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Michael Penn

"Tell me now, what more do you need?"

Posted on 2007.04.18 at 08:08
Currently the best Singer-Songwriter on Earth is a small, slender Californian named Michael Penn.

More than likely, if you know his name, you're thinking one of three things:

1: Isn't he Sean Penn's brother?

(Well, yes, but, so what?)

2: He's married to Aimee Mann, isn't he?

(Also, yes. Not really "So what?" as they've toured together in an act they called "Acoustic Vaudeville," which was amazing. And if you like Ms. Mann, you'll likely like Mr. Penn, as, however compatible they may be relationship-wise, they are easily as compatible musically.)

3: Didn't he do that song about Romeo in Black Jeans?

(Well, OK, yes. But it's called "No Myth," and while it was his biggest hit, and a fine, fine song, it doesn't begin to encapsulate the literacy, the quirky humor, the melodic beauty and the insight and intelligence that make Michael Penn such a force to be reckoned with.)

How to sum up Michael Penn? In a sentence? it can't be done, but to get you in the neighborhood, imagine that John Lennon and Bob Dylan were married, had a son, and then engaged in an incredibly protracted and bitter divorce, over the course of several years, during the whole of which they threw every dirty trick in the book at one another, including trying to turn their son against one another. Imagine that boy growing up, more intelligent than either of his fathers, bitter, cynical, and tremendously talented, to become a singer-songwriter.

That's not exactly Michael Penn, but the cynicism and wit and verbal brilliance implied in my dark little tale come close, and the melodic hookiness, to boot.

A little more than a year ago, he came out with a truly amazing album called "Mr. Hollywood, Jr, 1947." Yesterday, a "re-mastered" version of that album was re-issued, with a bonus disc featuring six tracks recorded live at about the same time. Also released yesterday was, not so much a "Best of" collection, but a nicely eclectic retrospective of his work, "Palms and Runes, Tarot and Tea." This will get you 20 cuts for your $12.95, including "No Myth," but also wonders like "Don't Let Me Go" a bipolar love song that is truly terrifying, "Cupid's got a Brand New Gun," an overview of love that Ambrose Bierce would heartily endorse -- and, want to talk literate? Here's the chorus:

Not till it turns away
Do you feel the pain
Of all the damage done
And you may notice that
This quick opiate
Might wear the wings of angels
That's when you realize
You've been shot down
Wounded unto death by something called love

-- and the extraordinary "I can tell," which is simply one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded.

"Mr. Hollywood Jr, 1947" begins, and "Palms and Runes, Tarot and Tea" more or less ends with the same song, "Walter Reed." This song was written more than a year ago, but recent news has given it whole new levels of meaning. What a Michael Penn song is "about" is hard to say, like getting handfuls of smoke, but Michael talks about this song, and speaks of Walter Reed being the first point of treatment for homecoming soldiers suffering what used to be called "Shell Shock," and is now known as "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." A month or so after the song's release, the Pentagon announced that it was closing Walter Reed Army Hospital, and Penn noted on his MySpace blog that he found it sad and ironic that when the nation was in the throes of its own post-9/11 PTSD, the government was closing its hospital most famous for treating that ailment.

Now, of course, "Walter Reed" has whole new sets of associations, but I'd like to leave you with another viewpoint.

Between "Shell Shock" and "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," there was another name: "Battle Fatigue." Penn's songs, whatever else they are, are always personal, always about the individual, and about relationships. One of the themes he writes about are the battles we wage within ourselves and within our relationships, and how tiring those relationships are. I see that kind of personal "Battle Fatigue" in the chorus of "Walter Reed:"

Tell me now, what more do you need?
Take me to Walter Reed tonight
Baby, I've lost my will for fighting
Over everything

So, I give you now, the Worlds best Singer/Songwriter, in a video that perfectly captures his tone and style.

Ladies And Gentlemen, Michael Penn performing "Walter Reed:"


amythis at 2007-04-18 15:16 (UTC) (Link)
This is good. I can't give it my full attention at the moment (multi-tasking) but I like his voice.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-18 15:23 (UTC) (Link)
I say, pick up any of his albums on CD. You are guaranteed to like him. I mean that literally: here's the guarantee:

By a Michael Penn CD, and give it a listen. If you don't like it, let me know, and I will refund your purchase price, including shipping if you paid shipping, via PayPal.

No strings, no conditions, no "Proof-of-Purchase" required. I'm serious, and yes, I am that confident.

This offer, BTW, applies to anybody on my flist.
i_m_b00 at 2007-04-18 17:24 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, He is good and his words are so painful and profound. It's like you can tell they are therapy for him and normalizing for the rest of us. It's always comforting to know that others are having a hard time with the world as well.

If we are going to get all deep I will give you one of my thoughts. .. I truly believe that we all play the best we can with the cards we are dealt, no deuces wild, no drawing, we get what we get and all play the best we can. Some are dealt substance abuse and mental illness and some are not.

In a side note I aways seem to enjoy the music you like interesting no?
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-18 17:59 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, He is good and his words are so painful and profound. It's like you can tell they are therapy for him and normalizing for the rest of us. It's always comforting to know that others are having a hard time with the world as well.

It's also worth noting that a lot of his songs are full of fall-down funny wit. For instance "Me Around," about a guy who's just figuring out, way too late, that it's over:

Changed her number
Changed her lock
A Rubber Door
In case I knock
I suppose
Baby don't want me around!

I make you, by the way, the same offer I made amythis. Buy any of his albums, and if you don't like it, let me know, and I'll refund your purchase price.
duanesneatmusic at 2007-04-18 20:02 (UTC) (Link)

MP Review

Great write-up, man. You've convinced me to be a Michael Penn fan. Oh wait, I'm already a Michael Penn fan. Well, you've encouraged me to continue. I love your money back guarantee. I'm sure it has never cost you a dime :)
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-18 20:48 (UTC) (Link)

Re: MP Review

Duane, you demented genius you! Great to see you!

I was >< this close to linking to your magnificent rendition of "I Can Tell," but I wasn't sure how to relate its meaning to a Virgin Penn fan!
(Deleted comment)
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-19 08:57 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for posting this...It does have new meaning now...

It does. In a way, that saddens me, because the political/social implications of the current scandal seem very far, to me, from what Michael was writing about. Yet perhaps they aren't. Perhaps part of what makes our interpersonal Battle Fatigue so devestating is that the people we're supposed to be able to turn to for support can instead just ignore us, leaving us to sit and rot.

It always amazes me how none of the penn boys look alike.

Yes. And so sad, so sad, that Christopher Penn passed away so young.
risiepookie at 2007-04-19 04:16 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, what a wonderful write-up for the fantastic Michael Penn! I love him so much and his music and lyrics speak to my heart in ways other music cannot begin to come close to. I had never seen this video, so thanks very much for posting it! Glad you shared his powerful lyrics with your f-list and I hope other people are loving and appreciating him as much as I do.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-19 08:45 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'm so glad to hear you're a Michael Penn fan! I should've known! And you, a Los Angelino! Have you been to see him at the Largo? I understand he gives a great show there!

Another reason I'm glad is that you're being a fan gives me an excuse to post this:


It's the Demented Genius Duane Dolislager -- AKA, it turns out, duanesneatmusic -- covering the Magnificent "I Can Tell" from Look What the Fans Drug In: A Tribute to the music of Michael Penn, which is a fantastic compilation of Penn covers created and recorded by members of the Michael Penn List Yahoo Group. The Pennlist is a wonderfully intelligent, friendly, knowledgable and fun group of Michael's fans from all over the world, and the tribute album they (all right,"we," but my vocals on "Small Black Box" are dreadful. The musical trake I defile with my pestilential singing is quite lovely, though!) created is a stunning acheivement, full of wonderful tracks, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-19 13:01 (UTC) (Link)

More on <lj user=duanesneatmusic>

You can hear some of Duane's own work at his MySpace page:


I give Duane a very high recommendation. The song that plays when you get to the page, "Like Day and Night," shines witrh hooky poppiness, musical Beatles references, and big, smily goodness, and that's just on one listen!
risiepookie at 2007-04-20 19:20 (UTC) (Link)

Re: More on <lj user=duanesneatmusic>

I'll definitely check that out tonight when I get home as well! Thanks for leaving me the links, so that I can join in on all the fun too!!! :o) ::kisses::
risiepookie at 2007-04-20 19:19 (UTC) (Link)
I actually haven't been to see him, which is so sad, because I've heard similarly to you that he gives an awesome show there! I need to put that on my list of "things to do before I die", don't you think?

Thanks for posting that link- it's amazing!!! I had no idea that there was this huge following of fan covers. I'll definitely have to download them and check them out when I'm at home with my own computer. Still, the one you posted was simply beautiful and so artfully done!

So glad you shared, as I now have another thing to enjoy within the realm of Michael Penn. ♥
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