Thursday, April 30, 2009

Memories of the 60s

Originally posted to a group on Yahoo remembering New Paltz in the 60s -- the protest movements of 1967, when protest was not yet fashionable.

About 5 years earlier, living briefly in NYC, I had known a young man named Vinnie, very troubled, from a conservative Irish Catholic family, no longer sure of very much in his life but still tied closely to that background.

A couple of years later, I ran into a mutual friend. He'd recently seen Vinnie, who had apparently found a substitute for his CYO: "I've found this swell group -- they have dances, and meetings, and the kids are really great -- did you ever hear of a group called 'Progressive Labor'?"

Fast forward again to 1967, and I'm faculty chaperone to a group of New Paltz students going down to the city for a march against the war, culminating in a rally at UN Plaza. The rally was interrupted by a downpour, so we left, and took shelter from the storm under the eave of a building -- a bank, misappropriately enough. Suddenly someone comes dashing across the street and squeezes in beside me under the same eave.

It's Vinnie.

"Hey, how have you been?" "Oh, I've been great -- I've been traveling a lot -- Holland, Germany..."

"That's great, Vinnie."

"You know, there's a real revival of the Nazis over there."

"Is that so?" And it's here that I notice, under Vinnie's raincoat, a brown shirt.

"Yes -- I'm one of them!"

A momentary speechless pause from me.

"Were you at that peace rally just now?"

"Yes, we were, Vinnie."

"I notice you had a lot of Jews at that rally."

Rain coming down even harder.

"Gee, great to see you, Vinnie. Well, it looks like the rain's letting up. We've gotta be going. Come on, everyone!"

What I'm Listening To

What I'm listening to. George Mraz, John Hicks, Idris Muhammad, Eric Alexander, on Lala . Not guys at the top of the jazz hit parade, perhaps, but this is great stuff. Reminds me of the days of the Tin Palace in NYC.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Battle of the Decades

Billie Holiday 9 to 5 over the Zombies last time around, with one vote for Nirvana. Three good ones. And some good ones coming up here, too.

These go out to my BOTD posse by email, but feel free to vote here too.

40s on 4*
Harry James
The Man With the Horn

50s on 5*
Fats Domino
Blue Monday

60s on 6*
The Temptations
Cloud Nine

70s on 7*
John Lennon
Instant Karma

80s on 8*
Duran Duran
Union Of The Snake

90s on 9*
Dave Matthews Band
Ants Marching ('95)

Duran Duran -- they're not bad. They did a James Bond song that some people bizarrely pick as the best Bond song (nothing touches "Goldfinger"). They bear about the same relation to the really significant bands of the 80s that Harry James bears to Benny Goodman, and neither Harry nor Simon are at their zenith here, so let's wrap them up together. Simon is handsomer, but Harry was married to Betty Grable.

The rest are all virtually uneliminatable, so I'll take them in chronological order. I think I'd put "Blue Monday" just a shade below Fats' A+ work, which still makes it better than most anything by most anyone else.
The Temptations were the subjects of probably the best TV movie music biopic ever, and if that sounds like a bar not raised awfully high, I don't mean to damn it with faint praise. It was a terrific flick. And the Temps were always good, and the combination of social commentary and Motown choreography (on red, green and orange platforms) is well-nigh irresistible.
I hadn't heard this Dave Matthews before, and wondered briefly if Dave had done a Sesame Street bit and recorded "The Ants Go Marching Two by Two." But this is great stuff, and not just for dual sentimental reasons -- first, that the DMB shot a video at Opus 40, and second, that the drummer is wearing a Rangers jersey on the night when the Rangers fought gamely but went down to the Washington Caps in game 7 of the opening Stanley Cup series. This is a very tight band, some tight songwriting, and I like the little auctioneer bit he does.

But...John Lennon. His power is undiminished. And the symbolism of Yoko knitting symbolism! It symbolizes...well, like I said, John's power is undiminished. John for me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Paltz in the 60s

A Yahoo group has started for reminiscences of those days, and Henry Cavanagh has posted one of his columns for the SUNY New Paltz Oracle, remembering ties and jackets on campus in the early sixties. That reminded me of this story:

It would have been 1965, I guess, the year I arrived. The Jazztet -- Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller -- were playing on campus in the Old Main auditorium. I went to see them with my friends Dave Roach and Walter Donnaruma, himself a great jazz musician, returned from playing piano in a cantina in Mexico to come back to school. We arrived, presented our tickets, and were turned away by the sorority sisters who were running the concert. You can't go in. What do you mean, we can't go in? We have our tickets -- we paid for them.

You can't go in. You don't pass the dress code test. You're not wearing ties.

We protested. Cajoled. Jazz was our religion then. Threatened. Cajoled some more. Finally they let us in, but only allowed us to sit in the back row.

Wow...I'd forgotten all about this. A couple of days later, I was approached by the Inquiring Photographer for the Oracle, asking me about the incident. I don't remember what I said -- it's probably in the Oracle's files somewhere. I do remember that I was set up. When the issue came out, my response was there, along with the responses of five or six sorority girls who had all been shown mine, and had at me, dripping with sarcasm.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Battle of the Decades

Mariah a strong finish, picking up two votes at the end to finish with three, not quite enough to catch the dead-heated Maria, Kenny and Gopher. Sam with two votes, and my one lonely pick of Enrique,

This time around:

40s on 4
Teddy Wilson v/Billie Holiday
My Man

50s on 5
Bobby Rydell

60s on 6
The Zombies
She's Not There

70s on 7
Could It Be I'm Falling

80s on 8
Cutting Crew
I've Been In Love Before

90s on 9
All Apologies

Easy to knock the first one out this time. Bobby Rydell, reminding us that the decade that brought us rock and roll also brought us some of the sappiest performers ever. I had actually never heard Bobby Rydell do this song before -- only Dean Martin, and it was bearable when Dino did it, but not by much.

Nirvana, Cutting Crew and the Spinners are all real professionals, even though Nirvana were supposed to be the anti-professionals, and they all made really tight records. Nirvana was the best of the three, but the Spinners had the coolest outfits.

Speaking of cutting crews, could it be possible for anyone to cut the crew of Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson? The Zombies give them a good fight. They didn't have as many great songs as the Beatles, the Stones, or the Kinks, but the ones they had were marvels -- tight writing, tight harmonies, songs taken in surprising directions that had the inevitability of greatness. And Peter Jones points out that in spite of Teddy, this is not Billie's best take of "My Man." But it's still Billie for me.

A little Billie Holiday

...and Teddy Wilson.

Listen here.