LINER NOTES: Upside Down
Upside Down Spotify playlist
I pull music for these sessions in advance, so even prior to Election Day I knew this night would have to capture the frightening absurdity of the election season. The ugly embers of this nation's resentments have been stoked, fanned and fueled for over a year. Regardless of the outcome, I felt the music had to mix the anger frustration fear with strength hope release.
So, it's Three Stack's heavy sigh that opened the night. It's a sigh weighed down from smiling through the pain. It's weighed down from seeing one's love twisted beyond recognition. It's weighed down from realizing how routine this perversion has become. It's a cumbersome burden that is shucked off by instinct as soon as the beat drops... because there's an audience? "See this is the way that we walk on a sunny day when it's raining inside and you're all alone..." And so the sing-song melody taps happily atop a buoyant beat while Dre, Bigga and Antwan go down down down into the stress. I suppose it may have felt like you walked in on the story like you missed the beginning, but you haven't missed anything if you've been here the entire time. It's just a matter of looking around.
And so we moved both back in time and space to see where this despair comes from. First, we check in with a pair of the UK's most noted emoters. Surprise, the Thatcher era plots a familiar narrative. The The's "The Beat(en) Generation" is like "Whole World" in its absurd pairing of soft shoe folk with apoplectic GenX warnings. The entire Mind Bomb LP feels similarly ham-fisted in its fury, but Mat Johnson's warnings ring no less true over a quarter-century later. Oh, and that is Johnny Marr strumming along sullenly in the background... Meanwhile, Morrissey shows no loss of step in his like ability to coax along the coming armageddon to a shiny happy melody.
Waylon's "Down Came the World" and Earl Hines' (really, Walter Fuller, who sings lead here) cover of Cab Calloway's "Topsy Turvy" take us out of the overtly political arena, but their similar characterizations of women doing them so bad they can't even... feels familiar. So we let Joanna respond: "What we built at the kiln that won’t be stilled / Did not set well." Emphasis on we.
Looking at this background it becomes clear the mix of female and political becomes explosive. Betty Davis and Amanda Palmer grab this notion by the balls/pussy (your choice) and snatch away a couple choice cuts from some doods. Davis nails the creepy DC pol personality to a tee, while Palmer invigorates a classic English ballad about labor and property rights with only her voice and a uke. Of course, doods are always lurking around trying to get in on the action. That's Betty's then husband Miles growling some lecherous nonsense about covering Cream with the "gum in your mouth and all." And Lin Manuel-Miranda's "Yorktown" only references "World Turned Upside Down," but notably moves the theme from working class protest critique to macho military anthem (hi, silent Eliza!). Doods, can you not be such doods all the time?
Ornette gets it. And, so we close the first half of drawing with "Lonely Woman." Only fitting this anthem comes from the accurately titled The Shape of Jazz to Come.
In the second half, we began to move away from the details of the muck. We reviewed the weight of the world, but from a more macro perspective. Prince seeing sin everywhere in 1987. George Clinton calling out crackpot consumerism in between acid sessions. P.F. Sloan taking a wild stab at mid-60s anger while Barry McGuire breathes fire into "Eve of Destruction." And we closed with a more contemporary form of bullet-point protest "Stakes is High" perhaps the apex (or nadir?) of De la's abrupt about-face from their anything goes birthplace.
I suppose it was belaboring the point to continue with Curtis' apocalyptic "(Don't Worry) If There's Hell Below We're All Going To Go," the vertiginous "Soliloquy of Chaos" instrumental and the unnerving "The Upside Down" from the Stranger Things score. But the journey was all to get us to the tinkling synths and that whoop in "I Need a Forest Fire." Justin Vernon requests "a new dream" and D stays cautious, but both are optimistic. Tuesday may not have been a good day, but sometimes we "wander off just to come back home."
So, next time Diana says you're making her feel "Upside Down?" Tell her you're not alone.