Friday, May 30, 2008

Sober Oddities, or Still Wired After all These Years

So, Mr. McKagan, when asked of his experiences in Sobriety-land, made the following remark (funniest part? The absolutely unrelated answer to another question that appeared immediately below this response. He didn't appear to notice--whether inattention or trying to type on a Blackberry at 44, I don't know):

"I pray or just try to be STILL! Exercise has really helped in my battle with alcohol and drugs (my martial art is KEY to my sobriety). GOOD LUCK and STAY OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD!" (from duff-loaded.com)

Now, I've noted before (though not here, I think) that McKagan may be one of the more active people I've ever run across. I mean, he's constantly doing SOMETHING: this gig, that recording, kids, wife, martial arts, interviews, golf (oy!), you name it (recall--31 bands before joining GNR at 22). Reminds me of another bassist who shall remain nameless here, but is a self-confessed hyperactive. Must be something about the instrument that those who gravitate toward it have a streak of hyperactivity; perhaps the bass serves the purpose of providing a rhythm and structure that the hyperactive bassist's brain lacks.

I tried to make that sound reasonable. Don't shoot me if I missed.

Anyway, "be still" and "stay out of your own head" jumped out at me, and not just because he put them in all caps. They are part of my own mantra too (and that of any good resident of Sobriety-land). The original poster went on to ask what that meant and how to do it. Here's my thoughts on the matter (none are especially original; just bear with me). First, addicts are a self-absorbed bunch, that's the nature of this disease; part of the spiral of addiction is the increasing navel-gazing. At the the same time that we use various means to separate from ourselves, we become more absorbed in getting whatever that is for ourselves--no matter the cost to others. So, staying out of your own head, not dwelling on "what-ifs" and "I fucked ups" is really essential, because those are very much a part of the obsessive end of addiction (Oops, I screwed the pooch on that one--must drink, shoot up, whatever--that obsessive end).

So, upon entering Sobriety-land, we may find ourselves doing anything to distract us from the bottle, the needle, the whatever; as I've noted before, I knitted, ran, built garden walls, read to an almost obsessive degree, you name it. See McKagan's activity list even this 14 years later. Some of it is distraction; much of it simply becomes habit. The activity level never really wanes, though--at least for most successful addicts, so far as I can tell.

Which led me to wonder how many of us are ADD/ADHD or, at least, self-described hyperactives (I fall into the last case). Even found an article that discusses the relationship between ADD and addiction. Before I ramble further, a caveat--I'm not sure how much I buy into any of this, really. I happen to think that the habits are rather interesting though.

Anyway, I often described my relationship with booze as one of trying to calm my brain--stop the racing thoughts or deaden the wildly swinging emotions (note: not terribly effective. Don't try this at home). Perhaps it's only a subset of addicts, the ones who everyone readily identifies-- "Holy shit! Did you see how much...?" Marathon addicts, if you will. The addiction simply stands in (I'm deliberately avoiding the "Self-medication" schtick) for other obsessive habits that might be healthier, but are no less about shutting the brain down.

What I have had to learn to do is change my external trigger for calming down; rather than passing out, I need to wear myself out or just stop. Sometimes I really do have to just tell myself to stop moving.

Of course, I tend to fall asleep when I do. That said, the addictive impulse hasn't necessarily gone away, it has simply been turned to more acceptable means (and lots of them). To return to the terrible bass (not the fish) metaphor above, the activities (many of which are rhythmic in nature, come to think of it) becomes the "bass line" of life, allowing the marathon-addict/hyperactive to calm the fuck down, even while engaging in myriad activities: writing two articles, one book, applying for a new job, knitting three projects, relearning bass (yep, I admit it), teaching, yard work, composing rambling blogs, reading two books, training for a 10K (damn hamstring), and so on. Blogging, incidentally, may be the best substitute for alcohol-fueled navel-gazing ever.

Cure for the addiction-prone hyperactive? Bass. Clearly. And Knitting. And Exercise. And...I'll quit. You get the picture by now.

Other oddities of sobriety: blushing. Talk about a basic inability to control emotions. I find myself responding to people with far more emotional connection than I recall from before the drinking days. I blush all the time; my students, I suspect, have figured this out and are now trying to see how fast they can make me blush on a given class day. D. won at less that 4 minutes into class the other day. Over what, you ask? Broken bones. So, no, I haven't the slightest idea what the blushing was about.

On a sad note: Watched Shaun of the Dead yesterday. I know with some precision where I blacked out during the film when I first saw it; sadly, I didn't remember that I had until the movie became fantastically unfamiliar. That was fun to play along with in front of the class. Would like for that never to happen again. Good thing I have the best class on the face of the earth; they were champs in the discussion, which saved me from becoming supremely and uselessly annoyed with myself. Bless them. I'm going to miss this crew.

Once again, thanks to Mr. McKagan for unintentionally leading me down that mental alley. I think I need to follow the advice here and get out of my head again--perhaps a nice walk outside, since my damn hamstring seems to be rather angsty about running still.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Analysis Practice: How Far is Too Far?

The joy of analysis is that it's difficult to actually go "too far," though one can certainly make claims that cannot be supported.

Here's an example analysis and the attendant meta-analysis (fancy word for my running commentary). We'll use an old faithful here: visual analysis. You'll need to view the following if you've never seen them before. You'll need about 30 minutes to get through them; the first two will eat up almost 20 minutes.

My claim: Duff McKagan's (saw that coming, didn't you?) video characters show a strong tendency toward the role of savior. As thesis statements go, this one sucks; it's far too "facty." But, it's a start for now.There are of course, scores of other videos by GNR and VR, most of which do NOT feature this trend. One could as (more?) easily argue the videography of Slash as junkie or Duff as drunk (check out "The Garden," for instance, which features McKagan for all of about 10 seconds, and if he's sober in that video, I'll eat my hat.) None of the AFD era videos demonstrate this trend; it only begins once GNR starts the epic videos, and, while remarkably shorter than the GNR counterparts, these two VR videos do the "storytelling" bit as well. Warning: it’s more playful than a formal essay really allows for.

So…

If we accept that musicians affect roles for their music videos, what can we say about the patterns their roles follow? Take Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver, for instance (please). One might be tempted to argue that McKagan tends to play the role of “savior.” The most explicit example occurs in VR’s “Fall to Pieces,” when McKagan’s character picks Scott Wieland’s character (who is apparently ODing or, at any rate, shooting up) from a nightclub bathroom floor. The video, like many of Wieland’s lyrics, appears to be largely autobiographical: his wife (along with McKagan’s) appears in the video and each band member appears to more or less be playing himself. Weiland is variously seen in scenes with his real-life wife, Mary (those scenes are visually interesting because they are made to look like home videos of a “happier time”) outside the nightclub and within it as well. In the course of the video, McKagan carries Wieland out of the bathroom and upstairs, where the heretofore oblivious Wieland begins to fight McKagan. They struggle briefly then slide to the floor, holding each other in a loose, stylized embrace, with McKagan's head and hair hanging over the prone Wieland*. It’s a powerful tableau, made all the more interesting by the scenes of a clearly dead young woman (junkie?) which are crosscut with the scenes of Wieland and McKagan. The implication appears to be that Wieland survives because McKagan takes the time to notice that he is missing, find him, and rescue him, whereas the nameless girl is left to die. It’s autobiographically correct; both McKagan and Wieland have discussed the sober McKagan’s role in trying to help the still-strung out Wieland get clean. Whatever the relationship to reality, the roles in the video are unmistakable. This would be mildly interesting even if it were the only example, but it is not.

In VR’s “She Builds Quick Machines,” we see the VR gang dressed up for battle in the old west. Wieland bears a striking resemblance to Eastwood’s Man with No Name; McKagan (bless him) looks for all the world like David Bowie**. This is a much more typical rescue sequence; McKagan gets to help rescue the lovely fallen angel. In a classic Western riff, he walks into a saloon and fist fights the bad guy over the bar, after which he rather inexplicably tries to drown the other guy with Tequila (I know it’s another riff on old Westerns, but it’s nevertheless odd). He also gets to throw a Molotov Cocktail at an apparently empty car. All five VR members participate in the rescue, but Kushner’s role is my favorite—he sneaks up behind a guy and syringes him to death. That beats McKagan’s tequila drowning bit hands down.

One might be tempted to suggest that this is merely a matter of his VR days, but traces of the same can be seen in two parts of the GNR epic trilogy as well (“Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” and “Estranged”). During “November Rain,” McKagan’s very happy (very drunk?) character gets to “save the wedding” when he provides the wedding band that Best Man Slash apparently misplaced (or forgot—clearly McKagan’s character ended up with it on his finger somehow). In “Estranged,” McKagan rows out on the choppy seas to rescue an apparently drowning Axl, but fails to reach him. Riffing on classic sea rescues, the scene shows McKagan trying to hold onto the oars while reaching out for Axl, who fails to grab McKagan’s awaiting hand. That video is so rich with symbolic detail that it’s difficult not to geek out right here. Slash walks on water in the same video. Have a blast with that analysis, all.

Time and again McKagan’s characters attempt to rescue someone or something. I’ve never seen him comment on this pattern, which could be the result of how he imagines himself or how he is imagined by others (or some combination there of); nevertheless, the pattern in intriguing. In his early, less sober days, his rescues were failures or limited; in the later, more confident era, he’s successful. If we move outside the video world, one can see a similar imaginative pattern in his solo song “Mezz,” wherein the speaker imagines all the possible (often heroic roles) he would like to play in life (Frank Serpico, Mexican freedom fighter (ah-ha—the role in “She Builds”!), Black man in the 50’s South, or someone who cures destructive habits, homelessness, and disease, etc.), while balancing against the apparently comfortable reality that “But I’m me, and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

What I cannot claim: Duff McKagan has a savior complex. I have made that joke before (especially after seeing the video for "Fall to Pieces"), but it's dicey for me to claim anything about the guy based on what characters he portrays (even if he is, ostensibly, "playing himself"). Typecasting of this kind should be avoided as strongly as, say, assuming that the poet and the speaker are one in the same. Now, as I mentioned, the historical record does provide a bit of support to this end if one wants to play armchair psychologist, but I’ll refrain. At least for now.

*I tried to refrain from pointing this out but I can’t: Possibly the most hysterical thing about this video is that McKagan and Mary Wieland have approximately the same haircut and color. Which leads one to realize that barring the fact that McKagan is significantly taller than either Wieland (and far more tattooed than Mary Wieland), one can confuse the two roles (McKagan and Ms. Wieland). Make of that what you will.

**Not that this is a first, mind you. He did the androgynous Bowie bit in early GNR. Look for the pic of him on the leather couch wearing purple eyeliner. Really, if you’ve never seen it—find it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Karen's Choice Explication

Many thanks to karen-the-great for sending this song to me.

Now for a song I don't know. This would be rather like a cold reading of a poem or play. I need to read the song lyrics carefully and look for any details that will require looking up, etc. You'll have to take my word on this, but I had never heard this song before, and I didn't listen to it before explicating it. Why not listen to the song (since, of course, the music is ultimately very important)? I'm trying to replicate what happens when we are faced with a new text, one for which we have little to know context to work with. As such, even the music would (maybe--HA!) provide me with more insight into the words on the page. This did not preclude me from making up music as I read it; I am curious whether or not the rhythms in my head match those of the song.

So, let's see what happens. I'll post Karen's thoughts on the explication if she cares to share them.

Song: "Maybe," by Dayroom

Dayroom’s “Maybe” dramatizes the all too human conflict between knowing what we want to say and being unable to articulate it. Neither the speaker nor the addressee are named, though the song implies that they are perhaps new lovers, as they wake up sharing a bed after a “crazy” and now “hazy” night (10-11). While we are provided little insight into who is telling the story, we are very aware of when and where the song is taking place. The song opens at daybreak on a Sunday morning, as “the light pours in” (1); the speaker and the addressee are clearly lying bed, waking up in some emotional discomfort, as the speaker acknowledges being “a little uneasy” and worrying that the “word I’m forming” might “come back to haunt me” (7, 4-5). “Haunt” suggests a feeling of some trepidation over the word, as if it may move the moment from one of “light pouring in” to one of gloom (1).

Whatever the fear associated with the word, the early morning inarticulateness is perhaps a familiar one to listeners, and it is the most significant metaphor in the song. Precisely what is causing the discomfort and what word the speaker wants to say remains unstated in the poem; the speaker provides only the barest skeleton of details in the second stanza: “when we went to bed/When everything was crazy/Waking up it’s all a little hazy now” (9-11). This technique tends to invite the listener to participate in creating the song’s story by filling in the unspoken gaps—the speaker and addressee were drunk/giddy/fighting the previous night and went to bed only to wake uncomfortable/surprised/amorous—there exists myriad possibilities for a listener to self-identify in these details. The speaker hints that the story—whatever it is—is a positive one remarking that “I’m not so excited that I can’t say what I want to enough” (12-13). What the speaker intends to say also goes unstated, hinted at only in repetition of “maybe you could, maybe I could,/ maybe we could/ maybe we…maybe we…maybe we…” (14-16). There may be an unspoken eroticism (or at least romanticism) involved in the repeated “maybes,” as the speaker later mentions whispering these maybes in the addressee’s ear, which would seem to indicate intimacy (as would, one might suspect, the repeated failure to share the “word I’m forming” to the listener, as it is for the addressee’s ears only).

Several details in the song indicate new beginnings; waking up on a new day, which is also Sunday, which is, for many, the beginning of a new week. The speaker references the time of year twice; it is certainly summer, “Waking up, the summer’s always quiet here” (which seems to beg for different punctuation than is provided, as the comma seems too weak to hold together the disparate elements of the phrase); summer tends to be symbolically associated with youth, if not rebirth. The second reference seems to serve a two-fold purpose to the song: “Wish the world away, to come again another year” (23). Here, the speaker simultaneously confirms the “new day” metaphor in the “new year” and the desire to be alone with the addressee, to remain uninterrupted from their present state, which is apparently blissful enough to invite a repeated desire to “wish the world away” (23-4). Indeed, one of the most interesting structural details of the song, which is largely devoid of a predictable rhyming pattern, is this repetition, which seems to mirror the inarticulateness of the morning here described. Several lines open with “maybe,” “wish,” “waking,” or “when,” which tie the song together sonically (especially the repetition of the “w”) and serve to confirm the major metaphors of the song: uncertainty (or at least discomfort), newness, and intimate whimsy (as in the wish to be alone).

Thoughts:

So, not too painful. I'm curious about what the song sounds like now, so I'm going to go have a listen and wait for Karen to laugh at me. I can't find a preexisting web lyric sheet, so I'll post all the lyrics once I have the complete copyright information.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

14 Years

Have a GNR song stuck in my head that is fitting only in title, though not even remotely in theme. Nevertheless, today's a bit of an odd anniversary.

May 10, 1994. Wow.

Congrats, McKagan. Delighted you're still around and kicking.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

15 Albums and a Desert Island

This was supposed to be a list, but I find myself needing to explain. As always. And, remark: why would I have LPs with me on a desert island anyway? Or my iPod, which, assuredly, has more than 15 albums.

Most of this is subject to change with my whims, I suppose.

Limit: 15 (because someone made me do that recently and it was really, really tough. So, here we are again with it).

Order: No particular order, unless you count off the top of my head (which is radically dangerous). Except for the first three or so, which are absolutely essential.

  1. Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction
  2. Pearl Jam, Ten
  3. Jeff Buckley, Grace

The first three albums need a special note. At the times I ran first ran across these albums--1987, 1991, and 1996, respectively-- (and, really, Shine--1989-- belongs here too) grabbed me by the throat. THIS is what music is and does. I still listen to them all the time.

The other twelve:

  1. Duff McKagan, Beautiful Disease
  2. Loaded, Dark Days
  3. Rolling Stones, Let it Bleed
  4. Mother Love Bone, Stardog Champion (because I can't choose between Shine & Apple. I need both)
  5. Betty Blowtorch, Last Call (because I can't choose, and this has most of what I'd want)
  6. Flogging Molly, Drunken Lullabies
  7. Victor Wooten, Soul Circus
  8. Ten Minute Warning
  9. Dead Kennedys, Give me Convenience or Give me Death (I have a compilation problem, don't I?)
  10. RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magick
  11. Velvet Revolver, Libertad
  12. TOFOG, Gaslight

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Missing You" Explication

The lyrics (McKagan's own explanation for the song appears at the top of the lyrics)

Have a listen if you've never heard this before.

Here's a song that practically begs for biographical/historical analysis. One could probably pinpoint fairly accurately who inspired the song, but it's not necessary to do so. Even if you know nothing about McKagan and Barragan (and even without benefit of the headnote provided on the lyrics), one can do a strong explication. Focus on the song itself, not the life and times of its author--that's the role of analysis, not explication. Some poetry and songs are so confessional that it's nearly impossible not to include the author's biography in your analysis (Sylvia Plath often presents this problem), but don't feel that it is necessary to do so.

That said, I will try to refrain from geeking out here.

Note: These are the "official" lyrics that once upon a time existed on McKagan's site. Now, two caveats: as with all acts of orature, the live productions of the song tend to differ from the studio version. Second, there is a line in the background vocals that does not appear in the official lyrics. I'm not 100% certain what is being sung there (either in the studio or live); if I nail down the lyrics, I'll add the commentary below. It's *something* that ends in "...thoughts of you," but my ears are in such condition that I don't trust myself enough to hash out the rest.

Essay:

McKagan's and Barragan's "Missing You" dramatizes the conflict between the speaker and an unnamed addressee, who is almost certainly a close friend or companion of the speaker, given the level of familiarity apparent in the word choice and tone of the song. The opening lines of the song convey what is an initially vitriolic tone. The first line is the most striking, as it posits the first of several inversions. "Atonement" refers to unity and harmony with others; even in a religious sense, which is probably where the word is most commonly used, the sense is one of unifying with the deity. Yet, the first part of the line references being "home alone," which does not indicate unity with another; furthermore, the remainder of the stanza "So sick and tired, of being fucked up and lied to/I hope your dreams come true," heightens this sense of discord and frustration (3-4). Most likely, "atonement" refers to making amends or reparations, in this instance through isolation; exile, of course, is an old and familiar form of penitence, and it seems to be the kind of "atonement" signified here. Significantly, the atonement is "eternal"; thus, we know that the exile is probably permanant on some level, though why remains unclear until the latter half of the song (1). The sound structure of the line tends toward unity, if the context does not, as McKagan and Barragan rely on an internal rhyme between "home," "alone," and "atonement" to tie the sound of the first line together (1), and scansion reveals a very unified A,B,B,B end-rhyme scheme that is not reproduced anywhere else in the song. Much of the song is built on inversions of expectations, such as in the chorus: "I won't be missin' you...I hope you're turning blue" (6-8). Here we have a song about not missing someone and an overt wish for that someone's death, where we might normally expect to find "I hope you aren't blue," as in sad or depressed; instead, McKagan and Barragan invoke the tendancy for human skin to turn blue when the blood is deprived of oxygen--cyanosis-- in "I hope your turnin' blue" (8). When combined with the images in the remainder of the chorus, where we see confirmation of addiction: "...you lied; you were gettin' high" (7), the angry death wish implies that the addiction is probably to heroin, though heroin is never itself mentioned explicitly in the song, as one of the most common physical descriptors for a heroin overdose is cyanosis. The implications of the chorus also provide insight into one of several refrains in the song, which reads "The lines were clearly drawn" (18). At least two implications are present here; first, the "lines" serve to confirm the conflict between the speaker and the addressee: each stands on one side of the "line." Most often, lines are "drawn" to figuratively represent the outside boundaries of a speaker's tolerance or comfort. Here, we have been shown several times that the addict had crossed these imaginary lines with lies (ostensibly about the addiction itself), particularly in the bridge, where the speaker remarks "I used to ask you how long you were gonna carry on/ when you lied I knew you were gone" (16-17). The verb tense of "used to" underscores that the speaker is no longer asking; the line, perhaps, was crossed in the lie. The second implication of the "lines" is somewhat more clever, as it plays on the heroin use itself, as "lines" are but one of the ways of ingesting heroin (though the reference to turning blue certainly suggests injection, rather than snorting). Thus, the heroin itself (or the lines of heroin) becomes the battle lines that separate the speaker and addressee.

The remainder of the song tends to shift the tone away from the anger and bitterness that pervade the beginning of the song, as well as moving away from the inversions present in much of the song. The tone of the latter half of the song is instead increasingly wistful and melancholy. First, the speaker suggests that the addressee is not the first of the speaker's associates to fall to the same addiction: "All my heroes gone…as my nightmare carries on and on” (13-15)*. Moreover, as this "nightmare" is more than a mere dreamscape, as the speaker points out that "Facts [are] darker than fiction" (14). The mournful mood is further highlighted in the revelation that the addressee, who heretofore seemed to be present to the speaker, is dead. In the early, angrier portions of the song, the addressee appears to be alive; the verb tenses in "I won't be missin'," "I hope your dreams come...," and "I hope you're turnin'" all seem to point to a future for the addressee, however bitter that wish may be. In the final lines, however, it becomes clear that the addressee must be dead; the speaker has only "Sad memories of you," which, he acknowledges, will slowly fade (19). The mournful tone continues as the speaker notes that "The world will carry on, without you" (20) and "Now that you're gone, I'm gonna carry on" (21). By the song's end, it is clear that the speaker is without hope; the threats of exile and forgetting come too late to save the addressee, which helps to explain why the speaker exists " home alone" in "eternal atonement" (1). The atonement, perhaps exile from the addressee, appears to have at first been a choice, but is made permanent in the addressee's death.

The language employed in the song tends to support the overall conclusions, as usage is familiar and informal, such as "missin'," "gonna," and "fucked up." Likewise, the structure of the song tends to support the overall context, particularly in the shifting tone. The early, angrier portions of the song** are replete with strong end-rhyme such as "true," "blue," "through," and "you." The mournful ending tends toward softer, drawn out end-rhymes such as "on," "gone," and "drawn," which serve to slow the song down and soften the tone.

*It is difficult not to see this as an allusion to McKagan's life; by the time he recorded "Missing You" in 1998, several of his heroes, including Johnny Thunders and friend West Arkeen, had succumbed. Indeed, heroin is absolutely everywhere in McKagan's story; he points out in American Hardcore that he left Seattle in the early 80's in part to get away from the heroin that was so pervasive in that music scene (only to end up, he notes elsewhere, somewhat wryly*** I imagine, in a band with three junkies) (Blush 264).

**Musically this is underscored by distortion effects that sound for all the world like angry insects.

***Not the "wryly" that I assume was meant as a pun on Believe in Me, an album chock full of references to consuming "rye." Oy vey.

Last Word: You can easily see where context is significant in this explication; not all readers would necessarily recognize the connections between cyanosis and heroin, so even when working "just the text," elements of the reader's world will affect the interpretations included in the explication. Granted, the vitriol involved in "I hope your turnin' blue" should prompt some consideration, even if you don't immediately catch the connection, so don't blow off what you don't recognize, but don't assume you'll always "get the reference" immediately either. Likewise, I have no idea whether or not McKagan and Barragan would agree with my assessment of "lines" nor exactly what they intended, and it really doesn't matter (though, I may eventually ask just for grins). Explicators need not worry over intent--only what is present.


Works Cited

Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles:
Feral House, 2001.

McKagan, Duff and Michael Barragan. "Missing You." Beautiful
Disease
. Recorded 1998 at Pimp Studios, Hollywood, CA.
Unreleased.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Use Your Illusion, or An Album (or two) in Search of an Editor

This is an absolutely self-indulgent post of the worst stripe. Utterly.

So, I periodically see people wondering what would have happened if GNR's Use Your Illusion had not been a double album. If, indeed, they had had an editor of sorts. Because, frankly, the albums are ideal metaphors for the excess that eventually collapsed the AFD and UYI period GNR (that was a fun little sentence to write). I'm a bit saddened by the albums now; here are the remains of incredibly talented (yes, I am perfectly serious) guys who just didn't know when to quit.

Slash and heroin. Duff and alcohol. Axl and egoism/"artistry." Seems that only Izzy managed to gain a clue--and he left not far into the UYI tour. Almost feel sorry for Matt and Dizzy.

Anyway, ideally, one could parse this sucker down to one album. If I could have edited the damn thing, I'd have kept it to a single album with the following credo: Just because you wrote it doesn't mean you have to record and/or release it. Really. Not every song needs to see the light of day, and digging into the AFD (and prior) catalog? Not really a show of growth there.


Rules: Maximum: 75 minutes (arbitrary as hell, I know)

Not Making the Cut

    The songs marked with * are those I could be persuaded to keep for a lovely, very long album.

  1. "Don't Damn Me" (Rose, Slash, Dave Lank) – 5:18 : Actually, I like this song and it's Judas Preistliness. Axl does a fine impression of Halford here. But, this is a band that once upon a time was so committed to the relationship between the audience and the songs that they tested every freaking song live. They obsessed over the bridge of each song. They wrote and rewrote and cut and extended (see all comments on "Anything Goes"). This song was never, to my knowledge, played live by GNR.

  2. "Double Talkin' Jive" (Stradlin) – 3:23 : I like this song, but it feels out of place....and off, somehow.

  3. "Perfect Crime" (Rose, Slash, Stradlin) – 2:23: An AFD era song. It was performed live for the first time on Halloween 1986. This would be in addition to "Back Off Bitch," which Preceded AFD and GNR--as did parts, at least, of "November Rain," and "Don't Cry." A bit heavy on digging into the old catalog, yes?

  4. *"You Ain't the First" (Stradlin) – 2:36: I really like this song, so I'm sort of inclined to put it back, but then I'm partial to Stradlin's writing anyway.

  5. "The Garden" (features Alice Cooper) (Rose, Arkeen, Del James) – 5:22: There is something inherently wrong with having two "Garden" songs on a single album (and back to back, no less). Also, this is one of THREE songs on UYI that seem to complain about the bad behavior of several members of the band in comparison to Axl's clean living ways ("only smart boys do without"). This is not the best of the three.

  6. "Bad Apples" (Rose, Slash, Stradlin, McKagan) – 4:28 This would be the second of the aforementioned addiction/bad behavior songs. And look, I managed to strike a McKagan song.

  7. "Back Off Bitch" (Rose, Paul Tobias) – 5:03: I hate this song with a deep and abiding passion. It's not the theme; "It's So Easy" has similar themes, and it's one of my favorite songs ever. This one is just roundly irritating.

  8. "Dead Horse" (Rose) – 4:17 : Struck for redundancy because, really, beating a dead horse is what these albums were all about.

  9. "Shotgun Blues" (Rose) – 3:23: Struck for being a monumentally annoying song

  10. "Live and Let Die" (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) – 3:04 : Eh, fine as it goes, but never totally did it for me. Could live without it.

  11. "Don't Cry (Alternate Lyrics)" (Rose, Stradlin) – 4:44: More redundancy. I like the lyrics here. They would have made for a swell B-side. An additional album track? Not so much.

  12. "My World" (Rose) – 1:24: Struck for pathetic, egocentric stupidity. Now, I have no real issue with egocentric musicians; I suspect it is largely a required trait. However, this little unfortunate rant doesn't possess the requisite humor or, well, interesting musical accompaniment.

  13. "Breakdown" (Rose) – 7:04: Like "Shotgun Blues," I just don't like this song. Does nothing for me.

  14. *"Get in the Ring" (Rose, Slash, McKagan) – 5:41: I have some hang ups with this one. It's a good old fashioned irritated rockstar who doesn't want to be called rockstar song, which makes it fun, but the rant is...well, if nothing else it is vintage Axl. And, McKagan can be heard warbling behind Axl. Also fun. They did name a tour after it...so maybe it should stay after all.

  15. "Yesterdays" (Rose, West Arkeen, Del James, Billy McCloud) – 3:16: Eh, not a song that's ever done anything one way or the other for me. It's fine, just not especially exciting.

  16. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (Bob Dylan) – 5:36: I rather like their cover, but if I had to pick a cover or an original, I'd go with the original. Though, I could probably be talked into trading "Right Next Door" for this one. But, this would have been a great B-side or a FAR better addition to "Spaghetti Incident" than the utterly bizarre "Since I Don't Have You."

MY Version:

I tried to organize them into an album order. I failed. So, in no particular order:

  • "Right Next Door to Hell" (Rose, Stradlin, Caltia) – 3:02: Could substitute one of the * songs for it. It does give Axl a chance to whine, though.
  • "Bad Obsession" (Stradlin, Arkeen) – 5:28: The third of the addiction trilogy and the only really good one. That it doesn't involve Axl in the writing may have a great deal to do with that assessment. Good bluesy tune. And a harmonica. Who could leave that behind?
  • "Civil War" (Rose, Slash, McKagan) – 7:42: An attempt to be political. I like this song--even if it does mention "human grocery stores."
  • "Dust N' Bones" (Slash, Stradlin, McKagan) – 4:58 : Fabulous song. A definite keeper
  • "Don't Cry (Original)" (Rose, Stradlin) – 4:44
  • "14 Years" (Rose, Stradlin) – 4:21
  • "Locomotive" (Rose, Slash) – 8:42
  • "You Could Be Mine" (Rose, Stradlin) – 5:43: Best part of video: Duff blowing out the cigarette smoke at the mic, apparently in an "oops, I'm supposed to be singing right now" moment. Well, that an Arnie as Terminator deeming GNR as unworthy of death. Oy.
  • "November Rain" (Rose) – 8:57: A song in need of an editor. As Slash put it, "that's the sound of a band falling apart."
  • "Garden of Eden" (Rose, Slash) – 2:41: Short, punky goodness. And, an acid-trip of a video
  • "Pretty Tied Up" (Stradlin) – 4:47: Fun. Needs "You Ain't the First" as a B-side. Release this instead of the trilogy from hell.
  • "So Fine" (McKagan) – 4:06 : As Mick Wall puts it: "..the most inconguously moving, inescapably sultry tune Guns N'Roses has ever recorded...it is a moment of pure sex...and probably the best song Keith Richards never wrote" (154).
  • "Estranged" (Rose) – 9:23: Tempted to strike just because of the damn video. But, a musically interesting, if ridiculously long, song.
  • "Coma" (Rose, Slash) – 10:13: The "Rocket Queen" of UYI. Instead of Axl and Adriana's, uh, "lovin' noises," we have a defibrillator. Make of that what you will. Me? The sounds of a band dying under its own weight.

Until later.

Works Cited

Wall, Mick. Guns N' Roses: The Most Dangerous Band in the World.
New York: Hyperion, 1992.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Janie Jones Explication: From Notes to Text

Now that we have notes, notes, and more notes, we need to craft those notes into the explication. An overall theme arose from the notes: The guy in the song hates his job and wants to be part of a different world (sex, drugs, and rock n roll). That, though stated better, would be the initial sentence of the explication.

Something like this: The Clash's song "Janie Jones" depicts the discord between the life one wants to live and the life one has to live.

Essay:

The Clash's 1977 song "Janie Jones" depicts the discord between the life one wants to live and the life one has to live. The song begins by announcing desire; the unnamed “he” is “in love with rock-n-roll,” with “gettin’ stoned,” and with “Janie Jones” (1-3). These three desires represent the age old “sex,” “drugs,” and “rock-n-roll” triumvirate, as Janie Jones, the most obscure of the three references (though probably not to 1970’s Londoners) was a 1960’s and ‘70’s British entertainer and madam. The significance of “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” to “his” life is made clear, in large measure, through repetition, as the first stanza is also the chorus, which is repeated at least three times, possibly more, depending on how the song is performed. The song proceeds to celebrate such desires throughout, addressing and unnamed woman with whom he is “gonna have fun” once “his job is done” (6,9). The conflict between the “boring job,” which is nevertheless required in order to experience the desired life, and the evening fun is central to the song. He is apparently an Everyman figure; Strummer and Jones remind us that “he’s just like everyone,” particularly insofar as he has to work in order to make enough money to have fun: “he's got a Ford Cortina/That just won't run without fuel” (12-13). "He" drives a popular, fuel efficient car, but it nevertheless requires that he earn money to be able to drive her around in it. Our Everyman also has the archetypal suspicious boss who “who thinks he [Everyman] shirks” his work duties, and “he” wants to tell his boss “exactly how he feels” (11, 18). He feels, apparently, bored and underpaid, the second of which is described in one of the most unique metaphors in the song: “An' the invoice it don't quite fit,/ There's no payola in his alphabetical file” (15-16). The “invoice” and the “alphabetical file, ” along with an “in-tray” with “lots of work,” signify mundane office details, ostensibly highlighting how boring the job is. However, the particular word choice, is intriguing; the term “Payola” literally suggests that our everyman would be part of the music “industry” (record companies and the like), but nothing else in the song supports that, so the word is probably used generally to mean payoffs, graft, etc. He’s underpaid for the boring job, and receives no extra pay via nefarious means, but, as we are reminded the Ford Cortina “just won’t run without fuel,” implying that while he would love to tell his boss “exactly how he feels,” he’ll continue grinding away at the job in order to have access to the life he desires (13, 18).

The song is stylistically simple, following a traditional chorus, verse, chorus, verse pattern, with few or no changes to the verse when it is repeated. The implied cycle of the themes (the conflict between work and desire) is supported by the repetition. Strummer and Jones employ primarily informal language “You lucky lady,” “gettin’ stoned,” and “It’s pretty bad,” which also serves to support the conflict; the language is closer to the life he desires than the life he works, where his references presumably do not include “Janie Jones” nor “gettin’ stoned.” The song’s rhythmic structure is largely supported by the rhyme scheme, which is neither complicated nor terribly amazing. Much of the rhyme is slant rhyme, however, such as "stoned/Jones/roll," and "work/shirks." Such uncomplicated stylistic measures work well with the song’s equally simple thematic structure. The thematic structure is certainly more significant that the stylistic one for “Janie Jones,” in no small measure because the song is meant to be heard in tandem with the music, so the rhythm and rhyme tend to follow the very rapid tempo of the music. Here’s an analysis of the music, should you be interested.

As you can see, the explication itself is pretty straightforward (even a tad boring). This is a first draft, so I could stand to spend more time on a few of my style particulars, but we'll cover those later. We'll experiment with another song later this week. Probably "Missing You," which will give me a chance to geek out while writing.