Friday, August 23, 2013

Vacation: Surfer's Holiday

When 10,000 biceps go around 5,000 know what's gonna happen! A Muscle Beach party!

Brian Wilson and his songwriting partners Roger Christian and Gary Usher contributed to the 1964 film soundtrack, writing "Surfer's Holiday" among others. "Surfer's Holiday" sounds like something The Beach Boys might have recorded for Shut Down, Volume 2. The recently passed ex Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello ,  may have had a thin voice but as Tom Hibbert wrote in his book, The Perfect Collection, "when it came to a corny beach party anthem the beauty's tones were unbeatable".

Annette's Muscle Beach Party remains THE classic summer soundtrack for the beach and dune buggy set.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vacation: Day Trip to Bangor

Day Trip to Bangor: Fiddler's Dram


OK, uncertain about this one, vacation, or holiday, as we call them over here. So, I haven't had one for a couple of years, which I could blame entirely on the economy, the 3rd dip of the global crisis, blah, blah, blah, but, in truth, whilst it is true I am broke, this smacks more of circumstantial mayhem in the life of Retro than the bankers and sub-prime. So I can't and won't wax wistfully over my last bijou jaunt, seeking more, as is my wont, to educate and advance. (I should insert an ironic smiley here, but I am uncertain if they are still currency amongst the cerebrality here....) And all this over a song I don't even like.

Don't even like? Jeez, I'd go way further, I hate it, and always did, have and will. It is a travesty of a din, with screechy and shrill vocals and a plodalong dirgy beat, appealing only to the ill and the old. Yet it did very well in the UK charts way back when, as if they were ever an arbiter of taste. So why here? Well, nominally it is a holiday, theme ticked etc, and, topical or what, in line with the economy, not only is/was it a "stay"cation, but began and ended on the same day. How very 2013!! But....

My real purpose here is to show how these apparent no-hopers went on to become much admired practitioners of a credible 21st century political folk fusion, world famous in, well, nowhere really, yet big if not huge in my mind. Even if they have never had a pay cheque quite as large as the song I ask you to dip in to. (Please, worry not if you can't finish, it's the other songs I want you to really explore.)

Fiddler's Dram. Even the name is awful, but from their saccharine remains sprung The Oyster Band, later abbreviated to Oysterband. Go back to the video clip, if you dare, and reappraise the nodding guitarist with the large hair and the fresh faced pre-teen on fiddle. Look ahead to this 2nd clip from last year, and see if you can spot them. And compare and contrast this masterclass in interpretation of ye olde english folke canon with the earlier. OK, to be fair, a lot of the gravitas is gratis Ms. June Tabor, doyenne of the english folksong tradition, who has twice guested on Oysterband recordings, albeit 2 decades apart. But, in the myriad years since "Bangor", it is as if everything they have ever done since has been to make up for it. Do yourselves a favour, search 'em out. And here's a fast one, perhaps truer to the tradition, from a relatively early compilation.

And what of the singer from the first clip? Well, dear reader, even she redeemed herself, going on to become a respected singer in ex-Fairport Convention bassist, Ashley Hutchings', ever evolving Albion Band. I tried to find a decent clip but I'm afraid I couldn't. Still too shrill for my ears.

Could have been worse, tho', my first thought was the Dead Kennedys and Cambodia........ (By the way, the Bangor is unlikely to have been the one in Maine, some argument as to whether it is the one in Northern Ireland or in Wales. I wouldn't bother with either, either.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Vacation: Slow Turning

John Hiatt: Slow Turning

I just returned from a long weekend away with my wife to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our honeymoon, back before we had kids, and still had some money, was a trip to Greece. The past weekend was somewhat less grand, but still enjoyable. Because there is just something great about getting away, changing your routine and seeing new things.

There is a huge difference between traveling with just your spouse, and traveling with kids. Yes, going on vacations with kids can be a pain—they need to be watched and entertained, and they often share your room. They like to do childish things, which, it is sometimes hard to remember, is what they are supposed to like. When they are younger, they only want to eat fast food, and when they are teenagers, they supposedly just want to be somewhere else (I say “supposedly” because somehow that never seemed to be an issue for us—or my kids were good at faking it).

John Hiatt is an incredible songwriter. He happens also to be a good guitarist and singer, but my guess is that, when the final report on his career is written, he will be best remembered as a songwriter. According to his Wikipedia entry, he has won two awards, Songwriter/Artist of the Year at the 2000 Nashville Music Awards, and the 2008 Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting. Also in 2008, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. So, I’m not the only person who thinks he is a good songwriter (not to mention, he has been written about often on this site over the years). Despite his long career as a performer and recording artist, he is probably best known to the general public through covers of his songs, most notably Bonnie Raitt’s cover of “Thing Called Love,” the numerous covers of “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and maybe even Buddy Guy’s cover of “Feels Like Rain.”

Hiatt has the gift of being able to very quickly sketch out a character or tell a story, and his songs have made me laugh out loud, cry uncontrollably, cringe and think. And often, his songs make you nod with understanding, because he has captured something universal. “Slow Turning,” fits into a few of those categories. It is a meditation on the vagaries of life, and how sometimes things turn out for the best, even if they don’t turn out how you want or expect. I think the key line in the song, maybe the reason that Hiatt wrote the song which describes his family life, is: “And you can learn to live with love or without it/But there ain't no cure.”

But is this song about a vacation? I’m not really sure, but it certainly is about a car ride, so indulge me. In what have to be some of Hiatt’s most memorable lines, which I think most fathers can sympathize with, he writes:
Now I'm in my car
I got the radio on
I'm yellin' at the kids in the back
'Cause they're bangin' like Charlie Watts

You think you've come so far
In this one horse town
Then she's laughin' that crazy laugh
'Cause you haven't left the parkin' lot

You can just see the scene: the father, yelling at his kids, face red and eyes bulging, the kids banging on the seat—not just banging, but banging like Charlie Watts—and the mother, head thrown back, mouth wide open and cackling hysterically, because all hell is breaking loose and they are still in the parking lot.