Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day

Lincoln the railsplitter.

My Labor Day post from last year is a rare good 'un, and I can't improve on it. I recommend it to anyone who wasn't hanging around here at this time last year, or if you just want an overview of the history of American labor.

Abraham Lincoln on labor (Emphasis mine):

"The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human wants are mainly supplied. There is no dispute upon this point. From this point, however, men immediately diverge. Much disputation is maintained as to the best way of applying and controlling the labor element. By some it is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital – that nobody labors, unless somebody else owning capital, somehow, by the use of it, induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they proceed to consider whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it, without their consent. Having proceeded so far, they naturally conclude that all laborers are naturally either hired laborers or slaves. They further assume that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fatally fixed in that condition for life; and thence again, that his condition is as bad as, or worse than, that of a slave. This is the "mud-sill" theory. But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; that there is no such thing as a free man being fatally fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer; that both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed; that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior – greatly the superior – of capital. They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital. The error, as they hold, is in assuming that the whole labor of the world exists within that relation. A few men own capital; and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class – neither work for others, nor have others working for them. Even in all our slave States except South Carolina, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters. In these free States, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families – wives, sons and daughters – work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital – that is, labor with their own hands and also buy slaves or hire free men to labor for them; but this is only a mixed, and not a distinct, class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class. Again, as has already been said, the opponents of the "mud-sill" theory insist that there is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. There is demonstration for saying this. Many independent men in this assembly doubtless a few years ago were hired laborers. And their case is almost, if not quite, the general rule. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor – the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all."

Who's going to say that today? Barack Obama? John McCain? Joe Biden? Sarah Palin?

More Lincoln:

"All that harms labor is treason to America. No line can be drawn between these two. If any man tells you he loves America, yet he hates labor, he is a liar. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."

The transformation of Labor Day into another generic American patriotic holiday greatly displeases this old union man.

(Crossposted at Correntewire.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday interlude: Canned Heat

I sorta had it in mind to write a post about how the political conventions today are mostly a big waste of time and money. The process is set up now so that the nominations are cut and dried weeks before the convention begins, the platforms are mostly paid lip service, and the whole thing is just one big party the corporate contributors throw for the party faithful, for which they expect considerations in return. But that's not telling you much you don't know, and besides, we might be surprised and learn something yet.

There are still stories like this one, though, which bring back memories of the experiences of an earlier outfit of scruffy, long-haired ne'er-do-wells:

I went to Denver
Late last fall
I went to do my job
Yeah I didn't break any law
We worked a hippie place
Like many in our land
They couldn't bust the place
And so they got the band
`Cause the police in Denver
No, they don't want none of them long hairs hanging around
And that's the reason why
They want to tear Canned Heat's reputation down

This one was a substantial hit at the beginning of 1969; I think it was used on a TV commercial not too long ago.

Al "Blind Owl" Wilson and Bob "The Bear" Hite, the principal members of Canned Heat, both left us years ago. In Denver, The Man is still on the job.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Everybody, let's hurl

Seriously, America, do we really need this?

HURL! combines speedeating with intense physical challenges all designed to shake up competitors... it's an eating competition with an extreme sports chaser!

With HURL!, participants are subjected to a series of challenges: Spiraling down a tunnel in a steel cage ball after eating mounds of Mac 'n Cheese... saddling up for a bucking, spinning, spew-inducing thrill ride on the mechanical bull after downing a passel of franks n' beans... and much more!

Guess what! If you make it through the show without losing your cookies, you win a big $1000!

Hell, this shouldn't bother me; I've seen The Exorcist. And I've seen people eat gruesome bugs and things on Survivor before I stopped watching that show when it began repeating itself. But a show that deliberately induces its contestants to puke, I don't get it.

I guess nobody stays hip forever...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Barroom philosophy

The fucking Beatles embark upon their mission to subvert the youth of America.

The other day Sonia Sunshine just had to ask: "What is the most ridiculous conversation you've ever had with a drunk person?" Sonia, I love you dearly, but some stories are just too good to throw away at the bottom of somebody else's comments thread.

One of the things I miss about my old stomping grounds are the neighborhood bars. My hometown was mostly settled by Germans (those few of you who know my surname see where I fit in), and those old Germans loved their beer. Just about anywhere you are up there in my hometown or in the neighboring communities, you are within walking distance of one of those cozy corner bars. A place where the neighborhood folks sit at the bar with their longnecks and bitch about the President or the Cardinals. A couple of guys playing checkers in the corner, or maybe a game of euchre if the joint's really hoppin'. Old men walk in with their tin buckets for the bartender to fill up with Budweiser, or more often Stag, for years our hometown brew. Unfortunately, we have nothing like that in redneck suburbia, because respectable people here don't go to bars. Therefore, a couple of fern bars in strip malls excepted, what we have in the boonies north of Nashville are exactly the sorts of dives respectable people would never enter.

The winter after I graduated from college, I was back home with Mom and Dad, just another overeducated long-haired kid with a bad attitude and a job at 7-11. The drizzle that had fallen all day had changed to snow, and the temperature had dropped low enough for the roads to freeze. It was Friday night, I was wanting to get out, but for once had enough sense not to try the roads, especially after having a few beers. So I put on my coat and boots and walked the six blocks to the Derby Inn. I didn't drink there much, it was considered an old geezer's hangout, but it was too dangerous to drive across town to the cool bars. I figured I'd go to the Derby and drink some beers, watch the hockey game on TV, and maybe that crazy old Greek guy would walk in and order shots of ouzo for everyone.

When I walked into the Derby Inn, the place was deserted - maybe four people in there max, besides the bartender. It was so dead they didn't even bother putting out the frog legs, the Derby's customary appetizer. After a couple of beers I figured I'd be just as well off getting a six-pack from the store across the street and watching the rest of the game at home. But before heading out the door, I had to make a trip to the bathroom.

Just as I was to commence with doing my business, this old fellow, well into his 70's, came through the bathroom door, crying out, "Some little sonovabitch out on the Belt Line tried to run me off the road! These damn kids don't know shit about driving in the snow!" From his speech, and the manner in which he stumbled to the urinal, he was several drinks over his limit. He unzipped his pants and as he was pissing, gave an oration on the lax work habits and corrupt morals of America's youth, oblivious to the fact that the guy in the next stall was all of 22, and equally unaware that more of his effluent was landing on the floor than going in the urinal.

The old drunk finished up, turned, and looked me square in the eye. "And do you know what caused all this shit?", he asked.

"No, what?" I asked.

"The fucking Beatles."

"The Beatles, huh?"

"That's right, the fucking Beatles! Those goddam bastards came over here with their long hair and their dope and their free love and they ruined this country! Back in my day, you didn't talk back to anybody, and you straightened up and you got a job! But now, these kids, they grow their hair down to their ass and lay around the house all day smoking pot and listening to that goddam acid rock and screwing right and left! All because of the fucking Beatles!"

Who knew?

He staggered out the bathroom door muttering fucking something-or-other under his breath. As I was walking out of the Derby Inn a moment later, I saw him at the bar with his bottle of Stag giving his sermon on American youth to the bartender. I went across the street to get my six-pack, then walked home and watched the rest of the hockey game.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday morning fun

Ever wonder what songs were popular when you were born? No? Well, here's a neat website that will tell you the #1 song from the day you were born, or any date in history.

The #1 song on my birthday was The Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me". I was glad to find out this classic romantic tune was atop the charts that day, since 1960 was a lousy year for popular music in general, so crappy that I've even thought about writing about its craptacularness a time or two. The biggest hit of 1960 was Percy Faith's "Theme From A Summer Place", one of the creepiest tunes ever recorded. But "Save The Last Dance For Me" is a nice Latin-tinged ballad, written by the crack songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and produced by the legendary Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was Ben E. King's last big hit with The Drifters before he left to go solo.

So what was #1 on your birthday? Post it in comments.

(H/T: FrenchDoc at Corrente.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jerry Wexler

Legendary producer and record company executive Jerry Wexler passed away Friday at age 91. His name may not be familiar to some of you, especially the younger readers, but it's almost impossible to turn your radio on today without hearing some of Wexler's influence.

Jerry Wexler was born January 10, 1917, in New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants living in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. As a youth, Wexler spent a good deal of time hanging out on the streets and in the poolrooms, and picked up an appreciation for jazz. Jerry's mother, however, aspired for her son to be a writer, and following his high school graduation enrolled him at Kansas State University. Whatever apprehension he had about being sent out to the heartland disappeared when he discovered Kansas City's jazz clubs were only a hundred miles away. Spending more time in Kansas City than on campus, Wexler's grades suffered, and he eventually dropped out of school and returned to New York.

Wexler enlisted in the Navy in World War II. With the military providing him discipline, he completed several correspondence courses while in the service, and following his discharge returned to Kansas State to earn his degree. Back in New York, he worked at several jobs in the music industry, eventually being hired as a writer with Billboard. In those days, Billboard referred to records made by black musicians as "race music"; not caring for that term, Wexler coined the description "rhythm and blues".

Itching for a more hands-on role in the music industry, Wexler struck up a friendship with Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Impressed by his musical knowledge, in 1953, Ertegun brought Wexler into the Atlantic fold as a producer and full partner. Of Ertegun Wexler would say, "In a way, he handed me a life".

