It's always been my favorite rock 'n' roll song, now over 40 years old.
I looked for a You Tube version of the original, but all I could come up with was this one-minute take from the TV show "Shindig," recorded the same year the Stones wrote it. It's OK, but it's just too short.
And actually, "wrote it" isn't quite accurate. The Stones adapted "The Last Time" from an old African Baptist hymn. It had been recorded by the Staple Singers as well as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, but nobody in those groups wrote it either.
It's one of those "way back" songs -- origins murky. Richard Wright mentions it being sung in the church of his childhood in his autobiography, "Black Boy."
And of course, the intent of the gospel tune is much different than that of the Stones' version, which is an ultimatum to an uncooperative or combative girlfriend. Though the two versions are melodically similar, with a sample of the Staple Singers' haunting version on YouTube yielding familiar lyrics, they convey completely different emotional effects.
Keith Richards said of this tune, "When you start writing, the first batch of songs is almost always puerile ballads, for some reason - I think they're easier to write. To write a good rock and roll song is one of the hardest things because it has to be stripped down so simple, to that same basic format shared by rock and roll and rhythm and blues and Irish folk songs from thousands of years ago.
"It's a very simple form, and yet you have to find a certain element in there that still lives, that isn't just a rehash. It can REMIND you - and probably will - of something else, but it should still add something new, have a freshness and individuality about it. The rules on it are very strict, you see.
"I think The Last Time was the first one we actually managed to write with a BEAT, the first non-puerile song. It had a strong Staple Singers influence in that it came out of an old gospel song that we revamped and reworked. And I didn't actually realize until after we'd written it because we'd been listening to this Staple Singers album for 10 months or so. You don't go out of your way to LIFT songs, but what you play is eventually the product of what you've heard before."
The copyright lawyers are probably still debating whether the Stones "lifted" this tune 40 years after the fact. Meanwhile, you can read all the straight poop on this wonderful old chestnut of a song at the excellent "Songfacts" site.
It's always been my favorite rock 'n' roll song, now over 40 years old.
It came out in 2009, so I'm not going to write a review of Allen Toussaint's "The Bright Mississippi," one of the most talked about records of that year. Plenty of other people have already reviewed it, and there are some pretty thorough and perceptive notices posted at Amazon.
For rock-and-roll hall-of-famer and New Orleans native Toussaint, now 71, "Bright Mississippi" caps his 50-year career as a record producer, music arranger, composer, and studio musician in New York and New Orleans, during which most of his energies were directed to soul, funk, and R&B projects. "Bright Mississippi" is his first foray into the type of music I like to call American classical, and most of the 12 tracks on the disc are much more than just song titles. Each is a "signature" tune closely associated with a musician possessing significant historical cred, so that the track list is also a roster of this music's greatest names: Egyptian Fantasy (Sidney Bechet), Singin' the Blues (Bix Beiderbecke), Winin' Boy (Jelly Roll Morton), West End Blues (Louis Armstrong), Blue Drag (Django Reinhardt) and Solitude (Duke Ellington) are augmented by standards that everybody has played, such as the minor-key St. James Infirmary Blues and the traditional gospel piece, Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
It's all instrumental except for one vocal track, and although the instrumental attack is intense in places (Toussaint's piano playing especially), it slips into the ear very easily.
However, the greatest importance of this carefully-chosen sampling of American classical pieces, which generated such a surprising amount of buzz and excitement for an instrumental collection, is not just musical. Toussaint made a a couple of emphatic statements with this record; one is "This music is still important;" the other is "We're still here."
Even as the American Empire totters toward its grave, American culture, as embodied in the musical heritage of New Orleans, has shown itself to be not just still alive, but vigorous, fresh, vital, and robust. Washington D.C., the national epicenter of corruption and the shell which houses a now nearly totally dysfunctional government, may have forgotten about New Orleans, but New Orleans refuses to go away, and in fact will be back on her feet and stronger than ever when Washington D.C. is a haunted ruin.
