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Songs of the Day Archive – Part 6

Song of the Day: Jimmy Eat World – The Middle (August 16, 2020)

I’m reminded of this song whenever I watch Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s poignant, hilarious love letter to early Seventies Rock, and watch the scene in which our aspiring teenage journalist has a conversation with the legendary writer and music critic Lester Bangs, editor of Creem Magazine.

Bangs: So how do they like you in school?

William Miller: They hate me.

Bangs: {Nods} Yeah. You’ll meet them all again on their long journey to the Middle.

This is my kind of youth protest song, which rails not against authority but the oppressive idiocy of one’s fellow youths, and all their cliquish taunts. Hey kid, don’t write yourself off yet, this is just the middle of the ride. You’ll meet them all again ten years from now, tending door at the Walmart. It sounds a lot like Blink 182, which may or may not be a bad thing, but to my ears it has discipline, drives not just hard but with infectious joy, and has a tune going on beneath the power chords to boot, and if that don’t get yer toes a’tappin, well, be that way then, but you’re just a big poo.

Note how the reluctant partiers at the end seem to see through walls to lock eyes, and decide it’d actually be more fun to blow this ridiculous underwear party and go off somewhere to get to know each other – just like the kids in the classic VW commercial, who arrive at the drunken party and reckon it’d actually be much better to just keep driving under the stars with the top down.

This one goes out to everybody in my INFJ support group, wherever you may be.

Song of the Day: Lorde – Royals (August 16 2020)

Being perhaps less than maximally hip to what those crazy kids are listening to these days, I didn’t catch this one when it was top of the pops a few years back, and encountered it only recently in the wonderful J.Lo vehicle Hustlers, playing behind the climactic sequence when everything unravels and the cops roll up to toss everybody into the paddy wagons. I don’t know what I expected to discover about the artist, but I’ll tell you what I didn’t expect, upon launching Shazam on the iPad, which was to find it performed by a sixteen year old waif of a girl from New Zealand. That’s not a typo: the girl was only sixteen when she made this, and I don’t know what you were doing when you were in grade 10, but I sure as hell wasn’t penning massive hit songs and staring frankly into the camera for a video that became popular to the tune of well over 800 million views, last time I checked on YouTube. Some people are just more inspired than others, I guess. The story goes that the lyrics poured out of her in under thirty minutes, while thinking about the conspicuously consumptive lifestyle of contemporary pop stars, as exemplified in particular by the crass luxury bling items so many of them tend to flaunt. She found her title when she happened upon, of all things, a 1976 photo of Kansas City superstar George Brett signing baseballs. Figuring kids her age didn’t have credit cards, she made the tune downloadable for free, initially, and before long it busted out of New Zealand and Australia to become a global sensation, after which I hope it ended up making her a fortune.

Like so many performers, Lorde came to dislike her crowd-pleasing “signature” hit, which she once referred to derisively as sounding like an advertising jingle (maybe owing to what might be misinterpreted to be mere product placements). Generally unimpressed with herself, she also didn’t see why she even needed to be in the video, which was meant to portray how boring and empty teenaged existence can be, a sort of limbo within which disaffected kids mark time waiting to be old enough for life to start happening: “I’m not all ‘OOOH, look at me’ “, she said.

When the song started topping charts all over the place, there followed a spate of wholly unwarranted controversy around the idea that she meant the song to be racist, as it was perceived to be making fun of some of the more ludicrous excesses of Rap culture – which maybe it is, in part, but so what? It’s also clearly about the antics of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. It’s about pop idols carrying on like they have street cred, during those moments when they aren’t too busy talking investment strategy with their wealth managers at Goldman Sachs. More generally, it’s about the yawning chasm between the rich and the poor, the ones with the diamond-studded Rolexes and the ones who only drive Cadillacs in their dreams. It seems a strange thing for liberals to get all upset about, but then, everything these days gets somebody all worked up into a righteous lather.

All I hear, seven years on, is a strangely haunting, curiously compelling little minimalist pop gem that emerged, somehow, from a kid who cooked it up in something like half an hour, and was never that thrilled with it herself. In my book, that makes it a minor miracle.

Song of the Day: Pete Townshend – Heartache Following Me (August 20, 2020)

A sad song for a sad day. Godspeed, Harry.

Next time somebody tells you that country music sucks, play them this one while reminding them that no, the ten gallon all-hat-and-no-cattle cowboy antics of Lee Greenwood and Garth Brooks suck; real country music can be authentic, sublime, and almost as pained as the Delta Blues, while the best of it provides ample proof that haunting melody was never the sole province of urban sophisticates like Gershwin and Porter, or latter-day pop geniuses like Messrs. Lennon and McCartney.

If you’re fine with country, but inclined to the view that covering an old Jim Reeves classic is an odd choice for somebody like Pete Townshend, you don’t know Pete, and you should give a listen to the unplugged acoustic versions he’s recorded of ostensibly raucous tunes like The Kids Are All Right and I’m One (Pete pretty much invented the unplugged movement), and tap into the deep fount of melancholy from which those and so many of his other songs have sprung. For that matter, Heartache Following Me is by no means out of place where it sits on the solo album Who Came First, nestled among such gems as Pete’s own (and greatly superior) version of the Who’s Let’s See Action, the magnificent Pure and Easy, the surprisingly tranquil I Am Content (a deeply affecting hymn of hoped-for spiritual enlightenment), and the sweetly philosophical Time Is Passing, in which Pete takes in the wonders of the world around us and catches a fleeting glimpse of the eternal, and of a promised resurrection to come:

There’s something in the whisper of the trees
Millions hear it, still they can’t believe
There are echoes of it splashing in the waves
As an empire of dead men leave their graves

There’s a hell of a lot more to Townshend than hope I die before I get old.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Heartache Following Me was a favourite of Meher Baba, the Indian mystic and spiritual leader of whom Townshend, ever the seeker, was a long time devotee. What on earth does an old Country and Western lament to lost love have to do with cosmic truth? Maybe everything – maybe a vital step down the path to enlightenment is to accept that opening oneself to love is necessarily to risk pain. Or maybe Baba just took solace from a sad song the same way any of us would. Maybe all you need is half a heart, whether you’re nursing a beer in a dive bar somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon, or wandering the dusty roads of South Asia in a quest for the meaning of life, to respond to the sort of loneliness that brings a strong man to tears.

Song of the Day: Jackson Browne – Take it Easy (August 26, 2020)

No, we don’t owe this terrific tune to the Eagles, it was written mainly by Browne, which is why it’s the best frickin’ song the frickin’ Eagles ever did (though some would argue Glenn Frey deserved his generous writing co-credit for what’s said to have been the small but crucial contribution of the lines Well I’m a-standin’ on a corner / in Winslow Arizona ). While more musically upbeat than a lot of his classics, Take it Easy has Browne’s musical and lyrical fingerprints all over it, with its soaring melody and overarching sentiment that you’d better lighten up while you still can, because you’re only going round once, and as Ferris Bueller once admonished us, life goes by so fast you could miss it. Don’t obsess over meaning! Feeling lost? In a jam? Then take to the highways, and follow the setting sun. In later years Browne returned often to the theme of finding some sort of solace out there on the road, under the vast Western sky.

With the strange exception of the early hit Doctor My Eyes, which likewise was nowhere near as cheerful as that first casual listen might lead you to imagine, Browne never had a lot of action in the Billboard Hot 100. The Eagles, for all their many sins, took this one close to the top, and it’s been popular ever since, which is almost enough to atone for Hotel California (almost). I hope its principal composer is still dining out on the royalties.

Song of the Day: Great Big Sea – Lukey (August 29, 2020)

Ahhh, fer Chrissakes ya sissy, have a rum and listen to this will ya?

You can damned near taste the screech, can’t you? This video version, more up-tempo than the cut included on the 1995 album Up, features the accompaniment of Irish Celtic music legends The Chieftains, with whom anyone steeped in the folk songs of Newfoundland would have a natural and inevitable affinity.

For you land-lubbers out there, a fore cuddy, a fine example of which is sported by Lukey’s beautiful boat, is the small cabin at the bow of a fishing craft, and copper nails are a traditional feature of boat building because copper doesn’t rust. You use putty as caulking because wooden boats are made of planks that have otherwise leaky seams, and split pea soup is a traditional sailor’s delicacy, particular when salt pork is in the mix, though Lukey here only offers one little pea at the bottom of his ten pound tub.

Here’s a hell of a thing: I’ve never been to Newfoundland, even though I have dear friends there who might even put me and Kathy up for a couple nights. That’s a sad situation that cries out for a remedy.

Meanwhile, having a crappy day? Feeling low energy? A couple of listens to Lukey ought to set you straight.

Here’s the album version, which is more tightly arranged and well worth a listen:

Song of the Day: Sissel Kyrkjebø / Emmylou Harris – Shenandoah (September 17, 2020)

There are some place names that seem somehow to connote great beauty tinged by terrible sadness. Shiloh, which sounds like a First Nations name, but was actually an ancient Samarian town mentioned in the Bible, has always struck me that way, maybe because a place named Shiloh was the site of one of the most terrible battles of the American Civil War. Shenandoah, the name given eventually to a valley in Virginia that cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains, is another with a cadence that seems naturally to lend itself to a sad and plaintive song. Some scholars trace the curiously evocative word back to the Algonquian schind-han-do-wi, variously translated to mean “spruce stream,” “great plains,” or even “beautiful daughter of the stars.” Others think it’s a derivation of the name of Oneida Iroquois chief John Skenandotoa. Some insist that the real name of the song has nothing to do with indigenous peoples, and should be “Shanandore”, or even “Across the Wide Missouri”, but “Shenandoah” is the consensus title of this mournful American classic, performed here in two versions, one by the inestimable Emmylou Harris, and one by Norwegian sensation Sissel Kyrkjebø.

Nobody knows who wrote Shenandoah. The first transcribed version appeared in the late 1870s, but by then it was already an old folk song that had served as a lament sung by loggers, and, unexpectedly, as an old sea shantie, a “capstan song”, sung by sailors as they hauled up their ships’ anchors. It’s thought that it may have originated with 18th Century fur traders who penetrated deep into the hinterland following rivers like the Missouri. Along the way they would have encountered the members of many of the First Nations tribes that once flourished in the lands where the trapping was good, and some, no doubt, had their hearts stolen by young indigenous women whose exotic beauty must have seemed otherworldly compared to the belles in whatever towns they hailed from. That’s what the original version of the song is about, in which “Shenandoah” is not a place, but the name of a tribal chief; the narrator has fallen hard for his daughter. As it wended its way through history, it became a “leaving song”, a sort of anthem for those, like loggers and sailors, who have to travel far from the comforts of a longed-for home to ply their difficult trades.

To my ears, anyway, no melody gracing any composition of popular or classical music is more sublime than this one. Some songs, like Streets of Laredo and St. James Infirmary, are so much a part of the American consciousness that their influence is incalculable, and likewise many a modern lament can trace its DNA back to Shenandoah. It’s been covered by a host of artists, male and female, over the years, including not only those performing in the attached clips, but Arlo Guthrie, Glen Campbell, Jane Siberry, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Van Morrison, just about every choir you could name, and even (or perhaps “of course”?) Bruce Springsteen.

In Sissel’s take it sounds almost Celtic, doesn’t it? I bet it was well known to James Horner, who composed the music for Titanic, and I’d wager that a lot of my favourite songwriters know it by heart.

Song of the Day: Sissel KyrkjebøPie Jesu (September 20, 2020)

My last song of the day featured the famous Norwegian soprano singing Shenandoah, and here she is again. I’ve never heard anyone do this better, though its most famous rendition is by Sarah Brightman.

It might come as a surprise to learn that this breathtaking chorale was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, part of requiem mass he composed in 1985 as a memorial for the death of his father, and partly, so it’s reported, as an emotional response to a story he read in the New York Times that was so tragically, shockingly horrible that I’m not even going to tell you what it was. The resulting piece was generally received as something completely unusual and unexpected, coming from the composer of the musical stage extravaganzas that all of us had grown either to love, or viscerally hate. I agree; it sure doesn’t sound much like anything from Evita or Cats to me, though I guess you can hear similarities to some of the big numbers from his prior repertoire, maybe I Don’t Know How to Love Him, or Music of the Night. Maybe. But no. Not really. Those and other crowd-pleasing show-stoppers were essentially pop tunes, arguably even pretty good pop tunes, but Pie Jesu strikes me as something wholly different, reaching a much higher and more genuine level of emotion, while barely resembling anything most of us would dare think of singing in the shower. It’s just not like his other stuff.

To my ears it has real gravitas, and I find it deeply moving, which perhaps betrays a middlebrow sort of sensibility, given the snotty and dismissive reaction the whole requiem received from the musical cognoscenti at the time. Some of the contemporary commentary was borderline vicious. The review from the classical music aficionados at Gramophone magazine opined that “alas the tunes here are all short-breathed, often starting out promisingly but petering out after a bar or so, and scarcely any of them are memorable”, before concluding that even the best of it was “broken-backed, vulgar and commonplace”. What do I know? I’m just one of those untutored slobs who knows what he likes, as perhaps has been all too obvious throughout this Songs of the Day series, but so be it, Pie Jesu makes me cry. Play it when I’m in a certain frame of mind and it flat out makes me weep.

The Latin words, borrowed by Webber from the hymn of the same name, as well as another named Agnus Dei, translate to the simplest and most moving of sentiments, compelling even to this stone-hearted atheist:

Merciful Jesus, merciful Jesus,
Father, who takes away the sins of the world
Grant them rest, grant them rest eternal

Most aspects of professed Christianity, as thrust nowadays into the political realm by modern evangelicals, leave me both angry and disgusted. At its purest though, as exemplified often in the hymns and psalms I was taught as a child, the pristine Christian vision of a merciful deity and an everlasting peace to come makes me wish it was all true, and that I could believe it. It would be so soothing to believe it.

For most of the time I’ve known Webber’s version of Pie Jesu, I had no idea what had inspired it, or of the meaning of its Latin lyrics, but it doesn’t take a whole heap of emotional intelligence to grasp that it’s meant to be an expression of profound mourning. In my imagination, when I first listened, it seemed to contemplate some sort of enormous tragedy, something sinful and horribly inhumane, perhaps even a crime against humanity, and I saw this image in my mind’s eye:

This haunting photo was taken after the devastating fire-bombing of Dresden near the end of the Second World War, an act so merciless (some would say depraved) that it shook Churchill to his core, and would certainly be called a war crime today. I first encountered it in a book about military aviation, after which it became mentally indelible, and it came instantly to mind as I absorbed the music, bringing along with it the context of all the details I’d studied over many years of reading about the bombing offensive during WW II, all the horrors we inflicted, and all the terrible things the German people had done to bring those horrors upon themselves, guilty and innocent alike. Sometimes, all of that still floods over me when I listen. Funny how the mind works…

It turned out that the piece wasn’t inspired by anything of quite that scale, though if the stories are true, in essence I wasn’t far off. Trust me. You don’t want to know.

I recall reading somewhere that just after VE day, ground crews (and if memory serves, some politicians) were taken on aerial tours of the devastated German cityscapes, in order to show them what all of their strenuous efforts had accomplished. I suppose it was meant not just to sate their curiosity, but as some sort of affirmation of a job well done. To me, perhaps owing to the benefit of hindsight, and reasoning from the standpoint of a much different time and place, it seems more like something meant to impel them all towards sorrow and atonement. The truth is, I really don’t know what they should have felt. Sitting here now, comfortable in the world that was secured by such necessarily savage violence, and conscious of the superhuman courage and sacrifice of the men who prosecuted the air campaign against Germany, I honestly have no idea what was right, or what a moral person should feel now about all of it. Maybe they didn’t either, and I wonder – were the men taken on those gruesome sightseeing sorties at peace with all they’d contributed towards the vital effort to bring Nazi Germany to its knees? Or did some of them, despite knowing in their bones that almost anything is justified when engaged in a crusade against unspeakable tyranny, still ask themselves that most horrible of questions: Christ, what have we done?

The films taken on those post-war overflights, showing the little that remained of all those virtually eradicated cities, play in my head, and I sense in the music not merely sadness, but deep regret.

Song of the Day: Alison Krauss – Baby, Now That I’ve Found You (October 8, 2020)

I’m so old.

How old are you?!

I’m so old I remember the original, rather bubble-gummy version of this pop tune from when it was on the radio back in the sixties, performed by a group calling themselves the Foundations, who only just managed to avoid the status of one hit wonders. Their bigger and more famous AM top of the pops sensation, the annoying yet insanely catchy ear-worm Build Me Up Buttercup, had pretty much the same arrangement – hey, if it works, keep doing it, amiright? – but Baby, Now That I’ve Found You came first, and made it to a respectable #11 on Billboard in 1967. It wasn’t a bad song or anything, but I’d never have imagined it contained the germ of greatness until Allison discerned the rough diamond hiding under the blaring horns and faux Motown rhythm section, and cut it into a wonderfully understated bluegrass gem that’s all gleaming facets, arranged for acoustic guitars and her own always tastefully played fiddle. The accompanying musicians are an outfit named Union Station, and they’re terrific too, upright bass and all.

Krauss is one of those impeccable artists whose work is always enjoyable. The listener would do well to look up her version of the gorgeous hymn Simple Gifts, performed with Yo-Yo Ma (see prior post – here, I’ll make it easy for you:)

A Night at the Symphony (Song – and Orchestral Work – of the Day)

and other highlights include an objectively perfect rendition of When You Say Nothing at All – a gentle and very touching love song – and a lovely sort of gospel number called Down to the River to Pray from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I knew vaguely of Alison from way back, having been exposed to her by my brother, but I first took particular note of her while randomly flipping channels on a Christmas Eve, more than 20 years ago now, when I found myself transfixed by her performance of an overtly Christian number called Things Aren’t Always As They Seem, a song of worship so steeped in the Biblical dogma that it should have put me off, but couldn’t, not when she played so beautifully, and sang so mournfully in that lovely soprano voice, sincere, moving, and utterly without pretension. By the time she was through I was damned near ready to take Communion.

She doesn’t write her own material, but like Linda Ronstadt she has unerring taste, and renders more beautiful everything she touches. Not for nothing has she won 27 – 27! – Grammys out of a whopping 42 nominations, making her the most honoured woman in the history of those awards.

For fun, compare and contrast with the original:

And here’s Things Aren’t Always As They Seem, taken from the same broadcast I happened upon that Christmas Eve. This time the accompaniment is by the musicians of Nickel Creek, whose breakout platinum album Krauss produced.

Song of the Day: James Taylor – Fire and Rain (October 9, 2020)

A classic song, and perhaps a bit of an obvious choice, but no less powerful for that, and while the viewer may know the piece by heart I imagine few have seen this performance, recorded for the BBC In Concert series way back in 1970, when James was barely 22 years old. The emotional heft and beauty of the song seem only to be enhanced when it’s just the very bashful singer and his guitar, with no other accompaniment.

