If it’s December at You Ain’t No Picasso, then it’s time for Mixmas! Every year I like to turn YANP over to some of my favorite bands to showcase some of their favorite songs through a themed mix. They pick a theme, five songs that fit the theme and then share a little about why they picked each one. This year I’m also giving away a YANP shirt, so check below for the hint about tomorrow’s mix.
Roadside Graves’ My Son’s Home was a surprise hit for me in 2009. I knew nothing of the group going into it other than they were on the label run by Justin of Aquarium Drunkard. I guess that should’ve been a tip off as to their quality, but frankly I was blindsided. I expect nothing but great things from them in the future, starting with their funny, candid contribution to this year’s Mixmas! Thanks, guys!
“Songs About Women, By Men” by Roadside Graves
It’s almost absurd to admit, but without women we would not be in a band.
In high school Jeremy and I (we were 15) spent many a lonely night banging on Casio keyboards, plucking one-stringed guitars, blasting feedback from a broken TV (no electric guitars in house), singing through fans, and recording it on a hand held tape recorder. We would put the tapes out as 30 song albums on our imaginary label Gugliano Family Picnic Records and hand them out to people. Sometimes we couldn’t even give them away. We weren’t trying to impress any girls, we were simply trying to fill the void until they paid attention.
But then we had our first show, a birthday party, Jesus that’s sad to admit. It all changed. The women, the girls at the party, were watching us stumble through our songs. It didn’t matter that they were staring in disgust or laughing with mild amusement. It was enough. Still is.
Here are a few songs about women by men we admire:
Mickey Newbury – “St. Cecelia” (Rusty tracks version)
“Do you think about me every now and then?” This is just one of those songs, I don’t need to understand. There are songs for me like Damien Jurado’s “Ohio” or Paul Simon’s “Only Living boy in New York” that live beyond the story and music and provide a strange sense of comfort. I’m sure everyone has certain songs they play when they need to momentarily lift themselves away from their own life, whether it be to escape the frustration of sitting on the New Jersey Turnpike, shopping at the mall for Christmas, or dealing with the loss of a family member. St. Cecelia is unsure of herself, and like most of us, doubts what she has done and what she is about to do. “Her salvation is her virtue, but her sin’s her emptiness”.
Sadly most Mickey Newbury’s records are out of print.
Tom T. Hall – Pamela Brown
Ah, Tom T. Hall. What a breath of fresh fucking air. Simple, honest lyrics and music explaining quite the opposite of what most songs about lost love convey. Instead of three minutes of hurt and heartache we learn that Pamela Brown leaving was a positive event. “I wonder where I’d be today if she had loved me too, probably be driving kids to school”. The narrator is worldly now and poor Pamela is married to a guy whose only characteristic is that he owns a pick up truck. Like seeing your high school crush miserable at your 15-year reunion with five kids and an asshole of a husband. It’s a song that can wipe away any loss you may feel from the women in your life who may unfortunately have said things like, “you’re too good for me” or “lets just be friends”. Where are they now? If you don’t know, just pretend they are married and unhappy while you yourself are gloriously fulfilled while reading comics and writing music.
Why has no one sampled that beginning drum beat yet?
MP3: Tom Waits – Martha
My grandfather, now 87, was a Korean War and World War II pilot. Only recently has he begun to tell stories of his time as a Marine fighter pilot, usually over a glass of scotch and water and some ripe old cheese. Nothing is glorified, he is proud of his service but conflicted with his actions, and a few months ago admitted to me that when he wasn’t flying he read poetry privately. His house now is cluttered with books, bills, and magazines he’ll never read and he seems most content with spending afternoons at the Princeton Record Exchange or devouring a lobster. He is stubborn, intelligent, and honest. He’s lived alone for over fifteen years since my grandmother passed away and refuses to leave “their” house. He is like no one I’ve ever met and I respect him and his love for my grandmother above all else. This Waits song, pre singing on piles of dirt, speaks of another time, when “days of roses, poetry, and prose” weren’t seen as sentimental but still necessary and romantic. The story of the song, reminiscing with an old flame, is quite different but it always reminds me of my grandfather.
Bob Dylan – “Angelina”
This song is an out take from 1981’s Shot of Love, Christian era Dylan at his best. It’s one of those mystical songs about women where it’s hard to tell if it’s really solely about a woman, or perhaps something else too, something bigger. The story is set up in the typical way- there’s a man (“His eyes were two slits that would make a snake proud, with a face any painter would paint as he walked through the crowd”), a woman (“She was stolen from her mother when she was three days old, now her vengeance is satisfied and her possessions have been sold”), and a screwed up relationship (“Your best friend and my worst enemy is one and the same”). But the song is so laden with Biblical allusions and strange/beautiful metaphors that it explodes the love song heart-in-my-shoes paradigm into something epic and sublime, reflecting to our inability to really intellectualize love, in spite of the efforts of the shrinks and the magazines.
MP3: Nick Cave – Deanna
I always thought the ideal woman would be some kind of partner in crime. I recently watched Bonnie and Clyde, and that movie only strengthened this notion. You’ve got to be close enough to your woman to break the law with her- it’s the ultimate vulnerability. Trust at its grittiest, crime as the love these lovers make. This song is one of the few of its kind by Nick Cave where the woman doesn’t get killed. Instead, the couple romp around the house of their victims- eating their food, burning down the Christmas tree, and smoking in their beds. It’s a cruel world, and they are two of the meaner ones out there in it, but to each other they are gentle, sweet, and mysterious… “and we’ll unload into their heads, in this mean season, this little angel that I squeezin’, she ain’t been mean to me, Oh Deanna…. ”
Honorable Mentions: (We were asked to write about five, we could have kept going…)
‘Cecelia’ – Simon and Garfunkel
‘Loretta’ and ‘Kathleen’ – Townes Van Zandt
‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ – Leonard Cohen
‘Lucinda’ – Tom Waits
‘Marie’ – Randy Newman
Thanks for Reading.
Tomorrow’s hint: the next contributors were an 08/09 buzz band who had a wider re-release of their debut album in 2009 (featuring a redesigned cover) and loads of festival touring including Pitchfork and Monolith. Everyone loves them and there’s a good chance you heard them here first.