Re-Runs

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Kamasi Washington: Re Run
[purchase]

It’s been more than a month since my last post here–a combination of work, family and other writing keeps getting in the way.  I did start something music-related, but ran out of steam–I will finish it at some point.  So, time to fill space with some reposts of my writing at Star Maker Machine and Cover Me.

Before we get there, though, another plug for Ray Padgett’s book, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time, available at Amazon.  Now that the book is out, I can report that it is great, and you should read it and give it to your music fan family and friends.  And no, I don’t get a kickback.  It has already gotten rave reviews from Variety, Parade, and the A.V. Club.  I got to meet Ray, and another Cover Me writer, Frank Minishak, at the book release party at Paste Magazine‘s offices/studio.  They had arranged for four musicians, Emel Mathlouthi, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Walter Martin of The Walkmen, and Anthony D’Amato, to perform covers of some of the songs that Ray wrote about.  You can see the videos here, and make sure you notice the light reflecting off of my bald head on the left side of some of the videos.

Since my last one of these, I’ve only written a couple of things at Cover Me.  I participated in a “Cover Me Q&A” about favorite Disney covers, which I don’t really have, by discussing The Replacements’ version of “Cruella de Vil” from One Hundred and One Dalmatians, at much greater length than I expected.  In addition, I wrote about Five Good Covers of Wreckless Eric’s classic “Whole Wide World,” and discovered that my wife had never heard the song before.  So maybe it isn’t such a classic.  I’m working on a new Q&A response about the Tom Robinson Band, and have promised to do a Five Good Covers piece about The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” and a Full Album treatment of Brian Eno’s Before And After Science, which will be a challenge.

As always, the theme-driven Star Maker Machine‘s prompts often spark writing ideas.  As I threatened in my last roundup, I responded to the “On/Off” theme by discussing Genesis’ “Turn It On Again,” as a jumping off point to a reflection of when, if at all, Genesis fans jumped off the bandwagon.

The next theme, “Two Words,” inspired two posts, one about Chuck Prophet’s “Summertime Thing,” mostly because I had never written about Prophet there, and one called “Somewhere Rocks,” about Ian Hunter’s songs “England Rocks” and “Cleveland Rocks.”

The state of our nation was the inspiration for the “Chaos/Confusion” theme, but I stayed away from politics to write about Warren Zevon’s duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Disorder In The House,” and the fun the two of them seemed to have recording the song, despite Zevon’s impending death (but not Springsteen’s).  I heard the song in the car the other day, and when they laugh at the end, my wife and I joined them.  In addition, I wrote about the 1977 Live Stiffs tour, which often ended in a raucous version of Ian Dury’s most famous song, titled, on the album, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll & Chaos.”   It is probably the only song in my collection that includes someone yelling from the stage, “Cut out the fucking spitting.”  Because punk.

Next up was “Shadows,” which gave me the chance to mention that I had met the talented and extremely nice percussionist Mino Cinélu, who appeared on the Gong song “Shadows Of.”  I also wrote about Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain,” which was featured in a movie that my now wife and I saw on one of our earliest dates.

The next theme, “Incompetence/Can’t” was a reaction to the buffoon in the White House, but my first post was about sort of a more local official, the “Mayor Of Simpleton,” a great XTC song.  Unlike the aforementioned buffoon, the titular mayor is self-aware about his deficiencies, and also unlike the buffoon, actually has other redeeming values.  I pilfered Cover Me‘s “That’s A Cover?” idea to discuss “You’re No Good,” made famous, if not for the first time, by Linda Ronstadt.

We looked “Down” for the next two weeks, and I continued a recent trend of writing about TV shows, this time focusing on the theme song from one of the best, The Wire, Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” and all of the different versions used in the credits.  In an attempt to take the theme in a new direction, I wrote highlighted two proggy projects about geese, Camel’s The Snow Goose and original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips’ The Geese And The Ghost.

For the “True Stories” theme, I decided to feature two songs inspired by events, rather than more narrative ones, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” referencing the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church, and The Jam’s “The Eton Rifles,” about a street brawl between unemployed workers and upper class students in England.

And most recently, for our “Listen” theme, I featured Dar Williams’ “Are You Out There,” a song she wrote about how important listening to the radio as a teenager was to her life.

Today’s featured song is “Re Run,” from saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s 2015’s jazz album, aptly titled The Epic.  I have to admit that I haven’t listened to all of the 173 plus minutes of the album, but it was critically acclaimed on its release, and what I have listened to is interesting.

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The Last Waltz

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[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?

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Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On
[purchase]

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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Reposts!

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The Allman Brothers: Whipping Post
[purchase]

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!

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

Booker T.: Reunion Time
[purchase]

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

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The Motors: Airport
[purchase]

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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