Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman died yesterday.  One of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band, a group that unquestionably is one of the finest rock bands America has ever produced, Allman had been ailing for a while.  He was only 69.

Allman was one of those recording artists whose personal life always seemed to be a mess — he was married to Cher, of all people, for a while, which probably tells you all you need to know — but you felt that his life really was about his music.  Allman played guitar and keyboards in the band, but everyone really knew him as the voice of the band.  His unique, smoky vocals, with their gravelly, gritty undertones, injected life and soul into the bluesy songs that the Allman Brothers Band made their own.  Songs like Whipping Post, One Way Out, Not My Cross To Bear, and Midnight Rider are classics in large part because the vocals are so . . . legitimate.  When Allman sang about being tied to that whipping post, you felt that he really knew what he was singing about.  He could make Happy Birthday into an exploration into the dark recesses of the human experience.

We’re getting to the point where many of the rock icons of the ’60s and ’70s are moving on.  It’s sad, but it’s also a reason to listen, again, to some of the music that made them enduring icons in the first place.  Today, it’s time to go listen anew to the Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, one of the very best live albums ever recorded.  This performance of Whipping Post below comes from one of the band’s Fillmore East performances.

American Tune

I always listen to music walking to and from work.  This evening, as I was listening to my acoustic playlist, it struck me that American Tune by Paul Simon — a beautiful song that is one of my favorites — pretty accurately captures how many people are feeling these days.  I’m not just talking about disappointed Hillary Clinton voters, either.  There seems to be a strong sense of disquiet, an unsettled feeling, mingled with curiosity, trepidation, raw hope, and uncertainty about what might happen next, lurking throughout the general populace.  Some of those feelings stem from the election results and the thought of Donald Trump as President, to be sure, but some of them also seem to flow from concerns about the direction of the country as a whole.  Where is our road leading?

American Tune, which was released in 1973, aptly crystallizes this odd mixture of emotions and sensations.  Simon wrote:

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

Two verses later, the song concludes, in a mixture of pride, doubt, fatigue, and resignation:

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

It says something about the universality of music when a song written at the end of the Nixon Administration can so perfectly express how so many Americans are feeling, 45 years later.

Prince’s Passing

It was a shock to hear yesterday about the death of Prince, at age 57.  The musical star was found dead in an elevator in his home, and the cause of his death is not yet known.  It’s a huge hit to the music world, which has been reeling in the wake of a series of deaths — David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, and now Prince — that make it seem like 2016 is the Grim Reaper’s year to swing that scythe of his through the ranks of iconic figures in different branches of the music world.

I first heard of Prince and his music back in the ’80s, during the early days of MTV, when that channel still played music.  During Richard’s infant days I spent some nights sitting in our rocking chair, with Richard’s belly pressed against my shoulder, rocking during the wee hours of the early morning and hoping he would fall back asleep.  Richard seemed to do better with some background noise, so we often turned the cable channel to MTV and listened to the music of the mid-80s.

prince-ctcOne of the frequent songs on the MTV late night/early morning playlist in those days was Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and another was the Bangles’ Manic Monday, which the MTV VJs noted was written by Prince. They were both frothy pop songs, catchy but lightweight, the kind of songs where the melody and lyrics seemed to get injected directly into your brain cells and you can’t get them out no matter how hard you tried.  Those songs defined and informed my views of Prince, and I dismissed him as a talented but somewhat insubstantial pop star.  When Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and started to get into battles with record companies and others I added egotistical to the list of adjectives I associated with him.

Ironically, it was Richard who reintroduced me to Prince.  Perhaps it was his exposure to Raspberry Beret during his infancy — OK, maybe not — but Richard became a huge fan of Prince, and during his college days at Northwestern he hosted a weekly, multi-episode show on the campus radio station that was devoted to Prince’s career and songs.  Perhaps fittingly, it was broadcast during the wee hours in Evanston, and aired, I think, during the 5-6 a.m. slot, Eastern time.  If I woke up early, as I usually do, I could catch it live via web radio.  It was fun and sort of weird to hear Richard’s voice on radio first thing in the morning, so I tried to listen to the show whenever I could.

Through Richard and his radio show I learned a lot more about Prince — and realized that my casual dismissal of him on the basis of two songs was far off base.  His music was a lot more thoughtful and interesting and ground-breaking than I had given him credit for, and I added a lot of it to my iPod playlist where it has stayed ever since.  I’m sorry to hear of Prince’s untimely death, and sorry to know that Richard has lost a favorite artist — and I’m also sorry that I didn’t appreciate a great talent for so many years.  The creative world is poorer without Prince in its ranks.

 

Whiter Shade Of Pale

Let’s all take a break from the work week, decompress a bit, get a good chuckle, and get mentally ready for a nice pre-Thanksgiving weekend.  And to help us on the way, how about this vintage, poorly directed and trite video of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale?

Whiter Shade of Pale is a great song — but I’m betting you’ll get a laugh out of the video, with its clumsy cuts, out-of-sync lip-syncing, and late ’60s Nehru jackets.  It reminds me that, long ago, UJ asked for a Nehru jacket and got it.  I think he maybe wore it once.

Trash Attraction

IMG_6100We saw lots of interesting things on the streets of New Orleans, but this was one of the most compelling and evocative sights — a trash can, decorated to resemble a human face, with the words “If ever I cease to love” on it.  When I tossed my trash away through the wide mouth, I wondered what the heck was the significance of those words.

There is, in fact, an explanation:  “If ever I cease to love” is the name of a classic Mardi Gras song.  According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune blog, the song has been the anthem of the Rex’s Boeuf Gras parade ever since the Rex organization first marched in 1872.  I think that explains the trash can’s crown and the bright coloring.

If you’re interested in hearing this Mardi Gras classic, a YouTube performance is below.