Wow, Pal, look at our renovated home! What a beautiful new look to our beautiful blog. Good job!
OK, let’s wrap this up – my top 10 favourite musical “girlfriends” and my “relationships” with them. Part I ended with a cliff hanger almost as epic as “who shot J.R.” I know the world has been on the edge of its seat, so let’s get down to it. The top two. Here we go:
Ah, Blue. Beautiful horrible Blue.
Blue is the girlfriend who is way smarter than you and knows it; who blows your mind one day and chews it apart the next. Sexy without being pretty, loving without being kind; she is moody as hell and crazy as a loon. She’ll give you the greatest days of your life and the darkest nights.
Blue is amazing. People write books about it. Characters in movies define each other by their reaction to it. It is haunting and deeply personal, from the giddy high of a summer fling (“Carey”) to the saddest Christmas song ever (“River”). It has 10 short songs and a total running time of 35 minutes. Every word has meaning. Every note matters. Blue is lean. Blue is perfect.
I bought Blue in high school because I figured I probably ought to have some Joni Mitchell in my collection and because I thought Nazareth’s cover of “This Flight Tonight” was pretty sweet.
But I was not ready for Joni. That crazy, undulating voice was too much. I had no idea what it was going to do next. The songs had peculiar arrangements and strange lyrics about living in a box of paints and the frying pan being too wide. It was stark and agitating.
She even admits she’s a pain in the ass:
I’m so hard to handle,
I’m selfish and I’m sad.
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I’ve ever had.
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
It’s not that I was indifferent. This was not a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. I HATED it. It hit me in ways I didn’t want to be hit. I ripped the tape out of my ghetto blaster and hurled it against the wall.
The next day I put it back in and listened on.
Then I hurled it again.
I dove in. I jumped out.
I listened on.
I grew to like half the songs – NOT the piano songs, but the ones with guitar and Appalachian dulcimer.
I lost the tape. I forgot about Blue.
Years later, something made me think of it.
I bought the CD.
I listened on.
I learned to like a few more of the songs. All but two, in fact – the title song and “The Last Time I Saw Richard”. Pure shit, both.
I lost the CD. I forgot about Blue.
Years later, something made me think of it.
I bought it on i-Tunes.
I listened on.
This time the title song and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” got my attention. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough of “The Last Time I Saw Richard”.
It took two decades and three formats but she finally got herself fully and completely under my skin.
Now let’s talk about “The Last Time I Saw Richard”. Last song on the album. Three verses: in the first Richard deconstructs Joni; in the second Joni deconstructs Richard; in the third the passage of time proves that they both win the argument and lose at life.
Here’s how it ends:
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes, dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.
The way she sings “gorgeous” makes you believe she believes it. The way she sings “dark café days” you know she doesn’t.
In the dying moments of the song, the piano rises in a hopeful lilt, there is a pause…
…you feel optimistic…
…and then she finishes it off with one last plunk – a dark, moody down-note that fades into silence. I think it’s the saddest note in pop music.
That’s Joni for you – always screwing with your head.
Truth be told, Blue should be number one. It’s the best album on this list, hands down. Alas, this list is not about best, it is about love. And love rarely makes sense. So number one goes to another.
1. Sinead O’Connor
So far this list has been about albums. But number one is about the artist.
Sinead O’Connor. My freaky secret misunderstood girlfriend. Here is my love letter to her:
My Darling Sinead:
I am so thrilled to be refreshing our love after so many years! Your latest album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You), is a revelation.
From addiction songs to hymns to love letters about your son, you have done it again! My personal favourite, despite the unfortunate fecal imagery, is “Queen of Denmark”, blending lovely and restrained verses of judgment and regret with screaming bursts of fury. Classic you. One of the best albums of last year if you ask me.
I know what you’re thinking – if I love it so much why don’t I tell the world? Why don’t I blog it, shout about it, and share it with others?
Because I am weak, my darling. I am weak. It pains me to say it, but digging Sinead O’Connor is pretty much the least cool thing a dude can do. You just can’t be singing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” on the baseball bench. And while I know you have your fans, they are few and far between in my world, and I rarely encounter one. So I keep you as my secret love. My secret freaky love.
You are hugely famous but not very popular. You have courted controversy your whole career. People think you look, dance and act strange. They don’t like the things you say about sex, politics and religion. Especially religion. Who could forget The Incident? October 3, 1992, you went on Saturday Night Live and ripped up a picture of the Pope while shouting “fight the real enemy!” Everyone went nuts. The media lambasted you. Joe Pesci wanted to smack you. Even Madonna, that hypocritical publicity whore, judged you.
I didn’t judge you, my darling. I loved you even more. I saw the act for what it was – a brave statement, way ahead of its time, against a deserving target. The pope, as lovely as he may be, is the figurehead of a church that fights progress every step of the way; that opposes a woman’s right to choose and protects and coddles the horrifyingly high number of child abusers in its midst. How could anyone be offended by a statement against that? I’m offended by their offence. If they oppose your statement what exactly are they in support of?
So while so many had the nerve to write you off, I knew the truth about your inner beauty; just as you said on “You Cause as Much Sorrow”:
Just sounds more vicious
Than I actually mean
I really am soft
Yes, I’m tender and sweet
So I have spent 20 years adoring your first two albums, and I have done so alone.
The Lion and the Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
How many artists have burst onto the scene with a one-two punch like that? The pair of them is an electrifying mash-up of styles – rock, punk, folk, dance, spiritual – with crazy profound lyrics and epic tunes. And your voice, your magnificent voice, expressing judgment, fury, remorse and longing, sometimes within the same verse. Slant Magazine called the Lion and the Cobra “one of the most captivating (and promising) debuts in rock history”: http://www.slantmagazine.com/music/review/sinead-oconnor-the-lion-and-the-cobra
I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got was even better, and it made you a star (up until the Pope-ripping thing, at least).
Quite honestly, I don’t know how it managed to be so popular.
In one song, a woman spends her nights stretched across her love’s grave. In another, you call England a fascist state that kills black boys on mopeds. Elsewhere, you sing about cold babies, wrecking the bedroom and sex so hard “there was blood on the wall”. Sometimes you sang with nothing but a drum machine. Sometimes you sang with no instruments at all. You prayed and ranted, criticized and shrieked.
Hardly the stuff of commercial success. How the hell did this moody, eclectic album sell 7 million copies?
Funny what a Prince song called “Nothing Compares 2 U” and a tear-streaked video can do. I wonder how many people bought the album because of that song and never listened to the rest of it.
The crazy thing is it’s not even the best song on the album. Hell, it’s not even the best heartbreak song – that would be “Last Day of Our Acquaintance”.
I promise there will be no such day for us, my darling. My commitment to you is everlasting, even if it must be ever-alone.
Yours in Secret,
Well there you have it, Pal – my top 10 musical girlfriends: best album – Blue. Most beloved artist – the polarizing Sinead O’Conner.
Before I sign off, I must share this video – crazy, wild, angry Sinead in all her fiery glory. Of all the rooms I wish I’d been in, this is very high on the list. I recommend watching right to the end:
While there aren’t a lot of Sinead fans in my life, clearly they’re out there.
Hmm, maybe I need to move to Ireland.