Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eno -- "Mother Whale Eyeless" (1974)

What do I care?
I'm wasting fingers like I have them to spare
Plugging holes in the Zuider Zee

A couple of weeks ago, 2 or 3 lines featured another Eno song as part of the "Law School Favorites" series, which is well on its way to interminability.  (Don't you dare doubt for a second that interminability is a legitimate word.  2 or 3 lines does not make mistakes.)

I said at the time that I had a hard time deciding which Eno song to feature, and so was planning to feature several Eno songs.

I was pretty sure that this song was going to be one of them, but something happened a few days ago that cinched that.

Tony LaRussa
I was reading Baseball Prospectus writer Jay Jaffe's commentary on game 5 of the World Series -- the crazy one that featured not one, but two ill-considered hit-and-run attempts plus a truly inexplicable failure of communication involving the Cardinals' dugout and their bullpen -- when I came across this line:  

Wasting fingers like he had them to spare, La Russa again gave the Rangers an out, this time via a Furcal sacrifice. 
I wonder if even one in a thousand Baseball Prospectus readers picked up the Eno reference.  

And I wonder how Mr. Jaffe learned of that song.  From what I've been able to find out about him online, it appears that he was maybe four years old when Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) album was released in 1974.

Just another example of the kismet that follows 2 or 3 lines -- which has got to be the most serendipity-kissed blog on the Internet.

I don't know what this song means (assuming it means anything at all) and I don't really care.  Combine it with a big glass of 2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot and I guarantee you'll have a big smile on your face.

Columbia Crest Merlot
By the way, the Zuider Zee is a large, shallow bay of the North Sea that once covered almost 2000 square miles.

Shortly after World War I ended, the Dutch began work on a 20-mile-long dam that sealed off the Zuider Zee from the North Sea.  Some of the Zuider Zee was drained and reclaimed for farms and housing, while the rest was converted into a freshwater lake -- the largest lake in western Europe, as a matter of fact.

Eno is presumably talking about plugging holes in the Zuider Zee dam -- which the Dutch call the Afsluitdijk ("Enclosure Dam").

The Afsluitdjik, which enclosed the Zuider Zee
Here's "Mother Whale Eyeless":

Click here if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "Suck My Kiss" (1991)

Chicka chicka dee
Do me like a banshee!
Low brow is how
Swimming in the sound
Of bow wow wow!!
Aw baby do me now
Do me here I do allow!!!

When I made out my 1991 Christmas wish list, I asked for a compact disc player.  CD players had first appeared in the United States in 1983, and had become relatively common by 1991.  

I'm not what you would call an early adopter by temperament.  Plus I had about a zillion LPs.  But eventually even I could read the handwriting on the wall -- CDs were here to stay.  

Here's a picture of a JVC XL-V241 compact disc player, which is what I was given as a Christmas gift in 1991:

I was also given my first two CDs.  One was the digital version of the Beach Boys' 1966 album, Pet Sounds.  I'm not absolutely certain that Pet Sounds is the greatest pop album ever recorded, but I can't name an album that I'm absolutely certain is better.

The other CD I put on my Christmas list was Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the fifth studio album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was released in September 1991.

I didn't know it at the time, but the album's producer was hip-hop pioneer, Rick Rubin, who not only produced a number of notable rap and rock albums, but also Johnny Cash's late albums.

I asked for Blood Sugar Sex Magik primarily because I thought "Give It Away" -- the first single from that album -- was silly.  It was a unique song -- just as intense and heavy as Rage Against The Machine's music, but much catchier.  It didn't pound you into submission like most RATM songs did.

Blood Sugar Sex Magic wasn't a one-trick pony.  The next single, "Under the Bridge," had a completely different sound, as did the very underrated "Breaking the Girl" -- it's 6/8 time signature gave it an irresistible rhythmic momentum.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
But there can be no doubt that the ultimate kick-ass song on this album is "Suck My Kiss."  I can't think of a more in-your-face song.  It's loud and relentess, but also playful.

I chose to quote the lines above because they are really nonsensical, but nonsensical in a way that you can't help smiling -- they remind me of really clever rap lyrics.  I also chose those lines because the rest of the song's lyrics would probably not be looked on favorably by my core demographic -- femmes d'une certain age.  (It's a bit naughty, in a particularly male way.)

By the way, this is 250th 2 or 3 lines post.  At our current pace, we'll get to the 500th post in 2013 and the 1000th in 2016.   

Here's the official music video for "Suck My Kiss."  (Man, these dudes have a lot of tattoos.  

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blur -- "Tender" (1997)

Tender is the day
The demons go away
Lord, I need to find
Someone who can heal my mind
Come on, come on, come on 
Get through it

I visited Joplin less than two weeks after an F5 tornado had devastated my home town on May 22 of this year.  Here's a link to the first of several 2 or 3 lines posts about that visit.

I went back to Joplin last month to visit my parents.  Much has been done since my first visit.  Much remains to be done.  

I spent a couple of hours each day just walking through the storm-ravaged areas, listening to music on my iPod and taking pictures with my Blackberry.  I felt a little odd doing this -- voyeurism is not a particularly noble activity -- but I couldn't resist.

I immediately noticed something new on my walks last month -- on almost every street corner, there were small hand-painted wooden stars atop yard-high stakes driven into the ground.

Here's an example:

Here's another:

To understand where the wooden stars came from and what they signify, we have to go back a few years.

The story of the wooden stars begins in December 2006, when New York Says Thank You Foundation volunteers went to Groesbeck, Texas to help rebuild the home of James and Eva Vincent, which had been destroyed by a tornado.  Here's a link to a story about that effort.

The Vincents helped others from New York Says Thank You to rebuild the homes of tornado victims in Greensburg, Kansas in September 2008.  The Vincents brought wood left over from the construction of their home to Greensburg, where volunteers cut out wooden stars and gave them to local children, who painted them, wrote inspirational messages on them, attached them to wooden stakes, and placed them throughout the town.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the Vincents and dozens of New York Says Thank You Foundation volunteers came to Joplin and distributed 3189 "Stars of HOPE" to Joplin children.  (That's one for every American killed in the 9/11 attacks and every Joplin tornado victim.)  Here's a link to the Foundation's press release about the "Stars of HOPE" and the culmination of the nationwide tour of "The National 9/11 Flag," which took place in Joplin on 9/11/2011.

Here are some of the stars that had 9/11 references:

 Tracey Vitchers, the director of "The 9/12 Generation Project" -- an initiative launched by the Foundation, which intends to use the legacy of September 12, 2001 (a day that was marked by countless acts of kindness and humanity) to educate, inspire, and activate schoolchildren all across the country -- wrote this about Joplin and the "Stars of HOPE":

It was no small thing to watch Joplin children who survived the tornado painting Stars of HOPE alongside World War II veterans, students from Missouri Southern State University, members of the FDNY [Fire Department of New York], and countless other Joplin residents on the weekend of the tenth anniversary of September 11.  

It was pure chance -- I think -- that this Blur song came up on my iPod while I was walking through my old neighborhood, on streets that I walked countless times as a child going to and from school or to visit friends.  I don't remember how many times I hit the "repeat" button, but it was a lot.  There were a lot of stars to see.


And finally:

Here's more from chapter 11 of Job.  2 or 3 lines hopes that these words will come true soon for everyone in Joplin.

You will surely forget your trouble, 
Recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
And darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
You will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid.

Here's "Tender," from Blur's sixth studio album, 13, which was released in 1997.  "Tender" was written by Damon Albarn, the band's singer and primary songwriter, and was apparently inspired by Albarn's unhappy love affair with Elastica singer Justine Frischmann, who moved to the U.S. after that band broke up, married a University of California-Davis professor of atmospheric science, and became an abstract painter.

