What a beautiful time of the year!
Facebook is a way of breaking news. Most of the time it’s something trivial like a photo, some rant, check-in to some place or event, some famous person who just died, link to music video or news story… at least that’s the kind of trivial information I post and read.
And then there are birthday wishes.
I will always remember my friend Lee’s birthday is on September 11. I was working with him in 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. It was Lee’s 35th birthday, and a somber time for all of us. He hated that his birthday was on September 11 and said he would instead celebrate his half-birthday on March 11 instead. I liked that idea because that date is close to my birthday.
I always liked Lee – he was very smart, very funny, and had that Southern charm that you don’t find too much in California. But Lee left California 10 years ago, and though we stayed in touch a bit, I haven’t heard from in in a few years.
Nonetheless, when I saw the little sidebar on Facebook reminding me it was Lee’s birthday, I popped over to his page to wish him happy birthday, only to find his page strewn with messages about how much he was missed.
Damn. Lee passed away last December.
He was a shining star. A professional at work. A witty, outrageous ham in his personal life. Someone you could have a serious conversation with, and someone who was light-hearted and free-spirited. I didn’t really know him too well outside of work, but I remember once he told me he thought we could have been really good friends, and I was glad he said that, because I thought the same.
Goodbye Lee. You were one of a kind. I’ll see you on the other side.
Hall and Oates’ “Abandoned Lunchonette” is one of my all-time favorite albums. It takes me back to high school, when a friend of mine used play it all the time. The opening track “When the Morning Comes” is about John Oates being stood up by a girl, so he goes and writes a song about it. It’s a bright, bouncy song, that doesn’t feel like it’s about being sad and rejected but more about, well being alright.
“Just in passing, I’m not asking that you be anyone but you
When you come home, try to come home alone
It’s so much better with two
Now I’m out in the cold and I’m getting old
Standing here waiting on you
It’ll be all right when the morning comes.”
– Hall and Oates
I like this live performance of the song 1) because it’s different from the record, and 2) because it features the late T-Bone Wolk, long-time bass player with Hall and Oates. I miss watching him on the Live From Daryl’s House episodes.
Today is the birthday of Maureen Tucker, the drummer of the Velvet Underground. Like any good former college radio DJ, I love the first Velvet Underground album. “Sunday Morning” is my favorite track, followed by “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, and “Pale Blue Eyes”. But I think “After Hours”, the closing track, sung by Moe Tucker, is the most poignant and charming track on the album.
Funny how one would call a VU song charming. But it is. And, according to Lou Reed, he wanted Moe to sing the song because her voice was so pure and innocent.
So, being that it’s her birthday and all, I listened to the song again. I’m not sure how closely I listened to all of the words before, so I looked up the lyrics, as I often do when it’s a song I really like. And I started thinking about the meaning of the song. Reading the YouTube video comments, most people said it was about being lonely and isolated. I probably thought that too at some point in time.
But today I took away a different meaning.
Maybe it’s really your frame of mind that interprets what “if you close the door” means.
Sure, you could take “if you close the door” to mean that if you shut me out. But perhaps it meant, if you close the door and we are both alone. Just think of it that way for a bit.
“If you close the door, the night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out and say hello to never
All the people are dancing and they´re having such fun
I wish it could happen to me
But if you close the door, I´d never have to see the day again”
After Hours - The Velvet Underground
“The night could last forever” could mean we could be together forever. Later she sings “people look well in the dark” meaning she prefers to be with someone alone rather than in a crowd of people. “I’d never have to see the day again” meaning that I’d never have to deal with the rest of the people outside because I would have you. An introvert’s plea.
“If you close the door, the night could last forever
Leave the wine glass out and drink a toast to never
Oh, someday I know someone will look into my eyes
And say hello – you´re my very special one”
There’s an old-fashioned echo on “Hello!” followed by a pause after “You’re my very special one.” I think that’s where the innocence in her voice really comes out. Charming.
