Talk From The Rock Room: August 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blood On The Blunderbuss

      In late April 2012 Jack White III released his debut solo album "Blunderbuss". "White, who through his time in "The White Stripes","The Raconteurs"and "The Dead Weather" has always been an artist interested in artistic control and unique originality, has kept these themes alive in "Blunderbuss". The LP, which unlike the thematic red and white of "The White Stripes, features a soft dark blue and black. The artwork reflects the shadowy imagery of the music inside.
     The name "Blunderbuss" means "Thunder" and "Pipe". This idea thematically exposes the heavy and explosive relationship based themes contained in the record. The comparisons by critics to Bob Dylan's 1975 record "Blood On The Tracks" are accurate and reasonable when the similarities between the two records are examined. The title of Dylan's record, like White's, is full of symbolic imagery. Blood on the tracks? Or blood on the tapes?
     Both Jack White and Bob Dylan recorded these records in a time of great upheaval and change in their personal and artistic lives. Both were going through divorces during the creation of their respective masterpieces. Dylan's seminal record, like Jack's, gives clues to the author's state of mind with its descriptive and vivid word play. Whereas Dylan's record was created with a small band of musicians jamming around Dylan's strident acoustic guitar work and soul bearing lyrics; Jack's record is a much more schizophrenic affair ranging from acoustic ballads, soul, and chunky distorted Detroit punk.
     Jack White, in a recent "Rolling Stone" interview, was quick to do away with,  "all those words that start with R-E: retro, recreate, reinterpret." Similar to Dylan, these musical tales are created with no preconceived ideas. Just honest feelings, and a medium to express it through.
     So the comparisons in this article between Bob and Jack are not consistent or designed, but only conclusions drawn from my observations and other perceived connections in the media.
Both White and Dylan are enigmatic characters, who through their mystery tap into the deepest human emotions. Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks" has been called the first "confessional' album of the "singer/songwriter" era because of it's blatantly emotional and raw content. The same can be said for Jack's "Blunderbuss" which contains such unabashed human emotion that it stands apart from much of the cookie cutter records released today. Jack once said in an interview that he had three fathers, "his biological father, God, and Bob Dylan". This statement rings true when one listens to "Blunderbuss", and one can feel the influence of Bob on every track.
     The opening track from "Blunderbuss", "Missing Pieces" sets the thematic table for the rest of White's LP. Like Dylan's opening song "Tangled Up In Blue" both of these tracks are melodically catchy and strong. They encourage the listener to wonder, is it the narrator singing this song? Or is it a fictional scene creatively drawn by the author, yet easy to relate t ? Whereas Dylan uses characters to express different faces of emotion and to symbolize people and places. Jack uses a cross gendered dialog, and points of view which are sometimes confusing but yet still familiar. Both Dylan and Jack use the pain of their divorces to create a world where their art can hide their most personal secrets, yet still expose the pain in male/female relationships that the listener can understand and relate to.
     Jack writes in one of the strongest tracks on the record "Hypocritical Kiss",
"You're the boy that talks but says nothin'
A big game to the ones that you think will believe you
But you don't know how to read,
The look on my face when it says, "yeah I've read that book too"
And who the hell's impressed by you?
I want names of the people that we know that are fallin' for this
You would sell your own mother out
And then betray your dead brother with another hypocritical kiss".
     It's lyrics like the aforementioned that blur the line between speaker and listener and symbolize the misunderstanding in male/female relationships and the mystery of love. Is Jack singing this track? Is he looking in as a detached narrator and reporting on a scene? Or is the woman in the song relaying statements in an argument? This artistic confusion adds to the drama and depth of Jack's views on the human relationship. Compared to tracks off of Dylan" Blood on the Tracks" Dylan in contrast takes his feelings and expresses them through fictional (or maybe not) characters like Rosemary, Lily, and The Jack of Hearts", or the generic he/she in "A Simple Twist Of Fate", and "You're a Big Girl Now"
    In "You're a Big Girl Now" Dylan writes,
"Love is so simple, to quote a phrase You've known it all the time I'm learnin' it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you,
Oh, in somebody's room
It's a price I have to pay You're a big girl all the way".
     Even though Dylan writes in the first person, his lyrics lend an air of mystery that leaves the listener wondering whether it is even Dylan speaking. In an interview from this period Dylan said of the dialog contained on "Blood on the Tracks", "It's my parents talking". It's an expected answer from someone like Dylan, so expressive yet so private. It feels like Dylan sometimes thinks he has let too much of his life out through his art. In recent interviews Jack is just as coy about the "meaning" of his songs. Both Jack White's "Blunderbuss" and Dylan's "Blood On Tracks" can delve into the complexity and depth of relationships because the dialog and symbolism of the songs have a similar make up .Tracks like Jack's "Take Me With You When You Go" which closes "Blunderbuss", and Dylan's "If You See Her Say Hello" are tracks longing for the love of the woman who is leaving, or has already left. These works stand in contrast to the venom filled songs such as "Idiot Wind", and "Sixteen Salteens" respectively. The ability of Jack and Dylan on these records to zero in on a emotion, and then make it a mystery in the same song is what makes these records so similar.
     On both LP's the human emotions expressed are easy to feel because we are part of those emotions, but its Jack and Bob's ability to hide and then expose these emotions at will, that make their albums special. While Dylan is well known as poet and songwriter, Jack uses his instrumental abilities as a lead guitar player to help color his lyrics in. Bob and Jack are indeed in different leagues as lyricists, but as conveyers of emotion and expressionists of interpersonal relationships, they are both talented and practiced.
     Listened to back to back, both "Blood on the Tracks" and "Blunderbuss" are strange, full of contradictions, regret, and sometimes slivers of hope. Both LP's show artists at the top of their game, fully aware of their ability to express. But like all great art always leaving a part of the story out. Mystery is what has made "Blood on the Tracks" relevant almost forty years later, and it is what will secure "Blunderbuss" in the rock pantheon.

Jack White-Love Interruption

Bob Dylan-Simple Twist Of Fate

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Remembering Elvis

     When someone like Elvis Presley is such a part of the public's collective consciousness it's hard to come to grips with what his contributions actually were to rock and roll music. We all have seen the "Velvet Elvis" paintings, the statues, the countless anthologies that compile and sometimes butcher his work, and the marketing blitz that has his likeness on everything from coffee mugs to stickers and automobiles. On a day like today where the world is remembering the 35th anniversary of his death I still believe that the perception is sometimes skewed by these commercial displays.
     When an artist's popularity reaches the heights of someone like an Elvis, McCartney, or Sinatra there comes with that popularity a sense of loss by the public at large. A loss in the sense that what the public really loved and admired about an artist like Elvis gets lost in translation over time. Even great admirers and scholars of these artist's work can be blinded by media perception and generic beliefs compiled over time.
     I want to use today's rock discussion to encourage fans of rock and roll (which you must be if you are reading this) to tear away the layers of pretense, and let yourself, even if for only a second understand the contributions as a artist and performer that Elvis Presley has given music lovers.
     Put aside the revelations of musicians like John Lennon, and Mick Jagger who's endless statements about the importance of Elvis on music can become part of the stale media view of the "King". Close your eyes and think of holding a brittle, and bright yellow Sun Record 45 in your trembling hands which you either stole or saved weeks of allowance money to bring home. Put yourself in the time of mid to late 1954 where that tangible piece of vinyl would make the rounds of your friends multiple times back and forth gathering scratches and dust during it's travels.The music existed as an object, it was not just a file set in space. Think of how in a time of family values and antiseptic boy balladeers, this white boy (who many thought was black from the record) took pieces from all existing , blues, gospel and country, and presented it a way that created a new genre of music and a new way of performance.The way we view performers was changed by Elvis. Imagine dropping the needle on that record and hearing something that had not been created before in the world of music. It's not easy in 2012 to place yourself into an unknown time. It's difficult to listen with virgin ears when in today's music world its already all been done. The shock is gone, nothing surprises anyone. But Elvis set the precedent for surprise when that first 7" single containing "That's All Right Mama/Blue Moon Of Kentucky came shaking out of turntables around the country. The single record still reverberates in every rock song that has been recorded and performed since those days.
     A new genre of music was birthed by Elvis, and losing sight of that loses sight of why we still honor his memory. Performers and musicians up through the years into 2012 have learned how its done from his examples. The trail was blazed by Elvis Presley. Don't think of Elvis Presley as a bloated drug riddled Las Vegas nostalgia act at the end of his career. Don't perceive him as an image on a beer mug or tube of chap stick. When you think of Elvis today think of a young Southern boy who took his love of Gospel and country and mixed it into a stew that would feed the world through offensive gyrations and a smoking three piece band.
    It would take an entire book not a just a blog to adequately explain the nuts and bolts of HOW Elvis did this. In this short place I just want to express the realization that the American Idol, portable music generation may have lost sight or not even care about the "Elvis" the world has told them about. But every time that a "new" pop idol hits the charts and causes girls to scream, or every time a new rock song is written and performed, it is an echo of the one who started it all. The one and only "King of Rock and Roll".