Little Richard’s Revisionism

Suppose a notorious prostitute gave up her profession, joined a church, went to seminary, became a preacher, established a church, built up it’s membership so that it was able to build a lovely new sanctuary, and then retired.  And suppose that after her retirement, a large group of former customers decided to give her an award for being the best prostitute in the business.

She would refuse, right?  She would prefer that people not even know about her past, but if they did, she would certainly renounce it.  She would publicly return all the money she earned from prostitution to a charity for unwed mothers (or something).

Suppose it was discovered that she financed her new church sanctuary with money she had earned as a prostitute?

Suppose that hundreds of young women read books and articles about her early career and announced that they wanted more than anything to become great prostitutes.

Yes, a very weird story, isn’t it?  It is the story of Little Richard.  Yes it is.

Let me make absolutely career: Little Richard’s rock’n’roll career was not in any manner really prostitution or like prostitution.  I am saying that Little Richard himself, by his own standards as a Christian preacher, came to regard it as such.  Insofar as it goes…

Little Richard was perhaps the greatest genius of the early rock’n’roll era.  If you have never seen a good video of one of his early performances– and I don’t mean just a clip– you must see it.  He is utterly remarkable.  Here’s another.   And another.  He was a whirling dervish of dance and vocals and whoops and hollers and piano, and absolutely mesmerizing.  He excited people so much they sometimes broke into a riot.

Watch Paul McCartney sing for the Beatles in the early years.  You are watching Little Richard.  Watch Mick Jagger, Elvis, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna– all owe an enormous debt to the original, Little Richard.  Even Bob Dylan, someone you would not immediately think of as influenced by Little Richard, listed, in his high school year book, the ambition of joining Little Richard’s band.

And then Little Richard got religion.

Little Richard, who had been brought up in the church, of course, always believed in scripture, in Jesus, in the Ten Commandments and the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t care at first.  He was flamboyant, charismatic, and absolutely homosexual.  He lived the way he wanted.  But in the early 1960’s, he embraced the religion of his upbringing and repudiated rock’n’roll.  He refused to sing any of his hits.  He sang gospel tunes, spirituals.  Sometimes he would spice them up with a performance that suggested if not replicated his early career, but mostly he stood on stage in a suit and sang into a microphone while barely moving his body.

He says he gave up homosexual relationships.  I’m not sure I believe him.  He was still surrounded by gay men at times.  It’s very hard to tell because Little Richard was not known for his honesty or candor when it came to his personal history.

The point is, Little Richard believed that his early career was a sinful expression of a sinful lifestyle– like the prostitute in my fable above.  He begged God to forgive him.  He tried to go straight and reform.


As the documentary, “Little Richard: I am Everything” makes clear, unlike the prostitute of my fable, he wants it both ways.  He demands recognition for the very things he repudiated in his later life.  He demands honors and money for behaviors he now condemns, in his earlier self, and, by implication if not directly, in others.

He complains bitterly about not being paid for his sinful expressions.

I found the last half hour of the documentary a bit offensive because of that.  That, and the the rather clumsy attempt to blame everything that was denied to Little Richard on homophobia, as if the Beatles, and Elvis, and Tom Petty, and Joni Mitchell, and everyone else go their due, except for poor old gay, black Little Richard.  It’s simply not true.  Little Richard did not get compensated fairly for his work because the music industry systematically rips off every young artist whatever their color, religion, or sexual orientation.

Do you think there’s a whole lot of straight male artists out there who were paid fairly and who feel that the industry treated them well?  Or contemporary female country artists?

Leonard Cohen, incidentally, did the smart thing and retained control of his publishing rights… until his agent talked him into selling the entire catalogue to Sony Music and then pilfered the money forcing him to resume touring again.

More on the Music Industry

And on Excessive Demands from Copyright Owners

On How the Music Industry Brilliantly Extended Ripping off the Artist into the Napster Era

On Ani Di Franco’s lovely resistance.

On the unfortunate delusion embraced by Little Richard’s that authentic sexuality is in conflict with his religious faith and Jesus would never love him as the gay man that he is and always will be.

Not so Swift

Taylor Swift recently posted a modest, tasteful, but firm tirade about the monsters in the investment industry who purchased her back-catalogue from  another monster, Scooter Braun.

I haven’t been able to locate much real information about this deal through Google but I am pretty sure what happened was this: Taylor Swift, early in her career, was offered a typical music industry contract that offered her fame and riches in exchange for, oh, don’t read the fine print, just sign…. here.  Thank you.  As the years went by, she, like the Beatles, and Tom Petty, and just about every other musical artist, discovered, to her astonishment, that she had signed away the rights to “her own” masters and the actual mechanical recordings of her albums.

I put “her own” in quotation marks because Swift is obviously a product of the machinery of super-stardom, the system that creates, manipulates, and manufactures celebrities who do something “act”, “sing”, shoot baskets, and then get promoted to death through social media, talk shows, magazines, and so on.  Those albums are certainly partly hers, and substantially the product of her “artistic” vision, but they are also certainly partly the product of the “star-maker machinery” (as Joni Mitchell termed it).  This is not Bob Dylan walking into the studio and the engineer pressing “record” and putting the result on vinyl.

Swift wrote three of the album’s songs alone and co-wrote the remaining eight with Rose, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brian Maher, and Angelo Petraglia.  Wiki

She was signed to Big Machine Records by Scott Borchetta and here’s where the original sin probably happened.  Here is where her contract probably specified that BMR owned the master recordings.  Here is the deal with the devil: BMR invested in Taylor Swift, bought studio time, paid expenses for engineers and back-up musicians, make-up artists, fashion designers– who knows– and, in return, took ownership of the masters.  [BMR would argue that that is only fair– look at how much they invested.  They would argue that they made Taylor Swift.  I would argue that it’s still exploitive and unfair and if they can’t live with an agreement that requires them to defer ownership of master recordings to the artist, then tough– go screw somebody else.]

Enter Scooter Braun.  He arranged the deal.  He had his entity purchase Borchetta’s entity (and Borchetta may be the more appropriate target of Swift’s fury) and thus ownership of the masters.  It’s a common deal in the industry and Swift, to be fair, does point that out.  Fair enough.  And fair enough that a young artist in the process of being signed is vulnerable to exploitation and the exploitation here is in persuading them to sign contracts that, if they are successful, benefit the agents and managers far more than the artist.

She discovered that Scooter Braun was a businessman, not an aesthete.  Braun got into the business by — I’m not making this up– organizing parties for touring musicians Eminem and Ludacris.

Taylor Swift examined his cv and decided, yes, that’s who I want managing my career.  Well, not exactly.  But Braun,  like so many of the unseemly people who work in the entertainment business, quickly grasped how to leverage himself into bigger and bigger roles within the industry.  He got Ludacris to endorse Pontiac.  Yes, the car company owned by GM.  Then he helped the Atlanta Hawks squeeze more revenue out of their fans.  And then he saw Justin Bieber on a Youtube video and he was off to the races.

The point is, Braun is a kind of the madame of an entertainment brothel and it does strike me as a little disingenuous of Taylor Swift to suddenly jump up and scream about who she is working for.

Braun, it is reported, made over $400 million by selling Swift’s catalogue to Shamrock.

In 2022, Braun met with Joe Biden in the White House to discuss the rise in hate crimes against Asians.

And this is delightful:

In 2018, Braun was honored with the Music Biz 2018 Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic efforts in 2017.[67] He also received the Save the Children’s Humanitarian Award that year.  Wiki

You get the complete picture.  You’ve seen this character over and over in movies about the industry, the hustler, the glib manager, the guy who snorts cocaine with hip rich party-goers, makes the right noises about the environment and justice and Democratic politics, donates to the right causes, attends or hosts the right fund-raisers.  He’s a walking cliche.

He donated to Hilary Clinton and Kamala Harris.

He married a Canadian, Yael Cohen, founder of “Fuck Cancer”, in 2014.  Alas: divorced in 2022.

Taylor Swift is also known for her liberal politics.  It’s a bit odd to see this clash play out this way.

She is right to be outraged.  Not so right to blame it all on sexism.  Seriously?  She thinks the men in her industry don’t have this problem?  She thinks that it’s only the men who perpetuate this arrangement?  You think Tom Petty was given a pass because he was male?

Here is my response on Facebook:

I really doubt that male artists in the same predicament are not just as supportive as female artists– it doesn’t need to be made into an issue of sexism, even if that plays well with a certain segment of fandom. I also suspect that Swift signed a contract that gave control of her master recordings to these entities, something young artists find it hard to resist when a prospective glittering career is on the line. But I agree with her 100% that these deals are exploitive and unfair and I have long believed that Congress should regulate such contracts to protect young artists from signing away rights that should absolutely belong to them as artists in perpetuity. I also think a law should prohibit industry producers, arrangers, managers, recording engineers, etc., from claiming co-writing credits for songs on which their contributions were marginal at best. Bravo to Swift for standing up to the creeps.

So, yes, I generally support her, but I almost wanted to rescind my support when I realized that she– probably knowingly– decided to try to exploit the wave of feminist support by blaming institutional exploitive arrangement on men.

One last thing, Ms. Swift.   I’m glad to see you on your high horse about principles and integrity and honesty and truth and justice and all that.  May I bring up a little item you can do something about?


Perhaps someday we might hear you perform songs from your glorious catalogue in your real honest voice.

One critic says:

Though some of her loyal fans will never admit it, we all know deep in our hearts Taylor is an average singer at best. Taylor Swift is flawed, clumsy, and in many ways, uncool. She’s a flat-chested, pencil-thin, pale and awkward little girl with perpetual neurotic love drama brought on by self-esteem issues.



Queen’s Bohemian Bailout

I saw a Youtube video entitled “Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody 1981 Live Video” and was ready to be impressed.

I despise the song, of course.  It is the junk food of pop music, full of sugar and corn starch and whipped cream, signifying nothing more than some sophomoric masochistic self-pitying kitsch.  But everybody knows about the monumental effort made recording it, multi-tracked harmonies, bombastic background vocals, and so on.  Freddie Mercury has a great voice, I will admit, but the recorded song is the product of studio tricks and engineer pimps and not that of a genuine musical sensibility.

So, I have an open mind.  Maybe they actually performed it creditably live.  That would be something to hear.  And I wouldn’t expect it to sound like the studio recording.  I just thought it might be an interesting, authentic rendition, and  I should give Mercury the opportunity to prove that he really does have some artistic credibility.

And of course I was disappointed.  Mercury starts out playing piano and singing, the rest of the band joins in, and then he abandons the stage and the studio recording is played.   Yes, the studio recording.  Thousands of people just paid $100 or more each to hear Freddie play a CD.  And watch him wiggle his ass on stage for a moment or two, before returning to the piano and taking over again for “nothing really matters” and the coda.  Brian May appears to actually play lead guitar through this segment.

What is this crap?  Seriously?  What a shame-faced contemptible act of artistic cowardice.

There were options.  He could have assembled a group of back-up singers.  He could have arranged it for solo piano or guitar.  He could have exercised some genuine artistic creativity and come up with variations, innovations, an accordion solo, kazoos, anything but this absurd disappointment.

But then, anyone who is a fan of this song won’t care.



I recently read an article (can’t remember where– the Atlantic?) that described, with adoration, the conclusion of the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  This article went to argue that “The Marriage of Figaro” is one of the greatest artistic achievements of Western Civilization.  I decided I must see it.  One must be cultured.

There is a wonderful version on Youtube by Glyndebourne Festival Opera– with subtitles!  Here’s another.  You want subtitles because “The Marriage of Figaro” is in Italian and songs don’t generally translate well from one language to another.  You want to know what’s happening.

I will summarize the plot because I want to try to remember the basic plot points and regurgitating it is a good way to do that.

Okay, so here we go.  Figaro is a servant to the Count.  The Count has just abolished le droit de seigneur to the delight of his citizens.  This, of course, is the mythical right of a lord to have the first sex with a subordinate woman on her wedding night.  Figaro is especially delighted because he wishes to marry a fellow servant, hand-maiden to the Countess, Susanna.   The Count, however, realizing he has missed an opportunity, attempts to rescind abolishment at least for one case: Susanna.  Meanwhile, a mischievous servant, Cherubino, has been roaming around the castle making out with lots of women, and even has his eye on Susanna as well.  The Count knows about him and wants to send him off to join the army, but the Countess and Susanna decide to dress him up as a woman so he can hide from the Count.

The Countess is upset about the Count chasing other women so she and Susanna plot together.  Susanna will send a note to the Count agreeing to meet secretly in the garden that night.  The Countess will dress up as Susanna on her wedding night, wearing her veil, and then wait there instead, trapping the Count.  Susanna will dress up as the Countess.  Figaro doesn’t know about the plan and thinks, at first, that Susanna is about to betray him.  Somehow, he finds out she is not (there are lot of overheard conversations in this opera), but Susanna doesn’t know that Figaro knows that it is her dressed as the Countess.  Figaro decides to have some fun and pretends to be hitting on the Countess.  An angry Susanna whacks him a few times until he admits he knew who she was right away.  The Count, meanwhile, does believe that Figaro was hitting on his wife, the Countess and calls in the guards to arrest them.  That’s when his wife shows up revealing the Count’s nefarious scheme.  The Count asks for forgiveness and everyone is happy.  They sing a lovely song together.

That’s the song the writer raved about:  Pian pianin le andrò più presso.

Or is it “Contessa Perdono”?  I am not sure how Opera segments are organized and I don’t feel like taking the time to find out.  There are lists and references to tracks and then to arias and recitatives and duets, and then subtitles referring to specific passages, I think.

In Amadeus, Salieri speaks about “Figaro” in the same vein as the piece in the Atlantic:

The restored third act is bold, brilliant. The fourth… was astounding. l saw a woman disguised in her maid’s clothes hear her husband speak the first tender words he’d offered her in years. Simply because he thinks she is someone else.

l heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theatre… conferring on all who sat there perfect absolution.

God was singing through this little man to all the world. Unstoppable. Making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.

Anyway.  Here’s my take-aways from watching the entire 3 hours.

One of the greatest works of art in history?  Seriously?  The music is absolutely fabulous, of course, but the comedy is very broad, very obvious, and the characters are cardboard cut-outs, really.  One does get “into it” if you watch it patiently, and it is fairly enjoyable, but I would not rank it even against the movie about the composer, “Amadeus”, which, to me, was far more profound, far more insightful, and richer and deeper.

It is interesting to hear praise for the last act, the reconciliation scene, which kind of trivializes the philandering going on.  All is forgiven.  “Perfect absolution”.  Let’s get back to the party and enjoy the frivolous pleasures of flirtation and– well, fucking.  I don’t object to Mozart’s take on the issue– I mean, it is a comedy.  But I wonder if the admiring audience shares his Woody Alan-esque view of love and romance?

But if you were trying to sell the “perfect absolution” is this context, you could never beat the musical setting of that piece: it is exquisite.


The Slobbering Appreciation of Tina Turner

If you were ever trying to sell me on the importance or artistic genius of a particular singer, song-writer, painter, novelist, or film-maker, the first mistake is to talk about how may books, albums, singles he or she has sold, or how much his latest movie grossed, or how much a painting of his recently sold for at Christies, or even how many Oscars he won.

Leonardo Di Caprio has an Oscar for acting.

Case closed.

To me, that information is worse than irrelevant: it’s a marker of likely mediocrity.  Line up Beyonce, Neil Diamond, Steven Spielberg, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, whoever you like: I’m not buying.

So when Tina Turner died recently we were bombarded with the usual fawning appreciations from the media most of which, of course, exaggerated her good qualities and completely forgot about the bad ones.  That’s to be expected.  What I did not expect was a slobbering wet kiss from the New York Times in the “Headlines” podcast.  The Times, a very, very good paper, should be embarrassed by this one.  Don’t do it again.

For one thing, Tina Turner did not quite stand out as breathlessly alone as the Times made it sound.  There have been a lot of great female rock or pop singers over the years and each one of them claims to have been the first important one.  Diana Ross (another singer I never cared for), Dionne Warwick, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin — of course! Nina Simone– even more of course.  Come on folks– it’s not that hard.

The Fanny’s were more substantial and far more interesting than Tina Turner.  Ever heard of them?  I thought not.

It’s not that Turner is not entitled to an appreciation.  She’s not really the giant some make her out to be: she’s had a few good hits and she put on a lively show and a lot of feminists see her as an icon for self-empowerment for the way she dumped Ike Turner, struck out on her own, and found someone else’s great songs to cover.  I hope the feminists who complain about men oogling women find it in their hearts to forgive Turner for wearing costumes that conspicuously beg to be oogled.  Come on.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” is not a bad song.  It’s a less incisive update of Bob Dylan’s stunning “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word”, a toxic take-down of romanticism and delusion.  You would not call “What’s Love Got to Do With It” a toxic take down of anything, really.  It’s a glorious hook, wonderful arrangement, and a couple of verses.  Not bad.  It resonates with her disillusionment with Ike Turner.   Okay?  Good song; now let’s not weigh it down with unentitled significance.

“Proud Mary” gets dreary after a while but I can see why someone hearing it for the first time might think of himself as thinking of himself being blown away.   I really dislike the intro on one of the most popular live performances on Youtube, the patter about “we never take things slow”, as if that is supposed to be incredibly sexy or funny or both.

The talk about her “sensational comeback” is a lot of hype: she never stopped touring really and continued to appear on television shows like “Donny and Marie” (yes she did), The Brady Bunch Hour, Sonny and Cher, and Hollywood Squares.  Just because “Private Dancer” was a monster hit doesn’t mean that Turner’s career didn’t exist prior to it, but it’s a story everyone loves and repeats no matter how many times they’ve heard it, or untrue it is.

The bottom line for me is, has she ever done a song that really mattered to me?   Like any of these:

  • Someday Soon (Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins)
  • Anchorage (Michelle Shocked)
  • Diamonds and Rust (Joan Baez)
  • That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be (Carly Simon)
  • You Don’t Own Me (Leslie Gore)

Doing this list I can’ help but notice how many of these songs performed by women were written by men.  Sigh.  All except “Diamonds and Rust”.

Wikipedia, incidentally, tirelessly lists Tina Turner’s sales records.  A long list of so many so much so popular.   Why?  Because there is not much to say about what she actually achieved artistically?  Loud and fast and legs.

Wikipedia also reports on her divorce and her allegations of physical abuse against Ike Turner while acknowledging that he did a hell of a lot for her career early on.  When they divorced, I had the impression, from all the blather, that he left her penniless.  Yes, penniless, along with two Jaguars, furs, and jewelry.   She demanded $4,000 a month in alimony.  Wiki doesn’t say if she got it or not, but the BS about running away from Ike with 23 cents in her pocket is just that: BS.  Oh, she may have had 23 cents in her pocket– and the keys to the Jaguar.

She refused to attend his funeral.  Phil Spector, the murderer, did.

There is a film.  I’d be absolutely pleasantly stunned if it was any more accurate than the usual Hollywood bullshit.




Exactingly Planned: Paul Simon’s Hallmark Card

What makes this music connect is Simon’s ability to make a spiritual setting feel down-to-earth, what you might expect from one of American pop music’s greatest conversational songwriters. “I heard two cows in a conversation/One called the other one a name/In my professional opinion/All cows in the country must bear the blame,” Simon sings, showing us that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, however somber the setting.  Rolling Stone

There are red flags here.  Not stop signs– but red flags.

Back to the cows: this is witty?

Here is a review I find more trustworthy (not because it disagrees but because I suspect it is a less compromised source.)  The Guardian.

Here are some lyrics from Simon’s previous album (the song: “Love is Eternal Sacred Light”):

Love is eternal sacred light
Free from the shackles of time
Evil is darkness, sight without sight
A demon that feeds on the mind

Really?  Love is light, evil is darkness?  Fifty years of kicking around New York City, touring, writing and recording songs, partying with the glitterati, hobnobbing with the elite minds of our culture, and your opus starts to look like Hallmark cards?  “A demon that feeds on the mind”?

A college English professor would immediately ask the obvious question:  “how is it like a demon that feeds on the mind?”  And yes, Simon latest work is the very definition of sophomoric.

“Free from the shackles of time”?  What does that even mean?

This is not new for Simon: it’s the updated self-conscious posturing of “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright” and “El Conder Pasa” and “American Tune”.  It sadly reminds me of the faux profundity of Mumford and Sons.  It is Simon trying to sound like Leonard Cohen, or like himself writing “The Sound of Silence”, a song that barely escapes pretentiousness–but does– because of its vivid imagery (“the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/and tenement halls” is pretty good even if familiar).

Or how about this (from Seven Psalms):

Dip your hand in Heaven’s waters
God’s imagination
Dip your hand in Heaven’s waters
All of life’s abundance in a drop of condensation
Dip your hand in Heaven’s waters

Oh come on!  It sounds like Leonard Cohen on an off day, like something you wouldn’t even see in his notebooks on display at the Leonard Cohen museum, wherever it is.  It’s banal.  It’s pathetic.  It is transparently calculated to sound like something that sounds profound.

All right Simon– you want to get “spiritual”?  You want to sound like this (Leonard Cohen doing the real thing)?

If it be your will, that I speak no more
And my voice be still, as it was before
I shall speak no more, I shall abide until
I am spoken for, if it be your will

Or compare it to earlier Simon, perhaps his most telling song of all:

Takin’ time to treat your friendly neighbors honestly
I’ve just been fakin’ it
I’m not really makin’ it
This feeling of fakin’ it
I still haven’t shakin’ it

No, you haven’t.

Watch the video on the Guardian’s website above.  It’s brilliant, but not in the way most people think it is.  Everybody I know will come away from it impressed with what a musical genius Paul Simon is not because the video proves he is a musical genius but because a sophisticate like Paul Simon knows exactly how to push those buttons– scenes of him trying out various exotic instruments, apparently directing the strings, coaching a choir, giving the impression that he is way more of a musical genius than you thought, in full control of every aspect of his music.  It takes a cur like me to notice that it does not show that he is a musical genius– that takes actual music– but just that he knows how to look like one.  The corresponding musical tracks are all refinement and almost no invention.

Firstly, I don’t know of many reputable critics who would credit Simon as a one of pop music’s “greatest conversational songwriters”.  Well, pardon me, now I do.  But I have never forgotten what is perhaps the most pungent back-hand compliment I’ve ever read in reference to a singer-songwriter, in regard to “The Boxer”:  “one of Paul Simon’s few unpretentious songs”.  A remark that incisive and accurate doesn’t die– I’ve remembered it for 40 years, and always when I am listening to Simon.  It used to be a consistent gripe about Simon’s work.  Has he aged out of those critics?  As I hear snatches of Simon’s newest work, his “farewell” (we’ll see), it lives on.  “The Boxer” remains his best song.  Simon was a fine song-writer with regrettable tendencies and a thin skin.   His latest work is a drag on his oeuvre.

Simon sings “the lord is a meal for the poorest, a welcome door to the stranger…. The Covid virus is the Lord/The Lord is the ocean rising.”  Seriously? This passes for poetic lyrics nowadays?  Look folks: those are banal images.  They are over and done with in a flash.  How is the Lord a “meal” for the poorest?  And if he is– one might speculate, a “meal”– charity– or a “welcome door” — hospitality– how is he also global warming (“the ocean rising”)?  Is the listener supposed to fill in the gaps?  (One thinks of a far better aphorism: “the opiate of the masses”.)  They don’t evoke anything more than sophomoric ramblings skipping the detail work, the specifics, the real experiences and incidents that inspire real poetry, and sliding right into the aphorism.

There is mystery, oh yes.  The mystery is, why does the New York Times critic think this is deep stuff?  It is actually banal.  Simon adopts phrases from Cohen, I would suggest, but he doesn’t have the gravitas to fill it with meaning.  Cohen brilliantly anchors his spirituality in his carnal impulses: “She tied you to her kitchen chair/She broke your throne and she cut your hair/and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”.  That’s how you get to Hallelujah.  Not through mumbling warmed-over vaguely spiritual platitudes or “the lord is the water rising”..  Simon gives the impression of having glossed over a Reader’s Digest “Today’s Spiritual Sayings” page.  How about something like “religion is a smile on a dog”, a far more rich, allusive image.  Ironically from Edie Brickell.  (Along with “philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks” and “religion is a light in the fog”.  Both more striking than Simon’s “the Lord is a virgin forest/the Lord is the earth I ran on”.)

The New York Times observes:  “its informality is exactingly planned.”  That’s what some of us have never liked about Simon.  I am surprised that the Times followed that comment up with generous praise.  Yes, Simon emits more platitudes about forgiveness and acceptance without once identifying a single sin.

Simon is a very good songwriter, but he is never not conscious of himself as “a poet and a one-man band” and never just a “one-man band”.  He’s always had a grievance about not being regarded as just as great as Bob Dylan or The Beatles or Billy Joel (he is greater than Billy Joel, but leave that aside for now).

And it appears that the Guardian and Rolling Stone and New York Times bought it.   Yeah, you have to be pretty fucking arrogant to call them out, but I do: they have been far too credulous.  It is possible, considering that Simon is near the end of life, to be generous without being slavish.  Go back and try again.

Here’s more:

When he and Brickell finish this expansive work by harmonizing, “Children, get ready/It’s time to come home/Amen,” it has the kind of finality you expect from a great composer summoning many decades of accrued wisdom.

I hate it when musicians bring their wives or children into their recordings, even if, as in the case of Brickell, that person has had a career in her own right.  It reeks of privilege.  It is an insult to the usual talents that fill those spaces on recordings by notable artists.  It always feels to me like “honey, why can’t I be on your album?”  It draws the mind to McCartney’s embarrassing attempts to put Linda in Wings.  I remember Neil Young performing with Emmy Lou Harris and Michele Shocked and his wife Pegi and felt sure that Harris and Shocked must have felt more than a little insulted at the idea that Young’s wife belonged in that chorus.

The lord is my engineer / The Lord is my record producer

And let’s identify the obvious: is Simon taking another note from Leonard Cohen here?  If he is, one immediately suspects he took note of the esteem Cohen has earned over the years for his overtly spiritual references (among a host of carnal allusions) and decided to weigh in with one of his own.  Rolling Stone acts if listeners should be delightfully surprised.  No, but here’s a list of things that could have been on a Paul Simon album that would have surprised me:

  • an appearance by Art Garfunkel
  • an unpretentious song
  • a cover of “Pretty Vacant” by the Sex Pistols
  • a reboot of “Fakin’ It”
  • a cover of “Cold, Cold Ground” by Tom Waits
  • an apology for “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard”

What even I would never expect: a cover of a Bob Dylan song.  My theory is that Simon would fear that it would draw a contrast and comparison to his own work– unfavorably.  I remember wandering through Germany somewhere and stumbling into a coffee shop and listening to some good singer-songwriter tunes on the radio when “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” by Dylan came on.  It’s not one of his greatest songs, but even minor Dylan in that context was strikingly superior to everything before and after that was not Dylan.  I suspect Simon would be worried about the same effect if he jammed a Dylan track into the middle of several of his own.

I am surprised at Rolling Stone rolling over on this one.  Who got to them?  What’s in it for “Rolling Stone”?

Paul Simon’s best album, as an album, remains Bookends.  Quintessentially hip, polished, sophisticated, expertly produced and recorded, the most distinctively Simon and Garfunkelish of all the Simon and Garfunkel albums.  Should be in record box of every English major in America, at least in their sophomore year.   Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time is a fine album.  Just fine.   “A Poem on the Underground Wall” is under-rated.  Bridge Over Troubled Waters has too much junk on it, like “Cecilia” and “Baby Driver”– a vain attempt to rock.  There Goes Rhymin’ Simon can’t be forgiven for “Was a Sunny Day” and the fey title.  One Trick Pony was as horrible as the movie.  Graceland (1986) seemed like an attempt to transform Simon into a musician’s musician inspiring admiration and envy for the funky African textures that, weirdly, echoed Neil Diamond’s Tap Root Manuscript from 1970.  Both of them resonate uncomfortably today.

For the record, in my opinion, Paul Simon’s best songs:

  • The Boxer
  • The Sound of Silence
  • Mrs. Robinson
  • Hazy Shade of Winter
  • Fakin’ It
  • A Poem on the Underground Wall
  • Patterns
  • America
  • You Can Call Me Al
  • Hearts and Bones
  • The Only Living Boy in New York


  • Bridge Over Troubled Waters
  • Mother and Child Reunion
  • Graceland

Worst (and over-rated)

  • Cecilia
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
  • Loves Me Like a Rock
  • Me and Julio Down by the School Yard

The Excretable

  • Feelin’ Groovy

If you thought “Graceland” was special, please consider “From Galway to Graceland” by Richard Thompson to see how musical allusions to Presley’s monument to self-indulgence should be done.

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Simon writes about ghosts and empty sockets and ghosts and empties who will all be “received” at Graceland.  I suppose it suggests that Presley’s mansion provides America with almost a religious symbol of aspiration, to be “received”, perhaps blessed, redeemed, forgiven.  Okay– obviously, I’m filling in the blanks.  There are lot of blanks to be filled in.  Simon’s lyrics are unspecific and unattached.  They are tropes without gravity.

Try this:

She was humming Suspicion,
That’s the song she liked best
She had Elvis I Love You
Tattooed on her breast

The lyrics are too good to leave these out:

Ah, they came in their thousands
From the whole human race
To pay their respects
At his last resting place
But blindly she knelt there
And she told him her dreams
And she thought that he answered
Or that’s how it seems

I get chills just copying and pasting them.

Simon is very good at creating the perception that he is a serious, thoughtful, imaginative, original talent.  He has written a few fine songs, but I think he is not capable of the kind of powerful, original evocative piece like Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland”.  It’s instructive how the two songs are different.  Simon evokes a sense of solidarity with the communal nostalgia for the fantasy represented by a crass monument to Elvis Presley’s popular success.   But he doesn’t regard it as crass.  He’s playing to a touchstone of Americana without probing it’s implications, the vanity, the superficiality of Presley’s later career.   Thompson, in contrast, probes deeply into the delusions at the heart of the worship of Presley’s corrupt later persona.  He observes, unlike Simon who genuflects.  He gets into the mind of a fan and explores: what is she sees in Elvis?  How does it relate to the dreariness of her own real world?  How is Elvis’s public image a communal delusion of intimacy and familiarity?  What happens if it plays out, as it does in the song?  It’s a work of genius.  Simon’s “Graceland” is a work of terminal niftiness.

Another version of the good one.  Simon’s version is about Simon suggesting to us that he has deep thoughts about Elvis.  Thompson’s song really is deep, because it is about a fan, and Elvis’ tarnishing effect on fandom, and how the illusions this relationship creates can be damaging and disturbing.  The rock’n’roll rebel who congealed into the obese depressed shallow figure who died on the toilet, constipated to death by voluminous prescription drugs and surrounded by sycophants who can’t bear to tell him the truth about himself.

The Grievance Aesthetic: The Fannys

First of all, I had never before heard of Fanny.   Fanny was an all-female band that formed in 1970, consisting of June Millington (electric guitar), Jean Millington (bass), Alice De Buhr, and Nickey Barclay.  The women were remarkably talented– no doubt about it: they could play.

I have been following music closely since I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was ten years old.  I have followed it closely throughout the last 55 years.  I never heard of Fanny that I can remember.  After listening to their songs, I feel apologetic.  I feel dispossessed.

Come on– they are absolutely fabulous.

Let me be clear: hard rock is not my preferred style.  I find it abrasive, noisy, sometimes propulsive, sometimes dull.  I crave good lyrics, the use of musical space, nuance, and subtlety.  I don’t have a single hard rock song on my personal list of the top 25 songs of all time, though I suppose Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” or “Backstreets” or “Adam Raised a Cain” might qualify at least as “hard edged” rock.

I recently watched a documentary on PBS, “Fanny: The Right to Rock”.   To my utter disbelief, this variation of the film is clumsily censored, words beeped out, images of breasts blurred out.  Fuck you, whoever did that.  I found a good copy elsewhere.

If I had been in charge of this project there is one thing I would have asserted right from the start as absolutely essential to the objective of this film: at no point should the esteem or lack thereof of their music be attributed to sexist, patriarchal oppression, sexism, and discrimination.  The fact that Janis Joplin did succeed where Fanny did not tells you that there was more to it than sexism.  And to be fair, the members of the band on the record in the documentary don’t belabor the point.

[Incidentally: it’s a product of BBC IV and if you can find the original BBC version, you can avoid the contemptible censorship savaged on the PBS version, notably including scenes of the girls frolicking half-naked in Hedy Lamar’s former house in Los Angeles.]

But why?  Isn’t that the essential story of the band?  Well, if it is, the band is not worthy of this tribute.  If the band should be known to you because they broke barriers and because they were really better than anyone thinks they were because their singular lack of popular and critical success is due not to any deficiency of talent but to the obstacles placed in their path by sexist (and racist — they were Philippine) attitudes, then you have to prove it by providing me with the songs and musical achievements that deserved more recognition than they got.

What you should want more than anything– what you should positively crave– is for viewers to be convinced that Fanny produced some extraordinary music that stands on its own merits without qualification.  That, this documentary failed to do.   To declare that their work was important or significant because they were women is defeatist.  It is to admit that their work really wasn’t good enough to earn distinction on its own.

They should instead insist on their music being heard on its own terms: very, very good hard rock.  Four very good musicians creating respectable, admirable songs.  In particular, Jean Millington’s vocals are probably as good or better than Janis Joplins’– and she could play bass — really play– to boot.

Jean Millington later said that Fanny had to have a strong live presence in order to overcome audience’s perceptions that women could not play rock music well.  Wiki

Well, we don’t really know.  Do audiences really sit there and think, oh, I think they sound pretty good but they’re female so they can’t be as good as they sound?  Or do audiences simply sit there and think, “they don’t sound that great” and it’s the band and the feminists who think it’s because of their gender?  I am at a loss.  Listen to them: how could an audience not be impressed?

They didn’t “break through” into real success.  To do that, you absolutely have to have at least one song that really amazes people, that demonstrates originality and style and inventiveness and a compelling melody or vocal or all of the above.  A “More Than as Feeling” or “We Don’t Need no Education” or “Eighteen” or “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” or, crossing genres, “Have You Never Been Mellow” or “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be” or “Anchorage” or “First We Take Manhattan” or, even better, “The Hammond Song” by the Roches, a female group (in folk) that really did stand out for the quality of their music– not because they were female.  Fanny had many very good songs, but I can’t identify one that could have crossed-over into a pop hit.  But then, there were so many crappy pop hits.  And, of course, the promotional efforts of the record industry plays a big role.  They did have notable TV appearances, so you can’t say they didn’t get anything.  Just not enough.

What were they aspiring to?  Pop success?  They say they just wanted to be known for their talent, not their looks, but it was clear that they were not really good enough to be successful for their brilliant artistic achievements like, say, The Band or Steely Dan.  The bands that cite them as an inspiration, the Go-Gos, the Bangles, and the Runaways, were also pop bands with more success at creating the catchy pop single.  None of them were as good, from a purely musical perspective, as the Roches.

David Bowie’s appreciation of the band is frequently quoted:  “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers”.  Yeah, well, David Bowie was dating Jean Millington in 1973.  He was being asked to judge his girl.  But, okay, he was actually right.

Like almost all musicians, they were cruelly ripped off by their own management and the record companies.  But that is at least partly due to their own ignorance.  They allowed their producer and the record company to fire Brie Brandt because they wanted them to resemble the Beatles.  Seriously?  Because they had four members?  The rest of the band was very sad about cutting Brie out of the band, but it did not seem to occur to them that there is a universe in which young musicians can decide personnel matters for themselves.  It was as if God told them to fire her and they did.  They talk about it as if there really was no choice, because they don’t want to admit that the choice was between Brie and the commercial backing of the label.

There are bands that refused to compromise on issues like that and still found success.  There are probably even more bands that made the same compromise and, like Fanny, went nowhere.

The inevitable reunion is covered.  Nickey Barclay is mysteriously absent.  There is a clip of them performing live which is conspicuously deceitful: it’s the studio recording playing over the video of the band.  Not all viewers are dumb enough to not ask themselves immediately why they don’t play the live audio.

The broadcast version I saw beeped out “offensive” language.  Seriously?  It’s 2023.  You’re doing a documentary on this courageous, ground-breaking, revolutionary, ballsy female band, and you have to careful not to offend the delicate sensibilities of your projected audience?  [As I mentioned earlier, check out the BBC original if you can.]

The Candidates:

Aint That Peculiar

Fairly upbeat love song (the more you hurt me the more I love you).  Slide electric, pretty good bass.  Not bad, but not particularly distinguished.

Blind Alley

Typical Fanny: extremely busy, dense, vocals typical of thrash metal bands–  like, have you ever heard of space?  Vocals are “stretching”, a habit developed by metal bands from trying to be heard above their own noise.

Last Night I had a Dream

All the lousy little poets coming round trying to sound like Janis Joplin…

Place in the Country

Nicky Barclay sounds more than a little derivative of Janis Joplin (did Joplin cop a few strokes from Barclay?  They are active around the same time), but without the variety of tone and pace.


The Thought Police Strike Again

Once again the thought police have sprung into action.   The Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council has banned the original version of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a “self-governing regulatory body for Canada’s private broadcasters”.  What does that mean?  That means it can’t arrest you.  It is reminiscent of the Hays code, Hollywood’s attempt to clean itself up before Congress did it legislatively.  It is the CRTC, thank god, that has the real power, but I assume that the CBSC has some sway.

And how do you get the CBSC to ban a song you don’t like?  Hey, it’s a free-for-all!  Just contact them and announce that humble little you, just one out of 30 million citizens, has decided that you must step in and decide which songs should be played on the radio no matter how many people like it.

I am curious now: what if I filed a complaint.  What if I alleged that the censorship of “Money for Nothing” is deeply offensive to my delicate little sensibilities about truth and integrity and honesty and historical accuracy?  I am veritably traumatized by the idea that my precious memories of dramatic depictions of real personalities and social values are being erased by repressed puritanical little zealots with a political agenda.  Does my objection count?

Yes, I am enraged.  I feel threatened by a world that is sliding towards banality and antiseptic homogeneity.  Hey, can I file a complaint about vocalists using Autotune?  If ever there was a legitimate complaint to be made to a “broadcast standards” council that would be it.

Not only do they want to correct your current misshapen and erroneous ideas and feelings; they want to go back in time and correct your past iniquities.  Do you remember “Money for Nothing”?  It was a snippet of a certain attitude at a certain time and place.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear and straight right off the bat:  “Money for Nothing” is not a dramatization of Mark Knopfler’s thoughts and feelings about MTV or gay people or microwave ovens.  It is a clever, insightful, reasonably accurate depiction of the attitudes of a working class schlub working at an appliance store watching MTV and thinking, geez, I could do that.   Are we clear?  Do you understand the difference between and artist and the subject?  Do you understand what drama is?  Do you get that when a writer tells you that a character committed a murder that the artist himself is not committing murder?

Here are the “offensive” lyrics:

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup?
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire

I knew people who thought like that.  I don’t need any one to tell me to not remember him or his attitudes.   I don’t need anyone to try to erase the record of that person from public discourse.

Is the next step to go through Shakespeare and Dante and Dostoevsky and remove all the violence and murders and even the insults from their works?  Why not?  We no longer think people should be murdered.  It distresses people to see murder depicted in a play or movie.  Let’s remove it.  Let’s remove the rape scene from “Streetcar Named Desire”.  We don’t approve of rape any more.

And how does “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed) and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” get away with it?   How about this, from the innocuous Elton John and Bernie Taupin (“All the Girls Love Alice”):

And who could you call your friends down in Soho?
One or two middle-aged dykes in a Go-Go
And what do you expect from a sixteen year old yo-yo
And hey, hey, hey (hey, hey, hey) oh don’t you know?

And please, please, please:  “All the Girls Love Alice” is not “by” Elton John.  The salient component here is the lyrics which are by Bernie Taupin.  Would the internet please grow up and get this straight?  Most of the songs it says are “by” an artist are actually merely recorded by that artist.  They do not deserve the holiest credit of all, the act of creation, which most of them don’t deserve even in respect of their vocals.

You think, well, we can’t gut one of America’s greatest works of drama, can we?  “Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic.  It is untouchable.  But how does that make a difference when public morals are at stake?  And what is the difference between the character saying “faggot” in “Money for Nothing” and the character raping Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire”?  They are both dramas of believable human behavior.  They both tell us, this is something someone would do (and has done, in real life), in the setting and circumstance depicted.  What is the problem?

There is no real problem.  What there is is a bunch of pious, self-righteous individuals trying to assert their own virtue by punishing a perceived miscreant.  Burn the witch.

If I was a gay man of any prominence I would have issued a statement– like the self-righteous guardians of public morality do– and insisted that Dire Straits keep the fucking lyrics exactly the way they are, just as “Huckleberry Finn” should retain the word “nigger” used in reference Jim, the escaped slave, just as Stanley should continue to rape Blanche in stage productions of “Streetcar Named Desire”, just as Ophelia should continue to commit suicide in any staging of “Hamlet” (spoiler alert).

And Leonard Cohen should never have excised “give me crack and anal sex” from his searing original version of “The Future”.    (Here, in a supreme act of gutlessness, Cohen jumps the shark and changes it to “careless sex”; am I harsh?  Yes, I admit it.  When you were influenced by an artist to embrace the authentic, the true, the audacious, and then he starts embracing compromise– yes, I’m harsh.  The odd thing is that as I am getting older, unlike Cohen, I feel less and less inclined to cater to the more delicate sensibilities around me.  Maybe it’s just a phase.  And here, expanding his audience for the sanitized version, he appears on– god help us– Letterman (!), changing  “crack” to “speed” and interjecting the awful “careless sex”.)  He didn’t have to castrate anything here:  he’s on the Ralph Benmurgui show.  And if you’re curious, here’s the original lyrics attached to inane video effects.  Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you Erlend Ropstad & the Salmon Smokers for this!

Finally, let me note the hypocrisy.  Here are the lines no one seems to object to:

It’s lonely here
There’s no one left to torture….

There’ll be fires there’ll be phantoms on the road
And the white man dancing…

Destroy another fetus now

Lie beside me baby, that’s an order

“Nigger” is what white people called black people at that time in history.    If I was teaching a college class on racism, I would discuss how the word “nigger” was used in America for years as a label of contempt and expression of white superiority.  “Faggot” is what straight working class white men called gay men at the time Mark Knopfler wrote that song.  “Dyke” is what they called women who were either gay or had turned down their advances.

We have reached a new pinnacle of stupid when a writer has to explain to the audience that this song or story is about someone who really existed and really thought that way.  Listen.  Consider it.  Be glad that we have made some progress (never enough, but some).  Tell your children that that’s the way working class white men used to talk about gay people.  Tell your children we now know better.

Tell your children is wrong to try to rewrite history into something false in order to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the weakest among us.

Someone Who Will Die for You and More

Lightfoot had expressed regret and repentance for one of his greatest songs, “For Lovin’ Me”.
“I’ve got a hundred more like you / So don’t be blue;
I’ll have a thousand ‘fore I’m through.”

Wow. Two minutes and 35 seconds of “So long, sucker”.

But I think he’s wrong about the regret. It’s a vivid portrait of a type of person, a time and place, an era, and real attitudes and values, even if we don’t admire those attitudes today. (We probably didn’t admire them then either.) It’s like a drama about an unlikeable hero, and there’s value in encountering it in song or drama or literature. It’s like “King Lear”: the actor shouldn’t feel bad later that he brought the fool to life: it’s drama. It’s certainly real. And it’s a far more authentic song than “Sundown” which I always felt was not much more than a catchy riff. When you think about it, “Sundown” isn’t dissimilar in one way: the message is still “get lost”. It might even be to the same woman.

Other songs in kinship:
“Baby the Rain Must Fall”
“Green Green”
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” (the rare female perspective)
“Heard it in a Love Song”

I find “Baby the Rain Must Fall” a classic in the category of making caddishness sound inspirational:

Baby, the rain must fall
Baby, the wind must blow,
Where-ever my heart leads me,
Baby I must go,
Baby I must go.

See? He’s not being a jerk. It’s the wind and the rain that compels him to dump the girl.

In contrast, Bob Dylan:

You say you’re looking for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone to close his eyes for you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you and more
It aint me, babe.

And that’s why I still think Dylan is such a remarkable songwriter. And maybe the best. No disrespect for Lightfoot, who was brilliant, but Dylan takes the same situation to a higher, far more interesting level. And that line ending with “and more”!!

Anyway… just rambling about “love ’em and leave ’em” lyrics and Gord.


The Pointless Irrelevant Useless Mind-Numbing Grammys

If they really feel auto-tuned vocalists deserve Grammys, by all means, let’s have a category for that. And lets have a “Truth in Packaging” note at the bottom of the screen when they use it live, as many now do, or at least when they lip-synch to an auto-tuned vocal (so they are actually faking it twice). I might actually tune in to watch if they have a category of “honest to god actual singing” awards, especially if they actually have real musicians playing the instruments on the recording. Until then, every Grammy Awards show should open with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Fakin’ It”.

Won’t someone please create an award restricted to non-auto-tuned performances?  And let me answer my own question: all of the major media companies benefit from the auto-tune scam.  They all sell the same types of artists, the same types of product, the same shit.

There is one possibility: a website devoted to non-auto-tuned artists accompanied by real honest-to-god musicians playing real honest-to-god instruments.   No synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines, and so on allowed.  I would start it myself if I didn’t have more than enough other activities to keep me busy.  They could have articles and links and they should create an annual award for  honest artists in several categories not including rap or hip hop whatever flavor of the decade rears it’s ugly head.

I would suggest these categories:

  • Folk
  • Rock
  • Pop (for the inevitable dreck)
  • Classical
  • Soul
  • Gospel

And no fucking other categories.  Not one, not ever.  Each category would have two sub-categories, for performance and composition.

I suspect that a website like that could develop an impressive following, though it would probably never hit mainstream acceptance.  Vinyl is doing pretty well lately, but it’s no threat to Spotify.

Incidentally, “Grammys” is correct; not ‘Grammies’.