50 Years Later: His Dream is Our Dream

In 1963, 200,000 people participated in a peaceful civil rights rally in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Living Colour:

Curtis Mayfield:

Burning Spear:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk:

Albert Ayler:

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Props for Pops (71st Birthday Edition)

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

I had the opportunity to toast my old man on his (surprise) 60th birthday party, which occurred at his favorite local restaurant, Dante’s. It was amazing to take him back there Tuesday night for a mano a mano dining adventure (keyword: soft-shell crabs) and reflect on how much has changed in the last ten years. But mostly we did –and will– focus on how little has changed: it’s still family first, we celebrate all of these occasions together and I remain as grateful as I’ve always been that this good man brought me into the world. It’s a world I would have been ill-equipped to enter, as an adult, without his guidance and support. It’s a world I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been that he is still very much a part of. We will celebrate those bonds of love and devotion tonight, like we always do.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 70th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

 

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

 

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 70!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

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Improving Upon Perfection, Part One: Curtis Mayfield and Junior Murvin

First, the sweet, angelic genius of Curtis Mayfield.

(Sidenote: if you’ve lived this long without getting a proper exposure to Curtis, remedy that as soon as possible. Virtually everything the man did in the ’60s and early ’70s is crucial, life-affirming, indispensable. Curtis was a gentle, beautiful man, and whether or not heaven exists, he was heaven on earth while he was here. Over the top? Check him out and tell me otherwise. I owe him a proper, in-depth tribute and appreciation and hope to tackle that this year.)

You can’t necessarily improve upon perfection, but the deep groove, epic falsetto and brilliant decision to merge both “Gypsy Woman” and the other Impressions masterpiece “Grow Closer Together” makes this one of the rare instances (think Hendrix and “All Along the Watchtower”) where the cover version quite possibly surpasses the original.

Junior Murvin, produced by the inimitable Lee “Scratch” Perry.

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Rodney King, R.I.P.

Some people, like Rosa Parks, seem determined (if not destined) to make history. Some, like Parks, are successful. Others are not (many of them are appearing right now on reality TV shows).

Then there are the people, guided by fate or fortune, have history drop on them like a script. Rodney King, who passed away this weekend (obit here.), was of this ilk. He was not a hero. In fact, he was a criminal, in the process of committing a crime, when another, more serious crime, got committed and captured on tape. The rest, of course, is History.

Whatever one thinks of King, the joke of a trial that saw all the officers go free, the resulting riots, and the uneasy aftermath, there is no denying that his so-called fifteen minutes were among the most meaningful of the last quarter-century.

I wrote about him –and us– a little over a year ago on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his unforeseeable encounter with immortality.

ON THIS DAY

On March 3, 1991, in a case that sparked a national outcry, motorist Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers in a scene captured on amateur video.

Twenty, already?

As incredible as that is to process, it also underscores on so many wonderful levels how far we’ve come as a country. Don’t get me wrong, it also casts a bright dark light on how unevolved we insist on being, and how much work there is to do (yesterday: women, minorities and homosexuals, today…workers’ pensions?).

But just thinking about the racial dynamic, it is difficult to deny that we’ve come light (skinned) years compared to how we rolled, collectively, a couple of decades ago. Put it this way: it was a leap of something greater than faith to conceive of an African-American being president four years ago. Twenty years ago? The only person who had that type of hope & audacity was Jesse Jackson, and even he wasn’t kidding himself. (And don’t kid yourself: without this man and the indescribable lifting he did, the notion of President Obama would still be a fantasy.)

It happened: we made it happen. Yes we did; we have an African-American president (even if he’s a Republican…just kidding, mostly).

In any event, looking back at March 3, 1991, it’s difficult to determine what is more unlikely: that something this barbaric happened, or that it happened to get caught on tape. Because let’s face it: if it had not been caught on tape, we would never know about it, and a great many of us would never have believed it. History usually happens quickly (in hindsight anyway) and this was definitely one of those seminal occasions where everything changes, immediately. This was exactly the see-it-with-your-own-eyes evidence America needed to be slapped upside the head with, and it began a dialogue that put us, however tardy and reluctantly, on a path toward progress.

In so many ways, this appalling spectacle anticipated what was to come in the subsequent decades (culminating in Obama’s victory): the use of amateur handheld video going “viral” (back then you still had to get through the gatekeepers at the major news outlets but those buttoned-up buffoons know a story when they see one), leading us in a crooked and narcissistic path to YouTube and Reality TV. The sensationalistic nature of infotainment where instead of letting actions speak louder than babble, we bring in “experts” to explain to us what we are witnessing, or more importantly, what we should be making of it (I’m thinking here of our number one agent of contemporary intellectual debasement, Oprah Winfrey and her stable of charlatans, all of whom epitomize a sick aspect of the American Dream as they prove you can manage to extract inconceivable wealth from gullible fans no matter how little you have to offer). We also see an engagement with current events from artists that would give rap music an edge that saw it through its golden age (post Run DMC and pre-cartoon character knucklehead solipsism) where acts like Public Enemy, Ice Cube and KRS-One began to voice defiance to the prevailing storyline (this was both welcome and distressingly overdue as we limped toward the end of the Reagan/Bush debacle).

Make it rough. That is exactly what artists started to do, and it’s possible to imagine that the next generation was poised, if not exactly prepared, for the paradigm shifting possibilities of the Internet. Within a decade after the world got its own URL, people plugged in, dialed on and woke up (ironically, right around the same time Timothy Leary got set to “explode into space”). At first a novelty, the ability of people to download music, create digital files, record themselves and the world around them –and share these advancements with people they didn’t know, half-a-world away, in real time –quickly became the new normal. Initially downplayed or demonized, blogs and (increasingly) independent sources of information began breaking stories and busting down walls.

We’re not even close to where we need to be, and we never will get that far, but recent events prove that underground voices and unauthorized agents of dissemination can challenge, even counteract the sanctioned (and sterile) storyline. Look at Wisconsin: it was business as usual, and the game-rigging mainstream media was either promoting the anti-worker talking points or else not reporting at all. But a funny thing happened: people (finally) started paying attention and talking about it; like a healthy rash, awareness quickly spread and all of a sudden we had a minor movement on our hands. (Check out how social media has energized the various uprisings happening right now across the pond…)

It still takes entirely too many of us entirely too long to see (and smell) what’s happening right in front of us, but after the last 20 years (Rodney King, Iraq, Wall Street’s Big Adventure), it’s no longer easy –it may no longer be possible– for this younger generation to set the controls for the heart of the couch and fall asleep. Now we know that things we are unwilling to even imagine are happening, daily, around us and to us. We are unable to ignore what is staring back at us, on the screens and in our mirrors. Even more important, we are finally able to acknowledge what is going on when we are not watching. That, in its own irregular way, constitutes progress.

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Props on Pops: 70th Birthday Edition

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

I had the opportunity to toast my old man on his (surprise) 60th birthday party, which occurred at his favorite local restaurant, Dante’s. It was amazing to take him back there Tuesday night for a mano a mano dining adventure (keyword: soft-shell crabs) and reflect on how much has changed in the last ten years. But mostly we did –and will– focus on how little has changed: it’s still family first, we celebrate all of these occasions together and I remain as grateful as I’ve always been that this good man brought me into the world. It’s a world I would have been ill-equipped to enter, as an adult, without his guidance and support. It’s a world I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been that he is still very much a part of. We will celebrate those bonds of love and devotion tonight, like we always do.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 70th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

 

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

 

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 70!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

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Props on Pops (Revisited)

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 69th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 69!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

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William Parker: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield

A Match Made in Heaven Turns Into a Near Miss

This review should be prefaced by a simple acknowledgment: William Parker has few peers in contemporary music. For the better part of two decades, he has been releasing statement after statement, steadily cementing his name on the all-time roster of jazz immortals. Because he is a bassist, it might seem facile to name-check Charles Mingus, but the comparison is apt and inevitable. Like Mingus, Parker is, in addition to being a monster on his instrument, a prolific and first-rate composer. And like Mingus, Parker is ceaselessly weaving together a tapestry that integrates tradition with the avant-garde. Many musicians would love to attempt this, and a lot of them try. Few have been as successful as Parker, just as a mere handful could hold a candle to Mingus when he oversaw the scene.

