I Still Can’t Get Enough: Depeche Mode’s 101

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Alan Wilder, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan

Depeche Mode’s performed at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California as their final show on the Music for the Masses Tour on June 18, 1988, 29 years ago today. The live show was released on LP and cassette the following March with the fitting title of 101, as it was the 101st show on the tour, and U.S. Highway 101 goes through Pasadena. The documentary Depeche Mode: 101 was released a month later and gave viewers a glimpse of the group’s life on the road and moments from the tour.

Violator (1990) and 101 were the first Depeche Mode albums I owned and are still the ones I go back to the most. I remember the first time I heard them; I was riding around with friends, and from what I gather now, it must have been Some Great Reward that we were listening to. I was struck by “People Are People,” in its appeal for people to get along, to not hate one another, despite their differences. Such a direct plea in simple terms made me go, “Yeah! There’s no reason for people to be mean to each other just because there are differences!” It’s a paradox though. Cynical grown-up me thinks it’s just not that simple and the world is complicated. Yet – shouldn’t it be that simple? I guess the key word there is “should.” Many signs seem to indicate we’re having a hard time with “shoulds.”

Music_For_The_Masses“Blasphemous Rumours” was also quite touching, full of pathos. It voiced another growing concern for me as a teenager – why would a God allow bad things to happen? I still haven’t sorted that one out, and these days I try to focus on what we can do to stop injustices and suffering rather than question the matter in philosophical or religious terms. I actually usually skip over this track now, as it seems sort of too earnest. Although it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered such thoughts, either in books or in music, I think I heard them in these songs at the right age (around 16 or 17) that they made an impression. Both are on 101, which is sort of a greatest hits from the beginning of their career in 1980 through the Music for the Masses album, released in 1987.

Depeche Mode represents in my life a time of discovery, when I was learning about what seemed like a parallel universe that existed beyond my hometown and outside the mainstream. I grew up in the middle of America with only standard radio fare and for me, no MTV, so finding such great music, with a fancy French-ish name, was exciting. This was electronic music like I’d never heard. The subject matter and Dave Gahan’s rich baritone gave the genre a twist that was compelling. What’s hilarious to me now is that the band came to my attention and were brand new to me at the same time they played Pasadena to an audience of just over 60,000 people, and they played in more than 30 U.S. cities over the year of that tour. There was a parallel universe! And I was determined to join it one day, and I fixed my eye firmly on transcending my small world one day. I guess I have, but not in the way I’d hoped for. I haven’t traveled as much as I thought I would; hell, I haven’t been to Pasadena. If I ever go, I’ll arrange it so I arrive at night, so I can step off the plane and yell, “GOOD EVENING, PASADENA!”

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Dave Gahan in action

The Smiths vs. Camper Van Beethoven: How to Enrage Your Best Friend Without Even Trying

When Debi and I started college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, we were two excited and naïve best friends who were ready for fun and adventure. We decided to be roommates, since we were so close already that we didn’t think sharing a room would be much different than us spending most of our free time together already. We thought it would be even better, in fact.

It didn’t take long. We got on each other’s nerves. Neither of us had shared a room with anyone before, and our sleeping and domestic habits were miles apart. The adjustment to being away from home and to being pretty much free to do what we wanted were more than we could handle. We had a great time trying to handle it; we went to bars downtown and lots of parties, that is until I caught mono, my godfather who was like my grandfather died, and my dad and boyfriend were both maybe going to go to the Middle East as the build-up to Desert Storm began. I don’t know how I made it through.

But wow, things sure did get rocky. Because we were not AT ALL mature, we started pushing each other’s buttons. We landed on the perfect way to make each other seethe with rage and stomp out of the room. The stereo wars began.

5239579200_61e7961059_zNow, we only had one stereo (hers), but when one of us had control of it, we’d play something the other didn’t like. I’m not sure if my intolerance of The Smiths/Morrissey preceded this time; I don’t think it did. Debi figured out that her best weapon was to play “Unloveable” by The Smiths, from their 1987 album Louder Than Bombs. It grated on my nerves, maybe ONLY because she played it so much and I knew she was doing it just to make me mad. But I hated The Smiths from that point on and never gave any of their other work a chance. I had “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, and I even started skipping over that track when I listened to it.

Camper_Van_Beethoven_Key_Lime_PieI got her back, though. I truly had a big ol’ bomb in my music collection: Camper Van Beethoven’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men” (from Key Lime Pie, 1989). This was the band David Lowery fronted before he formed Cracker. The song starts out with a violin part that repeats a few times, and I liked it for that. I imagined I could be in a rock band because I had played violin for several years in school. The riff is kind of plaintive, not screechy, but not soothing, exactly. So this was my weapon of choice to make Debi apoplectic. Who’d have known that this fairly obscure remake of a single originally recorded by the British band Status Quo would come in so handy?

When talking about this the other day – or texting, actually – Debi said if she ever hears “Pictures of Matchstick Men” again, she would “run away screaming!!!!” On the other hand, I gave The Smiths a chance after many, many years, and if I’m in a certain mood, I quite enjoy them. Also, I know how incredibly important they are in rock history, so I definitely don’t take them for granted. Here’s the strange thing, though: when I was an angsty, moody, ridiculous teenager, I didn’t like them. Now that I’ve chilled out A BIT, I do. But the angstiest of songs just crack me up. A while back a couple of my friends got together to do some grading (it’s more bearable with company), and we were listening to The Smiths, and I think it was during “Bigmouth Strikes Again” that we all three just started laughing. So melodramatic! In all my struggles, I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced the same emotional turmoil as Joan of Arc.

As for Debi and me, there’s far more that unites us than divides us. We’ve hit rough patches here and there, but having a friend who, for more than 30 years, has dealt with your ridiculousness and with whom you have a secret language and who can tell by the most minute change of facial expression what you’re thinking or feeling – I’ve figured out not to take that for granted. I will never subject her to “Pictures of Matchstick Men” again. Well, I might, as a joke. She wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Bloomsday and James Joyce in Song

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Statue of James Joyce in Dublin

June 16 is Bloomsday, the date on which James Joyce’s modernist novel Ulysses is set. Joyce chose the date because it was on June 16, 1904 that he went on a first date with Nora Barnacle, who became his partner and wife. In the 1922 novel, the main character, Leopold Bloom, wanders around Dublin, encountering various people on an ordinary day. Bloom becomes the sort of ordinary hero who searches for identity and meaning in the world, and in this case, in the cultural context of Dublin in the World War I era. The novel is famously difficult to read: the story is told in a stream-of-consciousness narrative, and Joyce incorporates word puzzles and language games, dense symbolism and sly allusions, all of which has kept literary scholars quite busy since the book was published. The book has been notably influential on later writers, and Joyce is a much-studied and revered author.

On June 16, 1954, four Dublin writers decided to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus (the other main character) in their day of wandering around Dublin as depicted in Ulysses. They didn’t get far – they made it about halfway but were too drunk to continue. Since then, more and more people have kept up the tradition. Thousands gather in Dublin each year in June for the Bloomsday celebration, attending lectures and readings, as well as, yes, going on a pub crawl. There are Bloomsday celebrations throughout Europe and the United States, and additional locations as well.

Joyce’s influence doesn’t end with the literary world; Ulysses has also been referenced in pop songs, including:

 

“Breathe,” by U2, included on their 2009 album No Line on the Horizon. The song’s action takes place on June 16 and conveys the need to have strength in our ordinary lives and finding redemption. Thematically, it seems to reflect the spirit of Ulysses, and it’s at once bluesy and anthemic, which also seems fitting.

Link to “Breathe” on YouTube.

Kate Bush’s “Flower of the Mountain” on her 2011 album Director’s Cut. The lyrics include the words of Molly Bloom, Leopold Bloom’s wife, in Ulysses. Bush had originally written the lyrics for her song “The Sensual World” (1990), but when she asked for permission to use the passage, she was denied. She wanted to record the song, so she asked again and permission was granted, so she used them in the 2011 song. Here’s a short article in The Telegraph on the matter.

Link to “Flower on the Mountain” on YouTube.

Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd and solo fame) song “Flickering Flame,” included on his 2002 album Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Volume 1. The song has Leopold Bloom sitting with Molly Malone, an Irish folk figure immortalized in the Irish song, “Molly Malone.”

Here’s a link to “Flickering Flame” on YouTube.

My gut tells me there are more references to the novel and to Joyce in popular music. Once I read the novel, perhaps I’ll catch more allusions to it. I’ve taught some of the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners, but I haven’t tackled Ulysses yet. It sits on my shelf and taunts me, particularly when I’m teaching Joyce’s other work. I guess it’s on my bucket list, but it’s an intimidating task. The thought of it kind of makes me want to go on a pub crawl. Cheers!

 

 

The Killers Debut New Single “The Man”: It’s – Manly?

The Killers released a new single, “The Man,” ahead of their album Wonderful Wonderful, which is set to debut later this year.

Impressions so far:

The Killers bring on the funk, with guitars and synthesizers and a a good amount of bass. The lyrics? I hope with all my soul that they are being funny, satirical even. Lines such as “I’ve got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man,” and boasts of being “USDA certified lean” mean that if they’re not commenting on overwrought male bravado, they’re guilty of it. Still, it’s hits all the right notes for a summer song, so their timing is impeccable.

The single is enough to make me look forward to the new album, even if it is via side eye.

6:57 – Update: I’m not laying it in my car, and it’s incendiary.

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I wouldn’t mind seeing a reappearance of some external feather epaulets, either. Always a good fashion move in my book.

I don’t know what the rest of the album has in store for us, but I’m hoping it will answer that age-old question: “Are we human? Or are we dancer?” I’d also like to know why “dancer” is in the singular. Hopefully they will read this and go ahead and address that on the new album before it’s finalized.

You can listen to the track on Spotify here.

Why-Fi? Adventures in Curating My CD Collection

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This summer I am teaching an online class instead of a seated one, so I’m working at home quite a bit. I decided that since I’m spending long hours in my home office, I might as well upload some CDs to iTunes. Recently, I’ve been buying used CDs when I’m out looking for records. It’s cheaper to find them used than to purchase them on iTunes, and while I do use a streaming service, I can’t seem to break free from the desire to own a physical copy of music I like. One thing I enjoy about shopping for tangible media is I come across albums and artists I might not have thought of but am delighted to find. Tip: If you’re jonesing for some 90s music, there are tons of used CDs from the 90s out there waiting for homes.

I quickly realized that the only way I was going to have this done once and for all would be to go through my CDs one by one and see if it’s in iTunes rather than just grabbing some I know aren’t uploaded and leaving it at that. So, I went all in. I took the two drawers from my antique buffet that serves as my entertainment center, carried them into my home office, and started in.

I encountered a few surprises along the way. That I have a weird collection wasn’t a surprise to me. Because I’ve moved a lot, I’ve gotten rid of CDs when I’ve been packing. I don’t know that I’ve missed anything I’ve gotten rid of, and most of it I kept either in iTunes or on my iPod. Although I’ve used programs to migrate my music, I do think some of it’s gotten lost along the way when I’ve changed to new computers over the years.

TheWorldsEndThe funniest surprise was that I discovered I have The World’s End soundtrack. This is the 2013 Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movie in which they and their old high school friends go on a pub crawl in their hometown and discover that – wait, no spoilers. Anyway, the guys were in high school in the late 80s/early 90s, judging by the soundtrack, which includes Primal Scream, the Stone Roses, Pulp, Blur, the Soupdragons, etc. So. I’ve been wishing I owned this soundtrack, as it’s just fantastic. It also includes the Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion,” the full almost-11-minute-long version, a song I love but don’t have because on iTunes, it’s only available for purchase with the entire album, and I don’t know that I’m enough of a fan that I want to buy the album. On Spotify, someone has created a playlist of the songs on the soundtrack, but the actual soundtrack isn’t available. I’d been listening to that some, but a few of the songs aren’t on Spotify at all. I discovered a seemingly blank CD that has the soundtrack on it. I have no idea where it came from. No, really. There’s not even a glimmer of a memory as to where it came from. But it made me happy! P.S. — the movie is great fun!

Going through my CDs, I knew, would remind me that I have a lot of music I just don’t think I’ll listen to again. Looking back, I think there were several years, in the first decade of the 2000s, that I was struggling to find new music I liked. Now, I’m not saying these artists aren’t good, but I’m not likely to listen to Jack Johnson, Keane, The Pierces, or KT Tunstall anytime soon. Never say never, sure, but although I liked them years ago, they’ve not been in my listening rotation since around the time I bought their music. The common denominator seems to be that they’re all fairly mellow. I’ve been gravitating more toward alternative guitar rock of late, so maybe it’s just where I’m at right now. I uploaded them, sure, and I may get a lot of enjoyment out of them in the future. But I’ve noticed I’ve become pretty impatient with earnest acoustic music, evidenced by the fact that when I’m at coffee shops or restaurants, I get annoyed quickly by the chill vibe courtesy of John Mayer and the Dave Matthews Band. Oh, don’t think I didn’t have some of their CDs at one time. I did. It’s just not doing it for me anymore. I’m also putting Coldplay in that category, but I think the issue there is overexposure.

I was surprised by how many Bob Dylan CDs I have, not because I don’t like him that much – I do! But I have several, including some of the Bootleg series, and the only ones I tend to listen to are Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and Highway 61 Revisited. I’m not one to want every version of every song, or even several versions of some songs, by my favorite artists. I’m a bit old school, it seems – I like to listen to whole albums, to know them as such, as the artist originally intended the songs to be heard. Compilations are great, too, but I’m a sucker for getting to know albums and seeing how musicians evolve throughout their careers.

While I have eighteen Dylan albums, I only have ten of R.E.M.’s albums on CD. Most of those I bought at the time they came out, or a very long time ago. Also, I have four more in digital form, and I seem to have lost Up somewhere along the way. Again, I’m not a completist, but I all of the studio albums besides Up, as well as Eponymous, a greatest hits album released in 1988, and Dead Letter Office, a B-sides compilation released in 1987. I was glad to be reminded of this, as this tells me that my love for them hasn’t waned over the 30 years I’ve been listening to them. I’ll never have all of their stuff – now they’re putting out vinyl deluxe extra special releases and such, and that’s great, but I’m not itching to add those to my collection. Original albums do it for me pretty much. Also, I have to be able to afford groceries and utilities, so I can’t get too crazy about my purchases.

Another realization I had while doing this is that I was happy to make sure that August and Everything After by the Counting Crows was uploaded. What surprised me is that I have three other albums by them, but I’ve not listened to them as much. None of them felt as emotional or sounded as lushly melodic as August. Maybe I’ll go back to them at some point and see what the difference really is for me.

2PacGreatestHitsA funny memory I had was when I was uploading my copy of Tupac Shakur’s Greatest Hits. While my collection of rap is pretty limited, I bought this one pretty early on (it was released in 1998). I adore “Keep Ya Head Up”; it’s the song that makes me dig this 2-CD set out. Well, no, that’s a lie. My favorite song is “California Love.” You know it. That irresistible beat had me dancing at the Blue Note (in Columbia, MO) a time or two. The memory that make me chuckle was when I was driving to (grad) school in my Plymouth Breeze, at probably age 33 or so, rapping and bopping along to this song and then it hit me – (brakes screeching noise here) – Who the hell do I think I am? I realized how just ridiculous I must have looked, had a good laugh, and then joined right back in: “In L.A. we wearing Chucks not Ballies (that’s right).” Who wants to be predictable?

Elvis_Wonderful_ChristmasThe oddball albums I own? Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas and an album of love songs by the Carpenters. Now, the second one was given to me by a friend who was a Carpenters fanatic, and there are some nice moments in some of those songs, but I haven’t listened to it in years. The Elvis one I can explain. My mom loves Elvis, and we had a lot of his albums and 45s. I think we even had two of his Christmas albums, but for some reason I latched onto this one when I was a kid. When record companies started putting EVERYTHING out on CD in the 90s, I picked this one up at Target, for sentimental reasons. There’s a live version of “Blue Christmas” that’s ridiculous – girls screaming and all that. I know that one of these days, I’ll dig this out and give it a spin. But not today.

 

OTD in 1980: Roadie, a Film with Meatloaf, Debbie Harry, Don Cornelius, and Alice Cooper Is Released

Yes. You read that right. On June 13, 1980, the lost American classic film, Roadie, was released. Meatloaf plays Travis W. Redfish, who is in the business of sellin’ beer and drinkin’ beer and quits the former to become a roadie in the pursuit of love. Art Carney plays his father, Corpus C. Redfish (seriously, these names!). Also making appearances are Alice Cooper as himself, Don Cornelius, Roy Orbison, and all of Blondie, including Deborah Harry.

So the question I’m asking myself is, “Why the hell had I not heard of this movie before?” I watched so so so many terrible movies when I was a kid. For example, one of the supporting actors is Kaki Hunter as Lola Bouillabaisse, who was in the Porky’s movies. Remember those? I watched all three of them when I was in middle school. I’ve seen MeatballsGrease 2 several times, and probably both (?) Cannonball Run movies. The rating for Roadie on RottenTomatoes.com is 14%; on IMDB.com it has a higher rating of 5.1/10 stars. Is it so bad that it wasn’t even shown on cable? Hard to believe based on the large amount of schlock I ran into when I was a kid.

Here’s a clip I found while investigating. I’m tempted to track down the entire film, but I only have one life to live. Still, Deborah Harry is one of my favorite performers, and it’s hard not to like this scene. (P.S. From what I can tell, part of the premise of the movie is that Meatloaf has some sort of head injury that is only cured by drinking a lot of beer). Cheers!

Mad Men: “You Really Got Me” – When Song Meets Screen

Television and film wouldn’t be the same without music. While incidental music and scores don’t get their due, the use of pop songs onscreen can take even the best acting and dialogue to emotional heights that otherwise would be impossible. One of my favorite such moments is in Mad Men, which I name most of the time as my favorite television show ever. I was hooked instantly in 2007, not only for the look and feel of the show, and the stellar acting, but also because my doctoral research focused in part on popular music, popular culture, identity, and capitalism. Writers have discussed how  Mad Men captures the decade when consumer capitalism coalesceed and we saw through the entire 1960s, via Don Draper  and the other characters, how empty it feels to have it all.

The show’s writers made excellent use of music of the time period, and the show earned a reputation for choosing perfect settings and costumes, as well as music. Although there’s another scene I was originally going to start this “series” with, I chose one that, even though I hadn’t seen this episode (or the show) for two years, I teared up when watching it. It’s also interesting that the song comes after the emotional scene. It’s perfect.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson were magic together in this scene, and throughout the show. In this scene, Peggy, the former secretary who Don mentored and who became an accomplished copywriter, quits her job at the agency. She has endured being overlooked, sexually harassed, taken for granted, and disrespected time and again, often by Don. Their relationship had been complex, and you can see every bit of that in their faces in this clip. You can also see Don’s reactions run the gamut, from being dismissive, to being angry, to being sad and possibly hurt that she’s leaving. Don turns Peggy’s handshake into a gut-wrenching and memorable moment. After Peggy gathers her things, she goes the elevator. Cue song.

Peggy really “got” him. The Kinks’ 1964 hit “You Really Got Me” captures Peggy’s relief and joy upon leaving, even if doing so was difficult for her to do. She feels victorious, accomplished, and free to hope that she will soar when she flies to another company.

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I might watch the series again. It’s only been two years, but I’m thinking it might be time.


Bonus material:

Although I was hooked from the beginning, my love for Mad Men soared to new heights in season 2, episode 26, when the show incorporates a poem called “Mayakovsky” by Frank O’Hara. Jon Hamm/Don Draper reads the poem in a voiceover. Jon Hamm reading poetry? Be still, my heart.

High and Dry: Desert Island Discs

Because I like to torture and play mind games with myself, I decided to do this impossible task – to choose ten albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a deserted island.  I imposed the rules that I can only bring one per artist (including no repeats of artists, whether solo or in other bands), and I can’t have any greatest hits, compilations, or live albums.


1.  London Calling – The Clash (1979 UK, 1980 US)LondonCalling

While there are a number of my favorite Clash songs that aren’t on this record, this album is truly a masterpiece and is the one I come back to all the time. Part of its genius is the variety of genres it incorporates: reggae, 50s rock and roll, lounge jazz, hard (?) rock, ska and, of course, punk. While their eponymous debut album is perhaps a bigger landmark, being one of the seminal punk albums released in Year Zero, 1977, London Calling was the moment the band broke free of the “accepted” punk sound. They said nothing is more punk than breaking all the rules and making whatever music you want, and incorporating all their influences in one record did just that. It should be noted, however, that punk was supposed to be a new sound without the old dinosaurs of past music seeping in. Whatever the rules, whatever the reasons for their choices, this album manages to pull together a wide variety of sounds while remaining cohesive. And the track “London Calling” doesn’t sound like anything else before or since. I can’t even begin to pick a few favorite songs, so I won’t. I’ll take this one to the island and play it through, over and over, even if I would be wishing that “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” were on it, as that might be my favorite Clash song. The greatness of this one can’t be overstated. The album regularly falls in top album lists. In 1989, Rolling Stone named it the best album of the 1980s. When Joe Strummer got the phone call about that, he was confused because it was released in 1979 (in December). The album was released in the US in January, 1980. I’d say it’s a contender for the top album for both decades.

A fun activity: imagine the Clash on a deserted island. I wonder who would end up being the first meal once the food runs out. My guess would be Mick.

2.  The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

I recently wrote a post about how much I love this one. What I’ve noticed since then is that this is a good one for me to have playing while I work – grading papers or prepping teaching materials – AND is one I crank up in the car and groove and drum while warbling along with Ian Brown’s vocals. (I’m not going to get into the debate about the quality of his voice – I’M the warbler, I’ll admit it. It’s one of my sorrows in life that I can’t sing very well at all. I have about a one-octave range, and I think I’m a tenor). I don’t expect to be driving or grading papers if I were a castaway, but the album would be good for the limited variety of activities available in said situation. She would be banging coconuts, not drums.

3.  Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)

Elephant,_The_White_StripesAnother difficult choice: which White Stripes album to take. I chose Elephant mainly because “Ball and Biscuit” is on this one. It’s hypnotic, bluesy, and it sucks me into enjoying every second of the 7:19 running time. A bonus is that “Seven Nation Army” also appears on this record. I learned after falling in love with the album that the song has become a sports anthem in Europe, which kind of tickled me, as I don’t think that would happen here in the United States.

4.  Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)

This album truly is the sound of a heart breaking. It took me a while to like alt-country, and I still like a pretty limited amount of it. I chalk that up to my dad watching Hee Haw all the time when I was a kid. When I first heard Ryan Adams, I preferred Gold for about five minutes until the depth and beauty of this album just hit me square in my soul. I’ve liked some of his other music well enough, but I’ll never get over this record. I can’t seem to pick a few standout tracks, but I’d say that “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “Come Pick Me Up,” and “In My Time of Need” are probably the ones that I gravitate to if I don’t listen to the whole album.

5.  Document – R.E.M. (1987)

R.E.M._-_DocumentWhile listening to Out of Time puts me straight back in my freshman year of college, and I’ll always love that album for that reason (as I recently wrote), Document perfectly captures their early sound but slightly evolved. If I took this one, I could spend a good amount of time trying to remember the lyrics to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” which would be a good activity to stave off boredom on the island. I can’t really explain why, but beyond just loving especially the songs on the first half of the album, I have a particular affinity for “Oddfellows Local 151.” The lyrics are repetitive so there’s not a lot of verbal analysis to be done, but I think it’s the charming picture I have in my head of an oddball/wino perched on a wall behind a fraternal organization’s building, sermonizing. R.E.M. and Michael Stipe are known for impressionistic, imagistic lyrics, and I think that’s quite true of this song and this album. Even if the words don’t tell a story or make the connections for the listener, the evocative imagery works as a collage that enables the listener to visualize the subject matter. (Honorable mention – Automatic for the People. Beautiful, amazing, emotionally realized).

6.  The Bends – Radiohead (1995)

Radiohead.bends.albumartAlright. I know that which Radiohead album is the “best” is one of those debates that will rage on, but guess what? I don’t think there’s a correct answer. My reason for picking this one is simple: I saw Radiohead play with R.E.M. on the Monster tour in 1995, and Radiohead was touring this album. Listening to it puts me back in that time and place, at what was then called the Riverport Amphitheater in St. Louis, Missouri, on a brisk late September night. The songs are lush and warm-sounding, soft but hard-edged, vulnerable yet steely. I have to admit that I haven’t listened to all of their albums enough to decide if this really is my favorite. Honestly, I don’t think it would change anything, as that would be an exercise of the intellect, and my love for this one is mostly emotional. Neither way of knowing beats the other, in my opinion. My favorite on this album might be a cliché – it’s “High and Dry.” Sometimes songs or albums are “the most popular” because they’re just damn good

7.  Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads (1983)

Talking_Heads_-_Speaking_in_TonguesChoosing a Talking Heads album was difficult yet not. This one seems to me to be one of their strongest, but I actually like all of their albums about the same. What made this one an easy pick for me is that “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” is on it. I’ve loved that song for a long time but loved it more because it expressed how I felt about a previous boyfriend when we were dating. Hearing it became bittersweet after we split. Hearing it became devastating but comforting when he passed away a couple of years ago. He had “a face with a view.”

8.  Different Class – Pulp (1995)

I’ve written about this one in a previous post, but I still can’t stress enough how fantastic it is. From the British anthem of the 90s, “Common People,” to the sweet “Something Changed,” from the devious class warrior narrator in “I Spy” to the completely danceable and poignant “Disco 2000,” every track is class. As I mentioned, there’s only one track I don’t care for, but I’m still not going to tell you what it is. Care to guess? Taking this to the island would be almostsortakinda like taking Jarvis with me. The original album also had different inserts you could put in for the cover photo, so this one would be a little game as well.

9.  Power, Corruption & Lies – New Order (1983)

peter-saville-neworder-powercorruptionliesNew Order is another one of those bands that have made consistently good albums with a good number of standout songs on each, and their singles that didn’t appear on a studio album, including “Blue Monday” and “Ceremony,” are classics as well. So, considering each of the studio albums that I’m most familiar with, I had to pick Power, Corruption & Lies. I’d love to have a record with me on the island that includes those singles I mentioned, as well as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” and “Love Vigilantes.” Power, Corruption & Lies has a couple of tracks that I particularly love, including “Age of Consent,” which is one of their well-known songs. Another is “Your Silent Face,” which I hadn’t heard until I specifically listened to this album and haven’t seen (yet) anyone having written about the track. It’s hypnotic and dark and a bit dancey. The album overall is highly regarded and seems to me to be a bridge between their darker Joy Division sound and their future more electronic dance sound. The album cover is beautiful, so I’d have a nice piece of art to hang on the wall of my hut.

10.  Parade – Prince & The Revolution (1986)

I’m torn – I might just as easily take the Purple Rain soundtrack instead of this one. Purple Rain is uneven, but “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” and “When Doves Cry” are three of his best. Three of the best songs period. But Parade includes “Kiss,” which is my favorite Prince song. It’s funky as hell, and I can’t help but sing along and dance as well, even if I don’t do either of those very well. Another one I love is on this: “Sometimes It Snows in April.” The piano is gorgeous, and the fact that Prince died in April makes me choke up when I hear this now.

Wait – no, I think it’s going to have to be Purple Rain.

10.  Purple Rain – Prince & The Revolution (1984)

See above, as well as my previous post about seeing the movie at age 12. These tracks never get old, and Prince will live forever.


CountingCrowsAugustandEverythingAfterWhat I have I left out? So very much! I enjoy jazz, musicals, hip-hop, rap, R&B, reggae, classical, blues – a little of almost everything. I gave some thought to variety when picking these, but overall, these albums are representative of what I love most, even if they don’t really cross genres too much. One that deserves honorable mention is August and Everything After by the Counting Crows (1993), as it’s one of those albums that I not only love, but I listen to it all the way through without skipping a track most of the time. It’s lush, melodic, and gorgeous.

Pretty in Pink: The Soundtrack That Changed My Life

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It was 1986, and I was fourteen years old. I think this is true for a lot of kids around that age – suddenly, your tastes in music, clothes, books, movies, etc. start to coalesce. You’ve started to experience a wider, more adult world, your mind is growing, and you start to get a sense that you are your own person, that you have an identity, and it must be formed. My seminal moment with regard to my music tastes was when I saw the movie Pretty in Pink and, having been intrigued by the music, I bought the soundtrack, which featured music that struck a chord with me and was unlike what I’d listened to until that time.

A few years ago, when my mom gave me the records of mine she’d saved from when I was a kid, I was slightly horrified. I had a range of 45s, many of which were hers. The ones I added to my collection: A Taste of Honey, Olivia Newton-John, Blondie, and New Edition. The albums – oh my goodness. I have the Grease soundtrack (of course), Shaun Cassidy, Barry Manilow, Captain and Tennille, and Duck Wars (!).

In the early 80s, the onset of punk/post-punk/new wave made its way to my consciousness, though. Of course I had heard the pop hits on the radio or on Solid Gold or American Bandstand, but there wasn’t that wide a range. Some of the New Wave and New Romantics hit the charts, and those artists had started to pique my interests – Blondie, Culture Club, and Duran Duran to name a few. While I never totally eschewed pop, my purchase of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack rocked my world.

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I seriously wanted to be Molly Ringwald/Andi.

Part of the attraction to the music was, I believe, because I identified with Molly
Ringwald’s character, Andie. She was the cool, unusual girl from the wrong side of the tracks who was marginalized by the “richies,” the wealthy popular kids in school. My situation wasn’t really much like Andie’s. I wasn’t as cool as her, not even in that alternative sort of way. Yet I very much felt like an outsider for my own reasons – I had been a slightly chubby kid and I was bright, so I was the teacher’s pet. It was kind of a deadly combination.

Also, my family’s circumstances were different to Andie’s; I had a hardworking dad and my mom worked in the home. Once I started middle school, I learned more about social class – my family was blue collar, recently part of the middle class, which I wasn’t really aware of until then when I was among students from upper class families. I felt a gulf between the things they had and the things I had. Truth is, I didn’t want for anything except stuff I don’t at all blame my parents for not wasting money on. Anyway, I saw this movie when I started realizing I was out of step with, or “Left of Center” of, most of the kids around me.

I think the tendency to think differently than most people (and by differently I don’t mean better than, just different) is just part of my nature. The movie just sort of named it for me, in a way, an important moment for me. But the soundtrack – it became the soundtrack to an understanding of myself. I think at the time I didn’t understand what kind of music it was – but it was darker and didn’t sound like the typical pop music I’d heard. Imagine having grown up with the music I described above, and then imagine my response to the following track list:

  1. If_You_Leave_2

    This is my favorite song on the soundtrack

    “If You Leave” – Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark

  2. “Left of Center” – Suzanne Vega
  3. “Get to Know Ya” – Jesse Johnson
  4. “Do Wot You Do” – INXS
  5. “Shellshock” – New Order
  6. “Round, Round” – Belouis Some
  7. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” – Danny Hutton Hitters
  8. “Bring on the Dancing Horses” – Echo & the Bunnymen
  9. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths*

I can’t even tell you how many times I listened to this cassette. It was quite a while before I could explore these artists further, as it was a treat to get an album. A friend of mine made a mixtape for me with similar music, including The Cure, The Housemartins, and The Vapors. Thus was launched my favorite genre of music, what used to be alternative – the line between pop and alternative has gotten so blurred by now that it’s almost a meaningless term. But the glorious weirdness with an outsider perspective won my heart at the time and still has a hold over me.

Sometimes I wonder if I define myself too much by my outsiderness, but really – I think I just can’t help it. Nor do I really want to.

*It was a decades before I was able to stomach, and then appreciate, The Smiths and Morrissey. My aversion made no sense. I’ll explain in a later blog post.

PS: While I idolized Molly Ringwald, I also loved Annie Potts in the movie as well.

Jarvis Cocker Said My Name. Twice.

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Upon the return of  Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service to BBC 6 this spring, I began making an effort to be sure to tune in. I even put it on my calendar in my phone with reminders, as Sundays are generally work days for me. So I settle in to grade papers each Sunday morning (the show airs in the mornings where I live) and listen to Jarvis talking about people and songs that more often than not are new to me – what a thrill!

And of course, I have to send in a song suggestion when he throws down the gauntlet for a song related to the show’s theme that week. The second show I tuned into this spring was the day of the London marathon, so the call was for a song that you like to exercise to or that is related to exercise. Within thirty seconds of Jarvis’s request, I thought of the perfect story; it involves adolescence, sex, and awkwardness, the very stuff of some of Jarvis’s great lyrics. Here’s the text of the email:

Subject: Erotic Aerobics

When I was in middle school, I had to create a short aerobics routine for my gym class. It was 1985, and I had to figure out a song to set my routine to; I had very few cassette tapes, being only 12 or 13 years old with no job. 

I was mortified to have to do this assignment – neither exercise nor dancing are my forte. I was so concerned about coming up with steps that I focused more on the routine than the music I chose. You see, I had the Footloose soundtrack, and I found a song that had a good beat: “Dancing in the Sheets” by Shalamar. 
The night before the debut of my sick aerobics moves, I realized what I’d done. I was a middle schooler, and I’d created an assignment with a song about sex. 
While they lyrics aren’t terribly explicit, I feared they were too racy for school, to wit:
“Your hands are cold
So maybe we could make some heat
Love is always born on a chance
So wrap around me and baby let’s dance
Dancing in the sheets
Dancing in the sheets”
I had trouble sleeping that night, but I didn’t have time to choose another song and see if it would work for the routine.  So I took my cassette to school and for a humiliating 3 minutes or so, I led the class in exercise to the sounds of lyrical lovemaking. The gym teacher never said a word, and I think my grade was okay. I survived.
This might explain my aversion to exercise classes. To this day, I prefer to exercise alone, preferably yoga or running. I have never taken an aerobics or any other exercise class. Adolescent traumas forge our destinies. 
Dr. Tracey K. Parker
“I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.” — Hal, Infinite Jest
I held no hope really that my email would be chosen. I’m sure they get scads of emails, and any of them could get lost in the shuffle. Still, I hoped the subject line would catch the eye of whoever reads through them.
jarviscocker

Jarvis liked my email THIS much. Or maybe more?

I continued to grade papers until the last few minutes of the show. Jarvis started reading the email, and said the one they chose was “a cracker, I have to say.” And then – I just about fell out of my home office chair when he said, “It comes from Dr. Tracey K. Parker….”  (I wish I’d taken out my standard signature line and just had my name only).

Jarvis read my email, and after saying my name AGAIN, played the song which, mind you, is not exactly a favorite. It’s just part of a really great story.
I feel like I’ve accomplished something in my life, as Jarvis and I are now great friends, obviously. Okay, maybe not, but I love him and Pulp so much that my year, nay, my life, was made, made, made.
P.S. Unfortunately, the episode isn’t available on the show’s BBC 6 website anymore, as they only keep the most current four up for streaming.
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Jarvis feeling VERY satisfied after reading my song suggestion. So good he had to have a cigarette!