The Monkees: “Daydream Believer” (The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, 1968)
So long to Davy Jones, who passed away today at 66. Jones was best known as a member of the Monkees, and the only one from Britain, which makes him the sole Monkee who could claim be both part of the British Invasion and part of the American reaction to it.
He wasn’t the best singer in the band—that was Mickey Dolenz—but he usually fronted the band when they toured, switching to drums when Dolenz came to the fore for a few lead vocals. “Daydream Believer” is pretty easily the best thing they recorded with Jones on lead vocals, and it will probably endure as a classic for a very long time. I have to be honest, I really tried to think of another song with him on lead to feature, but honestly, they all pale to this one, though I will say that I like a few of Jones’ more music hall-inspired songs from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.
The Monkees, and by extension Jones, deserve a lot of credit for the way they took control of a basically impossible situation, transforming themselves from a pre-fab band assembled for a TV show into an actually pretty great pop group that was in charge of its own destiny, even if that destiny was to break up and fade away. Also, their TV show was really odd, and stuffed with a kind of absurdist humor that American television rarely aims for.
One of the most interesting twists in Jones’ life to me is one that occurred before he was famous—he was on the same episode of The Ed Sullivan Show that featured the first US TV appearance by the Beatles, performing the role of the Artful Dodger in the Broadway cast of Oliver! It was seeing the reaction of the fans to the Beatles that prompted his lateral move from Broadway musicals to the TV pop musical that was the Monkees.
I dunno, he was a big star, but it seems like Jones never stopped being a decent, down-to-earth human being. More than the music he made, I think that’s the true measure of him.
With less time to devote to blogging, I need an easy topic generator to get me going , so here a new series: First Five on the Shuffle. I have a huge mp3 library, with a lot of tracks I’ve never heard or only played once (and maybe didn’t even hear them when I did), so refreshing the shuffle on iTunes almost always brings up stuff that’s still new to me. So I’m going to react to the first five things that come up when I hit refresh, whether I’ve heard them before or not. You can listen for yourself by following the link at the bottom of the post.
The Ex: “Sucked Out Chucked Out #8” (The Dignity of Labour, 1983)
I love the Ex, but I haven’t gotten round to listening to The Dignity of Labour, which has eight tracks, all with the same title. This is the last of them. It’s not the most bracing thing in their catalog by any means, but it has enough of their rhythmic insistence and pointed noise to work. Which I guess is a pun. Oops.
Hungarian Ensemble: “Rollin’ Rollin’” (Koncert A Marson, 1970)
I have an absolute ton of 50s and 60s rock and roll from outside the West; in this case, that means Hungary, which was on the other side of the Iron Curtain when this was recorded. Hungary had a much more vibrant recorded music industry and pop scene than a lot of its Warsaw Pact neighbors, which is not to say that there was a ton of innovation. There certainly isn’t on this track by one of the least creatively named rock groups ever, but it’s still a very enjoyable little record, splitting the difference between 50s rock and roll and 60s bubblegum with a tiny dash of 70s hard rock. Honestly, I was hoping it’d be a mis-titled cover of “Rawhide.”
Nicolas Sosa: “La Petenera Jarocha” (Harp Music, 1950)
At forty five seconds, this is a very brief demonstration of Mexican folk harp styles (and by harp, I mean the big, stand-up string instrument), but it’s quite lovely. The harp played a big role in a few Latin American folk styles (Venezuelan llanero music is sublime), which has always been interesting to me because the instrument is so unportable. You can’t exactly sling it over your shoulder and jump on your horse, you know? I don’t know anything about Nicolas Sosa, but I can tell you he played the harp wonderfully.
Lonnie Johnson: Jersey Belle Blues (my mp3 is from Jonathan Bogart's 100 Great 1930s Records For The New Depression, 1939)
This is a blues tune, and sort of a weird one at that—a piano and acoustic guitar are both used in the accompaniment, and there are parts of the song where they both play lead instead of trading licks. As for the Jersey Belle… well, that’s a type of cow, but you know this is a double entendre, because that’s what almost every 1930s blues song that wasn’t about murdering someone was. I can just imagine Johnson grinning into a big old microphone as he deadpans “she’s a mighty tough titty” as though he really is talking about a cow. He doesn’t really try very hard to mask the raunchiness anyway. The first verse remarks that his bedroom is lonely since his Jersey belle is gone, and if you took it as literally about a cow, well, that’d be a totally different kind of song, wouldn’t it?
Ache: “Cyclus 7 Introduction” (Pictures from Cyclus 7, 1976)
This is the opening track of what appears to be a concept album about… I think Cyclus 7 is supposed to be some sort of phase of man, like Aquarius? Ache was from Denmark, and this is fairly bland prog rock. The sudden tempo shift in the middle of the song is competently handled, but the rhythm section is too straight ahead with its plodding rock beats. I do like the waves of Leslie-soaked guitar that sweep across the stereo field during the slow bits, though. I dunno. Is it really necessary to start your concept album by explicitly stating that you’d like to sing to your audience about what you’re about to sing about? Probably not. The album also contains a track called “Outtroduction.”
Rachel’s: “Water From The Same Source” (Systems/Layers, 2003)
Today, I bought Cheez Whiz for my cat. As much as I never imagined I would do such a thing ten years ago when we adopted him, I can’t say I was surprised to find myself doing it. My dealings with animals, the ones I’ve adopted and the ones I’ve looked after at rescues and shelters, have led me to do plenty of things I never would have predicted for myself.
I never had pets growing up. It wasn’t until I was 23 and married that cats ever entered my life in any meaningful way, when my wife’s childhood cat, Abby, came to live with us, and we brought Jazz, the cat I bought the Cheez Whiz for, into the family a month or so later.
Abby lived 18 years. She was a brown tabby and embodied a lot of the things that people talk about when they talk about cats generally. She was aloof and could be surly, didn’t like to be picked up or bossed around, slept a lot… She picked favorite people, and for some reason I was one of them.
At the end of her life, Abby’s kidneys started to go bad on her, and I found myself in the guest bathroom, giving her subcutaneous fluid treatments. I gave her shots. I tried to get her to eat. On one of the worst days of my life, Labor Day, 2008, we rushed her to an emergency vet when she grew weak and disoriented, and we ended her life as painlessly as possible as her organs began to shut down.
Now Jazz is 16. He’s been getting by with one functioning kidney for two and a half years. He was 20 pounds when we brought him home, and now he’s eight and a half. We keep a veritable buffet of cat foods around, and he goes from one to the next, getting tired of each one quickly. I’ve been giving him pills for years to manage his blood pressure and settle his stomach (his newest pill, a sort of turbo booster for his colon, had to be specially made at a compounding pharmacy because no one manufactures it anymore), and I’ve experienced something I think a lot of parents experience at some point or another. He’s started to resent me.
There is always necessarily a gap between your knowledge and abilities and the knowledge and abilities of those in your care. Without the gap, they wouldn’t need your care. I know Jazz needs these pills to manage his health, but he doesn’t know that. He just knows that I’m shoving something down his throat that tastes bad. And sometimes when I come near him, he flicks his tongue like he’s nauseous, which is what he also does when anticipating his pills. He’s started to associate me with his pills, which hurts, because I know I’m giving him medicine to help him, and he’ll never understand that.
But I do it, and I make sure my wife doesn’t have to because I want him to have one person around the house he doesn’t associate with medication. Lately, his health has declined badly, and we’re in that awful zone pet owners inevitably inhabit where we begin to question how far and how hard we should push these creatures in our care, animals that have trusted us to do what’s best for them, even if they haven’t always understood why we do it. Jazz is the sweetest cat. He never bites or scratches. He loves belly rubs and laps, and in spite of everything, food, but I see his spirits waning and I feel terrible and a little helpless.
That’s what the Cheez Whiz is for. The plan is to coat all of his pills with it, to give him a good flavor for the brief trial he has to endure every day, to hide the bitter edge of benazapril and famotidine. I hope it works.
If it doesn’t, we’ll plug along as we have, doing our best, and at some point, we will have to weigh his quality of life and make the hard decisions. But not yet. He still has enough happiness in his life that I think the pills and vet visits are worth it. And a little resentment is a price I’m willing to pay for that.
Like, I’m sure, a lot of people, I first learned “Henry Lee” from the version by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey that appeared on Cave’s Murder Ballads LP. Aside from having one of my favorite videos (it’s uncomfortable, but so perfect for the song), it was dramatic, a sharp version of a very old song with a new, mostly wordless chorus that belied the hideous murder at the heart of the song.
"Henry Lee" has a long history. It came to the United States as the Scottish ballad "Young Hunting," a song that may actually have roots in Scandinavia, and while it fell out of the repertoire in its homeland, it established itself as one of the most played and most recorded murder ballads we have. Sometimes the title "Loving Henry" is used (there’s a related song called "Lowe Bonnie," too), but "Henry Lee" has become the standard most often used.
It’s a simple story, really. A woman is in love with Henry Lee, but he spurns her after leading her on, his own true love being far away in “that merry green land” (which could easily be Ireland or Scotland), so she stabs him to death, then enlists some local women to help throw him down a well and keep it a secret. Harvey and Cave list the murder weapon as a “little pen knife,” which is a mutation of the original “weapon knife” referenced in older versions, such as the defining recording made by Dick Justice for Harry Smith in 1929.
"Little pen knife" actually makes the crime seem more horrific. You’d have to really go at someone with a pen knife to kill them—the only reference point I have is Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
Shearwater’s version uses the pen knife, too, but puts a very different musical spin on the song from any other I’ve heard. Older versions done in traditional styles tend to be disconcertingly nonchalant about the brutality of the crime they describe, while Cave and Harvey seem almost to lose themselves in the visceral details. Jonathan Meiburg sings it in a disarmingly gentle way, as though it were a lullaby for the murdered man, easing him into his final rest.