Monday, February 25, 2019


I'm not a big Oscar guy. Haven't been for awhile.

I mean, I love movies. Even though I don't see nearly enough of them these days. I have a wheelhouse of knowledge that is far exceeded by others but still puts me in the game when discussions arise on, say, movies that came out between 1960 and 2005 or so. I love great films, I love guilty pleasure films, I love those comedies that are still funny after 15 viewings, I love thrillers that sometimes keep you guessing and sometimes don't, I even love good horror films. And of course, I love this!

And I love music. I mean hell, despite my noticeable absence from this space in recent weeks...okay, in recent months...Scott and I created this little blog to showcase our love of great musics, good musics, so-so musics, silly musics and even, sometimes, stuff we can't stand.

But the Academy Awards show itself, despite often spotlighting not only the best in film but also some damn fine and lasting music too, just doesn't tend to do it for me. I guess awards shows in general don't. Maybe it's the self-congratulatory nature of it all. Maybe it's that for way too long it's been, um, a little less than diverse? Or maybe it's just that the show is so, so long.

So I tend not to watch. But last night, just as I finished watching a DVR'd program, I flipped by to see where in the show the Oscars were. And I got there just in time, literally, to see this:

And I really do have to say, it was one of those moments that left me breathless. And so damn grateful that I saw it happen in real time.

For starters, this is a great freaking song. Emotionally churning and bleeding with the pathos and grandeur that all pop songs long to have yet so few are able to obtain. The muted beginning. Cooper's ragged but perfectly tuned voice. Gaga's vibrato-free performance that runs from soft and almost lilting to overpoweringly glorious. The wordless climax that so flawlessly brings us to one last, gorgeous chorus before a shockingly quick ending. "Shallow" has it all in just around three minutes. That is great pop.

Then there is the performance. Look how humble and quiet Cooper seems as he starts. Check out the stare he gives to Gaga, and the one she returns to him. Unbreakable. When she takes to the piano and begins to devour the song like a praying mantis (and I mean that in a very, very good way), the stage and the world belong to her. But when we next see Cooper again he has this unworldly smile on his face, like he can't believe his good fortune to be watching what he is watching, let alone be a part of this. And when he makes his way over to the piano to sit with her for the finale, watch the look they give each other after a mike-share that is so close they almost become the same person. They are smiling and draw and worn and content, and that final look shows us how much this moment just meant to them.

And then there is the camera work. So many times the direction of these shows is overblown and over-complicated and you just want to smack the director and yell, "Would you please just relax?!"

But not here. From the moment the guitar starts and the camera moves from backstage to  front, it is all one single tracking shot for the next four minutes or so. Think about that. It's all one shot.

The choice to show Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga rising from their front row seats and walking hand in hand to the stage, the audience in full view behind them, is such a beautiful one that it's hard to get my arms fully around it. And just the idea of doing it all with one single camera, uninterrupted, moving tastefully back and forth between two of the biggest stars and talents in the world? I don't know how someone thought to do this or, quite frankly, how it was pulled off with such precision that it seemed effortless. But it was spectacular.

So I'm still not really an "Oscars" guy. But you give me more moments like this? We'll talk.

Friday, February 15, 2019

One Man's Journey Through the Peaks and Valleys of Human Relationship: My Theory on Tunnel of Love

I've made so secret, ever, of my love for Bruce Springsteen's 8th album, 1987's Tunnel of Love.

Many times on this blog, like here and here, I have stated my belief (and Scott largely has stated he agrees with me) that the album is a true masterwork, the most challenging record of his career after Born to Run, (BtR being the desperate act of a man in danger of being dropped by his label). But Tunnel of Love was an almost equally difficult in that it unenviably followed the album that made him a global superstar, Born in the U.S.A. And many wondered what he would ever be able to do to follow it up, let alone top it. But with Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen amazingly did both.

The album is a letter-perfect encapsulation of what it means to be part of an adult relationship (or relationships, if you will), and as my brilliant co-blogger put it, "It was an album written by an adult for adults." The wistful romanticism of the first few albums, the defiant insouciance of the late 1970s, even the bitter political scars of the early 80s, they were all gone now. And what was left was a bare, plaintive examination of the darkest chambers of the hearts and the minds of men and women who were all grown up, yet filled with the traps and perils that came with it. Very few rock-n-roll albums in history have given us a picture of the adult coming to terms with being an adult. Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks did it in 1975. So did Tunnel of Love a dozen years later. Bravo.

And now, after the umpteenth listening I've given to it in the past couple of years, I have a theory. A new theory, if you will, on why Tunnel of Love is the album it is. So please. Indulge.

Here are the 12 songs.

1. Ain't Got You
2. Tougher Than the Rest
3. All That Heaven Will Allow
4. Spare Parts
5. Cautious Man
6. Walk Like a Man
7. Tunnel of Love
8. Two Faces
9. Brilliant Disguise
10. One Step Up
11. When You're Alone
12. Valentine's Day

OK. So we have 12 songs that all have a very similar theme running through them. All are about love, in some form or another. Unrequited love, obsessive love, joyful love, fractured love, lost love.  That is the contextual thread that runs throughout Tunnel of Love, and it's fairly obvious, right? I mean, the L-O-V-E word is right there in the title.

But recently, I saw more, and I heard more. I heard each of these songs as 12 chapters in the same book, and written/recorded in exact order. So in effect Tunnel of Love becomes one person's story, from the opening Bo Diddley-strain of "Ain't Got You" to the weary, winsome waltz of "Valentine's Day." Bruce has effectively written a book here, tracing one person's rather dark journey through the beginning, middle and end of a relationship.

Does that sound too far-fetched?

Let's examine.  Here's how I hear the story play out.

At the center we have a narrator who wants, needs to love and be loved. The narrator is a successful man, maybe absurdly successful, but he is missing something he never had. A true love. And he wants it. This is where our story begins.

Our narrator has everything he could ever want,  but is sad and alone, and therefore his life feels empty (“Ain’t Got You”).

But I'm still the biggest fool, honey, any man ever knew,
'Cause the only thing I ain't go? Baby, I ain't got you.

But then, just as he had hoped,  he falls head over heels in love with a woman, and even though he barely knows her, it feels like what he's always wanted. And he's ready to face all of love's challenges with her (“Tougher Than the Rest”).

Well the road is dark, but it's a thin thin line,
And I want you to know I'll walk it for you anytime.
Maybe your other boyfriends couldn't pass the test,
But if you're rough and ready for love, honey I'm tougher than the rest.

After this, life is sweet when this new love blooms, and (although this is not written, but certainly implied) the plans for marriage arise (“All That Heaven Will Allow”).

Rain, sun and dark skies, now they don't mean a thing,
If you got a girl who loves you and wants to wear your ring.

Not long before he’s to be married, the narrator begins to have traumatic dreams, rooted in this seemingly irreversible step he is about to take. One of these dreams is of a man who runs off and leaves his pregnant bride-to-be at the altar, unable to bear the responsibility of marriage and parenthood ("Spare Parts").

Now Janie walked that baby 'cross the floor night after night,
But she was a young girl and she missed the party lights.
Meanwhile in south Texas in a dirty oil patch,
Bobby heard about his son being born and swore he wasn't ever going back.

The other dream is about a troubled man who stays with his wife, despite so many demons that haunt him, difficulties and all (“Cautious Man”).

Billy was an honest man who wanted to do what was right.
He worked hard to fill their lives with happy days and loving nights.
Alone on his knees in the darkness for steadiness he's pray,
For he know in a restless heart the seed of betrayal lay.

The dreams pass and his wedding day arrives. He is proud and terrified; proud to be getting married but terrified of what's to come. ("Walk Like a Man").

Would they ever look so happy again, the handsome groom and his bride,
As they stepped into that long, black limousine for their mystery ride?

As the marriage begins both the narrator and his wife learn that with the joys come the hardships, and they both realize how hard this can be (“Tunnel of Love”).

When the lights go out it's just the three of us,
You, me and all that stuff we're so scared of.

Before too long apathy and coldness sets in, and distance begins to separate the narrator from his wife (“Two Faces”).

I met a girl and we ran away, I swore I'd make her happy every day.
But how I made her cry.

Apathy and coldness gives way to pure mistrust and resentment as the marriage now takes a darker turn  (“Brilliant Disguise”).

Now you play the loving woman, I play the faithful man,
But just don't look too close into the palm of my hand.
We stood at the altar, the gypsy swore our future was bright,
But come the wee wee hours, maybe, baby the gypsy lied?

And inevitably, this gives way to betrayal and infidelity, as the narrator (and perhaps the wife too) goes exploring for something else ("One Step Up").

There's a girl across the bar, I get the message she's sending.
She ain't looking too married, and me, honey, I'm pretending.

Ultimately the marriage ends and they wish each other well, but it is no doubt final in his eyes. He even rebuffs a chance at reconciliation (“When You’re Alone”).

Now I knew someday your running would be through and you'd think back on me and you,
And your love would be strong.
You'd forget all of the bad and think only of the laughs that we had, and you'd want to come home.
Now it ain't hard feelings or nothing, sugar - that ain't what's got me singing this song.
It's just nobody knows, honey, where love goes, but when it goes, it's gone, gone.

But then one night, Valentine’s Day night, to be exact, he thinks of her again and decides it's time to give it another try. Leaving our story with an uncertain but perhaps hopeful ending (“Valentine’s Day”).

So hold me close and say you're forever mine,
And tell me that you'll be my lonely valentine.

Makes a little sense?

There is, of course, a different ending that could be just as possible, one that tracks much closer to Bruce's life at the time, when he and his wife Julianne Phillips split up thanks to his carrying on with eventual (and still) wife Patti Scialfa. That ending reads, of course, that the narrator doesn't go back to his wife in "Valentine's Day," but instead to the woman he cheated with in "One Step Up." And considering Patti's ominous appearance 2/3 of the way through the latter is indeed possible.

Either way it ends, I still hear the form holding true. One man, one story filled with the hopes, doubts, joy and pain that comes with being an adult in an adult relationship.

All told through one masterpiece of a rock-n-roll album, Tunnel of Love.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Well, you wish upon a star that turns into a plane
And I guess that's right on par
Who's left to blame?
If you were a pill
I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Plenty of times you wake up in February make-up
Like the moon and the morning star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines 
Hey, you pop up in this old place
So sick and so refined
Are you strung out on some face?
Well, I know it ain't mine
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Trouble keeping your head up when you're hungry and you're fed up
Like a moon and a lone star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet as wine
Yesterday was theirs to say, this is their world and their time
Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow's mine
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Million Dollar Quartet

So this past weekend six friends and I made a journey (some may even call it a pilgrimage) to Memphis. It was the first visit there for maybe half of us. Ostensibly we traveled there on annual
weekend trek to see a college basketball game in a new location (we are all University of Connecticut fans and graduates, and each year we try and hit a cool new city and watch a game there). So that was our official reason.

But our real reason was, well, Memphis. This was a city we needed to see. Either for the first time or very eagerly once again.

We needed to see the Lorraine Motel and the Civil Rights Museum, which is breathtakingly and heartbreakingly awesome. In the truest sense of that word.

We needed to see Graceland. Because, well, just because.

We needed to see the bright lights of Beale Street and walk in the tracks of BB and Junior and the Wolf and so many others.

We needed to get some great damn southern cooking.

And we needed to see this place. Which, you know, holds as strong an ownership claim on the title of "The Birthplace of Rock-n-Roll" as any place could or should:

So we did. And just basically kinda lapped up the all-too-brief but so, SO good 50-minute tour that very comprehensively covered the history of Sun Studio.  And culminated in us standing in the actual studio itself. 

You know, the studio. The place where a few people got their start. Like Jackie Brenston and his  Delta Cats with "Rocket 88" in 1951, which to some rock-n-roll authorities is THE first rock-n-roll song in history. And B.B. King. And Rufus Thomas. And the Howlin' Wolf. And a few others people/legends/icons whose names you may recognize.

Which brings me to this photo. Which I stood three feet away from as our tour wrapped up in the middle of that iconic studio.

That right there is the "Million Dollar Quartet," as it came to be known. Playing an impromptu jam session on December 4, 1956. And filling out what has to be on any short list of the Coolest Photos in Music History.

Let's take a quick look, shall we?

There at the left is the baby of the bunch, 21-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis, still quite a few months away from making it huge at Sun Studio with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and, later, "Great Balls of Fire." Both of which would be recorded in this room.

Next to him at right is Carl Perkins, who was all of 24 in this photo and was actually in the studio that day to record a rather iconic "Matchbox." Oh yeah, and who gave Sun its first Number 1 hit with "Blue Suede Shoes" a year earlier.

On the far right and decidedly NOT dressed in black is the oldest of the bunch, a 24-year-old Johnny Cash, who had indeed had some success at that point, including "I Walk The Line," which was recorded (again) in this studio six months earlier.

And oh. Seated at the piano, there is Mr. Elvis Presley. A month shy of his 22nd birthday and already the biggest star Sun Studio (and, yeah, the world) would ever produce.

Four guys. Jamming quite by chance one day. The Million Dollar Quartet.

And just look at that photo! Look at how young they all are!

Look at how attentive and how, believe it or not, humble Jerry Lee looks. As he was the only one who at the time of this photo hadn't hit it huge yet. (Soon enough, for better and for worse, he would develop a confidence he would never, ever lose).

Look at how steady and confident Carl looks. Despite his fellow royalty around him.

Look at how focused Johnny is, and how almost shy he seems. Yet still exuding a cool that very few artists ever could.

And look at Elvis. Man. That is a look of reverence he is giving to Mr. Perkins, and there is also some serious joy in his face. Perhaps the joy of making music with the best of the best of the best? Even though it's only for one magical day?

Could any of them have possibly known of what was to come? Even Elvis, who was at that point a worldwide star? The four men around that piano did not total a collective 100 years of age at the time of that photo, yet the influence they would have on rock-n-roll and music in general and culture and on America itself is literally immeasurable. Could they have known? Is there anything in this picture that indicates they may have known? Elvis' look? Johnny's cool detachment? Carl's knowing pose? Jerry Lee's attentiveness? Any of it? All of it?

Who knows. All we do know is this happened. On December 4, 1956 at Sun Studio on Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. And maybe that's enough.

Because 62 years later and counting, it still lives and breathes. At Sun Studio, and in the all the music it would inspire for decades to come.