INDY REC: Brian Fennell

One of my colleagues introduced me to the music of SYML in January of last year. By February we were watching him perform live as an opener for Dean Lewis. By May I owned his first album. By August I was watching him live again as he sold out LA’s historic Troubadour. Now a year later he is touring again opening for Dermot Kennedy. I’m looking forward hearing much more from SYML this year and in the years to come.

But who is SYML? SYML is Brian Fennell, a musician/singer who hales from the Pacific Northwest. Brian is personable with his audience sharing about his life journey and answering questions from his audiences. With Welsh heritage, he chose the professional name SYML, which is the Welsh word for “simple,” a word that sort of defines the simple clean lines of his melodious and layered music.

Fennell’s first flirtations with musical fame was with his band Barcelona. He and his Barcelona band mates formed in 2005. Releasing their first album in 2007. They formed their own music label before eventually signing with Universal Music in 2008 and parting ways with them in 2010. Their last release as a group was in 2016 (yet the group still boasts over 128,000 monthly listeners on Spotify). That same year, Fennell released his first SYML EP. Fennell has amassed quite a following with more than 4.3 million monthly listeners on Spotify, more than 89,000 followers on YouTube, and nearly 14,000 followers on SoundCloud.

“Cure” by Barcelona, one of the band’s singles from 2014.

Fennell’s most famous SYML song is arguable “Where’s My Love.” The song’s haunting video has over 50 million views on YouTube. It was probably the first of his songs that I found and fell in love with. His cover of “Mr. Sandman” is a fan favorite as well. But my favorite song of his is “Wildfire.” For some reason, this song in its multiple versions, speaks to me. By the time I received his first album in the mail in May (I pre-ordered it at the February show), “Wildfire” was on constant rotation on my playlist (and still is).

SYML “Wildfire”

In the past few months, Fennell has released a few new singles, “Take Me Apart” and “Flags,” a song he wrote about battling cancer. To promote his new music and to keep sharing his heartfelt body of work, he will start his 2020 touring as support for Dermot Kennedy this Friday, January 24th. Take a few minutes and check out his work.

Image borrowed from: https://www.nolala.com/en/family/what-are-the-lyrics-of-debut-album-syml-about-brian-fennell-explains-the-meaning-track-by-track/

Jules’s Jukebox: A Pair of Gerry Cinnamon Belters

Over the past year and half, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at newer artists and independent acts looking to break out. One of the things that stands out to me is just how thriving of a music scene the United Kingdom has. For a country with one fifth the population as the United States, the cultural influence of the UK is bar none. Many music acts are huge on the British Isles but not known at all in the US. The UK hosts many, many music festivals giving new acts a wide audience. One of those acts is Gerard Crosbie, better known as Gerry Cinnamon.

Thirty-five year old Gerry hails from Castlemilk, Scotland, and he performs acoustic blues. Many of his performances are just him and his guitar at a microphone. But his distinct accent and infectious energy have made him a huge festival fan favorite.

In 2015, he released the single “Kampfire Vampire” with B-side “Fickle McSelfish” before his sole album, Erratic Cinema, hit the airwaves in 2017. In 2019, he released a few new singles from his upcoming album,
The Bonny.

If you haven’t heard Gerry Cinnamon before, you should take a moment and give him a listen. The two songs for today’s Jukebox are “Belter”, probably his most well-known song, and “Sometimes”, the opening song to his Erratic Cinema album. Enjoy some Gerry Cinnamon:

“Belter”

“Sometimes”

Indy Rec: Mario Di Leva

I try to get out to see live music often, and I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a thriving independent music scene. Indy Rec is me sharing some of the great independent music acts that I encounter along the way.

One of my good friends (who is a bass player) introduced me to his son’s independent music projects. I’ve been avidly following his work for a while now. Mario Di Leva is a writer, producer, and musician who hales out of San Pedro, CA. The 25 year-old has grown up around music with his dad playing bass in a number of bands over the years. I have enjoyed watching Mario grow in this most difficult of industries.

