Idle Thoughts On Pop Songs And The Seasons

strong men create good times
good times create weak men
weak men create bad times
bad times create strong men

Summer

June Carter, He Don’t Love Me Anymore. What’s alien in that c. 1955 video is the everyday on-air interaction between the good-natured host and his firecracker starlet guest, the young June Carter. If you imagine having a country of your own in which your public space — in this case television airwaves — belongs to you, you might envision something a bit like that exchange in which he introduces her and they pick on each other a bit.

America was a house with many rooms. One of those rooms was Appalachian hillbilly culture, perhaps one closest to my heart on account of the melodious regional accent. It’s no wonder that this is where Tom Wolfe looked for inspiration in creating the Charlotte Simmons character. And it’s no wonder that Johnny Cash fell in love with June. I once said:

[She] is a vision. Like just about every young woman, she has those little imperfections that modesty makes irresistible… That thing I said earlier about modest attire amplifying a cute girl’s attractiveness…

The decade, with its relaxed ways, was America’s summer. But every summer has its storm clouds. Vivian Liberto, first wife of then-drug addled Johnny Cash and mother of his four daughters, writes about a confrontation in which June said to her, “Vivian, he will be mine.” The rest of the story is Johnny and June growing old together. Do you believe in love?


Autumn

Angelo Badalamenti, Laura Palmer’s Theme. It’s simple and reminiscent of Erik Satie’s compositions. A bright moment happens at 1:00, a key change. Brett Favre, in the twilight of his career, was asked about his favorite football memories. He said that it’s not the championships or the victories, it’s those times just having fun with the guys in the locker room or wherever. That answer rang true with me. And there is a flip side to that — you also remember those quiet moments alone.

One such inexplicably indelible moment for me was during Army training in San Antonio, Texas in the early 1990s. Our platoon slept in a large bay with two rows of bunk beds. Listening to a local radio station on my Walkman before drifting off to sleep after lights-out, I heard a song from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. It was “Falling” with Julee Cruise.

The early 1990s was a supernova burst of American creativity, all of it animated by the dream of a world that had flickered just out of reach and then disappeared forever. Autumn is elegiac and it is the one season I’d never give away.


Winter

George Michael, Praying for Time. It would be nice if the great song were written and performed by a godly man, but that’s not what happened. It was created by a faggot who got busted at an airport toilet stall. It’s a lesson in humility for everyone, but also in hope, when a man so flawed he makes you look clean teaches you something. “Listen without prejudice” means that it’s okay to judge after listening.

Whether you’re Georgios Panayiotou or someone less cursed, you have your cross to bear. He had his, homosexuality. I have mine, a light one. The pretty girl I used to know who was diagnosed with an awful illness at 21 had hers. Maybe you have yours.

Listen to the song’s despairing, nihilistic lyrics. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn’t. Whatever George Michael was thinking of when he wrote it in 1989, it speaks to me now.

It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time

The girl I mentioned, she told me about the diagnosis that took place a few years earlier and I told her that we all have our cross to bear. After all of that, I met with her dad. He looked like a wreck. He said, “So you’re the ‘PA’ that she talked so much about.” It was a sad moment when I handed him her stuff. He signed a couple of forms where I told him I need his signature.


Spring

Johnny Cash, Children, Go Where I Send TheeWalk The Line (2005) lied about two things. One, the movie blamed Vivian for the failure of her and Johnny’s marriage. Two, it was silent on the greatest part of Johnny’s career, his Christian music. Yet the film had several good moments, the best one being when Johnny’s disgusted father Ray Cash says:

You’re sittin’ on a high horse, boy. I never had talent, I did the best I could with what I had. Can you say that? Mister big shot, mister pill poppin’ rock star. Who are you to judge, you ain’t got nothin’, big empty house, nothin’, children you don’t see, nothin’, big ol’ expensive tractor stuck in the mud, nothin’.

In the movie, that was Johnny’s rock bottom moment after which he changed his life. “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is the best interpretation of the American Evangelical spirit in popular music. Johnny would have made a fine Marine Corps drill instructor calling cadence. It’s a fantastic performance, featuring an older June Carter and the other Carter family ladies, the Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins. Under their captain’s command, they sing like conquerors.

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Songs I Liked At First Hearing

The best popular songs grow on you. Others dazzle you at first hearing. Sometimes your interest in them fizzles out fast. When they’re really good, you enjoy them in the long run too.

Irene Cara, Flashdance. The video has great shots of Pittsburgh. The actress, Jennifer Beals, is a fair Mulatta. You don’t think of her that way, though, when you watch the video, especially if you were seeing it in 1983. She’s not the girl you bring home, but she fits right in if it’s just her. Counterintuitively, when any “off-White” phenotype becomes common, it becomes alien.

U2, New Year’s Day. That song came on during a middle school dance. Hearing it then and there, it was literally the most mind-blowing sound I had ever heard. Early, intense U2 is as good as it gets. “Bad” might well be the most unknown perfect rock song.

R.E.M., You are the Everything. This one I got from my high school girlfriend in the late 1980s. She popped Green into her car’s stereo system as we, um, parked. I played it on YouTube not long ago, hearing it for the first time after thirty years.

The Cure, Plainsong. The song keeps you waiting for some twenty seconds, then rapture. A friend and I took a road trip to Florida by way of Atlanta to visit two of our associates. Got on the road in the evening (like, who doesn’t have the stamina to drive 900 miles overnight on no sleep at 20) and that song kicked off our voyage.

Gene Loves Jezebel. Gorgeous. Another friend played it in his car. Thirty years later, he and I emptied a bottle of Jack while watching Foo Fighters videos on a giant plasma screen. “Gorgeous” has an earnest, urgent melody that taps into your sense of unlimited possibilities.

Soul Asylum, Runaway Train. A very sad video. Even more so chilling now as a historic artifact, given the dark speculations around the monsters that run Western governments.

Melissa Etheridge, Similar Features. Her first three albums are excellent. This song has that paradoxically uplifting and tormented sound, similar to U2’s “Bad.”

R.E.M., Don’t Go Back to Rockville. (The song begins after twenty seconds). No idea of where I’m going in life at 22. Driving home from a closing shift at a restaurant, smoking a cigarette as the song played. It was a rough time. The guys I worked and drank with that year, no idea what they’re doing these days. I vaguely remember their names. Thanks to them I’d not change a single thing about 91/92.

The line Don’t go back to Rockville / Waste another year got my attention. Several days later I went to an Army recruiter (I was already a trained reservist) and enlisted for active duty.

I’ll stop on the early ’90s. Open thread.

It Grew On Me

Last week I featured the 1969 hit “Kwiaty Ojczyste” (The Flowers of my Land) by Czeslaw Niemen and described that song as “trippy and jazzy, anachronistic and timeless.” That post also includes translated lyrics, which celebrate the beauty of flowers across Poland’s regions. Soaring vocals by female backup singers carry the song over the threshold of greatness.

The video above is a 2015 cover performance of that classic by young artist Natalia Przybysz. At first, I wasn’t sure how to take that performance but I had a feeling that it would grow on me… I played it again.

The cover follows the same structure as Niemen’s original: two verses, instrumental solo, repeat of second verse, choral outtro. Both versions include the “na na na” chorus at key moments, which then goes full-bloom in the outtro. The cover is well done, keeping the spirit of the original in a contemporary execution. I only wish the cover version outtro were as long as Niemen’s. It really is the heart of that song.

I was right, I couldn’t stop playing the above video several times over. “It grew on me” might be the best compliment that can be given to a musician. A lot of songs wow you at first hearing but then quickly play themselves out. This one is a better experience with each listen.

I also like her interpretation of those choral vocals. In Niemen’s version, his female backup singers do that part. Przybysz leads that chorus in her cover version, which makes sense because she has a female voice. The band’s male guitarists back her on it.

There are other videos of her covering “Flowers of my Land.” Those were performed at more humble settings — smaller stages, clubs. She’s severe and “feminist-looking” in the video at the top of this post, but in other performances she smiles and banters with the audience.

Also in 2015, she performs at a small stage in Lublin. Something the eye can’t ignore is the odd way in which her left hand hovers and moves around over her lower abdomen. Could be nothing, could be connected to her unwanted pregnancy of that same year.

She sports a casual look in track pants and a plain white t-shirt in that concert. Artsy Chick from this celebration of female beauty.

Not being familiar with Natalia Przybysz, I did a cursory web search. Her other songs are what you can call contemporary pop and she comes across as someone with feminist inclinations. You can see that in her appearance in the 2015 performances. She shows a softer edge three years later, in this 2018 performance at a club in Poznan. Friendly talk to the fans, longer hair.

