The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Brenda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

The music of The Bridges of Madison County

A few months ago, I rewatched the movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” The movie stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and is directed by Eastwood.

The movie is about a weekend tryst between a photographer who traveled to the area to take pictures of the county’s covered bridges and a woman in a routine marriage. Her husband is away with the kids camping.

The movie is very good, but is bathed in wonderful music of the 1950s and early 1960s. Eastwood is very musical, so he took time to select music that accentuated the romantic scenes between the two.

Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington are featured several times. If you don’t know Hartman, think Nat King Cole with a deeper voice. Irene Kral appears a couple of times and Barbara Lewis sings “Baby I’m Yours,” her biggest hit.

My kids bought me the soundtrack CD for Father’s Day. It is smooth listening music. If you are looking for a birthday present, it is a nice treat. And, it is not just for older people, as my oldest son in his late twenties knew who Hartman was.

We have several soundtracks that well-accented the movie they were in. They range from “The Big Chill” which has artists’ songs to “The Last of the Mohicans” whose score is marvelous. And, if you want to get a selection of themes, John Barry has a CD of several movie themes he wrote such as “Born Free,” “Somewhere in Time” and “Out of Africa.”

What are some of your favorites soundtracks?

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.

Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.

Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”

Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.

Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.

The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter

Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”

Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.

I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.

But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.

Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

“Don’t Let be Misunderstood” is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus for the singer and pianist Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964. The song has been covered by many artists, most notably by The Animals, whose blues rock version of the song became a transatlantic hit in 1965. (Per Wikipedia). Cat Stevens does a meaningful interpretation as well, as he tempers the sound so the words seep through.

The song has an important message, but first here are the lyrics.

“People, do you understand me now,
If sometimes I feel a little mad
Don’t you know no one alive can
Always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem a little sad
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

You know sometimes, I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Sometimes seems that all I have is worry
And then you’re bound to see my other side
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems and I get more
Than my share
But that’s one thing I never mean to do
I don’t mean it
People, don’t you know I’m only human
Don’t you know I have faults like any one
But sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little thing; some foolish thing
That I have done,
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood
I’m just someone whose intentions are good
Don’t let me be misunderstood,
Don’t let me be misunderstood”

My wife suggested I include this song in a post. She feels people are being misunderstood as others are not taking the time to listen. If we listen to each other, the context of a comment will finds its way in. Once you listen, you then have earned the right to be heard in return. A key part of the song is to start out with assuming the intentions are good. That may be giving too much credit, but if we listen first, we can ask better questions.

I have often written about Daryl Davis, an African-American man who has convinced more than 200 white men to leave the Ku Klux Klan. He said he did it by listening. Then, he would ask a few questions and listen some more. He observed that people, even with strong opinions he disagreed with, just want to be heard. By listening, he would ask probing, thoughtful questions that made the person think.

I truly admire this man, his courage and his approach. If we emulate him, we can have better conversations.

Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of now 34 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call
Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes
A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you and you were made for me
And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine
For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”
“Sundown”
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
“Carefree Highway”
“Cotton Jenny”
“Old Dan’s Records”
“Summer Side of Life”
“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear
Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes
Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

The Princess Bride – a fun movie for all

Start with a beautiful heroine, a cavalier pirate, and an evil prince. Add one giant of a man, an eleven fingered bad guy, a Spanish swordsman, a scheming genius and a host of other great characters. Finish up with a great story read by a grandfather to his sick grandson and you have the delightfully charmlng “The Princess Bride.” About five years ago I wrote a post on this movie, which I will repeat below. “The Princess Bride” is a movie the whole family can watch and enjoy during our sheltering-at-home time.

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn (now appearing on “Young Sheldon”), whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. The screenplay and book were written by William Goldman. Reiner’s inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, download this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

Neil Young remembers

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin’
Four dead in Ohio
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin…
Four dead in Ohio…

Yesterday, was the 50th anniversary of the horrific and needless tragedy at Kent State University. Four young college students were killed and more injured when President Nixon called out the national guard on a college protest. This is as asinine a move that a US president could make. Young adults with rifles caused the situation to get out of hand and kids died.

Along with Watergate, Kent State paints a picture of what happens with a paranoid and corrupt president. It should give us pause with the corrupt and paranoid president we have now who is even more deceitful than Nixon.

“Ohio” is an anthem written and sung well by Young and bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash.

This should never happen again. Yet, with this president, anything is possible.

Bare Naked Ladies song has a line for the US president

In two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” which is based on 750 hours of interviews with White House staff, the impetuous and impulsive nature of the president is well documented. This nature is echoed in other books and by White House reporters.

History reveals this flaw of the president’s as he often changes his mind, sometimes within the hour or the next day. There are examples when he has refuted his first argument by the end of one of his stream-of-consciousness rants.

There is a line from the song “One Week” by Bare Naked Ladies that seems apropos to this president. It appears twice (although the second line varies some) in the song about a couple fighting and the motions they go through before they make-up. Many people call the song “Two weeks” as a line says it is “still two weeks til we say we’re sorry.”

The song line that reminds me of the impetuous and impulsive president is:

“I have the tendancy to wear my mind on my sleeve
I have a history of losing my shirt”

The examples are in the hundreds, but he did it again at the end of last week. On Thursday, he talked about a plan to reopen the economy, spoke respectfully (as much as he can) of governors, and came a little closer to being presidential, whether you agreed with his policy or not.

By the next day, he leaped on the extreme members of his tribe who were protesting the shelter-in-place laws in various states encouraging them. Some noted he is fomenting a rebellious attitude. So, he took a step forward up the slide and then slipped back down. Trying to walk up a slide to leadership, then sliding back down, is a good metaphor for the president.

The book “Fear” speaks of the advantage of being the last person to speak with Trump about an issue. If done in a flattering way, he will respond better and could be led down the path you want. He is also keen on parroting what he sees on the opinion shows on Fox News, sometimes within minutes. In the above example, since he thinks first of making himself look good, he seized on the rebellious folks as a good storyline.

Many things trouble me about this president. He wants to come across as a leader, but the idea of him actually acting liking a leader is not second nature to him. He could have been more like the leader we need in January and February by speaking candidly with Americans about the pandemic risk and setting in motion some planning efforts. Instead, he returned to form and lied. Lying is second nature to Donald J. Trump, leadership is not.

What I have witnessed about Trump, is his underlying nature will not change. His actions will change if the press or optics are poor and he cannot alter them. He cannot alter people getting sick and dying. So, his “new shirt” has him saying he never said the things he did and it is WHO and China’s fault. Yes, the latter could have done better. But, so could you, Mr. Trump. So, could his sycophants who keep giving him clean shirts with white-washed messages.