‘The Way Things are Going…’

Thursday’s post, complete with Beatles tune at the end, got me thinking about the weekend playlist, so I have decided to get a jump on the Shuffle Daemon and create my own theme for some Saturday tuneage.

For some reason, I always closely associate Ob-la-di Ob-la-da with The Ballad of John and Yoko.  Likely because they are both on the same side of the same record in the 2-record ‘Blue Album’ compilation of hits from 1967-1970.  I played that particular album a lot at one point in time.

Like those long-haired weirdos themselves, the song attracted its share of controversy, given John’s history of self-comparison with Jesus.  Even if it is the story of John and Yoko’s honeymoon.

‘Christ you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be

The way things are going they’re going to crucify me’

John’s line about being “more popular than Jesus” in 1966 was made in the context of a discussion that had been happening in the UK since the end of WWI regarding the decline of Christianity.  It came out of John’s own studies about the phenomenon and was an expression of an opinion that was pretty well supported by academic evidence.  The comment provoked no reaction in the UK.

But the States?  Whoa boy.  As is their continuing wont, America over-reacted and started banning the Beatles from the airways, burning their albums and accusing them of blasphemy.  Over a decade later, a born-again Christian who had been a Beatles fan until John’s comment about Jesus, murdered him in Central Park.

The 1969 Ballad of John and Yoko was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the hoopla caused by a comprehensive interview being taken out of context.  I love the song- not just because it is snappy and fun, but because John and Paul recoded it together- just the two of them- when George and Ringo were tied up with other responsibilities.  They played all the instruments and provided all the vocals.  It was the probably the last great blast from a musical partnership that has yet to be matched.

This one is great for so many reasons.  Some pretty wicked fiddling happening there (and I’m not generally into the fiddle tunes) but I love how it plays with themes from myth and folklore while paying respects to a number of different traditional ditties in Johnny’s performance (in contradistinction to the Devil’s heavy guitar-based rock and roll).

The motif of the ‘Deal with the Devil’ is played with and made into a competition, which Johnny wins.  Interestingly, he is hardly the poster child for virtue- his vanity/hubris is pretty spectacular.  Even if it is an accurate assessment of his talent.

The best line in the song was unfortunately *blanked* out/changed for radio/television airplay.

‘I done told you once you son of a bitch I’m the best there’s ever been.’

The confidence- and lack of fear- is a pretty neato variation of the whole Faustian bargain thing.  And the fiddle prowess at the centre of it all evokes the legend of Paganini.

The Devil and music are often found together.   Blues musician Robert Johnson made a deal with Satan at a crossroads that led to his mastery of the guitar.  Love the liminality of that particular story.  And crossroads demons have gained some contemporary pop cultural revisiting on Supernatural.

Deals with the Devil for advancement or powers beyond ordinary ken are cautionary tales having to do with the dangers of vanity, hubris, greed and any other vice/deadly sin that you can think of.  Typical mythological motif.

The idea that the Devil can be beat though… so very human in its optimism.  And it takes the edge off the power of Satan when people manage to win every once in a while.

Well done, Charlie Daniels.

Wall of Voodoo- with new lead singer Andy Prieboy, who replaced Stan Ridgway in 1983- combined both Jesus and John Lennon in Far Side of Crazy.  The song is full of historical-cultural references that go along with the characters drawn from myth/history.

It’s quite a clever song, lyrically. The protagonist self-describes as both Pilate and Jesus and then goes on to talk about relating to both John Lennon and his murderer, as well as would-be Presidential assassin John Hinkley and his victims (‘I shot an actor for an actress’).  The tension between fandom/obsession and violence as well as religious (and literary- both shootings had associations with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye) manifestations of mental illness, is clearly expressed in the tune.

And the video is pretty trippy.

Even if that clown is terrifying.

Depeche Mode’s 1989 song demonstrates a shift in cultural mores- enough so that a title- and theme- like Personal Jesus can slip into popular culture without much outcry.  Martin Gore has said that the song was influenced by the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla Presley, as described in her memoir Elvis and Me.

It’s about the imbalance that can happen in relationships, when one partner is both lover and leader/teacher and becomes the totality of the world.  The analogy certainly doesn’t present the relationship between deity and adherent in all that healthy a light either.

They will be in town in a couple of weeks, and you know that this song will make the set list.  I’ve seen Dave Gahan sing this song live at least 4 times, and the experience remains electric.  His charisma- always pretty emphatic- really becomes transcendent when he performs this tune.

I wrote here about two Don Henley songs that have impacted my life, and this is another one that resonates in so manymany ways.

1995 was a weird year.

Shortly after the song was released I heard an interview with Don in which he described it as something of sequel to Hotel California.  Like that classic, The Garden of Allah is social commentary.  In a big and pretty condemnatory way.  He critiques music, fashion and the media, in particular citing the media circus and the debasement of the criminal justice system (including some unscrupulous ‘expert witnesses’) in the travesty that was the OJ Simpson trial.

It is told from the point of view of a very disgruntled Devil, who is feeling completely superfluous as humanity surpasses even his capacity for evil.  The Devil recounts happier days, going all the way back to the Garden and times of relative harmony in Heaven- when the gods (note the plural) valued him (for his ‘talents and creativity’).  Even once the Devil and his companions are tossed at the end of the war, the earth remained a viable playground for his ministrations.

Not so much anymore.  This world has become far too much like ‘home’ and there’s nothing left for him to do or ‘claim’.  A Devil without purpose in a world without soul and in which notoriety and fame have become inseparable.

Can’t say that things have improved since 1995.  That slope has proven far too slippery.  Once again Don’s vision, couched in the language of myth, went ignored.  Sigh.  The wilderness is still swallowing the most important of our voices.

Of course, since nothing he writes has only one layer or meaning, the Garden of Allah references more than just the abandoned Eden we can no longer access.  Don is also evoking the Golden Age of Hollywood, and an apartment complex built by the actress Alla Nazimova.  The site was the scene of notorious parties and housed all kinds of celebrities over its lifetime (including F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937-38).

Man, that guy is just tootoo fine a lyricist.  Every time I hear this song its nuances hit me in the gut.   

Still, it is the weekend, and a good playlist shouldn’t be ALL about thought-provocation and insight.

Tenacious D.  Jack Black and Kyle Gass.  Tribute is thematically similar to The Devil Went Down to Georgia except that the duo is given no choice but to perform “the Greatest Song in the World” in order to avoid having their souls eaten by the demon who accosts them on the road.  The demon is, naturally, Dave Grohl (who played drums on all of Tenacious D’s studio albums).

They comply, and save their souls, but they are unable, afterward, to remember just which song it was that they played.

It’s silly.  And fun.

Music and Myth.

Getting the weekend off to a great start.

Enjoy.

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3 comments on “‘The Way Things are Going…’

  1. Rick says:

    The Garden of Allah is one of my favorites, but most people I know have never heard of it. Great list.

  2. colemining says:

    It does have an unfortunate tendency to get lost in all the ‘lousy rock and roll’ of that time period. Which is a shame. I almost forgot how much I love it. Compiling this list brought it all back home to me. Thanks for reading Rick!

  3. […] the archive of ‘Devil’s Pact’ posts caught my eye, given the weekend’s playlist and my brief mention of the deals done at the crossroads (not to mention the inclusion of a song by […]

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