Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The 50 Music Project: The El Lay Sound

XVII. The El Lay Sound

There was a time when I probably would have said that of the artists in this group, Linda Ronstadt was my favorite. I still own quite a few of her albums (mostly on vinyl), but they haven't held up particularly well, the exceptions being Heart Like A Wheel and Simple Dreams. What surprises me now is how well-regarded she was at the time for her interpretations of others' songs; since she wasn't a writer, that was just about all of them. Some of her covers are classics, but when she took on bigger game, like Buddy Holly, Warren Zevon (with the exception of "Carmelita;" her version is beautiful even if it doesn't quite match the original), Elvis Costello or The Rolling Stones, the results could be embarrassing. Both of the songs below made an appearance on her first Greatest Hits album, and if everything she did was this good, she'd might still be on the charts today.

After that I would have said Jackson Browne, who enjoyed a burst of creativity in the mid- to late-1970s that eventually would land him in the Hall of Fame. Late for the Sky and Running on Empty are both great albums, and the high points of The Pretender are arguably the best work he ever did. Since then he's never made a bad album, and his recent works have been criminally underrated, but nothing he's done since 1978 has quite matched what came before.

The Eagles? A great band; an incredible greatest hits album; the great Hotel California, and beyond that, a lot of inconsistency. I'm looking forward to their upcoming album, but frankly will be surprised if it matches up with the best stuff from their heyday.

Finally, anyone who's read this blog at all knows that there's no doubt in my mind today that Warren Zevon is the class of this class. One of my all-time favorites, no doubt about it.

Take it Easy, The Eagles

We gave Glenn Frey a nickname, The Lone Arranger. He had a vision about how our voices would blend and how to arrange the vocals and, in many cases, the tracks. He also had a knack for remembering and choosing good songs. Jackson Browne had shelved “Take It Easy” because he couldn’t complete it, but it was Glenn who remembered the song from some time earlier and asked Jackson about it one day. • Don Henley

Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne

The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, they gave us California as paradise and Jackson Browne gave us Paradise Lost. Now I always imagine, what if Brian Wilson, long after he’d taken a bite of that orange the serpent offered to him, what if he married that nice girl in “Caroline?” No, I always figured that she was pregnant anyway, and what if he moved into the valley and had two sons? One of them would have looked and sounded just like Jackson Browne. Cain, of course, would have been Jackson’s brother in arms, Warren Zevon. We love ya, Warren. But, Jackson to me, Jackson was always the tempered voice of Abel. Toiling in the vineyards, here to bear the earthly burdens, confronting the impossibility of love, here to do his father’s work. Jackson’s work was really California pop gospel. • Bruce Springsteen, speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, March 2004

Love Has No Pride, Linda Ronstadt
Already Gone, The Eagles
Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne
You’re No Good, Linda Ronstadt

Desperados Under the Eaves, Warren Zevon

As Cain to Jackson Browne’s Abel, Warren Zevon became, and remained until the day he died, one of the great unsung heroes of rock ‘n roll. His lyrical and musical brilliance was apparent from his very first album, on which this song appeared. One of the great lyric moments of all time: “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/I predict this motel will be standing/Until I pay my bill.”

One of These Nights, The Eagles

We made a quantum leap with “One of These Nights.” It was a breakthrough song. It is my favorite Eagles record. If I ever had to pick one, it wouldn’t be “Hotel California”; it wouldn’t be “Take It Easy.” For me, it would be “One of These Nights.” • Glenn Frey

The Pretender, Jackson Browne
Carmelita, Warren Zevon
Hotel California, The Eagles
Lawyers, Guns and Money, Warren Zevon

Running On Empty, Jackson Browne

The lines that made the song:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

Clearly, the seventies were taking their toll.

I Can’t Tell You Why, The Eagles

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 50 Music Project: American...Top 40!

XVI. “Keep Your Feet On the Ground, and Keep Reaching For the Stars”

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point around 1971 or 1972, I became absolutely obsessed with American Top 40, the weekly countdown of Billboard’s Top 40 hits by Casey Kasem. I began keeping lists of the number one songs, and to this day if someone asks me, for instance, “what was the number one song in the third week of June in 1973?,” there is a good chance that I’ll be able to name it.

This section was also a lot of fun to put together - there were a lot of songs here that I didn't own (at least not on CD), which necessitated numerous perusals through the used bins at Dimple Records in Elk Grove and The Beat on J Street in downtown Sacramento.

American Pie, Don McLean

When I was in the sixth grade, this was one of the most exotic songs I’d ever heard. It was fascinating; at the time, I had no idea what it meant, and no idea of the meaning of “the day the music died.” While McLean went on to have other hits, this was truly a one-shot. Glorious, but unique.

Sunshine (Go Away Today), Jonathan Edwards

This was one of the very last songs added to the collection, thanks to heavy rotation on the commercial in which it now appears.

Let’s Stay Together, Al Green
Heart of Gold, Neil Young
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack

Lean On Me, Bill Withers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert O’Sullivan
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl), Looking Glass
Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress), The Hollies

In June of 1972, my family took its first trip to Southern California, visiting Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Japanese Deer Gardens, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and other highlights. We ended up spending a lot of time in the old reliable Kingswood Estate, and nearly always had the radio on. These four songs comprised the soundtrack of the trip, along with “Take it Easy,” which appears later in this collection. In particular, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s lament was in heavy rotation; it was quite possibly the most depressing huge hit in the history of modern pop music. But I have to say that it still works, even today.

Probably the biggest find of the entire search while I was putting the collection together was finding three of these four songs on an old collection, Billboard Hot 100 Hits of 1972, at Rasputin Records in San Francisco. It's a great store - five stories high, and to get to the top two stories, you have to be taken up in an elevator, run by an elevator operator who stands there listening to music on a portable CD player on his headphones. Too cool.

Rocket Man, Elton John

The very first album that I bought with my own money was “Honky Chateau” by Elton John, on which this song appears. It remains one of his very greatest songs.

Burning Love, Elvis Presley

One last blast of greatness from the King, before the rot really began to set in.

I’ll Be Around, The Spinners

Thom Bell was a genius; the true heir to Burt Bacharach. His production and arrangements for The Spinners, The Stylistics, and others, was never less than sublime.

I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash
You’re So Vain, Carly Simon
Superstition, Stevie Wonder

These three were all #1 songs, either in late 1972 or early 1973. All remain as vital today as they were then, and can be heard on just about any given day on your typical oldies station.

Love Train, The O’Jays

I often wonder what the O’Jays must think of their great song of world peace and harmony having been turned into a light beer commercial.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce

Jim Croce was, without question, one of the most unpretentious stars ever to come down the pike. I never saw him wear anything but jeans, and rarely saw him without a cigar nearby. Were it not for his untimely death, I suspect he would have remained popular even today.

Reeling in the Years, Steely Dan

Back when Steely Dan was still a band, and had yet to morph into the Fagen & Becker show. One of the all-time great “roll the windows down, turn the radio up, put the pedal to the gas” songs.

Betcha By Golly Wow, The Stylistics

One of the great, classic rock quotes of all time: “James Taylor is merely a wimp – Russell Thompkins, Jr. is a Wimp God," Robert Christgau

Cover of the Rolling Stone, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
So Very Hard to Go, Tower of Power
Kodachrome, Paul Simon
Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & The Pips
Hello It’s Me, Todd Rundgren
Ramblin’ Man, The Allman Brothers
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
I Got A Name, Jim Croce
Knocking On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan
Show and Tell, Al Wilson
Takin’ Care of Business, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Come And Get Your Love, Redbone
Rock Your Baby, George McRae
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan
Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd

End of Session Must Be Near...

One of the things that used to raise my blood pressure when I worked in a governmental affairs office was when one of the houses of California’s Legislature would drop everything, and spend a few hours on a ridiculous, pointless debate on some non-binding resolution memorializing either Congress or the President to take action on an issue of foreign policy.

Well, the State Assembly has really outdone itself this time, voting yesterday to place a measure on the statewide ballot that would urge President Bush to “achieve the immediate, complete, safe and orderly withdrawal of United States forces” from Iraq. OK, whatever. Would there really be any doubt on the outcome of such an initiative in this, the bluest of blue states? And for that matter, does anyone outside of California care what we think about foreign policy issues?

What moves this from being a complete and total waste of time into the realm of shameful acts is the fact that California has numerous pressing problems of its own, problems that the Legislature has shown an increasing inability to grasp and/or deal with in recent years: education, health care, retiree benefits, the list goes on…

Yet, as we stand here today, with a little more than two weeks left in this year’s legislative session, this is how the Legislature spends its time – on a pointless and meaningless debate on Iraq.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Defending Harry Potter!

This is something that, eventually, I would have gotten around to writing myself (but probably not until my next lifetime), so I'm very happy that EscutcheonBlot from the Liverputty site has gone ahead and done it for me. (Hat tip to The House Next Door).

Titled "Harry Potter and the Snarky Reviewer," the piece defends the Potter series, and takes on those who felt the need, not only to criticize the books (which I have no problem with), but to imply that anyone who read them or enjoyed them was dim-witted and obviously quite uncapable of enjoying "real" literature. Even some of my favorite bloggers, linked on this site, engaged in some Potter-bashing, and the tone of superiority that characterized those comments and pieces was annoying as hell. [Warning: there are dozens of spoilers in the piece, so it should not be read if you've missed any of the books.]

My favorite section of the piece, one of those things I wish I'd written myself:

J.K. Rowling may not be a mistress of elegant prose, but Henry James is considered one of the all-time prose geniuses, and he often lost the plot before he finished a sentence. There is, of course, the pleasing narcissism of being able to pooh-pooh all that is popular in order to appear sophisticated and intellectual; but I don't think this explains either the undercurrent of supercilious praise of Rowling as a children's author, or the outright condemnation (as in the recent review in the Christian Science Monitor or the faux review in the Guardian) of the central character as having made no moral journey.

Kudos to Mr. Blot for a job well done.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The 50 Music Project - AM Radio Rules!

Last night was the party for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. I'd been nervous about it for a while, because the expectations were so high, but as it turned out I needn't have worried. It was a wonderful night, one of those that remains with you for a lifetime. It was emotional, because in all likelihood, it was the last time that this particular group of people will ever be in the same place, at the same time. There were moments of sadness for those people you wished could have been there, and those for whom age has taken a toll. But all of that was outweighed by the sheer joy that you could feel in the room. A wonderful night.

Right up to the last minute, I was putting the finishing touches on the "liner notes" to accompany my present for my parents, the 50th Anniversary Music Project. In a way, I'm almost sad that it's over - it was a lot of work, but it was truly a labor of love, in all respects.

This next section was one of my favorites to put together, because it was really the first time where my memories of these songs and the role that they played in our lives was crystal clear.

XV. AM Radio 1969-72: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous, and Back Again

For a kid growing up in Sacramento in the late 1960s, AM Radio meant 1240 KROY, and if you were a budding music freak like me and some of my buddies, that meant that you went so far as to have arguments about which disc jockey was the best – was it Bob Sherwood, Chuck Roy, Gene Lane, or the Wonder Rabbit? And why in the world was he called the Wonder Rabbit? And why did he always say “eat a banana?”

There’s no doubt in my mind that listening to AM radio for as long as I did – even when the “cool” 8th graders (if there is such a thing) were defecting to KZAP on the FM side of the dial, I stuck with AM – contributed to the diversity of my tastes. Because on any given day during the heyday of AM radio (at least the heyday as far as I was concerned), you could hear everything from some of the greatest rock songs ever created to some of the worst crap ever released on vinyl. Nothing in this section falls into the truly, hideously awful category, but I tried to include several songs, mostly one-hit wonders, that skirted the edges. But the great thing is that, mixed with all of the greatness, those songs sound great as well. In the end, it’s up to the listener to make up his/her mind.

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, The Fifth Dimension

The Fifth Dimension record on which this song appeared was in heavy, heavy rotation at the Vaca household for more than a year. I also remember sitting at the radio on Friday afternoons, breathlessly waiting for it to appear on that week’s Top 5.

Suspicious Minds, Elvis Presley
Spirit in the Sky, Norman Greenbaum

Yummy Yummy Yummy, Ohio Express

So…dad walks in after work one day, and starts talking about this song he heard for the first time on the radio: “I swear to God, they were saying, ‘yummy yummy yummy, I got a baby in my tummy.’” Close, but no cigar.

Incense and Peppermints, Strawberry Alarm Clock

Man, when I was in 4th grade, we thought this song was as cool as you could possibly get.

Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell was a ‘rilly big thing’ for a few years, and what ended up getting lost in his cornpone vaudeville act was the fact that he was a hell of a musician. This is one of several songs that Jimmy Webb penned for Glen, and it became the huge hit that it deserved to be.

Good Morning Starshine, Cast of “Hair”

Nearly forty years later, it’s hard to imagine that anyone took Hair – billed as “The first American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” – seriously. But at the time, there were nine simultaneous productions in U.S. cities, followed by an extensive national tour. According to producer Michael Butler, the reason for this was to “try and influence public opinion against the Vietnam War and end it as soon as possible.” O-kay; try to read that one out loud and keep from laughing.

