Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Numbers: When I’m Sixty Four

I feel it’s important for musicians to get around to local nursing homes and retirement facilities to bring a little joy and a few smiles to the elderly and infirmed. Folks tell me that they really look forward to our monthly visits. So I commit to regularly singing and playing with the Accordion Club of Roseburg. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine myself plunking on a banjo or strumming my guitar with as many as six accordionists! For some, it might conjure up images of purgatory.
Actually, it’s a lot of fun, quite entertaining, and I’ve learned many new tunes in the process. That’s because our club presents a different theme each month for our hour-long program. As Mother’s Day occurs in May, this month features all songs with a woman’s name in the title. Next month will be songs with a man’s name in the title.
A few months ago, I encouraged our club president to develop a “Numbers Program.” Thus, we start that show with “One Dozen Roses” and “A Bicycle Built for Two,” followed by “Three Coins in the Fountain.” We only play through each song about twice, and we encourage everyone to try to remember the title, lyrics, sing along, and guess what year the song was written. I’ve a special affinity for those songs dating back to the 1920s which are rarely heard today, but they’ve managed to survive over the decades. Before the hour is over (and exactly 21 songs later), we’ve reached “Seventy-Six Trombones” before we close with “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.”
During the course of that program, we also present a few of my favorite Beatles songs … “Eight Days a Week” and “When I’m Sixty Four.” Both of these songs are very special for folks coop’ed up in the retirement facilities. The former has an important message that we should all attempt to adhere to – “Eight days a week is not enough to show I care.” And the latter reinforces that same message – “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now. Will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine?”
Life in retirement homes doesn’t have to be dismal, depressing and institutional. Music can help alleviate that. Try to think of some ways that you can bring a little cheer to residents in the same way the Beatles have to so many of us, as we don’t want to become “yours sincerely wasting away.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Numbers: Nineteen

Old 97’s: Nineteen
[purchase Fight Songs, because Amazon doesn’t appear to have the version of Satellite Rides with the bonus track]

With a theme like this, with literally an infinite number of options, I decided to simply go with the first appropriate song that popped into my head. And this one is doubly appropriate, with a number in the title and the name of the band, proving that sometimes it is better to not overthink things.

Back in 1999, we had great neighbors across the street, Wayne and Denise. They were interesting, smart, their oldest child and our daughter were friends, and, maybe best of all, their musical taste was similar to ours. (Fact—like fingerprints, no two people have the same musical taste.) One day, Denise gave us a copy of the Old 97’s new CD, Fight Songs, as a thank you for something that we had done. I have no recollection of what it was, but I do know that the CD, and the band, became huge family favorites (and not just because, as my wife says, Rhett Miller, the lead singer, is “dreamy”). And my family’s love of the Old 97’s has continued to this date—we have seen them a few times (and Miller as a solo act), most recently a few months ago when I went with my two kids (my wife doesn’t like standing at concerts) to see them open for the Drive-By Truckers. Sadly, our neighbors moved a few miles away, and although we do see them occasionally, I suspect we would get to spend more time with them if they had stayed across the street.

The music of the Old 97’s is a fusion of country and pop, fitting them squarely in the “Americana” or “Alt-Country” world. Critics seem to like their more country sounding songs, while their more pop oriented efforts tend to be more popular. But whichever you like better, you have to appreciate the quality of the songwriting and the literate, interesting lyrics, usually from Miller, who briefly attended Sarah Lawrence College on a creative writing scholarship before dropping out to pursue his musical muse.

“Nineteen” is a song that is more rock than country, like most of Fight Songs, and like so many great songs in any genre, it is about lost love. What makes it so poignant is that the narrator realizes that he made a huge mistake in letting his love go. He acknowledges that he was an idiot, that she was great, and that he misses just lying in bed with her. And his excuse? He was only nineteen, which is “not the age of reason,” a fact borne out by many actual scientific studies. The narrator doesn’t plead for a second chance; he simply appears to accept the fact that the train has left the station without him.

The Old 97’s are a great live band. Their energy on stage is incredible, and they are tight, as they should be, considering how much they have played together in their two decades as a band. Therefore, I have posted a live version of the song, released as a bonus track on the band’s next album, Satellite Rides. They didn’t play the song when I saw them earlier this year—I read somewhere that the band won’t play it anymore, but Miller will sometimes perform it solo.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


The Doors: 5 to 1

Is it me or is the current tide of grim reaping swelling over the gunnels of rock music with a greater ferocity than before? OK, the demographic of age and lifestyle choices, arguably, would always get to cut a rug through the legends and leg-ends of 60s/70s music at some stage, but why so many now? With that  sombre thought in mind, clearly there was ever only going to be one choice this time.

It's 1970, I'm 13 years old, just starting my long journey into obsession, this compulsion to explore and acquire music. My 2nd LP, bought with my own money, savings from Christmases and birthdays, is L.A.Woman. Bang. Bang. Bang. One song after another, all blowing my teenage mind into an imaginarium of exotic delight, mysteries and mischiefs I could only guess at. Out there in the perimeter, I too was immaculate. (The stoned came a lot, lot later....)

I heart the Doors. Always have, always will. So they say the singer was a drunken buffoon with delusions of poetic grandeur? I just hear a wonderfully rich voice, capable of both trampling tortoise-shells and cradling egg-shells, in its canter between growl and croon. And the keyboard player a caricature of the lysergic boffin, locked in a laboratory of reminiscence? I just hear a sparkling inventiveness, tripping lightly over his instrument, underpinning and extrapolating simultaneously. They say little about the others, why not I don't know. The guitarist, strangely never in the list of the greats, yet capable, effortlessly, of a wider panoply of moods and manners than most. And the drummer? The spaces are as important as the strikes, whether loping alongside the melody as a counter, or simply marking time. (Faint praise? Hell, it's their job! If a drummer can't keep time, well, he could. And some.)

I guess I should say something about the song. I have to say it has never been amongst my favourites, yet, as I listen to it today, now, I'm hearing aspects new, even after 40 odd years. I think the younger me had thought it a little too blunt, a little too obvious, even. (In defence, my 1st LP had been by Emerson, Lake and Palmer...) I'm now appreciating the stark simplicity of the rhythm and picking up the nuances of tune lurking just under the surface:the shimmering electric piano until then, suddenly, that primal and powerful guitar solo, a calling, an exhortation to arms. 1968?  Unbelievable.

Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, Densmore: my top guys. And now two of 'em gone. That jam band in the sky is getting to have a better selection of players than the one here below. This one's for you, Ray!

Numbers: 25 or 6 to 4

Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire: 25 or 6 to 4 (YouTube)
Purchase CTA version

Not one, not two, but three numbers in a single title: 25 or 6 to 4 (and when you say it aloud, you hear a fourth, no?) Releasing their first album in the late 60s as the Chicago Transit Authority, the band quickly renamed themselves Chicago when faced with legal action from the “official” CTA.
My friends and I (and obviously millions more) had their music on heavy rotation in the early 70s. You must know their major hits such as Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is and Color My World. They rank 13th on the Billboard list of All Time Top Artists.
There was speculation that the songs was about drugs (“Flashing lights against the sky …”?) So much else in that era was. However, Chicago band member and the song’s composer, Robert Lamm, says it is a reference to 3:35AM (“Waiting for the break of day …”)
There are a number of YouTube versions of this song, but as I viewed them, one stood out in particular: Chicago and EWF together. Sorry: the sync seems to be off just a little, but the color, energy (check out Verdine White, the EWF bass player!) and sound quality here is better than in many of the other online files.
Earth Wind and Fire rank a little lower on Billboard’s list, but still within the Top 100. Like Chicago, they also hail from the Windy City and trace their roots back to within a year or two of Chicago’s. Like Chicago, one of their strengths is a horn section. I think they make a great combination on stage.