Thursday, January 29, 2009

GMVW # 56: "White or Rye?"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 56:  White or Rye?
Song: My Old School by Steely Dan
(Songwriter: Donald Fagen)
January 29, 2009

I’m willing to bet everyone has strong memories of when they broke off on their own for the first time.  It can be quite a transition.  For me, that moment was when I left the confines of
17 Park Road
and Franklin for North Adams State College and the Berkshires in the late summer of 1980.  The independence that came with being on my own was tricky to deal with on a number of levels.  One was rebellion.  Having since read the books ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘A Separate Peace’, I can relate to the storylines and the characters.  The remnants of 60’s and 70’s ideals were still alive and kicking.  There was ambivalence in the air, directed at society’s expectations:  Why am I here? Where is this taking me?  Why shouldn’t I try something completely different?  Is there a better way forward?  Lucky for me, Mom and Dad were great role models.  They showed me that you can strive for achievement in a not-so-self-centered way (which was a big issue for teenagers in those days) and still make a connection with the mainstream.  A number of kids I knew in North Adams were not so lucky.  They rebelled against just about everything. 

It’s easy to point at drugs, alcohol, and sloth as the reason why many students ‘dropped out’ in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but often there was an element of disappointment in what lay ahead that many kids struggled with (which critics can often overlook).  It was a big hurdle to clear.  John Lennon expressed it best in the song ‘Working Class Hero’ (covered by Green Day in Gem # 18).  Lyrics like those (easily found with a Google search) can resonate with an open-minded kid weighing out his/her options.  Next thing you know, a roommate could be mid-semester AWOL, off forming a band, joining the Hari Krishnas, building a log cabin in the forest, starting a republic on a South Pacific Island, training for a triathlon, following a girlfriend to Mexico (a hint at this week’s Gem), or….they would trudge off to class and make the best of it. In spurts, that’s what I did, but the path to ‘enlightenment’ was never a straight one.  I often confronted my inner Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) self.  One memory is detailed at the bottom of this email.

This week’s Gem, ‘My Old School’ by Steely Dan, does a great job capturing the open mind of a kid on his/her own in a college atmosphere. The Gem video is an early version of the song, with the inimitable Donald Fagen singing the lead.  The second link is a more recent live version (I believe Jen and Dale saw this tour).  Finally, since the subject is Steely Dan, I can’t close without my pick for most creative album title of all time: ‘Katy Lied’ (with a katydid immerging from fog on the cover).

There have been many a rebels in my life, starting with Dad:  Here’s a toast to all.

- Pete

“ It was still September
When your daddy was quite surprised
To find you with the working girls
In the county jail ”

A Holden Caulfield-like memory:

Mac and I made the trek to Ottawa in late winter, 1983, to reconnect with the Carleton University crowd (where I spent the previous year) for a long weekend.  I hitchhiked from North Adams up Rte 7 in western Vermont and met up with Mac in Burlington.  The two of us then continued the hitching to Montreal (a story in itself) where Bob, having appreciated our effort, graciously drove the 2 hours from Ottawa to pick us up.  After a great weekend, we took a bus back to Montreal, where we planned to take another bus to Burlington.  When we arrived in Montreal, however, we had a change of heart.  The decision to stay put was at least partially due to the outrageous cost of the bus tickets to Burlington, but was also likely driven by not wanting to miss an opportunity to take in the Montreal night life.  We had no bank/credit cards and just enough cash for a few beers.  Finding a place to stay?  How to get out of the city the next day?  We would figure all that out later. 

We helped close down
Wellington Street
, and when we walked out of the last pub of the night, it was pouring out.  A local YMCA proved impossible to get into.  After roaming the streets for a while, we came up with a thought:  McGill University.  A TV lounge, perhaps?  Sure enough, we found a dorm, but the door was locked.  Somehow we were able to get in (Mac may have to help here…I remember a security guard, a student, a shrub and a skunk, not necessarily in that order).  We then made a B-line for the lounge, where we angled the couches to face the opposite wall.  This was to prove insightful… before falling asleep, I watched as a night-patrol flashlight scan of the room passed overhead.  The next day we slipped out of the dorm, split a breakfast, and spent the remainder of our cash on a subway ride over the St. Lawrence River, where a highway awaited our thumbs pointed south.


About the Video: Steely Dan made for TV version some time not long after the release of the album.  Fagan is to the right of the rest of the band on piano.

Video Rating: 1.5 (Good but could possibly be a bit better)

Best Feedback: Jack

Hi Pete:

Good to hear from you.  Incidentally, your tale of going to Canada and hitchhiking through Vermont was quite intriguing! :-)  Didn't know Steely Dan was in your repertoire!  A very good and eclectic taste in music! :-)  

Thursday, January 22, 2009

GMVW # 55: "A New Beginning"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 55:  A New Beginning
Song: Democracy by Leonard Cohen
(Songwriter: Leonard Cohen)
January 22, 2009

I avoided tackling this Gem during the primaries, conventions, and general election (for, ahhhh…. many reasons), but now seems about as good of a time as any.

I’m not sure my inauguration day experience matched Joe’s daughter, niece Meghan, (who was in Washington D.C. on Tuesday), but it was memorable.  I was in a room full of USGS scientists and technicians in Denver, taking time off from a meeting to watch the inaugural address on television.  There was plenty of emotion, and when President Obama stated “We will restore science to its rightful place”, there was a loud spontaneous cheer, as there was when he stated “and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threatens our planet.  These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.”  Good stuff.  There were many uplifted people in that room.

** The room then broke into a rendition of Thomas Dolby’s ‘Blinded Me With Science’.  Observation wells were uncorked.  A few atoms were split for good measure (ok, perhaps I’m taking a little narrative license). **

The days events had me thinking back 16 years to another inauguration   I recall watching the evening’s events, which included an MTV hosted concert featuring members of U2 and R.E.M., Natalie Merchant, and a reunion of Fleetwood Mac.  What I remember most about it though was Don Henley closing the event with a then new song, “Democracy” by Leonard Cohen, this week’s Gem.

Looking up ‘Democracy’ in Wikepedia, I came across this definition:

“Even though there is no universally accepted definition of 'democracy', there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes. The first principle is that all members of the society have equal access to power and the second that all members enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties.”

So, according to Cohen (in the lyrics of ‘Democracy’), one or the other (or both) are still lacking in the U.S.A., but also according to Cohen, we are as near as any country in closing that gap.  Note the lyrics, in reference to the U.S.A.:

“It’s here they’ve got the range
 And the machinery for change
 And it’s here they’ve got the spiritual thirst”

So anyhow, a change in administrations is certainly not the know all, end all of the immediate future, but it is a time for renewal.  Let’s hope for the best.  This week’s Gem is the official music video of Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy”.  Below that is Don Henley’s cover of the song (I admit, Cohen’s vocals are an acquired taste, so I included Henley's version).  Below that is a great url link (with lead intro from the original attachment) sent to me from Mom, who very insightfully anticipated this week’s theme.

Top of the morning! (Mom’s link will explain this greeting)

- Pete

“ I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Leonard Cohen video:


“ Moneygall is a small village in County Offaly, Ireland.  It has a population of approximately 300 people, has a Roman Catholic Church, five shops, a post office, a national school, a police station and two pubs.  President-elect of the United States Barack Obama's great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, emigrated from Moneygall to New York City at the age of 19 in 1850 and eventually resettled in Tipton County, Indiana.  Kearney's father had been the village shoemaker, then a wealthy skilled trade. And now for the SONG...Crank up your speakers. ”


About the video: Rare MTV-like video. 

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Tina

dear pete,
i cant believe meghan was there. if they post pictures, will you pass them on?
 i love your snapshot of what obamas speech sounded like to the scientific community, and when i read the speech again, i will see you all cheering and splitting etc.
if you have a minute, take a peek at the song i chose (ROSA SAT @ i just loved the images and progression of sat, walk, run and i loved the accompanying pictures.
 have a lovely day, pete, and thanks for sharing with me.
Also: John
"The room then broke into a rendition of Thomas Dolby's 'Blinded Me With Science'".

You be hanging with NERDS, man!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

GMVW # 54: "All Systems Go"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 54: All Systems Go
Song: Dirty Boulevard by Lou Reed
(Songwriter: Lou Reed)
January 15, 2009

Setting aside relationships, studies, and work for the moment, I’m sure everyone here has experienced a period in their lives when they had a Zen connection with a hobby, an exercise routine, a handicraft, writing, mechanics, or even something potentially overlooked, like understanding the talent behind a master artwork or the nuances of a sporting event.  In the latter case, I know brother Pat (there are two Pats on this email list) has connected the dots better than most of us when knowing what it takes for a team to win the Stanley Cup (I was in that Zen mode in the mid-80’s).  As for the other categories, just thinking of everyone on this list, there’s cooking, running, wood work, scuba diving, weightlifting, writing, playing a musical instrument, swimming, knowledge of world history, rebuilding an engine and knock ‘em dead humor.  I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but hopefully you get the picture.  That Zen period can last a month, a year, or with any luck, a lifetime.  If you lose it, you may try to get it back at a later date, not often to your satisfaction.

Same goes with an ear for music.  I recall a stretch in the mid 90’s when every visit to Franklin would include an invitation from Dad to his study, where he would sit me down and have me listen to Mozart.  To say Dad was into the music of Mozart at the time would be an understatement.  Dad would turn the music up during a particularly poignant stanza in a concerto, opera, or symphony and then say something along the lines of: “Can you believe that!”.  It was brilliant.  Dad was in the zone (perhaps the result of successfully raising a family, along with Mom of course).

I think everyone’s been there at one time or another.  I’ve seen it with Mac at Grateful Dead shows, Jeff Strause at folk festivals, and Mom listening to ‘The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley’ cd.  It’s when you are connecting with the music at a bit higher of a level than those around you.  It can happen in spurts with a given song or album, or cumulatively with a record collection or a string of concerts. 

I can trace back to 1989 as the period when I was most in tune with great music.  I know this because this was the year that Lou Reed released his ‘New York’ album, which I enjoyed thoroughly.    Not that I am a big fan of Lou Reed.  I look at it more along the lines of Lou Reed being that layer of musician that I could only tap into by wading in over my head.  To get to Reed’s ‘New York’ album, I had to go through Beatles ‘White Album’, into Townshend’s ‘All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes’, into the Stones ‘Exile on Main Street’ into The Band’s ‘Music From Big Pink’, into Roger Water’s ‘Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking’ into Robbie Robertson’s self titled solo debut, into Dylan’s ‘Basement Tapes’.  I’m not sure there could have been an easier route, and it could only happen during an intense stretch of concert attendance and listening loudly to music on
Lake Street
in my bachelor days. 

Critics reviewed Lou Reed’s ‘New York’ album as a return to his Velvet Underground days, so in a way I got to experience that 60’s New York City ‘underground’ sound that mesmerized many (including Jonathan Richman).  Reed followed up the release of the album with a tour.  A number of us got to see that tour when it stopped at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston.  What a show!  To enjoy it, however, you had to know the ‘New York’ album, because that was what Lou Reed played, from beginning to end.  At one time a guy got up and yelled “Play Sweet Jane!”, to which Reed replied “Sit down and shut up or get out of here!” (the exchange was later documented in a Rolling Stone review). 

Lou Reed is not one for pulling punches, as revealed in this week’s Gem ‘
Dirty Blvd
’ (off the New York album).  Feel good song, it is not, but, a gem nonetheless.

- Pete

“This room cost 2,000 dollars a month
you can believe it man it's true
somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants”

Gem Music Video: Dirty Boulevard (the original link has been lost temporarily *Dec, 09*.  This is an admirable live version)

About the Video: Rare MTV-like video.  This one was introduced by someone speaking German, so it may have been a more popular video overseas.

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: John

I was driving somewhere with Mac when I first heard that song.  When it was over, Mac turned off the radio and "Hey Lou, cheer up, will ya."

Now about World War II......

Also: Amy

I guess I was the "knock em dead humor person??"

Thursday, January 8, 2009

GMVW # 53: "Gonna See My Picture on the Cover"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 53: Gonna See My Picture on the Cover
Song: Dixie Flyer by Randy Newman
(Songwriter:  Randy Newman)
January 8, 2009

Most everyone has a favorite magazine subscription, whether it is Sports Illustrated, National Review, the New Yorker, Smithsonian, Country Living, People, National Geographic, Bon Appetit, Newsweek, or any number of other periodicals.  For some time now, my routine monthly reading has been Natural History, but for 12 years from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s, I was an avid reader of Rolling Stone Magazine.  Anybody who visited
109 Lake Street
in Waltham knew as much:  The most recent issue was typically sitting on the lobster trap coffee table in the living room.  I was always up for discussing the latest cover story, which was either based on an interview, a retrospective, or on occasion an investigative report.

In 1987, Rolling Stone Magazine celebrated its 20th anniversary, which was launched with a fantastic 2-hour television documentary.  Following up on that, there were three special edition issues released over the course of the year, including one which reviewed some of the magazines best feature articles over its history, and another which contained lengthy interviews with many of rock n rolls most respected musicians.  It was the 3rd special edition issue, however, that had the most lasting impression on me.  This was the issue which featured Rolling Stone’s top 100 albums of the prior 20 years. 

‘Top’ lists have been all the rage over the last few decades or so as the baby boomer generation seeks to define itself in history.  You see them everywhere: Top 100 Baseball Catches on ESPN; Top Comedians; Top Singers; Top Movies; Top Actors; Top Athletes; and a slew of Top Songs lists.  Most have been entertaining, but for me, none have hit the nail on the head quite like that September 1987 Rolling Stone issue.  Often with a ‘Top’ list, I see a hidden agenda, but not with this one.  Predictable it was not.  Insightful and entertaining it was.  The first 10 albums were 2-page stories, and all 100 had interesting tidbits of information. 

Looking back on this list (which is below), a number of pleasant surprises still jump out at me: ‘Plastic Ono Band’ (Lennon’s first solo album) at # 4; ‘Astral Weeks’ at # 7; ‘Horses’ at # 16; ‘Shoot Out the Lights’ at # 24; ‘Tonight’s the Night’ at # 26; ‘Trout Mask Replica’ at # 33; ‘Squeezing Out Sparks’ at  # 45; ‘The Modern Lovers’ at # 52; ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ at # 82; ‘Sail Away’ at # 89.  Rolling Stone Magazine was not looking to put together a most popular album list, not even on the scale of an individual artist.  This list was looking at what was innovative, what was pushing new boundaries, what was influencing peers.  A perfect example was Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night’.  Neil Young has had far more financially successful ventures, but this dark, brooding album made the list for the brutal honesty in the music and lyrics.  It also had a brilliant on-the-edge sound (N. Young albums are known for minimalist overdubbing in the studio where the musicians play as a live band, typically releasing the first cut).

I know this list prompted me to expand my knowledge of at least 2 musicians.  The first was Richard Thompson, whom I have written about (along with his ex-wife, Linda Thompson) in earlier gems.  The second was Randy Newman, whom I have also written about and whose song ‘Dixie Flyer’ is this week’s Gem.  ‘Dixie Flyer’ (or ‘Dixie Fly’ as Charlotte and Peter used to sing in their younger days), shows another side of Randy Newman from what I discussed in Gem # 11.  This song reveals Newman’s ability to take you back in time.  Few artists are as good at this as Newman (Steve Earle comes to mind).  

Below this week’s Gem is a link of Dr Hook and the Medicine Show singing ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’ with many of the best Rolling Stone covers shown.  Below that is the list of the 1987 Rolling Stone Top 100 Albums of the prior 20 years.

- Pete

“Her own mother came to meet us at the station,
  Her dress as black as a crow in a coal mine
  She cried when her little girl got off the train”

Gem Video: Dixie Flyer

Cover of the Rolling Stone

ROLLING STONE TOP 100 ALBUMS OF THE LAST 20 YEARS - September & October 1987
Editions (As part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the magazine)
1. The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. The Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
3. The Rolling Stones - Exile On
Main Street
4. John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band
5. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
6. David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
7. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
8. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
9. The Beatles - The Beatles
10. Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
11. Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
12. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
13. Bob Dylan & The Band - The Basement Tapes
14. The Clash - London Calling
15. The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet
16. Patti Smith - Horses
17. The Beatles -
Abbey Road
18. The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
19. The Band - The Band
20. Prince - Dirty Mind
21. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground And Nico
22. The Who - Who's Next
23. Derek & The Dominos - Layla
24. Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out The Lights
25. The Doors - The Doors
26. Neil Young - Tonight's The Night
27. The Clash - The Clash
28. Bruce Springsteen - Born In The U.S.A.
29. Evis Costello - My Aim Is True
30. Sly & The Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin' On
31. The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
32. The Velvet Underground - Loaded
33. Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
34. Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells A Story
35. Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon
36. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Willy And The Poor Boys
37. Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
38. Television - Marquee Moon
39. Prince - Purple Rain
40. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
41. The Band - Music From Big Pink
42. The Pretenders - Pretenders
43. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
44. Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
45. Graham Parker - Squeezing Out Sparks
46. Joni Mitchell - Blue
47. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV
48. Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul
49. Randy Newman - 12 Songs
50. Big Brother And The Holding Company - Cheap Thrills
51. Bruce Springsteen - The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle
52. The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers
53. Talking Heads - Remain In Light
54. Graham Parker - Howlin Wind
55. The New York Dolls - New York Dolls
56. Paul Simon - Graceland
57. Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings And Food
58. R.E.M. - Murmur
59. Van Morrison - Moondance
60. Original Soundtrack - The Harder They Come
61. John Lennon - Imagine
62. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
63. Bruce Springsteen - The River
64. Stevie Wonder - Talking Book
65. Elvis Costello And The Attractions - Get Happy!!
66. Neil Young And Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps
67. Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
68. Michael Jackson - Off The Wall
69. Ramones - Ramones
70. The Rolling Stones - Between The Buttons
71. Neil Young - After The Goldrush
72. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
73. Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything
74. Crosby, Stills And Nash - Crosby, Stills And Nash
75. Al Green - Call Me
76. Elvis Presley - From Elvis In Memphis
77. The Mothers Of Invention - We're Only In It For The Money
78. Sly And The Family Stone - Greatest Hits
79. Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
80. Talking Heads - Talking Heads: 77
81. Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
82. The Byrds - Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
83. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
84. Roxy Music - Siren
85. Michael Jackson - Thriller
86. Richard And Linda Thompson - I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
87. Sly And The Family Stone - Stand!
88. Iggy And The Stooges - Raw Power
89. Randy Newman - Sail Away
90. Various Artists - Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychadelic
Era, 1965-1968
91. Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
92. Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes - Hearts Of Stone
93. Simon And Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Waters
94. Talking Heads - Fear Of Music
95. Otis Redding - History Of Otis Redding
96. David Bowie - ChangesOneBowie
97. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground
98. Steely Dan - Katy Lied
99. The Who - Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy
100. T.Rex - Electric Warrior

About the video: Performed at the Jazz Open in 06

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Jen


Sometimes it takes me a few days to get around to the Gems, but I always do.  I enjoyed this....your commentary, Randy Newman singing, and seeing the covers along with the "Cover of the RS" audio. Thanks.