Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cole Porter: So In Love

SONG So In Love
WRITTEN BY Cole Porter
PERFORMED BY Patricia Morison (1948 OBC); Kathryn Grayson, (1953 film); Marin Mazzie (1999 revival); Rachel York (2003 revival). k. d. laing, Red, Hot, and Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter; Patricia Barber, Night Club (2000); many others.
By 1948, Cole Porter's career looked to have passed its peak. The man whose musicals has stood astride the Broadway boards like a colossus in the 1930's had suffered two straight flops and a general critical assessment that his songs had lost their magic. But the critics, as they often are, were wrong: Porter responded by writing Kiss Me, Kate, a play within a play about a theatre company staging a musical version of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. KMK dominated the 1949 Tony Awards, winning the categories of Musical, Score, Book (Musical), and Producers (Musical). The show delivered one show stopper after another with wit, verve, and -- in the case of "So In Love" -- breathtaking heartache.
The song opens almost innocuously, as if Porter wants early on to establish the melody and the vocal performance. Nonetheless, certain phrases and images foreshadow the devastating last verse: "the stars fill the sky," "even without you," and "the night mysterious" establish an atmosphere of a solitary person alone in the dark, clinging to the memory of a past love. Then comes the final verse, among the most penetrating lyrics ever written about vulnerability:
So taunt me and hurt me
Deceive me, desert me
I'm yours til I die
So in love with you am I
When sung with the correct degree of tragic resignation, Porter's words resonate with any human heart that has known unrequited love. The choice of simple one- and two-syllable words both strengthen the lyrics and disguise the sophistication of the songwriting. Note, for example, the internal rhyme of "taunt" and "hurt" in the first line and the alliteration of "deceive" and "desert" in the second, even as "hurt me" and "desert me" rhyme. Moreover, the rest of the musical -- like most of Porter's writing -- is urbane and sophisticated, often using Shakespeare's language as song lyrics. All of this serves to highlight "So In Love," a song devastating in its simplicity and chilling in its emotional nakedness.
My favorite version of "So In Love" remains Patricia Morison's take on the Original Broadway Cast recording. Her soulful mezzo-soprano (at least that's what I think it is) brings just the right touch of longing and despair to the song. But there are many worthy versions, including the one below by Rachel York from the 2003 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. Many other singers have sung "So In Love"; here, I've chosen jazz versions by Patricia Barber and Gwen Hughes. Men have covered the song, but not as successfully to my ears. Porter wrote it for a woman's voice, and perhaps it does express desperate, unrequited love most vividly and compellingly from a woman's perspective.

Strange, dear, but true, dear,

When I'm Close to you dear,

The stars fill the sky,

So in love with you am I.

Even Without you

My arms fold about you.

You know, darling, why,

So in love with you am I.

In love with the night mysterious

The night when you first were there

In love with my joy delirious

When I knew that you could care.

So taunt me and hurt me,

Deceive me, desert me,

I'm yours ‘til I die,

So in love, So in love

So in love with you, my love, am I.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Townes Van Zandt: Rake


WRITTEN BY Townes Van Zandt

APPEARS ON Delta Momma Blues (1971) / Townes (2009)

One of Townes Van Zandt's greatest of many many great moments? Impossible to say. There are so many classics in his almost peerless catalogue.

But playing Steve Earle's remarkable new reinterpretation of this classic track over and over this past week - a version less ostensibly mournful and a little more revved up perhaps, yet also strangely, at the same time, gloriously sparser than Townes' original - we'll say maybe it is!

Beautiful poetry. Magical music. A superb performance. A
pristine piece of wonderful art.

A true classic. If not only for the superb unforgettable line "except for the turning of night into day and the turning of day into cursing'"! You daren't even hear magic like that in a Dylan song!

For years and years now, I've been in awe of the sculpted lyrics and sublime music of Townes.
And here again, in "Rake", from his 1971 album Delta Momma Blues, the sculpted lyrics and sublime music magnificently mesh.

A one-time ladies man, and lover of excess, as he lays close to death's door, uselessly and tortuously harks back to a blighted youth devoted to frivolous waste. However delusional, he hears the grim reaper speaking, poetically telling of his imminent grim fate ... "It's the night to the day that we're a bindin."

Death is very almost here. A step away. But what's even worse is that there will be no hoped-for redemption. Even though the Rake had futilely always "thought I'd be forgiven."

This song perhaps could have been called "Death of a Ladies Man"! (maybe Lenny was listening to this track when he felt inspired to come up with that great title for his wrongly maligned, excellent 1977 album!)

However, it's possibly a death that the Rake welcomes in order to finally soothe his agonising pain and put a final end to his countless regrets, these including the vast expanse of time wasted on "wine and guitars" and "women he can't hardly stand", as well as the immeasurable pain he's inflicted on numerous innocents (as beautifully expressed in the line "I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds.")

The song's almost an Old Testament parable. A powerful and timeless tale. A story that's impacted down the ages and that shall eternally impact. There will always be wantonness and there will always always be a Prodigal Son!

The lyrics are spiked throughout with Townes' trademark melancholia. A melancholia that emanated from Van Zandt's pained troubled soul. An essential and undeniable part of his essence, of his songwriting. Never maudlin though. Never false. On the contrary, immensely powerful, impactful, unforgettable.

A melancholia of the type described by John Donne that "leaves behind a kind of sorrowing to the mind." A type that's tortured many other great musical artists in recent times, such as Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith - all who inevitably sadly succumbed to it's incomprehensible force. A type we still see in the work of artists such as Shane Mac Gowan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits.

All songwriters compelled to express their inner pain through art, perhaps in order to thereby attain some modicum of relief. All songwriters whose work is laden with what Federico García Lorca called Duende.

What Lorca meant by that was true soul, a raw inherent sadness, a heightened awareness of death. An inherent quality of art, most usually musical art, that is most clearly found in, for example, the old traditional music of Portugal and in ancient Irish traditional music - particularly in the "Sean Nos" keening songs.

Federico García Lorca in his essay "Play and Theory of the Duende" wrote; "Duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, 'The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation."

Lorca also wrote "This ‘mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains' is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched the heart of Nietzsche, who searched in vain for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet, without knowing that the duende he was pursuing had leaped straight from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz or the beheaded, Dionysian scream of Silverio's siguiriya ..... Duende brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm."

Nick Cave, speaking about Duende in his lecture on the nature of the love song (Vienna, 1999), said "All in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care."

The music of Townes has duende in spades. It climbs up from deep inside him, from the soles of his feet to the tip of his skull. This great song "Rake" is overflowing with duende. A song that hates haste and floats in silence. A song full of true style, of blood; a song harking back to the inherent soul of man, to timeless art.

If it's not a nigh perfect piece of modern musical art, then it's as close to that as can feasibly be expected.


I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
my laughter the devil would frighten
The sun would come up and beat me back down
but every cruel day had its nightfall
I'd welcome the stars with wine and guitars
full of fire and forgetful

My body was sharp, the dark air clean
and outrage my joyful companion
whisperin' women how sweet they did seem
kneelin' for me to command them
And time was like water, but I was the sea
And I'd never noticed it passin'
except for the turnin' of night into day
and the turnin' of day into cursin'

You look at me now, and don't think I don't know
what all of your eyes are a sayin'
Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
they're just tricks that his brains been a playin'?
A lover of women he can't hardly stand,
he trembles, he's bent and he's broken
I've fallen, it's true, but I say unto you
hold your tongues until after I've spoken

I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
I laughed and thought I'd be forgiven
but my laughter turned 'round, eyes blazing and
said "my friend, we're holdin' a wedding"
I buried my face but it spoke once again
It's the night to the day that we're a bindin'
and now the dark air is like fire on my skin
and even the moonlight is blinding

(Original piece on )

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Indigo Girls: Love's Recovery

SONG Love's Recovery

WRITTEN BY Emily Saliers


APPEARS ON Indigo Girls (1990), 1200 Curfews (1995), 4.5: The Best Of The Indigo Girls (1995, import), Artist's Choice: Sarah McLachlan (2004)

In this beautiful song, the Indigo Girls look back not on love lost but on the wisdom and perseverance gained by from broken love and how this leads to love that lasts. Although there's a certain amount of rueful hindsight at work ("I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen") the song depicts a journey of broken hearts that ultimately leads from "love's recovery" to "love's discovery."

One of the traps of love is envy of friends who seem to have it while you don't. Don't worry, Emily Saliers says, just because you can't see them doesn't mean that they don't have their problems, too:
Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together
They've all gone and left each other in search of fairer weather
In other words, one couple is just like another: The vision they present to the world differs greatly from reality. Eventually, they require "love's recovery" too.

"Love's Recovery" builds to the incredibly powerful expression of the worth of love in the last verse:
I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me
I'd still have two of the same to live
Love gains a religious force ("trinity") so profound that its worth losing oneself in the giving, no matter what the cost. But, of course,
nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we're universal
To let this love survive would be the greatest gift we could give
There's an aspect of endurance to true love, something that resists "fairer weather" and the "whims of culture." This part of love prevails despite fantasies of the unattainable ("picture perfect maps of how my love and life would be") and the intrusions of the rational ("the cancer of my intellect"). Perhaps it's not the glamor side of love, but it's what gets us through the "rain soaked and voice choked" times, the part that buys time for the "absolute distinction" of a couple's feeling to take root and flourish. Emily Saliers' lyrics and the Indigo Girls lush harmonies and impassioned vocals give voice to this part of love, the part without which love truly cannot survive.

During the time of which I speak it was hard to turn the other cheek
To the blows of insecurity
Feeding the cancer of my intellect the blood of love soon neglected
Lay dying in the strength of its impurity

Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together
They've all gone and left each other in search of fairer weather
And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast
To the slim chance of love's recovery.

There I am in younger days, star gazing,
Painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be
Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection
My compass, faith in love's perfection
I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen

Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together
Left each other one by one in search of fairer weather
And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast
To the slim chance of love's recovery.

Rain soaked and voice choked like silent screaming in a dream
I search for our absolute distinction
Not content to bow and bent
To the whims of culture that swoop like vultures
Eating us away, eating us away
Eating us away to our extinction

Oh how I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me
I'd still have two of the same to live
But nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we're universal
To let this love survive would be the greatest gift we could give

Tell all the friends who think they're so together
That these are ghosts and mirages, these thoughts of fairer weather
Though it's storming out I feel safe within the arms of love's discovery

You can watch a slightly truncated live version of "Love's Recovery" here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Patty Griffin: Be Careful

SONG Be Careful

WRITTEN BY Patty Griffin

PERFORMED BY Patty Griffin

APPEARS ON 1000 Kisses (2002), A Kiss In Time (2003)

NOTE For my money, Patty Griffin is the best singer-songwriter out there. She's at the top of her game in terms of writing and has the voice to match those considerable talents.

Patty Griffin's ode to female vulnerability uses repetition to make its point. Of the 24 lines in the six verses preceding the chorus, 17 begin with the phrase "All the girls". Of the lines of the chorus, which is sung three times along with a two-line coda, three of them begin with "Be careful." Altogether, 28 of the 38 lines in "Be Careful" begin with either "All the girls" or "Be careful". It's a simple, effective device that works perfectly with the song's verse-verse-chorus verse-verse-chorus coda structure in which each verse and chorus number four lines.

"All the girls" as opposed to, say, "all the women", heightens the sense of vulnerability by evoking adolescence and pre-adolescence as the essence of feminine innocence. This along combination of repetitive phrasing and a simple structure and melody make it easy for women listening to "Be Careful" to identify their own adolescence with song. Hearing Griffin sing "Be Careful", especially live, becomes a powerful experience that is both shared and individuated. a stroke songwriting genius that simultaneously evokes a sense of solidarity and the deeply personal.

What of Griffin's male fans? It's a reasonable bet that men who don't give much thought to the vulnerability of women are not Patty Griffin fans. In this respect, she addresses "Be Careful" to those men who perceive themselves as especially sensitive to women's feelings. It doesn't matter, Griffin says: You're still capable of inflicting great and unnecessary hurt. You have to be careful, too, maybe even more careful because your perceived sensitivity may have encouraged your partner to lower walls that would otherwise remain raised.

When I first saw Griffin in 2002, she had yet to come into her own as a performer and opened the show with "Be Careful." Looking back, this seems like a plea from artist to audience: I'm still relatively new at this, so please give me a break. By 2007 -- with five years of touring and two mature and exceptional albums (Children Running Through and Impossible Dream) behind her -- she opened with a confident, sultry rendition of Sam Cooke's "Get Yourself Another Fool." I've come a long way in five years, she seemed to tell us, and thanks for being there with me.

All the girls in the Paris night
All the girls in the pale moonlight
All the girls with the shopping bags
All the girls with the washing rags

All the girls on the telephone
All the girls standing all alone
All the girls sitting on the wire
One by one fly into the fire

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

All the girls standing by your beds
All the girls standing on their heads
All the girls with the broken arms
All the girls with the deadly charms

All the girls in the restaurant
Pretending to be nonchalant
Funny girls on the TV shows
Close your eyes and they turn to snow

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

All the girls working overtime
Telling you everything is fine
All the girls in the beauty shops
Girls tongues catching the raindrops

All the girls that you never see
Forever a mystery
All the girls with their secret ways
All the girls who have gone astray

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful with me

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dick Gaughan: Now Westlin Winds

SONG Now Westlin Winds

SONGWRITER Robert Burns (1759-1796)


APPEARS ON Handful Of Earth (1981), Live In Edinburgh (1985), The Definitive Collection (2006), Gaughan Live! At The Trades Club (2008)

NOTES 1. The "westlin winds" are the west or western winds. 2. A moorcock is also known as a red grouse. 3. As used in "Now Westlin Winds," a fell is an upland stretch of open country. 4. Because birds play such an important role in this song, I've linked to a photograph or drawing of each bird mentioned in the lyrics.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns collected and wrote songs, among them "Now Westlin Winds," interpreted here by the great Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan. On his notes for the song, Gaughan wrote of "Now Westlin Winds":
Learned over a period of years, a verse at a time, from Geordie Hamilton -- a man who tantalizes other singer by singing them a verse or two of a gem, then saying, "Ah, you don't really want to hear that", and singing something else. A song learned from Geordie is a testimony to patience, a great man and a giant of a singer. Burns is often regard as a poet of little significance by those ignorant of his finest work. It is sad that his greatness are better appreciated in other places and other cultures. (From Handful of Earth)
The lovely melody of "Now Westlin Winds" cloaks its lyrical complexity, for Gaughan sings of environmental lover's paradise that is also a hunter's dream. Burns contrasts the "sportsman's joy" with the "charms of nature," creating a world large enough for "the savage and the tender." Against this backdrop, the poet pursues his own game, the charms of "Peggy dear." The question arises as to whether he is lover or seducer, whether his professions of love are actually flattery as dangerous to Peggy as "slaughtering guns." Gaughan's interpretation of "Now Westlin Winds" is so delicate as to argue for the poet's sincerity; in the end it has the effect of playing love and seduction against one another.

Burns' ecological vision is startlingly contemporary. In addition to the simple beauties of birds in autumn, he recognizes a complex avian ecosystem in which "Some social join and leagues combine/Some solitary wander." That is, some birds fly in flocks while others toil alone. All live in risk of "the cruel sway/Of tyrannic man's dominion." As far back as the 18th Century, Robert Burns perceived the dangers of man to nature and warned against them: "Avaunt! Away!"

In "Now Westlin Winds," the masculine figure of the hunter represents mankind as both lover and exploiter of nature. Which brings us back to the poet and his Peggy: The poet is lover and seducer, and Peggy must discern which is which and when. In this sense, she not only represents nature but conflicted human nature as well, walking the eternal tightrope between the savage and the tender, searching for the nexus of love and seduction. For who among us does not want to be loved and seduced?


Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn's pleasant weather
moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the
blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o'er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer
The partridge loves the fruitful fells
plover loves the mountain
woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring
hern the fountain
Through lofty groves the
cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
hazel bush o'erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the
Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man's dominion
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory
But Peggy dear the evening's clear
Thick flies the skimming
The sky is blue, the fields in view
All fading green and yellow
Come let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature
We'll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I'll grasp thy waist and, fondly pressed,
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, my lovely charmer

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bob Dylan: This Dream Of You

SONG This Dream Of You



APPEARS ON Together Through Life (2009)

NOTE Stupid And Contagious contributed this insightful essay about one of the ballads on Bob Dylan's outstanding new album

From Bob Dylan's latest meisterwerk Together Through Life comes the gorgeous, yearning, classic "This Dream Of You".

"This Dream Of You" is actually the only song on the album composed entirely by Dylan alone. Although nine of the ten tracks from the album were co-written by Grateful Dead lyricist
Robert Hunter, both the music and lyrics for ‘This Dream Of You’ were composed by Bob Dylan.

"This Dream Of You" is a beautiful ballad of powerful, sculpted, existentialist poetry meshed with wonderful, delicate, Tex-Mex instrumentation, embellished by the magnificent accordion work of
Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo.

One of the best songs on the new LP, "This Dream Of You" harks back to the themes and tone of Dylan's previous album, the majestic Modern Times from 2004.

The song simply and sublimely explores themes of love, loss and mortality.

Like a rueful flawed existentialist character in perhaps a Shakesperian tragedy or perhaps a classic
film noir - a genre that Dylan loves (we read a report that most if not all the DVD's Dylan takes with him on tour are Noirs!) - a desperate man - "I'm lost in the crowd, all my tears are gone" - sits alone in the desolate enigmatic "Nowhere Cafe" watching another night end, warily awaiting a dawn he doesn't really want to see.

