Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blink-182 - "Josie" (forgotten song)

For Danette's birthday... last year it was "Punk Rock Girl" and we might as well continue the punk theme this year too, in part because I think pop-punk band Blink-182 has written the world's best love song -- "Josie". A single from their 1998 LP "Dude Ranch", it received a good deal of airplay when it came out, but it seems to have fallen through the radio genre cracks: not new enough for progressive rock, and certainly not quite classic rock.

The world's best love song? Absolutely, and here's why: Blink-182 has a sharp sense of humor (unlike, say, Green Day), but in this case they've laid bare the unvarnished truths of the male psyche, which are too simple for Cosmo, Sex and the City, et al. to explain:
Yeah my girlfriend takes me home when I'm too drunk to drive
And she doesn't get all jealous when I hang out with the guys
She laughs at my dumb jokes when no one does
She brings me Mexican food from Sombrero just because
Yeah, just because

And my girlfriend likes UL and DHC
And she's so smart and independent
I don't think she needs me
Quite half as much as I know I need her
I wonder why there's not another guy that she'd prefer

And when I feel like giving up like my world is falling down
I show up at three a.m. she's still up watching Vacation
And I see her pretty face it takes me away to a better place
And I know that everything's gonna be fine
Yes, that's pretty much it. From Blink-182's perspective "Josie" is fictional (the name comes from the neighbor's dog), but that's only because Mark Hoppus doesn't know Danette.

"Josie" (unofficial video with lyrics; watch this one)
"Josie" (official video; it's funny but the video's story has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics)

Monday, September 26, 2011

R.E.M. - "Superman" (the song remains the same)

Less than a week ago, R.E.M. decided to hang it up after 31 years. Drummer Bill Berry had already retired 14 years ago (!), so I suppose they did the right thing in calling it quits before attrition whittled down the three remaining original members.

Here's where I have to confess that although I like R.E.M. well enough, I never loved R.E.M. Sure, I have a handful of their LPs, I enjoy most of their stuff, and I recognize their centrality in defining the 80s college rock sound. And thanks to the late Carol Taylor (FM99), everyone in Hampton Roads heard them before most did (she was playing "Radio Free Europe" in 83/84). I remember Earl Lindford's band (I don't recall their name) playing "Can't Get There From Here" at the 86 or 87 Denbigh Jam (see also: Tone Deaf). In short, unless you're from Athens, GA I probably heard about them before you.

But it was much later in life (mid-90s?) that I was surprised to discover that my favorite song by R.E.M. was actually a cover. "Superman", the second and last single from 1986's LP "Lifes Rich Pageant" (arguably their last truly alternative LP), was actually originally released in 1969 by The Clique, as the b-side to their single "Sugar on Sunday". Furthermore, the lead vocals on the R.E.M. version are from bassist Mike Mills instead of lead singer Michael Stipe. That's right, my favorite R.E.M. song is not written by R.E.M. and has Michael Stipe on just background vocals.

So while I was never the biggest R.E.M. fan, their retirement is too important to ignore. I might eventually review some of their LPs, but for the near-term this will have to do.

R.E.M.: "Superman"; (a YouTube version with bad sound quality, but you have to love the I.R.S. 45rpm single)

The Clique: "Superman"

Bonus Links:
R.E.M.: "White Tornado" (b-side to the 7" single).

The Clique: "Sugar on Sunday" (a-side to their 7" single).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (the song remains the same)

A Labor Day special...

Here's the condensed version of the conversation I've had dozens of times with some of my European friends: Bruce Springsteen is an activist / protest singer in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, but his songs are written with such a distinctly American, individualistic perspective that the message of struggle, hope & despair, and identity is often obscured, if not completely misunderstood.

In contrast to some of his more indirect songs, "The Ghost of Tom Joad", the title track from the 1995 LP of the same name, is one of Bruce's most overtly political songs. The blistering message is tamed by Bruce's muted, acoustic delivery; it was Rage Against the Machine two years later that realized the inherent, well, "rage" of the narrator against forces so complex and overwhelming that individuals must succumb. In Bruce's songs, the hero can often overcome through sheer force of will (e.g., "Badlands", "The Promised Land", "Thunder Road", "Born to Run") -- or at least believes he can. In "The Ghost of Tom Joad", the hero is bleakly aware of his futile state:
Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad
Tom Joad is of course the main character and anti-hero in Steinbeck's 1940 novel "The Grapes of Wrath", which tells the fictionalized story of the Joad family's travels from Oklahoma during the dust bowl to California in search of a land, jobs, and a better life. Instead, they find California is controlled by corporate farmers, in collusion with each other as well as local law enforcement to ensure an ample supply of cheap, unorganized labor. In short, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's dream.
Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."
Bruce Springsteen: studio version, live in the studio 2009

Bruce Springsteen & Tom Morello: live 2009

Rage Against the Machine: 1997 single version, 2000 LP version, live 1999 version, fan video

"The Grapes of Wrath": New York Times Review, ReThink Review