music friday: delaney & bonnie & friends

I’m realizing as I write this that Delaney & Bonnie might be forgotten by now. While they didn’t have many hits, for a few years, they were really something, and through them a lot of music emerged. Suffice to say for starters that Christgau gave the following grades to their first five albums: B+, A+, A-, A-, A. He also gave A grades to two later Best-Ofs. He wrote, “They are what would happen to rock and roll if it were capable of growing up--maybe they are even what would happen to this country if it were capable of growing up.” Here is part of their story.

The Shindogs, “I Feel Fine”. One of the first times Delaney hit the spotlight was as a member of The Shindogs, who were the house band for the 60s TV series, Shindig! The legendary James Burton was on guitar. (Bonnie spent a short period as the first white Ikette in Ike and Tina history.)

The following video gives the best example of what is meant by “and friends”. It was recorded around the same time as what became Delaney & Bonnie & Friends on Tour with Eric Clapton. “The Friends” include, besides Clapton: Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon, who with Clapton became Derek and the Dominos; George Harrison; Bobby Keys and Jim Price, the two-man horn section who played with everyone, perhaps most famously The Rolling Stones; Rita Coolidge; and Billy Preston.

This is a terrific video, 45 minutes of live greatness, but the sound is only decent. For better sound, listen to the On Tour album, which is missing Harrison and Preston but which is otherwise very similar.

The connections are endless. Eric Clapton’s first solo album featured most of the people in the above video, and most of the songs were co-written by Clapton and one or another Bramlett. It sounds, in fact, a lot like a Delaney & Bonnie album. Don’t Know Why”. And, of course, Clapton followed this with Layla and Other Assorted Lovesongs.Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?

There’s Leon Russell, who was also a Shindog. He appeared on some D&B albums, and borrowed some of their musicians for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. With Bonnie, he co-wrote “Groupie”, better known a couple of years later as “Superstar”, which was the title when The Carpenters turned it into a giant hit.

Delaney & Bonnie, “Groupie”.

Along the way, Bonnie appeared on Roseanne for a couple of seasons, and offered this up during an impromptu backyard singalong (John Goodman gets it started, Shelley Winters looks on approvingly, Bonnie takes over):

Bonnie Bramlett, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”.

Finally, there’s “Never Ending Song of Love”. This was their biggest “hit” single. It came from Motel Shot, a mostly-acoustic album that plays like a really strong precursor to the unplugged era. It is a beautiful song, and a beautiful recording, featuring D&B and their friends ... someone compared the feel to “Give Peace a Chance”. And it’s heartbreaking to listen to it, knowing that Delaney and Bonnie broke up not that long after recording it. Which is why I like the story that it was written, not about their love for each other, but their love for their kids. And it’s why I’m posting this video, featuring Bonnie and a bunch of friends kicking it in another backyard, where one of the friends is daughter Bekka:

blu-ray series #20: purple noon (rené clément, 1960)

There are many oddities on the surface of this French film. The main characters are Americans in Italy, played by French actors (Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, and Marie Laforêt). The colorful look features pastels and bright, sun-filled scenes (the original title, Plein Soleil, roughly translates to “Full Sun”), yet the movie plays on tropes of film noir. Even the U.S. title is odd ... “Purple Noon” is never explained, in or out of the movie. (The title of the original novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, became better known in later years, when it was remade as a film with that title.)

Most of this goes unnoticed, though, once the film begins. (OK, I found myself confused a few times, not quite understanding that those characters were American.) What you do notice are the hints of the French New Wave, the sneaky way the film goes from airy travelogue to dark character study, and the way Alain Delon seems to intuitively know what makes a movie actor. It is rare that you see Delon doing anything ostentatious, and in those rare occasions, he is serving the script. For the most part, he watches others, learning how to become them in the manner of a chameleon, while his physical beauty grabs our attention no matter who or what else is on the screen. This makes Delon a perfect person to play the sexually ambiguous Tom Ripley ... it is easy to understand why every character in the film would be attracted to him.

I feel like I didn’t give the movie the proper attention ... it had been a long day, my mind refused to focus. Thus, I suspect if I watched Purple Noon again, I might give it a higher rating and a longer review. I might also give it a higher rating if the ending were different. For now, 8/10. The obvious double-bill companion would be The Talented Mr. Ripley.

what i watched last week

Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004). Mike Nichols’ first film as a director was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (see below), which got the audience’s attention in part by giving us Elizabeth Taylor, at the time 34 years old and one of the most beautiful women in the world, puffed up by 30 pounds, playing a much older character, drinking way too much and emasculating her husband in front of others. It was harder to shock audiences in 2004, so we get Julia Roberts saying she likes it when Jude Law’s characters comes on her character’s face. Closer isn’t quite as focused as Woolf ... while the latter features one couple battling each other in front of a second couple, with one cross-couple attempt at sex, in Closer, Dan and Alice are a couple, then Dan and Larry have cybersex without knowing who the other is, Larry and Anna become a couple and then marry, Dan and Anna become a couple on the sly, then openly, Anna sleeps with Larry one last time, Dan gets pissed, Anna goes back to Larry, Alice (remember her?) goes back with Dan, but by then she had slept with Larry, and at the end, we find that Alice’s name was really Jane. It’s enough to make one yearn for the simpler times of George and Martha. Some of the dialogue is cutting, and the actors give their all (besides Roberts, there is Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen). Roger Ebert loved it, drawing particular attention to how articulate the characters are. I found everything rather tiresome. #832 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 6/10.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966). Nichols’ debut won five Oscars, including Best Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Best Supporting Actress Sandy Dennis (Richard Burton and George Segal got nominations, as did Nichols ... there were 13 in all, Best Picture among them). The actors all seem to be trying just a bit too hard, with the possible exception of Segal, and Nichols (and Haskell Wexler, who picked up the Oscar for Best B&W Cinematography) pulls a reverse on the usual trick of “opening up” a play for the screen. Instead, Nichols fills the screen with close-up after close-up, as if seeing the pores on Liz’s face will convince us she’s really acting. Which is unfair ... everyone pulls their weight here, and no one embarrasses themselves. If it gives a bit of “much ado about nothing” after all these years, a decent fire remains. Try as they might, though, this isn’t anywhere near the level of A Streetcar Named Desire. #695 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For a companion to either of these movies, try Wit, yet another play adaptation from Nichols, but much better than the above.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005). I’m in a hurry, and this movie doesn’t deserve much of my time, anyway. Black is very bright and is happy to show off, Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan are game for anything, and so fucking what. #739 on the TSPDT list of the top films of the 21st century. If you figure out why, keep it to yourself. 5/10.