The Music Blog: The Boss

The thought of going through high school in the 70’s or college in the 80’s without knowing who Bruce Springsteen was seems quite impossible to me. He remains for me one of the more interesting musical figures in my life. I cannot say I am his most avid fan because that would imply that my music collection would include his entire catalogue. I do not have even half of his entire catalogue nor do I want it. Of course, if you want to buy it for me then please knock yourself out. I will say however that the music I have is wonderful and meaningful.

One of the great things about the movie Dazed and Confused is that it captures so nicely what going to high school in the 70’s was like. The fact that the movie is about a high school in Texas only makes it more relevant to me. It certainly captures what high school life was all about. During football season life revolved around Friday night games whether you attended, played or were belonged to the band or drill team or even a cheerleader. Saturdays were something else. There wasn’t really a lot of discussion of what we would do. Sometimes there might be a party, sometimes you might break the monotony up by going to a movie. Maybe you were lucky and actually went out on a date. Regardless, invariably you ended up driving around, whether doing an official drag, or cruise spot or something like what my school did which was mostly piling into a car, driving around and listening to music. That meant, 8 tracks. Most groups who hung out with each other had their go to selections. My group always had the Cars, Journey, if we were smoking weed, and I am not saying we were, it was the Outlaws Green Grass and High Tides, and it most certainly included Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. It was a universally loved song and I am betting that like me and my group part of the magic was figuring out during the pause when that count would start….1, 2, 3, 4 and the ensuing laughter at missing it or boasting that you nailed it.   Forty years later when I hear that song, I still do the same thing and laugh when I miss it and rejoice when I hit it.

In my senior year 80-81 Springsteen released The River, a double album I bought on vinyl and still have.  I went on a double date to see him live that year and its still one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. That girl was so special to me, still is. I remember sitting on her floor in her room and listening to that album which was why I asked her to go in the first place. That entire album makes me think of her and that amazing concert.

College life was all about the album Born in the USA. The album has not held up well to me. In fact, the album wore pretty thin in a very brief time, but I still love the title track and Dancing in the Dark. Bruce lost me with the album Tunnel of Love although I have that album. I was content to let Bruce stay as a beautiful memory and then I saw the documentary The Promise which was actually about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I wanted to follow up on that documentary and went back and bought Darkness. I had never heard the album in its entirety before and it was instant love. The album is my favorite from Bruce Springsteen.

So, I developed an interest in Springsteen’s later albums mostly falling in love with the albums The Rising, and Magic.  It just seems that for every stage of my life Bruce Springsteen has been there and its impossible for me not to think how wonderful that is because I can say that about so few artists. If you have never seen the Bruce Springsteen show that he did on Broadway then I highly recommend it. You will find yourself laughing, crying and just loving every single minute. I saw it on Netflix but I am not sure if its still there. If it is then the show is very much worth your time.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Now

The concept for the song didn’t seem to fit the band in some ways. In other ways it seemed so experimental that it was almost a throw away song. The song was released on compilations multiple times and by the time it was released as a single most had already heard it, so sales were not stellar. Yet the song remains the band’s signature achievement. Mention the song or the band and you automatically think of the other. The songwriter was known for multiple chord songs and so everyone was a bit surprised when he suggested the band write a song around a single chord, in this case F sharp. In typical fashion the musicians spent the entire night working on this song, experimenting and playing with that one single chord. At one point the song was well over eighteen minutes long but they eventually cut it way down although still very long for a single. In the morning, the band’s singer and lyricist walked in, listened to what the band had done and began going through his book of lines, poems and lyrics finally coming to a few lines he had written recently. He thought they could work and so began laying the tracks for the vocals.  It is one of the more interesting facets to the song, a song so long, but with very few actual lyrics.  This is how songs get written.

In one of the more unusual parts of my musical journey, this band rose to prominence and fame and were gone before I had ever heard a single song. I came upon them because I had stopped listening to R&B because of the Seattle bands. In some ways its sort of surprising that I had not heard the band before. I was not cut off from other types of music and should have maybe even did hear the band while I was in college but they didn’t click with me. When I bought a greatest hits album in the early 90’s I believed them to be a lot like New Order or Depeche Mode, two bands that I loved dearly but had missed their early days.  I had no idea that they were no longer together as a band.

The song I described at the beginning is of course How Soon is Now. The song didn’t really resonate with me until the mid 90s. The song I had always loved by the Smiths was Bigmouth Strikes Again. Seriously how great are lyrics that say “sweetness, I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed” all to a snappy up tempo beat. That’s what I love about them, the beauty of Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar to Morrissey’s biting lyrics. And those lyrics do bite. Morrissey had a lot to say and still does which is likely why so many people don’t like him, but I love him. I get him. I love his solo work as much as the work he did with the Smiths. Morrissey doesn’t care if he rubs you wrong. He doesn’t care if he looks petulant walking off a talk show because one of the other guests glorifies in hunting or eating meat. He is true to himself.

How Soon is Now though is the song you think about when someone mentions the Smiths. I know I had heard the song before, probably even countless times but one day that song hit me like a ton of bricks. That iconic intro I just fell in love with, but I wondered why there were so few words to the song. When I finally heard the lyrics and really processed them it was equally stunning. Remember I am not a lyrics guy because most songs are written just like this one, with music written first and then the lyricist looking through bits of line until he or she finds something that works. There is little profound process to it. They are not writing a song just for you. The fact that some songs maybe even most songs do that very thing to me is the astounding thing about music, the miracle the driving force that makes it all become so important to us. How Soon is Now is about shyness and not just any shyness but a shyness criminally vulgar; a self-defeating shyness that encapsulates most of my life with the opposite sex. I am the worst wingman ever. If you expect me to keep some girl company while you woo her best friend, then be prepared to deal with failure. I have fumbled and fought with it all my life no matter how social you think I am. It is just hard for me so I am either silent or talk nonsense about some subject that no one else is interested in. So yea I love the song and I love the band and yea I love Morrissey and I love Johnny Marr.

