Tuesday, August 19

Cover songs.

Yesterday i took a bike ride, further exploring a bike path found fairly recently. Along the way, i listened to the new Cat Power album, Jukebox. It's completely comprised of cover songs, which of course makes my heart leap.
What is it with me and covers? More than one friend has remarked on this phenomenon: "gosh, heather, you sure do like covers!" and i always just kinda thought, "huh. i guess so." But recently it's begun to dawn on me that i truly do appreciate the homage, the way you can take a song that means so much to you, absorb it and make it your own, then give it back. Granted, there are a lot of truly horrible covers, such as The Gourds' sloppy, laughable version of Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", or Cake's yawn-inducing tribute to that most self-affirming anthem, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor.
Nat and i have had a few discussions about cover songs, and about what makes them "good" or not. He ascribes success to the ability of the covering artist to bring something new to the song, not just play it exactly chord for chord the way it was originally sung. For some reason i was skeptical of this view, but mainly because i didn't have my own to come back with. Now i think Nat was right, but there is more to it than that. You also have to be able to make it sound good.
Of course, there will always be aesthetic differences from listener to listener. When i heard a San Diego radio DJ talk loads of trash about Van Morrison/Them's cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan, i nearly cried. That may have been the cover song that started it all off for me.
I was working at a great corner flower shop in Berkeley in my early twenties, with a girl named J__ who was probably the hippest, coolest girl in town. She was easily beautiful, and casually well-dressed in vintage jeans and boots, with a strong affinity for "older" music: Bob Dylan, Jonathan Richman, Edith Piaf, Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, etc.
One afternoon i was walking back toward the shop with an armload of roses, distracted in wonder at the long golden rays of setting summer sunlight. Life was good. Nearing the stand, i heard the opening strains of something captivating... i thought it was the most beautiful thing i had ever heard, at that moment. The song came on in full, and i was haunted and mesmerized by the weighty, yet ghostly song. Years later i found out it was actually written by Bob Dylan first, and when i heard the original i nearly laughed out loud in amazement. It was terrible! i couldn't believe the difference, honestly. (Similarly, Bobby D's "Mr. Tambourine Man" makes me want to cover my ears and run for the hills.)

Anywho, even if you're not a fan of Cat Power, Chan Marshall sure knows how to cover a song. But maybe that's just me; i'm a huge sucker for sadness in music, and she can hit the minor chords like nobody's business. I loved The Covers Record, which introduced me to some great, great songs (like Bowie's "Wild is the Wind"), as well as reinventing ones i'd already heard into her own sweet, melancholy ballads: "Sea of Love", "I Found A Reason", "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".
The echo-y, faraway mixing of the vocals on Jukebox was a little strange at first, but i quickly paid it no heed. i remember putting the CD in the stereo and going to wash the dishes; the first song began to play and i thought "wow, this is nice." A few songs later, Nat made me come sit next to him on the couch for a second because, in his words, "this music is romantic.."
Later, on my bike ride, i realized that the very first lyric is, "Start spreadin' the news...", and i just about fell off my bike. "New York"!?? Are you kidding me? The ultra-jazzy, Sinatra standard i've heard and despised all these years? Wow. Okay, sure. What a difference some soul makes. Hearing Chan breathe the phrase "vagabond shoes" is delightful indeed.
Unfortunately, you can't improve on Janis Joplin, i don't think. Chan's version of "A Woman Left Lonely" leaves a lot to be desired, in my humble opinion... (see earlier remark regarding "soul").

Good grief! i promised last time i would make an effort, didn't i? To keep these posts short(er) and sweet(er)? Dang. Well, as long as that's out the window, here's a list of some of my all-time fave covers, besides the ones already mentioned:
~"Fall in Love With Me" (written by Bowie, performed by Iggy, covered by Guy Chadwick); a much dreamier take on the original.
~"Starman" (Bowie, covered by Culture Club); this is super fun, sorry.
~"The Gospel According to Tony Day" (Bowie, covered by Edwyn Collins); rockin'! Part of the greatness of this one, actually, is how much he sounds like Bowie.
~"Panic In Detroit" (Bowie, covered by Christian Death); a helluva song- somehow intense and light-hearted all at once!
(The previous four songs are all from Starman: A Tribute to David Bowie, which my sis got for free somewhere and gave to me without even listening to once. Sucker!)
~"Empire State Human" (Human League, covered by Optiganally Yours); oh my, this song is fun for listening to on the bus with your best friend and acting like a fast-paced, malfunctioning robot...
~"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (Beatles, covered by Pearl Jam); awww!
~"Fuckin' Up" (Neil Young, covered by Pearl Jam, live); oh, my, god. Something about this song makes me want to mosh, or break glass, or scream and have a fit, or run headfirst into the crashing ocean waves at night. i love it.
~"Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen, covered by Jeff Buckley); when this comes on the radio, we always say "oh shit- are you ready to cry?"
~"Can't Help Falling In Love" (Elvis, covered by Lick The Tins); so cute! Mostly, i think i like this version because of the pipe playing and the fact that it's the closing credit song for the movie Some Kind of Wonderful.
~"Mad World" (Tears For Fears, covered by Gary Jules); thanks a lot, Donnie Darko.
~"Perfidia" (Alberto Domínguez, arranged by Xavier Cugat); this sultry instrumental was in "2046" by Wong Kar-Wai, and it's one of the loveliest pieces of music on earth.
~"Sinnerman" (American traditional, Nina Simone rendition); simply gives me the chills.
~"Superstar" (The Carpenters, covered by Sonic Youth); kinda like falling slowly, softly, through the clouds and stars.
~"Money Changes Everything" (The Brains, covered by Cyndi Lauper); great for singing along.
~"When You Were Mine" (Prince, covered by Cyndi Lauper); Cyndi strikes again.
~"Close To You" (written by Burt Bacharach, covered by Ethyl Meatplow); Nat introduced me to this hilariousness. He had no idea there even was an original (i mean the Carpenters' version)! Needless to say, we were both surprised and shocked to hear the two sides of this song.
~"Do You Want To Touch Me" (Gary Glitter, covered by Joan Jett); oh, the awesomeness that is JJ. (Too bad about GG, though- ugh. :/)
~"I Die:You Die" (Gary Numan, covered by The Magnetic Fields); this is one of my absolute favorite Magnetic Fields songs... it is near perfect, i think. So glad i found it.
~"Bill Bailey" (written by Hughie Cannon as "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" and performed by many, covered by Gun Club); another near perfect song. When i am riding my bike, and this song comes on the iPod, i am happy as can be, and riding fast.
~"John Hardy" (American Traditional, sung by Lead Belly); toe-tapping. Good for driving through the Nevada desert.
~"Man Next Door" (John Holt/Horace Andy, covered by Massive Attack); along with "Spying Glass", also a Horace Andy song, these were my first (and best!) introductions to Massive Attack.
~"Lake of Fire", "Plateau", "Oh Me" (Meat Puppets, covered by Nirvana); so, these were my three fave cuts from the Nirvana: Unplugged album. i was sad to realize that they were not original songs, but glad to find out about the Meat Puppets nonetheless. Great tracks.
~"Highway '61 Revisited" (Bob Dylan, covered by PJ Harvey); killer!! Makes you feel like she is right next to you, singing it into your face.

honorable mention/the rest of the bunch, shortened just for you: "Nothing Compares 2 U" (Sinead O'Connor version, originally by Prince), "Hazy Shade of Winter", by the Bangles (orig. Simon & Garfunkel), "Moonshiner", by Cat Power (traditional/Bob Dylan), "Ever Fallen in Love" (FYC, orig. Buzzcocks), "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" (another Simon & Garfunkel, covered by Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple), "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam" (The Vaselines, covered by Nirvana), "Da Da Da" (Elastica, originally by the German band Trio), Siouxsie and the Banshees' cover of "Strange Fruit", most famously sung by Billie Holiday (actually, that whole album, Through the Looking Glass, is pretty damned stellar), "Que Sera Sera", the Sly Stone version, famously sung by Doris Day, Social Distortion's strong version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)", and Brian Eno's "Baby's on Fire", sung by (gasp!) eye-candy actor Jonathan Rhys Myers for the awesome movie Velvet Goldmine.

Whew! We made it.
Tune in next time, folks! But i'd understand if you've had enough. Please leave recommendations for more cover songs; i know i'm leaving some out. But in the interest of time and space, THE END.

In Retrospect:

*Saw Lynda Barry at Comic-Con. Had her sign her new book; when she was through, birds were singing and hearts were shot through with arrows on the page. She is such the sweet thing.
*Also: sat through the second half of a presentation about Japanese Bat Man comics from the 60s. Never thought i would see something like that, and it was highly enjoyable. It helps when the person speaking has unbridled enthusiasm ;)
*Ran into a friend, which is always nice; saw some amazing custom wood Ouija boards; purchased a lovely print of a raven/clock thingamabob; ate some crappy soft pretzels. Oh! And had ketchup squirted all over us as we sat on the floor leafing through the day's schedule- turned out that someone had dropped a packet, and a passerby stepped on it, unknowingly causing major trauma for Nat and i. It was almost like Carrie. (Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.)
*And finally, we got to see the first 20 minutes of Bill Plympton's new feature-length animated film, Idiots and Angels. Wow. It was really something... the fact that Tom Waits collaborated with the music didn't hurt, either! Can't wait to see the whole thing. His short Hot Dog was hilarious, as well, one of the high points of my Comic-Con experience.

*I left for Las Vegas the next day by train/bus, to help my mom work her table at an arts & crafts show. Not as much foot traffic as we'd all hoped, but we got to iron out a lot of kinks in the whole process, and met some truly great people. This is good for my mom, as she needs to make some contacts if she wants to get ahead with her business... I think a lot of people just weren't ready for her type of stuff. Most of the booths consisted of homemade candles, or knitting, or jewelry, and of course the requisite painted boards with sweetie-pie slogans like "Sisters: friends for life" and "Simplify". Not quite my ball of wax, but different strokes for different folks. I don't think people understood that my mom makes everything by hand, not just orders them online or something. So frustrating!
There was a freak lightning/thunderstorm early on Saturday morning that just made my day, though... the rest of the weekend the sky was filled with the most unbelievably stunning cumulus clouds. Beautiful.

*Got to see Io passing over the face of Jupiter, just after going to my very first planetarium show. For all who've never been to one of those: i highly recommend it. What a way to ground yourself, yet open up to the majesty and vastness of the universe all at the same time. Whew.

*The other day we were waiting at the bus stop to head over to Balboa Park. A young Italian tourist couple was sitting next to me, and the girl took one look at my legs and made the most disgusting face, which of course was not lost on me. She then said something in a snide tone to her boyfriend, who was standing up finishing his cigarette; he walked over and tried to casually check out my legs, then grimaced as well. (Look, i'm very pale and i don't shave, OK?) They both began laughing and i felt my heart start to explode in my chest... i am not angry very often, truly. But this was more than i could handle. I looked hard at them over my sunglasses and then remarked loudly to Nat how some people can be extremely rude, and that just because you are speaking a foreign language, there are other ways to interpret somebody's meaning. How stupid did they think i was? Finally a third friend came by, and the whole process was repeated: the guy smiling and telling her, and she offering a none-too-subtle glance down. I couldn't take it any more, and said to him (and thereby them), "What is wrong with you?!!"
They all tried to feign innocence, and mumbled in Italian, but still smiled. I strongly resisted the urge to rub my hairy leg all over the smooth, tanned leg of the girl sitting next to me. I'm sure that wouldn't have solved anything. But man, it would have been fun to see the horror on her face.

For now, i will have to be content with the fantasy.