These archives start with the latest blog and proceed back in time to the earliest
LEONARD & LEON: AN APPRECIATION
I haven’t been immediate in my response to the passing of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell because I preferred a little time to let the initial waves roll in and give myself time to assess their impact on my life.
In the fledgling years of my career when my partner and I were grasping at straws and navigating our creative maze, both of these artists (in radically different ways) brought us solace and inspiration freshening our outlook and washing us clean in the glorious rain of their individual storms.
Those who know me know that I am visibly uncomfortable when people refer to me as a poet or my lyrical work as poetry. Let me make something abundantly clear: in my opinion, there has been only one songwriter whose lyrical work can be regarded as both impressionistic and narrative poetry and that is Leonard Cohen. Some will cite Dylan and there they have an argument. Certainly much of Dylan’s early work, especially his rambling esoteric electric phase, had a Ginsberg inspired Dada-esque quality to it that was symbolic of free form yet rhythmic poetry.
However, what set Leonard Cohen apart from anyone and everyone else was his knack (a far too lightweight word) for encapsulating both the obvious and the obscure in a framework of extraordinary phrases and beautiful couplets.
"There’s a crack in everything/ that’s where the light gets in"
Where Dylan was/is for the most part vague and full of metaphors (as I too am often guilty of) with Leonard you knew exactly what he was talking about. It’s just that he did it with such breathtaking literacy and expressive artistry that his lines could make you fall to your knees and beg for that kind of wisdom.
"I’m guided by a signal in the heavens/ I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin"
On his final album in the title track “You Want It Darker” Cohen contemplated his final journey and quotes in Hebrew and English from “The Binding of Isaac” with the words “Hineni Hineni I’m ready my Lord” .
Spiritual references and biblical imagery ran rampant through his work from “The Story of Isaac” to “Joan of Arc.” Although for many he appeared a man in a constant tug of war with faith, this seems incongruous given that he was an ordained Buddhist monk with strong conventional religious beliefs. It certainly seems apparent that he was fully prepared to meet his God, especially if you read this verse from “Almost Like The Blues” with what I gather to be its thinly veiled reference to Stephen Hawking.
"There is no God in Heaven
And there is no Hell below
So says the great professor
Of all there is to know
But I’ve had the invitation
That a sinner can’t refuse
And it’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues"
I’ll miss his human persona but his music will forever occupy a space in my heart. Critics and punters alike while revering him often thought of him as pessimistic, cryptic, and somber. Much of this I believe has to do with the simplicity of his melodies, the minor keys and the timber of his voice. I don’t know… we all take away what we will and revel in it with whatever emotion we feel suits us best.
As for me, Leonard Cohen’s songs were and will remain a comforting blanket of ethereal beauty, a prayer-like presence to inhabit when the uglier aspects of the world weigh us down.
Leon Russell. Well, he was an altogether different animal. Master musician, part ring master / part Carney, a shaman and a traveling tent revivalist, a blast of dustbowl Okie voodoo scorching the ground from Tulsa to LA.
We were drawn to him like moths to a flame. He scared the crap out of us but we couldn’t tear our eyes away. We were disciples bound by his magnetic blue eyes, his feline grace and that magnificent mane.
He was an awesome presence, a master puppeteer. He conducted people with a flick of the wrist, a tilt of his head. His sound was raw, a cacophony of primitive gospel boogie and bare bones rock ‘n roll infiltrated by inspired changes and glorious underlying melody.
No, it wasn’t that simple. It’s just that he made it seem effortless.
He took us under his wing and our fear of him subsided to a minor degree. We supported him and later co-headlined while retaining a serf-like allegiance. He commanded the stage, all eyes pulled as if by magnetic force into his orbit. Witness “The Concert For Bangladesh” and try to take your eyes off him. Even George Harrison in a white suit can’t drag you away.
And the best of his songs are classics, love songs shot from an M-16 through a barbed wire fence, doused in southern sweat and chaotic metaphor. Then there was aching simplicity, bare bones songs accompanied by the greatest piano player next to Jerry Lee Lewis that Elton John said he’d ever heard.
He ruled the roost, his ragtag gypsy army a juggernaut top draw road show that dominated and induced an amen and hallelujah wherever it went and then he was gone.
But he returned with a little help from his friends, albeit older, aching and not terribly mobile. The years had not been kind, but in his hands, his heart and his mind the lion still roared, and we went to work to rectify a loss with a new beginning. A labor of love, a joyful collaborative celebration, and a union bound several decades earlier and forged in our collective musical heritage.
He loved food and we spent many hours dining together, he impressed and inquisitive of my culinary knowledge. With his Okie drawl, he found it impossible to pronounce my name. I had to settle for “Barney” for which he apologized in the album’s sleeve notes.
I’m happy we got him back in the top 10. I’m thrilled we lost our fear of him and were able to level the playing field. He was a lion heart in his heyday and a lion in winter later on. His records still sound fresh and exciting as they take me back to a colorful and glorious fragment of time when we felt invincible, virile and victorious. He was and always will be one of our fondest memories, one of our mentors, and most of all, the master of space and time.
UNO, DOS, TRES
First things first, let’s put this whole Elvis thing to bed and get on with our lives… although according to one aggravated Presley fan I need to get one before I get on with it.
Yes, as expected the reaction to my previous blog had the desired effect in eliciting compliments, critiques and scorn. For the most part, the incoming were (when not in total agreement) critical in the way they should be when debating an essay such as it was. Correspondence was lively, rational, thoughtful and at times enlightening. I learned that Jerry Reed, like Dolly Parton, did not kowtow to the Presley publishing hijack. Kudos to Jerry as his songs were the best of Presley’s mid career resurgence, and it’s this era that most of the mailbag took me to task for. ***
Many of you cited Presley’s ‘68 to ‘70 comeback as a period of rejuvenation. Not so much his TV special (which I covered in my blog,) but his work with the highly regarded and recently deceased record producer Chips Moman. Again, this is all down to each individual’s personal taste and point of view. Once again for me while there were indeed some decent sides cut “Suspicious Minds” “Kentucky Rain” and “Burning Love” among them, there were also (sorry, folks) more stinkers than there were commend-ables. I never bought into the seemingly fake sincerity of “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” or the overwrought massacre of Mickey Newbury’s subtly beautiful “American Trilogy” and as for “If I Can Dream,” well..the less said the better.
So let me pose a question before you call in the lynching party. Honestly, wouldn’t you have preferred to hear most of this material with a more stripped down musical ensemble as opposed to the “throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink –on-it” approach? There is so much going on on most of these tracks that it appears Elvis is unwittingly being forced into full “American Idol” mode and for me, this only robs the listener of any genuine emotional entity.
OK… I’m aware that much of the paying public loves their bombastic, Mariah Carey-type vocal gymnastics, over the top Andrew Lloyd Webberishness and ten year olds with a five octave range singing “Ava Maria,” but come on man, this is Elvis whose greatest and most convincing vocals were created with a three piece band and a “less is more” attitude.
Lastly, an equal number of you cited Presley’s influence on rock’s next generation saying, and I’ll generalize, “Ask Dylan, The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin and Bruce about Elvis’s influence and see what they have to say.” Well, I’m not sure I have all their numbers in my book, but here’s my take on it.
Dylan? I’m pretty sure that it was a guy called Woody Guthrie who kick-started the rise of America’s greatest electric folk god.
The Beatles? In their Hamburg and Cavern days I don’t recall ever reading about them playing any Elvis material (oh, wait, that’s right …he didn’t write anything) only a lot of Little Richard and everybody but. Later it was Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers who were the blueprint for their songwriting and harmonies. Read Paul Simon also for that last bit.
Stones? Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf… take your pick.
Led Zeppelin? Ditto with a bit of Celtic folk and blues plagiarism thrown in.
Springsteen? More Roy Orbison drama than Presley swivel if you ask me.
That’s it, no more…DONE! Make piñatas of me, burn me in effigy, design little wax dolls and stab me with pins…. I’m moving on no more Elvis.
*** I believe that Col. Tom Parker’s attempts to extort a percentage of the publishing rights from songwriters in Presley’s later life fell on stony ground and that with Elvis’s withering persona, it appeared no one cared if he recorded their songs or not and the practice was quietly rescinded. Can’t imagine Lennon & McCartney or Paul Simon giving up any publishing on “Hey Jude” or “Bridge Over Troubled Water” both of which in the hands of Elvis were turned into tremulous, indistinguishable Jell-O.
Here’s an observation. At one time or another in the popular press (more often in the murkier tabloids) rock musicians and singers who rose to fame in the 60s and early 70s and whose age is around or above those same numbers are frequently referred to as “Ageing Rocker(s)” or “Wrinkled Rocker(s).” The recipients of this form of maligning range between singularly genuine veterans including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Steven Tyler types to collective wholes such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, or any and all rock and metal acts of a certain vintage.
Recently it has become quiet popular to refer to the upcoming three day music festival in Indio, California featuring classic rock titans as “Old Chella” a supposedly witty, but rather obsequious play on the name of the venue.
These references mostly penned by lowbrow hacks of limited literary skills are composed (you would think) not only to elicit schoolboy giggles, but also to assume their targets are irrelevant by token of their date of birth.
Rock and Roll isn’t like any other job on earth. There is no expiration date, no age when retirement is deemed acceptable or mandatory, and no benefits after you clock out for the last time.
On one hand, it’s called making a living and on the other it’s because the creativity that was instilled in you at the get go doesn’t mean there’s a shelf life involved. Even if your best work is behind you that doesn’t mean to say that the desire to create has ceased to burn within.
It’s what we do.
You don’t lay down your guitar like a hammer. Composition and live performance, creation and adulation are a narcotic called adrenalin that never ceases to course through your veins even at an age when most are happy to grab their gold watch and go gently into the good night.
The negativity associated with and attached to these artists seems genuinely unfair if you consider this. No one ever called Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker “ageing or wrinkled bluesmen.” Is that because the accepted perception of most punters is that bluesmen are “supposed to be old?”
Eighty-five year old Ornette Coleman was blowin’ sax pretty much up to the day he died and Sonny Rollins and Kenny Burrell both in their mid-eighties are still out there doing it. I don’t hear anyone degrading them with nebulous octogenarian taunts with jazz apparently being the domain of mature urbane sophisticates.
The same could be said for the late Merle Haggard, and the very much alive Willie Nelson, a couple of elder statesmen whose combined facial lines were and are a veritable road map, as weathered as the miles they’ve traveled. Disparage either one of them and be prepared for a shotgun supper! They’re respected with the same reverence afforded the nation’s beloved Mount Rushmore.
Is it perhaps blues, jazz, and country offer a more charitable conception toward age? They are not aged but seasoned, classic characters whose advancing years play more into the stereotype of hard living and earthier musical pedigrees. Rock is the bastard son of these genres, and thus is treated accordingly, easier to mock in its positioning as a mainstay of popular culture, cheaper and simply a more high profile target to pit against today’s diminishing returns.
There’s a reason thousands of people of every age group still flock to concerts by these “aged and wrinkly” rockers. Why? Because the music is still relevant, the performances are more thrilling and the musicianship better than 80% of what’s out there today. Say what you want about Mick Jagger, but show me one 73-year-old retiree who can sing live, dance his ass off, and run around a stadium stage for three hours before jetting home to his 27-year old hottie and make babies. Perhaps all those sad hacks who are so hell bent on creating salacious copy for their puerile rags are jealous, overweight, balding out of shape forty-something’s who couldn’t run around the block without going into cardiac arrest. Maybe, maybe not, it’s just the times we live in; a society where negativity rules over the positive and such behavior is gleefully accepted.
At one time or another I’ve been asked if there is any one of the over half a dozen Elton bios out there that I would recommend. My immediate answer would most likely be “no,” but I guess that would be unfair without some brief explanation.
Have I read them all? Of course not, not a one, I’m not about to waste my time reading about what I’ve already lived…not a chance. That would be like me sitting alone at home listening to all our old albums, pretty sad. No, my down time is going to be spent with books that inform, educate and amuse me in subject matter that does not include yours truly.
However I’ll admit to skimming, a process I’ve mastered that allows me to evaluate without having to recline and ingest the whole thing, thus giving me a chance to see which of the same old talking heads they’ve pulled out of the woodwork.
For the most part, the majority are either poorly written or cobbled together from prior sources, newspaper articles and hearsay. Some are overly zealous, written by well meaning fans whose enthusiasm for the subject matter ultimately robs them of objectivity.
If there is one that stands above the others it would have to be Philip Norman’s 1992 Elton John (republished recently as Sir Elton.) Norman, a well-respected biographer who has chronicled several famous lives including a number of books on both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, certainly has the credentials and puts them to good use. However, the book now seems outdated and incomplete. Some may argue that it’s a toss up between the latter bio and the only other contender David Buckley’s ’09 Elton: The Biography. Unfortunately, while I’m sure his intentions were good, Buckley relies too much on referencing Norman’s book and suffers from a relatively weak set of collaborators.
And there in lies the problem with most of these books. Their tendency is to depend on peripheral characters that have made a second career out of presenting themselves as first hand witnesses. Time and again I’ve rolled my eyes as presumptive spectators assumed to know what I was thinking and why I did the things I did at the time they were done. It’s color commentary without expertise and psychiatric evaluation by way of gophers and 15-minute famers.
One book that was sent to me recently (yes, they do have a tendency of winding up in my possession whether I want them or not) is the second of two books written by a gentleman who claims to have been Roger Pope’s manager.
(OK…let’s stop there for a moment. Roger Pope, rest his soul, was a great drummer and an admirable part of our musical history, but I find it odd that (and maybe I’m missing something here) he would be in need of managerial services.)
Anyway, putting that aside, this book is the poster child for what I’m referring to when I say “peripheral characters” run amok. There is so much nonsense and rewriting of history that it appears the author is more interested in writing about the way he would like for things to have been rather than the way they really were.
For instance (fact checking apparently not being available to him) he still sticks to the old fable that “Tiny Dancer” was written about my first wife when it was merely dedicated to her.
It was our graphic designer David Larkham’s wife, Janice, who was the seamstress for the band (she embroidered the Madman Across the Water cover) and the dancer of the title simply refers to a collective not a singular person. The first Mrs.Taupin was many things; a dancer was not one of them. Perhaps one day there will be the definitive bio that I can happily endorse. That being said I’m not sure if I could bring myself to contribute as at this point in my life my enthusiasm for recollection is just about tapped out. But…
Never say never though! Who knows? If I was confident that the biographer’s pedigree was impeccable and I felt it would serve to genuinely solidify our place in musical history, I may make myself accessible.
Would I write something myself? Yes, but it wouldn’t be traditional in biographical terms, rather it would consist of random stories and memorable vignettes. A series of one act plays chronicling wonderful encounters with both extraordinary as well as undesirable people. Everyone who’s interested has heard the textbook saga of my amigo and me but not the unrecorded blanks in-between the major moments and over-documented brouhaha.
This is my blog folks…take it as you find it.
It’s one place where I can be honest, and it’s here I’m allowed to express myself in full frontal mode without being censored or edited by the media. Yes, if things bother me I’m going to bitch and moan in the same way as I’ll praise things that inspire and move me. If I upset people in the course of these informal rambles, especially those who feel their best intentions are being represented, I apologize. I value all opinions and welcome each and every verbal slingshot of a chastising or agreeable nature.
Until next time, via con Dios.
ELVIS WAS NOT GREAT
For those who tuned into my now dormant radio show (American Roots Radio) it may have appeared puzzling to you that I did on occasion question the validity of Elvis Presley’s right to be included alongside the all time greats.
In fact in one episode, much to the chagrin of many devotees I imagine (it even elicited a disbelieving exhalation of breath from my co-host Paca) I excluded him in my picks of the five most influential American entertainers of the 20th century. In retrospect this may have come across as tendentious to some and just plain unfair to others, but before the flaming torches and pitchforks are at my door, let me explain.
To begin, let me say that Elvis was a lightning bolt, a meteoric freak of nature who appeared as if he were the manifestation of some cool alien planet. It’s hard to imagine what the inhabitants of his sleepy southern birthplace made of this smoldering embodiment of teenage angst swathed in hot pink and magenta, that trigger-like quiff greased, jet black and swinging above his overtly sensuous mouth. With his pelvic thrust and pneumatic voice, he was quite rightly for a brief moment in time the Tupelo Mississippi Flash.
Elvis certainly didn’t invent rock ‘n roll…that was done in the decade before his emergence by the likes of Louis Jordon, Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown, but he did elevate it and sell it to a young white generation hungry for change. Under the guidance of Sam Philips at Sun Records, he cut some of the rawest and most uncompromising music of that or any other era. On the back of flat bed trucks and on the archaic stages of rural state fairs he pumped out adrenalin-fueled hillbilly rock in all its primal parent-threatening glory - then he signed up with Col. Tom Parker and RCA records!
I’m not saying that that’s when it all went south, but it was the beginning of a slow and soon to be rapid decline. With his switch to the cooperate world of a major label, the records began to show signs of a polish that had not been present on the Sun recordings.
Initial releases were still admirable and it’s hard to find fault in bona fide classics like “Heartbreak Hotel” “Jailhouse Rock” “All Shook Up” and “Hound Dog” although the latter in the hands of Big Mama Thornton is the perfect example of how Elvis didn’t always improve on the original. Her “Hound Dog” is an exercise in visceral menace, and while Elvis is simply reprimanding, Thornton is threatening bodily harm. At the same time that RCA was pumping out these and other noteworthy singles like “Hard Headed Woman” “Teddy Bear” (“You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” among them, Elvis was paralleling his music with a budding and initially promising movie career.
While his debut feature Love Me Tender is a forgettable piece of B-grade fodder, his sophomore film “Loving You” and its follow-up “Jailhouse Rock” are splendidly entertaining and showed great potential and dynamic musical performances. What followed next should and could have been his introduction to the big league. In King Creole (an adaptation of Harold Robbins’ (A Stone For Danny Fisher) Elvis had it all, a great director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) cinematographer Russell Harlan (To Kill A Mockingbird, Red River) and stellar cast mates (Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones and Dean Jagger.) Elvis is excellent in it, credible and assured, the kind of role that could have been the launch pad to a serious and prolific movie career - then he joined the army!
John Lennon famously said, “Elvis died when he went in the army.” While I didn’t always agree with John’s statements, this one was as true as Christmas. As orchestrated by Colonel Tom, Elvis’ return from national service and his projected game plan was a blueprint for disaster, one that the performer through his own weak will and blind faith stripped him of every element that had made him great six years earlier.
This is when truly appalling material crept into his repertoire.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” with its overwrought vocal and cod spoken passage, and “It’s Now Or Never” an equally abysmal song sung in a cringe-worthy quasi-operatic baritone are just two examples that aided and abetted the dampening of his hillbilly fire.
And what was the first movie he made on his return? G.I. Blues a tepid piece of fluff padded with puerile songs (“Wooden Heart” and “Frankfurt Special” anyone?) made to cash in on his homecoming. As for a serious movie career it was dead in the water.
All that had seemed so possible and potentially gratifying after the triumph of King Creole was lost. From G.I. Blues on Elvis went on to sleepwalk through 26 more movies each one worse than the one before. Movies so bad that for the most part they almost defy description: trite, cheap and riddled with diabolically bad songs (the possible exception being “Viva Las Vegas” which may have had more to do with Ann Margaret, an angora sweater, and black tights) each was a testament of complacency - It would appear Elvis just didn’t care.
Hard to put a finger on when Elvis lost his humility. The kid who had seemed so genuine at the beginning was retreating behind a shield of sycophants and enablers. Frank Sinatra had his boys club, but Frank lived life to the hilt. Frank went to concerts, nightclubs and sporting events. Frank loved restaurants, traveling and (putting it mildly) female company. Frank lived large. Elvis just became large. Elvis simply faded into a dark netherworld that didn’t include living in the real one. He never appeared to have any desire for culture of any kind, no desire to see the world and no desire to explore gastronomic genres unless it was deep-fried.
He succumbed easily to hokey fads and terrestrial gobbledy- gook, collected guns and claimed he could move clouds. Surrounded by his redneck mafia he became a cloistered potentate, the embodiment of “The Emperors New Clothes” and the king whose subjects laugh when the king laughs.
And speaking of Sinatra, Frank respected songwriters above all else. Elvis just abused and cheated them. In Colonel Tom’s contractual demands any song submitted and accepted had to forfeit a portion of the publishing rights to the coffers of the king. This unsavory tactic, to the best of my knowledge, was rarely challenged until Dolly Parton told him to kiss her white country ass when he attempted a cover of “I Will Always Love You.”
Elvis continued to coast through the 60’s releasing slick and soulless pseudo-pop rock like “Return To Sender” “She’s Not You” and “Good Luck Charm” until the singles became a blur of non-entities (“Do The Clam” and “Spinout”) and The Beatles rendered him irrelevant.
There are those that would say it was The Beatles that were the reason Elvis dyed his hair, dropped some weight and crawled into a skintight black leather outfit for what was touted as his renaissance the ’68 Comeback Special.
Yes, he looked pretty damn good, but have you watched it lately? While it had its moments it also features some terrible variety show shtick along with a segment that kind of proves a point I made earlier. When Elvis sits around jamming and singing with his good ‘ol boys there is without a doubt an edgy, nervous vibe among the musicians that makes the viewing experience slightly uncomfortable. There is a forced jocularity as the participants hang on the boss’s every word, laughter without spontaneity as he recalls, “The only thang I could move was ma lil’ finger.” Oh yea, and Elvis wasn’t really very funny either.
From here on out it was pretty much as you remember: the great fashion faux pas that turned Elvis into a parody of well…Elvis. The cape, the gold rimmed shades and the garish studded jump suits held together with buckles the size of barn doors, a kitsch ensemble that launched a million impersonators*. Sadly for many this is the only Elvis people remember, a slowly ballooning cartoon character striking karate poses while blue haired matrons screamed through his gradually diminishing performances. The dye trickled from his hair, his girth expanded, and the image of what once was morphed into a cash cow called Graceland the tacky palace where he lived and died of a heart attack on the toilet at the age of 42 bloated and full of more prescription pills than a Walgreens pharmacy.
So you can, if you will, disregard all of the above and say even with all of this he still deserves his place among the exalted top five if only for the lightning in a bottle he once was. But “with all of this” is my point. Still I maybe wrong. He did indeed inspire a generation, but think about it for a minute. He squandered greatness. He allowed his entire career to careen into mediocrity at the hands of a Carney who preyed on his inability to think for himself. For goodness sake he never toured the world thus depriving his universal fan base of the respect they deserved for loyalty and support - not to mention the millions of dollars they generated for his pocketbook.
The aforementioned Carney wouldn’t allow it. Due to his illegal status Stateside, had he left he may never have been allowed to return.
It was this same Stetsoned Svengali who orchestrated his ruinous movie career when all the boy had to do was stand up to him and say, “I deserve better.”
Of course he couldn’t remain the Tupelo Mississippi Flash forever since everyone develops his or her style and does their best to improve, experiment and branch out. Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Muddy Waters remained relevant and inspiring their entire lives and Bob Dylan is still actively doing so.
Elvis didn’t and for that I blame Elvis. Through his own ineptitude to look at the big picture and a seemingly (for the most part) passionless and passive regard for material, he became the manipulated puppet of those who told him he was still the king long after his reign was over.
It boils down to one thing: for all his martial-arts posturing and TV-blasting gunplay, Elvis was basically weak-willed and complacent, happy to feel like he was in charge when he knew very well he wasn’t. Like I said, maybe he does still deserve to rank alongside the greats, but as for me, I’ll pass.
*Before anyone starts emailing about my partner’s questionable stage outfits and eyewear, bear one thing in mind they were worn for entertainment value only, not to be taken seriously. Elvis was deadly serious and thought he looked cool.
SAME SHED NEW TOOLS
Occasionally you see or hear something that can inspire you to a new beginning, a revised way of thinking and a well-engineered overhaul of your general outlook. It may be familiar but its reemergence instills a palpitation of delight, a nostalgic nudge in the direction of better things. For example, listening to Duke Ellington’s tenor sax titan Paul Gonsalves blow 27 straight choruses, thus turning “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” from the 1956 Live at Newport into one of the most riveting and exciting jazz tracks ever recorded. It can be as simple as a 10-year-old girl riding her horse bareback, watching a hooded oriole dance in an orange tree or the one you love framed by the early morning light. Why do I say this?
Well, to put it mildly it’s been an odd year so far. No actually, let me rephrase that: it’s been downright depressing, tragic and insane for a multitude of reasons, which is why the first paragraph needs to resonate. As we prepare to hold our noses and vote for a new Commander in Chief let’s consider what’s available. As of this writing the choices will most likely be an inarticulate, megalomaniacal orange-tinted buffoon and a frumpy pathological liar. I’m imagining by the time you read this the old guy who looks like a cross between Dave from “Wendy’s” and a demented TV weatherman will be toast. It’s up to you of course, your decision. Is it to be a reality show host who talks in a litany of facile adjectives, or a pant-suited matron who claims she “tries to tell the truth.”
We have millions of disenfranchised refugees with little shelter, home or hope who, through no fault of their own ,will be deprived of any Promised Land. An aggressive powder keg in the Middle East, a miniature Stalin in the Kremlin and a pudgy nutball with a pudding bowl haircut playing Dr. Evil in North Korea. The polar caps are melting, our shorelines are eroding, and women across the globe are being treated in ways that if it wasn’t true could only be conjured up in the most sadistic and misogynistic of minds. Natural wildlife and beautiful creatures are heading for extinction, cruelty and apathy are on the rise and social media has turned the mundane into an art form.
So how’s that hooded oriole looking to you right now?
Point being of course is that we need to find the positive, the silver lining in this black cloud of indifference, danger and despair, no matter how simple, how insignificant it may seem to others.
Don’t be afraid to be a child again.
Read “Treasure Island” and watch “Pinocchio.”
Lay on a freshly mown lawn and watch the vapor trails of planes.
Reinvestigate your happiest memories.
Indulge yourself in things that bring color back to a darker outlook.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that we hide our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, and I’m not saying don’t get involved. In fact, I would encourage all to do so taking into consideration that ultimately it’s the people who have the power. My point is simply don’t forget to be stimulated by what is still good. In the stagnation and mire of modern society and on the corroding stage of world affairs there is still music, art and architecture.
Listen to Merle Haggard.
Light a candle in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Read Huckleberry Finn.
Right before our eyes there remain natural wonders made both by God and man. Rolling hills, rippling and roaring waters, giant redwoods and majestic elephants. Drive the Natchez Trace
Walk through an orange grove
Hug your dog and drink good red wine.
Public opinion may call me patently clichéd, but optimism is a virtue I’m happy to embrace no matter how childlike the thought bubbles sprouting from my imagination might appear, besides I’m part Teflon when it comes to criticism
As it’s been a blue moon ago since I last posted a blog and seeing as we’re all shiny new and updated (in a muted sort of way) here at Ground Zero Me, I thought I’d share a little of what’s been charging my batteries.
I am by nature an unrepentant jazz, blues and classic country fan as many of you familiar with my dormant satellite radio show “American Roots Radio” will probably have surmised. But while my playlists tend to linger in the past and my knowledge of current trends and artists is limited, I do occasionally (thanks to a myriad of sources) find current music to get excited about.
Scratching my head and mulling over the last year, I have to say I loved the Keith Richards album and my favorite rock single had to be “Ship to Wreck” by Florence and the Machine. Best new band (well..sort of new) has to be Dawes by a country mile. Nothing is Wrong what a wonderful piece of work, not a weak track and Taylor Goldsmith, such a talented and original young writer. The closing track of the album “A Little Bit of Everything” had me seething with jealousy when I first heard it; chalk that one up to “songs I wish I’d written.” Anyone who can sing about mashed potatoes and make it sound poignant gets my vote any day. Their tracks “Things Happen” and “All Your Favorite Bands” are current works to listen out for.
In the department of “I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this guy before now!” I choose to highlight Maine-born troubadour Slaid Cleaves. He’s made like eight or nine albums, but I recently heard him for the first time. If you like John Prine or maybe Steve Earl then you’ll go ko-ko-la-la for this cat. Can’t understand for the life of me why he hasn’t hit the zeitgeist of Americana aficionados, really quiet remarkable. For further listening investigate the albums Broke Down and Still Fighting The War.
By the same token, I continue to fly the flag and champion the cause of the remarkable Canadian singer songwriter Ariana Gillis. So original, so unique, so in a class of her own and a youthful sage of ethereal and cosmic creation….Google “John and The Monster” and prepare to be amazed.
On the country front under the frothy head of bro bubbles and nihilistic party-til-you-puke pop there were indeed some fine débuts and wonderful entrees by the classic old guard. While Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park grabbed all the kudos (and quite rightly so) it was Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories that took top honors for this humble artist. This is definitely a girl with serious songwriting chops and razor sharp wit “What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven” HELLO! Honorable mention goes out to the Vince Gill produced “Like A Rose” by Ashley Monroe, good stuff.
Speaking of the amazing multi-talented Mr. Gill, how about his latest 12 inch offering Down To My Last Bad Habit which has been in heavy rotation on my art studio old school boom box for the last two weeks. I’m currently drinking the critical Kool Aid and checking out the much-touted Margo Price record, which on the initial first tracks heard, may indeed measure up to the hype. Besides all of this, anything new by Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Rhonda Vincent, Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn is always worth a spin.
On the country side of things, here I have to add that the passing of Merle Haggard was a huge blow for someone who not only was weaned on his ferocious songwriting skill and rugged persona, but also his dedication and unswervable commitment to the plight of the common man. No one loved and revered George Jones more than I, his voice was possibly the greatest ever in country music, but sadly George spent a life of little interest. George got up, George got his hair styled and cut, George sang and George got drunk, and pretty much that was it. Merle, on the other hand, was a Steinbeck novel ready to be written. I’ll conclude this tribute by saying that when my friends were listening to “Sgt. Pepper,” I discovered “Mama Tried” and “Silver Wings.”
Remaining on the subject of those who have passed, I would be remiss in not referencing the unnatural loss of talent we have suffered of late. The most recent (in fact as I was composing this blog) was the death of Prince.
Stunned was the emotion felt in this household, an artist who defined the word “iconic,” and a multi-talented genius who leaves an irreplaceable void. Short in stature, but a colossus of style, compassion and savvy artistry, certainly one of the single most dynamic and exciting performers I’ve ever seen onstage, and believe me, I’ve seen ‘em all.
I don’t wish to wallow in morbidity by listing a string of bright lights lost long before their due date, so I’ll just presume that you know to whom I’m referring.
Of course I’ll contradict myself immediately by saying that it would be criminal not to mention master songwriter and Eagles founder Glenn Frey. The reason for this is that I knew Glenn, and in many ways his and Don Henley’s careers ran parallel to that of Elton and me. The first act we saw in LA on the first night we arrived was Longbranch Pennywhistle, the country/rock duo consisting of Glenn Frey and John David Souther. From that night on all my encounters with Glenn were never anything but laid-back and fun. His personality was continually upbeat, his conversation always intelligent and enlightening.
I know that over the years he and Don butted heads and their relationship was to say the least acrimonious at times, but it didn’t stop them from forging an immense and incredible body of work. The last time I saw him was at a mutual friend’s wedding and he was as always his charming and witty self. I knew nothing of his medical problems, which I’m sure, was the way he wanted it, but sadly only made it harder on us all when we got the news.
Well, I think that’s it for now.
Nice to reconnect, and hopefully I can keep getting back to you on a regular basis. As you can see, we have kept a section on the revamped site titled “blog archives.” These are there simply as a way of seeing the transitional arc of my (at times cantankerous) thinking. Sifting through them you’ll notice they invariably contain much that is yesterday’s news. To my mind this might make them all the more amusing in that you can assess for yourself just how easily I can be driven to my soapbox by the banality and insanity that constitutes current events.
Hope you enjoy the new set up and hey… gotta send out a big thanks to my amigo Paca Thomas (co-host of my “American Roots Radio” show) for constructing and managing this new arrangement. It’s in good hands believe me. Keep the emails coming; yes, I read them all providing they remain within the parameter of the rules posted. Oh, and by the way, contrary to what many assume, no, I don’t have scores of secretaries and assistants aiding and abetting my day-to-day activities, not a one, my friends… this is a family operation.
Now I lie in the heart of the fat, black soil
Like the seed of a prairie thistle;
It has washed my bones with honey and oil
And picked them clean as a whistle.
And my youth returns like the rains of Spring,
And my sons like the wild-geese flying;
And I lie and hear the meadow-lark sing
And have much content in my dying.
Go play with the towns you have built of blocks,
The towns where you would have bound me!
I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,
And my buffalo have found me.
The Ballad Of William Sycamore by Stephen Vincent Benet
THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL
I thought I’d said all there was to say regarding things of this nature but the insanity of which I often speak has prevailed to a point of absurdity that I had to confirm it’s validity for me to believe it.
Please…Please save us! Rescue us from these guardian watchdogs and insufferable moderators of overt political correctness, social narcissism and mental policing. It’s almost as if a form of acceptable contemporary fascism is spreading through our schools and educational system like some cancerous overload. It may be a thing of benign concern, a minor news item finding little ink in our here today / gone tomorrow world, but when a Tennessee high school student gets suspended for saying “Bless you” to a sneezing classmate because it’s on her teachers list of banned language “We’re not having godly speaking in my class,” (Is that even proper English?) you know the bucket’s hit the bottom of the well.
What are we going to do next? Burn our children at the stake for a simple common courtesy? Look out, kids! Watch every syllable you utter in class because some miserable po-faced atheist imposer is going to be hovering close by. Just think, next thing you know your kids could be expelled for any number of celestially invoked blunders “GOOD LORD I didn’t know Riga was the capital of Latvia” or “HEAVEN FORBID we ever have to see the resurgence of the National Socialist Party” (Well, actually we have. He or she could be teaching your class!) I can only assume that “Oh my God” and “Jesus f-ing Christ” are acceptable because of their negative value to Christians.
When did teachers become dictators? When did it become acceptable practice, better yet, when did it even become legal to bring your personal beliefs into the classroom and enforce them on our children, teachers who can’t even engage our kids in a civilized discussion but just shout them down and banish them for invoking their right to freedom of speech?
Believe me, this has got nothing to do with any religious beliefs of my own it’s just that I don’t like bullies and it just appears to me that these days the playing field isn’t as level as it should be. I’m reminded of a line from Steve Coogan’s “Alan Partridge” movie in which the vain and inept radio host admonishes his engineer for making an on air joke about Muslims “Never, never criticize Muslims, only Christians and Jews a little bit.” That about sums it up. Fair and balanced? Hardly.
There are many dedicated and wonderfully engaging teachers, so don’t imagine I’m out to tar all educators with the same brush, but as it is in everything, a rotten apple or two can put a bruise on the whole bunch. It’s a little like a beleaguered African American family having that race baiting, self-promoting ambulance chaser Al Sharpton force himself upon them. I’m just waiting for the day when a family tells Sharpton, “You know what? Could you just not come around here, please?”
OK… that’s it…outside of my observation of the day. When is someone going to design a baseball cap with no bill given that no one wears them the right way around anyway?
Gesundheit! Am I OK with that?
MY WINTER OF DISCONTENT*
Sometimes it only takes a word to inspire the inclination to comment. One manipulatively reengineered utterance to awaken slumbering perplexity. Considering it in retrospect now, it’s a word that seems as if it was tailor made for political stonewalling. The word in question: misspoke!
Examples? President Obama claims he misspoke about people being able to keep their health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (they can’t) and Hillary Clinton misspoke when she was met with a hail of bullets on her arrival in Sarajevo (she wasn’t.)
Misspoke. A government approved word to obtain absolution as in, “I misspoke when I issued that order for a nuclear strike.” We’re used to elected officials never giving a straight answer (an attribute I grudgingly have great admiration for considering the difficulty in convincing a nation that your thoughtful and nuanced reply is actually nothing more than smoke and mirrors with a side of flim-flam) but with misspoke they have created just another weapon in their arsenal of BS to Teflon coat their ever increasing inadequacies.
It’s easy to blame yourselves as the key word in “elected officials” is “elected” so I guess we get what we vote for, right? But it trickles down to a lesser degree when you consider the bureaucratic make-up of our nation. I don’t want to say that as the moral fiber of our country disintegrates etc. because I’d be opening a can of worms that is difficult to dissect into personal points of view. And besides, I’d be sure to offend someone - and believe me we’re all so easily offended these days.
Anyway - one thing at a time. Yes, we elect, but these days it seems that what we are promised is increasingly non apparent on every level imaginable. Lying has become a national past time and, to a certain extent, totally acceptable. The fact that campaign spending is relentlessly out of control can give you some indication of what we’re dealing with. That any two politicians up for the presidency can imagine (with a straight face and no sense of irony attached) that their sense of entitlement is worth $2 billion is not only surreal but also humanely obscene, it not only fails democratically speaking but fails a nation that was built on the principle of taking care of its own.
While we as a people become lesser in the equation and our incentive to further ourselves is stifled by government (why follow your dreams when they just chop you off at the knees?) they as a collective become examples by which we can gauge obscenity and incompetence, their financial rewards are bountiful when ours are gutted.
How many more ass-grabbing, crack-smoking mayors and toilet-trading, sexting, penis taking congressmen selfies must we indulge before we realize that something is awfully wrong here? The traditional image of the straight talking stump speaker has been vaporized. It’s just lie after lie and denial, denial, no remorse, no sense of human failure and no belief that anything they’ve done is wrong. In a word, so contemporary!
I’m not assuming that everyone has to be Jimmy Stewart, and sure the image of politicians has always been slightly shady, but there have been a few good apples on either side of the political divide. Now sadly it seems we’ve traded in apples for nuts and raisins.
On a lesser level, city councils are infiltrated by thieves and carpet baggers while our courts are overseen by judges whose decisions depend on how their eggs were cooked for breakfast that morning. Lawyers hover like predatory birds circling the carcasses of the unfortunate, building mountains from grains of sand, padding bills and sucking clients dry. Government services want to neuter education and tell us how to raise our children, invade our space and presume to know better than us.
Possibly among the red tape the good eggs exist, but the cream seems to have curdled on the top, and job qualifications appear to have sunk to the Mo, Larry and Curly level.
Hardly surprising then that this would have an abject affect on our culture, a culture where we’ve elevated the lowest common denominator to the status of cultural icon. Witness the rise of hillbilly chic. The red neck is in vogue and the trailer park is prime real estate. TV channels that once brought us educational documentaries and natural history shows are now fighting to see who can attain maximum exposure for the basest human flotsam. Toothless gator hunters and greasy pawnbrokers along with deranged families and freakish children battle for ratings along with the old standby of vacuous IQ deprived housewives and B list celebrities.
Incidentally note one ongoing theme, they're all white heterosexual bozos. Apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable in modern society to humiliate and lampoon this demographic, yet if the networks were to feature a rural black or a low income Latino family in the same stereotypical style they’d be handed their heads on a plate. Funny that!
What can we expect next? “Porn Stars of Studio City” a fun romp with the girls who make the San Fernando Valley sizzle. Or perhaps Bill Maher presents “Return to Rome” a laugh a minute chuckle as real Christians are thrown to the lions.
By the way, I love satirists. I don’t care which way they lean as long as it’s done with a deft touch and a sense of humor that’s original and intelligent. I happen to think Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Dennis Miller have exceptional minds where as Bill Maher, who I dislike intensely, is simply smug, mean-spirited and wears more make-up than Bill O’Reilly or as a letter in “Vanity Fair” succinctly states:
No, we may no longer be the greatest country in the world, and to some degree it is because of self-righteous, pompous, and callous individuals like Maher, who somehow judge themselves to be superior human beings...
Oh, just one quick question in regards to television, commercials?! When did fast food commercials start catering to stoner/gamers, and for that matter slackers in general? It seems that the social media has created not only a generation addicted to instant gratification, bad diction and indecipherable spelling, but one that is now being courted as a bona fide social group…very inspiring.
Having said this, the above might not be quite as terrifying as this moment, every parents’ worst nightmare. The moment your growing child turns to you during a game day commercial, and utters those four words that can turn a grown man’s blood to ice water “Daddy, what’s erectile dysfunction?”
And seeing that I’ve nothing to lose here, let me weigh in on one more issue that has a high visibility rating of late, the 50th anniversary of the assignation of JFK and the myth of Camelot. Now before everybody starts going “Whoa, don’t go there,” just bear with me as I think there’s a relative thread here to some of my earlier observations.
Don’t get me wrong, Kennedy came along at the right time, revitalized a nation, made some groovy speeches and did some cool stuff. Can’t argue with the handling of the Cuban missile crisis and “Ask not what your country can do for you.” War hero, too, and a pretty nifty writer in the Churchill style, but saint and savior of the nation? Not really.
The Kennedy legacy has been coated with such a veneer of positive propaganda that the dark underbelly of Camelot has been emulsified. If Kennedy were in office today he’d either be one of two things: impeached or fitting right in with the current climate. After all he was a serial adulterer, profane and bought into office by his father Joe Kennedy one of the most despicable and corrupt men in American history. However JFK wasn’t the only tarnished Kennedy, the entire sanctified clan was and have been a Shakespearean consortium of reckless and tainted hellions.
According to Gore Vidal who wrote speeches for him, RFK couldn’t string two words together without an expletive in-between, and as for Edward, well he got into office and got away with murder. As for the rest, take your pick of all the above and add some, they were a bonnie lot mark my words. Rose must have been proud.
Obviously I’ll have many of you shaking your heads and I’m sure I’ll get the usual emails agreeing, disagreeing, chastising and chiding. Many will surely chalk it up to my curmudgeonly nature or try to piece the individual here with the individual they know as the artist in residence. Still, I write it as it comes to me, it’s what I perceive in my everyday life, it’s what I view through the telescope, up ahead and heading towards us fast.
By the way, a continued thanks for the emails. I read them all. Every one. There are many that are quirky, some that are simply complementary and those that touch me deeply, especially some of the more recent ones concerning “The Diving Board” and in particular the song “Oceans Away.”
Stay true to what you believe in and avoid any film advertised as “The feel good movie of the year.”
*I remain as always politically neutral.
A THEORY ON NOTHING
I’m seriously contemplating a blog about nothing considering the current status of my contemplative state is exactly that, nothing!
Is it possible? Larry David created “Seinfeld” a situation comedy supposedly about nothing so why not a simple blog about nothing. What constitutes nothing, what are the parameters? When somebody enquires of someone else “What are you thinking about?” and they say “Oh nothing” is that in fact the truth or is it really one of two things, first, they don’t want to share what they're actually thinking about or second what they're thinking is in fact so innocuous that they’ve forgotten what it is by the time the initial question was asked, however a thought misplaced is still something.
At the same time when you look out a friend's window and ask “What’s over that hill to the left?” and they say “The Heaven’s Gate Orchid Plantation” and you say “And what’s over there to the right” and they say “Oh that’s nothing” how is that possible, wouldn’t the nothing over to the right if it was really nothing be just a grey void of dead space and not in fact “The Bongatolla Tar Pits” which are actually something, but out of a sort of visual embarrassment have become incorrectly regarded as nothing.
If you have nothing to say do you also have nowhere to go?
Billy Preston famously sang, “Nothing from nothing is nothing” which if my math, which is iffy at best, serves me correctly is one example of the conclusion being spot-on and only goes to prove that one can actually sing about nothing, figuratively!
Yet songs where the singer claims, “Nothin’s goin’ on” in regards to infidelity and sneaky sexual liaisons are quintessentially protesting with a lie even if their morals are buttoned up and intact. Listen ~ they may indeed not be doing the mattress dance in the local Motel 8 with the wife’s best friend but they’re most certainly doing something if it’s only gassing up the car or coaching little league.
Outside of song, narrative poetry and literature are simply teeming with heroes and heroines convinced they have nothing left to live for when indeed they have everything to live for - considering most of them are drop-dead gorgeous, have pots of money and talk like Romeo & Juliet. They may not have been Tristan & Isolde but even Sid Vicious weeping “I got nuffin’ left” over the body of Nancy Spungen still had a bloody knife and a syringe.
“Ring ring” “Hello” “Hi it’s Sylvia what are ya’ doin’?” “Agh nothin’” well yea you are, you’re talking to Sylvia!
I went to Tupelo, Mississippi once and remarked that it seemed like a place frozen in time to which someone replied “Yea nothing ever changes ‘round here.” How can that be? “Frozen in time” and “nothing ever changes” are miles apart, different assumptions, one logical the other illogical. “Frozen in time” speaks for itself: it’s an analogy. “Nothing ever changes” assumes the sun doesn’t go up and down, the mayor doesn’t get reelected and David Allan Coe doesn’t come and play Tipitina’s once a year.
And then of course there are the kids! “What are you up to out there?” “Nothing.” When of course they are in fact putting a saddle on the dog, creating a mural on the new stucco wall and making fondue out of mud and worms. Of course in the minds of children the concept of nothing seems far more reasonable considering that they are not that far removed from a time when they were in an embryonic state floating on a warm wave of fuzzy tummy fluid.
And with that being said I have nothing more to say other than I guess it is possible to write about nothing.
COMMON SENSE TAKES A VACATION
Allow me to once again weigh in with several of the old chestnuts that somehow continually reemerge and manage to tamper with my understanding of the modern mind.
Believe me, once in awhile I’d like to get derailed from these issues, but if people weren’t so bogged down in pettiness and ensnared by verbosity, were they not so radioactively liberal or right wing as a lynch noose, I’d be blogging on bee keeping and the best recipe for beef stroganoff.
Sure, I’d like to put in my 10 cents on the current climate of the NFL, the less than stellar job of commissioner Roger Goodell or the inability of my Raiders to get the ball in the end zone. Yea, I’d like to see Tebow take the reins and reboot the Jets as much as I’d like to see John Gruden ditch the Chucky hairdo and get a style overhaul. I’m thrilled the Gators took down LSU and are back on track and I’m as fascinated as the next man (or woman) to see how Peyton progresses at Denver - knowing full well as football fans nationwide are that a great quarterback is only as good as his offense.
All this stuff and more I’d love to stretch out on, but it’s those darn articles that pop up on a regular basis between the ink drenched pages of our daily news and national magazines that just seem to magnetically draw me in to the lurid world of those who invariably speak without thinking, speak while butchering the English language or think with that which resides in their pants and not in their heads.
Several issues at hand and several individuals to bring center stage for a slap on the wrist and a quick spin in the spotlight as we cite three instances where there is, I believe, no excuse for stupidity from relatively intelligent people.
Having said that, the first one up might not completely fit the bill when it comes to great intellects of the 20th century. I’m referring to Hank Williams, Jr. who recently on stage and in interviews has said that Barack Obama is “A Muslim President who hates the military, hates farmers and hates the USA” and also described a golf game between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner as “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” Quite honestly I was impressed, not only did he know who Netanyahu was, he could actually pronounce his name. Still, given these pearls of wisdom it’s hardly surprising that he was unceremoniously dumped from his long-standing gig introducing Monday Night Football. Personally I think they were just looking for any excuse Hank Jr not exactly being a recognizable commodity these days and besides, those good ole boy muttonchops got nothin’ on Faith Hill’s micro-mini!
As a footnote to the previous paragraph, it does make one think! The Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed to come from Texas because of George W. Bush and they became complete pariahs. Radio stations quit playing their records, their albums were burned in organized bonfires and people threatened them bodily harm. So how come old Hank disses the Pres and doesn’t get smoked by the country music set? Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch to figure that one out so I’ll just say that had old Bocephus called Mitt Romney a “Mormon dirtbag” he’d have been burned in effigy from the Big Muddy to the Texas Panhandle.
Again, I might add the Chicks voiced an opinion (albeit unnecessary) whereas Williams just spewed a litany of lies and exaggerated vitriol that any decent conservative would be embarrassed by.
Let’s move on across the great divide, that chasm of division that has seen the polarization of the nations inhabitants moving steadily more distant from each other, a swathe cut by differing opinions growing ever nastier since its inception in the days of Tricky Dick.
And if that seems like an exaggeration bear with me and read this excerpt from an interview with legendary guitarist and recording artist Ry Cooder who, unlike Hank Williams Jr., I would have expected more rational thinking, this is truly perplexing coming from a man who is I believed (or once believed) to be not only sane but smart to boot - not anymore!
Question: How will you be voting in November, Ry?
Answer: “Democrat, always have. As Gore Vidal said, The Republicans aren’t a party any more; it’s a Hitler Youth mindset. If the Republicans take over the Presidency as well as the House of Representatives, the United States is finished. I don’t want to see drones overhead in Los Angeles, immigrants shot down at the border, the poor thrown onto the streets, the defunding of Medicare and social security, new lynch laws and the return of Jim Crow. The foundations of society since FDR are being dismantled before our very eyes, bought about by four years of think tank fascism funded by the Koch brothers, who in my song “Brother Is Gone” made a deal at the crossroads with Satan-there’s no other explanation! You’ve never had this many billionaires, maniacs who should be locked up-guillotined, which I think I’m in favor of! That would send a signal.”
OK. Hitler youth mindset, drones over Los Angeles, shooting immigrants at the border, lynch laws, Jim Crow, deals with Satan and guillotining billionaires??!!!!
Really, I mean really….Hank’s rant might have been knee jerk nutso, but come on, MAN! This stuff is just barking mad, in fact it just defies any sort of intelligent response and goes to prove how deeply paranoia and electronic manipulation has affected our common sense. In fact, common sense seems to have taken a long leaping jump into the void only to be swallowed up by a Babelesque black hole.
Yea the noose is tightening on common sense and a here’s one further example of “Get a Life.” In Southwest Texas cheerleaders who choose to emblazon their banners with Bible scripture are being taken to court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation who would rather they not do so. Simple this one: why not?? What earthly harm can it possibly do? People have been waving those little placards with biblical chapter and verse at professional football games for as long as I can remember without anyone being offended or oppressed.
Just who are these people anyway? Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists Association, got too much spare time on their hands associations if you ask me. What do they actually do? Sit around just seeing how high they can set the bar for mean-spiritedness. These are teenagers just rooting for a football team for goodness sake; let them be, leave them alone. People are permitted to walk down the streets of our cities waving banners that declare the most hateful things and Muslim clerics like Abu Hamza al-Masri are permitted to preach death to all non Muslims in British mosques yet a group of children unfurling words that come from the Bible are targeted as inciting some twisted configuration of church and state laws. These are the same dystopian clones that would rip the grave markers from Arlington and neuter our war memorials and mountain monuments. Common sense, common sense where is our common sense and decency? Our small town humility is sadly being suffocated and replaced by acrimonious little dictators with laptops and a reinvented sense of history, enough already.
Speaking of hateful things, you may recall my recent blog attesting to the fact that I have a particular distaste for the word “hate” and its far too frequent usage especially in reference to things that do not warrant its excessive meaning.
So for the third individual today who gets a thumbs down for dumb things by relatively intelligent people, I give you the petulant and seemingly ever glum English pop star Morrissey who was recently photographed on stage with his arms around 2 teenage boys wearing “WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE” tee shirts, the shirts also featuring a photo of the recently wed royal couple in full royal duds.
Let me get something straight off the bat. My interest in the royal family and anything to do with them is non-existent. I don’t think about them, I don’t read about them, I don’t watch their weddings and could care less what they get up to but I do feel that to make them the butt of unnecessary malice for no good reason other than hip vitriol shows an incredible lack of class and good taste and comes across simply as churlish and par for the course when it comes to the dreary history of this “I’m such a working class bloke.”
What axe has Morrissey got to grind with this seemingly harmless pair other than it being some publicity stunt to give him more street cred? It’s cowardly, it’s cruel, it’s ignorant and it's totally expected.
OF DEVILS, ANGELS & BAD DIRECTION
Once again I apologize for the lapse in time between checking in, but as usual on one hand it’s a case of dedicating some allotted time and on the other it’s simply feeling motivated.
Before anything else I feel I must take issue with an email I received sometime in the last couple of months that inquired, “When did you get so hateful?”
Normally, I’d simply ignore something like this as I’m more than used to misconceptions and those who presume too readily, however in response I stand for my own defense. I ask you pray point out one instance of hatred in any blog I have ever written?
Hate is a word I abhor; a word my children understand is unacceptable in our house, a word that should be reserved for genocidal maniacs and pedophiles. I can only assume that someone here is taking issue with an opinion, which may or may not hint of cynicism and comes etched with a touch of sarcasm in a word that someone’s taking sides and it obviously isn’t mine.
For the most part, my observations are buffed with humor. Although on occasion they are arguably combative and heartfelt, I assure you there has never been an instance when hatred has come into the equation. As this person failed to point out exactly what it was that they regarded as hateful, I’ll just presume it was something overwhelmingly detrimental to their way of thinking and not just a minor infraction or slight moral hiccup.
Last time I checked we live in a democracy that, for the most part, encourages lively debate and stands up for the soapbox orator. So having said that I’ll suggest we save our hatred for the likes of Bashar Assad…may he rot in hell.
Talking of bad news bears, the big bear himself, Russia’s premiere bully Vladimir Putin has decided to get tough in the playground and rough up three little girls who don’t agree with him. Shameful is putting it mildly, but not unexpected. After all this is a man who in order to maintain a stranglehold on his country appears to be channeling the Soviet Unions uber villain, Joseph Stalin. Putin has dismantled the media, robbed from and imprisoned the entrepreneurial class, falsified the electoral process, crushed any mechanism of democracy and hounded the voices of opposition into the grave. Now in front page photographs we have a trio of children incarcerated in a large steel aquarium surrounded by a phalanx of heavily armed goons.
Wow. Impressive. Way to go Vlad, you must be real proud.
So for a dumb little stunt that wouldn’t warrant much ink elsewhere, the political punk band Pussy Riot gets two years in the slammer for invoking the Virgin Mary to extradite your sorry ass to Siberia. Make your voices heard folks and support not just these young women but the millions of Russians whose tongues have been silenced for fear of losing them all together.
I was recently driving west on Sunset Blvd along that curving ill-maintained stretch that sweeps past Brentwood and Bel Air when in a moment of distraction my car hit a deep nasty pothole. With two tires severely damaged, I limped into a side street to ponder my fate, one tire is a doable change, two tires is another matter. After unsuccessfully trying to work things out with the disembodied voice at the other end of that little button above the rear view mirror that promises to solve all ills, I extracted myself from my crippled auto and commenced to sweat.
Perspiring and pacing, I proceeded to determine my location while simultaneously cursing AT&T’s failure to provide me with enough little bars to cry for help. It was in this moment of crisis that I was afforded manna from Heaven in the form of two equally overheated yet far more convivial individuals who ran toward me from a sloping bank of fine green lawn across the street. A duo of thoroughly charming gardeners (one Asian and one Latino) came bounding over and, with rather excellent gesticulations due to our shared language barrier, offered to change my tire without any pre-determined bartering of financial reward.
Naturally my appreciation was evident as any task at that moment that involved rubber, wing nuts and a crankable jack would have left me stinky, stained and unpresentable for civil interaction. Within minutes my two Samaritans had whipped off the worst of the damaged tires and replaced it with that strange little spare that immediately relegates the most luxurious auto to clown car status.
On completion of the task the boys stood up, stepped back and assessed their handy work with satisfied smiles before picking up the tattered original and stashing it neatly in the trunk.
As this last action was unfolding, I was temporarily scrabbling around in the back seat trying to locate phone numbers in order to reschedule appointments. By the time I had extracted myself from the car my rescuers were already retreating back from whence they came without (as to my shame, I assumed they might) hanging around for a handout. Temporarily stunned by this totally selfless act of generosity in these times of financial insecurity, I almost missed my opportunity to not only thank them but also beg them to accept that which they had not requested.
With the worst of my situation temporarily band-aided I was able to granny crawl to the local dealer, and after two hours and a hefty bill, get mobile again. I always imagine angels come in various guises; some hold out their hand on the side of the road and some are sent to your aid in times of need. This time around I was the recipient of the latter, which only reconfirms my insistence of assisting the former. One out of six families in this country struggle to put sufficient food on the table everyday while the combined total of campaign funding is currently at a staggering $330 million. When two grown men need obscene amounts of money to wage their infantile pissing contests in the name of good government I can only shake my head in dismay. Give it up for the good of the country, boys, and duke it out in the debates, a couple of chairs and straight talk costs nothing.
Totally got caught up in Olympic fever, had my must watch events and got couch rooted most evenings for a couple of weeks catching up with the highlights. For my money the women ruled, and while the men mined a sizeable chunk of the hardware, it was the girls in my opinion who radiated good grace, broad smiles and winning charm. Not to be moved by Gabby Douglas would take a heart of stone and how could even the most sport allergic not be thrilled by the combined forces of nature that were Misty May & Kerri Walsh playing bad ass ball in bikinis on a beach next to Buckingham Palace.
Missed the opening ceremonies but not the slight irony in certain aspects of the closing ones. I’ll finish today with a tap on the shoulder to whoever directed the over the top but slightly underwhelming finale. Forget the atrocious sound quality and parade of less than stellar b-list British talent most of which anyone outside the UK would be hard pressed to recognize, The Kaiser Chiefs, Jessie J & Beady Eye, huh? But Mr. Director, perhaps you should listen to the lyrics of the songs you’re presenting in correlation to the action on stage.
An example: we had a salute to John Lennon* and his melodically beautiful “Imagine” albeit it’s painfully naïve lyrics that among other cringing clichés include “Imagine there’s no countries” and “Imagine no possessions” both which seem strangely out of place at an event celebrating the vital diversity of countless nations all vying for a large chunk of gold to hang around their neck.
Things got stranger still when in an apparent salute to the British rag trade, a parade of slightly bemused looking models strutted down a makeshift runway to the strains of David Bowie’s sardonic style anthem “Fashion” highlighted by Kate Moss voguing toward the camera as the Thin White Duke sang, “We are the goon squad” priceless!
*All artists including myself have said and done things we later wish we could erase. I loved John Lennon deeply but on occasion he had the tendency to say and sing things that could arguably be interpreted as naïve. Were he still with us he might most certainly stand by these sentiments and that would be his prerogative entirely.
LEVON HELM 1940-2012
The first time I heard Levon Helm’s voice was in a small record shop on Berwick Street in Soho London sometime around 1969. What was it like? Paul on the road to Damascus!
Oh, I guess I just want to say all these things about the earth and granite of his being, the raw Appalachian timber of his voice and the powerful sway of his backbeat. The throb of his tom-toms the first time I heard “Tears Of Rage” and that wicked, knowing smile recounting tales of Carney barkers and backwater medicine shows. I’m thinking about him behind that economical kit, the way he hunched his shoulders and turned into the mike like a coiled spring when he sang.
He was one of three great singers in The Band, three of the greatest singers in any band, and the last of those three to leave us. What other band under God’s great Heaven gave us a trio of such eloquent and awesome sonic tools? Richard Manuel had an otherworldly voice, ethereal and legitimately spooky in the best way possible. Rick Danko, with whom I spent some questionably manic moments and cerebral hours and whom I loved dearly, sang like an unfettered young buck, all tremulous beauty and with poignant longing. Anyone doubting this just listen to his vocal on “It Makes No Difference” from the “The Last Waltz” soundtrack, one of the best live vocal performances I’ve ever heard.
Then there was Levon: a voice that seemed as it was birthed from the land from which he sprung. Rich as Arkansas soil and raw as a plug of tobacco, gnarly as knotted pine and so expressive it seemed like he was chewing on the words before they left his mouth. Now he’s gone and our anemic musical horizon has one less icon to cling to and one more legacy to embrace.
He participated in some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard and because of him and the boys in The Band, my soul is clearer of musical debris and tuned into the lyrical soul of the American heartland and the soul of Appalachia.
If I’m any good at what I do, it’s because he inspired me to be better.
Sleep with angels, Levon. Say hi to the boys, and see you in church.
SKY HIGH AND CHANGING TIDES
Cruising in my truck recently my ears fell on the thin monotone of Mitt Romney being interviewed on a generic news show. This apples and oranges exchange made me think as so much does these days how the application of passion is becoming irrelevant as we become increasingly dependent on information that is received from the ether rather than touched by the human hand.
Don’t misunderstand me I actually have nothing against Mitt Romney in fact I’m sure he’s most likely a very decent man whose views you either do or don’t agree with - that’s not the point. It’s just that I’d be hard pressed to come up with a recent politician or President (left, right or in the middle) that makes my patriotic heart pound or, simply put, believe in anything they have to say. Let’s face it not one of them is convincing, can give a straight answer to a direct question or deliver a speech without reeking of insincerity. Even Barack Obama with his nuanced gift for oration can’t convince me that anything he says isn’t written by P.T. Barnum. All the clipped syllables and rounded vowels aren’t going to convince me of his conviction leastwise not until he the other assorted automatons puts believability into the mix and taps the passion card for real. I remember when they had Gore Vidal writing speeches; now it sounds like they’ve got Ron Popeil.
Mind you I’m not expecting “Four score and seven years ago.” I mean that was from a time when Presidents could actually speak for themselves and compose literary bending epics on the backs of napkins. Check out the speeches of Thomas Jefferson, James Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt and bare witness to passion with a capitol P. Even JFK with a little help managed “Ask not what your country can do for you” and even Ronald Regan limped in with an admirable “Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev” but today everything comes out the back room hammered out willy-nilly on ipads by a bunch of faceless drones. In the modern age if passionate presentation and spellbinding speech writing was a ticket to the White House Martin Luther King should have made it to the Oval Office before the current occupant
This really didn’t all start from listening to Mitt Romney piling on rhetoric like it was a Canter’s corned beef sandwich, no the switch has been flipped for awhile. Can you figure it out? Just when did everybody get so angry, uncooperative and mean? Goodness knows the sturm and drang drags on regardless; it’s always been there in one form or another effecting individuals collectively or singularly since our forefathers put quill to parchment. When did we cross the line into just plain downright nastiness? Maybe when we all decided to move faster than we need to, depend on technology for human action and eradicate the familiarity of inanimate objects from or lives. We flail at the air, everything is “UP THERE” we live in a world called Cyberspace where everything is summoned from the clouds by a click and stored in a cold receptacle that is not remotely similar to our hearts.
Of course it’s not just politics but it’s a start. When both sides of the house stop behaving like a bunch of 3rd graders and decide that there’s something to be said for cooperative banter and common decency there might be some light to behold. In this current atmosphere if Newt Gingrich discovered a cure for cancer the Democrats would say it was a bad idea and if Hillary Clinton negotiated world peace the Republicans would say that it was just asking for trouble. What none of them seems to grasp is that we are all living in the same country, a country that has come together to fight wars and expel oppressors. The American people stood shoulder to shoulder united through the Depression and have dragged themselves up through the mire of adversity at every turn. Even in the darkest time of Southern and Northern animosity the two half’s that should have been a whole were fed by passionate figureheads devoted to their causes as misguided as part of the equation might have been. The point is they had leaders with a fire in their belly and an oratorical zeal that makes Joe Biden, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul sound like Moe, Larry and Curly!
Sometimes you have to do things that marginalize your principles in order to maximize them. If you were asked to double date with Michael Bolton and Nicolette Sheridan (ghastly as the thought may be) wouldn’t you accept if it meant you could understand the futility of bad music and appalling acting? OK maybe I slipped that in to make an erroneous point, but the fact is a unified front always prevails.
We have radio talk show hosts uttering the most diabolically stupid things, the ethics of the press are in the gutter and the nightly local news exhibits tissue thin virtue, condescending compassion and presenters in more make-up than Little Richard. I want desperately to care but when those with their hands on the driving wheel seem to be aimlessly unaware of their direction and visually apathetic it’s easy to lose interest and depend on your own initiative which isn’t altogether a bad thing unless you start subscribing to the belief that a Bruce Springsteen album will set you free.
What’s that NRA bumper sticker about guns? “You can have it when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” Well that’s pretty much how I feel about books another passion that advanced technology has decided can be served better by scrolling them up infinitum on a rectangular slab. (See blog 8. 19. 09. A Personal View for more on this.) I just re read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” come on! It should be illegal to read that any other way than a dog-eared old paperback or musty hard cover hand-me-down. How on earth do you embrace the Mississippi, smell the magnolia and relive glorious memories of your childhood through the artificial glow of a Kindle? I used to adore the 1959 “Twilight Zone” episode with Burgess Meredith as an avid bookworm and lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world who surrounded by mountains of books looks forward to living out his days reading in peace. As he settles in his glasses slip from his face and are crushed underfoot. This scenario sadly has disturbing parallels with current trends that prove to me the importance of hoarding and Lasik surgery.
So there we go - all my passions are now available to me via the Internet without a one of them ever having to pass through my hands. Just double click and I can download Charles Dickens, Nina Simone and Sam Peckinpah in a flash. Literature, music and movies all without the botheration of dust jackets, album covers or picturesque poster art. Nothing to touch, nothing to feel, nothing to clutter up my coffee table and sully my precious digits. Who needs the warmth and comfort of precious items? Collectables to cherish be damned, outmoded relics of the past every one of them. Oh and that crisp newspaper, the one with the familiar hint of printers ink, the one you snapped open so gingerly over the breakfast table, going, going, gone. No more mess, no more endless folding and unfolding no sir just scroll on up to cloud 9 and prop your pad up alongside your Wheaties.
Oh and here’s one I just thought of! In these uber days of 3-D, Blu-ray and digital why is that “Singing In The Rain” still looks better than “Avatar”? Er now let me think, oh yea BECAUSE IT WAS SHOT ON FILM!
There’ an old Graham Parker album track from the 70’s called “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” soon it will all be less than an ordinary word in fact it may not even be a word at all.
*These are just scattergun observations off the top of my head not deeply researched subject matter intended for a college thesis or Newsweek please read responsibly.
QUICK THANK YOU NOTE
As much as I would love to stay here and get into some things, I’m afraid my schedule presently makes it impossible to chow down and mince it up. The term “burning the candle at both ends” comes to mind as the business as usual that was mentioned in the news section continues to eat up the majority of my spare time.
The main reason I’m posting this is to wish all of you that come visit a happy and prosperous 2012 and to sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for the tremendous amount of email that you’ve been sending my way. Please understand that (even though several still preface their communications with “You’ll probably never read this”) I do indeed read everything that is sent unless it is of an overtly solicitous nature.
Also it’s simply impossible for me to answer all requests as I’ve previously explained, for varying reasons. Such a thing would be overwhelming not to mention time consuming. Just know it is all appreciated, including the chiding I’ve received lately for some of my ruminations. To those folks let me say that much of what I ponder on in these observations is for the most part tongue in cheek and merely batted about in order to stimulate. Having said that, like ‘em or not at least the Tea Party clean up after themselves. You won’t find a candy wrapper after those Crackers leave a rally.
See! I can’t help myself. If time allows in the next few weeks I’ll get back in the ring with you and rustle up a topic or two that might be getting in my craw or blowing my skirt up. But for now duty calls so I’ll leave you with one quick thought.
Do you ever hear a line in a movie and think "Wow! That’s really profound" only to think about it later and realize it isn’t remotely so? Try this on for size.
"There are two moments that matter in a man’s life: one when he leaves home and one when he returns."
I thought it was pretty enigmatic in a poetic sort of way until I revisited it and thought not much of a life if those are the only two things in it that matter.
RUMINATING ON A RAINY FRIDAY
I’m seriously considering joining the “Occupy” movement. This week alone I’ve recruited at least myself and my mother-in-law to “Occupy The Local Market” in order to complain about the overall inadequacy of the produce department. In fact if all goes well we may branch out and “Occupy The Deli” which come to think of it is sadly uninspired.
James Garfield didn’t wear shoes until he was 4 years old and he became President of the United States. Nowadays the President suggests that anyone over a certain income level give their shoes away.
I pose a question. How many of the people who are screaming, “Share The Wealth” do you think would be prepared to share their wealth if they were wealthy?
And one might add that the vast majority of America’s wealthiest are self-made, coming up from nothing and achieving everything through a combination of perseverance, street smarts and blood sweat and tears.
Another question. In the tent cities of the “Occupy Movement” what percentage of the inhabitants do you think actually know why they’re there?
In several “Occupy” encampments the environmentally and socially concerned inhabitants are doing their part by spraying public buildings with graffiti, harassing innocent shopkeepers and throwing rocks at the police, all very noble indeed.
The “Occupy Movement” is a rudderless ship. At least they have one thing in common with the government.
Share the wealth, level the playing field and stifle the will to prosper. Well yea! I remember the Khmer Rouge too.
Is it just me or does anyone else remember when “application” meant gluing stuff?
The best bumper sticker I ever saw said “I BRAKE FOR BRIAN WILSON.”
There’s a sitcom on television now called “Mike & Molly” about an overweight couple which appears to be designed to make over weight people feel warm and fuzzy about obesity.
Simon Cowell not content with spreading the slick oily skid mark that is “American Idol” has now infected the airwaves with an identical show on another channel. He is indeed Satan.
On a New York Street some Neanderthal punched a 4ft 11inc woman into a coma over a parking space and you think people are going to worry about a polar bear stranded on a 6ft chunk of Arctic ice.
Is it Coldplay’s intention to be U2 when they grow up?
Like many my entertainment news comes solely from the supermarket checkout stand. Things I’ve learned this week:
* Who Kim Kardashian is.
* Demi Moore & Ashton Kutcher are getting divorced. They were married?
* Larry Hagman has only weeks to live. I thought he died 3 years ago!
* Kim Kardashian’s marriage has lasted only 72 days. After Googling her it’s hardly surprising.
While on subjects of this matter has anyone seen that commercial with Jennifer Lopez getting back to her roots in a clown car? First off anyone buying into the premise of Jennifer Lopez getting down with her homeys might also be interested in the Brooklyn Bridge. Secondly, they didn’t show the other 50 cars containing her entourage.
We live in a world where technology is continually finding new ways to enable us to do as little as possible with our initiative.
Apparently the great advantage of tweeting is to allow people to know what you had for breakfast.
I wish they could have cloned Teddy Roosevelt.
Does Donald Trump have a name for that thing on his head?
So let me get this right. You just have to look at a woman sideways these days and your political campaign is in the toilet. John F Kennedy however arguably one of the most idolized and revered Presidents in American history turned impropriety into an Olympic sport.
Perhaps Gloria Allred and the Rev. Al Sharpton should join forces and start a company called “Ambulance Chasers Inc”
Could Ben Roethlisberger be the most unattractive white man alive?
Then: Indira Gandhi, Sally Ride, Louisa May Alcott, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou and Katherine Hepburn.
Now: Snooki Polizzi, Sarah Palin, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Paris Hilton and Bratz Dolls.
Oh… it stopped raining, see ya!
NOT QUITE YOUR BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Somebody once said “I don’t understand all the fuss about Chekhov, nothing ever happens, they’re just stories about old Russian peasants watching ducks fly south to Moscow.”
I have to agree, adding that James Joyce could be tarred with the same brush. Have you honestly ever met anyone whose actually read “Ulysses” and understood it, I mean honestly? Sure he’s canonized in the pubs of Dublin and a national treasure to the Irish who regard his prose as the lyrical backbone of the nation, but some old coot in a flat cap reciting passages of “Finnegan’s Wake” to tourists doesn’t mean he has any more of a clue than I do. I can only think that Guinness creates credibility and let’s you imagine you’ve read and understood what you really haven’t.
I came to the conclusion at a relatively young age that there were certain rules you had to adhere to in order to be accepted into bohemian intelligentsia. A sort of checklist existed of poets, authors and artists that it was necessary to admire and idolize in order to be regarded as, for lack of a more profound word, cool.
In my teens I trudged through Gurdjieff, Carl Jung and other impenetrable mystics and shaman because somebody older than me (but as I soon deduced not necessarily wiser) spoke of them in hushed and reverential tones. When I read “Moby Dick” I didn’t even skip what seemed like the hundred pages or so on scrimshaw. In retrospect I have come to admire “Moby Dick” albeit the scrimshaw bits.
I also realized that depravity, or in some cases wickedly depressive mood swings, were a key ingredient to elevated status in the mindset of the oh-so-hip. Short of taking absinthe and reading “To The Lighthouse” I was indoctrinated into a cornucopia of characters that could have made up Lord Rochester’s dream team.
I suppose if I’d really been serious about subscribing to pseudo-grooviness and exhibiting my elitist credentials, I could have achieved the desired effect by standing in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel chain-smoking Gauloises and talking loudly about William Burroughs and Arthur Rimbaud. Because you see the Chelsea Hotel was and possibly still is ground zero for literary hipsters, artistic muses and existentialists. Although come to think of it, Sid Vicious lived and killed there and I’m pretty sure he didn’t read much Kierkegaard.
Patty Smith recently wrote in Vanity Fair about William Burroughs pissing into an open umbrella in a hotel lobby of the aforementioned Chelsea Hotel as if it was the coolest thing on earth. So that’s it I guess - urinating into receptacles other than those designed for it is a serious plus.
With my naivety on the run I soon came to the conclusion that not one of these people was very nice. William Burroughs, come to think of it, always looked like one of those old guys who flashed joggers in Central park much in the same way that Charles Bukowski looked like a poster child for domestic violence.
nd while we’re at it let’s put a pin in that whole romantic Rimbaud and Verlaine crap. Sure Arthur Rimbaud wrote some magnificent poetry, but hell, he was only artistically active for a couple of years. Outside of that he was a thoroughly nasty, foul-mouthed and equally foul smelling little toad. How this whole blousy romanticism surrounding him came to be embraced beats me.
I guess the notion that to live the life of a debauched and unwashed libertine adds credibility to your curriculum vitae is one that’s far more appealing than say a Graham Greene whose life was adventurous, romantic and intriguing without his having to take copious amounts of laudanum, beat up his wife or sleep with farm animals.
Look at Mark Twain, what a guy, what a career, what a nice white suit. He had wit; he had charm, he didn’t piss in umbrellas. None of those Beats back in the day said “Read Mark Twain his work is some of the most fantastically potent storytelling in American literature.” No they were too busy wasting my curiosity on Lobsang Rampa and “Catcher in the Rye” which incidentally has one of the most obnoxious principal characters ever created.
In a nutshell, I had to discover the good stuff for myself. Steinbeck, Faulkner Dickens and of course Shakespeare (who could be categorized as a bit boring in an Elizabethan 9 to 5 sort of way but come on what language, what machinations and what staying power!) Even W. Somerset Maugham, in the closet as he was, living a life of staid grumpiness managed to churn out some of the most stirring and beautifully written stories imaginable. He definitely wouldn’t have made the cut unless he’d taken his guarded homosexuality to a torturous and twisted Francis Bacon level. Jean Genet he was not.
So that’s it. I guess I was never going to earn my beret and black turtleneck. Had the musical hue of the hipster palette been afforded me way back then, I might have entered via a different route. Had I been enlightened to that area back when my world was younger and I was a sponge, I could have been easily seduced and indoctrinated into it. Be-bop and jazz mainstays of reefer culture and smoky cellars was something I never had any problem with, Ornette Coleman, Mingus, Coltrane, Bill Evans and of course Miles Davis the Lord Hipster of all would have had me at hello.
Still, I’m glad I discovered them for myself and not via some shaggy despot of Cooldom. Besides, I hate berets.
THE ELOCUTION LESSON
I imagine there’s some repetition to things that get under my skin and one that rears its ugly head on a fairly regular basis is ignorance, ignorance and the disintegration of literacy, etiquette and simple good manners.
Literacy is failing by token of the Internet, no secret there. No one writes letters anymore everyone emails and texts in cryptic abbreviation and at times indecipherable language invented by alien-like teens who’ve read a shit load of manuals but have apparently never seen a dictionary.
What made me scramble back in the ring on this? In a recent LA Times article the singer Rihanna had taken to Twitter to defend her latest video after several parental organizations and watchdog groups had complained as to the nature of its content.
OK, first I don’t know Rihanna from Shinola and secondly it’s not the nature of her video or any of the ensuing fallout that concerns me. Although having said that on further investigation a video that allegedly shows the singer blowing away some guy and leaving him in a pool of blood seems a little excessive. I’m not sure something similar featuring Diddy "cappin’ a ho” would make Bill Cosby’s day.
No, it was Rihanna’s twitter that had me scratching my head. Now I understand this is a young woman who wishes to adopt an “edge” and would rather stick needles in her eyes than be a role model but does part of that image include writing like a 5 year old? I’m told that according to a recent cover story in “Rolling Stone” Rihanna’s into bondage. Well thanks for sharing dear but you should keep that little rubber ball in your mouth until you’ve learned to articulate. I mean is life that short that we can’t take the time to spell correctly? What is “wuz” and “cuz” and “What’s up with that?” It’s like rappers who adopt silly names and then can’t even spell them properly, if you must call yourself 50 Cent say Fifty not Fiddy!
These guys aren’t doing the inner city any favors here folks. Apparently Ludacris wanting to set a good example to his kids not only spelt his moniker incorrectly he also forgot to see the irony in his choice of a name, while Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am confused the issue even more with some pretentious period rearrangement that left him sounding like a character from Dr Seuss.
You know it’s not like Rihanna should be taking the brunt of this, it’s just that, well, that’s what caught my eye and set me off down this path. I can just imagine the grammatical minefield that must be the day-to-day tweeting (or is that twittering) of those that feel it necessary to share their breakfast and bowel movements with the entire world. In essence if you think about it the whole process should in fact encourage people to think before their digits do them a disservice. After all isn’t there some sort of spell check on these things that corrects inaccurate language or is our machinery so corrupted now that when you type in “was” it corrects it to “wuz”? When texting started, I get that people truncated their messages in an effort to save some shekel but that simply goes to prove that technology was always the rotten egg in the nest.
I know the world is changing and that we’re reading books on titanium slabs, we don’t send postcards anymore and that it takes 12 SUV’s to pick up Lil’ Wayne from jail but really, are we going to stand by and watch our language get flushed down the crapper.
Listen, perhaps I’m being excessive. Hey I used to get irritated when Paul McCartney consistently referred to being vegetarian as “Go veggie”. Go veggie! What are you an infant? Veggie is what toddlers in high chairs say. You’re over 60 for crying out loud say vegetarian.
See what I mean?
In part the argument is made that it’s a cultural thing when it comes to what I guess is termed as ghetto speak. Well sorry I “ain’t down with that.” Quite honestly that’s a crock; Paul Robeson had one of the most glorious speaking voices I’ve ever heard because he decided that the beauty of language was a powerful weapon with which to confuse racist mentality and whip bigotry.
Speaking of wondrous voices, did Martin Luther King have to revert to street slang to get his message across? He didn’t “ease on up to that there mountain”. He testified like a black messiah with Shakespearian eloquence in language that brimmed with intelligence and embraced oratory fire
Barack Obama never succumbed to token condescension in order to pander but simply spoke a color blind dialect that won him the Presidency while in the prior administration Condoleeza Rice conversed with and charmed world leaders with nary a “yo” or “was sup.”
The cryptic English that was birthed in the holds of white slave ships and grew into the stereotypical dialects of Southern cotton fields was sadly unavoidable and for the most part the victim of diabolical repression. So has that fight for freedom and equality that caused misery and suffering on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antitum to the streets of Selma been fought for the right to dumb it all down again? The voice that was found is now indecipherable, misogynistic and bastardized by large men in oversized tracksuits and women in well, nothing much at all.
Louis Armstrong changed 20th century music without a posse. James Earl Jones played Othello. James Baldwin never wrote a poem entitled “Smack my Bitch Up” and Maya Angelou doesn’t say wuz and cuz.
Say it loud and say it proud just say it right!
AND THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME (PART 2)
Sorry… time’s a little tight these days but I feel the need to wrap up what I started in my last blog. By the way I really dislike that word – blog - what does that mean exactly? Is it an abbreviation of something or just another Net geek bastardization?
Anyway, like I said, I’m pulling myself away from the studio for a couple of hours so I can hammer out a continuation of grumbling about the unnecessary while simultaneously genuflecting out of gratification at the change in the incoming weather. By this I mean that it would appear the posting of our rules and regulations proclamation has proved not only informational but has attracted some inspirational and wonderfully thoughtful email.
Some of the things that I was going to grind out regarding do’s and don'ts might seem redundant now as we appear to have quelled the tide of requests that are impossible for me to handle. So at the risk of coming across like white noise let’s just assume like George W. that it’s “Mission accomplished” only in my case the irony of that statement has yet to bite me in the ass.
Most of the folks who listen to and seem to enjoy our little homemade show “American Roots Radio” visit our Facebook page to post their praise and send us kudos for a job well done. These notes of goodwill mean more to us than you can imagine and I’m aware that Paca makes a point of responding diligently. Knowing that the hard work and hours that we put into the production of every episode is appreciated and enjoyed is a reward that Paca and I do not take lightly. However some of the praise and complimentary words find their way directly here at home base and there are a couple whose words have been both touching and delightful and whose efforts should be acknowledged.
Mike C. of South Bend, Indiana. Flattered by your gracious note and kind words. Dr. Bob, whose Aunt Ola Belle Reed was featured on our very first show and wrote most eloquently about life in her presence, delightful. My only question -Dr. Bob is what took you so long? And let’s see…oh yea Buck, who said nice things about our playlists, thanks Buck.
Among the dozens of emails I’ve received over the last several months, and yes I must stress once again I do see them all providing they do not contain data that I’m legally bound not to accept, there are many I’m obliged to tip my hat to.
Steve P. Thanks for your acceptance of my naturalized status; I too bleed red, white and blue. Regarding your affiliations “across the board” I think if you read my blogs you will deduce that my butt is planted pretty firmly on the fence. Oh and sadly, no, I never met Marty Robbins although like yourself his image is indelibly stamped in my mind black on red, cat-like crouched and ready to slap leather. To Eric B. out in Fort Worth, Texas. Eric, I rode that Will Rogers Arena dirt and drove my truck back and forth down I-10 for years so, sir, I know your town. You’re right “The Searchers” wasn’t in my list and deserves a lot better than the short shot I gave the Duke. He just rubbed me up the wrong way so I guess I dissed undeservedly although I don’t believe I ragged on the movie - just him. As for defending our faith, no sweat, without faith in something we’re nothing.
FYI Eric “Josey Wales” was on my list.
In no particular order:
Mary D. Thanks for the appreciation of good grammar and keeping Dee’s flame alive; he was a good man and a hell of a bass player.
Sarit in Israel, mazel tov. Aussie Damian M., only 19 and knows who I am!
Laurie M. on the bayou, politics never, I’d need to adopt a scandal first.
Jason the music teacher. Thanks and I believe you can find “The Devil at High Noon” in the online store.
Keith in Florida and Garance in NY. Garance you’ve got some imagination and a lot of spare time apparently!
Heidi W. The little Jack Russell was my soul mate Roundup who passed away at only 6 years, I still miss her. A Lestat blog one day perhaps and for info on any of my art work including “ABC” see the art contact email on the contact page.
South African Barry, Lance B., Justin C. and Angela B.
Cindy O., always happy to acknowledge a restaurant owner.
John P. John, the reason you didn’t see much of me in Cameron’s documentary was because I requested to be excluded, I just don’t do that stuff. Love Cameron though.
Billy there are no lyrics at the end of “Curtains”
James C. “Mandalay Again” was a majority decision however my votes with you.
Susie R. Thanks for taking the time it wasn’t wasted; I read every word.
Paul O. in Russia. Sorry you don’t get the radio show my friend, if I had my way it would be streamed across the universe.
Louis W. See, I did read it, don’t doubt so. Aliza who’s 13 (younger than Aussie Damian) your note was absolutely wonderful. Fight for your right Aliza, not every day I get the edge out Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.
Rob H. Rob I don’t horde my own work in fact I rarely listen to it once we’ve recorded and released it, the 8 tracks are nice though!
John N. knows a good place when he sees one and Kim O. if you pass through again thanks from the shadows.
And finally Dean T., the reason you can’t find that song is because it’s called “Citizen Jane” not “Citizen Kane” and it’s on the “Tribe” album.
Also I’ll forgive the guys from Germany and India who wrote in requesting autographs, as it would appear that on closer scrutiny you can’t read English.
That’s as many as I can get to right now folks, besides I’m getting slightly light headed which is either the altitude of my chair or the threat of an NFL strike.
Glad I managed to fulfill this quest and seal the deal on this whole email thing. For now I’m going to get back to brush and canvas as I’ve a lot of work to do before the autumn exhibitions get rolling through Vegas, Texas and Florida. Details on these shows will be forthcoming on my agency link or my own news section, so keep your eyes peeled.
Besides that I’m working on ARR playlists, making notes and conferring with my amigo Paca on what’s shaking with shows in the pipeline. Yes and I’m also preparing for potential recording in the New Year with you know who. We’ve got something brewing and I’m deep in thought as to how to approach it. We know what we’re doing we’re just not sure how we’re doing it and for the time being I’m it.
One for the road before I press send. I’ve been contacted recently by a gentleman who represents a writer who has just published a book entitled “The Invention of Dusty Springfield – Scenes from a BritPop Icon.” The author’s name is P. Hyett Butler and if I’m correct the book is constructed as a present day narrative that mirrors Dusty’s past in a biographical sense. I may be wrong in my description and if so, I apologize. Sounds interesting though, and as a Dusty fan I suggest you check it out, hopefully I’m not mistaken in critiquing what I haven’t yet seen.
For the record I once spent 45 minutes in a limo on the way to the Hollywood Bowl while Dusty emptied an entire 32-ounce can of hair spray into her infamous trademark. Had I inhaled, it might have been the best “Spinal Tap” death ever.
AND THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME (PART 1)
As I have a moment here I’d just like to express once again my delight at the incoming volume of complimentary emails. At the same time however, it’s apparent that many of those dialing in haven’t taken the time to check out my most recent blog laying out some basic ground rules.
While it is totally the prerogative of the individual concerned to send whatever type of communication they care to, it is also mine to let you know that there are certain requests that I am unable to acquiesce to.
First and foremost, please do not send me unsolicited material. By this I mean self-penned songs or lyrics to garner opinion. Try to understand that although you might think me to be some lyrical guru, the fact is I haven’t the faintest idea how to respond to these kinds of things.
Bear in mind that taste is overwhelmingly diverse and what you might imagine as appealing to one person might just as easily have no affect on another, which is why it’s essential that you follow your own way of thinking and not be the pawn of someone else’s imagination.
If you want to write songs, go for it. If you are simply someone who likes to noodle away at the occasional lyric fine, but if you’re serious, find a musical partner, hook up and get busy - don’t look for benediction from the likes of me. Ultimately it’s not going to mean diddly what I think, it’s what you think that matters.
Popular music has been robbed of originality and reduced to a wasteland by shows like “American Idol” a program that encourages impressionable kids to inhabit the personas of established stars and regurgitate catalogue material, in a word imitators.
I’m not in that business. I don’t aspire to be some self-adulating judge on the panel of a bad TV show doling out patronizing kudos with condescending insincerity.
It’s no secret that I don’t care for pop music very much (or what currently passes itself of as such) so I’m really not the go to guy for an opinion. If it is indeed that kind of songwriting you are currently pursuing I’m most definitely the wrong place to look for a pat on the head. Like I said, think for yourself, enjoy it and if you’re truly dedicated, form alliances that concur with your dreams. Be original, be yourself, just don’t sell your soul to the middle of the road. I’ve spent time there and it’s a joyless place to inhabit.
Luckily there are countless hundreds of kids out there who have picked up the tools of our musical heritage and forged a new grass roots movement. They’ve taken tradition and put a new spin on it, weaving roots rock and mountain soul into a refreshing blend that washes away the bad taste of insipid pop.
I’m happy about this, it gives me hope. Just the fact that music that isn’t formulaic is breaking through and being heard is a blessing. This is what you guys out there who are looking to catch a break should aspire to and take solace in. Perhaps a revival is imminent, a spirit of the sixties kind of deal where all genres of music can co-exist on the same playing field. Thank the Lord for satellite radio, now if only the commercial airwaves could put on their big boy pants.
Oh and as for you older dudes just dabbling in the occasional lyric to celebrate a wedding or birth, keep it simple and keep it to yourself, it’s better that way.
I’ll be back
ADDRESSING THE EMAIL ISSUE
I wanted to grab a few minutes here and explain the whole email deal. Recently my “American Roots Radio” co-anchor Paca set up an address on the contact page of this web site that is filtered through him and passed on to me. Obviously as you can understand to post my own personal email address would have been irrational so it was decided to set something up separately that catered exclusively to those visiting my Internet pad.
I guess a lot of you guys come by for a visit considering the amount of mail we’ve been receiving which is why I feel the need to straighten out a few ground rules, address a couple of questions and just say thanks for the compliments and kind words.
Please believe me as someone who’s been around a spell you might think that the compliment thing has gotten old? No way. I will always be eternally grateful that my work has touched lives, inspired and healed people in dark times. So to each of you that has written in and simply reached out to say thanks, thank you back - I’m hearing every one of you.
Since it’s impossible for me to respond to the many requests for me to do so, I thought I’d try and address some of the issues and questions that surface more frequently than others.
First off the bat is a touchy subject, but one that I feel should be gotten out of the way and dealt with immediately. This contact was not set up as a means to request autographs or get memorabilia signed. This is not an office and I don’t have a staff. I like my isolation too much to have hired hands running around doing my bidding. My web site is an office of one, a personal spot where I’m happy to share with you my thoughts, my art gallery, current projects and, of course, my beloved radio show. I guess in essence what I’m saying is this is not a fan club run by a mass marketing business with a mail room and a bunch of old ladies forging signatures on 8x10’s.
If you notice the merchandise section of this web site is a separate entity entirely plus I will admit I get pretty prickly when my home space is invaded. When and if I’m out and about I’m fair game but my home is sacrosanct, no trespassing.
OK, next are a few things that we can also get out of the way as I have addressed these topics on my blog. Farm Dogs? Just covered that one on my last posting. A couple of folks have asked about the “Tribe” album. Check out my blog of 12. 15. 09. (Frankincense & Blues) I believe there’s a paragraph or two on it in there. Oh, and to folks from my past who have reconnected with me through this medium, hi good to hear from you, don’t recall every name mentioned but to them and you, thanks for the memories. Lastly, under the heading of “already covered” is the question of interview requests and media related inquiries. In respect to this I’d point you in the direction of my introductory blog of 05. 04. 09. I think that explains my position on this matter.
So onto some other reoccurring questions. Many cries for help in the “Any tips on how to become a songwriter, how do I improve my game and how do I break into different fields of the entertainment industry” department? Dear boys and girls, if I knew the answer to that one I’d be floating around on my 150-foot yacht off the Amalfi coast drinking Crystal Rose and checking out my villa through a pair of Leica’s.
The music industry has become so impersonal and corporate in the last decade that breaking in through those doors is all but impossible. The monolithic headquarters of modern day record companies don’t want their sanitized offices and corridors clogged up and contaminated with shaggy, raggedy guitar slingers hawking their demos. Real A&R men are a thing of the past and the most creative and conventional way of getting noticed nowadays is through the Internet. Believe me the modern A&R man is more than likely trolling youtube for the next Nirvana rather than circumventing the globe with perseverance and integrity. Hit the road and play as much as you can. Record in your living room, press your own CD’s and sell ‘em out of the trunk of your car. If you’re the real thing, and I mean the real thing, someone will find you - believe me.
Songwriters? No real tips here I’m afraid. There are those that might disagree but you may teach yourself or be taught to write songs, but a genuine gift for it is inherent or inherited, a natural trait that you’ve just got or you ain’t. Again if there’s something there, a real sense of melody, original ideas, passionate storytelling and personal commitment then pound the streets in the places that matter, a great song will eventually find a receptive ear. Just remember Kris Kristofferson was a janitor in Nashville until he rented a helicopter and landed in Johnny Cash’s backyard with a sackfull of tunes and a lot of balls.
No I’m not going to do a sequel to “A Cradle of Haloes”. My memory of my childhood is much better than that of my 20’s and beyond plus between you me and the lamppost I’ve no desire to regurgitate that part of my past as it’s been done to death by people far more interested in it than me. There are many out there in Internet land that seem obsessed with details of our early years, people who knew us and those that didn’t. Each one seems to have their own version of how things happened, endless blogs of detail that chronicle very little other than inaccuracy and a chance to elevate their status to knowledgeable insider or cog- in-wheel.
Someone sweetly said that they thought I was one of the most underrated songwriters of the modern rock era! Thanks, but I’m pretty happy with our ranking on most of the blogs and lists out there these days. I am not complaining. In fact, I’m quite grateful. Last time I checked the books, in terms of longevity and success, Elton and I are on the same page as Lennon & McCartney, Bacharach & David and Holland, Dozier & Holland (check out news item of 06. 03. 10.) If that’s underrated, Vanilla Ice was the Eminem of the 80’s.
Explaining the meaning behind certain songs. Someone once came to the conclusion that “Madman Across the Water” was about Richard Nixon. Fabulous! How do you top that? Which is exactly why I prefer not to. Other people’s theories are much more interesting and exactly the reason why it should be left to individuals to use their imagination and make something cryptic their own. I love that. Who cares what I was thinking? Having folks create their own scenarios for a song’s meaning is immensely gratifying, it’s half the reason I like this gig.
I’ll be honest…with my shoddy memory a lot of those old songs are a fog when it comes to recalling their genesis. I could tell you one story today and a different one tomorrow and either one could be true. No, if you’ve got a theory about “Levon” or “Take Me to the Pilot” that’s what it is and that’s how it should be. Once it’s out there it’s open season and I’m good with that. Still it’s not like everything I’ve written is a riddle or some kind of weird parable. I have written you’ll agree much that is pretty straightforward so you’ll understand that I’m somewhat perplexed when I’m asked what “Sacrifice” is about and what’s the story behind “Funeral for a Friend”? Just checked the lyric on the former and it’s pretty obviously about infidelity and the latter? Well the last time I checked it was an instrumental!
Oh and yea, yea I know I did those voice over deals on the lyric page, so before you go saying I’m contradicting myself, just remember I might have made them up.
Lestat? That has to be a separate blog it’s way too complex. Although one thing I will throw out to the guy who loved the San Francisco production, hated it in New York and then proceeded to rag on Rob Roth. Tit-bit of info, San Francisco was Rob’s vision and New York’s was in fact Jonny Butterell’s. Yea I’ll get back to you on this one.
Sorry don’t know if there are any plans for a remastered “Blue Moves” and no the “Friends” soundtrack is sadly not available on CD. Out of my hands folks.
I’ve had several people sending notes and requests for me to forward things on to some guy called Elton. Please, guys, EJ has his own web site where I’m sure there is some place to post email. Let’s be reasonable - I’m not his P.O. box and besides, he doesn’t do email. In fact the last time I checked he doesn’t have a computer or own a cell phone.
All this being said I would very much like to say once again I’m flattered by all your good wishes and warm words. I’d hang around and pound the keys a little longer but I gotta go. I’ll try if time is on my side to get back to you all via this kind of deal so feel free to bitch and moan or make nice. You seem like a pretty straight ahead bunch but then again there was the chick who claimed that repeated viewings of “Gnomeo & Juliet” kept her love for Joaquin Phoenix alive!
PAYING TRIBUTE AND TALK OF DOGS
Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins and Ralph Mooney passed away recently and with them another fragment of our musical heritage crumbles. Perkins, one of the last of the original Mississippi delta bluesmen (Ralph “Honeyboy” Edwards remains the last soul survivor) was arguably the greatest boogie-woogie blues pianist of this or any generation. Mooney likewise was the preeminent steel guitarist of the past fifty years and a legend to those who value pure country music.
In today’s fast paced white bread disposable consumer society, the passing of a 97-year-old black piano player and an 82-year old white Okie country boy from a bygone age is going to garner little ink outside of the hipper music press and credible daily newspapers. Even in many of these periodicals their names seem only relevant as a statistic and before you know it they’re old news and we’re back to Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. Sadly, we value these architects of our musical heritage with such condescending triviality and grant them but a speck in the sandstorm we afford the muck that clogs up our media cesspool.
I’m not going to elaborate on the careers of these two extraordinary American icons; needless to say they had dual lifetimes of magnificent collaborations and monumental musical creativity. They forged indelible history and invented genre styles that today we take for granted as something that is simply there and not to be questioned as to its inception. Hopefully I won’t be alone in attempting to keep their music alive, stay tuned to “American Roots Radio” and know there are others out there that cherish what they created and will do their part in preserving their legacy. If there’s a juke joint and honky-tonk in Heaven the Lord knows he just bagged himself a couple of crowd pleasers.
I’m often asked these days as to the status of Farm Dogs and if there might at all be any possibility of their resurrection in the future. The answer would be no, Farm Dogs was a precious moment in my life that produced some fine music and provided the participants with some fun times. We were a gang as much as we were a band and of an age were it seemed appropriate to kick up some dust and assume the position that to be entirely politically incorrect was still feasible. Our motto if you recall was “Growing Old Disgracefully” and our logo was a martini glass with a dog bone in it. That image that we created for ourselves was an important component of the music and was in itself an absolute reality; we complied with our byline and lived it to the hilt simply for the love of our music and the pleasure of each other’s company.
There are those that perceived Farm Dogs as a wealthy musicians plaything and his sideshow away from the Big Top. Nothing however could be further from the truth. We recorded home style in Spartan conditions; we traveled coach, slept cheap and didn’t make a dime. We played street festivals, church basements, in the back rooms of restaurants and every dingy cramped rock club imaginable. There were nights there were less people in the audience than there were on stage but damn we had fun, but I’ve done it and I’d never do it again. We were good, we wrote some cool tunes and we loved to play. It didn’t matter to us if there were a handful or a hundred out front.
Also, as in all things, there was one smaller equation that prevented this band from perhaps ever going further than it did and sealed the chance of it ever happening again. Groups for the most part are built on a code of democracy or in our situation I had always proposed it be so. A noble gesture I guess, considering I had formed the group and that it’s notoriety stemmed for the most part from my association with it. Basically what press and media coverage we received was always guaranteed providing I was there. Being democratic for a while is one thing but as I’m sure you will have noticed in the grand tradition of rock bands eventually the cream rises to the top. That’s not to say I saw myself as superior it’s just that in reality I was the creative driving force, the inception of all things started with me and for a time I allowed everyone else concerned to be an equal part of the whole.
However a few isolated incidents regarding artistic decision-making made me realize that in reality I am an army of one, besides I was rapidly tiring of selling myself to rural rock journalists and second-rate morning shows for nothing to show for it.
The guys in Farm Dogs were some of the most gifted musicians I have ever worked with. Their contributions cannot be trivialized and the experience we shared was magic. They encouraged and taught me that I could be a front man; something that in my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d add to my résumé, but in the end economics and reality told me it was time to move on.
I’m not by nature nostalgic when it comes to my career; I’m always looking ahead and find reminiscences of the good old days uncomfortable. Yes they were the good old days and let them remain so, trying to revisit or recreate them is inevitably a disaster and quiet honestly a good sign that what you’re doing presently isn’t shaking your tree.
The two Farm Dogs albums are capsules of a wonderful time in my life and the guys I made them with will always have my respect. Bands are a strange animal, a beast that I didn’t want ours to become. Aerosmith is Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and who? Bon Jovi is Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and some other guys. Even if we’d got to that plateau I wouldn’t have wanted that, but by the same token in reality I guess I did which is why it’s best we didn’t continue and don’t again.
Normally I let these things slide, I give myself a couple of days and more often than not the flames dissipate and I let it go. But for some reason I’m still irked and interestingly enough it happens to be more of the same that’s doing the irking.
In a recent article in “Rolling Stone” there was a particularly kiss ass piece on Bill Maher, not sure what he contributed to be treated with such sycophantic respect but I was bewildered not only by it’s irresponsible tone but also it’s factual hiccups.
The one line that truly amazed me was one that had it been written by some asinine Twinkie tweaked blogger shacked up in his Mom’s basement I’d have expected it, but from a relevant journalist working for a highly respected albeit politically skewed publication I was dumfounded and I quote:
“Bill Maher still hates religion and loves drugs” Wow! That’s profound. Now I’m not going to enter into any banter on the religious thing here as far as Bill Maher’s concerned, for that you can check out my blog of 02.23.2010 there’s more than enough of it there. What appalls me is the correlation of the two being comparable. The way I see it, what this is saying is I’m way cooler smacked up and whacked out of my gourd than going to church. That’s pretty irresponsible if you ask me. Personally I don’t give a dam what your religious bent is but let’s be reasonable drugs are for losers; faith no matter how you juggle it is a better alternative.
Oh and as a footnote the aforementioned article also incorrectly lauded Maher’s Documentary saying that “Religulous” was well reviewed and received. Really, where? To the best of my recollection it was pretty much panned universally for simply focusing on the crackpot fringe element of religion and taking cheap shots. In general a movie that even atheists were embarrassed by.
Apparently Bill Maher likes to hang out at the Playboy Mansion. For a highly intelligent man which there is no doubt he certainly is this seems an odd forum in which to experience the world. Then again if he is indeed high on drugs he’s most likely under the assumption that maybe God is real and he’s already in Hell.
YEAR OUT AND INTO THE UNKNOWN
Have you heard "Prozak for Lovers?" If not it's an album of bona fide rock classics reduced to excruciating muzak. Tracks like "London Calling" (Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Proud Mary" done ultra lounge. Beyond soft rock this is an elevator soundtrack made with obvious humorous intent yet with dark overtones of what can happen when good things get into the wrong hands. In other words it’s a little bit how I feel about last year.
Don’t worry I’m not about to squander my blog on the political landscape other than to perhaps draw attention to the distinctly uncivil war raging across our great nation. People it would appear don’t like each other very much, do they?
I suppose one could call attention to the radical 60s when young and old drew battle lines and hurled barbs across the generational divide as being similarly unpleasant. However, that was all a bit rock n’ roll and, in retrospect, while the young meant well and the old just grumbled about hair, the general consensus was outside of a nasty war in South East Asia (which is not to be taken lightly) the whole thing was rather fun.
Now it just seems as if the battle lines have been erased and everyone’s just rolling and tumbling around shrieking gibberish and calling each other names like a bunch of 6-year olds on a tilt-a-whirl.
We’ve got Tea Partiers who dress in silly costumes then wonder why nobody takes what they say seriously. Democrats who just buzz around like that wind up monkey that makes a lot of noise, bumps into walls and basically doesn’t do anything. Republicans who are either too busy making friends in toilets or supplying the contents of their trousers to girls called Candy, and Hollywood liberals whose overall superiority simply makes them right because, well, they’re cooler than the rest of us.
We have a president who looks like he’s not quite sure where he lives and needs Bill Clinton to show him. An Alaskan hausfrau who outside of being kind of hot in a sort of ‘shag the high school French teacher kind of way’ is as mad as a sack of hammers. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Bride of Frankenstein, who presided over the House of Representatives with a wooden gavel, a wooden head and the poise of a cartoon vulture. Glenn Beck a political pundit and closet Nazi who bathes in the sweat of George Lincoln Rockwell and talks like the Fuller Brush man. And who else? Oh yeah… Jerry Brown, he’s back with less hair but just as many of the same crack pot ideas that left us gasping for air the first time around, can you say Gray Davis?
The political divide has gone from a fordable stream to a gaping chasm. It’s vitriolic out there, boys and girls. I don’t normally get into this kind of thing at the cost of being pigeonholed but seeing that I’m not playing favorites and have pretty much annexed myself from the madness I decided to introduce a little levity into my overall opinion.
When did Michael Vick become Mike Vick? Football commentators have covertly switched to this edited version of the quarterbacks’ Christian name in order it would seem to relegate his past and with the reduction of several syllables create a warmer and fuzzier version. This obvious alliance between the networks and the NFL to go ostrich-like into the sand in favor of ratings and receipts is a Faustian pact plain and simple, a trio of devils dancing to the old Lefty Frizzell tune “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.”
It would seem that Michael Vick is the evil twin who has recently entered the Witness Protection Program while his sainted sibling is reclaiming family honor. In Michael Vick’s case Christian name is an oxymoron.
Oh, and by the way, while I’m on this topic it has often been referred to on various TV sports forums how former Colts coach and color commentator Tony Dungy had mentored and aided Vick behind bars.
What’s ironic is that Dungy’s angle was from a wholly Christian standpoint (he is a devout Christian) a fact that our overtly PC media is so gun shy to admit or broadcast for fear of admonishment by holy loathing watchdogs who do everything in their power to exorcise any celestial compassion from the airwaves. Why, oh why, does everything these days have to be sterilized to accommodate these hysterical cults? When did decency born of Christian faith have to be censored for a bunch of sanctimonious nimrods? Get a life, sad times indeed.
James Kaplan’s Sinatra bio Frank: The Voice is undoubtedly my book of the year. Like Peter Guralnick’s Elvis epics Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love it’s the definitive work, no need to look further. Hopefully like Guralnick, Kaplan will furnish us with a sequel late next year as this one wraps up with Sinatra rising from the ashes of his downward spiral with an Academy nod for From Here to Eternity.
Compulsive reading that’s addictive and absolutely engrossing it’s been a long time since a biography has transported me into the shadow of someone’s life. It’s fair, balanced and neither judgmental nor pandering dealing comprehensively with a complex man who was equal parts holy terror and genuinely compassionate while remaining 100 percent pure genius. You’ll feel you were there every step of the way, wickedly good stuff.
Other notables. Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea –a gripping account of the Union’s strategy to break the back not only of the Confederate army but the entire structure of southern society. A truly gripping narrative that brings to life a moment in history that resonates today. In many sectors of the south Sherman’s name remains anathema even now.
Linthead Stomp: the Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber. I’ve raved about this book several times on my radio show that I believe I’ve said enough.
Read it and find out where the real roots of country music came from, just fascinating.
Peter Ackroyd’s novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is a great twist on Mary Shelly’s doomed scientist while A Bright and Guilty Place by Richard Rayner set in a pre-noir 20’s L.A. weaves a compelling true story into great narrative nonfiction. Gangsters, greed, sex, murder and corruption it’s all here and it’s all true. Also Hampton Sides one of my favorite writers working today gave us the excellent Hellhound on his Trail: the Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for his Assassin Just great detective work by a master of historical reenactment.
Revisit a classic! Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast while not one of his better known works, it is certainly one of his most enjoyable and satisfying.
I don’t go to the movies anymore, haven’t for years and for several reasons. When you’ve got a perfectly good system at home why bother, plus new releases are out of the theater and on the street before you can say, “Steven Seagal is not of this world”. Believe me I can wait, besides no line, nice wine, peace and quiet and a pause button.
Lining up around the block on a Friday night to claim bragging rights for catching the premier showing of the latest James Cameron “up-my-own-butt” movie is not for this puppy. Shuffling along behind groups of sci-fi geeks discussing the correct way to pronounce kumquat in Klingon is only slightly less annoying than sitting behind anyone who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to conduct an assessment of the movie in a decibel level marginally less than the average Who concert. Those acting outside the bounds of acceptable movie viewing etiquette by foraging like heifers in jumbo tubs of popcorn while advising Jamie Lee Curtis to “Get da hell outta der bitch” are the reason I ain’t goin’ no more.
Oh and now we’ve got 3D to amp up the ooohing and ahhing factor. More effects less substance. Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theater again it’s at the expense of solid storytelling and character development, just make people wear silly glasses and throw things at them - they’ll like that better. Will the real filmmakers succumb, will every movie be reduced to an effect would “Saving Private Ryan” have been better in 3D if Omaha Beach was in your lap?
The thought of entire families walking around their homes sporting matching shades is indescribably creepy. People used to put these things on to view A-bomb testing not “Pete’s Dragon.” Truly we have become the nuclear family.
True Grit is so good I’m at a loss to add anything that hasn’t already been said in the unanimously glowing reviews it’s received. The language is glorious, the vistas beautiful, the heroes flawed and Hailee Steinfeld should be given her Oscar now. See it again and again; it just gets better.
Ben Affleck’s The Town is engrossing and exciting filmmaking. Affleck who scored big time with his directorial outing Gone, Baby Gone is fast on his way to being a major talent behind the camera. His casts are exceptional, his settings authentic and his own contributions on every level are first rate.
I’m also a huge fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy featuring the formidable Noomi Rapace as the girl with the dragon tattoo. All three of these films are foreign filmmaking at its best, a sort of Bourne trilogy without the Hollywood gloss, gritty and thrilling along with being sexy in a weird, gothic, Scandinavian sort of way.
Please American directors stop making US versions of great foreign movies. Leave them alone; they make them better than we do. Get your own ideas. Oh - and none of these are in 3D.
A couple of observations
Does anyone over the age of 30 really like going out on New Years Eve? I personally don’t ever recall embracing the occasion even when I was younger. Can’t say I remember anyone of them being particularly memorable even though according to the hedonistic “if you can remember them then they can’t have been that good anyway!”
It always seems a little bit desperate, that forced enthusiasm for something that really isn’t that special unless of course the decade’s changing or it’s the new millennium. Plus, at mass celebrations of an impersonal nature it would appear you’re expected to hug a lot of people that you wouldn’t normally give your business card to.
Oh, I like it OK. I just like it at home with friends and family. A nice glass of wine, a good meal and a hug from someone I like.
Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that in any TV or print commercial that depicts a home invasion, car theft, purse snatching or other random crime the perpetrator is always Caucasian? Isn’t that a wee bit like the reality of racially integrated street gangs in old 70’s movies when in truth the whole concept of street gangs is to be ethnically collective?
If these adds showed only African American, only Latino or only Asian criminals all hell would break loose and the wrath of Al Sharpton would rain down on us all. However in these walk-on-tippy-toe times, apparently it’s just fine to create a fairy tale world where only white people steal cars and break into houses. Thank you modern society your spleen and balls removal is complete.
Over and out my friends, have a great year and see you ‘round the bend. Return to Top
HOW THE WEST WAS DONE
My only excuse this time is that I have no excuse other than blaming the newly launched “American Roots Radio” (that’s the only time you’ll hear it mentioned here, let it not be greedy it’s got its own page) some tinkering on the final phase of “The Union” (go to “Latest News” for that one) and a recommitment to large empty canvases. So at the expense of being redundant, yes I indeed have an excuse. Still three months is a bit sad isn’t it but allow me to defend my actions by admitting to a serious dry spell in the area of rants, ruminations and general raconteuring (I know there’s no such word but it sounds like there should be.) In a nutshell the muse has been absent as much as the media has been abundant with the same old rubbish and individuals I’ve already ragged on habitually so I’m throwing caution to wind and accepting the gentle prodding of those who would have me expound on a topic dear to my heart, the western movie.
Obviously through my lifelong fascination and immersion into American history of the 1800’s, so developed hand in hand a love of the American western genre. Sadly, so few of the catalysts for this fixation still register in the best of category. I of course, like all young boys, began with the serial cowboys and B feature pistoleros, all shiny guns, rhinestones and big hats. Hoppy, Roy, Gene and The Lone Ranger, oh and my personnel fave the underappreciated king of the bullwhip Lash LaRue. I moved on of course and embraced the stamp of approval classics starting with “Shane” and moving through and inhabiting in the realm of my own imagination the likes of “High Noon” “My Darling Clementine” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” culminating in 1960 with the still entertaining yet stylistically flawed “Magnificent Seven.” Really what was it with all those fitted shirts and tailored pants, didn’t costume designers back then do their research?
And so we grow up, we learn of reality, we leave innocence somewhere in dust, a dust that I soon came to learn didn’t appear to be altogether real in the west of these movies. When guns were fired adversaries clutched their bloodless chests and fell stiffly and with stagey intent. The bad guys grabbed their wrists and winced with less then credible pain when their six-shooters were blown neatly from their hands with nary a shattered bone or missing digit. As true history seeped it’s way into my curious and veracious brain the unnecessary distortion of fact in these Hollywood horse operas became glaring. Take for instance the aforementioned “My Darling Clementine.” Sure, a nice understated performance by Henry Fonda, but a movie playing hard and fast with the truth. It appears the gunfight at the OK corral in this movie took place in a parallel universe. Incorrect numbers, incorrect participants and incorrect outcome. The real gunfight for those who care didn’t even take place in the OK corral but across the street. Oh and the less said about Victor Mature’s robustly healthy Doc Holliday the better. A man supposedly racked with tuberculosis whose only acknowledgement of this slow hacking death is to occasionally cough politely into a small lace hanky.
Let’s get something of the bat straight away, I do not subscribe to the pseudo mantra of film geekdom that if it’s old it’s better. Old is not always better and certainly not when it comes to westerns. Music? Well that’s another matter but we’ll leave that one alone right now. Hell I like old movies I own hundreds of them but when it comes to westerns I like a little grit in my celluloid. Sorry, but if you worship at the altar of John Ford read no further - it’s not pretty.
Yea, you can start shaking your heads and tutt-tutting all you like. I’ve heard it all, the visual poetry, the heroic machismo, the grand panorama and the breathtaking scope of manifest destiny. Well that’s as maybe and if you’ve a penchant for viewing history through rose colored glasses then for sure Ford’s the guy for you. A lot of course has to do with your own personal take on his leading man. Yup! Him, the Duke, big John Wayne, same hat, same slow drawl, same old lopsided ambling gait. Jeez it’s like he just walked out of one picture into the next stopping only to change his shirt.
Lord if this guy was any more wooden they could have made a tea chest out of him. Sacrilege you say, he’s an American icon. Well yea I guess if you like your iconic patriots bigoted, racist and drunk then by all means put him on your float, personally I’ll ride alongside Will Rogers or Paul Robeson on my 4th of July. Plus folks, talking earlier as we did of distorted facts this is the man who made the single most inaccurate film in cinematic history when he chose as his vanity project to totally reinvent the battle of the Alamo. Yea come to think of it, next to this fiasco “Clementine” is a relatively accurate account of things. Wayne should have stayed alive to read Philip Thomas Tucker’s “Exodus From The Alamo” he’d have had a cow.
What more can I say? I mean, Ford movies, man even when they were dusty these guys didn’t look dirty just eternally stoic. Yea, we had to wait on Peckinpah to make ‘em look like they smelt bad. Just Wayne like a big cardboard cut-out surrounded by stereotypical frontier types “Agh Shucksing” and beating each other senseless because, well that’s what grown men on lonely outposts did for fun back then, usually Gabby Hayes and Victor McLaglen in these roles respectively. Oh and the less said about Native American portrayals in these movies the better. Apache, Blackfoot and Comanche played by men called Dennis and Edward in glossy raven wigs and enough bronzer to make Dallas Raines weep. Central casting I gather back then was not an equal opportunity employer.
So what do I like? Dare I suggest a dozen satisfying examples, my personal picks. Oh dear that would be a list and that can be a dangerous and presumptuous thing. Lists can be conceited, pompous, and more often than not easy to pick apart, sneer at and rip to shreds with caustic commentary. Luckily those lists are usually of a musical nature and I’ll freely admit I’m the first to start bitching and squawking.
As is my want I’ll careen off the main topic here and give two recent examples of pure madness.
A recent edition of the UK pop mag “Q” apparently named the simian like lead singer of the underwhelming British band Oasis (sorry his name escapes me) as the greatest front man of all time. Yes they did, I’m not kidding. In front of James Brown, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Otis Redding and Elvis. I’m told after further investigation that this individual doesn’t even move on stage but stands immobile with his hands clasped behind his back while singing up to an elevated mike thus avoiding eye contact with the crowd. Brilliant and all this from a band that quite frankly aren’t even popular in most parts of the world. To top it all off the guy at number seven was someone I’d never even heard of period.
While this latter travesty is either a case of all out boneheaded stupidity or simply an embrace of elitist pretensions the second example is simply ignorant omission. Instead of advertising your list as “The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time” why not call it “The Greatest Guitarists Of The Modern Rock Era” that way you’d save face and a heap of ridicule. Example? How about Steve Jones, Johnny Ramone and Ron Ashton on a list that doesn’t even mention Charlie Christian, Hubert Sumlin, Wes Montgomery or Lonnie Johnson, pioneers every one. That was sadly another UK rock mag, which one I don’t recall however I’ll have to admit that on closer scrutiny the “LA Times” did publish a close to credible list albeit placing, are you ready for this? Tom Morello above Django Reinhardt and Andre Segovia. Duh!!!!!
Film choices seem to be a little less threatening and find the eye of the beholder a little more forgiving. With this in mind here in no particular order of preference, other than “The Wild Bunch” which reigns supreme I humbly present my indispensable dozen.
1. ”The Wild Bunch”
Not only the greatest western ever made, but also one of the finest American movies of all time. Please refer to my blog from 11.09.2009 titled “Sam Peckinpah” for my full-blown fan rant.
2. “The Assignation Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford”
This screen version of Ron Hansen’s 1983 classic is both hypnotic and irresistibly beautiful in its depiction of fact and credible storytelling. There is a prevailing melancholy that inhabits the cinematography giving this tale of 19th century celebrity stalking a resolved sadness and weary believability. Both Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck excel in the lead roles while Sam Rockwell as Charley Ford is a revelation.
Clint Eastwood’s finest hour as both director and leading man. This parable of redemption and one of the few movies to deal realistically with what it means to kill a man is so simple in its premise and so deep in character that you feel beaten by the wind and worn by the ride by the time it’s over.
Classic scene. Watching as the killer instinct slowly returns to Edward Mooney’s face after learning of the murder of his best friend Ned (Morgan Freeman.) Eastwood’s facial performance as his anger simmers to a boil while methodically slugging from a whisky bottle after years of abstinence is understated and visceral.
Anarchy in the old west as if written by William Shakespeare. These three seasons are HBO’s greatest gift to any historical perfectionist and the finest series ever created for cable (Soprano’s included.) Simply staggering in its portrayal of the lawless and political void that was Deadwood, South Dakota in the aftermath of the civil war. Inhabited by characters both diabolically Machiavellian and heroically complex, this is a vintage tintype come to life. Soliloquies and profanity are delivered in equal parts as the devil deals the cards and Al Swearengen oversees the Inferno. John Wayne must be spinning in his grave.
5. “Lonesome Dove”
Ask any real cowboy what his favorite western is and nine times out of ten he’ll say it’s this faithful adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s tale of two ex Texas Rangers bound together in life and death. It didn’t hurt that the two principals were played by a couple of real hands who look, sound and are just about as close to the real thing as you could possibly get. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are the glue that holds this salt of the earth TV masterpiece together.
6. “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”
To quote Roger Ebert “Leone cares not at all about the practical or the plausible, and builds his great film on the rubbish of western clichés, using style to elevate dreck into art.”
The best of the trio of “Man With No Name” films and the first one of two by Sergio Leone on this list “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” is all sweeping panoramic shots and claustrophobic close ups. Eli Wallach steals the film as the devious chameleon Tuco, a classic character in an equally classic movie. (Continued in Part 2) Return to Top
Just to prove that a western can be both immensely entertaining and factually on the money we have “Tombstone.” Successful in theaters even as the western was pronounced dead this colorful retelling of the Earp’s relocation to the town of the title and their ensuing clash with “The Cowboys” is simply an addictive viewing pleasure. Culminating in the OK Corral gunfight, (the most truthful depiction yet to date) and the ensuing Wyatt Earp vendetta this movie puts actual historical dialogue into the mouths of the participants and drags real life minor characters into the light of day. Johnny Tyler, Billy Bob Thornton’s faro dealer with a bad attitude was the real thing folks and while there may be arguments made regarding certain incidents and omissions (the Earp murder trial is ignored) this is as close as we’re going to get with the knowledge we have.
Of course any talk of “Tombstone” without a tip of the Stetson to Val Kilmer’s glorious portrayal of Doc Holliday would be unforgivable. Pale, dying and dangerous he is the embodiment of spectral decadence. With so many quotable lines “You’ll be a daisy if you do” his eastern eloquence and dry wit is the stuff legends are made of.
8. “Open Range”
He may have screwed up with “Wyatt Earp” but he redeemed himself with both barrels on this one. The relationship between Charley Waite (Costner) and Boss Spearman (Duvall) is beautifully underplayed. These seasoned cattle drovers speak only when it’s necessary and even then it’s with weary resolve. This is a movie about doing the right thing plain and simple, nothing contrived or grandiose about it. It’s a breed apart from desert sweat and shimmering border towns, these are the Great Plains, rolling greenery for as far as the eye can see, a place where cattle is king.
The pair’s decision to do what has to be done and the way it is formulated without discussion is utterly original and only solidifies how these two can read each other without question. The scene in the general store before the showdown is genuinely touching as Boss purchases a chocolate bar “All the way from Paris, France” and Charley orders a tea set from a mail order catalogue.
9. “Once Upon A Time In The West”
Before the credits even role on this Leone epic there is a twenty-minute opening sequence that could warrant as a movie classic in its own right. It takes place in a desolate wind blown train station in the middle of God knows where as three roughshod killers await the arrival of Harmonica (Charles Bronson) the film's mysterious stranger. This scene is so drawn out and laconic silent only for the wind, a water wheel creaks, a fly is trapped and buzzes in the barrel of a six-gun and the rowels of spurs scrape against dry sagging timbers. It’s easy to feel agitated even annoyed and that’s the point, time moves slowly where civilization has not yet embraced. The train finally arrives, Harmonica departs dialogue ensues.
“Where’s my horse?”
“We only got three horses.”
“Then you bought two too many.”
You can figure out the rest.
The rest of the movie? More of that slow burning fuse that this director invented. It might suffer from bad dubbing but if you can get past that you’ll be sucked into a crazy netherworld of early land grabbing, capitalist greed and lingering vengeance.
Henry Fonda almost turned down the chance of a lifetime to play the psychopathic blue-eyed killer hired by the railroad to exterminate anyone owning acreage in the way of the iron horse. It’s almost hard to recognize this American film icon that embodied so much good in his previous roles as a heartless child killer. Most chilling of all is that for the first time he is rivetingly sexual.
10. “The Long Riders”
Walter Hill loves the genre but has misfired on occasion (“Wild Bill” “Geronimo”) but with “The Long Riders” he hit on the novel idea of depicting historical outlaw siblings with acting ones and ran with it. This well executed tale of the James and Younger gangs exploits culminating in the disastrous Northfield Minnesota bank raid and its aftermath is another example of entertainment with a capitol E. It may stray occasionally from the truth, but it’s got enough fact going for it to let these minor fibs slide. The matching grey dusters were a nice touch and indescribably cool but I’m convinced these were not the type of men to be wardrobe coordinated. The overall movie has a nice muted southern feel and the Missouri setting is complemented beautifully by Ry Cooder’s haunting soundtrack. All the principles seem very much at home in the saddle and David Carradine is a standout as Cole Younger. Nice Civil War references too “He’s a damned liar Shelby weren’t at Cold Harbor”
11. “The Outlaw Josey Wales”
“You a Bounty Hunter?”
“Man’s gotta make a living”
“Dyin’ ain’t much of a way of makin’ a livin’”
Clint Eastwood’s third appearance here and his second as a director, “Josey Wales” was his best western character until “Unforgiven’s” Edward Mooney. After his family is slaughtered by Federal Redlegs Wales takes up with a Southern Guerilla outfit and hones his considerable survival skills. With the war's conclusion and amnesty forthcoming, his outfit finds itself betrayed and brutally slaughtered. Escaping with one survivor Wales becomes a fugitive and a will o’ the wisp avenger. As the movie unfolds Josey’s legend spreads like smallpox among the occupying forces and every carpetbagger and bounty hunter in the south. It seems everyone wants a piece of him but for every sucker that thinks they’ve reeled in the big fish there’s a pay off that leaves them dead or dying.
With the exception of Sondra Locke (nepotism, she was Clint’s girlfriend) the peripheral characters are wonderful, Timothy Bottoms puts in a good turn as a belligerent and confused rebel youngster while Chief Dan George is just great as a wily old Indian. Simply entertaining and a certified guilty pleasure.
12. “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid”
It might have considerable faults and Kris Kristofferson good as he is may be a million miles from resembling the gawky and scrawny Kid but the restored cut of this film still makes it in. Butchered in its original release we pick up the story of Billy in the aftermath of the Lincoln County war as he wages a cat and mouse game with his old amigo Pat Garrett (James Coburn.)
In truth they were not acquainted, not that is until Garrett was hired to hunt him down. Still why quibble, like “The Wild Bunch” Peckinpah pours his tequila soaked magic all over this gritty fable of the itinerant legend in the brutal and unforgiving New Mexico territory of the late eighteen hundreds. Atmospheric and teeming with all the greatest of go to character actors this is still worth spending time with. Oh yea and there’s “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” too.
“Tom Horn” Serenely beautiful, Steve McQueen’s portrayal of a man whose word is as good as his guns is both wistful and sad. A true story well told.
“The Culpepper Cattle Co” Realistic depiction of what a cattle drive was really like, uncomfortable, filthy and no fun whatsoever. Good stuff but you’ll want to shower after.
“High Plains Drifter” Great fun watching Clint paint the town that done him wrong red and renaming it Hell.
“Appaloosa” This could have been a genre classic until Rene Zellweger shows up and ruins everything.
Avoid These Two
“Wyatt Earp” Long, dull and way to pleased with itself. Stick with “Tombstone,” it has the same facts and it’s way more fun.
“3-10 to Yuma” This 2007 remake has so little in common with the original that one wonders why they bothered and didn’t just call it “Christian Bale makes a bunch of really stupid decisions.” It also didn’t help that Bale boasted to the press about how the film was totally authentic. Yea, I guess that’s why the wardrobe department outfitted half of the cast in clothing that wasn’t designed until the turn of the century. That leather suit on the bad guy, are you kidding!
Well that’s it, as Austin Powers said “I’m spent.”
A FREE STORY AT 60
May is incoming and with it descends the mantle of a landmark age. I am about to reach that double-digit status that as teenagers we regarded as one step short of the grave, property of the grim reaper and why bother anymore "It's all over now Baby Blue." Drop ‘em in the kill zone, “Logan’s Run” for geriatrics. 40 was tragic, 50 was ancient but 60 was as turgid, humorless and incomprehensible as Wagnerian opera.
Naturally I no longer subscribe to this view albeit the Wagner reference which still stands. I once begged on hand and knee to be released from suffering through the second half of “Tristan & Isolde.” 4 hours of depressing Germanic oafs endlessly repeating how they’ll die without each other is neither stimulating nor fun. What’s sadder however is that none of them seem to die soon enough. Don’t misunderstand me I love my opera but not when it comes imbedded with constant misery in grim damp netherworlds inhabited by unsettling characters many who perform with headgear better suited to “Spongebob Squarepants.”
Right, sort of drifted off track there so back to 60. Well it’s great, love it. Sure there are a few areas where the engine isn’t blasting you down the centerfield all-limber and panther like. The gazelle is not nearly as forthcoming in terms of well-oiled machinery and granted there are a few creaky bits developing in places well hammered over the years by devotion to the saddle. But all in all the mental side of things is celebrating a rejuvenation of sorts, a constant wonderment in all things inspirational and spiritual that was sorely lacking in my youth. Where the body slows down the mind picks up the slack and creates the ability to ingest more worthwhile information. To put it simply without getting personal, life is just so much more fun now on every level.
I used to believe that contentment was a sign of giving up. I’ve since reconfigured that thought and attached an amendment.
Contentment is a state of mind that can be enjoyed irregardless of retirement or redundant behavior. It can be experienced while witnessing your greatest artistic rebirth, adventure in every sense of the word and learning that comfort is in the eye of the beholder. Without hope we cannot dream.
So as I attain this mythical age where it was once presumed to be all down hill I’d like to throw a little something your way that cannot be found anyplace else. A couple of years back I was approached to contribute to a volume of short stories, the idea of which was to set them around or to be inspired by a song of your choosing. I accepted but preferred to write the story first and see what song it resembled on completion feeling that any out side influence might be constricting. Sadly as is so with many things the book never materialized, a shame as I was in fine company with the likes of Joyce Carol Oats and others of her ilk.
So as a reverse birthday gift of sorts to those who check in and check me out I would like to offer it up here rather then see it languish in some publishing Gulag. I present it with all humility, it’s not Angela Carter but it’s simply what tumbled from my otherworldly and weird dome. Oh, what song did I decide to attach to it? David Bowie’s “Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes,” believe me it was all I could think of. Enjoy and see you up around the bend.
IN SEARCH OF INTELLIGENT LIFE ON EARTH
A recent article in the LA Times lamented the premier of yet another reality TV show featuring the hedonistic offspring of some vacuous ex Playmate as being one step closer to the end of western civilization as we know it. How sadly true!
Where does one begin to retaliate, who’s to blame and where might we direct Perseus to slay these matriarchal Medusa’s and their Gorgon broods. How many more lanky cannibalistic socialites with their cocked heads and doe eyed “No ones home” poses can we endure. One photo featured in the above-mentioned article shows two somnambulistic clothes horses exiting their mother’s obscenely expensive car cradling aloft their cell phones as if balancing trays of chilled champagne. Texting it would appear is their lives albeit in cryptic non-decipherable teen speak, spelling and grammar having been relegated to the Dark Ages along with manners, humility, compassion and intelligence. Beware we inhabit toxic space with manicured harpies who can tell you who styles Lindsay Lohan’s hair but not where the President lives.
It’s obvious that a great deal of blame for these trawling dreadnoughts lays with those within whose wombs they were conceived and by he who did the seed work. However one look at those responsible and one can only shake their head and utter “They never stood a chance” All we have is simply older versions of the by product, magnets themselves drawn to the exposure and unconscious humiliation they are subjected to at the hands of equally repugnant direction. The mothers faded wanna-bees; goldiggers who struck gold but whose sheens have tarnished with the years leaving them breast enlarged, botoxed and divorced. The fathers ballless, gone and uninterested, slick, well dressed and narcissistic they stand by clueless as redeemable carrots are dangled before their estranged mistakes.
And less must be said for the voyeuristic public who like those drawn to train wrecks and public executions must be held accountable for allowing such witless, and degrading entertainment to exist.
Where’s the joy, what’s the point? While I have trouble understanding the fascination with shows about doctors and hospitals, pancreatic cancer and urinary problems not being my idea of time well spent I’ll bow out and say “Hey, just not my thing OK” but Paris Hilton milking cows! Are you nuts?
By the same token why would anyone in their right mind want to watch grossly obese people losing weight, grating helium enhanced housewives with six-inch fingernails savaging their husbands and unemployable losers attempting to impress an orange complected land developer with a beaver on his head? Not to mention the gratuitous originators that spawned all these downward spiraling avalanches of nihilistic shit. I guess it all started with MTV and mind-numbing pubescent drivel like “The Real World” an ironic moniker considering that none of those taking part have or will ever reside there. This escalated with all those “Millionaire” and “Bachelor” cattle calls where proceedings concluded with a dozen or so amped up Barbies in cocktail dresses salivating over some perplexed and tuxedoed Ken doll.
Pretty grim I’ll admit but just when you think parental guidance, the thirst for knowledge and common sense is on the endangered species list and that the needle is frozen on our moral compass or that in fact the thin fabric of society is about to split asunder and rain locusts and frogs you do as I did recently and go see Keith Jarrett. Yes, when the weight of the TMZ world and as pond scum like Harvey Levin and Perez Hilton continue to pollute our environment take a deep breathe and embrace creativity. Immerse yourself in the healing power of art, music and literature; it’s still out there.
As witnessed with the aforementioned classical and jazz genius some things just sooth the ruffled breast and wash away the noxious stench of muckrakers and tawdry purveyors of worthless information. One man and a piano can work wonders, inspirational indeed. As Jarrett said in complementing his instrument “I’d like to thank Steinway for not changing their product in 85 years” Amen!
It’s tough you can’t escape it, hey I pay no attention to any of it yet somehow it works itself into my psyche because it’s there in front of you even when you don’t want it to be.
It’s on the rack right before your eyes at the check out counter, it invades your computer without invitation, sneaks into legitimate news channels, advertises in the middle of a good football game and lambastes you from billboards and buses, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Hell as I said back at the top it’s even on the front page of a reputable national newspaper, which is how this whole thing got started.
THE R WORD
Now let’s see here, there’s down time and then there’s time to get down, two independently differing situations, one which affords you the opportunity to execute the other. Currently I find myself locked in the former mode while musical landscapes are painted in absentia. So while the architects create and the studio gnomes scurry around patching wires and fiddling with gizmos of varying wonderment I’ll take the opportunity to travel a road strewn with sourpusses, misinformation, unnecessary damming, illogical dissection and quiet honestly because I’m a tad fed up. I’m talking about religion.
A single word, which on the human highway and in social circles of indiscriminate numbers, has taken on a mantle of averted eyes, raised hackles and much ringing of hands. Let’s take the high ground here and stand for those that inhabit the middle ground.
I’m more than a little perplexed. Why so many expend such sweat and precious breath to fluidize and demonize Christianity is simply quite beyond me. Surely there are infinitely more negative and disruptive forces at work in the universe than something that gives hope and comfort, let alone refuge, aid and medical assistance to countless millions. I imagine it’s pretty much the same old bag of rattling bones, the detractors and stone throwers bitch and whine while negativity and selfishness runs rampant in their insular worlds. When was the last time you heard of “The American Atheist Association” building schools and housing for the homeless and disposed on the frozen slopes of China or bringing in medical supplies and vaccinating poverty stricken tribes in the African wilderness while warring factions try to kill them? Just as an afterthought, “The American Atheist Association?” I don’t get it, if you don’t believe, no sweat, but why do you need a club?
So arguably there’s some rotten eggs. As in everything else there’s the unredeemable nitwits who spoil it for everyone else. Case in point Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell both foot in the mouth practitioners whose overall view would have us worship and fear a humorless and vengeful God. I personally have always perceived of the Almighty as being a little bit groovy, supremely compassionate, not without humor (witness the giraffe) and altogether forgiving.
Cardinal Mahony’s another seemingly unpleasant and shady character whose efforts to shelter child molesters while embracing a cloak of arrogance and piety is particularly unsettling, not unlike the chain smoking Vatican villain in “The Godfather 3”. I would also agree that there are arguments to be made regarding the Catholic Church, the one religious body that warrants a little skepticism. Hard, I’d agree, to embrace an organization that on one hand is staggeringly wealthy and ostentatious in presentation while claiming to worship a man who lived his entire life in abject poverty. I thought it was “The meek shall inherit the earth?” A couple of candlesticks could feed a small third world country. On the other hand there are some genuinely awe-inspiring sacred works and architecture in the mix here (see below) so fearing contradiction I’ll move on.
This being said and the chaff separated from the wheat I’d like to point out that for every Robertson, Falwell and Mahony there’s a Rev. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu. So for the handful that claim to speak for God to further their own agendas and line their own pockets I say someday down the line you’re gonna have to meet up with the big guy and explain yourself. Spouting hate, embracing ignorance and unleashing noxious sound bites is uncharitable and has no business in the Christian arena. It’s like listening to a “Rage Against the Machine” song, all hysterical shrieking, bumper sticker mentality and zero depth.
So let’s just look at several pot shot favorites, three raggedy issues that comfort the soapbox wags as they stand reflected in their glass houses, their fists full of stones.
You know most wars throughout history have been caused by religion?
Well, yes OK a few no doubt but then the Trojan war was fought over a chick and most people seem too think that was pretty cool, the fact that it happened in the 12th century BC may have allowed emphasis on it to lapse a little. But seriously, let’s see now, most wars for independence including that little scuffle that kicked of in 1775 were fought for, ‘em oh right independence, cast of the yoke of the oppressor and all that, not my God's better than yours.
The American Civil War, arguably the most devastating conflict of the 19th century, right? Economical and social instability, secession, hallelujah free at last. (Granted John Brown was a little nutty but not a factor) so nope not that one either.
Enter the 20th century and the mother of them all, the war to end all wars, the one that started because some Serbian nutball took out Franz Ferdinand (not the group the Archduke) sparking of a little family depriving deal called World War 1. This, by the way, had a sequel when a brilliantined psychotic water colorist decided to invade Poland and exterminate an entire race. Again madness and political climate full marks, religion zero.
Getting the point, shall we continue? Korean War, a sort of introduction to the Cold War but cross bearing of content huh-huh. Vietnam? Absolutely and equivocally no siree bob, lots of napalm, John Wayne, dope and Doors but outside of a little scripture on the side of a helmet God not guilty.
I guess that brings us up to date and a couple of current engagements that are stew pots of indiscernible ingredients spiced up by buttinski terrorists of decidedly Muslim temperament who outside of alternate religious beliefs just flat out don’t like us. However anyway you look at it and whatever political field you graze in the bottom line is we didn’t go in there because we wanted the convert the heathen. Last time I checked we invaded Iraq because they had WMD’s that didn’t exist, lots of oil, which is always an incentive, and because Daddy didn’t get it done the first time.
Obviously this is not a religious war, it’s also not a very sensible one either unlike the other, which is because the guy hiding out there attacked America and killed a whole lot of people.
This whole last paragraph could no doubt be picked apart and skinned down to the Palestinian Israeli conflict, but take religion out of the equation and you're always going to get two factions that just flat out hate each other, the South hated the North, Hitler hated the Jews, the Hutu’s hated the Tutsis and Pol Pot hated anyone that didn’t dress in black pajamas.
Shooting ducks in a barrel
Comedians it seems have always found an easy target in bashing God and religion. Sadly great comedians flail continually in the obvious, bogging themselves down in banality and paper-thin depiction. George Carlin’s “How can you honestly believe in a benevolent old man in robes and a big white beard sitting on a cloud?” remains uncommonly pedestrian. Pretty pathetic huh! I mean did he really believe that’s how most intelligent Christians perceive their higher power, give me a break.
Even my dear brilliant Eddie Izzard whose early stage shows contained gut busting monologues based around the Old Testament has succumbed to flat out ridiculing in order, one can only imagine to appear edgier and hip. His earlier work on the subject had such a charming childlike quality to it, a theater of the absurd that was neither offensive nor condescending. So much funnier than looking the audience in the eye and saying “Anyone with any intelligence can’t honestly believe in this stuff” Yea, well tell that to C. S Lewis, Graham Greene, George MacDonald, W. H. Auden and William Blake, illiterate, misguided fools every one of them!
But my complete disdain I’ll reserve for Bill Maher, someone who at one point in time I found in every way thought provoking, witty and a man whose perception of the absurd was right on the money.
Sadly he’s set his sights on the Achilles’ heels of religion with such zealotry that it’s almost disturbing. Such caustic cynicism should be duly noted and examined for its mixture of puffed-up self-righteousness and tee-hee mentality, traits that inevitably led to a movie of such worthless content and low blow ridicule it defies all the laws of serious documentation.
I’m referring to “Religulous” a guffawing gallop through the whacked out fringe elements of organized religion. Chuckle at the screwball eccentrics and possessed antics of the left of center. It’s littered with all manner of urban legend and watery chestnuts like “The Virgin Birth isn’t in the Bible” (yes it is, check out Matthew 18-24) Heaven forbid he take on a real theologian, what would that have achieved, no laughs apparently just someone who could rip up his sound bites and shorten his box office draw. (It should be noted that the movie stiffed even to the point of him whining about it on the Oscar telecast.) All this I might add from a man that spends his evenings at the Playboy mansion!
Well, may I say excuse me but last time I checked there were weirdos and crackpots lurking in every division of of the human spectrum, crackpot athletes, crackpot rock stars, crackpots in the medical profession, crackpot scientists blah blah blah. Hey it would be like me making a documentary on political life and only featuring Ann Coulter, Kinky Friedman and Screaming Lord Sutch.
I mean what’s the beef, how’s it hurting old Bill. Why does all this get under peoples skin with such venomous results? There are simply millions of Christians out there who quietly and with the greatest dignity execute their faith and belief without resorting to madness, irrationality and human sacrifice. Lord Almighty there are extremists everywhere and it appears to me that the more I witness of these cynical atheists the more the likes of Maher and Christopher Hitchins are the ones who are starting to look crazy.
Imagine no religion
I loved John Lennon deeply and respected him greatly but he did I’m afraid have a penchant for contradiction. He often quoted the old Yiddish saying, “Men plan and God laughs” while systematically imagining no religion; it’s easy if you try. He also said the Beatles were more popular than Christ then ultimately sang “Christ you know it ain’t easy” and “the way things are going their going to crucify me” A bit all over the board wouldn’t you say? He also famously said “Before Elvis there was nothing” which while having nothing to do with this particular piece reminds me that I always felt totally the opposite, that before Elvis there was everything and after there was a lot less. But then that whole thing deserves a blog all to its self.
So let us indeed imagine a world without religion, devoid of it as Bill Mahar has wished for from the dawn of time.
Let’s start by wiping out a vast percentage of the worlds greatest paintings. The galleries and art museums of Europe and private collections across the globe would be depleted severely. Without religious imagery we’d have a mere handful of masterpieces by the likes of Hofman, da Vinci, Raphael, Velazquez, Sassoferrato, Bosch, Dali, Michelangelo, Rubens, Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Ford Maddox Brown and Rembrandt to name but a very few. No Sistine Chapel, ancient Russian icons, a vastly reduced Bayeux tapestry, Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain and a lot less out of Auguste Rodin.
The landscape without religion's hand upon it would surely be a sterile and colorless vista. In a puff of smoke ancient architecture from the golden dawn would simply never have been. From thousands of ancient country churches of all denomination to a multitude of magnificent cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, Hindu, Buddhist and Shinto temples, not a one, nada, zip! Medieval, Gothic and Baroque design would be nowhere in sight.
The Renaissance and Byzantine culture would never have happened. Norse, Greek, Islamic and Roman mythology, forget it, they’d never have thought it up and we’d never have the creativity of it’s awe inspiring results.
No Hopi and Navaho culture, Machu Pichu, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Notre Dame, the Basilica of St. Paul, the Wailing Wall and every whitewashed clapboard black Baptist church across the south that shakes every Sunday with the holy spirit.
It just gets scarier. Musically we’d be drained dry. Requiems, masses, fugues, symphonies, concertos and choral works, ancient hymns, mountain gospel and Gregorian chants. Just think, not much Verdi, Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Britten, Berlioz, Schubert, Haydn, Brahms, Dvorak and Krzysztof Penderecki. Mahalia Jackson, Blind Willie Johnson, James Cleveland, Jake Hess and Marion Williams all might as well not even have been born. No Mormon Tabernacle Choir, No Mighty Clouds of Joy and perish the thought no “Shakin’ the Rafters” by the Abyssinian Baptist Choir. Without their gospel roots the likes of Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, George Jones, Bill Monroe, The Louvin Brothers, Little Richard, Maybelle Carter and the Staple Singers would be performing a watered down songbook, and this is just skimming the surface.
Blues, country and rock ‘n roll was built on a core principle of God given faith. Raised in religion and church choirs the inspiration that lit the blue touch paper of a thousand musical careers came from hammering that old church piano and harmonizing with righteous souls. Let me tell you “Take me to the River” wasn’t about doing your laundry.
Add to this all the religious metaphors and imagery applied and utilized into modern songwriting and we’d be seriously short a few classics. For example no “Sympathy For the Devil” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Hallelujah.” No “God Only Knows” “Turn, Turn, Turn” “Exodus” and a shit load of U2 (spiritual input all over that stuff.) Great movies like Pasolini’s “Gospel According to St Matthew” “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “Black Narcissus” all the way down to cool creepy stuff like “The Exorcist” and “The Omen”
Oh and sorry kids no Christmas and Easter and one less way to protect yourself against vampires!
Sermon over. Keep the faith. Return to Top
FRANKINCENSE AND BLUES
Holy Light in the East Batman has it been that long since I’ve posted a ramble, roast or 12 gauge zinger fired off the cuff diatribe or glowing halo?
Guess I’m just not cut out for responsible blogging or even the rhythmic pacing of neophyte diarists who scramble from bed to keyboard in order to unleash a daily report on what ales them. I think I’m rather jealous of those able to achieve this, but then I’m not a self-centered, chronically vapid twenty something actress with a fourteen inch waist and a crayon for a brain. That or one of those I want to be Bono b-list lead singers of paint by number pop groups who pontificate on politics and religion when their knowledge of either couldn’t fill a hazelnut. Just shut up and come back when you’re out of short pants!
So, got that out of the way then and here we are in the season that speaks to all of us on different levels. I wish to you all the very best of the season and hope that each and everyone of you in your own way gives and receives with good intention, hope, harmony and blessings from on high.
I’m most definitely a Christmas guy, always have been, love it. In the descending order of yearly festivities it’s right up there just nudging out Thanksgiving which manages to crawl in over July 4th leaving Easter nestled comfortably at the bottom. Don’t get me wrong I sincerely endorse the biblical priority of Easter it’s just that I’ve never really been sold on the whole egg thing. Giant buck-toothed rabbits in all manner of garish colors hustling around with crocheted baskets full of God knows what, well, let’s just say it’s a little weird.
It would seem that one of the things to do at this particular time of year is to reflect and give thanks for those things, people, states of mind etc that we are well, just thankful for.
The innumerable best of the year lists clog up the media with frightening regularity right about now and quite honestly although I’m shooting myself in the foot they can get both repetitive and tiresome. So having said that I’m taking my own stab at it with a slightly different angle. Why? Because It’s my blog and I can do what I want. Like my Mom says, “If you don’t want to hear it don’t listen”
It goes without saying naturally that family and friends are included but as I have no desire to drift into overtly personal territory please assume that they are accounted for.
Football, what a season, both college and the NFL set the standard for excitement and nail biting fourth quarter action. Not making any predications but could we see a Superbowl with two undefeated teams? Of course the loss of the Gators means we don’t get to visit the Rosebowl but you know what? The best team won and hats of to the Tide, they just had it all over us. Now let’s see if and what Tim can do in the pro’s.
While my idea of Hell is most defiantly top 40 radio and daytime television there is some light in the nighttime version of the latter with the second season of Elvis Costello’s excellent “Spectacle” Proud of my partner EJ for helping to up the ante on intelligent and thoughtful viewing while exposing colossally underrated talent to those tuning in. If only the dice rolled differently and programs like this were blockbusters while the cretinous dross that chokes the tube was relegated to some hillbilly network. If only “American Idol” could have had the same fate as the Titanic and sunk on it’s maiden voyage.
Speaking of mind-numbing television that insults both intelligence and human dignity I whole-heartedly recommend the writing of James Wolcott whose recent articles in “Vanity Fair” on Larry King and Reality TV are not only spot on insightful but also gut bustingly funny at the same time.
And I quote:
Dog the Bounty Hunter with his racist mouth and Rapunzel mullet; tricked-out posses of “Dynasty” throwback vamps and nail-salon addicts (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, et al., the stars of which pose in the promos in tight skirts and twin-torpedo tops like lamppost hookers auditioning for Irma la Douce.)
Let’s hear it for Doctors Without Borders and all Christian missionaries who suffer discomfort and danger in third world territories and oppressive societies to serve the down trodden and destitute without complaint. If only their courage and faith dwelled in the mind-set of all mankind what a different world this might be. I constantly try to imagine the configuration of the hearts that are compelled to serve and wish that I could posses just a small spark from that fire.
Hopefully I’m not contradicting myself but when you are encouraged to send your dollars to feed the starving of foreign lands do so but save some for those here at home. Remember the percentage of homeless and hungry here in the US is staggering. We tend to forget this as we rush to benevolence when politicians and movie stars campaign for famine relief in faraway places. Commendable indeed but there’s a welfare famine at home folks and it’s not going away anytime soon. When some mega rich white bread actress weeps and whines and cries the blues about her love life to some glossy rag just remember there’s thousands of single mothers working two jobs a day and raising their kids with little to help them but their own ingenuity. Tip your waitress double and give her a smile she might need it more than you know.
Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center have continued the route out hate groups and racial injustice since 1971 without chasing headlines and posturing for self-gratification. Take note Al Sharpton this is how a class act operates. www.splcenter.org
If you live in California and love dogs with even a fraction of the passion we embrace them here on the home front I urge you to support the Lange Foundation.
As a board member and long time supporter I cannot say enough about Gillian Lange’s heartfelt work in protecting, rescuing and caring for literally hundreds of neglected and impounded dogs and cats.
Add along with these folks all those we should be legally bound to thank everyday of our lives. I’m talking of course about our teachers, nurses, cops, environmentalists and servicemen most of who get paid too little and regarded too lightly.
Help to keep the arts in the classroom and Mark Twain on the shelves. Don’t allow political correctness to sanitize our children’s reading material. Keep their minds alive and fertile with classic literature and inspired music programs.
Thanks for Cormac McCarthy heir apparent to William Faulkner not only for his astounding prose but also for his great dignity and media shunning silence. To read “Blood Meridian” is to read one of the greatest books written this century.
I cherish the PBR and its lineage to true cowboy heritage. These guys are the real deal and my friends. It offends me when hysterical self-righteous animal rights activists belittle these magnificent creatures by presuming them to be mistreated and forced into some sort of anti social bondage. Why is it always the city-bred dweebs with their half-truths and inaccurate information that raise their pointy little heads? Simple fact, bulls love to buck, it’s a highlight of their existence, a chance to flex their muscles and prove their worth in a gladiatorial setting. These animals are treated with the greatest respect and just think about it for a moment, a bucking bull weighs on average between 1700 and 1800Ibs while the average rider weighs between 120 and 150Ibs. Yea PETA this sport is inhumane all right, ON THE RIDERS. Stick to ragging on The National Diary Board for milking cows and lobbying the Green Bay Packers to change their name. The PBR rocks. Guts, glory and tradition and way better than NASCAR.
Oh and a special salute to my man PBR CEO Randy Bernard for my money the hardest working, most creative and smartest executive in pro sports. This guy took a ten grand start up pipedream with a chair in a hallway for an office and turned it into a multi-million dollar organization with state of the art cooperate offices in Colorado Springs. If you’ve never witnessed a pro bullriding event then you’ve missed out on something that I can only describe as an amped up AC/DC concert that smells of gunpowder and bulls.
Musically there’s still much to be thankful for. For while most of what passes for entertainment these days can easily be confused with shellacked spam and dressed up turds it’s easy to forget that Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins and David “Honeyboy” Edwards the last of the great Delta bluesmen are still going strong in their nineties. Likewise bluegrass legend Dr Ralph Stanley and country pioneer Charlie Louvin are out there making music in the same age bracket and with the same passion. When it comes to heroes these guys measure up for me in every way imaginable. Akin to great historical buildings and majestic vistas they’re figures steeped in tradition, their legacy’s rising from the Mississippi mud and the Blue Ridge Mountains, a collective Rushmore 100% pure American made.
Emmylou keeps turning out gems, Hags still growling and the Possum hasn’t slowed down. Buddy Guy continues to smoke the frets (watch him steal the show in Scorsese’s Stones movie “Shine A Light”) and Doc Watson hasn’t relinquished his pick. Jimmy Scott may be slowing down and losing a little of what once was the voice of an earthbound angel but he’s still out there doing it. Tony Bennett just keeps getting better, Patty Griffin quietly forges beuts and Tom Russell remains the quintessential Renaissance man forever flying under the radar of mass appeal. Remarkable it is to that you can still shoot into some jazz dive and without fighting a crowd catch Mose Allison, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Burrell or Sonny Rollins go to work.
I’ve posted my regrets on the passing of several iconic individuals on past blogs so I’ll assume them duly noted and add to the list of gone but not forgotten several others, some of whom I knew others that I sadly didn’t but revered none the less.
In no specific order they are: Koko Taylor, Les Paul, Mary Travers, Liam Clancy, Ellie Greenwich, Rubin “Zeke” Zarchy and Louie Belson. I apologize for those I may have forgotten; they have all moved me and moved on to greener pastures remaining staples of my turntable and CD carousel.
Oh yea and the Lord knows if I die tomorrow I want to come back as Hubert Sumlin’s guitar.
A couple of worthy books for ya’ll “Meeting Jimmie Rodgers” by Barry Mazor and “Linthead Stomp” by Patrick Huber
And finally you may have noticed in the news section up front that we’ve unleashed a few old chestnuts from the vaults. Whether this is a good thing or not I’ll let you to be the judge. Personally I was quite surprised by how well they’ve fared the test of time and for a brutal assessor like myself I can honestly say that I have no reservation in kicking them out there.
I recorded these three songs rapidly after having released the “Tribe” album and was looking for a little salvation from the slickness of that particular works production. It’s not that I had negative feelings for it; it’s just that it was most definitely a record company controlled project. Like I said I was fine with it, I was a willing participant, a lab rat on the wheel of the cooperate behemoth. It was an interesting experience and for one who’s convinced (or I was at that time) that you can’t knock it tell you’ve tried it I dove in and played the game. Sadly the splash anticipated by RCA caused a few initial ripples before sinking below the choppy waters of the mainstream sea. For the record however I have to say I still like a lot of that album and see it as a good enough example of the genre. Yea it fits comfortably enough in that compartment labeled “Been there done that.”
Guess that was more information than necessary but anyway back to the salvation thing. Simply I wanted to go in the studio and try something a little looser with a raw edge and nasty bones, something somewhere between “Exile On Mainstreet” and “Bummer Road”.
Not sure what we wound up with but it kicked enough ass to reassure me that my country rock n’ boogie credentials were still intact.
I think these tracks were quite possibly the template for Farm Dogs many moons later, so in a way there the roots of the roots band they spawned. I recorded them under the name Jane Doe because they sounded like a rock n’ roll band and for the simple anonymity I chose the project to maintain.
I should mention the players, as they were a collection of “Tribe” alumni and musical buddies ready and willing to contribute for a case of beer and pocket change. Craig Krampf who played a lot better but looked like Animal from Sesame Street. Kevin McCormick, a tremendous bass player who played with Nils Lofgrin and later went on to play with and produce Melissa Etheridge’s best records. Brian Fairweather wrote the songs with me and played most of the guitars. Fred Mandel who was Elton’s keyboard player at the time did just that and fired of that pretty dam cool Hendrix style guitar solo in “On This Rock” The fiddle came courtesy of the fabled Byron Berline a west coast legend and those growling sexy pipes and sonic wail belonged to Margret Taylor.
OK I think that’s quite enough from me right now. Be merry and mad, hold nothing back and be good to your yourselves. Cherish your families, give your children the tools to build a better tomorrow and keep the true meaning of Christmas close to your hearts.
Via Con Dios
Next Thursday November 12th, the Jules Verne Legendaire Award will be presented posthumously to the late great director Sam Peckinpah. It’s no secret that the iconic Peckinpah was no saint, tales of his alcoholism, drug abuse and general bad behavior which at times bordered on insanity are legion.
It can also be said that he was one of America's greatest directors, a man who to this day is revered for his cinematic vision and ground breaking style.
While the subject matter of his films varied in genre, location and time (“The Getaway,” “Straw Dogs” and “Cross of Iron”) it is without a doubt that the western was where his prickly heart found thorny glory and proved his perfect mate. Like a demented Comanchero pickled in tequila, he dealt out a fistful of masterpieces that redefined the pious saddle operas of John Ford by ratcheting them up into parables of stark realism inhabited by unsalvageable souls and cutthroat vultures bathed in desert dust and rot gut backwash.
As great as “Ride the High Country” “Major Dundee” and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” were in part and whole, all were eclipsed by one that has not only been hailed as the greatest western ever filmed but in the minds of many including Martin Scorsese and a handful of the director elite, one of the finest American films ever made.
Yes that would be “The Wild Bunch.” Released in 1969, this violent saga of men out of time who seek violent redemption facing an army of revolutionaries in the plaza of a squalid Mexican town was vilified on release. What needled the pseudo intelligentsia and blinkered hacks were the opening and closing scenes awash in geysers of blood and epidemic carnage.
Innocent bystanders are mown or ridden down as warring factions of dubious legality and limited human ethics lay waste to each other in a swirling slow motion ballet of mayhem and death.
No one had seen anything like it before and oddly enough although it has been aped, duplicated and copied to the point of parody, never has it truly been improved upon. Perhaps it’s because it’s no longer original or that it’s method has become just that over stylized, slick and clinical. Back then it slammed you against the wall, dragged you into its vortex and made you want to head for the showers when it was over.
While this element of the film begs further discussion and believes me when it comes to “The Wild Bunch” dinner conversation could stretch long into the night, it’s what happens in between the killing that grabs you eventually.
This is a morality play, twisted and carnal, its edges dipped in blood its center defined by loyalty won and earned. Like and dislike are options allowed but eventually non negotiable. If a shop worn cliché like “When men were men” was ever a sanctified catch phrase, this was it. You don’t have to like ‘em, hell you don’t even have to root for them, they wouldn’t give a damn anyway. All they trust and care about is each other, though they’d rather blow their own brains out than admit it. “When you give your word to a man it’s supposed to mean something” Borgnine’s character Dutch spits out at one point. This is it in a nutshell. Yes they’re killers, cold, hard and unrepentant. We don’t even want to ask ourselves what depredations they’ve committed. “Bitch” says Bishop as he unloads a shotgun into a treacherous senorita or the Temperance Society felled like ducks in a shooting gallery during a botched bank job (Whisky Sam’s dream of retribution no doubt)
I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at how many times I’ve seen the movie. Enough times I can tell you so as I pretty much know every line and can visualize every facial tick and nuance just by closing my eyes.
Obsessive? Yea maybe, we’ve all got a little geek fan thing tucked away somewhere.
But in defense of my vice, there really is a titanic lesson to be learned by viewing what once was and is no more. It’s a multi-layered blueprint of how everything wrong can teach us everything right.
On so many levels this works in “The Wild Bunch.” There are scenes of aching sadness like the misty morning exodus from Angels’ village or unsettling dark humor as the Gorch brothers awkwardly court two corpulent prostitutes. There is the allegorical ride into town as the opening credits cut in and out intermingling with children herding a hill of ants to there own kind of slaughter, and then there is The Walk, the most impressive bit of striding to die ever committed to celluloid. Yes what comes at the end of this long languid march to meet all kinds of hell and reckoning is what most recall, but for me it’s the prelude that resonates like some magnificent overture.
There are so many subtle nuances in this scene that only repeated viewing allows you to pick up on all of them. Little is said other than muttered asides and grunts of disdain, it is in their eyes that we learn everything. Pike's disgust and resignation as he surveys the sad adobe room where he has spent the night. The frightened stare of the woman who has given her body to feed her child and the child itself wailing inconsolably in a bedside crib.
In an adjoining room Lyle Gorch bickers over the price of a night's tandem sex, while his brother lies idly by playing with a small bird tethered to his finger (a beautiful touch that seems improvised in its simplicity but speaks volumes in what it represents.) Outside on the stoop Dutch whittles on a stick waiting, his face a mixture of contempt and begrudging sympathy for the repressed empty souls shuffling by.
nside, Pike pulls back the sheet separating the rooms locks eyes with his comrades and utters two words that define the film “Let’s go.”
Here it all comes together. As they step out into the blazing sun Dutch reads them easily and cracks a “Fuck yea” smile.
A reconfirmation of glances indicates their consolidated agreement, the pact is mentally signed in blood, they lock and load, line up and stride into eternity.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE) Years ago this scene inspired me to write “Last Stand In Open Country” for the Farm Dogs album of the same name. If you listen closely right before the track begins you’ll hear Pike intone, “Let’s go.” The lyrics also name check the protagonist and Aqua Verde the town of the said last stand.
As I’ve said before, you could make a career talking up this film and I feel I’ve abused my time by missing out on so much and so many. The rest of the cast is stellar, a veritable cornucopia of character actors at their immoral carrion hovering best (L. Q. Jones, Strother Martin) The Bunch’s grizzled senior, erasable Freddie Sykes (Edmond O’Brien) long in the tooth, beard flecked with tobacco spittle getting under the Gorch’s skin with cackling diatribes “They, they who the hell are they?” And perhaps most of all the magnificent Robert Ryan as Deke Thornton one time Bunch member who in order to remain free of prison must track down his friends as the railroad's “Judas goat” Ryan’s performance is one of understated brilliance. Saddled with a group of bushwhackers and vermin to aid him in his pursuit his is a thankless and dishonorable task. This the actor conveys with an extraordinary mixture of world worn resign and utter contempt. “I wish to God I was with them” he exclaims at one point even in the knowledge that their death is imminent.
The dialogue throughout the movie is terrific and eminently quotable. On crossing the border into Mexico Angel breathes heavily of the air and proclaims “Agh Mexico lindo.” To which a cranky and saddle soar Tector Gorch replies, “I don’t see nothin’ so lindo about it, it just looks like more Texas to me.” Or Crazy Lee (Bo Hopkins) shot to pieces by bounty hunters and railroad dicks encouraging his killers to “Kiss my sister's sweet black ass.” Yea everyone’s a gem and they just keep coming.
You couldn’t remake this film today.
Besides the sacrilegious aspect and insanity of even trying where would you find the manpower, Gerard Butler? The only person I can think of is Ray Winstone and he’s English. I mean William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oats and Ben Johnson, man you’d ride into Hell and kick the Devil's butt with those guys. Sorry I’ve got to say it, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Maybe Vigo maybe Ed Harris, love ‘em and I’m not saying they ain’t men, it’s just they're not THAT kind of men.
Why am I writing this now? Well I’ll be there next week to honor Sam and help hand out an award to the family of Jerry Fielding. Fielding was Peckinpah’s go to guy for scoring his movies and certainly in the case of “The Wild Bunch” it’s his atmospheric work that lends so much to the overall foreboding tension that pervades the film as well as his sweeping themes that marry so well to the parched vistas and epic action.
I’ll be honored to be there. Peckinpah was a true original, a one man Wild Bunch. Maybe not the most pleasant cat at times, perhaps not even a diamond in the rough but I’m prepared to cut him some slack because he made the best movie I’ve ever seen. How do I feel about seeing it for the umpteenth time? “Let’s go.”
For further reading I would suggest David Weddle’s “If They Move…Kill 'Em!”
It’s by far the best of several that have documented Peckinpah’s life and work and by far the most insightful on "The Wild Bunch."
A REQUEST (THE MOJO BAND ARTICLE)
Several acquaintances have periodically jabbed at me about posting a piece that I scribbled out a couple of years back for the English rock mag Mojo. Although it can be acquired on this side of the pond it is not circulated widely and many people missed it when it was first published. So, seeing that they have all asked so nicely and I being in a humbled but generous mood I’m acquiescing and laying it down.
A brief background. I was approached by said magazine to contribute a piece to their “Albums That Changed The World” feature. Knowing I have always held the Band in high regard and especially their 1st album “Music From Big Pink” they imagined it was a safe bet that I’d be in.
My decision to do it was easily made as it was not an interview and that it had nothing to do with me other than my recollections and thoughts on a piece of music I cherish. All I had to do was email them the article and that was that. They did edit it slightly but I am posting my unedited version.
If for some bizarre reason you don’t own this record get on your bike and pick one up immediately. (I guess in modern terms that would be get on line.)
The Mojo Band Article
While I’m not entirely convinced that a record album has the ability to change the world (I’ll leave that sort of thing to Hitler invading Poland,) I am positive that there are a handful that have totally reconfigured our musical landscape like nothing before or after them.
I was a pretty green scrapper, fresh out of the sticks and adrift in London, when “Music From Big Pink” came out. Elton and I were writing and recording our first songs, and in our down time we would spend hours in rapturous expectancy hanging out at Musicland on Berwick Street awaiting the latest releases from our mythic America.
My musical tastes at the time were not necessarily in keeping with current trends as I leaned more towards traditional country and blues. Yes, I loved Dylan, Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Love and all the rest of what was turning our world upside down at the time, but there was in me this closet junkie for traditional music the sort of which just wasn’t hip back then. The guys that blew my skirt up were storytellers like Johnny Horton, Woody Guthrie, Marty Robbins, The Louvin Brothers and Johnny Cash (long before the hipsters had a crush on him.)
So imagine the vindication I felt in that cool as fuck record store when “Tears Of Rage,” a culmination of all these inspirations, unfolded lazily from the speakers. I was immediately mesmerized, dragged along on its funeral-like fire: the strangled guitar, the ethereal organ, Levon Helm’s foreboding tom-tom pattern and Richard Manuel’s achingly beautiful voice.
It’s hard to truly revaluate my feelings for what I felt in that moment. Perhaps this was just a freak track? Nothing could possibly follow in this revolutionary fashion. Boy, was I wrong. After “The Weight” had totally left my lyrical aspirations in ruins and Garth Hudson’s incendiary intro to “Chest Fever” had blown every fuse in my body, it was only left to Rik Danko’s heavenly wail on the coda of “I Shall Be Released” to leave me a blubbering wreck in the Soho night. Here was music that sounded like it had been forged out of solid rock in the Appalachian moonlight by men of another time. That’s how it sounded – timeless - as if there was an alternate universe somewhere inhabited by five unique individuals who were handed their voices and instruments by the long arms of God. In simpler terms, for me it was a welding together of everything I dreamed music should be: earthy, honest, soulful, eclectic, traditional, modernist and, in essence, a blueprint to the Sistine Chapel of rock-n-roll.
On top of all this, let’s recall how cool these guys looked. They made Hillbilly hip, undertaker suits among the dungaree and denim drenched kinfolk inside the gatefold. It’s no wonder so many top-notch musicians of the age wanted to but couldn’t belong. Eric Clapton with his afro and kaftans, or the “Let It Be” burnt out George Harrison aching for redemption. Everyone wanted to be in The Band and I mean EVERYONE. But you could see it was an unobtainable world, a million miles from Swinging Anything. They were an outlaw band holed up and clinging together to the coattails of fable and folklore.
A certain amount has been said about The Band’s influence on our earlier work, specifically “Tumbleweed Connection” However; Americana had been in my blood from an early and impressionistic age. What “Big Pink” and it’s follow up did for me was kick open the door and say it’s OK to write about history, about the land and the characters who inhabited it over a century ago. The fact that we did it from the perspective of strangers viewing a strange land is irrelevant. It may have seemed presumptuous to some, but I didn’t care. I loved the expanse and opportunity in America, the blood soaked 1800’s and it’s magical and glorious wilderness. The Band simply lit the blue touch paper.
Listen to “Big Pink” today and nothing has really changed, except in many ways it seems even more awe inspiring and fiercely original. The ragged interwoven complexity of the vocals, Robertson’s stinging economical guitar work (not a note is wasted!) and for master class 101 listen to his solo at the end of “To Kingdom Come.” The very fact that these guys were blending characteristically unhip instruments with those of a more accepted nature speaks volumes for their tenacity. They were so musically adept, each one a virtuoso on most anything handed him that to waste this experimentation would have been a crime. I guess their splendid isolation inspired the mythic quality of their work. Although they continued to write and record exceptional and groundbreaking music, “Music From Big Pink” remains an emotional classic of biblical proportions.
If, indeed, there is an album equivalent to the great American novel, this is it.
THE FALL YA’LL
Didn’t Shakespeare say “In the Fall football ruleth all”. Well, no he didn’t but if Stratford boy had been born in 20th century America you know he’d have rhapsodized the pigskin.
TV leaves me cold but in the season when the game is afoot I’m pretty much beached recliner-wise before the hallowed ground. I’m also stone cold sold on all Things College, which makes four days a week (now that Thursdays have been designated game night) that I can gorge on my gladiatorial vice.
These days my bragging rights are kept sorely in check and split down the middle via support that favors one miracle and an unmitigated disaster.
Since the early 70’s when John Madden prowled the sidelines in his double knits popping blood vessels and channeling Foghorn Leghorn I’ve been a dyed in the wool paid up subscriber of the Raider Nation. I’ve been thrilled, exhilarated and bought to tears. I’ve traveled the glory road and witnessed so many great moments when the pirate ethic and rebel spirit that encompassed the silver and black made you believe that “Just win baby” weren’t just idle words.
I’m by no means a fair-weather fan and I’ve stuck with my guys through thick and thin. I’ve bitten the bullet; I’ve felt the shame but always kept the faith. Man, I’ve got Black Hole pride pumping in my veins but what in the name of Lyle Alzado is going on in Oakland these days. We’ve got like the two best kickers in the NFL and little else. We’ve got a 6ft 5 quarterback with a charisma lobotomy who guaranteed can throw the ball fine, just not to our receivers and we’re picking up coaches at garage sales.
Yea we’ve had the odd gifted guy drifting in and out of the roster but hell they either get traded because they’re sick of not winning (great attitude Randy Moss) or they just get traded period (Jeff Garcia, Duh!) Where are the charismatic hellions that once struck fear in the hearts of lesser mortals? Tatum, Stabler, Long, Allen and the ultimate blueprint Mighty John Matuszak, now that was a Raider, eat your heart out Robert Gallery.
It’s time Al and my respect for you runs deep but dude you need to hang it up and turn over the power vice to fresh blood. As long as you maintain your strangle hold on these guys and continue living with dreams of yesteryear we’re in the crapper for sure.
Now on the other hand there’s the Gators the most electrifying band of brothers congregating together for the sole purpose of whipping the butts of every Saturday gathering goon squad in the SEC.
It’s a beautiful thing this orange and blue and I’m sure happy to be on board the Tebow Express. I owe this fanaticism to one close at hand who has justly instilled in me an undying love for Albert and the gang.
Made a pilgrimage to the Swamp recently and their in the silence of the empty stadium you could just feel the electricity hovering in the air as if the faithful left it behind to be picked up the following week.
Dam if we could just clone Urban Meyer and ship one out to Oakland who knows what greatness could be recovered. Sure the NFL is a different animal but some Gator bite and the camaraderie it commands, the pure sense of confidence you feel in their drive, well you know what, right now anything would be an improvement on the Cable Guy.
Hey you know what they say, Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas.
Some good news for the folk, country blues is the re-release of Jesse Fuller’s “Move On Down The Line” Lovely stuff from his 50’s and 60’s output from a genuine American troubadour.
Can’t remember if it did a lick o’ bizness or not but I forgot to say how much I loved the Rick Ruben produced Jakob Dylan album “Seeing Things” Masterful songwriting and beautiful imagiary.
Cardio goes real well I might add with Lou Reed’s "New York City." A rediscovered gem that I’d forgotten about, great guitars, real muscular, gritty and soooo NY.
Reading Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice”. Entertaining enough, kind of a change in direction for the old recluse. Sort of a psychedelic Sam Spade, worth checking out I guess.
And so the world turns and some things get stranger, life gets insaner, we all search for enlightenment but beauty, logic and wonderment still fight for space against nihilism and negativity. Direct TV drops Versus because of a catfight and 8 million people lose the opportunity to see my buddies in the PBR do honorable battle (complain, complain, complain.) Meanwhile “American Idol” apparently still steamrolls like a juggernaut Godzilla spewing up karaoke flotsam to abuse our catalogue with too much vibrato, Michael Boltenesque bombast and zero soul. Is there no show for people with real talent that write their own songs and don’t mimic what’s already been done till it’s so saturated it comes across like diluted fat flung on a grey wall. TV should be ashamed of its mindless reality based shows that create morbid curiosity and vacuous personalities. Am I the Grinch that stole Fall? You betcha. Open your windows, lean out and say I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore. Amen.
A PERSONAL VIEW
I was discussing the Kindle with someone recently and we decided it has to die.
They’ve made the long-playing record obsolete (albeit its grand resurrection) and soon the CD will go the way of the Dodo in favor of music that channels anonymously through the ether and into your computer with no substance, no contactable matter and neither info nor artwork.
Say it isn’t so that the rustle of a newspaper, the smell of cheap ink, the reassuring grasp that snaps those flimsy pages to a readable angle will soon sink into oblivion. The libraries decaying or kept open simply as museums where future generations can view what those strange antiquated tomes once looked like. A metal box will take the place of those beautiful hardbound hand me downs and firm feeling fireside companions.
The book! Wrapped in an inviting jacket not unlike the old record sleeve. It’s both picturesque and filled with information and admirable critiques. This institution that has bought us knowledge, history and entertainment both classical and pulp is threatened by a cold and rudimentary oblong device that can never deliver the thrill and adventure that Gutenberg pioneered and Chaucer championed centuries ago.
There was a time when inanimate objects meant something now they’re merely that, inanimate, cold and clinical, merely functionary like the washing machine and toaster. Where’s the warmth, the warmth no longer accompanies the product, it’s merely a manual! A manual with a book, Lord helps us. Charge it up and read “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny” to the kids. Tuck ‘em in with their own personal little pink Kindle, lovely image, very Jetsons. Then slip out to the living room and arrange your collection of coffee table Kindles.
The argument for the defense is sure to be that this is just a alternative aid to save bulky carry on (Hum! It’s the same size as the average book isn’t it) and was never intended to encroach upon the original format. With all due respect and not to go over the edge here but isn’t that what Hitler said about Europe. Believe me if they could corner the market and make it monetarily benificiacal to the Kindle kingdom they’d wipe out printed matter like Attila took Rome.
Just got a copy of that reissue of “He Who Rides The Tiger” My suggestion! Go with the Japanese import or any other form than this cheapo deal. Bad packaging, no lyrics and trite notes regarding my less than stellar songwriting work. Nah not impressed.
Good stuff if you care!
“Bahamian Songs” by Blind Blake And The Royal Victoria Hotel Calypsos. (If you can find it)
“Without A Song Live In Europe 1969” Freddie Hubbard
"Let The Right One In" Extraordinary and redefining!
“The Moon And Sixpence” W. Somerset Maugham
Rediscover it and cherish it. Maugham lied when he said it wasn’t about Gauguin but who cares.
Gotta travel. Nice opening game Raiders. Young blood!!!! Return to Top
REFLECTIONS THROUGH A TIGER’S EYE
Can’t imagine for the life of me how those folks do this blog thing everyday. Not enough hours in 24 for me, but I’m trying and I’ll attempt to roll with it on a more frequent hook up.
Yea, so I guess some indie number did a reissue on my “He Who Rides The Tiger” album. Long ago boy, not really thought about in some time and pretty much wiped it from the mental slate, so calculations and memories of how it sprung to life have left the building.
In cases such as these reacquaintence is best and so I’ve taken a listen and hovered around lyrical content and eyeballed artwork. Hmmm! Not sure about the dodgy covershot. Photo acceptable but the obligatory hot model lurking seductively in the background gives cause to assume this is very eighties. I’m regrettably thinking Robert Palmer and Bryan Ferry here, which I am not and was most certainly never on like footing with musically. No offense to their own images just that, well the playboy lothario deal was never something I cultivated so perpetrating it on my own work was something of a misnomer not to mention false advertising.
The music? Melodically lacking for the most part, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the bulky lyrical content might have been ambushed by anything to adventurous. I imagine I was patenting a blue print for my life and times at the time and while some of the material is a little over wrought and heavy handed not to mention substandard there is enough good to make me relatively relieved.
Word wise it’s got its moments and if I had to pick a stand out I guess it would have to be “Approaching Armageddon” which by all accounts seems to be in agreement with the consensus. The flush jobs would have to be “Lovers Cross” and “Love The Barren Desert” which I could well do without and if erasure from the cannon were possible they’d be a rub out. As for the rest, yea! I’m happy enough.
I don’t recall much about the recording. I imagine it was enjoyable enough and the players in general were a goodly and talented bunch. Many of them progressed to loftier heights, some not so, but where they have all flown and landed I hope it has been with a light cargo and a satisfied mind.
It was definitely another time and place and as is with the chalk line of my life the clean rains come and wash away the fading trails I’ve left behind. I’m not reflective for the most part at least not for such as these things and discussions of “the good old days” generally make my skin crawl. Forward movement is a component I rigorously embrace and any chance encounter that highjacks me into a nostalgic trip down memory lane is a nightmare equally as rabid as one that finds me waking in the morning between Ann Coulter and Janine Garofalo. If there was ever a reason not to look left or right this could be it!
Sad about Willy Deville, but what is sadder is that he warranted a mere couple of inches in the obits. He had a hard and scarred life courting the needle and traveling the mainline but he released some great cuts and penned some cool tunes. He deserves better. Check out “Miracle” (if you can find it) and “Crow Jane Alley” one of his last and a beauty.
If you want a great read about how the press can totally screw up a banner headline and paint a tissue of lies check out Dave Cullen’s remarkable “Columbine”
Never has an American tragedy been so misunderstood, misquoted and portraits painted so hideously incorrectly. I thought I new something about this until I read this book and realized I knew nothing. Exemplary reporting that makes you want to beg all Goths and Marylyn Manson for forgiveness.
Listen too “fondo” by Vieux Farka Toure. A chip of the old block if ever there was. And finally if you like Billie Holiday don’t get hung up on just “Lady Sings The Blues” “Songs for Distingue Lovers” and “Lady In Satin”.
Great as they are check back on the riffs she got into with Tommy Dorsey. Relaxed, cool and swinging like a motivated monkey.
Keep on the right side of the road. Adios
RAMBLING ON THE 4TH
As Dave Alvin said so simplistically “Hey, hey baby it’s the 4th of July” or it was depending on when you’re checking in. Hope it served you all well and the spirits were willing.
We all know that times are strange and the ying and the yang seem to be balanced precariously these days so I’m happy to report that we dodged a bullet this week that could have bought the crazy train to town.
For the last few days I’ve been grabbing calls from sympathizers commiserating with me on the potential influx of mourners, carneys and single glove sympathizers who were about to disrupt the tranquility of these parts. Yes, I refer to the circus that was and still remains the post Michael Jackson marathon mad fest. It was rumored, reported and fed into the pipeline that we were going to be the recipients of a massive wake for the departed boy wonder here in the Valley at that sprawling acreage of patented bad taste called Neverland.
Sorry about that last reference, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone’s architectural tastes. I guess if you dig Disneyesque Tudor Gothic then hey, well it might just be you’re thing. However critical observations aside we all got to enjoy a collective sigh of relief when someone from the Court of the deceased King thought better of it and decided to abort the invasion. I guess they imagined a scene reminiscent to that one at the end of “Frankenstein” when the villagers having had it up to their smocks in weirdness descend on the offenders and route their hineys out of town. I’m sure that old ambulance chaser Al Sharpton didn’t relish a bunch of disgruntled cowboys and vintners pitchforking his rear down 154.
Actually talking of the Rev I was interested by his take on Michael Jackson’s significance in regards to his influence on African American culture.
Apparently Michael set the pace and paved the way for the likes of Tiger Woods and the President. If that’s the case why did Jackson spent a healthy chunk of change and most of the 80’s trying to turn himself white? Plus we’re told if it wasn’t for Jackson there’d be no Usher, Neo, Yo Yo, Mo Mo or any of the other abbreviations, Yea well without James Brown dude there’d have been no Michael Jackson. That’s it rant over except that isn’t it strange that we lost one of the seventies great eccentrics to the echo of mass media hysteria and the passing of a little known 60’s eccentric made a couple of lines in the obits. Sky Saxon man! Founder and leader of those fuzzed out, razor edged garage gods the Seeds passed away with no fanfare. Well I’ll salute ya’ Sky and blast out a couple of spins of “Pushin’ to Hard” for ya’. He was madder than a sack of hammers but he rocked. Bless him.
Hey! so I just got done rereading Mez Mezzrow’s “Really the Blues” possibly the finest book of it’s kind on the birth of jazz and one of my favorite books period. A sort of “On the Road” for the hep cat set. A historical panorama of 20’s living, blowing and busting through the doors of another America. It just reeks of cool music, smoke filled dives, hoodlums and outrageously cool individuals hell bent on swinging till the lights burn out. Read this book and you’ll be aching to throw on some Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Cantor and King Oliver.
OK I’m done. See you around the bend.
Hopefully some of you may have found your way here through word of mouth or private investigation. We’re still in the process of getting our site posted on the necessary info centers in order to make it more accessible so in other words we’re working on it.
Personally I’d like to welcome all of you with an interest in the past, present or future shenanigans of yours truly. You may reacquaint yourself with things you most likely already know but most of all I’m hoping that you may become aware of the sides of my personality that have remained unchipped by the chisel of media introspection and the surface scoop of those who think they know but don’t.
I chose to retire from all media interviews a year or so ago so this is the only place you’re going to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Interviews in general have become not only a tedious and repetitive chore but in most cases they simply cover the same ground and in a nutshell are just not very interesting. What’s to say when it’s all been said?
I guess the thing is it’s got to the point where I would much prefer that what I do in my line of work simply speak for itself. Having said that I did acquiesce to a request to comment on several key songs for the site in order to personalize it.
In all the years that have flown by, and in my case that would rack up to several decades it’s interesting to note that in the volumes of print and film that have been dedicated to yours truly it’s honestly hard for me to recognize the person they’re talking about. And you know what I’m fine with that. My only regret is that I bothered doing it in the first place. A wise man once said, “Men should wait until they’re over forty to start expressing their opinions.” Radical maybe but I understand his point.
Privacy for me is key but sharing what I love in the way of music, literature and the arts in general is not only liberating and refreshing it also affords me a license to connect with an audience that might wish to celebrate and investigate subjects and certain something’s that might not have crossed their paths. Simply put there’s nothing more exciting I believe than being turned onto subject matter that you’re not aware of that might inspire and invigorate your soul and senses.
Anyway folks it’s a beginning. Hope you tune in occasionally to see what’s up.
Check into what I’ve posted already and know I’ll be clocking in randomly with something to say about something. I get pretty passionate about certain things but hopefully it comes from the right place. Feel free to disagree but always remember that discovery is the gateway to learning.
I’m heading out on the road for awhile so from my time zone to yours, adios and see you around the bend.
I’m not sure how many of you may have been aware of the recent passing of the legendary jazz photographer William Claxton. It was widely reported in most of the reputable press along with generous pieces in the likes of Time and Newsweek.
I mention it simply in the hope that those of you who may not be familiar with this remarkable man might wish to become acquainted with his work.
Serious jazz fans have revered him for years almost to the point where his camera has attained the photographic equivalent to the tenor and soprano saxophones of John Coltrane or Chet Baker’s trumpet. In fact it is widely acknowledged that Chet Baker would not have achieved world fame had it not been for Claxton’s iconic pictures of the young trumpeter moody and James Dean like gazing into the shining surface of a piano.
Countless times I’ve picked up an old jazz CD or the sleeve of a vintage vinyl album only to stumble across Bills name as the credited photographer. Believe it or not I did it a couple of weeks ago and it was the rear sleeve photo of Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours” It doesn’t get hipper than that!
t was my distinct pleasure and great honor to get to know Bill and his charming wife Peggy Moffitt (herself an iconic legend of sixties modeling) in the last several years of his life. He was and remains in my memory everything I’d imagine he would be, charming, dapper and the possessor of great humility and encyclopedic knowledge in regards to jazz history.
Naturally I was drawn to his wisdom and good taste and through a series of long leisurely lunches I would tap this fountain of anecdotes, recommendations and lusty tales. All of this was delivered with a soft lyrical voice and a twinkle in his eye as tales of Miles, Bird, Pepper and Baker were relayed to remain a personal memory.
What’s my favorite Claxton image? It has to be a strung out Art Pepper the day after he’d been released from prison walking up Fargo Street, the steepest hill in Los Angeles. His sax is under one arm and a cigarette is in his hand. Inexplicably he still looks the personification of fifties hip-cat cool. It’s an amazing image and one I hope to one day own.
If you fall in love with his work as I did so many years ago do yourself a favor and save your change for the gigantic “Jazz Life”. It’s the size of a paving stone and probably weighs about fifteen pounds but it’s definitive and extraordinary.
I will miss him.
For more information, Google: William Claxton
DUE RESPECT FOR DAVID ACKLES
Sometime ago Rhino records was preparing to release a retrospective box set comprising of the entire Elektra catalogue of my dear deceased friend David Ackles. David was an extraordinary songwriter and human being and this long overdue collection of his remastered work was an exciting prospect.
It was also something that prior to release scored outstanding reviews in some of the most prestigious music press and was called the re-issue of the year. However for some reason beyond my comprehension the project was withdrawn and to the best of my knowledge has no future release date. There is talk of licensing problems and some resistance to certain aspects by David’s widow Janice. If this is the case I’m inclined to feel that if pressure is applied to Rhino by enough people they might be more inclined to address the problems and let this marvelous collection see the light of day
Anyone out there who would care to help might consider assisting by lobbying Rhino at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you unfamiliar with David’s work I have attached below the liner notes I composed for this collection. I’m doing this so you might understand my history with David and my feelings about what he created and how he affected my music and my life. There are many influential musicians to whom David is a hero and inspiration including my friend Elvis Costello who also contributed liner notes of his own. Read on and if you feel like-minded discover David and bang on those doors.
Familiarizing myself with the music David created and recalling the several happy years we spent together elicits an emotional pull back to a much simpler time. I was twenty years old in the fall of 1970, young and carefree in a land I had dreamed about all my life. I was well versed in David Ackles, having discovered his first two Elektra releases with a small group of like-minded individuals who were in the habit of discovering gems off the beaten path.
I’d come to California with Elton John to play the Troubadour in Los Angles as part of our initial promotional campaign, that toe-testing the waters sort of thing that all artists must endure at the outset of their careers. Elton, I should add, was also a fully paid up member of said group of Ackles admirers and had with yours truly written a song plagiarizing David’s style for inclusion on our recently released Tumbleweed Connection album. Whether or not the song “Talking Old Soldiers” has any merit as a reasonable homage or was simply a failed attempt at David’s unique approach to songwriting is inconsequential. I mention it only to accentuate how deeply his music affected us.
To our amazement, David was Elton’s opening act, a fact that equally thrilled and embarrassed us. However, David’s charm and complete disregard for anything approaching professional jealousy soon defused any discomfort, and from that moment on a firm and beautiful friendship was forged.
In the golden age of the singer-songwriter, David was a hybrid disconnected from the troubadour characterizations pinned on others. It’s not just that his music was different: he was different. David had a robust, midwestern outdoors, open-range campfire character. When everyone else was West Coast cool or East Coast arty, David seemed almost Paul Bunyan by comparison. While his contempories were marketed as moody romantic poets wistfully strumming guitars in marijuana infused nightspots, David’s persona seemed to present someone ruddy of cheek striding through a thick forest, axe firmly in hand, a woman of good pioneer stock by his side.
This is not to say that David wasn’t romantic or a poet, it just seemed that his influences and emotions came from a much bigger place. David was in fact a deeply spiritual man whose environmental concerns and desire to find the very best in the hearts of men made him a throwback to a time when tradition and family weren’t ridiculed by a superficial generation.
David wouldn’t very much like what the world has become, but were he still with us I know his faith would keep him strong. For that’s what he had in spades, faith and the God-given ability to put it to good use.
As luck would have it, the great Jac Holzman, founder and architect of Elektra Records, a man I also respected tremendously, saw the possibilities in the merging of this mutual admiration society and offered me the production position on David’s forthcoming album. Like Yoda, terrified I was.
Inexperienced as I may have been, there was no way I was going to give up on this opportunity. Phrases like “standing on the shoulders of giants” rush through my mind in retrospect. To my way of thinking at the time I’m sure I felt that what I couldn’t provide in technical know-how I might be able to provide in simple human support. I knew full well that David had a vision and the wherewithal to execute it, but you must also understand that at the time Elton’s star and mine was on the rise, which gave us a certain influence in the recording industry. In a nutshell, if I had the muscle then I was more than happy to use it in helping David get the necessary funding for this project. Besides, selfishly, I knew in my heart that he was on the verge of his magnum opus, and I for one couldn’t resist being in for the ride.
In David’s words, “You get a sharper perspective of your own country when you’re away from it.” In the fall of ’71, with his wife, Janice, he moved to England and we began recording “American Gothic.”
It’s not my intention to go into great detail regarding the making of this startling collection of songs. Suffice to say that it stands as the pinnacle of his career.
A body of work so steeped in imagery, everything David is here - from stark noir pieces to sarcastic music hall parodies.
Even his songs of love and loss are branded with originality: the image of the moving van, the itinerant musician or the simple romantic breathe and move with sadness and timeless wonderment.
It’s been said many times that his theatrical background was the catalyst for his song styling, the thing that set him apart from everyone else. It’s true his work was riddled with homages to Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Orson Welles--and in his masterwork, the epic “Montana Song,” never has Stephen Vincent Benet met Aaron Copland with such breathtaking results. Yes, “Appalachian Spring,” “The Three Penny Opera” and “Touch of Evil” may pervade his work, but I truly believe without him being the man he was they may have come across with a lesser level of intensity. If you need proof of this, just soak up the emotion he pours into his vocals on lines like “Two sons born in Montana, Praise the Lord” or “In a white church, in a green time when faith was strong” from “Family Band.” Man! If you didn’t believe every word this guy was singing you were dead inside.
After all this time I miss David. He’s someone we could use right now. In a country rapidly either forgetting or rewriting its history, in a world affected by man’s inhumanity to man, and in a culture deprived of literacy and fueled by a cult of mediocrity, he would be a good companion.
David always reminded me of the title character in Benet’s classic “The Ballad of William Sycamore.” All of it is applicable, but the last verse says it all:
Go play with the towns you have built of blocks,
The towns where you would have bound me!
I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,
And my buffalo have found me. Return to Top
END OF BLOG ARCHIVES