Category Archives: Music

Super Trouper

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I WAS SICK AND TIRED OF EVERYTHING

WHEN I CALLED YOU LAST NIGHT FROM GLASGOW

ALL I DO IS EAT AND SLEEP AND SING

WISHING EVERY SHOW WAS THE LAST SHOW

SO IMAGINE I WAS GLAD TO HEAR YOU’RE COMING

SUDDENLY I FEEL ALL RIGHT

AND IT’S GONNA BE SO DIFFERENT

WHEN I’M ON THE STAGE TONIGHT…

 

My luxurious notion of being on tour consists of traveling sporadically throughout the year and staying in fancy hotels whenever the opportunity affords, so while this Abba tune doesn’t speak directly to my experience, I have begun to feel the fatigue of traveling and being gone every other weekend. Being that this is my last-ever jaunt, however, I’ve been reluctant to hang up my touring shoes, so The Delusional Grandeur Tour has gone on far longer than anything else I’ve done. That’s about to end. No extensions. Must close!!! And it will.

On my recent Chicago trip, I stood in the window of the Palomar in the middle of the night, looking out and up at all the buildings illuminated in the darkness. Chicago knows how to accent its features, yet for all the impressive architectural beauty surrounding me, I felt a slight pang of loneliness, something I hardly ever feel. I missed home. The gardens. The bedroom. Andy.

In all the years of searching and seeking out other places to thrill me, I’d unwittingly crafted and found the ideal refuge of comfort and beauty: home. You don’t always realize you have one until you leave it.

 

TONIGHT THE SUPER TROUPER LIGHTS ARE GONNA FIND ME

SHINING LIKE THE SUN

SMILING, HAVING FUN

FEELING LIKE A NUMBER ONE

TONIGHT THE SUPER TROUPER BEAMS ARE GONNA BLIND ME

BUT I WON’T FEEL BLUE

LIKE I ALWAYS DO

‘CAUSE SOMEWHERE IN THE CROWD THERE’S YOU

The pull of the world, the lights of the universe, and the dizziness of new faces and places – they all conspire to seduce and delight, but it can be a lonely gig. Tiring and tiresome, it takes a lot out of me, and you who are sometimes reading this, to make it all happen. I’m ready to retire this delusional time of my life. It’s been fun, it’s been wild, and we’ve been through so much in all the seven tours I’ve done. So many friends and family, so many places and spaces, so many feelings and thoughts…

 

FACING TWENTY THOUSAND OF YOUR FRIENDS

HOW CAN ANYONE BE SO LONELY

PART OF A SUCCESS THAT NEVER ENDS

STILL I’M THINKING ABOUT YOU ONLY

THERE ARE MOMENTS WHEN I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY

BUT IT’S GONNA BE ALRIGHT

EVERYTHING WILL BE SO DIFFERENT

WHEN I’M ON THE STAGE TONIGHT

Still, there’s a little bit of kick left to these old legs, a little spark ready to rekindle the fire one last time. A final twirl around the world, a happy ending to send you off to sleep. In some way, we have connected. You’ve come along with me, and if you’re reading this now we’ve done it together. It does mean something. That forges a bond, and that bond is how we erase barriers.

SO I’LL BE THERE WHEN YOU ARRIVE

THE SIGHT OF YOU WILL PROVE TO ME I’M STILL ALIVE

AND WHEN YOU TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS AND HOLD ME TIGHT

I KNOW IT’S GONNA MEAN SO MUCH TONIGHT

 

TONIGHT THE SUPER TROUPER LIGHTS ARE GONNA FIND ME

SHINING LIKE THE SUN

SMILING, HAVING FUN

FEELING LIKE A NUMBER ONE

TONIGHT THE SUPER TROUPER BEAMS ARE GONNA BLIND ME

BUT I WON’T FEEL BLUE

LIKE I ALWAYS DO

‘CAUSE SOMEWHERE IN THE CROWD THERE’S YOU

 

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Betty Buckley’s Beautiful ‘Story Songs’

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Every song can tell a story, but only certain artists know how to make those stories sing. Betty Buckley has been master of the story song ever since her first ‘Memory’ three and a half decades ago. In the ensuing time, she has perfected her craft on stage and screen, and perhaps most notably (if unheralded) on record. Her new double CD ‘Story Songs’ is her 17th recording and finds the artist at the height of her story-telling talent.

Topical issues of race, gender, relationships, self-fulfillment and difference each play a part in this musical journey, and Buckley is a virtuoso of making each of these songs into more than a story. In her skilled hands, they become a revelation – a journey that sparkles with self-discovery along the way, and by the end, in spite of the immense enjoyment and enthralling musical prowess at work, you’ve learned a little something too. Mostly about yourself. That’s the power of a story song.

The jazz-inflected shifting time signatures of the first couple of cuts are gorgeously restless, and Buckley is on top of them at every unexpected turn. The French delicacy of ‘Chanson’ reveals a wisdom won from decades of experience and experimentation. Buckley has long been one of the great interpreters of songs and roles (as anyone who was lucky enough to witness her take on Norma Desmond, and how wondrously it differed from all who came before and after her, can attest) and she gets to put all of that into magnificent display here.

Inhabiting wildly-disparate characters requires a deftness in acting and singing, and to truly connect with a song requires a bit of a personal connection too.  ‘Old Flame’ brings the fiery spark that underlies everything she does to riotous combustion, with a wink and a hidden firearm. Written specifically for her, it’s a cheeky warning, but how cheeky is it? The lethal machinations of the heart and its wounded power touch on Buckley’s witty pondering of darkness. A delicious surprise ending finds her in a different state of torment, but the torment of the heart remains, and it fuels the more melancholy pieces in moving fashion.

