Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Midnight Mix Tape

Feets don't fail me now...
At 12 a.m. as our time zone crosses over into Sept. 11, I will take off running. Literally.

There's a 5K race "in the midnight hour" and I plan to be in it. Besides the opportunity to run at the strangest time I've ever attempted, I'm drawn to the symmetry of it all.

When the race horn blows and we set off I'll be a man who still knows something about what is happening in the world.

When I cross the finish line about 25 minutes later (I'm more determined than I am fast) I'll be completely Van Winkled.

Motivating Oneself to Move 
Nowadays I wouldn't think of running without having my MP3 player and headphones (Note to audiophiles: low-end ear buds don't pump enough bass to cater to demanding aural taste). I need music to take my mind off the inevitable pain.

Case in point: I ran in a race last weekend and I'm not sure I would have made it to the end if not for the fact that I was listening all the way to the performance The Pixies gave at Madison Square Garden during their 2004 reunion tour. When "No. 13 Baby" came on with the refrain "I'm in a state, I'm in a state," and Kim Deal's pulsing bass rattled my bones that's when I knew. I fired afterburners and got into my own state of, I'm going finish, I'm going to finish, finish this race no matter what.

For the upcoming special running occasion I thought it might be appropriate to seek out songs with "midnight" in their title and lyrics. I won't be concocting anything fancy (such as a true mix which can be done with the cool $30 Mix Tape Portable DJ Mixer available from Urban Outfitters, pictured below). This is just old school, dig through my CD collection, rip the songs and sync them onto my player.

The Play List
In the Midnight Hour (The Young Rascals) 4'00":
A hard rockin' gem with a driving groove, though the obvious choice I have to admit is to go with the original artist, the late great Wilson Pickett. Here's the deal, though. In 1966 The Rascals (still "The Young" when they released this) produced an indisputably fine white guy cover. The bass absolutely crunches and the organ, not normally my favorite instrument, swells like an outbound jet cooking on the runway. Wow. Italian-American boys got soul, too.

After Midnight (Eric Clapton) 2'50":
Back when this tune came out I was living in Anchorage, Alaska. My best friend was a kid who was from California and he had come north bearing record albums. Hippie stuff like Country Joe and the Fish "Feeling Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag." I sat in his parents' basement flipping through the intoxicating 12 x 12 stacks and I remember this one. A bearded E.C. in a cream suit sits in a chair with a Strat between his legs and a bunch of rolled up carpets to his left. This relaxed dapper man wasn't the same guitar god who wah-wahed us into ecstasy during his stint with Cream. Eric was into a new big band thing.

Still, like Cream, the music must have been pretty loud and the vocals poorly enunciated, because my friend kept talking about his favorite tune on the album, "Captain Midnight," until I finally corrected him by pointing to the track list. "Uh, I think he's saying after midnight." I do like the idea of an alternative lyric featuring Captain Midnight, however. If he were the basis of the song he would be the kind of dude who would throw a heck of a party. "Captain Midnight! We're gonna let it all hang out!"

Midnight Rider
(Allman Brothers Band) 2'57":

I immersed myself in the double-disc pleasures of At the Filmore East and Eat a Peach enough times to etch them into my classic rock memory long before there was the term "classic rock." Much later I finally dug into the band's back catalog and discovered this highlight from the ABB's second studio album, Idlewild South. It has the greatest acoustic guitar riff to arrive belatedly to my ears. And there's something about that line and the way Greg moans it--"I've got one...more--silver dollah..." that manages to sound authentically Gothic southern bluesy and haunting.

The Midnight Special
(Creedence Clearwater Revival) 4'11":

This song belongs to Huey Ledbetter better known as Leadbelly. Which gives me an opportunty to say that I'm in the camp that rock 'n' roll never would have happened period had African-American culture not been available to whites for them to feast upon and bend to their own ends. White kids (like me) at a particular historical moment badly needed liberation and joy, but I don't think we were capable of inventing the soundtrack for it by ourselves. So there's a debt as well as a theft. Call it the Elvis effect. The sad part is that many musical consumers never even find out about the original artist, the one with the darker skin. Of course, John Fogerty was talented enough that he hardly needed to rely upon covers (and, in this case, lyrics that are somewhat watered down from Ledbelly's) to fill CCR albums and sell a bi-jillion copies.

This song's lyrics remind me (if I'm paying attention) that there's a black man sitting in a prison cell who sees the light of the Midnight Special train rattling past and watches freedom pass him by. Still, the light shining on him is enough to cause him to dare to hope.

Burning of the Midnight Lamp
(Jimi Hendrix) 3'38":

I'm a Hendrix fan, but this tune on Electric Ladyland never really caught my fancy. It's too anthemic and over-the-top dramatic, as if John Phillips Sousa had dropped acid. The wah-wah riff sounds more weird than compelling. Talking electric bagpipes? But hey, the song is about midnight. It's loud, too. I'm not going to drift off to sleep at the 3.5 kilometer mark when this one comes over the headphones.

Midnight Rambler (The Rolling Stones) 9'04":
The most obvious choice, I suppose, of the whole batch. Midnight is the time for creepin' and movin' and groovin' per the RS gospel, and the world's loudest rock 'n' roll band produces an irresistible rhythm on this one that's bound to give me a lift as I'm starting to fade. Of course, I'm going with the live version on Get 'Yer Ya-Ya's Out!'(though I've got to tell you there are even better performances of this tune out there on boots).

Introduction to The Sleeping Beauty (Peter Illich Tchaikovsky) 3'33":
Our son loves classical music. For him a massed orchestra is the sun, moon and stars and the entire musical universe. When he went looking for a classical piece to propel Dad on his midnight run he first came up with the "Moonlight Sonata." I decided to mess with his head: But what if the moon isn't out that night? So he dug some more among the stacks of CDs that litter our home and came up with this raucous orchestral warhorse. There's no "midnight" in it, but it does use musical speech to tell the story of a person who is asleep and awaits awakening. I can't think of a better way for newly Van Winkled me to come across the finish line.

I'm Only Sleeping (The Beatles) 3'00":
Wait! I need one more tune to for my cool-down. Let's go to the Revolver album where 44 years ago John Lennon sang the words of what could be my Van Winkle Project mission statement: Don't wake me...don't spoil my day, I'm miles away...floating up stream...keeping an eye on the world going by my window, taking my time...

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