New resonances, solace/inspiration from unexpected places (October 18, 2001)

Hi all,

The posts in this group do tend to keep circling back to music and performers no matter what (at least I know it’s not just me). I’m struck not only by how artists are expressing themselves with new work in response to the current Bad Atmosphere (with a few exceptions, it’s a bit too early to take the measure of this; wait six months or a year), but also with how older songs have taken on new relevance. Besides “Imagine,” that is.

People on another list I belong to have spoken of playing lots of ’60s protest music, early Dylan and so forth. Me, I’ve gone in another direction, or rather, the direction almost seems to have come to me…

Speaking of rediscovering the musical heroes of our misspent youth, I was in England a few days ago [with the woman I’d later marry] and had the opportunity last Sunday to see Nick Lowe in concert at the London Palladium. It was the first time I’d ever seen him live; again, the guy must be in his early 50s but I’d place him firmly in that camp of earlier boomers (P. Smith, N. Young, J. Ramone, C. Hynde, etc.) influencing our bunch – i.e., the college students of the late ’70s/early ’80s. And if nobody ever said Nick was God (except for my friend Tom, the magazine editor who likes Prefab Sprout and “stuff that’s overproduced”), he was, after all, the cofounder of Stiff Records and the king of British late-’70s new wave (and the original title of the British release of Pure Pop for Now People was The Jesus Of Cool, so there ya go). And being the ex-son-in-law of Johnny Cash must count for something too…

Nick Lowe in 2001 is still tall and lean and has an impressive Jock Ewing silver mane, and from the cover of his excellent new album (‘The Convincer’) he is elegantly attired and, cigarette jauntily in hand, looks insouciantly out at you with clear blue eyes; you’d trust him to manage your mutual funds or sell you a downtown condo. Probably. At the Palladium, he was more casually dressed and, backed by a veteran three-piece combo on a bare-bones stage, laid-back and witty (“This is the last night of the U.K. tour,” he said. “It began last Thursday…and we had yesterday off. Not really enough time to form lasting bonds.”). He still does some old stuff like “Cruel To Be Kind” (“trawled from the back catalog,” as he put it), but his heart for the past few years has obviously been more in the country and soul realm.

These are the first lines of the first song he played, and he delivered them slowly and firmly:

There will never be any peace
Until God is seated at the conference table

This song was originally recorded by the soul combo the Chi-Lites in 1974, and it was obvious why Lowe chose to put it in front of us now. It’s one of those songs whose reason for being is encapsulated in its title, there being very little more to the lyrics, a stop-when-you’re-ahead kind of thing (sort of like “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die”), but it was enough, the point was made. Lowe, like the rest of us, has obviously made his own inner journey towards new depth and meaning over the past two decades; I won’t presume to guess what he has seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s become another experienced optimist or found his own inner calm to survive the outer storms that are now raging fiercer than ever, the whirlwind gathering strength for who knows what resolution may come.

The most moving moment for me was when he played “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which he wrote. No wall of sound production, just a guy with a guitar and a few sidemen and a quiet arrangement, and the lyrics (I trust I don’t need to quote them here) never sounded more relevant or heartbreaking. I’d come to the Palladium wanting to be entertained and to commune with a bit of my sonic youth, but beyond the nostalgia, I realized that I needed to hear what Lowe needed to communicate in the here and now, too. Just as much as I needed to hear “I Knew The Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll” (which, in its own way, was just as profound).

Unexpected sources…a few weeks ago I was listening to a Burt Bacharach compilation, and one song sorta stuck its head way out into the center of the room. It was originally done by Dionne Warwick in 1968 (the lyrics are meant to reference Vietnam). Twenty years later the Pretenders covered it, and damn well too; theirs was the version on my CD, which would tend to suggest Burt considers it definitive (sorry, Dionne). You’d be well within your rights to call this an awful song, a period piece with trite, clichéd lyrics, and some indeed have; others have called it a classic. You be the judge. I don’t know the original, but the Pretenders’ version does it for me. It just makes me think of the metaphor of Windows ON the World, of course, which at the time the song was written, didn’t even exist…I was only there once, with my parents nearly 20 years ago, and it was a cloudy day and we couldn’t see anything outside. Sometimes, that’s the way things go.

*******************
The Windows Of The World
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David)

The windows of the world are covered with rain,
Where is the sunshine we once knew?
Ev’rybody knows when little children play
They need a sunny day to grow straight and tall.
Let the sun shine through.

The windows of the world are covered with rain,
When will those black skies turn to blue?
Ev’rybody knows when boys grow into men
They start to wonder when their country will call.
Let the sun shine through.

The windows of the world are covered with rain,
What is the whole world coming to?
Ev’rybody knows when men can not be friends
Their quarrel often ends where some have to die.
Let the sun shine through.

The windows of the world are covered with rain,
There must be something we can do.
Ev’rybody knows whenever rain appears
It’s really angel tears.
How long must they cry?
Let the sun shine through.

Indeed.

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