Retrospectives

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In ninth grade, I had such a crush on this guy named Lee. I used to stare longingly at him during drama class — probably drove him crazy. Not that I would have known what to do with him if I’d gotten him — I didn’t want him, exactly. I just wanted someone to stare at.

So my best friend through this whole crush thing was Carrie. She came up to me one day with a tape (that’s a cassette, for you young’uns. We rolled like that, back then) that had this ugly, swirly cover.

“Try this,” she said, “you’ll love it.”

“‘Mixed Up’?” I said, very dubiously. You may remember from a previous post that I was still at this point coming out of my country music phase and just dipping a toe cautiously into REM. I judged tapes by album covers for some reason. “This doesn’t look very good.”

“But Laura,” said she, very slyly, because Carrie was sly like that, “Lee likes it. He told me in art class that the Cure was his favorite band.”

How could I refute that? She and Lee had art together, and I didn’t. Maybe they had regular conversations about music. So I took “Mixed Up” home, determined that I would like it. But I didn’t even have to try very hard — in fact, my love for Robert Smith lasted a lot longer than my love for Lee.

Carrie had longish, dark-brown curls and a beautiful smile. She was very thin, had brown eyes, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She drew cartoons, and when she wrote me letters, they were always at least ten pages of her intricate writing and her cartoons. She introduced me to Nirvana, to Pulp, to PJ Harvey, to Monty Python. She made beautiful mix tapes with handmade covers and funny titles. You kids today, you don’t know what a mix tape is anymore. Carrie was a mix tape artist. It’s been ten years since I last spoke to her, and I don’t even have a tape player anymore, but I still have some of her tapes packed away, because I can’t bear to throw them out.

Without her, my musical education would have stayed stuck in the ninth grade. We had no indie radio play to speak of (AFN did not count, folks). I was fond of “Kokomo,” Weird Al, and even taped an NKOTB album from another friend. I was a mainstream dweeb, and I probably would have hung around in the pop mainstream and today I’d be a big old Kelly Clarkson fan. And I’d probably be just fine. But Carrie developed my music taste into something outside of radio play, outside of MTV, something that appreciates the fine music that can be traded, ear to ear, on a well made mix tape. Maybe this whole blog thing is just my way of paying it forward.

So thanks, Ms. McNear, wherever you are now. I hope you’re happy. I hope you remember the times that we sat in your basement watching “The Cure In Orange” and writing dark poetry. This one’s for you.

Videos (for songs I don’t own).

1. Enigma — Sadeness
2. Information Society – Think
3. Bettie Serveert — Something So Wild

Music

[All tracks removed. Please contact me for a copy.]

01. Tori Amos — Raspberry Swirl (Lip Gloss version)
02. PJ Harvey — Sheela Na Gig (live at the Forum, London, 5/23/93)
03. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin — Kill Your Television

04. The Cure — Subway Song
05. Victoria Williams — Crazy Mary
06. Sinead O’Connor — Ode To Billy Joe

07. 50 Foot Wave — Your Ghost
08. Pet Shop Boys — Go West
09. The Violent Femmes — Gone Daddy Gone

10. Cream — White Room
11. Shakespears Sister — Stay
12. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — Straight To You

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Retro Music

Music from the 90s, people! It’s what’s in my playlist these days. Perhaps out of reaction to all those jerks who got to go to SXSW and party down with all the fun bands (I hate you all!). Perhaps out of nostalgia for my high school years … um … no, that’s not it (high school was my classic rock/80s goth/Smashing Pumpkins stage). These are songs I missed the first time around, or didn’t listen to enough, that shamefully I am just catching up on now. Acquaintances from so long ago, I revisit you!

01. Sade – Love Deluxe (1992). I used to watch Sade on European MTV, where she was very popular, and think, “blah.” Someone like me, who listened to the Cure all day and night, couldn’t figure out the appeal of Sade. But having grown up a little and broadened out, I really enjoy listening to her voice and the slow, melting sounds that back it up. I remember one of her videos was of her, underwater, swimming around, and the video in my memory is rippling, blue and gold and green. I didn’t try to find it on Youtube, because now I like that memory-video. It fits the music.

Sade – No Ordinary Love
Sade – Kiss of Life

02. Old 97’s – Too Far To Care (1997). Back in the days when the Old 97’s were not based on the smoothness of Rhett Miller’s outfits, they were a little bit punk. And though Miller continued to get smoother and sexier as time went on, “Too Far To Care” has an exuberance that “Satellite Rides” and “Drag It Up” can barely recreate. This album also contains the best Old 97’s song ever — “Barrier Reef” — which features that most awesome of pickup lines: My name is Stewart Ransom Miller / I’m a serial ladykiller, and the shoot-down: she said, “I’m already dead” / that’s exactly what she said.

Old 97’s – Barrier Reef
Old 97’s – Just Like California

03. And as a bonus, if you please, one of the best songs to come out of the 90s, featured last night in the tear-soaked episode of “Supernatural,” Queensrÿche – Silent Lucidity, from 1990’s “Empire.” I was never a huge fan of Queensrÿche, or a fan period, but this song’s grave melancholy is simply classic.

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[Post brought to you by reader J., expert on Canadian music (and other kinds too), and photographer extraordinaire. You can see some of his lovely photos at Jumps & Cuts.]

Profoundly sad, inspired and visceral, A Silver Mount Zion’s He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms (2000) is a rare thing in music, an album that captures almost perfectly a singular emotional experience. At times lonely and claustrophobic, its haunting themes of inconceivable sadness ring unfortunately too true. There are little hints of light here and there, little openings in the songs where a bit of sunshine peeks through, like fond remembrances. That’s what I find so amazing about the work, the completeness; the totality of the emotion of the subject matter, the sadness, the happy memories, the grief, its all well-blended together; wonderfully distilled into eight tracks.

“Broken Chord Can Sing A Little” is maybe the saddest track, mainly because it’s so surprising in its depth of feeling and utter stillness at times. It feels uncomfortable, like watching someone cry or when you happen to drive past a funeral procession. It’s that shock and discomfort that I think lets you know how close you are to the pain; it’s genuine. “Sit In the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs” is intense, almost angry and focused and “Stumble Then Rise On Some Awkward Morning” is also intense, but in a more grand, less angry way.

I like the strange intro harmony on “13 Angels Standing Guard ‘Round the Side of Your Bed”, its an ambient sadness that feels like a heavily overcast rainy day that is occasionally pierced by sunlight; its the sitting around laughing at all the funny things they used to do part. You laugh, but it’s still sad. The last track “For Wanda,” whose death from cancer is the subject of the album, is a wonderful dirge of a song worthy of any great hero, even if that hero is a beloved dog. It ends beautifully with a more upbeat theme apropos for entering the hereafter. This is a fantastic, sublime album.

“this whole record is for Wanda…”

Another perspective: My 23-month old son, who doesn’t understand the sadness part, keeps requesting that the album be replayed, “Again, again, more, more…”

For: People who have lost a pet. Fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think.

A Silver Mount Zion – Site | Label (Constellation)

[Sorry! These files have been removed.]

A Silver Mt Zion – 13 Angels Standing Guard Round the Side Of Your Bed
A Silver Mt Zion – Sit In the Middle Of Three Galloping Dogs

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“Constable Benton Fraser. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father; and for reasons that don’t need explaining at this juncture, I’ve remained, attached as liason to the Canadian Consulate.”

Back in 1998ish, I was a young married gal still grinding away at school. We were poor, had no car, and spent most of our time doing homework. Life was pretty crappy, but at least I had Due South reruns on TNT. I taped as many of them as possible, so I could escape to … Chicago? Sounds kind of strange in retrospect. I guess I’d have taken any form of escapism I could get.

I recently reviewed the episodes again and a few things really stand out. One is the good looks of all the guys on the show — let’s face it, between David Marciano, Paul Gross, and Callum Keith Rennie, a girl could stay very happy for a very long time. And even though the writing was sometimes very silly, there was an essential humanity to the characters that appealed. Paul Gross notes it on the DVD commentary for “Call of the Wild” — the late 90s was a time of cynicism and contempt on television. I know that, because the other show I obsessed about then was “The X-Files.” But “Due South” wasn’t cynical or contemptuous. The bad guys did bad things, but they were always punished, even if it was by Mounties coming out of the sky with maple-leaf parachutes.

