Friday, August 16, 2019

Donovan – "Atlantis" (1969)

Way down below the ocean
Where I wanna be
She may be

After visiting Chappaquiddick Island and retracing the route taken by Ted Kennedy the night he drove off the Dike Bridge – killing Mary Jo Kopechne – I did quite a bit of reading about what happened that night.

I also watched the 2017 movie, Chappaquiddick, which purports to tell the true story of what happened that night:

Opinion about the Chappaquiddick movie is divided along political lines.  Those who believe Kennedy and his allies used their power and influence to preserve Kennedy’s political future by covering up what happened that night applauded the movie’s damning depiction of Teddy as callow, dishonest, and cowardly.  Defenders of Kennedy have criticized it as fake history.

As a work of art, Chappaquiddick is unimpressive – it suffers from a very weak script and unconvincing acting.  

And as a work of history, the movie relies too heavily on conjecture.  But it deserves credit for pointing out some key truths about what happened that night.

*     *     *     *     *

The movie puts great emphasis on the fact that Kennedy waited until the following morning to report the accident to police.  (By the time he went to the police, a fisherman and his son has discovered the submerged car and called authorities, who discovered Mary Jo Kopechne’s lifeless body.)

Kennedy said he failed to call the police immediately because he was in shock, having supposedly suffered a concussion in the accident.  

Many believe the real reason he put off calling the authorities was that he was trying to concoct a story absolving himself of blame for the accident – perhaps he thought about claiming that Kopechne or someone else had been driving the car.

But whatever the real reason for Kennedy’s delay in coming clean, did it ultimately matter?  After all, it would have taken him some time to make his way on foot from the bridge to a house with a phone.  And once he called the police, it would have taken more time for rescuers to get to the scene of the accident.  Surely Kopechne – trapped in the submerged car – would have died long before then.

*     *     *     *     *

But what if Mary Jo Kopechne didn’t drown?  

John Farrar, the captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit and the diver who recovered Kopechne's body, believed that she suffocated instead.  

At the inquest into her death, Farrar testified that Kopechne's body was pressed up in the back seat of the car in the spot where an air bubble would have formed:

It looked as if she were holding herself up to get a last breath of air.  It was a consciously assumed position . . . . She didn't drown.  She died of suffocation in her own air void.  It took her at least three or four hours to die.  I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call.  But [Kennedy] didn't call.

(In a 1989 interview, Farrar said that Kopechne “lived at least two hours down there.”  That’s less than his original estimate of three to four hours, but it’s still much longer than the time it would have taken him to get her out of the car if Kennedy had reportedly the accident sooner.)

Ted Kennedy (in neck brace) and his wife Joan
leaving the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne
The local medical examiner signed a death certificate that stated the cause of death was drowning and released Kopechne's body to her family without ordering an autopsy.  She was buried in Pennsylvania a few days later.

*     *     *     *     *

Ted Kennedy’s wife Joan was pregnant and confined to bed the night her husband drove Mary Jo Kopechne off the Dike Bridge.  (Joan had suffered two previous miscarriages and was trying – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to avoid a third.)   

Joan Kennedy speaks only one line in the Chappaquiddick movie.  When Ted thanks her for agreeing to attend Mary Jo Kopechne’s funeral with him, she replies, “Go f*ck yourself, Teddy.” 

I don’t know if she really said that to her husband.   But if she did, the rat bast*rd richly deserved it. 

*     *     *     *     *

Donovan’s U.S. record company released “Atlantis” as a B-side.  After all, the song was five minutes long, and its first third features Donovan reading (not singing) a bunch of nonsense about the mythical lost continent.  

But it ended up becoming a top-ten hit.  (Go figure.) 

I’m featuring “Atlantis” today because it was used in one of the trailers for the Chappaquiddick movie.  That choice of musical accompaniment may be apt, but it’s of very questionable tastefulness.  After all, the song ends with Donovan singing “Glub glub, down down, my antediluvian baby.”

Click here to view that trailer.

Click here to listen to “Atlantis.”

And click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Poison Girls – "Underbitch" (1980)

Wonder which way up it goes?
Wonder which way water flows?
Wonder which way you must go?

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, I quoted the statement that Ted Kennedy gave to police the morning after he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, MA, causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

In case you missed it, here it is again:

On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 PM in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I was driving my car on [Chappaquiddick Road] on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown.  

I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dike Road, instead of bearing hard left on Chappaquiddick Road].  After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dike Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge.  The car went off the side of the bridge.  

The Dike Bridge in 1969
There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary [Jo Kopechne], a former secretary of my brother Sen. Robert Kennedy.  The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom.  I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car.  I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car.  I was unsuccessful in the attempt.  

The rebuilt Dike Bridge has guardrails
I was exhausted and in a state of shock.  I recall walking back to where my friends were eating.  There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the backseat.  I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown.  I remember walking around for a period and then going back to my hotel room.  When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.   

Kennedy’s statement is so full of sh*t that its eyes are brown.  (I know, I know – police statements don’t have eyes.  I’m exercising a little poetic license.)

*     *     *     *     *

I went to Chappaquiddick for the first time last month.  I took the ferry that connects Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, rode my bike the length of Chappaquiddick and Dike Roads, and visited the Dike Bridge – which a group of boys were using as a diving platform:

Kennedy’s explanation of how he ended up driving off that bridge is really, really hard to swallow.  It’s possible that someone with a very poor sense of direction could have gotten confused and turned east toward Dike Bridge rather than turning west toward the Chappaquiddick ferry dock.  But the road that goes to the ferry is paved while the road that goes to Dike Bridge isn’t.  

Kennedy had driven from the ferry to the cottage where the party that he and Kopechne attended took place earlier that day – a trip that was entirely on paved roads – and you would think that he would have noticed that he was on an unpaved road and realized that something was wrong.  Dike Road is a very sandy road, and there’s no way someone driving an automobile wouldn’t realize he was on an unpaved road long before getting to the Dike Bridge.

Unless that driver was drunk.  Kennedy reportedly drank some beer during a sailing race earlier that day, toasted the winner of the race by downing three rum-and-Cokes, and had still more beer with friends at his Edgartown hotel before taking the ferry to Chappaquiddick for the party – where he had two or three more rum-and-Cokes – so he very well may have been impaired.  (Kennedy’s blood alcohol level was never tested.)

It’s also possible that he was simply lying about the wrong turn being a mistake that resulting from his unfamiliarity with the route to the ferry dock.  The Massachusetts judge who conducted the inquest into Kopechne’s death found that Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry, and that his turn on to Dike Road had been intentional.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s an understatement to say that Kennedy’s behavior after the accident was suspicious.

He testified at the inquest that after trying to rescue Kopechne, he rested for 15 minutes and then walked a mile and a half or so back to the cottage where the party took place.  He and two of his friends then went back to the bridge and tried once more to rescue Kopechne.  When they were unsuccessful, they drove Kennedy to the ferry dock.

The friends urged Kennedy to report the accident to the authorities, and he assured them he would.  But when they left to drive back to the cottage, Kennedy didn’t pick up the pay phone on the ferry dock and call the police.  He instead dove into the water and swam across the 527-foot channel that separates Chappaquiddick from Edgartown.  (The public ferry had stopped operating at midnight.)  

When Kennedy reached his hotel, he changed clothes and rested on his bed.  At about 3:00 AM, he went downstairs to complain to the hotel owner that he had been awakened by a noisy party in another room.  

When his two friends came to the hotel at 8:00 AM, they learned that he had not yet reported the accident to the police.  The three men took the ferry back to Chappaquiddick, and Kennedy used the pay phone on the ferry dock to call several friends and attorneys for advice.  

That’s when the fisherman and his son saw the submerged Oldsmobile and called the authorities, who extricated Kopechne’s body from the car and then towed it out of the pond.  

When Kennedy learned that his car and Kopechne’s body had been recovered, he hung up the phone, took the ferry back to Edgartown and walked to the police station – where he made a few more calls before giving a statement to the police.

*     *     *     *     *

Kennedy certainly should have called the police as soon as possible after the accident, but it doesn’t seem that his failure to do so could have made a difference.  After all, it would have taken him some time to make his way on foot from the bridge to a house with a phone.  And once he called the police, it would have taken some time for rescuers to get to the scene of the accident.  Surely Kopechne would have long since drowned by that time – right?

Wrong.  I’ll explain why in the next 2 or 3 lines.

*     *     *     *     *

Today’s featured song was released in 1980 on Chappaquiddick Bridge – the debut album of the UK anarcho-punk band, the Poison Girls.

The driving force behind the Poison Girls was the group’s singer and guitarist, the late Vi Subversa (née Frances Sokolov), who was 45 and the mother of two teenagers when Chappaquiddick Bridge – which has been described as “a phenomenally weird and surreal piece of work” – was released.  

Click here to listen to “Underbitch.”

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bill Anderson – "Ninety-Nine" (1959)

I had a nice little ride on a ferry boat
To the rock where the prison stands

I’ve been vacationing on Cape Cod since the seventies, but I only started taking day trips to Martha’s Vineyard – which is just a short ferry ride from the Cape Cod village of Woods Hole – a few years ago.  

The island has an extensive network of bike trails.  I make sure to ride the most scenic of those trails – the one that goes from Oak Bluffs (where most Martha’s Vineyard ferries dock) along the edge of Nantucket Sound to Edgartown – every year.

The Edgartown Harbor lighthouse
When I arrive in Edgartown, I first spend some time watching the boat traffic in Edgartown Harbor.  Then I have lunch, visit the Black Dog Kids store to buy some togs for my grandsons, and hit the island’s two breweries.

*     *     *     *     *

This year, I decided to take the shortest ferry ride in the United States and visit Chappaquiddick Island for the first time.

The two privately-owned ferries that carry cars, bikes, and people from the Martha’s Vineyard town of Edgartown to Chappaquiddick Island and back again traverse a distance of only 527 feet – one tenth of a mile less one foot.  The journey takes less than one minute to complete:

Chappaquiddick is small – it covers only about six square miles (that’s roughly 3800 acres) and has a population of fewer than 200 souls.

There’s not a lot for tourists to see or do on the island.  There is one store, a community center,  a fire station, and a snooty beach club.

The snooty young lady guarding the entrance to that snooty beach club snootily told me I couldn’t take this photo of that entrance:

And there’s the Dike Bridge across Poucha Pond – the site of perhaps the most famous one-car accident in history, which took place just over 50 years ago.

*     *     *     *     *

On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy hosted a party at a friend’s summer cottage on Chappaquiddick Island for six women who had worked together in his brother Robert’s 1968 presidential campaign.  

The women were all single and in their twenties.  The six men who were at the party were all older, and five of them – including Kennedy, whose wife was pregnant and confined to bed at the time – were married.  (Just sayin’.)

Ted Kennedy
Kennedy decided to leave the party about 11:00 PM – supposedly to return to his hotel in Edgartown.   

One of the women at the party left with him – supposedly to return to her Edgartown hotel.  (Given that she left her purse and room key at the party, that seems doubtful.)

The next morning, a fisherman and his son saw Kennedy’s car submerged in a Chappaquiddick pond.  When the authorities arrived at the scene, they discovered the dead body of Kennedy’s passenger – Mary Jo Kopechne – trapped in it.

*     *     *     *     *

At that moment, Ted Kennedy was using a pay phone at the Chappaquiddick ferry dock to call various people for advice.  When he heard that Kopechne’s body had been recovered, he took the ferry back to Edgartown, went to the police station, and dictated this statement:

On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 PM in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I was driving my car on [Chappaquiddick Road] on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown.  

I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dike Road, instead of bearing hard left on Chappaquiddick Road].  After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dike Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge.  The car went off the side of the bridge.  

The Dike Bridge in 1969
There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary [Jo Kopechne], a former secretary of my brother Sen. Robert Kennedy.  The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom.  I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car.  I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car.  I was unsuccessful in the attempt.  

I was exhausted and in a state of shock.  I recall walking back to where my friends were eating.  There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the backseat.  I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown.  I remember walking around for a period and then going back to my hotel room.  When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.   

On my recent trip to Chappaquiddick, I retraced the Kennedy’s route on my bicycle.  Since then, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about Chappaquiddick.  I’ll tell you what conclusions I drew about Kennedy’s story in the next 2 or 3 lines.

*     *     *     *     *

The title of today’s featured song – which was a 1959 hit for country singer “Whisperin’ Bill” Anderson – refers to the 99-year prison sentence that has been handed down to the song’s protagonist.

The song doesn’t mention Alcatraz by name, but it’s clear that he’s going to serve his time on “The Rock,” the forbidding island penitentiary in San Francisco Bay.

Seven days after Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, Ted Kennedy pled guilty to one count of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in bodily injury.  He was sentenced to two months’ incarceration, which was the minimum sentence for that offense – but the sentence was suspended, and the rat bast*rd never spent a minute in jail.

Click here to listen to “Ninety-Nine.”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon: 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Jethro Tull – "Aqualung" (1971)

Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Snot running down his nose

[NOTE: Last but certainly not least in this year's class of 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME inductees is the least savory song of that group by far.  What follows is a lightly-edited version of my original 2010 post about Jethro Tull's "Aqualung."] 

*     *     *     *     *

"Aqualung" is the first song on the album of the same name – which was Jethro Tull's best-selling album by far.  (It has sold over seven million copies worldwide.)

Aqualung is often characterized as a concept album, although Ian Anderson (the band's leader) has said that it was "just an album of varied songs of varied instrumentation and intensity."

The first two tracks of the album are companion pieces that tell the story of two unsavory individuals whose paths occasionally cross.

"Cross-Eyed Mary" is about a schoolgirl prostitute who prefers the company of old men to that of the "little boys" she goes to school with.  She's the "Robin Hood of Highgate" – an expensive London suburb – who makes her rich patrons pay handsomely, but is willing to give herself gratis to poorer men.

"Aqualung" is a song about a homeless man who is old, infirm, filthy, and more than a little crazy – not to mention a perv who hangs around the school playground hoping to catch a glimpse of the girls' "frilly panties" as they play.  

In other words, Aqualung is perhaps the most repulsive character in any rock song ever recorded.  But it's hard not to feel sorry for this wreck of a man.

The last lines of the song describe of Aqualung's demise – the freezing weather that landed him in the hospital, where he can breathe only with the help of a machine until he can breathe no more:

Do you still remember
December's foggy freeze?
When the ice that clings on to your beard
Is screaming agony
And you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea-diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.

Aqualung misses out on the flowers, of course – he's six feet under when they "bloom like madness in the spring."

*     *     *     *     *

Aqualung was a very popular record when I was in college.  Ian Anderson's crazy flute playing made it unique and instantly recognizable.  Jethro Tull released over a dozen albums in the decade that began in 1968 and ended in 1978, but this is the only one know I know well.

If "Jethro Tull albums" was a category on "Family Feud," Aqualung would undoubtedly be the number one answer by a wide margin.

Click here to listen to the song.

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, August 2, 2019

Spirit – "When I Touch You" (1970)

Why can't I be free
From thoughts of bitter rage
White lions in their cage

[NOTE: This post – which features a song from Spirit's 1970 album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus – is adapted from one of the very first 2 or 3 lines posts I published.  That 2009 post featured a different song from Dr. Sardonicus, which you may find odd.  But that album is one of the all-time greats, and contains several songs worthy of being included in the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" HALL OF FAME."]

*     *     *     *     *

This song is the second track on side two of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Spirit's fourth (and last) album with its original lineup – a truly great record.  

You'd best believe it wasn't easy picking just one song from that album to feature today.  I originally was going to write about "Morning Will Come," but it has fairly uninteresting lyrics, and this blog's format does require that each entry begin with two or three lines from the featured songs.  

But even though I decided to feature a different song, here's a link to "Morning Will Come" – a little bonus for my fans.

*     *     *     *     *

I used to listen to "Morning Will Come" every morning before going to my summer job.  I was in college when Dr. Sardonicus was released, living at home and unloading rail cars at a grocery warehouse for $5 an hour.  My shift started at 7 AM, and I was usually a little banged up when my mother woke me up to get ready for work in the mornings because I spent my evenings at Nina's Green Parrot, Buck's Recreation Parlor, and other establishments of that ilk in Galena, Kansas, drinking 3.2% beer and playing spades.  So I needed some musical inspiration to get myself going in the mornings.

Galena is a very sad little mining town just over the Missouri-Kansas line.  I grew up in Joplin, Missouri, only about 10 miles from Galena via old Route 66 ("It goes from St. Louie/Joplin, Missouri/Oklahoma City/Looks oh so pretty"). Missouri had relatively normal liquor laws – bars could serve liquor by the drink. Kansas did not have liquor by the drink, but allowed 18-year-olds to drink 3.2% beer, legally classified as non-intoxicating.  (Ha!) 

So on weekend nights, there was a steady stream of Kansas adults going eastward to Joplin's tonier nightclubs to sip martinis and manhattans, while Missouri teenagers were heading the other way to drink 35-cent quarts of Falstaff, Schlitz, and Coors – which had a particular cachet in those days because it was not sold east of Kansas.

Fortunately, the Kansas beer joints closed at midnight, so I did get 6 or so hours of sleep each night.  But I was a growing boy, and that didn't really get the job done.  Hence the need for some musical stimulation to help clear out the cobwebs each weekday morning.

There to help me out was "Morning Will Come," which I would play on my family's Magnavox console stereo.

Magnavox console stereo (circa 1970)
Our Magnavox had legs that were long enough that I could lie on the floor on my back and slide my head underneath it, much in the manner of a mechanic sliding under a car to change the oil. I  did that so I could block out the rest of the world and really focus on the music – plus stereo sound was fairly new, and positioning myself in this fashion allowed me to maximize the separation between the channels -- one channel for the left ear, the other for the right.

A couple of times through "Morning Will Come" and I was ready to do battle with the 50-foot rail cars from General Mills, Scott Paper, Ralson-Purina, Del Monte, Clorox, etc., that I unloaded every day at the warehouse.

*     *     *     *     *

I remember two of those freight cars with particular displeasure.  One time, a Clorox car had been banged around a little too much en route.  Because the car wasn't fully loaded, some of the cases of one-gallon bleach bottles had tipped over and crashed to the floor, and there were a few dozen gallons of undiluted bleach sloshing around when I opened the car's doors.  My black high-top tennis shoes and the bottom six inches or so of my Levi's were bleached almost entirely white by the time I finished cleaning up the mess.  (Today, that much exposure to concentrated chlorine fumes would have been more than enough to attract dozens of sleazy personal-injury lawyers smelling major contingency fees as well as chlorine.)

Even worse was the Ralston-Purina car that had been bumped around sufficiently to break open a number of cans of cat and dog food.  The car then sat on various Midwestern railroad sidings in the hot August sun for a few days, plenty of time for a few gazillion maggots to hatch and grow before we opened the car to unload it.  You should have seen the look on my face when I picked up an undamaged case and exposed those little creepy-crawlies feasting on some cans of Alpo-brand "Prime Cuts in Gravy" dog food.  Quelle surprise!  

But I digress . . . . (By the way, if digressions aren't your cup of tea, you are on the wrong blog.)

*     *     *     *     *

Spirit is somewhat forgotten today, but they were a remarkably talented collection of musicians with a unique style (or mixture of styles).  

If you had to choose one adjective to characterize their music, you might pick "psychedelic" – but their music has elements of pop, jazz, art rock, and quite a few other genres. 

Spirit was not a great commercial success. The band's most successful single – the irresistible "I've Got a Line on You" – peaked at #25.  The group's biggest mistake was probably turning down an invitation to appear at Woodstock in order to tour in support of their third album.  Spirit would have appeared just before Jimi Hendrix.

The band's most recognizable member was drummer Ed Cassidy – a sort of Mr. Clean look-alike who had a shaved head (very unusual in an era where long hair was de rigeur) and always dressed in black.

Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy
Cassidy was 37 when Dr. Sardonicus was released.  He had started working as a musician before World War II, and played with a long list of jazz greats in the 1950's –  including Cannonball Adderely, Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

(Kirk was notorious for playing two or even three saxophones at the same time.  Click here to see him do that.)

Cassidy was the stepfather of Spirit guitarist and singer Randy California. (He was given that name in 1966 by Jimi Hendrix to distinguish him from another Randy in Hendrix's 1966-era band – "Jimmy James and the Blue Flames"  who was called "Randy Texas." Randy California met Hendrix when he was living in Queens.) California was not quite 17 when Spirit's first album was released. He wrote "I Got a Line on You" and a number of Spirit's other signature songs.

*     *     *     *     *

Jay Ferguson (songwriter/vocalist) and Mark Andes (bass) left the band after Dr. Sardonicus and founded Jo Jo Gunne, which was moderately successful. Ferguson later released several solo albums. His "Thunder Island" is a wonderfully innocent, appealing little song that doesn't make a lot of sense, but who's counting?  Click here to listen to it.

After Ferguson and Andes left, California pursued a solo career, joined by stepfather Ed Cassidy and former Hendrix bassist Noel Redding (who called himself "Clit McTorius" when the group performed live).  His first album, Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, was an odd conglomeration of original songs and covers that critic Robert Christgau said was characterized by "sheer dense weirdness."

After Dr. Sardonicus, the band's original lineup never recorded together again, but there have been a number of subsequent Spirit albums – Cassidy was part of all of them, and California contributed to most of them. 

California drowned in 1997 while helping his twelve-year-old escape from a rip current while both were swimming off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.

Click here to listen to "When I Touch You."

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

James Gang – "The Bomber" (1970)

Will I be back tomorrow
For the punchline of the joke?

[NOTE: The James Gang may the least well-known of the bands to have a song included in this year's group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.  I don't know why that is, but no matter – they were one of the great power trios of that era, and their oeuvre includes several songs that are Hall of Fame-worthy.  What follows is a revised version of my original 2010 post about "The Bomber," which is really three songs in one.]

*     *     *     *     *

There were some great three-member rock bands in the 1960's and 1970's:  Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were probably the best of the power trios of the era, while Grand Funk Railroad may have been the most popular.  

The James Gang was right up there with the best of them.  A great power trio had to have a very good drummer and a very good bass player, but what it needed most of all was a great guitarist.  Cream had Eric Clapton, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had you know who.  The James Gang had Joe Walsh, who was never as well-known as Clapton and Hendrix, but he was really, really, really good, boys and girls.

The "James Gang Rides Again" album cover

The first James Gang album, titled Yer' Album, was solid.  But their second album – James Gang Rides Again – was outstanding.  "Funk #49" and "Woman" are classics, but I've chosen to feature a cut off that album that you never heard much on the radio:  "The Bomber," or "The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as the title is sometimes rendered.

*     *     *     *     *

"The Bomber" didn't get much airplay because it's about seven minutes long.  It's seven minutes long because it's really three songs in one.  

If you put the first and last parts of "The Bomber" together, you'd have a good, three-verse, three-minute rock song.  But instead of doing that, the band took a sudden detour after the first two verses and played abbreviated versions of two very different instrumental works.

First, we get a couple of minutes of Maurice Ravel's famous orchestral piece, Bolero, which was composed in 1928 and originally intended as a ballet.  Bolero was always popular, but became familiar to millions when it was later used in the soundtrack of the movie 10, which starred Bo Derek.

Click here to watch the original theatrical trailer for Bolero.

It turned out that the copyright on Ravel's composition was still valid in 1970, and the composer's estate threatened to sue the James Gang and its record company for their unauthorized use of Bolero.  "The Bomber" was edited for subsequent pressings of the LP, but the original version was eventually restored.

Vince Guaraldi
Next, the band gives us a couple of minutes of a well-known jazz composition, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," composed and originally recorded by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.  After a TV producer heard this song, Guaraldi was hired to write and record the score for the Peanuts Christmas special.  He eventually composed the scores for 18 Peanuts television specials, plus the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Click here to listen to Guaraldi performing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

After that, the James Gang circles back and wraps up "The Bomber" (your guess is as good as mine as to where that title came from) by playing the final verse of the "Closet Queen" song.  It sounds crazy but it works.  In fact, it does more than just work -- it's genius, a tour de force.  

Click here to listen to "The Bomber."

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 26, 2019

MC5 – "Teenage Lust" (1970)

Baby, baby, help me, 
Feel like I'm gonna bust
I need a healthy outlet 
For my teenage lust!

[NOTE: Here's a lightly-edited version of my 2013 post about "Teenage Lust," which is one of this year's 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME inductees.  When I wrote it, the ten-point White Panther Party manifesto that I quoted seemed like nothing more than a quaint artifact of a radical political movement that never really went anywhere.  Today, that manifesto could pass for the platform of any number of Democratic presidential candidates.]

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Sorry to hear that case of teenage lust you've got, dude.  I hate to bum you out, but that condition's been known to last for 40 years . . . or even longer!  (Trust me – I know whereof I speak.)

MC5 was formed in the Detroit suburb of Lincoln Park, Michigan, in 1964.  It traces its origins to the teenage friendship between Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith.  

Patti Smith and Fred Smith
I'm guessing Fred Smith is the MC5 member most responsible for "Teenage Lust."  After all, he married Patti Smith.  The only thing (other than severe myopia) that I can think of that would explain such an act is a terminal case of teenage lust.  Poor Fred must have really felt like he was about to bust.

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When I was in college I was one of several college students featured in a Houston Post story about politics on local campuses.  I was described by the reporter as a "self-styled liberal," which greatly amuses people who know me now.  

A lot of sixties bands were self-styled revolutionaries.  But most of them talked the talk a lot better than they walked the walk (to use a cliché that I seem to be using on an almost daily basis these days).

By contrast, the MC5 most definitely walked the walk.  They talked the talk, too.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that they shouted the talk – or even screamed the talk.

You think Rage Against the Machine was politically radical?  The MC5 made RATM look about as radical as your local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

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Cambridge and Berkeley were full of left-wing crazies in the sixties, but Ann Arbor (which isn't that far from Detroit) had more than its fair share of young radicals.  For example, the Weather Underground – a hardcore revolutionary group that specialized in bombing government buildings and banks – was founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.   

The MC5's first manager, John Sinclair, was a co-founder of another far-left Detroit-Ann Arbor group, the White Panther Party.  (When asked by an interviewer what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton had said they could form a White Panther Party – so Sinclair did just that.)

Here's the White Panthers Party's ten-point manifesto, which they titled the "White Panther State/meant" [sic]:
  1. Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party's 10-point program and platform.
  2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and f*cking in the streets.
  3. Free exchange of energy and materials – we demand the end of money!
  4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care – everything free for everybody!
  5. Free access to information media – free the technology from the greed creeps!
  6. Free time & space for all humans – dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
  7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule – turn the buildings over to the people at once!
  8. Free all prisoners everywhere – they are our comrades!
  9. Free all soldiers at once – no more conscripted armies!
  10. Free the people from their phony "leaders" – everyone must be a leader – freedom means free everyone!  All Power to the People!
I think you will agree that this is a fascinating document.  I've been trying to decide which of these demands is the most outrageous and unlikely to be attained, but I can't pick just one.  

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The White Panthers were accused of bombing the CIA office in Ann Arbor and throwing a Molotov cocktail through the window of the Selective Service office in Portland, Oregon.

White Panthers chapters remained active in San Francisco and Berkeley well into the 1980s.  In 1984, the San Francisco White Panthers led a petition drive to recall Mayor Dianne Feinstein after she proposed to ban handguns in the city.  (The White Panthers and Black Panthers opposed gun control for the same reason that many right-wingers do today – because they view the Second Amendment as the last defense of the citizenry against government tyranny.)

Dope is mentioned twice in this "State/meant," while sex is mentioned only once – which tells you something about John Sinclair's priorities.  Sinclair was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints to an undercover narcotics officer.  

A number of musicians (including John Lennon – who later recorded a song titled "John Sinclair" – Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, and Bob Seger) joined an all-star cast of counterculture figures (including poet Allen Ginsberg and five members of the "Chicago Eight") appeared at a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" in Ann Arbor in 1971.  

Three days after the rally – the timing was purely coincidental – Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statute was unconstitutional.  

John Sinclair now
The MC5 eventually split up with Sinclair because not all the band's members agreed with his extreme political beliefs.  But they agreed with Sinclair that marijuana and LSD were peachy-keen.  

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"Teenage Lust" has nothing to do with radical politics or marijuana.  It's an unapologetic paean to premarital sex.  It's also as misogynistic as any rap song out there:

Surrounded by bitches 
Who just wouldn't give in
Who thought that getting down 
Was an unnatural sin

The singer tries every trick in the book to get some stank on his hang low, but the women he approaches prove maddeningly uncooperative:

Moved into the city 
To improve my chances
I chased them at the bars 
And grabbed them at the dances
They'd huggy, snuggle, kissy 
But they'd never go all the way

Finally, the proverbial light bulb goes on over the singer's noggin, and he turns the tables on all those uptight little b*tches who have refused to give it up to him:

Then one day I had one perfect plan
I shake my ass and scream in a rock 'n' roll band
From now on there'll be no compromising
Rock 'n' roll music is the best advertising
"Baby, I can help, you know I got the guts
I'll be your healthy outlet for your teenage lust"

Click here to listen to "Teenage Lust."

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