Speed of the Sound of Loneliness

One night around 20 years ago, after I came home late from work, my sweety greeted me, saying, “Come here… you’d GOT to hear this song!” She’d videotaped a musical performance on a late-night TV talk show and it would the first time I would ever hear Nanci Griffith. The memory is a bit foggy, so I can’t say for sure that it was today’s song, or else one that somehow led us to find it, but “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” is one of our earliest experiences of her songs. It touched off an abiding love affair we’ve had since with the voice and music of the Austin, Texas singer/songwriter. This love was part of the reason one of her songs later made it onto our wedding CD — more on that one, some other time.

For some reason, I had the impression that it was Lee Hazlewood who sang with Griffith on “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” but I couldn’t find any versions with the two of them. (I also might just be mixing up memories of Hazlewood’s famous collaborations with Nancy Sinatra.) It was the song’s composer, John Prine who sings backup on the version that appears on the album, “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” (John Prine later looped back into our lives, indirectly, as one of the artists covered by our son when he wasn’t singing originals during the period when Kieran West and His Buffalo Band were playing shows… check them out where you stream music buy or stream their music, by the way!)

Predictably, I sought out Griffith’s albums; one of which, “The MCA Years,” was yet another diamond among the CDs from the Columbia House membership (please see posts on February 4, 2020, The Chieftains and The Rankin Family’s “Jimmy Mo Mhíle Stór,” and February 13, Carly Simon’s “Touched by the Sun” for songs from other CDs bought on that). Since then, I’ve found some Griffith CDs second-hand at two Winnipeg shops, Music Traders and Red River Bookstore.

Once, while listening to music and down several internet rabbit holes, I was looking up concert dates for Griffith. By that time her touring was very limited; she was only playing a few dates here and there, in what seemed to be smaller venues. I researched what it would take to get to one of those dates, and it was about two or three flights, plus about a hundred kilometres of driving to get to the venue. With travel time, holiday time, flights and accommodations, and possibilities of delays at any stage that could make us miss the show… it didn’t seem realistic. And, it was just beyond our financial means at the time — though it would have been one heck of a trip! I have mixed feelings about abandoning that trip idea, but in the end, I don’t think it would have worked out without a lot of stress about missing connections. But part of me knows it would have been worth it.

Griffith hasn’t been publicly active since 2013, according to Wikipedia, and her website. In one sense this makes me regret having dropped the unwieldy plan to see her before she stopped doing shows and on the other hand, makes me realize that some things just aren’t meant to be. Even never having seen her perform, Griffith has added much to our lives in the memories, joys and sorrows her songs have evoked in us for close to 20 years.

It seemed we listened to “The MCA Years” often, for several years. And it was one of our go-to CDs on our many evenings of fun with the friends with whom we shared a similar love for Cyndi Lauper (please see February 2, 2020, “I’m Gonna Be Strong”). We shared many laughs over the stories she told, and so it was a definite #FOMD (fear of missing documentation) moment when Sweety and I were in London together for the first time and saw a Woolworths right there in Islington. In the storytelling preamble to one song on “MCA,” “Love at the Five and Dime,” in which Griffiths talks about touring in the UK and it being imperative that they stop at a Woolworths she saw, so that “I could fill up my suitcase with unnecessary plastic objects…” We had someone snap a picture of us in front of it to send home to them… many laughs ensued again, every subsequent time the four of us listened to the album.

At Woolworths in Islington, London on June 5, 2008, contemplating the purchase of “unnecessary plastic objects” to take home to our friends.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the delightful, official audio from Nanci Griffith’s YouTube channel:

Girl from the North Country

Yesterday, I was browsing around YouTube looking for an official video or audio for a Johnny Cash song from his “American IV” album when I came upon a duet he did with Bob Dylan on Dylan’s song, “Girl from the North Country Fair.” Like Zucchero and Paul Young singing “Senza una Donna” (please see post on February 12, 2020 for that song), this song is about lamenting a lost love. (I also wonder if it isn’t about losing that love to death: “See for me that her hair’s hangin’ down / If it curls and falls all down her breast / See for me that her hair’s hangin’ down / That’s the way I remember her best.”)

The song was released separately by both artists and others, as well as the Cash/Dylan 1969 duet, which I love and have listened to numerous times since buying it yesterday. There is a sense of the impromptu throughout it, as they sing over each other with slightly different lyrics (see the bracketed parts) and the ending seems a touch awkward, but for me these don’t take away from the song; they make the recording rather unique and irreplaceable, like real life.  If you listen carefully at the very beginning, you can also hear a touch of background noise the microphones pick up, making it seem that much rarer.

“If you’re travelin’ to the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine

See for me that her hair’s hangin’ down
If it curls and falls all down her breast
See for me that her hair’s hangin’ down
That’s the way I remember her best

If you go when the snowflakes fall
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howling winds

If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
(Please say hello) to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine

If you’re travelin’ (to) the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine”

(“Girl from the North Country,” by Bob Dylan — as sung on the official version provided here)

I love the way Dylan enunciates, “…who lives there…” (verse 1) and “…howling winds…” (verse 3).

Back to Cash’s album “American IV” for a moment — it is an excellent piece of work… on it, he covers Depeche Mode, Simon and Garfunkel,  and Sting. He even does a version of “We’ll Meet Again,” the performance of which by Vera Lynn during World War II made the song famous among soldiers and the families they left behind when going off to battle (and a song I remember hearing in my childhood during 1960s). It’s the only album of Cash’s in my collection.

I’ve never really been a follower of Dylan; can’t explain why, though his songs always evoke rich memories of trips to the beach with one of my brothers when I was a kid. (As an aside, the first couple of chords in this song sound identical to the beginning of Dylan’s magnificent summertime song, “Lay Lady Lay.”) He and another brother travelled to London, UK over a weekend some years ago to see Dylan play there. I think now how mind-blowing that would have been for them, as I recall our family memories with love and gratitude.

Having not been a follower, I foolishly ignored the opportunity to see Dylan when he appeared in Winnipeg a few years ago. I’ve got to stop missing all these shows! (For more on that, please see my January 30, 2020 post where I talk about not having gone to see Wolf Alice or Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds when the opportunities arose.)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the official audio from Bob Dylan’s YouTube channel:

On My Way Back Home

(Warning: lyrics contain a cuss word.)

Today’s song, by the American indie rock group, Band of Horses, is on my biggest iTunes playlist, “Bday party playlist.” I set it up many years ago to play during parties, and it’s my go-to when I want a somewhat random set of music on “shuffle” at home or in the car. It currently has 165 tracks (12 hours, 15 minutes… that’s a LONG party!), and I add to and take away from it from time to time.

‘On My Way Back Home’ is the only song by this band that I have in my collection, and I have a vague belief that it may have been one of those free iTunes downloads that Starbucks would give out every week, up until about ten years ago. I faithfully sought them out every week, and recall that some stores even kept cards for past weeks’ tunes. I learned about quite a few musicians through these freebies, and while I didn’t (yet) in this case, I bought iTunes albums of others. 

It often happens that the song will play in the car on the way back home from something. Maybe that’s coincidence or something caused by an algorithm that considers my rating, number of plays, etc. Or maybe the universe is just messing with me. Either way, it’s a beautiful song, and lead singer Ben Bridwell’s voice reminds me slightly of the Beach Boys’ vocal sound. The instrumentation is soft but deep and captivating.

I think the song is about the writer reminiscing on life and regretting mistakes but embracing life and appreciating the thing that is “home.”

“On my way back home
A (or is it, “by”) chance I thought of,
All my (favourite) songs
and where I’d gone wrong

The only words that I could think of
I’m pissing my life away in the form of song
On my way back home”

(from ‘On My Way Back Home,’ by Benjamin Bridwell)

The ending vocal is a sustained note that reminds me of a train whistle off in the distance… as if the songwriter were on that train, bound for home.

I didn’t know anything about the band until today when reading their Wikipedia article; I’ve never really sought out anything about them. I just enjoy this song; maybe that’s all there really is to say.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the audio from Band of Horses’ official YouTube channel:

Mirrorball

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks! Aside from the oppressive commercialization of the occasion, I hope you are feeling loved today, whether it’s romantic, simple companionship or the just knowing you’re supported by friends. 

I shared the story for today’s song, ‘Mirrorball,’ back when I featured another Elbow song on January 18, 2020 (‘This Blue World’), so I invite you to follow the link to that post to read or reread it if you like, then point your browser back here.

The song is another example of the beautiful poetry the band creates in their songs:

“I plant the kind of kiss that wouldn’t wake a baby
On the self-same face that wouldn’t let me sleep
And the street is singing with my feet
And dawn gives me a shadow I know to be taller”

And later on,

“We took the town to town last night
We kissed like we invented it
And now I know what every step is for
To lead me to your door”

(From ‘Mirrorball,’ by Richard Jupp, Craig Potter, Mark Potter, Guy Garvey, Peter Turner)

Hearing the music and lyrics again reminds me of the McCulloch poem in the January post, the feeling of longing when anticipating being with one’s love, and that blissful feeling when finally reunited.

On his 2010 album ‘Scratch My Back,’ Peter Gabriel worked with a full orchestra and made cover versions of other artists’ songs. It’s a brilliant album. There was also a companion release called, ‘And I’ll Scratch Yours,’ where other artists covered Gabriel compositions. I don’t have that one. Yet. I mention this because ‘Mirrorball’ is featured on that album, which I think says what a magnificent song it is.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy the music and poetry. 

Here’s the audio from Elbow’s official YouTube channel:

Touched by the Sun

The haul of CDs I scored from Columbia House (please see my February 4, 2020 post on ‘Jimmy Mo Mhíle Stór’), many years ago, included Carly Simon’s ‘Letters Never Sent.’ 

I remember Simon’s early hit, Anticipation’ (1971), which was used by Heinz for a commercial demonstrating how slowly their ketchup poured because it was so thick and rich. It’s incredible to me how this practice has become widespread lately, with drug companies sampling notable excerpts from popular music to create catchy slogans and jingles for their products. At the same time, the voiceovers give endless cautionary notes.

‘Letters’ (1994) was Simon’s 20th record, and she has said the inspiration for the album came when she found a box of letters she wrote but didn’t send. Some of these letters were put to music and onto the album. I recently heard today’s song on the radio and recalled that we used to listen to the CD a lot at home or in the car before MP3s and playlists were a thing.

The next year, Simon released ‘Live at Grand Central,’ a live concert held in the main rotunda of the train station. ‘Touched by the Sun’ opens the show, quite dramatically, with a solo acoustic guitar playing the rhythm and slowly ushering the remaining band members and Simon onto the stage. We have a VHS tape of this concert; it has never been released on DVD… what a shame — it is a fabulous concert, the best way to experience a performer, as says my sweety (and I agree!).

Simon wrote the song for her friend, Jackie Onassis. I find it a very inspiring piece, talking about brave people, artists and dreamers; to me, it also speaks to astronauts, the modern equivalent of seafarers who courageously explored the uncharted oceans hundreds of years ago.

“If you want to be brave
And reach for the top of the sky
And the farthest point on the horizon
Do you know who you’ll meet there
Great soldiers and seafarers,
Artists and dreamers
Who need to be close, close to the light
They need to be in danger of burning by fire
And I, I want to get there
I, I want to be one
One who is touched by the sun”

(from ‘Touched by the Sun,’ by Carly Simon)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the official video from Carly Simon’s YouTube channel:

Senza una Donna

I first heard Paul Young in 1985 when his song ‘I Was In Chains’ from the album ‘The Secret of Association’ was being played on CBC FM’s late-night radio; I think it was Night Lines, though it could have been Brave New Waves that year. I think it’s probably on one of those cassettes I recorded then and recently found (please see my January 31, 2020 post on the R.E.M. song, ‘Drive’ for more on that…). I’ll have to play them and let you know.

Tapes of CBC Night Lines, circa 1985.

I have a few of Young’s albums, and love his voice. One of my favourites among his songs is ‘Every Time You Go Away,’ a somewhat bittersweet tune. My favourite version of it begins with the sound of a jet plane taking off; punctuating the sense of loss from a love leaving — for whatever reason. Another favourite, today’s selection, is a duo he sang with the Italian blues performer, Zucchero, in 1991, called ‘Senza una Donna’ (Without a Woman): in it, the singers seem to be trying to convince each other they’re better off without the love of the woman who has gone on to be with someone else. 

“I’m no longer frightened (maybe) to be livin’
Senza una donna, no more pain and no sorrow
Without a woman, I’ll make it through tomorrow
Senza una donna, givin’ me torture and bliss
Without a woman, vieni qui! (come on in!)
Senza una donna, I don’t know what might follow
Senza una donna, oh, maybe from tomorrow”

(from ‘Senza una Donna,’ by Adelmo (Zucchero) Fornaciari, Frank Musker)

Zucchero has performed duets with other stars including Sting, Brian May, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John, among others, though I’m not familiar with any of those collaborations. The official video for today’s song is a bit cheesy but, more importantly, is from a period where, sadly, society didn’t take enough notice about the gratuitous objectification of women, so I’m not using it here. There’s also a live video of the duet, from 2016, here; it’s okay, but the guitarist completely misses the mark on his solo, which on the studio track is very well done — and crucial to the mood of the song. So instead, I’ve provided a link to an unofficial post of the YouTube audio of the studio version.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. And as usual, if you like the music, support the artists and purchase it.

Here’s the audio: 

This Guy's in Love with You

Okay, so technically this is a repeat artist — and really, that would have to happen at some point; I only have so many records, CDs, and MP3s. Herb Alpert and His Tijuana Brass appeared here on January 17, 2020 (‘A Taste of Honey’) as an instrumental act, but today he’s the singer on a piece composed by Burt Bacharach. 

Each time I hear the musicians from this period and, I guess, genre (“easy listening,” is that what it was called?), I have memories of having heard the songs as a child. There are some Alpert tunes I’m sure were used in TV commercials for the women’s clothing stores on the south side of Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg. A few of those remain, but there was a whole long line of them between Eaton’s and The Bay: Clifford’s, Ricki’s, Dayton’s, Cleo’s, D’Alliard’s, Helene’s Silhouette Shop… I know there are many others I can’t think of at the moment (please leave a comment if you remember one!).

For me as a kid in the 1960s and early 70s, Saturdays meant having to be “dragged around the shops…” and I can still hear the sound of hangers making that screeching noise as they were briskly swished from one side of the rack to the other so that every single dress in the store must have been looked at. Every dress. Every store. Every store from Eaton’s to The Bay. And many were tried on; few bought, unless on sale. (It was all about efficient use of the scarce financial resources for our family of seven.) 

Most of those stores, if at all, had only one chair in the showroom; my dad would get that. Fair enough… but gawwwd… it all seemed endless. (Well, so it seemed to this youngster; then again, I don’t remember anything else that called urgently upon my time on weekends as I wasn’t into sports, don’t recall reading a lot, probably wouldn’t have been allowed to sit in front of the “idiot box” (TV) all day, hadn’t learned to swim or skate, and seemingly was too young to be left alone at home… at the same time, I never seemed to have thought to bring a book or something to occupy myself.)

For full disclosure, Saturdays weren’t all bad. On those days, I knew at some point, that if I’d behaved reasonably well during the shopping marathon, I’d get a chance to choose some pick-and-mix candies from the sprawling Candy Counter in Eaton’s basement as my dad was a candy fanatic — a quality many of us inherited from him (for a long time, the candy department was on the main floor, I believe… anyone else remember that?), plus we would ALWAYS take home one of those string-tied cardboard boxes of Eaton’s cheesecake, with accompanying containers of cherry topping, from the grocery store in the basement (it was a badass grocery store; I remember it being bit like a Marks and Spencers). I can still taste it. (Sweety made a cherry cheesecake last weekend for the birthday of one of our boys. I think it must have shaken loose this little memory; and damn, it was good, by the way, though I’m not as partial to cheesecake as I once was. But then, I don’t have to endure shopping trips like that, either.)

Anyway, those commercials surely featured some of the songs of Bacharach, Alpert and their ilk, and I remember seeing them with my siblings when our parents were out and we’d watch TV, sometimes even venturing into shows like CKND’s Chiller Thriller’ (semi-) horror movie at 10:30 pm on Saturdays.

As I mentioned in the post on ‘A Taste of Honey,’ many of the songs from this era flood me with memories. As you can see, this one is no exception. 

Maybe I should end it here, as that’s probably more than you need to know about why this is my song of the day for today. But thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. And as usual, if you like the music, support the artists and purchase it.

Here’s the video from Herb Alpert’s YouTube channel. (Apologies in advance for using a video from the 60s as, for men at that time, it was viewed as normal to refer to an adult woman as “a girl,” as comes up in the verbal preamble to the song. Ugh. Sorry. We “made fire” quicker than we’re progressing on most things — assuming it was men who invented fire, that is. Plus, it’s a cheesy video. And the lyrics are pretty dated, in terms of male self-awareness regarding women and men being equal… but, other than all that, it’s a pretty okay tune.)

Everything_Now (continued) / Everything Now

One of our boys introduced me to Arcade Fire when, on a visit here, he bought their first full-length album, ‘Funeral,’ not long after it was released, and played it at our home. (They named the album in recognition of the fact several band members had deaths in their families around the time it was being made.) I was hooked by their sound right away and have followed them since. 

On first hearing their album, ‘The Suburbs’ I didn’t like it (as mentioned in my January 21, 2020 post about Annie Lennox’s ’Stay by Me’) until I listened to it a few times; then it really grew on me to the point that it sounds to me like a story that’s best heard all in one sitting. I ended up buying a couple of versions, including one that has art coded onto the MP3 in a way that appears like poster boards, when played on an iPod or other mobile device. Another son and I saw ‘The Suburbs’ tour concert, and he gave me a vinyl copy of ‘Neon Bible’ as a gift. Most recently, my sweety and I saw the ‘Reflektor’ tour concert.

I have to say I’ve retained the initial dislike of the band’s most recent album, ‘Everything Now,’ despite efforts at listening to it. I do, however, think its title track joins with the title track on ‘Reflektor’ as a couple of the band’s better songs… though they have a lot of great songs. 

The official video for the song includes two tracks, the short (0:46) prelude, ‘Everything_Now (continued)’ and ‘Everything Now.’ The first track builds to a crescendo, the kind that gives a shiver up the spine or raises the hairs on your arms (if you’re like me, one of those folks affected physically by music that really moves us… see this article on the topic: https://www.iflscience.com/brain/if-listening-to-music-gives-you-chills-you-may-have-a-unique-brain/). The latter track includes one of those “Woo” exclamations (at 2:42 on the official video) that I always like to try to join in on (in my head) at just the right time. There’s a wood instrument that plays under much of the verses and chorus, and I seem to recall an article about a traditional African musician who played that; or else it’s a false memory — I couldn’t find it.

The video, like all of Arcade Fire’s recent productions, is more like a short film and is filled with many elements: a travelling salesman — “Daddy, how come you’re never around… I miss you” — which speaks to the way we often dive into careers and “busy lives” and miss valuable time with family and friends; billboard after billboard — a statement on our consumerist society — “Pledge allegiance to Everything Now…” (a fictitious corporation); technicians searching for space junk, garbage dumps, kids trying to throw rocks at an eagle’s nest — jointly seeming to symbolize the decline of society… but then there’s a scene of a couple of children dancing in the desert (among cactii suspended in the air?), only to be followed and the criss-crossing of jet trails and many rockets — as if to say the adults have given up and are leaving. Maybe it’s the kids who burn up all the Everything Now signs at the end?

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video from Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel:

Factory

Hearing this song reminds me of riding home in the car on a mini road trip when one of our boys drove my sweety and me to an extended family dinner outside Winnipeg. While I like driving, I enjoyed being in the back seat that night after a long walk in the afternoon and then a big meal, and felt quite sleepy, so I just relaxed and enjoyed holding hands, the music, and the night sky.

Today’s song was on the playlist; I Shazamed several tunes on the drive home, and some of those are now in my digital collection; and some that I already had, I’ve listened to more since hearing them again that night. (I didn’t notice it until just now when looking up the lyrics, but there is a line that is relevant to my memory of that scene: “Through my window the moonlight she shone…”)

I love how Martha Wainwright’s voice breaks slightly on one note in the middle of the song (at 1:48); it’s a moment that’s perfect in its imperfection. 

To me, the song is about the feeling of not fitting in and sometimes having to suffer alone as kindness is often hard to find in a world preoccupied with “flaming”  others on social media — and by extension, sometimes in real life. It also seems to me to recognize the uniqueness but also sameness of us all, despite the fronts we may put up. It’s rather sad in that sense, though I like the song a lot.

“There are millions and millions of people around
On my TV, walking my streets, making sounds
And I can walk with them, I love them, I need their love

There are others I have known as poor souls, sores exposed
The run-of-the-mill, the destitute and the cold
Sores exposed to the blisters and shards
Where any kind of kindness is as far as the sun, the sun
The sun, the sun, run, run, run, run
I know a place, I’ve seen a face
And I’ll take the coast from factory to factory”

(from ‘Factory,’ by Martha Wainwright)

Martha Wainwright is sister to Rufus (see my post from January 25, 2020, on his appearance in Teddy Thompson’s video for ‘In My Arms’). Their parents are also musicians: Kate McGarrigle (of the Kate and Anna sister duo) and Loudon Wainwright III (famous for the 1972 song, ‘Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road’). I recall hearing Kate and Anna in my early adult years but don’t remember anything about Loudon, other than that one song. I don’t know much of Martha’s music, but I’m sure my sweety will find a lot of good songs when she listens to today’s selection.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio from Martha Wainwright’s YouTube channel: 

Age of Steam

From 1979 to 1999 (with a few years out of the paid workforce to stay at home full-time caring for my sons from 1993 to 1996), I worked at a railway. I was mostly in office work, then management, but in the late 90s when I returned, administrative positions were disappearing to cutbacks, and I took whatever positions became open. Toward the end of my time there I worked in train operations, primarily as a rail traffic controller. That was a very interesting job and a bit nerve-wracking; the federally-mandated training program had an exam passing grade of 95%. I found the shift work hard to adapt to.

I also spent time in the railway station as a youngster, since my father worked for the railway, too. I had a lot of exciting roles in my career and learned a lot of new things, including running the organization’s annual employee charitable giving campaign six times.

Railways still fascinate me.

I imagine a band coming on stage to the sounds of this song; seems perfect as a show opener, especially for a country, folk or bluegrass show. I first heard it some years back on late-night CBC radio. (In recent years I would record the programs After Dark and Night Shift, listen to them the next day, and then delete the file. I then moved on to live radio; BBC and KEXP.) The track also reminds me of my career, “working on the railway.”

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a clever video from the Maple Mountain Sunburst Triolian Orchestra’s YouTube channel: 

For more songs, please visit https://songoftheday.ca