Aww…

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Marine reservist Major Bill Hendricks started the Toys for Tots program in 1947, finding inspiration when his wife could not find a charity to take a homemade Raggedy Ann doll she hoped could go to a child in need.

In the sixty-nine years since, the organization has distributed more than 469 million toys to children. They stopped accepting second-hand toys in 1980, owing to the mixed-message implied and the time involved in refurbishing them, which previously had been done by Marine reservists.

In 1995 Secretary of Defense William Perry added the Toys for Tots program to the Marine Reserve Corps official list of missions. The organization distributes toys at other times of the year besides the holidays, for instance working with FEMA to provide toys for children during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

You can find opportunities to donate on their official website here.

Hendricks worked as a director of public relations for Warner Brother Studios when he founded the charity, and in its first year the familiar donation bins made their debut at Warner theaters. His position provided the opportunity to get celebrity support for the charity when it went national the following year.

This 1980 promotional record was sent to radio stations by Warner Brothers and features a side of celebrity spots, including Frank Sinatra, Michael MacDonald (of the Doobie Brothers) and George Harrison.

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The failing New York Times crossword puzzle is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this week. If you’ve already finished today’s and the boss isn’t looking, this link will take you to a fun page about the puzzle’s anniversary and its history.

One of the things they’re doing to celebrate is inviting celebrities who enjoy the crossword puzzle to co-author one of their own with help from a regular contributor. Yesterdays was co-authored by classical pianist Emanuel Ax (and yes, we missed a few squares — but at least we didn’t cheat).

Ax, who lives in New York City, has always held a special place as one of our favorite pianists. Obviously, the idea of his duets with Yo Yo Ma is entertain if only because the man in charge of the marquee must have been very happy to have to only write “Ax/Ma” for the day, but the other reason is because Ax made several superb recordings with our own Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Today we’re listening to them perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 18 in B-flat.

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“Happy Together” was released on Valentine’s Day, 1967 and two years later Doug probably spent 98¢ on this copy of the single, and we hope he and the recipient lived happily (together) ever after.

Are cats awesome, or just an enormous pain in our butts? The merits of our own Momar the Cat are the subject of household debate. Dave dotes on him but the little black and white trouble maker only makes rare visits to the record store, usually ending in disaster.

Whether Mo Cat enjoys the music we play or not is hard to tell. It seems he’s much more interested in the songs of the birds — maybe he would prefer we more often listen to Oliver Messiaen.

Anyway, here are a few songs we chose for the ten pound terror…

Henry Mancini’s “Song for Cat” is a mambo masterpiece, magically melding lush swing with soulful latin strut. The song was composed for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but like so many of the maestro’s best moments has a life of its own.

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The highlight of the 1957 album New Jazz Lp The Cats is a trio performance led by pianist Tommy Flanagan, but the record swings solidly in its opening track “Minor Mishap.” This song features John Coltrane, Idrees Sulieman and Kenny Burrell as soloists — one of the last Coltrane performances before his epic early Atlantic recordings.

Flanagan’s ponderous “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (with the rhythm section of Doug Watkins and Louis Hayes) is the sort of evocative make-out jazz our friend Mo Cat enjoys interrupting. Flanagan is underrated among pianists of his era, heard here at his best.

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Our last selection of songs for swinging cats comes from Quincy Jones’ appropriately slinky album, Quincy Plays for Pussycats. His take on “What’s New Pussycat?” is fun, but the best thing on this record is “Blues for Trumpet and Koto,” written by the reliably inventive Marvin Hamlisch (whose name is mis-spelled on the album’s credits). As with most of the great Quincy Jones Orchestra recordings on Mercury, the performers are not credited, so we don’t know who are the soloists in this big band based duet. We think its a perfect soundtrack for the afternoons when our Mo Cat wrestles with the clumsy mutt we adopted two years ago.

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SHE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN 

Billy Joel wrote “She’s Always A Woman” for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, who was also his business manager. The song contrasts her tenacious exterior with the way he knew her as a lover and wife. In the context of their divorce five years later lines like “she can wound with her eyes” and “steal like a thief” take on weighty new substance.

Rolling Stone called the song “misleadingly tender,” but everything about The Stranger struck a chord in 1977. Another single from the album, “Just the Way You Are,” took a similar (if less snarky) stance, and both were hits. That second tune was an artistic coup de grace for Joel, whose jazz leanings on his early Columbia albums were dismissed by critics, because the legendary Phil Woods played the solo.

Joel wrote “Just the Way You Are” as a birthday gift for Weber. According to the authorized biography by Fred Schruers for which Joel granted hours of interviews, Weber’s response when he played the song for her was calculating: “Do I get the publishing rights, too?”

The success of The Stranger started Joel on a streak which outlasted his first two marriages, but he rarely performed either love song after his divorce from Weber. Joel was generous in the separation until he was laid up in the hospital after a motorcycle accident in which he had badly injured both hands. In the biography he tells Schruers that Weber arrived at the hospital with contacts, asking him to sign over even more to her. Several years later he was forced to sue her brother for siphoning tens of millions out of his earnings.

A muzak version of “She’s Always a Woman” was playing in the plaza between the two towers of the World Trade Center moments before the South Tower collapsed.

ANNIE’S SONG

John Denver wrote “Annie’s Song” for his wife in 1974, and it was included on his hit album, Back Home Again. That’s Annie Martell next to him on the cover.

Initially,” she explained, “it was a love song and it was given to me through him, and yet for him it became a bit like a prayer.” The song is unique in Denver’s catalog as his only hit in the United Kingdom, although cover versions of other songs he wrote have been successful there. It was so popular there that an utterly dreadful version by flautist James Galway was also a hit.

Readers of Denver’s 1994 autobiography Take Me Home learned that then, and throughout their marriage, he was unfaithful to Annie, and although it was his drug use and infidelity which led to their divorce he flew into a rage over how the couple’s assets were being divided. He describes in detail cutting their bed in half with a chainsaw and choking Annie. “Before I knew it I had her on the kitchen counter and my hands were around her throat. And I stopped. I had almost lost control but didn’t.”

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This gigantic Bandcamp album is a tribute/fundraiser for Leah and Rob Rule. Leah Rule was a manager of the Turf Club and the artists who contributed their wanted to express thanks for all the support she gave them & their bands.

After moving to a farm in Wisconsin, Leah Rule published a comic fanzine about her life there, Rural Fox (you can see some of her art here) — If you’re a regular readers you know how much we love comics! Leah and Rob also continued to host live music in their barn in Boyceville.

You’ll see it in this video for Martin Devaney’s song on the compilation, “Over my Shoulder.” You’ll also get a sense of how much Leah has been missed since she passed away in 2012 after a two-year fight with cancer.

A few years ago when we prepared to move the record shop, closing up down the street on, of all days, Record Store Day. Our goal was to reopen by the first of May, giving us just two weeks to move what was later estimated to be 75 tons. I had mentioned this plan to Jim, who lives across the alley from me, a while earlier. When the time came to start working, he would be there every morning when I went to get into the now-legendary Hymie’s van, waiting to start his old pickup truck, which was actually more of a piece of junk than our van.

He’s a delivery guy, apparently one of the best because he’s always on schedule. He works downtown a lot, so he had a few great stories about that during the couple weeks we were moving crates of albums and record browsers and even the jukebox (with the help from the guys from Buffalo Moon). Jim had taken time off to help us, and never really asked for anything in return — the only thing I can remember is that he needed me to record him a CD of Transfiguration by Shawn Phillips, who was one of his favorite artists, because he could only find it on LP.

We don’t see him in the shop too often, although he never misses the block parties that have replaced that Record Store Day ‘moving celebration.’ I do still see him in the alley fairly often, and this was the latest story he told me about driving a truck around downtown:

On sixth street he was waiting at a light and he saw a bird on the street, in the middle of a lane. It was moving a little but it seemed like it was dazed. Cars were actually driving right over it. He pulled his truck to the side on the next block, waited his chance and ran out and grabbed it. Back in his truck he made a nest by dumping out his lunchbox (Jim’s a tall thin dude but he carries the biggest lunchbox of anyone I know). And there the bird rode along with him for the rest of the day, snuggled up in a sweatshirt in Jim’s giant cooler.

When he got home he took the bird out and set it on the grass. They sat together for a few minutes and suddenly the little guy took off, soaring quickly out of sight. He packed up his things and went inside, forgetting about the entire episode because he had big plans that night. He had bought tickets to see Shawn Phillips at the Dakota (this was just last month).

He got back downtown with his wife, just a little later than he’d like, worried he wouldn’t get a good seat. When he got there, though, he was told a pair of the reserved seats had just become available. “Would you them?”

So here’s a guy who really doesn’t spoil himself often, but probably deserves it — he’s been nothing short of a great friend to me. “I have no doubt those two events were connected,” he told me when he finished the story about the bird, and about his incredible seats to see one of his favorite artist.

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