random thoughts #3….as if your own were not enough
Finally, a couple years after the premier at the Woodstock Film Festival, I watched the documentary “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” last night on Netflix. Sort of buried in their library, I had to find it through the website as I was trolling for anything to do with music. As one who grew up with his music as much as I grew up with the Beatles or Motown, it was really special to be able to see so much footage shot when he was healthy and strong, and when his vocals were unlike anyone else of the times. Yes, there is a sameness with much of his music, as he favored certain chord progressions and transitions. But he was a troubadour, not a performer. A town crier who spread the news, or perhaps an early adopter blogger who put his own spin on it all. The conversation about Bobby Dylan being mean-spirited in his youth, bullying and putting Phil’s music down, was hardly a surprise if you’ve seen him mock Joan Baez in “Dont Look Back”. But nevertheless, it’s sad to see our generation’s Woody not be at least a little more humbled and less threatened by others with talent.
Couple of days earlier I caught another documentary on Netflix, this one from 1997 called “Grateful Dead: From Anthem to Beauty”. Part of a series called Classic Albums, this 75 minute show focused on the assembly of Anthem of the Sun and the transition from performance and experimental band, to the acoustic country roots band of American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Lots of great interviews and footage I’ve never seen before with Hunter and Garcia in particular, and Phil and Bobby sit at a studio board pulling up individual tracks or channels of vocals and instrumentation where you can really feel how the music was pulled together. Lesh’s notebooks are amazing. The David Grisman section where he plays his full part in “Ripple” that was left on the cutting room floor is revelatory. I recommend this one for not only you Dead Heads, but anybody who still thinks Americana music comes from Wilco or Gram Parsons.
September girls. Back in June I did a thing on Boston-based Antje Duvekot’s new album, and I jumped the gun on the official September release. So here it is, out now and ready for consumption. It is beautiful work. Here’s a link to my original post and IMHO its worth another look or in case you missed it back then. I’ll share a favorite song of mine from Antje that I think is on last year’s live album.
This will neither shock nor surprise I imagine; sometimes I’m just late to the show I guess. The past month living in New York has left me with this epiphany: people are much different here than they were in California or Minnesota…two other places I’ve lived. (I grew up in Philly…a mini-rubber stamp of the Apple with soft pretzels.) My apartment house, built in the late fifties as a giant L-shaped brick building with 64 units, is home to two types of people: the really friendly and the strange. In California, people do say hello. They do make eye contact. There can be conversation and transaction of communication at the drop of a hat. Not so here. More often than not, people are living in shells and pup tents. Or at least when in the public sector. Wonder if it’s a post-9/11 stress thing or just geographical? We aren’t too far from where the zombie army marched down the Saw Mill Parkway toward Yonkers and we made our stand. (Any idea what I’m talking about? Max Brooks’ (Mel’s boy) World War Z.An excellent read.) My young one is in tenth grade and said to me that on 9/11 in his new school people shared stories. He says there were many kids and teachers who knew people or had relatives that were in the WTC that day, or were police or firemen injured or killed. Living with that, I have to think it has to make for a mass change in behavior. Which is why people here are so aggressive when they drive and don’t look you in the eyes. They just can’t wait to get home and be safe.
So it has me thinking about the influences geography plays in music. Brooklyn has a pretty nice little folkie/Americana thing going on, Steve Earle lives just up the river and has an apartment in the Village. Justin Townes is in SOHO and Laura Cantrell is down in Nashville finishing up a new album. But she lives and works here. So do you need to live country to be country and do country anymore? (And am I the only one mourning Harley’s death on Treme?)
I hear there is an election coming up. Talkin’ USA, for those outside of this country. Seems like just four years ago we did the same thing. It’s nice how we keep most things political on the down low here, stick to the music. And anyway, this election is one where almost everyone has already made up their minds. I had to register to vote when I got my drivers license after three days at the NY DMV. You know, they handed me the form to sign and I didn’t even have to look at the choices: I checked off Democrat. Now I might have been more apt to call myself independent, and at a time I was Libertarian, or so I thought. Living in Minnesota and Jesse Ventura was living just down the road from me. It seemed like the neighborly thing to do. And even though he’s crazy, he speaks many truths. But I’m a Democrat, or feel like I have to be one now.
The Republican party, as Will McAvoy…Jeff Daniels’ character from The Newsroom…clearly made the case in the finale, has turned into the American Taliban. They have poisoned the waters of democracy and moved this country into a dangerous position. It is a war against the middle class, of gay people, of those of color and ethnicity, of all religions not Christian, of women and of what our founding fathers set the course for and what our grandparents and fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers have died for to protect. We live in dangerous times, where a major political party has been hijacked by those that hate, and those that want to use the power of money to buy an election. To disenfranchise voters. To impose their religious and morality on the rest of us. And its not what this country was built on. So y’all made up your minds, and we all know who we’re voting for. No use to argue or debate. For me, I’ll take four more years because I am a believer. I do have hope. And I pray for change.