Popular Problems

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Samson in New Orleans

You said that you were with me
You said you were my friend
Did you really love the city
Or did you just pretend

You said you loved her secrets
And her freedoms hid away
She was better than America
That’s what I heard you say

You said how could this happen
You said how can this be
The remnant all dishonored
On the bridge of misery

And we who cried for mercy
From the bottom of the pit
Was our prayer so damn unworthy
The Son rejected it?

So gather up the killers
Get everyone in town
Stand me by those pillars
Let me take this temple down

The king so kind and solemn
He wears a bloody crown
So stand me by that column
Let me take this temple down

You said how could this happen
You said how can this be
The chains are gone from heaven
The storms are wild and free

There’s other ways to answer
That certainly is true
Me, I’m blind with death and anger
And that’s no place for you

There’s a woman in the window
And a bed in Tinsel Town
I’ll write you when it’s over
Let me take this temple down

By Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, comes out today.  I will review it at some point, but for today I thought I would just share one of the sets of lyrics.  Cohen has long been a hero of mine.  His work is complex and I don’t envy anyone that tries to accurately portray one of his works in print after only a couple spins.

That’s How People Grow Up

Last night I played a really great festival in Oklahoma.  The people were great and the festival was well run.  Yesterday I posted a poem that was poking some fun at Oklahoma.  There is almost nothing more rewarding than being pleasantly surprised by people. 

I think it is truly important in life to admit when we are wrong.  It does not diminish us to do this.  We, as human beings, can’t possibly know everything.  We are bound to make mistakes.  Suffering and mistakes are how we become better people.  As Morrissey croons, “That’s how people grow up.” 

In America we tend to view those who evolve as the flip flopper.  But it is only the prideful and the ignorant who never change their opinion.  Often the biggest mistakes, like invading a country that we have no business being in, are the ones that we as a people have the hardest time admitting to. 

But remember it is noble, good, and intelligent to say, “I don’t know that”, or, “I was wrong.”

All we can hope to do is to make the best judgments that we can based on the information we have at the time.  Until you are dead, you can always start over.  Each day begins anew. 

I was driving in my car
I crashed and broke my spine
Yes there are things worse in life
Than never being someone’s sweety
That’s how people grow up

- Morrissey

Damien Dempsey, Stockholm Pop, and Declining Record Sales

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http://mic.com/articles/95260/the-music-industry-is-literally-brainwashing-you-to-like-bad-pop-songs-here-s-how?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social

That is a link that talks about how popular music is driven by how much you hear it, and not by the quality.    The more you hear something the more you are likely to like it.  This is due to the way people’s brains function.  It compares the modern pop world to the Stockholm Syndrome.  Corporations are cramming this nonsense down people’s throats.  

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/album-sales-hit-historic-low-falling-below-four-million-units-sold-20140829

This is an article about how album sales are at an all-time low.  I realize that technology has had an effect, but if one compares todays popular music with popular music in the past, one can’t help but feel quality of the things that are getting the most exposure is also at an all-time low.  

In closing, I will quote part of Damien Dempsey’s song Patience:

Well I’ve exchanged the spear and the sword
For words and melody
Oh what a felony
How the record company pushes this McDonalds music
An aural lobotomy
For those who choose it
Corporations pumpin all this money into pop
To keep the real singers far away from the top
So folks are never told what these corporations do
Fuckin up the planet, exploiting me and you

P.S.  I love the term McDonalds music!  

Only an Expert Lyrics

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Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So if theres no expert dealing with the problem
Its really actually twice the problem
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now in America we like solutions
We like solutions to problems
And theres so many companies that offer solutions
Companies with names like Pet Solution
The Hair Solution. The Debt Solution. The World Solution. The Sushi Solution.
Companies with experts ready to solve the problems.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only and expert can deal with the problem

Now lets say youre invited to be on Oprah
And you dont have a problem
But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem
So you invent a problem
But if youre not an expert in problems
Youre probably not going to invent a very plausible problem
And so youre probably going to get nailed
Youre going to get exposed
Youre going to have to bow down and apologize
And beg for the publics forgiveness.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now on these shows, the shows that try to solve your problems
The big question is always How can I get control?
How can I take control?
But dont forget this is a question for the regular viewer
The person whos barely getting by.
The person whos watching shows about people with problems
The person whos part of the 60% of the U.S. population
1.3 weeks away, 1.3 pay checks away from homelessness.
In other words, a person with problems.
So when experts say, Lets get to the root of the problem
Lets take control of the problem
So if you take control of the problem you can solve the problem.
Now often this doesnt work at all because the situation is completely out of control.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So who are these experts?
Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now sometimes experts look for weapons.
And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons.
And sometimes when they dont find any weapons
Sometimes other experts say, If you havent found any weapons
It doesnt mean there are no weapons.
And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids.
And refrigerator rods. And small magnets. And they say,
These things may look like common objects to you
But in our opinion, they could be weapons.
Or they could be used to make weapons.
Or they could be used to ship weapons.
Or to store weapons.
Cause only an expert can see they might be weapons
And only an expert can see they might be problems.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And sometimes, if its really really really hot.
And its July in January.
And theres no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities.
And hurricanes are everywhere.
And everyone knows its a problem.
But if some of the experts say its no problem
And other experts claim its no problem
Or explain why its no problem
Then its simply not a problem.
But when an expert says its a problem
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And even though a county can invade another country.
And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country
If the experts say that its not a problem
And everyone agrees that theyre experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals
This is also not a problem.
Unless theres an expert who says its the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Only an expert can see theres a problem
And see the problem is half the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

By Laurie Anderson.  I posted a link to the video of Laurie Anderson performing this song on David Letterman the other day, but I thought the lyrics were worth reprinting in and of themselves.  She has a mind like a laser beam.  

 

Knockin’ On Mine

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Alright, you read common knowledge, stockpile your brain
You get burned in the sun, you get wet in the rain
What they teach you to fix, needs to be broke
I say, he who laughs first didn’t get the joke
Go on, untap your mind, quit knocking on mine

An English teacher from Vancouver
She asked me to write something for her students
I wrote knowledge adds, wisdom let slide
She says now really? I wanna tap your mind

Quit knockin’ on mine
Walkin’ on
Knockin’ on mine

Knowledge is power, got your books go read ‘em
Wisdom is ignorance, stupidity, I call freedom
Knockin’ on mine, get out

Comic books, the Bible, road maps, pornography
Anything you wanna read
Go out and sit in a field sometime

Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)
Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

Power got your books go read ‘em
Wisdom is ignorance, stupidity, I call freedom
Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

You read common knowledge every day
You’re as common as that newspaper you throw away
You get burned in the sun, you get wet in the rain
Won’t you ever change, won’t you ever learn?

Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

Knockin’ On Mine by Paul Westerberg.  I remember hearing this song when I was around 13 or 14 and being surprised that there was a rock n roll song about reading, one that actually rocked no less.  I was used to the songs that were on the radio that were about having fun and partying all of the time.  As I grow older I realize that it’s ideas that are most subversive of all.  Anyone just singing about whiskey all of the time is selling you fake rebellion.  

Smiles

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Smiles, I was taught never to smile
I was told the stylish smiles of buffoonery
chicanery and larceny abound

My mom said unless someone sticks you right in front of a camera
a smile is the last thing that you wanna do
Those smiles, those mirthless toothy smiles

Smiles, they all smile on TV
The quizmaster with his withered crones
the talkshow hosting movie stars, the politician licking feet

The mugger, the rapist, the arsonic lover
all smile out from the news, at one time or another
Those smiles, those garish sickly smiles

When I was young my mother said to me
never, ever, let anyone see that you’re happy

Smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
they’ll always put you down
With those smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
they’ll always put you down
With your smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
don’t you know they’ll make you go

Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo
doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo

Smiles by Lou Reed.  I was telling a friend about this song today, from his overlooked Growing Up in Public album.  Lou’s band was much better on The Bells, the album that came before, and infinitely better on The Blue Mask, the album that came after, but the writing on this album is still great.  When I worked in customer service for AT&T they used to always tell me that my voice didn’t sound happy enough, even though I was basically just listening to customers that were angry at having been ripped off all day.  We often put a lot of emphasis on appearance and not on what is going on beneath the surface in our society.  Those people would have been happy had I reduced their outrageous bill, whether I sounded happy or not.  The thing was I was actually trying to sound nice and pleasant to the customers, but I guess being from the North East, working in the South, it just didn’t translate.  It’s a generalization, but I think Southerners do the whole coming across as friendly thing better, at least in a superficial kind of way.  

The other night when I got offstage someone told me I needed to smile more. It made me think of this song, and I had a big shit eating grin, inside where no one could see it.  

Alvvays Album Review

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Recently I was checking out album reviews at Rolling Stone.  There is a band called Alvvays that got a four star review and thought I’d investigate further.  I liked what I heard in the samples, as I am a fan of finely crafted girl pop melodies and fast picked jangle guitar playing, and I though I would investigate further.  The record is even produced as if it came from that interesting period of early 80’s post punk, when real alternative music to the mainstream was quite interesting.  The production is muddy in the right way that adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, although it continues the terrible trend of mixing the vocals low, so that most of the words are lost on you without a lyric booklet.

They band has a keyboard player as well as featuring two guitars, and the keyboards add just enough of an extra dimension at times so the music doesn’t seem completely formulaic.  The melodies are effervescent in the way that Kirsty MacColl’s were, although the singer, Molly Revkin, does not possess the unique personality or wit of the undeniably great Kirsty MacColl.

But the more I listen to the band the more the music dissipates.  The lyrics are clever in that cute kind of way, but nothing more.  The music sounds great, in that kind of way that would make it perfect listening to an afternoon of reading or talking to a friend, but again the more I pay attention the less I seem to care.  I can’t help but feel that this is an almost great record.  But at the end of the day it feels like style over substance.

There is some nifty guitar playing going on, and again the melodies are quite good.  However, I wish there were lyrics that lived up to the rest of the proceedings.  I wish there were words that were either simple and universal poetry the way old 60’s pop songs used to be, or even better conveyed some kind of subversive intelligence that made you feel as if something was on the line.

Recently I have been listening to Louder than Bombs by the Smiths.  The music on the Alvvays record seems quite influenced by Johnny Marr’s jingle jangle guitar, but without any of the weirder eccentricities that he would often introduce into the music.  And again the lyrics fall far short of a Morrissey or even a Kirsty MacColl.  (Johnny Marr was in the Smiths with Morrissey and also wrote with Kirsty MacColl.)  I feel like I can neither relate to the lyrics on any day to day basis, nor are any secrets of the universe being unlocked.

As far as first albums go, there is enough in the way of style to think that there might be a promising future ahead.  However, to do something great they are going to need to push themselves further and, especially lyrically, to think more outside the box.  The lyrics are just clever enough to make you realize that they are not dumb.  I hope that Miss Rankin, or whoever writes the lyrics, will keep reading and pushing herself.  If you are looking for some good summer background music this album does have its charms.  However, if you are looking for something more substantial look elsewhere.