Saturday, October 31, 2020

Hidden Places: End of the Innocence


purchase [ Henley;s album of the same name]

Sometimes what is not stated is as clear as what is. Sometimes a place not mentioned is as obvious as one clearly labelled.

There are songs that list all sorts of cities that are not in the title: my first thought was "Yeah. >Willin'< - the classic Lowell George/Little Feat piece' ". The song IDs cities all over the US West, not a single one of them in the title.  And the song has been covered by any number of musicians. But ... it has also been covered here (tho our 2009  post from "Susan" did not include Gregg Allman's 360 studio session video that is fun to check out: good music and the panoramic presentation is kind of cool.)

But.. that song has been covered here. So ... something that appears not to have been brought up here before. That said, Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby have appeared @ SMM previously, but not for  this one.

<End of the Innocence> references an un-named "small town" with tall grass untouched by man beneath a deep blue spacious sky. Clearly in the USA (O' beautiful for spacious skies), not in a city, but rather somewhere in the heart of America. It is also a cry for a time lost.

Various music critics note Henley's disallusionment with the state of affairs at the end of the 1980s - the end of the 1960s/70s movements to fight for a better world having fizzled. The song revolves around these sentiments: plowshares into swords ... repeated references to lawyers ... tired old kings ... armchair warriors. A pretty bleak picture.

But - there's a place we can go. It's hidden. It must remain hidden to keep it free of cares, untouched by man and not poisoned by fairy tales.

The clip below has a whole bunch of my guitar heroes, BTW, and tears come to my eyes every time I listen.

Thursday, October 29, 2020


I think this sort of meets the theme, even if the hidden place is a destination, if, as yet, unknown and, probably, unimportant. Driving somewhere, arriving nowhere. So, fulfilling, if in a roundabout and reverse way, the old adage that is is the journey that matters, not the getting there. Even when the aim is never quite to arrive. Or the outcome, even. Clear?

I guess both the song and maybe the band are also hidden places, outside most peoples knowledge or hearing. Yet they will have heard Stephen Duffy, if not necessarily of him. More famous for a couple of links rather than in his own right, so if I say Duran Duran and Robbie Williams, you'll have heard of them. Not that he sounds anything like either, perhaps a relief to any regular reader, used more to my parade of motley unknowns and minor league cult favourites.

Duffy was an early member of Duran Duran, but jumped ship ahead of their transition to fame and fortune. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Duran Duran, but I can't see his country pop musings fitting in so well with the glitz and glamour of their new romanticism. Starting off as the singer, he moved then to guitar, then to bass and finally to drums, ousted from each position as later members joined. He actually then had a crack at that market, even a hit single, in the UK at least, under the title Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy, but it took three different versions before it made its mark. Hasn't really aged well, has it?

A few further false starts and he started the Lilac Time, with elder brother Nick, the two the mainstays as a procession of players rotated through the ranks. The sound, like the featured track, and exemplified further on its parent album, 2007s Runout Groove, is of dreamy meanders down a melodic and country tinged lane. The pedal steel brings a wistful counterpoint to the slightly languid vocal, pinned down, on this record, by the masterful double bass of Danny Thompson, the ex-Pentangle maestro and John Martyn sidekick, who remains the go to bassist for anywhere where folk might meet jazz for a natter. Runout Groove is, for me, the highlight of Duffy's recording history, so far at least, as he still records and plays. The astonishing thing about it is that it came out four years after its predecessor, his career having taken an unexpected side swerve along the way.

Robbie Williams, the effervescent ex-boy bander, the cheeky chappie who exited Take That after mingling more with Oasis and their lifestyle choices than possibly appropriate for a teen heartthrob. He then became much bigger than his old band, but needed assistance with songwriting. This had first been provided by Guy Chambers, who had previously been in World Party. After he parted company, Williams' team asked Duffy, perhaps less for his Lilac Time material, maybe more on account of songs he had written for Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. And an undoubted success it was, Duffy also touring with Williams during some of his stadium sell-out tours, delivering further hits for his new boss. Radio became thus Duffy's first number one.

Then, as if nothing untoward had happened, he dropped straight back into Lilac Time mode, picking right up from where he dropped off. I think that is quite classy. Further albums have followed, sticking to the same formula, the last being released just last year. All well worth looking out for. Here's another track from Runout Groove, Once more it fits the feel of the theme, the lyric showing him back on a figurative road, again with, literally, no direction. But, if the first song was looking for a somewhere never found, this is a happy acceptance of the journey. Spot the namecheck to his erstwhile employer. A parting personal link to the theme is that I more than likely heard the album first in the car, that being where I do most of my listening. Sometimes with no other purpose in particular, just driving somewhere, arriving nowhere. Purely for the sake of the song.

P.S. Those, who have set to wondering how he could have affected the Durannies, might like this, a revision of old tapes, made in those old days, rebuffed and polished up, hand in hand with onetime bandmate and continuing DD keyboardist, Nick Rhodes. Put out in in 2002, they called themselves the Devils, the album called Dark Circles.

Here's the map to somewhere.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Hidden Places: Dirty Blvd.

Lou Reed: Dirty Blvd.

I’m sure that I was listening to some song that mentioned some place that wasn’t in the title when I thought of this theme, but I suggested it so long ago that I can’t remember what song it was. So, when I tried to figure out what to write about, I decided to write about my favorite city. The city that I’ve loved since my father brought me into Manhattan from my birthplace in Queens when I was a little kid, to go to museums, and magic shows, and just to walk around and spend time with him. Where I’d go with him to court, or to hang out in his office. And when I got older, where I’d sometimes come with friends, to go to the theater or museums or restaurants or ball games. Where I went to law school, lived for almost a decade, met my wife and started a family. And where I worked until a few years ago, commuting on the train after moving the suburbs, and loving the excitement and bustle of New York. Except on the night they lit the Rockefeller Center tree, which made my usual 10 minute walk to the train an ordeal. I miss New York, having started working from home back in 2013, and I miss it even more now, when thinking about going to the City raises all sorts of new issues. (Interestingly, in 2013, I wrote about another song from the same album, although strangely as a tribute to my suburban home).

I have a “New York” playlist on iTunes, and the rules, such as they are, are that the song has to mention New York City, or some part of the City, or at least some recognizable location or feature of the City. I’m guessing that I’ve missed a few, but it currently has over 500 songs on it. It’s possible that no artist has more songs on the list than Lou Reed, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, but has long been associated with New York from his move to the City in 1964 to be a songwriter, and especially from his co-founding the Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground was, of course, part of the New York underground scene around Andy Warhol and his “Factory,” and more than a few of their songs were about the seedy, druggy underbelly of New York, such as “I’m Waiting For The Man,” a tale of scoring drugs on Lexington Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem. 

Reed’s focus on New York continued after he started his solo career, including his biggest hit, “Walk On The Wild Side,” which mentions the city itself, and the Apollo Theater, and also referred to members of Warhol’s clique. Again, Reed focused not on the mainstream, but on the marginalized part of New York, because that was the life he was living and those were the people that he knew. 

For 1989’s New York album, Reed, approaching 50, and thus an elder statesman, put together an entire album of observations of the City. In fact, Reed’s liner notes instructed listeners to listen in one sitting, “as though it were a book or a movie” (although I know few people who read a book in one sitting, but you get the point). It’s a bleak album, about a bleak time in New York. I loved the album, although I have to admit that things for me were the opposite of bleak—I had a high paying job, a nice apartment, and best of all, I had been married to the love of my life for about four months. 

Still, I was able to appreciate Reed’s observations and lyrical wordplay, and the tight, stripped down, music from Reed, guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Rob Wasserman and drummer Fred Maher (with some guests, including former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker), which was perfect for the songs. The album was critically acclaimed, and the single, and our featured song, “Dirty Blvd.” was a No1. hit on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart. 

“Dirty Blvd.” is not a hopeful song, by any stretch of the imagination, about Pedro, from a poor immigrant family who, because of the city’s (and country's) mistreatment of both those groups was destined to fail. It’s an angry song, contrasting the wealthy at Lincoln Center, only blocks from the rundown hotel where Pedro lives, with the difficulties of his life.  In one of the most memorable passages, Reed sings: 

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
that's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard 

By the way, guesting on background vocals on the song is another New Yorker, Dion DiMucci

Although since 1989 much more of Manhattan, and the other boroughs, are gentrified, and safer than back in the era described in New York, income inequality in the City, and elsewhere, is worse than ever. And the current administration’s anti-immigrant policies even led to one advisor, whose name I will not type, attempt to distance the Statue of Liberty from Emma Lazarus’ iconic verses. The album still holds up, mostly because of the music and lyrics, and also in part as a period piece and in part because of its timelessness. 

New York City has, like most of the country, taken a hit from the coronavirus and the failure of our national “leadership” to take appropriate action in face of the pandemic, but contrary to the recent statement from the liar in chief, it is far from a ghost town. My son and daughter-in-law stood on line for more than two hours the other day to vote, which is a lot of ghosts. In fact, although things are generally not going well, there’s some evidence that New York City is attracting new people, which it always has, from well before the days that my ancestors showed up here from eastern Europe (one, by way of England) before and just after World War I, and whose energy and vitality has always been fed by immigrants from other countries, and from other parts of the United States. 

[I found out late last night that yesterday, October 27, 2020, was the seventh anniversary of Reed's death, which didn't enter into my decision to write this piece.  But if I had known, I would have tried to post it earlier.  Oh, well.]