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Friday, March 9, 2012

(10th in a series of) Stepping Stones: "Lost and Found"

Song: Anybody Seen My Baby
Album: Bridges to Babylon
Released: September, 1997

Ain’t it a shame when you have some supposed great insightful thought, and then poof it’s gone, be it an idea you get while on the run which you can’t jot down at the time; a dream you think you’ll remember in the morning when it wakes you up in the middle of the night; or…(hmmm, I had one other example but I forget what it was because the phone just rang and the Bruins just scored). 

This memory slip also happened to me at least twice after concert events.  In each case I had momentarily gained vivid insight into the deeper meaning to several songs as they were being performed, and then just like that, lost it again.  One of these songs was The Rolling Stones 1997 semi-hit, Anybody Seen My Baby off “Bridges to Babylon”.  And while the insight was not all that mind-boggling (nor likely all that accurate), it was fun to dream up, and I was bummed that it slipped away.  Just this week, however, while listening to this song yet again, I finally gained that insight back, which gives me the opportunity to share the whole bizarre thought process here.  Side note:  The other post-concert memory slip was not long after listening to The Who perform You Better You Bet, but that discussion will have to wait for several reasons, not the least of which being that I still haven’t figured a way to reconnect those synapses.

Now, despite all the superlatives I’ve tossed their way these past months, The Rolling Stones are not what I would call a deep thinkers band.  I usually value this trait in musicians, and hope in a future series to explain some of the deep thoughts Bob Dylan has teased out of me over the years.  Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, and even Steely Dan also come to mind when the thinking cap needs to be turned up a few notches.  In the case of the Stones, however, they are forgiven of this seeming limitation because of everything else they bring to the table.  And in actuality, the more thought the Stones appear to put into a song or album the more it feels contrived.  Their regular formula works, and for the most part they stick to it. 

Occasionally, however, this band can surprise you. 

Knowing a tour was in the works, I purchased “Bridges to Babylon” not long after its release.  The album immediately sounded balanced to me, which is something you can’t always bank on with Stones albums (or any musician’s albums for that matter), particularly those that are rushed out to precede an extended tour as this one was. Yet Mick Jagger relies on new music to help stir his creative juices while on the road, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on the quality of the new stuff (either way, I have plenty of respect for his attitude, seeing as by the 90s, The Stones could easily have fallen back on tapping into their vast catalog for a successful tour). 

One song on the new album did stand out, however:  Anybody Seen My Baby.  I loved it.  The song had an eerie sounding chorus (introduced through a single ominous bass note) that reminded me a bit of the band’s 1969 signature sensation Gimme Shelter.  I noticed right off in the credits for this tune that k.d. lang was recognized as a co-author, along with Jagger/Richards.  A Rolling Stone (magazine) review and re-listen made the reasoning behind this co-writing credit obvious:  The chorus had strong similarities to lang’s song Constant Craving (though as mentioned before, Anybody Seen My Baby had a more eerie sound).  I later would read that Keith Richards’ daughter was the first to recognize the similarity while listening to a prerelease of “Bridges to Babylon”.  Keith claims to have then scrambled to get k.d. lang recognized, noting in his book ‘Life’ that Mick Jagger’s then habit of picking up new music ideas at clubs had finally caught up with him.  I shrugged it all off:  The Stones had been inspirations to many for well over 30 years by this time, so this slip on their part was not going to have much effect on me (as for k.d. lang, she was quoted as having been both surprised and honored to be a rare co-writer with the Glimmer Twins)

My first thought that there was a bit more to Anybody Seen My Baby than meets the eye was in listening to and reading the lyrics (on the album sleeve) which didn’t quite fit the song’s mood.  At face value, the storyline was too simple, and I felt (I suppose more subconsciously than consciously) that this disconnect was intentional.  The official video, starring a young Angelina Jolie, was not much of a help: An abstract short of an exotic dancer escaping from a broken relationship in the big city.  Yet the more I listened to the song, the more my curiosity into a deeper meaning persisted.

These inklings of suspicion finally played out when I attended the Bridges to Babylon tour in Foxboro, which as fortune would have it, included Anybody Seen My Baby in the set list.  And as they launched into the tune I now recall thinking about the vast quantity of shows the Stones and other longstanding bands have done in their lifetimes, though I can’t recall why this thought came to mind at that time. There could have been all sorts of factors that contributed though:  The masterful performance; the order of songs performed (a bit of research revealed that Anybody Seen My Baby was immediately preceded by the Sister Morphine moment discussed in that earlier Stepping Stone); my curiosity into the tune’s meaning leading up to that point;  an aligning of planets.

Whatever it was, the thought process evolved from there.  I believe my next thought was of the longtime fans.  If you go to enough shows, you will hear the longtime fans of any good band saying things like “oh, you should have seen them in ’72”… blah blah blah (actually, I do find many of these stories fascinating, so please don’t take this wrong, Mr. Strause!).  From there, I bounced back to the band’s perspective on the same topic, as in “you should have seen the crowd from ‘72” or whenever.  After all, it’s the bands who are the ones with the most to reflect on; with the deepest and by far most numerous memories of these events. 

Back and forth I went:  Band perspective, fan perspective.  What it all came down to in my mind that evening while listening to this song, was that inspiration goes both ways: The performer can draw from the ticket holder in similar fashion to how the ticket holder draws from the performer.  I’m sure this has been the case for many musicians, as evidenced in those bands that continue to tour well into their elder-statesman years; rock stars who already have enough money to retire 10-times over.  And I’m also sure that the crowds on certain tours have been more endearing to bands than others.  Has anybody seen my baby?  Well Mick, Keith, and crew, apparently we have a lot to live up to in this massive 1997 crowd, but we’ll do the best we can.

Ok, so what’s the big deal here?  Nothing in particular, but the memory recovery was very timely in relation to having something to write about for this week’s Stepping Stone.  The recovery happened through a set of lyrics that I never could fully interpret before and which were not included on the album sleeve with the rest of the song’s words:  While leafing through several YouTube links of the video several days ago, I came upon this one, which included the following stretch of semi-decipherable rap-like lyrics scrolled across the screen at the 2:50 mark ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hze4NCmmMnk ):

We came to rock for Brooklyn
And Queens, And Manhattan
And The Bronx, And Staten Island
I can't forget New Jersey, and Long Island
And all over the world, we came to rock for everybody like this
..”

I did a double take at the last part of the last line: “we came to rock for everybody like this”.  Almost immediately, it all came back to me:  Puzzle pieces of thought that finally got some closure. It also helped when I re-read the last 2 lines of the album sleeves’ printed lyrics: “She’s just in my imagination” and “Lost in the crowd”.  Nice touch, gents.  I didn’t know you were the sentimental types.

A few other loose related thoughts:

Ø  Songs selected to tour on by well established-bands can be divided into three camps: 1) the classics that everyone wants to hear, particularly the casual listeners (“Free Bird!”); 2) the deep cuts that aficionados want to hear (“so don’t overdo it with the classics, please”) and; 3) the new stuff that zealots want to hear (“the walrus was Paul”).  It’s this 3rd category of songs that is most risky for a band to mix into a show, and it was this category that Anybody Seen My Baby fell into on that October night.  Though I thoroughly enjoyed it, I put myself more in the aficionado category with The Stones.

Ø  When my memory first came back earlier this week, I thought of writing this Stepping Stone up as a fictional story:  Somehow getting backstage after the show and pointing out my insights to the band.  The one line I typed up was a hypothetical response by Charlie Watts, along with a side note: “ ‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that, but yes, it does make sense’, he stated, while making gestures to the security guard behind me.”

Ø  It must be grueling at times for colleagues to be around each other as frequently as band members are while on tour.  It’s been hinted by those in The Rolling Stones’ circles that this lead to their classically titled song “Oh No, Not You Again” off 2005’s “Bigger Bang”. 

Ø  Brian Jones supposedly wrote a song called Anybody Seen My Baby in the short period of time between his release from the band in 1969 and his death.  Interesting, but I have no time to read into this song any further.

Have a great weekend

-          Pete

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