In this grim, lonely location, he meditates upon his life, which is almost ended, and upon the many things lost down those long hard years ... "Everything I touch seems to disappear."

We don't know if this character's weakness has been a tendency for over-ponderance instead of direct action, like Hamlet, or perhaps a tendency for rapid action without thinking, like Macbeth. Regardless, he rues whatever weaknesses have led to his current dire plight.

He's had chances to make things better but opportunities were wasted and he knows there will be few if any more such opportunities ... "There's a moment when all old things become new again, but that moment might have come and gone."

This is expressed most poignantly and beautifully in the evocative poetic lines "From a cheerless room, in a curtain gloom, I saw a star from Heaven fall. I turned and looked again but it was gone."

Nevertheless, hope is still alive in his heart. Hope for love at last. Hope for some sort of a future. Hope etched out in the haunting refrain "All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me living on."

However, the hard lessons of life cause him to have some serious doubts ... "Am I too blind to see? Is my heart playing tricks on me?"

Despite these doubts, he still believes. This hope - regardless how realistic - may be all he has, but it's powerful enough to give him the strength to greet another bright dawn of another dark feared day.


How long can I stay

In this nowhere café 'fore night turns into day

I wonder why I’m so frightened of dawn

All I have and all I know

Is this dream of you which keeps me living on

There’s a moment when

All old things become new again

But that moment might have come and gone

All I have and all I know

Is this dream of you which keeps me living on

I look away but I keep seeing it

I don’t want to believe but I keep believing it

Shadows dance upon the wall

Shadows that seem to know it all

Am I too blind to see

Is my heart playing tricks on me

I’m lost in the crowd, all my tears are gone

All I have and all I know

Is this dream of you which keeps me living on

Everything I touch seems to disappear

Everywhere I turn, you are always here

I’ll run this race until my earthly death

I’ll defend this place with my dying breath

From a cheerless room

In a curtain gloom, I saw a star from heaven fall

I turned and looked again but it was gone

All I have and all I know

Is this dream of you which keeps me living on

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Rolling Stones: Salt of the Earth

SONG Salt of the Earth

SONGWRITERS Mick Jagger, Keith Richard

APPEARS ON Beggar's Banquet (1968)

The Rolling Stones classic "Salt Of The Earth" wraps up our fanfare for the common man. The song almost certainly reflects the upbringing of Keith Richard, born into a working family with socialist grandparents. "Salt" begins as an upliftinh tribute to the working class ("Let's drink to the hard working people") and risks a patronizing tone.

However, at the top of their game as songwriters, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were nothing if not risk takers. "Salt Of The Earth" builds in anger over the choices faced by the "uncounted heads" ("cancer or polio") while it castigates their leaders as "gamblers" and "grafters."At this level, the song is a salute to the "humble of birth" who persevere in spite of it all. Its country blues slide guitar serves as a critical grounding link between the subjects of the song and its anthemic melody.

At the same time, Richard worries that his success has isolated him from his treasured roots: The "wavering millions" have become a "faceless crowd" that "look so strange." At the same time, he admits that "we all look too strange" to the "swirling mass of gray and blue and white." The video below becomes a poignant testament to this concern, as the Stones pull hats low on their brow and attempt camouflage themselves among their fans. But this is impossible by this time in their career: The Stones are stars; the salt of the earth are not. What the Stones can do is elevate their audience and show them respect by recognizing the distancing of success. They pull this off brilliantly with "Salt Of The Earth," one of their best songs.

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let's drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Spare a thought for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

And when I look into this faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray, blue,
Black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let's drink to the uncounted heads
Let's think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

And when I look into this faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grays and
Black and white
Do we all look real to you
Or do we all look too strange?

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag taggy people
Let's drink to the salt of the earth

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Let's drink to the two thousand million
Let's think of the humble of birth

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Waylon Jennings: Love of the Common People

SONG Love of the Common People

SONGWRITERS John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins

PERFORMER Waylon Jennings

APPEARS ON Love of the Common People (1967), Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line: The RCA Years (1993), Nashville Rebel (2006), others

Country songs about familial love triumphing over poverty are as numerous as drunks in bar and often as maudlin. But when done right -- as by Waylon Jennings singing "Love Of The Common People" -- this theme can be moving and transcendent.

