I have never seen the film Super Fly. I’m not sure what value 70’s Blaxploitation movies still have, except as relics of a more optimistic (and far more colorfully dressed) time in black culture. I’m not sure where the line lies between celebration and exploitation, and I’m not sure where movies like Super Fly would fall, in terms of social value. Their fashion value still lives on, obviously, though mostly in problematic and cynical ways. But if there’s one thing Blaxploitation movies gave the world, it’s some great music. In fact, Super Fly means more in the history of music than it does movies. Who cares about the movie when we have Curtis Mayfield’s famous soundtrack? Mayfield successfully navigated his career from innocuous Motown crooner to politically conscious singer and songwriter, and he helped open up the horizons of what funk and soul music could be about. The Super Fly soundtrack is his best known record and Pusherman is a signature classic. You could say, as people have said about the film as well, that it glamorizes the role of the drug dealer. But it’s not the voice of a man celebrating how bomb-ass fly he is; there are plenty of musicians who make bank glamorizing the hell out of the shitty former lives couldn’t run away from fast enough, but Mayfield is not one of them. It’s the tone of a man who knows his position in life and knows how the world sees him. “I’m that nigger in the alley” he sings, knowing that somebody has to be. He’s indispensable, a pillar of the community in his own fucked-up way. But no matter how much money he makes, no matter how fly his suits are or how souped up his car, he will always a scumbag loitering in an alleyway. Even if he went straight, even if he’d never started selling in the first place, he’d still be in the same spot, in the eyes of the world. Afros and pimp suits have cycled in and out of relevance, but the message of the song doesn’t resonate any less. Somebody has to be that man in the alley.
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.
“You made me forget myself/I thought I was someone else/Someone good…”
What a romantic reverie. What a perfect, perfect song. Everybody who wrote, produced and performed it is dead now. Rest in peace, Lou. Rest in peace, Bowie. Rest in peace, Mick Ronson. I’m glad to have spent some years with you.
You can go out on the weekend, but Neil Young just wants to go home to his ranch. Being lonely out in the world is a recurring theme for him. Being a star is mostly just torture, though he does appreciate having a platform to do good. Yeah, Neil Young is just about as decent and normal of a guy as ever became a rock legend. The fact that he’s a cantankerous old grinch sometimes just makes him look even more decent and normal. And the things he writes about are pretty basic truths; hustling for money, fame, groupies and drugs can kill you; the world is scary and full of injustice; we have to protect what’s precious in the world; in the end, everybody just wants to go home and be with their family, and it’s terribly, terribly lonely when you don’t have that. Also, epilepsy is fucking terrifying, the Monsanto corporation is evil, and old cars are cool.
While we’re in a country music mood, let’s drink to Kris Kristofferson. You all know that I have a pretty low tolerance for twang, overall. It’s hard for me to get past the hokey in the honky tonk. Kristofferson is one artist with a lot of twang who transcends the limitations of his accent. He became a master of classic country, and he moved the genre forward. Though he can write some of the best drunk’n’heartachin’ ballads, his writing went beyond the usual tropes. This song is in the classic vein, however. It’s the universal, ever-relevant lament of the touring musician. The camaraderie of life of on the road and the joy of the music just barely redeems the tedium and exhaustion. Everyone knows that living out of a suitcase and eating in roadside diners ain’t that grand, but we insist on seeing glamour in it. The fact is that songwriters both great and not-so keep writing about it, and we want to keep hearing about it. Grimy reality and glamorous illusion are the cornerstones of show business; we can’t get enough of either. Kris Kristofferson knows this, and he’ll give you the figure of the drunk and weary road warrior. It’s a cliche because it’s true, and no one knows that better than Nashville’s highest educated road dog.
“About that time when I wrote (“Heart of Gold”), and I was touring, I had also — just, you know, being a rich hippie for the first time — I had purchased a ranch, and I still live there today. And there was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avila and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there’s this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, “Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?” And I said, “Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.” And he said, “Well, that’s the darndest thing I ever heard.” And I wrote this song for him.” – Neil Young
Neil Young is not very articulate for a songwriter, but there you have it. If you’ve read his barely coherent memoirs, you know. He may not lay things out in the most graceful way, but whatever he has to say comes from the heart. And he expresses everything he needs to in his songs, so he really has no need to be well spoken.
I love it when other languages besides English invade the pop lexicon. Cat Stevens didn’t entirely walk away from his Greek heritage when he changed his name. He would, on occasion still dip there for inspiration, not least of all here. He sounds so convincing it’s almost disappointing when he adds an explanatory English verse. It’s more interesting not to know! The world, apparently, is burning fast. Is that some kind of apocalyptic call to righteousness? End days coming, and so forth. Stevens could get a bit heavy with that stuff even before he took to religion. It’s relevant, of course. That call is sounding out, in various phrasing, from every corner of society. But the world has always burned, hasn’t it?