Saturday, October 30, 2010

No Regrets

Hey, I know you're busy, but....can you spare a minute? Do you see those two women over there?  The African American lady with a touch of swagger? Yes, that one. And the white lady beside her?  The one that looks as though a slight breath of air would knock her over? The one with the eyes that stare into your head and bore holes in your soul?

That one is Edith Piaf.  The other is Billy Holiday. And I've been thinking about them, lately.

You see, there's this cabaret review I'm involved with.

Small. Intimate. A tiny theater in central New Hampshre called the Music Clinic; and a member, Laurie McDaniel, a slight, sweet woman with a powerful voice, has chosen to sing Piaf's signature "La Vie en rose". I've listened every night for the past few weeks to this song and Laurie's interpretation of one of Frances' greatest gifts And I became intrigued with Edith.

While growing up, I heard my Quebecois grandfather and my own mother speak in hushed tones of this chanteuse. They quickly changed the subject when I asked. Only saying that she was a wonderful singer. And I heard her scratchy recordings on a wind-up Victrola. A voice of deep poignancy with a vibrato to give you chills. I didn't speak French. But after listening to her sing "Je ne regrette rien", I felt..... somehow... different.  

While casting about on the internet, I noticed that Netflix offered the Oscar-award winning movie of the same name. So, early one afternoon this week, I started watching the actress Marion Cottilard  consumed by the role of "The Little Sparrow" in Olivier Dahans stunning  2007 French/Canadian production of, "La Vie en rose." It was like being present when a train crashed, or an airliner drops from the sky. You don't  want to watch; but you have to.
Towards the beginning of the film, Edith is seen talking to someone in a record studio and behind her on the walls are large photo's of Billy Holiday. She loved Lady Day.

They were both born in the same year and shared a bruised bond of self-inflicted abuse and epic personal tragedy.

Billie Holliday was loved by many things. Men, women, microphones, the needle; but seldom herself  She was born in 1915. Both women were pulled from the people they loved, Both grew up in brothels. Both seldom saw their parents. They each sang and people stopped in their tracks to listen. They both embraced addiction with alcohol and drugs  They spent money. They lived a life of  reckless abandonment, and were connected with those beyond the law. They shared smears from the press and adoration by their fans.  They died within a few years of each other; wrapped in fragile bodies that had become withered, like dry leaves.

But it is Edith and this movie I want to speak of. If you see only one picture in the next month, it must be "La Vie en rose".  I recommend it for the acting. For the non-lineal way the film unfolds. For the brilliant editing by Richard Marizy and the cinematography by Tatsuo Nagata. And the direction.

Cottilard has said her life was changed by working with Olivier Dahans and donning the persona of Piaf. You believe she is "La Mome Piaf" as her life unfolds in flashbacks and then played forward.(Spoiler alert) There is a scene in which she learns of the death of her lover that cannot be described. It must be seen to be felt with all it's intensity. I was drawn to this movie and, though there were times I wanted to go and do other things, I could not. It was that mesmerizing, and it is easy to see why Cottilard won the Oscar as best Actress. My God. That face. Those eyes. Those hands. Her body as it grotesquely ages (another Oscar for makeup). She has channeled Edith, and it is almost too much to look at.

But look you will, in this brilliant bio-pic.

There is a moving scene in the film, "Saving Private Ryan" in which a group of GI's are sitting around in this bombed out shell of a French town in Normandy. The American/French translator, Specialist Timothy B. Upham (played by Jeremy Davies) attached to the unit has found a wind-up record player with a long sound-horn and some records by Piaf. As they are playing, to while away the time, he translates the words to his comrades  And as he speaks, these rough young men of war are visibly softened by her voice and what she is singing about.

I can't tell you more, other then you must see this picture. Much of the singing is from Piafs own recordings. But the acting is Colliards' alone. And it is breathtaking.

You can hear the ghost-like wisps of  "The Little Sparrow" when Laurie sings. If you need directions to the theater, give me a call.  The show runs through tomorrow, October 31st.

© 2010 George Locke 


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Of Soul Searching And Found Gems

Wow! I picked up the paper today and saw that a long overlooked composition by Kris Kristofferson, "Why Me Lord", arranged as a duet between Johnny Cash AND Ray Charles from 1981 has been located and will be released to the general public soon. I got the warm-fuzzies as I read the article. I don't often get the warm-fuzzies, because I'm usually too busy talking to allow anything to interrupt.

I talk far too much for my own good, and, if not for a gentle word now and again from my wife, would blather on forever in gatherings; not allowing anyone else to join in the conversation.

I say things that are a bit "off color" and reveal what I have been asked not to repeat in public.

I am "on" from the moment I get up till my head hits the pillow. And sometimes even while asleep I can disrupt Rose.

This is not a George bash. Just fact.

The one person I can count on to forgive my transgressions, even ahead of my loving wife and family, is Jesus.

I don't talk about my spiritual life very often; except with the people I consider friends, and if you have read this far, then you must share some friendship with me.

I have been kept from harming myself and others for almost 68 years on this earth by Jesus' grace and protection. There were times when, in a younger body and thinking (or not) with a younger mind, I could have left this mortal coil, as the Bard would say, in a spectacular ball of flame and explosive roar of twisted metal.

Or, more likely, with a pathetic whimper.

But he kept me around for a reason, one of them being to write songs for His glory.

There are many good gospel singers, musicians and songwriters out there too numerous to list, including Michael W. Smith, Marty Hagen, among others.

Occasionally, artists from the popular music world will cross over, as is the case with Kristofferson and his perfect song of love and repentance.

He poignantly sings/talks in that gruff voice and asks the question; "....... what have a ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I've know?" Its a powerful plea to heaven asking for help to do then things that need to be done to repay our Savior for His death on the cross for all of us.

Youtube has a great clip of "The Man In Black" himself doing the song (in this case just his acoustic guitar and humble voice) and another of Kristofferson, which I think is just as powerful. But the idea of Cash singing with Brother Ray soulfully backing him is something I will look forward to hearing.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Politics and Poker

The passing of Tom Bosley last week brought into focus the life of a sweet gentle man who's presence was always reassuring.

Bosley was the "Dad" we sometimes wish we had. He was grounded with a marvelous ability to be himself with perfect timing and a professional sense of responsibility that led others (including Henry Winkler and the cast of "Happy Days") to ask him for advice when faced with difficult decisions.

He started in radio, and movies, but his big breakthrough was as Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the Tony award winning musical "Fiorello" in 1960. His interpretation of the rotund, Tammany Hall fighting moderate Republican, who is best remembered for reading the comics to the children over the radio when the newspapers went on strike in the early 1930's, won him the Best Actor in a musical, as well as the musical itself topping the "best of the year" list. "Fiorello" also won a Pulitzer prize, one of only eight Broadway shows to do so.

Such songs from the the show as "Politics and Poker" (one of my favorite tunes from the Great White Way) and "A Little Tin Box", a song sung by a flock of crooked politicians before a judge investigating corruption in New Yorks city hall, are musical gems long overlooked.

Politics and music don't always go hand in hand, but there have been times when the song writers were right on target, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick ("Fiorello") included.

The Gershwins collaborated with George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskin in 1931 with a satiric musical entitled "Of Thee I Sing" which gave us a few memorable tunes, such as the title and "Love Is Sweeping the Country" (Like the Birdies Above) sung by George Murphy and June O'Dea. I'm not sure but I think this song is the theme song for a 1950's sit-com starring either Peter Lawford or Robert Cummings. Or none of the above.

By the way, the show was successful with it's satiric slant even though Kaufman once remarked that ,"Satire is what closes on Saturday night."

There have, of course, always been political theme songs, such as "I Like Ike" from the 1950 presidential race. Dwight Eisenhower (the aforementioned Ike) easily won as he promised to go to Washington to "clean up the house". There was no cleaning. Just a new interior decorator.

Did you ever noticed that about politicians, both coming and going? They always say "we" meaning you and I, are sick of things and they will go to Washington to straighten them out and clean house.

You know what? Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart are dead. Mr. Smith does not go to Washington anymore, and, frankly, nothing changes. Four years from now, another group will be howling for change. Probably the same ones who are whining now about mud-slinging and wringing their hands as the clock towards mid term election day ticks perilously closer to H hour.

"Politics and poker. Politics and poker. Open up the pack and find the joker."

Yep. Fiorello got it right.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Late Again

Well, I did it again. Missed another birthday. My children (and, unfortunately grandchildren), flung far and wide across this land have become painfully aware of the lack of memory I have when it comes to that day we all celebrate once a year.

Two of my boys have birthdays this month that I managed to miss and several musical legends have slipped under my radar. The musical legends are dead and can't complain. My progeny can and have every right to.

What is it that allows a person approaching 68 years on this earth to wander somewhat aimlessly through life and miss the high-lights? Like birthdays? I hope it's not ego, which sometimes staggers me with it's weight. And I can't blame age, because I have always dealt with this issue.

It's probably short term moronic hiccups. Brain farts that stink up the place.

I'm sorry guys (and girls). Dad and Grampa George has never missed things purposefully. He just needs to try a little harder.

By the way yesterday was John Burks Gillespie (Dizzy) birthday. He of bent horn and soul patch (before it was called that) and bull-frog swelling of the neck, throat and cheeks. Google's logo for him was less then good. It was stupid.

Diz spit balled his way out of Cab (Hi-Dee-Ho) Calloways (later of the movie "The Blues Brothers") band and became the hip-ster daddy of bop along with Charlie Parker, Miles and a handful of others; mostly on 52nd Street. He side-stepped narcotics and gave us "Salt Peanuts", "Night in Tunisia" and "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop". He influenced Chico O'Farrell and Pancho Sanza and a legion of afro/latin based bands.

And the first time I saw his body swell so that his face disappeared leaving only a sepia toned melon for a head with horn rimmed glasses and a piece of bent brass protruding from his mouth, I almost lost my lunch.

But my. What beautiful sounds.

Diz is gone.

My children are still here. I love you madly, and though I might have not said it enough, not a day goes by in which I do not think of you. You are always on my mind.


Friday, October 15, 2010

The Greatest Baseball Song Ever Written

The title sells the content, doesn't it?

And it could go on forever.

I'm not a big fan of "...the best of anything" because "best" is purely subjective, and with the estimated population of our planet nearing seven billion (at this hour), the "best" could get a bit crowded.

Plus, it is necessary to actually think; something that does not always fit my busy schedule.

However since this is the season of ground balls between the legs, bloody socks, grit and grand-stand heroics against all odd, and because so many songs have been written on the subject, I think a musical smack-down is in order.

To go on-line and Google would be cheating somewhat, so I dug around amidst the synapses and flotsam of my well worn brain and pried forth a few.

It sort of helps that I, along with a lot of other good people were in a show written and produced and directed (the New England answer to Orson Wells) by my brother Gary Locke and "The Players Ring" about a year and a half ago called, "Play Ball".

"Take Me Out To The Ballgame" of course jumps right out. This aging paean to the grand-old game brims with memories of Ernie Harwell directing the crowd to sing along or Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the 1940's movie of the same name. It can be instantly recognizable to anyone, including those who could not care a fig about the game.

"Glory Days" by The Boss still rocks and rolls over that guy who relives a past that he never caught up with.

The Chairman of the Board, the aforementioned Sinatra, sang a haunting song so wonderfully interpreted by Paul Lusier in the show, "Play Ball". "There Used to Be a Ballpark". He gave me shivers every night.

The little known, but perfect story of "Catfish", written in part by Bob Dylan is baseball from a slide guitar and an open bottle of booze.

From Broadway we get "You Gotta Have Heart" an aging managers exhortation to a team that has to face those "Damn Yankees". Yes. I said it. DAMN YANKEES!

So many songs. So little time.

The cool as an ice-cube Dave Frishberg has written several songs to his favorite sport. Among them is the immortal "Van Lingo Mungo" and a misty eyed look at "Dodger Blue".

Noel Paul Stokey gave us a piece of our lives with his recording of "Right Field"; a song which sadly (and comically) declares where many boys (and girls) found themselves.

In keeping with the theme, "Centerfield"; a chart topper gift from John Fogerty proclaims the promise that each spring sprouts a-new.

Although technically not a song, a car radio hissing and crackling and Phil Rizutto providing the play-by-play background in "Meatloafs'" "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" should be included in what would become the steamy anthemn for many front-seat lovers in days of yor. It was so succesful, that Epic records released a version for those of us in New England who cling to grand hopes and awake to smashed dream; with Dick Stockton providing the breathless commentary as a steal of home is attempted.

Dozens of albums have been release extolling the game and hundred of songs written. It comes as no surprise that no other game hold so many feelings to so many of us. Not football, (only a jaunty ditty penned by Johnny Mercer called "Jamboree Jones" comes to mind, along with a forgetable song called "You Gotta Be A Football Hero [To Get Along With The Beautiful Girls]".

So, what is your favorite musical recognition of a game we all know that is designed to break your heart?

Friday, October 8, 2010


I gave my fourth son his name. Not the seventeenth century philosopher. The other one who had his birthday celebrated by Google with a multimedia "logo" tribute featuring the spidery wire-frame glasses within the thin, wistful self portrait. The music they chose was a snippet of "Imagine". Even today, I choke up when I hear those simple, block piano chords, and his working class hero voice.

He shares a place with "The American Songbook". It was here, in this country where he achieved his greatest triumphs; though England can certainly claim his place of birth. If not for the power and world wide influence of Capitol Records and Hollywood, John Lennon would not have become one of most powerful icons of 20th century music.

John Winston Lennon can easily stand beside Elvis, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and George Gershwin, to name a few.

His face, which stares out at us from numerous record jackets; plunked on a head and dressed in a generations clothes that threatened to race ahead of Carnaby Street and Sunset Boulevard, (black leather jackets, Nehru collars, Victorian military uniforms or buck- naked); hair styles, one of which was named for the band he played with and several musical styles, is instantly recognizable. Even my children, who's ages span the early forty's to the mid teens, know his music. My 331/3 rpm record collection bulges with his work, and my 21 year old has stuffed his iPod with everything Lennon.

I liked him the moment I saw him, chewing gum and singing while hunched over that Rickenbacker guitar, his legs slightly apart and bobbing gently with a sleepy-eyed wise look. Lord, he was cool. I wanted to be him. Even more then I wanted to be Dylan. And with that wish, I found myself drifting from acoustic into electric. And a year or so later, so did Bob.

Google says they want to celebrate his birthday, as opposed to that terrible December day many years ago when he was shot in New York city by a young man who possessed a brain squirming like a toad.

My brother was born on December ninth. My self, December seventh. John Lennon was killed on the eighth of that month. Somehow, I consider that fact important, although I'm not sure why. I wept the day he died. Like Mr. Holland.

He, with Sir Paul, wrote songs that we hum. His performances were, at once, stand up and knock-you-out electric, and in the next moment softly intense. He was in your face and charmingly sweet.

He was part of the most celebrated quartet of our time. And later became a voice of moderation and love in a world swirling with change.

I loved him, though at times I grew frustrated with that left-leaning social intensity he carried with Yoko. I couldn't understand what he wanted or where he was going.

I will be 68 this December. John would be seventy today. I wonder where he would have taken us if not taken from us thirty years ago. Opera's, perhaps? Movies that would break new ground, as did "Yellow Submarine"? Maybe a tour with the remaining..........ah no. I will not go there.

I can only Imagine.