ANOTHER DIMENSION (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #134)

The other night I was listening (as I often do) to Up, Up and Away, the 2-disc 5th Dimension collection from the late nineties that begs the question of how many acts from the rock and roll era can sustain a forty-song comp without breaking a sweat, yielding a single weak cut or ever so much as having been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I don’t know the exact answer, but I’ll bet you don’t need your second hand to count them.

Then, in the middle of the second disc, with the headphones on after midnight, I also realized something else, namely that, if this was indeed done in front of an audience in Las Vegas (hard to tell), it is almost without a doubt the greatest live harmony vocal ever recorded.

And if, by chance, it wasn’t recorded in front of an audience, this was…

Which means the greatest harmony vocal ever recorded in front of a live audience still belongs to black people who have never been given a tenth of the credit they deserve because the crit-illuminati–white to a man–decided they were too white.

That it’s also a master class in stagecraft (carried off–on television, where every mistake is magnified by a power of a thousand–by two people who are now approaching their fiftieth wedding anniversary) is just proof that Keats wasn’t wrong. A thing of beauty really is a joy forever.

That it took me this long to notice it’s a standout is a testimony to how strong their catalog is. Because, honestly, until just the other night, I thought it was just another good record by a group that made too many to count.

And, yes, They’re on the short list for a Track-by-Track….

“CHARACTER IS DESTINY” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #133)

Cyndi Lauper has probably come at “I’m Gonna Be Strong” from as many angles–always different, always the same–as “Money Changes Everything.” I was surprised, though, to find that she had created enough buzz with her first version (recorded with her pre-stardom band Blue Angel) to notch up several 1980 appearances on Euro-TV.

The vocals seem to all be synched, but I like this one most because, when it starts, you can cast your memories away and easily imagine the singer having a whole different career in front of her, creating–or adhering to–an entirely different set of expectations.

Then, about half-way through, she sheds the pose….and turns into Cyndi Lauper.

It’s like Heraclitus might have had her specifically in mind. There was no keeping this one down, no way anyone else would be the one to shout loudest and truest into the rapidly descending Frozen Silence, an era where each passing year can be judged by how badly she’s needed…and how many lollies have found the limits of their own character trying to take her place.

MASTER CLASS (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #132)

Paul McCartney famously said that he woke up one morning with the complete melody of “Yesterday” in his head. He immediately wrote down some words to hook the melody in his mind, at which point the song was called “Scrambled Eggs.” (“Scrambled eggs…Oh where are my scrambled eggs…”). Then he spent a couple of days wracking his brain, trying to figure out where his brain had nicked the melody.

Eventually, of course, he satisfied himself that the melody was both original and worthy of a new set of words. The final result became one of the most played records and most covered songs of the twentieth century, a record I liked very much in my folk-oriented youth, a little less as the years went by, and always thought sounded just abstract enough to have been about anything, including scrambled eggs.

It took Smokey Robinson, on a DVD set of the Ed Sullivan Show which I acquired decades later, to make it hurt.

And, though it has evidently been on YouTube for several years, it took me until today to find it.

Oh, what a world we might have had….

BACK TO THE BEACH (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #131)

I ordered the replacement disc for China Beach (Season 2…Disc 3 was missing from my original box) and steeled myself to start watching again (resolution was required not because of the show’s quality, which is stellar, but because the subject matter is apt to cut close to the bone, unlike, say, I Dream of Jeannie or The Sopranos).

Good as the drama and the acting are, it’s the music that cuts deepest. The show does a good job of helping anyone who is forced to view the American experience in Viet Nam even from a short distance (I was born in 1960) understand the background against which the era’s music came to be made and why it remains so deeply embedded in the national psyche, as well as all those millions of psyches circumscribed by individual hearts and minds.

I’m still only in Season 3, where the killer so far was having my question of whether this ever really played on a single Viet Nam turntable (radio and the juke box being out of the question)…

….answered by the even more mind-bending notion that this just might have…

That’s a show that has some on the ball and is willing to take chances alright.

But I doubt any narrative moment will match the one at the end of Season Two, when Dana Delaney’s Colleen McMurphy, home on leave to bury her father, has half-convinced herself not to go back, but instead merge into a San Francisco underground where earnest peaceniks argue with wheelchair-bound returning vets over just who knows what war is good for.

I’m not even sure whether to recommend viewing this link to anyone who hasn’t seen the show. There’s a lot to be said for context, which, in this case, force multiplies the scene’s power by a factor of a hundred.

But it’s pretty powerful even as a detached clip so I’ll post it and let each decide for themselves whether to get hold of the series first if they haven’t seen it or even if it’s been a while.

I’ll just state for the record that it’s a rare honorable attempt–among a thousand dishonorable ones–to heal the wounds two decades after the fact (China Beach ran four seasons but the bulk of it seems to have taken place in 1968–it’s just possible someone knew it was the year we never walked away from) which still resonates another three decades on.

Resonates, harder, perhaps, knowing that whatever faint hope of a reckoning existed in 1989. has now vanished in the fog of time this scene blows away for a minute or two. Other than that, it’s just television.

THEY HAD ME AT THE BLOWBACK…BUT I’M A LITTLE SURPRISED AT HOW FIRMLY THEY HELD ON TO ME (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #130)

China Beach: 1st Season

I missed China Beach the first time around. Then I waited for years for it to be released to DVD while the rights to the numerous music clips were worked out.

Then I waited some more until I could afford it.

When I finally got it (in 2014, I think), I watched the first two episodes and thought: This will need a binge.

Then I thought: That binge will need a certain mood.

I found the mood this week, God knows why. And I was sailing along, right into the middle of Season Two, when I discovered that my “complete” set had a duplicate disc 5 where disc 3 was supposed to be.

By then I knew that, in addition to being binge-worthy, China Beach needs to be watched in order.

So I set aside ten bucks to order a used copy of Season Two. Who knows what kind of mood I’ll be in when it gets here.

This I do know–the “Reflections” test has been passed.

I wondered if, after a few episodes, I’d be tempted to do what I do with most shows and skip the credits…and the theme song.

But no other TV series I’ve ever watched had for its theme a record I already loved unreservedly, believed to be one of the greatest records ever made, and didn’t think could possibly grow any larger by having a truncated version accompany the opening of a TV show.

Two things I can tell you after a season and a half of China Beach:

“Reflections” has grown for me. And it will never wear out.

The show aired from 1988 to 1991. We’re further from its airing than it was from its Viet Nam setting.

Except for whenever and wherever “Reflections” is playing. Whenever and wherever that is, it’s always 1968 and we’ve never walked away from it. It’s to China Beach‘s credit that, at least in the first season-and-a-half, it doesn’t pretend we have. That, and casting Dana Delaney as the spiritual daughter of Donna Reed’s character in They Were Expendable, are the show’s foundation. Michael Boatman is excellent, the rest of the cast is solid, especially Marg Helgenberger as the spiritual daughter of Donna Reed’s character in From Here to Eternity, and Nan Woods as a girl who might have been Donna Reed’s television daughter on The Donna Reed Show. But without Delaney the show would have run six weeks. Naturally, the suits wanted to fire her before the pilot was finished. The producers, probably understanding what that meant, stood their ground and pulled some subterfuge that involved a little black dress and a lot of All-American heads turning and made their point.

But, strong, even gut-wrenching, as the show is, nothing stands up to the first seconds of the theme, where Delaney’s hair being blown back keeps saying we can make it all go away, or even go back and make it all come out different.

And those lethal chords under Diana Ross’s voice keep saying we can’t.

A BRIEF REFLECTION ON THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF GO-GO-DOM (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #129)

Somehow or other, things connected to the Go-Go’s have always had a singular effect on me, which is best summed up as: So…I am not the only one. 

For someone like myself–a true loner, who scoffs at notions of tribe, it would be impossible to overstate how significant a part of the basic survival strategy this connection can be.

The effect was most melodramatically epitomized by the time the Go-Go’s saved my life and maybe I’ll write about that some day.

But there have been other instances and, today, I ran into a new one.

It seems Jane Wiedlin’s sublime solo hit “Rush Hour” retains the power to create very intense reactions. I wrote about mine here.

Really, you need to go there and read (or re-read) that piece before you proceed.

Because, otherwise, you won’t have any idea of why I can’t help feeling a part of this somehow…

…I only wish things like running in place and leaping in the air were still available options at the Ross household. Or that I could play drums.

Alas, they are not and I cannot.

But I can still smile…and remember.

BEAST OF WHAT NOW? THE HELL YOU SAY! (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #128)

I’ve always been fascinated by acts who have exactly one great rock and roll record in them. It happened a lot in rock’s first two decades, when amateurs or quasi-pros or wannabes often caught lightning in a bottle. Of such things were doo wop, girl groups and surf and garage band legends made.

Then there were the pros. Barbra Streisand singing “Stoney End” comes to mind. It really was just the one studio moment, as she’s camped up every performance of the song since the day she cut it.

In some ways even stranger is Bette Midler’s take on “Beast of Burden.” She recorded it as a replacement for Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” when he blocked her from releasing her version because it “wasn’t a girl’s song” and it doesn’t so much smoke the Rolling Stones as stomp a hole through their rotting carcass.

Stranger still because, unlike Streisand, rock and roll seemed like it should have been Midler’s forte. But, except for this, it wasn’t. I can see how the Stones never quite recovered from the shock. It’s one thing if Linda Ronstadt goes toe-to-toe with you. It’s another thing when someone whose entire career has careened from camp to sentiment and back again (sometimes, as on “The Rose” or her cover of John Prine’s “Hello In There,” earned sentiment, more often not quite), just flat out kicks you to the curb like it’s all in a day’s work.

Based on “Beast of Burden” you’d have thought she could be a better Pat Benetar without breaking a sweat.

I thought I had covered all this a few years back when I posted the MTV video of Midler and Jagger having a ball with it. There’s a cleaner version of the video available now–still the only proof I’ve seen that Mick has a sense of humor (as opposed to recognizing the uses of appearing to have one–that came with the Lucifer Lessons).

Even here, though, the Spirit of Camp is hovering nearby. Elsewhere, when Midler performed the song, live or synched, that Spirit always moved in and took over.

Except for once.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether its angry dispersal here–and Midler’s total immersion in a synched performance, as if she and the song had fused into something no recording studio could contain–had anything at all to do with a nice Jewish girl refusing to camp it up in the home of Weimar decadence, a stone’s throw from the death camps.

Given that dynamic, it’s not impossible to imagine “I’ll never be your beast of burden” took on a whole new meaning. She didn’t do anything like this in Sweden.

**A few years later Natalie Cole’s version of “Pink Cadillac” scorched up the charts and no one was heard to complain. Midler’s live version on YouTube suggests she was better off with “Beast of Burden” but, given what she did with other live versions of “Beast” who knows? Maybe she had two great rock and roll records in her after all. Hope I get to hear her studio version some day, just in case.

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.

SMALL MIRACLES ARE STILL MIRACLES…(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #126)

I always liked Olivia Newton-John but I also always wondered if her seeming absence of entitlement–evident from pre-fame early Australian TV cuts on YouTube to whatever her latest interview is–was a strategy. It’s a fair question of anybody gorgeous, blonde, eternally thin, with enough talent to become a superstar in the last age when talent was a prerequisite, whether always appearing just a bit awkward and uncomfortable in the spotlight you were born to inhabit is your personality speaking or a way into everybody’s pocket.

I always gave her the benefit of the doubt…while remaining aware that (a la Brigid O’Shaughnessy), she might have been counting on that from me.

Meaning, just once, I wished she would relax and radiate the joy she often conveyed on record in a live performance.

Just once, at 60, on the stage of an Australian charity benefit, with 63-year-old Barry Gibb–a fan for life–there to shade her from the the superstar heat, she did. I just discovered it on the way to something else. And it’s a marvel. God love ’em, they even made me like this song….

SOMETIMES I’M JUST GLAD SOMETHING EXISTS…(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #125)

As, for instance, I had no idea Patty Duke and Helen Keller had actually met…

..let alone been photographed together.

Slow week so perhaps a good time to revisit what I wrote about Patty Duke and The Miracle Worker, there and there.

The photograph was taken in the early sixties. Keller died in 1968, Duke in 2016. There are people who think we’ll see their like again.

People are amusing sometimes.