Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, and Songs of Stoic Regret

I’ve always liked a quality in songwriting that I call “stoic regret”.  Sometime, long ago, I read an article talking about a song as being filled with “manly regret”, but really it is a quality that can be sung by someone of either sex. These are songs of heartbreak and devastation, but also the will to go on, even if one realizes life will never quite be the same.  It is an adult emotion, that ability to shrug off life’s suffering, even if that suffering leaves a mark that will never quite go away.  Often these songs are romantic in nature, but they don’t have to be.  This is also more of a lyrical quality than a sound.  Singers in all genres have these kinds of songs and sometimes, in the case of Johnny Cash’s I Guess Things Happen That Way or Willie Nelson’s Nothing I Can Do About it Now, the music can be quite upbeat.

Sinatra had a lot of songs like these.  His albums like No One Cares and Only the Lonely have songs in this world.  It’s a place where tragedy and comedy meet up, albeit a dark, close to the breast, gallows humor kind of comedy.  The heart breaks, but the will to live goes on.  It’s the sound of total defeat, but once you’ve gone as low as you can, what is there to do but immortalize it and song, where it becomes some kind of maudlin tragicomedy?  I’m not saying that all of these songs were written with a slight nod to comedy in mind, but they are so tragic and dramatic sometimes that the mask of comedy can’t help but be there at the fringes.  I’m also not saying that I am laughing at these songs.  I don’t mean it as any kind of irony filled appreciation.  The emotions to these songs are always complex, like real life, and therefore often leave you feeling different things at the same time.  The mood that the listener is in can often make one lean to one side of the other in the comedy and tragedy spectrum.  These kinds of songs can have different meanings in different mental states.

A really great album is Sinatra’s Watertown.  It’s the only album that’s arrangements reflect the 60’s pop market.  It’s also the only album that he overdubbed his vocals on.  It’s a masterpiece, like a novella in song.  It’s a concept record about a man whose wife has left him, leaving him to raise his kids in small town America.  Since he still has the kids, he must go on.  He can’t simply give up.  The album is full of reflection.  How did this happen?  There are also reflections on the everyday life of the album’s narrator.  He notices who the kids look like and how they’ve grown.  There are lots of little details and the album is definitely more towards the tragic side of stoic regret.

When we’re young we often think that a relationship ending, or some other thing that seems tragic, is going to destroy us.  But really these kinds of things are just mere bumps on the road of life.  These kinds of songs come from the adult perspective, because however low the narrator is, they realize this.  The gift of life keeps giving, better get ready for it!

i don’t know why I am often drawn to these kinds of songs.  I think it is the fact that there is truth in them, and the truth is often complicated.  This complexity is great for drama, which any good song needs to have a dose of.  I think also, because one can view these songs from different ends of the tragedy/comedy spectrum, the material never ceases to be relevant.



Stephen Colbert GQ Cover Story

Stephen Colbert participates in the "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" segment of the CBS Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Stephen Colbert participates in the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” segment of the CBS Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Stephen Colbert GQ Cover Story

Over at GQ there is a really interesting article on Stephen Colbert as he puts his new show together.  He is every bit as thoughtful as you would expect him to be.  A sample:

“I went, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I have to do it,’ ” he said. “I have to get up onstage and perform extemporaneously with other people.” He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” he said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”

“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”

More Posts On Stephen Colbert Include:  Former Seattle Police Chief Against Militarization

George Carlin On Abortion

Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers.

In honor, no defiance, of the latest court ruling in Texas concerning Abortion clinics, here is George Carlin on abortions.  From his album Back in Town:

Why, why, why, why is it that most of the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn’t want to fuck in the first place, huh? Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.
Conservatives don’t give a shit about you until you reach “military age”. Then they think you are just fine. Just what they’ve been looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers. Pro-life… pro-life… These people aren’t pro-life, they’re killing doctors! What kind of pro-life is that? What, they’ll do anything they can to save a fetus but if it grows up to be a doctor they just might have to kill it’They’re not pro-life. You know what they are? They’re anti-woman. Simple as it gets, anti-woman. They don’t like them. They don’t like women.They believe a woman’s primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state.
Pro-life… You don’t see many of these white anti-abortion women volunteering to have any black fetuses transplanted into their uteruses, do you? No, you don’t see them adopting a whole lot of crack babies, do you? No, that might be something Christ would do. And, you won’t see alot of these pro-life people dousing themselves in kerosene and lighting themselves on fire. You know, moraly committed religious people in South Vietnam knew how to stage a goddamn demonstration, didn’t they?! They knew how to put on a fucking protest. Light yourself on FIRE!! C’mon, you moral crusaders, let’s see a little smoke. To match that fire in your belly.
Here’s another question I have: how come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette? Are we so much better than chickens all of a sudden? When did this happen, that we passed chickens in goodness? Name six ways we’re better than chickens… See, nobody can do it! You know why? ‘Cuz chickens are decent people. You don’t see chickens hanging around in drug gangs, do you? No, you don’t see a chicken strapping some guy to a chair and hooking up his nuts to a car battery, do you? When’s the last chicken you heard about came home from work and beat the shit out of his hen, huh? Doesn’t happen. ‘Cuz chickens are decent people.
But let’s get back to this abortion shit. Now, is a fetus a human being? This seems to be the central question. Well, if a fetus is a human being, how come the census doesn’t count them? If a fetus is a human being, how come when there’s a miscarriage they don’t have a funeral? If a fetus is a human being, how come people say “we have two children and one on the way” instead of saying “we have three children?” People say life begins at conception, I say life began about a billion years ago and it’s a continuous process. Continuous, just keeps rolling along. Rolling, rolling, rolling along.
And say you know something? Listen, you can go back further than that. What about the carbon atoms? Hah? Human life could not exist without carbon. So is it just possible that maybe we shouldn’t be burning all this coal? Just looking for a little consistency here in these anti-abortion arguments. See the really hardcore people will tell you life begins at fertilization. Fertilization, when the sperm fertilizes the egg. Which is usually a few moments after the man says “Gee, honey, I was going to pull out but the phone rang and it startled me.” Fertilization.
But even after the egg is fertilized, it’s still six or seven days before it reaches the uterus and pregnancy begins, and not every egg makes it that far. Eighty percent of a woman’s fertilized eggs are rinsed and flushed out of her body once a month during those delightful few days she has. They wind up on sanitary napkins, and yet they are fertilized eggs. So basically what these anti-abortion people are telling us is that any woman who’s had more than more than one period is a serial killer! Consistency. Consistency. Hey, hey, if they really want to get serious, what about all the sperm that are wasted when the state executes a condemned man, one of these pro-life guys who’s watching cums in his pants, huh? Here’s a guy standing over there with his jockey shorts full of little Vinnies and Debbies, and nobody’s saying a word to the guy. Not every ejaculation deserves a name.
Now, speaking of consistency, Catholics, which I was until I reached the age of reason, Catholics and other Christians are against abortions, and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less abortions than homosexuals?! Leave these fucking people alone, for Christ sakes! Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion! And the Catholics and Christians are just tossing them aside! You’d think they’d make natural allies. Go look for consistency in religion. And speaking of my friends the Catholics, when John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and some of these other Cardinals and Bishops have experienced their first pregnancies and their first labor pains and they’ve raised a couple of children on minimum wage, then I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion. I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Enlightening, too. But, in the meantime what they ought to be doing is telling these priests who took a vow of chastity to keep their hands off the altar boys! Keep your hands to yourself, Father! You know? When Jesus said “Suffer the little children come unto me”, that’s not what he was talking about!
So you know what I tell these anti-abortion people? I say “Hey. Hey. If you think a fetus is more important that a woman, try getting a fetus to wash the shit stains out of your underwear. For no pay and no pension.” I tell them “Think of an abortion as term limits. That’s all it is. Bioligical term limits.

George Carlin On Education

In accordance with the last post about standardized testing, here is George Carlin on education:

Then people wonder why 17 other countries graduate more scientist than we do. Education – politicians use that word, they use it on you. Politicians have traditionally hidden behind 3 things: the flag, the bible, and children – no child left behind, no child left behind.

Oh, really it wasn’t to long you were talking about giving children a head start. Head start – left behind, someone’s losing fucking ground here, but there’s a reason. There’s a reason for this. There’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason it’ll never ever be fixed – it’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you got, because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now. The wealthy big business interests that controls things, and makes all the important decisions.

John Oliver On Standardized Testing

The always brilliant John Oliver on Standardized Testing in America.  Any teacher that I have ever talked to, and I know a lot, my Mom having been a teacher for her whole career, talks about what a waste of time this testing is.  It eats away at things that could be more beneficial to students, while giving a skewered look as to what is really going on in our schools.  There is huge difference between intelligence, learning, and just memorizing.

NPR's Wits Behind the Scenes and The Comedic Genius of Fred Willard

I did a taping of the NPR show Wits last night, playing bass with Shinyribs.  The other guests on the show were Carrie Rodriguez and legendary comedian Fred Willard.  There were two things that really surprised me:

1.  The first was how much work went into the show.  The show was supposed to begin at 8pm.  We showed up at 1:30 to soundcheck.  Now, that is pretty common in the musical world, to soundcheck hours before a gig.  However, we were the first of many things that needed checking and the staff that was there worked from before we got there to after we had left the theater.  (11pmish)  Now again, for sound guys, roadies, this kind of long hours is normal.  I had never seen it done for a radio show though, just the insanely long hours put in for a one off taping.  Also, once we were done sound checking Carrie Rodriguez had to sound check and then they did a two hour script run-through.  The script run-through was the thing that really surprised me.  Every radio show I’ve been on we show up, set up our gear, right before we play the radio personality enters, and we do the thing.  However, everyone that was on the air got up and did parts of all the script, at times doing whole skits. It again took close to two hours.  Even Fred Willard, who could probably do whatever in his sleep, was game and did the whole run through.  I’m not saying that one could not deduce that an NPR show would be professional, but actually seeing the amount of work put into it was surprising to me for some reason.  This was show business in the sense that it was entertaining and fun, but people were clearly putting in a lot of work to make something as good as they could.

2.  The other thing was how fucking funny Fred Willard is saying just about anything.  I’ve seen stand-up comedy shows, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this, which is partly scripted and partly off the cuff.  He could say just about anything and the crowd laughed.  This wasn’t because he was famous, or because he had writers who gave him part of the script, or because he had spent weeks and months crafting his material like many stand-ups do; he just had great instincts, impeccable timing, and a quick mind.  There is a clearly a reason someone like that has gotten so many roles in comedies.  I’m not saying that when he is in a movie or TV show that good editing might not help him be even funnier, but in the flesh, just shooting things off the top of his head, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

I Love America

A great and strange satire of mindless American patriotism by Alice Cooper off of the highly underrated and bizarre album DaDa.  Singing in a voice that sounds like a redneck version of Beetlejuice, before that character existed, over synthesizers and guitars that seem cheesy by design, backed by a large choir singing the title, Cooper sends up the unthinking American male.  There is even a surreal break for Custer’s Last Stand.  (Where overconfident Americans were defeated by those that they thought of as their inferiors.)  We all know these people.  I think I have heard many of these same lyrics sung without irony in modern country music!  Cooper’s I Love America is more surreal comedy piece than song, but whatever it is, it works.  It’s Monday and I thought many of you could use a laugh.  However, unfortunately for all of us, this was recorded in the early 80’s and it still rings true today!

Laughter On High

Reading the Brendan Behan play Richard Cork’s Leg in the van today.  If I were to tell you a play featuring two prostitutes and two beggers pretending to be blind, among others, all taking place in a graveyard, was funny, you might not believe me, but it is.  One of my favorite George Carlin specials is Life is Worth Losing, where his stage set is a graveyard as well. 

There is that old saying that tragedy plus time equals comedy.  I think it is perspective too.  A war viewed from on high, where two armies butcher each other over nothing more than a disagreement in religious beliefs, is so absurd I can’t help but imagine some supernatural beings having a laugh in the clouds.  What would one think if they watched the battle of Gettysburg from far away, watching an army walk directly into cannon fire, largely over some misinformed ideas concerning the inferiority of certain people because they looked slightly different?  We do strange and horrible things down here.   If someone is watching from above, we surely have provided them with a lot of folly over the years.