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Babys -- "Isn't It Time" (1977)

Sitting here all alone
Just tryin' to decide
Whether to go on alone
Or stay by your side
Then I stop myself because
I know I could cry 
I just can't find the answers
To the questions 
That keep going through my mind
Hey babe!  Isn't it time?

Gag me with a spoon.  This is a pathetic song, and I've just listened to it about ten times in a row.  And I LOVE IT -- isn't that pathetic?  Not to mention embarrassing?  Please . . . put me out of my misery.

2 or 3 lines is all about coming clean with my readers -- I bullshit thee not, boys and girls.  The doctor in Tommy told the deaf, dumb and blind Tommy, "Go to the mirror, boy," as his mother asked herself, "What is happening in his head?"

Well, I went to the mirror and took a good, hard look at what I saw.  Now I'm telling you exactly what is happening in my head.  And I hope you can handle the truth, because that's all I've got for you today.

I can handle the truth.  But just barely.  And the truth is this song gives me douche chills, even on the eleventh consecutive hearing.

The Babys (interesting spelling, isn't it?) were a British pop group that had a moderately successful run in the late 1970's.  "Isn't It Time" is from their second album, Broken Heart.

Their lead singer was John Waite, who had a #1 hit ("Missing You") as a solo artist and another #1 hit ("When I See You Smile') as a member of Bad English, which should have been named "Bad English Band" or perhaps even "Unspeakable English Band."

"Isn't It Time," which was one of the Babys' two top-20 hits, was co-written by Ray Kennedy, who started out as a jazz saxophonist but is better known as a songwriter.  (He co-wrote the Beach Boys' hit, "Sail On, Sailor.")

The lyrics were inspired [sic] by Kennedy's love for a French woman, and you know what that means, don't you?  It means trouble ahead and trouble behind and 2 or 3 lines better watch its speed!  

Oops!  TOO LATE!  I may have two good eyes, but I still don't see!  

(Apologies to the Grateful Dead.)

"Isn't It Time" begins with a catchy little piano introduction (repeated before each verse) and then moves into a dialogue between lead singer Waite and the band's female backup singers, the "Babettes," who are presumably speaking for the French woman.

We're going to do something a little different and insert the song here rather than at the end of the post:

Holy crap, check out lead singer John Waite!  Is he the most feminine-looking man in the history of the universe?

Bruce Jenner
Do you think when he got all ten spaces on his plastic surgeon's "Frequent Patient Card" punched, he went ahead and got the free facelift?  He looks like a middle-aged woman who went way overboard with the nips and tucks -- in other words, just like Bruce Jenner.

The first two verses (the first one is quoted above) reveal the singer's uncertainty -- he's "just tryin' to decide/Whether to go on alone/Or stay by your side."  In the choruses that follow, the Babettes sound a warning: "Falling in love could be your mistake."  

But in the third and final verse, it's the mother of all happy endings: 

I feel a warmth in my heart 
And my soul that I never knew
This love affair gives me strength 
That I need just to get me through . . .
I've finally found the answers 
To the questions 
That keep going through my mind
Hey babe!  Isn't it time?

The Babettes have done a one-eighty as well:  "Losing this love could be your mistake."

Denise Sullivan of Allmusic has this to say about "Isn't It Time":

It starts out innocently enough but quickly explodes into a showcase for John Waite's underrated talents as a powerhouse vocalist . . . . Beginning with a gentle vocal accompanied by a tinkling piano and strings, the song shifts abruptly into a big stage strutter, complete with female background vocals by the Babettes.  The girls provide the "female" voice in the story of a guy who resists the temptation to fall in love, but, by the song's end, he's surrendered, with a little urging from her, of course. . . . Sure it's retro, but as a timepiece it wears well. The fashionably androgynous Babys and their love song-lite went over big with teenage girls, but throughout 1977, people of all stripes were no doubt falling in love to the tune of "Isn't It Time" as the Babys were a ubiquitous presence on the concert circuit.

Let's amend that -- the song went over big not only with teenage girls, but also with 2 or 3 lines!

Click here to buy "Isn't It Time" from Amazon:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Underground -- "The Return of the Crazy One" (1993)

Speaking of hankies, I like hanky-panky
Especially when the hanky-panky's stanky
Of course, ain't gonna be too much stanking
'Cause then my duty would be to give the booty a spanking
I like biscuits and grits on the sausage
When Greg "Shock G" Jacobs formed Digital Underground in Oakland, California, in the late 1980s, he planned to make music that paid tribute to the Black Panthers.  But then Public Enemy sort of preempted the whole black militant thing, and Jacobs decided that a more lighthearted approach might be just the ticket.

Greg "Shock G" Jacobs
(As an aside, Shock G has one of the more diverse stable of great-grandparents you'll ever want to meet: Pakistani, Indian, Jewish, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Trinidadian, Guyanese, and Irish.  Eat your heart out, President Obama!)

If you remember anything about Digital Underground, you probably remember their first hit single, "The Humpty Dance."  Like many Digital Underground songs, it features samples from Parliament or Funkadelic records -- Shock G was a huge George Clinton fan, as were many other rappers.  The music video for "The Humpty Dance" ran on MTV about two million times. 

Humpty Hump's nose
"The Humpty Dance" and many other Digital Underground songs featured Humpty Hump, who was Shock G's buffoonish alter ego.  Humpty Hump's real name was supposedly Edward Ellington Humphrey III, the lead singer of "Smooth Eddie and the Humpers" until he burned his nose in an accident involving a deep fryer.  Consequently, Humpty always appeared wearing a large fake nose.
"The Humpty Dance" is one of the most sampled rap songs ever -- Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, Public Enemy, Redman, Sade, the Spice Girls, and Will Smith are some of the better-known artists to incorporate a little taste of "The Humpty Dance" into their recordings.

I guess I should show you the video for "The Humpty Dance," although that song is not the focus of today's lecture:

The song we are focusing on today is "The Return of the Crazy One," from Digital Underground's 1993 album, The Body-Hat Syndrome.  I think it's Humpty Hump's finest effort, even though I have no clue what most of the lyrics really mean.  But I am pretty sure they are really, really dirty.

By the way, Tupac Shakur made his rap debut with Digital Underground.  Shock G helped produced his first album, 2Pacalypse Now (1991), and also produced Tupac's first hit single, "I Get Around" (1993). 

Here's "The Return of the Crazy One."  There are about 10,000 people in the video, and they are all having more fun than any of us have ever had.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

White Stripes -- "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" (2003)

But now she might leave
Like she's threatened before
Grab hold of her fast
Before her feet leave the floor
And she's out the door
'Cause you want
To keep her in your pocket
Where there's no way out
That's not a very cheery note to end our Cape Cod vacation on, is it?

It's never pleasant to unload your car after you return from a long vacation.  If you're like me, you often find odds and ends under the seats and in the trunk weeks after you've returned.  This post is about all the vacation stuff that ended up in the nooks and crannies and was almost -- but not quite -- forgotten.

There are some odd businesses on Cape Cod:

I like to pick up a few Christmas gifts when I'm on Cape Cod.  These two gentlemen opted to remain in the car and listen to the radio while their wives were shopping, but fell asleep within minutes.  (Don't worry -- they're not dead.)

Have you met my dog, Lily?  (There is some difference of opinion here concerning the spelling of her name -- whether it is Lily, Lilly, Lillie, or something else.)  Lily and I spend a lot of time walking.

One morning, our route took us past a nice French restaurant located in a very old house on the main street of our town.  Looks like some young whippersnapper with a can of spray paint got up a little earlier than we did that day and hit one of the shrubs in the restaurant's parking lot:      

On the way back from the restaurant, we saw some old dry stone walls -- stone walls  constructed without mortar.  Dry stone walls are fairly common in New England, where the soil can be quite rocky.  If you interlock the stones carefully, they will last for centuries.  (This one is not the most well-built dry stone walls I've ever seen.)

