Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dearly Beloved

Prince's first concert ticket, public domain/fair use, Wikipedia, full cite below in the sources.

Greetings All:

The big and tragic news story from this week is the passing of the musician Prince.  Born Prince Rogers Nelson, he blew up the music scene, first in Minneapolis and then the music world.  President Obama called Prince a "creative icon" and there have been countless tributes pouring in about the man and his music.  I've got a few stories posted in the sources about him.  The photo that follows below is from a web posting of an interview with Paul Westerberg.  Westerberg was part of the music scene in the early 80s in Minneapolis and knew of Prince.  It's worth a listen. 

My favorite tribute is from Bob Mould.  Mould also hails from Minneapolis and is arguably my favorite artist.  I love the fact his star is right by Prince's in the photo below.  Here's how Mould concluded his eulogy for Prince:

"Make no mistake: Prince was the brightest star in these Northern skies. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and fellow musicians. Prince’s music will give consolation and comfort to the collective grief. Godspeed."

The First Avenue "Wall of Fame," fair use claimed, full cite below in sources.

I cannot say I am a huge Prince fan.  I did like a number of his songs, especially "Let's Go Crazy."  The second to last credit in the sources is a link to his amazing halftime show at the 2007 Super Bowl.  It's making the rounds on Facebook (along with a number of heartfelt tributes to Prince) and it is terrific to watch.  He opens with, what else?  (I won't tell you, you'll have to watch it for yourself.  :))

I had forgotten how hard it had rained at that Superbowl.  When the producers told Prince it was raining, he asked,  "Can you make it rain harder?"  

Other artists would have demanded changes to the show or scrapped it all together.  Not Prince, not this artist who played and sang thru the rain...and used FOUR electric guitars.  Rock on.

Prince was a complicated man.  His music caused outrage to some.  One may recall Tipper Gore's visceral reaction to "Darling Nikki."  For others, he was a source of liberation.  He did not just push the envelope, he shredded it.  

He also was a tenacious fighter for what mattered to him.  He went to war with Warner Bros, his label.  It took almost two decades for the two to make up and make music together again.  When they did, he made sure he got his catalog of songs back.

He also had a  deeply spiritual side.  This he kept to himself.  Some would say he was a hypocrite.  I would say he was exercising his right to practice his religion as he sought fit.  I understand he gave generously to many causes and did so privately.  Again, that was his choice.

Here's my best Prince song memory.

In 1984, I was riding in my friend's Camaro and he had the auto-reverse tape deck, a huge deal back then.  "Purple Rain" was the last song on side two.  My friend, I.D., posted this photo of the cassette and I thank him for allowing me to share it here on my blog.

The cassette version of Prince's epic album Purple Rain.  Photo used by permission.
So we're driving along and "Purple Rain" ends.  The tape flips over and "Let's Go Crazy" begins with Prince's voice over what I think is a keyboard mimicking a church organ.  

He begins:

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing call life..."

This goes on for a few minutes before the music starts.  A crash of percussion, a keyboard creating an impossible to stop head bopping and the slashing guitar chords, all mixed together is an incredible song.  

Meanwhile, we're in the Camaro, flying down the road.  This was no baby V6 engine, dear readers.  No, my friends, this was the V8 and it roared in approval to the music, the RPMs climbing and falling as the engine shifted, akin to a gyrating dance floor.

I don't know why I remember this, yet I do.  Perhaps it was something about being young and the magic of Friday nights.  Or maybe it was about being in a car I admired, coveted even.  Well, I'll stop now as this is getting way too deep for a Saturday morning.  I still like the song and am sorry the artist who gave it to us cannot perform it live ever again.

As Prince wraps up the monologue of "Let's Go Crazy," he offers this advice:

"If the elevator of life tries to bring you down, 
Go crazy, punch a higher floor."

Something tells me Prince has reached that higher floor.  

Be well my friends,


Opening photo: 

Monday, April 18, 2016

3:00, Frank

The iconic "Sands" hotel marque, circa 1960, Wikipedia, fair use claimed.

Greetings All:

I returned from Las Vegas two Thursdays ago after attending the National Conference of Exchangors.  This was a business trip, no really it was.  In fact, from Sunday evening until Thursday morning, I never left the resort property.  

We stayed at The Tuscany.  It's off the strip by about a block and is not exactly where the "hip crowd" hangs out at night.  That was fine with me.  After all, this was a business trip.

Yet it was not all work.  On the last night in town, I had the good fortune to see "The Rat Pack is Back!" in The Copa Room at the hotel. 

It was a super show.  I mean, it was just terrific.  I've got a couple of photos below, one of me with the cast and of the promo poster for the show.  I have also a link to the show in the credits.  If you are in Vegas, GO SEE THIS SHOW!  You'll thank me afterwards.

Yours truly with "The Rat Pack," photo by J. Berta.

"The Rat Pack is Back!" poster, photo by J. Berta

A bit of history is in order.  "The Rat Pack" has been synonymous with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and to a lesser extent, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.  However, this is not the genesis of this group.  It goes back to Humphrey Bogart, who was the original leader of "The Rat Pack."  The story associated with this group's birth is when Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall lamented after Bogart had returned with his crew (after a night out in where else, Vegas) by saying:  "You look like a goddamn rat pack."

And thus the legend was born.

By the time 1960 rolled around, "The Rat Pack" was in full effect and were the undisputed royalty of Vegas.  The show I saw was such a wonderful tribute to these amazing men.  Drew Anthony plays Dean Martin (I have a link to his site below, please check it out) and the other two cast members' names escape me.  All of them honored both the spirit and story of these amazing performers, icons actually.

The irony is that Frank, Dino, et al did not like the name, "Rat Pack."  Instead, they preferred, "The Summit," with Frank being "The Chairman of the Board."  They were on top of the world.

However, it was not always the case.  Case in point, Frank Sinatra.  

After a meteoric rise, he experienced an equally dramatic (and painful) fall.  The 1950s were an especially brutal time for him.  The music stopped, the fame went away and, of course, the money.  Yet what was perhaps the deepest cut were the people who turned their back on him.  One minute everyone wants to buy you drink and the next, they walk right by you without saying a word.  How that must have stung.

I read this story from the book, Sinatra 100 by Charles Pigonne about how Sinatra was so alone that he had no where to go for Thanksgiving.  From the book, as told by Joe Scognamillo, proprietor of Patsy's Italian Restaurant:

"After he finished eating, Frank says to my father, 'I think I'll have Thanksgiving here with you guys.  What time are you serving?'  My dad looked at Frank, and understood how alone he felt.  He could have told Frank that the restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving and invited him home to dinner.  But he knew that would hurt Frank's pride, so he just said, 'Three o'clock, Frank.  We're serving at three.'"

I've got a link to a New York Times story below that also relates this tale.  This is a story that reminds me no matter "great" or "famous" someone appears to be, no one is immune from loneliness, from rejection.  In the same story, Mr.  Scognamillo related how when Frank was down and out people would walk by him at the restaurant, ignoring him.  Here is the same man that just a few years' later would be larger than life, headlining The Sands and being THE act to see, THE man to hang out with, cheer, love, adore, worship even.

A book that has recently had a profoundly positive impact on me is Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.  People I admire like Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss have spoken positively about this book and with good reason.   Meditations is the private diary of the Aurelius, a Roman Emperor.  It's an amazing book and I have a link to it below in the sources.  One of the lines that came to mind as I was working on this blog post is"...that poor thing called fame..."

Poor is fame indeed.  Those who have it know in their hearts that some day it will end.  I suppose that when Frank, et al, were holding court at The Sands they knew the wild cheering would fade, snuffed out like a cigarette in a blackened heap of smoke.  

...and end up having to find a place to eat Thanksgiving dinner.

Be well my friends,

Be well my friends,


Opening photo: