Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tommy Tutone -- "867-5309/Jenny" (1981)

Jenny, don't change your number

After this song became a hit in 1981, people who had the same phone number were deluged with prank calls, and most eventually asked the phone company to give them a different number.  As of 1982, 867-5309 was no longer a working number in 97 of the 106 then-existing area codes.  

"867-5309/Jenny" was on this album
Did you know that 8675309 is the fourth most popular seven-digit password?  Of course, you didn't know that -- and you never would have known it if your Uncle 2 or 3 lines hadn't told you.  (The most popular seven-digit password?  1234567, of course -- because a lot of people are lazy and clueless.)

Here's something else you didn't know:  8675309 is a prime number.  (A prime number is a whole number that can't be divided evenly by any numbers other than one and itself.  But you knew that already -- correct?)  It's also a "twin prime" -- that means it's a prime number that differs from another prime number by two.  For example, 41 and 43 are twin prime numbers -- as are 71 and 73, and 101 and 103, and 137 and 139.  (Let me know when you figure out whether 8675309's twin prime number is 8675307 or 8675311.)

(That's a damn good question.)
And here's one more thing you didn't know: 8675309 was recently featured in a Supreme Court decision.  The case was American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, and it involved a challenge to regulations imposed by the Port of Los Angeles on trucks that haul cargo in and out of that port.  

One of those regulations required trucking companies to affix to each truck a placard with a phone number that busybodies could call to complain about safety or environmental concerns.  "You've seen the type," the opinion said: "How am I driving?  Call 213-867-5309."

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan
That opinion (which was unanimous) was authored by the Court's newest justice, Elena Kagan.  (Kagan is one of four Supreme Court justices who apparently doesn't have a middle name -- or who has a middle name that is so embarrassing that he or she refuses to disclose it.)  Click here if you'd like to read the opinion.

As you may know, Supreme Court decisions aren't really written by the justices personally.  Instead, they are written by law clerks.  Each justice usually has four clerks, who are usually recent graduates of prestigious law schools.  But you have to wonder if any of Justice Kagan's clerks was familiar with "867-5309/Jenny," which was released years before most of the current crop of Supreme Court law clerks was born.  

Kagan was 21 when the song was a hit, so you might assume she inserted that phone number herself.  But maybe not.  After all, one of her childhood friends has said that she and the future jurist "were more apt to sit on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and talk" on Saturday nights than go to parties.

Justice Kagan's college yearbook photo
Kagan wore a judge's robe and held a gavel in her high school yearbook picture, and the quote that accompanied the picture was by legendary Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.  Her college yearbook photo isn't quite as nerdy, but she doesn't exactly look like a big party girl, does she?  So I have a hard time picturing her at a trendy New York City club, dancing to Tommy Tutone's magnum opus and the other hits of that era.

Tommy Tutone -- it's the name of the band, not the name of the lead singer -- started out as Tommy and the Tu-tones.  ("Tommy" is Tommy Heath, the band's frontman.)  

Alex Cole, who co-wrote the song, told an interviewer that there was no Jenny, and that the 867-5309 number just came to him out of nowhere.  But lead singer Tommy Heath has said that the number belonged to a girl he knew.  And the group's lead guitarist, Jim Keller, told People magazine many years ago that friends of his once wrote a girl's name and number on the men's room wall at a bar, and her called it on a dare and dated her for awhile.

John Cowsill
The drummer on "867-5309/Jenny" was John Cowsill, once of the Cowsills.  (John also played with Dwight Twilley, and joined the Beach Boys touring band in 2000.  He married Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson in 2003.)

In 2011, the Mayo Clinic released a public service announcement featuring staff cardiologists singing a parody of "867-5309/Jenny":

Jenny, please watch your numbers
Blood pressure, lipids, and B-M-I

Here's "867-5309/Jenny":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Jonathan Edwards -- "Sunshine" (1972)

He can't even run his own life
I'll be damned if he'll run mine!

And the winner is . . . Jonathan Edwards!

If you missed the previous 2 or 3 lines, it featured America's "Sister Golden Hair," which has second-most unconvincing use of the word "damn" in a pop song.  The song that beat it out for the top spot is Jonathan Edwards' 1972 hit single, "Sunshine."

The singer of "Sunshine" is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more!

What it is that's making him mad ain't exactly clear.  But it was 1971, so we can make a pretty good guess.

"It was just at the time of the Vietnam War and Nixon," Edwards later recalled.  "It was looking bad out there."

"The song meant a lot to a lot of people during that time -- especially me!" he went on to say.  I'll be damned if it meant anything to me.  