Here's one more picture of my favorite Cape Cod flower -- the Rosa rugosa, or beach rose, which is actually native to eastern Asia:

It's low tide, which makes it the perfect time for a walk on the beach.  Here's the view looking to the west:

Here's the view to the east:

And here's the view from behind my two sons:

Last but certainly not least, here's one final Cape Cod sunset:

Hope you can join 2 or 3 lines for another Cape Cod vacation next year -- until then, here's "You've Got Her in Your Pocket," which is from the 2003 White Stripes album, Elephant:

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Alanis Morissette -- "You Oughta Know" (1995)

And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me 
You'd hold me until you died
But you're still alive 
Yes, he's still alive -- but probably not for long if Alanis Morissette has anything to say about it. 

The lines above are followed by the song's chorus:

And I'm here to remind you 
Of the mess you left when you went away 

Actually, I think Alanis is here (big-ass knife in hand) to remind you of what Lorena Bobbitt did to her husband, John.  And she may not stop there.

Crazy Alanis Morissette
We recently discussed Tracy Bonham's song, "Mother Mother."  Tracy's character has been doing a pretty good job of hiding how crazy she is until she suddenly screams EVERYTHING'S FINE in a way that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything is most certainly not fine.

Everyone who encounters Tracy's character is at risk because she is liable to go off at any minute, and heaven help you if you are anywhere close when she does.

Alanis's character is crazy in a much more focused way.  She intends no harm to anyone other than her ex-boyfriend, a certain Mr. Duplicity.  (What nationality do you think that name is?  Italian?)

Actually, the new Mrs. Duplicity might want to watch her back as well, but I don't think Alanis's character is really targeting her.  What she has to fear is becoming collateral damage if the ex-girlfriend doesn't come after the guy with a knife, but shows up instead with a rocket-propelled grenade or one of those guitar-case machine guns that Antonio Banderas's buddy used in Desperado:

(I have to take a short detour here.  Did you notice how the ex-girlfriend refers to Mr. Duplicity's new squeeze as "an older version of me"?  Me-ow!)

It surprised me to learn that this song was a favorite of Madame Linda, the indispensable factotum of 2 or 3 lines, but it shouldn't have.  Her taste in music is varied and generally excellent (at least to the extent that it agrees with mine), and she has this to say about "You Oughta Know":

I’m not sure why so many of my most vivid music memories are from the 1990s, when I was living in Kansas City.

[Editor's note:  Some of you may remember Linda from her stint on the short-lived reality show, "Real Housewives of Kansas City."]

It may have had at least a little to do with the fact that I wasn’t real happy living there.  My apologies to all you former and current Kansas Citians who love your town. It’s a nice enough place – I just hated being cold six months of the year and I missed Texas terribly.

Big-ass snow in Kansas City
I suppose I found some solace in listening to music, when I wasn’t otherwise occupied with volunteering at my kids’ elementary school or lunching and shopping with friends.  When the grunge era began, I completely embraced it.  Maybe because so much of its music had a dark, sludgy sound and lyrics about isolation and unhappiness.
OK, enough with the psycho-babble and introspection. On to the task at hand.
I subscribed to Rolling Stone and Spin and pored over them religiously every month.  

[Editor's note:  I have to admit that I am impressed by this.  This woman was serious about her music.]

R.E.M. (circa 1995)
If I read about a new band that sounded interesting, I’d go out and buy the CD.  Likewise, if I heard something on the radio I liked, the CD was bought.  That’s how I got hooked on the Toadies, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and many others during that time. My CD collection is pretty much an homage to the 1990s.
I also had MTV on quite a bit when I was at home. The video for "You Oughta Know" immediately caught my eye and ear. I saw that it was directed by Jake Scott, who had directed the video for R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts." (You oughta know, by now, that I usually manage to work the late, great R.E.M. into as many posts as possible!)  

[Editor's note:  We know, we know!]

