Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nobuo Uematsu - Terra & Aeirth's Themes


Terra's Theme

Aeirth's Theme

Nobuo Uematsu has lived a rather interesting life.

Not ever musician gets to live the dream of being a famous composer or rock star, many of them play small gigs and burn out or must find a day job. Many others end up working for movies and television, or worse, advertising. Some, end up working in video games.

Uematsu started his career with Square in 1985, and while he has worked on many, many, video game soundtracks he is best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series. Despite the restrictions of 8-bit games allowing only a handful of different sounds and therefore notes to be available, Uematsu was able to create many very catchy and impressive short tunes that would naturally be repeated over and over during game play. It is a unique challenge that most musicians never face, creating a short, maybe thirty second instrumental song, with a maximum of eight notes, that needs to be enjoyable to hear in repetition a multitude of times. In the modern era, many would know and agree that this is a talent worthy of respect, but it took decades for Uematsu, and the uncanny music industry he was involved in, to be recognized.

As video games advanced, Uematsu was able to produce more and more elaborate songs for the soundtrack of Square’s games, and this perhaps best heard by the natural changes to the “Crystal Theme” or “Prelude,” this jingle is included as the opening song to every Final Fantasy game and has become something of a tradition for the series, and with every incarnation Uematsu modifies it just a little, added a little bit here and there. Thankfully someone has compiled them all into one video:

All Crystal Themes:

You can really tell when a new game system is introduced, Final Fantasy Four was the first in the series on the Super Nintendo and it is the first version to have a melody. Final Fantasy Seven was first of the series to be on the PlayStation and it’s “Crystal Theme” is the first one to be a full and complete song within itself. The seventh one is my ringtone.

It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to pinpoint the moment when Uematsu had broken through. At what point did the soundtracks of Final Fantasy, or perhaps another game, connect with people in a powerful enough of a way to earn Uematsu and the entire profession of video game musician credence? Final Fantasy Seven was the most popular in the series and was the first to have fully orchestrated songs, so that seems like a logical point, but a lot of Seven’s popularity stemmed from the unprecedent success and popularity of Final Fantasy Six, arguably the best game on the entire Super Nintendo Entertainment system, and partially because of a famous opera scene when a very nearly opera song was created with the limitation of 16-bit computer programming. The game’s prior has amazingly popular songs as well, but Final Fantasy Ten was the first in the series, on the PlayStation 2, and the first that felt like a full fledged interactive movie, and its soundtrack was absurdly popular. What was the breaking point for recognition from the fans of the games and what was the breaking point the generally music listening audience?

We may never know.

But what we do know is that it happened.

In 2002 Uematsu decided he would take his popular video game songs from the Final Fantasy series on the road, as a mother fucking rock band, appropriately called The Black Mages. It was a logical next step for his musical career. The Black Mages would release four studio albums and eventually transform into the Earthbound Papas which tours like The Black Mages did, but have not released any albums to date.

In 2011, at least I think it was 2011, the impossible happened, multiple Final Fantasy songs were entered into the Classic FM Hall of Fame. The popularity of Uematsu and his video game music had become so mainstream that his songs were now considered among the greatest pieces of modern classical music, which is great, because there are.

This is where the story reaches the final arch of Uematsu adventure. I do not know if Uematsu dreamed of being a great composer or rock star and had to settle for writing music for video games, or if his ambitious in life were more mundane and temperate in his youth, nonetheless he accomplished everything a musician could hope to accomplish. He had a successful career doing something different with his talents, but from there he was able to become a rock star, as well as a world renowned classical composer. Uematsu is the Beethoven of video game music.

All of this, and the song of the hour has had no mention. For me, the music of Uematsu, and Final Fantasy, have a similar appreciation, popularity and power to the games from which they stem. Every Final Fantasy game is different and everyone has a different favorite, but the debate about which game in the series is greatest often comes down to two by die hard fans, Six and Seven.

As stated before Final Fantasy Seven is to this day the most popular, whether or not it sold the most copies, most everyone will agree it is the most popular; but that does not make it necessarily the best. Final Fantasy Six was lightning, it pushed the Super Nintendo to it’s limits and was revolutionary in every aspect of RPGs. Fourteen playable characters, all with unique abilities, personalities and back stories. Sixteen-bit spirits that had multiple stances and movements that enabled them to emote every possible emotion. A story that was highly interesting, an unforgettable villain, great game play, and yes, an excellent soundtrack. It is highly possible the only reason Final Fantasy Seven was so successful was do to the excellence of Final Fantasy Six. By riding the popularity of it’s predecessor and receiving a huge marketing campaign that was fueled entirely from Six’s successes, Final Fantasy Seven became the most popular of all time in the series.

As you can tell, I am firmly in the Final Fantasy Six camp. Perhaps I am biased, the time in my life when I had the most time to play video games was the heyday of the Super Nintendo, so I may always be more in love with that system and its games than anything else.

Cloud and Aeirth -
by Yoshitaka Amano
“A love that will never be, and a hatred, that always will.”

That was how they advertised Final Fantasy Seven. It was a powerful single sentence that revealed to insightful a lot of what to expect in Final Fantasy Seven. The love interest would be lost, and the villain would never be forgiven.

When we examine the list of the most popular songs by Uematsu, many from Final Fantasy Seven take the front stage, notably the antagonist, Sephiroth’s theme “One Winged Angle” or the tragic love interest, Aerith’s theme appropriately called “Aerith’s Theme.” The hatred that would always be and the love that could never. A lot of people cried when Aeirth died.

Terra - by Yoshitaka Amano
Aerith’s theme is possibly the greatest song Uematsu has ever written, but I am very partial to Final Fantasy Six, and I am very partial to it’s primary protagonist, Terra, and also her theme.

I never thought of Terra’s theme as exclusively hers. It first plays when you reach the overworld map, so I always thought of it as Final Fantasy Six’s “Overworld Theme,” but apparently it is Terra’s. This is possibly my favorite my favorite song from Final Fantasy Six, and in turn is possibly my favorite Final Fantasy song.

To be honest, a heavier reimaging of Terra’s theme is what really makes me love it so much. I have had a very difficult time tracking down the create of this remix, but I believe now to be someone called Ailsean, and it is called “Terra in Black.”

Terra in Black:

There is a fun parallel here. The two magical women of the two most renowned Final Fantasy games have themes that have stood out, at least to me, as the two best songs by Uematsu. The more spoken game of the two having the more known sorceress and theme, but an undying and endearing fan favorite keeps the other preposterously popular. In the end I cannot really choose between the two, so let us have both, Terra and Aeirth the mystical women of the two most important Final Fantasies, and their beautiful themes given to us by man living the music dream.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Miracle of Sound - Sovngarde Song



I wrote a post about Miracle of Sound in June 2013. Miracle of Sound is a one-man band created by Gavin Dunne, and under this banner he had created this beautiful song about the video game “Bioshock Infinite” and I was forced to realize that some nerd making a song about a video game could result is an amazing piece of art. To me it was a sign that the whole world was changing, and music production could now be seized by anyone thanks to the internet and we could hope and dream of such things that previously sounded absurd; it was going to be awesome, and it is.

Gavin is many ways is a perfect sort of musician for what I like to write about. A talented, largely unknown entity, with a very interesting concept and story, and most importantly good songs. I suspect there is literally no one in my social life who listens to Miracle of Sound, except the one friend who discovered his music with me, and probably my roommate. There is nothing I want to do more than share music with people they have never listened to before, and I hope they enjoy it at least as half as much as I do. Miracle of Sound is a perfect Music in Review band.

Now the to point.

I have been facing some financial difficulties lately so I decided I needed to do something to keep myself out of trouble. I needed some cheap means of entertaining myself, so when the July Steam sale happened I bought Skyrim.

I had played Skyrim before at a friend insistence, he was right to push it on me, it was an insanely fun game with a huge fantasy world to explore and I really enjoyed it. When I do the math, at this point, Skyrim has effectively cost me $0.15/hr of game play; a very affordable means of entertainment. I have successfully stayed out of trouble.

Now back to Gavin Dunne and Miracle of Sound.

Gavin has written multiple songs about Skyrim. I mentioned in my “Dream of the Sky” review that a friend and I got drunk on mead one New Year’s in honour of “Nord Mead” a rock and roll drinking song:

Nord Mead:


Another comical song is “Khajit Like to Sneak,” which is my least favorite of this set, but he does a pretty good job of making his singing voice sound like a Khajit:

Khajit Like to Sneak:

Gavin has also written an instrumental called “Winter Still” inspired by the themes and score of the game which I find very enjoyable:

Winter Still:

One of my favorites is Gavin’s duet with Malukah “Legends of the Frost” which is very beautiful and sounds like it really belongs in the game:

Legends of the Frost:


When I started writing this I forgot how many songs about Skyrim Gavin had written, but with all of that chronicled we must now discuss the best Skyrim inspired song by Gavin “Sovngarde Song.”

For those unfamiliar with Elder Scrolls lore I will have some quick information by methaphor that should assist in making deeper sense of the song’s content. Skyrim is a province in the continent of Tamriel, it is effectively Scandinavia and its inhabitants, the Nords, are effectively Vikings. Lastly Sovngarde is Valhalla.

This is a mystical song, calling us into Skyrim, and the mythos of the Elder Scrolls using relatable Scandinavian and Viking like imagery that is fitting of both the real culture and fictional setting. But there is something unique about the customizable protagonist in Skyrim, the Dragonborn, as they are titled, is born with the soul of a dragon and thus has the Thune, or voice, of a dragon and can use it to great affect to unleash great force sending their enemies flying backward or stunned sternly in their place. Which gives us this perfect line:

“And my voice is my violence.”

Bravo Gavin. This is the best possible sentence anyone could have ever hoped to have included in a song about the Dragonborn. It could be taken as symbolic, that the words of this warrior are of war and rage, or it could be taken as musical, as this song is about battle and bloodlust, but this line must be taken literally, the voice of the Dragonborn is aptly described as violence.

The chorus is equal parts Viking and Nord and could and probably should be song on appropriate occasions for celebrating either:

“And we stand tall,
Sons of the snow,
We will not fall,
Under these blows,
For our hearts they are hardy,
Our spirits are strong,
And our voices are lifted into,
This Sovngarde song.”


As satisfying as the chorus is, I would be remiss if I did not point to the highest energy part of the song where tempo picks up and the volume rises, and this great battle lyrics come roaring out of Gavin:

“Conquer the anger and ravenous rage!
Make it a part of your power.
Pummeling down let your bloodlust engage!
Under your force they will cower.”


Just badass is what that is.

And like any great song, the tempo slows and returns to the same mellow melody that brought us in, and ends with a feeling of mythic wonder, in a frozen land.

It need not be said, but I really enjoy “Sovngarde Song,” but more so I really enjoy Gavin’s 2016 remastering of it:

Sovngarde Song 2016:

Everything is just a little more rock and roll in the this version, which in turn makes everything a little more battle strong which is not only more appropriate but likely necessary to properly capture the spirit of Skyrim.

In summary, Vikings are awesome, Skyrim is great source of entertainment, and Miracle of Sound is a highly unique and enjoyable musical creation in whatever subgenre of music we can classify it as.

- King of Braves

Monday, July 31, 2017

David Bowie - Heroes



As you all recall 2016 was a pretty rough year for celebrity deaths. We lost a lot of great musicians that year, like Lemmy, Prince and Keith Emerson. I typically have a pretty level head about death, everyone must die eventually and if you can be a rock god before you go I feel like you lived a pretty good life and your death should be more of a celebration of a great life then a grieving of loss. Having said that, the death of David Bowie was kind of a bid deal.

It was not that long ago that everyone was saying how remarkably well Bowie was aging. In 2007 Bowie turned sixty and he looked no older than forty, and a handsome forty at that. One of the most impressive things about Bowie was his ability to stay relevant as time went on. It would have been easy, at least in the short run, to remain as Ziggy Stardust with the gigantic success of those albums, but instead he took a big risk and became Halloween Jack, and then the Thin White Duke, and then whatever the hell he was supposed to be in “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.” The man had an almost unnatural ability to adapt to any style or challenge he embraced. He was even an accomplished actor. Bowie was unstoppable.

Than he finally died, and rather early in life compared to expectation. Death is always tragic, but losing Bowie was something a little more. He was truly one of kind, a artistic chameleon, able to reach audiences of all walks of life, seemingly immortal, and now no more.

It was a great loss and everyone is hurt by it.

I have a slightly different perspective however.  While Bowie's death is a big deal, I still hold the opinion that it is better to celebrate life.

Death is nothing to be surprised by; everyone is going someday, and we are only fighting for the chance to be last. I may feel the pain of the loss of a great hero like Bowie, but I more so reflect on the life he lived then the death that ended it.

“Forget death, seek life.” – The Epic of Gilgamesh

There is no way of pretending David Bowie’s life was anything short as magical. A man who dreamed of being a global rock star who smashed that dream’s highest possible hope and became a multi-generational rock god, also, he stared in movies, and married a super model; pulling off any one of these things would be impressive, but he did it all. Also, his first son grew up to be a pretty damn good movie director (watch “Moon.”), he made friends everywhere he went, aged remarkably well, and just lived an almost impossibly amazing life. So while I am sad to see Bowie go, I am not filled with too many regretful concerns about what he did with his time. It is a life well worth celebrating.

What I am trying to say is that David Bowie is a god damn hero, and that is my cheesiest segue to date.

I have been listening to David Bowie for a long time and I have been listening to a lot of his music, so it is slightly difficult to remember my earliest memories of him. I believe the first two songs by Bowie that I was familiar with in my youth must have been “Space Oddity” and “Heroes.” In many ways “Heroes” is an ideal radio song for Bowie, it has an amazing intro, easy to remember lyrics, so everyone can sing along, and is very catchy. Now that I am older and I have listened to “Heroes” probably a thousand times or more, the song has lost some of it’s magic, and what makes it unique has blended into the background of my thoughts, yet it remains, without question, a top-quality song in my casual thinking. I always enjoy hearing it, every time, and it still holds meaning, not just for it’s message of possible heroism, or perhaps adventure, but for it's cultural significance, and the symbol of comfort and familiarity it has become to me.

“Heroes” the song, but also the entire album, was recorded in Berlin and marked that era of David, when he was hanging out with Iggy Pop in Germany reinventing himself for the… forth time was it? “Heroes” was part of the trilogy of albums produced which also included “Low” and “Lodger.” Of the three albums “Heroes” has remained the most popular and well known, and that has a lot to do with the strength of the title track. Despite the dozens of hit songs Bowie produced, impressively “Heroes” stands out not just from the Berlin Trilogy but amongst Bowie’s entire song list.

