music friday: elvis: the rebirth of the king (mike connolly, 2017)

This is a not uninteresting look at Elvis from the BBC that treats him with respect as an artist, proposing that Elvis in Vegas was, at worst, underrated and at best, his peak. I'm not sure this tells hardcore fans anything they don't already know, but The Rebirth of the King could serve to counter those caricatures of Elvis in the 70s that are so prevalent with more casual fans. It's not junk, and it made for a fun 60 minutes.

Greil Marcus stands in for the critics, and he is eloquent when describing the '68 Special, offering insights in particular to "Baby What You Want Me to Do". Several of the people involved with the music Elvis made in the late-60s/early-70s turn up with some good anecdotes, many of which point to the professionalism Elvis the musician brought to the table in those days. As is often the case in documentaries like this, we only get snippets of songs, which has the feel of coitus interruptus.

An interesting connection is shown between Elvis and Roy Hamilton. Elvis loved Hamilton's work, and the film is pretty convincing at showing how his vocals were influenced by the R&B star (whose son is interviewed).

Here are a few highlights from the film, only I'm posting a fuller version of the songs.

And, for as long as it stays up, here is the full documentary:


small world: sipowicz, sha na na, and me

I once wrote an essay for a book titled What Would Sipowicz Do? Race, Rights and Redemption in NYPD Blue. A couple of days ago, the publisher sent a group email to all of the authors, letting us know that the book, which came out in 2004, will be going out of print. As I often do when I get included in an anthology, I check out my fellow contributors, looking for names I recognize. This doesn't always make me happy ... Alan Dershowitz turned up in one of those books ... but it's fun, especially in retrospect, to see the company I once hung out with. In the case of the NYPD Blue book, there was Joyce Millman, one of the founders of Salon, and David Gerrold, writer of numerous books and perhaps best-known for his association with Star Trek (he wrote the Tribbles episode, among others).

One of the writers in that book responded to the email, copying all of us, thanking the publisher for letting us know. I thought that was a nice gesture, and looked him up online, just to see what else he had done. His name was Robert A. Leonard, and the piece he wrote for the book was "Forensic Linguistics in NYPD Blue". Leonard himself is a distinguished linguist ... among other things, he is the director of the graduate program in Forensic Linguistics at Hofstra.

Looking at his Wikipedia page and elsewhere, I found that I actually had an experience with Leonard many years ago, June of 1970 to be exact. I had just turned 17, and a friend and I went to Fillmore West. The opening acts were Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and Pacific Gas & Electric, who had a decent-sized hit that year with "Are You Ready?"

My friend and I had never heard of the headliners. They had made their mark, though, in a movie which had been released a couple of months earlier that we hadn't yet seen: Woodstock. The band was Sha Na Na:

When we saw them, they were fun and energetic and very entertaining. Later I would learn that the original members of the band were students at Columbia.

I can still remember one song they played that night. Here it is at Woodstock (check out Jimi Hendrix taking in the act around the 1:15 moment):

The singer was "Rob" Leonard. According to Wikipedia, "Leonard spent two years with the band, until he stopped at the age of twenty-one. He left the band because he was offered a fellowship at Columbia Graduate School and wanted to further his education in linguistics."

Yes, my fellow author in the NYPD Blue anthology was the same man I saw sing "Teen Angel" at Fillmore West in 1970.


music friday: songwriters

Next month the Songwriters Hall of Fame will welcome its six latest inductees. Here is a song from each of those songwriters.

Dallas Austin: TLC, "Creep". "If he knew the things I did, he couldn't handle me, and I choose to keep him protected."

Missy Elliott: "Work It". "Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup."

John Prine: "Everything Is Cool". "Everything is cool, everything's okay. Why just before last Christmas, my baby went away."

Tom T. Hall: Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA". "Mrs. Johnson, you're wearin' your dresses way too high."

Jack Tempchin: The New Riders of the Purple Sage, "Fifteen Days Under the Hood". "I got those dead-battery-broken-fan-belt blues."

Yusuf/Cat Stevens: "Father and Son". "If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me."


reaction

Anyone who has spent any time on YouTube knows the way it can become a giant time suck. You go there to watch one video, and by the time you leave the site, you've watched ten. I've been watching a lot of "reaction videos" lately ... I know that's what they are called, there's a Wikipedia page about them. They are exactly what you think: videos of people reacting to other videos, which often/usually appear on your screen along with the person doing the reacting.

Perhaps my favorite, which I have posted here before, is a compilation of fans of The 100 watching a key scene from the show that features (SPOILER FOR SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO, BUT WHATEVER) the return of a beloved character thought to be gone for good.

An ironic note: Lexa's earlier death was a perfect example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome, the worst since Tara in Buffy. Fans were outraged ... many said they would never watch again. But in the above scene, we saw that while we can never forget that stupid death, showrunner Jason Rothenberg knew his character, and knew how to send her off properly (even if it took 9 episodes to get there). The 100 has just begun its 6th season, with a 7th already in place, but for me, Lexa's return remains the most emotional scene in a series that is full of them.

My recent binge has been focused on someone who calls himself Modern Renaissance Man. He gave himself the right handle, as a look at his Patreon page demonstrates: "videos, comedy relief, ministering, counseling, advice". As I type this, he has uploaded 963 reaction videos to his YouTube channel. What I find fascinating is that he is knowledgeable about music (he is, in fact, a musician in addition to everything else he does), but he is fairly young and not necessarily familiar with the classic tunes of older times. It can be a delight seeing his response to things that he has never heard, things that us old timers have heard so many times the songs become almost meaningless. Here is the first one I watched:

There is no way for me to go back to the moment I first heard this song. The next best thing is watching someone else hear it for the first time.

One more, a favorite song of mine, and a favorite video of mine as well:

Finally, something a little different, but again, an example of something us geezers have memorized but which might be new to others:


music friday: pink, julia michaels, billie eilish

Last.fm tracks my Spotify listening, and a couple of days ago, they gave me my April listening report. Some of it was obvious ... I listened to a lot of Pink, who we saw in concert in the middle of the month. My most played track was "Walk Me Home" from her new album, Hurts 2B Human, and a new video of that song, featuring the Sink the Pink collective, has been released:

Under a set of "discovery" tables, I found that my personal new discovery was Julia Michaels, which has another Pink connection, as she was the opening act at the recent concert. Here is the Michaels track I played the most in April, which happens to also be the song she opened with at the concert (and which is coincidentally called "Pink"):

Finally, there is the "Mainstream-o-meter", which compares your top artist of the month against the overall top artist. I got 53%, whatever that means, largely because I played a lot of Billie Eilish. I suppose I should be proud that at 65, I'm still listening to new artists like Michaels and Eilish, but the truth is, I had no idea how popular they already are ... "new to me" doesn't necessarily mean "new to everyone". Here is Eilish with "bad guy" ... I think she looks like a 17-year-old Aubrey Plaza in this video:

Bonus: the tables say Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems were my most obscure artist of the month.


music friday: george jones

My knowledge of country music does not run deep. It's not that I don't like it ... it's more that it rarely enters my music world, and when it does, it's often when old rockers turn to country (Jerry Lee Lewis being the best example). Looking back, I've seen the following people in concert, who might be considered part of the country music world: Rosanne Cash, Iris DeMent, Joe Ely, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss & Union Station, k.d. lang, and Willie Nelson. Not exactly a cross section of the vastness that is country music.

And so it is with George Jones, who died on this date in 2013. I have vague memories of "White Lightning", which was a hit when I was a couple of months shy of six years old, and "The Race Is On" in 1964. Somewhere along the way, I became aware in an intellectual way of Jones' importance, enough so that I'd consider a blog post like this. But I don't want to make it sound like I am a George Jones fanatic, or that I know his work in depth. If memory serves, I only ever owned two of his albums, and I was probably influenced there by rock critic Robert Christgau, who covered the Jones catalog in depth in his Consumer Guide. Thus, the first of those two albums was All-Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, which received an A- from Christgau but which is not highly regarded in general, because while it contains a lot of great hits, the versions on this album were re-recorded, not the originals. So it has "White Lightning" and "The Race Is On", but not in the versions that first caught my attention (I'm not sure I noticed the difference). There is also "Window Up Above" and "She Thinks I Still Care", among other classics. A few years later, I picked up I Am What I Am (Xgau: A-), which included the record often called the greatest country song of all time, "He Stopped Loving Her Today".

Not to be disrespectful, but I watched the TV show Hee Haw occasionally, and it featured all of the great country singers, so I probably saw Jones there, as well.

Here are a few George Jones songs. First, "White Lighning" on Hee Haw in, I believe, 1969:

"The Race Is On" from 1986 at Farm Aid:

"He Stopped Loving Her Today":

Bonus: a couple of those other country acts I've seen. Rosanne Cash, "Seven Year Ache":

And k.d. lang, "Crying" (if you only watch one of these videos, make it this one):


music friday: kidcutup

Having now enjoyed KidCutUp at two separate Pink concerts, I thought I'd give him a shout out here. He does a great job of bringing the crowd into his sets, even when the people aren't there to see him in the first place. His blend of current and older music appeals to an interesting cross-section ... at least, he knows what Pink fans want, from 8 to 80. My wife (65) isn't much of a fan of opening acts, but she likes KidCutUp, and it's fun to see her as she sings along to things like "Just a Friend". These don't give a real feel, but it's the best I could dig up. First, here he is in a studio:

Next, a poorly-recorded short taste of what his Pink shows are like:

And finally, he has a playlist on Spotify that will give you an idea of the kinds of songs he's liable to slip into a set:

KidCutUp: Beautiful Trauma Opening Set Playlist (Spotify)

Special bonus for my wife:


pink #6

This was our second time seeing Pink on her Beautiful Trauma tour, with the two shows separated by 11 months. Which is about right ... her shows are locked into the spectacle, so she can't really change things around much from show to show. There were only two changes to the setlist, with songs from her soon-to-be-released new album replacing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and one of her old tunes. One particular highlight this time came from the people who sat directly in front of us: a woman and her daughter, who will be 8 at the end of the week. Mom said they'd been to see Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, and the squirt really enjoyed going to shows. They made quite a team, dancing happily. I told Mom that I first saw Pink "-9 years" before the daughter was born. The kid brought her doll with her, which was darling as could be. She tuckered out at the end, but kudos to both Mom and Kid for their exuberance.

I'm going to quote a bit from my post on last year's show, because it's still relevant, and because it raises something I want to reiterate:

As for the band, it must matter that the same people have been in her band for ... I don't know, at least a decade. They aren't "A Band", they are "The Band" ... they don't go on tour as themselves when Pink isn't around. They are working musicians who play with many other artists. If you think about singers you've watched for a long time, I don't think you'd find many examples where the backup group is mostly unchanged. But these folks have backed Pink on tour long enough that they sound just like a "real" band.

I stand by those words. I did a little research. In almost every case, the band has been touring with her at least since the 2009 Funhouse tour. Just to name the ones I am sure of, there are the vocalists, Jenny Douglas and Stacy Campbell ... Douglas goes back to the I'm Not Dead tour of 2006-7. There's the rhythm section, Mark Schulman on drums and Eva Gardner on bass. Jessy Greene takes care of violin, viola, and vocals. Adriana Balic, who goes way back but missed a tour after she had a kid, on keyboards, guitar, vocals. Justin Derrico, the hot-shit geetar player. I don't mean to leave anyone out, but a couple have been around a bit less than the rest. There are also the dancers, who for the most part are more anonymous to me but many of whom have also been on multiple tours with Pink.

Reading Brian Hiatt's fine new book, Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, I realized a truth that wasn't really a surprise, that since Tunnel of Love in the late-70s, Bruce has only rarely gone into the studio with the full E Street Band. That's how they made The River, but that's no longer how he makes albums. And, of course, Bruce has done tours without that band. But they are closely associated with each other ... the E Street Band has a recognizable identity, we think of them as being tied to Bruce. Many of them have solo careers, Max Weinberg spent many years as a late-night band leader, Steve Van Zandt was a regular on The Sopranos. But when the whole gang tours, it's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

I'm not sure about other solo artists, but I feel like their tour bands change from year to year. Yet here is Pink, with a group so consistent that they could almost be billed a la the E Streeters. They are musicians for hire, sure ... Eva Gardner has a new album out, a couple of these folks are on shows like The Voice, and in the time-honored tradition of backup singers, Stacy and Jenny are always working with someone. Drummer Schulman even has a side-career as a motivational speaker. But it's been a long time since we've seen much in the way of changes in Pink's band. My wife saw her for the first time in 2009, and to her, the band has always been pretty much the same. The first two shows I saw, going back to 2002, had different musicians, but those were a long time ago.

Truthfully, for all they add to the concerts, Pink's band aren't as essential to the show as the E Street Band is to Bruce shows. But they keep coming back, Pink keeps asking them back, and they all seem to be having great time. It's fun to see, over the years.

I should offer another snippet from last year, since it was true once again last night. "Special mention to the opening act, KidCutUp, a DJ who did about 40 minutes and had the Arena dancing and bopping ... odd, but the DJ was one of the best opening acts I've seen."

Finally, Julia Michaels did a set. She is known for writing songs for top pop stars. Her first single, "Issues", went triple-platinum. She was energetic, although my wife felt her band tended to overwhelm Michaels' offerings.

Here is a photo my wife took of "Revenge", the song that features Eminem both on vocals and, in concert, as a giant balloon. If you follow "Eminem's" line of vision, you'll see Pink floating in the air underneath a bunch of lights, just before she flies over to the balloon and punches it out.

Eminem vs. pink