She was someone I should know

“Well, I was born to have adventure. So I just followed up the steps” – Frank Zappa, Camarillo Brillo

I’m sorry for the misleading title, but this post had nothing to do with any girl. It’s just that my favorite line from Frank Zappa’s Camarillo Brillo is “She said she was a Magic Mama, and she could throw a mean Tarot. And carried on without a comma, that she was someone I should know and that’s the song that’s gonna help me out today.

I must warn that I don’t really like Frank Zappa a whole lot, maybe it’s that he’s a little too bizarre for my taste or maybe it’s because he mocked Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, who knows. However, I really like his song Camarillo Brillo. It’s a something that could have been played by somebody like Iggy Pop, or maybe even The Rolling Stones, and it would and have become an instant hit. It’s a great a song and it’s also pretty funny, something I don’t really look for in songs, Boy Named Sue not withstanding.

“She had a snake for a pet and an amulet, and she was breeding a dwarf, but she wasn’t done yet”

It was a friend who introduced me to Frank Zappa when I spent a year abroad. We were good buddies from back home so we spent a lot of time together, specially at the beginning of the year. I tried to influence him towards country music, with quite a bit of success thanks to one of my favorite albums: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson: VH1 Storytellers. Undoubtedly my favorite unplugged album along with Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. He tried to influence me towards Frank Zappa… but failed miserably. Although I did end up loving Camarillo Brillo, I’ll give him that.

“She ruled the Toads of the Short Forest, and every newt in Idaho

As I mentioned in my post Girls’ faces formed the forward path, I went on a long hiking trip by myself when I was in college, about 2 years after my year abroad. After my first day of hiking I met a guy whose name was Xavi, in his 40’s. He was also hiking by himself so we got to talking a little bit, because even though we didn’t hike together we ended up sleeping in the same hostels the next three days. In all honesty, he was a bit intense and occasionally the thought of him please shutting the fuck up did pop into my mind. Although overall he seemed like a nice guy and the spirit of the hike was to get along with whomever I met, so we did go out for drinks a couple of those nights. I took a liking to good old Xavi.

“She stripped away her rancid poncho, and laid out naked by the door”

 Xavi told me that he was an artist; he painted paintings, murals and did a little sculpting. He explained some of the work that he’d done, mentioned some famous artists he’d interacted with professionally and even told me a little bit about his future projects. Modesty wasn’t his forte. At one point during our last drinks he mentioned that as an artist he’d often been compared to a musician, one who’s name was on the tip of his tongue but couldn’t remember at that moment. He tried to get me to help him out… “he’s a vocalist”, “very obscure”, “he has a cult following”… my best guess was Tom Waits but that wasn’t it. The next day after the hike we met at the same hostel, we were beat so we didn’t go out. He got up early the next morning so I didn’t get to day goodbye. When I woke up I saw he’d left a carbon drawing of a church we’d passed along the hike on top of my backpack, the inscription read: “It was Frank Zappa!!”

So as I said before, I took a liking to good old Xavi…

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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?”