"Sunshine" talks a good game, which is a trait it shares with a lot of songs of the same vintage (not to mention a lot of people who came of age around that time).

Here are a few more lines from "Sunshine":

Working starts to make me wonder where
The fruits of what I do are going
He says in love and war all is fair
But he's got cards he ain't showing

None of that really means doodly squat, does it?  It sounds kind of tough and rebellious, but sounding tough and rebellious doesn't make you tough and rebellious.

Jonathan Edwards today
Jonathan Edwards is about as convincing a rebel as I was.  (The closest I came was a picture from my senior year of charge, when my hair was at its longest and my Fu Manchu mustache was at its Fu Manchuiest.  A female friend of mine saw it several years later -- after I had cleaned up my act a bit -- and told me that I looked "dangerous" in the photo.  You have no idea how happy that made me.)

"Sunshine" is purportedly a song that's all about getting lazy, intoxicated, and/or stoned college kids (which was about 98.6% of the college population in 1972) off their asses and into the streets.  "I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to get in line because some guy who's trying to run my life tell me to do so," Edwards is saying.  To which the rest of the world replies, "Spare me!"

After initially breaking out on a Boston radio station (figures, doesn't it?) "Sunshine" became a national hit, making it all the way to #4 on the Billboard pop singles chart.

The song only got released because a recording engineer screwed up.  Edwards wasn't planning to include "Sunshine" on his eponymous debut album until the engineer accidentally erased another track that was intended to go on that album.  Edwards plugged the hole by inserting "Sunshine."  (It's better to be lucky than good.)

"Sunshine" was by far the biggest hit Edwards ever recorded, but his subsequent lack of success wasn't from lack of effort.  He released six more albums in the 1970s alone, and has recorded a total of 16 albums (the most recent of which was released in 2011) -- including a children's album, a bluegrass album (with the Seldom Scene), a country album, and an album titled "Cruising America's Waterways," which got its title from a PBS series that Edwards narrated and performed in.  I'll be damned if I know why -- I can't imagine that any of them are still selling worth a . . . (You can fill in the blank.)
Here's a live performance of "Sunshine" by Edwards and the Seldom Scene:

Edwards has a pretty interesting life.  He was the lead in a touring production of the Broadway musical, Pumpboys and Dinettes, and appeared in the 2008 film, The Golden Boys, a period movie starring Mariel Hemingway, David Carradine, Bruce Dern, and the inimitable Rip Torn that was filmed on Cape Cod a few years ago.  

The Golden Boys cost an estimated $8 million to produce and grossed exactly $184,149 in the U.S.  I doubt that there will be a sequel.

Here's "Sunshine":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

America -- "Sister Golden Hair" (1975)

Well, I tried to make it Sunday
But I got so damn depressed

This is the second-most unconvincing use of "damn" in a pop song.  (The next 2 or 3 lines will feature the song with the most unconvincing "damn" ever.)

"Damn" is probably the most inoffensive of the common four-letter words.  I use a variety of four-letter words on this blog -- only when there's a good reason to do so, of course -- and I usually place asterisks in place of a vowel or two if I think the word might bother any of my readers.  (I'm not sure that really helps, but it makes me feel better.)

From Tumblr's "A Page for Four-Letter Words"
But I don't write "d*mn" -- I'd feel a little silly doing so, even though I don't use the word in casual conversation.  (Childhood habits die hard.)

I don't know where most people draw the line on four-letter words any more.  It used to be that people on radio and television eschewed the use of such language.  I listen to a fair amount of sports-talk radio, and it used to amuse me how hard people worked to avoid the word "ass" -- they would use "butt" and "backside" and "rear end" when they clearly wanted to say "ass."  

I was surprised to hear a former NFL player who co-hosts an ESPN radio show use the word "t*rd" on the air a few days ago.  (He said "pardon my French" after using that word, which made me believe it had just slipped out -- but then he used it again.  So I guess that word is officially OK to use on radio.)  Call me prudish, but I just don't like that word, and I'd be happier if I never heard it again on the radio.

"Sister Golden Hair" was written by Gerry Beckley, who was one of the three founding members of the soft-rock band, America.  The song, which appeared on America's 1975 Hearts album, was the group's second #1 hit single.  ("A Horse with No Name" was the first.)

"Sister Golden Hair" sounds a lot like "Take It Easy," the Eagles' first single.  That's not surprising given that "Take It Easy" was written by Jackson Browne (with a little help from Glenn Frey), and that Beckley admitted that "Sister Golden Hair" was inspired by Browne's body of work.

Although Beckley admired Browne's ability to put words to music, he once said "I find Jackson can depress me a little bit."  No kidding!  I find Jackson Browne's music depressing because IT SUCKS, and sucky music is depressing -- especially navel-gazing music from the L.A. school of wimpy, politically correct folk-rock like Browne's.

One of the many Jackson Browne
albums that I don't own
I think most people take the music of the Eagles much more seriously than the music of America, but I'm not sure that's justified.  I think the Eagles are massively overrated.  No one takes America that seriously, so they avoid being overrated.  

America released a few perfectly nice singles -- "Sister Golden Hair" is one of them -- but I was never tempted to buy an America album.  (You may be surprised to learn that America has released 16 studio albums -- including eight in the 1970s.)

"Sister Golden Hair" isn't bad at all when you place it in historical context.  The song that preceded it as #1 on the Billboard pop singles chart was John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."  (The Baltimore Orioles still play that song for the seventh-inning stretch at their home games, which is perhaps the best -- although not only -- reason to root against the Orioles.) 

Captain (left) & Tennille
The song that succeeded it was "Love Will Keep Us Together," by Captain & Tennille.  

Compared to those two songs, "Sister Golden Hair" was "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Satisfaction" and "A Day in the Life" rolled into one.  (Obviously the summer of 1975 was not a high point when it came to American popular music.)

Here's "Sister Golden Hair":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Art Brut -- "Modern Art" (2006)

Modern art 
Makes me 
Want to rock out!

In 1921, a German psychiatrist published a book about a psychotic patient of his named Adolf Wölfli, who created an illustrated epic biography that was 25,000 pages long and included 1600 illustrations and 1500 collages.  

The next year, another German psychiatrist published a book titled Artistry of the Mentally Ill, which got a lot of attention from avant-garde artists -- including the French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term art brut (or "raw art") to describe art created not only by inmates of insane asylums but also works by outsider artists who have no contact with the mainstream art world.  

Dubuffet believed that art brut -- which was "created from solitude and pure and authentic creative impulses" -- was "more precious than the productions of professionals" who are associated with art schools, galleries, museums and the other institutions of official culture.

"Welcome Parade," by Jean Dubuffet
One of my favorite "outsider" artists was James Hampton, a government janitor who spent the last 14 years of his life creating "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly," which consists of 180 objects Hampton had made from junk -- broken furniture, cardboard, aluminum foil, burned-out light bulbs, etc.

Amazingly, Hampton's work wasn't just dragged off to the dump.  Instead, it came into the possession of the Smithsonian American Art Museum several years after Hampton died in 1964.

Here is a sampling of Hampton's 180-piece work:

Hampton also left behind a 108-page notebook written mostly in an unknown script that has yet to be deciphered.  Here's a portion of one page:

There's plenty of art around today that's as crazy as anything Adolf Wölfli and his fellow insane-asylum residents created.  But many of those works are created by art-school graduates and funded by government agencies and nonprofit foundations, and so are as far from art brut as it gets.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
One place to see such art is the central Washington, DC public library is the 400,000 square foot Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, which is located two blocks from my office in downtown Washington.  

The King library was designed by the famed modern architect Mies van der Rohe, who is best known for the Seagram Building in New York City and for two oft-quoted aphorisms: "Less is more," and "God is in the details."

The Seagram Building was built in 1958
The MLK Library got a little seedy over the years.  (It attracts a fair number of homeless men, especially during the winter.)  The city skimped on maintenance, and the building suffered from broken elevators, missing ceiling tiles, and malfunctioning HVAC.

A few years ago, the city wanted to tear the MLK Library down and build a new main library.  Historic preservationists opposed the building's demolition, and they eventually prevailed.  Major renovations are now being undertaken, and the library is looking much better -- although they have a lot of work to do.

The MLK Library has a number of Mies van der Rohe's so-called Barcelona chairs, which he originally designed for the German pavilion at a 1929 international exposition in Barcelona, Spain:

Barcelona chair
The MLK Library has a vast and almost empty entrance lobby, which is often used for art exhibits.

Here's the current exhibit, which features Sam Scharf's "Growth," a geometric installation constructed from drywall panels.  According to a library brochure, "The artwork responds to the vastness of the lobby and encourages visitors to stop and ponder the ambiguous object that occupies this public space." 

"Growth," by Sam Scharf
When I saw the piece, I said to myself, 'What the hell is that?"  I guess that qualifies as stopping and pondering the "ambiguous object" that the artists created.

The preceding exhibit was "Circuit," a participatory piece by Brian Davis.  "Circuit" consisted of five dissimilar and banged-up chairs facing outward in a circle.  Above each chair were light fixtures.  

"Circuit," by Bryan Davis
Library patrons were invited to sit in the chairs.  I think the lights were supposed to start going on an off when people sat in the chairs.  But when I sat in two different chairs in turn, nothing happened.  

