Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday PSTSS: "Mr. Kennedy"

The story behind me and this song....

About ten years ago, my friend Scott starting sending me music by Robyn Hitchcock, someone whom prior to that point I'd never listened to. I was attracted to many of his tunes (I loved "Viva Sea-Tac!" especially), but I couldn't say that I became a major fan. Then, in 2001, Hitchcock reunited with some members of his old band The Soft Boys, and they hit the road, including a gig in Washington DC, where we were living at the time. Scott bought Melissa and I tickets to the show, as a gift, and we went--and unfortunately were underwhelmed. Not a terrible show, but not one we could get into; it seemed to us as though Hitchcock and Kimberly Rew wanted to play like they were still 20-something punks, and we didn't care for it. Were we showing our age? I suppose. Anyway, that kind of put a damper on future encounters with Hitchcock's work. Fast forward to 2005 or so, when I was compiling a bunch of music which Scott had sent me over the years onto a single cd. While doing so, I listened to "Mr. Kennedy," a tune Hitchcock had written and recorded for the 2002 Soft Boys album Nextdoorland which came out of that aforementioned tour. I was absolutely transfixed. This is, I thought then and still think, a simply brilliant song--much of the power comes from Hitchcock's and Rew's guitar work, plainly, but still, the lyrics were stunning: a rock and roller, in the midst of a bus tour, talking with the driver (the titular "Mr. Kennedy"; Hitchcock discusses the song's origin here), and discovering a particular kind of quotidian grace and mystery in the everydayness of their life on the road. As a mixture of the profound and artistic in the midst of the banality of touring, it does everything Jackson Browne's "The Load-Out/Stay" does, and more.

Here's the thing: I'd listened to this song before, probably several times, without it really ever impacting me. In fact, I'd heard the song live at that DC concert; Scott actually tracked down a bootleg of it for me, which is awesome (both his tracking it down and the recording itself). Funny how it is something can wash right over you at one point of your life, and at another seem like a tremendous work of art, isn't it? But maybe that's the mystique of pop music right there.

Coming into Harrisburg
Never seen a body look so tense
Tell me Mr. Kennedy
Have you ever seen the clouds so dense?

Coming into Cleveland
Riding in the van with Sebadoh
Tell me Mr. Kennedy
Have you ever seen the clouds so low?

Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain tonight
Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain tonight

Coming into Paradise
Thinking that I must have been here once
Me and Mr. Kennedy
Haven't seen a blade of grass in months

Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain tonight
Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain tonight

Here it comes
Here it comes again
Here she comes here she comes here she comes

Coming into Pittsburgh
Dreaming of a thousand open shops
Me and Mr. Kennedy
Stretching out to catch the first few drops

Tell me Mr. Kennedy
Can you make it rain?
Can you make it rain tonight?
Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain tonight
Maybe it'll rain
Maybe it'll rain

3 comments:

Queen K said...

Hey Russell,

It was fun meeting you at Touch of Seoul--I never would've pegged you as a Soft Boys fan, but then, you'd probably say the same about me.

I bought _Underwater Moonlight_ in high school (on LP!) and was hooked. Although I have to be careful not to listen when my kids are around. The last thing I need is for them to learn the lyrics to "I Wanna Destroy You"...

Cheers,
Kathy Soper

Russell Arben Fox said...

Kathy, what a pleasant surprise! Thanks for stopping by. And you're right--I wouldn't have pegged you for a Soft Boys fan either. But really, don't make the mistake of pegging me as such; as the post makes clear, I'm more of a fan of Robyn Hitchcock on his own than of the Soft Boys. Though, have you listened to his latest collaboration, Ole! Tarantula, with the "Venus 3" (which includes REM veteran Peter Buck and Soft Boys veteran Morris Windsor)? The album rocks, yet closes out with a touching, reverent tribute to the Mormon rocker Arthur Kane, titled "N.Y. Doll."

Queen K said...

I'll have to pick that one up, Russell. Thanks for the recommendation.

I don't know about you, but hearing quasi-punk songs from the eighties on TV commercials makes me feel old. Really old. http://www.kathrynlynardsoper.com/2007/08/21/sheer-terror/