Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Answer Me My Love" / Nat King Cole / The Nat King Cole Story

You can have your Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosbys. For me, there is only one top “Crooner”, and that, friends, is Nat King Cole.

I spent many a long weekend over at my good friend Dominic’s house growing up. His father was a huge Cole fan, party due to their shared Chicago heritage, and played his records often of the stereo system. Back then, when I was into top 40, or Van Halen, or punk, it was easy to slam that music and make fun of it, especially hearing stuff like “Mexico Joe, the Boogie-Woogie Caballero”. Days later, though, I would find that songs like “Orange Colored Sky”, “Sweet Lorraine”, and "Paper Moon" had wormed their way into my brain and that….I sort of enjoyed it.

Sometime in college, I gave in and bought the double CD set “The Nat King Cole Story”. I can’t say it was (or is) in heavy rotation, but when I decided to play it, often on still evenings out on the porch or something, the effect was magical, pulling me right back to my friend’s house with the kerosene heater on in the playroom, casually talking with his Dad or playing a role playing game (insert nerd joke here). I also pleasantly found out that it was a great secret weapon to surprise and impress the ladies: “Oh, sure, I like Nine Inch Nails like everyone else too, but sometimes, I just have to relax with something different, old soul that I am. Can I get you a brandy?” (It's amazing what "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" can do. Remember that, kids.)And lest we forget, maybe the signature holiday song of all time.

And really, there is not better mood setting music to me than these pre-rock era singers. They represent a style and classiness that you rarely find in music any longer, and damn, did they dress smoothly. That’s why Dave Chappelle’s goof on gentle Nat Cole wasn’t (snicker) funny (snort) at all (BWAA!)
Chappelle's Show
Nat King Cole Christmas
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

Now, having said that, this song begins with two of my least favorite parts about crooner music of that time: the sweeping orchestral flourishes and overbearing backup choruses. I cringe a bit on this song for the first 13 seconds until Cole begins to sing, and that mellow vocal always hits me. Picture pouring melted butter on a feather pillow, and that’s Cole’s voice. His phrasing, tone, timber, even his enunciation, create just a singular beautiful instrument that’s immediately distinctive and original.

The lyrics aren’t really worth going over; it’s complete, stereotypical romantic sap that your grandparents fell in love to (boy’s girl has gone cold, he doesn’t know why, he wants to know so he can make it right). But again, Cole to me isn’t about the intent or purpose of the song, it’s about the mood and the idea of what that music can do. Nat King Cole could read the starting lineup for the 2009 Florida Gators and I would probably listen, spellbound. He was that awesome.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Terminal Preppie" / Dead Kennedys / Plastic Surgery Disasters

I really began to get into punk music between 8th and 9th grade. My interest in it came about rather naturally from my immersion into the skater / townie culture that I started dipping my toe in around the same time.

I really have to thank an old buddy of mine, Worth Parker, for getting me started. He was the first dude to get a skateboard (the Vision Gator), buy Thrasher magazine (only posers read Transworld), and buy punk records. He let me tape his copy of The Dead Kennedys' “Plastic Surgery Disasters” which I listened to incessantly, which led me to buying Agent Orange, The Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies (which, awesomely, I begged my Mom to buy for me at the old Ruthless Records downtown on her way home from work. What in the world was she thinking?), and Black Flag tapes.

As I listened to this stuff, I became really obsessed with it in only the way a fourteen year old can really be. To trot out an old cliché, the lyrics really spoke to me at the time and caused me to completely reexamine the social constructs of my school, community and family. I bought a Black Flag T-shirt and began wearing that and an old olive green Army jacket of my Dad’s and started looking at my old friends who were still into Van Halen and Zeppelin with a critical eye. I got lots of shit for my new attitude, wardrobe, and interest in music, but of course that only fed it further.

Bought at Ruthless Records, of course

Eventually I began to reconcile that punk ethos with the reality of being a responsible citizen who, after all, lived in a secure, middle class , two-parent home and had no conceivable right to complain about things (“I am NOT walking the dog, Mom! I’ve had it with your bourgeoisie paradigm of suburban life!”). Plus, in the end, I was too nice and raised with too much politeness to be a good punk. I will admit, though, that I’ve internalized much more of the views of Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra than I may have realized. Even though what I went through was Teenage Rebellion 101, there are still some aspects that I can’t completely let go, and that in all honesty surprises me. I’ve always appreciated music which, at it’s heart, believed in more than chicks and beer, (and damn did they believe), and in the end, I think that’s what still sticks with me the most.

"Punk Ain't no religious cult / Punk Means thinking for yourself / You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair when a jock still lives inside your head"

“Terminal Preppie” is, like most all other DK songs, delivered as a sarcastic, sneering screed,a minute and a half buzzsaw. Jello Biafra does what he does best here – assuming the narrative voice of the object of his scorn and ridicule.

My ambition in life
Is too look good on paper
What I want is a spot
In some big corporation

This sounded great to me at the time, a condemnation of people focused on the dollar and getting ahead, with no thought to what’s “real” in life (again, this from a kid who had his folded laundry lovingly placed on his bed once a week.. What the hell did I know? Who was I to criticize?)

Beliushi’s my hero I lampoon and I ape him
My news of the world comes from Sports Illustrated

Here’s where I ran into a little disconnect. My buddies and I did worship Animal House's Blutarsky, and I couldn’t hide the fact that I loved sports. And now, er, subscribe to SI. Sorry, Jello

I’m proud of my trophies like my empty beer cans
Stacked in rows up the wall to impress all my friends

I came back to this lyric a bunch in college and grad school at a million apartment parties I attended. At least half (more if it was a guy’s) had a line of beer cans or liquor bottles lined atop of their kitchen cabinets. It always gave me a snort.

Now I’m not here to learn
I just want to get drunk
And major in business
And be taught how to fuck

UGA in the early and mid 80’s. That about covers it, no?

I want a wife with tits
Who just smiles all the time
In my centerfold world
Filled with Springsteen and wine

Uh-oh. Starting to his close to home here (well, at least the Springsteen shot)

Someday I’ll have power!
Someday I’ll have boats!
A tract in some suburb
With Thanksgivings to host

Yeah, the last two lines busted me. What can you do? We all sell out eventually, don’t we? We just negotiate our own internal price and eventually justify it to ourselves.

The last thing I’ll point out here is one of the most underrated musicians of all time – the DK’s bassist, Klaus Floride. You can tell from the first riff in this song what’s up, and he's is just incredible on this whole album. His bass launches many of the DK’s songs, and he always has some major riffs and innovative lines. Great stuff.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In Memoriam : Michael Jackson

Man, what a strange, strange, summer.

I'm not going into a long narrative this week, as you've probably seen and heard enough over the last few days by much more skillful writers than myself.

Let me just run two things by you:

1) A performance by a young Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack on a song from "Free to Be You and Me" from the 70's. I'd never seen this before, but caught it in the mix of tributes on Sunday. If you watch the video and listen to the song, it's really, really poignant and sad, and would have been even before his death. I'm not gonna lie; I teared up just a bit.

2) I made a Michael Jackson cake for the Barnett Shoals Cake Fair in Fifth Grade. Sweet.