It’s been decades of change, and we can still relate to every word Aretha Franklin is saying. Except that bit about bringing your man all of your money, you know that Aretha Franklin is almost certainly not about to be bringing some man all of her money. Who does he think he is? But that line makes sense in context. What not everybody remembers is that Aretha’s anthem of feminine empowerment was actually written by Otis Redding about his own struggles. It was the 60’s, when a man’s ability to bring home the money defined his value as narrowly as the circumference of a woman’s waist defined hers. Touring musicians made very meager wages back then, especially black artists on the so-called ‘chitlin circuit’, and well-known artists with chart-topping records often still struggled to support their families. That was Redding’s concern. Aretha Franklin wasn’t much of a feminist standard-bearer in those days either; like many women of her generation, she started having children while still in her teens and suffered through a string of abusive husbands who attempted to control her career. All either Redding or Franklin were asking for was to just be one tiny little bit less downtrodden. That radical idea really caught on with a lot of people, making a huge hit and a cultural touchstone. Its mainstream popularity allowed Franklin to become the kind of artist who sets her own rules and doesn’t accept bullshit. And its simple message continues to resonate with women who only want one thing. Spell it with me…
Show of hands, who still remembers what Morse code is? It’s that cool beeping noise that WWII movies use to underscore tension when something exciting and/or scientific is going on. Right? Right. So Bryan Ferry made an excellent production choice in using that sound effect to literalize a song about loneliness and longing. He’s like a ship at sea, you see. He needs a hero to save him from drowning in his ocean of solitude. It’s basically just a booty call, but the SOS makes it sound serious and important. And sophisticated. But you know what? Booty calls deserve to be dignified. There’s not much heavy lifting we can do for another person, in terms of rescuing them from themselves, but we can at least occasionally rescue them from being alone and horny.
Apropos. While women gather at the weeping wall to bewail their burden, yet again, here is David Bowie with his two cents. From beyond the grave, a reminder that he, the original woke one, pinpointed domestic violence as one of the evils of the world way back in 1979. Just one more ugly side to the infinite-sided prism of everything that’s fucking bad and wrong about mankind, as comprehended by a humanoid alien from Mars. Everything is bad and wrong, and the only redeeming things in the world are art, and those fleeting moments when two people somehow find the means to actually feel connected to one another. In that order. And not everybody even has that. The most harmful and tragic thing is those people who don’t know how to connect to someone without hurting them; they are literally souls trapped in hell.
How much are you obligated to love someone if they pay your rent? There is a famous short story – later adapted into a film – by Tama Janowitz titled Slaves of New York. It was initially published in, you guessed it, The New Yorker. The title is obviously, um, shall we say, not great, but in some ways it’s apropos and and becoming more so. New York City is hellishly expensive to live in, and people do degrading things to survive there. The point Janowitz was making in her story is that ambitious creative types are so in love with the idea of being New Yorkers that they compromise their integrity and wellbeing by staying yoked to lame partners just for the real estate. Yes, there’s plenty of people who stay in loveless marriages because the apartment. That’s sad, but it’s also…hello, hashtag first world problems! People – mostly the female kind – all over the world literally fucking end up dying because they don’t have the means to leave abusive partners, which is not the same as hanging on to a sexless marriage because rent-controlled Manhattan real estate yada yada. But the New York literary and creative scene is its own beast, one that exists in a paradoxical bubble. On one hand, New York City is so vibrant and diverse it’s almost like the capital of the world or something. On the other hand, the scenesters there can be shockingly ignorant and isolated (see, Lena “I don’t know any black people” Dunham.) Having maintenance-sex with somebody who doesn’t excite you like they used to because you share a lease is not actually equivalent to the institution of slavery, Tama Janowitz, and I’m likely not the first person to have pointed that out, but I think the point remains worth making. All of which has absolutely nothing to do with music, so you’re probably wondering. Yes, I’m drunk and I didn’t sleep very much last night. But also, this is exactly what this Pet Shop Boys song is about. The things we do for rent money, and that weird grey zone between sincere love between consenting adults and the kind of love animals have for you because you feed them. So, although my liberal-white-feminist-SJW self draws the line at slavery equivalence, the age-old phenomenon of being kept is a real social issue. A lot of people, mostly young and in some way disadvantaged, compromise their integrity and wellbeing by allowing themselves to be kept. Whether you’re married to someone who’s on salary while you’re on hourly, or just straight up cashing checks from a sugar-daddy, you’re being kept, and it’s a power imbalance and consent-wise a slippery slope.
Here is Donovan with an educational history lesson, which, if you don’t live in Texas, you may be needing. Living in Texas for nearly a decade, I really should know more about this Alamo thing that we have. Apparently it was a very epic historical event that Texans really have a hard-on about remembering. Something about taking Mexico away from the Mexicans so Texan-Americans can be free? Honestly, the more I live here the more I don’t give a shit. However, the Battle of the Alamo has retained a strong mystique in the public imagination. It has an undeniable storytelling appeal, and who doesn’t love a tale of desperate courage in the face of inevitable defeat? It’s inspired its better-than-fair share of songs, and books, and movies, and stage names, and dumb-looking hats etc. All of which vary wildly in their degree of truthiness. But history is not about what happened, it’s about teaching a good lesson, and telling a rip-roaring good story. So we keep telling the story about those brave good old boys defending their miserable garrison in the name of Freedom™ as an example of the good old American can-do spirit, even though the broader context may be a little bit hazy. Texas wasn’t even a member of the United States at the time, and lemme tell you, Texans are inordinately proud of their short-live little republic, even though or maybe because half of it was requisitioned from Mexico at the cost of great bloodletting. I’m frankly a little confused as to why Texians defending their right to be a sovereign republic that is not a part of the United States of America is such a beloved example of American patriotism, but the complexities of history bore me, and the concept of patriotism is a very difficult one for me to grasp, and it seems like all it comes down to is that the tale is a fun one to tell.
Let Pink Floyd set you up for an afternoon of childhood nostalgia. If your childhood nostalgia actually involves listening to Pink Floyd, all the better. Even if not, it’s the perfect mood piece for reminiscing, or daydreaming, or just dozing. It’s just great mood music. If you have drugs, good. If you have a mimosa, good. If you have a nice cup of tea, good. If you don’t have any of those things, maybe think about going back to bed.
This is it, this is the trouble with Harry. He was too bloody brilliant for his own good. You can’t immediately see it, but this is a great illustration of the duality between Harry Nilsson the serious artiste and Harry Nilsson the big silly self-sabotaging goofball. First of all, Harry had the voice of an angel and the ability to write songs like this one, which sounds like an old standard that somehow never made it onto the soundtrack of Casablanca. But this song is not from Casablanca; it’s from an album cheekily titled Son of Schmilsson, and later, the soundtrack of a Dracula movie directed by noted Hollywood visionary and film icon Ringo Starr. And therein lies the trouble with Harry: besides his notorious alcoholism, he was undone by his own inability to take himself seriously. If he could just keep writing and singing beauties like this, he would have had a career of solid gold. But he wanted to costar (co-Starr?) in Son of Dracula with Ringo, he wanted to record an old folks’ choir singing a novelty song about bed-wetting, he wanted to have a screaming contest with John Lennon that ruptured his vocal chords, and eventually, he wanted to retire from music entirely. Which, ok, that last part you can’t blame him for: he quit drinking, raised a lovely family, became involved in political activism and seemed pretty happy about it. But so many of his career choices were just so foot-shootingly misguided, you feel aggravated on his behalf, angry at him for being one of those people who sabotage their own best potential.