Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Christy Moore: Viva La Quinta Brigada

SONG Viva La Quinta Brigada

WRITTEN BY Christy Moore

PERFORMED BY Christy Moore

APPEARS ON Ride On (1999), Collection, Part 2 (2006), Live In Dublin 2006 (2007)

When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland supported Francisco Franco's bid to overthrow the legally elected Republican government. An Irish brigade comprised mainly of Blueshirts, a fascist group inspired by Mussolini's Blackshirts, formed and went to Spain to fight in Franco's army.

Meanwhile, Frank Ryan, a prominent Irish Republican, urged support of the Spanish Republican government. This was not a cut-and-dried matter: Irish antipathy toward England remained great, and many Irish sympathized with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the questionable grounds that the enemy of their enemy was their friend. Ryan himself ended his days in Germany as a repatriated prisoner of war.

As an anti-Fascist, Ryan led recruitment of the Connolly Column, a combination of Irish leftists, socialists, idealists, and IRA rivals of the Blueshirts. Once in Spain, the Connolly Column was attached to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American volunteers who served in the Spanish Civil War. (Eleven years ago, I shook hands with a surviving member of the brigade.) The brigade fought with distinction at the Battle of Jarama, a brutal and unsuccessful three-week attempt by Franco's forces to disrupt communications between Madrid and the temporary Republican capital of Valencia.

In 1999, the Irish folk singer Christy Moore recorded his stirring account of the sacrifices made by the Connally Column, many of whom were killed in action or captured (including Ryan, who repatriated to Germany, where he died in 1944). Of particular note in Moore's lyrics is the way he contrasts the Church hierarchy ("the Bishops") who stayed in Ireland with the working ministers of different denominations ("A Church of Ireland pastor" and "a brave young Christian brother") who went to Spain and died fighting. Moore also works in the line "the olives were bleeding," reputedly the dying words of poet Charlie Donnelly.

"Viva La Quinta Brigada" memorializes a worthy effort in support of a lost cause, a not atypical Irish theme. Moore evokes the lineage of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, as well as the narrative tradition of Irish folk songs and poems. Its larger context is the difficulty of the long and arduous trek to freedom, a cause espoused by Irish poets and singers for over 400 years. When Moore calls on us to "remember them tonight," he demands that we not forget the meaning of freedom as fought for by the Connolly Column -- an ongoing communal struggle for public liberty -- as well as the sacrifice necessary to attain it and the vigilance required to keep it.

--Citizen K.

Ten years ago I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid
From every corner of the world came sailing
Fifteenth International Brigade.

They came to stand beside the Spanish people
To try and stem the rising fascist tide
Franco's allies were the powerful and wealthy
Frank Ryan's men came from the other side.

Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on
Truth and love against the force of evil
Brotherhood against the fascist clan.

Viva la Quinta Brigada,
No Pasaran, the pledge that made them fight
Adelante was the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight.

Bob Hilliard was a Church of Ireland pastor
From Killarney across the Pyrenees he came
From Derry came a brave young Christian Brother
And side by side they fought and died in Spain.

Tommy Woods age seventeen died in Cordoba
Na Fianna he learned to hold his gun
From Dublin to the Villa del Rio
He fought and died beneath the Spanish sun.


Many Irishmen heard the call of Franco
Joined Hitler and Mussolini too
Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers
O'Duffy to enlist his crew.

The call came from Maynooth, "support the Naziss"
The men of cloth had failed yet again
When the Bishops blessed the
Blueshirts down in Galway
As they sailed beneath the swastika to Spain.


This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too
Peter Daly, Charlie Regan and Hugh Bonar
Though many died I can but name a few.

Danny Boyle, Blaser-Brown and
Charlie Donnelly
Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney from the Falls
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O'Neill.

(Chorus repeated)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Jackson 5: That's What You Get For Being Polite

SONG That's What You Get For Being Polite

WRITTEN BY Michael and Randy Jackson


APPEARS ON Destiny (1978)

Somewhere along the line I planned on writing about this song because it’s one of my top ten favorites. After the events of yesterday I decided to do it a little early. Before Hurricane Katrina I had a vinyl album collection of somewhere close to 300 LPs. I love playing records. Some of the albums I had came from family members that no longer wanted them. My favorite album to play out of that group was the Destiny album by The Jacksons. I thought it was cool I was playing the same exact album that I did as a child when I used to sneak into the back room and play records. I was also proud of the fact that it was one of the few I didn’t scratch up so it would make it through every song.

That’s What You Get for Being Polite was my favorite song on this album. I’ve become fonder of it as I have gotten older and experienced a few things. It’s a story of a man whose quest for love and fear of being lonely causes him to do things he may not want to do. I can relate to that a little bit. It also describes the pain of a man that doesn’t really know who he is. This was the first album by the group on the Epic label. There two albums on the CBS label after leaving Motown. It was also the first time they were giving creative freedom to write and produce their own songs. This song was written by Michael and Randy Jackson. Michael was 20 years old when he wrote this but giving the way his life was he probably had experienced way too many things that a normal child hadn’t. In my opinion the lyrics to this song represent how he probably lived his entire life.

He was a famous entertainer and there will probably never be another entertainer who will be as big as he was during the Thriller era. I can’t help wondering though if he ever thought how unfair it was that since the age of 5 he didn’t have the opportunity to figure out who he really was without millions of people watching. I think he was trying to tell everybody that all he really wanted was just a chance to find out who he really was but knew there wasn’t a chance of that happening. He disguised it as a love song with lyrics about buying things for girls but the way his life played out fits the tone of this song perfectly.


Jack still cries day and night
Jack's not happy with his life
He want to do this, he want to do that
You want to be kind, but ends up flat for love
For love

He tries so hard to give a lot
He wants to be what he is not
Love's not harsh and love's not bad
And what's he doing for love is so bad
(He wants to be so bad)
(He wants to be so bad) All the time getting in
Things he can't get out
Something deep inside of him
Eating up the pride of him
That makes him buy things for the girls
(That's what you get for being polite)
(For being polite)

Jack still sits all alone
He lives the world that is his own
He's lost in thought of who to be
I wish to God that he would see just love
Give him love

He tries so hard to give a lot
He wants to be what he is not
Love's not harsh and love's not bad
And what's he doing for love is so sad
(He wants to be so bad)
(He wants to be so bad) All the time getting in
Things he can't get out
Something deep inside of him
Eating up the pride of him
That makes him buy things for the girls
(That's what you get for being polite)
(For being polite)

(Jack still) Tryin' to make you happy, but...
(Jack still) Tryin' to make you happy, but...
(Jack still) Tryin' to make you happy, but he's not, but he's not

(Jack still) Tryin' to make you, but don't you know he cries
(Jack still) Don't you know he's scared
(Jack still) It's often for his love, it's for his love
Don't you know he often cries about you
He cries about me
He cries about you (You) and me (And me)
And every little thing that's in his way
He cries about me
He cries about you (You) and me (And me)
Know that he deserves to cry

(Jack still) Don't you know he cries
(Jack still) Don't you know he's scared
(Jack still) It's often for his love, yeah, yeah
Don't you know, don't you know, don't you know, don't you know
Don't you know, don't you know, don't you know, don't you know
He cries, he cries because there is a lack of love

Judy Garland and others - Over the Rainbow

SONG Over the Rainbow

WRITTEN BY Harold Arlen (music), E.Y. "Yip" Harburg (lyrics)

PERFORMED BY Judy Garland/ Jane Monheit/ Eva Cassidy

APPEARS ON The Wizard of Oz (1939)/ Taking a Chance on Love (2004)/ The Other Side (1992)

I watched The Wizard of Oz again the other night (I own the DVD and sometimes the urge hits me) and was impressed all over again with what a powerful effect Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" has on an audience. If this had been a stage musical it would have stopped the show, and it would have been very difficult to get the show moving again that early in the proceedings. But luckily this was Hollywood, and the show went on.

What is it about this song? The RIAA has declared it the #1 song on their "Songs of the Century" list. Artist after artist takes their turn at singing it. And I'll be willing to bet that the most hardcore, baddest metal-heads and rappers all saw the movie when they were kids and listened open-mouthed and transported as Dorothy sat on that tractor and sang to Toto. This isn't a song, it's a bloody archetype - The American Song. How did it get there?

Part of the reason is because the song came out of the Golden Age of Hollywood movie musicals. This was the heyday of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg were right up there in that pantheon. The US was coming out of the Great Depression only to see the clouds of war rising over Europe and the Pacific Ocean, and they were looking for a little relief from all of that stress. Hollywood provided that.

Yip Harburg's lyrics certainly express that yearning for peace and security, and Harold Arlen's music grabs that yearning and runs with it. Listen to that bit at the very end, where "why oh why can't I?" rises up and up the scale, and fades out resting on the clouds. Tchaikovsky did this with success, as did Mahler in several of his symphonies. And so does Harold Arlen in this song.

But the overwhelming success of "Over the Rainbow" is really due to sheer musical alchemy - it was written for Judy Garland, and only her voice could ever have done what it did for this song. Arlen and Harburg were given the task of writing a showpiece for Garland and they were having a hard time coming up with something, but when they did, it was a song crafted specifically for Judy Garland's voice. Oh how it fit! That 16-year-old's voice, the voice that could stop shows without even trying, was the only voice that could have sung that song.

It was the last song written for the movie, but oddly enough, it was also the first one cut. Yes, you read that right. After two pre-release public screenings, the powers at MGM decided that the song, especially there right at the start, slowed the flow of the movie too much. After much argument from the producer, director, actors, and even some members of the public, the powers-that-be relented and kept the song in. The rest is history.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high

There's a place that I heard of

Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I'll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far behind me

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That's where you'll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow

Bluebirds fly

Birds fly over the rainbow

Why then oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow why

Oh why can't I?

Of course, you know YouTube had to have the clip of that scene from The Wizard of Oz. I may not have even attempted this article if it hadn't been there. But here it is, in all its glory.

Other artists have sung "Over the Rainbow" with varying degrees of success. You have to admit, Judy Garland is a tough act to follow! But there are two versions I have a great deal of affection for.

Jane Monheit is a jazz singer from Long Island who has a taste for the American Songbook. She has a smooth and silky voice as well as quite a range, and she's as comfortable with fast tempos and scat-singing as she is with ballads. I first heard her version of "Over the Rainbow" as the soundtrack to the end credits to the 2004 movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which uses some strong Oz imagery and metaphor throughout its course. This version also appears on Monheit's 2004 recording Taking a Chance on Love. I like her approach to the song, and I love the arrangement on this, especially that lush, lush orchestral entrance between the first and second verses. Just beautiful! Here's her official video of the song, complete with scenes from the Sky Captain movie.

The last version has a special place in my heart. Eva Cassidy was one of those ephemeral phenomena that appear briefly on the scene and then tragically disappear leaving us bereft. She had an imaginative sense of arrangement and the voice of an angel, and she was at her best when it was just her and the guitar on the stage. Her repertoire ran the gamut from folk to jazz to rock, and even included go-go. But we lost her at age 33 in 1996 to melanoma.

The tragic irony is that recognition only came after she died, and not in America but in Great Britain. She mostly played club gigs around Baltimore MD and Washington DC (she lived in the DC area), and only very occasionally played outside her home territory. It took a BBC2 DJ playing a posthumous compilation of her work (put together by friends and family two years after her death) on his morning show in 2000 to finally bring her out of obscurity. From there Eva Cassidy's music gained a growing fan base, and after a May 2001 airing of a documentary on her life on ABC's Nightline, she finally gained a national audience in the US.

This video is the essence of who Eva Cassidy was. The simplicity and the artistry in this is just stunning, and it's why i consider this my personal favorite version of "Over the Rainbow". Enjoy!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Greg Brown and Jimmy Lafave: I Want My Country Back

SONGS Homeland (I Want My Country Back)/This Land

WRITTEN BY Greg Brown/Jimmy Lafave

APPEAR ON In The Hills of California (2004)/Cimarron Manifesto (2007)

Conservative writers took advantage of the invasion of Iraq to attack liberals with such thoughtful tomes as Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terror and Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. Liberal songwriters responded with expressions of simple patriotism that will appear on their set lists long after the work Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity has been consigned to the remainders bin. Indeed, Greg Brown's "Homeland (I Want My Country Back)" and Jimmy Lafave's "This Land" evoke the spirit of Woody Guthrie, tearing out after the fascists with their words and guitars.

When I saw Greg Brown in 2004, he came on stage quietly, began strumming his guitar, and sang these declarative words -- "I want my country back" -- in the sensitive, gruff bass that has become his signature. Brown declared both his allegiance and isolation:
Got my hand over my heart,
but I don't feel at home here any more
He then went on the slyly reclaim the Silent Majority as "Many quiet words of wisdom drowned out by TV" and called for a return to the true American values of Sojourner Truth and Chief Joseph. His cut at President Bush -- "Blind engineer, war train on the track" -- now seems more prescient than sarcastic.

Brown reserved his finest sally for the sunshine patriots:
Big, big flag above the big, big mall,
and the shake, rattle and roll to the core.
Things sprawl after they fall,
and I don't feel at home here any more
I have long resented the implicit message of the flag waving "Support the Troops" bumper stickers. They imply that, since my car doesn't have said bumper sticker, I don't support the troops and am somehow a lesser person for it. I'm grateful to Brown for taking on this mentality with thoughtfulness -- there's nothing snarky or snide about the way he warns that "Things sprawl after they fall" like a punch-drunk fighter lying unconscious in the ring.

Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy Lafave -- a longtime favorite of mine -- want his country back, too. The country he has lost was a community; the one he has now measures its success by the wealth of the few, sends the poor off to die in war, and strips those at home of their civil liberties. The symbols of it all are
Just stranded by the road
They're hopeless and forgotten
Where all the milk and honey flows
Until we care for the "hopeless and forgotten", Lafave will respond in the best way he can: By bearing witness.
Traveling through this land
It's the only thing I know
To say my friends
I simply want my country back again
The Bush years are over but they are not gone. Their legacy lingers with the families who lost sons and daughters in Iraq, with the innocents tortured and jailed at Gitmo, with the millions of lives blasted by an unmanaged and unregulated economy. We don't have our country back yet, which is why these songs remain relevant. In fact, they'll always be relevant; to forget their message would be to risk losing our way again.

LYRICS: Homeland (I Want My Country Back)
I want my country back
and a good dream to stand up for.
Got my hand over my heart
but I don't feel at home here anymore

Big, big flag above the big, big mall
and shake rattle and roll to the core.
Things sprawl after they fall
and I don't feel at home here anymore

Home of Sojourner Truth
and Chief Joseph before,
Many quiet words of wisdom drowned out by TV
and I don't feel at home here anymore.

Blind engineer, war train on the track
many many a heart is sore.
We want our country back;
we want to feel at home here once more.

I want my country back.

LYRICS: This Land
Life is hard
Times are tough
And the ones who have too much
Seem to never get enough
Traveling through this land
Children dying
On some foreign soil
For God's sake won’t you tell me
What is all this fighting for
Traveling through this land
It’s the only thing I know
To say my friends
I simply want my country back again
Cause I went driving
Through the American night
And I slowly watched my freedoms
Disappear right out of sight
Traveling through this land
It’s the only thing I know
To say my friend
I simply want my country back again
Cause I see people
Just stranded by the road
They’re hopeless and forgotten
Where all the milk and honey flows
Traveling through this land

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dan Seals and Cheryl Wheeler: Addicted

SONG Addicted

WRITTEN BY Cheryl Wheeler

PERFORMED BY Dan Seals, Cheryl Wheeler

APPEARS ON Cheryl's Cheryl Wheeler (1986), Dan's Rage On (1988)

For my maiden voyage on Just A Song I thought I'd talk about a song that involves two people whose careers I've followed for many years, and who I met, hung out with, sometimes even jammed with, back before they were as well-known as they are now. And also as a fond farewell to Dan Seals, who finally lost his struggle with lymphoma this past March.

I went to high school with Cheryl Wheeler back in the late '60s. We weren't friends, but we traveled with the same group of friends and we knew who the other was and sometimes spoke. She graduated a year ahead of me (class of '70). I remember Cheryl doing somewhat of a "set" in Clark and Betty Langrell's living room cum public meeting room by the fireplace, and I especially remember her doing a version of Donna Fargo's "Superman", an event that taught me that it was okay to like country music (back then we young folk tended to regard country as music for redneck bigots; people like Cheryl, the Dillard brothers, and Gram Parsons taught us better).

After high school we went our separate ways, and in the early '80s we started bumping into each other. I was living here in Newport, RI, and she was just up the road in Swansea, MA (folksinger Bill Harley lives up there, too). She opened for Noel "Paul" Stookey in a concert at the Church of the Patriots here on Spring St.; I'd gone not knowing that she was the opening act. I recognized her, and after the concert I went and reintroduced myself. We caught up on old mutual friends, and compared life journeys at that point. A few years later she happened to wander into the deli where I ate regularly, and we did some more conversing and catching up. I've seen her a couple of times more under similar circumstances, but as usual, life happens and I haven't seen her now for a good 15 to 20 years.

Dan Seals was a different story. He actually shared something with both Cheryl and I - we were all members of the Baha'i Faith. Cheryl left long ago, and I left some time later, but Dan was a Baha'i for the rest of his life. I met Dan at a time when he and John Coley had broken up their group (England Dan and John Ford Coley) and Dan was developing himself as a solo artist, going back to his roots in country music. He would often visit a Baha'i school/retreat in Eliot, Maine, and would play some nights on request during his visits. I was up there frequently as well during this time (again. early '80s), and as was my wont back in those days, where I went so went my guitar. We struck up conversations now and then, and jammed a little. My impression of Dan was that he was the gentlest man I'd ever been around, shy and softspoken and never willingly pushing himself into the spotlight. And as with Cheryl, our lives went in opposite directions; I think the last time I talked to Dan Seals was in 1982.

But I followed both of their careers, and was glad to see Cheryl able to make it on the singer/songwriter folk circuit, and to see Dan make it big in Nashville. I actually heard Dan do "Addicted" first, and learned from the liner notes that Cheryl had written the song, so of course i had to go find the album of Cheryl's that it was on. I don't know how Dan came across the song; if I recall correctly Cheryl had left the Baha'i Faith long before she wrote that song, so it wouldn't have been that particular network that connected them. But I have to admit that the song really seems to have been written just for him; it matches so well the tone and the content of the other songs in his repertoire, and especially the other songs on the Rage On album.

Cheryl says she wrote the song after a phone conversation with her sister, who was in the process of deciding whether to break up with her boyfriend or hang on and try to see if they could make it work; he'd been getting more and more distant, and the harder she worked to bridge the gap the more futile it seemed. So Cheryl put the essence of the conversation into this song. As much as the lyrics, I love the musical structure of "Addicted", especially the transition from verse to chorus, and back to verse. It almost sounds like a key change, but it's not, just a very artistic use of the chord structure to create a dramatic moment. This is songwriting at its best!

She says she hates to sleep alone but she'll do it tonight
She wants to grab her telephone but she knows it ain't right
So if he won't call she'll survive
And if he don't care she'll get by
Climb into bed bury her head and cry, cry
From the beginning he was all anyone could have been
They were delirious with love, they were certain to win
Now he's breaking plans more and more
And he's leaving notes on her door
'took a trip out of town, couldn't turn this one down'
He said 'I guess I should have told you before'

She says she feels like she's addicted to a real bad thing
She's always sitting, waiting wondering if the phone will ring
She knows she bounces like a yo-yo when he pulls her string
It hurts to feel like such a fool
She wants to tell him not to call or come around again
He doesn't need her now at all the way that she needs him
She's on the edge about to fall from leaning out and in
And she don't know which way to move

She wants to be fair, she couldn't say he was ever unkind
But if she could bear to walk away, she thinks he wouldn't mind
'cause he just keeps himself so apart
And there's no one else in her heart
So she's taking a dive from an emotional high
And coming down hard

She's determined to try, but she'll still give in when he gives her a call
And She'll ask herself why, but in the end it won't matter at all
Sure she could sit at home, stay inside
And sleep alone with her pride
And as she walks out her door, she feels as weak as before
With nothing to hide

(Repeat Chorus)

When I went onto YouTube to look for a video, I found a pleasant surprise - this very good video of both Dan and Cheryl singing the song together on the American Music Shop tv show. They perform together so well, and this is such a moving version of the song, I just had to include it here.

Good-bye Dan. You were such a gentle man who sang such gentle, beautiful songs. We miss you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Los Lobos: Will The Wolf Survive?

SONG Will The Wolf Survive?

WRITTEN BY Louie Perez, David Hidalgo


APPEARS ON How Will The Wolf Survive? (1984), Just Another Band From East L.A.: A Collection (1993), El Cancienero: Mas y Mas (2000), Wolf Tracks: The Best Of Los Lobos (2006)

NOTE This song about a man trying to provide for his family seemed perfect for Father's Day. Happy Father's Day to my dad -- still a great father at age 81 -- and all the fathers and fathers-to-be out there.

I first saw Los Lobos back in 1984, sometime between April and June, in Austin's old Soap Creek Saloon (the South Congress location). I remember the timing because my wife was well along in her first pregnancy and she swore that our son-to-be danced in her womb throughout the show.

The band ran through every song in its repertoire. We cheered for more, and a sweaty, exhausted David Hidalgo emerged from the dressing room to pick out "Sleepwalker" on his pedal steel. When he finished, he promised us that "That's all we know." Fair enough: We went home more than satisfied.

Later that year, Los Lobos released How Will The Wolf Survive?, their first full-length albumThe album served as a template for decades live performances: An eclectic mix of styles and songs marked by socially conscious lyrics that precluded neither romance nor partying. The tender "A Matter of Time" and the rocking "I Got Loaded" proved that you could dance fast or slow to the Los Lobos beat, while "Corrido #1" and "Serenata Nortena" paid proud homage to their Mexican roots. Wolf was quite an achievement for a new band, and remains today an essential part of the Los Lobos canon.
Best of was the title track closing the album. A wonderfully conceived allegory, "Will The Wolf Survive" told the story of a working man envisaged as an endangered species beset by social forces ("Hunters hard on his trail") beyond his control. Considering that the song was written 25 years ago, its bridge is remarkably prescient in its depiction of the shrinking middle class:
All alone in a world that's changed
Running scared now forced to hide
In a land where he once stood with pride
The bridge appears directly after these lines:
He's got two strong legs to guide him
Two strong arms to keep him alive
Will the wolf survive?
In other words, "in a world that's changed," characterized by "the chill of winter" and the "pouring rain," are working class assets enough to provide for a family, "the one thing he must keep alive"?

At the same time, of course, "Will The Wolf Survive?" echoes Los Lobos determination to make it in a tough business with surrendering their ideals. (For those who don't know, "lobo" is Spanish for "wolf"). Whatever happens, however difficult the future may be, Los Lobos serves notice that they will witness for the wolf with their "battered drums and old guitars/Singing songs of passion." This spirit has animated a distinguished body of work that has echoed across nearly 30 years of continuous recording and performing.
Through the chill of winter
Running across a frozen lake
Hunters hard on his trail
All odds are against him
With a family to provide for
The one thing he must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?

Drifting by the roadside
Climbs a strong but aging face
Wants to make some honest pay
Losing to the rainstorm
He's got two strong legs to guide him
Two strong arms to keep him alive
Will the wolf survive?

Standing alone in the pouring rain
All alone in a world that's changed
Running scared now forced to hide
In a land where he once stood with pride
But he'll find his way by the morning light

Sounds across the nation
Coming from your hearts and minds
Battered drums and old guitars
Singing songs of passion
It's the truth that they all look for
Something they must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
Will the wolf survive?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Teena Marie : Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)

Clifton Harris lives in New Orleans and blogs at www.cliffscrib.blogspot.com. Cliff writes about music and living in New Orleans, and perfectly captures the impact of politics and social policy on the daily life of the individual. I’m excited about his contributions to Just A Song and look forward to many more. -Citizen K.

SONG Déjà vu (I’ve Been Here Before)



APPEARS ON Wild and Peaceful (1979)

I wanted to make my first entry to this blog a Teena Marie song for a few reasons. One of the reasons is I think she is the most underrated soul singer in the last 30 years. Another reason is that she has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I went back and forth with a few different selections but decided to go with Déjà Vu (I’ve Been Here Before). The song is from her debut album Wild and Peaceful on the Motown label in 1979. It was written and composed by Rick James. That’s a fact that proves sometimes a person’s behavior isn’t a full indication of their talent. There’s a story about this album that shows how the world has changed in 30 years. When Motown released this album in 1979 they purposely left her face off of the cover out of fear that black listeners would discriminate against her. Now she’s arguably the standard for blue eyed soul and no one pays attention to her skin color.

One of the characteristics of a Teena Marie ballad is that the lyrics are written like poems and sometimes you don’t always know what she’s trying to say. Her gift is that she sings in a way that draws you into the song and everything she says make sense. The lyrics to this song are mystical and spiritual and she takes you on a journey to a mental place that most people have probably been in their own thoughts from time to time. It’s that space in your mind that tells you there is so much more to the universe than what we can see. It’s like those moments when you catch someone daydreaming and can tell wherever they are is special. That’s what the words of this song do for me.

I love the song because unlike most ballads it doesn’t take you to a place of lost love or a personal reference to anyone. The lyrics are an escape and it makes me want to take a long ride through the city at night just to enjoy the moonlight. It’s also a great song for sitting by a lake and watching the waves just to get your mind off of reality for a few minutes. I can tell you that living in this post disaster environment there are times where mental escape is a necessity for those of us who try not to give in to the insanity. With a song like Déjà vu you can close your eyes and accomplish that.

I Am Young And I Am Old
I Am Rich And I Am Poor
I Feel Like I've Been On This Earth Many Times Before
Once I Was A White Gazelle On Horseback Riding Free
Searching In The Darkness For A Piece Of Me.

I Can Feel This For Sure.
I've Been Here Before.
I Can Feel This For Sure, For Sure, For Sure. I've Been Here Before.
I Used To Be A Queen You Know

On An Island By The Sea
With Rainbow Coloured People, Hah!
Happy As Can Be
We Never Had A Problem
There Never Was A Care
The Love Was Everflowing And It's Feeling Shared

And I Can Feel This for Sure……….
Yes I Have
I Can Feel It
In My Heart I Feel It!
I Can Feel It
My Soul Feels Like the Universe
The Baskin Never Ends
The Stars To Me Are Children
The Babies Are My Friends
My Heart Is Like A Galaxy
Within My Spirit Flys
I've Felt This Way A Million Times
Please Don't Ask Me Why
The Question Of My Lifetime
And That's My Point Of View
They Say It All Was Karma

Call It Deja Vu/ Call It Deja Vu
Call It Deja Vu/ Call It Deja Vu
Call It Deja Vu

And I Can Feel This For Sure………..
If Hate Is On Your Mind And U Can't Give Love in Kind
If Anger Is Your Friend
Don't U Know When U Die You Will Come Back Again
In The Master's Plan, You Will Come Back Woman Or Man.
If Your Life Is Full Of Sin,
Don't U Know When U Die U Will Come Back Again!

I Thank God! I Thank God! I Thank God!
I Am Not Coming Back No More!!
I've Been Here Before.
I Thank God! I Thank God! I Thank God! (I Don't Want To Come Back No More!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Fought The Law

SONG I Fought The Law

WRITTEN BY Sonny Curtis

PERFORMED BY The Bobby Fuller Four/The Clash/many others, including Mike Ness, Bruce Springsteen and Green Day

APPEARS ON The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four/The Essential Clash

Outlaw songs are at least as old as popular music itself. The image of a gallant loner battling a rigid and unyielding legal establishment has proved irresistible for generations of songwriters. In 1959, Texan Sonny Curtis wrote one of the best, "I Fought The Law." Intended as a vehicle for himself and the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, their single went precisely nowhere.

The song lay fallow, as it were, until 1965, when fellow Texan Bobby Fuller took his turn at it. The Bobby Fuller Four version achieved Top Ten status, as well as additional notoriety when Fuller was found dead under mysterious circumstances later the following year, an apparent suicide. At that point, "I Fought The Law" might well have been relegated to oldies status, appearing every now and then on classic rock radio. No later than 1975, Bruce Springsteen performed the song occasionally as part of the oldies encore then a standard portion of his marathon shows. (I saw him sing it in 1975.)

The videos below include two performances by the Bobby Fuller Four. In the first, fetishistic cowgirl go-go dancers join the band, precursors to the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. In the second, a lone female dancer trapped behind a web of phallic prison bars hangs on to two of them and dances frantically, an icon of oppressed sexuality. At one point, an overweight uniformed prison guard mocks her while the band remains free, playing outside of the prison cell.

In 1976, "I Fought The Law" experienced an unlikely resurrection courtesy of The Clash. By increasing the tempo and volume considerably, The Clash turned "I Fought The Law" into a punk anthem. Their brilliant performance contrasted the rebellious punk whose perception of a dysfunctional, oppressive society eventually led to persecution by the establishment. The Clash's cover is easily the best version of the song, and it became almost de rigeur for punk bands to cover it. The videos below include versions by The Clash, Green Day, and Social Distortion's Mike Ness.

Lyrically uncomplicated, "I Fought The Law's" genius lies in the connection it makes with misunderstood and rebellious young people of all generations. The Clash, ironically, winds up speaking for the rebel in all of us, for we have all been young.
Breakin' rocks in the...hot sun
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won
I needed money 'cause I...had none
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won

I left my baby and I feel so bad
I guess my race is run
Well, she's the best girl I've ever had
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won

Robbin' people with a...six gun
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won
I miss my baby and the...good fun
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won

I left my baby and I feel so bad
I guess my race is run
Well, she's the best girl I've ever had
I fought the law and the...law won
I fought the law and the...law won
Hear the audio of the original song by Sonny Curtis and the Crickets here.

The Bobby Fuller Four (version #1):

Bobby Fuller (version #2):

Listen to a 1981 Bruce Springsteen rendition here.

The Clash perform the definitive version:

Green Day's outstanding interpretation:

Mike Ness of Social Distortion offers an interesting countrified version:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ronee Blakely: Dues


WRITTEN BY Ronee Blakely

PERFORMED BY Ronee Blakely

APPEARS ON Ronee Blakely (1972); Nashville: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1975)

When Ronee Blakely's character Barbara Jean sings "Dues," she provides the emotional epicenter of Robert Altman's film Nashville. Barbara Jean's heart-wrenching account of her tortured marriage connects with her fans at the same time that her preoccupied, insensitive husband remains oblivious. Hence the marvelous lines
It's the way that you don't love me
When you say that you do, baby
Better than almost any song I know, "Dues" depicts the anguish of a spouse who wants to leave the marriage almost as much as she wants to "love you the way I used to do." As much as she wants to "walk away from this battleground," what she'd sacrifice for ("I'd give a lot to love you") is to have things the way they were. Whipsawed between wanting to go and needing to stay, she's reduced to the plaintive entreaty of "how long must I pay these dues?" Sacrifice has become unbearable, too.

While consistent with Barbara Jean's character, Blakely's use of the vernacular also enables a universal expression of desperation: Fraught, complex, co-dependent relationships can and do happen to anyone. In that sense, "Dues" reaches out to anyone who knows deep down that their spouse has retreated so deeply into their "own private world" that they are "hidin'" their "blues" and "pretendin' what" they "say," to anyone in that fearsome place where communication is dead but the need to connect with that one person remains.

It's that careless disrespect
I can't take no more, baby
It's the way that you don't love me
When you say that you do, baby

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

You've got your own private world
I wouldn't have it no other way
But lately you've been hidin' your blues
Pretendin' what you say

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

Writin' it down kinda makes me feel better
Keeps me away from them blues
I want to be nice to you, treat you right
But how long can I pay these dues?

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good, no
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

Blakely's stunning performance of "Dues" begins about 2:00 into the video and lasts about 3:15:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Woody Guthrie: Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

SONG Deportees

WRITTEN BY Woody Guthrie

PERFORMED BY Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston

APPEARS ON The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie (1972)

NOTE This song, one of Guthrie's most memorable, has been covered many times. I couldn't find a version of Woody singing it, so I've included renditions by the Boston folk singer Antje Duvekot, Arlo Guthrie and Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

The agreement of 1947 [between Mexico and the U.S.]... contained a novel provision which established amnesty through deportation. Under its terms, undocumented Mexicans who were sent back across the border could return to the U.S. as temporary contract laborers; during the life of their contracts, they could not be again deported. In practice, employers often called Border Patrol stations to report their own undocumented employees, who were returned, momentarily, to border cities in Mexico, where they signed labor contracts with the same employers who had denounced them. This process became known as "drying out wetbacks" or "storm and drag immigration." "Drying out" provided a deportation-proof source of cheap seasonal labor...

Dick J. Reavis, Without Documents
Sometime during 1948, Woody Guthrie read an account of plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, California. The plane was returning anonymous undocumented migrant workers to California, human beings that the newspaper article identified only as "deportees." He then wrote his great song "Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" in which he humanized the dead migrants as only he could. To Guthrie, they are not merely deportees: They have names (Juan, Rosalita, Jesus, Maria) and families:
My father's own father, he waded that river
They took all the money he made in his life
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees
And they rode the truck till they took down and died
To Guthrie it is the "they" who took the money, who "chase us like outlaws," who are the anonymous ones, hiding behind legalisms to rob and exploit the migrants until there is nothing left but "dry leaves to rot on my topsoil." The use of the word "my" implicates all of us in the fate of the migrants, for it is we who eat "the good fruit."

Last week, I read this account of the customers at a Rocky Mount, NC drug store who couldn't afford all of their medications and as a result had to pick and choose. One two-time heart attack victim could not afford $160 anti-clotting medicine. A mother skips inhaler refills for her asthmatic son. A man passes on prescriptions for heart disease and emphysema. Reading the article brought to mind this verse from "Deportee":
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we cab grow our good fruit?
Surely, Rocky Mount is one of our American orchards and the people who live there are our good fruit, now deportees in their own land. And surely we -- their amigos, their fellow countryman -- can find a better way to care for them.


The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

The Boston-based folk singer Antje Duvekot sings the first version of "Deportee." BTW, Antje has an outstanding new CD called The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer.

Here, Woody's son Arlo and Emmylou Harris sing "Deportee." Emmylou's harmomy vocal is, as always, peerless:

Finally, here are Bob Dylan and Joan Baez from the 1976 Rolling Thunder Review tour:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Steve Earle: Mercenary Song

SONG Mercenary Song

WRITTEN BY Steve Earle


APPEARS ON Train a-Comin' (1995), Heartworn Highways (2006)

Story songs generally propagate the exploits of mythic figures or relate the adventures of larger-than-life characters. The story of John Henry is one of the oldest and most famous American story songs, one that school children still learn today. The fun thing about them is that they invite the listener to identify with the protagonist: Thus, for a few minutes, any of us can become a "steel drivin' man" stronger than anyone around.

Steve Earle's "Mercenary Song" combines the tradition of the story song with the masculine ideal of a laconic man who "does what he's best at" regardless of the danger or personal cost. In this case, the unnamed mercenary finds himself not only alienated from the comforts and familiarity of his home state of Georgia, but from his country as well ("Been called mercenaries and men with no country"). The unsavoriness of his profession will always make it difficult to "go back to Georgia" and "settle down quiet."

At the same time, there's an undeniable romantic lure to being "soldiers in search of a war." The pursuit takes the mercenary to exotic locales such as Durango, Mexico, and Chile, and allows him to rub shoulders with the likes of Pancho Villa. And, he's able to march to his own beat "under the flag of the greenback dollar or the peso down Mexico way." Earle sings "Mercenary Song" song with such skill that he evokes both the allure and fatalism of this sentiment, especially given the prior line "we'll fight for no country but we'll die for good pay."

"Mercenary Song" is one of the Steve Earle's first songs and remains one of his best. You can hear an early version on Heartworn Highways (recorded and filmed around 1980) or check out the version below on his outstanding album Train A-Comin'. Train was the first of a run of five superb albums released by Earle between 1995-2000, culminating in Transcendental Blues (2000), arguably his finest work.

Me and ol' Billy we both come from Georgia
Met Hank out in New Mexico
We're bound for Durango to join Pancho Villa
We hear that he's payin' in gold

I guess a man's got to do what he's best at
Ain't found nothin' better so far
Been called mercenaries and men with no country
Just soldiers in search of a war

And we're bound for the border
We're soldiers of fortune
And we'll fight for no country but we'll die for good pay
Under the flag of of the greenback dollar
Or the peso down Mexico way

When this war is over might go back to Georgia
And settle down quiet some where
I'll most likely pack up and head south for Chile
Heard tell there's some trouble down there

And we're bound for the border
We're soldiers of fortune
And we'll fight for no country but we'll die for good pay
Under the flag of of the greenback dollar
Or the peso down Mexico way

And we're bound for the border...