Picture this: Good-girl Betty meets motorcycle bad-boy Jimmy at a candy store, where he’s obviously buying candy cigarettes. He turns around and smiles at her. You get the picture? (Who knew that candy stores were such popular pick-up joints in 1964?) But is she really going out with him? Yep, the next thing you know, she takes Jimmy’s ring, wraps her legs ’round those velvet rims, and straps her hands ‘cross his engines (no, wait; that’s another song about an outcast luring a chick to his Harley). Anyway, Daddy tells her to ditch the biker. Alas, the sad, misunderstood Jimmy drives off into the sunset to crash and burn. Oh, the drama, the poignancy, the sound effects! How we all longed for a Jimmy who would self-destruct for us! Yes, folks, I’m talking about the Shangri-Las’ doomed-love classic “Leader of the Pack,” which hit the #1 spot on the Billboard charts 50 years ago today.
Today, as I give thanks for all the people, events and opportunities that have enriched my life, I would also like to acknowledge my gratitude for the cosmic forces that came together in the 20th century to create the music that saved my soul: rock and roll. I am thankful…
Cutting your teeth…honing your skills…paying your dues…(and, my favorite)…making your bones.Whatever you want to call it, Jimi Hendrix did it all in the days prior to achieving eternal super stardom as the greatest rock guitarist of all time. He played for years in backup bands for such American artists as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers and Joey Dee and the Starlighters. He also spent an evening playing backup for English crooner Engelbert Humperdinck and once toured with The Monkees as an opening act. Perhaps more than any other musician in rock history, Jimi Hendrix loved to play. It didn’t matter what, where, when, or with whom.
If you could whittle down The Beatles’ double “White Album” to a single-disc LP, which songs would you include (or toss)? Today, this album is considered iconic among fans and critics. Yet, upon its release, many critics considered the songs somewhat mediocre and purposeless. I played this album till it was nearly grooveless, but when it comes to critical analysis, I believe its content could have used “a damn good whacking,” to borrow a line from George Harrison’s song “Piggies” (a tune I’d cut, by the way).
December 19, 1980: That was the last time I dropped a quarter into a jukebox and had the pleasure of hearing THREE songs. I’m thinking they were “Brass in Pocket,” “Emotional Rescue” and “Romeo’s Tune.” Why would I recollect those kinds of details? Because they relate to a memorable first date, that’s why. In my heyday, jukeboxes and romance went together like woofers and tweeters. On this date in 1889, the world’s first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. The majestic music boxes would go on to provide the soundtrack to many a 20th century romantic rendezvous.
“Turn the station to Letterman. That guy you like, the one who wears the do-rag, is on the show.” That’s my mom calling to tell me that Steven Van Zandt is sitting in the guest seat talking to Dave. Good ol’ mom…always keeping me abreast of rock star sightings. She may not have remembered the name of that head-wrapped wonder, but she knows I’ve been infatuated with him for years – as far back as April 12, 1976, when I saw him at my first-ever rock concert. “Who’s the sharpie?” I wondered, as I watched this nattily-dressed guy play guitar on stage with his boss Bruce Springsteen at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, PA. I hadn’t seen his picture on any of Bruce’s albums. I didn’t even know his name. But I knew at that moment that we were going to be soul mates.
Ten-year-old kids shouldn’t be worrying about the after-effects of unprotected sex, mind-altering drugs, and adult unemployment, but thanks to several artful public service announcements (PSAs) that aired on network television in the early 70s, I once considered pre-booking a room in a nunnery!
“The Iron Curtain.” That was a term I heard often as a kid growing up in the Cold War ’60s. What exactly was this metallic barrier, and who or what was behind it, I wondered. Little did I know that British Prime Minster Winston Churchill had coined the term to refer to the invisible, ideological barrier that separated the free world from the Communist world. But in time, I came to realize that an actual curtain really did exist – one made of concrete. It was called the Berlin Wall, and it held much fascination for me. When I first set foot in the German capital in 1993, my first order of business was a trip to the famous Checkpoint Charlie area to buy up as much memorabilia as I could: from silly touristy things – like a tiny chunk of the demolished wall, encased in plastic, to books detailing the history of the barrier and the incredible stories of East Germans who carried out elaborate schemes to scale or burrow under the wall. But my favorite souvenir is a book that features the incredible amateur graffiti that once adorned the western side of the wall, as well as the more professional paintings that cover the structure’s few remaining remnants. The most famous image of all is known as “The Kiss.”
Ah, you always remember your first time. There I was, in a dimly lit room…body tense and trembling under crisp sheets…heartbeat wild in anticipation…breaths short and shallow…spellbound by my first glimpse of something big, scary, and invasive…a spectacle that would excite me for the rest of my life: the 1935 classic, “The Bride of Frankenstein.” This cinematic masterpiece introduced me to societal rejection, unrequited love, mob mentality, and the tortured soul of the outcast. It’s the grandest monster flick of all time.
I generally consider someone a true artist if he or she has the courage to produce straight-from-the-soul work that is so provocative it’s likely to offend the masses, incite controversy, and, ideally, inspire people to open their minds and question long-held beliefs. When you think of such artists, Puerto Rican singer/songwriter José Feliciano doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, he made an artistic statement 46 years ago this month that was viewed with such contention that it nearly ended his career. His offense? He performed a soulful, Latin jazz version of “The Star Spangled Banner” to kick off the fifth game of the 1968 World Series, a matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers in the Motor City.