I took a road trip with “Born to Run” yesterday. It’s the 40th anniversary of Bruce’s groundbreaking album, and there’s no better way to experience it than by blasting it in your car, with the windows open and the wind blowing back your hair. Cars and tunnels and backstreets and highways are just as central to the LP’s cast of characters as the losers and loners and tramps. There’s SO much to say about the sound of the music on “Born to Run.” But writing about music is like dancing about architecture, someone once said. You just can’t do it justice. So, I’ll stick with the lyrics, because words are something I know a little about. In particular, I want to unravel my thoughts on the LP’s wistful opening song named for the title of a 1958 Robert Mitchum film: “Thunder Road.”
Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown…oops, that’s the name of a Pedro Almodóvar movie. What I meant was, women on the verge of getting married (I guess they’re one and the same) are confronted with many worrisome choices: which gown to buy, which girlfriends to choose as bridesmaids, which obnoxious relatives and co-workers NOT to invite to the ceremony, thus risking eternal damnation. For most, these are choices of dire importance when planning The Big Day. But for me, the issue demanding the utmost consideration involved…what else? Music. Just which song would I choose for our first dance?
Rock blaster Robert Plant, like his Led Zeppelin bandmates, was known to have entertained thousands of groupies in hotel rooms all across the land, back in the day when cocksure male rock gods reigned supreme. But when Elvis came to town, the tables were turned, and Mr. Plant found himself playing the part of adoring groupie. Just what went on behind closed doors between those two? The story goes like this…
That’s what Woodstock attendees might have heard at the end of the festival if Roy Rogers had agreed to close the show. Woodstock organizer Michael Lang wanted Roy to come on after Jimi Hendrix, the guitar phenomenon everyone had been dying to to see.
“People would say ‘You shouldn’t be sayin’ that. You should be talkin’ about country music.’ And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that.” Those words are from country music great Buck Owens, who would have turned 86 today. He was responding to the country purists who accused him of selling out by adding rock elements to his repertoire in the mid-’60s. Most rock fans know that The Beatles recorded a version of Buck’s 1964 hit “Act Naturally,” which featured cowboy-loving Ringo on vocals. But few realize that Buck was a fan of The Beatles even before they chose his song as the B side of “Yesterday.”
If someone had told me back in 1977 that young men barely past their Clearasil years would be saying “What’s your major” to me at age 40, I‘d have said “No way!” Well…”way!” It was all part of my experience as a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where I took some non-credit courses in the summer of 2000. Here’s what I wrote at the end of my first day of classes.
In 1976 the U.S.A. was having a big birthday – its 200th. In the Land of the Free, American rock fans could have their cake and eat it, too. New flavors were popping out of the oven daily, from Punk Pecan to Disco Devil’s Food to bland ol’ Styx-Style White Cake. But the all-time favorite, Arena Deluxe, was still in big demand. Yes, The Ramones, Kansas, and The Bee Gees were poised to explode, but the electric guitar titans weren’t going away any time soon. And Peter Frampton was living proof of that. By the middle of that festive bicentennial summer, nearly every rock fan I knew had a copy of “Frampton Comes Alive,” the two-record set released by the very pretty British singer/guitarist/songwriter. It reached the #1 spot on the U.S. charts on April 10, 1976, and ended up being the biggest LP of the year, selling over 6 million copies and remaining on the American charts for 97 weeks!
“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.” That’s just one of the many funny lines made famous by trailblazing comedian Phyllis Diller, who would have turned 98 today. Did this keen observation of corporate life qualify the flamboyant Phyllis to perform for managers in training? It’s debatable. But every year on her birthday I recall the time in 1969 when Westinghouse Electric Corporation sent a group of newly promoted supervisors, including my father, to watch her nightclub act.
Woody Guthrie, born 103 years ago today, is best known as the dust bowl balladeer who wrote many of America’s most beloved songs, including “This Land Is Your Land.” He was a free spirit and a sprite, a vagabond minstrel who spent his 55 years on earth using music to empower the common man. He wrote of the roads he traveled and the characters he met, of “dusty old dust” and the places he lived on “the wild, windy plains.” He also wrote about a land and a culture far removed from his Tom Joad roots, a place “where the halvah meets the pickle, where the sour meets the sweet.” Yes, folks, it turns out that Woody Guthrie had a Jewish mother-in-law! And folk culture is all richer for it.
He’d have his “superstar” world premiere, of course. On July 12, 1971, the first authorized production of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was staged in my fair city, Pittsburgh, PA. Quite appropriate, actually, considering it’s the birthplace of the man who coined the term superstar: Andy Warhol! The musical starred Jeff Fenholt as a laid-back, hippiefied Jesus, Carl Anderson as a prescient, forewarning Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as a sexy Mary Magdalene. A crowd of 13,000 people turned out to see the play at the city’s domed, space-age Civic Arena, the world’s first major sports/entertainment venue to feature a retractable roof.