Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot -- "Bonnie and Clyde" (1968)

Maintenant chaque fois qu'on essaie de se ranger
De s'installer tranquille dans un meublé
Dans les trois jours, voilà le tac tac tac
Des mitraillettes qui reviennent à l'attaque

(Don't worry -- there's a translation below.)

One of the things I always do when I visit Joplin, Missouri (my hometown) is to drop by Dude's Daylight Donuts to breakfast on maple bars and Dr. Pepper:

One other thing I always do in Joplin is to take long walks through the neighborhoods that were devastated in the May 22, 2011, tornado to see how the rebuilding is coming along.

This is the only pile of rubble I saw anywhere.  There are a lot of vacant lots in Joplin, but all of them seem to have been cleared of debris.

Take a close look at the photo above.  The pile of rubble used to be a house that stood on the northwest corner of 26th and Iowa.  The red brick house to the right (behind the white truck) is a tornado survivor.  The olive-colored houses to the left and in the center of the picture are brand-new houses.

My high school was destroyed by the tornado, and there's a lot of work to do before the new school will be ready:

The garage apartment where legendary criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow once hid out for a couple of weeks stood about half a mile south of the path of the tornado, so it escaped serious damage:

I vividly remember seeing Bonnie and Clyde at the old Lux Theater in Joplin in 1968.

I think the exact date was April 14, 1968.  Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, and riots broke out in Kansas City the night of King's funeral -- April 9, which was a Tuesday -- and lasted for five days and nights.  When my friends and I came out of the movie, we saw a convoy of National Guard jeeps heading north on Main Street -- we found out later that the local National Guard unit had been dispatched to Kansas City to assist in crowd control.

I'm pretty sure my friends and I saw the movie on a Sunday night, so I'm guessing it was the Sunday immediately following the outbreak of the riots, which was the 14th.

Seeing that long line of jeeps heading north was a sobering sight.  The ending of Bonnie and Clyde -- when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway get ambushed and shot about a million times -- should have been sobering as well.  But I was a 15-year-old boy, so it was more exciting than sobering.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow spent the first half of April 1933 in that garage apartment pictured above -- the exact address is 3347 1/2 Oak Ridge Drive.  While they were hiding out there, they were joined by Clyde's brother, Buck -- he had just been pardoned and released from the Texas state penitentiary at Huntsville -- and his wife, Blanche. 

Local police were tipped off that the group's behavior was suspicious -- they went through a case of beer a day, played cards (loudly) all night, and Clyde once accidentally fired a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) he was cleaning.  Five officers tried to blockade them, but the gang broke out, killing two policeman and escaping over the nearby Oklahoma state line.  

I didn't know about Bonnie and Clyde's sojourn in Joplin until I saw the movie.  I later learned that it was the Joplin ambush and escape that made Bonnie and Clyde famous.  When the couple headed for the hills, they left a lot of stuff behind -- including several rolls of undeveloped film and a poem ("Story of 'Suicide Sal'") that Bonnie had written.

The film was developed by the Joplin Globe staff, and one picture in particular -- Bonnie pretending to smoke a cigar -- became world-famous:

Here's Faye Dunaway's recreation of Parker's pose in the Bonnie and Clyde movie:

The couple were ambushed and shot to pieces a little over a year after their escape from Joplin.  The coroner's report listed 17 entrance wounds on the 25-year-old Clyde's body and 26 on the 23-year-old Bonnie's.  There were so many bullet holes that an undertaker had problems embalming the corpses because the embalming fluid kept leaking out.

A few before her death, Bonnie gave a handwritten poem titled "Trail's End" to her mother.  That poem -- which became known as "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" -- is the source of the lyrics of our featured song.  The French song varies somewhat from the poem -- for example, the original poem consists of five-line limerick-style stanzas -- but the song's lyrics follow the content of the poem quite closely.

Gainsbourg and Bardot 
The French lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post are based on the following stanza from "Trail's End":

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-a-tat-tat

Serge Gainbourg was one of the most popular and influential French popular music figures of all time.  Gainsbourg's song were often provocative -- his most famous record was "Je t'aime . . . moi non plus," which features explicit lyrics and ends with the sounds of a woman simulating an orgasm.

Gainsbourg wrote that song in 1967.  The same night, he wrote "Bonnie and Clyde."  Both were recorded with his then-current girlfriend, Brigitte Bardot.  (The recording engineer reported "heavy petting" by the couple during the recording session.) 

Bardot (who was married at the time to a German businessman) begged Gainsbourg not to release "Je t'aime."  He later re-recorded it with a new girlfriend, English actress Jane Birkin.  That record was a big hit, although it was banned from the radio in several countries (including Sweden).

Gainsbourg and Birkin
Birkin's simulation of orgasm was very enthusiastic, and there was a rumor that the couple had been having sex during the recording of the song.  Gainsbourg denied the rumor, quipping that "it would have been a long-playing record" instead of a single if that had been the case.  (Typical showoff Frenchman.)

Here's the Gainsbourg-Birkin version of "Je t'aime":

"Bonnie and Clyde" proves less really is more.  Gainsbourg and Bardot perform the song in a very understated manner.  Every so often a guy makes a weird whooping sound in the background -- I have no idea what the hell it means, but it's all très, très cool.

The music video Gainsbourg and Bardot did is even cooler.  Here it is:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Steve Miller Band -- "Jet Airliner" (1977)

You know you got to go through hell
Before you get to heaven

In the last 2 or 3 lines, I whined about spending nine hours at the Baltimore/Washington International airport thanks to American Airlines deciding to cancel my 8:15 am flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth and put me on a 4:00 pm flight instead.

I really had no choice but to wait it out.  To paraphrase Steve Miller:

You know you got to go through DFW
Before you get to Joplin

I ending up arriving in Joplin, Missouri (where I grew up and where my parents still live) a full sixteen hours after leaving my house in suburban Washington -- which would have been enough time for me to drive the almost 1100 miles to Joplin.

American Eagle ERJ-140
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when American decided to cancel the first leg of my return trip as well.  I was scheduled to leave Joplin at 6:55 am on a Sunday.  An hour before then -- after I had dragged myself out of bed at 5:00 am, eaten some leftover homemade spaghetti red (with beans), and carried my bags to the car -- an American robot gave me a ring and told me I could have stayed in bed.  

The only other flight out of Joplin that day was at 3:50 pm.  That meant I had eight-plus hours on my hands.

Fortunately, it was a beautiful day in Joplin -- there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature reached almost 60 degrees by late morning.  I decided to head down South Main and take my daily constitutional on the trails along Shoal Creek.

I went across Low Water Bridge and drove to Grand Falls:  

Grand Falls on Shoal Creek (Joplin, MO)
On more than one occasion, a friend and I would head to the spot where I was standing when I took the above picture with some leftover firecrackers.  There were always a lot of empty beer bottles and cans on the ground here, and we liked to bend the fuse on a firecracker into a "U" shape and position it so the firecracker was suspended inside the neck of the bottle or can, with the crook of the fuse over the bottle's lip or can's rim so the firecracker wouldn't fall all the way into it.  

We would then light the fuse and run like hell.  When most of the fuse had burned, the firecracker would drop down into the bottle or can and explode.  I think the resulting explosions sent glass or metal shrapnel flying in all directions, but neither my friends or I were ever injured -- thankfully, neither were any innocent bystanders.

After leaving Grand Falls, I headed to a nearby parking spot I favored when I was in high school and was able to talk a girl into accompanying me there.  They've put up a barrier preventing you from parking on my spot any more -- there's a small paved lot across the road now, which is perfectly usable but has none of the romance of the old spot.  

I got out and hoofed it along a trail that follows a cliff on the west side of Shoal Creek.  I'm not a big fan of heights, so this was a bit nerve-wracking for me -- the trail usually puts you within a foot or two of the edge of the cliff -- but I've walked this trail enough times that it didn't scare me that much.

Here's the view of Shoal Creek looking south from the trail:

And here's the view looking north.  (You can see the trail I was walking on to the left.)

I'm not sure why I haven't thought to walk that trail on any of my recent trips to Joplin.  And there are several trails across the creek at the relatively new Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, which I've never visited.

I've got a few other photos from this trip that shouldn't go to waste.  For example, I saw this 2002 Dale Earnhardt "Intimidator Edition" Chevy Monte Carlo SS in the parking lot at Freeman Hospital.  It comes equipped with a 3.8L V6 engine and a "3" decal with a facsimile of Earnhardt's signature.  This car also came equipped with handicapped license plates:

Ecumenism is alive and well in Joplin, I'm proud to say:

Paranoia about tornados is also alive and well in Joplin, although that's certainly understandable.  I bet your local mall doesn't have a big storm shelter/"safe room"  store like the one at the mall in Joplin:

There are many reminders of the EF5 tornado that devastated Joplin in May 2011. I've written about the hundreds (thousands?) of handpainted stars and butterflies that decorated all the street corners in the tornado-ravaged part of the city:

Here's a truck with an inspirational message that I saw parked near my parents' house:

There's a big new Walmart in Joplin, which appears to have been built using British blueprints.  (Note where the "Exit" and "Enter" signs are.)

People at the Walmart transport their six-packs and eight-packs of soft drinks in what I thought was a very curious fashion.  Is this the custom elsewhere?

On the way home from the Walmart, I was tempted to stop here and get my bikini area tidied up a little:

Last but not least, here's a picture of an intriguing structure I saw on one of my walks.  All I could figure was that someone was offering backyard hangings to pick up a few extra bucks (or just for the sheer fun of it):

"Jet Airliner" was written by Paul Pena, a blind singer/songwriter of Cape Verdean descent who grew up on Cape Cod.  (In case you've never heard of Cape Verde, it's an archipelago with about half a million residents located off the western coast of Africa that was uninhabited until Portuguese colonists settled there in the 15th century.  There are quite a few people of Cape Verdean ancestry in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.)

Pena recorded an album that included "Jet Airliner" in 1973, but he and his record label had a tiff, and the album wasn't released until 2000.  Steve Miller heard the unreleased album and recorded "Jet Airliner" in 1977.  It was a top ten single.  

Here's "Jet Airliner":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nicki Minaj -- "Playtime Is Over" (2007)

My flight took off
Yours has been delayed

Last week, I flew to my hometown -- Joplin, Missouri -- to help my parents out for a few days.  (My mother was coming home after surgery.)  I had an 8:15 am flight from Baltimore/Washington International to Dallas/Ft. Worth, where I would catch a connecting flight scheduled to arrive in Joplin at 3:40 pm.

I got to the airport at about 7:00 am, where everything was hunky-dory . . . for about 15 minutes.  Then they cancelled my flight to DFW, which meant that I would miss my connecting flight to Joplin.  Dallas had approximately 0.0001 inch of snow that morning, which caused American Airlines to cancel some 200 flights in and out of DFW.

I hustled back to the check-in counter just in time to get in line behind a zillion other unhappy campers.  American doesn't have many flights to or from BWI, so they only had three ticket agents working.  That meant the line moved very slowly.

Waiting for Godot -- he's an
American Airlines ticket agent
I also called American's 800 number, and reached an agent the phone after half an hour -- I was still miles from the front of the line at the airport.  I was told I had been rebooked on a 4:00 pm flight that would arrive in Joplin at 8:40 pm.

I immediately asked to be added to the standby list for the overbooked 1:45 pm flight.  Taking that flight wouldn't get me to Joplin any earlier -- Joplin has exactly two flights per day -- but I would have more time to connect at DFW if things went more FUBAR on me (which seemed like a pretty safe assumption), and DFW seemed like a more interesting place to kill a couple of hours than BWI. 

I made it all the way to #1 on the standby list for the earlier flight.  Alas, poor Yorick, that's where I stayed -- so close, and yet so far away.  (As you've probably heard, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.)

So close . . .
But I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I took advantage of the time between the flights to do something good for me -- namely, to walk from one end of BWI's "C" concourse to the other end and back seven times -- that took me a little over 30 minutes, so I covered about two miles.  (People started to look at me a little funny about the seventh time I walked by them.)

The "C" concourse exercise track
The 4:00 pm flight took off a little late, and I had a pretty tight connection to make.  But the Joplin flight was also delayed, so the tight connection didn't really come into play.  I had time for my favorite airport repast (a "Personal Pan Pizza" from Pizza Hut Express) and a little window shopping.

Here are just a couple of the many armadillo-themed items for sale at DFW.  I love Texas dearly, but enough with the schlocky armadillo stuff, folks.

Not sure if you can read this, but the small print on that t-shirt says "Tastes like chicken!"  Really?

If you're tempted to check that out for yourself, just remember that armadillos are responsible for transmitting about one-third of all new cases of leprosy in the U.S.  (Armadillos and humans are the only two animals to contract leprosy -- God has a weird sense of humor, doesn't he? -- and it appears that humans originally transmitted the disease to 'dillos, not the other way around.)  A doctor who is an leprosy expert told the New York Times that "people should be discouraged from consuming armadillo flesh or handling it."  (Not a problem, doc!)

Take a gander at this thing, which is for sale at DFW:

Just what in the hell is that?  It looks like it ought to be functional, but I think it's just a conversation piece.

DFW has a lot of restaurant choices -- there are a surprising number of upscale restaurants in addition to the usual fast-food joints.  None of the choices was odder than the Cereality Cereal Bar & Cafe:

Here are the cereals that were on the menu that day at Cereality:

I don't know about you, but cereal is not my first choice for a meal when I'm between flights.  I don't see Cereality becoming the next big thing.

I finally landed in Joplin at 9:00 pm, having left my house at 6:00 am -- throw in the one-hour time change, and we're talking 16 hours door-to-door.  My home is exactly 1092 miles from my parents' home.  If I averaged 70 miles per hours -- and what red-blooded American male isn't capable of averaging 70 mph on interstate highways? -- and minimized my bathroom and meal stops, I could have driven to Joplin in 16 hours.

Driving would have saved me a hell of a lot of money, and I also would have had my car instead of being stuck driving my mother's 1998 Pontiac Bonneville.  That hoopty is so ancient it has a cassette player instead of a CD player, but it ain't goin' nowhere anytime soon: it has barely 18,000 miles on the odometer, which works out to about 100 miles of driving per month.  (At that rate, it won't break 50,000 miles until 2040!)

Nicki Minaj
"Playtime Is Over" is from Nicki Minaj's very first mixtape -- also titled Playtime is Over -- which was released in 2007.  Nicki is a favorite of 2 or 3 lines, and while this song isn't one of her stronger efforts, it's interesting to catch a glimpse of Nicki when she was just getting started.

You've come a long way, Nicki.

Here's "Playtime Is Over":

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (feat. Wanz) -- "Thrift Shop" (2012)

I wear your granddad's clothes
I look incredible
I'm in this big-ass coat
From that thrift shop down the road

A lot of guys would lawyer up if a young rapper appropriated one their best catchphrases -- a catchphrase that had become a veritable meme.  But 2 or 3 lines is not most guys.  (HELL no!)

Be my guest, Macklemore.  Take "big-ass" and use it as if it were your own.  My attorneys won't be sending you a nasty cease-and-desist letter, demanding that you withdraw "Thrift Shop" from distribution and reserving all our legal remedies even if you do.

Macklemore in one of his big-ass coats
Let's face it.  I steal a lot of sh*t from other people -- including Shakespeare and that guy who wrote the Bible -- so I've got no business getting all high and mighty when someone steals sh*t from me.  Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend! (Yeah, I steal a lot of sh*t from the Beatles, too!)

Macklemore (real name: Ben Haggerty) is a 29-year-old white rapper from Seattle.  He and his producer, Ryan Lewis, released their first album, The Heist, in October 2012.

"Thrift Shop" was the fifth and final single from that album, and it made it to number one on the Billboard "U.S. Rap Songs" chart.  The music video for "Thrift Shop" has been viewed over 50 million times on Youtube.

"Thrift Shop" is about shopping at a thrift shop.  (Don't look so surprised.)  I'm not sure if shopping at thrift shops and wearing your "finds" to the club is what the kids are doing today, or whether this song is just one big-ass goof.  To tell the truth, I don't particularly care.

Macklemore is obviously very knowledgeable about how thrift shops and thrift-shop shoppers operate, as the opening lines of this song demonstrate:

I'm gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I'm, I'm, I'm hunting, looking for a come-up
This is f*cking awesome!

"Pop some tags" means the singer is planning to switch the price tags on the thrift-shop clothes he desires with the tags from lower-priced items so he can maximize what he gets for his $20.

Big-ass thrift store
"Come up" is an expression meaning "gain an advantage" -- here, the singer is in search of bargains, and his strategy of switching price tags is one way to accomplish that goal.

The last line in this verse -- "This is f*cking awesome" -- is a really f*cking awesome line.  It's also self-explanatory.

Macklemore is not a sucker for a designer label.  He scoffs at a companion who speaks admiringly of an overpriced Gucci t-shirt:

Fifty dollars for a t-shirt?
That's just some ignorant b*tch sh*t
I call that getting swindled and pimped

I agree with you one-hundred-and-ten percent, Macklemore.  Of course, I also believe that paying ten dollars to download an album is some ignorant b*tch sh*t when you can just get the CD from the public library.

Click here to read a GQ interview with Macklemore titled "The Macklemore Bible of Thrift-Store Shopping."

My Joplin friends and I were way ahead of the hip-hop crowd when it came to shopping at thrift shops.  Forty years ago, we used to scour the local Goodwill store for old gas-station attendant work shirts.

We didn't care whether the shirt came from a Shell or an Exxon or a Phillips 66 station.  We were interested solely in the names that were sewn on the shirts.  I found a shirt that had belonged to a "Buzz."  One of my friends proudly wore an "Oscar" shirt.

Eventually the Goodwill store figured out the market value of the name patches and began to cut them off the shirts and sell them separately.

One night, "Buzz" and "Oscar" were doing a little beer drinking in a redneck joint in Riverton, Kansas, and became involved in a bit of a verbal altercation with some locals.  We went out to my car, where I had concealed a switchblade I had purchased on a one-day trip to Nuevo Laredo and smuggled across the border.  

But that's a story for another day -- and another song.

Here's "Thrift Shop":

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cockeyed Ghost -- "Ginna Ling" (2001)

Now my heart will burst
If my brain won't first

Songwriters often live their songs in their imaginations.  But sometimes a songwriter literally lives a song before he or she writes it.

I don't write songs, I just write a wildly popular little blog about other people's songs.  Here are my three favorite things about writing 2 or 3 lines

1.  I discover lots of wonderful new songs.  (New to me, at least.)

2.  I make the acquaintance of talented and interesting musicians.

3.  I'm able to give free rein to my narcissistic tendencies and talk about myself to my heart's content.

Today's 2 or 3 lines features a song that I've just discovered, and derives from my recent acquaintance with a very talented and interesting musician, Adam Marsland.  However, it's entirely free of narcissism.  Two out of three ain't bad.  (Don't worry -- I'll make up for the lack of narcissism here in future posts.)

Adam Marsland
Before I tell you the story of "Ginna Ling," here's the story of how I made contact with Adam Marsland, who lived the song before he wrote it.

Last year, the editor of an online music magazine stumbled across 2 and 3 lines, liked it, and invited me to write a column for that magazine.  I struck up an e-mail correspondence with another one of her columnists, and in the course of that correspondence he mentioned that he was friends with the legendary Evie Sands.  

