Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blood Drive July 1 At Stanford

As the refrain of "I'll Be There" still wafts its ear-worm rhapsody through my consciousness, I dedicate post #300 to an important event and cause taking place tomorrow.

Mr. Mark Alexander, a good friend to yours truly and many of this blog's readers, was critically injured in an accident on June 3.

Our friend, Mark Alexander

I still do not know the particulars, but he suffered numerous compound fractures of both legs and feet. He has undergone several surgeries and will be undergoing more. Only immediate family has been allowed to see him; it will be awhile before he is able to take calls or visitors.

So tomorrow has been set aside, from noon to 7:30 p.m., for a drive on Mark's behalf at the Stanford Blood Center.

If you are healthy, by all means, give blood. Donors: eat, drink plenty o' fluids and:

  • Be at least 17 years of age
  • Weigh at least 110 lbs (no problem for lots of us)
  • Be free of nasty cold and flu viruses
  • Bring photo ID

If unable to give blood - you're unwittingly carrying pathogens or take injectible drugs based from bovine products - stop by anyway and hang out in beautiful Palo Alto, as you will likely meet friends.

The amazing thing is that even if you're at the age where you can say "I've got more medications in my bloodstream than William S. Burroughs and Keith Richards combined - and didn't have any fun in the process", you might still be OK to give blood. Call the folks at the Stanford Blood Center and find out. The information numbers of Stanford Blood Center are (toll-free) 888-723-7831 and

Mark's friends - and he has been a steadfast, trustworthy and reliable one to many - have set up a blog to post updates, share support, goodwill and prayers.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Music Is Great, But Uber-Fame Really Sucks by Paul F. Etcheverry

In what will be days or weeks of unending media verbiage regarding recently passed pop icon Michael Jackson, I doubt we will see anything more insightful or unsparing than this article by author Cintra Wilson. Originally written back in 2000, this brutally honest but perceptive piece examines the venal "eats its young" reality of mega-fame, that symbiotic relationship between Michael's showbiz life (including a childhood marked by unrelenting abuse) and the immolating cult of celebrity.

As anyone who has loved a intimate partner who endured an abusive upbringing knows all too well, domestic violence can severely mess with a person well into adult life; the pull for domestic violence victims to either re-enact said abuse upon loved ones, seek vilification from others (recalling the Michael-era hit song by
Annie Lennox and The Eurhythmics) or abuse themselves in 1000 different ways is magnetic and powerful. It's a truly vicious cycle (in some families, a tragedy passed on from generation to generation), and if your loved one succumbs, absolutely nothing can be done: strenuous efforts to "save" them only make things worse and your relationship more co-dependent.

While one can take the brave and difficult steps to leave a co-dependent relationship or proactively deal with health issues, Michael did not have the option, ever, to walk away from celebrity or entirely escape the papparazzi-tabloids-24 hour media or his own p.r. machine - and it takes truly getting away and off the merry-go-round to begin tackling daunting personal problems.

Sadly, there is no choice: it's confront the demons or be consumed by them.

As far as Michael's music goes, here's an excellent (as well as uncharacteristically un-snarky)
piece by the usually swaggeringly vacuous, proudly ignorant and woefully untalented Aidin Viziri that concurs with my preference for the Jackson 5 songs and early solo work; in both his art and life, bigger absolutely, positively did NOT equal better. Personally, I really, really wanted to hear Michael sing Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" simply, sweetly and with feeling - the way he did in his "Frankie Lymon" phase.

Which reminds me of my favorite song he ever recorded:

That said, I believe the response from here is to take a quiet moment of remembrance for The King Of Pop, then get off our asses and actively support living musicians! And I will do just that by attending a live CD recording session by my chanteuse friend Tré Taylor - who never fails to sing simply, sweetly and with tons of feeling - tonight. I'll be there!

Saturday, June 27th 2009
8:00pm – 11:00pm
Tré Taylor And The Dangerous Martini Quartet
707 Marina Vista
Martinez, CA 94553

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Curse Of Frankie Lymon by Paul F. Etcheverry

"I'll never forgive Modigliani for dying so young." Oscar Levant

"There's two basic laws: treat your creativity with humility and treat your success with grace... or you will be in trouble." Quincy Jones

"Tell me why, oh why, oh why, why do they fall in love." Frankie Lymon

Since, without a doubt, everybody and his brother and sister, all around the world, have already blogged about the untimely passing of Michael Jackson, you, dear reader, ask what, pray tell, is The Curse Of Frankie Lymon and how does it relate to the fallen King Of Pop?

Said curse is an inexorable path to tragedy and senseless loss that pre-dates Frankie, goes back to vaudeville legends (Bert Williams), early jazz musicians (Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke) and such silent movie stars as "Madcap Mabel" Normand, Olive Thomas and Rudolf Valentino. The curse has a knack for striking music icons and mega-celebrities, all of whom - Bird, Billie, Prez, Elvis, Marilyn, Judy, Jimi, Janis, Morrison, John, Freddie, Tupac, Cobain, etc. - started with a luminous spark that was beautiful to behold. It is an occupational hazard of child stars and other prodigies in particular.

Which brings us to Frankie Lymon (1942-1968), the post-Sammy Davis Jr. and pre-Michael Jackson kid dynamite wunderkind. He wrote the doo-wop classic "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" at 12, and followed it with several other hits for his band The Teenagers. Here are clips of Frankie, a dynamic entertainer - and more than a tad reminiscent of Michael in his Jackson 5 phase - in his all too brief heydey:

Frankie met the hard knocks of show business, discovered heroin - and that was that.

To say that the territory where pop, rhythm & blues and international stardom meet have been lambasted by the curse is quite the understatement. Consider . . . Frankie Lymon, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Jackie Wilson. I especially think of the brilliant songwriter, bandleader, arranger, vocalist, lyricist, recording producer and guitarist Curtis Mayfield, who was hit by a lighting rig during a 1990 performance. James Brown alone made it into his 70's.

Never had the pleasure of seeing Michael perform (think I had not yet entirely emerged from my youthful "modern jazz and prog rock snob" phase during his 1979-1987 peak), but sincerely hoped he would, like Brian Wilson and the late Arthur Lee, emerge triumphantly from his troubles and make a comeback. I particularly wanted to see an older Michael revisit the music of his roots - the aforementioned Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke - and just sing those great old songs with all his heart. . . but that's not going to happen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How To Make Up Lyrics As You Go Along

Make no mistake about it, riffing is fundamental.

To show that adage rather than tell - and continue the thread about Paul Westerberg from the last posting - here's some concert footage from a very early version of The Replacements, playing possibly the fastest, most frenzied cover of Chuck Berry's Maybelline ever. With the full understanding that Chuck Berry very likely improvised his own clever lyrics on the bandstand on many occasions, enjoy this example of extemporaneous verses: the best I've seen from the punk era other than James Chance making up entire songs on the spot with the punk-funk-r&b (spiced with 1960's free jazz) bands The Contortions and James White & The Blacks.

Transitioning madly from old school garage punk rock to the loungiest of swingin' sounds from The Ultra-Lounge, check out the great
Bobby Darin. Ever the consummate entertainer, Bobby manages to get laughs, fire up the band, make up verses and knock his signature song out of the park.

Then again, also from the early 70's, I can't help thinking of another consummate entertainer, James Brown. In the original 45 RPM single version of "Make It Funky", James riffs about food, shouting "TURNIPS!" "GREENS!" "HOT CORNBREAD!" as the song closes. While I have yet to find said riffing in any live version of "Make It Funky", this presents as good an excuse as any to post a clip of prime early 70's Godfather Of Soul goodness.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Paul Westerberg - Alex Chilton - Big Star

"I'm in love. . . with that song."

Since it's state law that I must follow any rendition of the last tune by Paul Westerberg and The Replacements with a genuine Alex Chilton clip, here's Alex, playing an improbable but very nice cover of Rock With You from Michael Jackson's Off The Wall album.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Big Star Live At The Rhythm Festival, 2008

Enjoy this excellent version of "I Am The Cosmos" by Chris Bell (Alex Chilton's songwriting partner in the original Big Star lineup), live from Clapham, Bedfordshire in August 2008. Jon Auer tackles the lead vocal originated by Bell on his brilliant, alas, posthumously released solo album - and does a fine job. Bell's untimely death in a 1978 automobile accident that eerily resembled the one that claimed comedy innovator Ernie Kovacs in 1962, was yet another of those way too numerous tragedies in rock 'n' roll history.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Burt Bacharach Day

This blog pays tribute to Burt Bacharach on the 20th of each month. Today, we also salute an equally inspired composer/pianist/vocalist who first made it big in the 1960's, Brian Wilson, who is 67 years young today. Thankfully, Brian, like Burt, is still touring and bringing good music to audiences around the world.

Enjoy Brian's cover of Burt's "My Little Red Book". It's quite wonderful and stylistically midway between the renditions by Elvis Costello and Arthur Lee & Love.

In retrospect, it's too bad Brian didn't record a cover of this with The Beach Boys. It would have sounded great and fit in beautifully in their 1967 album Wild Honey.

I'd enjoy hearing a cover of this featuring a Brian arrangement, Burt on Fender Rhodes, Brian's current band (featuring "C.E.O of falsetto" Jeffrey Foskett, soaring soprano Taylor Mills, multi-instrumentalists Paul Van Mertons and Scott Bennett, as well as all members of the fabulous Wondermints) and. . . Alex Chilton, another inspired, prolific and original songsmith who first hit it big in the 1960's.

It's not a far fetched idea at all. Alex' first band, The Box Tops, opened for The Beach Boys in the late 60's. The Boys returned the favor by covering Alex' biggest hit.

Then again, Alex is one of the few musicians to cover a song from Brian's magnum opus, "Pet Sounds." Really? Here's Alex and Big Star, performing Wouldn't It Be Nice at Shepherd's Bush Empire on August 28, 2008.

Hearing Big Star rock out on that classic Beach Boys number reminds me how much I would love to hear them cover Burt's "I Don't Know What To Do With Myself". Thanks to whoever found these rare demos and concert clips and posted them on YouTube!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Facebook Has Been Hacked Yet Again

I had an absolutely head-scratchingly bizarre experience on Facebook this morning.

While writing an e-mail message about arcane historical minutiae regarding the 1921 Roscoe Arbuckle scandal, of interest to perhaps two dozen film geeks worldwide, I kid you not, the words "Death To America" showed up on my screen. I did a Jimmie Finlayson-style "double take", said WTF and totally dismissed it as the product of my ever-overactive imagination. Then, a couple of minutes later, there those words were again, clearly, not too big, but in bold type. WTF?

This is too weird even for me.

And it happened as the news of the day was. . . shameless election fraud by Iran's hard-line powers that be (by any definition, a regime that has demonstrated repeatedly that they don't give a rat's ass about the wishes of their own people), led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, A.K.A. "The Godfather". With the understanding that Khamenei is the big cheese there - somewhat analagous to Al Davis' Supreme Leader relationship to the Oakland Raiders - and calls the shots, gees, Louise, could you be just a tad more clever about stealing an election than that?

Us pampered and apathethic Americans can only have admiration for the Iranian people, no doubt appalled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's gross mismanagement of the country's economy (not to mention his general ineptitiude and penchant for embarrassing his nation in public), who have the guts to stand up against the repression of the ruling right-wing cabal.

It is no accident that outside observers are not allowed to even view Iran's election process. Hmmmm - do you think we need a more unsubtle reminder that the necessity to accurately monitor presidential elections in other parts of the world, including right here in the U.S.A, persists?

That tangent aside, Facebook has been hacked, continues to be hacked and will be hacked again. It would certainly be interesting to learn the source of this hack. I'm guessing a young hacker with no girlfriend/boyfriend and lots of time to burn.

And perhaps this also means no more "Welsh Rarebit" for me anytime soon as well. To illustrate:

Maybe I have indeed lost me bloomin' mind (after decades of threatening to do so) and it's time for a lengthy stretch of, in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd, "west and wewaxation at wast."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dino!

Born on June 7, 1917, the great Dean Martin!