Sunday, March 18, 2018


It's funny, my usual approach is to tap the theme into my iTunes search and see what comes up. No shortage with this one, both woman and women liberating dozens of possibilities. However, at just gone International Women's Day, neither honky tonk nor rainy day women seemed to be appropriate, as neither those toting black magic or those, when younger, with sturdy posteriors. In fact, finding a worthy song was harder than I thought, especially when I discovered Alice Cooper was a man. (Apologies if any of my colleagues were about to post said song, but, in hindsight, however many good versions I have of it, mainly by female artists, it is, isn't it, just a tad patronising?)

So, I did what anyone should do, and enquired of my soul. That is, my soul music collection. And Aretha had the answer. She usually does, even if the advice is written by a man.

And quite a man at that. Dan Penn. To be fair, it was a co-write, with Chips Moman, but it is Penn everyone recalls, a man better known for his writing and production skills than for his singing. Strangely, as he is no slouch in that department himself either. Here's a pretty good interview with him, and longtime jousting companion, Spooner Oldham, which gives a synopsis or his, and their, place in the world. And below the pair of them together, just playing the song.

I know I am missing a point here, what with it being a post supposedly celebrating women and to note the recent International Women's Day, and here am I putting up a paean to a man from Alabama. What can I say? I'm just a bloke. But when so many song lyrics in this genre are so straightforwardly sexist, including many sung by women, isn't it a change to have one which, despite a title that sounds like an instruction, is, on greater listening, not so bad a suggestion after all.

Take me to heart And I'll always love you And nobody can make me do wrong Take me for granted Leaving love unshown Makes will power weak And temptation strong A woman's only human You should understand She's not just a plaything She's flesh and blood Just like her man If you want a do right All days woman You've gotta be a do right All night man Yeah, yeah They say that it's a man's world But you can't prove that by me And as long as we're together baby Show some respect for me

Get it here and here.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Women: Woman in Chains

Tears for Fears, featuring Oleta Adams: Woman in Chains


Oleta Adams has a great voice that too few people have heard. In fact, it took a fairly remarkable break for her to finally get her chance at stardom at age 37, and even then, her career never went as far as her talent possibly deserved. Adams learned to sing in church, and added jazz to her repertoire as she went along. In the late 1970s, she recorded a demo that she shopped to major labels, but they wanted disco divas if they signed a black woman at the time, so Adams got no offers. By the early 80s, Adams decided to make a brave move and released two albums on her own label. Remember that there was no internet at the time to allow a self-releasing artist to promote herself. There were independent labels at the time, even small ones, that were having some success with punk, new wave, and early rap, but Adams did not fit any of those categories. By 1985, she had moved to Kansas City, where she was doing a gig at a local hotel. That was where her moment happened. Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal, aka Tears for Fears, came through town during their tour for their smash album Songs From the Big Chair, and they happened to stay at her hotel. It took two years for that to turn into an offer to join their band to record and tour for the follow-up album The Seeds of Love, and the album wasn’t released until 1989. But Adams played piano and sang backup on the first single and title track.

The second single was her moment. Woman in Chains is a duet, and the overlapping vocals by Roland Orzabal and Oleta Adams blend magically. Hearing this, it is hard to guess why they didn’t do more work together. In the event, Tears for Fears signed Adams as a solo artist to their vanity label within their major label, and her first two major label releases were hits, especially in the UK. Over the years, Adams has had the occasional chance to record some jazz, including one song with Antonio Carlos Jobim. But her albums, to my ear, have played it safe with smooth R&B. She does it well, but I can’t help wondering what might have happened if she had taken some chances artistically.

Woman in Chains is a long song, but the lyrics fit comfortably on a napkin. They leave a lot of space for the listener to fill in. It is almost as if the song was conceived alongside its video. Together, they paint a picture of an abusive relationship between a pole dancer and a boxer. The version I have chosen is not the album version, and this is not the official video. Instead, I found a live version that has a more muscular arrangement, and shows off Adams’ voice to even better advantage than the original. The video seen here uses enough of the original footage to tell the full story, but the performance portion of the original has been replaced with new concert footage.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mar*: March of the Pigs

Purchase: March of the Pigs, from Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral

Maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's the magic of serendipity. Life doesn't always imitate art as much as it does take direction from what we see, hear, read and listen to. Or look at. Take for instance this: I'm teaching Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird right now, and focused heavily on one of the novel's most moving scenes, where Scout, through innocent determination unwittingly faces an angry mob back and causes at least a few of them to reflect, then turn back on their own murderous behavior after witnessing and being subject to the non-accusatory innocence of a child who doesn't know much more than right and wrong. One of my students brilliantly pointed out to me that this scene, so famous now, so ingrained in our memories of both the book and the film, was just like what is happening in Parkland, Florida: teenager victims and witnesses of the horrific mass murder at Stoneman High School are refusing to back down to the intimidations and insults NRA and inaction of their own state legislators to affect perhaps the most significant change to gun control policy in our country. Ever.

"Kids can change the world, sir." That is what this student told me, free of self-consciousness or irony. I was amazed, not only for the fact that she was right, but that once again, the art form I've dedicated my life to working with--literature--really and truly is the reflective authority on how to understand the world.

Now, off to less noble analogies: I've been reading the Vincent Bugliosi's 1974 bestseller, Helter Skelter. Helter Skelter is a true crime account of the 1969 Manson Murders, an event ingrained in our American folklore and artistic, sociological and artistic identity for numerous reasons, many I am trying to fathom as I read the book. I have read that the Mason murders marked a true end to the optimism of the 1960's flower power movement and the feel-good vibes of the hippies--the positive spin on the generational gap that blew wide open in the 1960s and the blossoming of the alternative culture and the wider acceptance of freer, less rigid values and a consenting to a wider, more interpretative moral code. Which was the nice part of the 60s, the pretty, techni-color expansiveness. Not the darker, grittier reality of drugs, a war that killed an untold number or people, an ushering in of a mistrust of our government and a righteous anger at the moral spiritual failings of our leaders. While not a new concept in history, it seems at least for America, that finally, the dishonesty, greed, self-preservation, perfidy and self-centered nature of our politicians had been brought into the open and I don't think we've forgiven any of it yet. Why would we? The corruption of the 1960s has given way, in a flood rather than a trickle, to an ever unprincipled, unethical and dishonorable parade of corrupted leaders and the havoc that they, and we, have unleashed on the world... But, I digress: history is a nightmare panoply of war and suffering--our current situation is nothing new, we just get to watch it unfold in an unending techno-digital stream..."all day, all night, MTV..."

The book itself is frightening in its clinical precision--the first chapter brings the Tate and Labianca murders into sharp, frightening focus, even if we only get to see the aftermath. I'm not too deep into the book yet, and I'm not sure why I'm reading it--after all, I know what happened, and truthfully, I could ask: do I really need anymore 'horror' in my life? Not that my life is filled with anything awful, but we seem to be at a premium of bad goings on, trouble times, waters on the rise and all the portents of evil rising in the darkening sky. We live in a Grimm's Fairy Tale landscape, and there's no real brightness to light us to a better way. Why I'd invite more of that darkness into my life, I'm not sure.

And while life in 2018 is more often a Ingmar Bergman film than it is a Will Ferrell one, there is something to be said in reveling in the depictions of out darker tendencies. You can't laugh at everything, and sometimes being inured to the gruesome and the ugly comes only from seeing enough to develop the think kind of skin that resists the lash. Hence, our thrill at being spooked by a horror film or, as is the case with me, fascinated with the real-life stories that inspire the horror genre. I'm not talking werewolves and vampires and the shambling dead come to life, but the real boogey men who populate the shadows of our waking world, playing the worst trick possible: denying us the enduring belief in the goodness of our fellow human. So, tales of serial killers and true crime documentaries, about fraud and kidnapping and crimes of passion, tales of mental disturbance that drive a seemingly normal human to give up their humanity in awful ways and at the expense of others, are an ever booming industry. Though it's a stretch to use the Manson murders to prove how life and art commingle in a strange, back and forth origin myth simply because there's so many similar stories in the world that all life and all art have blurred into one big mess, I can't deny the fascination of delving into those real stories, the stories who breathe a strange whisper into your ear, or run up the back of your neck for how close they are to the life you live, how easily they could become your story, if only, if just, thank god I've never been...

Trent Reznor's Nine Ince Nails has always struck me more as a project than a group, and his erratic, eclectic output over the past few years has done nothing but deepen the enigma that is NIN, while at the same time, further cement Rezonr's role as the composer of the soundtrack to our dark, tumultuous days. 1989's Pretty Hate Machine was a brutally loud and pulsing sonic message from the future--and it detailed a dark place. Flash forward, and Reznor gives us 1994's The Downward Spiral, which while leaping forward a few sonic decades, was also a step back into the past. The rhythms and the noise that make up this blood and wire and glass and tangle of wire and electricity collections of songs was wholly new and a throwback at the same time. The Downward Spiral is pure industrial--grinding machines at work to create pounding rhythms, giving way to static, broken reception, and sometimes soft, gentle piano and vocal brush strokes, butterfly wings, flitting dangerous about the chaotic, grinding of the gears. The music is big--it's close and claustrophobic and roaring, as well as open and expansive, sometimes as quiet as it once was raging. The Downward Spiral was a critical and commercial success: "March of the Pigs" and "Closer" charted; "Hurt" was an MTV staple that still haunts me today, even if it is soon to rival Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for an auditory cue to get ready to cry now because the movie or TV show you are watching is now giving you a deep, serious, contemplative montage which to cry over.

"March of the Pigs", the third track on the album, is a furious mix of punishing guitar and overdrive, factory belt drums, but like much of the album, in deals in great dichotomy: the bashing, angry beats gives way multiple times to a strange little coda of a piano ditty, that sounds like a tag line from a commercial for cleaning products. Reznor quiets the storm of music to ask you, all innocence implied, "Doesn't it make you feel better?" I can't decide if it's theater or kind of like one of those NBC "The More You Know" PSA's from the 90s...The song and its little break is trippy and strange, and utterly misplaced, but somehow very natural to the lifeblood that gushes through the song and the album as a whole.

And, now, lest you think I forgot, to the thematic connection: The Downward Spiral got a lot of press not for the brilliance of the music, but the morbid nature of its creation, particularly the place it was recorded. Reznor rented the property at 10050 Ceilo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. This is better known as the site of the first of the infamous Manson murders. Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski was among the four victims who were brutally slain during the late night hours. So much surrounds the case, so much myth and strange symbol making, and Reznor invoked some of the more well known crime scene imagery of the scene, in particular the killers invective "Pigs", which the scrawled in blood on the front door of the home. I haven't gotten too far into the book, so I'm not going to analyze the use and meaning of the word as part of the killers' signature, but I do know that the album traffics in the sounds and the word in multiple places. Aside from song titles, there are pig squeals peppered throughout the music. This wouldn't stand out normally--it might just be a bit more of the edgy racket, meant to put the listener further on edge. Or, maybe not. Perhaps Reznor was just indulging his morbid streak. He was living in the place of and making full emblematic use of a horrific murder. But then again, the album was meant to be abrasive, destructive to the listener and comment upon said destruction, and our dwindling sense of humanity. It is a downward spiral, after all. One wonders what the album might sound like, and say, if was recorded now, or perhaps closer to the events of September 11, 2001. I have to say, the 90s look right quaint and soft when compared to the shit-storm world we have inherited.

So, a roundabout way to get back to...history? No, life imitating art? Perhaps. I've lost the thread, to be honest. I think what I meant to say is that, good or bad, dark or light, devastating or uplifting, art, especially music, is a great lens with which to inform and be informed. Music for me is an ever-evolving soundtrack and sound accompanies me in every physical and spiritual endeavor. Our feelings toward what surrounds us and effects us might change, going from sad to happy, the entire panoply of emotions, but I feel better knowing I have music to accompany me. With that kind of artistic grace, one can take the worst life has to offer hopefully make it make sense. Books teach you; painting and sculpture remind and show you; music guides you and softens the blows.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mar* Songs: Mar Jayeen

purchase [Mar Jayeen]

Bollywood is probably not at the top of your list for music files. Then again, with ~ 1 billion listeners, maybe you shouldn't discount the genre. More than once I have pushed music from Turkey  - far from main-stream but perfectly/musically viable - if only we were more in tune or open to alternatives. Bollywood is only a few borders away.

The 3 letters <mar>  may not signify what you think they do. It depends on your language, doesn't it? It's "sea" in Spanish (but you probably know that). My concerted efforts to translate this (what I think is Hindi)  to English produce the result that "mar" resolves to "die", so Latif Aslam singing "Mar Jayeen" - is liberally translated as ?! Die In.

Sting made pretty good use of a similar style with his Morocco explorations/Desert Rose back about the turn of the century, and while there's a lot to be said for expanding your horizons,  you'll likely sense that that expansion is also shrinking as "popular" music becomes more universal. (Star Wars' Cantina Band that sound like Earth music?)

Atif Aslam, Pakistan born, has played all over parts of the world.The Wiki page for him is full of praise - as I think you might be after listening. It appears that he had an international education: Kimberly Hall School & St. Paul's Cambridge School (both in Pakistan - but that's not as unusual as you may imagine, I  know from personal experience). But beyond his upbringing, he's made a name for himself in the music world (Beyond the Western World's limited perspective)

But ... musically, it doesn't so much matter what his Hindi lyrics  translate to - more better that you listen and read the "lyrics" without needing to focus on the meaning;
Har lamha dekhne ko
Tujhe intezaar karna
Tujhe yaad karke aksar
Raaton main roz jagna
Badla hua hai kuch toh
Dil in dino yeh apna
Kaash woh pal paida hi naa ho
Jis pal mein nazar tu naa aaye
Kaash woh pal paida hi naa ho
Jis pal main nazar tu naa aaye
Gar kahin aisa pal ho
Toh iss pal mein mar jaayen

Friday, March 9, 2018

MAR* SONGS: Águas de Março

Or Waters of March, the english translation of what has been called the all-time best Brazilian song, in a 2001 poll. Written by arguably the best and certainly the best-known of Brazilian composers, the king of Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos ('Tom') Jobim, in 1972, it has sustained myriad versions over the years since. Unusually, both the portuguese  of the original and it's translation were both written by Jobim. Bossa Nova seemed, in my youth, inescapably naff and forever attached to cheesy black and white travelogues. More recently it has seemed to attain a revisioned renaissance and  sits well alongside other latin dance and music forms, thanks in part to the dance music attuned stylings of bands such as Bossacucanova, the translation of which even I can work out.

It was Jobim's stepfather who encouraged his playing, after the he and his mother moved to Ipanema, yes that one, starting his nascent career playing in clubs and bars. Although now deemed to side most closely with jazz, in fact early influences and passions were derived from the classical field. Already big in Brazil, courtesy his writing partnership with Vinicius de Moraes, a celebrated poet, his wider breakthrough came with, in 1963, his collaborations with Stan Getz and the husband and wife team of Joao and Astrid Gilberto, including that song from Ipanema. Writing most of the music over the two volumes of Getz/Gilberto ensured worldwide recognition and many awards. The bossanova craze was in full swaying swing.

Aguas de Marco, as a song, has had a fascinating history, starting life as the 70s brazilian equivalent of a cover disc: a free and probably flimsy vinyl distributed with O Pasquim, a magazine of the day. Thereafter it was picked up by Elis Regina, later to work closely and to collaborate with Jobim, appearing on her 1972 debut. Jobim himself didn't officially release his own version until a year later, with the additional english lyric now attached to the verses in portuguese. This was then reprised, by both of them, another year later, on the seminal 1974 album Elis and Tom. (See top clip above.) Since then there have been a flood of versions from artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, Art Garfunkel and David Byrne. Unarguably now a standard, it was also purloined by advertisers, no doubt for a fat fee, but never, for me, the real thing.

So what are the waters of march? March is the rainiest month in Rio, and the words, more a tone poem of images than any narrative, are said to represent the torrents of water flowing down the steep hillsides of the city, flooding the gutters with all manner of debris. I encourage you to sift through the floodwater of what can so often be so much supper club and hotel lobby flotsam and jetsam, looking for the class of what this much maligned music style has to offer. Tom Jobim will always rise to the top.

                                                  Antonio Carlos Jobim 1927 - 1994

Still thirsty?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mar* songs: Mary , Mary

purchase [Mary Mary]

Kind of like J David said - from the start I planned to veer off into the Mar* option rather than the full <March>. He's already said that we've been there once before (without a lot of success). I hadn't specifically thought we were flogging a dead horse, but it is starting to appear that way.

This past weekend - once again, I was faculty-on-duty for a "Retro Night" student dance- along with several other faculty members. You probably went through more than one High School dance of this kind at some time in your past, but maybe not as a chaperone. This  Retro Night was ostensibly 80s focused -a  time these kids only know about as <history>. That's the time when I had turned adult (defined by: earn your own living. A concept apparently somewhat strange/difficult to some in the newer generations. Thank or criticize others than me for that.) we are in Retro Night (80s) and the songs don't include Olivia Newton-John. Nor Blondie. Nor Paul McCartney... and on and on. It's their perspective of what defines Retro, not mine.
That said ... the theme's  <Mar*> so  I offer my perspective of Mar*, which goes to double or triple Retro because retro means going back.

Because I grew up overseas from the US  = overseas from everywhere!, grabbing the sounds (literally had to stand by the radio dial and keep adjusting the short-wave frequency to keep the channel in tune), my perspective is skewed. But ... I didn't miss the Monkeys. Much like my friends in the US, I didn't miss Archie comics (the Archies) or Sad Sack(!!), we[a group of US expat teens] somehow managed to more or less assimilate to our US peers - by catching the crazes on a time -lag loop. And so I bopped to:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mar* Songs: Forward March

Pat Metheny Group: Forward March

It took me a while to adjust to studying in college, because it was different from what I did in high school. The material was significantly more complex, there was much more of it, and my fellow students were almost uniformly incredibly smart. But one thing that was basically the same was that studying was a solitary act.

Law school, though, was another thing altogether. Heading into it, though, I had no idea that I needed a new approach, and fully expected that I’d continue in my accustomed manner. However, early in my first year, I was approached by a friend, who somehow knew that creating a study group was critical to success. And I’m so glad that I did. In some ways, the first year law experience, at least at Fordham Law School in 1983, was remarkably more like an elementary school or middle school experience than college. We were divided up into sections, alphabetically, and were given a set schedule, with no electives. All of my classes were with some combination of other sections, all of which were filled with classmates whose last name was from the first half of the alphabet, except for one class that was just for my section. Therefore, I didn’t really get to know anyone in the second half of the alphabet until second year, and was closest to the people in my section.

This sort of rigid scheduling was ideal for study groups, because we were all taking the same classes. And I quickly found that studying with Dave, A.J. and Bob was not only helpful in digesting and understanding the enormous mass of material that they throw at you first year, but they became my closest friends. We would meet periodically, order some sort of takeout (because we were in New York, and the choices were myriad), discuss our work, and, of course, other stuff. Sometime during second semester, Bob fell off the radar, distracted by his ultimate lack of interest in becoming a lawyer and the ready availability of college hoops at Madison Square Garden, but the rest of us continued to work together. As we approached our finals, we prepared outlines, quizzed each other, and pushed each other hard, while also becoming life-long friends.

I have a strong memory of showing up at a study group session at Dave’s apartment with a new copy of the Pat Metheny Group’s First Circle album—and by album, I mean a large slab of black vinyl.  I’m pretty sure that I picked it up, discounted, at the Warner Entertainment company store. After graduating from college, I worked at Atlantic Records for the summer of 1982, which granted me access to the discounted records, books and other items that were in the employee-only store in the basement of 75 Rockefeller Plaza. By continuing to visit the store periodically even after my employment ended, I remained a familiar face to the security guards who still let me pass into the inner sanctum for a few years.

Metheny had been a favorite of mine since I was introduced to him at WPRB, and I’ve written about him a few times here. I know that Dave, who played the guitar, was a fan (I don’t remember whether the others were, too). So, it was natural that when I showed up with the new album, in February, 1984, I would put it on Dave’s turntable, and that we were excited to hear it.

And on came “Forward March.” It was, and remains, a bit of a headscratcher. A dissonant, ragged march-like song, which eventually turns somewhat less weird, but never really sounding “perfect.” Sort of like the Portsmouth Sinfonia, or even the first rehearsal of an average high school marching band. Allmusic suggests that it might be a parody “directed at a few silly skirmishes of the day (Grenada? the Falklands?).” Another blogger considered the fact that the band opened concerts on its tour with the oddity as showing that:

While the Pat Metheny Group are all serious musicians, this was no hardcore jazz purists’ band. They want to entertain you. They want you to smile (I’ve never seen a musician look as happy as Metheny does). For all its novelty, “Forward March” made its audience smile right from the word go.

But it seems that may well just be overthinking it. Metheny himself, in response to a fan question about the inspiration for “Forward March,” stated that the song is:

really just sound - there was a thing i was messing with with [sic] a new instrument for me at the time, the synclavier, where it was possible to scale the range of the guitar by large amounts - meaning that what would normally be read as an octave could be read as several octaves and the 12 notes in between that same octave were scaled along with the octaves into 12, but now across several octaves, thereby making an "octave ratio" larger than 1:1. this was fascinating to me at the time, and that piece was one of several that came from it. the only one that was recorded. 

I’m really not sure how that really explains “Forward March,” but hey, Pat has never lied to me.

Anyway, the next song on the album is “Yolanda, You Learn,” a much more typical Metheny song. I’m sure that we listened for a while, then got down to studying whatever subject was on the docket, and maybe more importantly, eating whatever food was on the menu.

After first year, we were allowed to take electives, so the three of us weren’t always in the same classes—but when we were, we reconvened the group, and still remain good friends more than three decades later.