Dumb as many of them may seem now, the songs remain wildly entertaining, though it would be difficult to find a more patently ridiculous lyric sheet. This song is probably the worst offender; for the bridge alone the lyricists (Rado and Ragni) should probably have been found guilty of a misdemeanor:

Gliddy glub gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba
Le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla
Nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song

But I defy anyone to listen to this song, and be able to get it out of their mind. Try it. Good luck!

Lay Lady Lay, Bob Dylan

How he got his voice to sound like this, we may never know. It certainly never happened before this, nor since.

Spinning Wheel, Blood, Sweat and Tears
Sugar, Sugar, The Archies
Hitchin’ A Ride, Blues Image
Little Green Bag, Norman Baker Selection

In the Year 2525, Zager & Evans

The greatest one-hit wonder in the history of Top 40 radio. Difficult though it may be to believe, their follow-up single, “Mr. Turnkey,” was a song about a rapist who nails his own wrist to the wall as punishment for his crime. I can’t imagine why that one failed to chart.

Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye, Steam

Dizzy, Tommy Roe
What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
I Think I Love You, The Partridge Family
Imagine, John Lennon

This group of songs absolutely epitomizes what was so wonderful about the AM era. Conceivably, you could have heard these five songs in succession on any given day. One absolute soul classic, one of the great crooner songs of all time, and one of the most legendary songs ever written. And two pieces of glorious, fun, dreck. Yet, those songs absolutely belonged. And that, folks, was AM radio.

Maggie May, Rod Stewart
Fire and Rain, James Taylor
It’s Too Late, Carole King
If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot
Theme from “Shaft”, Isaac Hayes
Joy to the World, Three Dog Night
Brown Sugar, The Rolling Stones
Truckin, The Grateful Dead

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Homestretch of the Sixties

XII. “We’re More Popular Than Jesus”

Depending on one's point of view, this was either the period of the Beatles’ greatest work, or the time when they evolved (or dissolved) into four separate entities from the true collaborative band that they began as. There is probably some truth to both opinions, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter, because during their last four years together, they produced an amazing body of work. They stretched themselves, and they stretched the boundaries of rock and roll beyond what any single artist or band had accomplished, or even contemplated. They truly were one of a kind.

Here, There And Everywhere
With A Little Help From My Friends
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
All You Need Is Love
Hey Jude
Come Together
Let It Be

XIII. Beyond the Summer of Love

This was one of the most fertile periods in rock history. And it was the time that “rock ‘n roll” began to evolve into something more accurately called “rock,” defined roughly by Robert Christgau as any music derived from the work and influence of the Beatles. In retrospect, this was when the first seeds of audience fragmentation were sown, as AM radio playlists tightened up, FM radio attracted an audience, and performers like Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel paved the way for the singer-songwriter boom that would commence in a few years.

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
Light My Fire, The Doors
The Weight, The Band
The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel
I’m A Believer, The Monkees
Son of A Preacher Man, Dusty Springfield
Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf
Piece of My Heart, Big Brother and the Holding Company
In the Ghetto, Elvis Presley
Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield

Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell. When I was in the 4th grade, one of our teachers (Mrs. Dotters was her name) organized a singing event where groups of kids sang popular songs of the day – and this was the song that my group sang. Alas, some numb-nut parent complained about our brains being poisoned by the devil’s music, and that put an end to that.

Mrs. Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel
Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash

XIV. The Greatest American Rock and Roll Band

Creedence Clearwater Revival was nothing less than a miracle. For a period of approximately 3 years, there literally was never a time that a Creedence song wasn’t in the top ten. And none of them were flukes – these were all absolutely classic rock ‘n roll songs, and completely different than most of what was hitting the airwaves at the time. Unlike most bands, who were following the example of the Beatles and moving towards a more “psychedelic” sound, Creedence was patently and transparently modeled on the sounds of Elvis and Buddy Holly, updated to sound absolutely modern and vital. It was a creative explosion that, aside from the likes of the Beatles and Stones, has never been matched.

Proud Mary
Bad Moon Rising
Down on the Corner
Green River
Fortunate Son
Up Around the Bend
Who’ll Stop the Rain?
Lookin’ Out My Back Door

Business As Usual

The California State Senate is leading the latest crusade to excoriate the state's public universities for not being in compliance with Title IX, which governs gender equity in collegiate athletics.

I worked for the California State University system's Office of Governmental Affairs for 13 years, and because it quickly became apparent when I was hired that I was the biggest sports fan among the staff, the college sports/athletics assignment was given to me. Title IX was a huge issue for CSU at the time, because the California branch of the National Organization of Women had sued the system for non-compliance. In a decision that was correct but controversial, then-Chancellor Barry Munitz agreed that CSU would enter into a Consent Decree, stipulating that after a period of several years (If I recall, it was somewhere between 5 and 7), CSU campuses would achieve certain benchmarks in demonstrating progress towards achieving gender equity in athletics in a wide variety of categories, including opportunities for student athletes, funding for facilities, salaries for coaches, etc. When the term of the Consent Decree was completed, both sides agreed that its requirements had been met.

In my mind, CSU was way ahead of the game in terms of meeting Title IX requirements, both then and now. At the same time, it didn't take long for me to realize that this was one of the classic "loser" issues of all time, because no matter what CSU did, it was going to be lambasted by a significant constituency. If campuses were unable to achieve requirements because there was simply insufficient interest in women's athletics (which was and probably still is the case at some campuses), Democrats were outraged. And if the only thing that some campuses could do to achieve gender equity was to cut men's programs such as football or wrestling, Republican members (and many alumni) were outraged.

The 900-pound gorilla, as one of my colleagues called it at the time, is men's football. For a campus where men's football rules, such as Fresno State, it becomes next to impossible to achieve many of Title IX's requirements. And the sad fact of the matter is that, until and unless there is equivalent interest in women's athletics, interest that generates sufficient revenue to justify the existence of the programs in the first place, football (and at some schools, basketball) is always going to skew the statistics.

There's no doubt that Title IX is sound public policy, as well as the right thing to do. But at least as often as not, public universities (at least those in California) get little credit (and a raw deal) from state policymakers for their efforts.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Stones and Soul

IX. Would You Let Your Daughter Marry A Rolling Stone?

I'm sure that I heard "Satisfaction" and some of the other great early Stones hits when I was a kid, but the first one I really remember hearing - and remember dad letting me turn up the radio when it came on - was "Honky Tonk Women." At that time, I had no idea about the Stones' image as the bad boys of rock, and I kinda doubt that my dad did either. By the mid-seventies, I was convinced they were the greatest rock band of all time. I'm not sure I'd go to the mat on that today, but they're certainly up there near the top. And you have to give them credit; after years of releasing what frankly were pretty terrible albums, just a couple of years ago they came out with one that was right up there with their best. Not quite at that level, but certainly close enough to justify their ongoing existence as a performing entity.

Mick Jagger was never a rocker. He wasn’t a mod, either. He was a bohemian, an antiutopian version of what Americans called a folkie. That is, he was attracted to music of a certain innocence as only a fairly classy – and sophisticated – person can be. Unlike John Lennon and Paul McCartney (and Bob Dylan), his ambitions weren’t kindled by Elvis Presley; his angry, low-rent mien was no more a reflection of his economic fate than his stardom was a means for him to escape it.” • Robert Christgau, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll

I don’t know how Mick Jagger became the symbol of rock and roll but he did and I’ve had to think about him and his band and his music more than I’ve had to think about anything else in rock. • Simon Frith, Stranded: Rock and Roll For a Desert Island

As Tears Go By
19th Nervous Breakdown
Get Off Of My Cloud
Paint It Black
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Honky Tonk Women

X. Sweet Soul Music

What can you say? Music that sounds as fresh today as on the day it was released. They really don't make them like this anymore.

Night Train, James Brown

I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long, Otis Redding

“Majestic” is the only word that adequately describes this song, Redding’s best if not best known. The tension builds from the first note, and the release comes in the final verse, when the horns and the piano complement the pained vocal – a man pleading, on his knees, literally begging for the relationship to continue. J.V.

Soul Man, Sam & Dave

Ice-cold truth, told as much by trumpet and guitar as by the fabulous interplay of voices. In the history of braggadocio, few have been so convincing. • Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made

Respect, Aretha Franklin

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, James Brown

With the possible exception of Little Richard, no one has ever made a rock or rhythm and blues record this extreme. At a time when Motown had made comparatively ornate records seem the wave of the future, Brown posited the most radical alternative: a record so totally immersed in rhythm that you barely noticed ornamentation at all. No record before sounded anything like it. No record since – certainly no dance record – has been unmarked by it. James Brown is entitled to every bit of his vanity, because in 1965, he invented the rhythmic future in which we live today. • Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made

In the Midnight Hour, Wilson Pickett

Stag-o-lee in a mohair suit, he promoted a sly carnal urgency, but it was “In the Midnight Hour,” more plea than brag, that made him immortal. Pickett climbed mountains, crossed rivers, braved storms, all within his room, until the door opened and love came tumbling down. • Greil Marcus, Stranded: Rock and Roll For a Desert Island

Try A Little Tenderness, Otis Redding

I only saw him perform once, at a revue in Boston. The audience was overwhelmingly black and sat through two and a half hours of mediocre soul music before Redding made his appearance. The crowd was growing restless, having heard too many singers say, “Let me see you clap your hands.” Then Redding came on. The first thing he did was say, “Let me see you clap your hands.” I immediately forgot the preceding two and a half hours and clapped my hands. The audience knew instantly it was in the presence of an absolute master. The band still had not played a single note yet every person in the hall was standing. • Jon Landau, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll

When A Man Loves A Woman, Percy Sledge

Beginning with “When A Man Loves A Woman” – Sledge never matched it, no one could have – this was soul so deep it seemed to rise slowly from the bottom of the sea, and, as each song ended, to return from whence it came. • Greil Marcus, Stranded: Rock and Roll For a Desert Island

Hold On I’m Comin, Sam & Dave
I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown
It’s All Right, The Impressions
Land of 1000 Dances, Wilson Pickett
Knock On Wood, Eddie Floyd
I’ve Never Loved A Man (the Way I Love You), Aretha Franklin
Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Favorite Movies, A to Z

The A to Z idea comes courtesy of Tom the Dog, but rather than general obsessions or albums I decided to give movies a whirl. There were some tough choices, and on some letters, very slim pickings. Here goes:

American Graffiti – Watching this movie makes me wonder what happened to George Lucas’ ability to work with actors. The performances are all so natural; so believable. Of course, the real star of the movie is the soundtrack, which remains the best available compilation of late fifties/early sixties rock ‘n roll.

Blade Runner – Amazing when it was released, even better with the tweaks that have occurred over the years on various VHS and DVD editions. Harrison Ford is excellent, but the movie’s strength comes from the performance of Rutger Hauer.

A Christmas Story – I’ve never gotten tired of it, and never will. Every year, it feels like we find a new favorite moment. But the all-time highlight has to be Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as the parents.

The Dead Zone – Still one of the best movie adaptations of a Stephen King novel, and my favorite performance from Christopher Walken. The scene where Tom Skerritt tells Walken that his power is a “gift from God,” and Walken's reaction, never fails to send chills down my spine. And a truly chilling performance from Martin Sheen, as a very different presidential candidate from the one he would go on to play 20 years later.

The Empire Strikes Back – Hands down, the best of the Star Wars films. I saw it, either alone or with my brothers, 8 times during the summer of 1980. Favorite moment? “The force is with you, young Skywalker…but you are not a Jedi yet.”

Fargo – Just thinking about William H. Macy’s performance makes me want to stick binder clips on the ends of my fingers. And yes, Frances McDormand deserved her Oscar.

The Godfather – Perfection in every frame.

Hannah and Her Sisters – My favorite Woody Allen movie. Wonderful performances from Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey, and Allen himself. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the story is built around Thanksgiving, and I always try to watch it in November.

The Incredibles – This isn’t just a great Pixar film – this is a great film, period. Maybe you have to have grown up reading comic books to think so, but I hope not.

Jaws – When this came out, who knew what was to come from Steven Spielberg? But the moments are all there; little ones, like Brody making faces at his young son, who knows that daddy is upset but is not sure why. And…Robert Shaw!

Kill Bill, Vol. I – Truth be told, I don’t even think this is Tarantino’s best film (Pulp Fiction wins that contest, hands down), but it’s included here because it filled a very special need at a very important time. I was going through a particularly frustrating and depressing time at work, and skipping out and taking a long lunch to watch Uma Thurman wreak havoc on the world was just the medicine I needed.

L.A. Confidential – One of my all-time favorite books, and even though the movie made some very important deletions and changes, it was absolutely true to the Ellroy spirit. Coming generations who watch this movie and see Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce will be envious of those who saw the movie when those two were but little-known actors.

Moulin Rouge – Incandescent; transcendent; wonderful. The moment when Nicole Kidman is lowered, seemingly from the heavens, and the camera zooms in on her face is one of the great moments in cinematic history.

North by Northwest – Cary Grant, at his most debonair. Need more be said?

Ordinary People – Great performances all around, but especially from Timothy Hutton. I’ve seen this film scorned because it “robbed” Raging Bull of a Best Picture Oscar, but that scorn is wholly undeserved. This too is a great film.

Prince of the City – It kills me to leave Pulp Fiction off, but I’ve got to go with my heart – This is the great unsung American drama of all time, and thankfully it is now available on DVD. Incredible, incredible cast, and masterful film-making from the great Sidney Lumet.

Quiz Show – With a performance from John Turturro that rivals William H. Macy’s “Fargo” turn in its twitchiness.

The Right Stuff – It’s two completely different movies rolled into one – the Chuck Yeager sections are completely different in tone and feeling than the Mercury astronaut sections. But it all works, and in the end they all feel like heroes.

Some Like It Hot – Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Billy Wilder; all at their best. A perfect movie.

To Kill A Mockingbird – An iconic performance from Gregory Peck, and from Mary Badham, the all-time best performance by a child actor. Elmer Bernstein’s beautiful score should also be lauded and appreciated.

The Usual Suspects – Contrived? Sure. Fun? Absolutely.

Victor/Victoria – Blake Edwards was on a roll when this one came out, and in my mind it is much underappreciated by the masses. A great comedic performance from James Garner.

Working Girl – There are so many great lines in this movie, it’s hard to know where to start. Who would’ve thought that Harrison Ford could pull it off? But he does, and Melanie Griffith is just as good.

X-Men 2 – The best comic book movie ever made, with the possible exception of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins.

The Year of Living Dangerously – You don’t hear people talk about this movie much anymore, but I stand by my original opinion that it’s a great movie.

Zelig – Sorry, folks. I just haven’t seen that many movies starting with “Z.” But I really did enjoy this one.

California Hall of Fame

Governor Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver have announced this year's inductees into the California Hall of Fame:

photographer Ansel Adams
comedian Milton Berle
computer entrepreneur Steve Jobs
former San Francisco Giants great Willie Mays
wine magnate Robert Mondavi
actress and dancer Rita Moreno
civil rights figure and baseball legend Jackie Robinson
medical pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk
author John Steinbeck
actress Elizabeth Taylor
governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren
actor John Wayne
golfer Tiger Woods

Well, it certainly is an eclectic list. Makes me wonder what the criteria for selection are, or indeed if there are any criteria at all. It certainly doesn't look as if all the choices are based on any kind of unique contribution to California.

In any event, for the full list of inductees, check out this page.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Overheard From Upstairs

Son #2: Mom, do you think Jerry from ER could beat up dad?

Mom: I think so. He'd probably just sit on him.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Into the Mid-Sixties

VII. Mid Sixties Melting Pot

Now we move into a period where I actually remember hearing some of these songs as a kid, either on the radio or in the house. "Bang Bang" was a big favorite of my dad's, although the version I remember hearing was the Sonny & Cher rendition. After listening to that version on a used CD that I found, I decided instead to include the (superior) Nancy Sinatra version, which made an appearance in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

"Born Free" and "Georgy Girl" were also played a lot in our house. I like to think that my own tastes had not yet developed to the point where they could have an impact on that of my parents. But after all, I was only six or seven years old.

Bang Bang, Nancy Sinatra
Dirty Water, The Standells
Whipped Cream, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
California Sun, The Rivieras
Georgy Girl, The Seekers
Born Free, Matt Monro
Cherish, The Association
Do You Believe In Magic, The Lovin’ Spoonful
Wild Thing, The Troggs
Turn, Turn, Turn, The Byrds
Higher and Higher, Jackie Wilson
The Letter, The Box Tops
Nobody But Me, Human Beinz
What the World Needs Now, Jackie DeShannon
California Dreaming, The Mamas and the Papas

VIII. A Tale of Two Divas

The "stereo" we had in our house was little more than a torture device designed to inflict pops and scratches on vinyl records upon each playing. Of course, the turntable was a multi-record changer, so most often dad would just throw five records on, and the sound that it made when one record landed on top of the other could be heard throughout the entire house.

Two records that withstood this torture were "Petula Clark's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1" and Dionne Warwick's "Golden Hits, Vol. II." The latter I have as part of my record collection, and can attest to the fact that it is barely listenable. Not because the music is bad, mind you - just the fact that the record sounds as if it was used for home plate a few times.

In fact, the music is brilliant - the music, lyrics, and arrangements of Burt Bacharach and Hal David have stood the test of time, and in Dionne Warwick they found their perfect foil. This is great, great stuff. Petula didn't have the benefit of a genius at her helm, although at his best, songwriter/producer Tony Hatch came reasonably close. And with "Downtown," he was able to create one of the great pop singles of the era, one that sounds as great today as it did in 1965.

Anyone Who Had A Heart, Dionne Warwick
You’d Better Come Home, Petula Clark
Walk On By, Dionne Warwick
Downtown , Petula Clark
Are You There With Another Girl, Dionne Warwick
My Love, Petula Clark
I Say A Little Prayer, Dionne Warwick
I Know A Place, Petula Clark

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tiger to PGA: Thanks, but no thanks

Geoff Shackelford wraps it up nicely. Essentially, Tiger Woods' decision to skip the first tournament of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup is a public relations disaster that can't be spinned. Think Titanic. Think Hindenburg. That bad.

I don't blame Tiger, and I believe him when he says that he needs a week off. And the whole idea was ludicrous to begin with. I mean, come on - if Jim Furyk wins the FedEx Cup, how many people are going to think that he is the best golfer in the world? Show of hands, please?

Trying to generate interest in golf at just the moment baseball's pennant races heat up and the NFL season kicks off was a dumb idea from the get-go. If the PGA brass had any brains, they would shorten the tour, thereby making it more likely that the best players would appear from week to week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach 1924-2007

On the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis, another musical titan passed away. Max Roach was likely known to but a small fraction of those who loved and enjoyed Elvis, but his importance to jazz music - to American music - may be just as lasting. He wasn't the flashiest drummer of all time, just the best. From his contributions to the major works of Charlie Parker to the legendary Freedom Now Suite, his brilliance and passion were always readily apparent.

Undercover Black Man has posted a nice tribute, including links to some amazing pieces of music and some breathtaking video of a live performance of Freedom Now.

Patty Griffin sings Springsteen

On the day I found out a new Springsteen (with E Street Band) album is to be released, a tribute: the great Patty Griffin singing "Racing in the Streets."

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Late, Lamented Double Feature

Flickhead is in the midst of a great series on double features. Some of them make sense. Others, as you can see from the poster at left, were the brainchild of someone with a wicked sense of humor.

The only two double features I remember seeing when I was a kid were "Planet of the Apes" backed by "Fantastic Voyage," and "M*A*S*H*" backed by "Sweet Charity." All of the others involved sneaking into a second theater after having watched the movie that I actually paid for.

Warren Zevon and Elvis

The manner of Elvis' demise bugged Warren Zevon; enough so that he wrote a song about it. From "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," longtime friend and collaborator Jorge Calderon tells the story:

Jorge Calderon:

Another day, I took an old notebook out. I had glued this postcard from Graceland on it and it had a picture of Elvis' TV room, and it had like three TVs. And on the coffee table there was this white, weird-looking monkey with black eyes. He said, "What is that?" I said, "Look, it's a porcelain monkey." And, he just wrote it down and underlined it and said, "That's the next song."

I had seen this movie about the Memphis Mafia guys talking about how they couldn't do anything to help Elvis because they would lose their jobs. So, after he dies, these guys are doing a documentary about how they couldn't help him, but they do a movie about his death, and Warren loved that concept. At one point, I said, "He was an accident waiting to happen..." He wrote that down and then he added, "Some accidents happen at home." Then he wrote, "He should've gone out more often. Maybe he should have answered the phone." Then, later I said - I thought this would be too much - "Hip shaking..." Then, the second verse, which is my favorite, we wrote in front of each other at his house.

He was an accident waiting to happen
Most accidents happen at home
Maybe he should've gone out more often
Maybe he should've answered the phone

Hip-shakin' shoutin' in gold lame'
That's how he earned his regal sobriquet
Then he threw it all away
For a porcelain monkey
He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen

From a shotgun shack singing Pentecostal hymns
Through the wrought iron gates to the TV room
He had a little world, it was smaller than your hand
It's a rockabilly ride from the glitter to the gloom
Left behind by the latest trends
Eating fried chicken with his regicidal friends
That's how the story ends
With a porcelain monkey

He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen

Hip-shakin' shoutin' in gold lame'
That's how he earned his regal sobriquet
Then he threw it all away
For a porcelain monkey

He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
Gave it all up for a figurine
He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
And his face on velveteen

- Porcelain Monkey, Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ho Hum...Another Major

Except there wasn't anything easy about this one. For once, Tiger's competitors managed to make things interesting, though Ernie Els sure could have made it a lot more interesting if he'd managed to make some very short birdie putts at 9 and 11.

For me it was very reminiscent of Tiger's first PGA Championship, 10 years ago this August. At that tournament, it looked as if he had things well in hand, and then faltered on the back nine while a hard-charging teenager by the name of Sergio Garcia started playing as if he were the second coming of Arnold Palmer. I'll never forget the look of relief on Tiger's face after hitting a tough par putt on 17 and then sinking a slightly shorter one on the final hole.

Ten years later, Garcia has yet to win a major, and on top of the shattering defeat at Carnoustie his PGA ended in disaster, DQ for signing an incorrect scorecard.

And Tiger? Just one more step on the way to the mountaintop, to becoming the greatest golfer of all time. The only obstacle that remains? Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors. At this rate, I'd say it will happen 5 years from now, in August, at the PGA Championship.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Liverpool and Detroit

VI. Ladies and Gentlemen...The Beatles!

I Saw Her Standing There
I Want to Hold Your Hand
She Loves You
A Hard Day’s Night
We Can Work It Out
Ticket to Ride
Norwegian Wood
In My Life

For my 10th birthday, my parents bought me "Yesterday and Today," not really an album in the true sense of the word - but it sure sounded good at the time. My first introduction to The Beatles was probably the cartoon show; I can still remember the skeletons dancing to "I'm Looking Through You."

VII. The Sound of Young America

(Love is Like A) Heatwave, Martha and the Vandellas
Where Did Our Love Go, Diana Ross & The Supremes
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Marvin Gaye
I Can’t Help Myself, The Four Tops
My Girl, The Temptations
My Cherie Amour, Stevie Wonder
The Tracks of My Tears, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Stop! In The Name of Love, Diana Ross & The Supremes
Dancing In The Street, Martha and the Vandellas
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, The Temptations
Reach Out I’ll Be There, The Four Tops
If I Could Build My Whole World Around You, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Going to A Go Go, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
You Can’t Hurry Love, Diana Ross & The Supremes
I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye
I Want You Back, The Jackson Five

"The sound of young America," Berry Gordy called it, and for a time during the Sixties it truly was. It's not likely that commercial success will ever again be matched with artisitic integrity the way it was at Motown. From the incredible roster of stars to the equally incredible but unknown musicians such as bassist James Jamerson, from top to bottom the company was a hit-making machine.

"Before Elvis, There Was Nothing"

- John Lennon

My Harry Potter Spoiler of Doom

My Harry Potter Spoiler of Doom is:
Minerva McGonagall is killed by Neville Longbottom in a scene written in the style of Samuel Beckett
Get your Harry Potter Spoiler of Doom

Friday, August 10, 2007

One Night

One of the great moments in rock and roll history, bar none. Elvis' 1968 Comeback special, singing "One Night."

Back to Barry Bonds For a Moment

Elvis Week

The official website for Elvis Week 2007.

Elvis Noir

I'm gonna be out of town without computer on the actual anniversary, so before then I'm gonna throw as much Elvis stuff on here as possible. Long Live the King!

Here, courtesy of The Shamus, a great report on his best (only good?) move, King Creole.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happiness Is...

A brand new pair of Saucony running shoes (model 2783-2, Grid Trigon 4 Ride, to be specific).

It's the most I've ever paid for a pair, but so far, it's worth it.

Bonds Moralists On Parade

The baseball moralists greedily pounced on Wednesday:

"This pathetic Bonds chase was the most preposterous pursuit of a major sports record in American history, but perfectly befitting our gonzo culture. This crass affair had everything except Lindsay Lohan, berserk pro wrestlers, Paris Hilton, and Michael Vick's pit bulls."

- Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The merry visual being transmitted was of unadulterated celebration. It looked and sounded like that. What a lie. What a colossal fraud: the sound of cheering, and the man they cheered."

- Greg Cote, Miami Herald

And my favorite:

"A little piece of humankind died Tuesday night. What can we believe in, honestly, when the grandest record in sports is reduced to a lie?"

"Bonds is the disgraced home run king now, reaching 756 before the feds and Bud Selig's men could stop him, and when he ripped a fifth-inning solo laser to right-center field, his teenaged son rushed out to hug him as thousands of BALCO-blind sheep sent a Richter-scale tremor through the waterfront ballpark."

"Which made me cringe. Kids and steroids do not intermingle. Cheers and steroids are not bedfellows. Only a fool believes that Bonds wasn't a part of chemical culture that has smeared baseball for much too long, and only a mamby pamby thinks this isn't the bloodiest of all sporting killjoys, a punch in the American gut that bastardizes baseball history and knocks the honorable Aaron from his perch."

- Jay Mariotti, Chicago Sun-Times

A little piece of humankind died? A punch in the American gut? Who in their right mind can take any of this crap seriously?

Thank goodness that someone like Martin McNeal (registration required) can lend a little sanity to the discussion.

"...When Bonds was asked during his postgame news conference whether his mark was tainted, he quickly said the record was "not tainted."

Buddy boy, who is he kidding? Surely, he meant it in another way, but of course, it's tainted. Baseball has been tainted since a day to which none of us -- repeat, no one -- actually can pinpoint.

The cloud that is an invisible baggie of performance-enhancing drugs has hung over baseball since at least the mid-1990s and possibly longer. There's not a soul who can say when players actually began using these drugs. Just as no one can say when amphetamine use began in baseball. Or which players have used what or still are using what.

Bonds and others are accused of using human growth hormones, for which Major League Baseball still is not testing. There is a wealth of circumstantial evidence that points to the use of these hormones but nothing more.

Sure, critics of Bonds will say he never would have reached this mark without using performance-enhancing drugs. And they might be correct. And when they show me definitive proof that is so, I'll be on board with them.

So, when I hear questions about whether Bonds is the greatest home run hitter, it's pretty comical and evident of our society's mentality today...The answer: Take it any way you want, but he sure does have more than anyone else, doesn't he?

Ultimately, it's hard for me to escape the conclusion that writers like Mariotti, Cote, and Miklasz are driven by their hatred of Bonds much more than they are by any real concern for the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. If it had been McGwire or Sosa chasing the record, would there have been such vitriol? Such lack of perspective? I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

50 Music Project Part V: Surf's Up

Part V. Let's Go Surfin' Now, Everybody's Learnin' How

Surfin' Safari, The Beach Boys
Misirlou, Dick Dale & The Del-Tones
Rumble, Link Wray
Walk Don't Run, The Ventures
Pipeline, The Chantays
Surf City, Jan & Dean
Surfin' Bird, The Trashmen
Wipeout, The Surfaris

I've never been on a surfboard in my life, and based on my few experiences on a skateboard, that's probably a good thing.

This is not exactly the deepest genre of this collection, but put one of these songs on at a party, and I defy you to find someone who doesn't enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I had a feeling it would be tonight. And in the end, I wanted to see it.

Watching the game would have resulted in an argument with the kids, if not for the fact that SPIKE-TV, the station that shows CSI 4 times a night, was not working, for some unexplained reason. So the baseball Gods were on my side.

I would be the first to admit that there is little to admire in Barry Bonds as a public figure. As a man, I can't say: unless one has been a part of his life, it is not for me, or anyone else, to say.

There is little doubt that he is the most reviled sports figure of our time. That he is the greatest baseball player of this generation is not up for debate, regardless of how many performance-enhancing drugs he has taken in the past decade. Those who would argue otherwise are short-sighted, hypocrites, or both.

And for those who would accuse Bonds of "cheating," I would only say that I hope that you were equally vigilant in the cases of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and perhaps countless others who will never become publicly known. Otherwise, you should quit pretending that baseball statistics are such an important part of life - in the end it diminishes you, rather than the subject of your scorn.

How Bonds will be treated by history is now up to the historians.

A Course Moving In The RIGHT Direction

In this day and age of near-8000 yard courses with hip-high first cut rough, it's nice to see a great course moving back to an era of past glory. Southern Hills, the host of this weekend's PGA Championship, is apparently in fine fettle, prompting Geoff Shackelford to proclaim,

"I can't state enough what a great transformation this course has seen in recent years with tree removal and trimming, bunker renovation and the return of short grass throughout the course..."
Wow - maybe we'll even see some low scores this week! That would be a nice change of pace.

My pick to win? Hard to bet against Tiger - no majors this year, and he looked absolutely unbeatable last week at Firestone.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Two Gravesite Visits

Note: This post contains details about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." It does not give away the ending, because I'm not there yet.

It would be difficult to imagine two books more different than "Shot In the Heart," Mikal Gilmore's account of how his family's history contributed to the development of Gary Gilmore, and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." One thing - perhaps the only thing - they have in common is a gravesite visit, which in "Deathly Hallows" is, at least so far, the most effective and moving section of the book.

In "Deathly Hallows," Harry is visiting the gravesite of his parents, James and Lily, for the first time. He is joined by his friend Hermione, who has just explained a potential meaning for the epitaph on his parents' tombstone: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

"It beyond death. Living after death."

But they were not living, thought Harry: They were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents' moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.

Hermione had taken his hand again and was gripping it tightly. He could not look at her, but returned the pressure, now taking deep, sharp gulps of the night air, trying to steady himself, trying to regain control. He should have brought something to give them, and he had not thought of it, and every plant in the graveyard was leafless and frozen. But Hermione raised her wand, moved it in a circle through the air, and a wreath of Christmas roses blossomed before them. Harry caught it and laid it on his parents' grave.

As soon as he stood up he wanted to leave: He did not think he could stand another moment there. He put his arm around Hermione's shoulders, and she put hers around his waist, and they turned in silence and walked away through the snow, past Dumbledore's mother and sister, back toward the dark church and the out-of-sight kissing gate.

It's a wonderful passage, the best in the book so far, although I've got more than 400 pages to go.

In Gilmore's book, it is the grave of his uncle that is visited, an uncle who died at age 3, and whose death impacted the family in a way that was ultimately devastating and tragic.

Not long ago, I visited the Wyuka Cemetery, just outside Lincoln, where my father's older brother, Clarence, was buried at age three. Wyuka is one of Nebraska's oldest large cemeteries; it has been receiving the dead and their mourners for over a century. It is laid out like a mosaic. Narrow driveways wind around a vast patchwork of lots and gardens, each of them an island of graves. Clarence's grave lay on the far side of the cemetery, in one of the oldest sections. I parked my car near that section on a winter morning. It was bitterly cold - there was a blizzard watch on the news that morning - and a haze hung over the ground that made it hard to read the markings on the old, timeworn tombstones. I searched for some time before I found it: a small, isolated plot lying next to an empty patch of ground, surrounded by the grave colonies of full families. On a stone lying flat on the earth was all that was left of the Lanctons' history in Nebraska, and of my father's first family. The stone read: OUR BABY.

I stood there and looked at it for as long as I could take the cold...and thought: I am probably the only person who has ever visited this particular grave in the last hundred years. That idea was enough to fill me with such immediate despair, I got back in my car and drove away from the site as fast as the narrow roads would take me.

Though the circumstances could not be more different, the "Deathly Hallows" gravesite passage made me think of Mikal Gilmore's visit, on a similarly cold day, with a similar theme of despair and sadness.

The 50 Music Project: Part IV

IV. The New Frontier

The Twist, Chubby Checker
Save the Last Dance For Me, The Drifters
Runaway, Del Shannon
Peppermint Twist, Joey Dee and the Limeliters
Green Onions, Booker T. and the MGs
Shout, Isley Brothers
Return to Sender, Elvis Presley
Duke of Earl, Gene Chandler
The Loco-Motion, Little Eva
Louie Louie, The Kingsmen
It’s My Party, Lesley Gore
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, The Righteous Brothers
Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash
Stuck On You, Elvis Presley
Do You Love Me, The Contours
Oh Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison
Runaround Sue, Dion
The Times They Are A Changin’, Bob Dylan
Crazy, Patsy Cline
Stand By Me, Ben E. King

Now we head into the early 1960s. The conventional wisdom says that this was a down period for rock 'n roll, and compared to some other eras, it probably was. But one look at this list, which is hardly comprehensive, demonstrates that there was a lot of good stuff - a lot - released during this period. The one song on the list that I have a clear memory of hearing during this time - dancing to it, even - was "The Twist."

This section also started out a lot longer, but in the end had to be cut so that other, later sections could include songs that just had to be a part of the collection. The main sacrifice here was girl groups, particularly those produced by Phil Spector. Painful cuts, but necessary.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Parts II and III

The next installment...

II. The Birth of Soul (Sam & Ray)

I Got A Woman, Ray Charles
Wonderful World, Sam Cooke
What'd I Say, Ray Charles
Twistin' the Night Away, Sam Cooke
The Night Time is the Right Time, Ray Charles
Somebody Have Mercy, Sam Cooke
Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles
Ain't That Good News, Sam Cooke
Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles
A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

The hardest part of this section was figuring out which Sam Cooke songs to include. "Somebody Have Mercy" and "Ain't That Good News" weren't the most obvious choices, but they represent Cooke at his best, stretching himself to the limit and reaching a frenzy that his more famous (and, admittedly great) songs couldn't quite match. As for Ray Charles...what can I say? Genius hardly seems to do his work justice.

III. One For the Road

I Get A Kick Out of You
Only the Lonely
You Make Me Feel So Young
One For My Baby
I've Got You Under My Skin

- Frank Sinatra

In 1980, I was listening to The Clash, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Gang of Four, Warren Zevon, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters...the list goes on. Frank Sinatra was the furthest thing from my mind. And then, late that summer, the latest issue of Rolling Stone arrived, with a review of a Sinatra concert penned by Tom Carson, titled "The Majestic Artistry of Frank Sinatra." Sinatra in Rolling Stone? Surely that had to be a joke. And from Tom Carson, of all people? Fan of Lou Reed and The Ramones? Didn't make much sense. But the way that Carson laid it out - well, the idea of Frank Sinatra as a great artist sure sounded compelling.

It was a few more years before I bought my first Sinatra album, "Where Are You?," his greatest collaboration with Gordon Jenkins. But that was just scratching the surface. All of the songs above resulted from one of the greatest musical collaborations of all time, Sinatra's work with arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle. The importance of that collaboration really can't be overstated - from the exuberant Songs for Swingin' Lovers to the melancholy Frank Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely, there was never anything less than a transcendent moment. These five songs represent the best of the best, and can stand against any music produced in the past 50 years, with head held proudly.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Minneapolis Tragedy

It should not come as a surprise that some of the best reporting and commentary on the bridge collapse is coming from the blog of James Lileks. Lileks is a great writer, and one of uncommon common sense. Today, he makes this valuable observation, while commenting on things that we have learned:

There’s nothing onto which people cannot project the narrowest, most reductive political agenda. Could be the Internet; could be human nature. Perhaps in 1604 AD the sight of an ox cart upside down in the ditch inevitably led to an argument about the king. We’ll have the answers in the end, and we’ll know what could have been done. But sometimes Things Fall Down, and it’s a simple, and horrible, as that.

It's probably human nature, but there's no doubt in my mind that the Internet plays a role. The comments sections on many political blogs have become so vicious that it's a wonder that the bloggers choose to keep it active. What strikes me as amazing is that so many of the vicious commenters go out of their way to read things with which they know they're going to strongly disagree. That's fine; I often do it myself for the purpose of challenging my own thinking. If I can't formulate a response to something that I'm reading on an issue, I figure that it's my responsibility to brush up on my own arguments. But many of these folks have already made up their minds, and their sole purpose is to insult, defame, and elicit anger. It strikes me as somewhat pointless.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

6 Feet, 4 Inches of Oracular Jocularity

Lost between the headlines of notable figures passing on this week - Bill Walsh, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni - was the death of Tom Snyder, late night talk show host, who died on Monday of leukemia.

Thanks to David Letterman, Snyder made a late night comeback in the late 1990s. But he will always be best known for hosting Tomorrow, which followed Johnny Carson for nearly a decade beginning in 1973. As a host, Snyder was unlike any of the late-night denizens of this era, in that he was not a comedian, and did not perform in sketches. He talked, having intelligent conversations with a remarkably diverse guest list. He was a bit of a blowhard, a bit full of himself, and was ripe for parody - in fact, he may have been as well known as much for Dan Aykroyd's cutting impersonation on Saturday Night Live as he was for his own body of work. But his show was almost always entertaining, thought provoking, or both.

Two shows stand out in my mind. One, the week before the premiere of Saturday Night Live in 1975, when he hosted a rare Saturday night show with guest Jerry Lewis, followed by the then unknown Not Ready For Prime Time Players. I remember Lewis being remarkably condescending to the youngsters, with Snyder laughing along, neither seeming to realize that they were ushering in a new era in television entertainment - one that would not include them, and in fact would make fun of them.

The second, on a Friday night in June 1981, with guests Charles Manson (interviewed on tape, in prison) and The Clash. Charles Manson and The Clash! It was finals week at Berkeley, and about a dozen of us managed to hold off on the heavy drinking long enough to catch that one.

He could be old fashioned, he could be hip, he probably acted too smart for his own good most of the time. But he deserves, at the very least, a footnote in television history. R.I.P.