Cross the Green Mountain

I am watching Ken Burns’s amazing Civil War series.  One of my favorite Dylan songs is his song about the Civil War, Cross the Green Mountain.  These are the lyrics:

I crossed the green mountain
I slept by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamt a monstrous dream

Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free

I look into the eyes
Of my merciful friend
And then I ask myself
Is this the end?

Memories linger
Sad yet sweet
And I think of the souls
In heaven who will meet

Alters are burning
The flames far and wide
The foe has crossed over
From the other side

They tip their caps
From the top of the hill
You can feel them come
More brave blood do spill

Along the dim
Atlantic line
The ravaged land
Lasts for miles behind

The lights coming forward
And the streets are broad
All must yield
To the avenging God

The world is old
The world is grey
Lessons of life
Can’t be learned in a day

I watch and I wait
And I listen while I stand
To the music that comes
From a far better land

Close the eyes of our captain
Peace may he know
His long night is done
The great leader is laid low

He was ready to fall
He was quick to defend
Killed outright he was
By his own men

It’s the last day’s last hour
Of the last happy year
I feel that the unknown world is so near

Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot

The bells
Of evening have rung
There’s blasphemy on every tongue

Let them say that I walked
In fair nature’s light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right

Serve God and be cheerful
Look upward beyond
Beyond the darkness that masks
The surprises of dawn

In the deep green grasses
And the blood stained woods
They never dreamed of surrendering
They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama
I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams
Whoever you are

Chilled are the skies
Keen is the frost
The ground’s froze hard
And the morning is lost

A letter to mother
Came today
Gunshot wound to the breast
Is what it did say

But he’ll be better soon
He’s in a hospital bed
But he’ll never be better
He’s already dead

I’m ten miles outside the city
And I’m lifted away
In an ancient light
That is not of day

They were calm, they were blunt
We knew them all too well
We loved each other more than
We ever dared to tell

W.A.R. (White Anglo-Saxon Republicans) What are They Good For?

Ever since the election I have been trying to think of one thing that Republicans do that is positive.  I am talking about the leaders and not about those that are in the party.  I grew up with Republicans, I have had Republican friends at all times in my life, and I know that many of them are kind, generous, fun people.

But most of the people that I am friends with would be moderate Republicans.  These are not the kind of Republicans that just won election.  Most moderate Republicans have been drummed out of positions of power.

I am dead serious.  I want any of you that are Republicans to email me positive policy positions that the Republicans have.  Things that you don’t agree with, but you think they would do better than Obama don’t count.  You also can’t say anything like I think they would be better at foreign policy because they would fight war more effectively.  I’m talking about things that would be put in place that would make the lives of everyday people better.

Most of the things I have heard during the election are things that would make someone’s life worse.  There seems to be anti-whatever in front of all of the Republican’s big issues.  They are anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-environmental regulation, anti-affordable healthcare, etc.  I know that they want to take away women’s right to choose, immigrant rights in anyway possible, gay people’s right to marry, allow fossil fuel companies to operate with less restrictions, repeal Obamacare.  I don’t see how anyone but the extremely rich benefit from any of these ideas.

Those in the right that are in power seem to be either free-market utopians or the religiously insane.  Those in power are not conservatives with a small c.  So please, I really want to know.  What do those in power in this party stand for other than making sure that rich white people hold onto their money?  What are the leaders of this party good for?

Unless someone can make me aware of something that I’m not, I can’t help but feel that the answer is the same as to war in the Edwin Starr song:  Absolutely nothing!

Work

Andy was a Catholic, the ethic ran through his bones
He lived alone with his mother, collecting gossip and toys
Every Sunday when he went to Church
He’d kneel in his pew and say, “It’s just work,
all that matters is work.”

He was a lot of things, what I remember most
He’d say, “I’ve got to bring home the bacon, someone’s got to bring home the roast.”
He’d get to the factory early
If you’d ask him he’d tell you straight out
It’s just work, the most important thing is work
No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, “How many songs did you write?”
I’d written zero, I’d lied and said, “Ten.”
“You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen”
It’s work, the most important thing is work
It’s work, the most important thing is work

“You ought to make things big
People like it that way
And the songs with the dirty words – record them that way”
Andy liked to stir up trouble, he was funny that way
He said, “It’s just work, all that matters is work”
Andy sat down to talk one day
He said decide what you want
Do you want to expand your parameters
Or play museums like some dilettante
I fired him on the spot, he got red and called me a rat
It was the worst word that he could think of
And I’ve never seen him like that
It’s just work, I thought he said it’s just work
Work, he said it’s just work

Andy said a lot of things, I stored them all away in my head
Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do
I think what would Andy have said
He’d probably say you think too much
That’s ’cause there’s work that you don’t want to do
It’s work, the most important thing is work
Work, the most important thing is work

Work by Lou Reed and John Cale.  This song is from the excellent album Songs for Drella.  This is a tribute album the two did for Andy Warhol after Warhol’s death.  Drella was Warhol’s nickname.  It is a combination of Cinderella and Dracula.  The album as a whole is an incredibly powerful work in which the two share their recollections of Warhol and often sing from Warhol’s perspective.  One of the reasons that it is so emotionally moving is that it largely lacks sentimentality.  Warhol is presented as a real human being, faults and all.  One feels as if they are getting a look at the Warhol behind the pop culture figure that he has now become.  Often when someone influential dies mainstream society sands the edges off of them.  The Warhol presented here is actually more interesting here in his full humanity than the Warhol that we often see in TV and films.

I often think of this song because it is about the daily grind to create art.  David Milch talks about how one needs to be, “prepared to be inspired.”  Art is a work of passion, so no I’m not comparing it to digging ditches.  But it does take a certain persistence to create anything.  Warhol created an astonishing amount of work.  To do what he did took a lot of effort.  Because of his public persona it makes it easy to overlook the fact that he put countless hours into his craft.

Great artists like Warhol make creation seem easy.  Behind that fey outer shell was someone who possessed grit and determination.

Morrissey as Existential Hero

Morrissey_3

Morrissey as Existential Hero

Anyone that has read this blog over any amount of time will know that Morrissey is one of my musical heroes.  Here is a really interesting article by Kevin Michael Klipfel about Morrissey and existentialism.  Although anyone that is a fan of Morrissey will like this article, I think music fans in general and those that are also interested in existentialism will find something to take away here.

Standing in the Breach Review

Jackson-Browne-Standing-In-the-Breach

I already know that Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach is one of the best albums of the year and will be an album that I will listen to for many years to come.  It is intelligent and emotional in equal measure.  It feels both inspired and well crafted.  He has found the right balance between poetry and directness in his writing.  Along with Time the Conqueror, this continues his late career renaissance.  Sonically this probably recalls his 70’s peak more than anything else since.

I love almost all of Jackson Browne’s career expect for his 90’s work.  He still released some great songs in that period (I’m Alive, The Barricades of Heaven), but overall he seemed to lose his way to LA slickness.  Some would argue that he lost his way to that in the 80’s, but despite the hallmarks of 80’s production techniques, which I never really minded personally, I love albums such as Lawyers in Love and Lives in the Balance.  In the 90’s his songs felt too adult contemporary and stodgy.  It was too easy to write him off when he is really one of the greatest poets working in modern songwriting.  He began his climb back up the mountain with The Naked Ride Home, whose title track displays a wicked sense of humor that is too often overlooked in Browne’s work.  However, that album was still flawed.  On Time the Conqueror he got the writing and the sound right, and now he is at the top of his game again.

Jackson Browne’s voice is an instrument that works best when singing great melodies.  When married to the right melody it is a thing of transcendence.  This new album is full of great melodies.

Some of the nods in production and songwriting to his past are clearly on purpose.  The Long Way Around and Leaving Winslow pay musical respects to These Days and Take It Easy respectively.  The Birds of St. Marks is an old song he wrote concerning his time with Nico and Andy Warhol’s Factory that finally receives the production that he always felt it deserved.  However, this is no nostalgia ride.  He is using the past to contrast it with the present, which Browne finds troubling, though not without hope.

Browne is one of the best political songwriters there is, as he knows how to write about current events with one eye towards eternity.  He is not just rehashing the days headlines like many political songwriters do, but infusing them with poetry and deeper meaning.

I mentioned that The Long Way Around was a rewrite of These Days.  Where once Jackson Browne was the most introspective of songwriters, he now often looks outwards.  Using a chord progression and quoting the words “these days” could be a really bad decisions in lesser songwriters, but with Jackson Browne you feel that he is taking stock of his own life and the world around them and how it has changed.

I don’t know what to say about these days
I’m seeing people changing in the strangest ways
Even in the richer neighbourhoods
People don’t know when they got it good
They got the envy and they got it bad

Anyone that reads the papers will know that even rich people are uncertain about our current economic situation.  If you turn on Fox News for a moment you will also see the rich portrayed as victims, often by themselves. Browne is keyed into what is happening in the world.  But he is too smart to preach.  He simply states what is going on and lets the listener do the thinking.

On Walls and Doors, which he wrote with Cuban songwriter Carlos Verelas there is poetry alongside with Browne’s quest for social justice:

Ever since the world existed
One thing it is certain

Some build walls, others open doors

And later

Of what use is the moon
If you don’t have the night?
Of what use is a windmill
With no Quixote left to fight?

Browne is not also an excellent political writer, but a great study of the human heart and the complexity of the human condition.  This has been true ever since he first started out.  On The Birds of St. Marks, as I mentioned a song that was actually written in the 60’s, he sings:

But all my frozen words agree and say it’s time to
Call back all the birds I sent to
Fly behind her castle walls and I’m
Weary of the nights I’ve seen
Inside these empty halls

But if Browne was only a great lyricist it wouldn’t make his songs powerful.  When he and his band get the sound right, his songs are highly emotional.  This is, aside from Time the Conqueror, the most organic sounding album he has put out since the 70’s.  You can actually picture musicians playing alongside each other instead of them being sequestered clinically in different booths in an LA studio.  I have no idea which is actually the case, I’m sure the recording was made in somewhat modern fashion, but it at least feels natural. His band also plays with great subtlety, bringing out the nuance of each song.

Browne has often, unfairly, gotten lumped in with the mellow 70’s bands and solo acts like The Eagles and James Taylor.  His songwriting is much more fearless and intelligent than any of those other acts.  Don’t let the fact that it is often quite beautiful fool you.  He is putting his neck on the chopping block much more than almost any dangerous sounding indie band.  With Browne you get the best of all worlds, you get someone that will challenge the way you think while making music that is actually a joy to listen to. I’m glad that he is out there and that he has provided us with this new collection of songs.

In The Future When All’s Well

Armed with wealth and with the, the best of health
In the future when alls well
I will lie down and then be counted
In the future when alls well

I thank you
I thank you with all of my heart
I thank you
I thank you with all of my heart

Lee, please stand up and defend me
In the future when alls well
Confront what you are afraid of
In the future when alls well

Every day I play a sad game called
‘In The Future When Alls Well’
Living longer than I had intended
Something must have gone right

I thank you
I thank you with all of my heart
I thank you
I thank you with all of my heart

Lee, please stand up and defend me
In the future when alls well
Confront what you are afraid of
In the future when alls well

Hold me closely if your will allows it
In the future when alls well
Paired off, pawed till I can barely stand it
The future is ended by a long, long sleep

The future is ended by a long, long sleep
The future is ended by a long sleep

In The Future When All’s Well by Morrissey.  It is on his excellent Ringleader of the Tormentors album.  I end some of my posts with the title of this song.  I am paying tribute to Morrissey, but I also like the dark humor involved.  In the future when all’s well is a place that will never happen.  It’s a romantic notion, that in some point in the future everything will be perfect.  Things can always get better, but life will never be perfect.  We have seen too many Hollywood movies, where everything is tied up neatly in the end.  That’s unrealistic and life is far better when you can cast such notions aside.  If you can learn to accept that hopefully you can live in the present and enjoy yourself more.  Trust me, I am by no means enlightened.  Far, far from it man!  I am a procrastinator that often puts things often until I absolutely can’t anymore.  I can be just as much a bastard as anyone in the moment.  I am wired to hot to ever be truly mellow patient.  But I think being a realist, and dealing with life somewhat on its own terms can help ever so slightly in pushing that boulder up the mountain.  Trust me, just like in the myth of Sisyphus, it’s going to roll back down many times.