Friday, January 30, 2015

A Song in My Heart (It Should’ve Stayed There): A Little Traveling Music

Now that my daughter is attending UC Santa Cruz, I have decided that my trips up there are going to be my excuse to visit the great old book and record stores they have up there. Actually, do they even call them record stores anymore? Even CDs are passé these days. Passé or not, I’ve decided I should use the opportunity to buy some CDs of my favorite LPs that I haven’t been able to listen to in a good long while.

On my most recent trip earlier this month, I picked up American Pie by Don McLean, Graceland by Paul Simon, and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s concert album, Nine Tonight. “American Pie” was Don McLean’s biggest hit and, at eight-and-a-half minutes, is one of the longest songs to reach number one. It’s always been one of my favorite songs and I knew all the words by heart by time I was in junior high (or most of them anyway; there was no Internet at the time to give me a definitive ruling on the “Landed foul on the grass” lyric). Understanding the various references to the music of decade or so following the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (which actually has since become known as “The Day the Music Died”)—the King, the Jester, Lenin (or possibly Lennon) reading a book on Marx, Sergeants playing a marching tune, the Byrds eight miles high and their fallout shelter, Jack Flash sitting on a candlestick, and on and on—came bit by bit over the subsequent years.
"The angels guide my every tread/ My enemies are sick or dead/ But all the victories I've led/ Haven't brought you to my bed"

The album also includes “Vincent,” McLean’s other hit. Sometimes known as “Starry, Starry Night,” it was about Vincent van Gogh. I’d always thought it was a pretty song, but now find myself liking it even more since watching the Doctor Who episode, “Vincent and the Doctor.”
I cried too.

The rest of the album is a collection of 70 male vocalist soft rock ditties, some light (“Winterwood”), some dark (“The Grave”); good, but not great. Except for “Everybody Loves Me, Baby (What’s the matter with you?).” Now that song is made of sheer fun and deserves the title of “Greatest Love Song Sung by a Megalomaniac.” (Jonathan Coulton's “Skullcrusher Mountain” deserves recognition in this category too.)

I used to have Graceland on a cassette, which made it handy for the car. On CD, it is once again handy for the car. The song “Graceland” is such a great road trip song, especially through places like U.S. 101 through the hill-cradled farmlands south Monterey County or, as the song itself cites, the Mississippi Delta. The rhythm and the lyrics just nail the feeling of going somewhere for any number of reasons, but mostly for the sake of just going somewhere.
"These are the days of miracle and wonder"

Paul Simon is a songwriter with a particular knack for lyrics that stick with you like “How we look to a distant constellation that’s dying in a corner of the sky” or
“Along come a young girl, she's pretty as a prayerbook
Sweet as an apple on Christmas day
I said good gracious can this be my luck
If that's my prayerbook Lord let us pray”
Likewise, there are also memorable characters like “Fat Charlie the Archangel” and the “Girl in New York City who calls herself the Human Trampoline.” (And sometimes when I’m falling, flying, or tumbling in turmoil I say, “Whoa, so this is what she means.”)
Nine Tonight is a mashup of two 1980 Bob Seger concerts, one in Detroit and one in Boston. It’s a great album but it struck me as a little strange hearing him tell the audience how great it is to be back in Boston and then singing about northern Michigan summertime a few songs later. In any event, both audiences add a lot of excitement and energy to the record.
"Now sweet sixteen's turned [51] ... Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets!"
 I have for a long time maintained that the very best Bob Seger songs are either about rock and roll (namely, “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”) or are about a girl he might have loved but didn’t realize it until it was too late. The latter category includes “Night Moves,” “Roll Me Away,” and “Brave Strangers.” I also include “Hollywood Nights,” which was a bout a girl the guy didn’t realize he shouldn’t love until it was too late. These are songs that may make you think of a particular person from your past and put a smile on your face. It may be a wistful smile or it may be a relieved one, but you’ll smile nonetheless.
“So we walked out, hardly speaking, disappearing in the night
Saw each other a few times after, but we never really got it right
We weren’t lovers, just brave strangers…”
The last four songs on the Nine Tonight CD fall into one of these two categories: “Night Moves,” “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “Let It Rock” originally by Chuck Berry and turned up to eleven for the concert audience, and finally a concert version of “Brave Strangers” that I hadn’t even known existed before I read the back of the CD case.
Flying along Route 46 in the afternoon from Paso Robles to Lost Hills, singing as loudly and badly as I feel like; there are times when music is just perfect. I do love me a road trip.

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