Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Football Game, A Pizza And A Funeral

Yesterday, I was at the Flatbread Pizza Company in downtown Portsmouth NH.  Congress Street. Lots of winding roads in Portsmouth. Easy to get lost. But we didn't. What we did was eat some really good pizza..
Flatbread Ambiance

We walked into the place and there was a crowd. Of course, there was a crowd at every resteruant in town. But, even though we were told by a very nice young woman there would be a 25 to 30 minute wait we decided to stay. It beat standing outside in the cold. I asked for directions to the mens room and the nice young woman said "Like, totally dude." and directed me.  I was flattered. I'm over 60 and haven't been called "dude" for a long time. 

I don't even resemble Jeff Bridges.

Well. Maybe a tiny bit.

The place was a vast, dark, open chasm of noise, music, people, swirling discs of dough, great smells, smoke, clay ovens and wooden paddles. They serve organic stuff. Mostly pizzas, of course. Reasonable prices and great ambiance. 

Great Big Eyes
As we waited for our food, which was served within a reasonable time period (Under 30 minutes.)  I heard the song that was playing in the background. Whitney Houston moaned "I'll Always Love You."  A song written by a secret obsession of mine, Dolly Parton. Great voice. Great big eyes. And a decent guitar player. Really.

There's this part that comes somewhere in the middle; where Whitney sings,".....and I'll....always love you...ou..ou..ou ou. Always  love you.............oooooooooou!"

You know the part I'm talking about. And apparently so did half the crowd in the place; for right on cue, everybody ululated at the "love you" part. Right in tune and at the right tempo. For a few moments, the folks at "The Flatbread Pizza Co." were in sync. 

And then things went back to a happy, busy hum.

There are gatherings of people where a certain song weave's itself into the very fabric of the ether and the crowd suddenly becomes the audio fabric of that moment. 

I'll give you another example, and this one blind-sided me.

Liverpudlian Fans Imitating Gerry and the Pacemakers
The Liverpool (England) Football Club started a tradition of singing Gerry and the Pacemakers 1963 version of Rodgers and Hammersteins "You'll Never Walk Alone", before every match.

You know the song. 

Carousel.  Jerry' s Kids. Yeah, thats the one.

It's a little more jaunty then the Broadway version. But so is Gerry Marsden.

I'm a middle age guy with a pot-belly from the northeastern part of the US. 

Football to me means Tom Brady marching the New England Patriots down the field with short, and middle distance passes and thumping the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or...who ever gets in his way. I know little to nothing about soccer. Especially the part when Liverpool (or in some cases Celtic, depending on who you talk to.) sings this song.

The first time I heard this on a YouTube clip, I was floored. It blew me away. The fans were standing and holding their scarves and singing and it is truly a beauteous thing to behold.

There are songs that hold us together, somehow. Many times they are unconscious in their interpretation; we sing them in particles and pieces, and somehow they come out all right.

This morning I attended the funeral of a friend. A lovely woman who brought much joy to those around her and who lived her faith with courage and wit while suffering through a debilitating sickness. And at the end of the mass, the congregation sang "Amazing Grace" as her coffin was slowly wheeled up the center aisle.

People groped for their hymnals, but most didn't really need them; as we all have an idea of how that song is sung. The tune has skirrled from pipes when those in law-enforcement or the military are honored and has floated gently in the air through the honey voice of Judy Collins. It is a song for the ages.

Listen closely the next time you are in a crowded place with music. If it's a well known tune, chances are some one or, possibly most, will sing a word or two.

Speaking of public singing, check out Youtube for "Flashmob singing".  It may be a commercial, but it gets your attention.

Copyright © 2010 George Locke


Sunday, November 7, 2010

He Made Me Want To Diddle My Deedle

"If I were a rich man. diddle diddle deedle diddle die." A comment made by Tevya to The Lord.

I lust for this part.  It has become my deepest desire.  But, I am scared to death to play it; for so many good men have donned the personae of  the Russian milk-man and I am fearful of botching it.


Let me back up a bit.

Jerry Bock died Wednesday of complications from a stroke.

He was 81.

It was he and Sheldon Harnick that prompted me to attempt the diddling of the aforementioned.

Not only myself, but countless men have wished to don work boots, make-up stained tunic( with a vest), trousers,  artfully crumpled hat and prayer shawl and prance about the stage, arguing with God and expressing a very logical desire to be a rich man. Not only men such as myself but, according to Jason Robert Brown, creator of the Broadway hit "The Last Five Years" even a gay midget named Karl.

In Ohio.

Bock and Harnick more or less owned Broadway from 1958 to 1970, writing such hits as the Pulitzer Prize winning "Fiorello" (which we talked about a few weeks ago at the passing of Tom Bosley) "She Loves Me' and "Fiddler On The Roof" which debuted in 1964 and has become the staple of  high school (even elementary school) music teachers and directors.

The premise seems, at first, far from the flamboyancy of  musical gems such as "My Fair Lady", or "West Side Story" and yet this tale, based on the works of Yiddish writer Scholom Aleichem and a book by Joseph Stein (incidentally, Stein died just a week before Bock!); plunks us down in the fictional little Russian town of Anatevka at the turn of the last century and holds our attention from the first note the shaky fiddler strokes to the final scene as the town, now suffering, once again, a dysprosium and scattering of His chosen people, straggles off stage, following the now grounded fiddler..

I have often wished for a family background filled with some sort of diverse ethnicity then the white-bread, Anglo-Saxon ancestry I bear.  I'm not belittling the Locke or Heath clans. It's only` genealogy envy..

We always think the family on the other side of the fence sounds spicier.

"Fiddler" (as it is often called) is crammed with color and foot stomping exhilaration. The tunes arrange themselves in your mind in such a way that you will never forget them. If you come from the place I grew up, it opens vast windows of cultural panoramas and tableau's of places you have never imagined..

The show spawned an Oscar award winning movie and Grammy for best soundtrack. It has become a cultural phenomena, appearing in the strangest of places. (ie: the endi

ng of "The Bob Newhart Show" when the entire Vermont town Bob dreamed of left our tv screen with the strains of "Avatevka" playing in the back-ground.)

Jerry Bock used his knowledge of the Yiddish theater and clarinet led klezmer bands as a launching pad for "Fiddler" and we were blessed with music for the ages.

Thank you, Jerry. May you stand beside the heavenly fiddler and
                                                                direct His notes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Me And My Arrow

Straight-up and narrow.

I still hum that tune and juggle those lyrics around, every now and then. I liked the 1971 animated ABC Movie of the Week (and the first full length cartoon granted prime-time status, excluding a Disney flic or two.). My kids, now fully grown with babes of their own, also enjoyed a nodding acquaintance. As a dj in a small market town, I got some of the cast-off promo albums that the music director (md) didn't want. The soundtrack to "The Point" was one of them.

What can I say about Harry Nilsson? He was born in 1941, a full year before me, and died in 1994. He wrote music with lyrics that invaded the melody and filled all the empty spots perfectly. His work was hand-crafted and is timeless
He was also uncanny in his interpretation of other composers, such as Fred Neils' "Everybody's Talkin' At Me." from the Academy Award winning movie, "Midnight Cowboy" and from which he received a Grammy.

My last blog cradled a self-destructive life. And Harry certainly had, some think; especially toward the end; the same destination in mind. There is a documentary out there; "Who Is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?" written and directed by John Schienfeld and released in 2007.  It's available on Netflix. If you want to learn more of Harry's' life, check it out.

Paul Williams, he of  "Rainy Days and Mondays", "We've Only Just Begun" and other hits of the 70's and 80's and a friend of Harrys once called him a "big bunny.......with sharp teeth."  Paul was closely connected with The Muppets and I think of his song, "The Rainbow Connection" with fondness.

I think Harry was more of a living muppet then a bunny. Sort of like John Denver and Mother Angelica. In real life they were caricatures of Jim Hensons creations. He was likable but distant in many ways. He never did any live touring concerts. When asked, he would usually reply..."That's for other people."

Mickey Dolenz (Monkee fans take a bow) once described Harry as living life in a car going at full speed at all times and rather then slowing down when approaching a stone wall would hurtle right at it. Incidentally, Mickey and fellow band member Davy Jones did voice overs for the movie; Davy speaking Oblio's (the main character) lines and Mickey assorted other voices.

It is the RCA album, "A Touch of Schmilsson in the Night" that still floors me every time I hear it. It was released in 1973 and featured a 39 piece ochestra and the voice of Harry flawlessly interpreting some great american songbook songs. His voice can break your heart and heal it again, all in one song.

I think it was Irving Berlins 1923 ballad, "What'll I Do?" that dove head-first into my heart. It was during a turbulent time in my life and the song struck a very large chord. Other masterpieces include, "This Is All I Ask", "As Time Goes By" and "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?"

Johnathan Schwartz still plays tunes from that magnificent album every now and then as he explores "Seriously Sinatra and High Standards" for Sirius radio.

Harry was friends to many, including John Lennon and Ringo Star. I thought of him as a contemporary and noted his passing with sadness. Only one of the three talents I mentioned are with us. And each year the list gets smaller and smaller.

I think the change of seasons is getting to me. I promise to be a bit more upbeat the next time we get together.If you like good music interpreted in a stunning fashion, look into "A Touch of Schmillson in the Night." You wont be sorry

© 2010 George Locke