Fast Cars

fast_cars-pics 2

Fast Car.

I was thinking, this morning, as the lyrics “You got a fast car / I want a ticket to anywhere / Maybe we make a deal / Maybe together we can get somewhere…” cycled in my head, that this song on Tracy Chapman’s eponymous first album was released in the 90’s, during the height of the Lilith Fair movement. But I looked it up and it was actually a product of the 80’s.  1988.  Goes to show how consumed my sleeping brain is to the music of that decade.  Even the songs that had no impact on me at the time come back to hound me.

I never had any strong feelings one way or the other about Tracy Chapman. I found this song pleasant enough; I could pick up on a yearning in her vocal delivery, a longing in the strumming of the chords. She reminded me of Joan Armatrading, who I came to appreciate around that same time, along with Joni Mitchell (way late to the game on both). Joan and Joni were my gateway female singer-songwriters to later artists like Suzanne Vega and Aimee Mann, who I connected with more naturally, finding their quirky, awkward personalities oddly charming. Maybe it was an issue of accessibility. I felt I understood, lyrically, what Vega and Mann (sounds like a buddy-cop TV show) were getting at.  Issues of loneliness and heartbreak. Mitchell and Armatrading wrote about pain and emptiness too, but their words required a bit more attention to pick up on the layers.  I don’t want to say more poetic, because Suzanne Vega may be the most accomplished poet of the bunch, so I’m guessing maybe it is a generational thing. Armatrading and Mitchell came to their artistry in the 60’s, Vega and Mann in the 70’s and 80’s.  Even as I write this, the argument not fully realized, my mind wanders (wonders) to how true it is that we tend to relate more to artists closer to our generation.  Our collective cultural memories more aligned or something like that.

The argument against this idea is Tracy Chapman.  She is 50, Aimee Mann is 54 and Suzanne Vega is 55.  So Tracy Chapman is closer to my age than either Aimee Mann or Suzanne Vega.  Yet, her music, to me, feels more connected to the 60’s and early 70’s than either Vega or Mann.  It could simply be that Mann and Vega have stayed around longer in the musical landscape – at least my musical landscape – and so didn’t get stuck in the 80’s, where they first appeared.  And the evolution of their sound can be tracked in their oeuvre.  Tracy Chapman, though still releasing new music every few years, still evokes that sensitive singer songwriter vibe that hasn’t aged along with me. It’s less a critique and more of an amazement that a song that mattered/matters so little to me became an ear worm.

I am thinking that this song popped in my head because it was angry with me. You see, just a couple weeks ago, my podcast co-host, Colin Sjostedt, and I recorded an episode with Cars as the subject matter.  We played excerpts of songs about cars, about the highway, about racing, as well as clips from TV shows and movies where cars were featured.  We stayed away from the obvious choices for the most part, except where the obvious really did have a strong impact on us. The other song that I didn’t get a chance to include in the podcast was Rush’s Red Barchetta.  I try to put a reference to Rush in every post if I can so there it is.

Cartoons like Speed Racer were a regular part of my early childhood; I’d watch the show religiously every Saturday morning. I may be jumbling together memories from different years, but in my head I would watch Speed Racer and then right after, Popeye & Friends would air and I’d plop in front of the 13″ TV in the living room and watch all two hours of the morning kids’ show.  It was hosted by Tom Hatton, who would introduce each Popeye episode, often drawing images of Popeye’s round face and corncob pipe on an easel.  And I loved the Smokey and Bandit movies and even Cannonball Run. Colin discussed his love for Night Rider, Gary Numan and of course the band who may have inspired the subject matter, The Cars.

Come check it the podcast and let me know what songs about cars are your favorites.

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Getting Your Groove Back

When you are childless, your pets become your children.

And I know it’s not the same thing; lots of parents of humans like to remind me of that.  But even if you are not childless, your pets can be like your children. It’s just too bad that they usually only live to be the age of a child or teen.

All creatures have a life span, but it feels like such a raw deal that dogs are old at 10 or 11 years.  Maybe it is related to being born as part of a litter.  I dunno.  Are elephants part of a litter?  I’m trying to think of an animal that lives a long time, and how much that is due to the length of pregnancy, the size of the litter, and how propagating the species is.  I’m no scientist, but it seems that elephants and tortoises live long lives and they are more or less, slow moving and deliberate; and other creatures and insects that have huge litters tend to be fast moving (fleas, bats) with shorter gestational periods.

Contemplating these theories, based on no research and zero scientific knowledge, is what distracts me from dwelling on the fact that I have two dogs and they are both nearing the end of their journeys (though Cassie at a month shy of 13 still acts like a crazy puppy a lot of the time).

Today, though, I’ve been focused on my sick canine Stella, who is suffering from a mast cell tumor on her right forearm that has suddenly gone apeshit and turned her entire leg into a stay puff marshmallow.  It’s 3 times the size of the other front leg and she can’t put any weight on it.  I’ll spare you the boring, gory details, but watching her struggle to change position on her dog bed, not being able to get up to go pee in the yard or bark at the UPS trucks or the other dogs walking by the house is tough.

I just found this video this morning – what an awesome song!

What I love about dogs is how present they are. They don’t lay on the couch, worrying about their aches and pains, whether the other neighborhood dogs like them. Fretting because they had barked at Fifi across the road thinking she was another dog and now are convinced she won’t sniff butts with them anymore.

And when I’m feeling down or anxious, my dogs will always pick up on it and lick my face, or more realistically, just bother me to the point of me forgetting what I was worried about. It’s all part of their amazing ability to turn every moment into an opportunity for a treat. And so, for now, until she recovers, I bring Stella her food and her treats to her place on the dog bed and force her to listen to me search through YouTube for songs and videos about dogs.

I’m reading a book right now called Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 80’s. I heard about it on the Sound Opinions podcast and being a fanatic for 80’s New Wave, I had to get the book.  I just started reading it today and the first chapter is all about Adam and the Ants.  I’m a huge fan of Adam and his second album, “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” is still one of my favorites from the New Wave pantheon.

I remember seeing the music video for Dog Eat Dog in the early days of MTV, though I must’ve viewed it somewhere else because the album came out in 1980 and MTV started in 1981, but maybe it was MTV.

At that time, I was still slowly opening up to music other than hard rock.  I was 14 and my walls were covered with posters of Rush and Van Halen and Led Zeppelin.  But then, one fateful day, I read an interview with Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, in Creem magazine and he said that the music he was most excited about was coming out of the New Wave movement.  He talked about Devo and Talking Heads and Ultravox and then Adam and the Ants. I remembered, just starting high school, and seeing the 11th and 12th graders, and they looked scary to me, with their mohawks and black eyeliner and black lipstick, their black denim jackets adorned with Devo and 999 and Dead Kennedys patches. I was leery but so intrigued by this strange music, this bizarre fashion, this gender bending culture. I remember distinctly going to Tempo records on Reseda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, I must’ve been 14 or 15, and asking the guy behind the counter what new music would blow my mind.  He asked me what I liked, and I lied and said “Talking Heads, Devo.” He thought it over for a minute then said to me, “I know two albums that you have got to hear.  The first is by this band called The Violent Femmes.  They just released their second album, ‘Hallowed Ground’, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. When you get home, play the song Black Girls.”

The other album he recommended was the debut album by the Hoodoo Gurus, “Stoneage Romeos.”  I bought both of these albums and raced home to put them on my turntable.  I must’ve played each of them 20 times that first week.  At first I didn’t know how to process this strange music. The Violent Femmes album in particular took some getting used to.  It had an odd mix of strange instruments — saxophone, banjo, standup bass, jews harp, and much more. The lyrics were about religion and sex, violence and redemption. But the record store clerk was right, it didn’t just blow my mind, it expanded my mind and I had to find out more about this new wave of music out there.

We didn’t have MTV at our house, but my friend Marc Cribari had it at his, and we’d race back to his place after school and check out the newest music videos. We both became enthralled with bands such as The Fixx and Split Enz and even came to appreciate the keyboard heavy bands like Depeche Mode and Human League.  And then we saw Adam and the Ants playing the song “Dog Eat Dog” and I was like, “What the hell is this?”  It wasn’t like any of the other New Wave stuff, it didn’t have keyboards and it wasn’t atmospheric. And it wasn’t hard rock either.  It was propulsive and had thick tribal drumming. The band wore pirate outfits and makeup and the lead singer, Adam Ant, wore Native American face makeup and wore an elaborately designed jacket that would eventually lead Michael Jackson to emulate the style for his Thriller album. This tribal, percussion heavy style would become more popular in the New Wave era with bands like Bow Wow Wow (using the same band members as Adam Ant) and even Haircut 100 used a lot of percussion on their debut album.

It’s a bit of a stretch, this link.  Also this transition back to dogs.

I’m hoping that my Stella will get her groove back soon, that this condition she’s in is temporary. But if the medications don’t do the trick fast enough, I’m thinking maybe I can invite Taye Diggs over to the house and he will be able to cure what ails Stella with his wily, groovy charms.

Stay – I Missed You

So the songs in my head aren’t always songs I particularly like. In fact, the more I don’t like a song, the more likely it will appear in my head, soundtracking my dreams, continuing on when I wake up suddenly, keeping me from falling back asleep. Often they are modern pop songs that do this to me, like that Rebecca Black “Friday” song that was all the rage 4 or 5 years ago.  Or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

Sometimes it’ll be a song that was ubiquitous at a particular time in my life, most likely during my 20’s.  Madonna’s “Holiday” had been known to cycle through the noggin’ around 5am. Then, for a while it was replaced by “La Isla Bonita” then “Live To Tell” then back to “Holiday.”

This morning it was Lisa Loeb’s “Stay.”  Back in the summer of 1994, when the movie Reality Bites came out, that song was everywhere. I think it was sung by the actors in the movie, no? I’m too lazy to look it up. The music video was played every hour on MTV, it seemed, and I found that video so annoying.  The way it would start with a close up of a cat on a chair by a window in an apartment, looking like it wanted to jump out and escape the film crew and the lights and that girl with the tortoise shell horn-rimmed glasses.  And the whole video is Lisa Loeb walking around an apartment. Boring!

I think it was the apartment used in the movie, but maybe I’m making that up.  Someone feel free to correct me if you know. And then at the end she opens a heavy door and goes outside. Where? On a balcony? A ledge? Is it supposed to signify leaving? She keeps demanding you to stay and then she goes and leaves?  Typical.

I actually did think Lisa Loeb was cute – I definitely have/had a weakness for women who wear glasses, but I hated that song. I hated the sound of the guitar, all the pauses between the lines of the song. It’s barely over 3 minutes long but it felt interminable. I’m a sucker for a sappy love song, but this one was cloying and overly precious.

The movie though. Reality Bites I loved.  It was my first exposure to Ben Stiller, who also directed the film.  It also starred Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke and Janeane Garafolo. All of them uniformly excellent. i was 27 at the time and I thought the film created a believable scenario where Winona’s character (Leilana) was atttracted to both a passionate (i.e. emotionally draining, alcoholic) slacker musician (Hawke) as well as the more level-headed, professional man (Stiller) who’s, shall we say, less (pop) culturally aware (i.e. boring, doesn’t understand angst).  In the movie, she eventually chooses Hawke’s greasy-haired emoting over Stiller’s more stable, financially secure pleading. I think we, the audience, were supposed to think she made the right choice, but I thought Stiller would have been a better fit.  Probably because I related to him more than Ethan’s character.  His emotionally manipulative artsy boy-man schtick wore thin for me.  Boohoo you had a hard life, a broken home, etc. Write a song about it and move on.

And like all 20’s something heterosexual guys of that age, we all had crushes on Winona Ryder.  Developed them the first time we saw Beetlejuice, and it carried on through Heathers and Edward Scissorhands. Winona always played the brooding, whip-smart, artistic, nerdy girl who, we imagined, would fall for guys like us if the timing was right. We understood her, we would listen to her tell us her dreams and desires all night long and never make a move on her because that would be self-serving and awkward.

And that is why it was so hard to accept that Leilana would pick the brooding rocker over the nice guy with a job. It was as if she chose against us. It was the Pretty in Pink scenario 7 years later. We all wanted Molly Ringwald’s Andie to choose Ducky, to not be like all the other girls who always chose the tall, good-looking boys over the awkward and shy geeks. We were convinced she was different, that we had a chance, that there was hope. And then right when we think our comrade Ducky is going to get the girl, Andrew McCarthy, the suave rich kid, sees the error of his ways, apologizes to Andie and they ride off into the sunset. And with Ducky’s blessing too, which felt like kicking us when we were down.

Which brings me back to Lisa Loeb. Like Winona Ryder’s Leilana, like Molly Ringwald Andie, Lisa Loeb was the musical equivalent. We wanted to think she was different, that she’s more than just another girl who’s going to pick the rock star boyfriend. A few years later she marries rock star Dweezil Zappa.

12 years later, newly divorced Lisa Loeb would star in a reality TV show called “Number One Single,” a dating show to help her find true love at 38.  There’s a message in there somewhere.

The Ghosts In Us

Yet another New Wave classic fills my early morning brain, this time by one of the more successful bands of the early 80’s, The Psychedelic Furs.  Of course John Hughes had something to do with their success, naming one of his most popular films after their song Pretty In Pink, but I would like to think they would have stayed culturally and musically relevant even without their movie soundtrack work (“Love My Way” was in the movie Valley Girl).

I’ve always liked Richard Butler’s voice; he sounds like no one else in rock. It’s got sort of a nasally whine, and seems like it gets stuck in the throat, but it’s emotive and snarly, with his British accent not hidden from view, but not necessarily up front like Robyn Hitchcock or Ray Davies. There’s no mistaking a Psychedelic Furs song when Butler’s mid-range warble comes through the stereo.

I didn’t know many of the lyrics to “The Ghost in You” very well, which makes it an interesting choice for a ear worm.  It’s the advantage of some of the more persistent ear worms, because instead of the entire song circling around, a line or a chorus gets stuck on repeat instead.  This time it was the lines “Inside you, the time moves, and she don’t fade…The ghost in you, she don’t fade.”

There’s a plaintive quality to this song, it’s a ballad of sorts, but was it ever played as a slow song at a high-school dance? My fuzzy memory obfuscates being able to reference any of the dances I’d attended; I only remember the heavy-metal ballads from the dances — Scorpions’ “Still Lovin’ You” and Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” — though I was definitely not doing any dancing and more than likely was behind the school gym, smoking pot with the other stoner nerds, waiting for our buddies whose girlfriends had dragged them to the dance floor because they “fucking love this song!! Dance with me!!!”

What I do remember dancing to, near the end of one particular dance, after we were sufficiently stoned and most of the girls had left with their boyfriends to, we imagined, make out in a car somewhere, was The B52’s “Rock Lobster.” An awkward mass of pimply boys flailing around with high abandon, all of us moving “down, down, down” in messy union as Fred Schneider intoned us to follow his lyrical orders.  And then we’d all jump up in a burst as the guitars kicked back in and Fred warned us to look out for the “stingray” and the “manta ray”, the “jellyfish” and the “dog fish.” To this day, hearing “Rock Lobster” turns me into a dancing fool; it can wash away any mental anguish, any lethargy, any depression.  That is the power of song.

And it doesn’t matter so much what the lyrics are about, if they make sense, if there is a noticeable story. I looked up the lyrics to “Ghost in You” and I’ve read through them a few times and I have no clue what the words mean.  It’s evocative, it’s poetic. It’s borderline sappy. I read it the first time and thought maybe it was a love song. And then I read it again and it evokes religious overtones.  Is it about God?  Then I read it again and see it as perhaps an ode to a dead lover.  Are there songs that do that for you? That inspire new meanings the more you listen to them?

I rarely look back at songs and dissect the lyrics; I love words, but for pop songs, it’s the music that matters most to me.  The lyrics could be about washing dishes, but if it has a catchy melody, I’ll sing along and more than likely, make up most of the words anyway….

A man in my shoes runs a light
And all the papers lied tonight
But falling over you
Is the news of the day

Angels fall like rain
And love, love, love is all of Heaven away

Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade
The ghost in you, she don’t fade
Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade

A race is on I’m on your side
And hearing you my engines die
I’m in a mood for you
For running away

Stars come down in you
And love, love, love you can’t give it away

Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade
The ghost in you, she don’t fade
Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade

Don’t you go it makes no sense
When all your talking supermen
Just take away the time
And get in the way

Ain’t it just like rain
And love, love, love is only Heaven away

Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade
The ghost in you, she don’t fade
Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade
The ghost in you, she don’t fade

 

Fathers and Sons

I don’t know what it is about the 70’s and songs about sons and fathers, but I guess it must be a requirement for admission into the sensitive singer-songwriter club, of which Dan Fogelberg is club President.  Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, James Taylor, Cat Stevens:  all have lifetime memberships.  These classics can cover the gamut from the son who realizes later in life that his father made him into the man he is today (Cats in the Cradle), and odes to fathers that just don’t know how to let their sons grow up to be their own man (Father and Son).

Leader of the Band, Father and Son and Cats in the Cradle — when I hear any of those songs, it gets me every time.  When they come on the radio unexpected, I have to be alone in the car or I must change the station.  Within seconds of hearing the song’s minor chords or the plaintive strains of voice melding with acoustic guitar, my eyes will start to swell with tears and I don’t want to have to explain to my wife, or my coworker or whoever is sitting next to me, why I am blubbering.  Was this always the case? Is this reaction because of nostalgia?  Do any people under the age of 40 get affected by these songs?  Or is it just gag-inducing pabulum to them?  Maybe it’s a combination of the age I was when I first heard these songs, combined with being middle-aged, with my own father now in his twilight years.  When I was a teenager and up through my 20’s, these soft-rock songs from my parents generation seemed hokey and melodramatic.  Punk rock and new wave and heavy metal were what spoke to me.

Yet –yet, I can remember a few songs sneaking through the cracks in the walls that a teenager and younger person builds up at that age.  Some songs, no matter how corny or cliché tug at the heartstrings and no matter how manipulative it seems, you find yourself singing along and getting swept up in the emotions.

It was Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band that I awoke with,  but I don’t remember having any dreams about my dad. Not that the soundtrack to my early morning has to correlate to my dream-state, but often it does. One benefit of deconstructing the SIMH is that it can sometimes reveal things that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.  I think I’m just documenting the songs that get caught, getting them down on the page,  but by create stories out of my over-active mind, the endless loop of song that plays 24/7, I’m able to turn a slight mental condition into a bottomless blog source.

What I’d like to know, is, what songs about Fathers or Mothers impact/ed you when you were younger, do they still impact you today, are there new songs that have that same impact, that can turn you into a blubbering puddle in the middle of the shopping mall? Do muzak versions of the song trigger the same reaction?  Or does it have to be the original?

And what about songs about Mothers and Daughters? None come to mind, but I’m sure there are lots of great ones.  And Mothers and Sons (Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon comes to mind) or Fathers and Daughters?

I can see how some songs that are lyrically vague might work to represent a parent and a child relationship, but I’m more interested in songs that are definitely about the parent/child  bond (or lack thereof).

Who are the sensitive singer songwriters of today? And can only younger people answer this question, because songs like this have to be part of ones formative years?