The outdoor art show season is upon us, so if I may address the weather gods for a moment: “You’ve pulled some interesting tricks this year. That hail-bordering-on-snow in May was a neat one. But let’s not go crazy this weekend. Some of us have outdoor exhibits to set up. Go have a beer on a patio, relax, listen to some tunes about your heroic exploits, let the sun do its thing. Kthxbye.”
“Stormy Weather” – Pixies
Sometimes there’s just nothing more to be said. When it’s time, it’s time. That time is not this Saturday. Just sayin’.
“Lightning Crashes” – Live
This is an epic, life-and-death thunderstorm they’re singing about. Once-in-a-lifetime thing. Statistically unlikely to happen this weekend. Unless your baby is due?
Did you know that Hugh Laurie released a blues album a couple of years ago? He often played piano and guitar on House,Fry & Laurie and Jeeves & Wooster, so he’s clearly been secretly planning this for years. I don’t love his singing voice, but the album is still well worth a listen. There’s also a charming and hilarious introductory essay by him in the liner notes on why it’s ok for a white middle-aged British dude to sing old black men’s music.
Something else that Hugh Laurie wrote, incidentally – and I recommend this without any reservations, because it’s brilliant and not the least bit a vanity project – is a novel called The Gun Seller. It’s a humorous thriller that reads like a Wodehousian parody of noir fiction and it’s very, very good.
“Tangerine” – Molly Johnson
I chanced upon Molly Johnson performing at the Toronto Jazz Festival nearly ten years ago, and was captivated by her singing. She seems to have gained in popularity since then – winning a Juno and even recording a promotional clip for Ontario. Rumor has it though, that junk mail addressed to her still occasionally arrives at the Cameron Public House, where she used to room in her less-renowned days.
“Yellow Submarine” – The Beatles
Since we’re rumor-mongering – I heard that these guys have something of a cult following? They’re not my cup of tea, but neither is the colour yellow, so they are welcome to each other.
Moreover, research conducted while putting this playlist together indicates that yellow is the least musically inspiring colour and there are really no good songs out there that feature it, aside from this one and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.
What do you mean I include Tom Waits in everyplaylist? He’s so well disguised here, I didn’t think you’d notice.
But since you did, I should tell you that Female Tribute to Tom Waits is an extraordinary three-volume collection of Tom Waits covers by women, full of startlingly beautiful, poignant and whimsical interpretations of his songs. There are big-names artists like Marianne Faithfull, Norah Jones and Holly Cole, but also many singers that I discovered here for the first time. There are covers in Spanish, impromptu live recordings, and charismatic French-accented voices. No other tribute collection I’ve heard reveals the depths of beauty lurking in the original songs quite as powerfully as this one.
I can’t promise to do this every Friday, so some Fridays will be more special than others.
This Friday’s playlist was inspired by the lyrics of the Tom Waits song “After You Die,” which are composed entirely of similes. Similes and metaphors, as you know, are the basic literary trope much abused by poets and songwriters of all ages. So it’s pretty impressive that some of them are still managing to cram songs full of really good ones.
“After You Die” – Tom Waits
What is it like after you die? Pretty surreal, according to this bonus track on Tom Waits’ latest album, Bad as Me. A few great suggestions as to what the afterlife may be like include “Like a rich guy clapping” and “Like a wild-ass painting.” At least that’s how I always heard this line – “a wild-ass painting,” as in “a painting that blows your mind.” But I just saw this written on a lyrics site as “a wild ass painting,” as in “an undomesticated donkey creating a piece of visual art.” I think this interpretation rift may turn into a breakaway religious movement one day.
“Rain on the Midway” – Kevin Quain
A haunting love song from my favorite Toronto goth blues songwriter is a gripping answer to that age-old question once tackled in a Victorian sonnet – “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”: I love you like tornadoes in spring, Like old guitar strings, Like Nina Simone sings…
Listen to it on iTunes and see if it doesn’t send shivers up your spine.
“Turn Me On” – Nina Simone
As for how Nina Simone sings – here she is, waiting to be turned on “like a light bulb in a dark room.” Gorgeous, heartbreaking song pleading for the return of a lover who left, which ends – appropriately enough – with a request for some fresh ice-cubes in her drink.
“Wild is the Wind” – David Bowie
It was Nina Simone’s cover of “Wild is the Wind” that inspired David Bowie to record his own version of this song. It compares the intensity of his love to the wildness of wind, which is as romantic as the wildness of the painting ass we encountered earlier is not. Incidentally, did you know David Bowie’s new albumThe Next Day is coming out in a couple of weeks and that he recently released a new wild-ass video for it, starring Tilda Swinton?