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.

The Molly Maguires

Make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

Down the mines no sunlight shines 
Those pits they’re black as hell 
In modest style they do their time 
It’s Paddy’s prison cell 
And they curse the day they’ve travelled far 
Then drown their tears with a jar 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

Backs will break and muscles ache 
Down there there’s no time to dream 
Of fields and farms, of womans arms 
Just dig that bloody seam 
Though they drain their bodies underground 
Who’ll dare to push them around 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again

I absolutely love Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.  My family, on my Dad’s side, also comes from the coal mining region of Pennsylvania.  This song is obviously romanticized, but it is great nonetheless. I’ve printed the lyrics in part a long time ago, but thought that I would post them in full.

If you are interested in learning about the Molly Maguires here is the wikipedia page on them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Maguires

It is an interesting time in our history that is often overlooked.

Mountjoy

The joy brings many things

It cannot bring you joy
Sons of mothers huddle here
Men and boys

1850 swung the doors
And human sewage swept inside
Where victims speak in whines
And where the hardened cried

I was sent here by a 3 foot half-wit in a wig
I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch

A swagger hides the fear in here
By this rule we breathe
And there is no one on this earth
Who I’d feel sad to leave

You see we all lose
We all lose

What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each others guts
And show it given a chance

We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares

Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky

Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose

Mountjoy by Morrissey.  The new album is up and streaming at npr.org.  it is fantastic.  I will review it in full once I get my hands on a copy next week and can spend more time with it.  It is hard streaming it on tour from my phone.  First listen blew me away as I feel like he is really pushing himself to new places on this one. 

Mountjoy is a prison where, among regular inmates, famous prisoners like Brendan Behan spent time.  I am coincidentally reading Behan’s Borstal Boy at the moment. 

These lyrics are stunning, especially when married to the music.  Although they look backwards they could not be more contemporary given the sad state of justice in the world…

Both Sides Now Lyrics

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev’ry fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ‘em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From win and lose and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From up and down, and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Both Sides Now written by Joni Mitchell.  This is one of my favorite songs of all time.  It is just a brilliant piece of writing.  I’ve posted a link to the video before, but never the lyrics.  Although I love Joni, she is one of my heroes, I actually prefer the Judy Collins version.  I also love the slowed down version that Joni recorded later in life.  Her voice, having been lowered by years of smoking, gives the song a different context.

Here is the link to the Judy Collins version if you didn’t see my original post:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Xm30heHms

Here is a link to Joni Mitchell’s version that she recorded in 2000:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCnf46boC3I

Opening Lines Matter

I really like when lyrics start with some kind of strong visceral image that brings you into the world of the song.  Even the best song writers don’t always write front to back strong lyrics in a song.  There may be a bland line or verse that moves the song along rather than being exceptional in its own right.  Sometimes lines and couplets can be taken out of context and be exceptional and sometimes they are just functionary within the song.  Songwriters, unlike poets, are also stuck trying to form words to a melody, so occasionally they may need to take a dive on a line to serve a melodic hook. I thought I would post a very small portion of some of my favorite opening lines or verses in song.

 

Brandenburg Gate by Lou Reed

I would cut my legs and tits off
When I dream of Boris Karloff and Kinski
In the dark of the moon

Makes me dream of Nosferatu
Trapped on the isle of Doctor Moreau

 

Now My Heart is Full by Morrissey

There’s gonna be some trouble
A whole house will need re-building
And everyone I love will recline
On an analyst’s couch quite soon
Your father cracks a joke and in the usual way
Empty’s the room

 

First We Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within

 

Lisence to Kill by Bob Dylan

Man thinks ‘cause he rules the earth
He can do with it as he pleases
And if things don’t change soon he will
Man has invented his doom
His first step was touching the moon

 

The Auld Triangle by Dominic Behan

A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing

 

Black Boys on Mopeds by Sinead O’Connor

Margaret Thatcher on TV
Shocked by the deaths that she sees in Beijing
It seems strange that she should be offended
The same orders are given by her

 

Bill Lee by Warren Zevon

You’re supposed to sit on your ass
And nod at stupid things, man that’s hard to do
And if you don’t they’ll screw you
And if you do they’ll screw you too

 

East by Marah

This evening pigeons turn to bars of gold
In the sun’s last light
Across the river, Camden is a gilded kingdom
On the verge of night


The Naked Ride Home
by Jackson Browne

Just take off your clothes and I’ll drive you home I said
Knowing she could never pass on a dare
And knowing it sounded more desperate than reckless or bold
I just put it out there cold, too far gone to care

 

Satan Rejected My Soul by Morrissey

Satan rejected my soul
He knows my kind, he won’t be dragged down

It’s a Wonderful Lie

Get up from a dream and I look for rain
Take an amphetamine and a crushed rat brain
How am I feelin’, better I suppose

How am I lookin’, I don’t want the truth
What am I doin’, I ain’t in my youth
I’m past my prime or was that just a pose
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those

I’ve been accused of never opening up
You get too close, then I keep my mouth shut
Gonna run to the wind where the big bad city blows
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, by on those

Now you can dress to the eights, you can dress to maim
They make you feel great, this fortune and fame
Wearing too much makeup, not near enough clothes
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by

So don’t pin your hopes or pin your dreams
To misanthropes or guys like me
And the truth is overrated, I suppose
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by

It’s a Wonderful Lie by Paul Westerberg.  I always loved this song for it’s perfect and simple melody, the wordplay invovled, and the way it takes the piss out of fame.  Often great song titles, and I do believe song titles are important, can be made by changing an existing title.  Morrissey famously changing Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now is a great example.

