Monthly Archives: February 2009

Blue Monday (Hallelujah edition)

No, I wasn’t at Leonard Cohen’s show at the Beacon. No, I’m not happy about that fact, even though tickets vanished faster than some of the more exotic subatomic particles, and the ones remaining were being scalped at prices that would have appalled a Pentagon contractor, and there was no earthly possibility of getting comped unless you were connected to the people who were connected to the people who were connected to the people. So I missed what was probably my last chance to see the man himself doing his songs, himself.

Oh well. The upside is that while my respect for Leonard Cohen’s songwriting knows no bounds, this respect does not extend very far for his singing. To put it in terms Cohen himself might appreciate: if, when Ophelia threw herself into that body of water, there had been a bullfrog sitting on a lily-pad in that body of water, and if the frog had been inclined to sing a song about what was going on, that bullfrog probably would have sounded exactly like Leonard Cohen. It would have been a great song, no doubt, but still — a bullfrog, you know?

A case in point is “Hallelujah,” performed here by Cohen himself in his usual sing-speak mode:

Now here’s Jeff Buckley’s rapturously beautiful version, my favorite:

Leonard Cohen is God’s gift to singers because the lyrics and the song structures are all in place, just waiting for someone with a voice to complete the picture. Here’s K.D. Lang doing her own version:

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Oscar and Saul

vertigo

Still haven’t seen the Best Picture nominees, so my level of Oscar-interest is just about zero. Sorry about that.  If this roundup from Dennis doesn’t get you in the mood, try this dazzling Web site devoted to the work of Saul Bass, whose ingeniously designed title sequences for (among others) Vertigo, The Man with the Golden Arm and Casino are significant contributions to each film’s impact.

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Hell on the high seas

Talk about trouble in paradise. Frederik Pohl is renowned as a master of science fiction, but recently he found himself living in a horror story when he discovered that he would be spending weeks on a South Seas cruise with nothing but FoxNoise for information.

Pohl, an intrepid man, found a way to rise above such adversity:

Along about the tenth day, I finally figured out that, if I tuned to that channel but turned the sound down to zero, I would never have to hear the crazy-making utterances of Hannity, O’Reilly, et al anymore but could get a rough idea of what was going on in the world from the news crawl at the bottom of the screen, which, relatively speaking, was only mildly toxic.

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Simple twist of bricks

While you’re waiting for more news on this new Bob Dylan album, maybe you should start planning for home improvements come spring. How about a veranda like the one at Bob Dylan’s place?

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Friday finds

emma-peel

Spy Vibe, a site devoted to 1960s vintage spy stuff, salutes Harry Pottle’s set designs for the TV series The Avengers, specifically the memorable episode in which Emma Peel (above) is treated to a Gaslight-style night at an automated house designed by a guy who’s obviously spent some quality time with German Expressionist films. There are also knowledgable paens to Ken Adam’s work on Dr. No, Bob Bell and Keith Wilson’s highly detailed sets for the puppet show Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons, and Joseph Wright and George Nelson’s designs for The Silencers, one of the unwatchably campy Matt Helm flicks.

Here’s a really outstanding article about the poet Simon Armitage, with plenty of room for samples of the man’s verse. If you like what you read, I recommend his collections Kid or Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid for starters.

Because the one thing we all need right now is another online time-suck, ladies and gentlemen, here is the entire Harper’s index in searchable form.

If you think things are getting bad here in the U.S., consider the future of the first multi-billion dollar ghost town.  

tollers“J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life,” a three-part lecture series on the development of the old don’s ideas about “Faerie” and the roots of Middle-earth, is underway in Salt Lake City. The Wasatch Gnostic Society is posting each lecture on its Web site — here is the first lecture, “The Discovery of Faerie.” The second lecture, “There and Back Again,” and “Tolkien and the Imaginative Tradition” are yet to come.    

Can Eminem and P. Diddy help you survive long swims in sub-zero water?

“The Morning Glory cloud – considered one of the world’s most exotic meteorological phenomena – is best known from the Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia, where it is observed most often during spring, usually near dawn.  The name ‘Morning Glory’ reflects the often spectacular appearance of the long horizontal clouds at sunrise. (The Morning Glories of Sable Island might more accurately be called ‘Early Evening Glories.’)” Now that you know all that, check out these incredible pictures

Click here to see the true face of horror.

Josh Ronsen, an Austin-based experimental musician, is putting together the Clifford Simak Project, in which an ensemble will perform works based on Simak’s prose descriptions of sounds destiny-doll2in his various science fiction and fantasy works. My nostalgia meter redlined when Ronsen said he has been inspired by Simak’s novel Destiny Doll, which I read as “Reality Doll” in the short-lived quarterly magazine Worlds of Fantasy. It’s an odd combination of planetary adventure with a dreamy, surrealistic story involving multiple dimensions of existence and a tragic-looking doll with unusual properties. The story had quite an impact on me, and I can remember the cover image (by Jack Gaughan) of a centaur playing polo with a metallic sphere, a key incident in the novel. (Bird-dogged by Fred K.)

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Snooks Eaglin

Guitarist, blues great and New Orleans notable Snooks Eaglin died recently at the age of 72. The clip above shows him performing “Talk to Your Daughter.” Here’s the very knowledgable obituary by Keith Spera of the Times-Picayune:

Snooks Eaglin, the idiosyncratic New Orleans rhythm & blues guitarist with fleet-fingered dexterity and a boundless repertoire, died Wednesday afternoon. He was 72.

“He was the most New Orleans of all the New Orleans acts that are still living,” said Mid-City Lanes owner John Blancher.

Even in a city and musical community known for eccentric characters, Mr. Eaglin stood out. Extremely private, he lived with his family in St. Rose. For many years, he refused to perform on Friday nights, reportedly because of religious reasons.

The digits on Mr. Eaglin’s right hand flailed at seemingly impossible angles as he finger-picked and strummed a guitar’s strings. A set by the so-called “Human Jukebox” could range from Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” to Bad Company’s “Ready for Love.”

He thrived on feedback from onlookers, gleefully took requests and challenged his musicians to keep up. Utterly unselfconscious, he would render fellow guitarists slack-jawed with a blistering run, then announce from the stage that he needed to use the bathroom.

Mr. Eaglin was born Fird Eaglin Jr. in 1937. As an infant, glaucoma robbed him of his sight. He earned his “Snooks” nickname after his mischievous behavior recalled a radio character named Baby Snooks.

As a toddler, he received his first instrument, a hand-carved ukulele strung with rubber bands. As a boy, he learned to pick a guitar to songs on the radio. He attended the Louisiana School for the Blind in Baton Rouge. By 14, he had dropped out to work full-time as a musician.

His first steady job was with the Flamingos, a popular seven-piece rhythm & blues band that also included a young Allen Toussaint on piano. Post-Flamingos, Mr. Eaglin briefly billed himself as Lil’ Ray Charles. In the late 1950s, he performed on street corners and recorded two acoustic albums for a folk label. His studio work included the guitar parts on Sugarboy Crawford’s “Jockamo.”

In the early 1960s, Mr. Eaglin released a handful of singles for Imperial Records under the name “Ford” Eaglin. He logged three years in the house band at the Playboy Club off Bourbon Street.

After the British Invasion decimated the market for New Orleans rhythm & blues, he semi-retired. The launch of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970 brought with it fresh opportunity.

Mr. Eaglin performed with Professor Longhair during the pianist’s “comeback” gigs. He also contributed to Longhair’s landmark “New Orleans House Party” album and the Wild Magnolias’ early recordings.

In 1987, Mr. Eaglin released “Baby, You Can Get Your Gun!,” his first album on Black Top Records. Several more well-received albums on Black Top further heightened his profile.

His annual appearances at Jazz Fest were hugely popular. In addition to legions of local fans, Mr. Eaglin’s admirers included prominent musicians from around the globe.

It was Robert Plant, in fact, who first made Blancher aware of Mr. Eaglin.

In 1990, not long after he took over the Mid-City Lanes, Blancher received a call from Plant, who wanted to throw an after-party at the bowling alley. He asked Blancher to book Mr. Eaglin, whom he met years earlier when the guitarist performed at a party in New Orleans for Plant’s former band, Led Zeppelin.

The after-party didn’t happen, but the Mid-City Lanes became Mr. Eaglin’s preferred venue. He played as frequently as once a month.

“He’s an irreplaceable guy,” Blancher said. “More celebrities came to see Snooks than anyone. His reputation was as big as anyone’s in New Orleans. And he wouldn’t travel, so if you wanted to see Snooks you had to come to Rock ‘n Bowl.”

During the 2000 Jazz Fest, Bonnie Raitt showed up at the Mid-City Lanes to hear Mr. Eaglin. He exclaimed from the stage, “Listen to this, Bonnie! You gonna learn something tonight, girl!” She later lent a hand by replacing a broken string on his guitar.

Blancher would often pick up Mr. Eaglin in St. Rose and drive him to and from shows at the Rock ‘n Bowl. Along the way Mr. Eaglin regaled him with stories.

Among the most infamous is the time Mr. Eaglin drove the Flamingos home following a Saturday night gig in Donaldsonville. The musicians were so intoxicated that they decided their blind guitarist was the most qualified driver.

Mr. Eaglin claimed he navigated the curves of the road from memory. The crunch of gravel under the tires warned him when the ’49 Studebaker strayed onto the shoulder. The story concludes with Mr. Eaglin pulling up to his house early Sunday morning and his mother suggesting the musicians proceed directly to church.

Mr. Eaglin met his future wife, Dorethea “Dee” Eaglin, at a Flamingos gig during Mardi Gras 1958. They married in 1961 and she became his constant companion and confidant. Dee would sit nearby as her husband performed.

Blancher was among the few music industry figures that Mr. Eaglin allowed to visit his house. But even he was unaware of the guitarist’s deteriorating health. Blancher learned in January that Mr. Eaglin had been battling prostate cancer.

Mr. Eaglin last performed at the Mid-City Lanes in July. Blancher spoke to him recently about booking a show in March. “He said, ‘I’m going to wait until Jazz Fest. I’m not going to do any gigs until then,'” Blancher said. “I was surprised by that.”

Mr. Eaglin checked into Ochsner Medical Center last week. With regret, he told his step-daughter, Carolyn Gioustover, “I’ve got to call Quint Davis and tell him I won’t make it to Jazz Fest.”

He went into cardiac arrest on Tuesday.

Mr. Eaglin often said his mother took care of him until Dee took over. He died on his mother’s birthday.

Survivors include his wife; a daughter, Stacey Eaglin Hunter; a step-son, Allen Ancar III; and two step-daughters, Carolyn Gioustover and Deborah Ancar Randolph.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Podcast alert

The Folkways Collection is an iPod-ready collection of 24 hour-long programs devoted to the music and spoken-word recordings produced by Folkways Records, and now part of the Smithsonian collection.

Over 200 classic poems read by 80 notable poets, waiting for you to download.

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Riddle me this

What two rock bands with numbers in their names recorded different songs with the same number for a title?

The Wednesday Westie

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Sadie-tries-out-her-new-bed edition.

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The potency of cheap paperback covers

in-our-time

When I started reading Ernest Hemingway, the editions that fell into my teenaged hands were the paperbacks issued under the Scribner Library Contemporary Classics imprint. During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school I was almost never without one of these editions, and whenever I read or even think of For Whom the Bell Tolls, it conjures a double memory: Robert Jordan lying on a hillside in the mountains of Spain, listening to the wind stirring the tops of the pine trees, and the younger me stretched out on a blanket at Darlington Lake, hearing the wind stir the tops of the  trees as I read.

 The nostalgia factor is so strong for me that I stopped dead in my tracks last summer when I spotted the above edition of In Our Time on a swim club book-swap rack. While I’m not actively seeking them out, I’ll probably snap up these editions whenever I see them.

a-farewell-to-arms

The curious thing is that these paperback covers, in contrast with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy titles I rhapsodized about a few months ago, really aren’t very good. In fact, they’re pretty lame — Sunday painter kind of stuff. Which is remarkable, considering that Hemingway is one of the star authors in the Scribner catalogue, maybe even the star author. But even though later editions sported different, substantially better cover art, these rather schlocky looking things will always twang my heartstrings just a bit whenever I see them.

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