Posts Tagged ‘Drew Barrymore’

John Updike once wrote an essay about unread books and their migration route inside his house. They began with great expectations on the table by the front door, levitated to the top of the television, summited a bookcase, fluttered into the kitchen, made a break up the stairs, loitered on a bedside table, avalanched onto the floor, and ended up compressed like a seam of coal in an unused back room, “the Afterworld of unread books.”

You might assume that books go unread but music is always listened to, but I’ve met record collectors who hated music. And then there’s that Shins album you downloaded in 2007 and forgot about. You’re part of the problem. Why are you being so mean?

In our house, a book might wait 20 years for me to read it, but music always gets a listen. Some CDs, however, spend the bulk of their time in the bullpen (a drawer beneath our TV), chewing sunflower seeds, tapping their gloves, and waiting for a call from the manager. I’m not sure how they got there. Here are three examples.

Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love
1987

I was married in 1987, so everything about that year sort of glows, even the Twins winning the World Series and The Cult’s Electric.

But not this record.

Springsteen followed the breakthroughs of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town with Nebraska, an album about people on the wrong side of the law. He followed the breakthrough of Born in the USA with Tunnel of Love, an album about people on the wrong side of love. Nebraska didn’t sell. Tunnel of Love did. As Danny Glover’s character reminded the audience repeatedly in Silverado, “That ain’t right.”

Tunnel of Love might’ve been Bruce’s audition for the Woody Guthrie tribute album, Folkways. Maybe he was thinking ahead to The Ghost of Tom Joad. Maybe he was thinking back to that time he crossed the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone. Whatever he was this thinking, this album is too rooted to rock.

Chief among the transgressions, for me, is the ballad of Bill Horton, a cautious man of the road, who for the right woman throws caution to the winds and finds happiness. It’s the one song on this platter where everything turns out well, but from the music and the vocal delivery I’d guess Springsteen was trying to transform himself into Gordon Lightfoot and not succeeding. Too bad – the writing is superb. Springsteen knocks out entire short stories in a couple dozen words:

On his right hand Billy tattooed the word ‘love’ and on his left hand was the word ‘fear’/and in which hand he held his fate was never clear.

Tunnel of Love is not redeemed but it is interesting for two songs, which don’t fit on this or any other Springsteen record.

The title track has the excessive use of prepositions (“…if you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love”) and the video with the sword-swallower, the snake-seducer, and the self-conscious Springsteen. It’s also the one song in Springsteen’s catalog where he goes head-to-head with the New Wave of the ’80s – and wins. He unleashes the synthesizers and an emo sad-face guitar solo and even curbs his use of “yer” for “you” and “sir” for “bro.” It’s better than “Tunnel of Love” by Dire Straits or “Tunnel of Love” by Doris Day, plus it features the wordless wailing of the woman who became his second wife.

On “Valentine’s Day,” the narrator is driving a big lazy car, which is fun, but he has one hand on the wheel and the other over his heart, which is unsafe, and he’s dreaming of the timberwolves in the pine forests, which hasn’t happened since Daniel Boone crossed the Cumberland Gap. The song ends with a dream that’s so scary, the narrator’s eyes roll back in his head, just like me whenever I have to work through lunch.

The words don’t speak to me, but the music is beautiful. The synthesizers are back, and they carry us safely down Springsteen’s cold river bottom. The song practically shimmers. And Bruce Springsteen is not a shimmery guy.

Rolling Stone’s critics picked Tunnel of Love as their top record of 1987. Of fucking course. The readers voted for U2’s The Joshua Tree.

Annie Lennox, Medusa
1995

In 1995, I was one of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and make more money than we were making in journalism. I ended up on the teeming shore of software, where I had a boss who liked to say that his first million disappeared up his nose.

He said this fondly, chuckling over his Boofin’ Brett Kavanaugh younger self, although the period he was referring to had only ended a couple of years before. His recreational-drug workouts might have caused his verbal dyslexia. One example was the line he deployed to rally the troops when we faced an impossible deadline: “We’re going to turn chicken salad into chicken shit!”

However, it’s because of this gentleman that I discovered Medusa. It was in heavy rotation on the office sound system (“office” being the supply closet we were vacuum-packed into).

Medusa is easy to write about, because there’s no there there. It exists solely to be admired. Annie Lennox and her team (17 musicians and programmers, whom she probably did not confine to a closet) covered 10 of her favorite songs, creating the musical equivalent of the Star Trek creature who was so beautiful that to look at it would drive you mad or maybe the ethereal Star Trek weirdos who lived in the sky city and wore natural cotton bed sheets.

While listening to Medusa, you’ll observe that your pulse never changes, not even when she’s covering Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River” or The Clash’s “Train in Vain,” but it’s all so gorgeous that you won’t care. Medusa is the triumph of form over content. It shimmers. Mike, Rik, Vyvyan, and Neil would throw a petrol bomb at it.

I don’t play this album often, but when I hear Annie Lennox’s voice I always know it’s a wonderful world.

Various artists, Whip It
2009

Nothing happened to me in 2009. I was working in insurance. That’s the whole point of insurance – to say that nothing happened.

Whip It is a film about teenagers and very young adults who learn about life and love by fighting on roller skates. Director Drew Barrymore’s soundtrack has more female voices than anything short of a Supremes biopic, and although nothing on Whip It will punch you in the head or chase your dog up a tree, it’s an eclectic lineup for sure. My favorites are “Dead Sound” by boy-girl Danish duo The Raveonettes, the instrumental “Black Gloves” by Belgian boy band Goose, and “Crown of Age” by girl-girl-boy New York-to-Los Angeles trio The Ettes.

“Never My Love” was a hit for The Association in 1967. Where did they dig up that old fossil? It’s covered by Har Mar Superstar. The cover is restrained, even though Har Mar (real name Sean Tillman) is an unrestrained chubby white guy with a Michael Jackson soul inside a relaxed-fit body. He doesn’t do much with “Never My Love.” If only Drew had made him record it while roller-skating.

Charlie Brown said that a hot dog never tastes the same without a ballgame in front of it; most of these songs only work if you’re watching the movie. That’s why Whip It spends most of the year chilling with Tunnel of Love, Medusa, and their friends, packed tightly and trying not to decompose into coal. At least they go for the occasional spin.