The Smiths

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Johnny Marr – Bigmouth Strikes Again

I watched Johnny Marr’s stream “Live from the Crazy Face Factory” tonight. Lots of musicians did live streams from their living rooms during the early part of the pandemic but back then I really didn’t have the mental energy for it. So I was kind of on the fence about spending time (and a little) money to watch this live when I figured it will eventually wind up on YouTube. But then I saw if you got a ticket you were entered to win a signed Johnny Marr Fender Jaguar guitar and while I’m probably no more likely to win that than the lottery, $20 isn’t a lot to support musicians I love.

I’m glad I did because some of the songs that he released recently sound better live. Johnny Marr will be opening up for the Killers in the spring but I really hope he does a swing through some smaller venues because I am only going to a stadium show in the rarest of circumstances. If he plays a couple of club shows before, after, or in between, I will be there. Multiple nights if possible. The new material is fine, but when he plays an old Electronic or Smiths song, it’s all worth it.

Still Ill

The Smiths – Still Ill

Next up on my concert calendar is Johnny Marr. I never posted an entry about the time I saw him 4 1/2 years ago but I did write it down and I’m just so excited about the show, that tonight I went back and reread it. I don’t want to post the whole thing because that feels weird this much later but the concert exceeded my expectations last time and let’s just be honest, it’s because of all the Smiths songs he played. I like his solo material and if he didn’t bust out any Smiths songs, it would still be a good show. However, those songs, they are not just songs.

One of the things that strikes me as I read what I wrote, my emotions were on full display at that show and I just let it happen. I think I was caught off guard. When he played Panic as the second song, I was really not ready. It came so early! The crowd responded with cheers and dancing, and everyone sang along. I am normally not someone who condones audience members joining in for anything but the most obvious of performer encouraged participation, but you didn’t know how badly you wanted to be in a room full of people singing, “Burn down the disco, hang the blessed dj, because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life…” until you were doing it. Likewise with Headmaster Ritual and Bigmouth Strikes Again.

Since The Smiths broke up while I was in college, it’s not like there are albums from my early adult years to muddy the waters. All of their songs are a perfect little time capsule of those mid-80s, highly angst-ridden and lovelorn years. And so it was when I finally got to hear songs like Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, or How Soon is Now, I was overcome by a wave of feelings that I hadn’t felt in decades. When he played Still Ill, I’m here to tell you that it was like the old days and that night, the body definitely ruled the mind as tears and sweat dripped down my face in equal measure while I danced the same way I used to in my dorm room. The last song of the night? There is a Light That Never Goes Out. I was toast.

So this time, I am aware. I won’t say I’m prepared because those songs, and the memories and emotions that are tied to them, are strong enough to knock me off my feet. In a good way. Now. I like going to shows and having my breath taken away. I love to be reminded of the power of music and to feel it, truly, physically feel it. Maybe he won’t play that many of the old songs and it’ll just be a show. Or maybe he’ll play Ask and Half a Person or The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, and I’ll be toast all over again.


The Smiths – Panic

Could life ever be sane again? I’m going with no, not for at least four years. Hell, I’m not sure we’ll even make it to Thanksgiving.

Did you see that Glenn Beck, yes, Glenn Beck!, is terrified of Orange-face’s chief strategist. What’s it take? I mean, when was the last time you found yourself agreeing with Glenn Beck and thinking I’m so glad he’s speaking out. Never? Yeah, me too. Hell has frozen over.

I know the tanks aren’t going to start rolling down the streets on January 21 but I’m still panicking that we don’t have enough people or tools at the ready for what lies ahead. And it’s an order of magnitude worse than anything we’ve dealt with before. The usual methods don’t apply here.

I live in a house built before the Civil War. The house we lived in before this one was built before the Revolutionary War. I try to convince myself that this shows everything will be ok, but then I read articles like Prepare for Regime Change, Not Policy Change. or Autocracy: Rules for Survival, and that knot in my stomach tightens.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before*

NaBloPoMo, we meet again. I was really on the fence about it but I spent a fair amount of time dithering around online today and thought of some ground rules for myself to make this possible.

The bottom line is, I really love these kind of challenges. Last year when I did it for the first time, I often felt like I was falling short. Either I had connection problems or I was too hung up on finding some perfect song to use and would end up just wasting hours in the evening. I also went to New York twice for concerts and up to my mother’s for Thanksgiving. I’ll be doing those two things again this month so I needed to find some way to make it easier or else it would stop being fun.

I don’t have any drafts in progress but there are a few posts I’ve had floating around in my head for a couple of weeks that I held off on writing in case I decided to do NaBloPoMo again. There are some shortcuts that I’ve devised as well and I’m not above using them if time gets tight. And I have decided to be less concerned about repeating bands in a short time span. Last year I was really pleased that I managed to pick songs from a lot of bands I wouldn’t normally think of. I liked them all but often when I’m thinking of a post, it’s associated with a song that I have a closer connection to than some of the ones I wound up using. That’s the whole challenge piece of this and I like that part of it but I can also go easier on myself. If I’m posting every day then the ratio of frequency will probably stay the same, it’s just compressed. Chances are high almost no one actually listens to the song anyway so it’s all just for my own satisfaction. If I’m happy with it, then it’s good enough.

So, here we go! Anyone else doing it this year?

*One day I will make it to Manchester and I sincerely hope some enterprising music fans have created bicycle tours of all of the city’s major monuments. Sign me up.

Back to the Old House

#WhereILivedWednesday: The Costume Shop

This past weekend was my 25th college reunion. I did not go. I never will.

I hated it there. It had been my safety school and I arrived with every intention of transferring after getting good grades for a year. Oh but plans can fall through as so often they do. After two rounds of transfer applications to at least a dozen schools, my choices weren’t better so I stayed put. While I had almost nothing in common with the vast majority of the students there (shallow, immature, young Reaganites looking to have the party experience they’d been too sheltered to have in high school), the university’s location in the Philadelphia suburbs was great. I could hop a train and be in the city in less than half an hour, I could ride my bike past centuries-old farms and enormous old houses, there were good record stores, and I had my work-study job at the costume shop.

The costume shop was my saving grace. I had auditioned for a play once during my freshman year but I discovered that because the university had a Master’s program in theater and they opened up their shows to anyone in the greater Philadelphia area, Equity actors even, I didn’t stand a chance of being cast as a middle-aged woman when plenty of actual middle-aged women (with much more experience) were also auditioning. My sophomore year I qualified for a work-study job so I went to the financial aid office and looked through the book of available jobs. There were two jobs at the theater, the box office or the costume shop. I looked into both but decided I could make more money in the costume shop and it looked like more fun anyway.

I was a dresser. The dresser is the person who gets all the costumes ready before the show, puts all the costumes in strategic locations backstage and helps the actors make those quick changes off stage. The rather less glamorous parts of the job included doing all the laundry and ironing and any mending the costumes required during the run of the show. You needed to be a jack of all trades in this small shop; wig maintenance, shoe repair, hat reshaping, hairstylist, always ready with a safety pin or a glue gun. Because I was pretty good at sewing I was allowed to help make the costumes prior to the show as well.

This was the real deal. The shop was run by a designer who drew what all the costumes would be and when we didn’t have something suitable in storage, we would build it from scratch. No Butterick or McCall’s patterns here, we would make patterns with muslin based on her specifications. We had several dressmaker’s dummies and an industrial strength iron and steamer, six or seven fancy Swiss sewing machines, a serger, two big padded and muslin covered tables around which several graduate students spent their days hunched over sewing costumes. If you were in the Master’s program, you had to do a practicum and you could choose building the sets, working in the costume shop, or doing dramaturgy. The set guys were pretty nice but the boss, not so much. The costume shop was definitely the life of the party.

I loved my job. I was good at it too. I took it seriously, unlike most of the other work-study students, most of whom only lasted a semester, a year at most, and were flaky and just didn’t think they really had to do anything. Maybe because I had once harbored dreams of being the one on stage, I felt you had better make damn sure everything was ready before the show and the costumes were all set up back stage because how shitty would it be to come flying off the stage and have less than a minute to get changed and back out there without help or without everything set up just so. I would set up the dresses so all the actresses would have to do is run off, I’d unzip/snap/button the dress they had on, they’d step into the next outfit, lying open in a circle on the floor, then I’d pull it up around them and zip them into the new dress. New shoes at the ready, hat, gloves, accessories, 1, 2, 3. Boom. Back out there. During a show’s run, I could easily rack up 50 hours of work each week.

The costume shop was my turf. When I walked across campus it was a toss-up whether I’d be ignored or laughed at by the other students but in the costume shop, I ruled. I had the key. I’d get there and open up before anyone else, then the actors would come in and be thrilled to see me. We’d talk, tell stories, and laugh. There was music and people and we were young and alive. To have a place where I was accepted and respected, by people who were way cooler than the big-hair/mullet crowd, made those three years tolerable. There were perks too. I never paid for doing my own laundry once I started working there because I had access to our private machines in the basement of the theater building. I scored some signature pieces of clothing, and found out where to buy my beloved shoes. I learned how to alter clothes and how to make fake blood.

When I left campus 25 years ago, I was relieved to be done with that place and haven’t missed it once since then. But I still keep the costume shop close to my heart.

#WhereILivedWednesday is a meme started and hosted by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. Please check out her site for other stories.


The Smiths – Ask

Let’s stay in Manchester a while, shall we? A few weeks ago I listened to a tape from my senior year of college that was titled “Anguish, Fear, Lamenting.” That one was a thinly veiled account of my frustrations with my lack of progress with a certain guy. Long time readers might have thought to themselves, wow, no Smiths on that tape? That’s a surprise.

Well, that’s because only a month earlier I had made the tape I listened to today. The title should tell you all you need to know. “Does the Body Rule the Mind or Does the Mind Rule the Body, I Dunno!” Subtitled “Morrissey’s Most Moaning Melodies.” I didn’t need any Smiths songs on that other tape because this one had 90 minutes worth, all trying to answer that question.

Body Rules the Mind (Side A)
This Charming Man
‪Handsome Devil‬
‪Hand in Glove‬
‪The Boy With the Thorn in His Side‬
‪Stretch Out and Wait‬
‪There Is a Light That Never Goes Out‬
‪Reel Around the Fountain‬
‪Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want‬
‪Oscillate Wildly‬
‪Well I Wonder‬
‪Half a Person‬
‪Suedehead ‬

Mind Rules the Body (Side B)
‪I Want the One I Can’t Have‬
‪Girl Afraid‬
These Things Take Time
‪You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby‬
Miserable Lie‬
‪Still Ill
‪Back to the Old House‬
‪Accept Yourself‬
‪How Soon Is Now?‬
‪I Know It’s Over‬
‪What Difference Does It Make?‬

I contemplated writing this entire post just stringing together lyrics from these songs to tell the story but I don’t have that kind of time and the songs tell it all themselves anyway. So I made a YouTube playlist this time since these songs are all readily available, unlike some of the other old tapes.

Tomorrow should be #WhereILivedWednesday so I’m borrowing another song from this tape to help out. Stay tuned!

St. Swithin’s Day

Billy Bragg – St. Swithin’s Day

I was feeling a little low today and when that happens, I often try to make myself listen to the radio so I don’t fall into old habits and listen to songs I know will just allow me to feed that feeling. But the radio wouldn’t cooperate so I gave in and listened to a series of progressively sadder and sadder songs.

This evening Nancy posted a link to this interview with the author of a book called This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music. Sounds like a book I might have written. The interviewer starts out by saying “Everyone has their favorite sad song, but have you ever thought about the sad song as a whole category of music?” Uh, have you never met a Smiths fan? I don’t have a favorite sad song, I have an extensive collection of sad songs. In college I made tapes with titles like “Morrissey’s Most Moaning Melodies” and “Anguish, Fear, Lamenting” or “Does the Body Rule the Mind or Does the Mind Rule the Body?” (subtitled, I Dunno!).

I made a conscious effort in my 20s to put some distance between myself and lots of those beloved sad songs in the interest of self preservation. And it more or less worked. I still love those songs. Many of them now, with the years that have passed helping to ease the sting, I can listen to and enjoy with a smile. “Oh I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.”

So after the talk of Mozzer, why the Billy Bragg song? Because no one can touch him when it comes to songs that pierce your heart. Just listen.