When it comes to the arts David Bowie has become one of the most influence and important people ever; furthermore he is inarguably one of the greatest song writers of all time. He was not just a hero in music, but in life. He made some of the greatest music ever, but he also lived the best life I have ever heard of.  Far from a hero for a single day, Bowie will be remember forever for all the reasons mentioned just now and countless other reasons.

- King of Braves

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Tragically Hip - Nautical Disaster



A friend asked me, “do you think any other country has a relationship with a band the way Canada does with the Tragically Hip.” I mumbled something about New Zealand’s The Feelers, and conceited that I was not sure. I was forced to conclude to myself the major reason I was so unsure if any country has their own Tragically Hip was because I have never lived in any other country. Our best kept secret is ours for a reason, no one else is paying attention. So, if any other unique relationship like this exists it has likely escaped my notice entirely, probably because I was not paying attention.

Unless I am correct about The Feelers and New Zealand.

Exactly four years ago I did a Music In Review about the Tragically Hip discussing how they were the most Canadian band ever: http://colinkellymusicinreview.blogspot.com/2013/07/tragically-hip-canadas-most-canadian.html

I have always been very happy with that review, there were typically two reactions that review garnered, fellow Canadians wondering why I was stating the obvious and everyone else asking “who?”

To state that the Tragically Hip were popular in Canada would be a over simplification. Sure, the Hip are popular here, and almost exclusively here, but they are much more than that. There is a constant familiarity every Canadian has with the Hip, we all know their songs, and it pretty much an unanimously agreed that the Hip are fantastic.

While I believe I did a fair job of elaborating all the many reasons the Hip were Canada’s most Canadian band, I never really discussed the unique relationship they share with us, all of us, all of Canada. Imagine your local band that you know personally and you really enjoy. They mean a lot to you because they are your friends, and their music, well good, is wildly underappreciated, and this forgotten gem, this wayward band means so much more to you, because you know your love for them is deeper and truer than nearly anyone else. Now imagine an entire country feels that way about a band, and strangely the shared national love does not drown out the personal unique pleasure anyone person beholds for them. That is sort of what the Tragically Hip are to Canada. We all kind of know them personally, and we all love them more than anybody else, and this is only possible because of their total lack of fame outside of our borders. It is only possible because Canada is a proud, yet humble, influential, yet lesser important, nation.

The Tragically Hip are a national treasure to us Canadians, and their songs are as much part of Canada as our national anthem. The fact no one else cares about them endears them to us even more. Who outside of Canada knows all the words to “O Canada?” Who outside of Canada knows all the words to “Wheat Kings?”

There was a time when the Tragically Hip were nearly known in the United States. I remember the Hip playing Saturday Night Live with “Nautical Disaster,” which is surreal looking back on it, not only because the Hip were on SNL but also because Gord Downie still had hair back then.

Speaking of “Nautical Disaster.”

1994’s “Day for Night” would be the first Hip album to reach number one in the charts in Canada, though this had a lot to do with the strength and popularity of their previous album “Fully Completely” it also had something to do with the album being pretty damn decent, and it’s third single “Nautical Disaster” certainly helped.

During live performances of “New Orleans is Sinking” the band would improvise sometimes during the bridge, and as these impromptu sessions became more and more elaborate a unique song began to emerge, “Nautical Disaster.” This is perhaps why both songs share an aquatic theme.

I have read so many books of classical literature about seafaring and aquatic exploration, maybe there is an allure to the ocean for a foothills man like me, but my mind is often flooded, pun not intended, with memories of “Moby Dick,” Robinson Crusoe,” “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” and others when I listen to songs like “Nautical Disaster. Recall the ending to Jules Vern’s “2,000 Leagues Under the Sea” where Captain Nemo sends the Nautilus into a maelstrom, and just imagine what sort of a disaster that would have been if the science fiction submarine were to be rip asunder, that would be a true nautical disaster.

The natural reaction for most is that “Nautical Disaster” is in fact about a very real disaster in the water. The Hip being the most Canadian band ever, most people speculated the tragedy in question would be the Dieppe disaster. In second world war an allied raid, off the coast of France, was made by five thousand soldiers from the Calgary Regiment and a thousand British troops. The raid was a complete disaster nearly four thousand men died.

So it is understandable that we all think Gord is speaking of Dieppe with lines like:

“One afternoon, four thousand men died in the, water here,
And five hundred more were thrashing madly,
As parasites might, in your blood.”


Also, “thrashing madly as parasite might in your blood;” wow, what a line.

However, Gord Downie has confirmed “Nautical Disaster” is not about Dieppe, and most people seem convinced now that it is all metaphorical to an ending relationship.

But that’s boring.

It all seems to specific to be a simple metaphor; “a lighthouse on some rocky socket, off the coast of France;” “four thousand men died in the water here;” and “I was in a lifeboat, designed for ten, and ten only.” All these words are so detailed like an actual event. For example, in The Hip’s “It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken” the line “the forget your skates dream” was so oddly specific I knew that song had to be about a story, and it was, it was a Canadian graphic novel of the same name, but of course it was the Hip are the most Canadian band ever. I still believe that “Nautical Disaster” must be about a story about a shipwreck off the coast of France, whether it be historical or fictional is irrelevant. As a metaphor for an ended relationship “Nautical Disaster” is boring, as an account of post traumatic drama of a survivor of shipwreck “Nautical Disaster” is gripping, haunting and beautiful.

“Then the dream ends when the phone rings,
‘You doing all right?’
He said, ‘It's out there most days and nights.
But only a fool would complain.’
Anyway, Susan, if you like,
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory,
As those fingernails scratching on my hull.”

Again, weirdly specific, who is Susan? The ex, or maybe his therapist? Or maybe the wife of one of the drowned men? Cause it is still out there, all those dead bodies and that sunken ship, and while it haunts our narrative’s dreams, he is still alive unlike the four thousand lost, so only a fool would complain. Do you know what this theoretical scene reminds me of? The end of “A Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, where the narrator must lie to the wife of Dr. Livingstone, for he is afraid to utter the reality of the doctor’s dark demise and the horror of the truths he discovered, for it is still out there, the horror, the horror.

I read a lot.

Anyway, that is why I love “Nautical Disaster” it brings my brain to so many different stories and ideas.

For me the Tragically Hip are like the Rocky Mountains, I take it both for granted. You see in live in Calgary, Alberta, and whenever I look west the beautiful Rocky Mountains are right there, okay I might have to drive a half hour out of town or take a run up centre street, but the point is there are right there and I never look at them. Hell, I have never been to Jasper and I’ve only ever been to Banff once. Meanwhile on the radio, thanks to Canadian content laws and their enormous popularity, the Tragically Hip were constantly being played, they were always there, yet I only owned a handful of their albums, I only went to see them live once.

Gord Downie, weirdo and
Canadian music god.
Now, after thirty-four years of producing Canadian rock and roll the Hip are presumably soon to be no more. Most bands do not retain the original line up of all five members for thirty plus years, but we, us Canadians, must come to terms that soon we will lose our beloved weirdo Gord Downie. I will explain to my majority readers who are not Canadian, front man and lead singer of the Hip Gord Downie has brain cancer, and ah… that is really bad; he is probably going to die soon. Like the good damn hero he is Gord went on a final farewell tour of Canada ending in their home town of Kingston Ontario which was broadcast live on the CBC, because of course it was. The Prime Minister was there and everything. It was in part, sort of like a morbid early funeral, because… Gord is probably going to die soon, but more than that, it was a celebration. It was the celebration of a life well lived, a band most beloved, and a nation connected. It might have been the most Canadian moment in Canadian history.

