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Thursday, July 26, 2012

(30th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Alot for the Fey of Heart"

Song: I Am Waiting
Album: Aftermath
Released:  April, 1966

A few months back, Nancy, Peter and I watched ‘Rushmore’, a 1998 movie about the adventures of Max, an eccentric 15-year old, attending a private academy for teenagers.  Now when it comes to movies, I’m not all that easily pleased:  If I were a popular movie critic, I would have probably been knocked off by a producer’s hired gun at one time or another because I tend to put my thumbs down far more frequently than the Roger Ebert’s of the world.  But I liked this movie.  It was quirky, yet it captured some things very well, including the strong will of the main character.  More importantly it captured a unique spin on the innocence of youth which I am sure is hard to do for someone who is many years beyond that point in their lives (in this case, director Wes Anderson). 

‘Rushmore’ also has an incredible soundtrack, which frankly blindsided me; including the Kinks Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl, the Faces Ooh La La, and the live ‘The Kids are Alright’ version of A Quick One (I couldn’t believe that one).  But what really caught my attention was a Rolling Stones song that I must admit I had not recalled hearing before.  The song was played in its entirety during a very well thought out and poignant sequence in the movie, which I will get to in a moment.  Clearly it was an early-years’ Stones song.  I loved it right off, and immediately thought it a perfect Stepping Stone.  I set the thought aside though, after determining that I had more investigation to do; not the least of which being that of tracking the title of the song and its place in Stones history. 

Last week I finally initiated that bit of research by first going to the ‘Rushmore’ web page and reviewing the soundtrack list to the movie. The song turned out to be I Am Waiting, which I soon discovered was on the 1966 ‘Aftermath’ album.  From there, I turned back to a trusted source during this now half-year process, that being a special 148 page edition of ‘Uncut’ about the Rolling Stones, published last year.  Among other articles, the publication includes re-reviews of each of the band’s 22 British-released studio albums.  The ‘Aftermath’ article, written by rock critic Rob Young, was a mixed review.  In it, Young points out that the Stones were still at that time releasing albums that included a few fillers, something the Beatles would never do. I’d have to agree with this key point, but having listened to the album now for a solid week, I can at the same time see that the Stones were beginning to distinguish themselves from the crowd in 1966 with well written and well performed hits, such as Paint it Black and Under My Thumb, as well as a few solid deep cuts such as Think and Goin’ Home. 

Young makes reference a few times in his article to this week’s Stepping Stone, I Am Waiting.  One point he makes is in his use of the term ‘feyness’ to describe it, while at the same time stating that the Stones would rarely if ever delve into this uniquely atmospheric sound again.  With this re-read of Young’s article under the belt, a few dots were beginning to connect in my mind.  From here I went on to You Tube, typed in “Movie Rushmore, I am Waiting”, and up popped the portion of the movie that unfolded during the playing of this song on the soundtrack ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCKKSeNWkJQ ).   Since the sequence was so well done both musically and visually, a wave of my own youthful flashbacks hit me.  Rob Young had gotten it precisely right:  This song indeed has feyness.  It’s a mid-60s sound that not too many bands’ I enjoy have achieved.  Leonard Cohen is an exception, having pulled it off quite often, most notably in his song So Long Marianne.  The Who actually did it a decade later on Who Are You, which can be heard in the bridge to the song.  And the Rolling Stones pull it off here.  It’s the sound of nostalgia.  It’s the sound of youthful innocence.  It’s an otherworldly sound.

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A number of years ago, walking with Charlotte and Peter through my old Franklin neighborhood during a visit to my parents’ home, I challenged the kids to point anywhere and I would share a memory of my youth of that very spot with them.  And so they took me up on it, and over time we touched on a number of my younger-day experiences.  Below is an approximation of several of our many exchanges:

Charlotte:  How about there, Dad” (pointing at an area just out front of a Dean College building)
Me: “In that corner, we used to make our way up on the roof to retrieve golf balls that we would hit onto the higher roof from the field beyond.  See how the higher roof is connected to the lower one by a steel rung ladder?  When we did this we had to keep a look out for the Dean Police, who did not want us up there.  On a few occasions they spotted us, and a mad scramble ensued.”
Peter: “Over there?
Me: “That’s the Fitzpatrick home. I delivered there on my first paper route.  I used to keep a checklist of the dogs that accompanied me on that route, including my most frequent companions, my dog Nicky, and Phil’s dog Whiskers, who routinely met Nicky and I at a rendezvous location at the start of my route from his home 2 blocks away (with an impeccable sense of timing I might add).  One Thursday, collection day, Mrs. Fitzpatrick opened her door in response to my knocking, looked out on her lawn and saw 15 dogs behind me.  I recall her reaction being one of utter disbelief.  She insisted I stay put, ran back into her home, and took a photo of the group of us. No, I’ve never seen the photo.
Peter (again):  How about that barn back there?
Me: “One summer, Bruce and I came up with the unusual idea of seeing how many barns we could sneak into and investigate.  There were so many large, unused old barns in the neighborhood, and it was often easy to crawl into a back open window.   It was scary but fascinating. That particular barn had a few old deer head mounts in a corner on the upper level.
Charlotte: “Over there?
Me:  I remember when a significant part of downtown Franklin, that included Puritan Drug Store, went up in an inferno of flames.  My friends and I were hanging out on ‘The Wall’ when we heard the commotion from a distance.  I was on crutches at the time, having broken my leg a month earlier (another memorable story).  Everyone sprinted ahead of me, and so my hope that the crew meet at a common location when we got there quickly faded.  But good-friend Pete was a bit slower than the rest, so I was able to keep an eye on him, just catching a glance each time he went around the next bend (I was getting pretty good on crutches by then).  I remember going around that corner you pointed at early on in the sprint to downtown, seeing Pete, and just somehow knowing that I’d be keeping a bead on him for the remainder of the trek (which was the case).
Peter and Charlotte:  There?
Me:  That’s Mac’s yard.  I got pretty good at croquet there, but what I mostly remember is the kick-the-can nights.  Right there, a very large oak tree would cast a night shadow across the spotlighted field.  When you stayed completely in the shadow, you were practically invisible to the person who was ‘it’.  This was the surest way to make your way from the front to the back, which was a great area to launch an attack from.  Also, looking further back into the back field….the trees behind it had an amazing labyrinth of vines interconnecting them at the top.  Sitting up there on top of those vines was awesome:  A veritable super-sized crow’s nest for kids.
Peter: “Up there?
Me: “Those are the water towers.  You see the components of the towers broken up from top to bottom by connected steel drums?  We used to compete to see who could hit the highest drum in the chain with a rock or a chunk of asphalt.  The rocks would make a higher pitched tone the farther up you hit the water tower due to the level of water inside.  One day we were tossing rocks up there when we noticed, for lack of a better term, a local madman, shooting at us with a bee-bee-like pump gun from his 2nd floor deck below the towers.  I was actually hit in the shoe.  We ran home to tell our parents.  I’m not sure how it all played out, but one of the results was us promising not to throw rocks at the towers ever again.  I guess the madman accomplished his goal.

To this day Charlotte and Peter still take me up on that initial challenge, and occasionally I challenge myself.  Rarely am I stumped, and not just in the immediate neighborhood, but other parts of town.  For example, when taking the King Street route to Amy’s, I usually spot the former home of one R. Shores, who never once tipped me for the first handful of months during my Sunday driving paper route.  Early in this job, I did not have my license and so Dad would selflessly do the driving.  Picking up on the lack of a tip, Dad had me write notes attached to the newspaper stating things like “A penny saved is a penny earned”.  Before long, I was getting generous tips from Mr. Shores. 

And then there was the location on the Dean Field where we would play pickup baseball games:  Frequently short on fielders, Phil’s aforementioned dog, Whiskers, would occasionally fill in at shortstop, making amazing stabs of line drives with his mouth.  There were the train-track hiking discoveries with Dad: giant praying mantis, walking sticks, salamanders, lady slippers, and the like.  Dad again, hosting pickup football games, punting the ball and stating things to Mr. Bonolo like “That’s about as high as a kick as you would have seen from Harvey Shmeltzsticker”.  At Dean Junior College alone there were so many memories: There was the circus in the field; the Houdini character in the gym; the parachutist miscue, also in the field; the Mickey Mouse masked female streakers slicing a path between Phil and I as we cut across the campus one early evening; there was the fight with a bully (3 year’s older than me) not far from that same spot several years later.  Downtown also, so many memories: Vargin’s Market, Newberry’s, Kearney’s Drug Store, Jimmies Penny Candy Store, and the News Store.  Each location host to a flurry of thoughts: Wacky Packages, Slush Puppies, Fribbles, comic books, coin collection exchanges, lime ricki’s, creaky wooden floors, pinball, Fat Albert miniatures, sneaking into the loft areas and roof tops of vacant buildings, making friends with the employees, Big Butch, Joe Yoder.

And the list goes on.

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This all brings me back to that poignant sequence in ‘Rushmore’ with the otherworldly sounds of I Am Waiting playing in the background (by the way, can anyone explain the scene at the beginning of the attached clip when the tree collapses with Bill Murray’s character watching?  I have a few theories but welcome input).  Feyness can probably be related to many things, but ‘Rushmore’ really captures the essence of it here.  The days of your youth can feel millions of light years away at times.  Life’s experiences can separate you from it, not simply in terms of time, but also in terms of state of mind.  There is no going back, unfortunately.

But this week, I got as close as I am likely ever going to get again.

-          Pete

Thursday, July 19, 2012

(29th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Spotlight on Ronnie Wood: A Funfest in the Heat"

Song: She Was Hot
Album: Undercover
Released: November, 1983

Spotlight on: Ronnie Wood

Man it’s been hot out.  Back in February I rolled out Stepping Stone # 8, She’s So Cold, not really making the connection with the weather outside my den window.  I’m not so blind to the association this time around though.  This week’s entry, She Was Hot, is apropos of the current heat wave, and the counterpoint of She’s So Cold.  In fact, if the two songs came out together instead of three years apart, one of these songs would have been the perfect flip side on a common single.  But that’s beside the point.  In fact, it’s beside a lot of points, because there is much to write about this week; there is the topic of fate, there is the topic of fun, there is the topic of friendship, there is the topic of filling a niche, there is the topic of the Rolling Stones most frequently used calling card, and there is the topic of passion.  How to tie it all together? 

Why Ronnie Wood, of course.

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The 3rd stage of the Rolling Stones history began around 1976, when Mick Taylor suddenly quit the band just before they convened in the studio to work on the album ‘Black and Blue’.  And so, the role of 2nd guitarist was once again up for grabs, the only position available in the band at any time until Bill Wyman laid down his bass guitar in 1993 after a 30 year run.  Due to the fact that Taylor’s announcement was so last minute, ‘Black and Blue’ turned out to be an audition album, featuring no less than 6 guitarists including Steve Marriott, Peter Frampton, and Wayne Perkins.  But it was Ronnie Wood who would make the cover, and it was Wood who would ultimately be offered to hop on board. 

Wood proved to be the perfect fit at the perfect time.  Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and particularly Keith Richards were starting to show the physical wear and tear of a Rock and Roll lifestyle in their faces, and the new guitarist just naturally looked the part, maybe even since birth.  Gone were the golden pretty boy years of first Brian Jones and then Mick Taylor, not to mention a younger Jagger.  The Stones were fittingly beginning to look like pirates.  Wood magnified the image.  It’s the first thing I noticed when I took it all in not soon after he signed up.  Ronnie Wood has always claimed that he was fated to be in the Rolling Stones, believing it would happen many years before it finally did:  The band simply had to age in the appropriate way to make it happen:  As Pete Townshend stated when he inducted the Stones into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… “Don’t try to grow old gracefully, it wouldn’t suit you”.

Another reason Wood was a great fit was directly linked to Keith Richards, who had gone for far too long without a sparring partner.  Richards’ preferred style has always been to weave his guitar sound with another’s; so much so, that when he achieves this feat, it’s very difficult to tell who is playing what (this can be a little disconcerting for someone like me who likes to dissect the pieces of a song’s puzzle and give credit where credit is due).  For over a decade, Richards had most frequently achieved this weaving sound by overdubbing his own guitar playing in the studio.  The reason for this was that Brian Jones had pretty much given up the guitar a few years into his stint with the band (see Stepping Stone # 11), and Mick Taylor was at his best when playing more of a lead-guitar style (Stepping Stone # 19).  Richards was overdue for someone like Wood who was a willing participant in the style the founding guitarist so loved to perform. 

One aspect that Wood has been consistent in with his predecessors though is in his ability to carry on the general role as a 3rd wheel in the Stones.  Both Jones and Taylor, 3rd wheels themselves, were very bright and contributed substantially to the musical evolution of the band.  Wood did this in his own right.  The Stones already knew of his many talents as both a band member (including his stint with the Faces, who were just this year inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and as a solo artist who wrote his own music (such as songs on his classically titled ‘I’ve Got My Own Album To Do’).  I have seen him perform live with his own band, and he can command center stage as good as, if not better than, most.  One of my favorite moments in the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary (as a recording artist) video was when Wood led Booker T and the MGs through a rendition of Dylan’s Seven Days (covered in GMVW # 9). In general, Jagger and Richards have done a very good job of recruiting when the time came, finding cats who contribute without becoming overpowering:  The Glimmer Twins have always been able to find the George to complement their John and Paul. 

Aside from image and musical talent though, Wood brought a few other intangibles into the band with him.  It’s often been said that he mended many-a fences between band members, as the fissures started to seep in around the mid-80s.  Ronnie was everyone’s buddy, keeping close contact with both the increasingly bohemian Richards and the increasingly mainstream Jagger, who were slowly drifting apart.  These things inevitably happen, and so the new element may just have prolonged the band’s life all by his self.  He was also close with Wyman and Watts, not the most amiable of folks, during those difficult times.

Finally, Ronnie Wood brought amusement back to the band’s music, after a long period of first strife (Jones) and then heavy, serious musicianship (Taylor and everyone else).  When he joined, the Stones almost immediately started sounding fun again.  It’s the common denominator in all the albums that came after his arrival starting with a few songs off ‘Black and Blue’ (Hot Stuff, Cherry Oh Baby); and then ‘Some Girls’ (Far Away Eyes, the title track); followed by ‘Emotional Rescue (Where the Boys Go, She’s so Cold); and ‘Tattoo You’ (Neighbors, Start Me Up).  It’s their next album, however, 1983’s ‘Undercover’, which houses their most funfest of tracks, especially She Was Hot, this week’s Stepping Stone.

She Was Hot ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiksFF3862k ) has turned out to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable tracks of my Rolling Stones adventure this year.  I had never really connected with it before, but it is pure fun, right up there with songs like Happy Jack, Bob Dylan’s 115 Dream, and of course, Rock Lobster.  As with last week’s Stepping Stone (Fool to Cry), repetition again works here:  The refrain, “She Was Hot”, feels hotter and hotter as the song goes on, and actually gets a bit hysterically out of control at the 1:54 mark of the attached url.  Some of the lyrics are classic, such as “If you were in my shoes, well you would be excused” and some of the closing lyrics to the 'story': "Back to the old bayou, Back to the tall bamboo, back to the human zoo".  I defy anyone who can print the lyrics, play the song loudly and sing it without at least cracking a smile.  The best part of the song is the last minute and a half, building up to a crescendo, including the great Charlie Watts drum role at the 4:17 mark.  And of course there are the weaving guitars of Mr. Richards and Mr. Wood at the song’s bridge.  Again, pure fun.

The topic of the song is without a doubt the most consistent of Rolling Stones calling cards.  The fact of the matter is that if you are going to make inroads with the Stones, there is one unavoidable piece of the puzzle: You are going to hear a lot of songs about woman.  This band has written more music about members of the opposite sex than any other that I know of.  I’d go as far as saying exponentially more.   In relation to woman, the Stones have penned love songs (Happy, Tops, Heaven); lust songs (Little T&A, Parachute Woman); put downs (She’s So Cold, Stupid Girl); praise (Loving Cup, Ruby Tuesday); defiance (Beast of Burden, Under My Thumb, If You Can’t Rock Me); pain (Miss You, Angie, Anybody Seen My Baby, Wild Horses); remorse (Coming Down Again, 100 Years Ago) and much more, including this week’s hot and heavy entry (the official MTV video with Anita Morris is something to see).

Mick Jagger is pretty convincing singing this song; the voice of experience I suppose.  The question then is can I relate to his insights; can I connect with his and Richards’ song other that at a musical level?  Well, I’ve never been one to kiss and tell, but just this once I’ll indulge. 

Was she hot?

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…………

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…… Message Alert to the host of the “Gem Videos and Beyond” blog site:  The Blogspot Team has determined that the concluding contents of your most recent entry risks the loss of your status as a family friendly forum.  We have therefore taken liberties to remove that portion of your text. Do not challenge us in this way again, or we will be forced to remove your blog site from our pages..... but, ahhh... boy is that hot!     


-          Pete

Thursday, July 12, 2012

(28th in a series of) Stepping Stones "My Fellow Aficionado's"

Song: Fool to Cry
Album: Black and Blue
Released: April, 1976

If you are going to enjoy a musician or band, it’s a bonus to have a fellow aficionado or two to bounce thoughts off of, as well as to be guaranteed someone will be joining you when the act makes its way through town.  I’ve been fortunate to have those connections for many of my favorite songsmiths.  Mac has been my most consistent compatriot over the years in all three phases of the process; discovery, concert attendance and digging deeper into the cuts.  He has also opened my eyes to a handful of songwriters I may have never gotten to know much about otherwise, including Jonathan Richman, Linda and Richard Thompson, and the Grateful Dead.

Though Mac has been top shelf as a music-aficionado comrade, he does not stand alone.  Through the years I’ve had cohorts for virtually every musician I’ve enjoyed listening to:  The Who and solo spinoffs (Kurt, Mac, Dave, Bec, Bouv); Neil Young (Nancy, Bouv, Jeff); Pink Floyd (Pete, Jen); Bob Dylan (Jeff, Mac); The Kinks (Fred); the Beatles and solo spinoffs (Pete); and R.E.M. (Pat) all come to mind.  Ok, I’ve been on my own with Leonard Cohen (though Nancy loved his show at the Wang Theatre several years back, much to her surprise).  But for the most part, I’ve been able to converse in truly appreciative ways with others on just about every musician of interest from Joe Jackson to the Cars, Iris Dement to Gram Parsons, the Band to Joni Mitchell, and Elvis Costello to the Clash.

There was one band, however, that for far too long I never had a fellow enthusiast to connect with:  The Rolling Stones.  A few loose ties had cropped up off and on, but not many.  There was that guy in North Adams, Craig, who I wrote briefly about in Stepping Stone # 1.  There was another North Adams student, Romeo…..good friend of Bouv’s: Huge Stones fan.  He even looked like Mick Jagger.  Then there’s my colleague at USGS, the son of a preacher man, who I wrote about in SS # 2.  Other than those examples, though, I’d been alone in my deeper appreciation.  Closer friends had attended shows with me, yet there’s a big difference between simply getting your ya-ya’s out and basking in the moment.  Everyone can appreciate this sentiment with examples of their own I’m sure: Cases where you are heavy into something and others are simply curious.

Yes, I was running solitary in the Rolling Stones department for some time.  And then, in the early 90s, Amy introduced the family to Paul…. a fellow Stones aficionado, who ultimately landed in our family no less.  I knew pretty early on this interest of his was no fluke.  No smoke and mirrors here.  Brother-in-law Paul knew his stuff.  It took a bit of grilling to tease the most interesting tidbits out.  Most big brothers might circle the wagons to see what lurked there in the heart when it came to an interest by someone in their little sister.  Not me in this case, at least not in a traditional sense.  Once I knew Paul was waving that Glimmer Twins banner, I quizzed him on all things Stones while trying to black out the image of the Richard Nixon books on his bookshelf:  Favorite song?; favorite album?; favorite band member?; song meanings?; who did he think was leader of the band at certain stages of their career and why?; was he interested in emulating the relationship between Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg? (hopefully not).  That kind of stuff.  He passed with flying colors….on most accounts.

You know someone is a Stones fan when he gets pumped about the band’s performance in their 1968 Rock and Roll Circus documentary:  The Rolling Stones themselves refused to release this show for decades, knowing they were clearly outclassed by their guests, the Who.  You know someone is a Stones fan when he has all of their studio albums and most of their compilations.  You know someone is a Stones fan when he names one of his dog’s “Angie” and another “Hannah” (after the gal in Memory Motel), has a photo of the band on his bathroom wall (in homage to the cover of ‘Beggars Banquet’?), and attends all 3 venue sizes of the their 2002 ‘Licks’ tour, including stadium (Gillette), arena (Boston Garden) and theatre (Orpheum > The Stones played the deepest of cuts at the Orpheum:  I’m forever envious).  You know someone is a Stones fan when his coffee table is littered with a virtual band bibliography. 

You really know someone is a Stones fan when he purchases Ronnie Wood’s limited edition vinyl boxed set “I Want You To Hear This”.

And with Paul, Amy came along for the ride as well:  A veritable 2 for 1 so to speak.  I could see it in Amz eyes not long into their relationship.  She was hooked, not just to Paul, but to the band he loved.  And so, concert attendance became a big event for all of us, as did listening to the Stones at parties, at one of our homes, or on a joy ride.  Amy’s interest was not superficial by any means.  She became a fast learner, asking the deeper questions and offering some intriguing insights of her own.  It was all great, mostly because it was unexpected.  But then again, I should have known better….. Amy, like me, has the potential for occasional bouts with late-bloomer syndrome.  I mean this in a good way, as it’s rare to open the mind up to something new as life weaves its way beyond your formative days.

Ok, so why Fool to Cry for this week’s Stepping Stone?  Well, way back during the original Gem Videos, I rolled out two Rolling Stones songs.  The first was Waiting on a Friend (GMVW # 41):  Turns out I had hit on a common gem of a song with Paul that I could not recall being the case when I grilled him years earlier.  The second, Memory Motel (GMVW # 83) I knew for sure would connect with both Amy and Paul.  However, since I had already used it as a Gem I had to dig a bit deeper.  I got to thinking about Rolling Stones ballads, seeing as Angie, Waiting on a Friend, and Memory Motel, favorites of the Citarell’s, are all on the slow, ballad-like side of the scale for this band. 

I’m not big on several of the Stones most popular ballads, Beast of Burden, and Wild Horses, but I do thoroughly enjoy most of the others, particularly Memory Motel.  And the album that Memory Motel is on, ‘Black and Blue’ happens to have another great ballad (rare for this band), that being Fool to Cry ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Teo0LYxjxvI ).  I’ve had this one lined up for about a month now, and coincidently it happens to be one of a handful of songs the Stones jammed together on just a few weeks back in preparation for who-knows-what.  I’ve never seen them play it live.  It would be something.  Regardless, it reaffirmed the selection for me.

And so, Fool to Cry is my offering to my fellow Stones aficionados in the family, lovers of the balladeer side of the band (along with much else).  Ballads are hard to pull off in Rock and Roll.  There has to be subtle variety in the song, as most ballads sound drudgingly repetitive.  But the Stones make this ballad work:  There are the 3 stages of the song; daughter, lover, friend, all giving advice to the protagonist, the broken man.  There’s the guitar accentuating the very first “oooo, Daddy you’re a fool to cry” (44 second mark of the url link).  There’s Charlie Watt’s slow drum role in the 3rd stage of the song (3:10 mark).  There are Mick Jagger’s professional adjustments throughout, keeping the song fresh almost on his own.  And fascinatingly enough, the repetition of “Daddy you’re a fool to cry” works wonders.  It gets more meaningful as the song goes on.  Perhaps there’s something to the Buddhist “om” mantra after all.

Well, it’s time to retire for the day.  I’ve gotta get up early tomorrow; take a stroll through the woods and ponder some more on Paul’s most recent observation on the Rolling Stones, that being that Keith Richards is Mick Jagger’s bitch.  I’ve thought long and hard on that one.  I had always thought it was the other way around.  But there’s always room for reevaluation.

Especially when mulling over the insights of a fellow aficionado.

-          Pete

Thursday, July 5, 2012

(27th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Mastering One's Craft"

Song: Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Album:  Released as a single
Released:  May, 1968

If you do something for a really long time, it’s likely that you are going to get pretty good at it after a spell.  And the best of the best find the niche within the niche, honing their craft to the point where they have carved out something distinct unto themselves.  This occurs in any profession, craft or hobby….you name it:  Software developer and lawyer, basketball player and day trader, blacksmith and sentry (I have no idea why I thought of that last one).  And mastering ones craft is not unique to individuals.  It can also happen with a group, such as a law firm, fishing fleet, scientific expedition, or rowing crew.

In both of these cases, the individual and the group, masters of the art form have cropped up in the music world as well.  Not all at the same pace, though.  Some of the best musicians of our time found their distinct sound very early in their careers:  Richard Thompson, Led Zeppelin, Randy Newman and R.E.M.  all come to mind.  Their first releases gave a very good indication of what was to come.  Others took some time to weave their unique, lasting, indelible sound, including the Beach Boys, David Bowie, the Kinks, U2, the Police and the Grateful Dead.  Of all the great musicians I know of, however, the ones who took the longest to nail down a uniquely untouchable resonance were the Rolling Stones.  They finally accomplished this in 1968, a good 6 years into their formation, with the release of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQSGw0hMd_I ).

I think they would agree with me in saying it was worth the investment of time and effort. 

Jumpin’ Jack Flash was a defining song for the Rolling Stones.  First off, it was a major departure from the studio dependent phychedelia that preceded it over a period of 2 years.  Secondly, Keith Richards was stepping to the plate as a true leader, not only as a maturing songwriter, but also in other ways, including a uniquely evolving guitar sound:  Brian Jones was turning into dead weight around this time, and Richards ended up doing virtually all the signature guitar work for Jumpin’ Jack Flash as well as the heavy bass (Wyman shifts over to Hammond Organ).  This was a live sound; something that could be reproduced in front of a crowd with a 5-piece band.  The Stones would end up playing it more than any other song for the remainder of their career (up until now anyways).

 Thirdly, there is the imagery of the lyrics, right up there with any number of Bob Dylan songs such as Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts, Jokerman, and Tweeter and the Monkeyman, including the lines:

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,

Along with…

 I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back,

And of course….

 I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head.

Dire for sure, but the Stones had a defying twist in the refrain:

But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right, Im jumpin jack flash,
It’s a gas! gas! gas!

In other words, “yes, it may have been tough for many of us, but now we are going to have some fun my friends”.

 Most importantly, the song almost senses the stadium crowds that would attend future Stones shows. Better yet, it may have created them.  Jumpin’ Jack Flash would launch this band into the 70s and beyond.  The Rolling Stones, it seems, had committed themselves to the long haul, not just for themselves, but for their fans.  This was an opposite direction taken from that of the Beatles, who launched into a studio career at about the same time, shunning the stage and crowds for the last 3 years of their existence as a band.  Same could be said for Bob Dylan around this period.   The Stones, however, come across here as the first 60s band to be saying “look out new decade, here we come!”  A weaker song could not have made such a bold statement.  But this was not a weak song.  On the contrary, it was a groundbreaker. 

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This is where I come in, along with so many I grew up with.  The Rolling Stones would start a chain reaction of great musicians committing themselves to the long term, setting the ground rules for the uniquely exciting decade ahead.  In turn, this commitment helped to foster a generational bond among my peers in the 70s that I’m quite certain had never existed before in any generation at such an early stage.  Stadium shows meant a larger audience.  It meant bumping into someone a few days later who was wearing the same concert tee-shirt as you and then talking about the show.  It meant heavy conversations with friends about the music while hanging out in a parking lot, as you hiked the train tracks, or while sitting around a bonfire. 

In the 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s, stadiums were where a Dad would take his kid to see a ballgame.  Now it was kids with kids dominating 1) the roads on the drive in, 2) the parking lot, 3) the immediate area (whether urban or woods), and 4) the concert event itself.  Most of the time, this would result in a lasting, sometimes complex, growing experience.  Night School was the name of the game, and if you immersed yourself in it (with caution I might add) the reward could be mind-expanding (and I am not talking drugs per se!).

My most recent exposure to all this was last Sunday evening when I headed into Boston to see Roger Waters perform ‘The Wall’ at Fenway Park with Mac and others.  This was a music-centric crowd, and before the show we seamlessly bounced our way through a myriad of past concert experiences and events from Eric Burdon to Hot Tuna, Lou Reed to Delaney and Bonnie, Dave Davies to Patti Smith.  Conversations like this always prime you for the show ahead.  We were not disappointed.  ‘The Wall’ was spectacular and moving; my faith in the power of live rock music again rekindled.   After years of skepticism in all things large and unconstrained, I think Mr. Waters felt it too.  Perhaps it was something he learned from the Stones.  They figured it out in 1968.  Despite seeing it all in the interim, both good and bad, they have never looked back.  Jack Flash is still Jumping, on stage and in the crowd.  It took 6 years for the Rolling Stones to nail it down.  It’s been 44 grateful years of having found that niche ever since.

 -          Pete