We’re saying farwell to the year of the monkey by sweeping all the bad luck out the door. While we can do little to make the world a better place by being a neighborhood record shop, we’re honored for the opportunity to continue doing our little part of it all.
And as a welcome to the year of the rooster, here is a timely song about a rooster and a courageous border-crosser who carries him. It is sung by the great cowboy poet Tom Russell.
Thanks for reading and we wish you a happy new year!
This recording of Gene Gutchë’s experimental composition Icarus was recorded by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977.
We chose to post it today in recognition of Indigenous People’s Day, which was (here in Minneapolis) formerly recognized as Columbus Day until August of 2014. This change is slowly being made all around the United States, and as we have posted every October for more than half a decade, it is long overdue.
However, Gutchë’s music celebrates Christopher Columbus, who is alternately recognized as the New World’s first slave trader and genocidal murderer. His remarks on the composition (below) reveal the often absurd inaccuracies indelibly left by the way we have taught history for generations. The phenomenon is entertainingly studied in an early chapter of James Loewen’s classic study of American history textbooks, Lies My Teacher Told Me.
Setting aside his naive view of Columbus, Gutchë’s remarks express an optimism which offers an impetus to praise this country, rather than suggest it is in need of repair. Gutchë was an immigrant, having come to the United States in 1925 at the age of eighteen and settled permanently here in the Twin Cities mid-life.
This year, more than previous Octobers, we are best to remember that America remains as great as ever, in part because we have welcomed immigrants like Gutchë.
In the album’s notes, composer Gene Gutchë describes the work, and here is an excerpt:
Essentially, Columbus, a seafaring adventurer, measures his wits against the sea and comes to grips with rebellious men. Against these obstacles is the promise of a vast new continent. In context with its title the music is austere and assumes a raw physical power. Power can mean many things to different peoples. Wealth is a power. Position can direct our lives. Ideologies have destroyed civilizations. Today we need the strength Columbus implanted into our world.
It is the strength Washington/Lincoln/Kennedy possessed. A deliberate aim to set all me free. By this mean we become powerful.
I don’t know about you but I love this country. Tolerate everything. Dismiss the doubt. Accept. Overlook. Break many cups. In compassion is joy.
One of these days our earth shall be likened to the moon. When that happens another Icarus will rise and take us to a new star.
Lenny Bruce is best known for his blue material, but “The Djinni in the Candy Store” is a beautiful bit (mostly) suitable for listeners of all ages. The Common Sense Media organization would probably knock down its star rating for Bruce’s joke about “income property” and make some remark about its ethnic stereotypes, but “The Djinni” is mild compared to most of Bruce’s material.
From time to time we think of Bruce’s Djinni, when tackling a big project in our own store. The whole bit, first recorded by the comedian in 1958, is just an elaborate set-up for a groaner of a line, but as often happens in Lenny Bruce’s best material the Djinni becomes a memorable character. The only one who makes us laugh more is poor Cardinal Spellman, who must explain the ways of the Church to Christ and Moses when the return to Earth in a later routine.
In a seventh season episode of The X Files, the supernatural monster discovered by Agents Mulder and Scully is revealed to be a djinni who has spent millennia a prisoner of her powers. With each new master she watches tragedy unfold as the wishes become nightmares, until she receives her freedom when Agent Mulder wishes for it.
Lenny Bruce’s Djinni seems to enjoy his work, although he describes his bottle as “a glass prison.” He grant’s Sol’s second wish without using his magical powers, and we imagine he wanted to run the candy store. It recalls Yakov Bok, the eponymous hero of Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, a prisoner who “begged for something to do. His hands ached of emptiness.” Yes, the Djinni seems to take pleasure of the minutia of running the small shop, bringing in the milk and the rolls and so on.
Twice, when doubted, the Djinni is indignant: “I am the Djinni, I can do anything!” He is nothing like the sneaky, manipulative djinni in The Thief of Baghdad, who seems to have inspired Bruce’s hilarious voice. The only thing we don’t like about “The Djinni in the Candy Store” is its brevity. We wish he’d had a few more adventures, perhaps in other settings from Bruce’s albums. Perhaps he could have visited Lima, Ohio or Enchanting Transylvania. Or the Djinni could have helped educate people about gonorrhea and raised funds for the Brother Matthias leper colony in Guiana. After all, he is the Djinni and he can do anything.
The first pressing of Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book include braille text embossed on the jacket beside his name and the title. Whether you find one of these copies or a reissue without the braille text, we think its one of the best albums you could possibly add to your collection.
Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, Wonder’s album of seven years later, is much less of a fan favorite, although it merits an emphatic endorsement in Questlove’s book, Mo’ Meta Blues. This album also contained braille text on the jacket. This time there was a complete message, which reads:
Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.
Collections with braille labels added to jackets are not uncommon. We added a couple hundred such albums to the shop just last week, including this copy of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. While it had the cool labels, it was unfortunately missing the bonus 45, just like most copies these days!
We chose a different kind of song to post this year on Father’s Day, because Grandpas are father’s, too. John Prine first wrote “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” for his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, which is probably our favorite of his records. It’s a little less cynical than most of his records, and even (as on this song) downright sentimental.
He’s performing the song here some years later with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume II.
The series of three albums by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were all about connecting generations through music, probably inspiring Prine to chose this particular song, a loving portrait of his Grandpa.
Wishing you a happy Father’s Day with your family on this beautiful sunny day here in Minneapolis!
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden, and not so much time indoors, which doesn’t leave much time for posting on the ol’ record shop blog. Here’s a favorite post from the past…
Steve Allen facts:
He was the original host of the Tonight Show. Many television talk show mainstays were originated by Allen, such as the “man in the street” interview and an early “answer man” bit that presaged Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent.
He had one of the funniest on-air “crack up”s (for you serious folks, a “crack up” is when you can’t stop laughing). It happened on the Steve Allen Show on March 16, 1958. He is supposed to be playing sportscaster Bill Allen, and he later said it was the sight of his hair in the monitor that started the now legendary laughing fit.
He played the title role in the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story.
He wrote the music and lyrics for Sophie, an unsuccessful Broadway musical based on the life of Sophie Tucker. We have looked and looked, but it appears this went entirely un-recorded. It closed after eight performances.
He wrote more than 50 books. He poked fun at himself in a 1995 appearance on the Simpsons, hawking several books including The Joy of Cooking Steve Allen. Many of his books were very serious, touching on subjects of family and theology as often as comedy. In About a Son Allen writes about his own son, Brian, joining a religious cult called (we’re not making this up) The Love Family, and he efforts to reconcile this with his own beliefs. Brian remains an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon in Seattle, one of about 300 members. His name is Logic Israel. Steve Allen’s book is out of print, but you can buy it pretty cheap on Amazon.
He booked Elvis Presley before Ed Sullivan, averting any controversy from the singer’s suggestive performance by having him sing “Hound Dog” to a hound dog.
He wrote more than 8,500 songs, according to his official website. His compositions were recorded by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Louis Armstrong to Count Basie. He used one song, “This Could be the Start of Something Big,” as the opening to the Tonight Show. It became a theme song that followed him for the rest of his life.
He was married to actress Jayne Meadows for nearly a half century. She recorded one of our favorite 45s of all time.
And here’s what we love about him best: Steve Allen himself made a ton of records. Some of them are pretty weird and fun.
Shoot. Somebody bought this album right away, so we didn’t record a track for you. The people who bought it looked like this.
And we saved the best for last. We’ve also recorded the entire album for you…
Bonus: Another post from the Hymies blog archive about television personality, author, all around extraordinary American Steve Allen
When last we posted some records by author, composer, television personality, and bon vivant Steve Allen (here) our selection presented only a fraction of his enormous catalog. Allen’s discography of more than sixty LPs runs the range from beat poetry and electronic experiments to what old folks would call cocktail piano and riotous novelty records. All of these are largely ignored by collectors — it’s telling that our most recent edition of Jerry Osbourne’s Price Guide to Records omits Allen entirely.
One thing they’re missing is Allen’s late sixties collaborations with jazz musicians associated with legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele. These included a series of albums with arranger Oliver Nelson and this record, which features Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo.
Songs for Gentle People was recorded after Szabo had begun his series of great albums for Thiele’s Impulse! Records, incorporating Gypsy and Eastern European folk music into his interpretations of pop hits (check out his take on “The Beat Goes On”). Also contributing to this album is Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine — it’s just one of the thirty-five thousand or so pieces of music he has worked on in his amazing, and ongoing, career. When this album was released in 1967, Blaine was just beginning his streak of playing on six consecutive “Record of the Year” Grammy winners.
On this album Allen is credited as playing “an ALLEN ELECTRONIC HARPSICHORD.”