Jeff Bridges has recently made available one of those inexpressibly peculiar albums that only a very famous and beloved movie star could release, a double album on the theme of the land of dreams and slumber called The Sleeping Tapes. Proceeds from the album will go to the charity No Kid Hungry; Bridges has partnered with Squarespace to set up an appropriate web presence for the album, where you can listen to it for free or purchase the album in a variety of formats in prices ranging from “pay what you like” for the digital files to $200 for an LP with a “180-gram golden vinyl plate” as well as a “debossed gold leaf pressed album cover.” There’s also an auction in which you can win 1 of 5 signed copies of the album.
By the way, be on the lookout for a Squarespace commercial featuring Bridges during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Track titles include “Sleep, Dream, Wakeup,” “Hummmmmm,” “Ikea,” “My Keys,” “Seeing With My Eyes Closed,” and “Feeling Good.” “I hope you dig the sleep tapes ... hope they, uh, inspire you do some good cool sleeping, some cool dreaming, some cool waking-up,” Bridges purrs in the opening track. Bridges recorded the album with composer Keefus Ciancia.
The album is rather easy to poke fun of, as evidenced by this not overly nasty thread on Metafilter. It’s a defiantly leisurely and lazy piece of work that nevertheless works on its own terms and fits within some kind of ambient lineage. I enjoyed listening to it, and I have some respect for the thought that went into it, but I suspect it won’t soon become a mainstay of my listening regimen.
This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the inestimably important American folklorist/archivist/filmmaker/author/everything Alan Lomax. Unsurprisingly, there’s a plethora of commemorative events planned: a film marathon in Louisville, KY, a 13-hour radio marathon in Portland, a concert in London, England. And there will surely be some kind of boxed set of music. The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), an organization Lomax Founded at Hunter College in the 1980s, is the keeper of his legacy, and is the source to keep an eye on for announcements. It’s also a treasure trove of recorded media.
Lomax started out by accompanying his famous father, the musicologist and folklorist John Lomax, on field recording trips, documenting musicians in the American South, and went from there to an incredibly distinguished career in preserving and promoting small, obscure, important pockets of America’s cultural heritage. He helped build the Library of Congress’ song archive, and played a significant role in the promotion of American folk music, helping bring the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters, and Burl Ives to records, radio, and mass audiences. If you want the huge gaps in that bio filled in, there’s the ACE bio, and of course there are tons of books, written by Lomax, and written about him.
Since there’s just so much to his career that an omnibus post about Lomax would be an absurd undertaking, I thought it’d be a fun tribute to focus on a lesser known but still badass preservation project of his. In 1982, Lomax spent a lot of time in New Orleans with a video crew, recording that city’s famed jazz musicians, especially brass bands. There is some really hot stuff in here, including the world-famous Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and a lot these videos have criminally low view counts. Some of that footage was compiled for the DVD Jazz Parades: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, which is viewable at no cost online here. He taped parades, funerals, indoor concerts, everywhere. So enjoy these documents of a 100% uniquely American music, and see if the Ernie K-Doe video doesn’t totally SLAY you. Captions are culled from the ACE web site.
In spring of 1970, mere months after the Beatles released Abbey Road, the Stax label’s elite house band Booker T. and the MGs released McLemore Avenue, a near-complete tribute to that LP. A lot of you probably guessed as much, but McLemore Avenue was the Memphis street on which Stax’s studios resided, just as Abbey Road was the street on which the EMI studio where the Beatles recorded was located. (The studio wasn’t officially named “Abbey Road Studios” until sometime after that Beatles LP came out. The more you know.) A lot of you probably also guessed that the Booker T. album is freakin’ excellent.
AVC: What inspired you and the M.G.’s to record McLemore Avenue, your instrumental cover version of Abbey Road?
BT: I was in California when I heard Abbey Road, and I thought it was incredibly courageous of The Beatles to drop their format and move out musically like they did. To push the limit like that and reinvent themselves when they had no need to that. They were the top band in the world but they still reinvented themselves. The music was just incredible so I felt I needed to pay tribute to it.
McLemore Avenue was divided into four tracks. Taking a cue from the extended medley on side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, three of those tracks are medleys clocking in at seven, ten, and fifteen minutes each. Every Abbey Road song except “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’ Garden,” and “Oh Darling” appears in one or another of the medleys, but the order of the songs in each medley does not necessarily follow the order of the Beatles’ album. My favorite is the final track on McLemore Avenue, which adroitly combines “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” On the surface, covering a complete album of any group, let alone the Beatles, is quite a risky gambit. The MG’s pull it off with aplomb, in the process creating a parallel masterpiece to the quintessential Beatles album.
“Parallel masterpiece,” sure, why not, but it’s almost a shame it wasn’t a complete cover. I’d give a lot to hear the MGs do the affably goofy Ringo song “Octopus’ Garden.” It’s kind of tantalizing to imagine how Steve Cropper could have transformed that guitar lick. On the subject of Cropper, I was amazed to learn that he wasn’t present for the McLemore Avenue recording sessions, and that he overdubbed his parts later, still having never actually heard Abbey Road yet! Again from Soulsville, U.S.A.:
“Booker told me every note to play,” relates Steve. “I hadn’t even heard the Beatles album. I might have heard a cut on the radio but I had not sat down and listened to the album like they had. He showed me the changes and sat down to teach me the songs. I strictly played to what I heard Booker play. [When I heard] the Beatles versions of those tunes, I went “Holy shit!” I was very surprised. I didn’t know those songs at all.”
Here’s the album, in sequence.
1) Medley: “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “The End,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Come Together”
Rod McKuen died Thursday. He was 81. Cause of death was pneumonia.
Rod McKuen was to Jack Kerouac what vending machine coffee is to espresso. He was a safe suburbanite version of a beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs with a slightly better work ethic. McKuen’s pasteurized prose was more suited to a Holiday Inn lounge than a North Beach jazz joint. And while McKuen wrote prolifically and read in a husky Chianti-stained voice that oozed consonants and vowels like candle wax no one would mistake his louche slackery for good poetry. But there was something soothing and pleasantly sunny in his style that evoked a certain Southern California grooviness easily mistaken for Zen wisdom. If you read a line slowly enough and pause periodically for dramatic effect almost anything can sound profound. McKuen mistook vagueness for mysticism and evoked the erotic with all of the sexuality of a stuffed chihuahua. Fifty shades of beige.
McKuen was syringed into that moment in the sixties when Timothy Leary’s acidity and Hugh Hefner’s cum-drenched Playboy philosophy refluxed into an uncomfortable mix of free love, drugs and very expensive architecture. If Malibu Beach had a poet laureate it would have been Rod. Imagine a love child born of the interspecial mating of Lee Hazlewood and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. With his windswept blonde hair and Jesus spats, McKuen was a lachrymose beach bum that Serge Gainsbourg would have gladly beaten to a suntanned pulp.
Bob McFadden & Dor “The Beat Generation” (composed and arranged by Rod McKuen, 1959)
McKuen possessed a weird kind of kitschy goodness, a Hallmark Greeting card version of hipness that was as heartwarming as one of Margaret Keane’s big-eyed orphans. He was too nice of a guy to get riled up about even when his bad poetry was selling millions of copies of books while a cat like Bukowski was working in a post office.
If Rod McKuen had been a rock song he would have been Friend And Lover’s “Reach Out Of The Darkness.” And that’s kind of a cool song - hard to hate, hard to get a bead on, just slipping under the threshold where things can turn from something innocuous into something that can drive a man to homicide.
Here’s Rod McKuen reading his poem “A Cat Named Sloopy” on The Mike Douglas Show in 1969.
Every night she’d sit in the window among the avocado plants waiting for me to come home (my arms full of canned liver and love).