Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

the road to Macca

Enjoying the Grammys. The Sly Stone tribute sounding good until the Rolling Stone wanna-bes from Aerosmith, and then Sly himself, looking old, weird, and out of it, a disspiriting combination to experience as a viewer.

U2 sounding good, and the duet with the singer whom I didn’t recognize and whose name I didn’t catch, a middle-aging African American melisma mistress of the R & B style -- the duet was great.

Mariah Carey rocked the house. I’ve never vibed with all the hate directed her way from rockville and critville -- amazing singer. I’d never seen her sing -- out there, intense, extreme -- convincing.

Springsteen’s song “Devils and Dust” -- no. The switch from the 1st-person sympatico to the preaching that excessive fear turns the God-filled soul to devils and dust, no. Doesn’t work, the switch from identification to condescending explanation of How You’re Messed Up. Maybe that’s not his intention in the song, but that’s what I got; I never felt he was speaking for himself, of his own experience. And what’s with the circa-1963 Dylanisms? Puh-leeze. And, Bruce, ditch the harmonica. Using it as a signfier -- earnest folk music! -- is insulting. If you’re going to play it, learn to do something with it other than pick the bones of a licked over Dylan cliche, sans nuance or distinctiveness.

Keith Urban is very handsome, and his song started out with a nice James Taylor-esque vibe. Faith Hill didn’t register at all.

Christina Aguilera would have come off better had she sung before Mariah rather than after -- similar style but lacking the excessive something extra. Herbie Hancock was wailing, but his intensely filigreed obligattoes clashed with Christina’s -- wasn’t making it for me.

McCartney’s perpetual cloying expression annoys -- yes, Paul, you are cute and clever, but wearing an expression that says, “I look for your approval and expect to get it” starts to wear and tear. Still, Sir Paul, you write the tunes. I dug the opening song from his most recent album, “A Fine Line,” with his great shifts in texture and mood, dissonant piano licks, simply lovely melody, interesting emotional tone of brotherly love and concern. Everybody dug “Helter Skelter,” proto-metal (though I like the new one better), and coming out to sing “Yesterday” with Linkin Park was nice -- a very pretty song, but I never completely connect with it.

The main strain of “Yesterday” is a 7-bar phrase -- very unusual at the time for popular music, and sounding completely natural. Burt Bacharach has talked about how he had to fight with A&R directors to let him record songs with odd-shaped phrases; eventually he got to do it a lot with Dionne Warwick. The Beatles were doing it way early on too -- by “With the Beatles,” their 2nd album, 1963, “All I’ve Got to Do” and “Not a Second Time” -- both Lennon tunes, mainly -- have 9 and 11-bar phrases. McCartney was equally free and easy with the phrase lengths: an amazing conjunction of talents (someone may have mentioned this before me, somewhere): 2 guys in the same band free from the tyranny of 4, where every phrase is either 4, 8, 12, or 16 bars. It’s true -- they did grow up together, started playing together at age 13 or 14 or 15 or whatever it was -- young! Formative! And, with McCartney, continuing to this day, on his energetic, wonderfully melodic, and emotionally textured current album.

The other day I listened to part of Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” solo album, and was struck again by the rhythmic freedom. I put “P.O.B.” on because I’d recently read about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot in the “New York Review of Books.” Fawkes had conspired with a bunch of other people to blow up the new Parliament building in London in 1605; the plot was foiled, but had it succeeded, it could have killed most of the British ruling class. One of the books is called “Remember Remember,” and I remembered that Lennon’s tune “Remember” on “P.O.B.” ended with an explosion after he screamed “remember remember the 5th of November” -- Guy Fawkes Night, a noisy traditional English celebration commemorating the foiling of the plot. In the song, the explosion happens -- is it a revolutionary call, “let’s blow up Parliament”? -- or is it a simple reminder about this English holiday that traditionally features fireworks? In the context of the song, it sounds like a joke-fantasy about revolution. I could be wrong. Most people seem to think it’s about the holiday.

* * *

The other day while walking down the street I looked in a restaurant window and saw Howard Schultz sitting at a table with another guy. I thought about walking in and giving him a dollar since he’s asking me to build him a new basketball arena, but I like the restaurant he was eating in and didn’t want to make a fuss; not to mention I lacked the guts.

* * *

In the car, oldies radio, “This Magic Moment” by
Jay and the Americans; I tell my 3-year-old son, “This is Jay singing. Not our friend Jay, but another Jay.”

My son says, “Where does he live?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know his cell phone number? I want to go to his house.”

“I don’t know his cell phone number, but I’ll put the word out.”

“What does ‘put the word out’ mean?”

My beloved spouse: “It means he’ll write about it on his blog tonight!”

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