“Mariners Apartment Complex,” Lana Del Rey

I know this song came out almost a year ago but I first heard it recently in the context of Lana’s new album “Norman fucking Rockwell.” Context is actually the first thing that’s mentioned:

You took my sadness out of context
At the Mariner Apartment Complex
I ain’t no candle in the wind

…a clever, steeped-in-rock-history statement of strength, purpose, refusal to be branded or reduced. Lana said it came out of latenight conversation with a boyfriend who was saying he recognized in her the same sadness he had and thought it was the reason they were together. She felt the need to make sure he understood it wasn’t.

She still wants to be together, though. That’s what the rest of the song is about, the singer making her pitch that she not only doesn’t share the guy’s sense of futility but could be the way he overcomes it himself. Should be the way.

“You found this, you need this,” she says, not undervaluing herself (“I’m the board, the lightning, the thunder”) but urging him to step up. “Maybe I could save you from your sins,” she says, “you lose your way I’ll take your hand.” “I’m your man,” she continues, recognizing he isn’t going to be, but willing to take on the role for both of them.

Two asides:

  1. Until I checked the lyrics, i thought she was saying “You lose your waitress I’ll take your hand.” Meaning, you break up your current girlfriend and I’ll be here waiting, or even better meaning you decide to grow up and move on from the way-too-safe-relationship you have with your favorite waitress at your favorite restaurant you go to three times a week because she smiles at you and listens to your stories and gives you a pep talk…I’ll be here then, too.
  2. How ballsy is it to write a song with Leonard Cohen overtones, unapologetically steal one of Leonard’s lines, but manage to so change the context it doesn’t seem like a theft at all but a completely personal and poignant plea?

Trust me, the singer is saying to the guy. I got this.

She doesn’t of course. That’s the song’s tension. Will she convince him? Is he worth convincing? Once convinced, will he only strick around until the next sympathetic waitress comes along? Maybe. But, the song says, people can be convinced, can change. The singer explicitly states it:

And who I am–is a big time believer
That people can change, you don’t have to leave her
When everyone’s talking, you can make a stand

This is wonderful songwriting, an epiphany emerging sneakily from a situation that probably doesn’t deserve it. Plus, I believe those things too. I hope the guy, and everyone, is listening.

(One more aside: I’ve totally lost patience with Lucinda Williams exhorting her emotionally stunted, man-child boyfriends to step up to her example. But when Lana does it, here and on the rest of this excellent album, I find it utterly compelling. I will have to do some thinking on why that is.)


“Snow Is Falling in Manhattan,” Purple Mountains


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David Berman, singer/songwriter/leader of a band called the Silver Jews, died this week at 52; no cause mentioned, probably suicide, he’d had depression and substance abuse issues. I’d heard the band name but couldn’t tell you a song of theirs. On hearing the news I took a listen to his newest album, which just came out a few weeks ago and which he was just about to tour behind. It’s recorded under the name Purple Mountains and the song that struck me is called “Snow Is Falling In Manhattan.”

It’s a simple song. A snowstorm is coming. The singer walks outside to take a look and notices the apartment building caretaker salting the stoop. The singer imagines the caretaker after his work is finished, settling into a cozy domestic scene: putting up a fire, sitting on the couch under a warm afghan and for company a stray cat he’s provided shelter from the storm. “So much joy in merely looking,” the singer says, as though such a scene, such peace, is beyond him. But he’s glad someone is capable of it.

What does singer have instead? Art. Songs. Which he says can “build little rooms in time” just like the caretaker’s cozy, unattainable apartment, and like a fire-warmed apartment provide a refuge against the snow outside now “coming down in smithereens.” Way more temporary, though, and where in an apartment you’re real and physical in a song you’re just a ghost, not there at all.

When someone dies every memory you have left is more vivid, every random phrase takes on meaning. For example, “You’re the old friend I just took in” in the last verse, after the songs as room metaphor has been established. Meaning us, of course, we anonymous listeners who are the closest things to friends the singer has. If I knew David Berman or his work better I’d probably be holding fast to that thought, and finding some solace that he’d recognized me, a listener, as a friend.

Recent Songs #9


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New friends and old friends…

  1. “Faraway Look,” Yola.
    Dusty Springfield lives! This British neo-Soul artist had the requisite smoky voice and equally requisite retro arrangement courtesy of ‘I’m Everywhere!” producer Dan Auerbach. At a birthday party, the singer notices a faraway look in the eyes of a…lover? Family member? Friend? My first thought was prospective lover (the singer want to cure the faraway look) but I think the song is far more interesting as an account of the drift between old friends, the inability to fix someone’s life for them, and how heartbreaking that can feel. Second verse on noticing the faraway look again in a supermarket seems a little off (the subtle sadness of picking out a ripe advocado?) but supports the everyday nature of the friendship angle.
  2. “Your Last Forever After,” Chris Stamey, Cailin Cary vocal.
    ex-dB’s Chris Stamey (I was never a fan) crafts an album of 26 new songs supposed to song like old Great American Songbook songs. Credible job, though someone should have stopped him at 10. I frankly haven’t made it through the whole thing, which clocks in at like two hours, but this one sticks out so far because of 1) ex-Whiskeytown Caitlin Cary’s wonderful voice, which I’ve pontificated on before and 2) cryptic lyric that seems to be sung from the point of view of one member of a truncated love affair to the other. Or it could be a ghost. “I am your last forever after/I was your first glimpse of the moon.” Modern lyrical content, old sound, always interesting.
  3. “Hard to Believe,” Charly Bliss.
    Okay, here’s something a bit more rocking! Awesome riff, outfront guitars, singer with a voice that can range from little girl to tough moll in a single line. “I’m kissing everything that moves/I’m kissing anything that takes me far away from you.” What does the singer find it hard to believe? That she’s still so in love with her ex, that her new love is real, that she’s let herself get into this situation at all. The heart wants what it wants, which can be a real pain in the ass.
  4. “Hello Sunshine,” Bruce Springsteen.
    The first Bruce song in a long time that I’ve wanted to sing along with. It has a melody! He doesn’t sing it with the hated (by me) Woody Guthrie drawl! The lyrics use familiar images but recontextualizes them just enough: “Bye Bye Blackbird” as a Glen Campbell song! (Though I suppose Glen could have done a fine job on the original.) Rest of the album? Not so much, though a lot of it sounds great. That old movie actors have sad post-fame lives has a limited poignance already well-covered in other venues. I suppose Bruce has to write about something.
  5. “This Life,” Vampire Weekend.
    Or “Married in a Gold Rush.” Or “Hold You Now.” Or “Rich Man,” which Paul Simon should cover (if he had a sense of humor and wasn’t such a jerk). Album of the year so far for me. Marriage as a metaphor for general political and social engagement? I could make a case. “Baby I was told of war since we landed on these shores/I just thought the drums of war beat louder warnings,” should be part of every best man’s toast from this day forward. (Lyric slightly altered but mine’s better than Ezra’s, thanks.)

“Straight from the Heart,” Bryan Adams


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Summertime is the season of lowered standards. You eat hot dogs; you wear cargo shorts; you watch stupid blockbusters with lots of explosions (okay, that last has turned into a year-round passtime). And you listen to dance music and arena rock, stuff that won’t make you think too much because summer (school’s out!) is especially the season when thinking is overrated.

This is a great song, but it will never be accused of making anyone think too much. Consider the first verse:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 
All mimsy were the borogoves
Straight from the heart


Okay that’s not an exact transcription but it might as well be (try it, it scans to the tune!). Because the words don’t make much sense anyway: he tells us he’s separated from the lover (“you’re gone”) but also that he’ll “never go.” Stalker!

Or maybe she’s not real and he’s just dreaming her? Which would sort of undercut the absolutely killer chorus which I will not type out here or else I will have to get up on the kitchen table with a lighter and sing it, and I’m not sure if I still own a lighter. Rest assured it is perfect and for me at least summons languid summer days and nighttime rides home on back roads with a mouth bruised up from kisses goodbye.

(The song was actually released in the winter, February 1983. It hit #10 on the US charts and #1 in Canada, and it wasn’t even the first version and Bryan Adams didn’t even write it, though he contributed enough during his rerecording to snatch a co-write credit.There are many live versions on YouTube, some offkey but that doesn’t seem to matter to the audience screaming along. A lot of comments in Spanish on those YouTube videos. Bryan must have a large Latino following.)

I first heard this blasting from the speakers at the end of a Bruce Springsteen show and you know what? It held its own. That yearning voice! That key change! Take another listen if you haven’t heard it in a while, preferably with a beer in hand and sand underfoot. But be sure you’re close enough to your music source to turn it off before the execrable “Summer of ’69” comes on next.

“Let’s Have A Party,” Wanda Jackson


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It’s been a worried and stressful week but as the saying goes when life gives you lemons, play rockabilly. Loud.

This one starts full-tilt, with the party midway through. Wanda’s voice is already raw but she can still clobber the big notes and throw in some Little Richard “woos.” The music’s driven by Jerry Lee Lewis-ish honky tonk piano. “Some people like to rock/some people like to roll/But moving and a-grooving’s gonna satisfy my soul” is irresistible. There will be dancing at this party!

Elvis did the song originally in 1957. Wanda’s version came a year later but didn’t hit the charts until 1960. They toured together and the story is Elvis was a key figure in her career and that the two of them even “dated” That part seems fanciful, not just because at 20 Wanda was probably already too old for him. Elvis’s version is more sedate, a party at which wine will be served. Although even he would have some explaining to do about these party ambitions:

I never kissed a bear
I never kissed a goon
But I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room…

This seems like the sort of thing you’d want to jump in and do rather than announce, and one hopes that “chicken” is slang for a dance move. “Goon” must have originally been “coon” for raccoon, but appropriately changed for racial sensitivity. Or, maybe the play on coon was someone’s idea of funny at the time. Either way, glad they changed it. But does kissing either bears or goons come up very often in real life? Country matters, I suppose.

In general, the party doesn’t seem to totally live up to either Elvis’s or Wanda’s enthusiasm for it, revolving as it does mostly around food. Joe shows up and they feed him and sit him on the floor. Why doesn’t he get a chance to move and groove and satisfy his soul? There are references to chicken, meat, bread, possum (in Elvis’s version shot by his own papa) but no mention of liquid refreshments. “Send him to store, let’s buy some more,” Wanda sings, more than once, to which one can only say, about time.

Still, Wanda does seem to be having a good time so what’s the use of complaining from a distance of almost 60 years? She’s still around and made some fun albums this side of the 21st century; I’m partial to her version of “Funnel of Love” with the Cramps from 2003. Retired now after a stroke but perhaps still capable on a good day of shaking a chicken in the middle of a room. I hope so.

“Me and Jiggs,” Josh Ritter


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Headed out to see Josh next weekend so thought I’d mark the occasion with this, the first song of his I heard, courtesy of the great Vin Scelsa back in 2000.

Josh has written better songs, and certainly more serious ones–he is even guilty of the dreaded “divorce album”–but this one was an out-of-nowhere, gotta-hear-it-again-immediately pleasure that still makes me smile every time.

It’s a hymn to the eternal present, and like so many hymns to the eternal present is about the singer’s teenage years, a portrait of small-town life spent with friends drinking beer, making music, painting names on the water tower. I grew up in a small town that had a water tower and it never would have occurred to us to paint our names on it. There are far more rules on the East Coast than in Idaho, where Josh grew up.

I was on the other hand very concerned as a teenager with the eternal present, with the sense of time slipping away, experience as a diminishing pool. Hold on tight to every moment, I continually chided myself, often ruining the moment by doing so. Thankfully that unsustainable intensity eased up a bit, though I still occasionally long for those times that Alan Watts described as “just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind.”

“Song on the jukebox/you in my arms/heaven and earth pretty much the same” Josh sings and had I heard that when I was 17 I would have nodded my head sagely, been there, done that, but I also would have empathized with the line in the chorus where he admits not being sure he can make the feeling stay. I don’t know what age Josh actually was when he wrote this, but I think it’s a neat trick, to have written a song about adolescence that sounds like it was written from the inside.

I guess it was a semi-hit in Ireland. Also very fond of the “Hello, Starling” album and the song “Where the Night Goes.” More partial to his wandering troubadour side than to the ranty visionary stuff he’s gotten into lately. Haven’t had a chance to listen to the new Jason Isbell-produced album yet. And it’s not the divorce I object to, it’s the exploitation of it in the promotional material.