Posts Tagged ‘Joni Mitchell’

In the past few years, someone I loved, someone millions of people loved, died in January. Sadly, this January is no exception. Ursula K. Le Guin died on Sunday.

Unlike the other gods who have left us to muddle through life as best we can here on Earth Prime, I knew Ursula, a little. Deborah knew her far better than me. If our first corgi, Emma, was still around, she might be able to add something, as she once took a nap on Ursula’s feet. I’m upset, and this will take me a couple of days to find something intelligent to say. Until then, I leave you with the paper of record.

Here’s your guide to Run-DMSteve: Year Seven. What Year Eight will hold for this blog, I can’t imagine, but I thank you as always for reading along and for not accusing me of sexual misconduct.

Bands

Chuck Berry

The Righteous Brothers

Level 42 and P.M. Dawn

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, R.E.M., The Killers, Ray Charles

Jazz ghetto

U2 and The Beatles

Movies

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnarok

Absent friends and ancient family

Karrie Dunning

My Dad and the Kennedys

All the rest

My brilliant career

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after five years

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after one week

Ode to Half.com

Random Pick of the Day
Joni Mitchell, For the Roses (1972)

Joni Mitchell is one of pop music’s best writers, but her stratospheric soprano voice makes it difficult for me to understand her words. Compared to For the Roses, Kurt Cobain is giving elocution lessons on Nevermind.

The instrumental backing on For the Roses is spare, mostly Mitchell on the piano, but not as spare as on her previous release, the unsparing Blue. “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” got the airplay. Those are great songs, but over the years, I’ve gravitated toward “Blonde in the Bleachers”:

She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says, “You can’t hold the hand
Of a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Or count on your plans
With a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Compete with the fans
For your rock ’n’ roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the rock ’n’ roll man”

Forty years later, Pete Yorn tried to explain the rock ’n’ roll man in “Rock Crowd”:

Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

There’s no hint on For the Roses to the direction Mitchell would take on her next release, Court and Spark, the album that defines her as surely Tapestry defines Carole King.

Random Pan of the Day
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime (1981)

The title has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

By this point in his career, Gaye was singing all the parts, playing most of the instruments, and writing most of the songs. But he wasn’t in a happy state of mind, as he was fighting with his ex-wives and trying to compete with upstarts Prince and Rick James. He was living in exile in Belgium. No offense to Belgium, but that’s my idea of an anonymous country. The man’s mood was reflected in the cover art: Angel Marvin and Devil Marvin face off above exploding A-bombs. I guess Prince really pissed him off.

The songs are non-stop party jams. Slow party jams. You can’t dance to them unless you’re one of these arrhythmic people who always go to the same dances I go to and who spend the night swanning around as if somebody had injected them with Lorazepam. If you played this at a party, you’d only get about three tracks in before somebody swapped it for a more exciting set. This is a clear case of the parts not adding up to a whole. You’ll remember some of the grooves days later, but none of the songs.

Gaye redeemed himself in 1982 with Midnight Love and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” and then he was murdered. We can’t know what his third decade in the music business would’ve given us, but I’m sure it would’ve been worth hearing.

Mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.

 

When I moved to Seattle in 1980 I lived in the Jensen Block on Eastlake Avenue, in a neighborhood of aging wooden houses, aging people, and industries that made things that few people wanted anymore, like rubber stamps that said JOB COMPLETED, READY TO BILL and kits to install your own seatbelts. The building was brick and flat-topped and even today, decked out with shiny glass storefronts at curbside, it looks tired. The Jensen Block has been standing at the corner of Eastlake and Mercer, downhill from the freeway, since before there was a freeway. Or cars. It needs time off.

I dwelled with my typewriter and books in a furnished room with a shared bath above a tavern. The Store Room? I can’t send away to the 1980s for an answer. They had a jukebox, but I could only hear the bass lines of the songs. I couldn’t tell what the songs were. The shifting, muffled thump was the background to my life in that building, where people came and went but a hard core of hard-luck cases lived on year after year.

On Friday and Saturday nights the bar stayed open until 2am, with plenty of people and music, all of which sounded like a roomful of bass players to the guy upstairs pounding out another science fiction story on his Smith Corona typewriter. I usually fell into bed, exhausted, around 1am. Around 2:30, after half an hour of silence, the jukebox came on again. It was louder than before, possibly because the music was no longer being soaked up by all those drinkers. The jukebox played one song. Someone, probably the guy who’d been hired to swab out the place and was in there alone, yelled “Whooooooh!” about 20 seconds in. The bass and the “Whooooooh!” always woke me up. Five minutes later, the song ended, silence reigned, and I went back to sleep. It was comforting, I guess because I’d embarked on a new life and this was one of my few routines. Whatever “it” was.

One night the tavern closed at 2am and when it did the music was over. Like those of us who could, the cleaning man had moved on. Soon I did too. Although I made some friends there, I don’t know where anyone went or what happened to the people who stayed until the ’90s when the building was closed and remodeled and reopened. I’d like to know more about the men who formed a band that summer and called themselves The Mars Dodgers. They all wore baseball jerseys. I never heard them play.

A year or two later, at a dance, the dj put a record on the table and a familiar bass line spilled into the room and I was so surprised that I laughed: The cleaning man’s favorite song was “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones. I hadn’t known that Mick had a speaking part near the end. I hadn’t known anything at all except that the beat went one-two, THREE-four, five-six, SEVEN-eight. When I mentioned this song in my post last week, the Jensen Block came back to me. I’m happy I don’t live on that treeless street anymore.

If there’s any point to this story, it’s that time travel is not a theory and that music is a vehicle. Or maybe the point is just that I can sleep through anything.

I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true
I’ll come to your emotional rescue

“Emotional Rescue” – the only song in the English language that includes the words “pet Pekingese.”

Random Pick of the Day
The Clash, London Calling (1980)
In 1980, I thought The Clash were going to replace the Stones. I also thought that Microsoft was a bizarre office-supply company that had gotten lost in the woods beyond Lake Washington.

The Clash obviously didn’t replace the Stones, and after this album they stage-dived into the dumpster of history (with a last gasp at Combat Rock), but London Calling is one of the few albums that can give the Stones of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street a run for their money. A phenomenal record from a bunch of heroin addicts.

Random Pan of the Day
Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light (1980)
Joni Mitchell is the John Updike of pop music. Both made big splashes early on, were prolific and experimental, and both seem to have faded from view. We should erect statues to these people! Joni pioneered the role of the confessional singer-songwriter. She achieved commercial success with Court and Spark (1974), plunged into world music 10 years before Paul Simon discovered it, experimented extensively with jazz, and played with artists as divergent as Charles Mingus and Billy FN Idol. Mick Jagger could only dream of being as perceptive and literate. Plus she posed naked (from behind) on the inside cover of For the Roses, which, if you were a teenage boy in 1972, was significant.

The ONLY reason this record gets a Pan instead of a Pick is because these are live versions of her studio albums and the studio albums are superior, especially The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).

 

The birthday of our nation is a good time to complain about complainers. I am referring here to “dues songs,” in which musicians who have been made wealthy by their music describe how difficult it is to be successful. And apparently success is very difficult indeed.

The ’70s were an unmatched decade for whiners, best typified by Deep Purple’s immortal doorstop, “Smoke on the Water.” This is of course the heart-rending ballad of a band that can’t record their music at a studio in Switzerland, not because the government of Switzerland wants to spray them for bugs but because the studio burned down. So the band makes other arrangements to record their music in Switzerland. Rough.

ABBA’s “Super Trouper” is not quite as dumb; ABBA, unlike Deep Purple, didn’t believe you had to have the guitar solo and then the organ solo except when you had the organ solo and then the guitar solo. But the story, about the love of one special person saving the singer from the horrors of performing before adoring crowds, makes me think they’re not such troupers.

Alas, even an artist as awesome as Joni Mitchell complained (though ruefully, and with wit) about the success that allowed her to enjoy carefree vacations abroad in “Free Man in Paris.” “Free Man in Paris,” by the way, is superior to the entire Deep Purple catalog, not counting “Hush.”

Moving to other decades, The Byrds and Bad Company warned us of the perils of reaching for the top in “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star” and “Shooting Star,” respectively. Of course both bands were thoroughly enjoying those perils at the time.

Say what you will about The Grateful Dead, they never complained about the Deadheads.

A dues song done right
Bob Seger writes about the rigors of the road in “Turn the Page”:

Later in the evening
As you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers
Ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said

“Turn the Page” is a journalistic, matter-of-fact account of Seger’s life that gains power from the slow accumulation of details, not from lamenting the illogical. When Seger released this song in 1972 he was unknown, unheralded, and unwealthy. Listening to this song you can’t help but root for him.

A dues variation
Peter Yorn is a singer/songwriter with a knack for reflection and a love for Bruce Springsteen. His “Rock Crowd” is a whole new look at life on the road:

I sit backstage
Oh I never know what to play
My mind gets cloudy
Can’t think of what I wanted to say
But when I see you
And we’re moving through the night
I feel like I can make it through another night

[chorus]
Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

This song is beautiful and haunting. I wish it had a video. I wish I had a rock crowd!

Thousand Foot Krutch also addresses their fans in “Throw Up Your Rawkfist.” I love saying “Throw Up Your Rawkfist,” particularly at my birthday parties and when I’m teaching chess. But Thousand Foot Krutch is a Christian rap/head-banger outfit that makes me want to spray them for bugs, and their less-than-impressive lyrics don’t set my heart afire: “Throw up your rockfist/if you’re feelin’ it when I drop this.” Don’t drop it in here, I just vacuumed.

More news from Steveworld
I entered one of my short stories in a competition at Glimmer Train and finished in the Top 25. There were 1,000 entries so I’m feeling double plus good about this. Of course, if I had finished in the Top 3 and had gotten published in the zine, my next story would be about how awful it is to be published and rich and to find every train station surging with girls.

I have a new post in The Nervous Breakdown. This time around I use the occasion of my birthday (July 3) to share everything I’ve ever learned. You only have to scroll down twice! Thanks as always to Special D. I’ve learned a lot around here.

Happy Independence Day! Soon I shall be drinking the Bloody Marys of Liberty. (Robert Farley)