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.
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.
We were fortunate to meet Sonny a few times during his second or third career as the frontman for the Lakers, and remember him as easygoing, thoughtful and above all gracious. We left our encounters with the impression he deeply appreciated the opportunity to perform, and we were impressed by his insight. Sonny Knight was not only a singer, but also a veteran, a truck driver, and an incredible storyteller. We are all fortunate some of his stories found their way into songs these past several years.
The New York Times has reported the passing of Batman star Adam West under the headline “A Sad Day for Gotham.” West, who was eighty-eight, would have appreciated the wry humor. His portrayal of Bob Kane’s caped crusader was a world apart from any other interpretation of the comic book hero. In the Times obituary, he described his approach to the role:
What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.
The short-lived series was a masterpiece of clever camp, with West at its center. As Batman (and, spoiler alert, millionaire Bruce Wayne) he encouraged the young citizens of Gotham to eat their vegetables and wear their seat belts. He hoped his adversaries could be redeemed.
Hefti and Riddle each released LPs of music from Batman. In line with the television show’s camp approach, the theme (a hit for the Marketts and Hefti himself) credited “Words and music” even though there was only a single word in the song.
His album, fairly rare today, contained the theme and eleven additional tunes with fun titles like “Evil Plot to Blow Up Batman” (heard below).
The Nelson Riddle LP contains the actual television score, or at least a sampling of songs from its three seasons. It also has hilarious clips of dialogue which feature West at his best.
Here are a couple tracks from the soundtrack LP in honor of the actor, who couldn’t ever really escape the role he played so well but came to embrace it. We grew up watching re-runs of Batman and we never really outgrew the show.
It’s been one year and Prince’s estate has already become a multi-million dollar enterprise. In its most recent visit to court the estate blocked the release of Deliverance, and EP that was to be released digitally today. The reason? The estate argued that recording engineer George Ian Boxill violated his agreement “for his personal gain,” although the ‘independent label’ RMA set to release the recordings claimed the majority of its sales would benefit the estate.
Universal and Warner Music Group are in court with one another, and the estate, over ownership of Prince’s released and un-released catalog. The contents of Prince’s so-called vault of unissued music is the subject of legend, and those industry giants know there’s a fortune to be made in mining it.
For our part, we’re happy with the albums that were released, and hope to see all of them remain in print throughout the manic cash-grab. Honestly, the albums he released in his five decade career are a pretty incredible legacy without any embellishment. His records are steadily being reissued, including a series of classic 12″ singles out tomorrow for Record Store Day, but the fate of those post-Warner-era albums is uncertain. His last two albums weren’t even issued as LPs, although pricey European bootlegs with poor sound do exist.
As for his unreleased recordings, its entirely possible he intended to collect them but just as likely he kept them the same way a painter may keep his sketchbooks, that is solely for his own use. And maybe we don’t need to hear everything he chose to keep under lock and key in his studio.
All of this is before we even consider all the tell-all interviews and books, and the obsessive peering into the life of this famously private person. Its heartbreaking to see someone who had so much love being treated so poorly.
Rock and rollers around the world today are mourning the passing of the music’s primary architect, Chuck Berry. The larger-than-life icon passed away at his home in St. Charles County, Missouri yesterday at the age of ninety.
It was sixty-two years ago that his first single, “Maybellene,” first appeared, combining blues and western swing into an entirely new creation. The single would be the first in a rapid series of hit singles for Berry on the Chess label, most of which have gone on to become rock and roll standards. Its inspiration in a Bob Wills song and its b-side, a smoldering blues tune called “Wee Wee Hours,” are evidence of Berry’s unique ability to blend the different traditions. Of the single, Rolling Stone later wrote, “Rock and roll guitar begins here.”
While so many of Berry’s songs are universally familiar, it was his showmanship more than his songwriting which made him a star in the late 50s. His stage presence and his explosive runs on the guitar, all accented by a signature “duck walk” move established rock music’s over-the-top escapism.
Berry’s career was derailed several times by, to quote one of his songs, “too much monkey business.” He had not recorded a new album since 1979, but had announced last year that he was recording a new record which would feature two of his children as accompaniment. At this time there is no release date for the new record, titled Chuck.
This 1960 sequel to “Johnny B. Goode” is one of our favorite songs from Berry’s original run of hits for Chess Records, even though it is not one of the twelve found on the classic Greatest Hits LP. “Bye Bye Johnny” was one of several of his songs covered by the Rolling Stones (whose first single was a Chuck Berry tune) and was also adapted, uncredited, into an elegy for Elvis Presley by Bruce Springsteen in the 80s. Like its predecessor the song tells a story with vivid details and a sly wink towards the American dream of social mobility.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the conductor rememebered in this morning’s Star Tribune, is all but synonymous with the Minnesota Orchestra. Skrowaczewski came to Minnesota from his native Poland to take over as musical director in 1960, and although he stepped down from that role after nineteen years, he never left. Last fall he conducted his last concert at Orchestra Hall, a praised performance of one of his favorites, Bruckner’s eighths symphony.
Skrowaczewski has remained the Orchestra’s conductor laureate after 1979, when Neville Marriner began the succession of new musical directors which has led us to the current, successful Osmo Vänskä era. He was always there through its transition from the Minneapolis Symphony to the Minnesota Orchestra and the building of Orchestra Hall in 1974.
The Skrowaczewski years are a challenge for record collectors, however. After their contract with Mercury Records expired, the Minnesota Orchestra released music on a variety of labels. Some were one-off recordings like the 1981 debut of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Violin Concerto for Columbia Masterworks, on which Skrowaczewski conducted its dedicatee, Isaac Stern. A number of records were part of contracts with smaller classical labels, like Candid and Turnabout, both Vox subsidiaries.
Skrowaczewski’s own Concerto for English Horn appeared on Desto Records, not exactly an industry powerhouse. The work, which he composed for a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, Tom Stacy, debuted in 1969. Skrowaczewski was to be conducting the Metropolitan Opera at the time, but its strike that year left him with several weeks to compose.
This is presumably not a very common record to find these days, although many others with Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra can certainly be found. We have a whole section just for them in our classical collection here at Hymie’s! One of our favorite covers for a Minneapolis Symphony recording from that period is this album of Schubert’s 9th Symphony, which has the composer behind the wheel of a psychedelic convertible.
Staniskaw Skrowaczewski will be remembered by many fans at a memorial at Orchestra Hall on March 28th. He was an extraordinary versatile conductor and he recorded a remarkably wide repertoire. The photographs in today’s obituary in the paper captures him in his 90s — one shows only his aged hands as he prepared to conduct that Bruckner symphony last fall.
We can’t criticize the Star Tribune for this because for reasons we can’t explain we find album art of Leopold Stokowski’s wild white hair hilarious — but we’d also like to remember Skrowaczewski, truly a Minnesota music legend, as he appeared on the back of an album years ago. He was so full of life and energy to the very end, and in this picture he looks proud to be conducting the Minnesota Orchestra.