“Fools” said I, “You do not know”

I published my last post on July 6th. Soon after that I went on vacation and I told myself that I wouldn’t write for that whole week but that I’d get back to it soon after that, it’s been over a month. It’s not writer´s block, it’s laziness, the thing that this blog was meant to help me overcome. I wanted this blog to force me to write and for a couple of months it did just that, but the moment I took a break getting back into the habit has proven quite difficult. So I thought that, given the nature of this blog, the best way to get back to writing was to find a fitting soundtrack for my laziness. And I can’t imagine a better one…

“Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again”

The Sound of Silence is a downer, that’s how my brother defined it one day when we were talking about music back in the day. He’s right, it’s a downer. Then again… so are Tears in Heaven, While My Guitar Gentle Weeps or It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. So the fact that it’s a downer has never been an issue. I think the song’s great, and while I wouldn’t play it at a party I love listening to it on my own, which happens to be my favorite way of listening to music. The Sound of Silence, or The Sounds of Silence as it was originally called, is a great song, my favorite of Simon and Garfunkel… one that when it’s not been recently overplayed has that goose bump feeling to it every time. Maybe that’s why I’m going with a different version today, it’s best not to overplay the original.

“Because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping”

I came across Carmen McRae’s version during the final credits of a worthless short film. Maybe I should be thankful because after discovering this version it’s the one I’ve listened to the most in the last 2 or 3 years, but the short film was truly awful. I like her deep voice and love the changes in rhythm she introduces into the song.  Every time I play it in front of my girlfriend I always get the same remark: “It’s good, but I like the original better”. Much like my brother, she’s right, the original is better.  Then again… so are Bob Dylan’s original versions of All Along the Watchtower, Mr. Tambourine Man or Like a Rolling Stone and that didn’t prevent Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and The Rolling Stones from making pretty great covers. So, again, that’s not an issue. Carmen McRae’s cover is a great take on the original, and I highly recommend it as a way to “detox yourself” from the overplayed original. Something I’d recommend doing with a bunch of other songs as well, Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven and Satisfaction come to mind… (Any good substitutes for those?)

“In restless dreams I walked alone. Narrow streets of cobblestone”

I’m not sure I can pin-point significant memories which come to mind when I listen to the song. I friend and I did get asked during a joint verbal exam to explain what we interpreted from the sentence “Silence worries me”… and obviously we paraphrased a lot of the song’s lyrics in our answer. I once remember downloading a live version of the song which featured Bob Dylan… and obviously considered that my favorite version for a good year or two. During a short stint working in Latin America I remember my co-coworker having it as his ring tone… and obviously whistled the tune every time he received a call. I know none of those are particularly fond memories, but it’s only because it’s a song that’s often been around me and which I think I’ve heard too many times to be able associate with something truly personal or unique. I’m the one being a bit of a downer now. Pity.

“And in the naked light I saw. Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening.”

I hope that whoever’s made it this far gives this version a chance, no matter how much you like or dislike the original. My blog post can be your equivalent of the shitty short film I had to suffer through. For me, who knows, maybe if I break out of my laziness it’ll become the song I uniquely and significantly remember for doing just that. I hope so.

“No one dare. Disturb… the sound of silence”

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The doctor wants to give me more injections

“Connection, I just can’t make no connection.” The Rolling Stones, Connection

Today I woke up to news that an old professor of mine has become the favorite to lead a fairly large political party in Europe. The move would be part of the party’s rejuvenation process after a poor performance in the recent EU parliamentary elections. It might not happen, but it brought back memories of his class which was one of the best I took back in college. At the time he seemed to have a pretty promising career and at the personal level he was a pretty bright guy, with a good sense of humor and great social skills. He could teach too.

“My bags they get a very close inspection. I wonder why it is… that they suspect ’em

It’s not that I had forgotten about that class, or the teacher, until this morning, but what I had forgotten that he had a blog! He shut it down soon after my class with him ended, but I remembered checking it out a few times back then. It wasn’t a blog about politics, just a kind of personal blog where he posted interesting articles, book recommendations and, as you might have guessed, music he liked. I liked that.

