Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Best Band Ever*

(*according to me, at this moment, subject to change)
Hmm these Best Band Ever* things are pretty stressful but on mornings like this I remember the old maxim "it's just the marine layer; it'll burn off" which hopefully it will (it is so cold right now I was almost tempted to wear a jacket to walk the dog.)
But I guess something so L.A would come to me on the day when I try to profile a criminally under appreciated artist whose songs on my favorite album evoke a certain L.A. Of downtown and trolley cars, a world twinged in sepia. Sort of like a James Ellroy novel, but without the violence and corruption. That was a very random way of saying in honor of his show tonight at the Largo today's Best "Band" Ever* is Michael Penn.
I first heard of Michael Penn I'm guessing around 1999 or 2000 when I was being very moody and emotional because of the fact that a girl who intrigued me seemed to love everyone except for me, and our friendship as well seemed to be melting away. Anyway it was on MTV2 and, as they used to do they had an artist on air for about an hour where they programmed it with the artist's favorite videos. Aimee Mann was on and one for the video's she showed was Michael Penn's "Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)" it was a staggeringly amazing video but after marveling a few times at the video (and I really wish I had planned this better because I can't find the video anywhere except for maybe here), the lyrics and the melody, in the end appealed to me the most with their romantic melancholy. And they totally summed up how I was feeling at that point, almost like I had written them about my situation, a feeling that all great songs give. (and the line "and if I wear Apathy's crown, don't call me highness"-wow, simply killer) I was hooked and I later found out that Michael is Sean Penn's brother; it was probably the Penn that gave it away
In those days of Napster I stumbled upon his song No Myth (Romeo in Black Jeans) from his first album March, and the lyrics are superb. The man really knows how to write a song, even when including Heathcliff and Astaire while writing a song about lost love and missed chances. (and apparently the video won him a MTV video award. Bizarre. You can watch it here.)
During AmeriCorps when I was sent to Arizona to work with the Red Cross on the Rodeo-Chediski fires when I was in Flagstaff I remember going into a record store and finding in the used CD section Michael Penn's "Free-For-All." I listened to that album pretty exclusively for a while and its imagery, especially when I was so far away from home, connected a lot with me. Songs like Bunker Hill (Hey Luanda, do you want a thrill? We can watch the lights shine up from Bunker Hill. But if it put your heart at ease, my baby please...) and Strange Season (my baby won't come out at night, they took apart the Angel's Flight for this, Strange Season) make me think of a different L.A. and get nostalgic (even the cover does) but thats not just it, really just the whole album as a whole is damn near perfect. Try to find it if you can; its been in and out of print (bastards!)
He's also been featured on the somewhat uneven I Am Sam soundtrack performing "Two of Us" with his wife Aimee Mann (probably the best singer songwriter power couple I can think of), a version that I actually prefer to the original Beatles'. Here's a live version

It is really such a shame that he hasn't made it "big" not so much for him necessarily I know he has to be quite happy with his life, though he totally deserves "mainstream success", but for the general public and fans of well crafted songs. Like his song Walter Reed from Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947, where comparing love to a war, and subsequent injuries result in a (now ironic) longing to go to a place for recovery, and once again the lyrics are great. Here's that video.

(and I know as At the Drive In once said in a MTV2 bumper, quoting Frank Zappa, that "talking about music is like dancing about architecture" but it is the only way to get the "word" out, and if it does, this guy is dancing far better than I can)
So for all of those reasons, along with the fact his website is really cool and he's a cat person, Michael Penn is the Best Band Ever*.

Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In) (mp3) buy it
Macy Day Parade (mp3) buy it

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