“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”

Thoughtful, impassioned, they easily open their minds

“Through the eyes of a child this world is truly divine” – The Tulips, Summer Song

After a horrible winter season and a stretch of cold and rainy days that has lasted well into May, I’m glad to say… it’s about summer. At least in my city. It’s usually my least favorite season, but not this year, this year… it’s about summer.

“All the kids, they want today, the world’s problems to go away, it’s about summer”

My grandmother passed away in April of 2012. She had 9 children, 7 sons/daughters-in-law and 8 grandchildren who looked up to her and loved her to death, she was unique. It’s been a little over two years and I still miss having her in my life, but as much as I miss her I also like being able to remember her so well. She was giving, loving and caring, but also fun, witty and passionate, for all that I’m fortunate to have spent 26 years of my life so close to her.

Around 2008 she began to get pretty sick, slowly at first, but it got progressively worse until she was pretty ill the last couple of years of her life. She had several surgeries in her track record, but most noticeably her memory began to fade. It was tough seeing a person who had been so energetic, who had raised 9 children, who liked to go mushroom picking on weekends, who loved going for walks or who kept the plants in her terrace in tip-top shape, have to spend most of her day in a sofa, a wheelchair or in a bed. However, as sad as the overall situation was when you were with her you kind of forgot about all that. My favorite days back then were those when I’d be able to pay my grandparents a visit, stay for lunch and just hang around with them in the living room until they inevitably dozed off for a nap.

“All the neighborhood catch the love. All wanna get along, in the summer.”

Which brings me to mention my grandfather (excluded from the 9+7+8 listed above because he was in a league of his own). As much as my whole family loved and cared for my grandmother, we were always blown away by how my grandfather dealt with her illness. He lived those years caring for her, putting his own health at risk and never losing faith (which he had a lot of) that she could get better. He was outstanding. Everyone in my family did everything they could to help out, but what we did can’t compare to what he did on a daily basis. I’m sure I’ll write a post (or twenty) about my grandfather, so for now I’ll just say that he was outstanding.

“All the kids, they want today. Look ya in the eye and say its ok. It’s about summer.”

In 2011 I saw the movie The Music Never Stopped, which tells the story of a father who reconnects with his son when he’s informed that he’s been in an accident and has developed a brain tumor that prevents him from forming new memories. The movie is decent (not great) but I really liked the premise of the story, which is that the father begins reconnecting with his son through music. Through his favorite songs the son’s able to remember things from his past and the father’s able to interact with him. It sounded a little familiar….

When my grandmother was in the hospital she’d have days where she could hardly be bothered to talk, yet whenever we’d sing her a song from back in the day she’d liven up. Even though she couldn’t remember why she was in the hospital or what they were doing to her, she’d all of a sudden remember the lyrics to a song and sing along, it was incredible. As I was watching the film I couldn’t help but make the link. We sang her a bunch if different songs, songs she’d listened to for years throughout her life, but for some reason for this post I wanted to take a song from the movie. The movie soundtrack is great and it includes artists such as The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles and a bunch of others. However, the song that stuck with me after the movie was from a hardly-known band called The Tulips. I barely know anything about them, all I read online was that they formed in the 60’s, that their lead singer died electrocuted and that the group dissolved soon after that. That’s it. I doubt I’ll ever hear much about The Tulips, but their song Summer Song I’ll fish out every now and as usual I’m sure it’ll put me in a good mood.

“It’s about summer”

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”

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”

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”