September 2008

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Software Recommendation

Over at Unfogged, there was a discussion that included some advice about media players.

Based on that I have started using Foobar and hear a significant improvement.

I’ve been a fan of Warren Zevon for a long time, since I heard “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” on the radio in High School. I like music that sits on the line between well crafted pop and parodies of pop music, and Zevon has written a number of songs that fall into that category.

That layer of parody can, however, seem distancing. I frequently feel, listening to Warren Zevon, like he’s extremely committed to the song, but that he isn’t necessarily committed to communicating emotion to the audience; that part of how his songs work is that he performs them in a way that leaves ambiguity in relationship between the song and the audience.

That was why I was so surprised to hear this live version of Hasten Down The Wind (which some of you will already have on my rock mix; 5th on the linked list).

That track starts with an introduction that is astonishingly emotional and in which he almost apologizes for the song. And then, either still caught in the emotion, or freed by the apology, he gives a amazing performance that highlights all of the emotion in the song, and all of it’s bitterness, unhappiness, and sexist clich├ęs. It exposes a side of him as a songwriter and performer that is mostly hidden, and I find it moving. The introduction is very raw and seems sincere. Particularly for a performer who often seems as controlled as Warren Zevon does.

It makes me unsure of whether I like the song any more — it’s obviously deeply sexist, but it also makes clear, in some way, why it’s hard to break into the songwriting business. It’s a really blatantly well written song, every line is crafted. You can understand why he was able to sell it and, if that’s level of competition, why it’s hard to sell songs.

Edit: I think Ben is correct in comments that I overstate the sexism of the song. I think the performance presents the male character in the song expressing bitterness in ways that borrow from sexist tropes but, on reflection, I’m convinced the song is smarter than that.

I realized last night, that I haven’t posted any Prince; and that I am very fond of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. Thinking about it, it’s a good follow-up to “A Quick One While He’s Away.”

Both songs are written by artists that don’t have a reputation for subtlety, but that manage to describe a somewhat complicated emotional situation in satisfying and reasonable ways. Neither tries for particular subtlety, or to really explore the emotions but both have, as I said, a basic sanity to their vision.

In addition, it’s just a fantastic pop song. Even if you don’t listen to the words, it’s one of Prince’s better songs, and a legitimate pop classic.

More Monterey

I saw the Monterey Pop Festival film years ago, and my impression was of it as one of the great concert films. Despite that, I hadn’t gone back and watched/listened to it since. I was reminded of it recently because commenter RS got a copy of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival. Talking with him, I’m surprised at fresh the movie is in my memory, and that’s inspired me to listen to the music which I greatly enjoy despite the occasional limitations of the recording.

The Otis Redding cover of “Satisfaction” below, is from that performance.

All of which is a long introduction to the fact that watching The Who perform A Quick One While He’s Away in the firm was one of the experiences that made me really appreciate The Who — well before I heard anything from Live At Leads.
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Here’s something that was previous given to me as a birthday present: Zumpano playing Rosecrans Boulevard off their first album Look What The Rookie Did.

A nice, solid, clever bit of indie pop. It’s a song about a crazy ex, but the bite in the song is more that of a smart witty song, than bitterness. The mood seems to be appreciating the humor and good parts of a clearly bad relationship.

I like the line (from memory, I’ll update later) about “The way she’d drive her little car at three in the morning, doing ninety miles an hour in a thirty mile zone and blame me when she got a ticket.”

He’s not annoyed, exactly, as still incredulous that he was involved with her in the first place.

Tomorrow is my Birthday, so for today something out of “profound affection” files.

I love the Pretenders (or, specifically, their first and third albums which are they consensus best). They’re a great band and Chrissie Hynde’s performance and songwriting is exceptional. She manages to hit a specific zone of being brash, confident, aggressive, and still subtle that is really unusual. I’ve previously written that Patti Smith’s “Gloria” has to be one of the most assertive opening tracks from a debut album ever, but “Precious” has to be on the list as well.

That said, and noting that their debut album combines all of those virtues with a sense of urgency and risk that you would hope for from a first album, their third album Learning To Crawl is my favorite. I think Chrissie Hynde has matured as a songwrite on that album, and I appreciate that she’s able to do moods other than just brash.

For example, Thumbelina always makes me happy when I listen to it. A song about driving cross-country with a small child, it has a very nice mix of emotions; tenderness towards the child, and also just focused on driving, and trying to get the child to return to sleeping. It’s not really a slow or quite song, but the emotion feels sincere, and I just smile at the slight honky-tonk rhythm.

More Covers

Three covers of “Satisfaction” each of them great in very different ways (in chronological order).

Otis Redding just uses the song as a vehicle, but is worth of inclusion for an absolutely scorching performance. It’s fun to hear him, after the song, trying to introduce the next song, and how out of breath he is. It is a completely physical performance. He’s not trying to communicate an idea, he’s just putting out as much energy as he can. Just look at him.

The other two covers both resist the original song, and are more targeted at the head than the body. The Devo cover is one of my favorite Devo songs because it combines solid musicianship with the full realization of their schtick “whatever ‘popuilar’ means, we are left out.” The Rolling Stones are such a good target for them, because they are such an icon of cool. The Devo version seems to be saying, “I can play your song, I can be as good as you, but nobody will ever take seriously my desires for satisfaction.”

The Cat Power version is even more removed from any Rock and Roll energy. She tries to make the dominant emotion ennui which also feels like a reaction against machismo as represented by the Stones. What I find really interesting about her version is the amount that she has to work against the song. It wasn’t until I heard her version that I really thought about just how propulsive and syncopated the language in the song is. She has to do all sort of work in her phrasing, and how she puts pauses within the sentences. It makes it clear that it’s really hard to sing a line like “Baby, baby, baby come back. Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak.” without having it take off full speed. There’s so much energy in the words that she has to transmute to sustain her mood.

I’m currently watching Metallica: Some Kind of Monster for the second time, and I find it fascinating. I originally watched it at the recommendation of my brother, and it surprised me that I liked it. I don’t know anything about Metallica beyond the movie; I’ve never had any interest in their music before or after seeing the movie. Seeing it a second time, however, I still think the movie is interesting.

The two immediate reactions that I have to the film are first that the band members frequently behave badly during the movie, but I still find myself sympathetic to them and, secondly, that it’s surprising how straightforward they are in their emotions as presented in the movie. They are frequently petty, selfish, angry, thoughtless, etc, but the movie presents them in such a way that it’s very clear what they are reacting to emotionally and, even when their reaction seems unwise, it doesn’t seem arbitrary or capricious.
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