About Nondisposable Johnny

John Ross blogs from Havana, Florida. He works for a living so please don't take it personally if he doesn't get back to you right away.

TESTIFIER (Dennis Edwards, R.I.P.)

Dennis Edwards was one of the last great soul men–and, perhaps because he replaced another legend in the greatest call and response vocal group of the rock and roll era (there’s competition among the harmony groups, where they’re also in the running)–one of the least appreciated.

Like a lot of soul singers, he was the son of a preacher man. Very few brought as much raw gospel power to the world stage. He turned every venue into a revival, every microphone into a pulpit. If you need a measure of his quality, consider only this. The Temptations survived the departure of David Ruffin (whom Edwards replaced). They survived the death of Paul Williams. They survived the departure of Eddie Kendricks.

When Dennis Edwards left in 1977, they were finished as a major force in American music. By then, he had helped extend their legacy by nearly a decade. Shouting all the way, from his first mighty hit (which kept them firmly at the forefront of the changing times)…

to his (and their) last.. which might have been his (and their) mightiest.

Higher ground tonight brother. Every inch earned.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (At the Multiplex: January, 2018)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
D: Denis Villenueve

 

[NOTE: For more advanced and detailed thoughts than I’d be willing/able to provide without re-watching Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and/or re-reading Philip K. DIck’s source novel (both terrific…I just lack the time), you can go here, for Noel Vera’s review. I should probably have this site in my blogroll anyway. Soon, I promise. Spoilers in Noel’s review, but, since he’s doing the heavy lifting, none here.]

At least on a first viewing, I had the impression (it can’t be more than that on such brief acquaintance) that Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 has surpassed Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (to which it is a sequel), as the best adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s world-view. It might even stretch that view a inch or two, which would be about as far as such a view can ever be stretched. All Dick’s big themes are there. Madness vs. sanity. Reality vs “reality.” Man’ s relationship to technology. The precise point at which one thing turns into another (man into machine, sanity into madness, “reality” into reality….or vice versa).

Creating a visual equivalent of Dick’s flat but evocative prose (except in his ability to place dreams next to nightmares with disarmingly casual ease, he was no stylist…when you can do that, who needs style?), has never been easy. Steven Spielberg tried it in Minority Report and didn’t come close. But Scott got pretty close in the original Blade Runner (is there such a thing as pedestrian grandeur?) and I think Villeneuve (with Scott producing) got even closer here, in a film that toys with the original humans vs replicants (or humans using replicants, unless, of course, it’s really the other way round) concept with just enough verve and nerve to touch something new. Seeing 2049 on a big screen (to be fair, I’ve only caught the original on tape and disc) I felt myself getting a touch emotional on a couple of occasions.

But was it me…or some spiritual simulacrum I conjured for the purpose of reclaiming a younger self who might have responded even more strongly, which was certainly more appropriate than my current self, who kept threatening not to respond at all?

Those are the kind of questions Dick’s novels always asked of me (I wouldn’t presume to speak for others, as I can imagine interpretations sufficiently different to make mine seem as incomprehensible to others as theirs would be to me), and Blade Runner (at least in its “director’s cut” version) almost asked as well. It was both refreshing and disturbing to feel those emotions watching 2049. Which I guess means it made me feel a bit more alive–not something I often experience watching movies made this millennia.

This is made a bit more interesting–to me and my simulacra anyhow–by how little I was taken with the first twenty minutes or so, when Ryan Gosling seemed even flatter than usual and the beauty Villenueve and his team would bring to some of the later scenes had yet to manifest itself fully. Whether the movie got better as it went along or simply took over my senses I can’t say. (I’d hate to say it overwhelmed my mind,. That would be creepy and I’d hardly feel comfortable recommending it to others–which I very much want to do–if I admitted all that. But I did catch myself observing myself once or twice. Only from the next seat over. I don’t want you to think I was having some kind of episode.)

Once the film did take hold, though, it was riveting, and remained so, no matter how often I replicated and re-converged. There were times when I wanted to be in this film’s world. And, when you’ve seen it, as you really should, you’ll know just how crazy that is.

Curse you Denis Villenueve. You’ve made me irrational. You’ve made me think I could accept being Ryan Gosling! Harrison Ford was one thing but this smacks of evil.

And curse you Philip K. Dick. You’ve blurred the distinction between Dystopia and Utopia yet again–and without contributing a word. Years after I swore I was past all this, I now spend part of every day looking over my shoulder and around corners. Maybe only metaphorically, but still….I came out of the theater wishing I lived in a land where Donald Trump was president despite everything the FBI could do.

That will never happen, of course. Walking out next to me, my simulacra-self at least reassured me of that!

And I believed.

In other words, it’s a trip.

TO THE SPINMEISTERS (Late Night Dedication)

…As reaction to the big news of the day proceeds on wearily familiar lines (the twitter-bonding between war-mongering neocons and the flower children of Hollywood is especially precious), it’s always fun waiting for something to play in your head that will put a smile on your face and inoculate you from what might otherwise be fatal weariness and the undying belief that your fellow citizens are all hopeless morons.

This showed up in mine, unbidden, around an hour ago. And it’s still going strong!

Perhaps it will do the same for you…

 

BROKEN RECORD….

The open question that bled through most of last year was whether Donald Trump was willing/able to wage war against the enforcement arm of Security State tasked (by Democrats, Never Trump Republicans, the Media, the Permanent Bureaucracy, etc.) with waging war against him.

We now have the answer. He’s willing. He’s able. And he has, for the first time, significant allies.

Oh, the other side is still fighting on. My favorite moment of this week was when the media (well, CNN anyway) briefly toyed with the idea of tagging Devin Nunes as a Russian agent (as in, anyone who’s not specifically working to remove Donald Trump from office must be with the Russians too!). It’s true that the events of the last few months, culminating in the release of “the Nunes Memo” today, would be head-spinning–and deeply disturbing–if we actually lived in one of those “constitutional republics” or “liberal democracies” that prize the rule of law and such.

I mean, if there were such a thing, and Donald Trump was the only thing standing between us and its dissolution, there would be cause for concern.

Of course, my loyal readers should, by now, be inoculated against such illusions or the news of any given day, but, just in case you need a reminder, you can go here for a refresher.

And, if you need a dedication?

Well, Gene’s always here…

And so’s Eddie…

Goodbye us.

THE SECRET LIVES OF THE NOT QUITE YET RICH AND FAMOUS (Segue of the Day: 1/31/18)

This was actually from a week or so back, but, hey, my blog, my rules. I’m not above toying with the time/space continuum.

Thus…a week or so back….

I was resetting my radio channels after I had an airbag recall replacement in my car and left the new setting on a local channel that plays semi-offbeat music from yesteryear. Most of the stuff is by famous artists, but not necessarily the familiar hits. My internet being out a day or two later, I found myself cruising to the local college theater one evening on a work night to catch When Harry Met Sally, which I had never seen on the big screen (it was worth it…I almost posted about that).

And, in the new dark, I heard this…and I kept thinking, if it’s her, it can’t be from her solo career or her post-Tusk Fleetwood Mac career. Leaving what? An outtake? Thought I’d heard all those too.

Well, I couldn’t find a parking space in time to make the 7:00 show, which meant I had a chance to stop and write down a piece of the lyrics, making it easy enough to find on the net when I got home. Ah, yes, Buckingham Nicks. How could I have forgotten!

I might not have considered it more than a nice find–another fine piece of Stevie’s secret career (a subject that’s probably worth its own post some day) to be tucked away for a rainy day.

Except when 9:00 rolled around, my internet still wasn’t working, so I headed back to the college to catch the 10:00 showing (there’s always plenty of parking that late, after class lets out), and on the way, on the same station, I ran into this….which I’ve never heard on the radio anywhere….

…which, in addition to reminding me of how much Elvis Costello used to hate Stevie Nicks (maybe not as much as he hated Linda Ronstadt, but there was definitely a theme there…if Stevie had dared to cover a few his songs, the gap would have closed in an eye-blink, though of course he would not have failed to cash the royalty check), and how great he was once upon a time, also set me to wondering how different either career might have been if these records had been the hits they deserved to be.

I kept the station tuned all week, waiting for another revelation.

No such luck.

This evening, on the way to the grocery store, I switched back to Classic Rock. Nothing revelatory there, either, but at least I could sing along. I even got to use my Freddie Mercury voice (don’t worry folks, unless the Security State has my car bugged, no one will ever hear my Freddie Mercury voice).

Which made me think about when Dave Marsh, expecting to be taken seriously, called Queen “fascist rock.” I think that meant he either didn’t like them or just couldn’t keep Pauline Kael and Greil Marcus out of his head, kind of a crit-illuminati version of the way Norman Bates couldn’t keep his mother out of his head.

Calling anyone you didn’t like a fascist was very big back then.

The lesson as always: The seventies drove people crazy.

I’m just thankful such things never, ever happen now.

PATHFINDER (Hugh Masekela, R.I.P.)

Given the mellow nature of his career-defining hit, an instrumental version of “Grazing in the Grass” that topped the Pop and R&B charts in 1968, it was easy to take Hugh Masekela for granted. But for a very long time, he was the most famous musician from South Africa on the world stage and one of the most famous people. And he kept his country’s issues on the minds of anyone who would listen and walked the line between entertainer, artist and citizen of conscience better than a lot of others who were far more prone to making a big deal of never letting you forget how hard they were working at all three.

He was probably best known as a trumpeter, but he played several other instruments just as well, besides being an affecting (if occasional) vocalist, a formidable bandleader….

composer…

and lyricist.

Of course, for a lot of rock and rollers, his signature moment is probably his indelible trumpet playing on the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” There’s no shame in thinking so…as signatures go, few musicians ever left a finer one.

He died of cancer last week at 78, in Johannesburg. If there’s any cosmic justice he’s in that place where no one’s lying to the races, blowing up a storm.

 

“I CAN TELL A LIFE STORY IN THREE MINUTES” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #128)

Here’s a nice Sunday treat, an interview with the great Candi Staton about her journey from gospel to soul to disco and back again. It’s a journey only she took (despite the deep impact of gospel on soul music, only a handful of soul singers had actually been professional gospel singers and I can’t think of any others who made it in soul and then transitioned successfully to disco, let alone returned to gospel) and she does a beautiful job here of explaining the distinctions, difficulties and transitions, how the various forms both repel and attract each other. Along the way, she also gives a dissertation on the art of interpreting lyrics. Fitting for the woman who recorded this, in competition with the 12″ versions of Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around” and Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame” for the greatest vocal on a disco record….and, like she says, she got it done in half the time.

WHEN LIFE–OR AT LEAST POLITICS–IS LIKE A PATRICIA HIGHSMITH NOVEL….(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #127)

…at the moment when the doppelganger decides to become the object of his affection.**

To play him (Donald Trump) right, Reines would have to study not just Trump’s mannerisms but his platform and his style of thinking. Got it, Reines assured Klain, “I understand that this is not a Saturday Night Live character imitation.” Then he went to work on becoming Trump.

First stop: the men’s department at Nordstrom. “I need to look like Donald Trump,’ he told his suit guy. “But not like Halloween.” A week later, he’d have a slightly baggy blue suit with high cuffs–just like the Donald’s. He ordered dress shoes with three-and-a-quarter lifts, a backboard for his posture, and knee braces to combat his tendency to sway. He concluded that acquiring Trump’s carrot skin tone would be too much of a distraction–but only after covering half his face in self tanner one day to try it out. He bought Trump cuff links on Amazon and a Trump watch on eBay–for about $175. Reines even shelled out money for four podiums–two apiece for his apartment  and an office at Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias’s firm so that he could do mock debate sessions with friends before he faced off with Hillary. And then there was the “shackle.” Worried about leaving his supersecret prep materials in an Uber, Reines bought a heavy duty tether so that he could lock his briefcase to his wrist. He actually acquired two different versions–one of which was originally designed for bondage enthusiasts. 

(From Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, 2017)

This little tidbit is on page 325 (and concerns the Clinton campaign’s general election debate preparation). It’s the first sign of life in what was promising to be 400 of the deadest pages ever printed on dead tree pulp. Trust Donald Trump to pump life into the thing, just by being.

**NOTE–Patricia Highsmith, known round here as The Dark Lady, was the author of Strangers on a Train and the Ripley novels, among others. She is the only author I’ve read who understood sociopaths well enough to make them (as opposed to their effect on the normal people with whom they interact, which is often called a “plot”) interesting. Doppelgangers and false identities were her main thing. When she started, she looked like this…

When she finished, like this…

Understanding sociopathy at the level of real empathy wears on you. She’d have loved Donald Trump.

Better yet, she’d have understood him…and understood why (sociopath or not, and who’s to say?) his opponents (the sort of people who have substituted “bondage enthusiasts” for “the whips and chains crowd” in the name of post-Christian tolerance) continually underestimate him.

Because they’re just what he took them for.

Morons.

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Jigsaw Up)

“Love Fire”
Jigsaw (1975)
Billboard: #30
Recommended source: Anthology

Jigsaw was a British band that had a history indistinguishable from dozens of other almost-might-have-beens until they scored a big international hit with “Sky High” in 1975.

Like a lot of things that seem to come from nowhere, it came from somewhere…and not just anywhere.

The band’s leaders, Clive Scott and Des Dyer had knocked around as a hard rock outfit since the late sixties, been talked into a new pop direction by the suits at their label after six years worth of stiff singles, then dumped unceremoniously when that didn’t get them anything but another stiff.

Along about then, their career seems to have been rescued by a song they wrote in the new vein called “Who Do You Think You Are?” becoming a big hit in the UK for the immortal Candlewick Green (who even I, an aficionado of this stuff, confess I don’t remember) and a small hit in the U.S. for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (following up their own immortal “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” which damaged or enlightened teenage lives in about equal measure back in ’74).

That all led to another label, another album, another bite at the apple, which turned out to be “Sky High,” one of the best singles of the era and perhaps the finest example of Power Pop Disco (the only competition is Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove”….don’t make me judge!).

And then, of course, they had to follow that up.

Which they sort of did

“Love Fire” is “Sky High” made over. Not quite as compelling all around, unless it catches you in the right mood…and you wonder what would have happened if the two singles had been released in reverse. Would “Love FIre” have then been the breakthrough and “Sky High” the re-hash?

Perhaps. I don’t think it would have changed the chart positions. It would have left me with one less earworm to track down when I first started listening to the radio, though. “Sky High” was, ever after, easy to find. Having missed “Love Fire” in the record stores when it was released, I had to wait for the years to go by  (and Rhino’s Have a Nice Day series) to hear it again.

It had stuck.

And it still sounded pretty darn great to me…not something I could say about every recovered memory mind you….

“Love Fire” was the last real blast for Jigsaw. They soldiered on and then went the way of all rock and roll flesh. Nothing left but a smile!