Elza Soares - A Mulher do Fim do Mundo This month has been all about resisting apocalyptic notions - adjusting to the new political reality, the new social reality, the new personal reality. Hell, this month has been just about resisting, period.
This month I worked with friends and neighbors to organize a meeting to kick off our own Indivisible group. On a sleepy Sunday night we asked people to come to a local bar and hear what the Indivisible thing is all about. We were expecting about 30. About 200 showed up. It was stunning, energizing, and intimidating. People are clearly worried, angry, and moved to do something about our ridiculous political situation. Many of the people who showed up were senior citizens, and I don't mean people with gray hair - I mean people in their 80's and probably '90's! On my way in, I had to wait for a lady bent over at the waste leaning on a cane to get up the stairs. "She can't be here for us," I thought. Yup, she was.
That night was a moment of change for me in a lot of ways, but definitely in my attitude towards old people. I couldn't believe it.
After the meeting was over an older guy came up and insisted that I come to the back room where music was playing and listen to what he had to say. I politely assured him that I would, figuring I probably wouldn't. Ten minutes later he was back. C'mon! So, high on the energy of the meeting (and a healthy shot of Jameson) I went and sat with him. "I'm a veteran of two wars," he explained, meaning WWII and Korea. "I guess now we'll find out if what they call 'the Greatest Generation' has spawned an even greater generation." Um. What? "Did you know, at the Women's March in Chicago last weekend, there were more people than Eisenhower landed at the beach in Normandy?"
Now, if, like me, you're a little rusty on WWII history, Wikipedia helps understand what Sam was saying:
"The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front."
You get that? According to Sam, the "largest seaborne invasion in history," that "began the liberation of German-occupied Northwestern Europe" was somehow less grand than our march in Chicago! In one small sentence, Sam threw a whole tangle of parallels and context at our situation and what we're trying to do about it. He simultaneously illustrated how monumental and difficult our task is, how morally important it is that we succeed, and provided a ray of hope that we actually can.
I've always thought that part of my disconnect with older folks is that I've never really gotten to experience any of the wisdom they're supposed to carry. Well, goddamn, that felt like a big old slap of wisdom in the face.
So does this song.
Nearly 80 years old, Elza Soares (the "Brazilian Tina Turner") just released a stunning and utterly contemporary album, buoyed by a raft of younger collaborators. If, after listening to the growls, coos, gurgles, and murmurs of her voice, you have any doubt it's filled with wisdom, I encourage you to read her Wikipedia bio. Jesus. A woman at the end of the world, indeed.
To top it off, a translation of the lyrics reveals a song bursting with surreal poetry - dangerous, angry, sorrowful. Check it out, just a tremendous gift.
"A Mulher a Fim do Mundo" (lyrics by Alice Coutinho & Rômulo Fróes, translation from this site)
My crying is nothing but carnaval // It's tears of samba on the tiptoes // The crowd moves foward like gale // Throw me on the avenue I don't know which
Pirate and Superman sing the heat // A yellow fish kisses my hand // The wings of an angel loose on the floor // Under the rain of confetti I leave my pain
On the avenue I left there // The black skin and my peace // On the avenue I left there // My spree, my opinion // My home, my loneliness // I threw it from the third floor
Broke my face and got rid of the rest of this life // On the avenue, it lasts until the end // Woman of the end of the world // I am and I will until the end sing
I want to sing until the end // Let me sing until the end // Until the end I will sing // I will sing until the end // I am the woman of the end of the world // I will, I will sing, let me sing until the end
John Cale - I Wanna Talk 2 U Another old-timer banging away at his art, pushing himself to stay fresh after 50 years in the game. I fell for this album after hearing his deep and surprisingly plugged-in interview on Sound Opinions when it came out back in 2012. I wanna talk to you. There's so much talking for all of us need to do right now. To those who are "on our side." To those who aren't. Again, the lyrics and feel of this song seem so trenchant.
Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau - Independence Day Of course, it now feels inevitable that two of our generation's greatest musical interpreters and genre apostates would team up for an album of covers. Readers of this blog know I think Thile can do no wrong (I can even tolerate Prairie Home Companion again!), and Brad Mehldau is a honey-fingered magician. Eliot Smith's composition provides all the nooks and crannies these two need to get a grip on some great improvising.
U2 - The Refugee I know it's a little on the nose. I know you think U2 is cheesy. But War remains one of my all-time favorite records, and this feels just right.
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids - Rhapsody in Berlin Spotify turned me on to Ackamoor, and I spent a nice afternoon at work digging through his discography. A Chicago native, Ackamoor runs a multi-disciplinary performance company in San Francisco. This song is so right. Terrifyingly groovy, strange, tuneful, and recorded with just the right amount of overloaded bite. Can you imagine a song more inappropriate for the title "Rhapsody in Berlin"? I love it.
Glenn Gould - Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op.58, III. Largo (Chopin) I cannot get enough of these Chopin piano sonatas, and it's such a blessing to hear them through Gould's golden sensibility. After listening to several other recordings of this piece, I also really appreciate the attention Gould and co. pay to recording it - no coughing audience and squeaky chairs, just the fullness of the piano and, every once in a while, Gould's endearing hum-along.
Jimmy Scott - People Get Ready Man, I didn't realize how many old-timers snuck onto this playlist. Jimmy Scott, one of the great unorthodox crooners, with a classic movement song. "There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner, who would hurt all mankind just to save his own." Can you think of anyone that describes? Get on board everyone, let's fight!
Laura Marling - Wild Fire Yup, for a third month in a row I'm going to curse Blake Mills for being a genius of a producer. I love love love Marling's voice, and after seeing her play the entirety of the soon-to-be-released Semper Femina live in Chicago last year it's clear that her songwriting has taken an evolutionary leap. But man, Mills makes this sound like absolute ambrosia. And that's his sneakily sublime guitar playing in the background. I can't wait to hold this whole album in my hands, especially because the vinyl version comes with a second disc featuring a full recording of that live show my friend Sarah and I were at last year(!).
Zach de la Rocha - digging for windows We've needed de la Rocha's voice for a while. Now, we need it more than ever. Come on, Zach! Spit more fire!
Killer Mike - Reagan If we need to have celebrities be our politicians, can it please please please be Killer Mike? Spin magazine's website has a short piece about de la Rocha joining Run the Jewels on stage in D.C. the night before the inauguration, where they performed the RTJ song they did with de la Rocha and finished with this political banger. At the end Killer Mike leads the crowd in a chant of "Fuck Ronald Reagan," then walks offstage saying "And fuck Trump..." Swoon.
Ryan Adams - Bad Blood So, this month's playlist ends with two very different songs that both lodged themselves firmly in my skull. Adams' full-album cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 feels like a corny magic that still manages to amaze you. The combination of Swift's hooks and Adams' delivery make way more sense than they should, flavoring each other in all the right ways. It's like a guilty pleasure made just a little less guilty. Well, depending on how you feel about Ryan Adams, I guess.
Martin Carthy - Shepherd O Shepherd Speaking of magicians. I recently sat down again with a short instructional video of Carthy methodically showing how to play what for him is a very simple song. It's mind bending. Not least because his way of tuning his guitar defies all logic and decorum. Madness and genius.