Friday, January 31, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)" (2009)

These hazards of love
Never more will trouble us

[NOTE: This is the sixth (and last) in a series of 2 or 3 lines posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of Love.  Click here to read the first post in the series.]

In the last 2 or 3 lines, we left our fair heroine Margaret firmly in the clutches of the evil Rake, who has spirited her across the wild Annan water with the help of the Queen of the Forest.  William, her would-be rescuer, also manages to cross, but only after pledging to give his "precious bones" -- his life -- to the  river upon his return if he is successful in rescuing Margaret.

In "Margaret in Captivity," the self-satisfied Rake rubs his hands in glee and he prepares to have his way with the defenseless Margaret, who cries out desperately for her William.

Don’t hold out for rescue
None can hear your call
’Til I have wrest and wrecked you 
Behind these fortress walls

The Rake's murdered children
But suddenly the ghosts of Rake's three murdered children appear.  Each sings one verse of "The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge )" to his or her father, which must have been a bit of a shock to the system of even a hardened bastard like the Rake.

Colin Meloy of the Decemberists
You may recall that the Rake's eldest child, Isaiah, tried to fight off his fillicidal father, who burned his body after finally murdering him -- teaching the child a lesson he won't soon forget.  Here's what Isaiah's ghost has to say upon his return encounter with the Rake:

Spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child 
But I’d prefer the lash 
My sisters drowned and poisoned, all, 
And me reduced to ash 
And buried in an urn
But father, I return
Singing,"Oh, the hazards of love!"

The specter of his murdered offspring apparently distracts the Rake long enough for William to rescue Margaret from under his nose.  The couple return to the river Annan, but realize that escape is impossible.  Even if William hadn't promised his body to the river in exchange for being allowed to cross it in the direction in pursuit of Margaret, there's still the Queen of the Forest to reckon with.

"The Hazards of Love," by Lyre
The star-crossed lovers decide to surrender to the wild water in "The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)":

So let's be married here today
These rushing waves to bear our witness
And we will lie like river stones
Rolling only where it takes us

At the bottom of Annan water, William and Margaret will have nothing to fear from the Queen or the Rake.  Their trials and tribulations will be over.

So the two walk into the river, using their last breaths to speak their wedding vows and then surrender to the water.

And when the waves came crashing down
He closed his eyes
And softly kissed her

So endeth The Hazards of Love.  You can exhale now.

Here's "The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)":

And here's one final chance to buy The Hazards of Love album from Amazon:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Rake's Song" (2009)

No more a rake and no more a bachelor
I was wedded and it whetted my thirst 
Until her womb started spilling out babies 
Only then did I reckon my curse

[NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of LoveClick here to read the first in the series.]

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, we learned that the Queen of the Forest -- who granted our hero William immortality when she found him as a babe, deserted in a reedy glen -- agrees to give him one night with his beloved Margaret in exchange for his promise to return the next morning and place his life in the Queen's hands forever.

Given what we know of the Queen -- she's a jealous and possessive mother, unwilling to give an inch to make her adoptive son happy, and determined to have the debt he owes her for the gift of life repaid in full -- it comes as no surprise that she reneges on her promise and breaks her contract with William.

The instrument she uses to frustrate William's desire to be with Margaret is a nasty piece of work known as "The Rake."

You may think that hardcore gangsta rap is violent and brutish, but it don't have nothin' on "The Rake's Song," which contains perhaps the most appalling lyrics ever sung in a pop song.  (The Decemberists' Colin Meloy voices the Rake as well as William.  A lot of people think it would have be better to have had two different singers sing the two roles.)

The Decemberists' Colin Meloy speaks at
his alma mater, the University of Montana
The Rake married when he is 21, and at first all was well.  But what usually follows hard on the heels of marriage?  A baby -- or babies -- in a baby carriage, of course.

In the lyrics quoted above, we learn that that the Rake enjoyed the regular hey nonny nonny he was getting after he was married until the truth of the old playground chant -- "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes . . ." -- was demonstrated to him.  Once his bride's "womb started spilling out babies," he began to "reckon his curse."