Anyway, I don’t know what Lou Reed had in mind when he wrote the song. Perhaps it is just about being an isolated lonely young person longing for love like everyone thinks it is, and I probably thought it was for so many years. But today I listened to it and took away something else.
Anyway, happy birthday Moe Tucker. And thanks Lou Reed for writing this lovely little song, and Moe Tucker for singing it so sweetly.
There’s a song that haunts me. I can’t tell you the first time I heard it. Maybe it was when I was a young child. Maybe when I was an older teenager. But many years later it still captivates me, especially this line.
“Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me
Though they’re so small”
– Walk Away Renee by The Left Banke
Heartbreaking lyrics, yet there’s something equally magically beautiful about the song. I don’t know what it is. The arrangement, the strings, the choice of chords…I’m sure it can be analyzed in an academic way, but I am speaking from my heart, which is never academic.
I learned to play “Walk Away Renee” on the guitar, then on the piano, and would play it over and over again, with my eyes closed, improvising forever on the solo, so I would feel closer to and get lost in the music.
Does that sound strange? Obsessive? Perhaps, but if you love music like I do, I think you understand where I’m coming from.
Last year I read about a Left Banke reunion, and saw that they played a handful of shows in the New York area. There are many times I wished I lived on the East Coast, because so much music that I like is happening there. I followed the band’s news. I watched YouTube interviews with them, and saw a performance earlier this year which reunited original member Michael Brown with them on “Pretty Ballerina”. It was a magical historical moment in music history. I knew I had to find a way to see them play live.
Last week I traveled to New York to see the Left Banke in New York City. The 11 piece band lovingly recreated the sound of albums recorded 45 years ago, complete with a 3 piece string section and rock & roll guitars and drums. It was complete magic. Musical bliss. I saw them 3 times in one week. I don’t know if I will ever get to see them again, but I’m glad that I finally got to seem them live and meet them in person as well. Thank you Tom Finn, George Cameron and Mike Fornatale for bringing the magic of the music of the Left Banke back to life. You did a wonderful thing there.
A walk on a beautiful day with my dog Cassie reminds me that the best things in life are free.
A little while ago, I wrote about a song I do NOT want played at my funeral.
Now I’d like to say that I WOULD LIKE to have “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel played at my funeral.
It’s a hymn to friendship and love, beautifully sung, played and orchestrated. It gives me the chills, a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, an ache in my heart.
Graham Parker has always been one of my favorite songwriters. I think a lot of people have forgotten about him, if they ever even heard of him. His 1979 album “Squeezing Out Sparks” is the one that people remember the best. It had some great songs like “Local Girls”, “Discovering Japan” and the very poignant “You Can’t Be Too Strong”. He had a couple of AOR hits in the ’80’s with “Endless Night” and one of my personal favorite songs “Get Started, Start A Fire”. But he faded out of the mainstream in the ’90’s and like so many great rock and roll artists, doesn’t get much attention anymore.
But I never forgot Graham, and would keep up with his new releases – even his country album, “Your Country”. His songwriting got even better and his style never changed. I hear he lives in upstate NY and I know he tours the East Coast on a fairly regular basis, but doesn’t make it out West too often.
So when I saw he was playing the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley last month, I made it a point to not miss that show. Just Graham solo with his guitar, fresh from playing two shows in one night at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.
It had been raining a lot that week, so he probably chose to open with “If It Ever Stops Rainin'” from his “Deepcut to Nowhere” album because of that. He played a wide selection of his catalog that night, but that opening song, particularly its chorus, stuck in my head, and I have been listening to it constantly since then.
“And if it ever stops rainin’
If the sun ever breaks through and shines down from on high
I’ll do all those things I keep complainin’ that I’m not doin’
And I’ll put my arms around you under the blue blue sky
Blue blue sky.”
- Graham Parker
I searched YouTube for a video of this song, but could only find a so-so quality live version, so I went ahead and posted this hoping more people would find it and be exposed to the great, wonderful songwriter Graham Parker.