What have I got?

If I were given the chance to see any female artist perform live, living or dead, I wouldn’t hesitate at all, Nina Simone. It would have been great to see Janis Joplin, I would’ve loved to see Joan Baez in her prime, seeing Patty Smith again would be cool… but above all Nina Simone. It’s the mixture of talent with attitude that I think would’ve made seeing her perform in person (preferably in a small venue) an incredible experience.

“Ain’t got no love, ain’t got no name”

She’s not somebody I remember listening to when I was growing up, I just kind of stumbled onto her on my own after hearing her songs in movies and television shows. A commonly referenced movie scene is at the end of Before Sunset when Julie Delpy does an imitation of her for Ethan Hawke and plays the song Just in Time. Most Nina Simone fans know this scene, and I’m sure most share my take that it’s the best scene in the movie, hands down. I also recall hearing the song Sinnerman (one of my favorites) in an episode of Scrubs. From there I went on to buy a few of her albums and she’s became one of my favorite artists. She’s one of the greats, no doubt about it.

“I got my mouth, I got my smile. I got my tongue, I got my chin. I got my neck, I got my boobs”

I like almost all of her songs, many aren’t even hers, but she was so talented she could take pretty much any song and just run with in. She’s covered Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne… George Harrison’s Here Comes the SunMr. Bojangles (which Dylan popularized, but is not his). You have to be a beast to cover these songs and get away with it, but then again her talent was special, saying she was a beast might not even begin to do her justice.

I’ve got life, I’ve got my freedom

So Nina Simone is someone I’ve listen to regularly and who I never get bored of. She’s great for setting the mood in a room with other people and works just as well to listen to alone. I always say that only a handful or artists are really good companions for when you want to lie down listen to music and drink by yourself… Nina Simone is the founder and honorary lifetime president of that club. Ain’t Got No, I Got Life is one of the reasons why…

“And I’m gonna keep it”

 

We’ll ride through the city tonight

“I see the stars come out of the sky. Yeah, the bright and hollow sky” Iggy Pop, The Passenger

I’m not a devoted Iggy Pop fan, I haven’t listened to The Stooges much either… but The Passenger is one of my favorite songs. For some reason it gets me going, every time I listen to it I want to get up, scream along the la la la la la’s and just kind of bounce along from one place to another. I would’ve loved to have played the role of David Bowie who sings back-up during the chorus! Which is why writing this post is proving more difficult than expected.

“Yeah the bright and hollow sky. You know it looks so good tonight”

In all truth the difficulty for writing this post is that this song during the last 10 years of my life this song has been everywhere and for some strange reason I’ve mostly kept it to myself. I know I’ve listened to it with my brother a few times, it’s made its way onto mix-tapes/cds for some road trips with friends, but the memories I have of this song are of me listening to it by myself. While in my last post I argued that Neil Young sings about her in Cowgirl in the Sand, this song is all about the first person singular, and I love it. That’s why it’s so contagious.

“I am the passenger and I ride and I ride.”

It’s true the song later goes on to talk about the we and the “stars made for us tonight”, but I don’t really buy it. I think that comes in when the song already has you worked up about yourself, your alleged free spirit and how you’re riding along through the city’s lights. I’m sure many see it a different way, but that’s always been my feeling whenever I’ve listened to it. I like it this way too…

“I ride through the city’s backsides. I see the stars come out of the sky.”

I have to admit I’ve tried listening to this song with some of my girlfriends to see if they like it… not a single one of them has. Mostly I’ve gotten indifferent reactions. Perhaps it’s that in a relationship the idea of being a passenger is a no-no (when everything is going well), but I think I’ve been with girls who deserve more credit than that. I think it’s as simple as everybody having a song that for whatever reason pumps them up, but these songs have to be discovered in a way that you can be absorbed by them. It doesn’t work if somebody just plays it for you. That works for the Dylans, Cohens et al, but not for Iggy Pop and The Passenger. It’s too raw, too energetic. You can’t share that, what are we crazy? 

“So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride. Oh, oh, Singing la la la la lalalala!”

When so many love you, is it the same?

Hello cowgirl in the sand. Is this place at your command?” – Neil Young, Cowgirl in the Sand           

After my first contact with Neil Young I wasn’t too impressed. If I recall correctly a friend had recommended I listen to some of his more intense rock songs like Rockin’ in the Free World and Like a Hurricane. They were alright, but I had already discovered Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and I was a lot more focused on lyrics than any guitar solo. The songs weren’t doing it for me and Neil Young sort of got crossed off the list. I was a fucking fool.

One random weekend about 7 or 8 years ago I was talking music with my uncle and he mentioned Neil Young. Basically, I expressed my initial opinion from the paragraph above and he went on to express my final conclusion from the paragraph above, that I was a fucking fool.

“Can I stay here for a while? Can I see your sweet, sweet smile?”

My uncle put the album Harvest in my hand and told me to get back to him on that. I listened to it with a chip on my shoulder wanting to prove that my initial perception of Young had been right, but a fucking fool is hardly right. By the time I reached Heart of Gold (4th track) I was already convinced that Young was a stud and that the album was something special. I’ve since listened to it hundreds of time, recommended it to anybody who would listen and even made a few copies of it to give to girls, with surprisingly good feedback…

“Hello ruby in the dust, has your band begun to rust?

Harvest has everything to be considered one of the best albums of all time: the artist is in his prime, it has great lyrics and there’s not a single bad song in it. It’s also short enough, about 40 min, to leave you wanting more. However, since discovering Harvest I’ve explored Neil Young quite a bit and there’s one song which I love, to the point that it had to be the first song of his I include in this blog, Cowgirl in the Sand (Live At Massey Hall 1971 version).

“Hello woman of my dreams. This is not the way it seems”

I’m sure… well, almost sure. Alright… I want to think that I haven’t used this song to tell more than one girl that it reminds me of her. In fact I want to think that I have never said it to a single one. That would have been like cheating, the song is that good. I honestly don’t think I have, but I can’t guarantee. Whenever I listen to the song I like the mood that Young creates, but I really like the way he shifts the focus on the woman, sorry, the cowgirl. He sings about her, whoever she is. So what I like about the song is that it’s mystical enough that I’ve felt comfortable listening to it in many different situations. Whether it’s been intimately with a girl, reflecting on a relationship, pursuing a crush, dealing with a break-up… the song just fits well. Or at least it allows for interpretations that fit well, which I guess is the point, right?

So before I ramble on, if you haven’t listened to this song, or this version, here it is courtesy of a fucking fool.

“After all the sin we’ve had, I was hopin’ that we’d turn back”

 

 

I gave you my onlyness, gimme your tomorrow

“If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady. Would you marry me anyway? Would you have my baby?” – Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow (Original song by Tim Hardin)

The first time I heard the song If I were a Carpenter was about 10 years ago. An uncle sent me a version sung by Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow during Johnny Cash’s Memorial Tribute Concert in 2003 and I liked it immediately. I later heard other versions, including one by Johnny Cash and June Carter, but, as is often the case, I still prefer the one I heard first. It’s a fucking great song and one of my favorite duets.

“If a tinker was my trade. Would I still find you?”

In a previous post I explained how Tom Wait’s Closing Time was an important album in my relationship with my current girlfriend, well this song was too. One thing I didn’t mention was that before I began going out with her we had been friends, we worked together actually, for two years. During most of that time we both had out own separate relationships and although I was happy with mine, I have to admit that during the second year I became pretty attracted to my now current girlfriend. I dismissed it as a work crush and didn’t consider acting on it. I had a relationship I liked, we worked together and there were a whole other bunch of factors which I’ll write about sooner or later. Fortunately I caught a break…

“If I were a miller, and a mill wheel grindin’. Would you miss your colored blouse? And your soft shoe shinin’?”

My relationship with my girlfriend abruptly ended. We were long distance and I had decided to leave my job and head over to where she was, but about two weeks before I was supposed to leave it all went sour. She was pretty cruel in how she dealt with the situation but, as I expressed on my Fallen Robin post, I don’t have any hard feelings. I just “remember” her, but as Leonard Cohen helped me phrase it I don’t even think of her that often.

When I say I caught a break I truly mean it. We had a fun relationship, she was attractive, she was smart, we were pretty independent, but overall it was pretty clear that the whole of our relationship was pretty weak. I’m certain that had it not been then our relationship would have ended sooner or later. I haven’t spoken to her since, but I honestly hope she’s going well and I’m sure she can find somebody who’s a better fit. So where’s does my luck begin?

“Save your love through loneliness. Save your love through sorrow”

The first week after the relationship ended I was pretty broken-down, it was tough having to explain to family and friends that finally I wasn’t leaving. The second week I was still a little bummed and decided to go with a friend to another friend’s beach house for a few days. We had a great time and it was good for me to clear my mind a bit, eat my weight in seafood and do some good old fashion buddy drinking. And the third week… well that week began what has so far been my favorite relationship. So I thanked Tom Waits, I thanked Martin Scorsese and now without further ado… thank you ex-girlfriend.

