Love Conquers All: Love Stinks 3


Jakob Fisher

An illustration depicting a human cannonball. It is referencing the video for Webb Wilder’s song “Human Cannonball.” In a surely intentionally fake looking sequence he is hanging above a scrolling background.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]W[/su_dropcap]ould you believe that after two years of Valentine’s day reviews, I still have love songs to talk about? I, for one, did not. Yet, here we are. And believe me, the stories only get crazier every year. Next up on the dating game, it’s the horrors of Vietnam, a schizophrenic friend, and somebody’s dream job. Stay tuned to find out who is who and make your choice for the most unbelievable love-song premise.

“Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – Elvin Bishop

Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop had an extensive career in the music industry. Before hitting it big as a solo artist, he started in The Paul Butterfield Blues Band where he developed a distinctive style. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” does not follow that style at all, but Bishop enjoys it all the same. He even gave lead vocals to singer Mickey Thomas which got him enough attention to join the band Jefferson Starship. Lyrically as well, this song is nothing strange; a playboy who stumbles on a woman he just cannot forget. While today it is probably known for being featured in “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” (2014) in the early 2000s it was remembered for a more heinous reason. See this song was partially based on a real person: Bishop’s ex-wife Jennifer Villarin with whom he had a daughter, Selina Bishop. They parted with little to no ill will but nobody could guess what would happen in the years that followed. On Aug. 2, 2000, Glen Helzer (Selina Bishop’s then-boyfriend) and his followers, killed and dismembered Selina, fearing she would tell the police about their previous two murders. Then for good measure, Helzer entered the home of Villarin and shot her and her friend. Why? It was for the money he needed for his master plan. Code-named “Brazil,” he planned on sending South American orphans to kill the leaders of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah and replace them with his cult the “Children of Thunder.” Needless to say, Elvin Bishop took years to recover, only recently was he finally able to record again.

“Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd

Let me set the scene. In 1965, bass player Roger Waters and singer/songwriter Syd Barrett decided to start their own band. They had known each other from school and were primed to take on the world. Under the lead of Barrett, they had released multiple hit singles and were quickly gaining a following. However, not all was right in Barrett’s mind. His friends and colleagues had always suspected something strange, many claimed he would stare straight through them or at seemingly nothing for long periods of time. It all hit a peak during their 1967 tour in Los Angeles where Barrett became increasingly erratic and impossible to understand. His years of heavy drug abuse and stressful childhood had triggered what many people now suspect was a form of high-functioning schizophrenia. During one concert, he detuned his guitar until the strings fell off. Others he would stand completely still, staring into space. According to one report, he played a single note repeatedly for an entire, several hours-long concert. They simply could not go on with Syd Barrett, so they replaced him with his childhood friend, David Gilmour. From there, the band changed completely; their style shifted dramatically and their songs became increasingly dismal. Without Barrett, Waters and Gilmour hated each other, often refusing to work in the same room. Not with this song though. This was a song to the memory of their close friend that they had watched slip away. Barrett visited the band one last time during the recording of the “Wish You Were Here” album but none of the band recognized him. They never spoke, and he left without a word.


“Centerfold” – J. Geils Band

Is it just me, or is the atmosphere a little heavy? How about something lighter? The J Geils Band started in 1967 and remained one of the premier touring blues bands in the country until finally reaching commercial success in the early 80s. This new popularity is mostly attributed to the joining of all-night radio host Peter Wolf. Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman collaborated to create a newer, different, and ultimately more profitable sound. Of these new songs, “Centerfold,” would by far be the most popular. It tells the story of a man flipping through a girly magazine when he finds someone he recognizes. The girl he had a crush on in high school is now the negligee model. At first, he feels violated: “My blood runs cold, My memory has just been sold, My angel is the centerfold.” But he grows to accept it: “It’s okay, I understand, This ain’t no never-never land, I hope that when this issue’s gone, I’ll see you when your clothes are on.” And at the end (my favorite line) he decides to buy the magazine anyway. A roller coaster of emotions that leads to an anticlimax that makes me smile every time. Even as a kid, I loved this song, though it took me a while to understand the meaning behind it.


“Come Dancing” – The Kinks

During the early 60s, there was a tremendous boost in the number of British bands that hit it big in the U.S. in an event referred to as the British invasion. Many bands found great popularity in the States, but it was not the case for The Kinks. They had a reputation that preceded them as a rowdy, boozing, and brawling band, frequently getting into fights with the stage crew and even each other. Because of this, the American Federation of Musicians banned them from performing in the country until 1969. “In many respects, that ridiculous ban took away the best years of the Kinks’ career when the original band was performing at its peak,” said frontman Ray Davies. Not to say they did not find some success. “Come Dancing” would be the final hit for The Kinks in the U.S. and reportedly the lyrics Davies is most proud of. The song is based on real experiences from his young life when he would watch his sisters go out dancing with their boyfriends at the local dance hall. Out of his six sisters, Davies claims this song is specifically about Rene Davies. She was in an unhappy marriage with a Canadian soldier and forced to move away from England but would visit as often as possible. One such visit was for Ray’s 13th birthday when she got him his first guitar. It was that night that he watched his sister leave from his bedroom window for the last time. She suffered a heart attack that night while dancing with friends, her heart weak from the rheumatic fever she suffered when younger. The backstory hits like a runaway truck. Especially contrasted with the cheery song it comes attached to.