Ken Wiley, the host of Seattle's excellent weekly jazz history program on KPLU Public Radio ("The Art of Jazz," Sundays from 3 - 6 p.m.), calls this exercise "chasing a song."
"Body and Soul" was an immediate hit from its first appearance over America's radio airwaves in 1930. The melody by Johnny Green, spooky and ominous with its prominent minor chords, and the lyrics by a committee (Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton) are an over-the-top lament of a crushed heart, dousing listeners in a bath of bathos. Then as now, America loved a sentimental tear-jerker.
When played well the song is affecting, however, mainly because of its inventive and unusual melody. Its popularity insured that it would be covered by top vocalists and jazz artists, and it was recognized as a standard by 1950. The many versions of this classic give us an opportunity to "chase" it at length, and to compare and contrast the styles and approaches of many famous singers and instrumentalists.
One of the earliest recorded versions (1930), by the gorgeous and talented Ruth Etting, gives us the full vocal treatment of the piece, and includes the only appearance of the song's lyrical introduction I've ever heard.
The month after Etting's record, Okeh released Louis Armstrong's orchestrated rendition, which combines vocal and instrumental virtuosity in one of Satch's greatest sides. Of particular note is Armstrong's beautiful muted trumpet improvisation over the melody, laid down by the sax section, with which the song opens.
Django Reinhardt's version, recorded in France in the mid-30's, is strictly instrumental, and features the legendary guitarist playing what is undoubtedly one of his greatest solos ever, accompanied by his long-time partner, the great Stephan Grappelly. This song is one of the reasons Reinhardt's reputation continues to grow year by year, right down to the present.
One of the most famous recordings of the song was made by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins for the Bluebird label in 1939. Fronting an orchestra as Armstrong did, Hawkins uses the same approach as Reinhardt's, dispensing with the lyrics and improvising freely on the melody, but always with close attention to the song's chord structure. Hawkins's version was a big hit, unusual for a modernistic improvised jazz solo, and has remained immensely popular with jazz musicians over the decades. It was enshrined by its inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2004.
There are numerous other well-regarded versions of "Body and Soul" as well, most notably one by Ella Fitzgerald recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, but I'll leave it to the reader to track them down and continue chasing this tune, as each is so inclined.
Photo: Ruth Etting, 1929
Yesterday the young guy who is my upstairs neighbor asked me as we rode the elevator whether the yellow VW bug with the "All your base are belong to us" license frame was mine.
"Yeah," says I, "that's me."
"That was back in the infancy of the net," he said. "Very cool."
"All your base and the Numa Numa Dance were the greatest things ever on the web," says I. "You're familiar with the Numa Numa Dance?"
"Unfortunately," he says.
OK, not everybody is a fan of Gary Brolsma, the shy, overweight New Jersey teen-ager who made the "Numa Numa" video in his parents' basement in December of 2004. But I'm with the critic who said "It's really a thing of beauty to see someone so committed to a lip-sync." Besides that, Brolsma has an instinct for choreographic composition, and his scrupulous attention to the fine details of performance helped the video to go viral upon release.
Numa Numa's success, however, was mainly propelled by the song Brolsma chose to lip-sync, a Romanian-language hit "Dragostea Din Tei" (in English, "Love from the Linden Trees"), recorded in the spring of 2004 by O-Zone, a pop group from Moldova. Why would anyone travel to Romania to seek fame and fortune? That's another story.
The fact is, this obscure-seeming tune was world famous when Brolsma discovered it. It was number 72 on the U.S. pop 100, and number one all over Europe and in Japan for many weeks in the summer of '04. What I'm saying is that millions of people all over the world really loved this song, and for good reason. It's pure dance music, like the Macarena, with a beat that makes your toes itch, and leadsinger Dan Balan hammers the nonsensical lyrics confidently, and with charisma,
So enjoy the video, even if my sometime fellow elevator passenger doesn't.
O-Zone broke up a month after the video came out. Gary Brolsma has followed up his debut effort with other video projects, but without the same spectacular success. Dan Balan continues working a lot in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, but none of his recent stuff hits my G-spot. In retrospect it seems the Numa Numa moment was one of those magical occurrences which happen only once, never again to be duplicated.
