Monthly Archives: October 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up: James Jamerson, Rally For Sanity, And More

This week’s theme on James Jamerson was kind of lacking in my usual long postings.  I apologize.  It’s been a crazy week, I have to say.  To make up for it, here’s a pretty awesome clip of him performing “What’s Going On” with Marvin Gaye:

Yesterday, along with my girlfriend and several friends, I attended the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.  For the first time in many years, I felt a sense of connection with a lot of Americans.  Seeing Ozzy and Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens) duel between “Peace Train” & “Crazy Train” was pretty surreal.  The event also reminded me of how fantastic of a band The Roots are.  They can play with just anybody.  And their own set (with John Legend) was pretty fantastic as well.  It was also great to see Jeff Tweedy laugh and smile as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart guided him on how to play guitar on their hilarious, “America Is The Greatest, Strongest Country In The World”.

Ozzy & Cat Stevens:

Yesterday also marked the tenth anniversary of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind – an album that reestablished their reputation after the (mostly) terrible Pop album in 1997.  This album has meant a lot to me over the years, and I definitely rank it as one of U2’s best moments.  While most people probably remember it for “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation”, the song “Stuck in A Moment” has got to rank among U2’s best songs.

 

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More James Jamerson

Okay, so I’ve been a really bad blogger this week, and James Jamerson deserves more.  Hopefully I’ll be able to add an in depth post tomorrow – though no guarantees – I’m attending The Rally For Sanity in DC.  (Which by the way includes both the Roots, Jeff Tweedy & Mavis Staples, so I will definitely have pictures.)

But here’s an video on Jamerson’s influence:

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James Jamerson: Isolated Bass of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

Okay, sorry about the lack of updates.  Seriously, more tomorrow, but check out the isolated bass on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

 

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Preview of This Week’s Theme: James Jamerson

You can thank the bar I went to over the weekend in Greenwich Village for the inspiration for this week’s theme.  They played old-school soul music for hours straight.  It really might be the best-bar music I’ve ever heard.  I won’t officially start posting this week’s theme until tomorrow, but here’s a preview of this week’s theme – the great and perhaps (under appreciated) James Jamerson.

 

 

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An Ode To the Walkman

(Weekly theme coming later.)

Sony announced yesterday that they would stop manufacturing the Walkman.  While I had no idea that they were still making them, this comes as a bit of a disappointment.  For me, the Walkman was a seminal part of growing up.  I was handed down cassette copies of albums by the Smiths, R.E.M., and Talking Heads by my older siblings.  The Walkman had a huge affect on what would eventually be my musical preferences. One year at the beach, my older Pete found a cassette copy of Chronic Town, and I must have listened to it 10 times in a row before falling asleep.

When I was 13, my sister was living in England and about to give birth to my niece.  For the trip over my older brother gave me my first actual Walkman. For years I had just been borrowing my siblings, but this trip was the first time that the portable music player was my own.  I had several cassettes ready for the flight – Weezer’s Blue Album, U2’s War, The Talking Head’s Sand in the Vaseline, Live’s Throwing Copper (hey I was 13), and R.E.M.’s Monster (which was my favorite album at the time.)

The Walkman allowed me to listen to music that my mother would otherwise disapprove of me listening to at the time.  Throwing Copper’s “Shit Towne” sounded fantastic and rebellious, and I felt a certain sense of pride when my mother was not able to hear Ed Kowalcyzk shouting, “C’mon, Motherfucker!” in the middle of “Stage”.  But cursing aside, it was during this time that I really began to understand The Talking Heads.  I had grown up with them in the background and was always a fan of “Once in a Life Time”.  “Same as it ever was”, became sometime of a catch phrase for me, even though I had to realize its irony and the disconnectedness in the way David Byrne delivered it.   But it was “Road to Nowhere” that really caught my attention on those crappy headphones on my 8 hour flight.  The song is a joyous singalong, and though I was taking my first international flight, I had no idea where I was going, or what life would be like on the other-side of the pond, even though my English mother constantly talked about returning for years.  (Of course it wasn’t until years later, that I realized that “Road to Nowhere” is probably the happiest sounding song about death.)

Soon after we arrived, I was stuck in the hospital in preparation for arrival of my niece.  I was left to my own devices, wandering around a foreign maternity ward with just my Walkman in hand.  There was nothing to read except books on pregnancy and breastfeeding, and if it weren’t for the Walkman I probably would have gone crazy.  I played the same tapes over and over again – but they never got boring.  (I did eventually have to give it up and lend it to my sister for a while.)

A couple of years later, my parents wanted to get me the upgraded Discman for Christmas. Even though it was new, and everybody I knew had one, I told them I didn’t want one.  Many of the cassettes that I had, I didn’t have on CD yet, and I had grown too attached to my dubbed versions.  I eventually did get a Discman a year or two later, when it finally broke.  I did keep a lot of my cassettes though.

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RIP Gregory Issacs

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Bob Dylan & New York: “Visions of Johanna”

If “Spanish Harlem Incident” finds Bob Dylan in Spanish Harlem  seduced by the sexuality, and mysteries of the “gypsy gal,” “Visions of Johanna” shows Dylan wandering around Manhattan in the middle of the night in a surrealistic bender.  Dylan had been writing surrealistic songs for over a year at this point, but “Visions of Johanna” finds him at the breaking point.

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks, when you’re trying to be so quiet?” Dylan muses at the beginning of the song.  Clearly, he’s ready to go to sleep, or pass out.  He’s also stranded with Louise, a woman whom he likes enough to have sex with, but his mind is distracted by another woman – Johanna.  Clearly, Dylan’s head is screwing with him – the heat pipes are coughing, and the “visions of Johanna” are seeping into his consciousness.

Dylan decides to wander outside into the night where he sees what appears to be prostitutes “whisper escapades out on the ‘D’ train”.  When they hear the Night Watchmen click his flashlight and asks himself “if it’s them or him,” Dylan thinks “that’s insane”.  Naturally, everything that is taking place seems a little out of place, and possibly insane.  The incident leaves him thinking that “Louise, she’s alright”, but no where to close to his true love.  Before Dylan stated that “the visions of Johanna” conquered his mind, but now they’ve taken his place.  Does Louise realize that Johanna has taken away her lover?   Either way, after the incident, Dylan seems to be on his own.

Now he’s truly adrift and he’s the “little boy lost, who takes himself so seriously”.  I’ve always taken this verse about Dylan talking to himself – “muttering small talk at the wall – while I’m in the hall”.   Though it’s unclear whose name he mentions (probably Louise), he fondly remembers her (“he speaks of a farewell kiss to me”).  And yet he still can’t escape the “Visions of Johanna” they’ve been keeping him up all night as he wanders around the city.

Eventually he ends up in a museum where “infinity goes up on trial”.  If you’re going with the theory that “Johanna” is a reference to “Gehenna” – a valley outside the Old City that came to represent destruction in Jewish folklore, infinity going up on trial would probably take place here.  Later, Gehenna would be associated with Hell (but not entirely).  At this point, Dylan seems to be in his own hell, and ponders his own mortality, possibly wondering if this is the end for him.  He’s caught between two women, but can’t seem to attach himself to either.  He’s strung out, lost, and hallucinating.  He can hear the paintings talk (“Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees'”.)    More strange things happen, but at the end of the song Dylan declares “these visions of Johanna are now all that remain”.

The ending is very open-ended.  Has Dylan finally let himself go?  Has he finally decided that in spite of everything that has taken place over the night, that Johanna is the only thing that he cares about?  Will he ever get back from his wanderings?  Either way,  “the visions of Johanna” have been haunting listers for decades as well.

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