1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: Disraeli Gears

Since my brain’s a little short on good ideas lately, I decided to juice it with another installment of my extremely irregular series drawn from Tom Moon’s spectacular book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.  Today’s randomly selected recording: Cream’s 1967 opus Disraeli Gears.

First, some honesty: I dislike Cream.  I find most Psychedelic Rock distasteful, and Cream practically invented the genre.  They also might be responsible for extended jam sessions in concert and Prog Rock.  They were that influential.  The fact that I think virtually everything they may (or may not) have spawned to be awful and pretentious probably goes a long way toward explaining my prejudice against them.

Cream was one of the first supergroups.  The trio consisted of bassist/singer Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker, and guitarist Eric Clapton.  The band existed for only three years, but they became somewhat legendary in that brief time.  Disraeli Gears is considered their best work.  Tom Moon feels that this recording shows Clapton’s talent at its “least affected,” which seems odd to me considering how affected the whole style seems now.  Psychedelia has not aged well.  It comes off as naive at best, confused and stilted at worst.  I’m sure in 1967 this was groundbreaking stuff.  Mostly, it makes my head hurt.

Cream disbanded when the strife that marked their entire run became too much for all concerned.  Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker hated each other; they simply did not get along, and fought ferociously at every opportunity.  Clapton was a mostly innocent bystander caught in the middle of the discord.  I think that discord is important, though, because I think that’s really at the heart of why Cream doesn’t work for me.  There have been many great bands with powerful inner turmoil–Fleetwood Mac, the Kinks, the Eagles, just to name a few–but there was something else that bound them together.  Cream made music, but there was no other link.  They weren’t buddies or relatives, and I’m pretty sure none of them were sleeping together.  They were just three talented musicians who were unhappy with their other gigs and decided to record together.  There was no chemistry, and I think it shows.  The music is technically very good, but lacks any kind of spirit or emotion.  It’s a notable album for the skill that the musicians showed, and for the influence it has, but I don’t think there’s much else to recommend it.

“Makin’ Whoopee”

A little Duke Ellington number came up on the computer this afternoon, and it reminded me of this song for some reason.  There’s no other reason for this post.  I just felt like hearing this fun little song performed by two very, very underrated artists.

Fact is, my brain’s kind of deserted me the last few days.  I feel a bit stuck.  I don’t mind a good rut; I live my life based on routine.  But although my activities and actions are pretty proscribed, my mind is usually going a million different directions at light speed  (trust me, it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds).  I have noticed that my thoughts do tend to run in cycles, with certain ideas dominating at various times.  I have a set of worries and fears that plague me pretty much all the time.  There’s a few story and poem ideas that bounce around in the foreground sometimes.  There’s a set of regrets and what if’s that like to sucker punch me  on occasion.  The daily to do list is always there, waiting to be checked off.  And the daydreams are always ready to move up when there’s nothing else to think about.  The only things that really change are the specifics.

When I get something in my mind, I tend to hang onto it like a dog, shaking it like a rat between my teeth until its little neck snaps.  (I saw our dog–a dalmatian–do that once; it was kind of horrifying.)  I turn ideas over under sideways down in my head, twisting them until they’re recognizable by no one but me.  The current bit of weirdness running through my mind is the idea of paranormal investigations.  I even went so far as to google “paranormal studies” and “parapsychology” today.  During my first great ghost story phase as a kid, I really thought that might be a cool career to get into.  I still think it sounds pretty cool, but I’m not really considering it; it’s just another bee in bonnet.  I have to ride it out until this particular thought flies away.

The inability to settle on one cool idea or line of study has perhaps hindered my life–although it has made me pretty good at Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit.  I know a lot of stuff because I’m constantly picking up strange little thoughts and thinking about them until all the thinking has been thunk.  I like to learn things.  Just about anything, it turns out.  It’s led me down some interesting musical paths, too.  Watch the video again just in case you didn’t notice.

“Tick Tock”

News in the world is bad right now–really bad–and I’m still feeling a little blue.  Time always seems to move too fast.  I just hope maybe we can get it together before we blow it all up.

James Garner

Maverick (the original TV show, not the movie).  Move Over, Darling.  The Great Escape.  Murphy’s Romance.  Victor/Victoria.  What do these things have in common?  The wonderful and talented James Garner.  (They’re also some of my favorite performances by him.)  Garner’s screen presence was such that you liked him the moment you laid eyes on him.  You trusted him.  You knew that even if he was pretending to be a bad guy, he’d do the right thing in the end, even if it meant he would lose.  The real James Garner, of course, didn’t lose; he had a long and successful career, and a happy personal life.  But his charisma, personality, and presence made him perfect for the role that will always define him in my eyes.

Jim Rockford never did seem to catch a lucky break, but he never let it get him down.  Not for long anyway.

James Garner died yesterday at 86.  It’s a celebrity death that hits me pretty hard.  Not just because I liked Garner, but because enjoying his work was something I had in common with my father.  It was a link between us.  I hope in whatever afterlife there is, Garner will have a drink and a laugh with my dad.  I know the real man was just as personable as he was on-screen, so I think they would like each other.

While the rest of us have lost a great talent and nice guy, I know his family and friends have lost so much more.  My heart goes out to all those who loved the man.

Charlie Haden

A belated farewell to Jazz great Charlie Haden, who passed away last week.  He got his start with Ornette Coleman back in the late 50s, and his name is among the most influential in Jazz.  What a magnificent sound he created!

That bass grounds everything in the song, a foundation on which every other sound is built.  Beautiful.

Johnny Winter

Likely to be lost in today’s very upsetting news of a passenger plane going down in Ukraine (possibly shot down by separatists armed by Russia) is the news that Blues/Rock guitarist Johnny Winter has passed away at 70.

Johnny Winter’s death wouldn’t have made the headlines, anyway.  He’s long since lost any of the commercial cache he had in the 1970s and been relegated to the fringes of popular culture.  But Johnny Winter sure could play guitar.

I admit that I’ve often confused Johnny with his slightly more well-known and extremely similar looking brother Edgar.  (The cover for the Edgar Winter Group’s most famous album used to scare the living daylights out of me when I was a kid.)  Both the Winter brothers were born with albinism–a congenital condition that causes a lack of pigmentation of hair, skin, and eyes.  They were, to my inexperienced child eyes, quite eerie to see.  It was hard for me then to see past appearances and just experience the music.

I have no problem with that now.  Although I still don’t particularly like Edgar’s work, I find Johnny to be an immense joy to hear.  Winter was currently touring Europe, and died in his hotel room in Zürich.  I hope it’s some comfort to his family and friends that he was out there doing the work he loved.

“Dead Man Walking”

A federal judge here in California has declared the death penalty unconstitutional.  Homing in on the delays in carrying out death sentences, he referred to the system in California as broken.  I could’ve told him that.  Of course, any system that allows executions to take place is broken.

I get that there’s some crimes so heinous, there’s no coming back from them.  There are some criminals so vile that there is no chance of rehabilitation, ever.  But in spite of that, I will never be able to accept the death penalty.  I do not, cannot, believe that there is any justice served by killing another human being.  It might satisfy some bone deep urge for revenge, but it will not  make up for the wrong that was done.  Ever.

I’m not going to pretend that this ruling in California will lead to a national repeal of the death penalty, not with the current misguided reactionary SCOTUS in place anyway.  But it’s a step in the right direction.

Gone to the Movies: End of the Century

I’m still really thrown by Tommy Ramone’s death last week, so I’m a little off my game.  Sorry.

One of my favorite music documentaries is End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones.  It’s wonderful and moving, and I learned a lot about one of my favorite bands from watching it.  I think you guys should watch it, too.  Sorry about the subtitles, though.  If you can’t stand it, watch the movie through your media portal/service of choice.  You won’t be sorry, although you might be a little sad.

Tommy Ramone

I didn’t realize before my last post just how much I’d need a laugh.  The last surviving original member of the Ramones has died.

Of course, Tom Erdelyi was more than just a Ramone.  He left the group after 1977′s Rocket to Russia.  An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Erdelyi was also a skilled and sought-after producer.  He helmed  the Replacements’ Tim, which is arguably his most famous production.  In recent years, Erdelyi turned down a different musical path playing acoustic Country/Bluegrass music with his partner, Claudia Tienan.  It’s not what most Ramones fans are accustomed to, but it’s damn fine work.

I’m so saddened by this news.  Although the Ramones broke up years ago, it feels like the end of an era.  The end of the century.

So long, Tommy.  We’ll see you ’round the bend.

Have a Laugh on Me

I don’t want to post the title of this because it’ll give away the joke.  (It’s there on the video, but try not to notice it, okay?)  This is one of the classics from Dr. Demento.  I’m just posting this because I think everyone deserves to have a good laugh.

Trust me.  This’ll make you laugh.

Have a nice night!

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