“Tumbling Dice”/”Old Paint”

Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams (1977)

What with a new, well-received, documentary circulating, a Kennedy Center honor and even a recent nice word from Greil Marcus, who I never imagined was a fan, Linda’s having a moment.

Given her age and infirmity (Parkinson’s Disease) and the unlikelihood she will be attending any ceremonies that might be left to her ( Country Music Hall of Fame, maybe, of which she would be richly deserving), this might be her last ride in the spotlight before the long, black curtain falls. I don’t really need an excuse to listen but the occasion of ordering the DVD of the documentary for my birthday seemed as good as any. I pulled Simple Dreams almost at random. For all the years I’ve had it, it’s not one I’ve listened to a lot. It’s four hits are on plenty of comps, the radio, YouTube (often in what I assumed were superior live versions), the way we listen now.

Not for the first, or, I’m sure, the last time, she surprised me. I realized yet again, having overcome the prejudices the old guard rock critics (Marsh, Christgau, etc.) on dozens of previous occasions, I’m still not through breaking through. Every cut on the album is fine, and the eclectic approach that would was often called visionary when Ray Charles or Elvis tried it (even when it didn’t all work) was more typically called confusion, or pure calculation, when she did the same. (Just as an example of what critics used to say about Ronstadt, how far she could put them off their stride, John Morthland, in his otherwise invaluable study The Best of Country Music wrote “she owes Roy Orbison an apology for her massacre of ‘Blue Bayou.'” That wasn’t even close to the meanest thing anybody said and the song’s co-writer, Joe Melson, later revealed that Roy loved Linda’s version and that “Linda found what Roy was looking for.”…But what does he know?)

She wasn’t deemed to be…in control.

Not sufficiently anyway (too femme I suppose, though I always assumed that meant a little too independent as well, which was why she had to be presented as Peter Asher’s puppet for some people to admit they liked some of it–the iIluminati always reserve the right to mean the opposite of what they say).

Even after the penultimate tune, the studio version of “Tumbling Dice,” got the house rockin’, I thought surely–surely!–the album closer, “Old Paint,” would let me down.

But, maybe for the first time ever, I actually listened….And I realized it was of a piece with “Tumbling Dice” which, in her voice (and with her key lyric changes–I’m still disappointed that the Damn straight I heard for years is really Get it straight, but changing the opening line to People try to rape me still makes up for everything even if it turns out some day to be People try to rate me) turned out to belong to the same sort of cantankerous soul who ends up wandering the west in “Old Paint.” She might have gone from roadhouse rocker to cowgirl folkie with one of her usual head-snaps–and I might have reversed the order if it had been up to me–but that just meant you always had to run fast to keep up.

Funny. The older I get….the faster I run:

NOTE: Linda did so many killer live versions of “Tumbling Dice,” including one that was featured on the million selling soundtrack of the movie FM, that most people probably remember it better that way. So….why not?

ALL AMERICAN INTERVIEWS (Segue of the Day: 11/1/19)

I don’t usually link to long-g-g-g-g interviews, but I happened to come across two this week that are worth your time. If, for starters, you want to hear about what really hurt Frank Sinatra, whether or not Hollywood believed Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, how movie careers were built in the Golden Age, or who dominated the room when Marilyn and Liz Taylor were both in it, then you won’t want to miss Illeana Douglas with Ruta Lee, who, to be honest, makes more of an impact here than she did in any of the several classic movies I’ve seen her in:

If you want to hear about the effect the Superfly soundtrack had on an eight-year-old black kid who would one day be (falsely) accused of murdering Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay, then please take the time to listen to Jason Whitlock’s interview with Twitter master and documentary filmmaker Curtis Scoon. (If you want to get an interesting perspective on that part of Black America which is not under anyone’s thumb, you should follow Scoon’s Twitter account, which you can find by typing “Curtis Scoon Twitter” into your search engine…don’t worry, when you’ve found him, you’ll know it’s him. Whitlock’s own Twitter feed is more of the same from a sports perspective, and often hilarious.)

This is something like seventy years of American history you won’t read much about in books in a little over two hours. If you listen to all of it, you’ll learn things.

ANNIVERSARIES I MISSED (Segue of the Day: 7/22/19)

A lot of people noted the juxtaposition of Chappaquiddick and the Apollo 11 moon landing this past weekend but I didn’t come across anyone who quite got the full significance of the deep cultural connection (or, some might say, disconnection) between two events that, had they not occurred within 24 hours of each other, would never be linked by the Cosmos, let alone the blog-o-verse.

But linked they are.

They meant little to me at the time. The moon landing was an anticlimax. I was there for the liftoff and everyone in my neighborhood knew the time to worry was between the testing process (the space where Gus Grissom and his crew had died in the chillingly recent past) and breaking the atmosphere (the space where Dick Scobee and his Challenger crew would die in the not-too-distant future). It wasn’t until Apollo 13 that anybody had a clue space itself might not be a cakewalk and this was soon forgotten, to be remembered when they made a movie about it years later, after which it was soon forgotten again.

As for the other, I never really heard much about Ted Kennedy abandoning Mary Jo Kopechne to death by suffocation and drowning while saving himself until he ran for President in the 1980 primary season and my Florida Panhandle barber, a yellow dog Democrat not exactly enamored of Jimmy Carter, announced he wasn’t going to vote for somebody who “couldn’t even get a whore across a bridge.”

It was a long time after that before I found out Mary Jo Kopechne was a campaign worker, not a party girl, not that it mattered to me. That she was left to die–and the man who left her at best a craven coward, at worst a monster of moral indifference–always seemed the important part.

It was even longer before a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, a stone’s throw from my earlier Space Coast childhood home, made me realize what my friends’ dads had pulled off. They coached Little League, came to the churches their wives took the kids to every Sunday on Easter and Christmas, never missed a day’s work, asked us if we wanted to look like girls the second our hair or fingernails got too long, and probably hated Ted Kennedy a lot worse than my Panhandle barber did, not to mention more than they loved the Kennedy brother who gave them their mission in the first place.

And if they didn’t yet hate ol’ Ted, they certainly hated his kind. Some primal part of their being knew his swamp-dwelling breed existed to drain the American Experiment of the meaning they had invested it with; of all meaning, in fact, except the example it will provide to whatever desolate future the epic failure his kind imposed across the ensuing half-century has now guaranteed.

The only thing they have left is the one thing even the hero of Chappaquiddick, working overtime for decades to crush their old, ever-aspiring America like a beetle, could never take away from them.

They put a man on the moon.

MADNESS IN THE HO– USE, BLAKE ON THE THRONE (Segue of the Day: 7/16/19)

Well, at least no one was beaten about the head with a staff of wood!

Those interested can go to C-Span or YouTube to catch various editions of the shenanigans in the House of Representatives today (Short version….there will be chaos and then tyranny). The funny part was when I had to go to the bathroom, where The Complete Poems of William Blake currently reside  and I swear this is what came up on Page 604, under “Milton.” I mean, I couldn’t make this up could I?

Who creeps into State Government like a caterpillar to destroy
To cast off the idiot Questioner who is always questioning,
But never capable of answering; who sits with a sly grin
Silent plotting when to question, like a thief in a cave;
Who publishes  doubt & calls it knowledge; whose Science is Despair, 
Whose pretence to knowledge is Envy, whose whole Science is
To destroy the wisdom of ages to gratify ravenous Envy
That rages round him like a Wolf day & night without rest
He smiles with condescension; he talks of Benevolence & Virtue
And those who act with Benevolence & Virtue, they murder time on time.

Of course, they’ll swear Donald Trump made them do it. For the cameras at least.

I have no idea why Lou Reed kept interrupting my thoughts, though. Must be the cough syrup. Else the part about villains always blinking their eyes.


For the English working class, then. With the fire that is about to be trained on them from all sides, they’ll need every smile they can find.

(The Round Place in the Middle, June 24, 2016)

That was the last paragraph of my Diamond in the Shade post about Manfred Mann’s “Each and Every Day,” on the occasion of Brexit passing in the UK.

I know nothing about British politics and would trust no one for an explanation.

I know a little about human nature and the likelihood of modern bureaucratic states responding to popular will. It’s been three years since the Brits voted to leave the European Union (an event that was a harbinger of Donald Trump’s election in the US a few months later).

Suffice it to say that they haven’t left and the people who voted for the change have been smeared in all the predictable ways by their betters.

From today’s Daily Mail.

We disagree on a wide range of issues – from workers’ and women’s rights to immigration and the NHS. But – and this is a crucial ‘but’ – we agree on the one historic issue that today matters more than anything else: Brexit and the future of British democracy.

That’s Claire Fox, a hard lefty, explaining her decision to stand with Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party., the equivalent of  Tulsi Gabbard standing with Donald Trump. You can read the whole thing here.

So…..Second verse, same as the first:


WHEN THINGS MAKE SENSE…(Segue of the Day: 3/29/19)

I like to celebrate.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is semi-notorious for handling inductions one of a few ways: a Hall insider (like Seven Van Zandt) or existing Hall of Famer (like anybody) or combination of both (like Bruce Springsteen) does the honors. Or else a star of the moment (Jewel inducted Brenda Lee for instance) is shoved into the spot for ratings. After the early, obvious years, rarely has the choice of inductor made real historical sense.

Tonight there will be an exception when Susanna Hoffs, the only thing the sixties were missing and the principal lead singer of Rock and Roll America’s last great harmony group, inducts the Zombies.

Hoffs proved her Zombies’ bona fides covering their “Care of Cell #44” on the first Sid n’ Susie album. But the spiritual connection was legit long before that:

Hope she gets to sing with them. It’s so logical I can’t imagine even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame objecting.

Then again, they didn’t exactly ask Stevie Nicks or Linda Ronstadt to induct Brenda Lee, did they?

NOTHING IS EVER SAFE (Segue of the Day: 12/26/18)

I should have known George MacDonald Fraser’s Second World War memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here would grab hold before I was through it. Some writers are just meant for some readers and he’s never let me down yet.

As I’m racing through the last third (after taking it in bits and pieces through the first half), I’m dog-earing nearly every page, knowing full well I won’t have the time or venue to do it justice with a re-read and a deep-dive review. I think I will look for the edition with this cover, though, some day when the finances are sound again. The edition I have is bland as dishwater and I can’t even make out what the image on the cover is supposed to be. I think it may have served to put up a barrier.

The title should have tipped me anyway, but Fraser was such a supple writer that I only today (at least three years after I picked up the book the first time) got the joke.

No group of men in the history of the world were quartered less “safe” than the British units who, like Fraser’s Nine Section, were at the sharp end of the stick in the Burmese theater as WWII wound down, with what Fraser and his mates called “Jap” putting up a desperate resistance on the final road to existential defeat.

His experiences gave him a great deal of insight into the nature of war (not combat, WAR)–and why Brits and Americans, in particular, have been dreadfully bad at it since VJ day.

Here is Fraser on the occasion of his unit (he was the youngest, but also the best educated and hence the lance corporal in charge) capturing four Indian soldiers who were obviously Japanese collaborators (and thus hated by his own men even worse than the Japanese themselves–and worse still by loyal Indian troops):

“How they’d lost their uniforms, when they’d deserted, what they were doing there, I still don’t know. They were watching me, ugly and sullen, but not scared. Of course, shooting them was out of the question…but listening to the silence, I had a feeling that if I did give the unthinkable order, the section would obey it–Forster for certain, Wattie and Morton probably, perhaps even Grandarse and Nick; they might not do it themselves, but they would not object to its happening. If you think that atrocious–well, it is, by civilized lights. but they don’t shine, much, in wartime. (They mustn’t, or you’ll lose.)”

(p. 173–emphasis mine)

A few pages later, Fraser, having detailed his and his unit’s blithe later reaction to a group of loyal Indian soldiers making twenty wounded Japanese disappear under a pile of rocks (buried alive, no questions asked…they’d have done worse to the four collaborators had he not cut his patrol short to march them safely back to camp under the protection of his own men)–they wouldn’t have done it themselves, but to even think of reporting it as an atrocity would have been “eccentric”–he hits the nail on the head again.

“I am not justifying, but explaining, when I say those were the days when, if a selection board chairman asked (and he did): “Wouldn’t you like to stick a bayonet in a German’s guts, eh?”, he was not expecting an answer drawn from the Sermon on the Mount.”

(p. 192)

I’ve spent no little time here suggesting that we will win no more wars. Trust Fraser to reduce all my arguments to five words.

They mustn’t, or you’ll lose.

Worth remembering as we drag home from yet another pointless defeat…or simply drag on towards the promise of some empty victory, in neither case being thanked (or deserving any) for the care we now take in punishing what atrocities we cannot avoid.

Even more worth remembering the next time we venture forth, having deluded ourselves, yet again, into thinking that somehow, this time, we’ll get it right…that avoidance of the terrible things which cannot be avoided in war will somehow finally result in victory and not despite our avoidance of terrible necessities but because of it.

They mustn’t, or you’ll lose.

SOME VERITIES REALLY ARE ETERNAL (Segue of the Day: 12/4/18)

…As in, per the Howlin’ Wolf, the men don’t know but the little (and not-so-little) girls understand.

I found this in the process of researching something else today (about which, more soon!)….courtesy of Tommy Roe and the Sixties…(be sure to read the description under the linked video***)

..which immediately put me in mind of David Johansen, the Dolls and the Seventies, starting a song with six fans in the audience and ending with eight (proof they could have made it, given enough time!) …So different in every respect….except the girls always sing along.

I mean, it literally could have been the same girl, seven years later.

It isn’t…but it could have been.

***Apologies! I’ve just been reminded that the link plays on the site rather than going to YouTube, the Play arrow actually plays the video on the site. To to to YouTube, just hover over “YouTube” and click that instead.

HOW THE SYSTEM REALLY WORKS…(Segue of the Day: 11/23/18)

…And why it never changes.

I spent Thanksgiving and Black Friday reading and listening to a cache of vinyl (heavy on Chet Atkins) which was given to me a couple of years ago and I hadn’t had time to absorb.

My reading yielded this:

“When corruption reaches the highest precincts of government, the protection mechanisms for the people who inhabit those precincts are so powerful that they are almost impenetrable…What we saw in Watergate and what we saw in Iran-contra and what we saw in October Surprise–we saw those defense mechanisms used to discredit honest politicians and honest journalists.”

(Former House of Representatives investigative attorney Spencer Oliver, whose phone was the one the Watergate spies were trying to tap when hey were caught, quoted in Trick or Treason: The 1980 October Surprise Mystery, Robert Parry, 1993)

Then, for a break, I caught up with my on-line dailies and found this,  which is a fifty-minute primer in how it works currently:

This makes me wish I had gone ahead and posted my take on the resignation of Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes last week. If I had, I could have touted my own insights and prescience. Anyway, this is what happened.

Republicans: If she resigns now, we won’t look into this too closely.

Democrats: She’s resigning.

To be honest, I previously capped corrupt votes (by Republican subtraction and Democrat addition) at around ten percent because, beyond that, you risk things getting out of hand.

I think things may have gotten out of hand.

Corruption works like that.

Boy, do I know how to have fun on the holidays!

IT ALL COMES ROUND AGAIN….(Segue of the Day: 10/17/18)

Two articles–one about the past (the 1968 we never walked away from), one about the present (the result of never walking away from 1968), that came to my attention in the last few days.

In case this one ends up behind a paywall, here’s a key quote, which nails a point I’ve been trying to make for a year-and-a-half:

Today, in a major historical irony, the dream of impeaching Trump has driven much of the Democratic Party into an uncritical embrace of the FBI and the CIA. The institutions that have conducted illegal surveillance of American citizens for decades have been suddenly transmuted into monuments of integrity.

(“Aquarius Rising,” Jackson Lears New York Review of Books 10/16/18)

Here’s the second article, which details the current crisis of our “monuments of integrity” with more clarity and complexity than I’ve seen elsewhere (and still only hints at the sea of corruption those monuments must be sunk in to have  made Donald Trump look like George Washington).

It’s not behind a pay wall, but it’s lengthy.  For those who don’t have time or inclination to read the whole thing, the key quote is here:

Initially not viewed with any real seriousness, Trump’s campaign was seen as an opportunistic wedge in the election process. At the same time, and particularly as the viability of his candidacy increased, Trump was seen as an existential threat to the established political system.

If you do choose to read the whole thing, just remember that this article contains about half the names you need to know in order to even have a chance of keeping up with what’s really gone down since the latter part of 2015.

As often happens in “advanced” societies the best chance our agents of corruption have of saving themselves lies in the sheer scope of their disdain for the laws they were supposed to uphold. When everybody breaks the law, nobody breaks the law. To bring them all to justice would literally mean tearing the system apart.

Look for an Ollie North/Scooter Libby-style scapegoat to emerge….(and, as in their cases, eventual rehabilitation–best bet at present is Andrew McCabe, but the odds bear watching).

Or you could just take the long view:

[NOTE: Thanks to Neal U. for alerting me to Lears’ article. Please read it in full if you can. I don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions (do I ever?), but his article is rare in addressing the Christian roots of American protest (and, unfortunately, all too common in failing to recognize how pulling away from those roots has made all subsequent progress a matter of executive order and judicial fiat, rather than popular will expressed through representative legislation. As the future rises to meet us, rest assured every one of the religious leaders Lears cites–including the slain one–knew the danger of building your house on sand.)]