The Constant Inspiration of Junior Dad

Over the last several years, while I have been writing this blog, I have mentioned Lou Reed and Metallica’s Junior Dad.  It is the final set of lyrics on the final album that Lou Reed released during his life time.  Earlier this week I put on the song while I was walking around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake.  Every Time I hear it I feel inspired by its artistic fearlessness.  Like the best art, I don’t even know if I can articulate why it moves me so much.  The lyrics are create strong images, without definitive meaning, even if they hint seriously at several themes.  I am always especially knocked out at the section of the song that starts at the breakdown and goes through the end of the lyrics.  (The song is over 19 minutes long!)

Scalding my dead father
Has a motor and he’s driving towards
An island of lost souls

Sunny, a monkey then to monkey
I will teach you meanness, fear, and blindness
No social redeeming kindness
Or – oh, state of grace

Would you pull me up
Would you drop the mental bullet
Would you pull me by the arm up
Would you still kiss my lips
Hiccup, the dream is over
Get the coffee, turn the lights on
Say hello to junior dad
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad
Psychic savagery

The greatest disappointment
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad

Almost like the films of David Lynch’s, it has a quality that deals in dreams and the subconscious.  Like dreams, the meaning is so close, yet just beyond our reach.  It could be about Reed’s own mortality, or about the realization of him or a character that hey are turning into their parents, despite the best intentions not to.  It could be about original sin, or how violence is passed on from generation to generation.  It could be about how even the things we fear and hate, the things we have struggled against all of our lives, eventually turn to dust.  There is something both horrifying and comforting in that last thought. Emotionally I do feel the song has that weird mix of emotions.  It’s like a fire that burns everything in its wake, leaving things to begin anew.

The song is part of a concept record, albeit one where the whole album is more or less as abstract as this one song.  (Even if you like this one song there is no guarantee you would like the rest of the album.  It is a brutal, ruthless thing.  Yet it is extremely beautiful and artistic in its own deranged way.  Aside from this song and maybe the first, stay away if dissonance and sonic brutality are not your things.  I happen to be one of the few that absolutely loves this record, but I understand why some would not be drawn to it.)  It is also elastic enough for other interpretations.

Anyway, I have written about all of this before.  But every time I am looking for some inspiration, to feel something more intense than I am feeling in the moment, this song never lets me down.  Reed, like George Carlin, never succumbed to resting on his laurels.  He never became mundane or safe or tried to cash in on the easy money.  He started with the Velvet Underground and ended with this.  What a career!


Mother Night – First Questions About Planned Parenthood Shooting

Planned Parenthood Shooting

I have been reading about the Planned Parenthood shooting.  Although it’s too early to jump to conclusions regarding the specific event, I can’t help but wonder about certain things:  Will people in the media be as outraged at this as they were over the attacks in Paris?  If the shooter ends up being an anti-abortion activist will we admit we have our own problem with religious extremists here at home?  (Even if they do not, it isn’t like this is the first time an abortion clinic has been attacked over religious beliefs.  I’m not against people debating the morality of abortion, even if I am pro-choice, but when it leads to violence the borderline of sanity has been left far behind.  You can’t be pro-life while dealing out death.)  Will people finally start dealing with Planned Parenthood in a serious way, and admit that abortion is a very small percentage of what they do (None of which is funded by federal money), and that mostly they do great work for women in need?  Will people stop using Planned Parenthood as a political scape-goat to score political points?

With that last question I can’t help but think of the moral of Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” 

Devils Angels

The Misfits, the original version with Glenn Danzig, is one of my favorite punk bands.  Their records, despite sounding like many of them were recorded in a trash can, or maybe because of it, adding to the B movie vibe of their songs, have held up extremely well over time.  Today Danzig released a covers album called Skeletons.  I haven’t heard it and can’t remark on it, but the first song, Devils Angles, is great and the closest thing he has done to The Misfits in a long time.  This cover first appeared on the internet a couple years ago, but I am glad it is finally getting its official release.

John Stewart and Fleetwood Mac


Fleetwood Mac, despite their enormous presence in modern pop music, only actually put out five albums with their classic line-up.  (Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Jon McVie, Christine McVie)  They are a pop group that is strong at all positions.  One of the things that makes them great is Lindsey Buckingham’s mastery of the studio, in creating rock and pop music that is accessible, while also being infused with a strong sense of mystery.

