Manafonistas

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It was New Year’s Eve 1969 and I had tickets to see Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies, the evening they recorded the live album at the Fillmore East in NYC, but it was not meant to be. You see, I had a bad case of strep throat that was keeping me home on that cold, snowy winter’s night. I was 17 years old and my entire family was out partying, even my little brother. So I was left alone in our New Jersey suburban house, gazing out the window at the flurries of snow and the icy driveway illuminated by streetlights, imagining all the revelry I was missing down at the Fillmore in the East Village.

In the midst of feeling terribly sorry for myself, the phone suddenly rang. I picked it up and it was one of my friends who happened to live in the house I grew up in down the hill. He told me that a girl, Judy, whose boyfriend was visiting his parents back in Wales for the holidays, had asked about me. “Judy is here and is apparently very horny – she pretty much told me she wants to sleep with you tonight,” he informed me. “You should come down – this is probably the only chance you’ll ever get with her.”

Judy was an artist, a gorgeous black woman hailing from Britain. She was sophisticated, older by at least three years and had reportedly dated Stevie Winwood – in other words, she was way out of my league. My friend handed the phone over to her. “Brian, you just have to come down. We’re having quite the party and it would be lovely to see you.” I mumbled something about being ill but she pressed me to come over. “I promise it will be worth it,” she purred seductively.

I had to go – What else could I do? I gathered myself together, took a hot shower and dressed for the cold weather. The ice made a crackling noise under my feet as I made my way down the hill to my childhood home. It was always weird revisiting the home where I had spent a good portion of my wonder years. When I arrived I was greeted by a group of hippie friends who were of course already quite high, giggling and embracing me in the doorway. They guided me to the back den which had once been a screened in sunroom when I had lived there. They were playing the Jimi Hendrix album, Axis Bold as Love. My friend had lived in England for a year and had returned with some great records, including the British version of Are You Experienced. He had turned me onto Hendrix and all things fab from the British Isles. And now he was turning me onto Judy.

I walked into that now enclosed sunroom, a room I had almost burned down as a child when a science experiment took a bad turn – and there she was, sitting in the corner on the couch looking radiant, wearing a black dress and a beautiful gold necklace with matching earrings. She was stunning – with her high cheek bones and her hair plaited and pulled tightly back, to me she looked like a model. She was flirtatious and when I told her I wasn’t feeling well, she immediately dug into her purse and brought out an Alka-Seltzer. Dissolving it in a glass of water I dutifully drank it down. Feeling no better, she proceeded to ply me with alcohol, a dirty martini as I recall.

After hanging around listening to the Stones Aftermath and the latest Traffic album, she invited me downstairs to my friend’s bedroom. This was really odd for me. As a young child, I never had a bedroom of my own, having shared a room with my older, then younger brother. It wasn’t until I turned 13 that my parents remodeled the sub-surface playroom, the only window which was at ground level. I remember feeling somewhat isolated from the rest of my family who lived two flights of stairs up from me, almost as if I lived in the basement, although it certainly had afforded me plenty of privacy. I noticed it was still the cheery orange color it had been when I first moved in. There was a small double bed and a chest of drawers. A small desk was tucked away in a corner. Judy lit a candle, sprawled out on the bed and motioned to me to join her. She then proceeded to try everything in her repertoire to arouse my interest, but I was just too ill. To tell the truth, she intimidated me, and besides, it was just too weird being in a room I had lived in as a 13-year-old. Childhood memories kept flooding back, distracting me from her amorous efforts.

After exhausting a good number of pages from the Kama Sutra to no avail, Judy and I went back up to join the group. It was then that we got a call from another friend who lived further down the street in an old Victorian. He invited the group of us to make our way over for a hookah full of hashish and the newest Who album. We carefully picked our way down the slippery sidewalk, a couple of us nearly falling enroute.

Tom’s room was a hippie dream – Candelight flickered against the high embossed tin ceiling and on the classic psychedelic posters that dotted the walls; tin foil had been artfully laid in just below the crown molding, giving the room a mirrored appearance, and the antique windows made everything outside look like an impressionist painting. The centerpiece of the room was a low brass Persian table on top of which sat a hookah. Underneath the table lay a luxurious Iranian rug. We sat on floor cushions and took turns taking hits off the hookah. My friend put on Tommy and as was the custom in those days, we sat back and listened in silence.

Not that the hash did much for my condition – instead of being sick, I was now very high and sick. Taking a cue from Judy’s obvious determination to seduce me, everyone tactfully left the room. Once again, she tried everything she could think of to interest me, but alas, her ministrations were all in vain. Eventually she gave up and decided to drive home. New Years Eve was over. I honestly don’t even remember the long, cold walk back to my house.

A couple weeks later, I was on my way to school in NYC. I was walking through the uptown NY Port Authority Terminal on 178th St when I spotted a beautiful woman carrying a rather large black leather art portfolio. It was Judy. I made my way over and after chatting for a couple minutes I mumbled an apology for what had transpired, or rather, what had not transpired on New Years Eve. “Umm, Do you think we umm, might get together again, uh, now that I’m feeling better and all?” I asked, my voice trembling with trepidation. Judy gave me a cool look and uttered, “I don’t think so. Take good care luv.” And that was it. She wandered off towards the subway and disappeared into the crowd. I never saw her again.

 

 

I once hung out with Michel, the late Bay Area sax player, Mel Martin, Michel’s Italian friend and bass player (whose name I forget) and a couple other folks for one wild unforgettable night at the home of the late Jerry Sealund in Sebastopol CA. A wild man, a blind bassist and a friend of Charles Lloyd, Jerry had once played with a lot of the free jazz cats and recorded with some of them, but by the time I met him, had reinvented himself as the owner of the largest health food store in Sonoma County. He was a notorious party animal, and had quite a colorful history, which included hosting Stephen Gaskin’s Monday night Class (which became a classic New Age book)in the back of his Haight Ashbury health food store, Far Fetched Foods. Incidentally, that store burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances, and it was said that was how Jerry financed his large new store in Santa Rosa. But I digress …

Parties at Jerry’s were notorious. I had been to a few and knew what to expect. Predictably, the evening was a mad melange of lots of playing, drugs, alcohol, stories and plenty of colorful expletives.

Michel dug into his wallet at one point, took out a crumpled piece of paper and handed it over for me to read. It was a note by Chick Corea that said something to the effect that Michel was a fantastic talent and that he was sure he had a big career ahead. Tragically, that career was cut short.

We were all extremely high when Michel looked at me and said, “You know, people with my condition (glass bones disease,) never live that long. I’ll be lucky to make it to 30.” He raised his glass and said, “I don’t care motherfucker, lets enjoy this life!” And we proceeded to party like it was 1999. (It was actually probably around 1983.)

Michel hated being carried around. Eventually this strong willed little giant figured out a way to use short crutches to walk to the piano. I saw him do this one memorable night @ Kimballs in SF. After he got to the piano he somehow lifted himself up to the bench, no small feat. Once situated, Instead of using his brace which in the past he has attached from his foot to the pedal, he leaned precariously forwards on the edge of the bench and managed to reach the pedal without it. Somehow he played that way the whole night. It was beautiful.

I found out a while ago from a post by Michael that the enigmatic guitarist Steve Eliovson had passed away on March 15th. Anyway, someone posted a little video about his memorial service. It seems a fan who had once briefly been friends with him tracked him down after many years, but it was too late to reunite. The saddest part of all this is the only people who even knew him and his wonderful album, Dawn Dance were these two out of towners who came from Johannesburg to find him. The rest were just a random quorum of 10 local Jews, none of whom knew him or had any idea who they were burying. I found it a poignant experience to watch this.

 

 

v i d e o

 

 

Here is what the person who filmed this wrote:

 

 

The Quiet Funeral of a Great Guitarist – Steve Eliovson – Born: 1954 – Died: 15 Mar 2020 **There is a Thundafund underway to raise funds for a gravestone for Steve –  ** There are perhaps many thousands of people around the planet who want to know about Steve Eliovson and what has happened to him. We have decided to put this video up of his funeral for all those who want to know. Had they been given advance warning, I’m sure many would have been at his funeral on this day and to say farewell to an enigmatic and brilliant musician. The 17th of March was a sad and strange day. I received a message from my friend Herby Opland that Steve Eliovson had died and that his funeral was this very day at 12 noon at the West Park Jewish Cemetery, Johannesburg. The news took me back a few years to when I actively spent a few weeks trying to track the man down. I had made up my mind that if he was alive, I was going to find him. I failed utterly. The closest I got was to a cousin of his in America who then asked me if I had any news. My desire to find Steve was driven by an obsessive curiosity as to how and why such a talented and awe-inspiring musician could simply disappear off the face of the earth. For a brief moment, we had become friends in the mid 1980’s after he walked into my gig in Sea Point and asked if he could sit down with me. I was taking a break and eating my supper at the time. He asked me point-blank if I remember a guitarist by the name Steve Eliovson and because a few years earlier I had watched him perform two incendiary performances with jazz guitarist Johnny Fourie, I immediately recognised him. He came out to my place in Muizenberg twice and we got to jam a little together and then he was gone. I never saw him or heard of him again. When I looked again he had so successfully removed himself from the grid that he was utterly invisible. Steve’s one and only album titled ‚Dawn Dance‘, (ECM), recorded with the late Collin Walcott in 1981, has in the interim, become a highly-acclaimed collectors item, revered by maybe hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Many of whom voice their desire to know just what happened to the mysterious guitarist and why he never recorded again. I have only been able to fill in tiny bits of detail. He went to the USA and was lined up to record a second album with ECM when he broke his leg badly. This put him out of action for a while. There may have been complications. There are tales of him squatting with a friend and having to store his guitars which were never reclaimed. How he survived over there I do not know. There is another tale that he came back to SA and tried being a farmer for awhile in KZN. Today I went to his funeral. Myself and my friend Herby, outside of the minimum ten Jewish men required at any Jewish burial, were the only people there who knew who he was. There was no family, no friend, not a single soul who knew and loved him. Steve had died two days earlier in the Johannesburg General, he had end-stage cancer. He had been living in a flatlet in Berea for some months. Where he was before that is hazy. These flats are owned by the Jewish Benevolent Society and are made available to those who have fallen on hard times. Steve lived there quietly, never once reaching out to old friends and family. This astoundingly talented master-musician gave us a brief flurry of his brilliance and then for reasons still unknown, walked away from it all so quietly that there was no-one outside of Herby, myself and ten strangers at his funeral today. RIP Steve Eliovson, we did not and will not forget you brother.

 

2020 19 Feb

RIP Lyle Mays

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I am still pretty broken up about the loss of Lyle Mays, a true innovator on keyboards, a gifted arranger and composer, and when at the piano, a formidable and expressive melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic master on the instrument. He was one of my musical heroes.

There is no doubt in my mind that while Pat Metheny was the frontman and “star” of the Pat Metheny Group, it was Lyle Mays who added that special secret ingredient. His distinctive gifts helped catapult the band to major international success and achieve that rarified level of music making for which it became known.

The chemistry between Metheny and Mays was entirely unique. While it is not uncommon for jazz musicians to forge long-term associations, Metheny and Mays were also a writing team, something common in the pop world but almost unheard of in the jazz idiom. When they would perform together in the middle of PMG’s epic three-hour shows, one could hear them finishing one another’s musical sentences—-two musical minds in perfect sync, acting as one. As a writing team, they were truly the Lennon/McCartney of jazz. While Metheny’s compositions without Lyle’s input were always solid, there was something ineffable and synergistic about this collaboration. In fact, I used to call the Pat Metheny Group the Beatles of jazz. Anyone who caught them, especially in those early years, knows exactly what I mean. From the first few bars of “Phase Dance,” their ritual opener for many years, the excitement in the audience was more akin to what one would expect at a concert of a great rock band than a conventional jazz group. But then, they were anything but conventional in their approach.

Lyle Mays clearly owed a lot to the jazz greats who came before him—-he had a particularly close musical affinity with Bill Evans. You could hear it not only in his lyricism, but also in the way he pushed and pulled at the time with his over-the-bar phrasing, something Evans pursued and perfected over the entire course of his career.

During his career, Mays only produced four solo albums, each one well worth tracking down. That first album, “Lyle Mays,” is a marvelous example of his compositional mastery, his personal approach to orchestration using his trademark synth sounds, and his exquisitely sensitive piano touch. I consider it to be a desert island record.

Although Lyle stopped performing around 2011, there was a more recent surprise release of a live quartet two-disc album recorded in Ludwigsburg, Germany back in 1993. It’s a near-audiophile recording and, devoid of synths, the set really illustrates just what a resourceful pianist Mays truly was. Some jazz snobs criticized Lyle’s playing in PMG as too “rhapsodic” due to his tendency to play solos that often built up to large chordal climaxes. One listen to this live album dispels any false notions regarding his line playing. Mays had obviously absorbed the entire history of jazz, up to and through bebop and beyond, and went on to effortlessly augment that vocabulary with rock, gospel, R&B, Afro Cuban, world, and classical influences. When I was a young player, I was amazed how he managed to inject Floyd Cramer and Vince Guaraldi licks into his solos—-the essence of heartland America—-and somehow it all fit beautifully. For these reasons, his music speaks to a wider audience than most mainstream jazz musicians are able to reach.

For over a decade it was a mystery why Lyle dropped out of the music world to pursue a career as a music software product specialist. There was much speculation. Pat Metheny, respecting Lyle’s privacy, only said Lyle was “enjoying his civilian life” away from the rigors of constant touring. All of this may be true, but we now know Lyle was dealing with a long-term recurring illness, which may have contributed to his decision to stop performing. One thing is certain: Lyle Mays’s music has made an indelible mark on our musical culture, one that went far beyond the insular world of jazz to inspire a multitude of fans and musicians (the latter often his most ardent fans.) The universal spirit and depth of Lyle’s generous heart, distilled in every single note, touched us all.

2019 20 Dez

My Best of 2019 list

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To tell the truth, I don’t really listen to much new music these days. The things I find myself most listening to are old – either things I want to study, perhaps transcribe and learn to play, or things I want to chill to in these stressful times. That being said, here is a list of 2019 releases that did get into my head and heart this year to varying degrees.

 

In no particular order:

 

  • Mats Eilertsen- And Then Comes the Night (a favorite)
  • Bill Frisell Thomas Morgan – Epistrophy
  • Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Zakir Hussain – Good Hope
  • Tigran Hamyasan They Say Nothing Stays the Same (soundtrack to the film -simply gorgeous music)
  • E.S.T. – Live in Gothenburg (their best live album – maybe their best album period.)
  • Keith Jarrett – Munich (For disc 2)
  • Ethan Iverson Quartet – Common Practice
  • Avishai Cohen/Yonathan Avishai- Playing the Room
  • Celesta – Michael Jon Fink (meditative and mysterious solo Celeste)
  • Søren Bebe- Echoes
  • Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance
  • Rymden- Rymden
  • Scott Kinsey – We Speak Luniwaz (because its good, and because it’s an homage to Zawinul and I miss him.)
  • Marc Copland – And I Love Her
  • Nguyen Le- Streams (Nguyen le is back in jazz form with this hard hitting but subtle quartet album with bass, vibes, drums and of course guitar. His best in years.)

 
Reissues (HD downloads)
 

  • Double Image – Dawn
  • Art Lande Rubisa Patrol – Desert Marauders
  • Tom Van der Geld – Path
  • Gallery – Gallery

 
Reissues Pop
 

  • King Crimson 50th box – In the Court of the Crimson King
  • Beatles – Abbey Road

 
Chill Albums
 

  • GS Sachdev – The Art of the Bamboo Flute (I never get tired of this album- no rhythm or tablas, just on the breath with tamboura- essential listening)
  • Tony Scott – Music for Zen meditation (classic for a reason)
  • W A Mathieu – Streaming Wisdom/In the Wind
  • W A Mathieu – Second Nature

(These are two CD reissues of three 80’s albums by my teacher, who went thru a wonderful period of experimentation with an analog 4 track recorder and his piano, recorded in his octagonal studio high on a hill in Sebastopol. While much of Mathieu’s music is highly composed, these pieces are mostly improvised, joyful multitrack discoveries, sometimes employing prepared piano and vocals which were inspired by his study of the North Indian vocal tradition and African mbira music.)

We were evacuated from my house last Saturday evening because of the threat of the Kincade Fire, which was due to be whipped up by a “wind event” predicted to arrive later that evening, continuing into the following day. The evacuation order came at 6:00 pm, precisely at the moment we had just finished packing my entire music studio into our two cars, along with a few cherished items, some clothes, essentials and some art works. We went to my partner Melissa’s place in Santa Rosa which still had power (PG&E was turning off power in order to prevent more fires,) and thought we would be safe there, spending a sleepless night with the crazy winds banging shrubbery against her windows and periodically being awakened by yet another sheriff’s evacuation warning on my cell phone, until early morning when Santa Rosa was also evacuated. So early ‪Sunday morning‬ we drove to the Whole Foods in nearby Petaluma because we couldn’t think of what to do next. The 101 freeway was packed with evacuees, all headed south; it looked like a scene from a cheesy sci fi apocalypse movie from the 90’s. When we arrived at Whole Foods, it was a wild scene, because it appeared many other west county folks had the same idea. I saw some of my musician friends there, bleary eyed, drinking coffee and milling about, not knowing where to go. We talked about our plans and made a few phone calls to friends, eventually landing in Berkeley where we stayed for a few days with one of my dearest friends.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile the fires continued to burn largely uncontained, growing to over 78,000 acres, while over 5000 fireman hailing from 300 fire companies from all over the country battled the blaze and bravely protected little towns less than a mile west of the fires, and in some cases the fire was literally within a few hundred feet of swallowing up whole developments, as in the photo below. The fear was with the fierce Diablo winds blowing (gusting up to 100 mph,) the fire would jump the 101 freeway and land in our neck of the woods, an area that hasn’t burned since the 1940s, where it could get a foothold and sweep through everything in its path all the way to the sea. Around 90,000 structures were threatened – that’s why they evacuated west county all the way to the coast.

We know we have problems here: it’s a complex issue, with the urban/woodland interface that has grown up all over the area, and contrary to Trump’s blaming the state for poor forest management, for the most part it wasn’t the forests that were burning – up here it was mostly grassland and chaparral near the vineyards. And with some 33 million acres of forests state wide, about half of which are federally owned, it would be virtually impossible to “clean it all up“ because we’ve had wet winters the past couple years, which only increases the fuel load in summer, and it would take many millions (more likely billions) of dollars to clean it up, and it still probably wouldn’t be enough. And of course, our president doesn’t even acknowledge climate change, choosing instead to ignorantly blame California and because you know, we don’t like him.

And then we have problems with our power company PG&E, because they continue to put profits for their shareholders above maintaining their infrastructure. This was the reason for the Paradise fires in Butte County where so many people died – some folks got ahold of PG&E’s records that showed they deferred maintenance there for some 30 years. The same holds true for our area. Thus it was that a similar accident occurred here: a transmission tower failed. Two of my friends were in Geyserville the evening the fire broke out- at 9:30 PM they witnessed the explosion of the transmission tower high on a distant hilltop. Some people even caught it on video. At least this time PG&E is fessing up – last time they lied about it. Now they’re already in bankruptcy and even more people have lost their homes (around 400 structures this time, 1/2 of which were homes, nothing compared to the 10,000 structures we lost in 2017 but still …) This time almost everyone was evacuated and there were no lives lost. Kudos to Sherrif Esseck for declaring the largest evacuation (over 200,000 people) in Sonoma County history. Under the circumstances, it was the right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

Our friend in Berkeley had a family member who was also in need of a place to stay, so we had to leave and we stayed a couple more days with good friends in Brentwood out towards the Sacramento Delta. It was so peaceful and quiet out there. Except for the faint smell of smoke and the brown skies on the horizon, one would‘ve never known what was happening up north.

