CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL SCORE: (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 168, (7) Tracy Chapman 159 .......... FINAL FOUR FINAL SCORES: (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 154, (1) Joy Division 90 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 137, (1) The Cure 89 .......... ELITE EIGHT FINAL SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 74, (14) Low 60 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 85, (1) Elliott Smith 69 ..... THE CURE 65, (2) Radiohead 58 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 74, (1) Neutral Milk Hotel 44 ..... FINAL SWEET SIXTEEN SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 75, (5) PJ Harvey & Nick Cave 24 ..... (14) LOW 73, (2) Concrete Blonde (64) ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 78, (4) Gary Jules 44 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 74, (6) Kate Bush 53 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 54, (13) The Church 49 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 73, (3) Sinead O’Connor 35 ..... (1) THE CURE 109, (3) Tori Amos 86 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 76, (6) This Mortal Coil 50 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 96, (9) Mazzy Star 91 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 76, (7) Bob Mould 28 ..... (14) LOW 60, (6) Crowded House 51 ..... (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 65, (4) Alphaville 38 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 113, (8) Replacements 88 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 87, (3) Nirvana 64 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 99, (2) The Eels 62 ..... (3) GARY JULES 103, (12) Morrissey 63 ..... (6) Kate Bush 72, (3) Nirvana 53 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 66, (11) Ride 27 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 106, (5) James 44 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 95, (10) Smashing Pumpkins 40 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 80, (9) New Order 56 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 102, (7) Nine Inch Nails 99 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 61, (3) Indigo Girls 60 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 89, (5) Swans 40 ..... (1) CURE 82, (8) Tom Waits 68 ............... FINAL 1ST ROUND SCORES: (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 93, (12) Midnight Oil 38 ..... (7) BOB MOULD 63, (10) Peter Murphy 47 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 117, (16) Erasure 19 ..... (6) CROWDED HOUSE 98, (11) Leonard Cohen 54 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 199, (10) The Smiths 162 ..... (5) MORRISSEY 115, (12) Morphine 83 ..... (3) NIRVANA 137, (14) Slowdive 102 ..... (8) THE REPLACEMENTS 128, (9) Dream Academy 82 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 262, (4) Magnetic Fields 193 ..... (10) SMASHING PUMPKINS 165, (7) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 155 ..... (9) NEW ORDER 160, (8) Sarah McLachlan 78 ..... (1) JEFF BUCKLEY 204, (16) Bjork 92 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 78, (13) Echo & the Bunnymen 22 ..... (8) TOM WAITS 72, (9) The Pretenders 22 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 51, (11) Yaz 31 ..... (3) INDIGO GIRLS 71, (14) Pavement 26 ..... (9) MAZZY STAR 132, (8) REM 46 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 88, (15) Psychedelic Furs 34 ..... (4) ALPHAVILLE 71, (13) Dead Can Dance 36 ..... (14) LOW 120, (3) U2 65 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 63, (16) 10,000 Maniacs 24 ..... (2) EELS 50, (15) Counting Crows 46 ..... (4) GARY JULES 62, (13) Depeche Mode 19 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 59, (11) Sisters of Mercy 20 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 42, (16) Violent Femmes 12 ..... (11) RIDE 25 (6) Peter Gabriel 24 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 37, (14) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 17, ..... (5) JAMES 24, (12) Red House Painters 23 ..... (7) NINE INCH NAILS 46, (10) Wilco 31, (5) SWANS 31, (12) Pet Shop Boys 18 ..... (1) THE CURE 50, (16) Gear Daddies 10 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 40, (15) Liz Phair 35


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sweet Sixteen Action: (14) LOW vs (2) CONCRETE BLONDE

FINAL SCORE: (14) LOW 73, (2) Concrete Blonde (64)


(14) Low, "Words"

Analysis by Kenneth Caldwell

I'm prone on the living room floor, listening to Low's “Words” for the umpteenth time, debating whether to call the paramedics again. Do I want to stay overnight in ER and wait ten hours for results, hearing the screams in trauma? Someone saying, “Come back, child?” No—I've been through this. Every time, “It's not life-threatening. Nothing structural.” So, why am I getting leveled? Damn it. It's bad this time.

Keep calm and focus on the idiot box. Adam Levine’s slick new haircut. I’ll bet he’s saying something profound. Mute is television's best feature. How many words is too many words for closed captioning to keep up? Who gets paid to type this colloquial catastrophe? My chest is pounding. “Man in the box wants to burn my soul.”

I'm prone on the floor hearing Low harmonize all the way from Duluth, the song somehow oscillating between a drunken swirl and stone-faced sobriety. It must be frigid there. Like in Michigan when it's too cold to snow, or the way nostrils freeze first. But this bass line lends some warmth. It's Carhartt wool & North Face fleece.

Here’s a fun anecdote: Chest pressure can signify fatal, time-sensitive horror, or nothing at all. Something trivial. “The pain is easy.”

My hands are soaked. From an evolutionary standpoint, perspiration is an advantage. In fight or flight mode—say, running from a snarling grizzly—moist hands mean better grip on the tree used to escape. But there is no bear. There is only snare and cymbal. I'm prone on the living room floor, counting sizzles on the ride: “4-7-8,” like they told me. Breathe. “But I know they're gonna make it just one more night.”


The emergency responder barrels in. I say, my hands are tingling. “Is that the truth?” he says. Tiny lightning is combing my veins. He looks confused. Gives me an EKG. I’m breathing fast, he says, standing over me. I’m clutching his pant leg like he’s the father I lost in October. “We’re gonna take him in, just in case.” I ask my wife to get my joggers and that gives him a little chuckle. He mutters something like, “Yoggers.” Who is this guy?

Lucky me: He rides along in the back of the ambulance. One thing they don’t tell you about ambulances—the halogen is resplendent. Can’t fake anything under that light. He’s talking to me as he measures my vitals, says his brother had to stop drinking Monster. Made him feel the same way. Shit, I think. I’m not your bro—not some juiced up meat-monger whose truck says “Super Duty” on the tailgate. He talks the whole way, about his last job or something. “Too many words, too many words.” All the while I’m collapsing into the gurney, letting the clean white linen smother me into some new galaxy sans Adam Levine. Also, I’m wondering how I left my shoes at home. They let me aboard in just Carhartt socks. Anything goes in this clown car.

Later, after the rigmarole of all-night clinical tests and vague explanations, I get a sick note at 4 a.m. that is impressively concise. Doctors don’t play around: “Please excuse Kenneth from work today, as he was seen in the ED overnight.” Talk about understatement. Bitch, I was dying.


But that was last time. I’m not doing it again. Maybe my heartrate is back to normal now. “And I'm tired.” Beyond tired. And again the lights are all fading back into view, an array of golden beacons smeared across an empty shoreline. The light is resplendent and I’m holding my head. I'm thinking of too many words. How many mantras is too many mantras?

I’m prone listening to “Words,” and it is a song about language. It is plaintive. It is contemplative. This always happens—some rouge nerve whispering in my ear: “Time to faint, fat boy.” I'm not going to listen anymore. “And I can hear 'em.”

“9-1-1. What's your emergency?”

“Hey, I’m not sure. Never mind.” Click.

Beat, busted heart. Stammer in my chest. Just one more night.

Kenneth Caldwell is eyes wide into the night, illuminated in electric blue.


(2) Concrete Blonde, “Joey”

Analysis by Megan Campbell

Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting came out in 1990, but it didn’t make its way to me until 1991, when I was 16 years old. It was the first “alternative” album I ever owned, except maybe for Red, Hot, and Blue, which I bought because I happened to see a still of Sinead O’Connor in her video for “You Do Something to Me”—she was dolled up with make-up and a wig, and looked unrecognizable (I remember showing the picture to my friend April, who sneered, “That’s not her.” My teenage self was fascinated by this dichotomy. Why look like that (bald and weird) when you could look like this (lacquered and gorgeous)? Which is actually a good thing for a 16 year-old girl to ponder, but I digress). I’m compelled to remind my youngers that, at the time, it was hard to find good music—there was no internet, no satellite radio, no Spotify, no cable music stations, and only one MTV. Even CDs were new-ish. Music meant Top 40 radio and Musicland at the mall; figuring out there was a world of sound outside of those suburban walls was, in retrospect, a rite of passage that not everyone managed to find their way through (eight years later I knew someone who had only ever owned one CD: Roxette). I wish I could remember how I found “Joey,” but find it I did, and it now represents that particular time for me.

I was not alone in my discovery—everyone seemed to love “Joey.” The video broke out of the 120 Minutes ghetto on MTV and achieved regular rotation, and the song even cracked the Top 40, topping out at #19 (it was #1 for four weeks on something called the “Modern Rock” chart). Considering all of the mild, poppy alt bands floating around in the late 80s and early 90s, “Joey” was an unlikely crossover hit. Lots of people love sad songs (and March Sadness thanks God for that) but “Joey” wasn’t, shall we say, attractively sad—it wasn’t winsome or sexy or sweet. The video featured no cleavage and no pretty girl tears—just lead singer Johnette Napolitano looking fierce and unapproachable (she’s still there in my head with bald Sinead), backed by a band that was not good-looking or hip or even youthful. “Joey” was guttural and depressing and pleading. It was without ego or posturing, which I’ve come to feel is necessary for a truly sad song. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was also autobiographical—about Napolitano’s relationship with Marc Moreland of Wall of Voodoo, who died of liver failure about 10 years later (whatever your criteria, this is a bona fide Sad Song).

In 1991 “Joey” felt like it was aimed right at my wounded teen soul. Yet when I listen to it now, it feels like a song for adults who have seen some shit, not kids playing at broken hearts. I wasn’t even a lovelorn sort of teen, more of a morbid one (I remember removing the piece of heat-reflective cardboard from the crawl space entrance in my parents’ basement after I read The Bell Jar. I peered inside and wondered: would they find me? Hmm). A cynical part of me thinks, this song is about giving and giving, and teens are about taking and taking. So of course they (and I) loved it. But when I think a little more about teens, their personalities buoyed up by their favorite store at the mall, their favorite pizza topping, and so many other irrelevancies, I get it—giving someone everything feels possible at 16, because there’s not that much to give. But for an adult, it’s an impossible, desperate, last-ditch promise, which is why “Joey” stings so much.

Wikipedia tells me that “Joey” was the last song recorded for Bloodletting—Napolitano wrote it but didn’t want to sing it. But, eventually, she had to. And it became the single. And it was a hit, an unheard-of thing for a band like Concrete Blonde in 1990. So, she must have heard it everywhere, and also had to sing it everywhere, maybe thousands of times, for fans who were sodden with whatever sadness the song represented for them. And I would love to know what her sadness was like. Was it a punch to the gut every time she sang, or did it fade away over time? Neither feels like a happy ending.

Megan Campbell is a member of the March Sadness Selection Committee and a vintage clothing dealer in Tucson, AZ.


1 comment:

  1. I love when a song (or film, book, any art form really) is rediscovered and re-contextualized. I hadn't listened to this song in ages before this year's March Sadness. Joey (and Concrete Blonde in general) was of a time and place (late teens) during which I imagined I knew what real heartbreak was, in the way that we imagine the chain-smoking angst-y breakups of our teens and early twenties are in fact actual tragedies. Oh, to FEEL SO MUCH again. And now a quarter-century later, Joey reemerges from the dust of my iTunes. With the backstory filled in Napolitano's vocal becomes even more powerful when we hear her channel the oncoming tragedy. I saw Concrete Blonde in concert twice, and Joey was a conspicuous absence from both shows. And then in the mid-nineties I saw Pretty and Twisted--Napolitano and Moreland's one album and one tour band--at First Avenue in Minneapolis. I wonder now if she agreed to that project to try to save him. I wonder if she thought maybe if they worked together, and toured together, she could take care of him. Pretty and Twisted put on a great show that night. I wish I could go back and watch them knowing what we know now about his inevitable demise. And also glad that I can't.

    Joey all the way. National Champ of Sadness.