Posts Tagged ‘Dead Can Dance’

Turning The Corner

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2008

We’ve turned the corner.

Sometime yesterday morning, the sun went as far south in the sky as it goes, and it began to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good new for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I must have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I have think I’ve mentioned here before – likely is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. Given what we know now of our physical earth, we know that the days of longer light will return come springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen, at least not this year. Today will bring slightly more daylight than did yesterday, and the day after that will bring more than will today. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’ve turned the corner toward the light.

A Six-Pack of Light
“As You Lean Into The Light” by Paul Weller from Heavy Soul, 1997

“Light A Light” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Long As I Can See the Light” by Joe Cocker from Hymn For My Soul, 2007

“Look for the Light” by B. W. Stevenson from Calabasas, 1974

“Real Light” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Carnival of Light” by Dead Can Dance from Dead Can Dance, 1984

A few notes:

I don’t know a lot about Paul Weller, which is a rather large gap in my database, considering that – as All-Music Guide says – there was a time in Britain when Weller was “worshipped as a demigod.” That’s figurative, of course, or maybe not. There might have been altars dedicated to Weller in a bleak corner in Leeds or somewhere else. But his solo work – which followed his days with the Jam and with Style Council – intrigues me. I’m digging deeper these days. And I do love “As You Lean Into The Light.”

The better-known track from Janis Ian’s Between the Lines is “At Seventeen,” which went to No. 3 in Setpember of 1975. “Light A Light” has the some of the same qualities as the hit: a yearning yet seemingly stoic vocal, lyrics that are literate without being over-bearing, and a seemingly effortless melody. On the other hand, I’ve been a fool for Janis Ian ever since 1967 and “Society’s Child,” so take that into account.

The long tale of Joe Cocker is well known: Brilliance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, comebacks here and there, the occasional indifference of the listening public, the also occasional bouts of excess of one kind or another. But forty years down the pike, one thing remains: The man is one of the greatest interpreters of song to ever face a microphone, and here, he does wondrous things to John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.”

On the flipside of the longevity stakes was B.W. Stevenson. He had a No. 9 hit in 1973 with “My Maria,” a song that never reached the country charts for which RCA had intended it. The album it came from, also titled My Maria, sparkled, as did the follow-up, Calabasas. Neither of them sold well, joining two previous albums in the cutout bins. He moved from label to label, issuing three more albums that no one bought, and he died in 1988 shortly after heart surgery, at the age of 38. I don’t know about the other albums, but My Maria and Calabasas are well worth listening to. I found them on a one-CD package not long ago.

I’ll let the Jayhawks’ country-rooted pop-rock and Dead Can Dance’s world-new age trance stand on their own, except to say that I like both and both are well worth checking out.

On Time Spent Scanning The Skies

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 10, 2008

I glanced out the kitchen window last evening right around sunset and saw what must have been Jupiter in the southern sky. It might have been Venus, I suppose, but I think it was too far from the horizon and the sunset for that. I didn’t think much about it, just noticed the intense point of white light in the sky and wondered for a moment: Jupiter or Venus? And then I poured myself another cup of coffee and went back to the study.

But it got me thinking about the night sky in winter. If I’d poked my head out into the chill last evening, I would have had a good view of Orion, the huge – and most easily identifiable – constellation that dominates our sky in winter evenings. And I thought of the winter of the telescope and of star names and of fledgling astronomy.

I got the telescope for Christmas in 1970, my senior year of high school. It was a Tasco, and I used it many evenings that winter, lugging it out into the cold back yard, scanning the craters and plains of the moon and straining to see detail in the fuzzy and distant nebula just below Orion’s belt. I focused on Jupiter and saw as well the large planet’s four largest moons, the moons first seen by Galileo in 1609: Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa. (How amazing it is that those names remain in my memory!)

And I learned the stars, through my telescope, my own reading, and through an astronomy course offered at St. Cloud Tech during the second semester of that school year. Along the way, I became fascinated by the names of stars and by being able to tie those names to what I saw: Betelgeuse, with its dull red glow at the upper left corner of Orion, and diagonally across, in the lower right, Rigel with its sapphire gleam. Vega, glowing like an emerald in the constellation Altair, and Arcturus, another reddish star in the otherwise faint kite-shape of Boötes.

I read about stars and planets, looked nearly every night at one or more of them in the sky and listened in class as we talked about them and about the physics and math that lie behind the science of astronomy. I imagine it was my study of astronomy that led me to my years-long passion for science fiction. And – as I demonstrated above with the names of the four largest moons of Jupiter – much of that has stayed with me for nearly forty years.

I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. But it did last evening as I thought about Orion. In my head I named the stars of the constellation: Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix and Saiph in the main rectangle, and in the belt, the three stars with names bestowed on them long ago – as were many other stars’ names – by Arabian astronomers wandering the desert: Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka. Strange-sounding names for something we can see every night, if we only tilt our heads to the sky.

I know where my telescope is. It’s in the basement, in its original box. Something broke on the tripod a few years ago, and I’d have to have it repaired to be able to scan the skies again. I might do that.

A Six-Pack of Stars
“Stars in Heaven” by Comfortable Chair from Comfortable Chair, 1968

“Song of the Stars” by Dead Can Dance from Spiritchaser, 1996

“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555, 1970

“I Found Her In A Star” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul, 1969

“I’m In Love With A German Film Star” by the Passions, Polydor POSP 222 (UK), 1981

“Good Morning, Starshine” by Oliver, Jubilee 5659, 1969

A few notes:

I don’t know much about Comfortable Chair. The group was a so-called psychedelic group from California, according to All-Music Guide and recorded only one album for Lou Adler’s Ode label, which – reading between the lines at AMG – wasn’t much of a label. The most significant thing about the album, AMG notes, is that its producers were Robbie Krieger and John Densmore of the Doors.

“Song of the Stars” is one of those long trance-like pieces mixing world music influences with what comes off – from a distance of twelve years – as sophomore year philosophy. Like most of the long pieces Dead Can Dance came up with, it can be interesting listening, but in the end, it seems a little hollow. As it played this morning, I was reminded of how some friends and I listened intently during our freshman year of college, trying hard to catch every nuance of the Doors’ long track, “The Soft Parade.” I think “Song of the Stars” should age better than “The Soft Parade” has.

As happens so often with songs from the winter of 1969-70, the first strains this morning of “Everybody is a Star” resurrected in my mind the old RCA radio that sat on my nightstand long ago. It offered through music the comfort and reassurance that I could endure junior year and that I really wasn’t any more of a dork than anyone else. “Everybody is a Star,” – the flipside of the No. 1 single “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” – might be the sweetest tune that Sly Stone and his pals ever offered up, and it’s a favorite of mine.

The Passions “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” didn’t make the Top 40 on this side of the Atlantic, but I assume it did so in Britain. Its production flourishes, coupled with an archly offered lyric, make it a track that screams “Eighties!” And that’s okay – that oft-maligned decade provided worse.

“Good Morning Starshine” originally came from the musical Hair, one of four cover versions from the musical that made the Top 40. (The Cowsills’ “Hair,” the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” and “Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night were the others.) “Good Morning Starshine” went to No. 3 during the summer of 1969.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 16, 2008

I watched most of the (very long) baseball All-Star Game last night. The most affecting portion of the broadcast, to me, was the introduction of the starters, with each starter joining members of the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for them at their positions. As the game was in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee Hall of Fame members were introduced last at each position, and the final Hall of Fame member to be introduced was Yogi Berra. That made sense to me. Berra is most likely the greatest living Yankee.

(Joe DiMaggio, who died in 1999, insisted to his last day on being introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer” because he was given that title during a celebration of professional baseball’s centennial in 1969. If one wanted to extend the title to a new claimant, I would imagine that “the greatest living ballplayer” now would be Willie Mays, although one could argue without looking silly for Stan Musial.)

Anyway, as I watched the introductions and then most of the rest of the game – staying up way after midnight to see the American League win – I thought about the two times the All-Star Game took place in Minnesota, in 1965 and in 1985. I was eleven when the 1965 game was played at Metropolitan Stadium, and I paid no attention. I paid little attention to baseball at all in those years, preferring to read and to listen to my James Bond soundtracks.

In 1985, I might have watched some of the game, which took place in the relatively new Metrodome, but I wasn’t all that interested. I was back in Minnesota after finishing my graduate coursework at the University of Missouri. I had a thesis to write, and I poked at that unenthusiastically. I wrote about the Wright County board for a pool of eight newspapers. I played a lot of tabletop baseball. And I kept house and listened to the radio a lot. For many reasons, it was not a happy time.

But I do recall a fair amount of the music that pops up when I run a random selection for 1985:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2
“My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Los Angeles Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Children’s Crusade” by Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles

“Turn Me Round” by A Drop In The Gray from Certain Sculptures

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, Mercury single 880659

“This Is The Sea” by the Waterboys from This Is The Sea

“The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade, Portrait single 05713

“Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)” by Prefab Sprout from Steve McQueen

“Just For You” by Quarterflash from Back Into Blue

“The Moon Is Full” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“Indoctrination (A Design For Living)” by Dead Can Dance from Spleen and Ideal

“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights, CBS single 7073 (Canada)

“One Dream” by the Dream Academy from The Dream Academy

“Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” by Simply Red, Elektra single 69528

A few comments:

The Springsteen selection is, of course, from the massive (five LPs) box set of live performances that was released in 1986. Considering his accomplishments, I get the sense that Springsteen is a relatively humble man, but Live/1975-85 came across almost like bragging. On the other hand, as All-Music Guide notes, the “box set, including 40 tracks and running over three and a half hours, was about the average length of a [Springsteen] show.”

Certain Sculptures is the only album ever released by A Drop In The Gray, and it’s a pretty good one. I didn’t know about the group twenty-three years ago. In fact, I was only recently introduced to the group at The Vinyl District, one of my regular stops on the blog-reading circuit. I liked what I heard in TVD’s recent post, so I went and got some more from Certain Sculptures. A 1985 review from Trouser Press quoted at the blog notes that A Drop In The Gray had a sound “approximating an updated Moody Blues.”

There are, every year, records that almost no one can avoid hearing. In 1985, two of those were “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” Unless one lived in a remote corner of the universe, it seems, and watched only C-SPAN, you heard them somewhere, and you heard them frequently enough for those hooks to set in permanently. In fact, when someone says “1985” to me in the context of music, the Tears For Fears” record is one of several that come immediately to mind. (The others are “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “We Are The World.” I could get along for a long time without hearing that latter song again.)

On the other hand, I could always stand to hear more by the Waterboys. This Is The Sea is one of the great albums of the Eighties: Literate, melancholy, ambitious and maybe just a hair pretentious, but if the group’s ambition – maybe more accurately, leader Mike Scott’s ambition – exceeded its abilities, it wasn’t by much. And in general, I’d rather listen to something ambitious than something routine.

Speaking of “We Are The World,” the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was the Canadian effort on the album USA for Africa: We Are the World. “Tears” was written by Bryan Adams, David Foster, Rachel Paiement and Jim Vallance and was recorded by a large contingent of north-of-the-border musicians who called themselves Northern Lights for the exercise. Music by committee rarely turns out well, no matter how noble the cause, making “Tears Are Not Enough” a period piece at best, albeit one that’s not nearly as familiar as its U.S.-based cousin.