Friday, August 2, 2013

Favorite Song Friday: Dyslexic Heart

OK, I know one of the cardinal rules of “Favorite Song Friday” that we laid out at the beginning was we weren’t going to constantly pick songs by our very very favorite artists, namely the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M, the Replacements and Bob Dylan.

But, well…the thing is we really haven’t. It’s been a half a year now of Favorite Song Friday and we haven’t picked one song by any of the above. One Paul McCartney song, sure, but that’s it.

And after today, we still will not have picked one of those five. Or, for that matter, a song by other favorites like David Bowie or Warren Zevon or Dinosaur Jr. or Peter Gabriel.

So we will now have one from Paul Westerberg. His very first solo song, in fact. Because it’s just too fun and playful not to choose it.

Favorite Song Friday – Paul Westerberg – “Dyslexic Heart”

The title kinda tells you you’re in for a treat, doesn’t it?

You keep swayin'
What are you sayin'?
Thinking 'bout stayin'?
Or are you just playing, making passes?
Well, my heart could use some glasses.

“My heart could use some glasses.” Awesome. Just awesome.

When Nirvana and Pearl Jam led the Seattle Invasion in 1991, a movement that would displace Michael Jackson from the top of the charts and signal the burial dirge for the late-80s scourge of “glam metal,” it was as significant a period of time in rock-n-roll history as anything we’d seen since the birth of punk. And it was only a matter of time before someone made a movie about it.

That someone, fortunately, was Cameron Crowe, and the movie was Singles. And the truth is it really didn’t succeed on all the right levels. Personally I think it came too early. Period pieces written about the period they are currently in can be tricky. Rock Around the Clock did it, as did Saturday Night Fever in its own magnificent way. But American Graffiti succeeded in part because it came out 10 years after the time it featured, allowing for ample amount of nostalgia to seep in. Same thing with Whit Stillman’s highly underrated The Last Days of Disco, which waited even longer to tell the story.

Regardless, Crowe made his movie and it had many enjoyable elements to it—Matt Dillon’s wondrous turn as a lame-brained but fairly well-meaning grunge rocker, the flighty charm of Kyra Sedgewick, and the music. All that great music—Nirvana didn’t make the soundtrack, but Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and Mother Love Bone and Screaming Trees and Mudhoney did. So did outsiders Smashing Pumpkins, who got their first big break from Singles. Crowe even threw in a touch of Jimi Hendrix—the original Seattle rock god—for good measure.

And scoring it all, as well as adding his first two ever solo songs, was Mr. Westerberg. The man who had been the idol to pretty much all of those above-mentioned artists during his 1980s run with The Replacements. As has been well documented with fair amounts of irony abounding everywhere, the Replacements broke up in 1991 and then watched as those sounds they so masterfully but recklessly created in the 80s became the foundation for the megahits of the early 90s. There wouldn’t have been a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without “Bastards of Young.” A “Black” without “Unsatisfied.” And imagine the hit “Alex Chilton” could have been in 1993?

So Cameron Crowe, his finger so perfectly on the pulse of musical trends as always, made the right choice when he tabbed Paul Westerberg to score his movie. A more than appropriate nod to the postpunk god who became godfather to this magical new era.

And for someone who had never done it before, Westerberg handled the scoring job with an effortless grace. Watch the movie again and try and notice the delicate little transitional fills he throws in there as the story progresses. They are beautifully crafted and add some rich and worthy hues to the film’s outer edges.

“Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody” are the two songs from which all these little touches spring, and the former plays over the closing credits as the ideal wrap-up. What’s so glorious about it is how much fun Paul seems to have with the sly, goofy words, and how in his element he is once more as a wordsmith who can bounce from sardonic to sweet with each changing chord.

“Dyslexic Heart” becomes the perfect opening shot to what became a more than solid solo career. The joyously hopeful acoustic chords that open the song are the launching pads for the irresistible “na na na na na” vocals that take over. The Replacements never ever veered this close to pure pop. Paul does that here. And he nails it.

Just a quick sampling of some of the lyrics shows us clearly that Paul is fully in touch with his wordsy brilliance and poetic soul and he sings about a love that may or may not be unrequited. But it doesn’t matter.

Slip me a napkin, and now that's a start.
Is this your name, or a doctor's eye chart?

Thanks for the book, now my table is ready.
Is this a library or a bar?
Between the covers, I thought you were ready?
A half-angel half-tart.
I try and comprehend you but I’ve got a dyslexic heart.

Do I read you correctly?
You need me directly?
Help me with this part.
Do I date you
Do I hate you
Do I got a dyslexic heart?

The song bops and sways along like a joyride. It’s quirky and a little nutty and, yes, filled with a great big smiling beating heart at its center. Westerberg sees to that. On his first full solo album that would come out a year later he appropriately sang, “I used to wear my heart on my sleeve, I guess it still shows.”

It does. Even without the great Replacements, his heart was still very much on display. And that, as Martha would say, is indeed a good thing.

"My heart could use some glasses."


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