Friday, January 10, 2014

Kathleen Edwards and the Good Lovelies cover America: the messengers transform the message.

Even back in the early 1970s, when I eagerly collected John Denver albums, I found the group America insufferably boring. Their first hit, "A Horse With No Name," seemed a lame attempt to mimic the understated passion of Neil Young, and their second, "Sister Goldenhair," mere syrupy glop. So, what happens to that gloppy song when it's performed by Kathleen Edwards, with backing vocals by Toronto's Good Lovelies? Watch the video above and decide for yourself, but my caption expresses my opinion. Is it still glop? Yeah, but it's really good glop.*

Thanks once again to Eliot Wagner, and to tanjatiziana for the video.
*Discerning readers may recognize this as a paraphrase of the last sentence in the "Hawaiian Sellout" segment of Firesign Theater's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Elvis Presley, "Hard Headed Woman"

--Little Richard, on the Dick Cavett show, sometime in the early 1970s, quoted in Greil Marcus, Mystery Train (5th Ed., Plume, 2008).

Today is the King's birthday. In the video above, taken from the movie King Creole (1958), he does his version of "Long Tall Sally."

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bob Dylan, "Pretty Saro"

Bob Dylan's 1970 album Self Portrait seemed, almost as much as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, to be a raised middle finger to his audience and his critics. Now, as part of his "Bootleg Series," Dylan has released Another Self Portrait, made of tracks recorded for the original album, without the later addition of horns, strings, or background vocals, but adding some songs that were not included in the 1970 album. One of these is the folk ballad "Pretty Saro" (video above). My friend Michael Simmons, in his review of the new album (Michael also wrote one of the two sets of liner notes for Another Self Portrait; the other was written by Greil Marcus) has this to say:
Pretty Saro is a knock-out: a swooping tenor that leaps tall octaves in a single bound. Why it was left off Self Portrait is puzzling, maddening, but The Bard works in mysterious ways.
"[A] swooping tenor that leaps tall octaves in a single bound"? Yes, this is Dylan.

Hillel Livingston Seagull

That which is hateful to you, do not do to another....The rest is commentary. Go study.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Moon over Brooklyn II

'I saw the new moon late yestreen
Wi' the auld moon in her arm;
And if we gang to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm.'
--"Sir Patrick Spens" (Scottish ballad, Anon.). From Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900, via

The photo was taken from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The omen proved true, as the weather turned bad later.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

New Year's remembrances, thank-yous, and resolutions.

When I started my morning walk on New Year's Day the first song my iPod served up was the Byrds' "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better (when you're gone)." 2013 was for me, as any year must be for most people, a mixed bag. A project I'd been working on since July of 2012 ended in mid-November, putting me into what I'm confident will be a relatively short period of unemployment. Recently, I've been saddened by the death of friend, neighbor and fellow Grace Church parishioner Bronson Binger. There's a transcript of an interview with Bronson here. I spotted one error: "Church of Avenue Rest" should be "Church of Heavenly Rest." Mis-hearings are a hazard of oral history, as they are in court stenography. I once had to correct the transcript of a deposition of my then boss that had his first job in the reinsurance business as "excessive loss underwriter," which, if true, should have gotten him fired, instead of "excess of loss underwriter."

Others whose passing I've noted here are (in chronological order): Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, who died on the same day and are commemorated in the same post; George Jones; J.J. Cale; Seamus Heaney; Lou Reed; Arthur Danto; Nelson Mandela; and Yusef Lateef. Some I didn't post, but should have, include Joan Fontaine, Annette Funicello, Al Goldstein, Frank LautenbergElmore Leonard, and Doris Lessing. Dave Coles and I both mourned the death of Greenwich Village as a Bohemian community. An interior designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was demolished. And there was the Boston Marathon bombing. Addendum: I just received the latest Harvard Law Bulletin, from which I get the sad news of the death in 2013 of one of my favorite professors, Detlev Vagts.

There were also reasons for celebration. Grand Central Terminal had its 100th anniversary, later commemorated by a parade of trains. My wife and I had our 22nd. Thanks to friends, we enjoyed a long weekend on Cape Cod that included tastings at Truro Vineyards and the Cape Cod Brewery. After a bout with cancer, Sharon Jones is back performing. The Mets finished third, not fourth in the NL East and the Red Sox (my second favorite AL team, after the Rays, and my wife's favorite, period) won the World Series. In Zagat's fifty state sandwich survey both beef on weck and the Connecticut lobster roll got their deserved recognition. Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor.

Google analytics tell me that "Grace Slick at Seventy" remains my most popular post of all time, so I must again thank Michael Simmons for supplying the photograph, and for being a continuing source of interesting bits of news and observations, many of which have inspired me to post. In second place, but in first place over the past year or so and therefore gaining fast, is "Lady Day: Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation," for which another repeated thank-you goes to The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Rector of Grace Church, who first showed an image of the painting to me.

Enjoying third place on my all-time post hit parade is "Pierre Bonnard, 'Late Interiors,' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." As I note near the beginning of the linked post, I was inspired to see the Bonnard exhibit by the interest shown in that artist by my friend and neighbor, the painter Mark Crawford. A year ago I promised to do another post about Mark's more recent artwork, and I'm sorry to say that I haven't done it yet, but I resolve to do it in 2014. Meanwhile, you can see his work on his website.

Eliot Wagner and his blog Now I've Heard Everything have been a continuing source of inspiration. He provided the video for one of my most popular posts this year, Puss n Boots doing Neil Young's "Down by the River". Thanks also to Marshall Chapman for returning to New York after seven years and giving a great performance, which Eliot also attended, and which I memorialized, with two videos, in this post.

A post from 2012 that has enjoyed steady popularity is "Divine Dvořák; scintillating Shostakovich," for which I must thank the New York Philharmonic, and especially James M. Keller, whose notes I quoted to good effect.

Thanks to my Lion's Head friend Tania Grossinger for the opportunity to review her autobiography, Memoir of an Independent Woman. Thanks also to Dermot McEvoy for keeping me, and many others, up to date concerning alimni/ae of "Lion's Head University." Dermot has a new historical novel in the works, The 13th Apostle, which I will be reviewing here. It has a Facebook page which, if you're on Facebook, I encourage you to visit and, if you choose, to "like." Another good read this year was friend Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic. Adam, who has written for the Financial Times as well as other periodicals, wrote a gripping tale of financial and sexual intrigue. Addendum: His comment on Facebook reminds me that I should also thank Francis Morrone, both for the help he gave me in identifying the provenance of vault paintings in the Graybar Passage at Grand Central, and for the usefulness of his An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn as a reference.

As always, thanks to "Homer Fink," publisher of the Brooklyn Heights Blog and The Brooklyn Bugle for allowing me another outlet for my writing mania, and kudos to my BHB colleagues Karl Junkersfeld for his videos and Heather Quinlan for her award-winning documentary about New York speech, If These Knishes Could Talk.

Thank-yous to immediate family are customary, but I have a considerable debt to my wife, not just for her patience, but for providing me with ideas, especially from her regular perusals of the Archivist of the U.S.'s blog, and for sharing my work with others. Thanks also to my daughter for her support, and for turning me on to Hyperbole and a Half, John Mulaney, and The Violent Femmes.

Resolutions? This summer I saw two great art shows, Sargent Watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum and Hopper Drawing at the Whitney, both long gone, and about both of which I meant to post, but kept putting it off. I resolve not to let such opportunities pass again.

The plaque in the photo at the top of this post is on a row house across the street from where I live. You can hear the first stanza of New Year Letter here.

Phil Everly, 1939-2014

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: