An ageless Torch Song from a young woman

When Jewel was dumped by the young man who took his coat off and stood in the rain, she doubtless felt it was a horrible low point in her life.  She couldn’t have known how that poignant moment, later immortalized in song, would transform her life into stardom–when at the age of 21, she entered a studio and recorded one of the finest Torch Songs of all time, Foolish Games.

Growing up in Alaska in a house without indoor plumbing, and later impoverished and living in a van while she travelled around earning money with street performances, she certainly paid her dues by the time she recorded her multi-platinum 1995 debut album Pieces of You. Foolish Games was released from it as a single in 1997, reached #2 on the charts, and remained on the charts for what was at the time a record 65 weeks.

Back in the day, I spent a non-trivial amount of time discussing the theory of pop music, with the late recording engineer/producer Steve Gurskey, and his view was that the singer and the song were the two most important elements in a great song–and this is a perfect exemplar of Steve’s view. Close miked for intimacy, with a spartan arrangement that highlights Jewel’s voice, the result is spellbinding. While youtube provides many nice live performances, I feel the studio version is the masterpiece and will feature that.


Deniable Plausibility: The trite ritual of season-ending ‘cliffhangers’

As the decades advance, television networks produce fewer episodes of tv shows each year, while simultaneously trying to solve the perplexing mystery of declining viewership. This was in part implemented with the notion of a TV ‘season’ which starts in autumn and ends in the spring. This presents a problem for the networks. If by some miracle clueless network mooks stumble upon a show that viewers like, and by an even greater miracle they don’t decide to cancel it, they have the problem of how to maintain the viewer’s interest through the bar-b-ques, beers, softball games, parades and sun-tanning of summer.

The tranditional answer to this problem is the season ‘cliffhanger’. By means of last-episode melodrama, perhaps the viewer will spend the summer wondering how things turned out, and eagerly tune back in in the fall. In 1980, when the producers of Dallas had the charismatic scoundrel JR Ewing shot in the final episode of the season in March, it really did capture the imagination of many folks, and the Big Reveal episode in November of that year was the most watched episode in TV history at that point.

But that was 32 years ago, and since then the imaginary crimson harvest of network stars, who may or may not have died in season-enders, has turned the increasingly violent and implausible ‘cliffhangers’ into a predictable and forgettable ritual. Wowing people depends on novelty, but lazy network writers prefer to cut and paste from old teleplays–or is it network executives who are reluctant to depart from ‘proven’ formulae?

And so it was this year, as the few police procedurals I enjoy suffered the inevitable machine gun strafing, hostage taking, terrorist bombing, and general mayhem of the sort that insults rather than enthralls the viewer. The producers of NCIS even went so far as to have their beloved Man From U.N.C.L.E spy turned Coroner collapse, on a picturesque ocean beach, of an apparent heart attack. Have they no shame–picking on poor old Ducky?

So, re-runs until fall, favorite shows cancelled to be replaced by dreck, and we will ultimately learn which actors successfully re-negotiated their contracts and woke up in their hospital beds during the first episode, and which unceremoniously travelled to Hamlet’s Undiscovered Country, never to be referred to again. Ah for the days of my youth when JR Ewing, whom we so loved to hate, was shot, and we actually cared enough to speculate about who did it during the hot summer of 1980.

Memorial Day, 2012

I have already spoken of an acquaintance who’s combat weapon in vietnam was a sawed off shotgun. Now I would like to turn my attention to a couple of men who served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

Some years ago, I discovered that my next door neighbor was a World War II vet. I spoke to him about this and learned that he had been awarded a medal for bravery in combat while under fire on the beach of an island in the Pacific. With his assent, I brought my young sons to his house and explained to my sons what he had done and what an honor it was to meet such a man. I asked him to show them his medal, and he brought it out.

In an excess of modesty he remarked that he was simply too scared to retreat under withering Japanese fire. I thanked him and his fellow soldiers for their courageous service, and he responded that they were young, and scared, and he paused. I finished his sentence: “And you changed the world.”

On another occasion I learned that one of my Masonic Brothers had served as a sonar operator on a battleship–his job was to wear headphones and listen to microphones deployed in the water under the ship. He related that one night he thought he heard a Japanese Submarine. He raised the alarm and evasive measures were taken including dropping depth charges.

He noted that after the war was over, an examination of Japanese military records revealed that they had indeed sunk a Japanese submarine that night. I wonder how many American lives were saved  because he did his job well. I have always been struck by the kind of life and death responsibilities combat places on teenagers and men in the their early 20s, and how they rise to the challenge.

As always, I am in awe and gratitude to those who have served in combat and paid the price of our freedom. I feel it is incumbent on me to influence our politicians to avoid unnecessary war and reduce the number of our children who must pay the price for said freedom.

The Hollies, 1969. Party on top, serious below

I like to know and report the year that songs charted because they can be seen in their social context. Here we have a delightful 1969 Hollies lip-sync to their rousing Carrie Ann. Its a transitional time in musician appearance, and we see the band wearing the matching suits, previously obligatory for tv appearances, but there is a bit of rebellion going on in the hair department.

To this day, I never quite figured out what the British 1950s school game of ‘Janitor, Monitor’ was.

Metaphor in music, the Lemon Pipers

I was a rather literal minded as a 9 year old in 1968, so perhaps I can be excused for missing much of the hidden meanings in popular music. I think Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers (#1 in America in February of 1968) was the first song where I detected metaphor. This has evolved into an entire genre of music whereby sensitive artistic types lament the corrupting influence of the filthy lucre which they pursue with their craft, but to my knowledge the Lemon Pipers went there first.

Good videos of the Lemon Pipers playing this are thin on the ground, so I hope you enjoy what I could find.

Summer of 1967–Lazy Day

The Golden Age of joyful pop music and soaring harmonies was the 1960s, and its hard to surpass this flight of fancy by Spanky and Our Gang, charting in 1967. Probably one of the last fluffy tidbits before ‘meaningful’ music, heavy metal, and psychedelic rock took over.