Michael Jackson’s videos were often encapsulated in short films, the most famous of which being “Thriller,” in which the star takes a girl on a date to a scary movie, turns into a were-cat, and then dances like mad with a crew of zombies. The whole adventure, which turns out to be a dream (or was it?) is a thirteen-minute epic directed by John Landis, and undeniably a watershed moment in pop culture. We have certainly watched it at least a hundred times.

MJ’s high-production videos often cast him as an outsider (especially the the highly satirical “Ghosts”). The one we often forget is the full length video for “Bad,” because for some reason we’ve only seen its West Side Story-inspired subway dance sequence as many times as we’ve seen “Thriller.”

In the eighteen-minute version of “Bad” was written by Richard Price (author of the seventies Bronx street life novel The Wanderers) and directed by Martin Scorcese. Jackson plays a young man named Daryl who has returned to his neighborhood after graduating from a private school. His former friends are petty thieves and it quickly becomes apparent he no longer belongs there. In an effort to prove he is still bad, Daryl takes them to a subway station where he will mug an old man — but he doesn’t go through with the crime and is berated.

This is when he sings “Bad,” they lyrics for which are part self-promotion (establishing Michael’s new darker image) and part cautionary tale. Like several songs on the Bad LP, Michael sings of the world “be[ing] a better place,” while also warning his friends “they’re gonna lock you up before too long.”

Bad definitely changed Michael’s image, and the album also introduced a sleeker outsider MJ with “Smooth Criminal.” But its hard to imagine Michael as bad. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first line of “Bad,” which is one of our favorite first lines ever on an album: “Your butt is mine.” He couldn’t even say the word “ass,” which would have sounded so much more natural.

It wasn’t until after Michael was relentlessly persecuted by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon in 1993 that his lyrics really turned towards the angrier image implied by “Bad.” On HIStory, Michael swears for the first time (unless you count “damn” appearing on Dangerous) in the song “This Time Around.” Another song specifically directed at Sneddon (“D.S.”) uses the word “ass” so we know he was finally able to say it.

Michael was remembered by associates for his abhorrence of vulgar language, so it is sort of sad that they creep into his lyrics as he becomes increasingly isolated. This is nowhere more heartbreaking than in “Scream,” his duet with sister Janet on HIStory, in which he shouts “stop fuckin’ with me, it makes me want to scream!”

The tabloid media at whom this line was directed was entirely out of touch all of us who still bought records: while they eagerly predicted HIStory to become an enormous failure, the collection was a commercial and critical success for Michael.

And, since we still hear people make jokes about this in the record shop six years later, we guess it has to be repeated: Michael Jackson was never convicted of a crime. He was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers. The family which accused him had a history of criminal behavior, domestic abuse, fraud and frivolous lawsuits.

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi reported shortly after the completion of the trial:

And then there was the very key figure in the case, the accuser’s mother, who had to plead the Fifth Amendment on the first day of her testimony to avoid cross-examination on a welfare-fraud allegation – a witness so completely full of sh—t that Sneddon’s own assistants cringed openly throughout most of her five days of testimony. In the next six weeks, virtually every piece of his case imploded in open court, and the chief drama of the trial quickly turned into a race to see if the DA could manage to put all of his witnesses on the stand without getting any of them removed from the courthouse in manacles.

 

Dave wanted to share this song with all his fellow frustrated gardeners out there. It’s from the Henry Mancini album of novelty songs we posted recently.

DSC08406

We’re pretty excited to be releasing the second album by Corpse Reviver next week. The folk trio has long been one of our favorites in town — we love them so much we hired them to play our 10th anniversary party a couple years ago, and promised them we’d release their second album on vinyl.

If you have never heard them before, you may still be familiar with some of their songs. That’s because Corpse Reviver’s repertoire is drawn from the Anthology of American Folk Music, the enormously influential compilation first released in 1952 by Folkways Records. Harry Smith collected traditional music on 78s and with the six-album series revived music which was largely being swept into the dustbin.

Adam

Adam modeling the new Lp

When Corpse Reviver released the first volume of their interpretation of the anthology (titled I’ll be Rested When the Roll is Called), we posted the original songs (here). On that disc, and on their new Lp, they’ve chosen songs which have been widely performed over the years, but its especially interesting to go back and hear those original 78 transfers from Harry Smith’s collection. Some are songs which had a long life before they were recorded in the late 20s or early 30s, and others have taken on new significance as songs associated with the mid-century folk boom or the more recent alt-country revival.

The new album opens with Adam Kiesling’s familiar fretless banjo and a confident take on “I Wish I Were a Mole in the Ground,” a song first recorded in 1928 by Bascom Lunsford. The song has been widely recorded by folk musicians, notably here in Minnesota by Charlie Parr about ten years ago, but Corpse Reviver turn the song’s perceived resignation on its ear. The same is true for “The Butcher’s Boy,” the second Buell Kazee ballad they have recorded with Jillian Rae singing. Mikkel Beckmen adds a funeral march rhythm to her reading of with his djembe, making this suicide ballad dark and dramatic.

In all, we count at least a half dozen deaths in the songs on Dry Bones. Corpse Reviver’s compartmentalization of the Anthology songs is as idiosyncratic as were the choices made by Harry Smith himself, but its clear they’ve chosen this second volume to collect some of the darker sides of the so-called “old weird America.” The result is an album much weightier than the first volume, but also a great collection of stories.

The original twelve songs, all found on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, are collected below. Corpse Reviver will be performing these and other favorites at the album release show next week. It’s possible opening performer Spider John Koerner will bring out one of them old numbers as well.

Corpse Reviver will be releasing their second album, Dry Bones, next Wednesday night at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). Minnesota folk legend Spider John Koerner will perform an opening set, and local choir Mpls imPulse will perform with the trio during their set.

IMG_8768Irene had her annual visit to the vet this past week, and she walked away with a clean bill of health. Also a pretty small bill compared to any time either of us has been to the doctor. It’s funny how much easier Irene’s annual visits are compared to our own — she is hardly left waiting at all, and when seeing her doctor not rushed along in the least. Even after every last concern has been covered, her doctor follows up and checks on her after the appointment.

Irene is getting better health care than either of us.

doctor song

 

It’s not the same without you George.

pearls before swine carlin

carlin class clown

orchestra hallWe had a great time visiting Orchestra Hall last week, and it was an honor for us to be on that stage! Hymies will be providing an interactive installation in the lobby during their Sommerfest this coming July — their program for the month is incredible, and we’re ecstatic to have the opportunity to contribute. We’ll post more about our plans and about the Orchestra’s Sommerfest schedule as it comes closer.

 

 

gil scott reflections

We recently post a couple of songs from Lou Rawls’ album A Man of Value as a response to the man of little redeeming value who has secured the presidential nomination for the Republican party. Seems like dark times ahead for the grand ole party, if not for all of us.

Gil Scott-Heron reacted to the “mandate” of the President Elect in 1980 with one of his most acerbic political songs, “B Movie.”

The jingoistic rhetoric of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign is weirdly reflected as if in a funhouse mirror by the isolationist xenophobia of the current “Make America Great Again.” Scott-Heron’s glasses on the cover of Reflections offers a glimpse of the America largely ignored by both politicians. We can only imagine what Scott-Heron would have written about the candidacy of a reality television star, but we imagine it would have been a lot like “B Movie,” which is eerily relevant these two and a half decades later.

We read in Marcus Baram’s recent biography of Scott-Heron, Pieces of a Man, that Arista Records sent a copy of the 12″ single for “B Movie” to every single member of Congress. Maybe its time to do this again.

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