Thursday, November 29, 2007

Preacher Jack

My friend Jeff Hull and I went first to
see him up on Revere Beach Park way in
the 70s. And later my friends Gordon
and Sarah and me met up and saw him on
Mass Ave at Frank's Steak House in the
'90s. Sat next to old Dave Maxwell,
Sunnyland Slim's friend, and an
blues piano sheik acquaintance from
the long ago Slim days.

Preacher Jack plays boogie. And
country. He is an artist madman,
straight and simple. He used to
sing/preach for booze in the Revere
Beach days..but he has mellowed,
deepened and cooled the alcohol bit [but is no less maddened,
Jack!] Yet, say, listen to his take on Hank Williams' Singing Waterfall, and you find a soft soul eternal.

Here is his schedule [he sort of
appears on the scene and goes away] for
December. He has a new Rounder Record, and a
myspace site. On which there is a way-back pic of him - shown here - with
Jerry Lee Lewis that is totally

Once Preacher gets to preaching, which
is every time, he doesn’t stop much. You
may want to hear him play piano, which
he pounds like Albert Ammons, but you
have to wait til he's ready. He can
kill you with country, but he has to
come around to it. Like most poets, he
is a trip.

[Today, btw, Nov 29, is anniversary of George Harrison's Death in 2001....sigh]

Upcoming Shows

Dec 5 2007 9:30P
Church - Preacher Jack residency w/The Coffin Lids Boston, Massachusetts

Dec 19 2007 9:30P
Church - Preacher Jack residency w/The Hyphens Boston, Massachusetts

Dec 20 2007 9:00P
Sally O’Brien’s Bar and Grill w/Blue Dust Drifters Somerville, Massachusetts

Dec 26 2007 9:30P Church - Preacher Jack residency w/Doug MacDonald Band Boston,
Jan 11 2008 The Cantab Lounge (downstairs) w/The Clydesdale Cowboys Cambridge, Massachusetts

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Year’s Best: Pick Me Up on Your Way Down by Ray Price and Friends

Ray Price spans the early original country western era (early 1950s) to the baroque countrypolitan period (early 1970s) and, thankfully, beyond, creating a mess of great music along the way. At 81, he hit the hastings this year with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, and the noble trio did a CD too.
Beginning as a somewhat Texas style troubadour, with equal parts Hank Williams (he befriended the drifting Hank and provided him a home during the last year of his life) and Bob Wills. Over time, he morphed, with a bit of laid back Eddie Arnold matinee crooner part added in, into his own self. Hits along the way truly numerous: City Lights, Crazy Arms, Heartache by the Number, Please Release Me, Invitation to the Blues, For the Good Times, Help Me Make It Through the Night, and more.

For my fathers day gift we saw Ray on tour with Willie and Merle. What a night. Merle Haggard was really strange and so wonderful, and he could play for hours without covering half of his oerve’s crème. Willie was in and out with both guys. Merle and Ray did the same. Wow! But seeing 81-year-old Ray Price was really something. I think he did all the songs enumerated above, as well as San Antonio Rose, and his backup was a 16-piece strong Texas fiddle outfit. [Each act on this tour had full ensemble backing. Big bucks but worth it.]

Ray’s stuff was slow in the old days, and at his age was slower even. Slower but truly heartfelt. In a year when so many country greats exited, whew, glad I saw Ray.

Also did Pick Me Up on Your Way Down, which is on the new CD and is one of my Year’s Best Picks. Its sung to this woman who is in a socialite whirl ignoring our narrator but no fear – he knows this too shall pass, and as the rungs splinter and she plummets down the social ladder she will be dragging her tail back to him.
You were mine for just a while
Now your putting on the style
And you never once look back
At your home across the tracks.
It is a great Texas fiddle shuffle, and Ray is cool, but, like I said, heartfelt. So wise. The other guys hand in there with him. Smooth, timeless. And thanks, Cecelia, for the Father's Day gift.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In the time of American Gangster

Saw American Gangster. Ridley Scott movie staring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. The scene is New York City during the War in Vietnam, at the time of haute pimp culture and Ali-Fraser. Very apt depiction. You can go back to this time and place and come back unscathed due to the wonder of film. Soundtrack included Across 110th St by Bobby Womack from the mostly forgotten movie of the same name. That was one of the weird things about living in NYC during this era, if you listened to Frankie Crocker – you heard the soundtracks from the new Blacksplotation Cinema [Across 110ts St, SuperFly, Shaft] and it became a soundtrack to the weird radio movie that early 70s NYC was. Today I pulled out some old 45s of that era.. [the movie covered 1968 to 1975~]

Hey Pockaway – The Meters, 1974
Where did your live go - Donnie Elbert, 1971?
Inner City Blues - Marvin Gaye, 1971
Groove Me - King Floyd, 1971?
Mighty High - Mighty Clouds of Joy, 1975
My Honey and Me - Luther Ingram, 1969
Put it Where You Want It - The Crusaders, 1972
Tired of Being Alone -Al Green, 1971?
Spanish Key - Miles Davis, 1971?
Slow Motion - Johnny Williams, 1972

[Gee, it being thanksgiving, I remember Thanksgiving 1972 on the Lower East Side with Dave Murray, Jeff DeMark (maybe passing through), Jim Raab (visiting)and Don Owens (also visiting). We bought a turkey, and similar, and I went down to Second Ave to the coffee shop and used the pay phone to get turkey cooking directions for my mother. The Packers played the Lions, Jon Brokington had quite a day, but I’d recall us losing. But it was a warm feeling. We went up on the roof and took pictures on a camera I found in the basement of the drug strore I worked at. And none of them came out right. As the pic of Jim Raab here attests. All memories guaranteed 0% accurate]]

Hounds of Amtrack

I used to ride the train a lot between Boston and New York [sometimes further to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington], and there was a certain patch around Rhode Island before Connecticut that early in the foggy morning had a Moorish Hound of the Baskervilles’ quality. The quality evoked the work of a number of artists, but especially Edgar Allen Poe. When I read a biography, Dreadful Remembrance unto Death? – no, “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance,” I learned that Poe’s trajectory mapped with the railroads of the day. Down from Boston, up from Virginia. To New York, Again to Boston, Down to Baltimore. So the ride had another level of world-weariness. And I took many stabs over the years at this one, which now is scattered in numberous fragments and versions. [What is it about that term ‘baltimore’?][Streets of Baltimore, etc] Poe is about mood to me. I offer one take. The only message here is ‘you, moved me, man!’ On a Baltimore trip I made it to Poe's Grave.

At Poe's Grave

Baltimore bricks fly in the
Projects the sun
On university bricks
Gets colder
Every year
People waiting for
On Eutaw.

Poe In his heartful
Toward Ulame
Said something to me
I heard it from the rails
in the trees of sleeping birds
and passing the train
the flying treetops at night.

Trees Like hounds oer
The steeplechase moors of my
Frightful friend’s condition-
they prefigure and backflash
Dreadful Remembrance

Baltimore I get there
Traffic is a little sluggish
Because of the officer’s funeral
The radio says.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Business Week Redesign: Total Rant

1. In the old trade press days, we used to do surveys of readers, and we'd be quite surprised when some publication beat us in the ‘news’ category. Oh sure, we expected to lose out to some publications, which were in fact better. But some of the publications that beat us out merely ‘reran press releases’ – that was the phrase we used. Sometimes the term ‘news’ was part of their title banner. But the usual thread was: They looked like a mess. Poorly laid out. Not like a magazine. I recall one wag once opined: “The worse it looks, the more people think it is news.” The uglier, the newsier. That has stuck with me as an odd truism. And as publications react to the onslaught of the Internet, their tendency to prettify what they do, though sensible on one level, seems to me to work against their most sensible goals.

2. There always was a traceable trajectory with publications on the decline. The publication was once strong, but now the market and competitors conspire against it. Maybe the staff and management seem to be coasting. They do what they’ve done because it worked (never mind that it may have merely worked slightly better than some misfiring competitor). So what happens? An executive editor is brought in, so the editor can have more time to think. The executive editor brings in his old pals, does a reader survey, wields a knife, the editor is out, the new editor goes to a lot of lunches with the publisher, etc. The important thing is that now someone decides it's time to do a redesign.

Do a redesign. Look better. This philosophy is being played out in spades now that the whole notion of print is going down the tubes. There's a precipitous decline in what we call magazines. They pretty up corpses for funerals, and as with funeral detail, you have to follow the steps, damn the meaning. The redesign is an end in itself. It usually runs contrary to the news gestalt that usually got the publication going, 'cause it's so darn pretty. In the age of the Internet, it is usually based on wise [but wrong] premises. Which brings me to today’s topic: BusinessWeek’s redesign.

3. McGraw-Hill in general and BusinessWeek in particular have long had a reputation as semi-scientific research-driven operations. Over the years this had led to an extraordinarily well-designed publication – if the definition and purpose of design is to communicate useful facts efficiently. You could read the table of contents and find upfront summaries of every article, and headlines that conveyed the pertinent drama or message. If you only had time to read the ToC, you were smarter for the experience. If you had time to thumb through the publication, the decks, subheads, info graphics , pictures and captions would tell you that story in just a bit more detail. Even if you only read the two or three stories pertinent to your business, you had managed to learn something larger about the machine of the economy. The Wall Street Journal is the only pub I’d put on par with Business Week in terms of providing [close to] totally efficient information communication.

“People are too busy too read” was what McGraw-Hill heard in the old days – just as it’s heard now. Their moves were planned, and not based on the publisher’s luncheon with his brother-in-law in Buffalo. The problem was that people were busy, but the solution back then was to carefully build a communicating juggernaut. Nowadays it's to place "white space” as the ultimate good, feature art that acts like an ink blot test – as if the business people would bother with abstract bemusement and pointless nuance on their way to figuring out what is going on – and slash the character count on headlines until they're guaranteed to remove information, but, by the way, gain an art award.

The new Business Week is visually engaging in a soft pleasant way. It doesn’t do the things a pub should do for the reader in conveying news. Of course, just like your typical fey new ager, it wonders what news really is. Such decadence is not a response to the Internet, it is a disease of civilization. 'Twould be better to look uglier and assault the visual psyche than go softly into the good night.

4. Where do the art directors’ diddling leave off and the editors’ middling begin? Business Week was one of the first pubs ever to go to a two-page table of contents. Now it’s back to one, but half of that goes to an art element. The new half-page TOC is indecipherable. The old provided full heads and excellent decks that told you what the stories were about. In terms of info transfer, there is no contest. The old example:

Baffling Google – Why the tech titans has so much trouble making its innovative products stick
A delicate moment for Hong Kong’s financial markets

One tells me what is going one, using more type characters.
The other tells me something is going on, using less type characters.

Time will tell how well the three-digit designators for pages [eg., 078] works If the folio regularly misses the 100+ mark, it will look vividly like what it is: an art director’s conceit. There is a new section called “BTW.” Which has the benefit of using the modern argot of the e-mail savvy, but which roils the waters: News is not ‘by the way’ [read: you can ignore if you want] stuff.

The new Business Week did not coil into this scared fetal position suddenly. Great gobs of the publication have been overtaken by Life style stuff aimed at gratuitously garnering ads from resort operators, car makers, and golf club manufacturers. It is a general decline.

BTW: When will this mail-bag column with Jack and Suzy Welch end? Have they ever had an idea, or a portion of an insight? Is it actually possible that Christopher Finlay, Chicago, sent in the question: “What are they keys to insuring a strong start in a leadership position?” or that Anonymous, Hartford, wrote: “I’m a large-account sales guy who loves his job and want to keep doing it. But how can I say excited and current so I don’t become “the old guy”??

5. So what do I like? Godawful ink! The Nation, The New Republic, The American Spectator. The New Yorker, The New York Times! Yes they are all feverishly redesigning too. What says ideas? What says news? Words on paper – lots of them. It’s hard to read words on the web. It’s a good place for impressions. Bloody ink in mass quantities is what this era calls for. I may be swimming against the stream, but that is better than being swept over Niagra.

On another level what is going on is a removal of belief in advertising. If the print side ad revenues were going up, the world would look different to the Business Week Powers that Be. Advertising grew up in the era of Freud, now passed. Now, people think they are actually measuring something with the web that they think they cannot faithfully measure in print. The more that useless chatter fills the papers and mags, the more the forecast of pulp doom holds. And you can make it prettier looking too.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Three pennies for your thoughts, Comet Holmes

Three pennies for your thoughts ... The play or operetta or musical – your call - known as The Three Penny Opera is something of a pivotal piece. It placed the low class, the Underworld, in an artistic light, which had been done before, but this was a very modern take on hopelessness, with expressionist vim and lights-out high culture alienation courtesy of Bert Brecht, and sweet sounding dolefulness courtesy of Kurt Weill. Gordon Thomas’ latest column on BrightLights reviews a new edition of the august Pabsts’ 1929 film of Three Penny.

I saw this flick once. It was truly an early talkie.. and burdened thereof. The medium was not up to handling such a musical at that point I’d guess. Visually it was a murk too, not crisp, like, say Dr. Mabuse. But Gordon says things cleared up on this thanks to Criterion's new high-definition transfer. “Its clarity wondrous, its range of blacks and middle values simply gorgeous.” Bravo! The version I saw was like an old Kinescope. Is that a word?

It is a gangster or underworld musical. Gordon points to the problem of not enough song. Maybe that is what drove me to sleepiness when I first saw this flick. But German is kind of foreign to me – not a problem with silents. As I said, I don’t think the infant talkies were up to the task of doing Weill well. Its all ajar anyway .. the difficult meld of music and narrative. And Gordon points to the mechanisms say Bob Fossse applied in Cabaret, that might have made a more favorable film than the Pabst Three Penny Opera of 1929.

Let’s think: I’d add a couple of favorites of mine here to the consideration, with a little leeway, of the genre of gangster musical: Oliver and Mugsy Malone. Hey, is it me or does Mack the Knife sound like the Skater’s Waltz?

Actually this was an article. Gordon’s column is elsewhere and it is another doozy. Who else discusses films such as She, The Young Rajah, Hoodoo Ann and True Heart Susie, and The Call of Cthulhu – a recent [2005] silent created by the H.P Lovecraft Historical Society? I pause for your response.

Three Penny - BrightLights
BrightSights column - BrightLights

Meanwhile, in space….Hey weird but I picked up on this Comet known as Comet Holmes Periodic. Which is visible in the NorthEast out here on clear nights and elsewhere too. Weird because it is more like a cloud than a thing with a tale, at least with my binoculaurs. Hope the neighbors don’t see me..P. Sherrood took this CCD pick Oct 27.

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