FOR THOSE HAVING ISSUES WITH COMMENTS….

…I haven’t forgotten you. I work at home and my work station has been having issues that have thoroughly discombobulated the last three days. It might be another day or two before I can clear the schedule to readdress the problem (my first attempt does not seem to have worked).

If anyone who hasn’t already contacted me has encountered a problem such as being blocked by the firewall or having comments disappear (or does so in the future) feel free to send me your IP address at jwr1960@gmail.com and I’ll address your issue ASAP.

Meanwhile, thanks for your patience….

 

AND IT’S DEEP, TOO….

Although my favorite comment on the IG report is likely to remain Scott Adams’ “When I saw the report was 500 pages I knew everyone would be able to read anything into it they wanted,” the best of the numerous actual summaries I scanned/read was from Mollie Hemingway at the Federalist.

Hemingway still has a far more sanguine view of the FBI than I do…she seems to think all this is somehow abnormal. I say things like “massive leaking” and taking bribes are police state features, not bugs.

The real news is that the exposure of the FBI’s massive corruption and incompetence have left Team Trump with a strong hand. Unless Team Mueller pulls the sort of rabbit out of its hat that creates a massive backlash at the polls come November (its already clear Trump’s policies won’t provide the impetus–rather the opposite), then, come the end of the year, that strong hand will be a whip hand.

That’ll be fun.

And, oh yeah, James Comey? He’s what I said he was. No great insight. They all are. Including Mueller.

Welcome to my world.

LAST MAN OUT (D.J. FONTANA, R.I.P.)

There was plenty of rock ‘n’ roll in the early fifties. Some of the great records made between 1950 and 1955 had drums on them–almost always played by ace session men (think Earl Palmer on almost everything coming out of New Orleans, especially Fats Domino and Little Richard), though sometimes it was just a matter of a reliable road drummer keeping time during a studio stopover (think “Rocket 88”).

Some of the great records didn’t have drums at all: Think, for instance, Elvis Presley’s first records at Sun, few of which had drums, none of which had D.J. Fontana.

Though he had met Elvis and his band at the Louisiana Hayride, and had been on some road dates, Fontana didn’t get in the studio with them until the first RCA sessions, where, among other things, he added a softly brushed shuffle to the haunted comedy of “Heartbreak Hotel.” That was January of 1956, and, with it, the lineup of the basic rock and roll band–lead and rhythm guitars, bass and drums–had become attached to the era’s transcendent star and solidified into the shape it has held for six decades.

The vision–like most expansive visions in those days–was probably Elvis’s…but it wasn’t an accident that he chose D.J., a man who could bang out the biggest sound anybody could make…

….swing the coolest shuffles known to man…

…or lay in the weeds to accommodate the softest subtleties with an ease that bordered on aplomb.

He could take over a record or disappear inside it on demand.

Thus, it was no accident that the most visionary musician of the twentieth century–with a world to choose from–picked D.J. Fontana, a sufficiently graceful and modest man that he would have to get his accolades from fellow musicians and precious few others, to be his drummer during the most important part of his career.

D.J. Fontana was as good as it got.

And I don’t know if they really had a hell of a band in Rock and Roll Heaven before.

But they do now.

 

 

THE ONLY NEWS THAT MATTERS…

Barrack Obama’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz (retained by the Trump Administration), is releasing a mammoth report today. It’s been anticipated for months and culminates a year-and-a-half long investigation of something or other (I think it was originally supposed to be about Hilary Clinton’s emails but I wouldn’t swear that’s still the case).

Whatever else it says, here’s the first tidbit from the initial news reports–and it’s all that matters.

From the Page-Strzock Files:

Lisa Page: “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

Peter Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

By “we” Strzok meant the FBI, where both he and Page were high-ranking officials during the 2016 election cycle. You can Google their names if you haven’t been following along and want to know more.

Meanwhile, at least we know who was really trying to rig the 2016 election.

Perhaps we can take cold comfort in discovering, at last, their startling degree of incompetence.

And don’t worry. Page (resigned) and Strzok (demoted) are gone. But the people who took their place (think Team Mueller) are no brighter and no more principled.

The message, as always, is that Donald Trump is opposed by a Clown Show: They clown. He laughs.

Though, I admit, this is almost as funny as it is frightening in a banality-of-evil sort of way:

There, I just saved ya’ll the trouble of attending that endless IG report everybody’s been breathlessly awaiting for a year….or, worse, having to listen to the news.

So take it Eddie….Please, God, take it:

TRACK-BY-TRACK: DIANA ROSS & THE SUPREMES–THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION

The Definitive Collection
Diana Ross & the Supremes (2008)

Let’s start with this: The Supremes, in their various incarnations, have thirty-one comps listed on Wikipedia. I doubt that’s all of them, but it’s enough to suggest there is probably no such thing as a “definitive” Supremes collection. I have four, including the four-disc CD box, which stretches from the very beginning (when it wasn’t clear whether Diana Ross or Flo Ballard would be the lead singer) to the very end (by which time Mary Wilson had, for years, been the only remaining original Supreme and Ballard was in the boneyard). It sustains.

But for getting to the essence, it’s hard to beat this one–and the essence is as essential as anything in the rock and roll era.

How essential?

Consider this:

In the 173 weeks preceding the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” reaching #1, (Oct. 3, 1961 to Feb 1, 1964) the top of the American pop charts looked like this:**

Weeks Total: 173
Weeks Black Artists spent at #1: 53
Weeks Motown artists spent at #1: 4

In the same length of time after (Feb. 1, 1964 to June 3, 1967):

Weeks Total: 173
Weeks Black Artists spent at #1: 32
Weeks Motown artists spent at #1: 26
Weeks the Supremes spent at #1: 19

Short summary: In the middle of what is supposed to have been Rock and Roll America’s most expansive period, absent Motown (meaning absent Berry Gordy, Jr.), Black America’s time at the top of the Pop Chart would have reverted to the pre-Elvis standard.

Without the Supremes, even Motown would have made little difference in this respect (something Berry Gordy understood better than anyone).

This was after a period–supposedly rock’s most limited and fallow–when Black America had sustained enough chart action over the entirety of the early Rock ‘n’ Roll era for both Cashbox and Billboard to experiment with ending the R&B (or “race”) chart–an experiment a year’s worth of the British Invasion ended for good. So much “for good” that recent years when White America dominated the Hip Hop chart–including one year (2013) where white acts occupied the top spot forty-four out of fifty-two weeks–have not revived the concept.

“Race” dies hard.

If the Supremes had not existed–had not been what and who they were–the shape of the dream that is receding behind us, the restoration of which will be the bedrock of any future revival of anything worth either living or dying for, would be a great deal smaller and meaner.

I listen to them hard and often. Always have. Always will.

Lately, when I listen, I listen to this–because I hear the perfect shape of something America responded to like no other version of ourselves that existed in their time. Hit play:

“Where Did Our Love Go”–By the time they broke out, in the summer of ’64, it was Diana Ross’s show. But the other key elements were already in place. The neighborhood harmonies, the pounding rhythm, Holland-Dozier-Holland’s gift for tying memorable melodies to stringent-but-far-from-simple lyrics that turn on the subtleties of Ross’s timbre: “I’ve got this burnin, burnin, yearnin’ feeling inside me” had never been followed quite so smoothly and irresistibly by anything as turned-on-its-head as  “Ooooohhhh, deep inside me….and it hurts so bad.”

“Baby Love”–In true Motown style, the hit formula was copied closely on the subsequent release. Unlike all the other hit formulas, this went straight to #1 again. (Nice story, which I’ll paraphrase: Years ago, I heard all three members of HDH interviewed on public radio. One of them told a story about hanging out on the porch at Motown’s Hitsville after a long, not especially fruitful day of songwriting. He happened to overhear Gordy telling someone that, after the years-in-coming success of “Where Did Our Love Go,” he was going to put all the company’s promotional muscle behind the Supremes because they were the ticket to the white mainstream he had been seeking. Back inside, the eavesdropper went to the room where he had been working with the others, locked the door, hooked a chair under the knob, told his partners what he had heard, and said “We’re not leaving here until we write three number one hits for the Supremes.” “Baby Love” was the first.

“Come See About Me”–This, a fair bid for their finest hour, was the second.  And #1 again. However great it was in conception, it grew by leaps and bounds when Ross got hold of it. There’s no question in your mind that he’ll come see about her. Who wouldn’t! Hers is the only mind filled with doubt.

“Stop! In the Name of Love”–This, a fair bid for their finest hour, was the third.  And #1 again. Their signature stage song–Rock and Roll America produced nothing more iconic than their hand-motion choreography for this one and Rosanna Arquette fit a a lost world into her five-second imitation in Baby It’s You–and the first time James Jamerson’s bass emerged from the mix so powerfully that it became its own voice, counterpointing Ross’s desperate lead with a sound that seems to lead her down a path where hope and fear are forks in a road with no signs. To listen close is to be forever lost on that road….where you can never know if the path taken is right or wrong, no matter how many times it put a smile on your face when you were just singing along with the radio.

“Back in My Arms Again”–And, just like that, they were personalities. “And Flo, she don’t know, ’cause the boy she loves is a Romeo!”…And #1 again.

“Nothing but Heartaches”–A brilliant record, featuring some of the most haunting and complex harmonies found on any Motown record, plus the usual sterling qualities all the way around….and a flop! After five straight #1’s, this only got to #11. Not sure oldies radio ever made a distinction–but the Corporation noticed.

“I Hear a Symphony”–And went back to basics. The beat’s BIG again (especially that bass!), the harmonic lines cleaned up and deepened, the booting sax from ’64 restored to the bridge. Plus a lyric that’s a straightforward Ode to Joy. Back to #1!

“My World Is Empty Without You”–The lyric complexity returns. Is she pleading for forgiveness, extending it, or admitting she doesn’t care? The track retains the back-to-basics feel. The chart split the difference. It peaked at #5.

“Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart”–A fair bid for the sexiest vocal ever recorded. I don’t think it’s her heart that’s itching. Deeper than you might think, even so. The charts noticed (else fatigue was setting in)–this, as great and joyous as anything, settled for #9.

“You Can’t Hurry Love”–No way to stop this one, even if it plays like a sequel to “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart”–straight-up itching traded for Mama’s advice. By itself, that might have thrown the radio audience, but it was #1 by the time the bass intro reached the third note.

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”–A shock. Still. Decades of radio play could never wear it smooth. The track itself was so compelling that Kim Wilde’s note-for-note copy went #1 two decades later…and was promptly forgotten. What neither Wilde nor anyone else could match was Ross’s combination of intimacy and distance–as if she’s finally grown terrified of a version of herself it would cost her life to reject. And across those same decades, seven thousand white boy critics echoed each other with some version of “Why doesn’t this weak women just leave the bastard?” Gee, all that liberation theology, all those leftover groupies, and they still never heard about the thing called Sex. #1 of course.

“Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone”–“Into your arms I fell, so unaware, of the loneliness that was waiting there.” It’s what you might call a theme. #1 again.

“The Happening”–Okay, here’s why there will never be a perfect Supremes comp. It’s another #1 (and therefore can’t be left off) and a good enough record that I could imagine it gracing a run of hits by someone else and not interrupting the flow. But this is the Supremes. And it’s only 1967. The quality doesn’t matter. It will just never fit. (Click the link, though. It’s the Sullivan appearance where Ed forgot the name and just introduced them as….”the girls!” Plus, they could dance. In case anyone forgot.)

“Reflections”–The themes reach culmination–loneliness, despair, the Morse Code of heartache, reflection. My pick for their greatest record, and Motown’s. It’s given extra weight by being so close to Flo Ballard’s last gasp (she would last only another six weeks before being fired). Somehow, this most perfect intimation of its time and place only reached #2. And that after even “The Happening” had gone to the top. One of life’s little mysteries. It’ll be worth every step of the hard road that ends with both feet inside the pearly gates to have that one explained.

“Love Child”–With Ballard gone, Mary Wilson was frozen out of the studio and backing vocals were turned over to the thoroughly professional Andantes. Three fantastic singles followed “Reflections” (to diminishing chart returns–with Ballard gone, they fell from the Top Ten like a stone). I feel their loss. But hearing “Reflections”bleed into this one elevates both. Which in the abstract, I wouldn’t believe was possible. And back to #1.

“I’m Livin’ in Shame”–A “Love Child” sequel and nearly as good. Standing on it’s own, it can slide by you and you can hear why it only reached the Top Ten. But placed here–and knowing the end is near–it gains weight, as the kitchen-sink details that lay hidden between the grooves of its predecessor are filled in and turned into pure loss. “She never got out of the house, never even boarded a train.” It’s all in the voice–Ross’s sly ability to shift between Ghetto Child and Worldly Sophisticate Looking Over Her Shoulder without losing the plot–and no record caught Black America’s then emerging, still unresolved, cultural dilemma better.

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (with The Temptations)–Pure product. And as irresistible as the Art that preceded it.

“Someday We’ll Be Together”–Their last release with Diana Ross and the last #1 single of the 1960s.

Of course it was.

Now excuse me while I hit replay.

**NOTE: I chose the period of 173 weeks based on Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” marking a new era for Black America in terms of reclaiming the charts….The other non-Motown acts who reached number one between the arrival of the Beatles and the week “Respect” topped the chart were Louis Armstrong, the Dixie Cups and Percy Sledge. I wrote about the significance of Percy’s record here. 

SIMONA HALEP’S MINI-REVOLUTION (Occasional Sports Moment #35)

The latest revolution in women’s sports (or maybe just sports–I don’t keep up like I used to), came full circle today when Romania’s 26-year-old Simona Halep won the French Open, her first “major” title after three excruciating finals losses since 2014.

The revolution has gone unnoticed by the tennis media, which makes a specialty of not noticing things, and the general sports media, which depends on John McEnroe to tell them what’s important in tennis the way rock critics depend on Robert Christgau to tell them what’s important in country music. If the guru hasn’t spoken, it hasn’t happened.

But, acknowledged or not, Simona Halep’s revolution has happened.

Five years ago, when she decided that running the baseline and playing like a backboard wasn’t enough, she had a breakout year, winning six tournaments.

People took notice, of course. They even commented on her change in attitude–backboard no more, she had become a true counterpuncher.

For those who don’t know, the history of tennis consists mainly of backboards, counterpunchers and attackers. Attackers used to serve and volley. Now they, too, play at the baseline and simply use modern racket technology (which Jimmy Connors once compared to giving major league hitters aluminum bats) to blast the ball by their opponent at the first opportunity.

Backboards have rarely won big, though they’ve often been competitive. They excel at “not losing”–or, as I like to say, “barely losing.”

As of five years ago, it was an open question whether true counterpunching–using angles, endurance, footspeed, redirection, guile, to do what slugging the ball cannot–would ever gain a real foothold again.

Then Halep’s big year happened and she started talking about “being aggressive.”

Before too long, players some of us had been begging forever and a day to be “aggressive” actually took notes: Result? Several of them upped their games and went on to win the major championships they had been seeking for years–Angie Kerber (twice), Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens.

The one who didn’t win until today was Simona Halep. Worse, Halep had committed the unforgivable sin of raising the tennis intelligentsia‘s hopes. They (the dread “They”) liked her. And she raised the question: Could a truly stylish, light-footed player without unworldly power actually become not merely a now-and-again contender but a real force out there?

Well, yes and no. Halep won a lot of tournaments, consistently contended at majors, even rose to #1 in the rankings. But she fell short in major finals. And those defeats were agonizing–finals of the French in 2014 and 2017, the final in Australia early this year, all in three close sets where, at some point, she held a late lead.

And because she had let the side down–the side that never expected much from her in the first place and were therefore all the more “disappointed” when she raised what seemed to have become false hopes–everything was questioned.

Her head. Her heart. Her will.

Why couldn’t she just do it?

The notion that what she was trying to do–trying to build, if you will, brick by brick–might be the least bit difficult was never once acknowledged.

To her credit she took it. She questioned herself in public. Blamed no one else. She was open about what she was working on, both mentally and physically. If she got mad on the court it was only at herself. She took greatest-ever counterpuncher Chris Evert’s dictum to heart: “It’s not the coach. It’s not your box. It’s not the racquet. It’s you.”

She worked, then. And she took the blows.

And she endured.

She even gave great press conferences–“So I lost three times until now, and nobody died.”**

Today she triumphed. Personally, yes. But also the revolution she will never get credit for. As of now, five of the last ten major winners on the women’s side won playing Simona Halep’s game rather than Martina’s or Steffi’s or Serena’s or (given changes in racquet and surface technology) even Evert’s. Often as not, as it was today, they beat someone else playing the same game in the finals.

If I were to compare Halep’s revolution to anything in recent sport it would be Steph Curry’s redefinition of the professional basketball court into a space where an additional two hundred square feet have to be defended. Like Curry, Halep, ballet dancing in the land of the giants, gets by on speed and guile, being stronger than she looks–and defying expectations.

And, as with Curry, they were the most demanding expectations of all–what everybody else thought was impossible.

She reached the pinnacle today.

Here’s to a long run. Let the chants keep ringing out, all over the tennis world:

“SI-MO-NA!”

(**Along the way, she also inspired. As my favorite tennis blogger, Diane Dees, who hosts the great Women Who Serve site, noted today, we have never seen a female athlete attract and hold a fan base that follows her around the world, through thick and thin, and constantly chants her name during competition….until now.)

LIGHT OF FOOT, LIGHT OF HEART (Maria Bueno, R.I.P.)

Brazil’s Maria Bueno played her competitive tennis career from 1958 to 1968, retiring in her late twenties and just missing the “Open” era. She won Wimbledon three times and the U.S. Championship four times, but just missed the level of acclaim (and money) that would have come even a few years later as women’s tennis entered the mainstream.

There is little footage of her playing career available on YouTube, but this interview with CNN, on the eve of the Brazil Olympics in 2016, gives a good indication of why she was the watchword for grace–on and off the court–to several generations of tennis addicts. Well worth five minutes of your time...especially if you care to be reminded that nothing springs from a vacuum. (On leaving Brazil for the European circuit at eighteen: “They bought me a ticket. One way ticket. ‘Come back when you can.'”)

There’s no good time for a good person to leave our company. But she might be smiling tonight somewhere, on the eve of a French Open women’s final that–in this age of huge-hitting Amazons–will feature two gliders (Romania’s Simona Halep and the American Sloane Stephens).

Proof, perhaps, that some forms of grace never really go out of style, assault them though we will.

AND THE FIRST RULE OF CONSPIRACIES IS…..

…No matter where it begins, in the end, it’s all about the Jews coming to get us.

Follow the link to get a shorthand rundown on something that’s been bubbling in the fringes (of both Far Right and Far Left, where such things always find common ground) for a while–namely that Trump/Russia collusion is about to morph into Trump/Israel collusion.

Pick to click:

As the conspiracy theorists struggle to explain or reconcile contradictions in their accounts, the pull towards the deus ex machina of all conspiracy theories—the powerful, wealthy, rootless, cosmopolitan wanderers of the earth—only gets stronger.

But by all means read the whole thing. In the coming months, nothing will be off the table. I won’t be surprised if, by the time the leaves turn, we are hearing less about Trump the Anti-Semite and more about Trump the Jew Lover (whose two oldest children married Jews, after all, and whose daughter converted doncha’ know?).

As always, details change: Narratives remain.

AT LAST…NO REALLY! (Occasional Sports Moment #34)

Coming into this season, between them, the FSU baseball and softball teams had made thirty-one appearances (22 for the men, 9 for the women) in the College World Series and the Women’s College World Series. The women’s softball team had won two national championships in the early eighties when the sport was slow-pitch and not sanctioned by the NCAA but neither team had won the big one–a record of futility that stretched back to the sixties and has been carried like a lead weight by both programs for decades, felt to the present day by players whose parents weren’t born when “next year” first became a rallying cry.

Until now.

Monday and Tuesday night, the women lifted the curse:

I missed it all of course. No TV this year….maybe that’s all they needed!

But I still feel it. And I’d feel it even if they hadn’t done what most of us always suspected it would take–one comeback after another, staving off elimination six times, and becoming the first team to win the WCWS after losing on the first day: