Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart

“You must forgive me, my unworthiness.” – Bob Dylan, Sara

I love songs with girl’s names in the title. I don’t know if that counts as a genre but it very well should, there’s a common element among songs that are boldly dedicated to a girl. I can’t play a single chord, but I can imagine that writing a song to girl knowing that she’s going to listen to it has to be a bit a challenge. There’s an element of exposure that I’m sure has to be similar no matter what type of music you play. So I’ll go ahead and keep writing, because I don’t know chords, but I do know about being exposed.

“You came up behind me, I saw you go by. You were always so close and still within reach.”

I’m trying to think of songs by female artists that have a man’s name in the title and I’m mostly drawing blanks. There’s Carly Simon’s Jesse… not really my cup of tea, Blondie’s Denis… which is a pretty shitty song that for some reason I like, Patti Smith’s Frederick… which I think is great, and the last I can come up with is Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee… which is an incredible song, but she didn’t write it. She even changed Kris Kristofferson’s lyrics so that it would be about a man, so that loses some points. Are there any good ones I’m missing? I’m sure there are.

“Sweet virgin angel, sweet love of my life”

I will always defend, at the risk of being criticized, that men are better musicians than women… but that’s only thanks to women. I’ll argue till the end of time (but hopefully it won’t come to that) that women stimulate men’s artistic creativity much more than the other way around. Musically speaking, women are a much better influence. I’ve never seen a woman use music to try to pick up a guy, never, but I’ve seen the opposite happen way too many times. My impression is that both male and female musicians share many types of motivation when they’re writing songs (it’s a form of expression, a way to have fun, a way to feel unique, etc.), but men have an extra source of creative motivation. They see music as a means for flirting, seducing, having sex, becoming more attractive… Did I say sex already? I think this shouldn’t be underestimated. How influential was the possibility of getting girls on the songs of Cohen, Dylan, Waits, Springsteen, Cash, Nelson and the others? I’d say a lot. I don’t think getting guys was part of the creative process for Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Aretha Franklin or Tracy Chapman. Not in the least.

“Loving you is the one thing I’ll never regret.”

So going back to my idea at the beginning of the post… I think is there’s a common element, exposure, in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, CCR’s Susie Q (not written by them), Van Morrison’s Gloria, Tom Wait’s Alice, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, The Rolling Stone’s Angie, Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, etc. These songs had the challenge of appealing to a larger audience while at the same time serving another purpose; they needed to appeal to a specific girl. That’s tough to do, I’m sure many of them were able to accomplish the first but not the second. Who knows if Suzanne or Angela were the least bit impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them thought “what the fuck is this corny shit?

“How did I meet you ? I don’t know. A messenger sent me in a tropical storm”

I picked the song Sara by Bob Dylan for two reasons: Sara was the name of my first post-puberty crush (a lovely girl based on the 5 minutes of accumulated conversation we had) and because it’s my favorite song within the ‘girl’s name in the title’ genre. I’ve listened to this song a hundred times, I love the lyrics as well as the way it fixates on the name: “Saraaaa, Saraaa…”. I really like that it reminds me of that girl back in high school. Since I hardly knew that girl, since I haven’t seen her since I was 16 and, especially, since I have absolutely no idea what she looks like, who she is or what she’s doing with her life, she can play the role of an “unidentified girl I’m attracted to” in my life. This concept, which I admit to improvising its name, is a very important one. I think we should all have the ability to imagine an unidentified person we’re attracted to, somebody we can’t quite picture but that we conceive as relatively tangible despite not being real. Somebody you can fish out if you’re listening to Sara or Suzanne and want to relate to the lyrics without linking them to somebody in real life. Some things remind you exactly of somebody you know, which is great, but other times this ambiguous figure can play the part. Ambiguous, but not completely. It’s a figure you’ve loosely based on this or that feeling, or experience, so it’s closer than something you’ve just made up. For me it varies, but many times it’s taken the shape of a grown-up version of Sara, whatever her last name might have been. That girl I one had a crush on and whom I thought all these great things of despite hardly ever talking to her. Mix that with a bunch of other traits I’ve thrown her way over time and there she is this unidentified girl I’m attracted to. It’s a good thing to have.

“Staying up for days, in the Chelsea Hotel. Writing Sad-Eyed Lady, of the Lowlands for you.”

If I had to pick a name for a song title I’m not sure which one I would choose (given that Dylan already took care of Sara, the good one, not the one I once met). There’s a name that would cover half of my grandmother’s name, an ex-girlfriend, a close friend, a fling and my current girlfriend’s nickname. I guess that would be a good candidate, although I think these songs should only be about one person, that’s were their value really is. I could pick my girlfriend’s real name, but would run the risk of hearing “what the fuck is this corny shit?” My mother’s name already has a few fitting songs so that wouldn’t be very original. No sisters, daughters or nieces. No lovers, no prostitutes, no ex-wives nor drugs I can subtly refer to by a girl’s name (I lead a very boring life…). I’ll need to keep thinking and fortunately my inability to strike a chord (a musical one, that is) has won me plenty of time. Meanwhile here’s one I relate to unidentified girl I’m attracted to.

“Saraaa, Saraaa. So easy to look at, so hard to define.”

 

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Trying to please to the calling

“Well, it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance. With the stars up above in your eyes” Van Morrison, Moondance

A few months ago I asked my girlfriend a very simple question: How many men (ex-boyfriends, admirers, flings, friends…) have told you that the song Brown Eyed Girl Reminds them of you?

“A fantabulous night to make romance, ‘Neath the cover of October skies”

She laughed, digressed a little bit saying she liked the song and then kind of insinuated that a few might have. I’m sure they have, she’s a pretty girl with dark eyes. I didn’t get the number, but my guess would be no less than 3. I can’t blame them really, Van Morrison released an incredible song with the overall message being “you’re my brown eyed girl”, what else needs to be said? Somebody should try to measure the amount of sex that Van Morrison has brought to this world, perhaps only rivaled by the amount induced by Leonard Cohen. Aren’t people at MIT looking into this? Undoubtedly there’s a significant group of guys out there who should send out a collective ‘thank you’ to Van Morrison. I’m definitely one of them, but not because of Brown Eyed Girl.

“And all the leaves on the trees are falling, To the sound of the breezes that blow”

I have never, never, never used the Brown Eyed Girl line and I think every woman should roll their eyes if they ever heard it used on them, but then again who am I to judge. I’d probably love it if somebody told me I remind them of Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird or the Highwaymen’s Highwayman. So let’s just all say thank you, thank the artists in question and, most importantly… enjoy the sex or at least get a kick out of somebody rolling their eyes at us. Hopefully it’s the first, but the latter can be fun too.

“And when you come my heart will be waiting. To make sure that you’re never alone”

I know I need to thank Van Morrison, but in my case for Moondance. It’s been my favorite/go-to romantic song for years, as well as my favorite Van Morrison song in general. I first heard it as a teenager in the 90’s when my father bought one of his greatest hits CD that featured Moondance (third track). Although I didn’t start to really like him until several years later, when I began driving and I picked up that same CD to listen to in the car. I remember at the time I was using my grandfather’s car which he wasn’t using anymore. It was 20 years old at the time and it’s still running today, it’s as boxy a car as cars get… and for some reason it has a CD player my grandfather decided to have installed. Inside that shitty car without power steering I discovered how good Van Morrison was, and in the upcoming years discovered the seductive powers of Moondance. I don’t think I’ve used those seductive powers much to my advantage, but I definitely discovered they were there. Ripe for the picking, pro bono courtesy of Van Morrison. Well, not really pro bono at the time, but for the moderate price of 15 bucks.

“Can I just have one a’ more Moondance with you, my love. Can I just make some more romance with a-you, my love”

In the pouring rain…

“Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs. Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known” – The Beatles, Penny Lane

Why was she humming Penny Lane? I’ve wondered that a few times. It’s not a bad song, but hardly one of The Beatles’ best. It is catchy, I guess that could’ve been it. Although maybe there’s another reason, one I’m not sure I’ll ever find out.

“In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass, and in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen.”

I worked with her for two years, the second of which sharing a desk while we typed away on our piece of shit laptops. Hipsters would’ve loved them; I thought they were pieces of shit. It was a great working relationship, we discussed the projects we were involved in, we stopped every now and then to chat about… well, anything really… and we had fun joking around. Our jobs weren’t very stimulating, but we had great times. So I wonder, where did Penny Lane come from?

“Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout..”

We talked about music occasionally, we both loved the classics: in her case Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky… in mine Dylan, Cohen, Waits, Joplin, Van Morrison, Lennon, Baez, Petty, Harrison, McCartney, Jagger, Richards, Fogerty, Townshend, etc. (just a much better list in general). Yet we still managed to find a lot of common ground, and talking about music was commons practice during our last months working together. Even so I never asked her, why Penny Lane?

“On the corner is a banker with a motorcar. The little children laugh at him behind his back”

I can’t remember exactly when it first happened, but my guess is that it was around the fall of 2012. It was just a random day at work and for some reason she began to hum Penny LaneNa, na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na-na… I love The Beatles, so I nodded along as I typed on my computer (I may have even made a poor attempt at whistling the melody, that sounds like something I would’ve done). The song struck me as an odd choice for her, but for some reason she got into the habit of humming the song fairly often during the next few months. The most I recall saying is something along the lines of “Oh, Penny Lane, nice song”, but that was it. After she began going back to it pretty often I began to wonder, why Penny Lane?

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes”

Did she just hum it for kicks? Did she like the catchy melody? Did she listen to it growing up? Did it have some romantic meaning? Had she made love to it? Had she seen McCartney play it live? Has she actually been to Penny Lane? I’ve often wondered… I probably should have asked her at the time, but it’s one of things where I’ve become more curious over time, a little bit more every time she hummed it. One option would be to ask her now, because as I mentioned before, my current girlfriend used to be my co-worker (I’ll let you put two and two together…). I know I’ll definitely be tempted to next time I hear her humming it, but I kind of like the option of just wondering… why Penny Lane?

“There, beneath the blue, suburban skies”

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”

 

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!”

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”

 

 

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…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

“Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck”Tom Waits, Old’ 55

As much as I like Tom Wait’s albums, his first is still my favorite. Closing Time is not innovative, it’s not as creative others, nothing about it is attractively bizarre… it’s just good, very fucking good.

I owe this album a lot, because going to 7 different record stores and finally finding a vinyl record of this album made for what ended up being one of my better gifts. The girl hadn’t heard it before, liked the concept, went to her parent’s house the next day to listen to it several times and told me later she loved it; to this day it’s the best relationship I’ve been in. So as I said before…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

However, part of me has to think… how could she not like it? She could not like me or hate needing a record player to listen to it, but not the songs. In my previous post I inadvertently wrote that “for me” Leonard Cohen was one of the classiest of his generation, this time I won’t be so conservative. Closing Time is an incredible album that everybody should like.

As soon as the first track begins, Old 55’, you feel driving alone in the highway leaving a girl behind…

“Well my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splickly out to my old ’55. As I drove away slowly, feeling so holy, God knows, I was feeling alive.”

But obviously…

“Just a-wishing I’d stayed a little longer”

Every time I go on a road trip Old 55’ is the go-to-song whenever I want to really start enjoying the road, it gets me excited about the moment, but more importantly brings back memories of the girl I’ve cared for the most. I’d heard the song dozens of times before ever hearing it with her, but the moment when I gave her the album is the first one that pops up whenever I listen to it now. That was 2 weeks before we began going out, so for a third time…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

One… two… three… four…

Fallen Robin

“You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception” Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel No.2

In my attempt, through this blog, to write about specific memories of the last 10 years of my life, one of the artists that will come up is Leonard Cohen. For me the classiest songwriter of his generation, or at least classiest in the way I like, which means that he’s able to say all the things going thought his head, be them beautiful, filthy or despicable with style and grace.

His song Chelsea Hotel No.2 I would love to say reminds me of a personal relationship I’ve had, but that’s simply not the case. However, the song (dedicated to Janis Joplin) depicts so many elements of a relationship that didn’t last, that it’s hard not to find a lyric in there to which one can relate.

It goes from sex…

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, you were talking so brave and so sweet, giving me head on the unmade bed…”

to separation…

“Ah but you got away, didn’t you babe, you just turned your back on the crowd, you got away, I never once heard you say, I need you, I don’t need you..”

to a simple memory…

“I don’t mean to suggest that I loved you the best, I can’t keep track of each fallen robin. I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”

I few years ago I began dating a girl I’d been friends with for a while. It didn’t last very much and the relationship ended for reasons that could have been obvious from the beginning. We had fun, but at the end things went sour, had a rough couple of weeks, moved on and I haven’t heard from her since. While I’d have many reasons to have a bad memory of her, that’s just simply not the case. I wish I could be as smooth as Leonard Cohen and say “I can’t keep track of each fallen robin” (not so many fallen robins on my list…), but for other reasons it’s clear that I really didn’t love her the best and simply don’t think of her that often.

I just simply “remember” her; I have isolated memories. Everything in between which are the feelings I had, the things I liked about her, the things I didn’t, her personality, the things I wanted when I was with her… all of that is completely gone.

So I can say I remember her… well? Not really, at her apartment, at a beach, at a hotel (not the Chelsea), but not much else, none of the good stuff.

Anyway, we’re ugly, but we have the music: