Ain’t no sunshine when (he’s) gone

Bill Withers died a few days ago at the age of 81. If you don’t know who Withers is, you may know one or two of his songs. The one that is getting the most attention, and should is “Lean on me.” More on that later. The one that also should get attention is the soulful song of loss called “Ain’t no sunshine.”

The next lyric is “when she’s gone,” but we can use this title to remember Withers with the replacement word “he’s.” This song has been used in at least one movie to share the sense of loss. I also liked that Booker T. Jones produced it and Donald “Duck” Dunn played bass with Stephen Stills on guitar.* Here is the first stanza.

Ain’t no sunshine

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long anytime she goes away.”

“Lean on me” deserves attention. It keeps coming back in new strains and served as the title song to a movie in the late 1980s. In my view, given its words and simple heartfelt melody and delivery, it is one of the finest pop songs every written. It is not a surprise that it is an anthem for healthcare workers today. Here is the first stanza and chorus.

Lean on me

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.”

A song that is a little out of character with the first two is “Use me up.” In short, he knows he is being used by a girlfriend, but he is enjoying his time too much to change her poor behavior toward him. Here is the first stanza.

Use me up

“My friends feel it’s their appointed duty
They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me
But my answer yeah to all that use me stuff
Is I want to spread the news that if it feels this good getting used
Oh you just keep on using me until you use me up
Until you use me up.”

The final song I want to highlight was released as duet with Grover Washington, Jr. about ten years later. It is called “Just the two of us.” Here is the chorus.

Just the two of us

“Just the two of us
We can make it if we try
Just the two of us
Just the two of us
Building castles in the sky
Just the two of us
You and I.”

If you only remembered the first two songs, that would still paint Withers in a good light. He had voice that resonated. His songs also had a good pacing, so that the words could shine through. He will be missed.

* Note: Booker T and the MGs were the studio band on many Memphis R&B recordings. Donald “Duck” Dunn was a member. Think the band behind John Belushi and Dan Akyroid in “The Blues Brothers.” Stephen Stills, of course, was with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Buffalo Springfield.

Note: Here is a link to Jill’s post on Bill Withers which includes some song links.

♫ Bill Withers — A Tribute ♫

Trumbo – a great movie about a dark time in America

Earlier in the week, I was watching the excellent movie called “Trumbo” about the black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston and an excellent cast such as Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning and John Goodman to name a few. I missed it the first time around in 2015 when it was released.

The movie was written by John McNamara and Bruce Cook, on whose book the movie is based. It was directed by Jay Roach. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted early on for alleged communist activities. He spent time in jail for being in Contempt of Congress for refusing to name names. Trumbo would go on to ghost write two Oscar winning screenplays for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.” He would perpetuate an underground screenwriting group and eventually, Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger, would let him sign his name to the movies in 1960 with “Spartacus” and “Exodus.”

I was reminded of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in 1947 and was in exisentence until 1975, that started these investigations leading to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt efforts. It should be noted that 1975 is the year following Richard Nixon’s resignation. Nixon was a key ally of Sen. McCarthy. It should be noted Nixon kept an enemies list due to his paraonoia. Nixon did some good things, but he turned out to be a crook.

What is interesting is McCarthy’s attorney through this dark period was Roy Cohn. Cohn later became a mentor to a young real estate developer in New York named Donald J. Trump. Trump’s biographers wrote that Cohn told Trump to never apologize and sue everyone. Trump has followed these mandates for his entire career.

Bringing this full circle. Trump is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including Nixon. But, both me were influenced by Sen. McCarthy who led this dark period in American history who made up things to support his claims. It should be noted that both Nixon and Trump blame the press for not sufficiently kowtowing to them. As the Sec. of the Army asked famously of McCarthy, “have you no sense of decency, sir?” The same could be asked of the current US president.

So, we must protect America against those who wave the flag and tell people it does not stand for the things that it does.

Saturday songs for reflection

In an effort to offer a diversion, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at songs written about Saturday. Here are five that offer a little variety.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
This song is more rock and roll than other Elton/ Taupin songs giving a nice change of pace.

Here is the chorus:
“Oh, don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Oh, Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh”

Saturday In The Park by Robert Lamm performed by Chicago
This is my favorite song about Saturday. Lamm captures the fun day at the park attitude. Here are the first two stanzas:

“Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday”

Saturday Night by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter performed by Bay City Rollers
This is a fun song, but my least favorite on this short list. I do remember the song punctuating “The Midnight Special” hosted by Wolfman Jack. Here are the first two stanzas:

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Gonna keep on dancing
To the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin’ to the rhythm
In our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night.”

Another Saturday Night by Sam Cooke
A close second to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” is Sam Cooke’s classic. It has been covered by Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett and others, but Cooke’s version is like velvet. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Another Saturday night
And I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way
Let me tell you ’bout it, lookie here
I got in town a month ago
I seen a lotta girls since then
If I could meet ’em I could get ’em
But as yet I haven’t met ’em
That’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.”

Come Saturday Morning by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn performed by The Sandpipers
This is a nice little tune released in 1970. The Sandpipers give a harmonized 60’s feel to it, but it has been covered by Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli to name a few. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend

We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday’s gone.”

Let me know what you think. Did I miss one of your favorites? I toyed with adding Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which starts out “It is a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, as the regular crowd shuffles in.” But, with Saturday not in the title, I left it out, except for this honorable mention.

Did I tell you about the time…?

We all need some outlets from the news of the day, the Coronavirus. Words like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” are in many discussions. So, with a Thank-God-its-Friday sense of purpose, here are few things I want to share.

Did I tell you about the time…

– I called the Senator’s office and shared my concern with the staff member and learned I was speaking with the wrong Senator’s office? Oops.

– I said to a small gathering in front of our Health and Wellness coordinator, that we need to do these Mobile Mammogram screenings for our employees to honor “Breast Awareness Month” in October. She corrected me saying that would be “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Oops.

– I watched a colleague walk into the wrong gender bathroom by mistake at a client’s manufacturing plant only to see a line of three women looking puzzled as he walked out? He said he thought it was pretty progressive move to have a tampon machine in a unisex bathroom (this was 1985). Oops.

– I listened to a colleague recounting small talk with a female prospective client who had picture of Don Knotts in his Barney Fife deputy uniform in her office; after multiple probing questions he learned that she just had a crush on Barney Fife? Oh my. Don’t tell Thelma Lou.

– I watched a colleague try to take a charge from an opponent during a league game for our company basketball team; he did not want to get hurt, so he started falling before he was hit and slowly fell to his backside chuckling all the way down? Ouch.

– I almost fell on my backside at our wedding when we were lighting the unity candle and stepped wrong off a step, catching myself without too much notice? Almost oops.

– I did fall on my backside at a community play, when we returned to our seats after intermission, and my folding chair back leg was off the two-feet high choral riser; as I sipped my wine, my first thought was my date was going forward, but it was me falling slowly backwards to a loud crash? Ouch, indeed. My ego was more bruised than my tail bone.

– I was working with my son last week to pull up some stumps from trees that we had cut up after they fell; as we pulled the stump as I squatted using my weight, the stump freed itself and landed me on my backside. Oops.

We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and these events. My bride is still my wife. The date went out with me again. The Health and Wellness coordinator and I still laugh about the story. I reminded the faux charge basketball player of the story when we met up again after twenty years to laughter. The Senator staff member and I had a good chuckle and I am sure she shared the story. And, my son, my wife and I laughed about my stump removal techniques.

Have a great weekend. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Especially when you fall on your backside.

Kenny lamented over Ruby and Lucille

The iconic singer Kenny Rogers passed away last week. Rogers had a brief career as a jazz musician, but is more famously known as a rock and roll, then country singer.

As I was thinking about his career, I focused on two powerful songs about imperfect men, who lament over their wives’ infidelity. The point is not to challenge why these women have done what they did. Rogers captures the anguish of these men.

The first is called “Ruby” and was released in 1969 as part of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The second is the country song “Lucille,” released in 1977. Here are the initial lyrics to each.

“You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadow on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town
It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company
It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age, really, I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

“In a bar in Toledo across from the depot
On a barstool, she took off her ring
I thought I’d get closer so I walked on over
I sat down and asked her name
When the drinks finally hit her she said ‘I’m no quitter
But I finally quit livin’ on dreams
I’m hungry for laughter and here ever after
I’m after whatever the other life brings’
In the mirror, I saw him and I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face
The big hands were calloused, he looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shaking, his big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said
‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.”

I found these songs powerful for the anguish portrayed by a disabled Vietnam veteran who cannot satisfy his sexually starved wife, as well as the farmer who toils so hard, not realizing his wife has had enough of such a hard life.

Anguish is a heartfelt emotion. I am certain the women were anguished as well leading them to their choices. But, to me Rogers wanted to portray the anguish of these imperfect men. And, perhaps the anguish of the situations.

Great song lines from R&B

Rhythm and Blues (or R&B) has made a huge contribution to our musical richness, here in America and around the world. The sounds came out of Motown in Detroit, Staxx Records out of Memphis and Chess Records out of Chicago. The music was different, even though all classified as R&B.

The Motown sound had rhythm up front right out of the gate. Memphis was more soulful, driven by very evocative singers and a tremendous house band that would even release later instrumentals (think the band behind the Blues Brothers). Chess had bona fide stars like Etta James and Muddy Waters that led the way.

They built off of great jazz and blues out of places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and New York, to name only a few. It should not be lost that The Rolling Stones recorded a terrific album in Memphis and knew the folks at Chess.

What is discounted is the terrific song lyrics. These songs are remembered for more than terrific music. Some lyrics were merely catchy, but many had a resonance that left a indeliable foot print. The following are all from memory, so it is very likely I misstated a few.

“You make me feel brand new,” sang The Stylistics.
“When a man loves a woman…can’t keep his mind on nothing else,” sang Percy Sledge.
“Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home. And, when he died, all he left us was alone,” sang The Temptations.
“Neither one of us…neither one of us…wants to be the first to say goodbye,” sang Gladys Knight and the Pips.
“At last….,” sang Etta James, which lingers in the air.
“Baby, baby…where did I love go?” sang Diana Ross and The Supremes.
“War…what is it good for? Absolutely, nothing. Say it again,” sang Edwin Starr.
“Mother, mother…why are so many of you dying?” sang Marvin Gaye.
“Sugarpie, honeybunch. You know that I love you. I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else,” sang The Four Tops.
“Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. Sitting on the dock of the bay… wasting time,” sang Otis Redding.
“Don’t be fooled by my glad expression, if it’s giving you the wrong impression,” sang Smokey Robinson.
“I heard it through the grapevine, that no longer would you be mine,” sang Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye in separate versions of the same song.

These songs are like little time capsules. Please add to the list with some of your favorites. I just stuck my toe in the water above. I would love to hear from you.

The Best of Enemies

Yesterday, my wife and I watched a movie released last year called “The Best of Enemies.” It stars Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell in true story about the debate over integrating schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an outspoken (self-described) African-American community organizer, while Rockwell stars as C.P. Ellis, the Durham chapter president of the KKK. They are asked to chair a two-week group meeting called a charrette to flesh out possible resolutions to the African-American school being partially destroyed by fire with lingering toxic fumes.

The movie is excellent and reveals the tensions, scheming, learning and fighting that went on. It also permits a deeper dive into the lives of the people in the middle of this fight. Realizing the similarity of all of us, empathy begins to emerge.

I will try not to spoil the movie. It is based on the best selling book “The Best of Enemies: Race and redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson. The film was written and directed by Robin Bissell, with co-writing credits to Davidson. It also stars Babou Ceesay as Bill Riddick, a mediator who plays a huge role in bringing the people together. Key roles are played by Ann Heche, the wife of Ellis, Bruce McGill, a closet supporter of the KKK as a councilman, and John Gallagher, Jr., a former Vietnam veteran who plays a pivotal role.

The movie did not receive rave reviews, but that may be due to its closeness to reality painting obvious bias and hatred into the plot. It is inspiring, troubling, and believable. I was in the middle of the integration of schools and remember it well. My schools integrated in 1971 and, to be frank, it went off reasonably well. It did not do so well in other communities or may be other schools. Yet, I think this relates to the leaders behind the effort in each community and school.

Let me know what you think. Give it a look. Rockwell and Henson are terrific actors and bring their passion to each project. Rockwell, in particular, plays complicated characters quite well. Also, do you remember integration efforts in the early 1970s?