The GOP establishment might be MOR, out of date, hymns for oldsters who refuse to acknowledge times change, but Hillary and her band of Dems are like the rock that got a forty year run and was then stunned when hip-hop eviscerated it.
Don’t point to the Desert Trip to validate rock’s relevance. That’s just oldsters with too much money claiming they’re important, when they’re absolutely not, except for their cash, which they dispense freely, like the Kochs, like George Soros, like everybody who’s lived too long and believes they’re entitled to rule the world.
But they’re not. It’s what you don’t know that’ll kill you. And that is the times keep a-changin’ and he not busy being born is dying and if you haven’t seen the Hillary movie there’s no media in your neighborhood.
There were a ton of good rock bands. But MTV stopped airing them because hip-hop got better ratings. And because rock became calcified, a cartoon, a caricature of itself. It went from honest to phony, jeans to spandex, and every band which built its rep on danger recorded a power ballad, figuring the suits would like it. If you can’t get on television doing what got you traction, give them what they want.
But the hip-hoppers did not.
Don’t think of Drake, think of Biggie and Tupac, both killed in the rap wars. We keep hearing the Donald and his minions are gonna wreak havoc not realizing we’ve already seen this movie, and we survived it.
And if you don’t like the popular culture analogy you don’t realize that’s what the election has become, issues, schmissues, titillate me, make me laugh, play to the cameras, do the unexpected. Hell, the whole Trump campaign has resembled nothing so much as the launch of a musical act, with all the publicity stunts and media manipulation. And the reason he’s got more mindshare than any musician is because he’s accepting the game has changed, he’s playing by new rules, he’s creating every day, not worrying if every track’s a hit, knowing that if you lose your hold on the public consciousness, you’re toast.
Where has Hillary BEEN for the past two weeks? Like an old rocker in the seventies she’s taking three years to make her next LP believing when it drops she’ll have three hit singles and can go on tour, er, be in the White House, for four years straight. But today, the work of the classic rockers goes straight to the dumper. Despite the run-up, the albums last a weekend, maybe a week at most, and then they’re forgotten. We’ve been hearing for years about Hillary’s coronation, it’s her time, she deserves it, she has experience. But that’s exactly what most people don’t want. The same old people providing the same old music, er, politics.
Now I’m not saying Hillary should rap, but it worked pretty good for Aerosmith, when the band hooked up with Run-DMC. Read the oral history, neither act was keen to do it, it was the behind the scenes people who made it happen.
And the behind the scenes people have to bring Hillary into 2016. Wherein telling people what they want to hear works only if you sometimes tell them what they don’t, which enhances your credibility. Hillary has the credibility of a five year old, who’ll say anything, deny anything, to not get punished and get ice cream. But ice cream melts and you’re left with nothing, and we don’t want a five year old running the country, but we do want someone who is looking forward as opposed to back.
And of course so many of the Donald’s policies are retro, like a rapper sampling, giving his audience a frame of reference. But if you don’t find his antics entertaining, you’ve got no sense of humor. Hell, I burst out laughing when he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” Oh, don’t get your politically correct knickers in a twist, funny is funny, like those jokes you tell in the dorm when no one is listening.
It’s Hillary’s election to lose. And she’s doing a good job of it. Because instead of making new music, that people want to hear, it’s the same damn thing over and over and over again. Check the charts, how many of the acts from the nineties are dominating today? How much of the sound of the nineties is dominating today?
Bernie’s triumphing because he’s all new, the music industry could learn a lesson, it’s the message more than the punim, embrace ageism at your peril.
And Trump’s triumphing because he’ll say the unsayable, throw bombs, do all the stuff your parents hate before they tell you to turn it down.
That’s what the Hillary supporters keep telling Trump, to turn it down. That his music doesn’t sound like the music that came before, he didn’t pay his dues, he didn’t go to music school, he didn’t go on the road, he hasn’t EARNED his success.
Like every new act that’s toppled what’s come before.
Hillary, you can’t win doing what you’ve done before. The game changed. And you seem not to have gotten the memo.
Stop worrying about making mistakes.
Start telling your truth.
Don’t fall for gotcha moments. Yup, coal mining has got to go, Trump would have doubled down, you caved, have the courage of your convictions.
Make news every day.
Don’t worry about being warm and fuzzy, what message are you sending to the young women of America, that to get ahead you’ve got to shave off your rough edges, that you can’t be strong, you have to smile and appeal to men?
You’ve just got to make a hit record.
And a hit is always the same, it’s new and different.
We crave the new and different.
And right now Bernie and Trump own the charts and you may be touring to aged acolytes, but it’s one person one vote in America and despite their connections and cash, they can’t help you win. Hell, Bernie out-fundraised you getting cash from individuals, like a modern act which understands everybody streaming is better than a few buying CDs.
Pissed you off there, didn’t I.
If you’re lamenting the passage of CDs, the death of downloads, the low per-stream payments… If you think YouTube is the enemy, you don’t realize Robert Kyncl has more power than everybody in the RIAA combined. The people voted for YouTube, and if you were smart you’d realize it’s being eclipsed by Spotify, et al, but you hate them even more.
You’re just like Hillary, no wonder you like her so much.
I’m hearing people complain that Bob Dylan is not of the stature of the other Oldchella acts. This is patently untrue. The only star of his caliber is Paul McCartney, maybe in the history of rock and roll (extending Paul’s fame and talent to the rest of the Beatles). Don’t equate grosses with talent. Don’t equate accessibility with talent. Don’t equate airplay with talent. Years from now, it might be Dylan’s material that maintains, certainly not that of the Stones, who have a soulful, blues-influenced sound and were great performers but were rarely groundbreaking. Waters had his moment, but it’s hermetically sealed, it doesn’t translate to modern times, you’re looking back through binoculars. The Who is maximum rock and roll, but despite breaking ground with “Tommy,” it was Bobby who was constantly testing limits. As did Neil Young, test limits and listen to his own heart, Young is Dylan-like, but I think even if you asked Neil he’d put Dylan atop the heap.
Not that this is about bringing the rest of the Oldchella acts down, they’re all great. It’s just that Dylan is on a higher plane, and too many people don’t know it. Forget today’s standards album, forget the ragged voice, forget the endless tour, let’s go back to the music.
1. “Blowin’ In The Wind”
Everybody starts somewhere, and it’s not obvious where they’re going to go from there. But then there are visionaries, who see something in acts, a talent, that few others can perceive. Credit John Hammond for seeing the genius in Bob Dylan. The first album consisting of mostly covers had no impact. It could not and did not prepare us for what came after, the second LP, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.”
Now this was 1963. The Beatles didn’t break in America until 1964. Surf music and pop music, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons ruled, and they were both great acts, but if you can trace a line from them to Bob Dylan you’re a better person than me. Dylan had different influences, primarily Woody Guthrie and the folk scene, and with this LP Dylan became the king of the folkies, not because the songs were all over the airwaves, but because covers were all over the airwaves!
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time not only did everybody own a guitar, but they sat around in circles singing songs. And none was more popular than “Blowin’ In The Wind.” That’s where the answer is, my friend, even today. If you can tell me how this election is gonna turn out, what everybody’s gonna do for a job in the future, you’re a seer exceeding anybody pontificating.
Peter, Paul & Mary made it ubiquitous, but there’s a naked power in Dylan’s iteration. There’s more emotion, it’s not purely about melody, not even solely about the words, this guy obviously believes what he’s singing. We need more of that today.
Now if this sound resonates, if you want to dig a little deeper, listen to “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” My favorite cover is by Bryan Ferry, but this is definitely Bob’s song, you listen and feel the track is coming directly from his soul.
Catchier and more easily accessible is “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” also made famous by Peter, Paul & Mary. Never underestimate the power of a manager. One can argue Albert Grossman ripped Bob off, but he also built his career, he’s responsible more than the aforementioned John Hammond. Grossman had a vision that Dylan’s songs could become iconic. Not in his own versions, but those of others. It was years before the public was ready for Bob himself.
“Girl From The North Country” resurfaced on “Nashville Skyline” in a duet with Johnny Cash, but the original is here on “Freewheelin,” as is “Masters Of War,” which has been resuscitated in this century of endless wars, students of the game can see how it’s still so appropriate, that’s timeless work!
2. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
The anthem of the internet era, one wherein the young stole the present just like their parents did back in the sixties. Hell, oldsters still don’t know how to use their devices, never mind get their heads around the fact that music is now a service. This ain’t no ditty, just pure truth.