The Rake's unfortunate wife delivered three brats, but finally showed him some consideration by dying in childbirth -- as did the couple's fourth child:

First came Isaiah with his crinkled little fingers 
Then came Charlotte and that wretched girl Dawn 
Ugly Myfanwy died on delivery
Mercifully taking her mother along

The Rake's unfortunate family
Now that the little lady lies cold as the clay, the Rake didn't have to worry about any more babies coming along.  But about the three he already had?  What the hell was he supposed to do with them?

What can one do when one is a widower
Shamefully saddled with three little pests
All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life 
So my burden I began to divest

Where there's a will, there's a way -- and our friend had plenty of will.  He got right to work and took care of his three little problems in short order:

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove 
Dawn was easy: she was drowned in the bath 
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath

Foxglove flowers
The foxglove plant is the source of digitalis, which has been used as a cardiac medicine for over 200 years.  But an overdose of digitalis can cause vomiting, tremors, seizures, and even death.  Here's a picture of the Rake from the album -- the tall flowers growing on either side of him are foxgloves:

The Rake
Problem solved!  The Rake was a man without worries once again -- "living so easy and free" -- and he felt just fine about the whole deal.  (What, me worry?)

I expect that you think that I should be haunted 
But it never really bothers me

The evil Queen of the Forest then sics the Rake on poor unsuspecting Margaret.  In "The Abduction of Margarte," we learn that the Rake lies in wait in the very same forest bower where William and Margaret have enjoyed their "amorous entwine" until Margaret happens by.  He grabs her and heads for the river "all a-gallop with Margaret slung rude 'cross [the] withers" of his trusty steed until he reaches the banks of Annan Water, a wild and seemingly uncrossable river.

In "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing," the appreciative Queen intervenes and helps her evil henchman ford the river:

And you have removed this temptation 
That’s troubled my innocent child
To abduct and abuse 
And to render her rift and defiled 
But the river is deep to the banks 
And the water is wild 
I will fly you the far side

When William heard of his true love's abduction, he rushes after the Rake.  In "Annan Water," our desperate hero makes a deal with the raging river.  You'd think he would have learned from his one-sided negotiations with his mother -- but no!

So calm your waves and slow the churn
And you may have my precious bones on my return

Here's "The Rake's Song":

Click here to hear "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing."

Click here to hear "Annan Water."

Click here to go to the next post in this series.

Click below to order The Hazards of Love from Amazon:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" (2009)

You delivered me from danger, then
Pulled my cradle from the reedy glen
Swore to save me from the world of men
Still the wanting comes in waves

[NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of 2 or 3 lines posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of LoveClick here to read the first post in the series.]

The two songs from The Hazards of Love discussed in the previous 2 or 3 lines -- click here to read that post if you haven't already -- describe the happiest moments that our young lovers experience.  The dramatic arc turns sharply downward in the succeeding song and -- spoiler alert! -- continues to go south until William and Margaret meet their death.

"The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" -- a duet featuring William (voiced by Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' frontman) and his mother, the evil Queen of the Forest (voiced by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond) -- is perhaps the musical and dramatic high point of the album.  If you were staging The Hazards of Love, this song would be the final song of Act One.

Shara Worden
It begins with a recitative passage that is more spoken than sung by William, and which contains the lyrics quoted above.  

William acknowledges that the Queen has given him immortality, saving him "from the world of men" in which death is inescapable.  But now he has met Margaret, and living forever is no great prize if that means that he can't be with her.  

His overwhelming desire for Margaret is as powerful and unceasing as ocean waves crashing on a beach:

Still the wanting comes in waves
In waves
And waves
And the wanting comes in waves
And the wanting comes in waves
And I want this night!

The Queen's response is introduced by a recurring electric guitar figure -- a leitmotiv that is used to signal the Queen's presence at various points in The Hazards of Love.  

The evil Queen of the Forest
(from The Hazards of Love album)
Before she responds to William's request to be released from his enchantment and made a man again so he can live with Margaret, she reminds him that she alone is responsible for him being not only alive, but immortal:

I made you
I wrought you
I pulled you
From ore I labored you
From cancer I cradled you . . . 
This is how I am repaid?

In other words, the Queen plays the Mommy card -- "How can you speak to me that way when I suffered through childbirth to give to you?" etc., etc.  In other words, if your kids are too big to intimidate into obeisance, lay a big-ass guilt trip on them.

