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You still here? Didn't you get the memo? Dowdytalk has moved (see below). Well, if you're going to stick around, then you're going to have to listen to this wicked stupid Toby Keith ditty.

There was a time when songs like this made my blood boil. I mean, rednecks are all macho bluster and no brains. And, contrary to the message posted at the end of this amateur video posted on YouTube, it's not military might that keeps us relatively free. Most of the people in the world who lack freedom do so not because they have a strong military to protect them from outsiders but because their government is run by the military. We're free because that hasn't happened -- yet. But, politics aside, this is an absolutely princely song. Absolute Bulldada (Google it if you don't already have the Slack to know what it means). I'll take this bloodthirsty warsong over Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." or Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?"  any day. This is self parody at it's finest, the more so because it's so clearly heartfelt. (The song was inspired by 9/11 and the death of his father, both of which occurred within months of each other.)

Having said that, I can't help but wonder whether Keith still feels the same about this song in 2008 as he did in 2001. Perhaps his buddy Willie Nelson sat him down, got him high, and said, "Toby, my friend, it's one thing to love your country. It's another thing to paint your ass red, white, and blue and moon the whole world."

New Home

I have a new home online. At this point the only thing preventing me from podcasting is my own innate inertia.


Been awhile, hasn't it? What can I say? I've been busy waking up from a long, long slumber. But I haven't forgotten about you or your insatiable thirst for music. Today's tune is Brian Eno's "Third Uncle." Keep in mind this was recorded in 1974. It sounds fresher than the Bauhaus version recorded during the 1980s. Nineteen-seventy-four. Think about that. Bell bottoms, feathered hair, handlebar mustaches, muscle cars, and guitar fucking solos. Back then, the guitar was a hunk of wood that existed solely so a guy could hold onto something as he winced and whinged and played the only scale that mattered (a first position pentatonic, invariably in the key of A). Nobody thought of the electric guitar as a percussive instrument. It was this thing with strings meant for bending and pulling and wincing and whinging. Do you feel it? Do you feel like I do? I'm sure Television's Tom Verlaine was already doing his thing in New York, and Gang of Four's Andy Gill would be doing his thing soon enough, but did I mention this was 1974? I believe Phil Manzanara played the guitar on it, but undoubtedly the whole thing was Eno's idea. You can count on it.

Good things are happening, and I'll talk about them when I damn well see fit. But dig the new -- er, old -- groove.

Update: The lead guitar part part is so Robert Fripp. I haven't confirmed that yet, but nobody else sounded like that back then. Or now.

Song of the Day: "Mister Jung Stuffed"

I'm traveling this week, so it may be days before my next "Song of the Day." I also don't have time to dissect this particular track, other than to say "Me like!" For once, I seem to be in line with the anti-thinking sorts who despise any attempt to scrutinize a work of art. "It's just music, man! Don't over-analyze it!" (blech!). Anyway, here's something for your delectation. "Mister Jung Stuffed," from Man Man, my favorite new band. Comparisons with Tom Waits are inevitable, given singer Honus Honus's (!) gruff baritone as well as the band's unconventional instrumentation and frenetic arrangements. But, really, they're their own animal. Or should I say beast? W00t!

Can you say primary challenges?

Big Telecom: Who's my little subbies?

Congressional Democrats: We are! We are!

Update: Et tu, Barack? Sigh ... We're in General Election mode now.
Congress is debating FISA today. Will Dems bow down to their Telecom masters? (We need not ask about the Repugs: they are proud subbies, but the Dems sometimes flirt with Constitutional principles.)

While we wait, here's "The Blinding," by Babyshambles. No one stateside gives these guys -- okay, Pete Doherty -- much respect. If he is discussed at all, it is the usual hipster snark about his drug habits (will they be laughing if he actually overdoses?) or facile comparisons to fellow drug fiend Amy Winehouse (likewise). At best, his current band will be compared unfavorably to his previous one, the Libertines, who, admittedly, did kick ass.

The Libertines, by the way, just might get back together, and that would be exciting. But, damnit, Babyshambles has had some fine moments. As this song shows, Doherty has an impeccable ear for a hook. He actually manages to make thrashing garage band bar chords sound fresh and new. I am also fond of this video because it shows brief flashes of the Corpus Christi portrait of Christopher Marlowe, who not only influenced a generation of playwrights (Shakespeare included) but  also invented rock 'n' roll (one of these days I'll explain). Enjoy!

Song of the Day: "Song to the Siren"

This song has been covered a lot. Everyone from Robert Plant to This Mortal Coil has recorded a version of it. The Australian indie film Candy features a version of it, sung by Paula Arundell, in the opening credits. This is perhaps fitting, given that the movie -- which stars a young Heath Ledger -- is concerned with heroin addiction, and that the song's writer, Tim Buckley, died of a heroin overdose in 1975.

I'm just beginning to explore Buckley's music. Up until recently the only things I knew about him were that he was Jeff Buckley's father, that, like his son, he died young, and that he wrote "Song to the Siren." There is much more to him than this, and his commercially unsuccessful musical career is a testament to what happens to musicians who choose to follow their muse rather than to commodify their talents. They end up broke and, sometimes, broken.

But, at this point, I'm in no position to write about Buckley or his music in general terms. After all, this department is "Song of the Day," not "Artist of the Day" or even "Album of the Day." Besides, the mysterious, haunting beauty of this song has given it a life of its own. But what is the source of this beauty? To me, the song provides a clear example of why you cannot separate a lyric from the melody, harmony, or even rhythm. If you took the same melody and chords and sang some hackneyed tale of endless love, the song would hardly be memorable. The same could be said if you put the words to different music, though it's difficult for me to imagine the lines "Long afloat on shapeless oceans/I did all my best to smile" sung to any other tune. And that's my point: the words and music form a gestalt.

