Sunday, May 17, 2020

Eternally Ripping It Up--Whoooo!

For those of us who think we are perennial rock n’ rollers, it is hard to believe that Little Richard, an energetic extension of Richard Wayne Penniman could become 87, let alone that he could die.
His youth seemed eternal, his infinite energy and spirit fueled by multiple generations, genders, and races seemed like it never could run out—It seemed infinite and endless. He was the wild and raw youth in all of us, a bolt of lightning that blazed a fire across the musical sky and a raucous product of the pin-stripped, cold-war driven, post-war 50s that tried to keep a safe and secure cover on a youth movement that was boiling under.
A simple announcement interrupted the homebound pandemic mask-driven 20-20s: “Little Richard, the self-proclaimed 'The Originator,' 'The Emancipator,' 'The Architect of Rock and Roll' built his ground-breaking sound with a boiling blend of boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues and gospel, died last Saturday of natural causes at the age of 87.”
His music seemed super natural, it demanded attention, it pounded and raged on the keyboard strings, it palpitated the pedals of the pulsing piano, it pounded the beat into your bloodstream, your veins, and your mind until it rocked you into motion, and you could no longer ignore it. His music kept a knockin, it ripped it up, it tutti fruttied ah ruddied your soul, it long-tall Sallied and ultimately bop bop a lulahed, and jenny, jenny, jennied into your heart.
He came from the roots of gospel and other spirits--his father was a church deacon, a brick mason, who sold bootlegged moonshine on the side and owned a Macon Georgia. nightclub called the Tip In Inn--and his peak was short-lived, his transcendent spark was boldly lit in 1955 through 1957. Little Richard shouted, moaned, screamed and trilled his way through a string of hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Lucille,” all the while pounding the piano like a man gone controllably wild, punctuating his lyrics with an occasional shrill “whoooo!” And just as quickly as he emerged, on October 12, 1957, he cut his career suddenly short, when he was performing in Australia, and saw a blaze across the sky (now known to be the Russian satellite Sputnik), and took it as a sign that he needed to return to his religious roots and become a preacher.
Time Magazine said he played “songs that sounded like nonsense … but whose beat seemed to hint of unearthly pleasures centered somewhere between the gut and the gutter.” His music drew in both young black and white fans at a time when parts of the United States still were strictly segregated. “I’ve always thought that rock ‘n’ roll brought the races together,” Richard once told an interviewer. “Although I was black, the fans didn’t care. I used to feel good about that.” When white artists like Elvis and Pat Boone tried to cover Little Richard songs, they toned it down, trying to tame the wildness of rock-and-roll, and make it “safer” for the pop audience.
He returned to rock in the 60s and Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, James Brown, Otis Redding, Elton John, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Prince, a galaxy of rock stars, all cited Little Richard as a major influence. Jimi Hendrix, who played in Richard’s band in the mid-1960s, said he wanted to use his guitar the way Richard used his voice. When the Beatles heard him, they wanted to open for him, and during an intermission, Little Richard taught Paul the woos, oohs and howls that showed up in “I Saw Her Standing There” and many other Beatles songs.
There was a very gentle side to Little Richard, and there was no one quite like him in rock and roll; Little Richard was the original, never meant to get old and never meant to die.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

“Ain’t No Sunshine When They're Gone”; On Second Thought, Yes There Is...

Recently, we experienced the loss of two gifted, singer-songwriters of somewhat different styles and talents; the two in their own way and through their own routes reached out to our minds and hearts and spirits. Bill Withers worked as an aircraft mechanic before becoming a singer-songwriter, while John Prine was a mailman as he started his path to his songwriting and singing career. Both seemed to have gathered their passions, their power, and their unique talent from their previous careers.
I had the pure luck and privilege of seeing Bill Withers in DC on his debut tour in the early 70s; I was there as a part-time rock critic (who was a mild-manner lawyer by day, and by night a rock enthusiast). He seemed to communicate the vulnerability that we each felt in our respective roles, but he had a rare quality through the power of his voice and words that made a very strong first and lasting impression. His “Lean on Me” was a spiritual lead in, anchor, and title to the namesake movie about my high school in Paterson NJ. His songs had the easy power of anthems. it has become an anthem for health workers and our current times of mutual reliance and dedication.
His family described him as “A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and his music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.” This became very clear during these weeks of isolation and connectedness.
John Prine, has a very special gift of storytelling that broke through to tell us in a special way about the loneliness and exclusions of our modern day every day life. He sent through his special deliveries, the personal packages of special connection to all of us, breaking through the walls of our comfort zone. His words too seem to have very special meanings especially at these times of challenge. He touches on the loneliness that we all experience in isolation and we now are all his characters in his stories of “Hello in There” and “Angel from Montgomery” and so many other tales of our times.
In a recent obituary, a writer related that “[a]s a songwriter, Prine was admired by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and others, known for his ability to mine seemingly ordinary experiences — he wrote many of his classics as a mailman in Maywood, Illinois — for revelatory songs that covered the full spectrum of the human experience. There’s “Hello in There,” about the devastating loneliness of an elderly couple; “Sam Stone,” a portrait of a drug-addicted Vietnam soldier suffering from PTSD; and “Paradise,” an ode to his parents’ strip-mined hometown of Paradise, Kentucky, which became an environmental anthem. Prine tackled these subjects with empathy and humor, with an eye for “the in-between spaces,” the moments people don’t talk about….”
Each in their special way touched our lives with warmth, spirit, and wonderful song. We will miss them, but we will always have them with us.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

From the National Mall to the Next Street: Hope is Blossoming Among the Challenges

From the National Mall to the Next Street:
Hope is blossoming among the challenges;
(We join this poem already in progress)
By Anonymous
Some beautiful sights, amidst these challenging times;
So many people dedicated and bright,
Working so very hard,
Days and most nights
Through these challenging times.
To help students of all ages,
Learn safely and to thrive,
Working with so many dedicated people,
Teachers, educator, and scientists and the like,
Striving for solutions
Amidst these challenging times.
At many Federal agencies,
And at state and local levels,
Public and private,
Cutting burdens, providing support, and sharing lessons learned,
And giving some promise--
To help everyone--
Through these (local, state, national, and international)
Challenging times.
I stand optimistic and inspired that--
Amidst the blossoming and the challenges of this spring.
So many are doing their share (and more)
Doing more than just their thing.
So I am sharing these sights and a sense filled with hope
There are so many new lessons still to be learned,
Allowing us to cope,
And new creativity to be inspired and shared,
And new friendships to be made, showing we care.
New inventions and breakthroughs,
For now and the future, that just lies ahead.
So I am sharing just some simple rhymes,
To help us through these challenging times.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

A Music Mash of 2019:

As we ended 2019, a year of some disruption and fluidity, the music industry posted another year of deep sea streaming, while cds continuing to crawl into the past, and the sound of vinyl, showed its buoyancy and had its best year in 30 years--vinyl resurrected outsold the once mighty cd, and continued to pick up sales and loyalists. With streaming and lower cost music production equipment readily available, it was easier to make more types of music accessible both to the maker and the listener, often bypassing the traditional major record labels, and spurring on innovation,
In 2018 and 2019 we honored the 50th and 60th Anniversaries of great music of the 1950s and the 60s, when much of our innovations in genre-bending popular music began. But even Billboard, the so-called music industry bible, now in its 126th year, is changing its tune and adapting its charts of hits to today's way of musicians linking more directly to their audiences. This was a year in which musical styles and genres crisscrossed and were often disrupted, with interesting new faces, voices, and sounds emerging.
A newcomer, Billie Eilish, and her brother worked from their house to de- and re-construct popular music, using the ordinary to create a new sound that popped like magic through the airwaves, sweeping Billie into modern-day fame and fortune. DC area’s own SHAED created an infectious yet elastic “Trampoline” that whistled its way to almost continuous play.
Remixes, mashes, and covers abounded, while new super groups were cleverly founded, like I’m With Her, Better Oblivion Community Center, the Highwaywomen, and Boygenuis--all sounding joyful, playful, and fun. Rap mixed with country, classical with hip hop, jazz and rock melded, breaking down boundaries in salute to the freshness of 2019.
Here are some of the albums and songs that were among the highlights of the year (in no apparent order), and I am honored to share them with you :
Dido -- Still On My Mind
Lana Del Rey | Norman F***ing Rockwell!
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Michael Kiwanuka -- Kiwanuka
Sharon van Etten – (Seventeen)/Are We There?
Jenny Lewis – On the Line
Maggie Rogers -- Heard It in a Past Life
Solange -- When I Get Home
Bon Iver -- I,I
Lizzo -- Cause I Love you
Highwaywomen-- The Highwomen/ The Chain
Better Oblivion Community Center -- Better Oblivion Community Center
Purple Mountain—Purple Mountain
Joan Shelley: Like The River Loves The Sea
Jamila Woods (Jagjaguwar) -- Legacy! Legacy!
Wilco -- Ode to Joy
Tyler the Creator-- Igor
Brittany Howard: Jaime
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Ghosteen
Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance
Burna Boy -- African Giant
Weyes Blood | Titanic Rising
Sudan Archives -- Athena
FKA twigs – Magdalene
Selena Gomez –Lose You to Love You
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Echoes
Billy Eilish --When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?/
Bad Guy
I’m With Her — Live at House of Blues (Full Set)/and for their work on Live from Here
SHAED – Melt/Trampoline
The Lumineers -- Gloria

Mavis Staples -- Change
Olivia Chaney -- Who Know Where the Time Goes (Live at Richard Thompson's Albert Hall birthday concert 30/09/2019)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Remembering Irv Noren

I was sorry to hear about the passing of Irv Noren, a fine hitting outfielder who achieved most of his fame with the fabled Yankees of the 1950s, as a fill-in successor to the just-retired Joe DiMaggio, when the truly-anointed successor, Mickey Mantle, still suffered from an injury in the 1951 World Series (getting out of Joe D's way on a ball hit by Willie Mays). The Yankees of that era often picked up key pieces of their teams from the less successful American League teams, in this case, Noren came from the hapless Washington Senators of the early 50s.
Noren had played pro basketball in the 1940s alongside Jackie Robinson on an integrated team before Jackie's Dodger historic stint began. Noren had a great rookie season with the Senators in 1950 (with 160 hits, 10 triples, 14 home runs, 98 runs batted in, and a .295 average; he hit .319 for Yankees, and made the All-Star team in 1954). His salary for the Yanks in 1952 was a meager $19,000, and the stingy Yanks first offered him a $2000 raise. But he went on to be part of three Yankees championship teams, and a third-base coach on two championship Oakland A's teams in the 70s. Noren's career as a player in the majors spanned eleven seasons and six teams and he played all outfield positions and first base, and he had a respectable lifetime batting average of .275. Irv Noren was a modest yet talented utility player who journeyed after his time as a key piece of a legendary franchise.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

P.S. A Footnote to History: Motown Revived

P.S.   It is great for fans of all teams to see two pitching masterpieces in a row from Sanchez and Scherzer against a usually powerful Cardinal lineup. The Nats threw in some clutch hitting by Adam Eaton for good measure. The Sanchez and Scherzer back to back hitless pitching was only the second time in MLB postseason history that teammates pitched at least five hitless innings in consecutive games during a league championship series. The first to do the feat, were the self-same Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, as Detroit Tiger pitchers, during games 1 and 2 of the American League championship series in 2013. The Nats remake a almost perfect Motown beat.
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Saturday, October 12, 2019


Washington sports teams are often the underdog in big games, and generally not as well supported as teams from other places. This is due in part to the DC population that is transitory; we have many people who come to DC from other places for a relatively short time, who naturally tend to root for their childhood favorites--their home teams. Thus, we often host games at which half the fans are in uniform or rooting for the visiting teams--so there is frequently not the home field advantage that other teams have.
But a couple of our teams have learned or are learning to deal with it, and showing heart and soul, and building more of a loyal independent fan base. The Caps, the Mystics, and the Nats are climbing out of their state of "underdogness," and winning big games, showing a level of durability, spirit, and resilience to rise above it, and win some key playoff games on the road and at home. They are rising to a level of mastery and a positive, never-give-up spirit, that is fun to watch and inspiring at the same time. In just two days, the Mystics came back to win a first WNBA title, and Nats opened a series in St. Louis with a Sanchez/Doolittle 2 to 0, one-hit gem.