Saturday, April 25, 2009

If You Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody

Me, Simona, and her punk rock boyfriend in the Italian night.

Here's a post about a song I have neither written or performed, and high time it is. That's why this blog has variety in the title. So I can blog whatever I want.

When I lived in Italy in the late 80s I went nuts over Italian rock and roll from the sixties because it was like a whole new world of nostalgia was opened up to me. My friend Richard Wachter had once described me as being nostalgic for a past I never knew, which is pretty insightful. Two of the artists particularly appealed to me, Adriano Celentano and Mina. Both of them hugely popular, incredibly talented, and with the charisma of true stars in their own culture. One unforgettable afternoon I chanced on their movie "Blue Jeans" on RAI, the Italian national TV network, and it made a huge impression on me - a group of kids rise up against the Mayor of Rome when he bans Blue Jeans in the city. Corny but cool.

One of the Celentano songs that came to haunt me - one of many - was Il Problema Piu' Importante, which I didn't know in it's original version. The amazing vocal arrangement blew my mind. Take a listen:

Il problema piu' importante per noi
(The most important problem we face)
e di avere una ragazza di sera
(is who will be our girl tonight)
se restiamo da soli, soli tutto male
(if we find ourselves alone, alone in misery)
non si puo neanche cantar
(we can't even sing)

Forse non ci crederete ma e vero
(perhaps you won't believe it but it's true)
la malinconia ci prende di sera
(depression hits us at night)
con la barba gia fatta
(with our faces freshly shaved)
soli, senza nessuno,
(alone, with nobody)
ce ne andiam per la citta
(we go out into the city)

Gira e rigira, fra le balere
(going round and round, among the balere)
ci sara pure un anima buona
(there might be some good soul)
che si accompagna con noi
(that will accompany us)
anche perche
(also because)
non la troviamo mai, MAI!
(we never find her, never!)

One fine day I came to hear a version of this song by Bobbie Gentry, from the same album that brought us the song "Fancy", a typical 1960s song about a young poor girl being turned out to a life of prostitution by her own mother. Further investigation revealed that this song had been a minor hit called "If You Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody". So I had to dig up the original James Ray version:

I mean no disrespect to Rudy Clark, who wrote this fine song, (in addition to "Good Lovin'" and "Everybody Plays The Fool") but I have to give the edge to the Italian lyrics, since the theme of going out looking for girls in the soft Italian night speaks more to me than being made a fool of for no reason by someone. But you can see that this song is just one delirious arrangement, complex and mysterious, in any language. Check out the unprecedented combination of tuba, banjo and harmonica. Where did they come up with that?

Download If You Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody

Download "Il problema piu importante per noi"

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Slow Drag aka The Sunglassed Masses

Me on Delmar when I hung out with the cool kids.

I was honored to be included among the hippest kids in St. Louis, despite being an ancient old man to them, since they were all teenagers going to Clayton or U City high school and I was old enough to drink, though I still felt too young to actually hang out in bars. Instead, I spent my time messing around with my teenaged girlfriends and going to teenaged parties in various apartments and houses when the resident fossils left town and the kids held parties.

The kids I remember the best were Gabe Katz, who shared my love for Beats and who was just endlessly fascinating, Darren O'Brien, then LeDeen, and the mighty mighty Mark Higgins. Known universally as Higgens, he played the bass sax in Riot Act and cracked wise with a certain lordly demeanor that was impressive and magnificent. I won't go into the girls, for reasons of discretion, but I loved them all unashamedly.

I got to sing on one song with Higgens, a Don Green blues he called "Slow Drag"

I don't remember laboring over these lyrics or the singing of them, and they certainly sound dashed off and improvised. I can tell they were written down and that I was singing them from a piece of paper, because some of the phrasing is rushed and awkward, indicating that I've lost my place. The highlight of this long song was Higgens honking away on his sax, and I, for one, mourn the loss of the low end on the mastering of this song.

Skyscrapers fallin' down
Radiation all around
Suicide will end this mess
I'll buy my wife another dress
It's a slow drag
We need more ghetto blasters in the city

Longer unemployment lines
Dizzy astrological signs
Goofy kids be making noise
Excited girls be chasing boys
Don't beat me, they say
And turn around and run away
And all this time you get fed up
And listen until you shut up
Are you ready to bop? Step up and blow, it man!

Riding around like you got it made
Brilliant colors made to fade
And facts and rumours merge with tact
Let morals and manners make a pact
We need more ghetto blasters in this town

Society girls in gowns around
The sunglassed masses downtown bound
The sunglassed masses east and west
The sunglassed masses off your chest
The sunglassed masses know no crime
The sunglassed masses dance in time...

This is the other song I wrote lyrics for and sung on the After Hours LP, and it shares the same credits, though only Nick Georgieff knows for sure, and he ain't tellin'. It's a longer song than usual, but worth it, if you like hearing someone singing under the influence of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson and a heritage of true gangster inflection from North Saint Louis.

Download Slow Drag.