Friday, November 6, 2020

Hidden Places: Dancing in the Street


purchase [ Martha and the Vandellas ]

Where do you dance?

Myself> at a wedding party, perhaps a similar party venue, like a year-end celebration. How about in the streets? Chicago, New Orleans, New York City. Philladelphia, PA, Baltimore, Motor City and D.C.

Aside from their country of location, what relevance to our theme? Well ..  they're places and they're not mentioned in the title.That makes them fodder for this <Hidden Places> theme. 

These cities, of course, have streets and they were chosen. Chosen to represent a kind of revolution that took hold starting back in 1964. A revolution of abandon? No, that was dancing in the streets when WWII ended. That was the jitterbug craze. But the evil that rock and roll represented was a kind of abandon where the youth danced ... wild. Arms and hands and hips all over the place. Often side by side nearly on top of eachother (definitely no social distancing here). Disgraceful.

Marvin Gaye's song - made famous by Martha and the Vandellas - has been covered by the Kinks, the Dead and Van Halen among others.

Now, 1964 is a bit early for the 'Nam revolts ... More a reaction to LBJ's Civil Rights Act? But it seems to be part of a spark that lead to a more sustained expression: we'll dance in the streets to voice our opinions and our understanding of what it means to be social. And - it doesn't even matter what you wear.

Seems quaint. These days, we'll bring our guns or drive our trucks <to the streets>

Wednesday, November 4, 2020


So who has listened to the original of this recently? Or seen the film? Decades ago would be my answer, it, West Side Story, being a staple on the sunday afternoon film rota, bought in by my school to entertain the confined pre-teens. Yup, the great old UK tradition of sending kids away to boarding school, at the personal expense of the parents and the psychological expense of their children. Explains how I react so well to the rigours of lockdown. Or would to prison, I gather. Anyway, even in the late 60s,  I recall it all seemed desperately dated and I never quite bought the idea of teen hoodlums bursting into either song or dance, let alone both. Especially when so well groomed and clearly in their 30s. But, as it turned out, not such a bad song, and notorious pants-splitter, P.J. Proby took it high in the UK charts. I remember finding his kitschy take astonishingly awful as a boy. Now it just has me howling.

And the theme? Another kinda sorta one, I'm afraid, as I know only too well the sort of "place for us" Tony might have had in mind, very much doubting Maria would find much lasting joy there, her mind thinking more of a whole different setting, of more lasting promise. But I detract from the incisive commentary around the plight of young love in the urban jungle. Maybe. And, yes, I get it that she dies, so rendering my remarks cheap and ignorant, but given the where isn't ever discerned, that makes it, ergo, hidden. Possibly backstage, in a poky dressing room, between scenes.

Being an erudite lot, you'll know the melody isn't an original, nicking parts from both Beethoven and Tschaikovsky, who, together, had designed the New York Subway signature screech. Covered innumerable times, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate some of the less well known versions, a gig I tend more to occupy in another guise, over at Cover Me. Of course there are also innumerable stinkers, every two-a-penny talent show competitor dredging up a version for "show night". Or even their judges....

I'm going to skim over this one, it's the one I'm "expected" to post, Tom Waits being a poster boy for the serious music nerd. To be honest, I find his voice just toooooo much, although, as I get older, I find I can dip my ears in his earlier stuff. Later stuff still defeats me, but the whole grand guignol of this demolition appeals to my sense of the absurd enough to allow it. And the trumpet is really rather good.

Talking of kitsch, as we were earlier, PSB are never afraid to embrace their inner divas, and this is a song ripe for their everything and the kit(s)chen sink OTT overkill, and this is ticking most of their boxes. Sumptiously overproduced, this only lacks the chorus of the Red Army guard. As here

I hadn't known Aretha had done a version, this stemming from 1978, where she deconstructs most of the additional arrangements, here in background reminder only, as she swoops and soars around the melody, possible accompanying herself on piano, instilling a blast of gospel hued R&B, even as it then morphs into a jazzier vibe altogether, with a glorious walking bass line and some classy sax noodles, before returning, to finish, in the chapel.

Another welcome deconstruction, Hem transferring the song off Broadway to the Catskills, all tinkling mandolin, dreamy steel and the soothing benevolence of a pipe organ and clarinet combo. Touching on tweeness in the middle eight, the vocal charm of Sally Ellyson is sufficient to swiftly dismiss that thought.

Finally, and not without some internal dialogue, an "interesting" duet version between Marianne Faithfull and Jarvis Cocker. As with the commentator who originally put the song up on youtube, I am uncertain if it deeply awful or just plain disturbing. The arrangement is quite something, a sophisticated supper club shuffle. But the singing? Neither orthodox vocalists, rather than playing to their strengths, as, arguably, did Waits, here they seem to be playing their weaknesses. But I still felt drawn to post it. Put me under undecided.

Sorry, no time for Dee Snider, Phil Collins or the Bee Gees, for which you should thank me. Really. In the meantime and in anticipation of your plaudits, I'm off to my somewhere. To hide.........

Relive the past in olde Manhattan.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Hidden Places: Don’t Worry About The Government

Talking Heads: Don’t Worry About The Government

I am sooooooo worried about the government. 

Four years ago, relying on pretty much every polling expert and pundit, and the clearly misguided belief that there was no chance in hell that my beloved country would elect a racist, sexist, selfish, pathological liar with no empathy, no interest in, or knowledge of, how the government works, and who would spend his time in office doing everything possible to enrich himself and his family, attempt to destroy any sense that the government was fair and cared about its citizens while fanning every sort of division and harping on imagined grievances, I was feeling pretty good as Election Day approached. Sure, I was surprised at the popularity that Trump seemed to be garnering, but I felt secure that we’d be electing a smart, caring woman who had devoted her life to public service. And I was comfortable that under Hillary Clinton, our country would continue bending the arc, if slowly due to the obstructionism of people like Mitch McConnell, toward a more fair and just future. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

And that’s why today, I sit in front of my computer, days before Election Day, facing the real prospect that Trump will be re-elected, whether fairly, or, more likely, due to the distortion of the Electoral College, or through fraud, and interference by sycophantic judges. Or some combination of them both. I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1980, and never before have I had to consider that one candidate has refused to admit that he will leave the White House if he loses, or that one candidate has spent months trying to sow confusion by lying about the voting process, or that one candidate’s supporters actually have surrounded a campaign bus to prevent an appearance, or that one party has discussed ways to appoint electors contrary to the popular vote, or that there might be actual violence after the election, and on and on. 

I’m worried that even if Trump loses, he and his power hungry minions have created a playbook for future authoritarians to follow, because he’s exposed all of the ways that the Constitution and laws can be ignored, perverted or interpreted to lead to strong-man rule, when some or all of Congress and the Supreme Court is willing to roll over and not protect their prerogatives or perform oversight. And I’m worried that if he wins, with no concern about re-election, and with a compliant court system, that the march toward authoritarianism and kleptocracy and racism will continue unabated. 

I’m worried that the damage that Trump has already done will take years, even generations, to fix, and that a second term might be an existential threat to our democracy. 

And I’m worried about what I’m going to do in my spare time instead of deleting the hundreds of emails that I’ve been getting daily from Jaime Harrison. 

Like many of us, I think, to distract from this, compounded, of course, by the raging pandemic that this administration has failed to seriously try to combat, I’ve turned to television, even more than in the past, and last Friday, my wife and I watched David Byrne’s American Utopia on HBO. It’s a filmed version of the Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee, and it was great. I won’t get into the obvious comparisons between American Utopia and Stop Making Sense, considered by many to be one of the greatest music films of all time (which my then-future wife and I saw in an actual theater, on 57th Street in New York when it came out in 1984), or between it and the filmed version of Hamilton that recently ran on Disney+. If you’re interested in such comparisons, you have the same Google that I have…. (OK, here's one.)

American Utopia is a collection of songs, some from Talking Heads, some from Byrne’s solo and collaborative works, and a couple of covers, all performed by a talented group of musicians, singers and dancers, on a bare stage, all wearing essentially identical gray suits (of normal size) and no shoes, with some personal and political commentary by Byrne. For the most part, the songs are great (the Talking Heads songs tend to get the best reaction from the audience), the performances tight, and the choreography interesting and mesmerizing. And there’s a joy about the performances that is infectious. 

One of the older Talking Heads songs in the show is “Don’t Worry About The Government,” from the band’s first album, which is written from the point of view of a person (who some people believe is a government official) discussing his simple, comfortable, happy life. And it fits our “Hidden Places” theme when Byrne sings: 

I see the states across this big nation
I see the laws made in Washington, D.C
I think of the ones I consider my favorites
I think of the people that are working for me

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong
I'm a lucky guy to live in my building
They own the buildings to help them along 

Almost every article that I read before writing this piece referred to the lyrics of this song as “ironic” or “sarcastic.” But here’s what Byrne himself said about the song, in an interview from 2019, before American Utopia opened on Broadway: 

It’s funny. When Talking Heads originally did that song, it was a song about living in a nice condo with modern conveniences and good plumbing and no cockroaches. It became the opposite of what everybody was doing in the folk scene at that moment. Everybody was snarling and angry, and this was a young guy who just wanted to live in a nice apartment! Everybody thought I was being ironic with the song because of the lyrics and the context. But I think people will see a certain truth to it now. It’s not a great virtue living in an apartment filled with cockroaches. You don’t have to have a penthouse, but people want to have a decent life. Everyone can accept that in some way. It’ll be seen and understood in another way with the passage of time. 

I’m hoping that, in a short time, I can stop worrying about the government every day, and that we can get back to the days when civil servants do their work, and people in government work for us.