Rocketman and Yesterday

Yesterday, my son and I saw the movie “Yesterday” about a young singer who is in an accident caused by a blackout leaving him injured, but also the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles. The movie stars Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his manager and largest fan among very few. Yet, it is abetted by the role Ed Sheeran plays as himself recognizing the genius songwriting and Kate McKinnon as both performers greedy manager.

Last month, my wife and I saw “Rocketman,” a biopic about Elton John and his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. While it differs from “Yesterday,” both feature the musical genius of the songwriters and performers. “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as John with Jamie Bell playing Taupin. “Rocketman” also stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John’s unsupportive parents, whose best adult support came from his Nan played by Gemma Jones

In both movies, the stars sing the songs. Egerton does a highly credible job of singing like Elton. Patel does not sing as well, but that is a key part of the story. He is an unsuccessful singer who starts singing great music, while Egerton is playing the singer. “Yesterday” is directed by Danny Boyle with the story and screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth. “Rocketman” was directed by Dexter Fletcher with the story and screenplay written by Lee Hall.

Both movies are worth seeing. “Rocketman” reveals the musical genius of Elton John who could play songs after hearing them for the first time, even as a young boy. He was classically trained after his Nan helped him, but he could only go as he benefitted from a scholarship. Billy Joel, who toured with John later in their careers, noted John wrote backwards from most songwriters, writing the music to the words of Taupin.

“Yesterday” introduces the breadth of music by The Beatles to a younger audience featuring the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney with a few of George Harrison’s thrown in. The movie includes songs from early in The Beatles’ career as well as songs off The White Album. Please stay around for the credits as well, as you will fade out with a well-known song.

It is hard to pick which movie is better. Since, I am a huge Beatles’ fan, I would have to give the nod to the latter, although the critics liked “Rocketman” a little better. It should be noted, I also liked the movie of a few years ago “Across the Universe,” which had young actors singing The Beatles’ songs as part of the plot, not unlike “Mamma Mia,” which uses ABBA’s music. I think both movies are just shy of the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen which won some Academy Awards last year, but they are still highly entertaining.

Since my wife could not join us, I am likely to go see “Yesterday” again. I think it is worth another go. It should be noted Lily James also played in the sequel to “Mamma Mia” which came out last year. In “Yesterday,” her singing is relegated to playing a chorus in early recording sessions, but she adds greatly to the movie.

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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.

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?

Saturday is alright for fighting

One of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s earlier songs is indicated in the title above. It is a true rock and roll song which is very much in tune with its lyrics. It is about being young and foolish combining too much time and alcohol with too little judgment.

I was thinking of this song as footage was aired this morning of a fight which occurred on an airplane. The fight started when an off-duty police officer intervened after the steward decided not to serve an unruly and drunk passenger any more beer. Fighting on a plane is not the best venue for fisticuffs or subduing an unruly passenger, so others just got in the way.

The song also is a metaphor for the lying, combative and vindictive President and his sidekick Rudy who are fighting back as much as they can, truth be damned. They are fighting against an ongoing investigation that might reveal the President is guilty of everything he is charged with and more. We knew it would get uglier as the spotlight got hotter. Sadly, the President’s sycophants in Congress and pseudo-news outlets are not letting the truth get in the way of defending the Dishonorable Donald.

The questions one might ask is if the FBI was so against this man, how did he wind up getting elected when even he did not expect it? The sad truth is his followers believe these deep state accusations. This lying man is scorching the press, the FBI and Justice Department for making up all of these things about him. This vindictive man wants to close down papers that are critical of him and use the arms of government to punish people.

It is troubling this schtick seems to work with his followers. This man does not give a goddamn about his followers. He just wants them to think he does with some window dressing changes. As an energy expert said a few months ago, “Donald Trump is not for coal workers, he is for coal owners.” He openly revealed his true colors during the campaign insulting his followers. “I could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and they would still follow me,” he said. Just think about that – my interpretation is he is saying my followers are so stupid, I could commit murder and it would not matter.

The truth is not as exciting as the story this man portrays. Fiction sells. The real story is this is a man with a fragile and insatiable ego who will do anything to keep feeding it. And, that is why he fights.

 

Let’s go to a concert

Whether it is a local band or one who has sold millions of songs, attending a venue to hear live music is thrilling and makes you feel alive. My wife and I have stumbled into live music on vacation which was a treat and we have made special plans to attend artists of renown. We have even gone to see our friend play piano in one of his bands  on very short notice. This post is dedicated to him as he suffered a stoke yesterday and may not make it. We are thinking good thoughts for him and his family.

Let’s honor him together and take a trip down memory lane. Please feel free to offer some of your thoughts and experiences.Together, my wife and I have seen some fairly big name performers and with very few exceptions were worth trip. I have even taken my boys to see some artists that my wife has not cared for, but were excellent to us – I could not drag her to see ACDC, Styx or Rush, for example, but we enjoyed the heck out of them. Yet, I was able to get her to see the Allman Brothers, which was well worth the effort.

Some of the well-known artists we have been fortunate enough to see include: Bruce Springsteen, who will leave you worn out, but you could hear just one more; Paul McCartney, from which I had to text my Beatles fanatical brother to guess where we were, Elton John, where we saw three generations of fans singing word for word with Elton; Eric Clapton, who brought along Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks for kicks; Tina Turner, the best performer around; Heart, led by Ann Wilson, one of the greatest Rock and Roll singers around; Tom Petty, who is so very underrated even with his tremendous body of work; Steve Winwood, what a thrill; Rod Stewart, who my wife had to see, but I enjoyed as well; Bob Seger, one of my all time favorites where we got tickets in the nose bleed section; KD Lang (once with Tony Bennett),  who can sing almost anything and does the best version of “Hallelujah” you will ever hear; Bonnie Raitt, God she is great; Peter, Paul and Mary, a wonderful treat, Chicago, where it rained half the concert, and George Benson, a great guitarist and performer.

In some smaller venues, we saw Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is genuine, talented and funny; Elvis Costello, who my wife did not want to see, but enjoyed immensely; James Taylor, several times and always a treat; Jimmy Buffett, who is especially entertaining when seen with your drunk brother-in-law; Jackson Browne, who actually disappointed (avoid the first concert tour date), but whose music I love nonetheless and Flogging Molly, which was a wonderfully unique experience. We also saw: Arlo Guthrie (twice), Marcia Ball (go see her if you can), Marshall Tucker (a band with a tragic history), Altan, a neat Irish band, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Foreplay, Harry Connick, Jr. and I am sure I am leaving off several others. My wife has gone to several with my daughter that were interesting from Owl City to Emilie Autumn, who apparently throws muffins at her audience.

Yet, we have seen some nice local bands that were a thrill, from Jazz to Blues to Swing to Pop. We have bought their CDs to honor their performance and help them out. But, the CDs also provide some memories taking us back to Montreal, New Orleans, Killarney, San Francisco, Blowing Rock or even home in Charlotte or Winston-Salem when we lived there. There is a Cajun restaurant in my home city that has live music every day. A neat memory of ours is my oldest son being asked to sing along with an Irish family in a pub near Watertown, Ireland as he was the lone American who knew the words to a song.

Music heard at home or in your car is a wonderful experience, but hearing live music makes it memorable. My wife won’t listen to Elvis Costello at home, but she enjoyed his concert, e.g. Yet, let me close with a tribute and memory of our friend Eddie, who had the stroke. Eddie plays in several groups, but the last time we heard him play was at his oldest daughter’s wedding a few months ago. It was also memorable as my wife played social director and got everyone up to dance, including Eddie’s mother. God be with you Eddie. You make us feel better about our lives with your music.

So, let me hear from all of you. What are some of your memorable experiences? Have you seen some of same folks? Do you have friends that play?

Did Parsley Save Rosemary in Time?

I don’t know where I heard or read it, but a mother was telling the story about her young son riding in the backseat of her car asking this question after hearing the famous Simon and Garfunkel song on the radio. “Did he?” asked the boy. “Did what?” she replied. He answered with the obvious question, “Did Parsley save Rosemary in time?”

“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”  is a chorus from “Scarborough Fair,” one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, but if you are not a cook or an older eater, the lyrics can throw you. One of the most fun websites is called www.kissthisguy.com named appropriately after one of the most misunderstood lyrics of all time. For those who don’t know the famous Jimi Hendrix song, the song lyric from “Purple Haze” goes ” ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.” But, like many, I misunderstood the lyric as it made sense. Someone doing acid decided to kiss this guy.

John Fogerty, of one of the greatest rock bands – Creedence Clearwater Revival – had a field day with misunderstood lyrics. His creative license to sing stretched the lyrics into unusual directions when he performed his songs. The most famous malapropism is “There’s a bathroom on the right.” This lyric is what most people heard, but what he was trying to say is “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” But, his music was so good, we did not care as much that we did not understand what he was saying.

Misunderstood lyrics even hit the Rolling Stones. One of my favorites is from “Beasts of Burden” when Mick was clearly heard to say “I”ll never leave your pizza burning.” Then there is the song “Jumpin Jack Flash.” This song is so hard to understand, when Whoopi Goldberg starred in the movie of the same name, her character had to listen to this Stones’ song for a clue to a password. After listening umpteen times and with more wine in her, her character blurts out “Mick, what in the f–k are you saying?”

Bon Jovi did not escape being misunderstood on occasion. Their anthem of the 1980’s “Livin on a Prayer” had a line that was heard by more than a few – “It doesn’t make a difference if we are naked or not.” This was likely his female audience having dreams about the lead singer, but I digress. My wife would be in the category.

Let me close with my two favorite misunderstood singers – Elton John and Elvis Costello. I think both are terrific performers and songwriters. Elvis Costello is more easily misunderstood as he has some very interesting lyrics on occasion. On some of his songs, I just had to get the CD out and see what the name of the tune was. “Oliver’s Army” is a great song, but I had a no idea what he was singing about at first. Then, there is “Watching the Detectives” as I ranged from watching with the dead girl to who knows what. Now, it is appropriately used by the “History Detectives” show as their theme song. And, if you really want to get confused listen to “New Laced Sleeves.”

Elton John has written some of the best music of all time and partnered with Bernie Taupin who wrote the lyrics to most. Their songs are classic and, if you ever go to an Elton John concert, you will witness several generations of family members singing his songs word for word. His is one of the most amazing concerts I have ever seen. It is good that everyone learned Taupin’s lyrics, as it is very hard to glean them from Sir Elton. You may say that I am all wet, as we all know the lyrics of their songs by now, yet when you heard them for the first time, you definitely had to pull out the album insert. This was before the internet. so we could not easily do a search. I will leave you with a few and let you match them up with the actual lyrics:

“Levon likes to warble like a clown.”

“She’s got electric boobs, a mohawk too…”

“Your cat can’t pee in the penthouse.”

“Hold me closer Tony Danza.”

Check out this website, if you have not already. I am sure you will find several lyrics you have heard differently than those intended by the author. And, the answer to the boy’s question, Parsley did save Rosemary in time. She was about to get run over by a bus on the way to Scarborough Fair and Parsley saved her in the nick of time.