Monday, April 12, 2010

Is it Safe?

Recently I was asked if I could embed links to songs in these posts. The question prompted two thoughts.

The first involves copyright issues and legality of song links.  Many opinions exist on "fair use" of copyrighted material, but nothing that amounts to an unequivocal green light about embedding song links. Absent this, I refer readers to music websites such as Amazon or iTunes, or sites such as Grooveshark or Rhapsody where you hear the entire song rather than a shorter snippet.

My editors, Todd and Cyril, disagree with me.  They think that embedded music preserves the integrity of the blog post –– that the reader stays in the flow of interdependent text and music, versus leaving the cosy blog space for the mercantile flash of iTunes.  I think my editors are correct about this, hence the music links in this post.

The second, more midbrain thought –– following upon our decision to embed song links –– is that large men in trench coats are going to come to my house.  They'll have unpleasant dispositions and be muttering about music links.

While considering this I slip into a reverie about dangerous-situation songs.  Perhaps I'm preparing a soundtrack to accompany my incarceration, or maybe I just need to change the subject.  Anyhow, I find myself distracted, released from the murk of "fair use" interpretation into what is the remainder of this post.

So ... songs about threats to safety.  To begin with, and not surprisingly, several address love as a dangerous place.  After all, as Jerome K. Jerome put it in 1886:  "Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it." (See "Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart" [1966], by The Supremes, for an update on this sentiment.)

Here are some songs about love and danger:

   You've Got To Hide Your Love Away:
   The Beatles

"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" (1965), by the Beatles, captures one such threat, the fear that emotion is hazardous and will lead to shame-ridden exposure.

     Here I stand head in hand
     Turn my face to the wall
     If she's gone I can't go on
     Feeling two feet small
  
     Everywhere people stare
     Each and every day
     I can see them laugh at me
     And I hear them say
  
     Hey, you've got to hide your love away!
     Hey, you've got to hide your love away!

Written and sung by John Lennon, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" first appeared on the album Help!  Interestingly, Lennon, with musical support from Paul McCartney and George Harrison, produced a hit cover version by The Silkie that same year.

   Running Away From Love:
   Coco Montoya

Alternatively, the lyrics in Coco Montoya's "Running Away From Love" (2002) suggest the singer won't have to hide his love away because he'll not get close enough in the first place to risk need or disappointment:  

     She might shine just like a diamond   
     She could be an angel sent from above           
     It's always been the same   
     It's always me to blame   
     I got a real bad habit of running away from love

   All My Ex's Live In Texas:
   George Strait

Then there is George Strait's "All My Ex's Live In Texas" (1987). Strait occupies the western-swing corner of country music.  As of 2010, he has recorded more #1 hit singles (57) than any musician in any genre in history.  "All My Ex's Live In Texas" depicts the singer's hiding, not from painful feelings, nor from intimacy, but from an unspecified payback from former lovers. The refrain goes:

     All my ex's live in Texas   
     And Texas is the place I'd dearly love to be   
     But all my ex's live in Texas   
     And that's why I hang my hat in Tennessee

   One Way Out:
   The Allman Brothers

A final love-is-dangerous song depicts the "other man" in an affair hiding from retaliation from the woman's rightful partner.  That song is "One Way Out" (1971) by the Allman Brothers.  Written by blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Elmore James, then revised by Sonny Boy Williamson II, it was widely popularized by the Allmans.  A staple of classic rock, blues, and Americana formats, its refrain goes:   

     Ain't but one way out baby, Lord I just can't go out the door   
     Ain't but one way out baby, and Lord I just can't go out the door   
     Cause there's a man down there, might be your man I don't know

Gregg Allman's ragged reading of "might be your man ... I don't know” is convincing.

Now let's visit danger-songs involving zones other than love.  Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" (1978), for example, describes a werewolf, dapper and perfectly coiffed, who prowls the streets of London.  One verse tells us:   

     He's the hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent   
     Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair   
     You better stay away from him   
     He'll rip your lungs out, Jim   
     Huh, I'd like to meet his tailor   
     Werewolves of London again


Zevon's songs are dry and sardonic.  He had friends who fit this style, among them David Letterman, Hunter S. Thompson, Carl Hiaasen. Zevon died of cancer in 2003 at age 56, giving his last public performance in 2002 on Late Night with David Letterman.  Asked by Letterman if he had any summative thoughts on life and death, Zevon said, "Enjoy every sandwich.”

   Run Through The Jungle:
   Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through The Jungle" (1970) also describes an ominous landscape, but one with more immanent violence and a sense of pell-mell flight:   

     Thought I heard a rumbling’   
     Callin' to my name,   
     Two hundred million guns are loaded   
     Satan cries, "Take Aim!”   
     Better run through the jungle   
     Better run through the jungle   
     Better run through the jungle   
     Whoa, don't look back to see

Creedence Clearwater Revival were from California but they sounded like a southern band playing in a swamp, creating sonic atmospheres laden with humidity and moss.   Lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty wrote "Run Through The Jungle," and in a 1993 interview he said that the song was about America's culture of "gun happy" people and the proliferation of registered and unregistered guns.

We are nearing the end of our tour
of danger songs.  Before stopping, here are three songs about addiction and the irresponsibility of clouded consciousness: "Cocaine Blues," Dave Van Ronk (1962); "That Smell," Lynyrd Skynrd (1977); and "Methamphetamine," Old Crow Medicine Show (2008).  "Cocaine Blues" has deep roots and is well over a century old.  Dave Van Ronk learned it from the Reverend Gary Davis (1896 - 1972), who himself learned it from a carnival musician in 1905.

   People Are Strange:
   The Doors

Finally, we close with an arresting song of existential peril.  That song is "People Are Strange" (1967) by The Doors.  It's creepy, it gets under your skin.  In a few striking images, it evokes the dread that being itself is dangerous. Running is not an option, nor drugs, nor a Tennessee to hole up in, nor any workable avoidance maneuver:   

     People are strange when you're a stranger   
     Faces look ugly when you're alone   
     Women seem wicked when you're unwanted   
     Streets are uneven when you're down   
     When you're strange   
     Faces come out of the rain   
     When you're strange   
     No one remembers your name ...

Faces coming out of the rain –– a haiku-like image capturing the sense of being unmoored and bobbing in a sea of uncaring presences.  Yikes! that's unsettling, and worse than grim men in trenchcoats coming to my door.


1 comment :

Anne said...

Maybe the large men come bearing gifts?

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