Monday, September 6, 2010

Take a sad song

Did you check out the viral track of Justin Bieber's U Smile, slowed down 800%, that made the rounds of the intertubes last month?

I was skeptical at first. But ... dang ... it's actually ... beautiful? Beautiful in a melancholy way that struck me as something between whalesong and Sanskrit chants.

A recording I have of Indian music in this vein is Ravi Shankar's Chants of India, produced by the late George Harrison (as in The Beatles). Well, that train of musical thought led me to embed a video of Harrison's song, All Things Must Pass, from the 1970 album of the same title, in a post last week. I heard that track first when a cousin played it for me in his annex bedroom in Long Beach, California. The vinyl was newly minted then, and so was I.

Some months back I asked Are you a lyrics person? and came to the conclusion that I'm one. I'm also a melancholy music person (some would say I'm a melancholy person, period). I was wondering the other day if it had anything to do with how I was introduced to popular music.

That would have been back in 1968, maybe 1969, when a summer camp counselor in the wilds of the Wisconsin Dells had two (count 'em) 45s that he played over and over and over and over and over and over and over again into the summer heat. Just the A sides, he never even flipped them. The songs were a couple years old, but new to me ... at the time my folks were into Up With People and Herb Alpert and Beethoven. One of the 45s was Wild Thing, a Chip Taylor song covered by The Troggs. I felt a wave of incohate joy rise in me every single time I heard the song's opening guitar chords ring out across the dusty clearing between our cabins. I was a tweener, or maybe not even, my generation's equivalent to the kids who go nuts for Justin Bieber when he's not slowed down. I didn't think of Wild Thing as melancholy at the time. Listening to it now? Well, there's definitely a whiff of sad in Reg Presley's vocals.

Other melancholy favorites? There are so many ... Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr. Bojangles, which I came to know via The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's cover, though I sure like Dave Bromberg's too. Steven Stills' Find The Cost of Freedom from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Pretty much any track from Beck's Sea Change. The Grateful Dead's Black Peter.

The other 45 that summer in the Wisconsin Dells? Light My Fire, from The Doors: "Try now we can only lose / And our love become a funeral pyre." What? That's morbid? D'ya think???

Check out the slowed down Justin Bieber if you missed it. Spooky.









(Thanks to Kemal Yaylali for the photo of Albrecht Dürer's "Melancholia," via Flickr.)

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