The Meaning Behind The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’

Today I was reading Aidan Levy’s excellent Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd.  I’ve been listening to The Velvet Underground since I was 13 or 14.  I always felt the first song on their debut, Sunday Morning, to be a pleasant, but slight, addition to their catalog.  But it is easy to overlook things if you aren’t paying attention.  In the book Levy talks about how the song is actually dealing with the issue of paranoia.  The song features the lyrics, “Watch out, the world’s behind you.”  I noticed, as I’m sure many others have, that the song adds reverb to the vocal part of the way through the song, an effect that makes a sound seem farther away, mirroring the sense of uncanny by the narrator.  Levy states that this song was chosen as the first song as a way of warning listeners at the time about the sonic insanity that was to come.

‘The One and Only’ – Kirsty MacColl

There is probably no artist that brings me near tears more easily than the late great Kirsty MacColl.  She has filled my life with a great amount of joy.  I’ll sometimes listen to her records while walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin.  It might be months without a spin, but there I am again:  With an ear to ear smile, or trying to hold back tears, depending on what emotion is pouring out of her in any particular song.

I’ve written about her before, but whenever I listen to her I can’t help but think, “God, how do more people not know?”

One of my favorite songs of hers is the last song on her album Electric Landlady, called The One and Only.  The last few lines of the song destroy me every time:

Some lives read like a postcard
And some lives read like a book
I’ll be happy if mine
Doesn’t read like a joke on an old Christmas cracker

(Here is what a Christmas cracker is if you are unaware.)

Like Moonriver or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, this is one of those happy/sad songs, that can be mined for more or less of either emotion, without ever completely shaking off the other feeling.  Even if that place over the rainbow doesn’t exist, even if it is a dream that never comes true, the dream still allows us to temporarily transcend our circumstances.  You can sing a song like that and communicate the sadness of the reality, or the beauty of the dream, you can choose one emotion over the other, but that other emotion is still there, giving the song a complexity.

The One and Only can be viewed as being defiant in the face of heartbreak, of one refusing to give in, of transcending.  Or it can be listened to as being sung by someone that is trying to put the best face on the sadly realized reality of lowered expectations.  The song can be one or the other at different times, or it can even be both at the same time.  The song ends on a hope, that just as easily could be posed as a question.

I once read author Nick Hornby say something along the lines of how pop songs are puzzle, that they hold are interest until we can solve them.  The thing that is so beautiful about a song like The One and Only is that there is an interpretive element to it.  It can’t ever be solved.  Therefore, it will always be out there if needed, like Kirsty, ready to move us again.

 

The Molly Maguires – Free Download

MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970, mustache
MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970
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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

An old Irish folk song, recorded at 4am.  I love this song both as a song and for its topic.  My favorite version is Luke Kelly singing it with the Dubliners.  There is no point in even trying to match there version, which casts it as a celebratory drinking song, so I did something different with it.  I know where not to tread!

As the media drifts further on into the realm of the ridiculous, as income inequality builds, remember that people actually fought for the rights working people take for granted every day.  Though there is some dispute as to the exact story of the Molly Maguires, their story is not near the only one.

The photo above is Sean Connery and it is from the 1970  The Molly Maguires.  It’s a film I saw as a kid.

Ramones, Remixes, and the Road

This last weekend I spent 20 hours in a van?  Something like that.  Kevin told us if we had gone straight, instead of in a triangular route, we could have driven to California.  The whole time I was in the van I was basically living in the world of the Ramones, in my opinion the greatest American Rock N Roll band.  Up above is one of my favorite clips of them.

While I was traveling I was also listening to our our new single release to check out the mixes. (I’m releasing a series of home recorded singles between now and when a new studio release comes out at the end of the year.)

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

I realized that I dropped the ball on mixing the B-side, Gone Fishing.  Don’t attempt to mix something at 1am the day before hitting the road at 7:30am!  Anyway, I fixed it and replaced it.  If you haven’t heard it take a listen.  If you downloaded the first version, I’m telling you, this version is better.

