Big Sound Saturdays: Good Morning Blues

Good morning, sweet dreams ~

Tom Waits, harbinger of Good Morning Blues, was so delicate in the nineties. Like Blind Willie Johnson, he threw his voice in multiple directions, dug underground for the Mad-Meg-style scratchy gorging sound that definitely doesn’t owe, entirely, to the cigarettes, and rose above the surface for the croon that he sustained throughout his early years. “Blue Skies,” a sweet, lovesick prayer for the morning, is Waits at his upper-register prettiest.

It’s not really a “pretty mix,” though; Jimmie Rodgers’ “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” is lovely (and, I admit, something I’ve used before), The Beatles’ 1966 instrumental warm-up of “I’m Only Sleeping” has a lounge-y xylophone thing that’s very pleasant, Leadbelly’s “Good Morning Blues” is a peripatetic affront of an instruction book—how to fight the blues—and the song of my youth, Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around,” is kind of aggressively nice, but the rest are much more unsettling. Sticking mostly within the late 1960s to the early 1990s, this mix is meant for the all-powerful and totally movable witching hour: can’t go to sleep, can’t wake up, early old morning and late late night.

Lee Hazelwood, whose music’s is so disorienting in the morning, all sexy and string-y and smarmy and full, sings back and forth with David Bowie (RIP): “The Bed” to early Bowie’s mono version of “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” Then across to Randy Newman—famed LA-lover and composer of one of the greatest cartoon movie theme songs ever—Randy Newman (“Last Night I Had A Dream”), and back out to the vibing and sufficiently wobbly Incredible String Band’s “No Sleep Blues.” Anchored by Rolf Harris—a comedian in Australia, once famous for being funny and for imitating the didgeridoo with his voice in “Sun Arise,” track 7—and rounded off with Marvin Pontiac, John Lurie’s very talented and “very elusive” alter ego, Good Morning Blues charts the sun in orbit. Good morning, sweet dreams ~


Big Sound Saturdays: Winter Sun

It’s been a minute since our last Big Sound Saturday, but we’re back with a mix of chilly winter sunlight, cold bones, and ache-y tunes!

There’s this episode from the third season of the Twilight Zone where the sun never sets. Like a relentless fever dream, it gets closer and closer to the heroine’s high-rise apartment window, until her paintings of cool water begin to melt, her thermometer breaks, and—spoiler!—she wakes up, trapped, instead, in eternal winter, crying with relief. This is s u c h a dramatic thing to think about when it’s sunny out, but it’s all just to say that El Nino is really freaky on the west coast—same for global warming, everywhere—but I love California in the Blue Ridges. So, here! A toned-down twilight mix for that. Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Winter Sun”

Big Sound Saturdays: Crazy Arms

S.A. brings us the country, blues, and rock sounds that pair well with cold shoulders, knee bones, and other body parts—her write-up this week brilliantly breaks down the relationship of objects and desire in musical magic.

American music—country music, especially—is littered with body parts. There’s no word in the English language for the object-animation of Faron Young singing “hello, walls” or George Jones coaxing each piece of his house furniture to life in “The Grand Tour.” “Personification” is too simple when the walls literally, naturally, talk back. These songs sit, to me, in a confusing pre- and late-capitalist space: wisdom resides in places and objects are animated by their use, on the one hand, and things have value irrespective of their production on the other. Singing “well look here, is that a teardrop in the corner of your pane?” is sweet and lowdown, but it also (knowingly) treats Young like an object amongst objects. It’s probably worth lingering on why that metaphor is so available, so funny, and so sad.

When emancipated from the body, “cold shoulders” and knee bones work similarly to singing windows and memory-filled chairs. In “The Jukebox of History,” Aaron Fox writes beautifully on this kind of object confusion: because country music—always stereotypical and personal, objective and subjective—sets the categories of “true” and “false” in motion, “solid ‘objects’ become speaking ‘subjects,’ and heartbroken ‘subjects’ consume themselves as commodified objects.” Driven by what Fox calls “the metanarrative of Desire,” feelings and people are thing-ified; in the metanarrative of Loss, things turn into “speaking, feelingful presences.”

Jerry Jeff Walker’s wistful “About Her Eyes” is an aubade to “her eyes, her face and her hair,” buoyed by the kind of desire that’s languid and comfortable and tangled in the wailing wa-wa that hearkens to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. It’s a strange song, if only for the incongruity of all the floating parts of “her” face and the sheer airiness of the piece altogether. In a tune that sings of hiding and sailing on a breeze, sent off with the blues falsetto that hurls out and up, Walker’s crooning about his lover’s body parts disturbs the concrete referent of the piece and questions the capacity of music to really point and hold to anything.

The most famously freaky of the batch, Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” is an ambling, peripatetic, hopeless tune, where the “crazy arms that reach to hold somebody new” seem, at first, to be hers—the betrayer—second his, the scorned, but their severance from the body is the real point of it. Breaking up, in “Crazy Arms,” is nonsensical. It doesn’t compute. It happened, though, and the undeniable reality of this impossible act actually morphs lived reality into a place where arms can act on their own, a kind of mystical object-oriented magic. Even if “this ain’t no crazy dream,” “these treasured dreams I have for you and me” are lodged in Price’s “troubled mind,” and the entire plane of country-song existence collapses, also, within it.

Wynn Stewart’s “Unfaithful Arms” performs a similar apocalypse of light and darkness collapsing together, but the thingness of the cheater—her arms, not her body—manages to sort of abscond her from guilt. And the great Dolly Parton, easily one of the most creatively out-there country singers ever to’ve graced us with “Little Andy,” removes Bobby from “Bobby’s Arms” completely. It’s a safe-space utopia, insistent, I think, that the only way to achieve such a perfect comfort is to have the body, ditch the man.

Bobby’s arms they are warm when he holds me

Bobby’s arms always comfort and console me

When I’m in his arms hold tight, I know everything’s alright—

Just as long as I’m inside Bobby’s arms.

Not every song on here is a country song. “Big Leg Blues” is a classic blues tune, Ruth Brown’s “Lucky Lips” is a goofy proto-rock ‘n’ roll love song, “Snap Your Fingers” and “Knee Bone” are early folk/blues from Mississippi, and “Skip” Spence, the Beach Boys, and Linda Perhacs are steeped in rural psychadelia. Still, for floating body parts, country really carries the crown. My iTunes alone has 18 songs about blue eyes! If desire morphs people into objects for consumption, the body, like a machine, loses its products through its fragmented methods of production. Arms are for holding, but it sits wrong when they are also for love. Country is brilliant in that way. When the Man in Black laments, “I’ll always get a cold shoulder from you,” he knows the problem is that a shoulder can’t love you. Hello walls, definitively. These songs are a handful of milagros, little talismans that praise just as they denigrate. Listen with your ears.

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