Now that we are two albums deep into the sf59 pop phase, my God, I realize how much I miss Americana. I like The Fashion Focus and Everybody Makes Mistakes. Some of my favorite sf59 songs are on those LPs. But they were never my go to albums. I don’t consider this sf59 era to be my era. Americana is part of me. TFF and EMM are albums I own. That is the difference.
Everything in this song is sublime to me. I love the Americana era guitar tones and this song’s lead guitar is as clear and pure a tone as I’ve ever heard. The lead notes hang in the air with a softness and sweetness like what you would hear from the voices in a boy’s choir. How can the sound overflow with emotion but still remain so fragile?
The layers of the song are simple and the approach worked here. If anything else had been added to the mix, it would have broken the delicate lead guitar. The acoustic guitar grounds the song. It has that nice, chunky acoustic sound even though it is being played so softly. Rounding out the sound, we have a marimba or xylophone (I never learned how to tell those apart). The lead guitar succeeds because of the marimba supports the guitar and sometimes chases it.
The lead vocals are overdubbed and JM does well keeping the pitch even. His voice is silky and fits perfectly with the instrumentation. The highlight comes in the outro with the extended call and response of “sorry I broke your heart” from the lead vocals and “I was 17” from the background vocals. The voices swirl in and out of each other as the intensity in the music increases over an ascending chord progression. And it just keeps on going. I love how JM holds on to an outro and won’t let go.
The music stops and we are left with a repeating sound effect (a delay of some kind?). You hear someone chuckle and some background noise as instruments are put down. Had I been the one in charge at the time, I would have cut that off, but I would have been wrong. I still find it to be endearing after all these years.
Sorry I broke your heart Left you with no start Don’t you know I wish I could take back the time
17, I was 17
Ah, the universal theme of guilt about what you have done in the past. I feel this one in my marrow. I think it is the human condition to hurt or be hurt, although we usually like to pretend that we are above all that. It is a hard thing to evaluate your own actions and how you have impacted other people, even harder when you find mistakes, pain and regret in the process.
Sorry about our plans Left you with no band Thought you’d be alright
This verse seems to indicate that he’s singing about a former band member. I remember there being a few angry band breakup songs back on Americana. It was sort of the Rumors era of sf59.
The fact that this is not about a romantic relationship makes me like it even more. It is hard enough to hold yourself accountable with a significant other. It takes even more courage to hold your own feet to the fire for a relationship some might consider disposable. This is the mark of a decent person.
Don’t you know I wish I could take back the time
The fact that this sentiment is posed as a question intrigues me. He could have said it a simpler way. But asking it as a question implies that there is an intimacy in the relationship. The object of his apology should know the singer well enough to know what kind of person he is, how he would feel and what he would do.
Sorry I broke your heart I was 17
The implication here is “I did this horrible thing to you because I was young and didn’t know any better.” As if youth alone causes such folly. When I was closer to 17, this seemed plausible. Now it certainly does not. I’m still trying to figure this relationship business out lo these decades later.
What happens when you are all grown up and you still haven’t figured it out yet? Does the line have the same impact if you are singing “sorry I broke your heart/I was 33”?
We start with a Beatlesesque piano chord. The chord has a pulse, you can feel it swirling from left to right, over and over. As it reverberates, we hear the clean, three note melody break through. Da da daaaaa. It’s that last note that gets you where you don’t expect. Another chord hits and bounces back and forth on your speakers. And here’s the melody line again. Da da daaaa. That third note. Reason and experience tell you that note should be at least a half step higher. That’s how it gets you; it surprises.
The rest of the song is constructed out of parts we’ve already heard in other places. (What sounds like) a drum machine kicks out a simple beat. An acoustic guitar scratches out a basic rhythm. It is embraced by a soft electric guitar with a muddy tone, maybe with a little chorus pedal. The piano alternates between chords and that haunting, three note melody. Layers of synthesizers fill in space. The pace is slow and hypnotic.
JM’s baritone is silky here. It doesn’t stand out. The voice glides over the smooth instrumentation. Every element of the music is sanded down. There are no rough edges here. Nothing stands out, but there’s also nothing here that doesn’t fit in. At least not in the original song.
I’m going to bet that there are many passionate opinions about the saxophone reprise. A Kenny G type saxophone exploration of an album closer is something that, by theory, we could say does not belong on a sf59 album. I like it, personally. Maybe I am kind to it because I played saxophone. I think the main reason I like it is because you can hear the breath moving through the horn. You can hear the tongue on the reed. I am continually bedeviled by synthesized horn sections on studio albums so I appreciate the authenticity here.
I left you two alone With nothing really wrong But you messed up the party
It seemed like a good day to write this as this song is about equal parts party and disappointment. Surely the holiday season has brought you close to either parties and/or disappointment. Maybe we’ll take a moment to commiserate in our shared experience.
People are always trying to mess up the party. It even happened at the first party I remember going to. The memory of this party was brought back like a flash into my consciousness by a recent purchase of cowgirl boots.
Cowgirl boots have always meant victory to me. I suppose they are my version of the smell of napalm in the morning. I’ve wanted a pair of cowgirl boots for decades now but never had an occasion where 1) I found a pair I liked and 2) had the money to buy them. I finally bought a pair a couple of months ago. Victory was at hand again.
I never did you wrong You keep on wasting holidays I guess I could be wrong I never wasted holidays
These weren’t my first cowgirl boots. My first pair was given to me on my sixth birthday. My mom gave them to me before my birthday party because she wanted to take pictures with me wearing them.
My birthday parties where always shared with my granny, whose birthday was a week after mine. They were usually stuffy, quiet affairs in restaurants where you might expect a strange, pink fruit salad or inedible garnish to end up on your plate at any moment. It is certainly not the kind of thing one wears her cowgirl boots to, but my mom didn’t get that memo.
Once we were inside and my mom was distracted making arrangements, my brother decides it is time for me to get my birthday spanking. I could tell by the burning light in his eye that this was not going to be any joking matter. I ran out of the restaurant as fast as my boots could fly, my brother mere steps behind.
I burst out of the front door and into the blazing light of the sun. My birthday is in winter and the weather is always horrible. I believe that I’ve only seen the sun shining on my birthday about four times in my entire life. This was the first.
We’d had ice and snow in the weeks leading up to my birthday, but it had all melted away or so I thought as I rounded the sidewalk outside the restaurant. My plan was to run circles around the building until my brother got tired and gave up. A solid enough plan until I rounded the corner to the dark side of the building, the side that never saw sunlight, the side with an eight foot long solid sheet of ice.
For a split second, the image of the dark ice registered in my brain before my feet hit the ice. I had no time to stop. I couldn’t even slow down. Going at a full sprint, I launched into that long, cold expanse.
A friend like you is all I need I wanna know You messed up the party
Time shifted in that way that it does when you see you are two seconds away from a car crash or when you look in someone’s eyes and realize you are in love. I remember everything around me. I remember bricks of the building, colored like dirty sand. I remember that the surface of the ice was not smooth. I rode over its small hills and valleys, instinct moving my body towards balance.
You would think that cowgirl boots and ice would not make a good mix, but I made it through unscathed. My brother and his sneakers didn’t fare so well. He hit the ice hard after only making a foot or two. He gave up his pursuit of the birthday spanking. We returned to the party, me triumphant and he subdued.
I never did you wrong You keep on wasting holidays I guess I could be wrong I never wasted holidays
But this song was about parties and disappointment, right? I’ve gone on about the party but neglected the darker half. Just like that third note of the melody, this story hits me where I don’t expect it. It surprises me.
All I ever wanted was to get along and have some fun, at least where parties are concerned. Even though I made it through my sixth birthday unconquered, disappointment remains as as I see all the ways that dysfunctional personality dynamics that made the story back then are still alive today. The absent father. The mother so distracted trying to meet expectations that she doesn’t realize what is going on around her. The brother out for blood. And me, I’m still floating across the all black ice that I’m surprised to find in my path, instinct moving me towards balance.
And I’m disappointed. I don’t understand why it still has to be that way.
I wanna know I wanna know I wanna know I wanna know
It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. I would like to say that it was because I was busy going places, but that’s not true. In the time since my last post, I’ve seen the rise and fall of expectations for the Gold reissue. It seems like some of y’all’s Gold records went places you didn’t want them to go. Too soon?
“Going Places” is sublime from beginning to end. I’ve written many a’time about the layers of sound in sf59 songs. But think back to how those layers sounded back in the Silver days. Yes, there were multiple layers, but they all sounded the basically the same. In “Going Places”, we hear JM master the many layers so that each sounds distinct. Each part plays off another, leading us through the hypnotic, interwoven sound.
We start off with multiple guitars that sound like we have caught them in the middle of an ongoing chord progression. The drums punctuate the guitar chords. The cymbals crash as the main hook of the song begins. There’s some other percussion sound here that sounds a bit like castanets. I have no idea what the actual instrument is as I am woefully ignorant on percussion matters. It adds a nice texture to the beginning. I don’t think anything like this would have been used on Gold (and even if it was, could you hear it?).
The guitars weave in and out of each other. They start a call and response with the keyboards that is one of the hallmarks of this song. The guitars set up the hook to be completed by the keys. The bass is mobile as it sticks with the guitars for the first part of the hook followed up by a descending line during the keyboard response. On the second go round of the hook, the bass jumps up an octave during the guitar part just to add a little kick.
The vocal harmonies in the verses add a nice flavor. The main vocals are rich for one of the earlier albums. It sounds like he’s getting closer to finding the right key to sing in. The vocals are wistful during the “going places” refrain. This is may favorite part of the song. The strings set up the tension before the vocals jump in on the refrain with all of their longing and regret. After the vocals drop out, the keys carry the melody and the emotion through the outro. The strings become more prominent and embrace the moments between the melody. The whole outro is one of the most skillful, wordless expressions of longing I’ve ever heard.
As for the lyrics, I found that I don’t have much to say about them. I was mostly ignorant of the lyrics in the verses until I had to look them up to write this. It’s had me stumped for awhile. I still can’t figure out anything to say about them other than it has a bit of a throwing shade aspect to it. And, honestly, I don’t find that to be nearly as interesting as the music so I will ignore the lyrics mostly.
This is not to say that the song does not have meaning for me. I listened to this song many a’night when I was delivering pizza while in college. The call of “going places” took on mythical importance to me. I didn’t even pay attention to the essential “I don’t want to go” part of the phrase even though I could, at least, understand those lyrics. I didn’t want to think about places I didn’t want to go. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the places I could go after I finished college and became a real adult. What sort of life would I have? What kind of people would I meet? Could I find an atmosphere where I would fit in? Could I find a place were I could thrive? These were the things I longed for and they found expression in that “going places” refrain.
As it turns out, I didn’t go anywhere after college. I stayed where I am. My father’s health is not good and I knew that my mother would need help eventually. So I stayed behind. Remembering now all the longing I felt listening to this song in my early twenties, I am struck with the irony that the song now has more of a message of staying in places I don’t want to stay.
This sounds sadder than it really is. I am content with my life where I am even though I know there are places where I would fit better. I’m not sure what I would do with myself if I actually fit in somewhere. How does one live like that anyway? I have no clue.
And I find ways to go places even while remaining in the same place. Going places is not so much about physical location now as it is about how you move when you are where you are. I’m continually going places with reading or writing. My mind goes everywhere I’m inclined to go. There are always mysteries to chase and beauty to see. I’m surrounded by it, even here.
Having conversations with me is not particularly safe territory as I will take the conversation as far as you will allow me. I know few boundaries in dialogue. A friend recently commented to me that she liked our conversations because they were different and they reminded her of the book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. You don’t know where you will end up when you start a conversation with me. Will there be earth-shattering emotional revelations? Will we talk about cat memes? Will we talk about Nazis? Will we talk about the B-52s? Will MST3K references make an appearance? Will we discuss the history of the Catholic Church as interpreted by a Protestant? All of that is probable.
My understanding of going places has changed by necessity, much like a flower will break through pavement just to grow. Whether you are going or staying, whether you are where you want to be or going places you don’t want to go, you have to find a way to keep pushing, to keep reaching. You shrivel up and die if you don’t.
is our spooky song for the album. The lead guitar lays out a
reverb-laden, creepy melody line in the intro. The fuzzy guitar effect
from “20 Dollar Bills” and “No More Shows” (JM was really into that effect on
this album; I am glad it was a short-lived fascination) is back on the rhythm
guitar. It counters the powerful melody of the lead by scratching out
chords that make you feel unsettled. You are made to understand that
something is not right here.
bass and the drums hold steady throughout the verses but break loose in the
chorus. The drums do some fills and the bass runs down and then up the
fretboard. The vocals are decent but have trouble standing apart from all
the rest of the noise in this song. The vocals are overdubbed but not
quite in sync, lending to that that something is off.
song ends in a buzzing minor chord that is held as long as it can be. This
is a trick that we saw on “Too Much Fun”. In many ways, this song tries
to be the “Too Much Fun” of this album, the discordant rock out tune with the
layers of sound. It doesn’t hit the heights of “Too Much Fun”, but,
really, what in this life ever does?
This is how you know when you can’t do right Think you should have gone for a country life Good for nothing when you lose your ring Good for nothing but a dethroned king
Today’s song interpretation comes to you courtesy of my Halloween costume I’ll be wearing at a party. By luck, my best friend was also invited to this party. We’ve had a pact for years that if we were ever both invited to a costume party, we would go as the Beales of the cult classic documentary Grey Gardens. I will go as the matriarch, Big Edie. My friend is going as the stylish daughter, Little Edie (I’m going over to his house after I write this to make sure his drag is on point).
Edies were from the Bouvier family, old money from Europe. They were aunt
and cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. They were the closest that you
could get to royalty in this country, from a wealthy, established family in the
social register in New England. They were within arm’s reach of the most
powerful people in the country. But something went wrong.
The documentary was made in the mid-70s when the pair lived alone in absolute squalor in a 28 room mansion named Grey Gardens in the East Hamptons. They had no running water and were overrun by feral cats, raccoons and imported garden plants that had not been tended in decades. Big Edie was abandoned by her husband because of her increasingly crazy behavior and obsession with becoming a famous singer. She was left with the mansion and a small stipend of about $60 dollars a month to live on. Little Edie did not marry even though the richest man in the world once proposed to her because she believed that she would become a famous dancer if she could only get her break. Instead of getting her break, she moved into Grey Gardens to care for her mother.
They got by on no money by selling what rings and Fabergé had not already been stolen from them. Neither of them worked. People from the aristocracy don’t work as secretaries, you know. They invented ways to fill up their time by singing, dancing and creating costumes out of drapes, tablecloths with head coverings made of pastel hand towels. They had been living like this for decades at the time that the documentary was filmed. And they are, without a doubt, crazy. Little Edie, in particular, is plagued by paranoia, thinking that strange men peer at her from the privet hedge.
A dethroned king
All of this has made me wonder what it is like for a person who was born into a position of influence and power and know no other life to lose that. What happens to them when power is stripped from them? As this lyrics states, a dethroned king is still a king. He’s not described as a guy who used to be king. Who else can he be but who he was born and raised to be? And so it was with the Edies. They still consider themselves aristocracy as the walls of Grey Gardens fall in around them courtesy of the raccoons who have taken up residence in the spaces between rooms.
Grey Gardens is fascinating in that in makes you wonder what made them so crazy. Was it the poverty? Was it the decades of isolation? Were they crazy from the very beginning and that is why they were abandoned? They would tell you that they are not crazy; they are women of conviction and belief in their talents. They were born into a culture that did not allow for women to have conviction or follow their desires and so they were spat out to fend for themselves. Little Edie refers to herself as a staunch character. “S-T-A-U-N-C-H”. Staunch women don’t break, “they don’t weaken… no matter what.”
This is how you know when you can’t do right Think you should have gone for a country life Good for nothing when you lose your ring Good for nothing but a dethroned king
Even though they were living in abject poverty as bad as any coal miner’s family from Kentucky in the ‘70s, they still saw themselves as aristocracy. They were good for nothing else. They might have fared better had they sold Grey Gardens and lived in a modest home out in the country. But the aristocracy doesn’t live like that. To give up their home was to give up their station in life and they could not abide it.
A dethroned king
at their elderly age, they believed that if they could just get their talents
in shape, they would become famous and be returned to the life they were born
to live. It was certainly delusional thinking, but I have to admire their
One of the most famous scenes in the documentary is Big Edie singing “Tea For Two”, extolling the virtues of a reclusive life with the one you love. She caresses the multicolored straw sun hat on her head as if it was a tiara. She gestures her hands like a professional performer. She loses herself towards the end, rips the hat off her head and bellows indecipherable syllables. She regains her composure just in time for the last line, “Oh can’t you see how happy we would be?” The dual themes of a delusional grasp of current reality and the heady mix of dreams and fantasy that permeate the film are distilled into this one moment.
I’ve been practicing the song so that I can perform it. It is one part classically trained, one part elderly and one part crazy. Big Edie is a soprano. I am a contralto. It takes some work to mimic this unique performance, but I have learned from it. There is no room for being timid. There is no time for being concerned about how you might appear to others. You just go for it, full-throated, like you were born for it. It is a staunch attitude I would do well to practice more in my own life. I was never born to power or influence, but I can learn how to tap into them more by observing these dethroned, noble women.
This song is the sound of things to come. It seems to belong to Leave Here a Stranger more so than this album. It’s a good driving song, with its steady, relaxed tempo and LHAS is a driving album. It has that feeling of driving around with the windows down, rolling past a summer sunset and smelling the honeysuckle in the air. Or maybe it’s that I just can’t wait to get to LHAS because it is my favorite and my restlessness is showing.
song builds in layers. After a short drum intro, we get dual acoustic
guitars and a synthesizer laying out the laid back rhythm. In four
measures, we get a second synthesizer adding harmony to the mix. In
another four measures, the bass and the lead guitar jump in. This intro
takes it’s time setting the mood before the vocals begin.
vocals are clear and take a more prominent place in the mix than what we
typically hear on a sf59 song. We get a back up harmony vocal in places
that adds to the fullness of the song. Each instrumental part takes its
chance to grab your attention. The synthesizers swell in the
chorus. The acoustic guitar gets its own solo moment. The bass
jumps around through most of the song until it stands out with descending lines
in the outro. But even in these moments, nothing stands out too
much. There are no soaring solo moments in this song, just a steady
These are what you like So I’ll turn in my card ‘til the payment’s right These are things you need I’ll turn in my card until the payment’s right
song is about belonging. We could take this in several different
directions. It could be about taking on a name in marriage. It
could be about the atonement found in Christ’s sacrifice. It could be
about joining a band. Whichever way we go with it, it is about finding
people you belong with. There is a sense that the relationship might be
transactional because of the mention of payments, but, for the singer, it is
more than that. He enjoys being around the person and enjoys the sense of
belonging they have with each other.
go with the band interpretation. This not because I think it is the right
or the best interpretation, but because I went to a marching band competition
over the weekend. It brought back so many memories from high
school. When I walked next to the field and heard the drum line beat out
a marching cadence, my breath hitched. I was transported back a quarter
century and all those summer and fall days I spent marching in that line
with a group of about 80 kids, all of them exquisitely diverse and quirky.
‘Cause I like it when you’re hanging around And I like it when you’re hanging around ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my name
didn’t join the band because I wanted to be in the band. I joined because
I wanted to hang out with my friends who were already in band. I learned
the saxophone just well enough to be able to play along with everyone
else. I had no intention of being any better than that.
Soon some of my other friends followed me in joining the band, like I was some kind of pied saxophonist. We all spent a lot of time hanging around. Day long road trips were equal parts conversation and sarcasm. When all the people became too much for introvert me, I would put the She’s the Queen cassette in my Walkman and listen to it for hours, finding a place of solace amidst all the over sized personalities corralled together in that yellow bus speeding down the interstate.
These are things you say When we drive in a car with the songs we make These are things I need Know when to call and know when to leave
my best efforts to remain a mediocre musician, I ended up learning a lot from
that experience. There’s something about learning to breathe in and out
at the same time as the people around you. You work together (with some
people you may have nothing in common with and may not even like) to form
shapes on the field that have meaning. You learn to listen to everyone
around you so you know when you are out of tune. You learn to watch the
people around you to learn when you are in the out of place or out of
step. You learn your place as a part of a whole. And isn’t that what
belonging is really about? Finding your place, your rhythm, your note
that blends in with those around you.
‘Cause I like it when you’re hanging around And I like it when you’re hanging around ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my name ‘Cause you took on my, on my name
the bands at the competition this weekend, I realized how much I missed sharing
that kind of unified purpose with a group of people. I miss the kind of
conversations that you end up having with people because you are stuck next to
them for hours and you have to find a way. Conversations these days don’t
have that forced element to them. If someone gets on my nerves now, I can
leave. I don’t have to work my way through it. Maybe these kinds of
restraints lead to deeper relationships because you have to work for them.
I still miss hanging around those guys, even the ones who got on my nerves the most. I miss the shared purpose. I miss the belonging. But, as this song says, you have to know when to leave and once you leave, you can never go back. You can’t step into the same river twice. The closest you can come to it is to remember that once you shared a name and a purpose with those people. What you learned from them is never far away because it is a part of who you are now. And in this, the belonging never ends.
This song has a weird way of sounding
sparse even though there’s several layers to it. Maybe it’s the drums
that make it this way. The song starts off with a sparse drum track that
sounds like one of those pre-programmed percussion tracks you can select on
your keyboard to help you keep time. It could be the opening of an early
‘90s New Jack slow jam. It stays simple throughout the song with just a
few extra hi-hat hits on occasion and maybe a few isolated hits on a
The bass seems simple too. It blends in with the
keyboards throughout the song except for a few walk downs during the
verses. The keyboards are more layered. The base keyboard track is
has an organ sound playing chords that stretch out into time. The second
keyboard track has more of a woodwind sound. It floats over the surface,
playing higher notes, adding accents to everything else going on. The third
keyboard track is a rather Beatles-esque piano playing alternating notes before
the chorus and playing chords at a steady tempo the rest of the song.
The lead vocal is soft and full of longing. There
is a whispered overdub track that’s not quite in time. This kind of trick
might be considered sloppy elsewhere but here it fits. The layered
harmonies really prop up the main vocals. The ‘ba-ba-ba-da” backup vocals
help to keep the vocals moving where it could have lagged if it was just the
main vocal alone. The backup harmonies in the chorus weave in and out of
the keyboards and the guitars in an intoxicating way. You can feel how
hard the singer wants us to just try.
The main guitar plays lonely notes over the verse with
reverb and a hint of overdrive. The notes drop down during the chorus to
make space for a second guitar with a clear tone and reverb playing punctuated
chords that hit you like the pangs of isolation. And isn’t that just what
isolation is like – seconds blending into each other only to be interrupted
searing, reverberating memories of how things used to be.
This song and the next are sort of codependency
companion pieces. It never occurred to me before, in part because the
themes are not in the order you would expect. We are dealing with the
pain of loss first. It isn’t until the next song that we hear the joy in
the relationship before it’s end. So, yes, it’s out of order – a bit like
a Quentin Tarantino film or a George Lucas trilogy. But once you know this,
it’s easier to follow along.
So this is how it feels when you’ve got no one So this is how it feels when you’ve got no home I don’t wanna be alone Sitting by a no ringing telephone I don’t wanna be alone
Sometimes these tales I write about my life come out
sounding like I am the hero of my own story. I do not intend this.
I do not think of myself as a hero. Sometimes the more complicated
details get left out of a story because it doesn’t fit the lyrics or it bogs
down the narrative. If you were to observe me in the wild, you would find
me much more complex than what is represented here. I can’t decide where
this story fits in the hero paradigm. It is either conclusive evidence
that I am not a hero or it is the best hero story I have. I don’t know…
When my ex broke up with me last year, the decision
came down hard, angry and without warning. A Sunday begins by relaxing in
bed, playing video games and eating junk food; it ends with your real life
turned upside down. She has moved to the other side of the house and you
are crying in bed, alone and heaving up every bit of that junk food you ate in
the morning. This is how it feels when you realize that you have no one
now and the home you thought you would have for the rest of your life is gone.
Food did not pass my lips again for several
weeks. I lived on coffee and nicotine until my stomach could no longer
handle the coffee either. I passed the time by chain smoking and staring
off into space. The breaking of a heart is a physical experience as much
as it is anything else. It was rather like withdrawing from drug.
My body shivered constantly though I was not cold. I could not sleep nor
rest. The excessive bile in my gut passed through me any way it could,
almost like my body was purging itself of a poison.
So we’ll just try Just try…
I wanted this to be over and for things to go back as
they were. I pleaded with my ex that we work together to find some way
through it, that we just try. I begged, my voice as full of longing as
the singer in the chorus. She was not interested in trying. The
conditions she set for even beginning to try were more than I could ever meet.
I still tried on my own. I thought that if I said
the right words, some magical phrase, or did the right things, I could convince
her that our relationship was worth some effort. It had not yet dawned on
me that if you are with the right person, you don’t have to work so hard to convince
them that you and the relationship are of worth.
So this is how it feels when you’ve got no eyes So this is how it feels when you’ve got no one I don’t wanna be alone Sitting by a no ringing telephone I don’t wanna be alone
I felt blind. I was surrounded by darkness and
could not feel my way through. I was scared. But time in the
darkness gains you night vision. Your sight adjusts until you can spot
variations in the blackness and begin make out shapes surrounding you. It
turns out that night vision was what I needed to spot the subtle variations of
my psyche that I missed in the light of day.
I was sitting on my bed shivering, covered in blankets,
when I realized that I was shivering because I was afraid. I asked
myself, “What are you so afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of being alone.”
It seems like such an obvious thing, but I did not know
it until that moment. I tried to track this fear of being alone back to
it’s source. When was the last time I felt alone? I peered on the
expanse of my life and I saw how much I had done to avoid being alone.
All the relationships I jumped into, all the shit I put up with just to try to
keep the peace and keep a relationship going. And all of this was done
with the complete ignorance that my motivation was to never be alone, whatever
My mind raced past all the years until I saw myself as
an eight year old girl with pigtails and a secondhand sweater, sitting on the
ground playing in the dirt and rocks, alone. That little girl had to
endure things that no one should and she did it alone, with no friends and
little family support. She couldn’t leave. She couldn’t change what
was happening. She could only do the best that she could to protect
herself and survive.
This is what being alone meant to me. It is no
wonder I worked so hard for so many years to avoid it. It frightened me
so much that I consciously avoided any awareness of it. But now it was
named. After decades of running from this unknown monster, it was known
and it was named.
It is a funny thing that I was able to keep myself
blind to it for so many years, especially since I listen to songs like this
one that call out this fear, plain and true. I have I really been
singing this song for years without even recognizing the many ways it calls out
what is at the core of my being? How is it that a reasonably intelligent
person can be so clueless?
So we’ll just try Just try…
Now that I understood this about myself, I looked back
on my relationship with new eyes. The reason I wanted to try to mend the
relationship was less about any love for her and more about my fear of being
alone. That’s probably true of the entire relationship. This is no
easy thing to admit about your own motivations, that you would pull someone close
and keep them near you, not out of love for them but because you don’t want to
Of course, I didn’t consciously know this. I
believed that my love for her was independent of any needs of my own. The
mind will trick you like that, you know. But you don’t have to
necessarily know that a you are committing a crime to be charged with it and
convicted of it. I plead guilty.
This is the evidence that I am not a hero. But,
at the same time, it is the best hero story I have. Erich Fromm says that
this fear of being alone is the central anxiety that we try to overcome all of
our lives. It is the human condition. It’s what drives us to get
married and have children. It drives us to create, to write, to do crazy
things like join marching bands. It’s why we read or listen to music – to
know that we are not alone.
In its darker impulses, it drives us to possess.
We scramble for money, power and influence to gain more and more. We
segregate off into little tribes where we feel we belong. We wage wars to
keep what we have. The struggle of all of human history boils down to
this. How many of us are willing to admit that it’s all because….
are celebrating Day 50 with one of the best, “No More Shows”. This song’s
got swagger. It is catwalk strut. It is cocky, sassy and glam.
And I love it. It’s probably the closest thing to the sass of I
Am The Portuguese Blues that we hear in the early albums. If I
am ever in a situation where I have walk in front of someone who has given me
shit before, I should play this song in my head so I can get my strut on.
drums are bombastic. The bass walks up and down. The guitar tracks
are grounded by a gritty acoustic. The fuzzy guitar from “20 Dollar
Bills” is back, but I can tolerate it this time. There’s enough sound
around it to support it. The lead guitar has a shiny tone. Rather
than taking up all the attention in the room, it weaves in and out of the
rhythm and bass, breathing more life in the hook of this song. The synths
play a counterpoint to the hook, sometimes sounding almost pensive. It
adds complexity to what would be a straightforward rock tune.
The vocals are almost thin but that works out with the attitude of the song. This song is not about expressing some weighty truth. It’s about being here but yet untouchable. We’ll hear this kind vocal approach more in later albums where it becomes more nuanced. The vocals slide long with the hook in the guitars and joins in with the drum punctuations. The vocals functions more as another instrument in the mix. That works on this song.
When there’s no heart Yeah, I wanna live again Can’t delay it no, no more No, you’ve got no heart
After my breakup last year, my ex peddled a hard luck victim story to any who would listen and possibly believe it. She wanted a white knight to swoop in and give her a place to live. As it turns out, she found two of them – a couple who used to go to our church until they moved out of state. They believed the tale and gave her a place to live. Where there is a victim in a story, there has to be a villain and, of course, I was given this role. The couple believed this too as I figured out when I was unfriended on FaceBook. I didn’t think much of it until the couple walked back into my territory one day.
traveled back here to deal with some family business. They attended
church during their visit. I walked through the church door to see them
and their children buzzing about and talking with people. I decided to
chill and see how they behaved. They seemed to be trying very hard to
avoid me so I didn’t push it.
the service wound down, it was time for communion. We run our communion
by having two servers at the front and anyone who wishes comes up and partakes
of the elements. As I walked up to serve the bread, I thought, “I am
going to serve this bread like a fucking boss!” A loose translation of
this is that I wanted the love of God to shine through and that the tension
between us would not be a barrier to the ritual. It was not a time to
hold on to grievances. More important work was at hand. The entire
family filed past me, taking the bread as their eyes were cast on the floor.
I thought, “Well, maybe they are just deeply communing with the Lord.”
After church, most of the regular church members and the family decided to go out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. I debated on whether I should even go but decided that I could sit next to some of my friends and make it through the meal unscathed. I stayed behind to help some folks that dropped by to get some things from our community clothing closet. I joined the part about 20 minutes later. I’ll admit it; I was stressed on the drive there wondering what sorts of awful things they would be saying about me. I tried to wipe the thoughts from my mind, but fear tends to be persistent.
walked into the Mexican restaurant and saw that they put three tables in a row
for our party. There were regular church members at the table on the
right and the left. The couple sat alone at the table in the middle (the
kids didn’t come). The only place for me to sit was directly across from
stood under the door frame and growled under my breath, “Oh shit. This is
going to be awkward.”
I try to sleep but I think a lot I’m driving streets that just never stop When you know there’s gonna be When you know there’s gonna be no more shows
brain screamed, “Abort! Abort!” My stubbornness ended up winning the day.
“I’m going to sit right there and I’m going to own it, no matter what
happens.” Stubbornness can be a bitch sometimes.
I sat down, leaned back and discerned the situation. They were so intent in not acknowledging my existence that they practically had to focus all their attention on the view under the table to avoid it. I observed this and pondered what it was about. Were they still so mad at me that they could not look me in the face? Were they feeling shame because I was the butt of some joke they had been repeating for months? Were they just tired from their trip and family business?
This questioning is a funny thing. It’s a trick that you learn for survival if you grow up in an unstable environment. Observe behavior. Question motives. Do it enough and you begin to see patterns. If you can see the patterns, you know what will happen before it does. You know when to duck. You know when to acquiesce. You know when to cajole. You know how to survive. You may even be able to bend events to your will, if you are clever and swift.
That knowledge to predict future and possibly bend it to your will is power. Next to procreation, it’s probably the closest us mere mortals can come to the power of the gods. That power comes at a price. You can never stop driving down those well-worn streets in your brain, those streets that lead you to calculating probabilities and making educated bets. Those streets just never stop and you can never stop driving on them. If you do, you render yourself blind, an immobile target for anyone to hit.
drove down those streets in my brain as I watched them across the table.
I factored the probabilities and checked them against known behavior
patterns. I decided their avoidance of me was 20% shame, 80% anger.
When there’s no goals Yeah, I wanna live again Can’t delay it no, no more No, you’ve got no soul
period of observation and prediction lasted about 30 seconds, then I spoke to
them. My mom did teach me how to act, after all. I told them that
it was good to see them again. There was silence for about 5 seconds.
The husband (the beta of that relationship) lifted his eyes to about the
level of my stomach and muttered something about how it was good to see
everyone and then looked at the floor again. Now I knew for certain who I
was dealing with. They showed their hands and they weren’t particularly
Stubbornness piped up again in my brain, “You own your space. They ain’t got nothing on you.” So I owned my space. I leaned back and stretched my arm across the backs of the two chairs to my left (I have long arms). No defensive body language from me, oh no. I owned the middle. I jumped from conversations on the left side of the table to the right side. I leaned in. I laughed. I kept other people laughing. I verbally strutted from one side of those tables to the other. I did my little turn on the catwalk, on the catwalk, as the old song used to say. And it felt good. I felt alive.
I try to sleep but I think a lot I’m driving streets that just never stop When you know there’s gonna be When you know there’s gonna be no more shows
Even in the midst of all my open, confident body language and my jokes, I still was driving down those streets in my brain. Those streets just never stop. I watched what they did, calculated their behaviors and crunched probabilities in my brain as I danced from one conversation to the next. Their insistence on ignoring my existence meant that they locked themselves out of conversations with the people they came to see, the people they missed. And I felt pity for them because of it.
would cause a person to do this? They were holding on to something so
tight that it was more important than spending time with people they loved.
What did they need so much that they had to hold on to it with such a
goes back to the victim story, I think. I know how my ex operates.
She will love bomb someone into oblivion if she thinks she can get
something out of them. They were the white knights who saved her and I’m
sure she played that up. They need to believe they are the white knights,
I suppose. It must fill some void within them. Holding on to that
belief was more important than anything else at that moment. Questioning
that I might be the villain I was made out to be would make them question the
rest of what she has told them. That was too much of a risk. And I
felt pity for them again.
I was having a particularly funny conversation with the pastor’s wife as we were sharing our theories on the “Abducted in Plain Sight” documentary. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the couple look up. They wanted to know what we were talking about. I turned to them, looked them in the eye and included them in the conversation as if it were the most natural thing to do and there was no tension going on. It actually was the most natural thing to do. I didn’t let the tension stop me. They seemed energized to be included (“The father did WHAT with the abductor in the car?!”). As we left the restaurant, I looked them in the eye again, smiled and wished them a safe trip home. They both responded positively to me that time.
I wish I had thought of this song as this was happening because it would have been so appropriate. I’ve had plenty of tense experiences with people. My pattern has been to endure it as best as I can and contemplate it afterwards. This time was different. It was the first time I understood what was happening in the moment. It was the first time that I acted out of that understanding in the moment. The confidence, the humor, the owning of my space was genuine. I knew I held no shame and no one could make me hold it. It was no show feigning a confidence that did not exist. Now that I know what that is like, now that I know who I am, there will be no more shows.
I’ve been dreading this day since I started this project. This is, hands down, my least favorite sf59 song. Yeah, I said it. It sounds like an attempt to rip off some Lennon/McCartney glory. It feels like it’s in the wrong key. I’m not a fan of the fuzzy guitar. And it just plods on and on. The harps help lend to the feeling that this song lasts an eternity.
Maybe it’s not so much about the song but the fact that it
occurs right before one of my favorite songs. I really just want to get to
“No More Shows”. The same dynamic happened to me on Americana when
the plodding “You Think You’re Radical” was plopped right in front of
“The Translator”. It really probably has more to do with my
impatience than the songs themselves.
This song is such a strange conglomeration of elements. We have the pensive piano and harp. We have the weird space jazz synth coupled with the New Wave synth that would sound appropriate on a John Hughes soundtrack. Then there’s the fuzzy guitar. What’s up with this fuzzy guitar? I’m usually all in favor with JM pedal choices, but this sounds like the cheapest solid state piece of junk ever. There’s barely any bass. No drums. The vocals are alright, but they could stand to put on a little weight.
There. I got it out of my system. Everybody makes mistakes.
Let’s move on.
When you’re done with the run
I wanna take your height
Like everybody else
Who knows you’re coming back
By luring all your friends
With a never ending light
Not 20 dollar bills
That never change your life
That never change your life
I have good things to say here. This is another song longing for the second coming of Christ. A few songs we have looked at already fall into this bucket, but this one has something different to say. Christ draws us near with His never ending light, not the promises of prosperity and materialism. This verse makes it clear who Christ is, who the singer is in relation to Christ and it rebukes prosperity theology. That’s a tall order for a verse, but this one delivers.
It also shows that the singer has grown from The
Fashion Focus. Let’s contrast this song to “I Drive A Lot”. In that
song, we hear the singer thinking mostly about himself, what he feels and what
he does. He questions who he could be and what he could do if he had lots of
money. Here we see the singer is focusing on Christ instead of himself. He has
learned that money doesn’t change your life the way you think it will.
He changes the second verse slightly, replacing “who knows
you’re coming back” with “with a double-decker house”. He calls
out his own participation in materialism. This is not something that would have
happened on The Fashion Focus. After calling out his own
mistakes, he refocuses back on Christ. This song is altogether more mature and
it’s not because of that damn piano or harp either.
Well, that wasn’t so bad after all. I suppose dread is more about the energy you put into it than whatever it is you dread.
We are back to a New Wave sound with “No New Kinda Story”, but it is, I think, for a specific purpose this time. Everything about this song – the sound, the lyrics and the video are a response to Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”. I will not say it is a homage. It is more like a counterpoint someone makes in an argument. Listen to the two songs back to back and you can hear the similarities. You hear it most in the synthesizers. Listen at how Ian Curtis emphasizes the first syllable of a line only to alternate on a later line to emphasize the next to last syllable. Then listen JM and you can hear him mirroring this approach.
But it is the differences that intrigue me. “Atmosphere” is a somber landscape. “No New Kinda Story” is peppy in comparison; you can tell that the emphasis in the music is to feel good and hopeful. Curtis’ vocals cry for connection and to be heard, to be understood. JM’s vocals are steady; his voice seeks to tell you how it is. It is almost matter of fact.
“Atmosphere” is a song that people often think of when contemplating Curtis’ suicide at the age of 23. The lyrics show Curtis begging for connection, imploring another (or perhaps himself) not to give up and walk away. But the lyrics also describe the crippling isolation Curtis felt suffering from depression and epilepsy. He describes how life is so much easier for other people. By contrast, JM’s lyrics tell us that life is really not that bad. We just have to learn how to live out the love that we read about. In comparing the two songs, it is apparent to me that JM’s lyrics are written from a place of privilege. He is a white, heterosexual, middle class Christian male. He is nearly at the top of the social food chain. Things might not be so easy for someone who struggles with disabilities and illnesses. But the misstep here is one of naivete; it is no where near the judgement of The Fashion Focus. This song shows how much JM has grown. And it is nice to believe in the hope and simplicity offered in “No New Kinda Story”.
In order to understand the video for this song, we have to look at its inspiration. The video for “Atmosphere” was directed by Anton Corbijn (who also directed videos for Depeche Mode and U2 around this time). Corbijn likes to film in black and white, showing people in strange costumes walking in striking landscapes while pondering existential realities. In “Atmosphere”, we see figures in white robes with positive symbols on the backs of the robes and figures in black robes with a negative symbols. These robed figures carry large pictures of Ian Curtis through the desert, showing how the the positive and negative aspects of his life carried him through step by step. It is a moving and complex requiem for a troubled person who succumbed to his struggles.
We see the same visual style replicated in the video for “No New Kinda Story”. It is filmed in black and white. It opens with the image of a baby boy in a crib covered in a white sheet. It is the soul incarnate, innocent and frail. The next shot is three women in white robes walking over a rocky landscape followed by two horses (or, I should say, men dressed as horses). These figures appear to be Greek and at first I thought they might be Greek goddesses; but I think they are actually angels. This makes a certain kind of sense. Most of our imagery of angels is based off Renaissance era art and the Renaissance artists stole heavily from the Romans. Of course, the Roman stole everything from the Greeks. Also, it is the Greeks who first came up with the idea of the soul and this video is all about the journey of a soul.
Next we see an old man in a business suit and hat riding an escalator. This old man is the baby from the beginning of the video. Notice that he rides an escalator instead of walking wherever he is going. He is content to be pulled along a predetermined path rather than making his own. As he rides up the escalator, we see one of the angels watching him from a distance. He steps off the escalator. Next we see him walking out of a corporate building or perhaps a medical office. He pounds his newspaper into his open palm as he walks out the door. We see a brief shot of the angel walking on a rocky shore by the ocean. We return to the old man who is still slapping the newspaper in his hand. Something is worrying him; he is agitated.
The shots then quickly alternate between the old man driving his car and the angel walking on the rocky shore. We see a long shot of the angel’s face but it is blurry. Just as the image comes into focus, she closes her eyes to show that she has eerily realistic eyes drawn on her eyelids as her face turns toward the camera lens – to show that she is always watching. She closes her eyes in time with the synthesizer hit in the music that launches the brief, creepy sounding bridge.
The old man is struggling in his car as smoke billows out of the dashboard. I don’t know if this is intended to imply that he had a collision or if he was committing suicide. I would lean toward intentional carbon monoxide poisoning given the allusions to “Atmosphere”, but the logical part of my brain screams that cannot be it because carbon monoxide does not generate smoke. The old man struggles to breath and waves his hat in front if his face to clear the air. We see the face of the angel on the other side of the driver’s side window. The old man reaches toward the window and the door to get out. A black robed hand of a man holds the door shut from outside.
Just as the creepy bridge ends in the song and we return to major keys, the angel opens the car door. The old man slumps forward. He is dead. The angel reaches for him and touches his hand. He stands up while staring at her in confusion. He is not struggling to breath anymore.
We see the angel guiding the old man over the rocky shore. He sits down at a chessboard set on a rock. He looks forward to see his opponent. A man in a black robe gestures while he talks. We do not know what he is saying. I would guess that he is supposed to represent the Devil or a demon, but, really, he just reminds me of Brain Guy from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Brain Guy sits at the chessboard opposite the old man and, of course, he plays with the black pieces.
The old man is nervous as he stares at his opponent. He makes his opening move. Brain Guy makes his countermove and talks some more smack. The angels and horses are watching in the background. We see the image of an egg on white background, perhaps another image representing the soul. Images of the angels and the chess game are mixed with images of food being smashed by a hammer. Brain Guy keeps winning the chess game, knocking over one of the white pieces. The egg is smashed by the hammer. The soul is broken.
The old man takes off his hat. He knows he is beaten. He will not win the battle for his soul. We see the angels and horses walking in a line on the rocky beach like they did at the beginning of the video. The shot of the egg being hit by the hammer is played in reverse and the egg becomes whole again. Brain Guy makes his final chess move, knocking over a white piece. We see the line of angels again, but now the old man is walking between the horses as they guide him over the rocky terrain. The video closes with an image of the empty crib.
The old man has been saved by divine intervention. The angels who watched him his whole life were present during the fight for his soul. When the old man could not win that battle on his own, they save him from Brain Guy. This video raises some interesting theological questions. Did the chess game occur in Purgatory? It happens after his death. Is it possible to be saved after death? Did the old man chose to be saved or was it already predestined that he would be saved? We don’t see him choosing to follow the angels. I believe the Martins are Presbyterian so a Calvinistic interpretation could be probable. It’s a little bit foreign to me, but, hey, how often can you watch a rock video and end up contemplating Calvinism?
If my instincts are right and this song is a response to “Atmosphere”. I think it shows that JM was troubled by the way things ended for Ian Curtis and wanted to reconcile that in some way. The message of the song is a response to the despair Curtis felt. It is part soothing (things are not that bad) and part instructional (this is what we need to live out the all love that we read). The video tells a story about how there may be a path to salvation for Curtis or people like him even though we may not observe it in the mortal realm. The angels are always watching. God is always present. We are never so lost that a hand cannot reach us to guide us over the rocky shores.
So we begin with Everybody Makes Mistakes. Going by the title alone, we may find this album to be more humble than the judgement heavy The Fashion Focus. Saying that everyone makes mistakes implies that you recognize that you make them too. This is a good start.
In “Play the C Chord”, we hear JM going back to basics. The rhythm section is made up of a simple drum beat, a clean bass and at least two acoustic guitars. That’s a solid foundation. The acoustic guitars add a meaty texture to the sound that props up the two lead guitars. The first lead is bursts in at the beginning of the song and holds court during the verses, drenched in reverb and chorus. The second lead comes in in the chorus, playing on slide on some high notes. The first lead fills in space during the chorus playing mid-range arpeggios.
There is a synth in the background filling in space but without the New Wave antics of The Fashion Focus. The main vocals are overdubbed and we get some nice harmony backup vocals in a few places. Nothing in this song is particularly flashy. It’s just a solid, well crafted song.
These friends of mine Fill in the lines To put in the songs you like To fill up your time These friends of mine Who write the lines And we write the songs you like In half the time
Hey, maybe I should get a cowriter to help me fill in the lines and write in half the time. I’ll admit it, getting through The Fashion Focus was a slog. I think there was more to my struggle than just the fact that that it’s not one of my favorite albums. Maybe I only have so much creativity and I’m already tapped out. I mean, I know I’m good for a few stories, but am I good for 50? I’m a good for the hundreds that will be required before this project is over? Gah. It’s frightening to even contemplate.
Something’s wrong if it’s the old news Just play the C chord Like it’s something ‘Cause something’s wrong if it’s the old news Just play the C chord Like it’s something Like it’s something
A funny thing happened on all the days I skipped writing during The Fashion Focus. Everyday I heard a beep on my phone during my usual writing time. Every time I checked my screen, I saw that Siri was recommending my blog to me. Did it take Siri three months to realize that that I might be interested in my own blog or was she nudging me to keep writing?
There’s a pressure inherent to trying to create over an extended period of time. You don’t want to keep repeating the old stuff you’ve already done. But what do you do when you can’t think of anything new to do? Go back to basics. Play the C chord (pretty much the first chord any guitar player learns). Write what you know and what you hear. Keep going at it until something breaks through.
Like it’s something new Like it’s something new Like it’s something new (Play the C chord)
The pieces of this song are all parts that we’ve heard before in previous sf59 songs. But this isn’t just a rehash of old news. It is something new because of how well crafted it is. This may be the turning point when JM grasps the songcraft we know so well in the later albums.
It is, at least, encouraging for me and my endeavors here that going back to basics can be the way to find a new path forward. Just keep going at it like it’s something new.