Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

Odetta, Curtis & Leonard

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 4, 2008

Being that it’s Thursday, I thought I’d wander around YouTube as I frequently do, seeing what I find that connects with recent posts.

Here’s a potent performance by Odetta of the folk classic “The House of the Rising Sun.” Most folks know this from the Animals’ 1964 version, but the Animals – or so says writer Dave Marsh – learned it from Bob Dylan’s version, and Dylan learned it from folk singer Dave Van Ronk, and who knows where Van Ronk got it. I’m sure that somewhere on a library shelf is an account of where the song originated. New Orleans, of course, is too easy a guess. Anyway, here’s Odetta, live in 2005. (The notes at YouTube say that this performance was part of a concert recorded for a live release, but the only live CD release listed on Odetta’s All Music Guide discography that might work on that timeline is am undated release on Fantasy, and no video/DVD releases are listed, so I have no idea where this can be found.)

Here’s a clip of Curtis Mayfield performing “Future Shock” on Soul Train, most likely on the November 10, 1973, show:

Then, here’s Leonard Cohen performing “The Future” during his May 12, 1993, performance on the BBC’s Later with Jools Holland. For those interested in censorship or self-editing – and I don’t know which this was – note how what had been “anal sex” on the CD became “careless sex” during the television performance.

Enjoy! I’ll be back tomorrow with an experiment that reminds me of a long-ago annual event.

How Long Ago It Truly Was

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 2, 2008

I talked to my mother yesterday as she celebrated her eighty-seventh birthday. She’d been able to get to a meeting of her women’s group for the first time in a while, and she was in good spirits. We chatted briefly about that, about the gifts that the Texas Gal and I had brought her on Saturday, and about plans for the week ahead. After we hung up, I sat at my desk and tried to put into perspective how long ago 1921 actually was.

There are a few ways to do that. One is purely historical: World War I had ended just more than three years earlier and was still known simply as the Great War, as its sequel was still eighteen years in the future. Babe Ruth was twenty-six and had just completed his second season with the New York Yankees. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming was still seven years in the future; its widespread use as a literal lifesaver would come some years after that.

Another way of thinking about how removed we are from the year of 1921 is technological. Mom was born in a farmhouse not far from the little town of Wabasso, Minnesota. There was no electricity in the house; more than a decade later, the family was living on another farm near the small town of Lamberton when the area was first wired through the work of the federal Rural Electrification Administration.

I look at the stuff on my desk as I write. The only things on it that would be recognizable to someone visiting from 1921 would be my coffee mug and the small woven mat I use as a coaster, the box of tissues, the case with a pair of eyeglasses, the antique brass urn from India I use as a pen holder, maybe some of the pens (there may be a pencil or two in the holder as well) and a small, flat stone found in the Mississippi River. Everything else, from the computer, the monitor and the CDs to the headphones, the portable telephone and the two plastic pill bottles, would be strange, ranging from the disconcertingly odd to the utterly alien.

I recall a drive in 1975 or so. My folks and I had driven down to Lamberton and were taking my grandfather – my mom’s father – out for dinner for his birthday; the nearest nice restaurant was in the town of Sleepy Eye, about thirty miles away. As we drove along U.S. Highway 14, Grandpa and I looked out the window and saw a jet plane leaving a distant contrail just above the northern horizon. As we watched the airborne white line fade into the blue sky, Grandpa shook his head. “You know,” he said, “I drove away from my wedding in a horse-drawn buggy. And I saw men walk on the moon.”

My mom was born just six years after that horse-and-buggy wedding, and it’s astounding to think of the changes she’s seen – not all of them changes she’s approved of – as she’s lived into the cyber-age. (She doesn’t use a computer, though I occasionally show her something of interest on a computer either at my home or in the library at the assisted living center. She was fascinated by the fact that I could find pictures online of the small town in Germany from which her grandfather emigrated. I occasionally send emails for her to her distant cousins there, and she occasionally buys things on the ’Net with my help.)

And as I wrote this morning, I thought of one other way of putting into perspective how long ago 1921 was, a view that takes into account my own fascination with music history: In 1921, Robert Johnson was ten years old.

A Six-Pack of Futures

“The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” by Mickey Newbury from ’Frisco Mabel Joy, 1971

“Future” by the Panama Limited Jug Band from Indian Summer, 1970

“Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield from Back To The World, 1973

“Future Games” by Fleetwood Mac from Future Games, 1971

“Future Blues” by Canned Heat from Future Blues, 1970

“The Future” by Leonard Cohen from The Future, 1992

A few notes:

Mickey Newbury’s music has popped up here once before, as an epitaph for Dave Thomson of Blue Rose. Newbury is one of those artists whose work I always intend to share here but always forget about when doing my minimal planning. ’Frisco Mabel Joy is a forgotten gem – some call it country, others folk-rock and still others tag it as singer-songwriter. But it’s a great album, and “The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” is only a taste of it. I’ll try to remember to post the whole album very soon.

Speaking of forgotten, that wasn’t the case with the Panama Limited Jug Band, which supplied the second track here. I hadn’t forgotten the group because, honestly, I’d never heard of them until early this year, when Lisa Sinder at the blog, Ezhevika Fields, posted Indian Summer, the group’s fourth “and best,” Lisa says, album. The whole album is filled with trippy pieces, entirely in synch with the aesthetic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. If I had to categorize the album, I’d call it a poor man’s Jefferson Airplane: Interesting but not nearly as good as the original. “Future” is pretty representative of the album.

The Canned Heat track is an adaptation of a much older blues track, as was a lot of the group’s catalog. In this case, the original recording of “Future Blues” was done in 1930 by Willie Brown, the same Willie Brown whom Robert Johnson name-checked in “Cross Road Blues.” As was typical of their approach, Canned Heat’s members had the tune do some work in the weight room and then put it on speed before sending it out into the world in 1970.

Speaking of typical approaches, the future Leonard Cohen envisions will be one dark and unhappy place to live, at least according to the title song of his 1992 album, The Future. Musically, it’s a fascinating track – as is the entire CD – but lyrically, it’s a downer. Cohen’s songs have never been particularly cheerful, but what’s most fascinating to me about “The Future” is the matter-of-fact delivery that Cohen gives it, as if he’s saying, “Of course the future will be an obscene train-wreck. What else did you expect?”

Saturday Single No. 71

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 10, 2008

When I wrote a little while back about my college buddies and I hearing Sweathog’s “Hallelujah” as we drove back from the Twin Cities one night in late 1971, I got to thinking about nighttime driving and nighttime radio.

Then, “The Captain Of Her Heart” popped up on this week’s Baker’s Dozen, and I got to thinking even more about nighttime listening, as my comment that day indicated. And I realized that not only had I heard Double’s haunting song at least once in my apartment during the small hours, but I also heard it one early morning as I drove home from a party through quiet winter streets.

Music has always been for me – as it is for many folks, I am sure – a memory trigger. Many songs carry with them images of the places a younger – sometimes much younger – whiteray gathered with his friends and loved ones. The songs need not even be great: I grinned last evening when Reunion’s 1974 hit “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” popped up at random, my grin echoing the long-ago delight that I and the other people at The Table felt when we heard that novelty for the first time on the Atwood Center jukebox. And for an instant, I was back at The Table.

There is a different feeling, though, to the nighttime songs of travel, whether as driver or rider. The music plays and a brief moment of living is imprinted in one’s memories, but it’s a moment during which one can feel separate from the rest of the universe, safe in the cocoon of the vehicle.

None of these are massively important moments, but they all come back:

Someone brought a radio along when the St. Cloud Tech High School concert choir went on a road trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the early spring of 1970. And as the bus headed north, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” with its fuzzed-up guitar, provided a background for our chatter and laughter.

Danish radio – a government-run concern – didn’t play oldies often, especially not American oldies, so it was startling and memorable to hear the Toys’ 1965 hit, “A Lover’s Concerto,” while my lady of the moment and I rode in the backseat of a Volkswagen while out on a double date with a Danish couple in October 1973. As we made our way through the Danish countryside heading back to Fredericia, the song echoed hopes – vain hopes, as it turned out – that both of us had nurtured but that neither one of us had yet been brave enough to utter.

We jump ahead twenty years to the next moment that popped into my head as I pondered nighttime driving music. Sometime in 1993, while I made my way home to Minneapolis from Rob’s home in the northern suburbs, I heard the unmistakable voice of Levon Helm coming from the speaker. The Internet as we know it was non-existent, and I had no subscription to Rolling Stone at the time, so I’d been unaware that Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson had revived The Band. That happy news came to me via the group’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” as I drove the freeway home.

About a year later, another drive home from Rob’s brought me another moment. My life was in a darker place than it had been for a while, and I recall feeling quite glum and alone as I headed down the freeway toward Minneapolis. Then a burst of drums and bass, followed by sawing violins, broke through my gloomy haze. And I listened in amazement and delight to the surreal “Closing Time,” from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 album, The Future. It didn’t resolve any of my dilemmas, but it sure made the ride a lot more fun.

So here’s the first appearance of Leonard Cohen on this blog, with “Closing Time,” this week’s Saturday Single.

Leonard Cohen – “Closing Time” [1992]