Where do Will Nelson and Sheryl Crow singing If I Were a Carpenter come in? Well my current girlfriend and I began as co-workers, but about a year after that we became good friends. I got into a pretentious habit of sending her songs every now and then that she “had to listen to!”. She seemed to get a kick out of it and even sent me songs back every occasionally. This didn’t stop even when I left the office, so during my trip to the beach with friends (week 2 of the break-up) I sent her this song, which fortunately for me struck a nostalgic chord with her. She loved a version of it sung by Joan Baez which she had listened to a lot on an old cassette that she once had. So she loved the song and it definitely helped me score some points. Even though for her Baez’s version is still the best, for me Nelson’s and Crow’s remains the special one. Maybe if Bob Dylan had shown up to sing the duet with Baez it might have been a different story.

To the carpenters and the ladies…

Girls’ faces formed the forward path

“Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” Bob Dylan, My Back Pages

Nobody compares to Bob Dylan. I don’t like everything about him, I don’t like all his albums and I don’t think everybody has to like him, but I still say nobody can compare. I think it can be argued that The Beatles were bigger than Dylan, sure, but I don’t think there’s been an artist in modern music as influential as Dylan. What the Beatles were to music fans I think Dylan was to musicians.

I first realized who Bob Dylan was when I went to see the movie The Hurricane in 1999, during the movie Dylan’s song Hurricane sounded really familiar and I was sure my father had that song on a vinyl record somewhere. My father fished out the album Desire from the basement and I began listening to it over and over again, I loved that song and soon after that I finally began to branch out to some of his other albums.

It’s funny, because even though I’ve become a bit of a Dylan freak since, something which all my girlfriends and friends have had to suffer through (or benefited from, as I like to put it), I’d still say my brother is an even bigger fan than I. We both have our father to thank because he listened to Dylan a lot and we’ve always had his albums lying around the house, but I think we’ve taken the baton since then. Dylan to this day is still the safest bet to play on the stereo whenever we’re all together. Mother, you know we are very sorry.

It’s hard to pick out a specific Dylan memory because there are endless amounts of them, but I think a have a good one for this post, since in a way it serves to back the argument I made before about Dylan being to musicians what The Beatles were to music fans. When I was in my third year of college I went on a 300 mile – 15 day hike by myself. I met a lot of people along the way (a post on a couple of them later…), but mostly I loved hiking by myself and every now taking out my MP3 player lo listen to some music. My favorite song during the trip was Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages, but not just any version…

“A self-ordained professor’s tongue. Too serious to fool”

It was My Back Pages performed live during Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert. It tops the original and for me it turned a good Dylan song into one of his bests. This version features George Harrison, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and Dylan himself. The performance has everything going for it… Eric Clapton breezes through a guitar solo effortlessly, McGuinn shows he was a great vocalist, Tom Petty sings a nice mellow-y verse, Neil Young goes all out during a second guitar solo, George Harrison is solid like always… it’s amazing.

And Dylan? He sings a short verse, but is easily the least memorable of the bunch during the song. That’s something I like about that specific performance and I’m sure he was fine with it too. I’m guessing he thought something along the lines of: I influenced these guys so they could be this good and they’re all here singing a song I brilliantly wrote 28 years ago.

And brilliant it was…

“Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats, too noble to neglect. Deceived me into thinking, I had something to protect”

You deserve the deepest of cover

“You belong with your love on your arm” Tom Petty, Wildflowers

Yesterday I received some very sad news, an email from my father explaining that my grandfather was really sick. He’d been in and out of the hospital the last couple of weeks and was apparently doing better lately, but since yesterday his condition is getting worse. The doctor didn’t say if it would be weeks or months, but that he is a 90 year old man and things were beginning to add up.

I’d love to be able to see him in a trip back home I have coming up, but I realize I can’t be that selfish. He has spent the last weeks in pain, feeling very tired and going to hospital 2 or 3 times a week, so most of all I want him to be comfortable and enjoy the time he has left. Hopefully I get lucky and I can have both, but if not I definitely want the latter.

