Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beatles' Use of Bach, And a Challenge!

There are people in this world who will gladly rank the Beatles with Bach in terms of the "greatest composers", and will gladly denigrate a group like the Monkees for the sheer joy of hierarchy.  If you can isolate "The Best", then it is easier to label others as being derivative and mere imitators.

This blog is an attempt to enjoy everything for what it IS, rather than echo popular sentiment.  And maybe to question the wisdom of things like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or anyone else who looks down their nose at a "Made for TV" band.  I believe we can look back at history and finally recognize the influences of all the great songwriters, musicians and talents involved as an incredibly rich asset.

April 25, 1967, "Inside Pop, The Rock Revolution", the NY Philharmonic Conductor and Composer, Leonard Bernstein appears on CBS (video and description held by the Paley Center), the description reads :
"Bernstein had an appreciation for all kinds of music, including rock. IIn this special, he examines creativity in pop music of the sixties, including works by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Monkees, and Janis Ian."

This week they are honoring Johann Sebastian Bach (March 31, 1685-July 28, 1750) on the classical music station in NYC, called WQXR.   Here is an analysis of the Beatles' use of Bach in some of their songs.  They discuss a "Bach-like feeling", "that sound", "based on", "something about the melody" "inspired" and "reimagined".  The clip pulls out sections from Bach and the only the following Beatle Songs:

"In My Life"
"Penny Lane"

The classical music influence regarding the Beatles is often paraded out as direct evidence of their superiority.  But here, they could only find 3.  (Really? And even then, it's a vague "influence").  I do not want to even attempt a thesis to take away any respect from the Beatles.

The Monkees' songs are just as rich in variety of influence and creativity.  They just need to be documented.

THE CHALLENGE:  I would love for a musical scholar to do a similar (and deeper) analysis, in terms of Classical, Country, Blues (etc) influences and others as yet unidentified. All the songwriters and musicians themselves came from such a rich diversity of backgrounds, as well as thorough musical training, that a fuller analysis could be done.  I am attempting to chip away at the various references within Hollywood and Rock, focusing on everything except the music; but I would LOVE to crowdsource or encourage any expert out there to call out any influences/references/allusions in the Monkees' musical oeuvre.

Personally, I have always seen the show as a learning tool.  A single mention of something or someone sends me eagerly rushing to research said reference.  Granted, the stereotypical fanbase may have been traditionally thought of as screaming pre-teenagers. Today, however, the fans that I have met are exceptionally well versed in music of all genres.  I would argue that the Monkees have not gained "respect" due to a lack of focused study, rather than a dearth of material.

Andrew Hickey has a book called Monkee Music, which is an excellent start.  
No disrespect at all intended, especially if there is anyone already working on this.  There are LOTS of great fan sites out there, but not a lot of scholarship, criticism and commentary that takes the music seriously, beyond discographies and other lists of production facts.  Please comment below if you know of or you ARE anyone doing anything like this. Especially if you are publishing it somewhere.  Or if you’ve just noticed that a part of one song sounds the same as a Monkees song.  We’d all love you to share your knowledge.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jack Nicholson Sings!

Jack has sung a few times.  Judge for yourself what kind of voice he has.

Here is a video of him playing/singing a doctor in The Who's Tommy.

Personally, I prefer a more sentimental song from the Broadway musical, "On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever" (1965)  The recording of Jack singing "Who is There Among Us Who Knows?", (surprisingly well!) can be found on Youtube along with a series of pictures of him and Barbra Streisand.  The scene was cut from the movie (1970), which did feature Bob Newhart and Yves Montand.  It reappeared on Broadway in 2011, starring Harry Connick Jr.  and a whole new plot.

The Lyrics are written out on someone else's blog, here and below.  Sentimental and vaguely references the topic of ESP which is featured in the plot.

Who is there among us who knows?

The echo of a love song heard before it's sung,
wandering through a memory dreamed when you were young.
Foolish or fantastic -- which do you suppose?
Who is there among us who knows?

From nowhere, the thought of someone gone for many years.
Then all at once a footstep: Lo, and he appears.
Imagined or a mystery --which, do you suppose?
Who is there among us who knows...

Or even cares which one is true?
There's hardly anyone except a haunted few...

Who long ago remembered somewhere they would see
someone wrapped in twilight, carrying the key,
carrying the secret everywhere he goes,
someone here among us who knows.

Someone here who may not even know she knows.

Music: Burton Lane. Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
Vocal: Jack Nicholson

The music was written by Burton Lane, who discovered Judy Garland.  He  wrote the music for "Finian's Rainbow" (1941), "Royal Wedding" (1951) and "On a Clear Day" (1965).  The Great American Songbook treasure "Old Devil Moon" comes out of the first, with lyrics by Yip Harburg.  Fred Astaire and Petula Clark were in the 1968 film adaptation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (one of his first early big movies!!).

Lyrics written by Alan Jay Lerner.  In collaboration with Frederick Lowe, wrote the Broadway musicals "Brigadoon" (1947), "My Fair Lady" (1956) "Camelot" (1960).  Jackie Kennedy and many others were able to extend the metaphor to the early 1960's to capture the innocence of America before JFK's assassination.
He wrote screenplays for movies as well; for "Gigi",  for "American in Paris" (1951), "Royal Wedding" (1951) starring Fred Astaire (there he is again!).

Garden Path Digression:
Alan Jay Lerner collaborated with Kurt Weill (music) on a Broadway production called "Love Life" (1948),  (Peter worked on a Bertolt Brecht show, "Good Person", see previous blog post).  And Brecht/Weill are famous for "Threepenny Opera".  Back to "Mac the Knife", made popular in the US by Bobby Darin, who was best friends and had as an agent, Steve Blauner. The S of BBS!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"I Believe You", Peter as George Harrison

If you are in the mood to hear how Peter's music has developed, listen to this LIVE recording of "I Believe You" from some point during the "Justus" tour.   It's one of his best pieces from the Monkees piece of his work.

Compare it with the best from the movie, Head.  "Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?", which is a frenetic composition, but rich with overlapping instruments and ideas.  It sounds (and probably was) influenced by George Harrison, whom he had known and worked with.  Peter plays bass on George's "Wonderwall" album.  (Wikipedia claims it was banjo).

"I believe you on a rainy day, I believe you chase the sun away"

(in the original recording, it's "chase the clouds away")

"I Believe You" is a more dramatic and mature, yet simpler lyric and sound.  It has a consistent driving force beneath the words, crescendos like waves on a beach.  There's a lingering Minor chord that haunts the work; you know this relationship is doomed, yet one has to trust in belief.  Especially when things are contradictory. Focus on this acceptance, "What else can I do?"

Played at a slightly slower tempo, it could easily slide into dreariness, but every time I hear it, there is a Zen force about it.  A meditation.

When I began learning guitar, I played a few simple notes over and over again.  I wonder if this is how he got the musical idea.  Maybe even from teaching someone?

Monday, March 18, 2013

David Amram: Saint of Bleeker St

There is an article about David Amram in Opera News; he's a terrific composer who I once had the chance to work with on the Actors' Studio (Rehearsal Version) of Oedipus. Directed by Estelle Parsons.  Starring Al Pacino. (But that's another Blog entirely)

I remember thinking about the Village of the early 1960's, in a completely different light, once upon a time.  Now, I imagine that time to be a overwhelmingly luscious musical paradise.  Everything is in black & white (like a 16mm student experimental film), except the conversations burst forth in color.  Bob Dylan is being introduced onstage by his girlfriend, Joan Baez (who said boys don't sleep their way to the top?) Paul Simon is writing a song about $80 rent on Bleecker St.  And some people who are crazy enough to live there in the 1960's, will be revealed as howling geniuses (Allen Ginsburg) especially if they can hold on to their rent-controlled apartments for the rest of their lives.

When I first heard about this time and place, I heard of it as the place Peter Tork came out of, before he moved to L.A.  Even now, as I imagine the time machine that will transport me back, I anticipate Peter and his pals, Steve Stills and Tiny Tim, their much younger selves, emerging from Cafe Wha? or Caffe Cino. Passing the hat, and not being able to cover a sandwich for all their troubles/performances.

And even though I imagine everyone walking around with a Greenwich Village Scowl, underneath, I sense we are all smiling.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Monkee Writer: Peter Meyerson

Peter Meyerson passed away today, found out on Peter Tork's FB page.

Sad News - The writer of several Monkees episodes (including the first) has passed away. RIP and thank you, Peter Meyerson. ~ptfb team

He wrote 8 episodes.  (The third most of any writer)
1. Royal Flush (9/12/66) (cowriter)
7. Ghost Town (10/24/66)
21. Prince & Paupers (2/6/67)
23. Captain Crocodile (2/20/67)
27. Monkee Mother (3/20/67)
39. Hillbilly Honeymoon (10/23/67)
57. Blow Their Minds (3/11/68)

He wrote 44 episodes of Welcome Back Kotter, (he left and came back), 1 for That Girl, The Partridge Family, Bob Newhart Show, Accidental Family and a few for Captain Nice (Buck Henry's 1967 superhero show?)

