Saturday Odds & Sods: Close To The Edge

Close to the Edge
Close To The Edge gatefold by Roger Dean.

Jazz Fest started yesterday and I’m not feeling it this year. Crowds and I used to get along but we had a falling out sometime after the storm. Making matters worse are all the chair people who insist on plopping down wherever they want. Jazz Fest used to be a more mobile event and I like stage-hopping, so the strain in our relationship  seems destined to continue. Hoping to relieve the congestion, the producers have made some changes to the Fairgrounds. I hope it works. I’ll let y’all know if it helps in this space next week.

There was a plea bargain in the Danziger Bridge case on Wednesday. I’m neither happy not angry about this development. The convictions were reversed because of prosecutorial malfeasance that was rather minor in nature: the stupid commenting scandal. That makes it vexatious but I’m fresh out of outrage over the way this whole thing has been handled and how long the process has been: 10 years and counting. Call it rage fatigue, but whatever it is, I’ve got it. But my friend Stephanie Grace is still vexed with the judge.

This week’s theme song is one of the ultimate prog-rock opuses, epics, what have you. It’s a long-ass song, y’all. What else can I say? It has one of the best bass lines in rock history but one could say that about many Yes songs thanks to the late, great Chris Squire:

Oscar and Della love the ambient bird sounds at the beginning and end of the song. It nearly puts them over the edge.

I found this solo Rick Wakeman rendition of Close To The Edge quite recently. It’s a wee nugget even if he isn’t wearing his sparkly cape whilst playing.

How can I follow the Liberace of prog-rock? By going directly to the break, that’s how.

I teased you with the whole prog-rock Liberace thing. The proof is in the Wakemanic sparkly cape, not the pudding:

RickWakeman (1)

We begin this week’s festivities with a story about a famous photograph from Buzzfeed of all places. It’s 100% guaranteed listicle free:

Black Confederate Soldiers? The net has been abuzz about Adam Serwer’s story about the Chandler Tintype. It’s this image of white Mississippi slave owner Andrew Chandler and his slave Titus:

Chandler Tintype

The burning question is whether Titus holding a weapon means he was a Confederate soldier. It’s unlikely to say the least: rich men took their valets to war back in the day. Who among us can forget Lord Fathead and the dread Bates of Downton Abbey fame?

The Chandler Tintype was also the subject of a segment on one of my all-time favorite teevee shows History Detectives. Wes Cowan addressed a slightly different question on the show: was Titus free or a slave? He was the latter.

Much of Serwer’s fine article is taken up with a discussion of the Lost Cause mythology. It’s a solid piece of work all around. It proves conclusively that it’s NOT the Tituss of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame who’s also from the Magnolia State:

Tituss Andromedon says Kimono My House.

It proves nothing of the sort but we’re watching the misadventures of Tituss and Kimmy so I have them on my mind. Let’s move on to a fascinating article about the legendary Daisy Girl commercial produced by the 1964  Johnson camapaign. They went all the way with this one:

All The Way With LBJ

In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts: Barry Goldwater talked a lot about nuclear weapons. He was  an officer in the Air Force reserve and was under the influence of Gen. Curtis LeMay who thought that since nuclear weapons existed they should be used. Mercifully, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy did not agree. Neither did LBJ, which was why his mad men produced this ad:

Adrastos acquaintance Bob Mann has a fascinating piece in the Smithsonian Magazine about how this ad changed everything about political advertising:

Half a century later, we live in the world of negative political advertising that Daisy Girl pioneered, but there are some curious aspects to the story. First, though it is a famous ad, Daisy Girl, as the ad is known, only ran once. Secondly, it didn’t even mention Goldwater’s name. And finally, by the time the ad ran, Goldwater’s chances against LBJ were slim, even though the ad is often falsely credited with assuring the win. And there were two dozen other ads from LBJ’s camp—humorous, informative, dark, and neurotic. Daisy became the iconic spot of its era not because it was the first Johnson ran in 1964; we remember it primarily because of its brilliant, innovative approach to negative advertising.

Daisy and the other ads were made by Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), an eclectic group of ad men at a medium-sized Madison Avenue firm with a stellar reputation for groundbreaking campaigns for Volkswagen and Avis. They didn’t set out to revolutionize political advertising; what they wanted to do was to break the established rules of political ads—then dominated by stodgy 30-minute speeches mixed with shorter policy-focused spots—by injecting creativity and emotion.

Bill Bernbach, the firm’s principal founder, had long maintained advertising was an art, not a science. He favored intuition. He often reminded his employees, “Playing it safe can be the most dangerous thing in the world, because you’re presenting people with an idea they’ve seen before, and you won’t have an impact.”

The first two seasons of Mad Men are loaded with references to Bernbach and his firm. Don Draper was a fan. I doubt arch-Republican Bert Cooper cared for the Daisy Girl ad. BOOM.

Time for the obligatory Randy Newman reference:

Now that we’ve dropped the big one, let’s move the  clock  forward to 1977 for a fabulous piece by Rick Perlstein. It’s spreading far and wide across the internet or is that hither and yon? I’m not sure which. Now that I have yon in my head, I must play this tune by the Yonder Mountain String Band:

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Insult Comedian:  In Avenging Angels, Rick Perlstein tells the tale of Donald Trump coming of age in the Noo Yawk of the 1970’s:

It is in this saga that we locate the formation of Donald Trump’s mature political vision of the world, in continuity with America’s racist and nativist heyday of the 1920s, and within the context of a cultural world much more familiar to us: New York in the 1970s, that raging cauldron of skyrocketing violent crime, subway trains slathered with graffiti, and a fiscal crisis so dire that even police were laid off in mass—then the laid off cops blocked the Brooklyn Bridge, deflating car tires, and yanking keys from car ignitions.

Think of Trump coming of age in the New York of the 1977 blackout, the search for the Son of Sam, and Howard Cosell barking out “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning” during game two of the World Series at Yankee stadium as a helicopter hovered over a five-alarm fire at an abandoned elementary school (40 percent of buildings in the Bronx were destroyed by the end of the 1970s, mostly via arson—often torched by landlords seeking insurance windfalls).

Think of Trump learning about the ins and outs of public life in this New York, a city of a frightened white outer-borough middle-class poised between fight or flight, in which real estate was everywhere and always a battleground, when the politics of race and crime bore all the intensity of civil war.

I try to think of Trump as little as possible, but Perlstein shows that the past is prologue for the Insult Comedian as it is for all of us. The rich are simultaneously different from and similar to the rest of us. That’s my Gatsbyian insight for the day. It may not be great but it’s mine all mine…

I wonder if we can blame Trump’s obnoxious style on his Yankee fandom and the egregious malakatude of manager Billy Martin?

Billy Martin Kicking Dirt
Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

Now that the dust has settled, let’s move on to a piece from Salon. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like what Salon has turned into. It was my favorite online news and opinion site for years. In the last few years it’s been polluted by clickbaity headlines and during this election cycle it’s become the house organ of Dudebro Nation. Salon, however, stopped dudebro-ing long enough to publish something worth reading.

Bill Walton On The Grateful Dead: Hoops legend Bill Walton is one of the most fanatical Deadheads in the known universe. He’s seen 859 shows whereas I’ve seen somewhere between 75 and 80. He’s not only taller than me, he’s seen more versions of Playing in the Band, which is the song most played live by the Dead.

Walton has written a book about the effect of his Deadheaderry on his life. He sat down with Salon’s Erik Nelson to discuss Back From The Dead:

I’m a Deadhead. It all rolls into one, and I’ve never been able to separate basketball from life. I’m living under a series of mantras from the Grateful Dead right now.

For instance?

I’ll just roll them out for you. When you get confused, listen to the music play. We used to play for silver; now we play for life. Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Sure don’t know what I’m going for, but I’m gonna go for it for sure. And then it all rolls into one, but nothing comes for free.

But has he rolled away the dew like the Yonder Mountain String Band earlier in the post? Oops, he *did* quote Franklin’s Tower. Never mind.

Time for the obligatory story about “the time I met someone I’m writing about.” Sometimes I feel like Zelig, better that than Forest Fucking Gump. I used to see Walton at Bay Area shows and as an avid people collector and basketball devotee, I chatted him up several times. I even got his autograph for my hippie hating, John Wooden loving father who had to grudgingly admit that the Dead might not be so bad if Bill Walton liked them.

Speaking of hoops, this passage tickled me:

You describe in the book a great scene in the late ’80s, where the Dead’s road crew set up a little sanctuary on stage at the Boston Garden for your Celtic teammates, so you could bring them on stage. Do you remember any of your teammates’ reaction? Did any of them come out of there and say, “OK, Bill, I get it. Give me some of your tapes.”

Well, when the show was over and the band was packed and gone, they turned to me and they said, “Oh, my gosh, can we come back tomorrow?” And they did. And they all came back. It was fantastic. Kevin (McHale) joined us on the Dylan and the Dead tour; Larry (Bird) would go all the time; Chief (Robert Parish) would go; DJ (Dennis Johnson) would show up. Rick Carlisle met his wife at a Grateful Dead show.

Jeez, I’d hate to stand behind those guys. Speaking of height, I got Walton to admit that he was actually 7’1″ instead of his listed height of 6’11”. It was not unusual for big men of the day to do that: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was actually 7’4″ and not 7’1″. It made them somehow feel less freakish. Why? I’ll never know. I’d love to be the inordinately tall dude nobody wants to sit behind at the movies instead of average, which is what I am. But I’ll always have Walton’s Winterland admission. Time for some live Dead with Branford Marsalis sitting in on saxophone:

Gray Lady Malakatude: In lighter New Orleans news, the New York Times lifestyle section wrote something dippy about my city again. Some New York newbies have opened an eatery Uptown called Kenton’s. A breathless dipshit with a silly name-Florence Fabricant-got an F for describing the neighborhood it’s located in thusly:

A little piece of New York is thriving in New Orleans. Mani Dawes, below right, an owner of Tía Pol in Chelsea, and her husband, Sean Josephs, below left, who owns Maysville in the Flatiron district, have relocated their family to the Big Easy. Easier indeed: Ms. Dawes’s mother is there to help with babysitting. In a somewhat remote yet up-and-coming neighborhood west of the Garden District.

Kenton’s is located at the corner of Magazine and Nashville in a swanky, well-established Uptown neighborhood where nobody has worn a bone through their nose for at least 150 years; unless a hipster got lost on the way to the Bywater. There’s a Whole Paycheck nearby and boutiques aplenty in the area. Time for a sardonic musical interlude from Richard Thompson:

The Times kinda, sorta backtracked on this characterization in the wake of scorn from New Orleanians. This is my punny contribution to Grey Lady mockery:

For those of you who don’t know who Stan Kenton is, here’s a peanutty sample:

It’s Adrastos-Zelig story time. A close friend of my family’s-he lived with us for a time after his marriage failed-was Stan Kenton’s road manager for 20 years, which was how I met Kenton. He even booked Stan to play at a fundraiser for our church. Kenton was a tall and imposing man with long, spidery pianist fingers. The Stan Kenton Orchestra was one of the last big bands still touring in the 1970’s. Additionally, Kenton was a maverick who started his own record label, the Creative World, when the major labels wouldn’t release his records any more. I recall getting his catalogs and being impressed that he was still able to make a living touring and selling records by mail order. The music was pretty darn good as well: Stan Kenton always kept up with the times.

Kenton was a puckish man with an excellent sense of humor. He came to dinner at our house a couple of times while playing in the Bay Area. Like everyone else, he was impressed with my mom’s cooking and one evening he surprised me by requesting that I play Muswell Hillbillies by the Kinks. It turned out a former member of his band played horns with the Kinks on that and subsequent records. My father was mildly horrified that the great Stan Kenton liked rock music but he shrugged it off and said: “good music transcends generations.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Saturday Classic: Rick Wakeman left Yes for the first time in 1974 to focus on his solo career. He somehow thought his take on King Arthur was *less* pretentious than Tales Of Topographic Oceans. Whatever, dude. He returned to Yes for the triumphant 1977 release of Going For The One:

That’s it for this week. It got kind of serious there but we rallied with a bit of silliness at the end. Speaking of which, I’m bypassing bat villains for the closing meme picture. Instead, I’m featuring irascible and cranky Yes lead guitarist Steve Howe. Sometime early in the 21st Century hardcore Yes fans dubbed him Mr. Burns after the irascible and cranky billionaire from The Simpsons. Howe never unleashed the hounds but he disliked mingling with the fans. Take it away, Steve.

Howe Meme

One thought on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Close To The Edge

  1. Somehow, during all that rock opera work, Rick Wakeman also found the time to do the keyboards on David Bowie’s “Life On Mars”, which, while describing a life of escapism, is founded deeply in a grey reality. Damn, now I have to listen to it again…

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