Tag Archives: video

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (show here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.

Video Fridays: M*A*S*H

radar-capSeveral years ago, one of my student employees came to work wearing a cap, like the one you see in the photo here, and the following Abbott & Costello-esque interaction occurred:

Me: Nice cap, Nick! Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: Thanks, but what?

Me: Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: What’s that?

Me: Not ‘what’ … ‘who’! Radar!!!

Nick: What?!

Me: Radar O’Reilly! From M*A*S*H!

Nick: Oh. I’ve seen commercials for M*A*S*H reruns, but I’ve never watched it.

This made me feel very old.

Anyway…for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I continue my series of posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

…and, after having covered The Honeymooners and The Odd Couple in previous posts, let’s move on to M*A*S*H.

MASH-movieAs mentioned last week, The Odd Couple was based on a play and movie of the same name, and M*A*S*H was similarly based on prior works: the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman.

Another similarity, because I didn’t see either movie before I’d already seen many, many episodes of the TV shows, when I think of M*A*S*H, I will always think first of Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre, McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake, Larry Linville as Frank Burns, and Loretta Swift as Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from the TV show, despite great performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Roger Bowen, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman from the movie, in those same roles respectively.

I love the Altman film and always will, but to debate the relative greatness of the movie and the TV show doesn’t seem appealing, given they’re so apples:oranges. Whereas the film is an experimental, absurdist, anti-war satire, the TV show, though also anti-war, was a 1/2-hour sitcom that employed writing and directing more rooted in the television tradition, an element that became more and more pronounced, and some, including myself, would say for the worse, starting about halfway through its 11-season run.

Continuing on that last point, I’ll be honest and say that of all of the shows from that late night lineup I was so fond of, M*A*S*H was the only show that declined so much in quality over the years that I have an extreme prejudice, preferring the first three seasons SO much more than the subsequent eight that I don’t have much of a desire now to re-watch anything but the first three seasons. Those early seasons retained MUCH more of the qualities of the movie that I like so much, but it all ended with a jarring loss of two of my favorite characters.

In the last episode of season three, we learn that Henry Blake has been honorably discharged and he prepares to head home. But, instead of this being the setup for just another U.S. Army screw-up, where in the end Henry would be told that, for some reason, he has to stay, he says his goodbyes, and the episode ends with news that his plane was shot down and he was killed.

And the first episode of season four begins with Hawkeye returning from a week of R&R, only to find that Trapper had been discharged and had left for home.

Henry Blake was replaced by Harry Morgan’s Col. Sherman T. Potter, Trapper by Mike Farrell’s B.J. Honeycutt, Frank Burns left at the end of season five and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers’ Charles Emerson Winchester III, Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly left near the beginning of the eighth season, and the change that many fans felt was the last straw, when Jamie Farr’s Corporal Klinger, upon taking over for Radar as Company Clerk, stopped dressing in drag, I’d argue, marked the loss of the last remaining element in the show that had any relation to the absurdism of the show’s roots, specifically the Altman film.

I hate to end on such a downer note, so let’s get to this week’s Video Fridays videos. Since I’ve extolled here the virtues of the earliest seasons of M*A*S*H for their closer resemblance to the film they were inspired by, I bring you a great, wacky episode from season one, and for kicks the trailer from the movie.

So, enjoy! Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: For some annoying reason, possibly to avoid draconian copyright enforcement, the episode is sped up, and so it sounds like it was filmed with the entire cast inhaling helium.)

Video Fridays: The Odd Couple

odd_coupleTwo weeks ago, as a Video Fridays installment, I took a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, writing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

In writing that post, I decided to do a separate Video Fridays installment for each of these shows, and I chose The Honeymooners to start off with.

This week, it’s The Odd Couple, and what a fantastic show it was!

That it was based on Neil Simon‘s play and movie of the same name highlights common ground between two of the other shows from the lineup. M*A*S*H was based on the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman of the same name, and Star Trek, created for TV, went the opposite direction, spawning numerous movies and spin-off TV series.

There were SO many things about The Odd Couple that I loved: the basic premise of two mismatched divorced men living together, one an anal-retentive neat freak and the other a manchild slob; the wonderful New York City humor; the groovy 70s clothing and decor; the goofy supporting characters; and consistently great writing over five seasons.

And yet, similar to The Honeymooners, the best things about the show were it’s primary actors, Tony Randall as Felix Unger, and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. To fully appreciate these two, consider the monumentally big shoes they had to fill. Neil Simon’s play opened on Broadway with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney (who, as mentioned two weeks ago, played Ed Norton in The Honeymooners) as Felix, and in the movie Matthau again played Oscar, while Jack Lemmon played Felix.

I never saw the original Broadway show — I was just shy of 3-years old when it closed — and I didn’t see the movie until I had already been watching the TV show for years. So, for me, Jack and Tony are the Oscar and Felix I always think of first, which really is a testament to how well they took over these roles, established as they had already been by other great, great actors.

Of course, the heart of the show is the clash of opposites in the pressure cooker situation of having to share an apartment. And so, as I tried to pick just one episode to include here, I searched for one that really highlighted their domicile. But, this search paralyzed me with indecision, as there are SO many greats to choose from.

Finally, thanks to my longtime buddies from New Jersey, Mike and Keith, mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles (one case in point), our collective effort yielded the perfect choice!

So, here’s episode 69, the 22nd episode of the 3rd season, it’s titled Take My Furniture, Please, and it revolves around Felix’s efforts to redecorate their apartment, despite Oscar’s protestations, and while Oscar tries to work on a book he’s writing. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: A “Morning Dew” Extravaganza

morning-dewI often think of myself as a pretty decent pop music historian, because in conversations with music geeks and non-geeks alike I very regularly can reference what others consider to be obscure music factoids.

And yet, paradoxically, I regularly learn something new that takes me totally by surprise.

Yesterday was one such time, thanks to a friend who posted a YouTube clip, not only of a British band from the mid-1960s that I’d never heard of, Episode Six, but of Episode Six covering a song I’d only ever heard before as performed by the Grateful Dead: Morning Dew.

I’d known that the song predated the Grateful Dead, but I never noticed that the song was written by Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson, and I certainly had no idea, until I did my research, just how many artists and bands covered the song, nor how wacky a variety of artists and bands it’s been.

As I commented on my friend’s Facebook post, “Any song that can be covered by the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck, Lulu, and Devo, just to name a few, is one helluva song!” And, perhaps it’s the song’s heavy subject matter that has inspired so many to interpret it.

Per Wikipedia:

The song is a dialogue between the last man and woman left alive following an apocalyptic catastrophe: Dobson has stated that the initial inspiration for “Morning Dew” was the film On the Beach which is focused on the survivors of virtual global annihilation by nuclear holocaust.

Appropriately then, for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I’ve selected a handful of versions of Morning Dew to best capture this wacky variety, starting with the wackiest I could find.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: The first is a fan-made video, and the second is audio-only, as there were no live performance videos available for these two.)

Wacky, because Devo:

The songwriter’s own recording:

Nazareth, because hair and tank tops:

Jeff Beck Group, because soul, funky bass, and general awesomeness:

Lulu, because campy earnestness:

And finally, magical, because, as I wrote two weeks ago, 1977 Grateful Dead:

Video Fridays: The Honeymooners

honeymoonersOne of my fondest memories from growing up in New Jersey was the post-primetime lineup of reruns on Channel 11, WPIX TV from New York City.

It was epic.

Now, I wasn’t always able to watch the whole lineup every night, and I don’t think I’d have had much of a life if I had. I had a very small black & white TV in my bedroom, and despite my best efforts to keep the volume down, to sit dangerously close to the screen, and to cover myself and the TV with a blanket, I was regularly busted by the parental units, forced to shut it down and go to sleep. But, this lineup was the same for many years, and so the episodes kept cycling through, meaning I was able to see a LOT of them numerous times anyway.

There are a number of things that I loved about that lineup of shows, and I could go on and on about it, but it seems redundant, given a piece I found at ClassicFlix.com by Rick Brooks, professing his Love Affair With WPIX, and saying many of the things I would say myself.

Just a sample:

We would look forward to seeing a series not just because it was so good, but because we knew it held up to multiple viewings. Look at The Honeymooners, which ran weeknights continuously for over 30 years on the station. That staying power is staggering, particularly when you consider that, though eventually it added the “Lost Episodes” to the mix, channel 11 was running the same “Classic 39″ episodes from that one legendary season (1955-56). I will say it again: 39 episodes ran continuously for decades, and fans loved them.

It would be impossible for me to pick one of these shows as my favorite, but I’d rather honor one of them at a time with a Video Fridays installment, and since I just shared Rick Brooks’ info on The Honeymooners, let’s start there.

For me, The Honeymooners was very special. It was the only TV show of that vintage that was actually still on the air, as far as I could tell, and it served as a time capsule to a bygone era. From the clothing to the furniture, the vernacular of the day to the acting styles, I found it utterly charming.

The biggest strengths of the show were three of the main actors and the writing.

Jackie Gleason, as bus driver Ralph Kramden, could be an insufferable loudmouth, by today’s standards verbally abusive to his wife, and yet when his hairbrained schemes crashed and burned, as they always did, Gleason somehow, almost magically, induced pathos.

Audrey Meadows, as Ralph’s wife, Alice, unlike other women leads of the time and beyond, didn’t hide her struggles with sexism behind an always cheerful veneer. You could see in her expression a weariness as she went about her domestic duties, and she could go toe-to-toe with Ralph in a way you’d rarely see a wife stand up to her husband on TV.

Art Carney, as friend and upstairs neighbor, Ed Norton, well, let’s just say, with his brilliant physical comedy prowess, specifically his grand, clown-like entrances into the Kramden apartment, there would absolutely be NO Kramer from Seinfeld without Art Carney’s Ed Norton. (Interestingly, nothing I could find online gives credit to Art Carney as a direct inspiration for Kramer, and that REALLY bugs me!)

As for the writing, the episodes are masterpieces, with consistently great story arcs, a wonderful mix of comedy and the aforementioned pathos, and it was one of the most quotable shows ever made. My friends and I could nearly recite entire episodes from memory, the jokes were so good.

Like I said, I could go on and on, and I guess I did!

To wrap up and get on with this week’s video selection, I chose an episode that seemed perfect for the occasion, a TV show about watching TV, containing one of my all-time favorite lines, “Official space helmet on, Captain Video!!!”

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: The Magic of 1977 Grateful Dead

jerryDisclaimer: I recognize that this installment of Video Fridays may only appeal to music geeks like me, or maybe even to just Grateful Dead music geeks like me, but inspiration hit me and this is what I have to share today. That said, if there’s even a sliver of a chance that I can turn someone on to this music that I love so much, then my work here will not be in vain.

There’s an old Jewish saying that I love a lot.

Two Jews, three opinions.

Well, I’m convinced, after many years of debating the relative greatness of the different eras of the Grateful Dead‘s 30-year career, that it would be accurate to paraphrase the Jewish saying by substituting “Deadhead” for “Jew”.

Consider my recent communications with my longtime friend Keith, who has been featured in two prior posts of mine: Post 1, Post 2.

A few days ago, Keith emailed, imploring me to go to Archive.org, a gold mine for Deadheads, and to listen to what some believe is the greatest show the Grateful Dead ever performed, out of their 2,317 total concerts, a show from a year, 1977, believed by many more Deadheads still, to be their best.

This was the legendary May 8, 1977 concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in Ithaca, NY.

Having been intimately familiar with this show for many, many years, dating back to when I owned a bootleg of it on cassette tape, now sadly lost, I was more than happy to listen to it again, and doing so led me and Keith to exchange a total of 38 emails and 100+ text messages over the next two days.

During the course of the discussion, I started out agreeing that 1977 was a great year and that the Barton Hall show was great, but I disagreed with Deadheads calling it “the best”, as I was of the opinion that this distinction was not important, and I mentioned that lately I’d been listening to and loving shows from 1974 more than any shows from other periods.

But then, I inevitably became lured into a 1977 immersion, listening to shows at Archive.org and watching shows on YouTube, and while I still don’t think it’s important to label 1977 “the best”, it absolutely was a VERY special year.

There are several factors that made it so, but one of the most striking things, clearly evident in Jerry Garcia’s smile in the lead photo I’ve included here, and as can be seen throughout the video below, as Jerry himself said, “We’re having fun again.”

The band had gone on a touring hiatus after their Fall 1974 tour, they only played four one-off shows in 1975, but they had a bunch of new songs from their 1975 album Blues For Allah, and a bunch more from the album Terrapin Station, which they recorded in the winter of 1976 and would release in July of 1977. All of that studio time had two interesting side effects.

First, it demanded discipline, as studio time is expensive and records are for posterity, leading to consistent cohesion and tightness in their music, and, as a performing musician myself, I can attest that this is up there near the top of the list of the most fun things humans can experience.

Second, after a grueling 1974 tour, with their legendarily massive “Wall of Sound” sound system, a system that demanded they play on large stages, where they tended to spread out from each other like this:

GD-74

…they set out on their 1976 tour with a a greatly reduced amount of sound equipment, and having been in the confining spaces of a recording studio, they set up their gear very close together, and for most of their time onstage for the next few years they’d be huddled together, like this:

Grateful Dead live

…paying really close attention to each other and playing off each other, often, as mentioned, smiling from the pure joy of it.

Time moves on, and due to a combination of the occasional internal strife that all bands struggle with, as well as having reached a level of maturity, musically, that no longer required them to play in such close proximity to each other, they gradually spread out on stage again, and from around 1980 onward, with the exception of the acoustic sets they did in the ’80s, they mostly looked like this:

GD-90

So, yeah, 1977 was special, magical even, if you believe in music magic, as I most decidedly do, and thanks to the Music Vault YouTube channel, another gold mine for Deadheads, we’re lucky to have access to a number of videos from 1976 and 1977, including the following treasure from the Spring ’77 tour, a full hour and 45 minutes from their April 26th show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

Again, just watch Jerry to see how much fun he’s having! That fun comes through the music in a glorious, glorious way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

R.I.P. Joe Cocker

cockerwoodstockMan, it’s been a brutal December for rock & roll.

Joe Cocker, Iconic Rock Singer, Dead at 70

Even if The New York Times insists that the “celebrities die in threes” thing is a myth, I know I wasn’t alone in wondering who would be next, when music legends Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan died on two consecutive days earlier this month.

And, while it took a couple of weeks, it’s one of the creepiest things ever that the third to fall turned out to be Joe Cocker.

As I mentioned in my post mourning the loss of Keys:

…while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones…I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

I even included a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, featuring a gorgeous Bobby Keys solo.

And then, in my post honoring Ian McLagan, I listed the many musicians that McLagan played with, among them…Joe Cocker.

How strange is life and death, that these three — two of them 70-years old at the time of passing, the other 69, all of them major players in the glorious rock heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, and all three having made music together — should pass on within the span of three weeks?!

Well, what else can I say about Joe?

My cousin Richard gave me a vinyl copy of the 1970 release Mad Dogs & Englishmen, approximately 10 years after it came out, and I admit that I was slow to take to it. I didn’t recognize many of the songs, and I had yet to fall in love, as I decidedly am now, with the R&B and soul music that Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, et al. were clearly channeling at the time.

But, something led me to hold on to that record, and now, as I’ve said, it really is my undisputed, all-time favorite live album.

If I had to use one word to describe Joe Cocker’s greatness, I would use the word commitment, because, when you watch and listen to Joe perform, you see and hear a man committing himself to the music to the fullest extent possible, giving himself over to it completely, giving all of himself without reservation.

There’s no way to fake what he did, and it’s my personal opinion that if you don’t find the following at all stirring, if this 20-piece band, replete with full-blown choir, doesn’t course through you with the power of love, well then, you might want to check yourself for a pulse.

Rest in peace, Joe, and thank you, thank you, thank you for the many years of beautiful music!