‘Just find a place to make your stand’

It’s a side-effect of getting older, I suppose- watching those we grew up honouring and loving for the contributions that they made to our lives pass away. The fact that we never knew them personally doesn’t lessen the loss at all.

Still weeping for David, I’m reeling with yesterday’s news about Glenn Frey. I’ve written about the Eagles many times – they are, by a considerable margin – my favourite US band. Feeling a little exhausted (it’s been one of those weeks in my ‘real world’ as well), I was going to just reblog one of those old posts with a new intro and call it a night. WordPress didn’t feel like cooperating. Try as I might, I could not get the thing to re-post. So, instead, I’ve modified and cut-and-pasted this oldie-but-goodie – with a new title, although the substance of the original post remains the same. It’s part of a series I started ages ago about ‘songs that can change a life’. The Eagles had a whole passel of those.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley were one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 70s. Although I’ve always loved Don best (I have a thing for drummers), as he noted in his touching tribute yesterday, ‘Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.’

The line up there ^^^ that I’ve used as the ‘new’ post title came from a tune he wrote with Jackson Browne (another wonderful singer-songwriter), and exemplifies so much of the fun and spark that Don was talking about. Certain songs just stick with you. Glenn Frey (co)wrote more than a few of the best of them.

I love the Eagles.  Not a fan of Country as a genre, but there’s something about that Country/Rock cross-over (California Rock?) that reminds me of summertime and lakes and cottages and bonfires on beaches.

I have Hotel California (1976) on vinyl, kept in storage with the rest of my favourite records and waiting for the day that I purchase something on which to play them- with all the atmospheric pops and skips intact – although I have always taken meticulous care of my vinyl, so the latter are few and far between (Little side note- Hotel California and all its friends will soon be released from storage, since, in the midst of all the impossible losses of the week, we somehow managed to buy a house yesterday…).

The entirety of the album is thematic- it’s a ‘concept album’ that the Eagles have said was meant to represent the decline of the US as it slipped into materialism and superficiality.  In hindsight, the record was distressingly prophetic.

Both the title song and the album as a whole generally rank pretty high when ‘greatest songs/albums’ are tallied- if you put any stock in such things.  I don’t, really, but I DO have to agree that it contains some great songs, two in particular, that figure near the Top of my personal Pops as incredible story songs.

The title tune, with lyrics by Glenn Frey, recounts the saga of someone trying to live the high life associated with California in the 1970s.  It’s an allegorical trip through the desert to the fancy hotel that appears like an oasis out of the darkness.

On the surface, the hotel seems to offer all the trappings of fame and fortune that California seemed to promise those who arrive, with stars in their eyes, seeking such things.  But the ‘spirit‘ of the peace and love movement of the previous decade hasn’t been around the Hotel California ‘since 1969‘, while the excesses and wealth of the 70s have imprisoned all those who reached for the heights and found nothing but materialism and superficiality.

The opening guitar riff takes me to that highway – and to the sense of uncertainty and entrapment that the song suggests is the direction that society has chosen.  It is a harbinger- and one that has been realized as we look back from a distance of almost 40 (!) years.

The album’s final track has an even bleaker message.  The Last Resort is an epic composition, referencing environmental degradation, institutionalized racism and the myth of manifest destiny.

While Hotel California is all about evoking lonely and deserted highways, The Last Resort takes me to a beach, on a lake, as the sun is setting and the stars and Northern Lights are beginning to brighten the darkness.  It never fails to transport me to my personal paradise.

Don Henley’s lyric traces America’s history – and its tendency to destroy as it attempts to create.  It is about the evils of colonialism and the guiding principle of manifest destiny as it became enshrined to further the development (or, more accurately, rape) of the land and its indigenous peoples.

The New World was seen as a place of redemption – a Paradise – for those descended from the Puritan settlers after they fled religious persecution in Europe.  Manifest destiny was the rhetorical mantra behind the push west – spreading American virtues and institutions as decreed by the destiny ‘established by god’.

Territorial expansion was seen as the providence, right, and responsibility of the United States – the self-perceived and – appointed model for the rest of the world.  By expanding and spreading its values – whether those values were wanted and appreciated or not – they were fulfilling the will of god and doing his work.

Although the song presents the historical western progression of the principle of manifest destiny, Henley saw history repeating itself – in the 1970s – as development destroyed more and more of the natural environment and served to pollute the atmosphere in the same way that forced conversions polluted relations with the First Nations peoples whose lands and ways of life were taken and changed irrevocably.

Myths are not always positive.  Manifest destiny was a narrative script that attempted to justify the destruction of those who stood in the way of the spread of American ideals, beliefs and practices.  The repercussions are still being felt.

Whether or not we use the term these days, the actions of the US government in condemning the elected governments of foreign nations and the invasions of other countries, all hearken back to some degree to the concept.

‘Our way’ is the only way.  And that ‘way’ will be shared regardless of the opinions of the recipients of the ‘wisdom’.

We destroy that which we can’t understand or that which is simply beautiful – in the name of god, destiny, progress, sustainability, the economy, greed, the American Dream… These are the lies we tell.

The Eagles witnessed this in 1976 – and foresaw its furtherance in the future.  That future is our present – and we are faced with the same concerns and considerations to the nth degree.  The song is a beautiful and insightful presentation of the need to use our myths, and the cultural scripts that stem from the narratives, with care and engaged and critical examination.

The prophetic voices of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner and Don Felder weren’t heeded almost 40 years ago.

Since it’s January, I’m not at a cottage tonight, so I’m missing the physical atmosphere that these songs conjure from my memory.  The sense of loss and futility come through regardless of location, but, as I sit and enjoy a quiet evening, the beauty of the thread of optimism that is woven into them rings out as well, like a Mission Bell in the desert.

Time to pay attention and let these stories drown out the wrongs done in the name of the myths of past eras and stop kissing our paradises – individual and communal – goodbye.

I seem to be saying this too much lately. Travel safely Mr. Frey. Thank you for your music – and the sense of fun and lessons, both – that it contained.

‘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.

Songs that can change a life #3

I love the Eagles.  Not a fan of Country as a genre, but there’s something about that Country/Rock cross-over (California Rock?) that reminds me of summertime and lakes and cottages and bonfires on beaches.

I have Hotel California (1976) on vinyl, kept in storage with the rest of my favourite records and waiting for the day that I purchase something on which to play them- with all the atmospheric pops and skips intact (although I have always taken meticulous care of my vinyl, so the latter are few and far between).

The entirety of the album is thematic- it’s a ‘concept album’ that the Eagles have said was meant to represent the decline of the US as it slipped into materialism and superficiality.  In hindsight, the record was distressingly prophetic.

Both the title song and the album as a whole generally rank pretty high when ‘greatest songs/albums’ are tallied- if you put any stock in such things.  I don’t, really, but I DO have to agree that it contains some great story songs, two in particular, that figure near the Top of my personal Pops as incredible story songs.

The title tune recounts the saga of someone trying to live the high life associated with California in the 1970s.  It’s an allegorical trip through the desert to the fancy hotel that appears like an oasis out of the darkness.

On the surface, the hotel seems to offer all the trappings of fame and fortune that California seemed to promise those who arrive, with stars in their eyes, seeking such things.  But the ‘spirit‘ of the peace and love movement of the previous decade hasn’t been around the Hotel California ‘since 1969‘, while the excesses and wealth of the 70s have imprisoned all those who reached for the heights and found nothing but materialism and superficiality.

The opening guitar riff takes me to that highway- and to the sense of uncertainty and entrapment that the song suggests is the direction that society has chosen.  It is a harbinger- and one that has been realized as we look back from a distance of 37 (!) years.

The album’s final track has an even bleaker message.  The Last Resort is an epic composition, covering environmental degradation, institutionalized racism and the myth of manifest destiny.

While Hotel California is all about evoking lonely and deserted highways, The Last Resort takes me to a beach, on a lake, as the sun is setting and the stars and Northern Lights are beginning to brighten the darkness.  It never fails to transport me to my personal paradise.

Don Henley’s lyric traces America’s history- and its tendency to destroy as it attempts to create.  It is about the evils of colonialism and the guiding principle of manifest destiny as it became enshrined to further the development (or, more accurately, rape) of the land and its indigenous peoples.

The New World was seen as a place of redemption- a Paradise- for those descended from the Puritan settlers after they fled religious persecution in Europe.  Manifest destiny was the rhetorical mantra behind the push West- spreading American virtues and institutions as decreed by the destiny established by god.

Territorial expansion was seen as the providence, right and responsibility of the United States- the self-perceived and -appointed model for the rest of the world.  By expanding and spreading its values- whether those values were wanted and appreciated or not- they were fulfilling the will of god and doing his work.

Although the song presents the historical progression West of the principle of manifest destiny, Henley saw history repeating itself as development destroyed more and more of the natural environment and served to pollute the atmosphere as forced conversions polluted relations with the First Nations peoples whose lands and ways of life were taken and changed irrevocably.

Myths are not always positive.  Manifest destiny was a narrative script that attempted to justify the destruction of those who stood in the way of the spread of American ideals, beliefs and practices.  The repercussions are still being felt.

Whether or not we use the term these days, the actions of the US government in condemning the elected governments of foreign nations and the invasions of other countries, all hearken back to some degree to the concept.

‘Our way’ is the only way.  And that ‘way’ will be shared regardless of the opinions of the recipients of the ‘wisdom’.

We destroy that which we can’t understand or that which is simply beautiful- in the name of god, destiny, progress, sustainability, the economy, greed, the American Dream… These are the lies we tell.

The Eagles witnessed this in 1976- and foresaw its furtherance in the future.  That future is our present- and we are faced with the same concerns and considerations to the nth degree.  The song is a beautiful and insightful presentation of the need to use our myths, and the cultural scripts that stem from the narratives, with care and engaged and critical examination.

The prophetic voices of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner and Don Felder weren’t heeded almost 40 years ago.

Despite the fact that it’s a long weekend, and that the summer is winding down, I’m not at a cottage this Sunday night, so I’m missing the physical atmosphere that these songs conjure from my memory.  The sense of loss and futility come through regardless of location, but, as I sit and enjoy the rapidly cooling evening, the beauty of the thread of optimism that is woven into them rings out as well, like a Mission Bell in the desert.

Time to pay attention and let these stories drown out the wrongs done in the name of the myths of past eras and stop kissing our paradises- individual and communal- goodbye.