Greetings, Honorable Ones! It’s Christmas, so naturally I’m thinking about Pearl Jam. They have a new album, Lightning Bolt. Do I have to listen to more of their repetitious, snoozy arena rock? I haven’t liked a Pearl Jam album since their debut, Ten, and that was in 1991, before we had phones implanted in our heads. Why did they call their first album Ten? There are 11 songs on it. Why not 1 or First or We Wrote 11 Songs or Hey Hey We’re Pearl Jam? Ten has “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” and “Deep,” and that about does it for me. Aren’t they just AC/DC, except that they’ve read some books since leaving high school?

But it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be visited by creepy ghosts, so let’s be positive here, OK? What is it with you people? Stand up right now, face in the direction of Seattle, and bow because Pearl Jam is the only band that ever went head-to-head with Ticketmaster over that company’s greedy service fees. The good guys lost, but they fought the law.

While I’m on the topic of Christmas, it’s equally natural that my thoughts would turn to Lady Gaga, who also has a new release, Artpop. Lady Gaga’s third album has been lauded for being “autobiographical” and “mature.” Stefani Germanotta is only 27 – how much autobiography does she have? As for the maturity of these songs, she started in a hole. She has a long way to go before she writes anything of interest to adults.

Artpop comes nowhere near the dance-floor success of The Fame Monster or Born This Way. The best songs on Artpop, “Applause” and “Gypsy,” are good, but they sound like refugees from Flashdance.

But it’s Christmas! Forget Artpop. I’ve been listening to “Born This Way” for two years now, and I have to say that this song is FN awesome. It’s the biggest pop anthem since “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” plus it’s easier to understand. (Both songs were wickedly parodied by Weird Al.) So wrap yourself in your feather boa to honor Lady Gaga’s achievement.

Did you know that it’s Christmas? It is, and that can only mean one thing: Boston! They have a new album, Life, Love & Hope. No no no no, I don’t care that it’s Christmas, I refuse to listen to anymore Boston. So how about instead: Paul McCartney!

McCartney has a new album. He calls it New. Come on, Macca, you could’ve done better there. On this release, Sir Paul imitates all the bands from the ’80s and ’90s who imitated him. Which is pretty much everyone. This exercise is pleasant, but on a handful of songs – “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “Get Me Out of Here,” and especially “Hosanna” – he reminds me that this is Paul Fucking McCartney of the Major Fucking Leagues I’m listening to.

New was released in October, so it doesn’t qualify as holiday music, but this is the season for gratitude. Sir Paul is 71 and his voice is shot, but let’s give our Beatles bobbleheads a pat on their bobbly heads and be thankful that this man is still around to remind us that rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be fun, dammit.

I see by the calendar that it’s Christmas, and when it’s Christmas, who is never far behind? You’re right: Eminem! Et voilà: The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Poor little white rapper! Perpetually outraged that he’s gotten rich by making his life harder than it has to be. Yo, loyal readers around the world: If you can’t handle Eminem at Christmas, how about R. Kelly, who sets out his philosophy of life on the sensitively titled Black Panties. R. Kelly is a sex “Genius.” How do I know? Silly rabbit, he says so right in the song. Is “Genius” the kind of slow number where you hold your baby close and think of what you mean to each other? No.

Well, it turns out it’s the holidays, and because I don’t believe in making war on Christmas I give you: The Everly Brothers! Yes, though Don and Phil haven’t released any new material since 1989, they’re still just what the season calls for.

If you like The Everly Brothers, you’ll love the Everly Dad
I can’t claim I’m an Everlys fan. I like “I’m Not Angry,” “Burma Shave” (a rockabilly “Wipe Out”), and “Lord of the Manor,” their mid-’60s attempt at psychedelia. It was news to me that, in 1958, while riding the success of their 1957 debut (which featured “Wake Up Little Susie,” “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” and “Bye Bye Love”), the brothers returned to their roots and recorded Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

The Everlys performed these songs with just their acoustic guitars and other-worldly voices. These are not songs I would play often; they’re Appalachian blues verging on gospel and country, in which the characters are bound for death or something close by. The one song I’m likely to replay is “Roving Gambler.” The first time I heard it, I felt I was listening to the birth of Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Meanwhile, here in 2013, we now have Foreverly, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’s loving tribute to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. What attracted them to this set? The subject matter, surely; Armstrong is the son of Okies and Jones grew up in rural Texas. “These are songs about family,” Jones said in an interview. “Dead family.”

I haven’t much to say about Norah Jones, other than that she’s talented, sings beautifully, makes music too mild to interest me, and is pretty good in an interview.

Billie Joe Armstrong, I thought, was a typical singer in a punk band: a strong voice (a nasal voice), limited range, often resorts to shouting. I wasn’t into him or Green Day until they released their rock opera, American Idiot (2004), which is now a musical. (Those last five words are the most unreal words I’ve ever written.) I admit I’m a sucker for a rock opera. I still remember how excited I was after reading about Tommy in Rolling Stone. I remember bringing the LP home. I remember my Dad threatening to punch multiple big holes in it.

Tommy didn’t disappoint me and neither did American Idiot, though both suffer power failures in the middle. The highlight of American Idiot, for me, is “Jesus of Suburbia.” Green Day spends the first half of the song pretending to be a punk version of the ’50s, a punk version of Queen, and then they briefly do something horrible to Deep Purple. Starting at the 6:30 mark (this song is 9 minutes long) they swing into the tune from “Ring of Fire,” with their own words –

To live
and not to breathe
is to die
in tragedy
To run,
to run away,
to fight
what you believe

– and with a nod to “My Way” and a hint of Ravel’s Bolero, topped off with a guitar lick they stole from Yes. Jesus! Why don’t I ever hear this at Christmas instead of all the stupid Christmas songs written by Jews like me?

On Foreverly, this odd pairing of punker and crooner is dynamite on a china plate. Unlike the Everlys on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Armstrong and Jones bring a band to the studio. This gives the songs hope to go with their innate despair. (Some of the songs, anyway.) Their version of “Kentucky” is haunting, but now also with a touch of calypso, or maybe Los Lobos in their quieter moments. They turn “Oh So Many Years” into a hoedown, “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” into a funeral march (OK, that’s not hopeful), and “Barbara Allen” into a track from Songs of the Civil War or a Camper Van Beethoven outtake.

There’s a lot of heartache in the love affair in “Roving Gambler,” a song that may be unique in having three points of view, the gambler, the mother, and her daughter:

Mother, oh dear mother, I’ll tell you if I can
If you ever see me comin’ back, I’ll be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.

But in their performance, Armstrong and Jones give it an unexpected buoyancy. You finish the song thinking, sure, the gambler is goin’ down to George to gamble his last game, but maybe this will work out!

“Rockin’ Alone (in An Old Rockin’ Chair)” is a manipulative tear-jerker no matter how you slice it (“It wouldn’t take much to gladden her heart/just some small remembrance on somebody’s part”), and “Long Time Gone” and “Lightning Express” are way too country, but overall I rate Foreverly as a Buy – but ONLY if you also buy Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Happy holidays, Don and Phil, and I hope you liked this gift from Billie Joe and Norah.

As for me, I’m still waiting to hear “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” on the radio, plus I suspect that R. Kelly is bluffing. I think I might give Norah Jones another try. Why not? I hear it’s Christmas.

RIP: Lou Reed, who I hope is taking one long walk on the wild side.

Postscript, 3 Jan 2014: RIP Phil Everly. Bye bye love.

 

Comments
  1. Verlierer says:

    Nice to read your words again. Does the diminished blogging equal increased novelizing?

    I think I’d be more interested in Norah Jones’ part from Songs Our Daddy Taught Us if it really was her daddy, Ravi Shankar, the Eddie Van Halen of sitars.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I don’t like Eddie Van Halen or sitars! Though I wouldn’t mind hearing “Panama” on a sitar.

      Thanks for asking. I’m novelizing, slowly but surely. My main resolution for the new year is to finish the book already, preferably by my birthday in July.

  2. Sherry says:

    What? You forgot Vince Guaraldi? Oy how could you? That and the sultry Dianna Krall?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      My top 3 jazz pianists are Howard Silver, Vince Guaraldi, and Herbie Hancock. But as I’ve told you like about a billion times, this is not a jazz blog! I don’t know enough about jazz to write well about it, and anyway jazz is nowhere near as funny as rock (except for Kenny G).

  3. Do you know its Christmas?…here’s to you, raise a glass for everyone.

  4. Laura says:

    Not everyone can have genius lyrics like the B-52’s, Stevie!

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