Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Songs by Which I Remember Clarence Clemons

I’ve been jotting down some nice thoughts about Clarence Clemons the past week and a half.  It’s been a bit of a struggle, as I’ve found myself in “looking for the perfect word” mode, in an effort to best capture my impressions of him as the saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.  He passed away a couple of weeks ago, in case you hadn’t heard.

Initially, I had a list that I assembled in my mind of my 5 Favorite sax solos by Clarence on Springsteen songs.  Then I realized I didn’t have enough musical knowledge to say much more than “And I REALLY like this one…” and so on.

So I started writing more impressionistic thoughts about his music with the intent of tacking the song list on the end.  Until I found myself in “looking for the perfect word” mode, which I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago in this very post.  Remember?

Now here I am, full circle, thinking that even if my nice-thoughts-on-Clarence post may end up in bloggatory, my list shouldn't be doomed to the same fate just because it was attached, right?  As my daughters might say, “It’s not fair!”

So here’s the list.  Incidentally, all 5 of the songs that made my list began with the letter “B”.  This means nothing, as far as I know, but I figured I should point it out just in case anyone is thinking, “Why did he limit his choices to ‘b’ songs?”  That’s the thing: Completely unintentional.  Finally, this list could easily be 25 instead of 5.  But 5 is nice.

5.  “Back in Your Arms”:  Springsteen once said something nice about this sax solo, but for the life of me I can’t find the quote.  Just imagine something nice here, and attribute it to Springsteen.  Now imagine me concurring with it.  When I find it, I’ll stick it in here.  This is a different style than a lot of Bruce’s songs: I think it’s bluesy, but I may be confused about genres.  Either way, the sax brings you into the melancholy mood of the song, and being the final impression, it leaves you there.  Very pretty.

4.  “Born to Run”:  I never thought of the sax standing out so much in this song, so much as building along with the other instruments to the musical climax right before the third verse.  This feels more like a team effort, but the greatest team efforts wouldn’t be nothing without team players, and Clarence shows he can play nice with other people.

3.  “Badlands”:  This solo is pretty short and is wedged in between solos of others in the band.  Oddly though, I never really recognized this progression of solos until I re-listened to this song (for about the thousandth time) a few days ago.  I had always remembered the sax solo, but never really noticed the preceding and following solos.  The sax solo stood out—saxophones kind of do that—but on careful listen, I hear it as both a solo of its own, as well as a transition between the others.

2.  “Bobbie Jean”:  From melancholy to even melancholier, here’s the first Bruce song that made me cry.  And if you’re gonna cry, you may as well have a saxophone playing in the background, crying right along with you.  Clarence definitely lets it wail on this one.

1.  “Brothers Under the Bridges [‘83]”:  From what I’ve read, solos in general and saxophone solos in particular can, if not properly used, disrupt the flow of a song.  This might be a song that some people think suffers from that fate, as the sax solo is both abrupt and long.  To me, this solo is its own little microcosm of the entire narrative of the song, imbedded within the song itself.  It’s like someone giving a speech pausing to say, “Let’s recap where we’ve been and foreshadow where we’re going.”  But rather than doing it in a boring and redundant sort of way, Clarence’s solo here recaps and foreshadows with a different but complimentary voice to the song.  It’s almost like Clarence is saying, “This is how I see it, and I think you’ll agree it’s the same story just told a little differently.”  Meanwhile, he draws it out and builds it up, allowing the rest of the band to offer their perspectives as well, piggy-backing on his broad shoulders for support and credibility.

I can’t imagine seeing Bruce and the band without the Big Man.  Something very sweet ended with the passing of Clarence Clemons, but I am grateful for the chance to reflect on his powerful and wonderful contributions to the world of music and art.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My "You Give Love a Bad Name": "I Drifted Once"

I once heard Jon Bon Jovi say that he was fortunate to have written his signature title early in his career.  He was talking about "You Give Love a Bad Name," and he referred to it as his "Born to Run."  Now, he is a Springsteen fan.  I, it so happens, am a Bon Jovi fan.  So we're all friends here.  But I remember thinking a couple of things about his comment:

1)  Most artists who have a "Born to Run" in large measure NECESSARILY released it early in their career.  The literal "Born to Run" was on Springsteen's 3rd album.  Bon Jovi's figurative "Born to Run" was on their 3rd album.

This phenomenon of "early 'Born to Run' or no 'Born to Run' at all" (commonly referred to as "the EBTRONBTRAA principle" by music historians) makes sense: for an artist to have a "signature tune", they usually need to have a lengthy career; in order to have lengthy career, they usually need to make a splash early with a big hit.  If they don't have a lengthy career, they're just a flash-in-the-pan or a one-hit wonder; if they don't make a splash early with a big hit, they're probably not going to be around long enough to have a career worth defining.

Sometimes, a band might release a tune worthy of being their "Born to Run" later in their careers, but purists (snobs?) may gawk at the idea of considering the recent tune on par with the de facto "Born to Run" of said band.  For example, if Bon Jovi had written and released "Keep the Faith" on their 2nd or 3rd album, that may have been their "Born to Run".  In my humble opinion, that would actually make a better "Born to Run" for Bon Jovi than "You Give Love a Bad Name" does, but that might just be because I value musical distinctiveness and lyrical depth in a signature tune.

2)  Even taking into account the EBTRONBTRAA principle, I wasn't so sure that "You Give Love a Bad Name" WAS his "Born to Run."  I probably would have given that distinction to "Livin' on a Prayer."

3)  I wasn't so sure that Bon Jovi HAD a "Born to Run".  Which is OK.  KJax, you reading?  Don't be mad.  It's OK not to have a "Born to Run."  Not everyone does.

It also might be that there are tiers of signature songs.  Maybe only a handful of artists have a true signature tune that is recognized and agreed upon by fans and critics alike.

Since songs and poems are only kind of the same, an aspiring, unpublished poet-blogger can't rightly claim to have a "Born to Run" at all, especially since deciding something like that really isn't up to him anyway, but his legions of fans.  So, not having a "Born to Run", we'll call this selection "my 'You Give Love a Bad Name'", which I do fully soaking in the irony of even making THAT comparison.  I really am a fan of Bon Jovi, and he seems like a down-to-earth, sincere sort of dude.  And he likes Springsteen.  The title of this post is pretty much me being silly--if anyone knows Bon Jovi, please pass on my propensity for dry wit and self-deprecating humor.

Anyway, according to me, "I Drifted Once" is my signature poem.  Technically, it was my first real attempt at using rhythm and rhyme in the same poem.  Thematically, it was one of my first true post-conversion poems.  Taking intangibles into account, it felt truly inspired: I wrote the first 4 lines, then got stuck for about a year.  Then I suddenly revisited it, and wrote the rest in an evening, which is pretty unheard of for me.  And though it was very special to me, upon completing it, I immediately felt like I had not written it at all, except that it was my fingers typing the words.  I emphasize "immediately" because the strange separation I feel from it is not due to the passing of time.  Rather, I believed then as I do now that God had this poem and spun it through my spirit and experiences so that I may enjoy it as an affirmation from him, and steward it as a testimony TO him.

          I Drifted Once

I drifted towards the ethereal light, praying to be blinded
Or maybe catch some surreal sight, so I’d always be reminded
Of what it’s like to live and love, and feel that fire inside me
And only cry to the skies above for a caring hand to guide me
Through this rusted, haunted wasteland that tortures those who think.
I’d been gagging in this quicksand, choking, hoping that I’d sink
And slowly, surely, rot and die in this gutter’s cobblestone
That scraped and laughed and burned like lye on my soul that ached alone.
But the light, that night, firmly pulled me, with its fingers laced with fire
Passed this pyrite, to a gold sea, where waves reached to lift me higher
To an ever-present promised land, draped by this dying nation’s veil.
I rubbed my eyes with shaking hands and watched the focused truth prevail
Like a beacon, from a cloud of dust—its clear, bold light scorched my shell.
The freedom it flashed commanded trust, but my cynical brain couldn’t tell
If it was real—that silhouette—I crumbled beneath the choices.
No half-ways and no regrets, but I couldn’t sort the voices.
Which one was life, and which one death, and which one would erase my sins?
Then by grace I felt an angel’s breath, and then I died, and lived again.
Finally, the truth would suffice to burn out society’s lies.
It took a cross to smash my vice and a spike to open my eyes.
Now the days and months fade into years—and my broken chains dangle free.
And I still long to taste the tears I cried that night I chose to see

Thursday, June 9, 2011

That's What She Said

Back again.  We went out of town for each of the last 2 weekends.  In between that, the girls' school let out, our internet router stopped working, and a couple of posts that I started ended up going longer than I thought they would (doesn't sound like me, I know, but it's true).  Another landed in the "vault of purgatory": finished, but may or may not get published.

