Thursday, November 26, 2015

TBT: The Schnickelfritz Band, "Turkey in the Straw".

This TBT goes back to four years before I was born. The heading on the YouTube clip says "first version 1942" but the song is older than that. Its origins may be traced back to an Irish song, "The Old Rose Tree", and variants were common in the U.S. during the nineteenth century. It is reported to have been one of the tunes played by Titanic's orchestra as the ship was sinking.

As for the Schnickelfritz Band, they called themselves "America's Most Unsophisticated Band" and appeared in Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), starring Rudy Vallee, whose agent discovered the band while visiting their hometown, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TBT: The Marvelettes, "Please Mr. Postman"

I was wondering what to use as a TBT this week, and the PA system at Key Food gave me the answer with this 1961 hit, which I first heard on the juke box in the "cafetorium" at Robinson High School in Tampa at the beginning of my 10th grade year. The other songs I remember from that time are "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens. The last is the title of an essay by the South African writer Rian Malan, which gives a history of the song, and which I'll post about sometime soon.

The tall ship Peking will be leaving South Street Seaport to return to Hamburg, Germany. This is good.

The bark Peking, her tall, buff painted masts reaching the height of at least some lesser buildings on the lower Manhattan skyline, and a dominant feature seen from across the East River, from Brooklyn Bridge Park, where this photo was taken, has been a presence since a few years after I moved to New York.. Launched in 1911 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Peking was one of the largest steel hulled sailing ships ever built, and one of the last large cargo sailing ships.

In 1933 Peking was taken out of service and sold to an English charity for use as a school for boys. She was renamed Arethusa, and anchored in the River Medway, where she remained until 1975. That year she was purchased by the South Street Seaport Museum, brought to New York, and put on display at Pier 16 on the east side of lower Manhattan.

The museum also owns another tall ship, Wavertree, whose white masts and bowsprit can be seen in the photo in front of Peking. Over the years, the cost of keeping two tall ships in good condition has proved a drain on the Museum's finances. Wavertree is now in drydock undergoing extensive maintenance and renovation, which I hope will include installation of her topmasts and spars.

News has now come that, thanks to funding by the German government, Peking will return to her first home, Hamburg, to serve as a floating museum there. This seems most appropriate to me, as Peking had no historical connection to New York, her trade routes having been mostly between Australia or South America and Germany.  Wavertree, by contrast, was in tramp service, and likely visited New York a number of times.

I'll miss those tall buff masts and that sleek hull, but I'm glad that Peking is going home, and that the Museum will be spared the cost of maintaining her and can concentrate on Wavertree and the other vessels in their collection.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TBT: Chris Kenner, "I Like It Like That"; R.I.P. Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint, who died this past Monday at 77, was a commanding, if nevertheless somewhat self-effacing, figure in New Orleans R&B from the 1960s until now. He was better known as a songwriter than as a performer, although he was a first rate musician who got his break into the business subbing for Huey "Piano" Smith at a gig in Alabama. Some of his earlier compositions, such as "Lipstick Traces" and "Fortune Teller", both recorded by Benny Spellman, were published pseudonymously under the name of his mother, Naomi Neville. "Fortune Teller" was later covered by the Rolling Stones.
A favorite of mine from his early works is Chris Kenner's 1961 hit "I Like It Like That". It has the springy rhythm and slightly understated quality of much of the best New Orleans R&B. I also like it for the line,"Let me show you where it's at", which brings to my mind the New Orleans greeting, "Where y'at?" That's the reason speakers of New Orleans dialect are called "Yats."
After Katrina did her worst to the Crescent City, Toussaint went to New York, and collaborated with Elvis Costello on a CD called "The River in Reverse". The clip above, "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?", is from that album.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Talkin' New York folk music blues, and meeting Eric Andersen.

This evening I attended a lecture by Stephen Petrus, curator of the "Folk City" exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, and co-author, with Ronald D. Cohen, of Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, a copy of which I bought, and Stephen kindly signed for me, and which I will review here once I've read it. Based on what I heard earlier, it promises to be a very interesting read. The lecture was held at New York University's Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. One of the topics that came up in the discussion following the lecture is how the real estate market in New York is making the city unaffordable for young, impecunious creative people like those who came here and fueled the folk music boom of the 1960s, memorialized in Bob Dylan's "Talkin' New York".

One of those present was a singer and songwriter I've admired since the 1960s, Eric Andersen, and whom I was able to meet and talk with after the lecture. During the part of his lecture covering folk music of the civil rights movement, Stephen mentioned Eric's song "Thirsty Boots":

Thursday, November 05, 2015

TBT: Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"

The song is by Joni Mitchell, but the version I heard first, on Boston's WBCN during my first year of law school, is Tom Rush's. No offense to Joni, whose work I love, but Tom's rendition has always touched me in a profound way. Although this is a song about autumn fading into winter, I heard it first in spring. And what a spring. I had lived in Florida for years and had not experienced a northern winter since I was seven. The first snowflakes,seen through a classroom window in late October of 1967, were exciting. Having to buy a topcoat and boots was novel, and the comfort they provided welcome. But novelty soon wore off. The New England winter seemed interminable, although I was sheltered from much of it because my dorm was but a few feet of covered walkway from the student center and cafeteria, and that was connected to the classroom buildings by tunnels. I was living like a mole.

Spring finally came, and with it my discovery of WBCN, Boston's first underground rock FM station. Perhaps this song touched me because it reminded me of what I'd just endured. It made me a fan of Tom Rush, who opened his concert in my neighborhood a year ago with it.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Mets: no regrets.

Yes, I wish they had won the World Series, though I should have known the pundits who predicted they'd win it all (I wanted to put a link here, but got the message "video no longer available"--no wonder) cursed them.

Yes, I can console myself with the knowledge that they did better than I had thought they would do at the outset and even at the middle of the season. They won the National League championship, where I had once thought their best hope was to be a strong second in the NL East to the Nationals and maybe have a shot at the wild card. At season's end, thanks to a monumental collapse by the Nats that was reminiscent of the Mets in some earlier years, they won the East.

I was nervous about their divisional series against the Dodgers, my first love in baseball until they moved to L.A., haunted by the memory of 1988, when the Dodgers had beaten the Mets in the playoffs. This year's series was full of drama, but the Mets managed to get by. The NL championship series seemed formidable, as the Cubs had soundly beaten the Cardinals, who had the best regular season record in the League. For the Mets to beat the Cubs in four straight seemed unthinkable, but they did.

Then there were the Royals. They had lost last year's Series to the Giants, and were hungry. Perhaps not as hungry as the Mets, who hadn't won one since 1986--the Royals won their only Series in 1995--but still very motivated.

As it was, the Royals outplayed the Mets in every facet of the game: batting, fielding, and pitching. My congratulations to them.

Will the Mets be back in as good form, or better, next year? I'll go out on a limb and say, "Yes!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TBT: The Flamin Groovies, "Shake Some Action", a tonic for the Mets.

All right, my Mets, time to get serious. Get back to Citi and show those Royals what you're made of. This 1976 hit, which I first heard on a "New Wave" anthology I got in 1977, is just the picker-upper you need. Get out there and shake it!

Update: the tonic worked tonight! Mets 9, Royals 3.  Let's keep it up!

A weekend in the Boston area for two reunions.

Last Thursday my wife and I went to the Boston area for two reunions: mine for the Harvard Law School class of 1970 in Cambridge and my wife for an informal gathering of her classmates from St. Joseph's School in Lynn. We spent our first night as guests of one of her former professors at Emmanuel College, who lives in the close in suburb of Brookline. From our Amtrak train at South Station we bought a Charlie Card, named for this Kingston Trio song, and took the Red Line to Park Street, where we caught a Green Line train (photo) bound for Cleveland Circle which let us off a block and a half from our host's apartment. That evening we were treated to beef Stroganoff, fine wine, and scintillating conversation.
Our hotel was on the Boston side of the Charles River (the "Mighty Chuck", as my wife calls it) and afforded a view of the river, Cambridge, and downtown Boston beyond. A women's rowing team was headed upriver, accompanied by a coach rowing solo.

Martha L. Minow is the twelfth Dean of Harvard Law School, and the second woman to hold that position. The first was her immediate predecessor, Elena Kagan, now a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Dean Minow greeted the alumni--my class of 1970 was joined in Cambridge last weekend by the classes of 1955, '60, '65, '75, and '80--with an informative talk about what is going on at the Law School now, much of which is summarized here. I was impressed by her statement that nearly half of the present first year class did not come to the Law School directly from college, but spent a few years working, either in business, the military, or some volunteer service like Teach for America. In retrospect, I wish I had done that. Dean Minow also stressed the changes in the curriculum since we were students, with more emphasis on practical training and a requirement that students perform pro bono service for indigent clients or public service organizations. Dean Minow is a daughter of Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President Kennedy and famous for having characterized television as it was in the early 1960s as a "vast wasteland."
There were several lectures and panel discussions, including one featuring alums who had distinguished themselves in public service. The panelists, left to right, are: my classmate and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Raymond Mabus, former Congresswoman and fellow Brooklynite Elizabeth Holtzman, and Jack F. Trope, Senior Director of Indian Child Welfare Programs and Casey Family Programs. Part of the discussion focused on the role of money in the political process, with Secretary Mabus marveling that, earlier in his career, he had spent several million dollars to win a job that paid $60,000 a year.
John Harvard surveys the Yard from his chair in front of University Hall, the administration building.
Across the Yard from University Hall is Holden Chapel, one of the oldest, and I think prettiest, in classic Georgian style, buildings on the campus. It has, to say the least, an interesting history, as described in this Crimson story .
Here's another view from our hotel window. In the foreground is the art deco former headquarters of Polaroid; the skyscrapers in the background are 200 Clarendon (formerly the John Hancock Tower; Henry N. Cobb, I.M. Pei and Partners, 1976) (left) and the Prudential Tower (Charles Luckman and Associates, 1964) (right).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

TBT: Jackie Wilson, "Higher and Higher"

I'm off to my 45th yer law school reunion tomorrow, so I'm in a nostalgic mood, thinking about the songs I heard on Boston's WRKO after my arrival in Cambridge for my first year in September of 1967. I had my clock radio set to wake me up in time for classes, and most of the time what I woke up to was good--this was a fine vintage year for pop music.

This is one song from that magical time that never failed to rouse me out of bed promptly.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mets vs. Cubs: is it 1969 again?

The Mets didn't play the Cubs in the 1969 National League Championship Series; that lot fell to the Atlanta Braves, then in the NL West. The Cubs were then in the Eastern Division along with the Mets. What did happen between the two teams was that the Cubs had a precipitous late season collapse, which allowed the Mets to win the division. This turn of events was highlighted (or lowlighted, if you're a Cubs fan) during a game at Shea on September 9, when a black cat--Shea had a resident feline population, evidently attracted by a sizable rodent infestation--appeared in front of the Cubs dugout and circled the on deck circle, in which Chicago third baseman Ron Santo was warming up. The Mets went on to win the game 7-1, the division, the NLCS, and the World Series.

Yes, I hope it's 1969 again. I wondered what the number one song was for that year. It was a great time for pop music; Beatles and Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, the Byrds, all the San Francisco psychedelia, and so on. So what was the number one song for the year? (Drumroll):

Well, it was a sweet year for the Mets. I hope 2015 is, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

TBT: Frankie Ford, "Sea Cruise".

Vincent Francis Guzzo, Jr., better known as Frankie Ford, died September 29 at the age of 76. He was long active in the New Orleans R&B scene, and the photo at left shows him costumed as king of the Krewe du Vieux for Mardi Gras in 2009. He had one hit record, "Sea Cruise", which went to number 14 on the pop chart and 11 on the R&B chart in 1959. He also appeared in the movie American Hot Wax.
.The clip above, from the NRRArchives, shows him on the Dick Clark show American Bandstand lip-synching his hit. I can remember around that time saving Beech-Nut gum wrappers which I mailed to get a 45 RPM EP that included, if my memory serves me well, "Little Star" by the Elegants, "You Cheated" by the Shields, "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy, and "To Know Him is to Love Him" by the Teddy Bears (featuring Phil Spector), along with a couple of others that I can't recall.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

TBT: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, "Autumn in New York."

"Autumn in New York", a song that seems to epitomize the word "wistful", has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Just over a year ago I posted Jo Stafford's 1950 version, which was in my parents' 78 RPM record collection and consequently the first I heard. The music and lyrics were written in 1934 by Vernon Duke, who also wrote the music for "April in Paris". I guess you could say he was a seasonal composer.

Here's a splendid rendition by two of the greatest jazz artists of the past century, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

I can't resist also including a link to a guitar instrumental by Tal Farlow that has an almost baroque quality.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Cosmic American Music Festival at the Derry Down.

I first heard of the Derry Down in 1966, when I was friends with some fellow University of South Florida students who were from Winter Haven. It was a nightclub for teens, serving non-alcoholic Daiquiris and the like, and presenting local bands. Early on, this prominently included Gram Parsons' folk group, the Shilohs. After all, Gram's stepfather owned the place.

Although the Derry Down closed many years ago, somehow the rather unprepossessing building survived. It was recently donated by the real estate company that owned it, 6/10 Corp., to the civic group Main Street Winter Haven, which began the Derry Down Project to restore it as a venue for music. To raise funds for the project, Main Street promoted a Cosmic American Music Festival, which I attended. "Cosmic American" was the term Gram used for his music, a syncretic style that melded influences from country, rock, folk, and blues. Today it's called "Americana" or "roots" or "alt/country."
The festival opened the evening of Friday, September 18 with a concert in the Derry Down. The opening act was the Toni Brown Band (photo above). Ms. Brown has a musical history that includes performances with a "Who's Who" of rock and country acts. She is also a former editor and publisher of Relix magazine.

One of the songs she and her band did that evening was "Rabbit Hole Soul" (clip above). Others included the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and Gram's "Sin City," which first was released on the Flying Burrito Brothers' premiere album, The Gilded Palace of Sin
One of several musicians who joined Toni and her band on stage that night was Walter Parks. I noticed he was wearing a Brooklyn Lutherie t-shirt. Later, when I met him and commented about it, he showed me a guitar that had belonged to Richie Havens, for whom Parks had been lead guitarist. It had an abraded surface and other signs of wear, and he said he'd be taking it to Brooklyn Lutherie for repair soon. Also in the photo is sax wizard David Prince.
The night's headliner was Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo, a band that drew on many influences, from punk to Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and, yes, Gram Parsons. After the band broke up because of tensions between Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, who went on to found Wilco, Farrar put together Son Volt, which continued in a style similar to that of Uncle Tupelo. Recently, he's been touring accompanied by another Son Volt member, Gary Hunt, whom Farrar described as "a talented multi-instrumentalist."
Was he ever. Here he is playing fiddle,
and steel guitar.

One of the songs Jay and Gary performed was a favorite of mine from Son Volt's album Wide Swing Tremolo, "Driving the View." The clip above has audio from the album, accompanied by a montage of photos of Son Volt in various configurations. Other songs they did included Farrar's "May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away" and a song about Highway 61 that wasn't Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." Called back for an encore, they did Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35."

The following day, Saturday, September 19, the show moved outdoors during the afternoon. 
One of the acts to take the stage that afternoon was The Hummingbirds, a power roots duo consisting of husband and wife S.G. and Rachel Wood, Detroit natives who now live in my old home city, Tampa. (Detroit and Tampa are umbilically connected by Interstate 75.) 

They did a splendid set that included the title track from their album 13 Days. Other songs they sang included "Leave This Town" and "Horses and Rattlesnakes".
It was hot and humid, but that didn't dissuade these young fans from reviving a late 1950s fad.

Walter Parks (more of him later) did a solo set that afternoon, during which he charmed a toddler fan by coming down from the stage with his guitar. Other groups that appeared were: Have Gun Will Travel" from Bradenton, Florida (check out their "Dream No More"); I Want Whisky from Atlanta (listen to "Poor Man's Dollar"); and the Adam Hood Band (spend some time on "Grandpa's Farm").

Later we went to The Fire Restaurant, where I'd had dinner (oysters and sirloin, both excellent, and at a price that, as a New Yorker, very pleasantly surprised me) the evening before. This time, having had a hefty grouper sandwich from one of the food trucks serving the afternoon outdoor concert, I chose lighter fare: their "Old Skool" burger, It was very good, too.

Finishing my burger, I went to the patio in back where Walter Parks and his band, Walter Parks's Swamp Cabbage, were setting up.
Walther said something like, "We'd never do anything commercial, like playing under a beer sign...oh, wait."

Catch them live in the clip above, doing the Tallahassee Theme to "American Guns." Despite his Southern roots, Walter and the band are based in the New York City area, and gig at local venues. I'll keep my eye out for them.

Returning to the Derry Down Saturday evening for the Festival's final event (well, not quite final; I had an early afternoon flight on Sunday and couldn't make the farewell brunch at Tanner's Lakeside, again featuring I Want Whisky) I was treated to a second performance by The Hummingbirds, this time accompanied by a bass and drums.
Also on the bill that night was a musician who had a closer connection to Gram Parsons than any other in the Festival's line-up: Jon Corneal (photo above; Jon played both guitar and drums during his set). Jon played drums and sang in the International Submarine Band, Gram's first country rock group. He also later played drums with the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Jon gets name-checked by Gram as the singer on their version of "Do You Know How it Feels to be Lonesome" on the ISB's only (but superb) album, Safe at Home.

The last group on the bill was the Hickory Wind Band, sometimes called the Hickory Wind Bluegrass Band. They took their name from what most consider Gram's signature song. Also, they're from Waycross, Georgia, a town in which Gram spent his childhood, and which is the locale for the Bobby Bare song "Miller's Cave," which ISB covered on Safe at Home. In the clip above, they're shown from an unusual angle and heard doing the classic fiddle tune "Orange Blossom Special."
To top off the evening, there was a jam session doing a medley of Gram's songs by various performers, including Toni Brown and Ed Munson, Walter Parks, the Hummingbirds, and members of the Hickory Wind Band.

Thanks to all who put this festival weekend together, including Gene Owen and Anita Strang.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

TBT: Jerry Lee Lewis, "Breathless."

Jerry Lee Lewis turned eighty on Tuesday. This is testimony to the wonders of medical science, or divine grace, or both. It reminds me of the joke about the old Vermont farmer who, when asked the secret to his longevity, said, "I always drink new rum and vote Democrat. One pizen neutralizes the other." (The story dates from the time when Republicans were progressives and Democrats reactionary racists. History takes strange turns.)

I saw the Killer live once. It was in the fall of 1979, and I heard that he was playing at a place on East 86th Street called the Lorelei that evening. I hurried there, thinking it was already sold out, but was able to get in. The Lorelei was a German beer and dance hall (East 86th was once the heart of a thriving German-American community) that had been bought by someone who tried to make it into a country music venue (the "urban cowboy" thing was big in '79). The place still had its original decor. Seeing and hearing Jerry Lee singing and pumping his piano under pictures of Mad King Ludwig's castles was close to a psychedelic experience.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Mets face a dilemma.

It has little to do with Matt Harvey's (photo) pitch or inning count. It has to do with whether to go all out to win their remaining regular season games in an effort to gain home field advantage in the National League Divisional Series they will almost certainly play against the Dodgers, or to rest their best players for the playoffs.

The Mets have a winning record (2-1) against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium this season, but only an even record (2-2) against them in Citi Field. Looking at history, though, their lifetime record at L.A. is .408; at Citi it is .496 (yes, the years since the move from Shea have been less than rewarding until now). What does this tell us? Not much, other than a home field advantage is, as they say, a home field advantage. You do get that last half inning if you need it.

So, home field advantage may be worth something. Still, there is this recent New York Times piece that argues, with historical support, that being hot going into the post-season may actually be an omen of trouble in the playoffs, and vice versa.

What to conclude? I just want them to win. Now, and then.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Winter Haven, Florida revisited after 48 years.

Winter Haven is a small city--population about 36,000--in central Florida. It's a little south and west of Orlando, east of Tampa, and west of Melbourne. It has fifty lakes within or touching its city limits, and is surrounded by citrus groves. One thing it has in common with New York City is a Central Park, with a fountain (photo above).

When I was a student at the University of South Florida I became friends with several fellow students who were from Winter Haven. I visited there on several occasions, and got to like the place very much. I even wrote a paper for one of my political science classes about its city government. (Don't ask me what my conclusions were; I've forgotten.)

From my Winter Haven friends, as I've noted before, I learned about Gram Parsons before he became famous. About two years ago, through social media, I reconnected with one of those friends, Steve Griffith. He told me that there was an effort to restore the Derry Down, the former "teen age night club" established by Gram's stepfather, initially to give Gram and his high school folk group a place to play. I then learned that the group restoring the Derry Down was presenting a "Cosmic American Music [Gram's term for his style, now called "Americana" or "Roots" or "Alt Country"] Festival," and I decided to attend.

I hadn't been to Winter Haven since 1967--48 years. In this post, I'll show some photos of scenes around town, all my photos except where otherwise noted.
One thing you're not likely to find in New York is a cattle egret standing on a car roof in a drugstore parking lot
 Another sign I'm not in the North: Spanish moss hanging from a tree.
The shore of Lake Howard, the largest of Winter Haven's lakes, was a block from where I was staying. I spotted this fly fisherman working along its shore. He's standing on a small boat that's hidden by the reeds.
This handsome building is at the corner of Central Avenue and 4th Street NW. Winter Haven is laid out with lettered avenues going east to west and numbered streets going north to south, divided into NE, NW, SE, and SW quadrants; because this pattern is frequently interrupted by lakes, some circumscribed by drives bearing their names, e.g. "Lake Howard Drive," I once described a map of Winter Haven as a Cartesian grid superimposed on a piece of Swiss cheese. The building is called "Time Square," and was given that name by my friend Steve, who, inspired by the clock on its northwest corner, won a contest to name it when he was eleven or so. I don't recall what prize he won. Photo:
As a bibliophile, I believe you can tell a lot about a city by the quality of its library. The Kathryn L. Smith Memorial Library, done in the Spanish colonial style popular in Florida, looks impressive and capacious. I wish I'd had time to explore inside.
Lily pads near the shore of Lake May.

Another solitary egret perched by the lake shore.

I'll be doing another post soon about the Cosmic American Music Festival and some of the groups and musicians I saw, heard, and met there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TBT: Leonard Cohen, "Bird on a Wire."

Leonard Cohen, the Bard of Montreal, turned 81 this week. He is a poet, songwriter, singer, and novelist (Beautiful Losers). I first knew of him from listening to Judy Collins sing his "Suzanne" on WBCN in Boston during my law school years. It almost made me want to be Canadian.

The clip above shows him doing one of his most popular songs, "Bird on a Wire," and a favorite of mine, live in concert in 1979.

Yogi Berra, 1925-2015

While he'll always, and rightly, mostly be remembered as a Yankee. the photo shows him as I like to remember him, as one of my beloved Mets. He's shown as a first base coach in 1969, the year the formerly lowly Mets went all the way. In 1965, along with coaching, he had donned catcher's regalia and called a few games for them. He became their manager after Gil Hodges' death in 1972, and led them to a National League pennant in 1973. Midway that season, the Mets were in last pace in their division. A pundit asked Berra if the season was over for them. He replied with what has perhaps become the best known of his many memorable quotations: "It ain't over till it's over."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TBT: Gram Parsons, with Emmylou Harris, "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning."

I'm off to the Cosmic American Music Festival in Winter Haven, Florida this weekend. Winter Haven was the home town of the late Gram Parsons who, in my estimation, was one of the most brilliant, and unfortunately one of the most troubled and wasted, pop musicians of the past century.

Gram dropped out of Harvard to form the International Submarine Band, a group that blended country, blues, and rock influences, a style he called "Cosmic American Music," that can be heard today as "Americana" or "alt/country." After one album, Safe At Home, he left to join the Byrds, one of the best American groups of the mid to late Sixties. He was with them for one great album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but left after he and Roger McGuinn disagreed about the band's direction. Chris Hillman, one of the original Byrds, left with him to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. After two critically praised albums, he was asked to leave that group because of his increasing alcoholism and drug use.

GP, recorded in 1972, when Gram had developed a close friendship with Keith Richards, was his first solo album. In it, he introduced the voice of a previously little known singer, Emmylou Harris. In the clip above, from that album, he and Emmylou do the country classic of the "cheatin' song" genre, written by Joyce Allsup, "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning."

There's more about Gram and Emmylou here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

TBT: Frank Sinatra, "September Song."

Yes, it's that month of cooling temperatures. We had a couple of days this week that saw thermometers registering in the low 90s, but relief is said to be on the way, after some rain we could use. It's also, for me and I suspect for many, a time of reflection, especially as we grow older and see the progress of the year reflecting our own progress into autumn, with winter to follow.

"September Song" was written by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, for an unsuccessful 1938 Broadway show, Knickerbocker Holiday. It was first recorded by the show's star, Walter Huston. Despite the show's failure, the song went on to become a standard. Bing Crosby recorded it twice, and Frank Sinatra three times. The third was the lucky one; it was on his 1965 album September of My Years, recorded when he was fifty. The album went to number five on the Billboard pop album chart. The song was later covered by, among others, James Brown, Lou Reed, and Willie Nelson.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Clothes in pop music, part 2, the Sixties.

Just over a year ago, inspired by Moira Redmond's Clothes in Books, I posted "Clothes in pop music, part 1, 1955-63". Since my last post went to 1963, why am I calling this one, which goes into 1972, "the Sixties"? I don't believe "the Sixties" as we Americans understand the term in either cultural or political senses coincides with the decade beginning 12:00 a.m 1960 and ending 11:59 p.m. 1969. Some people, I think, would begin the Sixties with the election of John F. Kennedy (November 8, 1960), others with his assassination (November 22, 1963). Some other arguable starting points are Dwight D. Eisenhower's valedictory "Military-Industrial Complex" speech (January 17, 1961), The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (July 2, 1964) the Gulf of Tonkin incident (August 2, 1964), or--from a musical perspective--the first arrival of the Beatles in America (February 7, 1964). I've decided to go with the date of the assassination. While the election of JFK heralded a change, his assassination was an event that tore the fabric of the culture; one that, I think, would not be rivaled again until the Watergate scandal and resignation of Richard Nixon. As you can see above, several other transformative events came shortly afterward, in 1964.

I'm not sure where to mark the beginning of the Sixties from a fashion perspective. Certainly Jackie Kennedy had an influence on women's couture, one aspect of which is mentioned in one of the songs below. For me, the most noticeable change came in the later Sixties, in the aftermath of the British Invasion, when Mod fashion began to make inroads here. What I remember are bright floral and paisley prints, wider lapels on men's jackets, and wider ties. Thanks to the Beach Boys, there was also a surfing influence, with baggies, Henley collared shirts, and huarache sandals. 

The other question is: When did the Sixties end? My answer is August 9, 1974, the date Richard Nixon resigned. Others, perhaps less politically and more musically oriented than me (though I think of myself as very musically oriented) might argue for the time the Beatles broke up, an agonizing, slow motion affair that may best be dated to April of 1970, when Paul McCartney announced he was leaving. Coincidentally, it was in the spring of 1970 that I experienced what I consider my quintessential Sixties moment. I was walking across the Cambridge, Massachusetts common and encountered five or six girls, about eight or nine years old, playing ring-around-the-rosie. What they were singing, though, was "Christ, you know it ain't easy/ You know how hard it can be/ The way things are going/ They're gonna CRUCIFY [all fall down] me."

Anyway, on to the songs:

In 1964 Frankie Valli and the other Jersey Boys had a number one hit on the Billboard pop chart with "Rag Doll." According to the song's Wiki it was written by group member Bob Gaudio, who "was inspired by a dirty-faced girl who cleaned the windshield of his automobile for change." When Gaudio reached into his wallet for a dollar (a very generous tip in those days), he found he had nothing but twenties (evidently the singer-songwriter thing was working out well), and gave her one, to her amazement. "I'd change her sad rags into glad rags if I could" is for me one of the more memorable lines from the early, pre-British Invasion Sixties.

Also in 1964, bluesman Tommy Tucker released "Hi-Heel Sneakers," which he wrote under his birth name Robert Higginbotham, misspelled "Higgenbotham" on the record label. The song would be covered many times, including by the Beatles and the Stones. Yes, footwear counts.

"Baby's in Black" was recorded in 1964, but released in 1965 as part of the album Beatles for Sale, which was released in the U.S. as Beatles 65. I've long been unsure if the song was about a woman mourning a deceased lover, or dressing in black to signal to an ex that she's available again. It's the former.

As I recall, Jackie Kennedy popularized the pillbox hat. Bob Dylan had some fun with it in 1966, on this track from his album Blonde on Blonde.

1966 was a fertile year for songs about millinery and clothes. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels had a major hit with the pedal-to-the-metal rocker "Devil with a Blue Dress On."

Footwear joins the fray in '66 with Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking." It was also a good year for tough woman songs (this and the one before).

Tough guy songs, too. According to the song's Wiki the Kinks' "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" was written by Ray Davies after he had gotten into a "terrible brawl" with a fashion designer (and his girlfriend!) following a discussion in which Davies derided the designer's obsession with style and in which
I was just saying you don't have to be anything; you decide what you want to be and you just walk down the street and if you're good the world will change as you walk past. I just wanted it to be the individual who created his own fashion.
A very, I would say, Sixties sort of statement.

Does eyewear count? I say, "Yes!" When I first heard "Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)" on Boston's WRKO in 1968, the DJ called the group "John Fred and his Louisiana Playboys." Jello Biafra covers the song on his recently released album of New Orleans R&B, Walk on Jindal's Splinters.

This achingly sweet, autobiographical song topped the country chart in 1971. According to the song's Wiki, Parton wrote it in 1969 while on tour, riding in Porter Wagoner's bus. Wagoner was host of a weekly TV country music show that was the launching pad for Parton's career. A college roommate told me he had gone to a Grand Old Opry road show in Orlando and heard the following during Bobby Bare's set:
BARE: Y'all watch Porter Wagoner?
AUDIENCE: [Lots of cheering, clapping and whistling.]
BARE: Yeah, I like him, too. But you know who his sponsor is?
AUDIENCE: [Lots of chuckling. Wagoner's sponsor was a patent laxative called Black Draught.]
BARE: Yeah, well, I think I could do something like that. It'd go like this: Folks, this is the Bobby Bare Show, brought to you by Ex-Lax. Now we're gonna have some good old country pickin' and singin' and some old-time fiddlin', but first a word from our sponsor. Folks, you ever have one of those nasty old coughs, the kind that just hangs on and hangs on? Next time you get one of those coughs, take Ex-Lax. It won't cure your cough, but it'll make you too SCARED to cough.
AUDIENCE: [Laughter and groans.]

I'll close with a song by the Hollies, made long after Graham Nash left the group to join CSN&Y. The singer is Allan Clarke; unlike other Hollies songs there are no backing vocals because Clarke intended it for a solo album. It charted at number two in the U.S. in September of 1972, shortly before Richard Nixon was elected to his second term. This was followed by the revelation of the Watergate break-in and by the ensuing efforts to cover it up that would lead to Nixon's resignation two years later.

In my previous post I promised that my next one would cover the time from 1963 to the present. I'll confess to having been unable to think of any pop songs after 1972 that are about or refer strongly to clothes. I suspect that this is because I haven't followed "pop" as much as I used to, and "pop" has fissioned into so many branches--disco, metal, punk, rap, reggae, indie, etc.--all of which I've followed to some extent, but none as thoroughly as the pre-seventies "top forty." If anyone can think of any songs from after 1972, or any from the period (1964-1972) covered in this post, that should be noted, please let me know.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Some scenes from Cape Cod

The Bourne Bridge, our entryway to the Cape. There are two other bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal onto the Cape proper. To the north is the Sagamore Bridge, and to the south is a railroad bridge with a lift span that stays up to let ships pass and is only lowered when a train needs to cross. Rail passenger service to the Cape was restored recently after many years' absence.
Skaket Beach, on the Cape Cod Bay side of the Town of Orleans, at high tide.
Skaket Beach at low tide. Note how far out on the sandbars people go.
Typical Cape marshland. What's that tower?
Aha! It's an osprey nest platform, and an osprey has nested on it.
Here's a close-up of the osprey.
This rabbit was often seen near our friends' driveway.
Provincetown harbor.
Looking back at Provincetown from the MacMillan Pier. The building in the background is the Provincetown Public Library.
On the way back from Provincetown, we made our second visit to Truro Vineyards; a photo of their vineyard is above (compare to photos taken in early June of 2013 in the post linked above). I bought a bottle of their estate grown cabernet franc and one of their estate grown chardonnay. I'll be tasting both and reporting about them here; stay tuned.
Here's a tiger swallowtail butterfly getting nectar from a butterfly bush in our friends' backyard.