Guys whose dads were superfamous

You are currently browsing the archive for the Guys whose dads were superfamous category.

Usually when we revisit posts from the past, we dig deep into the archives. Today’s re-run is a song which we first posted only a year and a half ago, around the time we bought a collection that was entirely albums by Hank Williams Jr. The owner did not have any records by his father, nor a single record by another country artist at all. She liked them and loved their music, but only collected Hank Jr.’s albums. This episode reminded us that everyone collects records in their own way. Here’s what we wrote about a record she recommended we play…

hank jr and friendsThe song in yesterday’s post, “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” must be one of Tom Petty’s most popular singles. He even shot a typically goofy video for the song at the time, although in it efforts were made to mask the drug reference in its chorus with an overdub.

If anyone else could say we don’t know how it feels to be them, it might be Hank Williams Jr. For so much of his life, he lived in his father’s shadow, even though he was a highly talented multi-instrumentalist.

Hank Jr. took lessons from famous musicians as varied as Fats Domino and Earl Scruggs, and has played on his many albums at least a half dozen different instruments: guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, drums, etc.

Last week we bought a monstrous collection of country records which leaned heavily on the seventies ‘outlaw’ scene. Naturally, there were a lot of albums by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and those great Bakersfield bands of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. There were also more of Hank Jr.’s albums than we’ve ever seen at once. Whole boxes of them. Who knew there were so many?!

His 1975 album Hank Williams Jr. and Friends is a country-rock classic. It’s last song, “Living Proof,” is one of the most heartbreaking country tunes we’ve ever heard.

 

hank jr and friendsThe song in yesterday’s post, “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” must be one of Tom Petty’s most popular singles. He even shot a typically goofy video for the song at the time, although in it efforts were made to mask the drug reference in its chorus with an overdub.

If anyone else could say we don’t know how it feels to be them, it might be Hank Williams Jr. For so much of his life, he lived in his father’s shadow, even though he was a highly talented multi-instrumentalist.

Hank Jr. took lessons from famous musicians as varied as Fats Domino and Earl Scruggs, and has played on his many albums at least a half dozen different instruments: guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, drums, etc.

Last week we bought a monstrous collection of country records which leaned heavily on the seventies ‘outlaw’ scene. Naturally, there were a lot of albums by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and those great Bakersfield bands of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. There were also more of Hank Jr.’s albums than we’ve ever seen at once. Whole boxes of them. Who knew there were so many?!

His 1975 album Hank Williams Jr. and Friends is a country-rock classic. It’s last song, “Living Proof,” is one of the most heartbreaking country tunes we’ve ever heard.

tom waits saturday night lp“Drunk on the Moon” is hardly one of the most memorable songs from those early Tom Waits albums, but it has always conjured some funny images for us. Of course, if you’re actually paying attention he’s not drunk on the moon, he’s enjoying the exuberance of a lovely evening lit by the waning moon. This, of course, is what we’d do if Irene would let us come to the moon with her, and maybe we’d just have a celebratory snifter.

There are a handful of accounts of drunk astronauts, mostly dating from one of the darkest chapters in NASA’s recent history, the same summer US Navy Captain (and astronaut) Lisa Nowak drove nine hundred miles in space diapers to confront and kidnap the girlfriend of a former lover. Her story buried this one, about actual drunk astronauts: colleagues who were cleared for flight in spite of concerns over their intoxication. Nowak, incidentally, denies she was wearing space diapers.

Our interpretation of Tom Waits’ innocuous song has always been wrong. Turns out he is not one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, and that none of those twelve had the opportunity to get drunk while bouncing over its dusty surface. We often attribute inspired musical accomplishments to drunkenness, perhaps all the way back to Dionysian mythology. This is only sometimes an accurate depiction.

beethoven the 9 szellFor instance, the performers who debuted Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major on December 8th, 1813 are said to have thought he was drunk when he completed it. The orchestra, which included Louis Spohr, Antonio Salieri and several nineteenth-century virtuosos, was compelled to reprise the symphony’s Allegretto at the event, which was a charitable fundraiser for wounded veterans.

Regular folks like us, who rarely have enough in the piggy bank to attend the orchestra, can only imagine the fervor instilled by the coda of the symphony’s final movement, an Allegro con brio with a whirling, Dionysian delight. The seventh is one of the most unusual symphonies, not only of Beethoven’s but of the pen of any composer — second movement Allegretto is so popular as to be often performed on its own, and the manic energy of its fourth movement is entirely unique in the music of the romantic era.

Wagner was impelled to declare the seventh the “apotheosis of the dance,” praising its “blissful insolence” and “bacchanalian power” in an oft quoted essay. Klaus Roy’s notes in our copy of George Szell’s late 50s recording of the symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra add to the impression of drunken inspiration: “For drunk he surely was, drunk with a power that is granted to a few mortals: to sustain during the hard work of musical creation and notation a sense of motion so irresistible that he sets his listeners afire with him, every time, and all the time.”

Many believe Beethoven was an alcoholic. It would account for much of his behavior, including oppressive social anxiety and his inconsistent, often callous changes of heart. In spite of the enormous artistic achievements of his last decade (the late quartets and the ninth symphony representing some of the finest art any human being has created) his life’s story is characterized by a steady downward spiral. When he died at fifty-six in 1927, an autopsy revealed signs of cirrhosis, as well as strong traces of lead, which was commonly used (illegally) as a sweetener in cheap wine.

Whether the initial response to Beethoven’s seventh symphony was any more than an oft-repeated misunderstanding is lost to the ages. We’re not even certain who was performing that night. If his contemporaries thought of him as a drunk, this is likewise lost — perhaps no one had the courage to put their convictions in writing. Most were in awe of the maestro. Franz Schubert, after a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet no 14, lamented, “After this what is there left for us to write?”

History has recorded Beethoven’s father as an abusive alcoholic who beat his son and forced the boy to perform for his friends. Whether Beethoven would have continued the cycle will never be known because he never married or had children. After his brother’s death, Beethoven began a long and hostile battle with his sister-in-law for custody of Karl van Beethoven, the sole heir to the family name. Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and bid farewell to his mortally ill uncle the following year to serve the Austrian army in Jihlava.

urlKarl was pretty unsuccessful, but lived well off his inheritances. He died as young as his uncle, also likely from cirrhosis, so we could speculate he too was an alcoholic. There is only one picture of Karl, forever to live in the shadow of his uncle just as nearly every contemporary composer feared they would. His only son, named for Uncle Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for a railroad company in Detroit. He and his wife, a concert pianist, had a son named Karl Julius van Beethoven, who died without having children and with him was extinguished the family name Beethoven.

 

Some of us do struggle with alcoholism. Others feel abandoned, or have never recovered from some rejection. You have no idea the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has survived. Some of us just wish we were appreciated — imagine being Beethoven and at the height of your accomplishment you have no one to make proud. No father, no mother, no children. People will never forget that Beethoven had to be told the audience was applauding the finale (or the scherzo, depending on the account) of his ninth symphony when he conducted its premiere. This was his first appearance before an audience in a dozen years. and he was, by most accounts several measures off at the end.

So was Beethoven drunk on the moon, perhaps when we composed his Sonata no. 14 at about the age of thirty? Maybe, but the common title “Moonlight” wasn’t applied to the popular work until several years after Beethoven’s death, more than twenty-five years after it was published as Sonata in C# Minor “Quasi una fantasia” — literally “almost a fantasy.” It’s Adagio sostenuto feels more like a funeral dirge than a fantasy. Hector Berlioz called its melody “a lamentation.”

All signs suggest alcoholism as a defining factor in Beethoven’s life, and likely in much of his art. The maestro is largely silent on the subject, although he did once write that the “world doesn’t know that music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out his glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunk.”

Duke Ellington conducted a septet drawn from his famous orchestra through “Pigeons and Peppers” in 1938 and the tune was released on a 78rpm single by Okeh Records. It’s been anthologized on a couple large collections of his late 30s small group recordings but hardly saw release on LP (you’ll have to find a Swedish compilation of Cootie Williams tracks to hear it at 33⅓). It’s hardly the only recording by the prolific bandleader to slip into relative obscurity, but this one is of particular interest.

“Pigeons and Peppers” is the first song written by his son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington, to be recorded. He was eighteen at the time. A year later Mercer launched the first of several big bands he’d lead over the years. At one time or another many great musicians played in the Mercer Ellington orchestra: Dizzy, Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Carmen McRae, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman.

Mercer often returned to work for his father’s orchestra, writing songs in the early 40s (including orchestra favorites “Jumpin’ Pumpkin” and “Things Ain’t What the Used to Be”), managing the operation in the 50s and at various times performing on alto sax and trumpet. In 1975 he kept the late Duke’s memory alive with the first of two European tours by the orchestra.

We regard Mercer Ellington’s 1975 album Continuum as the final document of the legendary Ellington Orchestra — the record is, notably, the last recording of Harry Carney, the baritone saxophonist who’s distinctive character is entirely inseparable from the Orchestra’s legacy. When Ellington had passed away in May 1974, Carney lamented: “This is the worst day of my life. Without Duke I have nothing to live for.” Four months later he was reunited with his lifelong friend and we can only imagine the beautiful music they’ve made together lazily driving around together up their in heaven.

Mercer Ellington lived until 1996. He conducted his father’s music on Broadway (in Sophisticated Ladies) and his mid-80s effort, Digital Duke, won a large jazz ensemble Grammy. Mercer also produced the debut of Queenie Pie, Ellington’s street opera left unfinished in 1974 and seen by many as the greatest of his “lost” works. As the Duke was dying, he and Mercer worked together on another unfinished project, Les Trois Rois Noir (“The Three Black Kings”) first written around 1971 when the Orchestra was in the spiritual throes of its Sacred Concerts.

The first of Ellington’s three kings represented his interest in the traditional representation of Balthazar, the youngest of the Magi who has been depicted as an African King for centuries. Ellington noted his appearance in a stained glass representation of the nativity in Barcelona’s Cathedral Del Mar when his Orchestra performed a Sacred Concert there. The second King is Solomon. Notably, months after Ellington strove to complete Les Trois Rois Noir before he left us, the heir to the Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, Haille Selassie was deposed by the Derg, a military council. Whether or not he was assassinated while interred is still undetermined.

The third is Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who the Duke had already celebrated in life in My People, a sweeping work which celebrated racial unity in 1963. One tune was “King Fit the Battle of Bama.” When Ellington later met the Reverend (a moving account of this momentous meeting can be seen and heard here) he had the Orchestra perform that piece.

ellington three black kingsMercer Ellington completed Les Trois Rois Noir from his father’s notes. He along with the Ellington Orchestra performed it with the Yale Symphony Orchestra, and later made this recording with the Warsaw Symphony. Mercer wrote of that performance, that “we could feel [the audience’s] participation increasing until the audience and the musicians seemed to be of one spirit. This unity began to accelerate and grow and continued in its momentum until we reached the climactic ending that resulted in one of the most spectacular experiences that had ever taken place in that hall.”

love for sale

(“Love for Sale”)

You think it’s hard being you?  Try being Frank Sinatra Jr. for a day.  That’s right, Frank Sinatra Jr.

What, you never heard of Frank Sinatra Jr.?  He recorded a bunch of albums.  He kind of looked like Frank Sinatra.

And he got kidnapped.  That was pretty weird.

its all right

(It’s All Right”)

My favorite Frank Sinatra Jr. album was It’s Alright, a country rock romp record year after his lukewarm review.  I also appreciate the fact he wrote a couple songs on Spice (including the bonus track).

spice

(“Spice”)

According to wikipedia he was offered a part on a Star Trek series but turned it down because he wanted to play an alien.

have a nice day

(“Have a Nice Day”)

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.