Friday, December 31, 2010

Back to the 50's

I'd like to spend a little time talking about the 50's and the birth of Rock and Roll. In my opinion two things changed the black and white divide for us kids of the 50's, at least the boys, baseball and music. In those days, children were only "to speak when spoken to". So, many a night I would spend listening to my parents talking with the neighbors. One night, the topic was blacks in baseball. I can't remember the conversation or if it was about Jacky Robinson, or what. What I do remember is what I thought. I thought, "what are they talking about?" Why shouldn't Elston Howard be playing. He was great and an important contribution to my Yankees. My father loved the Giants and my best friend Billy was a Dodger fan. Personally, I never understood any of that. Why root for a loser when the Yankees won every year. Back to black and white. The other thing that was instrumental in helping to break the back on racism was music. Who didn't love Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave, The Isley Brothers, Smokey, Little Anthony, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes (whom you could call night or day at Beachwood 4-5789). And, Ike and Tina, and The Temptations and The Four Tops. Although, to be accurate, many of these groups were the early 60's. To be specific, Motown wasn't even created until 1960.

I wasn't allowed to hang anything from my room as a kid, but many of my friends had their bedrooms adorned with those great groups. We certainly didn't care about their skin colour. Although, I must admit, sleeping with a picture of James Brown on your wall is definitely creepy.

A few years back, Susy and I went to Memphis for a long weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday. Memphis has a few fascinating things to see. Of course, there's Elvis' home. But, Memphis is also the birth of not only Sun Records (Elvis, Johnny Cash), but Stax Records (Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MG's). Further, as the location of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Memphis is also the home of a non-violent revolution museum, mostly dedicated to MLK, and with the basement level devoted to Mahatma Gandhi. There have been few experiences that have moved me as much as that museum and the memories it brought back.

The song Walking in Memphis written by Marc Cohen was re-released in the '90's by Cher and really defines the feel of Memphis in those spectacular lyrics:

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy -- won't you look down over me
Yeah I got a first class ticket
But I'm as blue as a boy can be

Then I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered 'round his tomb
But there's a pretty little thing
Waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room

They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer
But boy you've got a prayer in Memphis

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would --
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said --
"Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said "Ma'am I am tonight"

Cher, when she recorded it, changed the verse from Muriel asking "Tell me are you a Christian child to Gabriel asking the question, and the answer from "Ma'am I am tonight" to "Man, I am tonight". Great lyrics, great town, perhaps the cross roads of rock and roll and rhythm and blues.

Van Morrison, Moondance

Where to Start: Van Morrison of course

I've been giving a lot of thought as to where to start. Is this something that should be chronological, in which case, we're going to start with Smokey and Little Anthony and the wall of sound and the Righteous Brothers (technically part of the wall of sound? or at least Phil Spector music). Or, should I began with my favourites. I think I'll start with the favourites since I was in Loblaw's today and heard Van Morrison on the musak (yikes).
So, let's begin with Van the Man.
My first real stereo system was purchased at a fancy stereo store in Pittsburgh when I was already in graduate school. Before then, I always had roommates with quality sound systems. The store had a listening room where you could bring a record and they would let you hear the record coming out of various speakers. The record I brought to listen to was Van Morrison's Moondance. According to wikipedia, Moondance is dated as a 1970 album. Strange since I remember stereo shopping shortly after Apollo 11 landed the three astronauts on the moon. It still makes me happy to hear Van singing. It brings back the best of times memories for me. For years, I would play Moondance every time Susy and I got in the car. So much so, that she can't listen to it anymore, but, to quote Zal Yanovsky, the Canadian member of the Lovin' Spoonful, "BUT I WILL" (lyric from Nashville Cats, although I think he was talking about Nashville music, not Van Morrison).
But for a moment, I want to talk about the Apollo space program. In the 60's and early 70's, I, and many of my peers were deeply angry at our society. We protested our government's involvement in Vietnam and we marched with Dr. King to try and bring equality to our nation. At that time, it was us against them. Remember the slogan, "You can't trust anyone over 30", or was it 35? Yet, in the midst of that was this wonderful organization and commitment to landing a man on the moon. Those were interesting times. We resented our government for many things, and yet, at the same time, we knew in our hearts that we could change those things, and make them better. Perhaps one reason why we were so optimistic was the moon program. I remember David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and sometimes Neil Young) being interviewed at the Woodstock '94 Festival commenting that the difference between the youth of the 60's and the youth of the 90's is the optimism. We were sure we could change the world, I'm not sure that the youth of today are that sure.
Back to Van. I loved Moondance, Astral Weeks (which although recorded and release before Moondance did not receive much attention until after Moondance), His Band and Street Choir, and to a lesser extent, Tupelo Honey (although it was a great single). Then, I lost touch with Van, and got busy with kids and the music of Raffi and Sharon, Lois and Bram, etc.
In 1987, Van released Poetic Champions Compose, and I was back into Van Morrison.
Van, you the man!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Music of My Life

I'm reactivating my blog.

As always, the week between Christmas and New Years' is so quiet that I get the chance to catch up on lots of personal things. So, the first thing I caught up with was my music. Low and behold, Elton John and Leon Russell have collaborated on a new album, and perhaps even more exciting, (I'll let you know when I listen), Carlos Santana has come out with an album called Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time. And, Joe Cocker and Carlos are covering Hendrix. I heard Carlos cover Hendrix when he played Canada's Wonderland in the mid 1990's, before his popularity rebirth. He was absolutely FANTASTIC, of course, and his Hendrix covers were also absolutely fantastic. I have been looking for some of these recordings ever since the mp3 music revolution.

So, why am I saying this. Because, I think I'm going to blog for a while on The Music of My Life.