Archive for the ‘Van Morrison’ Category

I’m enjoying a much-needed “staycation” this week, the first extended time I’ve taken since Christmas (and that wasn’t much of a break – we moved from state to state). Among the things on my to-do list: re-watching Covert Affairs, a spy-thriller series that aired on the USA network from 2010 to 2015 that I thoroughly enjoyed; reading Nolan Gasser’s 700-page Why You Like It: The Science & Culture of Musical Taste; and what I’m doing now, tap-tap-tapping away on a blog post.

Nolan Gasser, for those who don’t know, is the chief architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project, and in the book he – to quote the book jacket – “breaks down what musical taste is, where it comes from, and what our favorite songs say about us.” I can’t weigh in on the tome as a whole, as I’m a mere 35 pages in, but it looks interesting and wonky – aka right up my alley. (For more, see the WYLI website.)

In some respects, the Music Genome Project (aka MGP) seems similar to a search-and-recommendation project I was involved with for a few years, though that focused on TV shows. (I found it a fun endeavor, as I have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of TV history, but others found it tedious.) 

That project is one reason why I find the idea of deciphering what makes (and breaks down) this thing called musical taste (or preference) fascinating. Yet, at the outset of the book, I have to admit that the predictive measures seem both obvious and slightly absurd. On the obvious side: It should boil down to artist, genre, sub-genre, era and fellow travelers, songwriters if an outside songwriter was involved, and include additional aspects of the songs, with all that data creating a pattern that’s as intricate, sticky and fragile as a spider’s web. On the absurd side: Given that many folks, myself included, have a wide range of musical likes that span multiple genres, how can those many facets be woven into a seamless listening experience? Or will it flow as thus: mid-tempo, mid-tempo, slow, mid-tempo, fast?

And, too, would the MGP follow Bobby Darin’s “If I Was a Carpenter” with Tim Hardin’s “A Simple Song of Freedom,” the Long Ryders’ “Looking for Lewis & Clark” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”? (There’s a chain there that astute music fans should ferret out.) In other words, it’s one thing to enjoy a sonically similar playlist, which is what the MGP seems geared to do, but another to be pulled in by subtextual sequencing.

But I’m not pre-judging. I’ll give Pandora a go for the next few mornings to see if it can actually predict my likes and avoid my dislikes.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Subtextual Sequencing…

1) Bob Dylan – “Desolation Row.”

2) Van Morrison – “Summertime in England.”

3) The Bangles – “Dover Beach.”

4) James McMurtry – “Too Long in the Wasteland.”

5) Natalie Merchant – “maggie and milly and molly and mae.”

We finished the second and final season of Joan of Arcadia yesterday. For those of you counting at home, that means we whipped through the 23 Season 1 episodes and 22 Season 2 episodes in exactly 22 days. One of the things I like about the series is that it avoids the typical pitfalls associated with dramas that explore faith and humanity. Within the show, as in real life, faith leads to questions, doubts and realizations, but never easy answers.

One of my favorite moments comes near the end of its run, in the “Common Thread” installment. God commands Joan to return to knitting, a hobby she stopped when she was a kid. As always, there’s far more to the episode than just that; we don’t just see Joan casting on, stitching and purling for the next 40+ minutes. I’ll skip the rest of the story, however, to the moment in question, when Joan gently rebuffs her folks, who are trying to ease her guilt regarding a bad decision made by her former boyfriend, Adam. “I mean, we’re all connected like the scarf. One piece of yarn, if you cut it up into little pieces, it’s useless. You can’t make anything out of it. I am responsible, partly. We all are…for everything that we touch and everything that touches us.”

It’s never us vs. them, as much as we sometimes wish it so. It’s us vs. us. 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Of Questions & Faith (aka Joan of Arcadia, Part II)…

1) Kasey Chambers – “Abraham”

2) Van Morrison – “When Will I Ever Learn to Walk in God”

3) Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer – “Into My Arms”

4) Bruce Springsteen – “Rocky Ground”

5) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)”

And two bonuses…

6) Natalie Merchant – “I May Know the Word”

7) Maria McKee and Bryan MacLean – “Sweet Dr. Jesus”

Every Monday, we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast while scanning the sports section of the morning newspaper, and headed to the bus stop, where we waited with a motley crew of kids from the neighborhood. At school, we navigated the halls on the way to and fro’ class, and fled at day’s end unless we had an after-school activity of some kind. The next morn, we did it again. And again after that, times three, until summer break came.

After school, depending on weather and mood, we played in the street or the park, rode our bikes or walked to independently owned music and book stores in our small town’s business district, or hiked the long hill to the Village Mall, where we browsed the chain-store versions of the same. The main difference: the folks behind the counter at those independent stores knew my name. At the chain stores? They only knew my cash.

In 1982, social media would have meant talk radio. Cable TV was around, but channels weren’t many. In the Philly area, the most important to get was PRISM, an HBO-like premium channel that, in addition to movies and specials, carried the home games of the Flyers.

In some respects, life was less hectic. The news cycle played out in drips and drabs via the newspapers and evening newscasts, not the incessant drumbeat of disagreements that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But, make no mistake, life was no less difficult then as now. June 1982, for example, saw America stuck in a wretched recession: Inflation clocked in at 7.2 percent while unemployment was 9.8 percent.

I was 16, going on 17.

New movies released this month include Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2 and Blade Runner. True story: one day later this month, after school had let out for the summer, a friend and I trekked to the Village Mall, which was home to a two-screen Eric movie theater. He took in Poltergeist. I took in…Grease 2. That’s just how I rolled.

The top TV shows for the just-concluded 1981-82 season included Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Of those, I only watched the last two on a regular basis.)

In the world of music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were atop the charts with “Ebony and Ivory” – a 45 I still own – for all of June. Other hot hits included Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson & Clover.” (As always with all things charts, I rely on Weekly Top 40.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: June 1982 via Creem. Joan Jett graces the front cover of the issue and, via an ad, the back.

1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’n Roll.” The Iman Lababedi-penned cover article chronicles Joan Jett’s ascent from the generally ignored Runaways to this point in time, when she was on a roll, having finished a seven-week run at No. 1 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll” on May 1st, and then cracking the Top 10 again this month with “Crimson & Clover,” to say nothing of her platinum-selling I Love  Rock ’n Roll album.

2) Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart.” “In the United States, statistics show, a girl is walking out on her no-good man every 15 minutes. Statistics also show that 15 minutes later they’re going out and buying the Quarterflash record.” So begins music journalist Sylvie Simmons in this in-depth profile of the Portland, Oregon, band, which – to my ears – always sounded somewhat like Pat Benatar. Interestingly, the songs weren’t written by singer (and saxophonist) Rindy Ross, but her husband, guitarist Marv Ross.

3) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” Penny Valentine checks in from Britain with a good piece on the Jam. “Not since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ has a record so well captured an urban mood and sent out its own warning: ‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/‘Cause those rosy days are few.’”

She also delves into the album the song springs from. “So ‘Gift,’ an indecisive, incomplete, somewhat directionless collection musically and a set which reflects Weller’s own confusion between a salvation that lies with love and individualism or collective action, somewhat accidentally reflects exactly the political climate at the moment.”

4) Van Morrison – “Cleaning Windows.” Richard Riegel has the lead review, of Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, in the Records section. Of this song, he writes that “‘Cleaning Windows,’ which opens Side Two of Beautiful Vision, picks up some of the threads of ‘Summertime in England,” and is the most interesting song on the new set as a result. ‘Cleaning Windows’ stars Van Morrison as a repatriated Belfast window washer, who measures his life in the number of sparkling panes he’s left behind…”

He also laments that “nowhere else on Beautiful Vision does Van Morrison allow us such crystalline metaphors for his life. All 10 cuts have his trademark beautiful-vision melodies but lyrically too many of the other songs celebrate those vague bromides favorited by Bob Dylan in recent years, songs in which the satisfaction of the singer’s belief is supposed to substitute for acute lyric detail.”

5) The Call – “War-Weary World.” Riegel also contributes his take on the Call’s eponymous debut to the Rock-a-Rama roundup: “Clenched-jaw, urban-melodrama-verging-on-paranoia, a la Talking Heads, but far icier and more detached music than David Byrne would ever allow his disciplined-to-funk urban soul to express.”