“They’re dying to add me to their collection, and I don’t knooooow if they’ll let me gooooo”

The year was 2008 and Martin Scorsese’s documentary Shine a Light (mentioned in a previous post) had just come out. My friends and I were a bit disappointed by the film, but 2 hours of listening to The Rolling Stones is never a bad choice so it we still enjoyed it overall. The problem was that it wasn’t The Last Waltz, it wasn’t No Direction Home and that it would even later pale in comparison to his next documentary about George Harrison (which I loved).

“Everything is going in the wrong direction”

Weeks after seeing the film, during the semester I was taking the class in question, I went on to the teacher’s blog and was surprised to find an entry linking to a live performance of Connection, a Rolling Stone’s song I really like. The next day after class I caught up with him during a break, or after class, and couldn’t help but mention his blog. He kind of laughed it off saying something like “Oh yeah, the blog. I like posting things every now and then”. But I didn’t really give a fuck about the blog, I wanted to know why he’d posted Connection. So I followed up with a mystical comment along the lines of “So Connection…”

“But all I want to doooo, is to get back to youuuu.”

So we got down to music…. and he admitted to being a Keith Richards fan but not that big on the Stones, poor ignorant… (well, probably not poor and definitely not ignorant). He told me he’d been to see Shine a Light, had also thought it wasn’t great but had enjoyed revisiting a few songs he hadn’t heard in a while, such as Connection. With that answer he passed my test. He posted a few other songs before closing the blog which were completely atrocious, but I decided to give him a pass solely on Connection. I hope he gets chosen to lead the party, partly because back then he seemed to have the chops to make for a good political leader, but mostly because there was a point in his life he decided to post Connection on a shitty blog. That, I respect.

I’ll show you something, to make you change your mind

“Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London” – Ralph McTell, Streets of London

I could have picked around 50 songs to help me shape a memory of my father, but Streets of London had to be my first choice. The song is by British folk singer Ralph McTell who, in all honesty, I don’t know anything about. I’d struggle in trying to name three songs of his and would ultimately end up failing. Although I do know Streets of London pretty much by heart, and it’s a damn good song. The song is basically asking people who complain how they’re able to do so with so many people around them who are worse off, so I like the lyrics as well as the melody.

“Have you seen the old man in the closed down market,
Kicking up the paper with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride, hand held loosely at his side,
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news.”

I mentioned my father before in the post where I linked Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages and he’s bound to come up more often. He’s someone I should thank regularly for the musical influence he had on me, thanks to him there was always good music playing around the house or on our family road trips. He liked folk music, classic rock, jazz, blues and a bunch of other good genres, plus he was always buying new records and CD’s so it wasn’t the same albums playing over and over again. He still loves music today and (most of the time) has a pretty good taste for it. Streets of London was his discovery and, as I mentioned before, it’s a damn good song.

“So how can you tell me, you’re lonely
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, 
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.”

The reason I immediately link this song to my father as soon as I hear the first few chords dates back to about six years. It’s at this point that I should mention that my father, as well as being an avid listener of good music is a self-taught guitar and piano player. He’s not a very good musician, but a musician none the less… and the only one in the family. So six years ago he picked up the score to Streets of London from a random songbook and the usual learning process began to take its natural course:

After a week…

– “Hey, come listen to this song on the piano. It’s sounding pretty good, right?”. It was not.

A few weeks later…

– “Come over, I think I’ve got it down pretty well”. He did not.

This usually goes on for about a month then he moves on to a different song, but with Streets of London it lasted more like six months. It was a struggle, for all of us. He still plays it every now and then and truth be told, if the original is a damn good song, my father’s cover on the piano is damn good too. Don’t worry, I’ve linked the original below.

“Have you seen the old girl who walks the streets of London,
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking, she just keeps right on walking,
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.”

 

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”

 

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”