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You have to forgive Lucinda Williams if she doesn’t always sound optimistic. She once described her perfect man as “A poet on a motorcycle. You know, the kind who lives on the edge, the free spirit. But he’s also gotta have the soul of a poet and a brilliant mind. So, you know, good luck.” Lucinda Williams doesn’t lie to herself.

Lucinda

That’s something you wont find on the radio today. Avril Lavigne sold millions of albums with a “punk rock girl” image yet she didn’t even write the songs on her uber-successful debut album “Let Go.” Kelly Clarkson won a glorified karaoke contest to get where she is. Lucinda Williams worked her way from the shadows to the spotlight on her own terms, she was known for turning down offers from major record labels to sign with indie ones.

Williams worked for over 20 years writing forthright country rock songs but not even sniffing arena level status. As country took off into the mainstream, Lucinda stayed behind to clean up. Her song “Passionate Kisses” earned her a best songwriter grammy in 1993. Mary Chapin Carpenter turned it from a witty release session to pop schlock. It wasn’t until 1998’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” that Williams found a spot on the map. She was all over critical top ten lists and the disc even made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time list. Time Magazine named her the best American songwriter in 2002. And why? Because quite frankly, Lucinda Williams rocks.

Country legend Emmylou Harris said of Williams, “She is an example of the best of what country at least says it is, but, for some reason, she’s completely out of the loop and I feel strongly that that’s country music’s loss.” Williams has the southern twinge that manages not exclude anyone. Some have called her a female Hank Williams, and any comparisons to the Godfather of Country immediately conjures up images of whiskey, grimy bars and just plain ole hurtin’. Lucinda does not let the great one down, particularly with “Car Wheels.”

The song “Drunken Angel” sums her up well. Williams pines for an imperfect man, a “…savior singing the blues/A derelict in your duct tape shoes.” She yearns for the flaws in life and is damn proud of it. She knows where stands, and after hearing “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” you will too.

-Josh Kruk

(image from Photobucket)

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In 1994 Lisa Loeb became the first artist in music history to have a #1 song without a recording contract.  The story goes that she played the song “Stay” for Ethan Hawke who then used it in the 1994 film Reality Bites and it took off from there.

Lisa Loeb

Why did this song get so popular?  Did Ethan Hawke hold some level cultural sway in the early 90s?  Or did Lisa Loeb’s then unusual (now fashionable) eyeglasses have some sort of controlling power fueled by Starbucks and stereotypical grunge era cynicism?   The most likely answer is that it was a simple break up song and it flat out resonated with a lot of people.

Loeb’s song was not cynical or edgy, it was just honest.  It sounds like she is pulling lines right from a fight, the song starts with “you say I only hear what I want to.”  It may sound cliche, but cliches are cliches for a reason; they actually happen to people.  With “Stay” Lisa Loeb isnt trying to be your sympathetic ear during a tough time. She does you one better; she’s with you down in the trenches taking grenades.   She says:

So I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up,
and this woman was singing my song:
lover’s in love, and the other’s run away,
lover is crying ’cause the other won’t stay.

For a short time in the 90s, Lisa Leob was that woman on the radio for many people. Her song is sung every day by those looking for proof that someone out there has been where they are and made it out in tact. If that sounds like you, sit down with some Lisa Loeb.

-Josh Kruk

(image from songfacts.com)

We’ve all done it. You’re driving in your car, a song you love comes on and you’re in another world. All of a sudden you’re playing lead guitar for Lynyrd Skynyrd, cranking out the solo to “Free Bird.” You’re Deborah Harry fronting Blondie at CBGB’s in the 70s. Well a certified divorce counselor and divorce author known only as “Cathy” took that one step further. Check out this post on her blog.

Lady Gaga

If you’re into the whole brevity thing Ill give you the basics. She was on her way home from a meeting with her divorce lawyer and was not exactly feeling bubbly. So she got into her minivan and the current radio monster “Pokerface” by Lady Gaga came on. Apparently “Cathy” was completely overtaken. Check this out:

At one point in my drive I had to stop at a red light. But my real-life dancing continued. Two city workers roadside turned and looked at my van (they must have heard the base). I nonchalantly ignored them. That’s right boys, I thought, that loud music you hear is coming from a minivan. They and the other drivers didn’t know it, but they were in the proximity of a Wild Woman/ Raging Diva/ Dance Goddess and she’d decided that 3:30 p.m. was the time to spew her fire.

Wow. Government workers be warned, middle aged authors get “in the zone” when sexually charged dance pop comes on the radio. If “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin/I’m not lying I’m just stunnin’ with my love-glue-gunning” is all it takes fire up a divorcee then I’m all for an Orwellian style monitoring of the airwaves. The idea of “Poker Face” charged “wild women” vigorously piloting minivans is danger greater than us all.

In all seriousness, Cathy is a divorcee who also writes the divorce column for About.com, a site that doesnt let any old slob write for them. If Cathy, a life coach, could find such a moving, overtaking experience with Lady Gaga then why cant you find your own musical therapy? Find your own “Poker Face” and step on the gas of your minivan.

Josh Kruk

Following up the Nick Cave post from the other day, this is part two of the “guys can write break up albums too” series. I noted that Cave’s “breakup album” earned him the highest praise of his career thanks to a sharp style change. Beck Hansen rewrote that script in 2002 with Sea Change, written about a break up with someone he refuses to name. Given that he’s been romantically linked with Winona Ryder and Gina Gershon, it’s clear inspiration was all around him.

Sea Change

Beck burst onto the scene in 1994 with Mellow Gold, an album that put hip hop, folk, electro and noise rock into a big casserole topped with Beck spices. Each album that followed managed to fuse multiple genres and question the very meaning the genres themselves, it felt like he was somehow exploring old ground and breaking new at the same time. In 2002, that Beck has died and Sea Change is his dirge.

The instrumentation is grave and plodding. The layered production includes string arrangements, piano and acoustic guitar mostly, the turntables of yore have been kept in the basement. Opening track “Golden Age” and closer “Side Of The Road” both meander until they just simply fade away. One album, one mood; the post relationship hangover. It takes a special woman to take a musical swinger down to a one genre man.

Beck’s first and most popular single “Loser” asked, “I’m a loser baby so why dont you kill me?” Of course in 1994 that was tongue in cheek and packaged with radio friendly beats. In 2002 it sounds like  Beck is asking the same question, but the wit has withered away. Forget soul searching, this is soul imploding. Don’t believe me? Just try to get the ghostly backing vocals on “Little One” out of your mind.

Yes, I know. Lists and countdowns are cliche on their own but after I stumbled across another list today I simply could not sit back and do nothing.

The website sassypinkpeppers.com provides a spot for divorced women to band together and offer support. That’s awesome, no issues there. However the music list they provided for their readers is as predictable and tired as it gets. Check it out here

It pretty much made up the entire top 3 list for me, but Ill narrow it down.

3. Anything by Whitney Houston
: Yes she has the gold records but when you’re feeling down do you really wanna turn to a woman whose drug hazed sham marriage to Bobby Brown was broadcast on national TV? When she said “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” was she singing about a person or the 8 Ball she bought the night before? Thanks Whitney, but its time for you to go.

2.  “Stronger” by Britney Spears: I don’t plan on diving into Britney’s history, you can turn on E! right now and I’m sure there’s a story about her kicking a squirrel or something.   But just listen to this song and consider her past and tell me that you actually believe she’s stronger than she was the day before?  Her spiraling trainwreck of a life is an unparalleled body of work and in a court of law, even the OJ jury wouldn’t be fooled that Britney’s problems are a mile away.

Apparently “Britney TV” doesnt allow you to embed her videos so click here if you want to see it.

1.  “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. I’m pretty sure song writing duo Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris (Gaynor didn’t even write the damn song) were Nostradamus levels of clairvoyant since this song was tailor made for ladies night at a Karaoke bar.  The song has been done to death and the fact that its still kicking around shows that someone else needs to step up and write the next big “I’m ok without you” anthem.  At least this time we’ll all be spared the disco beat (at least I hope to God that’s the case).

(Dis) Honorable Mention: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper, “Dancing Queen” by Abba, “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” by Helen Reddy.

-Josh Kruk

Yes I know its hard to believe but once in awhile a guy comes out on the raw end of a break up. There are two sides to every story, and if a breakup story had a narrator then Nick Cave would be Edgar Allen Poe. Dark, brooding, but unafraid to look inward.

Nick Cave

Cave wrote his 1997 disc “The Boatman’s Call” after his breakup with fellow left of center rocker PJ Harvey. Up until this album, Cave’s albums were theatrical and visceral. His lyrics were allegorical narratives sprinkled with biblical references.

Before “The Boatman’s Call,” Cave was a a genius outsider, but with this album Cave finally let the listener in, and the result was a little disturbing but also a little touching. On the opening track “Into My Arms” Cave pines:

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you

Sure it sounds like a love song but the tone will let you know it is anything but.

It took a woman’s scorn to wear down Cave’s shell and inspire him to write his most organic, stripped down and introspective album of his career. The result? Oh just the most critical praise and exposure of Cave’s career.

Artistic girlfriends. Cant live with ’em, cant live without ’em.

PJ Harvey

-Josh Kruk

(image courtesy of modculture.com)

We’ve all seen them. Those commercials with two people talking and one says “oh I wish i could get all these great songs from the 80s on one CD” and the other says “well thanks to TimeLife records you can!” Then you’re subjected to cheese rock like Night Ranger or Winger. Well guess what? There is one of those for Divorced Women. In 1994 Warner Nashville released the compilation disc “Divorce Songs for Her” and after one listen its obvious why no one put up the money to back a commercial.

disc cover

The disc is all honky tonk and country songs with a “you’re gone and i’m better off for it” slant. The artists are mostly b lists and fill ins, although Holly Dunn, who’s featured twice on the disc, did have minor hits. With song titles such as “Younger Men” and “You Cant Have A Good Time Without Me”, its obvious that this disc will be as subtle as Hank Williams after a bottle of whiskey.

But then maybe that’s why it works. If you’re truly going through a painful ordeal, is layered music and open to interpretation lyrics really what you want? No. This disc works if you get together with your friends, open a bottle and let the world release its grip from your throat, if only for one night. If you’re not looking to think too hard, then “Divorce Songs for Her” just may be for you.

–Josh Kruk

If there were a Mount Rushmore of female musicians, Carole King would take the Thomas Jefferson spot.

Carole

Her 1971 album “Tapestry” was a declaration of independence of sorts. It told the male dominated industry that yes a woman could in fact make one of the best albums of all time. It made a bold statement without being boastful or over the top.

Robert Christgau
, arguably the world’s premiere music critic, said of King:

“King has done for the female voice what countless singer-composers achieved years ago for the male: liberated it from technical decorum. She insists on being heard as she is – not raunchy and hot-to-trot or sweeet and be-yoo-ti-ful, just human, with all the cracks and imperfections that implies”

Whether you listen to it on Vinyl or on a digital remaster, King still sounds organic and true. The opening piano line of “I feel the earth move” will have you tapping your foot while the contemplative “Home Again” cut to your core.

King runs the gamut of emotions on “Tapestry.” She wrote the song “You’ve Got a Friend” that James Taylor would later make famous. King never bothered worrying about taking credit for the song; she was just looking to make good music and hopefully reach someone. Considering she penned the highest selling female album of all time, it appears she did just fine.

-Josh Kruk

(image courtesy of Amazon.com)

So you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument but you say to yourself “why bother now?” Well the answer to that is, why not?

Old School Piano lesson

Even if you don’t want to learn an instrument, it might be a good time to start. Taking up a new hobby that requires some true time investment is great in a therapeutic sense. You go through the learning process and as you continue you feel more confident. Learning is one way to achieve self improvement after you experience major changes in your life. You go through a process of self discovery and on the other end you feel good about even the smallest of accomplishments. Check out dealwithstress.com’s list of other hobbies people take up to relieve stress.

I myself wanted to learn guitar about a year and a half ago. Instead of worrying about how long it would take to get good I followed some online lessons and made sure to play at least a little bit every day. Within a few months I was cranking out some of my favorite songs and loving it all the way through.

If you’re ever having “one of those days” coming home and tearing up an instrument for 20-30 minutes will turn your negative energy into something a little more positive. How do you think all the great albums of our time were made? (aside from drugs)

Online tutorials are the way to go. I went to about.com and found a set of guitar lessons right away. By the end of two sessions I could play the main riff to “Looking Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Of course a guitar is not your only option. Below is a list of other websites that will help you get started on any instrument right away. Don’t be afraid, just jump in and enjoy the ride.

Piano

Violin

Harmonica

Still not convinced? Heres a video lesson that anyone can pick up on.

-Josh Kruk

(image courtesy of Tetyanakuliush.com)

Patty Smyth

I’d like to think I’m setting a world record with my blog post here. I’m pretty sure this is the first blog post ever to discuss two songs by the 80s band Scandal within 250-400 words and try to make a case for their cultural significance. No one said blogging would be easy.

The real reason Scandal was important was because of Patty Smyth. Ill put it this way, when David Lee Roth left Van Halen in their prime, Eddie Van Halen invited Patty Smyth to front the seminal metal band. If that isn’t bad ass I dont know what is. Imagine if she had taken the gig, would Van Halen’s misogynstic party music have turned to empowering chick rock? That’s for metal scholars to decide but at least there would have been some killer guitar solos.

In any event, Patty Smyth fronted Scandal and penned two classic break up “i’m strong and ready to move on” anthems that would make men and women alike strut confidently. And why can Patty Smyth reach both sexes? Because quite frankly, she rocks.

In 1982’s “Goodbye To You” the title says it all. Smyth isn’t hurt or pining for past love; she is confidently giving someone the boot. Think “Hit the road jack” but with more backbone.

The other main Patty Smyth/Scandal hit was 1984’s “The Warrior.” She again is brimming with self assurance and not a hint of delicacy. Why would she need it?

Smyth would later go on to record the sappy duet “Sometimes Love Just Aint Enough” with Eagles front man Don Henley in 1992, her highest charting song yet. But Patty Smyth will always be remembered for being the girl who was unafraid to rock in the male dominated, Reagan era music scene. Shoot at the walls of heartache, Patty. You are the warrior indeed.

-Josh Kruk

(image courtesy of Rhapsody)