Art Brut is an art-punk band that was formed in South London ten years ago, but is now based in Berlin.  Their songs are très ironique, boys and girls.  (If irony was a liquid, Art Brut would likely have drowned in it by now.)  

"Modern Art" is from the group's first studio album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, which was released in 2006.

Lead singer Eddie Argos (real name: Kevin Macklin) is also the lead singer of a musical "project" called Everybody Was in the French Resistance . . . Now!, which is without a doubt the most clever band name I've ever heard.  

Here's "Modern Art":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Apples in Stereo -- "Signal in the Sky (Let's Go)" (2000)

Hey girls, hey girls, come out and play now!
Or do you have to hurry off to save the day now?

There may be people out there who get more use out of the Washington, DC public library than I do.  But I haven't met them yet.

Not only do I get all the books I read at the DC library, I also get most of my music there.

Mies van der Rohe designed the
main Washington, DC library
As of today, I have 18,367 songs in my iTunes account.  Some of those were downloaded from my CDs, and some were downloaded from the artists' websites.  A handful were purchased from the iTunes store.

But the overwhelming majority -- certainly at least 90%, and probably more like 95% -- came from library-owned CDs.

The CD pickings are starting to get a bit slim, but I recently discovered another source of free music from the library: Freegal.

Freegal is a downloadable music service sold to libraries by a company called Library Ideas LLC.  It allows library patrons to download up to three songs per week from the Sony Music catalog -- which includes over a million different songs -- for free.

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there's a lot of great music that you can't get from Freegal.  For examples, there are no Beatles songs.  (There are tons of Beatles covers, and a lot of instrumental tracks of Beatles songs if you're into karaoke.)  And there aren't any songs by the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.

But I've found plenty of music that I want and can't get for free any other way.  

I just discovered that the Montgomery County, MD public library also has Freegal.  I live in Montgomery County and have a library card there, too, so I can get six free songs a week.

(Actually, I can get nine free songs each week because my son registered for a Montgomery County library card in his name and gave it to me so I could check out more items.)

The only Apples in Stereo CD that either library has is New Magnetic Wonder -- the sixth of the group's seven studio studio albums -- which was released in 2007.  

But Freegal has the band's first five studio albums, plus their two most recent EPs, plus two of their compilation albums, plus some miscellaneous releases.  That's a total of just over 100 Apples in Stereo songs . . . every one of them  absolutely free.  With three Freegal accounts, I'll have everyone of them within a few months.

What a country!

"Signal in the Sky (Let's Go)" is from the 2000 Powerpuff Girls soundtrack album, Heroes & Villains, which topped the Billboard children's music chart for six weeks.  It also appears on the group's 2009 compilation album, #1 Hits Explosion.    

The Powerpuff Girls was an animated TV series that ran on the Cartoon Network from 1998 through 2005.  My twin daughters (who were born in 1986) were a little too old to be fans of the Powerpuff Girls, who were just about the cutest little superheroes you've ever seen.  But my younger son (born in 1994) loved them, and so did I.

Here's the introduction to The Powerpuff Girls:

Here's "Signal in the Sky (Let's Go)," which is a fabulous three-minute pop song:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Clash -- "The Guns of Brixton" (1979)

When they kick at your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?

I mentioned the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in passing in the previous 2 or 3 lines, and that got me to thinking about the above lines from "The Guns of Brixton."

You might think I would have no interest whatsoever in the Second Amendment.  No one in my family owns a gun, and none of us have ever been the victim of crime involving a gun -- or a crime that might have been prevented if the victim had a gun.  I've never even held a handgun or assault rifle, much less fired one.  My experience with firearms is limited to a couple of rounds of skeet shooting during long-ago family vacations.  

But when it comes to the right to bear arms, I do have some opinions.  For example, it's my belief that while it should remain legal to own guns for recreation or hunting or self-defense, the right of American citizens to bear arms really has little to do with target shooting or putting meat on the table or protecting oneself or one's home against criminals.  

The right to bear arms is really about we, the people, having the wherewithal to resist government tyranny.

Ice-T digs the Second Amendment
Historians and legal scholars have different opinions about what the Second Amendment was intended to mean.  But a couple of things seem clear.  

First, the Second Amendment did not create a new right -- it codified a right to bear arms that was widely acknowledged to exist prior to the ratification of the Constitution and, therefore, is not dependent upon the Constitution for its existence.

Second, the founding fathers believed that the citizenry had a natural right to engage in an armed insurrection against an oppressive government.  Initially, the colonists were concerned about the increasingly tyrannical British government.  Later, the fear was that the federal government would create a large standing army that would be used to oppress the states and individual citizens.

