Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Blues



First and foremost, that's the title of a great tune, sung to perfection by one of the best American entertainers of the 20th century, Dean Martin.



The phrase aptly describes what many people go through this year, not just due to trying external circumstances involving relationships and money (or, more to the point, the lack of them), but the short days, cold temperatures, grey skies and reduced sunlight.




On the other hand, Christmas Blues also means music I personally like to listen to that has healing properties. For example, these guys:





Now that's some happy blues.

But seriously folks, if you have any combination of:

  • friends, family members and/or a partner you can stand who are still living
  • food on the table
  • a roof over your head which is not in imminent danger of foreclosure or eviction
  • reasonably good health
Then thank your lucky stars and thank 'em again, that is the freakin' grand slam, pinch yourself to make sure the good fortune is real - that equals one fabulous Christmastime.

So (imagine the voice of Clark Gable here), dammit, give them all a hug, tell them you love them NOW, while they're still here!


And, to those intrepid individuals who take action to make things better, get off their derrieres and do something about the suffering in the world, not just today but the other 364 days a year, we tip our hats to you; you're the best.

Merry Christmas To All And To All A Good Night from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Supernatural Peter Green

While today would have been the 70th birthday of the inventive, very prolific composer-bandleader-arranger-guitarist Frank Zappa - and that merits a trip over to Wolfgang's Vault for some Mothers Of Invention shows - it's apparent that on these shortest days of the year, my mind frequently gravitates to that guitar geek nirvana, the blues.

Last week the amazing Howlin' Wolf and a guy he inspired, the late, great Don Van Vliet, A.K.A. Captain Beefheart were deeply rooted in moi's consciousness. This week: the London-born master of blues and rock guitar, Peter Green.



First off, if you don't know who Peter Green is, drop everything you are doing, turn off your television, cell phone or PDA, get the hell off Facebook (unless you're on FB's Peter Green Tribute page) and listen to this guy play.

Check out these soulful pieces from Peter's stretches with John Mayall's Blues Breakers and Fleetwood Mac (Note: blog readers who do not, in any way, shape or form, enjoy the essential sound of non-metal/punk style electric guitar or the blues are excused).







Peter could also write gorgeous introspective ballads. This one, "Man Of The World", is particularly beautiful and, sadly, more than hints at the serious personal problems that would meet the gifted guitarist just around the corner:



The lush, ambient instrumental "Albatross", co-written by Green and Danny Kirwan, was a big hit in England for Fleetwood Mac.





Unfortunately, the 1967-1971 Fleetwood Mac, arguably up there with The Who as the greatest of British rock bands, would be stalked by tragedy (mostly caused by extended over-use of LSD-25); fortunately, they recorded prolifically enough to leave many hours of remarkable music behind, especially on the Live At The Boston Tea Party recordings and the April 9, 1970 BBC performance on CD 2 of the Show Biz Blues set.


Alas, the story for the incendiary, passionate, hard rocking version of Fleetwood Mac ended abruptly and not at all well. Slide guitarist, Elmore James aficionado, cutup and specialist in Elvis-Buddy Holly-Eddie Cochran style rockabilly Jeremy Spencer went AWOL to join the Children Of God cult, while Green and co-lead guitarist Danny Kirwan, after dropping copious quantities of acid in Munich, subsequently suffered decades of severe health problems.



Green and Spencer have resurfaced in recent years, still playing the blues after the heavy dues. After making his last recording at the age of 28, Danny Kirwan dropped as far out of sight as Syd Barrett did (and, unfortunately, for the same reasons); by all accounts, Mr. Kirwan is still living, but has been in and out of mental institutions in London. If Danny plays the guitar or writes songs, it's strictly for himself - and that, dear blog readers, is one incalculable loss to the world of music.

Meanwhile, the founders and rhythm section mates who the group was named after, bassist John McVie and percussionist Mick Fleetwood, would be the only original Fleetwood Mac members still in the band after its transformation from British blues-rock-psychedelia juggernaut to hit-making commercial pop powerhouse.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Born 100 Years Ago Today


The ever-fabulous Lillian Roth (1910-1980), beaming that inimitable "I'm here - let's put on a show" smile

Born on December 13, 1910 (besides actor Van Heflin
): actress-songstress-comedienne Lillian Roth, sprightly musical star of stage, screen and television.

Although eternal flapper femme fatales
Clara Bow and Louise Brooks arguably equal her for exuding that certain sultriness that draws fellas ga-ga - and into movie theatres in droves - nobody (other than Marilyn Monroe) could put a song over with quite the mixture of vivacity, panache and genuine sexiness of Miss Lillian Roth in her 1930's heydey. Here's a clip from one of her many appearances in the classic Fleischer Studio Screen Songs (A.K.A. "follow the bouncing ball") cartoons:




She also sings in one of the rare examples of a musical interlude in a Marx Brothers movie that doesn't prompt one to instantaneously hit the fast forward button on the DVD player or go to the frig and grab a cold one.



Lillian starred in musical shorts for Paramount, Vitaphone/Warner Brothers, Educational and Universal. I posted the wonderful 1934 Vitaphone opus
Story Conference - which only received a minimal release on the 1993 Forbidden Hollywood Collection laserdisc - here last August 15. While pleased that the following spunky 1930 short, Meet The Boyfriend, is both up on YouTube and available on the Hollywood Rhythm, Volume 2 DVD, I would like to find more of these mini-musicals, including a memorable Paramount one-reeler in which she stars as a lonely cigarette girl working in a cheesy nightclub.




Her other claim to fame was as one of the first celluloid entertainment celebrities to parlay her memoirs - one seriously painful life story - into a best-selling book. MGM's movie adaptation of her autobiography, I'll Cry Tomorrow, would be a hit biopic, for which Susan Hayward would be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

I'll Cry Tomorrow
had to be among the first of the pre-rock music era "warts, alcoholism, sex, trashed hotel rooms, ruined marriages and all" tomes; Errol Flynn's aptly titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Louise Brooks' Lulu In Hollywood were not published until several years later. For the full, sordid effect, read the book first, then watch the sanitized MGM movie version - that is, if angst-ridden celebrity confessionals are your cup of tea.

Personally, I don't care for the "full, sordid effect". Can't say I want to know just how terribly this likable, talented performer suffered, even with the awareness that she made a successful show biz comeback in later life. Such sordid tales of offstage misery bring to mind a Van Dyke Parks lyric from the Orange Crate Art album (a "good 'un" from 1995, featuring maestro Brian Wilson on lead vocals and lush background chorus overdubs): "Movies is magic. Real life is tragic."


I'd rather just watch the irrepressible, indefatigable Lillian Roth light up the silver screen.



Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This Saturday: The Return Of The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival



By cracky, it warms the cockles of this blogger’s heart, if not necessarily his gonads, to announce that the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival returns to Foothill College for our customary "second Saturday in December" blowout this very weekend!



Robert Emmett of KFJC-FM’s Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show (the closest thing to an audio version of our presentations) hosts yet another four hours of jaw-dropping forgotten footage that takes a sneaky peek at just what's underneath those pesky ingrown toenails on the grimy foot of popular culture.



Yes, that means yet another dumbfounding delirious kaleidoscopic blend of indescribably weird cartoons and musical shorts, B-movie trailers, vintage commercials, monster movie clips, bloopers, educational films gone wrong - and other assorted flotsam and jetsam from our cinematic past.




The
Psychotronix Film Festival remains one of the last vestiges of big screen movie fun on a budget. A $5 donation benefits KFJC 89.7 FM and $2 feeds the hungry parking meters on the Foothill College campus.

Since
your house is in foreclosure, you have very likely been downsized without severance pay and you've cashed out your 401K, a full evening of eye-staggering entertainment for less than ten bucks sounds. . . well, it could be worse, a lot worse!



On the other hand, if you among those still employed, I suggest enjoying a late lunch/early dinner at
Chef Chu's and then heading on up the hill to . . .




The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
Saturday December 11, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.
Room 5015, Foothill College 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA
(El Monte Road exit off of Highway 280)



These shows frequently sell out, so show up early. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Dave Brubeck's 90th Birthday, Part 2

Continuing to celebrate Dave Brubeck's birthday, first with some clips:





As fate would have it, my favorite cable channel by a gazillion miles, Turner Classic Movies, will be celebrating Dave Brubeck's 90th birthday with a tribute, Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way, produced by Clint Eastwood and directed by Bruce Ricker.

While my educated guess is that those reading this blog know this, Dave's sons, as the Concord On A Summer Night, Two Generations Of Brubeck and The Brubeck Brothers Quartet recordings attest, are truly stellar musicians in their own right.

Matt Brubeck played the living daylights out of the cello as a member of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and numerous other ensembles. In the mid and latter 1990's, Matt performed with a favorite S.F. Bay Area band of mine, the wonderful Oranj Mancinis, featuring saxophonist Ralph Carney, guitarist Joe Gore, keyboardist Rob Burger and either Scott Amendola or Pat Campbell on drums.



Here are pianist Darius, bassist-trombonist Chris and percussionist Dan performing in, you guessed it, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dave Brubeck

The original, prolific and highly creative pianist-composer-bandleader Dave Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, CA. In his case, 90 years young is accurate; Mr. Brubeck is still playing superb music at an age when most people are long deceased or suffering from severely impaired mental and physical functioning.

Here's a clip from a 1983 interview with Dave:



The secret of his success and longevity? Beats me, but I can imagine Mr. Brubeck steered clear of what comedian Sam Kinison wryly and accurately termed "life-killers"; the obvious ones involve substance abuse, while the less obvious would be consumption of greasy "road food" and a sedentary lifestyle. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2009 and got to hear the following all-star ensemble (BIll Charlap, Christian McBride, Jon Faddis, Bill Stewart, Miguel Zenon) play his compositions.



So, the directive for musicians is to play your favorite Brubeck composition - I'm personally a sucker for "In Your Own Sweet Way" - sometime before the stroke of midnight on December 6, although it's a good idea anytime.

Brubeck aficionados can pick an album from his prolific catalog; I've cued up the February 21, 1963 performance of The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall, featuring the amazing group that recorded Time Out and Time Further Out: Paul Desmond (alto saxophone), Gene Wright (bass) and Joe Morello (drums).



I could think of many more: Jazz At Oberlin, the 1972 We'll Be Together Again For The First Time concert with Gerry Mulligan, All The Things We Are (featuring Anthony Braxton, Lee Konitz and Roy Haynes), the 1982 Concord concert . . . and many Brubeck albums I've yet to hear. The list goes on and on!

Happy 90th, Dave - and thanks!


Friday, December 03, 2010

Today's Fun Fact

Eighty years ago today, on December 3, 1930, at a screening of the new, provocative feature film by surrealists Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, L' Age D'Or (A.K.A. The Golden Age), members of the pro-fascist organization The League Of Patriots went on the offensive, attacking members of the audience and hurling ink at the screen. As if merely breaking up the screening and beating up attendees were insufficient, the brownshirts also destroyed art works on display in the lobby by Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy and others.



The first question that comes to mind would be just what Dalí and Buñuel's dadaist epic, did to make the bluenoses in 1930 go berserk, at least two years before goose-stepping fascist groups truly became the rage throughout Western Europe.



Well, for starters, there's the ol' subject (referred to by one of this blogger's favorite movie director-writers, Preston Sturges, as "Topic A") of sex. The kind of kinky seen in L' Age D'Or and strongly implied in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel and G.W. Pabst's films, never quite hit the silver screen on Main Street U.S.A., but unabashed sexiness reigned in commercial movie theatres via the popular pre-code romps starring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer diva Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow and other early 1930's favorites.


L'Age D'Or, yes indeedy do, was the first of many Buñuel "love letters" to the Roman Catholic Church, calculated to offend, thumbing its cinematic nose at convention every step of the way; it was less overtly violent than its predecessor, Dalí and Buñuel's short surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusion Dog), but demonstrated quite a bit more interest in fetishes and obsessive sexual urges. In both films, all societal, moral and religious taboos were fair game. Of course, the snotty, Pavlovian response from present-day movie buffs, brandishing Criterion Collection and Kino International DVDs is. . . WTF do you expect from a Luis Buñuel flick - freakin' Mary Pollyanna Poppins Of Green Gables On The Prairie?




The following excerpt from L' Age D'Or is, without a doubt, beloved by sculptors and shoe salesmen alike.




L' Age D'Or was officially banned a week later. Save for one unpublicized screening at New York City's Museum Of Modern Art in 1933, it did not have its official U.S. premiere until November 1, 1979 at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Buñuel would, with the exception of the 1932 documentary Land Without Bread, not make another film until Los Olvidados in 1950.



Now one can see Dalí and Buñuel's anarchic opus, complete with further background info, in its entirety on YouTube. In evidence throughout the dadaist, finger and toe-sucking extravaganza: pungent irony, revulsion for upper-crust decadence, and the creative, striking uses of the camera, framing and editing that would be notable throughout Buñuel's filmmaking career.

Keep in mind just who was offended by L'Age D'Or, modern art in general, and just about anything threatening the social order (except - inevitably - wars, always regarded as not just A-OK but peachy by zealots, censors, hypocrites, would-be moralists, corrupt politicians and especially weapons profiteers).




Want something offensive? Hmmmmm - let's see. How about the craven cowardice of those who protected priests who committed molestations? How about the treatment of women in Moslem nations? How about suicide bombers and jihadists of all denominations? Now that's offensive!

And for the rest of this year, I promise to return to levity on this blog. Please forgive me, readers!