green palm trees under blue sky

Tea and Oranges. Needles and Pins. Bad Livers and Broken Hearts. Loved, even though you knew you were wrong…perfect Combinations: The Paltry February 2023 Playlist

It is a wild and windy day out there, after a particularly horrendous night of power outages and falling trees. The weather is screwed. Greed strikes again, and the results of it are burning up, freezing and blowing down civilization on the land we live on. Global weather changes are a direct result of people, mostly men, putting money before absolutely everything else – health, people, the planet. Money first, and the rest can go to hell. They make me sick, but there is precisely nothing I can do about it. I don’t get on planes, I have no car, my carbon footprint is tiny and I have no power.

All I have is my little family, my books, my writing and this blog: a paltry sum. I also have enough of my hearing left to still listen to music, which forget ‘hath-ing charms’ as Shakespeare kinda once said, but instead might be enough to blow away some cobwebs and distract from the potential imminent world war that the pathetic and vile old men are leading the world into. Anyone would think the old, having no further use for the planet, want to blow it all up. After all, it would reduce population, act as a ‘reset’ for our doomed capitalist economic system, distract from their various crimes and above all, make those rich enough to almost guarantee their survival and that of their families, an awful lot of money. Nothing I can do about it, apart from press play and wonder about taking up the fiddle one day. I always did want to know what it was like to fiddle while Rome burnt. To be privileged enough to enjoy life without restraint, despite everything going straight down that primrose path to the hot place, must be quite a blast. In the end, though, I would rather keep my soul relatively intact, turn on the heating before I freeze to death (there is a frost outside…a frost…in San Francisco… the bastards), and press play. Perhaps you might like to do the same.

The Paltry Windy Morning Playlist:

Suzanne, by Leonard Cohen 
Needles and Pins, the Ramones cover of the Jack Nietzsche and Sonny Bono song
Coney Island Baby, Lou Reed
Coney Island Baby, The Excellents
Bad Liver and a Broken Heart, Tom Waits
Amelia, Joni Mitchell
Cowboy Movie, David Crosby
Common People, Pulp
Cypress Avenue, Van Morrison
You Can Close Your Eyes, James Taylor (Sung here with Joni Mitchell)
Desperados Under The Eaves, Warren Zevon

Press play for the entire playlist

Leonard’s Suzanne remains one of my favorite songs. I cannot eat an orange without wanting a cup of tea to go with it. I do wonder if she gave him ‘orange pekoe’ tea which does not have any actual orange in it, the name instead coming from the color of the tea leaf. I have heard horrendous tales of some tea manufacturers adding orange oil to the tea to take advantage of such confusion. I used to be a tea purist. I would drink jasmine, or black tea with milk or else a slice of lemon, perhaps a little chamomile, mint or elderflower infusion, but that was it. It all started to go wrong when I discovered how to make chai tea. From there it was a swift downhill slide into the terrible world of flavored teas. I currently have some caramel pudding flavored tea bags which are more like a dessert without calories now I am on a permanent middle-aged-spread diet. Leonard is the only crooner I love to listen to. He sang the line “I was born with the gift of a golden voice” in his epic work, Tower of Song, and his spectacularly low and resonant tone was indeed pure gold. Whilst Leonard sounded permanently depressed, his charm was in his desolation. To hear Leonard sing of ‘tea and oranges that come all the way from China’ and his Suzanne, dressed in Salvation Army rags is to be let into a snapshot of a perfect time through the lens of an imperfect mind that perhaps understands the beauty that was for those moments, and the desolation of wanting and reaching out, but only coming up for air from that deep blue sea, with a gossamer handful of memories. There are worse ways to start off the morning.

Needles and Pins, covered by the Ramones was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nietzsche of all people. This perfect little doo wop nugget does not have its punk credentials intact previous to The Ramones getting their sticky little carbona-encrusted paws on it, but by the time our boys have finished with it, a pop song about teenage love lost, the girl finding a new guy and a possible voodoo doll pricking vibe coming from the narrator, turns into an ode to intravenous drug use. It was genius really. It was how the song was always meant to be, and that is something only the very best covers can do. Hendrix did it with All Along The Watchtower; no one wants to listen to the Dylan original when the cover is the definitive version. Like all good punk it is simple, brims over with nonchalance and devil-may-care bonhomie, and has that Ramones comic book charm. Not all punk has to be angry, and this is why The Ramones were so popular – they were fun, gritty and cute. I wonder what Sonny Bono thought of the cover?

Coney Island Baby by the Excellents, the inspiration for Lou Reed’s most loving and sympathetic track by the same name is doo wop excellence. 1962 was an innocent year. Music was still in that 50s groove, where moons rhymed with June and women were ‘pretty’, ‘precious’, ‘sweet’ babies, to be loved ‘tenderly’ and appreciated. It is an ode to infatuation, the purity of that first love experience, and that first time a boy feels like he wants his girl to ‘wear his ring’. It is a song from a different era, one where things meant something, where love was possible. Perhaps some people still feel that way. I can’t imagine how in a world that feels as if it is ending daily. It is a song which must have attended a thousand weddings, which people of a certain age must listen to and remember fondly their own beachside Coney Island Babies.

Lou’s Coney Island Baby is his own infatuated, head over heels in love song, which is dedicated:

Oh, my Coney Island baby, now
I’m a Coney Island baby, now
I’d like to send this one out to Lou and Rachel
And all the kids at P.S. 1902 (Coney Island baby)
Man, I’d swear, I’d give the whole thing up for you

Lou felt as if he was Rachel’s ‘Coney Island Baby’ and he was hers and it is a magic moment in time captured in a song, where the infamously spikey and grouchy Lou, proclaimed ‘Man, I’d swear I’d give the whole thing up for you.’ This is Reed at his most vulnerable. Reed, having been forced into electroshock therapy, reportedly as a result of his parents not approving of his bisexual leanings, takes on the horror of those who do not believe in the ‘glory of love’. Reed tries to explain, some people have peculiar tastes, as if he is trying to explain the reality of life as Lou to his father or a friend. He calls out for an understanding of that glory of love, throwing love out there to combat all the hatred and fear. Every red blooded American male loves football, and Lou, always witty and dry of humor, tries to put things in terms they would understand. Lou just ‘wants to play football for the coach’ – he had to act straight, he ‘wanted to play football for the coach’ because the ‘straightest guy’ was standing ‘right for’ him and there was no choice. The Excellents are a reminder that love conquers all, and that the soul cannot be altered or changed by shocking someone’s brain. He declares his love for his transsexual partner, Rachel, in front of his whole school – all the kids at P.S. 1902 – and to hell with those who do not believe in the glory of love, or the beauty of dancing with your darling baby to a doo wop song, the rest of the world melting away, leaving only the glory behind. After all, we all want the impossible goal of being ‘loved even though we knew we were wrong’, even if that is a tall order to fill, and only something that happens to the very luckiest of us for a very short while.

Love always fucks up and lets ya down in the end and when it does there is always Tom Waits, and his Bad Liver and a Broken Heart. Lou’s liver killed him in the end, and mine will probably kill me too. Livers are fussy creatures that always turn on the artist in the end. “Welcome to the aftermath” sings Waits, and he means it. This is the life after love, when the glory has faded and the love has gone.

Amelia is Joni at her most wistful. It is so easy to feel lost amongst the great open spaces of America, the heavens and the artistic life. It is even easier to crash and burn. Amelia makes sense of the ‘travelogue of picture post card charms’ which is life on the road for those who move and keep moving. It is an anthem for the seekers who are never satisfied, who never find ‘their paradise’, and more than that, it is beautiful. Her guitar is echoing with reverb, as if it too is lost in the vastness of everything, sparse and empty, with her pure high voice soaring above everything else, even the sky and the ‘hexagram of the heavens’ the IChing, three solid lines that look like the strings of a guitar. Music leads to the sky, always and forever upwards.

I still don’t quite believe David Crosby is no longer with us on this planet. He was such a special soul, and man did he have an ear for harmony and a way with lyrics. Cowboy Song from his solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name is not a typical Cros track. It is rougher round the edges, and bubbles with nervous paranoid energy. His friend and sometime lover, Joni Mitchell once proclaimed “there were Indians getting into it like tourists and tourists getting into it like Indians”. Putting to one side the difficulties of the language of a time before wokeism and sensitivity, what Joni was trying to say, and what Cros is saying in his little Western vignette, is that the Indians are honest, ‘real’, authentic people. Not tourists who are not living the life, not cops who seek to drag down the ones who are ‘mad to live’ as Kerouac once so perfectly put it.

Cros sings, that weren’t no Indian, that was the law! Joni divides people into cool, hip, real, respectful, art appreciators – the Indians, the good guys and gals, and ‘tourists’. Everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks its all such a laugh, sang Jarvis Cocker in his track Common People, and he was right. Tourists are consumers, and whilst the artist might like to remember that those tourists are the ones to pay to peek in through the windows of those who live authentically on the edge, and fund their riches and lifestyle and fuel their success. An artist is nothing without a tourist to pay for the art. But hippy artists of the 60s and 70s were nothing if not idealistic, and Cowboy Song is a rolicking good ole Americana-infused Wild West ride.

You Can Close Your Eyes, with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell is one of those rare moments when everything works perfectly in a live performance of a song. Joni is not on the original recording, but this performance is how the song should always have been. Uncomfortably he has also sang it with his ex wife, Carly Simon seven years after the Joni performance, in 1977. With Joni it soars with affection, with Carley in ’77 it feels like a funeral hymn. He drowns her out and she looks so very sad and doesn’t even look at James as she sings. They are two people apart singing together. The preamble to the song as he sang it with Joni in 1970, is sweet and giggly, and full of that glory of love that Lou sings about. James’ guitar skips and rings out clearly, and their voices melt together, rather than fall apart. It is a thing of great beauty. Beauty only exists in moments, it is transient and fragile, but if tape can capture it, and cage it in a bell jar then we can admire it a while longer, at least as long as this old world keeps on spinning round, as James and Joni sing so prettily.

Desperados Under The Eaves is my California catechism. It is the song I sing when I feel lost and unanchored from the past. I often think back on Los Angeles, and where it all started. Zevon captures Los Angeles hotel life with the keen eye of a writer. The air conditioner hums, the kitcsch surroundings, the utter hopelessness of it all, and that urge to go and drink every single ‘salty margarita’ in the damned town are drawn with precision. The ‘angry sun’, the hint of evil on the horizon, with even the trees looking like ‘crucified thieves, and waking up in the ‘mornings with shaking hands’ as a result of too strong a dedication to those salty L.A margaritas, alongside the prediction that California is going to slide into the ocean, if you believe the ‘mystics and statistics’ creates an evocative hymn to the struggle of the California dream. If I close my eyes I can be right back there in Los Angeles in the citrus tree Motel, my “Hollywood Hawaiian”, with its mirrored tables and biker clientele in a sketchy area of town, with the air-conditioner singing its Southern Californian hymn to the heat and the pollution and the hopes and the dreams that get eaten up in Los Angeles. You can look away down the avenue, but you can’t get up there onto that hill without luck and loss.

Leaving the playlist thinking about how the rest of the country always seems to want California to ‘slide into the ocean’ and how we are due an earthquake, or something worse seems about right for February 2023. I’m dreaming about heading out of here, a little further away from L.A, and spending my last year somewhere quieter with white picket fences and vineyards on the horizon, or Mount Shasta rising up above the ground in mystical formations of rock and history. Oh! To be a rock…and always to roll…or something like that…


Leave a Reply