Monday, February 16, 2009

the horror... the horror...

From the Front Page of the New York times, Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unemployment Surges Around the World, Threatening Stability

Worldwide job losses from the recession that started in the United States in December 2007 could hit a staggering 50 million by the end of 2009,according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. The slowdown has already claimed 3.6 million American jobs.

The International Monetary Fund expects that by the end of the year, global economic growth will reach its lowest point since the Depression...

(no editorial comment necessary)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Day Muzak Died

I read in the paper today that Muzak® has filed Chapter 11. Now I'll never get to sleep...

The Day the Music Died, cont.

I just finished reading John Goldrosen's definitive (and out-of-print) biography of Buddy Holly. While not a case of "too much information" in that way, it delves deeply into Buddy's music, recording and relationships with Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin (the Crickets) and the other musicians he worked with over his too brief career. It is interesting to note that when they were trying to come up with a name, The Beetles was one they considered... and passed on. The revelations about Norman Petty, who owned the studio in Clovis, NM, where Buddy recorded and was guided in his career was another case of the abuses that took place in the heyday of rock 'n roll-- not unlike the time Chuck Berry was shocked to discover that he was sharing songwriting credit--and royalties-- with Alan Freed. After covering the plane crash, Mr. Goldrosen touches on the number of singers who have covered Buddy's music, from Bobby Fuller to Linda Ronstadt, and beyond. There was a passage in this context that made me sit up and take notice-- and put a smile on my face.

"Here and there in the late sixties, a few American performers began to acknowledge the true value of Holly's music (and that of other early rock 'n roll performers). Tom Rush's album Take a Little Walk With Me included his quite individualistic interpretations of several rock 'n roll songs, including Holly's 'Love's Made a Fool of You' – which Rush also made a standard in his concert performances. Rush's quiet and reflective rendition of the song fully captured the spirit of the lyrics, and his instrumental accompaniment was at one and the same time quite distinct from that of the original Holly version, and yet totally appropriate to the song. Hundreds of artists have recorded Holly's songs at one time or another, but few have been as successful as Rush in producing a recording which, while the artist's own creation, fully captures the spirit of Buddy Holly's music."

Wow! Now, I have always loved Tom Rush's version of Love's Made a Fool of You. In fact, the entire album is both timeless and masterful. Kind of like Rush's Bringing it All Back Home, in that one side of the LP was all electric, old rock 'n roll (with the exception of his composition, On the Road Again) and the other side was (mostly) acoustic. The electric side was recorded with Al Kooper, John Sebastion, Harvey Brooks and a certain Roosevelt Gook, playing piano. There are some who believe it was Kooper, trying for twice the royalties under the odd pseudonym. The more commonly accepted answer is that it was Bob Dylan tickling the ivories. The acoustic side featured five tunes: a haunting rendition of Eric Von Schmidt's Joshua Gone Barbados, an ambivalent take on the traditional Sugar Mama, Statesboro Blues (years before it became a staple of the Allman Brothers' repertoire, and an absolute tour de force performance of Galveston Flood.

If you get the sense I am a Tom Rush fan, well... that ain't the half of it. I cut my (adult) teeth on Rush. I used to see him play at the Unicorn, in Boston and Club 47, in Harvard Square, after he dropped out of the University and decided to be a full-time folk singer. And folk singer he was. His first recordings were on the Prestige label, and were filled with traditional blues and depression-era folk songs. Tom sang them like they were his. He owned them. His deep voice, clipped phrasing and extraordinarily proficient guitar playing lifted him head and shoulders above the many others who tried pulling off the same thing. You would never have known Tom was from New Hampshire. He was from America and sounded like it.

Tom Rush is not, nor was he ever a great songwriter. He may be known for one song, No Regrets. But he had a gift like Sinatra and other great singers. He had a marvelous knack for finding unknown--and yet to be discovered--songwriters. He recorded Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne before they recorded themselves. His version of Urge for Going still resonates for me as it did the first time I heard it, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of winter-- the sadness of love fading with the warmth and radiance of summer. When he went from Elektra to Columbia, he veered from folk to pop, with a touch of country. He does a song called Drivin' Wheel on the eponymous Columbia album (written by David Whiffen, who plays on the album) that, like the lyrics say, will make you stop dead in your tracks. The word haunting comes up again. He sings it with a palpable ache in his voice. I can even hear it in my head and get chills! That same album has his version of James Taylor's Rainy Day Man, which becomes something else again.

I wrote an email to Tom Rush some years back, after driving back from my therapist in Pasadena. Urge for Going was on the CD player and a lump was in my throat. The song is a touchstone of sorts for me. I told him so. He wrote back, offering a thanks and a self-deprecating word or two.

Tom still plays and tours. When he has a mind to, I guess. He left New Hampshire and settled in Big Sky Country. Somehow, that seems so fitting. To me, he is an underdiscovered national treasure. If you know him and his music, then you know. If you don't, you should...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Finding Jesus...

Some days (like yesterday), He's everywhere you look...
this one's for the Mortal Jivester, in absentia.

The Shadow of Jesus with his Disciples, on corrugated metal.

Bowing Before the Shadow of Jesus, in the Evans Valley.

Sail on home to jesus won't you good girls and boys
I'm all in pieces, you can have your own choice
But I can hear a heavenly band full of angels
And they're coming to set me free
I don't know nothing 'bout the why or when
But I can tell that its bound to be
Because I could feel it, child, yeah
On a country road

Does the Lord get mail?
Oh, and don't even ask about those newspaper boxes...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Day the Music Died, cont.

The anniversary has passed but the thoughts linger. And then it occurred to me. So, that's what Don McLean meant. The quick replacement for Buddy Holly on the next night of the tour was Bobby Vee. Now, I was a big fan of Bobby Vee back in the day... way back in the day. But Rubber Ball will never take the place of Peggy Sue. Never. And how do you explain the alleged successor to Buddy Holly through the lyrics to Stayin' In...

I punched my buddy in the nose after lunch
Now I'm in trouble 'cause the dean saw the punch
He was tellin' things that were not true about her
So I let him have it in the cafeteria

Now I'm stayin' in, stayin' in
My, my baby's walkin' home with him
They passed my window hand-in-hand just then
But what can I do? 'cause I'm stayin' in

Really. Bobby Vee. Bobby Rydell. Fabian Forté, etc etc etc. Gene Vincent was in a near-fatal car accident in 1959. Eddie Cochran was killed. Elvis went into the Army in '58 and came out in '60. Between the time in and the infusion of amphetamines, he was a changed, blandified and addled, never to shake his hips quite the same way. I saw and heard the best and lived through the worst. We may not have started the fire but we let it go out... or smolder until a couple brave souls, loud voices and nihilistic futurists had their way with Fender guitars and Vox amps... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rock is dead, they say,
Long live rock.

Long live rock, I need it every night,
Long live rock, come on and join the line,
Long live rock, be it dead or alive.

Landslide, rocks are falling,
Falling down round our very heads,
We tried but you were yawning,
Look again, rock is dead, rock is dead, rock is dead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In this scene the two actors on the Cialis commercial shoot have left the set...

I usually approach my photography with sufficient gravitas to be taken seriously as an artist. But sometimes, you come upon a scene that just strikes you funny... and jot a deep funny. Just funny. Unintentional comedy. The foibles of the human animal, spread out before you as if for no other reason than to chuckle, if only to yourself, on a quiet, semi-deserted country road. Like they used to say in Rochester, save it in pictures. And so I have.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thoughts on Buddy, Richie and J.P.

Well, truth be told, it was Buddy who had the most impact on me, and perhaps the world.

If Rolling Stone hadn't run a brief piece in the issue with Bruce Springsteen on the cover, perhaps I wouldn't have known.The date would have escaped me. But once I learned I both felt old and I felt lost.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper, (J.P. Richardson), was the oldest of the three. At 29, he was riding the crest of being a former deejay and one-hit wonder. Valens was just 17 and, He was the first Mexican-American rock 'n roll star. Oh, Donna. La Bamba. Come on, Let's go. They only hint at where the kid from Pacoima was headed.

But it was Buddy Holly that, in a career that lasted less than two years, changed rock 'n roll. The three top ten hits hardly begins to tell the story. That'll be the Day hit #1 in September of 1957. Peggy Sue hit #3 four months later. Oh, Boy! followed shortly after. I can't think of a dud he recorded. He was 22 when he died. There is no telling what rock would sound like had he lived. Would there have been The Beatles? The Hollies? Punk? Elvis Costello?

Ironically, the last hit he had while he was still alive was It Doesn't Matter Anymore, written by Paul Anka.

I was not yet ten when he died. I knew his stuff more from Bobby Vee's album he recorded with the Crickets, and from the oldies station. That idiosyncratic singing style, the thick framed glasses and pompadour, and that space-age guitar! No other rocker, from Elvis to the Everlys, played a Fender Stratocaster. No one. It's safe to say that there was no one like him. Listen to Peggy Sue now-- at how the tempo changes, the range of his voice and the drive of that beat. The music is honestly and truly timeless. Sadly, more people think of Gary Busey when they think of who Buddy Holly was. Paull McCartney owns Buddy's back catalogue. The Rolling Stone's first major hit was a Buddy Holly song, with a speeded up Bo Diddley beat. And his influence is still felt-- in rock and country. I could go on. Listen to a couple cuts, instead. True Love Ways, with that sexy little sax counter. Peggy Sue. Not Fade Away. The urgency and the polish. A voice that was at once innocent and brash

When I first heard Don McLean's song, I thought it was hackneyed and overreaching, pretentious and preachy. But you know what? The music did die that day, fifty years ago. A big chunk of it, anyway...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

64 Days 'til the Home Opener


I came upon this shot of Fenway on the website. Poignant, eh? Lately, and for what seems like a long time, I awoken to frost on the fields. The goats' water is frozen. The air is a couple of notches past crisp. The fact that I am so over winter doesn't seem to register to the meteorological realities. Ah, but in 64 days, the Boston Red Sox open their season at home with a day game against the TB Rays. Is that where we left off last season? And that, my friends, is the beauty of baseball. Not only does it exist in a meaningful time-space continuum, it's played under the sun! The countdown has begun...

Reflections en noir

Maybe it's that I've been corresponding with an writer of "noir" crime novels or maybe it's thinking of the view from my friend David's workshop window on Sunset. The kind of window that Phillip Marlowe wood peer out of, cigarette smoke between he and the views. If there was color it was undersaturated. Muted and moody. What Marlowe would see was a hell of a lot different than what David sees.

Los Angeles is as much a character in hardboiled fiction as the bad guys... and Marlowe.

But then there is that French Twist on noir. Alphaville. Eddie Constantine spewing grim gibberish or, more aptly Euro-Existentialism.

From the back of a cab...

Driver: Which way? Through the North Zone, or the South?

Johnson: What’s the difference?

Driver: There’s snow in the North...

...and sun in the South

Johnson: Anyway, it’s my Journey to the End of the Night

It was my first night in Alphaville...

...but it seemed to me that centuries had passed

Earlier, Johnson (Eddie Constantine) asks if Dick Tracy is dead. What about Guy LeClair?

Guy LeClair is Flash Gordon in France. And Alphaville, directed by Jean Luc-Godard is both a film of its time and a work of art for the ages. In what other work of art does an intergallactic private eye quote Franz Fanon? If you said The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, you'd be close. Actually, Nick Belaine, in Bukowski's classic "Pulp" is on the trail of Céline-- closer, and replete with the level, if not the style, of humor in Alphaville. The humor in Alphaville is multilayered-- at once both slapstick absurd and dark, dark, dark. I suppose before I wax on further, I should see it again. A few years ago, I rented Putney Swope. I hadn't seen it since it first came out. It doesn't hold up, but perhaps now that we have an African-American president, it may resonate a bit more.

But I digress...