Monday, December 17th

In home news, it’s been good fun watching the ghost of John Redwood turn up in tv studios this week – what a ghastly, low-grade bunch the current Tories are. The week culminated in being at a party where I witnessed a cabinet minister dancing to The Doobie Brothers. It doesn’t get weirder than that… Elsewhere, good to see that a Special Edition of Monopoly commemorating the Trump Presidency has been released. It’s lovely to see Five Thing’s Woodstock correspondent, John Cuneo, on the cover of the December 17th edition of the New Yorker. Congrats, John! I’ve also been vaguely annoyed by the trails for the new series of Soul Music on Radio 4, with a BBC voice telling us that the first episode is Joni Mitchell’s song, “The River”. It’s not “The River”. That’s Springsteen. It’s just “River”. I’ve decided to put all the live reviews that I’ve failed to write into a Five Things Extra! next week (I need that deadline, as you know). Here’s what’s been occurring this week.

{ONE} MUSIC FROM BIG PINK [REDUX]
I now own what seems to be about twelve copies of the Band’s first album – this is possibly the best. A loving essay by David Fricke finds some new things to say and Bob Clearmountain’s mix gives the tracks a new-found presence. It ends with a total gem – the isolated vocal tracks for “I Shall Be Released”. With the heavenly piano, plangent guitar strums and snare-wire beat taken away, the vocal blend is front-and-centre – just exquisite. [Hear on the Music Player to the right].

“It is surely the only rock album of its era and stature that promised a way forward while sounding like it could have been conceived and cut to 78 rpm between world wars. Robertson and Manuel, at that point the Band’s primary composers, wrote like determined modernists with public-domain souls, digging at the previously unmapped common ground of Appalachian folk, old Atlantic R&B 45s, Louisiana Hayride broadcasts, the treble lightning of the mid-sixties Dylan and the grooving spirit of the San Francisco ballrooms.” – from David Fricke’s liner notes.

{TWO} CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Little Mix, on Graham Norton’s couch, asked to sing a verse one of their hits in Japanese, do so, brilliantly. Obviously set up beforehand and obviously rehearsed, but none the worse for that.

{THREE} JONNY HANNAH EXHIBITION AT VOUT-O-REENEY’S
As usual, a lovely show from Jonny, Fast Cars and Ukeleles. Fine painted uke, with an idea I’ve not seen before – painting the notes on the machine heads. On this night, the show had added DJs – the one I caught was excellent illustrator and teacher, Geoff Grandfield, a man with a passion for rare 45s from Detroit and Chicago (and scratching out the acts to keep them that way). Sadly missed Rob Ryan’s set – another time, Rob.

{FOUR} REMASTERED
“If someone says he’s not his brother’s keeper, then he’s wrong, ’cause he is…” – Johnny Cash.

Netflix’s new series opened with Barbara (Harlan County USA) Kopple and Sara Dosa’s excellent film looking at Cash, a walking mass of contradictions, and his visit to sing “redneck country music songs” at the Nixon White House in Tricky Dick and the Man in Black. It’s 1968, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison has just gone to No1 in the charts and Richard Nixon has just moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It starts and you’re thinking, way to go, Johnny… “I thank God for all the freedoms we’ve got in this country. I cherish them, even the rights to burn the flag. You know, I’m proud of those rights [crowd boos]. But I’ll tell you what, we’ve also got – let me tell you something… shhhh… we’ve also got a right to bear arms, and if you burn my flag, I’ll shoot you! And I’ll shoot you with a lot of love, like a good American…”

It then details the “Southern strategy” that Nixon used to win the ’68 presidential election. “It has been used by every Republican candidate since – dog whistles to racists, dog whistles to conservatives using key phrases like the silent majority”, one contributor points out. John Cash, his son, says of the invite… “My daddy refused to sing the two songs that the President [or maybe H.R. Haldeman, Cash’s biggest fan in the White House] requested…” And someone else says, “Who was going to show up at the White House? Johnny Cash of “Folsom Prison Blues” or the rebel, the guy who was photographed “flipping off the Man” or the God-fearing family man with a baby on the way – the Gospel-singing Johnny Cash?”

There’s a stunning section that follows Eartha Kitt taking LBJ to task when she was an invited performer at the White House, as Carole Feraci (one of the Ray Conniff singers) says, “President Nixon, stop bombing human beings, animals and vegetation” while holding up a placard saying Stop The Killings – there’s a quick cut to Ray Conniff, who, with a terrible grin/grimace on his face agrees with the man who shouts “Throw her outta here…” “All right” says Ray…

And in 1969 came The Johnny Cash Show, a quintessentially American experience, but which famously cast its net wider than country music for its guest performers. As we know, he had Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Pete Seeger – these were not people who had even really been on national tv before, a brave move at the time. The film is really worth watching, especially for the riveting performance at the White House.

{FIVE} LET’S IGNORE LOW’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
“If you were born today
We’d kill you by age eight
Never get the chance to say
Joy to the world and
Peace on the earth
Forgive them for they know not what they do”
– from “If You Were Born Today”, on their rather gorgeous Christmas album.

Comments

  1. Love that unadorned I Shall Be Released.

  2. Tont Burger says:

    ‘I Shall Be Released’ is magnificent, thanks so much for taking the trouble to post it

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