Saturday, June 26, 2010

Two Interesting Short Videos

This first video is for Her Morning Elegance, a record by Oren Lavie, from photographs by Eyal Landesman. The second, which I found on Amy Crehore's fine blog Little Hokum Rag, is Les Kiriki - Acrobates Japonais, made in 1907. I must admit, I had to look at Les Kiriki a lot longer than I should have before I got it, but I haven't been sleeping well lately.
Both were downloaded from You Tube.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rubenesque, part II

More Rube Goldberg, from Mr. Door- Tree's Golden Age Comics and Stories, one of the best blogs in the whole world.

There are several machines, more than a few from the Foolish Question series, some political satire, a Boob McNutt strip (my grandfather once referred to an acquaintance of his as "a real Boob McNutt") and a few others thrown in for good measure.

Some of it reminds me of the earlier R. Crumb, pre- Genesis, circa 1965- 1968,  with their beautiful lines and terrific lettering, not to mention a nice penetrating look at society.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Just like Jimi Hendrix, his record- mate from the Monterey Pop Festival, Otis Redding has been able to release a new recording in 2010, despite being dead since December 10, 1967.

This is good news for us.

The disc, a two CD set of recordings from a gig he did at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1966, came out originally in truncated form on vinyl on Atlantic Records.

That record was released posthumously as well. The highlight for me was Just One More Day, a transcendental performance that featured Otis bringing it down while the tenor saxes moaned in the back ground and the rest of the band chants, "Whoo, Lord!"

"I want this day, and the day after, and I want ALL the days, I want all the days..." he sings as if he's in church.

I get all choked up when he says this. Every time.

And here it is again, disc one, cut two. "Show 2, Set 3," says the back cover of the new release. That set, along with Show 3, Set 1 and Show 3, Set 2, comprise the content of this new release. The songs are delivered in the order they were actually performed, with Otis's famously enigmatic in- jokes and comments peppered throughout.

It's the era of his Satisfaction, and his cover of James Brown's Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, both included. All the hits that he had up to that time are there, except for Pain in My Heart but including a pretty hot version of Ole Man Trouble, from his masterpiece, Otis Blue- Otis Redding Sings Soul, one of the greatest records of the sixties, and therefore of all times.

A word about the band: this was his touring band at the time, not Booker T and the MG's as on the Live at Monterey record, nor is it the Bar- Keys, the band that went down in the plane crash. It's a good journeyman bunch, heavy on saxes, with an out- of- tune trumpet that marred the original release. Mercifully, the trumpet is buried in this excellent mix.

That said, they have a sense of dynamics that no white band of the era could touch, save maybe Louisiana's Boogie Kings. The shows really move. Otis is in complete command. There are flubs, mistakes, etc, but they're inconsequential, and no song is done the same way twice, while his testifying grabs at the listener every time.

When I was a kid, there was a DJ on WOL here in Washington, DC named Soulfinger (Fred Correy). He came on at midnight, right after the Nighthawk (now there's a story), and his theme was Agent Double- O Soul, by Edwin Starr. (Not Soul Finger by the Bar Kays, surprisingly.)

Every night he'd open the show by saying, "If your cry to me should be, 'Soulfinger, I have a hole in my soul,' well, I have the sounds indeed to patch it. But if your cry to me should be, 'Soulfinger, alas I have no soul at all,' well, I have the sounds indeed to hatch it."

These are those sounds.

Otis was 26 years old when he died, roughly the same age as Orson Welles was when he made Citizen Kane. Otis was riding the crest of a beautiful music, a music made by black people and white people together, working toward a great end. The music was called Soul Music, the music of the inner heart of the folks that made it and listened to it. When Otis died in the plane crash, much of the essence of the music died with him, so large was his presence.

Now James Brown is dead. Wilson Pickett is dead. Along with Otis, these were the main architects of soul, and now they're all gone. But, as the saying goes, we have the music.

I saw Otis Redding live once at a Xmas show at the DC Coliseum, along with the Marvelettes, Aaron Neville (young, skinny and scared)  and several others. In my memory now, I see him at the edge of the stage wearing the red suit of Live in Europe fame, kneeling on the stage, reaching out to a hundred fans, shaking hands, testifying, screaming "Got to" over and over. It remains the supreme musical moment of my life.  The defining moment of naked, raw soul. And I have used that moment over and over again to console myself, inspire myself, and motivate myself.

So, recommended: Otis Redding, Live on the Sunset Strip.

Otis says hello and goodbye.

Otis does Try a Little Tenderness with the A Team: Booker T, Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson and the Memphis Horns

Buster, thanks to Mr. Freeland- Archer

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why I Love Tony Bennett

It's surprisingly difficult to find a truly great Tony Bennett clip on You Tube. I couldn't find his great version of Harold Arlen's A Sleeping Bee at all, and even an early I Left My Heart In San Francisco clip is marred by the sad past- her- prime appearance of Judy Garland.

I did, however, find two gems: Tony's duet with Stevie Wonder on Wonder's For Once In My Life, in which Stevie plays some incredible chromatic harmonica. If playing harmonica was all he did, Stevie would still be a genius.

Best of all, though, is this audio- only version of the great Maxwell Anderson/ Kurt Weill composition, Lost in the Stars. Tony is backed up by Count Basie's band. It's just perfect.

In the piece about Sinatra I wondered about the quality of Frank's heart. No need for that with Tony Bennett- he is all beautiful heart and soul, a zen master, who said on a documentary I watched, "All I ever wanted was to sing and paint."

Me too, Tony, me too.

Television and the Paranormal Phenomenon

From left to right: Steve, Grant, Jay, Tango and Kris- the best of  all the teams.

I don't watch much television. Okay, I watch every night, but there are only a few things I like and after they're done, so am I.

I rarely watch "reality" television (a classic oxymoron if there ever was one) so I've never danced with America, idolized it or admired it's talent. I've never raced, survived or eaten in a Hell Kitchen. I have decorated a few cakes with the stoners on Ace of Cakes, and Mythbusters still has an appeal after many seasons. There's a cartoon show on Disney called Phineas and Ferb that I can't get anyone to watch, but let me tell you- it's really truly funny.

I already mentioned Treme, so no need to go there again, at least for a while.

I have a guilty secret though. I rarely miss Ghosthunters. Wednesday nights are set aside for my wife Sue and myself to follow Jay and Grant and their able team through the haunted homes, libraries, hospitals and prisons of America.  Now, if you've never seen this show, then you don't know how completely surrounded we are by spirits- restless hauntings, some residual, some intelligent (see how much I know already?), eager to disrupt the world of the living. Or maybe not. It's all in how you look at it.

Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson are two Roto- Rooter plumbers who have pursued their fascination with the paranormal through their own organization, The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS as they refer to it, as in, "Hi, we're Jay and Grant from TAPS. We're here to help."

In the earliest episodes they are hen- pecked by neglected spouses and surrounded by mostly incompetent sidekicks as they boldly go through their rounds, usually homes near their own in Warwick, Rhode Island. Often a call will come in while they're working on a toilet or installing a shower head. They'll leap into their Roto- Rooter van and head back to TAPS HQ, which, in the beginning, was a trailer in Jay's backyard.

The first team, with Brian Harnois third from left, apparently replacing a pane of glass.

One of the team, a classic TV a-hole type named Brian provided the lightning rod of incompetency and arrogance so important to television's need for  soap operas. The poor guy's role was edited by the producers so as to make him seem like the biggest douchebag on TV, and finally he was sent to the farm team, Ghosthunters International, and has since disappeared altogether. His classic moment was yelling "Run dude run", during an investigation. Man, could that guy run!

Times have, as they say, changed. The only sidekick to survive the early days, tattooed ex-cop Steve Gonsalves, has been joined by Dave Tango from New Jersey,  and beautiful Kris Williams (and not in a TV/ Baywatch way- I mean a really pretty woman), and a somewhat regular but revolving cast of TAPS cohorts.

Ghost magnet Kris Williams

They have temperature- reading cameras and K-II meters and recording devices for picking up EVP's (electronic voice phenomena). They use digital cameras on remotes controlled from their van (apparently a converted Roto- Rooter truck.)

A camera and sound crew follows them through their investigations with high ASA infra- red cameras so we can see what is happening in the dark. It doesn't hurt that the infa- red makes everything look spooky: dark hair looks light and eyeballs glow gray.

And, every once in a while, they actually find something interesting. A glass or lamp will move. A door will open on command. A ghostly voice will be heard on the EVP recording, telling the investigators to leave it alone. The ghosts seem very reasonable.

Here's what you never see: scary ghosts. Real- honest- to- god- floating, ghostly people wafting down stairs or through hallways. They claim to see it, but you never do. By the time the crew turns their lens on the phenom, it's gone, if it was ever there. The closest they ever got to showing a real entity was in a lighthouse investigation (lighthouses are hotbeds of ghostly activity, evidently) where a remote picked up a shadowy dark figure darting around at the top of a circular staircase. It was actually pretty amazing. Of course, when Jay and Grant and the camera crew went up there, we saw nothing.

The people in the haunted locations are constantly talking up these apparitions. "He was standing by the fireplace in a revolutionary war uniform. He smiled and disappeared," for example. You never see anything like that. You hear the crew yell, "If you're the revolutionary war soldier, please show yourself." But they never do.

I say get rid of that crew, fellas. The ghosts have got their number, believe me. That crew will never capture any evidence; those wiley ghosts are just too tech- savvy for them. Just carry your own small cameras. And forget the digital still cameras with their disruptive flashes- you never get anything with those. Keep those K-II meters and the flashlights: I love watching those ghosts turn those flashlights on and off. EVP's are great, so give everyone a digital recorder, a flashlight, a K-II meter and, oh yeah- one of those heat- recording cameras- they're always good for a chill!

You'd think that in this day and age this whole paranormal thing would have been explained and either de-bunked or proved once and for all. I mean, how difficult can it be to communicate with and visualize the dead? If dogs, children and mediums can do it, why not everyone? Chances are we can do it already, but the powerful religious lobbies have kept the information from us, like the anti- gravity belts and the time machines. (See my blog The Future Isn't Now).  Hey, I'm kidding, okay? Well... maybe.

Anyway, as long as we have the practical plumbers out there, I personally can sleep well, knowing what I've learned from Jay and Grant. Thank you, men. You got rid of the ghosts and fixed that pesky leak.