Month: April 2012

Hang Fire

Love Tattoo You, and not entirely just because of pretty cover. It’s what happens when The Rolling Stones decide to clear out the old bins down at the archive and still come up with an album’s load of classic material. You know, just totally awesome songs that somehow somebody didn’t think were good enough for the last three albums. It’s an enviable position to be in, when your throwaways are better than other people’s best efforts. Speaking of best efforts, that video is nobody’s best anything, but Mick looks cute and mugs like he’s in a cartoon.

Hang Down Your Head

Here’s to anyone who’s left and been left behind. Anyone who feels miles and worlds away from their love. It breaks my heart that you’re so far away, but if you got on an airplane you could be here in a few hours, less than a day. It’s the magic of now, the technology of instant gratification. If we were older and it was only a few years ago, our separation would be days of empty highway, days of shaking and clattering railway, weeks on horseback, something that would make you really feel the miles. I want you to feel every mile. Only rail travel can do that. You might be too young to know, but I’m not. The railroad used to be the only way to connect the world, and it’s still the sound of the train whistle, the rhythm of metal on metal all night long, the vibration and movement, the tracks themselves shining dully towards a vanishing point that symbolize the hope and pain of long distance travel.  Times when travel was high-stakes, when crossing borders was permanent exile, when you could get on a train and disappear forever. You don’t appreciate hearing the train go by at night because you don’t know about these things. Where does Tom Waits fit into all this? He’s the last man alive who sings about it like it still matters.

Handsome Devil

I repeat, the only thing to be in 1983 is handsome! – Morrissey

Outside anything found on a Greatest Hits album, a definitive Smiths song. Musically, lyrically, attitudally. It’s one of the first songs Morrissey and Marr wrote together, one of the first to be performed and recorded, and one of the first to become controversial for absolutely no good reason. Musically it’s a perfect example of The Smiths’ odd and instantly memorable sound, a combination of bouncy melody and distinctly unbouncy front person performance.

The tune is, according to Johnny Marr, “a Mancunian anaemic Patti Smith Group,” an homage to Ask the Angels. Not a connection I would have made, but if Johnny Marr says so. Either way, it’s extremely boppy and can be danced to. At the same time, in typical early Smiths manner, Morrissey is singing from his own corner of the universe, seemingly unaware of what anyone around him is playing, sounding flat and completely off-beat. Morrissey is in fact one of the least musically inclined rock stars, never having mastered any instruments and possibly a bit tone deaf, and in the lifelong habit of composing his songs on the typewriter, as opposed to at the piano or on the guitar like most songwriters do. He’s gotten immeasurably better over the years both at singing with the musical accompaniment instead of on top of it, and writing songs with some built in sense of rhythm, but his early songs were peculiarly unmusical and sung in a deliberately amateurish manner. All of which is precisely the charm that makes The Smiths still relevant and beloved. Because they didn’t sound like anything else before or since.

Handsome Devil contains a fistful of classic and oft-quoted lyrics, including “let me get my hands on your mammary glands,” and “a boy in the bush is worth two in the hand.”  Even though the subject is addressed as a ‘handsome devil’ it sounds distinctly like the subject might be a female, not least in the reference to mammary glands. By the references to exams and things bookish and ‘scholarly’ it sounds like this handsome mammary-gland-haver is involved in higher education of some kind. Perfectly rational things to write songs about, all that. Why the English press flew to the conclusion that child molestation was the topic, I can’t imagine. There are other Smiths songs that are definitely about child-related unwholesomeness, like Suffer Little Children, which is about a real-life kidnapping and killing spree. Or Reel Around the Fountain, which is more ambiguous, but decisively sleazy all the same.  Handsome Devil seems pretty innocent by comparison – it’s only about chasing after someone who, since she’s old enough to have mammary glands ‘eager to be held’, is presumably not a child. How anyone could come to any other conclusion is beyond me, but it did lead to Morrissey having to take a public stance against child molesting “and anything that vaguely resembles it.” Pretty absurd.


Well, I haven’t listened to The Raconteurs in a while. Especially the first album, which I used to adore. I still like it, of course, I don’t stop liking things. It just got overshadowed by a lot of other things. After the greatness of The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs kind of faded out a bit. They became only the third most important Jack White activity project. Also, compared to both The White Stripes and The Dead Weather, they come off as a bit lightweight and pop, first album especially, again. It’s no sin to be pop, of course, but Broken Boy Soldiers is kind of sunshiny and Beatlesque in a way that doesn’t quite fit in with the feedback-loving raw power of the Weather or the Stripes’ primitivism. Not all of it, of course, some tracks are very much in keeping with what I think of as the Jack White aesthetic. Blue Veins is very Jack, for example. But a lot of it is very Brendan Benson, and this track is very Brendan-Benson-does-The-Beatles. I don’t know if I’m the only one to notice, but Hands is reminiscent of Only A Northern Song to the point of being derivative. Maybe if Only A Northern Song was more famous there’d be a scandal, but since it’s known only to watchers of Yellow Submarine, the imitation has gone unnoticed. Which is fine – if Beatlesqueness was a crime, half the musicians in the world would be in prison.

Handle With Care

The best supergroup. A lesson in superstars sharing the spotlight, having fun and bringing out the best in each other. Usually when big stars get together on a project it becomes a competition of who’s awesomer and more famous. The Traveling Wilburys were all about being awesome together. It was a buddy project. Although it was probably hard to imagine, before they came along, that Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison would ever be trading vocals. With their wildly disparate styles, it’s amazing how great they sound together. And make no mistake, it’s a showcase for those three legends – Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are just sidemen, and though they both made good contributions to The Wilburys, they must have known they were outclassed. They must have felt very honored. But of course, it wasn’t about who had the biggest legend.

Hand In Glove

“No it’s not like any other love, this one is different because it’s ours”

Yes, that’s what we all like to think. Everything is special because it’s ours. Such frantic angst, though! Why didn’t I grasp it sooner? I actually became a Smiths fan literally overnight. I just woke up one day thinking I needed to hear everything that’s ever come out of Morrissey’s mouth. And with a very teenage intensity, I did just that, to the best of my ability. Just when I thought I was too old to be obsessed and have rock star crushes anymore. Watching those old videos really makes me regret my own place and time. They must’ve been a bolt out of the blue. I did get lucky enough to see Morrissey perform last year, and it was phenomenal, of course. But he’s kind of an irascible elder statesman now, and what an impression he must have made as a young maverick I can only imagine.

Hand Grenade/Hollenzug

I find a lot to admire about the fearlessly iconoclastic Nina Hagen, but if there’s one place where she’s really fucked up, it’s her support of the ‘alternative’ AIDS movement. Hagen wrote the songs Hand Grenade and Hollenzug based on the ideas of activist and AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore, and has supported Maggiore’s Alive & Well organizations. The AIDS denial movement claims that AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus, that AZT and other antiretroviral drugs do more damage than good and the whole thing is a conspiracy between drug companies and the government to swindle, oppress and exterminate undesirable populations. While it’s true the pharmaceutical companies have a lot to answer for, and have made a killing (haha) on antiretrovirals, only making the drugs cheaper and more readily available to the impoverished  after enraged worldwide political pressure, the science behind those drugs is valid. There is no ‘natural alternative’ AIDS treatment that’s been proven to work on a more than anecdotal level, and there’s no scientific doubt that HIV does cause AIDS, and the miserable deaths of millions of untreated sufferers offer pretty clear proof AIDS and HIV are a death sentence unless antiretroviral drugs are administered. Those things are accepted as fact by the NIH, WHO and practically every scientist, doctor and politician on the planet. The activism of Maggiore drew a lot of publicity in the 90’s and gained a bit of a  popular following, but she lost many supporters when she allowed her HIV-postive infant daughter to go untreated. The child died of an AIDS-related illness. Maggiore contested the autopsy findings, but the doctor she hired turned out to be a veterinarian, further damaging her credibility. Maggiore, HIV-positive since 1992 never took ‘the deadly pills’ and in 2008 she herself died of an AIDS-related disease. As new research leads to greater understanding of the AIDS virus and leads to more effective therapies, Maggiore’s cause moves further and further into the outer fringe of insanity. When the disease was poorly understood and available therapies truly were risky and prohibitively expensive, there was room for doubters and promoters of their own ‘alternatives’, but today such ideas are simply in the realm of bigfoot hunting and alien abduction. Not to mention damaging and irresponsible. Supporting and publicizing such beliefs is on a moral plane somewhere below Holocaust denial, more irresponsible but somehow less controversial. I don’t know whether or not Nina Hagen still supports the cause, or if she has moved on to saner pastures, nor do I know the precise extent of her activism. It seems like a case of a pop star latching onto a cause that seems to suit her own ‘outsider’ self-image without bothering to learn the full extent of the issue. She is also someone who does believe in UFO’s and alien abductions and is known for picking through popular religions for bits she likes and agrees with, without being able to commit to just one fully. In other words, she’s kind of a flake, so maybe we shouldn’t judge her too harshly for her misguided and ignorant ‘activism’.