Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rockaway Beach

As my brother Jeff continues to make more and more progress every day recovering from a stroke, here's something bound to make him smile. One of his favorite bands (The Ramones) doing one of their best songs in pretty much the most Ramone-y way possible. Little is said, little is changed, just nonstop energy and sneers to go along with the irresistible beat. Rock-n-roll, baby. #TapperStrong

 

And boy howdy, as a dancer, Joey sure was...one hell of a good lead singer.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)

So a good pal sent me this earlier today


and how delightful was that? Sure, Anne Murray's not exactly a heavy-hitter, artistically, but as a pop-loving child of the 70s, I've always had a serious soft spot for her, especially after reading about her learning the hardest of ways why you never want to try to follow Bruce Springsteen on stage, especially not in New York City.

(This was during the brief period after Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez had left the band, when the fantastic Ernest "Boom" Carter was on drums. Springsteen was on fire, of course, and a quarter of the audience left as soon as his set was done; not only was Murray booed when she started her set, by the time her set was over, only a quarter of the crowd was left. Not coincidentally, that was the last time any artist ever even considered letting Bruce Springsteen open for him/her.)

Was that extra little walkdown filigree added to title line really necessary? I don't think so, but hey, quibbles. A more serious annoyance is the fact that they reverse the order of the first two lines, but then, absolutely everybody (except Dylan himself) does that, probably because that's how the lyrics were officially registered. Still, have none of them ever paid attention to (almost) any of Dylan's own recordings? Vexing.

[Yes, I know, in the very early days he would sometimes since it in the printed order, which is undoubtedly why the lyrics were printed in that order. I do not accept this excuse. Rejected!]

I found it an interesting choice for Dylan cover. 'cuz, sure, it's one of Dylan's very greatest songs—and when you consider the rest of us oeuvre, that's a mouthful, and especially staggering considering he was about 21 when he wrote it—but it was never a single for him, much less a hit. Nor was it a big hit for anyone else, unlike so many of his other songs, which were commercial and artistic successes, of course, for the likes of the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix and so on.

Only it turns out it was a successful single, first for Peter, Paul & Mary (who I try to avoid like the plague, hence my semi-deliberate ignorance), going to #9 in 1963. And then even more amazingly, going to #12 two years later and selling over a million copies. Oddly, that later cover seems little more than a footnote now.

Or maybe not so odd, once you hear the damn thing.


As a pop-loving child of the 70s, I have a soft spot for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. But this...this is not good. Abomination is probably too strong a word. Probably. But maybe not. Yes, it was apparently recorded as a joke. It's not a good one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RIP Glen Campbell

There's going to be a lot written about how Glen Campbell was one of the greatest guitarists ever, and that's true. There'll be a lot written about his studio work, his time with the Beach Boys, his huge success in the late 60s and 70s, his television shows, and the terrible sadness of his final years.

And there's going to be a lot written about the Jimmy Webb songs he recorded, as well there should be. A lot of people have called "Witchita Lineman" the greatest pop song ever. I'm not sure I can go along with that...and yet it's pretty hard to disagree. The late Sir William Joel of Long Islandington once described it as "a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts" and that's pretty spot damn on. It came about because Campbell had already had a hit with Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and, like Chuck Berry had the previous decade, he clearly saw the commercial value in using a specific location as a hook, so much so that he asked Webb for "another town song." "Do me another song that makes me long for home," Campbell told the songwriter and damn if Webb didn't do exactly that in spades.


If there's a more romantic couplet than

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time

Well, I've yet to discover it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This Land Is Your Land

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”


In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me? 

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Some Guys Have All the Luck

So previously I had declared this here perhaps The Most 80s Video Ever. Then a very unkind pal sent me this Rod Stewart video and I may have to reassess.

The animated effects, the deliberately herky-jerky framerate, the neon juxtaposed against the Patrick Nagel-like black and white, the drum machine, the chiming synths, the cheesy humor at the very beginning, the Miami Vice outfits...and of course, Rod the Mod at his Jaggerian pranciest. And if there's an artist in the world who has less standing to sing this nice guy anthem, I don't know who.


Needless to say, I love every second of this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

After the Fire

DT and I were talking a while back about post-Keith Moon Who LPs, as well as subsequent solo albums from various Who members. And I recalled that the Pete Townshend-written Roger Daltrey track "After the Fire" was really good.

But what I didn't recall was that the video itself gives Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" a serious run for its money when it comes to Most 80s Video Ever.


Sure, that's some earnest damn emoting at the beginning there, but then, Roger's always been a heart-on-the-sleeve singer. (And, if biographies are to be believe, guy.) And, yeah, you might think that one dramatic whiparound was enough, never mind seven. That's right, seven; I slowed the video down to half-speed, just to make sure my tally was right—although, admittedly, on the last one, he does a 270, rather than a 180, so I'm not positive if it counts. But what makes the opening work for me is how much drama he gets out of...lighting a match. Yeah, he later uses that match to spark a genuine conflagration, but that's in the future. At the moment the match is lit, it's just a surprise Spanish Inquisition-like appearance of...a match. And not even one of them really big mamajamas, neither; it's just a simple bog standard match, like used to be on the counter for the taking in restaurants and hotels and convenience stores. And yet the gravitas, the drama—it is simply glorious.

And I remembered right: pretty sweet tune.

Monday, June 12, 2017

You Upset Me Baby

Some givens: yes, B.B. King sings great. Of course he does—he's B.B. damn King. And, yes, he plays magnificently. Of course he does—as mentioned, he's B.B. damn King.

But the thing that about this gem that makes me laugh every damn time is how the vocals convey just how much he takes it in stride.


Like getting hit by a falling tree? He sounds about as put out as if an errant leaf blown on a breeze stuck to his leg.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Angel Eyes — For My Wife, 25 Years Later

It all began with a small smile. And the bluest eyes I'd ever seen.

It's a cliche, of course, to talk about love at first sight, to say you knew from the moment you saw your  husband/wife that he/she was the one for you. And in my case it wouldn't necessarily be accurate. I can't confess to reading my fortune with such letter perfect precision the moment I saw her 27 years ago. But I can say this: the blonde hair, that little smile in my direction, those eyes. They made me not want to look away. Maybe I couldn't see the future, but I could see that smile, those eyes.

Today, 25 years to the day we were married, I still can't read the future, but I can say this much; the present still looks mighty fine with her in my life. And if the future brings us as far as tomorrow, that looks pretty fine too.

"So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
How did I ever win your love?"

That's from John Hiatt's "Angel Eyes," also made popular-ish in 1990 by Jeff Healey with his aching and passionate rendition. Funny thing about songs that become "your song" with the one you love, you don't exactly know it's "your song" the first time you ever hear it. Or even the 20th. Well, maybe if you're extremely lucky, or if you're Marty McFly's parents, you know the very moment you hear a song it was meant to be the song that connected two hearts together inseparably for all time. It just doesn't usually work that way.

In the summer of 1990 I was 21 years old and a very recent college graduate. I was barely shaving every other day, let alone every day like I sadly must do now. I was clean-shaven and skinny, barely 160 pounds on my 6'1 frame. I had just been hired at my first ever real bona fide job as a reporter at a mid-sized daily newspaper outside of Hartford, CT. I was making a little money (not much, but a little) and was living with friends in a crowded but adequate little apartment. And I was single, unhitched. I thought at the time I had everything I needed; a job, a place of my own, a few bucks in my pocket and no attachments.

I spent that summer carefree and pretty much carelessly blissful, or so I thought. My last "girlfriend" had come months earlier at the end of my senior year and I told myself it was my time to have some adult fun. I thought myself funny, charming and somewhat (I guess) attractive. So I spent those summer months playing the proverbial field, dating and goofing around. My time, and everything else, was my own, and for a short while it felt like I had all I needed.

Only yeah, no. I learned something pretty stark after those few months. I wanted more than this. I was young and a little naive and idealistic. I wanted to be a writer and a poet and to cash in on my romantic's heart. No, I wasn't dreaming of falling in love, but I was smitten with the idea of being hit by that thunderbolt and having someone else with me who was hit by it just as hard. Look, I was 21 and had no clue what I wanted, truth be told. But I knew I wanted something and I wanted it to be amazing.

I would frequently go out with friends that summer to bars and to parties, even the occasional road trip, and "Angel Eyes," that song, was without a question part of the soundtrack of that summer. I loved the song, and what's more, I noticed when it was on. I listened intently to the longing and the beauty of that underdog's tale of found love. I heard something of myself in it for whatever reason. And I couldn't get it out of my head.

Now I'm the guy who never learned to dance
Who never even got one second glance
Across the crowded room was close enough
I could look but I could never touch

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

When I met Doreen it was in the heart of that summer, late July to be exact. It was in the newsroom. She was one of the first people I met that day and she was given the (unenviable) task of showing me around that day, giving me the five-cent tour and, it seems, making sure I didn't break anything. That's when I first saw that smile, those blue eyes. I thought she was exactly what she was, beautiful and funny and warm. I had no idea what was to come.

She was a little older than I was but we hit it off right away, the same sense of humor and a lot in common. Not only could I count on her counsel and advice now and again as I was getting my start, but I found we shared common interests. Funny, one of the first things I recall was we both loved legendary northeast band NRBQ and talked lightly of going to see them sometime. But it was a work friendship and not much more. Or so I thought.

And then suddenly it wasn't that anymore. I was thinking about Doreen all the time, her face and hair and those eyes and the way she seemed to make me feel a little better when she talked to me. When I heard "Angel Eyes" play on the radio I began to think about her (y'see, kids, back in the day we actually listened to music on the broadcast radio, but I guess that's another story for another time).

One night I got drunk with one of my closest friends and told him about her. He told me to make my move, so to speak. To go for it, the way friends do. But that wasn't my style, at least not right away. Instead I stumbled home that night, stone drunk, and wrote a poem about her. A lot of it was gibberish, but the final line was pretty clear, "I am ready."

Our first date happened largely by accident on of all things a Monday night. October 29, 1990 to be exact. Three days past my 22nd birthday. Neither one of us planned it; we just happened to be working late and decided to go out for a drink. Over drinks we talked about getting a bite to eat and she invited me to her apartment for a quick-fix pasta dinner. Perfect; I had to go out later that night to cover a story anyway, so a nice quick meal and some great conversation with a friend was ideal. Yes, at this time I knew how interested I was in her, but despite the recent drunken poetic declarations I'd put to paper, I was nowhere near ready to tell her that, I didn't think.

And then there we were, sitting and talking and suddenly her hand was in mine. I remarked at how small her hands were and we had a laugh about that; it was honestly something I hadn't noticed before. It probably took us a good few seconds to realize we were holding hands, but then at once we both seemed acutely aware of it.

That's when I threw all caution to hell, swallowed up every ounce of courage I had, leaned over and kissed her. And she kissed me back. It likely lasted five seconds but seemed to last for hours. Probably because I wanted it to.

That's when we looked at each other, that warm smile of hers suddenly warmer than anything I'd ever seen or known, and I had to think of something to say. "You're a writer, jackass," my mind told me as it sprinted 10 miles ahead of my body. "Say something a writer would say!"

But all I could come up with was this:

"God, I've been wanting to do that for a long time."

She responded in kind, "I've been wanting to do that for a long time too."

That was our love story. So much followed and continues to follow, amazing days and nights together, our engagement seven months later, our wedding 13 months after that, our life together. Sickness and health, great times and hard times, the birth of an amazing son, changing careers and traversing all of those paths life puts before you. All of it followed that first kiss, and it all has meant so much 25 years and beyond, moving down the road together.

But our love story was told in that kiss, in that moment. It shone like moonlight through her smile and danced through my soul as it reflected in those beautiful blue eyes of hers. It was our first moment and remains the window to every moment that has followed.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

It wasn't too long after that first moment, maybe a few weeks, that we were together and "Angel Eyes" came on the stereo. My song, the song that sounded exactly like the thing I was looking for even though I had no idea what that thing was. Before I could point out how much I loved this song she spoke.

"Oh my God! I love this song!" she exclaimed.

Yes, it was meant to be. We danced to it for our first dance at our wedding on June 6, 1992. That's 25 years ago today. We don't need any song to remind us what we mean to each other, how happy we are, but whenever we hear it we both are transported back to those early days together. And we are both so grateful for what we found in each other.

We've been together 27 years, married for 25, and are both signed on for at least twice of that to come. At least. And it all started with a smile that has never left me, and those eyes that remain as blue and perfect as the day I met her.

Happy anniversary to the love of my life. As the man sang, "What did I do? What did I say? To turn your angel eyes my way?"

The original version, throaty and raw and wondrous.



And the version we both first fell in love with, in all its ethereal beauty.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RIP Chris Cornell

What a voice.

Soundgarden. Audioslave. And one very very memorable session with fellow bandmates and friends called Temple of the Dog, which did two things: 1) Delivered "Hunger Strike," one of the best and most iconic songs of the 1990s, and 2) Kinda resulted in the formation of a band known as Pearl Jam.

The man did a lot and indeed left a mark. And damn could he sing.

Some people just look like rock-n-roll, in addition to sounding like it.

Chris Cornell was no doubt one of those people. He so very, very was.

RIP Chris. You'll be missed.

And for the record, this was one of the scariest and most unforgettable videos ever made. It still is.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died

One of the great things about punk, past all of the anger and the pathos and the defiance and so much else, is that so many of the standard bearer punk rock songs, when you cut to the core, are just so melodic. Think Patti Smith at her best. Or the Stooges with "Search and Destroy," among others. Or basically the entire Ramones catalogue. The list goes on, from "London Calling" to "American Idiot" and everything else in between. All of these young (and not so young) punks had something loud and urgent to say, but dammit if you couldn't sing along with it while they did. Or even, in some cases, dance to it.

That's what I love about today's entry in our occasional "Favorite Song Friday" series.

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died — The Jim Carroll Band

This is punk rock. I mean this is punk rock with a capitol damn P. Jim Carroll was many things and was really really good at all of them. He was a neo-beat poet who grew up worshiping the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. He was a best-selling author whose The Basketball Diaries remains as visceral a depiction of the urban nightmare of despair and addiction as anyone has ever written. He hung with and had the respect of the the proto-punk New York crowd, the likes of Patti Smith and Lou Reed and Robert Maplethorpe. He was a young basketball star who lived through addiction and survived addiction, with the scars to prove it. And in his spare time he fronted a punk/new wave band, The Jim Carroll Band, that while they weren't quite The Clash or The Ramones or Black Flag, for a brief while in the early 80s they were pretty damn good and a pretty damn clear representation of what New York City punk rock was really all about. Carroll's poet's soul, his storyteller's mind and, yes, his punk rocker's heart resulted in at least one truly great piece of punk artistry, "People Who Died."



There's not much more to this song that a churning 4/4 beat, a breakneck bassline, a couple of very tasty guitar solos and an eight-stanza glimpse into Jim Carroll's personal definition of hell. "People Who Died" is a literal list of what the title says; people in his life who died young and painfully, either from disease, ODing, war, murder or suicide. Every inch of the eight verses (three of which are repeated at the end) gives us a rapid-fire memorial of people in life whom he lost.

Carroll doesn't really bother trying to sing, he more raps and rasps his way through the hyperpaced list of the lost. And the words are so tragic and gripping you practically want him to stop, to say "No mas." But then comes the chorus and the song shifts from the frenetic poetic dirge to a fist-pumping rally cry to the lost. "Those are people who died, died!" he shouts/sings, "Those are people who died-died! They were all my friends! And they died!"

You shouldn't be able to dance to those words. Or sing along with passion to those words. Or allow those words to liberate you and make you rise from street-level where all the dead bodies lay to a place beyond death and despair where actual life can be celebrated. There's no way that should be possible in a song that is so riddled with death from opening to close. But you can. You can because Jim Carroll didn't just write down a list of people who died. He wrote a song to remember, mourn and, yes, celebrate them.

And read the lyrics. This is gutter poetry at its very finest, something only someone who had lived it and somehow emerged from it could possibly write:

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - and I salute you brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Herbie pushed Tony from a Boys' Club roof
Tony thought his rage was just some goof.
But Herbie sure gave Tony some, some bitchin' proof.
And Herbie said, "Tony, can you fly?"
But  Tony couldn't fly. Tony died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers.
He said, "Hey I know it's dangerous,
"But it sure beats Rikers."
But the next day he got offed, by the very same bikers!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - this song is for you my brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Jim Carroll died in 2009 at 60, far too young but, I suppose, way longer than he may have ever expected to live given his descent in his young life into heroin and hell. But he left behind a diverse and indelible canon of work that any writer would have been proud to call their own.

"People Who Died" was part of that canon. A big part. A song for the dead and dying. Written and delivered by someone who was and remains very much alive in a world he helped to shape.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Season of the Witch


Call this a guilty pleasure song, I guess. Or maybe it's a really really good song. I mean, I think it's a really really good song. So that should count for something, right?

I've always been a little funny when it comes to Donovan. I tend to err on the side of appreciating him more than I think others of my generation do. Which is to say, people who were nowhere close to being alive when many of his biggest songs like "Catch the Wind," "Mellow Yellow," "Sunshine Superman" and the song I am writing about today were written. And barely alive when his career peaked and started to fade by the late 60s. But some obvious annoyances notwithstanding, like his tendency towards overwroughtedness in his voice and his seeming penchant to take himself way too seriously at times, he was a pretty solid songwriter who had a fine understanding of melody and was never afraid to take chances. So sue me. I like Donovan!

(Actually, don't sue me if you don't have to. My kid starts college this fall and that's really the last thing I need).

So. "Season of the Witch." Yeah, guilty pleasure or not, I love it. So there it is.



No, I don't know what's talking about or singing about. His talent for writing sweet and moving lyrics (like the lovely and aforementioned "Catch the Wind") kinda takes a vacation in this one. ("When I look out my window, so many sites to see" is the kinda line that would merit an "Incomplete - please elaborate" if turned in for a high school English class. And the rest of it just seems to be filler until we get to the title line.) That annoying voice thing comes back, sounding like someone trying to sound grown up as he orders his meal in a really fancy restaurant.


The music, however, is outstanding. It starts with these haunting, twangy guitar strands that seem to lean more on a band like the Yardbirds than on the usual Donovan hippy-dippy-trippy stuff. There's a seething nature to the way the bass lopes menacingly underneath it, like an animal waiting to strike. Even those damn lyrics and that damn singing voice don't get in the way of the music setting an eerie stage. And when Mr. Leitch then goes up a register and actually "sings" for realsies the way we know he can, the song starts to get fully realized. It's almost like he's setting a trap and waiting patiently for it to be tripped as the music builds behind him.


But then, oh man. Once he gets to the "chorus," repeating the "stitch" line three times before that spring-loaded trap releases and we are hit like a right-cross with the payoff: "Must be the SEASON OF THE WIII-III-ITCH," all bets are off. The song becomes as commanding and overpowering as any of that era. And dammit if that isn't a great rock-n-roll moment right there. It's got everything we love about music. Tension, mystery, delightful moments of interplay and one mother of a punchline. And at each chorus, when Donovan employs this time-tested trick, it works like gangbusters; every time the song reaches its highest height with the thrice-repeated title line, it's as fresh and startling as the first time we've heard it. Well done, sir. Well done.

Lastly there's the guitar. Which starts as forboding little fills but when Donovan rips out that "witch" line, there's some awesome guitar work going on alongside it, a jangle that seems to be the marriage of blues and electric folk and seems to be borrowed from the likes of the Animals and (here's that band again and, hint hint, remember I said this) the Yardbirds. It's some serious chops and technique on display here, and honestly, I didn't think Donovan had it in him; nothing he's done before or after really reminds me of this kinda playing. I mean, he seems to be a fine acoustic guitarist, but this doesn't sound like him.

Because as I have now learned, it isn't. It's this little fella here:






















Mayhap this was common knowledge to some, that Jimmy Page played on many of Donovan's tracks during this time (including "Sunshine Superman") but it was news to me. I mean, I knew he was a coveted sessions player in his pre-Yardbirds days and even during, but never ever knew this was his handiwork until very recently. And I was as delighted as I was fershimmeled. Huh!

So there we go. Great rock-n-roll, as least as far as I'm concerned. Guilty pleasure or not. And regardless of whatever the hell he's talking about.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Daybreak

Congratulations to one of my favorite ever musical artists.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

We Don't Talk Anymore

This is one of two Cliff Richard songs that I loved when I was a kid, yet only discovered was by Sir Cliff some time within the past few years, decades after I'd first learned of the British Elvis.


Great tune. But boy howdy that spinning dance at the end, followed by the lumbering side to side shuffle is...not Elvis-like.