Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Everyone loves the drums. We love them in marching bands, we love them in the 1812 Overture, we love them in our language. We talk of beating the drums and drumming up business. We admire anything that’s tight as a drum. When we’re at the top of our game, we never miss a beat.

Other instruments have evolved from the drums: the xylophone, the harpsichord, the piano. Other art forms, too: tap dancing. My bets on the first technologies humans invented are: fire, singing, painting, how to julienne a mastodon, and drumming.

Drumming – good or bad – is hard work. What if you tried to drum and sing? Picture yourself behind your Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl drum kit. You and the band are playing “Louie, Louie.” You’re moving your left hand. You’re moving your right hand. You’re moving your left foot. You’re moving your right foot.

Algernon the junior scientist reporting on his procedure as he tries to electrocute Ringo in Help: I’m moving my left leg…I’m moving my right leg…

Can you imagine singing “Me gotta go now” while you simultaneously move your other body parts? As Ringo once sang while doing exactly that, “You know it don’t come easy.”

Which brings us to my list and the #1 drummer on it:

1. Ringo Starr
Not the greatest drummer or the greatest singer, but he doesn’t have to be. Ringo created the template for the modern singing drummer: A little of-kilter, a little bit of a loner, witty in an understated way. He also has the best nickname.

Ringo was such a force of nature that A Hard Day’s Night and Help were both about him. Ringo is the only singing drummer who is happy to spend the day with somebody else’s grandfather, who is too nice to betray a rich American widow or embarrass a sheila with his cool appraising stare, and who is always ready to sacrifice himself to save England from a racist-stereotype cult. Only Ringo could become a grandfather and a great-grandfather while still playing the drums, and only Ringo could create a band to give underemployed rock gods a paycheck, a band that’s so insanely popular, it’s been touring for 29 years.

He’s the best.

2. Karen Carpenter
Not the greatest drummer, but what a voice. She was Annie Lennox without the sex. If only I liked her music. Ten minutes of The Carpenters’ ultra-smooth, impenetrable sweetness makes me want to unplug my internal organs. If I go to a yard sale this summer and they try to give me We Only Just Began: The Complete Works of Karen and Richard Carpenter plus a corgi puppy, I will say no.

[Editor’s note: My wife just informed me that if I go to a yard sale this summer and they try to give me We Only Just Began plus a corgi puppy, I will say yes.]

In her short career, Karen Carpenter faced two challenges that most of the drummers on this list did not: the music industry’s hatred of women and the eating disorder that killed her. She was a pioneer and a role model. Easy pick for #2.

3. Maurice White
Maurice White seemed destined for a career as a solid jazz studio musician and a sought-after sideman. Most of us in the creative arts line would be happy with a description like that. But White had a vision, and that vision was not to see his name buried in the liner notes of other people’s records. He wanted to rule the world – the world of pop.

It took a few years, but his band, Earth, Wind & Fire, became one of the dominant bands of the 1970s. No other jazz musician has ever crossed over to pop and scored such a success. (I’m not counting jazz-fusion hybrids or novelty jazz hits such as Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate Upon the Winds.”)

Several people, including his guitarist and at least one of his co-writers, have claimed that White told them “Don’t let the lyrics get in the way of the groove.” The quote’s source might be a mystery, but not its truth. Just listen to Earth, Wind & Fire’s lyrics. They are not in the way of anything.

4. Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor of Queen could sing a falsetto that made The Four Seasons sound like obstructive lymphoid tissue. He made The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean sound like Darth Vader with a mouthful of socks. That’s his suborbital vocal on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Only Jimmy Somerville (Bronksi Beat, The Communards) could puncture the same octaves. (Donna Summer and Minnie Riperton could do this in their sleep.) Taylor is a Hall of Fame hard-rock drummer as well as a prolific composer. He should probably lead this list, but, except for a couple of cuts from the Flash Gordon soundtrack, I dislike Queen.

5. Phil Collins
I dislike Queen but I hate Phil Collins. Su-su-sudio! For several years you couldn’t avoid him. He was bearable when he was playing the drums in Genesis behind Peter Gabriel. But then Gabriel left and Collins took over. He’s an excellent drummer and singer, but wow, I hate him.

When you have a population of just 14 singing drummers, you have to expect that some of them will bear an unfair weight of disapproval.

6. Buddy Miles
A good drummer and a sweet soul singer whose legend is forever entangled with Jimi Hendrix and the California Raisins. His bands: Electric Flag, The Buddy Miles Express, Band of Gypsys, and on and on. His nickname: Buddy, for Buddy Rich. His signature tunes: “Them Changes” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” His signature contribution: Injecting funk into the heart of rock. His Afro in 1970: Like a Russian ushanka on the head of Dr. Zhivago.

7. Sheila E.
Sheila Escovedo was Prince’s most talented apprentice. Her drumbeats are all over Sign ‘O’ the Times. She was a drummer from an early age as all of these folks were. When she grew up, she drummed while wearing high heels as none of these folks did. (That we know of.)

Her solo career is disappointing, though I like tracks from The Glamorous Life and (how can you not swoon over this) Sex Cymbal. The music on Sex Cymbal is not exactly immortal, but if Sheila E. and her band performed this set at your New Year’s Eve dinner and dance, you’d be ecstatic even if you weren’t taking Ecstasy. And guess who gave her a job when she needed one? Ringo Starr!

8. Levon Helm
He sang “The Weight” on The Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink, and for me that’s enough to land him on this list without considering the next 10 Band albums or all of his folk recordings that I’ll probably never listen to. If Helm had not been a musician, he would’ve recorded William Faulkner audio books. Another Ringo Starr employee.

9. Grant Hart
Hüsker Dü is one of my favorite punk bands. I don’t look to punk for technical excellence in drumming. But Hart’s ability to play at punk speeds and sing well with the speakers set to punk volumes was worth an invitation to join the X-Men.

10. Pete Rivera
The Rare Earth drummer and vocalist is the tallest drummer here at 8 feet even, a foot taller than Don Henley and 4 feet taller than Sheila E., Levon Helm, Ringo and myself. Similar to Buddy Miles, in that he was a good drummer and a soul shouter. He even has his own signature songs: “Get Ready” and “(I Know I’m) Losing You.”

11. Don Henley
A passable player. I wouldn’t hire him to play my birthday if I could get Sheila E., Roger Taylor, or, if everyone else canceled, Phil Collins. Henley played drums and sang with The Eagles, then played guitar and sang in his solo career. I prefer his solo music (“All She Wants to Do Is Dance” narrowly defeats “Hotel California”), which is why he’s ranked way down here.

12. Jimmy Marinos
Jimmy Marinos of The Romantics put muscle into his drumming. He did the same with his singing, which was a step short of shouting. Marinos is a sentimental pick, as we’ve danced to “What I Like About You” about a billion times.

The Romantics had fabulous hair.

13. Mickey Dolenz
Mickey Dolenz was an enthusiastic if unskillful drummer with a solid, likeable voice. He knew how to sell this stuff. I don’t think it’s an accident that almost all of the songs by The Monkees that are any good were sung by Dolenz:

“The Girl I Knew Somewhere”
“Goin’ Down”
“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”
“Last Train to Clarkesville”
“Pleasant Valley Sunday”
“Porpoise Song” (the theme from Head)

Davey Jones sang “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” The rest of their catalog is car seat stuffing.

My wife has fond memories of the young Mickey Dolenz in the title role of Circus Boy, where every week he saved the circus with the assistance of his avenging pet elephant, Bimbo.

14. Peter Criss
It’s a sad day when I am forced to write about Kiss, but I knew this job was dangerous when I took it.

If you didn’t love Kiss when you were a teenager, and I didn’t, you sure as hell are not going to love them as an adult, and I don’t. Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss were four of the biggest sexist pricks in rock, and that is a very high bar to clear. The critic Mike McGuirk put this better than I can: “You know damn well that if they didn’t have both eyes on maximum commerciality they’d call themselves Blow Job.”

Compared to Kiss, AC/DC is leading the #MeToo movement.

I’m not sure how good Criss is as a drummer, because he often plays the same thing and sometimes his drums are mixed way behind the rest of the music. A producer can do a lot to inflate or deflate a drummer’s reputation. But Criss has a booming rock voice, he anchored a super successful band of his fellow pricks, and he wrote a lot (including that horrible ballad/dues song “Beth,” which was at least a break from the full-on misogyny of Destroyer). I can’t ignore him, but I can stick him and his Love Gun behind The Monkees.

Thus ends my list, not with a bang but with the cymbals falling over. Alert readers will notice that everyone here is either a) old, or b) dead. Are there singing drummers in their 20s and 30s? Please send me a mix tape and an autographed cowbell.

 

For Christmas, my dear and honored friend Joy was given a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon: Music Millennium, home of new and used CDs, vinyl, and tapes. They also host concerts by bands that are so cool, they won’t tell me when they’re coming to the store.

If someone had given me a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon, I would’ve shoved the 10 essentials into my backpack and disappeared for the day. Not Joy. She had the store divide this bounty into six equal parts, one of which she gave to me. She may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

People say the compact disc is dead. Fuck you.

Or at best on life support, according to Fivethirtyeight. OK, statheads, tell that to the barbarian armies, with an average age of 30, who every day reenact the sacking of Rome at Music Millennium. I had to compete with them as I flew through the store with my want list in one hand and my wife in the other. We had to stay longer than I’d planned because the refs gave me 2 minutes for tripping, 2 minutes for elbowing, 2 minutes for slashing, 2 minutes for high-sticking, 2 minutes for charging, 2 minutes for holding, 2 minutes for cross-checking, 5 minutes for board-checking, and a 10-minute misconduct.

(This happened in December, so it doesn’t count toward my improved behavior in 2018.)

With Deborah’s help, I found six CDs and went over my limit by only $4. An average of 67¢ per CD beats yard-sale prices, plus I can finally use the ¢ symbol. Here’s what I hauled home!

The Bad Plus, Prog (2007)

I dug this one out of the jazz section. I never made it as far as the classical bunker. Prog was the only record I bought that day that I hadn’t heard something from, and the only one that the hip Portlandia cashier was thrilled by. After one spin, I was thrilled, too. I love Prog, even the parts I don’t understand.

Their cover of Rush’s 1981 epic, “Tom Sawyer,” smacked me like a sneaker wave. And I’ve been smacked by a sneaker wave. Forgive me, Bob and Doug McKenzie, because I know Rush is your favorite band, but The Bad Plus’ decision to strip “Tom Sawyer” of its substandard lyrics and Geddy Lee’s puny human vocal improved this thing 1,000% before they even started playing.

There are only three musicians in The Bad Plus – Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano, David King on drums – and yet they produce a ferocious attack. David King must’ve been spitting sticks in the studio. If Gene Krupa and Keith Moon came back to life and listened to this tsunami of beats, they’d drop dead. To paraphrase my Grandma Bella, “They’d drop dead twice.”

I haven’t heard drumming like this since Buddy Rich battled Animal on The Muppets.

Consumer warning: If you hate jazz, nothing on Prog will change your mind, particularly the piano break at the 2-minute mark of “Tom Sawyer,” which almost sent me to the ER.

This disc is screamingly good…minus a few misfires. Like their cover of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The music never detonates or even fizzes. Frankly, any song traveling this slow should have a damn stripper in front of it.

Diana Ross, Icon (2012)

A greatest-hits album masquerading as a studio album. I fell for it. What strikes me about this set is how it showcases Ross at her very best (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me”) and her very worst (“Touch Me in the Morning”) in the years 1970-1981. The difference between the highs and lows is about as far as from my desk to Star Base 12, but Ross’ voice and delivery are magnificent throughout. (Maybe not on “Love Hangover.” Disco was the record company’s idea, not Diana’s.)

Some of the best writers of the era wrote for Ross – Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Gerry Goffin, Carole Bayer Sager, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers…and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”). Too bad they couldn’t swap that joker for Springsteen, Bowie, Gil Scott-Heron, Joan Armatrading, or Patti Smith.

Happy Mondays, Double Easy: The U.S. Singles (1993)

If you haven’t already, watch the definitive account of the Manchester (“Madchester”) music scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s, 24 Hour Party People. The title comes from a Happy Mondays song. If you’re too proud to admit you like electronic dance music and that you’d like to go to a rave and not come back, Happy Mondays are the band for you. They take that rave aesthetic of dance beats, Ecstasy, and waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care and camouflage it with rock ’n’ roll. Top-notch driving music, too.

(Editor’s note: Run-DMSteve hasn’t been to a rave since the week after Thomas Edison invented music.)

Beck, Mellow Gold (1993)

I stand by my statement that Beck is a god, but when I listen to Mellow Gold I wonder if he’s also a moron. On this disc, words mean whatever Beck thinks they mean, and the music is not so much composed as dumped in a blender. Still, you can’t argue with “Beercan,” and then there’s that thing about a loser, and anyway, Beck was right when he said, “You can’t write if you can’t relate,” so there we are.

Gary Numan, Savages (2017)

I haven’t listened to a Gary Numan album since Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, both from 1979. I don’t know why. I guess I got busy. I play both of those a lot, though.

Then I read a review of Savages on Verian’s blog, Thirty Three And A Third, where he reviewed every album released in 2017 from every continent and at least three planets. Verian. Don’t you have a job? Is this your job? How do I get your job?

Gary Numan 40 years on is a revelation. Gone is the interstellar frostiness I fell in love with in the ’70s. Now he sounds as if he has lived among humans. He also sounds as if he’s accepted Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails as his personal savior. Savages is repetitive, but the repetition builds into something so dark and dramatic, a killer burger topped with mushrooms and doom, that when I arrive at the office after listening to this on my commute I want to make a music video in the conference room in which civilizations collapse and are reborn, not trade anecdotes in the kitchen about what we did this weekend.

You could get drunk on this record – drunk as in too much bloodwine at a Klingon funeral – and yet in the midst of songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” there’s an honest love song, “And It All Began with You.” Oh My God of Love.

On the album cover, Numan is dressed like a resident of a desert planet who’s about to steal the Millennium Falcon. What else do you need to know?

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Bowie took the glam-rock rage of his era (Mott the Hoople, Queen, Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, Elton John), added it to his hard-rock bag of tricks, and then performed everything as if he had just fallen to Earth. Ziggy Stardust is one of the more difficult classic albums to listen to. The highlights are “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” and “Suffragette City,” but there’s plenty to enjoy or puzzle over. The Ramones got their one guitar riff from this record, and if you wasted your teen years playing Space Invaders, you can sacrifice a lamb to Bowie, because this is where he invented the name.

Thank you for so much fun, my dear and honored friend Joy. Inspired by your good example, I’m going to start right now being a better person in 2018. (I gave myself January to gear up for this.) Let me begin by saying to whatever low-life borrowed my Ziggy Stardust CD years ago and never gave it back: I love you, man!

 

In the past few years, someone I loved, someone millions of people loved, died in January. Sadly, this January is no exception. Ursula K. Le Guin died on Sunday.

Unlike the other gods who have left us to muddle through life as best we can here on Earth Prime, I knew Ursula, a little. Deborah knew her far better than me. If our first corgi, Emma, was still around, she might be able to add something, as she once took a nap on Ursula’s feet. I’m upset, and this will take me a couple of days to find something intelligent to say. Until then, I leave you with the paper of record.

Here’s your guide to Run-DMSteve: Year Seven. What Year Eight will hold for this blog, I can’t imagine, but I thank you as always for reading along and for not accusing me of sexual misconduct.

Bands

Chuck Berry

The Righteous Brothers

Level 42 and P.M. Dawn

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, R.E.M., The Killers, Ray Charles

Jazz ghetto

U2 and The Beatles

Movies

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnarok

Absent friends and ancient family

Karrie Dunning

My Dad and the Kennedys

All the rest

My brilliant career

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after five years

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after one week

Ode to Half.com

Random Pick of the Day
Joni Mitchell, For the Roses (1972)

Joni Mitchell is one of pop music’s best writers, but her stratospheric soprano voice makes it difficult for me to understand her words. Compared to For the Roses, Kurt Cobain is giving elocution lessons on Nevermind.

The instrumental backing on For the Roses is spare, mostly Mitchell on the piano, but not as spare as on her previous release, the unsparing Blue. “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” got the airplay. Those are great songs, but over the years, I’ve gravitated toward “Blonde in the Bleachers”:

She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says, “You can’t hold the hand
Of a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Or count on your plans
With a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Compete with the fans
For your rock ’n’ roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the rock ’n’ roll man”

Forty years later, Pete Yorn tried to explain the rock ’n’ roll man in “Rock Crowd”:

Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

There’s no hint on For the Roses to the direction Mitchell would take on her next release, Court and Spark, the album that defines her as surely Tapestry defines Carole King.

Random Pan of the Day
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime (1981)

The title has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

By this point in his career, Gaye was singing all the parts, playing most of the instruments, and writing most of the songs. But he wasn’t in a happy state of mind, as he was fighting with his ex-wives and trying to compete with upstarts Prince and Rick James. He was living in exile in Belgium. No offense to Belgium, but that’s my idea of an anonymous country. The man’s mood was reflected in the cover art: Angel Marvin and Devil Marvin face off above exploding A-bombs. I guess Prince really pissed him off.

The songs are non-stop party jams. Slow party jams. You can’t dance to them unless you’re one of these arrhythmic people who always go to the same dances I go to and who spend the night swanning around as if somebody had injected them with Lorazepam. If you played this at a party, you’d only get about three tracks in before somebody swapped it for a more exciting set. This is a clear case of the parts not adding up to a whole. You’ll remember some of the grooves days later, but none of the songs.

Gaye redeemed himself in 1982 with Midnight Love and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” and then he was murdered. We can’t know what his third decade in the music business would’ve given us, but I’m sure it would’ve been worth hearing.

Mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.

 

Everyone is always looking for the next Beatles. From The Monkees to The Arctic Monkees, we salivate over any upstart new band that threatens to upset the world as we know it.

They never do. We ain’t gonna see anything like The Beatles and Beatlemania again. There will never be another moment in the Earth Prime timeline as there was in 1963, when unlimited talent met universal need and when there were so few media channels that one message could smack every human in existence.

However, there has been one band that’s come close: U2.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles and U2 are equivalent. They are nothing like each other. The Beatles, for example, displayed more humor on any afternoon in 1964 than U2 have in their entire career. The Beatles, for another example, never tried to be rock’s answer to Wagner.

What I am suggesting is that the two bands have similar career trajectories. Here’s my evidence. Ready Steady Go!

The Beatles 1963-64
The Beatles’ catalog in their early years is like the cellar of my parents’ house: Good luck finding two things that match. Different Beatles albums with different lineups of songs appeared in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Sea of Tranquility, etc.

Here in the U.S., we had Introducing…The Beatles, then Meet the Beatles! even though we’d already been introduced, then The Beatles Are on the Grass, The Beatles Are in My Hall, The Beatles Are in My Head, etc.

Get rid of all these random collections of songs, hold off on the two soundtracks, and you’re left with Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and Beatles for Sale. This is where The Beatles reimagined pop and changed the world.

U2 1980-83
U2 released Boy, October, and War. This is where they reimagined arena rock and tried to change the world, one cause at a time.

The Beatles 1964-65
A Hard Day’s Night: The perfect soundtrack.

U2 1983
Under a Blood Red Sky: The perfect live album.

The Beatles 1965-66
Rubber Soul and Revolver were a great leap forward.

U2 1984
The Unforgettable Fire was a great leap forward.

The Beatles 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Their masterpiece.

U2 1987
The Joshua Tree: Their masterpiece.

The Beatles 1967
Magical Mystery Tour was a serious expedition into psychedelia.

U2 1993
I have to mix up U2’s chronology by one album to make this work. Zooropa was a serious expedition into electronica. You think if The Beatles had lasted into the 1990s, they wouldn’t have explored electronica? Tell that to Paul McCartney, one of the two men behind Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (1993).

The Beatles 1968
The White Album was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

U2 1988
Rattle & Hum was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

The Beatles 1969
U2 has nothing like Yellow Submarine. Since there were only four new songs on this disc and of those I only like “It’s All Too Much,” I don’t see this as relevant.

The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after Sgt. Pepper.

U2 1991
Achtung Baby demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after The Joshua Tree.

The Beatles 1969-70
After Abbey Road and Let It Be, the Beatles ceased to exist.

U2 1995-97
After Original Soundtracks and Pop, which were not as good as This Is Spinal Tap or Meet the Rutles, U2 almost ceased to exist.

That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.

Bonus: U2 go into extra innings

U2 is a fading empire that refuses to die without a fight. As a service to my loyal readers (all three of them), and because I did the same for Duran Duran, here’s my guide to the 10 essential U2 songs since Zooropa. You can conveniently forget everything else they’ve done since 1993.

“All Because of You”
U2’s version of playing “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Studios. Bono kisses a girl!

“Beautiful Day”
This song belongs in a temple to a new religion. Features the first-ever Bono double. He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil (see “Elevation” below).

“Do You Feel Loved”
Curtis Mayfield funky. This is one ballpark I didn’t think they could play in.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
The first cut from the Batman Forever soundtrack. If you love comics, you’ll swoon over this video. The music could knock your croquet ball over the house and down the street.

“Elevation”
Good U2 battle Evil U2 while The Edge tries to survive in a Tomb Raider movie!

“Magnificent”
One of their bombastic anthems. Awesome.

“Mofo”
The rhythm sections rips your garage door off its hinges and paints “Mama never loved me” on your car.

“Original of the Species”
The horns are straight out of Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, the video is dull and, well, pretentious.

“Unknown Caller”
The only U2 song I know where they chant the lyrics. Kind of pretentious, but that’s their natural habitat. It’s grown on me.

“You’re the Best Thing About Me”
It’s not a great song – it sounds as if it were recorded by four guys who’ve listened to a lot of U2 – but I include it because it’s the happiest U2 video of all time. And almost none of them are happy.

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Judy, whose ambition in her 50s was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday.

 

Life in the 90s

Posted: November 17, 2017 in music
Tags: , ,

We just visited my parents in the little town in Massachusetts where I grew up and learned not to trust the Red Sox. You have to make some adjustments in Massachusetts. A regular coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts is coffee, milk, and two sugahs. A milkshake doesn’t have ice cream, but a frappe does. If you go down Cape, you’re heading north on Cape Cod, but if you go up Cape, you’re heading south. Traffic circles are called “rotaries,” a sub is a “grinduh,” and my name is forever Stevie.

My Mom lives in a nursing home. My Dad is still hanging on in the house they’ve lived in since 1957. These are the real adjustments.

While we were there, the town put on their annual breakfast to honor veterans. Every place in Massachusetts that can hold itself together long enough to form a government and print pahking stickuhs for the beach is required to have a Veterans Service Officer. Our VSO did a fantastic job with this breakfast. Five hundred veterans and their friends and families filled the hall where I attended my high school prom back in 1493. We had speeches, commemorative pins, a fire department honor guard, and food that beats Army chow any day.

Dad is 90 and increasingly immobile, but he was game to go. After all, he served in World War II. He came home with medals for good conduct and sharpshooting and one he never showed us that he claimed he got for goldbricking.

It took Deborah and me awhile to organize and transport him. By the time we arrived, there was only one table with available seats. Fortunately, our tablemates were Miss Bristol County and Miss Bristol County Teen and their mothers. The four of them were delighted to have a World War II veteran drop in. This gave the two beauty queens a chance to represent. They brought Dad his breakfast from the buffet line and made a fuss over him.

BC2

Our featured speaker was Rep. Joe Kennedy III. He’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a politician work a room with greater enthusiasm. After his speech he went to every table, looked everyone in the eye, listened respectfully, spoke sincerely. I was impressed. He meant it.

As the event ended, people began to leave the hall, and we were concerned that Joe 3.0 wouldn’t make it to our far corner. Deborah sought him out and asked him if he would come to our table and say hello to her father-in-law, who served in the Army Air Force and kept Texas safe for democracy.

Kennedy said he would, and though he still had a gauntlet to run, he soon appeared at Dad’s side. (Deborah said she had never had anyone reassuringly touch her arm so many times as he followed her while simultaneously greeting people.) Kennedy realized that Dad couldn’t stand, so he took a knee beside him. Dad took his hand and cried as he talked about meeting John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he was running for president.

K5

After Dad calmed down, they had a good talk, and then Dad made a prediction: “Joe, you’re 37 now. In 15 years, you’re going to run for president, and you’re going to make it.”

K4

Kennedy replied, “Don’t hold your breath!”

K6

At that moment, my father closed a circle. The circle began on a blustery winter day in early 1960 when Dad, younger than Joe Kennedy is now, was walking into his favorite hardware store and met a hatless JFK striding down the sidewalk, the whole world and Schwartz Lumber in front of them.

There’s no lesson here, just a family that’s lucky enough to make a new story after so many years together. Mom has Alzheimer’s, but she still can still follow a five-sentence narrative, and when we saw her next she laughed when she heard that Dad had cried. “Of course!” she said. She would’ve expected nothing else.

Dad is in the hospital as I write this. He’s 90, so who knows. Mom is dreaming in her nursing home, waiting for Dad’s next visit. Until they meet again, here are two photos of the honeymooners taken 50 years apart.

The Honeymooners 1964

1964

Happy cat roommates

2014

In case youve read this far: Miss Bristol County Teen is a freshman at the high school. When Dad told her that I had gone there, she asked, Did you know my grandfather? He was a math teacher. I thought, come on, kid, how old do you think I am?! But then she told me his name and I thought, shoot, I did know him.

 

The four major musical genres I find at yard sales and estate sales are Celtic, Christmas, classical, and country. The fifth is probably whale sounds. Though I often find unexpected gold in these situations, to most of the CDs I dig up I would apply the term “not good.” However, I have found that whale sounds will chase people out of my office.

There’s never much jazz. Is the typical music consumer planning to be buried with her jazz records, or is it just that she didn’t buy much jazz in the first place?

I can’t answer this question, and I suspect I wouldn’t like the answer if I knew it. However, by combining all the jazz CDs I’ve found at these sales in various summers, I’m able to write this post. This gives me the chance to please Loyal Reader Seika, Jazz Commissar for Zone 22. It also means that once again I can TALK LIKE A JAZZ CRITIC! That is so boss.

On the downbeat!

Various artists from the Verve catalog, Talkin’ Verve Cool: 1957-66 (1997)
What is cool jazz? Is there a litmus test to tell cool from crud? Can someone from Massachusetts be cool? (No.)

Cool jazz, in my view, isn’t just hep cats snapping their fingers to incomprehensible music while turning the pages of incomprehensible books or trying to make themselves comprehensible to their heroin dealers. Cool jazz is cool because it doesn’t care if anyone else is in the room.

Talkin’ Verve Cool presents 10 excursions into the cool form, however you define it. The whole platter is cool (Quincy Jones & His Orchestra opens the set with the theme from The Pink Panther), but “Improvisation for Unaccompanied Saxophones” by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims is sublime. I had to listen to it twice just to grok how Al and Zoot hand off the parts to each other. It’s a flabbergasting 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Ramsey Lewis, Sun Goddess (1974)
Jazz piano legend Lewis backed by Earth, Wind & Fire. They don’t play at Lewis’ Valhalla-like level, but they compensate with their enthusiasm. The show-stopper is “Sun Goddess” (performed live by EWF the following year on their album Gratitude).

Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones, Sweetback (1975)
I bought this CD just for the man’s nickname, which makes “Steve” sound like I’m a murgatroid from Dullsville. Ivan Jones was a guitar player in the style of 1960s George Benson without Benson’s cross-over appeal in the ’70s (“On Broadway”). Boogaloo waxed an excellent tune in “Sweetback,” but his reading of Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl” is the real pearl in this oyster.

Nicholas Payton, Payton’s Place (1998)
Payton is a hard-bop trumpeter and band leader with no time for squares. The odd thing about Payton’s Place is that it could’ve been recorded in 1958. There’s nothing here that says End of the Century. Notable for the technical virtuosity on every groove and for the track “Three Trumpeters,” which features Payton, Roy Hargrove, and the cat no one can escape, Wynton Marsalis.

Charlie Hunter Quartet, Songs From the Analog Playground (2001)
Hunter, who plays an eight-string guitar (that’s one louder than 10) can lay down a groove in any genre of music, just like Béla Fleck on banjo, Yo-Yo Ma on upright bass, and me on air guitar.

Songs From the Analog Playground is a funky platter of jazz fusion. Eight of the 13 tracks have guest vocalists, including rapper Mos Def (who sings) and a young Norah Jones on a cover of Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” The drummer’s chops on “Percussion Shuffle” are everything plus.

I thought the song “Mitch Better Have My Bunny” was a joke about Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” until I realized that Rihanna’s tune didn’t appear until 2012 and this was 2001. How did Charlie Hunter do this? This shows you how little I know about jazz.

Upper Left Trio, Three (2007)
There’s a fine line between improvisation and finger-painting. The piano-drums-bass Upper Left Trio trips over that line on almost every track. These cats are first-rate players (and, according to my colleague Lorna, at least two of them are “really cute”), but some of this stuff makes me want to petition the United Nations to intervene.

However, when this Pacific Northwest band is good, they’re clobberin’ time good, as on their reading of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”

It was a sunny day today, but summer’s heat is long gone, except in the Columbia Gorge where forest fires have been raging for weeks. I don’t know how all the critters out there will prepare for winter. As for us, I’m always reminded at this season of this quote from the writer and illustrator Ben Böst:

Soon the snows will begin to fall and we’ll be in for the duration. But with a roof over our heads, a fresh pot of coffee, old bourbon, and good books we’ll do just fine.

If you substitute “our favorite coffee shop” for “a fresh pot of coffee” and “non-stop shedding by the dog” for “old bourbon,” you about have us here at Run-DMSteve World HQ. Stay warm, cats, and keep swinging like sixteen.

 

You’re an artist. It’s noon and you’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes. You’ve gargled your first gallon of coffee. It’s time to get your game on. How do you welcome your Muse? Yoga? Affirmations? Mixed martial arts?

Michelangelo opened himself to inspiration with his paint-by-numbers kit. John Steinbeck typed up everything that had happened to him on his way to his office. Bruce Springsteen drives down a dusty beach road and counts the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. When Stormin’ Gorman Thomas played for the Seattle Mariners, he rapped himself in the back of his head with his bat. I’m not making this up about Steinbeck and Stormin’ Gorman.

For years, before I wrote a new post for this blog, I began by standing for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” But from now on, I’ll take a knee.

Summer 2017 in review: Part 1

Estate sales: books, music, stickers, colored pencils, tools I don’t need, kitchen gadgets from another century, the insides of old weird houses. Scavenging in the debris field of other people’s lives – what’s not to like?

For a quarter or maybe 50 cents, I can pick up a CD I know nothing about or don’t remember. Sometimes this works. Here are some albums I tried this summer that didn’t. I’ll never see that dollar again.

It’s raining men

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were four of the manliest men you’d ever want to man up with. This Anglo-Saxon army is responsible for three classics of the Classic Rock rockin’ Caucasians classic era: the studio albums Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) and Déjà Vu (1970) and their live set, 4 Way Street (1971). But after 1971, nothing happened. And still more nothing. What’s a record company to do?

I’ll tell you what Atlantic Records did. They took a chunk of the first record and a chunk of the second record and added “Ohio” and gave us So Far in 1974. Is So Far a greatest-hits album or an intelligence test? If it was the second, CSNY’s fans flunked, because So Far went right to the top of Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums chart.

In 1974, before disco suctioned out their bone marrow, CSNY was so big that you could carve “CSNY” into a slice of Wonder Bread and CSNY fans would fight to use it for their next Holy Communion.

Just buy the first three albums, OK?

A useful way of understanding this band is measuring them in Units of Monkees. David Crosby was Michael Nesmith, Stephen Stills was Michael Nesmith, Graham Nash was stuck being Davey Jones because he’s English even though he’s really Michael Nesmith, and Neil Young was Michael Nesmith. If I had been in CSNY, I would’ve been Peter Tork.

Nerdz 2 men

R.E.M. always acted as if they had no sense of humor, probably because they didn’t. The closest they came to a good laugh (on us) was Dead Letter Office (1987), a collection of songs the band forgot, songs the band was too drunk to remember, songs the band didn’t like, and songs the band took apart and rebuilt later but without much enthusiasm. And I’m quoting from their own liner notes!

What a bunch of fun-loving hooligans. Imagine their surprise when their fans fell for it. Dead Letter Office peaked at 52 on the Hot 200. Mazal tov, R.E.M. fans! I’d sell you a bridge, but the CSNY fans already bought it.

While I admit there are a couple of good songs on this disc (particularly “Windout,” which rocks), it’s mostly made up of songs I wish I was too drunk to remember. This includes their cover of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Let me tell you something, my fine motherfuckers: The words are “I’m a man of means,” not “I’m a man of men”!

Crash Davis after confiscating Nuke LaLoosh’s guitar in Bull Durham: “It ain’t ‘woolly,’ it’s ‘weary,’ and nobody’s got stress, they’re wearing a dress. Dammit, I hate it when people get the words wrong!”

Hot mess

The readers of Rolling Stone voted The Killers’ 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, as the 33rd best debut album in history. The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill was first. After listening to Hot Fuss, I’m illin’. The Killers are actually just a hair band that escaped from the 1980s – a marriage of synth-pop Spandau Ballet and pretty-boy power-rockers Night Ranger. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

Four of the 11 tracks on Hot Fuss were hits. Why? Sun spots? “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” the leadoff batter, opens with an R&B guitar hook that gave me hope for the rest of the album. They abandon it after the first minute. The guitar break based on the hook is taken instead by the keyboards and has nothing to do with the beginning of the song. Their music wanders, and they are lost.

But I did like “Midnight Show,” which springs from Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and from Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” which I guess proves that I’ve escaped from the ’80s, too.

The Killers enjoy playing with words, which sometimes gets you this:

Well somebody told me
You had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year

But it also gets you “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” and their immortal “Hey shut up, hey shut up, yeah.”

I agree. Shut up.

Hit the road, Raymond

Ray Charles’ The Ultimate Hits Collection Discs 1 and 2 includes every novelty number the man ever recorded plus every song in which he shouted “Wait a minute!” His cover of “Yesterday” sounds like he’s trying to finish before his train arrives, plus he shouts “Wait a minute!” Charles was a genius, but buy one of his non-greatest-hits albums instead.

Next time, you get the Snuggles the Fabric Softener Bear edition of Run-DMSteve: Albums I liked!