But, like I said, I'm back, and I think I'm on track for the next couple of months as we're flying into summer.  Without further ado...

As I explained here, my younger daughter recently turned down a starring role in "It's All in Your Head" due to shyness and stage fright (rumors of her getting fired from the project due to diva-like demands are completely untrue).

The problem with her turning down this role is that many of the posts here on WPFF have, it so happens, focused on my older daughter.  The role my younger daughter turned down was going to give her her first big blast of coverage on her daddy's blog.  So since then, I've been looking for chances to feature her in a post.  Today is the day for that post.

Through the years, the Hungry Preacher's Kid 2 has demonstrated a distinct perspective on life, vocalized through questions and insights.  I've compiled a few of these in "quote form."  I copied the style from a "quote of the day" calender I once had.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some.  If I remember one or two, I may just add them to this post.  If I think of a bunch, maybe I'll make another post out of them.  All in all, THPK2 makes us smile an awful lot, and I hope these few examples help you to see why.


“My sister gave me her grumples.”
-answering, with utmost sincerity, my question, “Why are you acting like this?”

“I think she’s on the breakfast table next to my gorilla.  So if you see gorilla, look next to him, and then you’ll see Uniqua.”
-answering my question, “Do you know where Uniqua is?”

“No.  I just have a headache.”
-answering my question, “Does your head still hurt?”

“God, thank you for these- What are these called again?  Rascals?”
-praying before dinner, trying to remember the word for “shortribs”

DAUGHTER 2:  “Why do some people sing songs of other people?”
ME:  “Sometimes if someone really likes someone else’s song, they’ll sing it because they like it.”
DAUGTHER 2:  “Is it like the girls that sing ‘Single Ladies’ even though it is really by the Chipettes?”

“Do dogs have to put on a special kind of tattoo if they want one, or do they just not wear them?”

with me trying to finish one quick email while DAUGTHER 2 is bouncing off the walls and really, really wanting some attention
ME:  "Sweetie, seriously, just give me like 2 minutes.”
DAUGTHER 2:  “OK.”  [pause]  “What does ‘seriously’ mean?”

This past year, on Mondays and Tuesdays, Mom took DAUGHTER 1 to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, leaving DAUGHTER 2 with me for the day.  Almost always, DAUGHTER 2 was out of bed by the time they left.  One day, DAUGHTER 2 woke up and got out of bed about 20 minutes after they left.  Then, about 3 hours later, she suddenly volunteered to me: “I wonder why my mommy and my sister are sleeping so late.”

with me driving our dog, Poozle, to the vet, and then planning on taking the girls shopping, we had this exchange:
DAUGHTER 1: What are we doing first?
ME: First we're going to drop Poozle off.
DAUGHTER 2: Is it because he stinks?

“I just want little gorilla.  That’s the only thing that will make me happy.”
-while crying, after being punished by losing her stuffed animal for the duration of her quiet time

DAUGHTER 2: (leaving the dentist office with me, pointing to a “NO FIREARMS ALLOWED” sign) “Daddy, what does that sign mean?”
ME:  “It means that they don’t want anyone to bring guns inside the building.”
DAUGHTER 2: “Is that because they don’t want someone to get shot in the teeth?”

“I want a song, but I don’t remember the name of it or how it goes.”
-when it was her turn to “pick a song” during a car ride

“This is Pablo.  He is best known for being a Backyardigan.”
-practicing her informational speech in the car before introducing her stuffed animal at school for show and tell

ME:  “After this game of Wii, I want you to eat your pizza.”
DAUGHTER 2:  “OK.”  [pause]  “Did you say you wanted me to get my boots on?”