Saturday, November 02, 2013

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

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 might have been Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago. Harry Chapin would have preceded him by a few years.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Classics IV, "Spooky"

I've marked other Halloweens with some obvious choices: "Night on Bald Mountain" and "The Monster Mash", and a less than obvious one: "Ambrose (Part 5)", by comely Brooklynite Linda Laurie. This year I've gone back to something obvious.

I remember "Spooky" from my first year of law school. I wasn't crazy about it; I was more into hard rock and folk at the time, and "Spooky" sounded a bit too jazzy for my taste. Now, having looked at the song's Wikipedia entry, I know that it started as a saxophone instrumental that was a minor hit for Mike Sharpe. Still, I noticed that the song seemed to stick in my head; as a rock critic would say, it had hooks. And their singer, the late Dennis Yost, had a way with a tune.

One of the WRKO DJs mentioned that the group was from Atlanta. Now, having seen the band's Wiki, I know they originated in my old home state, Florida, specifically Jacksonville. They have a history that intertwines with that of Southern rock at large. Two members of the group later joined fellow Jacksonvillian Robert Nix in the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Nix had been the drummer for the Candymen, a group that had been the backup band for Roy Orbison and several other stars before going on its own to record "Georgia Pines":

I also heard "Georgia Pines" during my 1L year, one night when I was up late studying and listening to WBCN, Boston's first "underground" FM rock station. The DJ introduced the song as "Southern white soul" and said the lead singer was Rodney Justo. I've since learned that Rodney is a fellow Tampan. (Some of my old friends have taken to calling themselves "Tampanians" because "Tampan" sounds too much like something else; I say "Who cares? We can absorb it!"). Rodney was with Nix in ARS as their lead singer. ARS did a cover of "Spooky", as did Dusty Springfield, Lydia Lunch, and many others.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reading Arthur Danto on the Subway

You took me past the Brillo boxes
to the Sistine ceiling; there you died.
I'm not sure about the boxes.
I need to retrace my route.
Maybe somewhere, say,
between Borough Hall and Bowling Green,
you'll bring me to a wakeful dream;
or will it be the end of the line?

Arthur C. Danto, philosopher and lover of art, died last Friday, as I was reading What Art Is.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed

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.