Thursday, November 23, 2006


Woody Guthrie was too far gone to be the mentor that Dylan may have envisioned during his trek to New York. In the absence of that Dylan allowed Guthrie’s music to help shape his early works for another generation, even though Dylan may have preferred to appeal to a previous generation with those first recordings.

In any student-mentor relationship there comes a point where the education ceases and you take what you’ve learned and it becomes a part of what you are. In some cases, it becomes apparent that the student has surpassed the mentor or at the very least equaled him. You learn something and take it to new places driven by your own will and no one else’s. It’s not conceit, it’s just that evolutionary process at work. The lesson has only been worthwhile when you acknowledge that you had help finding the path that told you which fork in the road was yours.

The point at which I think Dylan, in his own way, finally paid his final debt to Guthrie was in the song “George Jackson.” The single he issued in two versions to protest the killing of the black, prison activist in 1971. Guthrie had romanticized the exploits of the depression era outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd in verse. In his song Guthrie gave Floyd the type of stature that Jesse James had received in song decades before. It’s a fine line trying to convince people that a murderer is a modern day Robin Hood. “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “Jesse James” while not exactly historical documents still make for great songs that have certainly endured.

Dylan was not thinking campfire sing-a-long with his song “George Jackson.” Someone contemporary and all too real was dead. The anger and the delivery of the song were in stark contrast to what he had been recording the past few albums. And in this instant Dylan and Guthrie converge and part ways at the same time. The twain had finally met, and if from this point on Dylan had no direction home, then so be it.

Consider the words of the mentor from “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”

About as profound as any of his seminal lyrics. Now watch how Dylan acknowledges the debt he owes Guthrie by saying essentially the same thing while staying true to his own character.

“Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard.
Some of us are prisoners
The rest of us are guards.”

The torch is passed in the span of a single verse and the circle stays unbroken yet again.


Bing, and even a little bit of Elvis were guests in our house when it came to holiday (can I say that?) music. Those were singles though, when it came to long players there was only one that I recall. That would be this Andy Williams album from 1963, sporting the moral majority approved title “Christmas Album.” His music was a favorite in our house and his television show was only missed if the power lines had been sabotaged by errant branches or a luckless squirrel.

What’s not to like? He was young, handsome, gentle voiced, good teeth, smiled when he had his picture taken (“wider than a mile“ no doubt), had manners and loved by my mother and her friends who discussed such things. Bing, was a bit too old for them even though he was their age. Elvis, they liked to look at, but he had too much hair. Frank and Dean drank too much and “ran around.“ (Incase I forgot to mention, celebrities were expected to follow the rules of the house also) Oddly enough, I swear we had every Nat Cole album except his Christmas one. Andy was non threatening and more likely to help them with groceries and bring in more firewood without being told.

In 1963 at the tender age of seven it was a real treat to have the handful of Christmas songs that I knew all on one album. The fact that they were all by the same artist was beside the point. I knew what my school choir was capable of with this music and they were no Andy Williams. He could sing, we couldn’t even face the same way. The reality that so many other artists also recorded this type of music was totally lost on me. Everything was at that age.

He’s recorded many other holiday albums over the years, but they don’t deliver the spirit of those early Christmas’s like this one. I have the CD of it somewhere, but I mostly rely on radio around the holidays to find the songs for me. Hearing one from that album out of the blue while running an errand or on the way home is enough to make the lines at the mall seem shorter. If I’m passing a Christmas tree lot at the same time it can transform the whole day. If I’m drinking when I hear it (not while driving of course) then I’m seven again and the Zenith console in the living room by the tree is spreading good cheer once again.

I’ve had a love affair with Christmas music ever since I was aware of it, no doubt this album played a pivotal role. Red Rider BB guns come and go, but music endures and rolls back the time like almost nothing else.

Andy turns seventy-eight this December. I hope all of his days have been merry and bright.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Though the Beatles and Stones were benchmarks of my generation I probably spent more time listening to the Doors in the late sixties and early seventies than just about any other band. Morrison was of course a big part of that. I pretty much knew at the time he was over the top and a bit out of control, but it didn’t stop me. His voice and the blues based drive of their music appealed to me for some reason. For a West coast based group they seemed to reject the San Francisco sound, and they certainly didn’t offer up the sunshine pop of some of the other bands.

They definitely had their own sound and followed a different muse. And like all great sixties bands there were able to dominate the singles charts and the FM airwaves with no obvious conflict. Easier said than done these days. I of course grasped none of this when I was young, I just thought they were cool and bought everything in sight with their name on it.

I’m such a fan that a couple of years ago while in L.A., with the help of a friend I searched out and found the actual Morrison Hotel in a part of L.A. better suited for a “very special episode” of “Cops.“ Still, standing in front of that window I found a closure that rivaled finding the actual grave of Eleanor Rigby while in Liverpool. As I stood on the sidewalk where photographer Henry Diltz stood to take the cover photo I imagined an L.A. that could only exist in the song “L.A. Woman.” We had just driven down the Sunset Strip and the surreal Technicolor images of sixties file footage were swirling around my head. The warm nights, Venice Beach, the vendors, street musicians, the roar of the ocean, “the cops in cars, the topless bars” etc..

Getting back to my impressionable youth, in the beginning tracks like “The End” and “When The Music’s Over” were among my favorites. Their shear length allowed me to get lost in that “Roman wilderness of pain.” I was one of those children who were insane. If only for around eleven or twelve minutes. It beat going to “Indian Lake” for me. Today, I can do without those tracks and instead focus on the ones that got by me the first time. With each new listen albums that I thought I could recite offer surprises that escaped me the first couple of hundred listens.

The new box set “Perceptions” arrived with the “Bed, Bath And Beyond” coupons in the mail last week allowing me the opportunity to revisit their catalog as a whole, and subsequently my youth. Unlike the various other collections on the market this one went below the surface in ways that us Doors fanatics have been clamoring for. For the first time we get bonus tracks, some surround sound, and a DVD with each disc that contains performance footage and 5.1 mixes of the albums. Some this may have been out before, but I had never caught up with them. Either way I know where I can find them now.

I’m not sure if “this is the end” of what can be done with their catalog or not, but this is the most complete representation of it on the market bar none. The box itself is a bit on the clunky side, but the discs are individually broken out and don’t need the box for shelf storage. The sound is first rate and the extras are truly engaging. Each disc comes in a multi-panel digi-pak with accurate replica labels on the discs and booklets with tons of unseen photos, text and lyrics. Just about everything sounds better than you remember it.

The best bonus material is on the “Morrison Hotel” disc. You get an array of takes of them working out “Roadhouse Blues.” At the time it wasn’t the seminal track that hindsight has allowed it to become. Today you could almost make a case for it being a “signature tune” despite all of the other contenders. It gets my vote because of its glimpse into what was the core of their sound: riffing blues and cult of personality jive.

Those wanting to hear a seventeen minute studio version of the “Celebration Of The Lizard” will find it on “Waiting For The Sun.” Those who don’t want to hear it will find a few other things to index. Listening to “The Soft Parade” re-ignites the argument of them using strings and horns strings so prominently. I have no real gripe with it since the songs they use them on are pretty strong and don’t overreach. A stripped down version of this would seem like a logical future release. If you index around “Light My Fire” and “The End” from the first album you will find some real gems that get overlooked because of the focus on those radio staples. Their take on “Back Door Man” leaves you thinking that the song had always been there hanging around until Jim got around to claiming it. “Alabama Song” gave a hint of Morrison’s future disguised as modern day cabaret.

As the years have hissed by my window the album “L.A. Woman” and more specifically that song have come to symbolize the band for me. The decadence, excess and the soaring performance must take its place beside other classics that grapple with the disillusionment of what life offers jaded musicians. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Hotel California” are other clear examples of artists taking stock of the world they‘ve created. On a more aural note this song was the precursor to “Radar Love.” Meant for a convertible and to test your speakers. It pulsates with the rhythm of the steel belts hitting the asphalt.

If you’re never going to make another album in your life then this album was about as good away to go out as any. Despite being bloated and beyond repair Morrison seizes the day and never coasts for a single track. By the time you’re half way through “Riders On The Storm” you know the inevitable conclusion, this really is the end. We truly would never look into his eyes again. It leaves you a bit sad, but with a great album to go back to thirty five years on.

As a youth I was completely focused on Morrison and the weird, snaking organ riffs of Manzarek. Upon further review, it becomes apparent that Krieger was the centerpiece of the band. His licks and lines were what was driving the sound from those West L.A. studios to our speakers. He gets next to no credit when compared to Richards, Page and some of the other riff masters of the era, but I have no idea where these songs would be without him. Like them he was also positioned behind an iconic front man that the spotlight always seemed glued to.

For those who score at home some other fun facts to know and tell abound. By the time of “L.A. Woman” they were featuring a new logo replacing their standard one. “Morrison Hotel” was the first album to completely abandon it. All other albums except these two feature it somewhere on the cover. The cover of the “Strange Days” also features the cover of the first album. This is the only cover not to actually feature a group photo. The song “Waiting For The Sun” only appears on the “Morrison Hotel” album. The band never had a proper bass player as a member. Manzarek would play bass on the keyboard for live shows. After the debut album each group member and supporting players were always listed on the back cover.

For a bit of fun you can click on this link to YouTube and see a young Jim in a college recruiting film. He was still in Florida attending school. Within seven years the Doors will have come and gone and he would be dead. But only for a short while.

“Well, I woke up this morning’
I got myself a beer,
The future’s uncertain
And the end is always near.”

Monday, November 13, 2006




In an earlier post I pointed out my fascination with the album cover of Herb Alpert’s “What Now My Love.” This album from 1975, a decade later, shares a similar approach. And to take this a step further, two years later Leonard Cohen would almost note for note recreate this cover for his “Death Of A Ladies Man.” The big difference being that this would be the pinnacle of Garfunkel’s solo career. For Cohen it would be a side road on his lifelong journey towards his version of salvation.

I’m not sure where the tradition of this type of pose originated, but it is compelling as a photograph and very effective as an album cover. The women on these covers seem to be vying for the musician’s attention. In the case of Art and Herb the men are being told something that they’re apparently willing to listen to, but not ready to respond to. Their facial expressions are nearly identical.

No doubt the setting for this one is a late dinner with drinks at some New York restaurant. Maybe it’s the after party for the completion of the album. Art knows that he has finally shaken the “and” Garfunkel tag and come up with one of pop music’s classic albums. During his years with Simon the song was always the focus, from here on out it would be Art’s voice. The public had yet to hear anything from the album, but he knew he was on the verge. It felt good to know what others would soon discover. It was a time for celebration. It was time to unwind with friends. It was a time of innocence.

The table is littered with the spoils of a long and smoky evening. It’s anyone’s guess how many times the ashtray has been emptied. An empty cocktail tumbler sits before him. There’s no telling if it’s his first or last of the night. Both women seem to have some claim to his attention, if not his affection. Tonight everything is up for grabs. The one on the right is reportedly his late girlfriend and actress Laurie Bird. (You may know her as “the girl” in the film “Two Lane Blacktop.”)

He looks straight ahead into the camera, or maybe the night, giving no notice to anything else in the frame. The look, like Alpert’s, is a bit weary and unreadable, but he’s not giving in either. With his choirboy looks and angelic voice he was as much an icon of the sixties as anyone sporting long hair and bell bottoms. The cowboy shirt is perhaps the centerpiece of the photo. It nods to his youth, but the setting is anything but broomstick cowboy and those ladies aren’t damsel’s in distress. The fifties and sixties took his youth but not his looks. For him his boyish looks and charm were still very much a part of his currency. But now it was the seventies with everyone on their own and he had to make his own way like the rest. He could still play the game and pretend.

The typewriter font replicated across the top is perfect for those thumbing through albums in a bin and completes a perfect cover. The title is there and draws you in as though you’re descending on the scene. You’ve stumbled on a “setting.” It’s as though you’re only invited because you came in for a nightcap or to shake off the rain.

Under the guidance of Richard Perry he was finally able to take his voice to places that he would have never imagined. He was thirty four years old and his voice was as beautiful as ever. Every song ever written was now available to him. He and Perry came up with an unimpeachable set list that has stood the test of time. The album contains no missteps and the only regrets are the dozens of songs your mind can conjure up that would have been perfect in this setting.

Photographer Norman Seeff has done countless album covers over the years. His work can be found in just about any stack of vinyl you choose to browse. This one ranks with his best work because it shows an artist in a backdrop that is real to his life, but not necessarily ours. We don’t begrudge Art his place though because he earned it one verse at a time.

“I’m sailing right behind…”