Sister, Do You Know My Name?

Apparently my grasp of the alphabet has been pretty loose this week. Not my fault, iTunes. Anyway, out of order but not forgotten, the White Stripes. I think I’m not the only person of a certain age who recalls the arrival of the White Stripes as a game changing event of Beatlesque proportions. Before, the musical landscape was one way, and afterwards it was completely different. I however, was not on the vanguard who discovered the wonder of Jack and Meg in 1999 or 2000, unfortunately. I had to wait until they became mainstream, because I didn’t have the internet in those days. But even if I wasn’t aware of it, the change was brewing. Listening to songs from De Stijl, you can’t say that it sounds like the year 2000. It sounds like the future and the past, but it doesn’t sound one bit like what passed for music in the year 2000.

Sister Wife

Songs about polygamy are few and far between, so it’s not much competition to say that this is the very best one. This is definitely the best song about polygamy. Polygamy is frowned upon for very good reasons in real life, but it sure makes for a fresh and original spin on the old love triangle songwriting trope. Alex Winston has an interest in unusual topics; her record is jam-packed with songs about unexpected things. If you’re going to write about something as mundane as sexual jealousy, it’s very hard to make that new again. Winston is a rare songwriter in that regard. She makes the same old shit of life new again. Now if only she could get out of record label purgatory and start making new music again…

Sister Morphine

It doesn’t get much bleaker than this. When Marianne Faithfull decided to finally and forever stop being a dollybird and become a real songwriter, she ended up writing one of the great drug epics of rock, an ode to deathly chemicals on par with Lou Reed’s Heroin. It was, of course, banned and pulled from shelves, while The Rolling Stones re-recorded it and took all the credit. (Faithfull says that it was a matter of copyright issues and that they did in fact pay her royalties, and it was those royalties that kept her alive during her worst years.) Faithfull always insisted that she wrote it before the worst of her drug addiction, and she was just trying to be literary, but she came to know the truth of her own writing soon enough. Besides the lyrical foresight, the song shows a singer literally metamorphosing as we listen from ingenue to rock star. She’s already done enough to herself that her voice is cracking. She wavers like pubescent boy between her old high vibrato and the husky croon we now know her for, and she doesn’t know what to do with it yet. That in itself belies any claim that of pure literary exercise. Marianne Faithfull was burning herself out, and she knew it. Years later she sang it again, now in full command of that barrel-aged croak, but it didn’t have the same fragile poignancy. The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, mined many of the same trenches, although with considerably more cash in hand, and they turned Sister Morphine into their own confessional. It’s probably the most explicit look they’ve ever taken into the dark side of their hedonistic lifestyle, and it is, in its own way, almost as poignant. Mick Jagger, tough guy that he is, doesn’t do confessionals, but he watched the closest people in his life sacrifice themselves to addiction, and the hurt shows, sometimes. Sticky Fingers was one of the great drug records, and Sister Morphine was the sad centerpiece that highlighted the theme most starkly. It was a fitting coda for a tainted love story, and an era.

Sister Midnight

You’ve heard this song before, except it was called Red Money and David Bowie was singing it. (Having cleaned up the Oedipal references.) Well, this is the original, and it is, like Iggy Pop himself, a scary out-of-control rampaging motherfucker. It’s a good example of the creative symbiosis of minds that Iggy and David enjoyed during their years of being drug-fueled BFFs. It was some of the most creative times for them both, despite or because of the binges. It doesn’t prove, despite popular belief, that drug abuse fuels creativity, but I think it shows that having an adventurous life and like-minded collaborators does.

Sister Ray

This is the jam you put on at parties and/or work as a test to find out who your real friends are. (It’s a trick. You have no real friends.) The Velvet Underground, leaning heavily on their underground-ness, used long violently loud jam sessions like this one to alienate as much of their audience as they could before getting booted out of whatever venue they were playing. It was certainly the first time in the realm of rock music that topics like mainlining drugs and sucking on a ding-dong were topics of conversation, at least in as blunt a manner. No euphemisms or clever entendres for Lou Reed, he calls it sucking dick for heroin in plain English. The Velvets did end up with the distinction that all of the fans they did acquire, all went on to become degenerate drug fiends and sex perverts in their own right. And so the moral corruption of social fibers, or whatever.

Sister

I’ve been listening my way through some year-end best-of lists – NPR, Pitchfork – and I notices that plaintive confessional singer-songwriters still predominate. They all sound exactly the same, of course, a they all write about the same thing. What sets Angel Olsen apart as artist working more or less in confessional singer-songwriter mode? It might be that her songs don’t all sound the same; changing tempos and mixing up styles is a good way to make a record that people will want to listen to more than once, so she’s got that going for her. It might be because she has an emotional range beyond ‘plaintive and sad’, or that she’s not always singing in upper register. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I just like her voice. That beings said though, this is a very plaintive and sad confessional singer-songwriter ballad, and if you’re going to listen to that particular genre, it doesn’t get much better than this, and I say that both as a compliment to Angel Olsen and a detriment to the genre.

Sinsemilla

If you’re asking yourself what sinsemilla is, you’ve got no business listening to Reggae music and you should go back to whatever suburb of Salt Lake City you came from. Sinsemilla is a strain of cannabis cultivated in a very specific way so as to result in particularly potent psychoactive properties. So he’s got some really good shit growing in his backyard, is what it’s saying. You really can’t separate Reggae culture from drug culture, although the drug culture we American live with doesn’t have the religious component. Which is unfortunate, as it seems like we’re really missing out on an opportunity to commune with God, while the Rasta get to elevate themselves spiritually as the elevate themselves chemically. Honestly, American marijuana culture is just another primo example of white people ruining everything, which is why I like to stay far away from it and from white dudes who wear Peruvian knits. I take my Reggae straight, or drunk, as it were, but I don’t get high much. It ain’t my culture.