Westerberg, because of the Replacements, will always be seen as the poet of the beautiful losers, but I always felt his solo stuff was criminally overlooked.  Suicaine Gratifaction, the album that this song is from, is full of really great writing.  But unlike the Replacements who could be enjoyed by pretty much anyone with a six pack, despite having a great deal of intelligence in some of their material as well, Westerberg’s solo work was for adults.  I don’t mean in a safe adult contemporary way.  I mean that he was often dealing with the harrowing themes that one faces as they grow older, as the illusions of youth slip away one by one.  Yet their was and still remains a duality to his work perfectly highlighted by his Stereo and Mono albums.  Both albums were released at the same time.  Stereo was an album of mostly bleak folk ballads.  Mono is a perfect summer album of extremely fun guitar rock with great pop melodies and guttural playing.  He can make you laugh and cry in equal measures, something most of those following in his footsteps never got.

Here is a link to the original recording:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEm7pUwlGXQ

Teen Tragedies Set to Music

I have become fascinated lately with the teenage tragedy song.  This is a form of song that was in high fashion in the early 60’s.  Some irreversible ill fortune struck the narrator or someone close to the narrator, often to a joyful bubblegum melody.  A prime example is the Shangri-La’s Leader of the Pack where Mary Weiss’s boyfriend dies in a motorcycle crash.  Other songs include Jan and Dean’ s Dead Man’s Curve and Teen Angel by Mark Dinning.

I really love the motorcycle crash of Twinkle’s Terry.  Many people think of Twinkle, if they think of her at all, as a sleight talent with an average voice.  However, it is precisely her lack of emotion that makes this song, and others, so great.  The only time she seems to rise above boredom is when she is describing the actual crash itself, and then she sound slightly excited by it.  Because of this the tragedy of the song turns into a human comedy of error.

These songs are mini movies or plays that miraculously take place in two or three minutes.  There is also again a great deal of camp, comedy, and tragedy delivered in these songs.  Are you supposed to feel sad or elated when listening to them?  Quite often the music is very happy and if not the melody is usually beautiful.  None of these songs sound like the horror they are describing.  They are like films that combine different genres.

It is these contrasting emotions that make these songs so powerful to me.  I find myself laughing at situations in which I normally wouldn’t.  When you laugh at something you shouldn’t you are less afraid even if you aren’t thinking through that process while you are actually listening.

Edgar Allen Poe once said that, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world.”  The lyrics of these songs would never quality as high poetry, and quite often it is the boys that take the plunge in these songs, but there is something wonderful about young lovers facing tragedy over a candy coated melody, made old before their time.  They are often stoic, with a stiff upper lip, singing sweetly into the whirlwind.

Something is Missing Lyrics

The party is over
And only the losers remain
They think they’re invited
As they wait like fools in the rain

But it’s not raining
It’s just the rich pissing

Something is missing

The world we grew up in
It is forever gone
There’s nothing to do now
But make it up as we go along

Send out a signal
And hope someone’s listening

Something is missing

One day I will die
And all beautiful women will cry
Well I can dream can’t I?!!!
At least I didn’t spend my whole life
Obsessing over money

Something is missing

This is another set of lyrics to a song I demoed recently.  One of the reasons that our economic system has been allowed to go on for so long without any real challenge is that most people think that they can one day work their way up into the top economic tier.  However, the odds are stacked against most of us.  Social mobility isn’t very easy, and it is getting harder every day.

In Time Lyrics

What are the things that you can’t lose?
Is it that mansion on the hill or that flashy car that’s new?
Is it that money you’ve been saving or the gold watch keeping time?
Is it that big TV that lets you escape into the night?
Well none of those things mean a damn to me all right
I could lose everything if I could just reach my baby in time 

I’ve been working like a dog and drinking like a fool
I’ve been killing off the hours with whatever gets me through
I’m scared of what I’m becoming, scared of what I’ll do
They say a man must have some place to go
Or else he’ll just go someplace new
I might not be a hero but hey that’s just fine
But I could be a good man if I could reach my baby in time 

Tonight I can’t see the stars
Tonight I can’t see the moon
Dreaming of our future
Is the only light getting me through

I don’t need a crowd of strangers telling me I’m great
I don’t need to be worshiped, leave that to the saints
I don’t need to be famous, there’s no nobility in fame alone
You can’t take that stuff with you into the great unknown
I just want to be loved and I want to be kind
And I could be both if I could just reach my baby in time

Lyrics to a song I demoed recently at home.  Trying to keep my focus on what’s important in life.  And yes, sometimes I post lyrics to make up for the fact that I don’t have a good blog idea!