Thriller gets a lot of play as “The Greatest Music Video Ever” but I’ve always found it to be too long, an embodiment of everything terrible about music videos. It doesn’t say much about the song, it takes too long to get to the song, and mostly it serves as a mini-movie to seemingly prop up the ego of the star. (Not to mention that Michael Jackson turned into a very different but much scarier monster.) This tendency is taken to it’s logical extreme in Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat”, then gets recycled by Kenny Chesney (the walking avatar of the Napoleon Complex) in this snorefest. All these videos might as well have the singer look straight at the camera and say in their best dinner-theater Shakespeare voice “AAAAaaaaaaCTiiing!”
If I was hard-pressed to pick the best music video ever (actually, no one asked and I’m telling you anyway, so…) it would be this:
Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark go on a road trip. Nothing is ever specified in the video, we’re only left with a couple of lines from the song, but they seem to be driving to the hospital where Rodney’s Dad is dying. Guy has a big-brother, almost fatherly relationship with Rodney in this video. Once it becomes clear what’s going on, his part in the story becomes more poignant. Guy is moral support for Rodney, a friend to help him through what is arguably one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. He’s the other mentor figure to Rodney, a surrogate father of sorts. Without expressly telling you all these things, this video is communicating a bigger, deeper story with only a few details.
I’ve heard it said quite a few times that the written medium film most resembles is poetry. Both mediums rely heavily on imagery to get the point across. Songwriting is probably much the same. There’s only a short amount of time to relay a great deal of information and so the artist is going to have to suggest rather than insist and hope the audience makes the right connections. There’s a richness and depth in the small gaps between what is sung and what is seen here. That’s why this is my favorite video.
Both Clark and Crowell would probably be the first to tell you about the hallmarks of American Literature. How it all goes back to Huck Finn and Hemingway. Color and Economy. The open road and regionalism. There’s lots of references to all the Americana staples: classic cars, drive-ins, campfire sing-a-longs, googie architecture, and panoramic shots of the American West. It’s a heavily mythologized picture of America. A picture postcard of the country most of us like to think we live in. Underneath that dream, there’s still death and flat tires. Crappy hamburgers and cigarettes that will kill you.
Crowell looks like a 50’s rock and roller with his snazzy coats and vintage Thunderbird. Clark looks like he just rode in off some dusty range. Each man, in their way, is an iconic American figure: the cowboy and the rockstar. Male archetypes that represent freedom and independence, but also a loneliness. With Rodney’s Dad dying, the world gets a little smaller and these guys are left just a little bit lonelier. There’s freedom on the road, but no home. Independence but not much family. All the paradoxes of a America’s freebooting culture.
I could go on, but I think this is a pretty good intro to why I like this video so much. It doesn’t sell me anything, it only tries to tell me a story about the distance between dreams and reality. About friendship and the changing of the guard. It’s trying for something simultaneously grand and intimate, something uniquely American and universal.
But who am I kidding. This is probably the best music video ever created.
Regret is as native to the human soul as hope, it’s the leavings of will and choice. This is the dark and fertile soil Larry Hooper tills on his new e.p. Opening with “Rehearsed Alibis”, the sort of dirge Townes Van Zandt excelled at, this is an efficient recording that cuts right to the quick. “I Was Wrong” is steady, heartfelt number about plain spoken regret, a man bearing up to the mistakes he made and love he lost. “Daydreams” finds the singer plugging ahead through doubt and tough times.
Clean, sympathetic production aids Hooper in getting across his words without any distracting frippery, all that would be beside the point. These songs are about swimming upstream, and Hooper plays with the conviction of a man swimming upstream, or even better, of Matt Saracen pulling off another win for the Dillon Panthers with nothing but heart and hard work.
While the songs all touch on regret, doubt, and choice, there’s enough range in subject matter to keep this from becoming a monochrome affair. In fact, one of the reasons I enjoy e.p.’s is that they afford an artist the perfect amount of space to explore all the facets of a mood or idea without getting draggy. Hooper has shown his range before in his full-length album “From Here To The Stars,” which includes some really nice love songs and perhaps the best rejoinder to the Westboro Baptist Church put to tape. Like Matt Saracen in the preceding paragraph though, this e.p. seems to be about focusing in on some fundamentals, and like Matt Saracen, it pulls in a win.
First up is Larry Hooper with “Daydreams” a rural anthem, swinging wide as a screen door. This has that perfect summer moving into fall sound, featuring equal parts of sweetness and grit. Next is Kathryn Legendre with a smoldering waltz called “Have You Forgotten Me?” With an impressive amount of fire and ache, this song conjures up neon, the soft clink of billiard balls and the sadness just under the surface of every happy hour. Both folks have new albums dropping soon, which are available for purchase at their respective sites, on iTunes, or you know, at a show, if you live close enough.
A lot of Texas music is only Texas music by virtue of name-dropping. “High Plains Alchemy”, the newest from John Edward Baumann is Texas music because it talks specifically about Texas and day to day life there in the second decade of the 21st century.
In a conversational tone close to that of Adam Carroll, Baumann explores the state’s economic boom, the possibilities in wind farming it’s plains and the burgeoning hipster scene in Marfa. It’s wry and observational, full of details about the economy and environment. It’s a tasty musical equivalent to your town’s alternative newspaper, the one that’s a little left leaning, but clever and clearly a crusade.
With solid country backings that are “laid-back” in the sense that they’re not chest-beating bar stompers, Baumann tells the tale of daily life full of little gems hewn from close observation. The Chihuahuan princess in “One Night In Marfa” probably fled the violence in Juarez. “Eagle Ford” finds the singer rushing to get in on the black gold rush and put low paying liberal arts degree jobs behind him. “Dogs” is a charming, scruffy tale about faithless pets and cheating women that seems like it was beamed in from the cosmic cowboy heyday of 70’s Austin.
While never once mentioning a book, or using a word you wouldn’t hear in your average bar, Baumann has created a literate, funny, and charming album that manages to come across as a both a breezy record and a short story collection of hummable literature. Some songs set out to be the song of the summer, this album feels more like a summer roadtrip, a quick hop, skip and jump across the Lone Star State in the hands of a musical Eagle Scout.