Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Don't Let Him Go

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the entire Journey family. I mocked—not without reason—the silly, lazy lyrics to "Any Way You Want It." And then I saw, for the first time, the lyrics to REO Speedwagon's "Don't Let Him Go."

There's a concept in storytelling called a Mary Sue:
A Mary Sue is an original character in fan fiction, usually but not always female, who for one reason or another is deemed undesirable by fan critics. A character may be judged Mary Sue if she is competent in too many areas, is physically attractive, and/or is viewed as admirable by other sympathetic characters. 
It originated in fan-fic but it's a pretty well-known term these days in wider literary circles. A character is often unjustly called a Mary Sue if the critic doesn't like the (female) author and wants to score some easy points by claiming the author has simply inserted an idealized version of herself into the story.

I've never encountered a Mary Sue in pop music, that I can recall, but holy shit is that what this song is all about.

I mean:
So you figure that you've got him all figured out
He's a sweet talkin' stud
Who can melt a girl's heart with his pout
He's the kind of lover that the ladies dream about
Oh, yes he is
He's got plenty of cash
He's got plenty of friends
He drives women wild
Then he drives off in a Mercedes-Benz
He's got a long wick with a flame at both ends [editor's note: insert eye-rolling emoji here]
He's hot
But don't let him go
Just give him a chance to grow
Take it easy, take it slow
And don't let him go
Don't let him go 
He makes you so angry
He makes you so sore [editor's note: and another here]
The wait may be worth it
But how can you wait any more?
When you're wonderin what you're waitin' for 
Baby I don't know
But don't let him go
Just give him a chance to grow
Take it easy, take it slow
And don't let him go
Don't let him go 
As I've mentioned many times, I don't care all that much about lyrics; generally speaking, for me they're a tray built to hold the vocal melody. If they're especially great, they can elevate a good song to great and a great song to brilliant. And it's only occasionally that they're so bad they can sink an otherwise fine song—as the great Peter Gabriel once said:
"There have been many great songs which have had really appalling lyrics, but there have been no great songs which have had appalling music." 
Well, this song wasn't going to be great no matter what. The band plays the Bo Diddley-inspired beat well enough, the dude with the pink silk shirt improbably rips off a tasty solo on his gorgeous Les Paul, the keyboardist does a creditable Rick Wakeman impression—it's all fine bar band fare. But the lyrics...oh my god, the lyrics are just so damn bad.

I mean, on the most basic level, they simply make absolutely no sense: this guy is that irresistible, he's that magnetic a panty-dropper, despite sounding like a raging douchenozzle. To an objective listener, he's clearly someone who should be treated with utter disdain by anyone with half a brain...and yet, the singer implores, if you just give him a chance, he'll...what? Presumably, faith and patience will be rewarded, but the song (to its minor credit) doesn't really promise any such thing. No it simply admonishes her (presumably) to give him all the time he could possibly need, with the implication being that he'll turn out to be a decent guy in the end. I mean, hey, he's got money, he's got the Mercedes Bends (unh), and he's got a lot of pretty pretty girls that he calls friends. He's hung like a candle—is that a saying?—and, most important, he's pouty.

Okay, listen, I know the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s was a long time ago, but really? Did girls really think a guy pouting was a good look? I'm thinkin' not so much. That reads to me like a guy who likes to pout and really wishes girls found it attractive and baffled and angry that none of them do.

Speaking of, this guy pisses the listener off, and the listerner's already waited long enough and doesn't even know what s/he's waiting for...and yet, keep on waiting. 'cuz.

Why? Why? Why would you ever give this assclown the time of day, much less another chance?

I don't even know what to say. Other than that Les Paul really is gorgeous. Now for that I'd wait a lifetime. (And have so far.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Any Way You Want It

So I've known this song for the vast majority of my life. And I've even known the vast majority of the words for all those years. But I'd never actually thought about any of them, or seen the video, until this week, and both are so much greater than I could have expected.

First, there's the intro, which was the third longest 40 seconds of my life, behind only any 40 seconds of the day I spent deep sea fishing on really choppy seas, where every single one of the hundred or so passengers were vomiting until their stomachs were emptied, at which point they continued to dry heave for hours until finally returning to shore blessed short, and the time I had two ruptured discs in my back and felt like the bones in my hip and leg had turned to lava. And right after those comes that intro.

Then there's the first shot of the band, which has bass player Ross Valory in the EFG, with singer Steve Perry and guitar whiz Neal Schon in the middleground and poor original singer/keyboardist Gregg Rolie hidden in the background. But not quite as hidden as superdrummer Steve Smith, who's hidden by Valory's shoulder for absolutely no good reason—had they simply moved the camera about four inches to the left, he would have been visible (as would the rest of the band) and they wouldn't have had to insert the next quick shot of him in the name of fairness. A sign of how primitive early videomaking was? Of how drummers are so unjustly overlooked, despite the occasional exhortation to give the drummer some? An omen of things to come? (The thing to come most soon is the mini-jitterbug kneeshake Perry executes right before the opening verse starts.)

And what an opening verse:
She loves to laugh
She loves to sing
She does everything
She loves to move
She loves to groove
She loves the loving things
I've never really heard—certainly haven't ever paid attention—to that final line. But now I literally laugh out loud every damn time I hear it. "She loves the lovin' things." You're damn right she does. Those lovin' things? She's not just fond of them. Oh hell no. She outright loves them. Oh my great googlymoogly. Poor T.S. Eliot, never mind Smokey Robinson or Roger Waters, must be (sometimes posthumously) positively green with envy at the lyrical concision.

That may be ever so slightly unfair. After all, later we'll learn that they do indeed sing of said lovin' things—this is simply foreshadowing!

And then there's the chorus:
Any way you want it
That's the way you need it
Any way you want it
She said, any way you want it
That's the way you need it
Any way you want it
Which is a bit more ambiguous than I feel comfortable with. How does he need it? And what precisely is this it in question? I don't feel that's ever properly resolved. (And yet, somehow, looking at this gentlemen, I'm okay with that.)

Watching the video, you can see that Perry keeps wanting to make his trademark circular motions, but perhaps he hasn't quite perfected the move. It's always so instructive to be able to retroactively trace an artist's growth.

But then comes Schon's guitar solo...and it's undeniable. The guy can not only play—he's got oodles and boodles of technique—but he knows how to construct a solo that starts strong and builds, with melodies every bit as strong as the song's main melodic theme.

None of which seems to placate Rolie. Except for one blurry shot where he's smiling in the background, the poor bastard (in stark contrast to Valory, who seems to be having the time of his life) looks like he's in hell—his Paul McCartney puppy dog eyes meets Nick Drake's tortured soul making clear he wouldn't be in the band for much longer.

Also, keep an eye out for the quick shot of the board for absolutely no reason whatsoever. A nod to Buñuel, one assumes.

And then there's that last twenty seconds of the video. You're thinking that watching the record return to its resting place is the emotion capper, or perhaps that it's the early music video equivalent of Satre's No Exit...but either way, you're wrong. Because just when you think this primitive video offering can't get any more transcendent, there's that final shot of Perry doing his best Arthur Fonzarelli, which only goes to emphasize just how magical Henry Winkler was, and how difficult to pull off that level of cool really is.

Finally, why the hell is the video—from the official Journey channel—ever so slightly out of sync? What are they trying to say with such an unorthodox presentation? I know it means something, that it's just not just a sloppy oversight. It's got some much deeper meaning and I must know. (I'll even let them explain what the it is.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Keep Your Head to the Sky

I've only ever really known the Earth, Wind & Fire hits, and while I've heard them enough for them to become part of my DNA, the deeper parts of their catalog have most escaped me.

Until today. When I heard this for the first time and immediately wondered how I'd ever lived without it. With the exception of a guitar solo, in just over five minutes it encapsulates all that is good about music.

Do I overstate? Listen:

(You now know I do not overstate at all.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election Day Bob Dylan Listenings

As I have written in this space before, Election Day brings my music listenings squarely to the doorstep of Bob Dylan. Just because, I guess. Or perhaps because no one American has so consistently written and sang about the American Experience as well or as articulately as Mr. Zimmerman has. And no American Experience is more American than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Election Day should be the great equalizer for all of us. I know it's a very naive thing to say that it is in fact that, but it should be. One person, one vote. Every gets their shot, one shot, each year to make their voices and opinions heard. One person, one vote. Hundreds of millions of Americans voicing their beliefs on their own, yet no one is alone. At least no one should be. We do it alone, but together. As Americans.

That's why I still love Election Day and still look forward to casting my vote this day every year, just as I have for the last 31 years. And that this year my 18-year-old son gets to vote with me for the first time? Even better.

So with that "alone together" theme, I give you this year's choice of Bob Dylan albums and songs. In my very humble and perhaps misguided opinion, it is one of his three greatest records ever, yet one seldom thought of among his giants. John Wesley Harding.

It was revolutionary for its time 50 years ago when it was released and remains so now. After Dylan's electric hulabaloo. After Blonde on Blonde. After Don't Look Back and the "Dylanization" of the music world. After the motorcycle crash and his self-imposed exile. And he came back with a quiet, folkier yet razor's edge sharp album in JWH that was startling in its artistic and lyrical simplicity. It spoke so loudly of the tumultuous times that 1967 brought and 1968 was about to bring (the album was released just after Christmas), yet did it in measured, at times hushed tones. It remains sui generis in his catalog or anyone else's. A true, endearing work of art by an all-time master.

And today's song is one of the quieter, more solemn tunes from that quieter, more solemn album. "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine." Sung to the same tune as the epic worker's folk tune, "Joe Hill," there's a line in "St. Augustine" that really hit me as I listened to it today, thinking about Election Day and all it connotes for us:

"No martyr is among you
Whom you can call your own.
So go on your way accordingly,
But know you're not alone."

Amen. Through it all we're still here. And today we still vote. So go do it. And know you're not alone.