SIGNIFIERS (Bunny Sigler and Ralphie May, R.I.P.)

Bunny Sigler was a key player in the Philly Soul revolution of the 1970s. He made an indelible impact as a singer…

songwriter….

…producer, instrumentalist, tastemaker…and that rarest of rare things, a quality that always shone through his best music: A generous soul.

He passed away at the age of 76 on Oct. 6, something close to the last of his kind.

Heart attack.

Ralphie May had two advantages over literally all of the dubious “comedians” he leaves behind. He told the truth and he was funny.

He also died on Oct. 6., at age 45 Also of a heart attack.

Also something close to the last of his kind.

Well, at least the next plane is funnier and more soulful these days.

Here, we’ll just have to carry on with YouTube and the memories.

THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE….HALL AND OATES REACH BACK (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #83)

I’m feeling better each day but now have a killer makeup work schedule the rest of the week. Hoping for a nice long “dream sequence” post in the next day or two (for who among you does not want to read about a good old fashioned diarrhea-induced dream?) but, for now, I wanted to share this good old fashioned jam session at Daryl Hall’s house on the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers.” It’s minus the paranoia, of course, but it shows what you can do with enough talent married to enough hero worship and a penchant for getting carried away with yourself. Track proper starts around 2:04:

THE RISING….THE RICH GET RICHER….NEW YEAR’S WARNING EDITION (Third Memo)

We enter 2015 with the specter of a 2016 presidential race likely to offer a choice between….a Clinton and a Bush.

Oy vey.

Back in the hey-day of “the Rising,” when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (the Isaiah and Jeremiah of the movement) ruled the charts and warned us about the future, they wrote and/or produced a clutch of salient “political” statements. Most of the best of these (as is usually the case with such things) were records like “Backstabbers” or “Only the Strong Survive” that came disguised as something else.

Something like the O’Jays’ “Rich Get Richer”–with its famous (and admittedly un-poetic) paranoid line, “there’s only sixteen families that control the whole world…I read that in a book ya’ll”–used to make the intelligentsia roll their eyes and suggest that the boys (politely, of course, always politely) get back to the groove and leave politics and such to those sophisticated enough to know better.

H-m-m-m.

Sixteen families to control the whole world.

Always trying to get more than they give.

Jeb vs. Hilary in 2016.

Sounds like Leon and Kenny may have set the number a little high.

Happy New Year, ya’ll.

 

WHY I NEED ROCK AND ROLL (Session #4)

First two songs that feed each other:

The O’Jays “Love Train” (Television Performance)

The O’Jays “Backstabbers” (Television Performance)

Then on to things that feed only themselves:

I have to confess that what is now called “serious” television tends to leave me cold. I’ve taken various, multiple shots at letting The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood and Breaking Bad, among others, into my brain and basically come up with some version of “life’s too short” after half an hour or so each and every time.

The one show of this high-falutin’ sort that I have occasionally managed to sit through entire episodes of is Justified. No idea why. I’m not a hater–like I said, life’s too short–so I only have three basic, if rather wide-ranging, reactions to any sort of art and those are basically as follows:

“This is great!”

“This is fun.”

“Meh.”

Somehow, Justified, like a lot of things Elmore Leonard has been involved in since he left westerns (where he was sometimes great and nearly always fun–or at least unpretentious), occasionally nudges over the line from the upper reaches of “meh” to the lowest level of “fun.” And Justified manages to do that even though its white trash chic (an approach that usually has my one and only deeply felt, bound-to-take-it-somewhat-personally version of “meh” encoded in its DNA–ask anybody who has ever lived among “white trash” and we/they will tell you “yeah I/we know somebody like that,” all the while wondering–like every other tramped-on “out” group–why it’s only the fools the rest of ya’ll are interested in).

So once in a while when I’m clicking around and nothing else is on I find myself watching all or part of an episode and this week the one I stopped on featured one of those “hey, let’s play a cool tune everybody knows as the soundtrack for some gruesome violence” scenes. In this case it involved the O’Jays’ “Love Train” playing behind a scenario where an assassin was trying to beat some information out of a dopey-looking deputy sheriff who was (surprise, surprise!) tougher than he looked and (shock and awe!) somehow managed to get hold of a weapon and slay his deadly tormentor.

To be fair, at this stage of civilization’s devolution it’s pretty hard to write scenes the world hasn’t seen a hundred times before and this one was done about as well as a complete non-surprise can be. But it was the choice of music that woke me up enough to start me thinking.

I have no idea what thought process went into having “Love Train” play behind the scene and I honestly didn’t even catch whether the music was actually being experienced by the characters (on the radio perhaps) or was being used as background “scoring.”

Perhaps it was meant ironically. Watch the meanie beat the tough little deputy’s teeth in while “People all over the world, join hands” sings along. That sort of thing.

Or possibly it just fit the rhythm of the beat down.

Or maybe it was just catch-as-catch-can on somebody’s Ipod and seemed like it would get the job done.

Who knows?

I certainly don’t. But I found myself caring a little bit because the song took me out of the scene. And if I had to explain why, I’d probably say it was because every other scenario in which I’ve ever been likely to hear the song–on the radio in some free-form oldies’ or R&B format where America always seems like a very big place indeed; on the O’Jay’s own great Backstabbers LP; on the various AM Gold or Gamble and Huff comps that are scattered through my record collection–is part of a bigger, better, living, breathing, world than the one Justified’s creators keep trying to convince me they have a real handle on.

I made it through the rest of the episode, but the game was up. Either deliberately or otherwise (one problem with the nihilism-is-the-coolest-thing-going game is that you never can tell what’s deliberate–even the creators themselves aren’t that far inside) the show’s decision makers had made the mistake of pointing up their own phoniness.

I’m not saying I won’t watch Justified again. If it gets late enough and my brain has been reduced to crawling I’m sure there will be some night or other when it’s still the best thing on. It ain’t that hard to beat Erotic Shop commercials and CNN.

But there had been moments previously when the night-crawler part of my brain thought it might actually turn into real fun.

To quote another vintage prophet who had to compete with folks like Gamble and Huff on the radio back in the day and therefore didn’t have the option of wallowing in his own occasional tendency to make music that could be played without irony during a teeth-kicking if he wanted to keep up:

“Won’t get fooled again.”