“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” (Mickey Newbury)

The “hippie cowboy” strikes where it hurts. While the Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s later version is more well known, the original’s commitment to both sitar at the beginning and tape manipulation at the end signal that the stakes are a bit different. Any altered state here is premised on a warped negligence; your “mind” should be elsewhere and soaring. Just make sure to check in once in a while: lubricate social relations, follow “sign[s],” and “unwind” as others are wont to do. Testify to the intensity of experience. Make sure that your mind is “broke[n]. And always be packing a spare “you,” since it’s the best you can do on a daily basis (given the legal limits). Be here now and then.

 

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“Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

Watching the Foundation for a Better Life’s commercial featuring this trax—a stitched-together series of royalty-free videos, it seems—one probably wouldn’t assume that it’s related to Philip Anshustz, notorious contributor to and advocate for causes aimed at defeating Kyoto Protocol compliance, overturning LGBT rights in Colorado, and an intelligent design think tank (the Discovery Institute). “Focused on our commonalities, not the beliefs that divide us,” the Foundation aims to “share [positive] values.” But it also tiptoes ever so gently onto the ground of Antonio Gramsci’s “good sense,” claiming that even though “people are basically good,” they need a “simple reminder.” Clarkson’s video, comes at this same point from the opposite direction, positing one’s younger self as the avatar of complete faith in the realization of emancipation. The difficulty is figuring out who the oppressors are. Willingly deaf parents ignoring the pleas of a youngster? Exurban/Suburban isolation and a temperate climate? Record company execs and rejection ad infinitum? Don’t be misled, because it’s not about being a victim. Saying “goodbye” to “make a change”—considering business propositions—is the “risk” to be taken in a world that rewards entrepreneurial moxie. Libertarian domination.

 

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“He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” (The Crystals)

Sanger’s got nothing on this. Sandwiched between the releases of “Uptown” and “He’s a Rebel“— the transition from lionizing the common, alienated working stiff to affirming the sensitive  rebel—Spector’s most unsuccessful single takes dead aim at the foundational violence of the betrothal’s gift: the landed man. Spiraling strings, especially at the song’s center, explain this problematic logic by centering on the “care” which induces the “glad” somnambulance of the “tender” self.

 

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“Object-Subject (Breakdown’s Not Enough)” (Keith LeBlanc)

Given the “major malfunction” which was NASA’s Challenger, the breakdown of the subject-object dyad is more like a gross disabler, circulating in finite varieties. The evidence: distorted power chord bass gives voice to dubbish bass roots; “subject-object” repeated in different registers and at different speeds; panning (and sustained) shrieks circle the listener’s head; and precision scratching terminates at the same tonal origin regardless of direction. All mark the tonality of our common “adopt[ion]” which, ultimately, never reaches escape velocity.  (Even guns meet this conceptual wall.) A mental atom bomb (depicted on cover) still won’t break the dualism; denying exploration as discovery, the more just breakdown—eluding just more of the same—materializes in the actionable, continual appraisal (and subsequent dissolution) of what’s “here.”

 

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“That’s Me” (Theo Beckford)

One can easily conjure the scene. It involves one of the inventors of the ska rhythm—the man whom Skatalite Tommy McCook called “Skavoovie”—a pianist who hasn’t been paid for his last record date and subsequently confronts his producer and draws a line in the studio’s dirt floor. “That’s me,” on this side, and “that’s you,” on the other. We’re not the same, and therefore you owe me: “I want my money” and, when you’re ready, “call me about it.” One might call this trax crass and materialistic (and perhaps it’s no more than a studio afterthought, since it ended up as a b-side), but there’s also something about this crude form of spacing that cannot be wished away. If we could replace “me” and “you” with just “us” or “one,” we might be able to eliminate the daily dilemmas of communication, obligation, and economy. But “we” remain differently-related: even as “I” try to indebt “you,” “I” remain fatally dependent upon “you” to hear my call. Our mortal differences, no matter how slight they seem, are not expungeable, and even when “me” and “you” converts to “I and I” a decade later in rasta-talk, attempting a drastic and equalitarian pronominal reduction, each speaker still necessarily leaves some space open for the conjunction and the second iteration of “I.”

 

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“Funkentelechy” (Parliament)

Funk’s not about freedom of speech since that enterprise is grounded on the possibility of future dividends (or “possible funkability” funded by “high finance”). Rather, funk is always fully realized and can “be scored everyday”; and it’s surely not “domestically produced” or given, but a given, free of charge. More succinctly, funk is a predisposition without a constitution and an affirmation of a possible being decoupled from sovereignty. This would be the freedom which can never be granted or purchased, and the dissolution of any (self)governance is premised on everyone “hav[ing] change for funk” or, more directly, untethering pleasure from self-care.

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“Sukiyaki” (Kyu Sakamoto)

Originally entitled “I Look Up When I Walk,” singer answers loneliness by preventing the spilling of tears. Walking (in winter) “beyond” the clouds and sky and avoiding the “shadow” of night, the problem of feeling “alone” is that it must have its origins in the familial/familiar; by having the eyes serve as bowls, truly, the prismatic effect of looking through tears possibly allows access to “happiness,” but this can only come about through willful delusion. As the biggest hit by a Japanese act in America (number one in between Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” and The Essex’s “Easier Said than Done”), this is the sweet stew(ing) produced by the tether of (ascetic) love.

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