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It's a long story -- hardly worth going into here -- but after this place was declared a Brownfield Site, we abandoned it for the NEW! IMPROVED!! Not Now Silly Newsroom.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happy Birthday Dennis Cowan ► Bonzo Dog Band ► May 6

The Bonzo Dog Band
Happy Birthday to Dennis Cowan, celebrating the big Six Five today. Dennis was bassist for the Bonzo Dog Band, originally The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, then The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, before finally settling on the name everyone knows and loves.  The Bonzos, as they are affectionately known among fans, were the most influential band you never heard of and almost indescribable, but I'll try. Cross a smattering of Lawrence Welk, with heavy doses of Spike Jones and his City Slickers, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and Weird Al Yankovic and you'd get the Bonzo Dog Band...but Bonzos are funnier.

A little lesson in British comedy: One can draw a very crooked line from the surreal '50s radio show The Goon Show--from which Peter Sellers sprang--to the anarchy of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Between the two was the seminal children's show [sic] Do Not Adjust Your Set. Later-Pythons Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin wrote and starred in this Thames tee vee series. However, people of all ages tuned in to see the antics of The Bonzo Dog Band, which featured today's Birthday Boy Dennis Cowan on bass.

Here's some very early Bonzos from Do Not Adjust Your Set:

People know the band Death Cab For Cutie. However, few know that the name is a tribute to the song of the same name that The Bonzo Dog Band performed in Magical Mystery Tour. This tasty little morsel of Doo Wop is one of few highlights in this horrible film that will always be an albatross around Paul McCartney's neck:

Neil Innes also came from the Bonzos and he became, almost, an auxiliary member of Monty Python Flying Circus. As told (accurately) by the WikiWackyWoo:
Innes wrote the songs for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He appeared in the film as a head-bashing monk, the serf crushed by the giant wooden rabbit, and the leader of Sir Robin's minstrels. He also had a small role in Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky. Because of these long-standing connections, Innes is often referred to as "the Seventh Python".
And, indeed, a Neil Innes documentary was called The Seventh Python. Innes was also Ron Nasty in The Rutles, which makes him one of the Pre-Fab Four. But this isn't about Innes, which would be a fun transgression.

Photo © Barrie Wentzell
L to R: Dennis Cowan, Roger Ruskin
Spear & Rodney Slater 1969
Photo © Barrie Wentzell, who
sells beautiful prints of early
Bonzo Dog Band and more.
The Bonzo Dog Band classic 1967 recording The Intro and the Outro lampooned every band that ever name-checked and introduced the members of the band. Vivian Stanshall voiced the introductions. This song was the inspiration for Mike Oldfileld when he recorded his solo album Tubular Bells, famously used as the theme music for The Exorcist. Oldfield's long version introduced all the instruments he played, voiced by none other than the very same Vivian Stanshall.

Lastly, for fans of Beatles trivia, like James Rosen of Fox News (who I stumped. That story coming.), here's a real rarity: The promotional film for I'm The Urban Spaceman. The original recording of Urban Spaceman was produced Apollo C. Vermouth, which was a pseudonym for Paul McCartney. Enjoy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

R.I.P. ► Lloyd Brevett ► Skatalites Bassist

Jamaica mourns one of her native sons in the passing of Lloyd Brevett, original bassist for The Skatalites, at the age of 80. Brevett was there at the beginning. It is not hyperbole to say that The Skatalites were one of the most influential bands ever, and not just in the narrow genre of Ska. Ask anybody who knows. No less an authority on Ska Music than the New York Times noted: 
Mr. Brevett, a trained jazz bassist, was an original member of the Skatalites, which was formed in 1964 during the evolution of Jamaican music from American-influenced rhythm and blues and jazz to the homegrown syncopated style known as ska, the precursor of reggae, rock steady and dub. The band members were also active as studio musicians and backed up the Wailers and other groups.

The Skatalites broke up in the mid-1960s but regrouped in New York 20 years later. Two of their albums, “Hi-Bop Ska!” and “Greetings From Skamania,” were nominated for Grammy Awards in the 1990s. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Unpacking My Detroit - Part Two

Detroit, once the fifth largest city in 'Merka, is home to some of the greatest architecture among 'Merkin cities.

It's sad to see it today. The decline of Detroit began as innocent urban sprawl in the mid-to-late '50s, when I was just a kid. This was followed by early White Flight acerbated by the 1967 riot, followed by a total collapse of the tax base, leading to the elections of some very dubious mayors with dubious ideas. Today Detroit is an urban wasteland and, while that sounds like a cliche, it is not an exaggeration. Whole blocks---whole neighbourhoods---are falling apart. The city is considering turning land over to farming, just like in the good ol' days when Detroit was a little settlement along the river. Oh! Wait!

On my last trip to Detroit I took dozens of pictures like the following:

Day In History ► May 2 ► Adolf Hitler Bans Trade Unions

DATELINE - 1933: One of the important events in Adolph Hitler's inexorable march to dictatorship and WWII was the banning of trade unions. Wisconsin? Are you listening? 'Merka? Are you listening?

"Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist..."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day In History ► May 1 ► Citizen Kane Premiers

DATELINE 1941 - After a fight between William Randolph Hearst and RKO Radio Pictures, Citizen Kane is finally released to the public. This film both created and cemented the reputation of Orson Welles, who never had final control of a movie again.

Welles had been a hot commodity after his Mercury Theatre (it's an ironic insult that Glenn Beck's company name pays tribute to Welles) scared the crap out of 'Merka with his radio drama of H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds." Soon afterwards RKO signed him to an unprecedented picture deal with full artistic control and the rest is history and allegory.

Orson Welles arriving at the premier
Over the years the reputation of Citizen Kane has grown and many, including myself, think it's the greatest film ever made. Much of the film's language was adapted by directors over the years. Therefore Citizen Kane hardly looks as revolutionary as it was back in the day. Welles went on to make many movies over the years, but none were as TERRIFIC as Citizen Kane

As always the nonconformist, here's Welles' trailer for Citizen Kane, which includes many scenes not in the final movie, some which appear to have been created for this advert and some back-stage tomfoolery. Enjoy:


Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Willie Nelson - Still Crazy After All These Years

Willie Nelson turns 79 today and he's still going strong, dropping his new CD "Heroes" next month, featuring Merle Haggard, Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Sheryl Crow, among others. Who would have predicted that back in 1961, when Willie was just an itinerant song-plugger trying to sell "Crazy" to Patsy Cline, that one day he would be singing for presidents?

Here's a Willie Nelson jukebox:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Today In History - April 29

There are two events of import on this day in history: President Richard Nixon released transcripts of the so-called Watergate Tapes; the Rodney King verdict was announced.and Los Angeles explodes in indignation.

Video created by author from still photographs
DATELINE 1972 - President Richard Nixon announced he would release transcripts of the secretly recorded conversations in the Oval Office.  This marked the real beginning of the end for Nixon.  The words "expletive deleted" became a national joke, made Nixon look petty and ugly, and the transcripts didn't satisfy the subpoenas.  The tapes would eventually be released, leading to the infamous 18 and a half minute gap and the smoking fun tape.  Nixon resigned the presidency on August 8, 1974. 

DATELINE 1992 - A jury in Simi Valley, California acquitted police officers of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King, caught on tape and played in the media multiple times.  Despite that mostly White jurors voted "Not Guilty" and Los Angeles exploded in an orgy of anger, which turned to 3 days of looting and hooliganism. 

It's Duke Ellington Day in NYC!!!

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared today Duke Ellington Day, on what would have been the 110th birthday of the musical legend.  Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington died in 1974 at the age of 75, but his music will never die. According to UPI:
To commemorate the musician's life, The Islands of the Bahamas said they are sponsoring a special run of New York's last surviving 1939 A Train, made famous in Ellington's signature tune "Take the A Train."
"Take the A Train," written by Billy Strayhorn while he was taking the A Train to rehearsal, I have dozens of recordings of "Take the A Train," by Ellington because he recorded it so many times.  Some live.  Some solo.  Some with a small group.  Some with a full orchestra. Every single one holds new surprises, no matter how familiar I am with the tune. Here are three great versions of Ellington's signature tune. The first is Duke with a rockin' trio, followed by an early version with his orchestra, and finally, one with Ella Fitzgerald on vocals.

With thousands of compositions, and so many interpretations of Duke Ellington tunes, it was hard to pick a stand-out performance until I remembered Dr. John's tribute CD "Duke Elegant."  Boogie now!!!