I am not the kind of person who skips over Keith Richards’ grackle-voiced contributions when I listen to Rolling Stones records. Nor would I want to listen to an entire album of his croaking either. Keith’s there to lend a little bit of soulful grit to what’s become a very shiny and polished enterprise, but he’s hardly a born frontman, in either personality or vocal gifts. Not all of the Keith songs are standouts, but they never fail to reset to the mood to an earthier level. As far as the obligatory “let’s let Keith have the mic” numbers go, this one is by far one of my favorites. It is such a poignant outro, without even knowing the knotty history behind Steel Wheels. It’s all there in his voice. You can hear the many miles and years logged to get to that precise moment, the history and tragedy and burned bridges and grudgingly given love that make the Rolling Stones the often barely-functioning family that they are.
Moby is here with a simple lesson about cherishing your loved ones, and it’s possible that this may press some sentimental buttons for a few people. Those of you who get misty-eyed about the magic of family, for example. Family is the web of ties that makes us who we are, and if we don’t have that, then who even are we. Some people have shitty families, of course, and don’t find images of granddads twirling babies idyllic. Nonetheless, the message should still find a button to push. The people in our lives, whether chosen or born to, will slip away when we least expect them to, leaving nothing but memories and the vague nagging sensation of their absence. That’s life, inexorably. But you can at least try to appreciate your here and now before it becomes the sepia-filtered past. And, yes, appreciate your folks, appreciate your memories of them, appreciate that web that made you. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little sentimental about your friends and family, it’s just our human nature, even for those of us who’ve chosen to become the end of the family line.
Here is a song that, for audiences of 1957, is not sexual or suggestive at all. And when I say it’s not suggestive or sexual, I mean that it is deliberately, degenerately both of those things. How were the good people of 1957 ready for Little Richard? Or rock’n’roll in general. I don’t think us kids who grew up in modern times can fully appreciate how violently rock’n’roll blew holes in people’s minds back then. No wonder the Boomers are such a psychologically crippled generation. They witnessed the invention of a new art form, and it must have been like that scene in the The Thing where they finally show the Thing in all of its Thing-ness. They learned about sex from sexually deviant black men who were somehow allowed to appear on television. I mean, have you seen Little Richard? You just have to take one look at him to know he had some action going on his life like your mama never dreamed about. Like, seriously, that dude was kinky.
Some things you can pry from my cold dead fingers, always and forever. A few days ago I was saying that about my beloved T. Rex records. Well, I had said it in a much more elegant way than that, but I think the gist of it was plain to see. The point is, some things, some cultural totems and personal touchstones, can only be pried away in death. You can add my Talking Heads records to that. You can pry Speaking in Tongues from my cold dead fingers, if that’s how you wanna put it. It’s a record that, besides being a famous classic and an instant party, is one of those works that doesn’t get older or worn out by too much familiarity. It goes beyond mere personal nostalgia, though of course, I did grow up with it. If something can remain meaningful across a lifetime, from childhood to adulthood, and exponentially so across generations, that’s the antithesis of personal nostalgia. Personal nostalgia is when we feel sentimentally attached to things we rationally know are actually valueless or downright bad just because we imprinted on them as ducklings; things that, from novelty pop songs to toppled political regimes, should really be best forgotten. When something that amused our childhood selves continues to be meaningful over decades, meaningful beyond just the ability to trigger memories, that’s your testament that art really is the only human thing that carries over. This is why we care so much about buildings on fire.
I can’t recommend The National enough for all of your mournful, mopey needs. Do you need something to stare balefully at the rain to? Do you have some shitty cooking wine or bottom-shelf liquor you need to consume? Has it been three or four days since you’ve talked to your love interest? Are you getting yourself all worked up remembering that time you were really depressed? The National is here for you. Now, I’m not going so far as to say that it’s music for when you’re actually really depressed. You can make your own judgement call on that one, but for me it’s just gloomy and not straight-up scraping-the-bottom music. You know, there’s a distinction between performatively sad and, like, really depressed and stuff. You can have a performatively sad day, because, I don’t know, maybe you’re not getting enough dick or something, or all of your friends are jerks, or whatever makes you feel the most sorry for yourself.
Nobody does poignancy like Paul Simon. That’s why we pay him the big bucks. Because he writes the songs that make us think about all of the ups and downs of the human journey and get a little bit dewy in the eye. I don’t know if you can pinpoint an exact time when he crossed over from being the angsty and acerbic fellow he’d been in the 60’s towards becoming the philosophical old man he is today, but I guess the late 70’s a good place to look. Like everybody, of course, he must’ve done a lot of cocaine in the 70’s, which is conducive to some people’s creativity, but not everyone’s. Some people’s creativity flourishes better with a sober brain, and I suspect that Paul Simon might be one of those latter types. All conjecture, of course, I don’t know that much about his life. But it’s a compliment – and not a compliment that I would give to just anyone – that this song sounds like it could have been written by a man of 75.
Nothing is more underrated than early-2000’s David Bowie. David Bowie, of course, never flies under the radar, but it does seem like the material he put out in 2002 is due for a rapturous posthumous embrace. It may be because these are the Bowie records I grew up waiting for and running out to the store to buy. It may be my own attachment feelings. But I do think that Heathen, for example, is record that really needs to be held up. It has an atmosphere of sustained melancholy, and yet an uplifting warmth and grandeur. And, of course, iconic visuals. Sometimes I forget how much I loved this record in 2002. We’re always too busy listening to Ziggy Stardust for the fifteen hundredth time, but sometimes Ziggy is just too addled and wired. Sometimes the leper messiah comes in floppy bangs, reminding us to keep our heads warm, even though the world might be slowly burning.