Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Lanois’

The History Of A Wall

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 21, 2008

As a member of the first generation that grew up with television, it would not be hard at all for me to make a long list of astounding images and events, many of them horrible and sad, that I’ve seen through the medium. For all the violence and sorrow that I’ve seen through television’s window, however, one of the images that stays in my mind the most clearly is the vision of the exultant crowd dancing atop the Berlin Wall in November 1989, on the night when the government of East Germany surrendered and opened the gates.

I’d visited some friends for dinner, and afterward, we’d listened to some music I’d brought along. About nine o’clock, as I prepared to head home, my host turned on the television and we saw the crowds celebrating the fall of the Wall. We stood in my friends’ living room, mouths agape. Even though the news in recent weeks had told of greater and greater pressure for change being placed on the East German government – one of the more repressive among the communist states in Central and Eastern Europe – the sight of Germans from East Berlin mingling freely with their brothers and sisters from the west was unexpected. And being so, it was an image that stays with me.

I recall driving home that evening – about thirty miles – shaking my head in amazement as I listened to the news. When I got home, even though I had to work early the next morning, I stayed up quite late, watching and absorbing more as Berliners celebrated into the dawn.

That evening and those images come to mind these days as I read The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 by Frederick Taylor. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book, and even though I know the wall will eventually fall, I’m angered as I read of the suffering endured for those twenty-eight years by the citizens of East Germany and East Berlin. The casual cruelty of the men who led that nation – a nation formed by default out of the tragedy of World War II – can still astound, even though so much has been revealed of their character and their conduct in the nearly twenty years since the Wall fell.

Taylor begins his book with a brief history of Berlin itself, examining how the city became the capital of first, Prussia, and then the united Germany before it was divided into occupation zones in the aftermath of World War II. He also examines the lives of those who would create the wall, chiefly Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, who were essentially the creators, respectively, of East Germany and the Berlin Wall.

And then Taylor examines in great detail how the wall, once in place, evolved over the years from simple concrete, brick and barbed wire to a complex barrier as wide as a river, intended to do nothing other than make East Germany and its capital, East Berlin, into a prison camp. My reading has gotten me to the autumn of 1961, just after the first barbed wire barrier was put into place, during the time when that first barrier was becoming the Wall. In the pages I read last evening, the East German guards for the first time shot and killed those who attempted to cross into West Berlin. Even though I know the Berlin Wall will eventually come down, Taylor’s book can be difficult reading.

But it’s a good read, too. Taylor puts the construction of the Berlin Wall in context, noting how relations between WWII’s Western Allies and the Soviet Union were not always mirrored accurately in the relations between West Germany and East Germany, chiefly because the goals and wishes of Germans on either side were quite different than the goals and wishes of the U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Taylor makes clear that the Wall was the creation of the East German leadership, acceded to reluctantly and after the fact by the leaders of the USSR. And he makes clear as well that when the Wall went up, the U.S. and its allies had no intention of ever challenging its existence; to simplify a little: as long as West Berlin – still nominally occupied by the Western Allies – was safe, all was as well for the west as it could be at the time. Short of war, there was no way the west could alter the sad fate of East Germany and East Berlin.

It’s a good enough book that after I finish it, I’ll be seeking Taylor’s earlier book about the fate of another tragic German city: Dresden.

For this morning, I thought about putting together a Baker’s Dozen from either 1961, the year the Berlin Wall went up, or from 1989, the year it came down, but decided that instead of a random selection of songs, an album that always provides me with solace might be a better choice.

Daniel Lanois first came to my attention when he produced Robbie Robertson’s self-titled solo album and U2’s The Joshua Tree in 1987 and then Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy in 1989. Lanois released Acadie, his first album, in 1989 as well. I picked it up about a year later and immediately wished I’d done so much earlier. It’s a stunning album, musically and lyrically, one of those I like so much that I tend to lapse into blathering fandom when I talk or write about it.

Given that, I’ll just share what Paul Evans wrote about the album in the 1993 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide:

“Having lent his supple production skills to such heavyweights as Bob Dylan and U2, it’s fitting that Lanois would craft his own record, Acadie, with the care that makes it sonically gorgeous—warm, immediate, bell-like. [Brian] Eno is Lanois’ collaborator and secret weapon, the avant-garde experimentalist adding subtle effective oddities—cello sounds, whistling synthesizers—that transform the folk-based melodies into textured mood-music that’s more self-consciously distinct. New Orleans provides the spiritual home for the project: ‘O Marie’ is sung in French, ‘Jolie Louise’ has a soft, Cajun lilt. Fascinating in its mix of high technology and rootsy integrity, Acadie is artful without being precious, studied but still passionate.”

Along with the tracks that Evans mentions, I’d tag “Still Water” and “Where the Hawkwind Kills” as standout tracks. It’s a remarkable piece of work.

Tracks:
Still Water
The Maker
O Marie
Jolie Louise
Fisherman’s Daughter
White Mustang II
Under A Stormy Sky
Where The Hawkwind Kills
Silium’s Hill
Ice
St. Ann’s Gold
Amazing Grace

Daniel Lanois – Acadie [1989]

Some Daniel Lanois

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 10, 2008

One of the songs in yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen that was more ignored than most was Daniel Lanois’ “Where the Hawkwind Kills” from his Acadie album. I suppose it’s true that Lanois is more well-known as a producer – for U2, Bob Dylan and others – than as a musician in his own right, but that’s too bad. Since 1989, he’s released seven albums of his own work, all of them worth checking out.

Of them all, my favorite is 1989’s Acadie, which was his first. Sometimes brooding and spooky and other times playful, the album is sonically gorgeous, with different fine details coming to attention with every additional play. It’s one of those albums that I cue up when I’m in a mellow mood and don’t want to rouse myself but don’t want to lapse into sorrow either.

I found, at YouTube, a video produced for “The Maker,” the second track on Acadie.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 9, 2008

At last we reach 1989, the year that I’ve long envisioned as the outer limit for these musical glances backward. Why stop there? Perhaps because music released after that might be too recent for me to have any perspective on it. After all, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that my calendar was telling me we were heading into the Nineties.

But a moment’s reflection tells me that it truly has been nineteen years since I woke up one January morning in Minot, North Dakota, and realized that two years was long enough to spend among strangers on the prairie. They’d been friendly strangers for the most part, but they were strangers nevertheless. I began preparing a summertime exit, either to Columbia, Missouri, or to the Twin Cities. (It wound up being the latter.)

That gap of nineteen years is a longer span than it felt like as it passed, and that tells me that time might allow me some perspective on the music of the 1990s after all. So I will likely extend this series of posts and mixes into that decade, albeit gingerly. Still, the focal point of this blog will remain the 1960s and 1970s simply because that’s where my musical heart lies.

So what was happening in 1989?

As related here nearly a year ago, two trips to the weekend flea market at the State Fair Grounds in Minot turned me from a casual buyer of old records into a collector and – by default – a researcher. Spurred by that, and by a relatively brief romance with a woman whose love for music approached mine, my record collection had grown accordingly. I’d brought just more than 200 LPs with me when I came to Minot in August of 1987; when I left there the first day of July 1989, I took 586 records with me.

I’d noticed in the past six months, though, that LPs were disappearing from retail shelves. There were maybe three places where I shopped for records in Minot, and by the spring of 1989, they were no longer bringing in much new vinyl, and the area of each store devoted to records was dwindling in favor of floor space for CDs. But there were a couple of used record stores in Minot, and there were many of them in the Twin Cities, which is where I decided to plant myself come July of 1989.

So what were we listening to that year? A look at the No. 1 songs for the year makes it abundantly clear that I was not listening much to what was popular. The records that reached the top of the Cash Box singles chart in 1989 were:

“Don’t Rush Me” by Taylor Dayne
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics
“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
“She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
“Real Love” by Jody Watley
“Rock On” by Michael Damian
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
“Satisfied” by Richard Marx
“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals
“Express Yourself” by Madonna
“Batdance” by Prince
“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
“Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul
“Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan
“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli
“Cherish” by Madonna
“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears For Fears
“Listen To Your Heart” by Roxette
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
“Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
“Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins

That’s thirty songs at No. 1 in a calendar year. That wasn’t quite a record: Thirty-five songs hit the top spot (according to Billboard) in both 1974 and 1975. Cash Box shows thirty-two songs at No. 1 in 1986 and 1988. That puts 1989’s thirty No. 1 songs in fifth place among the thirty-five years since Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” reached the top spot and provided a (somewhat artificial) starting point for the rock era.

But if thirty records at No. 1 wasn’t the largest total ever, it was nevertheless a lot. And to me, it was one more indication of the fragmentation of the music audience that continues to this day. More styles meant more popular performers, which eventually meant more radio formats, each with a smaller audience. I mean, my friends and I were still listening to radio and to a lot of recorded music, whether that was LP, CD or tape. But for the most part, the songs listed above were not what I was listening to. (Some, like the tracks by Mike + the Mechanics and Billy Joel, were inescapable, no matter what format one listened to.) During the nine or so months that I lived in Anoka – north of Minneapolis – I began to listen to Cities 97, a Minneapolis radio station that still plays a splendid mix of old and new music. But it’s not Top 40.

So what did 1989 sound like at my house? Take a listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

“The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon

“Too Soon To Tell” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time

“Storms” by Nanci Griffith from Storms

“Trouble in Paradise” by Bruce Springsteen, at Soundworks West, Los Angeles, Dec. 1

“No Alibis” by Eric Clapton from Journeyman

“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan from Oh Mercy

“I’d Love To Write Another Song” by Van Morrison from Avalon Sunset

“Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon from Rhythm of the Saints

“Commonplace Streets” by the Jayhawks from Blue Earth

“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls

“Shangri-La” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

“Where the Hawkwind Kills” by Daniel Lanois from Acadie

“Tequila Quicksand” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo in Me

A few notes:

The Neville Brothers track is one of two Dylan covers on Yellow Moon – the other is “With God On Our Side” – and both add some depth to an album that stands up well to repeated listening, even nineteen years later. Other highlights of the album – the first the Nevilles recorded for A&M after more than a decade of bouncing from label to label – include their take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Sister Rosa,” a tribute to civil rights hero Rosa Parks that takes hip-hop into the Louisiana swamp.

“Trouble in Paradise” comes from Tracks, the box set of previously unreleased material put out by Springsteen in 1998. Its 1989 recording date places it squarely between 1987’s Tunnel of Love and the pair of albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town. To me, “Trouble” could easily have been an outtake from Tunnel of Love, as it sounds as if it comes from much more near the heart than did any of the songs on the 1992 albums.

Bob Dylan has strayed from and returned to form time and again throughout his recording career. I think Oh Mercy is the best of all the albums that were greeted with one variation or another of “Dylan is back!” Working for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois (the pair of them would cop the Grammy for Album of the Year with Time Out Of Mind in 1997), Dylan put together a solid set of songs and performances for the first time in a long time, maybe since Desire in 1976. “Shooting Star,” the album’s closer, ranks among Dylan’s best songs of love gone awry.

The Jayhawks came out of Minneapolis with their hard-to-find – only a few thousand copies were ever pressed – self-titled debut in 1986, playing a mixture of rock, alternative rock and country rock that sounded like very little else being issued at the time. Blue Earth, the group’s second album, was basically a collection of demos given a little bit of tweaking in the studio. It gave listeners an idea of what the Jayhawks were about, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall that the ’Hawks hit their marks. Still, Blue Earth is worth a listen.

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

A Third Time Through the Junkyard

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 4, 2007

As I didn’t get an album ripped yesterday, and Monday morning brings with it a longer list of things to do than I’d normally see – and longer than I’d like to see, certainly – I decided to go back to something I did a couple of times during the early days of this blog (that is, if a blog less than five months old can be considered to have early days).

I thought we’d take a fifteen-song walk through the entire junkyard and see where we end up. But, I considered as I made up my mind, do I make it a random start, or select something? And if I select something, how do I do so?

Well, I watched the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals this past week, and was pleasantly surprised Saturday evening when the Ottawa Senators managed to take a game from the Anaheim Goons –oh, sorry, they’re called the Ducks – in Ottawa. The Senators’ victory left them still trailing the Goons by a two games to one margin, but it appeared for the first time as if the Senators could have a chance in the series. The first two games out in Anaheim were close but the Senators didn’t look like the team I’d seen during the first three rounds of the playoffs. The turnaround the Senators showed on their home ice pleased me because there is no way in the name of Lord Stanley that I want to see the Goons win his cup.

I can see the looks on readers’ faces: This is a music blog, ain’t it? Why’s he talkin’ hockey? Relax. There’s a point to this.

I’ve written briefly at least one other time about the annual tabletop hockey tournaments we have at my place – my friends Rick, Rob and Schultz and I. They’re a one-day continuation of the competitions we used to have when we were in high school, after I got the tabletop game for Christmas 1967. We’d have regular seasons that lasted anywhere from twenty games to fifty-two games, followed by playoffs.

These days, Schultz dominates the competition. Back then, before he joined us, Rick was the best player of the three of us, but he wasn’t quite as dominant as Schultz is now. From time to time, Rob or I could slide a team past him in the playoffs. And in our fourth season, which ended in the spring of 1971, Rob took the title with his New York Rangers. All through that season, when he had the Rangers on the ice and felt momentum turning his way, Rob would begin to hum a song under his breath. I’m not sure why he chose the particular song that he did, but it was a song that seemed to work for him.

And Saturday evening, as I watched the Senators fall behind three times and return to tie the game three times and finally take the lead and the game with a gutsy performance, I found myself humming under my breath. When I realized I was doing so, I chuckled, and then nodded. It was Rob’s old fight song I was humming.

And so, I’ve decided – in honor of the Ottawa Senators and their chances of winning the Stanley Cup – to begin this random fifteen-song walk through the junkyard with Richard Hunter’s solo harmonica version of Rob’s old fight song.

“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” by Richard Hunter from The Act of Being Free in One Act, 1995

“Here Today” by Paul McCartney from Here Today, 1982

“Standing at the Crossroads” by Elmore James, probably Enjoy single 2020, 1961 or 1962

“Rocky’s Reward” by Bill Conti from the Rocky soundtrack, 1976

“Dr. Dancer” by Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Waiting” by Daniel Lanois from For The Beauty Of Wynona, 1993

“Endless Summer” by the Sandals from Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966

“Silent Eyes” by Paul Simon from Still Crazy After All These Years, 1975

“My Time After A While” by John Hammond from Southern Fried, 1970

“Precious Time” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993

“Disco Inferno” by the Trammps from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, 1977

“Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy, Sundi single 6811, 1969

“Bermuda Triangle” by Fleetwood Mac from Heroes Are Hard To Find, 1974

“String Man” by the Mamas & the Papas from Deliver, 1967

“Hell to Pay” by Bonnie Raitt from Longing In Their Hearts, 1994

A few notes on some of the songs:

The loudest ovation I’ve ever heard at a concert came at the best concert I ever attended, when I saw Paul McCartney at the Xcel Center in St. Paul in September of 2002. About nine songs into the show, as the applause for “And I Love Her” faded away, McCartney began to introduce “Here Today” by saying, “I’d like to do a song now that I wrote for my dear friend John.” Applause burst out, and Paul beckoned to the crowd and said, “Yeah, let’s hear it for John.” And the arena filled with a sustained roar like nothing I’d heard before. From that moment, the concert – which up to then had been good – became magical for me.

“Rocky’s Reward” is the faux-classical string piece – motet? fugue? my bits of classical music awareness fail me – that is used under the final credits for the 1976 film Rocky. I’ve always thought that Bill Conti’s score for the film, the first in what became a series, was a brilliant piece of work, primarily for his imaginative use of recurring themes in a wide variety of settings and arrangements. It was an injustice that Conti was not nominated for an Academy Award for the score (the award went to Jerry Goldsmith for his work on The Omen). And don’t get me started about the award for Best Original Song going to Barbara Streisand and Paul Williams for “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” instead of Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now.”

John Hammond’s “My Time After A While” comes from his Southern Fried album, recorded at Muscle Shoals with its legendary rhythm section. Duane Allman stopped by to add his slide guitar to four of the cuts on the album, but not, sadly, on “My Time After A While.” That’s Eddie Hinton playing that sweet lead part.

“Precious Time” comes from my favorite album by one of my favorite unknown performers. Well, Darden Smith isn’t entirely unknown; he sells enough CD to be able to keep recording. But as I noted when I posted one of his songs as a Saturday Single in February, if there were any justice in the world, Darden Smith would be a household name. The song sounds as if it’s written about a military draft: “They’re calling up numbers now,” and “How many men and boys will it take to win?” That was odd enough for something written in the 1990s, but it’s chilling now. No, there’s not a military draft right now, but, well, I won’t be surprised if there is one soon.

Heroes Are Hard To Find is a Fleetwood Mac album that I don’t know very well. The Mac was in a transitional state in 1974, just about finishing its shift from a blues band to the powerhouse of smooth California rock it became when Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined up. “Bermuda Triangle,” melodically and thematically, sounds an awful lot like “Hypnotized” off the Mystery to Me album from the year before.