February 28, 2007

Pete Townshend has a Blogspot blog

Pete Townshend has a blog. And of all things, it's a blogspot blog. He actually has two, one being more of the random thought kind, and the other focusing on an autobiography he is in the process of writing. I find this hard to believe. But it's true. He doesn't appear to have a site meter, Technorati account, or anything, so I doubt he'll ever see I've linked to his blog in this post. It would be interesting to know what thoughts, if any, he might have about this blog's name. I'm a huge fan of Townshend and The Who. The walls of my room during high school were covered with pictures of "St. Pete" I'd cut out of Musician, Creem, Rolling Stone, Guitar Player, etc., etc. I guess the thought of a childhood idol, and one time "conscience of rock and roll," communicating via something as mundane and everyday as a blogspot.com blog to be sort of surreal. Although it is very cool he and I have this in common!

As some proof of my fandom, I present this:

In the picture are some things that were called record albums and cassette tapes. Note that I have bought All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes on vinyl, cassette, and compact disc. It has meant that much to me. Also, I have a Who Came First album. Maybe that isn't a big deal to you, but when I bought that back in 1983 (in Galveston), it was not an easy album to find! For that matter, neither was Rough Mix. There wasn't an Amazon or eBay back in those days.

But the point of this post (and the way I stumbled upon Townshend's blog), are his recent comments about Britney Spears I discovered via a link at Drudge. In a post titled "Britney and a Purple Dress," Mr. Townshend says:

"Dedicated Man In A Purple Dress to Britney in Long Beach. I said, 'Let's not be too quick to judge'. Roger said 'Britney? Britney who?' Like, Roger! Pullease...... read the paper.

Just heard she's gone back into rehab. Pray for the babe. This is a tough business when you have a down period - she sometimes has over one hundred cars following her, every one with a camera geek in it."

Townshend's sentiments are echoed by SamuraiFrog at Electronic Cerebrectomy. While I'm not sure I completely agree with SamuraiFrog's argument that "we've destroyed Britney Spears" (I would like to believe the whole head-shaving thing is just a big publicity stunt designed to keep her in the public eye), I do admire the fact he has taken a higher road, and not done that which is easy - kicking a person when they (apparently) are down.

She has to get better (if she is in fact "sick") soon, so she can go back to making videos like my all time favorite (I love the song, too!):

February 27, 2007

Al Viola

With Frank Sinatra at the 500 Club in Atlantic City 1961 (pic from official site)

Al Viola, a guitarist who worked with Frank Sinatra for 25 years and also played the mandolin on the The Godfather soundtrack, died last Wednesday. Viola performed with Sinatra at concerts, on recordings and in television specials. He is heard on such Sinatra hits as “My Way” and “New York, New York.”

Watch this clip of the 1966 performance of "Luck Be a Lady" from Frank Sinatra - A Man and His Music Part II - With Special Guest Nancy Sinatra. Viola is to Sinatra's left. You can actually hear his guitar chords (he's playing right on the beat). Note his head and feet movements. That's what taught me "swing."

  • NY Times obit
  • February 24, 2007

    Lady in Cement revisited

    Someone uploaded this scene from Lady in Cement (1968) over at YouTube. It features Sinatra in the second of two detective vehicles he starred in during the late sixties (the first being Tony Rome). Because I did a four part (what was I thinking??) post about it (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), I thought I'd do a quick repost of sorts. This is the scene in which Rome (Sinatra) meets Raquel Welch's character (Kit Forrest). Welch's first appearance in the film, and her character says:

    "Well, should I scream rape now or phone in a complaint?"

    I guess that was supposed to be funny back in 1968, but it just seems strange today. It's as if the public would just take it for granted that Sinatra was a lecherous dog, or something, and no female was completely safe in his presence. To make matters worse, Sinatra and Welch had absolutely no chemistry, unlike Sinatra and Jill St. John. So the whole thing is just creepy.

    On a related note, Hugo Montenegro is responsible for the film's soundtrack. I can't believe people used to make music like this, but I'm so glad they did!

  • title track: "Lady in Cement"
  • February 22, 2007

    Rosenberg - night and day

    "Rosenberg is within the limits of the Mexican land grant to Stephen F. Austin, and was an unnamed shipping point on the Brazos River in the 1830s.

    By 1865, Crazy Town (Houston) was the leading railroad center in Texas, and most of Galveston's (a city approximately 60 miles from Rosenberg) business went through that city. However, train traffic in and out of Galveston was sometimes blocked to quarantine goods suspected of spreading yellow fever.

    Henry von Rosenberg migrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1843. His early ancestors were from Bohemia. He was born June 22, 1824 and died May 12, 1893. He was a very wealthy man dealing in railroading, banking and wharfs. Mr. Rosenberg was the first president of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad. He settled in Galveston, Texas. He was a very generous man and, since he had no children, he left his wealth to many charitable organizations. Additional information on Henry Von Rosenberg can be obtained from the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas, 77550, as the library was named after Mr. Rosenberg." (History from this site)

    Herfort Diamond Ring Factory - when my family would drive from Galveston, Texas (my hometown), to see my grandparents in Eagle Lake, Texas, Rosenberg/Richmond was on the route. I knew we were close whenever I saw that neon. I was so happy to see it was still there, even if the grandparents aren't.

    Cole Theatre - the old "colored" theater

    The next morning (after leaving Wharton)...
    Rosenberg Railroad Museum mural

    A companion to this shot from Henderson:

    Another Time, indeed

    Reese Building - constructed as a bank (the J.H.P. Davis Bank & Office Building) in 1907 and then completely restructured in the modern Art Deco look in 1947

    This guy was walking a cat...on a leash...

    Bee Unique Awards & Embroidery

    Would you buy insurance from someone named Guy McNutt?

    February 21, 2007

    Music for cocktail parties, bachelor pads, and adventures in time

    About a week ago, PCL LinkDump had a post about some excellent space age lounge music mixes done by Chris at Ultra Swank. They're all I've listened to for the last week (they were the soundtrack of my Wharton and Rosenberg journeys), and all three volumes are good, but the first one is my fave. It's really swingin'. The guys in the Rat Pack might say it's koo-koo. The second is called Space Age Lounge Volume 2 - Red Carpet Ride and the third is Space Age Lounge Volume 3 - Love at First Flight.

    Liz Taylor, of course. The very essence of cocktail culture feminine beauty, no?

    "Rio Magic" is representative of what you'll get on Volume 1.

    February 20, 2007

    "Lush Life"

    Billy Strayhorn (November 29, 1915 – May 31, 1967) was an American composer, pianist and arranger, best known for his successful collaboration with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington lasting two decades. The composition most closely associated with Strayhorn is "Lush Life."

    Billy Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio. He began his musical career in Pittsburgh, where he studied for a time at the Pittsburgh Music Institute, wrote a high school musical and, while still in his teens, composed "Lush Life," a work that had the world weariness of an older man. (Info from the Wikipedia entry)

    I used to visit all the very gay places
    Those come what may places
    Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
    To get the feel of life...
    From jazz and cocktails.

    The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
    With distant gay traces
    That used to be there you could see where they'd been washed away
    By too many through the day...
    Twelve o'clock tales.

    Then you came along with your siren of song
    To tempt me to madness!
    I thought for a while that your poignant smile was tinged with the sadness
    Of a great love for me.

    Ah yes! I was wrong...
    I was wrong.

    Life is lonely again,
    And only last year everything seemed so sure.
    Now life is awful again,
    A trough full of hearts could only be a bore.
    A week in Paris will ease the bite of it,
    All I care is to smile in spite of it.

    Ill forget you, I will
    While yet you are still burning inside my brain.
    Romance is mush,
    Stifling those who strive.
    Ill live a lush life in some small dive...
    And there Ill be, while I rot
    With the rest of those whose lives are lonely, too..

    It's hard to believe a 16 year old wrote those lyrics! But that's nothing compared to the music. Here is a Stan Getz performance:

    Putting lyrics and music together, here is Dianne Reeves doing a version of it from the excellent Independent Lens documentary of Strayhorn from a few weeks back (aired on my local PBS station, KERA):

    In 1958, at a session for what would become Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, Sinatra attempted to record a version. It remains one his two best-known uncompleted Capitol projects (the other being a version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Soliloquy"). From Sinatra! the Song Is You: A Singer's Art, here is the story behind what happened:

    Sinatra's attempt at Strayhorn's best-known vocal ballad, "Lush Life,"...was at once marked for greatness and failure. The first came in Nelson Riddle's masterful arrangement, which juxtaposes a deliberately out-of-tune piano against a Coplandesque string section. The second in that, as Bill Miller recalled, Sinatra "didn't take the trouble to learn it" correctly and tried it at an already overbooked date.

    Although he turned in a stunning tune number eight, "Willow, Weep for Me," he didn't have the physical fortitude to make it through number seven, Strayhorn's ambitious air. "It's a rather complicated song, and I think Frank would have been momentarily put off by all the changes that had to go on," said Riddle. "Not that he couldn't have sung it with ease and beautifully had he tried a couple of more times." On the sole circulating partial take of the three allegedly recorded, Sinatra gets through the out-of-tempo "verse" section but breaks down in the refrain. After a characteristic Kingfish impression, he resolves to "put it aside for about a year." Sinatra later told Miller that he had decided to "leave that one for Nat Cole."
    (p. 302)

    Once again from the Independent Lens Strayhorn documentary, here is the only version of that "sole circulating partial take" one is likely to ever hear. It's unfortunate, because it sounds like it would have been great:

    You can actually hear him slam the door to the studio as he storms out!

    Sinatra would go on to record an entire album with Ellington and company years later, which was a "disaster" of a larger scale, but that's a different story/post:
    Francis A. Sinatra & Edward K. Ellington (1967)

    Speaking of Sinatra's great Capitol Records collaborator, arranger, and conductor Nelson Riddle, he worked with Linda Ronstadt during the eighties when she recorded her trilogy of American songbook albums, What's New (1983), Lush Life (1984), and For Sentimental Reasons (1986).

    Arrangements for Ronstadt's "What's New" (1983) and "Lush Life" (1984) won Riddle his second and third Grammy Awards.

    Apparently she had more time to prepare for her recording of "Lush Life," because it not only made in onto an album, but she also named the middle one in the trilogy after it. You can hear a few seconds of her version here.

    February 19, 2007

    A wonderland in Wharton

    The town of Wharton was founded as the county seat of Wharton County in April 1846.

    Wharton, Texas is the Wharton County Seat, located near the Texas Gulf Coast. On Hwy. 59, it is 57 miles SW of Crazy Town (Houston) and 6 miles from Glen Flora. I arrived in Wharton after spending well over an hour sitting in a Friday afternoon, rush hour traffic jam in Crazy Town (Houston). I can't believe people endure it every day (some twice a day). I don't care how good of a job/career you may have, life's too short. But it was all worth it after I arrived in Wharton (via Rosenberg - a future "small town" post). Rather than present these pictures geographically and spatially (which is my normal method), these are ordered chronologically (starting on Friday night).

    Coming from Crazy Town (Houston), I entered Wharton via Hwy. 59, the "old way" - State Hwy. 60. This route took me right by The Tee Pee Motel. It reopened in November, and if I'd known it was open, I'd have stayed there! I nearly ran off the road when I saw this:

    Much more on the Tee Pee Motel in just a second, as I went back the next morning, at sunrise (remember, these are ordered chronologically).

    But my focus this evening would be on Plaza Theater, where local boy Horton Foote's screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird was being performed on its last night.

    The Plaza Theater on the downtown square

    Unfortunately, the red neon letters were all but gone (except for that "A"), but the green and blue neon shone brightly. In addition, the red arrows still travel up and down the theater's facade. It was beautiful, and the fact that "To Kill a Mockingbird" was on the marquee made this visit to Wharton a dream.

    Wharton County Courthouse (under renovation)

    Wakefield Inn

    The next morning, I headed straight back for The Tee Pee Motel:

    I managed to tear myself away from the Tee Pee Motel to return to the old Wharton downtown square to see what was there in the morning light...

    Near the square is Dinosaur Park, where the Wharton Art League had done this beautiful mural on the side of this house:

    The Colorado River Bridge on the left

    abandoned service station across the street from Dinosaur Park

    Primo's Food Store

    On to the downtown square:

    Note the courthouse shadow

    Built on Wharton's Courthouse Square, the Plaza Hotel began circa 1904 as a two-story brick structure with a large dining room on the first floor and 20 rooms to let. A third floor added in 1929 expanded the rooming capacity of the hotel, and included a small opera house. Wharton's first radio station began in July 1933 and operated from the third floor. The lot on which the hotel stood was sold in 1941 to Long-Griffith Theaters. The hotel was gutted and a movie theater built within the brick shell in 1941, and a gala grand opening was held in March 1942. One of three movie theaters in Wharton, the Plaza Theatre operated until the 1970s, when it was closed. In 1990 the Community Theater of Wharton reopened the Plaza Theater to provide live entertainment for the region. (1997)

    I came across several murals by artist Dayton Wodrich:

    Wharton history mural

    The Future of Wharton

    Law and Order

    The Six Flags of Texas

    agricultural mural

    I thought perhaps this shop's sign was missing a letter, until I turned the corner:

    Although the yard was being kept up, this house appeared to be empty and abandoned. Only a block away from the downtown square, this must have been quite a place in its day. Can you imagine growing up there, say in the 40s or 50s?
    Another beauty from the Wharton Art League. This one, a recipe for Texas pecan pie! Where once there was only a grey, metal shed...

    Alas, it was time to be on my way, and as I left town, I stopped to get some shots of the Wakefield Inn's sign by day. The place had the semblance of Tiki. Perhaps it was only the palm trees.

    And my journey to Wharton ended where it began, awed and overwhelmed by a genuine, vintage (albeit restored), roadside attraction: