Tag Archives: Wilco

Lyrical Genius: 10 Great Snippets of Rock

22 Jan

Top 10One of the articles I’ve read about how to attract online readership suggests creating top 10 lists. I’ve avoided this for a long time, not for some noble reason like I don’t want to stoop to using gimmicks to trawl for readers … or to beg them to read and share … and post comments … pretty please?

Anyway, I don’t do top 10 lists because I’m a wimp. I can’t stand the pressure. I choose nine solid entries then panic. I don’t want to make a lame final choice and leave out something worthy. I don’t want to slight my other favorites by not including them. I can’t prioritize them, either; it would be like choosing which of my children is my favorite. (Don’t worry, honey: it’s you. Keep reading … pretty please …)

But hey, anything to attract online readership.

I tend to be drawn toward words and phrases rather than the sweep of an entire verse or the story of an entire song. Some are clever, others conjure up vivid images. I like what sticks in my brain.  So, in no particular order, here are my choices for ten of the best snippets of lyrics in rock.

Tom Waits1. “don’t you know there ain’t no devil that’s just god when he’s drunk” – Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine
(First time I heard this, once I deciphered what Old Golden Throat was singing, I cackled.)

2. “I said, ‘I’m so happy, I could die.’ She said, ‘Drop dead’ and left with another guy” – Elvis Costello, (Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes
(Always has been one of my favorites … 1980s snark at its best)

3. “When I get 400 dollars, I’m goin’ to see Melinda” – Tom Petty, Melinda
(All that’s standing between him and this guy’s happiness? Four hundred dollars. Wow.)

4. “I bet there’s rich folks eating from a fancy dining car/ They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars” – Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues
(This one hits me for a similar reason. What describes freedom for this prisoner? Drinkin’ coffee …)

Cash and Petty flanking Carl Perkins who was no slouch in the lyric department, either

Cash and Petty flanking Carl Perkins who was no slouch in the lyric department, either

5. “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Walls (Circus)
(Tom Petty said this line was inspired by something Johnny Cash said to him … no wonder it works)

6. “Life is what happens to you/ While you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon, Beautiful Boy
(Word.)

7. “I could build me a castle of memories just to have somewhere to go” – John Prine, Clay Pigeons
(John Prine is one of those lyricists who tosses gems like this into so many songs, and his voice is so unassuming you don’t realize how beautiful they are at first.)

8. “I live my life like I wasn’t invited” – Wilco, Candyfloss
(Been there. Done that. May still be doing that.)

9. “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention” – Jimi Hendrix, Taking Care of No Business
(Jimi probably stole this from some other blues guy. No matter – he delivers it with a smile)

And, oh hell, let’s just put this out there as #10:

“Now I walk with a man in my face/ Ooh, a woman in my hair
“I’ve got you all lookin’ out through my eyes/ My feet are a prayer”

The Who, Sister Disco
(All I can say is, Pete, what were you on?)

So, please read, share, post, discuss and let me know your favorites … pretty, pretty please!

See you on the flip side …

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Cold Fact

6 Nov

If you saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man or his interview on 60 Minutes, you know the story of Rodriguez. If you haven’t, consider this a spoiler alert:

Sixto Rodriguez, a promising Mexican-American singer/songwriter, recorded two albums in the early 1970 yet his career went nowhere and he had to make his living cleaning out abandoned houses. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his music became hugely popular with white, liberal anti-apartheid South Africans, who considered him on par with Bob Dylan. After years of obscurity, Rodriguez connected with his Afrikaans fans for the first time in 1998. Now at age 70, he is reaping the rewards of being a world-famous musician while staying humble enough to remain in downtown Detroit.

Rodriguez played at the Crofoot Ballroom on Friday night to a sold-out crowd, many of whom (judging by their age and attire) probably hadn’t been to a rock concert since Three Dog Night only had two dogs. Venue management knew they were in for an influx of elder newbies because I received an email like none I have never received before in my whole history of concert-going: a step-by-step guide on how to better enjoy the show if you’re one of “our older friends”:

“The Crofoot is a ‘general admission’ venue. We have standing room for 1000 guests. For our older friends who are coming to see Rodriguez, there are lots of spaces to stretch your feet, walk on the patio, talk to your friends, and then – step anywhere into the ballroom. The Crofoot sound system is one of the best sound systems in the Midwest. It will provide great listening – instruments and vocals — everywhere in the ballroom. You do not have to stand in front… guard your place…or worry about getting a special place… it’s all special.”   

Would that I could have received a similar guide for some of my past concerts:

For our truly middle-aged fans (come on, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re 28) coming to see Wilco, please note that others seated behind you would like to view and enjoy the show as much as you do. Please dance – if that’s what you call it – only in designated areas. It’s all special.

For our more mature friends coming to enjoy The Hives  (and we will refrain from asking why you are coming in the first place), please wear beer-proof, steel-toe footwear and attire that can withstand the perspiration of others. You do not have to stand in mosh pit territory in order to see the show, although it does afford the best view of the stage if those sweaty, tattooed meat heads would get out of the way. It’s all special.

And so on.

Rodriguez at the Crofoot

Right on time at 10:00 p.m., Rodriguez was guided to the stage for a 90-minute solo set. The crowd was adoring and the performer … well, he did his best. He doesn’t do a tight show: his vaguely philosophical/ political commentary rambled, and he repeated his best one-liners more than once. His musicianship has been hampered by time and personal health history: while his guitar-playing was essentially strong, his voice was not. By musical standards it was not a compelling evening of rock music. (His albums are a bit of an acquired taste in 2012, too, with the production a bit dated and dusty and the songs hewing a little too closely to Bob Dylan’s meandering style for my taste.)

And yet I heard someone standing behind me telling his companion, “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to … except maybe Sting.”

The experience overruled the music. The thousand of us were there to pay tribute to a man who’s been through a great deal and whose rock-and-roll Cinderella story resonates with many of us of a certain age and artistic sensibility. His current fame taps into our deep well of desire to be discovered. It gives us a subliminal sense of hope that fate might someday smile on us, making us the stars we know we could be if given the chance.

Next up for Rodriguez? Perhaps a trip to the Academy Awards. Only in America.

See you on the flip side …

 

I live my life like I wasn’t invited

14 Dec

My older daughter and I were happily ensconced in the balcony at the Fillmore this past weekend at the Wilco concert. We both really enjoyed it, although initially she was disappointed with the seat location, having expected that general admission meant standing on the main floor within sweating distance of the band. As for me, I was thrilled. Not only would I be able to sit down instead of being shoved against the barricades for four hours, but I’d also be able to enjoy the concert with my daughter at my side rather than losing each other in the flow of the crowd. As an added bonus, I could also put my jacket on my seat and save the $4 coat check.

Jeff Tweedy's got to plow the back forty after the show

Wilco’s music has been labeled by a few critics as “dad rock.” In case you have any doubt, it’s not a compliment. Urban Dictionary has four definitions of the term, all of them pointing to the painful unhipness of fathers where musicology is concerned. There is also a distaff term:  “mom rock” is “a genre of rock music that appeals to thirty- and forty-something Caucasian women, many of whom have children. Examples include Bon Jovi, Nickelback, and Los Lonely Boys.”

This reflects a bitter truth that is as old as rock and roll itself: parents are congenitally unable to be cool, therefore any band or song we like is uncool by definition. If a parent accidentally stumbles on  a cool band or song and professes to like it, its coolness dissipates like frost on a car hood. (Adele, you’ve been warned.)

Yet every parent believes he or she is the exception to the rule and will do anything to prove it. They will provide tutorials for their teenagers on how to handle vinyl now that LPs are back into vogue. They will petition to have Nickelback sent back to Canada rather than play at halftime at the Lions’ Thanksgiving game. They will attend a Wilco concert and text pithy Wilco lyrics to appear on the screen above the stage to prove they know their stuff and deserve to be there. Attention must be paid!

Then the illusion of our collective cool is broken by a lady in her forties in Tina Fey glasses and scrunchy hat who danced like no one was watching (although a couple hundred people behind her had no choice)—a gooney shadow puppet against the wall of lights who blocked my view of half the band for half the night. We just cannot escape who we are, can we?

Wilco’s lead singer Jeff Tweedy is doing his best to make the dad rock moniker represent something noble and misunderstood, per his Men’s Journal interview:

When people say dad rock, they actually just mean rock … when people hear something that makes them think, “This is derived from some sort of continuation of the rock ethos,” it gets labeled dad rock. And, to me, those people are misguided. I don’t find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking, you know?

Wilco has kept moving forward rather than becoming an ossified version of their younger selves. The band has evolved in interesting ways, moving from their country-steeped first albums through the Radiohead-inflected aural wall of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the loneliness and warmth of Sky Blue Sky to the present. Their most recent album, The Whole Love, plays like a Greatest Hits of their previous work, which is a compliment. It has the winsomeness of “Walken,” the density of “Ashes of American Flags” and the Beatles influence of “You Never Know.” It’s pretty hip stuff, not gooney in the least.

Here, try out “Born Alone” to see what I mean:

Not bad for a dad, in my opinion.

(That never-ending chord is a Shepard tone, an audio trick the Beatles used at the end of “I Am the Walrus.” Be sure to tell your kids so they have even more reasons to roll their eyes.)

See you on the flip side …

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