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By Jeff Cochran:
stranger than fiction
Mr. Getgood moved up to Self-Made Man Row
Although he swears he’s the salt of the earth
He’s so proud of the “kick-me-hard” sign that they hung on his back at birth.
He said “I appreciate beauty, if I have one, then it’s my fault”
“Beauty is on my pillow, beauty is there in my vault.”
Now just who did Elvis Costello have in mind when he wrote and recorded “…This Town…” in 1988?
There’s a lot on Pete Townshend’s mind — and a lot to get off his chest. His opening guitar riffs to “The Seeker” make it instantly clear. The song, recorded by the Who in January of 1970, is both a plea for clarity and a pronouncement. Rarely has the search for meaning amidst dashed hopes sounded so triumphant.
“The Seeker” covers well-traveled ground. The back story is a familiar story. An individual accomplishes much. There’s the acclaim, the money, and people wanting to know what makes you tick. With an adoring press, Pete Townshend knew all about that…
songs we were singing
As John Lennon playfully noted in a song he wrote for Ringo Starr, the Beatles were “the greatest show on earth.” So true. And in the 45 years since the Beatles officially called it quits, appreciation of their songs has grown — across the generations. It isn’t hard to imagine a family reunion where the great-grandmother fondly remembers “Love Me Do” and “If I Fell” from her children’s Beatles albums while the great-grandson is listening to “Hey Bulldog” on his iPhone. Yes, it’s the act we’ve known for all these years…
how far we've come
So this teenager, Greg Wittkamper, saw himself in the lyrics of Bob Dylan. He was a victim of social injustice. He longed to see “the chimes of freedom flashing.” The chiming so long overdue for the “warrior whose strength was not to fight.” But justice would take its time in rolling like a mighty stream in Americus, Georgia, where Greg Wittkamper would keep on pushing — and keep putting his life on the line for what he knew was right…
rock, soul & blues
The surprising thing about Joe Cocker’s recent death might be that he made it to 70. The human body can be most resilient.
More than half his lifetime ago, the obit for Cocker was likely being held in readiness at newspapers and periodicals throughout Europe and America. The reportage, even in Rolling Stone, by 1972, gave readers the impression that Cocker was trashing his career while on the way to becoming rock’s next drug casualty. This was only three years after his triumphant appearance at Woodstock.
sights & sounds
It’s the second week of January 1999 and the McCartneys are visiting Atlanta. But not for a concert. On this trip, Heather McCartney is unveiling her line of houseware items at the America’s Mart, and Paul is there to guarantee his daughter ample media play. After helping to promote Heather’s rugs, cushions and other items arrayed with designs inspired by the Huichol and Tarahumara tribes of Mexico, Paul and his son, James, make a smooth exit to explore the side streets of Atlanta. According to Paul, James, then 21, wanted to “visit the funky side of town.” So into the car they climbed; it would be a short ride.
finley, dylan and the beatles
John Lennon and Charlie Finley arguing over money and how many songs the Beatles would play at a concert Finley was promoting? It was a moment worthy of what the great satirist, Edward Sorel, might have dreamed up for one of his great Atlantic Monthly illustrations. As John Lennon often said, “You had to be there.”
jeff on mccartney
Spring 1976. At Peaches Records and Tapes in Atlanta, there were three camps of employees possessing strong and separate opinions on Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work. One camp believed McCartney could do no wrong. All judgment was suspended even when listening to his first Wings album, Wild Life. That’s devotion for you. Opposite that camp was another, deeming McCartney a longtime wimp, always playing it safe, opting for the conventional. Apparently this camp never heard McCartney’s second album, Ram…
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
Words of advice, if not instruction, for the years and decades ahead, from Bob Dylan in “Forever Young,” a song he wrote in 1973 and recorded twice for the next year’s album, Planet Waves . The first version is slow and reverential, underscoring the serious nature of his father-to-son advise, while the second is uptempo and snappy, bringing enthusiasm to the same words on what awaits in life. Dylan, with energized backing from The Band, makes the directive, “May you grow up to be righteous” sound exhilarating.
Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
Or so Bob Dylan says in “Dignity,” a song he wrote in 1988 after learning of the death of basketball great Pete Maravich. Dylan has a point. Dignity isn’t an item or commodity that can be replicated and mass-produced. It’s a quality of fortitude and bearing, guiding one on how to respond whether the news is good or bad. The one possessed with dignity feels for others and thinks carefully on the consequences of his actions. Sometimes a dignified action doesn’t pay off materially. It can also be misunderstood.
times are a-changin'
Bob Dylan and The Band kicked off the show like a basketball team on a fast-break. Opening their concert at the Omni with “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” Dylan was, in a sense, establishing his game plan for that evening in Atlanta, just as he had in other cities on his heralded comeback tour. Dylan and The Band had the ball in their court, so to speak.
Times Are Changin’… Give a little thought to this conjured scenario. Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin are both private, reclusive types who have managed to share many of their thoughts, visions and talents with the world. Such endeavors require the proper introspection. Therefore a logical spot to take in and digress on the world is the window booth at Manuel’s Tavern, located at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia.
Such was life in Atlanta during the run-up to the ’96 Summer Olympics. The Centennial Olympic Games would, so thought entrepreneurs, promoters and cheats, provide hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to make money. And there seemed to be tens of thousands who thought they’d make the money. It was a sad sight. John Prine’s song of hucksters came to mind often, as did, quite a few times, the Bob Dylan line from “Tombstone Blues”: Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”
late ’63 – early ’64
Christmas 1963. My brother David and I received another swell present from our Great Uncle and Aunt, Randolph and Mary Lois Cochran. I was only nine, older than David by two years, but it was time, Randolph and Mary Lois decided, that our gift indicated they knew we were growing and curious about the world. The gift was a small electric radio that would sit atop a chest of drawers, one much like our parents had. So, yes, the gift made us feel grown-up.
summer '96 edition
“Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!” And there Bob Dylan was: in the soft drink’s birthplace, Atlanta, Georgia. It was August 3, 1996. 110 years before, Coca-Cola was first served at the soda fountain of Jacobs Pharmacy at Five Points, in the heart of Atlanta’s downtown. But that was old history; Atlanta was intent on making new history — and being fast about it. The city was hosting the Centennial Olympic Games, and not receiving good reviews for its grace or efficiency. At the moment, Atlanta was trying to shake off the bad notices.
1974. It was a rich year for Atlanta’s cultural scene and its place in the national spotlight. In January, the same month Bob Dylan played two nights at the Omni, Maynard Jackson was sworn in as the city’s mayor. Jackson, a singular and formidable politician, was the first black man elected to the top office of Georgia’s capital city. On April 8, another black man, Hank Aaron, the left fielder for the Atlanta Braves, took a swing off an Al Downing slider and put it over the left field fence of Atlanta Stadium, and in doing so became Baseball’s All-Time Home Run Champion.
when the times changed
“If you ever get the chance to go to Dallas, take it from me, pass it by,” so sang Jimmy Buffett. “People do you wrong down in Dallas,” the song pointed out. “Dallas,” written by Roger Bartlett in 1974, had nothing to do with the pain we associate with “Big D.” Yet the tragedy and heartache still comes to mind whenever the song is played — at least ’round here.
walk on the wild side
Reading The Soundtrack of My Life, the second memoir by record label executive Clive Davis, brings to life a period when Davis was in at least his second chapter as music mogul. It was the mid-70s, when Davis emerged from the messiness of being canned as President of Columbia Records. There were allegations of Davis using company funds of up to $94,000.00 to feather his own nest while covering such expenses as his son’s bar mitzvah.
My wife, the first grade teacher, loves to see the kids and dogs scamper across the yards. There is something to their exuberance; a sense of freedom the kids will fondly remember. “Release your inner dog,” says Gena. So our mutual interest in Bob Dylan and her efforts to spark the joy of reading to her students inspires us to accept a weekend homework assignment. We listen to Dylan’s “If Dogs Run Free,” recorded in 1970 and included on his New Morning album, released in October of that year.
beatles by the book
By the end of 1963, new sounds of elation — beyond what was generally heard in popular music — made their way across the Atlantic and resounded across America in the new year. Americans made way for the Beatles. The several years leading to the grand emergence of ’64, and the lives of the people behind the vibrant new sounds are chronicled in Larry Kane’s fine new book, When They Were Boys. It’s an insightful and revealing study of the act we’ve known for all these years.
stone poneys no more
Linda Ronstadt recently shared the sad news that she has Parkinson’s disease and can no longer sing. The syndrome cheats her and her audience from taking in more of her musical offerings, when many listeners, even those who long ago stashed her albums in forgotten corners, are thinking anew of her vivid and vibrant artistry.
the best days
May 30, 1973: Supposedly the most important day of the year for the graduating class at Forest Park Senior High. Get that diploma. Get on with life and the world will be your oyster. A magical day. Still, to scores of students at FPSH, along with thousands of young people throughout the Atlanta area, the most important day that year was May 4. The day Led Zeppelin played Atlanta Stadium.
a more peaceful neighborhood
A recent conversation with Bruce Hampton, a pretty good picker himself, touched on Atlanta’s best-ever guitar players. In the back and forth, there was speculation on how much Joe South had listened to Blind Willie McTell’s recordings. Within ten minutes, I played McTell’s “Kill It Kid” and South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” on the stereo. “How did South do that? How did he think of that?”
leaving home bye bye
The girl just wanted to have fun. Doing whatever her parents said didn’t cut it anymore. She loves the folks but it’s time to go. To leave home. It’s just before dawn, literally and figuratively. Who knows what awaits, but youthful perspective, always alluring, promises freedom and fun. She’d jump right into the adult life where freedom and fun go hand in hand. That was her belief, as she wrote her parents “the note that she hoped would say more.”
Jeff Being Jeff
Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” comes to mind when reading The New Mind of the South, the recently published book by journalist Tracy Thompson. The New Mind of the South,an engaging and edifying work, illustrates that for all the changes the South has experienced in the last 50-60 years, old ways and long-held beliefs still die hard. Much of the book’s content could be discussed at the Dew Drop Inn, the shelter Zevon created for fellowship and lubrication.
Whatever Circumstances Require
Haughty. Living the good life. Spiteful. Unwilling to compromise. She’ll move on up, not caring about who she steps on, making her way to the top. After all, she’s not coming down, or so she thinks.
Bob Dylan casts judgement at someone who has fallen — quite badly — in “Like A Rolling Stone.” It’s one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever, one that contains an equally great story. The figure in “Like A Rolling Stone” has committed a lifetime of sins and slights in what must’ve been a short span of time. Dylan’s figure is hardly sympathetic…
Make Friends Alabama
In his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young looks back at an abundant and fascinating life. There’s a lot of water under his bridge, but he acknowledges there are still matters worth revisiting or at least looking at differently. For one, he confesses to a revisionist view of his ’72 recording, “Alabama.”
Young writes: “My own song, “Alabama,” richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”
Another March 3rd comes around. My grandfather’s birthday. He would be 107 today, but sadly, he missed that mark by 33 years. It would’ve been fun to have him around awhile longer just to see what he thought about these days and times. Things have changed since 1906.
Things had changed enough, as far as he was concerned, by 1964. One of the two grandsons that he and his wife loved and indulged was quite taken with the 4 boys from Liverpool, England: those noisemakers known as the Beatles. My brother, David, liked the Beatles as well, but not to the extent I did. David hardly needed to latch on to such interests…
The “fifth wheel” sat in the back as the loving couple up front sang along to the hits on the pop radio station. The nadir was reached when Chicago’s then-current hit, “Just You and Me” came on. “You are the love of my life,” Randy crooned. Brandi responded, “You are my inspiration.” It’s a Sunday night somewhere in the suburbs just south of Atlanta; early autumn ’73. If bus service was available close by, then jumping out of the car was a viable option.
It’s 1956, and finally, Doc Pomus sees some real money coming in. Ray Charles’ recording of Doc’s song, “Lonely Avenue” climbs to number six on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart. “Lonely Avenue” doesn’t put Doc on Easy Street, but it brought him recognition, especially from those who’d record the songs he’d write in the days ahead.
Down another avenue, this one just east of Downtown Atlanta, was Ray Charles performing at the Royal Peacock. That famous club on Auburn Avenue, Black America’s Wall Street, open since 1948, was an oasis for Black Atlantans in a state run by vile segregationists.
After the Cheering Stops
Warren Zevon thought of Patrick Roy, the goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche, as the man.
“He’s the finest athlete in sports now,” he told his friend, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, “I worship him.”
The worship services, or rather, game one of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils would soon commence. Zevon and the good Doctor settled in to watch Patrick Roy at work. It turned out to be one of Roy’s best days on the job.
In this corner, a deity billions have prayed to. The one recognized throughout the world as Lord of all, whose followers pack His houses of worship every week. His book, printed and distributed by countless publishers since Gutenberg, remains a bestseller… While in this corner, we present Darryl Rhoades, a man some have prayed for. The man who nearly packed the Variety Playhouse in September 2009. Written up in a ’77 Rolling Stone article. And for the longest time, he was this close to a major record deal… Sounds like a mismatch.
He Shines On
It’s not the best song of the year – not even the best song on Tempest, the Bob Dylan album it concludes. But “Roll on John” has staying power, similar to the spirit of its subject, John Lennon. Dylan pays tribute to the great man, taken from us in 1980, now gone twice as long as he and Lennon were friends. Some losses you never get over.
“Roll on John” has a sweet but stoic melody. It chimes and it despairs. So the music lingers as it gives way to the words: the tribute now at hand.
One of the best lines in Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” is “People are crazy and times are strange.” The words can be a way of declaring the world around us has gone wrong and harder times are ahead. They can also suggest a reason for one’s sloughing off what’s expected and moving on. As Dylan wrote in a very famous song in the mid-sixties, “I just can’t fit.” Moving on is a viable option.
No family does Christmas better than the Nelsons. That is, Willie Nelson and his sister, Bobbie.
Always in the rotation at the closest CD player is Willie Nelson’s Hill Country Christmas album. It’s a simple down-home collaboration from Willie and Bobbie Nelson, as inspiring as anything Handel could work up. There are no silly takes on the season that pop up repeatedly on the airwaves each year. No overblown production. No Celine Dion-type histrionics. As Handel would say, Hallelujah for that.