Category Archives: History

628

“Here’s to the boys back in 628, where an ear to the wall was a twist of fate.”  These lyrics refer to a pack of vicious gossips, overheard by the narrator while talking a bunch of smack about him.   This tickled me when I first heard the story behind it, because 628 is the telephone exchange of the small town where I grew up and, as the saying goes, a more wretched hive of scum and villainy is scarcely to be found.

Well, okay, so that’s an exaggeration.  But, as I found out when I ventured out to work in surrounding cities, we do have a reputation for being a hardheaded, clannish, unpleasant people, and it’s not entirely unfounded.  I never really wondered about this – I hated that reputation and found it embarrassing, but it was what it was – but  I never thought about it until recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Huey Long, A Biography By T. Harry Williams.  I thought I was going to read a biography of, you know, Huey Long, but first I was treated to a pretty frank and commonsense summing-up of the parish where I was born and raised (we don’t have counties here in Louisiana, we have parishes).  Back when Louisiana was being settled, the area that would become Winn Parish didn’t have much to recommend it, according to T. Harry, whom I assume knows what he’s talking about.  The soil was too poor for farming, really, and there was nothing to trade (this is before the lumber industry took ahold).  The people who settled here were, by necessity, stubborn and possibly delusional. They were a people not much swayed by others’ opinions, and of this select group of settlers, even fewer dug their heels in hard enough to find success.  What success they did find was pitiful by wealthier parishes’ standards, but Winn Parish people likely neither realized that nor would’ve cared much if they had.  When the regional climate turned rebellious in the 1860s, Winn Parish collectively spat on the ground and instructed their delegate to vote against secession.  They weren’t slaveholders, they reasoned; it wasn’t their war.  The delegate shared this view and voted the Winn Parish conscience, and when outvoted, refused to sign off on the decision.  (He did, however, dutifully raise a force to send to fight for the Confederacy.) This was the climate that produced Earl and Huey Long, the former a poster child for Winn Parish jackassery and the latter a perfect storm of intellect, ambition and ruthlessness.

My takeaway from this, filtered through my own experience, is that if you have roots here (my own family has buried our sixth generation at Pleasant Hill cemetery), you likely have a strong streak of stubbornness running through you.  This can be a fine thing if it’s tempered with the thoughtfulness and purpose exhibited by our ancestors.  The “Winnians” of today, though, tend to have this manifest in what can only be described as douchebag behavior; insular, unthinking, a backwoods strain of pigheadedness that’s no credit to anyone.   It’s unfortunate, because we can be so much better than we are. We have the blueprints; we have the inherited ability. It’s a good thing the dead can’t reanimate, as it’s my belief that if our forefathers could see how we’ve squandered their legacy, they would summarily kick the shit out of us.

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Something happens

…and I’m head over heels  Any ’80s kid can finish the rest of that with no prompting.

So I said awhile back I owed Tears For Fears an apology and a new blog post.  A couple of posts ago, I referred to them in the context of ‘forgotten music from [my] youth.”  That’s partly true; they were huge in the ’80s and rightfully so, on the back of catchy synth-pop tracks like the above-mentioned one and Shout and Everybody Wants To … (yeah, you finished singing it in your head; don’t lie).  I knew they’d put out a couple of more songs, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found once I went looking.

So most of us know about The Hurting, their first album, which just turned 30 and gave us Pale Shelter and that gift that keeps on giving, Mad World.  1985 brought Songs From The Big Chair, their big bang that produced the tunes they’re most famous for.  In 1989 they gave us Seeds Of Love, providing Woman In Chains and Sowing The Seeds Of Love.

See, what had happened was, here awhile back I got a wild hair to see the Woman In Chains video.  It’s a gorgeous song with a video to match.  It popped into my head at random one evening, so I YouTubed it up.   At the end of it, YouTube helpfully served up some more TFF favorites.  As I watched, enjoyed, and read comments, I found myself disabused of a few notions.  1) The band is not broken up and in fact has never broken up.  Curt Smith (the chiseled, rat-tailed charmer who sang most of their earlier singles) left in 1990, but Tears For Fears carried on under the sole guidance of Roland Orzabal (the curly-haired, sad-eyed cutie) until Curt’s return in/around 2000.   2)  The quality of the music had not suffered.  Like, at all.  Unlike some acts who get boxed in by their Big Hit Sound, Tears For Fears was and is all about variety.  It’s dang near impossible to choose a favorite album or even a favorite song (although I’ve settled on one of each, subject to change, of course).

Imma start with the albums I didn’t know about.  YMMV.

Elemental, 1993:  I kind of knew about this one, in the periphery of my mind.  When I heard Break It Down Again, I immediately recalled it and even my disinterested husband said, “don’t you remember being so excited back then that they were still putting out music?”  Well, no, I don’t; my memory is for beans but that’s another post for another day.  It’s the catchiest damn song and a guaranteed mood lifter.  It has one of my favorite lyrics of all music:  They make no mention of the beauty of decay.    The awesome doesn’t stop there; Cold is kind of hilarious and has an interesting backstory, and Mr. Pessimist is just so …satisfying.   I’m going to run out of superlatives before I even get to the next album, which is just wrong because

Raoul And The Kings of Spain, 1995:  Is my favorite TFF album.  I got this one in the mail before Elemental, so I of course listened to it first because I ain’t got no sense.  I think Elemental suffered a little in its shadow, because Raoul is SEXY.  This album has swagger in spades.  The title track is sumptuous.   Falling Down is clever and fun to sing along with.  Los Reyes Catolicos is exquisite; it and the lovely Sketches of Pain are, for me, the stars of the album.  Every track on Raoul is evocative.  If you’re not emotionally spent at the end of it, yer doin it rong.  The critics hated this album.  I don’t think they got it, I really don’t.  I bought this album on Amazon for less than $5, which embarrasses me somehow.  I feel like I absconded from the temple with a priceless relic under my coat.

Tomcats Screaming Outside, 2001:  Okay.  This is not a TFF album – it’s Roland’s solo album, but since he’d been shouldering the band for so long (and since this is my blog and I do what I want) I’m going to throw it in.  In a word: DAYUM.  In two words: DAYUM, SON.   Tomcats is an acquired taste and not for the faint of heart.   It’s [here’s where I wrote some words and deleted them]  It [more deleted words]  It defies categorization; it just has to be heard.  In the interest of full disclosure, I had a visceral negative reaction to one of the songs and that colored my early opinion of the whole thing.   Funnily, this song – Bullets For Brains – has since become a favorite and I’m able to see the album for the masterpiece it is.  Low Life should have been a smash hit.  Day By Day By Day By Day By Day is quietly, desperately brilliant, and Dandelion is one of the most exuberant songs ever recorded.  Tomcats never stood a chance; it was released in the US on September 11, 2001, when our minds were on other things.

Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, 2004:  You know how when you’re cooking, and you take several tasty things and combine them into a dish? That dish can’t help but taste good while it’s fresh, but once it simmers or marinates it develops flavors that transcend its ingredients and becomes unbelievably delicious. That’s this album. The guys couldn’t have made this album earlier. They had to go through what they went through, produce the music they produced, and live their lives before this was even possible. Thank God they did, because this album is necessary to my personal wellbeing.  The way their voices blend back together after so long apart has magic in it.  This album is so … mellow.  It’s happy.  That’s not to say that all the songs are bouncy and lighthearted; some are, but the themes dealt with here are aging and loss and the passage of time, so there’s more than a hint of darkness – sadness, foreboding and resignation all take the stage.  But there’s an underlying optimism to it that is so, so appealing; it closes the circle begun by The Hurting, and there’s so much maturity and satisfaction in that.   This is Tears For Fears aged to perfection; happy, yes, but hopefully not an ending.  The title track is delightful and infectious, you’ll hear a really nice Beatles influence in both Who Killed Tangerine and Secret World, and Killing With Kindness is, simply put, my jam.

Rumor has it that the boys from Bath are back in the recording studio as of this blog post, and I’m beside myself wondering what they’ll come up with next.  They’ve never made the same album twice, and despite the obtuseness of the critics and the howls of fans who want only to relive the glory days, they keep evolving their sound, staying current and fresh.  If you like solid songwriting, fine musicianship and just all around great tunes, check out not only these albums but also Curt’s solo work – Mayfield and Halfway, Pleased.  Don’t wait – you’re just, just, just wasting time.


Soundtrack

Old vehicle = old stereo.  Old stereo = old music formats.  Old music formats = rediscovering forgotten music from one’s youth.  Ohai, Tears For Fears.

Roland Orzabal.  All I’m gonna say is, any guy capable of writing the lyrics he does deserves all the panties thrown at him.   Intelligent, thoughtful, interested in psychology, kind of a feminist – okay, a little goofy-looking* but y’all know I dig that – pretty eyes and great hair.  Why did I not notice this when I was 16?

Oh yeah; Peter Tork, that’s why.  (Why, hello again, Monkees; we got reacquainted this time last year with Davy’s passing.)  Peter.  Sigh.  That dimple!  The swingy blond hair, mischievous eyes and bright smile.  And that dimple.  It deserved its own show.   He was in his 40s by the time I discovered the show in syndication, but I didn’t care.   I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s much smarter than the character he played (see above re:  intelligent and thoughtful) but the sweetness, I believe, is innate to both Peter the character and Peter the man.   Did I mention the dimple?

Ho-oh-ohh-oh-oh-ohhoward Jones.  In a word, eccentric.  Odd-looking, kinda hyper, British.  Just my type.

Mick Hucknall, whose voice still has power over me.

“Our” music shapes us, no matter when we take possession of it.  It encodes itself into our DNA and helps make us who we are.  It’s how we explain ourselves to ourselves and how we try to explain ourselves to others.  But for teenage girls, good music made by cute boys has a little extra mojo.  Hell, the music doesn’t even have to be good if the boy is cute enough.

And with that, I’m off to go “read it in the books, in the crannies and the nooks there are books to read!”  ♪ ♥ ♫

 

*This is a dirty lie, and I don’t know why I told it.  That man is hot as hell.   We didn’t have MTV when I was a kid, and it’s a good thing because if I’d ever seen that video with him in geek glasses reading the paper in bed, I’d have done groundbreaking work in the field of celebrity stalking.


Alpha and Omega

Did you know I’ve got a twin brother?  Yeah, he’s the older, by about 15 years.  Other than that, and the four siblings born between him and me – yeah boy, we’re fraternals.

Altogether I have five siblings; all older; Len, Sharon, Tommy, Cathy and Gail.  We love each other but we don’t have very much in common, except, I guess, for Len and me.  He was born in early 1955, a baby boomer by any standard, and I was born in the fall of 1969, the last gasp of the decade that defined his generation.  I don’t remember ever sharing a house with him; by the time I was old enough to remember, he was grown and gone.  My earliest memory of him is a small framed picture in the living room, a newspaper clipping announcing his entry into the armed services.  The Air Force sent him overseas and we got back hilarious letters telling of Turkish customs that seemed so exotic to our country sensibilities.

Elton John had a song out about that time, Daniel, which tells of a traveling older brother.  There’s the hint of a backstory, a mystery; the singer is torn between missing his brother and wanting his happiness.   I associated that song with my own absent brother so strongly that even now, over 30 years later, I still can’t extricate the two.  I don’t think I’ve ever told him.

My brother is back now – back from Turkey, back from his travels, back in my life.  We talk sometimes, and it’s always a joy.  For two people raised in different eras, in different households, with utterly divergent paths in life, we have an extraordinary amount in common.  We have a similar sense of humor and sense of the absurd.  We each have unrealized artistic ability, though he has more natural talent than I do.  We hold similar (unpopular) religious and political beliefs.  Our minds run along the same paths.  We like the same music, the same comedians.  We’re thinkers in a family of doers (that sounds insulting – both ways – but it isn’t meant to).   We get each other.   Our mother jokingly refers to us as Alpha and Omega, which bemuses him and tickles me.

So, okay, he’s not really my twin.  That’s all right; he’s a swell brother and a great friend, and he doesn’t know what he means to me.