“El Paso” – Marty Robbins

They do not make country stars like they used too. Case in point: Marty Robbins. Born as Martin David Robinson to relative poverty and an angry, alcoholic father, Robbins learned to fend for himself from an early age. A young Robbins would be inspired by tall tales of his grandfather, “Texas’ Bob Heckle,” a traveling salesman with a penchant for storytelling, to tell his own stories. He soon found another hero in Gene Autry, the singing cowboy himself. As a child, Robbins recalled sitting in the front row of the movie theater, “close enough so I could have gotten sand in the eyes from the horses and powder burns from the guns. I wanted to be the cowboy singer, simply because Autry was my favorite singer…” After a tour in the Navy, he found success on the radio as a regular of the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most influential programs in the history of music. “El Paso,” was released not long afterward and quickly became Robbins’ signature song. And why would it not? Putting his past on full display, “El Paso” is an epic tale of love, drama, and tragedy. The singer falls for a Mexican girl he sees dancing in the bar only to find her talking with another man. In an act of jealousy, he shoots him down, forcing him to flee the state on a stolen horse. Finding he cannot live with his feelings for this girl, he makes an attempt to see her again only to be intercepted and killed on the front lawn. The song was huge (not just lengthwise) when it was released, winning the third-ever Grammy for “Best Country and Western Performance.” Though I don’t respect the Grammys, they were bound to get it right some time.


“Rooster” – Alice in Chains

Fads come and go, but few fads grew as fast or with as much fervor as the grunge music of the 1990s. Originating on the West Coast in the late 80s, it soon exploded onto the scene with the popularity of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, both selling millions of albums in very short periods of time. Hallmarked by distorted guitar and angry, angst-filled lyrics there were imitators popping up left and right. Believe me, there are a lot of bands from this time that sound almost identical. Alice in Chains, however, did not seem interested in sounding like everyone else. They forged out their own path of success that was topped with their most famous song, “Rooster,” about a soldier struggling against the horrors of the Vietnam War. About here is where I was scratching my head. Vietnam ended in 1975; so why would an angsty band from the 90s be singing about how horrible it was? Turns out guitarist and founding member Jerry Cantrell had a very personal reason for writing it. Cantrell’s father had fought in the war and was never able to talk about his experiences, all he would give is his nickname: “Rooster.” So as a gift to his dad, Cantrell wrote what he believed his father had always wanted to say but never could. A soldier who watches his friends die, knowing he will not end up the same, not while his family is home waiting. Cantrell recalls the only time his father attended a concert: “He’s only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I’ll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff…and in the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time…” If that is not love, I do not know what is.


“Human Cannonball” – Webb Wilder

What is your dream job? Some people want to be doctors or artists, but for Webb Wilder, it seems to be part of the circus. John “Webb” McMurry is a strange man with a strange life. Part-time actor, Wilder actually came across the stage name from a student film he starred in titled, “Webb Wilder, Private Eye in ‘The Saucer’s Reign’.” (1984) He liked the character so much that he began performing concerts as the self-proclaimed “last of the full-grown men.” As this character, he began to grow a large cult following, everyone itching to follow the Webb Wilder Credo: “Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ’em.” If this all seems super weird, that is because it is. Is it even a surprise he has a song about being a human cannonball? Released on the 1989 album “Hybrid Vigor,” both the song and album had little success. In fact, if it was not for my dad I might never have heard of it. “Saw the ad in the paper, Said the [heck] with it all, Took a gig with the circus, As the human cannonball.” From there it describes his seemingly idyllic life of having the perfect job. He dates the tightrope walker, “shoots the bull” with the world’s smartest ape, and is put on the cover of “USA Today.” The general public never seemed to warm up to Wilder. He never broke into popular music or even acting scenes. With novelty songs like this, I am surprised he did not have at least one hit. But, considering he plans conventions for his fans, I think he is not too bothered by that.

“Athena” – The Who

Songwriter/guitarist Pete Townshend is known for many things. A founding member of “The Who,” he made a name for himself with his poignant lyrics, spastic presence, and brutal honesty. He would say anything to anyone about anything, even commenting on how he “thanks God” that two of his former band members were dead. “They were [freakin’] difficult to play with,” Townshend said. “They never ever managed to create bands for themselves. I think my musical discipline, my musical efficiency as a rhythm player, held the band together.” With a reputation like that, I have to laugh at this song. Attending a screening of the movie “Pink Floyd: The Wall” (1982) with his friend Bill Minkin, they were joined by actress Theresa Russell. Townshend was taken aback by her beauty. “I got drunk as usual, but I had taken my first line of cocaine that very evening before meeting her and decided I was in love,” he recalls. He wrote this song the next day as a way to get his feelings out there. Problem is, Russell was engaged to director Nicolas Roeg, who Townshend planned to collaborate with for his project titled “Lifehouse.” When he finally got around to recording the song, he changed the name to “Athena” out of embarrassment. The man who seems afraid of nothing was too embarrassed to admit he had a crush on a movie star. As for the song itself, it has some of the most vivid similes I have ever heard. Such as, “My heartfelt like shattered glass in an acid bath,” and “I felt like a pickled priest, Who was being flamed.” It tickles my brain.

This list of weird songs got really heavy and fast. So many depressing songs! I did not go into this list believing there would be cults, heart attacks, and schizophrenia. If you end up playing these songs for your significant other, maybe skimp on the backstories. But hey, at least there is some fascinating trivia included. If you ever get the chance to use it, that is. Find someone with good taste in music.