William's lines say that the Queen found him as a baby, abandoned in a reedy glen, and I am guessing that his account is closer to literal truth than the Queen's claim to have fashioned his body from the earth and given him life.  But her words are not inaccurate when viewed metaphorically -- she might have as well as have sculpted him from clay and blown life into his lungs.  

William is determined to be with Margaret, but knows that he can't win a head-to-head battle with his mother.  So he negotiates.

The Queen stands firm, setting forth the only terms she will consider.  She's a possessive, jealous, grasping woman -- a poor excuse for a mother -- completely uninterested in William's happiness.  

She is an-eye-for-an-eye type, determined to have the debt William owes for her granting him life repaid in full.  She wants more than a pound of William's flesh -- she wants every bone, muscle, and drop of blood he possesses.

And if I grant you
This favor to hand you
Your life for the evening
I will retake by morning
Consider it your debt repaid!

One night with Margaret in exchange for placing himself in thrall to the Queen forever -- take it or leave it, William.

Of course, he takes it.

Here's "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid":

Click here to read the next post in this series.

Click below to buy The Hazards of Love from Amazon:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Richard and the Young Lions -- "Open Up Your Door" (1966)

An hour can be . . . such a long, long time
When your lips ain't . . . stuck on mine

I think the Decemberists' The Hazards of Love is a wonderful album -- that's why 2 or 3 lines is doing a six-part series on it.

But you may need a break after the first three installments of that series.  Because it's ponderous, man, f*cking ponderous, to paraphrase the great Casey Kasem.

The Casey Kasems
So before we continue on with the final three installments in The Hazards of Love series, let's take a wee break and listen to a song that is anything but ponderous.

But first, let's hop in the WABAC machine and set the controls for Newark, New Jersey, circa 1966, where we will meet the Original Kounts.

Speaking of the WABAC machine:

(That movie looks really lame, doesn't it?  What a shame.)

The Original Kounts were a group of long-haired Newark teenagers who played British Invasion hits.  Lead singer Richard Tepp and a couple of his fellow band members were hanging out at a local pizzeria one night, where they struck up a conversation with Ray Bloodworth and Larry Brown, who just happened to be songwriters for Bob Crewe. 

(Crewe is best-known as the producer and co-writer of a whole bunch of the Four Seasons' hits -- including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll," "Dawn," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."  Crewe also produced several Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels hits and Labelle's "Lady Marmalade.")

Richard Tepp
Tepp and his pals invited Bloodworth and Brown to an Original Kounts rehearsal.  The two songwriters decided that the Kounts would be a good fit for a new song they were working on, and persuaded Crewe to sign them to a recording contract.

Crewe thought the long-haired Tepp was a dead ringer for King Richard I of England -- "Richard the Lionheart" -- and renamed the band Richard and the Young Lions.  (Crewe was definitely on to something.  Look at any photograph of the young Richard the Lionheart -- the resemblance is uncanny!)

Richard I ("Lionheart")
Tepp and his fellow Young Lions went into the recording studio to work on "Open Up Your Door," but the producers weren't happy with the way things went.  They kept Tepp's lead vocal, but replaced the instrumental tracks with other ones recorded by studio musicians.

According to Allmusic, "the group felt so betrayed by Crewe's studio bait and switch" that on the eve of an appearance on "The Clay Cole Show" (a popular New York City television dance program), all but Tepp and guitarist Bob Freedman quit the band.  Tepp quickly recruited several members of the Orphans, another Newark band, and the show went on.

"Open Up Your Door" barely cracked the Billboard "Hot 100," but reportedly reached #1 in Cleveland, Detroit, and Salt Lake City, and #2 in Seattle and Vancouver.

A couple of follow-up singles went nowhere, and the band broke up shortly thereafter.  But in 2000, two former Young Lions members independently tracked down Richard Tepp's e-mail address and the band reunited to give music one more go. 

The group eventually came to the attention of "Little Steven" Van Zandt, the E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos regular who hosts the syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage.  The Young Lions appeared at three of Van Zandt's "Cavestomp!" shows, sharing the bill with ? and the Mysterians, the Zombies, the Troggs, and others.

Sadly, lead singer Richard Tepp died of leukemia in 2004.

I don't know how I missed "Open Up Your Door" until now, but better late than never.  It is a real kick in the you-know-what, and it's proof of the poor musical judgment of Americans as a whole -- as if we needed any more proof of that -- that this song barely made it into the top 100 back in 1966.  

