Ahh, the poet’s age old quandary; to do a line or not to. Heh, heh. Pretty clever. Otherwise, though, it’s kind of a sad song. There’s something inherently sad about telephone numbers that never get used, calls that are never answered. It could’ve been something great but it didn’t happen, because apathy. The poet, being too busy doing lines (in all the senses of the word), misses out on whatever it is normal happy people who answer the telephone are out doing. And, the singer being Debbie Harry, she’s probably going to go out later and follow some guy around in the supermarket. But for now, she’s not taking phone calls.
Since it’s been my long-held, unpopular opinion that Exile on Main St. is wildly overrated you wouldn’t expect me to be especially excited about a deluxe special extended edition. It reiterate, I don’t hate the record, but I do think it’s overlong and bloated, as double LPs are wont to be, and doesn’t quite rank as the masterpiece it’s generally accepted to be. It would have been, as double LPs are wont to, better off as two separate entities. I would be inclined to think it absolutely doesn’t need a bonus third disc. But the bonus third disc that the Stones released in 2010 is actually pretty exciting stuff. I suggest thinking of it as its own entity, not as a bunch of outtakes rejected from an already jam-packed album. It bears me out, though; Exile could have been great as two albums, and it would have been even greater as three.
File under obscure favorites. If I may recommend a must have album that never shows up on any of those circle-jerk best-of lists, please take the time to discover John Cale’s Vintage Violence. Cale is still best known for using the viola to produce a vicious haze of electronic feedback with The Velvet Underground, and he’s carried on being forbiddingly weird throughout his solo career. Unlike Lou Reed, Cale’s walks on the wilder side never fluked their way onto the radio, and he’s never gotten up there with the big boys in terms of record sales and accolades. Which might be just fine as far as he’s concerned. He does what he wants, and if it’s not always easy to enjoy, that’s fine. But, despite a reputation for being even grumpier and more avant-garde than anyone else in his circle, he is also a master of stately emotional ballads. Which is his most accessible side, and where this particular album makes a great introduction. This is some truly underrated work, and it’s an injustice that John Cale isn’t widely accepted as one of the best songwriters and composers of his time.
Why on earth was this not Blondie’s debut single? Too meta for the times, I guess. It didn’t even make the album, initially. It’s obviously a great song, so it wasn’t a quality thing. I imagine Debbie Harry might have wanted to deflect the kind of attention that would prevent the band being taken seriously, and comparing herself to “Marilyn and Jean, Jayne, Mae and Marlene” would not have been the way to do that. It’s a tough call, striking a balance between owning your status as a sex symbol, and being governed by it. Harry has kept that balance with remarkable grace over the years. For the most part, she’s had fun playing with gender tropes, winking at both the femme fatale and the wilting wallflower. But it can’t have been easy, and I understand her reluctance, as a fledgling in the music industry, to release a song that appears to invite being viewed – and judged – as a fantasy figure in a long line of fantasy figures. Now, of course, it’s a clever mission statement from a woman who’s redefined what it means to be a platinum blonde. Platinum blonde isn’t just a fashion; it’s a concept of womanhood, one that doesn’t necessarily benefit the woman wearing it. Or, if it benefits her, it does so at the implied expense of other women. Debbie Harry has been one of the few blonde icons whose blonde identity isn’t inexorably entwined with tragic victimhood. Her image wasn’t forced on her by a male Svengali. It wasn’t a facade to cover crippling self hate, or a disguise in which to escape from a horrible life. It wasn’t a survival strategy, used to float more or less unharmed across the hostile waters of systematic patriarchy. No, Harry would be blonde, and she would be sexy, but she wouldn’t accept that it’s a woman’s burden to suffer willingly or be punished. If blondes are supposed to have more fun, Debbie Harry is going to have more fun.
It goes without saying that I want to go away on Marc Bolan’s flying saucer. Take me away to an alternate universe of sex and glitter. Bolan is offering to rescue you from your mundane life; music will make you free, it will make you cool, it will take you to a higher consciousness. It’s a promise of redemption through creativity. Or just being a libertine if you’re not the creative type. That’s really all rock music ever had to offer, its one big idea; self-expression as sea change. Can we thank rock music for the way we understand our identities today? The idea that who you are means something. Create yourself and you create the world.
The B-52’s really don’t get enough credit. I mean, have you seen them? Like, really paid attention, though? Their good-taste-to-the-wind brand of eccentricity is like nothing else. And how about Kate Pierson? She’s the icon you didn’t know you were indebted to; one part drag queen, one part hipster dream girl. Being campy and kooky isn’t mutually exclusive with being edgy, either. The B-52’s were pretty experimental for a party band. Examine the extended intro of this song. I, for one, didn’t know until just now that the space wave noise was actually Pierson’s modulated voice. Unfortunately, the older video is ruined halfway through by the appearance of some kind of alarmingly hirsute talk show host, but the first half is a marvel of sustained weirdness.
Kris Kristofferson pays tribute to his fellow outlaw country singers; Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, men of a dying breed. Outlaw country doesn’t really exist anymore. Those guys were glamorous because they weren’t; they led lives more interesting than fiction, with music being a sideline to help finance all the booze. Of course they were all also toxic trainwrecks who poisoned their bodies, sabotaged their relationships, and alienated their children.But a moral story is not a fun story. In a fun story the going up is always worth the coming down.