Night Music: Buddy Holly, “Baby Let’s Play House”

I read an interview with Greil Marcus at today (h/t Josh Paley), about his new book, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs. I’d come across the book a couple of weeks ago at the local bookstore but held off writing about it because I planned on reading it.

I thought the interviewer did a good job at getting Marcus to explain why he chose certain songs, but didn’t get at the broader scope of why these 10 songs could tell the history of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s because these 10 songs would not, for the most part, be on anyone else’s list of the 10 songs that explained rock ‘n’ roll.

I enjoyed the interview, I very much like the way Marcus teases story and anecdote out of the close observation and empathic reading, and was distressed by the angry reaction of the commenters. I know, it’s the internet, but shouldn’t it discredit people to spew?

The interesting aspect of the spewing was the majority opinion that you can’t tell the history of rock ‘n’ roll in 10 songs, because that means arbitrarily writing about the things that interest you rather than reify the consensus idea of what is most important.

Which pretty much misses the whole idea of critical thinking, and thinking, and communicating, and discussing. Which are, I think, the broad building blocks of making a democracy.  Or, for that matter, getting through the day.

On the other hand, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll and thinking about stuff. You can play your democratic part by ignoring it. Fair enough.

I got to listening to Buddy Holly recordings of Crying, Waiting, Hoping, one of which Marcus references as a version he recorded in his room in New York, which is a distillation of his music. I don’t think I found that.

What I found instead was this insane YouTube clip supposedly showing the first color film of Holly, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at a Hank Snow concert in Oklahoma in 1955. This is film shot by someone with jiggly hands, but it offers a hint that these future stars were much like before they were famous when they were famous.

Does anything else matter?

And the chosen soundtrack to this historical ephemera is Holly’s version of Baby Let’s Play House, which is hugely mournful song that has murder at its heart.

Long Time Coming

I’ve been listening to Graveyard’s Hisingen Blues for the last month and it’s a dandy of an album. Definitely my Summer of 2014 album for sure, even though it’s from 2011.

Random thoughts:

1) Was gonna post a couple other more “grab you right off the bat” songs but never got around to it. This one turns out ultimately to be my fave. Once it creeps in, it doesn’t go away.

2) Hisingen Blues has been such a wonderful album experience for me. I now enjoy the whole thing entirely and know the flow. I anticipate the next song. It’s a wonderful thing, baby. If any of you guys can pull your heads out of shuffle-land, I highly, highly recommend this selection.

3) These guys STILL EXIST believe it or not. They were in the states not too long ago playing Coachella, but I missed the boat. Please God, let them survive as a band for another trip to the US. (Who wants to go with?)

4) Tell me who they remind you of. Obviously, this song is pretty Zeppy, but there’s other stuff there. I can’t pinpoint it.

5) I usually favor the Gibson/Marshall guitar sound, but this isn’t that. These guys are Orange (the latest thing in hard rock, I guess) men, but I love it.

6) This song’s about heroin, no? Bonus points.

7) The voice as an extra instrument: When the singer belts out the melodic scream immediately following “Tonight a demon came into my head” (yes, a demon came into his head), it hits me as hard as any lyric.

8) Checked out some reviews and stumbled upon this: “Earlier this year, the much-anticipated Hisingen Blues topped the Swedish album chart, outselling even the ballyhooed return of Britney Spears.”

Sure must be nice to have the masses care about quality music, huh? (Maybe I wouldn’t like it, kind of like everyone screwing your girlfriend.) Anyway, maybe I need to move to Sweden. Something’s definitely different there musically.

OK, here goes:

Night Music: Randy Newman, “Burn On”

I was dipping into some long form Delaney and Bonnie with Clapton, on the one hand, and with the Allman Brothers, on the other, when I landed in a Facebook clip from John Coleman. John is one of the greats of Tout Wars play, and a man who has sold cigars to many of the rock stars we love and many of those we hate, so his opinion matters here more than most.

John lives in Cleveland and responded to my goofy comment that I was waiting, in the clip (which I can’t show because it was posted on Facebook, as best I can tell) for Lake Erie to catch fire, with a clip from the German VHS version of the front title sequence from Major League, which is a tune by Randy Newman about the river, not the lake, catching fire.

My mistake.

Delaney and Bonnie are one of the reasons everything punk hated wasn’t really hateable. But that’s a story for a different day.


Song of the Week – L’Via L’Viaquez, The Mars Volta


Six or seven years ago I was listening to a lot of music by the modern prog rock band The Mars Volta. The song that really captured my attention was “L’Via L’Viaquez” from their well-regarded sophomore effort, Frances the Mute (2005). And that’s today’s SotW.

Frances the Mute
is a concept album, of sorts, based on a diary band member Jeremy Ward found in a car he was repossessing. The book told of the author’s search for his biological parents, something Ward could relate to.

The album’s lyrics – part English, part Spanish — were written by Cerdic Bixler-Zavala and the music by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who also acted as the album’s producer.

It weaves a story about Vismund Cygnus, son of Frances and the product of a rape. He was adopted and is now determined to find out where he comes from.

“L’Via L’Viaquez” is Frances’ sister (Cygnus’ aunt) who witnessed the rape. Miranda is their mother. There’s much more to the story but you’ll have to reach you own conclusions about it.

If you don’t know Spanish (I don’t) there are many translations on the internet to help you understand the lyrics. Here’s a sample:

L’via, hija de miranda
Tu apellido se cambio’
L’via, sin ojos me quieres dar
Una historia sin mi madre
Solo tengo que decirte
El dolor de noche dice
Solo se quedo’ el vestido
Le lave’ la sangre

L’via, Miranda’s daughter
Your last name changed
L’via, without eyes you want to give me
A history without my mother
I just have to tell you
The night pain tells
Alone the dress kept
I washed the blood off

This cut isn’t for everyone; I have to tell you that up front. It’s a very challenging 12+ minute piece of music that has more stylistic layers than a Kim Kardashian wedding cake. There’s a healthy dose of Santana, a strong hint of Led Zeppelin, a bit of Chili Peppers funk (John Frusciante provides the first two guitar solos) and a sprinkle of Can.’s Jared W. Dillon wrote a very descriptive synopsis of the song’s structure:

Quiet skipping of a record is heard for 40 seconds until John Frusicante comes in with a huge rock riff. Then we break into some classic sounding heavy metal with Spanish lyrics coming from Cedric. While some of Cedric’s slurs and such are not perfect, he still uses Spanish pretty greatly throughout the song. The pretty normal sounding song sticks the same until about 2:40 when it breaks into a small piano beat that has an extremely Latin feel to it. Cedric starts to sing in English in this section sprouting off phrases like ‘With every clamor that they mine’ and ‘I will never forget who I’m looking for’ After the short interlude we come back to some heavy soloing on John’s behalf that brings the song back to the Latin rock feel. There are no changes in this section from the previous except for the solo that started it off and so at around 4:53 it breaks back into the piano Latin section. Cedric’s lyrics have changed here but they are still in English, and eventually he reprises the ‘I will never forget who I’m looking for’ section.

After a minute of piano play we go to another solo who is by Omar this time I believe, and instead of returning back to the similar rock beat of the past two sections we are given a rousing drum beat and some very deep singing from Cedric in Spanish. Soon after the Spanish is complete Cedric breaks into English saying, ‘When all the worms come/Crawling out of your head, Telling you/ Don’t be afraid’ The drumbeat eventually breaks into a short solo and then a gong sounds off the return to the piano section. The reprise of the piano sections is different than the previous two though as it has the sampling of people talking behind it. Although it has this new effect the same chorus is returned but towards the end the vocals of Cedric start to be drowned with effects.

Following Cedric’s vocal arrangement the famous pianist Larry Harlow plays a piano solo, with the help of Omar providing some back up soloing in response to the keys. This goes on for until 11:03 when the song drowns out and we hear a highly distorted Cedric spouting out the chorus of ‘And with everybody that I find/And with every clamor that they mine, I won’t forget who I’m looking for/ Oh mother help me I’m looking for’. After the ending of the small vocal solo, a quiet squeaking is heard that takes us into the next track.

It’s a bit of a challenge, but stick with this and I think you’ll like (or at least appreciate) it.

Enjoy… until next week.

Night Music: Television, “The Dream’s Dream”

I only saw Television live once, on New Year’s with John Cale and Patti Smith at the Palladium in NYC, in 1976. The neighborhood was plastered with fliers from Patti Smith promoting something called RAT/ART or ART/RAT. Those were lively days.

The thing about Television, the band, was they were arty rebels who had no intention of fitting in to rock forms, exactly, and yet they lived to rock. It was a dynamic fusion. They were CBGB’s jam band, and at the same time their music and tunes were as gritty and urban, as arty and essential as that of Blondie or the Ramones or Patti Smith. The band’s roots, which included Richard Hell, ran deep in the scene, and the songs mostly sounded like nothing else on the CBCB chart.

I saw Tom Verlaine, Television’s guitarist, as a solo performer a few times in the aftermath. He’s a great guitarist with a singular sensibility, but his solo tunes didn’t stick as hard. Maybe that’s because of the songs, or the missing intertwining of guitars with Richard Lloyd (a style I favor in many bands, from the Stones to the Allman Brothers), but I don’t know if that’s him or that’s me.

I can say that I love all of Television’s music unequivocally, and you should too.  And there are rewards in Verlaine’s solo recordings. I just have to relisten to make recommendations.

Night Music: Liz Phair, “Ride”

I always think of this song as the Flies of August song, and August is almost over. So here it is.

I think this is a helluva a great song about the absolute need to have sex, and the way all the usual reasons to refrain lose out to the absolute need. You can check out the lyrics at this Romanian lyrics site.

But they aren’t that hard to decipher from the track.