Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hy-ski Goodbye-ski

A class act, Philly pioneer DJ, Hy Litt, sometimes known as "Hyski O’Rooney McVoutie O’Zoot" passed away a few days ago at the ripe young age of 73. In the early and mid-1960s, his show on WIBG, or Wibbage Radio 99, was one of the most popular show, especially on weekend nights when we played the oldies. He was part fun-loving and silly, and part very knowledgeable in his rock history. His voice was radio smooth and he seemed to really enjoy playing the music for his large audience, and we enjoyed hearing him play the music. He, like Murray the K in NYC, helped bring the Beatles to Philly. You could hear him bellowing out from many a Philly college quad window in the 60's. Even up to a few years ago, you could hear him spinning the real oldies on WOGL in the Philly area.

In the fragmented i-podded society of today (see the post below), it is difficult to imagine many college students listening to just one DJ. But he was a special treat then, and he will be missed by one of the many fans who made him a part of their daily lives.

Seg-ment-ed Soc-ie-ty

David Brooks had an interesting column on the segmenting of popular/rock music in our current society a couple of days ago. The column is at the following web address:

Brooks concludes that there is increased fragmentation in the music world and in our society and there is a loss of intergenerational togetherness in music today. While I agree that there is (and has been for a while) more fragmentation in the world of music and popular culture (magazines, etc) now, it is easy to get fragmented on the issue.

Now it is so much easier for people to produce and distribute a variety of sounds and views through the Internet and other electronic means, so it is natural to have fragmentation and it is not such a "negative." Our technology has made it easier to connect with one another, while also fragmenting us at the same time. As one letter to the editor after the Brooks column mentioned "[m]odern recording technologies allow virtually anyone to record music and make it available to listeners worldwide, a privilege once enjoyed exclusively by large record companies. As a result, major record companies have increasingly less control over what gets heard, while consumers have increasingly more." Another letter hailed the current rock, stating that "[t]he current music scene is more democratic than the monolith Mr. Brooks looks back upon fondly."

But also rock has always been a amalgam in varying degrees of rhythm 'n blues, jazz, country, folk songs and Broadway, among others. Wasn't there similar fragmentation in the rock of the 50's with a lot of regional hits that just did not make it to the national scene? We just did not know it as easily at the time. In the 60's and 70's did people just want there to be a unified counterculture, or a "mainstreaming of the counterculture" when in fact it was jumble of many styles being practiced and discovered?

It is an interesting topic. Please feel free in our seg-ment-ed soc-ie-ty to "discuss amongst yourselves" or discuss with me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bruuuuce Almighty

Jon Pareles, in his recent NY Times review of one of Bruce Springsteen's nights in New York, and J. Freedom du Lac, reporting on the first DC night in the Washington Post, had it just about right. The crowd is always in there with the singer, singing along joyfully, (not for the first time nor will "this be for the last time") while Springsteen bumps, grinds, and sings in constant motion about a world that can try to beat down the hopes and dreams of the individual man, and betray the promise of the nation, America.

And Bruce seems especially angry these days about the politics of today--introducing the title song of his new album, “Magic,” with a comment about our “Orwellian times”--“what’s true can be made to seem like a lie, and what’s lying can be made to seem true.” Yet, he also seems playful and hopeful, singing "it's all right, it's all right, it's all right, yeah" in the chorus of "Lonesome Day," as he and his longtime home team, the tight nine-piece E Street Band surges past the disillusionment, the losses, the bewilderment, and the bitterness in the verses to the greater hopes of the American dream.

It's concert time in the first of two nights in the nation's capital, DC, and Bruce seems to have a special twinkle in his eyes, and sparkle in his voice for being in DC. He's "[s]o glad to be in your wicked--I mean, your beautiful city tonight." "Hey, this is where it happens! This is the City of Magic!" While he is not shy about mentioning the successes, and especially the failures of the capital city, Bruce and his band of merry men and women are there "tonight to do something about it! We're going to sing about it. We're musicians. It's a start."

And it is a start, with the goal and guiding principle of the performance calculated high--to deliver salvation and hope through song. And for a night, it does, as Bruce forges a special bond with his audience--each audience a new group to win over.

Bruce is the embodiment of vitality at the ripe young/old age of 58, belting out a continuous two-plus-hour, 24-song set that includes some of his greatest hits ("Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Badlands") and is heavy on songs from "Magic," his new album whose central figures are filled with angst, and isolation, alienation and disillusionment. I have frequently felt that Bruce's songs often sound very similar, but on this night, he even used that to his advantage. He played similar sounding songs together, and one flowed into another seamlessly and effectively.

The music is rooted in the grounds of American folk music; the nightime doo wop sounds of the street corners of the Bronx, or the boardwalks of Asbury Park; and in the glorious pop sound of the mid-town Manhattan Brill Building and in NY/LA Phil Spector's Wallll of Sounddd. The song have echoes in the glory days of the early rock ’n’ roll of the Elvis era and the post-World War II America that was invincible--prosperous, confident and outwardly unified. They move right through the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam era, when everything was being questioned, and land in the terror-threatened days of today—when there is still that ever present hope of a optimistic nation that refuses to stay down. The music may have been shaped elsewhere, but it comes straight from the hard working heart of Mr. Springsteen.

The night is borrowed and revived from the early rock and roll tours, including Springsteen's barnstorming live shows of the early 1970s, and the music itself harbors no doubts, no second thoughts. Even a quiet and stark song from bleak, "Nebraska" days, "Reason to Believe," is revitalized into an upbeat, harmonica-huffing, John Lee Hooker-style boogie, bluesy stomp.

But no matter what the song, they are tightly drawn through the saxophone-solos of the heart and soul of the group, Clarence Clemons, the tight, straight to-the-beat drumming of Max Weinberg, the background singing of wife Patti Scialfa, the bass of Gary Tallent, the keyboard chords of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, the fiddling of Soozie Tyrell, the triple-barreled guitar work of Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and Mr. Springsteen, and of course, the tireless vocals of the lead man, himself, Bruce. And when the band pauses, the audience sings at pretty good volume, and all burdens, all misgivings, and all loneliness are cast off once again for the hopes of tomorrow.

P.S. Some of my friends quibble that Bruce is nothing like he was in the early days when he used to do four hour shows, and move about the stage and up into the light towers, but for now, this will do just fine.

For the real reviews go to


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Trials and Tributizations

There were a number of recent articles in the NY Times that reflected the odd current and future state of the music and record industry (the continued and the somewhat outdated use of "record" also reflects the odd state). There were three recent tribute concerts in NYC involving the music of Dylan, Django Reinhardt, and Fats Domino--all seemed to revolve around the reverence for the artists. The tributes all sound interesting and all were all reviewed in NY Times at the following web addresses:

Also in the NY Times, was an interesting discussion about the present and future of the record industry at the following web address:

Then there's a story about how Billboard changed its record charts rules to allow in an example of the record industry's attempt at a "new marketing approach," the Eagles' new album being sold exclusively at Walmart. This story is at:

The stories (for me) signified how the greater talents in music continue to be reinvented through such means as tributes and reinterpretations, while the music industry continues to fall behind the technological advances, and makes lame efforts to reinvent itself.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Cyrkle 'Tis A Little Broken

Another piece of the veneer of rock 'n roll history has chipped away with the passing of Thomas W. Dawes, a co-founder of the Cyrkle and the composer of some of advertising's best-known commercial jingles, including "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz" for Alka-Seltzer and "7Up, the Uncola"; he died on October 13 in Manhattan.

The Cyrkle was one of the better known folk-rock groups (a collection of crew-cutted students of Lafayette College) in the mid-60s that was an amalgam of the Beatles, Byrds, Dylan, and Paul Simon. They even had actual ties to the Beatles and Paul Simon. They were discovered by Nat Weiss, a lawyer/partner of Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager. According to Dawes, John Lennon suggested the Cyrkle's name and distinctive spelling. The Cyrkle opened for the Beatles on their final American tour. And their biggest hit the 1966 single, "Red Rubber Ball," was "penned" by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley. In 1966, I ran into a professor at Penn who thought that "Red Rubber Ball," was the perfectly constructed song--"a work of true art," he called it. While probably not works of art, the Cyrkle songs were certainly very hummable, and are on a number of soundtracks of the lives of baby-boomers.

After Dawes left the band, he turned to writing commercial jingles in the 70s and 80s, and a number of his jingles became "immortal in pop culture"--somewhat of a non sequitur or oxymoron. In addition to writing for Alka-Seltzer and 7Up, his catchier tunes appeared in ads for L'eggs hosiery ("Our L'eggs Fit Your Legs") and American Airlines ("We're American Airlines, Doing What We Do Best"). He and his jingle-writing wife collaborated on music for "Coke Is It," the McDonald's "You, You're the One" and, for American Airlines, "Something Special in the Air."

Dawes and his wife also wrote the book, music and lyrics for "Talk of the Town," a musical about members of the Algonquin Round Table. The show, first produced in 2004, had a nearly two-year run at the Bank Street Theater in New York before it moved as a cabaret show to the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.

With Dawes passing, it is a "Turn Down Day" and "I don't dig it." But lo the memories will make us "think its gonna be alright..the worst is over now..the morning sun is shining like red rubber ball."