Top search results bring up her revelation that she traveled abroad in 2015 to have an abortion. (She has two children and doesn’t rule out having a third one, as goes a magazine interview; it’s not clear if she’s married). Such a confession is big deal in Poland, where abortion is illegal and broadly condemned; another pop star’s career tanked after a similar revelation. As to what she had done, Przybysz said “I really didn’t want that child.”

I took that biographical tangent because I’m outside looking in, and the question of common national culture interests me. There is no lack of liberalism in Poland’s pop industry and like in any Western country, there is some amount of ideological polarization. By what I had checked out, Przybysz struck me as a Lillith Fair’esque artist.

Yet what compelled me to not outright ignore her is the fact that she puts so much heart into Niemen’s “Kwiaty Ojczyste.”

I found it remarkable that at least by superficial appearances, here is a Millennial pop singer whom you wouldn’t expect to be reverent of tradition, yet she pays such homage to a beloved classic, no less so that it’s an apolitical song that celebrates the beauty of her country.

Certain national memories unite people across ideological divides. Nation Wreckers seek to corrupt those bonds of common identity so that nothing holds a people together when mundane political disagreements divide them. You can’t build a globalist empire without breaking the natural and exclusionary bonds that connect people within nations. You can’t wreck a nation without (((exploiting))) the sinful but otherwise self-correcting impulses of its people, such female rebelliousness.

Music is sub rational, the performer and the listener transcend material reality when the song strikes their natural harmonic. For me, it’s in that long choral outtro in “Kwiaty Ojczyste,” both in Niemen’s original and Przybysz’ reinterpretation. In that meditative White Energy moment you wordlessly, in streams of something that merges with a higher reality, envision great possibilities in the name of eternal life.

“The Flowers Of My Land”

As with literary epics, there are popular songs that rise to the level of an epic. November Rain has the length, the expanse of consciousness, the presence of higher reality beyond the mere lyrics.

Czesław Niemen (1939 – 2004) hailed from Poland’s pre-war eastern Borderlands, or Kresy. He was an ethnic Pole from present-day Belarus and sang with that regional accent. The 1960s were his peak years as a recording artist and he’s best remembered for the hippie aesthetic of that era. Nuclear annihilation weighed on everybody’s mind, whatever side of the Cold War divide one’s accident of birth. He was heavily influenced by American blues and jazz, as you’ll hear in this song.

At around 30 years old for reasons I don’t recall now, I got drunk in my apartment and played The Flowers Of My Land on repeat loop until all the lights went out. It’s a song worth taking another look at. Those flowers — are they a metaphor?… what is this land… what is this “my“…

The song is both trippy and jazzy, anachronistic and timless. That choral female accompaniment carries it over the threshold of epic.

Enjoy. The two verses end at 2:45, and that’s followed by a hypnotic two-minute saxophone solo. Then, like a burst of sunlight after 4:35, the chorus kicks in. The second verse is repeated and then the long choral outro becomes the heart of this song.

Kwiaty Ojczyste / The Flowers Of My Land
Czesław Niemen (1969)

Kwiaty nad Wisłą mazowieckie / Flowers on the banks of the Vistula river
Stokrotki, fiołki i kaczeńce / Daisies, violets and marigolds
Zielone wierchy nad Warszawą / Green treetops over Warsaw
Kwieciste nad domami wieńce. / Floral gardens around the homes.
Kwiaty znad Odry, gąszcze, róże, / Flowers by the Odra river, thickets, roses,
Stukolorowe pióra pawie / Colorful peacock feathers
W parkach Szczecina i Opola / In the parks of Szczecin and Opole
W małych ogródkach pod Wrocławiem… / In little gardens by Wrocław…

Kaliny, malwy białostockie, / Cranberry bushes, hollyhocks from Białystok,
Lubelskie bujne winogrady, / Lublin region’s lush vines
Dziewanny złote pod Zamościem / Golden mulleins near Zamość
I w Kazimierzu białe sady. / And white orchards in Kazimierz.
Kwiaty nad Wisłą, Narwią, Bugiem, / Flowers by the Vistula, Narew, Bug rivers,
Zbierane w słońcu, przy księżycu / Harvested in the sun, by moonlight
Kocham was kwiaty mej ojczyzny / I love you, flowers of my homeland
Nad Odrą, Wartą i Pilicą… / By Odra, Warta and Pilica rivers…

Felicita

Happiness. What is it? The great, classic Italian pop song “Felicita” by Albano Carrissi and Romina Power sees eye-to-eye with me on the answer to that question. Here is the original version, which I featured in Idle Thoughts On Italian Pop Songs:

No one more than Suburban_elk had me thinking about dancing as essential to healthy movement and social bonding. He recently mused:

The American White form has morphed (over the last 40 thousand years) into step dancing and clogging style stuff.

That’s what we need people to be doing. That goes on at folk festivals in Appalachia or whatever-it’s-called and making a very real comeback Many such cases!

This is a well-done live cover by a boy and girl aged 12 and 13 respectively. Like with drawing, kids’ dancing is natural energy, even if they are just keeping time like those two, not mannered or self-conscious.

This on-stage cover by two teenagers starts with a blooper when the girl discovers that her mic is off, but the couple’s cool heads help them recover literally without missing a beat. Young women rouse our desire when they are wild and hot, but also when they look wounded, like in this case. The girl was shaken for a while, but that made for a charming performance in its own right. At 1:34, her partner touches her in a protective way and that brings back her glow.

I like the young man’s style. Reminds me of me at his age.

(Open thread)

The original song’s lyrics roughly translated from Italian:

Happiness is holding hands and going away together
Happiness is an innocent look in the middle of a crowd
Happiness is staying close like children

Happiness is a downy pillow
The rivers’ water that flows, the rain flowing down the roofs
Happiness is turning off the light so peace can rule

Happiness is a glass of wine and a sandwich
Happiness is leaving a note inside a drawer
Happiness is singing together ‘how much I like you’

Refrain:
You can feel our soaring love song in the air
Like a thought that knows happiness
You can feel in the air a warmer ray of sun
That flows like a smile that knows about happiness

Happiness is a surprise night with a full moon and the radio on
It is a card full of little hearts
Happiness is an unexpected call

Happiness is a beach at night, the waves that hit the shore
Happiness is a hand full of love over the heart
Happiness is waiting for sunrise to do it all over again

[Refrain x3]

White Eagle

Warszawskie dzieci, pójdziemy w bój
(“Warsaw’s children, we go to fight”)

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Today is the 74th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, which was organized by the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) resistance movement and which lasted from August 1st to October 2nd, 1944.

[UPDATE: This post is about the general Warsaw uprising in 1944, not the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943.]

Zero Hour is commemorated at 1700 hrs local time every August 1st with one-minute’s howl of air-raid sirens to mark the start of the insurrection.

There is nothing new under the sun and there already was a Generation Zyklon. No, they didn’t gas anyone, but they fought like warriors to take back their city. And they won — seven decades later, the city belongs to them. There is special lore about the kids who took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Boys as young as ten fought as riflemen, boys and girls served as nurses’ aides, barricade builders, and couriers who navigated through sewer tunnels.

Between its walls, a constant stream of citizens and freedom fighters made their perilous, just perilous, sprints. They ran across that street, they ran through that street, they ran under that street — all to defend this city. “The far side was several yards away,” recalled one young Polish woman named Greta. That mortality and that life was so important to her. In fact, she said, “The mortally dangerous sector of the street was soaked in the blood. It was the blood of messengers, liaison girls, and couriers.” — President Donald Trump (Warsaw, July 2017)

Through the duration of the war, Home Army (AK) conspirators knew each other only by pseudonyms so that in an event of capture and interrogation, real names wouldn’t be revealed. After the collapse of national defense forces in 1939 in which my grandfather was a lieutenant, he continued his commission in the AK. His gravestone at a veterans’ cemetery shows his rank and pseudonym. He and I talked briefly about the war in January 1997. That was the only time I saw him in my adulthood.

A haunting song by Natalia Sikora, called “White Eagle,” salutes the 11-year-old Wojtek Zaleski (ps. “White Eagle”), who distinguished himself in action in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Orzeł Biały / White Eagle

Na ulicy w powstańczej Warszawie / On the streets of the Warsaw Uprising ’44
Sprzedawano blaszane Orzełki / Little tin eagles were sold
Zanim dziecko Virtuti dostanie / Before a child gets his Virtuti Militari
Niech Orzełkiem na czapce się cieszy / Let him enjoy the eagle on his cap

Nie chciał nikt żeby dzieci walczyły / Nobody wanted the children to fight
Nie chciał nikt by co dnia umierały / Nobody wanted them to die each day
Lecz powstrzymać ich nikt nie miał siły / But nobody could hold them back
Same sobie broń zdobyć umiały / They knew how to get weapons

