CAREER ARC…(MEMPHIS BOY MAKES GOOD, PART II)

Ah, yes, the good old reliable Career Arc….Everybody’s got one!

(For anybody who missed it, last week’s Part I is here.)

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(Chris Ellsworth…in training, circa mid-sixties)

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(And at the peak, 1994, third from the right, standing, accompanied by an especially motley crew!)

Which leads me to the real purpose of this post.

No way I’m letting my family’s #1 fan go into the Memphis Amateur Sports Hall of Fame without dedicating at least one Elvis song….

…So there!

IT JUST TAKES ONE…(Mike Nichols, Jimmy Ruffin, R.I.P.)

They both did plenty of fine work (in Nichols’ case, much of it with his partner Elaine May).

They each had a moment of singular genius in them.

And, as Orson Welles said–it just takes one.

So, then,  now–and a thousand years from now, if the world’s still worth living in–here’s to singular moments:

 

 

ANOTHER MEMPHIS BOY MADE GOOD…

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(Me, Chris Ellsworth, David Gatchell…Frontenac, Florida, circa 1966…This probably goes without saying, but I’m the cute one)

Congratulations to my nephew, Chris Ellsworth, Memphis Survivor and unanimous selection for induction into this year’s class for the Memphis Amateur Sports Hall of Fame, Slow Pitch Softball Division.

Since this is the only picture I have of him, me, a bat and a glove, I’m going with it even though genius up there stuck the glove in front of his own face….Also I wasn’t sure I had any other way of conveying how obvious it was I taught these boys everything worth knowing, diamond-wise.

Either that, or the grownup with the camera made ‘em let me hold the bat for a change!

So here’s a better look:

John

I’d be congratulating him anyway…but, specifically for readers of this blog, I should also mention that, if I ever manage to publish the Great American Novel, I’m gonna dedicate it to my parents. But if things go according to plan and I follow it up some day with the Great American Rock and Roll Novel, I’ll be dedicating it to him.

As I explained here, he was the one who got me into music, generally, and Elvis in particular. Before that, all I really knew was hymns, a few folk songs, and “Ode to Billie Joe” (courtesy of a 45 my sister left behind when she got married…and a story I’ll save for another day).

I never lost my love for any of those things, mind you, but let’s just say I’m glad the world got bigger when it did and how it did. Put another way, this blog probably wouldn’t exist without him.

Anyway, that picture at the top is a pretty good symbol of our relationship.

He’d come to live with us for a while. We’d bond. He’d go back to Memphis (or, later on, wherever). We’d lose touch. A few years would pass. Then he’d come back and we’d pick up wherever we left off.

Still works that way.

My only regret about his softball career is that I didn’t get to see him play more. Then again, I know enough about life by now to be grateful for the times I was there.

For what it’s worth–in case, you know, you wonder about his credentials–he played softball at its highest level. When he got into his forties, he started telling the youngsters he’d retire when they outhit him.

That didn’t happen.

Only one that caught him in the end was Father Time.

As for us?….Well, our paths sometimes bend away from each other for a while, but they always meet again in the end.

I’m glad they met in time for this….And I’m glad I had at least one memento to share here that goes back to the beginning.

Per the link below….

I don’t recall any skinny-dipping or drag-strips.

Grandma didn’t have a cow.

Florida ain’t Georgia and neither is Memphis.

But that doesn’t really matter.

One other thing I’ve learned, not just from Joe South.

Home is a state of mind.

Spring Street, my Brother.

Who knew….

(Thanks to Lisa Dollar for scanning the pix!…David G, Paul….if you’re out there and by some chance in a million happen across this, get in touch!)

JUST IN CASE YOU THOUGHT STEVE ALLEN HAVING ELVIS DRESS IN A TUX AND SING TO A BASSET HOUND WAS KINDA’ SURREAL…(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #36)

Catch Brenda Lee (12-ish) on the Ozark Jubilee.

Comment would be superfluous (though if you think that picture below is from some other planet, don’t worry, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet):

 

 

JUST HOW HARD IS IT TO BE CONSISTENTLY….GREAT

Very….

I’ve never had strong opinions on whether Rock and Roll is ‘”album music” or “singles music.”

The debate more or less opened up in the wake of Dylan and the Beatles way back when. I don’t know if it gets a rise out of anybody these days, when every music is “download music.” But I started thinking along those lines (again) after all these years, in response to some of the on-line Hall of Fame discussions, which often center around the general conflict between Commerce (almost always code for a string of hit singles) and Art (almost always code for critically acclaimed LPs).

Of course, there have been a handful of acts, from the Beatles onwards, for whom the distinction was virtually meaningless..

But, trying to wrap my mind around it from a twenty-first century, middle-age perspective, I started counting up who–in Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll only–I really thought of as “album” artists.

For the purposes of this little list, then, I’m leaving out quite a bit.

No comps or live albums (certainly no box sets). No pre-rock artists (which for me would be Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday and Doris Day, make of that what you will) or contemporary artists who aren’t considered Rock and Roll, even in my own strictly big tent version. And no playing favorites (that would, incidentally, be a different list by at least half).

With that for the context, I stuck to artists who have made five or more original, studio albums I know well enough to have what I call sequence response: That is, if I hear something from that album in some other context (radio, commercial, computer mix, etc.), I’ll likely get a little jolt of surprise when the next song I expect to hear–i.e., the next song from the original album–doesn’t follow.

I thought there would be at least ten Rock and Roll acts who met this criteria, possibly as many as fifteen or twenty.

Not even close.

I only made it to six.

Turns out five is a very high number, when it comes to making compulsory-listening albums.

And all those reasonable caveats I mentioned above do dwindle the list considerably.

Which sort of confirms a suspicion I’ve long had about my listening (and judging) habits.

I tend to go free-form (not just comps but multi-artist comps, or else a lot of running back and forth to the shelves)….or very, very concentrated (box sets, the bigger the better).

So a lot of artists who have a great box set, or made way more great tracks than required to fill five (or even ten) LPs, still don’t make my list of five actual albums–James Brown, Brenda Lee, Janis Joplin, the Impressions, Aretha Franklin (who almost made it anyway) all come readily to mind.

So do the Jackson 5 and Jackie DeShannon, if you really want to know how deep a fifty-great-tracks list might run.

One qualification that would not have expanded the list much, however, is including non-rock acts from the rock (or now post-rock) era.

Again, there are plenty of favorites who have a wealth of great sides (Bobby Bland, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, maybe a couple of dozen country singers, not just the usual–Merle, Loretta, Patsy, Waylon, George, Dolly, Buck, but lesser known geniuses like Don Gibson and Connie Smith as well). But, for any number of reasons–time and money preeminent among them–I’ve never really listened to many of their studio albums at length.

The one exception is Patty Loveless, who is also the only artist of the last quarter century in any format whose albums I have any deep, consistent connection with.

It’s not that I don’t try–and not that I don’t find an occasional LP that moves me (Pink’s Missundaztood (2001) and the Roots’ Undun (2011) are fairly recent discoveries, for instance). But, if I said I heard great stuff all the time and probably just don’t have enough time to stay caught up (a frequent excuse as we get older), I’d be lying.

So I guess I could have included Loveless–on the grounds no one’s likely to be joining her on my little list.

I didn’t, though, because I’ve written extensively about her elsewhere and, again, I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty about specifically rock and roll album acts, So suffice it to say hers would be the longest list here, and would also cover the longest time-span, exceeding even Elvis. It’s possible–just–that compiling this list has sent my respect for Ms. Loveless (aka, “the Awesome One”) even higher. Which is fine, because compiling lists like this is partly an exercise in pinpointing what we value–and partly  an excuse to ruminate a bit on what it all means, not just to us, but to the Cosmos.

Which brings me to my last point:

Great rock and roll album acts–at least by my lights–tend to have a great run in them, which also tends to exhaust them on some level.

The most extreme example is the Rolling Stones. They made what I think is their greatest album in 1972, at the end of nearly a decade of sustained brilliance (and over half a decade of sustained album brilliance).

Then they were replaced by pod people.

That’s extreme.

But, except for Elvis (whose larger story is, in some ways, even more extreme), everyone on this list could be described by some version of the same story.

In rock and roll, when the real greatness goes, it tends to go fast, hard and for good (no matter how much “good” music is left–and often there’s quite a lot).

The same is true, incidentally–with little exception–for my near misses (Dylan, Aretha, Hendrix, Van Morrison, War, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin–see the complete list below).

These were acts that had three or four on my list and maybe a near miss or two.

The oddest cases were Dylan, who missed because I’ve never really connected with Blonde on Blonde and Morrison, who missed because I didn’t count his two fantastic albums with Them (which might be unfair, but I was sticking to the strictest criteria possible) and would have made it anyway if I’d ever connected with Astral Weeks or if my vinyl version of Into the Music didn’t have some weird fuzz on Side Two that made it unlistenable-but-unreturnable when I bought it new (and thus never replaced)!

I throw in that last to emphasize just how arbitrary such “judgments” are if you don’t get your records for free.

But I think the main point still holds. Except for Elvis (and Patty Loveless), everybody who made, or nearly made, this list, made their best five to eight (or even three to four) original albums in the space of a decade (usually much less). And that’s all irrespective of whether these are my six “favorite” artists or I think they are “the greatest.”….As it happens, my six favorite rock and roll acts, if somebody put a gun to my head, would probably look a lot different…only Elvis would be guaranteed (though the Byrds and Al Green would certainly be in strong consideration).

Make of that what you will.

In any case, I’d really like to hear from anybody who has a different take (or artists they’d put on their own list).

As you’ll see, I’m not exactly after rearranging the canon here!

(*Denotes what I think is the artists’ greatest LP, or, if you prefer, my personal favorite–order is chronological, from date of the first LP that qualified for my list).

Elvis Presley (Two gospel albums and a Christmas LP here….but I included them because that was his version of rock and roll. And he would have made the list anyway):

1957: Christmas Album
1960: Elvis is Back!
1960: His Hand In Mine
1967: How Great Thou Art
1969: From Elvis In Memphis*
1971: Elvis Country!
1975: Promised Land
1975: Today

The Beatles:

1964: Meet the Beatles
1964: The Beatles 2nd
1965: VI
1965: Help! (UK)*
1965: Rubber Soul (US)
1966: Revolver (UK)
1968: The Beatles (White Album)

[Note: Several of the early Beatles’ LPs, especially Hard Day’s Night, would almost certainly be here (perhaps substituting for US versions) if I had acquired the UK versions back in the days when I listened to them a lot more than I do now–I’m limiting these lists to albums I actually own (a function of finance), know backwards and forwards (a function of time spent), and happen to think are great listening experiences (a function of taste). See, I told you it was arbitrary.]

The Beach Boys:

1964: All Summer Long
1965: The Beach Boys Today!
1965: Summer Days (And Summer Nights)
1965: Party!
1967: Wild Honey*

and a fantastic live version:

The Byrds:

1965: Mr. Tambourine Man
1965: Turn, Turn, Turn
1966: Fifth Dimension
1967: Younger Than Yesterday
1967: The Notorious Byrd Brothers*
1968: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
1969: The Ballad of Easy Rider

The Rolling Stones:

1966: Aftermath (US)
1968: Beggar’s Banquet
1969: Let It Bleed
1970: Sticky Fingers
1972: Exile on Main Street*

Al Green:

1971: Gets Next to You
1972: Let’s Stay Together
1973: Call Me
1973: Livin’ For You
1974: Explores Your Mind
1977: Belle*

[Note: It’s worth mentioning that, in three of the six cases here, I thought the last great album on the list was the greatest. And, in the case of the Byrds, the two albums I list after Notorious Byrd Brothers were made with significantly different lineups. So, four times out of six, some point of crisis was reached. And the artists’ in question–be it faux-Satan worshiper Mick Jagger or the Reverend Al Green–were never really the same again. Something to bear in mind in any discussion where the spiritual cost of making great rock and roll happens to come up.]

(Near misses: Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, The Everly Brothers, Rod Stewart, Prince (if I only counted doubles as two!), Aretha Franklin, War, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, The Who, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac and, a very recent discovery, Spinners–I guess it’s pretty obvious I don’t think albums have progressed much after about the early eighties, but then, neither have singles.)

 

 

HANGING WITH THE DEAD–AS IN DECEASED, NOT GRATEFUL (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #35)

Sorry for the light posting….Trying to meet some year-end (self-imposed but real) deadlines and getting ready for a trip. Meanwhile, here’s a nice story from Susan Cowsill on the art of collaborating with her brother Barry, who was killed in Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

Which is also a good excuse to re-post this, their finest hour together on this side–and the reason God made YouTube (Barry sings lead on the second song, “II X II” which starts around 3:20):

 

MEDITATIONS ON THE KING AND THE CROWN PRINCE… (Segue of the Day, 11/9/14)

…Of the movie western that is.

I pass this sequence along without comment beyond stating that Alison Anders is a fine director (loved her Grace of My Heart, which will be a likely subject for a post some day if I can ever get hold of it again) and Anthony Mann is one of my own “top five” directors (and an easy second among directors of westerns).

I’m not in love with John Ford’s movies. They are staples, and it’s like saying you don’t like bread—Ford’s films are in all filmmakers’ foundations, somewhere, it’s inescapable. But when it comes to being in love with movies, I’m more of an Anthony Mann girl.

(Alison Anders, Source: Criterion Collection Website “Top Tens”, where she placed Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln” fifth in her personal Top Ten, but, oddly, did not include any of Mann’s films.)

Q: About a year ago we interviewed Howard Hawks. Your thoughts on what brings strength to a character echo some of his. Were you influenced by Hawks?

A: I don’t think so. The director I studied most closely, my favorite director, is John Ford. In one shot, he expresses location, content and character more quickly than anyone else can. He as the strongest visual conception of things, and I believe in a visual conception of things. The shock of glimpsing an entire life, an entire world, in a single little shot is much more important than the most brilliant dialogue.

Oh, and one other thing: Mann’s interviewers moved quickly along.

They always do, when you give the wrong answer.

(Anthony Mann, Source: DVD booklet, The Furies: A Film by Anthony Mann, “Intervew With Anthony Mann” by Charles Bitsch and Claude Chabrol, from March, 1957)

WHAT IS ART?…OH, THAT AGAIN (Why I Still Need Rock and Roll: Lesson #12)

Terry Teachout had a piece a couple of weeks back, basically lamenting the state of the Kennedy Center honors and the falling standards at the Library of America. The full piece is behind a firewall, but the part I’m getting ready to complain about is here.

So it’s the barbarians at the gate again. Well-l-l-l…

I’m for standards, too. But I think their maintenance is a lot trickier than Terry lets on here (at least in this part I have access to, which does seem to correlate with other things he’s written…I”ll leave aside the time he specifically complained about the Kennedy Center not putting in enough country singers, because I took it for granted he was just scoring ideological points).

I’m reading the Elmore Leonard volume for review now, so I’ll wait a while to say a word about the Library of America’s choices for inclusion.

As to the Kennedy Center:

Well, I love this:

And, I really love this:

But they aren’t better, or “higher” than this….because nothing is:

If honoring Sting, say, (or Tom Hanks, or Lily Tomlin, who’s worthy anyway) is the price for making sure the tent is big enough for Al Green, then so be it.

 

HISTORY IN THE MAKING…LOS ANGELES, 1979 (Great Quotations)

Starting to contemplate a long post on my history with the Go-Go’s, so here’s a teaser:

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“They were rehearsing a couple of times a month. I said ‘Guys, you gotta rehearse like four or five times a week if you want to make this happen.'”

(Gina Schock, drummer to the gods, recalling her first meeting with the Go-Go’s. Source: VH1 Behind the Music–The Go-Go’s)

Thirty-two months later (with Kathy Valentine having replaced Margot Olavarria [far right]), the Go-Go’s were the first self-contained, all-female band in the history of popular music to have the #1 album in Billboard.

As of this date, they are also the last.

Like I always say, when there’s only one of something, there’s usually a reason….like maybe the unusual ability to communicate angst as joy: