A Prairie Home Companion, Vienna, VA 5/27/11

As a public radio fan, I’d been wanting to see a live version of A Prairie Home Companion for a while. My chance came on 5/27, at the Wolf Trap, just outside of DC. There were actually two shows planned for that weekend; the usual 5:45 PM “live” show on Saturday, and a Friday night show at 8 PM. I sent out the usual mass email to all I thought might be interested in going with me, but even if no one else was interested, I was going to go regardless.

Happily, my step-aunt-in-law (yup, that’s how my family rolls) was interested in attending, and once I had confirmed that (and that all the others I emailed weren’t interested), I started looking for tickets, which brought up some interesting questions. APHC is a live show, and most of its shows (like the Saturday show) are scheduled to start live at 5:45 PM, and air nationally at 6 PM (the fifteen minutes I assume is a constant tape delay in case something crazy happens during the show that needs to be edited). What, then, was the Friday show? A rehearsal? A different show entirely? The Wolf Trap and APHC descriptions of the Friday and Saturday shows were almost identical; almost literally, the only difference was that one said “live broadcast” and the other didn’t. I called Wolf Trap ticketing, and they basically said the same thing. The impression I was getting was that the Friday show would be mostly the same as the Saturday one, just not broadcast.

It turned out that since I had found out about the show late, the Saturday show was sold out by the time I was ready to buy tickets, so the decision of which show to attend was made for us. It also turned out that, as far as I can tell from my memory and the audio from the Saturday show online, the shows were very similar; there were some substitutions and changes (most notably Roy Blount Jr. was in the Saturday show, but not Friday’s), but the only big difference was that the Saturday show was broadcast.

The cheapest tickets were $20, and most expensive were $56. Having suffered long enough in the cheap seats at concerts, and with the price difference between the two so small, I and my concertmate decided to splurge on the most expensive ones, and it turned out we made exactly the right choice. The cheapest tickets were on the (uncovered by a roof) lawn overlooking the amphitheater portion of the seats, and a powerful thunderstorm battered the people in that area. Ours were in the amphitheater portion, but even better, were close; our seats were in front of stage right, but were were less than ten feet from that part of the stage. They were the best seats I’ve ever had at a show.

And we were glad to have them, as one of the main reasons to see a live APHC show is to get a sense of what goes on in them visually, in addition to the audio broadcast version with which most people are most familiar. And we could see everything.

The show started with a Keillor/Andra Suchy duet, which didn’t make it into the broadcast show (much from the Friday show had to be cut; it clocked in at 2:44, and could be no more than two hours for broadcast). I could see why the duet wouldn’t make the audio-only cut, as it only worked if you could see the performers: singing the whole time, the two came down into the audience and walked the aisle all the way up to the lawn, then back down again. It must have lasted fifteen minutes, and the audience watched, transfixed, in amazement that the two would attempt such a thing, and in hope that they wouldn’t get lightninged by the still-threatening storm.

Then it was on to the rest of the show. All the usual skits, songs, and stories were there, and one of the things that struck me about it all was the talent of the sound effects guy (Fred Newman, as they were away from St. Paul). Watching him create the sounds I’d heard so many times, I was amazed by his speed, cleverness, and quick humor. In some cases, it looked like Keillor was just saying whatever popped into his head, challenging Newman to come up with a sound for it. He always did, and it was always either accurate or funny.

I was also struck by how much goes on in the skits and stories that one can’t (consciously) hear on the radio, like the background hubbub supplied by Sue Scott and Tim Russell.

An extra treat at this show were The Wailin’ Jennys, who I would have (and have, and want to again) paid $56 to see just by themselves. They performed three songs that night, all off their latest album, Bright Morning Stars. As usual, they seemingly effortlessly sang some of the best three-part harmony I’d ever heard. (At one point, Ruth and Heather sang a long note in unison. If it weren’t for the visual cues that they were both singing, it would have been impossible to tell that two voices were singing the same note, instead of just one. They’re that good.)

Also on the subject of musical awesomeness was Paul Appleby, an opera singer. He did an operatic selection, then Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. Having a world-class opera singer perform one of the best songs ever penned by the English language’s arguably greatest living songwriter was impressive indeed.

When I started listening to APHC, Keillor was transitioning away from the tight, thematic, story-based “News from Lake Wobegon” monologues to his current wider-ranging observational style. I did like his previous style better, but that night’s monologue certainly was a perfectly acceptable instance of his current style. Again, there was a dimension to the performance I didn’t get in the audio broadcasts: Keillor’s arch expressions, which did much to enhance whatever emotional or humorous point he was trying to make at the time. He had the best line of the night in the monologue, noting that a kid with lots of piercings looked as if he had “fallen face-first into a tackle box”. Ouch. Also ouchifying was his entreaty for young adults to treat their relatives well, especially when bringing food to family events, admonishing them to make something instead of buying it, as relatives can tell the difference, and cooking is just following directions. The seeming waste of spending two hours buying ingredients, cooking, and cleaning up just for a dish that will be eaten and forgotten about anyway has always been my objection to making food in general, but Keillor, alas, is probably right; if nothing else, it’s a sign of respect. My sweetie has a similar antipathy toward cooking, but she’d also like to cook more with me; hopefully we’ll do so, and hopefully Keillor’s next monologue won’t be guiltifying.

On second thought, hopefully it will be; the pervasive guilt of the life of the Northern Plains (Lutheran) is a recurring theme of his. I doubt if I’d prefer it any other way.

Once the monologue was through, there was a final song, and the show ended. The rain had stopped by then, so the walk back to the car was much more leisurely than the dash-under-downpour of the sprint to the amphitheater. All that was left to do a that point was wait to leave the parking lot (made much longer by two intermeshing roads packed with cars, with no-one or -thing directing them, odd in an amphitheater that one would think would have been good at dealing with traffic by now), drop off my concertmate (who had a similarly wonderful time), and head home. I didn’t get back until 1:30 in the morning, and was quite tired when I did, but it was still very much worth it. Hopefully I can do it again soon.

Barenaked Ladies concert, 5/11/10

This just in, from the “It took you a year to post this?” department:

I caught one of my favorite bands, the Barenaked Ladies, for the first time on May 11, 2010. I had tried to get two people to go: my sweetie, because I like doing things with her, and my brother’s wife, because she’s a similarly huge fan, but they both have jobs with regular office hours, so only I with my week-on/week-off schedule was able to spare the four hours it took to drive to Columbus. Even by myself, though, the concert was awesome.

Ingrid Michaelson opened for the Ladies. I’d never heard of her, but I was very happy to hear her that night; she’s a very clever and talented musician. I was especially blown away by her rendition of REM’s awesome “Nightswimming”. It was a cappella, but only in the sense that it was only her singing. Michaelson created multiple layers of accompaniment by (using an electronic audio setup she deftly handled live) starting recording, singing a line until it would have repeated, ending recording, then playing that recording back in endless loop, while repeating the process with the next line. When she was done, she had three repeating harmonizing lines of notes, over top of which she sung the lyrics of the song. Smart idea, beautiful execution.

Then the Ladies came out. This was their set list:

  • Testing 123
  • The Old Apartment: this was the first song that Steven Page originally sung, and I wanted to see how different the band would sound now that Page was no longer in it. As for most of the Page songs, Ed Robertson sung lead vocals, but aside from that I’m guessing, at least in this case, not much changed. I know Steven and Ed were an integral part of the interplay between band members that made their live shows so great. Not for the last time, I kicked myself for not having seen them earlier. This was a great show, but they may have been even better before.
  • Falling for the First Time
  • Put My Hands in Scalding Hot Tea: I’m at a loss for this one. Some of their songs weren’t necessarily even songs at all; skits, medleys, or whatever popped into their heads. “Put my Hands in Scalding Hot Tea” is what I wrote down, and it was the most often-repeated line of this part of the set, but I’d never heard it before. But that’s how the Ladies roll, and that’s one of the big reasons to go to one of their shows.
  • Never is Enough
  • On Every Subway Car: I hadn’t yet gotten All in Good Time, this song’s album, so I didn’t really know what I was listening to here. I did get the album at the concert, though, and after a few listenings, this became my favorite song from it.
  • Another Heartbreak
  • Bank Job: Simply a great song, because it’s so good at conveying the passive rage at its heart. Ed substituted “Ohio” for “Ontario”, which was a nice touch. It was awesome to hear those who hadn’t heard it before laugh at “But how do you plan for a bank full of nuns.” That exact experience is why concerts will never die.
  • Pollywog in a Bog: Though I’ve gotten all their albums since then (as well as Stunt), and am slowly but surely listening through the first three, at the time I had no experience with any BNL songs off their first three albums that weren’t on All Their Greatest Hits, which means I’d never heard this song, or the next two, before. Alas; I appreciate live music most when I’ve had a chance to fully digest its recorded version first.
  • Sound Of Your Voice
  • Fell Asleep at the Wheel: I was almost glad I’d never heard this song before; the hammer of grief and longing this song drops on a first-time listener was even more potent at the live show. Many songs are great not because of what they say, but how well they say it. FAatW is an excellent example of this.
  • Aluminum
  • Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way
  • Easy
  • You Run Away: Ironically enough, I was visiting Canada (Toronto) for the first time when this song was out as a single; it was all over the airwaves then.
  • On the Lookout: In my notes, I had this as “This All Will Pass/On the Lookout So In Love”, as, not having gotten the album yet, it sounded as if BNL were mashing up two different songs into one. Turns out it was just one song all along. Sorta like the video for Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”; the director thought it was almost as if the song was sung by three different people, so he made a video with three different Alanis’ in it.
  • Too Little Too Late
  • One Week: The BNL standard. Ed sung the verses in both the studio and live version. Steven did the studio vocals for the chorus; it’s been so long, however, that I can’t remember who did them in the live version. Perhaps it was a Creegan/Hearn/Stewart vocal tag team?
  • It’s All Been Done
  • Pinch Me: My two favorite BNL songs are “Some Fantastic” and “Light Up My Room”, neither of which, alas, they played at the concert. After those, though, “Pinch Me” is my favorite; they certainly did it justice here.
  • If I Had $1000000
  • It’s Magic/Finale: This was another improvisation, though from what I’m reading online “It’s Magic” is a standard cue for improv. I must go to many more shows to obtain proper context!
  • Big Bang
  • Have Another Look Around
  • What a Good Boy

That was the set. After it ended, I picked up a copy of “All in Good Time” as a souvenir, called my sweetie, then started the drive home. All in all, a great day.

TMBG at KC

They Might Be Giants recently did a free concert at the Kennedy Center, and I was able to successfully drag my sweetie along to see it. This was their set list:

  • She’s An Angel
  • Clap Your Hands
  • The Guitar
  • Nonagon
  • Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • Fingertips
  • Never Go To Work
  • Particle Man
  • Your Racist Friend
  • I am a Paleontologist
  • Pirate Girls and I
  • James K Polk
  • Older
  • Dr. Worm
  • Damn Good Times
  • The Mesopotamians
  • Alphabet of Nations
  • What is a Shooting Star
  • Istanbul Not Constantinople

Alas, and unlike me, my sweetie found it less than unceasingly awesome, but that just means I need to take her to tens more TMBG concerts. What problems aesthetic differences cause, Stockholm Syndrome can cure. :)

Wailin’ Jennys at the Birchmere

Ever since becoming captivated by their heavenly harmonies, I had been itching to see the Wailin’ Jennys in concert, waiting until they were close enough for me to drive to them. On 4/7/09 they came to the Birchmere, and I jumped. It was a wonderful concert. I had been up until 3 AM the morning of the concert grading papers, and had class that morning as well, followed by the three and a half hour drive to Alexandria, but my sleep deprivation was completely forgotten once the Jennys began singing. This was their set list:

  • Arlington
  • Beautiful Dawn
  • Intro: Manitoba, Man-it’-o-ba (This wasn’t a song, but a spoken intro of the Jennys’ impressions of the US while traveling it doing concerts. Very funny.)
  • Old Man
  • Bring me little water Silvie (which showcased the amazing range of Heather Masse, hitting bass notes as well as any tenor)
  • Drivin’
  • Deeper Well (an Emmylou Harris cover, and not a Jennys standard at the time)
  • Glory Bound
  • Motherless Child
  • One More Dollar
  • “Paint a Picture”? (not sure of the title on this one; it was a new one from Heather Masse)
  • Happy Birthday to You (in five-part harmony!)
  • Heaven When We’re Home
  • Payin’? Rayin? Pagin? Ragin? (very much not sure of the title of this one)
  • Weary Blues
  • Racing with the Sun
  • Avila
  • One Voice
  • The Parting Glass

The last two were the encore, and the best of the concert. The last was heartrendingly beautiful; the Jennys stepped to the very front of the stage, and the lights went down. The hall became so quiet I could hear Heather softly hum their starting pitch, then they began: a nearly perfect, achingly beautiful rendition of an old Irish tune.

And then, alas, it was over. The only thing that could have made it better was the inclusion of some of Annabelle Chvostik’s material (Apocolypse Lullaby, Devil’s Paintbrush Road), but considering that those were songs she had written before she joined, she probably wanted to retain exclusive rights to them after having left.

The only outright blemish of the evening? The audience, one of whose drunken members couldn’t resist shouting “Nice makeup!” to the Jennys. Nice rudeness, jerk. Feel free to be nicely absent the next time they perform there.

Thun! Dar!

I submit to you that AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is one of the rockingest music videos in the history of the world. From the Drumstick-Cam that starts it off, to Angus Young’s exhausting song-long riff to the literal wall of fist-pumping “Thun-der!”-shouting fans that surround the stage, this is a video that grabs you off the street, beats you up in a back alley, and leaves you, dazed and bleeding, wondering the last time such a smackdown was that awesome.

Metallica + Exercise

One of the nice things about summer internships is the break they give from the academic year’s nonstop studying. I’ve been using some of my free-er time to work off late-night studying flab at the local YMCA. I’ve also been trying to lower the pile of unlistened-to CDs I’ve gotten from the past couple of birthdays and Christmases. Happily, I can combine the two, ripping CDs directly to my Treo and listening to them while on the elliptical.

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing just that. Metallica’s title album was next on my list, and I did my usual routine: get on elliptical machine, program elliptical, turn on Treo, start first song on CD. Depending on how you select the CD’s worth of songs on my Treo, the first song is either the first song on the CD, or the song that appears first in alphabetical order. Without realizing it, I loaded them in alphabetical order. I hit Play, and kept on (running? striding? ellipticalling? Our exercise machines outstrip our abilities to describe them…)

Going by alphabetical order, “Don’t Tread on Me” is the first song on that album. The song started. The thumping, punishing opening rhythm guitar/drum riff (dundundunnn dun dun) hit. Then the lead guitar, with its jarring variation on West Side Story’s “I Want to Live in America”. Then more a few more bars of punishing guitar/drum. (Few bands, of course, do punishing riffs better than Metallica did in the 80’s and early 90’s.) Then the start of a different guitar/drum riff, the one that drives the rest of the song. And then, finally, the opening words “Don’t tread on me”.

YEEEAAARRRGH!

Energy coursed through my body, my arms and legs suddenly on fire. My baseline 800 calories per hour pace skyrocketed to over 1000. And stayed there. Through Lars telling me So be it/Faith no more/Just a few pieces/To prepare for war. (War! War against a normal exercise pace!) Through more punishing guitar/drum. And more preparation for War. And even more guitar/drum. And finally, one last time: Don’t. Tread. On. Me.

My rate eventually went back down to its normal level, but there’s no doubt I burned more calories that day than usual.

I now know one of life’s true Lessons:

Metallica + Exercise = Endorphin Rush

Sheryl Crow

I’ve never felt the need to have the latest and greatest when it comes to popular music, since, as I’ve noted previously, so much of it is garbage. In fact, I tend to wait longer than many people, so I can rely on early adopters to filter good music from bad for me. If, after a few months (or years), Metallica’s Black album, for example, still holds up, and I still like “The Unforgiven”, well, then it might be a good time to get it. Of course, this approach also tends to save me a lot of cash as well, not just in terms of accidentally buying stuff I won’t like, but also due to the fact that I can get it used.

It is with this philosophy firmly in place that I finally picked up Sheryl Crow’s title album. (Well, got it for Christmas, actually, but who’s counting.) The vetters were right; this is good stuff.

The big question, of course, is whether you should read the rest of this (admittedly long) post; it has been twelve years since this album came out. Yeah, maybe there’s nothing here that hasn’t been said already; but if you like SC, you can groove to shared appreciation, and if you don’t maybe I can change your mind.

Moving on: SC is good for a lot of different reasons. First off, she’s a good songwriter, and that’s rare among popular musicians. Second, her music has…something. Grit? Earthiness? Not sure, but whatever it is, there’s power in her songs. Force.

Maybe Angels opens the CD, and its opening power-chorded fourth drops us straight into that bluesy strength that’s so fascinating. There’s a sense here, and in all of her songs, of authenticity. Here, the lyrics, music, all of it, points toward a woman who really is “too wise to believe her eyes/cause all [she] sees just terrifies [her]”, and is waiting for the real thing (angels, aliens, whatever, really) to come and take her away into a world of real truth. And what a great way to open a popular music CD: no lyrics about loving a guy who doesn’t love her back, or not loving a guy who loves her, or wanting to get with a guy. Actual songwriting; how cool is that? It’s also a great showcase of SC’s awesome voice; she doesn’t have the range of a Mariah Carey or the capabilities for “vocal histronics” (love that phrase) so evident in American Idol contestants, but it’s one of the most authentic singing voices I’ve heard. When vibrato is needed, we get vibrato, but when frustration and fear needs to be sung, we get the growls, shouts, and voice-cracking we need. And this song is good evidence for a theme of SC’s music in general: fearlessness. From making a nonpopular song, or sounding bad (a more calculating performer, for instance, would never have let a Moog within ten feet of this song, but it figures prominently, and works well, in it), or screwing things up. Powerful stuff.

Sheryl Crow was interviewed on Fresh Air recently. She grew up Missouri, happily, in a musical family. (And she still has an amazingly pronounced (ugh) Missouruh accent. Yet another example of the universality of music; her (and almost anyone’s) accent is subsumed when singing). And yet you’d never know it here; the growling guitar and howling Sheryl fit perfectly with someone who grew up hard, is scared and really just wants to believe. Again: authenticity.

A Change is track two. I’m a lyrics fanatic, and I’m usually pretty good about ferreting out a/the meaning of a song, but the first verse of this song still stumps me. Rich miser? Guy named Feedback? Not sure, but apparently he could use A Change. Same with the second verse: aging, fake ex-beauty queen? Not-so-subtle indictment of the Britney of her time? (Heh, probably Britney herself.) And the first part of the third: wakeup call to fanboys? People who otherwise get lost in fantasy? I get the sense that this is one of those songs written about people she knows, but that we don’t necessarily. The last verse, though, is undiluted, understandable, awesome:

I’ve been thinking about catching a train
Leave the phone machine by the radar range
“Hello it’s me
I’m not at home
If you’d like to reach me
Leave me alone.”

Radar ranges are usually out in the desert: they’re where the military practices blowing stuff up. So not only is the answering machine message itself sufficiently (and wryly) insular, the machine on which it’s recorded is doomed to neglect, rust, and eventual obliteration. I can’t remember when I last heard better imagery for checking out. Again though; how is this related to needing a change? And was it meant to be? Questions, questions.

Still, though a great song. A good example, though, of one of my biggest problems with Sheryl Crow; it’s very tough to tell just how cruel she’s being to her subjects. Okay, yeah, it’s easy to make fun of people that want to check out, or people that don’t but maybe should, but if the only point of your song is “You suck and I don’t, haha”, then, well, you have a pretty poor song. I get the sense she has some sympathy with her subjects, or maybe she’s really criticizing parts of herself, but I’m just not sure enough that songs like this bother me a bit.

“Home” is next, and again, it’s nice to not have to listen to a song by a popular musician that’s not about the sex, breaking up, or getting-together parts of love. Here’s a song about love where everything goes perfectly, for the first year or two. After ten years or so, “What it means to give your life/To just one man” isn’t wonderful; it’s passionless, imprisoning, and stultifying. (“No bees, no butterflies”, “I made a promise/Said it every day/Now I’m reading romance novels/And dreaming of yesterday.” “Everything I wanted/Is now driving me away”). We’ve all heard songs about love growing cold, but I’ll take good lyrics in service to a common theme any day.

“Sweet Rosalyn” is about a girl “during a wild streak in her life”. SC? Someone she knows? A part of her personality that never actually came out? Probably doesn’t matter; here’s just a fun story about a wild girl. Have to wonder, again, just how much cruelty is going on here, but it’s still a good ride. And the second verse, of course, is just hilarious:

She got a number off the bathroom wall
She was looking for good times so she made the call
Got a strangely calm voice on the other line
Sneaky little priest trying to reach out to swine…
“Seems to me your zeal for this life
Has been wearing a little thin”

Makes me wonder just how many bathroom wall numbers for which that’s true…

“If It Makes You Happy”. Also from the Fresh Air interview: SC is one of those people that just doesn’t get down (in the dumps). And I can absolutely see her doing just what the singer does in this song; going to a friend’s house that does get down, to cheer him/her up. (Again.) With escapism

I’ve been a long, long way from here
Put on a poncho, played for mosquitoes

We went searching through thrift store jungles
Found Geronimo’s rifle
Marilyn’s shampoo
and Benny Goodman’s corset and pen

then humor

Well, o.k., I made this up

then perseverance

I told you I would never give up

and changing the environment

Bring you comics in bed
Scrape the mold off the bread
And serve you French Toast again

And through it all is the exasperation people who don’t get down sometimes feel for those that do:

If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad

Who knows if SC has ever done this; it’s sure written as if she has. And that, of course, is the awesome part. One last note: the first part of the chorus? (If it makes you happy/It can’t be that bad)? People who get down, for various reasons, often reject the very things that would bring them out of their funks. That’s a pretty subtle thing to notice, and a nice touch to the lyric.

Yeah, yeah, I got this CD because of “Every Day is a Winding Road”. But the more I listened to the CD, the more I liked “Redemption Day”, and it’s among my favorite SC songs now. And the reason is that’s a tremendously-well executed twist on a common theme. The theme is redemption, and we usually think of redemption as the unfairly downtrodden finally getting the good that they deserve. The twist is this: what about the other side? What about those in power who abuse it? Especially when they know the evil of their actions? (Those who’ve gone/Into rooms of grief and suffered wrong/But keep on killing) Shouldn’t they reap what they sow as well? Yes. There’s a train that’s headed straight to Heaven’s Gate, but it’s not filled with just the good who’ll be rewarded; it carries the evil who will be judged. “And on the way/Child and man/And woman…watch and wait”. What are they waiting for? I think they’re waiting for the other, overlooked but vital, part of redemption: the guilty will be punished.

(Interesting tidbit: the lyrics say “…train that’s headed straight to Heaven’s Gate”, but on the song, it sounds like she’s saying “…train that’s headed straight at Heaven’s Gate). One little word, but it completely changes the feeling of the line; Heaven’s Gate is now less of a destination, and more something to be overcome. Or broken. In any case, the train and the Gate now have a more antagonistic relationship. Considering its partially-unrepentant cargo, that’s probably quite accurate. Extremely subtle change, but extremely powerful result.

The guilty are legion: those who watch the “fire that rages in the streets” that “swallows everything it meets”, and do nothing (“it’s just an image often seen on television”). Those powerful in politics and government (“leaders…you men of great”), who have nothing to give but false morality (“your many virtues laid to waste”), ineffectual (condescending?) help (“throw us a bone but save the plate”), and self-serving destruction (Was there no oil to excavate/No riches in trade for the fate/For every person who died in hate). This last is especially powerful, coming at the end of the verse, with each line past the first having the same melodic and lyric structure, and extending the verse beyond the others. It comes across as a litany of accusation: “You’re guilty of this. And this. And this. And this!”

This is just amazing stuff; I’ve listened to Redemption Day tens of times, and just reading through the lyrics for this post is sending chills down my spine.

The last verse is tougher to grok. (It’s buried in the countryside/Exploding into shells at night/It’s everywhere a baby cries/Freedom). My best guess is that this is another neat variation on a common theme: we have all have the freedom to be evil as well as virtuous. That’s a good end for a song, and a good thing to consider in general.

One other thing: this song is an excellent example of one of the things I really like about SC: her ability to subsume all parts of a song to its theme. Her lyrics and music don’t have the sheer complexity of a Bach or Paul Simon, but everything she does do usually serves the song. The song is primarily driven by a single brush loop (shooka shooka shooka shooka…) and guitar riff (bum badum dum badabum), that powerfully evoke the image of an implacable, unstoppable, onrushing train. Marvelous.

“Hard to Make a Stand” is next. Apparently SC was eating in a cafe, and the subject of the first verse was there: a homeless man who hands out flowers, and wrote out “I’m not here, and you’re not here”. It’s a great setup for the song; he really is “a walking celebration” not for Creation, but “Mis-creation”, the parts of the universe that just aren’t right. There’s more that isn’t right in the second verse: the singer’s friend is “shot down in the road”, and the papers laugh about it. (Of course, you can’t help but laugh when they do: the friend “went to take care of her own body”, and after the shooting “looked up before she went, and said “This isn’t really what I meant””. The paper’s response? “Two with one stone”. Ouch. But still funny.)

Editor’s note: in spite of trying not to, I went online and looked up this song to see if anyone else had thought about the meaning of this verse. I couldn’t find the original source, but some people said that the second verse has to do with abortion. If that’s the case, her friend “went to take care of her own body”, i.e., have an abortion, but was “shot down in the road” by abortion protesters on the way in, and the papers were referring to the unborn child and mother as the “two”, instead of the the friend and her desire to “take care of her own body”. In that case, the verse is decidedly unfunny. I suppose that’s possible, but I still think my interpretation fits a bit better. “Take care of her own body” makes me think of a trip to the gym, or the plastic surgeon. And getting “shot down in the road” implies a randomness I just don’t see from abortion protesters in front of a clinic. And the friend’s final words (“This isn’t really what I meant”) are awfully irreverent for an assumed abortion-related shooting.

Third verse; more evidence of things gone wrong: noise and fear (“loud guitars and big suspicions”), implements of destruction put to poor use (“great big guns and small ambitions”).

And the singer’s response: “Hey there, Miscreation, bring a flower, time is wasting”, and “…”we all need a revelation”. Help us out Miscreation? Perhaps. Here’s an amazing thing, though; this song was a megahit; it was played over and over, not the least because it’s, in addition to all that lyrical meat, a rocking song. How cool is that?

As noted before, I actually put this CD on my Christmas list because of “Every Day is a Winding Road”. It still holds up: the verses are still hilarious: the “vending machine repairman” she rides with is “high on intellectualism”, who’s “been down this road” not just before, but “more than twice”, and has a “daughter that he calls Easter” but “was born on a Tuesday night”. Again, you can’t help but wonder how much of this is laughing with him versus laughing at him, but all this strangeness does do a great job at reinforcing the singer’s sense of isolation: “stranger in her own life”. In spite of all this, though, everyday she gets a little “closer to feeling fine”.

And the music itself is still awesome: the (electric guitar?) amped to sound like a kazoo that plays the simple but addictive six-note riff that pervades the song, and the drum track (bap bap bap badabadabap bap badabadabada bap) that drives it, which is among the rockingest I’ve ever heard. It’s times like hearing this song that make me want to learn to play the drums, just so I can have as much as fun as drummer here is obviously having. I do note that this drum loop appears quite a few times elsewhere in the album; I’m guessing it was done because of the “if you’ve got a good thing go with it” rationalization.

Next up is “Love is a Good Thing”, another neat song with a twist: in a world where our children “kill each other” at schools where the “metal detector [has] just been installed”, where people hide in fear to keep from seeing something they “wish they hadn’t seen”, where politicians who “don’t like the way you live your life” “bring them up bring them down for the good of the system”, and where “justice is a fading light”, how about an alternative? How about love? Why? Because “love is a good thing”, and that’s a perfectly sufficient reason.

Of course, this song was a megahit as well, for all the standard reasons; catchy tune, good production, easily-digestible, sung by a hottie, etc. But isn’t it great that it can be appreciated on this whole other level, just for the deftness of its writing?

“Oh, Marie” Though the subject in this song appears to be “wild” from the singer’s perspective in general, and not just for a time, and though the singer appears to idolize the subject a bit more, I can’t help but think this song is along much the same lines as “Sweet Rosalyn”. It seems a bit fillerish for that reason. Still though, it has a gem of a line: “need is love/and love is need”. So anything you really can’t live without is something you love, and love is something you can’t live without. Interesting thoughts, and well put.

This post is burgeoning, I’m tiring, and the CD moves into not-quite-as-great filler-y songs, so I’ll finish up quickly: “Superstar” is about women who need celebrity, and what happens when they lose the looks that make it possible. “The Book” appears to be the singer’s (SC’s own?) reaction to having a torrid love affair appear as a tell-all book, and “Ordinary Morning” appears to be another song in the same vein of “Home”, in which the singer thinks about how her life is going off course. All solid songs, though.

“Leaving Las Vegas” is probably still my favorite SC song (I was shocked when I discovered that she was never actually a down-and-out Vegas dancer who gets so fed up with her life she changes it; it’s that authentic a song), but I sure am glad I got this album.

Even if it only took twelve years.