Even with the super-abundance of essays, encomiums, and scholarly analyses of Louis Armstrongs's music and career, I wonder how many listeners fully appreciate his virtuosity as a vocalist, or recognize that what he played with his cornet (later replaced by a trumpet) was an extension and elaboration of the things he did with his voice, which always remained the primary vehicle of his profound musical imagination.
Armstrong was at the very peak of his creative powers in the years right around 1930, when the Great Depression was beginning to wrap its skeletal arms around our economy and the lives of the people. I find myself listening over and over to two three-minute masterpieces from that period, and never grow tired of them. Both are sad love songs, usually played at a slow tempo, which Louis picks up to a medium speed so that they swing gently rather than dragging along.
These gems have now been made into what I call YouTube semi-videos -- audio tracks accompanied by a picture of the 78-rpm discs' labels. By the time Armstrong cut these sides in the studio he'd moved beyond the multi-voiced combos of the Hot Five and Hot Seven years, and fronted "smooth jazz" orchestras which showcased his horn and vocals -- what I've come to think of as "the two voices." For reasons I can't explain or understand, the cornball sound of the vanilla-textured sax sections augment rather than detracting from the total effect.
I Surrender, Dear
Body and Soul
And if you've never heard Armstrong's Stardust (the "Oh, Memory" take) from the same period, do yourself a favor and listen to that as well. This is the tune that I believe Ken Burns designated as the greatest jazz number of all time by placing it at the very top and out of chronological sequence in the five-disc music CD compilation that accompanied his PBS series, "Jazz."
Sometime during eternity
some guys show up
and one of them
who shows up real late
is a kind of carpenter
from some square-type place
and he starts wailing
and claiming he is hep
to who made heaven
and that the cat
who really laid it on us
is his Dad
It's all writ down
on some scroll-type parchments
which some henchmen
leave lying around the Dead Sea somewheres
a long time ago
and which you won't even find
for a coupla thousand years or so
or at least for
ninteen hundred and fortyseven
to be exact
and even then
nobody really believes them
for that matter
they tell him
And they cool him
They stretch him on the Tree to cool
And everybody after that
is always making models
of this Tree
with Him hung up
and always crooning His name
and calling Him to come down
and sit in
on their combo
as if he is THE king cat
who's got to blow
or they can't quite make it
Only he don't come down
from His Tree
Him just hang there
on His Tree
looking real Petered out
and real cool
according to a roundup
of late world news
from the usual unreliable sources
--Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1958
Rebecca Black's "Friday," released by Ark Music Factory this past weekend on YouTube, has already gotten six-and-a-half million hits, and nobody knows why.
I mean nobody knows why any of this. Why this song? Why this singer? Why is everybody watching this? What's going on?
It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday;
Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend.
Partyin', partyin' (yeah!), partyin', partyin' (yeah!)
Lookin' forward to the weekend.
I presume Ms. Black herself penned (or keyboarded) these somewhat less than memorable lyrics, which she sings in an on-key and tonally adequate but affectless voice that resonates in a kind of nasally honk, accompanied by an autotune drone. Also, Rebecca is a very cute 13-year-old, but YouTube is loaded with pretty young girls singing dopey original songs.
So if it's not the song and not the singer which account for the millions of views, then what is it? Some have suggested that the inherent badness of this work is enough to attract attention, but it's really not all that bad. It sounds exactly like the music they play at the McDonald's in Port Orchard, which I call "machine pop." It's like music written and performed by a computer program, and sounds basically inhuman.
My theory is that even though this is a truly terrible song performed by an indifferent singer, it's well made, and the combination works. A terrible song by an unmemorable singer, if shot on a cell phone, is simply boring to try to watch, but "Friday" is kind of fun, And it has 6,932,810 views -- up by half a million or so since I started writing this -- plus new parodies of it are appearing every hour. Judge for yourself (youtube.com/watch?v=CD2LRROpph0), and keep in mind that tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes "afterwards."
I heard my daughter using the word "permaculture," and figured it had something to do with the environmental activism implied in cob building. But I got curious thinking about all the possible ramifications of a word which combines "permanent" with both "culture" and "agriculture," and realized I didn't know what it means.
The Wikipedia article on Permaculture tells us that it "is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies," adding that it's not one specific thing or another, but a system of interrelated design principles which would enable people to live ecologically sustainable lives while reducing their reliance on the industrial methods of production and distribution which have all but destroyed the earth.
So permacultural approaches to food, shelter, clothing, and transportation could potentially change everything we have and do. A cob cottage is a manifestation of permaculture; a suburban tract house isn't. Organic gardening, bicycles, composting toilets, and acoustic string bands are all vehicles for permaculture; factory farming, automobiles, modern bathrooms, and rock concerts are the opposite of it.
Permaculture could very well be a non-violent revolution waiting to happen. Its rejection of industrial methodology and its handmaiden, consumerism, implies a rejection of capitalist ideology and all its attendant commercial, mercantile, and financial relationships as well, not to mention the corrupt and violent political system which serves the plutocrats in charge of those relationships. Its widespread adoption in what used to be called "the first world" (the industrialized world) might lead us to think differently about the earth's human carrying capacity. We tend to assume the planet is overpopulated, but what would be the effect if a hundred million people currently living lives of profligacy and waste lived much more lightly upon the earth?
This movement has a longer history than I would have thought, having originated in Australia in the '60's and '70's. (The Wikipedia article includes an excellent historical overview) But as with so many things in the world today, such as the prospect of nuclear disarmament, the future of this new paradigm is much more important than its past. Among other things, permaculture provides a possible scenario for the future of the human race, which might otherwise not have a future. And if the overwhelming majority today disdains the idea of living in a self-made mud hut, or growing their own food, or abstaining from meat, or riding a bike to the store instead of driving, many of them are going to feel differently five years from now when there's no gas and no money.
Just one more thing, for those who may be inspired by these ideas: nobody goes from living as a consumer of industrial goods to a permacultural existence overnight. The bridge from our current destructive and unsustainable living arrangements to more sustainable, small-scale, and decentralized modes is necessarily accomplished incrementally, in discrete steps. We need to adopt the new paradigm piece by piece, incorporating each major part of the design into our lives before moving on to the next. On the other hand, since time is growing shorter, we need to apply deliberate and daily effort to the task, and avoid procrastinating.
see also: catboxx.blogspot.com/permaculture.html
My purpose here is not to ridicule internet litter; that's unnecessary considering the ineptitude. However, this kind of disjointed, barely articulated crying out is useful for showing the degree to which people are capable of misjudging the scope and seriousness of the crisis confronting not just this country, but the entirety of what is sometimes called the developed world.
If our current troubles were just a matter of plugging the leaks in this zombie empire still trying to pass itself off as a country, and setting it on a course more likely to enhance our survival as a nation, that's doable. Unlikely, but possible. If it was just a matter of righting the ship of state, the tasks facing us would be, not easy, but a lot easier.
The thing is, the crisis now unfolding isn't just political -- it's way beyond that. We're locked into one of those enormous historical centrifuges now, in which everything -- countries, economies, populations, cultural identities -- everything is being spun irresistibly from the center. A whole way of life, and a whole orientation toward life is going down the tubes right now. The seeds of destruction were sewn, says Morris Berman, 100 years or so ago, when the scientific method, so necessary to human progress in the dark and superstitious past, was integrated into, and began evolving "within the context of an expanding industrial, technological, and ...global corporate/commercial culture."
Especially since World War II, the good in our lives has been defined by goods, and the object of living to pile up lots and lots of stuff, because the "values and ideology of marketing and consumerism managed to overwhelm America in the twentieth century."
"(C)ommercial groups in cooperation with other elites committed to accumulating profit on an ever-increasing scale" gradually came to dominate both economies and cultures world-wide, Berman continues, "until this way of viewing the world pushed out any other vision of the good life."
Now, all of a sudden, that way of viewing the world has fallen to ashes, and sunk under the weight of the BP oil spill, and that catastrophe has forced us to focus on what really matters, and sent an instant revelation showing like a compass where the true good lies. The spill is augmented by this empire's perpetual wars in distant places waged for inscrutable reasons, and most importantly by the second Great Depression, which appears here to stay, further undermining the constant media hum encouraging everyone to "buy more." Under these pressures, the world -- the developed world especially, is breaking out of what sociologist Max Weber called the "iron cage" of industrial society.
We're not talking regime change here, such as the one where the regime of Clueless George gave way to that of the vague and timid Barack Obama. This is (I hate to say it) a paradigm shift, and world systems, says one historian, don't fail, they "restructure."
A lot of people are baffled and don't know what to do to be able to deal with the new realities. But there are three things everybody can do right now, and we're crazy if we don't.
1. Get a bicycle, and ride it. For most, the second part is the hard part. It's either that or ride the bus. I realize some people have to travel long distances to work. OK then, I didn't say "ride it all the time." But I don't think there's a car-dependent family in this country that couldn't convert a lot of the errands and recreational trips now done by car to two wheels, saving thousands of miles and hundreds of gallons a year.
A lot of people who have bikes don't ride them. But now there is fierce and compelling urgency behind the command, "Get off your rusty dusty and just do it." Park the car and leave it.
And don't tell me you can't do it. I'm doing it, and I'm a 66-year old man with emphysema, the result of 50 years of smoking cigarettes while driving cars. If I can do it, nearly anybody can.
2. Stop eating meat. Or if you must, make it chicken, and try to show a little respect for the creature you're devouring by finding out whether it had a real life, as opposed to a slow death on the wire.
But red meat is out. I know that's a tough one for a lot of people, but consider: According to the UN, livestock grazing takes up about 26 percent of the earth's land surface, and cultivation of feed crops presently requires about a third of arable land. In addition, livestock is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions -- that's more than transportation puts out, world-wide. Not only that, but too much of the stuff is bad for you.
Fish is OK if it's caught in the wild.
3. Don't listen to them. The reason there are no political solutions to Kunstler's Long Emergency is because all the truly important members of the political caste have been bought up, whether they're actively on the take or not. They're relegated to serving as water carriers and gophers for the corporate oligarchy, without whose approval they could not have risen to where they are, and who are our true rulers. That's why Obama seems impenetrably stupid sometimes, even though we know he's not, especially on matters such as the Afghan War.
The Oligarchy is now so isolated and out of touch with real people's lives, and hence reality, than they can't imagine the world functioning on any terms other than what they've known in the past, which was characterized by growth made possible by readily available, cheap petroleum and easy credit. Both of those things have vanished and won't ever return,
The main reason we need to stop listening to them is to free our own minds of habits and entrenched attitudes about the world and our place in it that have become unconscious and almost reflexive. Andrew McDonald on his site Radical Relocalization describes the ideological inertia all of us suffer this way: "We've lived in that old story for a very long time and its back story - that growth is good and inevitable - is so in our bones, so embodied in us literally that new thinking doesn't affect it much. The Industrial Revolution and the turbo-charge provided by fossil fuel has strengthened these assumptions. We maintain them in small unnoticed ways. When we go shopping or to work, when we talk to friends - we're actors in a world where the script is still the old story about progress and growth and we bow to that story's conventions before we know it. If we watch TV or advertising, it's the old story, even if with some new lines."
Key to changing our thinking is to stop feeding bullshit about "the recovery" or "nation building in Afghanistan" into the hopper, and that can be most efficiently accomplished by swearing off what are commonly known as "mainstream" media. The stenographers and glitzy talking heads of the infotainment industry are nearly universally oblivious to the fact that in these times all viable activity will proceed from the only revelation that matters -- John the Revelator said it best in the opening lines of his 21st chapter: "And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth: for the first heaven, and the first earth were passed away..."
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