Monday, March 31, 2014

the mystery of how it was done

"...Works of art have always seemed to me to have a supernatural power, and I believe that visual images constitute a universal language through which the experience of the past is transmitted to the present, and by whose means all lives can be immeasurably enriched."
-- John Pope-Hennessy, art historian and curator at the "Met"  {Learning to Look, 1991, Doubleday}


Some of the people I know who knit and crochet voraciously will look at a garment, or toy, or decoration and say, "How can I make that?"  When you read Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards' autobiography, you know he's a person who, when he hears music, says, "How can I play that?"  Or -- "how can I make that sound?"

-------------------------- [Life excerpt-1] -------------------- Almost immediately after we met we'd sit around and he'd start to sing and I'd start to play, and "Hey, that ain't bad."  And it wasn't difficult; we had nobody to impress except us and we weren't looking to impress ourselves.  I was learning too.  With Mick and me at the beginning, we'd get, say, a new Jimmy Reed record, and I'd learn the moves on guitar and he would learn the lyrics and get it down, and we would just dissect it as much as two people can. 

"Does it go like that?"  "Yeah, it does as a matter of fact!"  And we had fun doing it. 

I think we both knew we were in a process of learning, and it was something that you wanted to learn and it was ten times better than school.  I suppose at that time, it was the mystery of how it was done, and how could you sound like that?  ...And then you bump into a bunch of guys that feel the same way.  And via that you meet other players and people and you think it actually can be done.

Mick and I must have spent a year, while the Stones were coming together and before, record hunting.  There were others like us, trawling far and wide, and meeting one another in record shops.

---------------------- [excerpt - 2] ----------------- Mick and I knew each other just because we happened to live very close, just a few doors away, with a bit of schooling thrown in.  But then once we moved from near my school to the other side of town, I became "across the tracks."  You don't see anybody; you're not there....

Temple Hill -- the name was a bit grand.  I never saw a temple all the time I was there, but the hill was the only real attraction for a kid.  This was one very steep hill.  And it's amazing as a kid what you can do with a hill if you're willing to risk life and limb.  I remember I used to get my Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual and put it on a roller skate, width-wise, and then sit on it and just zoom down Temple Hill.

{excerpts, Life, Keith Richards, Copyright 2010, Little Brown (US)}


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

groove on

============ [Internet Comment] ========== One time I had a boss yelling in my ear while I was working, I kept on working.  A friend walked over and asked me "John, what was Jim so mad about"?  I said "I don't know, I wasn't listening.  LOL

------------------ [excerpt, The Road to Woodstock] ------------ Other than an initial organizational chart I had drawn up showing various functions and positions to fill, we made it up as we went along.

We settled on calling our creation "An Aquarian Exposition:  The Woodstock Music and Art Fair."  That name "Woodstock" symbolized the rural, natural setting I envisioned.  I suggested "Aquarian Exposition" to encompass all the arts, not only music but crafts, painting, sculpture, dance, theater -- like a 1969 version of the old Maverick festivals.

And I wanted to reference the Aquarian age, an era of great harmony predicted by astrologers to coincide with the late twentieth century, a time when stars and planets would align to allow for more understanding, sympathy, and trust in the world.  Our festival would be that place for people to come together to celebrate the coming of a new age.

There had been so much conflict over the past year, with violent confrontations occurring on college campuses, in urban ghettos, and at demonstrations across the country.

At Woodstock we would focus our energy on peace, setting aside the onstage discussion of political issues to just groove on what might be possible.

It was a chance to see if we could create the kind of world for which we'd been striving throughout the sixties:  That would be our political statement -- proving that peace and understanding were possible and creating a testament to the value of the counterculture.

It would be three days of peace and music.


{The Road to Woodstock, by Michael Lang and Holly George-Warren.  Copyright 2009, HarperCollins.}


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

people will think it's a Jeff Koons

A movie star walks into an art gallery...
(Three priests and a rabbi walk into a bar... no wait that's something else ...)

A movie star walks into the art gallery where "Charlotte York" works, in an episode of Sex and the City -- Charlotte sees him -- he's real cute, and bristling with that movie-star-celebrity-magnetism:  shaggy hair, da-da-da-da-da.  His name is Wylie Ford.  Wylie.  Lol -- those satc writers come up with 'em....

Charlotte notices him from across the room, and she fidgets and shines with the excitement of seeing one of these people, unexpectedly, in person -- she pretty-smiles over and greets him.  He puts attention on her for a moment -- seems kind of stoned -- and then curiously appraises a fire extinguisher on the wall right close, and asks Charlotte, "How much for this piece?"