Unlike many of its counterparts, "Love" makes no bones about poverty: The first line is about food stamps and watered down milk. When you're poor, the world knows that your family doesn't have the most basic items necessary for survival: Food, drink, shelter, warm clothes. But, this doesn't necessarily rob the same people of their need for family and love: Poverty increases the need for the immeasurable tenderness found at "home, where it's warm" in the "smiles from the heart of a family man," and where "a dream to cling to" supplants material want.

Of course, poverty doesn't bring families together, it destroys them. Which is why the ultimate power of this song lies its wider message that love forged in difficult circumstances is more powerful and lasting than love arising from leisure. In this respect, the love of the common people stands as a great force for universal good, as the binding energy of emotional security and community. If we know what's good for us, Jennings seems to say, we will all live in the love of the common people.

Click here for Waylon Jennings' original rendition of "Love Of The Common People." Scroll down, find the song title, and click the play button to its left. This opens the Rhapsody media player. I've also included a video of Bruce Springsteen's version (below), which can be found on his Live In Dublin album.

Livin' on free food tickets
Water in the milk from the hole in the roof
Where the rain came through
What can you do?

Tears from little sister
Cryin' cause she doesn't have a dress
Without a patch, for the party to go
Oh, but she knows, she'll get by

She is...Livin' In The Love Of The Common People
Smiles from the heart of a family man
Daddy's gonna buy her a dream to cling to
Moma's gonna love her just as much as she can
she can

It's a good thing you don't have bus fare
It would fall through the hole in your pocket
Then you'd lose it in the snow on the ground
A walkin' to town, to find a job

Tryin' to keep your hands warm
But the hole in your shoe let the snow
Come through and it chills to the bone,
Boy, you better go home, where it's warm

Where you in the love of the common people
Smiles from the heart of a family man
Daddy's gonna buy her a dream to cling to
Moma's gonna love her just as much as she can
she can

Livin' on dreams ain't easy
But the closer the knit,the tighter the fit
And the chills stayin' away
You take em in your stride, family pride

You know that faith is your foundation
And with a whole lot of love and a warm
Conversation,with plenty of prayers
Makin' you strong, where you belong

Where you can live in the love of a common people
Be the pride and the heart of a family man
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to
Moma's gonna love you just as much as she can
she can

Livin' in the love of a common people
Be the pride and the heart...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sly and the Family Stone: Everyday People

SONG Everyday People

SONGWRITER Sylvester Stewart

APPEARS ON Stand! (1969), Greatest Hits (1970), Essential (2002)

NOTES 1. Billboard #1 from 2/15/69-3/14/69. 2. "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" (1969) and "There's A Riot Goin' On (1970) also reached #1. 3. "Hot Fun In The Summertime" (1969) reached #2.

1969 was a great year for Sylvester Stewart and Sly and the Family Stone. The band charted two number ones and a number two, and made a show-stopping appearance at Woodstock. The Family Stone's innovative blend of funk and R & B crossed over easily and gained wide appreciation by white and black audiences.

Writing a plea for tolerance, Sly Stone eschewed the emotional resonance of movement songs like "We Shall Overcome" in favor of a danceable confection that hit #1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks. "Everyday People," probably the first popular hit to celebrate diversity for its own sake, made multiculturalism fun.

The kaleidoscopic lyrics joyfully summon forth an assortment of lovable humanity -- a blue one, a green one, a yellow, a red one, a white one, a black one -- of sundry occupations and socioeconomic brackets. The nursery-rhyme melody and lyrics --
There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
-- mock prejudice by illuminating its essential silliness, finally pointing out that
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
Moreover, Sly Stone did not merely talk the talk: When it came to diversity, he danced to the music. The integrated Family Stone featured white males on saxophone and drums and an African-American woman on trumpet and backing vocals.

It's been said that African-American popular music can be divided into two categories: pre- and post-Sly. While that's an exaggeration, there's no question about Sly Stone's importance and influence. Almost all of the music Sly made in the six years spanning 1967 to 1973 is worth listening to. Stand! and There's A Riot Going On are acknowledged classics, and Life isn't far behind. Although Stewart's drug use would eventually destroy the band, Sly and the Family Stone remain with good reason one of the most important and beloved groups of the Sixties.

Sometimes I'm right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then

Makes no difference what group I'm in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh sha sha - we got to live together

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can't figure out the bag l'm in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For bein' such a rich one that will not help the poor one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh sha sha-we got to live together

There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one
That won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
Oh sha sha-

I am everyday people.

Bonus Video: Sly and the Family Stone's brilliant performance at Woodstock. Boo-lacka-lacka boo-lacka-lacka!