Here's some priceless prose from the single's jacket.  (Yes, kids -- your grandparents really did talk that way back in the sixties.)

The haircut is strictly Anglo-Saxon -- sort of late Beowulf, or early Prince Valiant.  For an outfit with the name Richard and the Young Lions, it fits. . . .

Richard [Tepp] is interested in today's "scene," not only musically "but whatever's happening," wherever it may take him.

He (and the others) take life "as it comes, without any worry."  Doing so, they and their music reflect the restlessness of contemporary teens, their desire for the offbeat, the different.

For instance, listen closely and you'll hear an African hair drum in this recording; it was utilized to achieve a distinct sound the boys wanted.

(You've never heard of an African hair drum?  That's a drum made with the hair left on the goatskin or cowskin.)

"Open Up Your Door" has been covered by numerous bands, most notably the Romantics (whose biggest hits were "That's What I Like About You" and "Talking in Your Sleep").  But my favorite cover version of the song is the one by the Flakes:

Here's "Open Up Your Door" by Richard and the Young Lions:

I'm sorry, but this song isn't available from Amazon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)" (2009)

Take my hand, cradle it in your hand
Take my hand to feel the pull of quicksand.

[NOTE: This is the third in a series of 2 or 3 lines posts about the Decemberists' album, The Hazards of Love.  Click here to read the first post in that series.]

If this song doesn't get to you, you're a better man (or woman) than me.  

(Yes, it's "than me" in this case -- not "than I."  Click here if you don't believe me.)  

Our third featured song from the Decemberists' 2009 album, The Hazards of Love, is the second song on that album to be titled "The Hazards of Love."  

It's subtitled "Wager All," which is exactly what our hero William chooses to do.  He wagers the immortality that the Queen of the Forest, his adoptive mother, has granted him in order to be with Margaret, the fair maiden who encountered him in the taiga, quite by chance, at the beginning of The Hazards of Love.  

"The Hazards of Love," by SnittyCakez
In this song, William serenades the pregnant Margaret after they meet a second time in the forest, where they will lie in "amorous entwine" once more.  

And here I am, softer than a shower
And here I am, to garland you with flowers
To lay you down in a clover bed
The stars a roof above our heads

Part of the price William had to pay for immortality was the loss of part of his humanity.  Now that he has become fully human -- accepting the mortality that is part and parcel of being a man -- William experiences emotion so powerful that it is manifested physically:

And all my life
I've never felt the tremor . . .
That now disturbs my fingers

Songwriter Colin Meloy -- the Decemberists' frontman, who performs the role of William -- plays it relatively straight in this song.  But what one reviewer called "his peculiar fondness for arcane and obscure vocabulary" breaks through in this couplet:

And we'll lie 'til the corncrake crows
Bereft the weight of our summer clothes

The corncrake is a medium-sized member of the rail family than lives in Europe and western Asia and migrates to southern Africa in the winter.  Male corncrakes have a very loud mating call (which birders sometimes refer to as an "advertising" call), which peaks in volume and frequency between midnight and 3 A.M.

A corncrake crowing
Meloy presumably uses a corncrake to let us know that William and Margaret don't fall asleep after their "amorous entwine" until daybreak (when a rooster would crow and wake them up) but rather lie awake in one another's arms until sometime in the wee hours, when the corncrake's mating cries are at their loudest and most insistent.

("Bereft of the weight of our summer clothes" is certainly much more civilized than "buck nekkid" -- don't you agree?)

Lying with Margaret on their bed of clover, William pledges his troth to her, promising to "wager all" -- including his life, if necessary -- on "the hazards of love."  

Will he get lucky?  Or will he lose his wager?  The lines quoted at the beginning of this post speak of the power of a lover's touch, but also hint at the dangers of giving oneself up to love completely:

Take my hand, cradle it in your hand
Take my hand to feel the pull of quicksand.

"The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)" is followed by "Isn't It a Lovely Night?" -- a calm, lighter-than-air duet in which the happy young lovers reflect on the beauty of their surroundings.

Colin Meloy
The song, which is in 3/4 time, features an acoustic guitar, upright bass, accordion, and pedal steel guitar.  It is the closest thing to a country song on the album.

"Isn't It a Lovely Night?" ends with William and Margaret recollecting the pleasures of their "amorous entwine."

And here we died our little deaths
And we were left to catch our breaths
So swiftly lifting from our chests

La petite mort -- "the little death" -- is a French euphemism for an orgasm or the moment of unconsciousness or transcendence that immediately follows an orgasm.  Here, "our little deaths" carries a double meaning.  Sadly, William and Margaret will later be unable to "catch our breaths," but the cause won't be post-orgasmic bliss.

Here's "The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)":

Click here to hear "Isn't It a Lovely Night?"

Click here to read the next post in this series.

Click below to buy the album from Amazon:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Decemberists -- "A Bower Scene" (2009)

And when young Margaret's waistline
Grew wider
The fruit of her amorous entwine
Inside her

[NOTE: This is the second in a series of 2 or 3 lines posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of LoveClick here to read the first post in the series.]

The primary focus of 2 or 3 lines is song lyrics -- except when its primary focus is on me (which is quite a bit of the time).  Part of the magic of The Hazards of Love is the extraordinary language of its lyrics.

"A Bower Scene" is short song that communicates one very significant fact -- which is that our young heroine, Margaret, is pregnant as a result of her "amorous entwine" with our enchanted young hero, William, a man who takes the form of a fawn by day.  (As you may recall from the previous post, Margaret interrupted a ride through the forest to help an injured fawn, which turned into William.  The  "amorous entwine" ensued.)

Margaret and William 
(after "amorous entwine")
I tip my cap to Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' frontman and chief songwriter, for coming up with the phrase "amorous entwine" to describe the act of love.  It's a remarkably poetic and sensuous phrase in and of itself, but it also is perfectly apt in the larger context of the entire album.  (If you had given me an unabridged dictionary, a good thesaurus, and a couple of years to work, I still wouldn't have come up with anything nearly as marvelous.)

Colin Meloy and Becky Stark
"A Bower Scene" segues into "Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)," which is voiced by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond.  In that song, the pregnant Margaret goes back to the taiga (which is a northern coniferous forest) to share her news with William -- and also to lie with him in "amorous entwine" once again:

And all this stirring inside my belly
Won't quell my want for love
And I may swoon from all this swelling
But I won't want for love

"Want" -- which is used here with two different meanings -- and "wanting" recur again and again in the lyrics of The Hazards of Love.  Ultimately, what the album is about is William's wanting to experience the greatest joy of being a man -- which is to love and be loved by a woman -- even if the cost of achieving that joy is the loss of immortality.

Here's "A Bower Scene":

Click here to hear "Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)."

Click here to read the next post in this series.

Click here to buy The Hazards of Love from Amazon:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)" (2009)

And there she came upon
A white and wounded fawn

So begins The Hazards of Love, the 2009 album by the Decemberists.  The tale that the songs on this album tell is full of magic, and the effect those songs have on the listener is magical as well.

At least that's the effect the album has on me.  My musical judgment is far from unerring, but sometimes you just know it when you're right about something -- and I know I'm right about The Hazards of Love.

It's intriguing and captivating and full of wonder, and I can't get enough of it.  I wish it was twice as long as it is.  (Or ten times as long.) 

Why is The Hazards of Love so powerful?  Because it's not a just a collection of songs.  

Every song on the album carries more weight because every song helps tell a story -- with a plot, and compelling characters, and themes that have universal significance and appeal.  Like a successful opera or Broadway musical, the whole of The Hazards of Love is much greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The Decemberists
Before we get to our featured song, here's a little background info that may be helpful (courtesy of the Los Angeles Times):

“The Hazards of Love” is ultimately a tale of “baby, I love you” -- though a fantastic one, featuring shape-shifters, a forest queen and a lass who gets tossed into the thistle.  The hour-long song suite -- voiced by [Decemberists' lead singer and chief songwriter, Colin] Meloy in the roles of the fawn-turned-human lover William and the villainous Rake, and guest singers Becky Stark [of Lavender Diamond] as Margaret, the ingénue, and Shara Worden [of My Brightest Diamond] as the evil Queen -- is a reconstructed fairy tale, in which lost virtue leads to tragedy, then supernatural redemption. . . .

[Its plot] renders “The Hazards of Love” as much a pre-Raphaelite work as a prog-rock one. Margaret encounters William, shape-shifted as a fawn; they have sex and she becomes pregnant. Their love is threatened by the amoral Rake and the jealous Queen, a typically possessive fairy tale adoptive mom. The lovers finally find peace in a watery death. 