Although there is plenty in their catalog if you include solo albums, and even the albums they did while lacking one of the classic five, if you love that sound you might want to check out some of John Stewart’s records in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  John Stewart was famous long before he worked with Lindsey Buckingham.  He first found success as a member of the Kingston Trio.  (Buckingham is a huge fan of that group.)  He also wrote Daydream Believer.  Later on he made solo records, some of which went on to critical acclaim.  In 1979 he put out an album called Bombs Away Dream Baby with Buckingham coproducing, playing guitar, and singing back up vocals.  That album is out of print, and even used copies of it on CD are $30 and up if you search online.  However, after that he put out an album called Blondes.  Buckingham did not produce that, but did return to sing backups and play guitar on one song.

I’ve found the album to be incredible, a lost gem.  I think that while he originally influenced Buckingham, Buckingham also in return influenced Stewart in the studio.  Produced by Stewart himself, there is a sonic quality that sounds similar to some stuff by Fleetwood Mac circa Tusk and Mirage.  While the lyrics are only decent, the music and melodies on this album have that mystical California sound that is always beautiful, but which can go from joyous to sad in the blink of an eye, and is often in between containing both emotions.  The guitar playing is also freakishly good.  If someone would have told me that Buckingham plays on all of the songs, I would have believed it, not being as familiar with Stewart’s solo output.  Anyway, this is one of those beautiful albums that one would probably never hear of if there wasn’t some digging involved.  (Every song is as good if not better than the one above.  And there is enough variety to make it a well rounded album.)

Lately, In the News…

Prose writing has been slow as I have been spending most of my creative energy demoing songs.  The news has seemed more troubling as of late, even aside form the obviously horrific news of the Paris attack.

In seems like the world has been violent lately.  I’m always reminded by history that it doesn’t take a lot for the world to cross the threshold into insanity.  One only needs to look at World War I, being one of the greatest examples, to see how events can quickly spiral out of control.

That being said it is also easy for one’s viewpoint of the world to be distorted.  News is based on the chronicling of dramatic events in the world.  It’s not news if someone wakes up, goes to work, comes home, watches TV, and goes to bed.  Often the bad things are more dramatic than the good.  In this information age it is easy for a ticker tape of horrors to enter your household, while your life may be sleepy, decent, and even mundane.

I think it is extremely important to pay attention to what is going on in the world.  At the same time, I think it is important to have moments where one disconnects from the larger world and reflects on what news or information is really impacting one’s own life.  I’ve seen people losing their minds over terrorism, but almost no one is up in arms over the extremely larger death tole from automobiles or other every day occurrences that could be lessened with ingenuity.

There is a great deal of meaninglessness out there on the horizon.  At the same time our lives, through our society, have a longer reach than at any time in history.  When you tangle with the world at large it can be unpredictable as to which decision will come back to haunt you in the future.  I don’t know exactly how one decides what events to internalize and what events to cut out.  But one must try.

What ISIS Really Wants

What ISIS Really Wants

Sent to me by a friend, this Atlantic article is the best piece of writing I have seen yet on what ISIS believes.  It appears they are not driven by political beliefs, but ideology.  Although I have seen some erratic and foolhardy comments in the US recently, regarding refugees,  personal freedom,  and other things that exaggerate the threat of terrorism, especially when you put the numbers against things like car accidents, there is no doubt in my mind that ISIS needs to be dealt with.  If what this article says is true, I don’t see this as a group that can be dealt with through anything other than force.  I’d like to believe otherwise, but when people have an ideology such as this, and they act upon it, I don’t think there is any other option.  I am curious if any of you out there disagree?  I believe in helping the refugees.  I think any force should be usd through an international coalition.  I also think that force should be used carefully, in a way that is least likely to create more enemies.  But I don’t see ISIS as a rational group where anything other than their outright destruction will solve this problem.  I have never advocated military action on this site.  I’d like to be proven wrong if I am.  Any takers?


Bruce Springsteen and Allen Toussaint

Kevin Russell recently bought me Allen Toussaint’s album Southern Nights.  Although I was aware of Toussaint, I’d be lying if I said I was much more than that.  A lot of Southern soul, blues, country, and rock made its way into my formative years in the North East, but for whatever reason not a lot of stuff out of New Orleans did.  It took moving to Texas, and especially Russell himself, to make me understand what I was missing.

Southern Nights is an absolutely stunning soul album with great songs and arrangements to die for.  It’s lush and ornamental and almost seems like a grand street in New Orleans turned into sound.

For a bass player who spends a lot of time listening to bass lines, the record a treasure trove of riches.  Every bass line is simple enough where it is memorable, but at the same time played with a impeccable feel.

While I was playing the record, my brother walked in while the song Back in Baby’s Arms was playing.  He said right away, “that’s exactly like Springsteen’s Darkness On the Edge of Town.”  Now Toussaint’s album came out three years prior to Darkness.  Both songs start with an intro that is eerily similar.  They both start the same, and just deviate in the second half of the figure.  It’s not just a melodic thing, they both feature a bass and piano playing roughly the same line.  I don’t know how this came about.  Either Springsteen stole it, or they both arrived at a similar place independently.  They are both possible.  Given that Springsteen is a huge soul music fan, it is entirely possible that he heard it and coopted it for his purposes.  (I’ve never read specifically of the connection between these two pieces.)  However, the line is also simple enough that two people could think it up in two different places in time.

It doesn’t really matter.  Musicians have been stealing all throughout musical history.  Also, there are only so many notes that one is bound to stumble upon the same idea independently at times.

I think what is interesting is how really similar pieces chave totally different emotional landscapes created through lyrics and singing.  Toussaint’s song has a warm feeling to it mirrored by his voice.  Springsteen is singing in his dramatic Roy Orbison inspired voice.  Along with the rest of the album there is a certain bleakness to the song, where people are coming to terms with adulthood.

I think even if Springsteen flat out stole the idea, it is still artistically valid.  Creating something new is nothing more than assembling old pieces in a new combination.  Springsteen has always been someone that took different elements of rock n roll history, soul music, and folk music, and used it to create his own language.  Here he is combining soul music, the drama of Roy Orbison, with a cinematic and literate sense of language.  Although I’m not as educated on Toussaint’s history, there is no doubt one could trace his music backwards to different building blocks.  Although the two pieces start similarly, they end up in dramatically different emotional universes.


Thoughts On the Paris Attacks

As with many people, I was horrified by what happened in Paris last night.  I thought about whether I should write about the event, if a first opinion had any weight.  Mine alone does not.  I obviously don’t have any special information or insight to an event that happened thousands of miles away.  However, I can’t help but feel that my opinion is one that is probably shared by others.

I have been to Paris four times.  It is everything that a big city should aspire to be.  The last time was just a couple of years ago.  I was struck by how friendly Parisians were, especially compared to the first few times when I was there, where I would sometimes run into the kind of French that Monty Python parodies.  I talked to a man on a train from Serbia who expressed a similar feeling.  The French had become more open and excepting to outsiders.  I found no one that wasn’t willing and happy to speak English, to give directions, or to be helpful.  While some may say this is not a big deal, I think we know as Americans that when someone comes to our country without knowing English, many of us would not be able to speak to them, and there are some that would be outright hostile.   Also, France has always been a comparatively open country intellectually.  Now they even seemed to be more of an open country in every sense.  The French are a proud people, and deservedly so with all they have given the world. But now they seemed to be retaining their pride, while also shedding the negative qualities which often go along with that kind of national self worth.

I was also struck by how relaxing their airports were.  No shoes came off.  There were no dreadful security lines that filled with one with the kind of anxiety that one can often feel in our airports.  Although it is too early to tell, I hate to think that all of this might go backwards.  I don’t want more countries turning their airports into the maximum security prison malls that ours now resemble.

So many great thinkers have come from France.  France has given so many things to the world, especially in terms of culture.  I recently got around to reading Voltaire’s Candide.  For this one book alone I will be eternally grateful to France.  That is only the tip of the iceberg.  Striking at Paris is striking at one of the most important culture centers in all of the world.

This kind of attack can not be allowed to go on.  What is the solution?  I keep thinking of Hunter Thompson’s quote, after 9/11 that, “The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hope for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country.”

This is a clash of civilizations.  However, like all civilizations throughout history, individual people run the gamut in terms of good and bad.  But if this attack doesn’t do it, how many more will it takes before all nuance goes out the window?

I found myself angry reading the news last night.  I wanted retribution.  A place I love, a people I respect, and a culture that is important to the world had been attacked.  This kind of thing can’t be allowed to go on.  Freedom, not the kind of dimwitted freedom that we often talk about in the press, but true intellectual freedom, the kind that Paris is a beacon for, had taken a blow.

I was not only angry about the attacks themselves, but also about what I can’t help but feel they will lead to.  Not only were the crimes committed yesterday horrific for the people who were killed, wounded, or traumatized, but it won’t end there.  Theses idiots committing violence are sooner or later going to condemn not only those that share their beliefs, but many more innocent people that are related to them through religion, country, and genetic makeup.  Only the attackers and those that aid them deserve retribution, but that is not how these things play out.  A thirst for revenge is usually not carried out with any kind of rigorous sanity.  I may be wrong this time, but eventually, if things go on, I will not be.  These terrorists have destroyed many lives, and in doing so will destroy many more.

Our country has already muddied the waters by attacking Iraq in the wake of 9/11.  (Just to make clear that I’m not using the phrase “muddied the waters” as a euphemism:  We attacked a country that did not attack us and killed thousands of people in that country, while sending many of our own young women and men to be killed or maimed as well.  We helped create a tragedy that many years from now will also be viewed as a farce.)  How long will it be before the Western world does something like this on an even larger scale if these kinds of attacks continue?  More destruction and killing is coming.  There will be a few that deserve it, but many many more that don’t.  I can only hope that France and the rest of the Western world do their best to think clearly in these dark days.  I can’t help but feel that the senseless violence of yesterday will not make that easy.

Our Ancestors’ Looting and Corpse Robbing Ways

Bruce Catton’s writing on the Civil War is every bit as fascinating as its reputation.  (I have read in several places that if he is not the best writer on the war, than certainly he is one of them.)  Right now I am reading his second book in his trilogy about the Army of the Potomac, Glory Road.

It’s really interesting getting into the lesser known details of this war, that we are still dealing with the political ramifications from.  This war is a large part of our country’s DNA, even if it is something not always dealt with. I often marvel at the lack of movies and TV shows that deal with this period in comparison to something like World War II, which is much more of an easy sell, as it is one of the few wars where people can be proud of.

Because the Civil War was a war of a people, there are many moments in the war when different sides strangely put down their arms, only to resume horrible bloodshed later.  Different sides would often trade with each other.  They also made deals where they would promise not to shoot each other at night so that they could get a comfortable nights sleep.  In one instance in the book, an argument between a Confederate and a Union regiment gets so heated, that they all put down their weapons for a fist fight between two members, only to pick up their weapons and go their separate ways once the fight was settled.

But for every story like this, there are also stories of typical wartime behavior that often don’t make it into the more popular accounts we see on TV documentaries and such.  Here is a passage that deals with the looting of Fredericksburg:

“The city had been rudely sacked; household furniture lined the streets.  Books and battered pictures, bureaus, lounges, feather beds, clocks, and every conceivable article of goods, chattels, and apparel had been savagely torn from the houses and lay about in wanton confusion in all directions.  Fires were made, both for warmth and cooking, with fragments of broken furniture.  Pianos, their harmonious strings displaced, were utilized as horse troughs, and amid all the dangers animals quietly ate from them.”  A solider in another Pennsylvania regiment noted “great scenes of vandalism and useless destruction of books, furniture, carpets, pianos, pictures, etc.,” and reported a grotesque carnival aspect in the streets still swept by Confederate shell as Union soldiers cavorted about in women’s dresses and underwear.  “Some of these characters,” he added, “might be seen with musical instruments, with big horns, violins, accordions, and banjos”; and he noted that his own regiment took several hundred bottles of wine out of someone’s cellar, a part of this wine appearing later on the colonel’s own mess table.  One illiterate private rifled an express office and carried off a huge bundle of receipts and canceled checks under the impression that he was robbing a bank and getting money.

It should be noted that some of the soldiers looking upon this were horrified.  It should also be noted that this kind of behavior was not by any means only on the Union side of things.  There is a passage roughly around this one where the Confederates rob a large amount of dead Union soldiers, leaving them naked by the time they are picked up for burial.  And that is only one story.  Both sides acted in surprising ways, good and bad, at times.  Catton does go into explanations for this behavior, but I will not get into that here.

The point, or question, that I wanted to make was that this is only 150 years ago, carried out by many of our ancestors against one another.  What kind of strange blood is flowing through our National veins, inherited from this time period?

As a side note, again, I don’t know why more films and shows aren’t made of this time period. Only a small way through this book, though I have read others, and there are endless scenes that one could fashion interesting story lines around.



Rats in Battalion are Ruling the Street Scene

“Rats in battalion are ruling the street scene”

Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies album still translates anarchic fun years on.  Hello Hooray is still one of the greatest opening tacks ever and it just goes on from there.  That band was at the pinnacle of their powers then and Alice himself is as always a greatly expressive singer. Listen to his vocal on Generation Landslide or anything really.

Maybe this album shouldn’t appeal to me at this point in my life, but it does.  Life often seems like a dinner party that you are invited to, with formal agreed upon rules, not only absurd, but that you had no part in conjuring up.  As an adult you know the way to change things is to engage with dialog, to participate in the long game.  But some part of the soul wants to flip the table and run out screaming into the night, as much werewolf as man…