Allen Toussaint

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Damn.  I was kind of hoping he’d live forever.

Listening to Toussaint is a little like listening to Mingus or Monk for me.  I feel something inside me that I didn’t know was empty, fill up.  His music truly is food for the soul.

Thank you, Allen Toussaint.  Your spirit will always be with us.

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

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Reposting “The Gambler” again made me think of how long Kenny Rogers has been around making music that people really enjoy listening to.  It might not be the best music, artistically speaking, but it’s good, solid, well-crafted music.  He’s also gone through a few stylistic changes over the years.  Most people recognized Kenny Rogers as a powerhouse Country hitmaker, but not everyone remembers that his first real hit was more Psychedelic than yee-haw.

Supposedly a rant against the use of LSD, “Just Dropped In” isn’t really as anti-drug as I think its creators intended.  It’s just a little too cool sounding to discourage potential tripping.  It’s also kind of atypical of The First Edition, the group Rogers was with at the time; apparently, they were more into the Country-Folk thing than the garage Rock thing.  Fun trivia, according to the Wikipedia page, this song was produced by TV theme song master Mike Post and the guitar solo was played by Country legend Glen Campbell.

This song had a bit of a resurgence in the 1990s, thanks to The Big Lebowski and a classic dream sequence.  That’s when I picked up on it as a pretty decent song; since I’m not much of a fan of Psychedelia, I’d pretty much ignored it before.  But like most of Rogers’ oeuvre, it’s an enjoyable listen.

I guess it’s about the right time to be waxing nostalgic about Kenny.  He recently announced he’s going to retire, from touring at least.  That’s okay; after I don’t know how many hits and at almost 80 years old, I think Kenny’s earned a nice peaceful retirement.

Re-Repost: “The Gambler”

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I’m late tonight because I’ve been watching the World Series of Poker’s final table.  As I explain in the post, I’m a sucker for televised poker tournaments.  Luckily, this song is timeless.  Even if I’ve reposted it twice now; at least I waited a couple of years.  I edited the beginning because it was no longer pertinent (and it made me a little sad, because it related to Daddy), but the rest is pretty much the same.

I knew all the words when I was a little kid (is 9 still little?). I’d sing them at top volume given the slightest provocation. And listening to it again as an adult, I realize two things. One, this is a really well crafted song. Every part compliments the whole. The production is fairly understated–which is something of an accomplishment for a late-70s country song. The characters of the song are so well drawn they could be something out of a Bret Harte story; Rogers even made a secondary career for himself playing The Gambler in TV movies all through the 80s. Two, if you treat the card playing analogy as exactly that, this is pretty good advice.

I must mention here that I like to watch poker on TV. I stink at playing it (I’m just terrible at reading people or understanding odds), but there is something compelling about watching other people play cards. I have no idea why this is so interesting to me. Maybe I’m as much a victim of the Moneymaker Effect as the donkeys that pony up $10,000 for the WSOP Main Event. And poker is kind of fun to play, even if I do stink. My family used to get together sometimes when I was a kid, and everyone would bring their piggy banks or coffee cans full of loose change to play penny ante poker all night. I don’t think poker is some kind of great meaningful philosophical experience; while there is some skill involved, a significant portion is the luck of the draw. But Rogers takes good sound card playing advice and makes it sound like Nietzsche.

It’s not the chorus–“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”–that resonates the most strongly with me, although it is a pretty sound philosophy. I find that the final verse is what stands out to me. Maybe it’s because my life is in transition right now. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating myself and everything in my life for quite some time now. And sometimes what you need to hear is a little no-nonsense advice that’s vague enough to adapt to your needs. This might be the advice I need right now.

“Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep. ‘Cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser, and the most that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.

Just for kicks, here’s “The Gambler” from Kenny Rogers’ appearance on The Muppet Show. Awesome.

Happy Birthday, Joni!

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Today is Joni Mitchell’s 72nd birthday, and considering there was a pretty good chance she wouldn’t make it this far just a few months ago, I think that’s a pretty fine reason to celebrate.

Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in late March, and was in poor condition for some weeks.  But she’s been fighting and working hard at rehabilitation, and recent reports have her walking, talking, and even painting.  I’m very happy to hear good news about her, because while I don’t always love her music, I think she is one of the true icons of popular music.  She has such a powerful presence as a woman who creates art on her own terms and refuses to define herself by the narrow standards celebrity culture dictates.  She is beautiful and intelligent and independent, everything that everyone, man or woman, should strive to be.

I mentioned I don’t always love her music, and I don’t.  But that only really applies to what she’s done from the 1980s on.  The classic albums she produced in the 70s–Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark–are among some of the best music ever.  It always felt to me like she got away from the things she did best as a songwriter, and her music became too nebulous and distant.  I can understand why she’d move away from what I think is her greatest strength, because the one thing Joni Mitchell does better than virtually anyone else is intimacy.

Whether her songs are autobiographical or not doesn’t really matter, although many of her songs are very much about her and her relationships with others.  She creates this bubble around herself as performer and the audience so that you feel like she’s singing only to you.  Like she’s not even singing.  There’s a feeling to her best songs that you have met her in a quiet corner in a coffee house, and she’s sharing these intimate secrets with you.  That kind of closeness must be difficult to maintain as an artist.  It requires so much from the performer, so much energy and courage, to bare your emotions so publicly.  As a really intensely private person myself, I can understand why you’d want to leave that behind.  It’s one of the reasons I admire Mitchell as much as I do; she really hits some deep emotional chords in her audience because she’s willing to take those emotional risks herself.

I hope her health continues to improve.  I hope she keeps living as freely as she has always done.  And I kind of hope we get just one more glimpse into her heart and soul the way we used to.

“One Night in Bangkok”

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Thought I’d add a bit of spice to my role as a Tiny Pepper.  I have a feeling I’m going to be kind of introspective and quiet in my musical choices this month, but then again, this little bit of biting Pop-Rock just might be the start of a trend.

Yeah, this is from a musical.  We saw Chess in London as part of my senior trip to Europe, although “One Night in Bangkok” had been released as a single some time before the play was ever staged.  The producers and the composers (Tim Rice on lyrics, Bjorn and Benny from ABBA on music) recorded and released the score to help finance the stage production.  This song was a decent hit in the U.S., making it all the way to number three.  And yeah, that’s Murray Head, older brother of Anthony Stewart Head (aka Giles to all us Buffy fans), doing a charmingly nasty performance.  This was the character of the American in the play, which was extremely loosely based on the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky matches from the 1970s (you know, before Bobby went completely nuts).  The American is supposed to be sarcastic, caustic, selfish and generally intolerable, and Murray does a good job of it.  You can’t remove all the sympathy from the character, of course, because that wouldn’t be very much fun.  But he’s got a nice edge to him.

I enjoyed watching Chess, and I still really like the music, but I doubt I’d ever see it again.  The show itself is kind of dated, although the way things are going with Putin’s Russia, it looks like the Cold War may be on again, in which case Chess might be coming back into style.

Repost: “Wedding Bell Blues”

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It would’ve been Laura Nyro’s 65th birthday not that long ago; it’s been fifteen years since she died. And I’m still not quite sure how to classify her in the music pantheon.

Laura Nyro did a little bit of everything. She played bluesy, folky, gospel rock. She played, sang, and wrote. Her piano work sounded simple, but I get the feeling there was a lot more going on. Or maybe that was just a result of the mood she created. Nyro, like fellow traveller Carole King, could fill a room with emotion just by singing a single line. You’ve heard her work, even if you’ve never heard of her.

Ever hear Barbra Streisand sing “Stoney End”? That was a Nyro song. Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ classic “And When I Die”? Yep, Laura Nyro wrote that. The 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues”? Got it in one.

I’ve always loved this song. I can identify with the yearning for a romantic fairy tale ending (I’m a pretty, pretty princess who loves rainbows and flowers hidden the guise of a foul-mouthed cynic). She sings of her love and loyalty for Bill, who seems to be hesitating about making that final commitment to her: “I haven’t lived one day not loving you only.” There’s a resignation here, too, as if she knows on some level he’s never gonna get there, when she sings “And though devotion rules my heart, I take no bows, but Bill you never wanna take my wedding vows.”

I suppose it was no accident when The 5th Dimension covered this tune. Singer Marilyn McCoo married Billy Davis in 1969. Doing a little research for this post, I was kind of tickled to find out they’re still married today. Which makes this clip from 1969 kind of funny.

This Bill took his vows pretty seriously. Gotta love that.

Not My Usual Thing, But Totally Worth It

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Anyone who knows me really well knows how much I hate musicals (with a few exceptions that prove the rule).  I suppose I should clarify my feelings, though.  Because it’s not the music of musicals I hate; music written for the stage and screen can be just as transcendent (and just as mediocre) as any other genre.  There are composers for musicals who have created not just some of the best music in the world, but some of the most recognizable and iconic music ever.  And in the hands of the right performer, some of these songs can leave you absolutely breathless.

No, the music for musicals is definitely fine with me.  What I hate about musicals is that all this perfectly good music is wrapped around a plot and “acted” as part of a character or story.  While that can also, very occasionally in my opinion, be terrific, generally the plots are thin and corny, the emotions patently false, and the characters are one-dimensional at best.  It’s not fun for someone like me who likes prefers depth and ambiguity.

One exception to the cornball rule of musicals is the great Stephen Sondheim, who definitely does depth and ambiguity.  I still don’t see his shows, but that’s just a matter of preference than a judgement on the quality of his work.  He’s an amazing composer who recently gave permission for an amazing project that lets people like me who stay away from musicals and fans of the genre rediscover this music in a wonderful way.  The album is called Liaisons: Re-imagining Stephen Sondheim from the Piano, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin.  I’m listening to the iTunes samples right now, and I’m just thrilled.  The whole thing was conceived by concert pianist Anthony De Mare, who plays the music.  Each track was arranged by a different composer, and they more than do Sondheim justice.  Trust me.  It’s totally worth the time.

I couldn’t really find any of the tracks on YouTube, but here’s a nice little promotional clip that should whet you’re appetite.

“Electricity”

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Well, the work on the house continues bit by bit.  Today, we got some electrical work done.  Nothing fancy–just some fixtures installed and repaired.  But I am quite pleased with the results.  They managed to fix an outlet in the dining room that hadn’t worked for I don’t know how long, and put a new one in the bathroom (right by the light switch. . . but my blue canary night light is staying in the other plug by the medicine cabinet).  And all the kitchen lights have been updated/repaired so that they all work.  It’s nice to be able to cook dinner without walking to the other end of the room to read a recipe because the light’s better down there.

The only bad part is that I forgot to get candelabra bulbs for my new chandelier, so I can’t see how pretty it looks.  It’s in my bedroom because why not?  It goes well with my style, which is just the tiniest bit eclectic.  The other light in the room is a small accent lamp that’s also a lava light, because, again, why not?  Don’t judge me.  It’s not like you have to sleep there.

“Makin’ It”

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Yesterday I made it seem like David Naughton made a Dr. Pepper commercial, starred in An American Werewolf in London, and then pretty much dropped off the face of the Earth.  While that’s not entirely true (as evidenced by his IMDB page), he also never hit it all that big.

Among Naughton’s many gigs, he had his own sitcom, Makin’ It, which tried to capitalize on the popularity of Saturday Night Fever by making an already slight plot even more slight and trivial.  The show only lasted nine episodes in 1979, but the theme song was a hit long after the series was cancelled.  “Makin’ It” the song made it to number five on the charts, and was immortalized in one of my favorite Bill Murray movies, Meatballs (I have a very low tolerance for stupidity in films, but this one got to me before I developed that particular flaw).

I love this song.  It’s just a bit of Disco-Pop confection, but it satisfies my musical sweet tooth.  The video clip I chose is kind of shaky in a nausea or seizure producing way, but if you’re not prone to either of those things, you should watch it to see some of the charisma Naughton exhibited as a young actor.  He’s very watchable in a non-threatening, noncommittal sort of way; you can pretty much take or leave him, but you won’t be sorry if you stick around.  As a result of this song, I’ve always had a soft spot for Naughton.  Yes, An American Werewolf in London is a good movie, and he’s great in it, but I’ve never had any emotional attachment to it like I do for this musical blast from my past.

As Seen on TV: “I’m a Pepper”

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Hey, y’all!  I’m back!  It hasn’t been that long since I posted, and it’s not like I don’t have some ideas (I got some new music, and there’s always the massive collection living in my closet after all.)  But I’ve been saving my posts up because I became a Pepper for the month of November.

The lovely and wonderful Rarasaur (who is just as lovely and wonderful in three dimensions as she is on the interwebs) has recruited myself and a number of other bloggers for Nano Poblano, an easier to say name for National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo. . . or something like that; her name is so much better).  The goal is to post something every day for the month of November.  This is good for me, because I have fallen out of the habit of posting regularly.  I like to keep the jukebox stocked with great music, and my lack of posts has been weighing on me a little (not too much, to be honest).  I’ve heard it takes about a month for something to become a habit, so I’m going to make the most valiant effort to post every single day this month.  That may mean a lot of reposts and quickies, but so be it.  I am determined to be an active part of the blogosphere again.

I chose this classic little bit of advertising cheese from the seventies because it relates to the quality of being a Pepper, not because I drink Dr. Pepper (it’s not bad; I just prefer Coke).  This is one of those classic commercial jingles that they just don’t write anymore–it’s another dying breed along with the great TV theme song.  David Naughton really sells it, too.  It was probably one of his earliest paying gigs as an actor, and it showed his potential.  After all, if he could convince people to buy a weirdly flavored soda, then he could do just about anything.  (“Just about anything” for Naughton turned out to be a great turn as a werewolf in An American Werewolf in London, but that was also pretty much the peak of his career.)  People of my generation grew up on this commercial, so I hope others feel just as fondly for it as I do.