Today is a Beautiful Day!

A man I know told me this story about his father during his final illness.

His dad was dying and was bedridden. He asked his son to take him out to the back yard so he could get some fresh air. The son put his dad on a lawn chair and put on the necessary blankets, though it was a warm day. When he was set up, his dad asked for a popsickle. Due to his illness, the father could not eat properly, and the son held it to his mouth and wiped off the melted popsickle that dripped down while he ate.

When he was done, his dad took a look around. It was a sunny, warm, day. A light breeze was blowing and birds were chirping. His dad took this all in and said “Today is a beautiful day!”

Always know your elevator number

Murray Rothbard, and other scholars, have pointed out that one of the widely held misconceptions in our society is that things are inevitably getting better with the passage of time; the notion of an ‘inexorable march of progress’. In fact, a study of history reveals that improvement is frequently followed by decline. This came to mind a while back when I was riding an elevator that stopped moving between floors, and I opened the little door and picked up the red phone:

(rings many times) “Acme Elevator Service, this is Rachel, how may I help you?”

“Well, this elevator has stopped and the doors didn’t open, and I think somebody ought to … ah … get it going again.”

“I’m sorry for your inconvenience, sir. Can you tell me the number of your elevator?”

“I thought these things must have some sort of caller ID or something…”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have 5,000 elevators from all around the country, so I need to know which elevator you are on.”

“Hmmm, I see something here that says ‘Elevator 3’, is that it?”

“No, sir, it would be a 5 digit number.”

“Can you tell me where the number would be shown, in the elevator?”

“No, I’m sorry, sir, but it really depends on the manufacturer and model.”

(After looking around a bit): “Well, I don’t see any number like that here. I can tell you I am in Minneapolis, on the Fizbin Companies elevator…”

(Impatiently): “Ok, sir, if you can hold a minute, I will try and find it.” (click, and on hold)

I never learned if she found my elevator. While I was on hold, the elevator started moving again, and I hung up the phone and quickly exited the elevator.

vkgoeswild takes on Machine Head

Listening to what passes for popular music these days, one could be forgiven for thinking all the talented musicians passed from the earth sometime during the Reagan Administration–really it was the talented music industry executives. The only antidote to such a depressing thought is the abundant treasures on youtube.

The Icelandic keyboard goddess, known as vkgoeswild on youtube, turned her attention to Deep Purple’s penultimate effort, their album Machine Head.

The song Lazy, a call and answer improvisation between Ritchie Blackmore’s Stratocaster and Jon Lord’s Hammond B3 organ, is a foot-stomping vehicle of virtuosity, and VK wowed me after curiosity drove me to see just what the heck a single keyboard could do with that song–and I am astonished.

I also included the original from Machine Head. Listening to it as I write this–wow!

http://youtu.be/YPM6ni4bQzc

Steve Gursky and the Birth of Disco

Ok, the headline takes some artistic license. I can authoritatively tell you that the real birth of disco was the 1974 Hues Corporation crossover hit, Rock the Boat. But Steve was part of disco history nonetheless.

In his late teens or early 20s, Steve was working Criteria Studio in Florida as a sound engineer in the late 70s. Around 1976-77, the Bee Gees went to “Funky Chateau” studio in France hoping to record their next hit. After three weeks of dinking around in the studio, they came back to America with nothing they really liked except for a bit of drum track. They then went to Criteria to finish up the song.

Well, a few years ago, on a trip to Colombia, I had a 6 hour layover in Miami. Steve picked me up and took me to a studio next to Criteria set up by some former Criteria engineers. Standing in the lobby among the gold records on the wall, I noticed the Stayin Alive gold record. I told Steve that I had read that the Bee Gees used a two bar section of 2″ tape, 20 feet long, joined the ends together and looped it in the tape for the entire song. A junior engineer at the other end of the room held up a broomstick for a tape reel to spin on so it wouldn’t get tangled up as it looped.

In a shocked voice Steve asked “WHO TOLD YOU THAT?” I explained about the article. He relaxed and with a wry grin said “I was the one holding that broomstick.” He didn’t know that the story had been made public.

I asked the questions I always had about gold records. Well, they are not made out of gold, they are records spray painted gold. Had the studio guys ever tried to play one–yes they had put one on a turntable and it did play music. It turns out the gold painted record is not actually the album it represents. When a record company has a hit, each record is a source of revenue, not to waste a sale and hang on the wall. They would find a non-hit record with the same number of tracks, stick a label in the center, and use that for the gold record.

This drum loop was also used on ‘More Than a Woman’, and Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’.

He took me to lunch in a small modest seafood place just down the road from Criteria, and as I sat there, I imagined that Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, and many others had likely eaten there while on break from recording. That visit to the studio, and the stories he told, were more exciting to me than a trip to disney is for a kid.

Wish you were here

Both the single and album of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ became one of my favorite songs and albums over a period of years, and  almost against my will, in the decades following its 1975 release. Through the good graces of high school friends, I attended many great rock concerts from 1974 to 1977. Led Zeppelin, Robin Trower, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, The Who, and the Guess Who.

Prior to many of these concerts, and I remember it most clearly in the old Met Center, the Front of Hall guys would play this meditative album over the sound system until the act came on stage. I recall not liking it at the time, and when you are eagerly awaiting the explosion of of Whole Lotta Love, ambient music rankles.

It seemed the album was omnipresent during my high school years of 1975 to 1977. A couple of classmates and cross country teammates were obsessed with it and quoted lyrics in the school hallways and made much of the admittedly brilliant ‘burning man’ cover art, and the deeper philosophical implications thereof.

In the fullness of time, I learned the album was inspired by Syd Barrett, an original Pink Floyd band member, who was stricken with schizophrenia and was unable to continue as a musician. It was a song of loss, longing, melancholy. Ironically, while the band was mixing down the album, Syd visited the studio but was so disruptive they escorted him out–begging the question of just how badly did they wish he was there. Floyd’s prior effort, ‘Dark side of the Moon’ also took inspiration from Syd’s illness, the moon being associated with lunacy in former times.

And a few years ago, it became linked to my dearly departed friend, Steve Gursky. More on this remarkable man in other posts, but I will simply note that his brother, Loren, played the song on acoustic guitar and sang it at Steve’s funeral gathering. He said it was the hardest song he ever had to play, but that he just had to do it for his older brother.

And I now present you with another priceless treasure from youtube, a cover of the song from an extremely talented young woman–even more melancholy than the Pink Floyd version, if such a thing can be humanly possible. She has put multiple versions of it on youtube. She started with the sheet music, and now appears to have memorised it. Looks like its getting under her skin too.

This is for you, Steve. I truly do wish you were here.