Mario Di Leva. American Mile photo shoot. November 2019. Photo graciously borrowed from American Mile’s Instagram feed.

Di Leva’s first effort was 2017’s Greetings from Vinegar Hill. Vinegar Hill is a historic early suburb of San Pedro featuring houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The album artwork concept is a postcard from this historic area–as a tribute to Di Leva’s roots. All songs on the album were written, performed, produced, and mixed by Di Leva. He is joined by Haley Spence Brown on vocals, Ian Hubbell on drums, and Kyle Scherrer on guitar. His freshman effort is available for a listen on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and other music services under the name Vinegar Hill SP.

After the release of Greetings, Di Leva played as a bassist for hire with a number of local bands and moved on to a new project, Edgewater Angel. Di Leva teamed up with K-Lee Marie to pen the EP From Me to You, which was recorded in 2018. The project’s new single, “I’ll Be Around,” dropped in November 2019. The Edgwater Angel project features Di Leva’s foray into more complex song constructions, more recently integrating a string section. Di Leva describes Edgewater Angel as alt rock meets 90s grunge. Judge for yourself:

While working on his Edgewater Angel project, Di Leva has also played as bassist for hire with the independent band American Mile. American Mile started as three brothers plus two musicians. They were on the fast track having recorded original work already, but when the lead singer (Jacob) left the band to pursue a solo career, brother Eugene stepped into the front man role. The band has spent the past year rerecording their music and playing live shows at small, intimate, cozy venues like the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market to large, flashy venues like the Idaho Potato Drop New Year’s Eve show. To check out American Mile, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, you can check them out at their next gig on January 19th at the Viper Room.

American Mile playing Madame Siam’s in November 2019. Pictured is lead singer Eugene Rice and bassist Mario Di Leva. Photo by Julie Shankle via iPhone.

2020: Personal Politics–When I Do What I Criticize

2020: Personal Politics is a limited series blog that will focus on the 2020 election cycle and the issues that mold it–from the most local to the most global. The title comes from melding concepts together. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local” illustrating that a politician’s success lies in his/her/their understanding of constituent issues and service. It seems that we have moved farther away from that concept and more towards a national politic infecting the local, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it to be so. The blog name also pulls from Carol Hanisch’s feminist essay “The Personal Is Political” in which she argued that a person’s experiences (particularly that of women) can be traced to where they fall within power relationships.

Civility in politics. Civil civics. Words that seem so incongruous, especially in today’s often tribal and highly partisan politics. Over the past few years, I have striven to change how I expressed myself politically. I find the politics of personal destruction repugnant, but I do still find myself falling into it’s trap from time to time out of pure frustration. It’s like being lured to the dark side of the force. Yoda, in all his wisdom, once said that “fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” And I have never found these words to be more true than our current political climate–which permeates from the Oval Office all the way down to the school board dais.

As a leader in my local union, serving as an officer and representative to our state affiliate over the past 16 years, I meet regularly with members of our school board on a monthly basis–at least that is our goal as we have restarted the liaison program after two years of labor strife in our district. The strife came in the form of the district declaring impasses and imposing a contract rather than negotiate in good faith with us. We, in turn, elected a new majority to the board ousting three of the board members that voted to impose (the board voted unanimously 5-0 to move forward with imposition). We have spent the better part of the past year working to foster a relationship with our newly elected members while working to somewhat repair the remnants of any relationship with the remaining two (who have both declared that they are not seeking re-election). These liaison meetings have created an abundance of a-ha moments–understanding why they are doing what they are doing–but they have also provided much frustration and anger. And I’m sorry Yoda, I’ve had a hard time releasing my anger.