“Go away somewhere all bright and new, I have seen no other, who compares with you”

I think in part because I started this blog recently, as soon as I began getting my head around the news I started remembering memories of my grandfather which cheered me up a bit. However, as much as I tried, I couldn’t think of any songs that we both shared in some way or another. All I could think of was the fact that he loved playing Christmas carols, the same ones every year, and I dreaded them… they were awful. So I didn’t want to torture any possible reader, or myself, with any of those. I love my grandfather, I do not love those songs.

Then I thought of a song by Tom Petty, Wildflowers from his second solo album with the same name, and thought that it would suit my grandfather very well. Anybody who has ever met my grandfather knows that among his passions in life are gardening and doing yard work. He has a house in in the outskirts of the city where I’m from and he goes there every Summer. Since I can remember he has put endless amount of time into getting the yard in decent shape, and just as much time trying to get plants to grow in a little orchard in one of the corners of the house.

Yet anybody who has actually ever spent time with my grandfather, at that house, knows very well that nothing edible has ever come out of that orchard and that no matter how much time he (or his loyal soldiers, meaning everyone in the family) put into the yard, it’s always going to be covered in wildflowers. I know I’ll always remember my grandfather saying… get yourself ready because we have some work to do in the yard.

Let’s go at it chief.

“You belong among the wildflowers… you belong somewhere close to me… far away from your trouble and worry… you belong somewhere you feel free.”

Watch out now, take care

“Beware of greedy leaders. They take you where you should not go.” George Harrison, Beware of Darkness

George Harrison is the best. I like all members of The Beatles, all three of them plus Ringo Starr, but Harrison is a step in front. His songs with The Beatles are special and I also like his solo albums more than those of Paul McCartney or John Lennon, but what impresses me the most is the way he carried himself. Whenever I brush up on Beatles’ history I always get the impression that Harrison led the lifestyle that he wanted, while the others were influenced by their status. Harrison’s the one I would’ve liked to have met, no doubt about it.

Beware of the thoughts that linger. Winding up inside your head. The hopelessness around you.”

When I heard in 2011 that Martin Scorsese was going to follow-up his Rolling Stone documentary Shine A Light with one about the life of George Harrison I was ecstatic. As soon as George Harrison: Living in the Material World came out I went with two friends to see it in the only cinema in the city that was showing it, an 11 pm passing of this three and a half hour documentary. It was completely worth it, just a great plan for a random Wednesday.

The documentary is well made, but even if it hadn’t been I’m pretty sure I would’ve liked it. It’s just so much Harrison condensed in one film, it’s incredible. Musicians like Tom Petty or Eric Clapton pop in for interesting anecdotes, but mostly you enjoy the focus on Harrison, a guy so talented and creative that even after having been a part of the Beatles you could argue he’s underrated. I thanked Tom before, now I have to do the same with Martin, thanks.

So for the rest of that month practically all I listened to was George Harrison, I played his solo albums and made sure my MP3 player (this was a good 5 years after my discman days mentioned in yesterday’s post) included all his songs with the Beatles. There are a few of his songs which I like better that Beware of Darkness, but for some reason they included a live performance of it during the documentary which I really liked. So before I continue rambling on about the great George Harrison…

“Beware of darkness”

We can stop our whoring

“Well, I hope that someday, buddy, we have peace in our lives.”Johnny Cash, I See a Darkness (written by Will Oldham)

When I was 21 I spent a year abroad. There I ended up meeting my first serious girlfriend, whom I dated for years after that and, as I explain in “about this blog”, was a great girl. Nevertheless, my best memories of that year aren’t of her, or the friends I made, it’s about how independent I felt.

That was the year I really learned to live with myself, which is something I think many people never learn. That year I found out that I could never be bored when I’m alone (I can be with others), that I like doing things by myself, and that I don’t mind solitude at all. Obviously with this can only come with great music…

One day a friend and I popped in a store called Saturn which we’d heard had bargain CDs. It was the time of MP3s and pirated music, but neither of us had a computer so all we had were two about-to-be-obsolete Discmans, so we went to check it out. I was able to find about 8-10 albums that year at about 5 euros each (about 7 dollars) all which I thought were bargains given the artist’s names, but there are only 2 which I still remember well: Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Soundtrack to the movie She’s The One and Johnny Cash’s American Recordings III.

I player both of those CDs like there was no tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll dedicate another post to Petty’s soundtrack, but today I want to focus on Cash’s incredible album. I’d been a fan of Johnny Cash’s classic songs from back in the day, but through this album I discovered his American Recordings sessions and I was blown away as to how talented the guy really was. I remember opening the CD and listening to it straight away, loving almost every song. Solitary Man was my favorite song from the album, but there was another which really stuck with me called I See a Darkness, originally written by Will Oldham known better as Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

“Well, you know I have a love, a love for everyone I know.
And you know I have a drive, to live I won’t let go.
But can you see this opposition comes rising up sometimes?
That it’s dreadful imposition, comes blacking in my mind.”

I opened up the booklet that came with the CD and as I opened it I was surprised to see that instead of a booklet it was this large sheet that had been folded up a bunch of times. In it there was a section where Johnny Cash basically explains that since June Carter passed away he was ready to die. For him American Recordings was basically the last project he wanted to finish before dying, but that other than that… he was good. After reading that and hearing the songs again I was amazed. I think somehow my newly found independence, and often voluntary solitude, felt like something Cash must have felt during most of his life if he was open to saying he was prepared to die. Who knows, maybe I’m being pretentious, maybe it’s just a great song, a great album and a great artist.

Well, you’re my friend and can you see, many times we’ve been out drinkin’, many times we’ve shared our thoughts. But did you ever, ever notice, the kind of thoughts I got?”

Let’s do some living, after we die

“I have my freedom… but I don’t have much time” – Rolling Stones, Wild Horses

When I was in college I watched a bunch of documentaries about my favorite artists. No Direction Home had come out not too long ago and I was searching for others that were just as good. I watched the incredible The Last Waltz and loved another Dylan documentary called Don’t Look Back, but for some reason the one I liked most at the time was the Stones’ Gimme Shelter.

The fact that the documentary was focused on the Altamont concert the Stones gave in 1969 was very appealing. It was famous because the band had hired the Hells Angels to run security and midway through the concert a man carrying a gun was stabbed to death by one of the Hells Angels.

From the documentary there are two scenes I remember vividly…

The first is the Stones in a studio actually looking at the footage of the man taking his gun out and getting stabbed. They make comments as they watch the scene several times and even freeze the image every now and then so they can see the gun and the stabbing.

The second is a scene where the band listens to one of my favorite Rolling Stone songs they’ve just finished recording, Wild Horses. It’s a rare breed for a song, one of those I like more over time. It helps that it’s not overplayed and whenever I hear it I rarely feel that I’ve heard it not too long ago. Yesterday, when watching the documentary Muscle Shoals (not great, unfortunately), I was excited when I saw the exact same scene which I remembered perfectly from 8 or 9 years ago. Coincidentally it was recorded at a Muscle Shoals studio and the scene, in my opinion and I hope in everybody else’s too, stole the documentary.

The clip has a lot of character: Keith Richards mouthing the song, Charlie Watts looking at the floor, Mick Jagger burying his head in his hands but softly clapping with a smile on his face when it’s over…. it’s just memorable.

It’s a song that’s been with me the last ten years, I’ve listened to it with girlfriends, with friends and mostly on my own. Yet to this day I have doubts as to what are “Wild Horses”, I have an idea but whenever I listen to the song with somebody I ask them what they think and how they interpret it.

“Wild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day.”

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

“Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck”Tom Waits, Old’ 55

As much as I like Tom Wait’s albums, his first is still my favorite. Closing Time is not innovative, it’s not as creative others, nothing about it is attractively bizarre… it’s just good, very fucking good.

I owe this album a lot, because going to 7 different record stores and finally finding a vinyl record of this album made for what ended up being one of my better gifts. The girl hadn’t heard it before, liked the concept, went to her parent’s house the next day to listen to it several times and told me later she loved it; to this day it’s the best relationship I’ve been in. So as I said before…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

However, part of me has to think… how could she not like it? She could not like me or hate needing a record player to listen to it, but not the songs. In my previous post I inadvertently wrote that “for me” Leonard Cohen was one of the classiest of his generation, this time I won’t be so conservative. Closing Time is an incredible album that everybody should like.

As soon as the first track begins, Old 55’, you feel driving alone in the highway leaving a girl behind…

“Well my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splickly out to my old ’55. As I drove away slowly, feeling so holy, God knows, I was feeling alive.”

But obviously…

“Just a-wishing I’d stayed a little longer”

Every time I go on a road trip Old 55’ is the go-to-song whenever I want to really start enjoying the road, it gets me excited about the moment, but more importantly brings back memories of the girl I’ve cared for the most. I’d heard the song dozens of times before ever hearing it with her, but the moment when I gave her the album is the first one that pops up whenever I listen to it now. That was 2 weeks before we began going out, so for a third time…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

One… two… three… four…