Monday, December 25, 1995

1995 Top Ten

10. Take a sad song a make it better. Fifty years from now when people look back at 1995, there is one single event that will probably get the most conversation time. For whatever it is worth, years from now 1995 won't be remembered as the year of the Contract with America, the Simpson trial, our involvement in Bosnia, or the tragedy of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but rather people will be talking about how Cal Ripken Jr. broke the record to end all records, Lou Gehrig's consecutive game playing streak. The pictures of the moment, the night of Cal's 2131 consecutive game remain etched in mind, and during a time when doing your job day in and day out is an increasingly hard trait to find in people, this record is one to celebrate.

9. And if I ever saw you, I didn't catch your name, but it never really matters, I will love all the same. Years back when NBC was in dire straits, finishing last week after week in the Nielsen ratings, they decided that if they were going to be perpetually stuck in last place, it was better to finish last with good programs rather than finish last with bad programs. So instead of canceling Hill Street Blues, Cheers, St. Elsewhere, they stuck with them despite the abysmal ratings. Eventually the strategy worked out as people began to watch the shows that were getting the critics' raves. Years later it is CBS that is facing a similar situation. Have they learned from history? Not exactly unless you count Central Park West, Dweebs, and New York News as well written, quality shows. In a year when the crud of day time talk garnered Congressional attention, it's even more apparent television execs have little regard for the intelligence of their audience. Unfortunately this meant the scheduling of a GREAT show, ABC's Murder One, against last year's mega hit, ER.Murder One is the best dramatic series network television has offered since the glorious first season of Hill Street Blues. The concept of following a singular case throughout a season, the strong writing, the great acting (particularly lead actor, Daniel Benzali), this show is one worth watching. Now it may be too late.

8. Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you... In a year when I saw three spectacular Bob Dylan concerts, the most moving live performance I witnessed probably was Liz Phair's April appearance at First Ave. It was a night when things, for an instant, came into focus and the confusing line between expressing, creating, entertaining, self enlightenment, and being enlightened by another whose personal experience has nothing to do with one's own, disappeared. She's not the most dynamic performer, but fighting through her legendary stage fright to share her strong songs made for a nice intimate night.

7. But still it leads me back, to the long and winding road. Those of you who haven't caught any of Dylan's recent shows on his "Never Ending Tour" are really missing out. His constant reworking of his unmatchable catalog of songs and his desire to redefine the art of performing makes each show an inspiring performance. The Target Center's Mr. Tambourine Man was incredible. Dylan shows nightly a song isn't just lifeless notes on a piece of paper, but rather a living breathing entity that can capture the mood of the moment.

6. Joan was quizzical studied metaphysical science in the home. My favorite song of the year? Joan Osborne's One of Us, which asked the musical question, 'what would you do if God sat next to you on a bus?'

5. The world is treating me badddd, oh misery. My favorite album of the year? John Hiatt's Walk On. He just seems to get better and better playing to a smaller and smaller audience. This is a stunning set of songs that wonder about whether one should wander, while answering that one must keep wandering, and wondering.

4. It's getting better all the time. My favorite movie of the year? Granted, with the exception of the outstanding Crumb I didn't see many of the ones currently making the critics' top ten lists. The movie I enjoyed most was the bittersweet documentary I Just Wasn't Made for These Times about the rise and fall, and comeback of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The music was infectious, and somewhere behind Brian's weary face and wavering voice lies the calmer mind of a genius.

3. Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble. In 1995, I went online and discovered cyberspace is a good way to reach out and keep in touch.

2. Whatever happened to, the love that we once knew? Can we really live without each other? Francis Albert turns 80, two Sandra Bullock movies, a search to make a house my home, a friend, my family, Cheapo, Max.

1. And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make. It's the story of a boy and his friend, who happens to be a stuffed tiger in other people's minds. The boy tries to make sense out of the confusing world around him, and when he gets home at the end of another weary day, he is knocked off his feet by his feline friend, happy to discover that part of the meaning behind it all is to be able to have that friend to share it all with.

Monday, December 18, 1995

One for My Baby

"...After Sinatra (who patterned his phrasing on Dorsey's trombone), no instrumentalist would rival a singer as the essential player in pop music. While learning much from the melodic qualities of bel canto and from Bing Crosby's crooning (both forms emphasizing the sound of lyrics rather than their sense), Sinatra sang with a sure understanding of American speech- Crosby deployed words as mellifluous syllables; Sinatra interpreted them, and in doing so, not only made language matter in a way it had mattered only in blues, folk and country music, but, however unconsciously, paved the way for Dylan and the language experiments of '60's songwriters. Sinatra's colloquialism, too, helped make American music the world's primary popular form."
-Rolling Stone Album Guide

Back in the mid-80's every Saturday afternoon there was a two hour radio show on WMCN-FM 91.7, that featured the music of Frank Sinatra interspersed with the strange musings of a zany local DJ. The show opened with the song High Hopes and usually concluded with the DJ apologizing for his own performance over the previous two hours.

On one particular blustery autumn afternoon, something inside the disc jockey seemingly snapped and he went into a tirade that rivaled Howard Beale's in Network in the annals of broadcast history, only the DJ's tirade wasn't so much about the medium, it was about whether or not he was just sitting in an empty studio playing music with no one listening, and talking to himself. Surprisingly enough, people throughout St. Paul called in sympathetically, to tell the DJ how much they had enjoyed his show, his attempts at humor, his hijinx and above all Mr. Sinatra's music. The lesson learned was that no matter how badly you screw up, a Sinatra song can go a long way towards cleaning up the mess ("riding high in April, shot down in May").

Sinatra himself is notorious for his bouncing back from an up and down career. When he left Tommy Dorsey he was the bobby socks teen throb crooner. When he left Columbia, he was finished. He came back with Capitol where he made his best music, and his career was revived by a brilliant performance in From Here to Eternity. In the early 70's, supposedly retired, he came back with the remarkable Madison Square Garden Main Event Concert. Watching a video of that performance, one can't help but be mesmerized by the charisma of the singing and STYLE. Whenever someone counted him down and out, he would comeback strong, etching his way into the fabric of 20th Century American music.

He invented performance art before it became a fad for throwing blood at the audience. He poured his soul out into his art; listen to songs like One For My Baby, Nancy (With the Laughing Face), I'm A Fool To Want You, sheer heart breaking, skin tingling stuff. Whatever song he does (with the possible exception of Mrs. Robinson), he makes his own, records the ultimate version.

I became a skeptical, but life long fan during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. My best friend and I took a trip to his cabin in Osakis, and on the drive there, he played his Sinatra tapes. At first it seemed silly- old timers music, being the hip guy I was, but it struck me odd that I knew all the songs (classics), and as we sang along, I grew to admire Sinatra's interpretations. The man somehow gets under your skin. For awhile all I wanted to hear was another Sinatra reading of another favorite song.

The LP that really got me was a 1964 recording with Count Basie called It Might As Well Be Swing. Frank and Splank. I soon wore that record out and with the additions of Songs for Swingin Lovers, and Sings for Only The Lonely, the artistry was appreciated more and more despite the reputation, the Vegas, finger snappin' Mafia rumors act. What is there to admire? How about the who cares what people think, I know I'm right and I'm going down that path and you're all going to follow me and we all might fall, and we all might stumble, but in the end the journey will be worth it so enjoy the ride, attitude? A few years later when I sat in an empty station, the failed DJ, and did my part to turn another generation on to the Chairman's music, it seemed a noble thing to do.

SO, this past Thursday evening as I was trying to make it to my niece's band concert, and unfortunately got myself wedged in a snow bank on the corner of Summit and Wheeler, I got myself home in time to see the final part of the big birthday bash for Francis Albert. All the stress, the anger of the day dissipated yet again as I listened and watched and smiled along with Frank. When I find myself in times of trouble, it ain't Mother Mary that comes to me, it's Sir Francis Albert. The songs speak for themselves. The LP's, the movies, the many concerts, he has become an American icon. And he did it his way.

Monday, December 4, 1995

007 with a 1007 Temperature

My name is Maeda, David Maeda. I'm your secret agent of sophistication, suave, and feeling a bit under the weather. Since you've somehow managed to find your way back to this part of the newsletter, you may have already noticed that this week's issue has lacked a little flair, a little polish, a little of its usual zany humor. Well I'm sorry, you'll just have to excuse me. I'm not feeling well.

Please let me describe for you my symptoms. My head is beating like it's inside of Keith Moon's bass drum. Thumpa thumpa thumpa. Not only is that very annoying, each beat hurts, stabbing like (insert your favorite OJ joke here). Ouch. I'm clammy. That's right, clammy. Between bouts of the chills, about every five minutes it feels like I have Malaria. Clammy Malaria, I think I dated her once in college. She may have been my undoing. My joints ache. So do my elbows, knees, knuckles, and ankles. Ba doomp ba. My stomach is playin games with my head, telling my brain that it feels hungry, knowing the very thought of food makes my brain send back a message of sickness to my stomach, causing it to churn and turn. Sweaty cold, hungry nausea. There's a nice tug of war match going on within me! As I look in my mirror, my eyes appear to be even more glassy than usual.

Max the Cat has seen plenty of mopey behavior during his stint as my roommate. But even his eyes are propped open wider by the quality of moping he has witnessed these past few days. Not even laundry night had its usual luster. A normal man wouldn't be sitting here doing this newsletter, he'd be in bed. But no one in this company has ever said a normal man is doing the newsletter. Or another way of putting that, a lesser man wouldn't be doing the newsletter, but then again, I can't be any lesser a man...

But enough about me. That wasn't supposed to be the topic of this week's piece. Instead we were going to try to make a point about the traps of nostalgia, how people for whatever reason seem to cling on to false visions of the past, believing that yesterday was somehow better or more important than today. Now that we are being force fed another wave of Beatlemania, and what with another Bond movie out, the sixties (or the way I'm feeling, the "sickties") once again are being enshrined as a golden age. Enough already.

It's bad enough that this time of year is especially one where we are encouraged to become nostalgic and do our best to put a little glow on the years gone by. It's great to remember good times. Hell, there may even be a purpose to getting a history degree (but darned if I ever figured that out). But the line is crossed when whole industries are formed and people spend their time and their money dickering around in the past as their current lives could most certainly use some attention.

I'm sorry, this is going nowhere fast. As I was saying, my summer photos of the Grand Canyon really did turn out nicely. The horizon always looks better in the distance don't you think? The red sand, and vast openness of it all. Takes your breath away. One could easily fall in love in the Grand Canyon. But then again, one could easily fall to one's death in the Grand Canyon. Same thing? Don't look at me. Did I mention that currently, I'm not feeling very well? I'm not looking for sympathy, really. I just want someone to please turn down that lousy drumbeat in my head. I just wanna die with a little dignity.

Is it just me or did it suddenly get about a zillion degrees warmer in here? Brrrrr. My mouth is so dry but I ain't thirsty. Promise me, my faithful readers, that if I don't make it, someone will find Max a good home (he'll probably need lots and lots of counseling). That you'll do your best to take up the slack and drink lots and lots of Lemon Sunkist. That you'll remember me with a less critical eye, and forgive me for my role in the Royal Family scandal? Strike that, I just remember I told you not to waste your time and energy looking back. Except for the last newsletter issue of the year, keep your eyes in the forward position. Satchel might be gaining on you. Excuse me, I must go now. I need some sleep.