First she blurts out politely, with nervous giggles, that it isn't a sculpture by any artist, it is a -- fire extinguisher.  In case of -- like -- you know -- fire.  Then she quickly back-pedals, gazing at him, not wanting to seem like she was laughing at him or correcting him, and says with enthusiasm, "No, take it!  You can have it!  Please!"  And then -- mentally "tap-dancing" for some believable logic..."People will -- think it's a Jeff Koons!"  Delighted smile, as she feels she's landed on some kind of socially safe ground.  The movie star answers with a beaming smile, admiring her beauty (and, probably, her wit)  Phew!  Everyone's safe on the ground.

I'd not heard of Jeff Koons before I saw that episode -- maybe am art-world illiterate...but when watching that, the viewer is forced to use deductive reasoning and say, OK, Jeff Koons must be one of those artists who makes "modern art" -- wherein it might be a fire extinguisher.  Or Campbell's soup cans -- Andy Warhol-style.

Years after seeing that s-a-t-c installment the first time, in the Sept. 2013 issue of Bazaar magazine, a one-page article:  "Jeff Koons on the Legacy of Magritte."  I might not have taken time to read an "art article" but thought -- Jeff Koons, the guy I've barely heard of -- Magritte another art guy floating nebulously in the periphery of awareness -- only one page, I have time to check this out....

"As told to Lindsay Talbot," the article begins:
----------- Surrealism has always been very important to me -- it was the first art movement I really responded to.  I imagine I probably first came into contact with René Magritte around age 13.  I think Surrealism helps people go inward -- to really dive into the muck and understand themselves -- and then return outward with a new sense of self-acceptance....Magritte is very much about the things that we all experience and the sensations of daily life that we all encounter.  Even though these images can come off as being mysterious or strange, they're actually archetypal....There's a reality in the seemingly unrealistic moments he creates, even though he makes these strange juxtapositions.  He predated Photoshop, when you think about it. ------------

Now people can see famous paintings and other art-works on the Internet.  (This has got to help make everyone's lives better.  Someone said the other day, "Life sucks."  No it doesn't!  Google Magritte!  Google the impressionists!  Monet!  Manet!  Renoir!...)

[Jeff Koons in Bazaar]   Art brings you in contact with feeling....One of the beautiful things about [Magritte's] work is that it's really made for the viewer to participate in.  There's a generosity there -- it's about you and your response to the work.


Monday, March 24, 2014

I hear an owl

I came across the following three passages in a light mystery, and they seemed to me to illustrate how sometimes in life a person observes someone else enjoying something in life that they themselves do not usually notice, and then the observing person starts thinking, Why don't I notice that?  Why don't I do that?  Why don't I enjoy life more by doing what that other person is doing?

------------------- [excerpt 1] -------------------- He picked up the flowers, and Rosemary rearranged the bouquets in the impromptu vases on mantel, bar, and dining table.  Then they went to the lake porch to await the sunset....

Seagulls soared and swooped and squabbled over the dead fish on the beach.  Rosemary identified them as herring gulls.  The flycatchers, she said, who were performing a nonstop aerial ballet were purple martins.  Something brown and yellow that kept whizzing past the porch was a cedar waxwing.

"I hear an owl," Qwilleran said, to prove he was not totally ignorant about wildlife.

"That's a mourning dove," she corrected him.  "And I hear a cardinal . . . and a phoebe . . . and I think a pine siskin.  Close your eyes and listen, Qwill.  It's like a symphony."

He touched his moustache guiltily. Perhaps he had been listening to the wrong voices.  Here he was in the country, on vacation, surrounded by the delights of nature, and he was trying to identify miscreants instead of cedar waxwings.  He should be reading the bird book instead of cross-written letters. ...

--------------- [excerpt 2] -------------------- The cooling of the relationship was only one development in a vacation that had hardly been a success.  It had been two weeks of discomfort, mystification, and frustration -- not to mention guilt; he had not written a word of his projected novel.  He had not enjoyed evenings of music or walked for miles on the beach or relaxed on the sand with a good spy story or paid enough attention to the sunsets.  And now it was coming to an end.  Even if the executors of the estate did not evict him, he was going to leave. ...

----------------- [excerpt 3] ----------------- Qwilleran sat on the porch alone, hardly noticing the foaming surf and the gliding seagulls.

It's natural, in a way, to observe someone doing something and then think maybe we should do it ourselves -- it's one of the ways in which we learn and expand our experience.  On the other hand, there's no need to think that because someone else enjoys something, then we ourselves need to spend the requisite time, money, etc., to do it too.  Instead maybe just, "You enjoyed it?  Great!  Good for you."

The flip-side of this is when someone thinks others should do the same things they themselves do, and take the same precautions.  In the novel Emma, Jane Austen wrote, "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

...He had not..."paid enough attention to the sunsets."
SWA  (smiling with amusement)

And at the end of the book, he is unchanged:  sitting "on the porch, hardly noticing the foaming surf and the gliding seagulls" ...

{excerpts, The Cat Who Played Brahms, by Lilian Jackson Braun.  Copyright 1987, Jove - Berkley, NY, NY.}


Thursday, March 20, 2014

the enthusiasm, the spirit, the soul

Just as I was having fun, going along writing about what Keith Richards had to say in his autobiography, titled Life, Mick Jagger's girlfriend of 11 years or so apparently commits suicide in New York City, and then I feel like -- I can't write about the Rolling Stones, now, because of people's personal grief in the news. ...

Am I obligated to grieve?  No, I don't think so -- I did not know Mr. Jagger's girlfriend, L'Wren Scott.  But -- I feel like I cannot "celebrate" the Rolling Stones' work just now, because -- the act of one person affected the Stones' lead singer, which affects the band, who were on tour -- (now postponed -- all those Australians with tickets, and no concert...!) -- which affects other people in the world who read about the unexpected death, including me -- just one everyday person who only wanted to write about the Stones' music, or rather, read what Keith Richards wrote about it, & showcase that, here in this humble blog.

See, what one person chooses to do affects a lot of other people. ... We don't always realize that. 

So, out of respect, I'm going to set aside writing about Rolling Stones music, songwriting, life experiences, musical influences, on-tour adventures, and any other Stones-related items, throughout next week, and then I think that's sufficient.  Beginning Monday, March 31st, I am again free to cconsider and discuss Keith Richards' autobiography and related subject areas.  I think that's fair.

Honestly!  I was so inspired -- dancing happily along, with Keith's theory of the "emancipation" of music through the invention of recording, Malagueña, got the mojo working, Keiths' treatise on technologoy -- Recording The Room -- "The enthusiasm, the spirit, the soul...where's the microphone for that??"  And then I get interrupted.

That's what war and tragedy do -- they interrupt our Life.  Art enhances our Life, and supports us.  Death and sadness and strife do the opposite.

On a TV-show episode, there was a funeral, and the minister says, "Death -- is the eternal mystery" ... I don't know that death is all that mysterious.  But a person's suicide usually does seem to be a "mystery."  People cannot understand it.

Got to go down, got to go down
Leave here today on my way so long, so long

Going back home, going back home
Got to go home, got to go home
Got to go home, got to go home...

First I planned to stay but I can't live this way
I'm goin' back home...

{"Going Back Home" -- song, and album title -- 1971, Syndicate Chapter label.  Howlin' Wolf (Chester Burnett)}


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

every change in the light

----------- [excerpt from article, "'Words on Paper Will Outlast Us':  How Claire Messud Distills Her Life" -- The Atlantic] ---------------- With death, everything goes.  All of it.  In our brains are recorded every second of our lives, whether we're able to retrieve them or not -- of course, we can't retrieve most of it.  But every thought we have had, every smell we have smelled, every change in the light, every embrace, everything is there.  When we die, these moments can never be retrieved.  They are gone.  Forever.

The large portion of human experience will vanish.  I remember my grandfather, when he was quite old and in his nineties -- he lived to be 94 -- sitting in the window of his apartment.  He was French, and he lived in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean in the south of France.  I remember him staring out the window at the vast open sea.  I was in my early thirties, and I assumed "Oh, he's thinking about my grandmother.  Or he's thinking about death."  But when I said, "Grand-pere, what are you thinking about?" he said, "I'm recalling my visit to an oil well in the Sahara in 1954."

I hadn't known he'd been to an oil well in the Sahara.  It's just proof that we live so many lives, contain so much experience, that even the people who know us best don't know.  When someone dies, all that goes.  All of it.

Things we write down are the fragments shored against our ruins.  They outlast us, these scraps of words on paper.  Like the detritus from the tsunami washing up on the other side of the ocean, writing is what can be salvaged. ------------------------------- [end excerpt]

March 19, 2014

Riding a bicycle
Riding a train
Riding the wave
Riding down Main
Writing the articles
Writing the refrain
Writing the reality
Writing about rain
Righting the organizations
Righting the ill-gotten gain
Righting Investment Street,
Righting Opportunity Plain...


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

just a wish

So I'm back, to the velvet -- underground
Back to the floor, that I love
To a room, with some lace
And paper flowers
Back to the gypsy
That I was
To the gypsy ...
That I was

And it all comes down to you
Well, you know that it does
Well lightning strikes,
Maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night
And you see your gypsy
You see your gypsy
So the gypsy that remains
Faces freedom with a little fear
I have no fear, I have only love

And if I was a child
And the child was enough
Enough for me to love
Enough to love

She is dancing
Away from me now
She was just a wish
She was just a wish
And a memory is all
That is left for you now
You see your gypsy
You see your gypsy
Lightning strikes,
Maybe once, maybe twice
And it all comes down to you
And it all comes down to you
Lightning strikes,
Maybe once, maybe twice...

{"Gypsy" - written by Stevie Nicks, 1979, recorded by Fleetwood Mac, 1981, released 1982, Mirage album, Warner Brothers.}


Monday, March 17, 2014

recording the room

Mr. Richards discusses technology.
-------------------- [excerpt, Life] ------------------------ Very soon after Exile, so much technology came in that even the smartest engineer in the world didn't know what was really going on. 

How come I could get a great drum sound back in Denmark Street with one microphone, and now with fifteen microphones I get a drum sound that's like someone shitting on a tin roof? 

Everybody got carried away with technology and slowly they're swimming back. 

In classical music, they're rerecording everything they rerecorded digitally in the '80s and '90s because it just doesn't come up to scratch. 

I always felt that I was actually fighting technology, that it was no help at all.  And that's why it would take so long to do things.  Fraboni has been through all of that, that notion that if you didn't have fifteen microphones on a drum kit, you didn't know what you were doing.  Then the bass player would be battened off, so they were all in their little pigeonholes and cubicles.  And you're playing this enormous room and not using any of it. 

This idea of separation is the total antithesis of rock and roll, which is a bunch of guys in a room making a sound and just capturing it.  It's the sound they make together, not separated.  This  mythical bullshit about stereo and high tech and Dolby, it's just totally against the whole grain of what music should be.

Nobody had the balls to dismantle it.  And I started to think, what was it that turned me on to doing this?  It was these guys that made records in one room with three microphones.  They weren't recording every little snitch of the drums or the bass.  They were recording the room. You can't get these indefinable things by stripping it apart. 

The enthusiasm, the spirit, the soul, whatever you want to call it, where's the microphone for that?  The records could have been a lot better in the '80s if we'd cottoned on to that earlier and not been led by the nose by technology.

{Life.  Keith Richards.  Copyright 2010, Back Bay / Little Brown.}


Friday, March 14, 2014

found a new place to dwell

------------------- [excerpt -- Life, Keith Richards' autobiography]-------------- Then, "Since my baby left me" -- it was just the sound.  It was the last trigger.  That was the first rock and roll I heard.  It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound, stripped down, burnt, no bullshit, no violins and ladies' choruses and schmaltz, totally different.  It was bare, right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn't yet heard. 

I've got to take my hat off to Elvis for that. 

The silence is your canvas, that's your frame, that's what you work on; don't try and deafen it out.  That's what "Heartbreak Hotel" did to me.  It was the first time I'd heard something so stark.  Then I had to go back to what this cat had done before.  Luckily I caught his his name.  The Radio Luxembourg signal came back in.  "That was Elvis Presley, with 'Heeartbreak Hotel.'"  Shit!

Around, 1959, when I was fifteen, Doris bought me my first guitar.  I was already playing, when I could get one, but you can only tinker when you haven't got one of your own.  It was a Rosetti.  And it was about ten quid. 

Doris didn't have the credit to buy it on hire purchase, so she got someone else to do it, and he defaulted on the payment -- big kerfuffle. 

It was a huge amount of money for her and Bert.  But Gus must have had something to do with it too.  It was a gut-string job.  I started where every good guitar player should start -- down there on acoustic, on gut strings.  You can get to wire later on.  Anyway, I couldn't afford an electric.  But I found just playing that Spanish, an old workman, and starting from there, it gave me something to build on. 

And then you got to steel strings and then finally, wow!  Electricity!  I mean, probably if I had been born a few years later, I would have leapt on the electric guitar.  But if you want to get to the top, you've got to start at the bottom, same with anything.

{Life, by Keith Richards with James Fox.  Copyright 2010.  Back Bay / Little Brown.}


Thursday, March 13, 2014

mojo of the intimate venue

I got a gypsy woman giving me advice
I got a gypsy woman giving me advice
She got some red hot tips, I'm keepin' them on ice.

Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you.

{written, Preston Foster, 1956; recorded by Ann Cole; popularized by Muddy Waters, 1957}

During the Jimmy Carter administration, when a tenant downstairs from me at 357 Beacon Street in Boston played a Muddy Waters record for me, to try to show me what Blues was, the thing that was ton-of-bricks-ish about the moment was, this music sounded like every popular-rock song I'd ever heard that I liked, only a shlagillion times better -- or maybe not better, not putting down the more top-40 versions of the sound, but -- this was the Source.  It was DEEPER.  Here, we had got to the Roots of the matter.  The heart of the matter.  That was what was exciting.  This here was the stuff.

The young man with the record albums explained to me that the music of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and my other favorites at the time (newly-discovered by me, at that time) was based on what these popular recording artists had learned from American bluesmen.  I was very very interested in the idea that these white guys of the rock and roll generation had learned a lot of their ideas about music from the black men and women of the older generation. 

Because the music was so great, I found myself enthusiastic to know -- to find out -- where in the world it could have come from.  I mean, my curiosity almost approached outrage, in a way -- "Where did they learn to play like that?  WHO CAME UP WITH THIS????????!!!!!!!!!"  Because I liked it so much.  It was so rich.  So true.  And I'd not heard it before.  ("Where have they been hiding this music?  WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE??????!!!!!!!")

So after being introduced to the Rolling Stones' music, and to the Blues, and studying on these things for a while, at some point I saw an ad in a Boston paper that said a Chicago bluesman (can't remember the name now) was going to play at the Inn Square Men's Bar in Cambridge.  So I went. 

What a venue!  Unlike a humungous stadium where you're watching the concert on TV screens in your "section" -- this place was a bar.  Just a -- place.  Not even a large nightclub, or anything.  And so the artist you came to see was right there in front of you.  Thank you very much.

At one point, the bluesman was up on this long bar / table which ran down the center of the place.  He walked down, playing his electric guitar, singing "Walkin' The Dog."

Now that was what I'd been looking for; that was what I was talking about.  Nnnnnow we're cookin' with gas.

---------------- To attend an event like that, I'd take public transportation (trolley above-ground, subway train below-ground) to get there, but a taxi back home.  You would invest the extra $$ in a taxi ride one way, because if it was late enough at night, the public transit wouldn't be running, or even if it was still running, it could be unsafe in the late hours.  (YOU might have to end up "running"...)  So -- (dial, dial) -- "Could we get a cab at ### - Inman Square in Cambridge?"

[1965]  "The most bizarre part of the whole story is that having done what we intended to do in our narrow, purist teenage brains at the time, which was to turn people on to the blues, what actually happened was we turned American people back on to their own music."

-- Keith Richards


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

give me "Malagueña"

"One note leads to another, and you never know quite what's going to come next, and you don't want to.  It's like walking on a beautiful tightrope."

-------------- [excerpts, Life, by Keith Richards] -------------- Sometimes I still visited Gus.  By that time, because I'd been playing for two or three years, he said, "Come on, give me 'Malagueña.'"  I played it for him and he said, "You've got it."  And then I started to improvise, because it's a guitar exercise.  And he said, "Thats not how it goes!"  And I said, "No, but Granddad, it's how it could go."  "You're getting the hang of it."

In fact, early on I was never really that interested in being a guitar player.  It was just a means to an end to produce sound.  As I went on I got more and more interested in the actual playing of guitar and the actual notes.  I firmly believe if you want to be a guitar player, you better start on acoustic and then graduate to electric.  Don't think you're going to be Townshend or Hendrix just because you can go wee wee wah wah, and all the electronic tricks of the trade.  First you've got to know that [instrument].


I think the first record I bought was Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally."  Fantastic record, even to this day.  Good records just get better with age.  But the one that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was "Heartbreak Hotel." 

That was the stunner.  I'd never heard it before, or anything like it. 

I'd never heard of Elvis before. 

It was almost as if I'd been waiting for it to happen. 

When I woke up the next day I was a different guy....

Radio Luxembourg was notoriously difficult to keep on station.  I had a little aerial and walked round the room, holding the radio up to my ear and twisting the aerial.  Trying to keep it down because I'd wake Mum and Dad up.

{Life -- Keith Richards -- Copyright 2010 -- Back Bay Books}


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

emancipation boogie

I've learned everything I know off of records. --------------------- [excerpt - Keith Richards' autobiography] --------------- Being able to replay something immediately without all that terrible stricture of written music, the prison of those bars, those five lines.  Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians that couldn't necessarily afford to learn to read or write music, like me.

Before 1900, you've got Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, the cancan.  With recording, it was emancipation for the people.  As long as you or somebody around you could afford a machine, suddenly you could hear music made by people, not set-up rigs and symphony orchestras.

You could actually listen to what people were saying, almost off the cuff.  Some of it can be a load of rubbish, but some of it was really good.  It was the emancipation of music.

Otherwise you'd have had to go to a concert hall, and how many people could afford that?  It surely can't be any coincidence that jazz and blues started to take over the world the minute recording started, within a few years, just like that.

The blues is universal, which is why it's still around.  Just the expression and the feel of it came in because of recording.

It was like opening the audio curtains.  And available, and cheap.  It's not just locked into one community here and one community there and the twain shall never meet.  And of course that breeds another totally different kind of musician, in a generation.  I don't need this paper.  I'm going to play it straight from the ear, straight from here, straight from the heart to the fingers.  Nobody has to turn the pages.

= = = = = = = = = = = =
{Life, by Keith Richards, copyright 2010, Back Bay books.}


Monday, March 10, 2014

well since my baby left me

1959.  England.

{excerpt, Keith Richards, Life}--------------- Everything was available in Sidcup [Art School] -- it reflected that incredible explosion of music, of music as style, of love of Americana.  I would raid the public library for books about America.  There were people who liked folk music, modern jazz, trad jazz, people who liked bluesy stuff, so you're hearing prototype soul.

All those influences were there.  And there were the seminal sounds -- the tablets of stone, heard for the first time.  There was Muddy. 

There was Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'"....And there was a record called Rhythm & Blues Vol. I.  It had a Little Walter track.  I didn't know Chuck Berry was black for two years after I first heard his music, and this obviously long before I saw the film that drove a thousand musicians -- Jazz on a Summer's Day, in which he played "Sweet Little Sixteen." 

And for ages I didn't know Jerry Lee Lewis was white.  You didn't see their pictures if they had something in the top ten in America.  The only faces I knew were Elvis, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino.  It was hardly important.  It was the sound that was important. 

And when I first heard "Heartbreak Hotel," it wasn't that I suddenly wanted to be Elvis Presley.  I had no idea who he was at the time.  It was just the sound, the use of a different way of recording.  The recording, as I discovered, of that visionary Sam Phillips of Sun Records. 

The use of echo.  No extraneous additions.  You felt you were in the room with them, that you were just listening to exactly what went down in the studio, no frills....That was hugely influential for me.

{Life.  Keith Richards autobiography.  Copyright 2010, Back Bay Books}


Friday, March 7, 2014

have we met?

I look out my window, watch her as she passes by
I say to myself I'm such a lucky guy
To have a girl like her -- is a dream come true
And of all the girls in New York -- she loves me true

It was just my imagination, once again
Running away with me
It was just my imagination
Running away with me

Soon we'll be married and raise a family
A girl for you -- what about a little boy for me?
I tell you I am just a fellow with a one-track mind
Whatever it is I want, baby, I seek and I shall find
I'll tell you --

It was just my imagination, once again
Running away with me
It was just my imagination
Running away with me

Every night I hope and pray
Dear Lord, hear my plea,
Don't ever let another take her love from me
Or I will surely die
Her love is ecstasy
When her arms enfold me
I hear a tender rhapsody
But in reality
She doesn't even know me


"Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)"
written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
The Temptations
1971.  LP:  Sky's the Limit, Motown.

Covered by the Rolling Stones
1978 LP, Some Girls
1982 live album, Still Life
2008 live album and DVD, Shine a Light


Thursday, March 6, 2014

humanity, beauty, and Howlin' Wolf

The Past.

There's an interview with Jackie Kennedy which I viewed on TV sometime in the mid-90s -- it must have been done in 1960, soon after her husband was elected.  It's in black-and-white, her voice is very soft and low, with an out-of-date, posh, Eastern-seaboard upper-accent, and a smile in it...she says when she first went through the White House she was surprised, "because there was hardly anything of the past left in the house."

She felt the White House should be a meaningful symbol.  It should set an example with the "best" of everything -- the best musical entertainment, art, etc., and that America's history -- its past -- its proud past which begat the present -- should be represented and showcased.

The interviewer asks her something & her smiling, enthusiastic, brunette reply, "Just as long as it's the best" stays in your mind afterwards.

I took her point to be, With these accomplishments in the past to our credit and benefit, cannot we achieve positive things -- wonderful and inspiring things -- for America and mankind -- now, in the present?

During my sophomore year in college someone introduced me to the music of the Rolling Stones.  He talked to me about how the Stones learned blues music from American bluesmen -- Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, & many more -- and then evolved their "Stones" sound and songwriting-style from what they learned.

I had never heard of any of those blues guys.  (Hell I had BARELY heard of the Stones.)  But right away I was very interested in the idea that the music had a history -- the ideas for it CAME FROM someplace and you could trace it back -- it "tracked back" to something.  I don't know why the Idea of that seemed so incredibly important to me, but it just did.  It made my day.  It seemed like something exciting and inspiring -- like something valuable, to be treasured.

Now a scrillion years later I can read in Keith Richards' book,

"...What I found about the blues and music, tracing things back, was that nothing came from itself.  As great as it is, this is not just one lone stroke of genius.  This cat was listening to somebody and it's his variation on the theme.  And so you suddenly realize that everybody's connectd here."

...Yes!  Keith!  [jumping up and down]  My man I know what you're talking about isn't it fantastic??????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Thus inspired, we each responded in our own style.

Mr. Richards -- went out and founded the greatest rock and roll band in the world;

I -- well -- named one gray cat after Chess Records.

Can we (we -- Americans; we -- humans) look at our history, our past, our accomplishments and struggles, and use the knowledge (and appreciation) of our common history to create good things, and to be our best (and not our worst) today?  And in the future?

(Whenever something awful happens, or is perpetrated, and the "news" "reports" it, my upper lip curls in disgust and disappointment, and a little thought inside me says, "We are better than this.")

Keith Richards says in the book, when punk music was banging away at the Youth Popularity record-sales in the late 70s -- "the punk groups were -- spitting -- on the audience.  And come on -- we can do better than that."

We can do better than that.
"We can do bett-ah than that."
We are BETTER than this.
Jackie:  "Just as long as it's the best."

--------------- (When she and Senator John Kennedy were first married in the early fifties, they got a house in the Georgetown section of D.C. and it's said she decorated and re-decorated several times to get it right.  She was very sensitive to visual impact and must have been a story says Sen. Kennedy dashed down the stairs one day on his way out to Capitol Hill, and noticed his mother-in-law was there.  At the door he turned and looked around the room, assessing its current state, and asked quizzically, "Mrs. Auchincloss, do you think we're prisoners of beige?")


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

the cat was listening

"There were so many writers on that tour -- it had become like a political campaign in terms of coverage."  When I read this sentence written by Keith Richards in his autobiography, I think, "Huh -- 1) traveling with a rock concert tour and writing about it; 2) traveling with a ROLLING STONES tour -- and 3) it's similar to a political campaign -- (palms up) sounds - like - nirvana to me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the book Richards quotes journalist Stanley Booth -- ("our old friend Stanley Booth" -- Keith's "friends" with everyone) -- as having written, "I hoped for better things."  [Better things?!  BETTER THINGS????????  What's better than a Stones concert, unless it's a Stones TOUR??  And you're ON IT??!!!]  "The idealism of the 1969 tour" [whose idealism?  the band's, or the journalist's?] "had ended in disaster."  [Altamont]  "The cynicism of the 1972 tour included Truman Capote..."

Now hang on, sometimes these journalists are writing something because the sentences sound good -- just like the songwriters....

"The idealism of the 1969 tour...
The cynicism of the 1972 tour..."

Granted, each phrase balances the other -- in a rhythmic way -- but -- but -- but what-R-ya TALKIN' about?

And the "Mister President, Mister Immigration Man" story...
"The ambassador was one of Nixon's boys and he obviously had his orders and also he hated our guts....We had to listen to this guy's stream of venom.  'People like you...'"
Now -
1.  The Rolling Stones GOT their visas, at some point, & came into the U.S. in 1972, and played the concert tour -- (we know because Stanley Booth thought it wasn't enough - he "hoped for better things")
2.  Did President Nixon really have time to sit in his office and say, "We want to keep the Rolling Stones out!  No Satisfaction for you!  Mmmwah-ha-ha-ha-ha !!" ?

It's possible that anecdote boils down to standard "generation gap" stuff mixed in with timeless male rivalry - "Don't tell me you marked this territory, I can lift my leg too ya-know..."

Ten years earlier, in 1962...
[excerpt, Life, Chapter 3]---------- And that's where I first heard Robert Johnson, and came under Brian's tutorship and delved back into the blues with him.  I was astounded at what I heard.  It took guitar playing, songwriting, delivery, to a totally different height.  And at the same time it confused us, because it wasn't band music, it was one guy.  So how can we do this?

...What I found about the blues and music, tracing things back, was that nothing came from itself.  As great as it is, this is not one stroke of genius.  This cat was listening to somebody and it's his variation on the theme.  And so you suddenly realize that everybody's connected here. ------------------------- [end excerpt]

= = = = = = = = = = =

Now, that's my kind of idealism.

{Life, by Keith Richards with James Fox.  Copyright 2010.  Back Bay Books.}


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the magic that's going down

"Bold Moves"

In his autobiography, Life, Keith Richards wrote, of the Exile on Main Street album, "The fact that we stuck to it, saying...if it takes two albums that's what we're going to do -- was a bold move, and totally against all business advice.

...And anyway, if you don't make bold moves, you don't get...anywhere. You've got to push the limits."


Bold moves

When I read that, thought -- where have I recently heard someone else talking about "bold moves"?  In the Oliver Stone film Nixon, Anthony Hopkins' President Nixon uses that phrase -- several times I think.  "You've got to make bold moves...!"

I don't know if I think in terms of "bold moves" very often.  Maybe that's a "man-thing."  Or maybe it's the imaginative expression-of-ambition by a public-type of person -- Keith Richards and Richard Nixon might seem different, not the same -- but they aren't so different from one another.  Both politicians and rock songwriters / musicians speak to the public at large.  They are public figures.  And -- evidently, making "bold moves" is one of their frames-of-reference.

[excerpts from Life, by Keith Richards; the two song-inserts (from "Rip This Joint"-Exile on Main Street, 1972), are added by this blog]----------------...When I came back to Jamaica at the end of 1972...the place was blooming.  In Kingston the town was rife with an exotic form of energy....

We were all shacked up at the Terra Nova Hotel....Neither Mick nor I could get visas to the United States at that moment, which partly explains why we were in Jamaica.
("Mister President, Mister Immigration Man,
Let me in, sweetie, to your fair land...")
We went to the American embassy in Kingston.

The ambassador was one of Nixon's boys and he obviously had his orders and also he hated our guts.  And we were just trying to get a visa. 

The minute we walked in, we knew that we weren't going to get it but, even so, we had to listen to this guy's stream of venom.  "People like you..."  We got a lecture.
("Dick and Pat in old D.C.,
Well they're gona hold some sh-t for me...")

Chapter Nine.  We embark on the [American] tour of 1972....We never missed a show, though we came near it.  The guy that opened for us, in almost every city, was Stevie Wonder, and he was barely twenty-two....

Better to hear an impression from another resident writer, Robert Greenfield.  There were so many writers on that tour -- it had become like a political campaign in terms of coverage. 

Our old friend Stanley Booth ["I hoped for better things.  The idealism of the 1969 tour had ended in disaster.  The cynicism of the 1972 tour included Truman Capote...."] retired, disgusted by the new mob of socialites and famous authors who had diluted the once pure patch....But we played on.

Robert Greenfield:
In Norfolk and Charlotte and Knoxville, the set seems to fly from beginning to end, the musicians completely locked into one another and on time, like a championship team in its finest, most fluid moments.  But only people who listen, like Ian Stewart, and the Stones themselves and their supporting musicians, are aware of the magic that's going down.  Everyone else is either worrying about logistics or trying to find a way to get out...

{Life, written by Keith Richards with James Fox.  Copyright 2010.  Back Bay Books.}


Monday, March 3, 2014

a kind of majesty

Exile on Main Street  1972

[excerpt:  Life, by Keith Richards]-------------- What we brought to LA from France was only the raw material for Exile, the real bare bones, no overdubs.  On almost each song we'd said, we've got to put a chorus on here, we've got to put some chicks in there, we need extra percussion on that.  We were already planning ahead without noting it down....

For four or five months in LA in early 1972, we mixed and overdubbed Exile on Main St.  I remember sitting in the parking lot of Tower Records or Gold Star Studios, or driving up and down Sunset, listening at precisely the moment when our favorite DJ was teed up to play an unreleased track, so that we could judge the mix.  How did it sound on radio?  Was it a single?

We did it with "Tumbling Dice," "All Down the Line" and many others, called up a DJ at KRLA and sent him a dub.  Fingers burning from the last cut and we'd just take the car out and listen to it.  Wolfman Jack or one of several other DJs in LA would put it on, and we'd have a guy standing over him to take it back again.

Exile on Main St. had a slow start.  It was the kiss of death to make double albums, according to the lore of record companies and their anxieties about pricing and distribution and all that.  The fact that we stuck to it, saying, look, that's what it is, that's what we've done here, and if it takes two albums, that's what we're going to do, was a bold move, and totally against all business advice.

At first it seemed that they'd been proven right.  But then it just kept going and going and getting bigger and bigger, and it always had incredible reviews.  And anyway, if you don't make bold moves, you don't get f---ing anywhere.  You've got to push the limits.  We felt we'd been sent down to France to do something and we'd done it, and they might as well have it all.  -------------------- [end excerpt]

[from Rolling Stone magazine review of Exile]----------- ...[Mick Jagger's] performances here are among the finest he's graced us with in a long time, a virtual drama which amply proves to me that there's no other vocalist who can touch him, note for garbled note.

As for Keith, Bill and Mick T., their presence comes off as subdued, never overly apparent until you put your head between the speakers....

...It's left to "Tumbling Dice" to not just place a cherry on the first side, but to also provide one of the album's only real moves towards a classic....The song builds to the kind of majesty the Stones at their best have always provided. ...

May 12, 1972
-- Lenny Kaye