music

Downtown

There is a long standing, bordering on stale, story in my family. It involves, me, my Aunt Spinning Jenny, Petula Clark, and a certain song from 1965.

Allow me to set the scene: in 1965, I was four, Spinning Jenny, twenty, and in my adoring eyes, world-wise. I mean, she could drive, played the guitar, and ratted her hair, what further proof did one need?

Our family was living in Memphis, TN, but we were still close enough to spend a great deal of time in our home town of Savannah, GA, where most of the extended family still resided including Mom’s younger sister, Spinning Jenny. Days spent on Tybee Island Beach were the norm for families with a bunch of summer-bored kids and not a lot of money.

Now in those days, there were no life-saving laws about seat belts and front seat size occupancy ratings. No, it was cram as many people as you can across those bench seats and woe unto the small child pressed between door and their larger relatives when going around corners. The safety harness was the “mom arm” flung across your chest upon sudden stops. Ah, the good ol’ days.

So when we all went to the beach, our crew shoved as many people in each car as possible and any available of-age driver was pulled into service. SJ fit that bill and perhaps to give the attendant Moms a rest, the kids (or a portion of them) often rode with her. It was on just one of those nights returning from Tybee, that the story begins.

The “British Invasion” of music was still raging and Petula Clark just happened to be part of that phenomena with her hit, “Downtown.” For my little four year old self, the hook of the song was the repeating lyric, “downtown.”

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely
You can always go
Downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Downtown”*

There we were, all crammed into the car and somehow I scored a place in the front next to SJ, who was driving. The radio was playing (I’m sure to aid in keeping SJ awake after a long day in the beach sun. She was also known to fall asleep at the wheel, but that’s another story…) and the song came on.

Mx. Clark’s voice begins to croon and SJ started to sing along, but not with the words I was familiar with at all. No, this was an odd combination of sounds, mysterious and slightly dissonant to my ear. SJ looked at me and told me she was singing in Chinese. I was captivated. It was “Downtown” in Chinese!  From then on, each time the song came up, of course I requested that SJ sing it in Chinese. How wonderfully fun and fascinating! I loved it. SJ, already high on the cool list, moved up even farther. Wow.

Every song has it’s day; the music scene moves on and so did we. “Downtown” moved off the charts and we from Memphis to various and sundry geographic locations through the years. And all this time, I would brag to my friends that my Aunt Spinning Jenny knew the words of a song in Chinese.

Now, I never questioned the fact that SJ never set foot in any Asian country (at that time), or that she didn’t speak any other language outside of English I was aware of. Hey, people sing along with “La Bamba” in Spanish all the time and have zero understanding of what they are saying. Nope, when you are four, 20 year old aunts know everything. And no one told me differently.

EVER – FOR THE NEXT 17 YEARS.

Turns out that the laughter surrounding SJ’s performance was not a mutual expression of the same amazement I felt.

No, it wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I found out my esteemed Aunt Spinning Jenny duped me. She never sang “Downtown” in Chinese, not at all, not once. Sigh. Gibberish, it was all gibberish. I was legitimately crushed.

I guess I should have known something since this is the same person who tried to convince me of the age old yarn about plants growing from seeds stuck in your teeth, but there never was really a reason to doubt. She did, after all, counter silliness like that with teaching me how to blow bubblegum bubbles and taking me for sailboat rides.

It could have ended the night I found out, surrounded by gales of laughter and disbelief at my long standing gullibility, but no, my family being the warm, supportive unit it is, has come to pass on the story of how ‘your Mom/aunt/cousin,’ fell for Spinning Jenny’s oh, so, clever language parody back in the day.

It’s been thirty five years since the reveal and I still suffer from PTSD (Pretend Translation Song Disorder). The expression of symptoms include, but are not limited to, slight embarrassment, chuckling to oneself, and a certain fondness of memory. It’s a disorder I can live with, so as old as the story has become, I’ll continue to thank Petula Clark and cherish the idea of my Aunt Spinning Jenny singing “Downtown” in Chinese.

Patricia (TriTricia windblowncia) Sullivan Fraker, a.k.a. “Aunt Spinning Jenny” 1945-2017
Lover of family, music, food, traveling, camping, hiking, dancing, sailing, trivia, oddities, game nights, adventures, and costume parties.

“What a Life Lived.” – B.F. December 8, 2017

 

 

*written by Tony Hatch

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She Ain’t in Montana Anymore.

courtesy of Eonline.com

courtesy of Eonline.com

The wires are hot with Miley Cyrus this week. She is being denigrated as everything from Disney Princess gone bad, to Lady Gaga wannabe, to a prime example of usurper and exploiter of black culture. Wow. The power of media and a six minute display of really bad taste.

