Sunday, September 23, 2018

Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote (1972)

The image of Gordon Lightfoot on the cover of his Don Quixote album is that of the masculine troubadour, tassel-haired and bearded and looking confidently into the camera lens, as if he were posing for a cigarette ad.  Lightfoot presents himself, with guitar in hand, as a musician who is confident in his abilities as a singer and as a songwriter, someone who can stand his ground yet still display vulnerability.  
The songs on Don Quixote mirrors the pose.  Lightfoot opens with a title song celebrating the impractical Spanish nobleman who upholds the virtues of honor and bravery, the taut guitar adding extra tension, and he then proceeds with adventures of his own, through love, life and loss.  Songs such as "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)" and "Alberta Bound" paint loving portraits of Lightfoot's homeland of Canada,  while personal confessions such as "Looking At the Rain" and "Ordinary Man" display a sensible self-awareness of his feelings. 
The music throughout Don Quixote works to Lightfoot's advantage, with the arrangements centered around acoustic guitars and a light, subtle string section.  Together, they produce a low-key sound that brings out the nuances of each note and complement Lightfoot's assured vocals.  A romantic himself like Don Quixote, Lightfoot is not a hopeless one; his delivery is refreshingly devoid of sentiment, and he brings an unvarnished honesty to every lyric he sings, whether he's singing about family memories in the sprightly "Brave Mountaineers" or the evils of whaling in the somber "Ode To Big Blue."  It's that quality that allows him to sing ballads with the same sincerity as in his topical songs.  Who else but Lightfoot could sing a tender ballad like "Beautiful" without sounding mawkish?  Only Jim Croce could come close, but Lightfoot had the stronger voice between them.
Don Quixote closes with a song challenging the romanticism that permeates the album.  "The Patriot's Dream" is an epic antiwar song that reduces the enthusiasm of serving one's country in wartime to the biter, shattered dreams of the dead and their survivors.  More like a call to conscientiously object to fighting than to join the charge, it turns the glory of war on its end and leaves the listener thinking about just how fragile self-confidence and romantic aspirations can be.  Unlike Cervantes' self-appointed knight, this Don Quixote sees the world as it is, and Lightfoot reacts accordingly.  Chivalrous and strong though he may be, Lightfoot presents a vision in which even the bravest acknowledge their frailties and fears.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ford Tempo

Here's how the issue of Christine Blasey Ford's attempt to testify against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh  stand at this point.  After Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley set an arbitrary deadline for Mrs. Ford to agree to a time to testify and she and her attorney held out for demands to benefit her ability to present her case, the chairman kept setting the deadline further back.  And further back,.  And further back.  And so on and so on, until Mrs. Ford finally agreed to testify, and now she and her attorney are in the process of negotiating the particulars. 
What caused Grassley to be more accommodating? Probably Donald Trump's tweet in which he wanted to know why the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which would investigate Mrs. Ford's claims of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, didn't hear from the accuser in the early 1980s, when the assault was supposed to have taken place.  Once reminded that the FBI doesn't involve itself in sexual-assault cases involving people who have not been appointed to the judiciary due to the fact that they are teenagers, Trump then asked in a follow-up tweet why she and her "loving parents"  (his words) didn't report the assault to local authorities in Maryland, where Kavanaugh and Mrs. Ford lived.  Well - thousands if not millions have people who had been sexually assaulted took to Twitter to explain why they never reported cases of assault - because they involved family members, a star student, an employer . . . and fear of retribution was a common factor in all of these cases.  They feared not being believed or having the blame deflected to them if they were believed.
Nevertheless, the Senate Republican caucus seems hell-bent on getting Kavanaugh confirmed, and with a couple of renegade Democrats, they're likely to pull it off.  But Christine Blasey Ford can still pursue a case against Kavanaugh even if he makes it onto the Court, and what might ultimately happen is that Democrats can "Fortas" him.  I refer to what happened to former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. who in 1969 was shown to have accepted a $20,000 retainer and was believed to have entered into a tax evasion scheme with other judges.  Fortas resigned from the Court under pressure, rather than face lengthy impeachment proceedings, to save his family grief.  If Kavanaugh is confirmed and the charges against him don't go way, he could be forced off the Court like Fortas was, resigning to spare his wife and daughters further grief.
But then he'll have more time to devote to charity.
I've been led to understand that the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't do a good job the last time it looked into a sex scandal, when many of its members didn't take seriously Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in 1991.  The full Senate did a better job of that. Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52-48 - the highest negative vote ever received by a confirmed Supreme Court justice.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 21, 2018

"Workin' At the Car Wash Blues" by Jim Croce  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Sexy Sadie"

The first time I heard "Sexy Sadie," I thought John Lennon was singing about a glamorous movie actress, a Marilyn-type figure who "came along to turn on everyone."  The lyrics seem to indicate a dismissal of Hollywood-style superficiality, but it definitely expresses hostility toward idol-worship that the Beatles had trouble handling when they became idols themselves. The real target of John's hostility, however, was not a movie goddess (and, not even a woman).  It was, though, about someone everyone treated like a god - the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
John and George Harrison were the last two Beatles at the Maharishi's meditation course in the spring of 1968, Ringo Starr having left with his wife Maureen after three days because the food was too spicy and Paul having left with Jane Asher when he and Jane decided they'd gotten as much as he could out of the ashram.  Later, when someone charged that the Maharishi had made a sexual advance toward actress Mia Farrow, who attended the ashram with her siblings, the Beatles, Donovan and the Beach Boys' Mike Love, John left in disgust and convinced George to leave as well, even though George doubted the charge.  John had also come to believe that the Maharishi was really after the money of the Beatles and other celebrities, even though he didn't seem to be enjoying a hypocritical lifestyle with it.  When John told the guru that he, George and their wives were leaving, the Maharishi asked why.  "Well," John said, "if you're so cosmic, you'll know."
The Maharishi gave John such a furious look that it scared him.  
John wrote "Sexy Sadie" with the title "Maharishi" but changed the title and the gender of his target per George's insistence that he avoid libeling the guru in public.  (Sexy Sadie's true identity was only revealed after John's anger abated and he no longer needed to fear retribution from his protagonist.)  As a song, "Sexy Sadie" drips deliciously with anger,  the second-party verses claiming that the Maharishi had made fools of his followers and violated the ethics and responsibilities of his position.  John expresses hope that he gets what's coming to him.  John does give the Maharishi a back-handed compliment, crediting him for his timing - "the world was waiting just for you," just like they wait for any charlatan who comes along to "enlighten" them.  In the second bridge, John cleverly includes himself as one of the Maharishi's dupes, finding solidarity with those who had been ready to give the guru everything they had for his company; John is also uncharacteristically sympathetic toward any other followers of the Maharishi who may have felt cheated, in sharp contrast to the sneering contempt for Eastern cultists that Steely Dan would later voice in their 1973 single "Bodhisattva."  John's kiss of death? He tells his audience that the guru was "the greatest of them all."  Ah, sarcasm.
All  the while, though, John keeps people guessing who he's talking about, carefully avoiding any specific references that could unmask his object of derision.  Even today, neophyte Beatles fans just learning about the group could easily guess wrongly who Sexy Sadie is.
The music is the only clue to Sadie's identity. "Sexy Sadie" is carried by a tart piano riff with a gentle electric-guitar growl and a throbbing bass line. Ringo's drums deepen the tension with their precision.  John is clearly expressing musically what he isn't saying in literal verses.  As another laugh on the Maharishi, Paul and George provide fifties-style backing harmonies, and John concludes the second bridge with a Beach Boys-style falsetto.  Taunting Mike Love, are we?  More likely, John was, as Tim Riley insisted in his book "Tell Me Why," offering "the sting of the betrayal."

Crafting the song to sound like it's about someone else, though, proved to be the right call.  The presentation of "Sexy Sadie" as a song about a woman allowed John to vent and move on, and the Maharishi was able to move on as well. The song can be appreciated as a clever critique . . . not necessarily as a song against the Maharishi, but as an example of how to write a critical song about someone - anyone - without causing lasting resentment and without being too overtly personal.  And,  it's still effective as a cautionary tale against idol-worship.  However, controversy over what motivated Lennon's disillusionment with the guru would remain, as the sexual-misconduct charge against the Maharishi still lingers. George Harrison dismissed the charge that the Maharishi had made a sexual advance toward Mia Farrow (above, with the guru), but Mia Farrow herself was reported to have confirmed the charge.  As the report came from the gossip Web site Page Six in 2014, though, the accuracy of the story is quite suspect.  But the Maharishi's reputation managed to recover and survive over time.  Paul has always valued the experience of learning Transcendental Meditation, and he renewed his friendship with the Maharishi in 2007, a year before the guru's death.  Farrow's sister Prudence and the Beach Boys' Mike Love, who finished the 1968 course, remain devoted followers of Transcendental Meditation. The Maharishi himself was never angry at any of the Beatles, saying, "I could never be upset with angels."
Unknowingly, Mia Farrow would be continuously associated with sexual harassment and sexual abuse, regardless of what actually happened back in 1968.  She would weather a very public and very nasty breakup with Woody Allen when he began having a relationship with their adopted daughter, and the son they sired together, Ronan Farrow, would become the leading sexual-misconduct investigative reporter of his day.  (Ronan Farrow's most recent coup is a news story taking down CBS executive Les Moonves and, indirectly,  "60 Minutes" producer Jeff Fager.)
The Beatles wrote a good deal of songs with feminine-name titles on the White Album that became the songs of and for women with those names; girls and women named Prudence, Martha and Julia likely smile when they hear them.  But if your name happens to be Sadie, I feel so freakin' sorry for you.
You'll get yours yet.    

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Nineties Nostalgia

Out on the road yesterday, I didn't see a Grateful Dead sticker on a Cadillac, but I did see a pro-Clinton (as in our 42nd President) sticker on a Mini Cooper.  It was from the Clinton Presidential Center and it simply said, "I miss Bill."
Where was the little voice in that motorist's head saying, "Don't look back, you can never look back?"     
I don't miss Bill Clinton.  I don't miss him because the better, happier more civilized America I was expecting from his election to the Presidency in 1992 never materialized - no universal health care, no improved public transit, no improvements in education, an economy that did nothing to narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and a Republican Congress that mostly ignored all that.  In fact, apart from the lack of a sex scandal and a six-year Democratic Senate, the Obama administration was the exact same way!    
Democrats ought to be looking forward, but they're so dressed to the nineties that they can't help but look back at good old days that weren't as good as they look in retrospect.  I can understand their nostalgia for 1992 - after all, that was the year of one of the few elections in recent history where Democrats won everything.  But I can't understand why they acted out their nostalgia by nominating the other Clinton for President in 2016.
Did they really think that Hillary could re-create the 1990s - the decade before 9/11, before the financial crisis, the decade before the opioid-addiction epidemic, the hollowing out of so many towns in the heartland that weren't in all that great shape back in the nineties to begin with?  Did they really think we could go back to the Clinton years by putting another Clinton in the White House?  Oh wait, both Clintons would have been back in the White House, with the same co-presidency approach they took between 1993 and 2001.  The memes showing Bill Clinton in front of the White House with the words "I'm moving back in!" that showed up on Facebook before his wife lost to Donald Trump sum up the misguided nostalgia of the Hillbots.  These people were more annoying than rock fans who still hoped for a Beatles reunion concert even after John Lennon's death.   
So before anyone suggests that we can bring back the nineties, let me remind you of a few things:

  • Kurt Cobain is dead.
  • Janet Evans isn't coming out of retirement.
  • Arsenio Hall doesn't have a late-night talk show anymore, and Jerry Seinfeld isn't rebooting his sitcom.

So let's move forward and concentrate on what's at stake in 2020.  In the meantime, go to a Foo Fighters show, be sure to root for Katie Ledecky at the next Olympics, and watch Stephen Colbert.  And "Murphy Brown" is getting rebooted; at least there's that.     

Monday, September 17, 2018

When The Levee Breaks

The remnants of Hurricane Florence are expected to reach my area late tonight into tomorrow, and even though we'll get a lot of rain and maybe a thunderstorm, it won't be nearly as bad as what people in the Carolinas have been getting from the storm in its full fury.  And Trump is reacting to this catastrophic hurricane by bitching about the reports surrounding the last catastrophic hurricane.  He's trying to deny that three thousand people - about the same number of people that perished on 9/11 - died in Puerto Rico as a result of the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria.  The government is only beginning to deal with Florence, and Trump is responding to the last storm as if he were fighting the last war.
The dam is breaking, and I'm not talking about the Santee Dam holding back Lake Marion in South Carolina.  I'm talking about Trump's "Presidency."  Trump has had to deal with Paul Manafort confessing to every campaign finance violation he's been charged with, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is dealing with allegations of sexual harassment dating back to - really - his high school years.  (Kavanaugh tries to present himself as a nice guy, but how is this possible with a charge like this?)  Kavanaugh is facing charges from one Christine Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California who claims that he assaulted her so had that he could have killed her by mistake.
Oh dear . . .. Despite all that, Kavanaugh may still have the votes in the Senate (courtesy of a power-hungry Republican caucus) to squeak through and get on the Court, but he could be forced out once on the Court by the Me Too movement, and hopefully they'll also take out Clarence Thomas in the process.  All of this pressure on Trump's associations and his attempts to bend the will of the judicial system to his own is only making it more likely that the Democrats are going to win back the House in the 2018 midterms . . . and possibly the Senate.
And Trump wants to re-litigate Maria?
When the levee breaks, America will be a far different country than it is today. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Beatles - Rock n' Roll Music (1976)

Don't look for this 1976 Beatles double compilation album in one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar record stores left unless it sells rare vinyl releases; it has never been issued on compact disc or in any other digital format.  But its existence serves as an example of both how and how not to present the Beatles' music in new anthologies.
Released in both Britain and America, Rock n' Roll Music was the first Beatles compilation assembled by EMI after the group's 1967 contract expired and Apple Corps' record label went into hibernation.  It's an interesting hybrid of the group's heavier original numbers and their harder-edged covers of American rock and roll and R&B tunes, aimed at two phenomena of the mid-seventies - AOR radio and the fifties nostalgia craze, the latter having been sparked in America by TV's "Happy Days" and the Broadway musical Grease (soon to be a movie).  But, while EMI may have had some jumbled idea of presenting the Beatles as a bridge between the rock and roll of their own youth and the hard rock and heavy metal of the 1970s, the idea doesn't quite come off.
The music is more or less presented chronologically, opening with "Twist and Shout," originally recorded as an album closer, and including Lennon-McCartney songs such as "I Saw Her Standing There, "I Call Your Name," and "Any Time At All," songs that contained some of the toughest playing and the hottest licks the Beatles got in the moptop years. Covers from fifties performers such as Chuck Berry (including "Rock and Roll Music," the compilation's putative title track), Little Richard and Larry Williams dominate this record, though - side two is nothing but covers - and the overall effect suggests that the Beatles were primarily a fifties nostalgia band in their early years, with their AOR-friendly tracks from the late 1960s getting short shrift.              
In the end, Rock n' Roll Music was pure product, its attempt to cash in on the fifties craze of the time made all the more obvious by artist Ignacio Gomez's garish LP-sleeve artwork, from the silver-metallic chrome backdrop and neon-light lettering to the gatefold's depiction of Eisenhower-era artifacts such as a 1957 Chevrolet and Coca-Cola in an iconic Coke glass.  The artwork nauseated both the Beatles (who, being British, did not have the same teen experience in the fifties that their American counterparts enjoyed) and Beatles fans.  The hideous thumbs on the sleeve suggest that the Beatles were there for anyone to take in their own hands and recycle any way they wanted.  
This is a shame, because a hard-rock-oriented Beatles compilation, with a different track list that contained more originals and featured different artwork (John Lennon even offered to design a cover for this compilation but was refused), would have been a more durable collection.  The album did have some good points - it featured the entire contents of the British EP Long Tall Sally (marking the first time they appeared on an LP in Britain), it marked the debut of "I'm Down" on an LP in either Britain or America, and George Martin remixed the 28 songs here to given them a meatier sound.  One of its tracks, "Got To Get You Into My Life," even became a hit single in America in 1976, leading many unsuspecting Top 40 radio listeners to think they were listening to the latest Paul McCartney and Wings single.  But while Rock n' Roll Music (which was deleted just a few years after it was issued) made money for EMI, the lesson here is that a Beatles compilation should be driven by integrity as much as by profit.  Otherwise, it's likely to become just as much a relic from the past as chrome-laden sweet shops and big cars.      

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Judas Priest, It's Martin O'Malley!

It's September 2018, and even though Martin O'Malley is working diligently to help Democrats win public office in the coming state legislative and congressional elections, and even though he's possibly laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run in the process, establishment Democrats and pundits continue to laugh at him, joking that he won't let lack of interest in his existence stop him from undistinguishing himself with another presidential campaign.
It's time to turn things up a notch or two.
I propose that the campaign song for the possible 2020 O'Malley presidential campaign be "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" by Judas Priest.
Why?  Because, as O'Malley knows, it's foolish to sit back as the world goes by, and that's the message "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" conveys, its lyrics urging listeners to go out and get what they can and prepare to fight hard for it - 'cause it's a case of do or die.  And there ain't room for second best, so if Martin O'Malley is going to overcome the naysayers and the snark, well, that's right, here's where the talkin' ends - and listen, in this presidential campaign, there'll be some action spent. Out there is the White House, waiting to be had. You think O'Malley will let it go, you're mad! You've got another thing coming, and it's coming down on you!
O'Malley has to put down his acoustic guitar and pick up an electric one - preferably a Schceter V-1 like this one.
"But Steve," you're saying, "O'Malley has to appeal to young people who like rap and dance pop, a song like this from a pasty-faced British heavy-metal band is no way to get their votes!"  Screw it.  He needs a loud and offensive song to get people's attention and show that he means business.  Besides, Hillary Clinton's use of songs like "Brave" and "Fight Song" in the 2016 campaign was so lame.  If we're going to get people revved up, we gotta use a record associated with a spiked-leather-clad dude like Rob Halford!
Real strong, got me some security!
This should be our fight song.  I also like the title of the Judas Priest album this song came from, as it describes what O'Malley supporters who got dumped on from all corners in 2016 are doing now - Screaming For Vengeance.


The answer now is don't give in, aim for a new tomorrow. ;)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 14, 2018

"Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

One of the shorter songs on the Beatles' White Album, "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" takes the prize for having the longest title of any Beatles song - ten words.  The lyrics describe transitional, even transcendental experiences by going deeper and flying higher, and being inverted in and out, out and in.  Some people assumed that "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," written primarily by John Lennon, was about a drug high, particularly heroin.  There have even been a couple of suggestions that John based "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" on a lecture from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi about letting oneself go.  But the source of the song's inspiration, is ironically, an unflattering caricature of that inspiration.
According to one source, John was shown a cartoon depicting himself with Yoko Ono represented as a monkey literally on John's back, digging her claws into him and draining him of his creative talent.  He responded that at least he and Yoko had nothing to hide from anyone, living their lives in public as they were.  He then made a jokey offhand remark about the cartoon - "Everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey!" - and so came up with the idea for the song.  
The Maharishi did inspire one lyric in "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey;" the words "Come on is such a joy" was a catchphrase that the Maharishi enjoyed saying.  (In fact, the song was almost called "Come On, Come On.") 
John explained the carefree, nonchalant lyrics of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" in 1980, when he said that the song was about him and Yoko.  "Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love," he said.  "Everything is clear and open when you're in love. Everybody was sort of tense around us: you know, 'What is she doing here at the session? Why is she with him?' All this sort of madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time."
Indeed, Yoko had become a distraction at the recording sessions for the White Album.  John brought her to the studio, introduced her to the other Beatles, and he made it clear that she was his guest and that she was free to stick around, because the two of them wanted to be together.  The other Beatles grew to resent this, especially when Yoko made innocent suggestions to them regarding their playing.  But they tolerated her as best they could, knowing that she made John happy and deciding it was a small price to pay . . . until the price increased as Yoko became more intrusive.  But not necessarily because of anything she did, but because she just . . . was.
Not everyone at Abbey Road agreed that Yoko was a nuisance.  "The nice thing about working with John and Yoko," EMI engineer Jeff Jarratt said about a separate recording session he did with them for one of their experimental albums, "was seeing just how much in love they were.  They had a fantastic relationship, even though they took a lot of 'stick' for it."
The music of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" is as freewheeling as the words are.  John starts off the band with a strident chord but then leads the Beatles in a rollicking, energetic guitar groove, and each of the three verses ends with a brief but pointed guitar solo, a heavy cowbell making the song all the more infectious throughout.  The song drifts into a loose, percussive interlude with the Beatles getting carried away with repeatedly singing "Come on, come on " - no doubt enjoying the memories of recording "Please Please Me" - before Paul McCartney's bass takes command to lead the music into a great guitar groove to set up the fade-out, which Tim Riley, in his book "Tell Me Why," describes better than I could.  "The repeated groove they brand into the end of the song," he wrote, "goes around six times, instead of the usual four or eight, and it makes the return of the original verse texture startlingly swift and powerful.  The six-time groove dams up the energy of the entire song; and when it bursts open,  the band comes through with irrepressible force, cowbell clanging like gangbusters."
Indeed.
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" captures the Beatles having pure, unadulterated fun with their music.  It; all the more ironic that the wellspring of this fun - the song's muse - was giving three of the Beatles so much consternation.
More cowbell! :-D
(Note: Fats Domino covered "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." Yes, John loved his version.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

No Irish (Or Other White) Guys Need Apply

Somewhere along the way, the Democratic Party came to bear an unsettling resemblance to twenty-first-century popular music; there's little if any room for white guys with guitars.
There ain't much room for white guys without guitars, either.  Joe Biden notwithstanding, the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 are white women and people of color, as if the Democratic Party base decided that another white-boy nominee is as old-fashioned and as offensive as classic-rock radio.  And that's not good news for someone like Martin O'Malley, who had enough trouble being taken seriously as a presidential contender back in 2016.  This past week, at the utterly pointless Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats grilled the Supreme Court nominee over his views and his past in the George Walker Bush White House, and though white guys like Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Durbin of Illinois joined in the fun, Cory Booker and New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California  were the top grandstanders.  Their high-profile questioning of the hapless Kavanaugh, though, had less to do with undermining his confirmation - which is going to happen, boys and girls, and as he is my age, Kavanaugh will be on the Court for as long as both of us are on this planet - than with shoring up their presidential ambitions.
O'Malley is shoring up his own presidential ambitions by building up the party with his Win Back Your State PAC - doing the work the Democratic National Committee should have been doing for the past decade - but no one seems to care in part because he's a white guy.  And even had he been elected to the Senate from Maryland in 2016 (which was a possibility open to him) and were on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilling his fellow Irish Catholic homey Kavanaugh with the same gusto as Booker or Harris, his race and his sex would likely still have disqualified him for the Presidency among the "political correctness" (PC) crowd in the Democratic base.  Not to mention his religion, as the Church isn't very popular these days thanks to the ongoing sex-abuse scandal.  His guitar hobby, of course, is the ultimate deal-breaker among EDM-loving progressives.  Even his Irishness, an Irishness as deep as and as obvious as any Irish pol since John F. Kennedy or Richard J. Daley - maybe more so,  since neither Kennedy nor Daley were known for reading Yeats or singing a Clancy Brothers tune in public - doesn't inoculate him from charges of being too white.
And this disinterest in white guys among Democrats doesn't stop with the Presidency.  I have already noted the fall of Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY) in a U.S. House primary to Puerto Rican progressive challenger Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez this past June.  Last week, in Massachusetts, Democratic Italian-American Representative Mike Capuano, who is as far to the left as any Democrat in Congress today, and holds the House seat once occupied by John F. Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, and Kennedy's nephew Joe Kennedy II, lost his primary to black female Democrat Ayanna Pressley.  His failure? Simply being a non-Hispanic white guy in a district in which non-Hispanic whites are now outnumbered by everyone else.  Pressley said it was time for the district to have someone who looked like the majority of its constituents representing them in Congress, though by that criterion, Barack Obama should never have been President because a white majority still held nationwide in the span of his two terms.  But there's very little logic in identity politics, in which the conversation topic switches from something that concerns all of us, like infrastructure and health care, to something that only concerns some of us.  I reiterate: Take care of the issues affecting all of is, and the issues that affect some of us will take care of themselves. Universal health care means equal health care for everyone, be it white men, black women, or the children they sire together. ;-)
And again: If either Jack or Bobby Kennedy were alive today, they could never win the Democratic presidential nomination thanks to the narrow-mindedness of the party's PC crowd.  Though, I have to admit that this whole thing about presidential candidates reflecting the Democrats' and the country's "diversity" has a powerful appeal, especially when you realize that buttons from the campaign of the last successful white male Democratic presidential candidate are more than twenty years old.
No, white guys will never experience the discrimination other people do, but does that make Clarence Thomas a worthier Supreme Court justice than Stephen Breyer?  Or Tim Scott a better senator than Sherrod Brown?  I'd like to think that a white guy like Martin O'Malley has something to offer that can make America sane again, like all-payer health care or modernizing Amtrak - or even his green-energy plan and how to make environmentally friendly energy profitable . . . and give the term "green energy" a double meaning.
And though my shared Irish heritage with O'Malley has long motivated me to support his presidential ambitions - identity politics of my own, I'm not going to lie, that's a part of it - I am supporting his presidential ambitions for 2020 for the same reason I supported them in 2016 and for the same reason I voted for Barack Obama in the New Jersey presidential primary in 2008.  That is, I'm simply supporting the person I feel is the best candidate for the Presidency.  No one else impresses me, and that includes Joe Biden. I gotta tell you, though, I don't like the idea of a honky like me being written off by the Democratic base just because he's a honky.  The Democratic Party doesn't care about me because I'm a white male, and the Republican Party doesn't want me because I'm a liberal - my oh my, what is a white male liberal to do?  And I'm just a voter.
On the other hand, in Delaware, white male Democratic Senator Tom Carper just successfully fended off a primary challenge from a black female opponent in his bid for re-election.  And in Texas, white male Democrat Robert "Beto" O'Rourke is within striking distance of unseating not-Latino-enough incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.  Both of which I take to mean that some Democrats aren't ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Deliverance

Burt Reynolds, who died last week at 82, was a better actor than movie critics (honorable exception: Roger Ebert) believed he was.  He was better than even he believed he was, if if you look at the interchangeable car-chase roles he accepted.  But had Reynolds been more careful in selecting movie roles, he might have become a legend in the pantheon of legendary stars like Bogart and Gable, not just the biggest box office draw of his time, i.e., the 1970s.
I'd like to point to two Reynolds movies to support my argument.  One is 1972's Deliverance, about four Atlanta businessmen who go on a whitewater-rapids trip before dam project on the river floods the valley to create a lake.  Reynolds played one of the four friends - Lewis Medlock, a bow-and-arrow enthusiast.  As products of the New South - a New South achieving cultural and economic parity with the North through infrastructure projects like the dam and through economic investment - the friends encounter the Old South in the form of mountain men who try to sodomize two of the friends until Lewis kills one of them with a bow and arrow but lets the other escape.  They bury the dead man in what will be the bed of a lake - the perfect cover -  but their efforts to continue down the rapids while being stalked by the surviving mountain man force them to descend to the barbarism of the Old South.  Four men begin the trip, but only three return . . . and if I write any more about it, I'll spoil it for you.  But Deliverance, in which Reynolds gave a masterful performance, demonstrates how the civilized, enlightened New South can't escape the history of the Old South.  Deliverance, which was originally a novel by James Dickey (who also wrote the movie's screenplay), is the American equivalent of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."
The other movie, 1978's The End, showed Reynolds' ability to direct a movie as well as handle black comedy, as he plays Sonny, an unscrupulous real estate promoter who attempts suicide after learning he has a fatal blood disease and deciding he'd like to go quickly.  Saved from dying, he's taken to a mental institution, where a fellow patient named Marlon (Dom DeLuise, a common Reynolds sidekick), a deranged schizophrenic murderer, volunteers to help Sonny end it all, with hilarious consequences.  (One of the best scenes is where Marlon recognizes Sonny from his TV commercials selling lakefront property, and Sonny says, "You didn't buy any property there, did you?  I swear there was a lake!" :-D )         
I regret that I haven't seen Starting Over and Sharky's Machine, two more Reynolds movies that his fans say make the case for his abilities as an actor, though I highly recommend 1989's Breaking In, where he plays a burglar teaching a young burglar the tricks of his trade.  A good actor who could have been a great one, Reynolds still left us a view great movies to consider, both once and anew.  Although, of course, the original Smokey and the Bandit from 1977 will remain a perennial favorite among many Reynolds fans, especially those who fondly remember the Firebird Trans Am of those days.  Reynolds drove that movie's Trans Am to glory.  RIP.     

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Manassas - Down the Road (1973)

The parallels between the careers of Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills, both born in 1945, are uncanny.  Both guitarists/singers became famous in playing in bands that lasted two years (Cream and Buffalo Springfield, respectively), both joined supergroups in 1969 (Blind Faith and Crosby, Stills and Nash, respectively), both found themselves making their debut solo albums at the beginning of the seventies (with each one making an appearance on the other's record!), and both formed their own bands - Stills forming Manassas and Clapton forming Derek and the Dominos.  And, the debut albums of both of those bands were double sets recorded at Criterion Studios in Miami and engineered by Ron and Howard Albert. But after one Derek and the Dominos album, Clapton scrapped a follow-up when he realized he couldn't do any better.  Stills and his partner in Manassas, former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers member Chris Hillman, went ahead and made a second Manassas album.
They shouldn't have.  Really, they shouldn't have.
Down the Road is a sloppy, hastily composed and recorded follow-up that proves that traditional music drawing on rock, country, Latin and blues can still be worse than overproduced music played on synthesizers.  The music on Down the Road is a series of jams as appetizing as undercooked strawberry preserves, and the songs are lyrically embarrassing, especially on lame rockers like "City Junkies" and "Business On the Street."  The title track is simply annoying, with vocals that almost sound like a fingernail on a chalkboard (it could have been worse; the vocals could have sounded like ten fingernails), and Latin workouts like "Pensamiento" and "Guaguancó de Veró" show none of the imagination that Stills and Hillman brought to "Rock and Roll Crazies / Cuban Bluegrass," which is on the first Manassas album.  Indeed, they sound like a cliché of Latin music, much like Madonna's 1986 hit "La Isla Bonita" would. There, I said it; I just accused Stills and Hillman of making a record as embarrassing as a single from pop music's worst female singer of all time.
Stills later admitted that that drink and drugs interfered with the quality of Down the Road, and the Albert brothers gave up on this album before it was finished.  "I short-circuited there for awhile," Stills said.  Perhaps he should have remembered the cardinal rule of his better-known outfit, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and just gone on to something else when Manassas didn't feel right.  Ironically, Manassas members knew, as drummer Dallas Taylor later noted, that as long as a regrouping of Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young) was always a possibility, Manassas didn't stand a chance.
There are a couple of good songs on Down the Road, such as the delicate Hillman-Stills country lament "So Many Times" and also "Do You Remember the Americans," a bluegrass commentary about a hitchhiker back in the United States after years away from home (presumably a Vietnam vet) who can't get a ride from the truckers who pass him.  And guest artist Joe Walsh contributed some mean slide guitar on this album.  But it's obvious that Stephen Stills' best work is found elsewhere.  Manassas started out as great project for Stills, but Down the Road is a second battle that shouldn't have been fought.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Crazy

Bob Woodward couldn't have picked a better time to release a book about Donald Trump's White House as the midterm elections get underway.  His new book "Fear: Trump In the White House" depicts a President that acts on impulse, needs adult supervision, and constantly has to be saved from himself when he tries to undermine trade deals and mutual defense pacts or tries to do things like assassinate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.  Many of this orders have gone ignored, hidden from his  view, or kept from his attention to prevent a third world war involving Third World countries.
But Republicans are obviously too busy shepherding Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court to care. 
While this is going on, a White House aide has written an anonymous piece in the op-ed section of the New York Times saying that, while he or she is committed to helping Trump acheive the goals of deregulation, a stronger military, and lower taxes, he/she and others have thwarted Trump in his efforts to have friendlier relations with dictators and undermine trade agreements with like-minded allies.
"We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous," this anonymous writer says of himself/herself and like-minded Trump staffers.  "But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic . . .. The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."
Gutsy, yes, but hardly a profile in courage when you remember that this person doesn't want to be identified and has indicated no interest in taking responsibility for helping to instigate what he/she calls a "two-track Presidency."   As former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta  said this week, staffers should be more forthcoming in trying to maintain the ship of state, he said, and staffers aren't supposed to run the country - the President is.
"When you have a President in the United States elected by the people, and at the same time have a staff who believe that this President, for whatever reason, is not exercising the right kind of judgment, that situation cannot exist," Panetta told PBS. "That is an issue that, very frankly, I believe the leadership in the Congress has a responsibility to look at and determine what is happening, because we cannot allow that situation to continue. It puts the country at risk."
This makes Trump look all the more worse as the midterm campaigns get underway.  The White House has been turned into what one staff member calls "Crazytown," and unless House Speaker Paul Ryan - who is retiring in January - and House Republican leader Mitch McConnell intervene, the GOP will lose the House and possibly lose the Senate as election campaigns tighten up.  The midterms are two months away.  Right now, though, I wonder if the country can hold out that long.
Brett Kavanaugh will likely be around longer.     

Friday, September 7, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 7, 2018

"Mind Games" by John Lennon  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Mother Nature's Son"

Wait a minute!  Side three of the Beatles' White Album is the hard-rock side, the side that inspired the rock and roll of the 1970s.  Songs like "Birthday" and "Yer Blues" were part of the soundtrack of every long-haired, bell-bottomed American kid in the seventies who ever played air guitar while standing in front of a full-length mirror.  So what's a light folk-pop tune doing here?
"Mother Nature's Son" (interpreted by this illustration from artist James Lloyd) is a wonderful song, but its placement on the White Album amidst the LP's heavier numbers is an anomaly, to say the least; coming across this song on side three is like finding a humble Fiat 500 parked in a lot full of Ferraris.  I sometimes wonder if John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Martin, who decided the White Album's running order, should have made the rocker "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?" the third track on side three and "Mother Nature's Son" the seventh track on side two, instead of the other way around.  Had they done so, side two would have been 23 minutes, 45 seconds long and side three would have been 21 minutes, 35 seconds long - thus, both sides would still have been between 20 and 25 minutes long, per the rule of thumb that Martin and the two Beatles set for each side of the White Album.  Both songs would have corresponded to the overall structures of the two sides had they been switched.  (For the record,  side two is 22 minutes, 38 seconds long and side three is 22 minutes, 43 seconds long - a mere five seconds apart - so they at least balance out time-wise.)
Whatever the reason "Mother Nature's Son" is where it is on the White Album, it actually works to provide a moment of tranquility in the midst of some of the Beatles' stormiest music, offering a respite before the next round of heavy rock.  Paul imagines himself here not as the literal offspring of Mother Nature herself but as one of her many children.  He was inspired both by Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" and by a lecture from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, both about embracing nature and living as one with it.
The acoustic guitar sets the scene of a bucolic landscape with gentle breezes, and Paul's lyrics accentuate the feel with a reference to a stream running through the mountains, visions of fields and wild daisies, and a desire to share songs with all of humanity. The music is embellished with a soft brass section and a timpani and bass drum, adding to the bliss.  Paul, in an experimental mood (he recorded "Wild Honey Pie" during the session for "Mother Nature's Son"), had the drums placed in the corridor outside the studio and recorded them with the microphones at the far end of the hall for an open effect.
"Mother Nature's Son" is all about the good vibrations of living in the natural world, and its effect was immediately felt by the studio engineers who worked on the track, and one of them, technical engineer Alan Brown, has fond memories of both the session and the song.  Brown recalled how enchanting it was to hear such a song on a quiet night in the studio, and he gave Paul high marks for his lyrics, especially the lyric "Find me in my field of grass."  "It has a completeness about it," he said in 1988.  "It isn't any old field, it's a field of grass.  We were all moved by it."
Except for the brass section, Paul recorded "Mother Nature's Son" solo.  When John and Ringo walked in on the session, their presence replaced the good vibes with a tense, dreadful feeling, but, according to engineer Ken Scott, the tension disappeared when they walked out (this was two days before Ringo walked out on the Beatles completely) after ten minutes and everything felt great again.  "It was very bizarre," Scott recalled.  Ironically, John and Ringo would help Paul record "I Will" less than a month later in a similarly relaxed atmosphere. 
One would expect John Lennon to dismiss this song as one of Paul's "nice little folk songs" for the "grannies" to enjoy, since he once said that Paul was as good as John Denver at coming up with such a tune - especially after Denver himself (above) covered "Mother Nature's Son" in 1972.  In fact, Lennon was inspired by the Maharishi's lecture about embracing nature to write his own song - "Child of Nature," which, as evidenced in demo form, has the same idyllic feel and the same warm embrace as "Mother Nature's Son," and it shows how John and Paul were still in sync with each other musically and spiritually even when they were growing apart personally.  The Beatles never recorded it - possibly because "Mother Nature's Son" was deemed superior - and John, who never recorded "Child of Nature" professionally for his solo records, later wrote his song "Jealous Guy" (on the 1971 LP Imagine) to its melody.
Did the Beatles make the right call?  Should "Child of Nature" have been on the White Album instead?  Listen to John's demo of his song and judge for yourself.


Both songs are superb, and, as the song that made it on White Album, "Mother Nature's Son" is a poignant reminder, in this day of social cynicism and environmental degradation, that we really should get ourselves back to the garden.     

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Going to Florence

I'm headed for Italy? Ha ha ha, in my dreams!
No, alas, I'm talking about a tropical storm out in the Atlantic that one computer projection says could become a major hurricane and stay out to sea or end up being a weaker storm that makes landfall somewhere - anywhere - in the East Coast.  This storm is nine days out should the latter projection be true, so there's no way to figure out which solution is right.
But one projection - the Canadian one (ha ha ha!) - has it coming right up the coast once it reaches the North Carolina Outer Banks! 
It looks like I'm going to be on edge for the next few days as Florence makes its way across the ocean.  Right now there's no plausible scenario for this storm making landfall where I live, but that could change.  Some people are already suggesting that this could be Sandy Mark Two.  If it were to strike the Northeast, it would be around next Thursday or Friday.
To paraphrase a classic-rock lyric, I'll be praying 'til next Thursday to all the gods that you can count.
So what does it mean for my blog - particularly my White Album commentary posts?  Well, I can write them in advance (I already do, actually) and schedule them to be published should lack of electrical power prevent me from publishing them myself.  I just won't be able to promote them on social media until I get my electricity back.  My Music Video Of the Week feature?  I might have to suspend that.  One way or another, I hope to keep my blog going in some fashion.  For now, I wait nervously.  Just as I did every September - and October - for the past few years.
Brett Kavanaugh?  Please, one headache at a time . . .

Monday, September 3, 2018

Election 2018: Game On

After numerous setbacks involving his cronies and John McCain's beautifully orchestrated funeral - orchestrated by McCain himself - Donald Trump finds himself staring at his worst poll numbers in over a year - a Washington Post/ABC News poll gives him a 60 percent presidential disapproval rating and a mere 36 percent approval rating.
I'm curious about the 4 percent of poll respondents who have no opinion!
Right now, All signs point to a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House in November, though it's not certain how big the Democratic House majority in the next Congress will be.  The real action will be in state legislative elections and gubernatorial elections, and the biggest governor's race is shaping up in Florida, where progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is black, is going against Trump Republican Ron DeSantis.             
DeSantis has wasted no time in portraying Gillum's liberal agenda as dangerous for the state, but he's also wasted no time in fighting dirty.  He warned Floridians that Gillum sounds articulate while advocating for his policies, which most blacks hear as a backhanded remark from racist whites who find it astonishing that black people are able to speak the king's English and have a high intelligence.
Of course, it's easy to interpret DeSantis's remark as a warning to centrist and conservative Florida voters not to be taken in by Gillum's rhetorical ability to present a liberal governing policy as if it were mainstream (actually, it is; more about that in a moment) - that is, one could assume that he's less concerned with Gillum's dark brown skin than he is with his silver tongue.  But no one could possibly misinterpret What DeSantis said next - that a Gillum governorship could "monkey up" Florida.
This was clearly a racist comment.  DeSantis aides quickly came out and said that "monkey it up" is an expression DeSantis came up with himself that isn't meant to have racial connotations, but no one is buying it.  I've invented my own expressions, like the wholesome "No kidding, Kojak!" to use instead of the more vulgar "No sh--, Sherlock!"  But when I describe someone causing something to go wrong, I usually say that someone "screwed it up," fouled it up," or whatever.  "But "monkey it up"?  Uh, no.
The monkey here is the one on DeSantis's back - that of bigotry.
As for Gillum's policies . . . look, he's talking about expanding health insurance to everyone, improving education, making the wealthy pay for it . . . all actually quite mainstream positions.  Not that establishment Democrats have ever cared to notice; they've been too busy trying to move to the center for the past quarter century and getting their rear ends handed to them at the ballot box, both in Florida and elsewhere.  This makes it all the more crucial that Gillum wins in November.  Phil Murphy's 2017 gubernatorial victory in New Jersey attracted zero interest outside the state because New Jersey is so heavily Democratic it would have elected a ficus plant to succeed Chris Christie so long as it was a Democrat.  Florida is a swing state - a state that can go either way not just in presidential elections but in any statewide election - where a Democratic victory would mean something. Not that that there have been that many Democratic victories in Florida; as I noted last week, the state's Democratic Party is on death's door, holding neither house of the state legislature and possibly losing a U.S. Senate seat this fall.    Also, Florida Democrats have lost all of the five most recent gubernatorial elections there, manly by nominating squishy centrists (including, ironically, former Republican governor - and now Democratic congressman - Charlie Crist).  Gillum is running for governor as something different, and I'm not talking about his race.  He's offering a bold, progressive, social democratic agenda that could re-invigorate the party, get the masses to finally vote for their own interests, and also carry Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to victory on Gillum's coattails.  But if he loses, Democrats will likely learn the wrong lesson and try to keep the party in the center - a center defined by the Republican right.
Andrew Gillum not only can win the governorship of Florida. He must win the governorship of Florida.  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Middle-Class Playwright

Neil Simon, who died last week, was to the theater what Woody Allen is to the movies and what Paul Simon (no relation!) is to popular music - a spokesman of New York Jewish angst who tapped into the psyche of a generation of Americans, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or geographical background, who reached their goals in life and found something wanting.  He wrote plays about the prosperous middle class and their various hangups and disappointments, often to find great comedy in their exploits, from the newly married couple second-guessing their union in Barefoot in the Park to the entrapped middle-aged executive in The Prisoner of Second Avenue.  He brought that same talent to original movie screenplays, one of the best examples being his script for the 1977 Herbert Ross film The Goodbye Girl, focusing on two mismatched performing artists forced to share an apartment while trying to make it in the highly competitive New York theater world.  Simon's plays and movie scripts left you rooting for these flawed but  likable characters, with so much wry dialogue and sharp observations - the sort of writing actors live for and the sort of work anyone who ever tried to write a play (myself included!) wished they could produce.  No one else could ever be Neil Simon; that position was already taken.
His best work ever was his 1965 Broadway play The Odd Couple, a hilarious tale of two divorced men - one an uptight neat-freak, the other a laid-back slob - trying to share a an apartment without driving each other crazy.  The cohabitation of these two longtime friends plays out like a marriage, with all of the irony that applies.  By the time the story is over, Felix the neat-freak has become more relaxed, while the easygoing Oscar suddenly discovers the value of cleanliness.  Thought this one joke made for a decent sitcom in the early 1970s with Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar, it was Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who respectively played Felix and Oscar in the 1968 movie version, who delivered the definitive portrayals of these characters.  (Matthau originated the role of Oscar in the original Broadway production, opposite Art Carney as Felix; Klugman would replace Matthau on Broadway before reprising the role on TV.)  No two actors than Lemmon and Matthau were better suited for the play that became Simon's Mona Lisa, his defining masterpiece, with its wit, its humor, its pathos, and its display of brotherly love between two mismatched but very human friends, brought to vibrant life on the screen by Simon's longtime professional collaborator, director Gene Saks.  If you see only one movie with either an original Neil Simon screenplay or a Simon screenplay adapted from one of his plays, this is it.  
Sadly, Simon's work may seem passé to today's middle class, no longer materially comfortable and now having to worry about economic concerns that never affected newswriter Felix and sportswriter Oscar, or even The Goodbye Girl's title character Paula McFadden . . . and  Simon's erudite, dry humor may no doubt go unappreciated today thanks to the dumbing of America in the twenty-first-century.  Simon remains the gold standard for smart comedy, and now more than ever, we must protect his legacy.  RIP.  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

"Hey Jude" - Fifty Years

(Although it's not on the Beatles' White Album, I have chosen to comment here on "Hey Jude," the single recorded during the sessions for that album.  It was such a huge hit, I can't ignore it.  The following is my commentary, slightly reworded, from when I featured the promotional clip for the song on my Music Video Of the Week page.) 
Fifty years ago this week - on August 26 in the U.S. and on August 30 in the U.K. - the Beatles released their most successful single ever.
"Hey Jude" started out as a song Paul McCartney conceived for John Lennon's song Julian.  He was riding out of London to see Julian and his mother Cynthia in Surrey and was trying to think of something to say to the boy after John left his family for Yoko Ono.  He started to think that he should say, "Hey Jules, don't feel bad, take a sad song and make it better . . ." Recognizing that he had the beginnings of a song, he began to write it, changing "Jules" to "Jude" because he thought it sounded better.  Paul's song evolved into both a message of comfort to Julian and a message of re-assurance to himself as he was on the rebound from his failed relationship with Jane Asher and pondering his desire to pursue Linda Eastman, whom he would marry in March 1969.
John Lennon mistakenly believed - very ironically, as it was his abandonment of his family that prompted the song - that "Hey Jude" was a message from Paul encouraging him to go off with Yoko. When Paul played it for John, John said, when he heard the line urging Jude to go out and get her, "Ah, it's me."  "No, said Paul," it's me."  "Check," John replied.  We're both going through the same bit." In his Beatles book "Tell Me Why," Tim Riley summed up the message of "Hey Jude" quite nicely. "If the song is about self-worth and self-consolation in the face of hardship," he wrote, "the vocal performance itself conveys much of the journey. He begins by singing to comfort someone else, finds himself weighing his own feelings in the process, and finally, in the repeated refrains that nurture his own approbation, he comes to believe in himself."
Though Paul wrote "Hey Jude" by himself, John made it a Lennon-McCartney song not by adding or changing a lyric but by urging Paul to keep a lyric in.  Paul sang the "The movement you need is on your shoulder" and then told John that he'd change that lyric.  John then asked him why.  Paul was flabbergasted when the reasons were so obvious.  First, he needed a line to rhyme with "You're waiting for someone to perform with," and this line didn't rhyme at all.  Second, Paul had already used the word"shoulder" in a previous verse in the first bridge.  Third, it made no sense, and Paul told John all this, adding, "'The movement you need is on your shoulder'?  It sounds like I'm singing about a parrot!"  John was adamant that Paul leave the lyric in, having found his own meaning in it and that it was the best line in the song.  John must have thought that the line meant that Jude should look over his shoulder to see what his next move should be, and he was likely thinking of the moment in the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There" where Levi Stubbs called out, "Just look over your shoulder!"
When the Beatles arranged "Hey Jude," the oriented the song around Paul's piano, with an orchestral fade-out at the end that ended up being four minutes longer than the verse/bridge section, which was three minutes.  Thus "Hey Jude" was seven minutes long, unheard of (except for "MacArthur Park") for a pop song in 1968.  Producer George Martin feared that radio DJs in Britain and America wouldn't play "Hey Jude" because of its length.  "They will if it's us," John Lennon said.  And, as Martin later said, John was right.
The orchestra was comprised of forty musicians, thirty-nine of whom who did double duty and got double pay for singing and clapping hands to the chorus - "Na, na, na, na na na na, na na na na, hey Jude" - when the Beatles asked them to join in during recording sessions at Trident Studios in London.  One musician refused.  Paul himself yelled, screamed, and hollered in the style of his hero Little Richard in the fade-out, leading many to believe that he'd destroyed his vocal chords, but his voice survived.  Ironically, he later found during the Abbey Road sessions that he couldn't imitate Little Richard (for his vocal "Oh! Darling") as easily as he'd once done on songs like "I'm Down" and Little Richard's own "Long Tall Sally."
"Hey Jude" was the first Beatles single to be released on the group's Apple label, issued simultaneously with three other Apple singles - Mary Hopkin's "Those Were The Days" (a huge hit in its own right), Jackie Lomax's "Sour Milk Sea" (composed and produced by George Harrison) and the Black Dyke Mills Band's cover of "Yellow Submarine."  After the Magical Mystery Tour debacle and only a qualified success with "Lady Madonna," many had wondered if the Beatles still had it in them to make a great record, especially at a time when Americans were turning toward home-grown acts like the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, the Jefferson Airplane, and Simon and Garfunkel.  (Attentive readers will note that three of these groups came from California, a state that would define much of American rock in the next few years.)  In fact, "Hey Jude" was successful beyond people's wildest imagination; it spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard singles chart, becoming the Beatles' most successful single in America, its hopeful message no doubt a comfort to a nation in turmoil.  Beatles fans in America wrote to EMI's Capitol subsidiary in Los Angeles, distributing Apple releases in the States, urging that "Hey Jude" be re-issued as a stereo single.  (It wasn't, but all subsequent American Beatles singles were issued in stereo.)

The Beatles performed "Hey Jude" on David Frost's TV show in Britain (above) on September 4, 1968, joined by members of the audience on the chorus; the clip of the appearance was shown in America on the Smothers Brothers' CBS variety show.  For all of their great singles, "Hey Jude," arguably, remains the best single they ever made.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - August 31, 2018

"Revolution" by the Beatles (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Yer Blues"

When George Harrison made one last attempt at a definitive vocal on his ill-fated song "Not Guilty," he tried to record it in the control room of EMI Studio Two with the speakers playing the music at full blast, so that he felt like he was singing on the concert stage.  This required the technicians to set the monitor speakers at the appropriate level, which had its problems.  While engineer Ken Scott was doing that, John Lennon walked in, and Scott turned to him and said, "Bloody hell, the way you lot are carrying on you'll be wanting to record everything in the room next door!"  The room next door to Studio Two at Abbey Road isn't so much a room as it is a closet, meant to store tape machines and with no acoustic set-up to speak of for proper recording. 
Well, you didn't slight John Lennon like that, if you made a sarcastic suggestion to him, he'd act on it.  Sure enough, when Scott made this flippant suggestion of recording in an eight-by-eight walk-in closet, John replied, 'That's a great idea, let's try it on the next number!"  The next number happened to be "Yer Blues," and the Beatles had their instruments set up in the small room with great difficulty.  By Scott's own admission, it all worked out great.
There's no mystery of how a song like "Yer Blues" - the title not mentioned in the lyric - was successfully recorded in such a tiny room.  It's a blistering, thunderous cut with some piercing guitar riffs, heavy bass lines, and perfectly anchored drums - all accentuated by John's pre-primal scream of a vocal - that was stripped to barest, most essential elements of rock and roll.  What is somewhat less clear is how much of "Yer Blues" is for real and how much of it is parody.  John presumably wrote it as a parody of the blues-based rock songs coming from bands like Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Free, and a then-new version of the Yardbirds . . . the group that became Led Zeppelin.  The forerunners of  the late-sixties blues craze included British bluesmen like Alexis Korner and John Mayall (below).  Mayall was and remains a devout purist who has always stressed the need for white musicians who want to play the blues to adhere to the rules and structures set by the black bluesmen in the United States.
The idea behind "Yer Blues" was to make it plain that the Beatles were acknowledging that while they could play the blues, they could never feel the blues, at least not feel them the way black American artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson did.  In his book "Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles Britain, and America," Jonathan Gould wrote that "Yer Blues" was an confession of their "acceptance of the idea that, except as a subject of self-parody, certain expressive modes of [black American] music lay outside the realm of their experience and hence beyond their emotional range as singers." 
Except that John, having grown up in emotional turmoil and having had a tormented adulthood, and having come from Liverpool - a city looked down upon by the cosmopolitan south of England - did have an understanding of the black experience in America, at least enough of one to convey his own feelings of inferiority and pain.
"Yer Blues" was written in India while the Beatles were studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi, and John admitted that he had been "trying to reach God and feeling suicidal" while he was there, going through the anguish of his separation from Yoko Ono and felling utterly lost.  She was the girl who knew the reason why he wasn't already dead - and she herself was the reason.  "The funny thing about the [Maharishi's] camp," he remembered, "was that although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth. In "Yer Blues," when I wrote, 'I'm so lonely I want to die,' I'm not kidding. That's how I felt."
There are elements of parody and cheekiness toward the Beatles' contemporaries in "Yer Blues," mainly drawn from John's self-awareness of trying to imitate someone else's music, and the cheekiness probably helped keep John going.  Knowing he couldn't get to the heart of the blues the way a black man in America could, he threw in esoteric references in the verses that acknowledge that.  Instead of trying to be black, he plays on Native American mythology about his mother being of the sky and his father being of the earth, leaving him a child of a vast, empty, worthless universe.  Ironically, John got American Indian beliefs the wrong way around - the sky is the father and the earth is the mother - but the joke is still obvious.  Even more obvious is his coy reference to Bob Dylan's song "Ballad of a Thin Man," about the paranoid reporter Mr. Jones covering a circus sideshow and being too clueless to understand what's going on.  But behind the jokes, he makes it clear that he's enveloped by black clouds and a blue mist to the point where he even hates his rock and roll.  (His rock and roll - but not his blues.)  It becomes all too clear at this point, as John leads the band into an instrumental break, that when he spoke about feeling suicidal, he bloody well meant it.
And the music is damn sure convincing.  The Beatles swing and storm through the song with great force, the guitars and drums chopping across the stereo spectrum brutally before going into the instrumental break with a dense guitar riff that crunches and pushes though like Johnny Cash's train rhythms.  The guitar solo that follows reaches the heavens with a perilous wail before Ringo Starr's drums bring the song back to the slow blues riff to finish it out.
The whole feel of the song is as confining as the room it was recorded in; instruments invade each other's sonic space and leak into the wrong microphones.  Paul McCartney employed a  Fender Jazz Bass for "Yer Blues," giving the song a deeper and richer tone.  The claustrophobic nature of the recording was so chaotic that it caught John's guide vocal in the fade-out; his voice sounds so distant that it's as if the black clouds and blue mists have swallowed him whole.  He almost sounds nonchalant here at the end - instead of hearing him sing "If I ain't dead already, girl, you know the reason why," I think he almost seems to be phrasing the lyric much more lackadaisically and singing, "If I'm not dead already . . . well, then, you know the reason why."
Ringo pretty much sums up "Yer Blues" quite nicely in the Beatles' "Anthology" book: "'Yer Blues,' on the White Album, you can't top it. It was the four of us. That is what I'm saying: it was really because the four of us were in a box, a room about eight by eight, with no separation. It was this group that was together; it was like grunge rock of the sixties, really - grunge blues."
And someone ought to preserve that walk-in annex room the Beatles recorded it in.  Call it "the Lennon closet."
The Beatles never performed "Yer Blues" in concert, of course, but had the band stayed  together into the seventies and resumed touring like the Rolling Stones did, this song would have definitely been a staple of their concert set lists.  John certainly had an affinity for it; he performed it in December 1968 with a one-off supergroup he formed for the Rolling Stones' "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" TV special, which he called the Dirty Mac (shown above), featuring himself on guitar and vocals, Eric Clapton on guitar, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums, and the Stones' own Keith Richards on bass, and he played it again nine months after that at a rock festival in Toronto in the first stage iteration of the Plastic Ono Band - himself, Clapton, Yoko Ono, Klaus Voormann on bass, and future Yes member Alan White on drums.  (The latter version of "Yer Blues" was preserved for posterity on his Live Peace In Toronto 1969 album.)
To conclude this blog entry, I offer a clip of the Dirty Mac version, from the Rolling Stones' TV special, which wouldn't be aired in Britain or America until 1996.


Yer blues, John. :-)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Graham Crackers

Gwen Graham lost the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida to Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, proving that Florida Democrats have brains.  Whether or not this is true of all Florida voters remains to be seen.  But, considering that they elected Jeb Bush and Rick Scott governor, I'm not optimistic about November.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham is suggesting that he'd be just fine with Trump firing Attorney General Sessions, which would stop the Mueller investigation and let Trump get away with all sorts of crimes while consolidating his authority over everything else.
Trump also let Franklin Graham and other evangelical leaders know that there will be violence if the Republicans lose the House.  If that's true, imagine what will happen if the Republicans keep the House!
Awwww . . . wham, Graham, thank you, ma'am! :-p 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sunset for Florida Democrats

I didn't know at first if this meme was made by someone for Martin O'Malley or someone against Martin O'Malley, though the unflattering picture of O'Malley's hard that was Photoshopped in suggested the latter. (And it was an anti-O'Malley meme; it's from a conservative Web site.)  Nevertheless, it sums up Florida congresswoman Debbie Wassserman Schultz in a nutshell.
It was three years ago today that then-presidential contender Martin O'Malley called for more Democratic presidential primary debates at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting in Minneapolis, only to be given a death-ray gaze by Wasserman Schultz, then the DNC chair.  After tipping the scales for Hillary Clinton so she could lose to Donald J. Trump, you'd think that Debbie - now running for re-election to the House for the first time since Trump became President - would be punished by Florida Democrats with a robust primary challenger.  Think again, sucka - Debbie is running in today's House primary unopposed, while Democrat Tim Canova, who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 House primary, is running against her as an independent.  Florida Democrats would rather renominate and reward someone who screwed the national party and the country rather than take a chance with someone else in what is a solidly Democratic district.
And Deb's constituents will vote for her because they will be brainwashed into thinking that if they vote for Tim Canova, they're only going to split the vote, help the eventual Republican nominee win, and lessen Democratic chances of taking back the House.
Alas, lameness of the brain among Florida Democrats isn't confined to the 23rd U.S. House district.  The Democratic Party in the Sunshine State managed to allow Republican Rick Scott get elected governor twice by somehow finding nominees even more unelectable than he was; now he's leading in the U.S. Senate election against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, running for a fourth term.  It seems that Scott has grown on Florida voters, like a wart, almost.  Today, Florida Democrats are expected to nominate for governor Gwen Graham, a former one-term congresswoman with no executive experience whose biggest claim to fame is that she's the daughter of former Florida two-term governor and three-term U.S. Senator Bob Graham.  That is, Florida Democrats are going to nominate her for the same reasons national Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 - her sex and her family name.
And I'll bet Debbie Wasserman Schultz has something to do with this.
Ahh, who cares?  The Democrats should just give up on Florida.  It's not worth fighting for, even though Martin O'Malley, in his unappreciated efforts to help rebuild the Democratic Party, keeps going down there to fight for it.
No.  Give it up, Democrats. Florida is lost.  You're not going to put Gwen Graham in the governor's mansion, and you're not going to save Bill Nelson's sorry hide.  Concentrate on the House nationwide and forget saving Nelson's Seante seat . . . or the Senate.  There may very well be a blue wave in the November elections, but the only blue wave that's going to wash over Florida is going to be from a Category 5-plus hurricane.  Never mind Florida, Democrats, climate change and rising sea levels are going to push it into the sea anyway.
In which case, the 49-star flag that was only our official flag for one year may very well make a comeback.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Maverick

I didn't agree with John McCain on much, particularly on domestic policy, and I didn't vote for him for President in 2008, but I respected his integrity and his devotion to country.  Senator McCain, who died of brain cancer the other day, was a true American patriot and a genuine hero, enduring torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, serving with distinction in the House and then the Senate, and always fighting to make this country better, whether is was pushing campaign finance reform with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin or championing immigration reform with Ted Kennedy (who died nine years to the day before McCain of the same cancer nine days to the day earlier), or working on health care. he disliked the Affordable Care Act, but he disliked even more the corrupt procedure being used to repeal it, and he literally gave the thumbs down to the whole process and stopped a bad bill - his last great act.
As my grandmother would say (and she actually said it about Gerald Ford), now look at the President we've got!  A crooked real estate developer one step ahead of the law has the power to start a war, which makes me wish McCain were still alive and President right now.  McCain forgot more about war than Trump will ever know.       
Farewell to a great man and a true maverick.  I know, I know, he gave us Sarah Palin, but I come here to praise John McCain, not bury him.  I do not come here to praise Trump.   

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Waiting For the Worms

As someone I know likes to say, the worm turns.
Donald Trump now has has two allies - tabloid publisher David Pecker and Trump Organization financial officer Allen Weisselberg, both Pace University graduates - talking to federal investigators under protection of immunity about hush money in connection with Michael Cohen to keep damning information about his extramarital affairs from getting out . . . and leaning to violations of not just campaign finance laws but possibly of money laundering in all sorts of business transactions by the Trump Organization.  And state and local authorities are likely to investigate the matter further.
So, after all of Trump's efforts to undermine Robert Mueller's Russia collusion investigation, it turns out he was focused on the wrong investigation.  There's still no evidence that he illegally colluded with Russians to win the 2016 presidential election.  But there's plenty of evidence that he illegally colluded with Americans.  Like Michael Cohen.
By the way, Mr. Cohen, I heard that today is your birthday.  Mr. Potter called to wish you a happy birthday - in jail!  Go on home, they're waiting for ya!
Be that as it may, Trump is feeling the heat, and he's no doubt planning to pull another trick in his book to save himself, like campaign in the midterms against illegal immigrants who commit crimes or start a war with North Korea after canceling further denuclearization talks.  Also, he's ready to fire Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, and replace him with an Attorney General who can kill it.  Sessions angrily defended his record as Attorney General and his respect for the law in response to these reports, but other Republicans are beginning to abandon him; his only defenders at the end of the day may be Democrats.  Imagine that - Trump has made a hero out of Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions!
The only thing that can stop Trump now is a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, but despite Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com site currently giving the Democrats a 72 percent chance of taking back the House, it's not in the bag.  And if the GOP keeps the House in November, then that's it.  The Democrats deserve to go full Whig.  
Remember reading about the anarchy of the 1850s in history class - Bleeding Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, Know-Nothingism, Harpers Ferry?  That will be nothing compared to what happens in 2019 if the GOP retains full power in Washington.
Get ready for Civil War II.
Anything else?  Yeah, don't send your kids to Pace.