A.J. Masters

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Art wasn’t famous.  He played in bars and restaurants, small gatherings and festivals.  He made some records of his own, but they weren’t exactly chartbusters, so he made a living writing songs and playing with other musicians in Nashville (with some side trips into other jobs to pay the bills).  People didn’t talk about A.J. Masters; the paparazzi didn’t follow him.  But I always knew who he was.

See, my aunt was his friend.  She knew Art for something like forty years.  She used to go watch him play in those bars and restaurants, and sometimes she’d take me along.  We went to see him last a couple years ago, in the courtyard of a little church.  His father had just passed away, and he was in town for that sad business, but he made some time to visit old friends and play some tunes.  When my aunt dropped by this morning to wish me happy birthday, she also delivered the news that Art had died a couple weeks ago.  She said it was the first time she could talk about it without bursting into tears.  There’s already been services and memorials in Nashville, but they’re hoping to get something done out here in SoCal for him soon.

Really, that’s all I’ve got.  Enjoy the music.  Artie sure did.

“It’s Too Soon To Know”

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I’ve got some things going on right now, but I’m not quite ready to share anything yet.  It’s part of why I’ve been so neglectful of the Jukebox lately.  When I’ve got things on my mind, my first instinct is to retreat into myself.  My second is instinct is to prove that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.  But I am working on stuff.  Just not blog stuff.

So I’ll give you this sublime little bit of Doo Wop from the Orioles.  It’s one of those songs that seems ordinary until that moment when the sky opens up and it reveals itself to hold the potential of the universe (you’ll know that moment as soon as you hear it).  It’s something I never would’ve heard at all if it hadn’t been for the equally sublime writing of the great Greil Marcus.

“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

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This clip belies the charm of this song, and highlights the troubled history of the songwriting credits for it.  It made Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers stars in the 1950s, but the upbeat doo-wop tune hide some secrets.

Frankie Lymon didn’t write “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”.  Two of his doo-wop mates, Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant, did.  The record label credited the song to Lymon and producer George Goldner.  Or, to be more accurate, Goldner credited himself since he was running the label.  When Goldner’s share of the label was sold to Morris Levy, Levy became one of the credited songwriters along with Lymon.  Some early releases actually included Santiago as one of the writers, but he was later omitted.  Why all this subterfuge?  Money, of course.  The credited songwriters get all the royalties–although it is reported that Lymon didn’t see any money from the song in his brief lifetime.

After Lymon had split with the other Teenagers and his voice changed, his career tanked.  He died of a heroin overdose at 25.  But not before he supposedly married three different women.  It’s entirely possible that none of those marriages was legal, although his estate–which pretty much consisted of the royalties for “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”–went to his third wife since she was the only one who could provide a marriage license and wasn’t actually married to anyone else at the time of the wedding.  (It’s kind of a fascinating story, which was also documented in a 1998 movie with Halle Berry, among others.)

It seems kind of weird that such a slight song carries so much baggage.  The original songwriters, Santiago and Merchant, sued in the 1990s to restore their rights to the song and they won, but an appeals court overturned their victory because they’d waited too long to make their claim.  (Gotta love those technicalities.)  While none of this changes my affection for this song, it does remind me how corrupt and byzantine the music business could be.  Not to mention the pitfalls of falling in love.  Why do fools fall in love, indeed.

“Winnie the Pooh”

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According to my clock (PST in the U.S.), I’ve got just about an hour and twenty minutes left to celebrate Winnie the Pooh Day.  January 18th is the birthday of A.A. Milne, the creator of Pooh Bear and all his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.  So pull up your favorite teddy bear and sing along.

This is the way I remember Pooh best.  We used to watch The Wonderful World of Disney on TV, and sometimes they would show one of the Winnie the Pooh shorts during the program.  I also remember being read the Milne books as a very small child, three or four at most.  They’re some of my earliest memories and probably the reason why I love these characters so much.

Repost: “Y.M.C.A.”

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The Supreme Court is going to hear cases on Same-Sex marriage in April, possibly deciding once and for all the legality of full equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.  (Fingers crossed that they make the right decision.)  The Trans community has made recent headlines with the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn and the victory of visibility with Transparent‘s win at the Golden Globes.  What I’m saying is that I’m looking for legitimate reasons to be reposting this ditty today, instead of coming up with something new.  Because I don’t really have anything new to say–although the length of this note implies otherwise.  Please ignore the opening comment about working out at the Y.  I’ve reached a new level of laziness lately, and it no longer applies.

So I’ve begun going to our local Y.M.C.A. to workout a couple of days a week. I use the term “workout” rather loosely, since I don’t really have a plan yet. I like the treadmill (now that I’ve gotten used to walking on a sidewalk that moves), and I use the stationary bike to get my heart rate up for a little cardio. But I’m not quite to the point where I know exactly what I’m doing.

Of course, going to the Y made me think of everyone’s favorite party song (or least favorite; there’s not a lot of middle ground with this one).

Watching this video makes me wonder how any reasonably intelligent (read: breathing) adult could not notice that this was the gayest singing group ever. I mean, I was like 7 or 8 when this came out, so I know how I missed it. I didn’t have any frame of reference or experience. But I seriously remember people being surprised that there were other connotations to what they were singing about. “You can hang out with all the boys” didn’t mean playing board games and basketball in this song. (I was a tad surprised when I figured it out some years later, but only for a few minutes. Then I thought about, oh, everything about the Village People and realized that 2 and 2 actually added up to a very fabulous 4.) Between the costumes and the lyrics and the dancing, it really was apparent.

Now my regular readers know that not only do I not care, I celebrate the open embrace of LGBTQ culture in this song. Sure, they played into a lot of the stereotypes of the gay community (cowboy, construction worker, cop, leather daddy). But they were upbeat and positive, promoting a vision of the community as fun and free. And human. The Village People are one of the earliest mainstream, pop culture representations of gays as something not deviant. They helped put a face on the community. They were non-threatening, funny and charming, with ready smiles and catchy tunes. It wasn’t the whole story, not by any means, but it was one chapter.

This is a story that’s still being written, and I’m still hoping for the happy ending (the one that says “And all the LGBTQ people got all the same legal and civil rights everyone else already had, and they lived happily ever after. The End.”). Without the Village People–and Elton John and Ellen Degeneres and so many others–we might not have gotten this far. So everybody get up, put your hands in the air, and sing along.

“It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.!”

“Water Under Bridges”

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So I was tooling around the iTunes store last night, looking for music to spend money on, and I decided to see what Gregory Porter had been up to.  This song came out in 2013, but it hit me like a sledgehammer to the heart.

I cried.  The grief and ache in Porter’s rich voice just hit me so hard that the short preview had me in tears.  There really isn’t anything I can add.  Listen if you haven’t already.  Then listen to more by this unbelievably talented man.  You’ll never, ever be sorry.  (And I want to thank Sandee once again for turning me on to this dude a couple years ago.)

“I Don’t Know You Anymore”

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Sorry I’ve been away.  Life, television, naps, and other miscellanea have kept me busy.  And I’ve still got to put my laundry away.

But the music has kept flowing over here.  I got a sizable iTunes gift card from my good friend who’s always helping me out, and I had some money in the account because of the rewards from my credit card.  So I decided to spend most of that money rocking out.  I jumped onto the Sleater-Kinney bandwagon (finally!), and was darn glad I did.  I got kind of artsy with Pere Ubu’s second album, Dub Housing (brilliant stuff).  And I managed to considerably beef up my Bob Mould collection.

I added Mould’s solo albums Beauty and Ruin and Silver Age to my library, and both are awesome!  “I Don’t Know You Anymore” is from Beauty and Ruin, and it’s one of the most perfect songs I’ve ever heard.  I also got Husker Du’s Zen Arcade because everyone should have that amazing Punk album.  I’ve had it on cassette for many years, but it was high time for some kind of upgrade.  My love for Bob Mould is just growing exponentially–and I already loved him a lot.  He just keeps creating terrific music filled with every emotion from rage to love.

New music just makes me happy.  And I’ve still got a little left for more. 🙂