And, of course, the music. Paul Haggis, creator of the show (and director for the first season), set a high standard for the music. I’m sure that “Due South” wasn’t the first show to feature contemporary music, but for some reason I remember really noticing it — sometimes the music was like a secondary character. I think Haggis meant it that way. And in spite of an unfortunate dependency on Sarah McLachlan (which we all had back then), almost all the music he featured was both great and Canadian. This was before the Canadians took over the musical world; how many people (besides you, J) listened to Glueleg, Moist, Blue Rodeo, Lhasa de Sela, or Klaatu? (Well, who was still listening to Klaatu?) Canadian alt or alt-rock in the late 90s truly was outside the American box.

Therefore, I salute the pre-Crash Haggis for his musical taste, which ranged from industrial (Machines of Loving Grace) to electronica (My Brilliant Beast) to pre-alt-country (Headstones) to straight-up alternative (Moist), and I remind you that thanks to Due South, some of the following fantastic songs still stick around in pop culture memory. Thanks, Canada! You guys rock!

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy of #1, #2, or #5.]

01. Headstones – Cubically Contained

02. Machines of Loving Grace – Butterfly Wings

03. The Tragically Hip – At the Hundredth Meridian [not available anymore]

04. My Brilliant Beast – Rinse Myself Dry (Space Ace remix)

05. Moist – Creature [not available anymore]

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Contrast Podcast #20’s theme was, “This One Goes Out To….” I was too chicken to send anything in, so here is my measly tribute to the person I would have dedicated the song to: my sister, Juliette. Despite being younger than me, she knew more about music and lyrics than I did. I credit her with being one of the most influential people in my musical life. Why, if it weren’t for her, this blog wouldn’t exist today (mainly because I write to entertain her at work). I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!

I mention below just a few of the musical memories I have that relate to her, but of course my memory is awfully faulty. Do you remember any of these, J? Or am I the James Frey of the musical set, just making it all up?

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you'd like a copy.]

1. Blood, Sweat, & Tears – Spinning Wheel

Juliette and I once created an interpretive dance to this song, which we then performed for our astonished parents. I can’t remember how old I was. Probably 9 or 10. We actually did this for a few songs, because apparently we were going to have careers as backup singers for Diana Ross or something. I guess we could have gone on to become the Pipettes, if only we’d had, you know, singing voices.

2. Herman’s Hermits – Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter

On a trans-atlantic flight in the 80s, the plane had several canned “radio stations,” and we chose to listen to the oldies station. Its 20-song playlist repeated over and over again on that many-hours-long trip, and we got to know all the songs very well. I can still sing snatches of “Mrs Brown,” much to my own amusement.

3. Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box

One time I snuck into Juliette’s room and stole her cassette of “In Utero” so I could tape it for myself. She caught me trying to return it and had a fit, because she hated listening to music that she knew other people listened to as well. No matter that in every house on our street, someone was probably listening to “Heart Shaped Box” — she wasn’t going to have me betray her.

4. Portishead – Roads (live, Roseland NYC, 1998)

The first time I heard Portishead was in my grandmother’s basement bedroom in Monte Sereno, CA. Juliette pushed the button on the tape player and said, “listen to this,” and after it was done, I made her play it for me about 17,000 more times. I bet she was so sick of it after that.

5. Alice In Chains – Heaven Beside You

When I went to college, Juliette sent me mix tapes, and I was so lonely without my family and my boyfriend that I listened to them over and over while I was working my custodial job, vacuuming and mopping and dusting away. “Heaven Beside You” brings back memories of riding my bike home from work at midnight, singing along loudly to break the night silence.

Last month Sundance channel was having a queer month, literally, by which I mean that every Saturday and Sunday night they’d play queer films. So I was happy to get to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” one more time. I remember the first time I saw it, my jaw just falling open and staying unhinged through the whole film. It was nice to see it again and be able to concentrate on the little details I missed.

Now, Hedwig didn’t just discombobulate me because I’m a straight white girl whose closest experience with a transsexual was during Fasching when I was a kid. I mean, sure, I do believe Hedwig is prettier than I am, and she’s got a thing for sticking her head in an oven, but she’s actually a very relatable character. What really dropped my jaw was the music.

Hedwig almost transcends gender, because her ultimate goal is the same as everyone else’s — to be loved. I’d say 99.5% of the human population can understand that, whether they’re man or woman. Hedwig chases love, scrambling after it in her high heels, mostly slipping and falling, but always picking herself up and continuing on. All the songs in the musical reflect that chase: there’s “The Origin of Love,” the most obvious, that tells the story of how we all have a soulmate somewhere who was torn from us physically, and we’re always searching for that person to make us whole. “Sugar Daddy” is the promise that, if you bring the sugar, Hedwig will do anything for you in return. “Midnight Radio” talks about being freed from the ugliness of your life by loving “Patti and Tina and Yoko, Aretha and Noni and Nico.”

The most interesting song is “Wicked Little Town.” It’s been covered several times, and it’s covered in the movie by Tommy Gnosis, who is Hedwig’s lover and enemy. Hedwig follows Gnosis from town to town, ranting in nightclubs at the same time as Gnosis is playing sold-out stadiums. But where Tommy sings it in an ultimately soulless way, Hedwig lends truth to the words: “And if you have no other choice, you know you can follow my voice, through the dark turns and the noise of this wicked little town.”

I don’t mean to simplify the movie to one theme, or to ignore the gender issues, but it’s also a mistake to simplify just to gender concerns. Hedwig’s experiences are human experiences, and there are a lot of people probably living right now in a wicked little town. I know I talk too much, so I’ll stop and give you the music already, but like any other musicale, the music doesn’t live as well without the story behind it. So if you like the music, check out the movie. That’s all. :D

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you'd like a copy.]
Hedwig & the Angry Inch – Sugar Daddy
Hedwig & the Angry Inch – Wicked Little Town (Hedwig version)

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I still can’t get the comments to work right. It is hurting my lit-major brain to sift through that code. But perhaps someday I’ll stumble on the reason. Meanwhile, back in the lounge …

Do you think there are people out there that have seen the recent “Pink Panther” remake that haven’t seen the original? I think the answer is “yes,” and what a tragedy that is. Outside of a lamentable penchant for black eye makeup, the 1963 movie is almost timeless. Peter Sellers is at his comic best, and nothing beats the chase at the end, with the apes and the zebras and all the little French cars speeding through the roundabout. I dare you to change the channel during the last third of “The Pink Panther” — I just dare you.

The Pink Panther movies get more derivative after the first one, and Sellers eventually becomes a parody of himself, bumbling his addle-voweled way through pratfall after pratfall. Never again is there an equal to the sweet timing of Mrs. Clouseau as she fools her husband, who comes into the hotel room unexpectedly, into not noticing Sir Charles (behind the balcony curtains) and George (under the bed with a champagne bottle). Never again is the glamour of a ritzy 60s ski resort played up so well, as Princess Dala flirts with Sir Charles on a tiger-headed rug. “You want to win, Charles? Or be friends?” she asks him, before she passes out in a cloud of black glittery dress and smoky black eyeliner.

“The Pink Panther” showcased the days when a man could be both a thief and a gentleman; when princesses had inscrutable manservants showing up at their elbows with just the right type of martini glass; when a man dressed as an ape could grapple comfortably with another man in the same costume. It can’t be replaced. It can be remade, but it makes me unhappy to think there’s a crowd of folks who might hear “It Had Better Be Tonight” and don’t hum along. Mancini’s soundtrack is elegant and exotic, just like the Princess with her Pink Panther diamond, and 43 years later, is still worth every listening minute.

The Pink Panther: original soundtrack | movie (Amazon)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you'd like a copy.]
Henry Mancini – It Had Better Be Tonight (instrumental)
Henry Mancini – The Lonely Princess

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