I drove five hours to visit my family this week. Part of the joy of the long drive, besides the destination, is putting on the radio and letting someone else pick the music. I love the surprises, besides if I don’t, I have SiriusXM in my car, so there are many other stations waiting to surprise me.
The Groove station was a Prince tribute station. Yes there was a steady stream of his early hits, but “Housequake“reminded me of his bravado and funkiness. “Shut up already!,” signals the beginning of the song. He instructs: “Put your foot down on the two;” because everyone in the house knows what “the two” is; we know the beat. “Come on y’all we’ve got to jam, before the police come!” he exhorts, because it really is a house party, and this is the culmination of the rousing wildness of the night. The neighbors will call the police because we are making just too much noise. It’s part of a tradition of calling out the house, and reminds me of John Lee Hooker’s “House Rent Boogie.”It’s just a few steps from the blues to funk, and what unifies JLH and Prince is the direct address to the house and the insistence on “Let’s get together and have a ball.”
On The Underground Garage, the Byrds covered “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It’s the Byrds, so there is an underlying sweetness, even with the bitter message. And the sweetness leavens the sadness and anger. The gently jangly guitars and harmonies blunt the edge of “The carpet too is moving under you.” The song feels at odds with itself, as if the fragility of the presentation cannot contain the message. Dylan’s original, with his blunt nasal voice, is a clear rebuke. Even the harmonica that frames the song wheezes acerbically. This is not a sad song at all, but a sharp slap.
And then, since I’m doubling up, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Of course Prince loved Joni Mitchell (and covered “A Case of You“).And Joni covered It’s All Over Now. Joni’s original “Both Sides Now” is a bravura performance of early wisdom. She was 26, and putting down a marker. Yes, by then she had, as we have, felt that “now it’s just another show. You leave them laughing when you go.” Her playing and voice are so fine and confident. She’s an amazement. Thirty years later, when she revisits the song her voice has deepened, and now all the youthful confident wisdom is fully colored by experience and doubt. “I really don’t know life,” she closes, “I really don’t know life at all.” Amen, sister!