Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Things I’m Over, Volume 1

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Media Library

1) Collecting Shit       
          55 pennyWhen I was very young I collected coins. I don’t think I ever got past a wheat cent, or maybe a buffalo nickel. The holy grail of mildly passive coin collecting at the time was a misprinted ‘55 Lincoln cent where his image was blurred. Never got that one. I sold the collection for about $40 when I was ten.

I collected Marvel Comics almost until the age I went to college. I had issues 1-50 of most every title that came out in the sixties, including the original X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, etc. If I still had those issues today and they were in near mint condition, the collection would be worth at least a half million. X-Men Number One alone recently sold for more than $30,000. I could’ve paid for my son’s college a few times over with my collection, or bought a nice shack on the ocean in Monterrey. X-menBut then we didn’t have comic saver bags back then and, even though I kept them in prime condition, I doubt I would’ve continued lugging the whole lot from Florida to L.A. and back again. I sold the entire lot for about $400 in 1973 and used the money to buy two large 80-lb ESS speakers, after I heard the cascading guitars of “Band on the Run” on them in a stereo store. I still use those speakers 40 years later, so it turned out to be a good investment. No regrets.

I eventually collected about 1,000 vinyl LPs, but as soon as I heard CDs, I traded them in starting in 1986 until I had about 1,000 CDs (I kept some of the best art vinyl). I never collected movies on VHS because it was a lousy medium, a pain in the ass to rewind, and you could never get a decent freeze frame. Laser discs cost $100 each and were too expensive. DVDs were perfect, so I collected about 700 of my favorite films and television shows. Now I’ve traded most of the DVDs in for Blu-rays because they’re even better. I won’t go 4K because, frankly, my 1080p eyes will never need anything better than the image I get from Blu-rays. And now, I regularly trade in my Blu-rays that I doubt I’m ever going to watch again for other Blu-rays I just want to see.

elton_john-captain_fantastic_and_the_brown_dirt_cowboy-frontalAt some point, I finally realized that collecting is just a more organized form of hoarding. And I realized something even more important: It’s never really about the collecting; it’s more about the hunt. The joy of collecting was in finding that rarer ‘D’ penny, scoring that latest issue of Spiderman, picking up the Captain Fantastic LP the day of release, or having your favorite film finally come out on DVD or Blu-ray. It was the hunting and gathering that was fun, not the actual owning or putting that stuff on the shelf. Sure it’s nice to see this big library of stuff on my shelf, but, like I’ve said before, am I really going to listen to or watch it all again?

So now, it’s all just an evolving and diminishing library. If I have something I think someone else might enjoy, I pass it on. That gives as much pleasure as the original hunting and gathering. If I want to ‘briefly’ own a film or CD, I now trade in others to pay for it. I recycle. It’s all just moving through me now, not possessing me. And I also realize, I could let go of it all tomorrow. Well, except for the 3,100 songs on my iPod and iPhone. You’ll pry those songs in my earbuds from my ears when I’m dead (or I get tinnitus).

2) Putting a napkin on my lap when I eat out
I hardly see anyone do this anymore. I think it was part of a bygone era from when we watched Donna Reed with our parents. But we were trained well, because I have been doing it subconsciously ever since. Now, I’m thinking… “Fuck it.” It’s not just being lazy. Donna ReedPerhaps it’s a mild act of rebellion, where I don’t give a shit if I happen to spill something on a pair of pants. Or maybe I don’t have any pants worth caring that much about. A spill? Oops. Oh, well. Either wash them or toss them. How’s that for being a Rebel with a Cause? I’m sorry, mom, but you’re not around anymore to feel like you failed teaching manners in any way, and, like I said, laps seem to be open game these days. I believe I can count the times something actually dropped in my lap on one hand. With allergy season 24/7, I’m more likely to blow my nose on the napkin today than lay it across my lap.
dining-etiquette-tips-M2_A3e_581Ann Landers just turned over in her grave.

No napkin would have stopped the glass of water my future wife threw under the table at my crotch when we were goofing around on an early date. I remember getting in a movie line afterwards to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in Westwood with my pants soaked in the front thinking, “No one’s going to think I actually pissed my pants.” If so, why would I really be standing in a movie line with this beautiful woman by my side? But as we walked further down the line and people continued to chuckle behind my back, I wondered if my reasoning had been wrong. That’s when I discovered that I had somehow also sat on an open package of brown mustard back at the deli. So it looked like I had not only pissed my pants, but shit them, as well. No wonder everyone was laughing.

A napkin on my lap wouldn’t have saved that event from occurring. And for that memory alone, and the laughs it provided, I’ll just say grace.

- A. Wayne Carter



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Time Enough At Last?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

- A. Wayne Carter


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My Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

I am not a musician, but music has been an essential part of my life for entertainment, inspiration, and solace. I associate most important events, places or people with music. I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the people who turned me on to particular groups or artists that I have continued to follow throughout my life.

Sharon and Patti, (my older sisters)

As a pre-teen I was exposed to the musical taste of two older teenage sisters in the prime musical revolution of the Sixties.

The Beatles (wish I still had my first 45 – “My Bonnie” – it’s worth over $100,000 now)
Moody Blues (my son is named after Justin Hayward, not Justin Timberlake)
Bee Gees (R.I.P., Robin Gibb, nobody sang sweet melancholy better)
Elton John (20+  concerts, 40 albums and still counting)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà vu; teach your children well, to love music)

Linda and Debbie Loetell (my cousins)

The Doors (People are strange)
Yes (who else sang about Chess?)
Soul Music (James Brown, Al Greeen, Marvin Gaye, Motown, etc.)

David Reinke’s older brother (my childhood best friend)

The Beach Boys (One of the reasons California lured me )

Marty Kelly (former brother-in-law)

Pink Floyd (Echoes was the soundtrack to my college student film project)
The Eagles (they were right, it’s very hard to check out of the Hotel California)
Bob Seger (“Against the Wind; “I know the feeling)
Logins & Messina (Be Free; a motto to live by)

Andy Carey
(U of Miami freshman friend)

The Who (or, as he used to call them, the ‘Fuckin’ ‘Ooo”)

Jesse Saland (U of Miami freshman friend)

Jethro Tull (on the 8 track in the Dodge on the way to surf at South Beach)

David Carmichael (U. of Miami freshman friend)

Swing bands and Frank Sinatra (cocktails required)

University of Miami Student Union Patio performances

Peter Frampton (the next year he was playing before 50,000 at Miami Baseball Stadium)
Billy Joel (jumped on his piano and threw the bird at the guy running the spotlight)
Dan Fogelberg (R.I.P.; so underrated. Netherlands is in my top three albums of all time)
Jimmy Buffett (So overrated, but a perfect complement for beer)

Peter Murad (Post-college roommate and longtime friend)

The Rolling Stones  (I preferred the Beatles in the big Sixties rivalry, but came to appreciate the blue-infused Stones later thanks to Pete)

Tom Adams (Pete’s friend, and my friend since L.A.)

The Blues (B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.)

Channel Z (hip Los Angeles music video station or clubs)

10,000 Maniacs (Natalie, you never should have left that guitarist)
Cowboy Junkies (awesome live at the Club Lingerie in L.A.)
Crowded House (Neil Finn is McCartney and Lennon combined)

My own discoveries (on radio or at record stores)

Linda Ronstadt (I  first had the hots for her first, but that voice!)
Neil Young (my first ever album was Harvest – we share the same birthday)
Bernard Hermann (he scored all the Alfred Hitchcock movies)
Trisha Yearwood (her voice stepped in when Ronstadt stepped out)
Allman Brothers Band (my second ever album was Brothers and Sisters)

Fleetwood Mac
(Kemp Mill Records in Maryland, “Who IS that?!”)
Don McLean (overheard “American Pie” first outside a Times Square electronics store in NYC, “Who IS that?”)
Garth Brooks (heard “The Dance” first on an station while driving on Bundy. “Who IS that?!”
Bruce Springsteen (my sister accidentally bought me Greetings from Asbury Park by Springsteenfor Christmas instead of a Rick Springfield album I wanted. Thanks for the mistake!)

My wife (artists we discovered or re-discovered together)

Chris Isaak (“Dancing”)
Simply Red (“Holding Back the Years”)
Williams Brothers (“The Family Room”)
The Judds (front row under mama Judd’s hoop dress at Caesar’s Palace)
Roy Orbison (“In Dreams” from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet)
k. d. lang (covering Roy Orbison at his tribute concert)
James Blunt (“Goodbye My Lover”)

My Father (April 22, 1921 - December 22, 2001)

Opera (especially La Boheme, Pavaratti and Nessun Dorma)

I only recently realized how much you must have loved listening to beautiful voices, and how much that influenced me. I love you and miss you, Dad.

My Mother (May 10, 1926 - June 4, 2007)

Show tunes (especially Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Music Man)

We just took our trumpet-playing high school band son to see the play, The Music Man. You were the majorette in your high school band marching to John Philips Sousa, and we all continue to march to the uplift of your baton and your enthusiasm for living through music.
I love and miss you, Mom.
-- A. Wayne Carter

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Where is our cockeyed optimist?

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.

I hear the human race
Is fallin’ on its face
And hasn’t very far to go,
But ev’ry whippoorwill
Is sellin’ me a bill,
And tellin’ me it just ain’t so.

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I’m stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!
Not this heart…

From South Pacific’s “A Cockeyed Optimist”

The lyrics were written in 1948 by Oscar Hammerstein and sung by a character about life in 1942. When there really WAS something big to be down about. World War II.

My parents lived through that PLUS the Depression, and still managed to hold on to their optimism.

I can remember President Kennedy on television warning us about a ‘Sword of Damocles’ of nuclear destruction hanging over us as 4,500 inter-continental ballistic missiles from Russia were aimed directly at us in 1962, primed and ready to launch.

Somehow we all got through that, too. And still enjoyed watching “The Monkees.”

Yet today, on the news, in politics, and apparently in the streets and polls, there is more human pessimism than ever before. If a falafel goes unpaid for in Greece, the stock market knee-jerk reacts dropping 400 points and everyone is moaning about doom and gloom and recession again. We are the moodiest, whiniest wimps that have ever lived. And we bear little resemblance to those who lived through far greater threats to this civilization.

Okay, I can accept that the meds everyone seems to be on are not helping anymore and things are tough all over and everyone’s in a big funk. But I also accept that perception IS reality, and that this big funk were in, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Corporations aren’t hiring because of uncertainty in the political world, and politicians are too busy playing the blame game to their own corners to instill any confidence, and all the rest of us are waiting for anyone, SOMEONE to stand up and knock some sense into everyone.

Sure, America is also becoming dumber as governors de-fund education to help create cheap labor states for service industry jobs – the only ones we seem to have left.

But where is the voice to snap us out of this funk? Where is our cockeyed optimist?

I admit to knowing what the ‘one-eyed monster’ is, and I’m not quite sure what constitutes a ‘cockeye,’  but I know we need one if it’s optimistic.

The GOP wants another Reagan. Nevermind the fact he would be considered a moderate Democrat today by tea party standards. Corporate taxes were high during his term, and he tolerantly granted amnesty to more than 11 million immigrants. But hey, he was like the nice grandfather who told us all it was “Morning in America;” the best was yet to come, and everything was going to be all right.

The group 10,000 Maniacs had a hit song calling him “The Happy Puppet” since everyone knew he wasn’t really the one pulling the strings. He just read the script like a Howdy Doody cheering up children watching television.

America actually hired a cheerleader (he called himself a ‘cheermaster’ to make it more manly) when they elected George W. in 2000. Okay, we didn’t really elect him since he actually LOST the popular vote, but he got the rah rah rah bullhorns working on the Supreme Court and won the game. George wasn’t good enough to be a jock at Yale, but he obviously developed some effectiveness in the glee club as the cheermaster. Of course, that just means he probably bought all the beer. And he didn’t bring much cheer to America. Just more wars, death and unemployment. Why does the GOP think cutting corporate tax rates will create any more jobs when it didn’t work at all during W’s eight years? Or the 40 years before that?

Now we have another cheerleader running from Texas. Another guy who couldn’t make it as an athlete, so he became a ‘Yell master” (sounds even MORE manly than a cheermaster): Rick Perry. And what does George H. Bush’s former Treasury Secretary Bruce Bartlett tell us about Rick Perry – “If he was Bush’s brother, George W. would be the smart one.” Jesus. Help us.

Rick Perry’s idea of a good cheer is to tell you to get off your lazy ass, accept that stinking $5 per-hour job he created by turning Texas into a cheap labor state, and quit your yammering. Oh, right, and pray. He’s the kind of guy who thinks God decides who wins football games. George W. was at least smart enough to compromise once and a while. This guy could win the “I’m going say no to everything any lily-livered liberal suggests and hold my breath and pray until things turn around” contest any day. Good luck with that.

So, what about Obama? Wasn’t he a cockeyed optimist when he ran for president? What happened to all that “Hope” stuff?

Obama ran on Hope, but as soon as he got elected, he was escorted into a back room and read the riot act by Wall Street and the banks, who reminded HIM who really are pulling the strings these days. A president can’t really do that much. It must have been a very sobering moment, because he’s been a little less cheerful and a little more ashen gray ever since.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a sober, thoughtful, smart guy as president any day over another blowhard bozo pimp for the corporations, but once you come to realize that maybe the only power a president DOES have is the ability to cheer us up, and you factor in that dumbing down of America; well, that doesn’t leave us many options.

My ‘hope’ is that once Obama goes back into campaign mode, he channels the fiery passion of Martin Luther King and brings back the DREAM. But if people aren’t going to buy it from him anymore, what other options are there?

Sorry, but the seven dwarfs candidates on the GOP are not going to rally one ounce of optimism, especially if they use the same mean-spirited heather cheerleader tactics of ignorant haters like Sarah Palin.

No, we’re probably going to have to look outside the usual suspects for a loving and maternal influence who will hug us and tell us everything will be better.

Maybe then corporations will stop sitting on trillions of dollars of unspent capital and start hiring and investing again. Banks will stop sitting on trillions of dollars of reserves and start lending again. And the stock market will stop knee-jerk reacting to our ever manic-depressing mood shifts.

We all need a big mom. A nice mom. Not a crazy mom (yes, that means you, Michele Bachman). And not a cynical, or severe mom (Sorry, Hillary, but your optimism days are long passed).

There was talk of the big mom running in 2008, but NOW is the more dire time for her to step up, do her patriotic duty, and save the country and the world. She can appoint Dr. Phil as her Vice President Therapist, and her first State-of-the-Union can be to sing a comforting lullaby of cockeyed optimism to the angry, whining, moaning, and depressed masses we now know as America.

Oprah in 2012.

Our Comforter-in-Chief.

— A. Wayne Carter (2011)

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Lost in the Seventy

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Where were you in 1970? The joke usually goes, “If you can remember, you weren’t there.” But then again how memorable a year WAS 1970?

In 1968 we had the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. People rioted in the streets and burned parts of every major city down. And that’s not even counting the violence that went down at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

In 1969 we had the first landing of men on the moon, and three days of peace, love and music at Woodstock.

On a personal level I can remember attending a Fourth of July concert at the Washington Monument in D.C. that headlined the Beach Boys and Bob Hope. There were more than 250,000 people gathered there, many with long hair, wearing flags or fringe, smoking grass, and chanting against the war in Viet Nam. I was there with some foreign exchange students from Austria and Australia who were staying at our house and who wanted to see some ‘hippies.’ They got more than they bargained for.

At one point, a bottle got tossed at the police, tear gas got tossed back, one protester picked the canister up and threw it back at the police, and suddenly A BARRAGE of tear gas canisters exploded around us. The next thing you know I’m trying to stay low to the ground to let the gas pass over (as I had read to do somewhere) and I’m getting trampled to death by hundreds of people stampeding away directly inside the drifting cloud of tear gas. Finally, I give up, get up, and run along with them inside the cloud of tear gas as our eyes burn and the tears feel like flames running down our cheeks. Hours later we re-unite with my dad at the parked car rendezvous spot and he was completely unaware of all the tear gas attacks and commotion that took place outside the area where he was blissfully watching Bob Hope. He had a pleasant experience. And I had quite a memorable one. I was 15.

But 1970, as it turns out, was quite the memorable year for other reasons, as you discover in David Browne’s nostalgic  time capsule of a book, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

He uses the device of following four pivotal music icons from that period in time as they all peak out within the same year.

The Beatles record their last album, Let it Be, and then break up.

Simon and Garfunkel record their masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and then break up.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young come together like superstar free agents to form a band and record their masterpiece, Déjà vu, and then fall apart again and break up. 

James Taylor somehow reverses the process and, after having a nervous breakdown and spending time in an asylum and some more time as a strung-out junkie, he records “Fire and Rain” for his breakout album Sweet Baby James.

Jimi Hendrix dies of an overdose, drowning in his own puke. Janis Joplin dies the same.

But the most important deaths of the year turn out to be, “four dead in Ohio.” Kent State University. The National Guard under President Nixon’s administration responds to another Viet Nam protest using something a bit stronger than tear gas canisters or rubber bullets, it turns out: live ammunition.

It could have happened at any of the Viet Nam war protests and moratoriums going on around the country at the time, but it happened there. And it forever made our country and government think twice about how they respond to scruffy young protesters in the streets again.

Countries all over the Mid-East are now making those same calculated decisions, for better, or for tragic worse. Tunisia and Egypt refrained; while Libya, Syria and Yemen fired away, forever branding memories of violence and suppression on their own younger generation of dissidents and protestors (revolutionaries are almost ALWAYS young).

So it turns out 1970 WAS a pretty significant year after all, not just for music, but for the conscience of America herself.  And chances are you will remember so much more of it after you drift through stories of these four musical touchstones of that year as they burn like super novas, careen through greatness,  and then collapse.

It could only happen in 1970, right?

— A. Wayne Carter

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A time of confidences

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


If you were alive and aware in 1969, you know it was anything but a time of confidences. I remember being 15 and getting tear-gassed at the Washington Monument in the middle of an angry war protest on the Fourth of July among 250,000 people … and I was just there to see Bob Hope and the Beach Boys. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated the year before. Cities burned down during the riots afterward. The daily news was a parade of body count numbers from Vietnam. The country was torn between Nixon supporters, anti-war protestors, hippies, radicals, John Birch conservatives, poverty, racism, and migrant and other abused workers struggling for decent working conditions through collective bargaining (oops, bye bye). But in total counterpoint to the chaos came a sound as pure and serene and … confident as humanly possible. Two friends who had been singing together since they were 11 year-old pups were just now hitting their peak with “Bridge Over Troubled Water;” an album that captured lyrical, vocal and engineering mastery beyond measure.

There is no fill on the album. Nothing mediocre. It launches you into the stratosphere on the opening title cut and never lets up. It’s one sustained mood of mixed emotions brilliantly recorded after another. No mere “Greatest Hits” album by the same duo could ever match the level of sustained inspiration woven here. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel knew it. They split up after this. How could it ever by topped? Well, there are still some surprises left for us in the seen-and-heard-it-all 2011, and this 40th anniversary edition comes not only with a remastered version of the album, but a Simon and Garfunkel CBS television special that originally aired in 1969, PLUS a new documentary interviewing the key players on the making the of the album. And every moment is revelation.

Simon and Garfunkel had four of the top five chart albums at the time and were so popular that a one-hour network special on CBS gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. So they did a wandering meditative tone poem of moving images on America featuring John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s funeral train while “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played over. That featured young couples in love contrasted with violent and fiery war images from Vietnam while “Scarborough Faire” played. That featured widow Coretta King talking about poverty over disturbing images of diseased and starving children. And they ended (big sigh of relief from the network), with a brief on stage concert. Naturally, millions of shocked viewers choked on their nightcap cocktails and tumbled out of their easy chairs to switch the channel over to the Peggy Fleming Ice Skating special on ABC. When director Charles Grodin (yes, THAT Charles Grodin), screened the Coretta King voiceover poverty section to the network brass, they asked him if he could adjust the audio on it. “How do you want it?” he asked. “Inaudible,” they replied.

The original sponsor dropped out, but Alberto VO5 stepped in (hey, there was a lot of hair on young viewers in 1969), and the show aired as produced. Try watching it in the context of 1969, or shit, even prime time network television TODAY, and you will gasp at what they got away with. And if you can watch Robert Kennedy’s funeral train pass through the countryside by waving mourners as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reaches its crescendo, and without crying, you need to check the dose level of your anti-depressants. You just might be catatonic.

Take a deep breath after the television special, thinking you’ve struck unearthed gold never seen since 1969, but here comes a fantastic new documentary about the making of the album (and the special), and nirvana kicks in. If you care about music at all, or how it is created or inspired, or recorded, you will be entranced. Paul Simon reveals the gospel music he was listening to when the inspiration struck for “Bridge,” which he readily acknowledges is beyond any rational explanation. Art Garfunkel convinces him to add the third verse taking it even higher. Their genius engineer, Roy Halee, master of finding the perfect echo, records the “li li li” chorus of “The Boxer” in a stone church chapel to get the right haunting tones. He records the drum crescendos for “Bridge” outside the elevators at CBS to the shock and awe of departing passengers. Garfunkel and Simon playfully slap their hands on their denim-covered knees in a hotel room, roll the Sony recorder, create a one-minute loop, and inadvertently come up with the entire rhythm backing for “Cecilia.” And on and on. I don’t know about you, but I always get thrills from hearing artists describe their moments of inspiration. That’s my crack addiction. The joy of invention, of innovation, of seeking that perfect sound infuses everything they did or discuss here. And you share that joy of discovery with them. Unless of course, your lithium dosage won’t let you.

Troubled outer times call for a stillness of inner peace. Simon and Garfunkel somehow sensed that delicate balance in 1969 and distilled a sound for the ages with this masterpiece. Witness the creation of that same masterpiece 40 years later to understand how the silences within these sounds are needed more than ever.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Round Up Reviews - Spring, 2011

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

“The Fighter” on Pay per View

This is the story of one brother ‘fighting’ to get out from under the shadow of his older brother. But the reason this film doesn’t work for me is because HE NEVER DOES. Oh, in the actual story the way it’s written he might, but not in the movie itself. Christian Bale, as the older brother Dicky takes control of the film and just never lets go. Mark Wahlberg, as Micky, is not a strong enough actor to ever grab it away from him – even at the end, when he’s had his big “Rocky” victory triumph (please don’t tell me that’s a spoiler), and his brother is verbally passing him the torch. Bale is still holding the torch, folks. So the ending never plays as what is supposed to really be happening. The payoff doesn’t pay off. When Dicky walks off and leaves us staring at Mickey, I’m still thinking, “Can’t we stick with Dicky?”

Credit whoever was smart enough to position Christian Bale as a supporting actor nominee for an Academy Award, because that’s what guaranteed him the win (which would have been in question against Colin Firth as lead actor in “The King’s Speech”). But make no mistake about it; Bale is the leading actor in this film. He has more scenes. He has the standout dramatic scenes. He steals every scene he’s in. It’s his film. Even the DVD box art more predominately features Bale than the supposed ‘fighter’ lead, Wahlberg. But credit Wahlberg for recognizing this imbalance and not letting his ego get in the way of Bale dominating the show. If Wahlberg were a stronger actor, he might’ve better conveyed to the audience what his own struggle was and found a way to make that internal struggle stand out more to dramatize the usurping of his brother’s glory. The glory visuals are all there, like a spotlight in your eyes with music swelling, but you just never get the sense that Wahlberg as a character will ever steal Bale’s thunder.

The directing by David O’ Russell, though, is fantastic. It bobs, it weaves; it never stops feinting, moving, counterpunching and knocking you out. It takes big gloves to ever take on a true story boxer biography knowing “Raging Bull” is the reigning champ, but Russell proves himself a contender.


“Inside Job” on Blu-ray

The rich have no shame. There’s no other conclusion. It’s staring you in the face for the full two hours of this Academy Award-winning documentary. We all know the basic story of how 30 years of deregulation let the wolves run away with the hen house in the Wall Street banking industry. The bankers got greedy and became investors, gambling on artificially-created derivatives, and when they lost their shirts, we all paid the bill. It’s even more shocking to see how the rating agencies such as Moody’s or Standard & Poors essentially pimped out their triple AAA ratings on these crap CDOs for a buck to help legitimize these gambles. Or how leading academics at the financial colleges are also helping perpetuate future generations of “greed is good” graduates because they’re on the take as well, accepting huge consulting fees from the same few banks that essentially control the world’s economy and give our presidents their marching orders. “You WILL bail us out for our greed-infested gambling with taxpayer money, or we’ll take the whole ballgame down with us,” they threatened. And so it was.

But the one thing I keep coming away with is, “Who ARE these human beings?” Are they EVENhuman beings? Did they ever possess any trace of conscience or shame? And the answer obviously appears, “Never.” Maybe it’s some genetic disposition, or brain anomaly that allows the scheming rich to make the decisions they make that take no other human consequence into consideration. There’s just no other explanation. I look back at times in my own life where I made decisions that affected my potential financial situation. I can remember a situation living in L.A. where a gem dealer Ecuadorian friend and neighbor in my apartment building gave me the opportunity to double whatever cash amount I wanted from $10,000 on up by merely depositing  it along with the same amount he wanted to launder through a regular bank account. As a freelance screenwriter receiving large fees for writing, the anomalies posed few noticeable risks. But I could never do it imagining where, and for what activities the dirty money came from. Just couldn’t do it.

The rich don’t make those kinds of conscious or ethical calculations. They just make the cash calculations. And if ever you needed proof, this documentary not only puts those moral-free actions on display, but even features some of the shameless demons being interviewed on camera for all to witness. Because the other thing they lack besides any shame, is any governor (or regulator) on their gall or ego. “60 Minutes” made its bread and butter for 30 years on the fact the rich and powerful often think they can get celebrity camera time  and come off like the brilliant people they think they are, without ever understanding that the only thing they ultimately reveal … is their complete lack of empathy or shame. Or guilt. It’s not in their DNA. Oh, some of them are married to actual human beings – women that talk them into donating to universities or hospital medical wings (featuring their names and portraits), but that’s just to stop the nagging. It wasn’t because they were exercising any recognizable form of conscience.

Let’s be clear; we’re not talking about those who became rich as a by-product of their creative, scientific or innovative achievements in pursuit of what they would have been doing even if money weren’t involved. We’re not talking about Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Oprah or even Charlie Sheen. We’re talking about those who pursued money for the sake of money, and whose only creativity is to scheme for more. Those who worship at the house of money.

Oh, sure, I’m generalizing, and being judgmental and pig-headed. But watch this movie and see if you don’t feel the same way afterwards. If every working class American saw this film, there would be a revolution, complete with guillotines and beheadings. But the head of some of these pigs separated from their bodies and staring back at themselves still wouldn’t get what they did wrong. Isn’t getting rich the American Dream? Doesn’t the end justify the means? Maybe it’s time we found a more worthwhile dream.

“Billy Joel Live at Shea Stadium” on Blu-ray

Billy Joel performed on my college student union patio back in 1974 and got so pissed off at the spotlight operator not following his antics around stage that he jumped on the top of his piano and stood there until the spotlight finally settled on him and tossed two large, glowing birds into the air and screamed, “Fuck You!”

Billy Joel begins this fantastic closing performance at Shea Stadium in 2008 before it was torn down by ripping through his early anthem, “Angry Young Man.” It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed. Oh, sure, he’s now bald, grey, paunchy, and sweating buckets of water onto his keyboard on a hot summer night before a standing room only crowd of about 110,000. But the voice is still amazingly strong and supple, and the songs he goes through in this two and a half hour tour de force are the deep album cuts most long-term Billy Joel fans want to hear; from “Miami 2017,” to “Captain Jack,” to “Goodnight, Saigon,” to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

Guest stars like Garth Brooks, (“Shameless”), Tony Bennett (“New York State of Mind”), John Mayer (“This is the Time”), and Paul McCartney (“Let It Be”) show up to augment the festivities. But trust me on this one … Billy Joel snarling and playing his piano and reminding you to “Not take shit from anyone” is plenty enough to stir your blood (provided “Inside Job” hasn’t already boiled it). It’s fun to play ‘spot the celebrity’ on the infield below the stage. Isn’t that billionaire New York City mayor Boomberg beaming widely right in the middle of the huddled, sweating masses? So, maybe the ultra rich have no shame, and can sing along when Garth Brooks glorifies “Shameless,” but at least they know what events are worth showing up for. I wish I had been there. Check this out and you’ll wish you had been, also.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Bee Gees … timeless

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Being a Bee Gees fan has almost been as tough a road, respect-wise, as being an actual Bee Gee. But I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard my older sister’s copy of Idea back in 1968. The single was, “I Gotta Get a Message to You.” On the surface, it’s just another great Beatle-esque melody about a guy trying to get a message to his lover. Listen closer and you realize the ‘guy’ is about to die in the electric chair.

The first hit single the Bee Gees ever had in their adopted country of Australia (they were born on the Isle of Man in Great Britain), was “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” about a group of doomed miners sharing pictures of their loved ones before the final cave-in. “Odessa” finds a sailor stranded on an iceberg after the rest of his crew was lost at sea in 1899. “Sincere Relation” tells the story of George from Londontown who, ‘respected by all, he married and made a home to give his children more than he had known. But then he died, without an explanation. He never lied. A very sincere relation.”

Are you with me so far?

What the Bee Gees had in spades over the Beatles besides a nonstop supply of great melodies was … great melancholy. Sad songs say so much, Elton sang, and no one sang them more relentlessly. As a kid who also grew up loving Edgar Allan Poe, their story songs of melancholy in the 60s and early 70s spoke to all my lonely days and lonely nights.

Bee Gees … In Our Own Time is an outstanding documentary just out on Blu-ray that benefits enormously from a narrative told entirely by the brothers themselves. It’s not just the history of a band of brothers (two of them twins), but a chronicle of the evolution of pop music over the past 50 years as interpreted and exquisitely harmonized by these composer/singers.

Sure, the Beatles were revolutionary, but doesn’t their story gain legend and gravitas through its brevity? They burned bright for a very short time - less than six years on the national scene. The Bee Gees, on the other hand, were evolutionary. They actually had to endure and adapt growing in and out of favor over and over again by fault of surviving. They had more ups and downs, more deaths and rebirths, more lost and founds by sheer nature of living, playing, composing, and singing together, longer. Much longer.

On the five-week ship passage back to England in 1965, while their last single was finally and unexpectedly enjoying its number one status in Australia, they arrived to be told, “Groups are dead.”  Good thing they didn’t listen. Six Aston Martins and five Rolls Royces later (for Maurice alone), they went from extreme success at the top of the pops, to total obscurity by the early 70s. And that’s all before disco reinvented them.

Most people just know the Bee Gees from after older brother Barry discovered his falsetto voice trying to sound like the Stylistics, and married this to an R&B beat that helped launch the Disco revolution and made Saturday Night Fever the second greatest-selling album of all time (only Michael Jackson’s Thriller sold more). Their sound became so popular and so dominate across the airwaves that radio stations inevitably launched ‘Bee Gees free’ weekends in backlash.

A fourth, younger brother, Andy, caught the tail of their success and spun his own gold as a solo artist. He was poised to join the group for good before he flamed out and died at 30 from over indulgences in cocaine and alcohol. And, the ‘man in the middle,’ Maurice, died unexpectedly at 53 in 2003, leaving his twin Robin, and older brother Barry lost and adrift in his wake, just like the sailor stranded on the ‘iceberg running free’ in “Odessa.”

I could never resist a beautiful melody or a glorious harmony. The Bee Gees produced more than any other group alive or dead. Orchestras could cover them and sound like brilliant long lost classical works. R&B artists could cover them (Nina Simon, Al Green, Richie Havens, Percy Sledge) and sound like soul classics.

And through all the accolades and acrimony; the embrace and the rejection; the top tens and the nowhere to be found; they never became cynical. They never stopped being musicians having a blast in the studio loving making music and blending their voices as only psychically-connected siblings could do.

I am so proud to claim a lifetime of reveling in their sense of melody … and melancholy.

— A. Wayne Carter

(Update: 2013: Wow. We’ve lost Robin since I wrote this. Very melancholy indeed.)

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Wild horse

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The single greatest testament to the resiliency of the human body no matter what you put in it or do to it is Keith Richards. This guitarist and riff master for the Rolling Stones for the past near 50 years spent more than 10 years as a heroin junkie, snorted more cocaine than Charlie Sheen in a decade of ‘bad nights,’ rolled over more expensive cars than James Bond, smoked more cigarettes than Humphrey Bogart on a film loop, and been exposed to more potential STDs then, well, Charlie Sheen.

But to read it from Keith himself in his new autography, “Life,” his saving grace was that he ‘always had the pure stuff.’ His cocaine and heroin were always pharmaceutical grade; he kept track of his tolerance levels, and the jet set groupies he rolled with and often supplied him were protective angels along the road. He boasts of being Number One for more than a decade on the list of celebrity rockers ‘most likely to die.’ And yet, here he is in 2010 somehow remembering more than 550 pages of growing up a single sensitive kid in Dartford, England, rattling off early blues record influences, forming a band with his mate Mick, starving for gigs, sharing a flat and some birds, striking it big, becoming a jet-setting millionaire bohemian, escaping Britain’s taxes, and somehow avoiding getting arrested or permanently imprisoned for drugs, contraband, speeding, tripping or any other number of civil violations more numerous than a file cabinet in a New York City police precinct headquarters. The man lived, for sure, and here’s his Life as he remembers it, and as we vicariously get the pleasure (or not) of experiencing.

How do you sum it all up? His philosophy, I mean; not the copious amounts of smack or speedball ingested, or five-string guitars open tuned. Well, perhaps the incident of Keith’s reaction to hearing about the death of one of his best ‘mates’ Gram Parsons in the U.S. while he was in Europe explains best. Was his first instinct to be sad, or to mope, write a song, mourn, or possibly hop on a plane to join Gram’s other mates smuggling his body out into the Joshua Tree desert to give it a proper Viking funeral? Nope. Keith is a firm believer in the saving power of distraction. Heroin is a great distraction from actually living your life or dealing with the bumps because there is a constant parallax between what is actually happening to you and where you are experiencing it from (somewhere a bit removed), except of course when you have to go cold turkey. If you tend to be an oversensitive artist type, it’s perhaps understandable to anesthetize yourself from the nonstop barrage of a life you never expected or anticipated – especially when you can afford the ‘pharmaceutical grade’ stuff (or the birds are just giving it to you).

So what does Keith do when he hears one of his best friends has suddenly died from an overdose (he didn’t monitor his own tolerances correctly, Keith explains)? He jumps on a plane to Germany with another mate and spends the next few days trying to track down the ‘most beautiful model in Europe.’ Not to shag her, mind you, though he accomplishes that later. No, he does it just to have a mission that will sufficiently distract him from the loss he was probably never emotionally prepared to feel. And I get that.

Reading these live action adventures of the Pirate of the Parrot Cay (and every other exotic locale you or I can mostly just read about), you just might get it, too. Scoring dope can get pretty boring and repetitive, especially when that seemed to be the main goal of his life for so many years, but in between, there’s some ‘pure’ good stuff.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Everybody’s ranting

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Everybody’s talking at me

I don’t hear a word they’re saying

Only the echoes of my mind

Ain’t that the truth … for America these days? Everyone’s ranting, and no one listens anymore; it’s just all noise tuned out in favor of the broken tape loops echoing around and around again in our own minds.

No one listens anymore. Everyone has a loud opinion. And the balance of power in our times is who, by virtue of some glint of power or authority, you HAVE to listen to. Because otherwise you just wouldn’t. Sad.

But not as sad as the story of Harry Nilsson; best mate of forehead tampon hanger John Lennon and Ringo Starr, possessor of one of the most angelic male voices of the last few decades, and self-destructive burnout deceased at 53.

Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is a documentary that ran the festival circuit and is finally available on DVD. It’s not great because of innovative editing or directing. It”s awesome by virtue of the subject.

The DVD has more than 15 additional scenes left off the documentary that are as good as anything ON the documentary. That’s how you know the subject exceeds the creative powers of the people trying to interpret it. Just lay it all out there and let everyone put their own cumulative story together from the pieces.

It’s a simple story: Kid born in Brooklyn, tragically loses dad early, leaves home at 15, heads West, finds fame and fortune, but can’t escape that missing pillar of early self-esteem, and collapses to oblivion. But, oh God, what a magical voice.

There’s a lot of talk, from famed producer Richard Perry, Monkee Mickey Dolenz, Yoko Ono, Jimmy Webb, Van Dyke Parks, the Smothers Brothers, and other music luminaries about what a great and melodic songwriter he was. But let’s face it, the two greatest songs he’s known for; “Everybody’s Talkin’” from the movie Midnight Cowboy, and that haunting anthem, “Without You,” were both written by other songwriters. No matter. Celebrate the intricate delicate precise crystal clear powerful gentle miracle that is his voice.

It’s a crying shame all the tower of Babel ranters who have overtaken our society, cyberspace and airwaves don’t have such a voice.

Otherwise we might be more inclined to listen.

A. Wayne Carter

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