With considerable regret, then, I find I would rather talk about every other album in Parker’s catalog before getting around to his latest effort. It’s by no means a failure (concerning Parker such an assessment is impossible); rather, it’s a disappointment. On the other hand, for the genuinely interested but uninitiated jazz novice, this could be a suitable point of entry. It is for the hardcore William Parker fans that these reserved words are primarily intended.

It’s interesting. Jazz musicians have been covering popular music forever, using both commercial and obscure songs for a variety of reasons: to engage with the audience using accessible tunes, to pay homage to the individual being interpreted, to utilize traditional or “safe” material as firm if friendly ground from which to leap and explore. In recent years, artists like The Bad Plus, Marco Benevento and Stanton Moore (to name three acts that non-jazz fans may be familiar with) have utilized contemporary pop and alternative rock to satisfactory effect.

Part of what makes the enterprise enticing—particularly for listeners who wouldn’t readily gravitate toward jazz—is the novelty of re-imagining works, both the beautiful and the banal, that have infiltrated the public consciousness. As such, these exercises are seldom literal (note for note) and rarely incorporate lyrics or vocals. And, for myriad reasons, this is a good thing.

Which brings us to Parker’s eight-piece ensemble, The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield, and their new release I Plan To Stay A Believer. On paper, this project is inspired and appealing: 11 songs collected from a series of concerts recorded over the past decade. There is not a long list of musicians who could (or want to) try and pull off a full-scale tribute to the late, great Mayfield. And as he has frequently illustrated with his unique and indelible covers of adored songs such as “Come Sunday” and “There Is A Balm In Gilead”, Parker is quite capable of putting his own imprint on the classics.

It is, therefore, regrettable for a band this talented, performing material this good, to wind up with a well-intended, but underwhelming product. This is one of the better bands anyone could assemble, so it’s a shame you can barely hear them. You can hear the band, of course, but what you really hear are the vocals. In fact, these are not only (overly) literal interpretations—there are often more vocals here than on the original songs. This, putting it plainly, is not a formula for success.

In all fairness, your mileage may well vary. If you find instrumental improvisations of well-known tunes a bit played out (or just “out”), the relative structure and curiously tame renderings of these songs may resonate. If you are an ardent Mayfield fan, you might find yourself racing to the shelf for the original item(s). Mayfield’s catalog, after all, is not merely well-known, it is miraculous. It would, needless to say, require a radical or at least inventive revamping in order to make a project like this sufficiently intriguing (over two discs, no less).

Unfortunately, Leena Conquest’s effusive if occasionally overwrought vocals run the constant risk of reminding even the most open-minded listener that if you can’t improve upon a particular work, you’d better put it in a different wrapper. Too often, the presentation offers the worst of both worlds: it invokes Mayfield (but in a way that is distracting, not enlightening), while suffocating the exceptional performances of these remarkable musicians. When they are not being (inexplicably) drowned out by Conquest, they are ceding the stage to a legend that ought to be read and not heard. Amiri Baraka, who contributes original (though not particularly interesting and certainly not incendiary) poetry, also loudly recites it on more than half the selections. Baraka’s credentials (as a writer, thinker and provocateur) have long been largely unassailable. Alas, on this misadventure, he pretty much sounds like what he is: an older man trying to rap. (I know, his poetry from back in the day was rap before scratching and the wheels of steel, but its magic was conveyed on the page.)

There are, to be sure, stretches of songs that convince and delight, and these are not coincidentally when the band is able to cut loose without the vocal histrionics. The first 20 seconds of “If There’s Hell Below”, for instance, offer tantalizing impressions of how scintillating this material could (should) have been. So many Mayfield masterpieces are incorporated (including lesser-known gems like “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”, and “It’s Alright”), it causes one to wish for an alternate version of this release, without the words. For now, we can still have the best of all worlds: the enduring Mayfield albums and the ever-growing list of treasures from Parker.

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/130960-william-parker-the-inside-songs-of-curtis-mayfield/

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Summertime is Reggae Time (Revisited)– Part Four: ‘The Same Song’ by Israel Vibration

The cardinal rule for any serious appraisal of art involves a necessity to separate all discussion of the artist from the artifact. Mostly this is essential because so many unsavory characters have managed to create amazing art despite—or because of—their self absorption and nastiness. Monomania is sometimes obligatory, as we have seen from masters ranging from Tolstoy to Miles Davis. In short, it seldom sheds meaningful insight on a famous (or infamous) work to stand either on a pedestal or in the trenches, attempting to offer up easy (or difficult) analysis.

The list of artists known as assholes—or worse—to their friends or enemies is not short, but it’s a mistaken assumption that only difficult people create works that last. On the other hand, the list of genuinely decent human beings who have managed to make meaningful art is short but sweet: John Coltrane, Curtis Mayfield and Eric Dolphy come immediately to mind. However, hagiography rarely augments an individual’s oeuvre; in fact, it usually besmirches it. The only thing excessive praise and inappropriate criticism share is that they almost always say more about the commentator than the art being commented upon. The proponents of either extreme usually betray religious leanings that render their insights instantly dated and ultimately irrelevant (postmodern literary criticism and political correctness have been the more popular—and culpable—cults of the critical arena in recent decades).

And yet. All of that being said, sometimes it is impossible to ignore the life and the way(s) it influenced an artist’s development. With one group in particular, it is not only impossible, but negligent to make no mention of their exceptional trajectory from obscure and impoverished kids to adored legends of reggae music. Make no mistake, Israel Vibration’s debut, The Same Song is an indispensable classic, and would be loved—and discussed—if no biographical information on the artists was available. Nevertheless, the blissful sense of wonderment these songs provide accrue additional layers of meaning, and import, when the lives and circumstances of the young men who created them are considered. Long story shortened: Jamaica endured a polio epidemic in the latter years of the 1950s. Three of the boys disabled by the disease, Lascelle Bulgin, Albert Craig and Cecil Spence, met at a rehabilitation facility in Kingston. They bonded over the love of music and a dedication to Rastafarianism (legend has it that once they grew out their dreadlocks they were summarily evicted from the Mona Heights Centre).

Eventually they formed a vocal trio and, calling themselves Israel Vibration, began singing for change on various street corners throughout the city of Kingston. They were rescued from performing (and living) on the streets by the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who helped fund the recording of their first album. After more than five years of struggling, sharing and singing, their vision, and sound, was fully formed when they entered the studio. The results, quite simply, are staggering. The title track is, like the Mighty Diamonds’ “Right Time”, an opening salvo that also serves as a powerful—and empowering—statement of purpose: young men who had faced little other than hardship and discrimination, wise beyond their years, crafting an open letter of acceptance, unity and inevitability.

They tackle similar issues as the other landmark albums already discussed (this being roots reggae, the themes and sounds are not dissimilar), but where the Mighty Diamonds and Culture confront injustice and preach peace with, respectively, heavy doses of soul-influence and celebratory abandon, Israel Vibration balance the two styles with their own unique groove. On the more upbeat songs, like “Why Worry” and especially the ebullient “Walk the Streets of Glory”, the voices are appropriately buoyant; on the more topical, defiant songs, like “Weep & Mourn” and “Ball of Fire”, the pace—and the voices—are languid, even solemn. This manages to be powerfully elegant (or elegantly powerful) music, and it’s in part due to the unforced, easily-invoked vulnerability in these voices, but mostly it involves the very notion of underdogs speaking out for the underdog—without pity and with the gentle perseverance of faith. These last two songs describe the plights of the have-nots and the pitiful apathy of the powerful on par with the best efforts of Bob Marley and Burning Spear. And yet, even when the subject matter is deadly serious, there is a ceaseless air of celebration and joy that makes all the sense in the world: the people making this music are, when all was said and done, happily aware of how lucky they were simply to be alive.

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May 3: Props on Pops

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

 

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”

Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

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