Category Archives: music

Dick Clark and Levon Helm

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Two very different men died recently. Dick Clark and Levon Helm were almost opposites. One epitomized pop culture’s star making machinery, the other a pop culture which avoided the star making machinery. Both are important, and have left an indelible mark on our culture.

Dick Clark, at first glance, seems trivial and unimportant. Just a talking head introducing the latest teen idols. A pleasant voice, face, and demeanor calculated to not offend, unless of course you found that very inoffensiveness offensive. But this isn’t fair. Dick Clark cared about popular music. At a time when rock n’ roll was being derided by Frank Sinatra as a vile aphrodisiac Dick Clark showed that this new music wasn’t about crime and immorality, or at least, it didn’t have to be. Dick Clark saw that if teenage music was to survive it had to change, lest it be driven underground where it might just fade away into oblivion. He also loved rhythm and blues, and although he is remembered for Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee and other vanilla squishy soft rockers, he also contributed to the success of Sam Cooke, Smokie Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, and other black artists. If Dick Clark had been as conservative as some believe, he would have allowed rock n’ roll and r & b to die, leaving us with the rat pack. I think Dick Clark wanted to be hip, but he just couldn’t make it work. That actually added to his charm. He remained the upbeat dj with the perfect teeth, perpetually young until his death. His message was simple. Pop music is good clean fun. He was never taken seriously by anyone, and that is the way he liked it. You couldn’t really knock him because he had no pretensions. He knew he was just a familiar face introducing us to the imaginary world of pop music. That is the key thing to understand about Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and Rockin’ New Years Eve, it is all a show. It is a pop music version of Disneyland. None of it is serious. It is selling us the modern American myth of malt shops, drive-in’s, fast cars, and a sweet innocence. None of it was real and almost no one was fooled. Of course not all of it was imaginary. Teenagers had the opportunity on American Bandstand to watch teenagers just like themselves dancing to the same songs they listened to. You could root for the song you wanted to see make it to number one. It provided a shared experience which really doesn’t have a contemporary equivalent. Pop music today tends to be fragmented, and the whole idea is to celebrate decadence and irony. Innocence? It never really existed except in the imaginary universe of places like American Bandstand. It is true that by today’s standards Dick Clark seems bland, but his blandness made a revolutionary new trend in music acceptable to the parents, and the moguls of the music industry. Because of that, the way was prepared for the arrival of the Beatles and everything that followed. For that, we owe Dick Clark a debt.

Levon Helm has a very different story. Levon is the real deal. He was a musician and songwriter who lived to create. He was the drummer for the Band, for which he sang songs which feel as though they had always been there. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ are timeless pieces of Americana. He didn’t care about commercial success. He wasn’t looking to be famous. He was the Everyman. He sang for all the nameless men who populated the American landscape from it’s very inception. You can hear Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Mark Twain, and James Dean in his voice. He managed to achieve that universality, that anonymous timeless quality that Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson aspired to but whose vivid personalities prevented. Levon Helm is a ghost. He was totally devoted to the music and evoking the spirit of America with his work. Levon Helm wanted to blend into the background and be remembered by other musicians. He could care less about anything more than that. He will be missed because the honest ones come along infrequently. Most artists are swayed by the star making machinery, and it affects their artistry, Levon Helm stayed true to his muse.

We need both kinds of men. We need people like Levon Helm to keep us honest and remind us of what true artistry is about, and we need people like Dick Clark to prevent good music from fading into obscurity. For any of us to hear the good stuff we must endure the superficial and realize that nothing gets heard if it isn’t promoted. Dick Clark was the master at promotion, at letting you know about music. His taste was mainstream, but he still managed to put some major talents on the map. Some artists kid themselves that they don’t need to play the game, but a certain amount of that is required if you want to make a difference, and help steer the course of popular music.

The Mysterious Scott Walker

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Scott Walker is probably one of the most influential singers of his generation, although he isn’t well known in the US. He belonged to a group called the Walker Brothers in the sixties, although his name was actually Noel Scott Engel. None of the members of the group were actually named Walker. John Maus and Gary Leeds were the other ‘Walker’ brothers. He had played in other bands, and started out in his teens as a protege of Eddie Fisher, modeling himself after other teen idols. But unlike other teen idols who may have resembled Elvis physically, but couldn’t sing anything like him, Scott actually had, and still has, a superb voice. In fact, one of the most remarkable voices in pop music history. David Bowie has been influenced greatly by Scott Walker. The Walker Brothers began in LA in 1964, but achieved their greatest success in England where they rivaled the Beatles in popularity. They had their first big hit with ‘ Make It Easy On Yourself’, and then achieved their greatest hit with the spooky, evocative hit ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. The video is also excellent for this song, Scott Walker, bearing a slight resemblance to Warren Beatty, smirks into the camera and conveys an enigmatic personality. But Scott Walker wasn’t made out for stardom. and the group broke up in 1967.  He hated dealing with all of the things that come with stardom. He cared about good music, and became a fan of Jacques Brel, and focused his attention on creating carefully crafted ballads which almost no one ever heard until the recent interest in Scott Walker engendered by the cult documentary, 31st century man. His voice has a haunting quality, full of mystery and drama. Check him out on youTube, you will develop an obsession with him, if you haven’t already. He kept experimenting with different forms, playing with techno, and strange soundscapes which defy description. His singing became more like a poetic recitation, the songs weren’t really songs any longer but avant garde compositions. Strange, but compelling stuff. I have included two songs from youTube, the excellent ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Jesse’ from what I believe is his last album from a few years ago. This is my introduction to a repost of a more poetic treatment of Scott Walker I posted a few weeks ago. It captures the enigma that is Scott Walker.

Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.

On a personal note for those of you that don’t follow my other blog, russell5087.wordpress.com, I reported in my latest post that I have finally landed a job. I haven’t had one since early January, and this one is only until October, but could become permanent if I do really well. I am very happy this happened given that I couldn’t pay rent this month, and will be late with it in April. I also have completed my Flash animation for Stock Photo Woman Fantasy, except for music. It is so long, including about 65 different photo collages. I might try to do it as a slide show instead, and find a music video you could listen to while watching my video. I still need to write the story for the next installment and do a couple of collages as just photos. I am very happy the animation is basically done. You will see it tomorrow or the next day. I am also very happy that my cataracts will be removed, probably in April. So things are looking up for me. I hope you are inspired to listen to more Scott Walker, he is worth getting into.


Just A Little Eno Is All I Need

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BRIAN ENO

OBLIQUE STRATEGIES

A long time ago and far away I had a drummer for a roommate, and he had a fabulous record collection. Among other artists such as David Bowie, Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, and others, he introduced me to Brian Eno. Brian made by far the greatest impression.  His music spoke to me of other places outside of our own mundane existence. Or as he would put it, ‘Another Green World’, the title of one of his best albums. Brian Eno had no real interest in pop music for himself, although he had a great deal of interest in producing everyone from U2, the Talking Heads, and even Paul Simon. He was more interested in oblique strategies, his title for a way of bypassing the conscious mind by a random selection of ideas printed on cards. This bears some resemblance to William Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s cutup technique. Both are ways of introducing randomness which can then inspire your writing, your music, your films. David Lynch has used oblique strategies in his work. Of course, I wonder just how random this all is. The deeper self may direct our seemingly random methods. In Eno’s case, it works brilliantly. His soundscapes have been the inspiration for so many others, such as Moby, and even Trent Reznor’s Ghost series.

   He began as a student of ‘serious’ music, experimenting with repeating loops of sound. He then became involved in the world of pop music when he joined Roxy Music, this being his brief fling with glam. After leaving the group in the mid-seventies, he produced a series of solo albums which stand the test of time. Here Come the Warm Jets is both progressive and alternative rock at it’s best. He continued this trend with Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. He took a deceptively simple approach with Another Green World which established his signature sound. Very evocative, wistful, beautiful, and intelligent music. Keeping to this same idea of creating soundscapes that speak to you in odd and interesting ways, he went on to produce Music for Films and Music for Airports. I never get tired of his experiments in sound. Many bands have borrowed a page from Eno to embellish their work. I remember when I first heard Music for Airports. The people I was with were put off by the simplicity of the piece, saying it sounded like someone messing around with a piano but not playing anything. It mesmerized me to no end. Literally to no end, I am still listening to Music for Airports in my head. Eno simply wanted music suitable for an airport, which would relax you and put you in the right mood for possible sudden death. He actually described it this way, which reveals his dry sense of humor. This was the birth of ambient music, music in the background not intended to capture your full attention. However Eno’s music always captures my attention. Brian Eno’s music lends itself very well to film, hence the brief (too brief) little sketches he does for Music for Films.

In his studio

Brian Eno’s music never fails to improve my mood. It uplifts me. I had been feeling depressed today, and didn’t want to post anything on my blog, and then it occurred to me to post something about Brian Eno. Of course I had to listen to him as I did this, and it inspired me as it always does. The marriage between Brian Eno and David Bowie (so to speak, they weren’t actually married), is legendary. It set the bar very high for alternative rock, and I would agree with Eno that no one has really progressed beyond their work in the late seventies. Everyone is basically going over the same ground.  The difference between the legion of synthesizer wizards which populated countless bands of the eighties, and Eno, lies in the way Eno transcends the medium. He is able to give warmth and spirituality to an essentially cold, intellectual instrument. I also like the synthesizer work of OMD, which approaches at times the spirituality of Eno’s music. But most of it was variations of Devo, without the satire. Even though Brian Eno has been teased about his singing voice, I have always liked it. It is understated which suits the songs. But of course he will always be remembered for his ground breaking instrumental work.

I am including here 1) a collaboration with Harold Budd called First Light which is one of the most uplifting of Eno’s work with equal thanks to Budd as well. It takes me away from my depressing thoughts and to a still, quiet, beautiful world. You can just skip the advertisement at the beginning. The video is nice too.

2) another collaboration, this time with Robert Fripp called Timean Sparkles. This has a wonderful fragility to it.

3) Fractal Zoom which shows Brian Eno can also rock. The video is nice too.

4) and finally, Spinning Away, a collaboration with John Cale with Eno singing. One of my favorite songs of all time. If this doesn’t inspire you what will?

Margaret Cho’s Blog Post ‘Lost’: my thoughts

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 I just got through reading the latest post on Margaret Cho’s Blog, It is at margaretcho.com. The post is titled ‘Lost” and it is just her thoughts about people who are missing, lost, and how that makes her feel. She mentions ‘In Search Of..” the old Leonard Nimoy series on creepy things, including people who are lost. I’m not conveying the feeling of that post very well. You really need to read it. Margaret Cho is one of the most honest individuals I have ever encountered. She is beautiful, and powerful. She served as the inspiration for this blog. I wanted to produce a blog as brutally honest and wonderful as hers. She is generally thought of as a comedian who focuses on gay, lesbian, transgender issues. But there is a lot more to Margaret Cho than that. I hope that she realizes that herself, because as I read her blog it seems as though she hasn’t come to terms with herself and her incredible power and ability to influence others. She just wants to be an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. That fact alone sets her apart from a lot of people involved in show business. When I first became aware of her by watching her on youTube back in November I was mesmerized and kind of fell in love with her. That infatuation has since cooled down, although she can still touch my heart and does frequently. I fell in love with her truth telling, her vulnerability, her fearlessness. Yes, she is both, therein lies much of the fascination. So check out her blog! If you like me, you will like her, I guarantee it! I have no idea if she is aware of this blog, but I often leave comments on her blog. Perhaps someday I will meet her. I guess you could say I am a bit starstruck, except she isn’t (according to her) a star. So I guess I am personstruck. Oh! and I almost forgot! She’s funny too!

Now I’d like to add my bit to what she wrote. There are people, a lot of people, actually more people than I care to think about, that are lost. Forget the milk carton kids, that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is shocking how many people are unaccounted for in this vast forsaken world. Where are they? They may be dead, or living a different sort of life under different names. They could be sex slaves, or something even more horrible could have been their fate. Who knows? Although I am quite visible, not at all difficult to find, I nevertheless feel lost. How many people really know that I am here. They get a glimpse, nothing more. I am a ghost. So much of me is lost. My hold upon my nearly empty shell is tenuous at best. A few people know my mind, my emotions, and perhaps a slight hint of my soul. But it is temporary. Seventy years or so is only a moment, one flash of light within an ocean of eternal darkness. That is lost. That is what lost means to me. Margaret Cho was right to feel scared as she contemplates the lost, for it is terrifying true. We are all lost to a degree, separated from each other and our world by something we feel but cannot understand. But it does seem to be of our own making, this lostness. The literally lost serve as a metaphor for our unbearable loneliness. Elvis Presley once said he felt lonely even in the middle of a crowd. It’s that kind of lonely street upon which we all dwell. I can understand why this affected Margaret Cho so much. She wants to love everyone in a direct physical, overpowering way and is stymied by this loneliness. Now there are those who would describe this lostness as our unbearably painful separation from God, but I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion about that. I prefer to stick to my own experience, than to philosophize with my keyboard. In my own experience I am plagued by ghosts. I see them in my dreams and sometimes they appear suddenly and shock me into lucidity. The past is lost, and this is where these ghosts dwell. As I grow older an entire world is lost to me, and becomes a poignant memory. Lost? Ask any elderly person about lost. Ask the mentally ill about lost. They know lost. They have lived lost. While I am frightened by lostness, I am also drawn into it. This is the essence of my nostalgia for a time before I was born. I would have loved to have been practicing magick with Aleister Crowley or painting with William Waterhouse. I’d have had a grand old time with Mark Twain. When contemplating the past, the distant past, like that of ancient Greece or Rome, I can be overwhelmed by what has been lost, and filled with a deep sadness. Lost is an inexhaustible subject for it’s depths lie beyond our reach. We can only shine our feeble torch into this abyss and report our meager findings.

In my comments on her post, I told Margaret that I was listening to a very powerful piece of music by Leyland Kirby entitled “Don’t Sleep I Am Not What I Seem, I Am A Quiet Storm” (which I have been listening to while writing this post as well). It captures perfectly the feeling of lostness, that unbearable loneliness. If I succeed in finding it on youTube I will include it here. I haven’t figured out how or if I can post a song from my iTunes library. If you don’t find it here, look for the album “Sadly, the Future Is No Longer What It Was” by Leyland Kirby. This post by Cho came at just the right time for me, for I had been feeling particularly lost today. I still have no job, although I have an interview Monday. I feel adrift on the sea of the unknown. My thoughts are of long ago. I posted about the pre-Raphaelites and Oscar Wilde. I feel at home in their world. They certainly understood what it meant to be lost. I have also passed into and out of an entirely imaginary relationship and am at a loss where to take this story now that the romance is no longer really there. I am haunted by my own creations. Margaret Cho however is very real. I hope she continues to produce thought provoking pieces for her blog for many more years. A part of me is frightened for her. I don’t want anything to ever happen to such a talented woman. Not that I think she is in danger, I’m just feeling unsettled in general and this spills over into how I feel about people I care about. Lost. Unsettled. Plagued by Ghosts. Sadly, the Future Is Not What It Was.

The Harlot’s House

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Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (face enlarged)

THE HARLOT’S HOUSE

by: Oscar Wilde

E caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The “Treues Liebes Herz” of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

The took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
“The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.”

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.
‘The Harlot’s House’ was originally published in The Dramatic Review (April, 1885).

Lady Lilith, 1866-68 (altered 1872-73)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Oil on canvas, 38 x 33 1/2 inches
Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935

Lilith, the subject of this painting, is described in Judaic literature as the first wife of Adam. She is associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children. The depiction of women as powerful and evil temptresses was prevalent in 19th-century painting, particularly among the Pre-Raphaelites. The artist depicts Lilith as an iconic, Amazon-like female with long, flowing hair. Her languid nature is reiterated in the inclusion of the poppy in the lower right corner—the flower of opium-induced slumber.

http://www.delart.org/collections/preraph/lady_lilith.html  The Link is for the Delaware Art Museum

This is the first of my attempts to put together art, poetry, and music of the same period, in this case the late Nineteenth Century. The music is by Richard Strauss, Dance of the Seven Veils.

One Less Monkee

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Davey Jones is dead. He died of a heart attack. It is hard to imagine Davey Jones as anything other than young. I loved the Monkees. Daydream Believer still takes me back to the summer of 1967, when I was a kid. When everything was candy, comic books, and crushes on cute girls (which Daydream Believer captures perfectly). Those of you that really know about the Monkees realize there was far more to this band than met the eye. They were a pretty savvy bunch of guys. They made a movie in 1968 named ‘Head’ which included a Frank Zappa cameo. They satirized their teenage idol success. If only Justin Bieber could do the same! But the Monkees music was excellent pop, written in large part by Neil Diamond and other top notch songwriters. True, they weren’t the Beatles, but they didn’t try to be. They just wanted to be a fun band, and they played their roles with their tongues firmly lodged in their cheeks. The tv show was fun, too. Beatles fans at that time were a bit nostalgic for the early Beatles, when they were full of innocent fun. and the Monkees gave them that. Davey Jones had a sweetly comic quality, never really losing that baby face, even in his fifties. That time seems so long ago, and just yesterday, at the same time. I can imagine in my mind the fun that the Monkees would have had with that sentence. “Just yesterday?” “No, man, it was long ago!” “But he just said….” “It’s called a metaphor.” “No it isn’t!” “Well, it’s one of those literary devices!” “Devices?” “Well, nothing’s changed for us, we’re still the same, right Davey?” “Hey, where’s Davey?”

The songs drew from many sources. (not your) Stepping Stone could have been an Animals song. I’m a Believer is as strong a song as any Beatles song, and sounds like one. It was written by Neil Diamond. Daydream Believer sounds a lot like the Lovin’ Spoonful. There were a few more obscure songs which hold up fairly well. Michael Nesmith wrote many of the Monkee’s songs (he was the one with the wool cap), and he never really received the accolades he deserved. Johnny Cash was a big fan of Nesmith. ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ and ‘Mary Mary’ were as good as the bigger hits. Although it wasn’t written by Nesmith, Last Train to Clarksville holds up really well as a country song, as well as pop. The Monkees specialty were well-crafted pop songs which are as much fun now as they were then.

This is yet another unwelcome reminder of how things change for us baby boomers. Our childhood heroes die of heart attacks reminding us of our own mortality. I guess that’s not very funny, huh?

Where Scott Walker doth dwell

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Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.