With tinges of country and elements of jazz, Buckley is originally a Texas girl, but New York will always be her home too. She traverses all of our great country, in spirit and in voice, and in the end she finds some sort of grace, which is at the heart of every Buckley record. Here, the transcendent ‘Prayer in Open D’ offer glimpses of salvation and redemption, beginning with a guitar-driven moment of healing, a pause on the first disc for contemplation and forgiveness. She speaks of “the valley of sorrow in my soul” – a touchstone for so much of her work. No one else gives such vocal tenderness to the notion of loss, of faded regret, yet she pulls such beauty from the notes, such nuances from each word, that it lives up to its name – a prayer and a bit of musical grace.

‘September Song’ brings to mind her autumnal jazz work of 1997’s rich ‘Much More’ album. Here, it finds even greater effect, reminding us that Ms. Buckley knows the power of pause and quiet, and that what is in-between the notes is often just as important as what is being sung. That genius of phrasing and timing is the sort of technical mastery that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but they are an integral part of what makes her so great.

A song as tried and true as ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’ may be virtually impossible to cover in any new way, so Buckley transforms it into an instrumental exercise in exorcism, with its meandering piano introduction and sly sliding into the familiar cadence of melody. At one point or another, most of us are going to be hurt by love – a sad but vital component of the damn emotion – and Buckley is able to personify that into something that makes it bearable as she begins ‘Practical Arrangement’, or at the very least relatable, and there is comfort and healing in that. It’s the most powerful mark a piece of music can make.  Resignation and realization, but always with the hope of something better, the hope of something more. She still wants the magic, she still wants the fireworks. We all do. There is no answer, and that’s where this music lives – in that tenuous nether-region of what may or may not be. The field of hopes. The land of dreams. The elusive, tantalizing hold that only music and voice can produce.

‘Bird on a Wire’ may be her newest self-anthem.  A little battered, a little beaten, but no less ready for the next battle, Buckley’s voice is a pristine clarion, floating ethereally into the pantheon of brilliance and studied vocal performance. She loses herself a little bit too, and that’s the most beautiful part.  “I’ve tried in my way to be free,” she sings like her proverbial meadowlark, and that indomitable human spirit brings it all together.

As befitting a collection entitled ‘Story Songs’ the juiciest bits come on Disc Two, whereby Buckley does tell a few tales of her own, and if you’ve ever been to one of her shows, these are often the most telling and enjoyable moments.  A moving tribute to Stephen Bruton leads into the brutally beautiful ‘Too Many Memories’.  A revealing, and surprisingly touching memory of Howard Dasilva sets up the penultimate song by Joni Mitchell. Taking the torch from Broadway royalty, she closes with Stephen Sondheim’s ‘I’m Still Here’, prefaced by a hilarious, and profoundly human, Elaine Stritch story.

A story song is much more than that which tells a simple story. There needs to be a profound change that occurs from the beginning to the end. A realization or a lesson or a quiet shift in stance. It need not be life-shattering or upending, it simply needs to move a person to a different place. Ms. Buckley has been moving us all for years, and this set is testament to the power of her grace, the power of her story, and the power of her song.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #139 – ‘American Pie’ – Spring 2000

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

A LONG, LONG TIME AGO

I CAN STILL REMEMBER HOW THAT MUSIC USED TO MAKE ME SMILE

AND I KNEW THAT IF I HAD MY CHANCE, I COULD MAKE THOSE PEOPLE DANCE

AND MAYBE THEY’D BE HAPPY FOR A WHILE…

 

Chicago: April 2000

A new millennium had broken, and now my heart was following suit.

At the tail-end of my most serious relationship to date, I found myself about to depart Chicago, where I’d moved to make a life with my boyfriend. We’d been there almost a year – arriving at the end of summer, kicking leaves through that bright burning fall, and breaking up like patches of ice at the end of a difficult winter – but as I packed to leave one final time, I felt a tug at my heart at leaving the sprawling city where I hadn’t quite put down roots. Mostly, though, I felt the pinch of having to leave a man I still loved, even if I knew it would never work.

DID YOU WRITE THE BOOK OF LOVE

AND DO YOU HAVE FAITH IN GOD ABOVE?

IF THE BIBLE TELLS YOU SO…

NOW DO YOU BELIEVE IN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL,

AND CAN MUSIC SAVE YOUR MORTAL SOUL

AND CAN YOU TEACH ME HOW TO DANCE REAL SLOW?

He had started sleeping in his own bed. There’s nothing lonelier than having someone sleep in another bed in the same house. Even being alone is less lonely than that.

I knew he’d made the right decision. In my heart of hearts I knew. But that didn’t make the hurt any less. That didn’t offer much consolation. Being right isn’t the best way to feel better about yourself.

I would hear him weeping quietly some nights after the decision was made. It made me feel better, that I wasn’t the only one in pain. ‘Good’, I thought to my eternal shame. ‘Good.’

Would it have been better if there had been someone else?

I wondered.

Once, a couple of weeks after we’d already broken up, I caught him looking back at a guy on the street and smiling. Filled with a rage I’d never known, and simultaneously shot through with the knowledge that this was really over, I almost fell to the ground, paralyzed by the sudden sting of it. Instead, I calmly said I’d see him later, then ducked into a store to collect myself. I never let on. He never noticed. We might have gone through life that way if he hadn’t been brave.

WELL, I KNOW THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH HIM CAUSE I SAW YOU DANCIN’ IN THE GYM

YOU BOTH KICKED OFF YOUR SHOES, MAN, I DIG THOSE RHYTHM AND BLUES

I WAS A LONELY TEENAGE BRONCIN’ BUCK WITH A PINK CARNATION AND A PICK-UP TRUCK

BUT I KNEW THAT I WAS OUT OF LUCK THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

I STARTED SINGING…

BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE

DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVEE BUT THE LEVEE WAS DRY

AND GOOD OLD BOYS WERE DRINKIN’ WHISKEY AND RYE

SINGING THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE… THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

This was a death for me. This would be the last time I’d ever give my heart so completely, the last time I’d ever enter into anything without a fortress strong, and a barricade. That time of innocence, that beautifully tender time of optimism and hopeful belief – I let it die. Maybe all my tears and sorrow were for that, and not just for him. Sadly, pain is pain, no matter what the reason or source, no matter how much one tries to talk or rationalize a way out of it.

Even today, I retain sole rights to the innermost chambers of my heart. Just in case.

I MET A GIRL WHO SANG THE BLUES

AND I ASKED HER FOR SOME HAPPY NEWS

BUT SHE JUST SMILED AND TURNED AWAY

I WENT DOWN TO THE SACRED STORE

WHERE I’D HEARD THE MUSIC YEARS BEFORE

BUT THE MAN THERE SAID THE MUSIC WOULDN’T PLAY

Suzie picked me up to drive all my stuff back to Boston. I showed her around Chicago briefly, but my heart wasn’t in it. There was nothing happy about this visit. As I brought her to various landmarks, I remembered how I had visited them myself, mostly alone, but sometimes with him. We had once watched the beluga whales at the aquarium, right after the break-up, and I remember wanting to cry in the blue-aqua light, peering in at such sadly-captive creatures, ghost-like in beauty and longing. Their perpetual smiles were the cruel masks of nature, and I remember reading something that said the corresponding alchemy of laughing and crying were quite similar in make-up. Again, understanding something does not always make it easier. If anything, you’re at a greater loss.

WELL NOW, IN THE STREETS THE CHILDREN SCREAMED

THE LOVERS CRIED, AND THE POETS DREAMED

BUT NOT A WORD WAS SPOKEN

THO CHURCH BELLS ALL WERE BROKEN

AND THE THREE MEN I ADMIRE THE MOST

THE FATHER, SON AND THE HOLY GHOST

THEY CAUGHT THE LAST TRAIN FOR THE COAST

THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

We rented a truck and somehow found our way back to the apartment in the days prior to GPS and cel phones. I ran up and down the three flights of stairs a number of times with Suzie and him, and when the last item was loaded Suzie got into the truck and waited. I went back one final time. There was nothing much to say. It had been my longest and most serious relationship. It had been the one I thought would last. It had been… the one. I had no contingency plan, no other way to go.

We hugged. He said we did good. In the kitchen by the back door, we stood beside one another. I had made him dinner there. On chilly nights when the heat wasn’t enough I’d stood in front of the oven trying to get warm. Nothing very momentous had happened in that spot. Until now.

Somehow, by the grace of MapQuest or Suzie, we found our way out. Chicago was entering my rear-view mirror, a vestige of the past, and I didn’t look back until we were well beyond me being able to see anything.

WE STARTED SINGIN’

BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE

DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVEE BUT THE LEVEE WAS DRY

AND GOOD OLD BOYS WERE DRINKIN’ WHISKEY AND RYE

SINGING THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

As for this cover of the classic Don McLean song (reportedly written in nearby Saratoga Springs, NY) Madonna did reasonably well at least according to some critics (and McLean himself, who gave her version glowing remarks). It didn’t catch on with the public, but the beautiful video, William Orbit’s luscious production work, and Madonna’s own creamy vocals (backed by Rupert Everett no less, when they were still on speaking terms) worked to create a reprise of musical Americana. The second of her movie-music bridge songs between ‘Ray of Light’ and ‘Music’ (the first being ‘Beautiful Stranger’), ‘American Pie’ was a rare non-event in Madonna’s lexicon. Intended to cross-promote her appearance in ‘The Next Best Thing’ (whose brilliant soundtrack had her prints – and two songs – all over it) ‘Pie’ found her biding her time until Mirwais arrived on the scene.

I was waiting for something else.

Sadness to pass…

Forgiveness to come…

Healing to happen.

BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE

DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVEE

BUT THE LEVEE WAS DRY

AND GOOD OLD BOYS WERE DRINKIN’ WHISKEY AND RYE

SINGING THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

WE STARTED SINGIN’

WE STARTED SINGIN’

WE STARTED SINGIN’

WE STARTED SINGIN’

SONG #139 – ‘American Pie’ – Spring 2000

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #138 – ‘I’m So Stupid’ – Spring 2003

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

If it seems like we’ve just had a Madonna Timeline entry, it’s because we have. For songs such as this 2003 album cut, however, it’s not worth the hype or build-up. Despite my lifelong standom, I do not love absolutely each and every Madonna song. That would be crazy. Almost every album has at least one clunker in the bunch, and ‘I’m So Stupid’ is the weakest link of 2003’s ‘American Life’ opus. In fact, much of the malignment of that otherwise-promising album should be sourced to ‘Stupid’ – it really is that bad. At the time it was released, I was just so happy for new Madonna music that I found some redeeming bits in ‘ISS’, but time has not proven them worthy of redemption. Anyway, here’s a filler moment, and a filler post, to tide us over until the next moment of greatness. 

‘CAUSE I USED TO LIVE

IN A FUZZY DREAM

AND I WANTED TO BE

LIKE ALL THE PRETTY PEOPLE

 

I’M SO STUPID

‘CAUSE I USED TO LIVE

IN A FUZZY DREAM

AND I USED TO BELIEVE

IN A PRETTY PICTURES

THAT WERE ALL AROUND ME

BUT NOW I KNOW FOR SURE

THAT I WAS STUPID

SONG #138 – ‘I’m So Stupid’ – Spring 2003

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #137 – ‘Swim’ Spring/Summer 1998

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER BABY

THINGS CAN’T GET ANY WORSE

NIGHT IS GETTING COLDER SOMETIMES

LIFE FEELS LIKE IT’S A CURSE

Water. It’s a natural element that Madonna has employed as a motif in various manners over the years. For her ‘Cherish’ video she went all wet and beachy-keen cavorting on the California coast to a trio of mermen brought to life by the magnificent Herb Ritts. A few years later she got even wetter, in lyrical and literal form, for the ‘Rain’ song and video off her “wet and a mess” ‘Erotica’ album.

Water is life, and Madonna turned to it when she needed to bathe in forgiveness and redemption. The ‘Secret’ video featured a baptism of sorts, while ‘Take A Bow‘ showed her as font of sadness, pouring forth salty tears from mascara-stained eyes. Water flowed through her gorgeous and dream-like ‘Bedtime Story’ video, yet all of this was but a hint of the flood to come.

I CAN’T CARRY THESE SINS ON MY BACK

DON’T WANT TO CARRY ANY MORE

I’M GONNA CARRY THIS TRAIN OFF THE TRACK

I’M GONNA SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

CRASH TO THE OTHER SHORE

SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

1998′s ‘Ray of Light’ album was drenched in the stuff. From opening track ‘Drowned World: Substitute for Love‘ (and the similarly-monikered tour that later followed) to the rain-matted finale ‘Mer Girl’, Madonna said she only realized in retrospect how much water imagery there was on the album. It’s there in ‘The Power of Goodbye‘ video, in the salty tears of her eyes or the salty water of a devouring ocean. William Orbit’s production also had a very liquid feel to it, with Madonna nicknaming him ‘Billy Bubbles’ for the various sound effects that he produced, lending everything a lusciously shimmering quality, reverberating with fullness and bubble-like beauty. It held dangers too, like water itself. A life-giving force, it could also take as much away.

CHILDREN KILLING CHILDREN WHILE THE

STUDENTS RAPE THEIR TEACHERS

COMETS FLY ACROSS THE SKY

WHILE THE CHURCHES BURN THEIR PREACHERS

WE CAN’T CARRY THESE SINS ON OUR BACK

DON’T WANT TO CARRY ANYMORE

WE’RE GONNA CARRY THIS TRAIN OFF THE TRACK

WE’RE GONNA SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

CRASH TO THE OTHER SHORE

SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

Tell the rain not drop,” she pleaded in ‘Don’t Tell Me’, the last water reference she made for a few years, but soon it returned, like a spring rain. It played a part in her ‘Sticky & Sweet Tour‘ performance of ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You‘ and the ‘Here Comes the Rain Again/Rain’ intro. Even as recently as her last album (‘Rebel Heart’) Madonna has invoked the multiple meanings of H2O, particularly in ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Wash All Over Me’. In ‘Devil Pray’ she laments, “I’ve been swimming in the ocean, til I almost drowned.” It’s fertile artistic ground, and she’ll likely keep going to that well until it runs dry.

LET THE WATER WASH OVER YOU

WASH ALL OVER YOU

SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

SO THAT WE CAN BEGIN AGAIN

WASH AWAY ALL OUR SINS

CRASH TO THE OTHER SHORE

I CAN’T CARRY THESE SINS ON MY BACK

DON’T WANT TO CARRY ANY MORE

I’M GONNA CARRY THIS TRAIN OFF THE TRACK

I’M GONNA SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

CRASH TO THE OTHER SHORE

SWIM TO THE OCEAN FLOOR

SONG #137 – ‘Swim’ – Spring/Summer 1998

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Moon & Mummer’s Dance

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WHEN IN THE SPRINGTIME OF THE YEAR, WHEN THE TREES ARE CROWNED WITH LEAVES

WHEN THE ASH AND OAK AND BURCH AND YEW ARE DRESSED IN RIBBONS FAIR

WHEN OWLS CALL THE BREATHLESS MOON IN THE BLUE VEIL OF THE NIGHT

THE SHADOWS OF THE TREES APPEAR AMIDST THE LANTERN LIGHT

 

WE’VE BEEN RAMBLING ALL THE NIGHT

AND SOME TIME OF THIS DAY

NOW RETURNING BACK AGAIN

WE BRING A GARLAND GAY

It was at this very time of the year when I first listened to ‘The Mummer’s Dance’. I was searching for an escape, a way out of the winter’s end. There was dirty snow everywhere, but hints of spring came on the night winds. I’d slip out of the condo late at night and walk into the South End, where a century of Boston had passed and many of the brownstones that had seen it go by were still standing, silently watching. Who else had they seen dancing in the night?

Beneath a mystical moon I’d walk, watching it blink from behind the Prudential building, or peek out from what will always be known to me as the John Hancock tower. It changed its garb nightly, but the rows of brownstones remained the same, stalwartly guarding their denizens. I liked it best shrouded in clouds, when wisps of water vapor trailed around it like the most sumptuous silk. As the nights grew warmer, my steps grew livelier. The heart wants to dance. When will we let it?

AND SO THEY LINKED THEIR HANDS AND DANCED

ROUND IN CIRCLES AND IN ROWS

AND SO THE JOURNEY OF THE NIGHT DESCENDS

WHEN ALL THE SHADES ARE GONE.

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The Lion Enters & Sleeps Tonight

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IN THE JUNGLE, THE MIGHTY JUNGLE, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT…

IN THE JUNGLE, THE QUIET JUNGLE, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT.

It was playing in Banana Republic, back when it used to be all safari clothing and far more interesting stuff (about half the price, too). ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ was on the sound system, and a summer trip to Boston was suddenly and irrevocably bound to the tune. We were finishing a day of shopping at Faneuil Hall, and the last stop was Banana Republic. It was a very different store back then, and the safari motif that better-suited its name was echoed in the surroundings – all raw wood and netting, with trees winding from the ground to the ceiling, branches extending out into the retail space. It was that atmosphere that drew me in when I was not even a teenager. The clothes, in which I was only just starting to become interested, were earthen shades of khaki and olive green – drab and geared toward designer safari-wear, and a far cry from the sophisticated office-chic look they’ve successfully evolved into over the years. Back then I was more interested in how they managed to get a tree into the store, and the majestic and whimsical way in which it overtook the back corner of the store.

NEAR THE VILLAGE, THE PEACEFUL VILLAGE, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT…

NEAR THE VILLAGE, THE QUIET VILLAGE, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT.

In a simple store’s marketing scheme, I found inspiration. Summer was at its height, and when we returned home I set about to recreating that enchanting tree in my bedroom. I scoured the forest beyond our backyard and found a fallen tree branch, about five feet tall (which was higher than me at the time). It would do nicely, but it needed some work. I spent the rest of that summer scraping off the bark with a single straight razor. It was slow-going and dangerous work, and how I managed to retain all my digits is a wonder I could never replicate today.

As summer closed, I brought the tree branch in, but it was still a little too rustic for my bedroom. The cellar was a better fit, in the area that my brother and I had carved out as a play den, and I rested it against the cement wall. Far from recreating the look of the store, it merely looked like an out of place log propped up for no discernible reason. Undaunted, I decided to paint the thing in various bright colors, segmented as the branches thinned and elongated. It was only slightly better, and in the end I chalked it up to a creative experiment that didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped. It was the first of many lessons in understanding that trying to recreate an atmosphere with just one or two pieces was almost impossible. The promise of a retail dream seldom comes true, but we keep buying in the hope that it will. In this case, the cost of paint and the waning hours of a summer was a small price to pay for exerting my creative muscles.

HUSH MY DARLING, DON’T FEAR MY DARLING, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT…

HUSH MY DARLING, DON’T FEAR MY DARLING, THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT.

It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Personally, I prefer lions. I also like the way Banana Republic has changed. Until I stage an ‘Out of Africa’ moment, I have no need for safari gear or netting. Happy March! (And say hello to Lenox, the lion who was a gift during my birthday stay in the Judy Garland Suite of the Lenox Hotel two years ago. Who better to ring in the month of March?)

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #136 – ‘Graffiti Heart’

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

IF GRAFFITI ON THE WALL CHANGED ANYTHING AT ALL THEN IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

IF SCARS COULD GO AWAY, WHAT WOULD YOUR BODY SAY, DON’T EVER HIDE YOUR FEELINGS.

DON’T EVER TRY TO TAKE MY FREEDOM, YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, THIS WORLD NEEDS THEM.

A throwaway bonus track from the brilliant ‘Rebel Heart’ opus, ‘Graffiti Heart’ is a wild ride, beginning with a sweet sing-song melody before transforming into a gloriously racing whirligig that reaches breakneck speed and velocity. It’s got a retro-80’s vibe to it, and the friends and figures Madonna invoke – Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat for example – are perfectly suited to its raw reminiscence.

Madonna once told the story of when she first arrived in New York City in her early twenties. Intent on being heard, intent on being seen, intent on being someone, she said she would walk through the city staring everyone straight in the eye, willing herself to be remembered by them because she “was going to be somebody”. We should have known then…

WHAT DO YOU GOT, SHOW ME YOUR BASQUIAT

HE DIDN’T KEEP IT ALL TO HIMSELF

EVEN WITH KEITH OUT ON THE STREET,

HE DIED FIGHTING SO YOU CAN DO IT AS WELL 

It was a different world, a different time. As raw and gritty as it may have been, there was a freshness tinged with innocence at the start of the 80’s, but maybe that’s just my nostalgic childhood shading things into something sweeter than they ever were. But if Madonna could feel like a virgin as she embarked upon her world-rattling career, why shouldn’t the rest of us join in on the shiny and new?

LOVE IS PAIN AND PAIN IS ART!

SHOW ME YOUR GRAFFITI HEART

LOVE IS PAIN AND PAIN IS ART!

SHOW ME YOUR GRAFFITI HEART

Madonna has spent a lifetime surrounding herself with artists – gypsies, shape-shifters, chameleons, and tricksters – soaking up their inspiration and creativity, taking it in and transforming it into something new, or at least hybridized. Singers and actors and writers and models have remained constant in her world, and after three decades of success as an artist, she in turn has inspired others. It can’t be said that she hasn’t been selfish at times – a great degree of that is necessary to have remained such a potent force for such a long time – but as she eases into this stage of her career, the collaborations and investments in artists other than herself are becoming more apparent.

On her recent Rebel Heart Tour, during the emotional centerpiece of the show (an almost-acoustic straight-forward reading of ‘Rebel Heart’), she introduced a series of fan-made art of her various guises through the years. As much as Madonna has made her relationship with her fans the one real lasting romance in her life, her acknowledgment of that in her concerts and interviews has always come off as somewhat trite and obligatory. This brief moment of sharing the stage with those who have loved her the most was one of the more authentic and genuine shows of affection that she’s given to us over the years.

FRIDA SHOWED HER FEELINGS, PAINTING FROM THE CEILING BACK IN THE BEGINNING.

NOTHING’S WHAT IT SEEMS, SHE PAINTED ALL HER DREAMS, SHE MADE HER OWN REALITY.

DON’T EVER TRY TO TAKE MY FREEDOM, YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, THIS WORLD NEEDS THEM.

‘Graffiti Heart’ does a little bit of that too. Madonna is nothing if not the lucky vehicle for her muses. This song brings back the early eagerness and hunger for making an impact through artistic expression. It’s very much a sentiment of youth, but one that Madonna has managed to retain throughout her ever-extending run. Her best moments come when she is thirsty for that explosion of art and music, when she remembers walking down the streets of New York wanting nothing more than to make a memorable mark.

Whether you love or hate her, you cannot deny that Madonna has contributed a magnificent amount of pop art to our culture. Her amalgamation of music and image paved the way for every major artist today, and she made herself and her image into her own work of art. The world will never be like it was in the 80’s, when Madonna and Michael Jackson and Prince could hold the pop culture trinity in their hands and gain the collective focus of a moment. We have splintered into too many pieces, with too many options, and it’s unlikely that any single entity will hold the rapt attention of the world as a whole in such a manner again. That won’t stop Madonna from trying, and every now and then she’ll do something (like calling out the so-called president on his bullshit) that acts as a lightning rod moment.

THEY CAN BREAK DOWN AND TAKE DOWN

BUT THEY CAN’T DESTROY OUR HISTORY

THIS WALL, IT MUST FALL

TO MAKE ROOM FOR OUR MASTERPIECE

She’s never been afraid to express herself. There is a boldness and a rebellion to that, especially at a time when some of us are being told to be quiet. It is the job of the artist to push against that, no matter what the consequences. Our graffiti hearts bleed a little every time we put our art out there. It’s something the more wisely-guarded and private people never have to experience, and for every rare success there are a multitude of painful failures and misunderstood endeavors that have left their scars. We cry, we wail, we scream, we fight, and in the end we are battle-worn and sometimes defeated. A true artist doesn’t stop there, though. We rally through. We create until the death – of our impulses, our visions, or the imperfect vessels of our human form.

IF GRAFFITI ON THE WALL CHANGED ANYTHING AT ALL THEN IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

SONG #135 – ‘Graffiti Heart’

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Music for the Broken-Hearted

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Truth be told, I’ve never particularly minded nor celebrated Valentine’s Day. I’ve enjoyed the artifice of it all – the red and pink and flowery doily aspects – but the day itself, coming as it does in the heart of winter, didn’t change my life in any way. For some, though, this day can be harsh and unpleasant – a reminder of love when maybe all they really want to do is forget about such madness. This collection of links is for those sensible folks (and for anyone who loves Madonna).

Love is a bird, she needs to fly. Let all the hurt inside of you die.

Yet you never do anything to make me want to stay.

You need so much but not from me, turn your back in my hour of need.

I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion, but that’s no consolation here and now.

Deep in my heart I’m concealing things that I’m longing to say…

Your heart is not open so I must go. The spell has been broken, I loved you so.

In my heart, I know we’ve come apart, and I don’t know where to start.

Don’t explain yourself cause talk is cheap.

Don’t play with something you should cherish for life.

Somehow I destroyed the perfect dream.

I’ve been on that ledge before, you can’t hide yourself from me.

When I let loose the need to know, then we’re both free, free to go.

Hold me in your arms until there’s nothing left.

It can’t be fun to always be the chosen one.

You took my love for granted, why, oh why – the show is over say good-bye.

If this is the end then let it come.

I’ll cast a spell that you can’t undo ‘til you wake up and you find that you love me too.

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A Simple Valentine Song

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I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS THAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO

I ONLY KNOW I NEVER WANT TO LET YOU GO

‘CAUSE YOU STARTED SOMETHING, CAN’T YOU SEE

THAT EVER SINCE WE MET YOU’VE HAD A HOLD ON ME

I HAPPENS TO BE TRUE, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

This year we’re going for something simple and less cynical than previous Valentine’s Days. In the past, I’ve featured a poem or two (usually Dorothy Parker), and a couple of years ago I did a pair of posts that were both slightly ironic and tongue-in-cheek. Last year I tried to get more serious, with this one and that one. This time around, I’m offering a more straightforward V-Day dedication, of a cheesy love song sung in earnest, a bird that seems to grow rarer as the years pass. I believe that we need a little more love right now – and this is a song that always makes me smile and want to dance.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU GO OR WHAT YOU DO

I WANT TO SPEND EACH MOMENT OF THE DAY WITH YOU

LOOK WHAT HAS HAPPENED WITH JUST ONE KISS

I NEVER KNEW THAT I COULD BE IN LOVE LIKE THIS

IT’S CRAZY BUT IT’S TRUE, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

 

YOU STOPPED AND SMILED AT ME

ASKED ME IF I’D CARE TO DANCE

I FELL INTO YOUR OPEN ARMS

I DIDN’T STAND A CHANCE

 

NOW, LISTEN, HONEY, I JUST WANT TO BE BESIDE YOU EVERYWHERE

AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER, HONEY, I DON’T CARE

‘CAUSE YOU STARTED SOMETHING, CAN’T YOU SEE

THAT EVER SINCE WE MET YOU’VE HAD A HOLD ON ME

NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

(And for that extras helping of cheese-Louise, check out the Bay City Rollers doing their hair-tastic version below. It’s a hoot.)

