Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There's a MONSTER on the loose...

A plague like presence invades my fair city...

Our vice president slithered into town earlier this week. It was a fundraiser for some local clone or clown, or someone of his own ilk. It doesn’t matter. With his vice presidency in its last throes everyone is just going through the motions until this administration crawls off into the sunset. I’m sure there will be no shortage of rocks for them to sample before picking their new home. Too bad there won’t be a shortage of air awaiting them too. But I digress…

Anyway back on topic, if that news wasn’t depressing enough this song came out of my radio during my drive home that evening. It’s nearly forty years old, but sounds like it’s summing up the last few years. You don’t necessarily conjure up visions of Steppenwolf when it comes to prophetic or profound lyrics, but who could argue with the results. It‘s a history lesson that was well documented, but never learned and now thanks to those in power is in full repeat mode. Don’t skim these lyrics, take a minute and go through them line by line. I swear they weren’t written yesterday.

I won’t flatter the vice president (the phrase takes on a whole new meaning with him doesn’t it?) with a mug shot. Instead, here’s a nice poster featuring our musical guest of the evening in their prime.



Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
Like good Christians, some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches

But from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
But she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

Then once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end
While we bullied, stole and bought our homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war over
They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has it's share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey

The spirit was freedom and justice
And it's keepers seem "friendly" and kind
It's leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they were paying no mind
'Cause the people got fat and grew lazy
now their vote is like a meaningless joke

You know they talk about law, about order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watchin'

Our cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us

Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner
We can't pay the cost
'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watching

America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

All Summer Long...

Frank takes a walk on the beach, gets his heart broken and tells us all about it .

It’s late summer 1966 and there’s a new record out about a summer romance that only lasts until the leaves start to fall surfacing on radio. Standard fare for sure, the scenario has played itself out many times in music and movies. It’s even part of the public domain as far as life experiences go. We’ve all had our variation on the theme.

Standard fare except the song is by Frank Sinatra sporting an arrangement by Nelson Riddle and a lyric from Johnny Mercer. This trio had worked magic several time before in the fifties. Times were different now and the stakes went beyond mere sales. This was more about still being relevant than top of the pops. They were all more than up to the task with “Summer Wind.”

Time may wait for no one, but in the case of Frank it didn’t matter because he always operated on his own sense of it. Releasing the song in September after summers end dropped any notion of it joining the ranks of typical summer songs. This one was now headed for early autumn, late night, melancholy as only he could deliver. From there it headed straight to aural immortality.

The summer wind, came blowin' in - from across the sea
It lingered there, to touch your hair - and walk with me
All summer long, we sang a song - and then we strolled that golden sand
Two sweethearts, and the summer wind.

The steely organ sets the mood of the song from the first few notes. It doesn’t mimic the sound of the wind or do anything fancy. Instead it’s used to jar the memory of the singer and let him tell his tale. He doesn’t slip into self pity or point the blame anywhere in particular. He only points out that it left with the wind as swiftly as it came. We all know that even a few months with just the right person can equate to a lifetime of memories when the poet in us punches the clock. This song understands that aspect of human nature perfectly. No hard facts are dredged up, we get only the skeletal outline of the relationship. Her hair and strolling on the beach are enough clues for us to fill in the blanks.

During that first verse the vocal has just a bit of restraint, as though he’s telling us more than he wants to talk about. We prod him though to tell us as much as he’s comfortable revealing. By the time the second verse comes into view he’s opening up a bit more, but not without reminding us that it was something from his past and not part of his present.

Like painted kites, those days and nights - they went flyin' by
The world was new, beneath a blue - umbrella sky

Then softer than, a piper man - one day it called to you

I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind.

In as few lines as possible we get a glimpse at that cherished summer. For a moment you can almost hear the waves hitting the shore as they claim their tracks. It ends so fast that we’re left to wonder how big the hurt that lingers really is. We have no indication as to what happened, we get only abstract clues masked in tight rhymes and matter of fact summations. Mercer was always economical with his lyrics and never wasted words if the singer could carry the sentiment. In Sinatra he had his singer. With just a simple vocal inflection Frank could save any writer a couple of lines here and there while devastating the listener.

The autumn wind, and the winter winds - they have come and gone
And still the days, those lonely days - they go on and on

And guess who sighs his lullabies - through nights that never end

My fickle friend, the summer wind.

At this point he’s grown tired of reliving the experience and wants to bring it to a close. The autumn and winter winds are dispensed with in a sing line. By the next line he’s back to that place where he’s been stuck since summers cruel end. In this instance the wind is like the sea that never returns what she takes. You can float on both the sea and the wind for a time. In this case though only for the passing of summer and nothing more.

When you examine Sinatra and his “love” songs there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t want to be the protagonist in very many of them. In his long career he suffered more through song than just about anyone. We all have our own ways of getting over a relationship. Frank’s way of getting over the hurt was motioning the bartender to pull something down from the top shelf, a rocks glass and fixing on that girl with the black party dress drinking alone across the room.