With a job he truly enjoyed, Wexler would spend the next two decades helping lay the foundations of rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. He helped invent modern record production - of the old days, he said, "No one really knew how to make a record when I started. You simply went into the studio, turned on the mike and said play." Among Atlantic's innovations was miking the rhythm section separately to provide their recordings a distinct, funky groove.

Wexler's business connections were invaluable in providing Atlantic artists with national exposure. He spent many hours hustling radio stations to play Atlantic's singles; many stations back then still had virtually all-white playlists, and Wexler's persistence helped break down color barriers. He created innovative contracts with songwriters, producers, musicians, and independent record labels, enriching Atlantic's coffers while letting the artists have a greater share of the wealth. One of Wexler's most successful partnerships was created with Stax Records. Wexler could then send many of his best artists down South to record in the more relaxed atmosphere of the Stax studios; in return, Wexler provided the Memphis label access to Atlantic's national distribution system, giving Stax artists like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes maximum exposure.

Arguably, his greatest success was his signing of Aretha Franklin in 1966. Franklin had just concluded several frustrating years with Columbia Records, who tried to remake her into a conventional pop singer, with little commercial or artistic success. Wexler encouraged her to drop the pop stylings and sing the way she had in church, as well as getting her to play the piano again. Franklin said, "They made me sit down on the piano, and the hits came". Beginning with her first Atlantic single, "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)", Franklin began a remarkable string of gospel-tinged soul hits, including "Respect" and "Chain Of Fools", and became known as the "Queen Of Soul", another title Wexler coined.

Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Brothers in 1968, which gave Wexler more free time, but his influence began to wane. He still was able to put together some major deals, such as setting up Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones with their own record labels supported by Atlantic's distribution, and buying Duane Allman out of his contract as a Muscle Shoals sessionman so the Allman Brothers could sign with Capricorn Records, another independent label distributed by Atlantic. Wexler, though, was increasingly unhappy as a high-salaried employee of a corporate monolith, and quit Atlantic in 1975 to spend most of the remainder of his career freelancing. As an independent producer, Wexler worked with a variety of artists ranging from Bob Dylan and George Michael to Etta James and Carlos Santana. His activity slowed down in the later 80's and 90's, partly due to his distaste for the hard rock and rap sounds that evolved in recent years. Wexler was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987, one of the first non-performers so honored.

Over the course of his lengthy career, Jerry Wexler left his mark on popular music as few people ever have. He really did teach the music industry how to make records, and proved that you could be successful treating the people who made the music as genuine artists, instead as the means to making a quick buck. Wexler was one of the last of a dying breed.

At Corrente, Bringiton has assembled some of the highlights of Wexler's career. It's well worth the trip.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes, pioneering soul and R&B artist, and occasional actor, passed away at his home Sunday. He was 65 years old.

Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. was raised by his grandparents in the heart of West Tennessee cotton country. He started singing in church at age 5, and began learning to play piano soon afterward. He dropped out of high school to play his music in the Memphis clubs, and eventually was hired by the city's up-and-coming Stax record label as a session pianist. At Stax, he soon teamed with David Porter, whom he had known from rival doo-wop groups, and began a songwriting partnership that brought Stax many of its greatest hits, as well as a lifelong friendship.

Hayes and Porter rose to prominence providing a string of classic hits for Sam & Dave - "You Don't Know Like I Know", "Soul Man", "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby", and "Hold On I'm Comin", to name a few. Other artists Hayes and Porter worked with included Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and The Emotions. As a songwriter and a musician, Hayes played a major role in catapulting Stax to its position as one of the premier R&B labels of the 60's.

Hayes' success at Stax eventually led him to record on his own. His debut, Presenting Isaac Hayes, was basically an after-hours jam that attracted little attention. The followup disc, Hot Buttered Soul, was the record that firmly established Hayes' sound and image. Consisting of only four tracks over 45 minutes of music, the LP featured many of Hayes' trademarks: extended workouts of pop standards ("Walk On By" and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"), lush orchestration, long spoken-word introductions (the intro to "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" goes on for eight minutes before the music finally kicks in), and Hayes' rich baritone vocals. With his shaven head, gold chains, and buff physique, Hayes created a powerful visual image to match. Hot Buttered Soul went gold, and set the stage for Hayes' early 70's triumphs.

Subsequent recordings continued in the same vein: The Isaac Hayes Movement, To Be Continued, and Black Moses all sold well. But a meeting with film director Gordon Parks led to Hayes' greatest success. Parks asked Hayes to provide the soundtrack to a movie he was making about a black private eye, Shaft, and Hayes responded with a landmark recording. The "Theme From Shaft", with its chucka-wucka synthesizers, wah-wah guitar effects, and Hayes' unforgettable rap at the center of the song, became a prototype for the disco explosion of the later 70's. The "Theme From Shaft" deservedly spent two weeks atop the US singles charts, and would also win Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Hayes also made a cameo appearance in the movie as a bartender. Shaft would lift Hayes up for a time into the highest ranks of superstardom.

Hayes would continue through the mid 70's with movie work, providing music for and acting in Tough Guys and Truck Turner, in addition to his regular LP releases. But by 1976, he was in deep money trouble, mostly tied to the financial difficulties Stax Records found itself in. In 1974, Hayes sued Stax for $5.3 million in unpaid royalties; with Stax unable to pay, Hayes found it impossible to pay his own debts, and in 1976 was forced to file for bankruptcy. By the time the bankruptcy proceedings were settled the next year, Hayes had lost his home, many of his personal belongings, and especially painful, the rights to any future royalties earned from his work up to that point.

Through the 80's and much of the 90's, Hayes maintained a lower profile as he rebuilt his career, making occasional recordings and appearing in acting roles on TV series such as The A-Team and Miami Vice. He returned to national prominence in the later 90's as the voice of Chef on South Park. Chef became one of the series' most popular characters, dispensing advice to the South Park kids laced with salacious double-entendres. Chef even gave Hayes' music career a revival of sorts - "Chocolate Salty Balls", sung by Hayes in Chef's persona, became a #1 hit in the UK. Hayes would leave South Park in 2006. A devout Scientologist, he quit following a dispute with the show's creators over an episode that lampooned Scientology.

Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002. He was known in Memphis for his philanthropic activities, including sponsoring reading programs for young children and his support of the Blues Ball. Despite suffering a stroke in 2006, Hayes remained in good physical shape. When he passed away, his wife found him laying next to his treadmill, with the treadmill still running.

Here's Isaac Hayes from back in the day with "The Look Of Love", another extended treatment of a Burt Bacharach song. Oldskool at its finest.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Your caption here

Our Maximum Leader shows his, er, appreciation for beach volleyball...

Via Digby. Apparently Misty May-Treanor was asking for it.

Although you really can't see it in this pic, I'll give bonus points if anybody can explain what the hell that is Kerri Walsh has tattooed on her right shoulder.

(Crossposted at Watching Those We Chose, because I hit the wrong damn button. I hope they don't mind...)

64 hours

64 hours is what I worked this past week. I haven't worked less than a 48 hour week since I returned from funeral leave. Staying busy does help to keep one from dwelling on things, but I'm starting to feel a bit burnt out. Too burnt out to do much blogging, anyway. I've been tryoing to get around the neighborhood to comment here and there (commenting doesn't usually require as much thought); if I haven't been around to see you lately, refer back to the title.

I'm beginning to realize there's no way I can keep up with all the garden chores. I expect this workload to continue more-or-less indefinitely. We're shorthanded as it is, and due to the city's perennial budget crisis, reinforcements are not forthcoming. Even if they were, they usually have to be trained for at least two years before we can leave them on their own. Next year it looks like I'll just keep the flowers and plants closest to the house, and of course continue maintaining the trees she planted.

I worry most about the babies. Thalia is constantly irritated with me. Cockatiels need to have a regular schedule, and there's no way I can do that. Not only do I work nights, they call me in to work day shift on my days off, and that messes us all up. Thalia doesn't like being woke up before sunrise, or getting put to bed before sunset, and she definitely hates my sleeping in the middle of the day when she's most active. Tara is more philosophical about the situation; she's become used to my odd comings and goings over the years. Of course, she's at the point in her life where I don't know how much longer she'll be around. I know she's lonely at night. She can't curl up with Mama any more, and her brothers and sisters are all long gone; they're all with their Mama once again. I imagine them running through shaded woods, and the green fields and the beautiful flowers of the Summerlands; a place that's never too hot or too cold, or too wet or too dry.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday morning rush: "Men Without Shame"

On the way to work yesterday I heard an announcement for a guitar seminar; not too unusual because in this town everybody either plays guitar or wants to. My ears perked up a bit when they announced one of the participants would be "David Bowie's long-time guitarist Earl Slick.

First thing I thought was, "Damn, that's a name I haven't heard in years." My second thought was "I haven't posted anything to the blog in a few days..."

OK, I know you hate these Monday morning guitar wanks, but that's just 'cos if y'all had it your way, you'd sleep until Wednesday afternoon. Balls to that, I say; get up and crank up one helluva groove from a fine guitar player at his best.

In the mid-80's Slick teamed up to form a group with Stray Cats veterans Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker. After months of careful deliberation, the trio came up with the imaginative name Phantom, Rocker and Slick. The "Men Without Shame" of the title, as far as I can tell, refers to music critics. With a riff like that, though, the words aren't all that important.

I did check, and to my surprise, Earl Slick still tours with David Bowie on occasion. He's also got a band, Slinky Vagabond, which also features ex-Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock (the one who knew how to play) and ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke. Enjoy.