched between opening act Los Lobos and headliners The Clash, appearing in their post-Mick Jones period. As famously flamboyant as McLaren often was in his career, I can't remember a single thing about his performance at that long-ago concert.

The Time, "Jungle Love". It's amazing to think that Prince insisted on recording all of the instruments on their early albums himself, given that The Time was such a fine band. I saw them a couple of times and they were terrific, great music, top front man. The video is from an occasional feature on Jimmy Kimmel's show, "Mashup Mondays", in this case starring "Morris Day and The HAIM".

Sonic Youth & Lydia Lunch, "Death Valley '69". I've seen this band as many times in concert as I have The Time, but I have to admit, I preferred that band to this one.

Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A.". I like when favorite acts of mine become popular with everyone ... why wouldn't I want to share? And no one seemed more likely to be a big star than Bruce ... in many ways, he already was a big star. But I certainly never predicted he would get THIS big.


music friday: 1982

Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean". Let's quote Wikipedia, since it never lies. "That performance is considered a watershed moment, not only in Jackson's career, but in the history of popular culture."

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message". Speaking of watershed moments ...

The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang". Third year in a row I've included The Pretenders, who by this point were Chrissie Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers, and a pick-up band.

Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City". Bruce didn't used to do videos. If I remember right, this was his first. So of course, he doesn't actually turn up in it.

Prince and the Revolution, "Little Red Corvette". If the lyrics were more subtle, the song would be almost vulgar. Instead, the double-entendres turn vulgarity into art. And there's nothing vulgar about "It was Saturday night, I guess that makes it alright".

The English Beat, "Save It for Later". Closer to the future than to The Beat's ska past.

Fleetwood Mac, "Gypsy". The video was the most expensive up to that time. We've come a long way from "Shake Your Money Maker".

The Jam, "Beat Surrender". Paul Weller says bye.

Miguel Rios, "Bienvenidos". I like Spanish rockers who record albums called Al-Andalus. This song is not from that album.

The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go". Was this question ever definitively answered?

 


music friday: 1978

Blondie, "Heart of Glass". 1978 was the apex of our concert-going days. We saw five of these acts, including Blondie, who were a bit disappointing. Opening act Rockpile was better.

Talking Heads, "The Big Country". Opened the show we saw, which seems odd to me. "I wouldn't live there if you paid me."

Chic, "Le Freak". Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 11 times, which should have been unnecessary, but since they still haven't gotten in ... Nile Rodgers finally made it on his own, which is something.

X-Ray Spex, "Germ Free Adolescents". One of many bands to start up after seeing the Sex Pistols, and one of the few to match the greatness of their influences.

Lou Reed, "Street Hassle". Too often, when a rocker decides to go Epic, the result is overblown. But "Street Hassle" is one of the handful of total classics from one of the musics greatest songwriters.

Bob Marley and The Wailers, "Is This Love". Easy to like, which doesn't mean it's his greatest song.

Bruce Springsteen, "Darkness on the Edge of Town". In the case of Bruce, we saw him three times ... in 1978. This album may have connected with me on a personal level more than any other record in my life.

Patti Smith, "Because the Night". Bruce turns up for a third time. (He has a cameo in "Street Hassle" ... was pretty busy that year!) The two versions (Patti's and Bruce's) stand alone, reflecting the respective artists. Much as I love this version, though, Bruce's live versions on the Darkness tour were another level of thrilling.

Earth, Wind & Fire, "September". They are good enough that it is unfair that whenever I hear them, I think of George Clinton's "Earth, Hot Air & No Fire".

Elvis Costello, "Radio Radio". I was hanging out with a group of women ... this would have been the mid-90s. They were talking about Elvis Costello and which of his albums were the best. I offered the opinion that This Year's Model was so much better than any other Costello album that a discussion was unnecessary. They said I was being a guy.


music friday: 1975

Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run". In 1975, when this album came out and my wife and I saw him in concert for the first of dozens of times, the lyric "Someday girl, I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, and we'll walk in the sun, but 'till then, tramps like us, baby we were born to run" seemed like a romantic look at our future. Now we're 64 years old, and Bruce is almost 70, and we've heard the song hundreds (thousands?) of times, and sung along with it at concerts 30 or so more times, and that lyric still hits me hard. Because when you're 64, no matter how well your life has gone, you know that you're never going to get to that place where you really wanna go.

Patti Smith, "Gloria". Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.

Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Baby". Publications argued over how many orgasms there were in the long version.

Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up in Blue". Dylan's early-70s records weren't all that ... yes, his label did release Bob singing "Big Yellow Taxi" ... but he re-teamed with The Band, put out a decent album, went on a successful tour with them (our first time seeing him), and then, in 1975, came Blood on the Tracks and the release of The Basement Tapes. You could be forgiven for thinking at that point that Dylan would go on forever at the top of his game. But it took until the 90s before he started putting out good records, and he didn't really reach another peak until the 21st century. Which could convince you that he was always at the top of his game, if you are able to forget things like the album he made with The Grateful Dead.

Parliament, "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)". Perhaps in an homage to James Brown, who was so good at giving us parenthetical titles like "I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)", when this track was released as a single, it was called "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)".

Joni Mitchell, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns". Prince loved this album.

Dorothy Moore, "Misty Blue". A country music hit in the 60s. Moore's version isn't country.

The J. Geils Band, "Love-Itis". J. Geils was always good at finding semi-obscure R&B songs and turning them into, well, J. Geils music. The original was by Harvey Scales and The Seven Sounds, and J. Geils didn't mess with it much. My wife tired of this song a few decades ago, because I was always putting it on mix tapes and singing along.

