It’s a Blue Öyster Cult Kind of Day

In honor of Halloween, please enjoy this absolutely perfect video for the BÖC’s “Godzilla” made by one “TohoMojo”:

And what the hell, while we’re at it, why not this one for “Joan Crawford” (has risen from the grave)? It’s in dubious taste but why should we, the illuminated, let that bother us?

Worried Man Blues

Driving back from Seattle this week I finally listened to the recent Pere Ubu album in its entirety. Imagine my surprise when, 26 seconds into this song, David Thomas drops in a random “Pablo Picasso” reference:

“Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil,” says Mr. Thomas. “Pablo Picasso never sold his soul to the devil, but a black guy from the Delta, I guess that’s gotta be the explanation.” From there “Worried Man Blues” goes off in seven different directions, and at times tries the patience in vintage Ubu fashion. But I consider it a valuable contribution to the ongoing dialogue.

The original “Worried Man Blues” is a traditional song first recorded by the Carter Family way back in 1930. But Philistine that I am, the first version I heard was by Devo, who recorded it for Neil Young’s movie The Human Highway in 1982. That performance is not on YouTube, because Neil I assume; this Vimeo link is subject to expire at any moment. Enjoy it while you can.

Apparently Devo also used to do this song back when they used to open for themselves as Dove, the Band of Love — sadly, before my time.

It’s a funny song, when you think about it. “I may be worried now, but I won’t be worried long.” I don’t know how to take that other than, “I’ll be dead soon and none of this will bother me anymore.” Talk about your cold comfort. Reminds me of Douglas Adams:

Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.

And while we’re approximately on the subject, one thing that is on YouTube is this fantastically weird number, also from Human Highway. Sit back, turn it up, and leave your worries behind. Rock’n’roll is here to stay, man.

A Brief History of “Pablo Picasso”

Of late I have gotten a little obsessed with sussing out the origins of this song, to the point where I purchased both Sean L. Maloney’s “33 1/3” book on the album The Modern Lovers and Tim Mitchell’s Jonathan Richman biography There’s Something About Jonathan. Neither one, sadly, offered much illumination. The latter does provide this one biographical passage which is, perhaps, relevant:

Jonathan was the first of two boys. His musical influences started early; in adult life he was to recall being sung to as a two- or three-year-old by his parents; his memory was of having been very moved by music from this time on. By the age of five he was spending his days drawing pictures — and chasing girls. Their failure to reciprocate his affection made him confused and hurt.

Hmmm, well, yes. (Strokes imaginary beard.) I, too, remember being absolutely enthralled with the female of the species from a tender young age; but admiring them is one thing, and actually interacting with them quite another. With the admiration comes fear, which leads to failure, and at some point one protects one’s self by cultivating a cool detachment. In a performance of “Pablo Picasso” from 2022 — which I only just came across this very minute, and is proving somewhat revelatory — Jonathan says:

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Who’ll Stop the Rain? (Seriously, I Need to Know)

This week, as part of the ongoing process of digitizing my vinyl — a project which really should have been done a decade or two ago, and is now largely redundant due to everything being online already, but that it amuses me to carry on with — I found myself listening, for the first time in ages, to Heaven 17.

This is like hopping on a time machine straight back to the early Eighties. Heaven 17 perfectly encapsulates a certain mood of that era — a giddy, heedless youthful optimism that I don’t think exists anymore. The Seventies were finally over and now the future could begin, and we were going to get it right this time. Even now, knowing how things turned out, I find I can get caught up in it for three or four or seven minutes at a time. (Lengthy remixes were de rigueur during this period.)

Weirdly, many of H17’s lyrics are vaguely Marxist, with income inequality a recurring theme1 — which is totally incongruous with their sleek, spotless technopop sound.

That’s right, I said “technopop.” I know that’s a dirty word to some people, but I was a sucker for it back then, and I guess I still am.

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Time

There are several great songs with this title, including Bowie’s and Pink Floyd’s. But the one I recently discovered is by Richard Hell, who I think deserves to be in the conversation.

Hell refers to “Time” as “what some people, including me, consider to be my best song.” But he had a hard time recording it to his satisfaction; he remade and remixed it numerous times. Five different versions appear on Destiny Street Complete, the omnibus edition of the Voidoids’ star-crossed second album.

My favorite, I think, is the one from the original album. It’s raw and ragged, but really, really real.

The 2021 remaster is cleaned up, maybe a little too much:

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Song of the Week, 4/4/2020

We lost the great Bill Withers this week, and it’s not easy to pick a song to represent his oeuvre. The man wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” just for starters… but for the nonce let’s go with something a little less known, a love song of heartbreaking simplicity.

And, hell, while we’re at it, here’s one more, kind of the flip side — this is a love song too, of sorts, but dark and driving:

We’ll miss you, Bill, but you shan’t be forgotten, that’s for sure.