It's as good as ever
He sounds best on vinyl, even with a scratch or two, accentuating the throb in his voice, the emotion in his heart. It’s good to accumulate a few dings over time.
I went right to the vinyl on Monday when I heard Richie Havens passed at 72.
He once made an album called Mixed Bag that (with all due respect to Dylan, to Joplin, to Cash, to Motown, to The Band) says everything about America in the late ‘60’s. Or maybe now. I think young people should know his work.
Mixed Bag was the album of the age, not just because Havens became famous for holding the fort at Woodstock until reinforcements arrived. That was in August of 1969 when it was beginning to seem possible that we -- the ubiquitous we – might be making some points about the war and injustice. But in 1967, when he made Mixed Bag, things were pretty bleak.
He caught the poignancy of Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and he carried the torch big time on San Francisco Bay Blues.
But check out the song Handsome Johnny
, written with Louis Gossett.
Havens mentions Handsome Johnny, marching off to one battle or another: Gettysburg, Dunkirk, Korea and Vietnam and then he adds Birmingham, which is pertinent since he came from Bed-Stuy back in the day. Then he blurts: Hey, what's the use of singing this song
Some of you are not even listening
I say, in the spirit of Richie Havens, in homage to the ‘60’s, give a call to some of those senators who ignore the 90 per cent of this country on the gun vote, and give Handsome Johnny one more play over the phone.
Richie Havens gave the title to Pete Fornatale’s marvelously eclectic radio show on WFUV
, still ongoing, but Pete left us a year ago, and now Richie Havens is gone, too. I can only imagine what Don McGee will play in his Havens tribute on Saturday.
I heard the news from Christine Lavin
, that talented and caring staple of the New York folk community, who wrote:
“I played at many Canadian festivals when Richie was one of the headliners -- backstage he was always very modest and humble, always interested in meeting the other musicians and watching others' sets. He's one of those musicians (and there's not a lot of 'em) who you know exactly who he is from the first strum of the guitar or the first words out of his mouth. Very rare.
“It was always a hoot to watch him do that crazy signature 'kick' of his as he finished his sets. His taste was very broad -- I love what he did with Ervin Drake's It Was A Very Good Year, and the Beatles' In My Life, Eleanor Rigby, and With A Little Help From My Friends -- and his Dylan covers went a long way toward cementing Bob Dylan's reputation as the premiere songwriter of his generation.”
Sat next to Richie Havens in a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks on Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street a decade or two back. He had sheet music with his name hand-written across the top. That’s how I knew who it was, since I never saw him perform. I could not bring myself to say, “Hey, man, I love your work,” because….well, he was enjoying his coffee and glancing at the music sheets, and why disturb an artist in his repose. But, hey, man….
Slid Under a Motel Door. Still Playing.
How refreshing, in the dark of winter with snow on the ground, to see all that young talent at the Grammies.
My wife and I laughed at the great commercials, geared to a younger audience – not the remedies for old-age ailments we see on MSNBC. Different crowd. Guess the kids on the Grammies don’t have achy knees yet.
I’ve lost all touch with current pop music – got enough Satie and Marley and McGarrigles stocked up to last my lifetime – but the performers were so accessible, so good, so attractive, that we watched right through to the tribute to performers who died in the past year.
I knew about Dave Brubeck and Levon Helm. But there was a shock when I saw the name Mike Auldridge.
It brought me back to the fall of 1972, when I was covering the award ceremony of the County Music Association in Nashville. (Had an interview with Loretta Lynn coming up.) I was staying in some chain motel east of I-65, and overnight some zealous promoter slid a couple of vinyl 33 1/3 albums right under my door.
One of them was Old Train by a sensational fusion bluegrass group called the Seldom Scene. Another album was Mike Auldridge – Dobro. I never turn down anything free, so I stuck them in my luggage and played them when I got home. And I still play them today, particularly because of the dobro of Mike Auldridge
on both albums, so thoughtful, spare, clear.
The best track on Dobro is Rolling Fog, credited to Paul Craft and sung by Auldridge, who apparently did not do many solos. His mellow baritone is timeless -- as good as men like to think they sing in the shower. Find a place to creep in, underneath my door, Whisper to me, while I’m sleeping, Make yourself at home.
Knowing that the Seldom Scene was based in Alexandria, Va., I always figured I'd be in DC and notice they were playing in some club, but it never happened. I did interview John Duffey and Dr. John Starling, a surgeon and soloist, on the phone for the Times before their gigs in the New York area, but I never caught them. Why?
I’ve been singing along with the Seldom Scene for a long time, courtesy of my turntable that fascinates my grandchildren no end. I missed the obituary for Mike Auldridge
in the Times on Dec. 31 but vinyl is coming back, and I just played Rolling Fog on a damp gray Monday morning.
Thanks to the Grammies for letting me know about Mike Auldridge.
Mike Auldridge, 1938-2012, Dobro Album.
Like a comet on one of her science-oriented songs, Christine Lavin is subbing for John Platt
on Sunday, 23 September, on WFUV-FM, 90.7, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
John is a treat every Sunday. Chris doesn't fly this way as much now that she is living upstate.
Yes, she will do a section about Pete Fornatale, who starred as the Male Foil on her guest rendition of Sensitive New Age Guys years ago.
The only drawback is that Chris doesn't seem to plan any Christine Lavin songs. That can't be right, can it? I said I would boycott unless she does Yonder Blue
. But really, she should do something.
Over the weekend, I drove 14 hours around New Jersey and Pennsylvania and was reminded of the skill and courtesy of most long-distance truckers.
Piloting 80,000 pounds of mobile weight
at high speed, the vast majority of truckers are better than any other category of driver.
I used to make long hauls in my car when we had places in Kentucky or Florida, and I learned to rely on truck drivers, particularly at night when traffic thinned out and we all could make time, legally, of course.
This past weekend I was reintroduced to that reassuring sequence of giving the truckers plenty of room to pass me, or merge in front of me. I would flick my bright lights a couple of times and they would ease that behemoth in front of me, and when that bulk settled into place, they would tap their brakes once or twice, producing the ritual blink that says thank-you. .
Many years ago, traffic was held up on Interstate 4 outside Orlando. When we got to the point of obstruction, a truck had jackknifed and turned over, strewing stuff all over the road. I doubt the driver survived. I made up my mind I would make sure all those trucks had room to ease carefully into the lane they needed.
Sure, once in a while some cowboy with white-line fever barrels too fast, tailgating or changing lanes without signals. He needs to get off the road and into a rest stop.
But most of them are really good – better than the yuppies trying to control a van with one hand while babbling into a cell phone, better than kids veering from lane to lane, better than seniors lumbering along in campers.
For decades, I put in so many miles for work and family that I came to relate to truckers. Years ago I bought a cassette at a rest stop north of Richmond, Virginia – Best of Road Music, Volume II, great stuff from Bill Monroe, Hoyt Axton, Red Sovine, Jerry Jeff Walker. One very sweet song is Blue Highway, by John Conlee
, about a trucker who reassures his wife that his night-life is non-existent as he roams America “in this whining time machine.”
I want that trucker to get home safely. I want all of us to get home safely, when I am driving at midnight, and some trucker I will never meet gives me the tap-tap flicker of his brake lights.
(Nice truck video below)
In the Studio/Photo Courtesy of WFUV-FM
He arrived out of the ozone in the very late ‘60’s, a voice straight off the Fordham campus. On WNEW-FM, a station with its share of edgy types, he came off as much more than sophomoric but not yet a grad student – a perpetual junior, who was starting to get it. That is a compliment.
Pete Fornatale maintained that mix of wonder and knowledge as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough. He died Thursday at the age of 66.
He was a friend. We lived about a mile apart in Port Washington for decades, and took long walks around the old sand mines on Hempstead Harbor. We talked about serious issues as we walked – spiritual things, political things. He was deeply affected by 9/11 – talked about it on the air at WFUV-FM, his first and final station.
He didn’t seem much interested in talking sports, thank goodness, which gave me the leverage to ask him about his music contacts.
There were perks to being a friend of Pete’s.
He introduced us to our heroes, Anna and Kate McGarrigle
, in some Village basement dressing room, right after a show.
We sat with him when he emceed a benefit brunch at the Lone Star, when Richard Manuel and Rick Danko were about to go back on the road. Check out the High on the Hog album. Richard sings She Knows
in that sweet falsetto, and at the end Pete and Richard salute each other. Now all three of them are gone, and so is Levon
Pete and I took our sons to a Grateful Dead concert at the Nassau Coliseum.
He introduced me to John Platt, his Long Island buddy, now a Sunday-morning presence on WFUV.
And one night in a club on the South Shore of Long Island, he introduced us to Christine Lavin, his friend,
now my friend. Chris once performed Sensitive New Age Guys live on Pete’s Mixed Bag show – using Pete as the male foil. That night in the club, she called out both of us to sing backup. She’s currently on the road, working on a tribute to Pete that will be played sometime over the weekend on XM radio and also on WFUV-FM on Saturday. We are all in shock.
But the best part was the music, the thematic shows, where Pete could find four or five songs that belonged together. (Doug Martin’s obit
in the New York Times on Friday does a great job explaining Pete’s technique. )
I hope this doesn’t get Pete in trouble with the authorities – what can they do to him now? – but he used to make copies (cassettes, which dates me) of his best thematic shows. I play them on my walks.
One show was Ladies Love the Beatles, amazing arrangements of old favorites.
Another show was about aviation, with a sensational version of Tree Top Flyer
by Stephen Stills. Afterward, Pete admits, with that heh-heh laugh of his, that the song just might have been about an illegal pursuit.
Another cassette was about the Sunday papers, all those sections, including the so-called funnies, with Adam Carroll’s song urging Dagwood to take Blondie up on the roof for a glimpse of the sky. That one certainly puts some zip in the step.
Pete was still growing, still learning, still thinking, still talking. My deepest condolences to his family. I’ll miss the walks but I’ve got the cassettes.
When I was writing about Levon Helm
of The Band before his death on Thursday, I referred to the commonality of American and Canadian culture, pertaining to pop music.
I was not saying it all sounds alike, but that modern technology and communications have exposed all of us to various strains of music that we know and love.
The Band produced a new blend of rock, folk and country from all over the continent. Levon, bless his heart, brought Arkansas north of the 38th Parallel.
When the soul singer pictured above delivered the first note of Let’s Stay Together – the first high note! -- everybody knew he was doing Al Green. Of course, it was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and “The Rev” was in the audience, and President Obama quickly made a Sandman joke (Sandman Sims, a noted tap-dancer, used to give performers the hook
when the Apollo audience had enough.)
Not everybody watching the President got the Sandman reference, but who didn’t recognize Let’s Stay Together? It’s in the culture.
I’m an official Old Guy, and my iPod has Brazilian music
, Latino Music, the Chieftains, Anna and Kate McGarrigle with Quebec accordions, Joe Williams at Newport, Lucinda Williams, Thomas Hampson singing Stephen Foster. Not one culture, but so many cultures, all out there in our ozone. When the American President can do Al Green, we are getting somewhere.
Response to Thoughtful Reader Brian – II
The other day I mentioned a double Yankee connection
to Stan Musial
. This was before I gave a talk about my Musial biography
, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a lovely building on the Grand Concourse.
Brian asked: just what were those connections? Well, in 1938, when Musial was already signed by Branch Rickey’s vast Cardinal farm system, he told a scout from his home-region Pittsburgh Pirates that the Yankee empire was showing an interest in him.
Apparently an un-named Yankee “bird dog” had spoken to him, according to a Musial friend who was trying to get the Pirates interested in the local boy. But the Pirates couldn’t touch Musial because he was under contract, and the Cardinals quickly sent him to his first minor-league post in West Virginia, as a wild lefty pitcher.
The other Yankee connection? When Musial slumped in 1959 and manager Solly Hemus saw fit to bench him, the Sporting News ran a copyright story that the Cardinals might trade Musial to the Yankees for St. Louis home-boy Yogi Berra. Musial said it was ridiculous, nothing to it. He had already blown away a proposed trade for Robin Roberts a few years earlier.
The question is: how would Musial have done as a Yankee, either at the start of his career or at the end? Perhaps he would have gotten lost as a wild young lefty pitcher, and never gotten a chance to show his hitting ability. He only got to play the outfield regularly in the Cardinal chain after blowing out his pitching shoulder while making a diving catch in center field.
Years later, the Yankees found a position for a shortstop named Mantle, and they found ways for Berra and Howard to co-exist. My guess is the Yankees – or any club – would have discovered the kid could hit and they could have used him in left field or at first base, just as the Cardinals did.
In 1960, the Pirates turned down a chance to get Musial for their pennant drive. Could his bat have helped either the Yankees or the Pirates in that wild World Series?
Oh, yes, Musial visited Yankee Stadium in his first two World Series in 1942 and 1943 and he hit his last all-star homer in 1960 in Yankee Stadium.
Those are his Bronx connections. With impeccable good sense, Musial managed to spend the last 70 years in a grand baseball city that loves and appreciates him. He did fine.
Levon Helm and Sissy Spacek, Midnight Special, April 1980
They played music from deep in the collective continental soul. Four Canadians and a drummer from Arkansas.
First time I saw Levon Helm was backstage at the Garden during the Dylan tour in ’74. Somebody had placed a backboard outside The Band’s dressing room, and he was messing around with the ball, between shows. Wish I had said hello, but I was spying on Dylan’s sound check, so I kept moving.
Now his family says he is dying of cancer.
My favorite song from Levon is Ophelia because it is so….so…southern.
Boards on the window/Mail by the door….
Reminds me of funky neighborhoods in the south, where people come and go.
Although what could be more southern than Levon’s buzz-saw rasp on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?
Only met him once. He played Loretta Lynn’s father, Ted Webb, in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. I had written the book for Loretta, and the movie people graciously invited me to the openings in Nashville and Louisville.
I was afraid the movie-makers might commit a Beverly Hillbillies version about a part of the world I love. But as soon as I saw Levon as the slender, bashful miner, I knew the movie was going to be respectful.
The second night, there was a party at the hotel, with Loretta and Sissy Spacek jamming together. Sissy could crack up Loretta by imitating her voice and her down-home bended-knee gestures.
Levon was singing backup. It was the women’s show.
During a break in the music, my wife sidled up to Levon and told him how good he was in the movie, and then she added, “You can sing, too.”
He might have had a bit to drink, but not enough that he couldn’t detect the compliment.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
“He was so cute,” she recalled on Tuesday, when we heard the awful news.
The Actual Chavez Ravine
The album is in the top ten in my iPod.
It is about baseball and it is about business.
But mostly it is terrific music.
In Sunday’s New York Times, I do a riff
on the possible bicoastal curses that may or may not be attached to the Dodgers of Chavez Ravine. I use a few quotes from Ry Cooder
, the legendary guitarist who produced the 2005 album, Chávez Ravine
Cooder had more to say in a series of e-mails, but because my column also deals with the 25th anniversary of the career self-destruction of my late friend Al Campanis, I didn’t have space to rave about Cooder’s album, which was nominated for a Grammy after it came out.
Just turned 65, Cooder is perhaps best known for the music in Buena Vista Social Club
, the movie by Wim Wenders. Out of LA,, he’s been involved in just about everything from the Rolling Stones to ethnic music since the 1960’s.
The Chávez Ravine album hits hard at the machinations that put the peripatetic Dodgers, former of Flatbush, Brooklyn, on a hillside overlooking LA. It incorporates sounds in Cooder’s head, and real news events and life in the mostly Latino village up on the hill, and it also contains a few artistic liberties.
But mostly it features East LA musicians like Lalo Guerrero
boogie king Don Tosti
, Thee Midniters
front man Little Willie G, and Ersi Arvizu, of The Sisters and El Chicano
Cooder depicts a sweet village life (Poor Man’s Shangri-La) interrupted by the greed of downtown, backed up by the anti-Communist furies of the 1950’s.
Of course, nothing like that could happen today.
“Myself, i don't like sports and i hate the developers and what they do, as i'm sure you know. i like old trees, little wooden houses, tiny winding streets, and the rural feel of elysian park and the ravine and bunker hill and all the beautiful places that are gone forever. i hate growth, i hate change. LA is ruined, cities are ruined, culture is quite ruined. now we have legal lynching back again,” Cooder e-mailed to me, the latter presumably a reference to Trayvon Martin.
Actually, he said, he liked boxing back in the day. He has a song “Corrido de Boxeo,” showing the sport as a staple of Latino life back in the ‘50’s, but in the album that world is disrupted after developers cut their deals.
He has a sweet-to-cynical song about a man who dreams about paving over the Los Angeles basin, with the phrase “It’s my town!” Cooder was amused a few years back when a Dodgers advertising campaign proclaimed, “It’s My Town.”
“Funny! I make no claim,” Cooder wrote the other day.
The developers send bulldozers up on the hill. (a driver sings: “It’s Just Work for Me”) and the people depart to the mournful strains of “Barrio Viejo” – old neighborhood.
Despite his instincts against big business and big sport, Cooder does leave the album with a sense of reconciliation in “Third Base, Dodger Stadium,”
with a parking-lot attendant singing about the new ball park: Second base, right over there, I see Grandma in her rocking chair, Watching linens flapping in the breeze,
And all the fellows choosing up their teams.
Somehow, the singer decides, “Yes, I’m a baseball man myself.” And the CD ends with a Costa Rican poem, mysteriously found inscribed on a wooden plank in a rain forest, transformed into a hymn, “Soy Luz y Sombra”
(I Am the Light and the Shade) which talks about hope and reunion. One English translation includes this stanza: Fertile home of old trees
Of tender flowers, newborn
With ancient roots and future hopes
The united family
The old goat pasture remains a symbol of the world that was evicted to make room for the Dodgers. An artist named Vincent Valdez has made a graphic version of that time. In my column, I raise the prospect of some left-coast curse waiting decades to smite the Dodgers. For all that, listening to the last two songs on Chávez Ravine around opening day made me ready for a new season.
Why Is This Man Smilling?
I always figured Mooney Lynn was the luckiest man in the world.
I loved Mooney. When I was helping Loretta Lynn write her book, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Mooney would put his pistol down on the table and never fuss when I asked about his indiscretions. He also held the family and the business together while Loretta was out on the road, and it was easy to see why she loved him so much.
Mooney was stumpy and weather-beaten, but in the movie he got to be portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, a handsome football player from Harvard. For millions of people who have seen the movie, that is their lasting image of Mooney Lynn – a college lineman who could move pretty fast. How cool was that?
I was thinking about Mooney last Saturday night while watching the HBO production, Game Change, about the Hail-Mary pass the McCain campaign heaved in 2008 when it brought in Sarah Palin to run for vice president.
Palin lucked out, just like Mooney. She will never escape the hilarious impersonation by the inimitable Tina Fey, but for the two-hour television movie Palin was played by Julianne Moore, who did wonders for her.
Moore did not try to serve up Palin’s dance-hall-queen strut or smirk, but rather gave her character a minimal gravitas never before detected by my personal seismograph. For the two-hour haul, Moore (and the writers and director) gave Palin a tinge of fear that she might be bombing in public, the slightest bit of awareness that maybe she should know some of those things people were prattling about.
I almost felt sorry for her – well, at least until some television commentator would note that she could be one cardiac event from the presidency. Then it all came back to me.
John McCain did not come off as well. He’s been lurching around in a coma since politely scolding that bigoted woman in the red dress in 2008, but he’s still more appealing than Ed Harris’ bland character in the movie. Woody Harrelson stole the show as campaign maestro Steve Schmidt, who is currently performing community service as commentator on MSNBC, discussing the current lot.
Of course, none of the spinmeisters in 2008 had a chance what with that smart, handsome, confident figure making speeches before huge crowds in Berlin or Washington. Where did the movie-makers find that guy? He’s a natural.
And that made me wonder:
When HBO decides to make a movie about Grumpy, Sleazy, Dopey and Starchy, the last four standing, who will play them?
Clearly Rick Santorum will be played by another simplistic type. (See below.)
Mitt Romney could be portrayed by his own wax statue from Madame Tussaud’s – an upgrade in personality, if you ask me.Ooops: This just in, from Ry Cooder, one of the artists behind Buena Vista Social Club and Chavez Ravine. It's called The Mutt Romney Blues
Ron Paul could be fun if Jerry Stiller could tear himself away from all those runway models in his current commercials.
But Newt Gingrich? A few decades ago, Mickey Rooney could have impersonated Newt’s pretentious bluster but I’m guessing somebody more courant could serve up Newt as he cajoles people into donating to his dubious cause.
That inevitable movie has to be more enjoyable than this long and silly season.
Your nominations for the leading roles are welcome.
Who plays Bachmann? Who plays Cain? Who plays Newt?
Look for a brief comeback by this guy when the 2012 movie gets made.
Berkeley Square Photo by Hassan of Yorkshire
Even while I’m typing something else, I can hear the electronic ping of the messages, over the transom.
My friends and family post songs and photos, poems and videos. We all know the blessing of having friends in Brazil and Japan, Canada and Mexico.
It’s so easy these days.
My new email friend, Hassan in Yorkshire, writes about soccer and justice and music. There’s a common thread, I am sure.
The other day he sent me a photo from visiting London in snow. I’ve been to London, what, 50 times and have never seen snow. But there it was, Berkeley Square. My wife and I have walked uphill through that square at night, usually around 10:30, after the National Theatre, and we were tired and happy. But never in snow.
Hassan knows I consider Nina Simone one of the great masters. He found a video of her signature piano -- you always know it’s Simone, before she even sings a note. Somehow, she makes bells peal in a riff from Good King Wenceslas before drifting into Little Girl Blue.
In this amazing new electronic age, a gift from Yorkshire,