Remember the Alamo

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.

 

 

 

 

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Queen Jane Approximately

This is Bob Dylan at the height of his lyrical cryptid phase. I honestly think that trying to parse Dylan’s lyrics is pointless and detracts from just enjoying the wordplay and the music, but I realize that for some people it’s a sport. I think Dylan just liked to use a lot of words. You should try to just feel the emotion of the song and not think too hard about what it ‘means’. Because this is a conversation that’s been going on for decades and it’s gotten boring. Also, I quite like this particular take of the song; it’s less…screechy?

Positively 4th Street

My first thought was, wow, I haven’t listened to this gem in so long. Second thought; wow, nobody writes a put-down like Bob Dylan. I know Dylan has a reputation for being grumpy, or catty, or whatever you wanna call it, and his diss tracks are notorious, but what really makes it brilliant is that he never stoops to just putting someone down. He rolls out an entire thesis of what’s wrong with that person and why. And even on his most famous ‘insult songs’ he’s not without sympathy. Some of those songs are obviously romantic goodbyes, but I don’t think that’s what this one is. I think it’s just about one of those situations where you used to be friends with someone but you’re not friends anymore, for whatever reason. Obviously, we have no way of knowing that for sure, or who the target may actually be, if there even is one. That only makes it more interesting and more relevant, though.

Play With Fire

Don’t play with Mick Jagger, young upper-class girls. He will wreck your life. Because he’s a bad, bad boy. Of course Jagger was never quite the ruffian he made himself out to be, and as with most people, his alleged contempt for the upper class was actually a poorly veiled desire to join it. Which he in due time he did, knighthood and all. In the early years, though, The Rolling Stones got a lot of songwriting traction from the discovery that wealthy people’s lives are just as shitty and dysfunctional as theirs, but also wrapped in a pretty package of hypocrisy. Being a celebrity made Mick Jagger an irresistible target for slumming rich girls, which, at the very least, afforded great writing opportunities. It’s always a bit of a shock to find that so many of the moneyed cool kids you’d been envying from afar are actually miserable trainwrecks who hate their lives. And many of them want to distract themselves from their problems by sleeping with common people, a phenomenon that the Stones documented many years before Jarvis Cocker discovered the same thing. Though some of the songs Jagger wrote about the not-so-cool-after-all girls he encountered on the cool scene were quite vicious, many were actually sympathetic. Some managed to be both. This one is rather rueful in tone; the singer is almost apologetic that he can’t offer any real escape from a pitiful life in a gilded cage. But also it’s not his problem, so don’t expect anything but trouble.

Pain in My Heart

The Rolling Stones vs. Otis Redding. Which one do you like better? On one hand The Stones’ version has that raw garage band oomph that made their earliest recordings the precursors of punk. On the other hand, they were really wet behind the ears and had no grasp of nuance, whereas Redding was a master vocalist working with Motown’s finest professionals. Redding’s emotional gravitas is clearly head and shoulders above anything Mick Jagger could muster. Redding could give the simplest song real pain and soul. What the Stones offered was their glamour, not so much artful music but an invitation to a whole new way of being. But why choose? A great song can serve many purposes depending on who plays it and how. A Rolling Stones record and an Otis Redding record exist to fill different needs, and the same song can become, essentially, two different songs.

 

Outlaw Blues

Bob Dylan fancies himself such an outlaw that he feels kinship with Jesse James. He’s so outlaw he’s got himself a “brown-skin” woman (but he loves her!) Also, sunglasses, possibly at night. All I can think is he’s gotta be kidding with this checklist of cool things and his cool image. Because he’s Bob Dylan and there’s no way he’d seriously equate wearing sunglasses with being an outlaw. (Because that’s dumb even by John Hughes movie standards.) See, Bob Dylan was sooo cool in his day that he was above the concept of coolness. He had nothing but contempt for poseurs and phonies who went around taking the measure of other people’s cool. Or maybe he was a little dweeby Jewish boy from Minnesota who secretly loved the hell out of being considered the coolest guy in town and postured really really hard to get there. Or maybe he was just a more-or-less regular normal dude all along and was really just baffled by how seriously he was being taken. Who knows; Dylan moves in mysterious ways.

Here’s some words.

Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some funny lagoon ?
Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some muddy lagoon ?
Especially when it’s nine below zero
And three o’clock in the afternoon.
Ain’t gonna hang no picturev
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Ain’t gonna hang no picture
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Well, I might look like Robert Ford
But I feel just like a Jesse James.
Well, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
Oh, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
I got no reason to be there, but I
Imagine it would be some kind of change.
I got my dark sunglasses
I got for good luck my black tooth
I got my dark sunglasses
I’m carryin’ for good luck my black tooth
Don’t ask me nothin’ about nothin’
I just might tell you the truth.
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
She’s a brown-skin woman, but I
Love her just the same.
Songwriters: Bob Dylan
Outlaw Blues lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

Out in the Streets

I love hearing Deborah Harry pay homage to one of her biggest influences. She does such a great – and straight faced – job reinterpreting The Shangri-Las’ classic single. In fact, Blondie blows the original away. Girl group tropes delivered with a nudge and a wink have always been the basis of the Blondie sound, but this tribute is totally heartfelt, and therefor far less campy than the original. The Shangri-Las’ mildly naughty bad-girl image was the thing that set them apart from all of the other girl groups in the sixties, but their singing was never quite on par with the Motown groups. They weren’t exactly risque, but their songs were deliberately melodramatic in the spirit of pulp comic books and other teen-based entertainment of the time. Harry puts a more adult spin on the material and finds some real heart in it.