When it finally happens, when Gord Downie finally leaves us, I suspect I will be sad, most naturally so, but I will be filled with a sense of wonderment as well. He lived a good life, and he along with the rest of the Hip became something no one could possibly have imagined back in 1983. They have contributed to the Canadian music scene is such a profound way as to never be replicated.

- King of Braves

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pink Floyd - In The Flesh(?) and The Trial



“The Wall” is about many things.

In many ways “The Wall” is a sensation, dramatization of Roger Waters life. Many of the struggles facing the narrative character Pink Floyd are real struggles that Waters faced himself. The loss of a father due to war, an over bearing mother, soul crushing educational experiences, failed marriage, drug addiction, and mixed feelings about a successful music career. How some of these I do not know if they happened to Water’s personally, like I do not know what his mother or early schooling was like, but some of these things do fit, like the untimely death of his father and his multiple divorces.

In many ways, the character Pink Floyd in “The Wall” is a personification of all the members of Pink Floyd. The drug abuse of Syd Barret, and the general unhappiness of the musician’s life from all. It is only fitting that Waters’ has the most in common with this fictional manifestation, since he was the driving force of creativity in the band.

If there is one thing “The Wall” is about, it must be madness.

For many years I have pondered the true overarching theme of the story within “The Wall” and this is the conclusion I must draw, insanity is the deepest message of Roger Water’s Magnum Opus. All the suffering discussed in the last two reviews, that is the driving force, the plot, but not the point, the end result is the madness.

Like any good musical there is a continuity in “The Wall,” a return there to, with similar styles and sounds. If “The Wall” has an overture it must be “In The Flesh(?)”

The first track on “The Wall” is “In The Flesh?” Initially the song may appear to be little more than a meta introduction to the album. A singer is addressing an audience, provoking them with assumptions and questions. To the uninitiated this introduction could be a little jarring. In the movie edition, Bob Geldof portraying Pink is dressed an awful lot like a Nazi as he greets a crowd of spectators. It is a very short song, and quickly the short unnerving speech ends with a dark invitation:

“If you want to find our what’s behind these cold eyes,
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”


How could we refuse? We must see past the disguise and learn more about Pink Floyd, both the band and the fictional avatar representing them. What we learn is summarized in the two earlier reviews, we see a man tortured by loss, disappointment and isolation. The climax of the album hits with “Comfortably Numb” and what follows is madness.

In the movie “The Wall” the dual elements of drugs abuse and disillusionment ruin and wreck the protagonist to the point where the other within begins to emerge. This is visuall represented with Geldof’s Pink’s skin melting and the character frantically tearing away at his own flesh until he rips the flesh open and is revealed underneath to be the fascist we saw in the opening track.

We are then greeted with a return to continuity, and “In The Flesh” plays. There is no longer a question mark, as the mystery is solved, we now see what was behind those cold eyes, a tortured man, now a ruined soul, a Nazi allegory. 

In The Flesh:

During the second version of “In The Flesh,” Pink exposes his more disgusting intentions and feelings and unleashes segregation and racism upon his audience:

“I've got some bad news for you, sunshine,
Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel,
And they sent us along as a surrogate band,
We're going to find out where you fans really stand.

Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get 'em up against the wall,
Now, there's one in the spotlight,
He don't look right to me,
Then get him up against the wall (get them)

Now, that one looks Jewish,
And that one's a coon,
Who let all this riffraff into the room?
There's one smoking a joint,
And another with spots.


If I had my way, I'd have all of them shot.”

This, combined with the use of Nazi imagery in “The Wall” caused a lot of concern for some. Simple minded fools with no appreciation for context jumped to the ridiculous conclusion that Pink Floyd were supportive of Nazism. The first fundamental flaw in this thinking is failing to see that this dark transformation is used as a metaphor for insanity. After years of abuse the Pink Floyd character devolves into an evil tyrant, and possibly only a tyrant within his own mind, since the primary theme of “The Wall” is madness, and madness is a prerequisite for acceptance of something as vile as Nazism. The second enormous flaw is this simple-minded interpretation is the rather obvious fact that the visuals are brutality is equally influenced by Stalin’s Soviet Union. The marching hammers is one of the most memorable visuals in “The Wall” and this is clearly a direct refence to the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. However, missing the first point is poetically disastrous.

The entire Wall album is about losing one’s self. Note the line “Pink isn’t well he stayed back at the hotel,” suggesting that the character who once was, is no longer present. Another mind has taken over and with it segregation and possibly genocide. This works symbolically for two major reasons, one it shows the duality of man, good and evil. The truth is, there are no monsters, just other humans. It is easy to label horrible people as monsters because it is a simple explanation that requires no depth of thought, also it is more comfortable because it aids in the separation of the reality that we share a lot in common with our fellow humans, including the one’s who disgust and horrify us. Secondly, insanity is the theme, and Pink Floyd, the character has lost his mind and become the worst thing imaginable, a Communist/Nazi allegory, the modern day demons and boogiemen of the world.

This made perfect sense to me when I was young. It takes something complicated and horrible for someone to become quantifiably evil, and insanity and losing control, the worst outcome would be to become that very evil thing.

All that is left is a rampage and a lamentation.

Then after much beautiful musical ugliness we reach the end, we reach “The Trial.”

The Trial:

The events of Nazi rampage in “The Wall” can still be interpreted as taking place within the mind of the narrative character. In his mind he has become so self hating that he sees himself equivalent as the great evil of modern history. It is also unclear if “The Trial” is taking place is reality or the mind. All the demons of Pink’s past come together to torture him one last time, bombarding him with harsh judgements most of which seem incredibly unfair. Pink reaffirms his insanity by stating:

“Crazy,
Toys in the attic, I am crazy,
Truly gone fishing.
They must have taken my marbles away.
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.”


And then:

“Crazy,
Over the rainbow, I am crazy,
Bars in the window.
There must have been a door there in the wall,
When I came in.
Crazy, over the rainbow, he is crazy.”


And these two versions of “The Trial’s” chorus sum up the end nicely. Pink has lost his mind and been trapped within the wall for so long he has lost himself.

It is a powerful ending. It haunted my dreams for years. What if I lost my mind and all my deepest fears were revealed? Would my peers be sympathetic or would they castigate me, banish me behind a wall, separating me from everyone else, leaving me as some mad bugger beating heart against the wall? It is a natural concern, not the hyperbolic doom that is the conclusion of “The Wall” but the feelings of isolation, distrust and even fear of those around you, and having it stem entirely from self-doubt and self-loathing. Everyone, in theory can marginally at least relate to this, but “The Wall” is a such a extreme showcase of such emotions that it can frighten and intimidate and even confuse many listeners. It is an ugly truth, that underneath melting skin something ugly lays in wait, and it is inside all of us. All of us are a composition of positives and negatives, and it is a combination of strength and condition that keeps us from slipping into madness, but everyone is capable of falling into it.

There is a lot to ponder, but of course there is, there is so much emotion and phycology captured within “The Wall.” “The Wall” is all in all a very sad album, but that is par for the course with Pink Floyd. The saddest thing is the greatest rock album ever needed to be so sad. Pink Floyd, all of them, had so much sadness within them, yet they took that and made something so beautiful. That was the great inspiration for me when listening to “The Wall” so much when I was young, taking something negative and making it a positive. So much so, that when I listen to “The Wall” now, I rarely feel sad, all I feel, is inspired. Maybe that is why I consider it to be the greatest album of all time.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pink Floyd - Vera, Bring the Boys Back Home and Comfortably Numb



I have always enjoyed the second half of “The Wall” more than the first. The first half focuses a lot on the narrative character, named symbolically “Pink Floyd,” and his troubled youth. Many injuries are inflicted upon young Pink, he loses his father to the war, his mother is overbearing, school sucks, marriage falls about, and drugs happen. It is a good musical tale of hardship, and a fine collection of struggles many of us can relate too, but what was always more interesting to me was the aftermath of so much hurt. The disillusionment and the numbness that consumes the adult Pink. That is more interesting I believe.