My first liaison meeting of the year, the board president referred to teachers as complainers, but meeting with them was part of his job. My second meeting of the year, with one of the newly elected members, he was 45 minutes late and spent the entire time arguing loudly with everything we said. It was so bad that we moved all future meetings to our office because we did not think his behavior toward our concerns was appropriate in a public venue (we usually pick local coffee shops or restaurants for our meetings). The next meeting, with the other two new board members (one silently listening, the other doing all the speaking) featured the board member who had been one of our members only a few short months before claiming that teachers’ chronic absenteeism was the cause of our district’s substitute teacher shortage (p.s. the shortage is in many districts–and it an actual shortage–and our district does nothing to incentivize subbing in our district as opposed to surrounding ones). Needless to say, our first round of meetings did not give us great hope for the second round.

My local’s board of directors took time to prepare for this first round of meetings–and we made appropriate changes in our process after the bargaining failures and disintegration of relations with them over the past couple of years. The changes include having written talking points that are shared with our membership and we are sharing out the school board members’ positions on each of the talking points. These are formal meetings with accountability for their positions to their stakeholders. This first round of meetings may have left a hole in our hopes, but we haven’t given up. We’ve instead made adjustments and reiterated our goals in the meetings. We know that we are doing what is necessary if we are to change the culture and build a different dynamic with our local board. It seemed that during the second round –which unearthed an entirely different set of frustrations–our intentions became clearer to the school board members.

In December, our liaisons were lucky enough to meet with all five school board members within a short expanse of two weeks. The frustrations that reared themselves this time had more to do with breakdowns in communication–school board members not responding to our emails or texts after repeated attempts and such. But we eventually resolved those issues and made it clear that as stakeholders and constituents, we expected to at least receive a reply. Even if it was an “I’ll get back to you.” Communication issues can be dealt with. Even a difference of opinion on the issues can be dealt with. What cannot be dealt with is a shutdown of communication and a dismissal of our issues. We believed we were teetering closely to the latter, but ultimately, we exited the year feeling slightly better. At this moment, we contend that it’s a split–we aren’t being shut out, but the school board members are negating what we claim to be issues that we would like to mutually work upon. This dismissal of our issues is all that we can report back to our members.

The one member of the school board that I feel I have been hypocritical towards is the outgoing president. He is a jovial, even likable guy. He’s a product of our schools, as are his children. He has this blustery personality and always makes off-color jokes at the wrong moment–which has led me to cringe on multiple occasions. But he is one of those Teflon types that somehow gets by with saying stuff I’d be roundly thrashed for saying. My biggest worries with him though is that he is driving a behind-the-scenes process on the sale/lease of school lands in a less than transparent fashion–and that he may need to recuse himself for business reasons– and that he prefaces all of his statements that this is his last year in office–as if it excuses him from doing the work that people elected him to do.

I have met personally with him twice since the start of the school year. At the first meeting, he called us complainers. At the second, he said that school board unity meant more than anything else to the district–and that he would support things he didn’t like if it meant the board of education was united. I informed him that I felt that was abdicating his duty to thoughtfully review and act on issues regardless of whether he was in the majority or the minority. We kept both meetings civil. Heck, our meetings are all about maintaining civility in the politics, even the most local of politics, so that “we the people” are engaged in the civic process. But in my report to my members, my frustration with his public guffaws and his continued writing off of our issues to preserve board unity, I fell into the dark side trap. I ventured, for a brief moment, down the dark path of tribal incivility by calling him a name publicly to my colleagues.

Afterwards, in a reflective moment, I thought how to better my actions moving forward. I thought that I needed to rise above the decade of frustrations in working with this school board member–the layoffs and furlough days that started our decade working together, the failure at the table and imposition, all the way to the clusterf*** of the sale/lease of district lands at the end of the decade. I can and should do better. Not just because I strive to be a better person everyday, but because if not I, then who will return civility to politics? It is incumbent upon all of us to consider and to reconsider before we act civically.

So one of my new year’s resolutions will be to restore civility to my local civic activities in every way that I can–to call out incivility when I see it, to not stand by or acquiesce when I see a wrong, to block or avoid online sources of tribalism that promote further dysfunction in our system. Too much is at stake, from the smallest of elected positions all the way to the top seat in the White House. I need to not do what I dislike and criticize
in others.

Jules’s Jukebox: What a Life!

As we barrel into 2020 full steam ahead, I picked two songs with “life” in the title…a bit of a theme about what life/love is as we live on in this new decade.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “AKA…What a Life” from 2011’s Self-titled album

“Keep on chasing down that rainbow
You’ll never know what you might find
Over the sunset on the horizon
It may be a dream but it tastes like poison
I’m going to take that tiger outside for a ride

This video is interesting and embodies the choices we make in life…”fear, the anesthetic of bravery.” Russell Brand (one of Gallagher’s personal friends) is priceless.

Fun Fact: The video is the third of three video story line with the songs “If I Had a Gun” and “The Death of You and Me.” Another fun fact: Noel Gallagher does not drive. In the years after this video, he did take driving lessons at the insistence of his wife, but he has never passed the
driving exam.

George Harrison “What Is Life” from 1970’s All Things Must Pass

“What I feel, I can’t say
But my love is there for you any time of day
But if it’s not love that you need
Then I’ll try my best to make everything succeed”

George Harrison was my original favorite Beatle. And I have long been in love with his soulful All Things Must Pass triple album–his first post-Beatles work and the first triple album of all original material. He set the gold standard of how to move forward in life, even after a break-up or hardship.

2019–A Reflection on Anno Mutatio

This past year has given me time to pause on many occasions–to pause and reflect, to pause and consider a different path, to pause and savor, to pause and smile…2019 has been a year of change after 2018 ranking in the annals of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.

2018 started with my work life in high stress mode–a teacher union leader under attack from the district working to impose rather than negotiate in good faith and undercut from a faction of my own board. It ended in much the same way, but I had turned a corner after the district imposed–and our teachers worked diligently to overturn the majority on the board of education. The month of November 2018 brought so much hope after a year of stress, stress, and more stress. Nationally it was a blue wave. Locally we overturned the board of education. And within the union, the undercutting faction fell apart. December opened the door to a time to rebuild. So that’s marked 2019 as a year of change.

My year of change hinged on much more than my work life though. My son graduated from college in May. We toured the United Kingdom in July. I traveled to spend time with family and friends. I changed my teaching assignment. I reconnected with my uncle. I saw a lot of great live music. I rescued a pair of the cutest black cats ever. Indeed, it has been a full year. It has been a full year of reconnecting with myself, moving toward change and embracing it. I look to 2020 to be full of even more change and promise.

Some of my year’s highlights:

My union colleagues and I gathered supplies for the striking teachers of LAUSD, a neighboring district. Red for Ed became a permanent part of our lives. So I wear red on Wednesdays and our TTA Blue on Thursdays. It’s almost like having a uniform–as Tuesday is college apparel day and Friday is school spirit day. Mondays are the only days I wear whatever I can cobble together.
My chicas and I participated in the local Women’s March. It was my third time participating, but my first time marching locally. The first year, we marched in Las Vegas. The second year, we were in downtown Los Angeles. It was nice to march with over 1,500 of our local women’s issues advocates. I look forward to participating again on January 18, 2020 for #womenrising2020.
I have had the luck to see Warbly Jets (one of my favorite live bands) multiple times in 2019. Samuel Shea, lead singer, is pictured above. I hope to see them again in 2020 along with many other bands. I’ve absolutely loved getting into local LA independent music in 2019. I’ve seen so many great bands, like The American Mile, Hembree, and Bloxx. But the Warbly Jets remain my most seen band. The year started with their song “Alive” being my favorite and ended with “Propoganda” from their new EP being my favorite.
I had the distinct pleasure of welcoming Zoey to the family. My brother and sister-in-law rescued this sweet little girl in January 2019. She loves squeak toys and kisses. And Auntie loves hanging out with her exuberance and energy.
February brought more live music–but of the more classic rock variety. We had a great time with Elton John on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Sir Elton was not my first choice, but I’m glad I went. The company was great, and the performer certainly knew how to put on a show. And I got to hear “Crocodile Rock” live. So mission accomplished.
February was a huge month for my live music excursions. A colleague and I joined about 1,500 much younger girls when we went to see SYML (aka Brian Fennell) and Dean Lewis at the El Rey Theater. I fell in love with music from both of these budding music artists. I was so impressed with both of them that I went to see both of them again later in the year–SYML in August at The Troubadour and Dean Lewis in October at The Wiltern. They were both super nice and accessible–and on the verge of something so much huger than these small venues. My favorite SYML song is “Wildfire“, which I was lucky enough to hear in both shows. He has a couple of alternate versions of the song as well. And I love all of them. Dean Lewis actually asked me my favorite of his songs when I was lucky enough to be part of a meet and greet at his October show. He performed my favorite at both shows as well: “Half a Man.”
My baby boy is all grown up now! What a banner year for him–turning 21 and graduating from college all in the span of about three weeks. I’m lucky that he will still travel with me. He’s a great travel companion, and I’m lucky that he will share these milestones with me.
Celebrating education with members of our union board felt so much better than the strain of the previous year. We were all smiles and enjoying each other’s company while representing our local at the annual Education Foundation dinner.
My son is officially a graduate from university! While he still lives at home for the short time being, I’m thrilled with his success and achievements. I hope that 2020 brings many more milestones and successes for him.
Part of the change in 2019 is that I branched out into different social media outlets–yes, I played with SnapChat filters, laughed at Tik Tok videos, and chatted on Instagram. But I still frequent Twitter and Facebook–though I have had to address my own growing discomfort with their policies and moderation of their platforms. Overall, I do not look to these platforms as my only source of news. I actually subscribes to three major newspapers and two magazines this year to counter balance the misinformation that proliferates on social media. I also strongly recommend selecting social media posts with care. I used to post “Provocative Posts” on Facebook. That was my code speak that it was a political hot topic and that I wanted people to offer dialogue to stretch and explore the topics. I have given up posting much political matter and stuck mostly to education and unionism as my topics of choice, particularly on Facebook. On Twitter, I typically retweet rather than tweet. I’m expecting a bit of a change again as 2020 is a full blown election year–everything from school board to president being on the ballot. I’m thinking my political posts will come through a new blog. That is my goal for 2020–writing a new consistent blog. And restarting my Jukebox blog.
After we lost our Bagheera in 2017, we just didn’t have the heart to adopt another kitty for such a long time. But 2019 brought a change of heart. My son and I started frequenting the local shelter homepage and in June we pulled the trigger. Crash and Shadow are our D-Day Rescue Kitties (yes, I picked them up on June 6th, D-Day). Black cats are often the last picked at shelters. But we were lucky. We found two who get along, are curious, spunky, and full of all kinds of personality. Crash is the curious, clumsy boy. Shadow follows us like he’s our shadow. And even though they aren’t litter mates, they love each other, play together, and lead each other into trouble. I often wonder if they didn’t really rescue us instead of the other way around.
Some things change. Some things stay the same. Pembroke Castle is still a beautiful place to visit. And my son and I still are in love with the United Kingdom. Some of the changes we noticed though–a lot of talk about Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, a lot of headlines and questions from locals about private healthcare versus public. Some of the things that I still love about the UK: public transportation (we easily got everywhere we needed via tube, train, bus, or foot), the Tesco/Co-op £3 lunch deal (which we bought almost daily–I wish we had that here in the US), the interesting people (we met some nice folks in everyone of our stops, but I highly recommend staying with Guy and Kate at Number 27 Bed and Breakfast if you visit Glastonbury), and their love and preservation of their history (Portchester Castle in Portsmouth was a pleasant surprise and is an English Heritage site).
More live music…when my uncle came to visit at the end of October/beginning of November, we checked one of his bucket list items–to see Gary Numan live. And boy did we. We were front and center at night one of the Substance Festival in which Numan was the headline act. Even though Numan has been making music since the late 70s, I am a recent convert to his music thanks to my uncle. While most people know his song “Cars“, I fell in love with his song “My Name Is Ruin” from his 2018 album Savage (Songs from a Broken World). I highly recommend giving Numan a listen, especially if you are open to exploring old school EBM (electronic body music). Another pleasant surprise from the evening was the duo Xeno and Oaklander. I was transported back to the 80s listening to songs like “Sheen.”
A few weeks later, my brother and I traveled back to our hometown to spend time with our family. We were able to meet up with my uncle again. We joined a cousin that we hadn’t seen in decades. It was a nice change to visit with my brother as we had not visited home together since my son was a toddler. While I’ve always believed in family, 2019 brought about some reconnections and some real reflection on how to take the func out of dysfunction. I can only hope that 2020 will strengthen the ties that bind our family.
While I’m borrowing this image from a person I follow on Twitter, the snow capped mountains speak to one of the more memorable events of 2019. My son and I spent Thanksgiving week in Las Vegas this year. We wanted a change, to try something new. And all went smoothly until we were trapped at the top of the Cajon Pass for 12 hours straight sitting in our car waiting through a snow storm that had made the pass unpassable. We’ve had quite the winter so far with a couple of big storms shutting down all the mountain passes into and out of the Los Angeles basin. But the beaches have remained beautiful and clear. I’ve enjoyed walking at the beach the past few days with pristine views of Catalina Island and the Santa Monica Mountains. Despite the people on top of people out here in SoCal, sometimes the views are just amazing. I’m thankful I’m hanging enough financial to continue to live in such a beautiful place. Another of my goals in 2020 is to spend more time at the beaches that I spend so much to live near.

So 2019 has been filled with to the brim, and I look forward to a new decade and year to fill equally so. Happy New Year! Have a prosperous 2020!

Jules’s Jukebox: Out with the old…

As 2018 slides away and we welcome the exciting possibilities that the dawn of 2019 brings, here’s one last jukebox for the year–and a resolution to post with more regularity in the new year.

Tonight’s theme cannot be anything but a nod to the closing of one door and the opening of another. And no, you won’t find “Auld Lang Syne” here. These songs are looking forward and not backward–looking for an upbeat perspective at the prospects of our new year. The world might serve us some hard luck from time to time, but the new year is a time of reflection, yes. But more so, it is a time to find hope in upping the game and finding that new way to move forward.

“Hello Goodbye” by The Beatles, the backside to 1967’s “I Am the Walrus” and later on the Magical Mystery Tour album.

“Hello, You Beautiful Thing” by Jason Mraz from 2014’s Yes!

“And I know, I know, it’s going to be a good day

Hello, hello, you beautiful thing…”

“Hello” by Oasis from 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

“We live in the shadows and we

Had the chance and threw it away

And it’s never going to be the same

‘Cause the years are falling by like the rain

It’s never gonna be the same

‘Til the life I knew comes to my house and says

Hello, hello (it’s good to be back)…”


Happy New Year!

Jules’s Jukebox: Making It Count

Note: For a number of years now I’ve seen the 30 Day Music Challenges that proliferate in meme-heavy platforms. So I decided to tackle one of these challenge lists.

Day Two of the list I chose says to pick a song with a number in the title. So being unable to pick just one song–I’ve selected two just to get my jukebox quarter’s worth.

“Twentyfourseven” by Kasabian from 2017’s For Crying Out Loud

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing this song live on the front row. I love Kasabian. They have such raw energy and power and fist pumping, mosh pit jumping songs. This song is no exception. Kasabian have spent this year touring festivals, but I long for them to return stateside. I can hardly wait to see them again. Tom and Serge and the guys sure know how to put on a great show–and the driving beats of their songs are perfect for the jumping and swaying festival crowds.

IMG_6098

Tom Meighan, lead singer of Kasabian, belts it out at the Wiltern, Los Angeles. September 2017. (Personal photo by J. Shankle)IMG_6127

Serge Pizzorno takes the mic for a moment during Kasabian’s Wiltern show, September 2017. (Personal Photo by J. Shankle)

“Not Nineteen Forever” by The Courteeners from 2008’s St. Jude

 

This song is The Courteener’s “Wonderwall” in that if anyone knows a song by them, it is this one. I enjoy this song quite often when I’m walking at the beach, along with “Fallowfield Hillbilly.”

The Courteeners are planning a tour this winter in their homeland, the UK. Sometimes I wish I was a Brit.

I can only hope I get to see The Courteeners at some point–but either way, I listen to both of these songs on a regular basis.

 

Jules’s Jukebox: Dog Days of Summer

Note: For a number of years now I’ve seen the 30 Day Music Challenges that proliferate in meme-heavy platforms. So I decided to tackle one of these challenge lists. Day Three of the list I chose says to pick a song that reminds me of summertime.

For this challenge, I’ve selected a pair of songs that may or may not have been released in summer, but they remind me of summer because of my associations and experiences. I’ve selected two songs that take me back to the summer between my junior and senior year of high school when my bestie and I swam at the local municipal pool every day. We were on a first name basis with all of the lifeguards–a few of whom I am still in contact today. These two songs are not necessarily favorites of mine, but they connect me to a time and place that is special to me at the swimming pool in those carefree summer days!

“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” by Sting from 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtle

“Voices” by Russ Ballard from his 1984 self-titled album Russ Ballard

 

Jules’s Jukebox: Songs Wear Black Well

For a number of years now I’ve seen the 30 Day Music Challenges that proliferate in meme-heavy platforms. So I decided to tackle one of these challenge lists. Day One of the list I chose says to pick a song with a color in the title. Instead of one song, I pick one color and the plethora of songs about this color that have played a role in the soundtrack of my life.

The color: Black.

Black is not even my favorite color. I happen to love blues and greens–hues of forests and seas. But black is symbolic of mystery and power, protection and evil, strength and aggression, authority and rebellion, formality and elegance, fear and grief. Black is multifaceted–just as it is comprised of multiple colors, darkness, the absence of light. So I chose four songs that stand out to me for their use of this versatile color and its symbolic meanings. There are so many songs (though this website tries), but these four black songs stand out to me.

The Songs: “Blackbird” by The Beatles, “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones, “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and  “Black” by Pearl Jam.

“Blackbird” by The Beatles from 1968’s The Beatles (aka The White Album)

“Blackbird” was not a favorite Beatles song of mine while I was growing up. I was more the “Yellow Submarine” or “Golden Slumbers” type in my youth. But when I took my son to his first stadium concert to see Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium, Macca just blew me away with his performance of this song. It was a truly magical moment that forced me to take a second look at a song that I often overlooked.

Over the years, McCartney has put forward a couple of stories about how he was inspired to write the song, but one recurring story he’s told is that the song was born out of the racial tensions flaring in the United States at the time with the blackbird in the song title  being a black girl (bird is UK slang for girl so blackbird would be black girl). Ultimately, it is a song about finding the light of hope out of the darkness. It reminds me of Alinsky’s quote that the night is always darkest right before the dawn. I may be broken, with sunken eyes and broken wings and still find the light and the ability to rise. What an amazing song (and one that isn’t easy to play either, supposedly based on a piece by Bach–McCartney himself claimed at that Dodger Stadium show that many play the song incorrectly when they attempt it)!

“Blackbird” by The Beatles (Written by Lennon/McCartney)
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
“Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones from 1966’s Aftermath

“Paint It Black” was a classic rock radio favorite when I was growing up, but this song about the depression and grief that paints the world black in the immediate aftermath of an unexpected death of a loved one became indelibly connected to the Vietnam War for me when the song was featured in the credits of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 anti-war masterpiece Full Metal Jacket. The song has since been used in connection with other Vietnam themed video games, TV Shows, and films. The song is also groundbreaking in that it was the first number one song featuring a sitar–following a cue from The Beatles and exploring Eastern sounds. I have long loved this song as it acknowledges the basic human process of grieving and how debilitating it can be–that we all want everything to be black when our world’s light is darkened. But lyrics aside, the driving beat of the song is hypnotic and relentlessly pushes forward like the overwhelming black feelings of grief.

“Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones (Written by Jagger/Richards)

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby it just happens ev’ryday

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and I must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I want to see your face painted black, black as night, black as coal
Don’t want to see the sun, flying high in the sky
I want to see it painted, painted, painted, painted black, yea

“Back in Black” by AC/DC from the 1980 album Back in Black

This classic album and its titular song proved to be a vehicle providing a seamless transition for the band after losing singer Bon Scott in February of 1980 only to have Brian Johnson step in and own the helm by recording with the band and releasing this album within four months of Scott’s death. The black cover of the album was an homage to the fallen singer. This song’s hard rocking, fist pumping edge was more than a radio favorite. The song speaks of coming back from the beyond (a nod to Scott?), surviving against the odds, relishing every second as if it is your last. What makes this song so enduring is its message of overcoming losing in life by pushing forward at full speed–running wild with the rock n’ roll lifestyle. And hearing it live during Johnson’s last tour with the band was amazing. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to expose my son to these classic rockers. And even more lucky for me, my son loves going to see these “vintage” bands with me. Because who can resist a 60-year-old in a schoolboy uniform rolling around on stage while blistering the strings of his guitar. Pure poetry!

Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I’ve been looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse ’cause I never die
I got nine lives
Cat’s eyes
Abusin’ every one of them and running wild
‘Cause I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
Well, I’m back in black
Yes, I’m back in black
Back in the back
Of a Cadillac
Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack
Yes, I’m in a bang
With a gang
They’ve got to catch me if they want me to hang
‘Cause I’m back on the track
And I’m beatin’ the flack
Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap
So look at me now
I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way
‘Cause I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
Well, I’m back in black
Yes, I’m back in black
Well, I’m back, yes I’m back
Well, I’m back, yes I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
Well I’m back in black
Yes I’m back in black
Ho yeah
Oh yeah
Yes I am
Oh yeah, yeah oh yeah
Back in now
Well I’m back, I’m back
Back, (I’m back)
Back, (I’m back)
Back, (I’m back)
Back, (I’m back)
Back
Back in black
Yes I’m back in black
Out of the sight
“Black” by Pearl Jam from the 1991 album Ten
When it comes to defining the early 90’s, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden dominated the grunge scene. I was never a huge fan of grunge, but I did have a handful of songs from some of the bands that I liked. Pearl Jam was the one grunge band that I did like though. These bands were some of the last bands that had distinct styles. When a Pearl Jam song came on the radio, it was easily identifiable as Pearl Jam even if I had never heard the song. Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Stayley, Scott Weiland–they all had singular voices and styles. Of this group, Vedder is the last man standing. I love Vedder’s solo efforts as much as his PJ work.  “Black” has been in heavy rotation on my beach walk playlist for a number of years now. This song about grieving the loss of a relationship–about how losing this lover has zapped all the color from the canvas, has stolen all the shape from the pottery, has shattered all the light in his world. It is a song that reminds me of my generation, Generation X, and our sense of feeling lost in this world, like we have never fit in. This song is haunting and beautiful and dark and lost in a searing grief all at the same time.
“Black” by Pearl Jam (Written by Gossard/Vedder)
Hey, oh
Sheets of empty canvas
Untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me
As her body once did
All five horizons
Revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed
Has taken a turn
Oh and all I taught her was everything
Oh I know she gave me all that she wore
And now my bitter hands
Chafe beneath the clouds
Of what was everything
Oh the pictures have
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
I take a walk outside
I’m surrounded by
Some kids at play
I can feel their laughter
So why do I sear
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head
I’m spinning
Oh, I’m spinning
How quick the sun can, drop away
And now my bitter hands
Cradle broken glass
Of what was everything
All the pictures had
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
All the love gone bad
Turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see
All that I am
All I’ll be
Yeah
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why
Why
Why can’t it be
Why can’t it be mine