Tangent: Buck Henry was a childhood pal of Bob Rafelson and wrote The Graduate & Get Smart.

There's another nice remembrance by Mark Evanier, who worked with him on Welcome Back Kotter when he came back during the 2nd season.  He had left to be a playwright, but couldn't turn down the money.  Sounds like a Welcome Back indeed.  I can't find a mention of his plays, but I'm still looking.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but it's great to follow the path of a comedy writer's influences and outputs.  Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Meyerson!!

Mike's FB Moment of "deja whoa"

I feel the need to copy Mike's Posts on Facebook because he seems to delete them entirely after a few hours.  Part of his mystery, or dedication to inaccessibility (not sure which).

I like that he is seized by a moment of primal recognition, returning to a set he had first visited on his first day of shooting for the Monkees.  First impressions, first emotions.  Primal for most of the rest of us as well, but our memories connect with our own unique series of sensations and histories.

Here's his:

"Years ago my first day of shooting was at the Columbia Ranch. Now it is just called the Ranch but I think it is part of Warner Bros. It is a large installation at the corner of Hollywood Way and Oak out in Burbank --the valley -- in California.

I went down to LA on Tuesday to shoot the Kroll Show and Wednesday morning I got up early and drove out of the hotel but had to pull over in order to get my nav set up to get me to the studio.

After I stopped I looked up and realized I was sitting at the entrance to the Ranch. 

It wasn't exactly deja vu -- more like deja whoa -- and it made me laugh. As I sat in the car alone I had all the same emotions overtake me that ran through my head on the first day of shooting back in 1966. Not exactly D Day levels of tension -- but it took hold on much the same terms.

I drove over to cast and crew parking where I got in the van to go to the location. I was the only one in the van besides the driver who said not a word.

It was like getting on the school bus the first day of school -- or a first date -- any of those firsts where you don't know exactly what to do, don't really know anyone, or which way to turn. As a recurrence it was bittersweet -- I had been here before -- but I was surprised at how eternal the moment was -- timeless and real.

The show was fun to shoot. I love collaboration with a creative team. Nick was warm and hospitable and fun to work with --Levy, my friend was solicitous and attentive and helpful -- and the sketch was pretty funny.

We won't know till Krisel gets it edited -- but I'll bet it will come out fine. Krisel -- the director -- knows his stuff.

By the end of the day I was back in the saddle and confident and comfortable and happily rocking back and forth on my feet waiting for the school bus to take me home.

Turns out the next school bus is a tour bus. It shows up for me Thursday in Nashville.

Life as a 6 year old -- all over again."

Posted on Facebook, Friday, 3/15/13, 11:21am.


And also, a fan commented, "This is similar to the way you make your fans feel".  Another added a link to the actual Columbia Ranch set.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Convention: Simple Moments of Beauty

There was music and beauty all around that weekend.  The old songs, new performances.  New voices, faces matched to names.  Friends you've seen at other events and people who came from England or Australia.  Lots of sensorial input.  Disappointment at the organizers for promising to send a schedule, and then selling it for $25 in a souvenir book. Not getting enough sleep.  Sheer joy.

Saturday Night, there was a spontaneous sing along.  You too can sing along here.  Even Davy's daughters are visibly moved.  During the 2011 tour, they had the crowd sing acapella, which always gives me shivers.  In 2012, they picked a single person from the audience (Mike's idea, and nowhere near as effective).  Where else in your day to day life do you see people happy, singing at the top of their lungs, sheer joy?  Where did this song, this gathering, this magic, even come from?  How is it that we are lucky enough to have it happen to us?  (Karma, God's grace, John Stewart, Raybert, drunk & silly people in a crowd; all acceptable answers, but insufficient)  Answer for yourself.

At the end of the conference, Sunday afternoon, Micky was doing a Q&A and the Dealer's Room was quiet. Peter picks up a guitar from the next booth and begins playing.  A song for a dozen people.  And I am again rendered awestruck.  A weekend of amazing encounters, and then a moment of transcendence.

Objectively, I don't think he's the greatest guitar player in the entire world.  I'm sure I've heard better, but there is something about all this history that maybe makes me pay more attention.  Or the universe just making sure that I'm in the right place at the right time to hear a message of beauty. Some guy starts playing a red guitar and suddenly you realize the rest of the world is in black and white.

It's this recurring moments of attention that has gotten me into listening more carefully to the Blues, actually seeking out and watching all those old movie references, and why I wanted to go on a macrobiotic diet when I was 8.  It's why I seriously consider traveling from NY to Boston just to hear him play his brother's composition to a Brecht play.  Not for him, but for me.  For a moment of surprise, just when I think I can predict everything that will happen in the world of the Monkees.  A strange and wonderful journey indeed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Modern Folk Quartet

During the Monkees Convention, we got to hear about one of those seminal moments that help you become what you are.  It was a casual question that got me intrigued.

Henry Diltz (amazing Rock Photographer) was asked how he got into the business.  He said he was touring with a band, waiting for their Phil Spector hit to be released.  Somewhere in Michigan, they had stopped by a thrift store and there was a table with a few old cameras.  He picked it up and started taking shots of the band clowning around.   When they had the film developed, it turned out it was "slide film", and so came back not as photographs, but as slides for a projector.  Suddenly, as these casual moments were projected on the wall, larger than life size, he saw a new kind of vision.

He was on tour with the Modern Folk Quartet, waiting for Phil Spector to release the song that was gonna make them all famous. He was the hotshot producer famous (then) for the Wall of Sound. It wasn't actually released until 1991! Called "This Could Be The Night", written by Spector and Harry Nilsson it was the hit that never was.  The clip shows it as the theme song for the film, "The Big TNT Show", which was a sequel to "The T.A.M.I. Show" (1964) both were concert footage films.  In the days before Youtube, a song needed to be released as a "Single" for it to count on the charts.

MFQ had originally gotten together in Honolulu around 1962, and worked with an amazing number of future legends before their breakup in 1966 (although they still get together periodically).  They worked with the Herb Cohen, the agent for Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley.  And Jim Dickson, the guy who would later produce the Byrds.  They did an (uncredited) song in the movie, "Palm Springs Weekend" (1963) with Connie Stevens & Troy Donahue.  It captures the "Traditional Folk" scene, as it grew out of the coffeehouses.  They're in a casino, doing the "Ox Driver's Song"  (WARNING!!  The sync is terrible, almost comical, I offer it for historical purposes.  If someone finds something better, let me know!)  Diltz is singing lead and playing banjo.  They are all in suits, because that's what nice young performers wore in those days.  And how the Beatles first appeared.

That guy in the glasses would go on to shoot Woodstock, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, CSNY and most of Rock for the rest of his life.  Most of the extensive list can be found at his gallery, Morrison Hotel.

Chip Douglas had an interesting path, starting in a group called the Wilcox Three, which was modeled after the Kingston Trio.  After MFQ he joined the short lived Gene Clark Group, which featured the titular ex-Byrd, and a former member of the Grass Roots, Joel Larson.  The final member rounds out the earthy 60's band names, Bill Rinehart, formerly of The Leaves.

Douglas was essentially stolen from the Turtles (yes, the "Happy Together" Turtles) by Mike Nesmith who heard him at Hollywood's Whiskey A Go-Go.  He became the Monkees producer, a major shift in style from Don Kirshner.

Jerry Yester would join the Lovin' Spoonful and then go on to produce The Association, Tim Buckley and Tom Waits.  He married Judy Henske, who is a singer in her own right, and also rumored to be the prototype of Annie Hall (1977 film).

Cyrus Faryar was another interesting member, who was a friend of Dave Guard (of the Kingston Trio) and was asked to replace him after he left the group.  The guy who eventually ended up replacing him was John Stewart, the guy who wrote "Daydream Believer".  He also did not join the group which became the Byrds, although he was asked by Roger McGuinn.

There was a lot of influence on the Monkee music catalogue.  "Riu Chiu" was recorded on their 1964 album called "Changes" (does that sound familiar to anyone?  Isn't what the Monkees used for an album name after Peter left?)  If you listen to the arrangement, it sounds hauntingly familiar.  One of my favorite songs recorded by Peter Tork is "Come On In" (only available on a later Monkee Missing Links Album)  written by Jo Mapes.  MFQ did it in a much more uptempo version on Shindig (1965).  Additionally, MFQ also recorded a version of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells", set to music by Phil Ochs.

MFQ still performs together on occasion, and Diltz still performs "This Could Be the Night", as he did (fabulously) at the Monkees convention, backed by the fun cover band, The Characters.

It just goes to show you, that if this is NOT the night or the hit you've been waiting for, there may be many more excellent surprises for you along the way.

Friday, March 1, 2013

#17, Case of the Missing Monkee

Teaser:  "War is war.  Peace is peace.  And Science is Science."  See the full episode here.

This random typical vaudeville setup actually contains a deep tribute to writers of classic tv. Peter  says: "Funny thing happened on the way to the bandstand".  It's a play on the Broadway show (1963) and film (1966) called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" -Or as Broadway people say it, "Forum".  Written by Stephen SondheimLarry Gelbart, who had also written a bunch of episodes for M*A*S*H* among a ton of other TV shows.  Gelbart worked with Larry Tucker and Paul Mazursky (The "Developed By" credit on each Monkee episode) on Danny Kaye Show.

Mike's joke about Peter, (who takes a lot of looking after, "Not any more than the average aircraft carrier") might be a self referential joke about the General's aircraft that Mike had turned over when he was in the Service?  (See Mike's audition piece.  I'd love to hear the fuller story, especially if it IS true!)

They go to the clinic, and the Evil Guy w/ goatee is there.
Return to restaurant, which has suddenly changed into a Chinese place, Evil Guy w/Goatee is there too (in a Chinese getup, which somehow includes prominent cheekbones).  The room suddenly resembles Chan's "Egg Rolls and Jazz" in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  It's a place where Shoe Suede Blues (aka SSB) been known to play, basically a bandstand surrounded by Chinese decor.

"One hour after you eat there, you disappear" is a takeoff on the Western "joke", that one hour after eating there, you are hungry again.  Mostly because the belief is that the food is mostly rice, which digests quickly vs the American diet of steak & potatoes, which takes forever to digest.  It is less of a Politically Incorrect joke than just a misunderstanding of diet.

After the miracle cough drop, Davy begins to sing "Old Folks at Home" (aka "Swanee River"), a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851.  (He later regretted the association, supporting the North in the Civil War) Commissioned by the Christy Minstrels, which were a blackface group.  They were considered the most popular and set the style for blackface as a tradition. Edwin P. Christy, the founder left the group and committed suicide in 1862 over the Civil War.

Barry McGuire sang lead on "Green, Green" a hit for the New Christy Minstrels nearly 100 years later. That group was formed by Randy Sparks (who had spent 40 years writing Burl Ives' act) and who was committed to the idea of the chorus existing to allow people "to forget their troubles".  This did not bode well for the emerging political movement of folk music.  Other members would include Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, Karen Black and Gene Clark.  Know him?  He would later be in the Byrds with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby.  In 1966  he formed Gene Clark & the Group which included Joel Larson, Bill Rhineheart and Chip Douglas-who would be the Monkee's producer!

Alright, back to our story.

After the Nurse takes the miracle cough drops, (at 8:10 into the episode), there is some stock footage of a rocket. I want to call it Sputnik, but I'm probably wrong (because it is in color).  She is Nancy Fish, who has had a prolific career, appearing in a wide range of tv shows, including Roseanne.  Also on board this episode are Vito Scotti and Vince Gardenia, amazing character actors who are easy to recognize but hard to place.

Note the mention of a "Bathook" (from Batman and other cat burglar-type superheros who need to break into places every now and again).

Also note all the *cute* old-fashioned bits of *exercise* equipment in use in the late 1960's.  A sweatbox, an exercise bike you can row and a "rubber tire" getter-rid-of Davy has a joke where he is being shaken by this absurd rubber band and a "spare tire" magically appears. Not that he had one to begin with.

Mention of "Ben Casey, Act 1" which was a Medical Drama tv series, which ran from 1961-1966. (In Vietnam, the name was slang for a medic) Hearing "Act 1", I had always thought it was a play.  Then PT looks into a mirror and says "Shazam!" and name drops Captain Marvel (which was ranked as the 55th most popular comic book character by Wizard magazine).

Amid lots of mildly funny gags (Mike singing with a banjo on the rowing machine to Valerie Kairys), there is a sudden call from TV Guide, in which Mike helps them to fact check the events of the episode.  When the show runs low on plot, it runs high on clever gags to cover.  Mike begins singing "Dem Bones" done originally by the Delta Rhythm Boys, he sings it incorrectly, of course.  Asking for scalpel & sponge, is a very indirect reference to  Elaine May and Mike Nichols' comedy routine. "A Little More Gauze".  Menu for the Vincent van Gogh Gogh.  Wrist slapping from the American Medical Association and it all ends like an episode from old time radio dramas (note Micky's funny voice and pronunciation of "evil").

Now, what countries was everybody from again?  The Italian actor putting on a vaguely Russian/Boris Badenuf (Rocky & Bullwinkle character who looks very close) accent.  Does it matter?


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