The video wasn't particularly impressive, but the singer and the song sure were. She was obviously royally pissed off at some guy who'd done her wrong and was letting him know about in no uncertain terms.
I was one of the gazillion people who ran out and bought the album (actually, the sales figure is 33 million worldwide as of 2009). I was mildly obsessed with the album for a couple of months. There are a lot of really good songs on it. Six out of the twelve songs were released as singles.
Alanis Morissette has a rather odd way of arranging words in her lyrics sometimes, but the imagery can be compelling.  The songs on this album all sounded like they came straight from the heart.  Most of them were recorded in only one or two takes, and most were written and recorded on the same day.

[Editor's note: Alanis Morissette's first name is Nadine.]

The speculation over who “You Oughta Know” was written about started almost immediately after the song went into heavy rotation on radio and MTV.  The name of any man who had ever been known to have any association with her was offered as a possibility.

And guess who was the likeliest suspect?  
Dave Coulier, of all people.  That seemed completely incongruous to me at the time, and still does.  This hot young rock star had been dumped by that doofus Uncle Joey from the sitcom "Full House"?  It didn't seem plausible, but they definitely were romantically involved for awhile. 
[Editor's note:  I checked this story out and Linda is absolutely correct.  This really boggles the mind.  It's like finding out Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" was about . . . who?  Wally Cox?  Mr. Green Jeans?  I  give up -- I can't top Alanis Morissette and Dave Coulier.  He used to do a Bullwinkle impression on that show, for cryin' out loud.] 

Dave to Alanis
Several other names were on the list, including Bob Saget.  What?  No John Stamos for a “Full House” trifecta?
[Editor's note:  I have identical twin daughters (happy 25th birthday, Sarah and Caroline!) who were born the same year at Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and "Full House" was required viewing in our house.  When the Olsens and my girls were abut seven, I happened to be on a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia with Bob Saget and his family.  (Yes, I was in first class.)  When the flight landed and we were walking to get our bags, I caught with Saget and showed him a picture of my girls.  "You tell the producer that if those Olsen twins start behaving badly on the set or demand a zillion dollars an episode, they can be replaced!"]

Alanis has never named the subject of the song and, to her credit, has said she never will.  Some things are best left to the listener's imagination.

Dave Coulier and Bob Saget with the Olsen twins
My interest in and almost daily playing of at least a few songs on the album eventually waned, owing, no doubt, to the release of R.E.M.’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi later that same year.  (That's R.E.M TWICE in one post -- I'll see if that gets past the Grand Poobah Editor-In-Chief of 2 or 3 lines.)  
[Editor's note:  Linda would kill to be the Grand Poobah-ess.]

Be sure to watch for Taylor Hawkins playing drums in the video.  He didn’t play on the album, but was the drummer for the 18-month world tour in support of it.  He, of course, went on to fame and fortune as the Foo Fighters’ drummer.
Excuse me, Linda?  What was that?  I'm sorry, my mind wandered there for a minute.  I can't stop thinking about a hot, crazy chick like Alanis Morissette being turned upside down and inside out by Dave Coulier.  

Here's "You Oughta Know":

And here's Scala & Kolacny Brothers doing the song.  I saw them perform "You Oughta Know" live a few months ago, and it was very strange to hear a choir consisting of sweet young Belgian girls sing these lyrics:

Here's a link you can use to buy "You Oughta Know":

Friday, October 14, 2011

Eno -- "The Great Pretender" (1974)

Monica sighed
Rolled on to her side
She was so impressed 
That she just surrendered

2 or 3 lines does not use the term "genius" lightly.  But if that term applies to any of the musicians whose music has been featured here, it certainly applies to Brian Eno.

Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, who was born in the UK in 1948, was one of the original members of Roxy Music, one of my absolute favorite bands during my law school days.  

Let me correct that.  At first, Eno wasn't really a member of the band -- he ran the mixing console during their live shows from offstage.  But eventually he appeared on stage, playing keyboards and singing backing vocals.  

Lead singer Bryan Ferry often appeared in black tie and affected a world-weary, lounge singer look and attitude.  But Eno preferred much more flamboyant costumery:  

Brian Eno in 1973
Eno left Roxy Music after their first two albums -- he didn't like touring and didn't get along with Bryan Ferry (who does strike me as being a high-maintenance kind of guy).  I eventually purchased those two albums, but my first two Roxy Music albums  were LPs #3 and #4 for the band -- Stranded (1973) and Country Life (1974) -- and Eno doesn't appear on either one.

So I guess my first acquaintance with Eno came through his first two solo albums, Here Come the Warm Jets (1973) and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974).  

Bryan Ferry
To say that some of the records from my law school days that I've written about on this blog haven't really held up over the years is a big-ass understatement.  But these two Eno albums are just as enjoyable and undated-sounding as they were 35 years ago. 

I had a difficult time deciding which one of Eno's songs to choose for this series.  So I'm not choosing one -- I'm choosing several.  (At least three, I think -- maybe more.)  

I decided to start with "The Great Pretender" for two reasons.  First, the song is a reasonably representative Eno song, so it's as good a song to use to introduce you to Eno's oeuvre as any other. 

The second reason I chose this song are the lyrics quoted above, which "The Great Pretender" opens and closes with.  I don't think 2 or 3 lines has ever featured a song with a better two or three lines of lyrics.

The music relies as much on synthesizers and electronic effects as it does on guitars and drums.  It is dense, pounding stuff -- but still bouncy.  Listening to it doesn't fatigue you.

Brian Eno today
But it's Eno's lyrics that are truly unique.  One of the ways he came up with the words for his songs was to sing random, nonsense syllables as the music played.  Eventually, individual words and phrases would sort of accidentally pop out of the nonsense, and pretty soon he had the lyrics for a song -- which rarely told any kind of coherent story, but were compelling nonetheless.

I have no clue what the rest of the song is about.  One critic has written that the song describes the rape of a suburban housewife by a crazed machine.  (Say what?)  But I suspect it's not "about" anything.  How in the world could these lines be "about" anything?

Settled in a homely fishpool
Hung with little eels
Often thinks that travel widens
Stay at home, the trout obliges

Wondering where Eno got the title for the album that this song is part of?  Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy is a Chinese revolutionary opera that tells the true story of a Communist soldier who infiltrated a gang of bandits during the Chinese Civil War.  Eno saw a book of postcards from the opera in San Francisco and decided to use the same title for his second album, which has something of a Chinese feel to it and several songs with China-theme lyrics.

Here's the album cover:

There's one other thing you need to know about this album.  While he was recording it, Eno and a friend created the "Oblique Strategies" deck of cards, which is sort of an artsy version of the old "Magic 8-Ball."

Each "Oblique Strategies" card has a printed phrase on it that is supposed to be used to help you break a deadlock or overcome uncertainty.  For example, there are cards that say "Try faking it," "Honor thy error as a hidden intention," and "What would your closest friend do?"  While he was putting this album together, Eno would draw a card and use it to guide the next step in the recording process.

Ultimately, Eno and his collaborator created five editions of "Oblique Strategies."  The older editions sell for ridiculous amounts of money -- one rare book dealer is currently offering a fourth edition "Oblique Strategies" for $2200.  Here's a link to the "Oblique Strategies" website.

Here's an example of an "Oblique Strategies" card:

Richard Linklater's 1991 movie, Slacker, features an "Oblique Strategies" deck.  One of the cards is quoted in the famous R.E.M. song, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"  MGMT (which titled one of their songs "Brian Eno") had a deck in the studio when they recorded their 2010 album, Congratulations, but later said they don't know if they used it correctly. 

I wouldn't award the "genius" title to Eno solely on account of his first two solo albums -- although I think they are amazing albums.  Eno has also contributed to the production of much great music by other performers.  For example, he has collaborated with or produced albums for the Talking Heads, U2, Devo, David Bowie, and others.

