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Monday, April 19, 2010

POP CULTURE: THE LIMITS OF GREATNESS

Barbara enjoys popular music more than I do (I prefer keyboard jazz), but we have both remained fans of the great names from our younger days--The Beatles, Stones, Carly Simon and others. Especially we share a love of Ray Charles. How is it possible to listen to, say, “Georgia” or “Hit the Road, Jack,” and not be moved or made to smile?

Getting old with music and musicians makes these associations all the more affecting. Over drinks, we recently listened to a CD of duets Charles recorded before his death, “Genius Loves Company,” released in 2004. As always, the music touched us. But whereas some artists’ voices age wonderfully, taking on rich, new qualities, others don't. It can be painful when favorite singers at the end of their careers test your loyalty. And make you think about your own future.

--It’s really a great album, don’t you think?
--Yes, I do. Very good. Now this is who?
--Diana Krall
--They must’ve been fighting each other to be paired up with him. I mean their agents.
--They had to know he didn’t have much longer. Who in the business wouldn’t want to sing a duet with Ray Charles?
--I’d sure like to.
--That’s right, I forgot. As a movie extra you’re part of the show business community.
--When Jamie Fox played him, I bet he would’ve wanted me in a crowd scene.
--Well, honey, I don’t think there were all that many parts for your character type. What did you call it?
--Grandma geezer roles.
--I don’t think there were so many of those. Twenty, even ten years ago, with some makeup you could’ve been in long shots of white bobby soxers going nuts in the early part of Ray’s career. Otherwise, mostly the female roles went to black actresses playing women Ray banged on the road.
--I guess.
--Now that’s just awful. Listen to that… I know he has tax problems, but all the same.
--Yes, it’s awful. It does not sound like “a very good year.”
--Even with swelling strings and heavy use of timpani.
--God, such a long career. You’d think his pride wouldn’t let him do it.
--Well, the tax man came to Willie, and the tax man said, “Mister Nelson, to stay out of the slam you need to make several more million than you’re making now.”
--So he got the Genius Loves Company gig.
--God, “When I was seventeen”-- When he was seventeen, that’s when Willie started growing his outlaw braids.
--He got his first pirate bandana back then, too.
--“When I was twenty-one”—here’s Ray. Oh God, no, Ray, don’t… He’s still great on the higher registers, but on this...
--I love him forever, but that’s not good. God, he sounds like it’s time for his meds and the lunch tray.
--OK, here’s Willie again… Yes, blue-blooded girls of independent means. Judging from his voice, I think Willie these days would mostly like the girls of independent means to give him a pint or two of blood, not a nooner. “Here, darlin’, as long as you’re up, wyan’t you take an’ empty this here drool cup for me?”
--That’s not funny.
--I’m sorry. I just think the recording tarnishes his reputation.
--Don’t ferget them revanooers.
--I know. But Willie should’ve done the time instead.

7 comments:

  1. In my hippie twenties, one of my favorites was Jesse Colin Young. His seventies albums were part of the score of my "life movie." Recently, I found out he was playing in San Diego while we were there. I wouldn't have recognized him and, worse, his voice was entirely gone. When I want to hear him on "Songbird," "Ridgetop," "Darkness, Darkness," I time travel to his young voice and I become ageless, too.

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  2. I saw Ray toward the end of his life. The set was two instrumentals, three sung by the Rayettes, and five sung by the man. I felt cheated until it occurred to me that he probably did it this way to preserve his voice, which sounded pretty good. Five songs from Ray Charles in good form was better than fifteen if it meant a lot of croaking.

    Willie Nelson - 77 (4/30)
    Leonard Cohen - 75
    Kris Kristofferson - 74
    Smokey Robinson - 70
    Ringo Starr - 69
    Paul McCartney - 67*
    Roger McGuinn - 67
    Brian Wilson - 67
    Mick Jagger - 66
    Diana Ross - 66
    Carly Simon - 64
    Pete Townshend - 64

    Had they lived, Marvin Gaye would be 71 and Jerry Garcia, 67.

    Ah, but the music is still young and always will be.

    * Heather Mills neither needed Paul nor fed him when he was 64!

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  3. How could I forget 84-year B.B. King!

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  4. I too prefer piano jazz...preferably solo.

    I guess I'm a really sad old fogey...I still cart around Peter, Paul and Mary cd's in my car.

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  5. Nance-
    It's something else no person living before the twentieth century ever experienced: bringing it all back through recorded sound, then movies. I don't think there's anyone left of Planet Earth for the brain mappers to test on this: the before-and-after neurological effects on the brains of those who had not previously been exposed to these phenomena.

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  6. K-
    Van Morrison, and, although dead since 08--at seventy-nine--Bo Diddley belong on the list. "I'm a Man" and "Who Do You Love" belong in the permanent archive.

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  7. Jerry-
    Who do you like? I'm a Bill Evans freak, Horace Silver, Earl Garner--and on and on. My preference is listening to great players ringing changes on standards. Some of the best are known not at all, but played with bassist headliners like Ray Brown and Charlie Mingus. As for PP&M, I always liked them, except Mary annoyed me by throwing her head around so we'd look at her hair. Yes, it's showbiz, but still.

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