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[Just on My Mind] -- I don't really have a theme for this week. But a few songs have been playing in my head. Some are in reference to current events. Others are triggered by things that have happened over the past few weeks. Still others have weaseled themselves into my real life and online conversations just because they could. I've picked three of these songs to share with you this week. For a small sampling of tunes that have accompanied me this week, just read and hear more after the break.
Flashback #1: "Generals and Majors always | Seem so unhappy 'less they got a war."
While I was visiting my father at the Cleveland Clinic, much of what was going on in the world at large felt very distant and remote. Sure, I read newspapers (Cleveland Plain Dealer and USA Today), surfed news sites, and watched TV reports, but it was all tertiary at best in my personal context. This doesn't mean I was unaware, I just wasn't fully engaged. As stories of world conflict mounted, however, they started to seep a little bit into my bubble. Particularly this week, which I spent half at Cleveland and half at home, I've been more aware of "outside" news. Perhaps that is why XTC's "Generals and Majors" has been playing in my mind. This song, released in 1980 off the band's fourth studio album, Black Sea, pokes fun at the idea that military brass is quick to send people into battle. That's a familiar refrain even here in the States where folks have said politicians are too quick to send other people's children to fight overseas. But maybe it's not just military brass and politicians who are itching for a fight. Maybe human beings in general are wired for conflict. Let's take a quick look around the world: There is a civil war in Syria (amidst all the other troubles in the region), ongoing conflict in Northern Mali, and a delusional North Korea on the brink of war. And that is just a small sampling of fighting around the world! For some idea of how tenuous the balance between war and peace is, take a look at Wikipedia's List of Ongoing Military Conflicts or News Now's World Conflicts page, the latter of the two aggregates headlines from 1000s of sources and is updated every five minutes. Anyway, "Generals and Majors" peaked at #32 on the UK singles chart and #104 on the US Billboard Pop chart. The music video features a cameo from Virgin founder an chairman Richard Branson.
Flashback #2: "Take that look of worry | I'm an ordinary man | They don't tell me nothin' | so I find out all I can | There's a fire that's been burning | Right outside my door | I can't see, but I feel it | And it helps to keep me warm."
As you may know from my last two Flashback posts, I spent some time visiting my father after he was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic. And by "some time," I mean 21 days. I'm home now, but I was not able to help transport my father to his home. He is still at the Clinic, although he is no longer in critical care. Because I know he just wants to get home, and because my mother (who also wants Dad to be home) frequently spoke of her love of Phil Collins' music, the song "Take Me Home" (1985) has been on my mind. "Take Me Home" was used to closed out the season two premiere of Miami Vice, where it underscored a reunion between Tubbs and his old girlfriend (and Crockett's departure from New York). The tune reached #7 on the U.S. charts and was very popular in Collins' live performances. The official music video, embedded below, shows Phil singing (er, poorly lip-syncing) in front of popular spots around the world and then returning home. This storyline is somewhat at odds with Collins' own explanation that the lyrics refer to a discharged mental patient ("Phil Collins: Pop Music's Answer to Alfred Hitchcock". Stephen Holden, The New York Times, 4/7/85.) Whatever the real story, I hear the yearning of a protagonist to return -- whether it is a return home or to a previous condition, it is a return nonetheless. I look forward to Dad returning to better health. Check out Phil's official video below, or view the Miami Vice scene where it appeared.
Flashback #3: "Someone's singing lord, kumbaya."
"Kumbaya" -- also commonly spelled "Kumbayah" and "Kum-Ba-Yah" -- is such a popular and well-known song that it has become a parody of itself. The exact origins are in dispute, but suffice it to say that it preceded the 80s by several decades. For a good summary of Kumbaya history, including its rise and fall in popular culture, see "Oh, Lord, Kumbaya" by Michael E. Ross (theroot.com | October 13, 2008). If you're a fan of this song, I point you to some heartfelt renditions at Rubber City Review (Everybody Sing Along, Kumbaya; rubbercityreview.com; December 24, 2010). Given the song's progression from folk anthem to snarky poster child, it's a perfect song for 80s jangle pop group Guadalcanal Diary. Their cover appears on Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man (1984), the band's debut album which was released a year after their first EP, Watusi Rodeo. The 2003 reissue of Big Man includes tracks from Watusi Rodeo. Despite what I've already mentioned about the slight derision that has come to be associated with "Kumbaya," Guadalcanal Diary's version is both ironic and quite moving. It is, perhaps, one of the few examples of earnest campiness. And I think it is the best way to end this week's Flashback.
Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.
And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.
I'll see you in seven!