Archive | November, 2012

Happy birthday Kelly: John Fogerty’s Joy of My Life

27 Nov
My wife Kelly

Kelly is a little older today than she was when this picture was taken, but I still get that look occasionally. Hopefully not today.

Today is Randy Newman’s 69th birthday, which should be one to celebrate.

But not in my house, where Newman shares a birthday with my wife Kelly. There aren’t many people to whom Newman gets lower billing, but Kelly is one and especially on her birthday. Even if it’s his, too. (It’s also Jon Stewart’s, who for some reason, she thinks is funnier than her husband and sometimes seems to love even more, and William Blake’s. At least I can be sure the latter won’t be sending an e-card. He did leave us with:

Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.

John Fogerty's Blue Moon Swamp

John Fogerty’s 1997 release Blue Moon Swamp. Joy of My Life is song No. 10.


It’s important to note, in this entry and on this occasion, the grey hairs are mine.

Newman’s music, full of wit and satire, isn’t really appropriate for birthday celebrations (with the possible exception of You Can Leave Your Hat On). To celebrate properly, I’m borrowing John Fogerty’s Joy Of My Life, because Kelly is the joy of mine. I needn’t go into reasons, at the risk of making this more tacky than it already may be, except to say they’re bountiful.

Fogerty released the song on his 1997 album Blue Moon Swamp, one of his many comebacks. “As a songwriter, only a few did as much in three minutes [as John Fogerty] . . . He was severe, he was precise, he said what he had to say and he got out of there,” said Bruce Springsteen, according to Derek Barker’s liner notes from the 2009 Bruce Springsteen’s Jukebox: The Songs that Inspired the Man, according to wikipedia. Sounds a lot like the birthday girl.

Fogerty plays the guitar, on the link below, with the guitar prone in his lap. I’m not sure I could manage that; about the best I could ever do to approximate the sound would be with my teeth on a beer bottle. Which I’d gladly attempt.

Happy birthday, Kelly. I hope it’s a good one.

Some may have their riches
Some may have their worldly fame
Long as I have you
I treasure each and every day

George Winston: Thanksgiving

22 Nov
George Winston: December

George Winston’s 1982 Windham Hill album December. Thanksgiving, naturally, is the first track.

I’ve seen George Winston in concert several times, and each time he seemingly wore the same outfit: jeans, flannel shirt, unassuming demeanor.

So when Winston’s Facebook page linked last week to a live version of him performing his song Thanksgiving, appropriately enough, Winston’s outfit was no surprise: jeans and flannel shirt. I’m beginning to think it’s all he owns.

(Wikipedia cited a Dallas Morning News story from 1986 which said early audiences were so unused to Winston’s modest dress, they often thought he was coming to work on the piano rather than play it when he made his entrance.)

I once saw Winston at a very proper venue in Philadelphia, where the women wore evening gowns and many of the men formal wear. I dressed up, too, which meant my best pair of jeans. I felt a little self-conscious, afraid my Levis were soiling the seat, until Winston strode on stage attired in jeans and a flannel shirt.

I’m guessing Winston is thankful every Thanksgiving for at least one thing: he has a job which doesn’t require a dress code.

Winston said the song Thanksgiving (link below) gave him a “picture of Miles City and Billings,” from his native Montana. Having lived in five states, all of which went blue two weeks ago, unlike Montana, I wouldn’t know (I don’t think I’ve even flown over that part of flyover country). I’m guessing a lot of folks there wear jeans and flannel shirts.

I’m thankful, too, this Thanksgiving for all the usual reasons: family, friends, health, employment, security.

I’m also thankful to live in a time when music is so accessible and easy to explore, when you can hear of a new artist one moment, then find his bio and play his music the next, all on the same gadget.

I’m thankful for a year in which I’ve discovered new likes, like Uganda’s Samite, whom I listened to for the first time Wednesday, and become reacquainted with old ones, like the venerable Who.

I’m thankful for a year in which I traveled 10,000 miles from home to find a CD store where the employee had a limited grasp of English, but an expansive knowledge of jazz. I’m thankful to have made not one, but two pilgrimages to the Princeton (N.J.) Record Exchange, which is now, with the unfortunate passing a few years ago of Plastic Fantastic, officially my favorite shopping destination (equally thankful for the lunches afterward at Olive’s Deli).

And most of all I’m thankful for the musicians and the music they play, compose, record, whether it makes you want to jump up and sing along with a smile, like Ray Charles, or thrash and shriek like Pharaoh Sanders’ sax, or serene and contented, like George Winston’s Thanksgiving.

Like the Thanksgiving meal, it’s all good.

Kenny Werner: Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood

20 Nov
Kenny Werner

Kenny Werner’s Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood: he was Ken then

Allmusic.com called Ken Werner’s Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood “one of the best-kept secrets in his extensive discography.” Now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s one of mine — from me.

The album is a solo piano release from Inner City in 1981; I’m not sure how long I’ve owned it but it’s long enough to have forgotten it was there. Whenever I bought it, it was cheap, because the price tag is $1.99 from the late, great Plastic Fantastic record store in Philadelphia (Ardmore, Pa., to be exact), which stocked a good part of my collection.

I found the album Monday — Werner’s 61st birthday ironically enough — where it’s been hidden all these years in the oddest place: in perfect alphabetical order, squeezed between the many Eberhard Weber albums and the even more Randy Westons.

Sometimes new music is in the place you least expect — where you put it years ago after having never listened to it, or played it just once, while distracted, missing the treasure of it and assigning it, unjustly, to record collection purgatory. It certainly wasn’t because it was inexpensive because there are few greater pleasures than paying little for a piece of music you enjoy a lot. Thankfully, time occasionally appeals such injustices.

(The W’s are among the hardest for me to get to in my collection, because they’re on the bottom and require bending, which requires motivation. But the door to the W’s has been open all month because I had reverted to college-era habits and played The Who’s Quadrophenia non-stop in anticipation of their local concert appearance earlier this month. Monday I made my way down the W’s from Mal Waldron to Weber to Werner).

“On this beautifully recorded album of solo piano, his seven originals show a lot of depth. . .,” read the allmusic.com review. “. . . this should be considered one of Kenny Werner’s essential recordings.”

There are many more, of course, which is the next benefit of this re-discovery. Werner has much work as a leader and much as a collaborator with Joe Lovano and others; in the last part of his career, he played in a trio with drummer Arie Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmuller, from where the link to the performance of The Little Blue Man from a 2004 live New York performance below is drawn.

He also goes by Kenny now instead of Ken, and has for most of his career. I’m wondering if it makes Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood more valuable since Ken Werner albums are so much rarer than Kenny’s.

Stevie Wonder: Signed, Sealed Delivered I’m Yours

13 Nov

You can credit turnout, or the gender gap, or the Hispanic vote, or Colin Powell’s endorsement, or Hurricane Sandy, or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s opening act, but I’ve got the biggest reason for President Barack Obama’s re-election last week: better taste in music.

I can take four more years of Stevie Wonder, who surely is one of the President’s likes on Facebook (and one of mine); I don’t think I could take four more minutes of Ted Nugent (his music, not him personally), who liked losing candidate Mitt Romney.

(And lest anyone think this is a political position being taken, the officially endorsed candidate of Night by Night was Louis Jordan, who is 37 years dead, and his Swing Ticket campaign of 1952, which is 60 years expired. Louis Jordan for President. )

You can say that Obama’s victory, was, uh, signed, sealed and delivered by the arts. His theme song was Wonder’s and he campaigned with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan (who, prophetic as ever, predicted an Obama landslide on his Facebook page); Romney’s musical supporters included Nugent, Kid Rock and Meat Loaf. The best part of the latter’s musical work was Phil Rizzuto’s play-by-play on Paradise by the Dashboard Light, followed closely by the contributions of E Street Band members Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg on the same song.

Wonder wrote what became Obama’s theme song with the late Syreeta Wright; as the song became a hit, so did the couple. They married in 1970 — Wonder just turned 20 — though the songwriting partnership lasted longer. They divorced in 1974; Wright died of heart failure in 2004.

I’m not sure Signed, Sealed Delivered would be my first choice as theme song from Stevie Wonder for a campaign, but maybe Heaven Help Us All or I Wish wouldn’t convey the right message. “. . .as a political standard (Signed, Sealed Delivered I’m Yours’) opening line (“Like a fool I went and stayed too long”) is questionable,” wrote Claire Suddath on time.com. “Ditto the song’s bridge — ‘I’ve done a lot of foolish things/that I really didn’t mean.’ ”

Speaking of foolish things, my greatest disappointment at the Romney-Paul Ryan loss is the loss of the reaction of Rage Against The Machine — a Ryan favorite, whose passion for the group was unrequited (I can only guess who Joe Biden has on his play list). It would have been neat to see Rage Against The Machine change its name to Rage Against the Administration.

Sources: songfacts.com; time.com; steviewonder.org.uk; wikipedia.org

Louis Jordan: Jordan for President

6 Nov

Today is the day we go and vote. It’s too bad we’re 60 years too late to cast a ballot for Louis Jordan, who crafted 180 seconds or so of promises and analysis, dashed in a little self-promotion and called it a campaign: Jordan For President on the Swing ticket.

Though we might have a tradition, in certain cities, of dead people voting, we don’t of voting for dead people (Jordan last had the chance to vote in Nixon vs. McGovern in 1972; the King of the Jukebox died in 1975).

But if there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on, it’s Jordan. His platform was a lot like his music — full of satire, rhymes and humor. If you want someone to throw the rascals out, Jordan had a chance — in a takes one to know one way.

Jordan for President came out, according to its YouTube link, in the spring of 1952. Today, both parties would normally have their candidates picked by then. Not so in 1952, which gave Jordan an opportunity to scout the field in his song:

  • “If you want a man with a good offer, then cast your ballot for Kefauver” (Sen Estes of Tennessee, won 14 of 16 Democratic primaries but not the nomination; the party might have done better if he had).
  • “And you can rest, and be assured, you’ll get no graft from Taft” (Sen. Robert A. of Ohio, who outpolled Dwight Eisenhower in the primaries, but lost the Republican nomination at the convention).
  • “If you want to get the military bit straight, we all know that MacArthur would be great” (General Douglas A., fired by President Harry S Truman in the midst of the Korean War, did not run and endorsed Taft).
  • “If you want a hipster, that’ll take no sassing, then vote for Stassen” (Ex-Gov. Harold of Minnesota, elected at age 32; president of the University of Pennsylvania in 1952; ran for the Republican nomination 12 times)
  • “If you want the man of the hour, then vote for Eisenhower” (Gen. Dwight D., and Jordan was as right as any cable-news pundit; Eisenhower wasn’t just the man of the hour, but the next eight years as the 34th president).
  • “If you want to hustle with Russell, go ahead” (Sen. Richard of Georgia, a segragationist and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

Jordan had no comment on the eventual Deomcratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson, and perhaps more Democrats should have paid notice to that. Stevenson got only 44% of the popular vote and 16% of the electoral in November (on the bright side, he did even worse when he ran again against Eisenhower in 1956).

Stevenson might have been detached, but Jordan sure wasn’t. Like a lot of candidates he made a lot of promises: he’d “entertain” everyone’s kids on the White House lawn every Sunday, drink champagne, and buy everyone new shoes on his birthday with which to go dancing — just not all at the same time, we’re guessing.

“If you send me to Washington as your leader,” Jordan sang, “I’ll personally see to it that every living American gets his portion. After I get mine.”

Jordan’s candidacy had third-party cool — literally. “If you want to walk on the sunny side of the street, with the candidate with a beat . . .,” he sang, and then followed up with “If you want a candidate that’s real cool, don’t vote for the elephant or the mule, vote for me.”

And like presumably almost anyone who runs for president, Jordan had ego, too. “No longer will I be on a phonograph record, I’m going to be on Congressional record,” he sounded, more excited than any stump speech.

Of course, there was also the possiblity Jordan’s motives weren’t altruistic. There’s a bipartisan tradition of exactly that in American politics, too, and it goes back a lot longer than 60 years; even swing musicians might not have been able to resist temptation.

“If you send me to the White House, we all will serve,” said Jordan, pre-dating the Peace Corps with a pregnant pause, before adding, “Time.”

That’s the ticket.

sources: encyclopedia.com, wikipedia.org

The Who in Orlando

5 Nov

I met a man Saturday who said that night’s Quadrophenia concert in Orlando was his 40th by The Who.

I told him I was only 36 behind, but if I followed the rest of this year’s tour, I would just about catch up to him by the end of it. Time and expenses might not allow it, but interest would. I haven’t tired of Quadrophenia since I started listening to it 35 years ago; I don’t think another 35 concerts would dull my appreciation, either.

Saturday’s show, the second of this year’s tour, sure didn’t. It was 90 minutes of all-Quadropehnia, then introductions of the band, and then seven more songs — effectively, the encore — to close the show: in order, Baba O’Riley; The Kids are All Right; Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere; Behind Blue Eyes; Who Are You; Won’t Get Fooled Again; and Tea and Theater, a Pete Townshend-Roger Daltrey duet from the more recent Endless Wire (2006).

That was it. No pretext of extended applause and return of the band. Lights go on, audience goes home — without complaint. When your star performers are 67 and 68 years old, they’re not going to waste any energy going to and fro the stage.

“On stage, the band’s two remaining members . . . tackled the ambitious 1973 concept album Quadrophenia with impressive gusto for guys knocking on the door of their 70s,” was reviewer Jim Abbott’s take in the Orlando Sentinel. “(These old guys) are aging gracefully.”

That was pretty close to my view, though I’m guessing Abbott’s was closer to the stage. I don’t want to say we were high up, but if they had Muzak for escalators, Stairway to Heaven would have been appropriate in more ways than one. We weren’t in the top row, but if I was as tall as the basketball players who normally inhabit the Amway Center, I could have reached it with a good stretch.

The Who went a good 135 hard minutes without many breaks — Daltrey left a couple of songs to Townshend — and Townshend and Daltrey were the last to leave the stage. There was no sound trouble as there was on the first night of the tour Nov. 1 in Sunrise when Townshend left early. Nobody worked harder than drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son (as the drummer should on Quadrophenia), and by concert’s end Daltrey’s shirt had appeared to come a bit undone. How many 68-year-olds willingly bare their midriff, or part of it, to an arena about 85% full?

There were video tributes to the late members of the band — drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle, and Moon’s taped vocals on Bellboy drew particular applause — but it was even more a night to celebrate the vitality of the surviving members.

They can’t sing or lead on the guitar or even windmill on it like they did when Quadrophenia was released, but who can? If you went thinking they would, then it’s your expectations that were out of whack.

Townshend wrote on the delicately sung Blue Red and Grey (song 3, side 2 of Who by Numbers) about enjoying “every minute of the day.” That’s what I’m doing with The Who these days: enjoying every minute of their career, even as it winds inevitably down. There’s a time and plenty of reason for cynicism, especially now. Not here. And not Saturday — that was a time to sing and dance with two old guys who were doing likewise.

I dig every second
I can laugh in the snow and rain
I get a buzz from being cold and wet
The pleasure seems to balance out the pain

The Who and Quadrophenia

3 Nov

The Who’s 1973 album Quadrophenia: the one to save if I could only save one

The beach is a place where a man can feel
He’s the only soul in the world that’s real

Years ago, when I was much younger and possessed much less, I had far fewer albums. Which was OK, because I didn’t need many.

I had The Who’s Quadrophenia.

Today albums and CDs are spread in the front room and climb the walls as if they were Bougainvillea in the courtyard. Quadrophenia is filed amidst 30 albums — best hits, live albums and solo albums, records and CDs — by The Who or Pete Townshend or Roger Daltrey or even the late John Entwistle, in a compartment that has seven times as many albums, in a wall unit that has 10 times as many as that. Quadrophenia rarely gets played any more, but it’s still in my head.

I’ve been thinking of Quadrophenia and The Who and what makes a favorite album, because the latter — the half that’s left of it — began a tour this month that features the former, all 81 minutes of it. How stable are our tastes? Stable enough that I have my ticket.

From the liner notes: “I had to go to this psychiatrist every week. Every Monday. He never really knew what was wrong with me. He said I wasn’t mad or anything. He said there’s no such thing as madness. I told him he should try standing in a queue at Brantford football ground on a Saturday morning. I thought it might change his mind. My dad put it another way. He said I changed like the weather. One minute I’d be a tearaway, next minute all soppy and swoony over some bird. Schizophrenia, he called it. Nutty, my mom called it.”

For months at a time all those years ago Quadrophenia was the only record I listened to; it never came off the turntable. Life is simpler, in some ways, when you’re 21.

If I got tired of Quadrophenia, I turned it over, and listened to the new side for months more. I could set the calendar to it — it has four seasons and the album has four sides.

I thought I knew every beat, every note, every word with an English accent, every pitch, every switch of every part of the album, the way a classic car owner knows every contour of his vehicle.

I’m not sure why its coming-of-age angst resonated so strongly. I felt aimless, even if I wasn’t, and unsure, which I was. “I should be more careful what I say,” Daltrey sang in Dirty Jobs. I meant to be, even if I never was (and still am not).

“(Quadrophenia) is easy to understand,” said the singer Daltrey in an interview on thewho.com when the tour was announced. “It’s that period of your life when you’re going through adolescence and you’re trying to find out who you are. Hopefully you get to that point quite soon after your teens. Obviously some people would get into their 30s before they get there. Maybe even their 70s. That kind of story doesn’t change.”

I didn’t know that then, of course. Who does? Looking back at what is a now a blip in a longer life, I was overwrought and overly dramatic. Quadrophenia was the Xanax of young adulthood.

I took it off the turntable only to pack it when I entered a transient stage, and I stopped playing it probably because it was too much trouble to unpack. My tastes evolved to other genres and other artists and soon I had a few hundred albums and a few hundred more.

I found some stability — a job, then a better job; a place of residence, routines, eventually a wife and a son who’s now about as tall as I am — and if I felt the urge to play Quadrophenia, it was typically only at what Charles Pierce calls the whiskey hour. You can’t play Quadrophenia when yours is the only light on in the building, because it’s an album meant to be played at high volume. Playing Quadrophenia with the sound down is like reading a Shakespeare play without one of the characters. It’s not the same without the context.

I am a young man
I ain’t done very much,
You men should remember how we used to fight.
Just like a child, I’ve been seeing only dreams,
I’m all mixed up but I know what’s right.”

Years passed, and as Pink Floyd sang, 10 years had got behind. And then another 10 and another 10. The sportswriter Joe Posnanski, in a beautiful essay on baseball and Bruce Springsteen, wrote that he listens to Born To Run “probably 25 times a year,” to sing along with a certain part of the song. I realized I probably haven’t played Quadrophenia 25 times in the last 25 years.

But I get JoePos’ point; I sing along with Born to Run when I hear it, too. (Unlike Quadrophenia, JoePos doesn’t have to seek out Born to Run. Springsteen has his own station on Sirius and there’s a world full of classic rock stations where Born to Run is never more than a few commercial breaks away).

Music is subjective. I’m sure somebody loves Sad Songs Say So Much, but I’m not sure there’s anything sadder than the knowledge Elton John wrote it. And I learned to identify FM by Steely Dan, a tandem I grew to love even more than The Who, in two notes or less, the sooner to be rid of it (of course, sometimes it’s a false alarm and it’s Josie, a more palatable song, which only sounds like FM, by the same group).

Quadrophenia was a perfect storm of an album — Townshend’s lyrics, Daltrey’s voice, Keith Moon’s drumming, a message you weren’t alone at being alone. “The songs are so superb,” Daltrey said. “But they come from a very deep space within the psyche.”

A lot changes in 35 years — the artist’s perception, the listener’s, all of ours. Townshend wasn’t yet 30 when he wrote Quadrophenia — he’s lived longer after he wrote it than before, and the world he wrote it for, the world one was disconnected from then, has changed. Or has it?

“I think if you’re one of those people that gets left out of the loop somehow, if you can’t do twitter, God you must feel pretty lonely,” Townshend said in the interview at thewho.com. “This is about a young man who doesn’t fit in, that’s all.

“Everybody are now starting to communicate through texting, through emails, through Facebook, through all kinds of social media. And one of the difficulties with that is if it’s not a place where you can be absolutely authentic to yourself, you will have great difficulty when you try to, in a sense, mature, grow . . .

“And that’s what Quadrophenia is about. It’s this young man who realizes that he hasn’t quite managed to solve the problems of growing up and what he has to do is he has to sit and offer up to the universe and that’s all he can do. And I can well imagine that there are young people all over the planet at the moment coming to that point in their life, where they put their computer aside and they just try to sit with themselves and find out what does it feel like to sit in the rain and pray? I don’t know. I can imagine it’s happening everywhere.”

Townshend is 67, Daltrey 68, performing a great album of youthful discontent. Half the original band is dead. There’s an irony there, and a contradiction that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Perhaps Townshend’s points are correct, but are Townshend and Daltrey, with their decades-old album, the people who should lead that musical charge?” asked Nancy Dunham at ourstage.com. “It seems sad that a band that helped lead the British Invasion, that, in Townshend’s words, struck a blow for creativity and against authority, is seemingly trying to wring a bit more out of one of their most beloved albums . . .

“Quadrophenia was magic at one time. For certain fans, it will be nice to remember that time with the band’s two musical geniuses Daltrey and Townshend.

“But, truly, the time of Quadrophenia magic has passed.”

Has it? Perhaps. I’ve seen The Who live three times — the first on their farewell tour in New York 1982, 30 years ago with The Clash opening, then a few years later in Philadelphia, and a few years after that in Florida, before a half-empty arena, about half of whom appeared half-bored, seemingly more concerned with what to pay the babysitter than what The Who played for their encore.

I’m not sure what to expect from The Who as senior citizens, but I’m closer in age to them now than the age they were when they first released the album. The group that produced Quadrophenia and once wished to die before it got old, now sells cars, is the soundtrack to the World Series and CSI and performs at the Olympics and the Super Bowl. How much more establishment could they be.

And yet I’ve got my ticket, and a sense of excitement that’s not nostalgia. I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy the music for what it is — great songs, not salvation.

sources: The who.com, our.stagecom

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