Against Nostalgia..Why Am I Singing Those Old Songs?

 

Links for free streaming and or downloads

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/hosannas-for-the-rag-doll-jukebox-shadows

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/memorials-for-the-living

 

 

There comes a time when nostalgia is no longer nostalgia. It is history, part of the chronicles, sometimes autobiography.  When the thirty year old regresses into college day memories, it is nostalgic self indulgence.  Thirty years later it is self examination, and still later, dreams.

I am watching John Cassavetes on the set of his final film.  I am looking at worlds once thought to be eternal, now folded into unread archives.  Who will walk in these footprints left by ghosts ? Does the work of one century have a place in the next?  Here is a picture of a woman smoking.  In time, someone will look at that picture and will not know what is the object in her mouth.   The film will lose all its meaning, and the exploration of what is required of people to learn what it means  to love one another will have been long abandoned, and this relic, which  breaks if wound through antique projectors, will restart unknown.

 

Voices tell me that these songs sound like songs I have recently written. and I protest that they are songs I have been listening to over the past fifty years.  I am not singing them now because I am nostalgic for the days that I heard them for the first time.  I hate nostalgia.  It sickens  me.  I hear Andy Williams sing Moon River and it is more depressing than Reverend Gary Davis when he sings Death Aunt Got No Mercy.   Please don’t remind me of my mother watching prime time television in the sixties when the last time I saw her was in a hospice room. Nostalgia hurts more than the loneliness of a survivors guilt.

 

I used to cover every song I liked.  The last one I bothered to learn was Ship to Wreck by Florence and the Machine.   A few years before that, after the death of Merle Haggard, I learned Kern River.  The last period of absorbing the work of others was more than fifteen years ago, when I was deep into the secret worlds of post-Lilith female songwriters Dar Williams, Natalie Imbroglio, Dido,  Nelly Furtado, and latter day Tori Amos.   Before that I learned all the songs of my top three Britpop bands…Suede Blur, and Pulp.  I am not nostalgic about any of these bands.  When I play then today, on my guitar or on my computer, they are not significant of any personal era.  These are not songs of my returning, but songs marking certain crests in the evolution of rock and roll.

 

I learned to play songs from songbooks.  My first was Elvis Presley, then Bob Dylan although his songbook was useless as most of the songs were in piano keys that a novice guitarist could not play properly.  Later, some major magazine put out a collection of popular songs from the sixties, most of which were easy to play, and even the difficult ones, such as Alfie, were within my reach. I learned a lot about songwriting from the sheet music for The Bands second album and Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait  In the SC, I learned everything from Elvis Costello up through Punch the Clock.  By that time, I was usually able to figure out how to play the songs without reference to the sheet music.

 

I think the idea that nostalgia is a province of the elderly is a fallacy.  Young adults attending a 10 year high school reunion try to impress their old schoolmates with how young they still look, knowing at last after a decade of youthful indulgence that they are no longer teenagers. These are the nostalgic ones.  Thirty year old adolescents feeling out of place in the clubs where they still think their best times were had.  At thirty, one is still young enough to long for their 18 year old self, and when that final rupture with the ghosts of their past hurls them into an adulthood without return, the nostalgia cord begins to unravel.  by the time they pass through middle age into retirement, they realize at last they will never be young again, and the things that were once the source of their nostalgias no longer exist.

 

A man and his five surviving friends from the war in the South Pacific stay in touch for a decade or so after the end of the war.  They dub themselves the Bastardly Six and continue to define themselves as such until the last of them is dead.  But in their latter years as each in turn faces his own private confrontation with eternity, they realize the Bastardly Six exists only in their minds.  And they revisit the days on the warship as one revisits a well worn, often read book.  the Last of the Bastard Six decides to write a book about his war experiences, believing that his descendants will eagerly read it to learn more about their family history, that he himself will earn a kind of immortality in the chronicling of his own memories.  but nobody reads the book.  Nobody even wants it among their belongings.  And so the legend of the Bastardly Six becomes a lost chapter in nobody’s history.

 

Some say the elderly retire from reality to live in their dreams of the past, and while there is an element of truth in this, the full measure of their twilight existence is misunderstood. Unlike the young nostalgic, the elderly know there is no past to which they can return.  After a certain age, nothing remains of the world they have lived through.  But their minds contain the entire epic that was their life, and any chapter of it is immediately accessible. They watch their life as if it is a movie they acted in, but have never seen.  There is little if any nostalgia attached to it because nostalgia would be unbearable.  It is the distance that makes reflection and self examination possible.  Once everything is lost,  there is no song of returning.  At the 50th high school reunion, it is a not uncommon for most to admit to themselves and to each other that this will be the last time  they will all be together in this way.

 

In the late autumn of 1974, John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence opened at the luxurious Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle, Washington.  I saw it every day of its brief run and on the last day brought a tape recorder with me and recorded the sound so I could listen to it in my apartment after it was gone.  I attended the matinees, and no more than 25 people filled the 2000 seats at any given time.  These were the last days of the theatre where The Sound of Music  had played for two years straight and I had seen El Cid and Cleopatra in my pre adolescence.  Within four years, it would close as a movie theatre and eventually re open as a live venue for musical theatre.  In 2002, I took a job ushering Les Miserables  just so I could be inside the building once more.  That was an action of unabashed nostalgia, one that I don’t regret,

 

Not many people liked the movies Cassavetes made, but I had been a fan since Faces, his second picture, was released in 1968. My love for his work was vindicated in the late SC, when a retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive drew sellout crowds.  It was thrilling to sit with  200 other people who shared my love for the film. I thought Cassavetes was finally being recognized for his brilliant work. I didn’t want to go back to the lonely Fifth Avenue theatre to see it again.  I looked forward to seeing it several times in the future, each time with a larger audience.  And I did.  But these times passed as well.  today I can watch the Criterion DVD by myself and mourn the passing, not only of the director, but of the world in which he created his films, films he believed in although audiences were sparse, because he knew what he was doing was real.  Throughout his career, the one thing that remained constant in his work was an insistence upon the necessity of people learning how to love one another.

 

When I watch his movies today, as well as those of other brilliant film, directors from those times…..  Sam Peckinpah, Robert Cresson, Michelangelo Antonioni,  Bernardo Bertolucci, Luis Bunuel…….I feel a pain deep in my heart and my guts for the passing of an unfulfilled art form, cut off in its prime by assassin producers and moronic directors, vain actors and actresses, bitter screenwriters. avaricious investors, and entertainment craving audiences.  Jean Luc Godard was a little premature when he, in 1969, declared the End of Cinema,  but here in 2019 we are many years past its death and maybe even the rotting of its corpse.

 

The same can be said of popular music.  If the sixties gave us anything, it was a splendidly diverse banquet of Top 40 music for AM radio.  Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Herb Alpert, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash, Tommy Roe, The Supremes, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones,  Petula Clark,  Bob Dylan, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Peter Paul and Mary…just to name a few acts that could be found on the weekly playlists.  Today there is no music industry, just a computer that spits out variations on the same data year after year.  Am I nostalgic for the old days?  No, but I still love all that music that came out  between 12.07,1941 and 09.11.2001.

 

And that is why, after three months of intensive song writing and recording which this year yielded 90 new songs, I spend October winding down by recording twenty or thirty cover songs.  I don’t do it out of nostalgia, but to remind myself of what I like in a song, in all those hundreds of songs written by people serious about writing songs.  And I am reminded of why we write these songs, and what people get out of listening to them.  Even though there is a very thin market for songs that continue to expand the language of popular music, there are more people than ever practicing the art.  You just have not heard of most of them.  Some, for sure.  And everybody has their favorites, but there is no cover of LIFE  magazine that everybody sees every time they walk into any store…no new faces on the cover to excite the world about a new singer named Bruce Springsteen, a new play called Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a new movie called Apocalypse Now.  So we live in a time of unparalleled creativity about which we know little o nothing.  And those who continue to labor in such a dead zone of complacent disinterest try to maintain their connections to the work done in the past, when the whole world was indeed watching, or listening, and caring.

 

So once I year I put together an album or two of covers.  tis year I am simply adding tracks to last years pair of cover albums,  one featuring the songs of those still living, the other of those who have passed on. And the albums can be downloaded free of charge…or you can simply tune in and listen to the tracks that you think you might like.  Its not about nostalgia.  Its about the continuum.  And we shall continue.  Even if we are nothing but falling trees in an empty forest.

 

Links for free streaming and or downloads

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/hosannas-for-the-rag-doll-jukebox-shadows

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/memorials-for-the-living

 

 

 

 

Free Downloads… Top 60 Songs

Top 60 Songs from the Song.a.Day Free Downloads written and recorded July-Sept 2019 Numbers after title reflect number of downloads. Clink on link for free downloads or just to listen to all 78 songs or individual titles https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/song-a-day

1.
My Head is Out 84
2.
Summer of Love 50
3.
Sad Beyond Words 44
4.
Nobody Is Waiting for Me 29
5.
The Secrets in Her Eyes 28
6.
Ask the Babies 28
7.
Ill of the Dead 26
8.
So Deep 25
9.
Its Only The Wind 25
10.
Surrender 24
11.
The Undisciplined Truth 22
12.
Dimes and Rhymes 22
13.
Heartbreak Avenue 21
14.
Shimmering Guitars 19
15.
Five Empty Bottles 19
16.
Every Day (All I Want to Do is Poop) 19
17.
Digger Dan 19
18.
Your 4 – 1 – 1 (happy hour version) 18
19.
The Cow Said Meow 18
20.
Pizza Face 18
21.
First Love 18
22.
518 West Roy 18
23.
Sundays Only Witness 17
24.
Ode on a White House Urn 17
25.
How Was I to Know? 17
26.
Goodbye to Me 17
27.
Are You Really Gonna Marry That Guy? 17
28.
When Whiskey Wont Play Nice 16
29.
Nothing Like Yesterday 16
30.
Hurricane Jones 16
31.
Brother Blue 16
32.
A Winters Flame 16
33.
A Ballad in B minor 16
34.
Your 4 – 1 – 1 (last call version) 15
35.
Marilyn 15
36.
Get Off the Porch, Atticus 15
37.
Broken 15
38.
Your Light 14
39.
War Duology 2 Survivors 14
40.
The Girl With the Coconut Head 14
41.
I Know A Place 14
42.
First Love 14
43.
The Assassin 13
44.
Songbirds I Need a Song 13
45.
My Spooky Song For You 13
46.
I Gave My Soul to Love 13
47.
Go to Him 13
48.
Rivers and Waterfalls 12
49.
I Wrote a Book 12
50.
People Dont Pay 11
51.
Make it one, a One time 11
52.
Intro / A New Religion 11
53.
Highway 50-90 11
54.
Gwendolyn, I Like Your Face 11
55.
Forever Stirred 11
56.
Cry for Someone 11
57.
Alita Wouldn’t Go All The Way 11
58.
Summer is the Killer 10
59.
Shakespeares Final Hour 10
60.
Planet of Pride 10

How Bruce Springsteen Inspired Bill Whites New album, Rattlesnake Wasteland

 

listen to rattlesnnake wasteland here…..https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/rattlesnake-wasteland

 

 

This album is dedicated to Doug Hamilton, an Arizona cowboy who plays a fantastic rock and roll saxophone.  Doug was into Bruce Springsteen when I wasnt,  It was 1980, and we had a new wave band up in Seattle Washington.  Had I been writing songs then like the ones on Rattlesnake Wasteland, the band might have stayed together a little longer. As it happened we only recorded four songs and played one show together.  Here is the video we made.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mig8bEjDUNc&list=PL90E66F839FBB7688&index=31&t=0s

 

I wasnt aware of Springsteen until his Born to Run album, and I caught up with him on that tour.  Cant say I was impressed. The show struck me as a pretentious blend of Dylan and Van Morrison with a dash of Don McClean. Once he got though his own songs, though, he did a pretty good bar band encore of oldies.

 

I didnt listen to his subsequent albums until joining Dougs band in 1980.  Every day I showed up to rehearsal the band was upstairs listening to The River which pissed me off because I didnt see how we could make any original music if we listened to what other people were doing.  So I would go down to the basement and wait for them to come down and plug in.  I loved working with Doug, both writing songs with him and singing harmonies as well as being inspired by that screaming saxophone of his. but was always somewhat at odds with the ambitions and objectives of the band,

 

I finally came around to an appreciation of Springsteen with his Born in the USA album, but my enthusiasm didnt last. He lost me when he broke up the E Street band to play with a bunch of Hollywood rent boys.  He new songs were weak and  the act was hyperactive and empty.  Eventually he settled down and made The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1995 an acoustic album that led me back to the one I missed, Nebraska, which I had overlooked as it came right after The River.  After this I became an on again off again fan, sometimes listening, sometimes not.   Then a friend of mine sent me a three disc bootleg of a special show he did at the Somerville Theatre right outside of Boston.  It was more a conversation with the audience than a concert, with him playing his songs alone and talking about them, as well as answering questions from the audience. Finally I felt I was getting to know what he was all about beneath that facade.

 

I was also starting to appreciate that facade.  If Elvis had freed the body, and Dylan had freed the mind, then Springsteen was setting both the body and mind into motion.  His tenacity and endurance was overwhelming as he continued to perform his mammoth concerts while others, like Dylan, were relaxing into static comfort zones.  During the dreadful Bush and Obama years, Springsteen was an incarnation of the mythical American spirit as he invigorated audiences around the globe with both elegaic and critical visions of a promised land betrayed.  When I finally made the decision to leave the United States to become a expatriate in Peru,  Thunder Road was my farewell song.

 

Since then I have been looking into Springsteens work, trying to understand what it is that makes it so meaningful to so many people on so many walks of life.  One of his main attributes, I believe is that he really cares about people.  He often does a special song for specific audiences  I was particularly moved by his performance of Victor Jaras Manifesto in Chile in 2013.  He didnt have to learn and perform this song.  He did it for the people of Chile, in memory of their martyred hero and it honor of the power of music itself.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNQm1Plu63k

 

So, after all this, I have to admit I am still not a hardcore Springsteen fan, but he has become, over these many years, a profound influence over my idea of what popular music can and should be all about.  When I was writing the song Heartbreak Avenue, I found that it was impossible to sing those two words together without invoking Springsteen.  Then I wrote Rattlesnake Wasteland, two more words that had the voice of Springsteen inside them. So I faced the fact that Springsteen had become more than an individual voice but a genre unto itself.  In the early days, there were plenty of singers, from Bob Seger and John Mellencamp to  Southside Johnny and John Cafferty, who worked the Springsteen lode.  Todaym however, he seems a lone voice in the wilderness.  With Rattlesnake Wasteland, I have not tried to fake a Springsteen album, any more that Mickey Spillane was trying to be Raymond Chandler.  Im just adding my voice to the choir.
X

Rattlesnake Wasteland

by Bill White

 

1. Rattlesnake Wasteland 03:59
2. Heartbreak Avenue 02:39
3. Cry for Someone 02:29
4. The Secrets in Her Eyes 02:24
5. “Twice,” He Said 03:34
6. People Dont Pay 03:35
7. Marilyn 03:57
8. Pike Street 03:41
9. 518 West Roy 04:33
10. Nobody Is Waiting for Me 03:27

 

Free streaming for all Bill Whites albums is available here https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/

518 West Roy…anatomy of a song

 

compton-house-1906.jpg

 

 

listen to 518 West Roy, or download it for free, by clicking link below,

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/track/518-west-roy

 

I lived in a mansion  518 West Roy

21 in the 20th Century

Our dining room table was big enough for everyone

Who had come to the fair from every other where

And was boarding with us

 

Elvis Presley was strolling the fairgrounds

My sister said she saw him just hanging around

When the fair closed down, we saw Elvis in the movie

And the fairground ruins was our new playground

 

We played in the fountain and the monorail was free

Once a year on the fairs anniversary

Dylan and the Band played in the Coliseum

I bought an $8 ticket just to see em

Bumbershoot hit the grounds one Labor Day

It was free at first,  now its $100 a day

Back in 1962, for the fair you had to pay to get in

Two bucks for adults and a dollar for kids

 

There is no mansion at 518 West Roy any more

Just three blocks of condominiums

With no yards between them

A line of buildings where there used to be mansions

And I lived there

In a 20th century vision of the 21st century

The present of the past is bereaved

But all you thought you ost will be retrieved

 

 

Over a 35 year period,  Yasuhiro Ozu directed 55 motion pictures.  For the most part, each film told the same essential story.  So when we watch his films today, we are seeing the cultural history of Japan as it evolved through the years 1927 – 1962.

1962 was a pivotal year for me.  I had just returned to Seattle from South Dakota after living with my father after my mother divorced him.  At age 11, I had already made out with girls in movie theatres, eaten hamburgers in bars where men drank beer, was nearly buried alive in quicksand, stood over the grave of Wild Bill Hickok on Boot Hill in Deadwood South Dakota, wrote a 60 page essay on the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler, and waited for Old Faithful to gush in Yellowstone Park.  Now I was back in the city where I was born, but instead of the housing projects in Holly Park and Renton Highlands, I was living in a mansion on Queen Anne Hill, which had been transformed by  the Worlds Fair into a vision of the future.

My father was a gunner on the USS Enterprise during the war in the Pacific with the Japanese.  My grandfather was the Rear Admiral on that ship.  My father, a loudmouthed boozed up troublemaker, married the Admirals daughter. The Admirals wife was a flapper in the Roaring 20s, and he had her comitted to an insane asylum, where she died sometime after the turn of the century.   When the Admiral remarried to an heiress to a frozen food business in Californias Bay Area, my mother was taken in and treated like one of the new family.  But her marriage to my father resulted in her being virtually disinherited, and our family was the typical post war Boeing working class one that began in poverty and ended in middle  class subsistence.  Meanwhile the Admiral married a third time, this time to his gold digging secretary, and raised a third family in the luxurious digs of Mercer Island.

I go into this to explain how we wound up in that mansion on Queen Anne Hill.  After my mother and father divorced, the Admiral bought it for my mother to run as a bed and breakfast during the fair.

This song takes that place and tries to suggest how the city changed over the course of five decades by  observing the changing ways in which those fairgrounds have been utilized.  it is not exactly Japan as seen through the lens of Ozu, but it is Seattle as I experienced in from 1962- 2012, less the years 1982-99, when I lived elsewhere. And its just a song, not a history, not even a movie, let alone 55 movies…but I hope something of interest comes through this changing picture of a city from the persective of a house that no longer exists, and hasnt for several decades.

Marilyn..anatomy of a song

I had planned to stop writing songs after completing the four albums I had planned, and I have stopped.  But whenever  a song stimulus arises, my brain starts to organize material pertinent to that inspiration.   So, while watching with my daughter the Moscow Ballet dance the Nutcracker, it was as if somebody had typed the keyword Nutcracker into my Google Brain Songwriting App.  When the ballet ended and i was spooning lunch into my daughter mouth while she watched a Mr Bean cartoon, I grabbed a pen and paper and scribbled several stanzas about this and that without thinking. After returning home after taking my daughter to preschool, I picked up the guitar started playing it without any thought as to what I was playing, and then sang then  lyrics I had scribbled down without regard to form or melody.  I turned on the tape recorder and sang it again, then added a couple guitar parts and some effects.  On playback, I found  there were several things that didnt work, so I went back to the dining room table and did a quick rewrite, then played it again.  For the first take, i had added some guitars and effects, but the guitars were too loud and the song wasnt presnt enough, so this time I changed the mic placement and didnt add any effects or second guitar  parts. That is the version here.

Now to the way the brain works when it does all the work in writing a song.  We dont usually think of the brain working in isolation to manufacture creative work, although it is commonly accepted that people in other lines of work can perform their tasks without giving them any conscious thought.  The brain, however, does not discern between creative and menial tasks, and, if an idea for a song enters it, it will go about the work of composing that song, whether its owner is willing or not to assist.  So here is the mental process that went on without my consent as my brain scanned its memory for anything related to the Nutcracker Suite.

My lifetime friend and former songwriting partner Rob Cook  was the rehearsal pianist for Seatlle Ballets 1970s era productions of The Nutcracker suite.  Marilyn, a dancer in the company, was in love with him. as were most of the dancers.  When they were not rehearsing Rob and I  used the rehearsal studio to work on our own music and once the dancers found out about it, several of them started to come up and hang out while we worked.  So I got to know many of the ballerinas pretty well, including Marilyn, who wanted to get in good with me so I would speak highly of her to Rob.   At some point I moved about 20 miles out of town to live on a farm so when I came into Seattle, I didnt have a steady place to stay. One day Marilyn found me in a coffeehouse, scratching my pen on a piece of paper and looking frustrated.  She asked if I was ok and I said I was, except I had a song trying to get out and had no place to write it. so she invited me to come to her house and write it.  so I did.  The years passed. I moved to Boston for 17 years and upon my return to Seattle ran into Marilyn,  In the course of our catching up conversation, she said she didnt dance any more but still worked for the company in the costume department and was designing leotards on  the side, which she hoped they would buy from her.  so that is essentially the story the brain extracted from me.

Where do the Rolling Stones come in?  Well, I was putting together a heavy metal band called Sexualicatus Rex with a guy from Bath, whose brother was the tour manager for the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour.  Our project was interrupted when his brother offered him the position of Mick Jaggers personal attendant. No i suppose my brain knew it had to find an event to split up the dancer and the pianist in order to insert a time passage elision, so it pulled out the file of the band that didnt happen because of the rolling stones and made the substitutions.

The spaghetti sauce?  During the Nutcracker era, I used to visit five Sicilian sisters who lived together in the neighborhood with their mom and dad, and someone was always making spaghetti sauce, so my brain realized it needed to get Marilyn out of the room while the pianist wrote the song, and accessed that  memory.  And so the process continues, with or without the guy holding the guitar who claims authorship.

And so ends my example of my songwriting process, and why I wite so maany songs and do it so quickly.  Oh, and it wasnt until today, when I typed out the lyrics, that I see that so much of the song is Marilyn speaking.  I never thought of that at all while writing the song. Neither did I remember Lanis, my teenage heart throb, who was a ballet dancer without a future because of her large breasts.  Last I heard, she was married to a guy named Hank, running a heallth food store in California.  But I never thought of her as my own Marilyn, but I imagine my brain had her in its sights the whole time.

listen first , download for free if you like it.  click on link below.

https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/track/marilyn

 

MARILYN
I had a song in my heart
But no place to put it down
Marilyn took me home
She said, ”There is a piano in the living room.
I will be in the kitchen
Making sauce for the spaghetti
Call me if you need anything”I wrote my song and I sang it for her
And she danced my song to me

I played piano for the ballet
When they danced the Nutcracker Suite
Marilyn was the prima ballerina
And Marilyn was in love with me

I went on tour with the Rolling Stones
Played some boogie woogie and blues
But my opening act wasnt going over so well
So Im back on the corner, still paying my dues

I ran into Marilyn just the other day
She told me she was still with the company
I asked when she woud be performing next
She said, ”Those days are far behind me.
Im working in the costume department now.
They say Im the best seamstress they ever had.
Im working on designs for a new style of leotard.
Im lucky to still be living the life that I had. ”

I had a song in my heart
But no place to put it down
Marilyn took me home
Said, ”There is a piano in the living room.
I will be in the kitchen
Making sauce for the spaghetti
Call me if you need anything”

So I wrote my song and I sang it for her
And danced my song to me
Marilyn danced my song for me
Marilyn danced my song back to me

 

 

 

 

Billy Barnum, actor/poet/dancer Dead at Age 94

 

I just received word from John Voigt that poet/actor/dancer Billy Barnum passed away on July 25th at the age of 94. He studied dance with Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov and mime with Marcel Marceau.  He was the best actor I ever worked with, and I wish I had filmed his brilliant performance of my adaptation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I do have a copy of our version of Antonin Artauds To Have Done with the Judgement of God, which also features John Voigt, who initiated the project. you can see it here…