The Last Waltz


[purchase the Blue-Ray]

I saw The Last Waltz again last week, at the Tarrytown Music Hall, and, as always, I loved it.  The first time I saw it was in Paris (lah-di-fucking-dah), during the summer between junior and senior year of college.  At the time, although I certainly was aware of, and enjoyed, the music of The Band, I have to admit that I really didn’t appreciate how important, or how good, they were.  It really wasn’t until much later, when I began to pay more attention to what is now called Americana music that I began to understand the central role that The Band had in fusing rock music with strands of old American folk, blues and country music.

I’d like to say that I have some sort of new insight into the film, which reveals more to me every time I see it, but I don’t.  Generally considered one of the best, if not the best, rock concert movies, or even music documentaries, it has been dissected at length.  For example, here. Of course the film has been criticized for a number of reasons, mostly its focus on Robbie Robertson, especially by Levon Helm.

The combination of pre-planning that made everything on stage look effortless, the rough charm and humor of the musicians in telling their between-songs anecdotes (who can forget the story of having to pay Garth Hudson $10/week for music lessons), the skillful directing and editing (including not forcing the film to follow the running order of the concert) and the quality of The Band’s performances alone would have made it a good movie.  But to me, what makes it a great one were two critical decisions–to focus the cameras on the musicians, often in closeups, allowing the viewers to see the way they interacted with glances, smiles and nods, and the decision to bring in a parade of distinguished guests.  The Band started as The Hawks, supporting road warrior Ronnie Hawkins, and had their first real fame as Bob Dylan’s backing band, so as wonderful as it is to hear them play their familiar songs live, it is more fun seeing them enjoying backing up musicians as diverse as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison.

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Fast Forward. Please?

Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On

I have to assume that I’m not the only one who wakes up every morning worried that something crazy happened overnight, or will happen during the day, right?

It used to be that nothing happened in August.  People were on vacation, there was no 24 hour news cycle, and you tried to stay cool, while dreading the approach of Labor Day.

Think about all the stuff that has happened this month (and I’m not talking about the Mets trading most of their pending free agents).  At the beginning of the month, we learned that our president admitted to the Mexican president that the whole “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” was a load of crap, but would President Nieto, pretty, please, keep that on the downlow?

The next day, we learned that Special Counsel Mueller had empaneled a new grand jury to advance his investigation of the administration and campaign.

A few days later, the president threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  This apparent  warning to use nuclear weapons was, in a particularly classy move, made in the few days between the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Of course, North Korea backed off on its “threat” to shoot missiles at Guam, and it is likely that the egotist-in-chief will take this as evidence that waving nukes around worked, when it seems clear to pretty much anyone with a brain that all Kim Jong Un wants is to stay in power, so that there really wasn’t any chance that he would bait our unstable leader into doing anything to topple him.  This does not bode well for the next time our country is confronted while the current tiny hands hold the nuclear code.

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The Allman Brothers: Whipping Post

Time to catch up on reposting my writing from other sites.  Not that there’s been a overwhelming demand for it, but it is a way to fill time between real posts.

On Cover Me, I haven’t been all that active.  The powers-that-be there recently came up with a new category–“That’s A Cover?” about songs that most people probably don’t realize were covers.  I wrote about The Youngbloods’ iconic 60’s anthem, “Get Together,” which was far from the first version of the song.  By the way, if you like cover songs, the creator of Cover Me, and its editor-in-chief, Ray Padgett, has a book coming out in the fall, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time.  As the blurb notes, “each of the 20 chapters investigates the origins of a classic cover—and uses it as a framework to tell the larger story of how cover songs have evolved over the decades.”  Ray’s a hell of a writer, and worked really hard on this book, so you should pre-order it here.

I’ve been a bit more active over at Star Maker Machine.  For the “Songs From Movies About Musicians” theme, I contributed a piece about the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” focusing on the great vocals contributed by Merry Clayton, as detailed in the incredible documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

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Going Back!

Me and my sophomore roommates Bruce, Joel and Jon. Photo by Katharine Swibold

Booker T.: Reunion Time

During the first weekend in June, I celebrated my 35th Princeton Reunion.  It was, possibly, the best one I’ve been to, and not just because the weather was incredible,  with mostly cool, clear weather instead of the usual heat, rain and humidity that is common in central New Jersey during this time of year.  I know that many Princetonians believe that anything related to our alma mater is the best, but our reunions are special–I’ve never met anyone from another school who speaks as passionately about their reunion as we Tigers do about ours.

Toward the end of my freshman year at Princeton, an upperclassman in the marching band asked me if I wanted to stay for Reunions.  Not being a townie, or the child of an alum, or having access to the yet-to-be-invented YouTube, I had no idea what that meant.  I understood that colleges had reunions, but I had no clue what Princeton’s Reunions entailed.  It was quite an eye-opener.  And, I got to hear Jean Shepherd for the first time.

There are a few things that set Princeton Reunions apart from others. First, while most schools invite back alumni from 5 year anniversary classes, Princeton not only invites, but encourages, every alumnus to come back every year.  The “major” reunion classes act as hosts for two older and two younger “satellite” classes, who can attend the events for free (other than meals).  From our standpoint, this allows you to retain connections with friends who are older and younger than you, and not just limit your “reuning” to your classmates.  Also, Princeton encourages us to bring back our significant others and children for the revelry. This broad attendance at Reunions cements the relationship between the graduates and the University, presumably resulting in increased contributions.

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Grace Under Pressure


The Motors: Airport

My family and I went to see the Broadway musical Come From Away a couple of weeks ago, and it was great–I highly recommend it.  My understanding is that it is vying with Dear Evan Hansen, which I saw a few months ago, for the Tony for Best Musical on Sunday, and honestly, I would be happy if either show won. [Edit–Dear Evan Hansen won for best musical.]

For those who don’t know what Come From Away is about, it takes place on 9/11 and the days afterwards when, due to the closing of U.S. airspace following the attacks, 38 civilian and 4 military flights were forced to land at the remote airport at Gander, Newfoundland.  Gander’s airport is huge, but significantly underutilized since it lost its status as a major refueling stop as technology permitted trans-Atlantic flights without refueling. The airport itself lacked sufficient facilities to deal with the 6,600 plus people (and the handful of animals) who were stranded at the airport.

The town of Gander, about 11,000 strong, and a few smaller nearby towns stepped up, arranging for transportation, shelter, clothing, food, and, apparently, liquor, for what the play refers to as the “plane people,” until the airspace opened again, and flights were able to leave.  Some of the planes were there for as long as 6 days.

Most of the members of the show’s cast play multiple roles, as Newfoundlanders, passengers, crew, and even George W. Bush, and it is 100 minutes of nearly non-stop, often breathless, activity.  We learn about the incredible hospitality and generosity of the local citizens, who stepped up and sacrificed to provide the plane people with comfort, sympathy and friendship, how the passengers, most of whom in the pre-mobile Internet and limited cell phone era, were initially unaware of the reason for their diversion, moved from fear and annoyance to appreciation and admiration, and how the crew members dealt with the disruption.

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Opening Acts


I’ve seen my share of concerts in my life, probably more than my share, really, so I’ve seen many opening acts.  Sometimes you get a legend, like when I saw Mavis Staples open for Los Lobos, or Lucinda Williams opening for Neil Young, or an established performer with a following, like Thin Lizzy opening for Queen, or Graham Parker opening for Nick Lowe, or Alejandro Escovedo opening for Nick Lowe (another time).  Often, the opening act is an up and comer that is looking for exposure, and occasionally the headliner allows the venue to pick a local artist, such as the mariachi band that opened for The Mavericks.

Usually, it seems, that the opener and the headliner inhabit a similar musical space–because the audience is there for a certain style of music, so it makes sense for the warm up to be in the audience’s wheelhouse.  I’ve seen a couple of shows with particularly strange bedfellows–country singer Dwight Yoakam opening for Hüsker Dü and rapper Kurtis Blow confusing the audience for The Clash.

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Roundup! Yee Hah!


The Feelies: The Last Roundup

I have an idea for an original, music-focused post, but this isn’t it.  This is another roundup of my writing for other sites.

My first real piece on Cover Me in a very long time put the spotlight on The Mavericks, timed cleverly to coincide with the release of the band’s new album.  I was particularly amused by their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.”

There’s been a nice resurgence of posting at Star Maker Machine fueled in part by the return of Darius to active writing and encouraging the rest of us to write.  I continued a strange streak of TV related posts in the “Middle” theme with a look at The Rutles’ “Piggy In The Middle.”

We moved from the Middle to “Prison,” and I wrote about Christine Lavin’s “Prisoners of Their Hairdos,” which, to my utter delight, Ms. Lavin herself commented favorably upon.  Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to me, Lavin was working with my friend, the incredibly talented singer-songwriter Judy Kass, on a video about the post-election protests, and there’s one picture in which you can see a tiny bit of me.  Because it is all about me, right?

Next up was “Steel.”  I added a final “e” and remembered the great WNEW DJ Alison Steele, the Night Bird, including a song by Jimi Hendrix that she reportedly inspired.    I doubled up on that theme (a rarity for me these days–I think this year, I may not top the SMM year-end leaderboard for most posts) with a Southern rock flavored song from a band, Steel Mill, that might have been lost in the mists of history if its leader hadn’t been a young Bruce Springsteen.

My most recent post, for the new “70s Motown” theme, focused on Graham Parker & The Rumour’s great cover of the Jackson 5’s classic “I Want You Back.”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been lucky to see three great shows at the Tarrytown Music Hall–Son Volt, Richard Thompson and The Jayhawks.  And shortly, I’ll be seeing Roger McGuinn there.

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