Friday, January 31, 2014

Spotlight on Steppenwolf

If there was an anthem for rebellious young people in the late 1960s, one would have to consider Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild." 

The song captured the  spirit of the times as folks were involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements, various campus protests, and other social issues.  
And the song included these famous lyrics by Mars Bonfire:

"I like smoke and lightnin'
Heavy metal thunder..."

And thus was born the phrase for "heavy metal" music, used to describe the sounds of Cream, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and, of course, Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf was an immensely popular group from 1968-72, producing eight gold albums and more than 10 top ten singles including No. 2 "Born To Be Wild," No. 3 "Magic Carpet Ride," and No. 10 "Rock Me."

Two of their songs, "The Pusher" and "Born To Be Wild," were featured in the counter-culture movie, "Easy Rider." 

Another underground hit, which drew the ire of the Establishment, was "Don't Step on the Grass, Sam," which criticized marijuana laws. Some of  their other hit songs were "Sookie Sookie," "Jupiter Child" and "Hey Lawdy Mama."

Steppenwolf, featuring the bluesy vocals of John Kay,  was a power group that influenced artists such as Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, Bad Company, and Foreigner. 

And surprisingly, this great group has been overlooked by Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, as they became eligible in 1993. Twenty-one years. I find that hard to understand. For anyone who grew up in the '60s, they know the impact of Steppenwolf on rock music. 

Now, enjoy some Steppenwolf:

Until the next time...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger: An Influential Life

Pete Seeger lived a long and productive life that touched and influenced several generations of Americans. He passed away on Jan. 27 at the age of 94.

Mr. Seeger was at the forefront of folk music, a political activist, a voice for the common person, and an environmentalist. 

A Harvard dropout and World War II veteran, he was also a man of conviction and determination -- always true to himself and others. He wasn't afraid to speak out and stand up against McCarthyism in the 1950s. 

I can't add anything about his great man that hasn't already been said (much better) by others such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and President Obama.  Read some of the tributes by clicking here and here.

I do recall back in my college years in the 1960s that one of my friends knew Mr. Seeger. She was going to invite him to one of our protests and was confident he would be there. But things happened, then school let out for the summer, and we went on with our lives. If I could only turn back the hands of time.

Mr. Seeger will be missed but his legacy will live on in songs such as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" "If I Had a Hammer," "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," and "Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There Is a Season)."

And for those involved in civil rights -- past, present, and future --"We Shall Overcome."

Here's a few videos.

Until the next time...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Radio Woes

I was listening to the radio tonight while preparing dinner. For those who read my blog, they know I love music. 

Something that has bothered me for a long time is the lack of information about music played on radio. What I mean  is that the disc jockeys, or whomever plays the music, very seldom mentions the artist, or at least, the name of the song.

I heard several songs that I thought were very good, perhaps prompting me to purchase the music. But it's kinda hard to do that when you don't know who recorded the song. 

I think those folks believe that listeners simply know by osmosis. Yes, there were a few artists I knew such as REM and Hootie and the Blowfish.

I heard something by Lady Gaga, and liked it, and fortunately the disc jockey mentioned her name, but not the title of the song. 

I wonder if record sales would increase if radios would let their listeners know who made the music? Somehow, I believe it would help. 

I grew up in an era when it was customary for the jocks to mention the artist and the title, and in such a way you wouldn't forget. Even songs by the Beatles. 

Until the next time...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Farewell to a Legendary Maestro

Last Monday one of the true greats in music passed away -- Claudio Abbado.

The brilliant Italian conducted many of the great symphony orchestras around the world. He was known as a perfectionist in a way I can admire. 

According to reports, he was very detailed in preparing musicians for performances. And when the time came to play in the great concert halls, he allowed them to totally express themselves, bringing dynamic emotion to the music. He understood the music and respected the musicians.  One conductor called the performances "electrifying."

I'm strictly a layperson when it comes to classical music. I love to listen to it while I'm writing and at work. I first became aware of Claudio Abbado about eight years ago when I came across recordings of works by Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart and others that he conducted. They were simply extraordinary.

My favorite was Abbado's masterful work with the Berliner Philharmoniker's performance of Dvorak's "New World Symphony." 

Abbado was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000 but gave us more wonderful music until he passed away at age 80. 

Fortunately, we have his recordings that will  remind us of his genius. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Writing Quandary

Sometimes it's difficult to begin a writing project because, well,  you don't know where to begin. 

I've had several ideas bounce around in my head about what I want to write but haven't been able to put down that first word to get me going. I suppose I could start in the middle or the end, and work my way back to a beginning. Even that sounds too confusing.

While I often encourage folks to write with reckless abandon, that's much easier to do when you have know the direction you want to pursue, at least initially. 

I think many writers haven't taken off in one direction, only to head off another way once they get into their story. I know I have. 

I'm also weighing whether to write a young adult or contemporary mainstream novel. The final determination will be the "adult" factor. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I don't like to expose young folks to plot lines before their time. I know other young-adult writers disagree with me on this matter.

Of course, I could multi-task and work on several novels. Maybe one would emerge as the stronger story while the others would be relegated to future projects. 

I do hope to get moving on another manuscript in the next week or so. 

Until the next time...


Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Music That Moved Me and You

Recently on Facebook a friend tagged me on a survey of 10 albums that have stayed with me through the years:

"Rules: In your status update, list 10 albums that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take a few minutes, and don't think too hard. They don't have to be the "right" or "great" records. Just the ones that have touched you. Tag 10 (or more) friends, including me, so I'll see your list." 

My choices were:

The Doors -- Strange Days
The Moody Blues -- On the Threshold of a Dream
Cream -- Fresh Cream
Spirit (self-titled)
The Beatles -- Revolver
The Beach Boys -- Pet Sounds
Gary McFarland and Peter Smith -- Butterscotch Rum
Jimi Hendrix -- Are You Experienced
Double -- Blue

Needless to say, it was difficult keeping the list at 10 albums, especially after viewing the music others were putting down. 

It was also interesting to see lists from those much younger than me, especially naming albums/artists I wasn't familiar with (thank goodnesss there weren't any Justin Bieber albums on their lists).  They included Justin Timberlake, Pink, Adele, Super Furry Animals, and more.

Among the other albums that "touched" me that made to other's lists were:

Carole King -- Tapestry
Rod Stewart -- Every Picture Tells a Story
Crosby, Stills and Nash -- first album
Led Zeppelin -- first album
Van Morrison -- Moondance

I even added a few honorable mentions:

Love -- Forever Changes
Blue Cheer -- Vincebus Eruptum
Procol Harum -- Shine on Brightly
Bruce Springsteen -- The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle

And a few more that I just thought of:

Steppenwolf -- first album
Yes -- Close to the Edge
Alan Parsons Project -- I Robot
Jefferson Airplane -- Surrealistic Pillow
The Yardbirds -- Having a Rave Up
ELO -- El Dorado
CCR -- Bayou Country

I could probably name another 20 (or more) albums (Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles, Sam Cooke, The Byrds, The Drifters, Janis Joplin, Chambers Brothers, etc.)  but I'll stop here.

Do you care to share your top 10 list here? Please share.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Story Songs: The Name of the Game

ABBA has been one my guilty pleasures through the years. While a few their songs may have been too happy and perhaps sappy, others touched the soul and resonated in other ways for me. 

Being a fan of progressive rock, ABBA's sound was more of a progressive pop at times, with the orchestration, strings and other elements. Many of the songs also had a Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" feel to them.

One of my favorites by the Swedish superstars was "The Name of the Game," written by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson. It reached No. 12 on the U.S. charts and No. 1 in the U.K.

For me, the song is about opening up to another person and the trust that comes with it, especially after being hurt in another relationship. 

The first two verses set the tone:

"I've seen you twice, in a short time
Only a week since we started
It seems to me, for every time
I'm getting more open-hearted

"I was an impossible case
No one could ever reach me
But I think I can see in your face
There's a lot you can teach me
So I wanna know..."

And the singer asks: "What's the name of the game?" Are we connecting? Do you really understand?

And then we move to the chorus, which has a gospel feel to it:

"And you make me talk
And you make me feel
And you make me show
What I'm trying to conceal
If I trust in you, would you let me down?
Would you laugh at me, if I said I care for you?
Could you feel the same way, too"
I wanna know...

"What's the name of the game?"

ABBA is one of the biggest acts in music history, selling close to 400 million records worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

The delightful musical, Mamma Mia!, is loaded with ABBA songs. 

"The Name of the Game" lyrics

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Getting Older and Mortality

Just a quick post about getting older. 

Yes, getting older sure beats the alternative, for the most part. I suppose it depends on a person's condition at the time. I know those who are suffering in old age. 

But the thing I don't like is hearing of the passing of my contemporaries. I must admit that I look at the obituary page every day, something I've done for quite a few years. 

At first, it was primarily to see if the parents or kin of friends had died. Now, it's those who I went to high school or college with and those I knew from my career as a journalist/author. Today I learned about the passing of another person I've known for 30 years or so. It sucks.

I don't worry about my own mortality. I know I'm not immortal, and I don't care to be. But it saddens me to hear about those who are moving on to the great bey0nd or whatever. 

Until the next time....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polar Vortex or Whatever

I'm just not getting all this attention to this phenomenon called a polar vortex. 

I know it's something like a hurricane, except that it originates around the North Pole, and brings cold weather to North America and, I suppose, northern Russia and other parts in the northern hemisphere.

But really, folks, don't you think too much has been made about it? I read one blog where they don't call it a polar vortex in Canada. They call it winter.

I agree that it's cold. It was -5  here where I live. I have friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota who were enduring -15 and lower, with wind chills at -50. That's very cold. 

I've been through winters where it got very cold; winters with several feet of snow; and winters with ugly ice storms.

This polar vortex, at least where I live, will last two days. Let me repeat that -- two days. It's not like a heat wave in the summer that will last for weeks, creating serious drought conditions and deaths. And it's not like the aforementioned other winter calamities.

Now if this polar vortex lasted weeks, creating something of a frozen winter -- perhaps a mini Ice Age -- then I could understand all the fear and panic. Something like, "The Day After Tomorrow," a movie that created a chill-effect several years ago.

But two days? I think not.

On Sunday, on the eve of this bone-chilling event, temperatures reached 56 in Kentucky. Then they plummeted overnight to around zero and below. Today the temperature reached 13. And tomorrow the forecast is for the mid-30s.  

By this weekend, we're expecting it to be in the 50s. Now that seems more unexpected to me than bitter cold this time of the year. 

In the meantime, stay warm and be ready when the next cold snap comes along. And before you know it, spring will be here.

Until the next time....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Another year has started. Even though we're 14 years into the 21st century, it still seems odd to me to write or see 2014. I suppose that's because I've spent most of my life in the 20th century -- and most likely will have most of my years in past century when my time here has ended.

I really don't put much faith in new year's resolutions. I tend to resolve any needed changes when they get to a point where it's time to do something. If that happens on Feb. 23, May 9, August 17, or whatever date, that's when I do something about it.

Like most folks, especially here  in America, I hope to lose some weight this year. But I also know from previous efforts -- some successful and some not -- that it's a lose-some, gain-some effort. It's an ongoing thing with me. You simply have to stick to it until you're within a ballpark range of your desired weight. And more power to you if you ultimately reach your goal.

I plan to get more physically fit. I'll do this by enrolling in a program or two at the local YMCA. I'll stay with my regular regimen of walking, hiking, yard work and other physical activities.

And I also want to be more mentally fit through reading, writing, and challenges that will keep me sharp and focused. Another way will be by staying engaged with friends, family, coworkers, and perhaps a few foes.

Other than those few things, I hope to travel more this year, write another book, perhaps finally learn how to play a guitar, and do some volunteer work. 

But the main goal is to remain active, kinda like the late, great George Jones sang in "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair":

"I don't need your rockin' chair
Your Geritol or your Medicare
Well, I still got neon in my vein
This gray hair don't mean a thing.

"I do my rockin' on the stage
You can't put this possum in a cage
My body's old but it ain't impaired
I don't need your rockin' chair"

My one resolution is wishing each and everyone a healthy and productive new year!

And now for some George Jones:

Until the next time...