Seven things You Might Not Know About My (Musical) Taste
Clay Burell, was tagged for the Seven Things You Might Not Know About Me meme – but felt he had “been there/done that” with an Eight Things meme not too long back. So, he “fiddl[ed] with this one for the sake of self-pleasuring” (he really did say that) and gave “it a musical bent.”
He threatened to tag me, so I prepared, and frankly, I’m tired of waiting for Part II of his post. So, here is a big nudge from shores of Lake Michigan, Clay. You said something about jazz?
And just as a warning: this is a long post.
1. I love power pop. Because of this I want to invite Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe over for dinner. I have this dream of making food in my kitchen with these two men (and their wives/girlfriends if that was the only way to get them to visit). I envision some wine consumed in the process. Literate and clever, Costello can write cynically about mercenaries, lost loves, death, and “the mystery dance.” Costello’s song (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes is a favorite of mine, mixing longing, lust, holding on, letting go, and a bit of magic realism (perhaps – and then perhaps the angels are metaphoria) with those great guitars:
Oh I used to be disgusted
And now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain,
That’s when I knew that I could not refuse.
And I won’t get any older now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
I have yet to see Elvis Costello perform. [note – did finally see him in the summer of 2009 at Ravinia.] I thought I might once or twice in my life, but it never was in the cards. Right after college graduation my on again/off again boyfriend told me he had two tickets to Costello’s show at the Metro (I think – it was the tour with the wheel that Costello spun to determine set order.) For a moment I thought he might ask me to go with him, but what he really wanted to know is if I could see if *now famous actress* who I waited tables with might go with him. Just call me Helena.†
And then there is Mr. Lowe whose Cruel to be Kind was the big US hit, though my favorite is So It Goes from the album Jesus of Cool (the US title was Pure Pop for Now People).
Remember one night the kid cut off his right arm
In a bid to save a bit of power
He got fifty thousand watts
In a big acoustic tower
Security’s so tight tonight
Oh they’re ready for a tussle
Gotta keep your backstage passes
‘Cause your promoter had the muscle
And so it goes…
Lowe worked with Dave Edmunds (and Rockpile, a band I saw at the Riviera theater in Chicago in 1981 – In the Heart of the City) and between the three of these guys they pop/rocked my final years of college out to my first crummy jobs and failed romances. Costello again:
But it’s easier to say “I love you,”
than “Yours sincerely” I suppose
All little sisters like to try on big sister’s clothes
– from Big Sister’s Clothes on Trust
So, along with the rest of the college music gang – The late great Warren Zevon (crazy man musician whose music I adore – “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/I predict this motel will be standing/until I pay my bill” – he probably deserves his own annotation) Talking Heads, the Clash, the Police, the Ramones, and in my early Boston (town, not band) years – The Bangles, The Go-Gos – my faves still remain Costello, Lowe, Edmunds, Zevon, Squeeze, the Buzzcocks, and Marshall Crenshaw.
2. If I could perform one role and one role only on a stage somewhere sometime it would be Jenny in the Brecht/Weil Dreigroschenoper – The Three Penny Opera. The English translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett with those biting and excoriating lyrics. Solomon’s Song and the Pirate Jenny Revenge Song. When I was in college I worked on the production side of a student performance of this play. I didn’t audition because my boyfriend (yeah, same guy) told me that it was pointless as *now famous actress* was auditioning (same woman – it’s good that I’ve grown a backbone). So I worked with the producers and we performed the translation that we didn’t have the rights to perform. I just remember the finale of act I:
The world is poor and man’s a shit
and that is all there is to it.
And I still want to sing Jenny.
3. I have season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago but I only really like about half of what I hear. I love the opera when the singers sing together. Trios and duets and quartets. Even the big choral singing makes me a happy opera goer. I love a good aria. When my sister and I heard tenor Matthew Polenzani and soprano Dina Kuznetsova sing Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, we were brought to tears by his singing at the end of Act I. Sell my shoes, ’cause I’m already in heaven.
But when the sopranos sing AT each other (Die Frau ohne Schatten) or when there is no chemistry between the leads (Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly this season) it’s naptime up in the nosebleed seats for sure. My sister and I sit in the penultimate row of the last balcony. No pretensions at 300 feet. We laugh at Handel and the de capo aria style – heck we could trim those operas by hours – just stop with the reprise. We think that it’s like the singers say to themselves, “I had SO much fun singing that, I think I’ll do it again.”
When you get to the bottom you go back to the top of the slide… (Helter Skelter)
I just wish the audience has as much fun as the singers are having, but with Handel you at least know what you are getting.
4. I have a playlist on my iPod called Songs that Make Kate Cry.
This list is anchored by the late great Steve Goodman’s version of the Dutchman by Michael Smith. It’s a song about loving someone and doing the really hard things for the people that you love just because you love them:
The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes
His cap and coat are patched with love
That Margaret sewed in
Sometimes he thinks he’s still in Rotterdam
He watches tugboats down canals
And calls out to them when he thinks he knows the Captain
(and here is where I start to get a little misty)
‘Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he’s alone and calls her name (okay, it’s usually all over by this time)
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee
Long ago, I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
The windmills whirl the winter in
She winds his muffler tighter,
They sit in the kitchen
Some tea with whiskey keeps away the dew
He sees her for a moment, calls her name
She makes the bed up humming some old love song
She learned it when the tune was very new
He hums a line or two
They hum together in the night
The Dutchman falls asleep and Margaret blows the candle out. (This is a song about all those couples I knew when I was growing up – 60 years and longer together)
The list includes James Taylor (Fire and Rain – for absent friends gone from this earth)
Rascal Flatts (Skin – for my niece who at 22 has had too many cancers removed from her own skin and who shared the song with me)
Nancy Griffths (two of hers – Trouble in the Fields for growing up in one of the great square states and It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go – about the things that Belfast, Northern Ireland and Chicago have in common – featuring this killer bridge:
I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney and Cronkite and Martin Luther
I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can’t drive on the left side of the road
Wynona Judd (She is His Only Need – another song about loving someone so much you just can’t help yourself).
My daughters can always tell when I’ve been listening to that playlist; my face is all blotchy and it’s clear I’ve been crying. It’s important to have a cathartic cry now and then, and these songs will guarantee one for me. There is a song on there sung by our friend Jennifer Armstrong (of Belfast, Maine this time) about two sisters, Alice and Jesse.
Alice was married in Baltimore
in a long dress of satin and pearls,
Jesse she ran with a dark gypsy man
and he carried her over the world.
Songs about sisters will get me every time.
Well, he doesn’t make the “make me cry” list, but…
5. John Hiatt writes songs that are short stories and I love them (almost) all.
I first saw John Hiatt at the Park West in Chicago in 1986 or 87. Webb Wilder (Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ’em – the Webb Wilder Credo) was opening for him, and I was there on a date with a guy that I liked (Jeff), but not in THAT way. And John Hiatt destroyed me. He sang:
There’s a lipstick sunset
Smeared across the August sky
There’s a bitter sweet perfume
Hanging in the fields
The creek is running high
And I left my lover waiting
In the dawn somewhere to wonder why
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset
(Okay, so now he had my attention: Who is this guy?)
Well, a radio was playing
And that ol’ summer heat was on the rise
I just had to get away
Before some sad old song
Brought tears to my eyes
And lord I couldn’t tell her
That her love was only killing me (Geez, have I been in that relationship… )
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset
That’s a story and a half – and when he played Have a Little Faith in Me I just about wept:
Well, I’ve been loving you for such a long time girl
Expecting nothing in return
Just for you to have a little faith in me
You see time, time is our friend
cause for us there is no end
And all you gotta do is have a little faith in me
I said I will hold you up, I will hold you up
Your love gives me strength enough
So have a little faith in me
And then I discover that the bass player on the album that I just had to run out and buy (Bring the Family) is Nick Lowe (see item 1); I was in love (with Hiatt – not Jeff, sorry). He’s another man I’d love to have join me in the kitchen to make food, drink adult beverages, and talk…and sing Icy Blue Heart together – I promise I’ll take the high harmonies:
These days we all play cool calm and collected
Our lips could turn blue just shooting the breeze,
But under the frost, he thought he detected
A warm blush of red, and the touch of her knee.
He said you’re a beauty like I’ve never witnessed,
And I’ve seen the northern lights dance in the air
I’ve felt the cold that can follow the first kiss
And there’s not enough heat in the fires burning there
To melt your icy blue heart
Should I start
To turn what’s been frozen for years
Into a river of tears
So, not all his songs are melancholy; some are straight out of a Flannery O’Connor short story. I keep waiting to see Tom T. Shiftlet appear. There is the story about Trudy and Dave (they shot up an automatic teller machine/got the money for the laundry/ and they drove away clean), a couple shaking off Nashville and going to Memphis in the Meantime (put the cow horns back on the Cadillac and change the message on the Codaphone) the birth of a baby girl Georgia Rae (lucky for you child/you look like your mama), and the man wondering what has happened to an old love (I’m sitting on the toilet/With my sunglasses on/ Wondering what you are up to/This hotel’s got bathroom telephones/But I don’t want to interrupt you.)
John Hiatt is actually the reason that I am teaching. We’ve seen him a number of times since that first concert, and once when he was playing at the Park West again, I realized that he was having the kind of fun I wanted to have when I was at work. So, here I am…
6. I have a thing for Sufi mystics – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and others– Hypnotic, sensual, spiritual, visceral. Considered the best qawwali singer of his generation, this man’s music captivates me. I don’t understand a word that he is singing. I don’t have to. I just let it wash over me, surround me, embrace me. This is music for meditation, action, motion, stillness, seduction, connection, transcendence.
(See my blog title to confirm my fascination with Sufis- Rumi also speaks to me of love and perception.)
7. My country roots show more often than my grey ones.
I grew up in Brookings, SD and the music that was played on KBRK was not exactly top 40. But the singers and songwriters that we heard everyday stick with me; I can’t turn my back on them. I don’t listen to them actively, but I can’t write them off:
George Jones (There Goes My Everything)
Tammy Wynette (D.I.V.O.R.C.E.; Stand By Your Man)
Roger Miller (King of the Road; Chug-a-lug; Dang Me)
Eddie Arnold (Tumbling Tumbleweeds)
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner (The Last Thing on My Mind)
Buck Owens (Act Naturally)
Glen Campbell (By the Time I Get to Phoenix; Dreams of the Every Day Housewife)
Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty (Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man)
Jim Reeves (Scarlet Ribbons)
Patsy Cline (I Fall to Pieces; Crazy; Back in Baby’s Arms)
Dusty Springfield (Son of a Preacherman)
Maybe it is because this music is so singable. I’ve mentioned that there are at least three men on this list that I would like to have join me in the kitchen, and perhaps that is because the kitchen is the place to sing as well as make food. Strong memories for me are improvising in the kitchen with my sister and cousins – improvising food preparation and close harmonies.
So to Liz, Molly, Katy, Susan, Trish and occasionally my brother Matt, I send a huzzah. Imagine if you will, six women, up to their elbows in cooking food for fifty family members (it’s a reunion) singing Carter family songs. I can hear it in my head. Keep on the Sunny Side and Down to the River to Pray are there, followed by other river songs (Shall We Gather at the River, By The Waters of Babylon). It’s religious, but not in a churchy way – religious in the way that the Kami appear, that the spirit/s of the space and connection makes the tears in our eyes the fault of more than a strong onion, although it’s nice to have an onion around to blame them on.
So because I can’t seem to get away from my roots in music, you can find on my iPod Dusty Springfield, Sugarland (Something More), Little Big Town (Boondocks), Patsy Cline, and some folks like Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers. There is no escape.
I could go on and on and on. From here the melody leads to these places:
8. Warren Zevon,
9. Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter
10. Miles Davis – Kinda Blue
11. Weather Report
12. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker
13. Leonard Cohen
Well, Clay – thanks for the threat of a tag. This is sort of an epic post and I should probably break it into parts. Perhaps I will. I tag:
Matt Tabor – if he only had a blog – (strong hint)
†Gratuitous Literary Reference: Helena to Demetrius is A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love, —
And yet a place of high respect with me, —
Than to be used as you use your dog? (II i 203-10)
Elvis Costello photo by flickr member sick of goodbyes
Three Penny Opera photo by flickr member Xena Paradox aka Margaret Hart
Steve Goodman in 1983 photo by flickr member dgans
Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith by fickr member kubacheck
Photo of John Hiatt, with (from right) Guy Clark, Joe Ely, JH, & Lyle Lovett at the Paramount, Austin TX, 2008 by flickr member dremiel
Photo of Abida Parveen taken in Oslo in 2007 by flick member tore_urnes