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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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…

Watch out now, take care

“Beware of greedy leaders. They take you where you should not go.” George Harrison, Beware of Darkness

George Harrison is the best. I like all members of The Beatles, all three of them plus Ringo Starr, but Harrison is a step in front. His songs with The Beatles are special and I also like his solo albums more than those of Paul McCartney or John Lennon, but what impresses me the most is the way he carried himself. Whenever I brush up on Beatles’ history I always get the impression that Harrison led the lifestyle that he wanted, while the others were influenced by their status. Harrison’s the one I would’ve liked to have met, no doubt about it.

Beware of the thoughts that linger. Winding up inside your head. The hopelessness around you.”

When I heard in 2011 that Martin Scorsese was going to follow-up his Rolling Stone documentary Shine A Light with one about the life of George Harrison I was ecstatic. As soon as George Harrison: Living in the Material World came out I went with two friends to see it in the only cinema in the city that was showing it, an 11 pm passing of this three and a half hour documentary. It was completely worth it, just a great plan for a random Wednesday.

The documentary is well made, but even if it hadn’t been I’m pretty sure I would’ve liked it. It’s just so much Harrison condensed in one film, it’s incredible. Musicians like Tom Petty or Eric Clapton pop in for interesting anecdotes, but mostly you enjoy the focus on Harrison, a guy so talented and creative that even after having been a part of the Beatles you could argue he’s underrated. I thanked Tom before, now I have to do the same with Martin, thanks.

So for the rest of that month practically all I listened to was George Harrison, I played his solo albums and made sure my MP3 player (this was a good 5 years after my discman days mentioned in yesterday’s post) included all his songs with the Beatles. There are a few of his songs which I like better that Beware of Darkness, but for some reason they included a live performance of it during the documentary which I really liked. So before I continue rambling on about the great George Harrison…

“Beware of darkness”

Let’s do some living, after we die

“I have my freedom… but I don’t have much time” – Rolling Stones, Wild Horses

When I was in college I watched a bunch of documentaries about my favorite artists. No Direction Home had come out not too long ago and I was searching for others that were just as good. I watched the incredible The Last Waltz and loved another Dylan documentary called Don’t Look Back, but for some reason the one I liked most at the time was the Stones’ Gimme Shelter.

The fact that the documentary was focused on the Altamont concert the Stones gave in 1969 was very appealing. It was famous because the band had hired the Hells Angels to run security and midway through the concert a man carrying a gun was stabbed to death by one of the Hells Angels.

From the documentary there are two scenes I remember vividly…

The first is the Stones in a studio actually looking at the footage of the man taking his gun out and getting stabbed. They make comments as they watch the scene several times and even freeze the image every now and then so they can see the gun and the stabbing.

The second is a scene where the band listens to one of my favorite Rolling Stone songs they’ve just finished recording, Wild Horses. It’s a rare breed for a song, one of those I like more over time. It helps that it’s not overplayed and whenever I hear it I rarely feel that I’ve heard it not too long ago. Yesterday, when watching the documentary Muscle Shoals (not great, unfortunately), I was excited when I saw the exact same scene which I remembered perfectly from 8 or 9 years ago. Coincidentally it was recorded at a Muscle Shoals studio and the scene, in my opinion and I hope in everybody else’s too, stole the documentary.

The clip has a lot of character: Keith Richards mouthing the song, Charlie Watts looking at the floor, Mick Jagger burying his head in his hands but softly clapping with a smile on his face when it’s over…. it’s just memorable.

It’s a song that’s been with me the last ten years, I’ve listened to it with girlfriends, with friends and mostly on my own. Yet to this day I have doubts as to what are “Wild Horses”, I have an idea but whenever I listen to the song with somebody I ask them what they think and how they interpret it.

“Wild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day.”