Black cultural theorists are damning the performance as a parody or minstrelsy take-off on an urban dance fad and the objectification of the black female body. Feminists are stating that Miley is being judged harshly for just doing what male performers have been doing for years. Gay rights activists are up in arms over the opportunistic bisexual displays. Parent organizations are weeping over the loss of the tween-age, innocent icon. Music aficionados are turning purple at the butchering of what was only remotely something called music. Movie lovers are outraged with Robin Thicke’s theft of Beetlejuice’s favorite suit. Animal rights groups are protesting the absurd use of teddy bears as symbols of pornography. It seems Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, by guilt of association and participation, have set off a maelstrom of cultural intrigue.

But you know what? One can take any source and make it into an example of how injustice is done to any particular group. Hell, even with my limited knowledge of cultural and literary theory, I could build a case for the marginalization of the Jews as shown through the story of Three Little Bears.

Yes, there was a plethora of injustices demonstrated from many sides. Yes, Miley stepped into a minefield of idiocy by taking on an “urbanized” caricature. Yes, she objectified not only the black women on stage, but herself as well. Yes, she mimicked the vulgarities done over and over again by male performers. Yes, she took advantage of the current media attention on homosexuality and made it base. Yes, she shot down her goody-two-shoes identity to a degree that side of Montana. Yes, she sang off key and ‘danced’ with less grace than Pinocchio. And yes, she misused the image of teddy bears and foam fingers the world around. It’s all there and then some.

But, personally, I think she’s just a naïve, stupid little girl play acting at what she thinks grown-ups do. And if that is what the grown-ups do in her neck of the woods, then heaven help her and us.

The King and I

Sometimes I think about Elvis.

I know it’s an odd thing just randomly thinking of Elvis.  Its not like he’s a major topic of conversation around the house.  I don’t even know if Bashert likes his music.

What sparks these ruminations, I’m not sure.  Perhaps I catch a snippet of a song on the radio or a phrase from one his songs.  It’s not as if I knew the man, but think of him I do.

The life he led was crazy and he used some of his fame to do stupid things, but I’d like to think that underneath it all Elvis was a nice guy.  Who knows what we would do in his place? I like to think that I would make a better deal of things – you know, Oprah style, but if I was ‘suddenly’ given everything I never had as a kid when I was younger, who knows?  What would you do to maintain?

My family lived in Memphis for four years during the mid-sixties.  We visited Graceland a couple of times before it became a fortress.  I even dipped my hand in the swimming pool.  My Mom says someone came out of the big house and spoke to them about something – probably along the lines of please leave the premises.  We wonder now if he was in residence that trip.

This Polaroid is from 1964 and that’s me on the standing on the bench in my red and white dress.  Hard to see, but that’s my sister, brother and great-grandmother in front of Graceland. Don’t we look excited?  Who knew this would be the home of a legend?

I used to sing Wooden Heart to Nenè back when she was just Munchkin to me.  I barely remember the movie G.I Blues, but the song makes a great lullaby. It’s kind, gentle and surprisingly sweet for a German folksong.

That’s how I like to think of Elvis when I think of Elvis – kind, gentle and surprisingly sweet.

Can’t you see

I love you

Please don’t break my heart in two

That’s not hard to do

‘cause I don’t have a wooden heart.

And if you say goodbye

Then I know that I would cry

‘cause I don’t have a wooden heart.

There’s no strings upon this heart of mine

It was always you from the start.

Treat me nice

Treat me good

Treat like you really should

‘cause I’m not made of wood

And I don’t have a wooden heart.

(words and music by Wise, Weisman, Twomey, Kaempfert)

Music? of the Night

Logo courtesy Grammys.org

Okay.  The Grammys are over.  The jesters for the masses have honored their own, broadcasted for our entertainment.

The show was a bit off kilter for me.  The elder demigods of rock and other genres seemed shadows of their iconic selves.  Sir Paul should just write for other people now. Admit it, even as a Beatle his voice was never really that strong and now age has strained it further.  The Boss, well, his voice and playing are just as dynamic, but – and please forgive me this – he seemed a bit dated.  It was sort of like listening to Lenny Kravitz’ version of “War”.  He tried, but the moment had passed.

The segment with Glenn Campbell was sweet but sad.

Some are criticizing the Taylor Swift’s Clampett version of her song “Mean”.  I thought the staging was just campy enough to pull off.  What do you want, she’s a kid. The banjo playing was cool.

Never like the Beach Boys to begin with. Their music rehashed through Maroon 5 and some other band didn’t help.  And Brian Wilson? Like I said, never cared for them to begin with.

The Foo Fighters just rankled my nerves. They couldn’t be done fast enough.  I guess its my age showing, but then again I never really cared for that type of music anyway.

Chris Brown did some interesting dancing while lip syncing, but isn’t he the guy who was accused of beating Rihanna?  I kind of tuned out when it was him and some other guys doing some sort of mix up toward the end.

Katy Perry’s anthem about the breakup with her own Neandertal was interesting.  It just seemed some segments in the show were overly long.

People slammed GaGa last year for her egg entrance and Madonna take off, but I’m guessing they missed her last night after that fiasco with Nicki Minaj.  Performances dealing in religious and/or sacrilegious themes don’t bother me (I loved Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”), but they at least have to be well put together.  Whatever Ms. Minaj put on last night was not put together and I can’t blame the camera angles on this one.

Warped versions of Catholic (or heck Anglican or Episcopalian) service participants cavorting around in some “Exorcist” meets “Rocky Horror” does not entertainment make.  Particularly since I couldn’t understand a single thing that came out of her mouth. If you say you understood one word sung(?) then I shall be bold enough to call you a liar!

There were shining moments last night.  Bruno Mars, with his cutie self gave everyone a smile and a reason to get up and move.  The Alicia Keyes part of the tribute to Etta James was lovely.  Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston was quite beautiful and Adele’s return was triumphant, although I did miss some of the grit in her voice.  Amazing, nonetheless.  Her six awards were well deserved even without the sympathy vote.  I can hardly wait to hear what comes next for this witty, soulful young woman.

If you missed the Grammys take heart; there are no less than eight more award shows coming for the year.  There will be plenty of shining moments and I’m sure plenty of inexplicable as well. There’s no business like show business.

Oxymoron & the Holiday Concert

By definition an oxymoron is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

 

Secular: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.

Christmas: the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25. (italics mine)

 

Thus I give you: Secular Christmas

 

There is no such thing as a secular Christmas.  I should think one wouldn’t be wanted if what is being celebrated is the very foundation of the religion.  “Reason for the Season” and all that.

Santa Claus represents Christmas.  No matter how commercialized the figure has become, his entire basis of being is Christmas, the religious holiday.  Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick appears at no other time of the year other than Christmas Eve, which apparently starts the day after Thanksgiving these days.

A Santa hat represents Christmas, not winter.  Ask any kid.  And any adult who says otherwise is attempting to skirt the issue or possibly from The Netherlands.

Now, before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, let me say this; I was born into a family that celebrated Christmas, they still do.  My daughter Nenè celebrates Christmas.  There are many Christmas songs/hymns that I truly love.

I am not antiChristmas.  I repeat, I am not antiChristmas.

What I am is Jewish and a supporter of equal representation in public institutions that are supposed to be separated from religion in the first place, at least here in the States.

I will also add that Bashert and I love our son’s school.  It is a public school that prescribes to the International Baccalaureate system of world inclusion; global thinking.  It’s one of the few remaining public elementary schools in our area that has a fine arts program and full time foreign language program. The principal is a fantastic woman, educator and administrator who stands up fiercely for her teachers, students and school.  The teachers are wonderful and creative (many of them have won teacher of the year several times over).

So why bring this up, this secular Christmas?  I’ll tell you why since you asked.

This was the description given to Bashert by Yoda’s new music teacher in regards to this year’s school holiday concert.

Don’t worry about your Jewish child being excluded because we are only singing secular Christmas songs.  Not secularly themed songs about winter time, but secular Christmas songs.

And by the way, Yoda will need to bring a Santa hat for costuming.

Excuse me?

That’s pretty much tantamount to me telling your Christian child that he needs to bring a kippah to school so that he can participate in our High Holiday concert, but its okay because we are only going to be singing prayers that the Jewish religion is based on.

The crux of the matter lies in the blatant disregard for our son’s significance and the simple minded arrogance that assumes that it just okay to have everyone conform to the same belief system.  Really, what harm is wearing a Santa hat, while singing Christmas songs, right?

In real life I work for a multinational corporation and yet every Monday and Friday now until Christmas, I am being forced to listen to Christmas holiday music via the satellite feed.  Every year I have to write an official letter reminding the powers that be, that as a multinational corporation we need to be mindful that not all cultures celebrate or appreciate the holiday of Christmas (the same music plays when someone is placed on hold).  And every year I get the same response that it was agreed upon that the music would play during the prescribed times only.  Big whoop.  I’m just the Jew in the ointment spoiling everyone’s holiday cheer.

I guess what it all boils down to; arrogance, assumptions and significance.

Every kid matters.  Every kid deserves to be seen as significant.  Every kid deserves respect.

Perhaps if we started really practicing this at Yoda’s level, I wouldn’t have to write a letter every year.  But until that happens, Yoda won’t be wearing a Santa hat during any song at the holiday joy night concert and I will keep writing my letters each year.

Perhaps someday, in his lifetime Yoda will see the true spirit of this season.

And maybe all of us won’t have to suffer the effects of Christmas music burn out two days after Thanksgiving.

Illegal Leopard

I was in a business meeting last week and was surprised and delighted to find OwL there.  OwL was once a producer on the albums of that band of legendary – nay, mythic status – Illegal Leopard, for which, I have the privilege of designing album covers.

OwL was involved with the band through Predator or Prey.  (For those few of you who don’t know the sequence of albums, this was the one just before Genius, Money Maker’s Farewell).  OwL’s decision to leave had as much to do with MM’s retirement as it did with the opportunity to take the TMS job when Juan’s sentence in China came to an unexpected, early end.

It was tough to see the tight knit group lose such valuable members at the same time, but MM was tired of the touring and the guys at that time weren’t ready to become an exclusive studio band.  Of course that changed later when Silk had to do that stint on the road gang in Mozambique.  He said he didn’t want to see another road for a long, long time.

Anyway, it was old home time at that meeting.  I forgot the original reason we all ended up there.  Ese and Homes were beside themselves with joy.  I mean its been over a year since we were all together, with the exception of Money Maker, who is still basking on the beaches of the Recherche Archipelago.  Dynamite couldn’t blast her off!

Can you imagine the energy with Ese, Homes, Silk, OwL, t’s Girl, Just Yule and Crooks in the same room? Wow.

We were having such a great time that we rolled over to OH’s grill so that we could all have a couple of drinks, (the soft kind for Crooks, please – didn’t want a repeat of the Mosquito Strut fiasco) and relax.

Oh, how I wish I had some recording equipment in there!  The impromptu unplugged stuff was magic.  Silk brought out his harmonica and they were off.

Home’s a cappella version of “My Cup is Gone” brought back such memories of the Bangladesh Uh-Oh Tour.  I caught Crooks wiping a tear from his eye.  “Gets me every time.”, he said.

They did a shortened version of “don’t listen, miss diane” with new vigor.  It was just plain awesome. It was if the South African ban had never been there.

Memories of Ese’s Cali City, 34 minutes of bone chilling guitar solo on “that stanks nasty” came flooding back.  The cops had to stop the stage stampede on that one.  Good times.

The guys said they are still involved in the litigation that’s tying up album sales.  R Costa is just not letting up, but they’re not too worried – they never are.  They are hard at work on the new tribute album.  Ese gave a quick few bars of the first cut, “Ted, Where You At?”  Poetry.

Ese said they talked Just Yule into sitting in on a couple of sessions. He had a short set recorded on his MP3 and let me listen. You could hear the trombone singing in the background, bringing out such depth to “out on love” and “Cara Muche”.  Man, JY can make that thing come to life!

I think the biggest single, however is going to be “¡JAMm”.  This cut is the culmination of all the years these guys have been together.  You can feel the mixing of their voices and the way the instruments play off each other so easily.  It’s a combination only those who know each other so deeply can reach.  The live version they performed for us that afternoon was simply amazing.

I think if they can get out from under that ball and chain created by the riots in Botswana after Homes, well, had his little public issue, this album is going to soar past the fabled stratosphere of the tour compilation disc, Change of Spots.

It was really hard to break away that afternoon, which by that time had become early evening.  But OwL had an early morning meeting with her new group, Bedroom Slippers.  Crooks had to get back to the Centennial operations.  They guys and I hung out a little while longer until Silk reminded Homes that he was his ride to his enforced training session that night.

Ese was off to an audition for a new triangle player, although we all knew there would never be another like Money Maker. Those leopard go-go boots would always be too sexy to fill.

It was such a great time.  I’m really looking forward to designing the cover for this new album, whether it gets to full distribution or not.  It’s going to have to be one sweet design because the magic these guys conjure just cannot be captured by reality.

I’ll make sure that OwL (and MM) get signed copies and hope that soon the rest of the world will once again be able to immerse themselves in the alchemy of Illegal Leopard.

(*Fingers crossed that the extradition committee is through debating by release date and the verdict goes in our favor!)