“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”

Advertisements

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…

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”