There are certain critically acclaimed and successful musicians that I just don’t care much about. U2 is one such band, and so is Bruce Springsteen. His politics I can usually agree with, his heart seems to be in the right place, his working man schtick is admirable, but his music does not resonate in my brain. His voice irritates me to be honest. I have musical completist tendencies, and thus keep trying to like Bruce Springsteen, as he is so often reviewed favorably by critics and friends whose musical tastes I usually agree with. Coupled with the fact that I have no problem purchasing used CDs, especially easily discovered albums by artists like Springsteen, I have a surprising large collection of Springsteen albums accumulated over the years. Here is a thumbnail review of the ones still in my iTunes library.
Born To Run – the album that made The Boss’ career. If I was stuck in a car on a road trip with a Springsteen fan who maintained total control of the stereo, this is the album I’d choose. There are four songs worth listening to: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, She’s the One, and Jungleland. Jungleland does have a soft jazz section that grates on my nerves, but the rest of the song is ok, albeit ponderously long. The title track is ok too, I guess, but everyone1 has heard it way too many times and thus the song has lost its lustre. Tramps like us! They really like us!
The River – meh. Cadillac Ranch is ok, maybe, occasionally. The track, Hungry Heart, is silly, and tedious, and I usually skip it, or else replace the chorus with the theme from Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Nebraska – meh. Conceptually, the idea of releasing demos instead of the studio version with a full band is interesting, but many of these songs don’t hold my interest for long. In a pinch, I’d say Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman, State Trooper are ok. Atlantic City is the best of the bunch, despite having its lyrics copped from a million early-70s heist films. Maybe the so-called Electric Nebraska (The Nebraska demos were recorded in a studio with the full E Street Band, but never released) would make the songs have more punch? Btw, Johnny Cash did a more powerful version of Highway Patrolman.
Born in the U.S.A. – Not a bad album, but over-hyped and over-played. Springsteen’s lyrics are the very definition of bombast. The kind of album that Ronald Reagan and his cult latched onto (despite not being able to read the lyrics, the chorus was simple enough for Republicans to chant at their rallies) Not to mention there was that music video with Courtney Cox being pulled out the audience. So lame. Glory Days, Born in the USA, I’m On Fire are decent songs, despite it all.
Tunnel of Love – meh. I can’t pick a single song off of this album that I want to voluntarily listen to. The ‘80s drum machines don’t help.
Human Touch – meh. So boring. So generic. I hope the studio musicians got paid big bucks.
Lucky Touch – slightly better than Human Touch, but still boring.
The Rising – yeah, yeah, about 9/11, and yadda yadda. Still long winded arena rock, and not fun to listen to. If pressed, maybe 3 decent songs: Into the Fire, Empty Sky, The Fuse, but my life would not be empty if I never heard them again. Candidate Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards) used The Rising as a campaign theme song, but still, snooooooooooze…
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – I actually like this album, none of the songs are written by Springsteen, nor by Pete Seeger for that matter, and Springsteen and company seem like they are having a good time singing and playing these folk standards. However, I don’t disagree with Robert Christgau’s review:
We shall overkill, he means. Never have his Howard Keel tendencies, or maybe now they’re Paul Robeson tendencies, tripped him up so bad. The idea is to big up the music and play the jokes you don’t ignore like you’re working a Roman amphitheater. I’m glad to have met the anti-war lament “Mrs. McGrath” and Sis Cunningham’s “My Oklahoma Home,” and sort of hope young people deprived of music appreciation funding will now hear “Erie Canal,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” “John Henry,” and “Jesse James.” Only are young people really ignorant of these songs? And how many of them buy Springsteen albums anyway? Amping up his strange bluegrass-Dixieland hybrid like E Street is just around the corner, he sings his lungs out. But in folk music, lightness is all–and only newbies and John Hammond Jr. lean so hard on the cornpone drawl.
Working on a Dream – more boring arena rock, released in 2009. I think when I purchased this album, after reading yet another positive review about it, I decided that I will never like Springsteen enough to purchase another of his albums, at least without hearing it first.
Summing up: there’s about 15-20 decent Springsteen songs over a long career, which to be fair is a higher number than a lot of artists, but for all the incessant hype and adulation surrounding Springsteen, there should be more genuinely awesome songs. The Clash have at least 40 great songs to their name, maybe more, and their career lasted from 1977-1982.2 If I went through my music library, I could easily find 20 songs from dozens of my favorite artists, 20 songs all better than the best Springsteen has to offer.
Reading this is how I’d imagine sitting down and chatting with Miles Davis would be like, mostly because the text reads as if it is conversational. Many times a musician “plays his ass off”, or Miles Davis learns some “chords and shit”, or someone is referred to as “cleaner than a motherfucker”, etc. The version I read doesn’t say much about how the book was created, I’m guessing Mr. Davis and Mr. Troupe sat down at a kitchen table, perhaps with a calendar with dates of tours, marriages, deaths, studio sessions, album releases, and the like, and then talked about and around it.
Fascinating, compelling conversation-as-text, and I wanted to hear the “extended” version with even more details about growing up middle class in East St. Louis, about the jazz scene in Manhattan as World War 2 ended, about musicians and their drug habits, about Paris in the 1950s, about Prince, and Jimi Hendrix, and Charlie Parker, and Louis Armstrong, and so on.
Miles Davis mentions Louis Armstrong, talks about how influential a musician he was, but then has a reoccurring riff about black musicians who smile and “mug” for the audience. Even Dizzy Gillespie, one of Miles Davis’ long time friends and mentors, is criticized for being too genial with the audience. Miles Davis didn’t want liner notes on his albums, wanted the music to speak for itself. And since I’ve listening to it for years, and non-stop this last week, I agree!
Lots of musicians died too early. Some times it mattered more than other times.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums while he was alive, plus the live performance Band of Gypsys and some other singles. He was working on a new album when he died, but it wasn’t finished, so who knows what it would have sounded like. Hendrix never made an album while he wasn’t also touring: he never stopped touring long enough to spend exhaustive hours in the studio to make something as polished as Dark Side of the Moon, or other creations of the studio. He built a recording studio- Electric Lady Studios – to his own specifications, and recorded a handful tracks there, but there was a lot of unexplored territory we as music fans were deprived of hearing. Hendrix could have easily made a solo acoustic blues album; an album with some blues guitar master like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or the like; a deep and dirty funk album with Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton; could have eventually recorded that frequently discussed collaboration with Miles Davis; could have recorded an album of Motown covers; a soul and R&B album; an album of Krautrock guitar landscapes inspired by Kraftwerk, Faust, Can etc.; and some albums with Brian Eno exploring the spaces between guitar feedback. I could even imagine Hendrix getting into heavy metal or grunge for a moment. Did Hendrix ever hear any Reggae? Ska, probably, but Reggae wasn’t really “a thing” in 1970. The list goes on and on, Hendrix was such a genius and a musical sponge, absorbing sounds from the aether.
I divided modern pop musicians into 3 categories, and obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few quick examples.
1. Died too early, but recorded enough of a legacy to enjoy, had a career long enough, but it could have been longer. There could be a long, long list of people who died in their 30s or 40s or even 50s.
John Bonham – Led Zeppelin ceased to exist when Bonzo died, but there are hours worth of rocking out to be enjoyed.
John Lennon – Beatles, solo work. Not all great, but quite enough to be able to spend an entire afternoon listening to good, interesting music.
Bob Marley – With the Wailers including Peter Tosh, and then semi-solo. Something around ten albums of great reggae. There was more in him that we won’t hear.
Jerry Garcia – borderline Category 2: because of the whole taping-of-shows-encouraged-ethos, there are thousands of hours of Grateful Dead music available, of varying quality, but quite a lot of it is good. Did Garcia die too soon? Not soon enough? Who knows?
2. Lived a long time, had varied career, of both good and bad quality. Some of these artists are still making music, having survived the 1960s, some of the music is even listenable.
Bob Dylan – Some of the best literate rock, and also some Christian rock, acoustic albums of covers, Christmas songs, throwaway albums, and so on.
Neil Young – Peaks and valleys, but always exploring new sounds and documenting them in the moment.
Paul McCartney – Beatles especially, solo work less stellar, but still moving through the fair
Mick Jagger/Keith Richards – Four great albums, a bunch of other good songs, but so much dreck, and yet they soldier on.
Leonard Cohen/David Bowie/Guy Clark/etc. – a full and varied career that had to end sometime as we haven’t yet figured out the key to immortality of the human body.
3. Died way too early – nobody, artist or not an artist, should die before the age of 30.
Janis Joplin – a powerful, emotional singer, but with limited range. Could she have done anything else? Maybe, probably not. Would Joplin have recorded an Alt-Country LP in her 50s?
Jim Morrison – Six studio albums. Maybe that was all there was for Morrison to say? The Doors are a sort of Baroque-Rock band, would they have been popular for ever? Would they have made a disco album? A punk rock album?
Brian Jones – started the Rolling Stones, but the best Rolling Stones LPs didn’t have him playing on them, or playing much.1 What would he have done to pull himself out of the drugged-out wastrel lifestyle?
Kurt Cobain – Was Nirvana a band with staying power? Would they still be as popular? Could they play other styles beside aggro-rock?
Amy Winehouse – a powerful, emotional singer. Did she have more to contribute? We’ll never know.
Syd Barrett – One studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a few songs on Pink Floyd’s second LP, and a lifetime of subject matter for the rest of the band. Plus 40 or so solo tracks recorded and assisted by David Gilmour, Roger Waters and others. Seems like enough.
Ian Curtis – Joy Division morphed into New Order after Curtis killed himself at the age of 24, but Joy Division is my favorite of the two. There should have been at least 5 Joy Division albums, but instead there were only two plus some singles.
And there you are…
Hendrix – West Coast Seattle Boy
Beggars Banquet; Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers; Exile on Main Street by my estimation [↩]
Led Zeppelin’s latest trial is going before a federal court.
The common ground between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” largely comes down to a 10-second musical theme that appears 45 seconds into “Taurus,” an instrumental from the band’s 1968 debut album, which is similar to the opening acoustic guitar pattern on “Stairway.” That song was released three years before “Stairway to Heaven” surfaced on Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, commonly referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
Zeppelin surviving members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones and their legal team are expected to argue that the similarity is nothing more than coincidence between musicians working in a field rooted in commonly used and re-used musical ideas. Or they may attempt to cite earlier precursors to both songs from the public domain, which could render moot the Wolfe estate’s copyright claim.
“It’s a tough one to call,” says singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, whose 1960s band Fairport Convention helped pioneer the merger of traditional British folk music with the amplified energy of rock ’n’ roll that Led Zeppelin took to its apotheosis in the 1970s.
“They were on the same bill together before [Zeppelin guitarist] Jimmy Page wrote ‘Stairway,’ there’s that,” Thompson said, referring to the Wolfe estate’s claiming that because the two bands played shows together in the late 1960s, and that Spirit often included “Taurus” in those shows, Zeppelin’s members at least had the opportunity to have heard the song.
“On the other hand,” Thompson said, “it’s not an uncommon riff, and the melody not that unusual.”
Guitarist Laurence Juber, who used to play with Paul McCartney’s band Wings, noted that the opening progression can be heard in a 16th century sonata for guitar, violin and strings by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Granata.
“The reality is that to have a descending bass line with an A minor chord on top of it is a common musical device.”
Because of the statute of limitations, the Wolfe estate is only able to seek revenue produced by “Stairway” since 2011, or the three years before the latest remastered version was released in 2014. But going forward, any percentage of monies coming out of sales or airplay of the song could add up to a significant windfall for the estate of Wolfe, who drowned in Hawaii in 1997 while rescuing his son from a strong undertow.
I am a fan of Led Zeppelin, enough so that I’ve purchased all their albums on multiple formats, or editions. That said, for a long time, I usually skip Stairway to Heaven – I’ve just heard it way too many times.
Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have borrowed heavily from previous artists, people like Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, etc. Did they borrow a bit of Spirit’s Taurus? The decending riff does sound similar, but it is not unique. In fact, the sonata for guitar by Granata, below, does sound quite similar too, and it’s from the 16th century.
Extremely similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”; the arpeggio can be heard at 0:32 in this 17th Century Composition titled “Sonata di Chittarra, e Violino, con il suo Basso Continuo” by Giovanni Battista Granata.
Guitar performance by Stephen Stubbs.
Or this Davy Graham guitar from 1959’s “Cry Me A River”
Guitarist Davy Graham playing Cry Me A River, as captured in a 1959 BBC documentary directed by Ken Russell on the rise in popularity of the guitar in Britain.
And why did Randy Spirit not file a lawsuit while alive? Once he died, then his family’s estate went after Led Zeppelin.
Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting essay, with a subject my inner rock historian appreciates: who will be the John Phillips Sousa of rock music, as viewed by students 300 years in the future? What artist will stand in for the genre itself? Will it be The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Elvis Presley? Or Bob Dylan? Or someone else entirely?
The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over. Rock — or at least the anthemic, metaphoric, Hard Rock Cafe version of big rock — has become more socially accessible but less socially essential, synchronously shackled by its own formal limitations. Its cultural recession is intertwined with its cultural absorption. As a result, what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit. It will exist as something people have to be taught to feel and understand.
I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.
From my perspective, Bob Dylan is a better candidate than Elvis, simply because his music is more interesting to me. But who knows? It might be Prince, especially if the unreleased music contained in his vault turns out to be good, and culturally resonant for years to come. Or someone else entirely, like Chuck Berry.
All Alone In This World Without You
Klosterman’s thought experiment is full of good lines, of course, including this train of inquiry:
In 2014, the jazz historian Ted Gioia published a short essay about music criticism that outraged a class of perpetually outraged music critics. Gioia’s assertion was that 21st‑century music writing has devolved into a form of lifestyle journalism that willfully ignores the technical details of the music itself. Many critics took this attack personally and accused Gioia of devaluing their vocation. Which is odd, considering the colossal degree of power Gioia ascribes to record reviewers: He believes specialists are the people who galvanize history. Critics have almost no impact on what music is popular at any given time, but they’re extraordinarily well positioned to dictate what music is reintroduced after its popularity has waned.
“Over time, critics and historians will play a larger role in deciding whose fame endures,” Gioia wrote me in an email. “Commercial factors will have less impact. I don’t see why rock and pop will follow any different trajectory from jazz and blues.” He rattled off several illustrative examples: Ben Selvin outsold Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1956, Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter outsold “almost every rock ’n’ roll star not named Elvis,” but they’ve been virtually erased from the public record. A year after that, the closeted gay crooner Tab Hunter was bigger than Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, “but critics and music historians hate sentimental love songs. They’ve constructed a perspective that emphasizes the rise of rock and pushes everything else into the background. Transgressive rockers, in contrast, enjoy lasting fame.” He points to a contemporary version of that phenomenon: “Right now, electronic dance music probably outsells hip‑hop. This is identical to the punk‑versus‑disco trade‑off of the 1970s. My prediction: edgy hip‑hop music will win the fame game in the long run, while E.D.M. will be seen as another mindless dance craze.”
I agree with Gioia in this sense: there is a lot of music in my library that I only encountered because someone wrote about it, either a music critic, or a liner-note scribe, or similar. Word of mouth only covers so much ground. Big Bill Broonzy died before I was born, as did the career of Syd Barrett, The Sonics, The Velvet Underground and many, many other bands I never encountered on the radio, nor in a local tavern.
I confess that when I was a teenager, I only liked songs with long, loud guitar solos, and Hall & Oats was not on the list of “cool” bands. As I’ve mellowed, and expanded my musical palette, I now can appreciate artists like Daryl Hall.
David Masciotra of Salon interviews Daryl Hall, but first introduces him thus:
Daryl Hall is possibly the most interesting man in music. He and John Oates form the most successful musical duo of all time, and even though, their setlists during sold out shows around the world are full of instantly recognizable hits from the 1970s and ‘80s, they are not a nostalgia act. More than other performers in their age bracket, including The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall and John Oates have constructed a coalition of baby boomers who remember where they were when “Rich Girl” or “Sara Smile” first hit the radio, and thirty and twenty-something fans who enjoy the smooth, soulful, and pop-infused style of “I Can’t Go For That” and “Out of Touch” as if those songs came out yesterday.
Hall owes much of his multigenerational admiration to his songwriting – clandestinely innovative and wildly varied – his voice – one of the best in the business – but also his early adaptation of the internet as an enhancement of art and entertainment, rather as a murderer of creativity, as many often call it. In 2007, Hall launched “Live From Daryl’s House” – an internet show depicting Hall and an invited guest jamming to a variety of songs within the confines of his home. The show still broadcasts from the internet, but also plays on the MTV Live network, and it is now filmed in Hall’s live music club, aptly named “Daryl’s House.”
Guests range from legends like Smokey Robinson, Cheap Trick, and The O’Jays (Cheap Trick was the guest for the debut episode of the current season) to rising stars such as Aloe Blaac, Amos Lee, and another guest of the current season, Wyclef Jean.
The show has a natural excitement. Hall’s band is in peak form – playing grooves so tight it is a wonder there is any oxygen in the room – and Daryl Hall’s voice soars whether he is singing blues based rock alongside Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top or he is shouting with soul to the music of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.
I recently had a conversation with Hall, and learned that he is as passionate in his perspective as he is in his performance. Like a professor in the Department of Funk, Soul, and Pop Studies, he needs little provocation to provide “adult education” on everything from the state of music commerce to conflicts over cultural appropriation.
The Rolling Stones last great album, Exile on Main Street, is also mythical. There are all sorts of stories about the album’s debauched creation, and why not? Forced to flee the U.K., their native country, because their former manager Allen Klein while ripping them off, also didn’t pay any taxes, the Rolling Stones ended up in the south of France. Keith Richards rented a mansion in Villefranche called Nellcôte, a house in the grand European style, with porticos, columns, and gardens, and a basement that the Nazi’s used to torture French partisans and others during WW2. Richards had pharmaceutical grade heroin, and who knows what else, and the band, and friends, hung out, and created a sprawling album while having fun. Well, some fun anyway…
The Stones, then in the process of signing a distribution deal with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, needed to make a follow-up to Sticky Fingers. They’d gone into exile with several cuts in the can, leftovers from previous sessions—some recorded at Olympic, some recorded at Stargroves, Mick’s country house. France was scouted for studios, but in the end, unable to find a place that could accommodate Keith’s junkie needs, they decided to record at Nellcôte. Sidemen, engineers, and producers began turning up in June 1971. Ian Stewart drove the Stones’ mobile unit—a recording studio built in the back of a truck—over from England. Parked in the driveway, it was connected via snaking cables to the cellar, which had been insulated, amped, and otherwise made ready, though it was an awkward space. “[The cellar] had been a torture chamber during World War II,” sound engineer Andy Johns told Goldmine magazine.“I didn’t notice until we’d been there for a while that the floor heating vents in the hallway were shaped like swastikas. Gold swastikas. And I said to Keith, ‘ What the fuck is that?’ ‘Oh, I never told you? This was [Gestapo] headquarters.’”
The cellar was a honeycomb of enclosures. As the sessions progressed, the musicians spread out in search of the best sound. In the end, each was like a monk in a cell, connected by technology. Richards and Wyman were in one room, but Watts was by himself and Taylor was under the stairs. Pianist Nicky Hopkins was at the end of one hall and the brass section was at the end of another. “It was a catacomb,” sax player Bobby Keys told me, “dark and creepy. Me and Jim Price—Jim played trumpet—set up far away from the other guys. We couldn’t see anyone. It was fucked up, man.”
Together and alone—the human condition.
The real work began in July. Historians mark it as July 6, but it was messier than that. There was no clean beginning to Exile, or end. It never stopped and never started, but simply emerged out of the everyday routine. It was punishingly hot in the cellar. The musicians played without shirts or shoes. Among the famous images of the sessions is Bobby Keys in a bathing suit, blasting away on his sax. The names of the songs—“Ventilator Blues,”“Turd on the Run”—were inspired by the conditions, as was the album’s working title: Tropical Disease. The Stones might hone a single song for several nights. Some of the best—“Let It Loose,”“Soul Survivor”—emerged from a free-for-all, a seemingly pointless jam, out of which, after hours of nothing much, a melody would appear, shining and new. On outtakes, you can hear Jagger quieting everyone at the key moment: “All right, all right, here we go.” As in life, the music came faster than the words. Now and then, Jagger stood before a microphone, grunting as the groove took shape—vowel sounds that slowly formed into phrases. On one occasion, they employed a modernist technique, the cutout method used by William S. Burroughs. Richards clipped bits of text from newspapers and dropped them into a hat. Selecting at random, Jagger and Richards assembled the lyric of “Casino Boogie”:
Dietrich movies / close up boogies
The record came into focus the same way: slowly, over weeks, along a path determined by metaphysical forces, chaos, noise, and beauty netted via a never-to-be-repeated process.
Even though the music review is a dying art-form, the magic words, “Brian Eno” are usually enough for me to purchase an album…
Turn It To Ten…
Greg Kot writes:
Brian Eno is perhaps best known as producer to the stars (U2, Coldplay, David Bowie, Talking Heads). But as estimable as some of that work has been, quintessential Eno can be found on a long string of less widely celebrated solo and collaborative records dating to the ’70s.
Since playing mad scientist to Bryan Ferry’s brooding night-crawler on the first two Roxy Music albums (still the peak moments in that band’s career), he has gone on to create small masterworks of skewed pop, ambient music and experimental electronica. He’s been especially prolific lately, and “The Ship” (Warp) continues his recent run of creativity, an album that has few direct antecedents in his vast discography and arrives as a late-career landmark.
In his typically thought-provoking liner notes, Eno presents the album as something of a soundtrack to two catastrophic events a century ago: the sinking of the Titanic and World War I. “Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia,” Eno writes, and “The Ship” captures that anxiety in two extended pieces.
The 21-minute title track is a theater of the mind: sonar blips, harbor bells and human voices weave in and out of a luminous soundscape that evokes an orchestra. Though comparisons might be made to Eno’s placid ambient works, the gently lulling layers of synthesizers give way to something more unstable. Eno uses his voice like another instrument. An excellent if underrated singer, he evokes the rumbling low end of Tuvan throat singers and the droning harmonies of medieval monks. As the mighty “unsinkable” ship goes under, words emerge with greater difficulty, as if the shivering, awe-struck narrator were slipping beneath “wave after wave after wave after wave …”
How is Brian Eno still finding uncharted waters after half a century spent making music? On The Ship, his first solo album in four years, Eno fuses his signature yawning soundscapes and substantive vocal work for the first time. The result is an album that occupies a space somewhere in between the ambient realm Eno helped to define and traditional songcraft. Its two major pieces meander, unmoored from rhythm and narrative, but they also demand your attention.
Of course, it’s not like Eno just holed up in his breakfast nook and jotted down the lyrics making up The Ship in a spare notepad — that’d be a little too simple. Instead, he fed dozens and dozens of texts into a Markov chain generator written by his frequent collaborator Peter Chilvers, many of them orbiting around a few key topics: soldiers’ songs from the First World War, accounts from the sinking of the Titanic, disclaimers inserted at the bottom of emails. The interesting phrases he salvaged from the resulting mess ended up on The Ship, brought to life by Eno’s sonorous voice.
plus a cover of one of my favorite Lou Reed / Velvet Underground songs – the one with a great, echoey unusual guitar solo1
For the sound installation, Mr. Eno assembled the speakers into “columns which look like gravestones from some culture that you haven’t quite heard of yet,” he said. “A mausoleum of some kind or a cemetery, because the music is very morbid.”
The music of “The Ship” is tolling and elegiac, while “Fickle Sun,” with lyrics about the “dismal work” of a soldier’s life, is in constant metamorphosis. Electronic sounds melt into orchestral upheavals and guitar distortion; voices, natural and synthetic, loom from all directions. It’s a rare Eno piece that revolves around contrast rather than homogeneity: “I liked the fact that things happened which you weren’t expecting, and they jutted out at you,” he said.
The piece ends unresolved, followed by an actor’s reciting a poem generated by a computer program over sparse piano notes and, as a soft landing, Mr. Eno’s tranquil, richly harmonized remake of “I’m Set Free,” the Velvet Underground song with a sweetly barbed chorus: “I’m set free to find another illusion.”
Time and mortality haunt “The Ship.” In recent years Mr. Eno has lost friends like Mr. Bowie as well as colleagues and family members. His father-in-law — “a very happy man, a very good man” — who worked as a doctor for the World Health Organization, once said something that stuck with him: “All men die in disappointment.”
The first time I ever heard [The Velvet Underground] was on a John Peel radio show… it was when their first album came out and I thought “This I like! This I want to know about!”. I was having a huge crisis at the time. Am I going to be a painter or am I somehow going to get into music. And I couldn’t play anything so music was the less obvious choice. Then, when I heard The Velvet Underground I thought, “you can do both actually”. It was a big moment for me.
That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. “I’m set free, to find a new illusion”. Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of “Finding The Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.
Subsequently I think we aren’t able and actually don’t particularly care about the truth, whatever that might be. What we care about is having intellectual tools and inventions that work. [Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens”] discusses that what makes large-scale human societies capable of cohering and co-operating is the stories they share together. Democracy is a story, religion is a story, money is a story. This chimed well with “I’m set free to find a new illusion”. It seems to me what we don’t need now is people that come out waving their hands and claiming they know the Right Way.
You’ve always pushed the boundaries of technology and recording techniques. Did you use any new methods on this album? I’ve been working with Markov chain generators (( from Wikipedia; A Markov chain (discrete-time Markov chain or DTMC), named after Andrey Markov, is a random process that undergoes transitions from one state to another on a state space. It must possess a property that is usually characterized as “memorylessness”: the probability distribution of the next state depends only on the current state and not on the sequence of events that preceded it. This specific kind of “memorylessness” is called the Markov property. Markov chains have many applications as statistical models of real-world processes)) which are statistical randomizers. I was using them to generate text and, in some cases, music as well. Like all varieties of randomizers, what matters crucially is A) what you put in the front end and B) how much you select what comes out of the backend. It’s not magic — they’re tools.
