Except, possibly, to his onetime musical cohort Robbie Robertson—who may be glumly realizing that people will be unlikely to get this choked up when he passes—the outpouring of online love for ex-Band drummer Levon Helm, who died last Thursday after a 14-year battle with cancer, was no surprise. Even so, I'd have bet anything my own mourning would stay on the remote side. Live and learn.
Calling myself only a very occasional fan of the Band would be an understatement. True, they were one of the first acts I saw live back in the Pleistocene era—with Aerosmith opening for them, in hindsight the night's most piquant joke. But they were never renowned for fireworks in concert, and their show was pretty dull.
I realize I posted a couple of Levon Helm clips yesterday on the occasion of his passing, but for this week's Friday Music Break I have to give you one more song from The Last Waltz. Here's Van Morrison with The Band, doing "Caravan" in an outfit that in no way screams '70s. Turn on your electric light!
When I was a junior in high school, somebody gave me a videotape of "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's 1978 documentary about The Band. It was revelatory—not only hadn't I ever heard The Band before, it was the first time I heard many of the other artists who appeared in the film, like Van Morrison and the Staples Singers. It changed the way I looked at music forever. If you haven't seen it, you should. As soon as you can. Seriously.
Today, Levon Helm died at age 71. He was The Band's drummer and lead singer, a soulful musician and by all accounts a real nice guy. Here's a clip from "The Last Waltz" of Helm doing "Ophelia":
For today's edition of Just Because It's Awesome, we have a terrific 1976 performance of the sadly departed Warren Zevon doing "Mohammed's Radio" with some help from Jackson Browne. Just because it's awesome.
Nostalgia for my bygone days as CBGB and Max's Kansas City plankton definitely isn't my thing. Some people just don't do youth very well, and it turns out I'm much better suited to mimicking Polonius—"to thine own self be hip," more or less, which is wiser advice than it sounds like—for the benefit of bohemian ragamuffins half my age in the Marigny quarter of New Orleans, where my wife and I now live.
Thanks to a nasty bug last week, I'm still emptying my South by Southwest notebook.
A documentary about a musician's fall is sure to be particularly powerful stuff at a festival known largely for launching bands to stardom. Perhaps that's part of what made Beware of Mr. Baker such a favorite at South by Southwest, where it won the coveted Grand Jury Award. The documentary, after all, tells the tale of talented, rakish drummer Ginger Baker, who has finally become old, sitting at home in South Africa, low on cash, short on friends, and far removed from his heyday.
If there was one song I didn't expect to hear during the hipster-convention that is the South by Southwest Music Festival, it was "This Land Is Your Land." And while I didn't expect to hear it, I sure as hell didn't expect to sing. Let alone sing it twice on the same day.
I hadn’t thought of Whitney Houston in years but, about a month ago, her name actually came up in conversation. My boyfriend and I were talking about the lyrics to “Whatta Man,” the Salt-n-Pepa/En Vogue song, and he singled out “And he knows that my name is not Susan” as a particularly clunky line in an otherwise smooth pop song. “Oh, it’s a reference to a Whitney Houston song called ‘My Name Is Not Susan,’” I reminded him. That’s how famous Houston was in the early 1990s—rappers could drop a reference to one of her lesser-known songs, which only ever peaked at number 20, and still count on audiences knowing it.
Somehow Madonna pulled off an amazing feat during the Super Bowl: bringing gay culture and aggressive female sexuality into the heart of masculinity’s holiest of days without anyone seeming to care. While the cheerleading segment was embarrassingly silly, I otherwise have to disagree with Tom Carson’s assessment that the Super Bowl’s narrative was Clint Eastwood versus Madonna, with Clint winning. I’m more in the camp of Tom’s friend who said, “It was Clint AND Madonna.”
Maybe I should have heeded Joe Strummer's obscene warning back in 1980. "He who fucks nuns/Will later join the church," the Clash's front man sang biliously on London Calling—and here I am 32 years later, watching Downton Abbey. I guess Joe had my number all along.
Judging when to use tabloid stories as teaching moments on issues regarding race, gender, and class isn’t always easy. Sometimes the connection is clear, as when bloggers and activists used the Chris Brown/Rihanna blowup to raise awareness about domestic violence. Other times, a point can’t be found, no matter how hard one may try. The scandal surrounding Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s baby, recently born at at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, is a classic example of this sort of overreach.
Feel free to try this at home, but I guarantee you won't get anything out of it except a migraine. Imagine you've been a bit prematurely asked to fill a time capsule with telltale cultural artifacts of the Age of Obama—the evocative movies, TV shows, hit tunes, and other creative whatnots that will someday exemplify the ineffable atmosphere of our 44th president's first term.