I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film The Big Lebowski…Song #32/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

When people ask me about what kind of movies I like to watch, I never reply with a genre like horror or comedy or drama, instead I always reply with a single word, “quirky”. I like movies that are slightly askew when it comes to the storyline. I appreciate being challenged to piece together what is actually happening as a movie unfolds. I enjoy mulling over the implications of what I have just watched long after the final scene has ended and I am alone again with my thoughts in the dark. Movies that flip convention on their ear such as Memento, Alien or Apocalypse Now are favourite movies of mine for this reason. I have watched each movie multiple times and still am finding new details or filming techniques that give me pause to think.

Another favourite film that falls into this category of being unique and highly original is Barton Fink. This movie was my introduction to the cinematic creativity of the Coen Brothers. Without going into too much detail, Barton Fink was a movie filled with contradictions that caused me, as a viewer, to question whether what I was seeing on screen was real or not. The contradictions were integrated everywhere into the fabric of the movie. The attention to detail by the Coen Brothers impressed me. This movie starred John Turturro and John Goodman which, in turn, introduced me to the fact that the Coen Brothers like to work with a familiar company of actors because in today’s movie, The Big Lebowski, Turturro and Goodman play prominent roles again. As with just about all Coen Brothers movies, The Big Lebowski defies convention when it comes to plot structure and character arcs. Most importantly, The Big Lebowski is built upon a foundation of contradictions and misdirections. The Coen Brothers don’t even attempt to hide the fact that they are deceiving you. Here is a simple example: Jeff Bridges is the star of the movie. His character’s name is Jeffrey Lebowski, but everyone calls him “The Dude”. If you were to conduct a Google search for this movie, I am certain that you would find movie posters or stills from various scenes that all show Jeff Bridges. All of these images would lay beneath the movie title of The Big Lebowski. So, you have the star of the movie playing a character named Lebowski smiling from beneath a title that says The Big Lebowski, which would lead one to the conclusion that Jeff Bridges’ character IS The Big Lebowski…but, he is not. The real “Big Lebowski” is someone else in the movie. The confusion over the identity of which Lebowski is which is the plot device used to start the action in the movie. But, if The Big Lebowski movie title isn’t actually referring to the “Big Lebowski” character, then what else about the movie is being made to seem obvious and upfront but is actually fake or a conman’s shell game? As it turns out, much of the movie is that way.

When The Big Lebowski premiered, it did so to mixed audience reviews. Part of the reason for this was that audiences were confused by the storyline. However, what this movie really needed was time. In the decades since its release, The Big Lebowski has become one of those movies known as a “cult classic”. One of the reasons that it has dramatically improved its popularity with movie goers is that people have had the time to study the film, peel back the layers of deceptions that are everywhere and discover the thematic truths that pin the whole premise of the movie together. So, let me illustrate the length the Coen Brothers went to in order to build a world riddled with deception. I will do so by talking about how music is used in two iconic scenes from the movie. At the end of the post, I will give my take on what I think The Big Lebowski is actually about, and we can see if you agree or disagree.

John Turturro….your own personal Jesus!

Scene one tends to be known as the “Bowling with Jesus” scene. Bowling plays a central role in the movie. In this scene, we discover that The Dude, his friend Walter (John Goodman) and their friend Donnie (Steve Buscemi) are on a team in a league tournament. We meet a rival team led by a man named Jesus (John Turturro, in a scenery-chewing scene if there ever was one). The contradictions start right away. In Southern California there is a strong Spanish influence based on its geographic proximity to Mexico. Almost every man named “Jesus” who lives there pronounces his name the Spanish way, with an “h” sound for the “J”, which causes the name to be pronounced in English as “Hay-seuss”. In this scene, Turturro plays a man who pronounces his name as if he was the Son of God. Unlike the biblical character, Turturro is a foul-mouthed convicted pedophile who talks tough to The Dude and his friends but who never actually does anything to back up his words. While Turturro struts in front of Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi, the song “Hotel California” written by The Eagles plays in the background. However, this version is a cover in Spanish by the band The Gipsy Kings. So, let me peel back the layers of deception that The Coen Brothers have built into this one scene by using this one song as they have, which again, I repeat, only plays in the background.

The Gipsy Kings

First of all, I am going to start with the assumption that you know the original version of this great song. (If not, click here to read a previous post about it). The Eagles are synonymous with the West Coast/California sound that took hold during the 1970s. But did you know that none of the original members of the lineup were actually from California. All were midwest boys who came to California in search of the mythical west coast laid back lifestyle. The song “Hotel California” is about the lifestyle they found themselves in once they started playing music there. It concerns addictions and false friendships and losing touch with the real world as it was once known. All throughout The Big Lebowski, there is a running gag in which The Dude hates on The Eagles because he views them as a fake California/fake rock n’ roll band. And yet, there is their biggest hit playing in the background of this iconic confrontation at the bowling alley. But wait, the layers of deception deepen further. The version used in the movie is sung in Spanish by The Gipsy Kings. The Gipsy Kings are an internationally known flamenco band who are not Spanish at all, but who actually come from France! So, in this one minor background moment, you have a French band that is often taken for being Spanish singing a song that is not their own about living a fake lifestyle as experienced by musicians in The Eagles who are not from California but are often credited with being one of the main bands that drove the momentum for the California sound back in the day. Now that is commitment to detail on the part of The Coen Brothers.

Here is just part of the set for the elaborate “Gutterball Dream Sequence”.

The second scene that illustrates this point is called “The Gutterball Dream Sequence”. On the surface, this scene starts when The Dude passes out after having consumed a spiked White Russian drink and evolves into a send-off of the old Busby Berkeley musical dance scenes from the 1940s and 50s. However, as always with The Coen Brothers, there is much more going on than meets the eye, and it all starts with a layer of musical duplicity compliments of The Gambler, himself, Mr. Kenny Rogers. In this fantasy scene, Jeff Bridges finds himself in a heavenly bowling alley filled with scantily-clad beautiful women whose costumes all have something to do with bowling. One of the women there turns out to be Julianne Moore, who plays the sister of the man who actually is The Big Lebowski in the movie. She is someone that The Dude is attracted to but who, so far, has completely rebuffed him in the film. However, in this drug-induced dream, The Dude teaches her how to bowl.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

Throughout this dream sequence, we hear the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition. When this song was first released in the mid-1960s, it was believed that it was a song about the dangers of LSD. It was also a song that stood out for the band because it was a psychedelic rock song at a time when The First Edition was mainly known for folk and country music. But again, let me peel back the layers of deception that form the foundation of this movie scene. The First Edition was composed of members who mainly came from another well known band called The New Christy Minstrels. The New Christy Minstrels were a band that was inspired by a 1940s act called The Christy Minstrels, which was a group that performed in blackface. The New Christy Minstrels formed in 1960 and were meant to be a side project, mainly for session singers, as a way for them all to earn a few dollars while waiting for other projects to appear. On their debut album, they covered the famous Woody Guthrie tune “This Land Is My Land”, which unexpectedly became a hit for them. The record label who had released the album demanded that they go on tour to promote the single. Suddenly, this band, which really wasn’t a band, had to quickly become one. Many of the original members of The New Christy Minstrels dropped out because touring wasn’t something they had signed on for when they recorded the album. Thus, over the next few years, numerous members were added and deleted as time went on. Some of those members who quit went on to form The Byrds or, like Kim Carnes, to have a Grammy Award winning solo career or, as in the case of Kenny Rogers, drop out with several other New Christy Minstrels and form a new band called The First Edition. As many of you will know, Kenny Rogers emerged from The First Edition the same way that Diana Ross became the face of The Supremes. Soon the band was called Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, which had hits such as “Reuben James” and “Don’t Take Your Love To Town”. Again, like Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers eventually became a solo artist with dozens of chart-topping hits and Grammy Awards to his name. So, in this movie scene from The Big Lebowski, you have The Dude dreaming of sharing the thing he loves most (bowling) with the woman he desires most (Julianne Moore) all the while a song plays by a band who came from a band that was inspired by blackface actors pretending to be people they were not, all the while singing a song about the dangers of drugs in a musical style that was unusual for them in the whole course of their history.

It is a time, no doubt.

The Big Lebowski is a movie that has transcended Hollywood. In the time since its initial release, The Big Lebowski has become studied and analyzed by academics of all subject areas from Feminist Studies, to English Literature, to Economics and History, too. There are yearly conventions in which academic papers are presented and debated as to the underlying message The Coen Brothers were attempting to give with this movie. The Coen Brothers have stated that they were only creating a comedic send-up of Raymond Chandler-esque film noir movies. But I took a different message from it. I think the main message of The Big Lebowski is about masculinity in these times of ours. Throughout the movie, the male characters are presented in ways that give viewers distinct versions of what being a man is like. The Dude is passive and avoids conflict and only seeks to bowl and get his rug replaced. His friend Walter is a Gulf War vet who presents as a right wing, hardcore rules enforcer for others but not for him. Their other friend, Donnie, represents those faceless, voiceless people whose opinion is never asked for nor is it respected if it happens to be given. Jesus turns out to be like those “Karens” of the world who threaten and shout down others to hide their own emotional deficiencies and lack of life successes. The Big Lebowski turns out to be a millionaire who measures his self worth in the form of the pretty/shiny things he surrounds himself with, including a trophy wife, but who, at his core, remains unhappy. There is also a mobster who is a porn movie director who spends his days making movies about fake intimacy that go straight to video when all he wants is to be a real filmmaker and tell real stories again. None of these men are truly happy nor feel complete. So, what is the nature of being a man? How does the answer to that question impact the women in their lives, as well as people of other races, religions and ethnic backgrounds that they come into contact with? I will leave the answer to that question to Sam Elliott, who stars as The Cowboy, an all-wise, all-knowing man who appears throughout the movie to offer clarity and point us in the right direction. He ends the film with his thoughts on this matter and on the story as a whole. All that I know for sure is that I have watched The Big Lebowski and thought it was a take on the state of masculinity in our world. But, I could be wrong and it is simply a comedy about a man whose rug gets peed on in a wacky case of mistaken identity. Therefore, let the hijinks ensue!

If you have watched this movie, what is your take? I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer to that question. In any case, I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment box below. Have a wonderful day. Thanks for reading my words. I appreciate your presence on my blog.

The link to the video for the “Bowling with Jesus” scene featuring the Spanish version of “Hotel California” as sung by The Gypsy Kings can be found here. ***Please note, NSFW.

The link to the video for the “Gutterball Dream Sequence” scene featuring the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition can be found here. ***Again, viewer discretion advised.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Big Lebowski can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #95: The Boys of Summer by Don Henley (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #95: Boys of Summer by Don Henley.

Don Henley released, “Boys of Summer” in the early 1980s on his debut solo album called, “Building the Perfect Beast”. Just prior to this album coming out, Henley belonged to one of the most successful rock acts of the 1970s, The Eagles. He was their drummer and wrote some of their biggest hits; especially, taking a star turn on the greatest hit of them all, “Hotel California”. All through the 1970s, Henley was immersed in the Southern California music scene. He began as a session player, along with the likes of Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner, performing back up roles for the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and, most notably, for Linda Ronstadt. The California music scene was very vibrant and close-knit, with many collaborations occurring between members of different bands and/or between band members and solo artists. The Eagles had a string of great hits and enjoyed much success all throughout the 1970s. Those were heady times to be a musician like Don Henley. But, after the experience of having a mega-hit like, “Hotel California”, the members of The Eagles found it impossible to follow it up in a manner that allowed them to remain a cohesive unit. Instead, internal conflicts arose; particularly between Glenn Frey and guitarist, Don Felder and, as the 1970s drew to a close, The Eagles decided to break up. Each member of the band set out on solo careers. For Don Henley, his solo career began with an album called, “Building the Perfect Beast” and a song called, “Boys of Summer” which, in a nutshell, is a song about Henley taking stock of his life and the lives of his generation. Here is the story of “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley.

Don Henley was always a good songwriter. What he liked to do best was work with someone who would create a musical score and then, Henley would take that music, go for long car rides along the Pacific Ocean and allow the notes and chords to flow over him and into him until such time as lyrics began to form in his mind. The music for “Boys of Summer” was created by Mike Campbell, who was the guitarist in the band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Campbell shared his musical idea with Petty first but, because it didn’t quite fit, musically-speaking, with the songs they were working on for their own album, “Southern Accents”, Petty turned the song down. Campbell shared the song with Henley next. Henley took Campbells track and went for his famous car ride along the coast and came back with a rough outline of a song that became “Boys of Summer”.

Henley built his lyrics upon a foundation that is the mythology of California; sunshine, summer vibes, beaches, driving with the top down, etc. He used the idea of how summer feels to describe the fondness with which he viewed life and love in the recent past. He lets the listener know, right away, that that feeling of “summer” was changing. His opening lines go, as follows:

Nobody on the road.

Nobody on the beach.

I feel it in the air

The summer’s out of reach.

Empty lake, empty streets,

The sun goes down alone

I’m driving by your house

But I know you’re not home.

What was, is not what is, anymore. When I first listened to this song in the 1980s, I always felt he was singing about The Eagles and was putting a formal nail in the coffin of that relationship he used to enjoy and that treated him so well. But, according to Henley’s own words, the song is more about the changing way life was being lived in California. Like The Doors with “L.A. Woman”, Henley was sensing that things were shifting and that the attitude of living on the west coast was transforming into something that he might not agree with. But, before moving on, Henley stopped to take stock of where his generation stood and what the future might hold for them all as a result. What he sees does not please him. His displeasure and sense of unease manifested itself in one of the best lines from any song in the 80s:

Out on the road today,

I saw a “Deadhead” sticker on a Cadillac.

For anyone who doesn’t get the reference….”Deadheads” were what fans of the band, The Grateful Dead, were known as. In their heyday, The Grateful Dead were one of the most famous counter-culture bands in the world. So, to see a Grateful Dead fan driving a Cadillac meant, to Henley, that his generation had sold-out their ideals and compromised their integrity. But, as the song closes, Henley rallies and declares that he will stand strong:

I can see you

Your brown skin shining in the sun

You got your hair slicked back, wayfarers on, baby

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong

After the boys of summer have gone.”

The phrase, “Boys of Summer” refers to baseball players and, in particular, to a book of the same name by Roger Kahn. Kahn’s book was about the story of how the Brooklyn Dodgers broke many hearts in NYC by leaving town and transforming themselves into the Los Angeles Dodgers. By Henley comparing himself to this sports story, he is declaring that his new career will yield great results, too. I suppose it is always a good thing if you can examine the whole of your life and declare, with confidence, that the future will be bright. That is what “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley is, basically, all about.

So, without further delay, here is Don Henley with his first big solo success, “Boys of Summer”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, can be found here.

The link to the video featuring Don Henley discussing how he wrote, “The Boys of Summer”, as seen on the Howard Stern Show, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Don Henley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #38: Hotel California by The Eagles (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #38: Hotel California by The Eagles.

One of the most tried and true plot devices in storytelling is something known as “the journey”. This is where a character or group of characters travel from one place to another place far away; each chapter being a stop along the way. In the process of completing this physical journey, the main characters discover aspects about their own lives that they needed to find. Think of “Forrest Gump” or the boat ride up the river in “Apocalypse Now” or each school year as it unfolded for Harry Potter and friends. In many of these type of stories, an author will create a whole world that exists only in one, self-contained scene. For those sorts of scenes, the setting of a mythical “hotel” has often been used. Again, my mind goes to “The Lotus Motel” in the Percy Jackson books or the cruise ship from the TV series, “The Love Boat” or the bar from “Cheers”; all stationary places that fill with all sorts of interesting and colourful characters, all transitory in nature but crucial to the character development of the main cast. And to this hallowed tradition, we can also add the world famous, totally fictitious, “Hotel California”, as written by Don Henley to The Eagles.

I have to admit that I always thought that The Eagles were a California band. In my mind, I had always lumped them in with other 70s bands and artists like JamesTaylor, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, etc., but, the truth of the matter is that none of the main members of The Eagles were from California. That is important because one of the most famous myths about America is the myth of “Golden California”, where the sun always shines, the people are all beautiful, the beaches are filled with surfers and bikini babes and life is simply, just better and cooler and more relaxed. In the minds of many who decide to come to California, the twin jewels of Los Angeles and Hollywood offer the most allure. So many lost souls make their own journey, hoping to find fame and fortune on the Pacific Coast. The members of The Eagles were, for the most part, all from the US Mid-West so, they came to California from a place of personal ignorance and inexperience. Part of their journey, as people and as a band, was the process of adapting to the lifestyle that existed in the entertainment world of California. As you can tell from a song like “Hotel California”, what they found altered their minds and their outlook on life from that point on.

Guitarist Glenn Frey stated that the conceptual idea for “Hotel California” was based upon their own experiences adapting to life in L.A., as presented through the lens of the TV show, “The Twilight Zone”. Frey said that it was always their intention to create a song that captured the essence of the weirdness they encountered as they met people in L.A., the oddness of some of the situations they found themselves in and the excess they saw at parties and how prevalent drug use was and so on. The process of writing the song began with guitarist Don Felder who created an instrumental version of the song at a rented beach house he was living in that opened upon a beach and then, the Pacific Ocean. He presented the instrumental track to Don Henley who, as was his custom, took the tape and drove around southern California, letting the imagery of his drive mix with the music from Felder’s tape until the song lyrics began to appear in his mind. The song, “Hotel California” that emerged out of that drive ended up being The Eagles biggest hit; selling several million copies as a single, alone. It reached on the charts and has become one of the band’s most requested songs to play live.

But, there is much to de-construct when it comes to the lyrics and to the musical structure of the song which helps explain why “Hotel California” captured the attention of the world as it did and why it is still such a popular and cool-sounding song, all these years later. Let’s start with how The Eagles wrote songs.

Most of The Eagles songs arise from their own experiences. So, the experiences of the band as they adapted to their new life in Southern California was the foundation of this song. But, in a more general sense, the band always tried to make all of their songs as sensory-oriented as possible. In the very first verse, you can see how this strategy unfolds.

On a dark, desert highway,

Cool wind in my hair.

Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air

Up ahead in the distance

I saw a shimmering light

Head grew heavy and my sight grew dim

Better stop for the night.”

In that first verse, you are presented with what the main character can see, feel and smell. *FYI: colitas are a type of plant, related to marijuana, that apparently gives off a warm, pungent smell in the evenings as they cool. In any case, all throughout this song are images that speak to our five senses. Constructing songs this way was a deliberate method of allowing listeners to form a more personal interest and connection to the story being told.

There are several little bits of trivia woven into the verses of this song, too. For instance, the phrase, “Stabbed it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast” was a tip-of-the-hat to the band, Steely Dan, whose songwriting always impressed Don Henley. The Eagles and Steely Dan were friends and had a back-and-forth tradition of embedding references to each other in some of the songs they released.

There is another line that goes, “She was Tiffany-twisted, she had the Mercedes bends, she had a lot of pretty, pretty boys, she called friends“. This refers to a woman that Don Henley dated upon arrival in California and how she was more invested in the monetary possibilities of life with Henley than she was when him, as a person. Her infidelity toward Henley was duly noted and captured for posterity.

Finally, the famous closing line of, “You can check out any time you like but, you can never leave” has spawned a financial term known as “The Hotel California Effect”. In the world of finance, “The Hotel California Effect” refers to an investment situation where it is easy to make an investment but then, it is made purposely difficult for you to ever take your money back when the investment bears fruit. The example used was how a place like China made investing easy but then, there were scores of regulatory statutes that made it very expensive and, often cost prohibitive, to ever take your money out of China to invest elsewhere.

From a music point of view, “Hotel California” is famous for the way the song ends, with duelling guitar solos from Don Felder and Joe Walsh. Before it came time to record the song for their album, Walsh and Felder rehearsed for three straight days before being happy with their part in the song. What they did was to develop a system whereby they each take turns being the lead player, harmonizing during the transition portions of their solos and then, reversing lead parts again. Their guitar solos are generally regarded as being one of the finest of all-time and is routinely lauded in rankings as being the best or, at least, in the Top Five of all guitar solos ever recorded.

There was talk of turning the song into a movie but, the band put up stiff resistance to that notion because they felt that to define the experience on film would destroy the hallucinatory nature of the lyrics. They said that the whole point of the song was to convey the sense of bewilderment and uncertainty and craziness that was their real life experience coming to California from the Heartland of America. To define the craziness by creating specific characters who were portraying specific images would unnecessarily limit the scope of possibilities that people would experience in their minds each time they heard the song again. So, the idea of a “Hotel California” movie was nixed.

So, instead of a movie, we will all have to use our own imaginations as we listen to The Eagles play “Hotel California” live in the video below. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Hotel California” by The Eagles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Eagles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

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