RIP

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Fats Domino has passed away at the age of eighty-six in his Harvey, Louisiana home, across the Mississippi from the city of New Orleans where he remained a popular fixture even in retirement. He released his last album, Alive and Kickin’, the same year he was rescued by helicopter during Hurricane Katrina. The following year, he described his retirement in a rare interview, saying, “I just drink my little beers, do some cookin’, anything I feel like.”

We couldn’t choose a favorite from the dozens of hit singles he recorded in the 50s and early 60s. In fact, we could hardly narrow it down to four. Here are a few of our favorites. All of these were co-written with Dave Bartholomew, who at ninety-six is still alive and kickin’.

This week’s relentless rain hasn’t helped us face the harrowing news from Las Vegas one bit. It’s as if we’re living in a world gone mad, only unlike in the movies there doesn’t seem to be someplace safe to which we can all escape in the end.

As with the terrorist attack inside Paris’ Bataclan Theater, we are struck and stunned by by the fact that these events happen at live music events. We have no complaints about being checked for weapons when entering a venue, which we experienced as recently as last week when we went to a show at 7th Street Entry. Live music quickly returned to Paris after the November 2015 attack in that theater and other locations, and we appreciated what two two Irish performers had to say at the time.

The heavy sense of sorrow which hung drearily over this little neighborhood record shop yesterday was made all the worse by the news that Tom Petty, one of the most endearing of the elder statesmen of rock and roll, had passed away at the age of sixty-six. He was found at his home in Malibu, California in a state of cardiac arrest and was taken off life support yesterday surrounded by family and friends.

Petty was so often seen with a cigarette, and in the 90s went through rehab for a heroin addiction, all of which likely took a toll on his heart. Nothing would change the way fan feel about the Gainesville, Florida singer and songwriter who never pretended to be anything else. Fans identified with Tom Petty in a way they didn’t with other marquee names like those he joined to form the Traveling Wilburys “supergroup.”

There’s a sense of wonder and with it a sense of humor in all of his music. You can see it in the smirk on the cover of his 1976 debut LP with the Heartbreakers, and you could hear it in the silly “What’s in here?” interlude on Into the Great Wide Open fifteen years later. And let’s not forget those ridiculous “Hello CD listeners” and “Hello cassette listeners” moments which will presumably be lost now that vinyl has, as they tell us, ‘come back.’

We read an exceptional AV Club piece about Petty ages ago which we still remembered when opening our copy of his last album, Hypnotic Eye, in 2014. Writer Noel Murray, who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for the piece, posits the case that the best moment in every Tom Petty song is its first lyric. This is true for many of our favorites, especially “Rebels,” the underrated rocker which also opens the album Southern Accent in 1985. Of course, you can find a great line nearly anywhere you drop the needle on one of his albums. In the middle of his soundtrack to She’s the One in 1995 we hear Tom sing,

You think you’re so above me, you think that you’re so big
Well I saw you kick that dog when the wind blew off your wig

The soundtrack was one of the albums Petty freely admitted was a low-point in his career (along with Long After Dark and Echo) but that throwaway joke in “Zero From Outer Space” captures Petty’s humor as completely as it does his tenacity. Always an underdog, even at the height of his success, Petty was never a warrior and the snarkiest of his working class wit was always reserved for those who never knew how to handle newfound affluence — think of the opening of “Listen to Her Heart,” for instance. Or much of his debut solo album, Full Moon Fever from which came what’s being called his signature tune, “I Won’t Back Down.”

The Heartbreakers’ return-to-roots sound coincided with the appearance of bands like the Ramones, Television and the New York Dolls, but, but Petty was never a punk rocker. He did have a rebellious streak, though. His relationship with his label’s distributor became famously fractured when MCA announced it would charge a dollar more for his 1981 album than what consumers were used to paying — the bump to so-called “superstar pricing” of $9.98 inspired Petty to threaten to shitcan the record or insist it be titled $8.98. This led to a Rolling Stone cover story subtitled “One Man’s War Against High Record Prices.”

When finally released, Hard Promises featured one of Petty’s most memorable hits, “The Waiting,” and featured him standing in a record shop on the jacket. We’d love to know what record store Petty is standing in because he’s next to an overstuffed spinning 45 display very much like the one in our shop.

During the press push for Hypnotic Eye in 2014 Petty dismissed EDM and the DJ scene, as well as digital downloads. “I hate MP3s,” Petty told USA Today. “You hear exactly 5% of the record I made. The CD is not as good as it can be, but it’s 100 times better than an MP3. The good news is vinyl is coming back.”

Everyone had a sense that the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour, which had passed through the Twin Cities just a few weeks ago, was the band’s farewell. We never had the sense that Petty was going to retire, however. News of his passing has already brought regular customers into the shop to talk about their favorite songs and look at what we have left in stock. Last night while playing a board game with out kids we listened to several albums and realized we couldn’t choose a favorite, let along narrow down his songs to a list of favorites. For anyone who loved rock and roll Tom Petty was the real deal. And through his records a good friend who was always there when you needed him.

 

 

When huge success comes, things get much more serious. Suddenly you wear a lot of hats and become a grown-up.”

Grant Hart

We are completely devastated by the news today that Grant Hart has passed away. He was one of the most gifted musicians Minnesota has ever produced, and actually larger and more extraordinary than the legendary reputation which preceded him. Its heartwarming to already hear stories about barefoot drumming, or about his cats, or about the epic writing and recording of his magnum opus, the 2013 album The Argument.

We don’t know what else to say. Today we’ll start with The Argument and work backwards listening to our favorites all the way back to “Wheels.”

Country singer Don Williams was called “The Gentle Giant” by fans and in every way he lived up to the name. He was a kind and gracious family man who was deeply appreciative of his fans. Last March Williams announced he was going to “hang up [his] hat and enjoy so quiet time at home,” and in this morning’s paper we read that he died in Mobile, Alabama at the age of seventy-eight.

Although he had a remarkable number of #1 hits on the country music chart, Williams only hit the top forty once, with “I Believe in You” in 1981 (a classic song which has already appeared here on the Hymies blog). His music holds a special place in our hearts not only for its consistently positive message, but because Williams was a favorite of Dave’s brother, who passed away in an accident nearly ten years ago. As an unfortunate coincidence, Don Williams also lost a brother in an accident when he was young.

His albums are hardly best-sellers these days, but we were pretty happy to have a copy of his 1981 album Especially For You in the shop this morning so we start our day with this song. Thanks for reading — we hope you enjoy this beautiful Saturday, but it you choose to step out of the sunshine for a while we’ll be here.

Glen Campbell, who was one of the top selling country music performers of the 60s and 70s, has passed away at the age of eighty-one.

In recent years Campbell had given a celebrity face to Alzheimer’s disease, as his family’s struggle to help him was shown in the documentary, I’ll Be Me.

Many of Campbell’s hit songs were written by Jimmy Webb, including this one, “Wichita Lineman.”

Before his successful run of hit singles for Capitol Records, Campbell was one of the busiest session musicians in the industry. As a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew, Campbell appeared on hundreds of singles from Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” to many of the Beach Boys’ hits. If you are a record collector it seems likely that there is at least one recording of Campbell in your collection.

Today’s post is a tribute to June Foray, and her extraordinary eight decade career in radio, television and film. Ms. Foray passed away this week at the age of ninety-nine. She is best known around our house as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel and his villainous adversary Natasha Fatale on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, but its worth noting that she won an Emmy five years ago for a character on The Garfield Show. She is the oldest person to be given one of the awards. In today’s New York Times obituary, Ms. Foray is quoted comparing voice acting for animation to performing in radio drama, where she began her work at the age of twelve. She was truly a connection to the roots of animated film.

Coincidentally, yesterday we were listening to this 1957 Folkways collection of ‘modern’ composition, which has a song reminiscent of early animation music.

The album opens with the song you hear today. The composer and performer were unknown, and presumably remain unknown today as neither is listed on the Smithsonian Folkways website (here), but the recording dates from mid-20s Germany. Its amusing style draws from American jazz and European burlesque, and the album’s liner notes comment that it continues to delight fans of cartoons today.

 

 
Before you titter at its title, “Bahnfahrt” translates to “train ride,” and the song cheerfully captures the sounds and rhythms, as well as the excitement of such an experience. This Folkways album points out the unknown German composer was working in this style long before Spike Jones. “Bahnfahrt” also predates the music of Raymond Scott, such as the imitable “Powerhouse” often heard in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons of Chuck Jones and others, for which Ms. Foray often provided voices.

 

It has been eight years and a week or two since Michael Jackson passed away in a rented mansion in Los Angeles, and twelve years since he was acquitted on all counts by a jury after a trial so that bizarre the prosecutor himself was seen at one point with his head in his hands as one of his witnesses perjured herself.

The very idea that he was living in a rented mansion at the end expresses the absurdity of Jackson’s life. His residences are legendary locations: the Jackson’s Hayvenhurst mansion in Encino is set to become a tourist attraction and of course there is Neverland, the 3000 acre ranch whose zoo and carnival rides have not seen life in years. Also there is the Jackson’s original home in Gary, Indiana, which is a destination for devoted fans. A quick look over what folks have to say on Trip Advisor about their visit will remind you that there most certainly are two Americas.

While never found guilty of a crime, Jackson’s pariah status is the reason he never had a home after the 2005 trial. To this day people stop by one of the posters of him in our record shop and make a “Wacko Jacko” joke. As life-long fans we’re insulted. As human beings we’re appalled by the ability of the media to crucify public figures without consequence. And we’re tempted to ask how much they really know about the people who made the allegations, or the people who propagated the rumors and innuendos which have so widely been proven to not only false bust shockingly self-serving. We wish the people making jokes would read this 2011 essay by Charles Thomson about the media’s shocking bias against Jackson in coverage of the trial.

If only people would recognize how transparent the motives of the Arviso family were, or how unethical television ‘journalists’ like Diane Dimond used the case to benefit their own careers, often making entirely unverified claims under the unscrupulous umbrella of ‘un-named sources.’ Anyways, we agree with Thomson’s argument that the media’s treatment of Jackson was “shameful.”

People seem unwilling to listen when you point out that the Arviso family had already filed a questionable lawsuit against J.C. Penny after the mother and children were caught shoplifting. Or that she had spoken with an attorney about suing Michael Jackson before her family had even met the pop star.

Instead they’ll be quick to point to the 1993 claims against Jackson as evidence of a pattern, but that earlier case was also fraught with suspicious motives. The father of that accuser, Evan Chandler, was ostensibly a dentist but also acted as a drug dealer to celebrities, as described in the late Carrie Fisher’s 2011 memoir, Shockaholic. Fisher, who admits having unnecessary dental work “just for the morphine,” described about how Chandler seemed to be scheming to put Jackson in a compromising position and was using his son as bait. “This was the time I knew I had to find another dentist,” she wrote. “No drug can hide the feeling of one’s skin crawling.”

The most unsettling aspect of this case is a recorded telephone conversation between Chandler and his ex-wife’s new husband, in which he describes how he will win the case against Jackson. It took place on June 8, but Chandler later claimed he learned about the alleged abuse on June 16.

In her book, Fisher defended Jackson:

I never thought that Michael’s whole thing with kids was sexual. Never. As in Neverland. Granted, it was miles from appropriate, but just because it wasn’t normal doesn’t mean that it had to be perverse. Those aren’t the only two choices for what can happen between an adult and an un-related child hanging out together.

Anyway, another year has passed and things will remain the same. Sony will make millions of an artist they could hardly recognize when he struggled, and people will stop in the record shop and make “Wacko Jacko” jokes.

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