So I totally dropped the ball this week on an important classic rock passing, but in my defense, I’ve had a few other things on my mind. And there’s a reason I don’t ever post about the Doors: I don’t like them.
There’s a few Doors songs I kind of enjoy, which means I won’t turn off the radio immediately if they come on. But I generally make it a point not to listen to the Doors. I think Jim Morrison was a pretentious twit. (I also happen to think he faked his death in 1971, and went on to live a quiet life of anonymity on a ranch somewhere in Wyoming. Or something like that.) I think Ray Manzarek was an even more pretentious twit. But he was loyal to his band, and the memory of his friend. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, and a musician. And he helped create a sound that defines some important years for a lot of listeners.
Fact is, Manzarek could play really well. Yeah, his organ solo on the album version of “Light My Fire” goes on just a snick too long (I’ve always had fantasies of sneaking up and unplugging that damn thing). But he knew his stuff. He was a tireless promoter not just of himself, but of music in general and the memory of Jim Morrison in particular. ”Break on Through” is one of the few Doors songs I can listen to without screaming, and it features some awesome organ work by Manzarek. I might not like the Doors or Ray Manzarek very much, but I will not downplay his talent or his importance. Their importance as part of the rock scene in SoCal is huge; they were the house band at the Whiskey a Go Go in the 60s. The Doors’ music had a peculiarly Californian type of existential dread to it, and Manzarek’s organ added a wonderful depth to it. This is the sound of suburban malaise gone toxic. It also rocks pretty hard.
So on behalf of his fans and loved ones, I join the chorus of voices wishing Ray Manzarek farewell. It’s not my thing, but his music mattered.
Ahmad Jamal was always one of Daddy’s faves. His taste in jazz ran kind of funny. He tended toward the piano players and combos. Most of what he liked was kind of weird and eclectic, but there was a streak of smooth jazz in him (The Modern Jazz Quartet and Tom Scott being the smoothest). I tried to get him to go out and see Jamal play on the occasions the man toured in our area, but Daddy generally preferred to stay home with his puzzle books and Law & Order reruns. It’s too bad; he could’ve seen something like this.
A commenter on YouTube said this track was called “One,” so that’s what I’m going with. In spite of my father’s love for Jamal’s music, he never caught on with me the same way Monk did. I like the music, but I’m not enthralled by it. I’ve always tended toward horn players, like Charlie Parker or Wynton Marsalis. I don’t know what preferences in jazz instrumentation mean; probably nothing. I also abhor smooth jazz, favoring instead anything smokey and greasy—I like my jazz kinda dirty. Maybe Ahmad Jamal is a little too refined for my taste. He’s got some spice to his playing, with just the right amount of Afro-beat, but it all seems kind of clean.
Speaking of clean, I’ve begun going through the clothes and stuff. I’m going to wash a bunch of things and donate them, but there’s a lot of stuff that ought to be taken out and burned. Daddy liked to wear his clothes until they were literally falling off his body. (You have no idea how many times we’d go somewhere, and I’d glance at him only to notice the shoulder of his shirt had torn open. Or the elbow. Or the back pocket of his pants.) I know there’s a lot of people in the midwest right now that wouldn’t mind some of my father’s old shirts.
I’m trying to get back into the swing of the blog, but I might be a little irregular sometimes. I’m still kind of a wreck emotionally. And since my mom is sick again, I’ve got her to worry about, too. I haven’t been able to lean on her for support the way I want to because she’s ill, so that’s been adding to my stress levels. The only thing that seems to be going right is that Dad’s piles of papers are mostly useless, and I can toss the stuff. Right now, it’s a lot of waiting for forms to fill out and other stuff. *sigh* It’s a good thing there’s music.
One of the things I will always be grateful to my father for is introducing me to the music of Thelonious Monk. The jagged, dissonant notes blend seamlessly. No one played piano link Monk. Jazz helps fill something inside of me that I had no idea was empty, and it helps to listen to it now.
I’m sorry, everyone, but I have to take a little time off. My father passed away this afternoon, and I just don’t have any music in me right now. Since I love this space and all of you very much, I’ll probably be back soon. I might not be posting happy stuff, but I’ll be back.
Last time I posted about Bruce Cockburn, it was in angry response to the still ongoing, ever more brutal civil war in Syria. Cockburn wrote most of the songs on 1984′s Stealing Fire after he made a trip to Central America and witnessed firsthand the horrors that many, many people there were suffering. Horrors that continue today in other countries. Horrors that will occur in other places in the future. It seems like no matter where you go, there is some megalomaniac monster who thinks it’s okay to bomb/poison/torture/rape/destroy/burn anyone who looks at him cross-eyed. *sigh*
I looked at the headlines on my Yahoo! homepage today, and saw this, and my heart cheered a little. There is some justice in the world. It might not be perfect, but at some point, somewhere, these bastards will get what they deserve. Even if it isn’t in a courtroom, even if the punishment is only cosmic, the Universe will catch up with them. (I wonder just how many times Hitler has been reincarnated as a bug only to get smashed. He’s got millions and millions and millions of lives to make up for, after all.) Violence only begets more violence, and the only way to really fight back is to love.
I referred to this song in my other Cockburn post because it’s how I got introduced to his music. Of course, U2 helped with that. In “God Part II” on Rattle & Hum, Bono sings about hearing this song: “I heard a singer on the radio, late last night. Says he’s gonna kick the darkness ’till it bleeds daylight.” I was entranced by the lyricism and power of those words. It is an amazing truth. Because the only way to fight darkness is to expose it to light. Love conquers hate, forgiveness trumps revenge, silence only ends when somebody speaks up. I get very pessimistic about humanity on a pretty regular basis; people just seem to can’t help hurting each other. But then one good thing happens. Some firefighters rescue some kittens from inside a wall. A man on the street helps a kidnapped woman escape. A dog alerts his person to a fire, and she runs back in to rescue him when she realizes he didn’t run out with her. Yeah, there’s always gonna be assholes who shoot people for their iPhones. Yeah, there’s always gonna be politicians who ignore their constituents and vote to fill their own wallets. Yeah, bad things are going to happen. And sometimes it feels like all you hear about are the bad things. But then a train conductor stops a commuter train to rescue the dog that got tied to the tracks.*
“When you’re lovers in a dangerous time, sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime. But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. Got to kick at the darkness ’till it bleeds daylight.”
*All the specific stories I refer to are actual news stories, mostly local to SoCal. Although I’m pretty sure at least one of them is kind of familiar to folks right now.
Okay, so I know pretty much zip about DJs and their music. I’ve heard it called by a number of different monikers, including house and industrial music. But my familiarity pretty much begins and ends with Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” (which is an awesome song, btw). The only other thing I know is that the massively talented Bob Mould is apparently also massively talented at DJ-ing (if you choose to believe insane music geek Henry Rollins, which I do). Otherwise, DJ music is pretty much a blank for me.
Which really left me wholly unprepared for this.
I first heard about this video over at Dangerous Minds, so I gave it a look. I’m not sorry, because it is so amazing to see and hear. But it is also profoundly unsettling. The music is by a DJ known professionally as The Gaslamp Killer (named after the downtown San Diego district near the convention center, where ComicCon is held). I sampled most of the tracks from his 2012 album, Breakthrough, which “In the Dark” is from. The majority of the album is in the same artistic vein–which means it’s quite good, but there’s something dark running just beneath the surface. The video is directed by a pair of filmmakers billing themselves as Hyperballad. Their use of dichotomy (black/white, men/women, light/shadows) helps create cryptic, ominous visuals that accompany the vaguely terrifying music perfectly. It’s rare to find a video and song so well-suited, even in this day and age. The effect is striking, to say the least, but it’s not something I want to watch all the time. Or, really, ever.
I’ve had creepy things on my mind for quite some time, now. It started a number of years ago when a former coworker turned me on to the TV show Supernatural, which reawakened my childhood love of ghost stories and paranormal weirdness of all kinds. I occasionally watch My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera on cable, and I’m very much looking forward to The Conjuring, which will be in theaters in July (it’s based on a case involving Ed and Lorraine Warren, supernatural investigators I read about as a kid). I also just read The Exorcist, which is one of my favorite scary movies, and which proved to be a good read as well.
The only real difference between the novel and the movie (beside a lot of language and some sexual imagery that would’ve earned the movie something stronger than an R rating) is that the novel was so emotionally unsettling. I spent a couple hundred pages really getting to know these characters, getting inside their heads, even as the world turned upside down on all of them. And there’s no explanation as to why it happened. There’s no instigation or provocation. The demon just shows up and takes possession of an otherwise ordinary child. That’s the crux of what makes something like The Exorcist so frightening: There’s no reason behind it. It just happens, and all these people are left dealing with the fallout. Kind of like life.
Well, I’ve just been a little ray of sunshine the last couple of days, haven’t I? It’s probably a sign that I could use some more sleep.
Sorry about no post yesterday. Things sort of got away from me. Dad’s still having problems, too–slightly different, but related to everything that’s been going on for months now. Really it’s all been building for years. He just didn’t take good enough care of himself–little to no exercise, primarily–and now he’s reaping the consequences. *sigh* It’s just a big, endless, vicious cycle.
One of my favorite Kinks songs, “Do It Again” chronicles the boredom and alienation of life, the greatest vicious cycle of them all. I don’t mean that life is bad, or anything negative. But it is just one damn thing after another. ”Day after day, I get up and I say, ‘C’mon do it again.’” It doesn’t really matter what you do, how much you love your job or your family, eventually it wears you down. You get fed up and tired. And it doesn’t matter what you do to change things up, you’ll still be the same person who will eventually get fed up with everything all over. ”The days go by, and you wish you were a different guy, different friends and a new set of clothes. You make alterations and affect a new pose: a new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose. But it’s superficial and it’s only skin deep, because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep, ‘Get back!’” (A possible homage to the Beatles?) What are you trying to get back to? I suppose that depends on who you are. And who you want to be.
There’s a sense of history to this song, but that’s no surprise. Ray Davies has always been the most British of the British Invasion rockers. He seems to carry his nationality with him like a touchstone. It’s a big part of the reason why the Kinks never had the same commercial success in the U.S., but it’s also what makes him so interesting. He understands that a large part of his identity is tied up in his Englishness, and that much of what makes him English is bound up in the history of England. He gets that it’s just another cycle, and he’s just another spoke in the wheel.
I guess that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m not in control of anything that goes on (as if I ever was), but I can control how I react. I’m still working on that one.
I’ve got no music today. My nerdy little heart is just a little to broken at the news that genius of stop-motion animation Ray Harryhausen has died. he was a humongous part of my childhood. I saw both Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Clash of the Titans multiple times in the theater. I saw just about everything else he did on Saturday afternoons. He created magic on the screen, and for that I will always love him with the unbridled and unconditional love of a child.
His masterpiece moment was probably the skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts. It is still amazing to watch, even in this day of CGI (it’s got some pretty cool music accompanying it, too).
This loving tribute was posted to YouTube, and I think it’s worth the ten and a half minutes to watch. It says pretty much everything I feel about Ray Harryhausen and his work–only better than I can say it. Thanks to Dan Conover for creating this (don’t know what year), and drgangrene for posting it.
And thanks, Ray. You made the movies that much more fun and wondrous.
Bad 80s music video alert!!!!! Avert your eyes if you are sensitive to big hair, leather pants, and high heels with blue jeans.
This video is seriously cheesetastic! I love how she seems to become possessed by a vision of transforming herself into the seductive vixen that snags the hot lead singer. I also love how even the other women in the video are totally checking her out. (These days, that would get the band scolded by some anti-gay rights group for “indoctrinating” young people into a “sinful” lifestyle.) Those of you who are fans of the Rocky franchise will remember Survivor as the blue collar-ish band behind the monster hit “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III (they also recorded “Burning Heart” for Rocky IV). After original lead singer Dave Bickler had to leave the group, pretty boy Jimi Jamison took over the vocal duties, and Survivor was transformed into an arena-style ballad band. 1984′s Vital Signs spawned several Top Forty singles, including this song.
I’ll be honest: I totally love this song. It’s not my favorite on the album (that would be “High on You”, but the video isn’t quite as awesomely bad). There’s nothing to it, of course. It’s about as substantive as marshmallow fluff, and almost as emotionally deep (if you’d had the fudge you can make with this stuff, you’d probably have the deep, abiding love I have for it, too). Is it bombastic? Sure. Is it clichéd and goofy? You betcha. But it’s got a massive hook that seemed to be made of whatever it was that attracted 80s teenage girls like flies to a dumpster–probably some mutant combination of Aqua Net, Love’s Baby Soft, and hormones. It certainly hooked me. I just never outgrew it. It hasn’t aged especially well, but it retains a certain charm. I revel in the tacky lyrics and heavy synths. It feeds that spot in my soul that still likes the scent of Love’s Baby Soft and eats fudge while watching Lifetime movies and crying over the romantic endings.
Okay, only some of that is true. I hate Lifetime movies.
Last Friday, while I was a bit too absorbed with death, I forgot that it was Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. Life is so much better than death, and Pete Seeger has given so much of his life to entertaining and educating his audiences. He advocates for those who do not have a voice because those in power refuse to let them speak; he is their voice. Seeger refuses to stand for injustice, and he fights it with one of the most powerful weapons around: music.
When I was a kid, PBS aired a concert by Pete Seeger and his dear friend Arlo Guthrie. Their shows are sort of legendary among folkies. They got together, usually with a band of friends and fellow travelers, and performed classic folk tunes, trading lead vocals back and forth like a tennis ball. It was like a huge campfire sing-along. My mother videotaped it, and watched the tape until it began to wear out. (She has made it very clear that she wants their version of “Amazing Grace” played at her funeral.) It was my first real introduction to both singers. I was probably about 11, and though I’d heard both the names many times, I really didn’t know anything about their music. I was enchanted.
I still sing this song under my breath sometimes, often for no reason at all. It’s just one of those songs that sticks in my head. This clip is from that PBS concert, and although the picture and sound quality are poor, it shows just how warm and welcoming that show was. Pete Seeger is such a gently commanding presence on stage. I wish him a belated happy birthday, and my thanks for sharing so much lovely music with all of us.