In Memory of Otis Redding and His Revolution By Jonathan Gould, The New Yorker


Otis Redding is pictured performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967. Later that year, the multitalented singer, songwriter, and producer died at the age of twenty-six.

Photograph by Bruce Fleming / AP

Fifty years ago, on December 10, 1967, a private plane carrying Otis Redding and the members of his touring band stalled on its final approach to the municipal airport in Madison, Wisconsin, and crashed into the waters of Lake Monona, killing all but one of the eight people onboard. Though Redding was only twenty-six years old at the time of his death, he was regarded by growing numbers of black and white listeners in the United States and Europe as the most charismatic and beloved soul singer of his generation, the male counterpart to Aretha Franklin, whom he had recently endowed with the hit song “Respect.” In the preceding year, on the strength of his triumphant tours of Britain, France, and Scandinavia, his appearances at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and his domineering performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Redding had pushed beyond the commercial constraints of the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” of ghetto theatres and Southern night clubs. He was determined to become the first African-American artist to connect with the burgeoning audience for album rock that had transformed the world of popular music since the arrival of the Beatles in America, in 1964.

Redding’s success with this new, ostensibly hip, predominantly white audience had brought him to a turning point in his career. Thrilled with the results of a throat surgery that left his voice stronger and suppler than ever before, he resolved to scale back his relentless schedule of live performances in order to place a greater emphasis on recording, songwriting, and production. In the weeks before his death, he had written and recorded a spate of ambitious new songs. One of these, the contemplative ballad “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” became his self-written epitaph when it was released as a single, in January of 1968. A sombre overture to the year of the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy, and the election of Richard Nixon as President, the song went on to become the first posthumous No. 1 record in the history of the Billboard charts, selling more than two million copies and earning Redding the unequivocal “crossover” hit he had sought since his début on the Memphis-based label Stax, in 1962. To this day, according to the performance-rights organization BMI, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” remains one of the most frequently played (and streamed) recordings in the annals of American music.

In an age of pop culture replete with African-American superstars like Michael Jackson, Prince, Usher, Bruno Mars, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, it is hard for modern audiences to appreciate how revolutionary the self-presentations of soul singers like Otis Redding were when they first came on the scene. Prior to the mid-fifties, it had simply been taboo for a black man to perform in an overtly sexualized manner in front of a white audience in America. (Female black entertainers, by contrast, had been all but required to do so.) In the South, especially, the social psychology of the Jim Crow regime was founded on a paranoid fantasy of interracial rape that was institutionalized by the press and popular culture in the malignant stereotype of the “black brute,” which explicitly sexualized the threat posed by black men to white women and white supremacy. Born in Georgia in 1941, the same year as Emmett Till, Otis Redding grew up in a world where any “suggestive” behavior by a black male in the presence of whites was potentially suicidal.

This dire imperative began to change with the proliferation of black-oriented radio stations, in the nineteen-fifties, which enabled rhythm-and-blues singers like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Ray Charles to sell large numbers of their records, sight unseen, to white teen-agers. Yet it was significant that these early black crossover stars were piano players, who performed behind keyboards, and whose sexuality was further qualified, in Domino’s case, by his corpulence; in Charles’s case, by his blindness; and, in Richard’s case, by the effeminacy that he deliberately played up as a way of neutering the threat of his outlandish stage presence. It was no accident that the one black crossover star of the nineteen-fifties who made no effort to qualify his sexuality, the guitarist Chuck Berry, was also the one black star to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, in 1960, on a trumped-up morals charge. By that time, a new contingent of black singers led by Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson was making its mark on white listeners with a more polished style of self-presentation that became the model for Berry Gordy’s carefully choreographed Motown groups.

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RollingStone Interview: Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen


It is not true, in spite of the stories you hear on the street in Ann Arbor, that George “Commander Cody” Frayne burned down his fraternity house. True, the brothers had just thrown him out, but there was always the treehouse next door.

It was quite a treehouse, with several floors which looked down on some of the finest campus scenery at the University of Michigan. “It was really chic to have a beer with me in my treehouse and throw the beer cans down at the sorority house,” the Commander remembers. “It became the social center of campus. That was one nice treehouse. It was my major undergraduate achievement.” But somebody was jealous, and one day George found that the treehouse had been condemned and the tree was coming down. It looked suspiciously like the work of the fraternity, and soon after the demise of the treehouse came the total leveling of the frat house.