Minnie Riperton, "Inside My Love". Her first single after "Lovin' You". In 1976, she was diagnosed with cancer; in 1979, she died.

Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir". My favorite Led Zeppelin song, which puts me in good company ... Robert Plant, among others, agrees. I find this quote from Wikipedia to be perfect:

"If you listen to 'Kashmir' very loud, it's just unbelievable," enthused Swans front man Michael Gira. "Jimmy Page's guitar is lyrical and soulful – just beautiful. I don't understand what Robert Plant is saying, though I suppose that's a good thing. I don't know the lyrics. I think they're about hobbits or something."

I hate every single cover version I have ever heard of "Born to Run". It's simply sacrilege. But I never tire of hearing versions of "Kashmir", because it's all about the riffs. Heck, Jimmy doesn't even play a solo to speak of. Puff Daddy might have the best cover, because he wrote an entirely different lyric and pasted it onto the "Kashmir" riff. He also got Page to play on the track. Amazingly, it was for the soundtrack to an awful Godzilla movie.

Other guitarists love the riff, too:


music friday: bruce springsteen at winterland, 12/15/78

Hard to believe it's been 39 years since Bruce played the first of two nights at Winterland. I wrote about it back in 2002:

The first show, December 15, 1978, is widely bootlegged and is considered by fans to be one of the handful of greatest Bruce concerts of all time ... the Brucelegs website calls it "Probably the most famous show Bruce will ever do." The show was broadcast on local radio. I stood on the floor with the teeming masses; Robin sat with my brother David, his then-wife Bonnie, and perhaps other folks, in seats just off the floor. There was no aisle to walk up this time, so for "Spirit in the Night," Bruce just laid down on top of the fans, who passed him around, being thoughtful enough to roll him back towards the stage and the mic just in time for him to get the next verse. (OK, in 2002, the audience roll is a cliche, but in 1978, not a lot of artists were doing it.) He played "Prove It All Night" for more than ten minutes. He played "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." He played "The Fever," which at the time was known as a Southside Johnny song; he played "Fire," which was a Robert Gordon song before it was a Pointer Sisters song. He played "Because the Night," which at the time was a Patti Smith song. He played "Point Blank," which at that time wasn't KNOWN as a song. And among the encores were the Mitch Ryder Detroit Medley AND "Raise Your Hand" AND "Quarter to Three." It was a magnificent show, and since we were in different places in Winterland, it was the only Bruce show where Robin and I didn't sit together.

Some things have changed since 1978/2002. I've been to a few Bruce shows that Robin didn't attend. And while bootlegs were a big deal back in the day, and the first night at Winterland was highly regarded partly because the radio broadcast made for easy bootlegging, the most acclaimed shows from that period were all broadcast (there was a Cleveland show, and a Passaic show that are great and remembered).

Nowadays, every concert is almost instantly available ... I've been to shows where excerpts have hit YouTube before I get home. Bruce himself now has a site, http://live.brucespringsteen.net/, where you can buy properly mixed versions of various concerts. So, except for those of us who were there, Winterland '78 isn't a total standout ... the 1978 tour is often considered his greatest, but that's a lot of shows. (The second night of Winterland was great, too, but it wasn't on the radio.)

Here are a few samples of Bruce in 1978.

 


music friday: 2017 and me

Everyone is offering up their Best-Of lists for the end of the year, so I'll try something similar for this week's Music Friday. I'm looking at the last 365 days rather than just 2017. According to Last.fm, four tracks are tied for the most played by me over the past year. Three of them make sense.

There's Van Morrison with "Brown Eyed Girl". Here he performs it in 1973:

And here's Bruce in 2014:

Next up is Dr. John the Night Tripper with "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya". When Dr. John's first album came out, it sounded like nothing I'd ever heard. It makes a lot more sense now.

Here comes Judy Collins with "Suzanne". I saw her for my first-ever concert back in 1967. In this video from 1976, she duets with the song's writer, Leonard Cohen:

Here's Randy Newman's "Suzanne" for comparison:

I said three of these songs made sense ... all of them from the 60s. Here's the one that surprised me, even though I apparently listened to it a lot over the past year: Ry Cooder's "Trouble, You Can't Fool Me", from his 1979 album Bop till You Drop. It was written by Frederick Knight and Aaron Varnell (Knight later wrote Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell").

 


music friday: sweet soul music

It's the anniversary of Arthur Conley's death. He died 14 years ago today. He seems destined to always be remembered as a One-Hit Wonder, that hit being "Sweet Soul Music". Conley was taken under the wing of Otis Redding, who helped put together "Sweet Soul Music". He seemed to be an ideal mentor for Conley, but he died in a plane crash later that year. Conley career floundered. Ed Ward tells the story:

In the mid-'70s, Conley abruptly moved to London. That proved expensive, so the next stop was Brussels, which he found too hectic. He then headed to Amsterdam and changed his name to Lee Roberts. Nobody knew Lee Roberts, and at last Conley was able to live in peace with a secret he'd hidden - or thought he had - for his entire career - he was gay. But nobody in Holland cared.

"Sweet Soul Music" was "based" on a Sam Cooke tune, "Yeah Man" ... "based" as in a lawsuit resulted in Cooke's name being listed a co-composer.

The horn introduction borrows from the theme for The Magnificent Seven:

Here is Arthur singing his hit in 1967:

Finally, here's Bruce Springsteen, who has performed "Sweet Soul Music" many times. The video quality is poor, but the audio is fine, and this one is dear to my heart, because it's the only time I saw him play the song in concert. 1988: