It’s Got Them Disraeli Gears

I just managed to convince my grandmother that it was a worth while that was something to do, you know, and when I did finally get the guitar, it didn’t seem that difficult to me, to be able to make a good noise out of it.

—-Eric Clapton

Dan Colcer
Deep Ellum Art Park
Dallas, Texas

There’s this show that shows up on AXS television – on the cable, you know – called Classic Albums. On the show they take an hour and go through the production of a classic rock album – usually with the musicians, producers, artists, hangers-on… the whole works. It’s pretty cool. I watch for these and DVR the ones that look interesting to me. I’ve seen a few, let’s see… Aja, Dark Side of the Moon, So, Damn the Torpedoes, Pet Sounds.

Last night I watched one on an album I wasn’t all that familiar with – Cream’s Disraeli Gears. I’m old enough to remember Cream back in the day but a bit too young to be a huge fan. They were only together for two years – Disraeli Gears came out in 1967 – and I was ten years old. I didn’t really start listening to popular music until 1968 – I would scrounge up a dollar each week and buy one 45 single on Saturday, the first one I bought was the theme song for Hawaii Five-O (jeez, don’t be hard on me, I was only eleven).

So I remember the Cream album covers in the stores and over the years I heard all the hits (Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love, Tales of Brave Ulysses) but didn’t know much about the band except that it had Eric Clapton in it. I did see a documentary about Ginger Baker once – he was a madman.

The show was interesting and gave me a new appreciation of this classic rock music.

But the best part was finding out what Disraeli Gears meant. I always assumed it was some sort of British political statement. It isn’t. It’s a malaprop and a cycling reference.

“You know how the title came about – Disraeli Gears – yeah? We had this Austin Westminster, and Mick Turner was one of the roadies who’d been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric (Clapton) was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick, driving, went ‘Oh yeah it’s got them Disraeli gears!’ meaning derailleur gears… We all just fell over… We said that’s got to be the album title.”

—-Ginger Backer, 1967

How cool is that! You learn something every day.

Morgan James sings Dream On

What really brought out the voice that I have, my soul voice and true voice, was really not getting any work and being very sad and being poor and having to sit with that. I think that’s where the blues comes from.

—-Morgan James

It has been a very busy, exhausting week – the worst of it is that I haven’t been able to write as much as I want. I did have a page of notes for stuff and I sat down to write some of it out and get something for here.

But the internet interrupted me. I was reminded that years ago I used to embed Youtube videos of Postmodern Jukebox into some of my blog entries. For a moment’s entertainment I started some playing and then, stumbled across this (watch and listen to it – you won’t be disappointed):

 

It only has seventeen million views – so I suppose there are a few folks that have never seen this.

My God! That woman has some pipes!

So now I’m a big Morgan James fan. To be honest, I have never been that big on Aerosmith (though I respect their classic work, of course)  – but her version…. man. Of course, Postmodern Jukebox does a great job of the arrangement (love the cello). A fantastic piece of art.

Some comments from Youtube:

“I can make music or I can be famous”-Morgan James

I heard Aerosmith made a cover of this

What a time we live in. This level of performance used to be available to kings and queens… not the paupers.

I like how she sings with her entire body uninhibited like a toddler.
Singing in traffic pushes cars forward.
That voice surpasses all shower doors and makes the water stick to the tiles in awe.

I can cook a steak with that fire she’s spitting

I need a smoke after this one.

I didn’t believe… no. Let me start again. I thought I knew, I was sure, I kind of built my life on the fact that nobody could do this better than Aerosmith. This was THE UNCOVERABLE SONG! – – – And now this….

A doctor needs to treat me for shock, and possibly a dislocated jaw.

Damn – the moment I saw those heels I knew shit was going down!

She could sing the phone book and it would be great.

Morgan James is one of those immensely talented and pretty singers who should be a major star. Instead we get the likes of Katy Perry. There’s no justice.

Now THIS is what is called TALENT! Why isn’t Morgan James a household name? We haven Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and all the rest of them blocking the airwaves when we could be enjoying AMAZING voices like this?!? I am so glad I just happened along this video! A beautiful woman with a gorgeous voice to match! All the best, Morgan! You’ve earned your place in music history!

There are songs out there that are classics and I always say, “You can’t mess with a classic,” but her… she can do anything she wants.

 

There are a ton of her songs on Youtube (including a cover of the entire Beatles White Album) – it’s a glorious rabbit hole.

If you are already a fan of Morgan James I’m sorry for wasting your time with this – if you have never heard her (and the world has to fall into those two categories – fans and people that haven’t heard her)… well, you can thank me.

Looking For Shelter In This Thunder And This Rain

I have been bought, I have been sold in the city.
I’ve dined with the demons, and I drank of their fear.
But you, you have known, and waited in silence.
Come, cradle my heart in a homecoming tear.
—- Jimmie Spheeris, I Am the Mercury

The musicians play next to the reflecting pool in front of the Opera House

I’ve read a couple of times lately that vinyl is now outselling compact disks. I’ve also read that digital downloads are becoming fewer and fewer and soon – vinyl will be outselling MP3s. I’ve read this on the internet so it must be true.

Everybody nowadays listens to streaming music.

For me, old person that I am, streaming music means internet radio. Hey, it’s free, there are thousands of stations… and it does leave me a bit of a link to the past… it isn’t over the air, but it is radio… more or less.

And my favorite online radio station – by far – is Radio Paradise. They have a handful of different mixes, all brilliantly curated. I listen to their main mix all the time and their mellow mix while I sleep. What I especially like is the stations ability to mix familiar excellent tracks with new and/or odd stuff that I have never heard – but will go out and look for.

The other night I was listening to the mellow mix when an old song came on that brought the memories flooding back. It was I Am the Mercury, from the album Isle of View by Jimmie Spheeris.

 

I was immediately transported back to 1974 – my freshman year of college. I could see that 12 inch album in a pile on a dormitory floor, pick it up and spin it on a cheap turntable. The quiet ethereal mysterious sound builds to a climax. Music has such an ability to bring the past back… and vinyl with a 12 inch album cover work of art especially so.

Like the Castle In Its Corner

Light the candle
Put the lock upon the door
You have sent the maid home early
Like a thousand times before
Like the castle in its corner
In a medieval game
I foresee terrible trouble
And I stay here just the same

—-Steely Dan, Dirty Work

Singers for Naked Lunch, a Steely Dan cover band, at Lee Harvey’s, Dallas, Texas

Time flies – it was six years ago that I wrote about Naked Lunch – the Steely Dan Cover Band at Lee Harvey’s.  We saw them a time or too there after that, but the last time, two years ago, they said they couldn’t play at Lee Harvey’s anymore. They simply didn’t make enough money to pay all those musicians (it takes about a dozen to do Steely Dan justice).

But, wonder of wonders, they are back. Lee Harvey’s never used to charge a cover, but now, sometimes, they do. It was only ten bucks to see greatness, so we went. As always Naked Lunch sounds more like Steely Dan than Steely Dan does. Awesome.

It’s Time For Tina

Skipper Jonas Grumby:

Ginger, I’ve got a problem… I’ve got a real problem… Now you’re a girl, right?

Ginger Grant:

Well, if you’re not sure about that, you have got a problem!

—-Gilligan’s Island

time_for_tina

I wrote about a weird radio program, available over the internet, The Retro Cocktail Hour a few days ago. Today, I received a notice that a new show was up, technically a rebroadcast, and something in the playlist caught my eye. One song was by Tina Louise, recorded in 1957 (the year I was born) – seven years before that fateful three hour cruise. She recorded one album, It’s Time For Tina… and what do you know? She can sing.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds (even if you like Mary Ann better).

Tina Louise singing Embraceable You from her album. If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing – jump up to about 2:33 – That’s the Jazz God Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax.

The Retro Cocktail Hour

“Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing.”
― D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

The bartender pouring the absinthe, note the clear green color.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

 

I’m not a very neat, organized person – I live in a constant battle with chaos and increasing entropy. I’m a Marie Kondo failure.

This failure does not only apply to the real world – but to the digital one as well. Still, I try.

I have been cleaning out old computer files, found on a dizzying collection of old hard drives and USB sticks. I try the Marie Kondo test – if it brings joy, I keep it, otherwise I throw it out (delete). I don’t delete much. I do come across a treasure or two, though.

Yesterday I found a reference to a website I had forgotten about that used to bring me joy – and I am glad to find out it is still there and think I’ll visit it some more. This is an old streaming music program, produced from Kansas Public Radio, based in Lawrence, where I went to school. That is surely how I stumbled across the program, though I don’t remember.

It’s called The Retro Cocktail Hour and it features… stuff you don’t hear everyday. Let me see if I can find a description…. Ok… from the Facebook Page:

The Retro Cocktail Hour serves up the music that’s “shaken, not stirred” every Saturday at 7:00pm Central on Kansas Public Radio stations. Pour the Mai Tais and join in for two hours of exotica, crime jazz, bossa nova, Now Sound, space age pop, groovy soundtracks, Bollywood weirdness and other incredibly strange tunes. Hosted by Darrell Brogdon. Visit http://www.retrococktail.org/ to stream shows from our program archive.

Think Mad Men. I love to listen to this stuff. It is so cool and so uncool at the same time. I’m not old enough to remember hearing this stuff but I’m old enough to have heard the echoes.

So make yourself a tray of Martinis and kick back and listen to an archive or two. If you want one to start with, try the All Exotica Show from January 19. From the show – “Exotica is the fantasy music of the South Pacific and the Orient, music of a make-believe Shangri-la, white sand beaches, warm breezes, and tropical libations.”

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Mac Finds His Pride

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten… somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another! Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home!

—- Dennis, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

For years I was aware of a television show called “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” but I didn’t watch it. No real reason – there is so much on… maybe I was turned off by the odd theme music.

One evening I was too tired to pick up the remote and actually saw a show. I enjoyed it. Basically it is the story of five people, related to each other in confusing ways, managing a shithole bar in Philadelphia. The actors are good, the jokes are funny, but mostly I liked it because the characters are such worthless, narcissistic, amoral, debauched, drug-addled, idiotic, lazy pieces of shit that it made me think better of myself. I may have my faults – but I am not as bad as these people.

Over the last year I’d watch it off and on. Mostly I’d scan the TV listings and DVR the episodes I hadn’t seen. That way I could binge watch them at odd times when I wasn’t missing anything important. With the DVR, I could fast-forward through the commercials or boring bits and see the whole episode in a few minutes.

There were a dozen seasons (It’s currently tied with Ozzie and Harriet as the longest running live-action sitcom – the only thing it shares with Ozzie and Harriet) so there was plenty to watch. I’m not sure how many episodes or seasons I’ve seen – more than a few. There isn’t much of a long-term arc, so there’s no reason to watch the shows in order.

It is fun to speculate about how dark each episode is capable of going. Usually the show doesn’t disappoint and ends up going darker than you thought possible.

And then came the thirteenth season and, especially the final, 10th episode (144th overall), Mac Finds His Pride.

And everything changes.

I was home, exhausted after work, and noticed the DVR was recording the show. I thought I would check it out and realized that there was something else on – some sort of a dance program. The stage was dark and covered in water and a muscular man and athletic woman were doing an amazing dance number to Sigur Rós music.

It was entrancing. As I watched, I suddenly realized, “Shit! That’s Mac dancing.” It was indeed It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I immediate rewound and watched the whole show. It started out like any episode – The gang was trying to get a float in the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade to bring in business and wanted someone to dance on the float. Mac was the best candidate, but didn’t want to do it – having trouble relating to his imprisoned father and his sexuality.

One of the running “gags” of the series is the character Mac (full name – Ronald MacDonald) and his struggle to come to terms with being gay.  At the beginning of this episode Frank (Danny DeVito) had broken his nose and was constantly shoving nasty stuff up his nostrils to staunch the bleeding.

All well and good – then it happened. Mac and Frank went to Mac’s father’s prison and Mac put on a dance with a woman to try and explain how he felt.

It was transcendent.

I was gobsmacked. This piece of artistic beauty came so far out of left field and was so unexpected… yet it was so appropriate and inevitable. I some unexplainable way it summed up everything. It was the moment that thirteen seasons – 144 shows – of unmitigated nihilistic worthlessness is redeemed by one moment of excellence.

It was the most audacious, brilliant thing I’ve seen on television since Part 8 of the new Twin Peaks.

 

 

Check out this article about how much work went into this. The actor, Rob McElhenney, can’t dance – more accurately, he can only do one dance. He spent a year learning it. And you can’t help but love his incredible partner, professional ballerina Kylie Shea.

I have always loved Sigur Rós. They sponsored a series of films of their music – The Valteri Mystery Film Experiment. There are several videos of the song in the dance, Varúð. Here’s a particularly good one:

 

I Think I’m Ready Now

With a taste of your lips
I’m on a ride
You’re toxic I’m slipping under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic

Intoxicate me now
With your lovin’ now
I think I’m ready now

I think I’m ready now
—-Toxic, Britney Spears

Last Saturday I went on a fun bike ride – a fundraiser for the Santa Fe Trail that runs from White Rock Lake to Deep Ellum and Fair Park (my favorite Dallas trail). We ended up at a new place, The Goat Ranch which was fun.

At the end of the festivities, instead of riding straight back to White Rock, I rode into the thick crowd at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival. I had been there the evening before to buy a little monster head in a box (this was my seventh – will have to write about that soon), but thought I’d check it out for a few minutes and see what was going on in the crowded melee of a Saturday Afternoon.

I locked up my bike and hobbled in on my SPD cleated cycling shoes along Murray Street until I saw a woman setting up with a guitar and a small Fender amp on a little busking stage at Murray and Commerce. There was a table with a chair available so I decided to sit and listen.

Alexandra Tayara and her Fender amp

Alexandra Tayara and her Fender amp

Her name was Alexandra Tayara and she was very good. Surprisingly good.

Her first song was the chestnut “House of the Rising Sun.” I’m not sure if she knew the significance of singing that song in that spot. This was the heart of Deep Ellum, of course, and I could almost feel the ghost of Leadbelly wandering those very streets with Blind Lemon Jefferson and singing “House of the Rising Sun.”

She went on to sing some original tunes (really liked “Hurt Boy” – you can get a copy from her website) along with some covers.

My favorite was an emotional bluesy version from that master of emotional bluesy songs – Britney Spears. I had heard people say that “Toxic” was a very good song, but until that Saturday, I didn’t understand it.

I wasn’t the only one that was affected. The crowd grew on the sidestreet as members of the thick throng parading by on Commerce were pulled in by the sound. A guy sitting next to me kept shouting out – his girl would walk over and admonish him but he would reply, “I can’t help it.”

Alexandra Tayara

Alexandra Tayara

She did a few more songs and then finished up. She was going to perform on a larger stage at seven that eveing. I would have enjoyed hearing her again, but I had a lot of work to finish, so I unlocked my bike and began the pedal home.

We Can Be Heroes

I usually don’t write about celebrities, especially musicians, when they pass away. I understand the sadness of their family and friends and mourn along with them. I am not without sympathy. But I am not their family and friends and, let’s face it, am not really affected personally by their passing.

You see, being an artist gives a person a kind of immortality. The art takes on its own life. Long after an artist is gone, the work remains. Especially now, when everything is digital and instantly accessible an artistic ghostly presence is forever there in the cloud. They may be gone, but they will never be forgotten.

This time it’s different. A month ago I came across an online article – VIDEO: New David Bowie song possibly the most David Bowie song ever. I watched the video for Blackstar and I had to agree – the music and the video – the only way to describe it is David Fucking Bowie.

So I started taking notes about my memories of David Bowie.

There was a cable television documentary – David Bowie: Five Years. It was fascinating to watch, because I could pin the precious years of my young life along with the progression of Bowie’s music and career.

I actually read about Bowie before I heard him. You forget, back in the day, how difficult it was to actually hear music that wasn’t on the top forty list. There were no digital downloads and I was living outside the country and glam rock wasn’t all that popular in Nicaragua at the time. So I read all I could about music, and read a lot about David Bowie – without actually being able to hear his music.

The first time I heard “Space Oddity” was on a battery powered FM radio while I was sitting in a pickup truck in the middle of a vast hot dusty field during harvest, waiting for a load of wheat to come from the harvesting combine. I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

Of course, once I made it to college, a variety of music became more available, though nothing like today. For an amazing decade David Bowie’s various styles and personas led what was happening with me and my friends, anticipating: glam, punk, electronic, and then dance music.

Even, decades later, when I was making a video to show at Nick’s high school graduation, mixing photos and music, I chose Heroes as one of the songs. I went to quite a bit of trouble to make sure this photo appeared during the lines:

Nick in Mexico

Nick in Mexico

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day

So when I stumbled across Blackstar and the first single, Lazarus, I was glad to see some more new stuff from Bowie, David Fucking Bowie, after all these years. I watched it and tried to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t.

Yesterday, I found out.