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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Forgotten songs of the 1980s: "Watusi Rodeo" by Guadalcanal Diary

If anyone gives the 1980s band Guadalcanal Diary any consideration anymore, it's as the Athens-based band that wasn't R.E.M. (Even though Guadalcanal Diary were more accurately from suburban Atlanta).  Or as that other Georgia band that "kind of sounded like R.E.M."

This is unfortunate, because Guadalcanal Diary was an outstanding band in their own right. And though they shared the same jangly guitar sound as R.E.M., it's far too reductive and unfair to brand GD as mere R.E.M. copycats. (Can we agree that saying that any music "sounds like R.E.M." is like describing a food as "tasting like chicken"). Guadalcanal Diary mastered a fairly wide variety of styles, from the aforementioned jangly pop, to 1950s Buddy Holly-esque love songs, to hard rock, to folk rock, and punky rave-ups. Songwriter and singer Murray Attaway tackled a variety of subjects in his lyrics, with a healthy combination of wisdom and humor: religious fervor and doubt ("Fear of God" and numerous others--this was a popular subject for Attaway), disappeared adventurers ("Michael Rockefeller"), a guy who thinks he has the same personality as a certain violent member of the Three Stooges ("I See Moe"), a dairy farmer who enjoys his job just a little too much ("Cattle Prod")...and this is just scraping the surface. In just four albums from 1984-1989, Guadalcanal Diary covered a lot of territory, and it's difficult to pick a favorite song.

One of the band's best songs, though, is also their best known (in as much as they have a "best known song"). "Watusi Rodeo," from their debut album Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. The song is a blazing, surf-punky romp with powerhouse drumming and lyrics that tell a bizarre, hilarious story of Texans imposing their Lone Star State lifestyle onto the bewildered people of the Congo. It is a satirical send-up of cultural imperialism. It's also an unjustly forgotten gem of the eighties.

So here you go. Here's a clip of "Watusi Rodeo" taken from YouTube:

So why did Guadalcanal Diary not become bigger? I don't think there's an easy answer to that. The music world is littered with bands and performers who "should have made it big." The music business and music listeners are fickle and difficult to predict. I'm sure that existing in the same place and time as R.E.M. didn't help GD. At least they left us with a brilliant recorded legacy, and anyone who stumbles on their music will surely be rewarded.

"You know that what you eat you are..."

George Harrison's inspiration for a certain Beatles song. If you're a fan of the Fabs, you will know this one right away.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Some observations about Simon & Garfunkel's "America"

I was watching television last night and a commercial came on that featured the song “America” by Simon & Garfunkel. The commercial itself I can barely recall, I don’t even remember the product, but hearing that song made me emotional. It’s a song that I’ve liked since I was a kid, but a song that has taken on deeper meaning as I’ve gotten older. In just a few short verses, Paul Simon creates a cinematic story of two young lovers heading off on a bus trip to “look for America.” Simon perfectly evokes the feelings we all have on any trip: the initial excitement (“Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces”)--which eventually leads to boredom (“Toss me a cigarette…”)-- reflection on the beauty of the countryside (“The moon rose over an open field”)--and finally to a bit of ennui (“’Kathy, I’m lost’ I said”)—. And then the song concludes with the narrator seeing the endless lines of anonymous cars on the turnpike, like Kathy and the narrator, “looking for America.”

But the song got me to thinking—and it often gets me to thinking anytime I hear it—can we ever “find America”? What IS America? And then this led me to recall the vacation we took in December, driving from Michigan to Florida and back again. I was struck by how vast this country truly is. The geography ever changing and unfolding in bold unexpected ways as one drives the long distance from north to south/south to north. It’s amazing that such a diverse and enormous country even IS a nation. And will we ever—CAN we ever--agree on what America is?

I don’t quite know where I’m going with this. I suppose the uncertain times we are currently experiencing made “America” hit me a bit harder than usual.