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!

Sequoia + Lightpost

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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.

Trader Joe’s = Genius

all-in-oneSo, I’m pushing my cart through Trader Joe’s, and I pass that aisle cap where they have their newest products displayed, where I always, initially and involuntarily, scan the shelves for anything with chocolate in it, and once I wrest my eyes from the package of Brownie Crisps, described as “a crispy, crunchy take on chocolate brownies”, and after taming my sweet tooth and resisting the temptation, because, after all, Brownie Crisps are incredibly counterintuitive, as everyone knows that people love brownies precisely due to their soft and chewy rather than crispy and crunchy consistency, when all of a sudden I notice the product you see in the photo here.

Genius!

Listen, I know I’m not the only person who, while lathering up shampoo on one’s head, has had this series of thoughts:

  • Isn’t shampoo just soap for hair?
  • After all, it’s a substance that you use to clean something on your body.
  • And, if it can clean my hair, since I’ve got it right here above my face right now, can’t I just wash my face with it while I’m at it?
  • I mean, some of the shampoo is dripping down my face anyway, and it’s dripping down the back of my neck too! All I have to do is rub it in a bit and rinse, right?!
  • And, now that I think about it, this shampoo that I’m using has conditioner in it already, so if I could only use this shampoo to clean the rest of my body, all I would need is one frickin’ product in my shower!

Seriously, Trader Joe’s! Genius!

Now, to be fair, upon some light Googling, I’ve discovered that Trader Joe’s All for One — One for All is not the first product of it’s kind, but consider this:

Genius.

Mossness

mossness

Headline of the Day: Keeping It Real

starbucks-pumpkin-spice-latteIt’s hard to know where to start with today’s Headline of the Day installment, so let’s just start with the headline itself and see where that takes us, shall we?

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is now going to contain real pumpkin and it’s probably going to be disgusting

Salon.com

Listen, don’t hold anything back, Salon.com writer Lindsay Abrams! We can tell that you have strong feelings about this. That’s good. Maybe, even, as good as … real pumpkin?

I guess I’ve been out of the loop, but I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!, to learn that there’s never been, until this fall, actual pumpkin in Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

Ok, so, I’m not really shocked. Nor am I particularly bothered by the fact that there hasn’t been real pumpkin in the lattes.

After all, the phrase “pumpkin spice”, to me, very clearly refers to the spices associated with the most famous pumpkin dish of all: pumpkin pie. Pumpkin, by itself, isn’t really all that flavorful. I doubt very many people even consume real pumpkin without spices of some kind, whether it’s sweet, like pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, or savory, like pumpkin soup or pumpkin ricotta gnocchi.

I don’t really understand attacking Starbucks — a company that is certainly attack-worthy for other reasons — for adding real pumpkin. She brands it “pandering to an ingredient-crazed consumer base”, but it’s not like this ingredient-crazed consumer base is clamoring for more artificial ingredients!

Now, Lindsay Abrams, who I might say is overall a solid writer who covers other topics, such as politics and the environment, makes a fair point about just how little real pumpkin will actually be in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. She includes the list of ingredients published by Starbucks, where “pumpkin purée” is listed as just one sub-ingredient in the “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce”, which is the third overall ingredient on the list, after espresso and milk.

And yet, she loses credibility with her sarcastic addition of a photo of the pulpy inside of a pumpkin, calling it disgusting, either ignoring, or ignorant of, the fact that the flesh of the pumpkin, not the pulp, is what’s used in pumpkin purée, and that purée, by it’s very nature, has a smooth, creamy texture, perfect, right?!, for a latte.

All in all, much ado about nothing, and embarrassingly, I suppose I’ve merely added to the ado.

I can’t wait to wash down my shame with a delicious, real Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Me & Zuki At Raptor Ridge

me-zuki-raptor

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!

Stuff We Need: The Evolution Of The Backpack

mindshiftI haven’t posted an installment in my Stuff We Need series in quite a while, and I’d like to think it’s because I’ve made progress in my effort to curtail my overall need or perceived need for stuff.

However, I LOVE hiking and traveling and other activities where I’m on the go and need to comfortably carry stuff that I legitimately need on outings — e.g. layers, water, food, guide book, wallet, keys, camera, etc. — and a backpack is still the best solution.

Yet, backpack design has remained remarkably static for many years. Oh, they’ve become lighter, more comfortable, and able to carry a wider assortment of items, but as anyone who has used one knows, for all of their convenience, they’ve always had one serious convenience flaw: In order to access the contents of the backpack you must take the pack off in order to access all of the good stuff inside.

Well, thanks to a post over at Gizmodo, I found evidence that backpack designers are finally trying to solve this problem, via three packs that address this access-to-stuff issue in three different, interesting ways.

First up, the Paxis, which has a compartment attached to a swingarm:

paxis-animated

Very cool idea, I’m sure it uses aluminum to keep the weight down, but I’d worry about the hinge and/or the swingarm getting bent or broken. Accidents certainly do happen, and backpacks are usually tossed around a lot in transit and at camp.

Next up, a commenter at Gizmodo linked to a similar concept by MindShift Gear called the rotation180° Panorama:

Definitely seems like a simpler take on the same basic idea, with less bulk, less added weight, and no big aluminum parts to bend. It’s made specifically for photographers, but I don’t see why you couldn’t store things other than photo gear in the movable compartment.

Finally, Gizmodo found the Paxis at Gizmag, and the Gizmag post links to a very different concept, the Wolffepack:

wolffepack

I’d worry about the cord that the pack is lowered by, that it could get snagged, tangled, or cut, but the advantage of the Wolffepack is that you gain access to the whole pack, not just one small compartment.

Overall, these are promising out-of-the box ideas and evidence that backpacks are indeed evolving.

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!