Music postsSunday March 17, 2019
Trow on Elvis '56
Re-reading George W.S. Trow. Always worthwhile. In the beginning of “Pilgrim's Progress/Media Studies,” he's ragging on a $3.1 millon study on violence that doesn't take proper context into account. It also ignores what Trow calls “sequence” and what I tend to call “chronology.” He gives a great example of why it matters:
My next note says: “No sense of sequence.” In analyzing violence on television, it was all treated as though it had been ever with us, like sugar use, as if, naturally we‘ve always had sugar in coffee and tea, and how much are we using now, and what does it do to our energy level, and should we cut down on sugar?—like that. No sense of when sugar was invented, no sense of the sequence of it. And the note I made at this point is, “Like analyzing rock-and-roll on TV—a big subject—without looking at Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Dorsey Stage Show in 1956.”
Well, in 1956, in January, Elvis began to appear on television, and his first appearance was on a program called Stage Show with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, who'd been a hit with teenagers twenty years before, were now fifty years old, and the show was corny, and it was corny precisely because we'd been through the experience of the Second World War, which was a very puritanical experience, a military experience, an experience of privation and seriousness. ... The Dorseys presented themselves as something from the hall of fame of popular culture. They had jugglers, they had tap dancers, it was just the standard stuff that adults had grown up on, and Elvis came into that, and anyone who wants to see the moment, and nearly everyone should see the moment, can watch a documentary called Elvis ‘56. Elvis came into it, and you know—I hope you know what Elvis was like when he was twenty-one years old, and he was twenty-one—and he wasn’t dressed like Liberace, he was dressed to kill, and he did kill. He killed Stage Show, and everything it represented, in a moment. This has to do with the quality of unexampled people in life, it has to do with the quality of talent, it has to do with the history of Dionysian energy. Of course, there would have been no point in counting everything that was happening in television in December 1955, because in January of 1956 a human avatar of unparalleled power named Elvis Presley was going to change the whole thing forever, and to leave that kind of truth out of a media discussion is simply to have a discussion—well, worthless is the word that comes to mind.
I‘ve been sick for the past few weeks, and today was sunny, so I walked over to Seattle University and read this in the sun by the fountain where dogs play. Made me want to watch “Elvis ’56” again. Also made me think that Elvis' much-praised comeback special in ‘68 was just a ’68 version of Stage Show with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. It was the show for '50s kids who were confused by civil rights, anti-war protesters and hippies.
Anyway pay attention to chronology. I think of this every time the news brings up the U.S.-Chinese trade war without mentioning its obvious Trumpian origins.
Your Kids Will Always Be Embarrassed of You
“I was incredibly flattered. It was very cool. It was a little embarrassing at times. You know, carpool with the kids and the song comes on and my son's like... [imitates him shrinking back into his seat].”
Michelle Pfeiffer on being namechecked in the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit, “Uptown Funk.”
Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)
How isolated was I as a kid in the ‘70s? How segregated are we as a society and a culture even though we had national meeting places like the three big networks back then? I saw “The Blues Brothers” in 1980, age 17, with some little knowledge of the world and music; and when Jake and Ellwood, on a mission from God, are putting together their band again, and recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy at the diner, and his wife, a waitress, tries to stop him, singing “Think,” this was my thought halfway through that song:
Wow, that waitress sure can sing.
I’d heard Aretha's name, of course, I just didn't know what she looked like. Of the big-name singers from that movie, Aretha, James Brown, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway, I only knew Ray. This was my intro to the others. So at least it gave us that.
The Queen of Soul died this morning at the age of 76. Other remembrances here. The greatest remembrance of all is the music, which everyone is listening to this morning, and which lives on and on and on.
The other day, when news broke that Aretha was sick, my friend David, a good Southern boy, posted this clip from the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” to social media. It's a reminder that even with all that talent, even with all that power, it didn't have to happen. It's not just talent and hard work. You need people who know what they're doing. And even if you have all that, sometimes you need the right piano riff.
Song of the Summer
I'm going to have to steal “While ol' Satan stands impressed.” That's evergreen shit these days.
Still Crazy After All These Years
Went with my friend Jim to the Paul Simon “Homeward Bound” concert at Key Arena last night. Not sure what else was going on, but Lower Queen Anne was packed. I met Jim at 6 PM outside Toulouse Petit, thinking we'd head into their first-come-first-serve Happy Hour pit; but we talked to a guy, next in line seemingly, who'd been waiting 20 minutes. Peso's was even worse. So we wound up across the street at the Tin Lizzie Lounge, a bar/restaurant associated with the Mediterranean Inn, which was also overwhelmed and/or understaffed. Orders never arrived; drinks took forever. But it was pleasant enough, and for whatever reason there were some astonishingly good-looking customers there. It felt a little like that secret club on “Seinfeld.” I felt like George, who somehow snuck in.
The show at Key Arena began just as we were taking our seats. Paul opened with “America,” and talked a a bit about the current state of America, without really naming names. His voice, at 76, started rusty but soon hit its stride. Can't hit the highs (no “You can call MEEEE ... AL”) but skated through the middles. He's also in astonishingly good shape. Dude's got guns. Did a lot of fluttery hand movements throughout—like his version of Elvis' latter-day karate poses. I wondered if the movements began as physical therapy. When you do one thing all your life, your body often rebels.
His backing band was great, and he did a lot of favorites, but he mostly has favorites. Is there a more fun-filled all-American song than “Me & Julio Down by the School Yard”? It's nearly 50 years old now but feels contemporary, and I thought of the video versions I knew:
- Simon and Connie Hawkins playing 1-on-1 basketball in season 1, episode 2 of “Saturday Night Live,” which Simon hosted
- The “taking it out and chopping it up” montage in “Royal Tenenbaums”
- Simon on “Sesame Street” with the “Dance dance dance” girl
I also flashed back to an argument I had in junior high with my best friend Pete and his brother John. It was 1977, we were in their basement, and for some reason we argued over who was better—Paul Simon (me) or the Bee Gees (them). I wound up storming out and we didn't speak for months. I was that odd junior-high kid whose favorite musician was Dick Cavett's favorite musician.
What didn't he play that I wanted to hear? A few thoughts:
I also would‘ve liked to hear more from his first solo album, Paul Simon, or his second, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, both of which feel underrated to me. But what are you going to do? There's so many.
Here's his set list for the night, 25 songs in all. A third encore is mentioned, but in truth, after the four songs of the second encore, he dismissed the band, stayed, and played the final two, including “The Sound of Silence,” with just himself and his guitar on stage. A fitting end: A poet and his one-man band.