Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

Goodbye To Bobby J.

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

The murmurs started at Facebook Monday or maybe over the weekend. No one had heard from Bobby Jameson for a while. Was he okay?

Jameson, the mercurial musician whose 1960s music I’d written about during the first year or so of this blog, had a habit of deleting his Facebook page and going away for a while. Someone would say something that offended him, and he’d walk away from FB for a while. But in a day or two, he’d start up again, sending friend requests to me and the hundreds of other people who were his FB friends and who read his poetry and his blog posts and listened to the hours of music – most of it never previously released – that he put up at YouTube.

There were good reasons for his getting annoyed and offended. He suffered from horrible headaches, and that gave him a short fuse. In recent months, both his brother Bill and his mother had passed on, and he was still grieving. And as anyone who spends even a small amount of time online knows, the world is full of idiots and vipers, people who find their satisfaction in either telling people what they should do or in putting other folks down in utterly cruel ways.

Having survived the 1960s craziness of Hollywood/Los Angeles and the strain of life on the streets, and being in recovery from substance abuse for more than forty years, Bobby knew that sometimes the best thing one can do when confronted by idiots and vipers is to walk away. So he often cut ties with his friends and came back a few days later, mending most of those ruptures and starting over again.

But when folks in Bobby’s collection of friends online noticed that he hadn’t posted a thought, a poem or a tune for a while, the questions started and the murmurs grew louder. And two days ago, on Tuesday, the word spread from friend to friend, from page to page: Bobby Jameson was gone. It happened a week earlier, on Tuesday, May 12.

Bobby’s brother Quentin posted yesterday on Bobby’s page: “I especially want all to know that Bob did not harm himself. He had an aneurism in his descending aorta. He was clear headed to the end. He made (I think) a good choice not to opt for a risky surgery, which would, at best, have left him disabled in a nursing home for a few more years. He died true to his own rules of sobriety, honesty, and independence; a warrior’s death.”

From what I understand, it was my 2007 commentary on Bobby’s 1969 album, Working!, that spurred him to join the online world. A couple of people at Bobby’s FB page and at mine have mentioned that in the past few days. One of his friends noted, “[A]lthough he cursed that decision many times, I’m not sure he would have ever done it any differently. I am glad he had the chance to speak up about the past, write his own blog, and begin working through the feelings of all that had happened to him.”

It was through Bobby’s online presence – his blog, his YouTube channels (here and here) and his Facebook page – that I’ve become friends over the years with a large number of people, some of whom knew him in his Los Angeles days, some of whom knew him during the darker days of the early 1970s, and some who’ve met him since. And we’re all grieving.

I never met Bobby Jameson in person, but in the way that the world works today, our online connection made him my friend and my brother. I’m going to miss him, sharp corners and all.

One of the things that pleased me most during the early days of our friendship was that shortly after my piece on Working! brought us together, he shipped me an mp3 of his cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona,” a 1968 track that had been recorded for Working! but was ultimately trimmed from the 1969 album. I was touched that he’d trust me with it and allow me to share it with readers in this space. Here’s one of the two videos he made over the past few years for the track.

Like Nancy & Lee On Acid?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Once again, things that I might have known, things that I maybe should have known, and things that I wish I had known coalesce, just because I looked at the entries in the lower levels of a Billboard chart.

The chart in question was from February 24, 1968, forty-seven years ago today, when I was fourteen and liked hearing the No. 1 record of the day, the sublime “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat. I also liked the No. 10 record, the Lettermen’s medley, Medley: “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The rest of the Top Ten – the Classics Four, the Temptations, Otis Redding, the Lemon Pipers and the rest – were of little interest to me.

I was still very much an Easy Listening kid (or, in today’s parlance, an Adult Contemporary kid, a label I probably would have liked very much).

So even though I knew most of the stuff on the top of the chart – and learned to like a lot of it in the years to come – there are, as always, records on the bottom of the chart that I never heard back then (and that I generally never hear until I do one of these posts). Today, in that chart from 1968, it’s “Dr. Jon (The Medicine Man)” by Jon and Robin & The In Crowd, which was bubbling under at No. 125.

The title intrigued me, so I found a video of the record at YouTube, clicked the play button and found great weirdness:

While I listened, hearing a vague echo of something else, I glanced through the comments, and I saw that a visitor calling himself StudioZ7 had noted: “Sounds like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood on acid.” And I nodded, because that pretty much nailed it. And there’s a similar sort of weirdness, this time with a garage rock foundation, in “Love Me Baby” on the B-side.

The record went to No. 87, a far cry from the first release from Jon & Robin & The In Crowd: “Do It Again A Little Bit Slower” went to No. 18 in June 1967. As familiar as “Do It Again” is, I must have heard it sometime, and it was likely the Jon & Robin version; a quick search for covers in the U.S. comes up blank (though I do find references to covers in Denmark and France without much effort). But I’d certainly forgotten about the record until this week.

It turns out that the duo’s Jon was John Abnor, Jr., and the Abnak label on which the duo recorded was owned by his father, John Abnor, Sr. The label was started, says Wikipedia, mainly as an outlet for the music of young Jon and his partner, Javonne “Robin” Braga. I wonder if that was truly the case, though, as the label’s largest success came from the Five Americans, whose “Western Union” went to No. 5 in April 1967, before Jon & Robin & The In Crowd had seen “Do It Again” enter the chart.

(In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn notes that in 1970, Javonne Braga – “Robin” – married James Wright of the Five Americans. Maybe it was no big deal, but I can’t help wondering if Wright stole that girl away.)

“Do It Again . . .” and “Dr. Jon” were the only records that Jon & Robin – with or without the In Crowd – got into the Hot 100; three other singles, two credited just to Jon & Robin, bubbled under. All five singles are available at YouTube at the #JonAndRobin channel, and all five of them are on the 2006 CD Do it Again: The Best of Jon & Robin. (A sixth single, “Hangin’ From Your Lovin’ Tree,” is listed in Top Pop Singles but is credited to simply the In Crowd, and it’s not on the CD.)

‘Going Down The Stoney End . . .’

Friday, February 20th, 2015

The Texas Gal and I were killing time between television shows the other night. She played a game on her laptop while I read a copy of Rolling Stone as the Seventies channel on the TV provided the soundtrack. There was a flourish of drums followed by a ringing piano introduction, and Barbra Streisand sang:

I was born from love and my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the good book Jesus
Till I read between the lines
Now I don’t believe I wanna see the morning

And as I listened to Streisand deliver “Stoney End,” one of Laura Nyro’s (perhaps) less cryptic songs, I wondered who played piano on the track, as the piano intro and the later piano fills are two of the things that make me like the record more than I like a lot of Streisand’s work. So when the song ended, I went to the stacks to check out the Stoney End album jacket, but it turns out I don’t have the vinyl of the 1971 album. All I have is a digital copy scavenged from somewhere, and the album credits I find online list several keyboard players, so I don’t know who to thank for that chiming intro on “Stoney End.”

At that point, this post could have gone several different ways. I could assess Streisand’s work in detail, but I gave a brief assessment of my reaction to her work in a 2010 post about a drive-in movie date gone wrong, and nothing has changed my view that Streisand’s career went off the rails – artistically, at least – in 1977 with the ego-trip film A Star Is Born. (The Texas Gal dates the artistic derailment a bit later, with the 1983 release of Yentl. We both agree that early in her career – the 1960s – Streisand was a great interpreter of songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook.)

And I didn’t really want to turn my interest in Streisand’s “Stoney End” into a post on the late Laura Nyro’s music. You’ve heard folks say about Bob Dylan, “A great songwriter, but man, I cannot stand to listen to him sing,” right? I feel a little bit like that about Laura Nyro: I love her songs, as inscrutable as they may sometimes be, but on too many of her recordings, she sounds shrill to me, so even though I have a little of her work around, I rarely listen to it. Happily enough for today’s exercise, Nyro’s take on “Stoney End” – found on the 1967 album More Than A New Discovery – is one of her better performances, and I quite like it.

So, with both of those versions of “Stoney End” echoing in my ears, I wondered about other versions of the song. And in the past few days, I’ve found nine other covers of the Nyro song, almost all of them jammed between the years 1967 – when Nyro released her version – and 1972, when Bert Kaempfert released, on his album 6 Plus 6, the only easy listening version of the tune I’ve found. (Maynard Ferguson also released an instrumental version of the tune, his coming on his self-titled 1971 album, but being a typically bold and brassy Maynard Ferguson track, one can’t classify it as easy listening.)

From what I find online, the first to cover “Stoney End” were the Blossoms, an R&B backing group with a massive list of credits but perhaps best known for having Darlene Love as one of its members and for being the actual performers on a couple of Phil Spector productions that were credited to the Crystals. The Blossoms recorded “Stoney End” in 1967 for the Ode label. Sharp-eared listeners will note that Love did not take the lead vocal; one of the comments at YouTube notes that in her autobiography (My Name Is Love), Love wrote, “Some of the chorus parts were too high for me, so Jean [Thomas] took the lead.”

Actress and singer Peggy Lipton – whose musical career I examined in a post last summer – recorded the tune in 1968, also for the Ode label, and one doesn’t need to have very sharp ears at all to realize that producer Lou Adler laid Lipton’s vocals over pretty much the same backing track as he’d put together for the Blossoms a year earlier. Lipton’s single release of “Stoney End” was the first one to tickle the Billboard charts, bubbling under the Hot 100 at No. 121. (Streisand’s 1970 single release is the only other version of the song to chart; it went to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

A few more covers came along as the 1960s waned and the 1970s dawned: Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys recorded the song for their 1968 album Linda Ronstadt, The Stone Poneys & Friends, Vol. III, Diana Ross recorded the song during the sessions for her self-titled 1970 album, but the track didn’t see the light until 2002, when it showed up as a bonus track, and jazz singer Selena Jones laid down her take on the tune on her 1971 album, Platinum.

And a couple of singers in recent years have recorded the song for tribute albums: Beth Nielsen Chapman added her idiosyncratic take on “Stoney End” to the multi-artist album Time And Love – The Music Of Laura Nyro in 1997, and Broadway singer Judy Kuhn included “Stoney End” on her own tribute album, Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro, released in 2007.

Of the covers noted in those last two paragraphs, only one stands out to me: The 1968 version by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. (And many thanks to reader and pal Yah Shure for providing the mp3 to make the video below.)

Saturday Single No. 425

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

I got a new toy for Christmas: an iPod Nano.

For about eight years, my portable music player has been a little Zen V-Plus made by a company called Creative. The Texas Gal and I picked up two of them at our local Circuit City outlet and then loaded them with our favorite tunes. Not many tunes, however. The Zens each had a two gigabyte capacity, and all one of them would hold was about 340 tracks.

But that served my needs at the time (and its price was reasonable). I’d tell the software to load a random sample from the mp3 shelves, and a couple months later, I’d dump those tunes and reload. When I started the long Ultimate Jukebox project in early 2009, I limited the Zen’s contents to just the 228 tracks I’d included in that project, and for the next nine months, those were the tunes I heard when the Zen was playing.

So how often did I use it? Out of the house, not often. I’d take it along when I had to take Mom to the doctor or dentist, but that was about it. At home, it pretty much stayed in the kitchen, where I plugged it into a small boombox that sits atop a bookcase, and there it provided – as I’ve written before – the music for my kitchen dancing as well as for the Facebook posts about dishwashing music.

But for Christmas, the Texas Gal – who’s had an iPod Touch for about four years now – decided that I would move up a few notches. And so I have, although in terms of music stored, it’s more like 2,300 notches, at least. As I said, the Zen had a capacity of two gig. Well, the Nano holds 16 gig of info, and that’s my guesstimate of how many additional tunes I’ll be able to get on the new player.

Not all of the tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox will end up on the Nano. Over the years, I’ve come to tire of a few of them as the Zen tossed them into the kitchen mix. But most of the tunes that I’ve had on the Zen will make the trip with me, as will many, many new ones. And it’s been selecting the new ones that’s been both fun and tedious.

I didn’t want to convert the entire library of 80,000 mp3s to the iTunes format, so I’ve been going through the alphabetized folders of mp3s one by one, scanning the names of artists as I go. When I dig into an artist’s folder and find a tune I want in the new player, I copy it to a separate folder, and when I have the harvest from two or three letters of the alphabet in that separate folder, I dump that harvest into iTunes, and from there, iTunes will sync it into the Nano.

I’m in the middle of the “R” folder now. The last tune I dropped into the “To Go To iPod” folder was Johnny Rivers’ “Going Back To Big Sur.” And since it’s always good to listen to Johnny Rivers, especially anything from his 1968 album, Realization, “Going Back To Big Sur” is today’s Saturday Single.

Keys

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

I have four key rings, but two of them get little use. One ring has only one key on it, the key to the Nissan Versa that I usually drive. It’s the ring with the fob that locks and unlocks the door and blows the horn.

Key ring No. 2, a leather and metal concoction emblazoned with the first initial of my first name, is mainly for the house key, though it holds three other keys. One of those is the key to my bicycle lock, a lock that sadly gets little use these days, as my Schwinn Typhoon has been sequestered in the basement for a few years. I always intend to haul it upstairs into the garage in spring, fill its tires and ride it through the warm months. Perhaps next year.

There are two other keys on key ring No. 2. One is for a Master padlock, but I have no idea where the padlock is. The last time I recall seeing it was in August 1991 when I used it to lock the sliding back door of the rental truck while moving from Columbia, Missouri, to the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park. It’s no doubt in a box somewhere, but all I know this morning is that five house keys have come and gone from that key ring – each replaced by another – since I last used the padlock.

The fourth key on the “G” key ring is also for a padlock, I think, this time a Curtis brand. I think that was for the lock on one of Mom’s storage units, the one we no longer use since we merged her two units into one storage unit in the small town of Sartell north of here.

And that brings us to key ring No. 3, one that promotes a local auto dealer. That one holds the key to the storage unit in Sartell, and I keep it in the fanny pack that I carry with me almost every place I go. That key ring also has three other keys on it, and I’m not sure what they’re for. I think they’re a house key and two copies of the mail key from the house Mom owned before she moved into the assisted living center more than eight years ago.

Key ring No. 4 is a souvenir I bought some years ago when the Texas Gal and I went to an exhibit in the Twin Cities of artifacts from the tomb of King Tut and other Egyptian pharaohs. I had no need of a key ring, but it looked nice and I wanted some kind of souvenir from the exhibit. (I also bought a CD of the Egyptian-inspired ambient music that was playing in the background for the exhibit.) These days, key ring No. 4 is home to my keys for our second car, a Chevy Cavalier.

Right now, key ring No. 4 is with the Texas Gal at her office, as she was unable this morning to find her collection of keys, which consists of a lanyard with perhaps as many as five different key rings attached. All her current keys are in that jumble, along with keys for locks she no longer needs to open, some of those dating back perhaps twenty years. (We spoke on the phone soon after she reached her office. She found her keys in the bottom of her computer bag and not in the purse where she generally keeps them.)

I said at the beginning of this recitation that I have four key rings. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I have four current key rings. I’m sure that in a box or two, I would find one or two or more key rings with more keys for locks long gone. I certainly have a set somewhere for the house over on Kilian Boulevard, a place I left in 1976 and which Mom left in 2004.

And I get the sense as I write this that I could retrace the story of my life through the keys I’ve kept and the locks I’ve left behind. That’s something to ponder, and as we do so, we can listen to “Keeper Of The Keys,” an anthem from Brewer & Shipley’s 1968 album Down In L.A.

Jerryo’s Boo-Ga-Loos

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

When I’m out wandering the Interwebs, looking at lists, checking out blogs or clicking from link to link at YouTube, there are many names in the musical universe that catch my eye and make me either stop or click back to see what I’ve missed. Among those names are those of Funk Brothers Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson, drummer and bassist, respectively, and the foundation of much of Motown’s 1960s musical genius.

They popped up again today as I was idly sorting through videos of singles from the Billboard Hot 100 from September 30, 1967, which happened to be my sister’s seventeenth birthday. Sitting at No. 1 on that long-ago day was “The Letter” by the Box Tops. Anchoring the Hot 100 from its Bubbling Under spot at No. 135 was “Been So Nice” by the Righteous Brothers.

And just eleven spots north of “Been So Nice” was “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” a release on the Shout label by a performer calling himself Jerryo. I’d heard of neither the record nor the performer, so I headed to YouTube. The first video of the record I found was a little off in its sound, so I kept clicking, but not until I read that first video’s statement that the Funk Brothers, including Benjamin, Jamerson and pianist Popcorn Wylie, had provided the backing for Jerryo on “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo.”

It’s well known, of course, that the Funk Brothers frequently moonlighted, working sessions for record labels other than Motown, a practice that just as frequently annoyed Motown’s Berry Gordy. And I suppose that the moonlighting practices of Bemjamin, Jamerson and the rest are now so legendary that their names have been appended all over the Internet to music they had no part in making. So it was with a grain or two of salt that I listened to “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” this morning. And all I can say is that it sounds like Benny Benjamin on the drums, and – perhaps a little less definitively – like James Jamerson on the bass.

Shout was a subsidiary of the Bang label and the listings at Discogs.com show releases – nearly all 45s – starting in 1966 and ending in 1975. Scanning the list of singles at that site, I see two that are familiar to me: Freddy Scott’s “Are You Lonely For Me” from 1966 and Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” from 1967. I’ve no doubt heard others but evidently not frequently enough to know them by their titles.

Jerryo, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, was actually Jerry Murray, who with Robert “Tommy Dark” Tharp made up the duo of Tom & Jerrio (and why the spelling is different, I have no idea). Before Jerry’s single was released on Shout, the duo had two records on ABC-Paramount: “Boo-Ga-Loo” went to No. 47 (No. 11 on the R&B chart) in the spring of 1965 and “Great Goo-Ga-Moo-Ga” bubbled under at No. 123 for one week in August of that year.

“Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” went to No. 51 (No. 16 R&B), and I thought for a minute about the reasons for including the word “karate” in its title. It seems to me, based on vague memories, that pop culture at the time was going through one of its occasional fascinations with Asian martial arts. I have no specific memories or citations on which to base that, except that the cheap aftershave called Hai Karate, also trading on our fascination with those martial arts, showed up on shelves during the same year, 1967, a memory confirmed at Wikipedia.

As for Jerryo, he had one more single get some airplay: “Funky Boo-Ga-Loo” spent one week at No. 40 on the R&B chart in early 1968. Are there Funk Brothers there? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

A Bunch Of ‘Sorry’ Songs

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I have a friend who’s been looking for a used printer, and I told that friend Sunday that I’d send her the phone number and email address of Dale the Computer Guy down on Wilson Avenue.

I forgot.

I sent the info yesterday in an apologetic email, and this morning, I got back a kind email saying my delay was not a problem. But it got me to wondering how many recordings among the 75,000 currently logged into the RealPlayer have the word “sorry” in their titles.

I was surprised. There are only thirty-eight such recordings (and one album: the Gin Blossoms’ 1996 effort Congratulations I’m Sorry). Those recordings span the years, however, starting with the 1935 single “Who’s Sorry Now” by Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies and ending with a 2013 version of the same song recorded by Karen Elson for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.

Here’s the western swing version from Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies:

It’s worth noting that “Who’s Sorry Now” seems to be a pretty sturdy song. Written by Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, it was first recorded in 1923 by a number of folks including Isham Jones (whom we met here last autumn when we were listening to versions of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”), and according to the information at SecondHand Songs, it’s been recorded several times in every decade since then except the 1930s (and I’ll bet there are recordings from that decade that have not yet been listed at the website). The most recent version noted there before Elson’s 1920s-styled take on the tune is one from Mary Byrne, a 2010 contestant in the United Kingdom’s version of the singing contest, The X Factor.

But what else did we find when searching for “sorry”? Well, the second-oldest recording stashed here in the EITW studios with “sorry” in its title is from 1951, when Johnny Bond saw his “Sick, Sober & Sorry” go to No. 7 on the Billboard country chart. And the second most-recent is from quirky singer-songwriter Feist, whose “I’m Sorry” was released on her 2007 album, The Reminder.

Looking chronologically, and picking one track from each decade from the 1950s on, we find some gems: “I’m Sorry” by the Platters went to No. 11 on the Billboard jukebox chart and to No. 15 on the R&B chart in 1957. (And yes, we doubled up on the 1950s, considering we’d hit the Johnny Bond record, but it’s worth it for the Platters.) From 1962, we find “Someday After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry)” by bluesman Freddy King (a departure from his normal “Freddie” spelling).

In the 1970s, we find the funky “Both Sorry Over Nothin’” from Tower of Power’s 1973 self-titled album. The pickings in the files from the 1980s are pretty slender, so we’ll skip over one track each by the Moody Blues and the Hothouse Flowers and head to the 1990s. And that’s where we find the atmospheric “Not Sorry” by the Cranberries from their 1993 album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

And we have one more stop with “sorry,” heading back to 1968 and the regrets expressed by the HAL 9000 computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me . . .’

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

A couple of years ago, while playing around with the CD burning software here in the EITW studios, I put together a CD of tunes that have touched me deeply over the years, most of them love songs of one form or another. A good number of the twenty or so tunes on the CD can be attached in my memory to one specific woman or girl; some of them can’t. (The last two tunes on the CD belong to the Texas Gal: “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House and “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison. I’m not sure how I missed Darden Smith’s “Loving Arms.”)

One of the tunes on that CD that isn’t attached to a specific young lady is “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Diana Ross & The Supremes and the Temptations, a No. 2 hit in early 1969 (No. 2 on the R&B chart as well). I was still some months away from being a devoted Top 40 listener, but I know I heard “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from radios around me often enough for the record to get inside me and certainly enough for me to wonder how it would feel to feel that way and to be so assured that the object of one’s affection could be won over.

The song was written in 1966 by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Jerry Ross, one of those things that Gamble and Huff came up with, as my pal jb says in a recent post at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, “before they were Gamble and Huff.” The first to record the song, according to SecondHandSongs, was Dee Dee Warwick. Her version, released in late 1966, went to No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 13 on the R&B chart.

Versions from 1967 by Jerry Butler and Madeline Bell also pre-dated the Supremes/Temptations version. Butler’s version did not chart; I don’t know that I’ve heard it although I may have it on one or more of the two hundred or so anthology LPs that have never been indexed. Bell’s version went to No. 26 on the pop chart and to No. 32 on the R&B chart. I like it better than Warwick’s but not nearly as well as I do the Supremes/Temptations’ cover, which is not surprising; it seems that the first version of a song we hear frequently is the version that stays with us.

SecondHandSongs lists twenty additional versions since the Supremes and the Temptations recorded their cover of the song; there are additional versions listed (and available) at Amazon and other emporia, I’m sure. The list at SHS includes some expected names: Gladys Knight & The Pips, the Chi-Lites in 1969, Candi Staton (with Dave Crawford) in 1978, B.J. Thomas, the Lettermen, Michael McDonald and Nancy Wilson, to name a few. There are some unfamiliar names, too: Shane Richie, Lucy Hale and Mica Paris are three of them. (I imagine I should perhaps know those names, but there’s too much music out there for even one seriously addicted man to hear.)

The song also attracted some of the easy listening crowd. An indifferent cover by Paul Mauriat showed up quickly this morning on YouTube, and a few pages back, there was a 1969 cover of the tune by Peter Nero. That one I liked quite a lot:

‘Nightfall’

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God! – Ralph Waldo Emerson

John W. Campbell, the editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction (later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from late 1937 until his death in 1971, didn’t agree with Emerson. Rather, he said, “I think men would go mad.”

That contention formed the basis for Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story, “Nightfall.” As related in Asimov’s autobiography,* Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after the two discussed Emerson’s quote. And Asimov put together a story that combines psychology, astronomy, archeology and religion, a story that remains potent today, even more than seventy years after its publication. How potent? It’s been some decades since I last read the story, but it’s stayed vivid enough in my memory for me to discuss it at length yesterday with a clerk at a downtown used bookstore.

Asimov’s story takes place on a planet called Lagash. Here’s the synopsis, somewhat abridged and edited, from Wikipedia:

The fictional planet Lagash . . . is located in a stellar system containing six suns (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta are the only ones named in the short story), which keep the whole planet continuously illuminated; total darkness is unknown, and as a result so are all the stars outside the planet’s stellar system.

A group of scientists from Saro University begin to make a series of related discoveries: Sheerin 501, a psychologist, researches the effects of prolonged exposure to darkness; Siferra 89, an archaeologist, finds evidence of multiple cyclical collapses of civilization which have occurred regularly about every 2000 years, and Beenay 25 is an astronomer who has discovered irregularities in the orbit of Lagash around its primary sun. Beenay takes his findings to his superior at the university, Aton, who formulated the Theory of Universal Gravitation. This prompts the astronomers at Saro University to seek the cause of this anomaly. Eventually they discover that the only possible cause of the deviation is an astronomical body that orbits Lagash.

Beenay, through his friend Theremon 762, a reporter, has learned some of the beliefs of the group known as the Cult. They believe the world would be destroyed in a darkness with the appearance of stars that unleash a torrent of fire. Beenay combines what he has learned about the repetitive collapses at the archaeological site, and the new theory of potential eclipses; he concludes that once every 2049 years the one sun visible is eclipsed, resulting in a brief “night.” His theory is that this “night” was so horrifying to the people who experienced it that they desperately sought out any light source to try to drive it away, particularly by frantically starting fires which burned down and destroyed their successive civilizations.

Since the current population of Lagash has never experienced general darkness, the scientists conclude that the darkness would traumatize the people and that they would need to prepare for it. When nightfall occurs, however, the scientists (who have prepared themselves for darkness) and the rest of the planet are most surprised by the sight of hitherto invisible stars outside the six-star system filling the sky. Unfortunately, because the inhabitants of Lagash never saw other stars in the sky, their civilization had come to believe that their six-star system contained the entirety of the universe. In one horrifying instant, anyone gazing at the night sky – the first night sky which they have ever known – is suddenly faced with the reality that the universe contains many millions upon billions of stars: the awesome, horrifying realization of just how vast the universe truly is drives them insane. The short story concludes with the arrival of the night and a crimson glow that was “not the glow of a sun,” with the implication that societal collapse has occurred once again.

I first came across “Nightfall” in the early 1970s, when nearly all of my leisure reading was science fiction, clearing the shelves of the work of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury (whose fiction, as I’ve noted here before, frequently crossed the barrier into fantasy) and any other writer whose work crossed my path in company with the work of those four giants. And one day, I chanced in a bookstore to find a volume titled The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. And in its pages, I found “Nightfall.”

It turns out that, in 1965, the Science Fiction Writers of America had established the Nebula Awards, a science fiction equivalent of the Grammys or the Oscars. (The Nebula Awards thus joined the Hugo Awards given by the World Science Fiction Society since 1953.) And in 1968, in an attempt to honor deserving work published before the Nebula Awards were established, the American writers group selected the contents of, and then published, three volumes of its Hall of Fame: one volume of short stories and two of novellas. I had chanced upon the first volume, and in its foreword, I believe, it was noted that of all the short stories selected for the Hall of Fame, Asimov’s “Nightfall” had received the most votes and was thus considered the best science fiction story written before 1965.

I finished the first volume, concurring with the voters’ opinions about the quality of “Nightfall,” and I soon bought and read the two companion volumes. About twenty-five years later, during my scuffling in the mid-1990s, I sold the three volumes and the rest of my science fiction collection so that my cats could eat. In recent years, I’ve thought about replacing those three volumes, perhaps in hardcover. And I’ve pondered the tale of “Nightfall” at various and odd times over the years; like all good fiction, it’s stayed with me. And in an entirely unexpected manner, it came back into my life again yesterday.

I had books to return to the public library, and the Texas Gal and I had things to get at the grocery store, so I thought I’d run to the library, find something new to read and then pick her up from work. A fine plan, except that the library was closed for yesterday’s Presidents Day holiday. I put my books into the exterior book drop and looked at my watch. I had more time available than I wanted to spend sitting in the car with nothing to read, and not quite enough time to make it worthwhile to go home. So I headed to the used bookstore on St. Germain, a couple blocks upstream from the Texas Gal’s office, looking for something in paperback that I’d not read before or at least for a few decades.

I’d recently posted at Facebook a meme offering a cogent quote from Isaac Asimov, so I headed to the beginning of the science fiction shelves. And I found Nightfall, a 1990 novel written by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, another name well-remembered from my early 1970s’ science fiction binge. The blurb on the back cites the 1941 short story, and goes on: “But the short story isn’t the whole story. Now, Dr. Asimov has teamed with multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Robert Silverberg to explore and expand one of the most awe-inspiring concepts in the history of science fiction. In this novel, you will witness Nightfall – and much more. You will learn what happens at Daybreak.”

There are a few changes: The planet is now called Kalgash, and the suns have different names, but there are familiar characters beginning to face familiar circumstances. I’m forty pages in, and I’m hooked.

And to close this with music, here’s the spare and somewhat unsettling track “Nightfall” by the Incredible String Band. It’s the last track on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, which came out, coincidentally, the same year as that first volume of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: 1968.

*Wikipedia does not specify which of Asimov’s autobiographies includes the tale of the writing of “Nightfall.” Asimov wrote three autobiographies, and after his 1992 death, his widow, Janet Jeppson Asimov, edited the three into one volume, supplemented with some of the writer’s letters. That fourth volume is titled It’s Been A Good Life.

‘You’re Never Too Old To Change The World . . .’

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Pete Seeger passed away yesterday. His story is well told in today’s edition of the New York Times (and told in great detail at Wikipedia), and I thought that instead of trying (and failing) to tell the whole story this morning, I’d just share a few moments of Seeger’s musical life and heritage.

Seeger was a founding member of the Weavers, the early 1950s folk group that had a No. 1 hit with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and was blacklisted for its liberal leanings during the 1950s Red Scare. This is the Weavers’ 1950 recording of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” written by Seeger and fellow Weaver Lee Hayes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Seeger was considered by many to be a dangerous man. As Wikipedia relates, “In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.”

Seeger’s songs and music were without doubt popular and important far beyond the reach of radio and pop music. Still, in the 1960s, a few of his songs provided hits. “If I Had A Hammer” was a hit for both Trini Lopez (No. 3, 1963) and Peter, Paul & Mary (No. 10, 1962). (It’s likely, for what it may matter, that Lopez’ version of the song is the first Pete Seeger song I ever heard, as a copy of Lopez’ single came home with my sister one day in one of those record store grab bags of ten singles for a dollar. I still have the single, with “Unchain My Heart” on the flipside.) The Byrds (No. 1, 1965) and Judy Collins (No. 69, 1969) reached the charts with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was a hit for the Kingston Trio (No. 21, 1962) and Johnny Rivers (No. 26, 1965), while a version by guitarist Wes Montgomery bubbled under the chart (No. 119, 1969).

Perhaps the greatest attention Seeger got in the 1960s was when he was scheduled to perform his Vietnam allegory, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” on the CBS television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in September 1967. Wikipedia notes, “Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers’ Brothers show in the following January.” Here’s that January 1968 performance:

This morning, after I heard the news of Seeger’s passing, I dug around at YouTube for something different to post at Facebook. I came across a mini-documentary detailing how Seeger came to recite Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” for the 2012 collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. It’s a piece that tells as much about Seeger as it does about the recording he was invited to make. I was especially moved at the end of the piece when one of the Rivertown Kids, the Seeger-organized choir of young people involved in the recording, seemed to sum up Seeger’s life about as well as can be done: “You’re never too old the change the world.”