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Climbing to the top

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"Jacob's Ladder."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Twenty-five years ago, in the fall of 1989, I began writing a regular music column for the East High Messenger student newspaper.

Among the albums I reviewed that autumn included The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels, the self-titled Indigo Girls album, Tears for Fears’ The Seeds of Love and Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence.

All of them were good albums. But the one that really caught my attention today was Henley’s The End of the Innocence, the name of the album’s title track, written by singer-songwriter-pianist Bruce Hornsby.

At the time I wrote my review of The End of the Innocence, my journalism teacher, Mrs. Churchman, argued with me regarding my interpretation of  the moody, jazz-inspired track “New York Minute,” which the former Eagles drummer co-wrote with Danny Kortchmar and Jai L. Winding.

Essentially, I wrote that “New York Minute,” a rather dark song, was written as “slice of Americana.” Perhaps in my 17-year-old mind I didn’t do the song justice in explaining it in such a vague way.

In a New York minute / Everything can change / In a New York minute / Things can get a little strange …” Henley sings in the chorus, which also features the acapella group Take 6 helping out on background vocals.

Interestingly, Henley’s “New York Minute” became connected to the 9/11 tragedies, 12 years after it was originally released.

I only just discovered this fact because there is something tragic and melancholy about the song, and naturally its references to New York, death and loss.

While researching this song’s link to 9/11, I came across a 2011 blog post by a man named Kent Walker. He wrote that The End of the Innocence is one his favorite albums of all time – and he is correct in saying tha tit is a fantastic recording, Henley’s best post-Eagles/pre-Eagles reunion album.

Writes Walker: “’New York Minute’ differentiates itself from the start from anything Don had ever done before. The jazzy opening to this song, like most jazz songs, won’t be a happy one. It’s the kind of song that would’ve never made it to an Eagles album. He took the lushness of ‘Sunset Grill,’ a track from his previous record, and took it to another level, making himself a masterpiece along the way. To confirm the melancholy scene that the introduction of the song established, Don starts with some spot-on lyrics that strike me as something that Robert Smith (of The Cure) or Morrissey would have written:

“Harry got up / dressed in all black / Went down to the station / And he never came back / They found his clothing / Scattered somewhere down the track / And he won’t be down / On Wall Street in the morning …

Walker’s post on “New York Minute and The End of the Innocence continues in a very positive, yet introspective fashion. He says that in the midst of the tragic lyrics, there is hope, similar to “a movie like The Shawshank Redemption. It’s abrutal prison movie that show the sould-crushing reality of prison life, but in the end focuses on the thing they can’t take away – hope.”

Walker goes on to note that despite “New York Minute” not having an Eagles quality, initially, it has since become a staple of Eagles’ live shows since they reformed in the 1990’s. Many now assume it is an Eagles song, forgetting it was a single.

Regarding The Shawshank Redemption, that 1994, Maine-set prison film starred actor Tim Robbins, and was based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the idea of “innocence” plays a big role, something I think the blogger Kent Walker would agree with.

Robbins was offered the role of Andy Dufresne only after it was turned down by Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt, all of whom were busy working on Waterworld, Forrest Gump and Interview With a Vampire, respectively. Costner (who released the sync-heavy Field of Dreams in 1989 (read Loren Coleman’s piece here), the same year The End of the Innocence was released) later regretted not taking the role that Robbins accepted.

“Let me tell you something my friend, hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane,” Red Redding (Morgan Freeman) tells Andy.

But hope is not lost.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece called “Existentialist elements in both ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and ’12 Monkeys’ sync/link both films.”

Jacob’s Ladder, released in 1990, stars Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, a Vietnam War veteran who is unsure what is real and what is a dream and the horrific things that are happening to him, seemingly as a result of government experimentation on him and other troops in Vietnam in the early 1970’s.

Innocence lost

And now let me address the title song – “The End of the Innocence” – which was written by Bruce Hornsby, with lyrics added by Don Henley. The song, featuring Hornsby’s beautiful piano minor-chord piano playing, tugs on the soul. It's political, with veiled references to "beating plowshares into swords" (Iran-Contra, secret wars, Ollie North) and "the tired old man that we elected king" (Ronald Reagan, and later Bush)." This was a time, in the late 1980's, when older musicians - and new ones like Midnight Oil, The B-52's, R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs were all writing and crafting fantastic pop music with a political message. And Don Henley, thankfully, was right in the mix. I sense, between "New York Minute" and "The End of the Innocence," that Don Henley has - how should I put it? - the inside track, as it were. (We can't forget "Hotel California," which could sync with The Shining, eh?) After all, one can't help but listen to "Inside Job," the title track to his 2000 album (his last studio album, interestingly enough), and one can't help but link it to the horrific events the following year on September 11, 2001. 

"It was an inside job / By the well-connected / Your little protest / Summarily rejected." Unlike the hopefulness seen in 1989's "New York Minute" - also linked with 9/11 - "Inside Job" is a prescient piece about the true nature of what took place on 9/11, and the revelations that it was, indeed, an inside job, perpetrated on the populace by those shadowy figures at "the top." But the top of what?

In the 2000 film American Psycho, Christian Bale embodied the murderous 80's-era character Patrick Bateman to a "T." He was also a big fan of Huey Lewis & The News, one of the top-selling bands of the greedy, materialistic and narcissistic Reagan era. 

In a famous scene, Bateman disarmingly prepares to kill a man in his New York apartment while playing up the highlights of Huey Lewis. “In '87, Huey released this, Fore!, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to be Square,’ a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.” Bateman says this right before taking an axe to Paul Allen (Jared Leto).

Funny, the first song I heard in the car this morning was "Hip to Be Square." 

The next single from Fore! was the song “Jacob’s Ladder,” in early 1987. This song was a "gift" to Lewis from his friend Bruce Hornsby. Back in '87, Casey Kasem introduced the song at the top of the American Top 40 by noting that the "do that climbing" to the top with "Jacob's Ladder." 

In the synchronicity blog Jung Currents, a 2010 post called "Jacob's Dream and the Ladder to the Self." The blogger says the Biblical account of Jacob and the ladder is a popular one and quite archetypal. The dream represents "the ladder to the Self," as Jung would say. And maybe Bret Easton Ellis's Manhattan/Wall Street capitalist monster Patrick Bateman was on to something, highlighting Huey Lewis & The News' Fore! album. But instead of playing "Hip to Be Square" for his doomed friend Paul, he should have been cranking that number one hit "Jacob's Ladder." But knowing that the Hornsby-penned "Jacob's Ladder" (which Bruce Hornsby and The Range recorded for 1988's Scenes from the Southside), well-heeled Wall Street investment bankers like Bateman weren't the type of people he had in mind. Instead, Hornsby/Lewis sing: "Hey, Mister I'm not in a hurry / And I don't want to be like you / And all I want from tomorrow / Is to get it better than today..."

Jacob, in the Book of Genesis, is fleeing his brother Esau (Genesis 28:11-19) he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and that it reached up to heaven. But what was really at the top of the ladder? Was it even a ladder? Perhaps, like in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the ladder is really a pair of stilts. And before signing off, a little over a year ago I tied American Psycho, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Robert Altman's Short Cuts with Huey Lewis. Lewis plays a guy named Vern Miller. Interestingly, the past two days, while thinking about Huey Lewis and his earlier band Clover, the songs playing on the radio - "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears (Donnie Darko sync) and "The Reflex" by Duran Duran, both feature the word "clover" (four-leaf clover and lucky clover, respectively) in them, both sung just as I was thinking of Huey Lewis and Clover. Weird coincidence, right? Or am I just lucky?

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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