3. “It Ain’t Me Babe”
Released almost simultaneously with “Meet The Beatles,” “The Times They Are A-Changin'” album continued in Dylan’s folk vein, and although it contains classics, there were fewer famous covers. And then came the summer of ’64’s “Another Side Of Bob Dylan.” Not only was Zimmy putting out albums at a regular clip, the quality of the material was insane! This is probably the most famous song off of the LP, because it was covered by the Turtles, it was their breakthrough track, before most people had any idea who Bob Dylan was. But people were starting to read the credits, the modern rock era had begun, word started to spread.
If you want to go deeper, listen to the album opener, “All I Really Want To Do,” which Sonny & Cher so famously covered. And the Byrds had a hit with “My Back Pages,” I had to get old enough to understand I can be younger than that now. And if “Masters Of War” resonates, soak in the truth of “Chimes Of Freedom.”
4. “Bringing It All Back Home”
Yes, I’m including a whole album here, not just an individual song. Because this is my favorite Bob Dylan LP, it oozes truth that is so up to date it seems to come from the future. Unfortunately, it’s not instantly accessible. Dylan wouldn’t make that kind of music for years. But if you want to put in some time, “Bringing It All Back Home” will yield rewards.
a. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Has permeated the culture even though you may have never heard it.
First and foremost there’s the famous video replicated by so many modern acts, where the lyrics are written on cards which are displayed and then discarded. Refresh your memory here:
And despite being a jaunty trip, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” got no airplay whatsoever, this was before underground FM radio, the Beatles were still singing about love, but…
You don’t need a weatherman To know which way the wind blows
Innocuous in theory, but a radical group lifted this lyric and called themselves the Weathermen and blew up buildings. I’m not condoning their efforts, but this was back when music not only had power, but influence.
Twenty years of schoolin’ And they put you on the day shift
As poignant and accurate as the day it was written, whew!
The pump don’t work ‘Cause the vandals took the handles
Became part of the vernacular, people quoted the closing lyrics without even knowing the song, that’s cultural relevancy.
b. “Maggie’s Farm”
You never hear it referenced anymore, but back then it was a pejorative, when selling out was anathema and we hated the corporations.
c. “Mr. Tambourine Man”
The Byrds’ first hit. But this has power as opposed to sweetness. You can see why Jim McGuinn was inspired to cover it, this anthem for an era.
d. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
The piece-de-resistance, the pinnacle, the apotheosis.
Most famous for Roger McGuinn’s iteration on the soundtrack of “Easy Rider,” this seven and a half minute cut is laden with so much truth that I INSIST that you listen to the whole thing while reading along with the lyrics, which are here:
Yes, this is where that famous lyric first appears. Imagine writing a lyric so insightful that it permeates the culture and people don’t even know it came from your song, that’s ubiquity.
For them that obey authority That they do not respect in any degree Who despise their jobs, their destinies Speak jealously of them that are free Do what they do just to be Nothing more than something they invest in
And that’s America. The suck-ups playing by the rules jealous and angry that there are people who dare to go their own way.
Advertising signs they con You into thinking you’re the one That can do what’s never been done That can win what’s never been won Meantime life outside goes on All around you
You can’t just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get rich. You just can’t be Bill Gates. And rather than take the bait you should live your life, don’t fall for the bait.
While one who sings with his tongue on fire Gargles in the rat race choir Bent out of shape from society’s pliers Cares not to come up any higher But rather get you down in the hole That he’s in
People don’t like it when you break ranks, when you’re different, they want you to be like them, a miserable pawn in the game.
Now I was aware of Dylan’s hits, but I did not get him at first, probably like many of you. But then he reunited with the Band and went back on the road and I bought all the albums and listened to them over and over again so that I would be prepared for the show.
And in the winter of 1974, when our President was getting caught in a noose of his own device, Dylan sang the below lyrics at Madison Square Garden and everybody stood up and cheered. That’s the power of rock and roll.
But even the President of the United States Sometimes must have to stand naked
Nixon resigned. Beware of who you put on the pedestal.
5. “Like A Rolling Stone”
It was the summer of ’65 and Dylan was all over the airwaves, with a rock and roll sound, outdoing his children the Byrds with a song with such attitude people would wince if it was recorded today.
You know it. Not everybody loved it. But it gets sweeter with time. Listen.
