Here’s a beautiful Irish folk song by Irish folk revival band Clannad, sung in Irish Gaelic. I literally have not an inkling what it’s about. Gaelic is interesting because it’s almost completely unrelated to English, despite being right next door geographically. It’s not even in the wheelhouse of Germanic languages. For a non-speaker, there’s no shared roots or common vocabulary that would allow them to understand at least a basic gist. English speakers can’t even grasp the phonetics. Which explains a lot about why the English were so eager to wipe out Irish language and culture; it’s much harder to colonize your neighbors when you can’t eavesdrop on their conversations. They failed, of course.
“Ooh, isn’t it nice, when your heart is made out of ice?”
Lou Reed wrote about cold-hearted people as if he envied them. He was a pretty rough person himself, of course. He was notorious for heckling his own audiences, as you can see below. See also, being a dick to journalists, being a dick to admirers, etc. etc. The asshole rock star who wrote beautifully sensitive songs was a persona he created, one that was especially nasty and performative in the mid-seventies. He was under a lot of pressure to somehow maintain his unexpected popularity with glam rock audiences, and to live up to his reputation as the baddest, most dangerous, most authentic street hustling junkie poet to represent the New York City underground. Hence the garish bleach job and see-through t-shirts. A lot of people died prematurely trying to be the baddest and the coolest. Lou Reed actually was the baddest and the coolest, and managed to live a good long solid life, which is how you know he was for real. The hardest guys all lived, the wimpy ones dropped dead.
This is more military terminology all in one place than has ever been written into a pop song. Why has Sparks been the first and only band to discover the tongue-twisting wordplay delights of that particular jargon? Who knows, but it’s right up their alley. All I know is, I wouldn’t want to play scrabble with these guys. They know how to spell potentate and subterfuge, and use them in a sentence.
With that David Bowie blew our heteronormative minds wide open. Again. It was shocking. It still is. There are still a lot of kids out there today – though hopefully not quite as many as there were in 1974 – who desperately need to hear the message that it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl or if you can’t commit to being either; there’s a place for you and someone to love you. And Quaaludes. Dudes and Quaaludes all around for the kids who walk all over the boundaries of gender. Rumour has it that Bowie wrote this sweet love missive for a flame: Jayne County, punk singer, Warhol superstar, cult icon, transgender activist, and very much still alive. I don’t know if that’s true, since County apparently isn’t the type to pursue fame-by-association with someone better known than herself. I’d like to think so, though. Either way, it’s well established that Bowie wasn’t just posturing when he promised to love you no matter what kind of a freak in the eyes of the world you were. He’s the man who knowingly torpedoed his career in America in solidarity with a movement that was just beginning to dare speak its name.
It’s always a good time to delve deep into Bob Marley’s classic catalog. Natty Dread is one of the must-have classic albums of all time. (Don’t take my word for it; Rolling Stone says so too.) A classic is a classic, perennial for many reasons. What makes Bob Marley’s classic albums so remarkable, besides the surfeit of shoulda been smash hits, is how relevant and on-point they’ve remained. Marley wrote about the world as he saw it – sometimes beautiful, frequently filled with injustice. The things he wrote about haven’t changed much since his passing, unfortunately. Just for example, getting frisked (and worse) by the police in the middle of the night (or in broad daylight) is still a fact of life for many people. Disproportionately mostly black people, as always, of course, but also anyone else unlucky enough to walk into a roadblock with the wrong kind of plant in their pocket. That kind of oppression not only hasn’t gone away, it appears to be on the rise again. Does writing songs about it help much? Well, if it *actually* did, then Bob Marley would have solved all of the world’s problems by now. Some problems might be unsolvable, like the problem of people exercising power over one another, or the problem of festering hatred as a political ideology. There’s no song that can fix that. The only thing a song can do is lift people’s spirits enough to get them through the day, to inspire and motivate them to carry on chipping away at the problems of the world, enough that maybe after generations of dedicated chipping, the world may start to change for the better. That’s the only hope, really.
Do you have a song that you feel helped make you who you are? Because you listened to it when you were 12 and heard your future self? I always listened to this song and thought that that’s how I want to be described someday; a woman who knows what she’s worth and lives to have a really good time. I wanted to be the kind of lady who is spoken of with admiration by melancholy men in suits, very much. In other words, this was my jam growing up. It was aspirational. You can say that Roxy Music helped make me the upstanding person that I am today. My aspirations have always been modest enough, I think, and I think I’ve achieved them well enough, thank you.
Remember when everybody seemed to own at least one Cat Stevens album? Usually it was Tea for the Tillerman, but there were others and there was at least one in every stack of vinyl. It was a phenomenon. Cat Stevens himself no longer exists as such; he took a very very long sabbatical from the music industry before recently coming back as Yusuf Islam. Nonetheless, everybody still knows him and his hits, and despite some problematic things he’s said and done, everybody still loves his music. That’s partly because it’s hard to think of a more likable fellow, and mostly because Cat Stevens’ music is inoffensive and broadly appealing in the best possible way. We usually use the word inoffensive as a veiled insult, meaning that something is bland, toothless, stripped of any potential rough edges. In this case, inclusive might be a better word. Cat Stevens’ music is thoughtful and positive and aims to speak to everyone. The guy had the light of God on him way before he ever realized it.