Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Best Songs - Bruce Cockburn First Song

When I heard Bruce Cockburn's Use Me While You Can  I had already been a fan for a long time, and the photographer in me loved his use of imagery in his lyrics. This song made me want to make photographs that  reflected that imagery, and if I lived the rock star lifestyle that Doug Lucy lives, I'd be able to do the necessary travel to make those photographs. In the meanwhile, I'm continuing my Best Songs blog posts while I photograph Boise.

Third in the series (and these are not in any order) is Cockburn's Call It Democracy (the definitive live version is here with howlingly brilliant guitar work). It makes the list for several reasons. First, I'm a huge Bruce Cockburn fan, because his work is just so finely crafted and original, and his music has, at times, been the soundtrack to my life. Second, the gorgeous imagery in some of his lyrics is utterly compelling.

My friend Matt Brook brought home the point to me that good writing has brevity, no wasted words, and the lyrics to this song embody that spirit. What other three minute song manages to use the words loansharks, profiteers, blood, swamp, labor camps, dirty MF, gun, sacrament, deification, idolatry, ideology, fuck, misery, bottom feeders, cheap bordello, and revolution and many many more, and make it all a coherent song, and musically good? Let's dive in!

Cockburn comes out of the gate letting us know how he feels about the MF's:

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Tell me how you really feel about these guys, Bruce. Later:

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

Augustine described a sacrament as "a visible sign of an invisible reality". The IMF is an instrument, just like the gun to be used in response. Perfect.

The local governments gets a look too:

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

Rage; protest; calling it what it is, and using the word "fuck" - all things that I think go to making a good rock and roll song. This one is a little outside the norm, but still a great one for it's uniqueness and honesty.

And they call it democracy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

He Came Dancing Across the Water

How many songs by Neil Young will I include in my "Best Songs" series of blog posts? Lots, for sure.

Let's take one that is sort of second tier for starts, "Cortez the Killer". It echos my love song theme from my earlier post here:

You can listen to it here:

Big themes here, the destruction of an entire civilization. Neil spends three minutes establishing the musical theme before he utters a word, a big intro for the big theme. And it works. He picks his words well:

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun.

On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls he often wondered
With the secrets of the worlds.

And his subjects gathered 'round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colors
For the angry gods to see.

And the women all were beautiful
And the men stood straight and strong
They offered life in sacrifice
So that others could go on.

But at the end it's a love song, and the transition is perfect and jarring. Other will argue that it isn't a love song, that it refers to Montezuma's wife, but it a love song to me.We go from human sacrifice to a simple lament for for love lost but still there; and isn't love human sacrifice sometimes? When we care for others, we offer ourselves so that other can go on...

And I know she's living there
And she loves me to this day
I still can't remember when
Or how I lost my way. 

As in most things, it's the simplicity that compells.

This song makes it into my top 100 best songs for the laconic but epic guitar work. A seven minute song with one minute of singing where neither the vocals nor the guitar bores you. Sentimental lyrics. Wonderful.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Gimme Shelter

I've been working hard on fish and habitat stuff, so I'm not blogging as much as I would like. I  started the Top 100 Albums idea, and I'm too busy to keep it up right now (but I eventually will).

So while I get my new job going, I'll try a less ambitious series:

Good songs and why I think they are.

A big thank you to Neil Guintoli for the inspiration.

First off, Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.

Forget about whether you want to hear a Gibson Les Paul being played in this song or a Gibson ES (I want the ES, give me later versions with Keith playing lead in a brilliantly restrained bit of guitar work. I like this one with Lisa:

Think if you had never heard a Rolling Stones song ever in your life and someone played this for you and said "This is rock music". They'd be right, and you could easily make the argument that Gimme Shelter is definitive.

My top 1 rock and roll song is Gimme Shelter.

And Lisa Fisher gets my vote for most arguably important female rocker.

Three brilliant chords, but the lyrics are equally cool and cogent:

Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today.
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.

War, children, it's just a shot away


War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away

And there we go, in a moment, from war to love, from strife to heroin, and it's the same thing - it's sister morpheine, and being addicted, and war, all at once.

Mind your addictions, people. It's just a kiss away.

My top 1 rock and roll song.

The Weekends

Saw Crazy Heart in the local Googleplex last weekend. Not a great movie, but a good one, and I loved it because Jeff Bridges performance was brilliant. Nuanced, never over the top, but perfectly expressive (watch the subtle genius of his work when the Jean character closes the door in his face). He does his own singing in the film, and I like that. The cinematography is no big deal, but they shot Bridges really well, when you see it you'll know what I mean (no spoilers here).

It's a film that ended up being, to me, about the intentional kindness of the people around you, and I was charmed by that part of it. But see it for Bridges performance, and draw your own conclusions.

This past weekend it was The Crazies (or see the 1973 version first, if you are a completist). No characters were particularly charming in this movie, but it was good. Take a sense of humor with you and you'll enjoy it.