Wednesday, May 6, 2020


This is becoming topical, as the thoughts of our leaders turn to whether we, the great unwashed, albeit with very clean hands, can or should be crushed by the restarting wheels of industry. Which is more important, survival of the species or of the economy? With, as ever, the failure to appreciate the fairly solid link between the two. Maybe by both sides, but I am simply a medic, not a businessman. As I start writing, the Observer Sunday newspaper over here, the U.K., has published an opinion poll, stating a 4/5 majority wanting to err on the side of caution and to maintain the lockdown. However, many of the politicians are in the smaller subset, it seems and feels, with Boris uncharacteristically unforthcoming, with perhaps his throw of the dice having given him an unwelcome perspective, absent ahead of his hospitalisation. Anyway, one of the ideas out of lockdown is a concept of family 'bubbles', a named small list of family/friends with whom you may consort. So, who do you love? Enough?

The song is by Bo Diddley, the owlish rocker with glasses, often a bowler hat, funny shaped guitars and an unshakeable self-belief. Always looking for ways to aggrandise himself against his peers, the idea came to him as he witnessed a group of kids trying to outbrag each other. Full of arcane images to conjure up dread and a sense of mystery: rattlesnakes, skulls and graveyards, by showing he is the biggest baddest Daddy of all, he begs the question of his lover: Who do you love? With but one expected answer. Covered so many times over the years, I am sure we all think we know it, so the original may come as some surprise:

Bo Diddley

It doesn't even carry much of the trademark Diddley shuffle. That would come later. And it wasn't even a hit, at least for Bo. It took Ronnie Hawkins, the journeyman Canadian rocker, to get it charting, admittedly in his home country. The vocal is all swagger, dipping into a manic frenzy at each verse/chorus end. Not bad for 1963. Name mean anything? Ronnie Hawkins. And the Hawks. Yup, I can see that glimmer of recognition. Those Hawks, later the Band, with incendiary guitar from Robbie Robertson.This they reprised, with Hawkins, at their own zenith, for The Last Waltz.

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks

Fast forward another five years, and we are in San Francisco. Local hipsters the Quicksilver Messenger Service were so taken with the song it became the entire second side of their second album, extends and interpreted into six separate "suites, blending live performance with studio work-outs. Indeed, so keen were the band on Diddley, they included another of his songs, Mona, on the flip.   With twin lead guitars and access to all sorts of stimulants, this was a heady and ambitious project. Arguably no small amount of pretension but, hey, it was 1968.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

I confess I knew none of these versions as they dropped, my first exposure being via short-lived UK rockers, Juicy Lucy. I was 12 and found their 1969 rendition, as ever on Top of the Pops, sinister and exciting. This group were unusual for this country in that they included pedal steel guitar, via one Glenn Campbell, not that one and no relation. Sadly it has dated badly, and my rifle back into their catalogue prove disappointing likewise.

Juicy Lucy

Now I am all grown up, my tastes have broadened and I especially love covers. So, rather than penning words, here's some of my favourites, not all from expected sources.

Townes Van Zandt

Tom Rush

Carlos Santana (with the Fabulous Thunderbirds)

Dr. Feelgood

Dion DiMucci

So, decision time, who do I love? Who's going to be in my bubble? And how do make it happen?


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Musical Mysteries: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

R.E.M.: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

I know that my chosen song for this piece asks a question, but the answer to the question isn’t the mystery. In this case, it is the question itself, and the context in which it became famous, that is the mystery, albeit one that was solved years after the precipitating event, and the release of this song.

On October 4, 1986, newscaster Dan Rather was walking on Park Avenue in New York to his apartment after having dinner with a friend, when he was attacked and beaten by two “well-dressed” men, one of whom kept demanding, “Kenneth, what was the frequency?” Why Rather was attacked, why the assailant demanded to know the “frequency,” and kept calling Rather “Kenneth” were mysteries. Rather was quoted as saying, "I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn't and I don't now. I didn't make a lot of it at the time and I don't now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea." The New York Times article about the incident referred to the motive as a “mystery,” so I guess this officially validates my choice of subject.

The phrase, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth,” became part of popular culture afterwards, and in October, 1993, about 7 years after the event, R.E.M. recorded a song with that title, and included it on the 1994 album, Monster. According to Michael Stipe, the song isn’t directly about the Dan Rather incident, but is about the Generation X phenomenon in contemporary mass media, sung in character as an older critic whose information consists exclusively of media products:

I wrote that protagonist as a guy who's desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it's completely fucking bogus. He got nowhere.

Rather actually performed the song with R.E.M. on the Late Show With David Letterman. Based on that clip, it is no mystery why Rather did not pursue a singing career.

In 1997, the mystery was solved.

Just prior to the release of Monster in 1994, William Tager shot and killed an NBC technician, Campbell Montgomery, outside the sound studio of the Today Show. Tager had tried to enter the the studio with an assault rifle, and Montgomery died in an attempt to block him. Tager was arrested and reportedly told police that the television network had been monitoring him for years and beaming secret messages into his head. He apparently came to NBC looking for a way to block those transmissions.

Tager was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years in Sing Sing prison, not far up the road from where I’m sitting right now, and later told a psychiatrist that he was a time traveler from a parallel world in the year 2265. A convicted felon in the future, Tager said he was a test-pilot volunteer in a dangerous time travel experiment. If he was successful on his mission, his sentence would be overturned and he would be set free. The authorities in the future kept tabs on him via an implanted chip in his brain. During the examinations, Trager also confessed that he had attacked Dan Rather because he mistook him for the Vice President of his future world, one Kenneth Burrows. When Rather saw a picture of Tager in the newspaper, he identified him as the man who attacked him.

Of course, Dan Rather’s career took off after his coverage of the assassination of JFK in 1963, an event which some believe has never been properly solved. They’re wrong.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

musical mysteries: Why don't we do it in the road?

purchase [White Album]

If we are talking about questions, I suppose the question word <why> is at the fore of this theme. What better choice then, than a song that asks that self-same question: why?

Without any previous background knowledge, I would have posited that the Beatles' <Why Don't We Do It In The Road?> was a Lennon composition. You know? Free Love ... Push the limits...

To my surprise, I learn that it is a McCartney piece with Starr's assistance and that - to top it off - Lennon is said to have been hurt that he was not included.

By the time the <White Album> came out, the band was all but defunct. As opposed the the relative conformity/sequence/progression of songs on <Revolver>, <Sgt Peppers>, <Magical Mystery Tour>, the <White Album> is disparate, disjointed in terms of theme.

Granted, there is a certain amount of non-sense coming in from time to time starting earlier. Earliest Beatles songs were very muchly boy/girl themed, and then we start getting things like "We all live in a yellow submarine". WTF? I mean, I can kind of see "We're Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" in terms of lyrics, but by this point in time, we've gone a bit off the rail - in terms of what AM radio thrived on.

And then there's "why dont we do it in the road?"

I suppose there's the distant possibility that what we could be doing in the road is scat, but that's not much more sociologically acceptable than the actual, more obvious notion behind the song.

McCartney apparently witnessed 2 monkeys in the act in the streets of India. But as I said, this seems much more the kind of question that Lennon would have raised - delving into and questioning the social stigmas that define our behaviors. You know: if love is so beautiful/the answer to all our troubles, then why don't we do "it" in the road?