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Arts and Entertainment

Phil Everly, 1939-2014

January 5, 2014

Phil Everly, the younger of the Everly Brothers (at left in photo) died Friday, less than a month shy of his 75th birthday.

My introduction to the Everlys was in 1957, when I was in sixth grade at Eglin Air Force Base Elementary School, in the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle. Each Wednesday afternoon we’d leave our classroom and go to the “cafetorium,” where the folding tables and benches had been moved against the wall, leaving a row of seats on each side of the room and a dance floor between. One of the younger school staffers served as DJ, playing 45 RPM  records on a portable player. This was our weekly “social dancing,” meant to prepare us for the teenage world we were about to enter. It was in fact an introduction to the loss of innocence, mine included.

I had a crush on a girl named Jamie. Unfortunately for me, she was “going steady”–a status evidenced by a ring hanging from a chain she wore around her neck–with Ronnie, the biggest boy in our class. During social dancing Ronnie and Jamie would gather with several other steady couples–I thought of them as the “Cosmopolitan Set”–on what ipso facto became the power side of the cafetorium. I would be with hoi polloi on the other side. Whenever the DJ would start a slow number, often the Everlys’ “Maybe Tomorrow”, which was the “B” side of their second big hit, “Wake Up Little Susie” but got a fair amount of play because the DJ liked to mix fast and slow songs, a sweet girl named Karen would manage to be standing in front of me. I would take hold of her and fox trot her over to where the Cosmopolitans were dancing. We had been taught the convention that a boy, and only a boy, could compel an exchange of partners by tapping another boy on the shoulder. Jamie and Ronnie were always protected by a phalanx of lesser Cosmos, so getting to Jamie involved several partner exchanges until I got to reach up and tap Ronnie, who would release Jamie with obvious distaste. I would get to hold her close and shuffle my feet for a few blissful seconds until Ronnie’s knuckles rapped my shoulder and the partner swaps would unwind until I got back to Karen. That Karen put up with this over a number of dancing sessions, and that I was willing to make her put up with it, retrospectively amazes and appalls me. Karen, wherever you are, I hope you’ve had a very good life.

In 1958 my dad retired from the Air Force and we moved to Tampa. On our first visit to Britton Plaza–a 1956 vintage shopping center that I still visit whenever I’m in Tampa because it’s home to the Tapper Pub–we went into Neisner’s, what was then called a “five and dime,” and I heard “Bird Dog” (video above) for the first time over the store’s P.A. system. After that, the Everlys continued to be part of the soundtrack of my pre-teen, teenage, and early adult life. Their close harmony lent itself to romantic ballads like “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, an anthem for hopeless lovers (something I’ve been more often than I should have; Jamie was just the first of many), but they also could do edgy songs like “Bird Dog” and like “Poor Jenny” (video below), which became a favorite of mine for its catchy, frenetic tune and its hysterically implausible lyrics:

I’ve always thought of the Everlys as Kentuckians, but as the Times obit says, while the family’s roots and older brother Don’s birthplace are there in Muhlenberg County, eulogized in John Prine’s “Paradise”, they moved to Chicago before Phil was born. After that they moved to Shenandoah, Iowa, where the brothers grew up and began their singing careers on their father’s local radio show.

Goodbye, Phil. You were one of the last of the surviving pioneers who built rock and roll from country and blues roots. I’ll miss you.

Update: Thanks to FB/BHB friend Arthur Boehm, here’s an audio clip, with still of the record label, of Phil singing “The Air That I Breathe” solo, arranged by Warren Zevon, before the Hollies made it a hit:

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Yusef Lateef, 1920-2013.

December 26, 2013

My introduction to the music of Yusef Lateef, who died Monday at 93, came in 1967, when I was a first year law student. My dorm neighbor, Bob Bell, was a jazz aficionado. I knew next to nothing about jazz. I’m not sure how it came about: I may have been talking with Bob about music, or I may have heard something wafting from his dorm room–Jazz on flute? That’s odd–but I ended up borrowing his copy of Lateef’s album Psychicemotus, which sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.

Lateef’s music was eclectic and syncretic. His roots were in big band swing and be-bop, but he later incorporated musical styles from other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia, as well as European art music, into his works. He also used instruments not often or ever before found in jazz; not only flute but oboe, as in the video clip above, and styles not common to jazz, such as the bowed, instead of plucked. bass viol in the same clip. He didn’t like to call his music “jazz”; instead he called it “autophysiopsychic music.” In the video, he’s accompanied by Kenneth Barron on piano, Bob Cunningham on bass, and probably– he’s not identified on the video, but was on all of Lateef’s recordings around the time (1972) the video was made–Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums.

Lateef was a teacher as well as performer. He held a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and taught there, and at Amherst College, until near the end of his life.

I must add a footnote about Bob Bell: at the time I knew him, he had the distinction of having his name in the Constitutional Law casebook. He was the named appellant in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Bell v. Maryland, which vacated and remanded his and several others’ convictions for criminal trespass arising from their participation in a sit-in demonstration at a Baltimore restaurant. In a delicious bit of irony, Bob later became Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the same court that had affirmed his conviction before it was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Arts and Entertainment, Bloggers

Gram and Emmylou; Emmylou, Dolly, and Linda

December 21, 2013

When I go for walks, I usually take my iPod set in the “shuffle” mode. Because of my eclectic interests in music, this sometimes leads to odd concatenations, as on a recent walk during which the Sinfonia from Verdi’s Nabucco was followed immediately by the Holy Modal Rounders’ version of “Flop-Eared Mule”. Sometimes these conjunctions are serendipitously pleasant, as on one walk several years ago when the first, allegro movement from J.S. Bach’s Second Brandenberg Concerto was followed by a lively Cajun song.

A few days ago I started out with the iPod playing Gram Parsons’ haunting, autobiographical “In My Hour of Darkness,” with Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal, from Gram’s posthumously released album Grievous Angel (audio clip with still of album cover above); next came “My Dear Companion” from the Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt (live performance video below). It’s easy for me to speculate that “My Dear Companion,” on which Emmylou takes the lead vocal, was chosen by her as a tribute to Gram, her late musical companion and friend.

I never met Gram Parsons, but I knew of him before he became famous. While I was a student at the University of South Florida I became friends with several students who had known him in his home town, Winter Haven. They told me about this brilliant, talented guy who was a folk singer, and who performed with his group, the Shilohs, at the Derry Down, a night club for teenagers that was owned by his stepfather. I heard that he was at Harvard, and, later, that he had dropped out and started a group called the International Submarine Band along with fellow Havenite Jon Corneal. I was thrilled when, in my second year of  law school, I read that he had joined my favorite rock group, the Byrds. I bought their newest album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which includes what has become his signature song, “Hickory Wind”. I followed his career as he left the Byrds and, along with another former Byrd, Chris Hillman, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, then had a solo album, GP, which introduced to a wide audience the voice of Emmylou Harris. His death from a drug overdose in 1973 saddened me enormously.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

Update on Lou Reed: his Grace Church connection (thanks to Binky Philips).

November 2, 2013

I damn near vandalized my briefs when I read the first sentence of Binky Philips’ Huff Po piece:

I first met Lou Reed at the Holiday Fundraiser Fair at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, the day after Thanksgiving, 1967.

Lou at the Grace Church Fair? My wife has been a stalwart Fair worker for maybe the last thirteen years or so. Of course, 1967 was well before our time here in the Heights. I was starting my first year of law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she was a sixth grader at a Catholic school in Lynn, a few miles away. Had we been introduced at the time, and told that we would someday be married, we would both have been very surprised, perhaps even (at least in her case) horrified. (I would probably have thought: “Well, she’s not the upper middle class WASP princess of my dreams, but she is pretty.” She might have thought: “What an pretentious, pseudo-intellectual twit.”)

Anyway, Lou was not present in person at the ’67 Fair. Mr. Philips, fourteen at the time, “met” him in the form of a stack of the first Velvet Underground LPs (you can always get some really good stuff at the Grace Church Fair; trust me), one of which he bought, took home, played, and didn’t like. He described Lou’s vocal delivery as “Bob Dylan with a Brooklyn hitter accent.” Two years later, stoned, and with a friend, he pulled the album out, played it, and SHA-ZAM! He was converted.

Later, Mr. Philips had several in person encounters with Lou, almost all of them in music stores. In one of these, he did manage a brief, inconsequential conversational exchange about a guitar. I was once (apart from the Detroit concert) in Lou’s presence. This was at a party, sometime around the ’70s-’80s cusp, in the then edgy (now touristy) Meat Packing District. My friend Charlie (not to be confused with Binky’s friend Charlie) pointed him out to me, standing maybe twenty feet away. I resisted the temptation to introduce myself, knowing I was not cool enough to merit his attention.

Mr. Philips writes that he was in the Grace Church Choir (by which he presumably means the Youth Choir) for three years. Among his choir mates at that time likely would have been Harry Chapin and Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Brooklyn Born Lou Reed, Rock Legend Dies at 71

October 27, 2013

This past June I posted the good news
that Lou Reed had undergone what appeared to be a successful liver transplant. Today the news turned bad; he died at 71.

Lou was a terrific guitarist, but it was his vocal performances that for me are most memorable. Delivered in, as Ben Ratliff’s New York Times obituary puts it, “his Brooklyn-Queens drawl”, lacking any soaring dynamics, they could be sardonic, scathing, or sweet. Sometimes they were mixtures of all three almost at once. “Coney Island Baby,” the song he does in the video clip above, emphasizes the sweetness, but without being mawkish.

I saw him in live performance once, at the State Theater in Detroit during the 1980s. I was there for a meeting with several friends and colleagues from New York. One of them was a nun living in the secular world who ran a consulting business to fund her charitable ventures, which included serving Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of homeless people on the streets of Harlem. She enjoyed the concert very much, although she found “Sex with Your Parents” a bit perplexing

In January of 1987 Lou and his former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale appeared together in concert in my neighborhood. They performed the complete contents of their album Songs for Drella, made as a memorial to their artistic patron and friend Andy Warhol. I somehow missed this; fortunately, my Brooklyn Heights Blog colleague “Homer Fink” was there, and today published this recollection of the event, as well as his appreciation of Lou.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Goodbye, Black 47

September 21, 2013

I got to know Larry Kirwan back in 1978, when he and Pierce Turner, as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, were the house band at the Bells of Hell, one of the two greatest bars (can you guess the other one?) that ever were in New York. The Bells closed in 1979, and Larry and Pierce continued on for a while, making a move into electronica and disco as the Major Thinkers, then each went his own way. For a while, Larry concentrated on his other talent, writing, and produced a play called Liverpool Fantasy, based on the question: What would the world be like if the Beatles never made it? (Larry has since expanded it into a novel.) Then, in the late 1980s, Larry got together with some other superb musicians and formed Black 47, a band that I love despite having once tongue-in-cheekedly described them as “traditional Irish hip-hop thrash metal punk” or something similar. In the video above, they do my favorite of their songs, one about the 1916 Easter Rising, “James Connolly”:

My name is James Connolly, I didn’t come here to die,

But to fight for the rights of the working man, the small farmer too, 

Protect the proletariat from the bosses and their screws,

So hold on to your rifles, boys, and don’t give up your dream,

Of a republic for the working class, economic liberty!

I’ve posted before about my visit to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, where the surviving sixteen leaders of the 1916 Rising were taken and shot; the wounded Connolly having been tied to a chair to face the firing squad.

Larry has now sent word that, a little over one year from now, on the 25th anniversary of their first gig, Black 47 will disband. As their website notes:

There are no fights, differences over musical policy, or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms.

In their remaining year, they’ll continue to tour, and are working on one final album, Last Call. I will get a copy, and attend as many of their gigs as I can. I’ll report more here from time to time.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Brennan on the Moor."

March 17, 2013

It’s hard for me to believe they’re all gone now. Liam was the last; he died just over three years ago. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Paddy some years ago at the Lion’s Head bar and harmonizing with him on a song. I went to a memorial concert for Tommy Clancy, hosted by Frank McCourt, at which Frank asked,

How do you tell an Englishman from an Irishman? It’s in how they propose marriage. An Englishman says, “Dahling, I love you. Will you marry me?” But an Irishman says, “Mary, how would you like to be buried with my people?”

Happy St. Patrick’s day.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Existential Stuff

Michael Simmons & Slewfoot, "Instant Forget" (NSFL).

February 27, 2013

Michael Simmons has been busy lately. A few days ago he sent me a link to an article claiming Elvis was Jewish. Now he provides a video (best viewed in full screen mode) by Thelma Blitz (aka clairedelune49) “made…without my knowledge or consent” (though evidently with his ex post facto approval). Here are his notes:

The song is “Instant Forget” by Michael Simmons & Slewfoot, written by Rob Stoner, recorded live at The Other End in December 1977. This is around the time Creem magazine called me “The Father Of Country Punk” and named Slewfoot one of the best punk rock bands in New York — even though we were emphatically not punk, except in attitude. 

The visual is a Foto Funny I wrote (and starred in) for my 1980s Lampoon column “Drinking Tips & Other War Stories.” The strip was shot by director Allan Arkush (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), the other male dinner guest is the late, great transgressive comedian Budge Threlkeld, the brunette is Allan’s wife Joanne Palace, the blonde is jazz singer Michele Winding. The waiter is an actor who was also a real waiter.

It ain’t high art, although I was usually high.

Addendum: The Drinking Tips illustration was by my friend Drew Friedman and the point of my column was to JUST SAY DEFINITELY during the JUST SAY NO era.

So, for those of you undertaking seasonal disciplines, this is definitely Not Safe For Lent.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

Elvis was Jewish. That’s the emmes.

February 20, 2013
My old Lion’s Head drinking buddy Michael Simmons, often a helpful source of ideas for blog posts, sent me a message with the caption “The King of the Jews.”  In it, he asked, “Was Elvis a landsmann?” (roughly, the Yiddish equivalent of “homeboy”) and gave a link to an article in Tablet magazine, the server of which is now down, perhaps thanks to the folks in Unit 61398. Anyway, according to the article, Elvis was halakhically (i.e. according to Jewish law) a Jew by virtue of being descended from a Jewish great-great grandmother, Nancy Burdine, exclusively through the female line. The article also claims that Elvis’ mother, Gladys Love Presley, was aware and proud of her Jewish heritage. As a consequence, Elvis had a Star of David carved onto her gravestone.
Then there’s this video: a montage of still photos with a soundtrack, allegedly of Elvis singing Hava Nagila. Or is it really someone else?

You decide.

By the way, emmes is the Yiddish word for truth. I learned this from my friend Gersh Kuntzman.
Addendum: Blogger Debbie Schlussel posted about Elvis’ Jewishness three years ago, assertng that:

He even did what people stereotypically claim Jews do:  Elvis got a nose job (for the record, no-one in my family [Schlussel is Jewish] has had this procedure).

She also quotes from a Jewish Weekly article that traces his descent from his great grandmother, the daughter of Nancy Burdine and Abner Tacket, “the Jewess Martha Tacket.” This made me recall an anecdote I read years ago about the late Democratic honcho and prominent lawyer Robert Strauss. When he was a student at the University of Texas, a fellow student remarked about a photo of Strauss’ fiancée, “What a pretty Jewess.” Strauss replied, “You sumbitch, she’s a pretty girl”

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Existential Stuff

It’s Chanukah, and Chanukah it is.

December 9, 2012

In the song accompanying the video above, the LeeVees address the burning question: how do you spell the name of the minor Jewish holiday–but which has become major in the American context; see Hilary Leila Krieger’s piece on the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times–that started today, and will last for another seven days? Ms. Krieger chose “Hanukkah.” Four years ago I chose the alternative “Chanukah,” mostly because it gave a visual as well as sonic alliteration to my post’s title, “Chanukah on the Chisholm Trail.” Last year I avoided the issue by not mentioning the name in the title or body of my post, although the caption of the embedded Matisyahu video spells it “Hanukkah.” The LeeVees don’t give us an answer.

Of course, there is one absolutely correct way to spell the name of the holiday:  חֲנֻכָּה What we’re considering here is how to spell it in a transliterated fashion, in the Roman alphabet. I’ve made my choice: I’m going with Chanukah. My reason is that the initial “Ch” denotes the slight guttural sound, as distinguished from the soft English “H,” that properly begins the word. So says this latke loving (salmon roe and sour cream, please) goy, who eagerly awaits our neighbor’s Chanukah celebration.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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