I'm a big fan of the great singles that Evie released in the sixties -- I'll be featuring several of them on 2 or 3 lines in 2013 -- but I had no idea that she was still recording and performing regularly as a member of Adam Marsland's Chaos Band.

Evie Sands and Adam Marsland (2004)
To borrow one of my grandmother's favorite lines, I didn't know Adam Marsland from Adam.  Some quick research revealed that before he put the Chaos Band together in 2004, he had been the leader of Cockeyed Ghost, which recorded four critically acclaimed albums after he formed it in 1994.

By the way, Adam got the name for that band from a 1933 child's book, Trigger Berg and the Cock-Eyed Ghost.  The author of that book, Edward Edson Lee (who used the pen name Leo Edwards) wrote almost 40 children's books between 1922 and 1940.  In addition to the Trigger Berg series (four books), he wrote the Andy Blake series (four books), the Jerry Todd series (16 books), the Poppy Ott series (11 books), and the Tuffy Bean series (four books).

A Leo Edwards book cover
All five series were interrelated.  They have been compared to the Hardy Boys books, but with more humor mixed in with the adventure.  Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography that his Illinois childhood greatly resembled the Illinois childhood of Jerry Todd.

Adam Marsland has recorded over 100 original songs.  His website has the lyrics to almost all of those songs, plus  explanations of what the songs are about, notes on the musical arrangements, etc.  If more musicians were like Adam, my job would consist of a lot less bloviating and a lot more cutting and pasting.

"Ginna Ling" is from the last of the Cockeyed Ghost albums, Ludlow 6:18, which was released on Marsland's own label, Karma Frog, in 2001.  (The band's first three albums were released on the Big Deal label, but Big Deal went bankrupt in 1999.)

The song begins as a musician's tale of life on the road -- a fairly common theme for rock/pop songs, which tend to picture life on the road as either a never-ending party (e.g., Grand Funk Railroad's "We're An American Band") or a never-ending bummer (e.g., Bob Seger's "Turn the Page.")  

In "Ginna Ling," the singer sees a beautiful woman in the audience at one of his performances, meets her after the show, and falls for her "in a half-heartbeat."  She seems equally smitten with him, and the two correspond as he and his bandmates travel around the country:

I answered the letters on the same day
Asked her if she'd make it to L.A.
And I might be back out her way again in
August or September

He can't help wondering if Ginna Ling might be "The One," and dares to fantasize about their future together:

Thoughts of future tenses and picket fences
Naive and senseless filled the back of my mind

(Yes, ladies -- men do think that way sometimes.  I'd wager that men think that way at least as much as women do.)

The singer knows very little about Ginna's life -- a life that "was far more bleak" than he suspected, and full of "things of which she would not speak."  He receives some shocking news shortly before he is scheduled to return to Ginna's hometown -- Cleveland -- for a return engagement:

[T]hree weeks before I came back to town
This is exactly what went down: 
The things Ginna cared about, was scared about
Closed in on her from within and without
And for reasons I don't fully understand
Ginna Ling died by her own hand

The singer doesn't necessarily want to sing a song about Ginna's death, but he feels compelled to:

Now my heart will burst
If my brain won't first
Because I met someone
Nothing I can do
So I'm telling you
I have to tell someone

Think about "Now my heart will burst/If my brain won't first."  Those words capture the multidimensional nature of the shock that Ginna's suicide has caused.  Something that's very sad may be easy to understand -- if Ginna had a fatal disease and was facing months of suffering before a certain death, her choosing to take her own life would make some sense.  If your intellect can come to grips with a sad event, it's usually easier to put it behind you.

Cockeyed Ghost (1999)
And an event that's confusing and inexplicable isn't necessarily emotionally overwhelming -- you may be frustrated by your inability to figure out why it happened, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will break your heart.  

But Ginna's death is both heartbreaking and mind-boggling for the singer of this song -- both his heart and his brain are overwhelmed by her suicide.

The singer realizes that he barely knew Ginna, and that a lot of what he felt for her was based on fantasy.  But you can't deny your feelings -- the brain's influence on the heart is very limited.  (As the philosopher Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.")

This is a song for someone I barely knew
Someone I guess it's strange for me to miss or mourn
Like the sister who died before I was born
Her name was Gina, too.

It's far too late to do anything about Ginna Ling's suicide, but knowing that doesn't stop the singer's unconscious mind from expressing a desperate desire to save her life:

But sometimes I have this crazy dream
I break down the door, yank out the keys
Drag her out of the car and scream
"Ginna, someone loves you!"

What makes "Ginna Ling" even more powerful is that the story is true.  

Let me make this perfectly clear.  I'm not saying that this song is "based on" a true story, or "inspired by" a true story.  I'm saying that the lyrics are -- in Adam Marsland words -- "literally true":

Ginna Ling was a woman I met through Rick and Nicole McBrien when we were playing with Rick's band Paranoid Lovesick on the "Scapegoat" tour in 1999.  I really had a thing for her, and was looking forward to seeing her on the next tour when Rick called and let me know what had happened. 
Marsland decided to write the song "as a form of revenge" after finding out why Ginna Ling took her own life -- but also as a memorial to her short, unhappy life.  (She was about 30 when Adam met her.)