Having said that, the lyric does invite scrutiny. It would seem, on the surface of it, to be written from the point of view of a spurned lover:

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?
Now my foolish boat is leaning, broken love lost on your rocks.
For you sang, "Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow."
Oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow.

The hare and the fox is a bit odd, but I suppose if you're going to borrow from Homer, why not borrow from Aesop also? Frankly, I don't like it much. It doesn't make sense -- the fox makes dinner of the hare, whereas the siren lures the sailor to his death -- and the guttural consonants in "fox" jar against all of the liquid "Rs" and "Ls" throughout the verse. But overall the verse seems to suggest that, by rejecting him, his lover has dashed his love against the rocks.

In the last verse, however, things aren't so simple:

I am puzzled as the oyster
I am troubled at the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with Death my bride?
Hear me sing, "Swim to me, Swim to me, Let me enfold you:
Here I am, Here I am, Waiting to hold you

This reminds me of the Emily Dickinson poem where the speaker stands on the shoreline as the tide rises above her waist
("I started Early -- Took my dog --/And visited the Sea --"), apparently contemplating drowning herself. We are done with the simple conceit of comparing a deceitful lover to a siren and have ventured into allegory. Love is a kind of death. Death is a kind of lover. Damon Krukowski of Damon and Naomi took this allegorical reading even further. When I saw him perform this tune a couple of years ago, he told the audience that he considered it to be an anti-war song. It draws from The Odyssey, which is, in many respects, anti-war poem, and it was  written during the Vietnam War. Should I live, or should I die? Should I fight, or flee? And what is fighting? Taking a "stand" against the war, or surrendering to "duty"?

But enough about the words. They really do lose their impact them when you scrutinize them in isolation. Here are a few versions of the song. First, we have Buckley himself singing the song on, of all things, The Monkees Show:

This performance, by the way, took place before Buckley recorded the song for his 1970 album Starsailor. I don't like his vocal performance in the studio version nearly as much: it sounds strained, and a guy with graceful tenor like Buckley need never sound strained. Also, the lyrics are slightly different: the album version reads "I am as puzzled as a newborn child," which does make more sense.  (For an exhaustive discussion of the textual history of the song's lyrics, check out this blog.)

Next up is the first version of this song I ever heard. It's by This Mortal Coil (a.k.a.The Cocteau Twins):

Crying yet? If not, this one ought to do the trick. Here's my favorite version of the song, by Damon and Naomi, with Michio Kurihara on guitar.
When I saw Damon and Naomi, I almost approached them to tell them how much their version of the song meant to me. But I chickened out. My reasons were too personal, and I certainly didn't want to go into them then (as I do not now). But I really do think theirs is the definitive version of the song.

Finally, I want to comment on something that really bugged me today: when you purchase music on iTunes, the songs are not encoded with the songwriting credits. It took me forever to figure out that "Song to the Siren" was co-written with Larry Beckett, who wrote most of Buckley's lyrics.

Ok, this was a bit much. I can't write this much about every song I feature. This song, however, deserved it.

Update: Donegan called to see if I'm okay. Awwwww... I'm okay. I'm just drawn to sad, sad tunes. Don't forget I grew up listening to the Smiths. Also, Donegan told me a funny story: HE REMEMBERS TIM BUCKLEY ON THE MONKEES SHOW! He used to hate it when the show broke from that zany quartet to feature real musicians. Just the image of a little Donegan screaming at Tim Buckley until Davey Jones came back on is priceless.

See George Squirm

Attention Knee Pad Crew (i.e. White House press corps). This is how you interview a man who squats in the White House and takes a daily shit on the Constitution. It's nearly too late to hold the Spurious George accountable, and that's too bad. I imagine you'll summon your courage during an Obama administration, at least about Rev. Wright and his alleged ties to Fifth Column (oh and Michelle Obama's George Jefferson impersonation). But -- heaven forbid -- if Gramps McCain, wrecker of five planes (yes, five!), should be elected, perhaps you could avoid kissing his ass? If you have any sense of civic duty and professional pride -- not to mention just plain personal ethics -- then take a gander at how a real journalist interrogates a dishonest politician:

P.S. Did you catch how George blamed the troops for Abu Graib?
New department here at Dowdtalk: Song of the day. Here's a Stones song off Sticky Fingers that I've never heard on the radio, though it's been a live favorite for years. Three things strike me about this song:

1). The guitar intro: Vintage Keith Richards, an open-tuned, heavily syncopated riff that skirts around the downbeat, teases it. This is foreplay with a guitar.  C'mon, it implores, can't you hear me knocking? By the time Richards lands on the downbeat, the song is so sexed up that it doesn't matter how mediocre the chorus is. We're gliding now.

2). Jagger's vocal: I used to think the man couldn't sing. A pretty voice he doesn't have, but he does have range, and he is versatile. Try to sing the notes he's singing here. Just try (ladies too). And even if you can hit them, can you make it sound like you're in the throes of passion? Or does it sound more like cats in coitus?

3. The instrumental section: Very unlike the Rolling Stones. It's loose, it's jammy. The sax solo actually works, which is as rare in rock 'n' roll as good guitar parts are in jazz. Speaking of which, Mick Taylor plays an extended solo, and we're back in the 1970s. It could almost be the Dead. Normally, I wouldn't go for this sort of thing, but since it's such a diversion for the Stones, it really works. At this point, we're so far into the love-making act that we've lost sense of time. By the time the band comes together for the blues run that conclude the song, we've happily died a tiny little death, which is perhaps appropriate since the next song on the album is "Dead Flowers."