Second Act

I’m going through a nostalgic phase, thanks to Amazon Prime and their free collection of Beatles music from the 1960s. I have the originals, of course, on vinyl and probably worth a mint by now. However, I listen to music online these days and it’s pretty difficult to fit a vinyl record into that teeny CD slot. With my current Amazon subscription I’ve been rocking out to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver and more. It takes me back to days when homework was all I had to worry about. Mom and dad housed, fed and clothed me and I was happy and at one with my Buffalo, NY world.

I won’t say that life was simpler back then. It wasn’t. We were dealing with an undeclared war in Southeast Asia, pollution, popular protest, police violence and more. Sounds like we’re still there, actually, only this time in the Middle East. The Democrats and the Republicans have since switched places too, at least to some degree. President Johnson’s War on Poverty and civil rights legislation gave the south away to the Republican Party and now Donald Trump is giving it back. The Republicans started a war in the Middle East and the Democrats seem to be hanging onto it. In some cases, they’re making it worse. Drones are not anybody’s friend.

But that (the 1960s) was then and this is now. Getting back to music, I often wonder how the Fab 4’s progeny turned out. Fortunately, YouTube has some good answers to that. I first learned about George Harrison’s son, Dhani, when I tuned into the Concert for George put together by Eric Clapton and company. I must say that George had some very famous and incredibly talented groups of friends. Billy Preston did the best cover of “My Sweet Lord” that I’ve ever heard. In fact, I think it was better than the original, and for me that’s saying a lot:

For you George Harrison fans, get out the hankies. It’ll bring tears to your eyes. Anyway, between the swaying, clapping and banner waving was the kid. He really looked like George reincarnated up there on that stage with all those aging rockers.

So, I wondered (after drifting around some more and discovering the Traveling Wilburys, Harrison’s Cloud 9 album, etc., etc.), did The Kid decide to follow in his dad’s footsteps? Turns out kinda’ yes, although all I could really find online were his rendition of his father’s songs. Pretty amazing covers, though. Dhani’s a dead ringer for his dad, in both face as well as voice.

Dead Ringer

Okay, then. I rambled around a little bit more and came across Julian Lennon, son of the late John Lennon. I don’t have the same fuzzy, happy feeling about John Lennon, despite his tragic death. John was a real bastard, according to what I’ve heard. Angry, arrogant and violent. His love and peace songs were, by his own admission, an attempt to compensate for his earlier behavior. His life was cut off before I could really gauge his progress on that. He was the face and voice of the peace movement in the 1970s, but I would want more time to see what really became of all that.

John had two sons, Julian (by his first wife, Cynthia) and Sean (by his second wife, Yoko Ono). Their father was by far the better songwriter, although neither of them are slouches in their own right.

Speaking of shoes to fill, I’ve recently come across James McCartney, the rather strange-looking son of el famoso Paul McCartney. Dull-faced and pudgy, I thought he looked more like a banker than anything else. I ignored that family for a while then, somehow, came upon it again. I don’t know what prompted me, but I decided to listen to McCartney, Jr.’s song “Glisten.” The intro came up, with Junior holding an electric guitar and finger-picking it like an acoustic (which was interesting). The band behind him was good, really good, as rock music goes. They played the intro, then seemed to go into another intro. James honestly looked like he totally missed the first intro, but that was his expression, not his intention. His face was totally flat and I couldn’t make out what the heck was going on in his mind with this really, really good rock band behind him.

Then, he began to sing.

A shiver went down my spine. Really, it did. An actual shiver. TheĀ  melody did that, and then the words. They carried me right into his head and into his heart. He sang about love, longing and loneliness (and maybe a father’s disappointment) with an intimacy I’ve never heard from anyone before. This was despite a rocked up beat that, although extremely competent and full of energy, was still an assault on my own musical sensibilities. His face remained deadpan throughout most of the video, except at the end when he closed his eyes.

Um, I think I found my favorite junior. I listened to another song of his on YouTube (Angel. Go find it), also extremely intimate and melodically complex. I bought the mp3 of the album both songs came from (Available Light). The album is short, only six songs, but they were six great songs.

The last song on that truncated album – Old Man – answered the question I originally asked myself: “how do you follow an act that basically created the genre in which you’re playing? How do you step out from underneath a shadow that big?”

There’s no decent YouTube video of this song, so I’m just going to give you the words:

Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don’t get lost.
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that’s true.

Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn’t mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.

I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that’s true.

Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.

It’s a lot more powerful with music. So go listen to it and then buy it. I’d just play it off the album if I could, but I’d probably get into trouble and then you wouldn’t be able to read this post at all.

Nostalgia has its rewards. It’s transported me to a different, easier place and it’s led me to new discoveries I otherwise wouldn’t have made. Thank you, John, Paul, George and Ringo. You’re all fine lads, even though two of you are already gone. I’ll keep looking and listening for the traces you’ve left behind.


Surfin’ the 60s

I’ve become somewhat addicted to Amazon Prime Music. I know, I know, corporate monolith and all that, but I’ve been having fun with it.

I came of age in the 1960s and grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and all those guys. I had black light posters and at one point owned a fringed jacket with a matching head bank. Hey, I was a teeny-bopper. My sister and I had pictures of our favorite rock stars in our bedroom, much like the teens of today. No iPhone, though. No email and no blogs, either. But the Rolling Stones? Yeah, man.

picture of band Steeleye Span
Folk-rockin Steeleye Span. Groovy, man. Good thing Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy are in there.

Then the 1970s rolled around and I discovered British and Irish traditional folk music. I’ve been on that train ever since, although I don’t listen as much as I used to. These days I’m groovin’ to African blues and up-to-date, ever-so-slightly rocked up folk. I have a limited tolerance for loud electric guitars, but some of those guys were something else. Not so much a problem with the British folk, unless you count Steeleye Span and their ilk. I’m willing to put up with the electric guitars and drums just as long as I can hear Maddy Prior above it all.

So, I’ve spent the afternoon and evening revisiting old music and feeling my heart go pitter-patter. The rock music is probably preserved, but a lot of the great folk artists have a lot of vinyl that never got transferred to anything else. Take Nic Jones for example. Nic who? He was a brilliant guitarist and fiddle player who got slammed by a truck in the early 1980s. He survived, but his bones and brain had the worst of it. He’s still around, just not performing. I was crushed when I heard that.

Nic has some other stuff that has stood the test of time and is still available (and yeah, it’s gory and bloody, but that’s the genre for you). But, you have to be a real folkie like me. Otherwise, you’ll probably just be bored (sigh).

Songs and Places

I’m going for a two-fer today: write about a place and a song. That’s going to be a challenge, not because I don’t know what to say, but I don’t really know where to start. That’s what happens with too many choices.

I’m not in the mood for straight fiction tonight, although I do want to talk about the story. I have an image in my head and it’s this one:

My fantasy with the two travelers, named Daniel and Mira, includes a new home, away from the devastation – kind of. The travelers and their eventual companions are traveling east, to a place called the Deep Lands that may or may not exist. There are stories about them and they’re pretty frightening. In one version, the Gods cursed the land for some infraction or another and killed off its ability to support any kind of plant life. In another version, the air itself has been removed. It’s a place no one in their right mind would want to go. Mira’s hard nosed and skeptical. No air, indeed. It’s just a story to scare kids into behaving, or so she explains to Daniel.

So, what is this a picture of? Mars, actually. Probably taken from one of the rovers happily wheeling around out there. I’m fascinated with the place, although not enough to actually want to go there. I tried to think of the most desolate, loneliest place anywhere. That’s what came to mind.

So, as of my last writing the group of travelers (yes, there are a bunch of them by now and they’ve already had some adventures) have arrived at the beginning of the Eastern lands. They’re currently camped in the remains of an ancient, ancient city and they’re getting a serious case of the creeps. Something feels wrong, although they haven’t found out what yet. They’ve just met (at spear-point) a group of area residents and are about to hear a story. That’s when I had to stop.

So, the music? Eerie, ominous. I grabbed a soundtrack and made a video out of it. Maybe I’ll show it to you later. For now, here’s the music:

The Muse And Me

I was listening to the radio this morning (NPR Morning Edition) and caught something very interesting: a music competition hosted by the owner of Bleeding Fingers (Hans Zimmer), which produces music for television. Zimmer created a piece of music, very cinematic, and challenged musicians to compose pieces based on it. The winner would be hired as a staff composer at the studio.

Here’s the piece of music that the challenge is based on:

Yes, very cinematic. It’s something I’d expect to hear at a movie theater. Pretty grand overall.

The contest winner was announced on Morning Edition today. His name is Daniel Suett and he’s a 22 year old composer from London, England. He actually submitted 12 variations and each one was better than the next! This guy is brilliant. Here’s one riff he took:

Very open, very grand, no? But how about this one:

I must say, it knocked me off my socks! There are myriad themes he incorporates, some contemplative, some fiery, some exotic, some playful, some sad, all fabulous.

I could listen to these all day. But something else happened, too. I suddenly started thinking about the ways music has inspired my writing. I listen to music of one type or another all the time. I listen to some because I enjoy it. Others make me feel a certain way, like Daniel Suett’s did. I have a little library of sounds, like music snippets, stingers, loops and full-out songs. I like to play them, just to see what pictures and words fill my head.

I was browsing a royalty-free music site a few years ago and came across a piece by a German composer. It was one of their promotional free offers. The piece was moody, low, contemplative. It touched me somehow and I added it to the music snippets I so frequently listen to.

I was listening to the piece one night and words suddenly started popping into my head. I was having a bad year, I recall. It was shortly after the recession of 2009 hit and I had lost my job and run out of money. I was able to get back on my feet, but not without doing things I didn’t really want to do. I had to swallow a lot of pride that year and I hope to God I never have to do that again.

In my mind the words matched the music and, by extension, my mood. I started jotting the words down, trying to find the right balance: a beginning, a middle/climax, an end. Just like music, actually, and just like a story. I started hunting down images and videos, mostly my own, although there was one I took from a free image site. Then I began to put a video together, combining all those elements.

Spring Flower

The result after many, many edits, was a poem called “Ruminations.” It doesn’t rhyme, but I think it does have a certain oral balance to it.

So, this is my brain on music:

I’ve got other ones, mostly trailers for books or short stories. Damned if the videos aren’t better than the stories. I’ll have to do something about that!



This Should Have Been The Soundtrack

Okay, one last post and them I’m done with funky music. And this one’s for you, fellow blogger Jaklumen and also you, Rossruns!

To begin, this is the instrument I thought they should have used for Star Wars. Ignore that man in the padded suit behind the curtain!

And, Rossruns, many thanks for reminding me that that was yet another version of Animusic’s Pipe Dreams, this time done on an actual computer. Cute – but the machine needs more rhythm practice!