“Give me your darkest hour
Give me your deepest fear
Just give me a call and I’ll be there”
When done right, the music is there.
But it hasn’t been there for a very long time.
You want to listen to a great record. It calls out to you. And it’s never about a party, never about a hang, it’s always personal. And that can be Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” or Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” never mind Sublime’s “What I Got” and scores of classic rock tunes.
Too often it’s podcasts that call out to me today. At least they require total concentration, in a world that’s so distracting and disturbing, it feels good to surrender, just like watching great streaming television, whereas when you listen to a great record it’s just the opposite experience, it’s not hard focus, rather the song sets you free.
I mean how many times have I replayed a track, wanting to catch the words from the top, and found I’ve missed them again. Because as soon as I hear the music it sets my mind free, to roam. And who knows what I’ll think about. But one thing is for sure, it’s personal, it’s from my eyes, my mind, which is quite a respite in this world where people are constantly telling us how to think, what to believe.
So when I step out of the car to go hiking I’ve usually got a podcast in mind. But I must say, the offerings have slimmed, at least what I want to listen to. Enough with the true crime, enough with the bros pontificating and laughing at a party you were not invited to, I don’t want TV on audio, podcasts should be a different experience.
I like news analysis. I can get some great insight, but it’s usually dry. But unlike school, I’m choosing to listen. Learning gets a bad name, I wish I was in charge of education. No, scratch that. I just want to inspire people, show them the magic of reading, of listening, of analysis. Not for my benefit but theirs, to enrich their lives, which are too often somnambulant in front of the TV or drinking and getting high with their friends.
But the educational system eviscerates the upside of reading and analysis, makes it anathema as opposed to a pleasure. What’s great about college is the hang, the bull sessions, you’ll find they’re more important than anything you learn in class. And the benefit of a liberal arts education is you learn how to analyze, how to sift through the information and come up with a conclusion, how to argue your case. Law school was dreadful. I already knew how to do it all from college. Law is not an intellectual pursuit. Just read these cases, positively mediocre writing. Not that there are not intellectuals in law, but they’re a minority.
Then again, there are intellectuals who need to tell you so. Whereas when done right music is not about status, it’s singular, how you respond to it, how it makes you feel. And this is the exact music that is pooh-poohed by the academy, but it is this music that’s gotten me through life. Been there when I’ve been exuberant, been down in the dumps, it’s ridden shotgun my entire life, but too often today it’s old stuff, even though there’s nothing like the discovery of something new.
“I want you to know wherever your road wants to go I’ll never be far, I’ll always be right where you are”
Hiking is inherently singular, and that can be both rewarding and disillusioning, and to avoid bad feelings I oftentimes reach for a podcast, like I said above. But last night I reached out for a record. I wanted to hear Chris Stapleton’s “Higher,” and it’s been a long time since that has happened.
I did not feel assaulted. I did not feel like Stapleton was my best friend. But I did think he was emoting, feeling something, and we’re all feeling human beings, whether we’re in touch with that or not, whether we deny it or not.
And a great record puts you in a mood, and it takes you on a ride. Sometimes on a roller coaster, sometimes a canoe on a placid lake, but it’s definitely a journey. One too often I don’t want to take. Because of the endless drivel, the endless mediocrity purveyed today. It’s a business enterprise, not an artistic one, no matter what the “artist” says. A great album should exist independent of the charts, independent of the system, it should exist in the ether, Dead Sea Scrolls, tablets on a mountaintop, that don’t beg for attention but just exist, waiting for your discovery.
And I will say that yes, a lot of Stapleton songs sound similar. And as great as his voice is, it sometimes blends into the track, especially live. But when you listen to “Higher” you can’t help but envision a performance, one of yore, in a club, in an out of the way location, with barnboard on the walls, with just acoustic instruments on a low-slung stage. And this is music that can be rendered live, sans hard drive, it breathes, it is not propped up by machines.
Now once upon a time, that pedal steel was akin to biting into a lemon for most boomers. But then Gram Parsons and the rest of the country rockers made it palatable. And Paul Franklin adds flavor, roots “Weight of Your World,” makes it the other, because this sound does not exist outside of music, it’s truly otherworldly, you know you’re in a musical environment.
And the intro to the song is slow and meandering, well, there’s a groove, but it’s slow, and anything but what you hear on the hit parade, be it on the Spotify Top 50, Top 40 or country hit radio.
That’s one key thing about “Weight of Your World,” it’s authentic. Without pandering. No one is yelling look at us, we’re doing it the old school way!
Not that “Weight of Your World” sounds ancient. Rather, it’s in a long line of country, rock music. It’s the latest exponent, not dated at all.
Not that the lyrics are a breakthrough. This is not Robbie Robertson and the Band. Then again, as great as that music was, so much of it was intellectual. I love “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” but sans lyrics, sans that story, it wouldn’t be the same.
Whereas “Weight of Your World” is mostly about the sound. Slowed down, absent the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It’s earnest in a world of irony.
As a matter of fact, there’s really nothing new in the words. They verge on cliché but don’t cross that line because of Stapleton’s delivery. Just straightforward, heartfelt, no melisma, none of the oversinging of today’s “stars.” And I was analyzing the weight of the lyrics but then I thought of Brian Wilson’s two most lauded solo numbers, “Lay Down Burden” and “Love and Mercy,” they’re minimal too.
“There will come a time when all the words don’t seem to rhyme Please lean on me until you find the harmony When it’s hard to breathe when the right seems wrong I’ll be the hand that helps you along”
What you picture here is two. That’s what relationships are made up of. And in a scourge, a panic of loneliness, we’re all looking for that connection, someone to be there for, someone to connect with. And relationships, despite the gossip pages, are entirely personal, no one knows exactly what happens behind closed doors.
We all want someone to share with. But as much as we want someone to lift us up when we’re down, we feel even better being there for someone else, lifting them up.
“Wherever you go, wherever you’ve been
Anytime you need a friend”
Forget the words, it’s about the sound. This is the bridge. Yes, “Weight of Your World” has a bridge in a world where many records have no change at all. Sure, it’s classic song structure, but it’s too often been forgotten today, and there’s a reason they call it classic.
Not that I expected to be enamored of “Weight of Your World.” It’s the thirteenth song out of fourteen. And I knew the final track reached me, but last night “Weight of Your World” snuck up on me. After the album finished and started playing again from the top I pulled my phone from my pocket and went back to “Weight of Your World,” I wanted to hear it over again, I needed to hear it over again. And then I repeated the process again and again, I didn’t want to lose the mood.
And then I wondered if it was me. Had it been my mood, my situation, was there a ton of great new music out there but I was missing it?
So I got in my car and turned on the country station and I heard drum machines and platitudes, people in search of glory, bland and ultimately anything but personal.
Now in truth I get the greatest response when I write about something personal. Second comes politics. Much less if I write about the music business. And if I write about music? If it’s new stuff, crickets. Except for the people weighing in to tell me how terrible my taste is. And the funny thing is I save all my e-mail, and everybody’s findable online, and when I look up their taste I laugh. If you’re a dedicated punk, I know you wouldn’t like this stuff, but even more interesting is why you have to tell me so.
And really, this is not about “Weight of Your World.” It’s about the experience that only music can deliver. And in truth you can get it in punk too. Dedicated punks, dedicated fans of heavy metal, feel alienated, like no one understands them, except the artist, what’s coming through the speakers.
There are occasional superstars that are selling the personal, that have you sitting in the assembled multitude feeling it’s just you and the person on stage, but that’s rare. Too often it’s about the penumbra. The grosses, everything but the music. Which when done right is pure experience.
And that’s the magic of “Weight of Your World,” it’s pure. There’s nothing extraneous. Most people have never heard it. It’s buried deep in an hour long album. It doesn’t even have a million streams on Spotify. But it’s there, waiting for you, ready to sneak up on you when you’re ready, when it crosses your path.
“Give me the balls and chains that won’t set you free
Give me the weight of your world And lay it on me”
I can’t hear “balls and chains” without thinking of Janis Joplin. And there’s another number with the “weight of the world” that is just beyond my reach, but I keep thinking of it, it will come to me, maybe today, maybe a week from tomorrow. And yes, I thought of Brian Wilson’s “Lay Down Burden” when I heard the above words. I also thought of something I said to someone once that I’ve regretted ever since, because it sounded hokey, undercutting its truth, it could not bridge the distance between us. But that was decades ago, and nothing seems to matter anymore, in a world where rock stars are passing on a regular basis, and now my friends too. And the old records are there, but the experience is not the same as something fresh.
“I want you to know wherever your road wants to go I’ll never be far, I’ll always be right where you are If you lose your way, if your hope is gone I’ll be the light that leads you home”
That’s the music. I distinctly remember singing Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything?” to myself alone in the Tuileries, it rooted me. And walking the halls of my high school, ironically the ones John Mayer sang about running through decades later, singing to make me feel connected in a world where I felt distanced. But now we can take our music anywhere, and that’s a great improvement. But in truth these songs live in our head, they’re our constant companions. They keep us alive.