Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Gone Drinkin' (Pt. 1)

Thanks Onion!
Wellsir, today's the day everyone dreams about. It's a glorious late summer afternoon and I'm off to the Midwest Brewers Festival in beautiful Plainfield, Illinois! Although, I'm genuinely excited to sample beers from across the region and the country because I'm one of those poor benighted beer geeks you've all seen stroking their beards down at the local microbrewery, I figured it was a good time to indulge in a little irresponsibility as well.

With that in mind, this Six-Pack is a musical celebration of that blessed inebriation with six songs about the (beer) bottle and why we love (and hate) it so. I've called this Part 1 because something tells me that this will be too rich a vein to mine only once. So as the Poles say, "Napijmy się! Lepiej być znanym pijakiem, niż anonimowym alkoholikiem!" ("Let's drink! It's better to be a famous drunk than an anonymous alcoholic!")

1. Sally MacLennane - The Pogues  Buy it.
Who's better at drinking than the Irish, right? (Well, the Polish, for one, but never mind). Shane McGowan, lead singer of the Pogues was always one to enjoy a drink or six and it showed in his songs (and frankly, his singing). "Sally MacLennane" wasn't a love song, or rather it was a love song to a beer, not a woman. Sally MacLennane is, fittingly, a stout and the second single from Rum, Sodomy And The Lash proclaims its joys for all to hear. McGowan sings of how he "grew to be a man" and "learned to love the virtues of sweet Sally MacLennane." He starts tending bar only to see the old men he knew drink themselves to death. It's "Sunrise, Sunset", Irish-style. Only a lot more fun.

2. Theme From Cheers - Titus Andronicus  Buy it.
"I'm sorry mama, but I've been drinkin' again!" Rarely have I heard a more promising start to a drinking song. Titus takes a lot of inebriated cues from the Pogues and this bleary gem is as good as a McGowan classic. Singer Patrick Stickles is painfully on-point in describing the roots of his drinking. Whether it's escape (if you've got something you can't live with, save it for another day"), keeping a frightened clawhold on youth ("while we're young boys, everybody raise your glasses high!") or quieting darker demons ("I'm gonna put the devil inside of me asleep, if it takes all night"), he trumpets his justifications before letting them collapse into sad reality ("here's too the good times, here's to the home team, kiss the good times goodbye!"). By the end of the song he's resigned to his fate and goes down swinging.
so Andy let's turn into dirty old men                                                                           close down the bar every night at the Glenn Rock Inn                                                           talk about our grandkids as we stroke our gray beards                                                    funny, we're still doing carbombs after all of these years
 Titus Andronicus forever!

3. You're So High - Albert Collins  Buy it.
Oh the blues. Born in bars, a celebration of being sad, the perfect musical accompaniment for a nice long drunk. Albert Collins distills the self-delusion of the professional drunk into a few minutes on this classic song. As his friends in the chorus tell him, "you're so high" (back when that meant something a little different) which he steadfastly denies. Finally after a few go-rounds of this, he says, exasperated "I ain't drunk, I'm just drinking!" That's probably a bad line to use on the cops, but it's irresistible when you're three drinks in on a Wednesday after work.

4.  Alcoholics Unanimous - Art Brut  Buy it.
So far we've seen three songs that are paens to the joys of getting drunk. It's easy to write catchy songs about the joys of getting drunk. Know what's hard? Writing catchy songs about the morning after hangover. Nevertheless Art Brut has managed to pen several homages to waking up "in yesterday's clothes" with a dry mouth and a new bunkmate, none better than the lead track off 2009's Art Brut Vs. Satan. Eddie Argos has the amazing ability to add po' faced charm and romance to the most mundane of 21st century embarrasments. "There's so many people I might have upset" he worries after a night of drinking. He will "apologize to them all with same group text" though, never to worry. For the entirety of the song Art Brut provides a never sharper punk backdrop for Argos to bounce his worries off, even providing sympathy background vocals ("that looks like it really hurts / shoulda taken the day off work"). As Eddie screams for tea and coffee, his band winkingly consoles him before the grand reveal at the end. I'll give you a hint, the boss probably won't miss him.

5. Bottled In Cork - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists  Buy it.
Ted Leo is always a guy with a lot on his mind. It's no wonder that the first few lines from his latest single burst forth from the first seconds of the song like water through a damn. After working through his Nick Loweish U.N. shout out though, "Bottled In Cork" settles into a comfy acoustic groove that it rides right into the hall of all-time great Leo songs. It's a travelogue sung by a man whose learned not to sweat the small stuff. As a Chicagoan who shudders everytime my city is associated with the hated Cubs, I especially love how Leo is willing to accept being called a New Yorker, by a German bartender even though Jersey is the Southside of east coast - a place you have to grow up embracing against the odds as a badge of pride. This is a song about growth. But about that bartender, Leo knows that there's no better way to bridge distance and culture than a few pints and this song finds him bonding the only way he knows how, by drunkenly informing a bartender of his love. As he finishes his profession, the Pharmacists play him out with sweetness and fire that only they could deliver. A song you'll never hear in a crowded bar at closing time, much to your chagrin. 

6. Lived In Bars - Cat Power  Buy it.
Chan Marshall has been around. Like most musicians, her life in song has forced her to spend many a late night in a tavern. In "Lived In Bars" she looks back with smokey nostalgia and remorse. She talks about dancing on tables and ships that sail, but she also compares the life of drinking and singing with swimming with sharks. "There's nothing like living in a bottle" she explains "and nothing like ending it all for the world." A perfect last call song to clear out the bar and force yourself off your stool and back into the world, it's an update on "Here Comes A Regular" that trades Paul Westerberg's homebody everyman for a globe-trotting musician. Guess what, Marshall tells us, even when you travel the world and play rock for a living, you can never outrun yourself, even with the help of a bottle.

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