Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Legendary Showman "Mr. G" aged gracefully, laughing with dignity... and passed on Halloween, of course.

Robert Goulet, a.k.a. "Mr. G," a nickname he embraced, passed this morning in Los Angeles at the tender young age of 73.

Goulet suffered from a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal condition. He was being treated at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and was awaiting a lung transplant.

Some of you may recall his ads for Emerald Nuts earlier this year, which were pretty damn funny (thanks for the reminder, Thelonius Jay!). I own a CD by Robert Goulet... and I'm damn proud of it. Sure, some of it's cheesy, but the guy makes me laugh. I absolutely love the guy for his humor. You have to respect someone who isn't afraid to laugh at themselves. ...and his voice was pretty good too...

Mr. G won a Theatre World Award for young performers for his Broadway debut as Sir Lancelot in
Camelot, the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical that also starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. The role propelled him to popularity in nightclubs and on television, where he became a regular guest during the heyday of variety talk shows, though he never achieved another breakthrough success on par with Camelot.
His later stage appearances included Carousel, The Pajama Game, South Pacific and, on Broadway in 2005, La Cage Aux Folles. He won a Tony Award for best actor in a Broadway musical for The Happy Time in 1968.
Goulet starred in television specials and appeared in series including Fantasy Island, Cannon and Mission: Impossible.
His movie credits included Honeymoon Hotel (1964), Atlantic City (1980) and Beetlejuice (1988), and who could ever forget his role in Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1990). He also voiced the role of Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2 (1999).

Goulet won a Grammy Award for best new artist of 1962. He also became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society after surviving prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in 1993.
In a 2006 poem on his Web site, Goulet mused on the thrill of first experiences: "I'll probably never be that young and green again, and I miss it.''
Robert Gerard Goulet was born Nov. 26, 1933, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the only son of French-Canadians Joseph and Jeannette Goulet. At age 11, Goulet won the approval of his father, a guard at a textile mill, by singing "Lead Kindly Light'' during a church function, according to his official biography. As he lay dying just weeks later, the elder Goulet told his son: "God gave you a voice. You must sing.''
So then a legendary showman was born...
At 16, Goulet made his professional debut with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He worked two years as a radio announcer, then won a singing scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto.

He appeared on stage, radio and television in Canada and hosted a weekly variety show, General Electric's Showtime, for CBC-TV.
In Camelot, which opened on Broadway in December 1960, Goulet's big number was the ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You.'' Reviewer Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times that Lancelot as a character was "a pompous bore'' but that Goulet sung and played the character "splendidly.''
The show catapulted Goulet, in his late 20s, to be a regular on top American television talk shows, as well as the variety program the "Ed Sullivan Show,'' where his handsome looks were as welcome as his rich voice.
He presented a humble front. "I wish I were a tenor or a bass,'' he said in a 1962 interview with the Times. "I'm a lousy middle-range baritone. It's much more thrilling to sing the very high or the very low notes.''
Regarding the National Anthem; Goulet received some notoriety in 1965 when he flubbed the words to the "Star Spangled Banner'' at the heavyweight fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in Lewiston, Maine. He always felt he got a bum rap.
"I sang one word wrong,'' Goulet told the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times in 2001. "I sang, 'Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early night' . . . instead of 'light.' One word is all I messed up, and everyone built it up from that time on into something else entirely.''
ESPN introduced Goulet to a new generation in the 1990s by featuring him in retro, humorous advertisements for its college basketball schedule. Goulet also lent his name and voice to a 1993 episode of The Simpsons, showing up to support the casino that young Bart builds in his tree house.
In 2005, Goulet returned to Broadway as a fill-in co-star in a revival of La Cage Aux Folles, playing half of the gay couple at the center of the script. The show gave Goulet, then 71, a chance to show off his lasting skills as a balladeer.
Goulet and Vera Novak, his manager, married in 1982 and shared a 7,000-square-foot house in Las Vegas next to a close friend, the entertainer Wayne Newton.
Goulet had a daughter, Nikki, with his first wife, Louise Longmore, and two sons -- Christopher and Michael -- with his second wife, the actress Carol Lawrence. In a 1990 book, Lawrence said their 12-year marriage ended in 1975 because Goulet was an alcoholic who abused her and their children. Goulet denied ever being "a run-down-in-the-gutter alcoholic'' and said he never missed a performance (most of this information provided by the AP).
Goulet's most memorable performance, however, is a fictional one that occurred on New Year's Day 2002 at the breakfast buffet in Las Vegas' Excalibur. That morning Thelonius Jay (TJ), MH and I mused at the idea of Goulet performing at one of the buffets in Vegas---where he would interrupt himself in the middle of songs to recommend certain food items to buffeters as they stood in line loading up their plates. The musings were revisited between TJ and I, much to the horror of KJ & Sam, on a day trip coming back from Mt. St. Helens in 2004 over Memorial Day weekend.
Thank you, Mr. G, for the years of entertainment and amusement. You will be missed! I'm sure you're laughing your way through the pearly gates, poking fun at yourself. S

Friday, October 19, 2007

FILLER FOR AUDIOPHILES -- Van Halen's remasters are a sound lover's dream. 2000 reissues, Warner Brothers.

I take my music seriously. What can I say. If you couple that with the fact that I'm an audiophile with the completest mentality, that pretty much means that I've fallen prey to the music industry's moneymaking machine.

By looking at my collection, I'm sure I've probably spent tens of thousands of dollars over the
years on putting it together. Between all the rock, jazz, country, bluegrass, classical, opera, boxed sets, reissues, multiple issues and special editions, it's an expensive habit. ...oh yeah, I forgot about my Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler comedy collection. That's not to mention my interest in collecting rare vinyl that's starting to give me new ideas that could potentially spider into a whole new facet of collecting music.

God help me.

I've always fully admitted, with great pride, that my big vice in life is music. What can I
say; IT IS my life. Most of my memories revolve around music. I can tell you where I heard a specific song 20 years ago, what I was doing, and who I was with at the time. My brain is just wired that way.

The issues of remastered old CDs have come up in conversations I've had with friends over the years, again and again. In my experience, remastered CDs (which started to surface around 1992) bring out much more punch and clarity to the recording. Some people I know claim they can't hear any difference; I tell them their deaf. However, to be fair, there are remastered CDs out there that simply don't cut the mustard. For whatever reason.

The best remastered CDs I've heard so far come from Warner Bros. records. Specifically the Dire Straits catalog from 1978-1991 and the Van Halen catalog from 1978-1983 really stands out. The clarity and detail seem to jump off the disc.

The Van Halen ones in particular are absolutely amazing. I'm hearing things I never heard before with the older CD issues, and obviously with the vinyl or cassette versions (I was more of a vinyl guy before CDs came out, the cassettes were garbage IMO). I started by picking up my personal favorite by them Fair Warning (shown here, pleasant mugging scenes and all), and then after hearing that I went back to get the five others: Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First (shown at top of post), Diver Down, and 1984 (actually released in 1983).

All the VH remasters so far are only from the David Lee Roth era, and obviously that's where they should be starting. Maybe we'll get the Sammy ones reissued at a later time, but I think most fans are happy with their first 6 projects. ...oh and that other one with Gary Cherone---I'm sure we'll be on the edge of our seats waiting for THAT.

These are the CDs meant for waking up the neighbors---if you turn up the sound, it'll knock your door off its hinges.

...but first put on a set of good headphones and hear the top-notch sound quality!

For starters, Eddie Van Halen's guitar wizardry is absolutely SCREAMING off the disc and blasting
me into the 4th dimension. Secondly, the analog recording limitations are revealed; I'm hearing recording defects, lots of guitar hiss, and an occasional click in the tape (where it was probably spliced), which is more charming than anything else---not a bad thing at all. I think it makes the recording more interesting.

Next; if you rip the remasters to an iPod (using a rip rate of 192 kbps, which should completely ditto the full sound spectrum) and put them on shuffle, it gives the impression of a live VH performance and showcases how diversified the band actually is, which I never really picked up on before. The bluesy licks from Women and Children First seem to be sticking out most, since that was the one VH album that I seemed to blow off in the past. Listening to a little John Lee Hooker helped to open that one up a bit. I like the drunken bluesy departure the band takes on WaCF.

If you haven't gone down the remastered avenue yet, and like Van Halen, they're a good place to start.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Def Leppard shows how rock & roll can simply be fun... did you say FUN?!?!

Umm, and can you say 80s???

Yes, sometimes we're all in the mood for a sexist, metal-tinged cheesefest with "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," "Photograph," "Animal," "Armageddon It," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," or "Let's Get Rocked!"

I'll let you take it from there... beyond that, you're out of my realm of assistance. If you put on a headband and those 80s leather tights, you're on your own... and if you can, grow a mullet, throw on a torn Union Jack t-shirt, pump your fist in
the air, and start performing your Joe Elliott impression... we'll love you man, but you'll also see us running screaming in the other direction...

I'm back in 8th grade and it's 1983... ahh, the cheesy side of rock in the 80s, before big hair really hit MTV.

You know, like how it used to be okay to have album covers with buildings set ablaze from collisions or fired missiles. For obvious reasons now that's simply not cool anymore---but DO note the classic album cover shown here.

Let's see... explosions on display... this must be a rock band composed of males... from the 1980s...

Have I failed to mention it's the 80s? "Come on man, it's the 80s!"

I used to enjoy Def Leppard on my headphones as I was snow skiing in the early 1980s at Snoqualmie Pass. For some reason they were one of the skiers' favorites. I'm so glad that I stayed with some other bands in the long run, but
Pyromania was a big partner on the ski hill for quite a while.

I had my fun & cheesy "Def Leppard moment," and you all will too, I promise... if you haven't already... maybe even in the 80s... S

Sunday, October 14, 2007

THE REVIEW CORNER -- The Band: A Musical History box set is the "dark horse" cornerstone to any rock collection. 2005 issue, Capitol Records.

I recently picked up this 5 CD /1 DVD career-spanning set from the local library, and I have to say I'm definitely impressed. I plan on owning it for myself someday.

Until recently, this rock "band" was mostly a mystery to me---sorta like the shadowy figures of THE BAND depicted on the cover of this handsome box set (the hardcover "music book" that you see here to the left). Over 100 pages of stories, rare photos, and anecdotes are included along with the 6 discs nestled nicely in pages at the rear... gives it an old family photo album sort of feel.

Gracing us with perhaps the simplest name in rock history, THE BAND even predated the Beatles in an early incarnation known at The Hawks. Comprising of Canadians and Americans, the changed and final name you know them by today came from the time that they backed Dylan on his tours in the mid-60s. At that time Dylan was billed as "Dylan and the band," so afterwards the name stuck.

They didn't last long, disbanding in 1976 due to internal conflicts over songwriting credits; Robbie Robertson (lead guitarist) I guess decided to take all the credit. From what I can gather, it seems like an unfair maneuver of an egomaniac; as many of the other members were stated as having contributed to the music if not the overall songwriting process. This fact is only proven in the DVD, which shows the band at a pink house in Woodstock, New York (not the actual music festival) "woodshedding" to craft their sound. Hence, the name of their debut album, which we'll get to in a second...

Listening to their sound, one can tell that more than just Robertson contributed to it. It's one of those situations in which they were definitely greater than the sum of their parts.

...and for what it's worth, these guys are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were one of its first inductees, going in in 1994.

These guys are very rootsy, salt-of-the-earth and unpolished---which acutally is very refreshing. They're like a can of soup, as I hear lots of elements fused together when I put these guys on. I hear a hodge-podge of the blues, rockabilly, country, folk, gospel, soul, funk, southern roots, psychadelia, a little jazz, and I even heard some ragtime piano somewhere in there. They also sport 3 singers; my personal favorite being the bass player Rick Danko, who died just before the turn of the new millennium in December 1999. I also totally dig their keyboard /organ player Garth Hudson---if you get your hands on the box set, check out "The Genetic Method" (live) on CD 4---noodling on that funky Lowrey Organ. Ohhhh yeahhh.

Check out their site The Band, or just check them out at your local library if you're curious. If you go for individual albums, the big 3 by them would be their first album Music from Big Pink (with the famous abstract album cover painted by Bob Dylan, pictured to the left), their eponymous second album The Band, and the album showcasing their final live performance in 1976, The Last Waltz (available in both 2 CD versions and a 4 CD deluxe edition set)... and of course the career-spanning box set shown at the top of this post, which makes for a handsome "music book" if you will on your shelf. All their old albums have been digitally remastered for optimal sound quality. The latter live classic has guest performances by several folks including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Neil Young.

THE BAND were more popular with journalists and fellow musicians than the general public. Their talent, virtuosity, and the multi-instrumental abilities of the individual members cannot be denied.

However, unless someone had an older sibling to dial them in, it's understandable how anyone
born after the mid-1960s would fail to have this rock group on their radar. I consider myself quite a music buff, and an armchair historian to boot---and it basically took me until now to check these guys out. I'm puzzled as to why they never made much more of an impression; I'm guessing much of it had to do with their short successful run, their grassroots sound, and the fact that they're mainly resigned to the 1960 and 1970s.

You probably know the song "The Weight" from the radio---but that's about all you'll hear these days of THE BAND on the airwaves---at least in my experience... Maybe "Stage Fright," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Don't Do it," or "Life is a Carnival"---but I can't conjure up a radio memory of those latter songs.

They're definitely a throwback. They wouldn't really appeal to a youngster growing up in the 70s as much as more in-your-face bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, or David Bowie. You have to dig a little deeper to discover these guys---plus in my opinion their name throws off many folks today and puts them in the position of getting dismissed more than they should.

When you first hear them, they may remind many of you of a Saturday Night Live house band---probably because they played in the mid-70s on the show---and I'm guessing the show modeled their house band after THE BAND, something that continues to this day (or at least they still attempt to, in a cheesier and more bastardized fashion).

That is in no way a dig to THE BAND, as they were true originals.

Anyone who likes "southern rock" should definitely take to these guys... I hear where Skynyrd got some ideas, and I hear some Phish... and newer bands like My Morning Jacket... but they're sound goes way beyond that.

Don't make the same mistake I made by dismissing them and waiting to check them out---they're worth your time. Put something by them on your holiday wish list.

I give A Musical History by The Band 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mama Cass: Let's put the urban legend to rest.

Cass Elliot, known to most as "Mama" Cass---the big voice of the folk/rock band The Mamas & the Papas, died on July 29. 1974 in London, UK on an evening following a performance at the London Palladium. She was 32 at the time.

Urban legend suggests that Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. I'm sure it was easy to perpetuate the story due to her obese nature.

First, let's have some respect for the dead and leave the poor lady alone. Second, let's lay out the facts.

The urban legend started when police were heard commenting, soon
after finding her body, that a partially eaten ham sandwich was found in the room. However, the coroner's report found no evidence of choking, nor food, in her trachea. The cause of death was determined to be heart failure as she was sleeping. The coroner's report ruled out the possibility that any choking had occurred. So there it is.

I'm not trying to be humorless, nor am I holier than thou; as I'm guilty of having laughed about the "Killer Ham Sandwich" theory when I first heard of it... but what seemed funny at first seemed to change as I got more familiar with the music of Mama Cass and her contribution to The Mamas & the Papas---and music in general. In terms of the musicians and singers she influenced, there are too many to name.

Crosby, Stills and Nash dedicated their greatest hits album to her when it was released in 2005.

The world was stripped of a great singer who died at a very young age. She was 3 years younger than even jazz bebop legend Charlie Parker, whose drug escapades and self-destructive course are well documented. Mama Cass had the unfortunate curse of being overweight, with a heart that apparently couldn't take it.

She slipped into her dreams on her final night after two straight
nights of standing ovations in London. While she died very young, that's not a bad way to go. S

Ashes to ashes all fall down - the Dead's "Throwing Stones" defines the state of our World

It's almost scary how accurate the lyrics to the Grateful Dead song "Throwing Stones" are, in terms of defining where we're at today:

Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
Dizzy with eternity.
Paint it with a skin of sky, brush in some clouds and sea
Call it home for you and me.

A peaceful place or so it looks from space

A closer look reveals the human race.
Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face;
But afraid, we may lay our home to waste.

There's a fear down here we can't forget, hasn't got a name just yet

Always awake, always around singing ashes to ashes all fall down.

Now watch as the ball revolves and the nighttime calls

And again the hunt begins and again the bloodwind calls
By and by again, the morning sun will rise
But the darkness never goes from some mens eyes.

It strolls the sidewalks and it rolls the streets

Stalking turf, dividing up meat.
Nightmare spook, piece of heat, you and me, you and me.

Click, flashblade in ghetto night. rudies looking for a fight.

Rat cat alley roll them bones. need that cash to feed that jones
And the politicians throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Commissars and pin-striped bosses role the dice

Any way they fall guess who gets to pay the price.
Money green or proletarian gray, selling guns instead of food today.

So the kids they dance, they shake their bones

While the politicians throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Heartless powers try to tell us what to think

If the spirits sleeping, then the flesh is ink.
History's page, it is thusly carved in stone
The futures here, we are it, we are on our own.

If the game is lost then were all the same

No one left to place or take the blame.
We will leave this place an empty stone
Or this shinning ball of blue we can call our home

So the kids they dance, they shake their bones

While the politicians are throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Shipping powders back and forth

Singing black goes south while white comes north
And the whole world full of petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours.

And the current fashions set the pace.

Lose your step, fall out of grace.
And the radical he rant and rage, singing someone got to turn the page
And the rich man in his summer home,
Singing just leave well enough alone
But his pants are down, his covers blown
And the politicians are throwing stones
So the kids they dance they shake their bones
Cause its all too clear were on our own

Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free

Its dizzying, the possibilities. ashes, ashes all fall down.

So there it is, since it speaks for itself, I'll end it here. S

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Legacy of John Denver

Many critics out there have referred to his music as cornball or too mellow, and some of you may feel the same—and that’s okay—but in my opinion he’s a prophet for his stance on environmental issues.
He was a man ahead of his time, who embraced environmental causes way before many of us even understood what environmentalism is.
John Denver introduced me to the environment through his music.
In particular, he exposed me to the stories of the beauty and majesty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains; a place which, shamefully, I still have yet to visit and explore. I'll get there someday physically, as I visit the place every time I put his music on.
My first exposure to Denver was probably around the age of six, when he was all over television in the mid-1970s. He was one of the first “tele-genic” pop stars, and very kid friendly, so my folks probably saw my interest and an opportunity to “culture” me, encouraging the matter by giving me John Denver’s Greatest Hits for Christmas 1975. I believe it was the first bona-fide record I ever owned—the one where he has his hand on his hat, with those nerdy specs and the sun in his eyes—how could I ever forget it...
...oh excuse me, my first record was one by Burl Ives, and it WASN'T the one with "Frosty the Snowman."
The most intriguing part of Denver’s music is the lyrics and themes, in that many of the songs deal with his very personal and spiritual kinship with the environment. Certainly they mean something different to a 6 year old kid than they do to an adult, but the imagery in his music definitely took hold back in the day. I saw visions of majestic mountains, grassy meadows, and mountain streams. I also took note of the concerns expressed in many of his songs; in that the environment is a living, fragile entity.
Looking back, I think I "got it" even at the age of 6... I guess I figured it's a no-brainer. Let's do whatever it takes to protect the planet and ensure its future. Duh.
What’s so funny about all this is the fact that my mother, who once stated that “she has no connection with nature,” and is the only person I know who refuses to recycle—essentially representing the opposite of everything I value in this world—is the exact individual who pushed the music of John Denver on me as a child. That’s what planted a seed for a big part of the belief system, and the stewardship for the environment, that I carry around to this day.
Damn it, I digressed again... somebody stop me.
Shifting gears, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of his untimely death in 1997, when he died piloting an experimental Long-EZ aircraft which crashed just after takeoff from the Monterey Peninsula Airport in Pacific Grove, CA. He was 53 at the time.
After establishing his musical career in the mid 1970s, Denver used his celebrity to further the environmental sentiments expressed in his music. In addition to focusing on humanitarian and sustainability work, his main focus involved conservation issues—and he went after them aggressively—actually helping to create the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (I assume we all know the context of that locale).
Denver founded his own environmental group, the Winstar Foundation out of Snowmass, CO—which pursues conservancy and environmental causes in Colorado to this day, and furthers environmental education. You can visit their website here: John Denver's Windstar Foundation. Check out the site and offer some support!
If you ever want to know any detail of what was on Denver’s mind with the environment, just visit his music. I’ll warn you that much of it’s folk-based, and some of it might make you snicker a bit at first at what might come across as a cornball element—but if you give it a chance I think some of it should take hold. Try going to your local library and check out his Country Roads Collection, or try out the one I mentioned having as a kid (pictured above---nerdy-looking squinting fella in the funny hat).
So the story goes… thank you, John Denver, for the inspiration and example you set. S