The spirit of Woodstock should animate us all

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We don’t need a Woodstock 50. Right now we are so divided, so unrighteous as a so-called Christian people, we could never pull it off. You know what, yes, it was messy, there was drugs in the juice you drank and frankly once it was over, Yasgur’s Farm probably looked like a war zone. It actually happened in Bethel, NY, 43 miles from the actual Woodstock. And it was the last time such an event could happen. But god, think about it.

Damn right, just stop, think about this. At its peak there were 400,000 young people gathered in its muddy fields. Apart from two people who died {one from being accidentally run over by a tractor and the other from ‘insulin usage’], there was no violence, no murders–but there were two births. Almost half a million kids got together for four days of peace and music. I would challenge any Trump rally to boast as much.

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Never mind, they can’t. Their forte is rancor and racism. Every time I put on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s song “Woodstock”, I repeat it, at least four times. One, because I love it and two, I think we could all do with getting back to the land, back to the ideal. It became part of a story I once wrote about a concert, a very special concert. I was five years old when Woodstock happened, but that whole ’60’s vibe kind of informs the writing I do, that spirit of unity and brotherhood that crossed artifices such as race and gender.

I’d probably sell more books if I had pursued the whole Dystopian Future model. It certainly worked for the Hunger Games. I don’t think we need that. We’re already heading for a dystopian future as far as I’m concerned. You don’t have a future if its built on cynicism. All you wind up with is…well, what we’ve got now. I don’t want the people I write about to be in a world so f—ed up that I wouldn’t want to live in it. We have to believe we’re better than this. If we don’t believe we can make things better [and I’m speaking broadly here], we’ll never work to make it happen. And then we might as well all be the mindless drones our rich oligarchs expect us to be.

Naïve? Perhaps, but until something better comes along I’ll stick with it.

 

woodstock-jonimitchell

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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Grizzly (1976) review

girzzly poster

Roll ’em out. Bring on the bad animals. Let’s hear it for Night of the Lepus, Food of the Gods, Empire of the Ants–Grizzly!!!

Back in the day, following Jaws (1975) there were a slew of Giant Animal pictures meant to capitalize on people’s fear of nature, the perception of nature gone wild and taking her revenge on mankind. The environmental movement was still in its infancy, which also had to factor into the prevalence of these flicks. Few of them were of Jaws-level quality, although Food of the Gods at least had an H.G. Wells pedigree. And really–giant carnivorous rabbits? Oh Deforest Kelley, how far you’d fallen. To be fair, Night of the Lepus had the excuse that it was released in 1972, three years before Jaws redefined terror.

night of lepus poster

Where does Grizzly fit into this? Released in 1976, a year after Jaws, it was spawned by a family outing where producer & writer Harvey Flaxman’s family had encountered a bear. Rightly panned as a Jaws rip-off, it had the virtue of including Teddy, an eleven-foot Kodiak bear as the title villain. Inadvertently it reunited actors Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckal, who’d also appeared in supporting roles in John Wayne’s Chisum (1970). George is Mike Kelly, the Park Ranger with the dubious task of tracking down this ursine interloper; Prine is Don Stober, the unfortunate helicopter pilot, and Jaeckal as naturalist Arthur Scott.

The film does have its pluses. How often do we get to see a bear tear down a look-out tower?  Although the species in question, Arctodus ursos horribilis was a conceit invented for the film, it was based on the giant Pleistocene Era species of Short-Faced bears. These bears, of which there were two species in North America, were about the size of a grizzly but not as heavily built. It may also be one of those rare instances where you find the dumbest thing a person’s ever done, alongside the smartest thing a person’s ever done.

Dumb action first. Two hikers have already been killed. The killer has been positively identified as a bear. Armed with this knowledge, what does this beautiful Park Rangerette do? She goes skinny-dipping in a waterfall. Guess who’s behind the falls? Oh, here comes Teddy!

The movie climaxes with the smartest act. Kelley and Stober finally track down the bear, who takes down their helicopter and kill the hapless pilot. In desperation Kelley fires a bazooka right at the bear, which is vaporized in a shower of blood. Yeah, come back from that, you S.O.B.! All in all Grizzly was a cut above the rest…a slight cut, considering the competition, nonetheless…

LINKS:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grizzly_(film

Short-Faced Bear

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.  Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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Something New, the next Hard Day’s Night

 

Beatles Something new

The harvest of Beatlemania of 1964 continued with their third Capitol album in a seventh-month period, Something New, a title which wasn’t that true at all. To summarize, The Beatles’ Second Album had only been released on April 10. The United Artists’ version of A Hard Day’s Night (US) was an abridged version of the original Parlophone (UK) LP. However, the US LP preceded the better UK version by two weeks (release dates, June 26 for United Artists vs. July 10 for Parlophone).

Beatles A Hard Day's night United Artists cover U.S. v., A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Beatles A Hard Day's Night U.K. cover and the original Parlophone release

With me so far? It gets better. Something New followed the UK Hard Day’s Night by ten days and less than a month after the US LP. If this album has any weakness, it’s the lack of a strong lead single. On the other hand, apart from “Slow Down’ and “Matchbox”, it is notably lacking in the cover songs that would fill their LPs up through Beatles For Sale, or Beatles VI, depending on which continent you were born on.

