Thursday, November 27, 2008

GMVW # 47: "Stirring the Pot"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 47:  Stirring the Pot
Song: London Calling by The Clash
Covered Here By: Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, others
(Songwriter: Joe Strummer)
November 27, 2008

There’s nothing wrong with anger in music, as long as it’s aimed at injustice.  Musical historians point to the 40’s and 50’s beatnik/folk scene as the genre where modern American music got angry in a unified way.  A number of folk songs at the time were written about injustices in America during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  In the 60’s, the mantle shifted to Rock n Roll, which railed against Vietnam and all forms of dishonesty.  The commonality of many of these angry folk and rock songs was anti-establishment.

Nothing represented anger and anti-establishment quite like what came next however: Punk.  There was no mistaking the core emotions of Punk music.  Punk railed against everything the earlier genres did, and in an unprecedented way it also railed against its mentor: Rock n Roll itself.  To punk, the Rock n Roll gentry in the 70’s had come to represent everything rock music had rebelled against in the 60’s.  Punks saw rock stars as hypocritical fat cats living high on the hog, shuttled to concert venues in their private jets, wining and dining at lavish parties, being chauffeured in their Lamborghinis, and generally over indulging on all manner of high society from caviar to cigarettes (but well versed in etiquette).  They also saw this change in attitude reflected in the music.  Punk put a mirror right in the faces of these wayward souls.  The reaction was not immediate, but it did eventually play out, seeing as it’s hard to be a successful rock star today without a humanitarian cause and some form of sacrifice in lifestyle. You can look back at Punk as the jolt that brought these values back to center focus.

Punk may have started with the music of Patti Smith in the early 70’s, but it became a movement in Britain in the mid-70s. I recall Dad walking into the house one evening when I was still getting a leg up on this new ‘art’ form.  He looked over at Fred, Joe and I and said with a smile “Johnny Rotten!”  The Sex Pistols had just landed in the States for their first (and last) infamous (and aborted) American tour.  They caused quite a stir, making headlines much like the Beatles did when they landed here for the first time in 1963.  Dad was in the know.  Fred, Joe and I had some catching up to do. 

Fred and Joe did a faster job catching up than I.  It was not long before they were indoctrinating themselves in the music of The Clash.  The Clash were the heart and soul of Britain’s punk scene.  Unlike some other punk bands, they were articulate and very talented.  They have had a lasting impression.  Whenever someone asks me to mention concerts I’ve been to, the one show I usually get a ‘Wow!’ response is the Who/Clash concert I saw in Buffalo’s Rich Stadium 1982.  However, not everyone was caught up in the punk tide. I remember Fred talking Mom into staying up to watch The Clash on Saturday Night Live in the late 70’s.  The performance was a bit disjointed and Mom did her best to sit thru the short set.  She may have been thinking “I was just getting used to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and now this?” 

The lead singer and songwriter for The Clash was Joe Strummer.  His death in 2002 of an undiagnosed heart defect prompted the old and new guard to recognize his significant contribution to rock music at the Grammy awards several months later.  Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Steven Van Zandt and David Grohl covered The Clash song ‘London Calling’, this week’s Gem Video.  A ‘Gem Light’ is also included (if there is such a beast in Punk music): The Clash performing ‘Rock the Casbah’ in the well known made-for-MTV video.

Punk came along and shook things up a bit.  We all benefit from a little shaking up every so often.

-              Pete

London calling, see we ain’t got no swing
 ‘Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing”

Gem Music Video: London Calling


About the Video: Played at the 2003 Grammys

Video Rating: 1


Best Feedback: Fred

Good one.  No, a great one.

One of the strangest feelings I have ever had was at a Clash Concert at Cape Cod Civic center in the summer of 1983/4.  I was with Joe, Chopper, and a few others I can't recall.  We had floor "seats", which essentially meant that we were allowed into the open area in front of the stage.  We started towards the back, maybe 50 feet away, but as the band played, we found ourselves moving up, although I can't ever remember moving my feet.  It was 100 degrees+ and getting hotter, and within any 10 square foot area there easily could have been 15 people scrunched together.

As we continued to get closer to the stage, I started to get claustrophobic, but I had no-where to go.  There was no way I could get out of the crowd, and fights began to break out.  My only saving grace was that I was taller than most and I had to extend my neck up high to catch any oxygen.  Girls that had been having fun were crying and screaming as the band played on.  The only way out for most of the girls was to move to the stage and beg to be taken up by stage hands so that they could then exit out.  I was torn between wanting to do that and being strong, but soon saw that even the guys were trying to rush the stage to get out of the pit.  You could see the Band was getting freaked out and as they broke into Magnificent 7, Strummer took off his guitar strap, grabbed the neck with two hands and began swinging his guitar indiscriminately at the surging crowd like a police billy club. It became a game of survival for the next 20 minutes or so, and quite a surreal experience.  I can still see faces within inches of mine, and no one was smiling.  A big dude was getting very violent nearby and expressing it by pushing his way out very aggressively in the process hurting several others.  Many others took his lead and I finally got out after about 40 minutes of hell.

After I got out, I had an odd feeling of exhilaration;  I felt an accomplishment of survival.  There was no way I was going back in, but was glad I spent the time, and most grateful for being taller than most.  Funny thing was I thought that The Clash loved the experience as well.

Thanks for the memories.  By the way, I distinctly remember telling Dad that Jonny Rotten had a sidekick named Sid Vicious.  He LOVED that name even better, and I think in a way he wished he could have gotten into this Punk thing a little more.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

GMVW # 46: "Lullaby...with a Twist"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 46:  Lullaby....with a Twist
Song: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight by Bob Dylan
Covered Here By: Kris Kristofferson
(Songwriter: Bob Dylan)
November 20, 2008

I don’t always seek to interpret a song.  Sometimes it’s good to leave well enough alone and just enjoy the music.  However, there are songs that demand an answer to the question “What exactly is this song about?”.  Take Don Mclean’s ‘American Pie’.  Few songs have been scrutinized as much as this one, with images flying at you left and right:  The jester; moss on a rolling stone; eight miles high and falling fast; broken church bells.  The meaning of this song seems pretty straight up though: America’s loss of innocence in the 60’s. 

What about songs that leave you hanging or better yet have more than one meaning?  Great lyricists can often find a way to avoid a one-shoe-fits-all context to their songs, putting the interpretation in the hands of the listener.  At first the song may appear to say one thing, but upon further review, something else comes through.  For example, ‘Margaritaville’ immediately brings up images of a tropical location, but Margaritaville can also represent a state of mind.  ‘Hotel California’ also has an initial sense of locale, but dig deeper and, as with ‘American Pie’, it is more likely about innocence lost (in this case on a personal level).  These are fairly easy conclusions to come to.  Other song lyrics can be a bit more difficult to interpret.  Yet, occasionally you make a gratifying diagnosis.  Two cases come to mind for me.

The first is this week’s Gem, ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ by Bob Dylan. As much as anyone, Dylan keeps the meaning of his songs close to the vest, but a number of years ago, I recall having a eureka moment listening to this jaunty deep cut off the ‘John Wesley Harding’ album. Prior, I had assumed the song to be a straight-forward love song, but this conclusion was gnawing at me.  It was too simple for Dylan. Then, a light bulb:  Could it be about a baby singing to an
adult (if indeed this could happen)?  I replayed the song and listened closer to the lyrics.  Bingo!  I felt as if I had tapped into Dylan’s cone of silence.  Years later, I was reading a Dylan interview. Talking specifically about this song he stated (in a rare revealing manner) something along the lines “I suppose it could be from an infant’s point of view”.  The song was later to be a favorite when Charlotte had me up in the wee hours during her crib years.  Most other songs I would sing for her, but this lullaby-with-a-twist was from her to me (although I had to fill in on vocals).

The second song is The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ (which should be its own Gem, but it fits this week’s theme).  Long ago, I concluded that the song was Paul McCartney singing about John Lennon.  Later, I read that the song was about Julian (Lennon’s son from his first marriage).  Ok, I could understand that, but the more I listened to the lyrics the more I liked the idea that the song was at the very least also about John. It just seemed appropriate.  Many years later, I read the must-have ‘Beatles Anthology’ book (a great Christmas gift from Dale).  One of my favorite lines was this quote from Lennon: 

“Hey Jude is one of his (McCartney’s) masterpieces.  He said it was written about Julian, my child.  He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian.  He was driving over to say ‘hi’ to Julian.  He’d been like an uncle to him.  Paul was always good with kids.  And so he came up with ‘Hey Jude’.  But I always heard it as a song to me.  If you think about it, Yoko’s just come into the picture.  He’s saying ‘Hey, Jude – hey John’.  I know I’m sounding like one of those fans who read’s things into it, but you can hear it as a song to me.  The words ‘go out and get her’ – subconsciously he was saying ‘Go ahead, leave me’.  But on a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead.  The angel inside him was saying, ‘Bless you’.  The devil in him didn’t like it at all, because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”

I agree with Lennon.  The song reveals McCartney’s genuine love for his songwriting partner.

Below are three links: The first is ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ by Bob Dylan and sung here by Kris Kristofferson (with gusto!).  The second is ‘Hey Jude’.  The third is ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles.  Below the links are the lyrics to ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Close your eyes, close the door,
You don't have to worry any more.
I'll be your baby tonight.

Shut the light, shut the shade,
You don't have to be afraid.
I'll be your baby tonight.

Well, that mockingbird's gonna sail away,
We're gonna forget it.
That big, fat moon is gonna shine like a spoon,
But we're gonna let it,
You won't regret it.

Kick your shoes off, do not fear,
Bring that bottle over here.
I'll be your baby tonight.


About the Video:  Kristofferson performance at the Dylan Atlantic Records 30th Anniversary Show

Video Rating: 1

Thursday, November 13, 2008

GMVW # 45: "Another World"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 45:  Another World
Song:  Freddie’s Dead by Curtis Mayfield
(Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield)
November 13, 2008

For one summer during my college years in the early 80’s, I had a job making the smaller deliveries for a trucking company out of South Boston.  Dad and I stripped the seats out of the Chevy van (the one with the orange Hampton Beach ‘Blob Squad’ sticker on the back door), and I used the ample space to load a wide range of cargo for delivery to a wide range of locales.  My delivery area was primarily downtown Boston and points south.  I became familiar with the entire city in those days, including the lesser known sections of Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Dorchester and Roxbury.  At times I had to deliver in some pretty tough neighborhoods, yet as the summer progressed, I never ran into problems.  On the contrary, folks were always helpful when I needed assistance finding a street or an address. 

A number of the deliveries were to record stores.  Back in the early 80’s, most record stores were small and privately owned (the Strawberries chain being an exception).  It was great delivering to these places.  They all had their own style and musical emphasis.  I would often spend a little extra time looking through the albums and occasionally making a purchase.  In hindsight, I was laying witness to a soon-to-be extinct breed of independent and eccentric music stores which were at the time the primary outlets for old and new records. 

One of these routine stops was to an all black R&B music store on
Washington Street
in Roxbury.  The store was located under the old elevated orange line.  It was one of those tough neighborhoods and also tough to find a parking spot.  I often had to park on a side street and dolly the delivery a block or so.  One particular week near the end of the summer, I was in the store waiting for the owner to sign off on the delivery when another delivery guy ran in and told me my van was being broken into.  I sprinted outside and down the side street where I spied the rear van door forced open and several boxes missing.  I looked around for a moment and then ran further down the street in search of the perpetrator.  It did not take long:  Several homes down, I found a guy sitting on a stack of boxed albums on a porch at the top of a set of stairs.  I walked up to him and demanded my cargo back.  He stayed seated on the boxes and we stared at each other for a few moments. Finally he stood up but loomed over me as I picked up the stack and walked away.  I’m sure he was contemplating his options.  Lucky for me, he chose the right one (later, when I told Dad about the day’s events, he stopped me at the part about the confrontation, poured a double scotch, drank a sample, and then allowed me to finish the story).

The memory of the event stuck with me for some time.  What I remembered mostly was the look on the guys face when I demanded the property back:  It was a look of desperation and guilt.  I have also since reflected on the likelihood that my encounter was with someone who to that point had an entirely different life experience than I.  Other than my job that summer, my only insight into his world was my reading Eliott Liebow’s “Tally’s Corner”, watching a few movies about gang violence, and frequenting the Western Front in Cambridge.  For the most part his life was foreign to me.  For a moment though, and in a very unusual way, I had made a connection. It opened my eyes somewhat to the unique struggles of inner city black America. 

I’ve been sitting on this week’s gem selection for a while, so when Dave broached the subject of urban plight last week, I figured it was as good a time as any to toss it out.  The song, ‘Freddie’s Dead’ by Curtis Mayfield, is from the Gordon Parks Jr. movie, Superfly.  Curtis Mayfield performed all the songs for the soundtrack.  The movie itself does not stand up to the meaning and depth of Mayfield’s songs on the soundtrack, which are songs of despair regarding the drug culture of urban black America in the mid-70’s (the movie somewhat glorified it).  Mayfield was an uncommon singing voice in America at the time (along with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder), crying out against the crime and violence happening in the inner city.  The song itself is about an easily-manipulated but good-willed guy who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In 1990, Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when stage lighting crashed down on him during an outdoor concert in Brooklyn.  It was a tragic end to the career of a man Bob Dylan has referred to as ‘One of the Greats’.

“Everybody’s misused him; ripped him up and abused him”

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Freddie’s Dead


About the Video:  Live in studio, starts with a close up of Mayfield plucking at his guitar

Video Rating: 1


Best Feedback: Becca

Excellent of my old favorites...until now I'd only ever heard the studio recording.


And: Steve

Great story Pete.
Ever thought of writing a book?

I turn 47 on Monday. Isn't life amazing!



And: Fred

I have never heard that song but certainly am close to the title....that was used against me (in jest) for many years.

 I also remember when you had that delivery route.  Pretty crazy stuff...but I also remember you were the first to see the new Who Album (was it Eminence Front?)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

GMVW # 44: "Home is where the Heart Is"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 44:  Home is where the Heart Is
Song:  Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John
(Songwriters Bernie Taupin and Elton John)
November 6, 2008

Ending a business trip to South Carolina last Thursday, I found myself in another nightmare of a commute home.  On the tarmac and ready to go, the pilot reported that one of the engines was not working.  The plane returned to the terminal and everyone got off.  It was strongly suggested that we all look for alternative flights.  The best option for me was a 4 hour layover in Philadelphia, which would get me home after midnight.  Yahoo!  Accepting my fate, I begrudgingly took the ticket.  Several hours later, the plane landed in the City of Brotherly Love, and I found myself with 4 hours to kill.

Philadelphia.  It was not long before I realized I was in a city that had just the night before experienced its first sporting event championship in 25 years.  The Phillies were World Champs, and the atmosphere of victory was palpable.  A ticket agent yelled out something about the Phillies that got cheers.  Winning tee-shirts were being worn all around.  Local newspapers were completely sold out.  News programs on the TV were dominated with the celebration. I thought any moment The Music Man would come marching around the corner with a crowd in his wake. 

This championship was huge for this city, not the least of reasons being Boston.  Boston and Philly have always had a steady sports rivalry.  Both East Coast cities have a team in all 4 major sports, and Philadelphia could not take much more of Boston’s winning ways.  In years past, it was always just a matter of time before Philly reacted to a Boston championship:  The Broad Street Bullies (Flyers) began winning in the mid-70’s, soon after the Big Bad Bruins hoisted a few Stanley Cups; Dr. J, Moses Malone and the 76ers (“4, 4, 4!”) reacted to Larry Bird’s first championship with the Celtics (Malone’s declaration of 3 playoff sweeps actually sounded more like “Fo, Fo, Fo”); and the Philadelphia Eagles stepped up their game just enough to be the Patriots 3rd Super Bowl conquest several years ago.  So, with last week’s championship, kudos to the Phillies, but their fans must keep in mind, if it was the Sox they were facing (especially with Manny), it would have been another year of waiting. 

Anyhow, the excitement got me thinking about regional pride and songs about places.  There are so many great songs about cities, states, and countries.  Longtime friend Phil had many of them ready in the wings when we were kids playing Monopoly.  If he owned Indiana Ave and you landed on it, Phil would break out into song: "Indiana wants me, Lord I can't go back there".  If you landed on his Kentucky Ave property, it was "My Old Kentucky Home", Tennessee Ave would result in the 'Tennessee Waltz'.  Many others I have long since blocked out.

When Joe moved to San Francisco for a few years, I had no problem finding a slew of songs about that city, and put them on tape for his listening pleasure.  Bob Dylan, who DJs the fantastic ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’ program on XM radio’s Deep Cuts, did a show on California last year, and the songs he played and discussed were varied and memorable.  Among the list were  Al  Jolson’s ‘California Hear I Come’; Joni Mitchell’s ‘California’; Pierce Webb’s ‘California Blues’; Geraint Watkins with ‘Go West’; Dionne Warwick singing ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’; Sir Douglas Quartet’s ‘Mendocino’; Jesse Fuller’s ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’; and Dorothy Shay singing ‘I’ve Been to Hollywood’. 

As for Philadelphia, the city has 3 great songs that come immediately to mind: Neil Young’s ‘Philadelphia’; Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’, and this week’s Gem, Elton John’s ‘Philadelphia Freedom’.  The song was written by Bernie Taupin in 1975, and is at least partially a tribute to this country and its then 200th Anniversary (Philadelphia being one of the central cities to our Independence).  Other interpretations of the song are as a tribute to Billie Jean King and the professional tennis team she formed (Philadelphia Freedom), as well as Elton John’s sexual orientation.  Regardless of the meaning, there is no denying the pop strength of this song.   The song is also appropriate for the mood in Philadelphia over the past few days: A city with a large black population and a city that voted 84% (the full range of ethnicities) for Obama.  Enjoy the flashback to mid-70’s Soul Train and crank it up!

Gem Music Video: Philadelphia Freedom


About the Video: mid-70’s Soul Train

Video Rating: 2

Best Feedback:  Amy

Pete!  Another Gem - another Friday - they go hand in hand for me now.I sent this one off to Julie Snell, who went off to college w/ a full scholarship to Tyler School of Art in Philly - fell in love, and never came home!  She now works for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in charge of Philly's gardens all over the city.