AND BY THEN, I KNEW THE COLLAPSE WAS UPON US (Memory Lane, September 11, 2002)

My memories of September 11, 2001 are the common ones. Shock. Disgust. Horror. Sadness. Anger.

My memories of September 11, 2002 might be a bit more singular.

By then I had long since emailed a friend, after George W. Bush’s pathetic speech to Congress (universally lauded at the time by the entire political class and their coterie of media bootlickers, with a few professors thrown in for good measure). The email said:

“I hope we don’t need a leader in this fight we’re about to have, because that sure wasn’t Churchill up there.”

I have a knack, it seems, for being right only about the things I really wish I was wrong about.

By then, I had also seen all the memorial services/concerts etc. and been moved by an occasional performance, the most memorable being Limp Bizkit’s version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which never made me want to listen to Limp Bizkit but did light a warm place in my heart for the original which had not previously existed but has not diminished in the long dreary years since.

By then, I had heard “W” tell us we should go shopping. Things would be alright.

By then, I had been reminded, way more than once and by chillingly, dishearteningly, real world events, of Franklin Roosevelt, breaking into “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger,” on the Firesign Theater’s How Can You Be in Two Places at Once, When You’re Not Anywhere at All, to announce our complete and unconditional surrender.

By then, I knew, in my heart, which is the only truly knowing place, that the United States was beyond satire, that we might last another thousand years as a political economy or a name in a World Atlas, but we’re done as an idea and an idea is all we ever were that was worth anything.

By then, not to get all gloomy or anything, I had already decided it was time to start devoting such energies as I had left for this sort of navel gazing to figuring out where we went wrong–how Rock and Roll America had turned into Lay Down and Die America.

By then, I knew the response of a handful of passengers on Flight 93 was the only meaningful response there would ever be.

So when I was riding around in my car on September 11, 2002, doing errands while listening to the Oldies Station (Oldies Stations being just one more thing that has disappeared in the years since, at least around here), I was prepared to feel nothing in the way of all the emotions I mentioned above.

Figured if no ranking member of the ruling elite was prepared to commit to anything more than somber statements and crocodile tears, there was no percentage in me remembering.

Then a particular song came on the radio, and it was exactly the last song in the universe that could have been connected to any abstract idea of forcing me out of myself, not allowing me to avoid feeling something, even if I could never quite know what it was.

Not even now.

Sometimes, things are just a mystery…So I won’t even try to explain why this made me feel something, on September 11, 2002, when nothing else, not even my Christian concern for the lost, could make me feel anything at all…

 

HEY, THERE’S ACTUAL PROOF I DIDN’T JUST START DEFENDING POP YESTERDAY (Memory Lane: 2006)

Terry Teachout (who can be followed on the “About Last Night” link in the blogroll) has a feature he calls Lookback, wherein he revisits posts of yesteryear. A day or so ago, he re-posted something from 2006 which can be found here.

If you follow the link inside the link you can read the whole piece from back when. Just FYI, the reader he is quoting is yours truly (which gives me a  feeling akin to something Steven Rubio–who can also be followed in the blogroll–has written about lately, wherein one goes looking for references or simply starts looking around….and runs into oneself).

Regarding Terry’s piece, I think any regular reader of this blog knows where I stand on the high/low/middlebrow thing. As in, I don’t think it means anything at all. It happens the song in question, Abba’s “SOS,” has always reached me. It reached me even in the days when I didn’t like much of anything else they did and it was probably the reason I kept coming back to them until quite a bit more actually sank in.

And it reaches me now. I like Terry’s picks for other not-so-guilty pleasures and really appreciate his thoughtful respons, but I’m not sure he got my main point (my fault, because I sort of danced around the subject).

What I really should have said was that I thought “SOS” was great and didn’t need even the slightest qualification or apology.

I still don’t.

And I swear on a stack of bibles I don’t care what Aggy’s wearing. No need to take my eye Lord. With me, it’s all about the music!

 

WHEN JIMMY STEWART RAN INTO NATALIE MERCHANT….ON THE WAY UP NO DOUBT (Memory Lane: 1997)

Mentions of Jimmy Stewart’s birthday around the internet today (he would have been 107), prompted a flashback to July 2, 1997. I was on my way to my sister’s house in South Florida, driving across Highway 40 (which connects I-75 to I-95 for those who want to avoid Orlando or the Florida Turnpike).

In those days, I still listened to radio on the road more often than not (of late, I generally try to have a good supply of CDs available for anything longer than a trip to town) and whatever station was playing, I was, in fact, just thinking about what tape I wanted to hear (cassette days for me back then…I’m notoriously resistant to technological change) when I hit Highway 40’s well known dead spots when the standard issue hip-hep-happy dee-jay’s voice suddenly took on a somber tone and announced that the iconic film actor James Stewart had passed away.

After a few lines of the usual bio and not-quite-canned remorse he faded to black and let the next song play without comment.

I’m sure it was just the next thing in the playlist, but, on July 2, 1997, I bet you could have searched a top 40 catalog for anything that had come out in the past five years (usually the furthest back anyone will ever reach for an “oldie” on a hip-hep-happy station in any era) and never found proof that sound sometimes matters more than words quite as convincing as this:

 

BANGLING (Memory Lane: The Bangles In the Eighties)

Back in the mid-eighties, some curmudgeonly grad-student who reviewed music for my local college newspaper (now long-defunct…I don’t know about these days, or even if they still have college newspapers anymore, but in those days curmudgeonly grad-students were pretty much standard issue for the music gig at a college paper), mentioned that the newly popular Bangles had left their best days behind them (as pretty much all bands do, of course, when they sell too many records to be a secret curmudgeons can keep to themselves anymore), and those of us not in the know should really hear their first LP, the one that hadn’t sold, or better yet, their one-and-only EP (which featured the standard “departed member”) or even better still, the truly obscure cover they had done of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

I either already had, or soon acquired, that first LP which really is their best and also really is one of the greatest albums ever made.

Soon after that, I found their EP, which was pretty fine, too.

Then I spent the ensuing thirty years buying whatever else they made and keeping a permanently frustrated eye out for that elusive Dylan song.

Since I couldn’t find it–or even a reference to it–anywhere, even in the age of YouTube and the internet, I finally decided that the curmudgeon must have made a mistake and meant to refer to their non-LP version of the Grassroots’ Dylanesque knockoff “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which had showed up on the band’s various best ofs over the years.

In other words I thought I was done with it.

Then this week arrives and I’m idly searching for something or other that leads me to a Greil Marcus column which is posted at his website (and which I would have seen a few years ago if The Believer, God love ’em, had let out another entry or two from behind the firewall) and, lo and behold, I find I’m not done with it at all.

Turns out the Bangles (or maybe just Susanna Hoffs), had done a Dylan song in 1984. Only it wasn’t “I Shall Be Released,” but “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” meaning I either misread, misremembered, or relied a bit too foolishly on the reading or remembering skills of a curmudgeonly grad student way back when).

And because we live in an age when YouTube is pretty much the only step forward mankind has made since at least 1980, I was even able to follow the link and hear the actual song, which, at least when you listen to the video version Marcus recommends, is everything he says it is and everything I might have wanted it to be after thirty years of waiting. (And in case you don’t care to follow the link, you can see and hear it in it’s all-everything-ness right here and now…)

Then you can go back, pre-fame, pre- anything but the naked ambition to forget the seventies ever happened and pick up the thread everybody else had let go and see where it could take them….

..or you can go forward, to five minutes before the standard-issue acrimonious breakup, when they were everything they ever wanted to be, including quite possibly the best rock and roll band in the world….I mean, laugh if you want, but do you really think anybody else could have come this close to proving it by way of Simon and Garfunkel?

Yeah, me neither….

 

GINA’S TRIPTYCH (Memory Lane: 1988)

HOUSEOFSHOCK2

My then twenty-seven-year old self wandered around in the wasteland that was 1988 filled with a kind of wary optimism. I wasn’t exactly inundated with it. Gee, the presidential choice that year (should one put the air quotes around presidential?…or choice?…or both?….sorry, the mind stiffens and refuses to commit) was between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.

But if it had been Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln it wouldn’t have been all that much different. Let’s just say that unwary optimism wouldn’t exactly be me.

Well, the intervening years have dispensed with those particular fine distinctions. I’m unburdened by any sort of purely political optimism these days. Goodbye us and all that.

One reason I was still, improbably, optimistic in 1988 was that I was still hearing quasi-subliminal messages in popular music.

Well, really I was only hearing quasi-subliminal messages (that is messages that spoke to the moment and could be read purely and solely between the lines of songs that, for folks living on the standard, government approved wavelength, were certainly about some very ordinary other thing) in music made by ex-Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock that was only trying to be popular.

One reason it wasn’t too terribly successful at being what it was trying to be might have been its too-numerous mundane aspects: airless, cookie-cutter production (from original Go-Go’s producer Richard Gottehrer, who had been good at this stuff since the Angel’s “My Boyfriend’s Back” and really should have known better), anonymous riffing (where the Go-Go’s–especially Gina Schock–had always substituted personality) and lyrics that were mostly straight from songwriting class, mid-semester, freshman year.

Another reason might have been luck. Because all that other stuff, minus what was good about House of Schock, was all over the airwaves in 1988, not to mention every year since and every year now stretching before us down the long dark road into the deep black night.

See. I told you got rid of all that optimism!

And, what may you ask, was good about House of Shock (which was the name of the band as well as their one and only album)?

Three really good songs (all written, like the bulk of the album, by Schock and band-mate Vance DeGeneres*) and Gina Schock’s voice, that was what.

In those three songs and her nothing-special-except-it-got-under-my-skin voice, I heard enough to write the only fan letter of my life. I don’t remember much about the letter (though I remember enough to really, really hope she never read it!…fan letters are bound to be like that, I suspect, if you are older than twelve at the time of composition and subsequently live long enough to look back from a safely objective twenty-twenty distance). And one thing I very specifically don’t remember is whether I mentioned my curious but heartfelt reading of those particular songs–all that between-the-lines stuff.

I suspect not. My twenty-seven-year old self was cautious about sharing unlikely, far-fetched theories. Not like my fifty-four-year old self at all.

Which leaves us (well, me anyway) with what exactly it was I that I did hear.

Simple enough.

Wary optimism. Fellow traveler (spiritual sense, not dread phony political sense).

That’s what.

An assurance the singer would not only survive but would do so precisely because she possessed an abundance of the old “can-do” spirit that was waiting to be reborn in the national soul.

Coming from just about anyone else in 1988 (let alone now) that would have sounded like a very big pile of what the bull leaves in the pasture.

But it wasn’t coming from just anyone.

It was coming from the woman who had thrown her possessions in the car and driven from Baltimore to L.A. and then walked into a punk club where one of the anonymous thousands of that (or any) era’s wannabe bands was playing out a contract before they broke up and went their separate ways and talked them into staying together, into taking her on as the drummer, into rehearsing (and rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing), into literally battling their way to the cover of Rolling Stone twenty-something months later….some time after said Richard Gottehrer had told bassist Kathy Valentine to watch what the drummer did and the “accidental” result had been the first (and, a mere thirty-four years down the line, so far only) album by a self-contained all-female band to reach #1 in Billboard.

So, for me at least, the can-do spirit coming from that woman was bound to mean….something.

Something more than songs to dedicate to every fourth year’s crop of major party candidates (though boy do they work on that level, then and now).

And under the cover of darkness, where the rebirth of the old “can-do” will now have to occur, if it occurs at all, it still does.

So here’s to the old optimism…

The spirit of the open road…

the spit in the eye…(and one of my favorite vocals of the decade)

and the all purpose dedication to the deceivers among us and those who survive them….

 

HOUSEOFSHOCK1

*Yes, he’s Ellen’s brother. And no, she wasn’t yet famous. I’m sure I was one of at least four people on the planet who, when I first heard of her, thought “Gee, I wonder if she’s related to Vance!”

 

 

TRACEY ULLMAN TAKES ME ACROSS A BRIDGE (Memory Lane: 2006)

First, a look at the picture sleeve of a forty-five:

TraceyULLMAN

Then the memory:

Between 2003 and 2007 I had what you might call problems.

I got diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2002, and was, not long after, told I had probably had it my entire adult life (which was roughly twenty years at that point). I was then further told I had severe Diabetic Retinopathy which needed immediate and extensive laser treatments, etc.

Then there was a year of seeing what I’ll politely call the “wrong” doctor, after which I was told I would need major surgery and was, in fact, worse off than I had been to begin with (even though my Glucose numbers had long since normalized).

I ended up getting a second opinion and moving on to a real doctor, under whose care I got better, though not enough better to avoid having the surgeries eventually. Too much damage and too much recurrence as it turned out. Something called Vitrectomies ensued. One for each eye.

That’s where they cut an incision in the eyeball, suck out the vitreous fluid, replace it with a saline solution, and scrape any residual scar tissue off your blood vessels.

They keep you awake so you can move your eyes if necessary, which means you can also see them picking the scar tissue off the back of your eyeball.

it’s as pleasant as it sounds.

By the summer of 2006, one way and another, between the disease and the treatments, I had lost about twenty percent of my eyesight, mostly on the periphery, though there was also a permanent hole in my right eye’s field of vision.

I had also been told for a good two years, by then, that I should have stabilized by now.

And I hadn’t.

So I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t continue to lose my sight at a similar rate in the years ahead.

I had gotten past breaking down over it–had managed to remind myself, yet again, that Faith is not for the good times–but it still wasn’t exactly the cheeriest period of my life. Faith moved the mountain of despair a little, but many more days than not, I was much more afraid than not.

Coming home from my sister’s house in South Florida after a 4th of July visit in that summer of 2006–three years into a pattern of deterioration that seemed more and more likely to be permanent–part of me wanted to just get on home, like usual, which would mean–like usual–I-95 or the Florida Turnpike.

Another part of me wanted to head up U.S. 1 and cruise the old neighborhood where I was born and partly raised, because who knew how many more chances there would be?

That nostalgic part won.

Now, it happens I had cruised my “old” neighborhood (we left in 1974) before.

There were some pretty good reasons I no longer did it very often.

The working class community I grew up in was run into the ground. The space-race jobs that fueled the local economy had long since dwindled to a fraction of their former numbers and left the place on life support. The people I knew (and loved more than I knew, as it turned out) were long gone or, at very least, lost to my circle of acquaintance. The church I was saved in, testified in, sang in, heard my mother sing in and saw my father ordained in, had–according to the sign anyhow–gone from Southern Baptist to some sort of utilitarian symbol which I assumed meant non-denominational though I never researched the matter fully.

Some things are better left undone.

For whatever reason, this particular day, I was willing to risk the company of an even blacker dog than the one that was already riding me to see just how much further things had gone downhill.

No explaining it. Maybe I just wanted to at least feel the place again.

After all, there was no way to know how many more times I would have the option of ignoring it.

Whichever direction I had gone that day, I had music for the occasion–a set of cassette tapes with a lot of my old 45s (none of them bought until I moved away and found I needed something to fill the space left by all the things I no longer belonged to, call it “community” if you like) captured on them.

I had recorded the tapes with no particular rhyme or reason. Just stuff I liked well enough, some time or other, to buy on a piece of plastic, and still liked well enough, all those years later, to record for driving music.

It was a true mix-tape.

All of which meant that I had little idea of what was coming next when I drove over a bridge just south of the hospital where I was born and a beautiful, peaceful view of the Indian River (which, to tell the truth, doesn’t often conjure romantic notions) on an early Sunday afternoon opened up.

Just as that view filled my somewhat impaired vision, what came up on the tape was Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know,” a tribute to the girl group era which she, having been born almost exactly a year before me, must have just missed (like me) and, given the improbable heart she put into both the single and the album it was drawn from (the oughta-be-immortal You Broke My Heart In 17 Places) must have also (like me) regretted missing on some very personal level.

It might have been just a nice moment, except that some combination of that song and that view of the river and that set of memories made me think, unbidden:

“If this is all there’s going to be, it’s okay.”

I didn’t really do much cruising of the old neighborhood that day, or any day since. And a year or so later, I figured out it was the diabetic medicine I was taking that was making my eyes bleed. I had to argue with a lot of doctors, of course, but I stopped taking the medicine. The round of laser treatments-shots-surgeries ended soon thereafter and hasn’t resumed.

To date, I haven’t lost any more eyesight. Well, not much anyway.

Things worked out, in other words. At least as much as they ever do. The mountain moved…just enough.

But those things that eventually worked themselves out–and which I had no way of knowing ever would in the summer of 2006–weren’t what brought me a last measure of peace.

What brought me that peace was driving over a bridge next to the Indian River, just south of the hospital where I was born, and, at that exact moment, hearing Tracey Ullman–a woman who got justifiably famous in the years hence by dint of a sheer, undaunted genius for never taking anything seriously (not even a talk show interview, which takes some doing in the Age of Narcissism)–put everything she had into a song that might have been designed to do any number of less-than-admirable, campy, things (and might have even accomplished some of them, these little bits of genius being what they are), but which she sang as though she fully intended to live up to Mary Weiss and Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love and didn’t much care who knew it.

And for one moment–luckily for me–live up to them she did.

(And, hey, it’s Tracey Ullman, so the video is hilarious…but, for a markedly different experience, don’t be afraid to put yourself in my shoes and close your eyes one time through.)

 

THE RETURN OF MARY WEISS (Memory Lane: 2007)

{NOTE: I’m kinda’ swamped at the moment so, to cap the week, I’m posting one from days gone by. Rock and Rap Confidential was kind enough to distribute a slightly edited version of this piece in their on-line newsletter at the time Mary Weiss’ solo album Dangerous Game was released in 2007. I don’t see any reason to alter any of its basic assumptions. Weiss, not surprisingly for someone who tends to let silence speak volumes, has recorded nothing since, though she has toured occasionally. For anyone new to the site, you can track some of my personal history with the Shangri-Las in the SHANGRI-LAS FOREVER category at the right. In any case, this is an accurate reflection of how things stood between me and Mary Weiss when she finally came out of the shadows. FYI: You can follow the Norton Records link below to find Weiss’ interview at the time, which I’ve linked before but can’t possibly be over-publicized.]

About fifteen years ago, driving through middle Georgia, I happened across a very small black gospel station of the sort that proliferate throughout the south. It was a Sunday afternoon and the programming consisted of a live, obviously local choir performance.

The choir featured a very young female soloist who sounded remarkably like….SOMEBODY. I drove along–slowly!–mentally riffing through dozens of favorite black female singers, trying to place the similarity. After about thirty minutes, hearing her off and on, I finally realized I had been on the wrong track. The striking resemblance wasn’t to a black woman at all. It was to a white teenager.

Just before I passed out of the tiny station’s limited range, never learning the young singer’s name, or even the name of the choir she was fronting, I realized she was a dead ringer for the Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss–Ah, yes, Queens and the Georgia plains, together again!

A few months back, at the Norton Records’ website, Weiss related a wonderful story about reverse-integrating a women’s bathroom while a Houston cop drew down on her during a show she played with James Brown. I certainly wasn’t surprised to learn that the lead singer of the Shangri-Las was not intimidated by racist cops. And because of that Sunday afternoon in Georgia, I wasn’t even surprised to learn that Augusta’s own James Brown had hired the Shangri-Las because he assumed from their records that they were black.

But Weiss’ return is far more than a nostalgia trip with a lot of great stories attached. This is one comeback that is tremendously important to both history and the moment.

As to history: In breaking a lifetime of silence regarding her career with the Shangri-Las, Weiss has driven about a hundred new nails in the coffin of Standard Rock Theology’s most damaging falsehood–that because they were female and often impossibly young, many of the greatest singers of the rock and roll era owed their success primarily to svengali-like male producers rather than their own drive and talent.

This lie is rooted in a deep, almost willful misunderstanding of singing as a creative process, fully equal to writing and producing. It has probably kept the Shangri-Las (and Arlene Smith and the Marvelettes and Mary Wells, among others) out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, if reading and hearing Weiss’ modest, convincing voice doesn’t kill it for good, nothing will

From her, we learn that the Shangri-Las’ revolutionary dress and stage manner–which instantly and permanently changed the way women could present themselves in popular culture and left a long, deep shadow on the New York street scenes that would eventually produce both punk and rap–were entirely their own. That they worked closely with their producers and arrangers at every stage concerning what they would record and how. That their impeccable, drop-dead harmonies, always a vastly under-appreciated aspect of the female group sound, were forged by years of practice in a hyper-competitive environment** where literally hundreds of fine groups never made it off the streets and only a handful ever had a hit (let alone the near-dozen chart records, including four top twenties, notched by the Shangri-Las).

As to the moment: Weiss’ new album–the first music in forty years by one of rock’s signature voices–has been consistently damned with faint praise that grows straight out of the old, false mindset. Most mainstream reviews have been content to convey two basic ideas: 1) Gee, the old girl sure does sound like herself and 2) it’s always nice to have an excuse to name-drop Shadow Morton.

Don’t be fooled.

On Dangerous Game, Weiss is backed by the fine southern garage band, Reigning Sound, whose Greg Cartwright supplied most of the first-rate songs. The sound and style are as far from Morton’s justifiably storied extravagance as you can get.

But after a dozen listens, I’m convinced this music is of a piece with Weiss’ long-ago greatness not because of her still unmistakable timbre, but because of her ability to bring her great themes–trust and betrayal–to bear on any situation anyone is ever likely to write a song about.

There’s no doubt either, that they are her themes. Morton’s wonderful songs–and Cartwright’s–have frequently emanated from the mouths of others without once acquiring the capacity to either wound or heal. Weiss has nearly always made them do one or the other. At her very best, as on “Remember” and “Never Again” forty years ago or “Cry About the Radio” and “Stitch in Time” here, she’s done both in the same song.

The inability of the modern rock press to address her in these terms–the terms due a singer who owns the idea that no relationship worth having can ever be entirely safe as surely as Roy Orbison owns romantic paranoia and John Fogerty owns righteous anger–simply reinforces their own irrelevance.

(**As a poignant footnote, when Weiss began touring and giving interviews shortly after this piece was published, she was asked why she was reluctant to sing some of her old songs on stage. Though she has, of course, sung at least some of her oldies live, her answer, essentially, as to why she preferred not to, was that those songs were arranged for particular voices and those voices–two of which belonged to the deceased Marge and Mary Ann Ganser–no longer existed.)

Mary Weiss “Cry About the Radio” (Audio Recording)

 

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN…QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME (Memory Lane, 1998–2000)

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is getting ready to announce this year’s nominations. Instead of the usual Sturm und Drang about the Hall’s various imperfections I’ll just share some cool memories from my visits in 1998, 1999 and 2000. As it happens, I wasn’t a skeptic, but it’s worth noting that many who were have been converted by actually going there. Probably because experiences along these lines can be had every day.

Anyway my personal top five, in no particular order:

–Descending the escalator and hearing a large group of black school children who looked to be roughly second graders break softly into the chorus of the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” en masse and on cue, when it came over the loudspeakers that play music throughout the day and then stop–en masse and on cue–the second their teacher went “sh-h-h-h!”

–Watching a couple of junior-high-age white girls sashaying up the ramp that constitutes the actual Hall of Fame, doing the hand motions to the Supremes’ “Stop In the Name of Love,” which was playing in the video viewing room next door.

–Reading the hand-written letter Janis Joplin sent to her parents when she left home for the last time, in which she constantly assured them she would be alright–this only minutes after passing a doorway where Pete Townsend was snarling back from a movie screen, saying, “They might be your fucking icons, but they’re my fucking friends!…And they’re dead!”

–Seeing the actual piece of paper where the Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio sketched out the lyrics for “Rag Doll” immediately after witnessing the reaction a street urchin had to his handing her a five dollar bill (instead of the usual nickel or quarter) because, in the immediate aftermath of the Seasons’ initial success, he didn’t have anything smaller on him.

–Getting down on the floor to read a piece of paper in a special Elvis exhibit and having to stay there a while when I realized it was the official contract drawn up between Colonel Tom Parker and the Carolina Theater in Charlotte which is where my mother saw Elvis in fifty-six (part of a set of life experiences I wrote about at length here). That happened five minutes after seeing the only television still in existence which actually has the bullet hole Elvis put in it had convinced me nothing could top that!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a human institution and so has its problems, some of which I’ve addressed here in the past. I’m sure the forthcoming nominations and ultimate selections will raise my blood pressure yet again.

But it’s worth remembering that these problems are very small in light of what it gets right–like providing a space to honor things that deserve to be honored, as opposed to only remembered:

Isley Brothers “That Lady/Live It Up” (Live Television Performance)

The Supremes “Stop In the Name of Love” (Live Television Performance)

Janis Joplin “Ball and Chain” (Live at Monterey, crossing over into the land from which there is no return)

The Four Seasons “Rag Doll” (Studio Recording)

Elvis Presley “Mean Woman Blues” (From Loving You)

 

 

WINTER COMES EARLY….AND DON’T WORRY, IT’S STILL COMING FOR THE WRONG PEOPLE

As I’ve mentioned here before I grew up in a house with a singer.

I may have also mentioned that I grew up in a house with a singer who finally had her voice robbed by disease, hence the announcement that the great Linda Ronstadt has discovered that Parkinson’s has been creeping up on her for some years and has now ended her singing career strikes close to home.

A little closer perhaps, because twenty years after my mother passed away, my father–who couldn’t sing a lick–went into a nursing home and some months later, on the night that I was told he wouldn’t last the weekend, I went home to gather some things for the vigil.

“Home” was a hundred miles away. When it came midnight and I was ready to head back, there was exactly one song I had to pull out of my CD collection to play when my car got past my town’s two traffic lights and I hit the open road.

I really had no idea why it was so–why it had to be that song–but after listening to the interview below, I feel the beginnings of at least a cosmic notion.

Turns out Linda Ronstadt knows a little something about both death and healing.

Here’s that song:

Linda Ronstadt “Rock Me On the Water” (Studio recording…not the greatest sound but it’s the only version I could find)

And here’s that interview:

Linda Ronstadt on NPR’s Fresh Air

There is, of course, some chatter that the committee which determines such things will now finally nominate her for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then she might even get voted in. She probably doesn’t care. But her fans do and, as such, we should probably count ourselves lucky if it happens. Heck, Dusty Springfield and Donna Summer had to die.

Like I said…always the wrong people.

 

MAYBE IT WAS MEMPHIS (Memory Lane, 1979 and 1991)

Sorry for the light posting this week. The blog has gone great guns for a month now and I’ve pretty much smashed all my previous traffic records (including more than doubling the rough monthly average that held throughout last year). It’s been a hectic month, a more hectic week and I’m working hard on several new posts that are rather lengthy.

For a number of strictly personal reasons I’ve been on a memory kick this week and (as often happens) my memory kick  has been accompanied by a country music kick which slammed home particularly hard today.

And on a day when I became acquainted with Marshall Chapman’s literally mind-blowing It’s About Time…, better acquainted with Miranda Lambert’s excellent first LP Kerosene (which sounds like its title with the proverbial match already lit), caught up with Time-Life’s single disc Waylon Jennings set (been collecting the series for a year and a half and I’ve only got a few to go), and typed along (yes, I do work for a living) to three Patty Loveless albums (nothing unusual there), nothing hit me quite like Pam Tillis’ first major release Put Yourself In My Place, which I hadn’t heard in a few years and which has lost none of its remarkable power.

It came out in 1991 and it blew through country radio with the same sort of gale force Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual had represented in mainstream pop in 1984. The future with a strong sense of history, if you will.

Like Cyndi, Pam never quite lived up to the massive implications of that first monster LP, though, like Cyndi, she’s also made lots of fine records through the years. (And like Cyndi, she was always one of the best interviews alive, probably because, like Cyndi, she gave the strong impression of someone who did not know how to lie).

So I’m only posting this–and starting a new category–because it lifted me off the ground in a week that left me with a lot to laugh about and a lot to cry about.

And also because I still haven’t quite figured out how we missed each other at Camp Crestridge back in the summer of ’79!

[My advice is to listen to the first link with your eyes closed (not that there’s anything wrong with looking at a picture of Pam for four minutes!)…and open them for the second link, which is a gorgeous, fresh breeze live performance from the moment of her breakthrough]:

Pam Tillis “Maybe It Was Memphis” (Studio)

Pam Tillis “Maybe It Was Memphis” (Live on Television)

Better then.