Thursday, 26 March 2015

Mortality Sin

"I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown

At some point (points, the odds are) along the very short-lived journey between his two darknesses, a fellow is going to feel lonely and sad, but he must make use of it (them). Today started fine, but got sad pretty quickly: In a few minor, pathetically fallacious gestures, I opened the curtains and blinds to a gloomy damp day that I already knew was out there. The Internet and TV news had already informed me that almost one-hundred-and-fifty na├»ve customers of air travel had perished (had met their second darkness with almost no warning) when they had been slammed into a French mountain by a crazy airline pilot. They were on a plane that had been "pulverized," so you can imagine how they ended up. You never want your second darkness to be violently entered into, but, Jesus, does that happen to too many people or what? Every day, everywhere, violent phenomena crush the life out of so many people, so why should this most recent current event have bothered me so much? It reminded me (I think, I guess) that death is an insatiable and unacceptably careless motherfucker. Its cancer claws, its heart-attack jolts, its whooshing bloodlust for everything that isn't nailed to the floor (of which nothing is, it should go without saying) will not be denied, not nohow, not nowhere, not at no time. It's hard enough when someone you love disappears, but when the loss is as sudden and sad as a loved one being smashed to bits directly and immediately because of someone else's diseased brain -- well, you can't help but start thinking about a tall pile of unanswerable questions.

At times like this, you need a cheerful song, a song with sugar, with spice.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Something Instead Of Nothing

"Harvest" as performed by Rufus Wainwright and Chris Stills

A lot of the lyrics don't make a lot of sense, but you gotta give credit where it's due: Dream up, dream up/Let me fill your cup/With the promise of a man is some awfully nice recombinant concision. The song is what I imagine a serenade is, full of hope and sadness and delivered from a place you can't see. I have no idea who is being serenaded, but I do know that the two beautiful human voices on this version are your heart's enemy (they break it mercilessly for three solid minutes and then some), but your brain's pal (they help it understand why evolution might have come up with lungs and tongues and teeth and larynges and vibrating membranes inside the dark safety of our bodies).

(No disrespect to Chris Stills, who is perfect in this number, but whenever I hear Rufus Wainwright sing, I want to bring him home and take care of him until one of us dies.)

Just Because

"Man and Dog" by Loudon Wainwright III
This old pro is still so funny and tuneful and still so bluntly clever, and this song and video prove it. Just enjoy the two of them teaming up to make you feel better. Your blues don't stand a chance.

Monday, 16 March 2015


"I'll Change My Style" as performed by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

There are some really nice versions of this little gem, but this one is my first heard and favourite. It's all soulful twang and gravelly yearning and bluesy hope. I love it when a good player so precisely punctuates a good singer, and it's especially fun when singer and player are the same person. I first heard Mr. Thorogood and his Destructive pals nail this song back in the mid-1970s, when I was a lot younger, and the fact that I still love it lessens my unease about at least some of what's happened between then and now.

Also back then, I heard this song performed in a bar by the great Canadian blues band Downchild. I couldn't find their version online, but I remember that their saxophonist, who also occasionally sang back-up, took the lead vocal and that their lead guitar guy killed his part. It's a great slow dancing number, but I also remember that instead of dancing, a lovely girl I had known for a while and I started trading goofy smiles and longing looks with each other at the table while everyone else was dancing (I was too shy to ask her on to the floor). Later on, we shared some soulful kisses. Eventually our styles clashed. I mean, c'mon -- how do people really change their heartbeats, or their walks, or their talks? That stuff only happens in songs, which I guess is why we listen to them.

I don't miss that girl, but I sure do miss how she made me feel forty years ago.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Maybe Some People Don't Die

"Pride and Joy" by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Of course, like anyone who hears this, I love the lunch-bucket blues of the drummer and the bassist and the lyrics and the singer, the last of whom also plays the guitar, which is the real star of the song, the real pride and joy, the real ass-and-limb mover: it's so warm and fleshy (those pulsing chords sound like they're strumming themselves) and twitchy (the picking follows the code but throws in its own delightful tics). Since I can't hear any other instruments, I'm assuming the players comprise only a trio, but because of that guitar, they sound like a much bigger outfit.

Stevie Ray (some people don't need a surname) probably wrote this song to and for and about a woman, but if you get hypnotized by all those electrified, magical strings, you could be forgiven for fancying the idea that he wrote it to and for and about them. (I used to be in love with a typewriter, so I vote for the ode-to-a-guitar reading.)

Stevie Ray Vaughan has been dead for almost twenty-five years, but this number makes you think that historical fact can't be right. (He's dead? What am I talking about? I just heard him. I just heard "Pride and Joy.")

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

I Love

"I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen

How do you injure yourself when you're asleep? Towards my most recent dawn, when, in the interests of urinary continence, I awoke from a fairly disturbing dream (there was self-defending violence, and a guy I know -- a friend, actually -- and, in disguise, other people I know, and other typically REM-ish nonsense), I realized that I had managed to do just that. As I stumbled to the can, I really did stumble to it: why did my right knee hurt so much? It hadn't done so at all when I went to bed. Dreams can hurt you, but recovery time is usually pretty short (a minute or an hour or two, sometimes a week or so, nothing ever really serious), but that's just your spirit they're beating up on, and your spirit is a fucking wimp. How the fuck do you hurt your fucking knee (a real thing) while you're in bed (in bed alone)? I guess it's just one more mystery of the many I'm discovering as I get older. I'm no longer hobbled, but my right knee still doesn't feel right some eighteen hours later.

Pretty funny, huh? Even before I'd finished in the bathroom, I was laughing and remembering Leonard Cohen's great line about aching in the places where he used to play. I couldn't remember which of his many brilliant songs contained it, but later on in the day, after I had spent some time with my shiny new grandson (fed him, burped him, was spat up on by him, loved him even more than I had in our previous encounters -- the future looks good), I discovered it in "Tower of Song," which is a great song, but a sad and rueful one, and I needed a more hopeful Leonard Cohen song, what with my mysteriously sore knee and the optimism running through my blood because of my shiny new grandson's shiny new life. 

Therefore, because it's so full of hope, and because it's so simple, and so complicated, and because it's such beautifully compressed poetry, and because the band's performance understands all that, and because I don't understand women or babies, both of whom have the power and the ability to knee me in the gut, I give you Leonard Cohen, a really spectacular love poet, singing "I'm Your Man."