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #135 – ‘Queen’

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

It will never rain, never rain

If the great sky falls down, no rain, no more rain

Blood’s pouring down, high alert, we watch it burn

It’s a world undeceived, sirens, sirens

Everyone’s whispering, the CIA, MI6

Hire the unknown

We’re at the end of days

For heaven’s sake

 

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

Your queen’s been slain

Queen’s been slain

This lackluster Madonna Timeline entry was one of the ‘Rebel Heart’ bonus tracks, and it probably should have been left off that hodge-podge too as it is a dirge-like bummer of a song. I suppose it holds a certain power and grace, offering a hint of royalty and a time of manners and honor and respect long gone. It was also reportedly written in honor of Princess Diana, which is neither here nor there.

I don’t much care for it, and that’s ok. The bridge is trying at best, echoing another sub-par work ‘Hey You’ (which is about as exciting as its title suggests). The rest is all gloom and doom, and we’ve had enough of that for the moment. Let’s fast-forward this – it’s one big meh…

Who will take her place?

It’s written on everyone’s face

The truth is slowly dawning

I hear tomorrow calling

Some things can’t be replaced

The realization of a new generation

On the eve of imitation

All gone, overthrown

 

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

Your queen’s been slain

Queen’s been slain

 

May God bless you all.

SONG #135 – ‘Queen’ 

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The Heart-Bursting Brilliance of Betty Buckley

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Betty Buckley has always held a special place in my heart, and as her career has progressed she’s maintained that place with every role she’s taken. When I was a little kid, one of my favorite television shows was ‘Eight is Enough’. I wasn’t even old enough to talk that much, and all I could do was fuss and point at the TV, screaming “Nicholas” until my parents finally figured out I was talking about ‘Eight is Enough.’ (Which I knew solely by the name of their youngest character.) Ms. Buckley was Abby Bradford, the mother figure of the show, and after every episode I went to bed comforted by her displays of patience and love. She tucked me in at night just as I was starting to become aware of the world (or enough aware to know that the kid’s name was Nicholas). That role as America’s Mother stuck with her, despite a theatrical prowess that went largely unnoticed by my small upstate New York upbringing. It wasn’t until she clawed her way through the role of Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ that the world became aware of her incredible voice and command of stage.

Originating the role that culminated with an electrifying rendition of Lloyd Webber’s most famous song (‘Memory’) cemented her status as Broadway royalty, and despite turns on television and film it has been on the stage where she has most moved me. Even shrouded in feline fur and heavy make-up, Buckley managed to emit the shredded-soul of a cat, both wounded and fierce, stealing the show every night. A decade later, she wore a different kind of glamour in one of the modern-day marathons of musical theater roles: Norma Desmond.

Following in the footsteps of Glenn Close is no mean feat, but Buckley’s soaring voice and drastically different take on that tragic yet noble figure of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ imbued the production with new life – glorious life too, as her vocal instrument performed death-defying acts nightly in the Minskoff Theatre. I remember watching her studied take on the role, transfixed by the manners in which she managed to be beguiling, brittle, and brilliant in a single scene. She brought audiences to their feet with her stunning interpretation of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ – the way she held onto ‘home’ in the climactic declaration of ‘I’ve come home at last!’ sent shivers down my spine. Her voice was spellbinding, reaching the furthest rafters of that immense theatre, and when she brought it delicately down to a wounded coo, it was even more transfixing. I’d always admired and marveled at Norma Desmond on stage, but Ms. Buckley made me love her a little more as well.

While her portrayal of Ms. Desmond ignited my fan status, it was the musical wizardry of her albums, where her divine voice was barely contained by the recordings, that completely captivated me. Hers was a talent that could never be fettered or bound by traditional artistic means – she demanded more, and she delivered. Her criminally-short EP of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ selections (available at the Minskoff) only left us wanting more, and her stripped-down and spare ‘With One Look’ CD was an essay in how to deliver a story through a few piano chords and a richly nuanced voice. That album got me through a couple of trying semesters at Brandeis, when I’d go to bed practically in tears, but I listened to the hymn-like ‘My Love and I’ and things were made achingly but bearably beautiful. When pain becomes art, and longing finds form in music, there is healing. On her jazz-inflected ‘Much More’ she embraced her playful side, while giving such standards as ‘The Man That Got Away’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ magically transformative touches. The exquisite collection that is ‘Heart to Heart’ with Kenny Werner offers delicate renderings of ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’, ‘I Am A Town’, and ‘Danny Boy’. Taken together, they are a glorious map of an artist’s journey.

I had third-row tickets to see her joyous appearance in ‘Triumph of Love’ but it closed a few weeks prior; thankfully she’s on the cast recording of the woefully under-appreciated show. It just goes to prove that Ms. Buckley doesn’t play it safe – she challenges herself and her audience with material that’s not guaranteed. It’s the mark of a true artist who finds supreme joy in her craft.

Her live recordings, particularly ‘The London Concert’ and ‘An Evening at Carnegie Hall’, almost manage to capture the enchantment that she holds over an audience, and much of her powerhouse voice, but to truly get the full experience of her magic, you need to see her as well. She manages to make each song a story, where every note paints a different shade to a fully-fleshed out work of art. See any of her renditions of ‘Meadowlark’ as evidence of such brilliance.

 

Those wonderfully expressive hands that so framed her face in Norma Desmond’s ‘With One Look’, tell another story in her most recent role, the sympathetic doctor in M. Night Shyamalan’s film ‘Split’. Buckley is the emotional heart and psychological brain of the movie, giving weight and pathos when needed, as well as lighter touches in an otherwise sinister landscape. The way she brings her fingers to her forehead says more in a single touching gesture than any amount of words could convey. As tears fill her eyes, she once again reminds me how she’s managed to connect in the most human way to all of her roles, and, as a result, to her audience. That memory will never fade.

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Hunk of the Day: Brian Justin Crum

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Sometimes it’s the simplest things, and the most sublime of moments, that propel a gentleman into Hunk of the Day status. Such was the case when I saw Brian Justin Crum and the gorgeous rendition of ‘Creep’ that he performs below. Mr. Crum is way more than one performance, however, and his storied career includes stage turns in ‘Grease’, ‘Next to Normal’, ‘Altar Boyz’ and ‘Wicked‘. His vocal prowess turned his time on ‘America’s Got Talent’ into an upcoming EP. For now, let’s Creep

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Man in Motion

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The opening synth salvo of the theme from ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ blares over the stereo. The remnants of salty, wet dirt are trampled by tires and kicked back up behind the car. Already soiled from winter, the roads are messy but not yet destroyed. The video from Alanis Morisette’s ‘Ironic’ comes to mind, but that’s a different song. This goes further back than that, all the way to the 80’s.

GROWING UP, YOU DON’T SEE THE WRITING ON THE WALL

PASSING BY, MOVING STRAIGHT AHEAD YOU KNEW IT ALL

BUT MAYBE SOMETIME IF YOU FEEL THE PAIN

YOU’LL FIND YOU’RE ALL ALONE, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED…

PLAY THE GAME, YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T QUIT UNTIL IT’S WON

SOLDIER ON, ONLY YOU CAN DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

YOU KNOW IN SOME WAY YOU’RE A LOT LIKE ME

YOU’RE JUST A PRISONER AND YOU’RE TRYING TO BREAK FREE.

It’s a theme of empowerment, an anthem of self-belief.

It embodies a destiny defined by determination and drive.

It’s one of those songs that comes on and changes the air, that lifts you up and allows you to feel like a hero, even if it’s just for a moment.

And it’s as catchy as it is cheesy. The ultimate in 80’s excess.

BURNING UP, DON’T KNOW JUST HOW FAR THAT I CAN GO

SOON BE HOME, ONLY JUST A FEW MILES DOWN THE ROAD

I CAN MAKE IT, I KNOW I CAN

YOU BROKE THE BOY IN ME, BUT YOU WON’T BREAK THE MAN.

I don’t have any specific memories attached to this song, at least not when it first came out. I was a bit too young to recall the initial splash it made, but I remember how it made for a great road song. My tour resumes today and I’m itching to head out again. This is the sort of music that’s best for such an endeavor. A little dramatic, a little over-the-top, and a little boost for getting my sea legs again. This weekend, we ride…

JUST ONCE IN HIS LIFE

A MAN HAS HIS TIME

AND MY TIME IS NOW,

I’M COMING ALIVE…

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A Winter Song for the Mobsters

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LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDGE

THERE’S STILL FOUNTAINS DOWN THERE

LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDGE

IT’S STILL RAINING UP HERE…

Mazzy Star wrote one of my favorite winter songs, and while I’m in the process of being sucked into ‘The Sopranos’, one of their other songs played over the end credits of an early episode. It’s taken a number of years for Andy to convince me to watch, but since he was a good sport in watching (and enjoying) the entire DVD set of ‘Downton Abbey’, I can at least indulge him in this. The good thing is I may be starting to enjoy it.

EVERYBODY SEEMS SO FAR AWAY FROM ME

EVERYBODY JUST WANTS TO BE FREE

LOOK AWAY FROM THE SKY

IT’S NO DIFFERENT WHEN YOU’RE LEAVING HOME

I CAN’T BE THE SAME THING TO YOU NOW

I’M JUST GONE, JUST GONE

HOW COULD I SAY GOODBYE?

HOW COULD I SAY GOODBYE?

GOODBYE…

I had been looking for that zen-moment, the sense of peace and calm and introspection that comes with the greatest television series and movies – ‘Mad Men’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Downton Abbey’ – and that keeps me hooked. No matter what else may be happening – wars in the space of future, battles over Middle Earth, or brutal mob slayings – if there’s that zen-moment that surfaces and carries you hypnotically through, then I can enjoy any number of entertaining hours. ‘The Sopranos’ seems to be hitting a little deeper, with its multi-layered look at family, in every sense of the word. And as this song played over the end of an episode, and a son looked at his father as more than an invincible hero, I discovered that moment.

MAYBE I’LL JUST PLACE MY HANDS OVER YOU

AND CLOSE MY EYES REAL TIGHT

THERE’S A LIGHT IN YOUR EYES

AND YOU KNOW, YEAH, YOU KNOW

LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDE

I’M STILL WAITING FOR YOU. 

“All happy families are alike;

each unhappy family

is unhappy in its own way.”

― Leo Tolstoy

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