Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey died today, of complications from a number of ailments.  He was a founding member of the Eagles who was involved in writing, and singing, some of their finest songs.  He also had a solo career that featured some great songs, like The Heat Is On and Smuggler’s Blues.

img_7517_zps7d4a93e4But, of course, Glenn Frey will always be associated with the Eagles.  Why not?  It was a group that pretty much defined the country rock genre that came to prominence in the early ’70s, and the music the band produced was so great that, when I was in high school, you couldn’t go to a friend’s house without hearing the Eagles.  (My best friend in high school liked to quote Eagles’ lyrics at moments of stress; when he was debating whether to ask a girl out on a date, “take another shot of courage” was one of his favorite lines.)  Peaceful Easy Feeling, Take It Easy, Tequila Sunrise, and Desperado were all classic songs that have stood the test of time.

My favorite Eagles album, though, was On The Border, which had a bit of a harder edge and featured great songs like Already Gone, James Dean, Ol’ 55, On The Border, and Good Day In Hell and then closed with Best of My Love.  In the summer of 1976, when I worked at a resort in Lake George, New York, On The Border was the album of choice, constantly playing in the staff residence.  It was well suited to some beer-soaked crooning at the end of a long work day.  After On The Border, the Eagles music seemed to become a bit more commercialized, and it didn’t quite have the same appeal for me.

It’s strange that Glenn Frey’s death would follow so closely on the heels of David Bowie’s passing.  In their own ways, they epitomized different points on the wide spectrum of rock music during the early ’70s, with Bowie being the greatest practitioner of glam rock and the Eagles staking out their claim to the country rock territory.  Through the diversity of their music, both showed what rock music could be.

 

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David Bowie

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I heard the sad news about David Bowie’s death this morning, and I couldn’t help myself.  Immediately the crushing opening chords of Ziggy Stardust thundered in my head, and I sang, with my internal voice, “Ziggy played guitar . . . .”

Bowie died Sunday at age 69 after a long illness.  He had a long and prolific career as a songwriter and performer.  He wrote All The Young Dudes — the Mott the Hoople classic — and recorded a series of fabulous songs in the ’70s, like The Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Rebel Rebel, and Diamond Dogs.  But I will always think of David Bowie for one reason:  his fertile brain and voice and persona created The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which I’ve said before is one of the very best rock albums ever made.  It’s easily in the top ten, and maybe in the top five.

It’s one of those albums that is perfect in concept and execution, from beginning to end, every song setting up the next, with interesting lyrics and compelling music and a weird back story that is as shining and wonderful and compelling now as it was the first time I heard it more than 40 years ago when I was in high school.  So many of the songs are deeply embedded into my consciousness and come bubbling up, unbidden; I will be walking home in the darkness and suddenly think “Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low -oh – oh . . . .”  I love every note of the album and know I always will.

Most of us don’t know, and will never know, what it is like to be touched by genius and produce a timeless and brilliant creative work.  David Bowie did know, and it happened to him more than once, but with Ziggy Stardust he reached a height that very few musicians ever touched.  He will be missed — but he will always be remembered.

Five Years In The House

A few days ago the Webner House blog celebrated its fifth anniversary. Our first post appeared on February 1, 2009.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years. Five years ago President Obama had just been inaugurated and began his first term in office, and the Affordable Care Act was just a gleam in his eye. Five years ago Eric Mangini was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and there have been three head coaches since then. Five years ago no one had heard of a Tea Party, or George Zimmerman, or Ted Cruz. For reasons like these, five years seems like a long time.

During our five years we’ve published 4,718 posts that have generated 289,076 views and 4,082 comments — all of which were welcome. We’ve made some new friends and found some blogs we like to check out, too. We’ve written some bad poetry, taken some bad photographs, and followed the Chronicles of Penny.

It’s been a fun five years. What better way to commemorate it than to post David Bowie and Arcade Fire performing the song of the same name — a song which begins one of the great rock albums ever recorded: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?

Ziggy’s 65th

Happy birthday today to David Bowie.  Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke turns 65 today.

Bowie is an interesting character for a lot of reasons and has produced a lot of memorable music.  Bowie wrote All The Young Dudes — the epic song from the legendary band Mott the Hoople — and his playlist includes classics like The Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Diamond Dogs, and Changes, among many others.  Bowie is one of those artists who seems to leap easily from genre to genre, from hard rock to pop and back again.

To me, however, the greatest of Bowie’s many musical achievements is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which I think is one of the very best rock albums ever made.  From Five Years to the initial chords of Moonage Daydream (“I’m an alligator . . . . “) to It Ain’t Easy to the power riffs of Ziggy Stardust (“Ziggy played guitar . . . .”) to the finale of Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide (“Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth . . . .”), the album is filled with stunningly good songs that are as interesting and powerful today, 40 years after they were first released, as they were back in 1972.

So Happy Birthday to you, Mr. Bowie.  You have made your mark.  And here’s a 1972 performance of Starman, another great song from the Ziggy Stardust album, that the rest of us can use to celebrate your big day.

Bizarre Classic

Each day I hear this Christmas song on the radio at least once. It has to be one of the most bizarre pairings in musical history ! Bing Crosby was a musical star of our parents generation in his seventies, while David Bowie was a musical star of our generation in his thirties when they recorded this Christmas song in 1977.

I mentioned it to a younger friend of mine that I really liked this song and she said “yeah, it’s cool” so I guess that means it stands the test of time and is a classic. A “pretty thing indeed”.

“Inglourious Basterds” Review

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Yesterday, my friends and I went to the Arena Grand to see Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Inglorious Basterds, which he has supposedly been working on for almost a decade. At the very end of the movie, after carving a swastika into a Nazi’s forehead, Brad Pitt’s character turns to the camera and says “I think this is my masterpiece.” Obviously, Quentin Tarantino was speaking to the audience with this line, and is quite proud of this movie.

Tarantino should be proud. He took his usual routine – humorous violence, cool villains, non-stop cheesy pop culture references – and made it work in the setting of the Holocaust, a historical event that few like to joke about, at least openly. Tarantino’s style is toned down slightly, since the 1940s didn’t have the cheesy pop songs or fast food orders of the late 20th century, but everything is still there. When one character, known for killing dozens of Nazi SS officials, is introduced, his name shoots across the screen in bold, bright letters that look like they came from the seventies, and a power guitar chord is sounded. The movie also features a montage set to David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder’s early eighties hit “Cat People”.

Despite Tarantino’s sarcasm, I never felt that the gravity of the Holocaust was disrespected. Brad Pitt’s crew of American Jews intent on killing as many Nazis as possible is always understood to be on a righteous mission, despite their ruthlessness. If anything, the Holocaust setting makes Tarantino’s formula work better. Tarantino’s movies have always glamorized violence, and the fact that most of the violence in Basterds is affecting Nazis makes it easier to enjoy. The scenes that show the violence and hatred of the Nazis are intense and could upset some people, but they served to make Brad Pitt’s murderous acts more excusable and, frankly, enjoyable. They are certainly easier to root for than John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction and even Uma Thurman’s in Kill Bill.

The movie is flawed, mostly in the same ways all of Tarantino’s movies are flawed. The dialogue sometimes drags on too long and feels awkward, some characters (including Brad Pitt’s) are underdeveloped, and the movie itself is too long. But it is good, and Tarantino should get credit for presenting the Holocaust from a new, bold perspective, and doing so quite masterfully.