Archive for May, 2020

No matter how I struggle and strive. #PlagueSongs, no. 11

Given that I’ve played all of these on an acoustic guitar, you’d think I’d have covered a country song by now. But this song, co-written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose, is the first.

Williams recorded “I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive” in June 1952, the single was released in November 1952, and Williams died January 1, 1953 at the age of 29. The song hit #1 on the country charts that month. It was the last song released in his lifetime.

I think my favorite couplet in the song is:

And brother, if I stepped on a worn-out dime
I bet a nickel I could tell you if it was heads or tails.

I love the layers of humor embedded in those two dozen words. A dime is the smallest-sized US coin — to even notice that you were stepping on it indicates not just holes in your shoes but (likely) no socks on your feet. And there’s a comic fatalism in betting half of the ten-cent piece you’ve just found, when your odds are only 50-50 of guessing right. Merely noticing a regular dime beneath one’s feet would be remarkable; accurately guessing which side of a worn-out dime is up is, quite literally, a toss-up.

That said, the absurdity of a lawyer proving that you weren’t “born” but only “hatched” is funny on a couple of levels, too. Is it a commentary on a shifty lawyer or a shifty singer? That is, did the lawyer “prove” something impossible about Williams, or is Williams wryly acknowledging that his relationship to the “distant uncle” was “only hatched” — a plan he hatched, to claim the inheritance?

The song has been covered by many, including the Delta Rhythm Boys in December 1952.

Jerry Lee Lewis in 1995.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore in 2005.

In 2006, the Little Willies (featuring Norah Jones and Richard Julian on vocals) recorded a version.

Steve Earle did a version in 2011.

And I’m sure there are many other versions out there!

Looking for a #PlagueSong to perform? Check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!

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In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10

If you haven’t really listened to the lyrics of Hanson’s “MMMBop,” you might be surprised to see me cover it as a Plague Song. In fact, I rather hope you are surprised by the choice. (Who expects to see a middle-aged professor performing a teen-pop smash from 1997?)

As you listen to the lyrics, do note that the Hanson brothers — Isaac, Taylor, and Zac — are singing about the fragility of human relationships, and their necessity in the face of mortality. Musically, it’s an upbeat, three-chord pop song. Lyrically, it advises you to “hold on to the ones who really care. In the end, they’ll be the only ones there.” When the song was released, the brothers were between the ages of 11 and 16. And, unlike most of the other songs on Middle of Nowhere, they wrote this song — the album’s biggest hit — themselves.

One thing I love about learning even an apparently simple song (such as this) is discovering that it’s always a bit trickier than I at first think. Getting in all (or most) of the “yeahs” and “ohhs” was like memorizing a nonsense poem, a sensation further enhanced by the nonsensical chorus. I also love the fact that such a joyful, exuberant song considers mortality and the vital but sometimes tenuous bonds of affection upon which we all depend.

Here are Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson in the song’s music video (1997).

Here’s the Fabulous Pink Flamingos’ cover (2007), the version which made me reconsider the song.

Here’s the Postmodern Jukebox cover (2016), the arrangement of which highlights the 1950s doo-wop that inspired Hanson to write the song.

And, yes, as you have already noticed (via the number at the top of this blog post), we are now at Plague Song number 10. When I started, I thought, oh, I’ll be doing this until maybe late May… early June? Now, I realize that I will be recording a weekly Plague Song until maybe 2021 sometime? I truly have no idea.

But I do hope you’re enjoying my attempt to push a little hope into the world. And I hope it inspires you to create some of your own. Sing. Dance. Write. Rap. Recite a poem. Perform a scene. Draw. Paint. Sculpt. Bake. Cook. Cultivate your garden. Build something.

As readers of Leo Lionni’s Frederick (1967) already know, art creates hope. And we can all use our creative talents — whatever they may be — to that end. So, let’s do it!

Seeking a #PlagueSong to perform? Check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!

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What’s Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 4

At long last, here is Part 4 of “What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?” (Links to Parts 1 through 3 are at the end of this post.)

I did the first three every other week, but… that was not sustainable. So, I have switched to roughly once a month. Since the U.S. has no plan to manage this pandemic (and, given its malignant, incompetent leader, is unlikely to develop a plan), I expect I will be living some version of the quarantine lifestyle until at least 2021. So, health permitting, I will make a fifth episode.

As noted in this episode and the previous ones, do share your own pandemic coping strategies! I realize that what works for me may not work for you, or may simply not be available to you.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

To again quote the end of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), “Buck up — never say die. We’ll get along!”

Chaplin, Modern Times (1936): final scene
Still from end of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)

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If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9

Some of Bill Withers’ songs seem always to have existed. It is as if they were always out there in the ether, but needed him to bring them into the world. “Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean on Me” — the song I’m performing for this week’s #PlagueSong.

Here’s the late, great Mr. Bill Withers himself, performing the song in 1973.

There are many cover versions of this song. Club Nouveau’s 1987 hit cover version may be the best known. But rather than populate this blog post with cover versions (as I’ve done for many previous “Plague Songs” posts), I’ll let you seek your favorites.

I prefer here focusing only on the songwriter, who passed away at the end of March — not from COVID-19, but from heart complications. RIP Bill Withers (1938-2020). And thanks for the music.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!

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So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8

Day 53 of quarantine, and I’m covering… Robyn! On a related note, my apologies to Robyn and her fans.

As in all previous posts in this series, I strongly recommend you check out the original version — and, indeed, the cover versions by actual musicians. The song is far, far better than my performance conveys. Here’s the original audio. This is my favorite version, and the basis for my cover.

The music video, 2010. This is a different mix than the above version.

Lovely, spare, sad version recorded at the BBC Live Lounge in 2010.

Live performance from 2011. (Remember live concerts?)

There are more covers of this than I had realized. Here’s Kings of Leon’s 2013 cover, performed on the BBC Live Lounge.

An arrangement and performance by Pentatonix, 2017.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!

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