August 2008


*Author’s note: Click on the words in green throughout this article for links to related video and audio clips.

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by Bob Langham
 
As you can tell if you have read more than one post on this blog, music is a big part of my life. Since I wasn’t, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “born with the gift of a golden voice,” and I have yet to learn how to play an instrument (even though I gave the guitar a try as a teenager), I have had to enjoy it from the sidelines, but I’m okay with that. I listened to records and the radio from an early age, because back then we didn’t have the opiate of cable television to conquer our imagination and steal our creativity. Personal home computers were years away and the Internet, like flying cars and time travel was a science fiction dream.
I was nervous and anxious by nature as a child and there was some turmoil in our family, which added to this. Besides being a chronic nail biter, I was, like most young kids, also afraid to go to bed in the darkness of my room by myself. Each night I would try to get to sleep, but every sound would be magnified in my mind as something that was after me – vampire, monster, burglar, kidnapper, alien, you name it, in my mind it was either under my bed or lurking just outside my bedroom window.
In the early ‘70s for Christmas, I got a pea green, box-shaped portable radio as a gift. It plugged into the wall, and it had two dials on its ridged face – one for volume and one for tuning. I was able to find a local FM station that was either a top 40 or top however many they had back then for radio formats of the time, and that is where the dial stayed. That radio became my audio night light. It shouted down all of those scary sounds and noises that had taunted my childhood imagination from the dark crevices of my room, and beyond the intimidating panes of my bedroom window. One song that really made an impression on me and shaped my musical taste as I lay in the darkness of my bedroom, most likely the only person still awake in my house, if not the entire neighborhood was Whole Lotta Love  by Led Zeppelin; especially, the part of the song at about 4 minutes in when that blood curdling voice came groaning out of my tiny green innocuous box of a radio in a howling scream:
Way down inside… Woman you need me…angry guitar and drums, then a long scream without musical accompaniment as if the singer, (who I assumed at my naive age was a woman, because only a woman would have such a high-pitched scream) was falling into a dark bottomless chasm, and finally the voice was answered with more hostile guitar and drums.
There was something about that song and the environment in which I first heard it, that scared me, but also excited and enticed me at the same time. It introduced me to the power and pull a good song can have on the listener. I had a visceral reaction to that song as a child. This is why it is hard for anyone to say with any certainty what makes a good song. There is no cookie cutter formula, despite the marketing strategy of some of the record companies and radio stations today. Lyrics play a big part, but so does the music, how it is arranged, and how either the lyrics or music, or both touch you on an emotional level. Your life experience and situation when you first hear a song also contribute to how you receive the song, so everyone has a different reaction. Had I first been exposed to Whole Lotta Love in the light of day, surrounded by other people, my reaction to it would have been different. Naturally, someone else may hate a song that you think is the best one ever released because their life experience and situation is not the same. This may be why people, seem to choose and defend their music, like they choose and defend their religion. They don’t know why they are right about either one, but they know they are, so everyone else must be wrong.
To take the religious metaphor a step further, the musical equivalent of the church, the commercial radio stations, at some point became just that – too commercial, both in too many commercials and the deejays (the musical equivalent of the clergy) playing songs with commercial appeal over lyrical or musical quality. The same songs are played over and over again across multiple stations with no effort to push the creative envelope or expand the artistic landscape. It has gotten to the point that you can tell time by what song is being played. Classic rock stations are notorious for clinging to a handful of songs by an artist or band and not venturing away from this list. This is true even for bands that have extensive, quality discographies. For example, at least on the classic rock stations in Houston, if the deejay goes into a commercial break and says we will be right back with some classic Pink Floyd, you can pretty much count on it being Run Like Hell, or if they promise classic U2, it will most likely be Pride in the Name of Love ,or Where the Streets Have No Name. There is nothing really wrong with any of these songs, at least not the first 3,000 times they played them, but how about a little creative ambition and initiative? Try playing, something else from these artists’ vast libraries, like The Final Cut, or The Gunner’s Dream by Pink Floyd, or Running to Stand Still or Bad by U2.
Sometimes, the classic rock stations give the illusion they are playing some rarity with a feature they give a fancy title like, Deep Cut where they play a song from “deep in their musical vault” that isn’t necessarily rare, but may just get less of a rotation, so the audience may have only heard it 1,500 times before instead of 3,000. However, sometimes one sneaks through, (maybe the deejay was in a rush to get back after a long bathroom break and snatched up the wrong album/disc and played it before he realized what he had done).
Whatever the reason, I was recently introduced to Black Cloud by Trapeze from 1975 (complete with cowbells that would make Bruce Dickinson [Christopher Walken] salivate) during one of these Deep Cuts features. I have logged many hours listening to classic rock stations all of my life, and I had never heard this song before. Could that be possible in a city whose radio stations’ musical offerings in various musical formats have less variety than my iPod? At the moment, I only have a little under 2,000 songs on my iPod, but I can play a better selection of music on my hour long commute to work, than all of the radio stations in this city combined. But as sad as this is, it was on one of these stations where I first heard Black Cloud, so I guess I have to at least credit them with that whether it was a fluke or not. This song, like Whole Lotta Love, is not a lyrical masterpiece, but it is one of those songs that I had a visceral reaction to. However, instead of hearing it for the first time in the darkness of my childhood bedroom, I heard it after a long day at work on my frustrating commute home. I was probably cranky because it wasn’t Friday yet and I knew I had to be back again the next day to tackle a pile of unfinished work. I was expecting the next song to be one of the same old classic rock songs that inexplicably get entirely too much airplay. Instead, Black Cloud car jacked my soul at a traffic light that day, and continues to linger there as a reminder of how music can help you deal with life’s black clouds whether they be imaginary childhood monsters lurking in your bedroom or real adult monsters lurking in the cubicles at work.

 No time to stop, keep on movin’
The whole world is to see
No time to think of things that I am missing
Wherever I go
Black cloud’s following me

Each and every town
I’m father’s last relation
Doing what I can just to eat
Never ‘wanna settle down
I ain’t got the patience
Wherever I go
Black cloud’s following me

I’m a citizen of no where
The sky’s above my head
I wonder where the grass grows
Looking through the sunshine
‘Til my judgment day, my judgment day

Wherever I go
Black cloud’s following me, yeah
Oh, it’s following me around
Don’t leave me be

No time to think of the things that I am missing
I’ve got to keep on moving along, babe

You know I can’t settle down, or I’d be dead
Come, come, come here

No time to stop, keep on movin’
‘Cause all the world is to see
No time to think
The thing that I am missing
Wherever I go
The black cloud’s following me

I’m a citizen of nowhere
The sky’s above my head
I wonder where the grass grows

Looking through the sunshine
‘Til my judgment day, my judgment day

Wherever I go
Black cloud’s following me
You know it’s following, following, following me
Never let me go

Keep on moving

We have got to make it
We are going to take it, yeah

We are going to take it I am not ‘gonna make it
Never talk to a rich man, yeah

Black Cloud, Trapeze

 

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*Author’s note: Click on the words in green throughout this article for links to related video and audio clips and supporting articles.

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by Bob Langham

 

Whether you believe he is dead or not, the thirty-first anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death (or disappearance for the non-believers) is this week. I’m personally a believer. I think he is gone or he would have cashed in on the Reality TV bonanza like so many other former rock celebrities (Brett Michaels, Gene Simmons , and Ozzy Osbourne ) whose fame sadly faded with their age and the age of their groupie pools.

Is it too far of a stretch to imagine if Elvis had not died that he would have been the perfect subject for a pathetic reality show centered on him?  I could see him, overweight, shuffling around Graceland in a prescription drug induced stupor, wearing sequined Dickies coveralls,

and a cape made out of a jumbo pillowcase clothes pinned around his neck. He would probably be crooning some of his favorite songs through the halls of his mansion as hangers on still cling to him trying to cash in on what, if anything, is left of his fame in the post MTV digital music era.

Don’t get me wrong. As a kid and early teen, I liked Elvis and his music and I still do.  I was exposed to rock and roll at an early age through my mom’s Elvis 45s and albums. While my friends were rocking to Kiss, I was rocking to the King. I even preferred fat Elvis to those crazy makeup-wearing dudes that looked like ladies.  I was rocking  to Burning Love  and Suspicious Minds while my friends were jamming to Detroit Rock City and BethI did not make the connection at the time, but even if Kiss was not my thing, Elvis was part of the rock and roll evolution that taught the youth that they could safely rebel against the status quo through music and song (a rebellion I practice to this day). This rock and roll evolution led to and inspired Kiss and their outrageous antics on stage as well as many other bands and individual artists that preceded Kiss and those that would follow. The influence of Elvis on future pop/rock celebrities goes beyond his singing talent, stage presence, and commercial appeal. His memory also serves as a warning of the dark side of fame.  It was sad enough that Elvis died as a result of the excessive amounts of “prescription” drugs in his system prescribed by his own personal Dr. Feel Good, but it was even worse that he had become a bloated parody of himself by the end of his life.

Elvis serves as a marker for his rock idol celebrity successors not only of how high you can climb, but also how far you can fall and how pathetic you can look during that fall.  This dual nature of fame as personified by the King may explain why his legend continues to appear in many songs today.

In memory of the anniversary of his death I have compiled a list of some of the lyrical references to show how Elvis lives (even for believers) if not in body, at least in spirit and in the minds of many modern day singers as they channel him through their song lyrics while trying to cope with their own personal demons of celebrity and fame.

 

Click on the song titles below to listen to the following songs:

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My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue and Into the Black) Neil Young 

 The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
This is the story of Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out ’cause rust never sleeps
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye.

 

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 She didn’t look too good and yeah and I knew it was close to the end
and I tried to smile and cheer her up, but it’s kind of hard to lose a friend
and then she looked up at me and gave me a little wink,
Said “Don’t worry Hoss, it’s not as bad as you think.
I’ve been everywhere and you know I’ve done everything.
My only regret in life was I never got to meet the King.”
And I said, “Are you talking about Jesus?”
 
She said, “Oh no, bless my soul, I’m talking about the boy from Memphis,
the King of Rock and Roll.”
She said, “Billy, I got all of his records. And I even got a lock of his hair.
Well maybe if I’m good, I’ll see him when I get up there.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Round Here – Counting Crows

 

Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand
She said she’d like to meet a boy who looks like Elvis
She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land
just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus
She parks her car outside of my house
Takes her clothes off says she’s close to understanding Jesus

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Johnny Bye Bye – Bruce Springsteen

 

Well she drew out all her money from the Southern Trust
And put her little boy on the Greyhound Bus
Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand
With a one way ticket to the Promised Land

Hey little girl with the red dress on
There’s party tonight down in Memphis town
I’ll be going down there if you need a ride
The man on the radio says Elvis Presley’s died

We drove to Memphis the sky was hard and black
Up over the ridge came a white Cadillac
They drawled out all his money and they laid him in the back
A woman cried from the roadside “Oh he’s gone, he’s gone”

They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lotta trouble running through his veins

 

Bye bye Johnny
Johnny bye bye
You didn’t have to die
You didn’t have to die
 

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Free Falling – Tom Petty

 

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America, too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend, too

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Calling Elvis – Dire Straits

Calling Elvis – is anybody home?
Calling Elvis – I’m here all alone
Did he leave the building?
Or can he come to the phone?

Calling Elvis – I’m here all alone
Well tell him I was calling just to wish him well
Let me leave my number – heartbreak hotel
Oh love me tender – baby don’t be cruel
return to sender – treat me like a fool

Calling Elvis – is anybody home?
Calling Elvis – I’m here all alone
Did he leave the building?
Or can he come to the phone?
Calling Elvis – I’m here all alone

 

Why don’t you go get him – I’m his biggest fan
You gotta tell him – he’s still the man
Long distance baby – so far from home
Don’t you think maybe you could put him on?
 
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Porcelain Monkey – Warren Zevon   
  
 
 
 
 

 

 

From a shotgun shack singing Pentecostal hymns
Through the wrought iron gates to the TV room
He had a little world, it was smaller than your hand
It’s a rockabilly ride from the glitter to the gloom
Left behind by the latest trends
Eating fried chicken with his regicidal friends
That’s how the story ends
With a porcelain monkey
He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen
   
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Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis)   – Cowboy Junkies

 I only want to say
That if there is a way
I want my baby back with me
’cause he’s my true love
my only one don’t you see?
And on that fateful day
Perhaps in the new sun of May
My baby walks back into my arms
I’ll keep him beside me
forever from harm

 
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 American Pie – Don McLean

 Oh, and while the King was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lennon read a book of Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died

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If Dirt were Dollars – Don Henley

I was flyin’ back from Lubbock
I saw Jesus on the plane
…or maybe it was Elvis
You know, they kinda look the same

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Man on the Moon  –  R.E.M.

Now, Andy did you hear about this one?
Tell me, are you locked in the punch?
Hey Andy are you goofing on Elvis?
Hey, baby.
Are we losing touch?

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RockStar –  Nickelback    

I wanna be great like Elvis without the tassels
Hire eight body guards that love to beat up assholes
Sign a couple autographs
So I can eat my meals for free

 
 
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The Visitor – The Reverend Billy C. Wirtz  

 

Author’s note: Click on the song title and artist’s name at the end of this post to listen to this song in its entirety and to visit a Web site dedicated to the singer.

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When I first saw the song title Skinny Love on my Sirius radio display, I thought it was going to be a no fat chicks anthem.  I thought the artist had some guts putting out a song like that regardless of how strongly he felt about the subject.  Then I thought, why don’t I quit thinking about what this song is probably about, based on my preconceived notions, and just listen to it.  Well, I did and I was wrong by a ton. 

This song captures the essence of the emotional fallout one suffers from a relationship gone bad and its ultimate end.  However, it also takes it a step further and expresses how it not only affects that relationship, but more importantly how you never really put it behind you.  Instead, you carry that broken and battered emotional baggage to all of your future relationships and it affects those as well. 

The subtle use of guitar and percussion in this song, stripped down to its bare essentials, take a back seat to the the residual raw emotion and pain that seem to still be coursing through Bon Iver (Justin Vernon’s) veins over this failed relationship.  You feel this as his voice alternates back and forth from a soulful moan to barely contained tormented shouts of rage and you can almost envision him crawling off into a corner and wrenching this song from his broken heart and tortured soul at the moment he realized the relationship was over and could not be salvaged. 

Think of how different things would be if everyone was able to channel their internal pain, hostility, and rage into a creative outlet like music and song.  There would probably be less domestic and workplace violence and many more great songs like Skinny Love, which can’t be a bad thing, even if your internal pain, hostility, and rage, are fueled by your feelings against fat chicks.

by Bob Langham

       

-Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in this moment this order’s tall

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind

In the morning I’ll be with you
But it will be a different kind
I’ll be holding all the tickets
And you’ll be owning all the fines

Come on skinny love what happened here?
Suckle on the hope in lite brassiere
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Sullen load is full; so slow on the split

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
Now all your love is wasted?
Then who the hell was I?
Now I’m breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall far behind?

Bon Iver,  Skinny Love

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