The back story -- of an abusive on-off relationship, cultural pressures, and a job where your boss is literally trying to force you into a breakdown so you quit -- angered me so much that I determined to write a song about it as a form of revenge, and I had all the lyrics by the next day.  I wasn't sure about using the real name, but Rick [McBrien] assured me that there wouldn't likely be a problem, and in fact I've periodically run into people on the road who were friends of hers and who told me they appreciated the song.   
It's been said of the real-life Ginna that "she didn't like life very much" but I'm glad, anyway, that she got a little memorial of sorts.  A lot of people in this world are basically screwed, whether by accidents of genetics, geography, chemical imbalances or twists of fate.  We don't think about that enough.
It took a lot of trial and error before Adam was satisfied with the recording of "Ginna Ling":

I was very concerned about striking the right tone, to the point where we recut the suicide line about 15 times so that I didn't overstate it . . . [W]e took a lot of our cues in cutting [the album] from Johnny Cash, not so much in terms of sound but in the idea that a message carries a lot more emotional weight if you just say something bluntly rather than making a big histrionic deal about it. . . . The first take of it was a disaster, and the band had to go home and rehearse for a few more months before we could pull it off properly.

Johnny Cash in 1967
I wasn't surprised to read what Adam wrote next -- I had a similar reaction to hearing "Ginna Ling" the first time:

I don't think I have ever recorded a song that has gotten a stronger response.  I heard stories about the song playing for groups of people and complete silence afterwards.  

Adam is correct when he says that it's Ginna's story more than his telling of that story that makes the song so memorable:

The song was deliberately constructed to sound like a happy-go-lucky pop song -- with a chorus that means something completely different than it first appears to -- so that when the switch comes in the middle of the song, it has more impact.  I had worried that we hadn't quite pulled it off, but apparently we did.  As a songwriter, I was gratified, but at the same time, aware that all I had done was tell the story of a real-life tragedy that many people can relate to.  The impact was derived from that, not from any particular cleverness on my part.

But I think Adam is being too modest here.  He achieved his goal of avoiding overstatement and histrionics, which many songwriters wouldn't have been able to do.

"Ginna Ling" does sound like a happy-go-lucky pop song, which may seem inappropriate given what happened to her.  But I think its emotional tone is exactly right.  The song communicates the singer's grief and indignation, but it primarily communicates what must have been his overwhelming shock and disorientation.   

Ginna's decision to take her own life may have made sense to her, or to those who were intimately familiar with what was going on in her life.  But it was simply incomprehensible to the singer.

Adam says he wrote this song as a form of revenge on those who were responsible for Ginna's death, and also as a memorial to her.  But I have to think he was motivated to write "Ginna Ling" in part by a need to understand her death and come to grips with it.  

Just because Ginna was someone Adam "barely knew" doesn't make his loss any less significant.  In fact, he may have hurt more because he barely knew her.  No matter how satisfying your history with a loved one has been, an imagined future will always be even sweeter and more perfect.  

Anything was possible when it came to Adam's future with Ginna -- the sky was the limit.  He could dream of "future tenses and picket fences" because she had never disappointed him.  Maybe she never would have.  

Click below to listen to "Ginna Ling":

Click below if you'd like to buy the Ludlow 6:18 album from Amazon:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Billy Squier -- "Everybody Wants You" (1982)

You got your glory
You paid for it all
You take your pension 
In loneliness and alcohol

It may surprise you to learn that these lines were not written about 2 or 3 lines -- although they certainly could have been.  They are very apropos.

Billy Squier is one of those guys who was always on MTV back when MTV actually aired music videos.  This song is from his 1982 album, Emotions in Motion, and it made it all the way to #1 on the Billboard "Rock Tracks" chart.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who doesn't has pickles in his ears.  "Everybody Wants You" is as commercial as hell -- it has a riff that just won't quit and what one reviewer called an "appealingly bratty" vocal.

So what do the lyrics mean?  Why the hell are you asking me?  Do I look like the Encyclopedia Britannica?  Figure it out for yourself and quit bothering me.

I'm too tired to deal with lazy people who have stupid questions.  I refereed a couple of basketball games today, and those kids ran my ass ragged.

One of the coaches was Gheorghe Muresan, the former professional basketball player.  Muresan is seven feet, seven inches tall -- there's never been a taller player in the NBA.

Ex-NBA'er Gheorghe Muresan
When my games were finally over, I went to a Mexican restaurant and had a couple of Negro Modelos and a big-ass plate of enchiladas.  I could barely keep my eyes open on the drive home.

"Tsk, tsk," you're probably saying to yourself.  "2 or 3 lines is starting to show his age."  Hey, bitch -- look in the mirror.  You're not getting any younger either.  (If you're one of those people who was so bitter when Instagram changed its terms of service so it could sell any of the pictures you posted there to advertisers, you need a heapin' helpin' of reality.  Why in the world would an advertiser want to use your sorry-ass picture?)

Here's "Everybody Wants You":

Click to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Magnetic Fields -- "Walk a Lonely Road" (2010)

Walk a lonely road with me
I will walk with you
Half as lonely we will be
When we walk as two

There's a lot of faux innocence in the world today.  But true innocence is in short supply.

Perhaps the most unashamedly innocent artist of the last several hundred years was William Blake, the English poet, painter, and printmaker.  His Songs of Innocence, a collection of short poems accompanied by the author's engravings that was first published in 1789, addresses childhood and innocence.

"Walk a Lonely Road" has the feel of some of Blake's poems.  The song is quite short -- two eight-line verses and an eight-line chorus.  It uses very simple language (I don't think there's a three-syllable word in the entire song) and both the verses and the chorus have a very simple rhyme scheme: A-B-A-B-C-B-A-B.  The average fourth-grader would have no trouble reading and explaining the lyrics.

Here's the first verse, sung by a male singer:

When I was a little boy
Way out in the the wood
I had neither friend nor toy
Never knew I could
When I found this lonely road
Off I walked for good
When I was a little boy
Way out in the wood

Here's the second verse, sung by a female singer:

When I was a little girl
On the lonesome plain
I had neither pal nor pearl
Mostly wind and rain
One day I set out along
A little winding lane
When I was a little girl
On the lonesome plain

Here's the chorus, the first four lines of which were quoted above.  It is sung by both singers after the first verse and then repeated after the second:

Walk a lonely road with me
I will walk with you
Half as lonely we will be
When we walk as two
If the road goes straight uphill
We'll admire the view
Walk a lonely road with me
I will walk with you

"Walk a Lonely Road" is from the Magnetic Fields' 2010 album, Realism.  The male singer is Stephin Merritt, and the female singer is Claudia Gonson, who have known each other since high school.  Gonson also manages the band.

The group is named after the novel Les Champs Magnétiques, by French author Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism.  That's about as intellectual as it gets, boys and girls.  

Merritt has never met his father, folk singer Scott Fagan.  Fagan have a brief affair with Merritt's mother, who was married to a man named Merritt at the time.

Scott Fagan then
Scott Fagan now
Scott Fagan doesn't seem to be playing with a full deck these days (if he ever was) -- I'd say he's at least half a bubble off plumb.  Click here to visit his website.  

This is what Fagan had too say when an interviewer asked him if had left Merritt and his mother when Stephin was just a year old:

No, I don't know where that story came from, the fact is I have never seen the little knobby noggin in my life, and I wasn't even sure that he existed until very recently.
Fagan then went on to compare himself to his very successful "little knobby noggin":

I am delighted to have become aware of Stephin and his music.  I'm amazed at how much alike we sound and further, how unbelievably familiar the song writing is to me considering that we have never met.  I'm equally amazed at the many parallels in our lives.  It is really extraordinary. I am happy for his success.  I know better than most, how difficult a life in music can be.

However, Scott Fagan is not completely devoid of self-awareness:

I think that Stephin's manager, Claudia Gonson has done a really superb job for him.  My career, on the other hand, has been mismanaged by the most preserverent [sic] and defiant "idiot savant" I've ever known.  That would be me.  I wish them every possible success and happiness and look forward to meeting someday. 

Merritt is openly gay.  Claudia Gonson may or may not be gay.

Claudia Gonson
Read this quote from her and tell me what you think it means:

When we started Magnetic Fields we purposely had one lesbian, one gay guy, one straight woman, and one straight man. The audience could identify with whomever they wanted. I hang out with more gay women now, but I guess I'm more of a fag hag than a lezzie hag.

The Magnetic Fields have released almost a dozen albums over the past 20 years.  2 or 3 lines is very late to the Magnetic Fields party -- which is not exactly a man-bites-dog story.

Stephin Merritt
I'm not sure if I will ever be a big fan of the group's music, but I do know that this is a unique and noteworthy song.  Listen to it a time or two -- it does cast a certain spell.

Click here to listen to "Walk a Lonely Road":

Use the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Les Misérables": 10th Anniversary Concert Cast -- "One Day More" (1995)

Tomorrow is the judgment day 
Tomorrow we'll discover 
What our God in Heaven has in store! 

The Gospel of Matthew describes the "Day of Judgment," when God separates the people of all the nations into two groups "as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats," granting eternal life to some and sentencing the rest to eternal punishment.

Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" (1536-41)
The judgment day described in this song from Les Misérables does not refer to God's day of final judgment, but rather to an earthly day that all the major characters of the play expect to mark a turning point in their lives.  For some of those characters, it will prove to be the final day of their lives.

"One Day More" is the final song in act one of Les Misérables.  In most Broadway musicals, the song that closes act one is one of the most memorable songs in the entire play.  It is usually designed to leave the audience on the edge of its collective seat, curious about how all the questions that were raised in the first act will be resolved.  

