Musings and Mirth
For my money, PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love is the album featuring a series of songs that expresses how I feel when I have fallen hard in my life for various people. No one else gets quite to it like she does. Full of passion, desire, occasional anger and pain. She gets the WANT better than anyone. Take, for instance, Long Snake Moan.
Part of it is that PJ looks so tortured, too. This is a woman who KNOWS. Long Snake Moan is so great, so overt, not even half-way suggestive:
Dunk you under deep salt water
Bring me lover
All your power
I’ll be no hell
Out of your spell
Over under die of pleasureHear my dreaming
You’ll be drowning
Hell’s no God above
All drunk on my love
You ought to hear my long snake moan
You ought to see me from my throne Dunk you under deep salt water
In my dreaming
You’ll be drowning
Raise me up Lord
Call me Lazarus
Hey lord help me
Make me my fail
I don’t think Peej has ever matched the studio version of Long Snake Moan – the live versions are great but you have to listen to the studio version to really feel what it is.
She has so many great love songs on To Bring You My Love, including the title track. But this one is the one that really gets me every time. The Dancer.
There is no better breakup song that I’ve ever heard. Sure, there are songs filled with anger and rage and bitterness. But THIS is about lost love, agonizing loss of a kind you can’t get back. The kind that keeps you up at night. The Dancer is the one that makes me certain PJ knows. She knows what it feels like to experience that kind of heartbreak. Here are the lyrics:
He came riding fast, like a phoenix out of fire-flames.
He came dressed in black, with a cross bearing my name.
He came bathed in light and splendour and glory.
I can’t believe what the Lord has finally sent me.
He said, Dance for me, fanciulla gentile.
He said, Laugh a-while, I can make your heart feel.
He said, Fly with me, touch the face of the true god,
and made me cry with joy at the depth of my love,
because I’ve prayed days, I’ve prayed nights
for the lord just to send me home some sign –
I’ve looked long, I’ve looked far,
to bring peace to my black and empty heart.
And my love will stay until the river bed runs dry,
and my love lasts as long as the sun shines in blue sky,
and I love him longer as each damn day goes,
but the man is gone, and heaven only knows,
I’ve cried days, I’ve cried nights
for the lord just to send me home some sign.
Is he near? Is he far? –
bring peace to my black and empty heart.
So long day, so long night,
oh lord, be near me tonight.
Is he near? Is he far? –
bring peace to my black and empty heart.
Finally, PJ gets it so right with Dress – if you don’t know how awesome she is you just have to watch this video. The song is about wearing a dress that will get the necessary attention. It’s just so utterly brilliant.
“Must be a way I can dress to please him. Swing and sway and everything will be all right.” I know, Peeje. I KNOW.
One of the best Bob Dylan songs without a doubt is I’ll Keep it With Mine. It’s so good, of course, that PJ Harvey quotes it in her song Oh My Lover. “Give me your troubles, I’ll keep them with mine.”
There is, of course, the famous Nico version:
You will search, babe, at any cost.
But how long can you search for what is not lost?
Everybody will help you.
Some people are very kind.
But if I can save you any time…
Come on, give it to me, I’ll keep it with mine.
Bob Dylan, of course, sings it best. If you’re one of those people who “doesn’t like” his voice then of course, you’d not want to listen to him singing it but you have to go to the source on stuff like this. The source is that voice. The way he plays piano on this.
Turns out Marianne Faithful covered it too:
And here is Richard and Linda Thompson’s version:
I don’t know why the photo they chose for this is from the Manchurian Candidate but that’s how YouTube rolls, I guess.
Sometimes it feels like we’re living through a time where nothing new can be invented. No new films, no new music. Maybe that’s true but music and songwriting has been around for hundreds of years at least, maybe even thousands of years. It’s not going anywhere any time soon. Bob Dylans come around once in a while but they appear to be more rare than anyone could have ever figured. Probably that’s because Dylan’s brain is wired for this and he happened to get lucky that he found the exact right thing to do with it.
We all find ourselves on paths when we start out in life. We are met with people who will help us and people who will hurt us. If you’re lucky, you don’t get stuck with the latter. For Dylan, he found his gift way before anything else could destroy him. It’s not the same for everyone. You will find this is true if you live long enough to look back on your life and assess where you were going and where you ended up. Most of us don’t end up in the place we wanted to be, not even close, and we’re baffled by why we couldn’t get there. What got in the way? What didn’t we do right? What was done to us?
Some people believe we have choices in how we end up, that we can game the system – we can have self-esteem and confidence. We can get really lucky and chase after our dreams and catch a few of them. Women are raised to believe that dream is a mate. Men are raised to believe that they will rise to the occasion of their births and make something of themselves. Most people fall somewhere in between.
Some people also believe there is no “right” or “wrong” there is just how we live out our lives, with or without success. A friend of mine once tried to nurture a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. They could not keep the bird as a pet and so when it grew to adult size they decided it was time to set it free. They had their video cameras ready to film the bird’s ascent into the wild. Th moment the bird was let out, a hawk swooped down and ate the poor defenseless bird. That is what life is. It’s meant for those who have a plan.
I have never been the kind of Bruce fan who has seen every concert. I haven’t played every one of his albums non-stop, nor do I know every small detail about his life and work. There are those kinds of fans. I know those kinds of fans. The truth is, I was just never on the ball enough to get that kind of shit together. Obsessive details are not my strong suit. I did grow up listening to Bruce, as I grew up listening to Bob Dylan – almost to the exclusion of everyone and anything else. I’d be lucky if some great guy would deposit a mixed tape in my life and open up a world of music to me. That happened a lot. It wasn’t that I was always the girl who loved the music the guy loved. It was that the men I loved or even liked a lot usually had better taste in music than I did and so they would introduce it to me. Listening to it through them, as though I WAS them, was how they entered me so profoundly, for many years. As such, music is often tied to a relationship, for better or worse.
But Bruce was a standalone love, not tied to anyone in particular. He is so universal that if he touches you deeply he becomes a part of you and a part of your life forever.
His Broadway show, which I should have moved mountains to pay thousands to see but didn’t, is one of the best things I’ve ever seen him do. He tells stories – Bruce stories in the way he tells them, just not the way we expect to hear them. He doesn’t want to bring us to heightened excitement so much as sit around the fire and tell us a few tales. It turns out they are all quite moving. His story about his mother, Clarence, his father, his hometown.
We know these characters because they thread throughout his songwriting, inspire so many of the lyrics – the universe of Bruce and New Jersey and working class men and women trying to find a reason to believe. Bruce has taken us all the way there, like his own private Idaho, or his Castle Rock. I know Faulkner has one too but I can’t remember what it’s called.
The way I listen to Bruce now is only through his live recordings. I can’t listen to the original records because I’ve heard them too many times. On the Netflix show, as many times as I’ve heard Born to Run, it sounds different when sang as part of a storytelling ceremony, though the eternal power of that song is unbreakable.
I was a teenager when I first was deeply touched by Bruce. Darkness on the Edge of Town was my favorite – a record full of longing, full of desire for something you don’t have yet – which is, a life somewhere else. I remember listening to it in my bedroom over and over, Something in the Night, Prove it All Night, The Promised Land, Candy’s Room, Racing in the Street. The whole thing, like so many of his albums, has a distinct beginning, middle and end – it’s designed with its own dramatic arc, with conflict, and Bruce always feels the impulse to right things in the end. He doesn’t want to send you away sad.
The best lifelong songwriters do compile their albums to be long stories that take you from one place to another. Springsteen is particularly good at the highs (no one does the highs better, no one) and the lows. In his show on Netflix he talks about going on a journey with his fans, and how performing for us gave him a profound sense of purpose. He thanks all of us for going on that journey with him. Oh, how many of us want to thank him for filling the empty spaces, for reviving dead things, for taking us into worlds of used cars, wet skin by rivers, Jersey girls, velvet rims, state troopers, forgotten wives, redheaded women, the badlands, ghosts of Tom Joads, brilliant disguises, men who wrestle with demons, women who try to stand by them and love them. How do we thank someone who has given us all so much?
Maybe we can thank him by remembering what the real stuff is, by staying connected to people creating music and worlds still, in this blacked out, empty, dark and lonely world. We can keep what Bruce helped invent alive. Maybe that will matter. Maybe.
Over the years, captured on camera.
My dad is dying. He’s really finally going. He’s been going for a year now about. I watched the slow decline of someone who did not think anything was wrong with him, refused any sort of treatment for what ailed him, and then his body just decided it was time to let go. It’s been a long road, his death. And he isn’t quite ready yet. Somehow his strong heart keeps beating. I am realizing that death brings us to a point of celebration and love we couldn’t really get to before they pass. I am watching his friends and family come together to show him their love which is kind of amazing.
I don’t really write much here. No one really blogs as such anymore. They use Facebook or Twitter because the response is immediate – you can reach a much larger audience that way. No one reads this anymore – or ever – so it’s a “safe space” for me now to write if I feel like it. Tonight I feel like it because I want to record the time my daughter Emma and I went to his hospital room and watched Black Panther as he lay dying. He was in the VA in Westwood before moving to the hospice, where he is now. He was obsessed with watching the movie Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. It’s not very good to me but to him it’s the greatest film ever made. It revolves around – at least as far as I can tell – a boy with special powers who has to be sent off to a school where they “understand” him better. My dad was sent off to school by grandmother because she – a single working mom in the 1930s and 1940s – could not care for him. He was a troubled kid – theft, drugs, eventually gangs before he found Jazz drumming as an outlet. He’s known in jazz circles of LA as a bit of a legend when it comes to drumming. One time his jazz friends came to his hospital room and jammed with him. He picked up his drums and played on a practice pad with them.
When people we love die we do have to come to some sort of conclusion about them. Were they good to us? Good to the world? Were they bad? We’re all a mixture of both, I would imagine, despite the internet’s mass hysteria daily that seeks to roust out anyone not “pure” and “good.” We all do make mistakes. Someday I’ll tell the whole story of my dad but for now I want to just leave it at: to most people he was never “enough.” Not enough of a son. Not enough of a man, not enough of a father or a husband. But to me he really was. As hard as it was to communicate with him at times he was a man of great kindness and compassion. THAT is something I will dearly miss.
So here’s to you, pops. Please do go gently into that great night. You have earned a little peace.
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