Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy Musical New Year

The turn of the calendar tends to make one reflective and I am no exception. Now seems an appropriate time to note some things for which I am thankful at the end of 2012.

I’m glad Little Richard is still going strong at age 80 and still taking credit (with more than a little justification) for inventing rock and roll.

I’m glad that Keith Richards made it to 69 although as ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser noted, Keith has “looked 69 for the past thirty years.”

I’m amused that my local big box discount store was offering books for Christmas titled, “Bruce,” “Rod,” “Mick Jagger” and “Who Am I?” by Pete Townshend.
Over at Barnes & Noble there was “Kenny Rogers,” “Love is the Cure” by Elton John, “Duran, Duran," coffee table books from The Stones and Led Zeppellin and yet another life story from Willie Nelson: “Roll Me Up & Smoke Me When I’m Gone.”

Just when I think I’ll be spending more on books than on music all sorts of sixty somethings come out with new and interesting work...from Bonnie Raitt to the Beach Boys to Joe Walsh (“Analog Man”), Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the new co-pilot of Air Force One, Senator Springsteen.

I was thankful to find an actual record store alive and well and living in Indianapolis. I happened across Luna ( which has been in business since 1994 and at its present location (52nd and College) for six years. I could not do its collection of vinyl albums or CDs justice before being summoned to dinner but I did purchase an album to suport the cause: Big Star’s “#1 Record.” I loved the fact they recorded my sale in a spiral notebook in pencil (how High Fidelity is that?) and promised myself a return trip.

I came across Big Star and Alex Chilton in the Oxford American’s annual Southern Music Issue a few years ago. I am thankful they have survived embezzlements, bankruptcies and office scandals to deliver their fourteenth music collection on CD. This year’s compilation celebrates the music of Lousiana from Louis Armstrong to Nathan and The Zydeco Cha Chas (

Finally I really want to thank the people who have read my musings over the past two years and commented or encouraged me to continue. You have motivated me to keep listening and learning. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Led Zeppelin is in the (White) house

Those of you who live outside the Washington Beltway may have missed how all-a-twitter the city's poobahs were on a recent weekend. In this case it had nothing to do with the dalliances of four-star generals or those begging for alms at the base of the fiscal cliff.

No the big event was The Kennedy Center Honors, a made for television event that somehow manages to assemble media stars and politicians to bestow life achievement medals, raise some money for the KenCen and often put on a good show because it is edited down for the broadcast on CBS.

If you thought politics makes for strange bedfellows, this year's list of honorees gives new meaning to how opening the door to musicians and comics makes the term bizarre seem inadequate.

Just listing the designees this year was enough to get the President a laugh at a White House reception. Here they are: Ballerina Natalia Makarova, actor Dustin Hoffman and blues great Buddy Guy, plus late night host David Letterman and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Mr. Obama couldn't resist noting this motley crew "had no business being on the same stage together." When he took note of Zeppelin's history of trashing hotel rooms on tour, he concluded, "So it is good we are meeting in a place where the window glass is three inches thick."

What redeems the selection process (and the show) is the artists who show up to do the honors. Morgan Freeman introduced Guy and performers Tracy Chapman, Jeff Beck, Beth Hart and Bonnie Raitt.

For Letterman, it was Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Kimmel. Hoffman's career was presented by Robert DeNiro and for the big finish, Jack Black came on to praise the Zeppelin. Musical tributes followed from the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and, finally, Heart, doing the classic, "Stairway to Heaven" (backed, according to The Washington Post,by "a giant choir wearing bowler hats.")

The Post also reported the Guy tribute ended with an audience sing-a-long of the Prez'go-to theme song, "Sweet Home Chicago."

Set your DVRs for CBS on December 26 so you can check out whose rubbing elbows on the red carpet in D.C. (Meryl Streep & Hillary Clinton?)

A couple of other programming notes. We caught an edition of Austin City Limits the other night featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples. Talk about music history! When the announcer said this was ACL's 38th season, I realized how much we music lovers owe to public television.

And for those (HBO) paying customers, they got their monthly subscription's worth in November with "Crossfire Hurricane." This combination of Rolling Stones' history and concert performances was, as they say in the UK, "brilliant." It did not rotate as most HBO films do but I suspect it will resurface again. If not, drop on by because I am looking for an excuse to watch it again.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut: Four Score & Ten

Last month marked the 90th anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s birth in Indianapolis. On a recent trip I discovered that Kurt’s spirit and legacy were alive and well and being celebrated in a small building that resembled the hardware stores that bore his family name and where he worked summers.

Although I never met him, we shared some common experiences and family friends. He wrote for The Shortridge Daily Echo (our high school’s classic building was designed by his family firm of architects…he was there with my aunt) where I was the sports editor my senior year.

He had such respect for my father’s infantry service that he wrote a wonderful blurb for Wendell Phillippi’s military history, Dear Ike: "It is the best, authoritative, personalized book on World War II I have read." This from the man who brought you Slaughterhouse Five. In a sense that was typical of Vonnegut, playing down his accomplishments and playing up the life and work of his fellow Hoosiers.

Watching videos of his friends in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library you get a sense of what growing up Indiana meant to him. Morley Safer talks about a New Yorker who never lost a sense of where his roots were. My family friend Maije Alford Failey whose new memoir recalls her days at Shortridge High with Kurt, We Never Danced Check to Cheek, tells how he loved the irony of visiting Crown Hill Cemetery, not to visit his family burial plots, but to note the proximity of Hoosiers John Dillinger and James Whitcomb Riley (the children’s poet). The subtitle of Slaughterhouse Five was “The Children’s Crusade.” Indeed, my skinny father in 1940 looked like a teenager.

The point of this post (without a musical connection except Vonnegut was a bard of the boomer-rock generation) is to encourage your support of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library ( his ongoing campaigns against war, book banning and hypocrisy.

His public legacy is housed in a small brick building in the shadow of the Indiana State Capitol and memorials to the Civil War (the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Circle is now the world’s largest Christmas tree), World War I & II and the national headquarters of the American Legion. Of these memorials, his is the smallest and most underfunded but (with no disrespect to those have served their country in uniform), the one with passionate followers and perhaps the most important message.

On a Friday after Thanksgiving, it was heartening to find people from around the country comparing favorite Vonnegut novels…he was amazingly prolific…and watching others enjoy his artwork, Army insignia and a manual typewriter in the two-room tribute to him.

It seemed inadequate (his papers are at the Lilly Library at Indiana University) and unassuming...which he would appreciate...a footnote to history and a portal to his amazing work and insights.

Vonnegut fans come in many genres…science fiction, politics and Indiana characters in the middle of the twentieth century. While I enjoy all his work my favorites are the stories he based in my hometown, my high school, my friends’ lives. In those he displayed his journalistic skills, his empathy and his ability to capture reality that Sherwood Anderson, Mark Twain and others have used to preserve the American way of life.

Paul Simon hit a nerve when he wrote: “Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town.”
Kurt Vonnegut told their stories.

Morley Safer's Farewell Sketch: "And so he went."