RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: January 2017

Mundane Moments: The winners take it all.

This post is adapted from an idea posted on my Instagram feed, where nobody noticed it. I thought it deserved to be grossly overinflated and posted here for a second chance at obscurity.

# # # # #

The Mundane Moments series of posts is an ongoing effort to dredge my grandfathers’ photos out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then:

The setting is a quiet wooden cabin in the Nordic summer countryside, comfortable but spartan. It has been chosen principally for its obscurity, as its occupants have no interest in being observed.

On wooden seats around the big central room sit two greyed, bespectacled men and two women of similar age. The cut of their clothes suggests good fortune, while the tone of their conversation suggests both familiarity and caution.

They are discussing the resumption of a long-halted and extremely successful business relationship in the realm of recorded music.

The men, Benny and Bjorn, are the sellers. They pace, gesture with their hands, consult notes, and bring out the occasional chart or bit of data in support of their proposal — a potential reunion album.

The women, Frida and Agnetha, are the skeptics. They raise questions, point out concerns, glance at each other with ruffled brows, and make points that can’t always be easily countered by the occasional chart or bit of data.

We join them in progress. Some worries have been soothed, while some are newly rising.

“A comeback at this age worries me. We are so old. We are grandparents,” Agnetha says, and all four flinch gently in the way people sometimes do when reminded of advancing age.

“Will we seem out of touch?” Frida adds. “Will the kids have any interest at all? Why would they want to listen to people our age? We might fall flat.”

“We have the songs, as strong as ever. Benny and I have been seeing to that over the past eight months,” Bjorn replies, his voice solid with certainty. “We have cultural momentum also: The most popular pop producer and songwriter in the world is a Swede like ourselves.

“But most of all, we have a lasting popularity all over the world that very few performers have ever attained. Our songs are played at clubs and weddings every night, while the work of many of our contemporaries goes by the wayside. Our music appears on Broadway, and people flock to Broadway. Our music appears in movies, and people flock to the theater.

“There is no need to be modest among ourselves about what we have built. We split apart before we could make bad music, so our legacy has never been tarnished. Our group is to pop music what Moet et Chandon is to champagne, or what Rolls-Royce is to motor vehicles. We are the gold standard. We were then. We still are.”

Frida nods; but something in the mention of gold has stirred an objection in her.

“We do not need the money, and at this point in my life, I do not need anyone to think I do,” she says. “Why should I open myself to that public speculation?”

“That,” Benny replies firmly, “is where The Foundation comes in.” He takes out two thick folders and passes them to the women, giving them a few minutes to read before he resumes.

“We’ll let the public know that we won’t take a penny. One hundred percent of the profits from this music will go to a special foundation, which will distribute it to help solve the most pressing needs of our country. Fields will stay green forever, and hungry children will sit down to full tables. We can make the future bright for decades to come.”

“It is ingenious,” Bjorn adds. “We give the record buyer great music and the satisfaction of donating to the public good. And the money goes straight to the foundation; it doesn’t trouble us at all. Who can resist?”

Agnetha’s brow has been knit throughout the meeting, and finally, she speaks her mind.

“Being in a group again … what about all the things that came between us before? Not just the couples, but all four of us. I cannot forget them.”

Silence holds the room. Benny looks at Bjorn, whose expression indicates the point is Benny’s to carry. He picks his words carefully.

“My friend. My colleague,” he starts. “None of us will ever forget the difficult days. That would be impossible. But that is not what we are suggesting. What we are suggesting is to focus on the magic.

“The four of us together have something many have tried to copy but no one has ever captured. Millions of vocal groups have come and gone. Some have sold many records. None have ever had our magic, our signature, our charisma.”

A handheld mirror sits on a side table. Benny picks it up, holding it to the faces of each person in turn, and finally to his own.

“Someday soon one of us will be gone,” he murmurs, “and then? No magic. No group. Forever. On the day that happens — and I hope it is well into the future — the other three will wish we had stepped through that door again while we had the chance. While we had the magic.”

“We are not trying to recapture our youth,” Bjorn adds, finding his tongue. “There will be no form-fitting jumpsuits. No glamor photo shoots. No tours that pull us away from our homes for weeks on end. No appearances in music videos — that is what actors and actresses are for.

“What we are recapturing, we won’t even need to try for. It is the magic.

“The magic of us.

Silence reigns. At last Frida rises and says the only words necessary — perhaps the only words possible.

“Very well,” she says, and exhales deeply. “We are a group once more.”

The four men and women meet in a circle, hands interlocked. A sense of quiet power, of something being unleashed, fills the cabin. Signatures on a contract will be just a formality later on; this is the true moment of reconnection.

Then they break the grip and step slowly outside, one by one, where a gentle wind is tousling the trees, and where a hired photographer has been patiently waiting to capture the moment.

The biggest comeback in popular music history begins with the click of a lens.

not.jpg

(The actual provenance of this photo is unknown except that my grandpa almost certainly took it, my grandma’s definitely in it, and it dates to roughly 1974. The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.)

A song for San Antone.

Another of the many things that makes the ARSA database of local radio airplay charts so cool: You never know what one of those charts might have meant to an artist who appeared on it.

I’ve been devoting some commute time in the past week or so to Texas Rock for Country Rollers, the 1976 album by the late, great, unquenchable Texas roots-music journeyman Doug Sahm.

I don’t like the record as much as most of Sahm’s biographers and fans seem to. There’s a certain lack of quality control, a stoned slapdash nature about the songs and the performances, that gets in the way of the cosmic-shitkicker good time the record was probably meant to be.

(If you want to get your Sahm on, I recommend Mercury Records’ The Best of Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975. In Tex-Mex combo-plate fashion, it includes a few good bites of everything Sahm did well, from Western swing to T-Bone Walker to cheesy Farfisa-driven two-steps.)

But anyhow: Texas Rock For Country Rollers includes a medley of “Sometime/Cryin’ Inside,” two early-’60s hits by singer Gene Thomas.

Sahm, who never missed an opportunity to tell anybody where he was from, interrupts the medley to whip out a narrative with a little bit of chart-geek in its soul.

The story goes back 15 years, but the way he says “forever and ever and ever,” you can tell he’s still impressed:

“Yeah, I remember those times, back in those nightclubs in 1961 in San Antone … and ol’ Gene Thomas had a song that was Number One for ever, and ever, and ever. Goes like this.”

The airplay charts in San Antonio in 1961 would have been of more than casual interest to Sahm: As a roughly 20-year-old local musician, he was busy trying to get onto them. He made it a couple of times, under a couple of names.

(One of my favorite Sahm anecdotes involves him going to a high school dance in San Antonio as a teenager and hearing his own record get played, which must be among the coolest things ever to happen to any teenage rock n’ roller.)

What’s the ARSA database say about all this?

Well, San Antone’s KONO 860 shows Gene Thomas at Number One for the week of Aug. 4, 1961.  But the survey unfortunately doesn’t say how long the record had been there. (Note who checks in at No. 33.)

Gene Thomas also turns up at Number Two on San Antonio’s KTSA for the week of Aug. 10; Number One for a solid three weeks in July and August at Houston’s KILT; Number Two at still a third San Antonio station, KMAC, on Aug. 18; and Number One at Dallas’s KBOX a couple weeks after that.

A precise confirmation of Sahm’s narrative? Not quite, but it comes close enough. The charts certainly establish that “Sometime” must have been inescapable in Texas back in the summer of ’61. (I get the sense that precise fidelity to facts was never the point with Doug Sahm anyway.)

Instead, the story paints a charming picture of the artist as a young man — working his own musical schemes, cooling his heels in nightclubs, keeping an ear cocked toward the jukebox (and the radio), and probably thinking to himself, “Man, someday I’m gonna have a hit that big, and I’m gonna be on the radio in San Antone for ever, and ever, and ever.

And the best thing about the story?

He did.

Did Juno?

I wonder what Peter Frampton, Toni Tennille and John Travolta did with their Juno Awards.

The Junos, as you probably know, are basically Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys. They’re bestowed each year by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to encourage and recognize the successes of Canadian artists in a variety of genres.

Since the awards began in 1970, most Canadian-born performers who have found a commercial foothold in America have taken home a Juno at some point or another. The list of past recipients ranges from Glenn Gould to Loverboy, from Oscar Peterson to Shania Twain, and from Bruce Cockburn to Bob & Doug McKenzie.

What I didn’t know, until today, is that the Junos have also handed out awards honoring the best-selling “international” single and album of the year — (this bit edited for clarity) which is to say, the top-selling single and album in Canada not recorded by a Canadian artist.

For a brief time, the Junos honored the “best international artist,” too. (Not sure if the artist award was based on sales, or was a value judgment.)

So, while the vast majority of Junos have been awarded to sons and daughters of the true north strong and free, a handful have been given to people whose only connection with Canada was touring there.

When I first read about that, it seemed like an odd bit of scope creep, giving these definitively Canadian awards to non-Canadians. The whole point of the Junos, after all, is to recognize the contributions of Canadians.

But I suppose these “international” awards don’t hurt anybody. They don’t change the scope and intent of the Junos as a whole. They don’t take awards away from Canadians. And they make for a good trivia tidbit.

If I had a Juno Award — the old ones look like metronomes, while the new ones look like human figures — I’d do with it what Bob Dylan does with his Oscar: I’d take it on tour with me and put it onstage in a different place each night.

Dylan can’t do that with a Juno Award because he’s never won one. But the following furriners have. (The list is not complete.)

-Frampton for Frampton Comes Alive!, international album of the year, 1977

-Australia’s finest, Men at Work, for Business As Usual, international album of the year, 1983

-Various artists, for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, international album of the year, 1989 (I hope Eric Carmen got a Juno, though I have a sneaking suspicion he didn’t)

-Milli Vanilli, for Girl You Know It’s True, international album of the year, 1990 (like their Grammy, this one was later taken away)

– The Captain and Tennille, for “Love Will Keep Us Together,” international single of the year, 1976

-Leo Sayer, for “When I Need You,” international single of the year, 1978 (beating out Elvis Presley’s “My Way;” I’m sure a posthumous Juno would have looked nice in the awards room at Graceland)

-Travolta, with Olivia Newton-John, for “You’re The One That I Want,” international single of the year, 1979 (can’t get much more international than an Aussie and a ‘Murican singing together, can you?)

-Supertramp, for Breakfast in America, international album of the year, 1980 (can’t get much more international than a band of Brits singing about America, can you?)

-Pink Floyd, for The Wall and “Another Brick In The Wall,” international album and single, 1981  (Nick Mason has two international Junos, so stand him a round next time you see him, huh?)

-The Rolling Stones, International Entertainers of the Year, 1991 (putting them ahead of their British Invasion rivals, the Beatles, who never won one as a group, though Lennon and McCartney have won one each — Lennon’s posthumously — as solo performers)

-Fittingly for an award given to foreigners: Foreigner, for “I Want To Know What Love Is,” international single of the year, 1985

What’s spinning.

I may have to come to terms with the idea that I like some music as much for the backstory as for the music. Seems wrong, but that’s how it works sometimes.

That’s how it’s working for my current commute-and-free-time music — a recording of the Jerry Garcia Band performing a benefit concert in Santa Rosa, California, on June 23, 1977. The show itself is OK to pretty good, but the tidbits behind it are more interesting. (Some of this info comes from a post on the Dead-themed blog Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger.)

Such as:

-While a second set from this date has circulated, this is apparently the first time the first set has made it into collector-land.

Just to complicate things, the JGB apparently played two shows that night in support of Maria Muldaur. So what we have could be the first set of one show and the second set of the other.

No matter. Even after all these years, I enjoy the thought that unheard recordings are still making their way out of basements, attics and closets. I hope it continues for a while yet.

-The Jerry Band’s regular drummer in June 1977 was Ron Tutt, the powerful Texan who’d become a well-known name in 1969 when Elvis Presley picked him to anchor his TCB Band.

Tutt continued to play with Elvis as well as with Garcia … and on this particular night, he couldn’t make the JGB gig in Santa Rosa because he was backing Elvis in Des Moines. In fact, June 23, 1977, would be the last night Tutt ever performed with the man who launched his big-time career. (Elvis’s last show ever was June 26; he played his last two or three shows with fill-in drummers.)

Perhaps as tribute to their missing bandmate, the JGB played a nice version of “Mystery Train” on the newly circulating tape. Although the JGB was a much smaller outfit than the ensemble Elvis brought on stage, their version of “Mystery Train” catches a little of the vibe Elvis used to get when he opened with “C.C. Rider” — some of that all-American, white-gospel, go-to-meetin’, everybody-clap-on-two-and-four groove.

-The JGB’s fill-in drummer that night was a San Franciscan with a resume at least as interesting as Tutt’s: Greg Errico.

Errico is best remembered as the drummer on the classic records of Sly and the Family Stone. (Remember Sly singing, “All we need is a drummer / For people who only need a beat, yee-ah”? That’s Greg Errico. He’s the guy throwing down on “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” too.)

His other touring and recording credits are almost absurdly broad, ranging from David Bowie and Weather Report to David Soul and Bill Wyman. He would also spend a stint or two as the JGB’s full-time drummer a few years up the road.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear him drop any funk on this recording — his playing is professional but fairly anonymous. Which is just as well, since no one was there to hear Greg Errico anyway.

-The JGB and Muldaur played in the Santa Rosa High School auditorium. And while this might be a case of my mind hearing what it wants to hear, I think the tape sounds like a high school auditorium … it has a certain combination of low-end boom and high-end piano tinkle that just sounds to me like a high school auditorium.

If you’re a high-end audio buff, that idea won’t thrill you. If the idea of well-known musicians playing a small local room to support a cause close to their hearts  appeals to you, you won’t mind the sonic shortcomings of the tape.

(I wonder if the JGB’s Keith Godchaux is playing the school’s piano? One wonders whether it would be worth it to truck his own grand piano to a high school just to play a charity gig.)

-So how’s the show itself? There are only six songs — all nine minutes or more — and they break down into three categories:

The ballads (“Sugaree” and “Catfish John”) work pretty well if you like slow Jerry ballads. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of either tune but I liked these versions.

The reggae tunes are pretty poor. The 12-minute cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” with Donna Godchaux on lead vocal is death by a thousand cuts. The version of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” just kinda, well, sits in limbo; it doesn’t go very much of anywhere.

The “upbeat” tunes (“Mystery Train” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do” — and remember, “upbeat” is a very fluid and relative term when applied to the Jerry Band)  are pleasant, even delightful in spots.

Not even stoned, lethargic hippies can deflate the pure pleasure of one of Smokey Robinson’s greatest pieces of work … and when Garcia starts channelling Chuck Berry in the closing jam, you get two American geniuses for the price of one.

Maybe I’ll go listen to that one again.

Newborns still crying in pain.

Posted on

flame cubes, you are free again
Who can love, and you do,
Dressed in black, he will not return
Keep your tears, you have many years
Pain in the seventies
Although these are only dreams
Save tears today

Pretend you think it’s over,
Since you goodbye
Pretend you think it’s over,
I’ll tell you why
Newborns still crying in pain
At first glance, the morning sun
You’re an idiot if you think about it
It starts just

Miss Teen dream, a game so tragic
He struck a crown fled
Firstly wounded pride and way calling, it takes
But keep the tears, you have many years

Pretend you think it’s over,
Since you goodbye
Pretend you think it’s over,
I’ll tell you why
Newborns still crying in pain
At first glance, the morning sun
You’re an idiot if you think about it
It starts just

I’ll buy the first wine you
We’ll have a good time
Save tears today
It can not come, but all
Everyone will pay laughed and said:

Pretend you think it’s over,
Since you goodbye
Pretend you think it’s over,
I’ll tell you why

Only we can adopt to meet or better.

Posted on

If you do not know me now
You never know

These things went through
You have to figure out how I understand you
Now, girls, I know the difference between right and wrong
I will do everything to be happy to break our
To not get so excited when I arrived a bit late in the evening at home
Since we work in the same way as a child when we talk about conflict and war

If you do not know me now (if you do not know me)
You do not know me (you do not)
If you do not know me now
You never know

We all have our own humor funny
I have my wife, you should also take into account
Believe me, as I trust you
While we were together, it would be so easy to do
Only we can adopt to meet or better
What good is a love story, if you can not see your eyes, Oh

If you do not know me now (if you do not know me)
You do not know me (you do not)
If you do not know me now (you never know me)
You never know me (Eva)

ten years

The children are just stuck.

Posted on

I stand on the edge,
Briefcase in hand.
Jack in his car, Jane, who in the West, he said,
Meg, honey, I rock ‘n’.
Ridin ‘in a Stutz BEARCAT, Jim,
They were different times.
With a number poet studied glass
And all the women roll their eyes
Sweet Jane, Sweet Jane, sweet Jane
Now, Jack, is a banker,
Jane committed.
With both save money …
Then they come home from work.
Sitting on fire …
Radio some classical music for children,
The pace of three soldiers
And you can hear Jack say
Sweet Jane, Sweet Jane, sweet Jane
Some people like to go dancing
And others (like us), should work
Show me now
And still have bad mom
They will tell you that life is full of dirt.
Women do not stop,
And staff always brilliant.
The children are just stuck.
Life is simply to die for.
But anyone who has a heart
I would not go into break
Those who played the role,
It should not hang level
sweet Jane