Music Fun Fact #3,452: Keith Richards Falls Off a Tree

So you’ve heard the hits.  Sympathy for the Devil.  Brown Sugar.  (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.  The list goes on and on.  England’s Hitmakers have really been on a roll for a while.  They never grow old.  From the 60s to the 70s, those sex-loving, party-swinging, heroin-injecting, incest-having (get to that later), guitar-driving rockers conquered the world, one hit after another.  It was like nothing could stop them.  They were that bulldozer, breaking down the musical landscape and reinventing it as their own.  Invincible you could say.  But then…

Then came the tree.

And with it, all hell broke loose.

In 2006, during an otherwise relaxing early summer vacation with his family in Fiji, Keith Richards was minding his own business.  Probably getting the newspaper, injecting some heroin, taking Viagra, fooling around with his hot trophy wife, you know, the usual.  After having his servants make him a cup of tea, and ordering them to accompany it with his favorite happy song, “Happy”, he must have decided to take an early morning stroll across the island.

As an older man, I’m sure he was excited just to be alive, seeing the sights and sounds of the great island.

Fiji- Aerial View

He was probably hearing the hummingbirds sing, seeing the waves crash, feeling the wind against his old bones, when he heard the rustling of leaves.  He then looked around and wondered where it came from.  There in front of him was the giant tree, at least 10 feet tall!

He stared for a while and pondered to himself, “Well young lad, I believe this would be a mighty fine tree to climb as we did back in the old days.”  (Whenever Keith Richards ponders anything, he talks to himself as if he were having a conversation.  Some might say he needs medical attention.)  Keith replied to himself, “Ah good sir, I do believe you are right.  I best be climbing!”

Then he began the treacherous tree climb that will forever be called the “Richard’s Death Climb”.  After a few minutes, he was about to reach the top (all of 10 feet high), when he noticed a little bird at the top.

Then came the following conversation with the evil bird that led to his near death:

“Why hello little one, pleased to meet you.”

“Why don’t you look like a happy birdie?

“You’re so pretty, I think I’m going to pick you up and take you home with me.”

“Here I go…wait…ahhhhhhh!”

Poor old Richards forgot he needed both hands on the tree to stay up and after attempting to pick up the bird, taking his hands off the tree, he fell.  Richards went down, because after all, you can’t always get what you want.  He survived, but was never the same.

And so ends the story of the famous “Richard’s Death Climb”.  He learned a valuable lesson.  If you’re an aging rock star with severe mental disabilities due to decades snorting and injecting anything in sight, climbing a tree might not be how to get your rocks off.

In summary:

Keith Richards   Plus_sign equals-sign-e1306797769988  pirate_skull_and_bones_clip_art_19103

In case you don’t believe me, here’s the article.


“I don’t have a drug problem.  I have a police problem.”

– Keith Richards

Divine intervention is the only rationale I see for how Richards has survived this long.


Great Songs on Otherwise Horrible Albums: “Please Be Patient With Me”

Perhaps only a notch higher in standing than their debut album A.M., Sky Blue Sky is probably Wilco’s worst effort. It’s the sound of a band uncomfortably and haphazardly settling into banal lyrical and musical gestures worthy of the ever-dreaded “dad rock” label.

At least that’s what the general consensus believes (I think).

Former alt-country rocker turned murderer Jeff Tweedy is clearly the focus of this album, and he’s in a melancholy sort of mood. The album, rather ironically, evokes 70’s A.M. radio fanfare a la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Phil Ochs. It’s a slow, meandering, and often frustrating piece of work that stubbornly refuses to take off at any point save for the ridiculous solo on “Impossible Germany”.

The standout track here is not the well-intentioned Bob Dylan tribute “What Light” with its gag-reflex inducing never-ending chorus, nor is it the YHF throwaway “You Are My Face” but rather the understated and dare I say poignant Elizabeth Cotten-riffing “Please Be Patient With Me”.

Jeff Tweedy’s greatest strength as a songwriter is his ability to relate mundane details about human relationships in a gut-wrenchingly honest way; it’s never clear what the narrator is struggling with, but I’d guess it’s some kind of mental illness that affects him in a way he can’t control or understand. It’s heartbreaking in the best possible way:

The Passion’s Gone: R.E.M.