Refrain:
Ile Orłów sprzedano zbyt tanio? / How many Eagles were sold too cheaply?
Ile Orłów sprzedano zbyt drogo… / How many Eagles were sold too dearly…
Cena prawdą umarłych zostanie… / Only the fallen know the price …
Żywi z bólu rozliczyć się mogą… / The living can settle out their sorrow …

Na powstańczej kronice zostały / The insurgency chronicles show
Zdjęcia chłopca co poległ na Ciepłej / Photos of a boy who fell on Ciepła Street
Jedenaście miał lat Orzeł Biały! / Eleven years old, was White Eagle
A nazywał się Wojtuś Zaleski / His name was Wojtek Zaleski

W Chrobrym dwa każdy Orła doceniał / On 2 Chrobry Street, all hailed the Eagle
Umiał przejść wszystkie linie niemieckie / He knew how to pass all the German lines
Wyprowadził bez strat z okrążenia / He led the “Grześ” group with no losses
Grupę ”Grzesia” – znał drogi bezpieczne / Past the encirclement — he knew the safe routes

[Refrain x2]

Potem poległ i Tygrys i Magik / Then Tiger and Magician [pseudonyms] fell
I tysiące z tych co nie walczyły / And thousands of those who did not fight
Umierały też dzieci Warszawy / Also died the children of Warsaw
Które Matki szaleńczo chroniły / Whom mothers fervently shielded

Orzeł Biały miał grób na Ceglanej / White Eagle had a grave on Ceglana Street
W bramie była Maryi figurka / Virgin Mary watched from the gate
Krzyż Virtuti przyznany zostanie / The Virtuti Cross will be awarded
Wszystkim Dzieciom z Naszego Podwórka / To all of the children from our courtyard

The back-story of Wojtek Zaleski:

Battle trail
Downtown North. The youngest soldier in the assault group of Master Sergeant “Grześ.” He served in the unit from the start of the Uprising and earned the admiration of the older soldiers when on August 2, 1944 he passed through German lines to the area of the heavily guarded Main Railway Station. After three hours of observation, he returned with a report on manpower, weapons and the organization of enemy units. On August 15, taking routes known only to him, he guided his platoon out of encirclement. For this action, his battalion commander Captain “Lech Grzybowski” nominated him for the Cross of Valor.

Place of death
He died in the area of the police barracks on Ciepła Street while carrying a report from MSgt “Grześ.” His body was pulled from the rubble under German fire. That action was immortalized by insurgents’ film crew [See link above for still images under “Zobacz Galerię” – PA]. The field burial of “White Eagle” took place in the courtyard at Ceglana Street 3.

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A short tribute to the living veterans of the Uprising:

Love Songs

A favorite game of mine is to ask: If you were to be stuck with one subgenre and period of popular music for a year / month / road trip, which would you choose? Also pick a chaser or a second category of music, given that you’ll inevitably tire of one style.

I’d go for early 1990s Rock, to include the Use Your Illusion double-album by Guns N’ Roses. “November Rain” is a great epic and “Don’t Cry” is a great ballad. The early-1990s era centers on Grunge, with Pearl Jam’s Ten being the album I’d keep if pressed to choose one. The rawest vocals, the rawest lead guitar of all time.

The period also has Mazzy Star, Black Crowes, and U2’s best album Achtung Baby with “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” “So Cruel” is for when you’re 22 and intoxicated with the wild mare that’s tangled in your sheets.

The taste:

Her skin is pale like God’s only dove
Screams like an angel for your love
Then she makes you watch her from above
And you need her like a drug

And the burn:

You don’t know if it’s fear or desire
Danger of the drug that takes you higher
Head of heaven, fingers in the mire
Her heart is racing, you can’t keep up
The night is bleeding like a cut

What’s with all the Beta lyrics, right? Love songs are for emotional self-indulgence. They echo those moments from adolescence when you had butterflies just from seeing her face. You might also idealize a woman that inspires the intensity of devotion in the lyrics. You want an Alpha love song? Here is my favorite Alpha song:

You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You
You were acting like it was the end of the world

My chaser is mellow ’70s with its sideburns-crooners. ABBA, Little River Band, Christoper Cross, Lobo and his mellifluous sound …you get the idea. And Climax Blues Band:

If ever a man had it all
It would have to be me

Life is a funny thing, as young blood stakes the same claims you once did. For them it’s all new. For you, if you pay attention, it’s full of renewed faith in miracles. Generation Zyklon: know your type, grab your balls and go for it. I’m glad I did.