So oh well get over it.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Smashing Pumpkins

Several years ago before blindness took so much away from me, I was driving home from another stressful day of work. I was listening to satellite radio because I absolutely despise commercials or too much talking. I never understood why people liked morning radio, the stupid skits, the endless talking and the complete lack of music. It always put me in a cranky mood by the time I got to work. I always wanted a morning radio show that played lots of music, no stupidity, maybe a quick news report and a quick traffic report. To me that was perfect. Sirius/XM was the closet I ever found.

So there I was driving along and I changed channels to something edgier and found an ongoing interview with not one but two of my favorite rock stars. The fact that they were being interviewed together and clearly having a good time surprised me because I could not think of two more different rock stars. So, I am sure you want to know who  the two were, right? Well the first was Marilyn Manson, who I love to hear interviewed. The other though was Billy Corgan. Well it turns out that the two are friends and both had made what they felt were come back albums getting back to the music they liked to play and so Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins were touring together. It was the most stimulating interview I had ever heard.

Obviously, since we are on the letter S, today’s blog is about Smashing Pumpkins.  They meet every criteria I have for great music. They have great melodies, great vocals packaged in these wonderful songs that leave me spellbound. I know that not everyone loves them but I just always have. I first heard them on the soundtrack to the movie Singles, which by the way is still one of my favorite movies.  When I heard the song Drown I went to see if they had more music and found the album Gish. It was love at first listen.

I bought Siamese Dream the week that it was released. Soon the song Cherub Rock was all over the radio and band were suddenly superstars. I have always loved that album and I think it and the follow up Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness hold up amazingly well today. That’s what happens when you write great songs. Siamese Dream is one of those albums that just doesn’t have any bad songs. The strength of Billy Corgan is that he doesn’t have to keep writing the same songs over and over. He continues to grow.  For a while in the early 90’s I lived with my best friend and his wife in a huge house in Fort Worth. I pretty much had half of the house to myself. One day when I thought no one was home I was playing Siamese Dream and playing it really loudly. I was doing laundry and cleaning my two rooms and my bathroom. When the album was over, I went to my stereo to play something else and my roommate walked in behind me and scared the crap out of me which of course brought her great joy. I apologized for having the music on so loudly and she waved me off and asked if I could play the album again. This was a person who tended towards county music or quiet storm jazz so it surprised me but I always think of that moment as a way of describing just how good that album is.

I think the defining song for Corgan was the song Today off of Siamese Dream. The song is so seemingly happy and upbeat. The melody of that music just makes you feel good until you realize the song is about depression and was written at a time when Corgan was feeling suicidal. Once you know that the song will never be the same for you. Corgan’s music continues to be as vital today as it ever was, great melodies with insightful strong lyrics. If you have never really listened to the band well sit back and enjoy the ride.

Mike out

Hanukkah

By now many of you know that I am in the process of converting to Judaism. Its actually been a journey of years. I am not Jewish at least yet. I am a conversion candidate, but I have every hope, desire, dream that one day I will be a Jew. Judaism is the only belief system that has ever made any sense to me and it began with a Hanukkah party for a co-worker a long time ago. Since that time, I have dabbled and for the past several years I have had both a Menorah and a Christmas tree even though Christmas never meant that much to me. I always loved the lights.

Last year I had no tree, only a Menorah. I began to be filled with wonder as I had the last few years why lighting those candles in that specific order and saying such a simple blessing would give me such a stunning sense of peace. As Hanukkah continued, I made the decision that it was time to figure out why. I bought two books, one on Judaism and one terrific book on conversion because I wanted to understand Judaism and also to understand what would happen in the conversion process which is a long process and worth every second.  I also had a powerful conversation with a trusted friend over lunch and a few beers and he asked me a lot of questions all of which I had already asked myself. He didn’t judge me. It was one of the most powerful and supportive conversations I had ever had.

I found a rabbi, and a Reform Synagogue close to me and I reached out and that has been the best decision I have ever made.  I try not to get too excited, try to keep it all in perspective even though my nature is to go full bore as fast as I can. I have laughed a lot. I have cried a lot. I have faced personal demons. I have had an amazing conversation with my father. I have also faced Anti-Semitism from an unlikely source, but I knew eventually I would.

Now Hanukkah approaches again and I have been reflecting on what is really a minor holiday. I still am looking forward to lighting those candles and to say those beautiful blessings, this time in Hebrew. Oddly enough I am also really aware of Christmas. I don’t miss it, that’s not it but this time around its pretty different. I am sure next year it won’t be. I don’t really know how to manage some things. A friend asked in a group text what the 5 best Christmas songs were and the 5 worst and I stumbled. Of course, I don’t really know a lot of Christmas songs anyway but it was just whether I should answer or not. Seems silly right? It is silly as all of the friends on that text message know that I am converting and those friends are as special to me as anything in the world. That’s really how its been for me as the days creep along. Hanukkah will be over by the time Christmas comes along. Someone is going to say to me Merry Christmas. So I reflect on all of this and I wait for those candles to be lit. For the record lighting Shabbat candles does this same thing only it’s a wonderful combination of pure joy and peace.

So whatever holiday you are celebrating that’s what I wish.

Peace, Health, Love, Understanding