--Butch Hancock, singer-songwriter
"Growing up in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things. One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, dirty thing on the face of the earth and that you should save it for someone you love."
--Butch Hancock, singer-songwriter
For whatever reason, I wasn't expecting Lou Reed to die at 71, as he seemed to have had so much music left to give us. An improbable feat, Reed made interesting, riveting--if occasionally disappointing--music continuously since The Velvet Underground and Nico, the landmark album of 1967. When there was naive, hippie music on the radio (not just FM but on Top 40), a sort of watered-down consciousness about the sexual revolution, race relations and other issues, the Velvets countered with that album of gritty, big city tales that only jazz artists were making at that time.
I first heard one of my all-time favorites, "I'm Waiting for the Man," on Detroit's
WABX-FM (somewhere I've got a tape where there's a nice segue between that and whatever was played previously). As I mentioned on my radio tribute, John Sleziak played "Heroin" at a get-together of my church youth. He was older than most of us and probably thought a bunch of sheltered, white suburban brats should experience a record as devastating as that. Besides bringing The Velvet Underground and Nico to the gathering that day, I also recall that he had LPs by John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef.
There are tons of Lou Reed tracks that take a haunting guitar figure and spin a song around it. "Goodby Mass" from 1992's Magic and Loss (his recollections of songwriter Doc Pomus) sounded great on my show yesterday. And when Reed reinvented his sound with the fury of 1989's New York, I loved that as well. The only time I saw Lou was on that tour, where (at Detroit's Fox Theatre), he played the entire New York album and came back with an encore of audience favorites. What a show.
Nothing wrong with the flat intonation that Reed projected as a vocalist. It made what he was singing about less sensationalized and more powerful than what any sweet sounding vocalist could have done with the same material.
And what material. Too many faves to list here, but each live album had a different feel to it and I find every one of them quite special. Of the studio stuff (besides the third album, The Velvet Underground, with so many understated, lovely songs) it is music to treasure, from 1978's filthy Street Hassle to 1982's The Blue Mask to Songs for Drella, the Andy Warhol chronicle Reed recorded with John Cale in 1990.
I always wanted to play "Rock & Roll" in a band, starting with the Velvet Underground Loaded version and then going into Detroit with Mitch Ryder's cover that was released the following year. Well, I got halfway there--in 1981, when I moved back to Michigan from Texas, old pals Dave Grenville and Mike Mulvahill got part of our teenage band together and we fooled around with the Detroit version. It was a blast; "Two TV sets/two Cadillac cars/don't mean nothin' at all."
Lou, we're sure going to miss your amazing music. Now you have to contend with the spirit of Lester Bangs floating around nearby.
Although unable to work one of my part-time jobs earlier this month because of the government shutdown (bastards!), I thankfully spend two afternoons in the office of the commercial radio station that also employs me on Sundays.
One of my activities is writing or re-writing public service announcements, and we received one promoting the showing of the Eddie Murphy film "Haunted Mansion" for Halloween.
The humorous thing about that was the title as listed on the information sheet I received. It was called "Haunted Manson." Now that would be redundant.
Situations just don't embarrass me that much in my old age. Even when my debit card doesn't work because there's eight bucks left in our account--well, I'm used to saying to a grocery cashier, "Sorry, I'll have to check on that."
But being a pre-teen and teen...embarrassment was my middle name! Sometimes it had to do with an older girl I liked (when I was about 12 one summer, someone I knew fairly well asked me when I was going to get hair on my legs), yet most of my lack of confidence centered around music.
Music was just so personal to me, especially then. At the age of 10, Mom took me to some department store (possibly Montgomery Ward), where there was a music section on the second floor. I wanted the 45 (single) of Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders' "Game of Love," and they seemed to be out of copies. It was uncomfortable for me to tell them the title...what? A ten year old talkin' 'bout love?
As a pre-teen, I was walking home from school, quietly singing Jimmy Ruffin's "All the Love I've Got" to myself. Somewhere on Townhall Road, I got to the "oh baby, baby, baby" part, which he kind of belts out, so I did too. I looked up and there was an older girl sitting on her porch, staring at me. Embarrassing!
Two other instances concern sharing Beatles records. When "Penny Lane" b/w "Strawberry Fields Forever" was new, my music teacher in grade school said she hadn't heard it, and told me I could bring it to music class the following week. As she played both sides of the single, I sat in the back of the room, nervous about my classmates' reaction. Even though this was a song that the world was beginning to get to know, I felt like people would be judging me for what I liked, as if they were tapping into my private world. My private world was my bedroom, where I played a lot of music in my youth.
It's doubtful that most of my sixth grade classmates even cared much about "Strawberry Fields Forever," because I don't remember a single kid's critique; I recall the music teacher thinking it was quite interesting (in a good way).
A few years before, I brought the Fabs' then-new "Nowhere Man" to school on a stormy day, because the teacher would let us play records at recess time when the weather sucked. Again, I sat there in a quiet turmoil, wondering what people would think. The cutest girl in the class, Cheri, was (I believe) a Jehovah's Witness who wore go-go boots and played ukulele and sang for us once. Needless to say, she seemed more womanly than most of the females I studied with. My heart was broken that day with her thoughts about "Nowhere Man." "It's too slow," she opined.
I've been working so much (and I'm thankful) that I haven't had time to even think about the blog lately. A few random thoughts:
We've got a fantastic display up at the library where I work concerning banned children's books--books that at least originally threatened those "regulating" the average person's life. Beautiful images of Anne Frank and Judy Garland (as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), just to mention two. Ms. Frank is holding a sign that says, "Banned for being too depressing" and Ms. Garland's sign reads, "Banned for depicting strong women in leadership roles." Really great. A sign of progress compared to then--was society really that ignorant back in the day?
Changing the subject completely (but still concerning library life)...have you ever sat in a public bathroom stall and someone tries to come in? Thank heaven you've locked the door, of course, but when that happens, I want to shout out, "Yo! Didn't your parents teach you to look for a pair of shoes in the space at the bottom of the door before trying to go in?"
As mentioned before, I love the smart and witty people I get to work with. One of my library co-workers was reading at the break room table and I was cutting a bagel, making the table bounce. "Sorry about that," I offered. "That's all right," she answered. "It's good to read a sentence more than once sometimes."
I was reminded of more carefree times at the library yesterday, as a sweet little blonde girl (perhaps age four) wanted to tell me something but didn't know my name. So she came up with a name based on what I was doing at the time; "Hey, picker-upper" is how she started her sentence.
It was the cutest thing, reminding me of raising my daughters ages ago. Simple moments like that don't happen that much to me lately.
John Batdorf & James Lee Stanley--All Wood and Stones II (Beachwood Recordings):
Remember Todd Rundgren's 1976 album Faithful, where he constructed note-for-note
versions of his favorites by the Yardbirds, Hendrix and more? Is that what we want in a cover version--technical accomplishment? My feeling is that this sort of precision ultimately leaves listeners cold. On the other hand, there are plenty of covers that radically re-write the original version to such a degree that one wonders why the artist even bothered (they could have just made up their own words and no one would have accused them of ripping off half of a song).
John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley's second album of Rolling Stones covers--the first was released in 2005--strikes a solid balance between insightful interpretation and, well, faithfulness. If you're looking for the grit of the original songs, you won't find it. But
All Wood and Stones II is loaded with inspired arrangements (beautiful acoustic guitar work that harkens back to JB's 1970s duo, Batdorf and Rodney) and impressive singing. The harmonies might even recall the Beatles more than the Stones, yet it never feels like Batdorf and Stanley are overreaching.
Take "Get Off My Cloud," which adds a slightly different sounding chorus to what is already one of the Stones' finest early songs. Were you ever able to decipher Mick Jagger's final verse? You can now; it's funny and almost weird to hear a British Invasion star wishing for peace of mind. "Play With Fire" (a simple but haunting chord progression from Keith Richards and more cutting lyrics from Jagger) is another that gets a great arrangement; same for "Miss You," which has a structure very much unlike the 1978 Stones version. The more forgettable tracks on this tribute album are the ones that still stink from radio overkill, save for "Miss You." It's still on the radio too often, but the duo explore its possibilities and end up reminding us what was stellar about "Miss You" in the first place.
Batdorf and Stanley's fresh versions don't replace the originals, and you might wish for more (any?) funk, more murkiness. Most of All Wood and Stones II works for me because it brings to light how underrated the Jagger/Richards songwriting team is as far as rock history goes. Would you really rather hear something Leonard Cohen wrote?
Tuesday's Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be remembered as the last time relief pitcher Mariano Rivera took the mound in the annual classic, and was it moving.
If you didn't catch that moment, as Rivera walked from the bullpen to the hill in the eighth inning, all the players who were supposed to be on the field stayed just outside their respective dugouts so that Rivera could enjoy a final promenade in full-spotlight. The New York Yankee with the most saves in regular season, post-season and all-star history was grateful, humble, and relaxed, enjoying every second of that wonderful tribute from the fans at Citi Field in NYC and his peers. That's some kind of class.
Metallica's "Enter Sandman" played on the sound system as Rivera made his way to the mound and I thought it was funny that Colorado's Michael Cuddyer (age 34) tweeted, "Enter the Sandman!" (one word too many) while retiring broadcaster Tim McCarver
(age 71) got the title right. Yes, I know...TM detractors might be saying, "that's all McCarver got right."
This week, Gina made two important new friends, as she will donate, with love and generosity, some of her jewelry creations to Heather and Kris, who are going ahead with their wedding plans despite the fact that Kris has stage four cancer. We are driving the pieces out to them today. Gina's empathy and respect for others is something worth emulating.
Compare these two great stories of humanity to the U.S. Supreme Court, who recently gutted the Voting Rights Act. The five judges who want our country to continue to backpedal when it comes to voter suppression tactics are supreme non-humans--
There's good texting and bad texting, and I would say that in so many cases it's totally unnecessary, not to mention a kind of inane obsession.
Not sure if this is a new idea or not, but the Olympia Film Society at the Capitol Theater brings a twist to the 1936 film Reefer Madness when they screen it on July 26: audience participation. Uh, no, I'm not talking about everybody burning one down--I think that's still illegal in a public place, although Washington passed a recreational pot law last year.
What they're doing is letting the audience post texts, which will appear at the bottom of the movie screen while the action rolls. Now that's good texting! They're calling it "Hecklevision." Reefer Madness, the anti-marijuana propaganda film, is already an unintentional comedy classic. Now it will be an absolute scream.
The great ones seem to pass on month by month, as vocalist Bobby "Blue" Bland took his last breath on June 23.
A singer of rare power and elegance, Bobby Bland's art bloomed from the 1950s to the mid-'70s just as casual music lovers missed him completely, and even the majority of those who know about the roots of rock'n'roll didn't make all the connections, either.
Check the music's sublime history, however, and Bland's influence is everywhere. His incredible records, from "Stormy Monday" and "St. James Infirmary" to "Lead Me On" and "I'll Take Care of You" really can't be equaled, but that didn't stop the younger artists who followed in his footsteps from trying.
Eric Clapton (and Robin Trower) pumped up "Farther Up the Road" but missed Bland's
casual swing; the Allman Brothers Band's "Stormy Monday" might have come close to matching Joe Scott's stellar arrangement (yet another stellar Bland recording for Duke Records in Houston) while falling short of Bobby's vocal cool. And I don't have to tell you how many hack rock bands have recorded an unexciting "Turn On Your Love Light"; on that one, the man from Tennessee blew everyone out of the water.
I've got a ton of favorites, starting with 1955's "It's My Life, Baby" (where wailing independence meets blazing guitar); "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" (a smooth, then roaring vocal, with the horns slightly out of control and over the top); the haunting "I Pity the Fool" (pre-dating the phrase that Mr. T. made famous on television); "Poverty" (perhaps the singer's most socially conscious piece); and the 1974 near-standard "I Wouldn't Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)," fantastic tracks all. Then there's 1961's Two Steps from the Blues, the finest album, regardless of genre, that year
--and right up there with full-length classics from Magic Sam or Junior Wells.
Bobby Bland was a titanic artist and it will be a no brainer for me to spin his records as long as music is my lifelong friend.