..And it’s gettin’ really weird…
…But at least so far, everything has a beat and me and Ginger and Mary Ann can dance to it.
..And it’s gettin’ really weird…
…But at least so far, everything has a beat and me and Ginger and Mary Ann can dance to it.
No, no, not the royal We. Just myself and all who, as viewers, commenters, critics and fans, have participated in the life of my little blog for five years as of tomorrow….from me to you:
This is not a political blog. I routinely insert political thoughts (and more occasionally, theological ones) into my regular writing because that’s the way I see life. As I said to a friend of mine when I started the blog: “You know me. Rock and roll is just a way of seeing the world.”
But since we now live in such interesting times, I’ve been revisiting my history of little personal political insights and what’s a blog for if not to share random thoughts that invade the mind, unbidden, now and again?
At the end, I might just talk myself into making a prediction about the direction of Donald Trump’s presidency. Before all that, you can check my track record.
1974 (Age 13): Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency to avoid impeachment and conviction. He is pardoned by Gerald Ford. Me: “I bet there’s gonna be a lot of criminal presidents from now on.”
My logic: If Richard Nixon was as bad as everybody said he was–and everybody said it, even in my Nixon-supporting part of the world–and the penalty for whatever he did was early retirement, then it didn’t seem like much of a deterrence.
My track record: After Jimmy Carter, they all look like crooks to me. If only some of them look that way to you, you might want to open that other eye. Unless, of course, you’ve accepted ol’ Dick’s logic that it’s not criminal if the president does it!
1980 (Age 19): Campaigning for president, Ronald Reagan promises that he will increase spending, cut taxes and eliminate the budget deficit, which was then standing at a scandalous sixty-something billion dollars. Me: “I bet if he wins, we’re gonna have a whole lot more debt.”
My logic: Math.
My track record: Reagan won. By 1988, when he left office, the deficit stood at a hundred and eighty-something billion dollars and we had switched to a permanent credit economy which would allow us to borrow without limits and never have to pay it back. The deficit is now around twenty trillion. We rack up another sixty billion every week or two. Good going, 1980.
1984 (Age 23): At the Democratic National Convention, party nominee Walter Mondale uses his acceptance speech to capitulate (I always assumed it was his attempt at imitating Franklin Roosevelt in Firesign Theater’s “Nick Danger, Third Eye” bit). I decide I will not vote in the election. I also decide I will not vote in any future elections.
My logic: What’s the point if it doesn’t matter?
My track record: Mondale lost in a record landslide. I have voted in every election since. I’m not going to discuss who I voted for in any of those elections because it has not mattered.
1990 (Age 29): We invade Iraq. In the run-up up to the invasion, Christopher Hitchens, still lucid at that point, says if we invade it will be the start of a new hundred years’ war. Me: “That sounds about right.”
My logic: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.” Santayana. Smart guy.
My track record: We’ve entered the war’s 27th year. Christopher Hitchens, who began supporting the war around it’s twelfth year, lies a-moldering in his grave. The war goes on. A hundred years still sounds about right.
1990s (Age “sometime in my thirties”): Me, apropos of nothing: “Free people do not need a security state…”
My logic: “….Because security states exist to preserve themselves, not freedom.” Me in my thirties. Not Santayana, but not half bad.
My track record: Hard to tell. But I used to say: “Everything I really needed to know I learned from rock and roll.” Now I say: “Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Philip K. Dick novels.”
2001 (Age 40): On September 11, the World Trade Center is leveled by terrorists in hi-jacked planes. The Pentagon is attacked by another. Another goes down in a Pennsylvania field, prevented by the passengers from incinerating either the White House or the Capitol. George W. Bush responds by fleeing from Florida to Nebraska. Later, much later, after everyone has patted his hand and told him everything will be alright, he gives a speech to a joint session of congress. Then him and Tom Daschle (Remember him? No? Lucky you.) give each other a big ol’ bear hug to celebrate our victory. (As imitations of “Nick Danger, Third Eye” go, this was almost hallucinatory). Me, in an e-mail to a friend: “I hope we don’t need leaders in this fight, because we ain’t exactly got Churchill.” My friend tries to assure me it will be alright because the generals know what they are doing. I refuse to be comforted.
My logic: Wars are not won by men who return to Washington from Florida by way of Nebraska because Washington might be dangerous. You can be stupid and win a war. You can be a criminal and win a war. You can be a mama’s boy who, in Ann Richards’ immortal phrase, “was born on third base and thought he hit a triple” and win a war. You can’t be a coward.
My track record: Well, if we ever do win that war, it won’t be on the coward’s watch.
2004 (Age 43): John Kerry runs for president. He debates George W. Bush. Bush sends a batting practice fastball down the middle, saying that it sounded to him like if Kerry had been president (on the aforementioned 9/11), Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. Instead of saying “If I’d been president, Saddam would be in jail and Osama Bin Laden would be in the cell next to him,” Kerry gave a two-thousand word response that amounted to “Now that’s no necessarily so.” Me: “Goodbye.”
My logic: The coward or the pedant? Who cares.
My track record: John Kerry lost his election. Eventually he became Secretary of State and achieved his life’s goal of turning pedantry into an art form whilst the world burned.
2008 (Age 47): Barrack Obama is elected president. Me: “Interesting. And it’s really nice to check that ‘first African-American president’ box. But, in the midst of all this euphoria, I do wish I could see him.”
My logic: “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…” John Lennon: Smart guy.
My track record: Too soon to tell, but if a tide comes in, it does tend to wash away the castles you made of sand. And tides do usually come in.
2015 (Age 54): A couple of Beltway reporters kibitzing on Diane Rehm’s PBS show, spend a few minutes trying to one-up each other on just how impossible it will be for Donald Trump to win the Republican Nomination. Me: “If you think he has no chance, you’re crazy.”
My logic: “Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air.”
Did I mention that, once upon a time, I learned everything I really needed to know from rock and roll?
My track record: Donald Trump will become president on January 20.
One factor, which peeked through the underbrush throughout the last year-and-a-half as Trump systematically (yes, systematically) ripped through everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton to real power brokers like Megyn Kelly and Jeff Bezos, is that the Security State is not simply worried but frightened. Since the election the peepin’ and a hidin’ and the slippin’ and a slidin’ has become something close to full-blown warfare. Trump has made it abundantly clear that, on Jan. 20, he intends to become the third sitting president to take on the shadow government.
I have no prediction on how it will come out. It did not work out for John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, whose respective penalties were death and political humiliation.* The Security State is, on one sense, more powerful than ever. Its tentacles gained strength and length by leaps under Bush the Younger and leaps and bounds under Obama. But it is not the top-down machinery that took down JFK (allegedly) and Carter (allegedly**). Without Cold War clarity, there is deep consensus about needs (more power), but much confusion about goals (to what specific end?). Battling cave-dwellers has simply not been as simple or as satisfying as taking on the old Evil Empire. That, plus the sheer size and scope of its expansion has left the Leviathan dazed and weakened at the moment when it will have to face its greatest threat.
So whether they can defeat a determined Trump is an open question and I have no feel in my stomach’s empty pit for how it will come out.
Neither do I have any feel for how Trump would handle either victory or defeat. The great danger–one which is barely hinted at in all the incoherent babbling about fascism and the like–is that Trump will be both willing and able (and at this point it would be far safer, if that’s the right word, to bet against his will than his ability) to replace the praetorian guard we’ve long allowed, in true fascist style, to build around state security, with one built around a cult of personality, one which could presumably be transferred with little fuss to his handsome, hungry children. I will only say that, should he turn in that direction, there will be precious little to stop him and all who had faith in an ever-deteriorating system–me included, as I did keep “voting”–will share the blame.
I wish there was a song for that.
*Eisenhower doesn’t count, as his famous warning about the military industrial complex, while virtuous, was issued on the way out the door. Of course he was right. But that’s like dissing your tyrannical boss at your retirement ceremony.
**There is voluminous literature on the Kennedy assassination, too much to take in really. My best take on all that is here.
There is precious little literature on Carter’s demise and I’m not even up on what does exist. But I can pass along this anecdote.
Back in the early 80’s my dad was a home missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. One of his duties was to visit local conventions around the country and trade ideas for effective mission work. That put him on kind of a rubber chicken circuit several times a year and, at one congregational supper, he found himself next to a recently retired Army general.
As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was a personality and strangers generally had one of two responses to him: run screaming from the room or tell him things they wouldn’t have told their own mother. Evidently, the general was in the latter camp. The subject of Carter came up, as it nearly always did in Southern Baptist circles in those days, and my dad mentioned that, despite everything, he had voted for him.
The general said: “You weren’t wrong.”
From there, the discussion went to the general’s dark knowledge, only a little of which he could share, of course, of the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission. Long story short, the general was of the informed opinion that the mission had been sabotaged. When my dad pressed him as to who would do such a thing, the answer was nonspecific but the general did say the forces behind it were aiming at a change in the presidency. The way my dad reported it to me, the general said: “They were looking to replace him with either Ted Kennedy or George Bush.”
Reliable assets both.
Take it all with a grain of salt.
But, if that was their aim, they came close enough. And, until Trump the Dread says otherwise, we still live in their world, patiently, and helplessly, awaiting the fate of all who accept a Security State’s version of “safety.”
“The Round Place in the Middle” is approaching its fifth anniversary (coming in February, and who knows if I’ll remember to commemorate it then…best do it now while I’m thinking of it).
I was originally going to call it “The Hole in the MIddle” but I was afraid people might get the wrong idea about what kind of hole I meant. I was only referring to the beautiful space in the middle of a 45 rpm record. Nothing more.
With that duly noted, it’s been another year of solid growth. My goal from the beginning was to increase viewership by fifty percent a year. I was down a little from that this year, but since I exceeded the goal last year, I’m still right on pace overall. In any case, I comfortably exceeded all previous annual numbers in 2016, with December shattering all my previous monthly records. Onward and upward.
I feel like we’re all getting to know each other pretty well around here, so, just for fun–and maybe because it’s about time–I thought I would finally pull the trigger and close out the year with a list I put together before I started the blog and have used as a sort of rough template for the musical portion of the program all along the way.
For once, I don’t have a clever name for it, so “My Personal Stack of Life-Changing Records” will have to do.
Though there is plenty of inevitable overlap, I want to emphasize that this is not a list of “my favorite records” or “my idea of the greatest records” or “my desert island discs.” (A concept I’m suspicious of anyway…if only because I have it on good authority it was dreamed up at CIA right after the Kennedy Assassination and disseminated by the usual suspects through the usual outlets. Check the publishing credits next time you see somebody wanting to grab something and take it off to a “desert island.” You’ll see I’m right.)
No, these are just the ones that somehow or other, some time or other, cut deep enough to chisel me into a different shape than I would have been otherwise.
I’ve put them roughly the order of personal impact. That is, not necessarily the order I heard–or even loved–them, and certainly not the order in which they were released.
I only included albums when it was indeed the album that truly made the impact rather than an individual cut or two.
I’m not providing the usual links. Ya’ll know how to use YouTube if, by chance, you want to hear most of these. Otherwise, no deep thoughts. Maybe a comment here or there on a road map to a life I’ve learned to be grateful for. Feel free to share a piece of your own map, especially if it’s nothing like mine!
And, okay, down at the very end, I might–might–provide one link to one record.
If I do, it will be the one I heard on the day I stopped running because hearing it meant my life was no longer at stake.
Without further adieu–1965–2016. Just the records:
“Downtown” (Petula Clark)
“500 Miles” (Peter, Paul and Mary)
“Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry)
“Brother Louie” (Stories) (I see you Brucie, sitting in your Daddy’s car, playing the radio. Wish you were here.)
“I Won’t Last A Day Without You” (Carpenters)
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” (Stylistics)
“Then Came You” (Spinners w/Dionne Warwick)
GREATEST HITS (John Denver) (The first album I bought with my own money.)
“December, 1963” (Four Seasons) (My record habit begins.)
“You Sexy Thing” (Hot Chocolate)
“All By Myself” (Eric Carmen)
“Kentucky Rain” (Elvis Presley)
“Do You Believe in Magic” (Lovin’ Spoonful)
“Oh Me, Oh My” (Lulu)
“Lizzie and the Rainman” (Tanya Tucker)
“Part Time Love” (Elton John)
“Any Way That You Want Me” (Evie Sands)
“Turn, Turn, Turn” (Byrds) (It’s 1978 and Selective Service doesn’t even exist yet. But it’s graduation day and I can feel it coming.)
“Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly)
“Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke)
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers)
“I Get Around” (Beach Boys)
“California Dreamin'” (Mamas & the Papas)
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (Shangri-Las)
“Refugee” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
“Pressure Drop” (Toots and the Maytals)
“Train in Vain” and “Death or Glory” (Clash)
” Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Can’t Stop the World” (Go-Go’s)
THE COMPLETE HOT FIVES AND SEVENS (Louis Armstrong) (Note: This is not the old Joker International vinyl box I have, but I couldn’t find an image of that one on the internet. The music is very much the same.)
“I Feel Like Going Home” (Charlie Rich)
“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (Them)
“Listen to the Lion” (Van Morrison)
“Take It On The Run” (REO Speedwagon)
“Don’t Look Back” (Temptations)
“God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday)
“I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (Kinks)
“The Love I Saw In You (Was Just a Mirage)” (Smokey Robinson &
“We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and “It’s My Life” (Animals)
DIRTY MIND (Prince)
“Alabama” (John Coltrane)
“Beneath the Blue Sky” (Go-Go’s)
“Born In the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen)
“Cold Sweat” (James Brown)
FATHERS AND SONS (Various Artists–Gospel)
“Oliver’s Army” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and
Understanding?” (Elvis Costello)
“Meet on the Ledge” (Fairport Convention)
THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG STORY VOLUME FOUR (Louis Armstrong)
“Rock and Roll Lullabye” (B.J. Thomas)
“Piece of My Heart” (Big Brother and the Holding Company)
“Gee” (Crows) (Heard this for the first time on the radio when I was driving home from the hospital the week my mother died. Knew every word. Never have been able to remember the words ever since.)
“Papa Don’t Preach” and “Live to Tell” (Madonna)
“Never Again” (Shangri-Las)
“This Time” and “Walk Away” (House of Schock)
“Buffalo Stance” (Neneh Cherry)
“Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones)
“Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday)
” Money Changes Everything” (Cyndi Lauper)
“Lost Highway” (Hank Williams, Sr.)
“Turn the Beat Around” (Vicki Sue Robinson–12″ version) (Back around the turn of the millenia, I once heard a youngish black rock critic make an argument for the seventies being better than the sixties by saying “Vicki Sue Robinson.” That was his entire argument. He didn’t even have to name the record and he looked at the rest of the panel like they would have to be pure idiots to even contest the point. None of them did. And I kind of know why.)
GREATEST HITS (War) (I don’t know if the seventies were better than the sixties or, for that matter, the fifties. I wouldn’t want to do without any of them. But this is the purest, deepest soundtrack of the seventies. That I do know.)
“Rank Stranger” (Stanley Brothers)
“One Night Stand” (Janis Joplin)
“The Message” (Grandmaster Flash)
“Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis)
“Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight and the Pips)
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (Santa Esmerelda–12″ version)
BEST OF 1956-1980 (Brenda Lee) (One of these days I’ll write at length about how mind-blowing it was to finally sit down and listen to her all at once. I’ve been saying I would do this for five years now. Maybe this will be the year. I hope so, because I won’t be complete until I get it out of me.)
“Runnin’ With The Devil” (Van Halen)
“God Will” (Patty Loveless)
“Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle)
“Ghetto Bastard (Everything’s Gonna’ Be Alright)” (Naughty by Nature) (“How I’m gonna make it? I won’t, that’s how.” Timelier by the year. Goodbye us.)
“Masters of Revenge” (Body Count)
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes)
“Stay With Me” (Lorraine Ellison) (Too cute, I know, coming right after the one above. But it happened that way in my head. Just like that. Really. I swear by the blood below my feet.)
“There’s Something I’ve Got to Tell You” (Glenda Collins)
“I’m Gonna’ Be Strong” (Cyndi Lauper)
“Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses)
“All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
“Ohio” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
“Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd)
“Angie” (Rolling Stones)
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew” (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
“Roll Um Easy” (Linda Ronstadt)
and LEARNING TO CRAWL (Pretenders)
“They Don’t Know” (Tracey Ullman)
“Rock Me on the Water” (Linda Ronstadt)
“Shame” (Evelyn “Champagne” King–12″ version)
“Wake Up Everybody” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes–12″ version)
YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN–Soundtrack (Doris Day with Harry James)
“Nottamun Town” (Fairport Convention)
“Trapped” (Jimmy Cliff)
“Where I’m Bound” (Patty Loveless)
“Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones)
“Daisy Chain” (Go-Go’s)
“Go Where You Wanna Go” and “Safe In My Garden” (Mamas & the Papas)
That’s the journey thus far. I note that the distance from “Go Where You Wanna Go” to “Safe In My Garden” is roughly equal to the distance from “Downtown” to “500 Miles.” Maybe we just move in circles after all. Stay in our circumscribed round places so to speak.
Now, should I play that one song I mentioned?
Sure. Why not? Believe me, without it there would be no list. Because without it, even if by some miracle I was still here, there would still be no me. Have to write about that some day, too.
Can’t wait for the New Year.
Let’s hope it’s a good one, fear and all.
Now that I’ve recovered from my recent illness, I’m happy to say that I’m able to pinpoint the exact moment when I reached bottom…and then began to bounce back.
Things had gone very far south when, after several days of being on a fast track to the bathroom every time they showed a cheeseburger on the TV screen, which I couldn’t turn off if I wanted to take my mind off my misery (endless images of face-eating zombies or spiders crawling from black holed skulls were not a problem…the sight of grilled meat was an eruption bringer), I found myself pulling into the parking lot of a seedy looking motel in Decatur, Alabama.
To my knowledge I had never previously visited Decatur, which is somewhere up around the north end of the state. It was late in the evening, maybe past midnight. A rather nondescript clerk (short, dumpy, swarthy, grumpy) took my information and grunted a room number while he handed me a key.
I didn’t catch the name of the place.
Exhausted, I stumbled to the room and fell on the bed without really paying much attention to my surroundings.
At eight o’clock the next morning, I awoke, amazingly refreshed. Best night’s sleep I’d had in years.
When I looked around the room, I found that it wasn’t really so much a conventional motel room as a sort of lounge, not unlike the one my dad and I slept in the second year we traveled back from North Florida to paint the Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton in the summer of ’76.
Lots of open space. A sort of lounge couch which I had slept on. Some books and CDs and stray articles of clothing strewn about.
After I oriented myself, I started gathering up the stuff, which all seemed to belong to me, though I couldn’t imagine why I was traveling with it, or why I had spread it all over the room like that. I was in the process of doing this when a chubby, Jheri-curled black kid in a janitor’s uniform peeked in through the front door, which I suddenly realized was made of see-through plate glass. I waved for him to come on in, figuring maybe he needed to clean the place, but he just smiled and waved back and then walked away.
Nonplussed, I went about gathering my stuff. In the process I realized one of the CDs I had brought with me was this one:
I looked around to see if the room had a CD player, and, naturally, this being a flea bag motel in Decatur, Alabama, with a flickering sign and a half-paved parking lot, they had a state of the art one. Standalone. With built-in speakers that beat anything I have at my house.
I immediately set about trying to discern how it worked, and, in no time at all, I had the Impressions blasting loud and strong.
“It’s all right, have a good time, say it’s all right…”
I kept gathering up my stuff, still in a humming, singing mood, though getting a little bit frustrated because it seemed the more I gathered, the more stuff there was. Eventually, I found some plastic bags and dumped as much in them as I could and started transporting stuff to my car, which was parked right outside the plate-glass door.
For a while, as I carted the endless bags, I noted that mine was the only car in the parking lot.
Somewhere in there, my eye fell on one of those clock/calendar things (Was it on the front of the CD player? An electric sign by the street? The memory hazes.) and I discovered that the reason I felt so good was that I had slept through an entire day and night and awakened on the morning of my second day at this little establishment.
“I’m so proud of be-ing…lo-o-oved by you…”
Very soon after that, I cottoned that this might be a problem, because I had no cash and, though I had enough gas to get home, I knew I only had enough money in my bank account to pay for one night at the motel with my debit card.
True, I couldn’t remember asking how much the room was. But I was sure it had to be more than twenty dollars a day.
The thought of calling someone to wire me the money crossed my mind, but I knew that, realistically, all my friends and family are even broker than I am, and, anyway, I didn’t remember any of their phone numbers and didn’t want to ask the office about phone usage, so that wasn’t really a good option.
After that, it was pretty clear that I had to make a getaway.
I’d send ’em a check, of course, once I was safely home and, you know, out of the state of Alabama.
I certainly intended to check the name of the place before I drove off. I had no intention of cheating anybody!
I would have headed straight out, but first I had to retrieve my Impressions’ CD from the state of the art standalone player that was still blasting away in my room.
“You must be-li-e-e-ve me, no matter what the people might say, you know, it just didn’t happen that way…”
Back inside I went.
There I found that the CD player had transformed itself into a cheap cardboard box that couldn’t possibly play anything, not even when I took the cover off and found a fake reel-to-reel tape player inside.
“But the music’s still playing,” I thought.
How could that be?
Because I had transferred the disc to the CD player in my car. That was how!
Back to the car!
Only the car wasn’t there.
The music was still playing…the Impressions were moving right along through the sixties. “People get ready, there’s a train a’ comin’.” But my car was gone.
In its place was a monster pickup which was hauling an Airstream trailer that stretched across the whole parking lot. I had to walk around the back end of it to see the office and whether or not my car had been moved in that direction.
It had not been. It was gone.
Just then, a man with a long red-haired pony tail came around the side of the pickup and I asked if he had seen my car.
“Little black one?” he said.
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Oh yeah, I moved it down to the other end there.”
Right about there, things started to get a little strange.
I wasn’t worried yet. Just a little disoriented. It didn’t seem like that parking lot had been so big that I would have missed my car if it was there.
But, sure enough, when I walked back around the Airstream, I saw that the rest of the “parking lot” was lot bigger than I had previously imagined because the end of it ran off into a sort of half-hidden junkyard, not unlike a few I visited back in the late seventies when I was scavenging parts for my ’71 Maverick.
Well, that wasn’t too intimidating. Surely, my car wasn’t so old that it wouldn’t stand out amongst all those junkers.
“I’ve been trying…to understand why…can’t I be your only man…”
So I set off to track down my car. The music had gotten really loud and I started wishing it was a little softer, because then it wouldn’t sound like it was coming from all directions and once and it would be a lot easier to locate my car via the CD player.
I kept thinking about that a lot as I searched fruitlessly through the ever-expanding junk yard, which turned out to have a lot more than cars in it, but nothing resembling my car.
Before I got too involved, I went back up and fetched Pony Tail, who professed bewilderment in the snatches of conversation we were able to exchange over the volume of the music–“The woman’s got soul and everybody knows”–which was now so loud we could hardly hear each other.
Got to be here, he kept saying, as he led me through a maze of ever more industrialized wastelands, which began turning from junk yards into chop shops. Not chop shops for cars so much as spaceships. Spare parts anyway.
I kept thinking, Jesus, if the music just wasn’t so loud, we could at least figure out if we’re going in the right direction.
“I’m trying hard to forget, that you been cheatin'” was making my ears bleed!
Pony Tail finally ran off with some dudes who were playing football with a small, metallic spare spaceship part that developed a second skin while it was being thrown. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the second skin but it was clear Pony Tail’s new friends didn’t want me to play and were starting to kind of sneer at me in that “We’ll at least we ain’t lost” manner that you sometimes find in hillbilly places when you are looking for your car in a junkyard where you clearly don’t belong.
I did some calculating and managed to find a path back to the parking lot. I had to step across a pile of dry manure and wedge myself between a wire fence and a concrete wall, but the roaming band of rough boys who were patrolling the outskirts of the more conventional open field approach gave me the proper incentive and I soon found myself back in my room, which had now been taken over by a group of middle-aged cleaning ladies who called me “Hon” and swore they hadn’t seen my car either.
I asked if I should maybe call the law. They gave me a very sad look that said I definitely wasn’t from around there and fully qualified as a certifiable Poor Thing.
I could still hear the music, but it wasn’t as loud.
“I can’t satisfy, your love…”
I could almost hear myself think again.
Well, whatever happens, I thought when I was back in the parking lot, still wondering if it would be worth tackling the junk yard again, “I’m gonna need to know the name of this place.”
Hey, my car had to be there somewhere. I mean, “We’re a Winner” was starting to pound.
I walked around the other side of the office and finally found the motel sign.
Ladiez41NightOnly it read.
Just then I looked up and saw an Alabama Sheriff, complete with broad-brimmed hat and mirror shades, approaching with the clear intention of making polite inquiries into my status in his town.
He was just about to speak, when it hit me.
Oh, Thank God, I thought. This has GOT to be a dream!
And when I woke myself up, this was playing in my headphones…
…just as it should have been if I’d drifted off to sleep with The Anthology playing half an hour earlier.
Look, this used to happen to me about three times a week. These days, it takes sixty loose bowel movements in seventy-two hours to make me dream this way.
I call that progress.
And I note that the music had kept me sane through it all. So it was kind of a metaphor for my entire life.
I started getting better from that hour.
Regular blogging to resume soon.
I want to thank everyone for your random acts of kindness in support of the blog. In the last two months I blew past every pre-existing record for views, visits, comments, etc. In the four-plus years of the blog’s existence, this has happened every year or so, but I want everyone to know that I never, ever take it for granted.
And I know I often take a curmudgeonly stance, which, oddly enough is somewhat at odds with my basic personality (I’m way-y-y-y more laid back than my writing would indicate). But it’s a mean world and I’m happy to have found this outlet for dealing with it while having a little fun now and then.
Keeps me sane. Your participation keeps me saner.
And what I heard this time (just for fun…and because I feel a round of lists coming on)…
10) Time Life Ultimate Seventies: 1976 (1989)
Driving around music. I could have done better by 1976 myself (it was the year I started listening to the radio). But even an collection of middling taste beats any hour you could spend listening to anything on the radio in my market these days. Best segue: “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (closely linked to me being nearly thrown out of my one and only true rock concert experience which naturally took place in a Jai Alai fronton) into “Sara Smile” (closely linked to my dad’s car being stolen at an amusement park and the FBI giving him the heebie jeebies later that summer at self-same Jai Alai fronton, which was all way-y-y-y more interesting than it sounds). Pick to click: Spinners’ “Rubberband Man,” which I barely heard that year and is one of the most mind-blowing records ever made.
9) Gino Washington Out of This World (1962–68) (1999)
Essential to any collection. Gino was a rock and roll Martian. There were a few of them hanging round back then. He started as a Frank Guida knockoff maybe, who didn’t happen to record for Frank Guida (like Gary U.S. Bonds and Jimmy Soul) and therefore didn’t make as much noise on the charts as he should have. But “Gino Is a Coward” gave the concept a whole new way of being, and nothing, certainly not the soul sixties, could lay even a touch of slick on him. Listening this time did what it always does. Made me smile a lot.
8) The Corin Tucker Band 1,000 Years (2010)
I keep circling Tucker’s principal band, Sleater-Kinney, without quite being able to land. I’m really not sure why. I doubt it’s anything rational. It could be that her strong similarity to Belinda Carlisle’s timbre and phrasing (though she puts them to quite different and original use) just causes my natural “they’re-the-Go-Go’s-and-you’re-not” response to kick in with extra-super strength.
That said, I’m also not quite sure why my response to this, which I just started listening to a few weeks ago, is so strong. It might be because it temporarily solves punk’s (for me) existential problem, which is my lack of conviction that angst-ridden, collegiate white people need their own version of the blues. But this does sound like a unique, modern version of the blues–not in form but in feeling. It’s haunting and immediate, odd but free of quirkiness-for-it’s-own-sake. Whether I’ll like it even more or a little less once I figure out the words, I have no idea. There’s no one pick to click. It’s of a piece. But “It’s Always Summer” does as well as any for an introduction.
7) The Mamas & the Papas A Gathering of Flowers (1966-68) (2013–originally released, 1970)
I wrote about this a little when I first acquired it. Nothing’s changed. The Real Gone re-release is the best sounding collection of their work to date and there is no act where getting the sound right is more important. In recent years, I’ve probably listened to them more than any sixties’ group except possibly the Stones. The distance between those poles isn’t nearly as profound as I (and many others) once assumed. Yes, there’s a piece in the works. Pray for me kids.
Granted, I’d still rather listen to whole albums or box sets, where their roiling ethos is on fullest display. But, every once in a while, I just have to throw this on and smile the smiled of the contented. No pick to click. Too many to choose from. But, as of now, there’s no better place to appreciate a “minor” track like “Did You Ever Want to Cry” (even if you can only really appreciate it on a proper player, with headphones).
6) The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (2002 CD release)
And when I listen to the Stones it’s rarely this standard set, which has been derided by plenty who think it too obvious, too square, too perfectly representative of what people latch on to when they aren’t real deep-dyed Stones’ fans and only want to stay on the surface.
Okay, I confess that I can’t play most of my Stones’ CDs from this period right now because, for some reason, the ancient player I have hooked up to my main receiver won’t accept the versions I own. It won’t take my Kinks’ CDs either. I need a new player!
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great collection. About half of this never-quit set is from truly great albums, but, by my lights, about half of it isn’t. And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” aren’t on anything but comps–this being the best. Besides, what’s better than having the hits, the hits, and nothing but the hits (or at least signature tunes), roll over you, one right after the other? Never understood the “if you don’t like the Stones, this might serve as a sampler” mindset (Christgau, but he spoke for plenty of others). No one pick to click, of course, but for fun facts, you can’t beat the “Honky Tonk Women” being Doris Troy and Reparata and the Delrons (watch those “Diamonds in the Shade” updates folks!).
5) Patty Loveless Sleepless Nights (2008)
This was one of those instances where it took me a while to catch up. It’s a “covers” album from what now looks like it will be the tail end of Loveless’s career. I took it for a good solid effort when it came out. As usual, there was more there than met the ear (I first began to suspect when I heard one of the “lesser” cuts in the middle of some fifties’ era honky tonk on an oldies country station we used to have around here…it fit so perfectly it took me half the song to even place it). Back then it was just another good Patty Loveless album. Now that it looks like there aren’t going to be any more, it cuts deeper. Bone deep sometimes. Pick to click: a complete re-imagining of the Davis Sisters’ “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
4) Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors (1977)
Skynyrd and Patty are such natural traveling companions (I never take a long driving trip without them) I end up listening to them in tandem at home quite a bit. No better way to appreciate how much country was in Ronnie Van Zandt’s singing (or how much Southern Rock was in Patty’s). You could miss it otherwise when “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell” roll over you straight out of the gate. All of the original band’s albums are great and I’m not sure they were actually getting better just before the crash. But there was no sign they were wearing out, the way even bands as great as War or Led Zeppelin were at similar points in their careers. We’ll never know what all we missed when that plane went down, but they were still searching for something. Try “I Never Dreamed” for something beyond the obvious.
3) Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Jersey Beat (1962-1992) (2007: Box set)
This was finally assembled after the smash success of Jersey Boys on Broadway. Before that improbable event, it had become all too easy to forget how big they were, how deep the catalog was, how logical they seemed without being the least bit repeatable. (“I protested the war in Viet Nam,” Jersey Boys script-writer Marshall Brickman told Bob Gaudio when they were brainstorming. “When you’re writing this,” Gaudio said, “Just remember my audience were the ones fighting it.” There was a reason waitresses and beat cops and other middle-age working class types paid Broadway prices to see the resulting show twenty and thirty times over. That reason is here.)
Everybody knows the big hits. After Jersey Boys, most people even started to remember just how numerous they were. Now that the world is preparing to forget again, I’m extra glad this exists. I can’t say I listen to all four CDs all the way through very often. But when I do, I’m always reminded this is the best insurance against all future memory holes. Except for a couple of late so-so sides at the end of the fourth disc, this doesn’t even come close to quitting. Among several dozen obscure and semi-obscure gems, I especially recommend “Girl Come Running,” which might be the most perfect song ever written and arranged for Valli’s multiplicity of voices.
2) Natalie Merchant The House Carpenter’s Daughter (2003)
In which she finally reveals herself as Sandy Denny’s long lost daughter, all grown up.
I’ve only had this a little while and, to tell the truth, I have to be in a particular doomy-but-not-too-doomy mood to throw it on. When I do, it weaves a spell. In some world that offered unlimited time and space, I could imagine obsessing on it. As it stands: a mood piece for a very particular mood.
For a pick to click, try “Diver Boy” But I warn you, that’s her fast one. Dead Girl Poetry and the Bo Diddley Beat, they do not mix.
1) Dion King of the New York Streets (1958-1999: Box Set)
A wanderer on a journey. This set covers forty years of that journey so it’s bound to be a little disjointed. At three discs, It’s too broad to deliver the deep focus several different phases of his career deserve, and not broad enough to keep the transitions from jarring. Plus, no “Sonny Boy” and no “I Knew the Bride” so it can’t be definitive in my book. Plus, there’s now a whole post-millennial phase which I understand has brought him back to the blues obsession he first started exploring in the mid-sixties (and is hinted at by a few cuts at the end of the disc one here).
It’s still the best overview out there,especially if you want to find out whether the post doo-wop career is worth your time (which it certainly is). Pick to click for the coming summer is 1971’s “Sanctuary” which is not currently available on YouTube. Somebody must know something. Just for fun, then, close it with this, which could maybe be dedicated to Corin Tucker if you’re brave enough.
Sorry for the somewhat meager posting this week. It might continue for a few days. I had a fender bender (actually a “wheel rim bender”) a couple of weeks ago and what at first appeared to be a minor and straightforward repair has morphed into Claims Adjustment Hell. Each day brings new adventures. It’s been difficult to get my mind around anything complicated whilst gnashing my teeth. Anyway, for a nice little break, here’s a fun, if brief, look at Joel Whitburn, invaluable assembler of Billboard (and, lately, Cashbox) statistics. Wish I knew what his hundred point system was. Maybe in the next day or two I’ll reveal my own thirty point system (twenty-five, you’re in!). It’ll happen if I can make it easy enough!
Meanwhile, Speakeasy’s “Villains” Blogathon is a little past the halfway point, so there’s lot’s of good reading over there which I encourage all my readers to partake in.
Just oh-by-the-way, I’m on track for a record shattering month, so I once again issue my periodic heartfelt thanks to all who visit, read, comment and/or spread the word. Your satisfaction is my only reward and it’s what makes everything here worthwhile. Here’s to you….then…
(1) I am the reincarnation of Charles Hardin Holley.
This was revealed to me some time ago and normally I wouldn’t buy it with a three-dollar bill. But the burning bush was very convincing.
(2) Raymond Chandler’s plots were great.
I mean, just because you don’t know whether the Spirit of Carmen Sternwood, Los Angeles or the American Dream killed the chauffeur…
(3) Not unrelated: Nearly all great prose fiction to date was produced by the Victorians…..
or the Pulps…
That’s Mister James and Mister Hammett to you!
(4) The truest definition of rock and roll is as a musically and culturally aspirational train that left the station the first time Antoine Domino’s left hand, a piano and a recording device were put in a room together.
(5) The second truest definition of rock and roll is as a corrosively nihilistic trainwreck that, unfortunately, did not simply end the day this sad young man, in what an entire collapsed culture had by then taught him was an act of courage, blew his brains out.
(6) Not unrelated: “America” is now in the past tense. Sorry, folks, it was an idea whose time had not yet come after all. No pictures available. But there is news at 11:00….Every night!
(7) I don’t believe there was/is such a thing as “The Great American Novel,” but if forced to both convert and choose, my top three contenders in the stretch would be The Deerslayer, The Long Goodbye and True Grit, with The Man in the High Castle coming up on the outside and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sneaking up on the rail.
True confession: I’ve read most of the crit-approved contenders, but I’ve been saving Moby Dick for either old age or “next month” for about thirty years now.
(8) The most abused quotation in the history of quotations is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “There are no second acts in American lives.” I went into the reasons here.
(9) Not unrelated: The greatest line in American fiction was uttered in a movie called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which also happens to contain the second most abused quotation in the history of quotations (“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”) That one gets all the ink, perhaps to keep us from thinking too hard about this:
“Look at it. It was a wilderness. Now it’s a garden….Aren’t you proud?”
Well, aren’t we?
(10) If it turns out this is all we were, we did have some things to be proud of…
…so saith the burning bush.
This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but certain things can’t really be appreciated, vis-a-vis the world around you, until you are flat on your back for five days in a hospital room where the only entertainment is television, the combination of physical discomforts and necessary treatments and checkups don’t permit you to sleep more than two hours at a stretch, and your powers of concentration don’t extend much beyond attending to the two-minute sound bites on the “news” channels.
–It ain’t news and it sure ain’t journalism. Until you’re exposed to it 24/7 for a few days running, and your spice-of-life variety consists entirely of switching between Fox, CNN and MSNBC, there is no possible way to comprehend the true awfulness of modern journalism. That so many anchors and guests would be able to master the combination of ignorance and arrogance required to repeat comfortably numb talking points ad nauseum and pretend that they are pearls of Socratic wisdom, freshly minted, which must now be patiently explained to the great unwashed (meaning everyone who isn’t either working in “news” or, having been carefully vetted, found safely worthy of being interviewed by same) is truly staggering.
–It is only in the context of this intellectual and moral collapse that the depth and breadth of Donald Trump’s appeal can be comprehended. Whatever else he is or isn’t, he is generally unscripted. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man really is king…even if that one eye is reptilian. Or, if you like, in the Kingdom of the Mute, the Man With a Voice is King, even if all he does is blather.
–If Trump does somehow win the Republican nomination, he’ll have overcome truly staggering odds. In Florida–the state that will truly make or break his run to the nomination–anti-Trump ads are outnumbering pro-Trump ads something like fifty-to-one. I saw several segments on Friday where entire commercial breaks were taken up with as many as four consecutive anti-Trump ads, all of which were vicious and effective, none of which promoted any other candidate. I’m in the Tallahassee market, but I assume it’s the same throughout the state. I haven’t witnessed anything remotely like this in my lifetime of living in a generally hotly contested “swing” state.
–The clearly related and heavily coordinated attempts to pretend that Marco Rubio (a man with no discernible convictions and a thirty-something approval rating in his own state) is somehow a viable candidate with a recognizable base anywhere outside of Puerto Rico’s inmate population is mind-blowing. It’s now apparently a job requirement that anyone who works for the Wall Street Journal, in particular, be prepared to challenge you to a duel if you suggest, even mildly, that Rubio a) won’t be the last man standing against Trump and b) won’t then proceed to clean his clock. If you try to point out that, outside of a four-day window between the Iowa caucus and Chris Christie eviscerating him in the New Hampshire debate, Rubio has never been anything remotely resembling a serious candidate, their heads actually explode. If we still had real news organizations in this country, “Journalists’ Heads Explode” would be a big story right now.
–If Mitt Romney had not decided to remind me, I really believe it would have been possible for me to forget what an act of pure contempt it was for the Republican “establishment” to push him on their own party, let alone the rest of America in 2012. Running against a sitting president whose basic message to a drowning middle class was “Keep treading water!” Romney’s own message was “Hey, let’s throw some chum in there!” Thanks Mitt, for not letting me forget your basic vileness.