Thursday, November 26, 2009

GMVW # 99: "Acknowledgements"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 99:  Acknowledgements
Song:  Please Read the Letter by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page
Covered Here By: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
(Songwriters: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page)
November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: At least for everyone south of ~ the 45th parallel. For the Canucks on this list, a belated one: I missed you by a month or so. 

Being that it’s Thanksgiving, I wanted to get this Gem out early today, because this week the topic is ‘Acknowledgements’, and there are plenty of them to go around.

Back when I first started writing the themes to this compilation of fantastic songs, I came to the realization that this correspondence was also a chance for me to thank friends and family for anything and everything that came to mind.  And so I wrote, and wrote some more, trying to touch on a vast range of outstanding memories while recognizing those who played a significant role.  I hope it came across that way. 

Neil Young stated my intentions best in his song “One of these Days”:

“One of these days,
I'm gonna sit down
and write a long letter
To all the good friends I've known
And I'm gonna try
And thank them all
for the good times together.
Though so apart we've grown”

I believe I covered the gambit, hitting on a wide variety of life experiences, some of which I reflected on in detail, and some of which I but skimmed the surface.  Other memories I left out entirely (for example, I barely mentioned my many great adventures in Canada and Europe).  There was a method to my madness, however: The focus always remained that link between the music and the personal.  If talking points were ‘heavy’ in one but not the other, I usually left it out.  In some ways, I had no choice:  The music stimulated the memories and visa versa.  This supposed constraint propelled me forward though, week in and week out.  And the memories came flooding back, reminding me of the great times I’ve had with you all over the years.  As Neil Young states, for these times, I’m thankful.

My gratitude extends to the weekly Gem Video support as well.  There may have been occasions where you thought I had gone off the deep end (or at least was going through a serious mid-life crisis), but the support I got never indicated it.  In fact, the support was overwhelming.  Fred’s early responses were huge (the ‘Thanks for keeping it real” reply after Gem # 1 gave me a surge of early confidence). Jen had an uncanny knack to focus primarily on the Gems themselves, responding when she viewed something she enjoyed, which gave me insight into our common interests in the music world (Jen, based on your feedback, I think you will enjoy this week’s Gem). This was very important to me. Many of Jack’s responses were spiritually deep, which was also very important.  Amy’s replies were timely and loving. Tommy carried me through a long middle stretch with his weekly words of wisdom.  Dad and Mom’s single sentence replies said more than any dissertation could.  Nancy kept me going with her verbal encouragement at home and Mac did the same each time we got together these past 2 years. Tina’s responses were soothing; Jeff S’s were enlightening; Bob’s were reflective of a great friend who knows me well.

Some of you opened up your hearts and minds at times (Becca’s story of attending a Simon and Garfunkel show; Fred's of attending a Clash show).  Others expressed appreciation (Pat’s response to the U2, September 11 Gem; Mom’s to the Mothers Day Gem; Steve’s to the 'Canada' Gem; Jeff D’s to the ‘Friend is a Friend’ Gem; and Becca and Dave’s response to their wedding/anniversary Gem {with Dale chiming in on the Best Man commonality of their wedding to his} all come to mind). Others gave me input when I requested musician recommendations (Jeff Strause, Pat Shea, John, Steve). Still others had some hilarious comments: I loved Dave’s ‘More Cowbell!’ reply to Gem # 1; Steve’s reply to Gem # 40 regarding Whitehorse and Yellowknife residents; Joe’s ‘A’ list of band names for Gem # 94.  Even the sprinkling of abuse was welcome (which was always directed at my opinions, and never the Gem concept itself). Everyone had insightful comments at one time or another. Everyone!  That was also important.

Most of my favorite replies were in regards to the Gems themselves.  There was Madeline’s feedback to the first Ray Davies/Kinks Gem; Tommy’s feedback on the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison Gems; Jen’s enjoyment of the Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, and Joni Mitchell videos; Steve’s of The Rolling Stones and The Who; Fred’s of Marvin Gaye; Pat’s of the Crash Test Dummies; Ruth’s of Jonathan Richman; Jack’s of Van Morrison; Mac’s of Richard Thompson; Jeff’s of Townes Van Zandt; Becca’s of Curtis Mayfield; Mom’s of The Beatles; Paul’s of Green Day; John’s of Johnny Cash; Kippy’s of Bob Seger; and on and on.

The themes were windows to my life (with occasional glimpses into the basement and attic), but those windows have always been open to everyone here.  It’s just that each had somewhat different vistas and vantage points depending on which windows they had access to.  As such, this was also an effort to get friends and family somewhat on the same page.  As I would write, I was reminded of my wedding: All these different parts of my life coming together for a day.  The one difference: This lasted a bit longer.

For various reasons, I did not include all friends and extended family in these weekly releases, but although they were not included, they are recognized here as well.  The early email address list was a short one, and through word-of-mouth requests for inclusion, it almost tripled over time. For everyone else who I’ve discussed in glowing terms at one time or another, I’m sure they know how I feel about them. Perhaps they will get a copy of this 100-release compilation of memories and music at some time or another when the moment is right.

I’m thankful to the musicians as well.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing many great shows over the years.  Some musicians I end up going back to over and over again.  The reason is that they come across in their shows as if the one they are playing at that moment is their last.  I appreciate this immensely.  The music was always central to the themes of these weekly releases, and I had to remind myself of that on occasion.  Looking back, however, I do believe I kept that focus: Virtually every one of the 100 songs is a true Gem in my mind, with the definition of a Gem being “if it stops me from turning it off in the car even if I have already arrived at my destination” or “if it has me replaying it over and over again to the point where, if someone were with me, they would cry for mercy”.  Finally, for these weekly writings, I believe I got at least some of my drive, openness and, at times brutal honesty, from the Rock n Roll mindset exemplified by the likes of Messrs. Dylan, Lennon, Young, Townshend and others.

With these dual appreciation avenues in mind (personal and musical), I suppose if I were to name a compiled document of all Gems and themes it would be “Outstanding Contributions to the Quality of my Life”, with the subtitle: “From Those I Know and Those I Wish I Knew”. 

Hell, why wait until your on your death bed:  A thank you like this would not have been possible 20 years ago.  To write letters to multiple friends and family would have been a significant hurdle, and so I guess my gratitude extends to the Internet (a central theme in Pete Townshend's aborted 'Lifehouse' project in the early 70's, which may help explain Al Gore's vision), including email, wikipedia, and of course, YouTube.

I can only hope the ‘Back Nine’ are half as dynamic as this first half of my life.

This week’s Gem Video is apropos: ‘Please Read the Letter That I Wrote’, written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and performed here by Plant and Alison Krauss.  My own letter, regarding friends, family, life and music has been read.  It means a great deal to me.

One more Gem next week.

Thanks again everyone!

- Pete

“One more song just before we go
Remember baby you’ve got to reap just what you sow”

Gem Music Video: “Please Read the Letter that I Wrote”

** Peter says “Gobble, Gobble” (which in a nutshell, may just steal my thunder) **

About the Video: Made for MTV-like video (Plant and Krauss in a home devoid of furniture)

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Amy

I've always had a difficult time with change.  My earliest memory of this was the Christmas Eve      when, for the first time, You, Fred, Jen and Joe all had plans with friends.  I sat up in my room and cried on the Bunny you gave me (which remained my backrest for years until I left for college).
I have enjoyed your gems so much.  They have become another reason why I love Friday's.  I will miss them.  Thank you for sharing your gift of writing, and your music appreciation.  It's been a privilege to be on your mailing list.  But then again, you always included me.
I can't wait to spend some time with you all today.
10:30am - officially time to put Tom in the oven.
ps - if I forget, remind me to turn my XM station on at 3pm for you...
So thankful.
And Dad
             LOVE, MOM & DAD

Thursday, November 19, 2009

GMVW # 98: "Rat-a-tat-tat"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 98:  Rat-a-tat-tat
Song:  Relay by The Who
(Songwriter: Pete Townshend)
November 19, 2009

At its core, a standard rock band is made up of four critical components.  Three of these have been covered for previous Gems.  First there was the bass guitar Gem (# 15, featuring Graham Maby).  Next was the Gem for lead vocals (# 39, featuring Linda Thompson **and Amy**).  Third was lead guitar (# 67, featuring Neil Young).  This leaves one final key component, which I’m covering this week: Drums.  All four (and only these core four) are prominently displayed in this week’s Gem, but the main focus here is on the instrument that likely predates all others and the assorted characters who just might bang on them all day if given the choice.

Somehow, I was able to avoid my admitted Who bias in the first three (although in each discussion, numerous Entwistle, Daltrey, and Townshend examples were given), but there is no denying it here. There are 2 reasons for this.  The first is that I’m not much of a drummer guy: Most of the time I cannot distinguish average from very good (sorry, Stuart Copeland, Neil Peart, Jim Keltner, Pete and Jeff).  The second is that Keith Moon was so unusually unique; he broke through that personal barrier of mine.  I suppose his drumming equates to reading Shakespeare, or watching Bobby Orr or Charlie Chaplin:  Some individuals just stand out, no matter how ambivalent you may be in regards to their profession. Moon was one of them.

Keith Moon was so uniquely good, that the camera would inevitably be drawn to him, despite the fact that each of his band mates matched his amazing showmanship.  Cameras rarely get drawn to the drummer and for it to happen in a band like The Who made his drawing power even more implausible. As I have mentioned before, The Who were like a 4-ring circus, often competing with one another for center stage.  I’ve never seen this in any other band:  Nobody comes close, as with most bands it’s one, maybe two individuals that demand all the attention.  What Moon did more than anything though, was he took a very good band and made it a very great band. 

Keith Moon had another reputation, however: That of lunatic.  Moon epitomized and likely created the image of the out-of-control Rock Star.  Most rock lore regarding hotel destruction can be traced back to ‘Moon the Loon’ (which prompted the famous Holiday Inn cartoon: “In case of Keith Moon, break glass”, behind which was a fire extinguisher), as can stories of cars in swimming pools, public disrobing, and general all-night carousing and mischief.  In a late 80’s interview Pete Townshend told the story of a tour experience when Moon frantically insisted that the band’s bus turn back to the hotel they had just checked out of, despite their having already driven a fair distance.  Believing he had forgotten his passport or something else of importance, they turned around.  Back at the hotel, Moon ran inside, and after a few moments came out, stating “thank goodness!”  The entourage asked what it was he forgot.  Moon answered, a bit out of breath: “I forgot to toss the tellie (t.v.) out the window”. 

Some may come to their conclusions on the man at this stage, and yet there was an endearing side to Keith Moon. Another Townshend reflection (paraphrased here) bares this out: “During a tour, Keith told us of a gentleman whose company he had enjoyed on the plane: ‘traveling salesman, bit of a good old boy’ from the South.  Upon disembarking the man stated ‘Keith, if you are ever in Little Rock give me a call.  Here’s my card. ‘Chuck Jones’.’  Several years later a few of us hardened souls were in a hotel room fighting Keith’s relentless energy.  It was about 7:30 in the morning. Our flight to the next town left at 12:30 pm that day.  If we got to bed we might get five hours fitful sleep with the chambermaids banging at the door to clean up; showers running in the adjacent rooms, and daylight cutting through the curtains to remind us we were misfits”.
Townshend continued, “We announced we were going to bed. Keith objected, ‘It’s only half-past seven!’, but realizing we were serious, he suddenly stated ‘where are we?’.  Little Rock’ someone replied.  Keith went to his suitcase, pulled out a business card, and started to dial. ‘Chuck will be awake.  He’s reliable’.  After a brief conversation reconnecting with Chuck Jones for the first time since the plane ride several years earlier, Keith hung up the phone, while suddenly looking tired. ‘Nice bloke, that Chuck. I’m going over to have breakfast with him.  Meet his wife.  Kids.  Look at his golf trophies.’ ”

“When we all trooped on to the plane, Keith looked more tired than usual.  He had been dropped at the airport by Chuck and Chuck’s entire family.  Keith slumped next to me on the plane and before he sank into sleep I asked him what it had been like – proving to us that he could go on and on, that he would always be able to find someone somewhere who would give him his time and attention. ‘They were fabulous, Pete,’ was all he would say.  ‘Simply fabulous.  Kind, loving, generous people’.”

I tell this story, not only because it makes obvious the fact that Keith Moon had a lasting effect on Pete Townshend which continues well beyond his lifetime, but also because the surface reputation of a person can often too easily be summed up in one-dimensional sound bites.  Despite his “diabolical certain death style of rock’n’roll nihilism” (Townshend terminology), Keith Moon was kind and he was real, which is more than can be said for many who appear to tow the line day in and day out.  I’m not sure about everyone on this list, but I can speak for a few, including myself, who have friends with Moon-like personality traits: The type that are willing to push things a bit farther than you; the type that get your adrenaline going; the type who stimulate fireside stories of their escapades whether they are there with you or not.  These stories often fill the air with joy and laughter.  The fact is, once someone ‘gets under your skin’, there’s no turning back.  Like Keith Moon, that person can be nihilistic to the end, or perhaps have collected themselves somewhat over the years, but they stay in your heart because at some time in your life they breached it with a real, genuine moment.

Was it his personality that made Keith Moon such an amazingly gifted drummer?  Certainly!  : Just as much as Orr’s personality contributed to his grace on ice skates and Chaplin’s personality helped make him one of a kind on the silent screen.  Moon’s traits appear to have been ideally suited for his lot in life: That of drummer for The ‘orrible ‘oo. 

I grappled hard with the choice for a Moon Gem: Most of his best moments are only in audio format, whether in the studio or live.  I came down to a threesome of songs that together showcases his varied talents.  The first is this week’s Gem, ‘Relay’:  Not really a Moon-centric Who song (its actually a bass-driven song, fantastically performed by the Ox), but this video gives some insight into Keith Moon’s manic energy.  The video is also a rare treat: Townshend smiling and happy on stage. Finally, taking into account the sum of its parts, ‘Relay’ is the only song of the three that qualifies as a true Gem for me.  The second video is a live version of ‘Happy Jack’ (oh so close to being chosen as Gem).  Half way through, Moon’s unique drum style is on full display: Great footage. The third video is one of the few Moon-penned Who songs, ‘Cobwebs and Strange’, which includes hilarious footage of Moon on the loose, particularly the fictional account of how the rest of The Who came to meet their drummer (he was the last permanent member to join the band): Rolling into their lives inside a great big ‘bleeding box’.

I do have a few other songs that come to mind as being great in the drumming department.  Below is that list.  Below the list is the Gem video, and the other two complimentary videos. Sorry, none end in spontaneous combustion, though they do come awfully close.

- Pete

> Keith Moon on ‘Bargain’ (particularly the post vocals, closing segment)
> Keith Moon on all of Quadrophenia (particularly ‘Love Reign O’er Me’)
> Charlie Watts on ‘Hang Fire’ (particularly the opening salvo)
> Ringo Starr on ‘Helter Skelter’ (with blisters on his fingers)
> John Bonham on ‘Kashmir’ (I had the opportunity to be the proverbial fly onthe wall on a recent summer evening, as I listened to Jeff and Dave discuss their passion for Bonzo and the rest of Led Zeppelin).
> Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann live on many-a Dead tune (One thing I do pick up on is when a band has two good drummers who compliment one another)
> Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks on ‘Ramblin Man’ (see previous comment)
> Keith Moon on many of the early Who singles (‘My Generation’, ‘The Kid’s are Alright, ‘Happy Jack’, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’)

Gem Video: Relay

Happy Jack

Cobwebs and Strange

About the Video: Classic footage of the Who circa 1973.  From “Thirty Years of Maximum R & B”

Video Rating: 1

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GMVW # 97: "Dearly Departed"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 97:  Dearly Departed
Song:  Nightshift by The Commodores
(Songwriters: Clyde Orange, Dennis Lambert and Franne Golde)
November 12, 2009

I’m on the home stretch now with these Gem Videos.  Two months ago, I had a pretty good idea of what Gems to release for each of the 10 weeks leading up to # 100.  I say ‘pretty good’, because this current week was the one week that remained up for grabs.  I did, over a spell, come up with several potential songs for this week, particularly the one I ultimately settled on: ‘Nightshift’ by the Commodores.  However, as time progressed to the present, I realized a theme for this song was going to be difficult to discuss, and so I (temporarily) scrapped it. 

For a while I was actually enjoying the fact that I had no idea what I would do for Gem # 97.  It was a mystery, but I was confident I would think of something.  Then one morning on the way to work, I heard the song ‘Change’ by Tracy Chapman on the radio and realized again how great it was.  I settled on it as the Gem for a short duration, with the thought that the title of the song would give me a perfect theme to write about: The importance of change; those times we have confronted and accepted it; those times we have struggled with it. 

Events over the past two weeks had me reevaluate and switch back to the original idea for the Gem, that again being ‘Nightshift’.  ‘Nightshift’ is one of the best songs I know to have been written about the loss of someone close.  In the case of this song’s specific focus, the loss was two-fold, as The Commodores sang about their then (1984) recently deceased musician friends, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. 

The events over the past few weeks for me were also two-fold, with one of my closest of friends losing his Dad, and another of my closest friends losing his brother.  A few weeks earlier, Nancy had a longtime friend lose a sister.  It’s times like these when friendships matter the most.  I know we all realize this as all of us on this email list have experienced the loss of a close friend or family member in our lifetimes. These past few days, I’ve witnessed everyone pull together for our common friend in his time of need and I am quite blown away by it all.  

I’m not going to write much about this week’s theme except to say that the Gem touches on a very nice image of the afterlife: That of a ‘sweet sound going down’.  I believe we all have music inside of us whether we play an instrument or not, and I would like to think it’s one of those things we bring with us when we leave this existence.  I’m sure this would be the case for those family members of close friends who have recently passed on.

I’m not completely abandoning the other option for Gem Video this week though, since I believe it to be a fitting backup to my final choice:  Not for those who have passed on, but for those of us left behind.  I’ll call it Gem # 97B. The link and lyrics are below.

This one is for all those close to us who have moved on to greener pastures.

-  Pete

Gem Music Video of the Week: ‘Nightshift’

Gem # 97B: ‘Change’

‘Change’ lyrics
If you knew that you would die today,
Saw the face of god and love,
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you knew that love can break your heart
When you're down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?
Would you change?
How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?
Makes you turn around,
Makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change?
Makes you change?
If you knew that you would be alone,
Knowing right, being wrong,
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings up pain that can't be soothed
Would you change?
Would you change?
How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?
Makes you turn around,
Makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change?
Makes you change?
Are you so upright you can't be bent?
If it comes to blows are you so sure you won't be crawling?
If not for the good, why risk falling?
Why risk falling?
If everything you think you know,
Makes your life unbearable,
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you'd broken every rule and vow,
And hard times come to bring you down,
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you knew that you would die today,
If you saw the face of God and love,
Would you change?
Would you change?
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you saw the face of God and love
If you saw the face of God and love
Would you change?
Would you change?

About the Video: Made for MTV-like video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Fred

Good one Pete, thanks.  Am proud to be your brother...the way you worked things
with Mac this week was vintage-Pete

See you soon

And: Amy

To be a friend of yours is a gift from God.  To be your sister, fills my heart with gratitude.  I love you so much.

And: Andrea

Beautiful!  Thank you Tina (who forwarded) and Peter.  I love you tremendously.