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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Fifty years on.

In 2014, America’s mass media will celebrate the 50th anniversary of a defining moment of baby boomer culture — the arrival of the Beatles and their attendant mania.

The anniversary is already being noted in some circles. My man Jim Bartlett, for instance, recently did some good work on the earliest American DJs and radio stations to play Beatles records.

But what if you’re not a Beatles fan? Are you doomed to spend 2014 endlessly repeating a triumph in which you have no interest? Is your best course of action to lock yourself in a closet for the next year, with a copy of London Calling your only company?

As a service to you, our faithful reader, here’s a list of 15 significant non-Beatle musical events that will also mark their 50th anniversaries in 2014. All sorts of interesting stuff went on in 1964 that didn’t involve John, Paul, George, Ringo, or the mop-topped Limeys who followed in their wake.

Raise a glass to one of these milestones instead, if you feel nostalgic.

1. The recording of A Love Supreme. John Coltrane recorded his most widely heard, acclaimed and beloved album in December 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. The album was released the following February.

2. The release of “Viva Las Vegas,” the high point of Elvis’ career between his release from the Army and his comeback special. The swingin’ title track was a hit, and the movie — released in May — was one of Elvis’ few post-Army films in which he woke up and put forth an effort.

3. The release of Bob Dylan’s fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, in August. The album marked Dylan’s shift away from socially conscious lyrics (or, as he put it, “finger-pointing songs”) and towards more personal concerns — a major, and necessary, evolution.

4. A pretty good four months for the Supremes. Diana Ross and company hit Number One three times between the end of August and the end of December, with “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” I’m not a fan myself, but those who go in for Motown or girl-group pop would struggle to find three more definitive records than that.

5. A pretty good year for show tunes. I’m not a fan of the musical the-ay-ter, either. But even nonbelievers like me can whistle a couple of songs from “Hello, Dolly!” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened in January and September of 1964. Oh, and don’t forget  “Mary Poppins,” released in August, which came with its own batch of memorable original songs.

6. The release of Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian in October. Dylan might have been moving away from socially conscious lyrics, but Cash wasn’t. He tackled one of America’s more righteous and less glamorous causes at full album length, and got a Top Five country hit out of the bargain.

7. The composition of Terry Riley’s “In C.” The piece was first recorded in 1968, so not many people would have heard it in the year of its birth. But over time, “In C” would be recognized as an early classic in the field of minimalist composition.

8. The formation and first recordings of Them. The spirited Irish R&B group formed in April of 1964, made its first recordings in July and released its first hit, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” in November. The band is best remembered now for its lead singer, a complicated, pugnacious lad named Van Morrison.

9. The filming and release of “The T.A.M.I. Show.” Movie audiences who wanted something younger than Elvis and edgier than “Mary Poppins” could have gone to see this now-legendary concert film, taped in October at the Santa Monica, Calif., Civic Auditorium. It’s most commonly remembered as the movie in which James Brown blows the fledgling Rolling Stones off the stage. Other acts on the bill included the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Jan and Dean, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the Supremes.

10. The release of All Summer Long in July. Oh, yeah, the Beach Boys. They stayed busy in 1964 too, releasing a couple of studio albums and their first live (or at least semi-live) album. All Summer Long, like their other early albums, is highly uneven. But its one-two opening punch of “I Get Around” and “All Summer Long” nicely captures the group’s combination of teenage bravado and vulnerability.

11. The release of Out To Lunch! Jazz multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy died in June 1964 from complications of diabetes — a far too early end to a promising career. A few months before his death, Blue Note Records released Out To Lunch!, Dolphy’s final album as a leader. The album, which features a heavyweight cast of collaborators, is often praised as a classic of Sixties jazz.

12. The passing of Cole Porter. Speaking of losses to the musical world, America’s most wonderfully urbane songwriter died Oct. 15, 1964. The 50th anniversary of his death seems like a delightful opportunity to mix up a few cocktails and do something intelligently naughty.

13. Birthdays. Conversely, if you want to celebrate someone’s 50th birthday in 2014, you can choose from any number of performers, depending on your taste. To name a few, there’s folksinger Tracy Chapman; Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver; Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum; Chris Cornell of Soundgarden; Trey Anastasio of Phish; jazz vocalist Diana Krall; and Corey Glover and Will Calhoun of Living Colour.

14. The composition of La Monte Young’s “The Tortoise Recalling The Drone of The Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of The Whirlwind and The Obsidian Gong and Illuminated by The Sawmill, The Green Sawtooth Ocelot and The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer.” Young’s version of the song failed to reach the Hot One Hundred, but Manfred Mann later rode the tune to a Top Ten showing in 1977. (Still paying attention?)

15. The 1964 Grammys. Announced in May. The all-star cast of winners included Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bill Evans, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Vladimir Horowitz, and Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The winners for Best Rock and Roll Recording: April Stevens and Nino Tempo, “Deep Purple.” (Maybe Beatlemania is worth celebrating after all.)

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Still waddling.

It’s that time again when I write about something no one else cares about.

(Yes: It’s about 7 p.m.)

Another year of running has come and gone, and I am again adding up how many miles I put in.

Pure mileage is not the only measure of how successful the year was, of course.

I could also look at my racing record: I only ran two 5Ks this year, which is maybe a little disappointing, but enjoyed them both and did reasonably well.

Or I could look at my injury record, which is a pretty significant measure of success — ’cause if I’m not running, I’ve kinda failed.

I was healthy all year and didn’t miss any time, which I again credit to my habit of only running every other day — except in July, when I sometimes did two-a-days to help get my son into shape for middle school cross-country.

The knees are not entirely happy, but they continue to bear the load. Hooray, knees.

But. back to the mileage.

Without consciously trying, I have topped 2012’s total of 510 miles. Including the 3.5 miles I did this morning, I’ve run 531.9 miles in 2013. And I’m not done yet, as the schedule calls for me to go out for a jog on New Year’s Eve.

(That mileage total averages out to about 10.3 miles per week. Three runs of three-plus miles per week, or four two-and-a-half-mile runs, will get you there. That’s about what I do. My efforts are modest.)

I cannot improve on my comment from this time last year: “Running is one of the few really constructive things I do with myself, and quite possibly the only good, self-protective habit I have besides brushing my teeth.

I could stand to add a few more good, self-protective habits in 2014, especially if I want to keep running.

I think I will go put my feet up and consider that further.

Words, sounds and visions.

It turns out that today is the 70th birthday of a guy I heard a lot of in my teenage years — even though he didn’t sing and played (almost) no instruments.

I was a big King Crimson fan in my younger days, owning most of their albums.

This meant I was quite familiar with the work of Pete Sinfield, the non-performing lyricist on the band’s four albums between 1969 and 1972.

Sinfield also worked the light show at Crimson’s live concerts, and added the occasional spot of synthesizer to one or two of their records. (Hence his credit for “words, sounds and visions” on 1972’s Islands album, for which he also contributed cover art.)

After parting ways with Crimson majordomo Robert Fripp, Sinfield apparently had not exhausted his prog-rock mojo, as he went on to adopt a similar collaborative role with Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Sinfield’s lyrics appear on all of ELP’s albums released between 1973 and 1978, when the group split up. This means he is partially responsible for the notorious Love Beach album, but we won’t go into that here.

I had no idea what happened to Sinfield after that until I read his Wiki entry today.

Apparently he went on to co-write sizable U.K. hits for several acts in the ’80s and ’90s, including Celine Dion. (!) He’s also won two Ivor Novello awards, which honor successful British songwriters, and has spent a lot of time writing poetry.

Looking back on those early Crimson albums, it pains me to say that Sinfield’s lyrics were the band’s weak spot. They tended to be kinda overwritten and hippie-ish, full of moon children and lonely talks to the wind. I don’t think they hold up well with age, especially when combined with thick slabs of Mellotron.

The subtitle of the band’s first album, In The Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson, says it all: These were not individual songs, but some sort of linked, sweeping statement.

The band got better after it ditched the “observations” and just set about shaking the fillings out of people’s teeth, which was about the same time Sinfield left.

On the other hand, Sinfield’s lyrics reflect the time in which he wrote them; he certainly wasn’t the only person working in that style.

And Crimson might have been a tough band to write for, given their changes in style and personnel, their dark and sometimes complicated song structures, and the commanding presence of founding guitarist Fripp.

One of the Crimson songs I remember best from the Sinfield Years was “Cat Food,” a denunciation of prepared food and the people who eat it, taken from 1970’s In The Wake of Poseidon.

Remarkably, the band’s record company put this uncompromisingly dissonant, jazz-tinged offering out as a single, and a temporary lineup of Crimson appeared on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in March 1970 to mime to the song.

(I do not believe the song charted anywhere. Sinfield would have to wait for Bucks Fizz (!!!) for his chance to reach the top of the pops for real.)

I played “Cat Food” for the drummer in my high-school band, way back when, and he and I developed a weird, shared fondness for it. I bet if I shot him an email now saying “Cat food!,” he’d probably reply, “Not even fit for a horse!”

Which, I guess, means that Pete Sinfield’s words — however knotty or florid — have a way of finding their place in people’s hearts and minds.

River.

Yeah, one of these days I’ll actually write some more posts. For now I’m having fun riffing.

* * * * *

It occurred to me today that I managed to make it through this Christmas season without hearing practically any Christmas music.

There were a couple of spins of the “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack — which stays out all year, and is almost not even a Christmas album any more in my house.

There were also a couple spins of “Wonderful Christmas Time” … one view of an animated video for Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” … a little bit of the Harry Connick Jr. Christmas album … and a couple of random crooners served up by an online radio station.

Still, considering the sheer amount of holiday music that gets played this time of year, I managed to avoid just about all of it. Except for one dreadful version of “Santa Baby,” I don’t even remember noticing any in the supermarket.

No Bruce, no Mariah, no Waitresses, no Band Aid, no John Denver and the Muppets, no Bing and David, no “Little Saint Nick,” no nothin’.

(No Adam Sandler, either, and three cheers for that much.)

I didn’t hear today’s selection at all this Christmas, either.

But it found its way into my head, more than once. And you know what happens when songs find their way into my head.

Jazz odyssey.

Time for a little something different on the diddley bow.

I did four or five takes of this and every one had something I didn’t like. This one’s probably the best, anyway.

Not linking to the version that inspired this b/c it would just show how dreadful mine is.

Happy Christmas Eve.

Up your nose with a rubber hose.

I think I have yet another aspiration for my diddley bow playing: I want to be like a ballpark organist.

You know how songs that are familiar always sound kinda off when a ballpark organist plays them? Like, maybe they’re not quite playing the right chords, or they’re not phrasing the melody the way it is on the record?

(I assume some of you out there remember ballpark organists. Nowadays they just play the original records, I think.)

For some reason, I was about halfway through my latest diddley bow song when I thought it sounded like something a ballpark organist would play. It sounded more or less right, and also not right at all.

I’m not sure what any of that means, but enjoy.

The guy who composed and originally performed this song is big into American roots music, by the way. He plays in jug bands for the love of it. So surely he wouldn’t mind the idea of a diddley bow player interpreting his music, however sloppily:

From the Valley: Katahajime, “Fall Tour Tape ’13.”

Getting tired of “Wonderful Christmas Time” and “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” and all those coy, equally loathsome versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?

Allentown’s Katahajime (the name refers to a type of martial arts chokehold) will clear all the cheer from your ears before you can say “Yukon Cornelius.”

Consider a few lyrical samples from the crust-metal quartet’s Fall Tour Tape ’13, a three-song online EP posted last month:

Brighter and brighter as the end grows nigh
I’m living in this misery called life
I have nothing left as I self-destruct

Or:

Born into misery, suffering.
Eternally, internally. stranded
Cursed to serve time on this earth

This is all delivered in a tuneless torn-throated bellow-vocal, too, if you hadn’t already guessed that. (Actually, they have two guys in the band who sing like that, and sometimes they trade off, like Sam and Dave. OK, not like Sam and Dave, exactly.)

So, yeah, these guys won’t turn your frown upside down. But are they worth listening to anyway?

I think so. They have a solid command of essential metal moves, like the way two of the songs start with quiet, resonant passages before moving into the heavier stuff. That’s not hugely original, of course, but it is effective.

It works nicely when they do it in reverse, too — like at the end of “Whispers of a Fading Existence,” when the closing shouts of “Finally free!” give way to a quiet, resigned-sounding instrumental outro.

I particularly liked the third song — the wonderfully titled “A Bouquet of Rotting Flowers Lining the Mass Graves of Humanity” — which was recorded live on local radio station WXLV.

It begins with some vaguely Robert Fripp-ish guitar swells above a backing-tape atmosphere that sounds like 2 a.m. on a summer morning. The whole thing builds nicely into a clean-toned jam that could easily draw in listeners (like me) who wouldn’t ordinarily think something labeled “crust-metal” could be for them.

(Of course, they get to the crusty parts eventually. But I find the dark parts more effective when the band takes its sweet time getting there.)

So there you have it. Katahajime isn’t for everybody; but, more power to the sound of local crust. Give ’em a listen. You might find something you like —  or, if nothing else, you might find a momentary antidote to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.”

Katahajime’s “Fall Tour Tape ’13” is available as a name-your-price Bandcamp download here.