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…

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…

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?”