It’s been a relatively quiet week in New Orleans. We survived the Katrina 10 hype and got back to fighting over 21st century issues such as gentrification and short-term rentals as well as a resumption of the monument wars. The Vieux Carre Commission voted to remove the so-called Liberty Monument, the monument most egregiously tied to white supremacy. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Summertime always brings a spike in crime to New Orleans. Lurking beneath the party town facade is the reality that New Orleans is now and has always been a tough town. It’s a bad place to walk around with your eyes glued to your smart phone. That’s begging to be mugged or worse. In the immortal words of the desk Sergeant on Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.” Never forget: “to live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough.”
Now that I’ve quoted the Stones, it’s time to move on to this week’s theme song. It’s been a big few weeks for Van Morrison fans: his work is finally available on iTunes and there’s been a spate of articles about Astral Weeks as you will see in a moment. I picked Saint Dominic’s Preview as the theme song for a simple reason: it’s my favorite Van the man tune. The arrangement of the studio version is pitch perfect: from the horns to the tinkling piano to the judicious use of steel guitar. Van may be twice as grumpy as I am but Saint Dominic’s Preview is downright majestic. Van, in and of himself, *is* the human paradox alive.
We’ll start with the aforementioned studio recording, then follow it up with a live version from 1996 that has a Celtic folk jazz feel:
It just occurred to me that there’s another reason to select Saint Dominic’s Preview. I spend much of Saturday Odds & Sods previewing articles, films, and albums for my readers. I guess that makes it a preview without a saint. It does, however, always have a break.
We begin with the only Katrinaversary article I’ll link to this week. You’ll see why in a minute.
Katy Reckdahl On The Dark Side Of The Katrina Recovery: Katy offers an antidote to the resilience tour, snowglobe set. It’s a realistic appraisal of the unequal nature of the recovery. If you have resources, it’s great; if you’re poor, it’s a constant struggle. Additionally, the middle class is getting squeezed out of the housing market:
The initial bursts of news reports about the 10th anniversary of Katrina were gushing. Those reports, which began late this summer, praised New Orleans as a miracle city, a phoenix that had risen from the ashes. Yet more attention has been paid in recent weeks to the city’s divergent recoveries. A survey released Monday by Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University found that while 80 percent of white New Orleanians thought that the state has mostly recovered, that perception was shared by only 37 percent of black New Orleanians.
This is because black residents, for the most part, have experienced a very different recovery from their white neighbors. A National Urban League report released Wednesday found that between 2005 and 2013, median income rose by 7 percent for the city’s black residents, to $25,102; but it rose by much more for whites—by 23 percent to $60,553.
Housing prices have exploded, making affordable rentals scarce. Dr. A and I couldn’t afford to buy in our neighborhood right now. It’s one reason we’re not cashing in on the real estate boom. Besides, Oscar and Della (The Body Slammer) Street would riot if we moved: “What have you done, human?” Susan Hayward may have been beautiful in her wrath in The Conqueror but Della is downright ugly when she’s angry. Oscar lets her do the dirty work. Does that make them like Becker and Fagen?
Btw, Donald Fagen has family in New Orleans. I hear they’re not overly fond of him. Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, the other reason to celebrate Katy’s article. It’s in Politico Magazine. It may be the somewhat less benighted part of the Tiger Beat On The Potomac empire but it’s still fucking Politico. And Katy has made a career out of writing lefty pieces for the MSM. She definitely wins the morning.
It’s time to circle back to the temperamental artist who wrote and recorded this week’s theme song. He’s no saint either but nobody in the record business is, and that’s an understatement as you’ll see soon.
Van Morrison Does Boston: Did anyone out there know that Astral Weeks was written, planned, and rehearsed in Boston and Cambridge, Mass? I didn’t either until I read Ryan Hamilton Walsh’s article in Boston Magazine, Astral Sojourn: The untold story of how Van Morrison fled record-industry thugs, hid out in Boston, and wrote one of rock’s greatest albums. Holy long title, Batman. It’s almost as long as the article itself.
Despite Brown Eyed Girl being a huge hit, Morrison arrived in Boston broke and entangled in a dispute with some mobbed up types associated with Bang Records. His stay in Beantown was the turning point his life and career as he signed with a reputable record label (if such a thing was possible in the era of Hit Men) and created Astral Weeks. It was the beginning of a sustained run of brilliant albums from 1968-1972: Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, and Saint Dominic’s Preview. That was when the Van Morrison we know was formed. His success and staying power is based on pure talent, not charisma or likeability as former record company mogul Joe Smith pointed out:
Smith wasn’t impressed with Morrison’s personality: “He was a hateful little guy,” he recalls. “His live performance? He may as well have been in Philadelphia. There’s no action from him. But his voice! I still think he’s the best rock ’n’ roll voice out there.” Smith immediately decided to sign Morrison to Warner Brothers.
I guess that makes Van an honorary Masshole. There’s something refreshing about Van’s fuck you attitude. He had it in a time and place where gangsters had power and influence in the record industry. The character of Heshie in The Sopranos was based on Roulette Records honcho and convicted felon Morris Levy, after all. End of obligatory Sopranos reference.
Before moving on, let’s take a stroll down Cypress Avenue:
Speaking of irascible Irish singer songwriters:
Sinead O’Connor and the Music Critic: It’s no secret that a lot of music criticism is lazy and cliché ridden. Critic Ed Power wrote a positive review of Sinead O’Connor’s most recent album but fell back on the lazy cliché that it was her “best album in a decade”. How many times have I read that, cringed, and disagreed? Ms. O’Connor had the same reaction but instead of fuming asked Power to give her music a second chance. Instead of freaking out, Power did so and found that he liked about 80% of the tracks from her 10 albums. Not bad at all.
He tells this tale in a piece for Slate called My Bet With Sinead O’Connor. The bet involved a happy meal if the critic changed his mind and he’s willing to pay up. Not bad at all.
Rumor has it that I’m a big Peter Gabriel fan. Here’s Sinead’s collaboration with PG. Not bad at all:
Hitting The Denali On The Head: I’m late to the whole you say McKinley and I say Denali story. One consequence of tardiness is that I have forfeited the right to make Denali/denial puns. What’s a poor boy to do? I’m reduced to making Denali/de nail jokes. Fortunately, I happen to like leftovers as well as rock songs that include the word nail in the title:
For the want of Denali, McKinley was lost…
Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, let’s have a brief chat about the Ohio freak out over formally restoring the proper, native name of Mount McKinley. Alaskans have *always* called it Denali and Ben Railton’s account of how it came to be Mount McKinley should give Speaker Boner and his fellow Buckeye Bozos pause:
Indeed, the name McKinley may well have been more of an ironic inside joke than a tribute to the president. As Yoni Appelbaum writes atThe Atlantic, the name was initially bestowed in 1897 by William Dickey, a Seattle businessman returning from an Alaskan expedition. Dickey later claimed that he decided upon the name in order to anger his two traveling companions, who were ardent backers of free silver (while the soon-to-be-inaugurated McKinley was famously in favor of the gold standard). By the time that story came out, McKinley had been assassinated and the name seemed to honor a fallen leader—but it’s quite possible that it was initially intended as something much less serious.
That’s right, it was a William Jennings Bryan joke. Oh those zany prospectors, changing an ancient name to bust somebody’s free silver balls. I wonder if they used silver denalis on that cross of gold Bryan was always on about?
What have we learned from Ben’s piece? News traveled very slowly in those days: McKinley was shot and killed in 1901. We also learned that white people are name changing motherfuckers. These sound like issues for the Tweeter Tube. Why? Because of their banality and vapidity. That about hits denali on the head.
There’s another article of interest about the Denali/McKinley mishigas or, as my people would say, fusseria. It also comes from TPM Cafe; a name that evokes another Van Morrison song from the Saint Dominic’s Preview LP: “And you know, I’m all wired up. Don’t need no more coffee in my cup.”
Now that I’ve gotten all reet-petite and invoked the name of Jackie Wilson, back to our story. The other fine piece about the Denali/McKinley controversy is by Julia O’Malley, An Alaskan on What the Lower 48 Don’t Get About Denali. You’ve heard about the day of long knives? This seems to be the day of long titles…
These two ‘graphs should give you the gist of Ms. O’Malley’s piece:
While Lower 48 politicians might have partisan heartburn over President Barack Obama’s decision to change the name of Mount McKinley to its Koyukon Athabascan name, Denali, you’d be hard pressed to find many Alaskans, conservative or otherwise, with objections.
“We’ve been calling it Denali since I moved up here,” Dave Stieren, a conservative talk radio host for KFQD-AM in Anchorage told me. “To me it’s like happy holidays/merry Christmas. Anybody who cares about it too much is not someone I’d like to hang out with.”
I guess nobody’s planning to start a War on either Denali or McKinley then. Maybe Bill-O will take that ball and run with it, unless he’s too busy writing shitty “history” books with his ghostwriter. I don’t know about you, but I remain haunted by the whole loofah thing...
A word about William McKinley. As a conservative, pro-robber baron Republican, he’s not my cup of tea. But I’ve seen him described as a non-entity when, in fact, he was the first consequential Oval One since Lincoln. He was the father (however reluctantly at first) of the American empire. The most interesting take on McKinley I’ve read was in Gore Vidal’s Empire. Anyone shocked that I’m recommending Vidal? If so, why? I do it all the time. It’s not exactly magic like our next segment.
Documentary Of The Week: I was stumbling about Netflix looking for something to watch when I found a film with-you guessed it-another long title, Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. It’s about the marvelous sleight of hand magician, actor, and raconteur Ricky Jay nee Potash. Wise choice to change the name, dude. I don’t think a guy with that surname could ever get his potashes hauled…
Deceptive Practices is a history of post World War II magic as lived by Ricky Jay. It’s fascinating social history and Ricky Jay is funnier than hell. I give it 3 1/2 stars, an Adrastos grade of B+ and an Ebertian thumbs up or is that Siskelite? Richard Roeper is on his own.
Saturday Classic: I usually post an album in this slot, but I came upon an absolutely killer video of Van Morrison and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra live at the Rainbow Theatre in London. I’m not sure if the whole ascot tie look works for Van but he sounds great:
That’s it for this week. I had hoped not to natter on so much, but had pent up punnage after taking last Saturday off. And since I’m not known for my restraint in that regard, remember: Denali is not just a mountain in Alaska. There, I said it.