Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.

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Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

Memorable concert moments

My wife and I have enjoyed many concerts throughtout our almost 35 years together as a couple. I wrote recently about our joy in seeing Joan Osborne in a small venue. Here are a few more memorable moments.

– Tina Turner is high up on a short list of performers. Before ending one of her famous songs, she asked the men in the audience to sing the chorus. She chided, “You’ve been saying this most of your lives.” The song was “What’s love got to do with it?”

– Billy Joel has so many hits, on three occasions during his performsnce, he asked the audience to vote on one of two songs to sing.

– Elvis Costello had this huge spinning wheel on the stage which had his song titles listed. He would ask someone from the audience to spin the wheel to pick the next song.

– Eric Clapton was joined on tour by Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. Now, that was a treat.

– Bob Seger is one of my favorites. Near the end of his great show, he introduced the band. Don Brewer, the drummer, was a foundjng member of Grand Funk Railroad, a great 1960-70s band.

– Sarah Brightman, the London theatre actress who was once marriied to Andrew Lloyd Webber, can flat out sing. Her version of “The Theme to Titanic” was sung in French. Bravo.

– Elton John has a multi-generational following. It was so cool to see grandmothers, mothers and daughters sing each song word for word.

– Paul McCartney is a treat, anytime, anywhere. From The Beatles to Wings to his solo career, he has a significant body of work. The stories behind some songs were an added treat.

– Heart puts on an amazing concert. Ann Wilson was introduced by her sister Nancy as having one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll voices. No argument here.

– Tony Bennett and kd lang toured together after the cut an album. Her admiration for him was obvious. She offerred a humorous story about a hit song of hers “Constant Craving.” An uninformed fan had referred to it as “Instant Gravy,” which tickled her.

– Two concerts where I took my boys stand out, as Mom did not want to go. ACDC was terrific as we sat above left of the band. Also, Rush was outstanding as three musicians could produce so much sound.

And, there are so many more – Tom Petty, James Taylor. Chicago, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Don McLean, etc. But, let me end on a personal note.

We attended an outdoor concert of Jimmy Buffett’s. My brother-in-law went with us and was feeling no pain. Someone from behind was shouting for Buffett to sing “God’s own drunk,” then I realized everyone was looking at us – it was my brother-in-law standing on the bleachers shouting.

Well, that is enough for now. What are some of your favorites? Any amusing memories?

I remember when

As I dressed for a long walk this morning, I was reminded of an old dressing habit. This prompted a reflective post (you can hum Nat King Cole’s “I remember you” as you read with me):

I remember when we used to cut the tops off athletic socks to make footies, as they did not make those when I was growing up, at least for boys and men.

I remember when phones were dialed and not keyed; if you did not complete the dial, the phone might call the wrong number.

I remember when there were three serious US news anchors whose words were gospel; Nixon once said when he lost Walter Cronkite, he lost the country.

I remember a time when we lived in blissful ignorance that all priests, pastors and evangelists were above board and not participating in criminal behavior.

I remember when both parties cared that the US President was exactly what he said he was not; Nixon said “I am not a crook,” but that was a lie.

I remember when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assasinated, but was too young to remember JFK’s,

I remember the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s words of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sadly, I remember the Challenger blowing up with citizen astronauts aboard. It showed how difficult it is to leave and return to our planet.

I remember when the US celebrated its bicentennial and when we prepared for computers programmed in Cobol to recognize the new millennium.

On this last comment, my wife and I hosted a New Millennium Eve party. We got so interested in shooting fireworks with the kids, we forgot to put the lamb in the oven. That was the only time we cooked lamb, and almost did not then. We were eating at midnight when the year 2000 rolled in.

I hope I spawned some memories. Please share a few of yours. I remember when…

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door – Osborne’s tribute to Dylan

Joan Osborne is an under-appreciated singer, songwriter, who is best known for her song “If God was one of us.” Bob Dylan, of course, is a Nobel Laureate who can also write compelling music to go with his beautifully scripted words.

My wife and I traveled to Atlanta to see Osborne sing a host of Dylan’s songs in tribute. She also has produced a CD of such songs. Osborne has a sensual and sensuous style in her singing that adds seasoning to Dylan’s music. She also hand-picked songs that resonated with her, selecting some deeper cuts, a few of which we did not know.

Here are some of the highlights:

“Buckets of Rain” – She said Dylan wrote several love songs that do not get acclaim. ¬† We were unfamiliar with this one, but it is a ¬†treat live and as a recording,

“Tangled up in Blue” – This is my favorite Dylan song and she did more than justice to it. Her pacing and style revealed the saga portrayed by Dylan’s words.

“Highway 61 Revisited” – This is a great song, but an even better one live. She makes it more human, beginning with the example of Abraham.

“Quinn the Eskimo” – Many people do not know Dylan wrote this classic. She opened her show with this one, so we, had to think for a second.

“Tryin’ to get to Heaven” – This was my favorite version of a Dylan song. She accentuated with a strategic pause each time “before they close the door.”

“Gotta Serve Somebody” – She excelled on this classic Dylan song. It was much more sensual and bluesy than Dylan could offer with his singing.

“Masters of War” – This was another Dylan song which was unfamiliar to us, but it is classic Dylan in protest chastising those who say you can win a war without costs.

“Don’t think twice, it’s alright” – When I think of this one, I think of Peter, Paul and Mary paying homage to Dylan. She covered it well.

She did not sing these songs during the concert, but she includes them in her CD. “Dark Eyes”
“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”
“Rainy Day Women”

She probably dropped them as she sang a couple of songs she has yet to release. If you do not know Osborne, download or purchase her CDs. “Relish” is her second CD which won a Grammy. Our favorite is “Righteous Love,” which we saw her perform on Austin City Limits. Or, just buy her “Songs of Bob Dylan” CD.

Since it was a small venue, we got a chance to speak with her afterwards. She is very gracious and down-to-earth. And, definitely worth the listening.

 

What is that song again?

“You’ve gotta lot of nerve” sings Bob Dylan over and over again in one of the greatest put down songs ever written. But, that is not the name of the song, it is “Positively 4th Street.” Simon and Garfunkel sang of “feelin’ groovy,” but the name of the song is not that repetitive lyric, it is “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”

And, one of my favorite songs written by Kenny Loggins speaks to “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey” in its chorus. But, the name of the song is “Danny’s Song.” It was written for his brother and covered well by Anne Murray, although I prefer the Loggins and Messina version.

Other song favorites where the title cannot be found in the lyrics include:

– “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles

– “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young

– “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

– “Baba O’Riley” by The Who

– “Annie’s Song” by John Denver

– “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

The list is actually not a short one. Yet, it does complicate things when the chorus or a clever song verse is how the song is remembered, not the title. Fortunately, Google understands this and will get you to the right place. If you Google “You fill up my senses,” you can find Denver’s “Annie Song.” If you Google “I read the news today,” you would be steered to “A Day in the Life.”

The one exception to my list might be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even before the movie, given the memorable title. This may be due in part to the cult like status of the song or its length. Yet, you could find it with searching on several of its bizarre lyrics.

If you Google “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, you can find Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Now, technically Mitchell’s song does not belong on the list, as taxi does appear in the final stanza. Yet, I include it as throughout the song are environmental references. It is actually disappointing those references are metaphors for missing her “old man” after the big yellow taxi takes him away.

What are some of your favorites where the title cannot be found in the song? Feel free to take the same license as I did with Joni Mitchell’s song.

Pieces of April

A long time favorite band of mine is Three Dog Night. The three singers who took turn as lead and harmonized so well are Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. They had a huge number of hits singing songs written by great songwriters like Randy Newman, Paul Williams and Leo Sayer, to name a few.

A favorite and timely song comes to mind as we head into Spring. “Pieces of April” was written by David Loggin.

April gave us springtime and the promise of the flowers
And the feeling that we both shared and the love that we called ours
We knew no time for sadness, that’s a road we each had crossed
We were living a time meant for us, and even when it would rain
we would laugh it off.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, it’s a morning in May

We stood on the crest of summer, beneath an oak that blossomed green
Feeling as I did in April, not really knowing what it means
But it must be then that you stand beside me now to make me feel this way
Just as I did in April, but it’s a morning in May.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

This song is one of melancholy and love lost. I love the reference to the wonderful time together in April, but it is now May. This is a metaphor that simplifies a longer break-up to just two months, but even if it were that short, it is impactful.

If you want great traveling music with your family, download or access a greatest hits CD and just sing along. Just a few of the many hits include “One,” “Mama told me not to come,” “Eli’s coming,” “Easy to be hard (from Hair),” “Black and white,” “Just an old fashioned love song,” and “Shambala.” Our kids would ask for this one.

For those interested in how they got their name, a girlfriend of Danny Hutton’s described that the indigenous Australians would sleep with three dingos on a very cold night. Three Dog Night gives us all great comfort.