Thursday, January 29, 2015

Self-Reflection: Longer Than You’ve Been Alive


Here’s a bit of Star Maker Machine behind the scenes info—recently, in an email discussion among our writers about the frequency of posting, one veteran member of the group reminded us that posts don’t always have to be long.

He’s right, and I’m going to go against my usual inclination to ramble on to simply draw attention to this song and album by the Old 97’s, who I have written about in much greater detail already.

Last year’s excellent Most Messed Up is, for the most part, a self-reflective album, looking back on the highlights and lowlights of the band’s 20 plus year career. Specifically, the opening track, “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive,” discusses the life of a veteran touring rocker. It discusses the problems of finding love on the road, the risk of jumping off of risers, the smell of dressing rooms, the quantity of booze they have drunk, and even their drug preferences. But it is also about how much they love doing what they do. And, to make it even easier to follow, the video embedded above has all of the lyrics right there on the screen.

I mean, how could we do this theme and leave out a great song with the lyric:

I'm not crazy about songs that get self-referential 
And most of this stuff should be kept confidential 
But who even gives half a fuck anymore 
You should know the truth, it's both a blast and a bore

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Self-Reflection: Bo Diddley

Hell, less self-reflection or even self-reference, more self-reverence, this was a man of, um, unconventional looks, with such exquisite self-belief that he managed to introduce himself into near all his output, entitling LPs and individual songs with tales of his derring-do. So he was, variously, a gunslinger, a lover, a twister, 500% more man, a black gladiator, you name it, he was that man. And all with the same tune and the same rhythm. (Well, almost.)

Born Ellas Otha Bates in 1928, Bo Diddley, ironically, was slang for absolutely nothing, considering he aspired to absolutely everything. But, trivia merchants, he was actually and nominally capable of being a gun-slinger, at least for a while, as he served 2 1/2 years as Deputy Sheriff in Valencia County. (It was the Citizens' Patrol.......)

His life makes for an entertaining read, and I'm not going to play it here, but go search out this, his biography, which makes for an entertaining read. Or this interview.

Here's his catalogue

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Self-Reflection: Pete Townshend,
"I Am an Animal"

Click and listen: I Am An Animal

[Purchase "Empty Glass"]

When I first started thinking about this theme, the second song that popped into my head was “I Am an Animal,” by Pete Townshend, from his 1980 album, Empty Glass. (The first one was “I Am a Scientist,” by Guided by Voices, in case you were curious.) Odd that this song should pop into my head that quickly, since I think it has been a number of years since I listened to that album all the way through and heard the song, but it now seems like an apropos choice: of the 47 lines in the song (as counted from the song's page on a song lyric website), 40 of those lines contain the words “I,” “me,” or “my.” Now THAT is introspection. Or narcissism.

Musically, the song feels to me like it could have been an outtake from Quadrophenia — although “outtake” implies that it didn’t make the cut, and the melody of “I Am an Animal” is equal in caliber to many of the quieter, more introspective songs on Quadrophenia (I think I’m making a connection to “Dr. Jimmy”: “Is it me, for a moment?”).

Lyrically, the song deals with . . . well, it’s about . . . um . . . uh . . . hm. You know, I don’t really know — not exactly. But Pete is searching. He seems uncertain of the future, unsure of his memories of the past, and speculates a bit about what his current state is: animal? vegetable? angel? king? queen ("of the fucking universe,” no less)? It’s all going by in a blur, that’s for sure.

I'm looking back

 And I can't see the past anymore, so hazy

 I'm on a track and I'm traveling so fast

Oh, for sure I'm crazy

I am a human being

 And I don't believe all the things I'm seeing

I got nowhere to hide anymore

I'm losing my way

Ultimately, Pete settles on “animal,” and who can argue with that? Aren’t we all, after all?

Self-Reflection: We

The Roches: We
As the Roche sisters tell us in this song, they were known in New York City, and had done shows in England before the release of their first album in 1979. For the rest of us, "We," which led off the album, was our introduction to their amazing harmonies and their unusual outlook on life. They already knew at least one famous, if unlikely, person. The album was immediately hailed by folk-oriented audiences, but it was produced by art-rock legend Robert Fripp. The rest of the album showed us the emotional depth of their songwriting, and their skill and story tellers.

The Roches: The Death of Suzzy Roche
The sisters’ second album was another matter. Robert Fripp was not on board for this one, and this time the sisters wanted to show their range by rocking out. It was, for the most part, a mistake. I saw them live during the tour for this one, and they were very loud, but this approach showed off their songs poorly. Nevertheless, the album did include "The Death of Suzzy Roche." This song may not be for everyone, but I love the savage self-deprecating humor of it, as well as the fact that the sisters were not letting their initial burst of fame go to their heads. Later in their careers, the Roche sisters would find better ways to plug in without losing what is so special about their music, but Nurds stands as a document of a group still finding its way.