But for every story that gets debunked, a few more takes its place. Like the one that has the Commander working as a bodyguard for Louis Armstrong. It’s all hero worship, because Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen are most definitely culture-heroes in Ann Arbor. Take the word “Ozone,” for instance. It’s been a Commander Cody word for a long time coming from one of Billy C’s songs that goes: “One drink of wine/Two drinks of gin/And I’m lost in the Ozone again.” Nowadays the word is everywhere. There is an Ann Arbor comic book called Tales From the Ozone, the word appears on the Commander Cody t-shirt some eight times and it’s an essential part of Ann Arbor vocabulary.

But it was not always thus. Like any good band, the Lost Planet Airmen have had their hard times and paid some dues. The band story is at least as strange as some of the stories making the rounds, and even a bit stranger in places. What follows is the true story of the making of one of the very best unknown rock and roll bands in America today, so hold on, here we go — into the Ozone.


Wim Wenders – Paris Texas – Ry Cooder – Cancion Mixteca with Harry Dean Stanton singing

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Making PARIS, TEXAS with Harry Dean Stanton

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Harry Dean Stanton discusses the making of the film and working with Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, and Natasja Kinski. The transition to leading man and the unorthodox casting of Dean Stockwell and Hunter Carson in this rare interview with the true legend of Hollywood.


Montreal tribute concert for Leonard Cohen


A mural of Leonard Cohen in the Montreal neighborhood that was his home. CreditAndrea Kannapell/The New York Times


Andrea Kannapell, an editor at The Times, made the pilgrimage from New York to Montreal for the tribute concert for one the city’s best known native sons, the musician and poet Leonard Cohen, who died a year ago this month. Here’s her report.

I confess that I went as a neophyte on Cohen, so this was a real voyage of discovery.

A colleague who is a much deeper scholar of his work told me about the tribute concert and connected me to the Leonard Cohen Forum, which offers aficionados the latest about events related to the singer. On a whim, I bought tickets to the concert at the Bell Center and also booked a spot on a tour the day before that was organized by a forum member.

On Sunday morning, more than 100 of us piled into two tour buses by one of the big hotels. People seemed to be from all over — the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, even Andorra and Cyprus.

The atmosphere was of a happy reunion — many of the pilgrims had been attending Cohen events for years, including an every-other-year visit to Hydra, the Greek island Cohen happened onto as a young man. There, he bought a house, wrote, and had one of his most iconic affairs (that’s the story behind “So Long, Marianne”).

Befitting his songs’ use of sacred terminology and often transcendent tone, our tour was bookended by houses of faith. One early stop was the synagogue of Cohen’s youth, Shaar Hashomayim, and our last was at the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Old Montreal (which plays into “Suzanne”).

At the temple, the very personable cantor, Gideon Zelermyer, gave an entrancing history of Cohen’s relationship with the synagogue and the evolution of the synagogue choir’s backing on “You Want It Darker.”

In the evening, at the 300-year-old chapel, the lights were warm and the altar painting of Mary was resplendent as two performers, Li’l Andy on guitar and Sylvie Simmons (Cohen’s biographer) on ukulele, sang a suite of his songs, elegies of loves indulged and lost, and his somehow uplifting regret.

As a fellow tour-taker, Ute Egle from central Germany, told me later, “If church would be like this, I would go more often.”Here’s a review and a few clips from the tribute concert, which will be televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in January, featuring Sting, k.d. lang, Adam Cohen and Lana Del Rey. The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is presenting a special exhibition of Mr. Cohen’s work and the art he has inspired, including projections of lyrics from his songs on a grain elevator that dominates Montreal’s port, as well as a concert series of full performances of five of his albums.


Van Morrison Announces New Album ‘Versatile’ ~ RollingStone



Van Morrison has announced his upcoming 38th studio album Versatile, which arrives less than three months after the singer released his 37th studio album Roll With the Punches.

While Roll With the Punches, released in September, found Morrison reinterpreting the work of blues and soul legends like Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley and Little Walter, Versatile will see the Irish crooner shifting to jazz standards like George and Ira Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Unchained Melody,” popularized by the Righteous Brothers.

Like Roll With the Punches, the covers are interspersed with Morrison originals; the singer penned seven new songs for Versatile, including an arrangement of the traditional “Skye Boat Song.”

The 16-song Versatile is out on December 1st.

Versatile Track List

1. “Broken Record” (Van Morrison)
2. “A Foggy Day” (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin)
3. “Let’s Get Lost” (Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh)
4. “Bye Bye Blackbird” (Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon)
5. “Skye Boat Song” (Traditional arranged by Van Morrison)
6. “Take It Easy Baby” (Van Morrison)
7. “Makin’ Whoopee” (Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn)
8. “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Cole Porter)
9. “I Forgot That Love Existed” (Van Morrison)
10. “Unchained Melody” (Alex North and Hy Zaret)
11. “Start All Over Again” (Van Morrison)
12. “Only A Dream” (Van Morrison)
13. “Affirmation” featuring Sir James Galway (Van Morrison)
14. “The Party’s Over” (Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne)
15. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (George Cory and Douglass Cross)
16. “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin)

Sonny Rollins Spent A Mythical ‘Night at the Village Vanguard’ 60 Years Ago Today November 3, 2017


Sonny Rollins during the recording of A Night at the Village Vanguard.

Francis Wolff/Blue Note Records

One of the greatest jazz albums ever made was recorded 60 years ago today. It’s A Night at the Village Vanguard, a live date by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, featuring a muscular backdrop of bass and drums. It’s not a carefully plotted concept album, nor a manifesto, but a document with the slangy nonchalance of a conversation overheard on the street, extemporaneous and unburdened. It’s a slice of musical vérité that captures a true master of the form on a good day, in a generous and jocular mood.

At 87, Rollins is an acknowledged eminence in American culture: Earlier this year his archives were acquired by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, and there’s a serious effort afoot to rename the Williamsburg Bridge in his honor.

He’s also legendarily self-effacing, the harshest critic and most reluctant listener of his own past work. By his estimation, he hasn’t heard A Night at the Village Vanguardsince shortly after it was released. But, when I asked him to talk about the album and the circumstances around its creation, he readily obliged.

“The Vanguard was sort of the premier room at that time,” he recalls, speaking by phone from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. “A lot of guys played there, and they all seemed to express the music without any sort of impediment. I felt particularly comfortable.”

In the original liner notes to the LP, released on Blue Note Records in 1958, Leonard Feather notes that it “constitutes a double premiere.” He’s referring to A Night at the Village Vanguard being both the first live documentation of Rollins as a bandleader and the first album recorded the Village Vanguard, a wedge-shaped basement room regarded, then and now, as “one of New York’s foremost havens of contemporary jazz.”


We Can’t Quit You, Hank Williams By Amanda Petrusich ~ The New Yorker


A new bio-pic explores the life of the country singer Hank Williams, pictured here in 1951.

Photograph courtesy Michael Ochs Archives / Getty


In the pantheon of spectacular drunks, Hank Williams surely ranks superlative. By all accounts, his was the sort of drunkenness (injurious, shambolic) that a responsible person would be reluctant to equate with any kind of generative impulse—to link, even tenuously, to the construction of transcendent art. Yet it’s hard to spend any time with Williams’s discography, which consists of thirty-one country-and-Western singles released over a six-year period (augmented, posthumously, by unissued material), and not be felled by the resignation and longing that animate his voice. Obliteration begins to feel like a justifiable, necessary corrective to the sort of suffering his songs express. It’s hard not to eventually catch yourself thinking, “A whiskey might be nice!”

In his short life, Williams was often a repository for other people’s anguish, beckoning it without effort. His fans recognized something broken in his work (four of those thirty-one singles have the word “lonesome” in the title) and equated that recognition with knowing. “I reckon they think I’m some sort of Red Cross,” is how the actor Tom Hiddleston puts it while playing Williams in “I Saw the Light,” a recent bio-pic of the singer. Anger, misery, sorrow, shame: that’s what Hiddleston’s Williams thinks his listeners feel in his work, and what they believe he can soothe.

Country music has long been the terrain of the lonely and the broken-down. That rubbery twang, the baying: it communicates something about the travails of the heart, the way it lurches and somersaults. The animating flash for that pain is often religious—born of friction between what the body wants (whiskey, sex, vengeance) and what the mind has vowed to forsake (whiskey, sex, vengeance). We can circumvent the path toward sin, divert the energy somehow, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to rewire the circuit entirely—to stop wanting. From the gap between what’s desired and what’s indulged, whole songbooks are made.

There’s maybe no better symbolic embodiment of those tensions than Williams, who was born in Alabama, in 1923, and died on New Year’s Day, 1953, in Oak Hill, West Virginia, following a cardiac event in the back seat of his Cadillac. He’d been carried to the car by his driver, coughing and hiccupping, delirious on some combination of beer, morphine, and chloral hydrate, a prescription sedative. In his brief tenure as a performer, Williams sold eleven million records, saw seven lovelorn singles reach No. 1 on Billboard’s country-and-Western chart, and played hundreds of shows. He is still regarded as a pinnacle within the genre, a high-water mark for sad-sack troubadours. What he wanted and what he needed never quite added up.

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The Sheltering Sound By Amanda Petrusich ~ The New Yorker

Paul Bowls was one of America’s great ex-pat writers of the 20 century.  Check out some of his classic novels. His works aren’t exactly nihilistic but his themes centralize the feelings that none of us are living our lives on terra firma but wallow in an ocean of sand..



In a 1975 interview, the poet Daniel Halpern asked the author and composer Paul Bowles why he’d spent such a significant chunk of his life scrambling about the globe. I imagine Bowles’s speaking voice here as matter-of-fact, exegetic: “I’ve always wanted to get as far as possible from the place where I was born,” he answered (that place was Flushing, Queens, in 1910; he was the only child of a rancorous, unloving father and a meek, bookish mother). “Far both geographically and spiritually. To leave it behind. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.”

What was Bowles darting around after for all those years? Travel invariably expands a person’s parameters, like air huffed into a balloon: there is an intellectual broadening, a widening of the precincts. But there’s a metaphysical utility to that kind of movement, too. Who among us has not left home expressly to find home, casting about for a place that feels like the right place, that isn’t necessarily the ancestral plot but, instead, is where a person feels whole, awake to something, realized?

Bowles first journeyed overseas in 1929, when he excused himself from the University of Virginia and procured a one-way ticket to Paris. Then, in the summer of 1931, at age twenty, he visited North Africa with his friend Aaron Copland, following a provocation from Gertrude Stein. In an unpublished conversation with the poet Ira Cohen—conducted in Morocco in 1965 and now held, with more of Bowles’s papers, in the rare-book and manuscript room at Columbia University—Bowles credits Stein exclusively with his decision to move to Tangier. “And so she told you … she said, ‘Go to Morocco,’ just like that?” Cohen asked. “Go to Tangier,” Bowles corrected. He relocated permanently in 1947, living fifty-two of his eighty-eight years there. He also travelled extensively in Latin America and the Far East. For a brief while, he owned and lived on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, near Sri Lanka.

Tangier had long been a creative lodestone (Matisse travelled there to paint in 1912 and 1913), but by the nineteen-sixties it had reached a kind of oddball zenith. William S. Burroughs typed most of “Naked Lunch” in a motel room in Tangier; the Rolling Stones routinely posted up at El Minzah, an opulent hotel. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were fairly steady patrons of the Tangerinn, one of the city’s oldest, haziest pubs. Tennessee Williams was periodically spotted in the Petit Socco, thumbing a cigarette holder. Bowles would write and publish several novels, short stories, poems, and essays from his home in the upper Medina.

Although Bowles was something of a polymath, and flitted successfully between disciplines (in addition to writing books, he also worked as a composer, first of incidental music for the theatre and later of scores for documentary and art-house films), he’s still best remembered for “The Sheltering Sky,” from 1949, a novel beloved for its deep and echoing evocation of a certain kind of midcentury existential duress. It follows the grim travails of an American couple, Kit and Port Moresby, who, along with a friend, Tunner—Orientalists, all—depart for North Africa on an ill-plotted desert expedition. What happens to them next shakes the faith. I wonder if Bowles had been reading the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, a contemporary, who once asked, “Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?” In an interview with Jay McInerney for Vanity Fair, in 1985, Bowles described the message of his fiction as “Everything gets worse.”


I sometimes think Bowles was attracted to the wildness and density of Tangier as a kind of psychic penance for what the critic Edmund White once called his “dandified distance.” He was, by all accounts, a bit of an emotional recluse. Allen Ginsberg described him as “a little mechanical or remote somewhere.” In a letter to the composer Ned Rorem, written shortly after Bowles’s (platonic) wife, the writer Jane Auer, died, Bowles expresses a nearly tragic stoicism. “What I want is not tranquility, as you put it, and not happiness—merely survival,” he wrote. “Life needn’t be pleasurable or amusing; it need only continue playing its program.” He existed adjacent to others, but he was never fully of them.

Tangier pushed him closer. Bowles’s instinctive reticence was constantly challenged by a culture in which, as White wrote, “few people prized privacy and conformism was more esteemed than individuality.” Bowles already had at least some sense of what truly activated a place, provided its dynamism, its pull. “With few exceptions, landscape alone is of insufficient interest to warrant the effort it takes to see it,” he wrote in the foreword to “Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue,” a collection of travel pieces published in 1963. Mountains were mountains. Cathedrals: same. Even if Bowles resisted it, he understood that the self is elevated only in relation to another.

A romantic might go so far as to suggest that home is in fact an internal landscape, actualized via love alone: that a man finds his place only by finding his person or his people. For Bowles in the nineteen-fifties, I suspect that center was music. His people, musicians


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Fats Domino, Rock and Roll Pioneer, Dead at 89 ~ RollingStone


Fats Domino, rock and roll pioneer who penned classics like “I’m Walkin” and “Ain’t That a Shame” and popularized “Blueberry Hill,” has died at 89. Everett Collection


Fats Domino, the genial, good-natured symbol of the dawn of rock and roll and the voice and piano behind enduring hits like “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” died Tuesday at the age of 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish coroner’s office in Louisiana, confirmed his death to the Associated Press.

A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Domino was among the first acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was reportedly only second to Presley in record sales thanks to a titanic string of 11 top 10 hits between 1955 and 1960.


Those hits, which also included “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walking to New Orleans,” sounded like nothing that came before. Thanks to his New Orleans upbringing, Domino’s signature songs fused Dixieland rhythms, his charming, Creole-flecked voice, and his rolling-river piano style. His hits, most co-written with his longtime producer and partner Dave Bartholomew, became rock standards, covered by Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, Randy Newman, Ricky Nelson, and John Lennon, among many others. Lennon, who remade “Ain’t That a Shame” (first called “Ain’t It a Shame” on Domino’s recording) on his 1975 Rock & Roll album, said the song had special meaning for him: It was the first tune he ever learned to play, on a guitar bought for him by his late mother. “It was the first song I could accompany myself on,” he said in 1975. “It has a lot of memories for me.”

“After John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Fats Domino and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, were probably the greatest team of songwriters ever,” Dr. John told Rolling Stone in 2004. “They always had a simple melody, a hip set of chord changes, and a cool groove. And their songs all had simple lyrics; that’s the key.” Domino himself, who preferred to let his music rather than image do the talking, was typically modest about his accomplishments: “Everybody started callin’ my music rock and roll,” he once said, “but it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”

Born in 1928, Antoine Domino was playing piano and performing in New Orleans honky tonks and bars by the time he was a teenager. At 14, he dropped out of high school, taking jobs like hauling ice and working at a bedspring factory as a way to supplement his music. Domino’s career was effectively kicked off at New Orleans Hideaway Club. While playing piano in local bandleader Billy Diamond’s band, Diamond nicknamed Antoine “Fats” — partly in homage to keyboard-playing predecessors like Fats Waller and partly because, as Diamond told one crowd, “I call him ‘Fats,’ ‘cause if he keeps eating, he’s going to be just as big!” Domino was initially hesitant about the nickname, but it stuck.



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