[NOTE: this review actually refers to William not as a "fawn," but as a "faun" -- which is a very different thing.  I changed it to "fawn" because that is the word that appears in the lyrics on the Decemberists' website.]

Today we're featuring the album's second track and first song.  (The album opens with an instrumental prelude.)  It's the first of three songs on the album titled "The Hazards of Love," each of which has a different subtitle.  

We usually use "hazard" to describe something that is potentially dangerous -- like a health hazard, or a fire hazard.

Singer/songwriter Colin Meloy
But the word derives from an Arabic word meaning dice.  As the songwriter uses it in The Hazards of Love, it refers not just to the dangers of love, but to the unforeseeable nature of love.  When you fall in love, you're taking a chance.  You risk much, hoping that your gamble pays off and you're a big winner.

Taking that risk may be frightening.  But it's the only smart play -- you can't win if you don't take a risk, so not taking a chance is the dumbest play of all.  This seems like a paradox, but it's really the most obvious thing in the world.

As Elaine May put it, "The only safe thing is to take a chance."  Erica Jung said something similar: "If you don't risk anything, you risk even more."

William -- the hero of The Hazards of Love -- realizes this, and fearlessly steps up to the table and places the bet when it's his turn to play.  The outcome of his wager is sort of a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty proposition -- he's a winner, but he's also a loser.

[NOTE:  The Hazards of Love has inspired a considerable amount of fan art, some of which will be featured in this and future 2 or 3 lines posts about it.]

"The Hazards of Love,"
by Hannah Hillam
But he would have been a greater loser if he had settled for the status quo instead of accepting the hazards of love and taking his chances.  

The subtitle of our featured track is "The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone," which is a pretty good indicator of the wonderfully poetic and archaic-sounding lyrics Meloy has written.  

We meet our heroine, a lovely young maiden named Margaret, at the beginning of the song:

My true love went riding out 
In white and green and gray
Past the pale of Offa's Wall
Where she was wont to stray
And there she came upon
A white and wounded fawn

"The Hazards of Love," by Andromoda
[Note: "Offa's Wall" -- which is usually called "Offa's Dyke" -- is a massive linear earthwork that roughly delineates the border between England and Wales.  It is believed to have been built in the 8th century.]

Margaret stops to give the wounded deer succor, but receives quite a surprise.  ("Succor"?  I'm starting to sound like the Decemberists.)

She being full of charity
A credit to her sex
Sought to right the fawn's hind legs
When here her plans were vexed
The taiga shifted strange
The beast began to change

Aaahh . . . the plot begins to thicken.

Unless my plans are vexed, we'll explore The Hazards of Love more deeply in the next 2 or 3 lines -- and the next one, and the one after that.  But right now, you need to hear this song:

[NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of Love.  Click here to read the next in the series.]

You can buy this song from Amazon, but I think you'll be happier if you buy the entire album.  (It's only five bucks, boys and girls.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Brownsville Station -- "Smokin' in the Boys Room" (1973)

Sitting in the classroom
Thinking it's a drag
Listening to the teacher rap
Just ain't my bag

I saw this sign a few days ago on the door of the women's room in the building where my dentist has his office:

Here's a picture of the door of the men's room that is adjacent to that women's room:

There was obviously no need for a sign on the men's room door because men always play by the rules!  So why can't women play by the rules, too?

Actually, men don't always play by the rules -- as is demonstrated by this sign, which I saw in the bathroom at a downtown lunch spot I recently visited:

Wanna take a guess whether a man or a woman runs that place?

Here's the sign from the ice and water dispenser at that same lunch spot:

Let's forget the errant apostrophe and focus on the next line: "Put your cup in your hand."

When instructing someone how to get ice or water from a dispenser, is it really necessary to start out by telling him to "[p]ut your cup in your hand"?

Based on the two pieces of evidence available to us -- the "tinkle" sign in the bathroom and this sign, I think it's safe to say that not only is the restaurant run by a woman, but also that this restaurant is run by a woman whose experience with men has taught her that there is nothing that a man can't screw up.

Can you imagine being that woman's child?  Or husband, for that matter  -- who might as well be one of her children because that is the way she treats him.  I guarantee to you that she has trained him to sit down when he "tinkles" so he doesn't make a mess with that nasty you-know-what of his.

Anyway, let's get back to the first sign above -- the one about smoking in the ladies room.

I frankly have a deep-seated distaste for smoking and smokers.  I'm not sure where that distaste came from, but it is very strong indeed.

I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, and I never will -- it grosses me out just to think about it.  (FYI, I'm not a fan of chewing gum either.)

Not smoking was a very profitable strategy for me to follow when I was in high school.  When I was 16, my father promised to buy me a new car if I maintained my grades and didn't smoke or drink until I graduated from high school.  

1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme coupe
I'm not sure he really intended his promise to be taken seriously.  But I remembered it and took it very seriously.  And to give my father the credit he deserves, he came through with a shiny new 1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme two-door coupe with a vinyl top and a 350-cubic inch V-8 engine (which came standard).

NOTE: That car served me well for ten years, until I was transferred to the San Francisco office of the federal agency that employed me.  I left the car with the woman who later became my wife, and she promptly totaled it.  To be fair, she wasn't in the car when it was totaled -- some drunk plowed into it in the middle of the night while it was innocently parked on a Washington, DC street.  To be precise, it was parked in front of the house where my bride-to-be was visiting a gentleman friend.  (I didn't mind the gentleman friend so much, but I did miss that car.)

I not only didn't smoke, but also was turned off by women who did.  I dated very few women who were smokers.  Of course, I dated very few women who weren't smokers. 

So all else being equal, I avoided women who smoked.  But all else is almost never equal, is it?  

If I had sat down and listed the criteria that mattered most to me in choosing a lady friend, whether she smoked or didn't smoke was a significant factor.  In fact, it may have been #2 in significance.  

But it was not #1 -- it was not even in the same time zone as #1.

"Smokin' in the Boys Room" was a #3 hit for Brownsville Station, an Ann Arbor, Michigan band that released it on its third studio album, Yeah!, in 1973.  

The song was co-written and sung by the late Michael "Cub" Koda, who was once described by author Stephen King as “America’s greatest houserocker" -- whatever the hell that means.

P. J. Soles and Dey Young
"Smokin' in the Boys Room" was featured in the fabulous Rock 'n' Roll High School, which starred the adorable P. J. Soles as a Ramones-loving bad girl, the adorable Dey Young as a Vince Van Patten-loving good girl, and the 100% unadorable former child star (and younger brother of director Ron Howard), Clint Howard.

If you ever want to give a small child nightmares, just set him down in front of a computer and show him photos of Clint Howard:

Clint Howard has acted in some real stinkers, but may have reached the nadir of his career when he portrayed a cross-dressing man named "Nipples" in the truly execrable 2000 Adam Sandler movie, Little Nicky:

A cover of "Smokin' in the Boys Room" was a hit for Mötley Crüe in 1985.  When Koda died in 2000, his father told a reporter that his son liked Mötley Crüe's cover version just fine because “[h]e made more money off Mötley Crüe that he did off Brownsville Station."  (It was as true then as it is today: money talks, and you-know-what walks.)

Brownsville Station's last single to chart was titled "Martian Boogie."  It's even worse than the title sounds.

Here's "Smokin' in the Boys Room":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Johnny Western -- "The Ballad of Paladin" (1958)

His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin

Have Gun -- Will Travel was a half-hour Western that aired on CBS from 1957 through 1963.  I was in grade school during the run of Have Gun -- Will Travel, and I was a huge fan of Paladin, the one-named hero of the show portrayed by Richard Boone.

The paladins were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court -- the French equivalents of the Knights of the Round Table.

In epic poems such as The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, they are Christian heroes who battle the infidel Muslims.

Like the medieval knights errant, Paladin is a paragon of chivalry.  He may work as a hired gun, but he doesn't work for just anyone.  Rather, he is happiest when retained to help an underdog who is a victim of injustice.

There were 225 episodes of Have Gun -- Will Travel, so we know almost everything about Paladin except his first name.

For example, we know that Paladin was a West Point graduate who fought in the Union Army in the Civil War.  It also appears that he was trained as a lawyer.

Paladin was very well read, and was fond of quoting Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Byron, and Oscar Wilde.  He was an accomplished pianist, and enjoyed the opera and the theatre.  He was a gourmet and a wine authority, and savored fine cigars.  Not surprisingly, he was a master of chess and a feared opponent at the poker table.

Richard Boone as Paladin
When he was at home in the posh Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, Paladin usually wore either a frock-coated suit or a stylish smoking jacket.  When he was working, Paladin dressed in black from head to toe -- boots, trousers, shirt, and Stetson.  

While Paladin preferred to handle his clients' problems without resorting to violence, he excelled at fistfights and was a skilled swordsman.  He was also, of course, an expert with firearms.

But Paladin didn't prevail over his opponents due to superior strength or marksmanship -- he prevailed as the result of his superior knowledge of the art of war, which he gained from his extensive reading and his training and experience as a cavalry officer.

Paladin at work
Paladin's primary weapon was a custom-made .45-caliber Colt revolver, which he carried in a holster decorated with a silver chess knight.  Strapped to his saddle was a lever-action Marlin rifle with a stock decorated with additional silver chess knights, but he rarely used it.  He did resort regularly to the derringer that was concealed in his belt.

Paladin's famous business card -- it read "HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL" is large type, with "Wire Paladin, San Francisco" in smaller type below -- was also decorated with the figure of a chess knight.  In one episode, our hero drew a parallel between his modus operandi and the chess knight's moves: "It's an attack piece, the most versatile piece on the board.  It can move eight different ways [and] over barriers."

There was no one like Paladin on television back then, and there certainly isn't anyone like him on television now.  I suppose the character who is most analogous to him is James Bond, the elegant, cultured, and deadly spy created by Ian Fleming.

Paladin and Bond shared one particular interest: they both appreciated the fairer sex.  

Here's one episode of Have Gun -- Will Travel.  Note especially the show open, where Paladin draws his gun and points it at the camera while delivering one line from that episode.

Take a close look at the closing credits of that episode of Have Gun -- Will Travel while you listen to Johnny Western singing "The Ballad of Paladin."

The episode was produced by Sam Rolfe, who co-created the series.  Rolfe was nominated for an Academy Award for his original screenplay for the 1953 Western movie, The Naked Spur, which starred Jimmy Stewart.  Rolfe also produced The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  (Ian Fleming had come up with the "Napoleon Solo" name for the show's main character, but wasn't able to become more involved in the series due to his contract with the producers of the James Bond movies.)

Maureen O'Hara, Andrew McLaglen, and John
Wayne on the set of McClintock! (1963)
It was directed by Andrew McLaglen, the son of British actor Victor McLaglen, who is best known as John Wayne's co-star in several John Ford movies.  Andrew McLaglen, who directed about half of the Have Gun -- Will Travel episodes,  went on to direct a number of Western movies (several of which starred Wayne).  Other Have Gun -- Will Travel directors included actors William Conrad and Ida Lupino, the brilliant and mercurial Sam Peckinpah, and Richard Boone himself.

This particular Have Gun -- Will Travel episode was written by the best-selling novelist, Irving Wallace.  (Wallace and his son, David Wallechinsky, also wrote The People's Almanac and The Book of Lists.)

Other Have Gun -- Will Travel writers included Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek), Bruce Geller (the creator of Mission Impossible), and Harry Julian Fink (who along with his wife created the "Dirty Harry" character).

Besides Boone himself, the only actor who appeared regularly on Have Gun -- Will Travel was Kam Tong, who played "Hey Boy," the Chinese bellhop at the San Francisco hotel where Paladin resided.  Guest stars included Victor McLaglen, Pernell Roberts (better known as Adam Cartwright on Bonanza) June Lockhart (better known as the mother on Lassie and Lost in Space), legendary stuntman Hal Needham (who appeared in 26 episodes), Harry Carey, Jr. (thirteen episodes), George Kennedy (six), Denver Pyle (eight), and Charles Bronson (five).

Johnny Western (who was born Johnny Westerlund in a small town in northern Minnesota in 1934) was a country singer-songwriter who started performing professionally when he was 13.  After playing a supporting role in a first-season episode of Have Gun, Will Travel, he wrote "The Ballad of Paladin" as sort of a thank-you note to Richard Boone.  The song's first verse accompanied the show's closing credits in all subsequent seasons.

Here's Johnny Western's recording of "The Ballad of Paladin":

Click below to order the song from Amazon: