The River's Badge

Friday, February 5, 2016

Paul Kantner

I missed the "Love Generation".

I was only twelve years old in 1967, and I was pretty enamored with "She'd Rather Be With Me" by the Turtles and "The Letter" by the Box Tops.

Sure, I saw the whole Haight-Ashbury thing unfolding on TV, but I didn't get it and didn't really want to. It just didn't seem like music to me. Music (to my childish ears) was supposed to have a melody and at a minimum, rudimentary lyrics that made a modicum of sense. The sixties were...odd. Big, orange flowers were a "thing", and paisley non-matching pants and fur vests and absurdly-long false eyelashes were groovy. Guys on acid, I'm sure, found the lyrics of bands like Jefferson Airplane profound; mind-expanding. In reality, in the cold grey of morning, they were inane. Not that it mattered.

In the long spanse of decades, though, I "sort of" gained an appreciation for the band. Grace Slick is a phenomenal singer. Imagine if she'd had good material to work with!

And Paul Kantner was a co-founding member of the group.

The New York Times wrote:

Mr. Kantner came to be seen as the intellectual spokesman for the group, with an ideology, reflected in his songs, that combined anarchic politics, an enthusiasm for mind-expansion through LSD and science-fiction utopianism. (Source)

Let's relive those days:

In a lot of online polls, a song by the then "Jefferson Starship" is considered the worst rock song of all time. Funny, because that's the time that I actually got on board with the band. Sure, the song is cheesy, but it's not, at least, and endless jam, a la the Grateful Dead.

That song is thus:

On a side note, watching this video with the sound off is hilarious. But it was the eighties, after all. We accepted lot of stuff that, in hindsight, was sadly, cheesy.

I realized, as I was tripping down memory lane tonight, that I am the wrong person to commemorate Paul Kantner. I sure didn't mean this post to be disrespectful. He was a musician and a songwriter. Just because I was not the target audience of Jefferson Airplane doesn't negate the group's importance in the pantheon of rock and roll. It's not them; it's me.

I didn't get it.

But I'm trying to.


Why didn't I write anything about David Bowie? Because I can't fake it. I understand he was a legend and that people on all points of the earth are mourning his passing. I acknowledge that. I feel for their grief.  But he was not a part of my musical world. I frankly only have a hazy picture in my mind of who the man was. In the seventies, my musical tastes were cloistered. I refused to even listen to the Eagles, for God's sake, because they weren't "country". I was wrong about a lot of things in the seventies, but I was young and cocksure in my beliefs. I'm sorry I missed that chunk of pop history.  I probably would have liked it if I'd given it a glance.

Sometimes we like to go back. Sometimes we wish we could. Life is full of "sometimes".

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Eagles and Country Music

It may have hit country music lovers the hardest -- the news of Glenn Frey's passing.


Well, because Eagles music is country music. The Eagles can call it whatever they want to call it, but it's country music. Oh yes. Is it any coincidence that Don Henley has just released an album of country songs? No.

I said it before, but it's relevant here -- when I first became aware of the Eagles, I essentially dismissed them; no admission by me that I actually liked those songs. I was inured to the shuffle beat and the moaning cry of a steel guitar that'd roped me into country music in the first place. By the early seventies, though, country music (as I knew it) had gotten lost. I was consigned to listening to songs by people like Billy "Crash" Craddock and Dave & Sugar. People forget how disoriented country music became in that decade. We had Charlie Rich lighting a match to John Denver records, and it was like the 2016 presidential race -- who is pure? Who isn't? Who is that interloper? We hate him! Meanwhile, us little people were just trying to pluck one decent record out of the muck.

This is, I know, obscure, but Tanya Tucker's sister, LaCosta, released a decent album around that time. On it was a track called, "Best Of My Love". I liked it! I thought it was really cool and different. I had absolutely no clue. Eagles? Yes, I'd seen their "Best Of" album in the store, my genre of music, so whatever. Oh, this is an Eagles song? Well, what the hell?

Honest to God, this was how I was introduced to the Eagles:

Thus, I begrudgingly decided I'd give the Eagles a spin. By that I mean, I paid attention when their songs came on the radio. I still wouldn't buy an album that wasn't labeled "country". I heard "Take It Easy" and "Lyin' Eyes", which I thought was good, but too long. It did have something, though. I heard "Already Gone". I did appreciate the harmonies.

Gradually, the Eagles kind of seeped in. "New Kid In Town" caught my breath. I think that was the first single by the group that I actually laid down money for.

Years whizzed by, and in the early nineties, a bunch of country music stars I loved, like Diamond Rio and Brooks & Dunn and Vince Gill, got together and recorded an album called "Common Thread:  The Songs of the Eagles".

That's when it finally hit me: the Eagles are country!

One of the best female country singers ever and my favorite Eagles song:

(Even if one of Trisha's songs has become a perpetual earworm that hasn't subsided, even after all these months.)

Tell me the Eagles weren't country!

Come on!

They could call themselves whatever they wanted. They could deceive themselves, and us. But they were country. I guess they fooled everybody -- every post-hippie who liked them -- every disco'ing guy who dressed up in a powder-blue leisure suit and thought he was hip. But the Eagles, in their subversive way, embedded country music into everybody's consciousness, and nobody was the wiser.

Least of all, me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Songwriting of Glenn Frey

There is apparently a whole culture of hating the Eagles. Sure, I've seen The Big Lebowski, and I always wince at the scene where Jeff Bridges' character expresses his hatred for them. (I've read that the actor,  unlike the character he played, does not hate the Eagles. Whew - because I like Jeff Bridges and I wouldn't want to be disillusioned by another actor.) The Washington Post posted an article today about how "the Eagles outlasted everyone who loved to hate them". Some obscure music critic was cited in the story, giving his lofty pronouncements about the "superficiality" of the Eagles' music. But you know, guys who make a living commenting on other people's creations are so deep.

Let's posit that the Eagles made "superficial" and - gasp! "commercial" music. Name an artist who didn't. Think songwriting is so deep? Come on. Sometimes a song means something and lots of times, it doesn't. I speak from experience, rather than from the perspective of a guy jotting his critiques in a spiral notebook in his basement. Some of my best songs are little bits of nothing; gossamer. My "meaningful" songs are apparently only meaningful to me, and not to the people who've heard them.

And commercial? Shoot! Why in the world would a musician actually want to make money? I know lots of electricians and MD's who work for free. Don't you?

Here's the thing about Glenn Frey:  he wrote perfectly crafted songs. To whit:

Best of My Love
Busy Being Fabulous
New Kid in Town
One of These Nights
Tequila Sunrise*
What Do I Do With My Heart
I Can't Tell You Why

*denotes excellence

There are more, of course. There are a few I'm not fond of, but believe it or not, there are also some Beatles songs I'm not crazy about, either. There are more than a few of my own songs that I despise.

And great songwriting isn't simply a matter of writing down a few pithy lines. A songwriter must marry those words to an evocative melody. Glenn Frey could do both.

Maybe the hatred comes from a general hatred of the decade of the seventies. It did basically reek. Music in the seventies, for the most part, was awful. Sure, we fondly remember Elton John in his giant red glasses and feather boa, singing Benny and the Jets, but that song was hardly substantial. Most songs recorded during those years weren't. So, I guess the Eagles sounded damn good by comparison, right?

And the Eagles sound damn good by comparison to any time in music history.

Thanks Glenn Frey, for the inspiration; and for songs that made me cry, made me dance, made me feel.

Monday, January 18, 2016

It Can't Be True

I was sorely late to the party. In the early nineteen seventies, I would scour Woolworth's record department for country singles. I wasn't into buying albums -- I could barely afford 45's -- but I'd see that blue cow skull picture on the cover of the most prominently displayed album and wonder what the deal was with these "Eagles". Of course, they were "rock"; they weren't Freddie Fender or Charley Pride. I dismissed them.

I have no cognition of hearing The Eagles for the first time. It was like they weren't there, and then they were. And then I begrudgingly sort of liked them.

As time went on, I understood that the country music I knew had evaporated, and I latched onto artists like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Sweethearts Of The Rodeo...and The Eagles. And I thought, what the hell is wrong with you, Shelly? Are you so pasted into your prejudices that you can't see? These guys, these Glenns and these Henleys, are singing the shreds of your soul!

I wrote a song, Ice Storms, exactly to emulate The Eagles. Exactly. I intended it that way. There was never one iota of a doubt, while I plunked on my guitar that February day, what I was doing.

This news takes my breath away.

Here we go:

Shit. My favorite.

Don Henley sang it, but Glenn wrote the words:

And he didn't give it up, even four decades later:

This one hits hard.


This one hits hard.

Red Simpson

I was perusing the New York Times website the other day (yes, it's true!) and in the obituaries I saw the name Red Simpson. I thought, well, that's familiar. I vaguely remember seeing that name on lots of yellow and orange Capitol Records 45's back when I was young, stupid, and flush with life.

I didn't exactly know Red Simpson as an artist, but on those records, his name was etched in parentheses right underneath the song titles.

He was a writer. Nevermind the trucking songs, the CB radio tunes, which are a quaint snapshot of a decade most of us would rather forget.

Red Simpson wrote this song, and damn.

You know how much I love Dwight, but here is how I remember this song:

Red also co-wrote this next song with Buck Owens. I'm not going to diss on Buck, but he was known for pilfering tunes, so I'm guessing Red truly wrote this song. I used to hate it -- truly I did -- when Buck and his Buckaroos would show up on my TV screen, and Buck would do his shoulder-shrug. I thought, wow, what a half-assed song! But that might have been my love/hate relationship with Buck Owens. It wasn't exactly Red's fault.

Red was entwined with the Bakersfield Sound. Yes, that was actually a (C) capitalized thing -- Buck, and Merle Haggard (especially).

I figured he at least warranted a tiny bit of recognition -- for all the 45's I spun -- with his name on them.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Thing About Christmas Songs

If merchants had to depend on me for their Christmas cheer, they'd be crying into their mug of wassail.

I'm not a Christmas fan.

I do have my reasons. Number one, I happen to work in an industry whose busiest time of the year is the last three weeks before Christmas. Therefore, no one is allowed to take time off, not even one lousy day to do their shopping. Add to that the stress of a long, heart-attack inducing day, and the last thing I want to do when I (finally) get off work is go shopping for holiday trinkets. All I want is a cup gallon of hot wassail. Secondly, Christmas is happy and exciting when there are kids in the house. Cats and dogs don't experience that same euphoria of anticipation that actual human kids do. In fact, Josie and Bob only anticipate when their next meal will be forthcoming, as they perch in their assigned spots two hours before suppertime.

When I had young kids, I exalted in the subterfuge -- writing out my shopping list in shorthand so no little eyes would tempt themselves and spoil the surprise.

That one big day with one big shopping cart, trudging my goodies through the snow and slush, the cart's wheels refusing to budge, as I twisted the cart like a pinwheel to deposit all those special toys in my trunk.

The Saturday evening when I would put on a favorite Christmas CD, dim the lights and decorate the tree, placing the school-made ornaments in very prominent spots on the branches; stringing together wreaths made of popcorn.

Writing out Christmas cards and slipping school photographs inside. Getting Christmas cards with school photographs slipped inside.

Pasting red, green, and blue window clings on the big picture window in the living room -- red trees and green boughs, white snowflakes, and blue letters that spelled out MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Hauling the big stand mixer out of the top cupboard and mixing up a batch of sugar cookies to be decorated, and a big pan of fudge, and divinity, and whatever other cookies struck my fancy that particular year.

The kids tearing open their gifts on Christmas Eve, exclaiming it was just what they wanted. Me on the floor assembling Fisher Price farm yards and, in ensuing years, admiring all manner of Transformers and Deluxe Lego cities (Those little yellow plastic bricks hurt like hell when you step on one with your bare feet two days after Christmas!)

When we packed up the car and drove to spend Christmas Day with Grandma and Grandpa, the kids loathe to leave their new treasures behind at home, Grandma pulling open the oven door to baste the giant turkey, Grandpa "helping" by sitting back in his recliner in the living room. Me salivating over the fresh-baked pecan pie. My brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews gathered around the long table Dad had set up in the living room to accommodate everybody; munching on green olives and carrot sticks from the relish tray to quell our hunger, Mom's candle evergreen centerpiece gracing the center.

That was Christmas to me.

I really should just chalk it up as a life phase that's come and gone. My kids are grown and they have new traditions of their own. Mom and Dad left in 2001. Really, the only thing I have remaining from Christmas Past is music, if I take the time to listen to it.

But here's the thing about Christmas songs....

Thank God they only come around once a year.

Our local oldies station begins playing Christmas music twenty-four/seven, right after (or maybe even before) Thanksgiving. Those DJ's must be hitting up the liquor store every couple of days, because if one has to find enough holiday music to fill all that airtime, one knows (the DJ's know more than anyone) that the great majority of it sucks. I listened for a few brief moments on my car radio today as I was motoring off to perform a semblance of actual gift-shopping (I got two -- yes, two gifts). I learned, from my radio, that Christmas music falls into a few categories:

  • Sucky
  • Maudlin
  • Instrumental (which, to be frank, could be anything - could be Arbor Day music for all anyone knows)
  • Too jazzy
  • Annoying
  • Cheesy
  • Not bad

I thought I would highlight a few of these types.

Best drunk performance by someone trying to appear sober:

(Yes, I know this is a montage. Sorry, it's all I could find.)

Best sober performance by someone trying to act drunk:

Best cry in your beer, drown your heartache Christmas song:

Christmas song that makes you want to drink yourself to death:

(I'm sure Andy Williams was a fine man. But this song falls into the "sucky", "too jazzy" category. Sorry.)

Other songs I would pay top dollar to never hear again:

  • Do You Hear What I Hear (no, and stop asking me!)
  • Little Drummer Boy (especially the Johnny Cash version...rum pa pah PUM)
  • Christmas Time Is Here (that stupid Peanuts maudlin song with the screechy kids singing. Really gets one in the spirit!)

Now, I like my eighties pop, as you know. Some people, particularly my husband, would say my favorites are sucky. I'm okay with that. Because I like what I like.

Hence, I like this:

It's not so much that I like this song, but I love the performance:

Let's not forget the sixties:

But honestly, Christmas is not Christmas for me until I hear these two songs (I heard one of them today as I was shopping, which inspired this post.)

In conclusion, there are two songs that are my special treasures, for different reasons. The first reminds me what we're doing this all for (and this is the version that lives in my heart):

And this one just makes me cry, because there is no more home:

If I don't have time, and I know I won't, Merry Christmas to you.

Go Indie For The Holidays!

It's not too late to get a nice stocking stuffer for Christmas. You know Amazon; they've got all kinds of shipping deals. No drone yet, though, unfortunately.

Why go indie for the holiday? There are several reasons, the first of which is, have you heard the stuff they're playing on the radio? No, me, neither. I don't listen to that crap. But I catch a snippet of it from time to time -- bumper music on my favorite talk shows. And inevitably, one of the hosts, who is older than he dares admit to himself, will say, "That's one of my favorite songs of the year." Seriously? Can you hum a few bars? What do you mean, "thump thump thump"? That's not a song! A song is supposed to have, you know, words...and ideally, a melody. How about some real music for a change of pace? I still remember when a song could make me cry, even after I'd heard it fifty-four hundred times. I wrote once that "a song is an angel".

Secondly, you know, good music doesn't just pop, fully formed, out of a falling raindrop. Sure, some songs are serendipitous. But usually even the songs that originate with the muse (who I'm pretty sure I don't believe in) still require lots of honing and fiddling to get them just right. Aside from the current top ten, "Thump Thump Thump" song, even bad songs were hunkered over by somebody who believed in them enough to spend hours hunched over their guitar, cramping their writing hand by jotting and crossing out words in a notebook. Imagine how much work a good song takes!

Thus, one should support the indie musician. This is where you're gonna get your next taste of actual enjoyable tunes. Aside from loops of past hits, I guess. (Ever notice that the hip-hoppers who use somebody else's music call it "sampling"? No, it's stealing.)

Third, don't you want to be known, among your circle of friends, as the "hip" one? Sure you do. Everybody does. Nobody says, "Yea, I'm the stodgy old coot who plays my Perry Como albums while I stretch back in my La-Z-Boy and take a snooze." And even if you are that person, why advertise it? Have some hot new music to recommend! Music you are the first person to hear!

I've listened to the songs on "Rhythms of Life" many times and thus I heartily recommend this CD. Because I am "hip". And because I have a good ear. Remember me? The Encyclopedia of Music? I wouldn't steer you wrong.

So click the link below and hop on over to Amazon. Shoot, this CD is a steal at $6.47! What the heck?? This guy is selling himself short! But, too bad for him; too good for you!

Remember to mention that your cool, trendy friend told you about it.

Click To Buy