David Byrne and Eno: Geniuses!
Eno became a major figure in avant-garde music with his "ambient music" albums.  The notes to his album, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), describe ambient music in these terms:  "Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."  

Here's a short example of Eno's ambient music:

According to Eno, his musical career was the result of accident as much as anything.  In 1992, he said that "as a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy [Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay]], I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music. If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now."

But isn't that true of life in general?

Here's "The Great Pretender":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

White Stripes -- "I Can't Wait" (2001)

So many times I've gotten used to this
This old idea of being all alone
Tell me how I'm supposed to get through with this
I wish this house felt like a home
Who do you think you're messing with, girl?
Who do you think you're trying to fool?

Cape Cod is a mysterious place -- a place full of paradoxes and conundrums as well as fried-clam shacks and miniature golf courses.  

Ever since the Stone Age, man has been making monuments or other structures by piling stones on one another.  (Why do you think they called it the STONE AGE, bud?)

These structures have many names.  For example, "cairn" is the term used in most English-speaking countries to denote a man-made pile of stones.  Cairns are often used as directional markers on trails, but may also have ceremonial, astronomical, or other uses.  

Big-ass dolmen
"Dolmen" comes from a Breton term meaning "stone table" and is used to describe a structure that consists of three or more upright stones supporting a horizontal capstone.  (Breton is a Celtic language spoken in Brittany, the large peninsula in northwest France that is one of that country's 27 administrative regions.)

Archaeologists don't know who erected the oldest dolmens, but believe that most dolmens are tombs. 

Here are some cairns that I discovered on the beach one day.  Their location makes it obvious that they were not built for the purpose of marking a trail, so why were they built?

Here's a closer look at one of these ancient cairns:

It is also unclear who built these cairns, or when they were built.  Thousands of years ago?  Tens of thousands of years ago?  Or -- since I don't remember seeing them last summer -- only a few months ago?

I could be wrong, but I suspect they were erected for use in some sort of fertility rite held in conjunction with the syzygy that produces the highest of high tides -- a lurid bacchanalia in which the men and women who participate break free from the bounds of propriety and give themselves over to orgiastic frenzies.

Assuming my theory is correct, I have only one question: how do I get my name on the mailing list?

Here are two other ancient structures I discovered while mountain biking.  One of the figures appears to be a male fertility god:

The other is a dolmen that looks like it has something to do with a female goddess:

(You may disagree with my interpretations and conclude that I have a warped mind and a lurid imagination.  It is true that the school psychologist once told my mother that "your boy has more problems than a 9th-grade math textbook," but I say the hell with that old quack and all his narrow-minded colleagues.)

Finally, take a gander at this photo (which I took while mountain biking on the Trail of Tears in Barnstable):

"I hope you like jammin', too"
You may know that the original Ethiopian flag -- one of the oldest flags in Africa --  featured a red, gold and green color scheme.  The Rastafarian colors are also red, gold, and green out of loyalty to Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, who is believed by Rastafaris to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Rastafarian Nikes
There have been legends that a Rastafarian colony was established on Cape Cod decades ago, and these trees confirm those legends and provide further proof that Cape Cod is a land of many mysteries.

"I Can't Wait" is from the third White Stripes album, White Blood Cells, which was originally released in 2001 on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label, an independent record label owned by an eccentric record collector, collectible toy manufacturer, and book publisher who calls himself Long John Gone.

Here's the trailer for a 2006 documentary about Long John Gone:

I think that "I Can't Wait" speaks for itself.  In any event, 2 or 3 lines is getting tired of spoon-feeding you the meaning of each new songs it posts.  I realize that most of you depend on me to send you a link to each new post because you're too lazy or clueless to bookmark the home page or subscribe to an RSS feed.

Given that, there's probably not much chance that you'll be able to figure out what any song more complicated than "Mary Had a Little Lamb" means.

But give it a try.  Maybe you'll surprise us both.

Here's "I Can't Wait":

Click here to buy the song (or anything else) from Amazon: