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People Make the World Go Round

9 Jul

I’m a big fan of 70s Philly soul music and The Stylistics are one of my absolute favorite groups on my long list of artists I completely dig in this genre.   Their song “Betcha By Golly Wow” is of super importance in my life and I always would have assumed that that’s the one I’d choose to highlight here, but I should know better than to predict my own behavior.

I’ve had “People Make the World Go Round” in my head all day and hopefully you’ll have it in your head all day tomorrow.  It’s quite a song.  From their debut album in 1972, it goes after all members of the social strata – from garbage collectors to Wall Streeters.  “But that’s what makes world go round…” as they say.

Maybe I was thinking of it because I was in a sea of humanity today.  I went to see the life-changing Alexander McQueen show yet again.  The Met on a Saturday at a blockbuster show…yikes.  Then to The Highline – on a gorgeous weekend day.  More yikes.  Then, believe it or not, to a mall.  Oddly that was the place most devoid of people.  Throw in some restaurants and transportation and I’ve had more contact with people in this one day than I had all of last month.  And to top it all off, I was a magnet for every bad seed of a child today as well.
But none of it annoyed me in the least.  Well maybe one or two of the kids.  But nothing else.  It was just the world rotating perfectly on it’s axis.  People do make the world go round.

Naked Furniture

9 Jun

Yesterday, I received some very depressing news.  My most beloved secret email address that only a few special people got – but that all of my blog comments went to – was being discontinued.

Here’s the story.  Follow carefully; it’s awfully complex.

A couple of years ago, I discovered my favorite band in the world, Valley Lodge.  In fact, I discovered them through Twitter.  It’s true!

My friend Calvert & I joined Twitter and started following a small group of really interesting and funny people.  This was before I started using it for the advertising industry folk.  JK!   But you know – people who were involved in art and architecture and design and blogging and comedy.   Teensy little list but very lovingly curated.  Calvert was my main source of finding interesting people to follow in those days and he immediately suggested following the hysterical @mrdavehill .  One day, not long after this, @mrdavehill didn’t post a funny tweet at all.  Instead, he posted a song he had recorded with his band Valley Lodge and it changed my life.

I do not say that lightly.

It was a cover version of the super groovy ’70s hit by Bob Welch, “Sentimental Lady.”  @mrdavehill said that it was downloadable but he totally lied.  It only streamed.  I tweeted him back asking if it was available for download anywhere and he replied with “right click” instructions.  As if I didn’t know that!  Okay, I know I shouldn’t still be mad a his reply.  It was so long ago and he was trying to be nice and helpful.  But, still, he had just insulted the small amount of highly technical knowledge I possessed.  I mean, come on.  Who doesn’t know how to download?

Deep breath.

Turns out my friend Ryan had seen this Twitter exchange.  He tweeted back that I should hit him up on ichat and he’d send me a bunch of their songs. Wait, what?  I was so confused!  How did Ryan…?  What…?

Sure enough, later that morning, Ryan sent me some songs, including the amazing “All of My Loving.”  A couple of days later he met me for lunch.  We had grilled cheese.  And tomato soup.   And then he gave me two actual CDs by Valley Lodge.  He  had just signed them to a multi-million dollar publishing deal.  Well that’s not exactly true, but that is what their songs should command.

I was smitten immediately and wanted to do a video for them.  Ryan hooked me up with @mrdavehill and before you knew it, I was casting a lot of naked men.  And Valley Lodge was playing really loud while they were naked!  Pretty much my version of heaven.


Just one of the guys in the video wasn’t naked.  He was a Bear and for some reason, preferred not to disrobe.  That was cool, I guess.  Maybe he didn’t want to get naked in front of a lot of people and have it filmed.  To each his own.   But here’s what he did like to do in real life:  organize leather invasions.

Leather invasions are where a groups of leather clad guys would invade places like museums, parks, shows, etc.   It was art.  Or as they called it, it was putting the kink back into NYC.   By the end of the shoot, we were pals.  And while I didn’t get a naked Bear in the video, I did get something better than that:  an @leatherinvasion dot com email address.  Amazing.

Since then it’s been a source of unending happiness.  All my blog comments go there.  Or went there.  My Bear is moving on apparently and with his life change, my email address will no longer exist.

Sigh.  ‘leatherinvasion’ is just so much cooler than ‘gmail.’  The only thing that can make me feel any better about this sad, sad, sad turn of events (I’m serious, I’m super bummed), is to watch the video and listen to Valley Lodge non-stop.  It’s kind of the only thing that makes everything all right, always.

Wach this video.

Then you need to download “All of My Loving.”  Right click.

And then, go to the super Valley Lodge website. And then, finally, buy some of their stuff.   Oh, and lastly!  They hardly ever perform, but they playing twice this month!

Now I’m going to send myself a few leatherinvasion emails while I still can.



25 Apr

God, I love Leo Kottke.  His guitar playing is legendary for good reason, of course, but what makes him extra-special is his story-telling.  You don’t get all that much of it on recordings, but live there’s an awful lot.

Today’s song, “Husbandry,” is one of my favorites, and in it you get both.

In a shocking and unprecedented move on Margauxville, I am posting someone else’s writing here (his!), to give you an inkling of his amazingness.  First, listen to “Husbandry” so you have his voice in your head and then read the essay below.  You’ll hear him saying the words then – and that’s about the very best present I can give to anyone on a Monday afternoon.

TROMBONE             ©Leo Kottke

Studying with three teachers in three years, I was a trombone student in Oklahoma until I was about fifteen years old.  Each weekend at one of their houses I’d wait in the kitchen until the trombonist in the basement would yell up at me to come down — they all taught in their basements. I would descend, assemble my horn, sit in a folding chair, park my sheet music on the stand, weather some insult aimed at my embouchure, and play whatever I had not been studying for the last week.

My teachers — industrious, frugal, starving men — had one thing in common other than my unpreparedness:  they’d all installed do-it-yourself showers in those basements.  These units stood in some corner, usually my corner, and they’d drip… ploink, ploink.  There was nothing more ominous than basements with leaking showers in them, and there was no telling when fear began, but my trombone kept those home improvements at bay.

I was a hero.

I had fewer illusions about my playing. Bob Green was a trombone player, I was a kid with a trombone.  Still, I was convinced that I’d eventually outgrow the roll in my embouchure and grow up like Pinocchio to be a real trombone player. I loved to play and I loved the trombone; but I never considered that a trombonist might have to install his own shower; I never guessed that my trombone teachers might be trombonists; I never considered that a life in trombone might differ from the one I was imagining… a life lived in hotels, in black suits and skinny ties, Ray-Bans indoors, by someone who never played much and was depressed.

(By the time I knew depression was free, and that I didn’t have to play trombone to be depressed, I’d imitated its “mood” for so long that I couldn’t refuse the Damned Cloud when it did arrive.  If you’ve been imitating the seeming cool, the detachment, and the languor, genuine depression won’t be noticed until you tire of your pose.  Bored with oceanic despair, you reach for the ladder back into the boat and you drown:  no ladder.)

To build your own shower, as my teachers did, is to laugh at depression… ploink, ploink.  Keats called this negative capability.  So, if you were or are a trombonist, you’ve likely confronted one or more of these home improvements because it’s no picnic to master an instrument; and if you’re a student, you’re squirming in a kitchen somewhere and you’ve just begun reading Popular Mechanics. You’re waiting for that voice to call you downstairs. More disturbing than Popular Mechanics, you are already seeing the music on that stand beyond the stairs: “The Bluebells of Scotland,” “Down Home on the Farm,” “A Stalk of Corn,” “Tango for the Veterans Administration.”

A couple of those pieces I made up, but the ones I didn’t were exhumed long before I could have dug them up from the cornfield.  To be merciful, there’s a sliding scale for these musical stiffs: “Blue Bells” is much better than “Down Home on the Farm,” for example.  I know this because I’ve heard “The Blue Bells of Scotland” and I’ve actually played “Down Home on the Farm.”  I couldn’t play “The Blue Bells of Scotland;” that piece is what we musicians call “hard.”  Bob Green played “The Blue Bells of Scotland.”  I played, “Down Home on the Farm.”

I played it for three judges at an annual state competition in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

I skulked out to center stage in an empty hall that year, announced the title of this hayseed kitsch, the judges laughed, and I played the cadenza: a collision of hope and ability.  Then I stated the melody and the judges laughed again — they knew a melody when they heard one — and somewhere in the middle of this thing they realized what was coming and they began to chortle.

If you want to torture someone but not to offend them, you will chortle.

I repeated the melody twice as fast, and the judges squeaked from chortle to snort.  They couldn’t help themselves.  They didn’t care how I felt, and they knew what was coming. Bowing to tradition, I too knew what was coming: I repeated the thing a third time and played it three times as fast. I ignored the judges’ snorts, clawed my way through another cadenza, and received my failing grade the next day.

I blame this episode not on the perpetrator of “Down Home on the Farm,” she couldn’t have helped herself, but on my trombone teacher, the bass trombonist for the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, who had it in for me.  It’s also possible that my judges were friends of his, that he was giving them some relief on a dull day.

These recital pieces are an industry.  You won’t hear them, other than at state-sanctioned ordeals, because they’re not any good.  They leak like boats.  They leave nothing after them — a life preserver or two.  Some valve oil.  A gasp.  My trombone teachers would probably have insisted that these pieces suited my abilities, that they’d have given me good music if I could have played it; but I was sometimes first chair in the Muskogee West Junior High Band, conducted by the inspirational Lowell Lehman; and my competition was Julian Fite, a kid who went on to become District Attorney.  I was unassailable… but, of course, I remember none of my trombone teachers playing more than one note for me.  I do remember some funny looks when I played for them… a long time ago.

A few years ago I built a couple motors.  (I was depressed.)  And my skills as a mechanic reminded me of my skills as a trombonist. But I learned how to adjust valve stem clearances on an Alfa motor with parts from a Volkswagen.  Doing this was like building a zip-gun, two of which were confiscated at West Junior High in the Year of the Farm; but a self-installed shower is no zip-gun, it is no outsider thrill; it is the last cigarette before the firing squad.  It is a gesture of defiance.  It is an economy.

JJ Johnson, Kai Winding, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Watrous, Bruce Paulson, or the Terrible Tempered Trombones are or were all trombonists who could afford food.  They may never have installed a shower in their basements; but most artists, like Rakoto Fra, a sudina player pictured on Malagassi currency when he didn’t have a Malagassi dime, are honored by their culture but not rewarded by it.  So some of them teach.  And kids like me show up in their basements.

But now I know: the teachers who watched my feet coming down their stairs every week illustrate an existential fact: gifts (theirs) are often obscured by ignorance (mine) but knowledge can reveal them.  My teachers?… I was a plague on their houses, and not the hero I thought I was, but they charged only a small fee for admitting my sullen evasions to their basements; and they taught me not only music, but also ABOUT music, and about corn, and about patience– theirs, mostly.

I am looking at my trombone– which is all I can do with it.  It is the same trombone my teachers saw coming down their basement stairs.  It is a Bach #10, an instrument with a different diameter to each parallel of its slide.  This innovation was to have increased the speed of the slide by decreasing its resistance… a virtue, had the design worked, that would have been entirely lost on me.  I’m intrigued, though, by the semblance of tone I might have produced had the diameters been equal.

Just maybe….

But those showers have collapsed by now… you can’t step in the same basement twice.  You can’t go back; even Mt. Everest is a little shorter than it was when I played “Down Home on the Farm;” but because of my performance in Tahlequah, I got to hear the chortle in its natural environment and to watch my trombone career go down the drain… ploink, ploink.

Any fool would know that I was a lucky kid. I got to play, so I get to play.  I was guided by trombonists, note by note, toward home.


Easy Living

17 Apr

For the most part, prog rock makes my skin crawl.  I can make exceptions for some early stuff – namely Pink Floyd and King Crimson – but as far as the lion’s share of it goes, I run screaming.   And the later stuff makes me downright cower under the table.

But then there are the prog rock/metal songs that I just can’t help but love.  “Easy Living” by Uriah Heep is one of those.  It’s the metal part that makes me hit “repeat” again and again, probably.  Sheer fun!

Maybe I should give prog rock another shot.  Actually, maybe this is my subconscious telling me I should give Dickens another shot.  I’ve never ever liked him and I’ve always blamed his yucky serialization writing for my distaste, but maybe my warm and fuzzy feeling for Uriah Heep, the group, will transfer to Uriah Heep, the David Copperfield character.  Does it work that way?

While I’m pondering that, please download the song!  After all, it’s Sunday, the day of easy living, and “Easy Living”  will bring ease in the most energizing way.  Such yin and yang!


Don’t Call Me Pain

3 Apr

Yesterday I walked a total of about 6 blocks and my leg was killing me by the time I got home.  Definitely more pain than the Malevich exhibit (which was the reason I ventured out) deserved.  It was good and all, but on the pain-being-worth-it scale, it fails miserably.

That said, if you’re ambulatory, it’s definitely worth seeing.  Gagosian Galleries seem to be as common as Starbucks these days; this is at the uptown one.

Speaking of pain, don’t  call me me pain!  My name is mystery!    Thank you yesterday and thank you pain for putting this one in my head.   The Pop Group were so, so, so ahead of their time.  Here’s “Don’t Call Me Pain.”

Now go enjoy your day.




Hello April Fool’s!

1 Apr

John Martyn, 1975

I mostly hate April Fool’s themed posts and tweets and pranks, but I do have the perfectly themed song for today, so I’m going to embrace it.

John Martyn’s “Hello Train,” from his second album way back in ’68, is too perfect not to post.  I had heard some of his songs here and there over the years, but I didn’t really truly understand the joys of  Mr. Martyn till my friend John Robertson shared the lot with me.  And wow.  Not sure how I had that big hole in my music library, but I was glad to fill it.

Now here’s an odd coincidence.  John and I have a mutual friend, Jason Koxvold, who is an utterly amazing photographer; you should absolutely check out his work pronto.

John Martyn circa 1975 completely looks like a relative of Jason’s.  Maybe not a brother, but definitely a first cousin.  I realize this story will only be (mildly) interesting to John and Jason, but as of today, you’ve gotten three months of free songs, so don’t even think about complaining.

Download it here.


Come here baby…just a little bit closer

19 Feb

Last night I spent the wee small hours of the morning seeing Christian Marclay’s The Clock and I woke up with The Strangelove’s “Night Time” in my head.  I love the way the subconscious works.

But it makes sense.  The night time is the right time.  See for yourself, here.


I Heart New York

9 Feb

©Paul McDonough

Earlier today, I came across some photos of New York City in the ’70s today that blew me away.  Unfortunately, I discovered these photos by Paul McDonough after his most recent show ended, but check them out – they’re amazing.

As anyone who’s been reading me knows, there’s pretty much nothing I love more than New York City.   (You can read some of my love stories to New York here and here.)

And, because I love you as well,  Gil Scott-Heron’s wonderful “New York City” (circa 1970s) is downloadable right here.

Chapel of Love

16 Jan

Do me a favor.  Go see ‘Abstract Expressionist New York’ at MoMA.  Seriously, right now.  GO.  Oh, they’re closed now.

To tide you over, here’s one of the pieces that Morton Feldman wrote  in the 1970s for the Rothko Chapel in Houston.  Rothko is my favorite of all the Abstract Expressionists.  And that’s saying a lot, since I love so many.

It’s is a polarizing place:

His chapel is one of the most overwhelming syntheses of art and architecture in the world. It is as compelling as the great Italian religious interiors he admired, yet as terrifying as Munch’s Scream. It is a tragic theatre of emptiness, death’s antechamber, the self-expression of a suicide. As such, the Rothko Chapel was destined to be misunderstood. Had it been understood, it would not have been built. (Jonathan Jones, The Guardian)

I’m dying to go there to see for myself.  And when I do, I’m going to be listening to this in my headphones.  I love me some cello.  I love me some Feldman.   I love me some Rothko.  Download here.

UPDATE:  Read more about why you should see MoMA’s amazing show, here.