Description: It was bound to happen. I missed a week.
Publication Date: 12 February 2004
Ah, the first gap, and of one week. That's nothin'. I'll have to research the longest break in blogging, which is likely a year or more. Anyway, there will be a statistical tally at the end.
I managed to get through all last semester without missing a week, though I came close a couple of times. Now, I hang my head in shame. Yes, I had deadlines for proposals and such, but that doesn't excuse my failing you. I'll try to make it up to you, my loyal readers, by finishing off my agonizing countdown today. We left off, I believe, at number 14:
14. "I Walk the Line," Johnny Cash (1957). A debut of sorts, but only because I'd somehow overlooked it before. I thought a lot about Cash this last year because of his passing. Read my September 12 post
13. "Little Honey," Dave Alvin (1994). Alvin had been around for a while, with the Blasters and X, but his album "King of California" exceeds anything he'd done before, or did later. It is mostly stripped-down versions of full-band songs, along with a few new songs and some old blues, but in these performances, in which his voice sounds like a topographical map of Bakersfield County, they seem more like elliptical short stories. "4th of July" is the album centerpiece, and the song I picked easier to overlook, but I'm always taken by its portrayal of the moment of calm measure preceding a breakdown.
12. "Barrett’s Privateers," Stan Rogers (1979). If you come over with a bottle of whiskey, I guarantee I'll eventually put on "Between the Breaks...Live!" (The comparatively staid studio version won't do). I'll either stare at you intently like I am teaching you an important lesson, or I'll gaze off rapturously. Smart money says I'll hit every "whoop!" Check out this line-by-line annotation.
11. "Black Eyed Dog," Nick Drake (1974). Drake's reputation has built slowly over the years since his suicide for the simple reason that his records have always been in print. (Some stipulation of his contract.) Thinking about a world in which Drake was forgotten and unavailable is even worse than thinking about a world where his music sells Volkswagens. This song is his barest, built around a single image, and most chilling.
10. "Paranoid," Black Sabbath (1971). How I forgot this song, which gripped me with an iron fist the first time I heard it, is beyond me. Its compact, relentless, perfect. I've seen the promo clip on a music video station credited to Ozzy, which is total crap. Tis Tony Iommi that is the true Baron of Heavy, Osbourne's lucky to have known him. If was I still listing alternates, I'd mention Sabbath's later "Mob Rules" featuring a far superior singer Ronnie James Dio (imagine Tom doing devil hands here.)
9. "Train Song," Tom Waits (1987). I picked this over other great Waits songs, like Gun Street Girl, Falling Down (which I mistakenly wrote in the original list), or Tango til They're Sore, or I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You or Martha from the first album mostly on the strength of its beginning rasp: "Well I broke down in East St Louis/On the Kansas City line/I drunk up all my money/That I borrowed every dime"--with its teetering grace that Waits mastered long ago.
8. "Breakfast in Bed," Dusty Springfield (1969). I think the appropriate rock-crit move here would be to compare Springfield's sexy voice to some kind of fabric or a blend of tobacco. I found out about Springfield after her Son of a Preacher Man on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and this song, from the classic Dusty in Memphis is way better.
7. "Have You Been Making Out Okay," Al Green (1973). Hey, speak of the preacher man. Green's performance on songs like this or the later Belle are astounding: graceful, subtle, and sensual. With Springfield and (less predictably) Dylan, his is the masterful vocal on this week's list.
6. "Kiss," Prince (1986). The best frickin' guitar solo ever recorded. (Go Wendy!) Here's Jonathan Lethem riffing on the song, in the voice of the Tourette's stricken narrator of Motherless Brooklyn: "here was a song that lived entirely in that territory, guitar and voice twitching and throbbing within obsessively delineated bounds, alternately silent and plosive."
5. "Tonight’s the Night," Neil Young and Crazy Horse (1975). Again, the rhetoric fails: "harrowing elegy" you could say, or "raging confrontation with themysteryofdeath." Young just goes on instinct, so I think it's impossible to explain. It does have the all-time enjambment: "Bruce Berry was a working man/He used to load an Econoline/van"
4. "Divorce Song," Liz Phair (1993). The short story comparison I used with Alvin might apply here (though, God, I don't want either of one of them to start thinking they're writers!) Luminous moments, from the beginning: "And when I asked for separate rooms, it was late at night and we'd been driving since noon" and, later "and it's true that I stole your lighter and it's also true that I lost the map but when you told me I wasn't worth talking to I'd have to take your word on that."
3. "Idiot Wind," Bob Dylan (1974). The huge leap from number 34 is because I picked it to represent "Blood on the Tracks," instead of "Tangled Up in Blue." This is the song I'd cite to counter those misguided claims that Dylan can't sing. No, he doesn't have the pipes of Whitney Houston, but then again Houston is an idiot. He sings to his limitations, a moving trait in any artist.
2. "Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1965). Haven't I already proposed a song as my personal anthem, in humorous counterpoint to Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog"? Because sometimes you feel like an SOB and sometimes you feel like a sad clown.
1. "Brompton Oratory," Nick Cave (1997). I've said I admire musicians when they confront limitations; this confronts the limitations of music itself: a breath-takingly lovely melody played on what might be a Casio synthisizer. Cave, prophet he is, forces us the unwashed and unsaved to admit we've glimpsed the divine: "a beauty impossible to believe."
Well, remind me never to do that again. Sometime I'll have to come back and examine the evidence to build that aesthetic I've been talking about, but I think that will have to wait. /Other/wise,
reading: When We Were Orphans by Ishiguro, short stories by Alice Munro, Rexroth's Greek Anthology, Hamill's Infinite Moment
listening: The Fiery Furnaces, Decembrists, Weakerthans
watching: The Company, The Man on the Train, West Wing, The Dancer Upstairs, Raising Victor Vargas
"The Rock" 25
"Rhythm and Blues" 9
"Blues/Country Blues of Days of Yore" 3
"The Great American Songbook" 1
These numbers don't add up, but I won't be doing an audit. Regardless, 24 songs from the 60's and 70's compared to 8 from the last two decades is pathetic for sumbuddy in his mid thirties.