The story that is read by Peter Serafinowicz on “Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin” is generated by a Markov chain generator. What I put into the system in the beginning was some dirty songs by First World War soldiers — they used to take old songs and would put their own words to them which were often totally pornographic. I had some of the warnings and terms of conditions that appear at the bottom of emails, where they say “If you have received this email in error…” I like that kind of technical language. Then I had accounts written from the lifeboats by people watching the Titanic sinking. And also part of a book about the blitz over London.
All of that stuff went in and then the statistical generator reconfigures it. It might be mixing a bit from a bawdy song with a very serious account of weather conditions over London in 1941. It churns out tons of stuff. The trick is to go through it and find the bits that surprise you.
Markov chains are employed in algorithmic music composition, particularly in software such as CSound, Max and SuperCollider. In a first-order chain, the states of the system become note or pitch values, and a probability vector for each note is constructed, completing a transition probability matrix (see below). An algorithm is constructed to produce output note values based on the transition matrix weightings, which could be MIDI note values, frequency (Hz), or any other desirable metric.
1st-order matrix Note A C♯ E♭ A 0.1 0.6 0.3 C♯ 0.25 0.05 0.7 E♭ 0.7 0.3 0 2nd-order matrix Notes A D G AA 0.18 0.6 0.22 AD 0.5 0.5 0 AG 0.15 0.75 0.1 DD 0 0 1 DA 0.25 0 0.75 DG 0.9 0.1 0 GG 0.4 0.4 0.2 GA 0.5 0.25 0.25 GD 1 0 0 A second-order Markov chain can be introduced by considering the current state and also the previous state, as indicated in the second table. Higher, nth-order chains tend to “group” particular notes together, while ‘breaking off’ into other patterns and sequences occasionally. These higher-order chains tend to generate results with a sense of phrasal structure, rather than the ‘aimless wandering’ produced by a first-order system.
Markov chains can be used structurally, as in Xenakis’s Analogique A and B. Markov chains are also used in systems which use a Markov model to react interactively to music input.
Usually musical systems need to enforce speciﬁc control constraints on the ﬁnite-length sequences they generate, but control constraints are not compatible with Markov models, since they induce long-range dependencies that violate the Markov hypothesis of limited memory. In order to overcome this limitation, a new approach has been proposed.
Joe Atkins, chief executive officer of Bowers & Wilkins, has owned a majority stake in the half-century-old British speaker business for the last 30 years. On Tuesday, he plans to tell his 1,100 employees that he’s selling it to a tiny company that almost no one has heard of, run by a man he met just 30 days ago. Over the weekend, Atkins reached a sale agreement with Eva Automation, a 40-person Silicon Valley startup that hasn’t yet sold a single product or service. The company was started in 2014 by Gideon Yu, a former Facebook Inc. chief financial officer, ex-venture capitalist, and current co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Yu has said little about his startup. According to the company’s website, it is “making products that will change how people interact and think about the home.” About a quarter of its employees have worked at Apple, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Bowers & Wilkins became a household name before speaker companies had to distinguish themselves through Spotify integrations and voice recognition capability. While Bowers & Wilkins does sell speakers designed to accommodate people used to listening to music through their smartphones, Atkins acknowledges that his company lacks the expertise needed to build software that communicates with cloud services. Any company that wants to sell speakers at a significant premium would need to integrate high-end hardware with sophisticated software. Yu plans to begin selling new products that incorporate Eva’s work by early to mid-2017.
Multiple cups of coffee a day linked to lower risk of premature death The health benefits were seen whether people drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.
Researchers have now linked three to five cups of coffee per day to an overall lower risk of premature death, according to a new review of data on more than 200,000 health professionals.
The lowered risk was associated with a moderate amount of coffee, as opposed to those who drink only a cup or two, or no coffee at all, who did not see the health benefits. When researchers adjusted for those who smoke cigarettes, the benefits of all that coffee were even greater.
The idea that coffee can prevent the development of adverse health conditions, as studies just this year have shown it is good for brain health in older people, cancels out liver damage from over-consumption of alcohol, and may improve colon cancer survival.
Ben Carson’s remarks on foreign policy have repeatedly raised questions about his grasp of the subject, but never more seriously than in the past week, when he wrongly asserted that China had intervened militarily in Syria and then failed, on national television, to name the countries he would call on to form a coalition to fight the Islamic State.
Faced with increasing scrutiny about whether Mr. Carson, who leads in some Republican presidential polls, was capable of leading American foreign policy, two of his top advisers said in interviews that he had struggled to master the intricacies of the Middle East and national security and that intense tutoring was having little effect.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” said Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
Clarridge was pardoned (in the middle of his trial) by President George H.W. Bush in that historic exercise in ass-covering on the way out the door in 1992. After that, he left the CIA and went into business for himself in the shadow world of private spookdom.
Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say. So, yeah, maybe the Doctor knows what he’s doing here.
Cats are notoriously picky eaters—and one reason may be that they’re fine-tuned to detect bitterness. Cats can’t taste sweetness, but they have a dozen genes that code for bitter taste receptors. A recent study from researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital finds that at least seven of these bitter taste receptors are functional, indicating that cats are very sensitive to those tastes.
In order to figure out whether the 12 known bitterness receptor genes actually cause cats to taste bitterness, the researchers inserted these genes into human cells and figured out which ones responded to chemicals that cause people to taste bitterness (since cats can’t tell us when something is bitter).
There’s the president of the United States, and then there’s the person who happens to be the President of the United States.
Bill Clinton served for eight years, but we were always more intrigued by Bill Clinton the Person—a magnetic charmer once described by Chris Rock as “a cool guy, like the president of a record company.” Clinton’s charisma defined his presidency, for better and for worse. He couldn’t always harness it. He couldn’t stop trying to win everyone over, whether it was a 60 Minutes correspondent, 500 powerful donors in a crowded banquet hall, or a fetching woman on a rope line.
If Clinton acted like someone who ran Capitol Records, Obama—both the person and the president—carries himself like Roger Federer, a merciless competitor who keeps coming and coming, only there’s a serenity about him that disarms just about everyone. At one point during the hour I spent interviewing him at the White House this fall, he casually compared himself to Aaron Rodgers, and he wasn’t bragging. Obama identified with Rodgers’s ability to keep his focus downfield despite all the chaos happening in front of him. That’s Obama’s enduring quality, and (to borrow another sports term) this has been his “career year.”
Archaeologists in Israel have kind of a great problem. While building a visitor center to house the Lod Mosaic, a magnificent work from 300 AD discovered near the construction site in 1996, workers uncovered another ancient treasure: a 1,700-year-old Roman mosaic.