Some scholars argue that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms is limited to participation in a government-sponsored militia.  But think about the early days of the American Revolution.  

Minuteman statue in Lexington, MA
The Minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord had been called out to prevent pro-British forces -- including not only regular British Army troops but also colonists who supported the Crown and joined Loyalist militia units -- from seizing their weapons and ammunition.  

Those Minutemen weren't a well-regulated militia.  They were not created as an arm of the government; rather, they organized themselves to resist the oppression committed by that government.  

Recruiting poster for Loyalist militia regiment
It may be naive to think that a 21st-century version of the Minutemen would be able to defend American citizens from foreign invaders or a tyrannical American government.  

After all, the original Minuteman were able to fight the British Army on relatively even terms.  It's hard to imagine that individual citizens armed with handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles, or even large-magazine, semi-automatic assault rifles could resist a foe equipped with armored vehicles, modern aircraft, spy satellites, and all the other high-tech weaponry that the United States and other world powers could bring to bear on their opponents.

But I still think it's important to remember these words from the Declaration of Independence:

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness] . . . it is their Right of the People . . . it is their duty, to throw off such Government . . .

That's what the right to bear arms is all about, boys and girls.  In today's world, it might be suicidal to respond to the tyrant's knock on your front door by coming out not "with your hands on your head," but "on the trigger of your gun."  But there comes a point where that just might the better alternative.  

One final point before we get to "The Guns of Brixton."  Have you ever tried to distinguish the successful attempt of the American colonists to dissolve their relationship with the powers-that-be (the British government) from the unsuccessful attempt of the Confederacy to dissolve its relationship with the federal government?  

Ignore for the time being the issue of slavery -- let's assume that it was not a bone of contention between the two sides.  How do you distinguish secession from the British Empire in 1776 from secession from the Union in 1861?  How can one be justified and the other unjustified?  

Until today, the Clash has been almost overlooked by 2 or 3 lines.  Sure, I featured the band's cover of "I Fought the Law" in February 2011, but I haven't featured any of their fabulous original songs.

"The Guns of Brixton" was released on the clash's third album, London Calling, which most agree is the greatest punk album of all time and one of the greatest rock albums.  (In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it #8 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, behind only albums by the Stones, Marvin Gaye, Dylan, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles -- who placed four albums in the top ten.)

Most of the Clash's songs were written by Mick Jones and the late Joe Strummer.  But "The Guns of Brixton" was written by the group's bass player, Paul Simonon.  Simonon grew up in Brixton, a multiethnic south London neighborhood.  

A scene from the 1981 Brixton riots

A couple of years after London Calling was released, rioting broke out in Brixton, which had become a high-crime, high-unemployment area.  The riots were a response to the police's attempts to reduce street crime by stopping and searching thousands of Brixton residents -- mostly young black men.  About 280 policemen were injured in the rioting, and 56 police vehicles were destroyed.

Since 2009, Brixton has had its own currency, the Brixton Pound.  That currency features pictures of celebrities with ties to Brixton, including David Bowie (who was born in Brixton in 1947) and NBA star Luol Deng, whose family migrated from the Sudan to Brixton to escape civil war.

Brixton ten-pound note
Here's "Guns of Brixton":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mastodon -- "Blood and Thunder" (2004)

This ivory leg is what propels me
Harpoons thrust in the sky
Aim directly for his crooked brow
And look him straight in the eye

Opinions differ on which book deserves the title "The Great American Novel."  Many would say that it is an exercise in futility to even attempt to make such a choice.  

But I wouldn't argue with you if you picked Herman Melville's Moby-Dick as the "The Great American Novel."

Moby-Dick tells the story of Captain Ahab's quest to find and take his revenge on Moby-Dick, the ferocious white whale who once destroyed Ahab's ship and bit off his leg.  (Ahab's peg-leg is made from whalebone – not wood – hence the reference to the "ivory leg" in the lyrics quoted above.)

I recently found a copy of The Portable Melville, an anthology that contains a sampling of Melville's major works – including an excerpt from Moby-Dick – in a "Little Free Library" that some neighbors of mine recently erected in their yard.

The Little Free Library movement got its start in a small town in Wisconsin several years ago.  To honor his mother, schoolteacher and book lover Todd Bol mounted a wooden box built to look like an old-fashioned schoolhouse on a post in his front yard, and filled it with books.  Passers-by were encouraged to take any book that was of interest and leave another book in its place.  

Today, there are approximately 5000 registered Little Free Libraries in the world.  Little Free Library, Ltd., sells prefabricated libraries for $175 to $630, or you can build a library yourself by going to and downloading their free plans.  

Here's the Little Free Library in my neighborhood.  I don't know the people who built it, but I plan to introduce myself and thank them someday soon.

Here's the sign attached to its front:

Believe it or not, Little Free Libraries are not always welcome.  Last year, Avi and Dannette Lank, a couple who live in the village of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, wanted to erect a Little Free library in their front yard.  They asked the village building inspector if the library they planned to order was too big, and whether there were any regulations governing how close it could be to the sidewalk.  They were told to their chagrin that village ordinances prohibited any structures in the front yard.

The village government also ordered the local Episcopal church to take down the Little Free Library that they had put on the church's lot.

Despotic village board to church:
teat that "Little Free Library" down!
I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this is exactly the kind of thing that makes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution necessary.  Actually, that probably is an overstatement -- but I think I do have a valid point.   

I suppose I could live with a regulation requiring the structure to be a certain distance back from the sidewalk, or limiting its size.  But an absolute ban is ridiculous.  There is absolutely no justification for the Whitefish Bay village government telling the Lanks that they are unconditionally prohibited from putting a Little Free Library in their front yard. 

The Milwaukee newspaper ran a story about the Little Free Library contretemps, reporting that some of the busybodies who attended the meeting of the village board called to consider the Lacks' request were worried "about the possibility of people putting pornography or white supremacist literature" in the library.

Others who opposed the Lacks' request argued that Whitefish Bay already had a perfectly good public library.  

You have got to be kidding me.

"Blood and Thunder" is the first track on Mastodon's second album, Leviathan, which was released in 2004.  Leviathan is a concept album based on Moby-Dick.  (The second track is titled "I Am Ahab.")

Three rock/metal magazines picked Leviathan as 2004's best album.  In 2009, a heavy metal website named it best metal album of the 21st century to date.

Here's "Blood and Thunder":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cornershop -- "Brimful of Asha" (1997)

We don't care about no government warnings
'Bout their promotion of a simple life
And the dams they are building

It's much easier to pick winners at the dog track than it is to predict which pop songs will be hits.

Listen to "Brimful of Asha" and ask yourself if it's a record that you would have bet on becoming a big hit single.  

Whether you answered "yes" or "no," you were right.  When the song was initially released in the UK in 1997, it made it only to #60 on the singles chart.  But then Norman Cook -- better known as "Fatboy Slim" -- issued a remix of the song that got a lot of airplay.  The original "Brimful of Asha" was subsequently re-released and went all the way to #1.  Go figure.

Asha Bhosle
"Brimful of Asha" pays tribute to Asha Bhosle and Indian movies.  Unlike Western films, "Bollywood" movies routinely feature song-and-dance numbers.  The singing that ends up on the movie soundtracks is done by "playback singers," who record the songs before the movie is shot.  The actors then lip synch to the recorded music.

Asha Bhosle is the most recorded artists in history according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  (The previous record holder was Bhosle's older sister, Lata Mangeshkar, who also gets a shout-out in "Brimful of Asha.")  Asha is featured on over a thousand movie soundtracks, and has recorded something like 12,000 songs.

Here's a video with brief excerpts of several movie scenes that feature Bhosle's playback singing:

The music of "Brimful of Asha" is pretty loosey-goosey.  So are the lyrics.  (I wanted to start this post by quoting the song's hook -- "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow" -- but that's only one line, which would leave me one or two lines short of what is required.)

I can only guess that the meaning of the lines quoted at the beginning of the post are that the singer doesn't care about all the stuff the Indian government is doing.  He just wants to lose himself in a Bollywood movie, complete with Asha Bhosle's singing.

Cornershop was formed in 1991 by Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter, Tjader Singh, after he moved to Leicester, England.  The band's name is a reference to an English stereotype: that all the little corner grocery stores in London neighborhoods are owned by Indians.

Cornershop hit it big with its third album, When I Was born for the 7th Time, which included not only "Brimful of Asha" but also a Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono-approved cover of "Norwegian Wood."  

The album was co-produced by Singh and an American hip-hop producer, Daniel Nakamura, who is better known as "Dan the Automator."  Back in the nineties, my older son had a bunch of crazy hip-hop albums that Dan the Automator had a hand in -- including Kool Keith's Dr. Octagonecologyst (which Dan produced) and the truly brilliant "Handsome Boy Modeling School" concept albums (which were collaborations with Prince Paul, another wacko hip-hop producer).

Father Guido Sarducci
The "Handsome Boy Modeling School" albums featured guest appearances by Mike D (Beastie Boys), Sean Lennon, Tim Meadows (Saturday Night Live), John Oates (Hall and Oates), Mike Patton (Faith No More), Cat Power, RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), and -- last but certainly not least -- Don Novello, who created the "Father Guido Sarducci" character on SNL.

To this day, I still do my version of a Father Guido Sarducci skit about the "Last Brunch" whenever I have an excuse (or one too many drinks).  I couldn't find video of the original SNL bit, but I did find this video of an amateur Guido Sarducci imitator doing the it.  I tell the story much better than this guy, and I have a much more convincing Italian accent as well.  (Call me sometime and I'll do the bit over the phone for you -- or you can Skype me.)  But it's better than nothing:

Here's "Brimful of Asha":

Here's the Fatboy Slim remix of "Brimful of Asha":

Click here to buy the original Cornership version of the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cheap Trick -- "Surrender" (1978)

Mommy's all right 
Daddy's all right
They just seem a little weird

Some of the Internet song lyric sites spell "all right" as "alright" in the lyrics for "Surrender."  But I've got news for you, boys and girls: "alright" isn't a real word.  It's a misspelling.  

Cheap Trick was formed in Rockford, Illinois, in 1973.  They may be the biggest thing to come out of Rockford since the Rockford Peaches, who were one of the founding members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  (The Peaches, which won four championships during the league's 12-year existence, were featured in the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own.)

Rockford (the biggest city in Illinois outside of Chicago and its metropolitan area) fell on hard times about the same time that Cheap Trick was at its peak of popularity.  The city was a regular on "Worst Cities in America" lists in the eighties and nineties.  As of 2009, Rockford had a 12.5% unemployment rate, and fewer than half of its high-school students were graduating.  

Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, a Rockford native, has remained true to his roots.  In 2007, Nielsen announced that he was going to build a $25 million restaurant and hotel named Rick's.  Some of his famous collection of rare and exotic guitars -- he owns 2000 guitars altogether -- would be displayed in the new restaurant.  Alas, it appears that the project never got off the ground.  

Here's a five-neck Hamer guitar that Nielsen plays:

"Surrender" is featured in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I would rank as one of the top five high-school movies of all time.  In this scene, ticket scalper Mike Damone (played by Robert Romanus)  is trying to unload a couple of tickets to a Cheap Trick concert on a girl at his high school:

"Surrender" is my favorite Cheap Trick song.  Heaven only knows what the words mean.  Click here to see what Rap Genius has to say about the lyrics -- which isn't much.  (Feel free to sign up and contribute your own comments if you have some brilliant insight to share -- or even if you don't.)

I have a vivid memory of listening to the Heaven Tonight album -- "Surrender" was its first track -- one night in the summer of 1978, shortly after it was released.  Back then, I played in a weekly pickup co-ed softball game with a bunch of other young Federal Trade Commission attorneys, after which we adjourned for pizza and beer.  On this particular evening, a few of us didn't stop drinking just because the bar closed for the night -- we ended up at my place.

The front of the Heaven Tonight album
That summer, I was housesitting a very nice suburban home near the DC-Maryland line.  The couple who owned the house were members of a prominent Washington family who had gone off on an extended vacation.  The husband must have been a hunter -- I remember finding a frozen duck in the basement freezer that night, which inspired us to engage in an impromptu game of bowling.

One of the softball players who was at the house that night was a law student intern named Dianne.  Dianne was a delight -- she had a great sense of humor.

The back of the album
That sense of humor came in handy a few years later when she was delivering her first child.  After the baby was born, Dianne excitedly asked her husband who she looked like.  "Actually, she looks a lot like the mailman," her husband answered.  

I remember totally punking another female law student one day in the office.  (I didn't accomplish very much work in my first few years at the FTC.  No one seemed to care very much.)  Dianne had helped me set up this particular practical joke, which was so crude that I still blush today just thinking about it.  (If you're a male friend of mine, e-mail me and I'll share the details.  If you're a female friend of mine, e-mail me pretending to be a male friend if you want the scoop.)

Anyway, the other female law student was as shocked by the fact that her friend and fellow feminist Dianne had chosen to help me pull off this stunt as she was by the stunt itself.  "So much for sisterhood," Dianne said with a shrug.

Here's "Surrender":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rolling Stones -- "Stray Cat Blues" (1968)

It's no hanging matter 
It's no capital crime 

Here's an item you can stick in your "truth is stranger than fiction" file.  Bill Wyman, the longtime bass guitarist for the Rolling Stones, was 52 when he married the 18-year-old Mandy Smith in 1989.  They had been "dating" since she was 13 and he was 47.

Wyman and his young bride
Wyman and Smith split up after a couple of years.  But just before their divorce became final in 1993, Wyman's son from his first marriage married Smith's mother.  Stephen Wyman was 30 when he married his mother-in-law's mother, Patsy Smith, who was 46.

That meant that Stephen was Mandy's stepson and stepfather.  It also means that Stephen was his own grandfather.  (Think about it.)

That story isn't a bad lead-in for our discussion of "Stray Cat Blues," which is perhaps the most amoral song in the history of rock and roll.  

The singer of that song doesn't care a whit about the line that separates right and wrong, although he does care about the delineation between a mere felony and a capital crime.  (He's willing to risk the first, but not the second.)

Maybe I'm amoral to some degree as well because I think "Stray Cat Blues" is a great song -- a work of art, if you will -- despite its being entirely reprehensible from a moral point of view. 

It's arguably the most perfectly conceived and executed song the Rolling Stones ever recorded.  The lyrics and the music cut like a knife.

Today, Mick Jagger is almost 70 years old, and has four grandchildren.  Like Paul McCartney and Elton John, he even has a knighthood.

Mick's come a long way since "Stray Cat Blues" was released on the Rolling Stones' 1968 album, Beggars Banquet, which was their ninth U.S. studio album.  He was only 25 years old at the time, and it is doubtful that having grandchildren and being knighted had entered his mind.

Mick Jagger is the ultimate rock frontman.  One of his biographers has written that no other performer (even the young Elvis Presley) exerted a power that was "so wholly and disturbingly physical."  That author went on to say that "the only point concerning Mick Jagger's influence over 'young people' that doctors and psychologists agreed on was that it wasn't, under any circumstances, fundamentally harmless."

"Stray Cat Blues" is a shocking song in part because it sounds like it's based on experience more than imagination.  

The song begins with singer promising a young groupie that "there'll be a feast" if she comes upstairs and joins him in his boudoir -- what he doesn't disclose to her is that he'll be the diner at that feast, and she'll be the main course.

"I can see that you're 15 years old," he says unapologetically.  "No, I don't want your I.D."

Since 1885, the age of consent in the UK has been 16.  Since an honest belief that one's sexual partner was 16 or older may be a defense to a charge of statutory rape, perhaps the singer doesn't want to see the girl's I.D. so he can later claim ignorance of her true age.  

But I'm guessing that the singer doesn't want to see the girl's I.D. because he wants to believe she is 15 even if she's not.  The prospect of having sex with an underage girl adds a frisson of excitement to the illicit encounter.

After the singer entices the 15-year-old his bed, he raises the emotional ante by dragging her mother into the picture: "I bet your momma don't know you can scratch like that," he taunts her.

The girl not only scratches, but also screams, spits, and bites.  But that probably just excites the singer more.  We are talking about Mick Jagger, after all -- given all the groupies he's had at this point, he was probably a bit jaded.  (Bill Wyman, who was the least charismatic member of the Stones, claimed to have had sex with over 1000 women.  Surely Mick outdid Wyman.)

But he's still not satisfied.  He tells the girl to bring her friend upstairs to join them.  "If she's so wild, then she can join in, too," he croons.  After all, "it's no hanging matter . . . it's no capital crime."

What would happen if a mainstream pop star released a song today that depicted a sexual encounter with a couple of 15-year-old girls?  I think it's safe to say that Walmart stores sure as hell wouldn't stock that CD.  And I shudder to think how many politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike) would be elbowing their way to the nearest microphone so they could condemn the singer.  

I was 16 when this record was released, and I don't remember much of a fuss being made about it.  The song may have been condemned in a few sermons or small-town newspaper editorials, but I guarantee you there would be a hundred times more outrage today.

I'm not sure which is worse -- the words of the song, or the undisguised glee in Jagger's voice as he anticipates the debauchery to come.  Sure, "Stray Cat Blues" is just a record, and I doubt that anyone was inspired to become a sex offender as a result of hearing it.  But it is about as creepy as a rock 'n' roll song gets.

Listen to the live recording of the song that is included on the Stones' 1970 concert album, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!.  If the studio version isn't appalling enough for you, Mick changed "I can see that you're 15 years old" to "I can see that you're 13 years old" when he performed the song in concert.

Even so, it's still "no hanging matter."  Capital punishment was abolished across the board in the UK some time ago.  And while the laws of a few American states provided for the death penalty in certain cases involving the rape of a child, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that a state could not execute a child rapist unless the victim had also been murdered.  According to the majority opinion in that case, a death sentence for one who rapes but does not kill a child is "cruel and unusual punishment," and therefore unconstitutional.

Here's "Stray Cat Blues":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: