Video Fridays: Happy 50th Birthday, Highway 61 Revisited!

highway61This is quite the week for masterpiece Rock & Roll album anniversaries!

Tuesday, as I mentioned in that day’s post, was the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.

And this coming Sunday, August 30th, is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan‘s Highway 61 Revisited.

Both albums blew me away when I first heard them, and both remain deeply embedded in my psyche and soul. It could be said that Born To Run propelled me out of New Jersey, even while I was still living there, and Highway 61 Revisited provided a route along which I’d eventually encounter the many mysteries and contradictions, the grandeur and grotesquerie, the heroes and villains of America.

As with my Born To Run post on Tuesday, I could go on and on about how much I love Bob Dylan, and Highway 61 Revisited in particular; how every time I hear that snare drum crack kickoff to Like A Rolling Stone I get chills, seriously, I do; or how Dylan’s voice on this record, no matter how cryptic the lyrics might seem, sounds to me like the purest, most honest, uncompromising, risk-taking voice in music history; or how, to me, Dylan’s choice to, with this album, fully commit to electric Rock & Roll music, despite the backlash from folk music purists, was one of the bravest artistic commitments in music history; but I don’t think I could really do Highway 61 Revisited justice anywhere near as well as Rob Sheffield does in an article at RollingStone.com today.

It’s an inspired piece of writing, a true homage, laced with deftly placed lyric references, fully capturing the depth and majesty of Dylan’s masterpiece.

I mean, check out this small sample:

It’s an album that begins with a warning to pawn your diamond ring and save your dimes and keep track of all the people you fucked over yesterday, because they’re the same people you’ll be begging for hand-outs tomorrow. But it’s also an album that ends with a man signing off a letter telling you that he’s seen too much depravity in the city to read any more of your letters from home. (“When you asked how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?”) The album begins by laughing at a stuck-up young kid who never thought she’d wind up on Desolation Row; it ends with a no-longer-young kid who’s given up hope he’ll ever get out. The album begins by mourning all the two-bit friends you met in the big city who ripped you off for drugs and sex and money, the “beautiful strangers” who turned out to be Not Your Friends; the album ends by cheerfully promising that you can’t go back home to your old friends or family either.

Fanfrickintastic!

Of course, a post about a classic Rock & Roll album wouldn’t be complete without some actual music, so here’s a precious jewel of a video clip, the Highway 61 Revisited title track performed with The Band, four years and a day after the album’s release, at the legendary 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, and in classic Dylan fashion, with a totally different arrangement than the original, and a gloriously gritty and raucous arrangement it is.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Happy Born To Run 40th Anniversary Day!

Born-to-RunForty years ago today, Bruce Springsteen‘s third album, Born To Run, was released, an epic masterpiece born of desperation.

As a piece out today at The Week recounts, Columbia Records had given Bruce one last chance to make it, and the intensity of what was at stake for him can be viscerally felt in the opening lines of the first song recorded for the album, the eventual title track:

In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9
Chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and steppin’ out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

I could go on and on about my love for Springsteen and Born To Run in particular, but, the thing is, I’ve already done so, in June 2011, on the occasion of the sad loss of E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

And so, here’s that post in it’s entirety:


When I learned on Saturday of the passing of Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, the great saxophonist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, I was filled with deep sadness.

As I wrote in November 2010:

You can’t grow up in New Jersey, like I did, when I did, and not have a strong connection to Bruce Springsteen. Oh, you might not be the biggest fan, you might even hate the guy and his music, but he’s a New Jersey icon, the airwaves were saturated with him, and in the summer before I entered high school, Carol Miller, a DJ at WPLJ in New York City, waged a campaign to make Springsteen’s Born To Run the official state song of New Jersey.

Born To Run was one of the very first albums I ever owned, and I can, without doubt or second guessing, credit that record for having inspired in me a deep passion for music, to the point where music became as important to me as food, water, even air. Springsteen’s songs were my window on the real world outside my fake suburban wasteland of a hometown; a world full of terrible and beautiful things, scary things, adventurous things, romantic things, tragic things.

And Clarence, well, his tenor sax was like the icing on the cake of one of the greatest bands in Rock & Roll history. Guitar-centric groups were a dime a dozen, but the E Street Band had its own direct connection to John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon and Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins; Clarence evoked the deep New York City Jazz and Rhythm & Blues traditions.

And you know, the warmth of the friendship between Bruce and The Big Man — a friendship made mythic by the wonderfully embellished stories of their meeting, stories that Bruce would tell with drama and humor during concerts — modeled for me interracial harmony without ever framing it as such, as it should be, as if it is the most natural thing in the world for a white man and a black man to be close.

When another longtime E Street Band member, keyboardist Danny Federici, died three years ago, it was sad, and it took a while to accept that Springsteen had to replace him and carry on.

And yet it is nearly impossible to imagine an E Street Band without Clarence.

Whether Bruce will keep the band together, reinvent it, or form an all-new band remains to be seen. In the meantime, it feels like the only fitting way to end this post is with Springsteen’s touching public statement on the loss of his friend, and a video of a song that contains Clarence’s most notable solo, a nearly 3-minute, achingly beautiful melody in the operatic closer to Born To Run: Jungleland.

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

Video Fridays: Patti Smith

pattiI’m on a real women-in-music kick these days.

Last week’s Video Fridays installment was on the late-great Nina Simone, inspired by having watched the wonderful documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

This week, I’m inspired to feature Patti Smith after having read her amazing autobiography Just Kids.

If you go into reading the book having only heard of Patti the musician, you will either experience disappointment or revelation; disappointment, because music, while woven throughout the story, is by no means the primary focus; revelation, because Patti the poet, Patti the visual artist, Patti the muse of her longtime companion-then-friend, the groundbreaking artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, comes to vivid life in the reading, along with the explosive New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Patti, being a poet and musician, writes her autobiography with such lyricism, such raw emotional presence, and there were many times when I’d re-read lines, and sometimes whole paragraphs, because they were rendered so beautifully, so movingly. She has an incredible eye and ear for small details that add so much depth to the story, peppering her narrative with mention of items collected or exchanged, often cheap trinkets or handmade gestures, brief interactions with legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, things that, out of context, would be seemingly trivial, and yet in the very mentioning and describing of these things you learn how meaningful these smallest of details were to Patti.

I was particularly touched by her relationship with Mapplethorpe, a relationship that weathered the extreme poverty and struggle of their early years together, the emerging awareness of his homosexuality, the transition to a radically accepting, loving, loyal friendship, and through it all the powerful support they gave each other in the pursuit of their art. A relationship Patti describes thusly:

We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.

It wasn’t easy choosing a video to include with this post, because, as Patti has endured, losing none of her potency as an artist and performer over the years, I could have selected some of her more recent work, such as the amazing 2005 Live at Montreux concert, available, at least for now, in it’s entirety on YouTube, rather than what I have here for you now, a precious document from her 1976 European tour, featuring songs from her classic debut, Horses, as well as cuts that would soon appear on her sophomore album, Radio Ethiopia.

Observe her total, unapologetic commitment, as she bravely claims her place in Rock&Roll, despite how male-dominated it has always been. Observe and enjoy and check out Just Kids when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Nina Simone

nina simoneIf you, dear readers, have not yet seen the wonderful documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, available on Netflix, I encourage you to check it out.

You must be prepared, however, as Nina Simone‘s story is a very, very sad tale. Even if you already know her story, the film will still be gut wrenching.

And yet, it’s the least we can do, to be witness to how racism and sexism pounded Nina, for despite those horrendous forces, she blessed us with the gift of her music, generations to come get to enjoy her music, all thanks to her monumental courage and perseverance.

Nina was not a perfect person, she was not a perfect mother, but she was a phenomenally talented musician and she pushed the boundaries of music and of what it means to be a musician, what it means to be a female musician, what it means to be a black female musician, and pushing the boundaries is rarely easy.

For today’s installment of Video Fridays, then, here’s a performance I’d not seen until I saw What Happened, Miss Simone?, and it completely blew me away. Nina’s Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, a medley of two songs from the musical Hair, is a powerful expression of the adversity Nina faced and the longing for freedom from that adversity.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Ayron Jones & The Way

AyronJones_02-ACOne of the joys of summers here in Bellingham, Washington is the abundance of live outdoor music. From concerts in the park to concerts in the street, from harborside venues to, of all places, the top, uncovered level of the downtown parking garage, when we finally get reliably sunny and dry weather people go absolutely nuts and flock to the music, all adding up to a very fun, festive vibe.

One of my favorite concert series is Downtown Sounds, which takes place on five consecutive Wednesdays from 5:30 to 9:30 pm on a block of Bay Street that is temporarily blocked from car traffic. It’s free, it’s all-ages (though there is a 21+ beer garden), there’s food and other vendors, and there’s a state of the art stage where bands from around the region and beyond put on consistently great shows to large, appreciative crowds.

The band that headlined this past Wednesday, Seattle’s Ayron Jones & The Way, was a timely gift. I’d been getting burned out on the proliferation of R&B/Soul/Funk bands, locally as well as bands passing through, and so it was incredibly refreshing to see a young, edgy, raw power trio, simply electric guitar, bass, drums.

I had more fun, by magnitudes, headbanging in the crowd of headbangers in front of the stage than I have had watching/listening/dancing to the latest in a seemingly endless stream of dance-oriented bands I’ve seen these past few years.

Ayron’s music is described on his website thusly:

[Infuses] the raw energy of punk with the inner-city attitude of Hip-Hop. The result is a soulful reincarnation of that iconic Seattle sound. Think, Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Nirvana.

Those seem like odd juxtapositions, but it works. The band is young and rough around the edges, mostly in a good way, but Ayron is a monster guitar player, loaded with confidence, and to my eyes and ears his future is very, very bright.

Oh, and he can also play his guitar with a drumstick.

Which is awesome.

So, without further ado, here’s this week’s Video Fridays installment, by Ayron Jones & The Way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Pavement

pavement-quarantineSo, it’s happened again.

I’ve written before about how I fancy myself quite the student of music, and yet, despite my diligent efforts to know what’s going on, I occasionally discover that a particular band or artist has somehow escaped my attention.

Well, this time it’s ’90s indie, alt, rock, or whatever you wanna call it band, Pavement.

Yeah, I know, I’m only just getting into a band that officially broke up in 1999 and was insistent during their 2010 reunion tour that they were not getting back together again.

I’ve heard of Pavement for all of these years, heard just as much about their frontman, Stephen Malkmus, and his other projects, but it took coming across a video clip of one of my favorite bands, Wilco, doing a cover of a Pavement song for me to finally get it.

I’ve been listening to their stuff all day and find I really enjoy their punk-attitude-infused sound, very electric-guitar-centric, and yet melodic at the same time.

Only time will tell as to just how deep I’ll plunge into Pavement, however painful that sounds, or how long I’ll be as into them as I was today, but for now I’m happy to discover some great music that is new to me.

For today’s Video Fridays installment then, I hope you enjoy, as much as I did, this full show from the 2010 reunion tour.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Oh, England. You’re No Fun Anymore!

monty-python-copIf you are a heterosexual guy and you reached puberty when I did, in the 1970s, and you were lucky enough, as I was, to have a public television station that, late at night, would play reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus , not only were you introduced to some of the best comedy ever produced, but you could also catch precious, hormone-stirring glimpses of female … um … as the Pythons would say, naughty bits, such as the image here, taken from one of Terry Gilliam‘s amazing and hilarious cutout animations.

If you were extra lucky, as I was, you had another channel available to you, like WOR TV 9, that, also late at night, played reruns of a second British comedy program, The Benny Hill Show, which contained rarer bits of nudity, but plentiful moments of scantily clad women.

Consequently, my impression of England and British culture was that it was more liberal and open-minded than it was here in the U.S., and I loved them for it!

Disappointing then, to come across this item in today’s New York Times:

Ad for Rolling Stones Exhibition Banned from London Underground

A poster for the coming Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London — showing a bright pink tongue on the front of a pair of women’s underwear — has been banned from the London Underground until adjustments can be made to make it less explicit.

Here’s the image from the poster:

rolling-stones-exhibit

Really, England?!

The Rolling Stones have been raunchy for decades, while becoming one of the greatest bands in the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to prove that they are in any way to blame for any perceived decline of the United Kingdom.

Let’s face it, you’re no fun anymore!