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music friday: donna summer, “protection”

I have a few words about Donna Summer, but first, I recommend Ann Powers’ piece, “The Many Voices of Donna Summer”. Ann does so many things well, but she really shines with her obituaries, which are not easy to write, and, of course, you hate when the need for one arises.

When I think of disco, I think of one-hit wonders. This is a bit myopic, mostly demonstrating that my experience with the music was limited to crossover hits and whatever they played at the roller rink around 1980. The Johnny-come-lately types like The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart don’t count here. I’m thinking more of someone like Thelma Houston, who sang my favorite disco song of all time, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. Houston wasn’t really a one-hit wonder … she had been recording for seven years before her big hit, and she’s still active today. But “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is the only song she recorded that I can name, off the top of my head. It’s such a great record, not just a great disco record, but a great record, period. It was her peak.

In this world of one-hit wonders, there was Donna Summer. One of her albums alone (Bad Girls) had four Top-40 singles, including two #1 and one #2. And the non-single tracks, like “Sunset People”, were just as good. Her 1979 Greatest Hits album, dominated as expected by Bad Girls, was also full of great stuff … not all of it was to my taste, but there’s no denying “I Feel Love”, “On the Radio”, and even “Love to Love You Baby”.

While all of those hits are the first thing that comes to mind when I look back on Summer’s career, it was her work in the early-80s that really got my attention, for that was when she made her “rock move”. First came The Wanderer, a fine album, although not as popular as her more disco-oriented music. Then, in the midst of a less-interesting self-titled 1982 album, Summer recorded a Bruce Springsteen song! It’s pretty good, too, written by Bruce around the time he was working with Gary U.S. Bonds. Finally, there was the undeniable “She Works Hard for the Money”. Summer, in her early-30s, created a different version of her music that was arguably as strong as the disco music for which she was most famous.

So you’ve got a woman who recorded a classic disco album, had many disco hits, easily filled a hits compilation, all in a genre full of “one-hit wonders”, and then made some excellent sides with a more rock flavor. It’s a unique career from a talented artist.

Here are a few of her songs, pop music at its finest. First, “On the Radio”:

“She Works Hard for the Money”:

And finally, here’s a link to “Protection”, complete with sizzling gee-tar solo by Bruce:


G+ aficionados like to talk about the depth of their conversations, and the point is often made that a judicious use of circles means you don’t necessarily know everyone you follow on G+, but you likely share interests, since that is the reason you place people in circles to begin with. I have 19 circles at present (if I was diligent, I could clean them up a bit and end up with around 15). Several are included in “Your Circles”, a concept I only recently understood. (I often post things meant for family and friends, rather than the public, and I would painstakingly add each family/friend circle, six of the nineteen, to those posts. But I can define “Your Circles” to mean those six family/friend circles, making my life easier.) Then there are the many circles devoted to a particular topic: technology, music, film, TV, and so on.

Lately, though, I’ve begun adding entire circles from other users. This is a quick-and-easy way to find new perspectives, and I’ve gotten a lot of good reading from these circles, although there is a tendency to quickly fill up the primary stream of posts. In the process, I’ve found that many posts concern marketing.

It is common to promote your work on G+. Hell, I do it myself, every time I cross-post something from my blog. And those aren’t the things I mean here. I’m talking about people talking about marketing: how to do it, how to maximize the online social presence of your business, where the next money is to be made. All viable topics for discussion, but not what I expect to see.

I can just selectively un-circle folks whose main interest is marketing. But, as I add more people I don’t know to my circles via circle sharing, I find more and more “marketers” in my news stream. I guess I’m just drawing attention to my own naiveté, but I’m surprised that this is true. It appears I am idealistic about Google Plus, and, of course, by “idealistic” I mean “my ideals”, not anyone else’s. I just forget sometimes that among many things, the Internet is a place where people market themselves for ultimate profit. It’s like realizing there’s an entire subculture going on underneath the surface that you know nothing about, except in this case, I am the one under the surface, while marketing exists happily above ground.

what i watched last week

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961). Iconic for more than one reason. Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly is one of her most famous roles, while Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi is a classic example of “yellow face” stereotyping. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Hepburn. I have nothing against her, never find her insufferable, but I’ve never really “gotten” her. The long party sequence is the best thing about the movie, with Blake Edwards showing his talent for unexpected laughs, and it is interesting to see how Hollywood dealt with prostitution (male and female) and homosexuality at the end of the Code Era. (The prostitution is suggested, but pretty clearly, while the homosexuality is hard to find.) Ultimately, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a slight offering, one that fans of Audrey Hepburn will love, and a fun movie until the romance turns serious. #465 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

drumroll for my blogroll has posted their “First Annual Blog Index”, what they consider the 25 best out there (along with the five most overrated blogs). While I often come across material from those 25 blogs via other links, I do not have any of them in my Google Reader RSS feed, so I guess I’m an outlier. So, using the Reader’s “Trends” function, here are some blogs/websites I actually do read:

  • TV Squad (156 posts read over the past 30 days, 11% of the available posts): This is mostly for Maureen Ryan … I still call it “TV Squad” even though it has been taken over by HuffPost.
  • Deadspin (135 posts, 20% of available): “Sports News Without Access, Favor, or Discretion”
  • SB Nation Bay Area (130 read, 19% of available): Another sports site; “Pro Quality, Fan Perspective.”
  • McCovey Chronicles (82 read, 62%): SF Giants site.
  • A plain blog about politics (77 read, 82%): Smart political scientist blogging from a centrist Democratic perspective.
  • (67 read, 17%): I read Salon a lot more than this shows, because I visit the website multiple times each day, and those don’t show up in Reader.
  • If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger There’d Be a Whole Lot of Copycats (64 read, 100%): You can tell how much I love this site by the 100% read figures. Everyone should have this in their feed reader.
  • Baseball Prospectus (54, 18%): Like with Salon, I visit the BP site several times a day, so the % figures don’t reflect how much time I spend there.
  • (48, 35%): This doesn’t count the ESPN baseball and soccer pages, which I visit a billion times a day.
  • Feministing (44, 44%): A new-to-me blog that is already climbing my list of good reads; “Young Feminists Blogging, Organizing, Kicking Ass”.

I don’t actually know how Google Reader computes these things, so I’ll add two honorable mentions that turn up on a list titled “Clicked” … not sure what that means, but I read these whenever something is actually posted there, which is frequently in Alan’s case, not-so-frequently in Tim’s case:

In most cases, I recommend the above dozen sites if you are interested in the subject matter. I think “A plain blog” and “Feministing” are worth reading, even if you don’t think you’d agree with what you’d read … I find myself disagreeing with “A plain blog” on a regular basis, but I love reading it just the same. And one more time, I highly recommend “Gunslinger” … they don’t post every day, but every post is a delight, and it’s almost all photos, so you don’t have to worry about reading too much, if that’s your problem.

mother’s day, penelope cruz, and me

I hate to link to the anti-vaccine Huffington Post, but my RSS feed directed me to an article on their “Cultura” page today, titled “Happy Mother’s Day: Our 35 Favorite Latina Celeb Moms”. It’s the usual slideshow-with-brief-introduction, and features the women you’d expect: Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek. One person in particular caught my attention: Penelope Cruz.

Why would I care more about Cruz than the other 35? Well, Alba is half-Mexican, Lopez is Puerto Rican, Hayek is Mexican-American, and there were even some “celebs” I didn’t realize were Latina (mostly because I don’t pay attention) made the list, such as Nicole Richie (half-Mexican) or Mariah Carey (part-Venezuelan). (I should note that I am using the HuffPost descriptions of these women.)

Penelope Cruz, though, is Spanish. And I have long had a minor obsession with my own heritage, and whether I “deserve” the label “Latino” (or “Hispanic), because I am half-Spanish. Culturally, I was raised a suburban white boy, and I didn’t even know I looked Spanish until my first visit to that country when I was already in my 30s. I get all of the advantages given to white males in the U.S. And when I think of Latino/Hispanic, I think of people from Central and South America, not people from the European country where they speak Spanish.

Yet I know that “Spanish-American” has started to turn up on forms over the past couple of decades, and that is an accurate description of me. Then there are census categories like “white hispanic”.

There’s no real reason why any of this would be of interest. But I spent the first 30 or so years of my life thinking of myself as a white guy with Spanish roots, then the next fifteen or so years thinking of myself as a Spanish-American. But only in more recent times have I considered the possibility that I am, also, a Latino.

music friday: chantel mcgregor, “daydream”

“Daydream” has turned up more than once on Music Friday. It’s my favorite Robin Trower song, and in saying that, I realize that for most people, the next question is “Who is Robin Trower?” while for others it’s “Who still listens to Robin Trower?” Trower was the guitarist for Procol Harum in their heyday, and began his solo career in 1973. He was quite popular in the 70s … I attended one concert in 1975 that included Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, and Fleetwood Mac … Robin Trower was the headliner. His guitar playing was reminiscent of the Hendrix of “Little Wing”, but I always thought the comparisons were overdone. Trower is in his late-60s now, still playing … he’s all over YouTube.

“Daydream” was such a perfect number, I could listen to it multiple times in one sitting. Jim Dewar, the underrated blue-eyed soul singer from Trower’s band in the 70s, was always worth hearing, even when the lyrics weren’t much. Trower’s long, slow, drippy solo never fails to get to me, emotionally … two of my finest concert memories come from seeing him play that song.

It never occurred to me that anyone would cover “Daydream”. I’m not sure it’s much of a song without Trower. But the other day, I was surfing YouTube looking for Yet Another Version of “Daydream”, and I found that someone named Chantel McGregor covered the song. McGregor doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, so it took me awhile to learn anything about her. She has one album out (which includes “Daydream”), and her story is fairly typical: dad loved classic rock, she grew up listening to it, picked up her first guitar at 3 or some such ridiculous age, never put the damn thing down, learned all of the songs in her dad’s collection, and grew into a blues-rock gee-tar pheenom who could also sing. Because she has yet to have any real impact in the States that I can see, she isn’t yet on the level of other contemporary female blues-rock guitarists like Susan Tedeschi or even the Serbian Ana Popovic, who at least has a Wikipedia page.

McGregor was named the Young Artist of the Year at the 2011 British Blues Awards. That same year saw the release of her first album, Like No Other. Most of the songs are originals, but the covers hint at her influences: “Daydream”, of course, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Fleetwood Mac (not the Peter Green blues band, though … she covers “Rhiannon”). A truer sign of her roots can be seen on YouTube, where you can find her covering Hendrix (“Red House”, “Purple Haze”, “Little Wing”, and “Voodoo Chile” … well, and “All Along the Watchtower”), Metallica, T-Bone Walker, Stevie Nicks (“Landslide”), and Bonnie Raitt (“I Can’t Make You Love Me”). If nothing else, she’s got a certain brazen quality … she’s not afraid to take on the best songs of the best artists.

Does she measure up? Sure. I don’t know that I’d say she was “like no other”, but she can play the shit out of the guitar. And there are about as many YouTube videos of her performing “Daydream” as there are of Robin Trower doing the same.

It’s hard to know which ones to feature here. The album version, which clocks in 14 minutes, is solid, but you end up looking at a picture of the album cover. There is something to be said for shorter versions, since she does go on for a bit … even Trower rarely goes over 10 minutes. But there’s also something to be said for when she stretches out … arguably the best performance is one that runs for 17 minutes. One version that I can’t find for BBC Radio 2 is said by McGregor to be “the longest song that they’ve ever played!”

So, here are two versions, one the studio version from the album, the other the 17-minute affair. Finally, I’ve attached one of Trower … it’s not the best video of him, but I was at the concert in question (Winterland), so it holds a place in my heart. First, the album version:

If you want to go all in:

And Robin Trower:

in the night kitchen

I don’t have much to add to the many heartfelt paeans to Maurice Sendak. But I will add what seems to be a minority opinion, that my favorite of his books is In the Night Kitchen, not Where the Wild Things Are. The surreal trip into the milk bottle, the happy/scary Oliver Hardy cooks, “I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me.” … I love it all. Gene Deitch did a nice animated version:

what i watched last week

My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström, 1985). This film touched a lot of people. It garnered two Oscar nominations, was fairly popular with critics, and is said to be one of Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite movies. It’s an honest look at childhood that avoids the sappy-headed cheap emotion common to such pictures. I wish I could say I liked it more than I did. But I found my mind wandering, and was glad to see it end, not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply because I was tired of watching it. This is definitely a case of Your Mileage May Vary. #461 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. (Trivia note: the girl who plays the tomboy is the real-life sister of Joel Kinnaman from The Killing.) 6/10.

The Navigator (Donald Crisp and Buster Keaton, 1924). Somehow I had missed this one along the way, and I’m so glad I finally saw it. Reviews of Keaton’s film in his prime write themselves. They are inventive, surreal, hilarious, and startling in the way his modern-day follower Jackie Chan can be. The shorts tend to be more surreal, with more laughs-per-minute, but the features are funny, too, and Keaton devised some of his biggest stunts in those pictures. (Plus, a movie like The General, which I admittedly find more admirable than funny, is a masterpiece in the historical genre.) In other words, there’s not much to say about The Navigator. I could list the best bits, but they don’t play as well on the page as they do on the screen. I could wish for a final third that didn’t feature black cannibals, although this one is no worse than most pictures of its time. The most important thing that separates The Navigator from the pack is Kathryn McGuire. She was in a lot of movies up until 1930, and then she disappeared from the screen, even though she was only 27. There’s not a lot about her on the Internet. But she is marvelous in this movie. She may not quite be Michelle Yeoh to Buster’s Jackie Chan, but she’s a lot more involved than a Maggie Cheung. Her physicality and willingness to participate in Keaton’s intricate slapstick make more of an equal than is usual in Keaton’s films, and this also adds a bit of a sexual charge to their relationship, again not usual for Keaton. Yes, it’s Buster’s film, and it’s his stunts you’ll remember, but McGuire is a key part of the movie’s success. #384 on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. 10/10.

This Is England (Shane Meadows, 2006). 8/10.