Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For No One

So today I turn 48. One year younger than James Garfield when he died. Meaning next year I will look pretty much like this.

Hey, it's an improvement.

But I'm not posting this today to fish for shameless birthday wishes. Although thank you! Thank you for remembering! Really, that is just so nice!

No. Today is my birthday. And like I do with many, many different occasions and times of year, I tend to associate my birthday with specific music.

Election Day makes me think of, and listen to, Bob Dylan. I've written about this before, a few times.

When the summer turns to fall and the school year begins, even though I haven't been a student of any kind since 1990, I think of The Replacements. And during those "back to college" times that follow, meaning the fall, I tend to think about R.E.M. Likely because I became such a fanatic of both bands in college.

In the summer it's Bruce Springsteen for all occasions, as it should be,  And on vacation it's often healthy doses of escapist music like the Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Miles Davis. In the deep throws of winter it's the darker stuff that tends to seep in, such as Warren Zevon and Leonard Cohen. And there is never, ever any time of year when it's a good idea to listen to these guys.

But my birthday? It's always about the Beatles.

A couple of years ago I set out to listen to their entire catalog start to finish in chronological order over the course of my birthday weekend. And I liked it so much I do it each year, a little Beatles marathon (10-12 hours of Beatles music, that is to say) starting with "I Saw Her Standing There" and ending with "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." So that's where I am now. Thinking about and listening to the Beatles. Because it's my birthday and probably because the Beatles have always been my "birthday band,," dating back to when I was 12 and first started receiving Beatles records for my birthday.

And today I want to write about my absolute favorite Beatles song of all time. Not their greatest song, mind you, but my favorite. "For No One."  Located right smack in the center of Revolver, only the greatest album ever released by the greatest band ever to walk the earth.

(Although to clarifythis is one of their greatest songs, and in fact when Scott and I were putting together our Top 50 Beatles list a few years ago, we both agreed "For No One" should place way up there on any list).

Simply put, they never recorded a more beautiful song, never wrote a more poignant song, never sang a song more perfectly. Did some Beatles songs equal it in those capacities? Of course. But it is this 48-year-old man's opinion they never did it better.

It's everything about the song. The words are some of the most plaintive and mature Paul McCartney ever wrote. He wasn't known for writing about sadness necessarily, at least not as much as John was, but look at these verses and tell me they couldn't be mistaken for the finest tear-duct onslaughts of Roy Orbison, or the saddest of Leonard Cohen's tales.

The day breaks
Your mind aches
You find that all the words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up
She makes up
She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You want her
You need her
And yet you don't believe her when she says
Her love is dead
You think she needs you

You stay home
She goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone
But now he's gone
She doesn't need you

The day breaks
Your minds aches
There will be times when all the things she said
Will fill your head
You won't forget her

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

Those are as gorgeous and they are heartbreaking. Through all of the myriad accolades Macca has deservedly received over the years, I'm still not sure he ever gets his due credit as a first-rate songwriter. But his ability to convey pure loss and sadness without ever slipping into sap or self-pity is staggering. The unconventional phrasing, the intermittent rhyme scheme, the way Paul seems to shape each syllable around his peerless, perfect voice. It's all there. It's genuine anguish Paul writes and sings about, but he does it with such sweetness and intricacy that it's impossible not to feel every word and every note. And see the beauty behind it,

The music is as breathtaking as Paul's words and voice are, even though John Lennon and George Harrison are nowhere to be found. No guitar either. Just Paul on bass, piano and clavichord, and of course Ringo Starr keeping flawless pace with a timekeeping roll that sounds like a slow march. But then there is one more added trump card; Alan Civil with a french horn solo in the middle (and accompaniment at the final verse) that takes the song to somewhere very different and very high and very special, soaring above all and...and I can't believe I am writing thhis...almost upstaging the work of the Beatles themselves with his masterful little run up and down the scale. Paul sounds like defeat and regret when he sings. But Civil's playing makes the hurt feel even sharper, the pain even deeper. And in a sad love song, that's pretty amazing.

Last and by no means least, in a tribute to the power of brevity, "For No One" clocks in at 1:59. That's all they needed to create this piece of timeless musical art. Don't get me wrong—"Free Bird" and "Hey Jude" and "Stairway to Heaven" and "Visions of Johanna" and others all have their well-earned longplay place in the realms of musical royalty. But sometimes, you don't need more than two minutes to get it done.

That's "For No One." And that's my little explanation as to why neither the Beatles, nor anyone else, ever did it better.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

record scratch

So this obviously resonated with me, to a large extent:

Except that it doesn't quite hit its mark, which is surprisingly for the great xkcd, since so many kids today spend a lot of time and money searching out vinyl. Anyone over the age of, oh, let's say, 35 probably remembers the days when vinyl was either the dominant medium or at least an important one. And anyone under the age of 30 probably at least knows a vinyl collector.  

And then I read the alt-text.
The 78-rpm era was closer to the Civil War than to today
dear god

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Can't Stop Thinking About You

So this right here is an absolutely amazing pop song.

Upon first hearing it, my initial impulse was say I didn't think Sting could write like this anymore, but more accurately, I should have said I didn't think he had any interest in doing so. But upon reflection, it's not like I've heard any of his deep cuts in 20 years, so for all I know he's being putting a half dozen such tracks on each album. (Although I doubt it.)

But the really amazing thing, beyond how great a tune it is, is that up until the chorus at least, it sounds like Bruce Springsteen: the guitar-driven backing track, the melody, the lyrics, hell, even the way the video is shot. There seems to be a weird key change (maybe?) in the chorus that makes it not quite Bruce, but otherwise, it feels like ol' Gordon is channeling his blue collar pal at his very catchiest. And that chorus is absolutely prime 1984 pop, and I have no higher praise for a single than that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What It Means

The vice presidential debate just finished and now the talking heads are talking their heads off. But for some reason this song is going through my head, just like it has for much of the week.

He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon is he ain't coming back
There won't be any trial so the air it won't be cleared
There's just two sides calling names out of anger out of fear
If you say it wasn't racial when they shot him in his tracks
Well, I guess that means that you ain't black
It means that you ain't black
I mean, Barack Obama won and you can choose where to eat
But you don't see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street

In some town in Missouri but it could be anywhere
It could be right here on Ruth Street, in fact, it's happened here
And it happened where you're sitting, wherever that might be
And it happened last weekend and it will happen again next week
And when they turned him over they were surprised there was no gun
I mean, he must have done something or else why would he have run
And they'll spin it for the anchors on the television screen
So we can shrug and let it happen without asking what it means

What it means
What it means

Then I guess there was protesting and some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that they ain't called colored folks no more
I mean, we try to be politically correct when we call names
But what's the point of post-racial when old prejudice remains
And that guy who killed that kid down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend and wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried and laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

What it means
What it means

Astrophysics at our fingertips and we're standing at the summit
And some man with a joystick lands a rocket on a comet
We're living in an age where limitations are forgotten
The outer edges move and dazzle us but the core is something rotten
And we're standing on the precipice of prejudice and fear
We trust science just as long as it tells us what we want to hear
We want our truths all fair and balanced as long as our notions lie within it
There's no sunlight in our ass' and our heads are stuck up in it
And our heroes may be rapists who watch us while we dream
But don't look to me for answers 'cuz I don't know what it means

What it means
What it means