For a lot of people, myself included, “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest Pink Floyd song, and the focal point of “The Wall.” In a great many ways “Comfortably Numb” is a perfect Pink Floyd song, it is dark and atmospheric, it has a great guitar solo, it is part of a bigger story, the lyrics are deep and complex, did I mention it was dark and atmospheric, well it is that twice over and that is key to being a perfect Pink Floyd song.

A reoccurring theme in Pink Floyd music is drug use. Many, if not most, if not all, of Pink Floyd’s music is or has psychedelic elements through out. “Comfortably Numb” is balance of things, the literal and the metaphorical. It is literally about slipping deeper and deeper into your mind because of excessive drug use. In the movie “The Wall” the character Pink is dying of a drug overdose during “Comfortably Numb.” It is likely a safe bet that Roger Waters and the rest of Pink Floyd experimented with drugs a lot. But a major reason we see this return, over and over again, to the dark side of drug use, and self destruction, is because of founding member Syd Barret doing just that. It is highly appropriate that a fictional character named after the band would suffer, severely, from over use of drugs.

Another reoccurring theme in Pink Floyd’s music is the metaphorical side of “Comfortably Numb.” We do not need drugs as a conduit to the dissidence described in “Comfortably Numb,” no, delusion would perhaps better serve us in understanding this song. There is a lot of disillusionment in the music of Pink Floyd as there was in their lives. Things never went as planned for Waters and the team, and with that a lot of misery made up their music. “The Wall” is about a lot of things, but suffering is a major element within. “Comfortably Numb” is the breaking point.

“Comfortably Numb” maybe, and in fact is, the best song off of “The Wall.” However, it’s presence on the second half of the album is not the sole reason I love that half so much, I love every song surrounding “Comfortably Numb” starting from “Hey You” right to the end with “Outside the Wall.”

That is the thing about the wall, it is twenty-six songs ranging from very good to the greatest music ever; as a consequence, any song, or combination there of, would be a fine choice for one of my amateur reviews. The obvious attack points were the two most famous songs “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” which I discussed last time, and now “Comfortable Numb,” but to some extent this review is a vehicle to discuss two lesser know songs that come just before “Comfortably Numb.” A pair of songs that flow together as seamlessly as “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” that is “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

Vera:


“Does anybody remember Vera Lynn?”

As a matter of fact, I do not Mr. Waters. Thankfully I live in the age where all human knowledge is at my finger tips.

Vera Lynn was a popular singer in the 1940s. She had a popular song at that time called “We’ll Meet Again.” Waters invokes this reference for a few reasons. First it is a deliberate attempt to draw the listener to the feelings of hope many shared regarding their loved ones combating in the second world war, the exact message Vera Lynn expresses in “We’ll Meet Again.” Does anyone remember that feeling of hope? Meanwhile the narrative of “The Wall’s” story is bleaker, the character Pink’s father does not come home, and he will not meet him again. Just like the real-life Roger Waters whose father went off and died, never to come home again fighting in that same war.

The second angle of approach for “Vera” is symbolic, and metaphoric, because of course it is, this is a Pink Floyd song.

Does anyone remember Vera Lynn? Most of the listeners of Pink Floyd and “The Wall” likely have no clue who that is. I had forgotten altogether until about a month ago when I was refreshing my memory about this album and song. It is insanely easy for modern listeners to relate to Wates and his fictional avatar Pink Floyd, most of us cannot recall who Vera Lynn is, or what that dark hope wishing and waiting for loved ones to return home feels like. We cannot relate to the common mood, so we too feel isolated and singled out for unique, and in this case cruel, treatment.

“Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?”

The story, as it unfolds, is meant to be taken that few, if any, do feel the way Pink Floyd, the character, does. This is particularly ironic because everyone who listens to “Vera” does feel the way Roger Waters does. We all feel the way he does because he has so perfectly captured this sad emotion of loss that no one can escape feeling the way he does.

It is perfect art really.

Which leads us to “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

Bring the Boys Back Home:

“Bring the Boys Back Home” is something of an epic little song. It only runs for eighty-eight seconds. It opens gradually with a marching drum beat but swiftly picks up pace and unleashes the excited group proclamation that simply decries:

“Bring the boys back home.
Bring the boys back home.
Don't leave the children on their own, no, no.
Bring the boys back home.”


That’s it. That’s all the words we get. Waters comes from the school of thought of less is more, which may sound strange since we are discussing a double album with twenty-six songs, but Waters knows to hit us with small but powerful pieces through out, not over explaining or rambling on with repetitive choruses or wasteful filler. “Bring the Boys Back Home” enters the stage and exists after unleashing a devastative message, the joy of others is additional pain to the self.

In “The Wall” the movie “Bring the Boys Back Home” presents the young version of the character Pink Floyd as being bombarded by the mirthful celebration of a mob all of whom are reunited with loved ones returning from the war, while the boy, Pink, stares helpless at them lost in his loss, arrested by his grief, unable to do anything but watch in uncomfortable contempt while all the happy people unintentionally, but unavoidably, mock his pain.

It is another short but perfect song, that strikes the heart strings and leaves us numb.

Which perfectly leads us to “Comfortably Numb.”

Of all the many reasons discussed above we can safely conclude that “Comfortably Numb” is akin to perfection to songs like “Stairway to Heaven” or “Lady in Black,” but in addition to these many powerful points, “Comfortably Numb” has the benefit of being introduced at the perfect time, in the perfect place, in a perfect album. It is almost unreal how amazing “Comfortably Numb” is when taken into it’s full context. After battering the listener with dark tales and numerous cruel misgivings of plain ordinary human suffering, Waters gives us a song that breaks the mood and the story. He gives us a song about absorbing all that pain and no longer being meaningfully effected by it. Waters sings about letting go and transforming into something else, a duel identity puzzling whether or not there is anybody out there, both in the real world but also in the inner self.

In the story “The Wall” what is birthed from “Comfortably Numb” is a twisted reflection of the worst of human nature. The dark side takes control and the character Pink Floyd takes a very dark turn. This of course leads us to our terrible climax of the tale, but that must be address next time where we take a big picture analysis of “The Wall.”

“Comfortably Numb” on its own is majestic, but when grouped with it’s sister songs we see something so much more. A perfect song, placed perfectly, in a perfectly album. It is a workmanship of songcraft the world has ever rarely seen, and even fewer have ever dared to dream of such an fantastic artistic creation.

King of Braves

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall



I think a lot of people have the same experience as I had with my early discovery of Pink Floyd. It all began with “The Wall.” “The Wall” was one of the first and only albums I ever owned on cassette tape and it was listened to hundreds of times. To this day I hold “The Wall” as the single greatest rock album ever, barely edging out Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti.”

I guess really like double albums.

Before my mother got me my “The Wall” cassette for as a Christmas gift so long ago now, my only exposure to Pink Floyd was through the radio and in turn it was songs like “Comfortable Numb” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” that brought me to listen to Pink Floyd and their magnum opus “The Wall.”

A powerful drawing emotion of rock and roll is the spirit of rebellion and affectively all youths go through a period of rebellion. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” has this as a chorus:

“We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teacher leave them kids alone.”


The message of “we don’t need no education” naturally resonates with young people, all of whom want to find themselves and develop their own identities which can only be done outside the confines of conformity. Like I said I think a lot of people have a similar experience to my own.

“Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” is a perfect song to garner a new young audience, and has been a contributing factor to Pink Floyd’s extreme trans generational appeal. Unsurprisingly a prudish culture was fearful of the message rejecting education, and apparently being incapable of listening a song’s lyrics in full failed to grasp the deeper and truer meaning of the song’s intent, which was a rejection of thought control. I mean it’s says it right there in the chorus, it is literally the second line.

Nonetheless “The Wall” and it’s highest ranking song “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” were considered very controversial.

A lot of people fail to realize that most versions of the song they hear is actual two songs, “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and the afore mentioned “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.” These two songs are meant to be heard together, but then again, the entire album “The Wall” is designed in such a way that every song leads into the next. However, in the case of “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” the two songs are truly linked as one. “The Happiest Days of our Lives” details the lives of the brutal teachers, and then Pink Floyd proclaims the lack of necessity that education offers.

A lot of people also fail to realize the song title is in fact “Another Brick in the Wall Park 2,” assuming a title like “We Don’t Need no Education” instead. A very specific title like “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” should raise some questions to the casual Pink Floyd fan, like what is part 1 like? Or is this song a part of a larger whole? Anyone with any meaningful knowledge of Pink Floyd already knows the answers to these questions but we shall go over them anyway.

There are three parts to “Another Brick in the Wall” to properly appreciate what make them special one must understand “The Wall” the album, but more so the metaphor. Roger Water’s “The Wall” is a very real barrier separating the narrator from the rest of the world. The bricks, within this wall, at painful moments and events that damage the narrator, and create the divide between himself and the rest of the world. In the famous part 2, we see the abuses of overly determined disciplinary teachers and a soul crushing education system lasts with him forever.

Another Brick in The Wall Part 1:

The first brick in the wall is altogether different. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 1” is three minutes in length and is primarily a guitar song using a lot of long lasting notes creating a lot of atmosphere. The only lyrics is a single verse:

“Daddy's flown across the ocean,
Leaving just a memory,
Snapshot in the family album,
Daddy what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what did ya leave behind for me?
All in all it was just a brick in the wall.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.”


The second world war has a lot of visual influence over Water’s creation, and anyone who has watched “The Wall” the movie will concur that the father’s departure is due to him leaving to fight in the war.

Another Brick in The Wall Part 3:

The third part of the “Another Brick in the Wall” set is sort of a conclusion to the brick laying as it were. Appropriately similar to the previous two parts of this trilogy the third part is a short song with very little actually being vocalized and once again we are left with a single chorus to develop this story:

“I don't need no arms around me,
I don't need no drugs to calm me,
I have seen the writing on the wall,
Don't think I need anything at all.
No don't think I'll need anything at all.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
All in all you were just bricks in the wall.”


The rejection of everyone and everything finally comes. Enough bricks have been laid and the wall is now high enough for the narrator to hide himself away, socially and emotionally from the world. This is a fitting end to the first half of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” the only song to follow “Another Brick in the Wall Part 3” on side two is “Goodbye Cruel World” a lamenting song about letting go of everything and everyone. This is the true metaphor Roger Waters has created, a wall of misery standing too tall to climb, or ever look over. All that is left for the narrator to do is turn his back on the world and say goodbye.

And everything was just bricks in the wall.

I have often pondered over how to begin a conversation about my favorite album. “The Wall” has twenty-six songs in total; inarguably there are multiple launching points. At last I thought, what is a wall, metaphorical or otherwise, but a collection of bricks? Why not begin with those?

- King of Braves

Monday, May 22, 2017

Bob Marley - No Woman No Cry



I like Bob Marley; I think everyone does. I do not however, love Bob Marley, I would by lying if I said so. This is slightly unexpected I suppose, because I fall into a category of human being where it is socially expected that I should love Bob Marley. In my youth, I partook in social ritual of marijuana and Bob Marley at many parties, and during that age of enlightenment it is a common experience for the participant to fall in love with Bob Marley’s music. I failed that rite of passage I guess. Though I did listen to multiple iterations of Marley’s greatest hits dozens of times, and I certainly enjoyed it every time, nonetheless, my heart and ear never submitted to the groovy beats of Bob Marley.

I like reggae, again, I suspect just about everyone does. I do not however, love reggae, which likely goes a long way to explain the last paragraph. Again, not to repeat myself, but in my informative years I was exposed to massive amounts of weed and reggae, but my ear was never fully seized by this super chill genre of music, despite enjoying it at length on countless occasions. I deeply appreciate the influence reggae has had on bands I hold very dear, like The Clash, and The Police, and while the source inspiration was cool it was never glorious to me and my likings.

I spent my high times more so as a Pink Floyd and Uriah Heep fan, that is just who I am.

So now that I have established my lukewarm fondness of Bob Marley and reggae, I suppose it is time to get to the point. In an very necessary on going effort to keep myself as calm and strong as possible, I find myself recalling past indulgent pleasures, and while I wait for Trudeau to legalize marijuana, I am forced to re-embrace the cool comfort of the most chill music in the world, and that is inarguably reggae.

I am a poor Marley fan, I have never owned any of his albums and have only listened at length to various versions of his greatest hits, so I am now very familiar with songs like “Jammin,” “Buffalo Soldier” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” but I think his most touching song is possibly “No Woman No Cry.”

A quick, and cheap interpretation of this song would be something to the effect that, “so long as you have no woman in your life, you will have nothing to be sad about.” It is a simple mathematical equation; no woman = no cry. This is naturally incorrect. Not only would a glance at the lyrics dismiss this analysis immediately, but this would be a truly bizarre message for a peaceful, loving man like Marley to preach. Alas I was once guilty of thinking this way, for I was young… and probably too stoned to listen to the lyrics sensibly.

In reality, Marley has created one of his many political songs in “No Woman No Cry.” Marley, being the peaceful and loving man he is, is singing to a female companion and friend not to worry, everything is going to be alright, and before he says those things he says:

No, woman, no cry.

Please take note of the commas, for they bring structure to the sentence, and we can see by the separation of the first “no” from the word “woman,” that Marley is speaking directly to a woman, and he is instructing not to cry.

But why is it important not to cry? Well Marley tells us:

I remember when we used to sit,
In the government yard in Trenchtown,
Observing the hypocrites,
As they would mingle with the good people we meet.
Good friends we have, good friends we’ve lost,
Along the way.
In this great future, you can’t forget your past,
So dry your tears, I say.


The two verses that follow hereafter express a greater sense of social interaction and slightly less political directness, but with or without an element of the political, the general message holds strong all the same. The struggles and troubles of the past, as painful as they may be, cannot be forgotten, but they can be overcome. So, you know, dry your tears.

As I said before Bob Marley was a man of peace and despite the cool embrace of sadness in “No Woman No Cry” there is an overwhelming positive message within. It is not just in the repetition in where Marley flatly states “everything’s going to be alright,” but also in every verse. For in every verse there is this constant remembrance of community; the good people we meet; the making of fire lights; the cooking of cornmeal porridge and the sharing thereof. It is a beautiful sentiment, that together, with cooperation and friendship the only natural outcome is a great future. It is both incredibly uplifting and optimistic. I expect no less from the greatest icon of the most chill music genre ever.

I have always connected with one specific line for completely personal reasons, and it is kind of funny that it has stuck to me for so many years:

My feet is my only carriage,
So I’ve got to push on through.

For me, this has been literally true for most of my life. Admittedly this is a strange line to single out and identify as a personally meaningful but it stuck with me. I mentioned in the last review, Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” how it has taken a frustratingly long time to acquire a driver’s licence, which in the continent of North America is effectively a death sentence to personal transportation, you see sometimes these reviews have a theme, and sometimes that theme is something as tangential as I have walk around too much. On the upside, my legs are strong and I am ready to run a half marathon next week.

Many a marijuana evening I would sit there pondering if Bob Marley had to walk around Kingston as much I have had to walk around Calgary. I wondered if he too was too gooned to drive, or if he was too poor to afford a car and that he and I had this in common. These are important questions, well, at least to me. I mean we both had to push on through, then again mind you, we all do.

“No Woman No Cry” really is a lovely song of humanity and hope, and the casual listening rans the risk of never learning just how beautiful it really is. Even a lukewarm fan like me cannot deny the value and love of a song like “No Woman No Cry.”

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Iggy Pop - The Passenger



Iggy Pop has had a long career. Despite his many albums, songs and tours, Iggy is best known for his early works, both with The Stooges, but also his first few solo albums.

When people think of Iggy Pop most of them probably think of “Lust for Life,” Iggy’s biggest hit song, and what a fantastic song it is. Not only is “Lust for Life” most likely Iggy’s catchiest song, and therefore the best suited for radio play, but in some regards it captures a vital aspect of Iggy’s personality and life, for he indeed had a lust for life. Iggy was a hugely influential rock star who heavily indulged in drugs and partying, truly a man who lusted for life.

After “Lust for Life” the song most people think of is “The Passenger” and both of these songs are from Iggy Pop’s second solo album titled “Lust for Life.” It is a hell of an album “Lust for Life,” and part of that might have something to do with David Bowie. In 1977 Bowie was in Berlin working on his trilogy of albums, “Low,” “Heroes” and “Lodger.” While there he spent a meaningful amount of time working, and producing albums, with his friend Iggy Pop. The result of this collaboration was Iggy Pop’s first two solo albums “The Idiot” and the afore mentioned “Lust for Life.” Notably the song “China Girl” off of “The Idiot” was later performed by Bowie on his 1983 album “Let’s Dance.”

When punk rockers think of Iggy Pop they are probably more inclined to think of Iggy Pop’s earliest work with The Stooges, and probably most notably the highly important and insanely impressive album “Raw Power” which can rightly be contributed as one of the earliest pioneer works of the punk rock genre.

Despite having been around for so long and having made so many albums and written so many songs, it is interesting that the bulk of Iggy Pop’s work is known primarily just as the “Lust for Life” album and those hit songs that came from it. His work is a deeper well that is worth drinking from, but today I will focus on one of those two hit songs, because it is a song of deeper meaning than initial inspection revealed to me and indeed most.

When I think of Iggy Pop, I often think of drugs. Now could I not? Iggy Pop spent a very unhealthy amount of time on a drug induced rampage, getting himself arrested and disrupting his own concerts. It is fun, and even funny, looking back on some of his more deranged antics, but when observed all at once it is really rather frightening what Iggy put himself through. Iggy Pop is something of akin to The Door’s Jim Morrison, in just how far out of control he was, but a key difference is that somehow Iggy Pop survived and is still alive to this day. Iggy even released a new album recently “Post Pop Depression” which I have been listening to on youtube and it is pretty good.

“The Passenger” is the song I have always held as Iggy’s most enjoyable, or at least, the song that rang in my ear the longest. I felt a unique connection to “The Passenger” because I had a unique take on it. In a very literally sense I was a passenger in life. Due to a combination of factors, it took me a frustrating long time to acquire my driver’s licence, and living in a country like Canada, and a city like Calgary, where the population density is extremely sparse and mass transit being largely non-existent, getting around was extremely difficult, and thus I had to rely on the kindness of friends to drive me, thus I was in a constant position of passenger. There was one upside to this, I was never the designated driver, and thus spent many evenings gooned in the passenger seat being driven around.

Which brings me back to Iggy Pop’s drug habit.

I had always casually assumed that Iggy Pop, like myself, was too gooned to drive and thus found himself in the passenger seat seeing the world through the passenger side window, dazed and confused, but safe and more or less happy. This explanation made sense, Iggy Pop was a drug fiend and presumably could not, or at least should not, have been driving for most of his rock and roll career. How simple of an explanation, how simple an interpretation, naturally it is not the true message.

As time passed and lyrics were listened to more and more, and I learned more about the icon Iggy Pop, I knew “The Passenger” had more to it than a simple observation of being escorted about while intoxicated. I later learned that the song was written while Iggy Pop was riding the S Bahn in Berlin, and this connected with me because I have been to Berlin and I got around exclusively using the S Bahn. Still there was something more going on in these words in this song, it was much less to do with the literal act of travelling, and so much more to do with being led.

“The Passenger” is truly about not being in control. We can link this to alcohol and drugs and having handicapped facilities and thus no longer being in control, but as I said before, this is deeper than that. “The Passenger” is about not being in control of your own life.

There are so many variables in the world, so many factors and consideration raining upon us at all times, and they are in a constant state of flux, often times the sheer volume and unpredictability of life is so overwhelming that everything feels like chaos. There is no solution to this stress, or feeling of being powerless, we simple must soldier on, make the best of what we have, and manage as best we can with what we can control. We can let go, and let the current of the river take us. We can be a passenger and watch the world from under glass and believe that everything was made for us. Try our best to stay strong and calm.

This too connects with me, and I suspect virtually everyone who has ever lived.

In a fever dream, not long ago I came to realize that everything I had control over in my life was extremely well managed, it was only the elements where others possessed influence over me that were seriously harming and hurting me. As frustrating as all this is, it made me in no way unique, we are all passengers unable to take perfect control of our lives. Sometimes we can only go where the S Bahn takes us. Sometimes all we can is ride, and ride and ride.

“Lust for Life” expresses a strong element of Iggy Pop’s personality and life, and equally so does “The Passenger,” for this life is no less, and in fact probably more so at the time of writing this song, chaotic, and he was surely both literally and symbolically a passenger. So, we all are too.

- King of Dreams

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Led Zeppelin - Gallows Pole



Led Zeppelin has a lot more cover songs than most people know; this is fundamentally true for two reasons. The first explanation resides in the simple truth that Led Zeppelin are the greatest band ever, so naturally their versions of songs are vastly better known than the originals. The second factor to note is that all Zeppelin covers are very different from the originals.

A quick summary of early days Zeppelin covers contains:

From Led Zeppelin One:
  • “You Shook Me” originally by Muddy Waters.
  • “I Can’t Quit You Baby” originally by Willie Dixon.
  • “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” written by Anne Johannson.
  • “How Many More Times” contains a verse from Albert King’s “The Hunter.”
From Led Zeppelin Two:
  • “Lemon Song” is a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues.”
  • “Bring it On Home” originally by Sonny Boy Williams.
From Led Zeppelin Three:
  • “Gallows Pole” originally by Leadbelly... sort of.
Perhaps the most interesting cover is “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” as it was a popular song of unknown origin. At the time of recording the first Zeppelin album the most popular version was by Joan Baez from a live recording which had no credits to the author, so Zeppelin presumed that it was an old song whose creator was forgotten. It was not until the 1980’s when the original writer, Anne Johannson, was made aware of Zeppelin’s existence and their cover of her song, which at that point was really her own fault, who the hell lives through the sixties and seventies and never discovers Zeppelin? I found this article to be a nice explanation of the history of the song: https://santafe.com/blogs/read/the-tangled-tale-of-babe-im-gonna-leave-you

We can see from the decreasing presence of cover songs that Zeppelin was naturally coming more and more into their own as time went on. This is very common for musical groups, especially when it comes to live performances, song writers refine their craft and their ability to create original material comes more naturally with time. This is why Zeppelin Four onward is effectively all original material. But of all the covers, and quasi covers Zeppelin embarked upon, the sole example on their third album “Gallows Pole” is my favorite.

“Gallows Pole” was among the first Zeppelin songs I heard on the radio when I was young and discovering music for the first time. Along with “The Immigrant Song” it was “Gallows Pole” that made it very important to me to get a copy of Led Zeppelin Three as quickly as I could.

I dabble in guitar, and the only Zeppelin song I ever came close to learning with any kind of ability is “Gallows Pole.” More accurately I was capable of playing one part in particular which is the fast back and forth between A major and G major, this serves as a bridge between verses and the chorus, and it is very fun to play. I know I am stating the obvious here but Jimmy Page’s guitar on “Gallows Pole” is freaking fantastic.

Or is it Page’s guitar work? After all this song was written by Leadbelly. The answer is still yes, Page’s guitar work is fantastic. Leadbelly’s original version is very different from the final manifestation we hear on Led Zeppelin Three.

Leadbelly - Gallows Pole

Is it really Leadbelly's guitar work we are comparing to Page's?  The answer is interestingly only so much, as Leadbelly never claimed to have written "Gallows Pole" he claimed it was an old folk song he had learned somewhere.  So unlike "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" the "Gallows Pole" is literally an old folk song whose original creator is forgotten. 

In recent years, it has become somewhat common among music critics to accuse Led Zeppelin, and specifically Jimmy Page, of being thieves of African American music. I do not really agree with the venom of that accusation. Zeppelin always gave credit to their inspirations but also they changed so much in all of their cover songs. Listen to Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole” the lyrics are modified, the guitar solo in Zeppelin’s version is completely original, the rhythm and bass does not exist in Leadbelly's version and that bridge I mentioned earlier, the A major G major combination, it does not exist in Albert King’s version. Zeppelin’s cover is barely that, it is more so a complete re-imagining on the song’s concept.

It is not like we accuse Gounod of stealing from Bach when he created “Ave Maria,” despite how very different the final product is from it’s inspiration “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” I feel like that is what I am hearing when I listen to a song like “Gallows Pole,” it is undeniable that it is not an original song, but what Zeppelin did with it made it a unique entity all on its own, just like the “Ave Maria.”

Go and listen to Joan Baez version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” nothing like Zeppelin’s, and the same goes for every other example listed above.  

Potential controversy aside, we, humanity, win in the end, because we get multiple great songs by multiple great musicians. We have the blues to thank for rock and roll, and we have rock and roll to thank for giving us all a reason to live.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Monday, April 17, 2017

Led Zeppelin - How Many More Times



Music, and all art, is a perpetual motion machine. Ideas grow from other ideas and spawn new inspiration in an endless cycle of connectivity. There is no beginning, and there is no end.

Led Zeppelin is the greatest thing that ever happened. As someone who has dedicated a large amount of his free time expressing his love of music online it follows that my favorite band of all time would carry tremendous importance to me. Like all things music, Led Zeppelin, are part of the endless evolution of music and while they have their obvious admirers who have followed in their footsteps their heroes are not so well known, largely because Zeppelin eclipsed them all in every way.

I love the blues, and I doubt I would love it so, if it not for Led Zeppelin. This is one of those working backwards discoveries, where I love one band so much I want to know where they got their ideas so unavoidable the eventuality of discover moves in the reverse chronological direction.

The first installment of Led Zeppelin, their self titled debut album, is the clearest example of direct blues inspiration on them. There are three straight cover songs on Zeppelin One, “You Shook Me” by Muddy Waters, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Willie Dixon and while not a blues cover “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is a folk song originally written by Anne Johannson, more on that next review.

It does not end there though, possible my favorite song from this iconic album is “How Many More Times.” It is this song which may have dubbed John Paul Jones bass guitar playing as “galloping” as the punch behind the bass is at it’s highest. Everything about “How Many More Times” feels like a blues inspire rock song, and it is doubtless that it is, but unlike the afore mentioned covers this is primarily original material, and I am unable to pinpoint any direct connection to previous blues song, though that tragically may have something to do with my ignorance of blues music.

There is one clear blues inspiration in “How Many More Times” and that is the melody at the end of the song where two unique changes in pace and sound emerge. The first being Robert Plant breaking into an ode to a woman named Rosie:

“Oh, Rosie, oh girl.
Oh, Rosie, oh girl.
Steal away now, steal away.
Steal away now, steal away.
Little Robert Anthony wants to come and play.
Oh, why don’t you come to me baby?
Steal away.”


For the longest time when I was young I was convinced this was the beginning of blues medley and that “Oh Rosie” must be a cover of sorts, but with the all human knowledge in one place device (the internet) I have been unable to confirm this as true, which leads me to believe this is actual a true to form classic ramble from our friend Robert Plant.

The only meaningful connection I can draw between Rosie and the blues is the old African American work, or negro prison, blues song titled, simply, “Rosie.” Which is a song about the men working and in the distance, there is a woman named Rosie who none of the men can ever speak to or touch, but she tempts them daily. Which would make sense if this influenced Robert Plant in some way.

"Rosie" - Recorded at Mississippi State Penitentiary:

Then we have a second shift in style and with Robert singing:

“Well they call me the hunter, that’s my name,
They call me the hunter, that’s how I got my fame.
Ain’t no need to hide, Ain’t no need to run.
‘Cause I’ve got you in the sights of my……… gun.”


This portion of “How Many More Times” is a blues cover. The original is by Albert King and is titled "The Hunter.”

Albert King - The Hunter

Albert King, I have talked about him before in my review of Derek and the Domino’s “Layla” in which I discussed how his song “As the Years Go Passing By” was partial inspiration for the guitar in that song. You can read all about it here: http://colinkellymusicinreview.blogspot.ca/2016/04/derrick-and-dominos.html

In live versions, the medley is longer and includes more rambling that I have been forced to believe are additional creations of Plant’s mind as I have been unable to draw any connection and usual it functions as an extension to the “Oh Rosie” portion of song.

I very much like the BBC sessions which includes the short repetition of “It’s alright, it’s alright,” which perhaps too little to find a proper connection to a blues song, or more likely it is Plant doing his rambling thing. However, the inclusion of:

“Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg.
Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg.
If you don’t squeeze me the way I want you to baby,
Swear I’m gonna kick you out of bed.”


Will be immediately identified as part of Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” from their second album, which is a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues,” which is yet another blues cover by Led Zeppelin.

Robert Johnson - Traveling Riverside Blues

I read somewhere that Plant would break into Buffalo Springfield’s “On The Way Home” in some live versions, but I have never heard a version like that, and I have listened to many versions of this song live; so interesting if true.

It is a fine thing looking to our hero’s heroes. The first couple Zeppelin albums we see just how much blues and African American music meant to Jimmy Page and the boys, and in turn I appreciate all the unique changes they made to all of these songs, even their covers dramatically differ from the originals, but I will be discussing more of that in the next review.

- King of Braves