Evacuations were lifted Thursday afternoon and power finally came back on that night, but Melissa had had a mishap 2 days before – she scratched her cornea really badly and had to go to the emergency room. After that there were follow up visits to the ophthalmologist. So we were stuck in the East Bay until she saw the doctor one more time. My studio equipment was still over at the last house we stayed in Berkeley. So after her appointment we went back to my friend’s house, re-packed all of our stuff and finally headed home. Needless to say, it has been a very stressful experience for many of us. And this is the 2nd time in just two years – Welcome to the new normal.

But of course until the rains come, I will not feel comfortable in my own home. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe in my home again. We’ve been looking to move for the better part of the last year and have made multiple trips up north. It’s not easy to find a place to land, knowing it’ll probably be the last place I live. And of course, Melissa has to be happy as well; so much has to be considered. The bay area affords a vast variety of diverse cultural experiences, not to mention the beauty of the coastline. That’s the ”problem” with where we live: We are 30 minutes from the ocean, 45 minutes from the mountains, and about an hour from San Francisco: It’s hard to beat. San Francisco remains a vital cultural arts center on the west coast, especially for the kind of music I enjoy. We have the amazing SF Jazz Center, the one of a kind Chapel, West Sonoma County’s own formidable Healdsburg Jazz Festival and a number of smaller venues that support the sort of eclectic, esoteric music I love. I’m fully aware that cities like Eugene, Portland or even Seattle don’t have this kind of programming and if they do, it tends to be a rarified event. Of course one can travel to the Bay Area or anywhere else for that matter for a healthy dose of culture. I just have mixed feelings about cutting the cord here, because I know once I do, I’m never coming back, and after 45 years in my beloved Sonoma County, that’s a sobering thought. That being said, the prospect of not moving is even more sobering.


 
 

Saw an extraordinary concert last night with Tigran Hamayasan and Areni Agbabian. Tigran played a beautiful solo piano set comprised of pieces off several of his more recent Nonesuch recordings including things from his latest solo album For Gyumri, the village in Armenia where he grew up – then he brought vocalist Areni Agbabian to the stage. Rather than perform her music, they performed more of Tigran’s music interspersed with free pieces, one of which was built on layered synth drone loops created on the fly by Hamyasan. This impromptu piece turned out to be one of the most powerful and transcendent moments of the evening. Most of the pieces presented were meditative and slow, although the closer, a piece off one of his Nonesuch records (they all sort of blend together for me-could’ve been off Shadow Theater,) was a powerhouse, a mind- blowing epic that had Tigran playing two fisted grooves in a long odd beat cycle (15) while Areni sang high-wire instrumental lines over it with surgical precision.

Areni Agbabian possesses one of the sweetest non-operatic soprano voices around and has a very refined if understated vocal technique. The pristine purity of her voice really has to be heard live to be appreciated. While I love her performances on Tigran’s non-ECM projects, I am really enjoying her ECM album Bloom. Although she’s a capable accompanist for herself, Tigran’s inspired playing elevated her performance to an entirely different orbit. She improvised along with him several times – although she seemed a bit shy at first, her melodic sensibility was virtually infallible.

Sometimes the two sang together, voices blending effortlessly. At one point during the closing piece, Tigran took a “beatbox” solo, but that is too shallow a description for what he actually does. Besides exploring his Armenian roots, it appears Tigran has studied the Indian rhythm system known as Konecol. His polyrhymic beatboxing is so complex, his mastery of the subdivision of the beat so prodigious, that drummers on youtube are learning his solos from posted videos, playing along with them and posting videos of their own. There were so many lightening-in-a-bottle moments filled with ephemeral beauty, I lay awake late into the night still feeling the impact – a profound journey through modal worlds filled with forest magic from another time and space – yet at the same time imbued with the sort of subtle dissonance associated with composers such as Bela Bartok and (early) Stravinsky. Tigran expertly crafts a harmonic language that doesn’t eschew tonality – instead he chooses augment it with beautiful yet dark dissonance.

Sadly, the hall was only slightly more than half full, yet by the end those of us who had stayed (surprisingly, a number of people had walked out,) and surrendered to the music were treated to three encores, including a stunning arrangement of a piece by the great musicologist monk, Komitas.

2019 22 Okt

Years and Years (HBO)

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Years and Years is the kind of show that I had hoped Black Mirror would be but never could deliver because much as I tried to like it, BM comes across to this viewer as The Twilight Zone without heart. The creator of Black Mirror seems to revel in torturing his protagonists with the futuristic technologies he conceives. There are rarely happy endings in the dystopian worlds he creates. After a while, I just couldn’t hang with it.

Not so with the new HBO miniseries Years and Years. While dealing with big ideas and imagined (but entirely plausible) new technologies, Years and Years retains its humanity. And in contrast with Black Mirror’s obsession with tech gone awry, Years and Years has far bigger fish to fry.

It’s hard to write about the series without giving away any spoilers. Suffice it to say Years starts out in the year 2024 and spans nearly a decade. The world is in a shambles of course. With climate change getting worse and economic meltdowns on the horizon in the UK, Emma Thompson, cast against type, plays the rising new political star, a monster just as clueless and dangerous as Trump. Thompson seems to relish the role (she produced the series,) and her character stokes the dark corners of the collective British psyche much as the Orange One has done in the US.

It’s a sprawling story: Besides functioning as a caveat for the perils of technology and its negative effects on privacy, health and it’s potential for inflicting massive human abuses with the kind of efficiency the Nazis could never have dreamed of, it’s main focus is on climate change migration and the logical conclusions of the current virus of nationalism and xenophobia which seems to be infecting the globe. In short, it takes what’s happening today and extrapolates where we might end up if humankind keeps going on its current trajectory.

The writing is smart in that the series gets its larger ideas across by keeping its focus on just one family. Thus through the lens of individual struggles and conflicts, the show succeeds in humanizing the larger issues by illustrating how they affect real people we grow to care about deeply.

Years and Years can be looked upon as both an allegory for what’s happening today and as a warning of the real possibility of a much darker future if we humans don’t start to become active as individuals (and collectively) and do our part to prevent looming catastrophe. Rather than merely preach, the show’s creators chose instead to involve the viewer on an emotional level, delivering their messages through the actions of the characters. There is one powerful summarizing monologue delivered by an unlikely character towards the end, but when it comes, delivered with a walloping performance by Muriel Deacon, the show has more than earned it.

There’s wry humor here, high drama and devastating tragedy, but behind it all lies a higher, transcendent purpose. To say more would be giving away too much. Highly recommended.

 
 

In the midst of escalating chaos in my homeland, I have officially retreated into the world of nostalgia. But not just your garden variety nostalgia, as in for instance, listening to the old worn out vinyl of say, the Small Faces Ogden’s Nutgone Flake or the Incredible String Band’s 5000 Spirits, both good elixirs in our humorless, decidedly un-whimsical age. No, today getting away from the constant onslaught of dark forces trying to undermine all that is good in a 24/7 news cycle takes decidedly stronger medicine.

Besides being the 50th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, 2019 is also the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, an event I wasn’t able to attend due to extenuating circumstances – a story for another day. I was still in high school – a 16 year old who went from being president of his class in 1967 to a complete hippie and unpopular anti-war activist over the course of one year. I didn’t complete this transformation gracefully; by 1968 I was outspoken to the point where I had alienated most of my classmates in my small New Jersey town, many of whom had brothers serving in Vietnam. And there I was, my picture on the front page of the Bergen Evening Record, holding a peace sign, shouting Hell No We Won’t Go with my fellow protestors. It didn’t win friends and influence people at home. After that I was targeted and had it not been for the fact I was one of the fastest runners in the school, I would’ve had my ass handed to me many times during those years. And weirdly enough, those were what I refer to as gentler times. What kept me sane then as now, was music.

In the past couple of years, there have been multiple remixes and deluxe packages of some of the music that kept me sane when I was a teenager. On a certain level, I suppose this can be looked upon as blatant money grab by the powers that be to try to squeeze a little more bread out of the baby boomers, who like me, had bought these chestnuts already in vinyl, then as CDs, then as remastered CDs and now in “deluxe” form. A case in point are the 3 deluxe reissues/remixes of Beatles albums. I was a sucker and bought all of them. I realize part of that was an attempt to relive that moment when a new Beatles album came out- it was monumental, a ritual where I sat down in our living room, fired up my dad’s Scott receiver and listened to Sgt Peppers for the first time over those KLH speakers.

Unboxing the new Abbey Road remix deluxe package was sort of a similar experience. It’s a beautiful package, a nice book with many photos I had never seen before-thick paper too. Of course I immediately started with the Blu-ray 5.1 mix. (There’s also a Dolby Atmos mix but I don’t own that tech yet.) The remix was done by both Giles Martin and Sam Okell. I became familiar with Sam Okell’s work on the first official remixed Beatles album, the excellent Yellow Submarine Songtrack. Most people don’t know about this project and up until the release of these deluxe packages, it was the best sounding Beatles album in my collection. The 5.1 mix is beautiful, immersive and totally satisfying on every level. While discrete enough to satisfy surround junkies such as myself, it’s such an organic, perfectly balanced mix that one is never shaken from the experience by mere aural gimmickry. (Although Her Majesty does slowly make its way around the speakers before ending on that famous cut off guitar string- and it’s cool.)

Of course, Abbey Road was already the best sounding Beatles album. With George Martin back at the helm and at least judging from the 2 CDs of session material, the boys in better spirits than most accounts give, it’s an overall optimistic project. Listening to Here Comes the Sun in surround, I was able to let go of my general anxiety about my country’s descent towards the dissolution of democracy, the dying oceans, the loss of 1/3 of our birds, melting glaciers and the looming mass extinction event we are witnessing, and just relax into George’s eternally optimistic paen to the sun and his timeless, gentle reminder that “its alright.”

The sessions are fun too. It’s a crackup to hear John and Paul play The Ballad of John and Yoko as a duet, Paul on drums and John on guitar. After a take, John gently chides Paul for speeding up a bit, calling him Ringo. Paul comes back with a gentle jibe, calling John “George.” I didn’t know there were only two Beatles on that entire track.

The session CDs are full of bright moments such as these: Paul’s stripped down version of If You Want it, Come and Get It, which was exclusively covered by Badfinger and as predicted by Paul who insisted on their copying his arrangement to the letter, would become a huge hit. Or Paul doing a basic version of his bittersweet “Goodbye,” which was covered by Mary Hopkin on an album he produced for the Apple label. Another high point from the sessions is the trial edit of The Long One, the medley from Side 2, in which the songs were placed in a different order from the final version. There is a startling moment when Her Majesty shows up in the middle of the medley and ends with a power chord going into the next tune. It’s also really nice to hear George Martin’s wonderful string arrangement for Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight all by itself. Lovely stuff.

What’s apparent from the sessions is that despite the fact that the band was falling apart, everyone seemed to be in a good mood, and the band was working hard on getting these tunes down to the finest details. According to the liner notes, fittingly, The End was the last thing the boys recorded together.

Now I think I’ll balance out all this lovely deluxe nostalgia and watch another episode of the amazing “Years and Years” on HBO. Hey, you gotta balance out the nostalgia with a dose of speculative hyper-reality. I will probably write something about that show after I’m through with it. It’s a trip.

 

Neil Young’s Lonely Quest to Save Music

 

Wow, this is my kind of interview. Addresses the negative effects music file compression have on the body / mind, of childhood polio and what that did for Young as a young creative, breaks the “4th Wall” and allows the writer’s personal story to interface with Young’s in an incredibly honest, vulnerable and not at all gratuitous way, speaking to childhood diseases (both the writer and Young have kids with neurological diseases) and using music to help rewire their brains. A fascinating read.

 


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