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.

Going Out Strange

Do you think about when you’re going to die?
I think about it all the time
I watch the days and I walk the line
I wonder when I’m gonna get mine
I knew at an early age
there was no need to be afraid
there was nothing I could change
I was gonna go out strange

going out
going out
going out strange
going out
going out
going out of range

when you know you really know
when it shows it really shows
people say look at that boy he’s going insane
look ma, no plans, I’m going out strange

going out
going out
going out strange
going out
going out
going out of range

bullet brain, go insane
gone away, not afraid
horror mind, terror mind
paranoid, feeling fine

going out
going out
going out strange

Going Out Strange by Rollins Band.  This will be my last Rollins Band post for awhile.  I have spoken about how I become obsessed with something for a week or two, learn everything I can about it, and then move on.  Although my private obsession will probably continue for awhile, I don’t plan on posting anything else here about it.  But the title of this song alone has had my brother and I laughing for the last two days.  I have been exhausted from touring and canvassing, and he is exhausted from law school, so we have both been joking about “going out strange”.

My Land is Too Green Lyrics

My land is bogged down in religious tradition
We nod our heads in humble submission
One foot in the door a hand in your pocket
We export our problems for foreign solutions
My land is naive too scared of the devil
Holier than thou with eyes up to heaven
When nobody looks we tear strips off our neighbour
And to have a good laugh at it all in the end

Shrouded and mist the outlook’s appalling
Pressure is rising but temperature’s falling
Sunny spells and scattered showers
But still it rains for hours and hours
And as the floods rise we drown our sorrows
Tossing them back like there is no tomorrow
And in the end we’ll stick or stand
And piss it back to the bog holes of Ireland

My land is too full of incurable scheming
The promises given are nothing but dreaming
We all love a rogue we’ll make him our leader
And every four years it’s right back to zero
My land is still poor and underdeveloped
We talk round our problems for hours on end
And then we decide there’s two sides to the story
And have a good laugh at it all in the end

Shrouded in mist the outlook’s appalling
Pressure is rising but temperature’s falling
Sunny spells and scattered showers
And still it rains for hours and hours
And as the floods rise we drown our sorrows
Tossing them back like there is no tomorrow
And in the end we will sit or stand
And piss it back to the bog holes of Ireland

My Land is Too Green written by A. Hensey/Erik Visser.  The recording that I owned is performed by Mary Coughlan.  I was listening to Coughlan as I took a walk after having just written about her.  I had downloaded this song for my six hours of drive time yesterday to a gig in Conroe, but I never got around to listening to it till today as hardcore music was better at keeping me awake and focused.  As I was listening to it the first few lines, even though I knew in advance the song was about Ireland, struck me as very fitting for America.  In fact, change a few lines here and there and a few words, and the song could unfortunately translate well as an American political song.  Let me show you:

The whole first verse fits great with the continued rise of the religious right.  The only thing is, we don’t export our problems for foreign solutions.  We just export our problems.

The chorus would take the most work.   You should change the temperature falling to rising on account of our country’s terribly inadequate response to climate change .  You would also have to mess with the weather metaphors a bit depending on where you lived.  God, does our country get hogged on booze though.  That’s not just an Irish thing.  I have seen that shit with my own eyes.  I have taken part!  Obviously you would have to change the final line.

The second verse you wouldn’t have to change a line, although to be fair our land isn’t poor, it’s just that many of its inhabitants are poor due to the greed of the few.

So there you go.

If I Could Be Anywhere Lyrics

Sliding through the shimmering surface between two worlds

Standing at the centre of time as it uncurls
Cutting through a veil of illusion
Moving beyond past conclusions
Wondering if all my doubt and confusion will clear

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere
If I could be anywhere right now, I would want to be here

Searching for the future among the things we’re throwing away
Trying to see the world through the junk we produce every day
They say nothing lasts forever,
But all the plastic ever made is still here
No amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere
If I could be anywhere in history, I would want to be here

The Romans, the Spanish, the British, the Dutch
American exceptionalism, so out of touch
The folly of empire, repeating its course
Imposing its will and ruling by force
On and on through time

But the world can’t take it, very much longer
We’re not gonna make it, unless we’re smarter and stronger
The world is gonna shake itself free of our greed somehow

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere in time
If I could be anywhere and change things, it would have to be now.

They say nothing lasts forever,
but all the plastic ever made is still here
No amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear

And the world can’t take it, very much longer
It’s not gonna make it, ‘less we’re smarter and stronger
The world is gonna shake itself free of our greed somehow

And the world can’t take it, that you can see
If the oceans don’t make it, neither will we
The world is gonna shake itself all the way free somehow

If I could be anywhere, If I could be anywhere in time
If I could be anywhere and change the outcome, it would have to be now.

If I Could Be Anywhere by Jackson Browne from his Standing in the Breach album.

I wanted to add two things.  First, again, Jackson Browne who is often written off by many younger artists, is actually saying something that takes courage in the place of so much of the ironic detachment that is out there.  Also, he has written a song that deals in part to the environment calamities that we are facing, but in a very thoughtful and sly way.  Writing a song about the environment is really, really tricky.  But taking on the idea of the environment in the margins of the songs, there are very few direct lines that actually mention it, it is actually more powerful.  It’s so easy to sing about environmental themes in a way which is cliched.  Save the planet, etc.  I remember hearing the Melissa Etheridge song at the end of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and being embarrassed for her.  My Dad was an environmental lawyer for most of his career, and now is a professor of environmental ethics.  He has long asked me to try and write a topical song that deals with environmental themes.  I have never been able to find a way into the subject that really felt authentic.  I feel like Browne has done so here.  The couplet, “They say nothing lasts forever, but all the plastic ever made is still here”, is witty.  It plays with your expectations, it goes one way and then turns it around.  He makes you think about something without telling you what you should be thinking with those lines.  

The New Greek Ideal

Don Juan
Picaresque
Wife beater vest
Cold hand
Ice man
Warring cave man
Well if this is what it takes to describe…
I’m not a man

Wheeler, dealer
Mover, shaker
Casanova
Beefaroni
A-ho but lonely
Well if this is what it takes to describe…
I’m not a man
I’m not a man
I’m something much bigger and better than
A man

Wise-ass
Smart-ass
Workaholic
Thick-skinned
Two-fisted hombre, olé
Well if these are terms you’d use to describe…

Oh, I’m shaking
Look at me I’m quaking
True grit
True blue
Kill crazy
So very manly of you
You are the soldier
Who won’t get much older
You are the slow Joe
Who signed up to go

Wolf down
Wolf down
T-bone steak
Wolf down
Cancer of the prostate

Ways to sit
And of course
Ways to stand
I’m not a man
I’m not a man
No big fat locker room
Hockey jock
Laughing
I’m not a man
I’d never kill or eat an animal
And I never would destroy this planet I’m on
Well, what do you think I am?
A man?

I’m Not a Man by Morrissey.  These lyrics are the best ones I have come across in a long time.  I listen to this song almost every day.  They allow you to look at the world through a new lens.  I called them the new Greek Ideal because they are idealistic, a place to strive for, but will not be reached by many.  But they are a path worth heading down, even if you fall short.  They outline the macho behavior that leads to war and the destruction of our planet.  Right now Morrissey is without a label and this record, World Peace is None of Your Business, is hard to find.  I wanted to wait till it was available again to post these, but they mean too much to me.  As soon as it is available get a copy.  Thank god he’s out there…