Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Come Saturday Morning, I'm Going Away With My Friend"

     Jesus is coming Saturday. I know this to be true because I've read it in the newspaper, on the internet and even in "Doonesbury." Some preacher in California who's had people all packed to go before says his math was off last time but he's sure he's got it right this time.

     So what does that mean for you? Well kids you can stop doing your homework and skip school. For that matter, you can stop heeding those commercials warning you not to try meth even once.

     And your parents? Drop that plan to quit smoking. Take the rent money and spend it on crack.

     This advice is only good if, like me, you're a Baptist. Because, you see, we Baptists believe "once in grace, always in grace" and that's a wonderful doctrine.

      Methodists, Catholics and some other sects believe in "falling from grace." Thus they need to be on their really best behavior, get right with God if they're not real soon and go out and start proselytizing.

     Sample conversation between a Methodist and Baptist this week:

     Methodist: Brother, are you walking in grace? Would you like to kneel down and pray with me? The hour of his coming is nigh.

     Baptist: Don't think so. Want some crack?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Same Old Song

     Songs get recycled. Sometimes an artist will release a hit song and try to follow it with something that sounds much the same hoping to recapture that success. This was especially true when the recording company essentially owned the artist and called the shots.

     The Four Tops had a smash hit, the wonderful “Can’t Help Myself,” and followed it with the self-mockingly titled “Same Old Song,” which sounded a lot like the earlier song but not as good.

     Similarly, The Drifters’ “On the Boardwalk” was followed by “Up on the Roof.” I can just see the record company calling Tin Pan Alley and telling young Carole King, “Honey, we need you to write something for The Drifters which sounds like ‘On the Boardwalk.’”

     Jim Morrison kicked and screamed about it, but he was forced to follow The Doors’ single “Light My Fire” with “Love Me Two Times.”

     But what I really want to talk about is when people just copy an earlier tune and change the lyrics. Sometimes this is OK because it’s so obvious. Everybody has a “Bo Diddley.” Buddy Holly quickly followed it with “Not Fade Away.” The same song, but you can’t really sing “Bo Diddley” if you’re not Bo Diddley anyway. And just to cite one of many others: Springstein’s “She’s The One.”

     Other times songwriters just lift tunes and claim them as their own. Those bobbysoxers in the fifties had no idea Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” (the only of his hits I know of that he “wrote”) is the Civil War ballad “Aura Lee” with substituted lyrics, but Elvis wasn’t trying to con anybody and the song was public domain.

     Not so with Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver.” We’re not supposed to notice that the verses are Neil Young’s “Helpless”? This riles me. Neil only has about a dozen tunes which he recycles into hundreds of songs and this guy just rips one of them off?

      But Neil’s too nice a guy to sue.

     Not so the guy who wrote “He’s So Fine” for the Chiffons and sued George Harrison for “My Sweet Lord.” I must confess that I and nobody else I knew or heard of who grew up with “He’s So Fine” and walked around campus singing “My Sweet Lord” caught it. Maybe it was changing “doolang doolang” to “hare krishna” that threw us off, but once you know, it’s straight “He’s So Fine.”

     Sometimes, as with “My Sweet Lord,” the masking of the earlier tune is quite an accomplishment in itself. Have you ever noticed that the Indigo Girls only hit, “Closer to Fine,” is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” slightly speeded up with some interesting harmonies? Beck’s “Loser” is sung over the “Midnight Rider” backbeat riff. And Gary Wright gets some measure of his due with Springstein’s “The Rising.” Sing the chorus of that song then the chorus of “My Love is Alive.” Where’s the difference?

(Readers are invited to cite similar instances in the “comments” section.)

Flip Side

     And then there are those who refuse to keep doing the same old song. I imagine one of the reasons the Beatles started Apple was to get out from under Capital Records pressure to keep producing songs that make you feel happy (clap, clap) inside.

     On the other hand, they were probably so big by then they could have called the shots anyway, like, say, Bob Dylan. The record companies were happy to get whatever Mr. Zimmerman had to offer, but he at now famous times infuriated nearsighted fans by producing radically different sounds. (I must admit I fell into that group when he went on the Jesus binge)

     Springstein had his first big selling LP with “Born to Run”—itself a major departure from the style of his earlier albums—but “The Promise,” a video/cd box set I highly recommend, shows him going to great lengths to produce an album that would sound distinctly different from “Born to Run.”

     Some others with the gumption to keep changing their sound: Beck, never the same thing twice; Elvis Costello and Paul Simon going from folk to salsa to gospel to Afro-beat.

     It’s not coincidence that the artists just listed are or were at some time at the head of the pack.


     For a couple of years, while I watched T.V. I played guitar and wrote songs. One day it started to seem like work and I stopped. Now I play solitaire.

     I’m something of a manic-depressive. They don’t use that term anymore. Now it’s bipolar. People seem to be proud of being diagnosed bipolar but nobody liked manic depression. Being bipolar, you have a condition, an excuse, but if you’re manic depressive there’s something wrong with you dude.

     Anyway, I go through streaks of giddy creativity interspersed with periods of lethargy. This solitaire phase corresponds with one of the latter.

     But even playing solitaire for hours on end can be rewarding. You have to shuffle cards a lot, and I find that soothing. “Fl-l-i-i-c-k-k-k, fl-u-u-u-m-m-m-p-p-p” a magical seven times.

     I’m developing a philosophy of life based on solitaire. First of all, obviously, you face it alone. That and the playing of the game are in a way like Zen meditation, something that’s always there, like your breath, on which you can focus attention and maybe free your mind.

     As with life, if you can pay attention in solitaire, see what’s coming and have a plan for dealing with it, your odds of success are much better. Of course you can just automatically play whatever card you can and sometimes win by dumb luck, but if the cards are stacked against you, if it’s not in the cards, your best just won’t be good enough.

     There are parallels between playing solitaire and being a criminal defense attorney, the most obvious being that you have to play the hand you’re dealt and the cards are usually stacked so that you cannot win. But if you pay attention to the way the cards are falling, occasionally there’s an opening to pull victory from defeat---if you can see it. And of course you can occasionally win by pure dumb luck.

     So, Da, isn’t this just a rationalization for spending a big chunk of your life doing nothing more productive than playing with yourself?

     Well yeah.