Paul Kantner


Here we go again.  Jefferson Airplane’s co-founder and guitarist Paul Kantner has died of a heart attack at 74.

Kantner didn’t sing.  Kantner didn’t write the hit singles.  Kantner just helped build the Airplane’s signature psychedelic sound.  He helped define an entire subgenre of Rock.  Not too bad a legacy.  He and Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick had a daughter, China, together; he also had two sons with someone Wikipedia didn’t name.  Paul Kantner was also a rabble rouser, a political activist, and general hippie.  My kind of guy.



Joey Alexander


I didn’t intentionally go quiet.  I just got kind of distracted.  And I’ll probably be more distracted soon, because the new semester at SJSU has begun. *sigh*  I’m not sorry, just a little rueful that I didn’t get more reading done over the break.

But a couple of weeks ago–right before Rock legends started dropping dead–I was watching 60 Minutes and I saw a profile on this young Jazz prodigy.  And if you haven’t seen or heard him before, then let me warn you, Joey Alexander is very young.

This clip is a couple of years old; I think he’s all of twelve now.  And he is stunningly good.  Self-taught for the most part, too.  That is, I believe, what is known as genius.  Joey is remarkably composed and articulate for his age, also a sign of genius.  He knows his stuff.  What gets me most is the lightness of his touch on the piano, fingers seemingly weightless on the keys.  His playing style reminds me a lot of Vince Guaraldi; if I believed in reincarnation (and I do), I might think this is a rebirth of that great talent.

Keep your eyes and ears on this kid.  He’s going to do great things.



Because this video makes me smile.  Because I know I could really use a smile right now, and I’ll bet a lot of y’all could, too.  Because I rarely see anyone who loves their work as much as Josh Ritter does.  Because I’m wondering what he’s seeing with his eyes closed.

“Smuggler’s Blues”


I had to go to Vimeo instead of YouTube to find the video for this song, which is one of the better examples of a story video.  Miami Vice even used this song as the inspiration for an episode with the same title.  Glenn Frey played a smuggler pilot; I think his character ended up as badly as his character in the video.

Frey did a lot of work for movie and TV soundtracks in the 80s; I think it’s one of the reasons a lot of his solo work doesn’t hold up as well as, say, Don Henley’s does.  But as I’ve stated many times before, being middle of the road and mainstream doesn’t mean your work takes less talent and skill.  “Smuggler’s Blues” might be terribly dated now (or not, if you listen to some of the news coming out of Mexico these days), but it’s a pretty tight Rock-Pop tune.  And I love the video.

“Already Gone”


My favorite Glenn Frey led Eagles tunes are the rockers.  Glenn himself was a rocker from Detroit, although his knowledge and talent allowed him to dip into just about any musical pool he wanted.  “Already Gone” is a sweet little kiss off tune that showcases the Eagles ability to combine their mellow harmonies with good guitar work and a fuck you attitude.  That’s Frey at his best.

Glenn Frey


I told you I was afraid to look at the news.

At least it wasn’t cancer this time.

What the holy hell is going on?

Glenn Frey’s death today at 67 from complications of several illnesses is just kind of stunning.  I know people die.  I know I had no personal relationship with any of these artists, actors, and musicians.  But goddamn, this hurts.

Celebrity deaths always feel a little bit like you’re losing someone close, someone in the family.  Because the movies and music and art and words they create become part of your life.  Your memories are entwined with theirs.  They help you express emotions and dreams that you might not be able to share with anyone otherwise.

I’m not ashamed to admit I really enjoy the Eagles.  Their work could seem superficial and shallow, but they were tapping into the psyche of a place and time–specifically, Southern California in the 1970s.  Superficial and shallow came with the territory.  But so did quiet desperation and unnamed fear.  So did boredom and nihilism and anger.  So did happiness and sex and love.  So did greed and selfishness.  Glenn Frey was the happy party boy turned business mogul.  His music always reflected many facets.  Sure, his style was mainstream and Top Forty to the core, but that doesn’t make it less skilled or entertaining.  And the Eagles were always a huge part of my life; I was raised on this music.  My childhood memories combined with the fact that they understood my home here in SoCal better than just about anyone else makes Frey’s death really hit home.

“Ziggy Stardust”


I don’t know if this is the end of my Bowie-fest, but it is the end for this week.  All in all, it’s been a really bad year for the entertainment industry so far–yesterday it was announced that Celine Dion’s husband died after his long fight with cancer, and today was Dan Haggerty (children of the 70s know him best as Grizzly Adams).  I know the beginning and end of years tends to be a bit of a clearing out time, but this is just kind of depressing.

I’m a little afraid to look at the news, frankly.  I’m trying to hold on to my optimistic feelings about a new year, but it’s been hard in the face of all this public tragedy.  I think I’ll have to start over again with the Lunar New Year in February; it’s the year of the Monkey, after all, and I happen to be a Monkey (keep your comments about that to yourselves 🙂 ).

I think ending the week with “Ziggy Stardust” is appropriate, since that’s the character/persona so many of his fans associate Bowie with the most.  It was certainly his most distinctive character.  And the music from that period still stands as some of his strongest.  With Mick Ronson on guitar, Bowie was as sharp and smart as he ever got.

Alan Rickman


I just wanted to take a little break from my Bowie-fest–and from music altogether–to pay tribute to one of my favorite actors.  Alan Rickman has died.  Like Bowie, he was 69 and the cause of death was cancer.

Rickman was one of those actors you had trouble not noticing.  He wasn’t the greatest looking guy on-screen, usually (although I found him immensely attractive), and at first he didn’t seem to be doing anything especially outstanding character-wise.  But you would find yourself paying more and more attention whenever he was in a scene, and all the little details he brought to his roles became such a magnificent performance that you couldn’t help but want more.  Like most Americans, my first exposure to him was as Hans Gruber in Die Hard.  I knew something was up when I found myself rooting for the villain halfway through the movie.  Rickman was a compelling actor and his presence will be sorely missed.

My favorite movie of his (one of my Top Ten all time movies) is Truly, Madly, Deeply with the equally wonderful Juliet Stevenson.  It is one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.  (I’ve always assumed it inspired an insipid piece of garbage called Ghost, but don’t let that put you off from this one.)  I cry every time I see it, twice: once at the beginning and once at the end.  Big, awful, chest-wracking sobs.  This movie breaks my heart and puts it back together again.  And Alan Rickman as Jamie is just so glorious to watch.  Find this movie.  Watch it.  Right now.

Here’s a clip from near the end.  They are reciting a Pablo Neruda poem titled “The Dead Woman.”  Have a tissue handy.

Thank you, Alan, for making me cry and laugh and cringe at the movies for so long.

David Bowie: His Music and his Legacy


A wonderful tribute.

Every record tells a story


What will David Bowie’s legacy be?

There is (rightly) much talk about Bowie’s impact on popular culture. His greatest achievement might be that he made it okay to be one of the tall-short people, or one of the the fat-skinny people. A Mistake, Mis-shape or Misfit. An outsider. “You are not alone! Give me your hands” he sang on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”: “You’re wonderful!”

Frankly, anyone who has the sheer brass neck to put on a dress and go walking about in Texas in 1971, as Bowie did at the time of “The Man Who Sold The World” deserves our admiration. To give you an idea how courageous that was in the USA and the South in particular, consider until the late ’60s Disneyland was still turning long-haired men away from their gates. Indeed, in Texas, one guy did pull a gun on Bowie, so threatened did he feel…

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