When I was young and full of grace
and spirited, a rattlesnake.

– “I Believe”, R.E.M.

R.E.M. has been a thing of the past for nearly 15 months now and any time I hear one of their albums it still seems a bit sad to me.  It’s not as if there was a death in the family, but it seems like a part of me died with them.  As many people who listened to them, I was in my formative years when I first heard their music.  I remember a vivid night as I looked out at all the small houses below while standing on a mountainside park with a girl I knew at the time, thinking of “Nightswimming”.  I remember spending an entire summer listening solely to Automatic for the People, part of the time trying to decipher the chorus to “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, part of the time learning how to play “Find the River” on guitar.  I remember listening to “Fall on Me” and actually feeling that this world won’t last forever, that we are destroying it one tree at a time.  And I remember playing “Country Feedback” over and over again one night around 4AM, each playback hitting me harder than the last.  “Crazy what you could have had.”

R.E.M. was so ingrained within the culture of my youth, both as a popular act and as a comfort during my own introspective moments that without them, it seems that that youth is now, officially, over.  There is no fall back anymore.

However, if I am honest with myself, R.E.M. stopped being R.E.M. a long time ago.  Their string of success lasted for an absurdly long time given how out of place they were with the musical culture through most of it.  For starters, you could hardly understand their lead singer in their first few albums.

Case in point:

As time went on, they gained a cult following through their work on the independent label, I.R.S.  This included a nearly unparalleled string of successes, each album a bit different than the last.  Lifes Rich Pageant was clear statement on environmentalism, while Document was more geared towards the politics of the working class.  On and on they went, until they finally switched over to a major label, Warner Bros., leaving people skeptical.

The 90s for R.E.M. started with Out of Time, which was a good, but not great album.  It had “Losing My Religion”, which I honestly cannot stand any more.  It also had “Shiny Happy People”, which to this day I believe is some kind of deeply ironic statement on something.  I just don’t know what.

Then came, in my opinion, their best album, Automatic for the People.  The album was centered on mortality.  Dark, morose ballads were the centerpiece of this group of songs.  As a popular album from a majorly popular rock band in 1992, Automatic for the People was a bold release.  Think about it.  1992 was when grunge exploded, Kurt Cobain hadn’t killed himself, U2 was on their Zoo TV tour, and electric guitars and defiance was at the epicenter.  R.E.M.  went completely in the opposite direction.  And it worked.  It was that rare album that sold millions, yet also was deeply personal to each listener.  The last three songs (“Man on the Moon”, “Nightswimming”, and “Find the River”) are still the best group of closing songs I’ve ever heard on an album.

From there on, the group shifted again to two rocking albums: Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi.  Of the two, the latter is the one to invest in.  However, the latter was also the last with the whole band.  Bill Berry, the band’s drummer, left after the conclusion of the following tour.

But the band played on.

Instead of continuing in the same musical vein, they shifted again to a more electronic, quiet sound.  This led to Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun.  And after Around the Sun failed spectacularly, they finally took a step back to find their well worn bag of tricks.  This led to two good, but only good, albums: Accelerate and Collapse into Now.  Both played the nostalgia factor to perfection.  Neither had a new idea to speak of.

And then it was over.

In looking back, after Bill Berry left, the band was never the same.  The edge was gone.  The moment was gone.  R.E.M. was over before the band knew it.  Band’s have a shelf life and R.E.M.’s lasted from 1980-1996.  It was a great run.  Their last moment of relevance was the last lyric on “Electrolite”, the closing song on New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Your eyes are burnin’ holes through me
I’m not scared
I’m outta here

– “Electrolite”, R.E.M.

The Best Album About Growing Old

Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Mark Twain

Growing old is a funny thing.  We all do it.  We all expect it.  Yet we all deny it.  Some of us buy fancy clothes to look younger.  Others dye their hair blonde or brown or anything other than grey.  Wealthy men get themselves trophy wives and wealthy women buy themselves new faces.  It’s as if people actually believe they can hold back aging and their inevitable demises.  Industries would collapse if people realized that just because they got themselves plastic surgeries, their friends and colleagues can still count age and still know that after someone’s 43rd birthday comes a 44th (and so on), despite any “enhancements” that have been done.

Musicians are just like the rest of us.  However, celebrities can become freakazoids when it comes to aging.  Celebrity musicians are actually the worst of the bunch, since most of these musicians cater to a younger audience.  Particularly when a musician has been around for a while, making his/her mark decades ago, their audience wants to believe that moment has been frozen in time, along with the musician.  Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, I’m talking to you both.  Do you expect us to believe you both are in your seventies with hair that is anything other than grey?  You’re old, deal with it.


No gray hair…really Mick? At age 68. Really?

That being said, there are a number of albums about getting old because the thing is, you’re only young once, but you’re old for all the time after that.  Two musicians have embraced aging and death to a point that deserves respect.  These are Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  (We’ve already mentioned Dylan here and here, but hey, he’s kind of a “big deal”.  And he’s old and cranky…so the shoe fits.)  It turns out that these are also our two humble resident rock poets.  The following is a lyric from each:

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play.

– from Leonard Cohen’s “The Tower of Song”

The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that used to be
The party’s over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away.

– from Bob Dylan’s “Highlands”

Both have written great treatises on the trials and tribulations of aging, but in terms of the best album, Bob Dylan’s Time out of Mind, wins handily.  From “Not Dark Yet” to “Can’t Wait” to the aforementioned showstopping closer, “Highlands”, this album has it all.  It’s as if Dylan was waiting to age so that he could become that pissed off geezer with a walking cane singing about all the young women he can’t have and all the sunny days that just won’t come around any more.  I imagine it’s the perfect musical accompaniment to the moment you realize that all the fast cars and second, third, fourth, and fifth wives in the world won’t stave away the  sad conclusion that is awaiting you.


In case you don’t believe me, he’s got a song called “Standing in the Doorway”.  And for those that don’t understand figurative language, beyond the doorway is death, and our hero, Mr. Dylan, is standing right next to it.  I’m not sure why he doesn’t just move away from the door, but maybe when you get old, at some point you just say screw it.

-“Standing in the Doorway”, written by Bob Dylan, but played by some guy who thinks at age 20 something, with his guitar, a laptop, and his parents out of town, he can become an internet star by playing something by a 50-plus year old Bob Dylan in what is clearly his parent’s living room.  (The harmonica’s a nice touch bro.  Cuz Bob Dylan also plays harmonica.  Got it.)

Getting old isn’t a great thing, but at least we have Bob Dylan to tell us that.  To our face.

Thanks Bob!

The Best Song To Listen To In A Van With Your Date

Today marks the first day of the rest of your lives.  From now on, the clock is ticking.  All you single people out there, you haven’t got a moment to lose.  Find a date.  Go online.  Stalk women at the grocery store.  Pretend to be reading Rolling Stone while secretly deciphering what that cute girl reading Seventeen at Barnes and Noble might want to hear you say.  The point is: do what it takes.

And when you finally get a date with that cute girl you saw at the DMV, you need to play your cards right.  Take her to a fancy dinner.  Wear your faded dark skinny jeans.  If you don’t have faded dark skinny jeans, buy faded dark skinny jeans.  Pay for the dinner.  Get her ice cream.  Ask her to join you in your van for a scenic drive through whatever town/city you might live in.

Once the romantic ride in your mom’s van is over, it’s time to turn the music on to perfect the atmosphere.  You’ll need something that tells your woman all of the following, in order:

  • “It’s OK dear, I won’t bite.”
  • “Look at the dark empty space I have at the back of this van…tempting, right?”
  • “It’s not that creepy, give it a try.”
  • “Look at this smile.  You know I’m into you.”
  • “I’m sorry. I’ll drive you home.”
  • “OK, you can walk home.  I’ll see you tomorrow?”
  • “Please don’t call the cops.”

So many songs have attempted to perfect the art of seduction.  Only one song makes this all so easy for single guys with vans.  And here it is:

You might have thought I was going with something like Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” or The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden”.  These songs may work on a superficial level, where the girl actually does come to the back of the van with you for what only can be described as “a romp”.  But no, these songs do not create the aura of mystery and intrigue of Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building?”    The beauty of the song is you never actually find out what he’s building in there.  Could be a playhouse for the local kids.  Could be a meth factory.  Could be a lifelike replica of Scooby Doo and the gang.  You just never find out.  I mean, you expect it to be evil and something to do with rape or little children.  But who knows.

However, you must trust Tom Waits.  Simply put, the man knows women.  He once apparently got a “Christmas Card from a Hooker” (on the album Blue Valentine) and knows he’s “Better Off Without a Wife” (on the album Nighthawks at the Diner).  As long as you don’t actually pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll know he’s basically proclaiming he’s a ladies man.

And every ladies man has a van.  And every ladies man with a van knows, when the feeling’s right, play “What’s He Building?”

If you do, I promise, you’ll stay a ladies man.

The Best Song R.E.M. Never Wrote

Ask a group of Athens acolytes to list their favorite bands to emerge from the proto-punk scene of the early 80s and they’ll probably list Guadalcanal Diary dead last. Or at all. That’s because they’re so indie, they don’t even know they exist.

Guadalcanal Diary were one among the many talented bands roaming the streets of Athens, GA during the time when soon-to-be great bands like The B-52s and R.E.M. were putting together a few of their most memorable tunes.

The first track from Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man–their best album in my humble opinion–is possibly the greatest song R.E.M. forgot to write. It’s got all the major cues of an early R.E.M. tune minus the mumbling; lead singer Murray Attaway sings about lonely women who are fond of wearing black in a clear and audible tone.

For your listening pleasure, I submit to you: “Trail of Tears”

The Best Cover Song Ever. Period.

People love singing.  This fact is inescapable.

Melodies have been encapsulated in our very fibers through the use of cover songs…and these covers have been a part of our human experience almost as long as originals have.  Some cover songs are great (e.g. Jack White’s version of U2’s “Love is Blindness), some are not so great (e.g. My Chemical Romance’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”), some are from hot celebrities who think they can do it all but can’t (e.g. Scarlet Johannson’s version of Tom Waits’ “Anywhere I Lay My Head”), some rape the Stones (e.g. Britney Spears’ version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”), and some are from bands who know they’re done but still want to end on a high note without trying too hard (e.g. REM’s “Blue”, which is essentially a cover of REM’s “Country Feedback”).  Yes kids, there are many, many cover songs.  Too many to count and far too many for you to ever care about, particularly since for every cover song, in theory, there is also an original out there.

Well, there is one cover song that defies all expectations.  It is so thoroughly original and so thoroughly engaging that the listener’s head will inevitably explode when the  lead “singer” goes where no man has gone before.  This cover song questions the very idea of song and spits out something that will always live with you.  You can never un-know this cover.  It takes us to a unique dimension of lunacy and poetry (?) and is too respectful of the listener to bring him/her back to earth like mere normal songs. It leaves you in a world where nothing makes sense…or perhaps, everything makes sense?!

This cover is William Shatner’s version of Bob Dylan’s classic “Mr. Tambourine Man”.


Glass-Shattering, World-Beating, Mind-Destroying Cover:

Now, I am just a mere mortal.  Bob Dylan and William Shatner are gods among men, unquestioned in their greatness.  This is to say, first and foremost, that I realize the greatness of Bob Dylan.  This greatness is embodied in the song.  Listening to this song is like taking an idyllic journey over all of one’s troubles, over all the tedium of the daily grind, and into a wonderful world of acid-induced illusions of carefree magic carpet rides.  The song is an unmistakable masterpiece.

However, I’ve always noticed something missing.

Enter Shatner.

First, he challenges the listener by changing the arrangement into something of a carnivalesque death march into the abyss of Mr. Shatner’s crazed mind.  Then he desperately questions in search of Mr. Tambourine Man.  As we all do.  In life. Or something.

Then comes the background singers, who sing the chorus as the great jazz singers of yesteryear, which is to say they start singing whenever the urge arises (or when they are so dazed living withing the overwhelming shadow of Shatner that they cannot seem to understand when to sing and when to let his incessant questioning continue).

Mr. Shatner’s work is performance art.  He beckons the listener to come closer and read between the lines.  His stretched out phrasings of Bob Dylan’s simple rhythms suggest either he has a hard time saying more than two words at a time or something else is going on, something wonderful.  I believe in the latter.  His impossibly jarring call for Mr. Tambourine Man at the end of the song says it all.

I believe in Mr. Shatner.  And like him, I am also searching for Mr. Tambourine Man.