Greetings, all and sundry! Having been given some time to ponder within and outside the confines of The Box due to a wrist injury and the annoying effects of a recent flu shot. I’ve decided to delve into arenas that became guide posts for life’s journey. While offering ample opportunity to wax both poetic and nostalgic. To that end, allow me a few moments of your time to slosh around and focus some attention to a few artists. Certain pieces of their work, aural and visual that blithely encompass:
Story Telling in Music:
Being a child of the 1960s and The Cold War offered a unique opportunity to be on the periphery of being in the right place and the right time for music. A bit too young to catch the allure of The Beatles. Though something of a prodigy to follow the raw, early, up and coming, cover days of The Rolling Stones. I quickly developed an appreciation for lyrics.
Long. Often convoluted, clever or tangled. It didn’t matter. As long as the metering fit and a story or message was delivered. I was there. With much easier access to young upstarts taking their first steps into this realm. Premiere amongst them would be Bob Dylan. Though, where most were caught off guard with his early Subterranean Homesick Blues. I latched on six string troubadour Mr. Tambourine Man and its near trippy ode to a New Orleans Bourbon Street Mardi Gras parade. Yes, it is a bit repetitive and some chords stretch. But the inventive lyrics and tale told is so much better and colorful than The Byrds’ take on it a year later.
Which opened the doors wider with the inclusion of The Band for Highway 61 Revisited. With its siren rings, background kazoos and beat to death, off-key honky-tonk piano. Before stepping int the Big Leagues with Blood on the Tracks. A superlative homage to story telling. With A Simple Twist of Fate. Shelter from the Storm, Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go and Tangled Up in Blue leading the charge and deftly covering the flanks.
Offering a brief detour to delve into the works Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. As they were transitioning from their street corner, “busking” (Playing for pennies and change) days and intimate venues in the UK and just starting to make their name known here. And their very early album. Wednesday Morning: 3AM. And a tale that spoke to my teen angst and uncertainty of the future. I Am A Rock.
Revealing that Mr. Simon is a very decent and clever guitarist with its overlapped opening chords. And a more intellectual perspective than Dylan. Especially with his A Simple Desultory Philippic. A wondrously clever and scathing take on Mr. Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. And what passed for “Hip” in the 1960s.
And with the passage of time, original anger mellowed into whimsy and romanticism with For Emily (Wherever I May Find Her), Kathy’s Song, Flowers Never Bend In the Rainfall and the melancholy Sounds of Silence.
Which gave my pallet a chance to expand and wrap my head around an iconic “One Hit Wonder” from Barry McGuire. The Eve of Destruction. A raw and moody piece of cautionary lyrical protest. That flawlessly encapsulates the 1960s, its evolving culture opposite the onus, underlying fear and paranoia of Mutual Assured Destruction. Also notable in how little things have changed in the following half century.
Another artist who caught my attention with romantic and dramatic tales attached to compilations with great titles, like Tap Root Manuscript and Velvet Gloves and Spit has not managed to hold the bar high through the decades. From such beach head tunes as Holly Holy and many times covered, I’m a Believer. To Sweet Caroline, Solitary Man, Forever in Blue Jeans, and Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.
Troubadour, Balladeer, Sooth Sayer. Call him what you will. Mr. Neil Diamond has managed to assemble emotions and put them into words. Sometimes raw and unglossed, often crystal clear and eerily spot on. With the aid of a master’s presence and a glorious set of pipes. Put to excellent effect throughout his near flawless, definitive, live Hot August Night album.
Which brings back full circle. Touching on a seriously humorous, slowly building and powerful testament to the just scraping by days of busking. Regaled by a Demi God of and supreme talent spotter for what would be British Rock.
Long before finding the post “Skiffle” teenage talent of Paul McCartney, John Lennon of The Quarry Men. Mick Jagger, Graham Nash, Jimmy Page. The young talent of The Yard Birds, Kinks, The Hollies and a fledgling pianist at the Isle of Wight. Who would seek fame as Elton John.
I speak of none other than the late, great “Long” John Baldry. And his epic, yet oddly under rated: Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King of Rock and Roll.
These performers basically created the foundation for my preferences in music. And appreciation of a simple groups of chords. From Dylan’s A Simple Twist of Fate that would grab my attention with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five and Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead’s melodious Ripple. And their splendid studio landmark, American Beauty.
Or that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s trumpet and brass rich, Somewhere They Can’t Find Me. And melancholy, stripped down, class envy, Richard Cory would create a nuance for the “Throw anything in front of the microphone” school of music pioneered by Jimi Hendrix throughout his all too brief career. And later toyed with and refined to an art form by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. Then polished to a high luster by Lowell George and Little Feat!