Saturday, September 20, 2014

#491 All the Young Dudes -- Mott the Hoople (Now #484)

I've begun to think that each album is given to me at the appropriate time in my life by the grace of fate to help me understand, in a new way - if it is even possible, a meaning to this life I have been given.  What started off as a project to sort of "collect" a musical canon so that I would have a repertoire of knowledge about something I previously had almost no knowledge of, has turned into this bizarre way of life for me.  And considering I am only 56 posts in, this will be a lifetime achievement for me.  Spanning through my 30s and 40s, through deaths and births, and maybe when I am approximately 66, even if nobody actually reads this - I spent good creative energy on something that inspired me.  What might the Notorious BIG or Otis Redding mean to me when I am in my 60s vs. what they might mean when I get to them in another 17 months?  Who will I be in another decade?  My life will be measured out from album to album, for whatever that is worth.

Each month, a new album begins to blossom out to me to divulge some sort of knowledge of another time and place.  I anticipate these albums now, hoping to uncover some divine truth through this art, this energy, that was created for what seems like the culmination of only my enjoyment.  I wait and anticipate how this music is a medium for some larger purpose or knowledge spoken out through the creativity of the band and I'm overpowered by a sense that music can drastically alter a mood or force me to wallow in misery or lift me up to a height that I haven't felt in a long time if I let myself get lost in it- music takes you to feelings you didn't know could possibly exist - and I guess I knew that before this project, but I didn't really feel it the way I do now.

This month I picked All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople.  I had never heard of the band before, never had a clue what I was about to listen to, didn't know the genre or the era but I felt right at home and I laughed because I knew "Sweet Jane," because I love Lou Reed, and I could feel David Bowie's presence right away.  It gave me this crazy sense of connectedness - that once you know a few things, you begin to see and feel the patterns of influence across a genre of art.  And that this huge musical web isn't hard to navigate after even 56 albums under one's belt.

I usually do my very best not to look up background information on the band or the album before discussing it in this blog because I want an organic listening experience - music for music's sake.  But if I am being perfectly honest, I was having a hard time relating to the album on multiple levels even though I enjoyed the music.  In sticking with my newfound mantra that each one of these albums is here to present a truth to me, I had to wait until it was uncovered in some sort of way.  So I did a little bit of research and found out that this was the 5th studio album for this British band, and that they weren't selling many albums and were on the verge of breaking up before David Bowie stepped in and said, hang on - let me give you the song, "All the Young Dudes," which was originally meant for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.  It saved the band and provided them a position on this list.  The song is pretty rad and will put you in a good mood even though it's about a group of young people who don't fit in.  The song has this feeling of being torn between a lament and an anthem of that "not fitting in" experience (imo).

But the whole album has this hopeful, transitional feeling as well - and I think that has more to do with Bowie's action than it does with the lyrics.  The music is upbeat throughout - but it's this background story that reminds listeners that it's always the darkest hour right before the dawn.  That right when we feel like life is hopeless, and we should give up, someone or something can step in and influence, give hope, save, and in some way provide the encouragement needed to continue on the path.  So, thanks Bowie, the unconventional savior for helping me hear this badass album and reminding me of this truth.

Rolling Stone had this to say:
Columbia, 1972
Mott were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them. He penned the androgyne title track and had them cover Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.

Read more:
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#4 Highway 61 Revisited -- Bob Dylan

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
How does it feel?

It was not my intention to tackle Highway 61 Revisited this early in the project, but the unyielding tempestuous summer drove me to keep "Desolation Row" on repeat with such force, I felt like the stars had sufficiently aligned for this masterpiece's review.

Collapsed in summer grass, while surrendering my sweating ivory legs to bugs of all kinds who mercilessly chomped, I immersed myself in "Like a Rolling Stone," and voiced out into the oppressive sun that Bob Dylan had written this one, on behalf of everyone she unintentionally killed, for women like Helen of Troy.

My complexion she said is much too white

I feel for you, Robin Williams.  Robin, so many people can't understand how someone who makes everyone laugh would kill himself.  But I wasn't shocked by the manner of death you chose.  It's been one of those summers, you know?

When your gravity fails
and negativity don't pull you though

I also wasn't shocked by your ability to be a delightful genie in my childhood favorite, Aladdin, and then turn around and make the crassest of jokes in a standup act either.  It makes perfect sense.  

That you're tired of yourself and all of your creations

Comedians- those who have the uncanny ability to see into raw human conditions and reflect them back with irony, cruel sarcasm, or insight, can draw that thundering reaction as easily as breathing - because they know comedy's darkest secret.  Tears and laughter are intertwined; they are the same.  They come from the same place in the brain; we laugh to keep from crying.  Making people laugh keeps us far away from the raw terror of our own isolated sorrow.  Each joke is a secret selfish cry for help.  It's a basic ego mask.  Until you take it off and realize:

It Takes a lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry

And so for the first time, I watched Good Will Hunting in Robin Williams's honor last night.  When Mormon Face made the reference to Helen of Troy in his therapy session, I thought of "Like a Rolling Stone" having myself been marinated in weeks of Highway 61 Revisited burning through my brain- I daydreamed about what it would look like if Helen herself were sitting in with therapist Robin Williams.  Would he repeat, "It's not your fault?" over and over until she collapsed even though thousands died in her feckless wake?  Would she claim Daddy issues and plead that Zeus was an emotionally absent workaholic father?  Would she admit that she didn't--

have the strength to get up and take another shot?

Or would our beauty throw up Spartan gang signs and say, "not my fault I got 99,999 man problems" and defend herself saying that--

Everyone said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough but say she didn't think about what that might actually mean.

And although such a scenario might be amusing as a daydream, it reminds me that just like laughter and tears are the same,  Love and Hate come from the same place too.  The two conflicting emotions are so married, only a comedian could see it.

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain

And nobody knew these secret truths better than Bob Dylan.

That little bit of insight is what makes this album so utterly profound.  We are all on some sort of archetypal journey in each life and the next, and there are rare artists who understand this perfectly well.  Throughout this album, Bob Dylan- our gentle Virgil,  guides us through the Desolation Row of our brains.  We are all passengers on Highway 61.  And it will be revisited many times until we learn our lessons.

Many songs, academy award winning movies, and stories upon stories of embedded myths are so programmed into the human psyche that it takes an eternity to sort them all out.  But I cannot think of much art better than each song on this album.  Because each word is laced with applicable life, love, hate, laughter, tears, and putrid knowledge of surrender to something greater than yourself.

It might take you a road trip from Boston to Stanford, or the entirety of Highway 61, or depression behind a career of laughter with a belt and a chair, or a backyard surrender to the sun - but your story is written in his immortal words, somewhere.

All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, They're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
and give them all another name

Columbia, 1965
Bruce Springsteen described the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone," the opening song on Highway 61 Revisited, as the "snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." Folk singer Phil Ochs was even more rhapsodic about the LP: "It's impossibly good... How can a human mind do this?"
Recorded in a staggering six days, Highway 61 Revisited – named after the road that runs from Bob Dylan's home state of Minnesota down through the Mississippi Delta – is one of those albums that changed everything. In and of itself, "Like a Rolling Stone," rumored to be about Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick, forever altered the landscape of popular music – its "vomitific" flow (Dylan's term), literary ambition and sheer length (6:13) shattered limitations of every kind. "Ballad of a Thin Man" delivered the definitive Sixties comment on the splintering hip-straight fault line: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?" If anyone questioned whether or not Dylan had truly  "gone electric," the roaring rock & roll of  "From a Buick 6" and "Tombstone Blues" – powered by guitarist Mike Bloomfield – left no doubt.
The album ends with "Desolation Row," a surrealist night journey that runs 11 minutes. Dylan evokes a Hieronymus Bosch-like season in hell that seems to foretell all the Sixties cataclysms to come. "The Titanic sails at dawn," he sings wearily. "Everybody is shouting, 'Which side are you on?'" That "Desolation Row" is an all-acoustic track – a last-minute decision on Dylan's part – is one final stroke of genius: a spellbinding new vision of folk music to close the album that, for the time being at least, destroyed folk music.

Read more: 
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

#395 Sound of Silver -- LCD Soundsystem

Sound of Silver explodes the senses in a frenzy of frantically organized mania.  Part Beck, part Talking Heads, a dash of Lou Reed and dripping with knife-edge truths about shattered dreams in a Sylvia Plath style confession bursting at the heart seams, it leaves you shaking and confused but dying to unlock another door to the inner workings of the creative spirit that spawned it.

Each song begins with a steady crescendo that unfolds something steadily miraculous before your eyes, like the moment a butterfly unfolds wet wings dripping with new, or the first cry of a child welcomed into the world -- and I got this crazy feeling as I fell under this album's spell that this creative expression was like the musical representation of watching a soul wake up before your eyes.

Like the time I snuck my adorable pomeranian as a four month old puppy into walmart and when I was at the cash register, the woman who barely looked up and repeated the same phrases to every person whose face she wouldn't remember suddenly burst out of her self and smiled.  Without caring that they have a no dog policy she reached out to pet the creature who wiggled with excitement because he was so elated that this stranger wanted to touch him. These moments when two souls collide, if ever so briefly, to light up like fireflies - are the moments we live for.  And this album reminds us that between the magic of the unique sound, it's different enough to jar you into constant present consciousness.

The song "All My Friends," is a lament and reminder of the fragility and brevity of life and human experience balled up in perfectly constructed chaos that will make you remember what it feels like to have those nights with your greatest friends, with people you fell in love with, when all senses are heightened either via substance or by sheer wonder and love for each other -- and to lose those moments sometime in your twenties when you succumb to the staggering loss of control by the destructive forces of responsibilities  even though you cannot see this because you are blinded by your individual marriages, children, job, and desire for self-worth and thusly you are distracted by those beautiful events as you watch the life you set up and thought you wanted slowly imprison you and before you know what is happening to you, you are sewn into submission.  And then one day you wake up.  That's how it starts.

When I finished that song, and repeated it over and over, I clutched my heaving chest because the welling of feeling was almost so overpowering to me.  Youth is indeed wasted on the young, and I thought back to all my friends and really wondered where they were at that moment.  What were they doing?  Are their lives full of excitement and moments of hope and joy?  Do they remember the night the TCU bookstore burned down?  Or the rugby party with jello wrestling when I brought my friend from Baylor who tried to have a philosophical discussion about metaphysics to look sober outside the building in front of flashing lights?  Or the time we thought it would be a great idea to have a foam party on a concrete floor?  Toga party?  That time in London when Rachel stole that guy's wallet because he slipped something in her drink?  Or the time in Ireland when we crept to the edge of the cliff on our bellies to hang our heads over the side of the Aran Islands to feel the sea air and watch the waves crash against the cliff?  Or in Scotland when we drank too much Vodka and puked in the street and a local asked what we had and we said Vodka and he said we shoulda had the scotch in a thick accent?  The white out party when Alana pretended to have just woken up and explained to the cops she didn't know any of these people and they should believe her because she was in pajamas?  Where are all of you - how are your children, your phds, what are your dinners like, who are you when nobody is around?  What songs do you sing when you get ready in the morning instead of getting ready to go out?  I miss you, all of you.  Where are you this Sunday night besides getting older?

This album reminds us to have more moments where we wake up and spark to life.  Because reality is such a drag, being a rat in a cage - pulling minimum wage.  Go outside and look at the sun, marvel at it.  Do yoga.  Call your best friends.  Fall in love.  Have experiences that are not normal and mundane.

Invigorate your soul by really hearing this album.

What RS had to say:

DFA/Capitol, 2007
New York electro-punk kingpin James Murphy makes his masterpiece: Every track sounds like a different band's greatest hit, from the political punk goof "North American Scum" to the elegiac synth-pop breakup lament "Someone Great." 

Read more: 
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#91 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John

Some days the lava lamp on my desk represents the expansion and contraction of the universe, the beginnings of single-celled life, raw fresh earth spewing out of the unknown depths beneath us, the ebb and flow of the ocean, the life force flowing through our lungs -- and other days it's just a blob of hot wax moving through water in an upside-down glass vase.

Both avenues of thought are true and co-exist in reality in the same way you and I are abundant miracles of endless consciousness, electric current, sacred vessels capable of heroic journeys, boundless love and the like.  But we are also blobs of wax, bobbing around pointlessly and bumping into other blobs of wax.  All for the amusement of an unknown creature some would venture to call God.  Or maybe not.

I stared at my lava lamp while Elton John sang "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (which was easily my favorite song on the whole album) and wondered what if each gene in our bodies represented a note on the piano- what would our individual songs sound like?  Then I wondered if this in any way influences people to write the kinds of music they do, and what makes them so original.  Maybe the sounds come from within the language of our genes.  I couldn't imagine Green Day or Elvis inventing Elton John songs, or vice versa.  There are only so many notes on the spectrum of sound that humans can hear, and yet endless combinations of songs.  Only so many genes, and yet endless combinations of humans.  All crafted with the same material, more or less, but brilliant in their own regard.

I cleaned out my closet this weekend and with a pang in my heart I uncovered a trash bag full of dead point shoes, tights, leotards, and a worn pair of ballet shoes.  My first inclination was to just put it back where it was in the depths of my closet, hidden out of sight.  But as Elton sang, I began to rummage and dump them all out on the floor.  Ribbons askew, old elastic stretched out and mealy.  It had already been a full decade since I wore any of these things.  I was a 17 year old person staring back at my face in the mirror and wondering who I was and why I was here at a different capacity for comprehending that question the last time I wore this stuff.

I found the hardest pair of shoes and put them on.  I didn't have gel pads, so I just put them on my feet without padding inside so I could feel the floor even more.  I wrapped the ribbons about my ankles unconsciously, like I had done it yesterday.  Then I said fuck it, and put on my favorite violet leotard and tights.  As Elton John blared through my ipod, I danced around in my bathroom-closet area, absorbing leather and satin and glue.  The smell of my teenage self through the fabric artifacts that could likely survive me.

I made body art in my bathroom and then it was washed away.  Like when I roll up my yoga mat or throw away a doodle, or stop playing the piano, turn off my lava lamp at the end of the work day, when buddhist monks wipe away a mandala, or when a person exhales for the last time.  It was gone as soon as it had come, this moment in time when I danced for nobody but myself to Elton John in a bathroom.

When I took them off, I remembered little things about that pair of shoes.  I had burned the ribbons with a blue lighter I borrowed from a friend while they were on my feet and realized for the first time how stupid that was as I shook my foot violently to put out the fire.  I also remember the argument with my mother that, yes, I was going to sew them with green dental floss because that worked better than thread.  Who cared if it matched?

The weirdest part about the experience was afterwards, I stared in my bathroom mirror at the moment Elton sang "Look in the mirror and stare at myself and wonder if that's really me on the shelf."

Would my DNA song be an Elton John song?  Probably not, I think I jive more with David Bowie or Lou Reed- but he held a moment for me worth writing about, already worth thinking back on, locked up in the same closet area I discovered the shoes that unlocked a buried lifetime.

Maybe that pair of shoes is just fabric, glue, and leather.  Or maybe something a little bit more.

Rolling Stone Mag:

Elton John compared this double album to the BeatlesWhite Album, and why not? By this point he was the most consistent hitmaker since the Fab Four, and soon enough he would be recording with John Lennon. Everything about Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is supersonically huge, from the Wagnerian-operalike combo of "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding" to the electric boots and mohair suit of "Bennie and the Jets." "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is strutting rock & roll, "Candle in the Wind" pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the title track harnesses the fantastic imagery of glam to a Gershwin-sweet melody.

Read more: 
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook