Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kurt Weill and Gil Evans

As a new email from the Kurt Weill Foundation reminds us, that 65-years-dead composer's music still has surprises in store and even premieres awaiting performance... and so... the American premiere of The Road of Promise, a concert adaptation of his lengthy, unappreciated theatrical pageant (from 1937 or so) The Eternal Road, will occur early in May. Meanwhile, Weill's greatest champion among Jazz musicians--that would be Gil Evans--continues to have his say, three decades after Evans closed the keyboard and relinquished his baton. To put it another way, young arranger/conductor Ryan Truesdell is back with a new (second) CD of previously unknown/unrecorded big band arrangements by Gil; titled Lines of Color, this one was taped live in New York City last year and is co-issued now by ArtistShare and Blue Note.

I wrote extensively about both Weill and Evans and their remarkable, long and
winding careers a few years ago--an eclectic five parts dividing, sort of, as three for Weill and then two more for Evans, and each part set up as an independent essay. Since the five appeared piecemeal and separately but do have some significance in the annals of Modern Music, I'm re-calling them all now for an encore; I hope some other readers will enjoy discovering their convoluted stories.

Part One is a disguised Introduction to the European years, but including 40 or so photos of Weill LPs. Parts Two and Three take up Weill's career in America (on Broadway and off) together with his burgeoning impact on Jazz. Then Evans assumes the lead in the Fourth and Fifth sections. Finally, as a bonus and sort-of Sixth Part, comes a follow-up essay/review of 2012's "new" (but also old) Evans album, which of course also featured Weill--and which later won the Big Band Grammy award.

Centennial was a suitable conceptual name for that release, but for some unexplained reason this new one is called Lines of Color, its exterior offering an abstract pretty picture on the front cover, tiny print obscuring Evans' name, and no identifying photo of the man. Commercial this packaging isn't--Blue Note was just asleep at the switch--which is really too bad because the music is terrific, another excellent selection of previously unrecorded charts dating from the Thornhill Orchestra days up to Gil's more experimental bands of the 1960s. Centennial had
top session players and the thrill of important historical discovery; this one has the sound of a crackerjack Jazz orchestra working live, its creative engines firing on all cylinders.

Some long numbers revive and/or revise previous Evans tracks; "Time of the Barracudas" and "Davenport Blues" crackle authoritatively with dramatic solo work from trombonist Marshall Gilkes, tenor saxman Donny McCaslin, and trumpeter Mat Jodrell, while "Concorde" and the medley ("Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams") play the master's measures either more lightly, or layered more intricately. That last is certainly one of the album's highlights, with pianist Frank Kimbrough and tenorist Scott Robinson quietly leading the charts.

Other tracks sound like what they are, Claude Thornhill specialties from the early Forties ("Gypsy Jump") to the post-Bop Fifties ten years later ("How High the Moon"), two of them yet meriting special mention--"Greensleeves" for its one-take trombone solo by Gilkes, eradicating memories of Kenny Burrell's feature (on his 1965 album with Evans, Guitar Forms), and a chipper little ditty called "Sunday
Drivin'," dating from 1947 but featuring current band vocalist Wendy Gilles, which could have been a hit back then, and sounds like a radio-ready theme song right now.

One last note: conductor-visionary Ryan Truesdell once again provides exceptional annotation, and on "Moon Dreams" he writes convincingly about the Impressionist classical influences on Evans (Ravel, Prokofiev, et al), some of whom found a spot in Weill's wheelhouse as well... or at least that's still my Impression.

Monday, April 6, 2015

10 Ways of Losing Track of a Rock 'n' Roll Song

This is a book review of sorts. I don't know Latin any more than I know German. Caveat lector.


1. "It's only as important as your life." So claimed Van Morrison quoting James Brown, the hardest working man in show business--never caught with his pants down or even split, a becaped crusader of grit 'n' soul always on his toes and maybe yours too, sucking every cubic centimeter of air from any room he occupied. If you still can't breathe, recite "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" 13 times and then mutter, "Uncle."

2. Walt Whitman was a nurse. Emily Dickinson was a recluse. They met serendipitously in Ralph Waldo Emerson's daylight basement. "I need some Transcendental work," she said. "Where's Waldo?" responded Walt.

3. Inspired by ein sonnen haus of Son House,
the Viennese Secessionists chose to paint
with schadenfreude, but also Freud
in shades, filling every inch of canvas
with 33-and-a-third degrees of die blauen.

4. I ate the big bowl of borscht. Forgive me, but the gruel was not only good, it was Beat.

5. In the still of the guitar drag, she was crying, waiting, hoping to shake some action. "To know him is to love his transmission," she said. All I could do was cry out, "This magic money changes everything! That's momentarily what I want."

6. "Anthemic" as a term in rock criticism had no meaning until Jimi Hendrix digested his Wheaties on July 4, 1969. Sadly, he still thought six was nine and so missed his golden opportunity. Ninety-nine and a half wouldn't do.

7. So much depends
upon his readers
possessing the full
complement of kunst
und kultur
too
arcane to be obscure

8. Joe Strummer channeled Robert Johnson to write "Train in Vein," but Sid Vicious couldn't remember which needle to insert in the tone-arm.

9. The day the music died, eight-and-a-half-year-old Billy Jim Murray bounced his bicycle through frozen flower gardens around Willamette. He was dispirited... seeking earthly confirmation of that infamous airplane crash. He wished he lived in suburban Lubbock, or Shreveport, or Cincinnati, anywhere but the northwest environs of Chicago. That'll be the day, he thought, the dark day I light out for the territory ahead...

But you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Except maybe in this case. Because 34 years and 9 days later, Bill as "Phil""--brother under the fur to stuck-in-his-rut groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil"--did that time warp again for the first time.

How could any fan of rock 'n' roll not feel the chill that touched their heartbeat that day (and everyday one re-views the music of film)? Yes, unseen but present in fraternal dispensation, and sharing the stage with both of the on-air Phils, were the
high harmonies of Graham Nash, the lyrical tenor solos of Stan Getz, and the émigré exhilaration and despair of ex-patriate James Joyce--but couched in the elegant twists and repeats of Homeric prose slimmed down to the scale of a groundhog. It took Bill/Phil another 8 years, 8 months and 16 days to get life, love, and his weather forecast exactly right.

And if that don't change your way of seeing and hearing, buddy, you ain't got that mood indigo.

10. Ike Zimmerman is to Robert Zimmermann as Bob Dylan is to Dylan Thomas as Thomas Aquinas is to Greil Marcus Aurelius.






Monday, March 23, 2015

Of Mice and Music

Readers of this blog may recall that I venerate the venerable Roots Music label Arhoolie (see posts Here and There); owner/producer Chris Strachwitz has been one of my culture heroes for over 50 years. So you can imagine my delight when This Ain't No Mouse Music!, the 2013 documentary about Chris and Arhoolie Records showed up this month on Netflix. I immediately downloaded and watched the 90-minute film (loved every frame!) but postponed a repeat screening for a few days until my less-biased friend Marv Newland--who is both animator/owner of International Rocketship Animation Studio and a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy--came for a visit last weekend.

We feasted on Thai food, then settled in the TV room... with Mouse Music for our just desserts. Nor were we disappointed, rewarded instead by a host of artists ranging from Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi
Fred McDowell to the Savoy Family and Clifton Chenier, from Lydia Mendoza and Big Mama Thornton to (Mountain Bluegrass group) No Speed Limit and the Treme Brass Band--well over fifty years of what you might call Ruckus Juice and Rootin's, a rowdy musical history of Americana encompassing Blues and R&B, Cajun and Norteno, Bluegrass and German Polka, Zydeco and Jazz, recorded and issued every step of the way by Mister Chris.

Granted that most of the performances are truncated by circumstance (no cameras available when the tape decks were rolling, for example), still the joy and enthusiasm are undeniable, buttressed beautifully by artist interviews, unbuttoned reminiscences (by Ry Cooder, Santiago Jimenez, Jr., Wilson Savoy, and Whosit--sorry--an ex-drummer for Lightnin' Hopkins and Clifton Chenier), and the happily biased comments of the Man himself. A same-title 2CD set exists as well, offering a prime 38 songs and instrumentals complete--with nary a sliver of stale cheese nor disposable music mouse to be found 'round the hallowed halls of Arhoolie.

* * * * *

Among the near-dozen great Westerns starring John Wayne--which would include Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and
The Searchers, all directed by John Ford--two had Ford's sometime rival Howard Hawks at the helm: Red River and Rio Bravo. Until his late performance as Rooster Cogburn, only Rio Bravo afforded the Duke a partially comic Western role. Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance just doesn't know what to make of "Feathers," the sassy saloon girl (the debut of gorgeous Angie Dickinson) who rides in on a stagecoach and stays on to tongue-tie and hog-tie him, every which way but loose.

What a cast Hawks assembled around them... Dean Martin (as besotted "Duke"), Ward Bond, Walter Huston (one-legged "Stumpy"), Rick Nelson (young-gun "Colorado"), John Russell, and the rest were just as stolid and stubborn, drunken and dramatic, gun-fast and gal-foolish, as Hawks had hoped for; and the resulting
blend of brashness and rio-bravado proved so potent that the aging director recycled the plot and characters twice more (El Dorado, Rio Lobo) as his own originality flagged.

Just as potent a "character" as Wayne or Martin was the mesmerizing film score composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, with Spanish guitar, Mexican trumpet, and suspenseful Latin percussion as lead instruments, regularly repeating the ominous folk tune known as "The De Guella" (supposedly dating from Santa Ana's military band marching outside the walls of the Alamo). Tiomkin's spare score must have resonated with Ennio Morricone, gleefully reinventing the "sound" of Westerns about then... (or did any influence flow the other way around?)

Anyway, the splendid Rio Bravo soundtrack, available now for the first time ever--on 2CD set Intrada Special Collections ISC 300--also made room for a couple of songs; with both Dean Martin and Rick Nelson in the cast, what's a poor composer gonna do? The guys manage to sneak in a snippet or two during their long hours barricaded in the jailhouse. The official numbers are titled "Rio Bravo" and "My Rifle, My Pony and Me," and Dino recorded them as a tie-in single (included here), but Rick actually had the best song, "Restless Wind," written by Johnny Cash but dropped from the film and available only on an early Nelson LP.

Cash's "no quarter" lyrics go in part like this:

I came in like a restless wind
On a wagon train
I'm gonna go like a July snow
Back to where I came from
Gonna leave this humdrum
It's too slow and tame

None of your business where I been
Don't ask me what I've done
Run your ranch and punch your cows
And stay behind my gun, man
Colorado's right hand
Will put you on the run...


So pay heed, pard. Here's a linchpin of Western film scores, never before available, and yours for a mere fistful of dollars.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Stall, Y'all

I've not resumed general posting here for one overriding reason: the shakes are creeping back. The level of R & R (that's Repair and Regenerate in this instance) stays high, but it seems that perfection was not in the cards after all. I'm much improved in many ways, but I've decided to wait and live with these changes before limping on.

For now, I'm walking a lot, reading more, reducing Netflix some, and reluctantly submitting to a class in Yoga for Parkinson's patients.

There is no cure. There is only resistance.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Calling Lee Majors!

Well, I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own bloodshot eyes... It took a few hours of testing frequencies, but by noon on the 3rd, my hands had stopped vibrating. They went perfectly still and have not fluctuated or shaken in the slightest since then. If I weren't superstitious, I'd be invoking the Bionic Man...

Stitches removed from skull, I now resemble a car-crash survivor rather than Frankenstein's antenna'ed piece-goods or a crushed home run ball hit out of the park(insons). Sandie has big plans for me--long walks with my little-used walker, yoga exercises to limber up the frozen bod, a return to successful selling on-line, etc. My inclination is to take things more slowly, but I imagine we'll find a compromise we can both embrace.

Thanks to all well-wishers, and to whoever deserves the credit for d.b.s. surgery. I may even get back to blogging something more than these soap-operaish medical reports--once I start feeling the old confidence again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Now What?

Christmas, New Year's, Martin Luther King day... three weeks farther along with little or no change. New holes in my skull, ugly stitches in my sparse head flesh (I look a bit like a flattened baseball), hands shaking worse than ever. I got through the surgery on December 30 and January 6, but found this boring anticlimax. Still waiting for the hookup now coming on February 3, one day after the Super Bowl, one day after my 72nd birthday.

Should be good luck, right? Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sitting in Limbo

No photos this time, just my rambling thoughts.
* * * * *
A rum-happy tourist clumsily Limbo dancing enjoys a whole lot more motion than Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, stuck sitting... somewhere.

These December days leading right to the end of 2014 are a limbo for me. I'm waiting for a Godot, or maybe it's that big boat, the Robert E. Lee... waiting for the other shoe to drop (while cooling my heels)... waiting for the axe to fall. Or could it be that, like Mr. Dylan, "I'm stuck outside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again"?

Call it what you will, I'm just hangin' out at the house, all dressed up and no place to go, anxiously awaiting (and dreading too) the morning of the 30th of December, when I'll undergo the surgical procedure known as "deep brain stimulation." The DBS operation is designed to control Parkinson's tremor, the shaking or flailing hand movements of those with Parkinson's disease. (A slightly different procedure works on "essential" tremor instead--meaning shakes when in motion rather than shakes while at rest.) DBS sort of reenables the age-worn nerve switches in your brain that, for most of your life, have prevented or minimized the shakes so common to the elderly in general and to us "Parkies" in particular.

I've mentioned Frankenstein's monster a couple of times lately, for good reason. This operation drills a half-inch hole in your skull, embeds wire leads (one for each "side" of the brain) in the STN (Sub Thalamial Nucleus) area of the brain, and those wires run down inside your neck and upper chest to hook up with one or even two battery-driven, pacemaker-like "stimulators" planted in your chest. These in turn are programmed to zap the brain as needed, in order to suppress whatever unleashed nerves are causing the shakes.

Parkies individually exhibit a variety of symptoms, from stiffness and spinal collapse to forgetfulness and overall diminished capacity; DBS pretty much works on tremor only and in rare cases makes some capacity problems worse. So by New Year's Day 2015 I'll be either an incipient new man... well, an improved old one, anyway... or somewhat more vegetal. If I'm part of the fortunate 97 per cent, my Parkinson's shakes will be stilled measurably, allowing for easier keying at the computer, better control when attempting to eat, reduced interference when using a toilet, less agitated movement when I'm lying in bed trying to doze for a few hours.

I'm reluctant to examine the missing 3 per cent too closely, which I suppose just means I'm haunted all the more. To avoid such thinking during this on-hold, thumbs-twiddling time, I've spent about 16 hours a day listening to music or watching downloaded DVDs and TV shows. (Reading is iffy due to shaking hands and ragged vision.) The good news is I have a few artifacts of American culture--i.e., CD sets issued for the current holiday season--to recommend.

I've written before about a certain record label and its remarkable owner (go here to be hip to the long-range trip), and can happily endorse a new 2CD set long-windedly titled This Ain't No Mouse Music! The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, the Americana/Roots-rich soundtrack to a new documentary issued to mark Chris's 80th birthday, featuring 38 tracks, most of them previously unissued, from the five decades of Arhoolie Records--Mance Lipscomb to Michael Doucet, Lydia Mendoza to Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell to the Treme Brass Band, and Ry Cooder (joined by Flaco Jimenez) to Clifton Chenier zydeco-in' alone. Buy it... you'll like it!

Also released this month in a 2CD set offering 38 tracks (from Columbia/Sony this time): the "Raw" version of the brilliant, (in)famous, wide-ranging ragtag recordings universally known as "The Basement Tapes," perpetrated on an unsuspecting (but eager-for-anything) Folk-Rock public by raggle-taggle gypsy musicians Bob Dylan and the Band--a splendid sampling from the monster master cache of 138 songs, rough bits, snippets, and outright goofs, casually taped at home(s) by those five or six cats'n'jammin' kinder over the summer of 1967. (The Raw sampler just might persuade you to spring for the bigger-and-better, legalized boot expansion, presenting all known or found tracks, and packaged in a solid slipcase housing six CDs and a spectacular hardbound book... The Basement Tapes complete, maybe, at last.)

RecommendEd too, though not yet arrived on my doorstep (read more about it at www.mosaicrecords.com), is the latest landmark CD set from the inestimable Mosaic label specializing in Jazz reissues, whose multi-disc Limited Edition packages are inarguable masterworks of critical, historical, and musical significance. This time it's the long-overdue Complete Dial Modern Jazz Recordings, documenting the astonishing, later Forties to mid-Fifties run of Ross Russell's tiny Dial label, which managed to record and release much of the best of Charlie Parker, plus terrific sessions led by or featuring Dizzy Gillespie, young Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Dodo Marmarosa, Erroll Garner, Teddy Wilson, Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Ralph Burns, Bill Harris, Lucky Thompson, Red Norvo, Slam Stewart, etc., etcetera, excelsior! Nine great CDs of Beboppin', ever-illuminatin', essential-and-then-some, essence of Modern Jazz recordings, issued in most excellent Monaural sound and accompanied by the usual impeccable Mosaic booklet of rare photos, annotation essays, and detailed discography. A copy belongs in every Jazz collection, but there are only 7500 copies available. I will be listening, pre-op and post-, come what may.

...Whiling away the hours, watching the play of light as it changes... pre-dawn; midday up from the water; near-twilight's "golden time"; full dark... but each stage as reflected on the HD television screen, my new version of through a glass darkly. Eight episodes comprising the BBC's Broadchurch; 19 cases from the wan career of Sweden's Kurt Wallender; 32 quirky, conZentric angles on the jaunty cop show called Life; 86 chapters in the on-going horse opera of the Canadian Heartland; 275 stop-offs at Boston's landmark bar Cheers, always good for a laugh and a coupla beers (per the Norm, anyway)--all these and scads more. But none so wonderful and brilliant and historic, so clever/funny and heart-warming and patriotic--none of them, in short, as well-written and important as the 156 episodes of writer/producer Aaron Sorkin's television masterpiece The West Wing.

Originally airing from 1999 to 2007, that hour-long program was at the time the perfect ironic counterpoint to the venality and stupidity and repression of rights of the Bush years--the Towers, invading Iraq, legalizing torture, Homeland insecurity, the shame of Katrina, squandering the Clinton surplus, outsourcing America, the banking collapse and the new Depression, plus the growing cult of celebrity, the gadget-driven fracturing of information, and the ridiculous rise of so-called Reality TV. Week after week, while the United States went to hell, for one hour at least, the last, best gasp of Liberalism, Humanism, and American Democracy was there to see in the fictional two terms of the "Bartlett Presidency." One would think that such a splendid, hope-bearing role model would carry over into the unprecedented reaction-to-Bush ascendency of Barack Obama...

But no.

What became of that remarkable candidate and campaign? Was it timidity? An excess of polity, or some better word for professorial politeness caught up in politics-as-usual? A lack of fire-in-the-belly ambition? Too much oreo in that milk chocolate exterior? However defined, it seems the President just didn't know how to preside--no Roosevelt-Truman or Kennedy-Johnson he, merely another big-business, lower-case mode of Demo like Carter and Clinton, both of whose celebrated (but uncelebate) brains proved ineffectual against the negative forces, barely legal farces, and immoderate forces majeures manipulating 21st century America. Our first not-really-Black President turned out to have feats, and resolve, of clay--a nice-guy odd duck incapable of overcoming the inside-the-Beltway yammering, hammering, and stammering, and the infernal No-Mercy/NO-bama black magic of the ugly Repugnicants.

And now he too, on a massively bigger and more important, not to mention tragic on a national and likely international scale... he too sits in limbo--in stasis--a low-confidence sitting duck stilled two years ahead of his unavoidable lame-duck status and time.

Please... no quacks.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

David Stone Martin, Graphically

And so we come to the pater familias of record jacket illustrator/designers, Mr. David Stone Martin. Samples of his artistry and sometimes avant garde illustration can be found in books, on the covers and insides of slick magazines and, of course, gracing the front jackets of hundreds of 78 and 33 1/3 r.p.m. record albums.

I've had occasion to mention DSM fairly often, but the bulk of any intelligent remarks can be found in a post from 2010, when a splendid visual gallery of his work appeared on Steve Cerra's Jazz blog and I wrote a piece meant to complement verbally that pictorial. Sadly, his gallery has since
been removed, so my archived commentary is short on pictures, but I assure anyone coming to view DSM's work for the first time that a Google search of his name will yield wonders!

Start with this appetizer, and then take a seat at the DSM table... it's a viewable, movable feast.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Burt Goldblatt (Giving Thanks for)

Can't trust the old Memory all the way to the wall these days the way I useta could, but umpteen years ago when eBay was really hoppin', with hot collector rarities and long lines of crazed bidders, I surely did get swept up too... paid way too much for a staggering number of rare Jazz albums. Oh, I gradually made most of that back reselling them over time, but the money difference I've always just chalked off to education--my tuition and fees, and texts, that is, for an advanced course (if not a degree) in Modern Jazz circa 1947 to 1967: Bebop to Hard Bop, Mainstream to Free, East Coast commercial to Left Coast Cool; K.C. cribs, L.A. clubs, N.Y.C. lofts, and a hundred basement dives across the U.S. of A., wonderfully pictured and described on the jackets of all those 10" and 12" LPs.

Among designer heroes still surprisingly unsung is a Renaissance Man of rather unpoetic name, master of all he chose to survey, the truly great Burt Goldblatt. Read all about him, complete with a measured albeit miniscule sampling of his mighty work, right about here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

William Claxton, Photographer

For the first year or three of this blog, I regularly tested the familiar mathematical formula regarding the respective worth of pictures and words--too few of the former, too many of the latter--so when BlogSpot.com made posting pics a snap for even us computerrors, I was what you might call "Jazzed" to be able to make the mini-essays more visually arresting. In particular I compiled sample galleries representing certain artist/photographer/designers, the best of whom had turned LongPlay album jackets into 12-inch-square artworks suitable for framing.

Francis Wolfe and David Stone Martin, Herman Leonard and Burt Goldblatt,
William Gottlieb and William Claxton and scores more, their names forgotten or revered, but creators nonetheless of whole record libraries, hundreds of memorable covers emblematic of the beauty or excitement etched in plastic within.

First up from said Archives... Mr. Claxton, whose elegant b&w photos (a selection here, with several more in this visual piece) pretty much designed the look of West Coast Jazz.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman: Burrito Brothers

In the annals of Rock Music, the most historically significant interview I ever conducted came during the brief tenure of the Flying Burrito Brothers original foursome: Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow. Ironically, since the underground newspapers that printed the interview (much shortened) carelessly omitted my credit, I got no strokes from its publication. But I had the last word eventually, and literally, because in this blog in 2007 I finally uploaded the never-before-revealed, three-times-longer, complete version.

Much has been written (too much, according to Hillman) about Parsons as the "flawed genius" creator of so-called Country Rock--which Gram high-falutin'ly, maybe tongue-in-cheekily designated "Cosmic..." something-or-other... "American Soul Music," maybe. No doubt I've been guilty of some hagiographing too. A&M Records sent me a promo copy of the Burritos' debut album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, and I was fascinated by it and soon sought out the band when they played Seattle on three different occasions early on.

My mother was born and raised up in rural south Georgia, a whoop and a holler from Macon, on a farm we visited regularly in the 1940s and '50s. I felt some kinship with Southern charmer Gram, and we hit it off, briefly; he came to dinner, I interviewed Hillman and him, separately and together, and he subsequently vouched for me with Jim Morrison... which led to a strange afternoon, an encounter also documented in the IW Archives. (More on that some other time.)

For Rock historians, Parsons fans, and regular readers with stamina, here's the complete saga in five sections--beginning here, continuing in Part 2, diverging in the third segment, shifting briefly for Part 4, and then finally concluding.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Which Rick Nelson?

Over the course of his four-decade, yet tragically crash-shortened career, rocker Rick Nelson managed to do some creditable acting too, from teen heartthrob Ricky courtesy of Ozzie and Harriet, to cast-against-type rapist (for an Eighties TV movie, I think); whether a young gunfighter backing John Wayne (in Howard Hawk's great Rio Bravo), or a Navy lieutenant in some Jack Lemmon shipboard comedy circa 1960, or years later the guy who keeps bursting into the wrong sitcom-family kitchens ("Hi, Mom... I'm home!") in a brilliant early Saturday Night Live skit.

Still, Rick was happiest and most comfortable on stage, singing, initially in his rockabilly combo with guitar-great James Burton, then stuck doing country-ish
Pop tunes for too long, before finally fronting a fine country-rock band in the Seventies performing mostly his own songs, from "Restless Wind" to "Garden Party" and beyond.

I got to spend a weekend hanging out with Rick the country-rocker for an interview piece that appeared in Fusion, Boston's then-answer to S.F.'s Rolling Stone. Forty years on, I still think of him as the friendliest, most easy-going star/celebrity I ever had the pleasure of meeting. He was sometimes accused of being wooden and withdrawn (and later had drug problems), but I believe he was just shy and private, a likeable, rather ordinary guy thrust into more limelight and folderol than he really ever wanted.

I've been thinking of Rick in these latter days, when Parkinson's symptoms and the side effects of meds leave me embarrassed and unhappy out in the public eye.
People want to be helpful, and no one's pointing at me and snickering but, pace Greta Garbo, I just want to be ignored and left alone. (Soon I'll be walking around like Frankenstein's monster, with electrodes in my skull, wires down my neck, and a pacemaker-like device in my chest, as "deep brain stimulation" attempts to stall some symptoms for a few years.)

Whether I stutter then, or stumble, or somehow stand taller, I guess I'll still be some version of Ed. But... I'd rather folks remember examples of the good fortune and good times I was granted--including my take on Rick Nelson, archived partly here and the rest here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

John Hammond's True Blues

I do quite like the idea of "3"... it's the most basic "family" unit (that is, source parents plus child), the minimum number of voters for a democratic resolution, three of a kind, three on a match, trouble in triplicate, the trio rhythm section of Jazz, baseball's least common hit, Christianity's Holy Trinity, three to get ready, ménage a trois (although three's also a crowd), number of storied Bears/Musketeers/Wise Men, even 3x3 to produce an extra-lucky integer. I also consider it the minimum number of items to fashion a representative sample of something, which is why I often provide three examples rather than a barebones one or a not-convincing-enough two.

Moving through this "Bereaved Knew Whirled" of Parkinson's dissed-ease has me, for now, mining the IW Archives to entertain you reader. Recently I dredged up... I mean, carefully selected, three posts of poems celebrating animals. Now I offer you--again, one per each new post--a threesome of meaty-beaty interview-portraits from my venerable rock critic days, back when I got to hobnob with the hoi polloi of musicdum.

First up, the then-younger Bluesman often identified as John Hammond Jr., even though his middle name does not echo that of his famous music producer dad. In three parts (but of course!) Hammond holds forth here... and hear-to... and then here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Odd Duck

Welcome to the Club... Mister E-for-Ed's Animalia, a happily brief mini-series of odes and en-souciants, past posts and pesky poems. ("A Horace is a Horace, of chorus, of chorus.") Step right up for the third piece in our first set, meaning the last of our Zoo's Who of dejects, come-downs, and weary reinstatements, this one written donkey's years ago during my around-the-world journey to enlightenment--of wisdom (that's pronounced whiz-dumb) and world ways, of waistline and wallet.

Mention the word "duck" these days, and folks are likely to think of one particular merry band of bushy beards, camouflaged weirdness, and crazy-like-a-fox Right Wing redneckery. But, pre-Dynasty, there were other coots and drakes, pin-tails and mallards, not to mention Daffy and Donald and--if you go back far enough, if you really dig deep Down Under--the oddest duck of them all, a certain sexually confused, Antipodean throwback with a lot on its plate.

But enough squawk'n'quack. Ladies and gentlemen, this way to the egress...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grin and Bear It

As my life stalls, so do these musings.

I will live to write again, but at present am On Leave. A few fill-ins, best-ofs, and brought-backs will accordingly show up here in the meantime, unfamiliar to most who pass by, pause briefly, and then move on, through empty space, time of no time, aether renewal, cloud of unknowing, or mere nothing at all, to the next non-stop in and
of the Blogisphere. (Blog-a-Sphere?) (Blog-is-Fear?)

But I digress. (That way lies madness.)

Here lies and then rears its ursine head another of the creatures I once created...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Po'Ed's PoEdtry PostEd

The dog days of August are upon us, and I'm on hold, caught up in health issues and surgical decisions (with in-cisions likely to come). But way back in 2007, I posted a piece that relates to the blog's most recent one (the previous post just below).

Brought forward now for anyone who might be amenable to sampling my work of lighter, happier days, here's the link you might follow...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

And Grateful Too: Louis MacNeice

"Between the Wars"... that's what the Twenties and Thirties in Great Britain came to be labeled, defined in retrospect as a time of quiet hope and noisy Charlestons, of outspoken restless workers and the last gasps of the ruling class, the collapse of Weimar and the main World economy and the quick-march of national Fascists.

The younger generation of British Isles poets (led by W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender), and some older ones too ranging from William Butler Yeats to John
Betjemen, wrote overtly political poems in those years that a number of them later repudiated and tried to hide away, embarrassed by the bold statements and (mostly) leftist attitudes, the images of power grids and machinery, of wheatfield sickles and new dawns.

But those leaden lyrics weren't always a waste of paper and pen. Auden was just plain wrong self-critically to suppress his famous 1939 onset-of-War poem; and whether it was craft or sullen art, Dylan Thomas was wise to hang onto his angry death-by-bombing lament, and Henry Reed to expand his "Lessons of the War."

Another personal favorite--influential on the word music I try to write--is largely forgotten now. "The Sunlight on the Garden" is a poignant, rolling rhythm and chiming rhyme, goodbye-to-all-that period piece by Northern Irish (Scotch/Irish, I suppose) poet Louis MacNeice, a grand example of the playful, prancing "bagpipe music" he was writing in the tumultuous Thirties. I've thought of it often over the past year as a fine way to say farewell...

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.









Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.











The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying













And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.









(Visuals copyright Southwest artist Ed Mell.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RecommendEd

I, Ed, witness now poorly standing, do herewith and hear-abouts, by means of quick peeks at certain under-praised (if not outright overlooked) peaks of Pop Culture, impartially recommend the following items for your pleasure and attentive consumption:

1) Child Ballads (Wilderland Records CD WILDER 002) presents vocalists Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer reviving, entwining, and breathing new harmonic life into seven of those expansive, even epic, medieval-and-after British Isles tales of passion, savagery, and magic--musically mesmerizing story-songs most frequently set in the Border Country between Scotland and England, over 300 of them as compiled in the 19th century by Francis Child, but the diverse texts only, with folk singers before and since supplying suitable tunes both ancient and modern to match the words, and the combined ballad songs then transmitted/sung/"handed" down orally rather than read on the printed page. To the distinguished mid-20th century lineage of recordings by Anne Briggs, Ewan MacCall and A.L. Lloyd, Joan Baez, and then Fairport Convention, Nic Jones, Maddy Prior and June Tabor, we must now add Mitchell and Hamer, whose
heartfelt readings and gorgeous harmonies will make your trumpet sound and your welkin ring.

2) Muscle Shoals (Magnolia Home Entertainment DVD 10634): From Child ballads to Deep Soul ballads is more quiet hop than giant leap--love requited or un-, passion spent or new, living easy or hard and sometimes tragic, and usually bearing some of that old Black magic... well, I've written often about the simple unsegregated synchronicity of music made in Memphis and Muscle Shoals and captured in the grooves of recordings cut in those two locales during the Sixties and Seventies, when Black singers and White session cats and horn players of all stripes and colors worked (played!) happily together, creating hits for Stax and Hi and Fame and the bigger labels that hired their soulful skills.

Think Booker T and the MGs, Aretha loving a man her way and gaining Respect, Percy Sledge both loving and respecting his woman, Wilson Pickett beating the Beatles' Jude by grace of guitarslinger Duane Allman, the great long separate careers of (husband) Clarence Carter and (wife) Candi Staton... all but the first in that role call came courtesy of the tiny, funky Muscle Shoals recording studio
simply named Fame. Watch this artfully photographed, intelligent yet emotional documentary film to see and hear from all the folks mentioned and then some--Bono, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, Dan Penn and Spencer Oldham both, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevies Wonder and Winwood, the famously mostly-anonymous Shoals session men themselves, Fame studio head Rick Hall, and marvelously more.

3) and 4) All the attention accorded the dark, cold, often snowbound mystery-thrillers written by folks with last names like Mankell, Nesbo, Indridason, Larsson, Sigurdsdottir and, for all I know, Yggdrasilsden--these and others lazily lumped together as "Scandinavian Noir"--has stolen the thunder due a duo of police-detective series set in the sunnier climes of the boot-shaped peninsula farther south. If you're weary of grey skies, bleak lives, and serial killers, I commend to you Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, two masters of... let's call it... "Nero Italiano,"
meaning cop-shop mysteries marked by awakened taste buds, passionately expressive personae, political corruption Mediterranean-style, and writing that mixes subtle plotting and deceptively sweet passages, but also resigned irony and bitter sarcasm--a blend that seems just right for Italy in the Berlusconi Era.

Leon's lead is the decent and clever Commissario Guido Brunetti, who loves deeply, but casts a cold eye on, the blind alleys, clogged canals, touristed squares, and nightmare bureaucracies of slowly sinking Venice; his feisty academic wife, teenage children, and trusted equal-if-underlings at headquarters all contribute to the often heartbreaking "solutions" that end each novel. (The latest, By Its Cover, involves stolen maps, scarce manuscripts, and soulless murder. Book 'em, Donna!) Meanwhile, ex-newspaperman Camilleri keeps his Inspector Montalbano busy on the Africa-facing seacoast of Sicily, in a fictional town called Vigata--a sun-drenched sleepy region
that still manages to produce sufficient Mafiosi, official greed, illegal immigrants, varied smuggling, and careless murder to whet the imagination and appetite of perennially hungry Montalbano. A handsome, courteous and crafty, occasionally sardonic man, the inspector is yet hapless around women, who regularly make him sweat and escape for a brisk walk or a long ocean swim.

Montalbano is also played to cool yet vigorous perfection by Italian actor Luca Zingaretti in a terrific series of feature-length films (2 or 3 episodes per MHZ/Rai Trade DVD; 28 wry tales so far), with scenic Sicily, eye-popping food, governmental chicanery, shapely misses, and lively characters to be found in each and every novel and film. (Leon's Brunetti is less well-served by a recent television series shot in Venice but made for German TV--an awkward misfit collision of
languages, kunst und kultur!)

5) File this final recommendation under "Guilty Pleasures." I've become a great fan--via Netflix instant downloads--of the on-going Canadian TV series Heartland, which for eight successful seasons now has combined, oh, say, My Friend Flicka, Little House on the Prairie, and a not-so-nasty Dallas, and gorgeous footage of ranches and Rockies (it's set and shot on location in Alberta). Faithful watchers have witnessed on-going changes in the lives of a handful of main characters--a cute-as-a-button high school girl sensitive to horses and their ailments (Amy), her business-trained older sister Lou, Jack the aging cowboy/gruff grampa who owns the Heartland ranch-turned-horse haven, plus Ty the all-around stable lad who's also Amy's beau, and precocious motormouth Mallory, a young teen who practically lives with them and has become the wiseacre Greek chorus able to see through all obfuscations. A half-dozen other friends and near-lovers provide regular support
for plots that can involve horse healing, bronc busting, or basic stable mucking; a downed small plane, a threatened wild horse herd, or a mountain lion on the prowl; calf roping, barrel racing, and other rodeo craziness; broken-down farms, blizzard conditions, and wedding plans gone awry; rich horse breeders, crooked oil frackers, or troubled runaway kids; teen angst, middle-age muddle, or First Nations wisdom. (You can also just immerse yourself in all that beautiful horseflesh and scenic splendor.) C'mon, newbie... cowboy up!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hall of New Hampshire

Twenty-six years ago now--in late Spring of 1988--Sandie and I were settling in. We’d been back in the States for several months, had gotten married spectacularly in February, and by late April she’d landed a job in the world of Antiques, while I was still searching hard for both a teaching position and a sympathetic editor or two who might give my poems a hearing and a place in their magazines.

I’ve been revisiting those days gone by because, a few weeks ago, I found and bought a signed copy of The Old Life, one of the many wonderful books of poetry (and not forgetting his prose works) by venerable and venerated, yet still under-rated and too-little-known, author-for-all-seasons Donald Hall.

Man-about-pond (Eagle Pond, on the farm of that same name), poet of New Hampshire and the world, Hall in a long and distinguished career has written honored children’s books and baseball books (Fathers Playing Catch with Sons); guides to writing and reading; collections of his own varied poems (lyric and witty, dark and elegiac, stoically autobiographical); reminiscences of farming, his “live free” forebears, and famous elder poets he knew early on (Their Ancient Glittering Eyes); always-pithy essays by the hundreds, eagerly-awaited letters by the thousands and, for all I know, cookbooks, travel guides, biographies, and helpful hints on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

No, you can strike out that last one; Hall’s too cranky and earthy and wise-with-age to pretend he has answers. Though a believer and regular rural-church attendee, he has his doubts and sees the ironies and lies awake at night wondering why he lives on while his much younger wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and other sorely needed men and women are killed off hourly.

Back in ’88, Hall was New Hampshire’s poet laureate. (Two decades later he became the 14th poet laureate for the entire U.S.) Because I admired his plain-spoken, free-flowing poems, I wrote him a fan letter, which led to a brief flurry of messages back and forth. But starting before and then continuing much beyond our exchange, Hall’s life became an epic-length study in pathos and odd circumstance... Lately divorced, he took up with and then married a graduate student named Jane Kenyon who was herself a poet already short-listed to become great. The couple moved from the University of Michigan to Eagle Pond Farm, near Wilmot, the Hall family’s ancestral farm that Donald remembered vividly from his childhood. Then Hall was diagnosed with some sort of incurable cancer, and Ms. Kenyon vowed to see him through the long slide... except that a bizarre thing happened: Hall lived on and on, and Jane became the patient instead, her own deadly leukemia diagnosed too late.

During those dreadful months the two poets wrote brief lyrics and longer works both that were harrowing and sorrowful, love-stricken and life-affirming, death-resisting and then, exhausted, broodingly accepting--poem collections that were widely acknowledged and honored: Hall’s The Happy Man, The One Day, The Museum of Clear Ideas, The Old Life, and following Jane’s death, the coruscating Without; Kenyon’s books were Let Evening Come, Constance, and the posthumous collection Otherwise. (She also enjoyed a few years as another poet laureate for New Hampshire.)

Kenyon died in 1995. In idle ignorance I had assumed Hall to be dead too, but the Internet insists that he's still up there in New Hampshire, alive and ticking if not exactly kicking. He reportedly had eased into withdrawal mode, gradually turning reclusive, restricting himself more and more to Eagle Pond Farm. He’d watch the seasons come and go and write about whatever was on his mind, from brindle cows to the language of poetry, from the snakebitten Red Sox to the foibles of multi-celled creatures. He kept publishing--mostly prose; he said the urge for poems had moved elsewhere--and he lived on...

And he is still there today, two decades past Kenyon's death, observing, scribbling notes, eighty-five years young. Speaking little. Writing. Cared for in 2014 by some other woman, but always remembering Jane.

In honor of his stoic and astonishing quarter-century, I am reproducing the most expansive letter from our brief correspondence--thoughtful, newsy, chiding me gently. So here’s to Donald Hall, splendid writer, remarkable man, stubborn old cuss; loving husband and living poet:





(I began this post a year ago while having reproduction problems with BlogSpot host--never did figure out how to fix the visuals, or present the letter correctly. But anyone who actually wants to read Hall's words--and why wouldn't you?--can expand the letter image area to 300% and make out fairly well. My apologies for computer ignorance.)