Trying To Get To You

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Three Week Dispatch

Oh dear readers. Did you think that I had abandoned you? Never. I just, well…never mind the explanation. Here are some random recaps from the last three weeks:

One Tuesday morning a couple of weeks back, I’m standing on the platform waiting for the 6 train. A few feet away from me is a doo wop group comprised of four black men in their 50’s. At first, I pay them no mind, but then they start singing the Persuaders classic, “Thin Line Between Love And Hate,” and everything shifts. They nail the opening harmonies and I break into an enormous grin that is returned by one of the singers and I start singing along to myself. The fact that I know both the lyrics and the exact phrasing of the vocals is recognized by the quartet and now they’re all nodding and smiling at me, which in turn, is to be noticed by more than a few people on the subway platform – who begin to rain change upon the quartet, looking utterly mesmorized. The song ends and applause rains down on the singers – just as the subway comes. I bow to the quartet who bow in turn to me. One of life's great little moments.

* * *
I went to Atlanta on April 25 to see Springsteen & the E Streeters, which, in the wake of Danny Federici’s death, I found somewhat depressing. The show began with a video tribute to Danny, which was lovely. What was sort of sad was that it was clear that a good 60% of the audience had no idea who Danny was. People chatted, yelled “Bruuuuuuce,” chatted on their cell phones (easily the most annoying occurrence at any concert) and impatiently waited for the show to start. It really pissed me off and put me in a foul mood for most of the night.

Springsteen looked understandably exhausted and played one of the most random set lists I’ve ever heard him perform. Some nights are magical and some nights aren’t; this night definitely fell into the latter category. But Max Weinberg played perhaps the finest drums I’ve heard him play. I’m frequently critical of Weinberg; he often plays way too rigidly for my tastes. But on this night, he seemed to take it upon himself to provide the momentum for the band, and he played with a combination of power and groove that was masterful.

* * *
I’ve been listening to a lot of different stuff: Santogold (thumbs up), a leak of the new My Morning Jacket (I like it, but I don’t believe that this is the breakthrough that’s been predicted for them – the songs aren’t strong enough), Jamie Lidell (I like the soul vibe, but it feels a little generic), Madonna (a couple of strong tracks, the rest sounds mediocre to drecky to me) , the Kooks (utterly forgettable) and the new Death Cab For Cutie, which upon a couple of listens, I found far more enjoyable than I thought I would.

And all of the above pale in comparison to the 15 disc Chess Records 1947-1975 box set I got last month. It’s 15 discs of magical American music – blues from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf; r&b from Etta James and a holy host of others and rock from Chuck Berry and many, many more. Each song feels like a gem and it makes the strongest case for Chess being utterly the equal of Atlantic during this particular era. It rewards upon repeated listening – the only danger for me is that it makes everything else sound, well, vaguely unnecessary.

* * *
And finally, being a political junkie and having followed the campaign a little more closely than I’ve needed to, I really wish Hunter S. Thompson were alive and in good form to chronicle it and savage what needs to be savaged. Watching Hillary Clinton’s metamorphosis from the candidate of experience to working class hero has reminded me like nothing else is that the one true guarantee of success in American life is to be utterly shameless. Her campaign has reminded me of a Richard Nixon affair; the seething resentment, the vindictiveness, the ruthlessness and the willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter what. Perhaps that’s true of most, if not all campaigns. The difference is that Clinton, like Nixon, actually gets off on it. Beware of sexless people. They’re dangerous.


Andrew Sherman said...

Shouldn't that be The Persuaders classic "Thin Line Between Love And Hate"?

Ben Lazar said...

No. Band names aren't italicized. Album titles are. Songs are in quotations.

Andrew Sherman said...

Well, punctuation aside, wasn't it The Persuaders who did it originally?

Eve Siegel said...

Ben, i love your enthusiasm, but you always take it too far, such as when you say "it makes the strongest case for Chess being utterly the equal of Atlantic during this particular era".

Which era do you mean? I know you can't mean 1947 - 1975 (subtitle of the Chess set.)

Chess was an amazing label, but did not have nearly the commercial depth and quality of Atlantic, which had the Drifters, Coasters, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, and many more courtesy of Leiber, Stoller and Spector.

Ben Lazar said...

Well, Chess certainly blew Atlantic away in the blues. Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley and others. And then there's the matter of Chuck Berry. They didn't have the commercial depth, but when you listen to the box set, it doesn't sound far behind Atlantic's accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

Jeesh Ben, don't go away for such a long time again-had me worried brother-re: Chess Records, having grown up in Chicago during the day I can't begin to express how much that music influenced me and so many others-more so than the Atlantic stuff for sure- shit, Stax/Volt had a better catalog during their run which Atlantic then raped- What Atlantic DID have at that time was a brilliant Jazz roster and catalog-welcome back dude, missed ya... and rest in peace brother Federici

Ben Lazar said...

Andrew - I have no idea what you're talking about. I wrote "The Persuaders" in the post.