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…

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!”