Apr 072016


Another post from the crotchety old man.

I know I’m out of touch with current slang and modern jargon. I know what OMG and LOL mean, but there are too many Internet terms I need to look up. Same for rap/hip-hop slang. I’m glad there’s such a thing as the Urban Dictionary. This all makes listening to current songs problematic.

Then, I heard this song recently:

Yes, South Philly’s, Upper Darby’s, and Villanova’s very one Jim Croce! (And how about those Wildcats last night?!?!)

Listening to it, I realized there are references that might baffle kids these days (or, to quote another Philly legend, Jerry Blavat, the Geator with the Heater, “the yon’ teens in the Delaware Valley”).

Dec 072015

For some time, I’ve been thinking about starting a thread about prosody and the relationship of words to music. Ironically, I’ve never been sure I had a substantial premise to spur a conversation and I’m not sure what I want to say.

Recently I was in a conversation about the Police song, “Every Breath You Take,” about how the song was misinterpreted as being romantic, when really the lyric is basically about stalking. I can see how giving the lyrics less than half of your attention might lead to misinterpretation—but this is heavily aided by the lyrical nature of the music itself. Perhaps Sting abetted misinterpretation by mismatching the sentiment of the lyric to the lilting music he wrote. As little credence I give to Puff Daddy’s rap appropriation of the song, perhaps his changing of the lyric to “I’ll be missing you” is actually a better match.

Contrast this against another misunderstood song, REM’s “The One I Love,” where the music really matches the anger of the lyric and the misinterpretation come from a narrow view of noting that the singer loves someone (and the listener’s projection of this onto themselves) and disregarding everything else. Here, I pin the guilt upon those listeners.

But for my favorite example of a prosody mismatch, here’s a special nugget, which I heard on a CD handed out at the Philly Music Conference, circa 1994. This song sounded dated to me back then, the product of some suburban local band still into Scandal and Pat Benatar. To me, the combination of this (trying-to-be) strident and tense music and the serious subject matter of the lyric, leads to a tragicomedy of a chorus, where the feeling of the music undermines the lyric. Bear with this song by Keiran Kacy for 1 minute:

Oops! So painful, on several fronts.

Then there are songs where the feel of the music leads to an obvious musical direction (or v/v). XTC’s “Here Comes President Kill Again” seems to fit this model. Here, I think the songwriter walks a high-wire of having to match the music to the lyric, otherwise, they run the risk of the type of comical mismatch in Keiran Kacy’s song.

Sep 142015


I’m looking for the names of people mentioned in the Bible. The rules:

  1. The song must refer to an official saint or an actual person in the Bible (not just someone with the same name i.e. Abraham, Martin and John is not about the biblical Abraham).
  2. The name can only be used once.
  3. A song can only be used once.
  4. Be sure to heed the 11th commandment “Thou shall not Bogart the thread” and limit your answers to one per response.

I will start off with Abraham from “Highway 61” (“God said to Abraham ‘Kill me a son’; Abe said ‘Man, you must be putting me on…'”)

Jun 202014

If it’s not clear from the title of this thread, the following video is Not Safe for Work, excluding perhaps, those of you working as fishmongers and truck drivers. Take caution before clicking Play on this video.

Despite becoming a super-square and super-late-to-the-party fan of Ice Cube through his Barbershop movies and other mostly family fare Hollywood movies, I didn’t purchase any of his music until yesterday, when I bought N.W.A.‘s Straight Outta Compton album. I knew a couple of songs from that album and a couple of solo Ice Cube songs from mix CDs friends gave me through the years, and I liked them. However, I objected to supporting any band with a name containing any variation of the word nigger. Despite liking the music I heard from this crew, the band’s name and the frequent use of that word and constant cursing in their songs always struck me as that set of highly inappropriate and unnecessary things out there that I could easily avoid, much like I avoid buying a bag of pork rinds, no matter how appealing those things sometimes look to me.

Well, yesterday I bought this musical bag of pork rinds. I don’t know how or when I’ll be able to listen to this stuff. I don’t support the language, but the music is excellent. I even dig the nasty language in the context of the music, much like I dig extremely foul language and brutal violence in Martin Scorsese’s movies. For some reason, though, watching a movie with NSFW content in the company of other people doesn’t bug me. Listening to music that goes well beyond my personal rules for social engagement, however, is a more difficult hurdle for me to overcome. Why?

Is the way content is framed within a film somehow safer than the way the same content is framed within a song? We don’t drive down the street with our car projecting scenes from Taxi Driver for pedestrians and other drivers to see. Would I subject others to that if I could? I can’t imagine driving down the street blasting a song like “Straight Outta Compton.” That makes sense, doesn’t it?

When can I listen to my Straight Outta Compton album? Can I play it in my backyard with my fellow middle-age, upper middle-class white friends this weekend? Can I play it in the car, with the windows up, as I drive around with my boys, or even alone? Can I play it while I’m cooking dinner? Can I play it on my iPod while I’m working out at the gym? Do I need to beware of the people around me, in case they can hear the music bleeding through my headphones? You know, headphones aren’t my bag.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Do you run across this with certain NSFW music? I like being as free and easy as the next rock ‘n roll rebel, but are there limits?

May 292014

In the past few days, I’ve become obsessed with the song “Pancho and Lefty,” by Townes Van Zandt. The lyrics contain some great lines, but the more I listen to it, the more I wonder, what is this song really about? It should be noted that I usually take narratives at face value and have trouble reading into subtext and symbolism.

The several accounts that Townes himself gives don’t really shed any light, so here’s a few theories that I’ve formed and/or collected on the internet:

  1. The narrator is telling someone a cautionary tale about the dangers of living outside the law. Pancho and Lefty are two bandits. Pancho was killed by the Federales after being betrayed by Lefty, who is allowed to keep Pancho’s money in exchange for the betrayal. Lefty’s fate is arguably not any better than Pancho’s since he’s relegated to living in a cheap hotel in Cleveland, in hiding and with the guilt of betrayal on his conscience.
  2. Pancho is Jesus and Lefty is Judas.
  3. Pancho faked his own death and is now living in hiding as Lefty.
  4. “Pancho” is a Walter Mitty-like fantasy of Lefty’s.

Any additional theories? Which one do you think is the most accurate interpretation? The lyrics follow…after the jump!

Continue reading »

May 152014

I am hoping that this will become a recurring feature here, in which I summon the collected wisdom of the Hall to help me understand what certain songs are actually about. Mostly these will be very familiar songs, some of them songs I like very much; but songs which, if push comes to shove, I actually have no idea what they are about. This isn’t to say that a song actually has to be about anything, or maybe better to say that it doesn’t have to be about any one thing. Anyway, you probably get the idea.

I want to start with “Happy Jack” by the Who. A good song, short and to the point. Can someone tell me what this song is about?


Sep 242013

My 6-year-old son asked me the other day, Why you do always call me “little friend?”

Well — here’s the answer, my little friend.

Another one that I share with my brothers is the phrase “New Kid in Town” — if you don’t want to hear about something — there’s “a new kid in town.” As in “I don’t wanna hear it…”

What lyrics do you throw out there on a regular basis in various situations?


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