Tag Archives: Tribute

So he laid down…R.I.P. Greg Lake

By Dennis Hartley

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1947-2016

You know what, 2016? Fuck you. Seriously. This is really too much.

Bowie. Prince. Sir George Martin. Leonard Cohen. Leon Russell. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Keith Emerson…now, Greg Lake.

This is the toughest one for me since Bowie at the beginning of this year. Greg Lake was not only one of the gods of prog-rock, but for my money, owned the greatest set of pipes in any musical genre.

That voice has captivated me from the first time I heard “In the Court of the Crimson King” wafting from my radio back in 1969. Even through a tinny 4″ speaker, that beautiful, cathedral voice shot directly through my medulla oblongata and took my breath away.     Instrumental accompaniment was always purely optional:

And speaking of “cathedral”…

The angels can retire now.

…and one is hope: So long, Leon

By Dennis Hartley

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Leon Russell 1942-2016

It’s getting crowded up there. Leonard Cohen on Friday, now Leon Russell on Sunday? All in all, the weekend’s been a bit of a bummer.

Oh well, we’ll always have their music.

Russell was one of the heavyweights; an in-demand session player for decades, he cut his teeth with the legendary “Wrecking Crew”, who  were profiled in Denny Tedesco’s eponymous 2015 doc (my review).

He also had a prolific recording career as a solo artist, and was a truly  outstanding songwriter. So many classics. Here is but a sampling…

The saddest song in the world: R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

By Dennis Hartley

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1934-2016

It sounds like a bad joke: Man, what a depressing week! [“How depressing was it, Johnny?”]. I’ll tell you, Ed.  American democracy died on Tuesday…and Leonard Cohen was only able to make it to Friday.

(SFX: rim shot)

Hiyo!

Of course that’s not funny. But if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. I’m all cried out.

It goes like this: The fourth, the fifth; the minor fall, the major lift

I’m uplifted already. Halle-fuckin’-lujah. Make the angels cry, Leonard:

Was anyone’s music more cinematic? Robert Altman was an early fan:

From his final album, released just weeks ago.  A true poet to the end:

Strictly rude: R.I.P. Prince Buster

By Dennis Hartley

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He may not have been as big of a household name as another Prince we lost earlier this year (what is it with 2016?), but Cecil Bustamente Campbell (aka Prince Buster) was no less an important figure in the music world, particularly to fans of Jamaican ska and rocksteady.

(from the Jamaica Observer)

Ska legend Prince Buster died Thursday morning in a South Florida hospital, his son Kareem Ali has confirmed.

The singer/producer, born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, was 78.

Prince Buster was ailing for some time, after suffering a series of strokes.

From West Kingston, Prince Buster was a protégé of producer Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd. In the late 1950s, he launched his Voice Of The People sound system and label, which released a number of his self-produced hits including Wash Wash, Blackhead Chineyman and Judge Dread.

He also produced the Ffolkes Brothers Oh Carolina in 1961.

Buster had an enduring following in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom where he performed regularly up to 12 years ago.

Here’s one of his classic productions/compositions:

Hush up! My favorite by the man himself:

Seen.

Surely, he’s joking: R.I.P. Gene Wilder

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 29, 2016)

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I guess I must have been in shock.

When I received a text from Digby asking if I’d heard about Gene Wilder, I steeled myself and immediately queried Mr. Google. There it was. But I refused to believe it. This just couldn’t be. That’s when I began a one-sided argument with my, erm…laptop:

“Wait a minute. Gene Wilder is no longer with us? Are you saying, he is no longer with us? Is that what you’re telling me, that Gene Wilder…is no longer here? No longer here. He was here, but now, he is not? IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO TELL ME?!”

Goddammit.

Sorry, but people that talented, that funny, are simply not allowed to just up and leave us.

Here are several reasons why, right off the top of my head:

Rest in peace, you bloody little genius.

# # #

UPDATE:

From his family’s official statement:

The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

Wow. And then there’s this, from one comedy legend to another…

50 years gone: Lenny Bruce is not afraid

By Dennis Hartley

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Today is the 50th anniversary of comedian Lenny Bruce’s death.

On August 3, 1966, he was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home, from (what was ruled as) an accidental overdose of morphine.

For years following his passing, he was arguably more famous for the suffering he endured for his art, rather than the visionary nature of it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2003, after years of lobbying  by members of the entertainment industry and free speech advocates, that New York governor George Pataki issued Bruce an official posthumous pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction. It is worth noting that no comedians have  been jailed in America for telling jokes to roomfuls of drunks  since Bruce died (yet…I’m currently working on a review for a sobering new documentary called Can We Take a Joke? It’s an eye-opener).

Of course by now everybody has jumped on the bandwagon and acknowledges the man’s genius and the groundbreaking nature of his material. But I can’t help but wonder how Lenny would have fared in the age of social media, or in front of a modern college audience (oy).

Would today’s audiences grasp the subtlety of this bit, for example? Or would Lenny suffer a virtual lynching by an outraged Twitter mob before he could reach the end, when its true message becomes clear?

“Lenny Bruce”,  by Bob Dylan  

Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lived on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon
He was an outlaw, that’s for sure
More of an outlaw than you ever were
Lenny Bruce is gone but his spirit’s living on and on.

Maybe he had some problems, maybe some things that he couldn’t work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth and he knew what he was talking about
Never robbed any churches, nor cut off any babies heads
He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds
He’s on some other shore, he didn’t want to live anymore.

Lenny Bruce is dead but he didn’t commit any crime
He just had the insight to rip off the lid before its time
I rode with him in a taxi once, only for a mile and a half
Seemed like it took a couple of months
Lenny Bruce moved on and like the ones that killed him, gone.

They say he was sick ’cause he didn’t play by the rules
He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools
They stamped him and they labeled him like they do with pants and shirts
He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts
Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had.

    
Related posts:
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
When Comedy Went to School & a Top 5 list
Funny People
Hotel Lux
Winnebago Man

…than when standing in his shadow

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 4, 2016)

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No longer presidents but prophets

They’re all dreaming they’re gonna bear the prophet

He’s gonna run through the fields dreaming in animation

It’s all gonna split his skull

It’s gonna come out like a black bouquet shining

Like a fist that’s gonna shoot them up

Like light, like Muhammad boxer

Take them up up up up up up

— From “Birdland”, by Patti Smith

Some people have a special light. Not a light that you can necessarily “see”, per se; yet in the wake of their departure from this world, one senses a few less lumens within it. Muhammad Ali was one such individual. Normally, when a sports legend dies, you expect the usual accolades from peers and young up-and-coming athletes, citing the personal inspiration and offering admiring kudos for the accomplishments he or she made within the profession. But how many sports figures also incur this manner of observation:

For my generation and so many other people, we didn’t have a President Barack Obama; and so for my generation, in terms of exemplars—people of high achievement, high integrity (beyond my dad, my brothers, and my mom), Muhammad Ali was that for me.

That was from Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, in an interview on CNN this morning. For that matter, President Barack Obama didn’t have a, erm, President Barack Obama, either:

In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

That was from the President’s statement earlier today (Digby put the entire text up in her tribute this morning). Yes, even the current leader of the free world has drawn inspiration from Muhammad Ali. Clearly, Ali’s impact on our planet is more substantial than achieving status as the greatest ever heavyweight boxing champion of said world.

This is borne out by the fact that amongst those championship belts, Olympic medals and other sundry sports trophies crowding Ali’s shelf, there is also the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award (1970), and the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage (1997)…to name a few. That’s because throughout his life, Ali lent his considerable clout, eloquence and sense of conviction to a number of humanitarian and social causes. Personally, I admire him most for his unapologetic stand against the Vietnam War in the 60s; undaunted by the fact that by doing so, he was committing career suicide.  I’m in good company…here’s today’s most touching tribute:

Muhammad willingly sacrificed the best years of his career to stand tall and fight for what he believed was right. In doing so, he made all Americans, black and white, stand together. I may be 7’2”, but I never felt taller than when standing in his shadow.

– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from a Facebook posting earlier today.

Than when standing in his shadow.” Wow. I think we’re all feeling taller today. As a tribute, I’m reposting the following review/essay that I originally published on Digby’s Hullabaloo in November 2013 regarding the documentary, The Trials of Muhammad Ali:

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My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.

-Muhammad Ali

There have been a number of films documenting and dramatizing the extraordinary life of Muhammad Ali, but they all share a curious anomaly. Most have tended to gloss over Ali’s politically volatile “exile years” (1967-1970), during which the American sports icon was officially stripped of his heavyweight crown and essentially “banned” from professional boxing after his very public refusal to be inducted into the Army on the grounds of conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. In a new documentary, The Trials of Muhammad Ali (not to be confused with Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, the 2013 made-for-cable drama that HBO has been running in heavy rotation) filmmaker Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground) fills in those blanks.

As we know, Time heals (most) wounds…and Siegel opens his film with a fascinatingly dichotomous illustration. We witness a young Ali in a TV talk show appearance as he is being lambasted by an apoplectic David Susskind, who calls him (among other things) “…a disgrace to his country, his race and what he laughably describes as his profession.” (Ali deflects the insulting rant with a Zen-like calm). Cut to 2005, and footage of President G.W. Bush Jr. awarding Ali the Medal of Freedom. It’s easy to forget how vilified Ali was for taking his stand (scars from the politically polarizing Vietnam era run deep; I know a few folks who still refer to Jane Fonda as “Hanoi Jane”).

Sigel then traces the evolution of Ali’s controversial stance, which had its roots in the early 60s, when the wildly popular Olympic champion then known as Cassius Clay became interested in the Nation of Islam, guided by the teachings of the movement’s leader at the time, Elijah Muhammad. Interviewees Kahlilah Camacho-Ali (Ali’s first wife, whom he met through the Nation of Islam) and a longtime friend only identified as “Captain Sam” provide a lot of interesting background on this spiritual side of Ali’s life, which eventually led to the adaptation of a new name and his refusal to serve in Vietnam.

As you watch the film, you begin to understand how Ali the sports icon transmogrified into an influential sociopolitical figure, even if he didn’t set out to become the latter. It was more an accident of history; Ali’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam and stance against the Vietnam War put him at the confluence of both the burgeoning Black Power and anti-war movements. Either way, it took balls, especially considering that when he was convicted of draft evasion (later overturned by the Supreme Court), he was not only stripped of his heavyweight title (and primary source of income), but had his passport taken away by the government. This was not grandstanding; it was a true example of standing on the courage of one’s convictions.

Sigel has unearthed some revelatory archival footage from Ali’s three years in the wilderness. He still had to pay rent and feed his family, so Ali essentially found a second career during that period as a professional speaker (likely making him the only world-famous athlete to have inserted that phase of life usually associated with post-retirement into the middle of one’s career). During this time he represented himself as a minister of the Nation of Islam, giving speeches against racism and the Vietnam War (he shows to have been quite an effective and charismatic speaker). One mind-blower is footage of Ali performing a musical number from a Broadway play called Big Time Buck White.

It’s hard to see this film and not draw parallels with Edward Snowden; specifically to ponder how he will be viewed in the fullness of time. Granted, Snowden is not as likely to get bestowed with the Medal of Freedom-but god knows he’s being vilified now (remember, Ali didn’t just catch flak from the usual suspects for standing firmly on his principles, but even from dyed-in-the-wool liberals like Susskind).

Another takeaway is that there was more going on than cloaked racism; Ali’s vilification was America’s pre-9/11 flirt with Islamophobia. Ali was “safe” and acceptable as a sports celebrity (as long as he played the face-pulling, poetry-spouting ham with Howard Cosell), but was recast as a dangerous black radical once he declared himself a Muslim and began to speak his mind on hot-button issues.

As one interviewee comments on the Islam quotient “…Since 9/11, ‘Islam’ has acquired so many layers and dimensions and textures. When the Nation of Islam was considered as a ‘threatening’ religion, traditional Islam was seen as a gentle alternative. And now, quite the contrary […] Muhammad Ali occupies a weird kind of place in that shifting interpretation of Islam.” Welcome to Bizarro World.

Living through another Cuba

By Dennis Hartley

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With all the dominating Trump news, I missed this passing last week:

(from the New York TImes)

Michael Ratner, a fearless civil liberties lawyer who successfully challenged the United States government’s detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay without judicial review, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 72.

The cause was complications of cancer, said his brother, Bruce, a developer and an owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

As head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner oversaw litigation that, in effect, voided New York City’s wholesale stop-and-frisk policing tactic. The center also accused the federal government of complicity in the kidnapping and torture of terrorism suspects and argued against the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, the waging of war in Iraq without the consent of Congress, the encouragement of right-wing rebels in Nicaragua and the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war.

“Under his leadership, the center grew from a small but scrappy civil rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world,” David Cole, a former colleague at the center and a professor at Georgetown Law School, said in an interview this week. “He sued some of the most powerful people in the world on behalf of some of the least powerful.”

Not a peep on any of the nightly newscasts (quietly dedicating your life to human rights just isn’t sexy enough, I’m afraid). Anyway…I found out about Mr. Ratner’s passing while listening to Democracy Now this morning on the way to work. Amy Goodman had the great Noam Chomsky on the program; he lent context to Ratner’s legacy:


It sounds like we’ve  lost another of the good ones (*sigh*). We now return you to your regularly scheduled 24/7 Trump news cycle…

Living through another Cuba
It’s 1961 again and we are piggy in the middle
While war is polishing his drum and peace plays second fiddle

Russia and America are at each other’s throats
But don’t you cry
Just on your knees and pray, and while you’re
Down there, kiss your arse  goodbye

We’re the bulldog on the fence
While others play their tennis overhead
It’s hardly love all and somebody might
Wind up red or dead
Pour some oil on the water quick
It doesn’t really matter where from
He love me, he loves me not
He’s pulling fins from an atom bomb

This phenomenon happens every twenty years or so
If they’re not careful your watch won’t be the
Only thing with a radioactive glow
I’ll stick my fingers in my ears
And hope they make it up before too late
If we get through this lot alright
They’re due for replay, 1998

(Written by Andy Partridge)

Related posts:

It’s Just a Jump to the Left (of Miami) Top 10 Cuba Films

Too Rolling Stoned

Forbidden Voices

Che

This is what it sounds like

By Dennis Hartley

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RIP Prince 1958-2016

Do I believe in God, do I believe in me?

Some people want to die so they can be free

I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same

Do you want to play?

2016…the year the music died. Or at least it’s starting to feel that way. It’s all too much.

What can you say about Prince Rogers Nelson? If anyone could be labelled the “American David Bowie”, I’d wager this ever-evolving musical chameleon comes damn close. He was a true iconoclast. He was an amazingly gifted songwriter, vocalist and musician who could effortlessly segue from funk to rock, soul to psychedelia, R&B to jazz, hip-hop to techno…you name it. It’s as if he was created by a mad scientist who wanted to see what happens if you take DNA from Sly Stone, Paul McCartney, James Brown, Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder-and toss it all into a super collider.

His foray into cinema was more of a bumpy ride. Still, I have a soft spot for his semi-autobiographical 1984 vehicle, Purple Rain. While it is uneven from a narrative standpoint, the soundtrack is genius, a truly superlative song cycle in Prince’s canon. His 1986 “vanity project” Under the Cherry Moon, however, kind of put the kibosh on his acting career. It challenges Ishtar for title of Most Critically Drubbed Film of All Time. Still, its critics-to-audience score ratio on Rotten Tomatoes tells an interesting story. Only 25% of the critics “liked” it…but the audience score is 69%. As one critic wrote: “Strictly for Prince fans — but then again I am one.” Ditto. Obviously, he struck a chord.

(*sigh*) It’s getting crowded up there. Now George can thank him for this heartfelt solo:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

###

UPDATE:                                                                                                                             Wow. On CNN tonight, even Stevie Wonder was at a loss for words:

(from Newsmax)

Stevie Wonder Thursday described Prince as “a great musician, a great producer, great song writer” — and was nearly overcome with emotion when asked to perform something that reminded him of the music icon who died at age 57.

“I think I would probably break down if I do a song right now,” Wonder told Anderson Cooper on CNN in during an interview from his Los Angeles home.

Prince, who was pronounced dead after collapsing in his Minnesota home, once described Wonder, 65, as a role model and an inspiration. “He was incredible,” Wonder told Cooper. “I’m just glad I was able to say to him I love you the last time I saw him.”

The performers had appeared together on several occasions, including the BET Awards in 2006 and in Paris four years later.

“The times we did jam together were amazing,” Wonder said.

He described Prince as “someone who allowed himself to be himself and encouraged others to be themselves.

“He was very free — and to do what he did without fear was a wonderful thing because it’s always great. It is always great when we don’t allow fear to put our dreams to sleep — and he didn’t.”

Wonder cited 1984’s “Purple Rain” as his favorite — “the whole album was incredible” — adding that Prince “was able to mix the blessing of life of God and, yet, the marriage of sex and passion.

He had fun doing it,” Wonder said. “It is rare for me that I can feel with every single breath how he just passionately loved music.”

UPDATE II:
And now (sadly)…this:

Keith don’t go

By Dennis Hartley

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A wizard, a true star: R.I.P. Keith Emerson 1944-2016

Goddammit. What is the deal with 2016? We’re just over two months in, and I’m feeling like Dave Lister coming out of stasis in Episode 1:

I know its (still) reflexive in some snooty muso quarters to use Emerson, Lake, & Palmer as the whipping boys for 70s excess, but I don’t care…I was an ELP fan then, I am an ELP fan now, and I will be an ELP fan forever. There, I said it. Out, loud and proud. Prog rock rules!

With that said, a shout out now to the memory of one of the gods of the Moog. Keith, wherever you are, know this: Still…you turn me on.

UPDATE: I’m sad to learn that Keith apparently battled depression for several decades, according to friend and band mate Greg Lake:

(from The Sunday Express)

“I have to be honest and say that his [apparent suicide] didn’t come as a shock to me,” [Lake] said.

“The situation with Keith didn’t happen suddenly, it had been developing from as far back as the Works Vol 1 album (1977). 

At that point, I began to see things happening with Keith which didn’t look or feel right.” 

Lake did his best to help his friend – “when you’re close you always hope tomorrow will be better” – but eventually he became “impossible” to work with. 

“I think its a very difficult thing to actually describe what depression is,” [Lake] said. 

[…]

“Part of Keith’s problem was that, especially in later years, he’d begun to develop a degenerative disease that affected his hands. 

He lost control of some of his fingers.” Lake is reluctant to link this illness too firmly to his death. 

[…]

“All I would say is that if anyone does have feelings like that, of being so desperate that they think it’s better off not to wake up tomorrow, then please, go and talk to somebody – the doctor, your friend, anybody.”

Wise counsel. Chronic depression is nothing to be taken lightly; whether it’s yourself or a loved one.  Here are some resources:

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychological Association

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Institute of Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255  (24/7)