"Feel a Little Funky” / Brinsley Schwartz
NICK LOWE WEEK
Next Saturday is Nick Lowe’s birthday, so in tribute, I’m devoting this entire week to his music. To be honest, I’ve got Nick Lowe songs running through my head most of the time; for just this one week, I'm going public with my Nick Lowe addiction. Fasten your seat belts!
So who’s Brinsley Schwarz? They were Nick’s first big band, major players in the 1970s pub rock movement. It kills me that I was living in the UK when these guys were active and I never knew about them, never got to hear them live. Apparently the energy of those live shows was something to behold. Brinsley made a bid for pop stardom early on, swiftly blew it (typical!), and ended up doing the good-time music they really wanted to, tinged with American country/folk sound. Nick was the chief songwriter and already in fine form; his biggest hit, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” was written then, though it was Elvis Costello’s 1979 cover that made it famous.
But enough history; let’s talk about this track.
MY NICK LOWE THEORY #1: Nick is a bassist, and bassists can’t resist messing around with the rhythm of a song. (Paul McCartney does the same thing; Sting, too.) “Feel A Little Funky” isn’t funky in the Rick James sense, but in the earlier jazz sense, with a mellow, bass-driven backbeat rhythm that I find completely irresistible. This was jam-band music pure and simple, with every band member getting a riffing moment in the spotlight, and on the record (Nervous on the Road) the pace is cheerful but laid-back (apparently the tempo racheted up wildly in live shows). I can just picture tall, lanky Nick in a plaid flannel shirt driving that offbeat groove, syncopating the vocals even further, mixing up the rhythm however he can.
The lyrics promise a good time: “Well if you feel a little funky / You want to get a little high / I got a brand-new system we all can try.” “Funky” is a slippery word in English; it could mean smelly, or cowardly, but I assume Nick means feeling earthy, maybe a little aroused, and ready for something out of the ordinary. And yes, “high” does mean what you’d imagine – this was 1972 – though everyone’s welcome to the party: “It doesn’t matter if you’re straight / Makes no difference if you’re stoned / They’re one and the same when you’re all alone.” Of course it would HELP to be stoned, but the main thing is to Surrender To The Rhythm -- not coincidentally, the title of another Brinsley Schwarz classic. Add in “Happy Doing What We’re Doing” and “Down in the Dive” and you’ve got a quartet of jam-band tracks to party to all night.
Why, this is practically a public-service announcement, with Nick advising over and over, “Just get up / Get hip / To this trip.” There’s a warmth to Nick’s youthful tenor, that hint of a goofball grin, the imitation of a country-blues accent (even better, an imitation of Jerry Garcia imitating a country-blues accent), that makes me long to cut loose. It’s that simple. “Don’t worry ‘bout those neighbours,” he coaxes us, with a confidential wink in his voice -- “Let them worry about you / You can explain it to them later / But by then they should be doin’ it too.” That’s right – they should be doing it too. What’s wrong with them?
My favorite moment is toward the end, when Nick sings, “Bert on the keyboards,” and Robert Andrews throws in a glissando; “there you are!” Nick exclaims, as if Bob had just snuck up on him. “Now just get a hit of this Nashville guitar,” Nick adds, cueing his old schoolmate Brinsley Schwarz to commence a loping guitar solo. Everybody’s having a good time now, Nick most of all. How could I NOT love a man who can find this much joy in a simple dance jam?