We first heard Minnesota troubadour Larry Long‘s song “Living in a Rich Man’s World” years ago, when we found a copy of the 1979 album of the same name in the local section of the old Hymie’s, back when Jim was still behind the counter.
Since then, of course, a lot of things have changed, but not so much the opportunities afforded working people around the world and here in our home state. We moved the record shop years ago, and once in a while Larry stops by to talk about what he’s up to these days. Several months ago he sent us a link to hear a few songs he was recorded with his cousin, Melvin James, and we were blown away by this new version of that favorite old song.
He’s releasing a new album, Walking Like Rain, later this year, and Bob Trench of Fahrenheit Films produced this video of “Living in a Rich Man’s World” to get the word out.
Michael Jackson’s videos were often encapsulated in short films, the most famous of which being “Thriller,” in which the star takes a girl on a date to a scary movie, turns into a were-cat, and then dances like mad with a crew of zombies. The whole adventure, which turns out to be a dream (or was it?) is a thirteen-minute epic directed by John Landis, and undeniably a watershed moment in pop culture. We have certainly watched it at least a hundred times.
MJ’s high-production videos often cast him as an outsider (especially the the highly satirical “Ghosts”). The one we often forget is the full length video for “Bad,” because for some reason we’ve only seen its West Side Story-inspired subway dance sequence as many times as we’ve seen “Thriller.”
In the eighteen-minute version of “Bad” was written by Richard Price (author of the seventies Bronx street life novel The Wanderers) and directed by Martin Scorcese. Jackson plays a young man named Daryl who has returned to his neighborhood after graduating from a private school. His former friends are petty thieves and it quickly becomes apparent he no longer belongs there. In an effort to prove he is still bad, Daryl takes them to a subway station where he will mug an old man — but he doesn’t go through with the crime and is berated.
This is when he sings “Bad,” they lyrics for which are part self-promotion (establishing Michael’s new darker image) and part cautionary tale. Like several songs on the Bad LP, Michael sings of the world “be[ing] a better place,” while also warning his friends “they’re gonna lock you up before too long.”
Bad definitely changed Michael’s image, and the album also introduced a sleeker outsider MJ with “Smooth Criminal.” But its hard to imagine Michael as bad. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first line of “Bad,” which is one of our favorite first lines ever on an album: “Your butt is mine.” He couldn’t even say the word “ass,” which would have sounded so much more natural.
It wasn’t until after Michael was relentlessly persecuted by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon in 1993 that his lyrics really turned towards the angrier image implied by “Bad.” On HIStory, Michael swears for the first time (unless you count “damn” appearing on Dangerous) in the song “This Time Around.” Another song specifically directed at Sneddon (“D.S.”) uses the word “ass” so we know he was finally able to say it.
Michael was remembered by associates for his abhorrence of vulgar language, so it is sort of sad that they creep into his lyrics as he becomes increasingly isolated. This is nowhere more heartbreaking than in “Scream,” his duet with sister Janet on HIStory, in which he shouts “stop fuckin’ with me, it makes me want to scream!”
The tabloid media at whom this line was directed was entirely out of touch all of us who still bought records: while they eagerly predicted HIStory to become an enormous failure, the collection was a commercial and critical success for Michael.
And, since we still hear people make jokes about this in the record shop six years later, we guess it has to be repeated: Michael Jackson was never convicted of a crime. He was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers. The family which accused him had a history of criminal behavior, domestic abuse, fraud and frivolous lawsuits.
In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi reported shortly after the completion of the trial:
And then there was the very key figure in the case, the accuser’s mother, who had to plead the Fifth Amendment on the first day of her testimony to avoid cross-examination on a welfare-fraud allegation – a witness so completely full of sh—t that Sneddon’s own assistants cringed openly throughout most of her five days of testimony. In the next six weeks, virtually every piece of his case imploded in open court, and the chief drama of the trial quickly turned into a race to see if the DA could manage to put all of his witnesses on the stand without getting any of them removed from the courthouse in manacles.
Or “Alright?” Dave Mason wrote the song for the 1968 debut album by Traffic. The following year it was a minor hit for Joe Cocker and for Mongo Santamaria.
Over the next several years, “Feelin’ Alright?” became a standard, and was recorded dozens of times in just about every genre. Scottish pop singer Lulu recorded the album on New Routes, a 1970 album which found her backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and guitarists Eddie Hinton and Duane Allman.
A heavy version of the song appeared on Rare Earth’s hit album Get Ready, along with several other covers which made up the first side.
Dave Mason was one of the first members of Traffic to leave the band, and he released a series of successful solo albums on Blue Thumb Records (our favorite 70s label). During this time he wrote and recorded “Only You Know and I Know,” another song which was widely covered.
“Feelin’ Alright?” was included in the live recordings on his 1972 album Headkeeper.
The Jackson Five added “Feelin’ Alright?” to their live set, including performances on The Diana Ross Show.
Aaron Goodyear’s new documentary about Gypsy will be screened as part of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. The film follows the Minnesota-bred progressive rock band whose run as the house band at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1969-70 was legendary. Goodyear has been working on the film for a long time now, and just dropped off a copy for us to finally see it — we really recommend it for any music documentary fans! Here’s the trailer.
The film will have its debut on April 19th at the St Anthony Main Theater (here it is on the MSPIFF calendar).
We have posted Schubert’s Moment Musicaux a few times in the past, usually musing over how quickly the days go by or how much time we spend working. We’re not certain the six works for piano were intended to inspire introspection, but we appreciate their potential. Today, we chose to sit back and think to a different work for solo piano. It is adapted by Aaron Copland from his score for the film Our Town.
Anyone involved in the theater program in high school is probably familiar with Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, Our Town. It is probably being performed in a community auditorium somewhere in America this weekend — if you have attended the performance you certainly recall it is the play which does not use any props, and which from the beginning breaks through the fourth wall to have the stage manager interact directly with the audience as well as a character in the story.
Our Town follows the lives of people in a small community, Grover’s Corner, over a little more than a decade and uses its metatheatrical devices to explore metaphysical questions, mostly about mortality. The Pulitzer Prize winning play was adapted into a film in 1940.
There seems to be little interest in the film’s copyright, which has not been renewed since the sixties. You can watch it for free on Youtube here.
Many great composers of Copland’s generation were attracted to cinema, for a variety of reasons. Copland came to appreciate the paychecks (he was one of the highest paid film composers of the 40s), but he also appreciated the opportunity to work on films with American themes related to his own oeuvre, notably those derived from novelist John Steinbeck.
Copland’s score for the film was his third project in Hollywood, and he hadn’t really settled into the successful formula he would find in later in the 40s, which balanced his personal style with the emotions of the characters in the story. From the beginning, his approach to film music was far more subtle than the average Hollywood movie.
Copland’s Our Town was nominated for a “Best Original Score” Oscar, losing to Pinocchio. Nominated several times, he finally won his only Academy Award for William Wyler’s The Heiress in 1949. He adapted Our Town into an orchestral suite, but it never found the success of his other similar adaptations, notably the score he composed for The Red Pony. He also wrote a piano adaptation of the suite, heard here as recorded by James Tocco in 1984, when Copland’s music was enjoying a resurgence of popularity in America.
The piano adaptations of Our Town accentuate the music’s roots in New England church music. Around the same time he was working on this film, Copland finished his Piano Sonata, a similar but less accessible piece, and began work on his Piano Fantasy, which is uniquely complex in his collection of work for the instrument. And in a reversal of his piano adaptation of the film suite, Copland expanded his 1930 Variations for Piano into Variations for Orchestra many years later. In all, these piano works are not as often performed or recorded, or as highly regarded, as his famous orchestral works.
We love these short piano themes, and always associate the piano adaptation of Our Town with the play’s introspective, philosophical questions. It is perfectly fit to Emily’s question, “Does anybody realize life while they live it … every, every minute?”