Anal details: eight of its eleven tracks had already appeared on the original A Hard Day’s Night; five of  those songs had already appeared the month before on the United Artists’ album. It would be the third album release for “I’ll Cry Instead”, which we never even got to hear in the movie! Side One closes with two songs from the British Long Tall Sally EP. I’ll get to the song that closes in a bit. “A Hard Day’s Night”, “I Should Have Known Better” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” had already appeared on both/either Hard Day’s Night LPs. The only remaining orphans from the Parlophone album were “You Cant Do That”, which had already appear on The Beatles’ Second Album in April; and “I’ll Be Back”, relegated to Beatles ’65, soon to be released in December 1964.

Also of note, on the trivial side, in addition to being released in Mono, it was the only early Beatles album where all tracks were in true stereo. Alternate versions of “Any Time at All”, “I’ll Cry Instead”, “When I Get Home”, “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” appear in the Mono mix. Parlophone released Something New to US Armed Forces bases in Europe; today those copies are appropriately great collector’s items. The German stereo version on the Odeon label has a reprocessed stereo version of “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” and an extended version of “And I Love Her” that repeats the closing riff six times instead of the familiar four. This mix appears on the US version of the now-defunct LP Rarities (1980). In 2004 the album was released on CD as part of the box set The Capitol Years, Volume I.

All fine, but how does it sound??? Despite being A Hard Day’s Night Redux, it’s actually a pretty listenable album. “I’ll Cry Instead” gets it off to a rocking start; “Things We Said Today” was a reflection on Paul’s relationship with actress Jane Asher. “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” were two of John and Paul’s most tender love songs; given their relative youth, it’s surprising how much depth and maturity they could fit into two and a half minutes each.

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-beatles-only-german-recordings-4075314

http://www.beatlesebooks.com/komm-gib-mir-deine-hand

The final track, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”, was a German language recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It wasn’t something they really wanted to do, and in the end they had to be dragged to the studio in Paris to get the job done. It wasn’t unknown for American artists in the ’60’s to record foreign-language versions of their biggest hits. The Temptations for example did the Beatles one better by recording “My Girl” not only in German but in Italian as well.

For “Komm…”, the band used the original instrumental track, then recorded eleven vocal takes, overdubbing handclaps later. And that’s all Capitol had to offer until November with the release of The Beatles’ Story, a two-LP spoken-word press release until Beatles ’65 arrived in December, with “I Feel Fine” rounding out the year.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.  Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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The worth of Walls: Berlin

In 1981, during The River tour, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt ventured through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin, where the oppression was thick in the atmosphere. This visit changed Van Zandt from a man who once preached that rock and politics never mix, into a firebrand of justice.

Bruce said this in his bio, Born to Run:

“The power of the wall that split the world in two, its blunt, ugly mesmerizing realness, couldn’t be underestimated. It was an offense to humanity: there was something pornographic about it, and once viewed, it held a scent you couldn’t quite get off of you.”

berlin wall going up

Going up, 1961…

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.…and coming down, 1989

The Berlin Wall went up in August 1961. It began to fall in November 1989. 28 years. I’ve lived almost twice that long. That’s how much walls are worth.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall

The Berlin Wall was 140 km (87 miles) long. Despite this, over 5,000 people successfully defected to the West by a variety of means.

The U.S, border with Mexico is 1,954 miles long. Think about that.

 

file-20180426-175077-1jnckp1One may have noticed my mind has been on apartheid in recent blogs. One might wonder why I’m spending so much time reflecting on a regime that’s quite clearly gone. Primarily I suppose it’s because it’s an object lesson. Change is possible when the People are so fired up that the politicians have no choice, literally none, but to do the right thing.

Honestly I never expected there would be a peaceful transition in South Africa. After five decades of oppression and resistance, I fully expected apartheid could only end in civil war, and I’m probably not the only person to think so. This is one instance where I’m glad to have been proven absolutely conclusively wrong.

But there is a better reason for me to focus on that particular dead issue. Apartheid by another name was a very real institution in post-Civil War America. We know it here as Jim Crow but it was the same thing, the exact same thing. Segregation was imposed by law across the Southern United States and sanctioned by foul Supreme Court decisions to as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Lynchings were a shameful legacy of those hundred years before Martin Luther King Jr. and the entire Civil rights movement stood up and said “That’s enough. We’ve waited for our rights long enough. We’ve waited for you to respect our dignity long enough.”

039why-did-they-hate-us039-explaining-the-new-lynching-memorial-to-my-sons-featured-photoWe are facing a moral crisis whereby the Trump administration is bound and determined to wind the clock back to the 19th Century, some never-never land of white rule that doesn’t deserve to exist. Plainly with the present conservative majority on the Supreme Court we can’t count on either their good will or their good sense for the next couple of generations.

This is a time we have to stand, not just on the national stage but in our everyday life. Its tie to put aside all labels–male, female, LGBT, black and white–and treat everyone exactly the way you’d expect to be treated, with respect, dignity and plain ol’ common courtesy. Maybe it’s naïve to dream of this but what the hell, till something better comes along I’m happy to be naïve.

Artists United Against Apartheid- “The Struggle Continues”

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Miles Davis is a difficult man to like. He was parsimonious when it came to sharing credit on his compositions and abusive to his wives. Worse, he felt obliged to brag about it. But he was also a jazz genius, a would-be boxer with sickle-cell anemia and, late in his life, diabetes; a man who’d storm onstage for a concert against his doctor’s advice while he was fighting pneumonia.

That being said, civil rights did seem to be something he cared for. In 1985 South Africa was very much on Little Steven Van Zandt’s mind, particularly the resort Sun City, which was planted right in the middle of one of the desolate bantustans imposed on the native South Africans by white Afrikaners. Ronald Reagan’s policy as President was a thing called ‘constructive engagement’, a double-speak term that amounted to encouraging business investment in South Africa in the hope that this would change their racist policies.

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Little Steven had a different vision. Recall that this was a time in the 1980’s when large charitable events involving large collectives of pop artists had briefly become the norm. Farm Aid was just around the corner in the U.S., and continues to this day. Live Aid, “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” had all brought awareness of the drought and starvation of Ethiopians. But the pop response to the Ethiopian crisis was largely apolitical; it didn’t address the conflicts that had brought this famine on the Ethiopian people.

The Sun City project was different. It had to be. If there was to be change, you had to address the root of the problem, which was the government-sanctioned program of Apartheid. Like all these projects Sun City did not lack for enthusiastic volunteers. And from the first day, producer Arthur Baker and Little Steven thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to get Miles Davis to play trumpet over this drum log”, on the demo record?

As it happened, Miles’ sound man had also been Little Steven’s sound man on one of his tours. the job of contacting Miles fell to Danny Schecter, a journalist who early on became involved with the project. Now honestly, Miles Davis was a hard man to get ahold of, but when Schecter made the call, the immediate response was, “When do you want me there?”

On the big day Miles laid down his part over two takes, which would soon form the bedrock of what would become the jazz session for the album. Towards the end of the first take, he did the kind of unexpected thing he was famous for. In a rasp barely above a whisper he muttered, “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

This was not planned; it was all just improvisation on Miles’ part. Baker and the others thought at first he was talking about the cameraman who was there to film all the project’s sessions. They soon realized Miles was talking about South Africa, so baker said, “Keep those tapes rolling.”

At this point recording technology had advanced to the point where it wasn’t really necessary for every artist to perform their part in the studio all at the same time. It was possible to record all the different parts and mix them all together later into a coherent track. That’s how “The Struggle Continues” came together, and how through electronic means the Miles Davis Quintet was reunited.

Miles+Davis quintet 1966

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock had cut his teeth with Miles’ Quintet in the mid-60’s and had made quite a name for himself as the leader of his own group the Headhunters in 1973. More recently he’d experimented with dance and funk, most especially with his 1983 single “Rockit”. He would be the first artist to play behind Miles’ track, and he would blow everyone’s mind with the seven-minute solo he laid down.

One problem. Little Steven knew Hancock’s work was great, but it wasn’t going to work with Miles’ stuff. Luck was with them. In a few weeks Hancock would be performing at the Village Gate in New York with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the other members of Miles’ classic Quintet. The Sun City crew assembled at M & I Recording, where Williams had been recording his latest album, there to overdub their parts onto Miles’.

Keyboardist Richard Scher and Nigerian drummer Sonny Okusons had already contributed their parts. A friend of Little Steven had brought his three-year-old son to these sessions. As the musicians were leaving Steven asked, “Well, Sam, what do you think?”

“It needs some guitar,” Sam replied.

Out of the mouth of babes. The next day the great Stanley Jordan added his guitar.

Now on to the track itself. I’m not a jazz expert, I can only give you my best with my pallid ear, but here goes. A slow fade in on the horn brings you to those furious rolling drums. The trumpet sounds an urgent call to action. Two minutes in comes Herbie Hancock’s part, and he’s on fire. Underlying the entire track is a solid bass by Carter and then at four 1/2 minutes we hear Miles’ accusation: “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

Sun City was released on December 7, 1985. I’d just like to note that Nelson Mandela was released from prison less than five years later on February 11, 1990. Apartheid died a well-deserved death by 1994. I’d like to think Little Steven and all the artist involved in Sun City did their part to make that happen.

 

“The scariest encounter of the Sun City project had to be Miles Davis,” recalled Steven Van Zandt. “I wrote the intro for him to play… He’s just not friendly. He makes Lou Reed look like a pussycat… He came in, sat down and I played him the ‘Silver and Gold’ tape. He’s sitting next to me, and he talks real low and slow, and right in my ear: ‘Hey man, do you want me to fucking play or what?’ So he does his take, and I asked him to redo it with the mute on. I went and reassembled his old quintetwith Herbie HancockRon Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.”[2]

[wikipedia entry, Sun City]

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