Posts Tagged ‘Sting’

On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

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Here & There In Blogword

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 4, 2008

A couple of things to note at blogs in the link list:

At the marvelous blog The “B” Side, Red Kelly continues the remarkable story of the discovery of Lattimore Brown, one of the great but less-heralded R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s. When you head over to The B Side, make sure you delve back into the beginning of the story, around June 30. That’s when Red told us how Jason Stone, operator of the equally terrific blog Stepfather of Soul, got a note from a nurse at a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, telling him that she’d Googled his blog because one of her older patients claimed to be a singer and she was trying to find out who he might be. Turned out he was Lattimore Brown, who was assumed by many to have died sometime during the 1980s. Jason consulted with Red, and Red tells the story from there, a tale that wanders through the world of Southern Soul with some fascinating and startling stops along the way.

It’s everything a music blogger could want: A great story told exceedingly well with marvelous music at its center.

There are a few blogs relatively new to the link list:

Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas tells the tales of two listeners rediscovering vinyl. From the construction of the ultimate sandwich to tales of playing pinball with an Eighties’ icon, the writer at BAIFP seems to find what I have found: While not everything must connect with music, everything can so connect, if one chooses to view and hear the world that way.

Paco Malo, operator of Gold Coast Bluenote, may be a familiar name to readers here, as he’s left several notes to me and to readers in recent months. His own efforts at Gold Coast Bluenote wander between music, film and other outposts of modern pop culture and provide, as good blog posts do, rich grist for the mental mill.

Another blogger who finds multiple connections between music and life is Fusion 45 at the similarly named blog, Fusion45. From a high school crush that to this day brings him a connection to Stevie Nicks to memories of the days in 1973 when folks wandered through his home town of Elmira, New York, en route to Watkins Glen, Fusion 45 brings together memories and music, assessing both lovingly but unsentimentally.

I have a couple of albums in mind for sharing this week, but I didn’t find enough time over the weekend to listen to them as closely as I would like. One of the two will show up later in the week, but for today, well, we haven’t wandered through the junkyard for a while.

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard, 1950-99
“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

“Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do” by Johnny Bristol from Hang On In There Baby, 1974

“You Did Cut Me” by China Crisis from Flaunt the Imperfection, 1985

“Saved” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2099, 1961

“Morning Will Come” by Spirit from The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, 1970

“Nights Are Lonely” by Emitt Rhodes from Farewell to Paradise, 1973

“Want” by Country Funk from Country Funk, 1970

“Hercules” by Elton John from Honky Chateau, 1972

“Confidence Man” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988

“Centerfield” by John Fogerty, Warner Bros. single 29053, 1985

“Picture Book” by the Kinks from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968

“Fields of Gold” by Sting from Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1995

“When Jesus Left Birmingham” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992

“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” by Country Joe & The Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

A few notes:

I chuckled when “Same Old Lang Syne” popped up. Just last evening, I’d left a note about the song at one of the blogs mentioned above, noting that there is a twinge in my soul whenever I heard the song. I added that I don’t connect with the song any specific individual from my past, so I can only assume that the presence of that twinge means that Dan Fogelberg did his job as writer and performer very well.

After the Johnny Bristol and China Crisis tracks followed Dan Fogelberg, I braced myself for a downer set. The Bristol track is a generally good slice of mid-Seventies soul, although it’s not as good as the title track from the album, which brought Bristol his only hit. China Crisis’ smooth and melancholy “You Did Cut Me” put me in mind of some of Roxy Music’s work ten years earlier.

“Saved” is LaVern Baker’s musical testimony, with a gospel chorus and a big bass drum underlining her tale of how she used to do all that bad stuff but don’t do it no more. Then the saxophone takes a solo, and oh, it sounds sinful and fun. After that, she can sing it all she wants, but the record sounds more sensual than sanctified.

I always thought that when I finally found a good copy of The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, I’d be so pleased. Well, I wasn’t blown away. My take is that even in 1970, when the listening public was likely a little less discerning than it might be today, it was tough to put together an album that would last. Doing the same thing with a concept album was even tougher.

I recall seeing LPs by Emitt Rhodes in the cutout bins during the mid- to late Seventies. I guess he was supposed by some record company executive to be the next big thing. He wasn’t, although his stuff is listenable if ultimately interchangeable with the work of hundreds of others.

Country Funk isn’t all that countryish or funky, although it makes a better run at the former than the latter, with a sound not that far removed from Buffalo Springfield, at least on “Want.” The track would have been better served had it ended at the 3:00 mark. The disjointed mess that follows might have been funny in 1970, but it just seems self-indulgent now.

The Kinks’ track is far more familiar these days as the background to a camera commercial than as a track from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The album is worth checking out, although the Kinks’ very British sensibilities have always been a little difficult for this non-Brit to grasp.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 16, 2008

I watched most of the (very long) baseball All-Star Game last night. The most affecting portion of the broadcast, to me, was the introduction of the starters, with each starter joining members of the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for them at their positions. As the game was in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee Hall of Fame members were introduced last at each position, and the final Hall of Fame member to be introduced was Yogi Berra. That made sense to me. Berra is most likely the greatest living Yankee.

(Joe DiMaggio, who died in 1999, insisted to his last day on being introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer” because he was given that title during a celebration of professional baseball’s centennial in 1969. If one wanted to extend the title to a new claimant, I would imagine that “the greatest living ballplayer” now would be Willie Mays, although one could argue without looking silly for Stan Musial.)

Anyway, as I watched the introductions and then most of the rest of the game – staying up way after midnight to see the American League win – I thought about the two times the All-Star Game took place in Minnesota, in 1965 and in 1985. I was eleven when the 1965 game was played at Metropolitan Stadium, and I paid no attention. I paid little attention to baseball at all in those years, preferring to read and to listen to my James Bond soundtracks.

In 1985, I might have watched some of the game, which took place in the relatively new Metrodome, but I wasn’t all that interested. I was back in Minnesota after finishing my graduate coursework at the University of Missouri. I had a thesis to write, and I poked at that unenthusiastically. I wrote about the Wright County board for a pool of eight newspapers. I played a lot of tabletop baseball. And I kept house and listened to the radio a lot. For many reasons, it was not a happy time.

But I do recall a fair amount of the music that pops up when I run a random selection for 1985:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2
“My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Los Angeles Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Children’s Crusade” by Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles

“Turn Me Round” by A Drop In The Gray from Certain Sculptures

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, Mercury single 880659

“This Is The Sea” by the Waterboys from This Is The Sea

“The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade, Portrait single 05713

“Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)” by Prefab Sprout from Steve McQueen

“Just For You” by Quarterflash from Back Into Blue

“The Moon Is Full” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“Indoctrination (A Design For Living)” by Dead Can Dance from Spleen and Ideal

“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights, CBS single 7073 (Canada)

“One Dream” by the Dream Academy from The Dream Academy

“Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” by Simply Red, Elektra single 69528

A few comments:

The Springsteen selection is, of course, from the massive (five LPs) box set of live performances that was released in 1986. Considering his accomplishments, I get the sense that Springsteen is a relatively humble man, but Live/1975-85 came across almost like bragging. On the other hand, as All-Music Guide notes, the “box set, including 40 tracks and running over three and a half hours, was about the average length of a [Springsteen] show.”

Certain Sculptures is the only album ever released by A Drop In The Gray, and it’s a pretty good one. I didn’t know about the group twenty-three years ago. In fact, I was only recently introduced to the group at The Vinyl District, one of my regular stops on the blog-reading circuit. I liked what I heard in TVD’s recent post, so I went and got some more from Certain Sculptures. A 1985 review from Trouser Press quoted at the blog notes that A Drop In The Gray had a sound “approximating an updated Moody Blues.”

There are, every year, records that almost no one can avoid hearing. In 1985, two of those were “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” Unless one lived in a remote corner of the universe, it seems, and watched only C-SPAN, you heard them somewhere, and you heard them frequently enough for those hooks to set in permanently. In fact, when someone says “1985” to me in the context of music, the Tears For Fears” record is one of several that come immediately to mind. (The others are “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “We Are The World.” I could get along for a long time without hearing that latter song again.)

On the other hand, I could always stand to hear more by the Waterboys. This Is The Sea is one of the great albums of the Eighties: Literate, melancholy, ambitious and maybe just a hair pretentious, but if the group’s ambition – maybe more accurately, leader Mike Scott’s ambition – exceeded its abilities, it wasn’t by much. And in general, I’d rather listen to something ambitious than something routine.

Speaking of “We Are The World,” the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was the Canadian effort on the album USA for Africa: We Are the World. “Tears” was written by Bryan Adams, David Foster, Rachel Paiement and Jim Vallance and was recorded by a large contingent of north-of-the-border musicians who called themselves Northern Lights for the exercise. Music by committee rarely turns out well, no matter how noble the cause, making “Tears Are Not Enough” a period piece at best, albeit one that’s not nearly as familiar as its U.S.-based cousin.