Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cover of the Week 35

We had some friends over for the Independence Day holiday this Saturday. We had been dealing with a month of almost solid rain in Boston. Seriously, I believe there was something like 20-ish per cent of available sunshine in June. I was starting to lose it like everyone else -- kids in the house all the time, darkness reaching a nadir of mid-winter-like bleakness at the end of the week. A rainy day here and there is good to keep mental stability and to get some work done. And it has been a productive month for me. But weeks solid is enough to drive a man off the edge.

So it was with giddy excitement that we welcomed Mr. Sun back this weekend. And Saturday was pretty much perfect. We got the bocce set, the Wiffle balls and bat out, smoked a pork shoulder for pulled pork with Blue Ribbon BBQ sauce (apologies to my PETA friends), chilled the Pilsner Urquel, cut up some limes for the Tanqueray and tonics, and enjoyed the day with a small gathering of friends and families. It was a fantastic time and I hope it was the same for you. Man, we milked these two beautiful days. I went out for a 22-mile bike this morning, and that was AFTER a night of beer, pork, and gin (sort of in that order). Then, via the largess of my BFF, Mike O’Malley and our friends at the Red Sox Foundation, brought my family to to the only-in-Boston Picnic in the Park at Fenway, where you get to run around in the outfield and enjoy BBQ, more beer, and if you’re lucky, get some autographs. None other than first-time all star, Timmy Wakefield, lent more of his time to raise a ton of money with Mike at the live auction.

But yesterday, my friend, Tommy Ruprecht, and I got to chatting music He asked me if I had heard this Mick Jagger solo song called, “Evening Gown.” I had assumed he had heard it on my music mix coming through in the background, because I had been recently rotating that tune and another of the Jagger solo record, Wandering Spirit, “Don’t Tear Me Up,” after years of not listening to the record. Tommy had only heard the latter come up which is what made him ask about the former. I love that song, I told him. In fact, I believe that album/CD was one of the reasons (along with Teenage Fanclub’s, Grand Prix LP) that pushed us in the direction of David Bianco, who went on to produce our CD, Smitten. Rick Rubin produced the Jagger LP and Dave engineered and mixed, which he did for many Rubin productions.

Tommy and I waxed rhapsodically about what a beautiful song “Evening Gown” is. I remember the record coming out in 1993. The big deal off the record was a duet with Lenny Kravitz wherein the two of them offer a confused take on the great Bill Withers tune “Use Me.” But the other tunes sort of caught me by surprise. I am sure I heard “Don’t Tear Me Up” on the radio and thought it was, along with recent Keith solo albums, some of the best stuff either of them had managed to put together -- solo or with the Stones -- at the time, anyway.

There is something quite vulnerable in Mick’s performance of the tune. Starting with the song itself, of course. It is a deceivingly simple country ballad, two verses, bridge, solo and an outro verse. (By the way, if the lyric and singing don’t get you, the pedal steel solo will bring you to your knees. It is played by the legendary JayDee Mannes, who played with Buck Owens and the Bucakroos, and played on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and other classics.) But Jagger manages to masterfully draw this self-deprecating, back-slapping character, a guy entering middle age and acknowledging this passing of time, apparently still with his wife, who he ultimately is singing the song to, repeatedly bringing back the focus to her in the refrain “But I can still paint the town/All the colors of your evening gown/While I’m waiting for your blond hair to turn gray.”

It is a powerful stanza even just sitting on the page. Jagger manages to capture endless layers of emotion and detail about this guy in so few words, ultra-economically, but the singer still draws us in personally, seeing ourselves and others we know there. I identified with the character even when hearing it at the age of 27 (hard to believe it was that long ago), never mind 43. So I suppose it is predictable that is has wormed its way back into my consciousness, onto my playlists, and ultimately here for a cover version.

I often feel like I so easily lapse into a cliche existence, following many steps about what a guy growing up in America is expected to do, saying the same shit to my kids my father said to me, feeling the inevitable mid-life crisis pulling me in, and so on. I have started to think a lot more about mortality than I used to, almost to the point of obsession. It used to be a subject I would not give much more than a moment’s notice to. We’re here and at some point we all go; sad but true. Now, who's playing at the Middle East tonight?

Don’t get me wrong; I mean, I am not obsessed with staving off my own inevitable passing; it is more of a melancholy, Zen (maybe not) awareness of the passing of time that we have to spend with the ones we love. See what I was saying about cliches? How does one begin to venture into this sort of well-worn subject matter without bumping into and falling far short of Kierkegaard (as Tommy joked in another context yesterday), Shakespeare, the Gershwins.

Well, there you go: that’s how you explore the subject matter, in art -- poetry, drama, music. And Mick does it masterfully here, before you are even are aware of it. Jagger’s lyric comes on like it is going to be one of his tongue-in-cheek country tunes like Far Away Eyes, in other words, devoid of any heavy emotional involvement (unlike, for example, “Wild Horses,” which is just all raw nerve). “Evening Gown” starts off

People say that I'm high class
But I'm low down all the while
People think That I'm crazy
When I flash that California smile


Yeah, yeah, you think. Come on Mick! Bring us something! In 1993, we had been through so much of the beginning-of-the-end of the Stones, with more mediocre and poor music that we - any of us still paying any attention at all -- could be forgiven for just being cynical that there would be any more passion left. But then he hits us -- hard with that chorus, and he goes on to continue to sketch this character. By the bridge, we realize it is himself in there somewhere, under “sports clothes” and “California” smiles.

For Jagger to be singing this as this aging Lothario rock star god was a substantial acknowledgment of his humanity and mortality. I don’t pretend to follow all the gossip about his personal life so I have no real idea of where he was in his romantic life at this moment, but his hammering of the last line of the chorus three times in a higher octave, bringing it home with his enviable country-soul voice, certainly makes the point clear.

“....waiting for your blond hair to turn gray.”

And I had those lines in my head for the rest of the evening, as I looked around at my group of friends -- husbands wives, kids -- until I went down stairs at 11, after everyone was long gone and all the bottles were in the bin and the dishes put away, to record the cover. And the song has stayed with me all day.


Evening Gown mp3

6 comments:

Kouzie said...

I do love this song. The amazing Alejandro Escovedo covered this song live for several years and his cover can be found on one of the Bloodshot Records comps.

Thanks for all these great covers Bill. I really look forward to seeing what you'll pull next!

Chris

Paul Daddario said...

Great insightful prose content as always, and pilsner urquel- good choice, don't let the green bottle fool you, its no skunky "eurolager." I went back to listen to the Jagger version and found a great 1993 live performance. Two points from your blog hit me as I listened to Jagger's version and then yours again, in that order.
First, This song is great for Jagger's "Middle aged" grown up voice- there are natural deep lows in the song, smoky gray vocal parts, but also this highlights the soul, emotion and power of a seasoned performer, especially in the ramped up "waiting for your blond hair..." part.
Secondly, I noticed a reference to BT "Smitten" and the song that came into my head, especially near the end of your version of the cover, was "Scottish Windows," which, although sounds great with a triumphant soaring musical chorus, might sound just as fine acoustic...

Figgsrock2 said...

Great cover of an overlooked gem Bill.

I do have a strong memory of Wandering Spirit--I was still working in radio when this album came out, and I remember Atlantic really pushing hard on the first single "Sweet Thing." We barely played it because it was just such a subpar song. The day we got the album in (the Thursday before it was stores) I spun it in my office, and once I hit "Don't Tear me Up" I remember thinking, "Someone at Altantic should lose their job. They really picked the wrong single." And I know I wasn't alone in thinking that, as "Don't Tear me Up" totally took off in a couple weeks as stations ignored what Atlantic wanted them to do.

Ah, the days when radio stations had their own brains.

Whirling House said...

I appreciate you bringing to light a musician who I've studiously avoided since Undercover of the Night. While reading the lyrics, I couldn't help but thinking of the child he had with another woman while married to Jerry Hall. Per wiki, that child was born in 1999...the same year that Jagger had his marriage to Hall annulled (after 4 kids).

On one hand, this is prurient/People magazine stuff that I'd prefer to ignore. On the other hand, I sometimes have difficulty separating the lifestyle of the ultra famous and ultra rich from their art. The phrase "We mean it, man" comes to mind for some reason.

This is beginning to sound like an "authenticity" rant. Thanks for great array of covers and the insightful reads!

Randy Reichardt said...

What a sweet, delicious arrangement. I count at least six tracks - keys, organ, two guitars, two vocals. Did I miss one? The line that strikes me is: "all my life I've waited for someone who would take me past the kissing." A great line that defines a deeper (or deepening love).

Another insightful back story that as always, seems to touch a few nerves with me. I've got twelve years on you, as I've noted before, but have remained single. (She gave the engagement ring back to me in 1988 - long story, but it's still in the sock drawer upstairs.) With the additional years, the mortality issues are very visible to me, and will be from here on in. I don't obsess about it either, but I've lost a few good friends already, and each time it just sucks a bit more.

On the flip side, social networks like Facebook have brought me back together with long lost friends from 30-35 years in the past - and we have gone from blonde (or black or brown) to gray together.

You wrote, "...awareness of the passing of time that we have to spend with the ones we love. See what I was saying about cliches?" Cliche, yes, but also hard reality. Thankfully we do have the aforementioned art forms there to allow intepretation and creativity of such concerns.

That "awareness" is with me, and is one of the reason I hope to one day see Buff T before it's too late.

BTW, if one averages 12 cuts per album, you're one CotW away from giving us your third album of covers. I can't think of anyone in rock, part time or otherwise, who has given such an incredible gift to his fans. Thanks, Bill. Now fire up the bbq and grill some steaks.

William said...

Bill
Great version. I know you being the musical encyclopedia you are may know this already but Jerry Lee Lewis did a version of this too. Check this version out with Keith and Mick and Ronnie Wood.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1J-sAuUQok Hats off to my girlfriend a huge Stone fan to point this out!