Saturday, February 5, 2022

Boss: Big Boss Man


purchase [ Jimmy Reed ]

Thinking over the word <boss> and its connotations, it occured to me that the word probably came into the English language via Dutch. A little research and ... voila .. "boss is Dutch in origin"... it  comes from base or bass or baas. However, being the polyglot that I am, I can't help surmising that there is more to this than that. The Turkish word for "put pressure on" (as in oppress a worker, or force) is <bas>. I am going to go one step further than Collins and Oxford dictionaries and posit that the root goes back further than the Dutch - back to the Ottomans,  in fact. It's just an observation, but it makes an awful lot of sense. (You heard it here first.) bas=baas=boss.

So... who's the boss? Well, even that phrase, popularized in many forms, has a somewhat murkey provenance. A 1914 Oliver Hardy film

The boss is "the person that other people have to obey". That could also take us down a rabbit hole of what it means "to obey", but it also conveys "authority and expertise", and with this we have a more accessible value to the word as it applies to musicians like Springsteen (known as "the boss" for some reason.)

I'll try to take a cue from our own Jordan Becker (and in the process confess that I too often paste information you can find in your own searches - tho'  I generally say as much). This week it''s not Springsteen . although it could have been. Not bossanova (tho, again, I love Carlos' music in any form, and thanks Seuras).  And not Blue Cheer who were also on my list of potentials on account of their "Summertime Blues"  (wherein we have the <I hate my boss> theme).

Pardon me while I provide some freely accessible Wiki data as I assume you haven't yet been there nor know it. Big Boss Man is a Luther Dixon/Al Smith song first recorded by Jimmy Reed - and you would be excused for not knowing the names. That said, some of Dixon's songs were recorded by the Beatles, the Jackson 5 and more.

Sing  "You ain’t so big, you’re just tall, that’s all."[

Above it's the Grateful Dead's version and below we have Jimmy Reed, then B.B. King and Elvis.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Boss: Little Johnny Jewel

Television: Little Johnny Jewel

I scanned my list of potential subjects for this theme (read my last post if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and decided again to write about a band that I hadn’t discussed before—Television. I’ve written about small-t television many, many times, here and elsewhere (not going to link, since there are too many), because watching TV is probably how I spend more of my leisure time than anything else, but I’ve never written about the band. While Todd Rundgren’s failure to ever be discussed in this space was very surprising, it is almost as surprising that Television has only been discussed twice—back in 2008 and 2009—and both times about the same song, “Marquee Moon.” Which happens to be an excellent song, but we’re going back to Television’s first release, “Little Johnny Jewel,” a single on their manager’s label, released in 1975. 

Although Television came up out of the same C.B.G.B. scene as the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the Heartbreakers, among others, who I often played on the radio back in the 1979-1982 period when I was doing college radio, I had trouble connecting with the band then. As someone who grew up on classic rock and prog, I (eventually) came to understand the hard, fast ethos of punk that those other bands followed (although for some, that changed over time) as a rejection of the older forms of rock.  While I still loved what I grew up on, I also learned to love punk (and new wave). But Television’s meandering jams and guitar solos and stream of consciousness lyrics, sung by Tom Verlaine in a yelping voice that, to my ears at least, made David Byrne sound great in comparison, somehow didn’t fit in to the slots that I had in my head at the time. I couldn’t understand how they were in the same category as the Ramones, whose simple two-minute songs done at breakneck speed were nothing like the long songs that Television produced. 

Because of their timing, and their identification with the downtown NYC music scene, and because of the rough sound of their music, Television is usually lumped in with the punks, but interestingly, I’ve seen them referred to as both proto-punk and post-punk, which seems impossible without some sort of time machine. And yet, it makes sense, when you look closely. Television presaged punk both temporally and in their attitude, but their sound was not “punk” in the way that word is commonly used, so like “post-punk” bands, they embraced the brashness of punk, but not all of the sound. 

In my old(er) age, I’ve come to appreciate Television more and more. Maybe it is my more mature approach to music that is less interested in putting artists and their music in genre slots, so that I enjoy the connections that artists that seem very different actually have. I know, for example, that the first time that I heard “Impossible Germany,” by Wilco, one of my favorites, I was struck by how the intertwined guitar parts played by Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy reminded me of Television’s Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. 

As mentioned above. “Little Johnny Jewel” was the first song released by Television, its 7 plus minutes split into two parts on a 45, and it’s an odd one. Opening with a bass line (from Fred Smith, who had replaced Richard Hell), before Billy Ficca’s drums and the guitars enter, the instrumental eventually resolves into a groove before the vocals begin. The song may be about Iggy Pop, whose real name was James Newell Osterberg, Jr., but his middle name is sometimes listed as “Jewel.” There’s a long instrumental guitar section featuring Verlaine soloing in the middle that sounds closer to psychedelia or even jazz than punk before the groove returns, along with the lyrics: 

Oh, Little Johnny Jewel
He's so cool
But if you see him looking lost
You ain't gotta come on so boss

Verlaine recalled in an interview: “Lou Reed asked me, ‘Why’d you put out this song? This is not a hit.’ I said, ‘What band playing a bar in New York, issuing their own single, is gonna have a hit?’” However, the single sold surprisingly well, and arguably kickstarted the New York punk movement.