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

These songs are political songs that aren’t expressly political.  It’s my attempt to capture the mood, the insanity, the sadness, and the anger of this current political cycle.  This is not what this election is about, but how a lot of it feels.  Well, too much of it anyway.  As inequality rises, the environment breaks down without barely a mention, the meaningless media are only handing out tickets to the circus.  One party abdicates all attempts at responsible governing.  People laugh at the lines of a dangerous fool.   Despite everything, there are still moments of hope.  Everyday American Thoughts is a song for when that hope seems distant, when you need to laugh the laugh of the insane, rather than cry.  It’s a rock n roll whirlwind, rising above the chaos, carrying it skyward.  Gone Fishing, the B-side, is the opposite side of that coin.  It’s spooky despair, looking behind the curtain, wondering how we got here.

Everyday American Thoughts is also the first time that I got our new band lineup all on a track, even if the track isn’t an exact replication of our live sound, as I did a lot of the overdubs.  I’m extremely excited to bring this lineup out into the live arena.  Very soon.

A-side: Everyday American Thoughts

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Lead Guitar – Ben Brown
Drums – Alex Moralez
Bass – Roger Wuthrich
Guitars, Vocals – Jeff Brown

B-side:  Gone Fishing

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Drums – Alex Moralez
Guitars, bass, vocals, sounds – Jeff Brown

Click the download button to download.  If you have any trouble, once the link opens, left click on the file. 

This is the second release in a series of singles.  Some info from the first release:

My brother and I are forming a new band.  We just recorded a new album in December with Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith of Marah producing, some of our favorite musicians in the world.  That album will be out late this year.  Everything is so new we don’t even have a name for our project yet.  While we get all of the pieces in place I’m going to start releasing songs through here that I have been recording at home.  Doing this will allow me to release songs that otherwise would get lost in the shuffle.  These are often older songs that didn’t make the new record, or new songs that I don’t want to wait years to release.  I’m extremely excited for the year ahead.  Stay tuned.

 

There is a Place In Hell For Me and My Friends

I’ve always loved this song.  It came on almost by accident last night, as I searched my iPod without being conscious of what I was doing.  It is on the Morrissey album Kill Uncle.  (This is the definitive version.  While the band version on the remastered Kill Uncle brings out the comic side of the song, it can’t compare to the deeply emotional resonance heard here.)

This is a song that is devastatingly sad, yet extremely witty, with a good dose of humor.  (The best songs, from a writing standpoint, are almost always complex.  Also notice that Morrissey uses a unique meter and rhyme scheme, when there is a rhyme scheme.  Morrissey is also extremely great with song titles.  When you read the title of this song, one almost can’t help but wonder at the lyrics contained.)  That wit and humor is extremely important as the wrong lyrics could make this beautiful melody and arrangement maudlin.  It makes the song subversive and defiant.  It makes the song one for those that are outside the norms of the dominant tradition of society.  If something could break your heart and bring a sly smile to your face at the same time, this is it.

There is a place reserved for me and my friends
And when we go, we all will go
So you see, I’m never alone

Oh, there is a place with a bit more time
And a few more gentler words
And looking back we will forgive (We had no choice, we always did)

All that we hope is when we go
Our skin and our blood and our bones
Don’t get in your way
Making you ill
The way they did when we lived

Oh, there is a place, a place in Hell
Reserved for me and my friends

And if ever I just wanted to cry
Then I will because I can

Rihanna’s “ANTI”

Anti cover

The new Rihanna album, ANTI, is astoundingly good, and possibly even great.  I really want to like more mainstream records, but so many just pander to their audience.  This album is challenging, even unnerving in places, but with enough great pop moments that it is diverse and rewarding listen.  The production also sounds like a million bucks, which is what the album probably cost to make.

There are many reasons why the percentage of older records is higher in quality than what’s being pumped out now.  There are many reasons for this, but one is that the record industry used to be more decadent, with artists given bigger budgets to live out their fantasies in sound.  When a modern artist has a lot of capital due to having hit records, and they invest it back into their music, like Daft Punk with R.A.M., it is still possible to push the boundaries of what records can sound like.

I think sonically the new Rihanna album is as compelling, if not more so, than many artists that are critical darlings.  It’s definitely an album, instead of a collection of singles.  Every track has a different musical character, yet they flow into each other quite well.  Musically it sounds like a late night record, and while a few tracks sound like something you would hear in a club, most of it sounds like something you would listen to alone.  Her cover of Tame Impala’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes, sounds almost like it could be a Chromatics song.  Love on the Brain has a modern update on soul music, while Woo has synthetic squeals that have some relation to Kanye’s Yeezus.

Lyrically the album is often completely decadent, but also often sad and disturbing.  It sounds like someone that has everything they need in this world, materially, but nothing that they want, finding material reward and sexual conquest extremely hollow.  There is little joy in this record.  Only near the end does love enter the picture and provide the record with some degree of hope.

This is one of those albums that has enough different styles on it to appeal to a wide range of people, but at the same time be weird enough to alienate many as well.  I love it.  I’m glad to see someone with as many fans as she has take a left turn to an unexpected destination.

Dion and Paul Simon

There’s nothing better than a great vocal melody, except maybe one with the perfect harmonies.  Here two legends, Dion DiMucci and Paul Simon, sing an ode to their city.  It’s a beautiful song that makes you remember that there is no instrument as moving as the human voice.  I am looking forward to Dion’s album, which comes out this month.  This song, New York is My Home, is also the title song for the album.

Add on:  Notice the phrasing of the singing, where it is slightly behind the beat.  The singing is also understated.  There is no showing off, though there are harmonies that are quite impressive in and of themselves.  The singers are not making a “meal” out of every note, which often happens in todays pop music.  The best singing almost always comes back to delivering the song.  It’s about letting go of the ego and giving over to the important thing at hand, which is the song.  

One of the Best Songs of the Year

I’m still gathering my thoughts on the whole album, but there is no doubt the last song, Hands Together,  on the I Don’t Cares (Paul Westerberg, Juliana Hatfield) new album, Wild Stab, will undoubtedly be one of the best of the year. I’ve read that Westerberg suffers from dyslexia, though who knows what is true these days, especially with someone like Westerberg, who is often far more direct in song than interview.  (His recent interview with Peter Wolf was a revelation, due to the length and directness of Westerberg’s answers.)  There are certain lyrics of his that have an almost dyslexic quality to them, and I’m not talking about his solo single Dyslexic Heart.  His words can have a jumbled feeling, although one that creates insight, rather than hinders it.  I thought about posting the lyrics to the song, but the way the words unravel in song on first listen, the sheer revelation of it, is one of the most powerful things about the song.  There is a beautiful rambling confusion to the words, which don’t seem correct at first, but upon repeated spins creates a deeply personal and poetic reflection of an internal emotional state.  The song is highly intelligent, but not because it creates clarity of the world at large.  In fact it is a complex, highly detailed painting of not what the world is, but how it can feel to face the world, a world such as our own, one that is often filled with confusion and meaninglessness.  It’s a beautiful, sad, yet occasionally hopeful song, of one seemingly trying to make sense of a world that often makes no sense at all.

That’s How the West Was Lost

Down off the interstate
In the middle of the fall
We killed off the Indians
And we put up a mall
And we claimed we did it
In the name of St. Paul

That’s how the west was lost

We paint the faces and names
Of those we kill
In theme restaurants
In bars and grills
And we get indignant
When it makes their ancestors ill

That’s how the West was lost

Manifest Destiny
Or “living space”
Is the same thing
By any other name

That’s how the West was lost

Lyrics from That’s How the West Was Lost.

These are the lyrics to a song on an album I recorded recently, that will be appearing later this year.  More on this to come.

Living space, or Lebensraum, is what Hitler wanted for his Third Reich.  You can read more about this topic and Manifest Destiny at this post I wrote last year:

Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum