Posts Tagged ‘Simply Red’

On Stage

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Well, I was correct last week when I guessed that the butterflies in my stomach would settle down Saturday evening as soon as my friends Lucille and Heather and I began our show Cabaret De Lune. As soon as I walked up the aisle toward the piano for the first of our three performances, I was no longer nervous; I was, however, energized in a way that I haven’t been for years, since I left Jake’s band about fifteen years ago.

But the weekend’s feeling – we did two shows Saturday evening and one Sunday afternoon – was even more potent than I remembered the band’s house parties to be. While many folks paid close attention to our music at those parties, a lot of other people didn’t. This past weekend, though, the audiences’ attention was on the three of us alone. It’s heady stuff.

StudioJeff (located above a bagel shop downtown) has room for about forty spectators, and that space was filled for two of the three performances. And when I spoke, read and sang, the sight and the sense of audience members reacting to (and, as it turned out, generally approving of) words and music I’d crafted thrilled me and amped me up a fair amount. I had a hard time unwinding both days, and Saturday evening I had a hard time getting to sleep.

A few posts back, I hinted vaguely that I’d be talking during our show about the contrast between the autumns of 1971 and 1972. That contrast provided me a focal point for my opening monologue, during which I outlined the main themes of the show: how do we find our identity and our place and how do we sometimes lose our ways?

We’d played some music as the as the audience settled in, and one of the tracks we played and then included in an edited montage as the show began was “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina. It followed excerpts from tunes like Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” Frank Sinatra’s “None But The Lonely Heart,” Graham Nash’s “Be Yourself,” and Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.”

And the audiences nodded in agreement when I noted that the Loggins & Messina tune was out of place in a mix of tracks focused on self-doubt and self-realization. And then I explained why it belonged:

As freshman year began at St. Cloud State in September of 1971, I began hanging out with a bunch of guys I’d met during an overnight orientation. I’ve detailed some of our adventures here over the years; they were familiar ones that included football and basketball games, keggers, and long bull sessions in dorm rooms that covered topics including music, girls and Vietnam. And when the spring of 1972 arrived and my buddies dispersed to their home towns for the summer, I figured that when September rolled around, we’d all get together again and have more great times.

But when the fall quarter of 1972 began, things were different. I didn’t feel as tight with the guys as I had the previous year, and the cast of guys was slightly different. I still spent time with the group on occasion, but I was more and more puzzled as to why it didn’t quite seem right. And then, one Friday evening toward the end of the quarter – mid- to late November, if I recall correctly – I went over to one of the dorms to hang around with a couple of guys named Dave.

The Daves were just hanging around with no specific intent, and the radio was playing Top 40. I sat down and we talked for a while, and after maybe twenty minutes, I suddenly realized I didn’t belong there. So I said my goodbyes and as I left the room and headed down the corridor, the radio was playing “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” And, as I told our audiences over the weekend, for more than forty years that record has reminded me of the moment when I knew I no longer fit in and when I knew as well that I had no idea where I belonged.

And last weekend we took off from there and explored our theme in song, in words, and in dance (because, as I told the audience at the end of my monologue, sometimes your mama does dance). One of the songs that Heather sang (with me on the piano) wasn’t exactly new to me, but I doubt that I’d really listened to it before, and I’m going to go ahead and drop it here (because it would be too easy to share the Loggins & Messina tune). It’s “Sad Old Red” by Simply Red, from the group’s 1985 album Picture Book.

‘If I Was A Master Thief . . .’

Friday, July 29th, 2011

So, which Fourth Street is paved with Bob Dylan’s nastiest thoughts?

When Dylan sneers and slices his way through his 1965 single, “Positively 4th Street,” is he taking aim at the mid-1960s hipsters and posers in New York City’s Greenwich Village? Or is he looking back to the Midwest, slashing and lacerating his way through the remembered slights from his days at the University of Minnesota and its Dinkytown district? Both the Village and Dinkytown have as one of their main thoroughfares a Fourth Street.

I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone besides the Bard of Hibbing knows for sure. The heavy money, I would guess, is on New York City’s Fourth Street, simply because the Village was where Dylan became famous as a folkie and then – after turning to rock – became an infamous pariah among the folk set in the Village. Add that New York was where he was living when the song was written and released as a single, and you might have a case. But I have a sense, and I doubt that I’m alone in this, that when Dylan was writing the song, he was very much aware that there was another Fourth Street in his rear-view mirror and if folks from his Dinkytown days were wounded because they thought the tune was about them, well, that would be okay.

Whatever street provided the inspiration for the song, the song itself provided listeners with a lot to take in. The lyrics – starting with the snarling “You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning.” – have always sounded to me like the 1 a.m. party rant of guy all the guests have been sidestepping all evening. He’s like the character on a new Tarot card for the modern age: The Volatile Man. He’s the one who eventually spews his bitterness over everyone, halting every conversation like an Icelandic volcano grounding air traffic. And he never stops as everyone else makes excuses and heads for the door.

The vitriol makes “Positively 4th Street” a one-of-a-kind rant that went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1965, with a performance that Dave Marsh called “an icy hipster bitch session” that turned out to be “brilliantly poisonous.”

Given the tune and its indelible origins, one would think that cover versions would be scarce. Well, they’re not plentiful, but there are more than I expected. The Byrds took a shot at the song with a live version on their untitled album from 1970, and it’s not bad. Others who’ve recorded the song include the Jerry Garcia Band, Johnny Rivers, Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia, punk band Antiseen, Spirit, Bryan Ferry, Simply Red, Sue Foley, Scottish performer Junior Campbell, Scott Lucas & The Married Men, Lucinda Williams, Deb Callahan, the Stereophonics, the Persuasions, Winston Apple and someone named Farryl Purkiss.

I’ve heard a few of those, and I’m interested in hearing a number of the rest. Williams’ take on the song is, as might be expected, idiosyncratic, and I’ve read a lot of praise for Simply Red’s version, but I find it a little bland both in vocal and in backing. I like very much the version Johnny Rivers presents as the closer to his 1968 album, Realization. But in sorting through the covers I had at hand this morning – and I could spend more time and money digging, but I won’t – I was more pleased than I expected to be with Ferry’s take on the tune.