At this point Taylor was still a very troubled young man, who roughly a year earlier had committed himself to a psychiatric hospital, almost wholly crippled by depression and heroin addiction. Fire and Rain is about his time there, his struggles with addiction, and the shattering suicide of his dear friend Suzanne Schnerr. At the time this was filmed, though, things were starting to look up for young James, who’d caught a lucky break by way of the Beatles, in one of those “it must have been meant to be” sort of stories that give what’s usually false hope to so many struggling artists. Just a couple of years prior, the group had launched Apple Records, and put out a sort of global all points bulletin to musicians everywhere: Send us your demos. If you’re good, you’re signed, and we’ll worry about the logistics of getting a proper studio record made and issued. The utopian dream at Apple came to its predictable crashing end soon enough, but not before Taylor’s demo made it into the hands of Peter Asher, a pop singer, Apple A&R man, and brother to actress Jane Asher, girlfriend to one Paul McCartney.

McCartney, of course, immediately thought Taylor was wonderful, and James was signed, and recorded the eponymous album in 1968 that included another classic, Carolina in My Mind, featuring a much more upbeat pop arrangement than the more familiar version he issued later (sadly, his contemporary live performance of that song, recorded at the same 1970 concert, has been stricken from YouTube for copyright reasons, or I’d surely attach it too). His debut also contained the lovely Something in the Way She Moves, from which George Harrison pilfered the opening line (let’s call it an “homage”) for his own greatest composition. It was an auspicious beginning, and while James wasn’t quite out of the woods – he couldn’t tour to promote the album owing to his psychiatric hospitalization – it wasn’t long before he’d set off in a better direction, and by 1969 he’d signed a new deal with Warner Records and started down the path to becoming the highly successful and perennially popular performer we know today, selling over a hundred million records along the way. Fire and Rain was a huge hit from a huge album, 1970’s Sweet Baby James, and from that point Taylor never looked back.

He didn’t learn of Suzanne’s death until six months after it happened. His friends, worried over his state of mind, and hoping not to burst the positive bubble expanding around him as he recorded his first album, thought it best to shelter him from the terrible news. “She was just a kid, like all of us”, he said later, and every ounce of his regret and sorrow upon finally finding out is squeezed into that one unforgettable line, Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you. It might be the most heartbreaking lyric in all of popular music.

Song of the Day: James Taylor – Carolina In My Mind (October 11, 2020)

I was homesick at the time – I didn’t have a home, but that doesn’t stop you from being homesick sometimes.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that the same 1970 live performance from which Fire and Rain was extracted had also included a standout rendition of Carolina In My Mind, which clip had since, unfortunately, been deleted from YouTube for copyright reasons. Well, I dug into my own archives and found it, so here it is (at least until somebody notices and complains).

Carolina in My Mind was one of the two standout tunes from his 1968 debut album, along with Something in the Way She Moves:

Producer Peter Asher, perhaps aiming to mitigate the general impression of sadness and loneliness, brought in arranger Richard Hewson to add all sorts of pop flourishes to the studio tracks, like the harpsichord intro to Something In the Way She Moves, and a sprightly string section to Carolina In my Mind, altering the mood a bit, particularly for the latter, which was plainly meant to be a more contemplative, wistful piece than it sounded to be on the record. When he performed it live James stuck to his acoustic, rendering what to me is the definitive take, better also than the slicker and more countrified version recorded for his multi-platinum Greatest Hits collection in 1976. I devised a little whistling introduction for it, which I hope you like, he says, shyly, before beginning. It’s lovely.

The bridge, so beautifully evocative of the feeling of being lost and alone, always reminds me of my own fish-out-of-water feeling when I first moved to Toronto, a concrete hive of skyscrapers so much more crowded and fast-paced than my native Halifax:

Now there’s a holy host of others standing round me
Still I’m on the dark side of the Moon
And it looks like it goes on like this forever…

But it turns out that the “holy host” wasn’t a reference to the madding crowd, but about standing in the presence of the Beatles, all but deities to him, two of whom, McCartney and Harrison, performed as session men on the album. It must have seemed truly surreal, being plucked from obscurity and dropped into a studio with the boys on hand, stopping in on their breaks from recording what would soon be their own first album release on Apple, named simply The Beatles but referred to immediately and universally as the White Album. Taylor must have thought he was dreaming; but then, those were heady days, and for a while there it seemed like a time for dreams to come true. The first Beatles single on Apple, Hey Jude, quickly became their biggest hit, topping the charts everywhere (number one for nine weeks in the U.S.), with big releases soon to come from Mary Hopkin and Badfinger. With all that talent on call, what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, sadly. The crushed and shabby outcome of the Apple experiment stands as a sobering object lesson in the way hubris lures even the greatest towards disaster, and how parasites always linger dangerously around the margins of success. Still, that first batch of releases, Taylor’s prominent among them, remain as poignant reminders of that initial moment of infinite promise, when all sorts of wonderful things seemed not merely possible, but destined to be.

Song of the Day: Bran Van 3000 – Drinking in L.A. (November 11, 2020)

Are you wrung out and anxious? I’m sure wrung out and anxious. Tell you what, let’s chill a minute. Let’s mellow out and take a languid walk down to Venice Beach, meet a few friends, and drink ourselves stuporous under the California sun, doesn’t that sound nice? What else have we got to do?

I first heard Drinking in L.A. over a car radio, and was immediately taken with it, only to discover later that it was about fifteen years old, and was on an album I’d owned for around twelve. Bran Van 3000 was a Quebec group described as an “electronica collective”, whatever that is, and this is by no means their only catchy song, but this one’s special, there’s just something about its dull affected dissolute tone, perhaps not so much sad as rueful, that sounds exactly like getting aimlessly buzzed on a hot L.A. afternoon ought to sound.

It’s autobiographical. According to a story in the Toronto Star, the song had its genesis when, “after a heavy night of drinking, James Di Salvio found himself one morning groggily coming to consciousness, face-down on a pristinely green West Hollywood lawn and, with his head throbbing angrily, he quietly reprimanded himself: “What the hell am I doing, drinking in L.A.?” At the time, Di Salvio was in California trying to break into the movie business, and this is the story of how he and a buddy were making half-hearted stabs at writing a script. They’d start the day all full of piss and vinegar, but before you knew it they’d be down at Venice Beach again, boozing. In the result their plans always come to nought:

But we did nothing
Absolutely bupkis that day

It’s not like they haven’t achieved anything in all this time. They’ve settled on an how the movie should end (but we’ve got a conclusion / and I guess that’s something…), but, O.K., not much else, even though this very day started with a fresh idea that sounded promising,

a script surprise
A mafioso story with a twist
A “To Wong Foo, Julie Newmar” hitch

… but it sounds like that fell by the wayside, along with all other ambition of any kind, on the bus ride down to the beach. Yeah, I guess they could spend a few hours indoors, trying again to hammer out a boffo screenplay that somebody over at Paramount or Universal would buy, but, you know. It’s just so much easier to hang around on the patio, right?

I just love how it starts, with the voice-over blaring the sort of DJ patter that would assault the sleepy listener’s ears upon waking up to a clock alarm set to “radio” instead of “ring”:

Hi, my name is StereoMike
Yeah, we got 3 tickets to the Bran Van concert this Monday night
At the Pacific Pallisades. You can all dial in if you want to answer
A couple of questions, namely
What is Todd’s favorite cheese
Jackie just called up and said it was a form of Roquefort
We’ll see about that
Give us a ring-ding-ding! It’s a beautiful day!

Hey, wake up! And give us a ring-ding-ding, it’s a beautiful day. Too beautiful to waste doing something purportedly constructive, that’s for sure, and let’s drink to that, again and again. You can carry on like that for quite a while, you know. Months and years, even. Until one fine day you wake up, look in the mirror, and wonder just what the hell it is you’re doing with your life.


Song of the Day: Simon and Garfunkel – America (November 30, 2020)

I’ve a particularly fond memory from my former work life, formed during the early days of my tenure at the law firm where I spent the last years of my career. I was so very new to the place then, feeling more or less out to sea, hired to crack a difficult nut that many firms had already tried and failed to crack; I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that at the time, I wasn’t really sure it could be done, not by me anyway. So I put on my brave face and came on all capable, like of course I could, hoping this time I’d have more luck than I’d experienced thus far in my fifteen painful years of stumbling from one miserable career setback to the next, bouncing between law firms among the bank towers at Toronto’s gilded intersection of King and Bay. What could I do? Nothing but put one foot after the other, one day at a time, and try not to dwell too much on how many sceptical lawyers would need convincing when it came time to justify my salary. So many unsympathetic lawyers! There were hundreds of them, my new firm being one of the growing set of national partnerships with outposts across the country, and I had to go visit them all, selling them on what I was there to do, pretty much an itinerant carnival barker.

So there I was on the road, returning from making my pitch to the crew in Hamilton, sitting in a Greyhound and looking idly out the window, a little wrung out from performing and glad the day was over. Watching the 403’s dreary scenery roll by, I was reminded of a favourite song. It played in my head while the bus barrelled down the highway, and feeling a little whimsical, maybe a little hopeful, I pulled out my Blackberry and typed a message to someone who was then just a new colleague, but would soon be as family: Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces. A strange message, perhaps, to arrive in one’s email out of nowhere, which maybe wouldn’t be well received, but I pushed “send” anyway and waited. In just a few seconds came her response: She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. Then, seconds later: I said be careful, his bowtie is really a camera, and for the first time in a long while it seemed possible I might be more than just another pathogen confronting the legal profession’s robust immune system.

America appeared on the album Bookends in 1968, a year rather like the nasty one we’re living through now, fraught with the sort of social, political, and geopolitical upheaval that turns the whole universe topsy turvy, leaving everybody at something of a disoriented loss. It was a different kind of culture war then, fought not just between left and right, but also between the old and young, pitting the adults of “the establishment” against an enormous cohort of those new 20th Century creatures, the “adolescents”, the two groups shouting at each other across the chasm that everyone called the “generation gap”. It was a time when parents were frankly alarmed by their own children, and viewed all aspects of youth culture with suspicion if not outright hostility, feeling threatened and rejected, all of their cherished values under assault. In this environment even Simon and Garfunkel could seem upsetting, and a wistful, evocative tune like America could seem to be taking sides – it was, after all, the reviled “hippies” and the like who talked about dropping out of society, and walking the land in a quest to “go find America”, whatever that was supposed to mean. Probably something to do with drug use, and maybe communes. Find America for the love of God – surely they’d all do better to go find jobs instead, and make something of themselves.

In the way of such things, the counterculture became mainstream. These days we all understand perfectly well the disillusioned urge to look past the superficial, strip away the corruption, and rediscover the founding ideals upon which our purportedly free and democratic society was supposed to have been based – so much so that in 2016 Bernie Sanders was able to use America in a really quite moving and effective political ad. Almost none of us who wound up composing the next establishment did any such thing of course, but we remember the impulse, especially now as we begin to bow out wondering what it is we accomplished, reeling in a post-Trump dystopia in which memories of the upheavals of 1968 can seem like the stuff of pleasant nostalgia from the Beforetime. It’s easy to lose sight of the context of Paul Simon’s touching little masterpiece, released in the midst of a year blighted by assassinations, global student unrest, the crushing of the Prague Spring, and the endless, fruitless American prosecution of what suddenly seemed certain to be a losing war on the other side of the world, a year ushered in by the Tet Offensive that concluded, somehow, on the grace note of American astronauts reading the Christian creation myth to the whole world on Christmas Eve, from a point almost 240,000 miles away in space. Emerging out of all that was this humane, touching, and perennially relevant ballad of young lovers wandering lost in their own country, looking for something they couldn’t identify and feeling, like so many of us then and ever after, empty and aching and not knowing why.

Song of the Day: Holly Cole Trio – I Can See Clearly Now (December 10, 2020)

A huge hit back in 1972 for one time Bob Marley collaborator Johnny Nash, this delightfully upbeat song, one of North America’s earliest mass exposures to reggae (preceded on that score by Desmond Dekker’s Israelites of 1969) will be well remembered by all of us old enough to have heard the DJs spin it over and over again on our AM radios back in the day. It was ubiquitous, and so it should have been. In the intervening years it’s been covered many times, perhaps most famously by Jimmy Cliff, but to these ears nobody has reimagined it to such powerful effect as Holly Cole did with the attached, which turned it into a beautifully arranged, masterfully played, and exquisitely recorded sort of Jazz/reggae fusion number that managed the rare feat of changing almost everything from the original while doing it no violence.

