Sunday, April 29, 2007
The blunt interviews in two issues of Rolling Stone (later collected in book form as "Lennon Remembers") showed a brutally honest John Lennon in primal anger and sparing nobody, including Paul McCartney, the fans, and figures from his past including his aunt.
Tony Hendra's brutal parody "Magical Misery Tour" (from National Lampoon's "Radio Dinner") used mostly Lennon's own words from that interview to turn furious rage into a comical tantrum. He was so close in voice and attitude that the signature line "Genius is Pain" could almost have been lifted directly from a track on John's first solo album.
Hendra recalls, "Lennon was the ultimate sacred cow...I have never been so nervous as the night we recorded this cut. It was, to put it mildly, a high-profile assault, and I'd never had the slightest talent for impersonation...I had no idea why I was doing it, only that it was right and new, another of those leaps in the dark. It was frightening even just to attempt it. Lennon might have been sacred, but I was scared."
John was a huge fan of iconoclasts, but there's no report on whether he was a fan of this devastating satire. Fortunately most fans who read John's interview agreed that their hero had a bit too much "self-obsession" (as Hendra called it) and considered the parody pretty valid, and the music very solid (piano by Melissa Manchester, who turns up at the end as an unconvincing Yoko Ono).
Hendra had some electronic help to get the right nasality and pitch (ironically, John would often demand his producer use echo or other tricks to "fuck up me voice" with studio enhancements), which does make some of the words hard to understand. Most references are probably obvious to Beatles fans. The "Eastman" mentioned, is Linda McCartney's father, who was suggested by Paul as the right attorney to handle the mess that Apple had become.
"I RESENT performing for you fuckers, tell me, what do you know? A lot of faggot middle-class kids wearing long hair and trendy clothes. Look, I'm not your fucking parents and I'm sick of uptight hippies coming knocking at me door with a fucking peace symbol, get this, fuck that, I don't owe you fuckers anything and all I got to say is FUCK YOU. The sky is blue.
"And Mick Jagger, I think that Mick's a joke with all his stupid faggot dancing. I always did. Wiggling his ass you know, it's just a lot of bullshit. And where does he come off saying all those tarty things about The Beatles when every fucking thing we ever did Mick tried to copy and you know we even wrote his second fucking record for him, no, The Stones aren't the same in class as The Beatles either music wise, or power wise, and never ever were. Pardon me, sir!
"Paul said he hated Yoko, tell me, why should Yoko have to take that kind of shit? Shit from those fucking sons of bitches? George said she gave off evil vibes. I should have beat the fucking shit right out of him. Him with his fucking Hare Krishna
"Me auntie, she tore up me fucking poems. She just threw the bastards out. I can't forgive her, 'cause she didn't treat me like a fucking genius. Look, you bastards, I'm a genius, like Shakespeare and Beethoven and Van Gogh! Don't you dare criticize my work! "Don't Worry Kyoko" was one of the fucking best rock and roll records ever made! I'm a fucking artist! I'm sensitive as shit! I throw up before I go onstage! I can make a guitar speak! If I could be a fisherman I would, but I can't, because I'm a fucking genius!! I was the Walrus! PAUL wasn't the Walrus! I was just saying that to be nice, but I was actually the Walrus! Him and that rubbish he's been singing! Eastman was an animal! A fucking stupid middle-class pig. I won't let fucking animals like that near me! Yoko is a supreme intellectual! I'll tell you why nobody likes her music — because she's a woman and she's Oriental, that's why!
"Where are you Mother! They're trying to crucify me! Genius is Pain...Genius is Pain...(primal screams) Turn left at Iceland...(more screams)"
John Lennon satire. Instant download or listen on line.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett had a good sense of humor...he'd tour monster conventions and do oldies shows offering "a medley of my hit." Despite many novelty attempts (including a Christmas single "Monster's Holiday" that also failed via a Lon Chaney Jr. cover version, and "Monster Motion," his attempt at a Bela Lugosi horror-dance hit) he never did rise beyond the status of "one hit wonder."
BUT...that one hit actually hit the charts three times, and will continue to be played every Halloween.
It might even be a hit again, although he won't know about it. He died of leukemia a few days ago, April 25th.
Even his obit was sort of a gag-line: "Bobby Boris Pickett Dies at 69." Yeah, it sucks. Well, rather than offer you any of the Pickett songs you probably know, or ones you're better off not knowing ("Monster Rap" for example), here's one of his last recordings, the environ-mental "Monster Slash." Mindful of his daughter and grandchildren's future, Bobby lent his support to an ecology group raising awareness of George Bush's policies on ecology:
"We were hiking in the forest late one night. When our eyes beheld an eerie sight. Our president appeared and began to frown. Then he and his friends cut the forest down...They did the Slash! They did the FOREST SLASH. It was brutally brash. Public opinion was mashed. And they did it for the cash..."
MONSTER SLASH Instant Download or Listen on Line
I'll get to the rude parenthesis in a minute. First, some nostalgia.
The first celebrity I ever met was Kitty Carlisle. I was in a museum with my parents and they pointed her out. No, she wasn't on display at the museum, though she was picture perfect. I guess my folks figured it would be a "learning experience" to meet a celeb and not be shy. So Dad found a pen, Mom had a crumpled bit of blank paper in her purse, and off this grade-schooler went. "Excuse me, Miss Carlisle..."
She couldn't have been more graceful or kind. She ultimately turned me around, put the paper against my back (no furniture) and signed her name. I still have that piece of paper, and a fondness for this woman who was the epitome of class, manners and good taste. Things, obviously, that remain elusive for me.
You'll hear Kitty singing on the download below. Yes, she really was a singer. That's her singing voice in "A Night at the Opera," and she appeared on stage in many operettas. While she would attain an odd star status as a quiz show personality via "To Tell the Truth," and as the wife of Broadway legend Moss Hart, Kitty was a legit singing star, and she performed at Feinstein's and on tour till she was 95. She died at the age of 96 last week, still looking at least 20 or 30 years younger.
Oh yes, the Pussy Cunt remark. Well, that's pretty much what "Kitty Conn" meant to the French. When she went off to Paris to complete her education, her real name, Kitty (short for Katherine) Conn, caused problems: "My last name was Conn, and in Paris, it was an embarrassment, because it sounded like a very naughty French word, so I couldn't wait to change it."
Only over the past decades has "con" changed to mean not only cunt but fool or asshole. Across the channel, "cunt" in England can also mean an idiot more than a part of the anatomy. In fact, a "cunt" could be a jerk who's a prick.
To bring this tribute to Kitty Carlisle out of the gutter, here's a lovely song by the lady herself, "Now," from "Song of Norway." I actually saw the show in a revival, and it was more like "Song of Bore-way," and the audience needed the revival of drinks at intermission. However, "Now" as originally done by Kitty, still has charm and a good message: "Yesterday's dead. Tomorrow you'll be older...all that matters is now."
Kitty Carlisle sings... NOW!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
The reports said that the 23 year-old kid was armed with a Glock and a Walther .22-caliber; two guns and enough ammunition to fire 30 rounds without having to re-load. When he came to the classroom door, he was met by 76 year-old Professor Liviu Librescu.
He "blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee. Students started opening windows and jumping out." Professor Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, did not survive the Virginia Tech massacre.
He was the head of the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department. He was born in Romania, found his way to Israel, and ultimately made his home in America.
Anyone grieving over the death of a loved one would benefit from owning the concept album about love and loss entitled "Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth." It's by Cindy Bullens, and on this track Rodney Crowell is on harmony vocals.
Prof. Librescu was a man of science, so I chose "Water on the Moon." Cindy was inspired by the news of this discovery to ponder whether the body or the soul can materialize again, somehow, someplace. This entry is not about celebrating a hero, it's about losing a man, which is what his friends, family and students did on a bad day in April of 2007. The song is about grief.
"If they find water on the moon
If they discover life on Mars
Does it mean you'll be home soon?
Can I hold you in my arms?
I want to believe in miracles."
In memorium. Liviu Librescu. Water on the Moon
One of the better known songs based on Kurt Vonnegut's work is "Sirens of Titan." "I was drawn by the sirens of Titan," Al Stewart lisps, "and so I came in the end..." Riding side-saddle through outer space imagery, the almost masculine Mr. Stewart may unintentionally suggest the Sirens of Titan were she-males. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
It's a pretty song, and a good pretense for sneaking Mr. Vonnegut into a music blog. Kurt Vonnegut, who found his way through black humor and despair with increasingly large doses of curmudgeonly wit, did not turn a blind eye to human nature, but he also knew slapstick when he saw it, and declared the world was just a place to "fart around," but hey, as long as you didn't do it in anybody else's face.
Seven years ago, I photoshopped a KV photo with one of my favorite quotes from him, and left a lot of room on the bottom for him to add his unique and whimsical "signature." He tagged along the date, January 21, 2000. And if you can't make out the quote, here it is:
"I got a letter a while back from a sappy woman. She wrote me because she knew I was sappy too. She wanted help - if it was a terrible mistake bringing a baby into a world as awful as this one. I told her what made being alive almost worthwhile for me was meeting saints who were everywhere. By saints I mean ordinary people behaving decently in an indecent society. I hope all of you are or will become saints."
Thank you Kurt. And Al, if you're reading, don't mind the little jokes about your unique bolero-calypso progrock sci-fi tune. Kurt's own calypso singing can be found as a bonus to the narration on his Caedmon single disc recording of "Cat's Cradle.").
Al Stewart sings Vonnegut: THE SIRENS OF TITAN. Instant download or listen on line.
Don Ho seemed to be on the road to recovery after controversial stem-cell therapy in Thailand. His heart was failing him, and he had the cell procedure done in 2005, and a pacemaker installed, and actually returned to performing in January of 2006. Perhaps all the "nappy headed ho" stuff from Don Imus stressed him out. Nobody seemed able to ignore-Imus and maybe the 76 year-old Ho was one of them.
If you're one of the many who love Hawaiian music, lounge, Martin Denny and exotica...don't thank me. I only posted "Tiny Bubbles" because the guy died in the middle of a "Ho" controversy. Illfolks has the same opinion of the tune as Don did. "I hate that song," he'd grin. He told audiences he only performed it as an encore because "people my age can't remember if we did it or not."
Besides, "tiny bubbles in the wine" could be guppy farts. You don't know what's lurking in your Gallo these days.
Did you know Donald Tai Loy Ho didn't intend for a show biz career? He graduated the University of Hawaii with a sociology degree, then joined the Air Force. Home from Korea, he took over Honey's, a failing bar run by his parents. He made it a success, mostly because of the entertainment — him. He ended up the most famous singer in Hawaii, and in 1976 even had his own "Don Ho Show" on ABC.
Don kept on going, even taking on contemporary tunes like Peter Gabriel's "SHOCK THE MONKEY," which turns up on a compilation of surprising cover versions by various artists, titled "When Pigs Fly" and available from Amazon and others.
Since the Ho jokes are just too easy, let's just end this dubious tribute by saying Don had a great life and was a good guy. He told an interviewer in 2004, "I've had too much fun all these years, I feel real guilty about it." Right, as guilty as illfolks feels about putting "Tiny Bubbles" and "Shock the Monkey" on the blog for free.
DON HO sings TINY BUBBLES instant download or listen on line
DON HO covers Peter Gabriel SHOCK THE MONKEY
Update: On May 11th, Don's 51 year-old daughter Dayna Ho-Henry was found dead, a very untimely passing, and added heartache for the Ho family, friends and fans. Update: June 19th: an autopsy revealed she died from an accidental methamphetamine overdose.
LOTS of Tom Dooley songs in this download, including a corny dixieland take and a modern Flintstones rockabilly number. One guy sounds like Tim Conway's Mr. Tudball with narration in a Swedish-German accent. Two others, Gus Backus and The Nilsen Brothers take it up a notch and sing in German. The more traditional (annoying) Appalachian moans with banjos and harmonicas, are well represented and there's the Lonnie Donegan skiffle take and even a macabre version from Macabre. For comic relief you also get a ribald Tom Crudely riff from the Smothers Brothers, who are greatly amused by the doings in "the internal triangle." That's a lot of Tom Dooley but...
Hang down your head and cry: there really was no such person as Tom Dooley.
The guy hanged in Wilkes County, North Carolina in the late 1860's was named Tom Dula. Next question, did he really deserve to die?
Some say yes. Some say no. Some say it doesn't matter and he's as dead as the folk music craze of 1958 that saw the Kingston Trio ride the murder ballad to the top of the charts.
The main fact of the case. Laura Foster was found dead.
The suspects were narrowed to ex-Rebel soldier Tom Dula and Laura's cousin, Anne Foster Melton. It was whispered that Laura and Tom Dula had been an item, and then he started in with Laura's married cousin! The "eternal triangle" was a man and two women. OK, now make that ONE woman.
Weeks after Laura Foster was found in a shallow grave, the trail led to the home of Col. James Grayson, a politician who had hired Tom for some menial jobs around his farm. Tom was nowhere to be found, but with Grayson joining the posse and knowing the likely route Tom would have taken, it wasn't long before the fugitive was tracked down. Grayson arrested Tom (even though he wasn't technically a sheriff) and kept the posse from inflicting vigilante justice. Anne Melton was implicated but not tried, and Tom insisted neither of them were to blame for Laura's death. So who then? Some feverish day worker or "citizen above suspicion" who killed Laura when his advances were spurned? Tom's defense team didn't seem to have a clue.
Tom was tried and convicted. He won an appeal and was convicted again. Supposedly his last words on the gallows were: "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn't harm a hair on the girl's head."
The tale of "Tom Dooley" was quickly spun into a folk song. One thing about the great "folk tradition" is that it encourages lies. The song just gets better and better the more you embellish it. The truth gets lost in the shuffle. One version of the Dooley legend has it that Tom got a venereal disease from Laura Foster, and then infected Ann Melton. So...she kills Laura? Not Tom? In this story, Sheriff Grayson (demoted from Colonel) ends up marrying Ann, who later confesses to the crime on her deathbed. Oh yes, and Grayson would marry a woman who has a venereal disease incurable at the time.
Another lovely version has school teacher "Bob Grayson" falling in love with Laura, and being the detective who not only finds Laura's body but Ann's handkerchief clumsily left in the shallow grave. Why she wouldn't be arrested and tried is not addressed. And on it goes. Fortunately there were some professionals involved, like the doctor who said Laura was not pregnant nor abused (even when squashed into that hastily dug four foot long grave) and trial reports survive to remove some of the wilder suppositions.
As you see, the only surviving photo of a participant is Col. Grayson. The grave of Tom Dula still exists, but people have taken some chips off that old block.
Tom himself has been portrayed as everything from a dashing, handsome soldier, to a grinning hillbilly idiot who rode to the gallows sitting on what was to be his coffin and playing the banjo, and declaring to his executioner, "I would have washed my neck if I had known you were using such a nice clean rope!"
Considering this is an 1860's story that wasn't covered that much or that well in the local papers, and nobody's sure how Dula pronounced his name, and that even the date of Dula's hanging has been variously printed as 1868 and 1869, it's not surprising that there's been so much embellishment and confusion.
The first duo to record the tune, in 1929 for Victor, was Grayson and Whitter. And yes, Gillam Grayson was a nephew of Colonel Grayson. The song kicked around for a decade, and was a favorite of Frank Proffitt, who shared it with singer and Appalachian folk-scholar Frank Warner, who helped place "Tom Dula" in the Alan Lomax anthology "Folk Song USA" in 1947. In 1958 the The Kingston Trio plucked it from the Lomax book and had a surprise hit single with "The Ballad of Tom Dooley." The song ignited the "folk boom" (1958-1963) most likely because it also melded folk with doo-wop (as you can hear on the goofy well-ah well-ah refrain). The message fit in with the spirit of Disney justice in balladeering: "Poor boy you're bound to...DIE!"
Once the song the Trio got from the Lomax book was a hit, they were taken to court where Mr. Proffitt (pardon the pun) who had given the song to Alan Lomax successfully proved it wasn't a public domain old folk piece but a family-owned gem. Or as the judge could've told the Trio's leader Dave Guard, "Hang down your head and pay."
Monday, April 09, 2007
When activist-folk music became popular, one of the causes that singers championed was the plight of coal miners. The dirty, ill-paying work can turn anyone's lungs black, but it can also turn anyone's lights out. All it takes is a rumble of rock. You might remember "Big Bad John," the song about a miner who stood tall and made sure his buddies got out alive. Though supplies are being depleted, coal mining continues in this country, and at least one graphic accident seems to make headlines every year.
In 1958 a devastating collapse at the Springhill mine became front page news. Day after day, it was a life and death struggle to reach the men trapped under the earth.
"Ballad of Springhill" (aka "Springhill Mining Disaster") by Peggy Seeger is one of the darkest (no kidding) folk songs of all time. The E-shaped multi-level mine had "roads that never saw sun nor sky," and her dirge unsparingly tells us a truth about the doomed miners who never got out: "through all their lives they had dug their graves."
As horrifying and moving as the song is, it spares us some of the grimmest details of men bleeding to death and drinking each other's urine. For a full report, read Melissa Fay Greene's "Last Man Out," which manages a strange parallel story involving a racist politician monitoring the disaster so he could invite the survivors to come South and give him some publicity.
Several versions of the ballad are on this ten-pack download. Some use the original line "listen for the shouts of the black-faced miners." Others, perhaps concerned that the phrase might seem racist, choose "the bare-faced miners" which is not as dumb as it seems, because "bare-faced" means a miner has lost his oxygen mask or other protection against poison gas. Quite a few cover versions of the song have come from U.K. singers, which is no surprise considering the coal mining areas in Wales. Here, MOR artist Barbara Dickson offers a surprisingly fierce rendition.
There are a few lyric differences between the versions of "Springhill," some leaving out the line or two. Peggy Seeger: "I am especially proud of “The Ballad of Springhill” (one verse of which was written by Ewan MacColl, for when I wrote it I had never been down a coal-mine. We both felt the song needed a verse that sounded as if I had). This song has actually entered the ‘folk tradition’ to such an extent that people either think that Ewan or ‘the folk’ wrote it. What a compliment!"
Also on the download, a different song about Springhill, recorded by Bill Clifton. It's more in keeping with the era's Disney-type theme songs, and doesn't have any of the stark drama of Seeger's lyrics. "But..." Shel Silverstein once sang, "waddya do if you're young and white and Jewish...And your mother says it's too dirty down in the mine?" One answer might be to sing a happy coal mining song, like the jolly "Cape Breton Coal Miners" song, sung to the tune of Villikens and his Dinah (ok, you know it as Sweet Betsy From Pike. Or do you?).
Sam Cooke's "Working in a Coal Mine" is also pretty cheerful. No wonder Devo covered it with even greater glee. Sara Evans' "Coal Mine" is a grinning hoedown about how she can't wait for her tired, sweaty, dirty miner to get home. And just to round out the top ten, yeah, "Coal Miner's Daughter." It was that, or add the Bee Gees' "New York 1941 Mining Disaster." Couldn't quite go that low, but that song makes you wonder if the Gibb boys' nasal voices were due to being caught too long in a coal mine with a severe lack of oxygen.
TEN coal mine songs via RS
He also sings about the very primitive joy and pleasure of the miner's work ("the cool of the slate,") as well as the misery of bad times and trying to find work: "the traveling and looking I hate."
Wheeler's song probably got the most exposure via a cover version by Judy Collins, who sang passionately but...Judy? Working in a coal mine? Sporting a blue mark on the side of her head from getting slammed by a chunk of Number Nine coal? Ironically another Judy, Judy Henske, is strongly identified with Wheeler's other major effort, "High Flying Bird." That song also references the coal mines and a man who "never saw the sun but Lord, he never stopped tryin'." Mr. Wheeler is no longer in the mines; he's written a dozen plays and has mined the world of humor for joke book compilations.
COAL TATTOO, 1971, instant download. No waiting or code words.
UPDATE August 2011: With all the interest in this great song...here's
Billy Edd's earlier (Kapp) version of COAL TATTOO, instant download. No waiting, no money per download going to the blogger, and no capcha code words.
The crowd isn't exactly paying attention to the stentorian minor key lament about Nova Scotia miners, so Bono shouts, "Shut up for a second, will ya? And stop whistlin', I'm not in the Beatles, this is U2 here." That's enough to settle the fans down. They seem to follow along with the solemn, terrifying tale of the miners trapped in the Canadian mine, and greet the ending with enthusiastic cheers.
BONO sings SPRINGHILL. Instant download or listen on line.