“Highway 61 Revisited” was the break, from folk to rock, it’s the album that got all the accolades, it spews not only attitude but anger and yes, the folkies resented it, but the rest of the public cottoned to it, because this is how they felt. Today you’re supposed to suck it up, put a smile on your face, be optimistic as you run through the gauntlet of the game. But in the days of yesteryear some questioned the game outright.
Listen to “Desolation Row” and “Ballad Of A Thin Man” also.
And know that if you leave the metropolis, if you venture out from the Twin Cities, it won’t be long before you encounter Highway 61. Everybody comes from somewhere, everybody’s got roots.
6. “Positively 4th Street”
For some reason this is not on Spotify, and I’m having trouble finding the original on YouTube.
A gigantic hit with with lyrics that cut to the bone.
You got a lot of nerve To say you got a helping hand to lend You just want to be on The side that’s winning
Legends write songs that are not of a time, but are forever, because of the truth encapsulated.
And most famously:
I wish that for just one time You could stand inside my shoes You’d know what a drag it is To see you
Eclipses any put-down I’ve seen or heard in the rap wars!
7. “Blonde On Blonde”
Was released fifty years ago Monday. And this double album is great, consistent, but I still prefer “Bringing It All Back Home.”
a. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED!
Couldn’t be, was he really talking about drugs?
Media was puritanical. Which made it easier to pull the wool over its eyes, this was not banned, but played. Then again, was it about smoking at all?
“Like A Rolling Stone” broke down the barriers, Dylan was safe for mass consumption, this was everywhere.
But the heart of the album is “Visions Of Johanna,” “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine,” the side long “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ and “I Want You,” which you can love even if you think you hate Bob Dylan.
8. “All Along The Watchtower”
Yes, Dylan wrote it, Hendrix just covered it.
From “John Wesley Harding,” the return to roots, when the media caught up with the bard, this got a lot of press and it satiates, but my favorite cut is the second side opener, “Dear Landlord,” with lyrics I quote all the time:
Now each of us has his own special gift And you know this was meant to be true And if you don’t underestimate me I won’t underestimate you
I’ve learned that’s true. The person with the low IQ, the one who’s uninformed about so much, has much more wisdom than you in certain areas, just pay attention, you’ll see. Warren Buffett has nothing on me. Or you either.
9. “Lay, Lady, Lay”
This was more of a risk than picking up a Stratocaster, country was seen as backwards redneck music. But Dylan made it cool, and opened others’ eyes to it. This was a gigantic hit, and for those who said Bob couldn’t sing…turns out he could!
10. “Days Of ’49”
I include this not because it’s Dylan best cut, but because it’s from the maligned “Self Portrait,” Dylan’s first misstep, if only others’ greatness could be as good as this.
11. “Sign On The Window”
“New Morning” was the first Dylan album I purchased upon release. That’s right, I was late to the game, but what a treasure trove of material I could go back and experience.
And I know every lick, because when you paid for something back then you listened to it ad infinitum.
And this song is not famous, but it contains one of my favorite Dylan lyrics:
Build me a cabin in Utah Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout Have a bunch of kids who call me ‘Pa’ That must be what it’s all about That must be what it’s all about
12. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
A cut that’s endured from a third rate Sam Peckinpah movie that Dylan was featured in under the moniker “Alias.”
One cannot deny the haunting quality of the track though.
13. “Forever Young”
From “Planet Waves.”
Geffen stole Dylan from Columbia, the band went on the road, but the album was a stiff. Then Howard Cosell utilized the lyrics to describe Muhammad Ali and the song entered the canon, it gained legendary status.
14. “Tangled Up In Blue”
Time passes quickly. It was 1975, Dylan’s hits were long behind him, the tour did boffo at the b.o., but his cultural impact was in the rearview mirror.
And then came this.
He returned to Columbia and dropped an album that didn’t sound quite like anything that came before, where every word dripped truth and you could play the LP over and over and over again. “Idiot Wind” gets a lot of ink, but my favorites, other than this, are “Meet Me In The Morning,” “Buckets Of Rain” and, of course, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”
Meanwhile, “Tangled Up In Blue” is a story song you can visualize, it’s forever fresh, like life. I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, in the pre-satellite era, driving up the access road of Mammoth Mountain on a sunny May 1st day, I’d twisted the dial looking for a radio station after experiencing nothing but static in the desert and I tuned into this, I’ll never forget it.
We’ll never know the truth of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter but we do know this story song benefited his case.
This got airplay in an era when FM radio was king and not everything had to sound alike. A period piece, but it still stands on its own merits, and Scarlet Rivera’s violin is a revelation.
Meanwhile, check out “Mozambique,” and “Isis” and “Joey” if you want to go deeper.
16. “Gotta Serve Somebody”
You most certainly do, we all have a boss.
From the Jesus album, “Slow Train Coming,” which has a sound so enrapturing you’ll love hearing it even if you don’t catch a single lyric.
Go deeper, listen to “When You Gonna Wake Up” and “Man Gave Names To All The Animals.”
Credit Barry Beckett, who’s all over this LP, as well as his co-producer Jerry Wexler and, of course, in addition to the Muscle Shoals players, you’ve got Mark Knopfler.
17. “I And I”
“Jokerman” was the famous track on 1983’s “Infidels,” “Neighborhood Bully” got airplay, but this is the cut. Once again, something you’ll love even if you hate Dylan and don’t listen to the lyrics, but the lyrics make the track, along with the guitar and piano playing, an unheralded masterpiece.
18. “Things Have Changed”
From the 2000 film “Wonder Boys” based on the Michael Chabon book, it’s one of the few flicks that’s better than the source novel.
And the flick was very good.
But as soon as I heard this track in the theatre I knew it was a winner.
And it instigated hope in Dylan, in his abilities, showed after a meandering slew of albums that he still had it.
And I’d be lying if I told you his recent work was as entrancing, I think it’s lauded by those needing to feel superior, but maybe it will reveal itself to me in time.
Meanwhile, start here. And dig deeper where you have interest.
Not only is there a cornucopia of hits, there’s a journey, changes…Dylan’s lived a life, not beholden to the game, surprising us all the while, triumphing now and again, especially when we considered him down and out.
And maybe he’ll surprise us in the desert, by performing his hits faithfully, just to blow our minds and blow the others off the stage.
Or maybe he’ll do his usual show, just to mess with us, to battle our belief that the artist lives for us and should deliver what we want.
Dylan never did this. He went his own way and most likely we ended up following him.
He’s the embodiment of the sixties, wherein everything was up for grabs and everything could be challenged and you didn’t have to come from the right family or go to the right school in order to have a say, in order to leave your mark.
And you might listen to the above and still be unmoved.
But so many were.
And these are not just ditties that please our ears.
These songs changed minds, they impacted the culture, they affected the landscape.
If there’s one artist who’s playing Oldchella who’s a beacon, who’s an inspiration, who you can learn from, it’s Bob Dylan.
And he might not care.
But the rest of us do.
It’s not about money or fame, but the work, the underlying art. It’s about hearts and minds, not just the wallet and the booty. Songs are more than commerce, when done right they’re anything but evanescent.
That’s another thing the mainstream media is clueless about. Now that everybody gets an opinion, now that we’re contemptuous of those with riches and fame, when you’re nice to those with status, when you suck up and play like you’re one big family, we puke.
Of course Megyn Kelly is attractive. More than that. Not the toppermost, but way damn up there, even if she was aided by plastic surgery. But that does not mean she has talent, that does not mean she deserves accolades, that does not mean her coronation sits well with so many of us. But that’s another feature of the industrial hype machine, they’ve got to build ’em way up, until the ratings go down and the star is plowed under and someone else is anointed. Today you don’t earn your stripes, your publicist maneuvers to have your story told over and over again in the press, creating a veritable turntable hit, something that appears important but the public has rejected.
Furthermore, in an every day news cycle, we had to hear about this interview forever. It was akin to the Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King tennis match. The battle of the sexes. But despite Riggs playing Trump, being nice to King at the beginning of the contest, Billie Jean was fierce and roasted him. If only Megyn had done the same to the Donald. If only instead of softballs she’d zeroed in, nailed him. Of course he would have whined, trashed her on Twitter thereafter, but that was what we were rooting for. Especially after the advance hype. Some zingers. And we at home are the ones who are scoring, not the scribes in the newspapers who all got it wrong re Trump.
And we scored this interview a zero. Maybe a two on an absolute scale.
Don’t give Roger Ailes that much credit. He blew the Trump opportunity to begin with, furthermore, despite trashing his cable news competitors his audience is tiny and aged, Fox News is equivalent to Oldchella, get the geezers to overpay and rattle their jewelry one more time before they drop dead. Give Ailes credit for going with a young ‘un, but he squandered the opportunity.
Then again, does Kelly deserve the opportunity?
Overseas they call them “news readers.” Because that’s what the anchors do, read what the writers have written. There’s no pretense that the person on screen is a genius. But in America, we laud the one on camera, those out of sight are out of mind. But even so, over the decades we’ve descended from Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor to a bunch of average intellects propelled by their looks. This works for no one.
And to have Kelly selling a book at the end…
I hoped that paradigm died with the fifteen minutes that turned into the better part of a decade of fame for Sarah Palin before she became a laughable joke that even the right wing resented. That’s right, Ms. Palin resigned her governorship and then the whole damn family sold out to the highest bidder, doing reality TV, having the last laugh on an American public that reveres money. She won, no doubt. But Kelly is no Palin, and I mean this in a good way, Megyn’s not a nitwit. So why is she playing nitwit games?
Have a backbone. Stand up for what’s right…truth, justice and the American way.
But Fox News is biased and she’s just a pawn in their game. And the American way is the true believer rugged individual, who goes off into the wilderness to make something of themselves, not beholden to usual strictures, an inspiration for the rest of us. And Megyn pulled herself up by her bootstraps, throwing overboard a legal career, but ending up a middle manager.
We want people to believe in.
And we believe in those who push the envelope, who have insight, who do it their own way. They’re a beacon in the wilderness, and believe me we need the light, it hasn’t been morning in America for a very long time, unless you’re rich it’s perpetual darkness. We want to believe someone is on our side. That’s what got Bernie and Trump there to begin with.
But despite Paul Krugman, the liberal economist in the “New York Times,” excoriating Sanders’ economic policies, we’ve got no real scrutiny of Trump on the right, because they’ve been selling falsehoods forever and they don’t want the truth revealed, that their policies benefit the fat cats and no one else. And now this special benefited Kelly and no one else. In that it made so many aware she had a book. It was her Kanye moment.
Although Kanye would have done it totally differently. That’s what we love about him, he doesn’t seem to care whether we like him or not. He’s Trump on steroids with a modicum of talent to boot. Charlie Sheen may be in the rearview mirror, but Kanye’s winning all the while.
Does everything have to be smoke and mirrors? Does everything have to be about the sell? In a coarse society riven with online hate do we have to watch elite club members pay lip service to each other?
Megyn Kelly’s credibility took a huge hit last night.
And at the end of the day, that’s all you’ve got, your credibility, your word, your identity. Your money won’t keep you from cancer and it might get you in the door but it won’t buy you real friends.
I wanted sparks. I wanted news. I wanted Megyn to get up on her high heels and pierce the Trump veil.
But she can’t. It’s not in her character. Her boss told her not to. And it’s only techies who don’t listen to their boss.
But Steve Jobs was a hero who changed the world.
And Mark Zuckerberg owns it. Hell, the right wing has its knickers in a twist believing Facebook news is biased. Imagine that, a guy in a hoodie wagging the dog.
That’s what rock stars used to do.
And we counted on the press to interpret it all for us.
But those days are in the rearview mirror.
Just gimme some truth.
It’s lonely out here, I want to belong.
But not to a club of phonies kissing ass believing commerce is everything.
I heard this today on No Shoes Radio, Kenny Chesney’s Sirius station that for some reason I can only get on my XM receiver but not my Sirius one. It’s channel 62, I caught the press release somewhere and tuned in, I LOVE IT!
People’s sensibilities are wider than the narrow channels programmers put them in. And listening to No Shoes you’ll hear stuff as varied as “Paradise City,” Bryan Adams, Pete Yorn, live Chesney takes and this.
Off of “Natty Dread,” Marley’s third album on Island and the third to mean absolutely nothing in America.
I had no idea how to pronounce it. Reg-GAY, like man on man love, or Reg-GIE, like the guy in the Archie comic books? And how would I know otherwise, I was living in a cultural black hole, Middlebury, Vermont, in the seventies, when we only got one snowy TV channel, never mind any FM radio other than the college station. No, I learned about Bob Marley and the Wailers, about reggae, in the press.
And there was a big campaign. I remember reading a story about reggae in the library. That’s where you went to study, your own room was reserved for fun, and writing papers. Actually, you only went to the library freshman year, because then you realized it was a social scene, and if you actually wanted to get any work done you were better off claiming a classroom, they were plentiful and empty at night, I’d climb the stairs in Munroe Hall and have a space unto myself.
But if you wanted to read magazines, you had to go to the library. I’d sit in a carrel and catch up on popular culture, back before Google, before 24 hour TV news, before information was plentiful, when you depended upon “Time” and “Newsweek” to catch you up.
It was like looking through a telescope. Out there somewhere was a scene and I was not a part of it.
I didn’t buy “Catch A Fire,” which was a mistake, because shortly after release they changed the cover, it no longer opened in imitation of a lighter, it didn’t move at all. You had to buy vinyl early, to get the disc in color, to get the gatefold cover, as time went on the label would want to save money and you could no longer get the original.
But I bought “Burnin'” and didn’t understand it whatsoever.
You see there was a whole scene, with no radio airplay whatsoever, there was no frame of reference, I dropped the needle and just didn’t get it.
But I kept buying and not understanding, until the release of “Live!,” which finally captured the energy, all those tracks buried in studio production suddenly made sense. “Trenchtown Rock” taught me when the music hits you feel no pain. And despite still receiving no airplay, I now got it, I danced around the apartment with my hands in the air, that’s the power of the sound.
And the fourth track in that 1975 Lyceum show was “Lively Up Yourself.” But this iteration was totally different from the studio take I’d previously been unable to understand. The downbeat was deeper, Marley was unconstricted, he was closing the audience one by one, but didn’t need their energy to display his, he was on fire.
That’s right, Bob Marley & The Wailers had finally caught fire.
Most radio still missed it. There were no AM hits. What youngsters can’t fathom today is the hit was irrelevant, if you listened to Top Forty you were out of it, all the action was over on FM, on the AORs, and although there were pockets of adherence, radio was still local, you never heard reggae in L.A.
But the tour buzz became deafening. Kinda like today’s EDM shows. But instead of ecstasy it was all about the spliff, the marijuana, not the knock you over your head make you comatose stuff of today, sensimilla had just started to make inroads, but dope that made you high and instead of putting you to sleep made you want to experience the joy.
The English had always loved reggae. It had broken there earlier in the decade. But despite “My Boy Lollipop” being a smash here in the sixties, despite Johnny Nash having a big hit with the incredible cut in Jamaica “I Can See Clearly Now,” despite “The Harder They Come” playing for over a year in cinemas, most people were clueless as to Bob Marley.
And then he died.
And soon everybody knew. It took people that long to catch on. Kinda like punk. Just when it looked like it was gonna fail, it was gigantic.
You’re gonna lively up yourself and don’t be no drag
It’s noon. I’m on the 405. It’s the studio version. But I’m immediately enraptured, I’m reminded of when the sound was enough.
You lively up yourself for reggae is another bag
We didn’t go to the show for the production, certainly not to take photos, although as time wore on we wanted to be seen.
But home was a disaster, those who stayed in their residence were losers. It was all about going out, until broadband and Netflix and everything was reversed.
The movies were a religion.
Food was burgeoning, certainly in the metropolis.
And everybody went to the show.
Unlike today, you knew who was in town. Radio promoted the concerts, the paper listed them all, you lined up for tickets and if the act was famous you had a hard time getting in, if they were not you could see them up close and personal.
And it was all about the sound. It infected us. It made us move our feet, twist our bodies, love our brethren, all in thrall to the ringmasters on stage.
It was a religious experience.
You rock so, you rock so
Like you always did before.
MTV made it about what you saw as opposed to what you heard. No talents like J. Lo could have whole careers. Studio trickery could make anybody a star.
But there’s still room for a band that can lay down in the groove and penetrate people’s souls.
That’s why people went to Fare Thee Well, it’s what the Dead ethos is built upon.
But Bob Marley was for black and white, for everybody, he took this narrow sound and made it universal. Took a long damn time, but the sound has never died. You hear that reggae beat and your mood changes, your body starts to dip, you cast aside your everyday life and you move closer to the flame. Burnin’ from an era when the earth was not run by nerds, but the cool people, who were more about feeling than bucks, who wanted to live a life far from the corporations, one based on instinct, exploration and communication.
You’ve got to lively up yourself.
Don’t be no drag.
P.S. Later this afternoon I heard Busy Signal’s reggae version of Phil Collins’s “One More Night” on No Shoes Radio. Check it out, I’d never heard it before, the reggae beat adds a whole ‘nother flavor: