Posts Tagged ‘Paul Simon’

So, at some point in the 1990s, a well-lit Barnes & Noble bookstore opened its doors not more than 10 minutes from our domicile. There were copious magazine racks, shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books, wonderful books, and – perhaps most importantly to me – a cafe where one could browse possible purchases while sipping Starbucks-branded coffee, lattes and macchiatos. Most weekends, Diane and I could be found there, she making like a power reader while I leafed through magazines and downed various double-shot concoctions.

I’m not sure if we subscribed to the New Yorker at that point in time, though I know we did for a few years that decade. It matters not whether this part of the story occurred at home, while standing at the B&N magazine racks or in the cafe, however: I spotted (in the Sept. 11th, 1995 issue) Rob Nixon’s upbeat critique of British scribe Nick Hornby’s debut novel, High Fidelity, about a music obsessive’s journey into maturity. In part, the review read (and I’m lifting this direct from Hornby’s own website), “It is rare that a book so hilarious is also so sharp about sex and manliness, memory and music. Many men and, certainly, all addictive personalities will find in these pages shadows of themselves. And most of us will hear, in Hornby’s acoustic prose, the obsessive chords of the past that more often lock up than liberate our hearts.”

It seemed like something I might like, in other words. I located the book, flipped through it and decided to buy it. In the cafe, or perhaps in the main thoroughfare to the cafe, I shared my find with Diane. On the way home, we made a quick stop at the supermarket; while I ran in to get what we needed, she stayed in the car…and began to read the book.

I didn’t get it back from her until she finished.

High Fidelity was, is and will always be one of my favorite novels. The protagonist, Rob Fleming, owns a record shop staffed by music-crazed obsessives who, like him, use music as both a defense mechanism and escape hatch from life. He sorts through the frayed ephemera of past relationships to figure out why his present is filled with far too many pops, clicks and crackles; and, along the way, comes to an unsettling realization: A person’s taste in music doesn’t reflect anything but their taste in music.

In any event, I recognized the characters from a lifetime spent in musty-and-dusty record shops as well as, for a few years, managing the CD departments at two video-rental (and much cleaner) stores. They were my people, essentially; I traded tapes with customers, debated trivial matters with others, and – like Rob and his pals/employees – made tons of lists. On these shores, or at least in my circle, they were Top 10s as opposed to the book’s use of Top 5s, but that was it. Diane, a fellow music obsessive, was the same. A few years later, when I launched the original Old Grey Cat website, we even created a page that honored High Fidelity’s Top 5 concept (and I still honor it with my too-frequent Top 5 posts).

Five years later, the book was turned into a movie and Americanized, with John Cusack shepherding and protecting his emotions through music while figuring out how and why he’d made a mess of his life. We saw it in the theaters and, though we had our quibbles, liked it. A lot.

All of which leads to this: Earlier this year, I discovered that a High Fidelity TV series was set to premiere on Hulu. The dearth of originality in Hollywood has resulted in more trash than gems, so my initial reaction was to shrug it off. Why remake a semi-classic film? Then I read that the creative team had changed Rob from a guy to Zoë Kravitz and London/Chicago to Brooklyn. That the daughter of Lisa Bonet, who appeared in the film, stars in it made me feel old, but also clued me that the TV series was aiming for something more than a straight remake.

In the short term, it didn’t much matter: We were re-watching one of Diane’s favorite shows, The West Wing, anyway, and then we re-watched Homicide: Life on the Street, following it with Sex, Chips & Rock ’n’ Roll and other assorted older shows and movies. As we do. The High Fidelity TV series fell off my radar, in other words, and remained so until I read, just a few weeks back, that it had been cancelled.

We gave it a go that same week.

Like the movie, the TV series has Rob (short for Robyn) break the fourth wall – and, in one episode, allows her friend/employee Simon (David H. Holmes) to do the same. Kravitz is terrific, as is the supporting cast – Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Cherise, especially. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about the book is that it is specific to the male experience, but its overarching themes – fear of commitment, self-sabotage and qualms about adulthood and adult responsibility – are near-universal conceits. (The truth is, men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus; we both hail from Earth – and share 99.9 percent of the same DNA.) Certain aspects of the story differ because of the gender-flip, of course, but it remains true to Hornby’s core vision. At root, the new Rob – like the old Rob – is damaged. It’s not until she begins to make the necessary repairs that she has a shot at happiness.

Now, I wish we’d watched it right off the bat – if only to add one more viewer to whatever metric Hulu uses to decide what to renew or what to cancel. (Quality certainly isn’t among the reasons they rely upon; if they did, High Fidelity would be a no-brainer to bring back,)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Songs About Music.

1) Diane Birch – “Jukebox Johnny.” Just yesterday, the Church of Birch pastor released this addictive tune about late-night salvation found in songs.   

2) Dobie Gray – “Drift Away.” A much-covered tune about losing one’s self in a melody, this rendition – a big hit in 1973 – was itself a cover version. Written by Mentor Williams (the brother of actor/singer-songwriter Paul Williams), it was first recorded by Clarence Carter in 1970 and then John Henry Kurtz in 1972.

3) The Kinks – “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” A classic Ray Davies ode to folks who turn to music for solace – and the price they pay. “There’s a guy in my block, he lives for rock/He plays records day and night/And when he feels down, he puts some rock ‘n’ roll on/And it makes him feel alright/And when he feels the world is closing in/He turns his stereo way up high…”

3) Simon & Garfunkel – “Late in the Evening.” A Paul Simon song from his 1980 One Trick Pony album/movie, this version from S&G’s legendary 1981 Concert in Central Park is equally evocative, conveying the utter magic and mystery of music and how it colors life for the better.

5) Patti Smith – “Land/Gloria.” Turn this up loud. In 2012, Patti toured as the opening act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse – and, as this fan-shot video shows, damn near blew those warhorses off the stage. (Note I say “damn near.”) Diane and I were at this show in Philly, and totally blown away by her performance – this song, especially. (Patti has said that “Land” is a metaphor for the birth of rock ’n’ roll, but all I know is it’s great.)

Yesterday, WXPN featured a day-long “Throwback Thursday” devoted to 1968. Although I didn’t listen all day, what I heard was an interesting mix of the expected and unexpected, with Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” followed by the raw rock of Big Brother & the Holding Company, the soft psychedelic lather of Jefferson Airplane, and a five-track tour of some of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tunes, as well as songs by the Temptations, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison and the Delfonics.

Today, their “Throwback Thursday” inspires my “Flashback Friday,” which looks back 50 years to Saturday June 8, 1968. The biggest story in the news: Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.

But that wasn’t the only news of the day: James Earl Ray, the prime suspect in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Among the movies one could expect to see in the theaters this weekend: Planet of the Apes; Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows; Yours, Mine and Ours; The Odd Couple; Prudence and the Pill; The Detective; and Wild in the Streets. Due for release in just four days: Rosemary’s Baby. As I’ve mentioned before, however, in those days “wide” releases weren’t the way of the movie world. Films opened in select markets at select theaters, with new markets and theaters added each week and month.  

In the land of TV, the 1967-68 season was over. The Andy Griffith Show concluded its eight-year run atop the Neilsen charts at No. 1, and The Lucy Show ended its six years on the air at No. 2. Gomer Pyle, USMC was the third-ranked show; and three shows tied at No. 4: Gunsmoke, Family Affair and Bonanza. (I actually remember seeing an episode of Family Affair when my family visited Beirut in the early 1970s, but that’s grist for another post.) Variety shows were also in vogue: The Red Skelton Show, Dean Martin Show, and Jackie Gleason Show were No.s 7, 8 and 9; and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies, which featured both made-for-TV and theatrical films, rounded out the top 10.

In my world: I was 2 years old, soon to be 3, and our family lived in a row home in northeast Philly. Not that I remember much beyond our pet cat, Missy, and the backyard – none of our immediate neighbors had installed fences, so it was a huge expanse to little me. And most of those neighbors also had young children. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone had fun.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: June 8th, 1968 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson.” Enjoying its second (of three) weeks atop the pop charts is this memorable song featured in The Graduate, one of the era’s defining films. 

2) Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up.” Clocking in at No. 2 is this funk classic, which was perched atop the charts just a few weeks earlier. An interesting sidenote to this song: Bell was drafted shortly before recording it, and by the time it reached No. 1 he was in Germany, where he was assigned to the 53rd Transportation Unit – and in the hospital due to an accident. (He talks about it in an insightful interview with the Rebeat blog.)

3) Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about this classic song: It may never have been recorded if not for Albert asking Burt Bacharach (who wrote it with lyricist Hal David) if he had any old songs lying around. It’s since been sung hundreds of times by a who’s who of singers far more gifted than Alpert, often with “girl” substituted for “guy,” including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Rumer.

4) Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus – “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title song of the movie of the same name hit its peak the week before, when it claimed the second slot. Here, it drops two spots to No. 4.

5) Tommy James & the Shondells – “Mony Mony.” So James had the music, but not the lyrics. While in New York, he and one of the song’s co-writers, Ritchie Cordell (who’d go onto produce Joan Jett and the Ramones, among others), were about to throw in the towel when, from the terrace of his Manhattan apartment, he saw the Mutual of New York building, which was illuminated with its initials. And, thus, a smash hit was born… 

And a few bonuses…

6) Merrillee Rush and the Turnabouts – “Angel of the Morning.” Jumping from No. 30 to 14 is this single, which was produced by Chip Moman and Tommy Cogbill at Moman’s American Studio in Memphis; and though Rush’s band received billing on the 45, the actual musicians were Moman’s usual crew. The song itself was written by Chip Taylor, and was first offered to Connie Francis – but she turned it down due to its “risqué” theme. (It’s about the morning after a one-night stand.) It was recorded by Evie Sands and a few other artists, but Merrillee’s was the first to chart. It garnered her a Grammy nomination for best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist. 

7) The Rolling Stones – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” After their ill-advised dalliance with psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones get back to the basics with this classic single, which would top out at No. 3 in July. It debuts on the charts this week at No. 62.

And, last, here’s a clip of Paul Simon discussing “Mrs. Robinson” and The Graduate with Dick Cavett in early 1970:

We watched Ordinary People last night. It’s a film we’d both seen before, though not in decades. Diane first saw it in a movie theater not long after its Sept. 19, 1980, release and I first saw it on PRISM, a now-defunct regional premium cable channel that was popular in the Philly area at the time, about a year later. An understated and powerful movie, it won a bevy of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford, in his directorial debut) and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).

ordinarypeopleFor those unfamiliar with it, the drama delves into the dynamics of a dysfunctional family following the death of eldest son Buck (Scott Doebler), who perished in a sailing accident that youngest son Conrad (Timothy Hutton) survived. As the story opens, Conrad has recently returned from a stay at a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt; he’s racked with survivor’s guilt. Mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is emotionally distant, more concerned with appearance than addressing his (or her, for that matter) needs. Father Calvin (Donald Sutherland), on the other hand, just wants everyone to get along. As Roger Ebert put it in his review, he’s “one of those men who wants to do and feel the right things, in his own awkward way.” Enter psychiatrist Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch) and the down-to-earth Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), a girl who catches Conrad’s eye. Both, in their ways, help him overcome the guilt – one knowingly, the other not.

In other entertainment events from that September, the Dionne Warwick-hosted Solid Gold syndicated music series debuted on the 13th.

I have no memory of whether I watched it or not; likely not. If I wasn’t out at a movie – at the Hatboro Theater in downtown Hatboro or the Eric Theater in the Village Mall in Horsham – I was likely reading the Sunday newspaper while listening to the oldies on the radio, listening to music in my room and/or watching TV. (How’s that for narrowing it down?) I was 15, a high-school sophomore and serious music fanatic.

Among the album releases for the month: Kate Bush’s Never for Ever; David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); the Doobie Brothers’ One Step Closer; Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz; Barbra Streisand’s Guilty; Utopia’s Deface the Music; Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July; and Molly Hatchet’s Beatin’ the Odds.

And, with that – onward to today’s Top 5: September 20, 1980, in which I cherry pick my favorite hits from the Weekly Top 40 for the week in question…

1) Diana Ross – “Upside Down.” For the third week in a row, Diana held the top spot with this infectious song. It, like the 1980 diana album as a whole, was written and produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, though the end result was not what they intended. Afraid that the original mix was too disco, which was quickly falling out if favor, Diana and engineer Russ Terrana gave the set a sleek, more pop-oriented makeover.

2) Irene Cara – “Fame.” Holding steady at No. 4 is this classic theme song. If you watched the above Solid Gold clip, you know that Irene sang (or lip-synced) it there; it’s such a great song, though, that I can’t help but share it again (And, yes, I know I’ve shared this same clip before – here, to be precise.)

3) Paul Simon – “Late in the Evening.” Clocking in at No. 7 is this classic from Paul Simon, which is one of my favorite songs by him.

4) Olivia Newton-John & Electric Light Orchestra – “Xanadu.” Just bubbling under the Top 10, at No. 12, is this, the title song to the movie musical, which was released the previous month. I saw the film at the aforementioned Eric Theater and, like most who did, didn’t find it a five-star affair. (An understatement, that.). The soundtrack, however, was darn good; I played it to death.

5) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.” Here’s a classic song from Michigan’s rock ’n’ roll laureate. Against the Wind, the album that it’s from, was my Album of the Year for 1980; I still think it’s great.

And, for today, a few bonuses…

6) Christopher Cross – “Sailing.” Falling from No. 5 to 15 is this Grammy Award-winning song from Christopher Cross. I imagine that this song, from Cross’ debut, would be lumped into what’s now known as “yacht rock.” Whatever. At the time, I found it a pleasant diversion that I didn’t need to own – it was played fairly often on the radio, after all. Nowadays? I often play Rumer’s version from her 2014 B-Sides & Rarities collection.

7) Olivia Newton-John – “Magic.” This classic ONJ number held the top spot for four weeks in August before beginning its downward drift. This week, it fell from No. 13 to 27.

8) Jackson Browne – “That Girl Could Sing.” Debuting on the charts this week, at No. 82, is this classic song from Hold Out, Browne’s only album to reach No. 1.

This is my 67th post of 2016. Some missives were good, others not, and most a mix of the two, primarily due – I see now – to my over-reliance on the Top 5 format. In and of itself, that tip of the hat to High Fidelity works well – especially when I’m digging through an old magazine. But week in, week out, it grows tiresome. As a result, in the new year, I plan less Top 5s and more straightforward essays and reviews.

And, yes, I see the irony in saying that within a Top 5.

With that said, onward to today’s Top 5: An Old Grey Cat Retrospective, Part 2. In Part 1, of course, I listed the most popular posts of the year along with a clip from each. Here, I’m sharing – in chronological order – the posts I most enjoyed writing.

1) Today’s Top 5: Classics, Old & New (1/9/16): “Whether they come from the pen of Wallace Stevens or piano of Carole King, or the hills of Appalachia, expressions of the heart, soul and psyche have remained constant through the ages. It’s why music, like all art, doesn’t come with an expiration date. We, as a people, live, long, love, lose and love again, and argue amongst ourselves, forever and ever. Amen.”

2) The “Nous” Church of Birch (2/6/16): “We expect life, when young, to unfold much like school: first grade leads to second leads to third, and on down the line until, one late-spring day, we’re tossing our caps in the air at high-school graduation. But life – for most, at any rate – doesn’t unfurl like the step-by-step directions proffered by Google or Apple maps. Detours and wrong turns are inevitable. We stride forward, stumble, tumble backwards and regroup, and head out yet again.”

3) Bruce Springsteen in Philly, 2/12/16: We Have Met the Future and It Is Us (2/14/16): “The young 30-something who released The River and the young fans who first embraced it would likely laugh at the idea that, 35 years on, they’re still spirits in the night, albeit just for the night.”

4) Today’s Top 10: It Was 30 Years Ago Today… (9/5/16): “Looking back, the ‘80s were somewhat like a snow globe: America was shaken at its start, but everything settled into place by decade’s end. That the era is often derided for its fashion miscues, pop music and political retrenchment is a shame; there was much good to be found.”

5) Bruce Springsteen: A Fleeting Meet-and-Greet (10/1/16): “Life can be challenging. We wake, roll out of bed and, often, dread the day to come – maybe it’s the morning commute or pile of work awaiting us at the office; perhaps a dead-end job for dead-end wages; or, at times, something much, much worse. But the music takes us away from whatever it is, albeit for a few minutes, and helps us muster the strength to soldier on.”

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And two bonuses…

6) Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow (circa 1970 & Billboard) (11/26/16): “When we strip the gauzy nostalgia from the reality of any time, we’re left with this: What often made the time wonderful was less day-to-day life and more the promise of what had yet to come. It’s why succeeding generations continue to embrace the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think – despite the tumult of the ‘60s and woes of the ‘70s, the messages that powered much of the music were hopeful. And, by and large, we’re a hopeful lot.”

7) Album(s) of the Year, 2016 (12/4/16): “And so the year comes to a close not with a bang or whimper, but a melody that’s older than my time on Earth: ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love.’”