The Lyrics That Live With Me

When Lou Reed died, there was some great news coverage, such as the NY Times obituary, and much absurdity – which I guess could be predicted. My local news stations struggled to explain him to those who’d never heard of him. Here and there a reporter would add personal viewpoint (“He singlehandedly invented alt rock!”) to the obit pablum. Pablum. Does anyone still know what pablum is?

Not for the first time, I was grateful and impressed with how social media responded. Facebook, for example, didn’t just spread the news of his death, but also filled with tributes from people to whom Reed had mattered. Many simply quoted song lyrics that were important to them, which started conversational riffs that were moving and healing. I wish social media had been available when we lost Lennon! Or Strummer!

All of which got me thinking about what song lyric I would quote if another of my musicians dies before I do. There are certain songwriters who have been so important at some point in my life – so transformative – that their deaths would leave permanent holes. Even if I haven’t listened to (or thought about) some of them for decades, I need them to be in the world.

Below are the lyrics I might post. Although who knows what might instead occur at the time. When Alex Chilton died it wasn’t Chilton’s words or Big Star’s lyrics that surfaced, but Westerberg’s tribute song, Alex Chilton.

I’m in love, what was that song? 

Here is one of my lists. What would yours be?

 Leonard Cohen

 I have tried in my way to be free.

Elvis Costello
(note: the link has lyrics altered for TV!)

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

John Doe

You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart.

Bob Dylan

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
Okay here is where I acknowledge what a silly exercise this is.
The proper Dylan lyric changes hourly.

Exene & John Doe

She had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.

Patti Smith

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Bruce Springsteen

The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
If I could take one moment into my hand

Graham Parker

Life isn’t good enough. Music makes it good enough.
(Actually that quintessential Parker line
comes from an interview not a lyric.)

Kelly Joe Phelps

like a shine-eyed Mr. Zen
actually I’d probably use the lyrics that Corinne West
surely wrote for him in “Whiskey Poet“,
You took some chances
now the silence is your friend
As will I be in the end

Chris Thile

I’d probably quote his stage observation
that he lives vicariously through his own songs.

Paul Westerberg
(Live video without image.
Song that truncates unexpectedly.
Yup. Those were our ‘Mats.)

Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied.

Neil Young

I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream.

This post responds to a recent WordPress weekly writing challenge about music that matters.)

Book Review: Who I Am by Pete Townshend

5 STARS. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Today’s Daily Post wants to hear about the blog post I was most nervous to publish. I don’t have a particular post in that category, but always feel discomfort when I let a post reveal something deeply true about me.  I’ll post it anyway – in between the cat pictures –  because I so respect blogs and conversations that go beyond the superficial.  And because, when I make a list of important attributes, honesty is always at the top.

Which brings me to Pete Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am. This book mesmerized me and a big part of that was Townshend’s honesty. What separates this from the tawdry “tell alls” of so many celebrities? (Hmm I notice I have strong opinions of such celebrity books without ever having read one. Okay. Disclosure made. Reader beware.) Well. Everything, really. Townshend doesn’t gossip or confide. He shares secrets and bares soul.  I have so much respect for his willingness to make himself look bad in the interest of telling it like it was. Reading this book, I learned not just about Townshend. I also gained insights into topics as varied as myself, addiction, and the collective unconscious.

A few scattershot reactions:

  • Ironic that he had to end his marriage to get into a monogamous relationship.
  • Amazing how similar addictive mindsets can be from person to person, substance to substance.
  • The most fun part of the book are the chapters about the early days of the British rock scene, centered around an art school an Ealing.  One of those times when so much talent and energy magically converged. (I was lucky enough to live through such a time in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.)  Ealing in the early 60s had the Stones and Kinks in clubs, John Marshall developing his amplifiers, John McLaughlin as a local salesman! And of course school chums Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle happening to form a band.

You don’t have to be a Townshend or Who fanatic to enjoy this book. I loved classic rock back in its day but don’t listen to it now.  I always liked the Who’s attitude and enjoy their music but they were never one of my bands and I only saw them once (and that time, mainly because the Clash were on the same bill). I never got into Townshend’s solo work.

Book jacket publicity writing usually makes me twitch, but this time I agree with the cover blurb, which reads in part: “With eloquence, fierce intelligence, and brutal honesty, Pete Townshend has written a deeply personal book that also stands as a primary source for popular music’s greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: Who are you?”

Okay, I might need to debate the greatest epoch part, but otherwise that description is spot on.

P.S. Also, he’s funny and there are laugh-out-loud lines throughout.