The new find measures an impressive 36 feet by 42 feet, and would have likely paved the courtyard floor in a large Roman or Byzantine-era villa. The Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled photos of the floor, which contains imagery of fish, hunting animals, birds, and vases, this week in the Israel National News, which called it “breathtaking” and “among the most beautiful” mosaics in the country.
We have two possibilities before us. First, that House Republicans purposefully stacked their Benghazi! select committee with the dumbest, most inept, most incompetent twits they could round up. Or second, that they didn’t do that and the whole sodding Congress is just this dumb.
Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a member of the House Select Committee On Benghazi, said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid “a trap” for the committee by making her Oct. 22 appearance go “as long as possible.” Mind you, of all the people in that hearing room, the one least able to control how long the committee would sit on their behinds and ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton long, sometimes bizarre questions was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was not allowed to just pick up and go home, even after the first four, six, eight, and 10 hours of questions proved that Republicans had absolutely no new information or questions or theories that might require her actual presence there. Republicans could have, say, limited their robust speechifying and instead asked a few more actual questions. They could have paid attention to their own rules on how long questions could go on, and perhaps gently persuaded the worst of the blowhards to give it a rest when their time had officially expired.
Not one of them can win, but one must. That’s the paradox of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, fast becoming the signature event in the history of black comedy.
Conventional wisdom says that with the primaries and caucuses rapidly approaching, front-running nuts Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson must soon give way to the “real” candidates. But behind Trump and Carson is just more abyss. As I found out on a recent trip to New Hampshire, the rest of the field is either just as crazy or as dangerous as the current poll leaders, or too bumbling to win.
Disaster could be averted if Americans on both the left and the right suddenly decide to be more mature about this, neither backing obvious mental incompetents, nor snickering about those who do. But that doesn’t seem probable.
Instead, HashtagClownCar will almost certainly continue to be the most darkly ridiculous political story since Henry II of Champagne, the 12th-century king of Jerusalem, plunged to his death after falling out of a window with a dwarf.
Beginning in 2012, four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana. By this time next year, that number could well double, and then some. National polls consistently show majorities in favor of legalization, with a recent Gallup poll showing 58% support—tied for the highest level in the poll’s history.
That doesn’t mean legalization is inevitable in any given state, as the case of Ohio demonstrated earlier this month. There an initiative led by non-movement investors who sought monopolistic control of commercial pot cultivation got trounced despite spending millions of dollars.
But the Ohio result was probably a fluke, a convergence of a number of factors, including tone-deaf initiative organizers, a flawed initiative, a widely criticized mascot, and the fact that it was an off-off-year election with low voter turnout. There is no reason to believe that legalization initiatives likely next year in other states will be defeated just because the Ohio effort went down in flames.
At this point, it looks like six states are likely to legalize weed through the initiative process next year, with those efforts at varying stages, and a couple more could do it through the legislative process.
I don’t have terabytes worth of music, but I have a lot, and I’m frequently annoyed with iTunes. However, I keep with it because it syncs to my iPhone/iPad…
AT THE START of the millennium, Apple famously set out to upend the music business by dragging it into the digital realm. The iTunes store provided an easy way of finding and buying music, and iTunes provided an elegant way of managing it. By 2008, Apple was the biggest music vendor in the US. But with its recent shift toward streaming media, Apple risks losing its most music-obsessed users: the collectors.
Most of iTunes’ latest enhancements exist solely to promote the recommendation-driven Apple Music, app downloads, and iCloud. Users interested only in iTunes’ media management features—people with terabytes of MP3s who want a solid app to catalog and organize their libraries—feel abandoned as Apple moves away from local file storage in favor of cloud-based services. These music fans (rechristened “power users” in the most recent lingo) are looking for alternatives to Apple’s market-dominating media management software, and yearn for a time when listening to music didn’t require being quite so connected.
If you only own the original studio release of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” (recorded on December 9, 1964, and issued in February, 1965), then the new three-disk release “A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters” of the classic album by Coltrane’s classic quartet will be a revelatory experience.
It’s a revelation because of one particular set, one that many Coltrane fans have heard before: the live performance by the quartet from Juan-les-Pins, France, on July 26, 1965, of the entire suite of “A Love Supreme.” This set was also included the “deluxe” two-disk edition of “A Love Supreme,” issued by Impulse! Records, in 2002. By making that performance readily available to the general listener, Impulse! sparked a major advance in the appreciation, the understanding—and the love—of “A Love Supreme.” The merits of that recording shed particular light on the importance—and, strangely, the limits—of the original studio recording of “A Love Supreme.”
Despite the intelligence community’s attempts to blame NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday, the NSA’s mass surveillance programs do not have a track record — before or after Snowden — of identifying or thwarting actual large-scale terrorist plots.
CIA Director John Brennan asserted on Monday that “many of these terrorist operations are uncovered and thwarted before they’re able to be carried out,” and lamented the post-Snowden “handwringing” that has made that job more difficult.
But the reason there haven’t been any large-scale terror attacks by ISIS in the U.S. is not because they were averted by the intelligence community, but because — with the possible exception of one that was foiled by local police — none were actually planned.
And even before Snowden, the NSA wasn’t able to provide a single substantiated example of its surveillance dragnet preventing any domestic attack at all.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top government officials could be detained if they step foot in Spain after a judge there issued an arrest warrant stemming from a deadly 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, but Israel is dismissing the move as a “provocation.”
In the 2010 incident, a group of human rights activists — which included members affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to authorities – boarded several aid ships to try and break an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Jerusalem Post reports.
In its article, the AP also wrote, “The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 – not 200 as [Clinton] claimed.”
Again, this criticism of Clinton is erroneous because it treats the Gun Violence Archive as a comprehensive source.
The botched AP fact check was subsequently touted by the National Rifle Association.
Apologies if you are one of the few brave and foolhardy souls who still subscribe to my daily newsletter. Your email contained a bunch of gobbledygook links today. Some background: before Twitter and Facebook, there was a social URL-sharing network called Delicious. Users of Delicious shared snippets from webpages, which is sort of how I still use Twitter1
Delicious was, and still remains, integrated with Google’s long neglected RSS engine, Feedburner. In other words, if you subscribe to my email newsletter, or use my blog’s RSS feed, you see Delicious links, Flickr images as well as occasional actual blog posts like this one merged together. But2 yesterday I started using a new RSS reading app. NetNewsWire has been my RSS reading app of choice since 2002, but it is feeling increasingly neglected, without much integration into the web services of 2015, so I purchased a competitor, Reeder, and lo-and-behold, posting directly to Delicious is an option! If I can press a button and post to Delicious, I’ll use the feature more frequently. With NetNewsWire, posting to Delicious meant logging in the site, copying and pasting the URL, copying and pasting the snippet, adding tags – about the same amount of effort would yield an actual blog post. With Reeder, I just press a button, and if I want, add tags. Much simpler. Except as I discovered this morning, the Delicious post gets mangled somewhere between Feedburner and Reeder. Basically, the URL is not properly formatted and looks like
Here are the five snippets I wanted to post, but didn’t have the stamina nor time to annote/respond to. One snippet I did manage to later turn into a blog post, but I’m including it here anyway …
The Great Controversy: Ben Carson, Ellen G. White, and Seventh-day Adventism
Ben Carson has famously said that a Muslim who wishes to become president of the United States must “reject the tenets of Islam.”
But what about members of his own church — The Seventh-day Adventist church? Must they reject its doctrines in order to become president?
The SDA church was co-founded by Ellen G. White, who was its original leader and prophet. She is to Adventists what Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, and Muhammad are to Christian Scientists, Mormons, and Muslims, respectively (not respectfully). And her book, The Great Controversy, corresponds to Science and Health, the Book of Mormon, and the Quran. And it fully deserves to be among them, as one of the the worst books ever written.
Someone should ask Dr. Carson if he believes in Ellen White’s prophecy in The Great Controversy with regard to the “big role” that the United States will play. Specifically, is the United States the two-horned beast that speaks like a lion of Revelation 13:11?
If so, he should renounce that belief (along with the rest of White’s “prophecy”) before anyone should consider voting for him for president.
Björk on Iceland: ‘We don’t go to church, we go for a walk’ Björk used to walk across the tundra singing at the top of her lungs. John Grant left America for its rocky grandeur and Sigur Rós’s music captures its isolation. What is it about the Icelandic landscape that hypnotises artists?
Cornel West tears into hypocritical “sister Clinton” while filling in for Bernie Sanders at an Iowa BBQ “Democratic socialism isn’t some kind of alien element. It’s organic and indigenous in the history of this nation.”
West turned to Sanders’ main opponent for the Democratic ticket, claiming that “we have to be honest about our dear sister Hillary Clinton — when it comes to my gay brothers and my lesbian sisters, one year, she says ‘marriage is just male and female.’ A few years later, she says she’s ‘evolved.’ I say, ‘I’m open to evolution.’
“But there’s certain issues that should cut so deep,” he concluded, “that you don’t need to be a thermometer — you can be a thermostat!”
The Velvet Underground – see the video for Some Kinda Love (live) The new Complete Matrix Tapes box set is a brilliant insight into one of rock’s greatest bands – and we’ve got this track from the set
This Friday sees the release of The Complete Matrix Tapes, bringing together all the recordings made of the Velvet Underground at the San Francisco venue on 26 and 27 November 1969. Heard in their entirety, the recordings are revelatory – you get to hear wildly different versions of the same songs, Lou Reed chatting and joking with his audience, and a rock band exploring the limits of their performance – right up to a 38-minute version of Sister Ray.
While most of the 42 tracks on the four-disc box have been heard before, nine are exclusives. What’s more, the tracks previously heard on The Bootleg Series, Vol 1: The Quine Tapes were in nothing like this level of fidelity. In a world of box sets packed with unnecessary fillers, this one is anything but.
The actor will star alongside Harrison Ford in the sequel to the sci-fi classic
he offered this fairly long-winded account of where Deckard has been living following the events of the original film:
We decided to start the film off with the original starting block of the original film. We always loved the idea of a dystopian universe, and we start off at what I describe as a ‘factory farm’ – what would be a flat land with farming. Wyoming. Flat, not rolling – you can see for 20 miles. No fences, just plowed, dry dirt. Turn around and you see a massive tree, just dead, but the tree is being supported and kept alive by wires that are holding the tree up. It’s a bit like Grapes of Wrath, there’s dust, and the tree is still standing. By that tree is a traditional, Grapes of Wrath-type white cottage with a porch. Behind it at a distance of two miles, in the twilight, is this massive combine harvester that’s fertilizing this ground. You’ve got 16 Klieg lights on the front, and this combine is four times the size of this cottage. And now a spinner [a flying car] comes flying in, creating dust. Of course, traditionally chased by a dog that barks, the doors open, a guy gets out and there you’ve got Rick Deckard. He walks in the cottage, opens the door, sits down, smells stew, sits down and waits for the guy to pull up to the house to arrive. The guy’s seen him, so the guy pulls the combine behind the cottage and it towers three stories above it, and the man climbs down from a ladder – a big man. He steps onto the balcony and he goes to Harrison’s side. The cottage actually [creaks]; this guy’s got to be 350 pounds. I’m not going to say anything else – you’ll have to go see the movie.
Recently, I was alone for an afternoon, without any pressing tasks to complete, so I decided to pull out my turntable1 and listen to a few records. I listen to music all the time, and have a vast, horder-esque iTunes library, but I’m often too lazy to play records. I sat in a room I call The Lounge, and spun a half dozen LPs. Some I only wanted to hear a song or two from, some I listened to in their entirety, both sides.
Such a different experience, as I’m sure you’d concur. I won’t go into the debate here over sound fidelity, and warmth, and all that. In honesty, I don’t want to give up the convenience of being able to walk around with hundreds of my favorite albums in my pocket, or the ability to instantly play a song in my car. Vinyl does wear out, and there is that crackling, popping sound that does not exist in digital versions.
The vinyl experience is different in other ways. I didn’t realize when I purchased my turntable, but it doesn’t have an automatic shut-off feature. In other words, I need to be actively listening or else the album will continue to spin for hours, wearing out the turntable’s needle. I’ve incorporated this negative feature into my ritual of listening to records. I put the needle down on the song I want to hear2, sit down holding the album jacket, study the cover art, read the liner notes, and listen with my full attention. I have the option of listening via3 desk top speakers, or a4 headphone amplifier with comfortable over-the-ear headphones.5
Curating playlists on my Mac is one of my hobbies, creating mixes of songs and albums based on topics and phrases, or genres, or concepts, or years, or events; but that means the music never stops playing. In contrast, when a record is finished, there is silence. Silence until the next LP is selected, or until the current record gets flipped over. I guess one could say listening to a CD would be similar, but my first (and only!) CD player was a six disc shuffler – again, when music was on, it kept going and going, filling up the nooks and crannies of available aural space.
I was surprised at how significant the empty spaces were, especially on a quiet afternoon.
This morning’s edition of Earworm Theatre is Blue from the Jayhawks 1995 album, Tomorrow the Green Grass.1
On a semi-regular basis, I wake up with a song or piece of music playing in my head, echoing in my brain. The song won’t leave until I play it, which depending on how my morning goes, could be an hour or so. The earworm occurs not nightly, not weekly, but several times a year. Frequently, but not always, a song I haven’t heard in a while, often with lyrics that have some resonance to something that happened recently. My subconscious trying to be helpful, in other words. This morning’s edition, Blue, was more about melody however, since I couldn’t even remember the lyrics unaided. I love how the chorus and bridge are harmonized. My voice cracks when I try to hit those kind of high notes…
Here are the lyrics, for reference, since I looked them up…
Where have all my friends gone They’ve all disappeared Turned around maybe one day You’re all that was there Stood by on believing Stood by on my own Always thought I was someone Turned out I was wrong
And you brought me through And you made me feel so blue Why don’t you stay behind So blue Why don’t you stop And look at what’s going down
If I had an old woman She’d never sell me a lie It’s hard to sing with someone Who won’t sing with you Give all of my mercy Give all of my heart Never thought that i’d miss you That i’d miss you so much
And you brought me through And you made me feel so blue Why don’t you stay behind So blue Why don’t you stop And look at what’s going down
All my life (staying while) I’m waiting for (staying while) Someone I could (waiting around) Show the door (now that I’m blue) But nothing seems to change (That I’m blue from now on) You come back that month
So blue Why don’t you stay behind So blue Why don’t you Why don’t you stay behind So blue Why don’t you Why don’t you stay behind So blue Why don’t you stop And look at what’s down
but my subconscious wasn’t trying to send me a coded message, I don’t think, but rather a way of harmonizing. Or something, lines of communication between conscious brain and subconscious brain are notoriously fickle.
I did hear Blue recently; I was singing it to one of my cats, who wouldn’t harmonize with me:
It’s Hard To Sing With Someone Who Won’t Sing With You
A few moments ago, the Cowboy Junkies best album1 came on my stereo, The Trinity Session, and I listened to it intently for the first time in a long time. Such a timeless LP, and of course, hearing the album triggered a bit of reverie down my own memory lanes and paths. I recall many late nights putting this album on my turntable, and being enveloped by its mood, as I drank red wine with some people who have since faded from my life.
Per Wikipedia, The Trinity Session was released in 1988, but I don’t think I purchased a copy2 until 1989 or even 1990. I’ve never been enthusiastic towards opiate-induced dream stupors, but I’ve been around enough people who were, and the slow-placed, languorous tempo of the Trinity Session evokes a similar state of blissful melancholy.
Thom Jurek writes:
The Trinity Session was recorded in one night using one microphone, a DAT recorder, and the wonderful acoustics of the Holy Trinity in Toronto. Interestingly, it’s the album that broke the Cowboy Junkies in the United States for their version of “Sweet Jane,” which included the lost verse. It’s far from the best cut here, though. There are other covers, such as Margo Timmins’ a cappella read of the traditional “Mining for Gold,” a heroin-slow version of Hank Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Dreaming My Dreams With You” (canonized by Waylon Jennings), and a radical take of the Patsy Cline classic “Walkin’ After Midnight” that closes the disc. Those few who had heard the band’s previous album, Whites Off Earth Now!!, were aware that, along with Low, the Cowboy Junkies were the only band at the time capable of playing slower than Neil Young and Crazy Horse — and without the ear-threatening volume. The Timmins family — Margo, guitarist and songwriter Michael, drummer Peter, and backing vocalist and guitarist John — along with bassist Alan Anton and a few pals playing pedal steel, accordion, and harmonica, paced everything to crawl.
The lyrics and instrumentation of the album were lifted from the classic country groups the band was exposed to, and the song “200 More Miles” was written in reference to their life on the road.
As they had on Whites, the band wanted to record live with one stereo microphone direct to tape—it is stated on the album cover that the recording was made on 2-track RDAT using one single Calrec Ambisonic Microphone.
Peter Moore was enlisted and suggested the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto for its natural reverb. To better persuade the officials of the historic church, the band claimed to be The Timmins Family Singers and said they were recording a Christmas special for radio. The session began on the morning of 27 November 1987. The group first recorded the songs with the fewest instruments and then the songs with gradually more complex arrangements. In this way Moore and the band were able to solve acoustic problems one by one. To better balance Margo Timmins’s vocals against the electric guitars and drums, she was recorded through a PA system that had been left behind by a previous group. By making subtle changes in volume and placement relative to the microphone over six hours, Moore and the band had finally reached the distinctive sound of the album by the time the last of the guest musicians arrived at the church.
The band was unable to rehearse with most of the guest musicians before the day of the session. Considering the method of recording and time constraints, this could have been disastrous for the numbers which required seven or more musicians, but after paying a security guard twenty-five dollars for an extra two hours, the band was able to finish, and even recorded the final song of the session, “Misguided Angel”, in a single take.
Contrary to popular myth, the album was not entirely recorded in one day. In the hustle of the first recording session, the band forgot to record “Mining for Gold”. Margo and Moore recorded the song a few days later during the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s lunch break.
Sleeve notes state that the recording was not mixed, overdubbed or edited in any way.
Michael Timmins adds more detail of the album’s genesis:
We had spent the past year touring Whites Off Earth Now!! around Canada and the United States, grabbing gigs wherever and whenever they were offered. We had sold an incredible (by the Canadian indy standards of the time) 3,000 copies of Whites and had taken the little money that we had made from touring and placed it all back in the band. With a pocketful of change and the inspiration from our travels we began to conceptualize our next recording.
While touring Whites we had spent a lot of time in the Southern States, especially Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. For some reason the club owners down there took a liking to what we were doing so we spent a lot of time crossing the kudzu choked highways that ran through the heart of the old Confederacy. Those were the days when having to spend a night in a hotel room would mean the difference between eating the next day or paying for the gas to get us to the next town, so we spent a lot of our time sleeping on the floors of friendly promoters, fans, waitresses and bartenders. One of the best part about being “billeted” was that each night we were exposed to a new record collection and each night we’d discover a new album or a new band or a whole new type of music that was springing up in some buried underground scene somewhere in America.
Years ago, in the early ’90s, I took a copywriting class at a large Chicago ad agency, and the teacher told us a story about how, a few years earlier, he tried to persuade the indie band Timbuk3 to allow his client — I think it was Procter & Gamble — to use its song ‘‘Hairstyles and Attitudes’’ in a commercial, but the musicians refused. I was struck by his contempt for their decision, and how fresh his anger seemed. He kept sputtering the reason they gave for turning down his agency’s offer — ‘‘They didn’t want to sell out!’’ — as if it constituted not just an unthinkable betrayal but also a reprehensible moral lapse. He seemed to expect us to mirror his indignation, but we just sat there, feeling uncomfortable.