Les Misérables is based upon Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name, which was one the longest novels ever written -- most unabridged editions run well over 1000 pages long.

A first edition of Les Misérables
The musical version leaves a lot out, but it leaves a lot in as well.  It tells a story that encompasses both political and personal elements.  

The political angle concerns the Paris Uprising of 1832, a very brief and unsuccessful rebellion by a relatively small number of Republicans against the French monarchy.  But the play derives its real emotional impact from its personal stories -- especially the stories of reformed criminal Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter, Cosette.

The Paris Uprising of 1832
"One Day More" is a magnificent song.  Calling it "a song" sells it short -- it's really several different songs that are performed somewhat simultaneously.  

The musicological term for this is counterpoint.  Traditional hymns and popular songs are usually constructed from chords, which are groups of musical notes played at the same time.  (Think "Onward, Christian Soldiers.")

Counterpoint consists of multiple melodies that overlap one another.  Think horizontal instead of vertical -- but the tricky part is that the different melodies have a vertical element as well, and must not only work as individual melodies but also must harmonize with one another at their points of intersection.  

"One Day More" combines four different melodies from the first act of the play.  Jean Valjean's part is based on one melody, while his arch-enemy -- police inspector Javert -- sings another.  Cosette and her young lover, Marius, sing a third tune in counterpoint with Éponine (who is in love with Marius).  The Thénardiers, a sleazy couple who provide comic relief, chime in with a fourth melody.  And a chorus jumps in here and there.

The result is a brilliant construction that can leave you somewhat overwhelmed if you don't have a copy of the words to follow along -- there are usually at least two singers singing two different songs at the same time, and sometimes it gets even more complicated.

It's a little bit like the jugglers and plate-spinners who I remember from the old Ed Sullivan Show.  As the act progresses, it looks like there's no way the whole affair won't come crashing down -- the tension becomes almost unbearable.  But by some miracle, the performers manage to catch all the plates or flaming batons or whatever just in the nick of time.

In addition to being a tour de force example of musical engineering, "One Day More" pulls together all the major plot elements of act one of the play and turns them into cliffhangers that will not be resolved until tomorrow -- that is, act two of the play.

Illustration of Cosette from the
first edition of
Les Misérables
Jean Valjean, who mistakenly believes that the police are on his tail, has decided to take Cosette and head for America before it is too late -- but he wonders if leaving tomorrow will be soon enough for him to evade the long arm of the law:

These men who seem to know my crime 
Will surely come a second time, 
One day more

Cosette and Marius have just met, but it seems that her father will take her far away the very next day.  The dawning of that day will mean a painful separation for them and the end of a love affair that has only just begun:

I did not live until today
Tomorrow you'll be worlds away 

And to make things even more complicated, Marius is torn between his love for Cosette and his loyalty to his fellow students, who are planning to take to the streets tomorrow.

From the London production of Les Misérables
Enjoiras, the leader of the students, is eager to see tomorrow come because he and his comrades will take to the barricades in hopes of overthrowing the monarchy and creating a new world where every man will be a king.

One more day before the storm! 
At the barricades of Freedom! 

Javert, the policeman, looks forward to crushing the hopes of Enjoiras and "these little schoolboys" on the morrow.

One more day to revolution 
We will nip it in the bud 
We'll be ready for these schoolboys 
Tomorrow is the judgement day 

The Thénardiers are counting the hours because they expect many to be slain in the forthcoming battle -- creating opportunities for them to rob the corpses of their valuables. 

Here a little pinch 
There a little touch 
Most of them are goners 
So they won't miss much! 

The one singer in the entire group who does not anticipate a dramatic change in her life when the new day dawns is poor Éponine, a girl of the streets who also loves Marius but is all too aware that he loves Cosette, and does not love her.

For Éponine, tomorrow is just one more day like all the other days:

One more day all on my own 
One more day with him not caring 

For her, the days of her life will all be the same -- each will be one more day where she suffers from her unrequited love for Marius.  

I came late to the Les Misérables party.  The play opened in London in 1985, and it has run there continuously for the ensuing 27 years.  It came to the United States in late 1986, and had a 16-year run on Broadway.  I saw a touring production in Washington, DC, recently thanks to my mother-in-law.  Several years ago, she started giving my family tickets to a visiting musical as our Christmas present, and the tradition continued this year when she took us to see Les Misérables.  (We've seen West Side Story, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, and several other wonderful musicals thanks to her.)

Poster for the 2012 movie
I was somehow not familiar with any of the music from the play, but I'm making up for lost time.  I have not only the original London cast recording, but also a DVD of the 25th anniversary concert performance in London -- the version of "One Day More" embedded below comes from that performance.  I also have a 1934 French movie adaptation of Hugo's novel (it's four and a half hours long) as well as the 1998 movie starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes.  Of course, I'll be seeing the brand-new movie version of the musical, which was released on Christmas Day.

Here's a video (with lyrics) of the 10th anniversary concert performance of "One Day More":

Here's a link you can use to buy the DVD of the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables from Amazon: