Monday, February 8, 2016

Del Shannon & Me ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Del Shannon in Swinging London, 1963
While, I don't usually commemorate the death of celebrities, I will make an exception for Del Shannon, the first superstar that I ever met. He died on this day in 1990 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover on the 2nd to last day of 1934 in Grand Rapids, less than 30 miles from where he grew up in Coopersville, Michigan. According to the WikiWackyWoo:
He learned ukulele and guitar and listened to country and western music, including Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. He was drafted into the Army in 1954, and while in Germany played guitar in a band called "The Cool Flames". When his service ended, he returned to Battle Creek, Michigan, and worked as a carpet salesman and as a truck driver in a furniture factory. He found part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in singer Doug DeMott's group called "The Moonlight Ramblers", working at the Hi-Lo Club.[1] 

When DeMott was fired in 1958, Westover took over as leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson and renaming the band into The Big Little Show Band.[2] In early 1959 he added keyboardist Max Crook, who played the Musitron (his own invention of an early synthesizer). Crook had made recordings, and he persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to hear the band. McLaughlin took the group's demos to Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent Artists in Detroit. In July 1960, Westover and Crook signed to become recording artists and composers on the Bigtop label. Balk suggested Westover use a new name, and they came up with "Del Shannon", combining Mark Shannon—a wrestling pseudonym used by a regular at the Hi-Lo Club—with Del, derived from the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, his favorite car.[2]
Shannon's first sessions didn't go well until he was convinced to rewrite an earlier tune, "Little Runaway." Recorded in January of 1961, and now featuring the Musitron along with Shannon's trademark falsetto, "Runaway" was released less than a month later. By April it hit #1 on the Billboard chart. A follow-up second single, "Hats Off To Larry," was also a hit, climbing to the #5 position.

From there, sadly, it was a long, slow, tapering off. Shannon recorded for several labels, but never quite reached the heights of his early career. He became an alcoholic. By the time I met him his career was on the big slide to oblivion, although he was still considered a big star in England.

It was during the summer of 1966 (or was it '65?) that my mother had a booth at the Michigan State Fair selling everything from Greasy Kids Stuff (the real name of this joke product), to giant sunglasses, to cheap jewellery, which could be professionally engraved on the spot. Think mid-'60s Kitch & Krap™.

Because we had free passes, I went to the fairgrounds with my mother every day. Maybe she thought I was going to help out in the booth, but as soon as the State Fair opened every morning, I was gone, exploring every nook and cranny of the annual event over the next month.

Just catercorner to my mother's booth was a minuscule amphitheater, sponsored by hometown company Chevrolet. [Anything that seems minuscule to a child, must be very small indeed.] During the first 2 weeks of the State Fair was (almost) hometown boy Del Shannon was booked on that stage, while the next 2 weeks another hometown hero performed, the up-and-comer Little Stevie Wonder.

I was too young to understand the vagaries of show biz and didn't realize that this little gig meant Del Shannon was already on the way to obscurity, while Stevie Wonders' was still climbing the ladder to greatness. The trajectories of their respective careers were crossing at this moment in time across this little stage. All I knew at the time was these were 2 guys whose songs I knew by heart because they came out of the radio right in my own house.

I was already a fan of Del Shannon's so I was excited to see that he was playing several free shows a day right next door. I tried to be in the audience for almost every show, sitting at a table right up front, and cheering and clapping louder than anybody. I even took delight in something I would gag at today. During the fade-out to "Runaway" Shannon slipped in a not-so-subtle product placement:

♫ ♪ ♫ My little runaway, a run, run, run, run, runaway. See the
Yew Ess Eh in your Chevrolet. My little runaway . . . ♪ ♫ ♪

It didn't strike me as crass at the time. I thought it was so cool that he could slip in the name of his sponsor without, literally, missing a beat. Clearly, he was a genius. I was a star struck 14-year old. 

It didn't take Shannon long to notice me and then realize I was almost a permanent fixture at his shows. After the 2nd or 3rd day Shannon approached me after one of his shows to offer me an autograph, which I foolishly declined. That's not why I was there. He wondered why I was there and I pointed to my mother's booth across the aisle and told him I was a big fan.

From that day on we were great pals. He would play right at me in the audience while on that little stage and often spent time talking to me after some of his shows. We never talked about Show Biz and I wish I could tell you what we talked about, but it's long been forgotten. It was just general chit chat that's meaningless even as it's being spoken. 

Looking back on it now, I get the sense that he was lonely. He had once been one of the biggest stars in Rock and Roll and now was reduced to playing on a stage smaller than most bedrooms. There were times that I was the only one who stayed through his entire 20 minute show, as people wandered in and out of the performance space looking at all the Chevrolet advertisements and full-scale models. I was just a kid, yet Del Shannon needed to bask in the warmth of my adulation. During those conversations, I cannot tell you whether he was had been drinking, but he certainly didn't come off as drunk, something I would have recognized.

When I learned of his suicide from depression in 1990, it was like a light going out on one of the lamps lit during my youth.

►►► R.I.P. ◄◄◄

[Apologies for the quality of these 2 clips. I couldn't find better.]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Civil Rights Champion Born ► Throwback Thursday

Happy Birthday to Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, born on this day in 1913. On December 1, 1955, at the age of 42, Parks refused to give up her seat to a White person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggering the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It lasted just over a year and, finally, integrated the buses in that southern city.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a defining event in the country's history. There had been other attempts to integrate buses (which you can read about in the Wiki essay Events leading up to the bus boycott). However, this one attracted national attention and led to the Supreme Court ruling that the laws behind Montgomery and Alabama's bus segregation were unconstitutional.

According to the National Archives
Mrs. Parks was not the first person to be prosecuted for violating the segregation laws on the city buses in Montgomery. She was, however, a woman of unchallenged character who was held in high esteem by all those who knew her. At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Parks was active in the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving as secretary to E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter. Her arrest became a rallying point around which the African American community organized a bus boycott in protest of the discrimination they had endured for years. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 26-year-old minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, emerged as a leader during the well-coordinated, peaceful boycott that lasted 381 days and captured the world's attention. It was during the boycott that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., first achieved national fame as the public became acquainted with his powerful oratory.
Parks was not the quiet seamstress that history tends to remember. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:

At the time, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. She had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for training activists for workers' rights and racial equality. She acted as a private citizen "tired of giving in". Although widely honored in later years, she also suffered for her act; she was fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store, and received death threats for years afterwards. Her situation also opened doors.

Shortly after the boycott, she moved to Detroit, where she briefly found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American U.S. Representative. She was also active in the Black Power movement and the support of political prisoners in the US.

After retirement, Parks wrote her autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years, she suffered from dementia. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP's 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and third non-U.S. government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda


Detroit honoured this Civil Rights icon by renaming 12th Street, where the 1967 riot occurred, Rosa Parks Boulevard.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The 45 Is Introduced ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Hey Jude clocked in at 7:11, one of the longest singles to reach #1
It was 67 years ago today -- in 1949 -- that RCA Records introduced the 45, also known as The Single.  It was designed to replace the 78, which was made of shellac, as opposed to vinyl, and far less durable.

The 45 measured 7 inches and revolved at 45 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), hence the name. The 45 also improved upon the sound quality of the 78. It became important to the spread of Rock and Roll, mostly because it was within the budget of most teenagers during the '50 and '60s. Adults tended to buy albums instead.

According to History's Dumpster, the first 45 introduced to the public for sale was Eddy Arnold's "Texarcana Baby."

The History of The 45 RPM Record goes on to say:
The RCA 7" inch 45 RPM record was cute, VERY small, and RCA's very colourful vinyl (each genre of music had it's own colour of vinyl!) made it an instant hit with younger people. Popular releases were on standard black vinyl. Country releases were on green vinyl, Children's records were on yellow vinyl, Classical releases were on red vinyl, "Race" (or R&B and Gospel) records were on orange vinyl, Blue vinyl/blue label was used for semi-classical instrumental music and blue vinyl/black label for international recordings 
In the beginning the 45 could only hold just over 3 minutes of music. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:
The 3-minute single remained the standard into the 1960s, when the availability of microgroove recording and improved mastering techniques enabled recording artists to increase the duration of their recorded songs. The breakthrough came with Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". Although CBS tried to make the record more "radio friendly" by cutting the performance in half and spreading it over both sides of the vinyl, both Dylan and his fans demanded that the full six-minute take be placed on one side and that radio stations play the song in its entirety.[2] The subsequent success of "Like a Rolling Stone" played a big part in changing the music business convention that single-song recordings had to be under three minutes in length.
While we called the 45 a single, it would be a misnomer to believe that they were the only singles. Again, the Wiki knows all:
Singles have been issued in various formats, including 7-inch (18 cm), 10-inch (25 cm), and 12-inch (30 cm) vinyl discs (usually playing at 45 rpm); 10-inch (25-cm) shellac discs (playing at 78 rpm); cassette, 8 and 12 cm (3- and 5-inch) CD singles and 7-inch (18 cm) plastic flexi discs. Other, less common, formats include singles on digital compact cassette, DVD, and LD, as well as many non-standard sizes of vinyl disc (5-inch/12 cm, 8-inch/20 cm, etc.).
The first single I ever bought with my own money was The Beach Boys' "I Get Around." It cost 49 cents at Kresge's, which was all the money I had left over after buying The Lovin' Spoonful's Greatest Hits.

The domination of the 45 continued until the album started to take over:
Perhaps the golden age of the single was on 45s in the 1950s to early 1960s in the early years of rock music.[3] Starting in the mid-sixties, albums became a greater focus and more important as artists created albums of uniformly high quality and coherent themes, a trend which reached its apex in the development of the concept album. Over the 1990s and early 2000s, the single generally received less and less attention in the United States as albums, which on compact disc had virtually identical production and distribution costs but could be sold at a higher price, became most retailers' primary method of selling music. Singles continued to be produced in the UK and Australia, surviving the transition from compact disc to digital download.
Now that vinyl is making a comeback, so are 45s. All hail the single!!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Remembering the Challenger Crew 30 Years Later ► Throwback Thursday

►►► R.I.P. ◄◄◄

Mission Specialist Ellison S. Onizuka
Teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe
Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis
Mission Specialist Judy Resnick
Pilot Mike Smith
Commander Dick Scobee
Mission Specialist Ron McNair

Monday, January 25, 2016

Paul McCartney Deported From Japan ► Monday Musical Appreciation

It was 36 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to -- OOPS! On this day in 1980, Paul McCartney was kicked out of Japan for trying to smuggle almost half a pound of marijuana into the country.

Sir Paul, his wife Linda, and his band Wings were about to embark on what would have been a lucrative tour of Japan. McCartney had not been to Japan since The Beatles tour of 1966, where they were greeted by enthusiastic audiences.

However, this Wings tour would end before it began when Japanese customs officials at Narita airport discovered close to eight ounces of marijuana right on the very top of his suitcase. The cute Beatle was promptly marched off to jail, where he spent the next 9 days behind bars.

This was not McCartney's first bust for dope. In fact, he had been nabbed more than once, receiving little more than a slap on the wrist. According to the Performing Songwriter web site:
Prior to his arrest in Tokyo, Macca had been busted three times. In 1972, he paid a $2,000 fine for smuggling hashish into Sweden. The same year, he was fined for pot possession in Scotland, and in 1973, he was fined again for growing cannabis on his Scottish highlands farm. The story goes that before the Japanese tour, Paul was made to sign an affidavit stating that he no longer smoked dope, as a condition for receiving his visa. When the pot was found, Japanese authorities felt that they’d “lost face” and had no choice but to arrest him.
While 8 ounces of pot is not an extreme amount, it would have been enough to garner a smuggling charge, which could have kept McCartney locked up for the next 7 years.

As McCartney explained in the Wingspan documentary:

According to the History web site:
The question that troubled the minds of observers at the time was, “What was Paul thinking?” Half a pound of marijuana was a prodigious amount for one man to carry around for personal use—particularly a man who had had reason to expect especially close examination of his person and his baggage by Japanese customs officials. After all, Paul had been denied a Japanese entry visa just five years earlier due to his numerous earlier drug arrests in Europe.

Twenty years after his 1980 arrest, Paul would opine that his psychological motivation may have been to find an excuse to disband Wings, which he in fact did immediately following his return to England. In another interview, however, Sir Paul offered an explanation that may be the more compelling for its simplicity: “We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” McCartney said in 2004. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”
His former writing partner, John Lennon, is said to have opined:
“If he really needs weed, surely there’s enough people who can carry it for him. You’re a Beatle, boy, a Beatle. Your face is in every damn corner of the planet. How could you have been so stupid?”
Smartening up, McCartney decided to toe the line while in jail. Ultimate Classic Rock picks up the story:
As Inmate No. 22, he decided to become a model prisoner. As he said in the ‘Wingspan’ documentary, “I started to realize, “Right, I’m going to get up when the light goes on, I’m going to be the first up, I’m going to be the first with his room cleaned, I’m going to roll up my bed, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’”
After nine days in the pokey, Japan kicked McCartney out of the country. He returned to Japan in 1990 and subsequently toured there several times.

Also on this day in McCartney history: In 1991 Paul appeared on MTV's Unplugged, a performance and CD which revitalized his career.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Palin Family's Greatest [Literal] Hits ► Throwback Thursday

Remember this trio of tweets and posters to promote a book?
Sensing her ongoing total irrelevance, Alaskan grifter Sarah Palin latched onto the +Donald J. Trump gravy train-wreck this week. With predictable and HIGH-LARRY-US results, it didn't go well.

As much fun as we on the Left are having -- make no mistake: the return of the Palin Word Salad is comedy gold -- we should never forget what a vile creature she really is, along with the family she rode in on.

Remember: It would be BLOOD LIBEL if you were
to even suggest that Sarah Palin was using gun sight
logos on this poster to suggest 2nd Amendment
solutions, especially after Gabby Giffords, one of
those in the sights, was shot in the parking lot of
an Arizona supermarket in an assassination attempt
that left 6 dead and 13 injured 5 years ago this month.
On Tuesday, as whispers of Palin's potential Trump endorsement were starting to blow up the internet, two other stories were bubbling under news cycles' Hit Parade.

The first was that her abstinence-avert daughter Bristol, taking precious time away from diapering her 2nd baby born out of wedlock, defended Mama Grizzly from an accurate attack from the Ted Cruz camp over her Trump endorsement.

Then came the not-as-surprising-as-you-might-think reports that Palin's eldest son Track -- left home alone -- had been arrested the night before for [alleged] beating up his girlfriend and then threatening to shoot himself.

According to the police report:
She and her boyfriend of one year, Track Palin, left a different residence together and were arguing the whole way home. Once they got to his home they argued in the car, then in the driveway . They were screaming and he was calling her names. [Redacted] told Palin that she had called the cops even though she had not, in attempt to calm him down and to scare him away from “touching her”. Palin approached [Redacted] and struck her on the left side of her head near her eye with a closed fist. [Redacted] got on the ground in a fetal position because she didn’t know what else he would do. Palin then kicked [redacted] on the right knee. [Redacted]’s phone was sitting on the ground in front of her. Palin took her phone and threw it across the driveway. She retrieved the phone and went inside the house. Palin was already inside and holding onto a gun, yelling “do you think I’m a pussy?” and “do you think I won’t do it?” [Redacted] stated Palin “cocked the gun” and was holding the rifle out next to him with the his right hand near the trigger and his left hand near the barrel, with the barrel just away from his face pointed to the side. [Redacted] was concerned that he would shoot himself and ran outside and around the house. She didn’t see where Palin went, so she went inside and up the stairs, where she hid under a bed. Shortly after, she heard Palin walking around inside looking for her. Palin left after not locating her.
However, the news that Track [allegedly] beat up his girlfriend didn't hit the TRENDING lists until after Sarah Palin's loony toon speech in Trumpville, USA.

That news revived earlier stories about the Punch Drunk Palins. In 2014 the whole famn damily got into a donnybrook with some of their neighbours. Then, as now, the police were called. Combining several written reports, my editors at PoliticusUSA wrote in 2014:
Our friend Gryphen at The Immoral Minority has the details,

According to the grapevine Track had some altercation with a person who may or may not have once dated one of the Palin girls. That led to some pushing and shoving, which escalated somehow to the family being asked to leave the premises.

However before that could happen a certain former abstinence spokesperson unleashed a flurry of blows at some as of yet identified individual before being pulled off by by another partygoer, after which Todd apparently puffed up his chest and made some threatening remarks. (The “C’ word may have been uttered at one point.)

In the end the cops were called, order was restored, and the Mama Grizzly made sure the whole thing got swept under the rug.
Blogger Amanda Coyne added some more color to the picture,

The owner of the house gets involved, and he probably wished he hadn’t. At this point, he’s up against nearly the whole Palin tribe: Palin women screaming. Palin men thumping their chests. Word is that Bristol has a particularly strong right hook, which she employed repeatedly, and it’s something to hear when Sarah screams, “Don’t you know who I am!”

And it was particularly wonderful when someone in the crowd screamed back, “This isn’t some damned Hillbilly reality show!” No, it’s what happens when the former First Family of Alaska comes knocking.

Wonkette confirmed with the PoPo that the brawl really happened.
My fascination with the Palin Family is nothing new. Read:

 More Proof the Palin Family
Are Liars and Grifters
As the news of Track's latest arrest became too big to ignore, mother Sarah Palin went into hiding to formulate a response. She skipped Trump's first event yesterday, with everyone wondering, "Where's Sarah?" When she emerged she came up with this Laff Riot:

According to PoliticusUSA, there are 2 competing stories about why Track Palin served in the military in the first place, which, incidentally, was during George W. Bush's incumbency:
Barack Obama didn’t send Track Palin to the Middle East. Depending on whether or not one believes the Palin family version of the story Track Palin was either forced by his parents to enlist after getting arrested, or he volunteered to go. Either way, the responsibility for Track Palin’s arrest belongs solely to the man himself.
I do not wish to make fun of anyone who has PTSD. I've seen its effects first hand. If Track has PTSD, I hope he is able to get the help he needs. [On a tangential note: I hope somone is smart enough to take away his guns.]

Having typed that, if Sarah Palin says Track has PTSD it needs to be checked with a higher authority because: 1). Palin's relationship with the truth has been bitterly strained over the last decade, or so, and; 2). There is no one she wouldn't betray -- including using her son and a medical diagnosis -- to score points with the "Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our god, and our religions, and our Constitution."

For further proof there's no one she wouldn't throw under the wheels of a campaign bus: Despite the fact that:

  • John McCain elevated Sarah Palin to national recognition when he tapped her to be his Veep, and;
  • +Donald J. Trump famously attacked John MCain as a loser who was captured and the compassionate billionaire doesn't like people who were captured.
Sarah Palin betrayed previous BFF Ted Cruz, Conservatives, religious fundamentalists and Tea Party-types in order to Scream Stump for Trump.

I rest my case. Now watch this bucket of crazy, which MoJo introduces with the headline:

Here Is a Video of Sarah Palin Interviewing Donald Trump. It Is Bonkers under the funny URL

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Danger of Speaking Truth to Power ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Forty-eight years ago today the blacklist of Eartha Kitt began.

It was the day after her birthday in 1968 when Kitt was invited to a luncheon at the White House. While there she was asked by the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, about the ongoing war in Vietnam. According to The Music History Calendar:
At a White House luncheon to discuss the rise in urban crime, Eartha Kitt gets into a notorious spat with First Lady Claudia Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson, declaring, "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason." Although accounts of the entire argument differ, Kitt is subsequently blackballed in America.
Blackballed? The government did everything in its power to destroy her professionally and personally. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:
Her remarks reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt's career.[15] The public reaction to Kitt's statements was extreme, both pro and con. Publicly ostracized in the US, she devoted her energies to performances in Europe and Asia. It is said that Kitt's career in the US was ended following her comments about the Vietnam War, after which she was branded "a sadistic nymphomaniac" by the CIA.[8]
Kitt had been riding high as Batman's Catwoman, but disappeared from all 'Merkin media after the cat fight with Lady Bird. She didn't emerge for a decade, until she appeared on Broadway in the musical Timbuktu! in 1978.

While Catwoman was my introduction to Kitt, she had a long and vital career up to that point. As a singer she had a number of hits, such as "C'est Si Bon" and the very sexy seasonal song "Santa Baby."

Kitt was not just a celebrity guest at that White House luncheon. She had been invited because of her decade-long activism. As we learn from the WikiWackyWoo:
Kitt was active in numerous social causes in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, she established the Kittsville Youth Foundation, a chartered and non-profit organization for underprivileged youth in the Watts area of Los Angeles.[22] She was also involved with a group of youth in the area of Anacostia in Washington, D.C., who called themselves, "Rebels with a Cause." Kitt supported the group's efforts to clean up streets and establish recreation areas in an effort to keep them out of trouble by testifying with them before the House General Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor. In her testimony, in May 1967, Kitt stated that the Rebels' "achievements and accomplishments should certainly make the adult 'do-gooders' realize that these young men and women have performed in 1 short year - with limited finances - that which was not achieved by the same people who might object to turning over some of the duties of planning, rehabilitation, and prevention of juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency to those who understand it and are living it". She added that "the Rebels could act as a model for all urban areas throughout the United States with similar problems".[23] "Rebels with a Cause" subsequently received the needed funding.[24]
I fell in love with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. As a teenager with raging hormones, I thought she was one of the sexiest women on tee vee. I didn't learn about her singing and acting career until later and it was years after that when I learned of her activism and subsequent blacklisting. For all these reasons, Eartha Kitt is one of my personal heroes. However, as I always say, It's all about the music: