“Life turns to minutes and minutes to memories…”

September 7, 2011

This morning, as I often do on mornings when I have time, I leisurely perused a number of music blogs that are favorites as I drank my coffee.

One of those blogs was Any Major Dude With Half A Heart who, on this particular morning, had posted a regular feature called In Memoriam, paying tribute to those involved in music that had recently passed away.

The last thing I expected to find in a music blog by a fellow who had grown up in Germany and is living in South Africa – if I have the plot straight – was mention of someone I personally knew.

Yet that is how I learned of the passing of George Green.

The name is unlikely to mean much to most unless they absorb liner notes with considerable recall, but music fans are likely familiar with songs which they probably (and mistakenly) attribute to having been written solely by John Mellencamp.

George had been the one who had penned the lyrics to songs like Hurts So Good, Crumblin’ Down, and Rain On The Scarecrow.

As a high school senior, a number of classmates had argued for Minutes To Memories from Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album, which had been released at the beginning of the school year, to be class song.

(we were growing up two hours from Mellencamp’s hometown)

Three years later, I’m in college and working in a record store with a woman, Kat, whose husband had written Minutes To Memories and that is how I got to know George.

As I recall, the first time that I met George was to ask if he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. Kat invited me over, introduced me to George, and promptly left the room.

I honestly don’t remember if he wrote the letter or not. We spent the afternoon listening to albums that he wanted me to hear.

(10cc’s How Dare You being one)

One thing that does become more obvious as the years pass and is that people who are a part of your life – sometimes even an intregal part – often drift out of your orbit. It’s been close to ten years since I last spoke with either Kat or George and I’ve often meant to make an attempt to reconnect with them, but…

I did have the chance on a number of occasions to spend time with George, though, and those are times that I treasure as he was a gifted writer and a good guy.

During those infrequent visits, he would often recite to me things that he had written, one being a poem that he had composed and read at his grandfather’s funeral.

It was a stunningly beautiful and poignant work.

This land, today, my tears shall taste
And take into its dark embrace
This love who in my beating heart endures
Assured by every sun that burns
The dust to which this flesh shall return
It is the ancient, dreaming dust of God

As special as that particular afternoon was, it’s one that I couldn’t truly appreciate at the time.

While I, with human-hindered eyes
Unequal to the sweeping curve of life
Stand on this single print of time

Only now, with the passage of time – and now the man – do I truly recognize that moment for the gift that it was.

Not long after, I was living in a different city, but having a conversation on the phone with Kat. As usual, I asked what George was working on.

She proceeded to tell me that he had a song on the then-forthcoming Mellencamp album.

I asked it it was anything with which I was familiar.

“Do you remember that poem…”

I admit that I was a bit skeptical. The poem was so amazing, so perfect, so brilliant and so fully realized.

I wondered if its use in a song might diminish the power of those words, words that needed nothing more than to be read in the unassuming Midwestern voice of their author.

I should have known better.

Human Wheels took love and grief – emotions that we all feel yet few of us can put into words – and put them into words.

I suppose that’s what great writers do. They take “the sweeping curve of life,” bear witness, and through their words make us feel more connected to one another.

At least that’s what George Green did.

John Mellencamp – Human Wheels
from Human Wheels

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Yes, Mr. Capra, You Are Correct*

December 18, 2010

Tonight is being forecast to be one of the coldest of the season so far, but the central heat is keeping the chill of the outside world at bay and its steady hum is soothing.

The only light radiating – other than that from the television’s glow – is from several strands of white bulbs which Paloma has put up along with several other trinkets of the season.

On the television screen is Bedford Falls and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Unlike The Wizard Of Oz, which is aired several times each Thanksgiving, there’s one chance to see the Frank Capra classic each year and tonight is it.

I didn’t grow up with viewings of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is odd I suppose as I was a kid in the ’70s.

It was during that decade that the copyright on the film lapsed. Suddenly, the movie was being aired repeatedly during the holiday season on independent television stations and was rediscovered, becoming a beloved, Christmas staple.

Somehow, I never watched the movie.

I didn’t see It’s A Wonderful Life until I was in my early twenties and rented it from the video store next to the record store where I worked.

I had two days off, was broke, and wanted to veg. There was It’s A Wonderful Life. I shrugged and figured I was due.

It was the middle of July.

Now, an annual viewing, seasonally adjusted, is a bit of a tradition. So, I’m stretched out on the couch and watching as the plans of Jimmy Stewart get laid to waste one by one – no travel, no college, no life in the dirty city.

(and, as I think about it, I’ve been fortunate to do all of those things he’d set out to do)

Paloma was up very early this morning, so she’s not watching. She’d likely have passed anyhow as she finds the flick to be depressing.

It is a bit of a grim slog to Jimmy Stewart’s epiphany.

A lot of folks watching tonight likely identify with the struggles of the working class citizens of Bedford Falls.

There is a dreary rain falling outside and gusts of wind. I can feel by touching the window that the temperature is dropping.

My eyes kept catching snatches of items about the living room in the firefly flickers from the black and white images on the screen.

Bob Marley is smiling from some odd print that has him juxtaposed against stars and stripes. Godzilla battles the Smog Monster on a framed Japanese poster – a very nifty gift from Paloma.

There’s some of Paloma’s artwork on the wall as well as a cattle skull painted metallic silver, a British Union Jack and a Singaporean flag, a subway poster for The Boomtown Rats, a clock with The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft’s face, and numerous other unusual artifacts.

There are a thousand or so CDs we’ve kept on one wall; a thousand or so vinyl albums filed against another wall.

We have creature comforts.

Ravi is asleep on a large chair, curled into a small ball of black furr and Ju Ju sits on the back of the couch staring out the window behind me.

Pizza and Sam are most certainly curled up with Paloma, sleeping in the next room.

We have a home.

It’s peaceful, it’s comforting, and, to have what we have, it is quite wonderful.

Here are four modern songs of the season that I must hear each Christmas…

Wendy & Lisa – The Closing Of The Year
from Just Say Noel

Wendy & Lisa were integral parts of Prince’s band The Revolution and, since the purple one split up that outfit, have made some fine work on their own and as The Girl Brothers. The Closing Of The Year appeared on the soundtrack to the Robin Williams’ flick Toys (which I seem to remember enjoying far more than the average critic).

I simply love the lyric “If I cannot bring you comfort then at least I bring you hope” and, yes, that’s Seal lending his distinctive vocals to the affair.

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York
from If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Gritty and gorgeous – how can anyone not be charmed by Fairytale Of New York?

Band Aid – Do The Know It’s Christmas? (12″ version)

Band Aid’s charity single from 1984 has been pretty maligned and, granted, it might not be a stellar musical effort, but, if you were a young music fan at the time, it had a certain charm that it likely retains to this day. It featured some of the superstar acts of the early MTV era and it was one of the first musical events I had lived through.

And, if you were a kid at the time, it very well was one of the first times you realized that as big as the world might be, it was one world. And, maybe it made you stop and think that there are a lot of people in the world who might not have the simplest things which we take for granted, not just at Christmas, but each and every day.

At least it did for me.

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
from I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts

The Waitresses only released one full-length album and an EP of their quirky, New Wave rock. But, despite their scant output, the group notched two, enduring classics – the sassy I Know What Boys Like and their modern holiday classic Christmas Wrapping.

I’m sure that I first heard the song on 97X during Christmas ’83 as I was discovering modern rock and it was immediately memorable.

Years later, I’d much better relate to the story within the song, and, somehow, despite how many times I’ve heard it, the ending is still a surprise that makes me smile.

*reimagined last week from the posts of Christmases past


At Least You’re Not Trapped In A Chilean Mine

September 4, 2010

I overheard a co-worker bitching about a “delivery charge” being added to a pizza she had delivered for lunch.

Not surprising as she issues perceived grievances in fifteen to twenty minute monologues sprinkled throughout the course of eight hours.

As she railed against the injustice of the two-dollar fee, I thought, it could be worse – you could be trapped in a Chilean mine.

(and, yes, I admit that for a moment I considered that this might only be worse from her perspective)

It must have been two weeks ago that the story of the miners trapped in San Jose, Chile burst onto the front pages on news sites and it was riveting stuff.

As I read the details, I immediately thought that there had to be someone, somewhere, already working on acquiring the rights to the tale for books, movies, action figures – that might be cynical, but I’ve experienced the corporate world.

Then, as the timeline for rescue was projected to be months, I realized that this situation would be something which the entire world would follow – hour by hour, day by day – until the group was topside.

I thought of 1979 and the Iranian students who seized the US Embassy in Tehran, taking those working at the consulate hostage.

I was in fifth grade and every morning would begin with Sister Marie providing us with details about one of the individuals being held which I imagine she had culled from the numerous print articles and television coverage.

The event gave birth to Ted Koppel’s long-running Nightline program which helped kill off the brilliant late-night show Fridays by cutting into its timeslot.

(I’d like to see Iran sanctioned by the UN for that)

So as I read about the plight of these miners and the extraordinary measures that would have to be undertaken in their rescue, I envisioned how the story might play out.

And I imagined the world hanging on each new development and pondered a happy ending that might provide the entire planet with a reason to feel good for a moment.

(whenever I catch the movie Apollo 13, I wonder what the vibe around the world must have been like at that time)

Here’s hoping that the situation in Chile does end with a successful rescue. I couldn’t imagine being trapped in such confines with my co-workers for months.

Eight hours…that’s my limit.

And, no matter how slowly those eight hours pass, at least I’m not trapped in a Chilean mine.

I was stuck once in one of our building’s elevators for about ten minutes. As I had my iPod and cigarettes, I think I could have lasted twice that long. So, here are four random songs that I might have heard…

Shivaree – After The Prince And The Showgirl
from Rough Dreams

I first came across the name Shivaree reading enthusiastic reviews of the band’s 1999 debut I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump which was produced by Joe Henry. So, I was quite pleased to receive an advance of the trio’s follow-up, Rough Dreams.

I was fortunate to snag a copy because, nearly a decade later, the album has yet to receive a proper release in the States. It’s too bad as lead singer Ambrosia Parsley might well have endeared herself to the audience that Shelby Lynne claimed during the decade with her soulful Americana stylings.

Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

The second major hit single of the legendary Stevie Wonder’s career, Uptight (Everything’s Alright) was the first to be co-written by the musician and helped establish Wonder as a staple on pop radio for the next two decades.

As for the song, it’s a dose of joyous R&B delivered in a tightly-packaged three minutes.

Dramarama – Incredible
from Hi-Fi Sci-Fi

Dramarama is a band that has left more than a few listeners puzzled as to why the alternative-leaning power pop act never broke through to major success. Beginning with 1985’s Cinéma Vérité, the band issued five albums that earned them attention at college radio but were mostly ignored by mainstream audiences.

By 1993, alternative rock had exploded, making stars of acts like Soul Asylum and Goo Goo Dolls. Blending humor and poignancy along with hooks galore, Dramarama’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi deserved similar attention, but it would prove to be another undiscovered gem in the band’s catalog.

George Benson – Give Me The Night
from The George Benson Collection

Guitarist George Benson cut his teeth performing straight-ahead jazz with organist Jack McDuff as well as performing with the great Miles Davis. In the ’70s and early ’80s, Benson also notched a number of pop hits with songs like This Masquerade, On Broadway, and Turn Your Love Around.

Give Me The Night would prove to be one of Benson’s biggest hits. Written by Rod Temperton – who would go on to pen several hits for Michael Jackson’s Thriller Give Me The Night is a silky smooth ode to nightlife with a light disco feel.