It’s especially admired by geeky audiophiles like your faithful scribe, who revel in the sheer sound quality captured by the pristine and immaculate production. I use it to test and calibrate my finest high end components – it’s that good. I swear, the dynamics, the frequency response, the sound staging and sense of space around each of the instruments, from the lows of the audibly plucked upright base, through the midrange of the strings, right up to the highs emanating from the drum kit, are enough to induce shivers in folks like me. The piano is captured so clearly that it really does feel as if the thing is there in your living room, and Cole’s vocal – oh boy. They must have been using some top flight microphones in the studio.

Sound quality aside, it’s a wonderful performance. Cole’s interpretation manages to be simultaneously mellow and exultant, and far more dramatic than the source material. By the triumphant final verse, you can practically feel the warm sun on your face as it pierces a grey overcast that brought seven straight days of rain – no hyperbole. It’s pure sonic satisfaction, emotionally gratifying, and just the thing for a mopey, drizzled-upon case of the blues.

Song of the Day: Elton John – Rocket Man (December 16, 2020)

I was inspired to write this one by an advert on telly: an outfit calling itself Rakuten is using it in their latest campaign, somebody having realized that hey, “Rakuten” – sounds like “Rocket Man”, amiright? I don’t know what Rakuten does, it’s something to do with coupons and cash-back programs, I think, but they reminded me that I used to adore that old song. As I became irritated with what they were doing to it, I realized that I still do.

Like everybody who was an adolescent in the Seventies, I bought my share of Elton John records, most of which, in retrospect, were stuffed full of bumph and dross. Elton could write a memorable tune, all right – he’d hardly have sold X-hundred million albums and earned X-kabillian dollars otherwise – but his stuff was pretty uneven, and even the best of it could be a little, well, repetitive, sloppy, and self-indulgent. The much admired Levon and Tiny Dancer off the early album Madman Across the Water, for example – they started strong, but dragged on too long while their composer, apparently at a loss, hid behind the string section while struggling in vain to bring them to a proper conclusion (a failing that always drives me to distraction). Just about everything on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road now seems unlistenable, from the meandering title track (something about forsaking the bright lights of the big city in favour of hunting Horny Toads – no, really), to the execrable Candle in the Wind, the lugubrious ode to Marylin Monroe that he reworked (to my horror) to play at Princess Diana’s funeral. There was that overblown, overhyped nonsense of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – does anybody remember anything from that magnum opus? – and numerous mega-hit ear worms certain to drive any sensible listener to drink. I’m hoping to go the rest of my life without hearing Crocodile Rock or Bennie and the Jets ever again. Those and so many of his songs sounded like rejected show tunes for Broadway musicals that never got off the ground, as if secretly, Elton longed to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. And the lyrics! Oy! Elton, for some reason, didn’t feel competent to write mediocre verse on his own, and let this fellow Bernie Taupin come up with the pop poetry, which couldn’t have been much of an improvement because folks, Taupin was no Oscar Hammerstein, was he? He was no Hal David. Nowadays you’d probably do better to hand it off to an algorithm that generates random rhyming couplets. And yes, ultimately, Elton devolved into a preposterous figure, a sort of modern day Liberace, a schlock artist vying for a steady gig in Vegas, apparently more concerned with outrageous costumes than pop songcraft.

OK, so I’ll grant you all that. Sometimes, though, he stroked ‘em right out of the park. Daniel, say – a sour-pussed critic might complain that it was maudlin, but if so, I’d argue it was just the right kind of maudlin, well arranged, tightly constructed, and unusually disciplined (plus it always made my mother cry, and that’s reason enough to admire it in my book). Even better, to these ears, were many of the songs off the earlier Honkey Chateau, which, despite its cutesy name, was a quite serious, straightforward, and really rather melancholy collection of tunes in the classic Seventies singer-songwriter mold, not unlike contemporary albums by Cat Stevens and his ilk (c’mon, Cat wasn’t so bad, now you think about it), and almost in the same league as Paul Simon’s early solo output (well, sort of almost). Listen to Slave, the lovely Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters, and of course today’s featured tune, Rocket Man, a real gem which, like a lot of Rod Stewart’s early Seventies work, seemed to belong more to the prior decade than the monotonously thumping, Disco Ducking era that was soon upon us.

Everything about Rocket Man, from the very first piano chord, is just indefinably right. That opening line, She packed my bags last night, pre-flight, really grabs the listener, despite the absurdity of the idea that an astronaut on the eve of liftoff has bags to pack, like some kind of tourist about to hop on a jet to Puerto Vallarta. It’s equally silly, I suppose, to posit a member of the space program who doesn’t really understand the science behind what he’s up to – trust me, there never was an astronaut, or cosmonaut for that matter, who didn’t understand the science (all were superbly educated, often with advanced scientific degrees). Yet it’s a lovely tune, isn’t it? Elton’s piano work is just perfect, complex and clever, and the chorus is irresistible. Who doesn’t sing along every time it comes ‘round again? And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

It was a big song back in the day, a Major Composition; something resonated, perhaps because it came out at a time when astronauts, and the insane risks they were taking, were prominent in the public consciousness. The Apollo program was just winding up (the last Moon mission, Apollo 17, occurred at the end of the year Rocket Man was released), and after the near death experience of Apollo 13, everybody was keenly aware of how alone and vulnerable they were out there, floating in their tin cans, as Bowie put it in Space Oddity, another early Seventies hit in the same vein. This is the mood Rocket Man captures so well, that feeling, so rarely expressed by anyone who was actually involved in the space program, that leaving the good Earth for the airless, frigid void of interplanetary space was actually, upon reflection, completely frickin’ terrifying. There were a million ways to die up there. There were a million ways to die just coming home, and riding out the fiery trauma of re-entry, something the narrator seems to understand all too well.

It’s that confession of anxiety, almost ashamed, that makes Rocket Man so affecting. We can identify with that. It feels true, and disarmingly honest. Of course none of us knew the first thing about what it was really like to slip the surly bonds of earth on a rocket that stood a fair chance of exploding straight away, or of floating weightless in a fragile cocoon of air and warmth in the midst of the most hostile environment ever braved by human beings, but we thought we did. We saw it on TV, and figured we could well imagine. Those guys up there were only human, after all, and surely there were times when real astronauts, despite their cool-as-a-cucumber test pilot demeanours, found themselves afraid, not so much of dying as of being revealed as weak, frightened, and not the men we thought they were at all.

Song of the Day: Suzanne Vega – Angel’s Doorway (December 17, 2020)

A powerful song that always affected me deeply, despite, I now know, having no clue what it was really about. Angel’s Doorway displays Vega’s gift for melody, formal song construction, and taut arrangement perhaps better than anything she’s done, and can be enjoyed on that basis however inscrutable the lyrics might be to the casual listener. Just soak in that piano as it weaves its way through the verses, the booming drums and droning bass line, the counterpoint from the penny whistles, the tasteful interjections of synthesizer, and the typically impeccable acoustic guitar work that backs it all up. You won’t hear anything with this many interacting layers outside of the Beatles, and classical music. It really is that good.

But what to make of the words? It seems to be about a woman who insists upon certain house rules that protect her psyche from whatever it is her husband, the “Angel” of the piece, brings home with him from work. She’s adamant. He has to check that shit at the door, and never discuss it.

Angel comes home
His clothes in a cloud
Of the dust and the dirt and destruction

She waits inside
She knows he’s arrived
She feels this with no introduction

At Angel’s door,
You have to leave it on the floor,
Don’t bring it in.

He can’t show
What she doesn’t want to know
Those things he’s seen.

What on Earth could it be, that she doesn’t want it anywhere near her? What’s he doing out there that has to remain unmentionable? How is it redolent of dust and destruction? It seems to be something he doesn’t much care to discuss either:

She knows the smell
Of that life he can’t tell
Of the fires and the flesh and confusion

Inside his brain
It’s never the same
Though he tries to maintain the illusion

She knows the smell. Was this literal or metaphorical? Surely the latter, and if not, what, he works at the dump or something? Maybe construction? Nobody would write a song about that, least of all Suzanne, and in any case nothing so banal could possibly inspire such music. For a while I toyed with the idea that hubby was some sort of unsavoury type, maybe mobbed up or something, who gets his money in ways she’d just as soon not think about. Yet that didn’t seem to suit the tone or the lyrics all that well, any more than anything else I could come up with.

See, I’m a dummy, no matter that I fancy myself a clever boots. It turns out that it’s not a metaphor, it’s not banal, and he’s not a mobster. “Angel” is Angel Ruiz, Vega’s brother-in-law, who was an NYC cop assigned to Ground Zero in the weeks following 9/11. He’d spend long days down there on the hideous pile, and come home with the vile smell of the place woven right into his uniform, covered in dust and debris, numb from the unthinkable horrors that surrounded him day in, day out. His wife, already overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of the twin towers falling, demanded he take all that stuff off before he entered the house, and keep his peace about what he’d seen and done. None of it could be allowed to cross her threshold, not the soiled and smelly clothes, not the thoughts.

Having found this out, it all seemed so obvious. In cases like this you kick yourself for being so dense; “failure of imagination”, they sometimes call it. This is Suzanne Vega, after all. It was bound to be some sort of unblinking look at harsh reality, or in this case, a sympathetic portrayal of someone’s traumatized refusal to keep looking.

Song of the Day: The English Beat – Save it For Later (December 23, 2020)

In my youth, such as it was, I frequented (for which read: practically lived at) the law school’s semi-underground bar, Domus Legis, at which my brother, and later a dear friend, were successively bar managers. I think what I miss most about those days, apart from the utter freedom to pursue a program of drunken debauchery on an epic scale, is the music. They had these kick-ass band monitors strapped to the wall, and the tunes blasted all night long, with my little clique having a lot to do with what got blasted. It was audio nirvana. Of all our favourite albums, we maintained that there were only a few that you could play from beginning to end and enjoy every minute, even if you weren’t drunk, among them Exile on Main Street, Who’s Next, and the record from which today’s offering is extracted, Special Beat Service by the English Beat.

Actually, that should be, simply, “The Beat”. They had to change their name for the American market to avoid confusion with another band of the same name that nobody remembers anymore.

The Beat was probably the finest band to grow out of the Ska Revival movement, producing such offbeat, rather spooky, yet compulsively rhythmic gems as Mirror in the Bathroom and Twist and Crawl, before releasing Special Beat Service (a play on the Special Boat Service, an elite British special forces unit unknown to the North American audience). This turned out to be their swan song, and what a way to bow out. I think all of us could still sing the songs by heart, especially Sugar and Stress, Rotating Head, End of the Party, I Confess, and Save it for Later, my own, and I think just about everybody’s, favourite.

The Beat had a knack, surprisingly, for witty and acerbic lyrics, full of humour and wry observations, sometimes tinged with just a touch of bitterness. From Sugar and Stress:

We know where our hearts are, right behind our wallets
Yes and that’s where they’re staying

or this, from I Confess:

Just out of spite,
I confess I’ve ruined three lives
Now don’t sleep so tight
‘Cause I did not care till I found out that one of them was mine

End of the Party:

Strength is not the same as anger
Put the taste back into hunger
Searching the box
Looking for what?
I love you, I love you not?

…all while bopping along at such an infectious pace that you tended to miss what they were really about. Save it for Later was like that; it had the propulsive rhythm, the horns and strings going, lead vocalist David Wakeling in fine form, the lot, and rarely is a song so immediately appealing from the very first chords, chords that sounded special, somehow, which we didn’t realize were the product of a unique tuning of the guitar, to DADAAD, it says here in Wikipedia. You could dance to it all right – hell, you practically had to dance to it – while perhaps never noticing that its theme was all doubt, sadness, and angst.

Sooner or later your legs give way, you hit the ground
Save it for later, don’t run away and let me down
Sooner or later you’ll hit the deck, you’ll get found out
Save it for later, don’t run away and let me down, you let me down

It’s a song about realizing that you’re growing up fast, and have a whole heap of painful life choices to make, oh so very soon. Wakeling wrote it when he was still a teenager, and explained it this way:

… it was about turning from a teenager to someone in their 20s, and realizing that the effortless promise for your teenage years was not necessarily going to show that life was so simple as you started to grow up. So it was about being lost, about not really knowing your role in the world, trying to find your place in the world. So, you couldn’t find your own way in the world, and you’d have all sorts of people telling you this, that, and the other, and advising you, and it didn’t actually seem like they knew any better.

It’s easy, from where we older ones stand today, to lose sight of how dreadful it felt, wondering what you were going to make of yourself, and whether you were up for it, whatever it was – or destined, sooner or later, to fall flat on your face. Were you going to be OK out there in the great wide world? How were you even supposed to behave out there, to please whoever it was you were going to have to please? Would you be discovered for the imposter you figured yourself to be? Would there be anybody to lean on while you tried to figure it out? The urge to stave off the dire possibilities of adulthood, just for a while, was overwhelming.

These were sentiments that a 22 year old kid about to graduate with an Arts degree, and possessing no particular skills prized by the marketplace, could readily identify, though at the time we didn’t so much understand it as feel it. It’s the general anxiety of the thing, and the overt fear of failure and loneliness. That’s what resonated, almost subconsciously.

Today, nothing else transports me so thoroughly back to that time and place, and all those feelings, almost equal parts joyous and awful.

A few years later, after I’d moved to Toronto, The Who hit town on one of their revival tours, and of course I had to go see them. In what amounted to an intermission, Pete Townshend walked on stage all by himself, acoustic in hand, and played a few numbers solo, as he likes to do, stripping the raucous ones down to their cores and re-imagining them in the process. I was utterly in his thrall when he began to finger-pluck the opening notes to that song that was beyond familiar. There was a group called The Beat, he said, and they did a song I always loved a lot. Pete knows all about the melancholy underpinnings of superficially upbeat numbers. It’s practically his specialty, and boy, was it evident that he perfectly understood Save it For Later.

Imagine that, me and one of the musicians I admire the most, simpatico.

This is Pete’s version, which he introduces by telling the story of being mystified by the song’s chords, eventually growing so frustrated trying to reproduce them that he simply rang Wakeling up out of the blue and asked him what the hell the tuning was. Of course; it was something he’d nicked from the Velvet Underground.

Song of the Day: Pere Ubu – Waiting For Mary (January 3, 2021)

Hailing from Cleveland, of all places, this experimental combo named itself after a character in a play by French author Alfred Jarry, and if you have the time to figure out what some guy named Father Ubu could possibly have to do with avant-garde alt-rock, by all means, and let me know. Pere Ubu is one of those cult bands with influence, but no sales, and are often spoken of in terms that remind one of the Velvet Underground, to whom they are often compared. People really take their stuff seriously – get this:

Andy Gill, in the New Musical Express, wrote:
Yet by 1978 they had achieved what no other group would even attempt, before or since, they had become the world’s only expressionist Rock n Roll band, harnessing a range of rock and musique concrete elements together in a sound which drew its power from, and worked on, levels of consciousness previously untouched by popular music. The music Ubu made in 1978 was heart and soul, body and mind, in one.

Greil Marcus, in the 2000 edition of his book Mystery Train, wrote:
Pere Ubu boards a train that passes through a modern nation as if it were an ancient land, all ruin and portent, prophecy and decay. Thus the terrain makes the familiar terrain strange, unseen – new.

Robert Palmer, in the New York Times, wrote:
Pere Ubu was either ahead of its time or out of step altogether; the band’s earliest music sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday, and is likely to keep sounding that way for some time.

Joe Cushley, in Mojo, wrote:
Ubu are generally regarded as the missing link between the Velvets and punk. From the beginning they obviously understood the nuts and bolts of popular music, and then loosened them.

Edwin Pouncey, in The Wire, wrote:
They’re the greatest out-rock ‘n’ roll group of this millennium, and probably the next.

Wow. You don’t say. I wouldn’t know, truth to tell, I haven’t exactly taken a deep dive into their oeuvre (maybe I should!), but I always liked Waiting for Mary, which was a favourite of one my roommates, back in my days as a house painter. I likewise have no idea what this one is about, not a frigging clue – maybe it’s just about meeting a friend who’s always late? – but it chugs along so infectiously, no? It’s like an anarchic romp through a china shop, this one, with lyrics that suggest nothing so much as the complete disorientation of everyone involved:

Welcome to Mars!
It’s open all hours,
What are we doing here?
Bill’s in the back and
Fred’s on the phone, sayin,
“What are we doing here?”

I just love the pizzicato from the strings – a really nice touch.

I’m sure it means something, and I’m sure there’s some greater significance to waiting for this enigmatic Mary to show up, maybe it’s like waiting for Godot, I don’t know. Who cares? Let’s dance! I’m thinking this is the track I’ll choose for the first Saturday night patient-therapist rave-up in the nuthouse to which the men in the white smocks will soon be dragging me, the way things are going.

Song of the Day: Shriekback – Gunning For The Buddha (January 4, 2021)

Well, continuing with a series of songs I always mightily enjoyed without having the first clue what they were about, I give you Gunning for the Buddha by Shriekback, a band formed out of odds and ends left over from a few of the most entertaining English groups of the late 70s and early 80s, among them Barry Andrews from XTC and Dave Allen from Gang of Four.

As strange as it is pleasing, Gunning for the Buddha includes lyrics like these, nestled within a soothing, melodious soundscape of bongos and steel drums so tunefully Caribbean in its vibe that you just want to pull up a set of palm tress and sit in the sand, looking out over the turquoise sea while sipping a rum punch:

Death and Money make their point once more
In the shape of philosophical assassins
Mark and Danny take the bus uptown
Deadly angels for reality and passion
Have the courage of the here and now
Don’t take nothing from these half-baked Buddhas
When you think you got it paid in full
You got nothing, you got nothing at all


I learn so much researching Songs of the Day! It turns out that the lads are loosely quoting one Linji Yixuan, the Ninth Century Chinese Tang Dynasty founder of the Linji school of Chan Buddhism (!!).

Linji is described as an iconoclast who prodded his students towards what he considered their awakening by screaming at them and beating them about the head and shoulders (thus also inventing modern pedagogy), and coined various provocative slogans, including “if you meet your forefather, kill him”, and “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. Others quote him as saying “when we meet the ghost Buddha, we should cut off his head”, and the premise seems to have been that the path to enlightenment could only be trod when first we abandon the views and ideas we have about all things, including any preconceived ideas about Buddhism and Buddhist teachings. Linji may also have meant that no one can really recognize the Buddha, and no one who would claim to be the Buddha actually is, so if someone has managed to convince you that he’s the real deal, you’re mistaken, because he can’t be, he’s a trickster, and should be taken out.

Don’t ask me, I just work here.

Anyway, here we have a merry pair “on the road and gunning for the Buddha”. They actually spot a half-baked Buddha in a bar downtown, holding forth on nuclear fission and sounding all knowledgeable and shit – phoney! Kill him!

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