Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Led Zeppelin, Durability & the Blues

I’ve been getting a bunch of You Tube clips sent to me from Monday’s Led Zeppelin show in London. The clips look and sound very good; someone used the word “dignified” to describe the band onstage, and that word certainly has come to mind as I’ve watched. They sound tight and strong, command intact. And to their credit, they’re not hiding their age. Jimmy Page’s hair is silver-white and Robert Plant has a bit of a paunch; they’re not Gods anymore, but very mortal men who are happy to show it.

It’s incredible to me how popular Zeppelin has remained and how they’ve penetrated each successive generation of rock fans. Their music, twenty-eight years after their last studio album, has aged incredibly well, retaining both it’s power and modernity; it’s no wonder that they continue to appeal to new generations of fans. And I believe that appeal is due to their music’s roots in American blues and black music, music that continues to resonate, even if it has long since fallen out of fashion. It’s fitting then that the most anticipated rock reunion in years occurred at an event honoring Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, a man who believed that southern American black music was the foundation of all of American musical culture. Rock was built on that tradition and punk was the breaking point from it – and while it was a thrilling break, it’s telling that there isn’t one punk band that has had the staying power of the blues based British artists from the 60’s and 70’s.

It was interesting was talking to a couple of friends who were there and who work in the music business; “inspiring” was the word both of them used to describe the show. I asked them why and each of them said it was a treat to see the real thing.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bootleg Friday (Finally!): Little Feat, 1973

Something in my life has not been right lately. And I've been looking and searching, trying to figure out what it is. And I finally got it - there's been no Bootleg Friday in the past few weeks!

To get back in the game, here are some selections from a Little Feat show in 1973 that was taped for the radio. It's been years since I listened to them, but when I put these tracks on, that heady rush of good time New Orleans came back immediately. Enjoy 'em!

Download: "A Political Blues" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY
Download: "Got No Shadow" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY
Download: "Willin" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY
Download: "Two Trains" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY
Download: "Fat Man In The Bathtub" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY
Download: "Dixie Chicken" 3/14/73, Hempstead, NY

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Grammy Awards Bullshit Part 2174

One Monday night in February of 1985 I was watching the Grammy Awards at home. I was up past my bedtime, but I couldn't go to sleep without finding who won the Album of the Year award. It was Born In The U.S.A. versus Purple Rain, with Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down in the mix, along with two other albums I don't remember. I was rooting hard for Bruce, but I told myself that if Prince won, it'd be well deserved - Purple Rain was great and how could I argue if it won? But I knew it'd be either one of those two.

"And the winner is...Lionel Richie for Can't Slow Down!"

I exploded. I threw something at the TV, and started yelling and cursing at the screen, disgusted that Lionel Richie, who in my view was vapid and bland, could beat Springsteen and Prince. Where was the justice? Were these voters stupid or something? (I woke up my Dad with my commotion, who groggily and forcefully inquired as to what the hell was going on.)

That was my introduction to the wisdom of the Grammy Awards.

Today I'm reminded of that night almost 23 years ago, as Springsteen's Magic, easily one of the best albums of the year, was looked over for Album of the Year honors. Instead, we have nods going to Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock and the Foo Fighers. I personally have no issue with the Kanye and Amy nominations; I was expecting those. And I honestly haven't heard the Vince Gill or Herbie Hancock albums. But the Foo Fighters album? Are you kidding me? I like Dave Grohl and all, but if there's been a more harmless body of work in the last 10 plus years, I'd be hard pressed to name it.

Here's the question. Why do I even care? Why is it important to me that a great work be recognized as such? Everyone knows the Grammy Awards are meaningless, right? Remember, this is the awards body that gave Jethro Tull a Best Metal award instead of Metallica in '89. Best New Artist to Milli Vanilli. Etc., etc.

So why do I care? I guess the first reason is because I love Magic and want Bruce to finally win an Album Of The Year award, just like I wanted Marty Scorcese to win a Best Director Oscar and was thrilled when he did. But even more that that, I suppose that I want great work to be recognized as great work. I was happy when Dylan's Time Out Of Mind and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won the best album Grammy because for a moment, it felt like there was a little justice in the world. I know I'm making more of this than I need to - there are few things more meaningless than the Grammy Awards, but I can't help but feel like this is the bullshit icing on top of a very bad cake.

PS: The Arcade Fire should have gotten a Best Album Nomination too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blue Monday

I just finished reading Rick Coleman’s wonderful bio about Fats Domino, “Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock N’ Roll.” It’s one of the best music books I’ve read in years. It is exhaustive in its scope about Domino and post WWII New Orleans R&B, but more than anything, it is a book that sets the record straight.

If Elvis’ legacy as has been called into question by a strain of "cultural critic" that (foolishly) calls what he did cultural appropriation (i.e., ripping off blacks), then Fats Domino contribution to rock and r&b has often been left out of the story. This borders on travesty, as Domino was making music that could easily be identified as rock n’ roll five plus years before Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis ever set foot in a recording studio. My guess is that it’s due to Domino’s non-threatening image; we like our rockers to be overtly rebellious and sexy. Perhaps it’s due to him being a piano based rocker in a genre where the guitar became the main instrument. But however it went down, Domino, despite being a key influence on Elvis, the Beatles, countless others, selling over 100 million records and being an artist who truly shook the walls of segregation (one of the most fascinating threads of the book) has never seemed to get the full extent of the recognition that he deserves.

If the information revolution that we’re experiencing today creates micro-niches of fans interested in one thing, then the revolution began by Fats Domino and his generation of r&b and rock n’ roll musicians did something completely different; it brought vast groups of people together for the first time, often times in direct violation of the law (segregation). It may seem like a small thing now, but when you read “Blue Monday,” you understand both the enormity of the accomplishment (and the price paid for it) and how it altered the history of America forever.

This is required reading.

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